Winds of Change for The Boy Child

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Boy Child came to me last week and made a very valid point. He hates math and history. They're boring and too much work. It makes the whole school day awful, waiting for those nasty subjects to be finished with, only to have to do it all over again tomorrow.

Ouch. Over the summer I had carefully considered our subjects and acquired the materials. I had carefully considered our calendar. Then I carefully broke down our materials into daily work that could be fit comfortably over the course of our calendar. Good plan, right? Lots of room for days off and flexibility. Easily encompasses the kids' request of 'Please don't make us do catching up on our work this year, Mom'. Yet still lots of stuff to get through. Mr. A like to see us doing stuff in our day.

The Boy's point quickly reminded me that I had no backup: no Plan B, no alternate exit. I needed a detour and I needed one now...well, for Thursday, the complaint being heard at Wednesday's bedtime. Knowing me, if I thought about this problem too long, I would turn it into a perfectionist's nightmare requiring me to re-plan 36 weeks of schoolwork complete with re-vamped resources and new paperwork. And wouldn't that stall our momentum?

So I thought the best course of action would be to take inventory. I can't change the materials, but I can change the method of delivery if I want. The Girl, who participates in the history work, is not opposed to the work once she gets going on it. In fact, she's doing a good job. So, modifications required for The Boy, but not necessarily The Girl.

The Boy Child is working his way through Saxon 5/4 this year. I chose the Saxon program based on my own math insecurities and my lack of regular-use-of-all-things-mathish as well as for the painfully detailed explanations they provide for every step of every concept. The Boy, being fairly math minded and very quick on learning concepts, only does half the daily questions in the problem set. Even numbered problems on even numbered lessons and odd numbered problems on odd numbered lessons gives him regular and thorough practice. Test Days are popular because there is no lesson that day, just the 20-question test. There are several parts to a Saxon Math lesson. Each day, The Boy reads a lesson and does the questions presented to practice the new concept. There is the problem set of questions that I mentioned above. There is also a daily fact practice page that takes 2 to 5 minutes to do, depending on how motivated The Boy is. As long as test scores stay in the excellent range (my expectation) The Boy Child may retain responsibility for the amount of time and effort he puts into the reading and practice of the lessons (his effort). I also cut off fact practice at 5 minutes, whether he has completed the page or not.

Due to his Math Blues, the Boy Child has spent increasing amounts of time being inefficient in his math studies. He hovers his pencil over the math fact page, usually 40 - 100 questions of one operation (+, -, x, /), looking for the '5 facts' or the ones that will be '0' or any with a '3' in the fact. A painfully slow method which sees him completing only 1/3 of the facts which makes him frustrated because I stop him after 5 minutes of this silliness and he never finishes a page so therefore it is too hard, too much writing, too boooorrrring.

We have agreed on the following arrangement:
  • The Boy will continue to read the lesson.

  • The Boy will verbally complete a practice question or two.

  • The Boy will continue to do half of the daily problem set.

  • The Boy will use flash cards (x, /) instead of any written fact practice pages.

World History
We are working our way thorough the third book and activities of Story Of The World (early Modern Times) this year. A typical week's work will include reading a chapter in two or three different sittings, verbal review questions, a narrated summary paragraph, a map activity, a related reading in our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History and one other activity (Internet links from the UILE or something out of the SOTW Activity Guide).

The Boy likes the readings. He likes the maps. The activities he likes, too, as long as there are not too many arts & crafty type things. Usually though, they are science-y type things or boyish the day we burned the (cardboard) streets of London down in our driveway. That was popular.

The sticking point in our World History studies are the narrative paragraphs. After we read a section, we review using the questions in the Activity Guide. I don't have the kids do this to prove they were paying attention, but to practice composition. Through question and answer, the kids practice composing a sentence. Just one. It doesn't even have to be a good sentence, just a half-decent one. I'm happy with one or two relevant nouns. So really, it's a Language Arts exercise. After Q & A, the next task is to compose a summary paragraph. Nothing fancy, just beginning-middle-end. The Girl Child is getting pretty good at this. She has worked her way up to a page of single-spaced writing which is quite interesting and entertaining to listen to when she reads it back.

I'm not too sure what The Boy is finding frustrating. He composes with coaching and I scribe. We chatted about this and I tried to explain that the more we did this, the easier the exercise becomes. He agreed to try to be patient and I agreed to stick more strictly to the 'Beginning-Middle-End' requirement. We'll revisit in a couple of weeks.

Canadian History
Our Canadian history studies this year take us through a chronological timeline from the first discovery to Nunavut, our newest territory, being created. We're up to the fall of New France. Which touches on New England's independence and explains why most of us Canuk's are speaking English instead of French. It was all decided by a battle that started after breakfast and was finished in time for lunch.

We're following Courage & Conquest. It's a great outline. You can make it very in depth or just skim the surface if you'd rather. You can rely on the historical literature suggestions or focus on the non-fiction reading suggestions.

Each week I introduce our chapter with a quick overview from Courage & Conquest. I've been great about signing out this week's suggested reading when I was at the library last week. Clever, organized, on-the-ball homeschooling Mom, am I not? So we read. I admit I've been a little non-fiction heavy in my choices. The kids weren't nearly as excited about Champlain's journal as I thought they would be. We are watching our way through the highly recommended and very well done Canada: A People's History.

The Boy says all of this is boring. So I have suggested we scale back on the non-fiction. Instead we will focus on read alouds from well-written historical fiction selections. This means about an hour a day, minimum, of me reading out loud. Only one day per week will I get out the non-fiction. The DVD selections will be optional for The Boy. He has agreed to give stories with a female protagonist a good chance before declaring them unworthy and unacceptable, even if it means he has to 'distract' himself with marble-run building, Lego or XBox360.

* * *

The Boy has been pulling out the colourful Saxon multiplication/division flash cards on his own to practice. And he is reviewing many more facts than I would ask him to. We completed our first narrative paragraph of the New Year today. He tried very hard to remember relevant points from our reading and I tried to give him sentence starters and other composition suggestions. He apologized for such a 'painful process' and I hugged him and told him 'Not at all!' He made an effort, I tried to be helpful in the way that he needed and it was all over in 20 minutes. We are reading from the Dear Canada series. It is a book about the Fille du Roi. Even though the story is about a girl, Hélène d'Onge, it is enjoyable enough that we managed two readings today.

Our mutually agreed upon changes seem to be working. I can tell because the bedtime complaining is almost nill. We shall see if these changes will carry us through the remainder of our school year, or if we have to change it up again.

I am seriously counting my lucky stars tonight as I wrap up this blog. I can't help but suspect how lost The Boy would be if he was a child in the school system. He doesn't like to write, read, cut, draw, colour, create, be near girls, sit still or regurgitate facts. I am thankful for so many things tonight. But, that's another blog. ☺

Mrs. A

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