The Force Of Homeschooling And My Dark Side

When I started homeschooling I knew “Seton” families and “Calvert” families and unschooling families. I assumed that once you found a curriculum, or method, you liked, your course was set for your duration as a homeschooling family.

I watched as my oldest blossomed at an early age under the Catholic Heritage Curricula reading program, and then the Abeka Math program. My goal was to start my son, with a late October birthday, one year behind my oldest daughter, with a late September birthday. I’ll admit, my underlying motivation was to see Byron receive his First Holy Communion the year after Addie. I just couldn’t see making him wait two years, when *I* was sure he would be ready.

Perhaps Addie just set the bar to high, or maybe I expected too much of Byron but after keeping pace for a year or so he started struggling. By this point he was enrolled in CCD one year behind Addie, but his reading skills were not as strong as hers. The CHC reading program that worked so well with Addie was torture for Byron. Addie cruised through her second grade CCD year, and seemed to memorize each answer the moment she completed reading it from the catechism. So long as I  sat and reviewed her work with her, she learned and retained information easily. Once her First Holy Communion was under her belt, I turned my attention to Byron, hoping the same practice and drill would elicit the same well versed responses.

We began Byron’s second grade year still trying to work with CHC and throwing in any supplementary material I thought could help. While he was making steady progress in all his subjects, he was not “where I thought he should be.” And unfortunately, not where some other people thought he should be either. Thankfully, Byron was spared any labels, and the comments that were uttered did not leave any lasting impression. “How’s Byron’s reading? What are you doing for him? You need to make him read more.” I was more stung and hurt than him. After bragging about my “prodigy” daughter, I found myself sticking up for my son, who I finally accepted, might not be made in the image of his sister.

We approached May and I fretted over his prayers and I lost sleep worrying about his interview with the parish priest. My anxiety would sometimes manifest as anger and of course Byron suffered as a result. He became convinced he couldn’t do it, and he couldn’t understand why the answers he needed to memorize didn’t stick in his mind.

However, in the end, he did pass his interview and he did receive the sacrament of First Holy Communion in a smashing white suit. We crossed the finish line but at such a cost. It was a shot between the eyes for me; my unrealistic goals and expectations could ruin my job as a homeschooling mom, make it 10 times harder all around and drive all the joy of learning from my child.

I wish I could say, I found the perfect curriculum for Byron after that and things got better. Heavens knows I’ve looked, and tried and bent over backwards to accommodate his unique learning style, but some days, it’s still a struggle. I decided against keeping him one grade below his sister and instead gave him a workload two grade levels behind, which is where his birthday would have placed him in the local public school anyway. I never told him. I just slowed down our progress in some areas and replaced a book or two and it’s been a huge improvement for us both. Most noticeably, he’s finally learned to love reading. Thankfully, years of slow gains did not drive him from the printed word.

While outside comments quieted down, I still struggled with my own feelings of inadequacy; as if the differences in learning exhibited by my children were completely related to me and not them.  Could he have learned with that program if I was a better teacher? Am I failing to give him the specialized attention he really needs? What if there is a perfect curriculum out there for him and I haven’t found it yet?

And then today, Byron went and did something amazing.

Recently, he’s taken a keen interest in everything Star Wars. We’ve checked out all the books from the local library on the series, and he’s read them all multiple time, asking for help with all the difficult words. He watched all but ‘Revenge of the Sith’ numerous times (while under the care of grandma-totally not my doing) and drawn detailed movie scenes, character portraits  and built 3-D models from cardboard. But today, as he quizzed his uncle on obscure Star Wars trivia and answered every question, in detail, that was asked of him, I finally realized his complete potential.

He can memorize dates, facts  and misc. information. He can watch or read a story, pick out the main characters, plot, setting and summarize the story in chronological order. He can discuss all these things, with an adult, with conciseness and clarity, using complete sentences  while maintaining eye contact and good posture, without fidgeting.  Yes, it’s Star Wars, not Shakespeare, Roman History or Algebra but it shows what’s possible when his passion is ignited.

He’s taking the skills we’re trying to teach him and applying them to what he loves and learning as much about it as possible. Isn’t that the goal of homeschooling, especially a classical education? To give our children the tools to learn whatever they want? To form them into knowledgable, well-rounded adults, capable of seeking out information beyond the status quo? Today, at age eight, it’s Star Wars. Tomorrow it may be art history, biology or theology. Whatever he picks, he will be prepared to tackle it. Finally, I can see that and not worry about the little things.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect curriculum or magic formula for all children. Each child will have their own strengths and weakness that will force you out of your comfort zone. But just when you think, it isn’t enough, they surprise you, and if you’ve put their needs first, they will grow into the educated people you prayed they’d become.  It’s been a learning journey for us both. Someday I hope Byron will understand how much he has taught me.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to The Force Of Homeschooling And My Dark Side

  1. rett

    BRAVA, MAMA!!! :)

  2. I am still amazed at how differently my older two children learn. We have decided to have Charlie make his First Holy Communion in his true second grade year because I didn’t want the stress you described. Thank you for affirming that choice! By any chance did you see Katrina’s post this week at BC on boys and reading. It is very closely related to what you write about here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/buildingcathedrals/2012/07/boys-and-reading/

    • kmantoan

      I did jump over an read it; couldn’t help but comment too.
      I feel like I hear all the time how boys and some girls are delayed in reading skills, yet I didn’t want to believe it was possible for *my* son to not learn as quickly as his sister. I don’t know why we moms stress ourselves out over these things.

  3. I have been through similar struggles when my older daughter – just 11.5 months older than her younger sister – struggled to learn to read (and still struggles with spelling and memorization of math facts) while her little sister soared at such tasks. I was too hard on my older girl…and too angry more often than I want to admit. And the stress? Oh, my! I’m a totally sold-out advocate for homeschooling and here my first was struggling… Well, God’s bringing me around, really reminding me what I say all the time about each child being a uniquely-gifted individual according to His plan for them. And, among other things, that meant asking my older girl last year if she’d prefer graduating with her sister. So now (because that excited her) my two “Irish twins” function more or less as actual twins, doing roughly the same level of school work at the same time. Weird in the world, yes, but right for my girls. And that’s what counts.

    • kmantoan

      Thank you for sharing your story Tina. I think it does all us moms good to relate our homeschooling experiences, even the difficult ones.

  4. My eight-year-old son and I just finished a six month program that works on integrating the right and left brains through juggling and other therapies to improve reading. The program worked amazingly, and he is now beginning to love reading and remember the spelling of words and write with neat handwriting, when at the beginning of this school year, I was in despair.

    I’m so glad that we did the program, but I so identify with what you wrote and I feel like if I had simply waited and not pushed on with my predetermined plan and all…would he have done better? And then I have a four year old who learned to read so easily. Funny how we try to take credit for the gifts AND struggles of our kids, as if they have anything to do with us!

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