Having tried in the past to do some focussed, sit-down homeschooling work with my kids each week and having failed miserably, I decided this year to get some professional help. The plan was to hire a tutor to get the Big Girl into the learning groove. I specifically chose a tutor with special education experience so that Big Girl’s particular challenges, both cognitive and behavioural, would not be an impediment. On the contrary, I hoped this tutor would figure out what kind of learning works best for her so I could translate that into our homelearning sessions. I also hoped this person would have more success introducing topics that Big Girl is naturally resistant towards (i.e. anything that isn’t related to biology or mythological creatures). The idea was that I would introduce homeschool sessions at home doing stuff the kids find fun and leave the more challenging stuff – particularly math – to the tutor. Then later when the tutor had figured out the best approach, I could learn this myself and apply it to our homeschool time.
We had our first session and I was a bit disappointed. The activities she brought seemed rather “schooly”, even though we’d had several conversations about the fact that my kids don’t react well to worksheets and other mundane task-oriented learning. To be fair, she doesn’t know the Big Girl yet, and I figured it would take a few sessions for the tutor to determine what would work best. However, it made it a harder sell to the Big Girl: she was already less-than-enthusiastic about participating in this tutoring thing and it was hard to prepare her for it given that I myself didn’t really know what it would end up looking like. So far, she has enjoyed the other therapists she’s working with and I think she was therefore optimistic about this one. But only a few minutes into the session it was apparent she was not only NOT having fun, she was getting rather upset by the whole thing. I realized that the tutor needed more information from me about how the Big Girl likes to learn and what sort of things she could try to get Big Girl interested and engaged.
That night as I lay in bed I thought about our Occupational Therapist. She has been working with the Little Dude for almost a year now and I have learned a lot from her. She started working with the Big Girl last month and so far the sessions have gone really well. The OT really knows her stuff: she knows how to get these kids engaged and having fun. She brings a variety of games and tries them out to see what the kids really enjoy. Later on she starts sandwiching other games, games that maybe the kids wouldn’t choose to play, in between games they like. All the games involve particular skills but the kids don’t really see that they are learning, say, fine motor skills or patience or compromise, etc. They also don’t see how applying this sandwiching technique teaches them exactly the kinds of skills they need to do homeschool work. It’s a great system and her skill in adapting each session – heck, each part of each session – to each child is really amazing to watch.
In thinking about this I realized it would be a great model for tutoring: learning games involving fun stuff the Big Girl enjoys, sandwiched in-between stuff like math games that she won’t enjoy as much (at least, not at first). I drafted an email in my head outlining a potential plan for the tutor. I listed some learning games I knew Big Girl would enjoy and suggested that the math games be just for brief periods at first (even as short as 10 minutes), working up to longer periods as the sessions progressed. When I woke up the next morning I was pretty psyched about what I’d come up with. And then suddenly it hit me: I could do this. I didn’t think I could because I’d failed at it before, but I’ve learned so much in the last year from Little Dude’s therapists that I understand now how to make it work.
As if fate heard me, I got an email the next day from the tutor saying it was taking too long for her to travel to my town (she hadn’t accounted for traffic apparently) and asking if we could change the location to a town halfway between mine and hers. A reasonable request, but one that would not work for me. It would take too much time out of my day to hang around while the Big Girl is in her session. And although the idea of a couple hours of peaceful reading in a coffee shop might sound like heaven, I’d have the Little Dude with me which changes the flavour of that scenario entirely! I realized that this was the perfect “out” for me, so I said “thanks but no thanks” and now we are flying solo again. I’m taking my plan and I’m going to use it myself.
So this weekend I searched the Internet for ideas for our homeschool sessions. I want to do some fun science experiments, and also get the kids started on a math curriculum. They are both behind in their math skills and I needed something that could accommodate their strengths and weaknesses, progress in a manner that would make sense for them, and be as fun as possible given that it is math and both of them have decided they “hate” math. I decided an interactive online program would work better for them than worksheets, and after checking out a few programs I signed up for DreamBox Learning. They have a free 14-day trial and then the fee is monthly, which is much better than forking out a huge amount of money for something that may end up not working down the road.
I’m really excited about starting this with the kids, and I’m hoping that if I sandwich it in-between fun activities of their choice I can establish a homeschool routine that can be tweaked and extended as we go along. Eventually I would like to lengthen the overall sessions, lengthen the time spent doing the things I want them to do, and broaden the range of subjects. But for now I’m happy to start with this math program, even if it means I’ll be stuck playing some obnoxious Mortal Kombat type game with the Little Dude as part of the deal. 🙂