Sunday, October 18, 2009


I Homeschooling is just SO much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I've been by turns frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, out of control, despondent, and incensed. You notice that none of these adjectives are conducive to rearing a small child with love and gentleness. My naive visions of sitting side by side with my rapt 6 year old son and pointing gleefully at pictures of mummies or sharks while he asked eager questions has been replaced by memories of sullen, pouting expressions and statements like, "I am NOT. Going to do it." or "This is SOOOOO boring! I want to go to Grandmas! NOW!" Both those statements, by the way, were uttered while on a Friday Field Trip to Dinosaur Ridge, where you can touch fossils (he refused to do so) and track an Iguanadon and its baby moving across a streambed in fossilized footprints. SO COOL. Or it should have been.


So this is the point where I grow smaller and let God grow bigger through me, right? This is where I learn to let go of my controlling nature and allow my son to explore the world at his own page. I mean, that's a large reason why I'm homeschooling in the first place -- I don't want my child forced to learn about Rome when he's fascinated with the Huns of ancient China. Do the Huns when he wants to do them, and come back to Rome some other time. If he wants to do six pages of math today, great. If he wants to do none, we'll just play an addition game instead.

So why is it that whenever he digs in his heels, I dig mine in even further?

I think it's the expectations that I'm putting on him. I have to keep reminding myself that we have the whole year...we don't need to reach our goals of discipline and retention overnight. I am also repeating to myself a heck of a lot, "Let go. Let go. Be flexible!"

Part of the problem is that nothing I can do schoolwise is more interesting to him than free time. Whenever I can, I capitalize on the things he's interested in so that the schoolwork is at least appealing on that level. But even writing "Superman is so awesome, he is the best superhero, he can see through anything and fly" is not more fun than dressing up as Superman and zooming around the house screaming and making whooshing noises. It is more fun than writing "AaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAa God Alone," but it's still writing.

The thing is, he does have to do work sometimes. Our fights aren't necessarily about him not being able to do the work, or of feeling that it's pointless or boring. It's because he doesn't want to do anything, ever, that I ask him to do. Even projects that he is interested in, like making a Jabberwocky mask out of paper mache for a play we're putting on, can't compete with lying on the couch. I don't at all mind stopping his piano lessons and letting him just pick out the notes of songs he wants to play, or of spending six weeks instead of three on prehistoric dinosaurs and paleontology because he finds it interesting, or of letting him color printed pictures rather than drawing them if he hates drawing, but I am not okay with letting him do nothing all day long.

As always, my problem is figuring out when to be flexible and when to insist on something because it's important. I personally feel that setting aside time each day for schoolwork is important. Within that time frame I can be flexible: we can start with math or start with reading, we can take frequent breaks, we can interrupt one lesson to dabble a bit in something else, or whatever. But certain things MUST be done.

I have also been receiving diverse and frequent indications that order and discipline need to be my primary focus right now. Not simply for my school day or for my son, but for myself as well. I have been very successful at keeping to my schedule of late, mostly because my life is so full that any deviation invites immediate disaster. This doesn't mean that I'm disciplined, though. It just means that I'm scheduled. Discipline means getting up when the alarm goes off. It means actually reading my theology meditation instead of thinking aimless thoughts about where the day went wrong. It means refusing to answer the phone during school hours, even if it's my mom or my sister on the other end. It means maintaining a calm spirit when I am frustrated or overwhelmed.

Discipline for my son means doing his work carefully when he's asked to do it and separating his desires from his duties. I've made him a "character" chart with (of course) Superman flying high at the top. Whenever he shows fortitude, prudence, justice, or temperance, he gets to put a small sticker on the chart. As the four columns rise up like the towering skyscrapers of Metropolis, he will get closer and closer to Superman, that paragon of virtue and model of self-control (well, as long as you limit your canon to the pre-1960 comics and TV series and ignore all the movies.) Sometimes it serves to motivate him when he really wants to quit a page of math. Sometimes it doesn't. But at least it's a goal. And as I'm trying to remind myself: it doesn't need to happen overnight.

That goes for myself as well. I won't magically become super-homeschooling-mom simply because I've started homeschooling. This is as much a learning process for me as it is for my son. Self-improvement is a lifelong, never-ending journey, and God will keep working to change me until I die. Brandon Heath has a great song about this, with the refrain:

There is hope for me yet,
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me.
I'll have to wait and see.
He's not finished with me yet.

Actually, if you're Catholic you believe that He works on you after death, too, sort of. That's what Purgatory is, right? A final stage of refinement to complete the change from flawed human to pure soul bound for eternity with God. Change isn't easy. Actually, nothing that's worth doing is easy. So in that sense, I'm grateful for this trial. But I'm also hoping my son and I come to some sort of resolution soon. 'Cause this is pretty tough.


bill bannon said...

Just keep other possibilities in mind. What if he resents homeschooling because he is not with his friends? Don't answer me.
The question and answer is none of my business. Just keep it on the side as a possible.

Tienne said...

Thanks Bill. :) I definitely am planning to evaluate the whole idea each year. But I do want to give it the old college try, first. So for this year, we're stuck with it. I'm hoping we hit our stride soon!

Hope T. said...

I think sometimes it is okay, perhaps even necessary, to do nothing for a while, a long while, much longer than feels comfortable.
Six is a hard age (the hardest in my opinion) so maybe this year he does nothing visible but so much is happening on the inside you never know what next year will look like.

Anna said...

Hi Tienne. I've been pondering the idea of homeschooling my own kids, so I've been thinking about this post a lot. I also happen to have been reading a book about the Montessori method and pondering how some of those principles might be applied to homeschooling. The book is definitely giving me some ideas, and I think you might get something out of it, too. It's called Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Lillard. There's a lot in there about the balance of letting the child choose (but not infinitely), the child's motivation, and so on. I really think you might like it. And either way... good luck with the homeschooling!