I knew it would be a struggle for Benjamin to maintain his focus while studying and, indeed, it has been a struggle. Perhaps it's self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps he only struggles because I expect him to struggle. I don't know. All I know is that there are days when getting him to focus on his work is a real battle.
On those days (like, oh, yesterday) I feel like throwing in the towel, but then I think about how I had these very same battles with him over homework when he was in public school (and they were every bit as passionate (or dispassionate, depending on how you look at it) as they are now). And so I convince myself to continue the slog. But I can't stop wondering how to light that fire of desire within him? How do I fuel his curiosity? How do I get him to want to learn what he needs to learn?
(And certainly there are debates about what a child needs to learn (there's the unschooling method of simply letting the child direct what topics they'd like to learn, for example), but I'm a little unyielding about my children learning the basic building blocks of education—basic math, reading, writing, and so forth—so I'm afraid that with me as their educator they're just gonna have to buckle down and do their math every day for the foreseeable future (sorry (not sorry) kiddos).)
Anyway, after such a terrible day yesterday I tried really hard to come up with some content that Benjamin would enjoy today and it's possible it worked—or at the very least sparked something.
First thing in the morning we reviewed Anderson's This Fable is Intended for You, and Benjamin agreed that he needed to remain dedicated to a single task so that he would end up getting lunch at the castle, rather than chasing after the sound of every trumpet and ending up with an empty tummy.
Then I let him do one lesson on Duolingo. He's been begging to start studying a language but I've been hesitant since getting him to do just the basics has been overwhelming as it is. But he loved his time on Duolingo.
And then I cut him off and gave him his math assignment. "If you can complete this assignment in a timely manner," I told him. "You can hop back on Duolingo again."
"How long do I have to do it?"
"Let's say half an hour," I said, not sure if he could even do that because he has a talent for stretching math into an hours' long ordeal (and the placement of that apostrophe is intentional, as in it is an ordeal of multiple hours (this isn't a single hour's ordeal (it's downright torture, just so you know; like he won't write a single thing until I prompt him to, "Write 3. Now write 'plus.' Now write 4. Now write 'equals.' Now solve it. Thank you for telling me the answer. Now write it down. Now...").
So that was the deal. If he finished within half an hour he could get on the computer. If he didn't finish within half an hour, well, he'd still have to finish his assignment but wouldn't have time to do Duolingo.
He finished in 15 minutes, folks! (And I even left him at the kitchen table alone to do it).
Then he happily hopped back onto Duolingo and did lesson after lesson after lesson. He's doing French because we've been watching Téléfrançais and he wants desperately to understand it better than he does.
At one point he ran up to me, breathless, and said, "I just spoke my first sentence in French! I was so nervous to do it, but I did it, and I passed!"
"What did you say?" I asked.
"Je suis une femme!" he said.
"And what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means I'm a woman," he said, blushing. "I'm not. But that was the sentence it wanted me to say and I did it!"
This means he spoke the sentence out loud at the computer and the algorithms decided his pronunciation was passable. I'm honestly baffled by how computers can do this but I suppose even coaxing people to try speaking a foreign language out loud is a helpful thing.
For social studies and language arts we started reading 1001 Nights (or, you know, selections from it), which Benjamin has been wanting to read and though we'll continue reading European fairy tales as well (and American ones with The Wizard of Oz, I suppose), the kids are pretty enraptured with the story so far. After reading a few chapters out loud, I pulled out the world map and we talked about where Persia is and what it's called today. And then we discussed current events in Iran—and it was quite the discussion because the world is insane right now! An assassination! A bombardment! An airplane crash! An earthquake with an epicenter near a nuclear power plant! Iran has never felt so current!
Benjamin loved our discussion because he loves watching and reading the news, so he felt like he had a lot to contribute.
I allowed them to free write, more or less, about what we'd discussed and read. Miriam chose to write a fairy tale response to 1001 Nights and Benjamin chose to recap everything he heard on the news...but at least he wrote (without complaining, for the most part).
Unfortunately (or, rather very fortunately), Iran isn't usually quite this exciting. But there's still plenty to talk about in that region of the world while we read 1001 Nights. (We also watched this map of the Imperial History of the Middle East, which Benjamin found enthralling ("Ooooh! Maps of War...?" I have a feeling he'll be playing around on this website in the future) and I broke out our copy of Persepolis (it's a graphic novel; don't tell Grandpa)).
Benjamin was so on task that we finished everything I had planned for the day in less than the 4.5 hours I had been aiming for for the very first time. Like, we just flew through the material. So we even sat down to do a piano lesson and the kids got to watch an episode of Téléfrançais.
To ask that every day be this successful would probably not be reasonable, but please can we have a few more days like this? Like at least one day a week? That would be nice...