iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-2006
 10 Thu, 08-05-2010 - 6:35pm

A lot of you will probably recall that David (12) has had a really tough time with school over the past couple of years, and that one of the biggest issues was homework.

Towards the end of this past school year, we decided to take him out of public school and do homeschooling. I didn't feel like we really had much choice, to be honest. As long as he was enrolled in public school, we were in danger of getting in trouble for his truancy, because we couldn't ever get him into the car to take him to school in the first place.

So far, it's just been an extended summer break for him. I've done a fair amount of research as far as what kind of curriculum we'll have. Luckily, our state is pretty lax as far as how we choose to do things.

I found this online math curricula, called ALEKS. I like the way it looks, and I thought it might be a good option for him. I was looking at a free preview, and there is short placement test, to help decide which level to start at. I got it all set up, and asked him to come and take a look, just for a few minutes. He did the first problem, although not with the good attitude I was hoping for. It didn't require any real thinking, other than learning how to type in the answer in the correct format. The second one showed a grid of 100 squares with a certain number of them filled in. It asked was the percentage of filled in squares was. He became all uppity about having to count the squares. He refused to make any effort to work out how many squares were filled in, so I worked it out for him, and said if he agrees that it's 50%, to type that in. He sat there and typed, "5.1349342" and all kinds of garbage like that. Finally he did it right, banging the heck out of MY keyboard in the process. Lastly, we went to the next question, which was "convert 20/7 to a mixed number." He immediately became oppositional, and refused to even try it. I told him if he doesn't remember how to do it, he should press the "I haven't learned that yet" button, and that will let the assessment know that he needs work on it. He said, "I can't push that button, because I HAVE learned it. I just don't remember it!"

I should have just smiled calmly, and said, "Let's just put this away for now." But no. It felt like we were reliving every bit of homework we ever had to deal with (the wounds still haven't healed), and I felt a sudden surge of panic. Since I took him out of school, I can't even have a proper conversation with anyone in my family anymore because they have no faith in my ability to do right by him. Now here he is, proving them right.

So my response was to give him a tearful, shrill lecture along the lines of, "Jane Austen once said that nothing kills the spirit like poverty, and THAT'S exactly where people who can't get through high school end up! Poverty! Your father and I both have college degrees and it's hard enough for us, blah blah blah!" while he yelled at me to shut up. It was just like an afternoon of homework at regular school.

In retrospect, I realize I didn't have to let it get to me so much. These months were supposed to be our "unschooling", so I regret that I even brought it up at all. But the reason I took him out of school in the first place is that the constant stress was destroying our family. Homeschooling is our last hope. I can't afford to have it go badly.

I know there's no requirement to do this particular math program, although it's the only one I can find that goes into higher levels. There's little chance that he'll actually have to use quadratic equations or derivatives in his daily adult life, but he will have to have a brain that has learned how to think. That's what math does, and why I'm a big fan of learning math.

In all fairness to him, nearly everything I learned in middle school and high school went in one ear and out the other, just long enough for me to pass a test. At his age I still cared about grades, but in high school I figured that since the teachers were dopeheads and perverts, impressing them wasn't so important. As an adult, when I needed or wanted to relearn stuff, I put in the effort and learned it. I trust that he'll learn and grow according to what he's interested in and motivated by. I know I can't force any of it. The problem is that he's interested in and motivated by such a narrow range of things, and only on his terms. Everything else, he vehemently rejects.

And of course, if he does poorly in anything, now people can say, "Well, it's his mother's fault because she took him out of school." That puts the pressure on, certainly. The fact that he was on his way to getting and ulcer because of school doesn't count.

:)

Evelyn

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-09-2009

I had/have the same issues with homeschooling my DS (what you write about David doing ALEKS math is eerily familiar, LOL, although we chose Teaching Textbooks...which we eventually gave up as it's not a great fit for my DS). Cr@ppy attitude combined with his ADHD behaviours (and anxiety), and add to that teen hormonal nonsense. It was rough at first, sometimes very rough.

We're at a better place now. I basically had to make a list on our whiteboard (although a list on paper would do) of his assignments for the day and tell him that all screen time would wait until he was done (and then ignore his tantrums, LOL). I'd offer assistance out the wazoo but would not cave on the screen time ban.

Another thing I had to do was to put away all the "fun" activities for a couple of months. The issue was that every time I pulled a "fun" activity out, he'd insult it and all but refuse to do it (and was such a misery while playing). So I put them away and pulled out worksheets and other REALLY boring things for a while and when I pulled out the "fun" stuff a few months later he was WAY more receptive to it (we even had a good time occasionally, haha).

This may sound like bribery, but I attached his allowance to his work. Once a week, we'd have a "fun" quiz where I'd ask him all kinds of questions (language arts, math questions from the week's work, French, geography, ect), and for every correct answer he'd get a dime until he'd earned his five bucks. When you think about it that's 50 right answers, and most days he was unhappy when the game ended.

Homeschooling is tough. You really need to know how to manage the kid, and starting during the tween years is really rough. It's do-able, though. If you start slowly, and don't let him do the things he'd rather do (for my DS, the rule at first was no screen time from 9am until 4pm, and then later it was changed to include him getting my list of work done before getting screen time back at 4pm), he'll get bored and become more interested in learning, even if it's something unexpected and of his choice (like he gets into marine biology, or something).

Another thing I did was to not do "school-at-home". I started out with that style but it was horrible for both of us (I'm not a teacher, it wasn't a classroom, and he's the most reluctant scholar, so why pretend it's school). So I worked on him reading novels (my DS is soooo not a fiction reader), math, grammar/spelling/vocab, current events (aka online news, followed by some pretty interesting discussions), and looked for engaging (non-schoolish) ways to learn history and geography. For science, all we did were experiments, while I'd give a verbal lecture about what was happening and why. All-in-all, school would take about 3 hours, and the rest of the day (until 4 pm) DS could read, do some writing, work on a craft or art work, watch documentaries, build legos, ect.

Will your DS watch documentaries. There are great doc series out there that are very engaging for all ages (Horrible Histories was my DS' favourite, and he likes Bang Goes the Theory and Mythbusters).

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-25-2007
I think the pp hit the nail on the head. As long as it's a choice between WOW and Algebra, WOW will win. There needs to be some ground rules and David needs to take ownership of this too. Most people don't remember specific details of what they learned in Middle school, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't valuable learning. They fail to realize that those "forgotten" details have actually built the foundation for their current higher level thinking. If you approach things with an attitude that the material isn't
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2003

My daughter is younger (7, going on 8 soon), but we home school half time and have for the last 2 years. We have a lot of struggles similar to those you described, and it drives me nuts. I've thought about putting up a heavy punching bag in the garage for me to use on school work nights. Here are some things I've learned:

1. Belligerence is almost always a sign that she finds some part of the work hard and is anxious about trying it again after a failure at school. Anything "stupid" or "boring" is difficult. So, we start most sessions by going through her starting rituals, and then a meltdown about how much she hates everything from me to the math sheet. It usually ends in sobs, an admission that she doesn't understand something, and a fairly open mind about learning it. This process can take a couple of hours on bad days, and is the chief thing I need her new pdoc to help us to work through this fall.

2. Math isn't the problem, arithmetic is. My husband is a mathematician and is fond of pointing out that almost everything people call math isn't really. Calculation comes easier with the means of thinking about it already in place. When our daughter is really freaking out over math skills my husband spends time teaching her interesting theorums or some cool logic games. It's another path to the material, but also a big confidence boost for her. Maybe you could start out with a semester of logic, or even programming, and see if that helps you move forward.

3. For non-school-assigned material we do a kind of guided unschooling. It's very project oriented and plays upon her special interest of the moment mercilessly. I've discovered that you can teach immense amounts of information using something like Greek mythology as a base.

4. I have to make her education my most important thing. I can't be distracted and rushed to get other things done. When we work on school work I try to be sitting in the room with her, even if she doesn't need to ask me questions. This drove me nuts at first. At first I wanted to help, or I wanted to start her off and head to the kitchen to make dinner. Now, I just sit and knit, or draw, or anything that commands just enough, but not too much of my attention.

5. Frequent breaks for physical activity make a huge difference. This time of year there's attempts to learn to jump rope and the swings and just running around the yard looking for flowers. In the winter I insist she use the rowing machine or mini trampoline. We also use interventions like a weighted lap blanket, theraputic putty, stress balls, and the like to help her calm and focus herself.

Mary

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-09-2009

<<<3. For non-school-assigned material we do a kind of guided unschooling. It's very project oriented and plays upon her special interest of the moment mercilessly. I've discovered that you can teach immense amounts of information using something like Greek mythology as a base.>>>

I'm not an "unschooler" per se, but it is amazing how much can be learned (and learned for life) when it's child-led and informal.

<<<5. Frequent breaks for physical activity make a huge difference. This time of year there's attempts to learn to jump rope and the swings and just running around the yard looking for flowers. In the winter I insist she use the rowing machine or mini trampoline. We also use interventions like a weighted lap blanket, theraputic putty, stress balls, and the like to help her calm and focus herself.>>>

I have to ditto this strongly. We also took frequent breaks throughout the day. We also devised our "school-year" to be 12 months long. Instead of long stretches between holiday breaks and then a two-month summer break where lots was forgotten, we school for 4 weeks and then take a week off, and carried this through the summer as well.

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-24-2001

I know exactly what you mean about others blaming the homeschooling for all his problems. In the beginning, I only home schooled my daughter. My son was in public school and had problems. So some people would try to tell me he had problems because he was home schooled and she was lucky she was turning out OK. Home school becomes an easy scapegoat for others.

I have concluded that I cannot do computer based learning for my 8 yr old. He gets too worked up if he does not get a problem right off.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-09-2009

<<>>

I had the same difficulty with my DS (we used Teaching Textbooks for math). If it was really easy stuff then he was ok, but if he was confused the least little bit then he'd just come unglued. We have a big whiteboard, and we just went back to him doing problems on the whiteboard with me reminding him of the steps when he seemed to be struggling to remember them. There's way less drama doing it this way.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2003
Don't you love the white board? I even got DD's teacher to let her to math tests on the white board, with a assistant (often she or I) to write transcribe her answers/work to paper. We do all her math sheets that way.
iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-2006

I appreciate all these responses. In hindsight, I realize that I sprung that math test on him out of the blue. I hadn't intended to do any school-related stuff at all until his brother went back to school in Sept, and maybe not until later. I also intended to ease into it gradually. But all of a sudden, here I was with this placement test in front of me, and it's so much like regular school, I suppose it kind of freaked him out.

Part of the problem is his personality and mine don't always mesh. For the most part we get along great, but when he's stressed, he lashes out with venom. He's a Scorpio, so I guess that's his sting. For whatever reason, I wasn't prepared for it. I personally thought the math program looked like a fun way to learn, so I thought at the worst he would get bored with it easily.

I admit, there is a big part of me that wants him to have a certain amount of positive homeschooling experience sooner rather than later. Before long, DH is going to be having one of his two-hour long phone calls with his parents who live in Wales. They are going to want to know the minute details of each boys' start of the school year. My MIL is going to be horrified at the idea that we've taken David out of school, and it's essential that we have a few positive experiences to share. Otherwise she'll be sending us newspaper clippings about hair-raising homeschool tragedies, and whatnot. Taking him out of school is bad enough, but making him stay at home all day with *me*, of all people--- Horrors! Ha ha!!

She firmly believes that the root of all David's problems is that we keep him at home too much as it is. (He HATES being away from home, and therefore outings are rarely fun for anyone. So, yeah, we stay home a lot.)

Her other grandsons (her daughter's boys) are perfect little angels who adore their weekend trips to the seaside. It's different for them, though. They live in rural England, so their family trips involve a lot less snarly traffic, crowds, and expense. For us it's like, "Look, another strip mall! That one's got a Blockbuster just like the last three we passed!" Or, "Hey look! That blue BMW we saw two hours ago is tailgating someone else now!" For them, they just drive through the gorgeous English countryside, set up camp in some area they don't even have to pay for, and have a lovely time.

But I digress.

Actually we did go out to the Chabot Space and Science Center today. It was reasonably pleasant, with no meltdowns or anything. It cost \$80, though, which gives staying at home a certain appeal.

Oh well, whatever. I think I'm going to go get a snack. :)

Evelyn

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-09-2009