Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Importance of Confidence

   In Monday's post, In Defense of Abeka, I briefly mentioned that bolstering a student's confidence was an important part of a curriculum. This has been a key issue for us in figuring out how my kids differ and how they learn best, so I wanted to share what I've learned in case it's helpful to anyone else.
   First, let's rewind a little while I tell you about my oldest. She is the sweetest thing, tender-hearted toward everyone, herself included. When she was younger I joked quietly to my closest mommy friends that her heart broke the worst for herself because she was such a whiny little thing. Thankfully, she's outgrown a lot of that whininess, but she is still a delicate little flower that needs constant encouragement and bolstering. When it came to school work there was no exception. In pre-k and kindergarten, the "work" was purely fun and play. As we reached 1st grade, there was slightly more "work"-work, but we managed. I realized very quickly that she was struggling with reading. After two months of trying to force the issue, I gave it. It helped that I had severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum and was struggling just to get through a day, but I just was so tired of the struggle, and
the daily tears of frustration we both shed. She was beginning to hate schoolwork and I was beginning to dread teaching it. I called it quits. Put the reading and ELA texts away, and we focused on all other areas.
   By the time spring came, she was suddenly showing an interest in reading, so I went with it, pulled the books back out and gave it a try. It clicked, and she succeeded with flying colors. By that summer and whole new world had been opened to her, and she was stuck in a book all day, I was amazed.
   Then second grade hit and we had a new hurdle: moving across the country. My girl's life was in upheaval well before the move, and she seemed to be affected most in her schoolwork- especially math. There were HOURS of frustration spent hashing, rehashing, re-teaching, re-working problems over and over and over, because she just sat and cried and couldn't get it. I'm not exaggerating when I say that some days she would seemingly forget the basics of adding. On those days, my frustration also got the better of me at times, because I could not seem to get through to her. There were days I gripped pencils so hard that they snapped in my attempt to keep my cool. One time I pulled up my laptop and was venting away to my two dearest mama friends(one of whom is a homeschooler) on a group private messenger, and one said, "Maybe it's too hard." I knew that wasn't true, because she'd done the same work the day before and done fine. Then she said, "Maybe it's too hard for TODAY. Give her something easy to do just to change the pace and boost her confidence." I was doubtful and resisted. We powered through that day with tears, broken pencils, and long hours, but we managed. The next time we ran into "The Funk" I often referred to my mama friends as, "One of THOSE days," I gave it a try. I gave her, a second-grader, a kindergarten math sheet. She was confused at first, but gave it a go, and mastered the page quickly. She had a HUGE smile on her face, The rest of the school day went amazingly well. We tried it again the next time we hit one of THOSE days, Soon, those days were fewer an further between. That's when I made the connection: Confidence. It wasn't that she was getting away with something like
some voices in my life said, and it wasn't that the work was too hard in general, it was just that when she didn't THINK that she could, then she couldn't. By giving her work very clearly below her level that she could do without 'thinking,' she got excited about accomplishing something. It's like when a sports team is scheduled for a match that they will undoubtedly win to start the season. That win gives the team a huge shot of confidence in their abilities, and heavily impacts how they feel about going into the next game and the rest of the season.
   Likewise, when I could recognize that struggle within my girl and change things up, give her an 'easy win' to build her confidence for the next challenge, there was a drastic change in her entire demeanor and attitude about the rest of the day and for many days following.
   Now we're in third grade, and we haven't had One of THOSE Days in a long, long time. We have those moments where I am at a loss as to how to get a concept through to her, but not those days. I firmly believe it's because of her confidence. She knows now that she can do it. Even if it's new or hard or frustrating, she can do it. That's why A Beka works so well for her. The scaffolding of new information with old gives her a challenge, and yet gives her something quick and easy that give her the, "Oh, I've so got this!" feeling, and when she finishes the tough stuff she's not feeling defeated, but proud. I don't know why this lesson was so hard for me to come to, because it seems to common-sense. I am thankful we have the blessings of time and flexibility with homeschooling and grace with our children to learn these lessons. They key is to have soft and open enough hearts that we can notice these things and hear the well-meaning suggestions from those who have been-there-done-that, and incorporate the change and growth.

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