Homeschool Activities From a Connection Perspective: Removing the Power Struggle

In my professional work I encounter parents and children who are sad, frustrated, resentful, and feeling hopeless about a positive and fulfilling relationship with their child. “Parents are the bad guys” or “I’m not supposed to be my child’s friend” are often phrases I hear. When it comes to managing children’s behaviors, the focus is often on the compliance of the child, regardless of the emotional or relational cost.

It seems that parenting comes down to a battle of the wills: “You will do what I say.”

When I dig in my heels and refuse to collaborate with my child on desired expectations, we both lose. The child feels marginalized, unheard, and angry. The parents feel ineffective, frustrated, and like they are failing as a parent. Dr. Dan Siegel talks extensively about the research associated with the brain and development in his book, The Whole Brain Child. We as parents are the mirrors from which our children learn how to act appropriately. If their mistakes are met with criticism, anger, and blame, they will react with anger, mistrust, and defensiveness. The approach he recommends is the idea that children need us to help make meaning for them out of their daily activities.

When I think about how I approach the process of educating my child at home, I recognize that children cannot learn or retain information if they are living in chaotic environments, worried about their next meal, or dealing with other detrimental environmental factors. When I apply this to the home setting, it would seem that my child cannot engage in growing and learning if they do not feel accepted or cared for, or if they are worried about parental reactions/punishment. This doesn’t mean indulgence or lack of discipline, however; nor does it mean the parent isn’t in charge. It simply places the relationship in a position of cooperation vs. dominance. As a parent I am on a continual quest for balance between connection and correction. If my child feels connected and I am in tune with their needs, then they will naturally want to please me more than if I am acting or reacting with anger and punishments.

Here are three things I’ve found helpful in addressing my child’s behavior:

  • Modeling grace: If I make a mistake I say so, I own it and say “uh oh,” and clean up the mess or apologize.
  • Meeting anger with understanding: If my child is upset and emotional, I acknowledge that whatever they are feeling is valid and hard for them (even if its seems silly that they can’t find the right shoes).
  • Redirect with whimsy instead of demands: Singing instead of talking, making a game out of the expectation, and assuming they will follow through by helping them start the task — all are positive encouragements.

Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.

Reference: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/an-unfinished-quest-in-education/486074/

Any Job Worth Doing… Learning Perfection

Any job worth doing, is worth doing right.

Learning perfection might seem unimportant. However, it might help your child set himself apart from others in the employment process or business field.

Most of us have been victim to the “good enough” philosophy that so many practice. Shoppers might leave their cart in the parking space, even if the cart return is two cars away. It’s “good enough” and the store employees will retrieve it soon. Your restaurant meal arrives with mashed potatoes instead of the requested baked. But, it’s potato, so it’s “good enough.” A house painter misses a few small spots, but they don’t show much so it’s “good enough.”

My parents instilled values in each of us, including the concept that “any job worth doing is worth doing right.” Learning perfection begins at a very early age and continues throughout life. Our family’s lifestyle weaves this concept into school work and everyday life.

Good enough is not good enough.

The “good enough” concept quickly elicits a “good enough is not good enough” response. We encourage learning perfection, not because everyone can be perfect all the time, but rather because reaching for our best is important.

I recently heard Salman Khan of Khan Academy discuss his teaching philosophy. He explained that while getting a grade of B or C on an assignment might indicate passing, he interpreted it differently. He reasoned that if a child received a 75% grade, that meant he had learned 75% of the material. However, it also meant that he had not learned 25%. Therefore, he needed to continue learning to attain the other 25%.

Although I only recently heard his philosophy, it is one instilled by my parents and used by me with our children. When working on math problems, we redo each until the child understands and gets the right answer. Redundant? Yes. But, we feel they need to learn the entire process. If a child is not strong on his multiplication tables, how can we expect him to excel at higher math?

Learning Perfection for Life Skills

Likewise, we encourage learning perfection on life skills and everyday living, too. Washing dishes? Make sure they are clean and well rinsed. Sweeping the floor? No dust piles should remain,and yes, check those corners. Mowing the lawn? Ensure that the edges are neatly trimmed, too.

To be clear, we don’t stand over our kids each moment and point out deficiencies. However, we do monitor tasks and require them to be redone when needed. And, learning perfection might not always create laughter. In fact, sometimes frustration overcomes, but we continue on, encouraging that each job is perfected to the best possible outcome.

While we can re-wash a dish that isn’t quite up to perfection, these job skills learned as children and teens reflect on their future as adults. My father was a meticulous mechanic. His customers knew he paid close attention to each detail of his work. He was only satisfied when his work was completely and well done, whether it was an oil change or an engine overhaul. Our children continued learning perfection from him, too, by his example and that of others in our lives. And, it does make a difference in their lives as they train for and settle into careers.

Our goal is not to raise our children to be strict perfectionists afraid to make a mistake. Rather, we encourage a sense of willingness to do each job or event to the best, as God directs in Colossians 3:23.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people,” Colossians 3:23, NLT.

 

Charlotte Mason Preschool

Charlotte Mason was a huge supporter for starting formal academics later. She spoke about the benefits of short lessons, rich living books, and lots of time spent outside. I love how her method of teaching supports early childhood development. It is my goal that my early learner is in love with learning! Currently I am working with my three-year-old, and want to share what a Charlotte Mason preschool looks like in our home.

After we have morning time with my middle schoolers, I send them off to their individual studies and work with my three-year-old. We read a short Bible lesson and then do her calendar board. Some days she will play with felts or do other hands-on activities during morning time. After her Bible and calendar time, we move to her “core” work.

I found a wonderful Charlotte Mason based preschool curriculum called The Peaceful Preschool. It is a literature and project based curriculum that is letter themed. I love the rich book suggestions and gentle hands-on projects for each letter of the alphabet. These activities include read alouds, phonics, counting skills, fine and large motor skills, practical life skills, and art skills. There are 26 weeks or 52 weeks of lessons depending on how much time you want to spend on each letter.  All of the lessons are pre-planned and include a weekly grid, book, activity, and field trip suggestions. It makes it really simple and restful for me as a teacher and offers flexibility for my child’s interests.

I chose to spend two weeks per letter so that we could move slowly through her learning. I love that I can add in my own manipulatives, activities, and books as we go along, depending on her interests.

Along with her letter themed activities, we are also learning about nature study. The Charlotte Mason method of education has a strong focus on time spent outside and in nature study. We love to go on walks; play in the dirt; and spot birds, flowers, and plants, and then learn about them. These nature activities can also be tied into the letter themes to round out their learning.

One thing to remember about early learning is that it doesn’t have to be fast-paced with lots of formal learning. Children learn through play, enriching books, simple activities, and lots of nature time. Keep it simple, let them grow within their developmental abilities, and provide a loving environment.

“Aha” Moments

When our children are tiny, we wait with bated breath for every first…the first time they roll over, their first step, first words, first meal…the list is endless.

I’m still seeing firsts. When my oldest son, TLC, was three, he asked me to teach him to write his name, and I started teaching him the rules of reading and writing. He could never seem to translate that knowledge into action though. When he turned eight years old, however, a door seemed to swung open in his mind and he went from not reading one day, to reading at grade-level the next day. It was an amazing moment!

When he was two years old, we were frequently amazed at his mathematical propensities! He could do basic math, including simple multiplication. In the last few years, he has struggled with the concept of multiplication and division. On the advice of our facilitator, we have simply accommodated this challenge by providing him a times table chart to use. I’ll confess to many moments of frustration, especially when it takes him a significant amount of time to calculate equations on the two’s times table! Just recently, however, while we were working on calculating areas and volumes, he had to calculate 3×2… I got frustrated with him and went into a bit of a lecture mode — nothing I hadn’t said to him previously, but he suddenly grasped the concept, and I once again saw the door of his mind swing open. In the days following, he has retained and continued to gain confidence in his mathematical ability and multiplication prowess.

What did I say to him? I told him that math is always the same. That the equation for a triangle will ALWAYS be bh/2. His response? “That’s logical, I should be good at this.” I laughed and told him he was good at this. That’s been the most frustrating thing. I know he’s good at math. I know he has a natural affinity for it. It was not until he was aware of his natural ability in math that he was able to begin excelling at it. The key for TLC was discovering math is always the same, that it is logical, constant, and reliable. Once he realized that key point, the world of math opened up for him.

 
I love the “AHA” moments. I love still being able to experience those with my children. It makes all the frustration, the challenges and the struggles worthwhile.

Sometimes we get caught up in trying to make our children keep up with their peers, and forget that they learn at their own pace. We change the way we teach because we fear they aren’t grasping the concept, when our children simply need only one more piece of the puzzle to believe in themselves. Once we empower them to believe in themselves, they can quickly and easily grasp the most challenging concept. I have to be aware, to watch and carefully identify the messages I, and others, give my children. I need to purposefully build up their esteem.

When they believe they can learn, learning becomes easy.