Are your children at grade level?
It is a common question I get asked from family members, doctors, librarians, friends, and various adults my kids are exposed to. I think to myself – I hope not.
Let me explain. The inquirer usually means do I have a curriculum that is in step with the local public school and am I able to teach it to them in a way that produces a child who knows what those kids know. They want to know whether I am working hard to keep my kids within certain parameters. I am not interested in that for my kids and that is why my answer would still be – I hope not.
I purchased curriculum for Gavin for Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd Grades. He enjoyed them. In 2nd grade he blew through the Math and other portions and at times it seemed that I was having him do things just to ‘get them done’ or because it was ‘what was next’ or I ‘thought he should’. Other parts of the program intersted him somewhat, but occassionally seemed rote. It took up a portion of our day and some days we scrapped it altogether to pursue other activities, books, classes and trips. I noticed that these other things were what yeilded the truest, most meaningful learning. We slowly morphed away from ‘school’ at home, to what I like to call “interest-led, life learning”. We cover math and english, science and social studies, art and music, (need I say gym?!), spelling and vocabulary, current events – but it can’t always be catagorized into neat, organized topics by ‘grade level’ in a linear, planned curriculum fashion. If you’ve read this blog at all, you can see that trips lead to books, books lead to documentaries, documentaries lead to classes, classes lead to projects and more books! It’s all there, it’s just not as neatly packaged.
Gavin was interested in Geometry in 3rd grade – tons of it. He was fascinated by it and pursued it up into higher ‘grade levels’. But, he was not interested in the things that 2nd graders were ‘supposed to be doing’. He got around to them eventually. If you tested him on measuring objects, he may not have been any good at it. At times, he has expressed interest in The Iditarod, The Oregon Trail, the human body, Egypt, electricity and China. We ‘studied’ these when he was interested, not when someone else told us to. He reads voraciously, and often shocks people with his selections. (I don’t assign reading).It’s just where his own time and talents lead him.
I re-used the same curriculum I bought for Gavin with Mikey. It became clear that he was struggling. Mikey has significant learning disabilities that make processing and recall very difficult. It takes Mikey many times longer to grasp certain concepts – but when he does – he has awesome ‘a-ha’ moments! There were other things that he grasped readily and easily and provided smooth sailing. Mikey does best with hands-on, experiential learning. The more he can see, touch, hear, and do, the better he does. I don’t want Mike to have to be able to produce some skill simply because someone else says that he should, or else he can’t move on, or he’ll cause test scores to be too low. I don’t want anyone implying that Mikey is ‘behind’ – you can only be behind if you compare yourself to someone else. I want him to have all the time he needs to absorb information, processes at his speed and apply it to his experiences. I want him to do this in an environment that does not pressure him or make it clear that he is ‘not keeping up’.
When kids are not developmentally ready for a certain skill, you can drag them through all the exercises you want, but you will not change where they are. (Could you have made your baby walk any earlier than they did? Did you look for ‘remedial walking classes’?) Presenting concepts in alternative ways is important, but so is the child’s innate developmental stage. It is something to be respected. It is perfectly acceptable to learn slower and differently than a large portion of the popluation! Schools will lead you to believe very differently.
We kept the boys home from school because we thought we could do better for them. By ‘better’, I mean slower, or faster or different. I mean pursuing what they are interested in for as long as they like. I mean allowing them the freedom to study what they like, as it surfaces in their world, not in a textbook. We homeschool because we don’t believe you have to learn certain subjects, in a specified order, at certain times whether you enjoy it or not.
When you ask my kids ‘what grade are you in?’, they might give you funny looks or funny answers like, “I would be in 3rd Grade” because they just aren’t in a grade. They are living and learning and the world is their classroom.
“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” ~ John Holt