My older son needs a change. For most of the last school year, I’ve thought he needed (in no particular order) a change in attitude, in focus, in underwear, in diet, and in priorities. I’ve alternatingly (by the day, by the minute) alternated between chastising him, encouraging him, gently prodding him, and ignoring him. Since my progression through those was neither linear nor scientific, I have no idea whether alone or in concert any of those interventions helped or harmed him. <deep parental sigh>
He’s on the cusp of 14, celebrating his birthday in two weeks, making this a year we celebrate Mother’s Day and his birthday on the same day. One his first Mother’s Day, his third day of life, I felt like we were still intimate strangers, bound by biology and need yet painfully out of rhythm with each other. By his first birthday and second Mother’s Day together, I was still constantly adapting to his changes but felt far more comfortable with my Mom role and our relationship.
Now I’m not so certain. While still externally appearing prepubescent, his brain is certainly changing. He’s become more taciturn — not when I’d like him to be, like when I’m on the phone or reading, but at the table and on car trips. He’s more reserved in countenance, and I often ask if he’s okay, only to hear a perky, “I’m fine.” I ask that question often, ask what’s on his mind, and I just don’t get much from him. During his last year, he’s become far more physically competent, honing his skills with tools and becoming quite handy around the house and yard. He’s a willing helper, especially if it gets him out of our major minefield, schoolwork.
Schoolwork. It’s become the trigger for many lectures on my end and angry tears on his end. He’s a brilliant previously capable boy who seems to have developed a mind of mush. I’ve always struggled to understand his approach to education. I was a perfectionist teacher-pleaser who loved a clean new workbook and notebook and strove (successfully) for report cards filled with A’s. My parents and teachers liked my efforts and rewarded them with praise. Yeah, by the end of highschool, I was over-identified with my grades and , by college, sometimes shied away from classes that might jeopardize my GPA. I’ve often seen homeschooling without grades as a possible partial antidote to this affliction, and to some degree, it has been.
But a few years back, I started grading his math tests. During Algebra I, his careless mistakes were disturbing me more and more, so I starting giving and grading math tests. He was ten, and he agreed this might increase his accuracy rate. It did. Most of his mistakes that year were not in comprehension but from careless calculations. Over the year, he improved, however. So for math, I kept on grading. The past two years, I’ve given graded science tests as well, and while he’s still a very erratic studier and a poor judge of how well he’s studied material, he’s done fairly well. Until this semester. This semester (okay, and at the end of last), he’s crashing.
Oh, he’s a master at MineCraft, an online game where one digs and makes places that appears to appeal to boys of a certain age. He explores the programming, adjusts things I don’t understand, and talks the game with his friends and brother ad infinitum. He’s also an expert in Star Wars Miniatures, another field that leaves me cold but delights his brother and neighborhood buddy as much as it does him. I’m a poor listener about these subjects, admittedly, although I try to understand some of the MineCraft programming successes he’s had. I miss his preoccupation with storm systems and chemistry, both which at least held college and career promise down the road. Heck, at least they were something to which I could relate. I could even build curricula around those topics. But MineCraft and Star Wars Minis? I’m not that creative.
And I’m not willing to give up basic studies. Math. Science. Language Arts. History. These are not negotiable to me, and, as I’ve often said, unschooling just isn’t on the table.
But I am willing to look at his homeschooling a bit differently.
My older son has what I’ve always called a healthy case of ADHD. He’s quite organizationally challenged, saving undesirable, uninteresting, or difficult work for a nebulous later. As I recently blogged, we’re using a white board for scheduling. This works fairly well, except for his tendency to erase things that are “almost done” or finished but not printed and turned in to me (and that’s not done). Once off the board, they’re out of mind. He’s easily overwhelmed with a long list, and just keeps getting behind, no matter how much I take off the schedule. Enter the chastising, prodding, and encouraging.
Today I proposed the following: Would you prefer to do less topics each week, say limiting a week to chemistry and history of science, followed by a week of math and language arts? Would more intense time on fewer subjects be better? An emphatic “yes” came from my lately-less-responsive teen.
Will this help? Can this mid-course correction increase his rate of succesful completion of work and decrease his scattered discouraged state? We’ll see. We’re a tad limited in implementation, since his online course in grammar and vocabulary marches forward on its own and chemistry is scheduled weekly with his buddy. But with the rest, perhaps we can schedule differently and make a difference. Perhaps we can even find some rhythm with each other, or at least as much as a 41-year-old woman and almost-14-year-old boy can. Now that would be a Mother’s Day present.
Addendum: This same taciturn child interrupted my writing
three four times just to chatter about kittens and Star Wars Minis. The last time, he mentioned how much he wanted time alone. I pointed out that he could be alone at that very moment, if he left the room and ignored my nearly silent typing in the study. “Oh!” he responded, “You’re right!” Then he bounded off with a smile. Such is life with my young teen.