For some children and for some of the time, certain books will happen to be just right. But if you find yourself struggling to mold your child to a book, try reversing priorities. It’s the child you are teaching, not the book. Bend the book, or find another; make the studies fit the child. (vii, Dr. Ruth Beechick, You Can Teach Your Child Successfully.)
At times a particular book, resource, or curriculum just doesn’t fit your child. When we began homeschooling, someone once told me, “You will buy things that don’t work.” And that is true. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to sell or give it away. Consider the money you spent not as wasted, but as an investment in learning what works for your child.
However, most of the time you simply need to “bend the book” as Dr. Beechick says. When something isn’t working, start by adapting.
“Bending the book” means you adjust it to fit your child. I love this! Why? Because when you teach multiple children, you can use the same materials without sacrificing the ability to tailor them to a particular child’s educational needs. And you can learn to rely on what you know about your child instead of what your curriculum dictates.
Just a few adjustments can make a difference in whether you end up loving a resource or wanting to toss it out the window. First, though, you need to know the signs that there is a problem.
Know the Signs
When you see the following signs, consider if the curriculum you use needs to be adapted.
Are you battling the following attitudes, characteristics, or behaviors?
- Taking an unrealistically long time to complete assignments (our family’s personal favorite)
- Becoming angry
- Saying “I hate this subject” or “I hate school”
- Having that “look” on his or her face (Oh mama, you know the one I’m talking about!)
If these things just happen every once in a while, you can probably blame it on a bad day. But if you see these things repeatedly and consistently when using a book, resource, or curriculum, it’s time for a new plan.
How can you know if these attitudes and characteristics are an academic problem or a character problem? When they occur while your child is doing schoolwork, working on chores, and in everyday life it may be a character issue. In other words, when you see it cross multiple areas of life, not just in relation to school work or a particular subject. But if you only see them during certain subjects or with certain resources, ask:
- Are the books, resources, or curriculum I have chosen frustrating my children?
- Am I teaching my children in a way that opposes one of the reasons I’m homeschooling—like instilling a love of learning?
- Am I setting my children up for success or failure?
- How can I make learning more enjoyable for both my children and for me?
11 Simple Ways to “Bend the Book”
For the most part, the idea of adapting curriculum doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming. Often small adjustments make the biggest impact.
- Pull out the math manipulatives no matter the age. For abstract concepts it helps to see it!
- Use supplemental resources such as library books, online teaching (like Khan Academy), or hired tutors when your child is struggling with a particular subject or lesson.
- Shorten copywork or dictation passages. When beginning dictation, start with typing out the passage leaving blanks for certain words, phrases, or sentences. As you dictate the entire passage, have students fill in the blanks.
- Slow the schedule down. If a curriculum requires more books to read than your child can handle, skip some of the books and read a little less each day. Your curriculum is a guide. Assign fewer vocabulary words, spelling words, etc.
- Figure out your child’s learning style and approach the material in the way that utilizes it. For example, for an auditory learner, repeat definitions of words aloud together until your child knows them. If your child is a kinesthetic learner, find hands-on projects to supplement a literature based curriculum. Utilize charts and graphs for the visual learner.
- Increase writing stamina slowly. If you have a child struggling to write answers down, begin by letting your child dictate their answers to you and you writing them down. Work up to each of you doing some writing, and eventually give them full responsibility.
- Institute shorter lessons to help with focus. When my oldest was in elementary school, he did much better on math assignments when I set a time for 15 minutes and said, “Try to focus completely for 15 minutes and do as much as you can, as accurately as you can, until the timer goes off.” Knowing he wouldn’t have to sit there endlessly was very motivating to him. We slowly increased the time, and if needed, added another focused session after a few subjects he enjoyed more.
- Ask students to retell a specific event or describe what a character did for narration. When we ask children to narrate an entire chapter, it can be overwhelming.
- Focus on quality instead of quantity. One to three great paragraphs are better than a page of nothing. It is more important to learn a few things well than cramming in more and more things that are quickly forgotten.
- Discuss the subject before writing about it. Brainstorm ideas together. Let your child talk and think before beginning to write.
- Add in videos or demonstrations. If using a textbook for an upper level science course, check out DVDs to supplement, such as The 101 Series.
- Form a co-op. When my kids were in elementary school, we read Jeannie Fulbright’s elementary series of science books during the week and met with a group of four families each Friday to make projects, review the material, and do science experiments. In high school, we discussed literature and did writing assignments together based on those books. Knowing you will get together with others can be very motivating for some kids.
Bonus Tip: Take a break! Sometimes walking away for a bit and coming back later can make all the difference. Or for those who need to move, send them outside (if possible) for some sort of physical activity. (My neighbors often saw my sons riding their scooters down the street and back.)
You never know when homeschool reality strikes—when you will realize that despite all of your careful planning and evaluating, your kids still don’t respond to a particular resource in the way you had hoped.
Hopefully these tips will inspire you to think out-of-the-box when it comes to teaching your children. Homeschooling is about freedom. Freedom to educate your children according to their wonderful and unique make-up. Let’s not allow our curriculum to enslave us or them. Instead, may we enjoy one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling: educational freedom.
So go ahead and take Dr. Beechick’s advice. “Bend the book, or find another; make the studies fit the child.”