Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Home Schooling

My oldest son is now a home-schooler. My wife has been telling most people that he's a square peg (maybe just a square?) trying to fit into the round holes of the public school system, and he just isn't fitting. I believe this is a pretty fair assessment. He's always been extremely bright (he's usually a 100-percenter on the yearly aptitude tests), and with his level of emotional (im)maturity, nervous and/or weird habits, and distaste for confrontation, he has always been a prime target for being bullied.

At school there has been this one boy, who shall remain nameless except that his name rhymes with Ladam, who has always been a particularly mean-spirited kid. He was in my son's class last year and the two of them didn't get along then, either. At the beginning of the year, when my son saw that this particular boy was in his class again this year, he was visibly disheartened.

Well, the school year progressed from bad to worse. Eventually, it got to the point where he would go hide under the playground slide, hoping that nobody would find him, because he knew if they did then he'd get teased or picked on. This bully managed to get most of the remainder of his class to treat him pretty much the same way he did, and it got so bad that he couldn't ever participate in any group activity at all. During dodgeball games, they would all gang up on him to get him out first; during other group games, the kids would break up the games on his arrival so he couldn't play (the adult yard duty people would insist that kids could eventually join ongoing games if they waited their turn). He probably invited some of this treatment upon himself because he's kind of a spaz and physically uncoordinated, but the magnitude of his mistreatment was quite likely undeserved.

He would come home with some serious anger issues and would take his frustrations out on his siblings, and, eventually, on us as his parents. One night he was just so angry that he started trying to push me around, too. Well, that night saw a lot of yelling and crying (he's 10, mind you, and a gentle kid, not some mighty teenager; this was very uncharacteristic for him), and ultimately he was cowering on the upper bunk in his room afraid that I was going to strike him. Yeah, something was very, very wrong.

Finally we managed to calm the situation down (let me just say that my wife is nothing short of awesome) and she spent the next few nights effectively counseling him and figuring out exactly what was going on. It was bad. Really bad.

My wife spent some time considering our options. We had always wondered if home schooling would be a good idea. Doing so would clearly be very intrusive to my wife's daily routine, which is very focused on caring for our youngest child. Even so, I knew she would be able to do it. She has dual bachelors degrees in elementary and special education, so she could definitely handle him. But previously we had concluded that he needed to stay in school, if nothing less than for the socialization that he would experience there. Well, clearly, he was getting the wrong kind of socialization.

In addition, it seemed that lately he was always bored in class. In the midst of 30 kids, there was just no way that any teacher -- his was a very talented and capable woman, mind you -- could keep a kid like ours engaged. His rate of learning has always been so high compared to his peers that he was nearly always frustrated. When he came home from school, we would regularly ask him, "So what did you learn today?" His answer? The usual teenage response, "Nothing." We quickly took to asking him, "So what did you review today?", which usually elicited a more informative answer. Unfortunately, the review days have been far outnumbering the learning days lately.

So, the two main reasons for keeping him in the public school system were no longer achievable: to educate him and to give him a meaningful social experience. Neither of these were being achieved. He would go to school with dread and come home disheartened. No kid deserves that.

So it is that we are now disillusioned with the public school system. It is simply not geared to help the brightest kids. With the administrative overhead, the large classroom sizes, and the slow rate of teaching so that "no child is left behind", children like mine don't have their needs met. For children who are more ... typical ... the local public school system is wonderful. In fact, we moved to where we live precisely because the schools here are good. But it just wasn't working for our oldest son (and we have strong feelings about how well it has NOT well-served our daughter, as well -- that's a whole other story).

So, he's home now. And he's happy. Actually, the words "ecstatic" and "liberated" are probably good words to use here, too. When we told him that home-schooling was something we were considering, the look of relief and excitement was clearly evident on his face. No longer would he have to face miserable recess periods, taunting in and out of the classroom, and lonely lunch hours where kids would get up and move away from him when he sat down. The other kids would even set him up to get him in trouble during classroom hours, intentionally provoking him until they elicited a response of anger or frustration from him.

He is so elated to be able to go at his own learning pace -- to not waste time going the speed of the slowest learner, who probably wasn't getting it anyway. As my wife and him get into the groove, we expect some phenomenal intellectual growth.

The hard part about this for me is that we have tried very hard to teach our children not to be quitters, to face up to their problems, and to see things through -- most especially when it's hard. But some challenges are just too big a burden for little kids. He was powerless to correct his situation, and it was unfair of us to ask him to stick through it. Something else we've taught our children is that if they ever find themselves in a bad situation, they need to get themselves out of it. So, we have now enabled that for him.

What I feel bad about now is that it took us so long to come to this conclusion. Previously, when my wife and I had contemplated doing this, it never felt right, deep down. We tend to trust those kinds of feelings, so we kept him in school. This time, when we contemplated it again, no such sinking feelings existed. We only had feelings of assurance that it was the right move for him, and that everything would work out. This was huge for us, as we finally knew how we could help him. The time was right, and so we moved on it.

Of course, the change hasn't gone smoothly for his siblings. His sister is extremely jealous that he gets to stay home from school and have lots of "Mommy time", but we've been working with her to help her understand that this is something that her brother needs right now, and that she needs to just let things play out. We worry about her education in the public school system as well, for slightly different reasons, but she is no less bright than her brother, but she is more sociable than her big brother. It is not (yet?) the right thing to do right now to home-school her.

Our youngest son is also not so happy. Suddenly his mother is far less available to play with him throughout the day, and this is not okay with him. Our youngest is almost five -- a most magical period of time of wonder and discovery -- and suddenly parental attention is more divided. We worry about him not getting the time he needs and deserves, but that's the same worry we really have for all three of them.

Of course, the biggest impact is on my wife. She is not yet in the groove of how to do this, and is struggling with doing both the home-schooling and her regularly in-home responsibilities. Things aren't getting cleaned like she wants them to be, and her time to do the household shopping is now severely curtailed. The good part about home-schooling our oldest son, though, is that at his age (he's 10 1/2), he's a self-starter and can be left home alone for short periods. I'm sure my wife will figure out the best way to use these things to her advantage so that all the things that need to get done do get done. As I said, she's amazing.

My son, though, deserved much more support and attention than he was getting at school. It is time he got it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Wonder

My daughter is enamored with the couples figure skating in the Olympics. She's been loving watching the couples as they go around the rink, twirling, lifting, and spinning. She was enamored when the men hurled the women into the air and spun before successfully landing one-footed. Every couple she saw she said, "They must be married!" because of how romantic the music was and because of the intimate behavior. (Of course, my prude of a daughter also freaked out about the immodest clothing ...)

In any case, as she was watching today, I just had to take some pictures of her expression. Some of the photos are a little fuzzy, but you can still see the sense of wonder in her eyes. Later, she cuddled up next to me and said, "I want to ice skate, Dad! I want to go to the Olympics!" I'm pretty sure we can pull off the first, but the second would be up to her ...

Couples ice skating is a favorite for my whole family. Tonight, as we were contemplating what to teach the kids for Family Home Evening, my wife had a brilliant idea. She quoted Proverbs 3:5-6, where it reads:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

She likened this unto how we've had to be particularly sensitive to the direction of the Spirit in our decision-making this past week as we decided to home school our oldest son. She then went on to compare how our trust in the Lord needs to be like the trust of the women in the couples figure skating of their partner when they are lifted into the air. It was a very topical discussion, and the kids, I think, appreciated the message. I don't know that they will be any more prone to trusting the Lord, but they certainly get that ice skaters need to trust each other!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oh, By The Way

Last night, during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, the second they announced that it was Wayne Gretzky who was to light the torch, I totally had the most awesome vision of a giant flaming hockey puck being hurled into the Olympic cauldron to light the fire. Sorry, but what actually happened just didn't compare ... ;)

Long and Weird Day

Today was a long and weird day. I woke up this morning after a good night's rest (rarely happens these days ... and even more rare that my wife slept well, too!) and then got a relatively slow start to the morning. The boys and I basically spent some time watching the Olympic opening ceremony from last night while my wife and daughter went out to go garage saling. My wife found a wonderful table to use as a desk here in the home for my oldest son, who is home schooling as of this next week. She paid a whopping $12 for the table and a chair. Good find!

When she got home, I spent about an hour in the garage with the kids coming in and out while I attached a hitch and bicycle rack to the bottom of our mini-van. My wife had purchased it a few weeks back as an early Valentine's Day gift. It's something we've wanted for a long time so that we could attach a bicycle rack when we go camping. Previously we had been cramming all the bikes on another rack that could be strapped to the back door of the van, but with the kids' bikes getting bigger, doing it that way was becoming impractical.

(Many thanks go out to my neighbor, friend, and ward member from up the street who lent me his torque wrench and an awesome, heavy-duty jack to lift the van. When I was attaching the hitch, it was suggested by the manufacturers that I should release the mount holding up the exhaust pipe so that it would be easier to slip it in there. Well, the kind of bracket my van has on the pipe is a one-time-use mount. With my friend's jack, I was able to lift the van high enough that I could pivot the brace into place above the exhaust pipe.)

After I got the hitch on, I attached the new bicycle rack, then headed inside for lunch and some time on the couch watching more of the Olympics opening ceremony. A few hours later, I finally piled the bikes on the new rack, and the wife and kids in the van and we headed to the park.

A few weeks back, I took my youngest son to the park to teach him how to ride a bike, which he mostly did. He still needs to learn how to brake a little more gracefully and how to start on his own, but he can mostly keep on the bike. He is very good at the fall, and doesn't really hurt himself when he goes down -- that's a skill which importance shouldn't be under-estimated. Today, my wife wanted to see him ride, as she wasn't there a few weeks back, and he did a fine job. He's getting it, and it will be a wonderful day when we can all go together as a family on a long bicycling excursion.

After about an hour at the park, we all departed hungry and happy and came home to eat a wonderful meal that my wife prepared. She made chicken dijon, cous cous, and Brussels sprouts. The kids wouldn't touch it, but I thought everything was divine.

Afterwards, my wife made sugar cookies for Valentine's day and decorated them with the kids.

And I just finished watching Apolo Anton Ohno kick some butt in a qualifying round. He was sitting back in 5th place, then with three laps to go he completely buried the others while skating on the outside of the track. Totally amazing.

It's been a good day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Olympics Starts Tonight!

Woo hoo!! I don't really follow any sports at all (just too darn busy), but the Olympics totally rock, and my family will be Olympic-zombies for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lost Party

My wife and I got a babysitter last night so that we could go to a "Lost" party. It wasn't really a "party", per se, but really just us and another couple watching the season premiere of Lost and eating some great snacks, which our hosts so graciously provided. (We were supposed to bring the drinks, but it was so frantic trying to get out the door that we neglected to do anything but grab a packet to make some Crystal Light.)

If you haven't watched Lost before, you just won't get why this part was even happening. However, those of us who have watched the show from the beginning and have stuck with it have shared a singular cultural experience. Lost truly is one of the most remarkable television experiences that I've ever had. Now that we're in its final season, I'm excited to see how it "ends" but a little nervous about how it will "end".

When I talk to people about this show, they usually fall into one of three categories:

1) They've never watched it or only watched a few episodes and didn't continue with it. These are "non-fans".
2) They came to the experience late so had to catch up with everything by watching the back episodes.
3) They've been faithfully watching from the very beginning.

My wife and I fall into the latter category, and I truly feel that as far as Lost fans go, those in the second category are just second-class fans.

Here's my reasoning: you just can't have the full emotional experience of the show without being subject to the delays inherent in weekly breaks between episodes and seasonal breaks between seasons. In those intervening times, those who watched have to wait with anticipation for the following episode, all the while trying to make sense out of what had gone on before. The truest of fans participate in theorizing about the underlying meaning of the show, curious as to what the producers may have intended by this or that little detail and drawing connections between various events which may or may not have actually been connected. The show, in that regard, is brilliantly constructed and provides more than enough fodder for rampant speculation. There's an entire cottage industry in the "blogosphere" of those who think and ponder and write their ponderous thoughts.

So it was that in our party last night, we had a wonderful experience. It was really quite enjoyable as we watched both the "review" episode and then the actual show itself. There, we were able to ask the questions, "Was that when ..." or "What happened to ..." or "Where did that ..." and have our friends participate in that discussion. Even better, it was great to remind each other of little details and character connections that we had each forgotten.

Three hours later, $17 poorer (for the babysitter), and 2 hours more sleep-deprived than usual, my wife and I came home, happy at the experience and glad to have participated. We now wish we had done this before, enjoying the experience with other like-minded fans from the very beginning. Had we done so, we probably would have had an even deeper experience with the show. As it is, we plan to do it again, probably for the finale, which will no doubt be something to behold.

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