Book Excerpt: Don't Let Schooling Keep Your Kids From Learning
One of the things that I really try to stress to parents, particularly new homeschooling parents, is that you have to remember why you began homeschooling your child. Yes, you do have a curriculum that you are trying to implement. Yes, you do have a schedule that you are trying to keep. Yes, you are trying to prepare your child for the future, whatever that may be. But the ultimate goal of homeschooling your child is so that he or she can learn.
Sometimes, in our zealousness to “teach”our kids, we may find ourselves actually impeding the learning process. For example, I just had a long conversation online about learning math facts. This mom was concerned that her child was not memorizing his math facts. She was giving him timed math drills, similar to those that would be administered in a school setting. The problem was that the child was continuing to perform poorly on his timed math drills. The child was frustrated and the mom was exasperated.
You are familiar with the timed math drills: the kid gets a sheet of, say, 50 addition or multiplication problems and he is expected to complete them in two or three minutes’ time. This child was seven years old. Now, while this mom clearly had the intention of teaching her child math facts, by forcing him to repeatedly complete the timed math drills, she was inadvertently standing in the way of her son's learning.
As another mom pointed out, the child was only seven years old. Which meant his inability to write the answers to 50 problems in two minutes time could largely have been an inability to actually write the answers as opposed to a lack of memorization. Doing the drills orally could have ferreted out whether writing was the issue. And if it was a memorization issue, this mom needed to understand that some people simply don’t learn math facts through the drill and kill process.
My daughter is an example of one of those people. Try as I might, the girl simply could not internalize her math facts. I knew that she needed to learn them in order to make future math problems easier to solve. However, after harassing her for months, I realized that she simply needed me to take a different approach. I was not helping her learn; rather, I was actually standing in the way of her learning those math facts by insisting that she learn them my way: through much drama, many tears and great gnashing of teeth.
So we moved her on in her math book and, while periodically assigning her math facts to study, we continued with her math as scheduled. What I found was that my daughter learned better by “doing;” that as she solved problems that required recall of math facts, she learned them. I did have her continue working on math drills, but on a much less stressful and in a more organic fashion. And, after about 12 to 14 months, I noticed that she had automatic recall of her addition and subtraction math facts. This happened within, what I considered, a reasonable amount of time without causing the stress, mental blocks, and self-esteem issues as regards to math. So, we were able to achieve my goal which was having her actually learning the math drills, while not doing harm to her self esteem and ultimately impeding her learning process. And, at the end of the day, that’s all that is important.
You will run into this type of situation over and over again when you homeschool. The key is to recognize when you’re in this situation. Once you realize that you are the problem, i.e., you’re the one preventing the leaning, it is incumbent upon you to figure out what changes need to be made so that your child can learn. Always remember that everyone learns differently. I have two children and they both learn completely differently. My son was able to quickly memorize his math facts in a matter of weeks whereas, as I mentioned, it took my daughter over a year to learn the same facts. I do not think she would have learned them if I had continued pushing the drill and kill method that I started out pursuing, and she would have begun to think she wasn’t any good in math.
Another thing to remember in your homeschool is that you do have flexibility. If your child has a strong interest in an area, I encourage you to do everything you can to allow him or her to explore that area of interest.
Help your child to explore everything he or she can to understand and get involved with that topic. Get help organizing lesson plans from other parents, google, or by contacting local institutions and professionals. Try to incorporate your planned lessons into your child’s interests. Try to make the learning process as natural as possible. What you should not do is simply say that, well, this area of interest does not fit within my planned curriculum, and therefore we cannot do it.
Children learn so much more and so much faster when they are doing something they want to do. In fact, it’s not just children, it’s adults as well. When you can incorporate learning around your child’s interest, they will learn quicker, more, and frankly, have a better attitude about learning. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want for your child?
So I will encourage you to be flexible and think in a nontraditional way while you are homeschooling your children. Always remember that the most important thing is that they learn. How they learn what they need to learn can take many shapes and forms. And what they learn can also be very fluid. Try not to remain rigidly attached to your curriculum in lieu of allowing your child to learn.