Make Learning Fun, and Other Bad Advice

Welp.

Week two was so-so.  As a non-teacher, and as a person who is not all about “getting right in there on the ground and playing with the kids!” – I think I kind of blew it.

Last year, when the kids were in real school, Lane would get up early every morning to practice his cello.  Just to get it done.  He came home from school, and ripped through his homework.  Sure, sometimes the quality left a bit to be desired, but the point is – Lane is an industrious kid.  He sees the value in buckling down and getting shit done.  This week, he finished all his work on Thursday, so he had all day yesterday to mess around.

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Bridget, my sweet nearly-ten-year-old, was not blessed with that same sense of industry.  She has a really tough time seeing that, while being a sloth might seem to pay off now – not getting her things done in a timely manner means that she has less time to play, visit her cousin, etc., later.  I mean, she’s smart.  She understands the concept of “work before play.” She agrees with me when I point out the peace that comes with accomplishing all of one’s goals before the deadline.  She just refuses to implement any strategies to achieve it.  To be blunt, she’s lazy.

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On Tuesday afternoon, when I did a progress check on the kids’ work, I was pleased to note that Lane had finished about half of his weekly target.  Bridget, on the other hand, had somehow frittered away so much time as to only have completed three of the simplest tasks assigned to her.  Of course, they were the subjects that come easiest: spelling, logic, and religion.  Predictably, I was furious.

And, predictably, I yelled at her and threatened to send her back to school.  She informed me that homeschooling was “no fun,” because I did not provide interesting presentations of the material.  I did not plan activities.  I didn’t “make learning fun.”  Secretly, I cursed the person who coined the phrase “make learning fun.”  Learning IS fun – it doesn’t have to be MADE fun. 90% of what I know has been gleaned from independent reading, and watching TV.  No one had to disguise a math lesson as a magic show.  I remember embalming Cornish game hens in the 6th grade.  A project that, while fun, messy, gross, and hilarious, taught me absolutely zero about ancient Egypt and the processes by which the people of ancient Egypt prepared their dead.  I could have learned more from Wikipedia.  In my experience, teacher’s attempts at “making learning fun” don’t actually impart any knowledge on the subject at hand.  Making a baking soda and vinegar volcano might be a nice distraction from actual learning, but it doesn’t teach kids much about the science behind volcanic activity.

Not Sorry, I guess I’m just not that FUN.

One thing I will cop to is not being able to teach Bridget the concepts behind her math curriculum.  I mean, if I really sat down for a few hours and studied the materials, I could – but I have four kids, a house that needs to be managed, a body that needs to be bathed, meals that need to be cooked, mice that need to be killed, Buzzfeeds that need to be read, and Amazoning that must be accomplished.  So, I am going to switch Bridget over to an online math course that has interactive (FUN???) lessons.

I am also going to change the approach for presenting Bridget’s weekly work to her.  I’m going to start giving it to her as daily goals, versus weekly ones.  The weekly (i.e. packet) approach works really well for Lane, because he’s super motivated.  I think Bridget will do better with smaller chunks of material – material that must be turned in at the end of every day.  That’s one awesome thing about homeschooling – you can do what works best for each child.

And to be honest with you, Bridget is a lot like me.  I have a hard time “buckling down” and am easily distracted, as well.  You should see how many half-written blog posts I have in queue.  By current guidelines, I probably could have been diagnosed with ADD as a child.  Bridget’s pediatrician has broached the subject with me before, but because Bridget is intelligent, she has, thus far, been able to maintain excellent grades with absolutely shameful amounts of effort.  I know that won’t hold up forever.  At some point, it caught up to me, and it was a complete nightmare.

When I was in high school, either a sophomore or a junior – I can’t recall – I had an uncredentialed, first-year math teacher named Mr. Kreider.  He had a massive attitude, and everyone thought he was a huge prick.  Even other teachers at the school had a hard time containing their disdain for this new hire. Mr. Kreider’s methodology for teaching math was to assign daily homework (large assignments), but not collect any of it until the END OF THE QUARTER.  As an undisciplined student who hated math, and whose parents never checked up on my homework – this led to a nightmare scenario each quarter.  I had, of course, not done any of the homework.  I would spend a few terrifying days bullshitting what I could, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I had practically no understanding of the material, and had done 2.5 months worth of assignments in a few days.  Not that he cared at all – he had nothing invested in the students doing well.  In fact, I think he thought it was funny when they failed.  He frequently talked about making, “the big bucks” – for example, he’d say, “Listen, you do this like I tell you to do it.  That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”  He was probably making $25,000 dollars a year.  We retaliated on Mr. Kreider by papering the school with cringeworthy flyers that we found at Java Joe’s coffee shop, where, much to our glee, we learned that he sang really bad music under a stage name.  Wearing a sparkly shirt.  Which, in 1998, to a bunch of 16-year-olds, may as well have been a miniskirt.  As you can tell, I am still pissed at him.

Anyway, I can see how having a teacher like Mr. Kreider might not be a disaster for a kid like Lane, who can be organized and make himself do things he’d rather not be doing.  For Bridget, and for me – no way.  And I think every teacher needs to balance out teaching kids “a lesson” and teaching kids in a way that actually works.  No, things aren’t always going to be fun, or tailored to a child’s particular skill set and personality – but teachers, even moms, need to be flexible in the way they approach learning.  After all, the point is for the kids to acquire knowledge.

I don’t plan on putting on a dog and pony show when Bridget finds a subject particularly dull, but I will be tweaking the system, if for nothing else, so that I don’t throw in the towel before October.

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Side note: This is what you feed your kids when you realize that your oldest child has accomplished almost nothing in two days. The canned beans are organic, I swear.

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