Monday, November 21, 2011

Just read already!

This is going to sound like I'm bragging, but you will see in a minute that I am actually not really necessarily bragging. Maybe. Perhaps.

My son is an off-the-charts reader. I always knew he had an aptitude for it. Reading was always very easy for him to pick up. He never had any trouble with it and spelling also comes very naturally to him.

When he was tested for reading ability and comprehension at school, he scored the highest possible score. That didn't surprise me. Like I said he's always had a natural bent towards reading, grammar, etc.

Funny thing is, he doesn't like to read. Seriously.

We have always read books together. I read to him from the beginning, even when I was pregnant with him. I have tons of books that we have read over the years and favorites that we kept coming back to again and again. Goodnight Moon. Guess How Much I Love You. It's Not Easy Being a Bunny. Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Honey Bunny Funnybunny. Many of the Berenstain Bears books. Winnie the Pooh. Tons more, but you get the picture.

As he grew older, I continued to read books with him, but he also read alone. The Henry Huggins books by Beverly Clearly. The Boxcar Children. The Hardy Boys. Junie B. Jones out the wazoo. It was so much fun to introduce him to books I loved as a child such as the Fudge series by Judy Blume. The wonderful Ms. Blume actually just sent me a copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing autographed to me and my son after I wrote her an email telling her how much her books have meant to me over the years. I love her.

Anyway, we've read a lot. I always made him read A LOT. I chose his books to make sure he was getting some quality material, but I also let him choose things that were literature-lite, but enjoyable (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for instance.). His "school" books met certain standards, but for his pleasure reading nothing was off limits.

I thought I was doing everything right to turn him into a lifelong reader, but I have had my doubts.

It's always a chore to get him to read. He rarely just picks up a book without my suggesting he do so. Maybe that's a lot to expect from boys. I don't know. I just remember that I always had a book in my hand or on my bedside table. I was constantly reading and still am an avid reader. Of course, I grew up in a time when there was only one TV in the house and in the evenings it played my father's favorite shows exclusively.

I limit TV time. I limit video game time. I limit computer time. I sometimes make him read when he comes home from school, but, frankly, I don't enjoy doing it. I want reading to be something he wants to do. He knows how to read. That battle is over. He reads quite a bit during his school day, so it's not as if I think he's going to forget how. I just long for the times when some book calls to him and entices him to open its pages for long stretches of time.

Tonight something happened to give me hope. He has read the author Suzanne Collins before. She has this series about Gregor the Overlander that my son likes. She's also the author of the much talked about Hunger Games series. A movie based on the books is coming out in March. I've already told my son he will not see the movie until he reads the books. That's a tactic I successfully used with Harry Potter.

Last week I planned to buy The Hunger Games. Our only bookstore at the mall in Beckley closed, so I was going to order them from Amazon. My son had me check the library. I had checked it the week before and the books were out, but this time the books were available and we went to get them that same night. I have been reading The Hunger Games during the day and my son has been reading in the evening. I'm a little ahead of him in the book, so after he watched a show with his dad tonight he came upstairs and said he was going to read. YES!!!

There are 3 books in the series and I fully expect his enthusiasm for reading to wane a bit once he finishes them. I'll keep on the lookout, though, for the next great series of books for him to read. He has told me he enjoys reading series of books, so that is what I will try to find for him.

It's a worthy battle, I think. Seeing him with his nose in a book does my heart good. I don't think it's doing him any harm either.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life changes

Circumstances have changed for us since the last time I posted on this blog two years ago. We moved back home to West Virginia, after 16 years of living in Georgia. You can read more about that on my WV Expat blog, if you want.

I've written so much about homeschooling on this blog. It has been a passion of mine for years. I'm a little lost this year, because my son decided to go back to public school. He decided to go back with our blessing, so it's not as if I wasn't on board. Still it has been a change. He is in 8th grade in our local middle school. So far, he really enjoys it. He likes changing classes, hanging out with kids, and the different types of classes he's taking. We moved in the middle of his 6th grade year, and 7th grade was not a lot of fun for him. We never did quite join in with other homeschoolers here in our new state. It seemed like it was so much easier for us to get involved in the homeschool community when we lived in Georgia. It's nice to see him enjoying school -- even if it's public school!

I've noticed quite a few differences with homeschooling in West Virginia. Georgia homeschooling laws were a bit easier. In Georgia, we had to do standardized testing or present a portfolio once every three years. In West Virginia, we have to do that every year. Georgia laws required us to submit an intent to homeschool form, and once a month send in attendance sheets that showed how many days of that month met the criteria for a "school day". We have to file an intent to homeschool form in West Virginia, too, but we also have to outline our plan of study for the year. I did a plan of study for my son's 7th grade year, but changed some curriculum choices after I had already sent the plan in. That made me nervous, wondering if someone was going to check up on me. They didn't, but could have, I suppose.

Something else I've noticed is the different attitudes towards homeschoolers here in WV. Georgia homeschooling was a bit more readily accepted, maybe that was because so many other people homeschooled their children. I know there are homeschoolers in West Virginia, but they are not as vocal. It feels like more of a hidden society. Maybe it's just the area I am living in, but it's disappointing that people don't feel free to discuss it.

I don't think homeschoolers in West Virginia are respected as people who want something different for their children. Comments I have heard about homeschooling include homeschooling just being an easy way out for parents who don't want to deal with the school system or the structure of the system. Anyone who has every homeschooled (and homeschooled successfully) can tell you we have to deal with the school system in a much more intrusive way. And structure? Yeah, there are unschoolers, but even they have a type of structure to their study. I was never an unschooler. I really was more of a "school at home" type, with my child's needs placed in the forefront. We used structured curriculum, but we could do it our own way and focus on my son's interests when it suited us.

We had always kept an open mind about our son returning to public school. From conversations we had over the years, I figured it was something he would end up doing one day. Returning to public school in Georgia was going to be easy from what I was told by county officials. They told me that I would just have to let them know what grade my son was in and they would place him in that grade for a trial period and see if any adjustments needed to be made. I didn't know anything about how the return to public school in West Virginia would go. The unknown made my spring and summer of this year a little stressful.

In April of this year, I called the middle school and asked to speak to the counselor. I told her my son was going to be in 8th grade the following school year and that he wanted to return to public school. She had us come by for a tour of the school. The school is 13 years old, but really I thought it was much newer. She talked about the classes, the schedule, and mentioned that we would have to have a meeting with the principal before we could register our son. We were told to contact them in early August.

That was a long few months, but finally August came. I called the counselor on a Thursday, we set up the meeting for the following Monday, and I asked her what information I needed to bring. She told me to bring whatever portfolios I had of his work. Most homeschoolers will understand that those words sent me into a panic. I have never used a portfolio for my son. He has always done the standardized testing option. I explained that to her and she told me to just bring what I had.

Bring what I had? I have been homeschooling for 5 years! I have boxes and boxes of work that my son has done. I thanked her and hung up the phone, but inside I was screaming. Finally I got my head together a bit and decided to just fill a manila folder for each year I taught him at home with samples of his work in every subject. I knew they would want to see that he could write legibly. I knew they would want to see he could construct a sentence, a paragraph, a paper, etc. I knew they would want to see proof that the child could do some math. Keeping those ideas in mind, I set to work. I, of course, chose the best selections, but also put in some things with red checks on them to show them that I did grade his work. I put together some grades for him that I had kept from grades 5, 6, and 7. I also got all of his standardized test scores in order.

It took me a couple of days, but I got it all together and that Monday we had the meeting. Our meeting included the counselor, the principal, and the athletic director, because my son wanted to play football. We walked into the office, with my husband carrying this big box and I was nervous. High pitched, fast talking nervous. They were very nice.

My husband started pulling everything out of the box and the first thing the principal said was. "This is very organized." I thought that was odd, but was encouraged by it. We sat there while they looked over things and I talked about the work he had done. They saw his test scores and the principal said she thought he would be okay to go in 8th grade. I can't describe the relief I felt. It was my son's work that I was showing, but I felt like I had passed a test. I had, in a way, I guess. We talked about the types of classes he would be taking and they let me choose some of the electives for him. It was such a positive feeling. I was happy with the whole experience.

The principal said I had done a good job (my inner school girl was so thrilled to hear that!) and then she said that most homeschooled students who return to their school are put back a grade. I am so glad I didn't know that before I went into that meeting! She mentioned that parents come in with a couple of pieces of paper and everything is disorganized and they have no way of knowing what type of work they have done at home.

We left the meeting and I was so happy that I had put real effort into getting ready for the meeting. I was happy also that I'd had the foresight years ago to keep on top of my son's school work, keeping up with his papers and all the testing and state requirements. In five years of homeschooling in 2 different states, I have never had any school official ask me to produce any type of paperwork, so I figure it would be easy to fly under the radar and not follow the requirements. That would be to our children's detriment, however. Most homeschoolers I know would never put their homeschooling in jeopardy like that.

I left the meeting feeling good, but I asked my mom (who has worked in the public school system in WV for 30 years) if it was true that most homeschooled students get put back a year when returning to public school. She confirmed that it was. From what the principal said, I assume it's just because the parents weren't able to prove that work was done at home. Maybe that is why people have such a bad opinion about homeschooling here. Doesn't look good for us homeschoolers --- or former homeschoolers.

So, yes. I am a former homeschooler. My son is enjoying public school. He made "A" honor roll his first 6 weeks. He likes all of his teachers and he's making new friends. The details of his education are out of my hands, but I am still here for him when he needs me. I still make him read and do homework! He's happy with it and I'm happy that he is happy. It is his school experience, after all. I've already had mine.

There are issues with public school that do not thrill me, but I think he is in a good school. I'll keep on top of his schooling, just as I did when he was home. I hope he continues to like it.

What he definitely doesn't like are the early mornings. His first class is at 7:22 a.m. YAWN! He is anxiously awaiting his first snow day. And so am I!

He has already told me how he wants to spend it --- playing board games. That's something we did quite a bit during our homeschool days. I'm happy to know he misses it as much as I do.