Thursday, November 12, 2009

Slower Learning, Ups & Downs

We have always homeschooled, and while it hasn't always been what I would call easy, it has never really been what I would call hard. I always knew I wanted to homeschool, from the moment I heard there was such a thing, I knew that was what I would want to do with my children. I was young and idealistic, and while I didn't know all the hows nor all the whys of homeschooling, I did intuitively know that it had, in my opinion, the greatest potential for excellence in learning, in just about any and every area of life, so much more than academics alone.

The first bump in my road came when I started to try to teach my oldest son the concept of subtraction. Addition had been a breeze, but this new angle on numbers just didn't click as naturally. To him, 3-2=5, you know, because there was a 3 and a 2, and they make 5. The symbols and even the words minus or subtract meant nothing, at first. I spent what seemed like hours, playing with manipulatives of all kinds- crayons, Lego's, counting bears, blocks, pretzels, candy- you name it, we did math with it.

I could put 3 bears on the table and say "now, if we have 3 bears and then we take away 2 bears, how many bears do we have left?" and he would say "5", despite there being only 1 bear on the table. I was in a mild state of shock, and a total state of perplexed. How can you look at 3 things on the table, see 2 of them taken away, and think there are 5, when you see 1 left?
I was beginning to lose my patience, and worry about what I had gotten myself into; and then it occurred to me- before I knew how to subtract, I didn't know how to subtract.

Brilliant observation, I know. I don't remember learning how to add & subtract. I must have either learned fairly young and just don't remember, or it was a traumatic experience and I have suppressed all of those memories... (Kidding!) Seeing as I was one of those 'math nerds' in high school, and even earned varsity letters (for the varsity jacket I never got) on the Math Team, twice. Yep, there are such things as Math Teams, and I solved many a stumper of a math problem to win points for my school. Cool, I know.

Back to my observation, at some point in time, even simple things like adding & subtracting were new concepts to me. What would've happened if I didn't 'get it' the first time a new concept was presented to me and my presenter (be it my mother or my school teacher) had written me off as 'slow' or 'learning disabled' or even worse, just plain 'dumb'?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as my 2nd son has struggled some with his math fact recall. He gets it. He gets addition, he gets subtraction, and now he gets multiplication, but he doesn't have that instant recall most of us have after seeing 3 & 7 enough times to just blurt out 21 without even thinking. You can see the wheels start to turn in his head, and you can almost hear the inner dialogue, "let's see, 7 times 1 is 7 and 7 times 2 is, um, lemme think, 14, and then 7 times 3 is let's see, 14 plus 7 more, that would be, um, 21! Yep, 3x7 is 21!".

Math is work for him, and that's okay, I know we're not all wired the same. Some kids can memorize a fact after hearing it once or twice, others need to review it several times, and still others, this child included, just need the repetition of hundreds of times. Yep, I said hundreds. There is no way he would succeed at math without the 1 on 1 tutoring we can do at home and without the hours and hours of repetition he needs. Math lessons, math flash cards, math speed drills, math games, it all takes time, it all takes work, but that's just what we do.

I totally admit it- I went into homeschooling thinking I would produce a whole gaggle of those genius kids you hear about winning spelling and geography bees and math & science competitions. I've learned that doesn't happen in every homeschool family (not many, actually...), and that has been kind of a painful lesson for me to learn; painful in that it can sometimes hurt my pride, but, well, one way to keep that pesky pride in check is to wound it now and then...

My most recent challenge has been with my 6 yr old, who is very close to turning 7, while being nowhere close to reading. I'm no longer one to panic about delayed reading. I've read enough stories and studies and met enough people with late readers to know that most late readers catch up to 'average', and many even surpass those bright & early readers, somewhere around age 12... That being said, this child is pushing me closer to that worry point with the fact that she cannot seem to even remember all of her letters yet. She's close, but then there are some letters that just bring blank stares, even after seeming to have it down pat the day before.

I've got some sandpaper to make letters, some embroidered alphabet bean bags under construction, some tiles to paint letters onto, and about 101 other ideas to make learning to read a fun adventure for her, and who knows, maybe the 3 & 4 yr olds will be reading soon too, with all of the phonics going on around here... it could happen.

Teaching our own children is an awesome responsibility, it can be hard, and it can be tiring, and frankly, it can be quite thankless work- but seeing the glimmer in the eyes of a child who makes a connection, who has something click, who is learning, is so rewarding. Teaching a child how to learn and then setting them loose to explore the world through many great books is an adventure I'm really getting excited about as my 2nd & 3rd children are now fluently reading and beginning to devour books and tell me all kinds of things, sometimes things new to me- now that's the stuff good homeschooling days are made of!


Blogger Holly said...

Great post! A nice reminder that not everyone learns the same or at the same pace and it's a lot easier to work with that in a homeschooling setting. God bless - Holly

November 12, 2009 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

Wow, thank you so much for this honest post! I have read some homeschooling posts that make it sound like "yeah, my kid just wizzes right through it all!" LOL that is never the case all of the time! I was a kid that, like your son, had to sit and think through multiplication. I still have to think through addition sometimes - it is awful! But I can definitely tell you where a comma goes and what the past participle is! Just different strengths and weaknesses!

November 14, 2009 at 12:05 AM  
Blogger Pam, mom, honey, said...

I so agree, some days I wonder why do they not know that and then have to remember HELLO one day you did not know that. i feel so blessed that i am able to keep my babies (now 13,9,7 and 4) home with me. what wonderful memories to have

November 25, 2009 at 3:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so true - I thought I would have a breeze making my children into super-smart people - and they are, but not the way I thought it would happen. I have a son who is great at understanding math concepts and coming up with the right answer, but he does the same thing with the multiplication facts - even though we do drills DAILY - he just takes it a little slower! He has gotten much faster, but since he was different from his brother, I initially thought something was wrong! Your post is very encouraging!
I appreciate your blog - I grew up with D and G - lived just a few blocks away - thrilled to see all the beautiful children! - Katie

December 5, 2009 at 8:51 PM  

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