As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Great School Switch Up

Today was our first day back to school after Christmas break, a day I am normally counting down to following all the craziness of the Christmas holidays.  Not so this year.  This year, I dreaded it.  I was so not into it this morning when school time arrived.  Maybe that's because a severe ice storm in our region saw us without power for three days (a minor suffering, considering many lost theirs for a week or more) and all of our Christmas plans shuffled around for ice or snowstorms.  Maybe it's because Jeff is still on vacation this week, and I'd rather lay around and enjoy the week with him (but feel I can't justify another week off after the two we've already had).  Maybe it's because by the time Christmas break arrived, I was completely spent with the physically and mentally taxing aspects of daily life in a homeschooling family with four students and two babies at demanding ages (three and one).  Who knows exactly what caused it, but it took everything in me to get into gear this morning.  And the results of that were evident.

Let me explain.  My oldest and third sons (grades four and one) fell into a rut just before Christmas whereby they became perpetually and agonizingly distracted students.  These two are very similar, in that no manner of consequences (irregardless of the despair with which their mother imposes them) could shake them from it. It is not defiant, it simply is.  While it is frustrating with both ages, I feel slightly less pressure with the younger one, hoping it has more to do with his age (and the fact that his material is generally not challenging anyway).  The older, however, presents more of a challenge.  His temperment is unshakeable, which I know is a good thing.  He is not attached to anything, which means there is no carrot to dangle as incentive.  He is confident, self assured, smart, and not desperate to impress those in authority over him.  He does what he wants (or doesn't do what he doesn't want to, as the case may be) and is able to weather any consequence sent his way.  Being the oldest, he has the most challenging school work, and is also the one I most feel the burden to do a good job with.  I always feel like because I homeschool, my kids have to do well.  I'm not sure how teachers in the public school system handle kids who don't try even when they know they can do it, but I'm certain that when your teacher is also the one who feeds, clothes, disciplines and raises you to be the very best that you can be, that it adds a whole new level of drama to the situation.

We had been keeping a school day that was the same for each child.  Math is always the most challenging subject, and in the past I've played around with the school day to find the best way to approach what can be a demanding subject.  At one time I had it first thing in the morning, when they were at their sharpest and most productive.  But when we starting encountering what proves to be the neverending struggle with motivation, it added too much pressure knowing that they still had the rest of their subjects to do after Math, and I found that a lack of motivation at the beginning of the day translated into each subject that followed.  So we switched things around and did Handwriting, Spelling and Phonics first, followed by recess.  Math came after recess, and if anyone got stuck they could spend as much time as they needed.  So it has been each day until today.

I've been having conversations with friends recently about the length of the school day, which I've been finding very helpful.  Most of the people I know who homeschool do it the same as me - all students together for a few hours in the morning (here it was 9-12).  I have other friends who use an entire day 8-4, and while I was so hesitant to do that kind of thing, I'm gradually starting to see that I'm in a stage of homeschooling where that is becoming necessary.  In our current arrangement, leaving Math until after recess means that by the time my oldest gets to his most challenging subject, the littles have been enduring the quiet calm of the school morning for a couple of hours, and are starting to get antsy.  The baby is cranky as naptime approaches, and I need to get lunch.  Butting heads with a child who is deliberately wasting time under these circumstances is explosive for me.  Today in my frustration, as I tried my best to deal with my dear one while my baby cried so much I couldn't even get through the sentence I could tell my student wasn't listening to anyway, there was a moment of grace.  A moment of realizing that this boy needs more than what I can possibly give him in this moment.  That the secret to his motivation may not lie only in him, but in me providing an environment that gives him a fighting chance to concentrate in the first place.  Then and there I knew it, now is the time.  The tradeoff of an afternoon to catch up on the housework not done while the morning was spent schooling, the one that kept me away from this, now seemed so small as I looked at the blank expression on my son's face.  My son, who is so bright and confident, who needs to be affirmed in his learning, has been getting the short end of the stick.

Tomorrow, we try something new.  He will do the first half of the morning with his brothers and sister like he always does.  But after recess, I'm going to put him to work in a different capacity.  I'm going to put him in charge of the younger ones (my Kindergardener and Preschooler).  I'm going to put together a box of educational games and puzzles he can play with them, and give him the opportunity to help my Kindergardener with any work I wasn't able to complete with her (something he often does, and loves).  He is thrilled with the idea of being a "Primary and Pre-Primary Teacher", as he says!  I am saving his Math lesson for after lunch while the baby naps, which generally tends to be a quiet time in our house.  Even more than a productive school day, what I'm hoping this acheives is a greater understanding of what it means to be a nine-year-old boy, the oldest of a large family.  Often I expect too much of him.  Too often I am divided, I give him what's leftover after the others have been served, and if I encounter resistence, I do so begrudgingly.  He needs me as much as any of the others, and I am so grateful for this conflict that has pushed me to the point where I needed to face the fact that things are not working the way we're doing it.  It's funny how the prospect of a longer school day brings me so much freedom, because in it I see a way out.  I pray that as time goes on, I will be more attentive to the needs of my children, especially my oldest ones.

"Our inadequacy should not produce despair, but hope in God’s fatherly grace; our ignorance should not discourage us but make us hungry for knowledge of Christ; the length of the journey should not make us weary but thrilled by the hunt for that treasure buried in the field."  (Thomas J. Neal)

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