Q&A with Debra: handling doldrums and feeling behind
Today, I address some of the most common and pressing quandaries of springtime homeschooling…
Q: Everyone around here is either burned out or has spring fever, myself included. How do you find motivation this time of year?
A: Do something new. Decide to take a week and totally break the routine. Brainstorm for ideas with your kids; ask them “what can we do to break the monotony?” You can do a unit study or a service project in your neighborhood. Study the history of your town or go on a field trip. Your break can be as simple as putting aside the regular stuff and just reading a really good book together.
Or tell your kids that you’re taking a break to become experts on something new. And then all of you (mom included) choose a topic and check out books from the library. After learning about your topics, everyone gives a lecture, pretending to be a professor and teaching the others about your topic.
Whatever you do, just make a memorable moment. Those are the things kids remember anyway — exceptions! And then after you’ve had a break, go back to the grind. But you’ll find that those breaks really do energize you.
Q: Help! I just realized my kid is behind in our curriculum. What should I do?
A: When parents tell me a child is behind, I first want to know why the parent thinks so. Is it possible the child is just not developmentally ready for the task at hand? While children go through the same developmental steps in the same order, the pace at which they proceed can vary dramatically. Oh boy — I wish I could convince parents to get comfortable with this truth. God did not design our kids to do the same exact things by 8 years and 2 months. Standardization is a man-centered invention because we are trying to mass educate kids. They aren’t built that way. They are designed for an individualized education. Ask yourself, is my child developmentally ready for this task or subject? What indication do I see that he/she is?
But let’s say a child is behind but is cognitively capable of catching up or doing better.
First, don’t rush to catch up. The initial steps in any new endeavor — i.e. learning to read, Algebra 1, whatever the challenge — should be slow and measured. Let the fundamentals really sink in. You will find the child will be able to pick up speed if he or she really understands the basics.
Second, we have to motivate our children. They are the ones who really have to provide the brain power behind learning. Our job is to give them good reasons for doing so. I found that talking through the importance of a subject or assignment was a necessary step I couldn’t skip if I wanted my kids to be motivated. I needed to learn to listen to what my child thought, and to help each one build his or her own reasons for putting effort into schooling.
Third — and I guess I should have said this first — we have to build faith in our kids. When I would remember to pray with my child before we began a tough subject, everything really changed. Then the focus was on God and how we were asking Him to help us. It took pressure off my child to measure up. It was less a problem my child had, and more an opportunity for God to show Himself faithful and able on our behalf.
Q: Okay, I’ve done all of that. We aren’t going to rush and my child seems willing to put in effort to catch up. How do we do this practically?
A: Here are some ideas:
1. Use the summer for intensive remediation.
2. Find a tutor.
3. Clear the schedule and just focus on the area needing attention.
4. Do it first thing in the morning or when your child is most attentive.
5. Find a competition, such as Math Olympiad or writing contest, to give a child a reason to work hard.
6. Make an incentive chart with a reward at the end that the child values.
7. Make it a team effort, with everyone in the family devoting two weeks to improving in a specific area. Quiz each other at dinner.
8. Find a game that helps kids practice the skills or content in context. We used 24 (a card game) a lot to practice arithmetic and then algebra.
There are more suggestions in the chapter entitled “Motivating the Reluctant Learner” in my book, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling.