HOMESCHOOL PROGRESS – Easy Peasy, McGuffey, Sketchup and ABCmouse

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

We have been homschooling my son for the past couple of months. Like most new homeschoolers we are trying to figure things out in terms of schedule and curriculum.


On a previous post, I talked about how my son was having issues at school because he could not control his tantrums. We went thru the allies exercise with his toys (read post here) but honestly I don’t think that worked. I feel it did not work because there was no real pressure between us. It did not matter if we were allies or not, he was still playing and having fun. Anyway back to his tantrums, he was having it in school and it was becoming more frequent (and intense) at home. I had a discussion with his teacher in hopes to improve the situation and we were working on it at home too.

Things got worse with that teacher and so, after much thought, we decided to pull him out of school and we started to homeschool him. It has been a couple of months since we started homeschool and I wanted to share some updates.


HOMESCHOOL STYLE

I would say we are still experimenting with the curriculum details but in general we are doing an eclectic style of teaching. I am leading this effort so I take it on me to do the more scheduled sessions. My main push for now is to make him comfortable with reading so we are focusing on that. If I can get him comfy with reading, he can pursue his own interests by reading on his own. As he reads, I am right beside him helping him when he needs it. He has not shown a lack of confidence reading, and when he cannot read a word he just asks. I make sure I am constructive in my instructions and do not show any frustrations. This is a conscious effort-never show frustration. Sometimes he is not focused because he wants to play or do something else. In that case, we pause and get it out of his system and then try to reschedule.

I plan to use the Easy Peasy curriculum as a guide and add stuff to it based on his interests.

For his reading, we are currently using the McGuffey primer so I can closely monitor his reading progress. He’d read while I sat beside him. He reads the pdf and if I want to make any notes I just add them on the pdf. The notes help me understand any difficulties he has.

homeschool reading mcguffey

On the side, we have a ton of easy to read books he can browse at leisure. This helps him exercise the basic skill we are picking up from the McGuffey primer. I recall coming home one night and mom was proudly sharing to me how my son read a whole book by himself. She was surprised at his progress.

We signed him up for ABC mouse recently. Sometimes I have to check on this because some of the things in it are not suited for his level. Sometimes he is just playing with the hamsters in the app. You can adjust the level of difficulty on it, and I think that’s something I have to set up in the next day or so. I plan to set it up so he can practice math and reading. It does help him learn computer skills and there are some great things on there. The other day, he was coloring pages on it and the way the app works is quite similar to Adobe Photoshop would do it. I would say that these type of “play” helps him get comfortable with software, figuring out where the tools and settings are and should translate to a skill of understanding apps as he grows older.

I want my son to develop a spatial understanding and understand the 3D digital world. I have no doubt that 3D will be a large part of the future and I want him to start learning about it. As part of this, he gets to play around in a free software called Sketchup. He loves Legos and he can pretty much do the same thing on Sketchup. At some point I plan on having him do a project which we can bring to the local library for 3D printing. Here is a picture of a recent building he did:

Sketchup Homeschool

I know the software so I am there to help troubleshoot it for him when he needs to. It is very easy to learn.


SCHEDULE AND TRACKING

So far schedule has been super flexible. I do not want my wife to feel pressured to homeschool him because when she does, she feels compelled to do a more rigid schedule like they had when she was younger. I would remind her that we are not boxing ourselves into the rigid schedule that government schools provide.

He gets casual reading and ABCmouse during the day with mom and then we do more focused time when I am there. Usually these are on weekends or on some weeknights.

We mark his progress in terms of units on a basic spreadsheet. A unit is simply a set amount of work or exercise with a goal. Maybe the goal was to read a book, complete some chores or answer some worksheets. This is for our reference only, it helps me track progress and make sure we are giving him enough material and time to develop and learn.


INCENTIVES

Mom came up with a smart idea and drew up this chart. We noticed how our son is incentivized with tracking his progress and competing with the rest of us. So, mom drew up a grid of squares and drew prizes on different parts of the grid. Everytime he completes a unit of homeschooling, he gets to color in a grid. As his units accumulate, he goes down the grid and can direct the grid to where he wants to. He gets the prize drawn in that grid. Some prizes include:

  • Picking a movie on Netflix/Amazon
  • 30mins of Ipad time
  • $1 to spend on anything he wants
  • A trip to Barnes and Noble

The more premium prizes are farther down the line of the grid to get to, so he understands that he needs to work to get there. So far his happiest was when he got to the grid for the ipad. He even volunteered to do extra units to get there.


CONCLUSION

We have a method going and are still developing it. I plan to finish strong so Mom can see how we can make this work while not killing ourselves pretending to be a government school and running that type of schedule. We want to teach our son the basics but also let him to build on his strengths, so as he gains new interests I will be there to give him the opportunity to pursue them. With future trends I am hoping he finds interests in robotics, science and engineering. At some point we will need to take on STEM subjects too-and those should be really fun for both of us-but for now we will keep building his basic reading skills.


MakeResilient aims to help build a more resilient lifestyle and family. I believe that we need to be ready for big changes coming to our current way of life (more info at the Concerns page). I am intentionally leading my family so that we can adapt slowly over time for the changing future. I’m no expert on all things, but I am acquiring the knowledge and skills of new things that I need.

Starting Homeschool in Texas

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

We are starting homeschool in Texas after having an unsatisfied stint at government school. Homeschooling should help us better customize learning and  education to my son’s strengths.


This month we are starting homeschool for my son. We have seen some negative changes with him since he started going to the local government public provided school. I have always discussed with my wife about homeschooling as an option. She comes from a family of teachers, so it has been difficult to explain to her. In the end, the problems from the government school made the decision easy for us.

Some issues or problems we have with government school:

  • We’ve been stressed out almost daily with his school schedule
    • the schedule works well so that parents can be at their 9-to-5 shift, but it sure hurts family time and makes it difficult to wake up for a 5 year old.
  • Always tired when he comes home
  • Something about this school made him not want to be there
    • He loved going to private school at our church the year before. However, since he started going to government/public school he has often told us how he does not like this school compared to the previous one
  • Has issues with teacher
    • I made some mention of this on here. It has not improved and actually escalated. Part of our decision to pull him from school was due to the teacher
  • His tantrums increased in frequency and intensity
    • He can be very emotional, but did not have intense tantrums like he’s been having. My wife (aka resilientMom) told me of how intense it got one day when he had picked him up from school. They were maybe 2 minutes out from the school driveway at the time. It was as if he had all this pent up frustration while he was in school.

Benefits from government school

My son did learn some basic things in his few months in school. These will make it much easier for me to teach him and let him learn on a self directed method.

  • Learned to read and write
  • Learned addition and subtraction

I have to give them credit for teaching my son reading and math. We plan on leveraging these skills and teaching him as much as he wants to absorb.


First step was for mom and dad to decide

One particular night full of insight, me and resilientM were talking about my son’s school experiences. I had been taking him to school and having lunch with him for the last few days while resilientM prepared for an exam. I shared with her an observation I had during lunch. My wife then went on to explain her own observations in all the times she’s gone to school for lunch or after school. We agreed that there were just some issues we could nto work out. We realized he was having issues with his teacher. Despite having gone to his teacher to try and figure things out, we felt the issue had gotten worse.

We explored the option of moving him to a different classroom. I said my son has a gift of not being shy and he can go in and transition quite quickly. ResilientM was concerned with this, but I reminded her of the gazillion times we were at a park and my son would just ambush every kid who approached the park and asked them to play with him. He was very convincing.

The other option was to try homeschooling him. I had always talked to my wife about starting to homeschool but she had a different idea of how it worked. Like most parents afraid of homeschooling, she was concerned our son would not have enough socialization. Now, given that my son is not shy I said I can help to tackle this. I can join homeschooling groups and meet with them on weekends. No matter what the concern is, we had to decide the best course of action for our son. He was having all these negative effects from school and I’d rather try experimenting now while it was still early, before problems grew and accumulate over many years of him being in the system.

Starting Homeschool in Texas
Photo credit Melvin E (flickr)

Mom chose to start homeschooling our son with me.

I think it is very important that she has as much input into this decision than I do. I know this path will have rough spots, and if I push us into this, at some point I will be blamed for it and then it will be easy to say my approach failed and homeschooling failed-let’s put him back in the system. We have to both agree it is the best option-even if only for a short time.


Back up plan

One concern was what happens if we start homeschool and years later find it does not work for us. My wife was concerned about how my son can re-enter the government school system.

I explained to my wife how the government school is funded on a per student basis. I reminded her how the school was very accommodating when we were asking on enrollment deadlines. The school wants our kids enrolled. I told her that it would not be an issue to put him back in school and that I have met many parents who have done it. If we cannot make it work, then we still have that option. (But man I sure plan to make homeschooling work)

After this, she felt more comfortable about trying out this path.


Have a rough plan how this would work

ResilientM did not want to take charge of this. One of her main issues was that she would end up doing this every day. She did not want the added workload.

We have a lot of freedom to homeschool in Texas. We can put together the curriculum and there are no requirements to reporting or testing. At least none that I have researched as of today. I might be wrong as I am still researching and still new to all of this. But the research has been consistent that we have those freedoms.

I told resilientM I would put together a curriculum. It would not be an all day, everyday schedule. It would be more of a focused, 2 hr intensive on certain days plus on a weekend. I have heard quite a few benefits where the children benefit from having more frequent rests through the day-even in government school. Knowing my son, I was 110% sure he would benefit from this and come back with renewed focus.

Kids benefit more from frequent breaks. Houston ISD has made the change.

Frequent breaks. Intense learning sessions and self directed learning on topics he is interested in. This was my goal to get us started.


Withdrawing from public school

The last part to getting us started in homeschooling, was pulling him out of school. We are fortunate to be in Texas where there’s not a lot of requirements when pulling your child out of school. After researching on it for some hours, I felt informed enough and prepared a letter for the principal, the counselor and the attendance person.

I had signed up earlier for access to the school’s parent portal website. From there I made pdfs of my son’s absences and tardy dates. His subjects and any other useful information for my records.

I found a good template from Texas Home School Coalition for a letter of notification for the school. The letter basically says we are withdrawing our child from public school. The letter also references a memo from our state’s Commissioner of Education so the school will not give me a hard time about it. The letter is addressed to the school admin saying we are not required to sign any additional forms and that the  letter of notification is all that is needed.

I made my letter based on the template and added a “received by” line at the bottom so the receptionist can sign it. I printed 2 copies of my letter so I have a record of them receiving it to take with me. I printed the letter from the Commissioner of Education and included this.

That next morning I went to my son’s former government school at the usual time we ran there many mornings before-often stressed out that he would be late and stressed by parking and all the frazzle. That morning I was relaxed and purposeful. My son was still at home, enjoying an extended and proper breakfast cooked lovingly by his mom.

I gave them the letter and politely asked them to sign so I have a confirmed receipt. The receptionist was hesitant, but since I addressed the letter to the principal she was off the hook and was simply receiving it. Fine, not a problem. I had always been nice to them even when sometimes the rules of their system made me upset.


Starting Homeschool

We actually have already started homeschool. I made some very focused worksheets for my son. The initial goal is to gauge where he is at and what flaws we need to work on.

Here are some worksheets we did.

This worksheet tests his spelling and imagination. He gets to write anything he wants about the image. His writing skill will need to come up to his level of imagination.

 

This worksheet was for me to gauge his writing skills. I asked him to write whatever he wants about the picture I drew. From here we learned we had to work on some letters and practice penmanship. (In the age of keyboards, I believe he still has to learn proper penmanship).

Here’s the penmanship exercise where we focused on some letters where he had issues with. Based on his hand’s dexterity, we changed how he wrote some letters and saw an instant improvement on them (check out improvements on “b”, “d” and “a”) Read more “Starting Homeschool in Texas”

Teaching my 5 yo how to deal with being left out

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

Children are often subjected to an unnatural environment in school where they have to “deal” with bullies and rewire their understanding of normal-how to sit, when they can drink water, when they can use the bathroom, etc. In this post, I wanted to share how our son is having issues with his teacher and how we plan to deal with the problem. Not by making him blindly obey the teacher, but by learning what the real issue is and building his character to face it.

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My 5 year old has been having issues at school, his teacher has sent us notes about his tantrums and about him not listening to her instructions. So, the other day, I went to my son’s school to talk to his teacher. I already read her note about my son’s behavior, but it was not very informative. It was the size of a note pad, so not much info could fit in there. I needed details. I went to meet with her with the goal of understanding why the situation started and how we can work around it.


GET MORE INFO ON THE WHY

 

Note: it is important to speak with your kid’s teacher and work to get that done. I tried to do a walk-in to chat with his teacher one morning when I took my son to class. The office told me I could not do that. I could fit in a few minutes early in the morning and would have to coordinate a time with the teacher. In my case I had to email her and set that up. So I got her email, sent her a short email saying I wanted to know more about her note and learn what happened. I think it helps to keep these letters short. We set up a meeting a couple of days later.

When I met with my son’s teacher she told me how my son behaved and how difficult it was. This went on for a bit, but I kept prodding around and asking, I cannot be content on just hearing how hard it has been to deal with my son. My goal was to find out why it happened and not just hear reactions about it.

After a while I got some useful info on how the routine was in the class. You need to learn to listen and ask questions and wait to hear what you want to learn. I learned how students are grouped and how they do their exercises. I learned how many students there are and how many stations they have to share amongst. By asking more questions, I learned that my son got upset at a particular scenario. There was an activity where kids started in pairs-but on occasion he would start without a partner and would feel left out. They took turns in this activity as to who has a partner and who doesn’t mainly because their groups were composed of 5 kids for the activity. This was the info I was trying to get at, because this lets me understand what I need to focus on teaching my son. Read more “Teaching my 5 yo how to deal with being left out”

Dealing with tantrums

I have been teaching my son how to control his frustrations for some time. It has been an issue for us and it has mellowed down quite significantly over the years. Still, it needs some work. I understand how hard it can be for his teachers in class when he bursts out on occasion-we’ve had to pull our hair out as well. Here are some example scenarios:

My son falls of some cliff for the 4th time in the video game he is playing. He’ll throw down the controller and burst out yelling “I am never going to get this!” and runs out to the bedroom to wail. After about 8 mins, he comes back pacified. I ask him if he is done, he says “yes” with a pouty face. And we have a short talk about how we will not buy a new controller if he breaks it when he has his tantrums. Previously, something like this meant a 30minute floor session making dust angels.
Another example is when he is putting on his seat belt. Sometimes he has a hard time getting his seat belt on. Lately it has worsened when he is wearing a thick jacket, or when we have junk laying in the car seat that bury the latch he has to get to. He will struggle and will resort to pulling it repeatedly-then with one last strained pull and a grunt as long as he can push for-he tries one last time. If it still does not click in, he will burst out screaming “dad I can’t get in in,it’s just so hard”. (This is partly my fault, as I will hurry him to buckle up because we are late for his school. I get stressed and I pass this onto him. I have since worked on this and am still, but he also has to deal with it as a separate issue.)
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Photo credits: Typical tantrum by SKXE (Flickr)
I know these are menial things, but these are examples of small things that can happen to us on any random day. Small things like these can ruin the mood for an entire weekend. It also makes us upset and sometimes we end up yelling even more. None of these are great for enriching our family experience. Here are some steps we’ve been making to deal with the issue.

FIXING IT

I am building myself a mental/emotional buffer

The buffer is made of non-emotional, monotonous and stoic response. When he freaks out about a game, I respond with a very dry and boring “okay let’s just stop playing the game if you cannot have patience to learn it”. This sometimes works, and I am adjusting it based on the situation. Maybe this is not a great example, but the point is for me to not reciprocate the tension he puts out. I respond calm and intentionally empty of feelings, with a mental hint of a consequence to his actions.

I interrupt it

I interrupt it before he peaks the tantrum. As he frantically tries to buckle his seatbelt for the nth time, he will start to speak in a tensed up voice. It will sound like “dad, i…just…can’t…find this…”and before he can even finish the sentence-which also is the peak of his patience after which he will burst into tantrum once the sentence is finished-I will calmly interrupt his sentence. I will blurt out “Oh I think I know how to help you fix that”. This response is not as dry, and  has a smile in the words I use. It breaks his pace and buys us time to talk him down and try it slower. In this situation I am interrupting his build-up, then redirecting his energy downward so that we can give him the support to do it himself.

 

Simulating the frustrating scenario

I’m contemplating on an exercise we can do to more proactively deal with this character trait. I will set up a situation where he will face a task designed to get frustrated. I will inform him that the exercise is for me and him, and should help both of us with the tantrums and frustrations. We would then go and do the exercise and repeat it until he really does get frustrated and learns to detach from it emotionally. When he does, we can either end the exercise or I can help him solve the problem. Depending on the exercise, this will also teach him the value of practicing a new skill and being humble. After the exercise is done, we will talk about what he went thru and learned, much like how we have mini-talks about lessons from small things. He loves to learn, and these talks work well for him.

Building our buffer

On our end we have to accommodate some of his traits. He will be distracted with some thing so we have to remind him until he has learned how to prioritize certain tasks (i.e. first thing to do when you get in the car is to buckle up). We also add extra time so we have a buffer against stress. If he still does get distracted, or if we miss reminding him, then we have time to redo it and we do not immediately get stressed out.

zeno_of_citium_pushkin
Credit: Shakko (Wikipedia)

Reacting is not effective

After doing the reactive thing for some time, I realize it is extremely not efficient. By reactive, I mean reacting to his tantrum by out-tantruming him sort of. Not only do we both end up upset, but the situation escalates. I hate myself when this happens-I feel I should be more in control of myself and at least not reciprocate. For this, the more stoic response worked out better in the long run (by this I mean that same session). I reciprocate with a non-emotional response and we de-escalate the drama. If he escalates the yelling, I continue to respond non-emotionally but remind him that there are consequences he will face (i.e. we are not going to X store as we planned to, or no this or that when we get home).

I am by no means an expert parent. I have a lot of bugs that need to be fixed, and these are my ways of working thru some of them. These work for us because of how we are and what our individual characteristics are. Every parent has to adapt their ways to how the whole family is. Every parent has to adapt to their kids. That is why kids never come with an instruction manual-there’s just too many factors that affect it. One key thing though, is to be observant of how we react to each other and base the solutions on that. In my case I feel I am the one who adapts easiest, so I adapt to my family and I try to coach them to find better ways to deal with issues. It is partly a burden, but also a gift.

I hope this has helped you think of some ways to deal with the tantrums. Keep in mind, you need to make the decision on how to deal with it before it actually happens. Always try to de-escalate it first. The goal is always to improve our lives for the long term and sometimes we need to take small steps to get there.

Giveaway: homeschool activity sheets on entrepreneurship & critical thinking

WHAT?

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I am giving away free activity sheets for homeschoolers who are interested in teaching their kids about:
-entrepreneurship
-problem solving
-critical thinking
-resilience

These are aimed at kids from 4 to 7 yo. These will be in pdf format for you to print and do the exercise with.

WHY?

I want to know if there is a desire in the homeschool community to teach on these subjects. If the demand is there, I will gladly provide free materials for 8 weeks (1 per week) to folks who help me validate this business. I do ask for help by giving me some feedback. These are things I really hope to teach to my kids, and perhaps other parents could use some teaching materials on the subject! If there is not a lot of demand/response I will still email you the first set of worksheets for your use. This survey does not capture emails, so I will reach out separately later on for the download link to the worksheets.

Please email me suggestions and questions at resilientdadblog @ gmail dot com.

Thank you!

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