How to Be a Good Homeschool Quitter: Part 1

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” 

Sir Winston Churchill, from an address at Harrow

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
From the time we take our first faltering steps as a baby to the moment we slip from this life, we are encouraged to learn, grow, and do. We are infused with stories–the Little Engine that Could, Moses and the children of Israel, Odysseus , Thomas Edison, Bilbo Baggins, Neil Armstrong, Mother Theresa, and Jean Valjean–that illustrate the truth that faith, perseverance, and/or hard work will ultimately lead to something good. We absorb Winston Churchill’s admonition to “never give in,” without ever noticing the clause that completes the thought.

” . . . except to convictions of honor and good sense.”  

Overlooking that last clause can make sensible, practical decisions much harder than they need to be. If you’re halfway through the homeschooling year and you are using a book or resource that isn’t working well for your student, you might want to consider being a purposeful quitter (or at least a postponer, supplementer, or adaptor!). Here are three questions that can help you make a wise decision.

  1. What is not working? Is it the information itself or the way it’s presented?
  2. If the content is good, can you adapt the way it is used to better fit your student’s needs?
  3. What are the consequences if you stop using a particular book or curriculum?

There are times when the wisest thing you can do is to either stop using a resource that doesn’t fit or supplement or adapt it in some way. Here are a few examples–I’m sure you can think of others.

Right book, wrong time? Postpone it.

If you are using a book that is clearly too difficult for your student, stop using it before the student starts to feel dumb and learns to hate the subject. No matter what the grade level or number on the front of the book suggests, one size does not fit all, and students don’t fit neatly into grade-level boxes. When the student is developmentally ready and has been prepared with appropriate materials, a challenging book can suddenly become manageable. For many students, time changes everything.

Choking on dry, dusty twaddle? Quit or supplement.

If you have a nagging feeling your students aren’t learning anything even though they are dutifully filling out pages of neatly numbered worksheets and reading countless one paragraph reading assignments, you’re probably right. Just imagine trying to stay healthy on a twelve-year diet of nothing more than thin bouillon distilled from freeze-dried cubes–chances are, you wouldn’t last long! In the same way, it’s almost impossible to keep alive the love of learning on a starvation diet of dried factoids.

If your goal is to raise a well-rounded student who is culturally literate and understands necessary concepts in language arts, math, history, and science, you probably want to trim the twaddle. Living books and learning through real experiences are steak, lobster,  fresh fruit and veggies for the mind, and learning sticks much better when it’s memorable.  Charlotte Mason writes that no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge,” (School Education, p. 226) and repeatedly cautions against excessive oral lessons and lectures.

Imagine what a student would remember if learning about the American Revolution through a desiccated encyclopedia entry versus through reading biographies of Washington, Franklin, and others; sharing stories such as Johnny Tremain or Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; and organizing events on a simple timeline. That’s the difference between fill-in-the-blank workbooks and living books. Consider how much more fully a student might grasp measurements and math if math principles were supplemented with interesting application through woodworking, quilting, or cooking. A kinesthetic student could even take the lead in learning-by-doing projects, as he or she is much more likely to be willing to experiment and learn by trial and error (being willing to make mistakes and try again is key to being a good learner).

Restoring learning skills and the joy of learning

If your student has been in institutional schooling or immersed in dry twaddle for any amount of time, be aware that he or she not know how to learn. Institutional schooling tends to create the expectation that education is something someone else applies to the student, like braces or eyeglasses. Students don’t usually learn to explore subjects of interest on their own or study independently to produce excellent work. You may need to suspend a class or two in order to teach basic learning skills and rekindle the joy of proactive learning. Small children have a natural love for learning, but it can be quickly snuffed by institutionalization or twaddle.

To be continued in the next post . . .

NOTE: If you’d like to read more about living books, you’ll find more of Charlotte Mason’s thoughts in an excellent article by Colleen Manning at Ambleside Online.

2 Responses

  1. Lind says:

    I have to agree with you on a couple of things! If it is not working, drop it and move on. We did this with writing for a couple of years. No matter how hard I demanded that she write, my daughter simply would not, so I let it go, she could dictate paragraphs, or use speech recognition software, then suddenly, she was writing a book. She is doing so well with writing, I’m considering enrolling her in a course at Time4Writing (not free, but certainly worth it).

    Civil War was the same way, couldn’t get her interested, then we went to Shiloh battlefield, just being among all that history caused her interest level to rise to an amazing level. Who knew a little “hands-on history” would have such an effect? I certainly didn’t or we would have done it earlier! Keep doing what works, and change what doesn’t, ah the beauty of homeschooling! Happy New Year!

    • Thank you for sharing those stories, Lind. They illustrates the point that students are just like anyone else. They need to have something to say before they will want to write, and real experiences can create real interest that results in lasting learning. It’s amazing what can happen when education becomes interesting!

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