22 August 2013
Fun vs. Joy
I have totally given up on the idea that learning must be made fun for the student. It was an idea that ruled the first two years of our homeschooling and quite frankly, I'm a little bitter about it now. I feel like in many ways I have short-changed my children and their abilities, because I did not throw the idea over long ago. Fortunately, childhood is forgiving and our recovery is going well.
The reality is, much of learning, especially in skills subjects like reading, writing, and math is just plain hard work. I am a firm believer in making sure the work we do is developmentally appropriate even if it is not on the same timeline as the schools around us. I am also a proponent of giving a child the time they need to master something. And of course I always walk a fine line in determining which problems are problems of an academic nature and which are problems of will. Even there I tend to err on the side of resistance being an understanding issue instead of a behavioral one.
It's not an easy task, but it is what I signed up for when I volunteered for this position. And one of my jobs as the homeschool mom is to help that student push through the tough spots, learn to persevere and even suffer a bit if needed for the greater reward that is to come. My goal is to do that without losing my patience, which admittedly is still a work in progress.
And yet, like any good teacher, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to make tough tasks more palatable to the grieving party. We sometimes play learning games. We use technology and video when appropriate. We read living books. We use curriculum with effective classical methods and no busywork. Of all of these, though, I think the most effective guard against succuming to the stress is joy.
We had gotten off to a bad start with the math lesson. He actually completed much of the math sheet by himself, but misunderstood the problems in the middle section. Instead of solving for the unknown, he had simply created subtraction problems instead. I gently pointed out his error, erased the answers for him and even sat, pencil in hand, and wrote the correct answers as he told them to me; he knew them easily. None of that helped. A perfectionist, he was down on himself, and the tears continued to flow even as we switched to handwriting.
The old me would have worried, wrung my hands, or started mentally planning a fun unit, convinced he was going to lose his "love of learning." How I hate that phrase. But those activities and fun units were never effective. Learning was never retained. It wasn't until I discovered that true love of learning and joy comes from children feeling successful that our homeschooling efforts finally produced fruit. But that doesn't mean it's always easy. The tears come. Frustration sets in sometimes. But it's the feelings of accomplishment that come after this frustration that offer the greatest rewards.
Hugs -- no help. Soft words -- no help. Cajoling -- no help. Funny noises? Now we were onto something. I told him that V was my very favorite letter because it tickles my lips when I make the sound. Then I demonstrated loudly until he joined in. And I love V because it is shaped like a vase, which holds bee-yoo-ti-ful flowers. And W is even better because it holds two flowers. He started to crack. Could I draw the flowers? Sure I could. And I did in the V and the W when requested. (Which also reminded him of Watergate and President Nixon -- which made me laugh?!?!)
And in a few minutes the horrible math sheet was forgotten, the handwriting lesson was a success, and we all were feeling good again. If asked, I don't think there is any way in the world he would tell you that handwriting was fun that day. And I'm ok with that. Because it was successful. And we laughed. And later he drew an entire page of V and W vases filled with flowers and gave it to me. And tomorrow, tomorrow we will tackle another math sheet together, with as much grace and joy as we can muster.
Just a note that I don't always handle these situations so gracefully. Even earlier this week I struggled with annoyance and a poor response. It's a journey, and I continue to pray that good responses outweigh the bad. Not being perfect, that's the best I can do.