There will be days when I will forget how bad things were. It’s like how people think their psychiatric meds are doing nothing, so they go off them. And then it’s bad.

I can already tell there’s gonna be a time like that for homeschooling.

The manic-depressives have to have a scrapbook of what went wrong — like all the sex partners they had during the last manic episode so they remember that mania is not going to feel as good as they think it might feel.

This post is my scrapbook.

It’s the math sheets my son did on his first days of school.

I called the school and said these are not appropriate for a kid who, according to their own tests, is doing math at a second or third grade level.

The school thought it was fine to give him these worksheets.

I want to remember how hard it must have been for my son to do math so far below him. I want to remember that he was so tuned out in this class that on the question that asked how many triangles are on the line, he colored in two and then wrote one.

20 replies
  1. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    And remember too how much time is wasted moving little ones around, standing in line, putting papers away. I was freaked out that I would need to do school 6 hours a day until a friend pointed this out to me.


  2. Lori
    Lori says:

    i had a friend whose child went to a local preschool that she said made him move backward in every way – socially as well as intellectually. it was as though he looked around at the other kids and thought, “oh. okay. i need to do what these kids are doing.” he swiftly went from loving to draw to just scribbling and from being a tender older brother to pushing and grabbing.

    i think it’s good you pulled him out. he needs to do the work that’s appropriate for him. it’s much easier to outsource good socialization than good education.

  3. L (another Lisa)
    L (another Lisa) says:

    It is going to be really interesting when parents start calling out the teacher and principal. I’m quite tempted to send a letter to your child’s principal to ask her why she allows this to happen. I don’t even specifically mean allowing him to do work that is clearly way to easy for him but that she allows her school to be mediocre. It’s unfortunate.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, it would be interesting to see the parents take the school to task. But i dont think that happens in public school.

      There’s the dual problem that if the parents complain too much then they have to ask themselvea why their kid is in the school. And also the principal answers to the school board ultimately, not the parents.


      • L (another Lisa)
        L (another Lisa) says:

        Is this an excuse for your principle to not try and make a difference in your school because she has to listen to the board of directors or is this an excuse so you can stop trying to make a difference in your school?

        Lets say the principle has no say what so ever. Then you really should be having your monthly lunches with a member of the board of directors not the principal.

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          i can tell you that from the other side, educators see it as a “whole package” issue and they also have to weigh cost v. reward.

          they look at the whole kid and say, well, sure, he’s a little ahead in this subject but he’s just average in these other ways and maybe he’s a little behind in this or that. so he’s fine.

          then they look at the ROI on creating different work for just a few top-of-the-bell-curve kids and say, eh, it’s fine.

          obviously all kids SHOULD have work that is right at their challenge level but you are seriously fooling yourself if you think that’s going to happen in public school, even if parents complain. a tsunami of parents complaining might lead to a “gifted math program” that would have those kids pulled out for 45 min of extra worksheets. whee!!

          • L (another Lisa)
            L (another Lisa) says:

            If we look at making changes we can look at this from the federal level, state level, by district, by schools within a district, by classroom teacher and by parent involvement. What I see is a parent who wants to make changes, is trying and it is not working. The parent (Penelope) then hears and begins to believe the excuses people are telling her for why things won’t or can’t get changed. Then as a parent she pulls her kids out of school so her child can get the education he deserves. Is there really any good reason why the teacher can’t differentiate the work in her classroom?

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          L (another Lisa), have you had any experience dealing with schools? Have you worked in a school? Are you a parent?

          Is there a *good* reason? Define good reason. One teacher could give you an hour-long sob story about why she has no time to differentiate. Another teacher just doesn’t feel like it because she thinks she’s underpaid and she has four kids with A.D.H.D. to deal with, what do you think she is, a superhero? A third thinks your kid is P.I.G. (parent-identified gifted) and his worksheets are fine.

          Try to jump over the teacher’s head and go to the principal. He or she will soft soap you and make vague promises about how much they want to institute *real change* and/or how their hands are tied due to NCLB and state-controlled funds. After you leave, s/he’ll meet with the teacher and they’ll roll their eyes. You’re the enemy.

          And so on.

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            I totally agree that you cannot place blame on teachers. Some teachers suck, of course. But look, it’s their job to run a system that is broken. For example, everyone talks about differentiation, but it’s impossible to differentiate effectively in a classroom full of 30 first-graders. Each kid is in a totally different spot in their learning.

            And we are not even talking here about project-based learning or the importance of play. There is a huge body of research to say that young kids should be doing both. And there is no possible way an individual teacher could institute these changes. They are too structural.

            So to ask teachers to improve the schools, classroom by classroom is just ridiculous. It’s not fair to teachers.

            I think this means parents should stop complaining and do it themselves. I think, though, that I’m preaching to the choir here. I should put this on my regular blog, where people are much more skeptical of homeschooling….


          • L (another Lisa)
            L (another Lisa) says:

            Does it make a difference if I work for a school district or not? And yes I do work for a school district. Also I have met numerous outstanding teachers who make a huge difference. I work with principals who go above and beyond to make a difference for the students in their district. Not everyone gets to work for a great district but to tell me that you can’t change things on some level means you have given up and it’s unfortunate.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      I really think many teachers believe they are doing their best but in reality haven’t a good idea about how to bring out the best in children. This work looks to be geared toward kids just out of kindergarten, after break, who may not remember anything. But kids are capable of so much. We jumped into all four basic operations (with the “regular” kid) at the start of first grade age. Kids can generally do this more easily than reading at that age. They just need it to be concrete. They learn to see this number manipulation as a whole, not separate tasks done on paper.

  4. redrock
    redrock says:

    your son is clearly well ahead in abstract thinking. Surprisingly many kids actually have problems to recognize the same object, like the triangle, in a different context. So the exercise is trivial for anybody with abstract thinking abilities but not so trivial for kids who lack this ability. The knowledge of numbers is secondary for this assignment task. It is like some people have a lot of problems to translate word problems into equations, and some find this incredibly easy.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      So true. All the more reason to 1) give this kid individualized teaching and 2) give the other little ones concrete instruction while maturation takes place.

      Failing to respect the development of children has a lot to do with kids’ struggle in school. Knowing these kids may be coming to school “behind,” working with developmental instruction will take them farther than trying for force sight words on them trying to “catch up,” for example. If abstract thinking comes later, don’t waste time and put on pressure to teach in the abstract when in another two years’ time it will be natural for them. In the meantime, they’re not challenged appropriately to unfold their thinking in the way they’re ready for.

  5. Acorn
    Acorn says:

    You just can’t get individualized attention in an industrial school environment. It’s impossible. The teachers and schools are probably doing the best they can. With large class sizes and such a disparate ability range it is amazing they accomplish what little they do.

  6. Sabi
    Sabi says:

    Wow! Bravo to you for taking the plunge!

    Penelope, I’ve been reading your blog for years. I am awestruck to learn that you are now homeschooling.

    I have two boys, ages 16 and 17. They are smart, disciplined, funny, responsible teenagers. I homeschooled them all through their elementary years.

    Homeschooling two super energetic boys is very very hard. Especially when all your neighbours and friends send their kids off to school, then go for coffee mornings, shopping — or off to interesting [or boring] careers. Yes, I had a community of homeschoolers, and I tried to surround myself with like-minded friends, but there is no denying it — homeschooling can be lonely and very hard. But I know I modelled optimism, grit and resilience to my boys every day that I chose that path.

    I have a deep and beautiful connection with those boys now. They talk to me all the time, and share so much of their world with me.

    My boys loved being homeschooled. Then, at high school age, they decided they wanted to go to high school — woo hoo, I said. Now they are critical thinkers who can see the absurdities of high school, but they are making it work for them.

    I am now ready to launch my career after almost 20 years out of the workforce. Guess what kind of work I do: I’m a career counsellor! Yup! Specifically what I want to do: I want to help young people begin to find their path of what kind of work they want to do. I know, they are young and lack experience, but they can still begin the process of discovering who they are and what gifts they possess. I am both excited and terrified about re-entering.

    I wish you huge energy and determination on this amazing journey with your boys. You will never regret it! You don’t get these years back.

  7. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    I took my son out of first grade to homeschool him after his teacher asked for a conference to tell me he had been doing nothing for the first month of school. He claimed it was “baby work” and refused to do it. I agreed with him. He had spent the summer reading, exploring nature and learning so much. It was sad to see that the classroom was actually hindering his education. What surprised me was that his teacher was highly supportive when I mentioned homeschooling. It wasn’t going to make her life any easier to have him gone. He would be replaced by some other kid on a waiting list. But she had a passion for teaching kids and seemed genuinely sad and disillusioned by the limitations of the classroom. He is now starting 6th grade and I can’t believe that I have been homeschooling this long. You wrote today, that “kids at home without school is just impossible. There is no reward system. There is no announcement that the mom has done a good job. We don’t even know what a good job is.” It’s so true. It feels a little like fumbling around in the dark trying to find the path forward. It can feel lonely and I feel so encouraged when I read your blog and know that I am not alone. We can do this!

  8. any mouse
    any mouse says:

    those worksheets bring back terrible memories for me. i tested as gifted but because i was was being abused/tortured at home by my family i did not do well in school so instead of figuring out why i struggled i w as placed in special ed with worksheets just like that which i refused to do which proved to the teachers that i was stupid but every time standardized tests came around the principle loved me and told me how i got one of the highest scores in the school.

    i am glad you are homeschooling Penelope.

  9. Fiona Leonard
    Fiona Leonard says:

    I do a weird hybrid un/homeschooling that involves both me teaching subjects and having a couple of tutors come in and teach subjects. We’re constantly having issues with our maths tutor because according to my daughter he does too much revision and doesn’t move through the material quickly enough. THis is a problem I’m happy to have.

    I love the fact that she’s eager to learn more. This is the child who hated math so much in grade 4 (when she was still at school) that she would literally cry whenever a math book was produced. Now she’s 12 and doing senior high school math – because with homeschooling we could make it fun (nothing like drawing goblins all over math pages as a way of explaining processes!)

    I hated math at school and went from being in the top stream to flunking out. Now, having to relearn it all to teach my daughter I realise what I missed out on.

  10. Sam
    Sam says:

    What a great post. I may have to stop reading this blog tho, as I don’t want to homeschool and the more of your posts I read the more I think you’re absolutely right and I’ll have to! At least I know that I can do it if you can (entj’s unite! I fully expect to live up to ‘the dictator’ moniker)

  11. Natalie C.
    Natalie C. says:

    First time to visit your blog. :)

    My initial thought when I saw your son had written “1” in the square asking “How many?” was that he actually got it right… he had counted how many squares in the previous sequence of shapes because the question is “How many? squares.”

    I personally think the question is too ambiguous, so could be counted as correct for either the number of squares or triangles.

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