I caught myself yesterday in a newbie home schooler mistake, trying to replicate the very system from which I removed my kids last winter. It’s an easy trap to fall into, the “re-create the classroom at home” theory that I had when this all began. A classroom works perfectly well, for some kids. And I thought I could just ‘play teacher’ and mimic my friends with teaching degrees, and all would be well. My teacher friends were forthcoming with advice and I listened raptly and accepted all offered. We set up our living room like a classroom, and sat together, huddled over texts and workbooks. For Mya, a self-motivated organizational genius, this cookie cutter format we’d begun was perfect. For some of my kids, however, I was simply re-enacting the struggle they’d been living, right here in our very own living room.
Robin, a nine grader, struggles in some areas, thanks in part to the methamphetamine her birth mother imbibed prenatally and partly because, well, some people just aren’t good at math, myself included. Robin knows this, understand it’s not her fault and all, yet that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to not know your times tables in high school. It makes long division and fractions almost unbearable and forget pre-algebra when decimals don’t even make sense.
And for years, the school systems answer to this was: give her extra math. I admit, it made sense to me. Bad at math? Do more! Eventually you’ll catch on. Completely logical if you consider that she learns through repetition and any task repeated becomes more comfortable along the way.
And so we funneled math facts into her brain. We dumped, shoved, prodded and forced math into her mind for years. And it was as if there were tiny holes on the bottom of her brain where the numbers just sifted back out.
“The Ctrl-ALT-Delete buttons in my brain keeps getting pushed,” she says.
And here I sat yesterday, almost a year into this homeschool life, mindlessly printing out extra worksheets for Robin to inundate her with eight times seven until she can pop the answer out at will… only to scoop it all up and throw it in the scrap bin when I remember that has never worked before.
Robin’s brain doesn’t work that way. No amount of worksheets smattered with timed multiplication is going to sink into her mind and no matter how many times she looks at four times seven, she still has to use the chart to know the product. Even if she looked at the same problem thirteen seconds prior. Maybe that will never change. And maybe it will.
Meanwhile, time spent on math is time taking away from subjects she loves, things at which she excels, lessons from which she may actually earn a living or find her love. Why spend hours a day on something she hates, when we could be perfecting something she loves?
Somehow in the midst of frustration over math we’ve lost out on hours and hours she could have spent reading, writing, taking pictures, walking the dog, laughing, playing, bonding or thinking.
After all, how valuable is it to ROBIN to name working parts of a cell or memorize the Periodic Table. It’s not valuable at all. But that doesn’t make Robin any less valuable or her education any less important. It just means we need to brush over the periodic table…know there is one and somewhat what it is for, and move on. I’m not devaluing math and science…I’m just saying that for Robin, it is not her thing.
It’s an easy thing to fall prey to, the old standby of read, re-read, pre-test, read, test and repeat. Regurgitating facts with no real understanding and then forgetting that oh-so-important information just sixteen minutes after the test is graded. And it’s a pointless waste of time if the child is not interested, not going to remember and not having any fun.
So we’ll play dominoes and call it math. She can pick apart a salmon as she cuts it open for cleaning next summer, and we’ll call it biology. We’ll leave the textbooks for Anthony, who reads them for fun and try another technique for this child.
After all, the only thing I remember from high school Biology is Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species…and the fact that a flower has a stamen and pistol (which I probably remember from watching Grease). I took the class twice before I managed to pass…you would think I would remember more.
And I think I just proved my own point…