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Monday, January 6, 2014

Ideas for Periods of Academic Transition

by Seattle Jon:

Our children re-entered the public school system (7th, 6th, 3rd and 2nd grades) this year after five years of being part-time homeschooled. I'll be honest, there were tears shed when the decision was made (mostly from the kids). I think they truly enjoyed the way they were schooled and realized how much they would miss their interactions with friends and teachers at the resource center they attended. But we sensed some anticipation as well, as if new adventures were around the corner.

As parents, our two biggest transitional concerns - especially for our seventh-grade daughter, were social and academic. We thought long and hard about what we could do to help the transition go more smoothly. Here are a few ideas we implemented.

(1) Homework Table - Our three elementary-aged boys have minimal homework, so they are required to start their homework at our kitchen table as soon as they get home. My wife tries to make the table as inviting as possible, with snacks and supplies waiting for them. Unless there is a conflict on the calendar, none of our boys leave the table until their homework is done.

(2) Game Nights - This idea is patterned after my own experiences as a teenager. My dad was around and usually involved with the young men's program, either as a bishop or a leader, so it seemed like there were always kids hanging out at our house. We suggested to our two oldest the idea of a semi-regular game night with their friends and they ran with it. We asked them to call each friend - no texts or emails until after the invitation was extended - and helped them plan fun games and food. One idea put forth by our 13 year-old and implemented during Game Night II was a "phone bin" for all the mobile phones. Forced socializing is still socializing, right? The house can get a little crazy cozy with 12 teenagers playing Reverse Charades, Pit, Spoons and Scum, but the social lessons are worth the craziness coziness.

(3) Pay for Grades - We pay for performance in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, using a sliding scale that zeroes out at a B- and has them paying us for C's and below. We like how the concept mimics the real world, with us as the employer paying our kids for good work. The concept is not without its critics, however. Well-known research by Edward L. Deci and others concludes that students who were paid for specific activities exhibited a decrease in intrinsic motivation to perform those activities. One theory on why - kids didn't know how to improve, so gave up. We've found the opposite with our kids. They've embraced the "job" concept, making it easier for us to help them learn how to improve their grades. By 9th grade, we figure they're past the point of being motivated by the amounts of money we're willing to pay, so we might move to something like contributing to college their high school GPA divided by 10 (a 4.0 GPA = 40% of college) - we'll see. For a nice summary on the pay-for-grades debate, read Beth Kobliner's three-part series on Huffington Post.

"You have to be careful paying for grades. When students become adults, they might think there's a link between excellent work and higher pay." - Anonymous

(4) Volunteer Work - At the kids' homeschool resource center, parents were welcomed and encouraged in the classroom. Public schools don't seem quite as encouraging, but there are still plenty of opportunities to volunteer. We try to be "on-campus" as often as possible. This strategy is especially helpful if you have special needs children, like we do with our adopted son. Being involved usually means more leverage for when you need things that really matter.

As I'm sure you do, we continually evaluate what we're doing and look for ways to better school our children academically and socially. What ideas have worked for you?

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Seattle Jon is a family man, little league coach, urban farmer and businessman living in Seattle. He currently gets up early with the markets to trade bonds for a living. In his spare time he enjoys movies, thrifting and is an avid reader. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Japan Fukuoka mission field. He has one wife, four kids and five chickens.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gif Image credit: Heather Colwill Photography (used with permission).
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