You have heard them, maybe you have even used them — those alphabet-soup-acronym-labels that get tossed around so flippantly today. They have become the easy excuse for not remembering things, for not paying attention when we should, or for feeling restless and wanting to change our circumstances. “I can’t remember that; I have XYZQ.” “She won’t listen; she’s JKLM.” “He can’t sit still; he must be MNOP.” We seem to find it much easier to excuse poor behavior than to correct it. This is not to say that such physiological conditions do not exist, but to toss their names about carelessly demeans any person truly suffering from them.
My role as an educator requires that I do just that — educate. If I stop the process before it is completed, I have not done my job. Therefore, I will persist in teaching phonics to ensure that my student can read any word put before him. I will teach reading and comprehension to ensure that my student understands whatever she is reading. I will teach math to ensure that my student can perform the various calculations needed throughout life for wise purchases, financial planning, and home improvement projects. I will teach geography, history, and science to ensure that my student can comprehend the importance of news items and current events. I will teach social grace and manners to ensure that my student can converse with confidence and ease in any situation. I will pursue this teaching adventure by trying every tactic necessary to impart understanding to each of my students. I will not throw up my hands in despair when the subject gets tough or my student balks at its difficulty. When my student is confused by a lesson, I will not assume it is the student’s fault. I will instead analyze the material being presented in light of my student’s personality and learning ability and see if there is another way to teach the concept that my student would understand better.
Homeschool dad and speaker Gregg Harris (father of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl author Joshua Harris) profoundly states, “A teacher’s idea of a good little boy — is a little girl.” What an impact that one statement had on me as a prospective homeschooler! At the time I heard Gregg speak, my young son was spending government school Kindergarten on the “Time Out” chair for committing the socially unacceptable sin of being an energetic little boy. Our society as a whole has forgotten that God created our males to be warriors and protectors of their nurturing female counterparts. It is not within their natural make-up to sit quietly, watching life pass by. For me to expect my son to forsake his favorite game of sword fighting would be for me to expect him to deny his God-given warrior instincts. It would also be doing him a disservice to stick a negative label on his natural tendencies to be a “Defender of the Home.”
I attended a seminar once on memorizing scripture. I did not memorize much scripture (ok, any), but I did learn a valuable lesson: before you can find something in your memory, you have to have put it into your memory. Most (all?) of us have trouble remembering things from time to time — it is natural. As life becomes more and more fast-paced, we each have more and more things to deal with and to remember. If the necessary details are not put into our memories, we have no way of pulling them out again. Back when we had only one car, no children, a tiny house, and a slower pace of life, I had no trouble remembering all the things I needed from the grocery store. Now we have a driveway full of vehicles, a larger home, one adult-child leaping out of the nest, another near-adult-child climbing to the edge of the nest and admiring the view, and a website to tend. I often walk to the front of the refrigerator to write something on my grocery list, but instead open the door and wonder why. The only syndrome I am suffering from is the same thing we all suffer from: a busy life.
Right now I could click my computer mouse and instantly be chatting with my dear friends on the other side of the planet in Uganda, East Africa. I can click a few more times and read the reactions of homeschool moms reading my website across the US, Canada, and northern Europe. At no other time in the history of civilization have these things been possible. I remember being very excited as a little girl any time the party-line telephone rang, but having my mother say the call would not be for us… if someone was going to call us, we would know about it. Times have changed. We have so much more to deal with on a daily basis. Back in the days of the party-line phone, my family owned one radio and no television. My home right now has multiple radios, televisions, and computers. Times have changed. We must adapt to survive. Listening means paying attention to what we hear and filing the important details away in memory for later retrieval, or writing them on the planning calendar for future reference.
The point I am so far successfully avoiding is this: Please do not assume that your child’s behavior is the result one of the many alphabet-soup-labels being bandied about so freely today. Your child is, after all, a child — an energetic little person trying desperately to fit into a busy world. Our children emulate us in ways we rarely notice: playtime today is more likely to include “busy” activities, rather than slow, carefree relaxation. A child who does not enjoy sitting still for school time may not be overly-active as much as he may just have a few wiggles to release before he can efficiently listen to a lesson. We have also allowed television to teach our children to want to be constantly entertained without personal involvement, to expect all of life’s problems to be solved in 27 minutes, and to change their focus of thought every 10 seconds.
A child who seems not to be paying attention to you may be deeply involved in thoughts of his own devising: planning out a new invention, playing a game in his mind, or contemplating the details of the last story he read/heard/watched on video. I have suggested to my own family members that we speak a person’s name as the first word of a sentence, in order to break gently into those busy thought-patterns and gain the needed attention, thereby avoiding the need to repeat statements.
Many parents become concerned when a child can sit still for extended periods of time for an activity of their own choosing, such as a video game, but not otherwise, such as for schoolwork. Stop for a moment to consider this from an adult perspective: I find myself much more likely to sit with rapt attention when I am enjoying the activity and fidget when I would rather be anywhere else doing anything else. Perhaps a lack of attention during school time simply indicates that the child is not interested in this material or in the way this particular lesson is being presented.
When my own son showed these signs, I knew something drastic had to be changed in order to keep his attention long enough to impart the lessons. We changed reading material to include his interests, teaching comprehension by listing questions for magazine articles covering paintball, military body-armor, and new automotive innovations. It did mean more work for me, reading each article myself and making up questions to ask about the information, but I decided the result would be well worth my effort… and it was. My son’s involvement increased dramatically, along with his reading speed, when he was excited about the subject matter. We also had some unique bonding time as I was able to share his interests in scientific breakthroughs. We took trips to the local library to look for magazines; he chose the articles he was interested in, and I read them first to write the questions for him to answer (nothing fancy, just short-answer and fill-in-the-blanks). We also subscribed to Popular Science for its reports on the latest developments in technology. My son still reads those and delights in pointing out which inventions the magazine predicted would be out in 3-5 years, but the US military is already using, only months after publication.
Another tactic we effectively used was competition in math assignments. Plodding along at his own pace, my son could barely focus enough to do a dozen problems in a day; his time was just too precious to “waste” on math. When he reached a level of math higher than I myself had learned, I felt my responsibility was to learn it myself first, then teach it to him. With Mom as a classmate, he got faster, trying to get ahead of me — knowing that I would have to hurry to keep up. (Unfortunately for him, math is my specialty.) That first year of Saxon Advanced Math went by fairly easily, but he was not looking forward to another year to finish the book’s 2-year-plan. Then my daughter began looking into 4-year colleges for transfer from our local community college and found she could pick up a needed semester of pre-calculus during the summer session. That class was a duplicate of my son’s math class at home, and she convinced him to take the class with her — completing his next year of homeschool math, giving her a companion, and fulfilling their dream of someday taking a college class together.
One horribly-hectic month later they were done: 5 hours of college credit (1 semester) crammed into 16 class days. Class time took 5 hours a day, 4 days per week, and homework took everything else! For 4 weeks they ate with one hand while doing math problems with the other. But they loved it!!! The super-fast pace and the added competition of other students was something my son really thrived on. (However, it was a very small class — only 6 students — and very informal, not at all like government school high school would have been.) It may be that your bored student needs a bigger challenge. If you do not have access to a nearby community college (or if your student is not yet at high school level), try seeking out other homeschoolers who may be willing to do a class together, adding a competitive edge and camaraderie to a boring subject.
I remember an old movie with Walter Brennan as a mule-driver (Skudda-hoo, Skudda-hay, or some such silly name). At one point in the movie, a young punk is trying to move a mule team, and they refuse to budge. As I recall, he wants to get the mules out of his way so that he can use his truck to pull a large fallen tree out of the road. Anyway, the line that has stuck with me for years is when Walter Brennan says, “Mules got pride! They won’t move ’cause they know they’re not needed. You give them a job to do, and they’ll do it!” So Young Punk backs out of Walter’s way, while Walter hitches up the mules to the tree trunk — which they proceed to remove with great effort — and great personal satisfaction. Moral of this story: be sure you are giving enough of a challenge. Perhaps your student is reluctant to do a lesson because it is just too easy; skip on to the harder stuff and see how he responds.
Skipping easier lessons to substitute harder ones, skipping rope (or any physical exertion) before lessons, approaching subjects from entirely new directions, all can help to put a fresh spin on subjects considered “taboo” by your students. Give the wiggles an outlet or channel that energy into your lessons. Explore all these avenues before you jump to conclusions and are tempted to label a student as having some physiological malady. Kids are kids, children are children, and if we expect them to be children, we will all be a lot happier with the outcome.