Should what I'm not in control of have a place in my success metric?
"How was school today?"
The Engineer asks this everyday, and the vast majority of days, he gets some variation of this answer: "It was frustrating."
Frustrating because Blue kept poking his brother and distracting him from his math lesson. Because Green dawdled for so long that he wrote a total of five words in the entire span of his handwriting time. Because Orange didn't want to read and when he doesn't want to...he just doesn't. Because Mr. Busy dumped an entire bag of pretzels all over the floor in the middle of our grammer lesson and I had to get up and deal with it. Because Little Miss felt the need to let everyone know how much she hates her playpen - with herculean volume and duration.
At the end of every school morning, it's hard not to see what didn't get done. The unfinished half of the reading lesson (or, if I pushed hard enough to finish that second half, the ugly attitude that pervaded it's execution), the feverish tone of our Hebrew practice when I was so distracted by one child's need that the other's reverted to spending the time goofing off since I wasn't there to hold their hand through the lesson.
Don't get me wrong. There are always a few subjects where it's so easy, where I know I can expect nothing short of their delight. We've started learning lines from Shakespeare and it's one of the highlights of everyone's school week. When I turn them loose for history, I know they will come back after thirty minutes of listening to their audiobook and be ready to spend nearly that same amount of time telling it all back to me. But all the other things, the not-very-fun-things, there are plenty of those in every singe morning. And every morning that my kids remind me - whether in word or deed - how much they don't like those tasks and resist doing them, I feel like I've failed for that morning.
I set a goal for myself at the beginning of the year to explore the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, via listening to all the back episodes of the podcast A Delectable Education.
I've been challenged to think of my role as my kids educator as a kind of chef. It's my job to prepare a wide variety of intellectual dishes full of academic nutrients that are appropriate for their developing mind and artistic flavors that will help them develop and sophisticated palate. I get to arrange it all before them, and I can even model for them what it looks like to take a bite -
- but in the end, whether or not their want to dig in and enjoy it for themselves is entirely up to them. It is pointless for me to spoon feed them; that will only encourage perpetual childishness and retrogressive dependence.
I'll be real: this is really hard. It's hard to watch all the hours of my preparation go totally unappreciated, hard to watch my kids turn up their nose at a subject that I know would be beneficial for them to partake of, hard to trust that although my kids may not "eat" a certain thing today doesn't mean that they won't come around to it a little later on if I can consistently place it in front of them.
It's hard to let go and realize that my kid is his own person and that I can't force information or ability into his brain. It's hard to trust in his innate curiosity when it doesn't fit with my preferred timetable.
There are two things that I realized at the beginning of the week about this whole setting-out-a-feast thing:
1. When the teacher is mad at you, the ability to learn switches off. I experienced this for myself recently - I experienced a short-tempered teacher and as soon as the first eruption occurred, I shut off their voice. It was a reaction I felt I had no control over - and it was a huge wake up call for how my kids must feel when I vent my frustration over the fact that I've had to call their attention back to the page at hand five times in the past three minutes. Is my frustration warranted? Sure. Is it expedient to dump all my bad feelings onto them? Nope. It only seems to go downhill from their.
My strategy this week has been to consistently place the subjects before them and to sit back and accept that however much was accomplished within that was entirely up to them. It stopped being about making sure that math facts were in their head and started being about becoming a person who could acquire math facts.
2. Emotional equilibrium is key to being able to make learning part of every day. And that is something that I have to model to my children. We have been going through Izzy Kalman's manual on how to stop being a target of teasing, and I have realized how much I reward my kids' mischievous desire to provoke a reaction from me by mirroring their bad attitudes. One of the kids hates dictation with a passion and pouts like a diva when I require it. Pouting pushes my buttons and I become a raving, scolding shrew...and it's highly entertaining to the kids to know that they precipitated that show from me.
This week, I decided that, not matter how much they tried to push those buttons during our school hours, I was going to keep a pleasant and calm face. Amazingly, after only a few days, complaints about dictation have vanished. I know my kid hasn't fallen in love with that task, but he seems have figured out that he is wasting his energy and kinda looking like an idiot when he puts on this emotional show that garners no reaction from me.
"How was school today?" The Engineer asked this afternoon.
And I didn't answer on behalf of the boys. If he wants to know what they learned, he can ask them. I answered on behalf of me - "It was great. I laid out all the subjects required for today, even the ones I knew they wouldn't show me appropriate consideration for and didn't let them push my buttons once.
The metric of success for my homeschool day has shifted: it's about what lies squarely within my control. And the parts that are within my kids' control? That's up to them.