Friday, February 19, 2010

Self-Serve Education

I have long admired the student-centered approach to education, but in my own practice, I didn't do it all that much because I wasn't sure how. Sure, I was giving Ronan a choice about what we studied in social studies or science, and I allowed him to pick what he wanted to do and when. But this latitude did not result in the happiness or willingness I expected. So, each time I would examine what I was doing wrong and try to fix it as well as fix my attitude of disappointment or frustration. Recently I decided to give up. I don't mean I have given up on my son, but I have given up on finding the perfect assignment/approach/methodology that will "work".

I created a self-serve education where I would act as the consultant if needed. I wrote out all of the rest of the second grade math concepts he would have to know in his math notebook. I told him he could choose whatever page he wanted to work on any time. I didn't stop there. I created a list of responsibilities upon waking (brushing teeth, getting dressed), chores, and schoolwork that are to be done daily. Under each heading of math, reading, and writing I included some activities he could choose that would satisfy his daily requirement for that subject, plus other subjects that he willingly does. For example, he can read a book to me or play a game of Quiddler (a word game) to satisfy his requirement of reading for the day. For math, he can choose one of the math pages I wrote out or listen to his multiplication rap CD. At the bottom of the sheet I included consequences. For example, you can eat breakfast when the "Wake Up Jobs" are done. If he finishes all of his work for the day he is entitled to sweets, Farmville time on the computer, and play dates with friends. He would lose privileges in that order for not doing his work.

I got to this point out of frustration, but it was met with alacrity on Ronan's part! He liked knowing exactly what he had to do and what it would take to earn the things he loves to do. He jumped right in and did all of his schoolwork immediately, even asking if he could be the one to check them off as he went. I am a to-do lister - I can relate.

I wish I had given up a long time ago, but I am persistent and determined if nothing else! Those are great qualities but not at the expense of autonomy. I have tried all sorts of different approaches over the last several months but nothing seemed to improve homeschooling. On many days I would hear whining, crying and protesting no matter what I proposed we do. I was at my wits end and that's when it occurred to me, if I pull myself out of the way, I do not have to be subjected to the whining and protesting. But Ronan can choose what he wants and when he wants to do it, giving him much more say in his day, which eliminated the whining and protesting all together. Plus I know he is getting in all of the second grade skills so that he will not be behind if he goes to public school next year. Instead of hours spent trying to get him to do an assignment, he finishes them all in a short time and has much more time for playing, his earned privileges and happiness. I have more time for reading, spending more time with my other son, and general happiness as well. What a difference this has made - for both of us!


  1. Tracy, it's been an honor to be a part of your process (so far!) - as a 63 year told mother of 2 and practicing 'something' (spiritualist?)I respect your constant strive towards self-examination and growth. What lucky kids you have!

  2. Thank you so much, Mary-Helen. This has truly been a spiritual journey for me, with lots of maturation and learning. I have really enjoyed sharing it with you. It seems that that self-examination and willingness to change and grow is something we have in common - a good thing for all of our kids.