Thursday, March 1, 2012

Homeschool Guilt Trip

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.



Holly Bennett said...

You're doing great with him! Every time you get down or feel guilty repeat to yourself the words you have written in bold. That is such a great achievment for a boy newly five! Learning will always happen at home, no matter if he goes to public school or home school co-op. You and Andrew are his primary teachers. It will get better. Prayers!

anne said...

Yes, yes, prayers indeed. You know more than I do already about raising kids, but I'd just remind you that he's still only five. I know he is an exceptional kid on many levels, but there is time. He's only five :)

love to you all!

Shane or Violet said...

We are considering sending Tessa to school next year too, and not because I don't believe in homeschooling at all--I was homeschooled! She gets angry and stressed being home all day and I think she really would do well with a group of her peers. The nice thing is that you can always undo going to school--just pull the kid out if it doesn't work.
I'm glad to hear that someone else is struggling with an angry child :)

Jen said...

Renee, I think anyone in your situation would be frustrated--that's a legitimate feeling. And I think Andrew's right. Some kids just need to go to school. It sounds like you've raised a very independent little boy thus far, and sometimes that independence translates into needing to learn outside the home and be with a group of kids who don't happen to be his sisters. I think it's a wise move to give yourself (and Alex and the girls) a break, especially with two tiny girls and a baby on the way. It will be good for all of you, because the last thing you want is for frustration on any level to breed resentment.

Anne is right, he's only five. But five year olds can have a stubborn streak a mile wide. Just remember that just because they don't (can't) teach faith in the classroom doesn't mean a public school teacher doesn't have faith in God and will teach from a place of faith even without saying it. I work in the public school system right now (for a non-profit, but in a school), and I know I can teach principles that are very much faith-based without using that language. You will always be your child's first and most important teacher, but sometimes that teaching needs to come by way of living and being an example (like you talked about), rather than acting as a "classroom" teacher, and letting someone else do that part of it.

I taught for awhile in a Montessori preschool, and I definitely agree with you on many levels. I think there are good and bad things about Montessori, but overall, personally I wasn't a big fan of that system.

No need to give yourself a guilt trip. You are a good mom and a good teacher. Give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack. It will be okay. Love and prayers to you. :)

Holly Bennett said...

By the way, when I said repeat what you wrote in bold. I meant that written in the second paragraph!

brian towler said...

I think the sweeping game worked beautifully. He came back and wanted to help do the sweeping. I bet that produced a sense of achievemnet for him. I think that Alex is achievemnet oriented.

priest's wife said...

just praying for you- parenting is hard!

AMDG said...

Parenting's rewards are long delayed in coming-- and I have a feeling that he will be very bored in public school and act out a bit. My oldest is nine and we take the days very casually, still. Outbursts happen! Perhaps I'm overly sensitive to this topic because close friends of ours have decided that their oldest son is out of control and sent him to live with another family for a while. (He's nine, with three younger sisters) I do not think the answer for lasting peace is to send our children away. Extra space is good; but that can be achieved as a family. Mothering is a painful journey and I am praying for you. This is just one person's tentative opinion!

Michelle M. said...

Renee, we homeschooled our oldest last year and decided, for many reasons, to send him to public school this year. The good news is that, even though I was really conflicted and heartbroken, it was the right decision. He is doing very well and enjoying the time with other children. For me, the home is a lot calmer when he is not here, so it makes everything more simple during the day. I don't know if we will send him to public school forever, but, for now, it is where he needs to be.

Kris Livovich said...

Hi, I discovered you thanks to Priest's Wife, and just had to comment. While reading your post, I said a prayer for you and for your family.

The line where you say, "I do not want to admit that strangers in a public school could do better than I and without Faith in God.", especially stuck out at me.

I believe that whether home, public, private, or anywhere in between, children will learn their ABC's and their Math. I believe our job as parents is to lead them to a deeper faith in God.

So you are sending your to school, fine! Let someone else teach him to read and write. You focus on teaching him to love God and his neighbor. You focus on loving him and his siblings and his father. Let someone else do science. You do Bible.

I am not trying to be harsh, I just hate for a mother to feel like a failure (we all do at points in our lives). Maybe in the future you will homeschool, maybe you won't, but as long as you love him and bring him (and you) daily before the Cross, you have done your job.

Do not be discouraged! The love you have for your family shines through in just this one post! You are not a failure!

Peace to you.