Trying New Things — Changing the Way We Learn

I am consistently humbled and reminded, frequently, that it does not matter how well I plan things out — to-do’s, lesson plans, etc. — it all usually gets tossed to the mighty and strong winds of change and the plans are swiftly swept out the window.

A few days ago, I was approaching a school project with J.J. — he was supposed to write a fictional story. Simple, right? Just the sort of thing an imaginative 7 year old boy should be good at… But it proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. In all honestly, I should have seen the difficulty coming, as things usually are more difficult than I think they will be. I seem to forget that my son has difficulty focusing his attention — especially if it is something he is not excited about at that very moment in space and time.

I approached the project to the best of my ability: I got out brainstorming sheets, referenced his Basher Creative Writing book, and we discussed, at length, different genres and examples of each one. Upon deciding he wanted to write a “fantasy” story, I pulled out the brainstorming sheets and set to work.

Since J.J. sometimes has difficulty with “bigger picture” thinking, I thought we would conquer the story one part at a time. I figured it would be helpful to start with Character Development. (I realize now how ridiculous it may sound to tell a 7 year old that we are going to work on Character Development…but to be fair I simply asked him who he wanted in the story and what each of their characteristics were). I thought this would go swiftly, especially since he chose to write about the “Bird Family” which he made up and draws about all the time. However, almost every one of my questions was met with an “I don’t know” or simply no answer at all. Yet, after several tries and some input from good ol’ Mom and Dad, J.J. finally had his set of characters for the story.

Yesterday, we tried revisiting the story, this time trying to begin building upon the details and events. Where did the Bird Family live? What did they do? I tried offering big picture questions, detailed questions, suggestions, examples…everything I could think of without giving him any answers or writing the story-line for him. Again, after several tries and many breaks in between…we only had a few new pieces of information for the story.

We need to try new things. We need new strategies. We need to let our writing efforts rest for awhile, in hopes that he will have some sort of interest at a later date. Right now, I think J.J. and I need to focus on things he wants to learn about. Things of his choosing. After all, how is he going to actually learn and retain any new information unless he has some interest in it? How are we going to have a good homeschool experience if I am constantly trying to force him to learn certain things, or be creative in certain ways? It’s simply not going to work. In a strange contrast, the older J.J. gets, the more reasonable, yet more strong-willed he becomes. 

So, I had J.J. compile a list of things he is currently interested in and wants to learn more about. He came up with: Dr. Seuss (as a person and writer), “Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms” and “Horten’s Incredible Illusions”, Magic and Magicians, Architecture, Somalia, India, Mexico, Aztecs, and Plants.

Quite an interesting list if you ask me!

We will certainly still do lots of math and reading and other “core” requirements. We will just do the bulk of our learning in a different sort of way. It will be largely literature-based as we learn this new information about his topics of choice, but I told him I expect him to be able to pay careful attention when reading, watching, or listening about these topics and to be able to tell me what he just learned.

I estimate the list of topics will take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full month to explore in-depth. However, I am not pinning any sort of timeline or deadline for it…since I know what happens when I try to put those sorts of requirements on things of this nature. It simply won’t adhere to my expectations. Instead, I am going to try to have fun with this and make it fun for J.J. as well. After all, I’m sure I will learn just as much as him in the process!

This will certainly be an interesting experiment, and I am sincerely looking forward to it!