Challenging kids

I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately on how it’s great to homeschool because kids can follow their interests or homeschool is great because we just let the kids decide how to do things etc. There is a great freedom that comes with homeschooling, but I the overall sense of these posts seem to be missing something. If our kids aren’t being challenged, they aren’t really happy.

Emma, being our oldest, has had this happen more than the others. We have several stories about her learning to read, refusing to do it (“I can’t!”) and Joe making her stay in our room until she could read one sentence out of a philosophy book. 🙂 It seemed harsh at the moment and sounds like a harsh story, but it was the best thing in the world for her. She could do it, we knew she could, and she somewhere in her knew she could but didn’t want to let herself believe that. It felt like too much work and so she said “I can’t” until she believed it. I am so grateful Joe did that for her — she soon became a great reader and loves it. She became a much happier 6 year old that day and a much happier person long-term.

Often in our homeschooling years our kids (again especially Emma) will hit a point where school is boring, too long, too hard, etc. I have a tendency to give in to whining unfortunately, and find ways to make things nicer or more interesting. But, that only works for a day and then we’re right back to dread and dragging feet. That’s when I realize I needed to go the other way, and assign more things or more of a challenge. It’s time to step it up, not water it down. And then the kids are happy again.

Amazing how that works!

Lately it’s been philosophy reading for Emma. She and Joe read separately and then talk about things once a week or so. They did this last year too. Last year she didn’t want to do it, but did a pretty good job. Joe had her look up words in her dictionary and take notes about questions she had, etc.

This year they are reading the Republic, and soon after the school year began I started to hear that it was “too long,” that she “dreaded” doing it, that it “ruined her good mood,” and so on. She mostly said she couldn’t pay attention very well so she was getting through only a page in a half hour, whereas last year she could do up to 6 pages in a half hour. She had gone through some dragging-feet last year and made it out to where she was enjoying things, so I figured she’d just work it out. But it went on and on and I was hearing things like, “this is different than last year” and “I could do that but I can’t do this” and so on. I kept telling her to talk to Joe about it, but she never did.

So finally I told Joe all of her complaining, and he didn’t take any of it. 🙂 He said she could do it, and that she was getting lazy about taking notes and looking things up, and that’s probably why it’s boring to her. We decided to just be firm and explain her task and let her figure it out, instead of me trying to make it nicer for her. And — it worked! She started over the last assignment and worked through it. Yesterday I watched them discuss it. She had made a nice chart in various colors of marker for the different kinds of governments they discussed. She looked happy, and Joe was thrilled.

I do like being able to let the kids study things that they like, and usually at least one of their subjects is something they pick. But it’s amazing to see that they are really the most happy when we’ve made them work through something they didn’t want to do. Like math, or reading, or whatever it is at the time. I think it’s a temptation in homeschooling to back up when kids feel bored or frustrated rather than trust them to figure it out. When we aren’t the teacher, then we have to make the kids step it up to whatever that teacher has assigned. When we are the teacher, it’s tempting to just lessen the expectation or do things with them. Or we feel a responsibility to make things “fun” because we can. But I am so glad that I have seen what happens when I push my kids. They are happier not just in school but in the rest of the hours of the day too. They are better behaved. As I used to say about Emma, homeschool becomes the “front line” where the parenting battles are carried out, and the rest of life becomes much easier.


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