The Blessings of Homeschool… or, How AR Almost Destroyed My Son’s Education

Last year, my then-eight year old went from an A student to an AB student to an ABC student. He also went from A’s on his weekly conduct folder to A’s and B’s, finally raking in the C’s. Coincidentally enough — or perhaps not so much — this was about the same time that he started tanking his Accelerated Reading.

He started off the year as a competent enough reader. He loved to go to the library and pick out his books. What he hated, and grew to hate more and more, was limiting himself to books that were “appropriate” for his reading level. He was in second grade, and there just wasn’t all that much in his book level that could hold his interest. Oh, there was the Magic Treehouse series (at least, those that were his book level), and the occasional random selection, but he tore through those in a matter of weeks. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t earn enough points on his tests to get that next book level. So he stagnated, wanting to read the upper level books but unable to test on them. He started falling behind, forced to keep reading books he didn’t want to read to make points he cared less and less about. He became indifferent about reading — just those books at first, but then about reading altogether. By the end of the school year, he regularly told me and Mary how much he hated reading.

Let that sink in. He hated reading. As the Daddy of a student, that’s hard to hear. As a reader myself, that’s even harder to hear. As an author that was a few months away from finally being published… well, you can imagine how THAT dynamic made me feel.

Now, it may be a coincidence, as I said, but his grades and conduct went downhill right about the time that he started to tank AR. It’s not a stretch to think that his failure in AR might have been a factor in his downhill slide in other areas.

As it happens, Mary and I had been considering homeschooling our kids for a while at that point. But with Caleb’s increasing disinterest in school, we figured that his third grade year would break him if he had to do it in the traditional way. So, homeschool it was. Of course, he took his upcoming homeschooling as an excuse to further slack off the rest of his second grade year, recovering just enough to avoid some SERIOUS bad grades (and serious consequences, if you catch my drift), but when summer was over, and homeschooling actually became a reality for him, he threw himself into it head-on.

For about a week, anyway. Then it was back to complaining, taking hours to complete a 15 minute lesson, that kinda thing. From the outside, it would seem that homeschooling only made a bad situation worse. But for all his complaining, his grades haven’t slipped lower than a 95 or so all year. Even more amazing, his attitude toward us, and even toward his arch-nemeses (his sisters LOL) has improved dramatically. Yeah, the girls are still his most hated enemies, but it’s cooled to a love-hate relationship 😉

There’ve been a number of things this year that give me confidence that homeschooling was the right move, but nothing so much as what’s been going on the past two weeks. See, my oldest daughter Olivia (who also struggled with AR until we started homeschooling her last week due to a failing grade — that’s another blog post) bought a book at the school’s book fair. It was Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Apparently, Livy had already read the book, so in a fit of benevolence, she gave the book to Caleb.

We didn’t think that it would amount to much, but over the past few weeks, Caleb has been tearing that book up, staying up past bedtime to read “just a few more pages”. He finished the book tonight. The thing is, neither myself nor Mary “made” him read it. There are other things that we’ve been concentrating on, lesson-wise. Reading this book has been totally voluntary from the beginning — all 224 pages of it. And he loved the book! So much, in fact, that he asked Mary to buy the whole series.

But for me, this is the kicker — it has a 5.4 book level. Yep, that’s right. It’s level appropriate for a FIFTH grader, and not only was Caleb reading the book, but he was ENJOYING it.

I completely get the concept of AR. A love of reading is necessary to a child’s education and development, and AR seeks to build that love by challenging kids to read, to achieve levels through their reading, to be recognized for making so many points, that sort of thing. Problem is, I think for some students — maybe a lot of them — AR takes the WONDER out of reading. Rather than encouraging a LOVE of reading, AR effectively encourages reading as a SKILL. It makes reading a task to be performed. It makes reading a job… and we grownups know how hard it is sometimes to love your job.

Kids (and adults) are motivated by what they LOVE to do, and not all kids are motivated by achievement. AR may be intended to promote a love of reading, but what it DOES is encourage kids to produce results — kinda counterproductive, if your kid is one of those kids that find no motivation in results.

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