Freshman homeschooling angst

I love this!! from New Math by Craig Damrauer

I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the major roles in parenting is to help children see the world in proper perspective:  to be more aware of others, to be aware of the potential results of personal actions, to discern what warrants a skeptical eye, to have a balanced view of self, to learn to look at things with God’s supernatural reality in mind and not just what presents itself as reality, etc.

My oldest son, Ethan, is 14 and has, four weeks into the school year, struggled with high school.  Not grade-wise;  he’s producing fine work.  Not with the content of his work;  he is enjoying what he’s learning.  It’s simply the volume of work, and how much it requires of his time and energy.

Our school day runs from 8:30 – 12:30.  If a reasonable amount of work is not accomplished in that time, I will often require that my children do the remainder of their work sometime in the afternoon, but my availability as a teacher is really limited after lunch;  they’re typically on their own for “homework” hours.  And, as I blogged briefly a couple of weeks ago, my approach for K-8 is very spiraling:  We cover topics repeatedly with increasing depth and complexity, so if one subject is not properly covered or grasped one week, or one month, or even one year, I don’t panic;  there’s always later.  That fairly relaxed attitude, combined with the fact that my children have done fabulously on standardized tests, has resulted in me really not having a rigorous approach to homework.

But… with high school, it’s different.  There are things that the state requires that my son learns (if I follow the track of high school diploma requirements — which is not actually necessary for homeschooled students where I live, but advisable).  And there are things that he needs to learn regardless of who is or is not requiring it.  And we can’t just catch up “next year.”  Our spiral is running out of room.  So, really, for the first time ever — other than math, which I’ve always insisted that they keep up on — I’m now communicating to Ethan, “If your stuff isn’t done in those four hours of ‘official’ school, you must get it done on your time.”

He’s having a really hard time with that, and feeling really, really, really, really overwhelmed, to the point where the entirety of his waking hours — from when his eyelids open in the morning to lights-out for the night — are heavy.  He hangs his head, he seems frequently on the verge of tears, he tends to pessimism, he’s on edge, he sighs incessantly, he needs lots of hugs (which is totally fine;  I’m thrilled that my 14 year old son wants hugs from me)…  Heavy.

I’ve told him that the mercy in me wants to just say, “Oh, it’s all right.  You don’t have to do it.”  However, I feel that it’s the right time to require him to manage his time, be consistent, persevere, work hard — even when he doesn’t want to, develop study skills, step up in responsibility, and any other number of practical skills and character traits that can be developed by hard work and persistence.

Plus, I just want him to learn.  I do, definitely, want him (and all my children) to enjoy school.  I want them to be excited about learning, and truly enjoy what they’re doing, and that desire daily factors into how we do school.  But, I would hate to look back on Ethan’s high school experience and know that my laxity as a teacher and a mother limited his options for college and/or career.  I don’t want to shortchange his education.

So, I’ve been pretty hardnosed about it.

Perhaps, though, I’ve been too hardnosed.

Yesterday morning, my husband Martin told me that the previous night (when I’d been out grocery shopping), he and Ethan had a heart-to-heart, and Ethan was pretty despondent about school, really feeling like he’s drowning and I don’t care.  😦  Martin suggested that I pray about how to handle it, and that perhaps I needed to ease up.

I prayed…  Not a 40-day intense time of prayer and fasting, but not simply a, “God help me.  Thanks,” kind of prayer…  Somewhere in the middle.  Well, “somewhere in the middle,” but on the shorter side of the middle, because after fifteen minutes of prayer, I had some guidelines in my head for a bit of a different approach.  As I told Ethan later that morning, I wasn’t claiming that they were totally inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they might be!  I also asked him to give the new system two weeks to see if it helped.

In short, the new system is this:

  • Maxing out his school day at 6 hours.  The four hours from 8:30 – 12:30, plus up to two hours of additional work in the afternoon and/or evening.
  • Requiring that he does the ‘hard stuff’ first.

Knowing my son, part of his battle is that while reading is a great deal of his schoolwork, he so prefers to just read that he’ll consume his schoolbook of choice (often a novel) all morning, getting himself a week or two ahead of schedule on that book, yet he’s four days behind on math, and three days behind in science, and he still has that writing assignment from Monday that is due on Friday, and here it is Thursday and he hasn’t even started.  Etc.

And with all that behind-ness, he just feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s no end to the school day, and no chance — so it seems — of ever getting caught up.  The new system gives him clearer structure to order his time, and gives him hope that the day won’t perpetuate forever.

He is doing Apologia Physical Science; Teaching Textbooks Algebra I; P.E.*; and Sonlight’s Core 200, which covers Church History, Bible and Apologetics**, plus English (comprised of Writing, Vocabulary, and Literature).

So, now, I require that he starts the day with his choice of:

  • Science
  • Math
  • Vocab
  • Writing

Once those for subjects are completed, he can do the remainder of his work in any order, at his discretion:

  • P.E.
  • Bible Memory
  • Reading — Literature
  • Reading — History
  • Reading — Bible & Apologetics

Ethan was pretty amenable to the plan, and felt cared-for, but still feeling overworked and somewhat distressed, and not convinced that it would have any effect on his schoolwork.

Well, at 3:30 p.m. that same day, he came back to me and said, “I’m all caught up.”  I replied, “That’s great!  You mean for the day?  It’s 3:30 and you’re done for the day?”  He clarified with a huge smile, “No.  I mean all caught up with all my assignments for the whole school year!”

Wow.  Awesome!

I was pretty giddy.  So was he.

I told him, “So… I guess last night was the dark before the dawn, eh?”

He looked blank.

“You’ve never heard that maxim?”

He hadn’t, so I explained.

I think this whole thing was a good experience for both of us.  For me, in that I still need to provide clear guidance and give him hope.  For him, that the work is doable, and that his emotions in a situation are not always a reliable indicator of reality.  Less than 24 hrs after feeling completely hopeless, the light was shining again, his face was beaming, and all of the despondency was behind him.

Now today, he’s in a new quandary, and dark clouds are again threatening.  But, I think we’ll get through this storm all right, too.


*For P.E. (required by the state of Arizona for freshmen), Ethan is doing 20 minutes of activity four times weekly, and three times weekly, reading two pages of DK’s The Sports Book (which is a really engaging and well-illustrated book on how a wide variety of sports are played).

**Ethan is really enjoying Apologetics, to the surprise of us both.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 23, 2011, in Bible, Character Development, Encouragement, Family, Get Organized!, God/Christianity/Church, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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