Tuesday, October 30, 2007

School Stress Evaporates At Home

The stress in our family has lessened so significantly since starting to home school. My kids already had severe test anxiety at the ripe old ages of 7 and 9. That's a problem. The result of their anxiety was a defeatest attitude: if they couldn't be guaranteed super-success, they didn't want to try. I don't think yoga at school would have helped much. It might have helped a little. Maybe getting rid of homework would have helped the generalized anxiety. In fact, I'm quite sure it would have helped.

Two and a half months into home schooling and the results are promising. More relaxed family (including me--an unintended benefit) and more relaxed kids. Shhhh, don't tell them, but the tests I write for them are harder. I'm pushing them to comprehend. They are being forced to remember not just what, but why. And still, they are more relaxed. They have also received their first "bad" grades and survived. They are learning to go back again and study and get it and then try again.

With home school, there is no homework. Well, not like is generally understood. They are reading and reading the "required" texts but they don't realize what they're doing. When we talk through and do assignments off of books they enjoy reading, they're doing work, they just don't really notice.

I wasn't sure at the beginning, the curriculum scared me because of its simplicity, but I simply must sing the praises of Math-U-See. It is amazing. The comprehension of math concepts is so complete and simple. The kids are motoring through it.

Another curriculum, this one for handwriting called Handwriting Without Tears, is nearly miraculous. My son, who has problems with deciding where to put the pencil and has fine more strength problems viewed learning cursive with apprehension. He literally looked suspiciously at the text book. Not now. Loves it. My husband said, "He wrote that?!" It's been pretty amazing.

We are also using Sonlight for Reading, Vocabulary, Spelling, Phonics, Grammar, History, Geography, and Bible. It is a literature-based curriculum and it's fantastic. The text books are original works. The kids are reading a couple Robert Lewis Stevenson poems a week. They are learning a couple Aesop's fables a week. They are reading out loud. They are explaining the moral of the story. They are creatively writing. Each week, we are going through a couple pieces of children's literature.

For people like me who find the notion of putting it all together daunting, the Sonlight system is flexible yet structured. The only work I add for myself, is more testing. At least every other week, I put together a comprehensive test for the kids to make sure they are retaining what they learn. This week, they have learned the basics about the Phoenicians, Spartans, Athenians, the architecture of columns, the story of Romulus and Remus, Rome, the Olympiad, Homer's Odyssey (which they are dying to read), Eastern Europe, Romania, Italy, what was significant about Mecca and the rise and fall of King Saul, the rise of David and the friendship between David and Jonathon. That's a lot. And that's all on the test. Plus dates for the Peloponnesian War and the original and reinstated Olympics. It's definitely a survey of History and Bible this year. It will be the foundation for the next four years when we go back and look, in depth, at those times.

And they aren't stressed. Can you imagine? They love it. We haven't had an art project or science project in a while. We have made cave man pictures and created hieroglyphics. When we get to Pompeii, we'll explode a volcano. They have more time for the arts--music and drama are during school hours. Dance is after school twice a week.

All in all, I don't think the stress in school comes from the volume of material or even the focus on testing. The running from one activity to another, the inability to slow things down to have a question answered, the frustration of having play-time or recess taken away to finish up work, the inability to get a drink when thirsty or run to the bathroom without missing something, the boredom when a topic is already known, the pressure to perform during timed tests (in second grade) and on and on. The schools must meet the needs of many kids so some of the flexibility needed to reduce stress just can't happen. I'm amazed at the stellar job the teachers do. It is certainly not easy.

So, it's admirable that the High School principal wants to put in a program to reduce stress for kids. That's an excellent goal. I'm just not sure it's possible.


Anonymous said...

The result of their anxiety was a defeatest attitude: if they couldn't be guaranteed super-success, they didn't want to try.

This is very familiar to me from growing up as a kid genius. You don't mention the "unpleasantness" that happens when Little Wesley Crusher (or Little Jimmy Neutron) makes a single mistake on the test. "What do you mean, ONLY a 99% score? YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE A *GENIUS*!!!"

As for Yoga in schools, you have heard the one that the meditation mantras used translate to "(Name of Hindu God), I Bow Down To You"? That was an urban legend going around since the Beatles discovered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in the Sixties.

Melissa said...

I don't have problems with yoga in schools on a philosophical basis. It's a great way to boost health, lower stress, etc. But it's a band-aid on a flesh wound when the causes of the stress continue on and on every day for kids.

Anonymous said...

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