Wednesday, September 18, 2013

there are no bad kids, just unsuitable environments

I had one of the most difficult homeschooling days of my life this week.  I've been homeschooling for fifteen years.

We went on a homeschool trip.  Trips are a vital and vibrant part of homeschooling.  Rather than being at home all day learning from books, a great deal of homeschooling occurs by hands-on learning, especially by trips to museums and classes and being out and about in the world, exploring it.

I've been to Poppenhusen Museum before, back when Sarah and Chana were younger.  I remember it being a wonderful 2 part program that taught us history of Queens, history of what schools were like in "the olden days" via an actress pretending to be the original teacher, and very hands on activities about what the Native Americans did and how they lived.

Well.  This was back when Sarah was about 9 and Chana was almost 4.

It is not the same at all when the children I am dealing with are 6, 3, and 2.  I didn't realize just how much lecturing there was until Elazar got increasingly wriggly, restless, loud, active, and inquisitive.  When he had to restrain himself verbally, his body started moving more.  When I stopped him from running, he began tumbling.  When I stopped him from tumbling, he began exploring and touching.  It has been quite a long time since I've been someplace that garnered me and my children so many dirty looks.  And these from fellow homeschoolers.

I haven't really done that many trips in the last three years.  Ever since the Cradle of Aviation museum when I was nursing a newborn Jack and the rambunctious 2-year-old Elazar left me in the dust running all over the place, I realized my life had changed.   But now Aharon can walk around under his own steam, and Elazar is six, and I thought... I thought we could do it.

I once saw a homeschooling conference speech topic called: ADHD?  And does it matter?  That really resonated with me.  Might Elazar need medication if he was in school?  He might.  I recall that one of my brothers, very energetic, had a tough time sitting in school.  The good teachers allowed him to pace quietly in the back when he needed to.  I remember my mother rejecting Ritalin twenty years before it was common for teachers to suggest it.

Leonard Sax, in his book Boys Adrift, discusses an epidemic of medicating children, especially boys.  He makes an interesting point that the majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten are in the younger half of the class.  This is why, he says, it makes sense to hold boys back a grade.  Many of the younger boys are incapable of doing what they are being asked to do.

My feeling is that I'd rather set aside the issue of ADHD* and tailor my children's education to their nature.

Many complaints about homeschoolers when they matriculate is that they are too egocentric about their education.  They demand answers to their questions and don't seem to grasp when the class needs to move on.  They "take over" and expect more interaction from their teachers.  They expect the work they are given to have a good rationale behind it.  They expect the work to be interesting.  They stubbornly refuse to do it if they don't agree with it.  They are vocal about their opinions.  And these are the non-ADHD kids.  They just have a strong stake in their educations.

The environment that Elazar and I were in this week was so awful for him that the word ADHD was running through my head over and over.  I was getting irritated at him because he wouldn't sit (even though he did sit, first for almost 10 minutes out of a TWENTY minute gently spoken introduction, and then for 7 minutes in what was supposed to be an interactive program, at which point he left.  We didn't even attempt the last part of the program, which was supposed to be where you handle all the Native American artifacts and crawl in a wigwam, because when I peeked into Chana's group, they were... SITTING and passively LISTENING).

It's very possible that at age 6, Elazar can handle a program of this nature.  IF I shadow him.  If I help him.  If I stand next to him and whisper to him and focus him and restrain him.

However, I am blessed with Jack, age 3.5, extremely introverted and nervous standing by himself in new surroundings, and Aharon, age 2--well, that age speaks for itself.  It was impossible to help Elazar out while tending to the needs of his younger brothers and be quiet enough to not distract everyone else.  I was tense, stressed, fielding dirty looks, and just about crying.  And upset at my energetic, sweet, well-meaning Elazar.

Imagine if he and I were dealing with this every day.  Imagine if Elazar were in an environment which did not accept his physicality, his energy, his need for movement.  Imagine dirty looks and frustration on a daily basis.  Imagine me not knowing what to do about him every single day.  Imagine him being in an environment with demands on him that are so against his nature that his nature never gets a chance to shine.  Imagine his intellect rarely being activated because he was using all his efforts to conform to an unnecessary system.  Imagine if he were not allowed to learn by experiments and by hands-on exploration.  Imagine him being told don't touch, don't move, stop it, don't, stop, no, no, no all day long.

I'm very grateful that he is homeschooled.  I'm grateful I don't have to face the difficult decision of medicating or not.  I'm grateful to have the opportunity to make my own mistakes and try to set up a learning environment where his curiosity and energy are assets, not something to be numbed so he can sit in class.

* (Elazar does actually have the capacity to sit and focus on things, despite the rule of thumb I learned in an education course to do one type of activity for only as many minutes as years of age the children are.  So for 10 year olds, lecture for 10 minutes, not more, then change the activity to have them write something, then change the activity etc.)

1 comment:

  1. About a week ago I somehow found myself in a conversation with Shmuli where he very wisely said that if Natanel had to attend school, he would explode! And this is a kid who can sit and read for hours, and study bugs crawling on the grass for hours! He just can't sit still. He talks with his hands and has to touch everything.
    I try to choose trips wisely, and I am ready to bail out sooner if my kids cannot behave. I find that even Shmuli often gets impatient when there is a lot of lecturing involved.
    Hang in there, in another couple years this will all be doable. Maybe someone can babysit Aharon and Jack while you take Chana and Elazar out on trips?