This is a typical story of a homeschooling dynamic between me and my older son (age 9.5). I am finding this pattern repeating over and over especially in the last six months. At this point I suspect this is a stage, perhaps a stage of normal boy development.
Here is the pattern.
Left to his own devices my son takes the easy way out of something. I will use the example of reading. On his own he reads for pleasure (hooray!). However it is mostly comics and children’s magazines (Boys Life and Highlights). He also loves to read catalogs (LEGO, Boy Scout equipment), instructions/directions for toys etc. and idea books for things like what a person can make with LEGOs.
Left to his own for “reading practice” he picks easy books. He sometimes even picks picture books! I had to say “you have to pick a chapter book from this shelf” and presented him with a shelf. He got going on the Boxcar Children series and won’t stop. Well I am worried at this point that he needs a push to read harder materials.
The Library Director suggested “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper. I owned it already and gave it to him. He said the first chapter was like a recap and was confusing. He said the second chapter was making a bit more sense. Then he came to me a little while later to say he read the cover and realized that this book is the second in a series. I verified this online. He said he felt it would be better to read the books in order. I agreed. I was surprised that the Library Director didn’t realize that, she later told me she didn’t realize it. This second book had won the Newbery while the first in the series did not, and I guess that is why it is so popular and why it was on a reading list that the Library Director used to guide me toward that book.
Anyway I needed another book quickly. I ran to the closet bookshelf and pulled off “Ace, the Very Important Pig” and “The Twenty-One Balloons”. We were packing for our trip so I didn’t have time to look up reading levels or anything.
On the day he was to read I presented him with the two books and let him choose. He was angry with me and went into the spiel again that he likes the Boxcar Children and why can’t he just read those?
He chose “The Twenty-One Balloons” after declaring he didn’t want to read a book about a pig. (He has loved other stories written by Dick King-Smith, so that is why I thought he’d love “Ace”). “The Twenty-One Balloons” is a fiction chapter book “juvenile literature” with 192 pages and white space on the page and a decent sized font. However that didn’t stop him from complaining. “How many chapters does it have?” He announced he prefers ten or less chapters. He seems to worry of the number of chapters. He then critiqued the font and said he likes the font size to be larger. “Tough”, I said. (Boy, can I be mean or what?)
(His eyes have been tested and he sees 20/15 in case you are wondering, so nothing is wrong with his eyes.)
I told him that “Twenty-One Balloons” is a very good story and many people love it. He sulked and went off to read it. I helped my younger son with his math. I later found out that my son did not do the reading but stared out the upstairs window at the cars driving by for the full 45 minutes that he was supposed to be reading.
He also drew a picture illustrating his anger toward me and drawing a diagram of my grandmother’s house and where we all were in the house. Me, my younger son and my grandmother were all smiling in the downstairs part, and he was pictured as angry and upstairs, and saying he didn’t want to be alone upstairs reading by himself. Yet he refuses to read anywhere where a person is talking as he says it disturbs him. He expects and wants us to sit by him in total silence while he is in close proximity to us yet he is undisturbed, a nearly impossible request. I take that opportunity to tell him that his request is unreasonable and if he were in school he be tortured by all the various sounds the other kids make and what goes on in the building for sounds! Saying that seems to do him no good but I say it anyway as I want him to know he has it pretty darned good around here in his homeschooling environment).
So anyway he did begin reading the book the next day. (I waited for the bad mood day to pass.)
On the second day of reading he suddenly exclaimed with true glee (I am not exaggerating): “This book is great!”. I took the chance to remind him that I’d not put a totally boring book into his hands as I take time and effort to find good books for him to read.
On the third day he loudly called out in the middle of the reading, “This book is GREAT!!!”.
The fourth day we didn’t do our homeschooling lessons, and he picked up the book on his own in his spare time and read it.
The fifth day we were returning home (driving 500 miles in one day) and he told me he was putting the book in the car near his seat as he planned to read it on the ride home at points when we were listening to music (we had planned to alternate music with listening to the audio book Harry Potter #5).
So there you have the typical pattern in our relationship as mother/son and teacher/student. I have a plan, he resists it and says he doesn’t like being told what to do. I tell him he will like it and he says he’ll hate it. He tries it, he loves it and he is happy, then he asks for more like it.
I am not a perfect mother or a perfect homeschooling “teacher”. My son is not perfect. I share this story to tell of a typical circumstance and of this little thing that comes up and how I dealt with it and how it resolved.
Since this pattern has repeated many times over ranging from books I chose, to classes I picked and signed my son up for without his prior consent and for swimming lessons and other things you would think by now that my son has learned to trust my judgment and to not be resistant, but so far he has not learned from his experience.
My husband and I remind this son of this pattern each time it comes up, not to say that I (the mother) am right (yet again) but to try to show him the careful evaluation I do of books, classes, etc. and how I know not only something will be good for a child in general but that I know him well and I know he will like a certain thing if he just gives it a try.
One goal here is to teach my child to try new things and to not just stick with the easy and familiar. A person doesn’t know what he is missing unless he tries it. A simple example which has also panned out for this son is trying new foods. He absolutely hates it when he finally tries a new food and finds that he actually (gasp) likes it. He wants to be right and he wants to not like the new food.
This is yet another example of why unschooling does not work for us. This son tends to stay only with the familiar, resisting exploration of anything new or different, even when self-guided. Despite what some happy unschoolers say, I can report from my son’s experience that unschooling does not work for every child or at least in every stage of their life. (Unschooling worked fine for my son up through most of his Kindergarten homeschool year.)
Everything in our family is done with consideration of each of our children’s unique needs and desires. Both my husband and I are flexible about certain things, much more flexible than many parents seem to be. There comes a point though, where we put our foot down and where we make the rules and set the limits and also ask our children to stretch their horizons, whether it is to try a new interesting opportunity (rowing with the Yale crew team) or trying a new food or taking a new homeschooling class. It seems the older the children get the more we are using our own discernment to help guide them.
We have used attachment parenting with our children from the day they were born. There were many times in our children’s lives when others judged us for doing things differently and outside of the mainstream (co-sleeping, breastfeeding and attachment parenting are some examples). We followed our hearts and I researched and found information to support our decisions so our choices were not willy-nilly and out of left field.
While in my son’s younger years we were very child-led in our family, as our children get older, we are not 100% child-led with regard to our choices. There are certain things like educational plans and goals that I feel are best left in the hand of adults. Perhaps with another type of child a more child-led learning environment would be fine (unschooling) but with this child it would not work and in fact at a certain pint in the past it has failed for this son. In the case of his reading instruction, the way I am applying my parental guidance is by finding good or great books and putting them into the hands of my children. It is also about me taking a book of a certain reading level and having my son read it in order to advance his reading ability.
By the way I just checked the Lexile scale and publication date of these books, in case you are wondering.
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene duBois: 1070L, (Newbery Award Winner),published in 1948
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: 920L(Newbery Honor Winner), published in 1973
Ace the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith: 850L, published in 1990
Boxcar Children, various titles: 430-650L publication dates range from 1940s to 2000s
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