short cuts

Found a story some time ago about ditching grammar-teaching, and just teaching kids to tell stories — a dying art (and absolute human need.) There was a time (a year ago even?) When I thought that just reading and writing would be enough to get the kids “taught” grammar (and reading, and writing, and spelling), and I changed my mind and intentions about that for this year. While I’d been very lax about their spelling (as I’d read for years, kids whose spelling errors were never corrected eventually ended up writing as well as those who were in traditional programs), I decided this year they NEEDED a spelling curriculum. It wasn’t about getting the words “right” — really, if you do read, and write, you will eventually come to those things. (Although we all still have those words we misspell, and they are, like Stephen King says, our “fingerprints” — there’s no better way to identify the author of a document than by its spelling errors.)

But the laziness of texting — and not even real, codified “text speech” — was making me worried. If spellcheck wasn’t on, they didn’t even look. And, it looked poorly. When they were writing emotionally, they could at times write with many more errors than they might otherwise — just because they were so focused — and then that same focus and anger would, at other times, produce flawless text. The problem was, neither of them cared. Claudia didn’t care that she had misspelled one of her closest friend’s names wrong so many times in her phone that it now defaulted to that. I did care. There are times (evidenced by the illustration for this entry) that Claudia in particular will take a word she knows VERY well — like “myth” — and add a letter to it that is not unreasonable, if she were writing an earlier version of a language, or writing in dialect, and I think this is EXACTLY why she does this — it’s CERTAINLY not that that she does not know how to spell “myth”.

And so, we started a spelling curriculum this year, and it’s been good; they both enjoy it, and I find papers on the school table that show they practice on their own, the identify the words they have trouble with and study those more; the developed actual better study habits. They will still take very VERY small words and misspell them (or shorten them or change them grammatically in ways that would, oddly, be acceptable in the Korean language — go figure) but I feel like it got across one of the biggest hurdles they had this year — looking for shortcuts from work.

Béla’s signature “short cut” — a question mark next to a math problem. Béla has assumed this is acceptable shorthand for “I tried and I tried but I couldn’t figure it out!” When there is no frustrated erasing or any evidence at all that he’s attempted the problem at all. Busted! Tucker’s solution — no more question marks. If you can’t do the problem, the first step to figuring it out is rewriting the whole problem entirely. It’ll help. (And it takes a lot more time than making a question mark.)

Oddly, this somehow gets the whole problem answered… correctly, without help, sometimes.

Trying again and again and again is NOT either of my kids’ favorite thing. In fact, repetition and memorization — the idea of memorization — is something they will be specifically resistant to. I’ll look in the margins of math books and see that someone is literally adding up five, to itself, six times…. rather than remembering what 5×6 is. (Remedied, quickly, by a one-time Outschool class.) The things that “Schoolhouse Rock” made impossible for us not to learn as Gen-X-ers are the things my kids will intentionally avoid “knowing” — although they will them prove themselves capable of much higher functions. (Claudia is, against her will, singing Latin verb conjugations that I went scouting for and asked her online teacher to vet.)

Where dance is concerned — and sometimes writing a song — Claudia will work her own, on a thing, over and over again. I see the desire to do it, and the inability to help himself to do it, in Béla with percussive patterns, but he tends to do it right where it would drive everyone bonkers (in the middle of a TV show we are all watching) and is only just getting the idea that the follow-through to going up to your drum kit and trying it there is necessary.

They’ve tried everything when it comes to getting through “work” to get to anything else — friends, outdoors, — whatever. Now they know if they finish the science chapter, I may just say keep going. If two hours go by and they’ve worked but have spent that whole two hours clearly looking to get to the end of it, we may well not be done, just for that reason. An understanding of immersion — and that they are being given to the opportunity to immerse themselves in THINGS THEY LOVE, rather than an outdated textbook from which the only escape is a lead-ridden water fountain in a public school hallway. I have come even further than I thought I would in considering copywork as a method worth using — certainly, in Béla’s case, recipes and prose about food and eating could be used, whereas in Claudia’s, she knows by next year her NME subtest will be in The Odyssey. The subscription service through which I got our Riddley Walker learning materials makes a good case for copywork.

Fundamentally, I’m remembering things I was taught when I learned Transcendental Mediation, and Qi Gong. When I said I had a hard time spending two to three minutes “coming out” of my meditation, and got antsy having to do so, my teacher instructed me, “Then spend five.” When I wanted to know how long I had to do a (particularly foolish-feeling) Qi Gong exercise, I was told to “do it until you literally don’t care if you ever stop doing it again or not.” Trust me, you can get there. With no harm done.

Learning is taking on new meaning to my kids. More practice. Not “practice makes perfect.” Practice makes practice. We are doing more academics, while trying to dial back some of the “performing arts kids” aspects that were subject to the law of diminishing returns in the past year or so. But I’m also finding that even as I redirect, the kids are just redirecting themselves as well. This was actual small talk in hour house this week:

ME: Wow. So. Big jump there from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic Era, huh?

CLAUDIA (AFFECTING TV COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER’S VOICE): “Sharp stones, blunt stones” (mimicking a joke she’d seen watching “Horrible Histories”, which they love.)

BÉLA: Yeah, well, big changes. Domestication. Agriculture.

ME: Yeah, totally. All of the sudden everybody’s living in actual villages, huh? Just like that.

(Family goes on to watching British version of “Shameless”.)

Also, for them to be learning Ancient History where we are now is going to come in BEAUTIFULLY with “Riddley Walker”, which we can start any time as soon as “The Rabbit Princess” is completed. Claudia, who had been mad for “The Rabbit Princess”, started putting up a fight about it after the holidays — which I thought might have been related to my very VERY emotional readings of “A Christmas Carol” (apparently the combination of Marley’s ghost’s speech, as written by Dickens, combined with perimenopause, temporarily extinguished Claudia’s patience with my ability to be affected by Art) — but actually turned out to have been Claudia Reading Ahead In “The Rabbit Princess” Like A Sneako And Wanting To Avoid Hearing A Sad Part Herself. Well, we got past that, are nearing the end, and I’m practicing reading “Riddley” aloud and will be inviting friends to join us if they wish. But knowing that our History book this year will hit the Iron Age around the time we are seeing Riddley live through his own post-apocalptic Iron Age is… exciting. To say the least.

And, of course, scary. The Doomsday Glacier is no joke. We’re not going to have the lives that any of us believed we were going to have, and seeing history, and human progress, backtrack on itself and learn to restart is a reality of Claudia and Béla’s lives. (And, one more reason I am glad we are about to start reading “Riddley Walker”.) We are lucky enough to have some really smart professionals at our disposal — social workers, therapists — for talking, and in many ways, we are ahead of the game, and have been for years. The nuclear, biological family never interested me, was never enough, and we have, more than most households… simply, colonized. Would I spread it further? Of course I would. Have the kids talked to me about what they had presumed was the idea of “growing up” — getting out of school, going off and becoming an adult in a different place than me or Tucker — with plans they feel more comfortable with, knowing how the world is changing? They certainly have.

Sea levels will decided how fast everybody else gets on board with such ideas. “You are an excellent mother,” a visitor told me yesterday. “You have amazing children. You have raised leaders.” They may well be my leaders. Their spelling “errors” may in fact be the dialect of their own species’ new language.

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