Something happens to children’s brains when they begin to hit puberty, and I’m not referring to attitude problems. I’m referring to memory and attention issues. If you’ve been reading here for very long, you’re well aware that I started studying Charlotte Mason before most of my children were born. This means they were trained in the habit of attention from infancy. Is this a magic wand that means there will be no bumps in the attention road along the way?
No it does not.
Because puberty, people!
I have this memory that still makes me chuckle. It was three or four years ago, and a number of us at our Charlotte Mason mama’s reading group meeting that night had oldest children around 11- or 12-years-old. We were all in new territory. We were discussing some issues that had come up with chores, and I was about to say something when another woman across the room took the words right out of my mouth:
She can remember to scrub the dishes. She loads the dishwasher. She even fills up the soap container. But she can’t remember to press start!
The funny part (to me, anyhow) is that every single mom of a child that age affirmed the same problem! Including me. That was what I was going to say, too, only about a boy.
That’s right: children in early puberty can’t remember to press start on the dishwasher. It’s a scientific fact, as shown by my sample size of four.
There is a fancy word in psychology for this, but I can’t remember what it is. (Because Mom Brain.)
So brains begin to come unglued and the strangest thing happens with math, or at least we’re two for two at my house so far.
With my oldest, it was something of a shock. He was born attentive. I never had to train him. But one day he came to me and told me he didn’t know what was wrong, his mind was turning to mush during his math lessons.
I asked him to describe what was happening a bit more and it dawned on me that he was having trouble paying attention. We were both shocked. This had never happened before.
Fast forward to now, and my new 12-year-old is struggling with a similar symptom. I’ve always had to watch her with math, but this is new territory. She sits down to do her lessons and she just can’t — she’s having trouble focusing before she even gets started.
If it hadn’t happened before, and if I hadn’t had friends to discuss these things with, I would have thought this a discipline problem, perhaps. Or a habit problem?
But really, it’s just Puberty Brain.
So here’s the deal: we have principles of education. When things like this happen, we use our principles to troubleshoot and then find creative solutions. While all the principles apply all the time, let’s just look at a few that I found especially pertinent:
- Attention is a habit to be formed. This means that if I allow the situation to continue the way that it’s going — if I think to myself that it’s a stage they will grow out of, I may find this becomes the New Normal. I definitely want to avoid that.
- Knowledge should be various. Was the math lesson 30 minutes straight of the exact same type of problem? No, it wasn’t. But if it had been, a possible solution would have been to try mixing in different types of problems to provide more variety.
- Lessons should be short. This was the tricky one. 30 minutes is totally appropriate for 12-year-olds. In addition to this, they had both previously been doing assignments for this long without a problem.
So what’s the solution? Turns out, I took a different approach with each child. This was based upon both the child and my own availability to implement the solution.
With my son, I broke up his lessons into two separate 15-minute sessions. It didn’t have to be exactly this long, but that’s the approximate time he was looking for. When the first session was up, he was to finish the problem he was working on, put all of it to the side, and do a couple assignments that were completely unrelated to math. (Often, this involved a reading followed by written narration.)
Did 12-year-olds in Charlotte Mason’s classrooms break their lessons up into two sessions like this? No. But, you see, there is more than one way to implement principles. I wasn’t working with nouns of a multitude; I was working with one individual child.
My daughter is using a different math curriculum than my son did at this age. A lesson is usually divided up into four or five different sections containing different types of problems. In addition, the problems tend to increase in difficulty as you move from the top of a section toward the bottom.
Warning: this solution is more complex. Detail overload ahead.
A section may have any number of problems — sometimes, it’s quite a lot, and sometimes it’s only a few. If necessary, I draw in lines that divide the sections into subsections that contain some easier and some harder problems in order to make sure that she doesn’t just do the easiest work.
I use a timer. If the whole lesson is supposed to take 30 minutes, and I spent 5 minutes explaining something, we have 25 minutes left. I quickly split that up over the sections in the lesson — 5 minutes here, 7 there, etc. — based upon how much time I think it should take and where I want to focus her efforts.
Yes, this involves daily decision making. Ew.
So far it’s gone really well. It’s true — the entire page isn’t done. But who cares? The point is to understand math, not to do a certain number of problems, right?
The good news is that this doesn’t last too long. I don’t remember how long it was the first time, but I remember it felt earlier than expected when my son came to me and said that he thought he could return to doing a full 30 minutes at a time. He spends 45 minutes now that he’s in high school, and no further issues.
We’ll see how long I need to continue timer sessions with my daughter. We’ve only just begun, and things like this take patience.
As I look into the future, I anticipate having to deal with this same problem with my younger children, and that’s okay. I trust God to help me apply the principles to find a solution when the time comes.
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