Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The nine year old is the lesson

Homeschooling families who welcome newborns into their lives know that the year following that life changing event won't be a normal homeschooling year.  As the popular phrase goes, "the baby IS the lesson."

I'm becoming more and more convinced, as we wind our way though third grade, that the nine year old is the lesson.

Others have written about the nine year change and the third grade year with more wisdom and eloquence than I can:

Our own experience echos those words.  This has been a year about getting to know my child all over again, accepting and nurturing the person she is becoming and changing into.

Academics are important, of course, but it seems to me that most of the lessons we've been learning this year have had more to do with life and my daughter herself as a whole person than the main lesson blocks or math review.

I don't think the magic (and sometimes growing pains) of the nine year change are limited to homeschooled kids, by any means.  My mom, who works in the public school system, and I have talked before about third grade.  She says that on the return from Christmas break you can see a marked change in the students - a different demeanor, some maturing, personality shifts.

Yes, we've entered the age of eye rolls and arguing and the even occasional questioning of authority.  Sometimes there are periods of sullen withdrawals that, while I knew they were coming, I find myself not quite emotionally prepared for.  Haven't I always been her best confidant?  

But, there is something else there.  Something sweet.  Glimpses of this amazing, vibrant flower on the verge of blossoming.  There's a sense of personal responsibility growing there and a deep concern for others.

She's developing her own interests that don't appear to have come from either her dad or myself.  There's an independence but, at other moments, an almost too intense clinging to me.  She goes through phases where she is constantly at my elbow, as if she were an insecure two year old again.

I see her needing both the harder physical labor of tasks like shoveling the snow covered driveway or scrubbing the kitchen floor (both tasks she likes to do and asks if she can help with) as well as benefiting from tasks that require more dexterity and a lighter touch like woodworking, hand sewing, and knitting. Both of these types of activities seem to help center her.

I see my perfectionist daughter being harder on herself, yet more patient with others.  I see an empathetic ability growing within her and the ability relate to other people around her on a different level than before.

I see the child whose tendency has been to give up the first time she doesn't get a task done perfectly, now holding her frustration in check (or at least trying to). And, while I wish she was gentler on herself and would more freely ask for help, I am proud to witness her trying again and again to master things on her own with a quiet determination she didn't possess even a few months ago.

Sometimes she surprises both of us with what she can do.

The Lessons of a Nine Year Old

One of the lessons I have learned is that my intense nine year old needs regular breaks (and so does this mama-teacher).  Which is why I've re-worked the schedule of the second half of our year to include a lighter week as we conclude a main lesson block and before we begin a main lesson.

I've also been striving to make sure that we get the work of schooling done in the first half of the day so that the second half of the day can be open for handwork and free play and reading on her own.

She needs the downtime.  The break.  And the excuse to lighten up and play a little bit more. 

She is on the cusp of so much, but still she is a child.  I'm very thankful that neither one of us is in a hurry for her to be more than that.  That the unfolding is happening naturally.  (And with enough time for this mama to get used to all of the changes without being too emotional herself).

And, I'm finding, when we come back to our lessons after these breaks, we both seem to get more out of them.  In a school year that started with me wondering sometimes if I was truly doing the right thing by her, now I find that I cannot imagine this education journey going any other way but the way it is right now.

The nine year old is the lesson.

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