stopping the (home)school work struggle

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One struggle I’ve faced homeschooling – and I know others face it too – is getting a child to do schoolwork when the child would prefer to whine, fuss and procrastinate. I’ve seen it discussed on homeschool forums and noticed a number of people suggesting two things: switching curriculum or going to unschooling. I want to talk about why those aren’t great solutions and what I would suggest instead.

Switching curriculum is not a solution because although the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, it isn’t magical. Curriculum is a bit like a relationship. In the excitement of falling in love with something new, we get a burst of energy. We want to do it. We want to explore. Then after a while of living with the curriculum on a day to day basis we lose that excitement. It can be tempting to switch to a new curriculum so as to have the new-love excitement but it isn’t the best solution.

There are times to switch curriculum. Switching curriculum makes sense if the curriculum is really unsuitable for a child, either too hard or too easy, or in a style that your child really cannot follow.

Before you abandon curriculum, look at why you wanted that curriculum in the first place. What has changed since then? Is it that you’ve learned things about the curriculum, that if you knew before, you wouldn’t have purchased it? Then perhaps get rid of it, but if you’re wanting to abandon it just because schoolwork is a bit of a struggle, consider waiting.

Unschooling is another solution people suggest on homeschooling forums. Your child doesn’t want to do his schoolwork? Abandon all schoolwork! Call it unschooling, wrap it in a philosophy and poof, no more struggle! Now I know in homeschooling circles this is controversial to say, but I believe unschooling works for those who are really self-motivated learners and not for everyone. There’s an unschooling belief system that says that as long as a child is not pushed by anyone the child will magically take an interest in what they need to know and learn it. This is often supported by people saying that whatever a child isn’t interested in is not relevant or important. I disagree with that on so many levels. As a parent, I believe it is my job to expand my child’s horizons. Some unschoolers do expand their children’s horizons in many ways and the term “unschooling” is often used to describe a great variety of different ways of educating a child. I’m not looking to pick a fight with those for whom some variation of unschooling works. If you have what works for you, good! Enjoy it! What I am against is implying that struggling homeschoolers should just abandon their responsibility to help educate their children, turning it over to the idea that the child can self-educate and whatever they don’t learn themselves is irrelevant. That is wrong. That is educational neglect.
So if switching curriculum and unschooling are not good solutions, what do I suggest? I suggest pursing thoughtful-confidence.I’ve had times where my kids struggled on schoolwork and looking back I can see that when I was uncertain about their work, they would fight with me more on it, and of course the more they would fight me the more I wondered if I was justified in asking them to do that work or not. It became a spiral, getting worse and worse.
I think getting kids to do schoolwork is a confidence game. When I know with confidence that I want them to learn something, they will do it. They might start fussing or whining but they see that it won’t budge me one bit. If the child won’t do the work, I’ll move on to doing something else so he or she doesn’t waste my time but I’ll make it clear the child will not have computer time unless the work is done at an appropriate time. If the child needs to do the work with me, I’ll make sure the child hears when I would have the time to help and when I will be unavailable to help.Have confidence. Have thoughtful confidence. Obviously no amount of confidence on a parent’s part will let a child do something he or she really can’t do. It has to be confidence that comes from knowing that the work is relevant and appropriate.

So my suggestion for dealing with the struggles of homeschooling is to go back to the questions of why you’re teaching what you’re teaching. Is this something you want your child to learn? Do you believe this is important?  Try to reconnect yourself with what you want your child to learn things. Remember the importance of what you are doing and work to convey that message to your children.
Switching curriculum and switching to unschooling are false solutions to the homework
struggle because they both imply that the work you’re doing isn’t important. For a child, switching curriculums frequently can convey the message that the material they would learn in that curriculum isn’t really important; the last curriculum wasn’t important enough to finish, so why should this one be? Why can’t it also be switched out easily for something more exciting, easier, etc? Switching to unschooling conveys the message that none of the schoolwork is important – which brings me to the one time I think unschooling does make sense. I think it makes perfect sense if the schoolwork is unimportant because the other work the child is doing is actually more important than the schoolwork. If your child is so busy learning things his or her own way, then definitely unschool! But know it is okay to evaluate (at ongoing intervals) what is going on and decide for yourself that yes, the schoolwork you are asking is important. There are things that children will not think to learn on their own, or that might need more practice than a child is self-motivated to do. It is okay to insist.

Having confidence might not fix everything, but it is the very important first step. Once you’re confident that the schoolwork you assign is important, it gets easier looking for what it takes to help your child be successful at it. Be alert for learning disabilities. Watch for if  your child is missing some skill or information that is necessary for the child to complete the work, and be prepared to find additional materials to build that skill. Make sure your requests are reasonable and allow for lots of exercise and playtime too. But know that yes, it is okay to insist your child do schoolwork! Be confident in that!
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