Monday, January 26, 2009

Worldview Challenged

On Saturday, BigBro had a Spelling Bee tiebreaker. Our homeschool group can only send one student to the County Bee, but there were three grade-level winners from our county (BigBro for 1st grade, a 4th Grade Boy and a 7th Grade Boy). To be honest, the whole thing struck me as silly. BigBro is 6. Yes, he's a bright kid and a good student; yes, he is reading and working several grade levels ahead. But he is not on par with a 7th grader... not even close. Plus, it goes against every one of my instincts to hand a child a list of random words to memorize, completely out of context, for the sole purpose of a competition.

So, we did very little prep for this tiebreaker. We went through a couple dozen of the several hundred words in the list, but only when BigBro brought it up. These were hard words... and we have a spelling program we use, one that is ordered and teaches rules in a sensible way. Again, the whole concept of forcing him to memorize words like "soliloquy" and "erudite" seemed just plain silly.

We arrived at the home of the other two winners (who happened to be brothers) for the spell-off. It was a written challenge. BigBro and I had discussed it, and had determined that he was attending for the sole purpose of getting a baseline. Let's see how many words he can get right this year. Next year, if he wins his grade again, he can try to beat this year's score. So, he and I went into this thing with clear expectations of his ability and the expected outcome.

In the next two hours, BigBro was challenged with 83 words above his grade and reading level. I was challenged with a glimpse into a very different style of homeschooling. In between calling out words and definitions, this other homeschooling mom told me about the various competitions her boys do: Geography Bee, Spelling Bee, Math-Olympics. She told me how they are all classical violinists and guitarists. All of them (even the 2 year old) are fluent in Aramaic. Her 4 year old can read English and Aramaic at a 4th grade level. Her 14 year old showed me several books in Aramaic. (I have to admit, it was really cool to meet someone who spoke Aramaic... especially in light of the novel I am reading at the moment: Christ Our Lord: Out of Egypt about the childhood of Jesus).

She has 6 children: 14, 12, 10, 4, 2, and 7 months. I asked her if she had any tips for homeschooling older kids while preschoolers and toddlers were running around (something I struggle with nearly daily). She stared at me. "I school all 6 of my children together. Well, the baby nurses and naps right now, but the others all do school." Oh. Ok. I get it. I think. But she went on to describe in detail the type and amount of work that her 2 and 4 year olds do. Wow. This woman is one serious homeschooler.

We are not. I've written here and here about how laid back and casual our style of homeschooling is. And it does work for us. But still, I found myself wondering. I wondered as I listened to her, and watched her boys for two hours. I wondered as I drove the 30 minutes home, while BigBro played his DS. Am I screwing it up? Am I not offering BigBro enough stimulation? Am I not challenging him enough? What about Princess and LilBro? Should they be doing more?

During lunch, BigBro and I filled DH in on the morning's activities. BigBro showed off his list of words, proud of the 17 he had spelled correctly. I pointed out how, in nearly half the words he had misspelled, he was off by only one letter. We were all proud of what he accomplished. The kids finished and left the table, but DH and I stayed talking. I asked all the questions that had filled my head since entering that home hours earlier.

In the end, we both affirmed that our style works for us. Our kids are learning. They are happy. Sure, we could do more, but what would we have to give up? Would we have to give up the imaginative play? The silly games? The playdoh time? The random crafts and drawing time? The zeal for learning?

It was good for BigBro to go to the spell-off this weekend. He was challenged to stretch himself beyond what he usually does. Two hours of writing spelling words is not a typical activity for us.

It was good for me, too. It's good to step back and look at other ways of homeschooling -- especially when they seem to be so successful -- and to compare and contrast with our own. This is new territory for me. I've never homeschooled a first grader before. Next year, I will have a second grader and a kindergartner, and I'll be challenged in a whole new set of ways. It's good to step back and revisit the big picture every now and again.


  1. I was happy to discover your Home Scribbles blog today. I was unable to find an email link in your profile. I hope it's OK that I'm contacting you through a public comment. I've developed an educational program for Windows called SpellQuizzer that helps children learn their spelling words without the battle that parents often have getting them to sit down and write them out while the parents dictate to them. The parent enters the child's spelling words into the software making a sound recording of each word. Then the software drills the child on their words. It really helped my children with their weekly spelling lists.

    I would appreciate your reviewing SpellQuizzer in Home Scribbles. You can learn more about the program at There's a video demo you can watch at I'd be happy to send you a complimentary license for the software. Please let me know if you are interested. You can reach me at

    Thank you very much!

    Dan Hite
    TedCo Software

  2. Two thoughts:
    1. Wouldn't want to get a Christmas letter from HER, huh? :)
    2. Don't compare yourself. When I read your last post about homeschooling, I had a moment of recognition -- we don't homeschool (yet), but if/when we do, I imagine it will be as you do. To me, that's one of the benefits of h/s and one of the blessings. Instilling a love of learning looks differently to everyone, I guess. But don't compare. That's a temptation, and one that will only make you feel worse, one that won't make you live your vocation as God intends.


  3. Sarah,

    My response:

    1) You are NOT kidding! :)

    2) Thanks for the reminder. I think it's ok to revisit our goals and reconsider how well we are meeting them, but comparing my family to another's is walking down a dangerous path (no matter how tempting it is!) :)

  4. Wow -- I'm not sure what to think of someone who reveals all that stuff on first meeting, not to judge, but it's hard to think how all that would naturally come up in conversation!

    Anyway, I am with you -- go the way that works for you. I often worry that I am pushing to hard or not enough, and we just keep adjusting. I try to go by my stress level -- if I am cranky and yelling and saying "hurry up" and "why didn't you do this!" then I know we have too much going on.

    So far, we've never had to worry about too little! Somehow, they seem to figure out good ways to fill the time. (You should see the Lego/Wooden blocks structures going right now!).