It’s 4 pm and Jill* is home from high school for the day. Her mom greets her at the door and after a few minutes of catching up, Jill gives a wane smile and excuses herself to go do homework. Mom asks her what she has to do tonight and Jill rattles off the list. Her heart sinking a little for her daughter, Mom mentally changes her dinner plan to one of Jill’s favorites. Everything Jill just listed is work Mom knows she’s going to struggle with. It’s going to be a long night for them both.
This is a story that plays out over and over again, and not just in the homes of public school students, like the story above. We homeschool families are guilty of it, too, and it comes from a broken way of thinking about education. Jill, in our story above, is inundated with work she struggles with because her teachers MUST shore up her weak points so she can successfully pass her tests. And for those of us who homeschool, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of needing to “keep up” with other students of a similar age. So we pile on the practice for the areas where our children are the weakest and if they improve in competence, they fail in enthusiasm.
But what if we were to stop trying to fix our children?
Please don’t get me wrong. There are times when shoring up a weak point in a child’s learning is a good thing. A middle school student struggling in math, for instance, might never be good at math, or they might fall in love with it if they can finally master their multiplication facts! That’s an educational deficiency that should be addressed so they can discover a love for the ordered complexities of mathematics. They may also discover they aren’t fond of math, but at least they’ll know it isn’t because they lack a basic skill.
Let’s say we take that child above who isn’t fond of math and we make sure they don’t have any basic missing pieces, like understanding the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percentages. They just aren’t that into it! Instead of forcing them into higher maths, where they will struggle simply from a lack of enthusiasm, what if we let them choose a different direction?
What if we exposed our children to a variety of learning experiences and allowed for the fact that they might not excel at everything. What if we were okay with the fact that they will never willingly sit down to read Shakespeare? What if we help them discover their passions and then we FEED THOSE PASSIONS, instead of hunting for all those weak spots and forcing them to practice the things they like least?
If we were to do that, Jill in our story above would come home excited to explore the work given to her for homework. She’d barely stop jabbering to her family about what she’s learned and how she can apply it to a new idea she’s had. She’d be eager to go learn tomorrow and she’d have an excellent idea of what she’d be doing after her formal education was complete.
As homeschoolers, we have that freedom. We can stop analyzing our kids for all their worst qualities and start embracing their best. We can feed their joy.
Think about your own life as an adult. There are things you are good at, things you a great at, and there are, I’m sorry to say, things that you are just plain awful at. And that’s okay! Because YOU don’t have to be fantastic at everything and neither do your children. YOU allow yourself to naturally gravitate towards those things that you love and excel at and you naturally shy away from things you struggle with. It’s okay for your kids to do the same thing.
2 Bites Every Time
I would suggest you take an approach to education similar to what we do at our house for dinner time. Every time I serve something, my kids MUST take at least 2 bites of it. They don’t have to love it. I won’t be offended. But they DO have to try it every time I serve it. It took them 22 weeks to learn to like cooked spinach. 🙂 I served it once a week for 22 weeks straight! By week 17 I noticed they were voluntarily taking more than 2 bites. By week 22 they were eating a whole serving and asking for more.
Sometimes education is like that. But if you take a bite every time a subject is served and you still haven’t found a love for it, you might at least find an appreciation for it, and as the person in charge of their education, that’s the best I can ask for from my kids. They may each have different subjects they love and that’s fantastic! I have one child who LOVES MATH and can’t stand ‘vacations’ because I ask her to take a break from it. I have another who loves history and will read anything she can get her hands on and happily share her opinion (good or otherwise) about the author’s conclusions.
Changing your mindset about educating your children will cause some other changes, too. Instead of being the one to always notice what’s wrong with your children, you’ll be the one standing there celebrating as they discover their strengths. Instead of pointing out every weakness, you’ll be their biggest fan, their cheering section, their safe place and, as a homeschooling family, I think this might be one of the best things you can do for your relationship with your children.
COMMENT TIME: Have you ever caught yourself trying to ‘fix’ your children? How would this mindset change ‘fix’ your relationship and your homeschool?
*Jill is a fictional character based on a real story from a friend of mine.