A Lie and the Truth–A Bridge Unit


It’s been awhile. But I’m still here, and I feel compelled to share a potential lie and the truth behind it. In doing so, I want to dispel the myth that all homeschooling activities go well and that all homeschooling children are happy.

Here we go . . .

This week, I decided to try something very different for our homeschool adventure–a unit study. I know, I know, you’d think at this point (9 1/2 years), I would have done this before. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But my children complained, whined, and cried. “I don’t like this.” “This isn’t fun.” “I’m bored.”

They can be hard to please. So I gave up. The years have passed–the complaining ones are older.

Since my early attempts, I’ve done considerable research about my kids’ learning styles. I’ve learned more about what makes learning easy and hard for my kids. I learned, in particular, that I have several kids who are afraid to try ANYTHING new that they don’t have direct experience with.

I decided to try again. I chose to do a unit on “bridges.” Six weeks–two days a week. Lots of hands on activities. A variety of subjects incorporated into a package. My goal was NOT to teach particular information (that will come later), my goal was to simply see IF we could do a unit study together . . . and survive.

Now for the lie–

Here’s a picture from our first day.


And here’s another picture from later in the day.


Okay, it’s not a total lie. They didn’t fake looking happy and engaged. But if I ONLY showed these pictures, you would believe the lie–which is that this bridges unit was a huge success. That I had overcome all our past difficulties.

This post would also look like most every other homeschool blog you might read–with happy, engaged children doing fun, hands-on learning activities. So I’m going to share the truth–the whole truth–the naked truth.

Here’s how it really happened:

Two days before we start the unit study: I start prepping my slow-to-warm-up children. I tell them we’re going to try something different. I tell them that even if it doesn’t “look” fun, I still want them to try. They all individually agree.

The day before we start: I remind them that tomorrow is the start of something different. They all remember.

The day we start (1 hour before school starts): Pepper (12) asks what we’re going to do. I list a few things: “watch a video about cool bridges” and “experiment with paper bridges” are among the list. Pepper says, “I don’t WANT to make paper bridges.”

I feel that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The “I just put a ton of work into this and here we go again” feeling. I pull Pepper into the kitchen and have a heart-to-heart with her. (Tears were there, although I kept them to a minimum.) I explained how hard I had worked. I explained that I needed her to try. She said she didn’t like the way paper “crinkled” when you folded it. I told her to wear headphones or ear plugs. (I was serious.) She agreed to try. (She’s a really good kid!)

The day we start, sitting down together: I feel that I need to share the same thoughts with all my kids. I start–“I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty. But I do want you to be aware. I’ve worked really hard. I want to have fun. I need you to try, even if it looks hard. Even if it looks boring. Even if  you don’t think you will like it. It’s like I’ve made a present for you. You know how you feel when you put time into making a present for someone? You want them to try and like it. They don’t always love it. But you want them to try. (They have ALL dissed each other’s presents at some point, so they all nod solemnly at this idea.)”

The feelings in the room are gentle and warm. It seems that we’re all on board.

First activity: We are going to watch a video about famous bridges from around the world. There’s a scuffle about seating. Lima Bean (10) refuses to give up his “called” seat so that everyone can see better. When I insist, he starts to cry and runs to his room. I’m dumb-founded. We haven’t even STARTED and there are already tears (that aren’t mine!).

We press on without Lima Bean. I hope that he will return.

Second activity: We’re going to explore the forces that work on bridges by modeling them with our bodies. I found the idea in this book. We’ll start by pulling on a rope, like tug of war, but trying to balance the forces so neither side falls down. Pea Pod (8) starts to complain that she doesn’t like this idea, but she still grabs the rope. Pepper doesn’t like how she’s holding it and snaps it out of her hands. Bok Choy (6) sits down and refuses to try. Now Pea Pod is crying. More tears!

I look at everyone imploring. Lima Bean has emerged from his room. I BEG them to please try.

A higher power decides to intervene. They all actually try. And they actually succeed. We try other bridge forms. And they’re actually laughing.


Third Activity: We’re going to try weight on various bridge shapes. All goes well at first.


Then Pepper counting out loud messes up Pea Pod’s counting. She’s gets frustrated and yells at Pepper. Pepper gets upset and shoves her bridge off the table. The folding gets too complicated for Lima Bean, and he asks (at least he asks!) to go back to his room because it’s too much. Bok Choy announces that he is just going to make his own bridge.

We’re done for day one. Were their some good moments? Yes. But I need over an hour of talking with someone to work through how emotional I am about how it went. I’m completely undecided as to whether or not it was worth it.

Was day two better? Stay tuned . . .


Filed under Examples and Stories

12 responses to “A Lie and the Truth–A Bridge Unit

  1. It sounds like it was awesome. The stubborn bits also sound normal. Perhaps my normal is just less peaceful than your normal. *sigh*

    • It probably IS more normal that I–or most homeschoolers realize. But that’s why I wanted to share. I don’t see many homeschoolers blog about the bad days. And I think that gives a false impression–and doesn’t do any of us any good.

  2. jstba5

    I couldn’t remember my password so I could post this comment…. I love this!!! I can remember days like that from Homeschooling! But even for non-homeschoolers, we constantly face days where we have to help our children overcome the anxiety, lethargy, and fear of failure associated with new things. Sometimes work, school work, friends, church require us to do new things with new people, and learning to cope now is a great gift. Hang in there, your cart of veggies and spice will benefit! It could be that the first two weeks are lousy because they are testing your resolve….do you really love and care about them to keep working as hard as they know they will have to in order to make it. Kids are wily! Is that how you spell that… The church’s new parenting book is truly amazing. It’s made me really think about my kids a little differently. I forget how much is going on in their little brains! And because they are in school all day, it’s easy to get disconnected from their brains….and for us to inhabit our own spaces and not really connect. I pray for ways we can connect. I miss that about homeschool, the time and exposure to connect. It’s still hard, don’t get me wrong, but I am looking back with Rose colored glasses, it seemed easier when we were together ALL the time.Jeanne Date: Fri, 22 Mar 2013 03:39:03 +0000 To: jstba5@hotmail.com

  3. Amy Mac

    I love your honesty. Struggling homeschoolers need to see we all have days like this. Your are an awesome Mom & teacher. I can not wait to hear more of this.

  4. Sue Schmidt

    Sounds like a brief synopsis of my life! I agree, homeschooling is hard. Heck being a parent is hard! We’ve done many unit studies throughout the years, sounds like it is going as good as can be expected. As a mom whenever I introduce anything “new” I always have complaints, whining,crying, arguing etc… Kids just don’t love change, who does!? As much as they don’t like change, they are resilient and always adjust and maybe even end up liking the change and having fun in the process! Hang in there and stick with it because it will be worth it.

  5. Rachel Matteson

    This is such a great way to address the “gauzy mist of bliss” we see in homeschooling blogs. The more I take beautiful pictures of my own kids-in that moment of engaged, happy, productivity, the more I realize–you can make Anthing look good and give the image you want to portray. But is it real? Thanks for keeping it real ;)

  6. Kudos to your perserverance. I would have yelled, sat down, cried, and given up most likely! I am learning that homeschooling is just as much about “schooling” the parent as it is the children. But let’s hope at the end of the proverbial day, we all are the better for it!

  7. Dani

    Is Pepper wearing pants that cover her ankles?! (Jeans no less!) I consider that a victory in bridging calves to heels.
    PS – I like real life stories, homeschooling or otherwise. It’s so easy to get caught up in seeing the perfection portrayed by everyone online and get dissatisfied with how hard real life is.

    • Indeed. Fortunately when you’re in your home, fashion is secondary to MANY other things. I think, for the most part, she has her priorities straight. (Although I like seeing her in something longer, too!)

  8. Lauri

    give them a choice—who wants to do THIS chore list for SPRING cleaning and WHO wants to do the BRIDGE games that I created???

    Just start playing the bridge things on your own. Laugh and smile and guess out loud. Say hey Can anyone figure this out????? WHO can TEACH me how this works???

    • In a perfect world–and sometimes the planets align at the Perkey house–these are great ideas. And they’re always worth a try. Unfortunately, if tensions are already running high–offering work as an alternative or doing it by myself often creates more unhappiness and does not achieve the desired effect.

      Perhaps, if I was TRULY excited to do it by myself, it would be more likely to be successful. But my kids are VERY good at seeing through a ruse–and me doing it on my own to entice them to join me rarely does anything but get them upset or end with me doing it by myself. At that point, I’d rather go do something else anyway–which I’m sure is what they can sense in the first place anyway.

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