Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The art of 'Leaving Them To It'

... and it really is an art form!  At least, it is for someone like me who swings from hyper-vigilant tendencies, wanting to check on every little thing that goes on, to feeling as if someone has velcroed me into the armchair & I couldn't move if I wanted to (until I hear suspicious 'noises off', that is, when I hoist myself into action).  Happily, almost a year of home educating has taught me many things, one of them being the ability to just step back and let the boys get on with the business of learning.  They're not entirely left to their own devices, as you know - but when it comes to the pressures that seem to accompany "normal parenting" (like all those developmental and academic targets that most children attain significantly earlier or later that the norm, causing stress for their parents who feel the sting if the targets aren't reached 'in time'), I feel like we've really escaped the rat race.  We have no age-specific targets.  In fact you could say our only real target is that of confidence - at any age...

Anyway, today we had a lovely little illustration: Youngest (our little independent one) has long since wanted to do things "all by myself" - that may even have been one of his first sentences!  However some things are just too tricky even for his determined little personage... such as doing up buttons.  Now, as their dress code since leaving school seems to consist of joggers, T-shirts and jumpers, this hasn't presented too many issues.  But today he and Middle decided they wanted to wear their "fancy" clothes (ie shirts with buttons), even though today had become designated a pyjama day after our socialising plans fell through.  Well I managed to stall them for a while (shirts = ironing), but determination usually wins, and after lunch they disappeared upstairs where I heard them chattering beautfully so I left them to it.  I admit, I do still have to tell myself to do this, especially during school hours: my default position is still set to thinking "they should be working", but I know this is a fallacy, not least because the word 'should' generally means I need to ignore whatever follows (see Attack of the Killer Shoulds) - and also, working does not equal learning.  In fact I would go so far as to say if they are having to work at it, they're not learning - because learning comes much faster when they're so interested that it doesn't feel like work, even if  they are having to really apply themselves to grasp something new (and that's another thing I've learned more clearly after a year of Home Ed).

Well, having left them to it upstairs, Middle came down asking me to go and do Youngest's buttons up.  I'd like to say I deliberately left it a while, knowing that Youngest's determination would win out, but the truth is, I was having an armchair-velcro moment (and chatting to Eldest about his lapbook, so I couldn't just go, now could I?)  Ten minutes later, and down came Middle beaming in a proud big-brotherly way and ushering in Youngest who was declaring " Mummy, I worked out how to do the buttons on my fancy 'suit', all by myself!!!"

So there we go: if I had followed my old school-minded autopilot I could have "made" (or tried to make) Youngest do some "work" - and we would have missed the absolute joy of him learning to do something "all by himself"- something that he has been trying on and off to do for at least a couple of years, and that he mastered in a few minutes - just because we're not tied anxiously to commonly-held developmental timetables: he was left to it.  Just think if we could all have that confidence in our children when it comes to reading and writing!

See, one of my pet hates is the insistence in state school to get children reading by the age of five (or sooner - new government guidelines want to set even earlier deadlines for nurseries to get children learning to read at age three)! Actually it is perfectly within normal developmental limits for a child to not get the hang of reading until they are seven - and yet in most schools now they would be having "remedial" help (and feeling like failures) by that age.  All because we can't just leave them to it.  Well OK, so teachers are paid to teach - it wouldn't really work if they just left all their class to their own devices all the time... but you get my point.  And the joy is that as home educators we are free from those constraints.  We have the luxury of being able to trust our children's natural curiosity and determination to learn what they want to learn.

I do know that not every child is as determined or self-motivated as Youngest... indeed Middle appears so laid-back there have been times when I wondered if I would still be dressing him as an adult.  And yet I have been able to learn to "leave him to it" too.  That doesn't mean neglecting him or not caring about what he's learning - I am still very attentive to his needs - but I can verify that although it took him about ten months to regain his confidence as a learner after leaving school, he is now absolutely flying!  It's just flying in a more under-stated way that Eldest or Youngest who like everyone to notice what they are doing: Middle likes to be left to it to conquer things quietly on his own so he can build his confidence without anyone noticing - and then do a grand reveal with a modest, "it was nothing" feeling of accomplishment. 

So although I haven't done much of a diary entry: I haven't mentioned our lovely morning yesterday at craft club, or marvelled with you at our successful shopping trip (shoe shop plus queue-laden post office and prescription chemist - plus newsagent to buy comics to thank boys for behaving so well in aforementioned shops); I haven't told you about making a wordsearch with fridge magnets, or how I keep wandering into rooms to find Eldest or Middle with their noses in books; I haven't boasted about Youngest being able to recognise not only all the letter sounds but also most of the letter names in the alphabet - upper and lower case (thank you, Reading Eggs)... I may not have filled you in on the whole day (although the above sentences may have helped you catch up quickly), but sometimes it's nice to just stop and celebrate the little things - because sometimes they turn out to be about the really big things!

And just in case you miss something pretty to look at, I'll leave you with the boys' creations from craft club yesterday - Youngest and Middle made some lovely collages, and Eldest wanted to make a board game (because he was sad to miss the group making them last week).  Happy Wednesday!

Youngest's "Owl"

 Middle's "Hedgehog"

Eldest's board game

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