We’ve been a homeschooling family since 1995, which would lead some folks to call me a veteran and assume I have all the answers figured out. Last week it mostly felt like I’m exceedingly tired of correcting math. I’m scheming a bonfire of math answer keys on the day that I retire from homeschooling a decade or so from now. (Though it’s more likely that my practical side will kick in and I’ll try to sell the tattered things on ebay.)
Many moms have the hardest time during their first couple years of homeschooling as they get settled in and figure out what works for them. But for me, the last 4 years have been far more challenging. A fair bit of that challenge has been related to homeschooling older-adopted children for whom English is a second language.
We’re also homeschooling a whole lot of kids these days. This year we have one senior, one 9th grader, three kids in 8th, one in 4th and one in 1st grade. Several need personalized reading help each day. More than half of them are adrift in the land of algebra and most are not happy about that little adventure. Two younger ones also need frequent math help. Not to mention the 180 or so problems of math I check every day. None of it is easy.
Last week, feeling worn, I decreed Thanksgiving week to be a week of holiday. Sleeping late and pretending algebra does not exist sounds utterly lovely to me. This decision has given me a few guilt pangs. Especially when I think of our girls who came to America 4 years ago, I wonder if I should be more diligent and get in some more days of school. But they are just as burned out on school as I am. Hopefully a week off school will revive and refresh.
The longer I teach our older-adopted girls, the more I realize that my initial expectations were unrealistic. They came home from Ethiopia at 9 and 11. They are both smart girls and in general work hard. I honestly thought that within a year or two language would not be an issue, especially given the fact that they get lots of personal attention with homeschooling.
Certainly the girls have learned a tremendous amount since they arrived. Homeschooling, though difficult, has been good for them. And at this point their English is good enough that they can communicate very effectively. They’re both doing well in math. But things like spelling and grammar remain mysterious to them. This difficulty is completely normal — after all, they both spent about a decade speaking an entirely different language.
I’ve read various language acquisition studies suggesting that it takes older kids 4-10 years to become fluent at a second language. In that same time, their peers who have always spoken English are also learning new vocabulary words at a regular rate, making it unlikely that an ESL student will truly ‘catch up’ to their peers in an academic sense.
We are working systematically through a grammar book and a spelling book. I am encouraging lots of reading, and lots of dictionary work when words are unknown. I will always be the type of mom to encourage my kids to do their very best, and I think that higher parental expectations in general lead to higher performance in a child.
But working to help the girls ‘catch up’ has opened my eyes to the down side of parental expectations. A side that has the potential to leave kids feeling like failures if they can’t achieve to the level that their parents imagine. For the good of my children and for my own peace of mind, I’m having to adjust my expectations. As much as it pains my writer-heart, good spelling and properly put-together written sentences may not happen for all my kids in the time that they have left in our home.
But here’s what I’ve also come to realize: my English-learning girls already possess (or are well on the road to having) a boatload of equally important skills. They can read and follow instructions. They notice when someone needs help and they’re not afraid to work hard. They can look up things they don’t know. They can cook dinner and soothe babies. They know the difference between right and wrong. They can have a conversation about their faith and why they believe what they believe. They’re kind to people around them, and because of that, they are well respected and well liked wherever they go.
Much of my distress in recent years has come when I’ve been focused on areas of weakness. (And we all have them, don’t we?) But to be a wise encourager of my kids I’m called to focus on them in a much more multidimensional way, to notice and praise the legitimately valuable skills that they already possess. Then they can approach adulthood with a degree of confidence instead of a vague feeling that they don’t measure up.
In allowing me to teach my children, it seems God is sneaking in some home education for me as well.
Other homeschooling posts
- What curriculum do we use?
- Helping kids with spelling
- Homeschooling older adoptees that first year home