Monday, November 5, 2012

Holding Back a Homeschooler- Part 2

 You will find Part One to this post here.

My son is a May baby.  I began formally preschooling him when he was four years and three months old. Up til then his natural learning delighted us. He learned his colors, numbers, shapes,and alphabet with hardly any teaching from us, it seemed.  He made up pretend play scenes, turned turkey basters into musical instruments, and had no trouble keeping himself occupied.

But in September when he was four, I promptly sat him at the dining room table and began force-feeding him an educations. Much of what we did was fun and gentle- crafts, cooking, read alouds.  But I suddenly felt the need to get him on the fast rack to learning and to start documenting it.

I don't regret having a regular time of sitting at the table together, reading the Bible, and doing a few workbooks. I think the structure was good and began to teach him that this was important.  It also helped get us on a sort of schedule.

I do regret how hard I pushed my son, particularly in math. It became the subject that would plague us most in coming years.

Things seemed to come to a head last year, his third grade year. We moved in September. For months prior to that he had been struggling with anxiety, particularly in regards to his sister.  An incident at church, when we couldn't find her and a friend, had visibly upset me. Since then he would be overcome with anxiety and panic in regards to her whereabouts.

Undoubtedly his emotions were in a state of confusion and stress when we moved. We left the only home he had ever known, his beloved friends, grandparents, and a deep sense of familiarity and security.  I can only imagine the emotional turmoil in my son. It began to pour out, particularly in school.

The most heartbreaking thing about the stress that was pouring out of him was the negative self-talk.  He continually said he was stupid, that he couldn't do anything right, that he would never learn.  Tears, outbursts of frustration, absolute dread of math ensued.  If I got frustrated, of course this only magnified his stress and negative view of self.

I was very near taking him to a counselor to help both of us.

But then I read a book by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.  I tried to locate a copy of their landmark book Better Late Than Early, but it was out of print and ridiculously expensive used. So I found a copy of the only book they still had in print, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook.  It highlights their research and true stories of children who are not formally taught until they are older.  Their research encouraged formal teaching no sooner than ten, especially for boys.  They certainly didn't mean no learning, just not formal, sit-at-the-table and be busy learning.  This book was a life-line for me.  It began to take all the weight off my shoulders. I could slow down our formal school pace and relax.  My son would be okay- and maybe even better- because of it.  The Moores don't advocate doing nothing. They encourage study, manual work, and community service. Study can be reading aloud, art, music, coloring, whatever they are ready for.  Manual work is at least as important as study. It gives children valuable work, contribution to the home, and an outlet for energy.  Service to others fulfills the socialization "gap" in a most realistic way.

After reading this book, I realized we didn't need counseling. We needed to relax and focus on strengths. It was shortly after this that I had my epiphany about keeping him back a year.  After Christmas break, I gave my son a level two math book instead of the level three we had been agonizing over and I began to watch him blossom.  The hunched shoulders of oppression were lifted, along with his head.  Math became "easy" some days.

I chucked the outstanding spelling program that got tons of accolades. It just didn't work for us.  I  made the executive decision that we didn't need spelling that year.

I began to discern a reading problem, too. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it once again came down to maturity. He is an excellent reader and always has been, but chapter books are difficult for him. Their length makes him anxious right off the bat.  When he's anxious, he can't think as clearly and his attitude becomes negative. It's a vicious cycle. He can always be found reading picture books while eating breakfast or lunch, though. At this stage of maturity, he needed an end in sight; to be able to get the whole story quickly, not spread out over ten chapters.  I let him start choosing his own reading material.  It was Frog and Toad, picture books, and Bible stories.  Things below his reading level, but not elevating his stress level.

A huge weight was lifted when we decided our son would remain a third grader for another year.  It was purely psychological for me. I didn't have to stress to get him to fourth grade math.  I realize it's debatable what is third or fourth grade work.  Curriculums for homeschooling are based on different methodologies and styles. Not all are leveled by grade.  One very popular and successful math program is often accused of being light and a grade level behind. But it's saved many a homeschool mom and student in the math department. My children use two different English curriculum.  One is a classical approach, the other is a very gentle Charlotte Mason style approach.  My son would probably be three levels higher in the Charlotte Mason style book than he is the classical.

We didn't make the decision to hold him back a year based on the level of curriculum he was using, though I think he is doing very good third grade work at present.  We made this decision first of all because this what the Lord led us to do.  Secondly, this was a maturity issue, not an output issue.  While I love to think I will homeschool all the way through high school, my son will undoubtedly be involved with public school peers either in sports, clubs or individual classes.  Josh and I discussed that there could only be benefits to our son having an extra year before being grouped as a middle schooler or high school student.  Not to get a leg up on his peers, but to grow in maturity.  It would be far more traumatic to hold him back from high school than it would be fourth grade.

I'm not making the case for anyone to hold their child back a grade. I'm not saying level of works is the primary indicator of grade. I think the opposite.  Maturity and development has more to do with grade, since we seem to have to classify it to some degree.

We have seen so much confirmation that we did the right thing.  Academically, he is progressing with more natural ease and far less stress.  I hear a lot less negative self talk from him. He has more feelings of success and consequently his creative expression is flourishing too. He's been writing and illustrating books, drawing more elaborate and detailed pictures, building more detailed projects with Legos and Dominoes.  I can see the weight lifted from him. I hear him complimenting himself more, praising his work instead of condemning it.

I find we are right where we should be.  I'm not comparing us and how we home educate to others nearly as much as I used to.  I've been able to take my eyes off output and see the unique and special gifts my children have, slowly being unwrapped.

I have just one more "part" to this story I want to share in a future post. Until then, hope you are encouraged and blessed.


Legume said...

I love this, and Part I. Isn't is amazing the peace that happens when we just know this is the right choice? It sounds like you are doing a great job. To see him have an easier time with math is a huge thing. Confidence is so important in learning. Ask me how I know. :) They mature, and it happens so subtly. Some of our students are harder in that respect, but when they get something, it is theirs. It seems, their learning is so much more meaningful to them. They find a few things that just make them sing, and go at it with their whole being. It is pleasure to see when it happens.

Good for you, and you hubs, for making that decision. It can do nothing but help him. He will be older for sports, too, and that is not a bad thing either.

I might refer to your blog in a blog post of mine. Is that okay?

Mellissa said...

I already commented on part 1, but it bears repeating. Thank you, so much, for writing this. Your concerns are literally identical to mine. My son is so negative about his abilities, and even though the work DOES get done, there is no joy in the journey for him- it is all stress. Thank you so much, I am going to be reading the Homeschool book!