Tag Archives: independence

Please Help Your Kids With Their Projects

Mushroom working on our 90-Second Newbery Film. I set up the books so he could do the drawing and take the photos for the animation he's working on.
Mushroom working on our 90-Second Newbery Film. I set up the books so he could do the drawing and take the photos for the animation he’s working on.

A couple of school parent friends shared this Motherlode entry the other day online. In case you don’t want to read it, the gist of it is: parents should stop doing their kids’ projects and teachers should hold the parents accountable for it.

It sounds good on the surface. Part of me agreed with the author. However, the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I felt. In the end, it was a good reminder of why we homeschool. All the assumptions in the article are so radically different from my own about education. But they have to be. School forces everyone into making these choices between helping and hurting, that are, in a homeschool context, a completely false dichotomy.

I won’t get too much into the specifics of the example in the article. Suffice it to say the assignment in question was the kind I can’t imagine giving a third grader without any support.

And that’s sort of the point. School forces kids to have to do things to show they’re competent. It’s not about learning. It’s not about the process. It’s definitely not about doing what’s right or enriching for that kid. It’s solely about proof. In that context, of course helping a child get that proof is cheating.

But that’s not what education is about in our homeschool. It’s not about creating proof. Education for us is about the process. It’s about learning by doing. Sometimes that’s messy. It doesn’t look very good in a portfolio, much less at a science fair or a school assembly. But it’s meaningful and worth doing. It’s enriching and positive.

And as we do that work, I’m not only the teacher, I’m the parent, I’m the coach, I’m the cheerleader and sometimes, I’m the partner. This is why I still read aloud. We can read harder books and more challenging works. It’s why I sit with my kids and help them edit their writing, talking through it as I go. It’s why we use “buddy math” to learn how to do problems better, trading the textbook back and forth. It’s why I still let them narrate their revisions to me for their writing or still type up their papers sometimes. It’s why I work alongside them when they’re making big, complex art projects. It’s why I outlined the steps and kept making checklists for our current film project or why I’m taking the same MOOC as my kids this semester. I’m their teacher, but I’m also their learning partner.

This is not to say that I don’t value independence too, just that it’s not the only model for positive learning. It’s okay to swing between insisting that a child read one book independently and another can be read back and forth. It’s okay to insist that one page of the math book be done alone and checked together while another is worked jointly. I have been enjoying shepherding my kids through two projects with radically different rules: the 90-Second Newbery Film, where I can (and have) helped however I saw fit and the Destination Imagination challenge their team has chosen, where I have to sign an interference contract that forbids me from ever laying a finger to help with their work. Both models have great merits.

I do value having a product to show off sometimes. Having tangible work they can be proud of is something that can be important to kids (and to us as their teachers) to help them feel like they’re learning and doing meaningful work. But random assignments for school aren’t usually very meaningful. Kids don’t choose them. And because they’re chosen for the show value, kids rarely get much out of them whether they do them or their parents do them. My kids don’t choose all their work either, but much of it is for process. When we do a project, I give plenty of time and support so they can produce something that feels good and represents real learning.

So I say that independence is not better learning. Kids need partners. Help your kids with their work sometimes so they can feel supported in their learning, so they can learn more, so they can focus on the process.

Eight is Great

I have just been reflecting lately on how great eight is turning out to be.  Some random observations…

photo (85)

* They get sick less.  I read that this was the age when kids stop getting quite so many little colds.  So far so good.  We’ve been sick a lot less this winter already.  Here’s hoping my posting this doesn’t jinx it.

* It’s the age of conversations.  We’ve always talked and they’ve always asked questions, but suddenly the talk and the questions are so much more meaningful and so much less random.  They ask so many more questions of depth and bring so much more background knowledge to the table.  Sometimes it’s a little frustrating when you’re trying to get history reading out of the way in the morning and something in it triggers a lengthy set of questions about how people become doctors or how nations negotiate treaties or something, but it’s also sort of cool.

* It’s the age of projects.  They’ve always had projects and they’ve always made little bits from things, but now, suddenly, the things they make look like something or make so much more sense.  And they can actually initiate projects that involve real learning on their own and carry out art projects and so forth completely without me.

* They can roam farther.  I love that they can go to the park or up the street to the store on their own.  They go out together, carefully, still a little hesitating and unbelieving that they’re really big enough, but with increasing confidence.

* They can clean a room, make a bed, do a morning work assignment, stack the dishwasher, and sit and play a game of chess all without me.  There are so many little things that even a year ago they needed me there to help oversee that they can now do totally on their own.

* Even though they’re more independent and bigger kids, they are still imaginative little kids in many ways.  They still have their imaginary company, of which they are the CEO’s.  They still make believe that they’re on a boat or at a party or going to a carnival and then make things for these pretend games.  They’re still so young that they have no shame about living in a world of make believe.  BalletBoy still love his doll.  Mushroom still likes to pretend he’s inside a video game as he walks down the street.

* They have a new sense of self.  Mushroom introduced himself as a writer and BalletBoy as a dancer the other day.  They blurt out these declarations of identity all the time like that.  I see them becoming more attached to what they wear for the first time ever and I’m sure it has to do with identity and how they present themselves.  I see how they increasingly notice the things they accomplish and talk about how they’re “good at” certain things or worked hard on certain things.

Overall, I just feel like eight so far is some sweet spot of ages.  They’re still little enough to snuggle and play pretend and want to crawl in my bed after a bad dream but old enough to have their own opinions and do their own things.