Poolside Summer School

My blogging has been light lately because my mind’s been on putting together an educational curriculum for Neil (and to a certain extent, Kelly as well) this summer. It’s no secret that I’ve been disappointed in his teacher this year, and I think in some ways he’s fallen behind milestones he achieved in third grade. And I dabbled with doing some classical homeschooling with him already the summer between first and second grade, when the district was considering closing his magnet school.

The easiest subject to put in was math. After all, I already had the books, thanks to the fact that his teacher his told me I should just teach him myself if I was so uptight about her not giving him the test he needed to advance after a month. I bought the rest of the Keys to Algebra curriculum he was working on, and unlike his teacher, I actually correct his mistakes and review them with him. I loathed algebra in high school, but teaching it to Neil is surprisingly easy and fun.

A teary session on his latest book report and an overview of his work at the school’s recent open house demonstrated how far he’d fallen behind in writing skills, both in the sense of fine motor and language arts. He learned cursive at the beginning of the year, but it was apparently little more than a series of handouts and an order to write in cursive henceforth. That was soon abandoned to letting the children write however they wished, preferably in type from a computer. When Neil did do any cursive, it was illegible. Now I know I may as well just have him learn how to type, since that’s how he will be doing most of his major writing in this modern world, but I’m still a little old fashioned. I think you should know how to do math on paper as well as on a spreadsheet; it would also be nice to be able to write legible cursive on the occasions it’s called for. And so I got a few “better handwriting” books including an in-depth workbook.

This was also supposedly the year to learn punctuation and grammar, but as far as I can tell, it consisted of teaching the children the four different kinds of sentences (declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, and imperative.) Looking at Neil’s work, I could see he still didn’t know how or when to use a semicolon, even in the simplest sense, and he uses apostrophes with abandon, randomly sticking them into verbs and numbers. A teacher who cared might have noticed and taken the time to teach my son; instead, this was also clearly something I had to take over. And as for actual writing, well, let me just point out that last year, he spent weeks researching, outlining, and writing a comprehensive report on the rainbow macaw. This year, he wrote and illustrated a preschool-level children’s book on the ghost crab. Verbally, he could tell me all sorts of things about the ghost crab, but as you might expect from a tiny crustacean, its activities in “Diary of a Ghost Crab” mostly consisted of screaming and running away from bigger things that wanted to eat it. He spent a lot of time coloring in his own drawings, and no time correcting grammatical mistakes in the book’s 8 short sentences. I’m unimpressed. This summer, we’ll do some dictation exercises and I’ll have him write a few real reports about what he’s read and done. Surprisingly, he’s already excited about getting some real education on grammar. And as a kid who’s fascinated by logic, he’s devouring all the information I can give him on argumentative fallacies.

My previous summer homeschooling mostly consisted of teaching him some simple Egyptian and Roman history. He loved the story of the brutal dissolution of the First Triumvirate so much, we re-enacted Crassus’ and Pompey’s deaths several times, and he‘s the one who told me about Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh. This summer, I’m having him read some books on the American Revolution and recite part of the Declaration of Independence. He has difficulty with regular speech, but when he has to recite something, like a Shakespearean monologue, he can do it perfectly, and I think the practice is good for him. Furthermore, in fifth grade the students learn U.S. history and having a solid foundation about, well, its foundation, will hold him in good stead.

Best of all, besides righting the wrongs of this year, I can do most of my educating outside, in our own backyard, by the pool, or in the Bay Area’s science museums and parks. And I can’t think of a better or more pleasant place to learn than that.

1 Comment

  1. Chris

    Your frequent posts on Neil’s public school education (or lack thereof) are downright scary.

    Coming from a left handed hypocrite who printed her essay exams, typed the rest of her way through college and can hardly read her own writing… I still think you’re right to emphasize the nearly-lost art of handwriting. Does Neil have any penpals? I remember having some overseas penpals when I was around his age. Writing ‘real’ letters (as opposed to email!) to kids in other countries might be an incentive to practice legible cursive.

    Grammar is boring, but it’s bordering on criminal that they don’t teach it anymore. So what is he learning (aside from songs about Cesar Chavez and dubious environmental statistics?


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