Thursday, February 08, 2007

Term II for A2

I've been holding off on writing this post, as I feel as if I've been holding my breath. I think that it's time now, though.

As you know, I have struggled mightily to figure out the best way to teach A2. He's just so different from my other children (more like me than any of them, which is perhaps why it's so tough for me! ;-) I've talked before about how he shares so many of the visual-spatial learner qualities, and I've been working through what that might mean for me as his mother and teacher. I'm still not sure!

I have always found that I rely heavily - almost exclusively - on my instincts as a mom, especially a homeschooling mom. I tend to do a lot of research, lots of reading, lots of prayer, and then internally filter it all and just let what needs to happen, happen. And that's what's been happening with me the last month or so as I've searched for the best way to teach A2.

A2 is 7.5 right now. With a late-July birthday, he is technically in 2nd grade - but gosh, even if he was in an institutional school, I probably would have "held him back" a year. Especially as a young boy, I just haven't felt he's been ready for formal learning until very recently. (Interestingly enough, though the progression was much different, my oldest didn't really "get" the whole school/learning thing until about this same age.) And, wonder of wonders, since we've started back to school, things are going really, really well. I am definitely feeling more confident that his reading, writing, and math skills will be at least consistent with his "held back a year" status - in other words, I now expect him to complete first grade work by the end of the year. For awhile, I wasn't sure that would happen. I also am more confident that he will be ready to attend First Communion prep next fall. So, let me share with you what we're doing, and what is working.

I think the main thing that is helping is A2 is getting short, focused, individualized lessons. In reading, math, handwriting and religion, I am working with him one on one. I originally wanted to teach my younger 3 all at once, but I found it to be just too chaotic, the youngest two kids were fine with it, but it caused A2 and I a lot of stress. Taking an hour or so to work one on one with A2 makes such a huge difference for both of us. Consequently, I am not doing much with my youngest two right now, but that's ok. Technically S3 is only kindegarten age this year, and is definitely ready for first grade work, so I'm not worried.

A2 usually chooses to do math first. We've switched to MCP Math (we had been using Singapore). I found that Singapore teaches a lot with pictures - which I first thought would help him. But I discovered that he was content to just use the pictures to solve the problems - he understood the concepts of addition and subtraction, certainly - but he couldn't move into truly solving the addition problems without pictures. MCP math, so far, has a more natural (for him) progression from pictures to problems alone, and he's doing really well. He's got the addition concept down, is ready to start memorizing facts, and we'll move into subtraction next week. I'm also really pleased because he is starting to write the numbers himself (when both he and J1 first started math, I would write for them, or do the lessons orally - they both struggle with handwriting, and their knowledge and abilities far surpass their abilities to produce writing on their own, so we accomodate them for a couple years). This past week I've been able to tell him to do this column of problems while I go do something else, and when I'm not there he works quickly and accurately. I'm definitely going to increase his independent work in the upcoming weeks.

Next we usually do Phonics. I'm still using Explode the Code. It's not going wonderfully, there is a lot he just doesn't get - but he gets enough of it that I think it's useful. And, the best thing is that he volunteered by himself to start doing some writing. When we first started, because of the abovementioned handwriting issues, I would write for him or skip some of the more writing-intensive exercises. I never asked A2 to start writing, he just grabbed the pencil from me and did it on his own. That's really all the handwriting instruction I'm doing right now. And I'm not correcting his formation and neatness at this point. I'm simply trying to encourage him in his efforts, because I think that's what he needs. I think he'll be ready for a workbook of the "this is how you do it" variety next fall, once he gains a little confidence.

By this time, we've been working anywhere from 20-40 minutes, and A2 is ready for a break. When we get back together, we start with religion. With A2, he is most impressed and open to a "just the facts" kind of approach. Some kids get a lot out of the crafty projects and worksheets that are available for this age group, but A2 just zones out with that sort of stuff. I've been going through the Baltimore First Communion Catechism with him, and he listens intently, asks intelligent questions, and is pretty good at memorizing what he needs to know. We also do bible reading and saint stories separately with his brothers, but I like working with him one on one for the catechism questions. Finally, we work on reading. Wonder of wonders - guess what is working for him?? Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons! I have had this book since J1 was about 4 years old. I have periodically taken it out to try with each of my older 3 children, and it has just never "clicked" with any of us (including me!) So many people keep recommending it, that I felt compelled to try it one more time. And it's working really well!! I'm not following it quite exactly word for word, and I'm mimizing the writing required (though we are doing a bit of that, too). We're on lesson 8, and A2 is putting sounds together well, memorizing the letter sounds, and he is doing it all without complaint - even enthusiastically. He is reading quite a bit on his own, most definitely, but I think this will help him gain the knowledge he needs for fluency. I'm so excited for him!

And that is what we're doing every day one-on-one. We have bible stories, saint stories, and a read-a-loud with his brothers on most days, too. One thing I've found really helpful with our read-a-loud is that I read it during the day, and then at dinner dad and I ask questions about the chapter. When we first started doing that, A2 couldn't answer a single question. Now he's paying more attention and doing fine. I never had to do that sort of thing with J1, he was such a listening/oral kind of learner that he would just spout out narrations without us ever asking for them, lol! Not so A2, he needs a bit more encouragement, but he's doing fine.

As far as other subjects, like science and history - he is a sponge when it comes to those subjects, and learns so much from movies, games, and listening to us talk. He regularly spouts information about animals, for instance, and I have no idea where he learned these things. "Mom, when whales blow water like that, they're actually clearing out their lungs so they can breathe air when they're at the surface. Did you know whales breathe air like we do?" I didn't teach him that, have no idea where he picked it up!

He amazes me constantly with the knowledge that he has, the insight he shares. He is a fascinating, unique child, and I'm so glad he's mine!

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