October 25, 2007

Harumph!

Whoever said home schooling was easy...

either never home schooled or never home schooled through high school! UGH! Home schooling has been the greatest challenge of my life and has been my highest joy and my worst nightmare. It is NOT EASY nor is it always a "bowl of cherries." Most days are just tough, especially when trying to teach a teenager (and a gifted one to boot.) I have agonized, struggled, stressed and waffled my way through the curriculum maze and home school fairs until I was literally bleary-eyed and blue in the face. I have tried my hand at unschooling, traditional textbooks, Charlotte Mason, classical education and just about everything in between (eclectic). This year, I decided that we needed more structure and routine and went the way of DVD education. I chose A Beka for our curriculum and enrolled my son in A Beka's Online Academy. My reasons were justified and were mostly prompted out of fear -- fear of my husband's illness and my having to return to full-time work, fear of having my son return to public schooling, and fear of being in over my head when it came to teaching high school. Even though I am a college graduate and well-qualified to teach my son at home, I still cringe whenever I have to make a decision on what books we will use and curriculum we will follow. I worry incessantly that I will make a mistake, choose poorly, do irrevocable damage to my son's self-esteem and do injustice to his awesome God-given giftedness. Yes, for me home schooling is a difficult and daunting task, one that I take very seriously and with fear and trepidation. I am gripped and consumed with fear and worry that I will fail. I worry I will fail him, fail myself and my family, and ultimately fail God, who has called me to this task.

Well, as things would go, our best laid plains have come to a painstakingly dead halt. We started with A Beka in July and began using the DVDs on August 27. My son was anxious and excited to have a video curriculum to use and liked the "idea" of having all those textbooks to read. He started strong and was focused, disciplined and on task for two weeks. Then....life intervened and we needed to take some time off. I was in the middle of caring for my mother who was in the hospital with knee replacement surgery. I had a brand new kitten at home (3 weeks old) and was feeding round the clock. I then had to spend 2 weeks living over at my parents house (kitten in tow) and relied solely on my son to "self-teach." After things settled down with my parents, we got into the swing of using the DVDs. The first thing I noticed was how rigid the curriculum was and how frequently my son was being tested (daily). I also noticed that his day was running anywhere from 5-6 hours non-stop. He didn't seem to mind the length and kept a pretty good attitude about it. But, as the days wore on, I slowly started to see my bright and cheerful boy turn sullen and disinterested. I asked and prodded -- tried to figure out what was wrong -- to no avail. I waited. I prayed. I asked again. The answer was always the same -- nothing. Thankfully, God has equipped Mom's with super-spy powered radar and after some more time I zeroed in on the problem. I noticed my son sitting idly by while the DVD teacher talked about some topic or asked the students on the tape questions. He played with the cat. He doodled in his book. He went to the fridge every 2 minutes. Eventually, I would find the DVD on pause and him lounging on the sofa upside down....just thinking.

Something was up and it was clear to me that the program was not working as it should. I read my home school support group emails and everyone seemed to be doing just fine. Their teens were studious and working from 7-2 each day without much prodding. They were busy at their studies and reporting good news -- kids were learning, they were happy, they were involved. My 14 year old didn't fit this picture and I wondered why. He is a good student, very smart, and seemed to like the DVD content. I knew he was bored -- that was clear to me. But every time I asked him, he just told me everything was fine. Then I finally pushed him and found out that he had been watching the DVDs but not doing any of the homework -- not even reading the textbooks. When asked why, he simply said "why should I? If I wait until tomorrow, the teacher will just go over the reading in class." Yep, my super smart kid figured out how to get out of doing the homework and reading, all the while maintaining an A average on the tests and quizzes.

UGH! What is a mother to do? I prayed over this situation and asked the Lord for help. What can I do now? I have invested mightily in this program and my son was willing to use it this year (his words, not mine). I just didn't think I could sit by and watch him be bored at home for an entire year. I mean...this was why we pulled him from the public school system. He was bored in class and did the exact same things (well, minus playing with the cat).

Today, we sat down and discussed our options. I am all for changing midstream, just so long as we don't make it a habit and change, change, and change again. I mentioned Charlotte Mason to him and suggested we fall back on our old standby. Read good books. Read the textbooks (science) and do the chapter review questions only. Write essays about our reading. Explore areas of interest. Yes, this perked him up. He admitted that he was bored and that while he did like some of the content on the DVDs, he really didn't like the review or the 45-50 minutes of class time sitting there watching the teacher.

So, we took the day off and went to the library. He checked out a book on programming and writing hacks for Windows. I pulled some science books (physics and chemistry) as well as a world history text for him to read. He wants to read Great Expectations and wants to study world history from 1750 to the modern period. He wants to know about current events and why the world is the way it is and why politics is such a hot-button topic. He wants to study Calculus and know how to make things work (physics). In short, he wants to know so much...just not the stuff being taught in A Beka's 9th grade curriculum.

I told my husband that it really is our fault. We raised an independent, self-motivated, self-starter of a child. He is not independent to the extent that he can sit and learn from a DVD program. No, he is independent in the sense that he has interests and desires and prefers to learn based on his own motivation. What can we do? We have decided that we will just let him teach himself the things that interest him most and leave it at that. Neither of us care much if he learns Biology or knows all the bones in the human body. We are glad that he loves God and deeply desires to study His word. We are glad that he is genuinely concerned about world events and the future end-times. He is a smart boy. He thinks deeply and often. I guess this is what happens when you home school a child and give them freedom to learn at their own pace and according to their own pursuits.

Sigh.

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