Thursday, February 21, 2013

Making school easy

The past few weeks posed a huge challenge to my sanity.  The Peanut put up her stubborn streak and decided that she couldn't deal with school.  That's not to say that we haven't had school per our usual schedule, but instead of just getting it done (and hopefully learning something and having fun along the way), school turned into a battle of wills -- a battle of wills that still resulted in having some fun and learning something along the way, but with headaches in between.  As soon as I noticed this happening several weeks ago, I simplified what we do somewhat as this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened.  I dumped a few projects that I thought would just cause issues and now I typically don't even try to do everything that I would normally do.  Even so, with a reduced schedule, we're spending more time at it.

I cannot point to any one thing that we do and say that it's the problem.  In general, problems arose when the material was challenging.  It involved things that didn't come easy to her.  She needed to stop and think about it -- maybe even discuss it with me before arriving at the answer.  Sometimes the work is a little on the tedious side.  Sometimes it's a new concept.  Sometimes it's a review of material.  Sometimes it's just gosh-darn challenging.  Even on our good days, we still run into this on occasion, but it became much more frequent these past few weeks.

Today, after doing the "fun stuff" - writing and illustrating a poem, working on cursive - we got to grammar.  Grammar normally isn't hard.  It normally is kind of fun since there are whacky writing exercises to enforce concepts and a great text to go with it.  There is a workbook of sentences for analysis which we do most days.  Today's sentence was challenging for her.  The subject and predicate were combined into the word "It's".  It had a prepositional phrase which didn't jump out at her.  And for some reason, she couldn't figure out that the word "shrill" was an adjective.  (And yes, she knows what the word means and it was clear what it described in the sentence).  Anyways, after struggling with it, asking for my help (and ignoring what I offered), and struggling some more, what started as whining quickly turned to a temper tantrum.

Today's temper tantrum was the straw that broke this camel's back.  This isn't the first tantrum I've had this month.  It wasn't even the worst.  But it was enough to make me reconsider this whole homeschooling thing.  Does something need to change?  Absolutely.  I believe in making The Peanut part of this process so when she had calmed down, instead of resuming school, we had a talk.  It went something like this:

Me:  "It's clear you aren't happy with how school is going.  What can I do to make it better?"
The Peanut:  "Make it easier."
Me:  "What do you mean?"
The Peanut:  "I don't want to have to think about it."

We talked quite a bit about this and how I wasn't planning on dumbing down school for her anytime soon.  The whole point of homeschooling for us is so she can work at her level -- not at the grade level she would be assigned at school.  Yes, the material that we work on is challenging, but it's not too hard for her.  If she allows herself to take a breath and think about most things, she gets it.  Often times, things that I think will be hard for her, she picks up easily.  Other times, stuff that I thought would be a breeze turned out to be difficult.  This has happened often enough now that I have stopped assuming one way or the other.   I try to just go with the flow and help her in as many ways that I can along the way.  

She does not want to go to traditional school and has made this point abundantly clear.  She has clear reasons as to why she doesn't want to go.  It has little do with staying home, but more to do with our projects, the reading we do, her homeschool friends and all their activities, etc.  She also likes a lot of the materials we use -- including that grammar program that started today's temper tantrum.  If you pick one thing we use, she has her lists of likes and dislikes.  I listen to these and make sure the likes outweigh the dislikes and adjust if necessary.

So.  What to change?  Stop homeschooling?  Given the level of frustration on both of our parts, that is being idly thought about.  Change the curriculum?  While I'm not against changing something that's not working, I don't have any one thing I can target.  Change the routine?  I wish I could, but we're locked into the routine we have thanks to my job.  She has lots of opportunity to get together with friends and run around several times a week, so I don't think that's it.  Unschool for awhile?  I'm seriously considering this, but I don't know how to do it in a way that I'd be comfortable.  I believe that unschooling is still facilitated, but given the aforementioned schedule, I have no idea if I could facilitate it effectively.  Further, The Peanut is a self-starter.  Sort of.  She does give me guidance to a certain extent for school as we do it now, but I don't think she would know what to do if I dumped the whole thing in her lap.  And as far as I could as a her facilitator, I'd still try to challenge the heck out of her along the way so that doesn't solve her problem.

Maybe it's the Winter Blahs.  Maybe a growth spurt.  Maybe if I just give it another week or two, this will all be behind us and we'll be back to our normal happy selves with school.  It's times like these though where the self-doubt starts creeping in and I start wondering if I'm doing it right.  I suppose only time will tell.