Q: I home-school my three children, ages are 8, 6, and 5. The older two have a very poor attitude about doing school, especially math, and the younger one is starting to pick up on it. Their poor attitudes make the lessons take longer and they complain and cry about finishing their assignments. I’ve tried sending them to their rooms until they have a better attitude, but that seems like more of a reward to them because they get to do nothing. They are not working independently yet so I still need to teach them the lessons, but I get so frustrated when they huff and puff and act like school is so hard. They are all working at or slightly above grade level so it isn’t that they don’t understand, they just don’t want to do the work. We do school each morning for about 4 hours, and then they can play the rest of the day. How can I show them they need to have a good attitude about learning?
A: You’re describing behaviors that are strongly indicative of hovering, micromanaging, and over-teaching on the part of the home-schooling parent (almost always female). Micromanagement, wherever it occurs, always stimulates push-back in one form or another. In a home-school situation, the push-back takes the form of whining, crying, laziness, and other “motivational” issues – the very behaviors you describe.
A few years ago, I said in this column that home schooling did not require high involvement. A group that provides support to home-schooling moms went ballistic, as if I’d attacked a sacred home-school cow. According to them, I not only didn’t know what I was talking about (I had never home-schooled, they said, which isn’t true) but was also causing damage to home-schooling moms and home-schooled kids. The point is that high involvement is considered a given in home-school mom culture, the underlying assumption being that the more involved the mom, the higher her kids’ achievement levels.
That assumption is belied by the generally overcrowded (by today’s standards) 1950s classroom. My first-grade class, for example, consisted of 50 kids and one teacher. It simply wasn’t possible for a teacher in that situation to give any given child much individual attention; furthermore, only the very rare 1950s mom helped her child with homework. And yet, student achievement was higher then than it has been since.
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And so the 1950s classroom is the teaching model I recommend for home-schooling moms. Break the teaching day into subject modules of 30 to 60 minutes. Begin any given module by teaching for 10 to 15 minutes; then give a time-limited assignment; then leave the room. Come back when the time is up, grade the assignment, give whatever feedback and re-teaching is necessary, and then move into the next module.
That teaching paradigm minimizes teacher/mom involvement and maximizes student responsibility. (When that same low-involvement model is applied in a workplace, it maximizes employee performance.) I’d also recommend that you look into transitioning into a low-involvement home-school curriculum. It sounds to me like you and your kids need a “break” from one another.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: www.johnrosemond.com; www.parentguru.com