Homeschooling with Excellence No. 13

Discipline and Expectations

While some children can work on their workbooks alone quite easily, others are "active learners." One mom told us: "I'd leave my son to go help one of my other kids, and two minutes later I'd turn around to find him standing on his head instead of doing his math problems!"

One of our sons, in kindergarten and first grade, seemed incapable of doing his math and language arts unless Sarita "forced" him to concentrate by sitting next to him and pointing at literally every problem on the page. He couldn't get it, it seemed, unless she pointed at each problem and said, "And how do you do this one?" You can imagine, with two other children to attend to at the same time, this nearly drove Sarita crazy! After two years of this, however, the student suddenly grew out of it.

There are different theories on how to deal with these kinds of children. Some people say you should spank such children, and for some children such discipline does work. With the kind of child we're talking about, however — and if you have such a child, you know what we're talking about — no amount of spanking or threatening or cajoling will do a bit of good. You may have just spent half an hour in a highly emotional, painful confrontation on the issue, and, ten minutes later, guess what s/he is doing again? This kind of child just doesn't (seem to) get it.

Well, then you could follow the Moore's approach: "Your child is simply not yet ready to learn! Don't worry if he isn't reading before third grade. He'll grow into it eventually."

We believe there is some truth to this. There does seem to be some kind of developmental issue at work here. For one of our sons, "seat work" didn't begin to click — despite discipline, despite punishment, despite threatening and cajoling and poor mom feeling she was going to go half crazy — until he hit second grade. Another child didn't begin to read fluently until some time between late fifth and middle sixth grade.

Each child is different.

While you may recognize that each child is different, if you're like us, you're probably uncomfortable with the idea of sitting back and letting "nature" take its course. For one thing, there is that issue of social pressure from grandma and grandpa ("Clearly, homeschooling was the wrong choice and you are an incompetent teacher! Your child can't do simple addition and s/he is in second grade!").

And there is the fear of legal repercussions from the social services department or the local school district. Then you have that nagging suspicion that the problem really isn't developmental. Your son or daughter really could do the work if s/he only would. Indeed you know s/he can, when s/he is "forced" to by your sitting right there and demanding an answer.

So why doesn't a normal dose of discipline seem to work? What to do?

From our perspective, if you're uncomfortable with the Moore's solution (as we are — even though we have this sneaking suspicion that they are right!), instead of threatening to spank such children if they move from their chairs, and instead of reprimanding them every ten minutes because they are making poor progress, it is much better to do what Sarita did: sit down by them and help them move through the page in an organized, concentrated fashion. In this way you are helping them learn the very focusing skills that they seem to lack; you will also be ensuring that they actually understand what they are supposed to be doing, and, hopefully (if you don't go crazy first!), you will be helping them to retain positive feelings about the learning process (instead of getting a mental block by thinking that learning is just too difficult).

Some educators give the impression that following such a procedure reinforces bad habits and makes it more difficult in the long run for a child to develop good study habits. Some children, however, need to be walked through the process of concentrating on and completing a page of work — just as other children need to be walked through the process of cleaning their rooms, brushing their teeth or building a kite! For such active learners, you will actually be providing a necessary step in the learning process — a step that will help to eliminate a lot of unnecessary frustration and the potential for failure.

While it may be appropriate to permit younger students to finish their work in three hours, by the time a young man or woman is in eighth grade or higher, education should be looked at much as you might view a full-time job. Diligent classroom students are spending at least 6 hours per weekday at school, plus another couple of hours or more at home doing homework. Why, especially when they have the time, should we permit our homeschooled children to do less?

Let them achieve more than their classroom-taught peers. Let them not whine and whittle their hours down to the point where they achieve only what is expected of those who have an inferior opportunity!

We do not believe it is too much to ask of a junior and senior high school student to "work" up to 40 hours per week on education. They have this one opportunity to prepare themselves for a lifetime of service to God. Let them prepare themselves!

What if Your Child Just Doesn't Seem to be "Getting It"?

If at any time your child seems to be struggling with a concept — this is especially true in math or language arts — we urge you to go back to what you know he understands and try a different approach to explain the new concept, perhaps with manipulatives or other multi-sensory learning aids.

Sometimes it helps simply to "forget" about a concept for a week or two and come back to it later. We've often found that children's brains seem to acquire an understanding of a concept while thinking about it "on the back burner."

Don't be frustrated by these necessary learning processes, or quick to judge your child as uncooperative or lacking in ability. If your child continually struggles with one subject or another, you may need to have his sight and/or hearing checked. You may need to use different level materials in different subject areas.

At one point, compared with a "standard" curriculum, one friend's oldest son was almost two grade levels "ahead" in one subject and one grade level "behind" in another. And that's OK. He was getting the individualized attention he needed that he would have never received in a classroom setting.