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Getting Homeschooling Children to Focus

In the Beginning...
My first day homeschooling was a disaster. I'd turned our den into a little classroom full of "educational" stuff: posters, blackboard, desk, and workbooks. My five-year-old daughter, Jessica, was excited and ready to begin.

So what went wrong? Within a very short time, major boredom set in. Jessica was simply not interested in what I was trying to teach her. She became uncooperative. I was frustrated and angry. The more I pushed, the more she resisted.

Seven years later, things are different around here. Jessica is reading way above grade level. She's an accomplished musician and loves learning with a passion. So what made the difference?

When I first started, I was using an outline, or curriculum, to tell me what to teach. It detailed what Jessica should learn, and when. The trouble is, this curriculum did not take my daughter's interests, learning style, and abilities into consideration. Slowly I realized that teaching and memorizing blocks of abstract information was not real learning. There had to be a better way.

If your homeschooled child is resistant to what you're teaching, you need to step back and find out why. In most cases, the material is just not appropriate. Does your seven-year-old really need to know all the different types of clouds and how to spell them? Or does your eight-year-old really have to learn Greek and Roman history? I don't think so. Not right now, anyway.

I Learn Better By Teaching Myself, by Agnes Leistico, describes beautifully how the author learned to trust her children -- and herself -- to learn in new ways from elementary school to high school. It gave me the courage to try a different path of learning. The truth is there are only two things your homeschooled child needs for success: trust and freedom.

Trust Your Child
Every child learns differently. Trust your child to find the way that works best for him. How? Really listen to your child. What are his interests? Maybe he's been talking a lot about ants. Get a little ant farm. The library has books with incredible close-up photos. Take out lots of books, go home, and read them together. Check out that PBS documentary on leaf cutter ants. Find ants when you're out for a walk and discuss what you've read. Not in a preachy "Now we're going to learn about ants" style, but with genuine interest.

Maybe your child has found a pretty shell or a butterfly. Start a collection. How about planting a small garden? Then there's airplanes, horses, turtles, musical instruments -- the possibilities are endless. Expose your child to different experiences. Learn together.

Maybe the interest will last a week, maybe six months. My daughter studied Native Americans almost exclusively for over two years. We attended Pow Wows, built a long house, and visited living history museums. I learned things I never learned in school! The important thing you've taught your child is how to learn -- not what to learn.

Set Your Child Free
Give your child the freedom to learn and explore at her own pace. At nine years old, one homeschooled boy was not reading, and showed no interest in learning. Then his five-year-old sister began to read. He saw her doing something he couldn't do. Within a month he was reading. He had a motivation to learn. In fact, he advanced so quickly the following year he was reading young adult books! His mother gave him the freedom to read when he was ready.

Respect your child's choices. At one point, my beginning reader wanted nothing but books on fairies. This lasted many months. I remember thinking, "If I see one more fairy book I'll scream!" I thought she'd never move on. But I can see now, having the freedom to choose her own reading materials (age-appropriate, of course) gave her the interest and confidence to become the avid reader/learner she is today.

For more help, read Teach Your Own, How Children Learn, or Instead of School by John Holt. The classic Better Late Than Early by Dr. Raymond Moore is an excellent resource. For older kids, The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn will guide you through the teen years.

But for now, put away the workbooks. Take a walk in the park. See your child as a joyful learner, waiting for you to set him free. That uncooperative child is really asking for help. Won't you answer?

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