Heads Up Now! Blog page 3

Time to Learn

alert photo: alert alert.jpg          Did you know that recognizing your child’s most alert times of the day can help you with homeschooling?  Young children may not even realize that there are periods during the day when they feel more energized, and older children may need you to point it out to them so that they become aware of their own degrees of alertness.  Being observant about your child’s most awake times of the day can help your homeschooling flow more smoothly and be more productive.  As with so many areas of development with our children, though, things change as they grow and the most alert times of the day may also change over time.

Generally speaking, most young children are alert after a good night’s sleep and are ready for tackling the most challenging school subjects right after breakfast.  At this stage in a child’s life, I would suggest starting the day with a devotional time or brief discussion of the day’s schedule.  Following this, I would encourage working on the homeschool work that requires the greatest level of alertness and concentration.  Working in accordance with the child’s physical state is not only strategic but is also consistent with individualizing instruction to meet each child’s needs.  Being able to customize our child’s school day is one of the great blessings of homeschooling and the flexibility we have as home educators to determine the best schedule for our child and family.

When I began my homeschool journey, I started teaching my oldest two children together.  Since they are only 15 months apart, I was able to use the same curriculum for both of them.  My oldest, Josh, was later to be diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) although I was only beginning to understand what that meant.  His sister, Beth, was a typically developing child who was anxious to keep up with anything done by her big brother.  They were great kids, generally very active and energetic, so it took me a while to realize that mornings were the best time to hit our harder school subjects.  In our family, the challenging subject was math, and although I loved our math curriculum the children were clearly less enthralled.  I didn’t always teach our school subjects in a certain order, and realized later on that our days would have been more productive if I had provided a more structured approach.

To complicate matters more, I wanted my children to learn to think for themselves and be able to make good decisions, so I started with small things like allowing them to choose their outfits for the day.  Sometimes I thought they looked like they were dressed like circus performers, but it was harmless and they were learning how to make choices.  I also allowed them some say in what subject areas we worked on throughout the school day.  Over time I discovered that they always put off doing math until the very end of the school day in hopes that we would run out of time and they would have a reprieve from math.  With the usual daily life disruptions and a baby in the house, too often their wish to avoid doing their math work became reality.  Live and learn.

Since I eventually realized that if my children had their preference they would always put off doing their math alert photo: green alert alert_green.gifwork, I continued to give them leeway when it came to scheduling work on other subjects but I had them do their math early in the morning when they were most alert.  This worked well because they knew they were getting their hardest subject out of the way early in the day and could look forward to their more preferred school subjects after their math assignment was completed.  Just as I thought I had the best school schedule worked out just right, my older two children entered adolescence.

During the pre-adolescence and teenage years, growth spurts and physical changes wreaked havoc on my carefully plotted school schedule.  My youngest child was still most alert in the mornings and was raring to go from the moment she woke up.  My older two children seemed to be in something like a fog until noon, but they perked up right after lunch.  Their new time of greatest alertness was now early afternoon.  Unfortunately for me, that was not my own best time for being alert.  Given the opportunity, I could easily have napped at that time!  Instead, I once again altered our home school schedule to accommodate what my growing children needed, and we began to work on easier school subjects in the morning while they gradually became more awake and alert as the day progressed.

There is a definite transition during times of physical growth spurts.  For my children, one change I noticed was how different they were when awakened in the morning.  During the younger years they were instantly awake and high energy, ready to start a new day.  During periods of significant physical growth and changes, they needed time to come awake gradually and their energy level didn’t peak until early afternoon.

Working with a child’s alert times just makes sense.  Homeschooling gives us the freedom to teach our children in the ways they learn best, so let’s make the most of the opportunity.  Be aware of your child’s timetable for being able to concentrate and sustain focus on school tasks.  Know that the timetable will probably change as your child grows.  Recognizing and meeting our child’s needs as we teach them is a blessing we can bestow as we raise them up to be the individuals they were created to become.

Teaching Multiple Ages

One of the reasons I chose to homeschool was so that I could meet my children’s individual needs.  When I started homeschooling, I intended to spend lots of one-on-one time so that each child could work at his or her own pace and pursue areas of interest in depth.  My first two children are only 15 months apart in age, and my youngest child joined the family four years later.  I figured I could cover the bulk of material with the two who were so close in age at the same time and then work with each one alone to supplement and enrich their learning. During their independent work times, I would teach my youngest child.  I only have three children, so how hard could this be?
Now, if all of you veteran homeschoolers could stop laughing I’ll go on.  Ahem.  Thank you.  As it turns out, teaching one child could easily have filled my day.  My son, while very bright, struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) auditory processing difficulties, and sensory processing challenges.  An assignment that I planned on taking twenty minutes to complete with my son often stretched to the two hour mark.  With his distractibility, I couldn’t leave him alone or he would stop working on his schoolwork because other things would catch his attention and he’d be off in a new direction. Not only were his assignments incomplete, it took me another chunk of time just to locate him and transition him back to the school task he was supposed to be working to complete.
In the meantime, his slightly younger sister was ready to go.  She was eager to learn and could sit still and listen while I taught her.  She would start an assignment and usually finish it before moving on to something different or requesting a break.  I would present a lesson to my two oldest, then repeat, re-teach, prompt, and rephrase for my son as my daughter got down to work.
As for the baby, she seemed to enjoy watching the activities from her perch on my hip.  Her early education consisted of hearing her mama label items and actions for her and doing other techniques I utilized as a speech therapist.  It wasn’t very structured, but incorporating learning in the context of her daily activities actually taught her a great deal.  She was raised in an atmosphere of learning and when she started talking she had a lot to say.  Within a few years it became increasingly apparent that she, like her big brother, faced the challenges of ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing difficulties.

   Whenever I could, I had my youngest sit with her older siblings for lessons.  She didn’t follow everything that was presented but just by listening in she learned and was able to participate at her own level.  When her sister was writing a sentence and her brother was writing a paragraph, my youngest would draw a picture about the topic being taught.  Rather than finding separate things to occupy the little one, I tried to include her and encourage her participation as much as possible.  Even if the concept of the lesson was far too advanced for her, there was always a more general lesson idea I could discuss with her, such as a desirable character trait and ways she could demonstrate that trait with her family.  I encouraged her older siblings to share what they were learning, which helped me gauge their understanding as I listened to their explanations.  While the little one enjoyed the attention from her siblings, the older ones were learning how to express themselves effectively.

One thing I needed to realize was that teaching multiple children of various ages did not necessarily mean spending equal time with each.  I learned that I needed to teach my children that “being fair” meant giving them what they needed when they needed it as opposed to treating them as if they were all the same.  They had different learning needs, strengths, and interests.  Sometimes one of them needed more of my help on an assignment while the other was able to proceed more independently.  Sometimes I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to spend an equal amount of time with each child for every subject, but I came to realize that it was fair to help the one who most needed it as long as each child was getting the level of support indicated by the situation.

Teaching multiple ages can be unifying for a homeschool family.  By being together and having each child contribute what they can during the lessons, children are learning far more than just academic subjects.  They learn that their family does things together and that a few years age difference is not a hindrance to sharing what they have learned.  Younger children benefit from the added lessons learned from older siblings, and the older siblings learn how to communicate and take responsibility as they interact with the little ones.  In the context of daily life and shared experiences, families are strengthened and learning takes place.

It’s The Question Trap, OK?

Have you ever said something and immediately realized it was not what you meant to say?  Earlier this year my husband and I were in Hungary when the bus we were on pulled over and the driver told everyone to get out.  Apparently the driver’s shift was over and there was no replacement driver, so we were unceremoniously left stranded at a bus stop at night in a city we were unfamiliar with and where we could not find anyone who spoke English.  In desperation, my husband called on his nearly-forgotten high school German language skills and along with many gestures attempted to communicate with one of the locals.  This Hungarian native somehow conveyed to my husband that we needed to buy more bus tickets and he pointed in the general direction of some other buses, which we approached and were waved off until someone actually allowed us to board the bus.  In gratitude, as the helpful local man walked away, my husband called out “Gracias!” thereby introducing Spanish into the English-German-Hungarian conversation!  That was, in fact, the only part of that “adventure” that I found amusing.  My husband reported that as soon as the word “gracias” left his lips he realized his error and felt like he could almost see the word move away in slow motion while he thought, “Noooo!” and watched his utterance go irretrievably onward.

That happens to us as parents, too, doesn’t it? There are times when as soon as we say something we wish we could retract it, especially when we absent-mindedly respond “yes” to a child without realizing what we have just agreed to do.  Oops!  I suspect some of our children can tell when we are preoccupied and purposefully plan to approach us with requests at such times.  I was especially at-risk with my daughter who was quite a talker and ended many of her utterances with, “Right, Mom?”  If I just answered without thinking about it, I might find I had just agreed with her that she was my favorite child or that we should have ice cream every night for dessert since it is so delicious.  Right?   It’s a Question Trap that’s easy to fall into.

I also had to be careful with my responses when I was tired.  Having two children diagnosed with AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, combined type) I learned that they needed less sleep than I did.  Since I could not leave them to their own devices in order to catch up on my sleep, I was often operating at a less-than-optimal state of alertness.  Combine my lethargy with my children’s hyperactivity and impulsivity and I could have agreed to all kinds of things if I weren’t diligent to monitor my responses and not give in to the temptation to agree just to keep the peace for a few minutes.

Besides inadvertently falling into automatic responses, we can set ourselves up for conflict by the way we word things with our children.  What kind of response might you get if you asked your child, “Are you ready to go to bed now?” or “Can you pick up your toys?”  We are raised to be polite and to make our requests in nice ways.  The problem is that we fall into the habit of asking questions when we really don’t intend to give a choice.   That’s The Question Trap all over again.  If you ask a child if he is ready to go to bed, he may interpret that as if he has the option of saying “No”.  After all, you asked and he happily provided his answer.

I’m sure there are some children who understand that when you ask if they can pick up their toys it really means that you want them to clean them up right away.  Some children will comply with that, but there are others who perhaps are more literal thinkers or excel at spotting loopholes who will respond “Yes, I can” but then make no move to pick up their toys.  They answered your question, but didn’t comply with what you really wanted them to do.  When this occurs, you have fallen into The Question Trap and will need to train yourself to avoid it in the future.

Another one of the polite ways we can fall into The Question Trap is to add “okay” onto the end of the request.  Again, we are just trying to be nice about it, but it can backfire because it implies a choice where none is intended.  For example, you want your child to eat healthy foods at mealtimes so you say, “Eat your broccoli, okay?”  Guess what?  To the child, eating broccoli may not seem “okay” and she may feel the freedom to refuse since you implied that she had a choice.  Tagging “okay” onto the end of your statement weakens it from a direct request to a negotiable issue.

Teachers in a group setting  quickly learn that if they say, “Are you ready to line up?” some students will respond by lining up at the door while others exercise their options until they are directly told, “It’s time to line up now.”  Likewise, good teachers learn to use statements when they are giving directions, and avoid tacking “okay” onto the end of their sentences.  Instead of saying, “Are you ready to listen?” or “I need you to listen now, okay?” they make statements such as “It’s time to listen now.”  The teacher is communicating the same message without giving options that she doesn’t intend to allow.  The adult can still be polite and respectful, but it takes practice to choose your words strategically.

There are some children who will attempt to negotiate with you no matter how you phrase your requests to them.  If you find you are frequently falling into The Question Trap, however, avoid asking questions when you intend to communicate statements.  This may help to eliminate some of the conflicts because you are clearly stating what you want and expect your child to do.  The issue of compliance becomes clearer to you and your children as you give directions or make specific requests without unintentionally providing options that are unacceptable to you.

The Question Trap can become a habit that is difficult to break.  It will take practice at first, but this way of communicating will become more automatic over time.  Ultimately, by breaking the habit you will become a more effective communicator.  Are you ready to try it?  I think you should give it a chance over the next few days and see what happens, okay?  J

Sink or Swim

I love to watch my children swim.  Seeing them glide through the water and perform various strokes fills me with a sense of pride.  I’m so glad I had them take swim lessons, because now they have an activity they can enjoy throughout their lives.  Our swim team days are behind us now, but I still enjoy seeing my kids swim.   They make it look so easy and effortless.  I know having children who can swim is not unusual and that lots of people can swim well.  The reason I am thrilled with my own offsprings’ aquatic accomplishments is because I personally can barely swim at all.

I never had any structured swim lessons.  I picked up tips here and there from my next door neighbors who knew how to swim and encouraged me to join them in their backyard pool.  I learned enough to keep myself afloat but I always felt better when I was able to touch the pool bottom even if I had to stand on tiptoe to do it.  I wanted to have fun with my friends in the pool, but bodies of water and I always had an uneasy alliance.

As a young adult, I continued to dog paddle around pools and since I was extremely nearsighted I kept my contacts in so I could see where I was going.  I had tried taking my contacts out at a beach one time, and felt truly vulnerable when I emerged from the waves and realized I could not see well enough to locate my friends.  I had to wander up and down the beach until I heard a familiar voice or got close enough to recognize someone.  Swimming continued to be associated with unease and vulnerability over the years.

Fast forward to my adulthood as a mother with three young children.  I consider the ability to swim to be an important life skill, so I made sure each of my kids had the benefit of swim lessons with someone who could teach them to swim with confidence. I then had laser surgery to correct my vision and successfully achieved 20/20 vision.  I was excited to think that finally I could swim with my children because I could see where I was going.  Guess what?  I still didn’t know how to swim even though my vision was fine.  I only knew how to swim with my head out of the water, sort of like how Tarzan swims only without the yell and with a lot more lurching.

I was thinking about the similarities between my struggles with swimming and my children’s struggles with aspects of their schoolwork.  If you look at me, there’s nothing to indicate that I am not a swimmer.  I look like I should be capable of swimming the way others do.  If you look at my children, they look as if they should be able to complete their schoolwork without significant difficulty.  Their learning challenges are invisible until they are observed in a task that is more difficult for them than for the average learner.

Recently I started swimming at a local gym, doing my lurching breaststroke and my backstroke.  I can keep my face out of the water most of the time with those two strokes but I decided once again to try and learn how to swim with my face in the water.  I borrowed my daughter’s goggles, took a deep breath, and…froze!  There’s something about being face down in the water that panics me.  I try to talk myself through it, offering various reasons why I should be able to do this.  I try to convince myself that I can do it, and that once I learn to swim with my face in the water I might actually enjoy it.

My children who are struggling learners have similar experiences.  I try to talk them through tasks, but there is still something blocking their learning process.  I encourage them to try again, try harder, and try again.  How frustrating this must be for a child who is already trying hard but not experiencing success commensurate with that effort.  It must feel to them the way I feel when I swim as fast as I can, only to have the person in the next lane glide past me with ease.  I’m trying harder to do what others accomplish with ease.  Our struggling learners put forth more effort but often don’t get the tangible results that seem to come so naturally to others.

The saying, “sink or swim” always seemed to me to imply that if you jumped into a task you would learn how to do it because you had to.  Now I’m not so sure.  I know that some of us are more likely to actually sink no matter how motivated we are to learn and overcome challenges.  I am more careful than ever not to compare my children and the ways they learn with other children and their accomplishments. Likewise I try not to compare my swimming attempts with those around me because it’s discouraging and unhelpful.

I won’t give up on my struggling learners, but I don’t expect their learning achievements to look like the average learner’s.  I haven’t given up on swimming with my face in the water, either.  So far no matter what I try, sooner or later I end up irrigating my sinuses with pool water and gasping for air.  On my most recent trip to the pool, however, I was able to swim about 4 feet before I snorted in some water.  It’s not impressive, but it is progress.  Likewise those with learning challenges hit bump after bump in their attempts to master needed skills.  It’s not a nice smooth learning curve, but that lurching progress is still progress in the right direction.  Celebrate that forward movement and don’t compare your efforts to the person in the next lane.  Instead, celebrate YOUR progress and that of your children and allow the joy to follow.

How Children Make Decisions

Have you ever wondered why some kids are picky eaters and others willingly try anything you offer them?  Maybe you have one child who absolutely loves workbooks and another who thinks paper and pencil tasks should be outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could get inside our children’s heads now and then and see what is really driving their decision-making process?  I’ll share a few glimpses my children have shared with me over the years and you can come along, armed with your sense of humor and willingness to try and see things through a child’s eyes.

There was a time when all three of my children loved the “drumstick” part of chicken.  Since I could purchase a package of drumsticks at the store I thought it was wonderful that they could all have their favorite piece without fighting over which two get the drumsticks and who has to choose a different piece.  This worked out beautifully for a period of time, until one day all three children announced that they would no longer eat chicken drumsticks.  I was baffled, because as far as I could tell nothing had changed.  I bought the same brand I always had, prepared it the same way I always did, only now instead of eagerly eating the drumsticks the children were turning up their noses at this formerly sought after food.  It turns out that those noses were the very key to their sudden reversal in their attitudes about eating chicken.  After some careful questioning (okay, more like Mom’s Inquisition) I found out that as the drumsticks were cooking my son had wrinkled up his nose and told his sisters that the cooking chicken smelled like Shadow, our dog, when he was wet.  If you’ve never smelled a wet dog, please take my word for it when I say that even a clean, wet dog does not smell pleasant.  I’m not sure why that is, but once you have that scent memory in your mind and it becomes associated with a certain food, you surely will not be eager to eat that food item again for quite some time – if ever.

Not only are some childhood decisions based on smells, but vision plays a role in their decision making as well.  I have vivid recollections of handing my daughter a page of math problems only to have her shrink back and refuse to take it as if I were extending a tarantula toward her and expecting her to cuddle it. Without hesitation she would pronounce that the work I was offering her was too hard and would take forever for her to complete.  It took me some time, but I eventually realized that it was not the difficulty of the work or even the number of math problems that was causing my daughter’s reluctance.  It was simply the amount of ink on the page that was overwhelming to her.  She didn’t even need to see what was actually written on the page to know that the amount of print represented more time and effort than she felt she could handle.  We were able to work around this by enlarging the print, covering up all problems except the one she was working on, and focusing on one problem at a time.  Without being visually overwhelmed, my daughter was able to complete all of the work.   When I learned that my daughter was making decisions based on how the page looked to her, I could re-arrange and modify the assignment to make it appear more visually manageable.  It wasn’t the content on the page; it was how the page actually looked that was intimidating my daughter.

If your children are old enough to explain their decision-making process it can offer valuable insight into how they make decisions.  For example, long after my son was past the picky eater stage in his development he occasionally refused to even try certain foods.  I would ask him how he knew he wouldn’t like it if he hadn’t even tasted it.  One time his response was to shrug his shoulders and tell me that “It’s colored funny and looks chunky.”  This particular food offering was a dip that had some small pieces of red and green pepper mixed in.  Since my son is colorblind I’m not sure what it looked like to him, but the appearance was enough to suggest to his brain that he might not like it and should proceed with extreme caution or else retreat.  The appearance combined with his past experiences with certain textures and tastes influenced my son’s decision to decline this particular experience.

We know that young children often learn through hands-on experiences, but I think “multi-sensory” is a more accurate description.  Children learn and make decisions based on what they see, smell, taste, touch, and hear.  Much of this type of learning is incidental rather than deliberately taught.  Children are not bound by logic or mature reasoning as much as by impressions and past experiences.  My children did eventually eat chicken drumsticks again, and with maturation were able to express what was influencing the decisions they made.  It seems obvious but is so easy to forget that children don’t necessarily think the way we do as adults. As we teach them to learn our perspectives they can teach us to see things the way they do.  It’s a fresh, sometimes bewildering, and funny way to look at an experience.  Learn it, laugh with it, and work with it!

Teaching Reluctant Writers

Do you have a child who doesn’t like to write?  I’m not talking about the handwriting aspect, although if there is a difficulty with the mechanical skills needed for writing then that should be addressed. The type of reluctant writer I’m talking about is the child who CAN write but just doesn’t want to and writes in a minimalist fashion.  This type of reluctant writer has no difficulty with penmanship but still responds to written tasks using the fewest words possible.  He prefers close-ended questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and will respond with the simplest, shortest answer with no elaboration unless you insist on more output.  My son was so practical and writing-avoidant that he even abbreviated his yes/no answers as “Y” and “N” rather than writing the words out.

An unenthusiastic writer does not necessarily have difficulty communicating orally.  In fact, you may be working with a student who likes to talk and will go into great detail when they are discussing a topic with you.  If this was your only experience with a child and you were asked to pick out her writing sample you might be hard pressed to connect the verbally-expressive student with the sparse amount of writing she produced.  This same child who can use wonderfully-descriptive terms and lengthy utterances offers up short and simple noun plus verb sentences in writing.

I’m sure there must be a long list of reasons why a child is reluctant to write.  If you can figure out the reason for your child’s disinclination you may be able to address the issue in a way that makes writing tasks more appealing, or at least more tolerable.  I have not found any one solution that flipped a switch and made my children eager to write, but I have had a modicum of success with a number of strategies I’ve tried over the years.  Perhaps my suggestions will inspire your own creative ideas to help your student be less resistant when it comes to written work.

My children, especially my son, loved to doodle and draw pictures but dreaded having to write full sentences.  Sometimes I allowed the children to dictate their ideas to me as I wrote down their responses.  Other times I would alternate writing one sentence and having them write the next sentence.  This is fine to do now and then, but I didn’t want to get caught up in doing too much of the writing because they were the ones who needed to learn how to get their thoughts down on paper.  Because of that I didn’t use this strategy daily, but it was especially helpful when my struggling learner was having a particularly hard day and needed a little (or a lot) of extra support.

Another strategy I used was to buy paper that was blank on the top half and had lines for writing on the lower portion of the page.  That way, my children could do what they loved doing along with what they had to do for school.  They could draw pictures to illustrate what they were writing about and it was like having a built-in reward for completing their work.  It seemed to help my learner who had some challenges because it was not as intimidating to think about writing a few sentences to fill up half a page as it was to imagine writing a full page.

At other times I would pull out the special markers, crayons, gel pens, and colored pencils as a way to add some fun to the writing tasks.  Just mixing it up now and then seemed to help motivate my children, and the novelty of a new pen or glitter crayon helped ease their writing reluctance.  My daughters especially went nuts over blank journals with black paper that looked amazing when they wrote on it with their neon gel pens.  My son was fascinated with the rainbow crayon and the way his writing changed colors as he wrote.  With the popularity of scrapbooking, just think about all of the options in paper designs that you could get for your child to use for special writing assignments.  You could even take a field trip to the store and let each child choose his own paper for an individualized touch.

Many teachers find it helpful to give their students writing prompts just to spark their interest and get the creative juices flowing.  The prompt could be as simple as, “If you could invent anything, what would it be?” or as involved as telling a short story and having the child write how she thinks the story should end.  Sometimes the writing prompt addresses a specific skill such as sequencing events, and will have the student describe something familiar such as all of the steps involved in making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  For the child who never seems to be able to think of what to write, prompts can be just the impetus needed to get the ball rolling – or the pencil moving, in the case of the disinclined writer!

When it comes to teaching reluctant writers, you will need more than one strategy at your disposal to get your students writing.  Try the ideas listed above, and keep in mind that some students will be more willing to write on a computer and will thrive with basic keyboarding skills.  For some, maturity will make all the difference, but until then think of ways to make writing fun or at least more interesting.  If you have an orally-expressive child, perhaps he can help you brainstorm ways that would make writing tasks less unappealing.  If your child thinks a four-color pen seems more engaging than a plain pencil, go for it!  The goal is to get the child writing, and you will have plenty of opportunities to fine tune his efforts as his writing skills develop.

This is Hard

If you are a homeschooler, sooner or later you will hear a child proclaim, “This is hard!”  As a matter of fact, you may hear those words coming out of your own mouth!  Whether your child is gifted and sails easily through their schoolwork or is a struggling learner, sooner or later your child will encounter a task that is highly challenging.  In that moment, you also have a decision to make.  How should you respond to a child’s lament about hard tasks?

It may be tempting to intervene on your child’s behalf, because you don’t want him to become frustrated and resistant to further schoolwork as a result.  When you see your child’s patience waver and sense the tension rising it is only natural to want to prevent further escalation.  To be honest, it might be easier to at least temporarily bypass the hard task in favor of something more readily achievable.  This is especially true when the child is prone to emotional meltdowns when frustrated.

Some children decide a task is hard, so they anticipate failure and give up without really trying.  They have already made up their minds that this particular task is beyond their reach.  Sensitive children may feel inferior even though they have not failed at the task that has not yet been attempted.  Other children may resent that they have been presented with something they consider hard and therefore feel it is unreasonable for the adult to expect them to complete it.  These children who give up easily or don’t even begin a task that they perceive to be challenging require a discerning adult to figure out the reasons they are so resistant to taking on a challenge.

In my case, I was a child who did not want to do anything that I wasn’t good at or could not quickly master.  For example, I wanted to be able to play beautiful music on the piano, but after a couple years of lessons I realized I had gotten a much later start than most of the other pupils and I would not become proficient in the time I could allot to practicing the piano.  So I quit piano lessons, even though I enjoyed playing the piano, because I wanted to play well or not at all.  I felt the same way about most games.  I played pinball games a few times and decided it was not for me because it would take a lot of quarters and practice to become adept at it and I didn’t want to expend the time or money to learn the necessary skills.

As I homeschooled my children, I initially would respond to their statement “It’s too hard” with “No, it’s not.  You can do this”.  This led to the unfruitful exchange of “No, I can’t” and “Yes, you can” which accomplished nothing other than to fuel the frustration for my children and for me.  Over time, I learned to recognize when my children were just being lazy and when there was truly a hindrance to learning.  Wouldn’t you want to respond to laziness very differently from the way you respond to a child who is genuinely stumped by an assignment?  I sure did.

When I thought my children were just trying to get out of work that they found less interesting than their preferred pursuits, I determined that they needed to finish the assignment even if they claimed it was hard.  I would discuss with them the reality that they would be called upon to do hard things throughout their lives, and they might as well start learning to discipline themselves to work diligently because they would need to be able to do so for the rest of their lives.  Complaining that the work is too hard only makes the task seem more unpleasant as it stretches out for longer periods of time than it would if the children just settled down and got the job done.

During the times when I realized my children had legitimate reasons for feeling that a task was too hard, I responded very differently.  First, I pointed out that we all need help with things and that it was fine to ask for assistance.  When a child proclaims, “It’s too hard!” he has already given up without even trying.  That attitude won’t serve him well in life.  A child needs to learn how to persist and work hard.  So while it is true that there will be times when a child is asked to do something he is not yet able to do, giving up is not the answer.  I told my children that it was fine to ask for help when they needed it, but not acceptable to just decide to give up because something seems like it is too hard.  The mindset of “I need some help to be able to do this” is very different from the mindset of “I can’t.  This is too hard.”  Can you picture teaching your child this lesson?  If so, you will not only be helping them succeed with homeschooling, you will be equipping them for life as adults.

The Look

This was an assignment Josh did for a homeschool writing class. In addition to the ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing issues, Josh struggled with social nuances. Some of Josh’s struggles he understood and could identify. Other symptoms left all of us baffled, even Josh. I’m glad that even at this young age Josh knew he was smart and strong, so some of my truth messages were getting through to him in the midst of his challenges. It’s interesting to me that “I know karate” made the positives and the negatives list. Knowing karate was good for Josh, in that it provided an outlet for his excess energy and helped him develop coordination and self defense skills. It also allowed him to be part of a group sport, but one that was individualized so he could progress at his own pace. Knowing karate was a negative for Josh, because as soon as other kids found out he was training in martial arts they asked if he was a black belt and then wanted to take him on. Josh was never aggressive, so demonstrating his karate skills outside of class was not appealing to him. One of the first things most boys do in social settings is talk about their favorite sports teams and the sports they participate in. Josh was more interested in drawing and creating things than in sports, so he didn’t have much to talk about other than that he knew karate. This led to the inevitable challenges to prove his skills, which Josh did only when he absolutely had to for self defense. Even then, he ended the confrontation as soon as he could. This homeschool flashback provides a snapshot of a young boy’s emerging self perception. Teaching him at home gave me the opportunity to help him develop a balanced view of himself, which is revealed by this writing assignment as he recognizes some of his strengths despite huge challenges. By the time Josh reached adulthood, he had a mental list of positive and negative things about himself that was accurate and realistic.

More Astute Than Obtuse

More Astute Than Obtuse

I’ve been thinking about social skills lately, and how much they impact our children’s lives.  Sometimes I feel confident that with enough direct instruction and practice even the most socially awkward child can succeed and have healthy relationships.  At other times, though, it seems like the hard work of teaching, learning, and generalizing social skills just isn’t enough.  I can have a child who has mastered basic social skills, but unless someone is willing to get to know her and become friends with her, the skill set seems inadequate and incomplete.

When I see a child who naturally picks up appropriate social skills and relates easily to others, there’s a part of me that feels a bit envious.  My child has to work excruciatingly hard to learn skills that develop effortlessly for others.  On top of that, I think children who struggle in this area need a friend even more than those for whom relationships come easily but often find themselves alone in social settings.  I look at the families who just seem to sail through developing new relationships on a regular basis and I wonder what that would be like.  I want to prompt the parents to be thankful and not take their child’s social skills for granted, but I know if I didn’t have a child with obvious deficits in this area I wouldn’t give a second thought to his social skills, either.

         

When my son was young, he did not make eye contact.  He didn’t feel the need for it, since he could hear everything just fine without looking at the person who was speaking.  Over time he learned that other people expected him to look them in the eyes, so he worked hard to discipline himself to meet that need.  He went from one extreme to the other during the learning phase, changing from no eye contact to staring unblinkingly at his conversation partner’s eyes.  This was perhaps more unsettling to others than the original lack of eye contact had been, so once again my son worked to make changes in the way he connected with people.

Despite his determination and ongoing efforts to relate with others, my son struggled with the unspoken rules of interpersonal exchange and many viewed him as simply obtuse.  The dictionary defines obtuse as “not quick or alert in perception, feeling or intellect; not sensitive or observant.”   This was his starting point.  Considering how very many discreet skills he needed to learn to improve his overall social skills what he accomplished was truly impressive.  Even so, I continued to observe other children who called my son derogatory names and who avoided his attempts to interact with them.  When his peers did include my son in play, more often than not it was to cast him in the role of monster or bad guy and then they ran from him, screaming.

It is no wonder that some of the children who struggle socially just want to give up or in frustration decide that most other people are not worth relating to anyway.  The rewards are so minimal in comparison to the effort these children exert trying to learn to relate in ways that do not come naturally for them.  With little apparent success they persevere and wish for friends who genuinely like them, and for insight into the baffling hidden curriculum of social exchange.  It seems that everyone else is in on the secrets of how to relate to others while the struggling child works to understand and interpret mysterious and unspoken rules that exclude and elude them.

       

My son worked with remarkable resiliency to be successful in social interactions.   He became an astute observer as he watched for changes in facial expression and tone of voice the way a scientist studies an experiment.  It seemed as if my son were a stranger in a foreign land, immersed in a language and culture that were unnatural to him.  Gradually and with many bumps along the way, he learned to recognize how others expressed their thoughts and feelings.  My son, who was always caring and sensitive, learned to relate in ways that were more easily recognized by those around him.  He picked up on subtle differences in my facial expressions and would ask if everything was okay.  When I sighed, he would check in with me to see if I was upset about something or perhaps just tired.

My son, and many like him, learn to improve their social skills and overcome their social struggles. There are occasional setbacks and disappointments but they manage to at least get by and develop genuine relationships.  Some who struggle socially will only achieve a modicum of success, while others will become fluent in the language of social skills.  Even for those who appear to be fluent, though, they are like second-language learners who have remarkably mastered the skills necessary to be successful in a foreign culture.

Because I Said So!

Children are inquisitive. They are born with curiosity and a drive to explore their environment.  Just think about a newly-mobile toddler eagerly investigating every nook and cranny of a room, every piece of fuzz or dead bug, every cigarette butt or pebble on the sidewalk.  The young child’s need to learn and explore seems insatiable.  It is one of the reasons parents can’t take their eyes off the child for a minute, or that exuberant child may climb on top of a table or throw a set of keys into a trash can.  Children reawaken our own sense of wonder and discovery as they take delight in everyday moments.

In time, this desire to learn about the world moves from mere physical exploration to verbal communications.  This is the developmental stage characterized by the child asking questions, many of which are repeated verbatim by the child even though you have already answered the question multiple times.  I think children ask the same questions over and over again for a couple of reasons.

First of all, they truly want to know the answer.  By asking the question over and over they are learning if the answers are always the same.  Knowing that the answer is predictable and consistent is reassuring for a child.  As exhausting as this questioning phase can be, it is important to the child because this is how they learn concepts such as yes means yes and no means no.  The answer is always the same. Without learning this consistency at a young age, a child is likely to continue to test limits in hopes that this time he will get a different result than he has on previous occasions.  Being consistent in your responses will help the child learn that you mean what you say, and ultimately benefits you both as you establish healthy boundaries for behavior early on in childhood.

Another reason children ask so many questions is to keep you engaged with them.  It is an effective strategy to keep the interaction going.  While you are answering his questions you are paying attention to the child, and that is often more rewarding for the child than the actual answers. The question is just a means to an end. If your child has asked you the same question repeatedly even though he already knows the answer it may be the desire to continue conversing with you that is the driving force behind that behavior. There may be times when you have been answering your child’s questions all day long and finally tell him the answer is, “Because I said so!”

Certainly there are times when your child just plain needs to do what you are requesting without hearing a full discourse on the reasons for your request.  This is especially true for those issues that come up frequently and have already been explained to the child.  He knows the answer, and you do not need to defend your position to your child when he is fully aware of your reasons.

Falling back on the response “because I said so” does have some drawbacks to think about.  As home educators we want our children to learn to think logically and develop critical thinking skills.  Part of that process is learned through asking questions and consideration of the answers.  The challenge for homeschooling adults is to determine the child’s developmental level and to encourage the child to ask genuine questions to increase his learning and expand his knowledge.

Another danger of telling a child “because I said so” is that it can result in rebellion, depending in part on the child’s personality and temperament.  For some, any attempt to shut down the child’s questioning results in further attempts by the child to engage in verbal sparring or negotiation.  Have you ever been caught in an exchange with a child who responds to everything you say with, “Why”?  A child who feels he is being ignored may pull out all the stops in an effort to gain or regain attention.

On the other hand, there are children with personality types and temperaments who are less likely to resist or respond strongly when an adult stops engaging with them.  This child may learn to be increasingly passive in accepting whatever comes his way rather than being actively engaged in interactions and learning. He may learn to be content just going with the flow without questioning where he is headed and why he is going there.

When a child asks the same question they have asked countless times already, I think it is fine to tell him that he already knows the answer and you will not keep answering that particular question for him.  Try to discern the motive behind the child’s questions so you can respond accordingly.  You may recognize that the child just wants your attention, or perhaps the child is truly interested in the topic but doesn’t have the language skills to ask other questions to solicit more information from you.

Answering a young child’s many questions takes a lot of patience and wisdom in knowing how to respond.  Questioning can be a wonderful way to learn new things, or it could be an attempt to keep your attention on the inquisitive child. Next time you are tempted to respond with “Because I said so!” consider how that might contribute to passivity or a rebellion.  Listen beyond the question to hear what is on your child’s heart.  Truly, it takes discernment to know how to respond wisely to a child and his many questions.