24 May 2011

Almost summer vacation...

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy " - Jacob Burg, age 7

Getting children to focus at this time of year is nearly impossible - they have less than a week until summer vacation starts, and they are restless for the school year to be done.  They still will have work to do, though.  We insist that each child work on their weaknesses during summer break.

Last year each boy worked on his reading and writing.  Although all three boys read well, they sometimes skim the paragraphs rather than reading in-depth.  And their handwriting?  Well, to put it nicely, I've seen better handwriting from a left-handed doctor!  And all three of them struggled with sentence structure and composition.  So last summer we decided that each boy had to read a set number of pages in a book, and then write a small book report - one or two paragraphs - about what they read.  Then, and only then, were they free to go play with their friends.

Oooo, did we have some fights at first.  Although they love to read, they hated the idea of writing a small report about what they read.  And for the first few weeks, I never accepted their first report because it didn't meet the standards Sean and I had set for each child.

"James, I circled several words that you misspelled.  You need to go back and re-write your report with the words spelled properly.  If you need help, the dictionary is on the table."

"Jacob, you are having a problem writing your sentences - they need to flow, just like the sentences you speak.  Also, you need to have the first word capitalized and a punctuation mark at the end of every sentence.  Please go back and fix these mistakes."

"Jonathan...~stunned shock~...I can't even make out half of the words in this report.  I can't even tell if you have the sentences structured right!  Go back and write it legibly please".

Poor kids...they didn't get outside until after 5pm during the first few weeks of summer break.  But they quickly realized that Sean and I were very serious about the work assignments, and slowly they began to improve.  By week five, each boy was making it outside before lunch.  By week seven, they were done before 10am (impressive, considering they started around 8:30 every morning).

Now, I know some people are reading this with their jaws dropped, feeling that Sean and I are far too harsh in our parenting style.  But let's be honest...children who don't learn these skills will never make it far in this world.  With more and more communication being written rather than verbal (especially in this day and age of the internet), being able to express yourself well through writing is more important than ever.  To my way of thinking, it would be far crueler to NOT work on their academic weaknesses. 

By the end of the summer, the boys had gone from actively disliking their "homework" to being proud of their results.  The first time each child got a perfect paper on the first try, I let them choose what desert we would have that night - and I let that child help cook it.  The looks of pride on their faces is something that I will never forget.  And they started the new school year with confidence - and were stunned and thrilled to discover they were far ahead of their peers.  Both Jacob and James were made teacher assistants, helping the other students with reading - and they are both very proud of that fact.  And when Jon brought home a report card with an A in English, he was flabbergasted - but thrilled.

This afternoon, after school, Jacob came to me and asked "Why haven't I started writing book reports yet?"  I was a little surprised (I was going to have them do something else this summer), but I said "Well, summer break hasn't technically started yet, has it?"  He agreed with that and then asked if he could read outside since it was so nice out.  As he was spreading his blanket out on the grass, he made this comment.

"The sun is like a blanket for the earth - it covers the ground up and keeps it warm and healthy.  Right, mom?"

How did such a young child get to be so wise?  Could it be because he's been taught that learning is a gift, not a chore?

This summer, I am planning to have the kids work on history - specifically, American history.  There is so much about our nation's history that gets skimmed over in the classroom.  For example, did you know during the Depression that our nation's troops fired on our own veterans in Washington, DC?  I had never realized that tanks had been driven down our nations capital with the sole intent of attacking our veterans...school never taught me that.  I learned that on my own.  Now, I don't think I will teach the younger two that - they are too young to understand right now.  But Jon is turning 14 this summer, he'll be going into high school in the fall, and he's ready to learn more in-depth topics, both good and bad, about our nation's history.

And since Jacob requested it, perhaps I'll have them each write a small report about the major events in our history.  No reason not to keep up with good writing habits as well.


Anonymous said...

Im biting my tongue about making them work during their summer break because its getting results. Tell the boys im backing you up on this idea and if they dont like it they can call me and ill talk to them and back you up

patricialynn said...

Anonymous I can't call you if I don't know who you are...