Monday, August 07, 2006

How Much is Too Much?

I am preparing to homeschool Joey. This is a daunting prospect, to say the least. Joey is very smart yet very determined to dislike schooling of all kinds. I was reminded of this today as I attempted, completely unsuccessfully, to administer a standardized test.

The reason we decided to homeschool Joey is that he has trouble completing his work at school. Some of this work ends up coming home, in addition to his homework load, to be completed at night when he is least able to focus. The nightmare that this became for our family (parents, siblings and most of all Joey himself) was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It was my thought that if I had him fresh in the morning, I could get him through his coursework before his afternoon slump and avoid the late afternoon homework situation completely. In addition, I figured I could work with his natural tendency toward good and bad days, laying off when needed and making it up when possible.

This all sounds great in theory, but in reality, can I get him to do his work at all?
Granted, I was not wise in my testing today. He had an earache and was overtired; I should know better. However, I am finding myself, just 3 weeks before school is to begin, questioning my curriculum and considering changing things around completely. In order to get the new curriculum in time, I had to get him through the placement test quickly. Turns out, that wasn't such a good idea. Smart boy that he is, he is quite aware that he has already taken one such placement exam (for the old curriculum) and, very much like his mother, does not like to do things over.

To further complicate the matter is the reason I am considering new curriculum in the first place. My original enrollment has been with Seton. I like the daily lesson plan, the all-in-one ease of the program and the cohesiveness of it all. It truly seems to be "Homeschool for Dummies" (no offense intended, I just mean it is like is hard to mess up if you follow the instructions). I think this is a good place for me to start.

However, when Joey was recently skimming his textbooks he pointed out to me just how religious they are and took offense to this. "Can't just one book not have God in it?" he asked. I thought good and hard about this before responding.

While I absolutely believe that all life should center around God, do I also believe that anything secular is bad? Not at all. I am not choosing to homeschool so that Joey will never be exposed to a secular viewpoint. It is my job as his parent and teacher to be sure that he learns Christian values in the context of our secular world. As Joey rightly pointed out to me, the only overtly religious textbook he had last year in his wonderful parochial school was his religion book. The rest were just math, just science, just handwriting. And I couldn't be more pleased with his spiritual development to date.

As I went through the Seton books again, I was amazed to see that every sentence in the handwriting book had something to do with religion. Every book report was about a saint (again, these have their place but isn't a boy entitled to read Captain Underpants occasionally, especially if he is a very reluctant reader?). Even the math word problems were about counting holy cards and rosaries. It is too much.

If I cram religion down his throat instead of letting him witness it through our daily lives, is he not more likely to turn away from it? In saying this, I must clarify that I in no way wish to curtail his religious education. I want him to thoroughly know and understand the beauty of our faith, because I believe it is not always evident without education. But is his soul going to be damaged if he practices handwriting with the absence of religion? To the contrary, I think it will be kept more intact in the long run.

To make a long story short, on the advice of a friend of Jay's from Opus Dei, we have investigated the California Virtual Academy. It is a public school curriculum that we will supplement with religion. So far I like what I see. Now, I know to be careful of seeming innocent secular materials slanting historical events in a way unflattering to the church. And I know how prevalent our cultural horrors can be in secular textbooks. But am I not the one in charge here? Can I not present the material in any way I like? Plus, in 3rd grade I am not concerned that a subliminal message he receives on Christopher Columbus' voyage is going to overrun all that he learns from his family about the church.

So, here I am at a crossroads. New textbooks? I think so. Can I get him through another placement test? We'll see. Will I fail miserably and send him back to Sacred Heart before Christmas? Perhaps. But I hope not.

All I know is that I desperately want to do what is best for Joey. Ultimately, I care far less about his academic development than I do his spirituality and overall happiness. However, I am keenly aware of my responsibility to educate him solidly academically as well.

I know that many of you who read this blog homeschool already. I welcome your comments on this topic as I am admittedly naive. Anything sounds different before you actually do it. Any tips on getting a reluctant learner through his work? Any thoughts on secular versus Catholic textbooks? Help please! This mom needs input and encouragement.


Jen said...

I don't have any experience in home schooling but I do have a very brilliant yet reluctant learner in Hannah. I hesitate to say reluctant learner because she loves to learn about things on her own terms...not in a classroom by a teacher who is suppossed to be smarter than her and around other kids who ridicule her intelligence. Apparently it is still not "cool" to be a brainiac. As we saw over the summer hannah and Joey are 2 peas in a pod. If I could have had the patience to have home schooled her in the ealier years I would have. Hindsight, it's a beautiful thing,NOT! Suz, follow your heart on this one. You know your child and what he needs. Go with it. You are doing the best thing by asking for advice from people who have been there/done that. FYI Aunt Terry used the Bekka program and supplemented with some others. She didn't find just one program that did everything so she pulled the best from a few.

Michelle said...

I looked at Seton and agree that everything Catholic is too too much. I don't mind the handwriting with Bible quotes. I don't mind history and science from a Catholic perspective. But I feel that the Seton method excludes non-Catholic material in order to shelter children from their influence...and I don't believe that sheltering children completely from the outside world is a good thing. I think they need to learn to deal with the outside world, not hide from it.

But it's a fine line, too. I don't think we should throw our kids out to the wolves and expect them to survive. You need to know what your kid can take...give them enough of a challenge to grow strong, but not make them bear the brunt of secular forces which could squash any spiritual development.

I use a Catholic classical curriculum: Laura Berquist wrote a book called Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum which I recommend. It's late in the summer, Suzanne. I don't think you should stress out about exactly what you'll be doing this year. Go with the public school package for now, but keep an open mind about what and how you want to teach your child. I have had to adapt and change styles, methods and subjects in response to my kids as the school year progresses. No one package will be perfect for you or for your child.

And if you can figure out a motivating factor that works with 8 year old boys, please share your wisdom with me! This is my biggest problem! For now: no TV or playing with friends until the school work is done is (barely) motive enough...and I have to fight for it every step of the way.

I have to pack for our camping me more questions, and I'll be happy to answer them!

Michelle said...

Or, use the Seton material you already purchased, but allow yourself the freedom to do a book report on a secular topic or whatever.

As to your son's complaint about it being "too religious" - well, it won't kill him, right? You can always substitute or supplement at will. I'll be using A Beka science this year (Christian, not Catholic...I think and I use their math too (excellent, I highly recommend it). You can buy these items separately and use them instead of the Seton material (then substitute A Beka book for Seton book in the daily plan).

Good luck.

Annie Bizzi said...

I'd like to throw in my two cents...2 mantra's that resounded with me in all of my special education experience are: "all behavior has meaning" and "focus on the positive".
My advice would be this: Research curriculum that is interesting to you and Joey-material that you find engaging--chances are, Joey will too. Often this may be secular and anything by the publisher DK and the myriad of video and sound clips that PBS, Smithsonian, and National Geographic have available are very interesting and can be used as a part of a custom designed plan for his learning. Before you develop and structure your curriculum, I would give some serious thought to a rewards/incentive system. We all like to work toward the proverbial carrot-whatever it may be for Joey-and use it to help him complete small tasks (positive words, star chart, small toys, treat jar, etc). You are so dedicated, intelligent, etc. that I know this will work out for you both. Typically the stressers of daily life turn us away from the positive, but bringing it to the top of the heap is always encouraging-whoops, my two year old is running down the street, NAKED--maybe you can't take much of what I've said too seriously, I just wanted to provide you with words of support regardless.
Take care-Vito

nutmeg said...

Like Michelle, I am using Mother of Divine Grace. And I also would love love love some pointers on how to keep an 8 year old boy on task!

Good for you for stepping forward and trying your best to do something that will help him. And the "over-religiousity" of the Seton curriculum sounds a bit much to me. My 8 year old wouldn't have tolerated it either. Your Joey sounds a lot like my Ethan. He also had a hard time finishing his work, and it was hell every night trying to get his homework done. Talk about a sure-fire way to get a kid to hate learning!

And so, we'll both need lots of encouragement this year! Please keep me posted, especially with any "ideas" you come up with!

God bless, and good luck!

nutmeg said...

Oh! One thing I am doing differently this year is that I am using different "mediums", i.e. computer, dvd, cd, as well as good ol' reading and writing.... All would be educational, but definitely more appealing than sitting at the homeschool table all day!

Hope this helps!

Suzanne Di Silvestri said...

Thank you, all, for your encouragement. It helped more than you know!

I am happy to report that Joey is successfully through 5 of 7 placement tests now and that I have begun an incentive program that is making them relatively painless (so far).

Your posts were just the inpsiration I needed to look at how I was doing things and make some immediate adjustments.

Thank you!

optimom52 said...

I highly recommend the Virtual Academy! We used it last year with Thomas and he loved being on the computer (science and history, art and music) and I loved the ease of record keeping -- once he completed a subject, I checked the box and we were done! They send all the materials and the computer and it's great -- the education specialists are helpful (try to get Greg Tepe -- he was Tom's E.S. last year and I've known him and his family forever) and the workload is flexible. Many times we'd do a week's worth of a subject because we were on a roll. They also are much more respectful of Christianity (Tom's reader had an entire section of Bible stories) than public school curricula.
Thirteen years ago when we started homeschooling, we went with Seton. I was homeschooling 5 and I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of work, not even the contents! You know your boy and I would recommend CAVA -- but do the assessment on a healthy day! It's a wonderful decision you've made to be home with your boy and help him succeed, and it's great that you have some choices in curricula now. I'll be praying for you!

Renee said...

Great posting on the subject. I have no interest in homeschooling at this time, but like you said witnessing faith in an imperfect world in the age appropriate matter not shletering is apart of being a Catholic parent.

antonia said...

really interesting post.

I have no experience of homeschooling in any context at all so I can't help in that regard. I will say a prayer for you though!

God Bless