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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

High Tech Tutors

p1140001.JPGFor homeschooling families like ours, the world is becoming a smaller place. All sorts of resources are available with the click of a mouse.

Petya is working on a term paper about The Black Death. Such an uplifting topic. Researching The Plague is peanuts compared to what we had to go through years ago, trekking to libraries and consulting tome after tome. Now it’s all done via the Internet, accessing encyclopedias, foreign libraries, books and articles written by experts. I know more about rats, and fleas, and frothing at the mouth than I ever cared to read, but someone had to proof his writing.

For years, we’ve been using English as a Second Language cassettes, videos, CDs and DVDs to help learn vocabulary and grammar. It lightens my load so I’m not the only taskmaster 24/7. These educational aids enable me to get take an exercise class, check out the latest makeup trends at Sephora, and grab a cappuc at the corner café.

Right. More like put in another load of laundry, finish my own mountain of work, hop on the next plane, and at last, after everyone’s done their thing for the day, collapse in bed totally spent and exhausted. See? I knew you wanted to be just like me.

The kids’ most recent adventure is Russian language lessons by Skype. For years, Petya and I made the trek to top-secret Russian facilities, or so they appeared to us. Burly guys would tell Benedetto to put his computer away whenever he took our son to his tutorial. I never had a problem, sweet face that I have, but when they told my husband on another occasion to wait outside, we checked into private tutors.

Elena was our latest. We did not choose her, as much as inherit her. Long story. An excellent instructor, she spent much more than an hour with us each session, insisting that I sit through it, to be able to help Petya with his homework. The 90 minutes of grilling was emotionally exhausting not only for our son, told to read, write, converse, compose but it took big chunks of my day to drive him there, go through the paces, drive him back, then make him a treat to compensate for both of our pain and suffering.

Often, Elena was late. (This is not her real name, but she knows who she is, although she always claimed she must have missed us by all of a couple of minutes.) She was repeatedly late, and not by five minutes. We would stand outside for fifteen, twenty minutes at a stretch, in the cold of winter, in the heat of summer. In my way of thinking, a teacher should arrive for class five minutes early, not twenty minutes late.

“Petya, in life you teach people how to treat you. My time and your time is more valuable than this,” I lectured him one chilly fall day. “We’re making a break for it. Let’s go,” I jerk my head gangster-style in the direction of the car.

“Really, Mama? Oh, thank you, thank you!” enthused Petya. “It’s not right that she makes us wait.” He took my arm and led me to the car, happy as a clam to be spared the Great Inquisition.

I told him to slink down in the back seat, lest she come barrelling around the corner and glimpse us making our run for it. I like to think of that Russian get-away as one of our finer mother-son bonding experiences as we giggled nervously all the way home.

This scenario repeated itself more frequently than I cared to consider. Elena was going through a divorce, and I didn’t want to cut her off, high and dry. She moved farther out of the city and both the travel times and wait times increased. Finally, we had enough, despite the fact that she was an excellent tutor and would often give us tea and cookies, to boot. We needed timeliness, a vacation condo, and a flatscreen plasma TV at this point.

It was around the season that we were going at last to adopt Pasha. Our schedule would be too here and there to maintain any type of normal routine. In the beginning, Pasha’s Russian proficiency would help Petya’s, so what was the point of further lessons?

After about four months home, Pasha grew fuzzy in his written Russian. He wrote me love notes that were a combination of English phrases written in Cyrillic letters, some of which were backwards. We checked into tutors once again and made the most amazing discovery: we could learn Russian anytime, anywhere, via the marvels of computerdom.

For what it once cost us to have one lesson per week for one child, not to mention all of the gas costs and time wasted, we could have two children’s lessons for even less. The boys loved it. The computer’s camera mode was turned off to receive an even stronger and smoother audio signal. The soothing, encouraging voice of their native instructor came to them over the Internet, crisp, clear, and as right on time as the Moscow-St. Petersburg express train. She e-mailed reading texts for them to practice and then checked the boys’ pronunciation and comprehension the next week.

For those possessing the Russian basics, many of which can be found through free online courses or through affordable Russian language books and CDs, then the one-on-one tutoring through Skype is a smart next step.

Live classes, in my opinion, will always be the best for kids. I mean, nobody on the other side of a computer can knock two heads together or threaten dire consequences like no dessert for the failure to do one’s homework. But it’s a close second that’s convenient, affordable, and only a click away.

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