Check out the post I wrote over at Simple Homeschool, one of my favorite websites!
Failure. We hate it. It’s bad enough when we experience it, but when it happens to our kids, it’s truly painful. But there are two ways to fail. The first leads to withdrawal, hurt pride, and giving up. The second leads to success in the long run. This kind is called failing forward and it leads to true learning. Instead of quitting in the face of defeat it means getting back up, reassessing, and trying again. The difference between the two types of failure is enormous and can change the trajectory a person’s life.
Failure itself is inevitable, of course, if one attempts to grow and learn. Most great inventors, creatives, and history makers fail hundreds of times in their attempts to change the world before they ever see success. But what separates them from those who grow discouraged and give up (aside from special intelligence, timing, or talent) is their ability to fail forward—to inch toward their goals, even as they land on their backsides again and again.
We want this kind of grit for ourselves. Perhaps even more than that, we want to nurture it in our kids because we sense it will help them to achieve what they’re meant to do. But how can we help them when it seems like some people are just born more resilient than others?
As usual, it starts with us.
We moms must teach our kids that failure is not the enemy. We must convince them that it is a teacher that shows us what didn’t work and gives us hints as to what will. There are things we can do to pave the way for failing forward in our kids.
· We must manage our expectations. When our kids try something new, do we expect them to “get it right” after a couple of tries? Do we secretly hope that they make us look good when they play the piano? Do we experience a rush of irritation when our child stands up to give a speech in the local co-op, one we helped him practice many times in the last week, and he stammers, forgets whole sections, and says silly things? (Guilty as charged). If we want to encourage proper risk-taking in our kids, we homeschool moms must let go of the results of their efforts. We must divorce our sense of self-worth from the outcome of those attempts. This is easier said than done, certainly, but it is imperative. A child who is afraid to make mistakes (and disappoint Mom) is a child who will not try new things.
· We must prepare our reaction to our child’s failure before it happens. Sometimes it catches us off guard when our kids fail and we don’t always say what we ought to say. Those moments after the sting of defeat are crucial ones for our kids and they are often looking to us to know how to feel about them. We can decide, in advance, how we will handle those times, even creating a script for ourselves. We might say, “I saw the effort you put into that car you made. And even though it fell apart, I am so proud of how hard you worked on it. That kind of focus will take you far. Keep trying because I know you can do it.” Knowing what we will say before our child fails will help us to respond in an encouraging way.
· We must allow our kids to see us fail. Um, ouch. No one likes to fail. But grown-ups like to fail least of all. We all do, however, and it’s important to be honest with our kids when we try something and it doesn’t work. We could say, “You know, I interviewed for that position and I didn’t get it. I’m disappointed but I won’t let that stop me. I’m going to keep trying and trust that the right job will come my way.” Or in my case, “I’m still working on my book, and there’s lots I have to scrap. I’m tired just thinking about it. But it means a lot to me, so I’m going to take a break and try again—even though I don’t feel like it right now.” We think these kinds of conversations don’t make much of an impact on our kids, but they do. Our kids are always listening.
· We must be honest about fear. This is getting into the weeds, I know. But why do people not try new things? Because they don’t want to mess up. Why don’t they want to mess up? Because they are afraid—afraid to look stupid or like losers. But decisions that are fear-based are often not good ones. There are sensible reasons to be afraid of some risk-taking, of course. Nine times out ten, however, we hold ourselves back from trying new things or embracing new opportunities because we are scared, not because we are prudent. And guess what? Our kids pick up the unspoken message that to “play it safe” and “be like everyone else” is the way to avoid failure. As they grow, they inherit our fears, adding some of their own, until they lose the ability to step out in faith in a variety of ways. We need to show our kids that while fear in the face of failure is normal, it will not be the deciding factor in our choices. This starts with asking ourselves in what ways we are “stuck” or afraid. For me, it means praying and asking the Lord to show me where I’m allowing fear to control my decisions. We need to be honest with our kids when we’re afraid of trying something new, and then we need to try it anyway.
We teach our kids how to go potty and how to tie their shoes when they are little. Later we teach them math and biology. But one of the best lessons we can teach, a lesson that will last a lifetime, is how to fail and to keep moving forward.
An email from a reader:
The second thing I would say is: Just read. Let her curl up in your lap and just read to her. The same books, over and over, if she wants you to. Let her know how special she is to you, your oldest, your firstborn. She will NEVER forget that you did this and it will mean the world someday. She does not need more than this right now.
Third: Have you read Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book, ‘Better Late Than Early’? If you haven’t, let someone watch the kids while you run to the library to check it out. You will be encouraged to find that children learn better when they start later with formal seatwork, not earlier.
Fourth: The library is more than adequate to provide you with curricula right now. But when your daughter wants to read, you might like to try ‘Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’–but only when she wants to! I taught all three of my kids to read using this inexpensive resource. It’s been passed down to my nieces and nephews and is tattered now.
Fifth: Co-op can be a wonderful encouragement for your child, but the real winner might be you. I find that co-ops offer some educational benefits to children here and there. But the biggest beneficiaries are the moms, hands down. If you can find one that suits you, and one that you can afford, then I’d say it might be worth it. My kids and I did not join ours until we had been homeschooling for almost 7 years already, but it has been a real blessing for us.
My heart is for people just like you. I am woefully human. The Bible calls us ‘jars of clay’ because we are all so ordinary and easily broken. My homeschool journey doesn’t make sense unless I tell you that it is Jesus who has made all the difference in my impatient, hurried, driven heart. He is helping me to be kind, loving, patient. It’s just taking a long time! Even with all my imperfections (and please know, they are MANY) I asked my kids the other day if they’d like to go to school. My oldest spent a semester in kindergarten back in the day but my younger two have never darkened the door of a school. They looked at me as if I’d said a bad word, though I haven’t spent my time trashing the public school. They said, “Absolutely not! Never. No, no, no.” I said, “But I get angry at you all and sometimes I want to explode and so do you.”
Your kids still pick you. Your daughter would still pick you any day of the week. Be encouraged. You can do this. I know you can. Feel free to chat me more in the future. I want you to succeed.
I recently wrote a post about why we all say homeschooling is hard: http://prayingwithoneeyeopen.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/the-real-problem-with-homeschooling/
It generated an enormous response, bigger than I could have predicted. Most of the feedback was positive but one commenter had this to say:
“Sadly, this post about homeschooling is like all the rest. There seems to be a need for homeschooling parents to simultaneously bemoan their jobs and be self congratulatory at the same time. “Homeschool is parenting on steroids?” You’re implying that homeschool parents are MORE of a parent than non homeschooling parents. You’re not parenting on steroids!!!! There is no such thing! I really wish homeschool parents would stop trying to find their self-worth in homeschooling. When that happens, you inadvertently make statements belittling those of us who don’t. Enough!!!!”
In the spirit of continuing the conversation, I’d like to ask you all what you think? Do you think homeschoolers “cross the line” when they talk about the ways in which homeschooling is difficult? Do you think they are self-congratulatory? Why is it that this particular topic generates so many heated emotions but talking about, say, the difficulties of caring for aging parents or starting a home business seem to garner less intense debates? Does this commenter have a legitimate point? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
The snow came in the night, covering us up, hemming us in. We knew we’d be home for the day and we felt glad and sleepy. We hadn’t made many plans, which was fortunate because the weather would have forced us to cancel them anyway. The kids, still groggy from a long sleep, scuffled their way into the kitchen, tendrils of hair praising the sky. The snow had kept Daddy home, too, and he was making biscuits.
The boys hurried to finish their math, first thing, so that they could pretend that no trace of “school” had taken place, only hour after hour of wintry possibility. The weather had given us permission to hunker down, to do less, and we were grateful.
Instead of school work the kids
· Shoveled snow
· Talked with their grandparents
· Played Farkle
· Tinkered on the piano because they wanted to, not because I made them
· Typed messages on an old typewriter
· Listened to music
· Read library books
· Sat and thought
I have noticed that these can be the best kinds of days, ones where we don’t try to stuff every nook and cranny with something to do. These are the times when the unexpected happens simply because, what is it they say? Nature abhors a vacuum? The empty space we create for our kids will be filled, perhaps with Lego building, journal writing, origami, or shoveling snow. And yes, sometimes the moments are filled with whining, crying, and complaining. Generally, though, those moments die down if we’ll just press through them, breathing through the contractions of boredom. Eventually they give way to self-directed play and learning if this is what we teach our children to expect—that they are ultimately responsible for their own education and entertainment. We help them along, of course, providing motivation, discipline, and the occasional course correction.
But sometimes, the most important thing we moms can do is to do nothing at all.
They’ve gotten bad press in the last two decades but I’ll add my voice to those who declare that boys are pretty wonderful. While living in a culture that increasingly penalizes boys for being, well, boys, homeschool moms must reimagine their sons, with all their masculine quirks, not as nuisances who ought to be more feminine, but as men-in-the-making, different and valuable. They must celebrate that which is distinctly male, and civilize what is wild and potentially destructive in their sons. This is no easy task but it begins with the understanding that boys learn differently from girls and need different things.
And that is ok.
As I look back on my own homeschool journey, I see again and again that the times I struggled the most were those in which I tried to get my boys to behave more like my daughter when it came to formal learning. I wanted them to sit still for long periods of time, to enjoy handwriting and dictation, to focus on lengthy, detailed explanations. I wanted them to enjoy the same books I did as a child, ones where relationships between characters took precedence over plot action. And when they didn’t meet my expectations, I grew frustrated and disillusioned, as if this were somehow their fault.
The longer I homeschool the more I see that my boys need permission to move, to be heard, and to feel indispensible. When I am able to work on incorporating these felt needs into our day, I see the tension largely dissolve between my boys and me and I see the path to learning open up.
Boys need to move, often, especially when they are young. We all know that most boys are bundles of energy, but we somehow imagine that when it’s time to “start school” for the day, they can and will transform themselves into docile, little lambs. But young boys are not meant to sit still for long periods of time. This is a problem in the public school classroom because teachers must require children sit for long stretches in order to maintain order and discipline, and in these settings boys are constantly penalized for squirreliness.
Homeschooling affords us the freedom to let our boys move—a lot–throughout the day. This not only improves their moods but also helps them to focus in short, intense bursts. Have your young son jump or jog in place while he recites his multiplication facts. Or better yet, let him spend time outside and burn off energy before attempting to quiz him. Think of seatwork in terms of 10-30 minute slots in the day and don’t be afraid to let your son take many, many breaks. Even knowing a break is coming will help small boys concentrate better during intense formal learning times.
Boys need to be heard. We are used to hearing that girls must be encouraged to “speak their minds” and “tell what they know.” These things are true, of course. But we forget that boys also want to know that someone thinks their ideas are worth listening to. They need to feel respected, even when they are young. When your son is sharing an idea with you, even if it is ridiculous or improbable or fanciful, take a moment to look him in the eye and really listen. Nod and ask follow-up questions if necessary. And if it’s not a good time for a discussion (my boys will try to talk to me about anything and everything as we’re walking out the door, loading up the car, or when I am cooking) let your son know that, while right now is not a good time, later you will listen to his thoughts–before bed, or before naptime, or when homework is completed. Just let him know that you care what’s going on in his head.
Boys need to feel indispensible, especially to Mom. This is no surprise, really. Men want to be needed by women. They want to feel that they have something to offer, that they are important. It only follows that little boys begin to show signs of wanting to be “big” and helpful from early childhood if we don’t squelch this trait in them. Have your boys do regular household chores, which will help them burn physical energy and encourage responsibility. But don’t be afraid to ask them to do things for you that you could do for yourself as they grow. I’ll never forget my middle son’s attempt to help me carry in groceries from the car when he was three. There I was with an armful of canned goods and he demanded to “help me” carry in a gallon jug of milk. His little arms were not strong enough and he ended up dropping the jug on the floor. He was very upset and I was tempted to say, “See, buddy? You should have let Mama do that.” But somehow I controlled my tongue that day and said, “Thank you so much for helping me. I’m glad you were there.” That response made all the difference for him.
Now that I have middle school-aged sons, I do not hesitate to ask them to figure out the TV remotes, program my phone, set the thermostat, start the car for me, write things down on the calendar, make phone calls, and lift heavy objects. Of course I could do these things myself. But I try to emphasize to my sons that they are important and that I need them in order to run the home and homeschool well. This seems to bring out the best in them.
Don’t be afraid, homeschool Mom, to accept your son as he is. He is different from you and that is not a bad thing. Help him to respect you and to learn by understanding his need to move, to be heard, and to feel indispensible. You’ll be working with him, not against him.
The living room is quiet. Gray walls soothe the air and we sit in our corners on opposite sides of the room. My daughter is wrapped in a blanket and I sit in the striped chair with my coat still on. I’m always cold. We look at each other, our blue eyes connecting across the silence. I let myself glance away, interrupting the connection between us, and my eyes float to the stripes of sunlight dissecting the floor. I wish I could crawl into my daughter’s heart, sometimes, to see what’s there. She is Rapunzel’s tower, tall and secure. Let down your heart, I call from the ground below. She is kind, a nine-year-old feeler, but she’s a mystery, too. She owns herself and I am left trying to decode her signals.
She rubs a lazy hand over our dog, who perches on top of the couch, disobedient. Her face is softened by a private affection. It’s just the dog and her, and I am glad for a moment of my own. Her lips flange over the braces we just paid for. That puffy mouth makes her look like a baby and I suddenly remember how much time has passed. She murmurs something to the dog, then pulls out the bobby pin that holds her growing-out bangs. Swaths of blond hair fall forward, covering one blue eye. She shoves the pin into the loose-weave holes in our blanket. I open my mouth to tell her to stop but check myself.
I want to know what she thinks of me. Oh, I know all about the love. She is generous. But I am driven, though I wish to God that I weren’t. She is a dreamer and I remember being a dreamer once. If I let myself, I can still summon the childish surprise of the physical world, that solid return to the pavement after flying. And now? Now I press hard on the lid of the snake-in-a-can inside, hoping all the striving, and teaching, and trying, and dying will stay contained.
I teach my daughter. But what does she learn?
I want to ask her, looking hard into her wistful face. I lean forward, trying to capture the truth before it darts away. That silver fish that eludes my net.
I want to ask, Am I too much for you? Will you keep dreaming? Is my shushing and shooing and smoothing and correcting and fussing and judging and scolding and defining ruining you? Because I can only be me, and you are getting a lot of this. Jesus has promised that he is changing me. But my heart is sunburned and change is slow. So?
But what comes out of my mouth is, Tell me something you’d like me to know.
My daughter tilts her head to one side and says, Like what? And I tell her that I need her to give me some advice on homeschooling. But what I need is to take our pulse, hers and mine.
She sighs and for a moment. Then she says, “My advice to homeschool moms is to go outside everyday, if the weather lets you. And dogs are so important,” she says. “They are the best part of the day.”
This isn’t what I want her to say, though a part of me is relieved.
“It feels bad when you correct me, Mom. I remember it. But it fades.” She looks into the middle distance.
Here it is, I think.
“I like history. Wait. Does that count as school? I know one thing: People should let their kids sew.”
She smiles at me. My heart contracts. I still don’t know what she thinks of me, really. Only time will tell.
But I know we love each other.