Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Homeschooling Mommy WIN

Yesterday something happened that I'm pretty proud of, and I need to note this for posterity. And to remember to do the same thing in the future.

This morning, my older kids have a Patch Club meeting. Sometimes there is some prep work due for the meeting; sometimes not. Last month was a No Prep Work month--we met and learned about and practiced origami. Super fun! This time there's prep work.

Our topic this time is China, and the Boss Mom of Patch Club assigned each family a specific area of China to research and report on however we like. Our area is Chinese Inventions (a perfect topic for our particular family, don't you think?).

Now, this doesn't require tons of prep time--it's not like a science fair project (note to self: get the kids going on their science fair projects!), so we waited until yesterday to do it. I was concerned that if we did the project too far in advance of the meeting the kids would lose some of the excitement about it, and also that they'd forget what we learned.

So what we did yesterday morning is read from a history magazine I used to subscribe to (and really ought to again, it's so neat). We had the Ancient China issue and it contained a nice little section about Chinese inventions! Wasn't that nice of them?

We all agreed that I would read out loud and Morgan would create a list of inventions on a note pad that we'd use as a reference later. So I read out loud and Morgan made the list and we all talked about the inventions a bit.

My original thought for the project was to have each kid pick their favorite from the list and delve into it a bit more deeply and then share their findings with the other kids in Patch Club. This is not how it worked out though!

Frequently during the read-aloud, we had to stop and locate an Ancient Chinese Invention that we actually owned. It was a fun scavenger hunt, really. So what Ryan and Morgan decided to do was share the list of inventions with their friends and do a "show and tell" of the things the Chinese invented that many of us still use today (they invented plows and blast furnaces, which are still in use, but not as commonly found in suburban households).

Now doesn't that sound like a good way to do their project? It is, isn't it? But I was mildly irked because, well, you know . . . it wasn't my original plan. Hmph. Still, I agreed to their plan and we collected up a few things to bring in, including a couple of pieces of nice china (granted, Irish china, but still, china).

Then it was time to write out the list on big pieces of paper so we could easily show the class. Morgan, always eager to use my markers and easel pads, jumped right in and wrote (using a different color marker for each stroke):


Having run out of room at the end of the line, see?

I suggested she try to write out each item on one line. I suggested she leave a bigger space between the words. I suggested she use only one color. I suggested she correct her spelling of paper. I made a ton of suggestions in about 30 seconds.

Her little shoulders slumped a bit, but she tore off the first page and tried again.

And then somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered why I'd hated doing similar projects as a kid. I'd wanted to do it my ownself and someone well-meaning, perhaps a parent, usually a teacher, always had something to suggest. And, as everyone who knew me was aware, I was already extremely self-critical and a perfectionist. Add all that up to: Jenn hates school projects (unless they involved something I was already extremely confident about or good at, like math or literature).

Now, there is nothing wrong with making those suggestions, correcting spelling, of course. But what I wish I'd done is say : "Would you like some suggestions?" or "I noticed something you might want to know about." Or something like that.

When I came to, I noticed Morgan, in her attempt to make sure she wrote each item on one line in accordance with my suggestion, was drawing horizontal lines the page. For some reason this bothered me, too! Okay, I know the reason: in my mind, she was supposed to write the words, one-item-per-line, without horizontal lines. Why? I don't exactly know!

I started to say: "Why are you drawing lines across the paper?" when I realized how ridiculous I was being. Especially with my perfectionist kid who is really smart and eager to work on this project. And is hard enough on herself without someone else making it worse.

So I shut myself up and walked away, saying : "You know what? This is YOUR project, not mine. You can do it however you like. I'm going to stop making suggestions and go do my work." 

It was at this point that Ryan, who'd been observing my neurotic behavior my attempts to "help," finally jumped in and started really contributing to the project. Coincidence? I think not.

I went to my desk and the two of them collaborated--in the true meaning of the word--on what to write and how to write it. He spelled out the words from the list and she wrote them down. They they found the other items to bring to show their friends today.

I didn't have anything else to do with that project, and I am interested to hear what they have to say when they present things to Patch Club today (it'll be a surprise, I really have no clue what they will say!). I will stand up there with them, not because it's my project, but because Ryan feels nervous about standing up there and wants me there, too.

And I'm all proud of myself for recognizing that I was being a big pain-in-their-booties and backing off.

Things I learned:

  • I need to chill.
  • If I want them to remain eager to learn and do similar projects, I need to back off and let them own their own projects.
  • Perspective, it's good to have. It's not like this is even for a grade or a presentation for a boss or a client! Sheesh. And even if it was, why would they want a grade for something that wasn't really their own work?
  • Creativity is easily stifled by micromanagement. How well I understand this from my own schooling and career. CREATIVITY IS EASILY STIFLED BY MICROMANAGEMENT.
  • This is a good lesson--for all of us--about how they can be independent and first-handed (as opposed to second-handed) in the virtuous sense. 
  • If I stay out of their business, they will work together very well and accomplish things and be creative. And possibly enjoy each other.
  • If I stay out of their business, I have some free time to pursue my own values.

As a school child, I never felt so free, so encouraged, so eager as when an adult told me "Go for it! I can't wait to see what you come up with!" and then let me do my thing. One of the huge benefits of homeschooling is that my kids have more free time and free rein to be creative and to really pursue things as deeply as they want to.

If I'm going to be any fun tolerable effective as the leader of our little homeschool, then I will do well to remember that. I'll let you know if I'm able to behave myself during their upcoming science projects.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yup! I call such getting out of their way 'benign neglect'. They come up with the coolest stuff when left to their own devices! Their creativity flows, and their senses of self-efficacy go through the roof!

Go us, for butting the heck out! :)