Oh the pain, the pain. I’m currently working on modifying the beautiful 2015-2016 work plan I had set up last semester for Thumper. How great and beautiful was it? The week we were to leave for winter vacation, she had two wonderful days where she just followed her work plan and finished everything on her plan in about 3 hours.
She was so proud of herself.
Then, the day before our trip, I told her that we had to run some errands and pack. She actually asked me how she could then squeeze in her work. She was worried she couldn’t get her work done for the day in time. Sadly, I had to tell her that it was okay to not work that day.
By everything, I mean that she pretty much worked by herself. After she got ready for the day by herself without much prompting from me, she looked at her plan, chose the work she was going to do, wrote it down in her notebook, went through them without moping or running around, ate her snack in 10-15 minutes, noted everything she did in her notebook with the details I asked her to write down. All this in about 3 hours.
Contrast this with beginning of semester. Typically I had to remind her that school was starting at 9am. I wrote down her plans for the day for her because it was taking her 30 minutes just to write down her “todos” for the day, as opposed to the 5-10 minutes now. She kept getting distracted by Astroboy during the work period and her snack time would take 30 minutes and an hour if I didn’t stop her. She also didn’t want to document what she did most of the time. This was an issue because when we forgot what lesson on Writing With Ease we’d done, for example, we couldn’t refer back to her work journal to see.
There’s about 9-11 pieces of “work” she has to do each day. Last year, she was unable to sit down and work through these work. I actually asked around Montessori groups, wondering just how much work a child is expected to do during a work period and got the standard, “It depends on the child.” answer. As in, they could work on just one thing if that one thing takes 3 hours. But that did not help me at all in planning her work for the day. For the first time, she managed to actually work on 2 electives that week, rather than the typical 0.
Looking back, I understand why our work plan is working for us finally.
1. Thumper is just older, which means developmentally just able to concentrate. She went through a growth spurt recently; what with wanting two bowls every meal. Suddenly she just started doing her morning routine without me saying anything.
2. I narrowed down her choices. Last year, she had a list of “goals” for the week, and had to plan her week accordingly. This year, I planned her day for her and only gave her a small number of choices. Her choice was within the work itself, rather than being able to choose what type of work. For example, she could choose how many pages to work through in her Primary Phonics workbook, what Chinese characters to learn that day, or what multiplication equation she wants to practice. But she had a list of “must-do”s daily, and was only able to choose which days to work on her “electives”.
3. I removed myself from her learning process. As the semester wore on, I started trying to provide tools for Thumper to learn by herself. One example is the Chinese Dictionary. Having the work well defined helped as well. She knew when she saw “Primary Phonics” it meant she had to read two books. Unlike last year, when the plan had more generic heading and she had to wait for me to tell her what to do.
4. I established a routine. Last year, I read a book about the unmotivated child. Though I know Thumper isn’t unmotivated, I saw a lot of her in some of the examples they gave of children who are afraid of failing. What I got out of the book was that I need a very strong routine to let them know what the expectations are without resorting to criticism when things aren’t done right. It’s basically the Montessori idea of making sure the environment supports learning. It’s one of the reasons I rearranged our whole work schedule.
On the one hand, I feel so happy that we’ve reached normalization, basically kids concentrating on work. On the other hand, it feels like it’s something most people don’t have a problem with, at least noone really talks about it in the blogs I read. Maybe it’s harder for me because I’m not doing a curriculum with workbooks and I have this very specific idea in my head of what our schooling should look like. Well, Writing with Ease is a curriculum. But otherwise, we’re not really workbook intensive. Sometimes I feel like I’m making a lot of work for myself. I know lots of homeschoolers who do not have such an environment set up and their kids take the initiative in learning just as much.
Some people have observed to me that Thumper has a short attention span and cannot focus when she works. After 3-4 people said this, I started to think, “Is that true? Should I be concerned?” It is true that Thumper likes to know everything that’s going on and hates to miss out. However, when she can work 3 hours by herself without me looking over her shoulder at all, I wonder where her lack of attention span is.
I keep thinking back to this piece I read by Antonio Wang, about how her child’s is easily attracted to things out of the corner of her eyes. That these type of people are creative but can’t sit still. Her child can’t sit still to do her homework but instead is constantly busy doing something else before coming back. Anyways, I don’t know if what she says is true (眼球的外部肌肉發達), but to me the point is that there are some kids out there who don’t sit still but still can learn well if their parents don’t make them sit still.
Really, I always took her lack of concentration to mean she’s not quite normalized. That it’s really my problem instead of hers. Ideally the work she’s doing is more interesting than other options in the room. So it’s my failure if I have not set up a learning environment that promotes concentration, e.g. providing things of interest to study. One can argue life is full of uninteresting things we must do. But my rebuttal is another long post that will probably never get written.
All this meandering to say, I’m happy the changes I made this semester has finally had some impact.
So What’s Next?
As I’m slowly learning, what matters to me is the life skills. Having the kids learn how to manage their time, choose what work to plan, and planning said work is more important than the actual work itself, even though I fret about the actual work all the time.
So the next step is figuring out how to give Thumper more choices in her daily work plan. I’m also planning some changes for Astroboy’s work plan. But how? I don’t know yet. Hence the pain! What I do know is I plan to give her a bit more choice in her work. I’m really excited that we’re taking a forward step in the self-learning process.