A British professor confirms what we already knew: children need free play and time alone in order to learn!
My youngest nephew is seven, and a very bright child. He loves science, and keeps busy at home with educational toys that would bore or overwhelm many boys his age.
Up until recently, he did very well in school. But his second-grade teacher expects her students to sit quietly and read; she thinks he has a problem with this so she’s been sending notes home about it, which is upsetting him and his mother.
As I said, he’s seven and he’s a boy. Sitting quietly and reading is not his natural behavior. I’m not saying he shouldn’t learn this, but I’m sad that his current inability in this area is affecting his grades.
But that’s school. The teacher plans a learning experience for the entire class; those who can’t do what she says will be graded down.
Don’t think this only happens in school. When I was homeschooling, especially at the beginning, there were times when I found “the perfect curriculum” at a homeschool convention, brought it home, made lesson plans using it, and watched my children for signs of “delight-directed learning” or whatever the catchphrase was on the cover….but was disappointed to see none of that on their faces. That’s when I realized that they didn’t do well with the curriculum. I had to learn that children learn best when the subject is presented in a way that works for them…..which may not be the way that works best for the teacher.
Ultimately, gearing materials toward the child’s interests, intelligence level and developmental stage is what works. Successful homeschooling parents learn to do that for their children. Teachers, even very good teachers, can try to do that but how do you accommodate the needs of 30 children from a variety of backgrounds? You can’t.
That’s why homeschooling is so successful, especially once we stop trying to be a school and concentrate instead on giving each of our children what they need at a particular point in time.
In a few months I’m going to meet my first grandchild, a little boy. (I can hardly wait!) I enjoyed my children’s baby years so much, and friends tell me being a grandma is even more fun. How can that be possible? I’ll find out soon.
One of the things I enjoyed most about my babies was their bright little minds. Almost from the time they were born, it seemed, they were scoping out their world, eyes wide and curious. As they grew, I was amazed at how ready they were to explore with their eyes, their hands, their mouths, and before long, by crawling and walking. I didn’t have to coax them to do this; I just had to make their world safe for exploration.
Take my eldest son, for instance, the father of my upcoming grandchild. When he was a baby, he was easy to care for, a mellow guy (as long as his tummy was full and his diaper was dry). Before I started making supper each night, I’d put him in his baby seat on the kitchen counter and hang a little squeaky stuffed bluebird right in front of him. At first he’d just stare at it. Before long he was cooing at it. And then one night he took a swat at it! This became a fun game for him. For weeks I cooked supper to the sounds of him cooing and the bluebird squeaking as he whacked it and chortled.
I’m sure this activity was good for his eye-hand coordination (and may even have led to his love of baseball!) But it was also a good lesson for me: he learned to do this without my coaxing, prodding, or insistence. I gave him a learning environment, and his God-given intelligence took care of the rest.
Of course I’d forgotten times like this when I first started homeschooling my kids. I often parked them in front of textbooks and “taught” them and expected them to learn. And they did, but before long it became a chore. There was no intense interest, no chortling.
Over time I discovered that true learning requires the interest and desire of the student. I had read this in books by John Holt, but what really cemented it was seeing my children pursue their interests and excel in them. By the time they were teens, my participation primarily involved driving them to a limited number of activities of their choice and paying for the books and/or supplies needed in their pursuits. The rest was up to them, and that God-given intelligence I first saw when they were tiny.
So if you’re a bit nervous about whether you’re buying the right curriculum this year, or whether you’re going to be up for another year of homeschooling, consider that much of the task of educating your children is up to them; if you create a vibrant learning environment, answer their questions and facilitate learning by obtaining what they need, you can count on them to do the rest.
As for me, my kids are grown and I’m not homeschooling anymore, which leaves me a lot more time to make things for the baby 🙂
We spent an enjoyable Mother’s Day up in Door County (yep, that’s where we used to live, but we still like to go there on vacation.) We had lunch at Al Johnson’s restaurant, where I go to get in touch with my Swedish heritage. We also played mini-golf at Pirates Cove, which my son always enjoys.
While we were there, I couldn’t help but notice a family several holes behind us. What caught my eye was the way the mother was teaching her youngest son, a boy of about five, how to play. She would grab him like a rag doll and jerk him into the proper position at each hole, then reach around him to hold his arms and direct his shots.
He looked really annoyed, and who could blame him? I’m sure his mom meant well, but I don’t think her efforts were having the desired effect. Whenever she took her own turn, however, the boy skipped around with his putter, teased his brother and watched his dad. His face only turned gloomy when he took another turn with his mother glued to him like a backpack.
Seeing her misguided efforts got me thinking about all the ways we try to teach our children. We may instruct verbally, we may demonstrate, or (rarely, I hope) we may grab their little bodies and lead them in doing the activity. While the latter is often resented, sometimes the first two options don’t work very well either. After all, when you have to keep telling kids the same thing over and over, you clearly haven’t taught them by talking to them. And demonstrating doesn’t always work either. I demonstrated how to do dishes so many times to my kids yet often found greasy plates in the dish rack the next day. (I imagine my kids work much harder at getting dishes clean now that it’s their dishes they’re washing!)
The fact is that kids are often not motivated to learn the things we want them to learn. This can result in frustration on their part and ours. Clearly the mother at Pirates Cove cut to the chase by physically manipulating her son into what she considered the proper golfing stance. Perhaps she’d already tried telling him what to do and demonstrating what to do and it didn’t work, so in frustration she turned him into a puppet.
Ultimately we have to ask whether it’s worth humiliating a child to teach him something. Would it have been the end of the world if he hadn’t played properly? Perhaps a few times of losing to the rest of the family because of his lack of skills would eventually motivate him to learn to play better all on his own. Or maybe he doesn’t really care that much about mini-golf; if he’s not a competitive child, he may never care to learn the proper way to play. If that’s the case, I hope his mother comes to accept that this would not be the end of the world. But I doubt it; she looked pretty serious about her mini-golfing to me.
So, how do you react when your child refuses to learn something you’re teaching them? Are some of your children more feisty learners than others? If so, what techniques do you use to teach them?
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.)