Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Enough complaining and whining - time for action...

Friday is Little Brother's last day of public school! We've been going through a rough patch with first grade, and it didn't make sense to keep trying to muddle our way through when there's another option available to us. I'd obviously not been won over by school this fall, but was trying to be supportive of a choice that was making my boy happy, and certainly wasn't damaging him - until it started damaging him.

One night I heard him crying softly in his bed - turns out he was worrying about the next school day, and feeling like he's "not smart enough" for first grade. I immediately emailed the teacher to let her know what we were dealing with at home, so she could either shed some light on the matter, or work with him on her end. After all, with him away from me for 7 hours/day, she's the one who has him for most of his waking hours - plus she's "the professional" and I thought she might have a few tricks up her sleeve. She is a nice woman, and my boy thinks she's amazing, so I have no gripes against her really - it's just that her methods of trying to build his self-confidence back up were hugely unsuccessful. She let me know that she's constantly telling him how smart he is, and publicly pointing out her own mistakes and foibles to him in an effort to make him feel better, but to no avail. The fact is we can tell him these things until we're blue in the face, but if he doesn't believe it and really feel that he is successful, our words matter little.

Unfortunately, after weeks of working on this issue, Little Brother's attitude towards himself and school has not improved. He began asking, daily, to homeschool. So, after many long discussions with dear husband (who agreed that when our intelligent boy believes he's stupid, there's a problem), I set the wheels in motion to home school. I filled out the paperwork yesterday, had it signed and date stamped, and then let his teacher know. She was very supportive, and agreed that the home school environment was likely a good fit for him right now. Today I go to the school's office and let them know officially. I also want to talk with the principal about having my boy continue taking music with his class twice/week (state law allows homeschoolers free access classes, such as PE and music, on a space-available basis at their neighborhood schools). After a Halloween party at school on Friday, he will officially be a first grade drop-out!

This will be a big adjustment for all of us. Big Sister is worried about having less one-on-one time with me - a valid concern. She's also worried that Brother won't like her humming and fidgeting as she works - he probably won't. She does agree that school isn't working for Brother, and that he deserves the same opportunity to learn at home as she is having. I'm confident we will make this work, and that we will all be happier for it. Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A rant from a home schooling mom with a child in public school

A recap: Little Brother is in first grade at the neighborhood elementary school, and Big Sister homeschools. Little Brother says he likes school. Mom doesn't like school. Little Brother frequently comes home and shares things about school that make Mom cringe. Little Brother is a grumpy beast every single morning when we are getting ready to walk to the bus. Mom has told Little Brother that she doesn't understand how he can like school but be such a rude crab while trying to get him out the door to this wonderful place. Mom isn't having a good time.

Shall I count the ways in which I dislike school (in no particular order)?

1.We can start with the three weeks of mind-numbing math review that had Andrew in tears at homework time because "I already did this in school. Why do I have to do it again?" Honestly, I don't know. But if you want to play the school game, then this is what you put up with. And even though I would like to have kept him moving forward on the math he'd been doing over the summer, he was burnt out after a long day, followed by homework. "Afterschooling" would be cruel, for both of us.

2. The ridiculously long school day. He leaves home at 8:45am and returns to the house at 4:10pm. That's nearly 7 1/2 hours. These are children, for Pete's sake. I completely understand that the long school day is a huge blessing for families that do not have an adult home during the day, and relieves some of the financial burden of childcare. I would like to have the option of a shorter day for families that are able to accommodate that (oh, wait. i do have that option - home schooling).

3. Homework in first grade. Dumb. It's all part of the trend - cram more academics in earlier, extend the day, and you're supposed to have some magic recipe for higher test scores 11 years from now. I think the experiment is failing. If I remember correctly, when I was in school we did NOT spend all day in school and our test scores were higher. Quantity (time spent in school being stuffed full of information) does not equal Quality learning.

4. I can't even pick my own kid up from school. Last Friday I sent him to school with the proper form filled out so that we could pick him up as our family was heading out of town at the end of the school day, rather than him riding home on the bus. When the school day ended, Brother's teacher wouldn't let him get in the parent pick-up line, even when he reminded her that he did bring a note that morning. She had forgotten, and told him he didn't have a note and made him get in the bus line area. When we finally found him he was sobbing - full body-shaking sobs, afraid we were going to leave town without him. When we homeschool, I don't have to fill out anyone's form to leave town on a Friday afternoon.

5. His class earns marbles in a marble jar when they're being good. Last Friday the jar was full to the top, so the class got to vote on what kind of "party" they wanted to have for the following Monday. Brother voted for an extra recess, but watching a movie won. Monday rolls around, they start watching the movie during snack time, but a lot of the kids are talking so the teacher turns the movie off part way through and the entire class loses their earned reward. Andrew was not talking, in fact is such a strict rule-follower he probably earned half those dumb marbles for his class... and he was enjoying the movie because it was about his favorite book characters of all time: Kevin Henkes' mice. He was so sad and disappointed. I asked him (and I really shouldn't have said this, but the whole thing was ridiculous) "So did you turn around to the rest of your classmates and say 'You guys all suck! Can't you keep your mouths quiet for 15 minutes?!!'" Fortunately he said he hadn't, and you can't say stuff like that at school. Too bad - they deserved it. I hate when the good kids get punished because of idiots they can do nothing about.

6. Other kids are annoying. Really. And they don't listen to politeness and respectful behavior. What's wrong with these kids? There's a girl that is constantly in Brother's space every single day after school in the bus line. She touches him and tickles him, and doesn't stop. For the first couple of weeks he would politely say "Please stop." which only fell on deaf ears. This caused him to revert to behaviors we haven't seen in over a year, where he self-harms out of frustration - biting himself, scratching his face hard enough to leave marks, pounding his head into the ground. Nice, huh? I realize he needs to learn other ways to manage frustration, but this annoying kid needs someone to teach her that when someone repeatedly asks you nicely to stop, you stop. Neither kid is being helped by a guiding adult in this situation. If my kid someday smacks her (rather than hurting himself), I will applaud him.

7. Not enough time for my slow eater to finish lunch, and he's not drinking liquids. Not the school's fault entirely, but something that could be completely avoided if he were eating lunch at home. He never finishes all his food, and he doesn't have enough time to finish his apple juice. Because he doesn't have time to finish his apple juice, he's stopped opening it up at all. Why? Because any liquids have to be squeezed out over a strainer into a garbage can at the end of lunch, and he has a hard time coordinating a proper squeeze that doesn't get juice all over him. Rather than face that stress (since everyone is in a hurry at that point, and the line is growing behind him), he has determined it can be avoided by simply not drinking. This is my kid who is just overcoming 4 years of severe bowel issues and is finally weaned off of daily meds, and needs to be drinking fluids so he doesn't back slide. But I can't be there to say "hold on and drink your juice before heading out to recess".

8. The bus is completely inconsistent. This is a gripe, but it's related to my overall dissatisfaction with our school experience. The bus shows up sometime in a 10 minute window on either side of his appointed drop-off time (morning too, but slightly more regular). I have to block 25 minutes out of my afternoon to make sure that I'm at his stop in case she's running early, leaving Big Sister home to mill about. I'd just like some predictability, that's all I ask.

9. My boy is starting to read, but can't really read yet. Sometimes he doesn't quite get the directions right on the work he does in class. The other day he was supposed to draw and odd number of shapes, and an even number of shapes. He ended up drawing two shapes of odd-numbered sides (triangle and pentagon), then added all the sides together and wrote "8". He did the same for the evens, drawing a square and a hexagon, then adding all the sides and writing "10". We were looking it over when he got home, and he said "Hey! Why'd she mark that wrong?" Well, dear, it's because the teacher is expecting the same conventional responses to these questions out of each of her students, and it's too much to expect her to figure out that your answer shows understanding of the concept - and then some. There is little room in public education for thinking outside of the box.

This is all just a rant. School is not killing my boy (yet), or me (but almost). I think the reason the first month of school has been so hard for me is because I see daily that everything about it is unnecessary. We could avoid all of this by homeschooling. When I think about what he's gaining that he wouldn't be receiving at home, there's very little I come up with. This all struck me yesterday when Little Brother spent a school day at home with us. He woke up around 4:30am with a cough and never fell back to sleep, so I decided to keep him home for the day. It was great - we all homeschooled, he came along to Natalie's Spanish class and swimming, he learned to play tether ball, he picked a chicken egg from our friends' hen house, and we met some very rude and obnoxious homeschooled boys (and I was able see everything happen and talk to him about it later). It was a fabulous day, and it all felt right. I don't think we'll be playing the public school game much longer, as it's just not worth it to us on so many levels.