August 8, 2012

Entitled Homeschoolers?


Yes, yes, I made the post title more incendiary than necessary.  Not because I necessarily feel strongly about this issue, but because I find it problematic--a fine line, so to speak.

I'm being as clear as mud.  Here is the problem as I see it: at what point does tailoring a curriculum to match a child swerve into the entitlement trap?  Don't rush to judge me!  I don't think all French parents are wonderful and I'm so imperfect that I'm endlessly surprised that God gave me children at all, but I do think there is a risk in homeschooling to go overboard in the "please the student" area.

A scenario: two years after I started homeschooling I recognized that the math program I was using was not a good fit for my daughter.  Miriam had started saying that she hated math and she'd cry and fuss when I made her do it.  I cancelled math and spent an entire summer thinking about my daughter--what she liked about school, what she didn't like as much, what I could do as a teacher (I'm a professional teacher and sometimes the training really comes in handy) to help her like math again.  I researched numerous math programs and I prayed.  At the end of the summer I bought the Critical Thinking Co.'s math book and started her in that.  The change in her attitude was immediate.  Math is now (still) her favorite subject.

What I realized is that Miriam loves words.  She is so intensely verbal that it even translates to math.  Imagine, a little girl who loves word problems because she can read them.  What a weirdo, eh?  She also prefers to speak with a British accent and plans out elaborate games set in London starring herself as Sherlock Holmes, but that is beside the point.

The point is that I put the student first in a very real way and it created huge dividends in her enjoyment of learning math.

But here's my question: at what point can we go too far in putting the student first?

Some of you are already saying in your heads (or out loud to your husbands) that you can't go too far--that the beauty of homeschooling is that you can personalize your child's education.

But I disagree with that.  I think you can go too far and in the process completely wear yourself out and/or bankrupt yourself trying to find a magic curriculum or do six different curriculums for six different students.

Maybe, sometimes, you just have to admit that grammar is grammar and there isn't much you can do about it.  (I say that, as an English teacher, because I'm endlessly surprised that my incredibly verbal daughter prefers math to grammar.  Heresy in my own home!)

Here's another example from my own household.  My son, Cowen, is a boy.  It is endlessly irritating and absolutely charming.  He can't sit still, he won't look at the words in his reading book because he's too busy sliding off the couch, he likes math but only for the first three minutes and then he has places to go already.  He drives me nuts. He is a kinesthetic learner.

I'm a good teacher.  I came up with all sorts of kinesthetic learner appropriate activities to teach him to read.  He whacked things with a fly swatter, he raced around the room smacking words with his hands, he danced and jumped and wheeled through the air and wrote words long before he would read them.

But when push comes to shove, he still has to sit beside me, look at a book, focus for more than .0002 seconds, and read.  He hates it.  But there is no magic program to solve the problem.  There is no other way to do it really.  Some might say--oh, he's not ready, give him some time.  But I'm his mom and I know that when he wants to read he can.  It isn't a readiness issue--it is a laziness/human nature issue.  Most of us just plain don't like to do hard/unpleasant things.  Sometimes kids need pushed and it isn't the curriculum's fault--it is the natural abilities or lack of them in the child.  I was good at grammar so I loved it.  Getting me to do math was  . . . harder.  Nobody likes to work hard (except my mother, but she's abnormal) if they can avoid it.

If we keep changing the curriculum trying to find the magic bullet, might we not give our child the impression that he doesn't have to work hard--he can just blame the program?  That's where the entitlement might come in.  Do our scholars think every single part of school should be enjoyable?  Do they think that if something is hard they aren't ready?  Have we taught them that their interests trump all?  And very importantly, have we taught them that they are more important than the teacher and/or her sanity?

Again--I think it is a very fine line.

In view of my experience as a student growing up and watching my students in the classroom, and my general view of human nature--I've decided there are some programs that will be used for all my children regardless of how much they enjoy them (unless I get some strong impressions from above).  I'm not going to spend any more time looking at grammar programs or handwriting programs or spelling programs.  Instead, I will focus my energies on those subjects that I think can be tailored more easily and appropriately, like history and science.

Where do you draw the line in curriculum/child matching?



Andrea is a homeschooling mother of five; ages 9, 7, 5, 3, and 18 months. She is a "retired" school teacher who does, indeed, love grammar.  Especially sentence diagramming.  Fun!  Andrea loves books, books, and more books! She also loves writing, cooking, hiking, dancing, singing, and hanging out with her family.  You can read more about her homeschooling efforts on the blog Frolic and Farce.

20 comments - Add a comment below -:

Holly said...

Great post! I'm just learning about this as I begin my homeschool. I have to be careful to make sure my little girls are really trying and working, but I continually reassess the situation to see if I need to make a change, or I'm pushing to hard. It IS tricky!

Tristan said...

This is a great post for the very reason that it is such a fine line to walk. We have switched math curriculum once and it was absolutely essential for the child to be able to learn math. I try to offer a reasonable variety of activities to meet the learning styles of my children (I have seven!). But the children ultimately have to do the work. So long as the curriculum for a subject is not providing a true stumbling block that would keep a child from progressing we keep using it.

And we love following interests, but much of that is done in the children's free time.

How do I draw the line? I research and decide which options I can actually afford and spend the time using, then I pray about it and move forward. The children know that if they have a burning interest I am willing to help find resources to follow it - but they'll do that topic on their own time if it's not already part of the year's plan.

Jen said...

Thank you for this waonderful post. I know I have been there done that changed and yet changed again, Thank you for I guess telling me it is okay that they are not enjoying every single secound of school. I am so tired of changing up our school because everyone is complaining.

Mandy said...

I agree with you, especially in today's society where so many children are being raised to feel "entitled" to their every whim. I agree that there are times when you need to change things, but I've learned that sometimes they'll complain about any program just because they'd rather be playing. Responsibility and hard work are important lessons too.

Katie said...

We talk a lot about homeschooling being a privilege that they need to earn. We have a lovely school less than a block away, and while we want to tailor their curriculum to their needs and interests, there is absolutely no way they can get away with not doing the real work of learning. Math needs to be done, no matter what!

chicklegirl said...

I have a son who will be starting fourth grade this fall, and I've homeschooled him from the start. His sister will be starting Kindergarten this year, and I have a baby who is almost one.

In my experience, the place where the line falls is this: are you allowing your child to dictate what s/he learns and does, or are you (the parent/teacher) tailoring curriculum and activities that you know will best meet your child's intellectual needs and engage him/her?

We've been using Saxon Math for my son since Kindergarten, and I love
Saxon for its thorough approach, but it was driving both of us crazy with how long it took to do the lessons and the endless repetition of the worksheets. My son's constant refrain was, "Mom, I already KNOW this!" Since he is a kinesthetic learner, it was even more aggravating for him to have to sit and do a fact sheet he had already done three times before. Suddenly it hit me: I'm the teacher here; no Saxon Math police are standing behind us making sure he does every single fact sheet. So last year I told him that if he could get every problem correct on a fact sheet, he only had to do it once.

I also started the search for a self-driven curriculum focused on mastery, rather than repetition. When my son finished his third grade Saxon course a few months early, rather than taking the rest of the school year off from math, I immediately started him on fourth grade math with Teaching Textbooks. He absolutely loves how once he learns a skill, he can move on--and he will sometimes do multiple lessons in a single sitting. I'm comfortable with this because from experience, I know he retains it all.

I also think that if you have a subject that is a challenge for a child (like reading) you can cross-pollinate with a favored subject (like science) so that the child is doing the reading, but about a subject that interests him or her. I think this is more crucial when a fundamental skill is first being developed, and can be tapered off once the skill is established--because yes, they can't always be reading about just what interests them.

What is underlying here (at least for me) is the notion that our kids shouldn't be "in charge" of driving the curriculum--and in examining my own feelings about it, I realize that I often feel resentful if I've spent the time to develop an approach and find that my child doesn't respond in the way I'd hoped. I think we, as mothers and teachers, potentially get too invested in one way of doing things; we need to be willing to change things up without taking it personally or feeling like our kids are "in control". If we can detach emotionally, we can then assess if what we are doing best meets our child's needs, and then adapt.

Heather B said...

Excellent post! I agree with all of what you said, and also particularly liked Tristan's comment. That's how I have done it too. We've been homeschooling (mostly TJED style) from the very start, and our oldest (of seven children) just graduated and is headed to BYU-I. And even though we have a TJED educational lifestyle, we've really never changed up curriculum much. I research heavily, and pray, and then when I feel like it's the best out there for our family, I purchase it.

We did that with our math program many years ago, and after spending several hundreds of dollars on the complete Saxon program, that's what our kids have to do. Period. We simply can't afford to switch around and waste money that way. I took a little longer to decide which science program, but finally decided on Apologia and purchased the entire program. Both were very expensive, and both have been an incredible investment. For every child. Because that's what we have :)

When one of them struggles in say, math, finding another program isn't even an option for us. We simply slow down, put it down for awhile and come back later refreshed, or I pray to find games to help with the concept, or just simply the right words to say to help them understand. And he always shows me the way, and it's never involved spending more money.

The other area where they have no choice is their second language. Our oldest daughter wanted Rosetta Stone Italian, and our oldest son wanted their French program. They are quite expensive! So we bought them both, and the other children need to choose one of those two languages because that's what we have. With those three expensive basics being non-negotiable, we are free to spend money on educational games and music, not to mention books, books, and more books (six huge bookshelves worth!), in every other area, with a very wide range of interests and tastes.

I also think sometimes that as homeschoolers we can go too far to cater to our children, and in the process, not teach them the importance of just sitting down and getting the job done. I've seen homeschooled children in the past in our Primary that couldn't even sit still and listen to an entire Sharing Time because it "didn't interest them" and they "didn't have to do things that don't interest them". It is a very fine line like you said. It is very important to individualize each child's education, that's one of the beauties and freedoms we enjoy as homeschooling families, but if we're not careful we can create children that have no self-discipline or ability to work hard at hard things, which won't help them accomplish the mission Heavenly Father has sent them here to accomplish. Awesome post, Andrea, and great insights.

Googs said...

This is a tricky topic. I think that there are a few key points in helping with this:

observation, research, individual consideration, prayer, more prayer, faith

I think one would want to be careful not to slip the other way and become "conveyor belt" at your own home. Also, I find that when my kiddos learn to work hard in other aspects of life, this carries over to our learning; not the other way around.

Sallyseashell said...

Great post! I think there is a (homeschooling) myth out there that if children are happy, they are learning. But I have seen with my own children that learning also comes through struggles and challenges, and growing through them. When something is hard we don't walk away, we push through it. It is a fine line to walk and like you said, requires prayers.

Birrd said...

This is a really relevant topic-- thank you for writing about it! It gave me a lot to think about. One of the things that's been hard for me is that my kids have never been to public school and they don't know how good they have it. I eliminate busywork and try to make things as simple as possible and they still complain and I find myself giving them the "those kids in public school have to suffer way more drudgery than you can even dream of!" lecture. (Not an effective lecture at my house.) But I insist on them learning to focus and work even when they don't really want to. I never thought about that being an anti-entitlement measure before, so that's been interesting for me to ponder. On the other hand, my two boys struggle a lot, especially the older one. I have had to switch curriculum and techniques many times with them. Knowing when to dig in and insist they tow the line and when to back off and try something else has been the source of much tears and prayer (theirs and mine!) at my house. The Spirit usually directs me to be more lenient with them than I am inclined to be, however I need to watch to make sure they don't develop that sense of entitlement. That is a good thing to be aware of.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I needed this reminder as I'm gearing up for a new school year. I can't tell you how many writing programs I've bought for my oldest son (age 14) trying to find the "magic" one that would get him to like writing. I need to just accept that at this point in time he really doesn't like writing and know that this is a subject he is going to whine about and I need to stand firm.

P Workman said...

Excellent article. I'm going to clip it to reread again later.

My kiddo (homeschooled from birth) has severe learning disabilities, and finding the right approach/curriculum has always been difficult. We rarely get "a curriculum", because no single package works. Mostly it's a matter of cobbling together resources, approaches, activities, etc. We have always focused as much as possible on his learning preferences and interests.

He is now 14 yo, and we have come to the point where we are trying to involve him more and more in the planning. It is his life and his education, and he is the one who is ultimately going to have to take the consequences for his choices. We of course run into the "I hate math" and "I hate reading" and "I hate schoolwork" complaints. That goes without saying for a kid for whom learning is so difficult. But now I only need look at him for him to sigh "but I know I need to do it if I want to be an educated person". More and more, I am asking him "how do you want to study this?" or "what are you going to do to learn this?" I am trying to teach him life skills - "If you want to learn about this, where are you going to go? To the library? To the internet? Okay, what search engine are you going to use, and what words are you going to search?"

This year, we were not "done" when summer came around, so he has still had to complete his units over the summer. This has been a great burden to his mind. After planning out next year's course of study, I pulled together a schedule and showed it to him. "If we follow this schedule, you will get two weeks off at Christmas, and two weeks off for Easter/Spring Break, and the summer off. If we do not follow it or make it up, you will have to work through those vacations."

We were much more free when he was younger. There was very little sit-down work, lots more moving around. But he needs to learn those skills now in order to progress through high school and beyond. He is not an independent worker, he still needs a lot of help and accommodation. But the day will come when any further learning or education will rest squarely on his shoulders, and I am trying to get him ready for that time.

P Workman said...

Excellent article. I'm going to clip it to reread again later.

My kiddo (homeschooled from birth) has severe learning disabilities, and finding the right approach/curriculum has always been difficult. We rarely get "a curriculum", because no single package works. Mostly it's a matter of cobbling together resources, approaches, activities, etc. We have always focused as much as possible on his learning preferences and interests.

He is now 14 yo, and we have come to the point where we are trying to involve him more and more in the planning. It is his life and his education, and he is the one who is ultimately going to have to take the consequences for his choices. We of course run into the "I hate math" and "I hate reading" and "I hate schoolwork" complaints. That goes without saying for a kid for whom learning is so difficult. But now I only need look at him for him to sigh "but I know I need to do it if I want to be an educated person". More and more, I am asking him "how do you want to study this?" or "what are you going to do to learn this?" I am trying to teach him life skills - "If you want to learn about this, where are you going to go? To the library? To the internet? Okay, what search engine are you going to use, and what words are you going to search?"

This year, we were not "done" when summer came around, so he has still had to complete his units over the summer. This has been a great burden to his mind. After planning out next year's course of study, I pulled together a schedule and showed it to him. "If we follow this schedule, you will get two weeks off at Christmas, and two weeks off for Easter/Spring Break, and the summer off. If we do not follow it or make it up, you will have to work through those vacations."

We were much more free when he was younger. There was very little sit-down work, lots more moving around. But he needs to learn those skills now in order to progress through high school and beyond. He is not an independent worker, he still needs a lot of help and accommodation. But the day will come when any further learning or education will rest squarely on his shoulders, and I am trying to get him ready for that time.

P Workman said...

Excellent article. I'm going to clip it to reread again later.

My kiddo (homeschooled from birth) has severe learning disabilities, and finding the right approach/curriculum has always been difficult. We rarely get "a curriculum", because no single package works. Mostly it's a matter of cobbling together resources, approaches, activities, etc. We have always focused as much as possible on his learning preferences and interests.

He is now 14 yo, and we have come to the point where we are trying to involve him more and more in the planning. It is his life and his education, and he is the one who is ultimately going to have to take the consequences for his choices. We of course run into the "I hate math" and "I hate reading" and "I hate schoolwork" complaints. That goes without saying for a kid for whom learning is so difficult. But now I only need look at him for him to sigh "but I know I need to do it if I want to be an educated person". More and more, I am asking him "how do you want to study this?" or "what are you going to do to learn this?" I am trying to teach him life skills - "If you want to learn about this, where are you going to go? To the library? To the internet? Okay, what search engine are you going to use, and what words are you going to search?"

This year, we were not "done" when summer came around, so he has still had to complete his units over the summer. This has been a great burden to his mind. After planning out next year's course of study, I pulled together a schedule and showed it to him. "If we follow this schedule, you will get two weeks off at Christmas, and two weeks off for Easter/Spring Break, and the summer off. If we do not follow it or make it up, you will have to work through those vacations."

We were much more free when he was younger. There was very little sit-down work, lots more moving around. But he needs to learn those skills now in order to progress through high school and beyond. He is not an independent worker, he still needs a lot of help and accommodation. But the day will come when any further learning or education will rest squarely on his shoulders, and I am trying to get him ready for that time.

P Workman said...

Anon - for our writing (assuming you mean creative writing, not penmanship), we have done "Script Frenzy" for the past two years. It is a sister to National Novel Writing Month. In the youth program, the child sets a goal for number of pages of script to complete. The script might be a screenplay or stage play, or it could be a comic book/graphic novel. My kiddo does comic books. He has learned a lot about planning out and writing a longer work, and both years has completed his goals in time, even when he had to work on the weekend at the end of the month.

For him, the incentive to do Script Frenzy is:
(a) no creative writing the rest of the year
(b) no other writing, grammar, spelling, etc. work during the month of April. Only reading and non-language arts subjects.
(c) if he completes his goal I buy him the shirt for a reward (and he gets to show off the shirt and completed script to our homeschool facilitator)

We use Celtx for proper script writing formatting, and I scribe for him (he has severe learning disabilities in both reading and writing).

Kristy said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is what I needed to read today. I'm thinking the laziness monster is alive a kicking at our house and it has nothing to do with curriculum.

treen said...

Good food for thought. I've gone in circles about curriculum options for my daughter, particularly with math. But yes, it does come down to one thing - she needs to just sit down and do it. It's obedience and laziness, not her skill level or the style. I need to figure out where to draw my lines with things like this before my 2nd daughter starts her formal education program next year.

Eve said...

It's an interesting post and it's written from a perspective that is new to me.

To be honest, the reason I choose to homeschool is because underneath it all, I want to meet my child's needs.

If one curriculum or book or resource we are using is not fitting the bill, and I mean clearly not working (which a child not liking it can be an indication of), then we choose something else that does meet the child's needs.

If I, as the parent, am working towards meeting needs, it's NEVER catering. You know?

The child is not manipulating the situation; they are simply telling us (one way or another), something isn't working right for them. It's a trust-and-understanding-each-other thing and THAT takes time in homeschooling to establish.
(Which would explain why the "switching things all the time" may not be the solution, either)


I think that if something is not working time and time again, and books have been changed and other things adjusted, it may not be the child or the curriculum that is the cause of the problem.

Perhaps the approach or way of looking at education or even relationship as a whole could be viewed differently, adjustments made based on that and then those problems simply evaporate.

Sounds magical, right? But that is just what we have found to work for us in those circumstances in the 7 or so years we've been doing this.

Just another way to see it :o)

Mama Rachel said...

I disagree-- and agree. :-)

The key really is this:

1) What does the Spirit say your child needs?

Childish whims are one thing. Killing a child's love of learning because we're too cheap or stubborn to try something new is quite another.

Hence, the absolute necessity of following the Holy Ghost. Don't homeschool without it!!! ;-)

Mindy said...

Wonderful post, Andrea, and great comments, everyone. I've had this topic brewing on the back burner of my brain but haven't been able to articulate it as nicely. Thank you!