education · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 239: Helping

A story for you about yesterday’s illuminated manuscripts:

R dove into the assignment, to illuminate the first stanza of In Flanders Fields, with gusto. She started to draw and colour in the first initial, then decided to start over because she had a better idea. She iterated on that letter “I” several times, always cheerfully and of her own volition. The fourth design was the charm, and she began to faithfully copy the text in her best printing.

Suddenly she growled, tore the page out of her sketchbook, and ripped it up. Then she burst into tears.

Ah, perfectionism. Is there any endeavour it can’t ruin?

“Why are you ripping it up?” I asked, slightly alarmed. “You could probably fix it, whatever it is!”

“NO!” She screamed. “IT’S RUINED!!!”

After a moment… “Can you please make pencil lines for me so my words are straight?”

Of course I could. She got back to work.

Would you believe me if I told you that the exact same thing happened again not ten minutes later? It did.

So when we went home from our lesson in the park, R had no work to show for it. She began to cry because she wanted to have something to show Mr. December, and now she had nothing. I wisely refrained from saying, “Well, if you hadn’t torn it up, you could have shown him that last one you did.” It wouldn’t have helped.

Know what did help? Actually helping her.

I’m trying to shake the notion (that I think most of us have) that if the child didn’t do the work independently, it doesn’t count. As Julie Bogart (my favourite homeschooling author) often says, why doesn’t it count? Would we ever say that because a baby was holding someone’s hand, they weren’t learning to walk? We help our kids, and when they can do it alone, they do.

After pondering that for a while, I offered to help R redo her artwork. “How about I do the writing in pencil, and you go over it with the marker?” I offered. She was happy to accept, especially when she realized it meant she’d be writing in cursive (she doesn’t really know cursive yet.) And so we settled down to work together. And then…

“ARGH! AGAIN! I SUCK AT THIS!!!!” R screamed as she tore her page out and scrunched it up.

I couldn’t believe it. “Why are you ripping it up? I just did all that work for you! What went wrong?”

“It was supposed to be blue and it was turning brown,” R said tearfully.

I wrestled the remains of the paper away from her as gently as possible and flattened it out. Then I hugged her until she was calm enough to listen.

“I’m going to teach you possibly the most important lesson ever: how to take a mistake and use it to make things even better than you planned.”

I had R cut out the text, minus the torn remnants of the offending illuminated initial, and together we glued it onto a sheet of black cardstock. I drew the initial in pencil on a new piece of paper. This time, I encouraged R to try every colour combination and shape on a piece of scrap paper before adding it to her design. When she was done, we cut out the letter “I” with its decorated square and glued it onto the cardstock so that it was right next to the first line.

I have to say, the black cardstock made it look very good. R saw how her manuscript stood out and was pleased.

In the end, she had copied the text in cursive, inked all the lines in the illuminated letter, and done the colouring and design work. If I hadn’t let go of my old beliefs and offered to help, R would have done none of those things.

I’m not saying that parents should do their kids’ homework—mostly because then the teacher doesn’t have a good picture of the child’s abilities. But otherwise, helping shouldn’t be considered cheating—unless it’s also cheating when our babies learn to walk, talk, read, bike…

2 thoughts on “Day 239: Helping

  1. I am ever so impressed. By you both. By the reminder to stop and reconsider and rethink and make changes and…. Well. VERY GOOD JOB!!!!

  2. Excellent point, and lovely example. I have to do this a lot with E – she’s got almost crippling anxiety – and it does feel a bit like failure so much of the time. But you’re right, it isn’t. Even if the lesson they learn isn’t quite the one we planned to teach, they’re still learning. Schools just aren’t set up to do this though, which is why she’s been falling so far behind. In a way this pandemic has been good for her – she’s at home learning, I’m at home ‘working’, and often have the time to sit down with her and help her past the impossible bits.

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