Monday, June 9, 2008

"Difficult" Children May Finish on Top

Please pardon me while I brag a little bit on our second child. I just got notice that Sam has made the Dean's List at Park University. He is furthering his education while serving in the air force. You may recall, also, from a previous post, that he has entered a courtship with a sweet young lady nearly 1200 miles away from him. So, he's a very busy little beaver these days. Therefore, it is especially commendable for him to be able to juggle all these responsibilities and still come out on top. We are very thankful for the accomplishments wherewith the Lord has gifted him.

Now, you may be wondering why I would choose the title, "Difficult" Children May Finish on Top, when discussing such a smart kid. The truth is Sam was my difficult child in our home school. I keep mentioning this throughout my website and blog because it should be an encouragement to all you struggling home school parents that a "difficult" child is only difficult for you. He or she is probably not mentally challenged as many child psychologists and public school "experts" would diagnose. Children like our son, Sam, just need creative parents who think outside the box like they do.

I have a very dear friend who once called me with a distressing confession. Their ten-year-old son could not read. They had been working with him for five years, and he didn't show any signs of improvement. I assured her that he would read one day, he just wasn't ready yet. She took my advice and let him choose books from the library at whatever level he chose. I'm not sure how things progressed from there, but evidently, he must have improved somewhat because he just took first place in a state competition for small engine repair through his local technical school less than ten years after that phone call.

Sam was my reluctant reader. In truth, he was my reluctant learner. He could not sit still for more than five minutes. My prevalent memory of him in school is of him standing with one knee on his chair. He rarely sat completely down and was never "still." There were times when he would have to finish a page, go run around the house, finish another page, run around the house again, etc., until he finally finished his school for the day.

Before he could ever finish even one day of school work, however, there were some important things which had to be in place first: an establishment of my authority, both as a parent and educator, and a schedule of work assignments for school and chores. There were negotiations, of course, in how he would learn and what he would learn (later in high school), but the fact that he would learn was not negotiable. He was not allowed free rein of the house to do what he wanted during the established school hours. There was no television, no pleasure reading, no phone calls, no computer games or internet browsing, nor anything else until his goals for the day were completed. I did have to mix up his seat time, however, with household chores and play breaks, but when it was time to get busy with school, he had no choice but to do it.

I also found out the hard way that a child like Sam needs structure. He needs to know what is expected next. He needs to have his assignments given in advance with an established goal in sight before he can begin in peace. Giving him the whole chunk at once disconnects his brain. In his mind's eye, he doesn't see how he can do it. Therefore, teaching him how to set goals for himself was paramount in the self-learning process. He had to learn how to take a whole workbook or textbook, determine the time needed to finish it, and be able to break it down into daily goals.

This is how Sam does most of his college work now. If he hadn't learned this process before graduating from our home school, he would be ill equipped, like many children coming out of both traditional and home schools, to handle the self-directed studies required at the college and university levels.

Therefore, if you want to see your children succeed in their given calling, then one of your purposes for home educating them should be to prepare them to be life-long learners. However, if you have children like Sam, don't expect them to be self-starters, especially if they have just been taken out of a public or private school. Your first priority, then, as an educator, would be to equip them with the skills needed to learn on their own.

So, even if they are not considered to be "difficult," I would encourage you to do your children a favor and begin today to wean them off of you. Let them in on the teaching process as well as the learning process and give them what they need to succeed beyond your home school.

Sam is a shining example of a "difficult" child who has come out on top. However, having given the above advice, there is still one more thing which must be done in order to see any of your children succeed at what they were made to do: prayer. You must pray for each child individually because each child is unique in his or her own way. A "difficult" child may only be one who doesn't fit the mold of the traditional schooling process. You must go to God in prayer daily for wisdom and discretion to know how to educate each of the little treasures the Lord has called you to prepare for life. The ideal, of course, is for both parents to pray together about this and lean on one another for support through the difficult times.

The Lord is able to do great things with our children. We must have faith in Him and expect them to "finish on top" in answer to prayer by His grace and for His glory.