Monday, 4 November 2013

Educating More than One: It's Not Fair!

This week the boys are going to start swimming lessons with the local home ed group.  The minimum age is five years, so we've waited until Youngest was old enough - I didn't want to keep him sat in the viewing area watching his brothers swim, a) because he is such an bundle of energy it would take all my focus to keep him from running off and leaping into the pool fully clothed, and b) because he LOVES swimming and it would have felt unfair for his brothers to be having fun doing something he loves in front of him while he's not allowed.

We haven't been swimming for quite a while, so we went swimming for fun as a family this weekend, primarily because Middle was expressing anxiety about the upcoming lessons, and I wanted to give him chance to build his confidence in the water beforehand.  The whole experience made me realise some things about this idea of fairness...

My boys - as with all children - are very different to each other.  Yes, there are some similarites, whether because they share some genes or because they are being brought up according to the same people's standards - but over all they are their own characters.  It often amazes me that Hubby and I produced three such very different personalities - and I know it's the same for most parents of more than one child.  And where I have a compulsion to be fair and treat my children equally (I am a middle child - it was a big deal growing up), Hubby is less concerned.  And in some ways I agree with him.  Take, for example, swimming.  Eldest responds really well to reason and verbal encouragement.  He always has, even when he was little.  If he was worried about trying something I could just talk him through it and encourage him to trust me and let me help him learn this new skill.  Middle, however?  Not at all.  Whatever he is focused on has his full attention.  If he is worried and I try to reason with him he will be incapable of listening until he has dealt with his worries himself.  So yesterday when we were at the pool and I was focusing on helping him, I quickly realised I was trying to treat him like Eldest, coaxing him into taking his feet off the floor and reaching towards me etc.  You know what?  It didn't work.  The more I tried to persuade him, the more he heard what I was saying as impossible.  When I realised what I was doing I gave myself a mental shake and deliberately backed off.  And what happened next was beautiful.  In his own time, on his own terms, he built up his confidence until he was swimming again (with armbands).  He joined his brothers going down the flume (he hadn't wanted to AT ALL when we got there).  He voluntarily put his face and then his whole head under water.  All without my interference - he just wanted the security of having me standing by, ready to applaud at each achievement.

I know this to be true about him.  He is and always has been a child who has to be allowed to do things in his own time.  Trying to encourage him is more likely to set him back than make progress.  It is enormously frustrating to a 'hands-on' parent.  But he is the argument for autonomous learning in this house.  Eldest likes structure, Youngest seems to do well with structure, Middle absolutely does not (which is why he became so depressed at school).  He was happy enough with our small amount of structure over the last couple of months, but this next season of increased autonomy will be perfect for him - and that has made me think again about my having to treat them all the same.  I know Middle needed more autonomy, and I believe the others will benefit from it too, so we're all going for it together.  But I can foresee a time where Eldest may need more structure again - and I need to be prepared to be able to let them all find their own different ways to learn.  I suppose that's what this next season is mostly about for me (as we all learn through home ed - the parents just as much as the children).

And so back to swimming this week.  Now that the "unfairness" of learning is re-established at the front of my mind - that as each style suits different children, asking them all to do the same thing can actually be unfair - my focus will be less on the "fairness" of them all getting to join in, and more on which of my children are actually benefiting from the swimming lessons.  It is true, Youngest would have found it enormously unfair to not be allowed to join in, so I'm still glad I waited - but it may be that Middle finds it 'unfair' to be asked to do something he doesn't enjoy (a structured lesson), when his brothers are loving it.  Ultimately, it is a "class-style" scenario - albeit doing something they all like (and an important life-skill too), so it's going to be another learning curve for all of us.  We will see.

The most important thing to learn, I suppose, is that treating them "unfairly" may turn out to be the most fair thing to do...

4 comments:

  1. I loved this post - it's so similar to the way I'm finding things as we begin our home ed journey - four children, all with different needs and learning styles. I just have to keep reminding myself that "Fairness doesn't mean that everyone gets the same. Fairness means that everyone gets what they need."

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    1. Exactly right Liz. It's a lesson I keep having to remind myself: that educating my three boys is not just about recognising the different levels that they are at, but about recognising their different needs and learning styles too - which is both a lot harder and a lot more rewarding. Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for commenting :)

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  2. Excellent blog again :) and yep... one of my boys is currently unschooling and the other studying for exams... I think its essential to treat them differently, it does seem to go in seasons. For a long while I left eldest to his own devices and and spent hours reading books and doing maths with my youngest, and now it has swapped again.

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    1. Thanks Sally :) It's always so reassuring to hear confirmation from experienced HE Mums :) xx

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