There is something conspicuously absent in our homeschooling.
It’s not curricula.
It’s not supplies.
It’s not physical exercise.
It’s not test preparation.
It is something so simple that we rarely think about it, yet it is so profound that we are doomed to fail without it.
I was alerted to the importance of this simple ingredient while reading an old book, An Acorn in My Hand, written by a teacher from Texas whose first graders were reading the King James Bible and composing two to six-page reports by February of the school year.
Children in her class did not need any cutesy workbooks or “common core” directives. She coaxed out a child’s natural desire to learn by employing some very simple methods, including praise.
Read what one observer wrote about her classroom:
Mrs. Bouldin’s practice of fulfilling a fundamental need, the need for praise, without a doubt gives her First Grade students self-confidence in their own ability and a sense of accomplishment. There is no rigid discipline; there is no need for it. It is a pleasure to see the children work and the joy they have in learning. They know what to do, how to do it and they set to work with confidence in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Not a minute is wasted but they do not work under pressure. (Emphasis mine)
Besides using an ingenious phonics method, Mrs. Bouldin did what she called “bragging” on each child, and she went about it deliberately. She wrote the names of her 29 or so students in a book and would put a green mark each name each time she bragged on that person. Then each Friday she would glance at the list and make sure that anyone who hadn’t received a green mark would get some bragging by the end of the day. In this way, she created a bond of sweetness between her and each of her students.
I know how easy it is to skip praising our children, especially when it seems they are doing everything wrong! It seems it gets lost under all of the hopes, dreams, expectations, pressures and subsequent disappointments we experience.
It’s hard to praise a 5-year-old for his best efforts when his best efforts look like scratches and scrawls, but if we celebrate the scrawling today, there is a greater chance it will turn into beautiful script in a few short years.
He looks up with his little eyes and hopes Mommy will see the huge effort he is making, and the great pride he has in what he has created, and when she celebrates with him he sees her as his greatest benefactor. This bond causes him to relax in the comfort of safety so that his mind can be freed to move forward without fear of reprisal for the many silly mistakes he is bound to make.
Children often protect themselves by tuning out the negative, but they drink in the positive like thirsty plants in the desert.
Even teens, or especially teens, need massive doses of praise and recognition. They may hide it better, but they are often very insecure, and they look to us for reassurance.
Some ways to put this into practice:
Celebrate even the smallest advancement.
I learned this from a homeschooling couple way back in 1984, when my first child was less than a year old. They encouraged me to clap, whoop and holler whenever possible–something we have put into practice with all of our 15 children.
We thank children for a job well-done, and we try and make sure they know we noticed when they were doing something right.
End with praise.
There are times when things like spelling, grammar, and math answers must be corrected, but I always try and do my corrections first and end with something positive. I try and say something like, ” You didn’t fill out the page all the way, and you’ll have to correct that. I loved the colors you used–which part of the page is your favorite?” or, “Don’t worry about getting a few wrong, you’re making progress, and that’s what counts. By the way, I love the way you make your 3’s–they look sort of old-fashioned,” or, “You have a few spelling errors that I noted, but your sentence structure is phenomenal!” This way they are left with the feeling of approval instead of disapproval.
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.
The best teachers know what Mrs. Bouldin knew; that if you can capture the heart of a student, the will follows, and along with it, the reasoning.
And who is better suited to capture the heart of a child than a mother at home?