I remember during the first Classical Conversations Practicum I ever attended, we had a break-out session for moms of younger children. One seasoned mother told the story of how she had debated about what to do with her daughter when she reached kindergarten age. Since she had not homeschooled from the beginning, she had no experience teaching kindergarten, and she seriously considered sending her daughter to private school to get the kindergarten fundamentals and then homeschooling after that. However, she decided to homeschool her, after all, and it ended up being “the sweetest year.”
A year later, I found myself about to teach Kindergarten for the first time. I could say that I was looking forward to spending the year teaching my sweet Israel, but honestly, I was terrified. I was going from one student to two, and didn’t know if I could successfully juggle the different levels. Furthermore, I had a new baby, and I hear those can be demanding of time. But what really concerned me the most was I was afraid I would not be able to teach him to read.
Not only did Ava go to Kindergarten elsewhere, but she has always been an extremely natural reader. I had nothing to do with her learning to read whatsoever, and I really don’t even know how she was taught. She is also very typical first child and pretty self-motivated academically. Izzy, on the other hand, has what I call “motivational issues.” If he doesn’t feel like doing something, there is no dessert on this planet that will entice him to do it.
Come to think of it, maybe I need some motivational issues.
Anyway, let’s just say I had some strong anxieties about teaching Kindergarten to my first middle child.
But you know what? It really was the sweetest year! There were definitely some challenges (which I will get back to,) but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend this year with Israel. And, he can read! Hallelujah, amen!
So here are some things I learned my first time teaching Kindergarten:
- Phonics work. I was not taught to read phonetically. I was raised in an era when people were skeptical of the effectiveness of phonics. But, apparently, when you homeschool, phonics are a part of the deal. I cannot say enough good things about the easy-to-use format of Phonics Pathways. Josh and I learned rules we never knew about. And it’s amazing to me that Israel can sound out words that he’s never heard. Today, he sounded out the word “knickknacks” perfectly. Then he asked what it meant.
- Reading takes time. Three days after we started our official school year, I had my last post-partum follow up visit with my midwife team. In an effort to feel out my emotional health, and because I think they actually care, one of them asked how homeschooling was going. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, we’re 3 days in, and Izzy isn’t reading yet.”
As you can imagine, they weren’t really sure what to do with that.
But seriously, I realized that day how ridiculous I was. I was already stressing out about Israel not being able to read…I was imagining what it would be like if our evaluator at the end of the school year saw that he wasn’t reading…and we hadn’t even begun to blend letters together yet!And here’s the thing. Unless you have one of those crazy kids, like Ava, reading will take time. Israel progressed just fine throughout the year, but it was slow and steady, not lightning fast.
- Children’s eyes have to be trained to read, and it can exhaust them. You know one thing that children aren’t born knowing? To read from left to right. Yes, there are things we can start doing, even when they’re little babies, to begin teaching that concept, but it’s not innate. Phonics Pathways has exercises to help children learn to read from left to right, and the book calls them “Eye-robics.” Why? Because it’s exercise! They are working muscles that they aren’t used to using.
And because of this, they can actually wear out, just like I wear out when I’m physically exercising. Even after Israel started to read well enough to read from actual books, I quickly discovered that if I tried to get him to read from a book that had more than a sentence or two on a page, he would shut down and say, “I can’t read this. It’s too many words.”
At that time, reading required so much focus and concentration, he was only able to comfortably do it for short periods of time.I was worried that this might just be laziness (see “motivational issues” above,) but I saw that, as he practiced reading more, he was also able to read for longer. Before the end of the school year, we were reading books that he wouldn’t have even attempted one or two months before.
- It’s OK for Kindergarteners to play. The first few days of our school year, for some reason I felt like Israel needed to be in the school room anytime I was “doing school” with Ava. I prepared coloring pages and such (read: busy work) for him to do while I was giving her attention. This did not go nearly as smoothly as I thought it would.
One surprise I had was Egan decided he had to be with us at all times; there was no going to play in another room while we were all in the school room. This led to five of us in the school room all the time, and the volume level made it hard for real learning to take place.
Another issue I had was that Israel simply didn’t have the attention span to sit for that long. He would become resistant during phonics (re: “motivational issues”), and by the time math came around, he was a tired, whiney mess.
About the end of the first week, I had had enough and I sent Israel to play with Egan in their room while I taught Ava grammar. It was so much better. I brought Izzy back in to teach him his math while Ava did something independently, and – lo and behold! – he seemed refreshed and much more capable of actual focus.
This is when I realized my original error. I had tried to make him sit through the morning like “traditional school,” but if I was going to bust my tail to homeschool these children, why on earth would I feel the need to make their experience so much like traditional school?
So for the rest of the school year, we found a groove that really worked for us. We would start our day with Bible as a family. Then Ava would do her math on the computer, and I would do Israel’s phonics. Phonics Pathways does not really have a set lesson plan since it is designed for mastery, but I decided that we would do 2 pages a day. Starting out, this could take us 45 minutes (as I said, “motivational issues.”) But by the end of the school year, he could zip through his pages in about 15 minutes.
After phonics, I would give Izzy a 30 minute break while I worked with Ava on her grammar and spelling. Then, I would bring him back in for math. Israel is pretty natural at math (thank goodness!!!), so it was rare for us to spend more than 30 minutes on a lesson.
Depending on what day it was, we would have history or science right before or after lunch. Ava would read the lessons out loud and Israel listened. After lunch, we would read something as a family, and then Ava would go do her personal reading while I read to Izzy. This is when we worked our way through The Magic Tree House series. Which is basically just Doctor Who for kids. But that’s another blog entry.
All that goes to say, Israel had a lot more playtime this year then I originally planned for. However, I have learned that this is actually developmentally correct for his age, and it has helped, not hindered, the learning process.
- Kindergarten is a sweet age. I feel like, in many ways, I missed Ava’s kindergarten year. It just seemed to fly by, and since I had two little ones at home, I didn’t get to volunteer at the school or do much of anything to participate in her year. Furthermore, the school had a policy to not give out ANY information to parents (a far-cry from when I was growing up and they sent home school directories!), so I had no way of contacting the parents of the friends Ava met at school to develop relationships and plan play dates.
I’m so thankful I’ve had sort of a do-over with Izzy. It has been so fun to watch him learn and develop; to be the one to cheer him on and high-five him when he meets a goal. To watch him make friends at co-ops and build LOTS of cool things out of Legos!
And did I mention?? He can read! Although I don’t think it’s REALLY fair for me to take credit for that (the curriculum did all the work, I just showed up,) it’s such a delight and an honor to have been a part of the process. So, maybe Kindergarten is the sweetest year, after all. I just hope there will still be some sweetness in first grade!