Home Education Magazine
July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns
Ask Carol - Carol Narion
Starting Up, Dealing with Death, and Sibling Rivalry
How Do We Start?
"We have decided to homeschool our almost 5-year-old son. I have been reading tons of books and articles, and I'm pretty sure where we will fall into the wide spectrum of teaching/schooling styles. Here is my problem. I have no idea how to actually start. Do I just sit him down and say, 'OK, now we are going to learn to read?' I know it sounds crazy, but I feel that this is really holding me back. I wish someone could just tell me how to actually begin our journey. I'm a little nervous about the whole thing, now that we made the decision to homeschool. Could this be holding me back? Matthew is really interested in the Revolutionary War. So, we are reading about it daily and discussing it at great length. He is using his Playmobil toys as 'redcoats' and 'blue coats.' Have we already started? Do you think I need a therapist? Thank you so much for letting me get this out." - Annie Evans
Annie, you don't need a therapist. You need the Wizard of Oz to give you some confidence!
Yes, you've already started. You started on the day he was born and you responded to his cries. You continued when you stared into his eyes and talked to him and stood him up on your lap so his legs could get strong, then held his hands while he walked on little bowed legs. Frankly, it's too late for you to start homeschooling.
So now that he's five, don't fix what isn't broken. Continue what you've been doing -- support his interests, read together, take walks, go to interesting places (like a Revolutionary War reenactment?) and talk about life and the world. Your desire to make something happen academically is perfectly normal in a society where our youngest members are sent to school when they're barely potty-trained because parents can't be trusted to help them learn. It's hard to believe children can learn as easily as they do when a huge education bureaucracy has convinced the majority of parents to feel helpless in the face of every teacher's expertise. Don't buy into it!
If you sit him down and say, "Now we're going to homeschool and first you'll learn to read," that starts the pressure. Suddenly both homeschooling and reading are a job to accomplish for which you'll need rules you have to enforce and he has to obey. Why do that? Just sit down with him (or lie down on a bed or outside in a hammock or under the dining room table) and read books together. He'll pick up the reading without the pressure to do it just because it's arbitrarily time to homeschool. Besides, most 5-year-old boys aren't even ready to read.
So have fun learning about the Revolutionary War and look forward to where his next passion will take you. It's time to stop thinking of homeschooling as something you do and think of it as how you live. Good luck!
"I had my son in TRECCA (Tri-Rivers Education Computer Consortium) but I decided it was too rigid after one year. His attention span is short. Jeffrey, my little student, is nine. He is behind in reading and writing skills but is a database when it comes to science and things he's interested in. The problem I'm having right now isn't him, though. It's me! My father recently died and other things have happened to send me in a tailspin. I can't get organized and it's been basically a hit-or-miss situation around here with schooling. I just need to be guided in the right direction so I can get organized. I've been suffering from information overload. Any help would be appreciated." - Anonymous
First thing, don't worry. Jeffrey is doing fine. Most boys are "behind" in reading and writing at age nine. He'll get there. What you told me is that you're struggling, but he's not! That's normal for what you're going through. You're grieving and under stress and you're beating yourself up for it. Stop that!
You know, it may be hit-or-miss with schooling, but I'll bet Jeffrey is learning a lot from following his own interests. Why not back off the things that are causing the pressure for a few months? Just do things that feel healing and fun; get to know each other. Go on field trips, if you feel up to it -- to the zoo or a museum or a donut factory or anyplace else that sounds fascinating. Whatever Jeffrey's interested in, find a way to enjoy learning about it together by watching a TV show or reading a book together. Don't ask him to read to you and don't ask him to write about it. No pressure, remember? What Jeffrey would be learning in school at his age might take an hour a day. He has the whole day, and he will learn what he needs to know.
You can't stop Jeffrey from learning any more than you could have stopped him from learning to walk and talk. This isn't a time to try to be super-organized mom. This is a time to take care of yourself and allow time and space to heal. The reasons people send their kids to school is so they'll learn about "real life." Homeschooling is about real life, and what you're experiencing is real life. I'd say your son is learning about life and death in a way that can't be told by a teacher reading the class a book about a hamster dying.
Be kind to yourself. If you feel up to it, read more about homeschooling as a lifestyle, not as an adjunct to the public school system. (TRECCA is an online public school.) The most important things kids can learn is how to handle life when bad things happen. Let this be his education for right now.
"I have two boys, 13 and 10. Now that the oldest son is maturing and interested in different things from his younger brother, there is more conflict between them than there used to be. Even worse, my youngest guy thinks he is stupid because he always comes up short when he compares himself to his older brother. Given his limited contact with other kids his own age, how can I help him with this? Does he need separate activities with kids his own age? Have other moms dealt with this one? Thank you." - Nancy from Colorado
I really do think kids need to find their own niche and it sounds like it's time for your younger son to explore his individuality. It's hard when they compare themselves instead of looking at their own progress, but many siblings who are close in age are prone to do that. I would encourage him in his interests that are different from his brother's, as well as helping him develop a healthy attitude about the ones they share. And I would have a little talk with his older brother, if you think it's a good idea, about how he can encourage his younger brother by pointing out when he's doing something well and giving him a pat on the back.
My son is 6 1/2 years older than my daughter, and he will tell her she's doing something much better than he did at her age -- like playing the piano or writing poetry. We try to be very open about age differences and comparing ourselves to people with more experience, which isn't a fair evaluation. I think it helps her see herself as a unique, evolving person and not so much a smaller copy of her brother who can never keep up.
I don't know if I would recommend that he need to be with kids specifically his age, but rather with kids who share his interests. That doesn't mean he won't still hang out with his brother, but he'll gain confidence from expanding his knowledge and experience in areas where his brother isn't proficient.
It's common for siblings to set themselves apart through their activities. I have two sisters, and we grew up in a small town with not a lot of options. However, my youngest sister was joking one day about how we each seemed to find our own interests apart from the others -- she was a cheerleader, I was a jock and our other sister dated!
Everybody needs to make a mark on the world, and it's no fun if the guy you love like a brother is always making his mark bigger and better than yours. Your older son has crossed into new territory as he moves into puberty. Some day your younger son will catch up, but for now, it sounds like he needs to step away from his brother's shadow, so he can develop his unique self. He's lucky he has a mom who sees his needs and is willing to support him.
© 2003 Carol Narigon
July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM