How did we get to the 4th grade? And my new definition of child-led learning.

I can’t believe I’m here: homeschooling fourth grade. Although I’ve always planned to homeschool for the long-term, I’m not sure that when I started this blog I thought I would see the words “fourth grade” on it. At that point, anything beyond 1st grade seemed so far in the future. For that matter, “age 10” seemed light years away, but here we are. It comes fast.

It’s not just fun science experiments and readalouds anymore, although we still do those things too. But I’m at a point where our homeschool looks much less child-led even though in so many ways, it is. (I think this post will explain how, but in a big general sense, our whole lives are centered around our boys’ interests and unique abilities.) I also want to make sure my kids get a solid education, and I’ve decided that unschooling is not for us (I never thought it was). It’s all very hard to balance.

There are only so many hours in the week, so only part of our time is spent doing exactly what my boys want to do, but I do try to make sure they know we can stop and focus on a project, if they have an idea they want to pursue. Their biggest interests, however, have weaved themselves into our daily lives, so I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough to make room for new stuff, but I think if there’s something they really want to do, it’ll happen.

The other part of our homeschool life is like “I see you’re interested in this, so I’m going to make sure you have a solid foundation in these things that will help you with that,” and then sometimes our homeschool looks like “I feel this is an important thing for you to learn. How can I teach it so that you will enjoy it? Or at least do it without crying?”

I have been getting some e-mails from moms thinking about homeschooling or just beginning to homeschool. (Thank you! I love hearing from you.) One thing I’ve tried to impart is that when you homeschool, you can spread out the learning over years. That is, unless you are planning to put your child into a more traditional school setting in the near future, there is no timeline for when you need to teach X, Y and Z: those specific subjects and details you might see listed in a “What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know” book.

I’m not saying to not teach anything. (Or, if you’re unschooling, to not follow your child’s interests and help facilitate the learning.) What I’m saying is that you can focus on the things that comes easier to your child, and you can wait on the things that might torture him. This is because as your child gets older, he will 1) be more mature and easier to reason with, 2) may be more ready to learn the material without difficulty, and 3) may be able to tell you why the material is so difficult and perhaps help find a new way of approaching it. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why schools fail. They do not (and cannot) tailor education to the needs of the individual child, and I do believe every child (in an ideal world) should have an individualized education.

I have followed this approach for the most part because in the beginning I made the mistake of trying to teach reading too early, and then there have been things I’d really love to incorporate into our homeschooling day, but as I enthusiastically began my lesson the boys began to look as lively as the dried up, wilted tomato plants in my garden right now, and I realized that they would learn nothing, if I proceeded. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There is no point in teaching something when a child has absolute no interest in it. A child at the very least needs to understand the reason why it’s a good idea to learn it. Otherwise, I don’t think they will retain much of the information, so I’ve concluded that it’s a waste of my time and theirs to try to teach it.

Now that my son is ten-years-old, I’m going to dust off some of those “I’d really love for you to learn this” subjects, and we’re going to start anew. The challenge I have with him is writing. He can write, but he doesn’t like it, and he thinks he can’t spell, so I’m going to be experimenting with a number of ideas I have to get him more comfortable with writing and spelling this year. I will tell you some of those ideas in an upcoming post, but I’m also going to be willing to ditch any of them, if they just don’t work. And I don’t mean I’m going to let him not work. There is a difference in my opinion between how a child acts when he’s just being stubborn and when the task is seriously going to wreck his self-esteem. I’m going to have to figure out what will work for him even if he doesn’t love it, but I’m not going to torture him either. I would love for him to love writing, but if he doesn’t love it, I want him to at least feel confident that he can do it. We will move forward slow but steady.

I spent a couple of days after we returned from Chicago to think about my priorities for this year, and how we’ll spend our time to get the work done. It’s a constant work in progress to find the right balance in our days. But I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with in my next post…that is, the compass I’ll use to get me started. We may change course throughout the year, but it’s always good to have a compass in case we get totally lost. 🙂

Are you starting a new challenge this year? Please tell me about it.

3 thoughts on “How did we get to the 4th grade? And my new definition of child-led learning.

  1. My son still dislikes writing to this day but it was around his fifth grade year that he improved his attitude about it and now he writes science and history notes without complaint. I know the key was that I didn’t push him in his earlier years, and when he did start out writing more, he was allowed to take his time and do it in spurts. I also tried to make it something that interested him. He loves science so labeling things, such as the parts of plants or a drawn-up invention was a good place for us to start. Good luck with your reluctant writer.

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    1. Thank you, Camie! I’m glad to hear of your experience with a reluctant writer, and it makes me feel better about going slow with my son. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like doing any labeling or anything (except on Minecraft when he sometimes types out words — hey, I’ll take it!). But I do feel it’ll come slowly, and I’m going to try to nudge and hope I don’t blow it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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