How NOT to Inspire Learning

It was one of those days.

I got up a little late and didn’t feel like exercising. The kids rolled out of bed a little out of sorts. Breakfast was blah.

I got distracted by the computer when we should have been cleaning the kitchen, and They Might Be Giant science videos on youtube kept us all entertained for half an hour.

Looking at the clock, I realized that my plans for the day were already rearranging themselves. I tossed family housework time, and we headed straight for morning devotional and reading. PeaPod (7) complained about her seat on the couch. Bok Choy (5) complained about the book we’re reading (Secret Garden).

I soldiered on. After reading time, I asked Lima Bean (9) to clean out his overflowing inbox–a plastic bin where he keeps all of his finished drawings, stories, and projects. Forty-five minutes later, he had papers and toys in piles all over. The living room was a mess, and he was overwhelmed! I could see where we were headed . . . I offered to break down the job into smaller steps . . . it didn’t matter. (Remember how Lima Bean obsessively worries about everything?!?)

That’s when the crying and moaning and whining started. I remained calm. I sent him to his room to compose himself. The other kids went about their activities–Pepper (11) worked on her math, Bok Choy started to draw, PeaPod played the piano.

Lima Bean came back. But he wasn’t really calm. For five hours, he went back and forth between his room and the living room. Each time he returned, I suggested he start with one small part of the cleaning. He “tried” and fell apart and started the cycle all over again.

The energy in our home was toxic. I should have called it a day. I should have sent everyone else outside to play in the beautiful 65 degree weather. But no, I was determined that one child wasn’t going to ruin the day for everyone. We WERE going to keep learning! (As if learning is possible is such an environment!)

Bok Choy shows me his drawing. He can’t get the hook on the tow truck to look right. He keeps trying to fix it. Over and over the eraser rubs out the inaccurate curve. He starts to cry. He throws the pencil. He crumples the paper. I should have just held him. Instead, I encourage him to try again. I tell him not to give up. He ends up a puddle of despair on the floor.

And Lima Bean continues to storm.

Pepper shows me her math. She doesn’t understand improper fractions. I start to explain. She doesn’t get it. She wants to quit. I should have agreed that we could look at it tomorrow. But what I actually say is “No, you can’t quit. You need to figure this out. You need to understand this.” She’s crying and writhing under the perceived weight of new mathematical knowledge. I push on. She’s not learning anything.

Are we done yet? Am I ready to call it quits? Nope!

And Lima Bean continues to storm.

I invite PeaPod to have a piano lesson with me. How I think we’ll hear the notes over all the other crying is anybody’s guess. We get to the end of all her songs. It’s time to learn something new. “Just play one new note.” She stonewalls me. Her silent downward glare should be an indication that it’s time to stop. But no, I am determined that SOMETHING will go well today. “Just one note?” I start to beg and plead. I threaten to remove the reward for practicing if she doesn’t comply. I start to imagine grand rewards that I can offer if she’ll just play one little note. Finally, her refusal to move a muscle wins. I “let” her go. She runs off sobbing to her bedroom.

And Lima Bean continues to storm.

Where is the reset button on a day like this? Don’t you sometimes get a “do over”?

I wish.

I wish I could go back to the very beginning. Well–maybe after the science videos, because those were pretty cool. I’d go back to Lima Bean’s meltdown. I would tell everyone else they could go outside. I would let Lima Bean work through his difficulties without an audience. I would save my energy for comfort and reassurance for everyone instead of wasting it on “learning activities.”

Fortunately, some stories have happy endings. Dad came home, and like super hero swooping in with his cape and super powers, he saved the day. He focused on each child. He listened to me vent. He helped with dinner and with cleaning up the house. (Lima Bean had managed to do his part by then!) He played and laughed with everyone after dinner.

He hit the reset button. The positive energy in our home was restored.

Thank heaven for Dad.

1 Comment

Filed under Examples and Stories

One response to “How NOT to Inspire Learning

  1. We have a super hero like that our house too. Daddy’s can make such a difference in the home! The important thing is to learn from each day. Tori, it sounds like you have.

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