Monday, October 1, 2012

Trouble with School

Willow is going through a phase (I hope).

Is it a tween thing? Re-testing the same old boundaries using new strategies learned through greater maturity? Is she about to have a growth spurt? Has she finally, in her ninth year of life, figured out that she really hates her parents and plans to make our lives difficult for the next ten years?

It's one of those short-term things, surely. Ideally.

Willow has always been one of those kids who insists on following her own agenda. I remember getting flak from her grandparents when she was a toddler, because I wouldn't make her go to the bathroom before a long car trip.

"If she says she won't go, then she won't go, and I'm not going to be able to make her," I said, already world-weary.

"I'll take her," said one of the grandparents, and off the two of them marched, only to march back a few minutes later.

"She won't go," said the grandparent, then informed Willow that we were NOT going to stop during the trip for a bathroom break.

Of course we stopped during the trip for a bathroom break. Miraculously, everyone survived.

Is this one of the unplanned bathroom breaks of our homeschool journey? No, because that's a terrible metaphor. Nevertheless, Willow, at eight years and two months, has discovered stalling and sass, and is using them whenever possible, primarily to get out of doing anything academic, secondarily to get out of doing anything else, and thirdly just for the pleasure of stalling and acting sassy, it seems.

I know that many of you are pretty sure that I'm doing it wrong (as am I on many days), but I do require my kids to study, and I do require Willow, who is very bright, to study hard. I've thought hard about my decision, and that's just the way that it's going to be. Three hours of learnin' four days a week, and a half-hour or so of chores every day, doesn't seem to be an unreasonable way for a child to live her life.

Unless that child chooses to fight me every second, that is.

Willow's Favorite Strategies for Avoiding Schoolwork
  1. Sitting in front of her work, frowning at it, for an eternity.
  2. When required to complete the work that she's been frowning at for an eternity, scrawling an answer illegibly.
  3. When required to erase and rewrite said answer, erasing a hole in the page, then breaking her pencil lead.
  4. Wandering off (Will I stop working with Sydney to focus every second of my attention on keeping Willow in her seat, or will she manage a temporary escape?).
  5. Weeping and claiming that the work is either a) too hard or b) too boring to complete.
  6. Insulting me.
Unsuccessful Strategies for Dealing with this:
  1. Lecture. This, despite its ineffectiveness, is my go-to strategy. Every time I think that THIS time, with careful explanation, Willow will understand why schoolwork is so important, why a good attitude is the key to a good school day, and how applied effort will result in her finishing all her responsibilities in good time and having the rest of the day at her disposal. It has never worked.
  2. Time-out. Matt tried this out on Saturday (which is not a school day unless you farted around all week and didn't get your responsibilities done), and it actually did end with Willow coming back to the table and starting her math, but it took a two-hour commitment on his part to mediate her through an eight-minute time-out. It might be easier if we had a spot for her to complete a time-out that is more boring and less in the family eye, but otherwise I just don't have that time to invest.
  3. Taking away stuff: Matt also tried this out last week, and it actually did work for a day or two, but 1) I simply can't get on board with taking away a kid's stuff (although I'm pretending to in public for the sake of parental solidarity) and 2) Will doesn't really play with any of her stuff, and so doesn't really care that much, actually. Perhaps if she was super-focused on working to get her belongings back I'd be more invested, too, but as it is Matt simply has a car backseat full of toy dinosaurs and library books and interesting rocks.
  4. Naughty chores. Although these work very well for naughtiness (Will loves to work, and I think that it distracts her from the unhelpful mindset that's causing the naughtiness), giving her a naughty chore for balking at schoolwork is essentially giving her a license to escape!
Basically, discipline strategies aren't working. The good news is that I'm slowly learning ways to recalibrate Will's schoolwork that make her more willing to complete it.

Successful Strategies (So Far!)

1. LOTS of variety. I might get Willow to complete one activity on one day without a ton of fuss, but if I ask her to do an even slightly similar activity the next day, there WILL be a ton of fuss. So instead of four days of practice doing addition with carrying, it works better to have one day of an addition worksheet, then one day  using a Grade 3 Math ipad app--
playing Splash Math Grade 3
--then one day playing some kind of math game with me and Sydney, then one day doing some kind of project.

2. Requiring some work less often. Yes, copywork is tedious, and so is grammar (to her--I think it's fascinating!), but they're both important to our study. Nevertheless, it's just too much work to get the kid to do them every school day, much as I'd like her to. Copywork is just about impossible to get Will to do more than once a week these days--
copying part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech
--but I can get her to write, say, a letter to a friend once a week, and complete a writing project once a week--
making Civil Rights timeline cards
 --and then do a craft project that involves a lot of cutting one day, to strengthen those fingers! Subjects like grammar and Latin we're down to doing maybe just once or twice a week for now, and then having Willow do some independent science or a big chore on the other days.

3. Reviews are races. After the two hours that it took Willow to do 12 math problems on Saturday (that were supposed to have been done on Friday), she was left with 8 problems to go. I challenged her to finish those eight problems in eight minutes--she finished in five. She sat down willingly to do some grammar, but got bored with it with five sentences to go. I challenged her to finish the five sentences in five minutes--she finished in three.

4. Showing their work to Daddy. The girls have weekly checklists with all their chores and schoolwork on it; when they complete something, they mark it off, and when all the day's activities are marked off, they can do as they please. I had been asking them to put their finished work on my desk after I'd gone over it with them, so that I can date-stamp it and set it aside, but lately I've been having them put their work back in their binders, and then when Matt gets home I encourage them to go show him their binders. He admires their work (which means that he knows exactly where they are academically), talks about it with them (extra review time!), praises them for what they've accomplished, and asks about what they haven't completed. I feel like it makes it a lot easier for Matt to co-parent, since he stays up-to-date on what the kids have been up to while he's gone during the day, and I certainly appreciate the extra accountability of the kiddos knowing that they're going to have to explain why they didn't finish something.

The funny thing is that these strategies that I've been painfully learning for Willow would work miserably for Sydney. Sydney loves the mastery that she feels with repetition, and she hates the getting things wrong that comes with learning new work. She likes copywork because she can get it perfectly right--

--and she likes activities like the Kumon workbooks, which drill one very specific skill over and over:
Kumon Word Problems, Grade 1
She doesn't like races (because she might not win!), and she doesn't like showing her binder to daddy if there's even a single thing that she hasn't checked off (because then it's not perfect!). While also giving her lots of repetition, I've been working on having her apply new skills in lots of different ways--
Number Bond Machine
 --and on encouraging the girls to do activities cooperatively, since Willow has also been lashing out at Sydney a lot lately:
Reading a Magic Tree House Research Guide together in preparation for Magic Tree House Club
Another strategy that I constantly employ (that, frankly, doesn't seem to work at all to prevent future naughtiness, but what else are you going to do?) is patience, patience, patience. It wouldn't help to scream at Willow--I don't think it would necessarily intimidate her, but it would certainly give her something to fight about that wasn't schoolwork!--even when I'm screaming my lungs out silently inside my head. I do a lot of what I call "boring the kids into behaving," in that they are required to behave correctly--if they do something incorrectly, they do it again correctly. If they ask for something rudely, I require them to ask again nicely. If they throw the pencil at their sister instead of handing it over, they are required to go fetch it and then hand it over again. If they stomp across the floor in anger, they come back and then walk across the floor gently. If they slam a door (also in anger), they come back in and then go back out, shutting the door gently. If Willow writes an answer illegibly, she erases it and then writes it again legibly. If she yells at me or insults me, she is required to apologize politely; if her apology isn't polite, she tries again until it is. It's wearisome (for everyone), but I truly feel like it gets the point across that appropriate behavior is required while encouraging patience (for everyone!).

I also admit that my lack of a consistent daily routine doesn't help get school done. I try to start school first thing in the morning, and most days we do, but if the kids get really involved in play first, I let them be, and if Willow decides that she wants to bake cookies all by herself for breakfast, then I think that's pretty darn important, too!

The same thing can happen after lunch, if we haven't finished before, or if we watch one documentary and they want to watch another (and another and another!), or if they want to go to the park, or even if they just want to go outside and play. All of that stuff is just as important as sitting down for school, and I just have to figure out how to get all of the priorities aligned. My overall goal is for them to learn how happy and full and free their days are when they just do their schoolwork and chores first thing.

I mean, there are homeschool families who do get it all done every school day, with cheerful, hard-working kids who appreciate their schooling, right?

Um, right?


Teresa Robeson said...

Oh yes, those homeschooling families who get it all done with cheerful, hard-working kids live on their castles with their unicorns and helpful house-elves.

On the bright side, I can assure you that it's a phase and that if you're lucky, it'll only last 4 more years. 20 more years if you're not so lucky. :}

Teresa Robeson said...

*IN* their castles...not *on* their castles. Duh.


Related Posts with Thumbnails