Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trust the Child

I've been homeschooling my now 7th grade son since the beginning of 4th grade.  We have our ups and our downs, but generally love our way of life.  Indeed, homeschooling has become a way of life.  Over the years we have less "school" time scheduled and have found that learning weaves it's way through our days in a more organic way.  I prefer it this way and I find AH's retention is higher when he learns this way.  But it is so very different than the way I was taught and it brings on episodes of panic now and again.  Take for instance spelling.  We began in 4th grade with two separate phonics lessons, both of which produced nothing but tears.  I then signed him up for an online spelling test weekly which produced more tears and, worse, frustration.  I then came to realize just how a right-brained learner cannot learn in these ways and found a better and more productive way for him to learn to spell.  It worked, but there was no joy, no spark, no enthusiasm and that brought me to tears.

Then I backed off.

I spelled words when my son wanted to write them.  But that was close to never. I just waited (and silently panicked).  All the books said that when a child is ready he will want to learn.

And still I waited, enduring criticism and disparaging remarks for my son's poor spelling.  But I still waited and clung to the belief that when he was ready, he would want to write and spelling would be a natural part of that.  And the criticism continued, sometimes directly at AH, but still I waited (and silently panicked).

In the meantime, with so many activities filling our calendars, we found that we wanted our son to have a cell phone to call us in emergencies (like the night he was left at church to attend confirmation when there was no confirmation scheduled that night!) or to simply call us with a question when we were all out doing our own things.  My husband ordered a phone with a full keyboard just to make texting and entering information easier for AH.    When AH got the phone he was so excited to fill it with contacts, starting with his big sister and big brother.  He texted them occasionally, but when one of his friends also got a phone, that was the beginning of his spelling education.  They sent texts back and forth furiously. I must have spelled most of the words he typed to his friend that first week.  During the second week, I wasn't asked how to spell words, but was asked if he had spelled them correctly.  And by week three, I very rarely have to spell out a word for him.

Trust the child.

As if this wasn't a breakthrough in and of itself, I opened my email one day to see a plea from a homeschool friend of AH's who was trying to start a newspaper.  He wanted it to be written by local homeschoolers.  I mentioned it to my son and heard nothing for quite a while.  One morning AH told me he was going to write movie reviews for the newspaper and wondered if we could go to a couple of movies. As if I was going to say no! We made sure we saw the two movies AH wanted to review (including big brother and dad in this activity made it a natural part of our family life) and AH followed through, with no pressure from me, on writing not only one, but two, reviews for the next issue of the Homeschool Gazette.  The words weren't always spelled correctly, but we worked on that when he asked for help.  The sentences sometimes didn't flow that way they should, but we worked on that when he asked for help. 

What was it that the books said?  Oh, yeah,...

Trust the child.


Michelle said...

Love this post! It is so hard for me to trust that things will fall into place when they should, but it is a much more pleasant way to learn, isn't it?

Good luck with the movie reviews. Sounds like lots of fun, and a practical way to practice those writing and spelling skills.

Rose said...

Oh, how I needed to read this post just now. My oldest struggles in several areas, and I have found that most of the time the traditional way of learning frustrates him to the point that he cannot learn anything. But if I relax and let him learn his way, he does learn, and often surprises me by knowing things that I know I didn't teach him. At this point we do about 30 minutes a day of math/reading lessons. And he's learning. But I still panic sometimes and need to be reminded that it's okay to trust the child.

Kendra said...

I needed to read this. Thank you so much for posting it with such honesty. My daughter, who is 7, is a reluctant reader. By no means is she incapable of reading, she simply doesn't enjoy it. I've gone through seasons where I have had to just sit it aside for a week because we were both exhausted w/the fight. She loves Explode the Code and almost always gets it 100% correct, but actually sitting and reading is torturous. I have endured some comments from adults who teach her classes at church, and, while I am cringing inside because I tend to try to be an over achiever, I have decided to just trust her schedule for learning to read. She reads, but she doesn't read the way "they" say she should. You know? Again, thank you! I appreciate this post so much!

Miranda said...

I love this post also. I have tons of moments of panic, but find that in the end, the kids manage to come out the way they're supposed to without my pushing them. Backing off is the very best thing we can do for them I believe. Internal motivations works SO much better than external.

The beauty of homeschooling is that we can let the kids set the pace so that they learn what they need to know in their own time, with joy instead of frustration. We just have to get out of the way and not let our preconceived notions or outside pressures of how things should work. Bravo Mama!