One of the reasons I chose to do a series on 31 Days of Children Who Learn Differently is because I am convinced of the need for many homeschoolers to think outside the box when choosing a homeschool approach. There are untold numbers of websites available that tell homeschoolers exactly how to do their schooling. These approaches focus on a certain way of scheduling, a demanding philosophy, or a particular curriculum. For some families these approaches will work just fine. But for other families they will be disastrous. Even worse, it is often implied that this is the only way to do homeschooling properly leaving parents who are already struggling with the whole homeschool gig feeling even more like a failure.
Homeschooling pressures can be tremendous.
If you are anything like me, your time is limited. While I am firmly committed to helping Caroline attain the education that best meets her needs, I also have to live the rest of my life. I have a home to take care of, health concerns to navigate, a marriage to nurture, a spiritual life to attend to, family and friends to connect with, and a business to run.
It seems to me that many popular homeschooling approaches do things backwards.
They require the parent to spend copious amounts of time studying the approach in order to become fully versed in what the particular approach’s guru teaches. The parent then attempts to apply that particular approach to their child.
I’d like to suggest that it is better to devote your time to understanding your child first and then seek out whatever you need that best aligns with who God created him or her to be.
In my thinking, it is far more beneficial to invest time understanding your child and building a relationship with her than to spend large amounts of time reading other people’s opinions about how to “properly” educate your child.
Very Different Learning Approaches
I am a very academic type person. I was the kind of child who liked doing worksheets and could spend my entire day (and night) with my nose in a book. I loved handwriting and geography and had many penpals while I was growing up. I was a whiz at memorizing. I thought creative play was silly and video games did nothing for me. Art was my least favorite special. I would have thrived with a more academic, fact-based, cerebral approach to learning if I had been homeschooled.
My own daughter is nothing like that. Instead of putting her nose in a book, she would prefer to create imaginative scenarios all. day. long. She abhored handwriting (until we sought out a diagnosis and therapy) and I’m sure the mere mention of multiple penpals would not sound like a fun opportunity but cruel and unusual punishment. She would play Minecraft all day if I would let her. She’s never met an empty box she couldn’t transform into something better and more creative.
We are just soooo different. I had to completely adjust my paradigm to try to understand her. It was like I had to do graduate level work to understand my own child and I have a degree in education!
I have invested a lot of effort into trying to figure out what makes her tick. She just turned eight and I still feel like I’m figuring her out. We’re so different in our learning approaches. And yet even after investing much time in trying to understand her I realized afresh this week after talking with her OT that I need to push the boundaries even further with her learning.
So the thought of spending hours trying to understand the finer points of some homeschooling approach? It’s not going to happen. It’s taking everything I have just to stay a couple steps ahead of my child.
Questions to Ask When Studying Your Child
So how do you go about studying your child? Here are a few questions to get you started. Many of these topics are covered in more detail in subsequent posts in this series so be sure to check them out.
What energizes my child?
What really excites your child? If it is Minecraft, for example, dig deeper. What is it about Minecraft that energizes your child? The creative aspect? The autonomy aspect? The battle of wits aspect? Because it makes your child feel successful? Kids love playing Minecraft for different reasons. It feeds something in them. What energizes your child and why?
How does my child learn best?
Contrary to the opinion of some, it is not a crime to teach your child in the way he learns best.
We have somehow adopted this idea that learning should be unpleasant and children just have to suck it up and do it even if it creates anger, frustration, boredom, etc. Why?
Would we as adults stay in a job that was a terrible fit for us? Would we choose a profession we hated and work every day in it? No. We would seek out something that was a better fit for us as soon as possible.
Why do we think it is somehow noble to force children to learn in a way they hate?
What drains my child?
What does your child dread? Handwriting, for example? Dig deeper. Why? What is it about handwriting that drains your child? Don’t automatically assume that it is a laziness issue. Why does a particular activity drain your child? And what should you do about it?
What does my child struggle with?
There are different kinds of struggles. Any time we learn something new we have to put forth a certain amount of effort. But then there is the struggle that is demoralizing. This is the struggle that causes children to feel stupid and creates a fear of learning.
Is your child struggling because there is a learning glitch somewhere? Are you asking too much too soon? Do you need a different approach? Don’t be afraid to chuck what you are doing in an area where your child struggles and do something different.
Understand and Then Plan
Once you feel like you are beginning to understand the unique needs of your child, then you are ready to start researching and determining the best approach.
I would venture to guess that the more outside the box your child is (gifted, right-brained, spirited, etc.) the less chance you have of finding an all-encompassing curriculum or educational approach that is going to work consistently across the board.
And that is okay! That’s why we choose to homeschool our children in the first place! To give them what they need, not to force them to conform to someone else’s vision or expectations!
So the next time you meet someone who enthusiastically labels themselves as a such-and-such homeschooler, don’t feel intimidated. Don’t be put off by their enthusiasm and confidence in the approach they have adopted. Don’t feel like a failure because you aren’t doing the same thing.
Instead, embrace your child and embrace the freedom you have to tailor her education to her specific needs.