Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Spanish Long Distance Class

I have three grandchildren who live far away. I want to be involved with their homeschooling so I teach them Spanish over the phone. We have been doing this once or twice a week for a year and a half. Let me introduce the students. K is 13 and has been interested in Spanish since she was very young. Her accent is very good and she remembers everything she is taught. C is 11 and excited about learning Spanish. Her accent is coming along. T is 8 and has to work to keep up with his older sisters. His mother helps him with the homework assignments. He is very bright and learns words easily. I teach him alone sometimes so that I can explain the grammar more simply and see that he understands how to do it. He needs to work on his accent but can make all the sounds so with time will develop a good accent.

My daughter speaks some Spanish. She minored in Spanish and can communicate adequately but would not feel comfortable enough to speak Spanish in the home. Her husband speaks Portuguese but is very supportive of the children learning Spanish.

I would like to share some of the things I do in this class which would be good for anyone who is trying to teach Spanish to their children. When I go to my youngest daughter´s house we speak Spanish three days of the week so her children are learning from immersion. That is the best way but any way that can be used for learning another language is certainly better than nothing.

I use the book Spanish is Fun for our basic text. It is easy to use, has lots of illustrations and a variety of activities.

Then I supplement the text with lots of extras. I make tapes for them to listen to in the car. I love to teach songs in Spanish and am working on a whole book of visual aids that we use with all our songs. I find things on the internet for them to do. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and so I supplement their Spanish with a lot of religious things. They know how to pray and one of them says a prayer to begin each class. Another time I will tell all about that.

I believe that as a child learns Spanish, he needs not only vocabulary but how to say things in complete sentences. So they must always answer in complete sentences.

If any of you are teaching your children Spanish let me know and we can share resources.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Homeschool Story

I always wanted to homeschool my own children even before I knew what homeschooling was and before I had any children at all. As a girl I used to make lists of all the things I wanted to teach my children some day. I made a list of all the trips we could take in Texas. I made a list of things we could study, taking a subject to study for a week or two at a time.

Then when I was a junior in high school I had an experience that changed my life. I participated in UIL Poetry Interpretation Contests. I had gone to several contests and never advanced to any of the final rounds. On this one particular Saturday a friend of mine did advance into the semi finals. I was so excited for her. We went off together and I helped her prepare to go into the semi-finals round. We found a place where I could coach her then we walked to her room and she performed. She made it to the finals round. We again went off and worked together. When she won that day, I was as excited as she was. Then on the bus going home I was contemplating my feelings of the day. All at once it hit me like a bolt of lightning, I was as happy as if I had won. Helping someone else to succeed was maybe even better than winning myself. Then I knew what I would dedicate the rest of my life to. I was to be a teacher. I went on to major in Secondary Education and teaching has been my greatest joy and the greatest gift in my life.

At BYU I decided to major in Spanish which was again a matter of inspiration. Spanish was not my best subject in high school, my teacher was very strict and I never made As in that class but I knew that was what I was supposed to do.

During the last semester at BYU I took my last education class from Dr. Larry Arnoldson. He told us that instead of attending class, hearing him lecture and reading a textbook, we were going to do individual research. We could choose a topic and read about it. He would meet with us at the first of the semester and help us get started, then we would have a couple of classes in which we would discuss whatever we wanted with the other students. Then he would meet with us at the end and help us evaluate our learning. We would tell him what grade we deserved for the class and without a question he would give us that grade. I chose to research “teaching my own children” since that is what I wanted to do. Dr. Arnoldson suggested some authors that he thought might be interesting for this topic. The author I still remember was John Holt. I read, How Children Learn and How Children Fail. As I studied I decided what the ideal education for a child would be. They would be able to learn what they wanted, studying a subject as long as their interest continues. They would be able to have concrete experiences. They would be able to be creative and feel good about their work. I learned so much from my reading that at the final interview I told him I deserved an A in the class. Still today I feel like that class was the most influential class of my life.

Later I got married and my husband and I decided we wanted to live in Latin America. My husband had served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico and got a Masters of International Business from Thunderbird Graduate School. We went with an international company that put us in South America. I began to have children and when we lived in Panama I continued reading and researching how to teach my children. I did my own Elementary Education Children´s Literature class. Then when we got to Colombia and my oldest son was three years old, I decided to open a preschool in my home. We converted our garage and backyard into a school and advertised for “The Children’s Corner.” We had about 18 students of different nationalities but we taught primarily in English. After three years of teaching in this school we came back to the United States.

My oldest, Jake, was five years old and ready to start Kindergarten. I had no idea that I could do anything else but send him to the local public school. I had taught him a lot and he could read very well and was a extremely bright boy. I remember walking him to school and instead of him crying, I cried all the way home. Jake did well in Kindergarten and went on to first grade.

I continued teaching my next children before they went to school. Annabelle learned to read even younger and advanced on to very difficult books. When she was ready to go to Kindergarten she was reading chapter books.

Topher learned to read and the first book he read out of was the Book of Mormon. He loved to do math and had a gift for figuring out my word problems. But Topher was an extremely shy boy. I took him in twice to have his hearing checked because he was so quiet that I thought he might have a hearing problem. His birthday was in September so would start Kindergarten right after turning 5 which made him the youngest in his class. I really didn´t think he was ready but he went and seemed to do okay. His teacher helped him highlight his strengths by having him read a book to the other children every day. At the end of the school year I talked to his teacher and told her I didn´t think he was socially mature enough to go on to 1st grade the next year. She thought I was crazy and even sent the principal to talk to me, I shouldn’t “hold him back.” So the next Fall Tofer started First Grade. I watched him struggle for several weeks. He stopped showing any enthusiasm for anything. He stopped smiling and became very serious. I talked to his teacher and she said she had seen him crying at his desk but he wouldn’t tell her why. He never complained just lost his zest for life. Then he began to talk about death and I knew something was seriously wrong. So one day I told him that he didn’t have to go to school that day and wouldn’t have to go at all that year if he didn’t want to. He was so excited. He smiled and laughed that day. I think something about school scared him and he just wasn’t ready for all the pressure.

You may ask,”What pressure could there be in first grade?” All I know is how Jake used to panic thinking he might fail a grade when he was actually in the “gifted” program. The teachers insisted on having neat handwriting even when that is practically impossible for some boys whose small motor control is just not ready for it. Just sitting in a room full of other children and not being able to talk and play with them without getting into trouble is too much to expect of some children.

So I kept Topher home that year. I didn’t realize that what I was actually doing was homeschooling him. In 1982 no one had even heard of homeschooling. The next year Topher went to first grade even though he still wasn’t really ready. He would be so nervous that he wouldn’t eat during lunch and would be famished when he got home. I went up to the cafeteria to try to encourage him to eat but the discipline was so strict in the cafeteria that it was hard for me to relax and enjoy the lunch.

When Annabelle finished first grade her teacher told me that she felt she hadn’t taught Annabelle anything that she didn’t already know that whole year. She thought it would be the same in second grade. She recommended I look into private schools and find one for her. I remembered all the research I had done about what the ideal school would be like and I told Annabelle we would find the perfect school for her. I started visiting the private schools in our area and discovered that they weren’t very different from the public schools. They were very traditional and didn’t have much room for creativity and individual interests. In fact, I found none that would be worth the money. So Annabelle returned to public school for the third grade in the Fall.

That Spring I was at the library one day when I saw a magazine article about homeschooling. I devoured the article. I wanted to know more so I found the name of the author of the article and called her. I began to find out that what I had been searching for was “homeschooling.” I discovered that in the last few years that John Holt, the author I had read in college, had also discovered “homeschooling” and had become a strong advocate. He had written a book, Teach Your Own, and revised the two books he had written before and added information on homeschooling in them. In the appendix he listed university professors friendly to homeschooling among those listed was Larry Arnoldson, my college professor. I called him and he sent me a ton of articles of his own and other authors about homeschooling.

I was so excited to begin but I had one more obstacle to overcome. My husband, Ken, was doubtful. This was a very unorthodox thing to do and he was very conservative. After weeks of much discussion we agreed that I would teach the children that summer. If, at the end of the summer, he saw that they were learning and I kept my sanity that I could continue in the Fall. So the first day of summer was our first day of Homeschool. By the end of the summer we were progressing so well that we just continued on.

My husband was serving as Bishop of our ward at this time. He felt it appropriate to inform the stake president of our decision to homeschool our children. He told the stake president, “Because of the great respect that we have for you and our willingness to follow your counsel, I don’t want to ask your opinion about homeschooling. I just want to inform you of the decision that we have prayerfully considered to homeschool our children.” I’m not sure if this is the reason, but we never heard much criticism of our method of education.

One other snag came when my husband’s parents came to visit us in October. We had not told them what we were doing, so on Monday morning when the children didn’t go off to school, they asked me why not. I told them they were “homeschooling.” I had read my mother-in-law’s personal history and knew that for her first several years of school, they were living on the Indian Reservation where there were no schools so her mother taught her reading, and her father taught her math. Then when she was ready for third grade, they moved into town so she could attend a regular school. So I told her that I was just doing what her parents had done for her. About an hour later they came out of their room with their bags and left. They didn’t say anything, just left. I realize now that they were so upset they didn’t want to say anything to offend us so they thought it would be better to leave. In the next few years they saw how the homeschooling was working and became comfortable with it but it was quite a shock for them.

As the years have gone by more people have turned to homeschooling and many people have told me they thought I was crazy at first but from seeing the results of our children, they see that it has worked for us.

All five of my children were homeschooled, some only a few years, others almost all their school years. All attended some public high school. All of them went to BYU and received academic scholarships. Now Ken and I, all five of our children and all their spouses graduated from BYU. All of my daughters homeschool their children thus the name of this blog, Teaching Generations.