Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kindergarten, revisited

This is my third trip through the world of educating a five year-old, so one would think that I'd have the whole thing tied up. So how come I feel like I'm brand new to the whole concept all over again?

With Jo, I felt like kindergarten was a proving ground of sort. And in truth, it was. My husband wasn't 100% on board for the idea of homeschooling--his mother is a kindergarten teacher, after all. After finally admitting that chances were good I wouldn't ruin our little girl's odds of getting into college by forgetting an invaluable nursery rhyme, my husband offered up a compromise: teach her at home for one year. At the end of that time period, we'll take another look at how this is working.

With that as my mandate, I approached kindergarten with a ferocity I had never mustered before or since. Assisted by by our overly helpful Calvert script, I led Jo through counting exercises, tracing letters on felted cards and creating patterns with small, primary colored bears. We sang songs, laced cards and completed a weekly craft. We read books, attended story times and counted a weekly gymnastics class as PE. This was one well-rounded 5 year-old. By January of that school year, she was reading Little House on the Prairie chapter books and asking me why salt made things float better in water. She had also lost the tiny shred of interest she had had in the Calvert curriculum and was starting to be one very bored, very over-workbooked little girl. Realizing that I was soon going to have a rebellion on my hands, I ordered the Sonlight Core C (then called K) IG, and a handful of books that I couldn't get at the library. We passed the remainder of that year reading wonderful books and impressing my husband with facts about indigenous people in countries that he knew for a fact most kindergartners had never even heard of. Homeschooling, we decided, was a good fit for our family.

Atticus's kindergarten experience was very, very different from Jo's. With nothing to prove, I no longer felt compelled to cram as much into each day as I possibly could. Add to this the fact that Atticus had essentially taught himself to read the year before (with a few hints thrown his way via 100 EZ Lessons) and the not insignificant presence of a second grade sister to tag along with, and it was a very different picture indeed. He had already tucked an entire year of Ancient History under his belt and was happily chewing away on the fall of Rome. Still, I put Atticus through many of the motions that I associated with the proper way of teaching a five year-old: phonics instruction (adjusted somewhat begrudgingly to a first grade level), a handful of small-motor skill practices, a kindergarten math workbook and Little Golden Books as read-alouds. He cringed his way through my efforts, then dashed off to digest the latest
DK Eyewitness Explorerer book he had checked out at the library. The lesson of that kindergarten experience was, I have since reflected, that some children are really not cut out for sing-alongs and cutting practice.

And now I have a five year-old again. This time around, formal instruction is kept to a bare minimum. Earlier, I used 100 EZ Lessons to help him get his sea legs, and then set him free with actual books. While Logan can read with fair proficiency, he rarely chooses to do so on his own. Instead of challenging him to read at his level (which I would have done with my older children) I let him select any of the books that we have on hand to read aloud to me. He routinely chooses a title like Will I Sit? even though I know he could be tackling Frog and Toad Are Friends. When he feels like it, he will pull out The Beginner's Bible and read a story from it to his dad. Does this lack of interest in the written word bother me? Not especially.

Unlike my previous kindergartners, Logan's seat work is also minimal. He works through the little phonics letterbooks my mother-in-law sent as it pleases him. These require cutting and pasting and reading and writing and coloring, and he works on them far more often than you might think he would choose to. He and I do a page from the A Beka kindergarten Letter and Sounds book each day, and that's my nod toward that entire genre. The bulk of his handwriting is done either completely self-directed ("Look, mom! I wrote a story about a Civil War soldier!") or in imitation of his elder siblings, as he tags along with Sonlight Core 4. I have cooed generously over quite a few phonetically spelled signs warning of impending battles to be held in my general vicinity.

With my older children, I felt that math was some massive, potentially destructive topic that I had to handle with absolute care. Someone had once described the subject to me as a pyramid--the base must be broad and solid, they said, or anything you put on top will just crumble down. This made sense to me at the time, and so I placed that little tidbit of knowledge somewhere in my brain, where it mutated into "Must Use Age-Appropriate Math Text Or You Will Fail Your Children."

Having debunked this myth quite soundly with Jo, I have been freed up to let Logan progress as it seems logical to him. Right now, what seems logical to him is Math-U-See Alpha, interspersed with Usborne Sticker Math and games from Family Math. It's an eclectic mix, but he enjoys these sessions and I count that as a win-win situation.

Logan has also enjoyed far greater latitude when it comes to indulging his own personal interests than either Jo or Atticus. With Jo, I was so busy orchestrating every moment of her day to maximize learning experiences that the poor girl just sat by and let kindergarten happen to her. Atticus' personality is such that he couldn't bear to be left out of anything Jo was doing, so he literally jumped from preschool to second grade in the space of about a year. That doesn't leave much time for puttering. But Logan has truly had the chance to explore and tinker and discover: on his own, with all of us as a group, and just with me.

I think I really like this kindergarten thing. Stretched out on the floor this morning, playing the "Balloon Ride" subtraction/strategy game from Family Math with my favorite five year-old boy, I had the realization that he and I were both having fun. This was no one-sided exercise in "how it's done." This was a hands-on, warm, giggly moment of the two of us enjoying each other and learning at the same time. Logan, for his part, was learning how to calculate mentally fast enough to win a game. And I was learning how to teach kindergarten.



Sarah said...

Great post. I'm doing first grade the third time around, and we are very casual around here with #3--and learning happens at just the same pace. It's a lovely life.

Boo's Clues said...

So what does K look like in your house on a daily basis? Can you give a schedule?

Dawn said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge about homeschooling. I have only formally taught my daughter at this point and she pretty much teaches herself. I'm getting nervous about kindergarten with my son- I keep thinking -it can't be this easy, I just got lucky the first time. It's nice to see the ways you adapt to your children's different learning styles.

danellejoy said...

I love this! I too have become more and more less formal. =) Just in time for our boys!