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    On Bad Attitudes {Part 2}

    June 19, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    As a quick reminder, this series is an attempt to think about your run-of-the-mill obstinacy during lessons. It does not pretend to offer anything of substance in regard to severe behavior problems and/or neurological issues. In Part 1, we talked about starting too young, and choosing bad books.

    Today we’re going to think about the benefit of varied lessons, and the importance of finding the source of frustration.

    Varied Lessons

    One of the things that surprised me most when I began studying the Charlotte Mason method was that she believed in short, varied lessons. My instinct was to reject this as a form of coddling weak modern minds. Thankfully, I was reminded that she wrote these things before video games and television, before cell phones and iPods.

    Maybe there is something to it, I thought.

    Ambleside Online has a wonderful, fairly concise answer as to why we use short lessons: 

    Charlotte Mason advocated short lessons for home schoolrooms as well as school classrooms. She wrote in volume one that short lessons teach the children the value of a golden minute, that now is the time to do this lesson and one time is not as good another- another way of putting it would be to say that short lessons help children learn to make the most of the time. Short lessons ensure both that lots of free time will be available, and that the child’s interest will be high.

    We on the advisory, as well as many list members, have tried both longer and shorter lessons. What we have found is that when we stop while the child is still hungry, so to speak, for more information on that book, my child is nearly obsessed with thinking about the material in the book. She spends time wondering what might happen next, why events have fallen out as they have, what might have been done differently–each child will spend more time in reflection, more time play acting {later, in their spare time} and more time making the material their very own in a deeply personal way {obviously, some books work out better for this than others}. One thing we find makes this more possible is to follow reading lessons with subjects that make it possible for them to spend some time thinking about what they just read. So we might read from history, then do handwork, then read from a science book, then do copywork, then read from a literature selection and then do nature study, and so on.

    We see, then, that the goal is twofold. First, it keeps their interest high. Second, by varying the types of material, children are given time to digest ideas.

    It is amazing to me how helpful this is. I tried longer lessons with my oldest before I was completely sold on the effectiveness of Charlotte Mason. What I found was that there is a line that we can cross, and when we cross it, the child’s mind goes all to mush. Many of us remember something similar occurring while “cramming” in college, do we not? For a child, they not only lose interest, but they become adverse to the subject.

    By giving them enough–and not more than enough–we keep interest fresh and high, we offer time for them to take in and assimilate the ideas they have been given {rather than overfeeding}, and I think this goes a long way in promoting good attitudes. When we are holding interest properly, the children are begging to continue the book, and their faces brighten the next time we take it off the shelf.

    Obviously, this doesn’t work so well with mathematics.

    Which bring me to the next subject.

    Finding the Source of Frustration

    We already discussed starting too early, which I think can be a huge source of frustration for children. But let’s say a ten-year-old is rejecting math. He is likely not too young for math {though there is the chance that he is not ready for the level of textbook he is in}.

    I love watching mothers work wisely with their children, and I saw this recently with a dear friend of mine whose son was really kicking against the goads in regard to math. She dropped the textbook entirely, and began to do only flashcard review of math facts. What she told me was that some of his struggle in math was due to not having all of his facts mastered. This meant that an equation that might have taken seconds took minutes, because he couldn’t draw certain things from his memory when he needed them.

    In this case, the source of frustration was likely due to an empty memory. At the very least, this was contributing to frustration and feelings of failure.

    This is what I mean by getting to the source of frustration.

    In many ways, we are students of our children, studying them in order to discover what they need.

    I might also suggest a simple conversation with the child. Why do you think you don’t like math? Why are you resisting grammar when you seem to like the rest of school?

    I have been surprised how many times my children have had good answers to these questions, and then, instead of ditching the subject or the chore or whatever they are complaining about, we fix the underlying issue so that they can attain success in their venture. Or, if we cannot fix the issue, we can offer them a challenge. Once, I had a child resisting something only because it did not come easy. That was a great opportunity to discuss the great people of history. One thing they all have in common is perseverance–they don’t quit just because something is hard. How are we going to persevere in the hard things if we quit just because Shakespeare is hard, or math is hard?

    So we talk about how this is building the potential for greatness, or for doing what we are called to do {duty will not always be easy}.

    And in other instances I have realized that the child did not have an answer. And I wondered if perhaps the child really was rejecting what he was not yet ready for. Remember that Charlotte said that the mind “takes or rejects according to its need.”

    Grammar, for instance, is best learned formally after age nine or ten, in my opinion. Sometimes, a mental Sabbath is in order, if only as an experiment.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Dawn June 22, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Mental sabbath….love it. Reminds me of the time I took a “mental health day” on my own accord in PT school. I was the picture of the conscientious student and ALWAYS followed the rules and ALWAYS attended class. I awoke one am and decided I needed a break. I rode my bike to a lone stretch of beach, enjoyed a book and picnic there by myself. and returned home. I greatly benefited from my “mental health day” but I came home to a barrage of voicemails inquiring about my absence. Seems my uncharacteristic absence prompted many of my classmates and professors to think that some tragedy had fallen upon me. After threatening to fail me for skipping his class, I realized that one professor was teasing and actually appreciated my strategy. I wish I could take them more often:).

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