The Travails of Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been going pretty well. It’s my first year homeschooling two kids, so things have been a bit different. The biggest change has been the fact that it takes about an hour longer to get things done on a good day. On a not-so-good day, things can take several hours longer.

Alpha is doing really well. We had him tested through our school district last year to see how he was doing and how much his ADHD and Dyslexia were affecting him. The results showed that his dyslexia wasn’t affecting him at all. He was performing right at grade level in every subject except for writing. While he still had some issues with reversals and forming letters backwards, he did well even with decoding nonsense words. It’s a sure sign that switching up our phonics program in first grade worked.
His ADHD, on the other hand, was still hindering him. He tested as very distracted and would definitely need some interventions to help him manage his ADHD if he were in a classroom setting.

We gave him the option of going to school, but since he was exactly where he needed to be, we didn’t see the point in forcing the issue. He remains happily homeschooled and has insisted that he never wants to go to school. I told him that eventually he is going to have to go to school. He can’t stay home forever.

His favorite subject is history and this year we’re covering the modern times era, using history odyssey from pandia press. I love pandia press’ materials so much, I wonder why anyone would use anything else. Then I remember not everyone likes a very structured and detailed program that requires a lot of work. Not even me, at times.

Beta is a more reluctant homeschooler. She’s very social, but decided after being in school last year, she wanted to stay home this year. So we let her. But she quickly started complaining about how she wished she were in school. When she would get frustrated about her work, she would start complaining that she wished she were dead, she hated her life. All very dramatic.

I panicked and found myself wondering if she was suffering severe psychological damage from homeschooling or something. I was used to my son getting frustrated and yelling or throwing his work, but not this. So I had her tour a local montessori school to see if she wanted to go there. I was so sure she would that I had the paperwork printed and filled out before she toured it.

Afterwards, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” That was the most positive thing she had to say. Aside from that, she said she didn’t want to have be there five days a week and the days were too long. She would miss the homeschooling groups we go to and the art class.

I was surprised, but I slowly realized that her dramatic statements of self-hate was just her venting her frustrations, similar to how Alpha’s yelling and throwing his books were his. It’s not that she hates homeschooling or that I’m damaging her. It’s that she hates it when she doesn’t get things immediately. Since then, I’ve changed my tactics with her. When she declares herself stupid, I ask her why she thinks she’s stupid. I force her to question her statements until she reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t reaaaaaly mean them. She’s just frustrated.

So that’s getting easier.

Harder is the fact that she’s learning physics and modern times history in fourth grade when these subjects are basically too advanced for her. But I didn’t want to start off teaching two kids at two differen’t subjects and levels in history and science, which would make my day very complicated. So Beta is basically auditing Physics and Modern Times history. When she complains about it being too hard, I just remind her that this material is meant for an older child and next year, she’ll do Ancients 1 and Life (Biology 1) and things will be much easier for her.

Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to try and organize a science and history co-op so I can have other homeschoolers to hang out with and help teach these subjects to our mutual kids. In other words, friends. Unfortunately, I’m realizing this means I’m going to most of the work while the other people just show up. But that’s pretty much how all these things go. I’m trying to finagle it so that I’m only teaching one of the subjects and other parents do the other three. So I would teach, say, Biology 2 and then three other women would do Ancients I, Ancients II and Life. Or we would alternate which subjects we teach so everyone teaches or doesn’t teach based on how things work. I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

But so far I’m the only doing anything, so I don’t know. And I want to make sure things are taught well, so there’s a distinct possibility i will be too much of a control freak to be able to hand over any of the control to anybody else and have a successful co-op.

We’ll see. We’re halfway through this year and we’re doing well and that makes me happy.

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Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options pt1

An off-hand comment has spawned a parenting crisis in my household.

We had just returned home from German class and Alpha showed me this Christmas card he had made there and gleefully pointed out how he had written over “Frohe Weihnachten” in his secret code. He likes to do this: not pay attention during German class and write things like “lol stupid” or “death” or whatever in his secret code instead. I looked at the paper as disappointment washed over me again and told him, “Alpha, sometimes I think it would make just as much sense to put you in a closet for an hour as to send you to German class.”
This triggered my husband, who is already suffering from language anxiety. Finnish has fallen on the wayside, largely due to his inability to schedule a set time where he sits down with the kids and does Finnish with them. Their understanding of Finnish has plummeted. They very, very rarely use any Finnish at all. Beta says “olkapäällä”when she wants to ride on DH’s shoulders, Gamma says “hattu” (hat) and a few other words, but for the most part they speak English with German coming as a distant second. Consequently, my husband has decided that if they can’t understand him in Finnish, he’s going to speak to him in German. Problem is: his German sucks. I mean, fine, it’s better than my Finnish, but it’s like my Spanish: he had it for many years in school, can understand it pretty well, but anytime he can’t find a word he goes into his next best language (in his case, Swedish) to find it– oh, and his grammar is lacking. It’s completely pointless.

“Why do you do that?” I asked him. “It’s not going to improve their Finnish and it’s definitely not going to help their German.”
“I refuse to speak to them in English!” he insisted. “I’m not going to do it!” But he does. We both do. It’s inevitable when you’re homeschooling or when you live in an English-speaking country and the kids talk about most things in English.
But what followed was an angst-ridden evening on his part where he threw out suggestions ranging from the ridiculous to the implausible to improve their German and Finnish. “We’ll take their tablets away for the whole weekend unless they actually speak in German in their German classes and Finnish in their Finnish classes!” Alpha’s eyes immediately teared up. “We’ll just move to Germany and stay there for as many years as we need to until their fluent in German!” Sigh. He knows the kids the are against moving to Germany and phrasing it that way makes it seem like a punishment: you’re going to stay in prison until you’re sorry for what you did! I told my husband that this was not the time nor the place to discuss this, especially if any of the suggestions were going to be as ridiculous as those were. But still, he spent a lot of time telling me how upset it was making him that we were failing in our attempts to teach the kids Finnish and German and how they didn’t appreciate how we were trying to give them a leg up in life. “Languages open so many doors! They could go to university in Finland or Germany and save a ton of money, but they need to know the languages!” (Germany actually has a lot of English language university programs, but he didn’t know that) His despair was palpable. And, honestly, even I’ve been feeling that way a lot more when it comes to our languages.

The next day we finally had a chance to talk about things and, through the course of our discussion, came up with three plausible solutions to improve our kids’ language abilities:

1) increase the home study and make sure the kids do Finnish three times a week and German twice.

2) Move, either closer to Boston or abroad to Germany or Finland, either temporarily or permanently.

3) Drop Finnish. Concentrate on German. Or drop both of those and let the kids pick a language to learn.

Option 1 is fairly straight forward.  I already sit down twice a week with the kids and do German, using the German at home course “Einsterns Schwester.” The kids aren’t fans of it (given the choice between doing it and not doing it, they would rather not do it), but they do it and I’m pretty impressed at how much German Alpha understands and recalls. Beta…well, it feels like she’s learning German more as a second language now as far as recall is concerned. So German is covered.
Finnish is a whole other story. For the longest time (two years maybe?) my husband has had “Finnish” penciled into his calendar for every Friday. Guess how many times he actually sat down and did Finnish with the kids.
Zero.
In August after another period of language angst, we had decided that twice a week DH would do Finnish with the kids while I drove Gamma to preschool and the other day of the week, I would do German with the kids while he drove Gamma to preschool. Guess how many times this actually happened? Yep, zero. I drive Gamma to school every time. Though twice now after smaller bouts of language-concern, my husband has sat down and done Finnish with them, though one of those was this morning, so I’m not sure it counts.
My husband has lots of reasons why he doesn’t have time to do Finnish with the kids. He has a lot of work to do. True, this is a constant factor, it’s not going to change. He either needs to work around it or give up. We don’t have a good resource for Finnish like the ones I have for German. Also true: the Finnish schools won’t even hand any over to my mother-in-law when she asks. It’s like they keep their curriculum under lock and key and, true to low Finnish self-esteem, don’t actually think there might be children who want to learn Finnish at home. He can’t find the materials we do have. This isn’t even a proper reason; it’s just his lack of ability to find anything and then not asking me where they are (though I would probably tell him “On the bookshelf,” instead of giving him the exact longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates he’s probably looking for).
I’ve tried doing Finnish with the kids at home, but my Finnish isn’t good enough to understand a lot of the Finnish-language stuff we have, so I have to ask my husband for help translating if it’s not in my Finnish-English dictionary. My pronunciation is pretty bad, too. “You should really have dad do this,” was my kids’ advice after the first time I tried. I agreed with them.
The basic problem, I think, is one of habit. DH is not in the habit of teaching the kids. I am, so throwing German into the pile on top of everything else a couple of times a week isn’t a big deal. But for him… it’s a wild deviation from the norm. He also isn’t a natural teacher. I don’t think I am either, but I’ve learned a few things over the past 4-5 years of homeschooling. DH is good at explaining things to adults, but it doesn’t translate well to kids.
We ran through some suggestions, including the possibility of getting the kids Rosetta Stone for Finnish. That fell flat when I looked online and discovered that in the 11 years since i last looked for a Finnish Rosetta Stone program, they still don’t offer one. So screw Rosetta I’m-going-to-offer-courses-in-Irish-Dari-Pashtu-and-Swedish-but-not-Finnish Stone.
So I started throwing out suggestions that he would have known had he read the book on Growing up Trilingual I asked him to read 5 years ago but he never did. Make language learning fun! Play games with the kids, like memory or Uno or this Finnish Moomin game I can’t understand and so have never played it with the kids. He’s followed this advice, but a new complaint from the kids has arisen: “You always win when we play games with you,” Alpha groused.
My husband looked sheepish. “I’m not trying to win! It was just luck!”
There are other things he could do, like bribe the kids. Here’s a list of Finnish vocabulary words. Every time you learn one you get a dime.

But just starting with sitting down with them three times a week…would be a great start in the short-term. The other two options I’ll discuss in later posts and are more long-term in as far as planning and consequences are concerned.

Ready, Set…

We’re about to launch into our very first official year of homeschooling. Schools in my town already back, but since I consider starting before September heresy, we’re starting September 1. This also happens to be the day Hogwarts always starts, so I figure we can’t go wrong with it. Never mind that it’s Labor Day. We’re starting then, dammit (I actually only realized it was Labor Day after I decided we’d start that day and decided not to bother changing anything).

I’ve spent the last few weeks photocopying all the curriculum resources I have, three-hole punching them, and filing them away into binders as well as drawing up a tentative schedule for how this fall is going to run. I think I’ve arranged things so we’ll have time to take off a month when the baby is born and my family comes to visit. I figure most homeschoolers slow down around December and just do holiday stuff anyway, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal. I’m still nervous about it though. Our ability to take off in December is dependent largely on us being on the ball before then. What if we’re not? What if we’re hugely lazy? Unfortunately you can’t plan for every contingency and at least we have a lot of flexibility built in.

Beta will be going to preschool this fall, which makes the thought of homeschooling first grade with Alpha a lot easier. I’ll have 9 hours a week with only Alpha around. Hopefully we can get all the Important Stuff done then.

I’ve also made his Schultüte, a concept my husband failed to understand.

IMG_4888

I showed him it when it was mostly finished and he just looked confused. “So how long does he have to wear that? Everyday?”

“What? No, it’s just for the first day.”

“So why do you wear it the first day?”

“NO! You don’t wear it at all! You put stuff in it.”

“Like a backpack?”

“NO! Like sweets! The point is to sweeten the child’s first day of school so that it’s fun and they look forward to it.”

Then he decided it was a neat tradition. I still have to buy fillers for it, though.

As far as our curriculum is concerned, I’ve opted to use materials that strike me as tried and true by various homeschoolers: Singapore Math for Math, Explode the Code for reading/phonics (along with beginner reader books), Handwriting without Tears for handwriting, History Odyssey: Ancients 1 for History, and R.E.A.L Science Life I for science. Additionally, Alpha will have  German class on Mondays, Gymnastics and Art on Tuesdays and Finnish school on Saturdays.

So with fingers crossed, we will dive right in…and hopefully everything will work out well.

In Search of ‘Normal’ Homeschoolers

I need to find some normal homeschooling friends. Desperately. I’m sure they’re out there. I’m in a homeschooling “network” of about 400 hundred people, so you’d think some of them would be more on the normal side. The problem is sorting having the tenacity to go through of the weirdo ones and still be around for the normal ones.

What do I mean by normal?

Well…one homeschooling mom decided to start a group to help her 8 year old daughter find some friends her age. So she sent out a message saying “Although Sally [not her real name] adores her younger brothers [being about 4] and loves playing with them, some times she also likes to play with kids her own age….” What the hell. Of course she wants to play with kids her own age! What kid doesn’t? I’d be concerned if she only wanted to play with boys half her age. Why so defensive in the beginning? Would anyone actually read an email saying, “My daughter wants to make more friends in her age group. Let’s get together!” and conclude that Sally hates her brothers and wants them to die painful slow deaths?

This kind of pro-active defensiveness seems to be common in homeschooling groups. Mention Halloween or Easter or any holiday that traditionally revolves  around candy and you get a chorus of “Although I hate the candy part of it…” Sigh. Yes. We know.

Along with this are the little reminders tacked on to group events or celebrations to bring a “healthy snack to share with all allergens labelled!” I’m fine with labeling the allergies bit; I’d be pissed I was chowing down on something only for it to turn out to have lobster in it and end up covered in hives. But why do they feel the need to tell us to bring a healthy snack? Are we adults or not? Can we not decide for ourselves what is healthy? One mom brought cookies to an Easter Egg Hunt (oh, sorry, Not Easter Egg Hunt. I referred to it as an Easter Egg Hunt when RSVP-ing and got promptly corrected by the leader that it was strictly secular and had nothing to do with any religious holiday whatsoever. I resisted the urge to immediately schedule a random egg hunt in September), but I guess that was okay because they were gluten free and, as everyone knows, gluten free makes it healthy. I spend most of these events resisting the urge to bring Doritos and a can of cheez whiz. Non-organic, of course.

OMG, that’s pasteurized? Don’t you know how bad that is?

Lately they’ve changed the rules and decided that if people don’t want to do potluck (probably because all the rules make it too much of a pain in the ass), you can also just bring food for you and yours. Uh, thanks?

It’s not so much that people do these sorts of things, it’s the way they go about it: completely pompous. It’s not about what they do so much as it is about how they present themselves to other people. The last thing any of these women want is to be revealed as the only mom there who let’s there kids eat sugar and who things pizza pockets are a healthy entree. And it annoys me.

I’m not sure if meeting normal homeschooling parents would help in this regard since this behavior is common to all women. We had one of DH’s co-workers over and grilled food. I commented to his co-worker’s wife that Beta could eat 4 hot dogs in one go and didn’t even care if they were cooked. She replied, awkwardly, “I bet Billy could too, but I usually don’t let him because of all the preservatives and nitrates in hot dogs.” She must have seen this meme going around Facebook, I guess:

hotdogs
I base 99.9% of my parenting decisions on facebook memes. Fact.

Uh, thanks for insinuating that I basically want my kids to get cancer, Mom Lady. Sheesh. Way to suck all the fun out of grilling.

So while most of the mommy population seems to have this problem of covering their mommy-asses whenever they say anything, ever, it seems like it’s more common among the homeschooling population. This is probably due to the fact that the homeschooling population is self-selecting. Of all parents, which ones do you think are going to be most likely to decide that public school is inadequate for their children’s needs? Ones who feed their kids 12 hot dogs a month, cancer be damned, or those whose kids would be hard pressed to recognize a hot dog? So I’ve decided to try and recruit my less militant friends who are on the fence about homeschooling. This is going to make me super annoying, I know it. It probably won’t work, either. But I want my kids to have friends. Preferably friends where I don’t feel like the other mothers are constantly outraged at how I raise my children and therefore will never let their kids play at my house and would really prefer it if they didn’t hang out with my kids at all, but they can’t actually say that because that would lack the appropriate passive-aggressiveness they’ve become accustom to. They could always stick a smiley face at the end of the email they eventually write to break the news; everyone knows no one can get mad at you if you put a smiley in there :).

Maybe I’ll start a Meet Up Group: “Normal Homeschoolers.” After all, everyone knows that if you want to get the really militant homeschoolers, you label your group “Gifted Homeschoolers” because everyone who homeschools has gifted children. Homeschoolers have one hell of a bell curve.

(As a post script, I’m basically trying to summon up the courage to keep going to homeschooling things in the hopes I will meet some kindred spirits without getting too discouraged and quitting all together)

Teaching Kids to Write

I recently met up with two of my friends from high school and we started discussing how much we benefited from the education we got in the IB Program, especially the writing skills. All of us, at one point or another in our careers have realized that we have the ability to write and structure essays that most of our peers simply lack. For me, team projects in college consisted of everyone doing their parts and then me taking them and massively editing them so that they sounded good and used proper grammar. My first friend ended up taking a college English course, where she found out that the way she learned to write in high school was too complicated and she needed to dumb it down a bit. My second friend is currently getting her Masters degree and ended up writing a ten page paper at the last minute the same week her mother died and her teacher praised her writing, saying it was uncommonly good.

This discussion made me think about teaching writing in homeschooling and the many arguments I’ve read about how you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, period, because the kind of writing you need in the workplace is completely different from the kind of writing you’re taught at school. I think that line of thinking is missing the point. The point is not that you don’t need to teach your kids how to write, it’s that you need to teach them how to write properly, or at least to develop their writing skills so they can express themselves fluently on paper.

This reminds me of all the arguments I’ve read about homeschooling vs. unschooling. Unschoolers argue that kids are natural learners and do not need formal instruction because they will naturally pick up things that they want to learn and learn it. They will naturally specialize. The problem I see with this argument is that this seems to say that some people are just naturally good writers while others are naturally bad and there’s not much you can do about it, but i know for a fact this isn’t true. Both of my friends were told by the IB Administrator in their interview that he was concerned about their writing and they were going to have to work hard to improve on it if they got into IB and both of them did. The first friend I mentioned went from getting Ds on her first IB essays to getting As in her Senior year. The second friend was in IB gifted English in spite of any writing weaknesses she or anyone else may see in her whereas I was not. They’re both very good writers because of the instruction they received and both of them are extremely grateful for it (although they may have been less grateful at the time).

And isn’t that the point of learning? To get better at things we suck at? My son sucks at talking although his brain works fine, so we spend 15 minutes every day practicing his speech. He may never grow up to be a great orator, but that’s no reason not to make sure he can speak as well as possible. Alpha seems to be chugging along well enough in  math, though, so I could theoretically not teach him in anything in that subject. If left alone, maybe he would come up with the Pythagorean Theorem eventually, but he’d probably get their a lot quicker if I just told him about it. Because the point of teaching is to show us what other people have discovered, what they’ve done and what best practices we can use to get there ourselves. Maybe this is why American schools are so bad. I tried helping my 11 year-old nephew with his math homework and he kept protesting that yes, he could solve the problems the way I showed him, but that wasn’t how his teacher wanted him to do it and so he wouldn’t get full points. Screw that. That’s bad teaching and it results in bad learning. Similarly, teaching kids that a paragraph is four sentences long and a good essay consists of an introduction, three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, all of which support your thesis which should definitely have the individual topics of the three body paragraphs is a boring way to write, but at least it does teach kids how to organize their thoughts, which is important. It’s a good starting place. But you should start there and work your way up instead of just staying there or never getting to that point in the first place.

So, we will definitely be teaching writing. I’m not entirely sure how, but we’ll probably start by just telling narratives, which I’ll write down and improve upon so the kids can get used to the differences between talking and writing. Then hopefully they will be capable writers when they’re grown.

Is My Son Dyslexic?

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Alpha, writing his name

I’m beginning to suspect that Alpha may be dyslexic.

Since my husband is dyslexic, we’ve always been aware of the possibility of having children with dyslexia since it is genetic, but I’ve been wondering more and more since Alpha’s last parent teacher conference in April, when his teacher advised we get him evaluated for weak fine motor skills. The evaluator told us that he was behind, but not so severely that he needed therapy at this point and that the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting don’t develop until 6 or 7, anyway, so not to worry. These tend to develop in boys later than girls as a general rule. His teacher also showed me some of his handwriting books that he’s done, which in all honesty I don’t take too seriously and find it rather amusing they’re dedicating so much time teaching 4 year-olds to write when that is more of an elementary school thing. She showed me some pages, where he did pretty well, and other pages where the writing was very sloppy.

Then she brought out the binomial cube.  “This is is one of the harder works we have in the classroom. We have some Kindergarteners who can’t do it, but Alpha can do it perfectly, everytime.” She explained how they use cube. The teacher takes the cube, which has different colored sizes and dismantles it. She points to each similarly colored side to show the student that the similarly colored sides go together. Then the student is supposed to rebuild the cube. This is the sort of activity that would be easy for someone who can easily rotate objects around in their head would excel in. Rotating images in one’s head is a special talent dyslexics have.

A few other things gave me pause, as well. I’ve been going over the alphabet with Alpha since he was about 2. He knows some letters, but he seems to know them inconsistently. Sometimes he knows them, sometimes he tells me, “I can’t.” (He says this in English, with an English accent, which is hilarious). Other times, he tells me they’re different letters. He’s told me that E is M (which if you turn E on its side, isn’t unreasonable), that N is Z (again, if you turn it on its side, yes it is).

His speech problems, as it turns out are also a sign of dyslexia as dyslexics tend to have problems with blends and differentiating between sounds in the language.

I’ve also noticed he doesn’t understand rhymes. We have a German book called, “Wir Entdecken die Buchstaben” (We discover the letters) and one of the pages has activities involving rhyming. You have to find the words that rhyme together. So it will have have Topf, Zopf, Kopf mixed in with Haus and Maus. You have to know that Topf, Zopf, and Kopf rhyme and so do Haus and Maus but Topf and Haus do not. He doesn’t get it. I explained to him that these are words that have the same sound at the end. tOPF, zOPF, kOPF, but he doesn’t get it. How do you explain rhyming? Don’t people just GET rhyming? My husband told me he didn’t understand how rhyming worked until he finally figured it out when he was 16. His lack of understanding contributed to his long-standing hatred of poetry. We did another worksheet from a German book that involved drawing lines to connect rhyming objects. On the top row were:

MAUS   KNOPF    TISCH   HASE

On the bottom row were:

TOPF   NASE   HAUS  FISCH

Now, if even without knowing German, can you figure out which of those words would rhyme? He pointed to each object and said what they were and then I pointed to mouse. “What rhymes with mouse?” I asked him. “Ummmmmmm….” he looked at the paper and then pointed at nose. “Nope,” I said. He tried again, each time looking at me to see if it was the right answer. He did get ‘Hase’ and ‘Nase’ right, mainly because by the time he got to the rabbit, nose was the only thing on the bottom row that hadn’t been crossed off.

He also mixes up he/she/it a lot when he speaks. I thought this was my fault because I make a lot of gender mistakes in German, but my husband does this all the time, too. He will often tell me things like “My sister got his apartment today.”or “His husband….” He tried blaming this on Finnish, which does not differentiate between he and she, but I pointed out that he learned Swedish at the same time and Swedish does, so that doesn’t explain why he does it all the time in English. Apparently dyslexics do that a lot, too.

Here is a full list of dyslexic symptoms Alpha presents that we’ve noticed so far:

  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Difficulty with before/after, left/right, and so on (he often tells me in German, “Ich gehe auf die Küche” (I’m going on the Kitchen) when he means “Ich gehe in die Küche”)
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes or songs
  • Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems (we notice this when DH reads to him at night and asks him what things are in Finnish, which he knows, but he just can’t find the word  and during the speech evaluations and vocabulary tests he did. There were many words, like finger, I knew he knew but he couldn’t find them during the evaluation)
  • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
  • Difficulty hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics)–he tells me ah-ah-Musik. What? There’s no a in that word!
  • Difficulty in remembering names and shapes of letters (he’s still very young for this, but he spent all last year in Kindergarten working on writing his name and hasn’t come as far as many of his classmates)
  • Inconsistent schoolwork
  • Relatives may have similar problems
  • Poor or slow handwriting (not too applicable for him since he’s so young, but again, compared to other kids in his preschool, his handwriting is very bad)
  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Difficulty remembering the kinesthetic movements to form letters correctly
  • Difficulty coordinating facial muscles to produce sounds
  • Overwhelmed by too much input

These are only the ones from the list that are relevant now, to a preschooler. My husband and I have discussed this a lot in the last few days and I’m reading a few books on dyslexia, including the one that helped my husband stop feeling like he was an idiot all the time (The Gift of Dyslexia), in order to learn more about it.

Once he starts his speech therapy in August, I will discuss our suspicions with his speech therapist and see what she thinks and then find out where we go to have The Full Battery of Tests done.

In the meantime, we’re changing the way we educate him. We’re not going to be sending him back to preschool in the fall (I still need to call his school and de-enroll him). This is for numerous reasons. First off, he needs to spend a lot of time working on strengthening his fine motor skills and apparently MORE writing practice is not the way to go about this. Instead, we will be doing zero writing whatsoever and concentrating on cutting activities, pinching activities, playing with playdo and coloring with crayons. These build the motor skills necessary to write without frustrating him. Secondly, I don’t want him to start thinking that reading and writing are things that other people can do but he can’t because he’s too stupid, which is a feeling my husband basically internalized from being in school. Finally, no preschool will free up more of our time and funds for intensive speech therapy, which will probably be more helpful for his speech at this point than preschool.

I’m working on putting together a Kindergarten homeschooling plan. Although I’m not required to officially do any schooling as a homeschooler until a child turns 6 where I live, I figure a year of getting into the habit of doing it without any pressure will be good for me.

We’re starting off with doing basic phonics, which will be easier once he can pronounce more letters accurately. But since we’ll be starting with A and working our way through the vowels, we have plenty of time for his speech therapy to take effect before we get to the consonant sounds. We’ll spend as much time as necessary with each letter as it takes for him to be able to automatically say what letter it is and what sound it makes in German, English and Finnish. We will also be doing more hands-on letter making activities. I will hopefully come up with more ideas as I continue to read and learn about it.

I know some of you are probably wondering if we should really continue with the other languages? Aren’t dyslexics supposed to be really bad at learning foreign languages? They are. My husband has always stated that he is really bad at languages and he speaks English, Finnish, and Swedish fluently with good working knowledge of German, Norwegian and Danish. Also, it’s important to note the difference between foreign languages and languages you’re born speaking. Since Alpha has had English, German and Finnish in his life since he was born, none of these languages are foreign to him, they’re all native languages. In some ways, this might help him if he is dyslexic because while English has one of the most opaque orthographies in the world (which means it’s very difficult for dyslexics to learn to read and write English), Finnish is one of the most transparent while German falls somewhere in between. Multilingualism also helps strengthen executive control, something dyslexics may have trouble with, and the ability to zero in on important details.

However, I am concerned that the fact he is trilingual will alternately mask some symptoms while making others appear worse. I’m worried that people will (again) tell us its because he’s trilingual and we should drop a language or two because it’s too much. Or that it’s just because he’s trilingual and we should wait a while until he is stronger in all languages and see if the problems persist. However, we’ve already found out that he’s performing normally in all three languages. So this is irrelevant.

As far as making symptoms appear worse, I found a whole paper about bilinguals and dyslexia online. I’m currently reading it and it does outline some difficulties in evaluating and teaching bilingual children in Britain, but it appears to concentrate mainly on sequential bilingualism.

Finnish Schools vs American Schools: Conclusion

I wanted to write this post more about how American schools concentrate more on competition whereas Finnish schools are more cooperative, but I realized there wasn’t a whole lot I could say about that. And really because I think the issue is more that Americans are a lot more ambitious than Finns are overall, so it makes sense that we want to go to the BEST schools so we can have the BEST jobs. If you’re told from day one that the sky is the limit (and Americans are), then you’ll probably be pretty ambitious. What are Finns told from day one? I don’t know, my husband isn’t here so I can’t ask him. But I get the feeling it’s probably similar to what everyone who enters a system is told: if you do well enough here, you will be successful. Go to school, get good grades, do extra curricular activities, go to a good university and you’ll get a good job and be set for life.

The reality is less straight forward than that. In the US, our school system does poorly enough in following through on its promises that we’re looking all over the world to try and find a better way of doing thing. We’re not the only country doing this, either. When Germany did badly on the PISA study in 2002, I was in Germany and got a front seat view of their descent into Angst. They also concentrated primarily on Finland’s school system. “Why don’t you look at Japan or South Korea?” I asked my host sister. “Because they’re Asian and not European,” she answered, the implication being that their culture is so different from the western culture that the conclusions wouldn’t be relevant and that’s entirely plausible. I don’t know enough about those countries systems to offer any other opinion. But I do wonder whether or not it’s entirely beneficial to want to model everything on Finland.

Is Finland’s educational system even living up its promises? Is it providing people with the key to success in life? A relative of my husband’s has worked in it for 30 years and she’s been a strong critic of our decision to homeschool, to say the least. But recently she was talking to him and confessed that he might be on to something. “These young people, I don’t know how to advise them. The world is changing so rapidly, I don’t know if I can really tell them how they should do things or what the right decision for them to make is so that they can have a good career.” This reminds me of the saying ‘you’re always prepared to fight the last war.’ In our education systems, we’re always preparing people to live in the world of today, at best. Not in the world of tomorrow. How can we promise people that if they go to school for 12 years, they will be ready to meet whatever challenges they face when we have no idea what those challenges are?

How can we know if our school systems are actually doing their jobs if the way we evaluate that is based on tests? Or do we really see the purpose of our schools as only to teach them ‘the three r’s (that’s reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, if you’re not familar with the term). Then again, if our schools aren’t even doing that basic task well, we can’t very well expect them to prepare anyone for a career, can we?

A friend recommended Penelope Trunk’s homeschooling blog to me. While a lot of her posts come across as ego soothing (‘it’s okay for my kids to play video games all day while I work, really’) she has a lot of interesting arguments in favor homeschooling. I think they can be boiled down to this: in the future our institutions are going to be constantly in flux and the people who will do best in this situation will be people who are extremely flexible self-starters and self-learners. School does not create these kinds of people and hobbles those who are naturally like that. My husband went to school in Finland and did so badly, he almost didn’t qualify to go to college. While he has been extremely successful since, he still deals with low self-esteem from failing to do the things every other kid in his school could do easily. He can’t alphabetize anything, even though he knows the alphabet. He has horrible handwriting and writes most letters backwards, even though he had remedial handwriting classes in school. If he had taken the PISA test in school, it’s fair to say he would have bombed it in spite of being very smart and being successful in real life.

As he mentioned in his original commentary, what we need to ask ourselves is whether or not school is the best way to educate children. Are tests the best way to measure out income? How many successful people put their success in life down to their schooling? How much is inner drive.

I do think that American schools could benefit in changes based on the Finnish school system (particuarly less classroom time), but I question whether or not even Finnish schools are preparing their students for tomorrow’s economy. Which country to see having a more dynamic economy? Finland, the USA, or Singapore? Or none?

I think the US spends so much time obsessing over its educational system not only because it’s so horrible, so many other systems are just as bad. We watch so much what other countries are doing because we’re so competitive. We take our kids out of school and homeschool them more than any other country on earth because we’re risk takers. We’re also statistical outliers. The reality is that we can’t learn how to create the Best Educational System from other countries, we have to find that answer on our own. And even then we’ll probably be wrong.