by Ellen Dana
Q: I am a homeschooling mother of two daughters, ages 8 ½ and 10 ½. We have been schooling for five years and will be going into our sixth this fall. Both of the girls are doing well academically. Basically things have gone fairly well, but this last year I heard many complaints from them about school and it has gotten to the point where it seems they almost hate school. They lived for summer this past school year, dread starting back and consider school a "bad word." They are both avid readers (that they do love!)
I feel bad about the situation and have tried to make school interesting for them. I just finished reading Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore's book TSHFH, and wish I had read it sooner. I wonder if I have pushed the academics too much before they were ready. I really like the idea of study, work and service. I feel we have erred on concentrating too heavily on academics and not enough on character development, as I see things in the girls (mainly self-centeredness) that I know need to be rooted out.
In some way I feel it's "too late" to make changes, but I know this is probably just Satan trying to discourage me. I am a fairly structured person and last year in particular we ran school on a scheduled basis, so the less structured, more informal approach tends to scare me somewhat. However, at this point I will try just about anything to make a change in our lives because it grieves me to see the girls hating school so much and not enjoying learning. I frankly cannot keep teaching them if they are going to have this attitude about school. I would appreciate any advice, suggestions or information you could give me. L.P.,VA
A: I want to assure you that children have wonderful resilience; they do bounce back. Waste no time over guilt feelings, or worrying that you may have done some kind of irreparable damage; they will recover if you make the needed changes and let them know you did what you thought was best but you have learned some things that will produce a better learning atmosphere. (Try to eliminate the word "school" from your vocabulary. Center on the Bible as the main textbook for their education.)
I assume that since the girls love to read, they read well above their grade level; so learning to read is evidently not a problem. Perhaps math isn't quite so easy, and it may be one of the sources of irritation. This is where work and service come in. Begin right away to make service in the home and the community of supreme importance. You are the queen in the home; it is not yours alone to clean, scrub, cook, and launder. Those are their jobs with your supervision. Be sure to include some really neat responsibilities like "breakfast cook" position (planned mainly the afternoon before), "salad chef" (with you for the evening meal) etc. If they cannot sort laundry and get the machine going, you have some catching up to do on your older daughter; the younger is able to begin learning. Of course, they can both change loads to dryer and both can fold (with you, of course, so that you can have fun talking together which makes the work go faster.) Look for community needs. Make yourselves a committee of 3 to be the community or church "support system," for those who are ill, have a family member in the hospital, etc.
What are the girls doing to earn money? Begin your research with our book Minding Your Own Business and consider what might work for your girls. It doesn't need to be big, but it will help them with math. If they are firmly resistant to math, just do some selling business and keep track of income, outgo, and profit. They will learn their math and recognize its value.
Investigate carefully what they are reading. Is it Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew mysteries, or other trivia that someone made up? Being able to gravitate constantly to adventure and storybook reading destroys a child's desire to work around home, do serious study, and even physical work. They become like an alcoholic; the more alcohol they get, the more they want; they are never satisfied. If you make sure they have plenty of work (at least 2 ½ to 3 hours a day), find plenty of wholesome activities that interest them so they don't have a lot of time to read and carefully help them choose their reading materials, you should see a turnaround in their attitude about education. They may need you to set certain times to read--and only then should they be found with a book in their hands, in case copious reading of "stuff and fluff" is indeed the problem.
You don't need to throw all structure out the door. The structure that we know to be harmful is that which forces the child to sit in a chair for hour after hour during the day. You need our Moore Formula Manual which directs you in making a "Schedule With Anchors," and provides you with a framework of work/service, and some bookwork for a healthy balance. The Manual contains much more that is really helpful. For example, it has a document that is called "Ways We Learn and Show What We Know." It has lots of practical, hands-on, or craft ideas rather than sticking only with either written or oral answers to questions, including book reports after reading a lesson or biography.
The informal approach you are afraid of is only for the 5 and 6-year old, generally speaking. Eight and ten-year-old children need a little more structure, but they seem to need less writing and more projects that will allow them to move around rather than sitting still at a desk for long periods. I doubt that you would have any problem with a "schedule" or "structure" that would allow one of your girls to leave her desk and go put the clothes in the dryer from the washer, or prepare to cook the rice for lunch, right? It's what they are doing that is important. You just don't want them playing or reading all day, I believe.