Homeschooling Why and How

He Doesn’t Want to Study

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Dear Gail,

I wrote to you a few months ago with questions about homeschooling in Maui
County.  I’m running into some issues, and I was wondering if you had some advice.
We homeschooled last spring semester, took a long break for summer and then started back the last 2 weeks.  After the “honeymoon” period was over last spring, my oldest son started running into some problems.  He’s very bright, a 2nd grader reading at 4th or 5th grade level.  He loves to learn, and I’ve watched him in both public and private classrooms, where he has thrived.  (We began homeschooling for more family time, and more quality one-on-one time, and educational opportunities.)  Instead of thriving now, he is miserable.  He takes 45 min. to do a simple language page, has a melt-down if I give him even slightly corrective feedback, complains and whines much of the school day.  This is totally out of character for him.  I am not that picky about his work, and constantly encouraging him.  He is normally (and the rest of the day is) a happy kid who loves others and behaves very well.  I have tried adding work to stimulate him, taking work away to take the pressure off.  I’ve tried positive and negative reinforcement (time-outs to stickers, etc.) when he behaves like this.  Now, I’m totally out of ideas.  We don’t have alot of options here, and this really needs to work, but this cannot go on.  My other son is normally the distracted one, and he has been an angel – working hard and excelling every day.

I’ve searched on-line for help and I have 5-6 books at home on homeschooling, and no real solutions.  Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you for your time (I know it’s precious) and God
bless,
Meredith

Dear Meredith,

Gosh, I’d love to come meet your family and see for myself what’s happening!  But on the basis of what you’ve written, I’ll tell you what I think.  But what I think is based on my assumptions about kids and learning and I can appear pretty extreme in my views sometimes and if they are too out there, I hope they don’t offend.

First, I don’t believe in homeschooling in a hierarchical way.  When the parent has too much say about what is learned, when or how, then I feel the child has all the disadvantages of school (being controlled) and none of the advantages (lots of kids around).  So I am a believer in responding to the child and his call for knowledge.

I also don’t believe in grade levels.  Adults are all over the place in their knowledge and nobody worries about their grade levels.  A child might be reading books most adults couldn’t begin to comprehend (on computers, for example) and yet seem slow on other things….like math maybe.  By the way, have you read the library pack?  The thing that Marilyn vos Savant wrote about math (click here for article) and my article about “Our Bodyboarding and Rollerblading Curriculum” are good on this.

The only two times grade levels were important to us were
1.  when our son wanted to go to school and wanted to be placed at grade level.  Because he wanted to reach grade level, he ended up cracking the whip on me to work with him more!  He needed no coaxing from me.  When he took the tests, after about 3 months of study, he scored grade 12 +
2.  when he got his GED, which is a high school diploma in Hawaii, he wanted to score in the “Elite 300 Club”  (it’s scored differently now so the numbers don’t have meanings but it’s the idea).   He could only miss one or two questions on each section to do that — an incredibly difficult goal.  He was fanatical about studying and spent like 8 hours a day at it.  I’d be trying to convince him to take breaks and he wouldn’t.  This from a kid who had only wanted to skate and bodyboard!  He scored 322.

Conclusion:  when it was important to him, he needed no external motivation.

Along these lines, there is a book, “Punished by Rewards.”  I haven’t read it myself but the title tells it all and I believe that, too.  I don’t believe there is any reason to study anything except if one wants to learn about that subject for ones own use.  Similarly, don’t the right thing.  I always told him we do this (be generous or kind or whatever) because it’s the right thing to do.  Not because of any gain we’d get for doing it or consequence from not doing it.

Your son might also enjoy the competition of a school setting.  Mine was like that.  He would ask for check lists so he could mark off what he’d done and feel he’d accomplished something.  But what went on the lists to do were his idea, not mine.  Our son didn’t (and still doesn’t) like to be taught or corrected.  When he asks me how to spell a word,  he just wants the spelling and gets really irritated if I try to give him a rule so he’ll do better the next time.  But his spelling has improved greatly doing it his way and is now near perfect.  And he’s a wonderful writer.

What I’d suggest is that you sit down with your son and ask him what he thinks is going on and what he thinks would work and what he wants to learn about and when and where he wants to study.  We mostly studied on days of no surf.  Or rainy days.  Sometimes outside in the woods.

I hope this helps.  At very least, it’ll be food for thought.

Aloha,
Gail

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