Tuesday, February 8, 2011


In school Andrew and I have been doing an extensive unit on the weather. He's been interested in weather for a while now and a friend of mine recently gave him a Solar System book that renewed his interest in Outer Space (Thanks Marlorie! We love it!).

So last week, in a stroke of teaching genius, I combined weather and the Solar System for a few days. We read about how the Earth's orbit around the sun is what makes the seasons change. He latched onto this idea and sucked the very marrow out of it. I read him a simple story that unfolds over the four seasons and we set up a model Sun and Earth for him to use while I read the story. He put the Earth on one side of the sun for "Spring" and as the seasons changed in the story, he slowly moved the Earth a quarter of the way around the Sun until it was "Summer". He continued moving the Earth for the rest of the book, hitting the marks for each season as I read. I could tell as he was doing this that he totally understood this weirdo, abstract concept.

On Friday, I took the focus of our weather lessons from Science to Literacy. I read him a very simple book about a girl building a snowman and then at the end of the story I asked him, "Andrew, is there anything in this book that reminds you of something that YOU'VE done?" Good readers, I used to tell my students, connect their lives with the text and connect the text with their lives. My students never, ever had a hard time with this line of questioning. It was as natural to them as breathing. Not so with Andrew.

He squirmed. He paced back and forth at the table. He whined. He argued with me about the question. He wanted to answer it, but it was painful watching him try. There was no clear cut answer. He could not say "no, nothing like that has ever happened to me" because that's not true. He has built a snowman. But he couldn't say yes either. His experience was SOOO different from the book. HOW could he POSSIBLY answer this question?

I gave him a piece of paper folded in half and asked him to draw something that happened in the book on one side and something that happened to him on the other side. Then I left him to go make lunch.

He came in the kitchen a little while later with two snowmen drawn: one right side up (on the book side) and one upside-down (on his side). We talked more about how different his experience was from the book. Parts were the same and parts were different. And that that's okay. It's not going to be exactly the same. It can't be.

It was fascinating to me to watch this boy, who a few days before was able to demonstrate the earth's orbit affecting our seasons, not be able to make a simple comparison with this simple book. And not only was it hard for him to do it, it made him upset to try. He didn't just say "I don't know", or ignore me, or go with a non sequitur, his favorite you've-asked-a-weird-question response. He wrestled fiercely with it wanting to answer and not wanting to answer at the same time while I just sat there watching him.

I am so cruel.

One of the things I really like about homeschooling is how individualized it is. I can teach Andrew at his level and I can teach him about the things that interest him. We can dissect the universe and learn obscure facts about Jupiter's moons and really dive into the things that he enjoys. And then, when he least expects it, I can pull one of my tricks. One of my let's-take-about-books-in-an-abstract-way doozies. And send him reeling. Just a little. Enough to stretch him the littlest bit. And then safely return to facts about the sun's temperature.

He may never be well-rounded. He'll probably always prefer science, math and logic to literary analysis and second language learning, but it won't be for lack of me trying. I feel pretty stubborn about this kind of thing.

Andrew and I made this paper mache Earth as a model to use to talk about the Earth's poles, spin and orbit. We are planning on covering it in clouds and showing what the weather is like in different parts of the world right now.


Susan said...

Robyn, have you heard of the controversial new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"? I have not read the book but I did read a long excerpt from it that was published a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal and, unlike many of my friends, I actually loved it.

There is all this controversy around it because the mom is self-consciously really harsh and demanding with her kids. In the excerpt I read there is a story where she refuses to let her 7yo daughter take a bathroom break until she perfectly learned a complicated piano piece. And this went on for hours--mom screaming and demanding perfection and the daughter fighting back.

I didn't love this particular methodology but I did like a lot of her underlying philosophy and that, in part, is that she says (big paraphrase here!), "Look, a lot of parents today cater too much to their kids, hovering and helping too much. I prefer to believe that my children are intelligent and capable of excellence. That's why I demand it of them." She says, too, (paraphrase again), "What is more loving for your child: to allow them to quit or to make them stick to a project until they "get it" and then have a huge feeling of accomplishment?"

I've been reflecting on this a lot with Joseph's schooling. He is definitely prone to give up easily and I used to let him. The last couple weeks I've been making him finish a task. It's been awesome to see him get to the end of a math page and shout, "I did it!" I've even tried being a little less quick to intervene with William (my 2yo) and he has really blossomed in independence, I think, just from me saying, "I think you can do it yourself. Try again."

Anyway, all this is to say that I don't think you are cruel at all. I think it's awesome that you were able to support Andrew as he squirmed through something difficult and then give him the space--in a very positive way--to work out his thoughts. I bet it was super helpful for his little psyche to be able to express whatever conflict was swirling in his mind about his experience and that story.

Andrew is a lucky kid to have such an awesome teacher.

Susan said...


Dave said...

Wow, Susan! thank you!

I have heard of that book. Marlorie mentioned that she is reading it.

I guess I didn't really think I was being cruel either. But I do think Andrew thought I was. ;) Sooo mean to ask questions! In fact he often tells me, "Mom! It's MEAN for you ask that!" I think it's so funny! And I usually just nod and say, "i know."

Mama V said...

So wonderfully awesome!

I say it all the time but it's worth repeating 'cause it's so thoroughly true: Andrew is one lucky kid. You don't need to convince me that homeschooling him now was the right thing to do!

Please tell Andrew that after spending the day in this windy, cold weather, I want to be in South America right now!

Ladkyis said...

Oh how I wish you could teach my granddaughter! You are truely a wonderful mom.

Melissa Belmonte said...

You are awesome. I love it.

I wish I could do paper mache w/ Atticus- he's scared of balloons, though.

I love your balance of engaging Andrew in the things he loves with the things that make him feel uncomfortable.

Shannon said...

Wow - you rock as a homeschooling Mama!

Tara Whalen said...

You are amazing.
That's all.

Unknown said...

I was so glad to read that Andrew is enjoying the solar system book. It was fun to try and pick out two books that might strike his interest.

FYI, I'm not going to read the "Battle Hymn...."book. I kind of lived that life as child, being a first generation child of immigrants who were pretty strict.

I believe a good teacher is like a good parent-- sensing what is easy and what is a struggle for a child, building upon a child's strenghts and helping a child surpass their own perceived limits while introducing them to things they could never have dreamed of on their own or even knew existed.

Andrew is lucky to have you playing the role as both mom and teacher.

debs14 said...

My friend specialises in 1:1 teaching with autistic children and she said the 'tough love' part of it was the absolute hardest. One little boy need everything to be in order. Numbers on a desk numerically ordered and he was fine. Take out the 5 from the middle and put it at the end - he went MAD! Take out the 5, put it in a box, and put the box where the 5 was, he went crazy. Because he couldn't see the 5, in his mind, it wasn't there and the order was wrong. Yet in other ways he was years ahead of his peers, just as Andrew is. Kind of think his grasp on space and our place in it is years above mine to be honest! He will have his speciality subjects and he will excel at them, it's just a tough job getting his more difficult concepts ironed out. He'll get there, there will be tears and tantrums along the way, but oh the achievement when you break through his resistance! Keep strong, you're both doing a great job!