I took a deep breath today, and sat down with H. to see if we could get through this new book before falling apart by the second word. As I had planned, we started with the idea of, 'Once upon a time...' I'll say it again, one of the great benefits and beauties of homeschooling is the ability to follow a rabbit trail when it appears and seems necessary.
When it was H.'s turn, I grab a piece of paper and write, 'Once upon a time,' on it. Before we even try to sound it out, I ask the people in the room how they think stories start. As I had anticipated, quite a few shouted out, "Once upon a time!" (I think they were hoping that I would then begin a story.) I then showed H. the words on the paper and tried to explain what they said and when we would see it. I say tried, because I could tell she was already on the 'unable to do work' roller coaster.
Because I'm slow, it took me a minute to figure out why. I hadn't asked her to read them, just look at them as I read and pointed. I hadn't really asked her to do anything at all except to listen. How had we gone so wrong so fast? After getting her to come emotionally back to the room, I started asking questions. Yes or no questions are the best at this point because she can shake or nod her head. Actually getting words out would be too much to ask. After a couple of false starts, I asked, "Are you upset because G. and L. knew about how stories can start and you didn't?" She grudgingly nodded yes, and finally the light bulb goes on above my head. It's always nice to at least know what the problem is.
We then spent a long time talking about how children learn things. About how G. and L. have had 8 years learning things in their first language. About how she didn't even start to learn English until age 9. About how it is so easy to miss things when you don't start out in a language. About how everyone doesn't know everything. (My complete lack of knowledge about anything passed the very first three Star Wars movies was a plus here, because H. knows a lot more than I do about them.) About how languages can work differently. About how it's OK not to know things. About how we can all always be learning things. About how who you are is not the same thing as what you know. About parents loving their children because of who they are and not what questions they can answer. It was kind of along conversation.
Finally, we could get back to those four words on the page, because H. could finally hear me. We wrote down the beginnings of some fairy tales. She was thrilled when she could name some and tell me the stories. I was thrilled to show her she knows more than she sometimes thinks she does. After spending some time on this, we headed over to sit together on the couch while she read her new book. Without hesitation, she began the story, "Once upon a time... " We were off and she is enjoying the story as much as I had hoped she would.
The moral of the story? Learning is about so much more than decoding or solving or answering a question with the correct answer. For H., I knew she could cognitively do the reading I was asking her to do, and was baffled as to why she wasn't doing it. It would have been all too easy to assume that she was being stubborn or willful or manipulative. But the fact was, it had nothing to do with her ability or desire to do the reading I was asking her to do. We had to first stop and figure out a piece of culture that she had missed, as well as reinforce her sense of self-worth and her relationship with me. What started out as a brief missing step on her educational and cultural scaffolding had become a true road block to her learning because it touched on how she was viewing herself and her value to the world. I'm sure I do not catch this with all of my children all of the time; I wish I could. But it is also something to be highly aware of when working with children in any venue. All too often, the issue is not what we are presented with, but something completely different which feels overwhelming to the child.
And a coda, just to highlight exactly how much one can pick up as a native speaker and learner without even trying. As we started the story and G. heard which one we were reading, she pipes up with, "Ooooh... is this a wise man tale?" I promise, I have never taught her that phrase or even overtly given the idea to categorize stories in such a way. Our children who join our families at an older age have missed so much.
I have another new article published: How to Guide a Child Who Doesn't Want to be Guided Click and share to your heart's content.