>>My daughter is so resistant sometimes. She has a very short
attention span and gets easily frustrated.<<
>>My oldest is 7 almost 8. The days which are good are good. We can get our kodesh and chol done in 3-4 hours (spaced around breaks and lunch). On the bad days we cannot get school going because he shleps out (or had chutzpah about) his morning routine (dressing, making bed, davening, eating breakfast and usually a chore) so he is late in getting started, then it goes downhill from there. I have seemed to solve one of the problems (more or less) by having him go to his own office with his work and a timer which he tries to beat and I also give him firm limits on how long he can take to finish an assignment (otherwise he shleps that out forever). He gets distracted by his siblings’ (boy 5, girl 2) antics and schooling. That seems to work (and takes a lot of stress of me watching him mess around all monring/afternoon). <<
I’m answering both of these questions in this post, since they both seem to be to be about how to handle a child who is resistant to learning. I had this, too, when I started homeschooling my son for half a day. He really didn’t like my ideas of what to do and how to do it, and we had a lot of conflict about it. He was about 7.5 at that time.
When I started off, I didn’t have any homeschooling philosophy formulated – my goal was to teach my child at home whatever he would be learning in school. I read The Well Trained Mind (classical approach based on the trivium), and it sounded good. It was the only thing I read, so I didn’t have much to compare it to. Anyway, it was terrible for us because it was totally not a fit for my child’s needs and personality. He was resistant because he didn’t like it – pretty simple, right? So I had to learn more about different ways of learning, and look at what my deeper goal was. My true goal was for him to find learning relevant and meaningful (to some degree, anyway!), and for it to be a positive experience for him, since I wanted learning to have positive associations throughout his life.
This meant reassessing what learning looked like and how it took place. Of course the only model I had was the school model and the classical model of education followed that in many ways, which is why it initially appealed to me. It felt secure and safe and seemed to promise a quality education. But it wasn’t working. He was unhappy, and I was unhappy that there was so much tension and negativity involved in getting him to do his work. Finally, I realized that I had to let go of my expectations and look for what would work with him. I took a big step backwards, and started focusing on making our home learning environment enjoyable and relaxed. I read to him, and stopped expecting him to read out loud to me a certain amount of time. I stopped giving him grammatical rules to copy into his grammar notebook. I stopped just about everything, I think! I replaced that with more hands on activities, and just relaxed time together. Though I worried that he wasn’t learning anything, our house very quickly became a much more pleasant place to live. In seven weeks, he went from adamanatly refusing to read aloud to me, or even open a book on his own (“I hate reading!”), to independently reading to himself in his free time.
Children this age (up to and including age eight) need very little official learning time. For our family, I’ve broken down their academic needs to the very basics – reading, writing, arithmetic. That’s all that I expect and I know that with solid basics in place, they’ll be well eqipped to handle anything else they need as they get older. And I don’t think it should take very long at this age at all, not more than an hour total for kodesh and chol. My dd8 started this year (when she was still seven) reading for 15 minutes daily (alternating days for Hebrew and English), 10 minutes (or two – three sentences) of copywork, and 15 minutes of math. Now she reads all the time so it’s not part of her official schedule; only math (one lesson) and copywork are. 3 – 4 hours is a LOT, and more time doesn’t necessarily equate with more learning. (That’s why I’ve thought for a long time that the schools would benefit everyone if they cut the hours down – the longer a child spends on his work, the less effective he becomes.)
I know, it sounds inadequate, doesn’t it? But don’t forget, children are learning all the time, from everything they do. There are lots of fun ways to ‘sneak’ in the learning and if you integrate it naturally into your day, they won’t perceive it as school work. I didn’t even try to sneak it in; I started looking at education and information from a different paradigm, which would best be reflected by the statement ‘Education isn’t about filling a bucket, but about lighting a fire.” (My apologies if I didn’t get the quote exactly, but that’s the gist of it.) Then my focus became more about helping motivate them to want to learn instead of stuffing them full of what I thought they needed to know.
In my opinion, resistance from a child is a sign that you need to reassess what you’re doing and why. This isn’t an either you get your way or he gets his way situation – if it’s not working for both of you, then it’s not working at all. Both of you need to be basically enjoying your time together and feeling your needs are met. That’s the beauty of homeschooling, that we can have an enjoyable educational environment that fits everyone’s needs. Educating our kids is about really working with each of them according to their needs. I’d suggest you think about what is a priority to you, regarding what you want him to learn, and drop everything else. He has many, many years ahead of him to learn other things, and the best time for a child to learn something is when he wants to learn it. You can make a child do their ‘work’, but you can’t make him internalize the message and really learn anything (I once argued this with a first year teacher, who adamantly disagreed with me – he said that a good teacher can make a child learn. I said, ‘No, a good teacher makes a child want to learn’ He didn’t see the distinction, but it’s a very important one.)
I really like having games around because they are a wonderful way to give a child something to do that he’ll enjoy and you’ll know he’s learning. There are games like Scrabble and Boggle for spelling, Battleship and Monopoly for math, and so many others for every possible subject (this is a good way to get in history, geography, or even Latin roots – I bought a card game for that).
I also have a lot of hands on manipulatives that I let them play with; I don’t really use them to explain mathematical concepts though that’s what I initially got them for. These manipulatives include: pattern blocks (which are just wonderful), base ten blocks, cuisenaire rods, linking cubes, tangrams, teddy bear counters, a hundred number chart, spherical shapes, fraction pieces, a scale, magnets, and other things I’d have to go downstairs to look at to remind myself about. I have flashcards for numbers, time, abcs, Hebrew letters. I have Brain Teaser kind of things, puzzles, etc. These aren’t getting used all the time, but when someone wants to use them, they’re there for them.
I’m giving these as examples that taking a more relaxed approach doesn’t mean being neglectful of their education or letting them do whatever they want all day long. One thing I feel strongly about is that the time that is freed up for the child can’t be used on tv, videos (unless they are educational ones that you feel are valuable), or computers. If children are giving wholesome alternatives as to how to spend their time, they’ll find productive ways to spend their time. The chances are high that the activities they choose will be those which you can honestly identify as academic time when you look at all that they’re learning.
Oh, one more thing. I can see how a 7 yo would find it very distracting (and unfair!) to do his work when he sees his younger siblings playing around. That’s normal, and it’s reasonable for him to feel this way. I used to do a lot of reading to all of my kids when they were younger while the littlest ones played, and then when the little ones were ready for a nap, that’s when I had the oldest one do the more formal work – I didn’t try to do much with him until the house was quiet enough to focus on him (when my oldest was 8, we had a 1, 2.5, 5, and 6.5. so there were a lot of distractions for him!). This dynamic does change over time – since most of my kids are now old enough to be formally doing academic work each day, the younger ones want to do what the older ones are doing! (That’s why my three year old will insist he has to do his math before he can do anything else – a few days ago he was trying to convince me that he was 6 so he could do what his older siblings were doing. )