Monday, October 06, 2008

Homeschooling ESL

Okay, now I've done it. I've titled this post in such a way as to attract Google searches from people researching how to teach ESL at home, people looking for how the "experts" do it, or some brilliant ideas. Well, I apologize in advance if that's what led you here! I can't promise any longtime-ESL-teacher wisdom, brilliant research or a scope and sequence for how to do it. In fact, as I researched this topic myself, I didn't find much on the subject. I would have LOVED to come across the blog of a fellow homeschooler who recently adopted one older child and was homeschooling him. If that describes you, welcome! Let me know who you are and let's encourage one another!

A couple of posts ago I wrote about how God is "doing a new thing" in our homeschool. He's doing many new things, actually, one of which is bringing a precious English Language Learner into our midst. What an adventure this is! We've been home for about two weeks with our new 10 year old Ethiopian son. When we met him about 4 weeks ago, he knew and spoke very, very little English. In the few weeks we've been together, he has learned multiple new words per day, and our communication is mostly nouns and charades, but we are bonding wonderfully and communicating effectively nonetheless. God is so good! But... what about school? How do I approach academics with an English Language Learner? Isn't it best to leave this to the professionals?

In case this is your first time to read my blog, I'll give a little background on myself. I received my MEd in 1991 and taught public school for four years before coming home to stay home with my children. We began "officially" homeschooling in 1999. I have a daughter who is 15, working at approximately the 10th grade level, a son who is 12 doing 7th grade this year, and our new son, a fourth grader. We have always homeschooled, and plan to always homeschool. Yes, even through high school. So, when we decided to adopt an older child, it was with the intent of homeschooling him just like our other children. I know other homeschool families (whose blogs I've read) have handled it differently for very various reasons, but we feel strongly that we are to homeschool our new son. Our conviction to homeschool our kids has not changed because someone with different needs has come into our midst. In fact, homeschooling has become the perfect answer to those needs.

Among other reasons, bonding is a key issue. That's 35+ additional hours per week that he will be with his family. When he lived in Ethiopia, he lived in an orphanage and went to a school. He was exceptionally well cared-for, loved, and taught but the reality is that he spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in some sort of institution. It is time for him to spend that kind of time living and learning family. He turned 10 the week after we arrived at home, and I already felt time ticking. Homeschooling has always felt like God gave us a big, beautifully wrapped box and inside it was T-I-M-E. I have LOVED that aspect of it most of all. It has never felt like the gift of time as it does now. I thank God daily for that gift!

Another reason is that though he is 4th grade age, he is not, at this point, functioning at a fourth grade level. There are many reasons for this, but I am so glad that he can be in an environment in which that is not a problem at all. I have materials in all subjects beginning at the preschool level, so he is able to have curriculum which is tailor-made to fit his academic needs in all subjects and allow him to experience success and build confidence as he begins to learn a new language, and learn subjects in that language.

Enough of the "why's" (because there are more, and I could go on all day!) and on to the "how."

Like I stated earlier, I'm not an "ESL" expert, or specially-trained in that area at all, but from my years as a teacher and now as a homeschooling mother I know how children learn, so I'm basing what I'm doing on how I've taught my other two, my "gut instincts," random ideas that just pop into my head, and a couple of things I read on a Yahoo group. God has been so faithful to lead me to information just when I need it!

I was planning on waiting several weeks after bringing him home before starting school. But, he had been on a school break for two months when we got there. All of his friends were going back to school the Monday after we got back, so I think he was in "back to school" mode. I, of course, was not in BTS mode, but after a week and a half back, he needed the structure and my older son needed to get back to his school work. Last Monday we began our main subjects: Reading , Math, and Life. (I'll add the others in as his English gets better.) As you can see from the photo above, today he played with Play-doh. We are doing lots of playing and talking. Talking and playing. He used all of the cookie cutters and cut out shapes, which we talked about... colors, animals, textures, etc. We have spent lots of time blowing bubbles, kicking the ball, writing with sidewalk chalk, painting pictures, building with blocks, playing with the RC car, listening to music, playing with puppets, reading books (in English and Amharic)... anything to spur creativity and foster conversation. So, before I get going on the curriculum aspect of our school, please know that it is a small part of the big picture right now.

For reading we are currently working our way through the Scaredy Cat Reading System, developed by Joyce Herzog. (No, it's not for people who are scared to read, it's referring to the fact that vowels are "scaredy cats"... they make different sounds when they are scared. Cute!) I came across these materials at our homeschool book fair back in May and I just loved them. I only purchased Level 1- The Alphabet, and I am deciding if I want to purchase the next level for vowels or keep going with other materials. So far he has responded very well to the videos, songs, visual aids and workbook. I was afraid it would be "beneath" him a bit, since some of his schoolwork in Ethiopia was done in English. But once I got him home and got a chance to sit down with him and his composition books full of written English, I realized he could not read me any of what he had written. I realized that we needed to start at the beginning. So, though some of it is basic (for instance, he knew what the letter "A" was) it's good to teach phonics thoroughly, sequentially, and in context, so that I can know that he understands it before moving on. Besides, there is so much in his life that he doesn't know right now. Everything is new for him. There is a degree of comfort in hearing information repeated that one has already learned, and it gives him an opportunity to feel successful. Additionally, it is helping solidify his understanding of our written alphabet and the phonics rules and is filling in inevitable gaps. It helps me to ensure that he has thorough phonics/English instruction. (Any English he knows right now, after all, was taught to him by teachers for whom English was not their first language.) So, it's okay if some of it is review. He needs to hear it and I need to teach it, and we are enjoying our time together!

Part of learning to read is distinguishing between different sounds. To that end, I purchased two fun Bingo-type "Listening Lotto" games: Sounds at Home and Outside Sounds. We played the "sounds at home" game today and he *loved* it.

An additional supplement which was shared with me by an elementary ESL teacher is the website We have been doing the ABC link (at the top) and going through the letters as we do them in our Scaredy Cat reading. Each letter has an activity that goes with it. Later the program works through the vowel sounds and and words, and reads stories to them and has fun games, activities and printables. A very helpful resource!

Of course, I've got one of my favorite resources, Phonics Pathways ready, as well as Bob Books. Unless I feel like he needs to continue with Scaredy Cat Reading, I may transition over to those after we finish the alphabet. Those are my "tried and true" resources that I used with my first two, plus I already own them and it would save some money.

Speaking of money, that's always been one of my weaknesses when I face a schooling challenge-- throwing money at the problem! So, what did I do last week? I went to Sam's and bought every level of Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills books from grade 1 through 4, as well as Math K-3 and Phonics K-3. He loves doing those colorful sheets, especially for math, he's on such different levels in each subject, and will progress at such differing paces and they were only $7.86 each. (So, I didn't throw too much money...) I think those will be a handy supplement over the next couple of years.

Oh, I can't go any further without mentioning some of my favorite resources EVER-- the books by Peggy Kaye: Games for Reading, Games for Math, Games for Learning, and Games for Writing. My copies of those are well-worn and loved, and I've already got many of the games made from using them with my other two. Playing games is one of the best ways to learn, in my opinion.

Well, this post has gotten long enough! I'll close for now and post again about what I found for English and Math, as well as some wonderful games and other resources I've found. So many links, so little time!


The Lloyd Family said...

Love this: "Homeschooling has always felt like God gave us a big, beautifully wrapped box and inside it was T-I-M-E. I have LOVED that aspect of it most of all."


Jennefer said...

It is so fun to live through your experience! Adoption has always been a passion of mine but so far it doesn't seem like God has that in our least not our immediate future. Thanks for sharing your journey and I look forward to reading much more!!!


PS Books on CD that you can check out from the library are an amazing ESL tool that I used in my classroom when I taught public school. He can do them independently as long as the CD has the "ding" to tell him when to turn the page. Also he would have the benefit of repeated listenings to really build his vocabulary!

Daisy said...

Haven't visited Mater Magistra much lately (been reading your regular blog and enjoying your updates!) but decided to come by and I'm SO glad I did. It's been awhile, and I had forgotten how encouraged I always was whenever I read your homeschool blog. And I'm encouraged again! I am always grateful for the fresh perspective I receive from your experiences/ideas. Loved re-reading your post regarding high school, and am savoring the reminder of the wonderful gift of TIME God give us. Just the boost I needed! (I always feel like I've been to a great homeschooling support group meeting after reading your blog posts!) Thanks also for sharing with us your special homeschooling experiences with your new son. It was very refreshing to read. Another highlight of the blessing of homeschooling!

the Hardy's said...

Hello! I stumbled across your blog when I was searching for info on home schooling ELL students and what a happy discovery it was! My husband and I are adopting three brothers from Nicaragua. Your posts on home schooling your son are wonderfully encouraging and a wealth of advice and ideas! I've been fretting about how to teach our kids while keeping their spanish while getting them up to date in their schooling. It was so good to read your story and realize I can do this. I also read your other blog about bringing your son home and the transition period, great ideas there too. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

Audrey said...

Hi! I found this post when I Google searched homeschool + esl - haha! Great post - thanks for all the tips. Loved and agree 100% with the 'whys' and am thankful for all the 'hows'. We are in Ukraine right now adopting an almost 7 year old that I plan to homeschool. Glad I found you!

drea said...

Hi...I came across your site...PLEASE CALL ME...I will give you my email address and then maybe we could talk. I have just skipped through to the end of your post (cheating) because I need help.
I have 9 children, 5 are adopted. We just returned from Africa 2 weeks ago with three siblings and I home school all of them. However, maybe not for long. I need wisdom and encouragement...If you can email me that would be wonderful
I am going to go back and read the rest of your post now. Thank you for reaching out and giving some of us help.

Mika Hinson said...

I will be following your blog closely as we intend to adopt two teenage boys from Ukraine. I homeschool my 6 and 11 year old now- but the thought of ESL had me scared a bit. Thanks for the encouragement and resources!

Jan said...

HI there,
I adopted three older children from Colombia. They are now 8, 10, and 11. They had attended public school for 4 semesters with Godly caring people. But we moved to a new state and it was pretty much a disaster. So homeschool we go. They too are not at grade level and I am trying to not worry to much about them not learning everything they need to know. I love having them home!

Anonymous said...

I will start reading your blog regularly. I have not adopted a child, but my own child needs to learn English. We are Canadian-Brazilians and English was my first language(together with Portuguese.) However I came back to Brazil when my daughter was 6 months old and now she is almost 7 and I have not been successful in teaching her English. She is in a regular Brazilian school (it is illegal to homeschool in Brazil) but I intended to homeschool her in ESL and later other subjects but I am clueless on how to do it. Time is ticking on my side as well as she becomes older. She is unmotivated now as all her friends and relatives speak Portuguese and she does not understand why she needs to learn English. Now I also have a 1 year old and no time for teaching and researching. Just speaking with her in the language has not worked and we end up going back to Portuguese every time. I feel I am failing and need support on this challenge.


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