Sometimes new homeschooling moms ask me when they should teach their kids to read, or when to sign their children up for music lessons. These moms naturally have a lot of questions, and many of them are “when” questions.
I think one of the most important questions a homeschooling mom can ask is when to back off, because sometimes we moms are so eager to do everything right that we overdo it.
For example, let’s say your child is learning how to subtract fractions, and it’s not going well. You can see that he’s coming close to the point of losing it. You try to explain the concept in a different way but he’s still not getting it. Instead, he’s getting teary-eyed.
No matter what the “experts” say about what grade a child should be in when he learns how to subtract fractions, if you’ve got a child on the edge, you need to back off. He might not tell you this in words, but you know him well enough to see that he’s hit the wall. Trust your knowledge of your child. Take a break from fractions for a while. You can always come back to it later.
Knowing when to back off doesn’t just apply to a child who’s overwhelmed by his schoolwork. Sometimes, we need to back off when our child is enthused about something. Years ago, I recall getting all excited over my kids’ enthusiasm about frogs. It started when they found a frog in the basement window well and requested a container to put it in. I gave them an empty coffee can, and they caught the frog, named it, carried it around in the coffee can, and showed it to their friends. They gave it some grass and learned it wasn’t interested in grass. They put a little water in the can in case it got thirsty. They were really into this frog.
Being a proactive mom who couldn’t wait to capitalize on their newly discovered interest in frogs, I brought home a stack of library books about frogs, expecting them to pore over them in their excitement over their new pet. But they ignored the books. So I had them sit down with me so we could read about frogs. And you know what? That pretty much extinguished their interest in frogs. I didn’t even get a chance to do the art project about frogs that I found in one of the books. In fact, I had to let the poor frog escape from his coffee can after his young captors forgot about him.
Over time I discovered that I had to let my kids learn freely instead of jumping in and turning an interest into a learning experience. This wasn’t easy for me. My own reaction to something new that interests me is to investigate it by reading about it. But I needed to let my kids learn in their own way. I had to learn when to back off.
You can see where we often need to back off even though our intentions are good. But what if it’s not a matter of intentions but instructions? For instance, the guide to the curriculum we’re using has a timetable that’s been tested by the experts. We won’t complete the curriculum by the end of the year unless we stick to the timetable. And yet life keeps intervening, and we fall further and further behind, until it becomes obvious that we’re never going to finish this curriculum in time.
What to do? We could:
- institute seven-day-a-week school in order to catch up (that’ll go over well, won’t it?)
- cut out something else that the kids are doing to leave more time for the curriculum.
- just back off of the curriculum.
You knew I was going to pick #3, didn’t you? Remember, curriculum is meant to serve you; you’re not supposed to serve the curriculum. When you fall behind on a curriculum, something is wrong. The timetable might be too ambitious for your family. You might want to stretch the program over a longer time period, or combine lessons where possible. Or perhaps it’s just not the right curriculum for you and your kids.
It’s OK to admit that, by the way. Yes, I know you spent good money on it, but most of the time, you have no way of knowing how a curriculum will work for your family without actually trying it. Also, the curriculum might have been written for actual schools, which are very different from home schools. Such programs are more appropriate for captive audiences (i.e. schoolrooms) than people having a life.
Whatever the problem is, back off of the curriculum and come up with an alternate plan. Expect that this will often happen to you when you homeschool. If you’re not already a flexible person, you will become one!
Of course, backing off isn’t something that comes naturally to most homeschooling moms. We’re used to being proactive when it comes to our children’s education. But if we can become aware of situations where backing off is the smart thing to do, we’ll see that homeschooling becomes easier for us. And that’s always a good thing!
(Excerpted from Stages of Homeschooling: Enjoying the Journey (Book 2), just published by Cardamom Publishers. Available HERE for $4.99.)