Getting out of the way

Why is it so hard for me to learn some basic ideas?

Seriously. I’m pretty bright, generally speaking. Ask around. People will tell you I have many faults (and I’ll agree with most of them!). However, a lack of intellectual firepower and/or curiosity is not generally one of them.

And yet, I still can’t seem to remember one simple thing: L likes to do it herself!

Very early on, my handsome husband was attempting to transport L from one place to another. She replied in indignation, “No mommy carry you! No daddy carry you! L do. A-self!”

She likes to be independent.

I have previously written about how difficult it is to divorce myself from the processes and norms of school. As a former teacher and teacher educator, it is particularly hard for me to let go of the idea of gradual release of responsibility.

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The basic idea behind gradual release of responsibility is that the teacher is the mentor in the classroom. As the resident expert in a given content area, it is the responsibility of the teacher to support the learner in their apprenticeship in that area. As a part of the apprenticeship, the mentor begins with heavy support and eventually, the balance shifts to the apprentice having the majority of the responsibility.

Another way to think about this model is that first, the teacher models the content. Then, the apprentice tries the content while the mentor giving hands-on with assistance. Finally, the apprentice is able to demonstrate mastery over the content.

This is such a great model. I believe in it strongly, particularly in my experience teaching middle grades in a workshop format. The only big problem? L hates it.

We get a monthly delivery of Tinkercrate. It’s a great hands-on, exploratory, all-in-one service. After looking closely at the different levels and formats the service offers, L decided she wanted the Tinker version, which is building and experimenting with projects. It’s advertised for children ages 9-16+. L’s hands aren’t particularly strong, so I suspected she would need support with some of the physical work.

Our delivery last month was the automaton.

L grabbed the crate out of the mail as soon as it arrived. We sat down and looked at the project, reading the first few pages of the guide. I told her there was a video on youtube, but she wasn’t interested in looking at the video. Instead, we pulled out the materials and got started.

By “and got started,” I mean that I asked her thoughtful questions and offered help as I thought she might need it. She replied with feigned helplessness.

She didn’t know how to pick something up. Or how to peel the backing off a sticker. She looked at me – no, through me – when I asked her questions. I felt my frustration growing, but knew that she needed me to help her, as I am the mentor and she is the apprentice.

I persisted with my helping. I am very persistent.

She persisted with being floppy and without ideas. She is very persistent.

An hour passed.

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As far as she got with an hour of my help

I finally got so frustrated that I walked away. I told her, “L. I know that you know how to ask for help if you want it. I will be in the other room, reading my book and drinking coffee.” I then went in the other room, feeling quite smug. Ha! I showed her! She needs my help and soon she’ll come and ask me for it. Then, I will help her and things can proceed.

I was about 15 pages into my book when I happened to glance back into the kitchen.

She had completed about three-quarters of the project now that I had simply left her alone. I decided to walk over and refill my coffee, snapping the picture below.

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As far as she got after 15 minutes of me leaving her alone

My own ego gets in the way of homeschooling (heck – of parenting!) on a pretty regular basis. I’m going to continue applying my intellect to the idea that I need to trust my child. If something is too hard, she’ll let me know. If she wants help (not needs it, but wants it), she’ll let me know. My expectations and routines are just that – my expectations and routines. It is my work to provide her with an environment that supports her inquiry and curiosity. Beyond that, it is my work to get out of the way.

If you need me, I’ll be in the other room, drinking coffee and reading my book.

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Faulty socialization and homeschooling

“But what about socialization?”

That’s usually the first question I hear in response to the information that we’re homeschooling, as I know it is for lots of other homeschooling parents.

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There are lots of great posts about there on the subject of socialization, including passionate posts about what’s wrong with the school-based socialization in the first place, those sharing results of research on socialization of homeschoolers (both pro- and con-), reasons its hard to avoid socializing homeschooled kids, tips on how to find opportunities for socialization, and those embracing a lack of socialization as an advantage.

I’m not going to weigh in on any of these aspects of homeschooling. Frankly, the territory is well-covered.

Those who know us know that L is often out and among others – those younger than her, her age, and older than her. Those in multi-age groups. Those in formal lesson-based settings. Those in open-ended, creative settings. Weekly brunches. Daisy Girl Scouts. You get the idea. And anyone who is still concerned about our form homeschooling and socialization is likely not going to be convinced by anything I say here, anyway.

I want to explore a different perspective the problem of homeschooling and socialization.

The problem isn’t with L’s socialization. It’s with mine. It’s the extent to which my socialization gets in the way of homeschooling.

I attended traditional schools from primary school through earning a doctoral degree. I taught in middle schools. I teach teachers how to teach in schools. I am firmly socialized into the context of schools.

I am socialized into the idea that learning happens on a schedule, whether daily, weekly, thematically, or otherwise. The way I experienced school and enforced school on others, there were defined times for defined subjects. The time and schedule were the constant, with the learning as the variable. As a student in a class of 30, my individual needs and preferences weren’t the primary drivers of instructional planning (nor is it realistic for my child’s to be – particularly given how specific and different from the norms of school they are!).

I am socialized into the idea that a child’s grade matches their chronological age. I struggle with not knowing how to answer (or help L answer) when people ask what grade she’s in. Typically, we fumble around for a minute and then mumble something about her being 5 and homeschooled. People feel awkward enough at that point to let us off the hook, I think.

I am socialized into the idea that we must all achieve a set amount of learning in each subject in each year. I have no doubt that L will eventually even out in terms of her interests, and she learns quickly and easily enough that I don’t fear that she’ll reach college and be functionally illiterate in any subject. However, she’s simply not interested in social studies right now. My urge is to enforce pursuit of everything instead of trusting that my child has wide-ranging curiosity and that curiosity will lead her to in-depth understanding.

I am socialized into the idea that learning must produce something. Something that I can judge or grade or assess or whatever you want to call it. Today in co-op, there were a ton of great activities out for children to explore. Making an articulated hand from drinking straws. The book Stick Man complete with a huge pile of sticks and material and hot glue guns to make your own. 3-d construction with paper tubes. Painting sticks. Valentine’s mad-libs. Instead of trying any of them, L engaged in three hour-long open-ended play sessions. She spent significant time playing with Playmobil animals and creating an imagined reality. This time was partially alone and partially with other children. She created an open-ended set of creations with Duplos, an activity we have at home but she rarely gravitates toward. This was time mostly spent with other children. She pulled other children in a wagon and was pulled in turn by them. I heard lots of narration about the ocean and she sang songs constantly.

I laughed about it with some other moms, but I genuinely had to check my feelings that she should have been creating some products that we could then have as evidence of her learning. I know she learned a ton! I know that free play is essential for learning and there’s a strong link between free play, the development of social and emotional skills, and achievement. But I’ve been socialized to expect a product.

I am so lucky. As Karen Maezen Miller reminds us in my favorite parenting book (Mother Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood),

“Your child is a tireless teacher, constantly probing your self-imposed limits boundaries, your self-centeredness, your sheer stubbornness. It is a thankless job, and who would want it? But each day your child comes to work again, taking up the monumental task.”

Thank you, L, for reminding me every day that my own socialization is simply that: the model I’ve internalized for what education ought to look like. There’s nothing inherently right or true or good about it. It’s not more natural or more effective or better than all the alternatives. It’s simply what I know. What I’ve learned and now believe to be true.

I am socialized to believe that as the adult, I teach, and as the child, L learns. I am so lucky to get to re-learn this relationship.