Friday, August 07, 2009

The Frustration Inherent in Doing Things Differently

It hit me today that one of the things that I am doing with my kids is not the standard way of doing it. Now, that should not be a complete surprise. "Normal" is not what I'm aiming for so I shouldn't be too surprised when I miss it. The thing that I have been doing is teaching basic phonics and reading at the same time as teaching spelling.

I was getting frustrated with how the spelling curricula I'm using is not well matched to my daughter's level and how it was not as well designed along a phonics method as I would like. We are using Spelling Workout from Modern Curriculum Press. It fit well with my oldest daughter, so I thought I would give it a try for our second daughter. But, our second daughter is in a slightly different situation. Our oldest daughter was starting to read at 3 1/2 years and by 4 1/2 years was a confident young reader. Our second daughter has all the phonics basics in her head, she just didn't have interest in reading until recently. She is now 4 1/2 and begining to work through the sounding out phase of early reading. The older daughter was able to read her Kindergarten spelling lessons without much help and it seemed easy. The second daughter has just as much desire to learn to write words as to read them, so I thought the spelling lessons would be helpful in reinforcing the reading and phonics.

But, this time around I am more sensitive to the irregularities in lesson progress. The first Spelling Workout level (A) is geared for a first grader. A first grader is more likely to be further along in reading and spelling abilities. Although the book starts out simpler than the Adrenaline Junkie needed, it quickly became very challenging for her. I was also taking it at a faster pace than it was designed for. I'm having to break up the lessons in half and take only half a lesson per day. I suspect that the lessons were meant to be covered in a week. As a result we are already a little past the halfway point in the book and it is expecting half a year's growth to have taken place when we have only been doing the lessons for five weeks. Am I pushing too hard? Maybe, but that doesn't change the fact that she is still able to complete the lessons and I am seeing her make progress. I just have to be right there to read the lesson to her (the parts she is unable to do herself) and encourage her to sound out the actual spelling words and practice writing the actual spelling words. I am also having to teach her how to take each excercise and step by step talk her through it. I find it frustrating that she is unable to do the reading sections on her own yet, mainly because the reading sections mix more advanced words with the current spelling words. They even throw in a few spelling words that are harder than the most common phonetic form that they are highlighting (long o sound includes the harder "toe" and "road" and "fold" as opposed to the simpler "home"). It makes me wonder if there is a better fit out there for my second daughter's ability level.

So I spent a little bit of time today websearching results on "phonics" and "spelling." I've come to realize that most spelling programs follow some kind of phonics approach, but they are not geared to the level of a four year old who is needing phonics spelling practice at the same time that she is learning to read. I looked at a few that looked promising at first, but at closer inspection had similar issues as the ones I was dealing with. Either the teaching method was geared to an older child or the material was mixed with more advanced words than the current lesson addressed or the material took the lessons at such a slow pace that she would become bored with them and tune out. Within a month she has figured out the differences between long and short vowel sounds, why would I limit her to learning only short vowel sounds for an entire year?

I think one of my foundation issues in all of this is that I don't wait to teach a topic when everyone else teaches it. I teach it when it appears that my child is ready to learn it. So far my two oldest children were ready to learn reading and writing before their public school peers are traditionally introduced to it. They are learning the topic before they can understand some of the teaching exercises used in the prepackaged curricula (For instance unscrambling letters may be a fun exercise for a first or second grader, but incomprehensible to a four year old just sounding out her words). Sometimes the material is inappropriate age-wise or brain-maturity-wise, but would otherwise be covering what they are ready to learn.

If anyone out there knows of some curricula that would work for a four year old who wants to be able to spell and write as well as read, please let me know. I would love to find something that would be a good fit for her. Otherwise, I'm beginning to think that I may just have to figure out my own home-made lessons for her. I already use the old MacGuffey Primer for teaching her to read. She likes the pictures and stories. I like how it only uses words that have already been introduced in the prior lessons or the current lesson. I also have a Blue Back Speller and considered using that this year. I couldn't figure out how to use the syllabary in a day to day fashion for learning to read. Maybe I should take another look to see if it would work better for what my daughter needs. It is designed to be used to teach spelling after all.

I don't really want to create my own lessons. I'm doing that enough already with art, religion, and literature for my oldest child. It would be nice to get on track with something that I knew what comes next once we go from point A to point B. I also suspect that my son who is still only two will be ready early too. So this problem will undoubtably come up again with some new twist that is unique to him. I just get tired of hitting road blocks when I'm trying to find something to make my life easier. Silly me... homeschooling isn't about easier. It can be about tailored lessons; it can be about relationship-building; it can be about focused training; it can be about flexibility. I wanted my kids to be challenged in their educations. As a result, I find I have to participate in the challenges too... like working through frustrating curriculum mismatches.