Every so often, after we've been happily going along, I discover that one of my children missed something somewhere along the line. This usually happens when a new concept is introduced, and suddenly that child doesn't seem to be able to manage it. Or the child just melts down repeatedly when we pull out that particular book. That second choice more often is accurate. So, I spend more time than I should cajoling that child into doing that work. Eventually, when even cajoling doesn't seem to work, a light bulb dimly starts to glow in the recesses of my brain, and I start to wonder if something else isn't going on. It's a little embarrassing how long this realization can take, especially given how long I've been doing this.
For the child in question, I have now pulled out a different math book. This book is a little bit less advanced than where we were in the other book, but this way I can try to figure out where exactly the child got lost. And sometimes it isn't even that a concept was missed, but that a child's number sense is just taking a little longer to kick in, and going over things one more time in a different format can help them make more sense.
The trouble is, I'm often so slow in figuring out we need to do this, that the child and I are already in a bit of trouble in regards to whatever subject is the issue. This means that not only am I having to back up in terms of learning, we need to regroup in terms of attitude as well. Because I missed the confusion, a child can be extremely unsure of how to do what is asked.
Enter the white board.
You know, the kind where you write with a dry erase marker and everything is easily erased. I did not have these early on in my homeschooling career, and I'm not sure how I managed without them. They are so useful for so many things.
I've discovered that sometimes things are easier to do if they are written on a white board. With a piece of paper, any work done on it seems more permanent. Even if written in pencil, the act of erasing is never quite invisible, and we all know what happens to paper if you erase too much in one spot. When you erase a dry erase marker on a white board, it vanishes completely and with very little effort. If you make a mistake, it can be made to vanish as though it never happened.
This particular child felt more comfortable trying different math problems on the white board rather than writing in the book. Once we had warmed up with the white board, it was much easier to transfer to the actual book, and there was no problem after that.
I hadn't really been able to put this idea into words before. As I moved onto working with other children this past week, I tried out my hypothesis. When a child would have difficulty, I would grab the white board and we would do it there first. Suddenly, with the freedom that white board afforded, the fear of failure disappeared a bit and allowed room in their brains for better thinking. Doing things with the white board first had multiple successes during the course of the morning.
I can remember when we were being taught to read in first grade. There was a series of graded readers with comprehension questions at the end which needed answering. We were allowed to work at our own pace, as the workbooks were self-graded. What I loved most was that we used plastic overlays and grease pencils. I adored answering the questions, checking the answers, and then rubbing it all off to begin again.
If you are fearful of making mistakes, it can be paralyzing. By offering a way to try different answers out which can be easily erased as if those mistakes never happened, we can offer a sense of freedom to be willing to try something even if it won't be perfect.