Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's take it back a notch

Yesterday I had a bad morning with Carbon. I was about ready to grab him by the ear, drag him across the street to the elementary school, and demand that they enroll him and take him off my hands. "Here, you deal with this!"

Homeschooling first grade has not been all joyous fun for us. He has resisted the increase in his "workload", he fusses and whines about having to do it, and reading and writing can easily dissolve into hyterics. This is not the family lifestyle I wanted when I chose homeschooling.

I am insisting that he do a certain amount of work, as I am not an unschooler. However, because of the secular/religious, unschooling/homeschooling breakdown in our community, we are associating mostly with unschoolers. I can't talk to these moms about my difficulties at all, because the experience is like when I was trying to give birth without drugs and the nurses in the hospital wanted to say "you don't need to hurt - just take this". The unschooling moms are telling me "you don't need to fight, just stop doing structured work", and that is not supportive or affirming because that is not what we want to do as a family.

I grew up with this stuff, and I do not believe in unschooling based on my experiences and the people I have known personally. I hear about and read about families that make it work, but I have only known In Real Life families where it didn't work that well.

So I have the unschooling moms around me, and then I have the opposite pressure: the pediatrician and eye doctor who tell me that Carbon is "delayed" because he fumbled his letters on his vision tests, and all the other folks who question the entire notion of homeschooling. I'm between a rock and hard place, fighting with my son while I feel crushed by the pressure from all around me!

OK, that's a bit hyperbolic - as my husband and my mother remind me, I'm programmed to be extra sensitive to what I imagine others are thinking, and I hardly ever imagine they are thinking anything nice. But I am really facing a problem with Carbon, and it is making our time together stressful for us both.

Thankfully for me, my mother has been here before me. And after she homeschooled four children, she went on to run a tutoring center where she has worked with hundreds of children, teaching them to read and do math. So I took a timeout from school yesterday morning, sent Carbon to his room to play, and called her. She talked me through it all: how much work I was expecting him to do, how much help I was giving him as he did it, when and what triggered stress and resistence, and how I was structuring his days. And then she had a few suggestions for me:

1. Don't make him erase and redo work when he reverses his letters and numbers. Note the reversals, but then just move on. (Erasing stresses him out, and there is some new brain research that actually points to this being a normal phase that can self-correct if you don't fuss with it too much).

2. Continue daily reading practice, but ease up on the stress by giving him more prompts, by reading every other page, by having him read to his sister, and anything else that makes it more fun and less frustrating for him.

3. Give him more of a sense of control by telling him everything that we need to do that day, and asking him what order he'd like to do it in.

4. As long as he can narrate and answer review questions after I read to him, go ahead and let him do "fidget" activities while he listens. Or have him do some handwork such as knitting or sewing.

5. Disallow the use of the computer and tv for non-school purposes until the entire day's work is done. During "recess" he can play with his toys or go outside instead.

We talked about rewards, and about having him keep samples of his "best" work to show his dad that night, but I don't like external motivations and manipulations like that, so we're avoiding them.

Today was smoother, but it's a lighter school day for us anyway. We'll see how it goes, and if we can find a love of learning around here again.


  1. I don't mean this to be in the least critical of homeschooling, or to suggest he ought to go to school, but I do wonder about the value of group work for some kids. I'm not talking about "socialization", I mean what happens when kids work together to learn. It's just often easier, more fun, less stressful, to learn alongside other people. With a small family, it seems that homeschooling would be basically individual study by necessity. That may not be his forte (it's not mine).

    As far as his skills go, my middle nephew struggled so badly with reading prior to 3rd grade that he saw a specialist. He is now in 4th grade and aced both the reading and math portion of the WASL and reads like a maniac at home. I am totally convinced it just happens on the kid's own developmental timeline.

  2. Excellent advice from Mom. I stumbled on a couple of these suggestions myself and am keeping the rest as needed.
    Thank you!