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Workbook Envy

A couple of days ago I attended the homeschooling support group at the Educational Resource Center. A couple of the moms there were talking about how they put together lesson plans for their kids in advance. One mom said she was concerned that perhaps she’d missed things in her son’s math education.

I was agog. Their version of homeschooling is as close to ours as military school! (OK, a slight exaggeration, but…)

Homeschooling, of course, needs to be tailored to every kid. And needs to fit the style of the parent doing the schooling. Therein lies our problem.

One of the ways I got myself to do project-based learning was to invite other girls over to our house for specific projects. Being in a group inspired us all!

One of the ways I got myself to do project-based learning was to invite other girls over to our house for specific projects. Being in a group inspired us all!

Long ago, when we thought that our problems with our preschool son were actually problems (now I know that they were just new parents learning to get through the stages), we consulted with a psychologist whose specialty was helping families figure out how their personalities fit together — he called this “goodness of fit.” He pointed out that a lot of families can have trouble because they end up with kids who don’t “fit” with other family members.

Applied to homeschooling, this describes our situation exactly. I would probably be happy as a clam coming up with lesson plans and choosing curriculum. We’d have a schedule (including the time when I get to drink my chai), and our workbooks would be done from front to back. I would be able to join in on the conversation about lesson plans and what time of day it’s best to teach academic subjects versus the creative arts.

Then there’s my daughter. I actually hired a professional to come work with her and give me some pointers. Some of our days were being spent in opposition from beginning to end, with lots of tears, some physical violence (child on mother, not the other way around!), and lots of pent-up anger (all mine…my daughter doesn’t pen any of her feelings up!).

The consultant pegged my daughter as a gifted visual-spacial learner. In other words, her learning style is going to resist all my attempts to organize, schedule, and control.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I had already noted her intense zeal for project-based learning. We started out the year studying the ocean (which may sound inspired to those of you not on the coast, but studying the ocean in Santa Cruz is probably the easiest project to come up with!). My daughter, then five, went into it with gusto. I had a great time, too, but it was all seat-of-the-pants teaching. Nothing in particular in mind for today? Go to the beach!

The other reason I shouldn’t be surprised is that we’re all like this to some extent. Though our daughter is the purest expression of creative zeal in our household (she hums wildly and dances when she’s engaged with something), the rest of us fit it pretty well, too. Her brother, like me, is comfortable with structure and order, but he has also shown a tendency for the sort of “backwards learning” that presents itself so clearly in our daughter. Out of a chaos of activity springs, fully formed, a new skill. And though my husband went for computer science while I gravitated toward music and writing, we are both creative people who are happiest when we’re engaged in a longterm project that engages our creative minds as well as broadening our knowledge and skills.

So perhaps our goodness does fit a bit better than I’d thought.

In any case, I was struck with a pang of jealousy. I bet those moms even get to use those teacher notebooks with columns to check things off. Geez, some people just get all the cool toys!

So at the meeting, I couldn’t contain my jealousy and made some comment about how I’d love to find a workbook my daughter would do. The mom across from me chimed in: in order to get her son to use a workbook, she says, she actually has to rip the pages out and present them individually. Workbook? Never! Individual pages from that same workbook? Cool!

Homeschooling is to teaching a class as getting along with your family is to getting along with your co-workers. I wish I could plan, but my daughter always has a better idea. I have been told I need to “unschool” her, and though I have done my requisite Visual-Spatial reading (check out this website and that one), I’m still dragging my feet on learning how to be an effective unschooler.

But there’s hope: This morning I pulled out a discarded workbook about telling time, and asked her to do a page. She did four. One of these days, I’m going to get me one of those teacher notebooks. THEN she’ll see who gets to set the schedule!

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

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