In my last post I suggested a new set of “R’s” to guide our homeschool philosophy, particularly in the early grades.

I proposed

  • relaxed approach
  • based on relationships
  • and real experiences.

I then encouraged us all to take a deep breath and relax.

Today, I want to think about the role of relationships in our homeschools. I want us to think about the relationships between and among the people in our homes, particularly between us as mothers and our children. I also want us to think about how our children relate to the material they are learning.

Let’s take a minute and perform a little thought experiment. Imagine you’re 5 years old. You’re going off to school for the first time and you’ve heard that your teacher is the best in the school. She’s kind and warm and funny. She’s gentle yet firm – you know your days will be peaceful. She loves kids and she loves teaching them. She respects children and encourages them to ask questions which she patiently answers. She laughs easily and her excitement for learning inspires her students’ sense of wonder.

Now imagine you’re the same small child, but you’ve heard your teacher is the meanest in school. She never smiles. She’s strict and harsh and has no patience for silly questions or nonsense. She is the quintessential schoolmarm taskmistress.

How did you feel imagining yourself meeting each teacher? Which teacher made you feel excited to be in school and to learn?

Like this thought experiment, research shows that a positive, supportive, encouraging relationship between teacher and student promotes learning. When you’re homeschooling, always remember that you are your child’s mother first. There’s a Jewish proverb stating that “one mother is worth a thousand teachers.” This is so true. You are better than your child’s teacher. You are his mother. Don’t ever let your role as his teacher diminish your role as his mother.

Don’t let learning conflicts destroy your relationship. If a lesson becomes a battle, leave it for a time until you are both calmer. Use the time to determine what the root of the problem is. Is the material too hard? Is it too boring? Is there another way to present the same idea? Is it really necessary to pursue this lesson at this time? Can you come back to the concepts in a week, a month, or even 6 months or a year?

I started phonics instruction with my oldest many, many times before we finally pursued learning to read together. I truly thought he was going to be an early reader. When he was two, he spent several days on the couch with the stomach flu. In between bouts of vomiting, he watched the Leap Frog Letter Factory over and over and over again. (This is a truly obnoxious video, but kids love it.) By the time his tummy recovered, he knew his letters and letter sounds pat. I thought for sure he’d be a precocious reader.

He wasn’t. When we started Sing, Spell, Read and Write in kindergarten, it was kind of a disaster. I tried various other programs over the next couple of years with various levels of resistance and distress. I never pushed it. I didn’t have it in me to force the issue. If he resisted too much, I’d drop it. I would ignore reading instruction for 6 months at a time and try again.

Eventually he started sounding out “environmental print,” signs  along the road, words on cereal boxes, that sort of thing. Then he decided that he could read Bears in the Night by Stan and Jan Berenstain. That was the only book he could read for about a year. Then he started trying other books, but never read more than a few words. Finally, when he was 7.5 I told him we were going to get more serious about school. We would be doing 10 minutes of reading and 10 minutes of math a day. I told him he could read anything to me he wanted for those 10 minutes. He mostly chose easy reader books and the Henry and Mudge series was his favorite.

After about 6 months of this, he announced one day, “Mama, I’m going to read the Harry Potter books.” As it happened, the next day I found the first four books at Goodwill for $.99/piece so I bought them all. And you know what? He’s reading the first book. After a couple of days of reading, he came to me and excitedly told me, “Mama! I’ve already ready two and half pages!” It’s slow going, but he’s doing it and he is so proud of himself. And he will be a much better reader by the time he finishes this book.

All told, I would say over the first 7.5 years of his life he received about 3 hours of direct phonics instruction.

I’ll talk more about how you can teach a kid to read without a phonics curriculum (I’m not anti-phonics, so don’t jump on me here!) in my post about reading. My primary point here is that it was never worth it to me to fight my son about reading. I decided that if teaching my child was going to strain or injure our relationship, I’d rather send him to school.

And I didnt’ want to send him to school.

So what can you do if you’re finding learning time to be a battle? First, you can just stop. As I said before, there’s no reason your 5 year old has to have a formal curriculum of any kind. If sitting down to “do school” is a battle, go to the park instead. Wait awhile and try again in 6 months after he’s matured a little. And then, if you need to, wait another six months and try again. Or look for a different approach. Make train tracks shaped like letters and let him puff his train along the “j” track. Draw letters and numbers in the sand. Make cookies together and count scoops as you measure. Just go to Pinterest and look around at some of the “learning to read” or “preschool math” boards and you’ll be flooded with fun ideas that you and your child will love. Life presents so many joyful learning opportunities that can bring you closer to your child – there’s no need to doggedly pursue a curriculum that creates tension and discord.

You know your child better than anyone. You know what lights his fire. You know his interests and passions. If you don’t, find out. Put aside your curriculum and expectations and just spend some time following his lead in play and see what excites and motivates him. You’ll have a much easier time teaching him if you know what makes him tick. And you will probably discover he is learning things you weren’t even aware of.

Finally, pray. Ask our Lord how to reach your children’s hearts. Ask Him what it is you need to teach your children today, this month, this year. Ask Him to reveal to you His plan and purpose for each of your children and your role in helping each to fulfill that purpose. Pray to your children’s guardian angels and baptismal saints. Ask them to intercede for you and your children regarding their educations. I have been astounded and overwhelmed  by the answers and blessings I have received when I have placed my trust in the Lord regarding challenging situations with my children. The Lord is truly good and he desires the best for you and your children. He will guide you if you ask and listen.

Your relationship with your child is the greatest educational tool you have. Don’t let your anxiety over what he “should” be learning when he’s little create a rift between you.

In the next post, I’ll look at the second relationship I mentioned above: the relationship between your children and the material they are learning.

To read the other posts in this series:

Part 1: Relax

Part 3: Your Child’s Relationship with the Material

Part 4: Real Experiences


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