It was our first official day of homeschooling. I excitedly held up the homemade curriculum I had worked on the night before. “We’re going to play a little alphabet game,” I said in my best mock Kindergarten teacher voice.
My then five-year-old instantly frowned. “I’m not doing that,” she said flatly. We proceeded to argue for the next fifteen minutes, finally settling on an assignment that she found palatable. After we had put the books away for the morning, it hit me that homeschooling was going to be a lot harder than I could have imagined.
My children are passionate, smart, loving, and frighteningly perceptive and observant. They are kind and honest. They have wonderful vocabularies and imaginations. They are funny. One child is often boisterous and talkative, while the other child is more reserved and fairly quiet. One child leans toward extroversion, while the other tends to be more introverted. They are a joy to their grandparents, their great aunt, and of course, their parents.
They are also a challenge to homeschool.
You see, my husband and I are the proud parents of not one, but two spirited children.
For a thorough definition of this personality type, visit author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s parenting site.
In a word, spirited kids are intense. They love a subject or they hate it. They have strong opinions on everything from what you’re serving for dinner to the weather outside. They don’t hold back in expressing their feelings. Ever. They have often have iron wills and resist any coercion or bribery. They are also often extremely sensitive to your every word and gesture. Correcting their school work is a minefield; someone or something might blow up.
After one particularly bad morning of yelling and tears, I considered putting a sign on our door that says, “Please don’t call the cops. We are just doing math.”
If your child has ever thrown their pencil across the room after making one mistake on their work or if you secretly wonder whether you should go ahead and send your child to law school since they are so good at arguing, negotiating, and never backing down from their case, then you might have a spirited kid, too.
My husband and I often remind each other that apples don’t fall far and that we are both spirited people ourselves. I am highly sensitive and introverted with plenty of my own quirks, and my husband is the life of the party with his vivacious humor. Four strong personalities in one small house make for an interesting and sometimes exhausting mix.
There have been many, many days that I haven’t felt good enough, brave enough, strong enough, or just plain enough to do this homeschooling thing. On those days I try to listen to the little voice in my heart that says, “Do it anyway.”
I don’t have it all figured out, but things have gotten a little smoother over the years. We still have bad days, but I’ve learned what (usually) works in our school environment and what doesn’t. I’ve also struggled and stumbled towards more patience and understanding of my beautiful, feisty children.
Here are a few tips that help our family to homeschool our spirited brood:
Stop comparing yourself or your family to others.
I don’t have Suzy Q’s laid back, compliant kids that do math without being asked or who put themselves to bed at 7 p.m. I probably never will. Our normal is reminding our kids that, yes, we have to do some math practice today. Again. Our normal is working with kids who never, ever appear tired and who can’t fall asleep easily.
I am raising and homeschooling my own quirky, wonderful, strong kids and not someone else’s kids.
Be as strong and persistent as your kid.
Math needs to happen in some fashion, even if your kids don’t like it. Chores need to be taken care of, even when we don’t feel like it. Don’t let your child’s intensity in resisting make you back down from something that is important. Let them have lots of choices and pick your battles (or ideally avoid them altogether) but be clear that some things are simply not theirs to decide. Think leadership instead of control.
Try a timer for hated subjects.
My oldest child thrives using a timer for math, her least favorite subject. She loves seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (“Only five minutes to go!”). The timer also helps me to make sure I don’t go over her threshold with a lesson. Be cautious here, though. My youngest child dislikes the pressure of having a strict time constraint and gets stressed out by the beeping timer.
Be creative in structuring their days.
Variety is essential when homeschooling spirited children. While I’m not bragging (okay, I am), these children tend to be very bright and creative. Pulling out the same bland workbooks day in and day out won’t cut it. You will have a revolt on your hands! I try to alternate days of heavier book work with days of more hands-on activities and play. I’m also becoming a big fan of educational games like Professor Noggins cards and various board games.
Decide on an acceptable minimum for practicing the three R’s, then be sure that your kids are getting plenty of play, outdoor time, and appropriate stimulation. When attitudes are bad and motivation is lagging, I like to pull out the ol’ zoo /museum/nature park cure.
Celebrate your unique children!
My husband and I celebrate the fact that we have spirited kids. We don’t worry about our kids following the crowd or being unable to think for themselves. In fact, once our kids make up their minds, not much can deter them! What a wonderful trait to have!
Our children force us to set a good example for them since they will never miss the hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do.” Our children’s strength of character, sensitivity, and passion teach us new ways to see the world.
Never apologize for your children’s intensity or think it reflects flaws in your parenting. Your child’s God-given personality is a gift to be nurtured and cultivated. Spirited kids may often be the opposite of “easy” in parenting and homeschooling, but they are worth every moment of effort and dedication that you can give them.