Home Education Magazine
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
Questions and Answers - Laura Weldon
Decompression and Poor Spellers
We have just begun homeschooling our fifteen-year-old son. We are all recovering from the nightmare school has been for us for the past five years. We are attempting to do this while both parents work, although as a teacher I have the summer months off.
He seems much happier now that he is home and seems to be involved in his own projects -- juggling and building a bike trail in our side yard. He has agreed to sign up for on-line classes through Clonlara in the fall and has gone willingly to tutors this spring. Now he is -- and we all are -- in serious need of decompression. My dilemma is that I want him to decompress, figure out what he likes and pursue that. But at the same time, I am not exactly sure how to do this. He has begun resisting any form of work: cleaning his bedroom, mowing the lawn, picking up after himself. I think it is only fair that he helps out somewhat but at the same time I do not want to go back into the adversarial relationship we had concerning school work. I would love suggestions as to how to handle this and would be interested in how others handled the decompression period. - Mary V.
* We had a similar problem with our son and daughter. In the end, we decided to pick our battles. If having a very messy room was their choice, then we respected that as long as it didn't create a problem for the rest of the family. In other words, they needed to keep the door shut and, if they wanted their clothes washed on laundry day, which was announced ahead of time, the clothes had to be in their laundry basket in the hallway or directly in the laundry room. In other words, the piles of clothes left on the floor in their room would go unwashed no matter how much they moved or smelled (hence the closed door). Rotting food in their room was never an issue as we all had enough experience with bugs while we lived in Mexico. My husband and I only enter their room on suspicion of something serious and only insist on a thorough cleaning about once a month or when the stench emanating from under their door has started creating a problem for the rest of the family. Otherwise, it's their space.
We took that reasoning a step further. They have choices as long as those choices do not inconvenience anyone else in the family. If everyone was pitching in with the chores, so did they. If they left their stuff lying around everywhere, we were quick to remind them that by doing so, they left it up to us to decide where the items ended up. Sometimes we honestly forgot where we stored them. Poor things.
Be firm, consistent and, by all means, be persistent. Above all, always remain cool. Let your son have his space but calmly remind him that the longer the grass gets, the harder it is to cut."
- Nicole C.
* With or without 'decompression,' I feel it is a reasonable expectation that all family members will work together for the good of the household. In our home, we have a very strong emphasis on working together as a family unit. We're all working toward a shared vision and our family responsibility is to figure out how to get there in a way that works best for all of us. When we get to a point where we're in disagreement, I try to focus our discussions in that direction. In the relationship you have recently had with your son while he was in school, it must have seemed to you both at times that you were really on opposing sides. It may help to sit down together and figure out your shared vision and discuss ways you both envision getting there. Frequent reminders that you're on his side, and demonstrations to this effect, may help him find this spirit in his own heart.
Your son isn't used to having many choices in his life. For years, someone told him what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it, when he could eat and drink, when he could use the toilet, what time to wake up, when and who he could talk with, etc. Just as a toddler needs practice at making decisions -- within boundaries -- so does a teen who hasn't had many choices. This is how I view the decompression time -- a time to get practice in making choices within boundaries.
It sounds as though you're on the right track with regard to your son's education -- that your approach is allowing him to remember how to enjoy learning again. It may be that the difficulties you're having aren't necessarily specific to homeschooling, but more like garden-variety adolescence. Some general 'teen parenting' books may provide a fresh perspective.
Home Education Magazine has a collection of past columns dealing with homeschooling older children that can be read online here: www.homeedmag.com/INF/oh_index.html. In addition, Ann Zeise (A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling) has some of these, and other columns on her site here: www.gomilpitas.com/homeschooling/olderkids/OlderKids.htm. Both have some very insightful articles!"
- Leslie, Oklahoma
* I was a public school teacher for many years before homeschooling my own. As a teacher, I have seen many good and bad things about public school. I have also seen quite a number of parents attempt to homeschool their kids after a bad experience at school, only to give up and return to public school again later with bigger problems than they had before they started. To try to prevent having this happen to you, and yet not knowing the whole story, I would like to make a suggestion or two.
First of all, please remember that your fifteen-year-old is completely capable of enough abstract thought to figure out what your hang-ups are and how to use them to get his own way. Unfortunately, he is not capable of enough foresight, not having much life experience, to understand what the costs of manipulating you will be in the long run. He doesn't quite understand that you and only you love him so immeasurably right now. After the bad school experience his parents are just more adults trying to interfere with his fun. He still wants to have that little-boy fun, but with complete grown-up freedom and without the knowledge and experience to understand just how quickly he is going to need the skills and knowledge you, his loving parents, are trying so hard to give him.
So, having said that, I must recommend that you be really careful about his 'decompression' period, as you called it. You as an adult understand that it is only for a short time and then you have to get back to work. Your son will almost certainly take it to be the precedent for his whole homeschool experience. He is likely to think that this is how it is going to stay, and balk when time comes to get back to work. My years of working with teens has taught me that they are just like the younger kids in that they need to know what the expectations are right up front. Because if you start off one way and then try to change, he is probably going to perceive that as a weakness and a lack of certainty on your part rather than a just you trying to give him a break. It would be much more productive to have smaller fun times built into your regular routine.
Honestly, at the ripe old age of fifteen, he should keep his own room clean, do his own laundry, help with preparing and cleaning up from meals, clean his own bathroom, and periodically help with the other housekeeping chores. Of course you can't make him do what you do not do yourselves, so you have to keep your chores done too.
You can say, 'We have had to take some time to figure out exactly what homeschooling you will entail. We are so happy about all the great stories we have read about how much closer this can allow us to become as a family, and how much more control it can give you on your own education. The great thing, and the difficult thing, is that we have to work together as a team more than we ever have before. We love you so much, and we are so excited about having this chance to get to know you better as you are right now, and to be a part of your becoming a man rather than just watching from the outside the way we had to before. But to everything has its challenges, and the challenge here is going to be for us all to learn to operate as a real team, instead of each man for himself.' (the submarine crew is always a good example)."
* I think modern life is emotionally crippling for teens. They have no truly meaningful role and are suspended in an artificial state of immaturity. All through history young people were essential to the life of the community through their hard work. What teen wants to grow up when all around them adults (parents, teachers, advertisers) work hard to amuse them? The happiest kids I know are those who work hard and who know their efforts are needed to help their family, their church and their community. These kids are expected to act responsibly. It is one thing to recover emotionally from difficult school experience, it is another to refuse to contribute to what is needed to maintain the family. My suggestion: brainstorm together ALL the tasks necessary in your household and together agree how they will be divided. Maybe your son would rather be responsible for paying bills, making up dinner menus and the shopping list, and taking on different home maintenance tasks such as cleaning the gutters and painting the garage. The tasks can always be rearranged in a few months, giving all of you a glimpse of what others in the family do.
- Grandma Lucia, age 78
My ten and twelve year olds are eager readers but absolutely horrible spellers. Even words like 'sure' and 'what' have given them trouble. What are some ways they can learn to spell without a heavy load of worksheets? I've tried computer games without success. They are embarrassed about their poor spelling, especially when they have to write for scouts or church activities.
- Emily Warren, Austin, TX
* Spelling boils down to learning the correct rules for spelling, and practice, practice, practice! The earlier this takes place in a person's education the better, but it is never too late to start. Find a book with rules for spelling and learn them. Use flash cards to practice spelling. Play Boggle." Try The Phonics Game." And don't be afraid of daily practice with worksheets.
Have your children write daily. Have them write both fiction and non-fiction. Proofread their writing for spelling errors. Make them use a dictionary to look up incorrectly spelled words.
These ideas come from the classroom. They are tried-and-true methods for teaching. They work well in large groups and in one-on-one situations. While we all come to homeschooling for different reasons, not all school-developed techniques are bad. Some are very effective. Don't be afraid to use them."
- Richard Barrette, experienced English teacher and homeschooling father
* Our oldest child finally started getting the spelling thing at around 13 or 14. The more reading he did and the more correspondence he did (writing to friends, e-mailing...) the more he felt more motivated, and also, saw the words in print so many times, that he just started getting it and it really clicked for him. I have two more terrible spellers, but I am going to trust they will come into it better without external pressure."
- Dawn, Massachusetts
* Spelling isn't always fun, but it can be. We have spelling bees one evening a week. My girls have word lists that they practice, but the game isn't limited to just kids. Both girls look up real stumpers in the dictionary so they can quiz my husband and myself. Often Them will win, after much laughter. We use the book Spelling Power for our word lists. It is the only book you'll need from grade school to college, covering the 5,000 most misspelled words, and takes less than 15 minutes a day. You can check out the materials at www.castlemoyle.com . You can also type 'spelling games' in your search engine and come up with myriad online interactive games for a break."
* After a few lessons in phonics (which can only take you so far), students learn to spell from what they read. Our son, age 12, can read just about anything. He reads what he wants to read (not realizing that we bring into the house only those books that are written with good grammar and good spelling). Many books, on public school reading lists, have horrible spelling and grammar. The excuse is that it is representative of a particular culture. Here's one parent who does not want that part of a culture which exhibits poor grammar and spelling. We buy books that we think will interest our son. Some he reads before we get home. Others he may not pick up for months. That's OK. It is better to have him read something, when he wants to read it. Reading good writing will translate into good spelling. And by the way, some of the things which we were taught were good literature were not. A good example is Shakespeare and his frequent glamorizing of suicide."
- Tim Morrill, Box 14, Sandown, NH 03873; email@example.com
* My youngest was the only poor speller in our family. With diligence she was ABLE to learn to spell, but generally she chose not to remember what she had learned with so much difficulty. She is a gifted writer, but even spellcheckers couldn't figure out what she was trying to spell! Then she discovered chatrooms -- save the disapproval, please. Her embarrassment was too much for her. She asked for spellings, then SHE REMEMBERED THEM. There are chatrooms for every lifestyle -- religious and secular."
* If you want ideas about spelling and methods that you can try before you decide to buy you ought to visit the AVKO Web site www.spelling.org. AVKO is a nonprofit organization that gives free training and free tutoring as well as providing inexpensive materials."
- James Webb
* Give up. No kidding, that's my advice -- as someone who struggled with spelling most of my life, really struggled. I remember crying over papers in college, knowing that I had made spelling mistakes in them that I just couldn't find. For my thirtieth birthday, I gave myself a gift: I would never, ever worry about spelling again. Gradually over the years (and with the help of spellcheckers), I have learned to spell as well as, say, the average ninth-grader. Now when I need spelling help, I ask my thirteen-year-old son. He's a good speller. All I can say is, he didn't learn it from me!
Spelling is almost impossible for some people. There are a lot of theories, from dyslexia to laziness; but I know for sure that pressure doesn't help. As a parent, I understand that 'give up' won't sit too well as advice (although I think it is the best idea), so I'd suggest using the computer -- not games, just the word processor. Look for specific patterns of mistakes in their spelling -- it could be as simple as consistent letter inversions (like 'ie' instead of 'ei'). Perhaps you could set up your word processor to 'flag' these letter combinations. Some spellcheckers will even highlight the misspelled words as you type them -- immediate feedback is the best! An example is the Eudora e-mail program's spell-checker. I use it all the time.
Another thing -- try word shapes. 'Sure' is hard to recognize, all the letters are the same height. On the other hand, 'what' goes short letter-tall letter-short letter-tall letter". I know that there is some literature on word shapes, it might be worth your while to track it down."
(c) 2001 Home Education Magazine
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM