On Tuesday, I posted my thoughts on Our Changing Educational System. One of my favorite readers and fellow bloggers, Cheryl from A Somewhat Crunchy Mama, left a comment pointing me to a post she’d recently written on a similar topic — knowing when to back off. The post offered such insight and wisdom, along with an incredibly encouraging end result that I asked Cheryl if I could share her post here. She graciously agreed.
As homeschooling moms (and dads) we sometimes feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, searing eyes of judgment upon our backs and thoughts of self doubt cycling through our heads. We often feel the need to prove ourselves against all the stereotypes against our choices. We feel our kids not only need to learn, but to excel; that they need to perform above and beyond their public school peers. So we push our kids, pressure and bully them into taking on more than their fair share. We expect too much.
When our children don’t perform to our expectations we beat our heads against the wall, unable to understand why they “just don’t get it”. Cry to God wondering what we’re doing wrong. Then, determined not to fail them, we push harder when in most cases what we should be doing is backing off.
I learned the importance of backing off when Biggest was learning to read. He had a bit of trouble. We took on a strenuous curriculum in Kindergarten (yes you read that correctly — Kindergarten). I can laugh at my grandiose plans now, but at the beginning of my homeschooling journey the slightest bump in the road caused me great panic. Biggest wasn’t a poor reader, over time he did pretty well, but he had the most perplexing problem. He could sound out words like “preposterous” and “determined” but he would continually stumble over common words such as “like”, “how” and “they”. I just didn’t get it.
Frustrated and panicked that I was ruining my son’s education I pushed harder. I piled on the work and more than doubled the time we spent on reading and phonics. I was short tempered and unmerciful. In fact — I am deeply ashamed of this, but it’s the truth and I believe the truth will set you free — I remember pressing, shoving even, his sweet little face into his book and shouting “Don’t think about it, just read it!!” My stomach turns just thinking of it. Please don’t judge me, I share this to help other exasperated mothers. Soon I had a very different student. Biggest went from being carefree and enjoying his schoolwork to dreading it. He fought me tooth and nail on every assignment. It was awful.
Thankfully, one day at our homeschool co-op, I received the best advice for homeschooling in the early years: Spend a MAXIMUM of 20 minutes a day on the child’s weakest subject. The weakest subject is what you should spend THE LEAST AMOUNT OF TIME ON.
Pushing our children and subjecting them to untold hours of a subject they perform poorly on weakens their spirit, crushes their resolve and demolishes their self esteem. Have you ever had a task set before you that seemed insurmountable? Like no matter how hard you try you’ll never muddle through? I have, when our basement flooded. I had to sort through ten years of stuff, sodden and filthy, deciding what to keep and what to pitch. It took me a week to get through it all. I woke up each morning dreading going back down to the basement, already feeling defeated by the task before me.
This is what I was subjecting my son to…not just for a week, but for months, and in one way or another, years. Once I realized the gravity of the situation I decided to whole-heartedly follow my friend’s advice. I did a complete about face and threw his reading time out completely. I read everything to him, books, math questions, you name it. I threw out writing too, I let him dictate to me anything that needed to be written down. After a few months I had my old son back. He recovered his love of learning. Amen. He now reads prolifically.
Ever so slowly he began requesting to read aloud to me. He wanted to try. He didn’t shrink away when he stumbled on a word. And for my part, I no longer blew up when he stumbled. We had found our groove, a whole new dynamic to our schooling. I’m not saying things are now perfect, I’m saying we learned to work together. We learned that failure is inevitable, it’s how you deal with it that counts. And we realized that everyone will learn at their own pace, sooner or later we all cross the finish line.
That’s why when Biggest began showing problems with creative writing and summaries I didn’t freak. He’s 12 almost 13 and I say without the least bit of shame that I do not yet require much creative writing from him. Once or twice a month I’ll have him write a summary of a book — and by summary I mean one paragraph. That’s why I was so surprised and pleased to find in the bathroom trashcan a full page hand written story. I plucked it out, read it and it was GOOD! He’s into The Hobbit and fantasy video games so it was a story about gnomes and dwarves and a great expedition. I was impressed. I asked him if I could share the first paragraph but he said no. He now says he’s writing a book and has 3 full, typed pages already. Go figure. He still isn’t interested in summaries and the like…but he’s writing a book, and a pretty good one at that.
By backing off I allowed my son to learn at his own pace, no pressure, no judgement. He was able to spread his wings. Writing and reading are now joys rather than chores. Backing off isn’t giving up, it’s giving it time…a freedom few public schoolers are afforded. Backing off means trying and if it doesn’t work trying again a little later on. All children learn and mature at a different pace and they deserve the freedom and dignity to do so. They will get it, just relax, back off and try again later.
Thank you so much, Cheryl, for being so transparent in your struggles so that others could be encouraged by this wisdom that you have to offer. I think, if someone took nothing else from this post, the most important would be the concept that backing off isn’t giving up, it’s giving time. And, as homeschoolers, we can afford that time, along with the confidence that it will eventually bring when our kids grow into the readiness for the task at hand.
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.