My husband tells me I am not a failure. And when I look at all the things that our children have learned, I know that I cannot be considered a failure. But, the way my children behave toward me sometimes makes me feel like a failure.
From the beginning of becoming a stay-at-home mom, teaching my son has been a struggle and a battle. He has been very resistant to a lot of what I try to teach him, yet, he has seemed to thirst for me to provide activity and knowledge. At first, I thought that I just need him to trust me. We worked on it and he trusted me and things got better. Then I had to figure out how to make things comfortable and pressure-free, because he shut down if he could not do it perfectly. I did my best and things got better. He learned a lot. I taught him to read, write, count, paint, and faith, and he is only five years old. All along the way there have been speed bumps. I have tried to take them in stride. I have tried to take things slowly. All along the way I have felt moments of defeat.
Recently, he refused all lessons I prepared for him. I started offering him learning opportunities in disguise. He has continued to learn, just not as steeply and neatly as I would like. I have insisted that he continue to practice reading, but he always has to receive a reward for it. That is nothing new. I also have begun to read to him more. He has spent more time playing independently, which I love and encourage. Any opportunity to use one's imagination is good. I view playing as learning as well. Alex comes up with all sorts of creative things while he is playing. If he is playing, he is not picking on his sisters. I also welcome the opportunity to do my own chores without children expecting me to entertain them.
However in recent times, we have decided, much to our chagrin, to give him a new experience and give him time outside of our home. We are going to send him to the public school around the corner from our home. And for us, no more battles trying to teach him and a little peace for his sisters--a little recovery time for mom after a new baby arrives. With this decision, I have felt like a failure. Why could I not make this home school situation work? My husband said that I am not a failure. Alex is just the kind of kid that needs to go to school. I am not sure I believe that. Cannot any child be taught in the home?
I have not given up. I checked out books from the library on Montessori education and have been reading them all month. I am not an expert on it at all yet. I figured that since Alex likes to be master of himself, that I would give him that opportunity by letting the learning be practical and self-led.
I wanted to continue academic development as well. I started by getting out his lesson books and would let him pick one lesson he might be interested in learning. "I'm drawing right now, Mommy." Okay, keep drawing. While the kids eat breakfast or in the car before we go on a morning outing, I read them a Bible story or a religion lesson and then ask them a couple questions. No complaints about that yet. I took a couple baskets we already had and I made one reading books and one science and math books. I told Alex he could look at them as he pleases. So now he is teaching himself addition and subtraction. And he is looking at his reading books on his own (I miss our snuggly reading sessions).
Today, I found a website that has simple Montessori lessons for primary aged kids. I thought the website was very helpful. I read a lesson on "sweeping." After reading it, I thought that I could turn the sweeping lesson into a game and maybe I would invent a little sweeping helper. I envisioned how nice it would be to have children sweeping the floor after dinner while I cleaned up. I took construction paper, taped it to the floor and drew shapes on the paper. Then I took out our child size broom and dust pan and invited the children to the kitchen. I told them I had a game for them. I poured colored bow-tie pasta onto the floor and told them whoever sweeps the most pasta into their shape wins. Alex played along. Then he swept the pasta into the dust pan and put it back in the bag. I said, "All right, now let's play the same game with the dirt on the kitchen floor." Alex freaked out, hit me, said no, said that's not fun and left. I tried to convince him to come back and talk to me. I told him it could be fun. When he did not come back, I told him he needed to go to his room and sit on his bed and think about how he should treat people, and that his behavior was unkind and being unkind breaks God's commandments. He left. Then I cried. I cried (probably because I am pregnant, emotional and overtired from kids waking in the night) because I felt like a failure. I have tried so hard to make learning something new and practical, fun and without pressure. I have reinvented how we learn over and over again for him. And I have been mistreated. I do not want to admit that strangers in a public school could do better than I and without Faith in God. Yet, this is what I am resorting to. Furthermore, I cannot face being mistreated daily every time I try to teach him and I cannot let him run wild as he would like.
I am not trying to make him out to be some crazy deviant. He is a good kid. He came back to the kitchen after he had thought about his behavior and said that he would help me sweep and he was sorry. He did not know I was crying when he came back. I told him that I did not want or need his help sweeping; I just wanted to make a game for him and make sweeping fun for him; I told him that he could go away and play. He said, that he still wanted to help me. So I had him sweep up my piles of dirt with the dustpan.
What a disaster. I cannot decide whether Montessori is on to something, or whether it just creates inauthentic busywork for parent/teacher and child. I say this, because I learned all of these life skills the Montessori method teaches by living life authentically, not by contrived trays overtly placed and lessons. A child learns to sweep by watching his mother and then is given the broom and told to do it (this does not have to occur at the same moment, but at some point in his life). A child learns to button his shirt because there are buttons on his shirt, not because someone set a button practicing tray in front of him. Can you force a child to be a "sovereign knower," or does this not happen naturally? I think not. I think each man MUST define and know himself for himself. Montessori seems to set out to define the child's sense of self by teaching self-sufficiency through an overly contrived setting. But like I said, I cannot decide if this is the case. There is something to providing a child-friendly, practical, orderly and beautiful environment in order that the child might discover his world and thrive on his own.
I do not know why sweeping the floor had to turn into a guilt trip for me and Alex. I did not mean it to. I don't know why I take such things so personally. Maybe this is how homeschooling is going to be for us--step ups and speed bumps--and I just need to make peace with it all.