Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 17, 2016.
I’ve been noticing lately how easy it is to sit down with my six-year-old and do his lessons. He might complain that he doesn’t like lessons, but when we sit down together, we usually have fun, and sometimes he wants to write extra math equations or letters. I’m always a bit surprised but delighted by that.
It wasn’t the same with my older son, at least when comes to the sit-down, pencil-on-paper work. Even though he could do it, I don’t remember him having fun. I blame myself.
It may be part personality. It may be because my six-year-old likes to sit and draw, so writing letters and numbers aren’t far off from that. But I think mostly it’s because I didn’t make him do this kind of work until recently, and since this is my second time around, I’m not worried at all that he’ll get it.
Whenever my kids struggle with something, my mantra is: “Don’t worry. You’ll get it.” That is, we’re just going to keep going over this in very, very short lessons, and eventually you’ll catch on. There is no pressure. We don’t have a test we’re cramming for. I don’t care if you get it this year or next, but I know you will learn it. And in the meantime, we’ll also learn about all these other things you’re interested in learning, especially since you’re absorbing it like a sponge.
With my first child, I felt pressure to prove to myself that I could actually teach him. So I started giving him formal lessons right after he turned five. He already knew his ABCs and all the sounds of the letters, so I figured he’d learn to read easily. When he didn’t catch on quickly, I got frustrated, and sometimes I took that out on him. Even when I tried to hide my frustrations, he could sense I wasn’t pleased. I know this affected him in a negative way.
If he went to public school, he would have been expected to start reading in Kindergarten and 1st grade. He would be expected to write sentences. I got caught up in thinking that he should be able to do those things because his counterparts in school were doing them, although really, I wonder how many other children struggle with it too?
It didn’t take me too long to remember why I wanted to homeschool in the first place. I think too many kids are being pushed to do academics before they are developmentally ready for it. Now that I’ve watched how my older son learned how to read so easily – like a lightning bolt struck him one day! – but not until he was ready for it, I am convinced that all kids should be able to learn without the pressure of keeping up with their peers.
The nice thing about homeschooling is that when you realize you’re making a mistake, you can stop, regroup, and try again. When I realized I was pushing my son at too young of an age to read, I stopped using the reading curriculum I was using at the time, and we tried other things. Many months later, we picked up that curriculum again, and it was so much easier.
After that, I knew I wouldn’t push my younger son to read at such an early age unless he proved to me that he was ready to learn. Waiting and relaxing about those academic milestones has made all the difference for both my sons and me. Learning should be fun.