homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Which I am Thankful for Self-Directed Activity

T is smart. Smart, but stubborn. Throw in a little bit of perfectionism and a whole lot of self-doubt and you have...well, me. I could give this a positive spin and call him a skeptic (which he is, and it's a quality that can serve one quite well as far as intellectual inquiry goes, thankyouverymuch) but right now I'm going to just sigh and lament that he can be very frustrating to teach. He's easily discouraged, and it doesn't take a major setback to get him throwing up his arms in defeat; just the mere suggestion of having to put forth effort, and you can see him shutting down. He doesn't want to *learn* so much as to *know*...and the thought that he isn't a natural and instant master at everything he encounters just bothers him to no end. He has no patience for trial and error, or for practice, and Heaven forbid I should even look like I'm trying to teach him something, because his defenses go into full protective mode and that's the end of the party.

But, um, at least I can see through the drama to the underlying stuff, right? It would be terribly easy to write him off as lazy or defiant...and I'm sure many professional educators, tasked with getting an entire room full of kids motivated at once, reasonably might. I know that it's just a matter of cracking through those self-imposed obstacles (fear of failure?). However, that is easier said than done. There are days that I am not creative enough, or patient enough, and I just cannot get through to him. As a result, he is behind in certain academic areas that he certainly has the aptitude to handle.

So what do you do with the kid who can sense "teaching" like a shark tasting blood on the current?

Sometimes you're lucky and hit on just the right "yay! This is fun and not at all educational!" game-play that sneaks a little something in without them noticing. It's like Jessica Seinfeld masking veggie puree within baked goods. Yeah, the content is getting into him, but I have this nagging feeling that without context, it isn't particularly valuable. And he's really good at spotting the camouflage.

I spend a lot of time banging my head against the wall on this matter, but sometimes I get lucky and he will take on a task all by himself that--surprise!!--requires him to pursue exactly the skill he's been resisting when I try to introduce it.

Our most recent case in point came in a box of assorted goodies from a neighbor who is cleaning out her basement in preparation for a move. Remember these?
I wish my blog photos looked this good. My arms are full of baby most of the day, not camera:
so I stole this image from someone else's blog. I have no shame.
Not only has the boy who hates writing practice been gleefully labeling everything in sight (board games, treasured possessions, the dog) but he has also done so entirely on his own...not asking me to spell out every word because he fears getting it wrong. There are embossed labels all over our home...some correctly spelled, some with interesting invented spellings. The invented ones are a Big Deal to me. First, it shows that he's able to let go of the perfectionism and self-doubt and just try. Secondly, it gives me a good idea of where he is as far as understanding I know what we need to work on.

As soon as I can figure out how to do that without him noticing.


  1. I feel you on this! My son is the same- only since I don't home-school him, its not in my hands as much- and he doesn't resist learning at school- at school its more of a "keep him focused" problem. Funnily enough, its not currently as big a problem, as they are working on math, and he likes numbers. I got him to figure out he knows more than he realizes, initially by showing him the different fonts on the computer, and then asking him to type words he knows. Suddenly, instead of knowing "nothing" he made a list of around 50 words!

    But, yeah, perfectionism, not being naturally good at something (and in his case, comparing himself to one of his friends who taught himself to read when he was 5)- very familiar territory!

    I do seem to have some success in trying to show him that the skills he needs apply to things he wants to do. First he it was insect hunter- he said he was good at that, and didn't need to know how to read and write. I pointed out that it would be good to be able to find out what kind of bug he found, and if he found a totally new one, that he would have to write to describe it. Now its pirates, and I told him that he can't read a map without reading. Its worked pretty well to motivate him. And he likes stories and book already, so knowing that being able to read gives him the ability to access stories whenever he wants has some appeal.

  2. You described Nic to a 'T'!
    He gets all puffed up and huffy if anyone even implies (sometimes by the very act of their existence) that they know something that he does not. So. Freakin'. Annoying. And not at all easy to work with/around.

    But once he relaxes and lets the total coolness of what is there to be learned start to seep in, then he can embrace it.

    And, oh! I want one of those labelers. My 8yo would GEEK OUT. And nothing would be label free within a few days. :D