Friday, March 14, 2014

Homeschool: Reluctance vs. readiness

We are currently in our 6th week of homeschool, and my, has time flown by really quickly! As I've mentioned before, we've started Junior J on short lessons in phonics, reading and writing during Lil J's nap time. That aside, the boys have been playing a lot, and we've been enjoying the weekly visits to the zoo with our co-op.

I must admit that I started Junior J on his lessons with a fair amount of trepidation. Previously, he was rather uncooperative when it came to learning activities, and there were many activities that I prepared for, only to abandon because he was simply not interested. He also wasn't keen on any classes or planned programmes most of the time, and was just happy playing with his brother or doodling or running about. I felt it was ok, and didn't want to force him to sit down to do "seat work".

Then he turned five, and he was still refusing to learn how to read. And he would pretend to draw squiggles, and declare he was writing lists, but would refuse to try to form real letters on his own. If we were to ask him if he wanted to do this or that, his answer was usually a firm "NO". We had already decided to try to homeschool the boys for their pre-school years to see how it went (and subsequently apply for exemption from compulsory education if homeschool went well). But I was starting to wonder if we would be able to pull this homeschool thing off, if he was just so reluctant to do any form of "formal" learning.

I was reading "The Well Trained Mind" to prepare for homeschool, and one of the guidelines given was to start them on phonics lessons. The book recommended that we sit with the kid, declare we would be teaching them how to read, and just start teaching phonics and practice reading. It mentioned that if we were to ask the child if they wanted to learn, he/she would probably say no, so it was best to just start teaching them matter-of-factly, and not give them a choice. So I decided that we would try that.

I must admit it was tough going for the first week. Junior J moaned. He groaned. He gave a million and one excuses why he could not sit down with me for that five minutes to run through phonics. He fidgeted, and purposely read letters wrongly. I more or less had to insist, and force him to stick to those short lessons which usually took less than 25 minutes if he was co-operative (we went through phonics, then he would read three Bob Books, and then do a page of writing in his Handwriting without Tears activity book).

I started to doubt myself. I wondered if it would have been better sending him to school, where he might just sit down and pay attention since everyone would be doing that too. I wondered if I was being too much of a tiger mum, forcing him to sit down and listen when all he wanted to do was run about. I tried to look at what we were doing, and tried to make things more interesting. I shortened the lessons, joked with him as we read the Bob books, tried not to shout at him when he grumbled. Oh, I would have loved to have planned games to teach him phonics! But given all the chores and baby and everything else, it was tough finding any time at all to plan activities, much less games. Also, I was clueless about phonics, since both hubby and I learnt how to read by sight, and I didn't have time to read up to learn the rules. Using the book was a good way to systematically teach phonics without requiring me to stay up very late to prepare for lessons.

So we stuck with those short lessons. The first week was torture for both him and me. But by the second week, with those lessons in place in our routine, it got a little better. He grumbled less. I didn't have to shout to get him to the table, and he came willingly. By the third week, he was taking the initiative to point out letters and their sounds, and was reading the Bob books fluently. Our handwriting books had arrived then (before that we were just using an exercise book and winging it), and he was actually enthusiastically writing the alphabets, and correcting his letters when they were wonky. He still got distracted sometimes, that's for sure, and would run off to get a toy, or fidget, but his attitude towards the lessons was so much better. By the fourth week I was cheering him on as he struggled through writing his "M"s and "N"s, and he was giving me high fives when he managed to write them correctly (sometimes he flipped them and his Ms would become deformed Ws, but we're working on that). And now, these lessons are just a part of our day, and both he and me no longer dread them.

I've read that sometimes children are reluctant learners because they may not be ready, or they may be struggling with some learning issues that may make learning harder. I did wonder if he was reluctant simply because he was not ready. However, he was actually able to read by sight, so I thought it probably wasn't an issue of readiness, and he should be more than ready to learn phonics systematically (I thought that teaching him phonics was still useful even though he could read by sight, since it would help him figure out words he didn't know, and would help him to spell.).

I also wondered if he had learning issues that might pull him back, but after we got over the inertia, I didn't spot any issues, aside from his tendency to flip some alphabets, but that issue seems to be slowly resolving himself. I did beat myself up a little about making things fun. I mean, we pull them out of the education system so that we can cater to their interests right? However, I guess that kids, whether homeschooled or not, would have to learn the discipline of sitting down and learning something that might not entirely catch their fancy. While he might have been bored initially, I found that he slowly started having a sense of satisfaction in being able to sound and blend letters, and he showed great pride in being able to write his letters properly. And I think that is something I really wanted him to experience: the sense of satisfaction that comes from grappling with something and finally mastering it, even though it wasn't something he was very fond of! For him, overcoming his reluctance was more of giving him gentle nudges in the right direction.

I guess we were blessed that Junior J did take to his lessons after awhile. In fact, he became more willing to try other activities once he got over his inertia. We recently started him on piano lessons, and he has been looking forward to these classes (to the point that he starts pestering me two hours before the class about when we would leave!). He attended the 3M tape launch (more about that next time), and surprised me by saying hi and introducing himself to strangers. This, coming from my very introverted and shy boy, who used to clam up whenever anyone spoke to him, the one who used to hate going out!

Homeschooling a reluctant learner isn't easy, and it takes time and patience (and plenty of prayer!) to figure out the reason behind their reluctance. For some it may be about readiness, for some, about learning issues. But whatever the case, I'm very thankful that homeschooling does provide the time and space to figure these things out, since we don't need to keep pushing the child to be ready for Primary school!


  1. Wow...Thanks so much for sharing. I learnt a lesson on perseverance from you. It's not 'the end' or 'hopeless' when observe some negative traits of our kids. We shouldn't give up, but continue to believe in them especially when they're young and we've the chance to continue to mould them.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience! I must learn from you! Persevere to teach my kids. I really have to improve in this area. Thanks!

  3. That was a good read, Jus. I've thought that homeschooling is not possible for me in part because I can barely get Noey to sit down to do any seat work when I try. But my take away from this is persistence and building up a routine. Am going to try that. Handwriting without tears looks like a good book! I have been thinking of getting Noey a handwriting book cos his writing is so bad. Might try this one.

  4. It's amazing how you manage to homeschool and still look after a house and a baby, Jus. Salute! It must take a lot of persistence, determination and probably sweat and tears along the way. By the way, I am quite clueless about phonics too, don't remember learning them in school. Tsk. It's so good to hear that Junior J is opening up, not just getting more ready for writing and reading, but also speaking up to strangers and even introducing himself. Proud of him! Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  5. That's a generous and open sharing! My 2 cents worth, it could be an issue of setting home learning as a daily routine. You just have to do it everyday and eventually the child will understand its part of his everyday life. It would have been good to just start a short time and slowly stretching it to longer session. Anyway I think he's a fast Learner- reluctant or not! Way to go J!

  6. Bless your tender loving heart and your perseverance in homeschooling Jr. glad it's starting to produce some positive results now. You're really a wonderful Momma. I realised when Dana was much younger, she also had difficulty with seatwork but thankfully it's gotten better with each year. So press on!

  7. I don't know how you do it Jus! So good to hear it's slowly but surely paying off. It's so true that they have to be ready to learn and you have so much patience. I'm sure the boys will slowly get used to the routine too. Press on.



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