Monday, February 27, 2012

Homeschooling: Getting Help When and Where You Can

Reading Green Eggs and Ham at home on the couch March 6, 2013

My recent attempts at “homeschooling” have led to frustration for me and for Jonah. Being an active and imaginative, left-handed boy, and, subsequently, very right brained, he doesn’t do well with traditional learning environments (to understand why keep reading). Sitting at a desk for long periods doing worksheets is not going to work for him. So, how do I approach homeschooling as the instructor when that is mostly what I remember school to be?

When a chance encounter presented me with the information about a homeschool conference, I couldn't resist. With my past experiences in mind, I had some very specific questions going into the conference.
  • How important is handwriting at this age?
  • How much time of actual instruction do you give a 5 year old on a daily basis?
  • How long of an attention span should I expect on any one activity?
  • What does homeschool look like anyway - a classroom at home?
  • What is a good curriculum to start with for young children? 
The conference I attended was put on by Heart for Homeschool. It was fairly small and informal, which suited me just fine. While some of the initial sessions were anecdotal in nature, they helped me realize that every homeschooling mom will have struggles and challenges, and not just at the onset. 

The Thing about Right-Brained Learners....

One of the best sessions was something to the affect of “Tips and tricks to teaching your right brained child.” During this session, I learned the difference between auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactual learners (I suspect Jonah is primarily a kinesthetic learner.) The session leader also brought up the importance of brain integration therapy for those right-brained learners and recommended resources by Diane Craft. Basically, everyone is primarily left or right brained – usually revealed by being right or left-handed, respectively. Right-brained individuals process information differently than left-brained individuals. (One consolation: historically, most inventors, presidents, and overall those who have been deemed to have a genius intellect have been left-handed and right-brained.) Brain integration activities train the right and left lobes of the brain to work together more affectively, thus overcoming what can be perceived, particularly in a traditional classroom setting, as a learning disability or deficiency. 

The session leader also mentioned a study that compared overall academic performance between those who demonstrated good handwriting and those who did not. It revealed that the children who who had good handwriting had also performed better academically than those who did not have good scores in handwriting. There is other research out there as well that supports the importance of handwriting. This leads to the conclusion that practicing and achieving good handwriting helps with brain integration.

I'm not exactly sure of the relationship between brain dominance and brain integration. However, I took note of all the brain integration stuff because my husband had been reading about it simply as a topic that intrigued him, and, as a result, was trying to convince me not to neglect handwriting instruction with Jonah. 

Getting Some Answers

One of the most rewarding aspects of the conference was the opportunity for newbies like me to hear stories and get tips from those more experienced than I. There were break out groups where I was able to ask my questions directly to those who have gone before. Here is a summary of what I learned:

First of all, in regards to handwriting, some moms felt that handwriting wasn’t a big deal and waiting was fine, while others subscribed to the importance of brain integration therapy. Moms at both ends of the spectrum recommended Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) as a resource that I should look into. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has struggled with teaching handwriting! The bottom line is to discern what works best for you and your family. My husband and I believe there is probably something to this brain integration therapy and, after some research, have decided to begin handwriting instruction via the methods used in HWT. 

When asked about daily instruction time, most moms said a maximum of 1.5 to 2 hours for young kids like mine and, when working on something intensive, to break it down into 10 minute intervals with a more fun activity or lesson in between. 

On the issue of curriculum, I heard several mothers rave about a curriculum called "Five in A Row”. What really got me excited about this curriculum was upon hearing how much fun the moms had in the process as well as the multi-cultural aspect. The curriculum is essentially a reading list where you focus on one book a week and go through as many related exercises as you feel are appropriate – everything from art, to geography, to math – with the book as the foundation for those activities. 

The biggest one-line take away for me from the conference was, “Don’t try to recreate the classroom at home.” As I was publicly schooled in traditional classroom settings, I needed to hear that, so I could be free to brainstorm and envision sitting on a blanket in the back yard, sitting in the living room on the couch, on the floor, sitting on a bed, or at the kitchen table. 

As a result of this conference, I feel like I have more tools, ideas, and encouragement and I really needed all three. 

School is in session!

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