Please welcome my friend and SkippingSchool’s guest columnist, Linda Dobson. You can read more of her great work on homeschooling and learning outside the box of public schooling on her blog: Parent at the Helm.
Is Your Child Fired Up – Or Burned Out – On Learning?
By Linda Dobson
I can’t say why, when, or how it happened, but it did. At some point after compulsory schooling began a mere 150 years or so ago, our society accepted it as perfectly normal and natural: Children hate going to school. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the school culture itself enforces the notion with an unwritten rule that those who are smart and/or enjoy classes are geeks, nerds, or just plain weird.
Then there’s that compulsion feature itself, compounded by No Child Left Behind’s focus on test scores. How often does the situation in learning coach Jennifer’s home play out across the nation?
“Three years ago Bethany couldn’t wait to go to kindergarten,” Jennifer remembers, “and she thrived. But within the first few months of first grade her attitude began to change. At first she just complained that she had to go to school, but by third grade she actively fought it.” Exasperated, Jennifer was unsuccessful trying to talk with Bethany, so she turned to the teacher.
“It happens all the time,” the teacher told Jennifer. “She’s burned out.”
Burned Out on Learning
“How does an eight year-old ‘burn out’?” Jennifer asked.
“There are a variety of contributing factors,” the teacher confided. “For some kids, we move too quickly and they can’t keep up. For others, the opposite is true; they get bored and tune out. Some don’t really wake up until after they’ve been in school for hours, while others get distracted while trying to keep childhood energy in check enough to sit still. Some don’t see a purpose, and still others just plain aren’t interested in what I’m talking about. Try as we might it’s impossible to be all things to all children, and we lose some along the way. For what it’s worth,” the teacher added, “Bethany is extremely bright and creative. That’s how we lost her.”
“Lost her?” exclaims Jennifer. “My baby had months to go in this woman’s classroom and she considered her ‘lost’? I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry in my life, and I vowed then and there to change burned out on learning to fired up at home.”
“By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences.”
So what did Jennifer do when she didn’t want to lose any more precious family time together to school-related activities? Especially when she was unable to take complete educational responsibility through homeschooling?
Being Your Child’s Learning Coach Can Help!
In the warmth and comfort of home, she became Bethany’s learning coach. Instead of acting as just another in a long string of teachers, drilling the multiplication tables or quizzing her child on a long list of dates related to the Revolutionary War, Jennifer focused on three elements vital to academic success that aren’t addressed in crowded (or even many uncrowded) classrooms.
• One-on-one attention
• Basic learning skills the child may apply to any area of study
• Educational customization based on learning style, innate intelligences, and interests
Researchers, too, are noticing the results of facilitating learning in lieu of teaching. In 2002, the University of North Florida’s Rebecca A. Marcon reported on a comparison between three diverse preschool models. The first was child-initiated, including lots of free exploration of interests. Next was the academically directed approach, focusing on early curriculum material. The third was a “combination” approach. Marcon writes, “By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences.”
From The Learning Coach Approach: Inspire, Encourage, and Guide Your Child Toward Greater Success in School and in Life by Linda Dobson