The Basics of the Basics of Learning
I sat at the dining table with Ryan trying to make him understand how to find the value of x and why he would even want to. Working in his A Beka book, keeping his attention on the subject at hand was difficult, to say the least. Ryan was not even my child. I was homeschooling him for his mother because he had gotten in some trouble at school and couldn’t go back. His distraught mother called me and asked me to homeschool him for her. I agreed to help out and ended up having to get up early to work with him three days a week for 4 hours each day because that’s what his mother wanted. We were struggling to get through his math for the day. I should say I was struggling. I was trying harder than he was.
My son Shawn came through the dining room with a book in his hand. He was about 9 years old. I asked him what book he had. It was Ryan’s Spelling and Poetry book. I asked him why he had Ryan’s book. He said, “Mommy, listen to this,” and proceeded to read a poem by Longfellow. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. It was astounding to me because I DIDN’T KNOW THAT SHAWN COULD READ!
About 6 months before that I had started reading Tarzan aloud to him. I read one chapter a night at first and then we got a little less consistent. It was a long story. And I was a busy mommy of 4 young children, plus I did outside tutoring and was now homeschooling Ryan. Shawn listened intently as Tarzan taught himself to read from books that he found in the house that had belonged to him and his parents. He told me one day that he suddenly realized that reading was fun. He could imagine what Tarzan looked like and could see the scenes in his mind when I read about his interaction with the apes in the story. I was so glad to hear that he now considered reading fun.
But getting him to work in his workbooks was still a struggle each day. Many times I would say, “Shawn, do your school work.” And he would moan and wait for me to gather all of his supplies before he would reluctantly come to the table to do his Phonics and Math workbooks. I had gone through the first level of a language arts based curriculum with him, but he still wasn’t reading fluently. So I had started him in a beginning level Phonics book, which was pretty easy for him, but he still couldn’t read a book. Some days he wouldn’t even try to do his work. I had to call his dad at work and tell on him. His dad would tell him to just finish his work and then he could do whatever he wanted. He would reluctantly do a page or two in his Phonics workbook and then do a page of Math, sighing and complaining the whole time. Then he would get up and go to his room to play video games.
When I started homeschooling Ryan, I kind of forgot about homeschooling Shawn. I’m sure Shawn didn’t mind that at all. It took all of my time and energy to keep Ryan on task, keep all of my own four kids fed and clothed and basically out of trouble and doing enough housework to keep us all alive. Dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking – I did it all.
So on that fateful day when I heard Shawn reading Longfellow, I was flabbergasted! How did this happen? When did he start reading? And how did he learn to read such long words and such a complicated work when I hadn’t even been working with him on reading?
It boggled my mind.
When it came to math, Shawn was equally unexcited about doing his schoolwork. He went through his first grade workbook pretty easily, but when it came to memorizing the addition facts, it wasn’t happening. I found a curriculum that used a pattern and should have made it easier to memorize, but it wasn’t working for him, and he hated math time every day. I came up with the idea of letting him move while doing the singsong pattern of the addition tables. He walked around and around the table as he recited them. And you know what happened? They started to stick! He started remembering them. All he needed was to be able to move while he was memorizing them. He said them out loud as he walked around the table and somehow that made him able to memorize!
How did I know that would work? I believe the Holy Spirit gave me that idea.
And the reading thing – how did he learn without my sitting right next to him making him read sentences aloud to me? I think it was because I gave him the basic tools of Phonics, and then he just needed time and his brain needed to process the information and put it together in its own time, and when everything came together, he was able to read!
Now when it came to my second child, Katie, she was completely different from Shawn. She talked earlier, loved to write and draw all the time. Shawn hated to write. He complained that his hand hurt. He hated how his writing looked. He erased and erased and took forever to write anything. Katie, on the other hand, wrote all kinds of things, using invented spelling and just wrote words the way they sounded. She always had some kind of writing instrument in her hand and whenever the urge hit her, she would write. She didn’t complain about doing her work in her workbooks. She liked doing other writing and drawing on her own. She wrote all kinds of poems and illustrated them on her own. I didn’t even know she was doing them until she had a whole bunch of them done and showed them to me one day.
I was amazed.
Patrick was my absent student. I could never find him to homeschool him. He was always outside. He loved to ride his bike and run around and climb and explore. When I managed to sit him down, he didn’t want to do any workbooks, but he didn’t mind the Phonics book by Explode the Code because he liked the picture on the front of a guy they called Big Tex. He would do a page of it without too much argument, but I couldn’t catch him every day. I think he was hiding from me.
Anna did her Phonics book without much trouble, so we went all the way through it at a pretty steady pace.
But when we finished the Phonics books – Patrick and Anna finished at about the same time – I thought they would be ready to read. So I got out the Bob books. They did okay with those. But when they tried to move up to the next level, neither one of them could read them.
Once again, I was taken by surprise. I was shocked. My system didn’t work for them the way it had worked for my first two. So I waited a while. Like a couple of months. Then I got out the beginning readers again. And they both were able to read them.
My next child was the earliest reader of them all. She was six years old when she learned to read fluently. Once she knew Phonics, she was well on her way. After that, if she found a book, she picked it up and started reading it. I didn’t have to cajole or beg or bribe or even tell her to try to read anything. She just did it on her own.
Math was not quite so easy for her.
I could go through each of my ten children, but suffice it to say that no two of them were alike. They each had different timetables, ages and stages that they went through. They didn’t all learn the same way or at the same pace. Far from it. Some were better at one subject and not so good at others. Some of them seemed to breeze through a thing and then hit a roadblock later on. Then they had to wait a while until they were ready to learn the new thing. Some of them were very interested in one subject and very disinterested in others. I usually couldn’t change their minds. I did introduce many different things to them to test the waters. That way they could check it out and see if it was something they wanted to learn more about.
There were some things that I insisted they learn, no matter how long it took. Sometimes I had to try all kinds of ways to present it to them before they could finally get it. But I didn’t pressure them or make them feel like there was something wrong with them if they couldn’t learn it in the usual way.
One thing I want to stress is that none of them are smarter than any other. They are all smart in different ways. The age they learn something doesn’t have anything to do with how smart they are, either. So if you have found yourself thinking that way, please adjust your thinking and let children learn in the way that is best for them. And don’t compare. And don’t judge their intelligence or ability by any of these factors. Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made by their Creator. He loves them in their uniqueness. And we should imitate Him in this.