Concentration Lessons

First thing this morning Mischief came up to me excitedly.  “Mom, I found a puzzle that I want to do!”  The puzzle in question was 500-pieces of a  fairy sitting by a stream, significantly larger than what she’s used to.  I tried to direct her towards something else – drawing, a different puzzle that’s more her size (100 pieces or so), reading, anything else.  She insisted – it was going to be that puzzle or nothing.  “Mom, I just want to spend quality time making this puzzle with you.  Please give me this quality time.”  I don’t know where she heard that expression, but when your kids specifically asks for quality time you don’t say no.

She decided that I would look for all the orange pieces and she would put them together.  I started pulling pieces out and she tried to make matches.  It wasn’t easy for her, not many pieces fit together, but it was wonderful to watch.  She concentrated and focused on the task at hand – make a background.  For anyone who thinks that small kids don’t have an attention span, watch one who is doing something that they care deeply about, it will change your mind.  She put puzzle pieces together for an hour.  How many she found that matched (maybe 20) wasn’t the point for her, it was all about learning the process. 

I sell the kids short too often, assuming that I need to come up with another activity over and over to keep their attention.  Maybe the reality is I come up with things for them to do that they don’t love or that they get the point of very quickly.  To paraphrase my husband, kids don’t have short attention spans.  They pay attention to something for as long as their brains can handle being focused only on it before needing a break.  The activity seems to be kept it in the back of their mind until the new they learned has settled and they’re ready for more.  Mischief’s brain could handle something she wanted to do for an hour before she needed time for that lesson to settle while she did something else.

That something else also was time consuming.  She wrote all the names of the Disney princesses on separate sheets of paper and stapled them together to make a book.  I helped her spell and she diligently printed the letters.  After she finished the first book, I was informed that we were going to make five because she’s five years old.  It felt tedious to me, but for her it was practice at both focusing on writing for a long period of time, and a way to incorporate something she loves into her day.  This was another hour spent on one thing.  I thought about asking if she wanted to break for snack at one point, it was when she normally eats after all.  However, I realized that I would be annoyed if I were doing something I cared about that deeply and someone kept interrupting me.  I decided to let her work.  She meticulously wrote and stapled until she had her books made.  There was so much pride in her eyes as she read them to me one by one.

This has been the benefit for me of homeschooling.  I’m learning more about my children’s abilities than I feel like they are from me.  I learned today to let them set their own pace and trust in their own abilities.  I could dictate everything we do all day, but as long as she picks something within the bounds of play-learning (i.e. not a day of TV), why stop her?  I need to trust that she will pay attention to the things that she gets some form of learning out of even if I can’t always see what that is.  I need to trust in her attention to details.  I need to be willing to be taught about concentration by my child.

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Homeschooling Begins

On day one of homeschooling, I laid out several centers for my daughter to play with.  There was a place for her to build, one of books for us to read together, markers, clay, and sorting bears.  I thought she was going to happily pick a place to play and love the setup.

“Mom?  I don’t get it.”

“Don’t get what?  Pick where you want to play, it’s up to you.”

“What do I do with all of this mom?  You have to tell me how to play with it all.  Give me directions.  I can’t start until you tell me what I’m supposed to do to get a sticker.  How do I get on green?” 

She sat there confused for ten minutes before she grabbed the sculpey.  “Is it ok if I just try and make something?”

She was tentative at first, not wanting to make a mistake.  I told her that there was just exploring that day, no mistakes to be had.  She would learn from what she did, good or bad.  As she worked with the material she became more and more confident that it would be ok.  By the time lunch rolled around, she was so lost in her work that she didn’t want to stop.

The first thing she made was a flower.  She had an entire story about it and why it doesn’t look like the rest of the flowers, but that makes it special.  When I told her we could cook it and make it hard, she got excited.  “Can I make more things to cook?”  I had creations going in and out of the oven all day.  My favorite sculpture of her is a snake that she made into a circle.  On it, she put four balls of different sizes.  She said that it was a racetrack and the different sizes were to show that the car was going fast.  The speed makes it look different from different places. 

By late afternoon, she looked up at me and said, “It makes me feel like me again.” 

“What does, honey?”

“Working with my art stuff and being creative.  I feel like me again.  So, let’s keep doing days like this.”

It hasn’t all been sunshine.  I don’t always feel like I know what I’m doing, and she keeps asking for Netflix only to be disappointed with an answer of no.  But, her creativity is starting to come out full force.  It’s like watching a flower that has been too long unable to grow start to come into full bloom.  She’s finding what she likes, and some things that she tries and doesn’t like so much.  However, it’s her decision not mine as to how she does and doesn’t want to learn and be taught.  I’m finding that I’m learning as much about her as she is.

Mayhem’s Education

I haven’t yet written about my younger daughter.  She is three and not in school which makes me feel like there isn’t anything to say about her education.  The truth is she learns just as much as her sister does only in a different environment.  She spends all day with me going to PTO events, playgroups, running errands, and helping me around the house.  I don’t do flashcards with her.  I don’t drill her on her letters.  There aren’t any worksheets.  I’ve had people ask if I was worried about her ‘getting behind’ –  whatever that means for a three-year-old.

 

She learns through play, that’s her medium.  She’s too young to have much of an attention span, and frankly too chaotic.  Her nickname is Mayhem as building and destroying things seems to be her main pastime.  She practices writing by drawing circles and straight lines, but only when she feels like picking up a pencil.  Coloring doesn’t occur inside the lines here, but neither does life.  Her favorite thing to draw is a windstorm which means she scribbles all over the page.  Earlier I wrote about my oldest coloring and cutting a leaf.  Mayhem was there too; she just drew a scribble-circle on the paper.  When the adults tried to tell her to focus on the leaf, she informed them that she was putting it in a storm.

 

In a few years if we send her to school, then she can have her days of worksheets and inside the lines and flashcards.  She’s a full-time kid, not a student.  This doesn’t mean she isn’t being taught.  She doesn’t have chores in the house, she has responsibilities.  We have a dog and she has the responsibility of letting the dog out and in and feeding her.  She hands me the dishes from the dishwasher and she gets the ingredients from the cupboard when it’s time to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  In those activities she’s being taught how to take care of herself and be part of a family.

 

I can tell by watching that her mind doesn’t ever stop.  Grocery shopping is an event.  She wants to learn about everything, so we talk about all the fruits and vegetables – how they grow and what we can make with them.  At the store with live lobsters she asks the employees to take a lobster out so she can pet it and we talk about why it has claws.  She is fascinated with how various animals protect themselves, that’s a constant source of discussion.  We’ve watched videos of different animals eating as she likes learning about what their diets consist of.  And while I’ve never formally taught her any vocabulary, her’s is considered advanced by her doctor through me talking to and with her constantly.

 

This isn’t right for everyone, but it is for us.  I get asked how I know she’s learning anything.  I see it in her train tracks that span the upstairs and in her shows that she has her stuffed animals put on.  For that matter, even if she isn’t that won’t stunt her academic growth forever.  She’ll have plenty of time for formal learning.  If there was a quality non-academic preschool in the area, she would likely go.  She only gets so many years before academics start, why speed that up?  She is going to build her education on the foundation of life lessons that will serve her well, or at least that’s the hope.