To push or not to push. That is the question. And the answer depends on who you talk to. There are some that say that kids must be pushed, or else how will they reach their potential? There are others who say that kids should never be pushed or else the learning process will be taken away from them. For my family, the answer seems to be somewhere in between and depends on the child. And I firmly believe that each family needs to decide where they fall based on what works for their child.
I will admit that my tendency is towards the “never push” camp. I have read John Holt and his writings resonate with me. I firmly believe that kids need time and space to learn things on their own schedule. But I have also learned that sometimes, some kids may just need a little bit of a push. The hard part is knowing when.
A couple of years ago, I went through what I now call my “unschooling crisis”. I had been trying to radically unschool for well over a year and a half and letting my kids learn completely on their own timeframe. The problem was that that I kept running up against my oldest son Jason’s perfectionism. Instead of seeing a love of learning blossom, I was seeing his self-confidence go down along with his willingness to try things. He slowly seemed to be narrowing his world to only things that he felt comfortable with like video games. And while I feel that video games and TV are wonderful ways to learn, when they are used as an avoidance tool, something is not right.
In talking with Jason I found that he was afraid of not being smart enough, so in his mind it was better not to try to learn something then to try and fail. I have since learned that this is typical of right-brained/visual-spatial learners. Just before Jason turned 8, I could tell that he had all the information he needed to read and was ready, but was struggling to pull it all together. I agonized over whether to try a reading program…I thought that something a bit more structured might help him connect the dots...help him see that there were patterns and rules and de-mystify the process. But he did not want me to teach him or show him. And I worried that I somehow would be taking something away from him by not letting him learn on his own time.
What finally convinced me to go ahead and try a reading program was two-fold. First, I realized that the reason that he was resisting my teaching him was because he was afraid. His perfectionism and doubts in himself were what was holding him back. Second, it just did not make sense to withhold information that could help him because I was not supposed to “teach” him how to read. My responsibility as a homeschooling parent is not to limit my child’s world, but to expand it…and that includes exposing him to any resource that might help him reach his goals, "schooly" or not.
Once I made the decision, I had to figure out what to try. I first tried Phonics Pathways. It was immediately obvious that it was not the right approach for him and was not working. We stopped after a week (luckily we had gotten it from the library). Next we tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. After the first couple of lessons I knew that this was just what he needed to tie everything together. I could see the light bulb going off. We did not use it like a curriculum, we used it more as a resource. We did not do lessons every day and we did not do half of what they suggested doing. We used it to meet Jason's needs...we did not define his needs by it.
One of the reasons that I know that I was right to push at this time was his reaction once we started. He never asked to do a lesson, but he did not fight it when I said that it was time. And when I gave him the option of stopping about half-way through he chose to finish all 100 lessons. But above all else, I saw his confidence begin to build. I could see that reading was making sense to him...that the pieces were falling into place. He was getting excited about learning to read. And he could see that he was, despite his worries, more then “smart enough”.
So how do you know when to push? I think that in order to answer that, you need to ask yourself why you are pushing. Are you pushing because he is 7 years old and kids his age should be reading? Or are you pushing because you can see that he is ready and he just needs that extra encouragement and help to take that next step? Only you can answer that question.
One of my favorite entries here on Life Without School is Tammy’s post On Finding This Life. In it she says:
How we educate our kids is a perspective before it’s a practice. All homeschoolers might use textbooks, use real-life experience, use lists, use all the different tools available to learn (yes, even unschoolers). The difference to me between an “unschooler” and any other method is not necessarily what we do, but the perspective that got us here in the first place. What we “do” all day is irrelevant. It’s the “why” we do that’s revealing. It’s the “why” behind the practices described in books, elists and websites that explain far more than the actual educational tool itself.
Homeschooling/unschooling is not about following a checklist and doing x,y,z. It is about really getting to know your children and enjoying learning with them without any preconceived notions of what that learning will look like. And about trusting that they will learn what they need to know, even if they need a little push here and there.
Stephanie is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows.