Making Up Rules.

Homeschooling an upper grade comes with a lot of pressure. It’s a continuous effort to provide the right dose of challenge without bogging my daughter down with more than she can comfortably shoulder — and frankly, I don’t have a teaching degree. So even when I’m doing well and she’s thriving and things are at their very best, I question every aspect of everything. If the work is easy and fun, I spend hours the next day researching common core standards and other curriculum to reassure myself that she’s exactly where she ought to be for this time of year in 7th grade. If the work is too challenging, I stress out to the max trying any way I can to make the lessons more engaging or less stressful.

Teaching Mary is probably more rewarding, but I’m definitely more comfortable in my role as Matthew’s teacher.

I feel like I can let my hair down, which is nice since this is the last year that I have with him before *swallows emotion* he leaves me for full-day, out-of-home kindergarten five days a week. He’s solidly into late kindergarten material on his shakiest subjects and reading on a second grade level when he isn’t afraid to show it. He’s also learning a lot about history and physics just by proxy of homeschooling next to a 7th grade sister. The boy may not know a touchdown from a pogo-stick, but he can give you a play-by-play of The Epic of Gilgamesh, and you know what? I like that.

Instead of pushing him to learn more and more and more, my focus with him is on exercises in creativity or showing respect; ones that just reinforce traditional preschool lessons he’s already got down, instead of delving into them deeper. From what I’ve read and in my own experience caring for children, boredom breeds bad behavior in kids his age who are a little ahead, and Matthew isn’t exactly renowned as it is for his excellent behavior. So when we pull out a crossword activity to work on during school, I’m usually much less concerned about how many words he can spell correctly as I am how respectfully he shares the markers with his sister or if he can work quietly next to Mary without screaming that he wants to CUT OFF HER HEAD AND STAB HER IN THE FREAKIN’ EYE — which is a direct quote from the other day.

Yeah. Here’s hoping for a kindergarten teacher next year who’s reeeeeeeeeeally good at her job.

On a more positive note:

Matthew loves to make up his own games for school, and I like that he does because it’s really a great exercise in logic. Logic is one of those awesome skills that’s beneficial across the board. It transcends subject or age or ability or level of crazy hostility.

When he was younger, Matthew delighted in playing games I came up with to teach him about phonics or number recognition. As he got older, making up games of his own interested him more. Kids love making up their own games — especially ones that have no kind of consistency or fairness to them whatsoever. Rules change on the fly, depending dubiously on how close the inventor is to winning. Matthew’s games were no different.

I tried to insist compassionately that if we were going to play his games instead of the ones I had planned though, that they would have to make sense. Usually, we worked together to organize the games he came up with so that they were playable, and a great deal of learning took place. Other times he stomped off, insulted, vowing never to play another game with me ever, as long as he lived or remembered.

Like most parenting strategies, I didn’t know if this was genius or cruel and detrimental – in fact, I still don’t. But I can say that as a result, he’s at least pretty good at making up games now. And for a kid who threatens sometimes to decapitate people who weigh on his nerves, he’s actually very good about congratulating his opponents on a game well-played after they’ve positively crushed him at one of his own design. I’ll take that.

It’s nice because it helps him to exercise components of self-control that he’ll need to master if he’s ever going to succeed in kindergarten without first getting thrown out. Things like compassion, patience and sportsmanship. He knows that if there’s an element of math or science or sight word practice in a game he makes up, it’ll count toward “school time” so there almost always is. And because he’s the one who invents these games, I don’t have to exhaust myself convincing him just to participate. It’s a win/win.

The other day he came up with this one when he decided that practicing subtraction on a number line was (quote:) for lame-o’s:

“Instead of playing this game, mommy, how about I have a better idea!” he says, erasing the number line I have set up for us on the dry erase board. “You’ll like this game ’cause it has numbers in it and it isn’t boring and lame like your game is. Go get me dice. I mean please. Please get me dice. This is gonna be great!”

It actually was pretty fun. You roll the die and then use cars to draw the number. For extra points, you can use two die and make a car-number out of the sum. But to get the extra points, you also have to use every one of the cars from a pile of a predetermined size, which makes it way harder.

He is an ornery one, this little buddy of mine… But I am going to miss the living crazy out of him when he’s gone.

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