Homeschooling With a Meek and Quiet Spirit: Mom’s Reaction to Dawdling

Homeschooling With a Meek and Quiet Spirit: Mom’s Reaction to Dawdling October 30, 2017

WhenCowsKidsCollideby Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

In traditional schools, students arrive in a teacher’s classroom with a variety of experiences, beliefs and aptitudes.  Building relationships with 100 students a semester takes practice and patience – but teachers benefit by learning that students bring unbelievably many different paths to success.  No two students are alike – and woe betides the teacher who makes too strong of comparisons.

Home schooling parents, on the other hand, have a much more limited group of kids to base their experiences on.  Deprived of a student teaching experience as well as classroom experience, they are limited to comparisons of their children to each other as well as close relatives and any other homeschool families they know well.

This difference in breadth of experience can lead to homeschooling parents labeling their child as having problematic behavior when the kid is behaving in an age-appropriate manner – but is perhaps developing a tad more slowly than an older sibling or has a higher activity level.

This example cropped up in Mrs. Maxwell’s book:

“One of my children is much slower in his learning than the others have been. This son is my dawdler as well. When he sits down to do his school work,  he is immediately up to sharpen his pencil, pat the dog on the way, washes his hands for good measure, checks out what his sister is doing at the piano, and finally hops back to his work. My ingrained reaction is frustration and irritation. This one child takes so much more of my time and energy than the others. I am discouraged because of the slow progress we make in areas he is struggling with. Can you see my wrong thinking and focus? Unfortunately, my eyes are on myself. My spirit is not quiet. If it were, I would be content with the way God made this child, and there would be no turbulence inside me.” (pg. 18-19)

Truthfully, “slower” isn’t a diagnostic term in education.  There is a wide amount of variation between students when acquiring new skills.  When doing genetic problems in high school, some students reached mastery after a single day of practice.  Others took over a week of exposure before reaching mastery.  Did I worry about the students who were five times “slower” than the early mastery students?  No, as long as they were showing forward progress and didn’t seem discouraged, they would get to mastery soon enough.

Next, let’s discuss “dawdling” for a moment.  Humans have a wide continuum of levels of attention and focus to a task on hand.   Some people have attention that drifts when any new stimulus appears; the other extreme is nearly unbreakable focus on a single task.  Equally importantly, few students have levels of attention that exactly match the teacher’s attention.  Yup, Mrs. Maxwell’s son’s attention drifts more than hers does; after all, she can list exactly what he did during a time period when he probably can’t.  The difference doesn’t mean that a problem exists – just that humans are not identical copies of their parents.

I also am a highly focused person – but I found that I was a much more effective teacher when I stopped wasting emotional energy on trying to get students to be on-task every moment of the class period.   The truth is that Mrs. Maxwell’s son gets to make choices about how he uses his homeschooling time and lives with the consequences of those choices.  Mrs. Maxwell could save herself a lot of irritation and frustration by deciding what the consequences of not being on-task during school time are and enforcing those consequences calmly.  Most homeschooling kids schedules have a good size block of free-play time between the end of quiet time/nap and dinner/chores.  Personally, I’d let the kid keep 30-60 minutes of that free time to blow off some steam, but then the kid would be expected to continue working for the rest of the play time until he finished the assignment.  If he still was off-task, he’d have to continue working during a portion of evening play time. (I need to put a caveat here: this assumes that the assignment is age-appropriate, that the student understands how to do the assignment, and that I created an area that had an appropriate atmosphere for studying.  If any of these issues exist, forcing the student to spend more time spinning his or her wheels is an exercise in insanity building.)  My rationale for doing this is that many excellent home school graduates mention struggling with time management and completing tasks on a schedule when they move on to college.

As I was writing this post, I realized my main annoyance with that quote: good teachers are focused on positive academic and personal outcomes for their students while Mrs. Maxwell’s main goal is maximizing her spiritual growth.   I’ve spent my time figuring out how to teach her son to modulate his attention; she’s spent her time figuring out how to ignore her.

I probably would have forgotten that quote if Mrs. Maxwell hadn’t decided to reference it much later in the book:

Remember my son who takes so much of my time and energy for his home schooling? It is very easy for me to have a frustrated tone in my voice when I am interacting with him. The Lord will convict me of this. When I respond with worldly sorrow, here is how my thinking goes, “This child is just more than I can handle patiently. I am not cut out for this task. I have prayed for patience. I have worked on being meek with him, but I keep failing over and over.” My whole focus is on me. I have no real concern for this particular sin in my life. My sorrow is worldly because it wants to be right and good on its own efforts. (pg. 51)


Notice that Mrs. Maxwell conflates being honest in her thoughts with a form of sin.  Her thoughts are completely clear and lucid.  She’s not being patient with her son.  She’s not well-prepared or educated for teaching.  She’s not patient or meek and she’s failing repeatedly.

The problem is that she fails to take the next logical step of “What do I need to change to improve my teaching skills with my son?”  Instead, she becomes more self-centered and self-involved by prioritizing her “worldly sin” over learning how to teach.

We do agree on one thing: Mrs. Maxwell’s focus is entirely on herself – not her son.

The use of the verb “to convict” is a pet peeve of mine – see endnote 1.

“This is how I see godly sorrow handling the same situation, “Lord, you have said that man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that You desire. You have also said that love is patient and kind. I have not been obedient to You. Your fruit is not showing forth in my son. I am wrong, Lord. Please forgive me. Thank you for your forgiveness and working in my life. I submit to You and ask You to continue to teach me your ways.” Then I quickly confess my wrong attitudes and tone of voice to my son and ask his forgiveness.” (pgs. 51-52)

See endnote two for a rant about capitalization in CP/QF prayers.

This is an excellent example of the belief that fixing the sin of one person can fix a completely unrelated problem in a different person.   Mrs. Maxwell implies that her son is progressing slowly in academics and dawdles because Mrs. Maxwell is impatient with him.

That’s reversing cause and effect.

More problematically, Mrs. Maxwell denies any autonomous effort or action by her son.  Her son initiates behaviors – he works on his assignments, he wanders the house, he pets the dog, he checks in on his sister.  Her son controls all of those actions.  He’s not a puppet who responds solely to the amount of meekness she shows in her life.  Heck, he may be completely unaware of how annoying she finds his behavior since he’s one kid in a household of 8 kids and two adults.  Perhaps he’s learned that being off-task is a consistent way to get her attention since negative attention is better than being overlooked.

I’m shocked at how many times Mrs. Maxwell can realize that her method of doing something isn’t working – and then double down on making the solution all about her needs and wants.

Teaching is not about the needs of the teacher but the needs of the student.

1) CP/QF writers’ use of the verb “to convict” is irritating.

There are two meanings of the noun “conviction”.

  • having been found guilty of breaking a criminal law 
  • a strongly held belief or opinion

The verb “to convict” only refers to the legal proceedings meaning – not the act of having a strong belief or opinion.

The paragraph would make much more sense if she stated that “God has shown me the truth of this conviction” etc.

2) When capitalizing prayers, authors and editors need to chose if the pronoun “you” will be capitalized when describing Jesus/God and if possessive pronouns referencing God will be capitalized.   I learned to capitalize both – but I accept any combination as valid as long as it is uniform in a work.  In the prayer above, both types of capitalization are used for “you” and the possessive pronouns are all over the place in other sections of the book.

moreRead more by Mel:
Letting Anxiety Rule Your Life
Mel resides in Michigan with her husband and child on farm. With her years of teaching experience, keen mind and observational skills she always brings a deeper look at the issues of homeschooling, teaching issues, and explains the science behind behind quiverfull beliefs. Mother, wife, teacher and caregiver of a child with health challenges she always brings a measured and reasoned voice to NLQ.

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  • Anne Fenwick

    Truthfully, “slower” isn’t a diagnostic term in education.

    In France, teachers pay lip service to this concept, but in reality, they have a more limited range of ‘normal’ development than none at all, with the result that they are relatively quick to refer their pupils for testing of various kinds. In this way, they catch a lot of visual and hearing difficulties, but just as importantly, they investigate dyslexia at an early stage, and begin diagnosing the type and providing interventions. If a child’s ‘slowness’ is judged to be caused by something fixable or temporary, the state will essentially provide a private tutor/therapist to get it fixed. But in general, kids must ‘graduate’ each year. Their ‘slowness’ really is assessed at some point, and may cause them to have to repeat a grade. In fact, it’s assessed constantly, because they have very visible charts with little green, orange and red stickers for all the things they’re supposed to be able to do. Although there are pros and cons to all this, it is a frequent reason for homeschooling in France among parents who want to give their child more freedom to develop at their own pace, or unevenly in different subjects.

  • AFo

    She doesn’t say how old her son is, but if he’s around upper-elementary/middle school age, he probably just needs to move around, and/or is avoiding his work. Every middle school class I’ve been in has been fidgety, and I’ve had students who seemed to need to get up every five seconds; of course, these were the ones who wanted attention and were avoiding doing any work, and since I wasn’t the only teacher with this problem, the grade-level teams came up with plans to address the behavior. That’s another thing Maxwell is missing out on: collaboration with other teachers. Being able to talk out ideas and brainstorm solutions with colleagues has helped me improve and refine my own practices. Another person’s perspective can work wonders when you seem to be hitting a wall. These homeschooling families all seem so isolated, and so obsessed with “godliness” vs. “worldliness” that I wonder how much actual learning is getting done on a day to day basis.

  • Mel

    That’s really interesting. I tend to be in favor of early targeted intervention mainly because I’ve met too many teenagers who had a fairly treatable learning disability or sensory problem that was overlooked (for many reasons) in elementary school which caused the student to start falling behind – and they never caught up.

  • Julia Childress

    Mrs. Maxwell’s reaction to her son is so indicative of what has become of Christianity over the past few decades. What is supposed to be faith that reaches out to others, both to care for them and to spread the gospel to them, has become a faith that is completely self-focused. It’s hard to believe that it’s such a short journey from the selflessness of Jesus to the self-absorption of modern fundamentalism.

  • SAO

    If the kid went to school, he’d have an opportunity to be good at something. Maybe it would be sports, maybe theatre. Instead, he will be the slow, irritating dawdler year after year.

    I really don’t care about the mother’s struggles with God, but I pity that kid.

  • smrnda

    Unevenly in different subjects sounds like it could be good, or bad. I’ve seen cases (perhaps I’m one) where that meant that I was able to dedicate more time towards areas I was strong in, and though I didn’t lag behind in others, I clearly was good at some areas and not remarkable in others. In the bad case, I’ve known of a few people who grew up ‘unschooling’ who had just naturally gravitated towards their strengths, and remained far behind in other areas, but were unaware of it until nearly 18 when they found they were not ready for college.

    The good thing, there, was that the community college had some decent courses meant to get people up to speed, but I wondered if maybe a bit of a push in those areas would have been better?

  • smrnda

    I spent a few years doing volunteer work with kids. Something I did learn was that, for many parents, the only point of comparison they have to their own children is whatever they might remember (if much) from their own childhood. Whether the child is ‘normal’ for their age they just can’t assess, which can often cause frustration with normal, age appropriate behaviors or limitations. If you work with enough children, and get taught what to look for, it helps spot the difference between normal variation, specific developmental delays, things like that. And some delays aren’t necessarily going to be a problem long term, but spotting them and intervening can help. Things like hearing or vision problems, other delays, respond best with early intervention by someone trained to look for the possibility.

    With her kid who ‘takes longer’ – perhaps he’s really not wasting time or ‘dawdling’ at all, maybe he’s just got a ritual that he goes through whenever it’s time for school type work? I can’t imagine that her list of things really takes more than 5 minutes, and that’s less than the ‘prepare for the day’ rituals of many working adults. How many adults start a day with say, a cup of coffee, check the calendar, take a few deep breaths, maybe walk around, listen to some music on headphones, straighten up the desk? How many read the newspaper at the office, or at least skim the front page? If that helps people get work done, I can’t see getting irritated on a few minutes worth of such small, minor actions.

    I’m also lost as to whether he’s really struggling, academically, or if he’s just doing some things she feels are ‘wasting time?’

  • SAO

    I’ve noticed that lots of patents lose sight of what is appropriate at what age. It’s not just that they could do algebra at age 10, why can’t their kid, they don’t remember that it was pre-algebra and they were 12.

    This is particularly true for baby advice, where good advice for an 9 month old can be dangerously horrible advice for a 5 month old baby.

  • Mel

    Me too.

    And honestly – I doubt he’s really a dawdler.

    Classrooms are set up to minimize distractions. We don’t have pets, kitchen sinks, or kids playing musical instruments in the same confined area as a kid who is learning math. On top of that, teachers set routines to minimize distractions. I “taught” my students to use the first five minutes of class while I was taking attendance and dealing with a gamut of random crap from the office to get the materials they needed from the areas of the room where they were stored, select their seat and get settled to work.

    It’s not hard to do if you have dedicated space for education and mentally plan out how you want the students to accomplish things in your room. You can do the mental planning at home – but having no dedicated educational space – or only a very small one when divided across the number of kids – makes staying on task much, much harder.

  • Mel

    I like the idea of unschooling – and had good success with project-based-learning which is a bit like that in education – but I’ve always been a little concerned about what happens in areas that the student isn’t naturally fascinated – and doesn’t have a mentor who can give them the swift kick in the a** that most of us need from time to time to work on areas we aren’t that into.

    The college I went to had a huge number of students who minored in Biology (which is not a terribly useful minor, fyi) because they were fascinated by Biology – but didn’t have the math/logic skills needed to take the 5-6 Chemistry classes needed to be a Biology major.

  • Mel

    Small sample size creates its own problems. My husband has a cousin who is three weeks older than him; they grew up down the street from each other. By the time the boys started school, my husband’s mom was worried about my husband being behind in math while my aunt was worried about her son being behind in reading.

    Turns out both boys were doing fine – my husband was a gifted reader and an average math student; his cousin was a gifted math student and a normal reader.

    I’ve yet to run into a homeschooling book or blog that gives enough information to figure out if a given kid/student is actually struggling – or if the parent is projecting mistaken beliefs onto the kid.

  • That’s so true. The mother is more focused on how she is responding to the child and how her frustration is a sin rather than on how she can work with him better.

  • smrnda

    There are also areas that probably fascinate nobody, but are necessary. Take something like taxes. Filling out forms is not fun, but I am glad that I know how to do it. Not only does it save me money and the trouble of recruiting someone, it makes me far better informed about taxes. Totally boring and unexciting area, but good to know. Some areas are more ‘boring at first’ – you have to get some degree of competence before you can do anything interesting.

    In terms of a mentor for the other areas, there’s also a problem when the mentors you have share the same interests, strengths and likes and dislikes. If you are bad at an area they are bad at, and don’t enjoy, neglecting it is the natural course. Some people find other mentors, but when homeschooling is religiously motivated and comes with a desire to not be ‘worldly are they going to try?

  • AuntKaylea

    I am a tactile/kinesthetic learner. Body activity goes with memory for me. I became a copious note taker in school because I found that if I wrote something down, I would remember it. It did not matter if I refered back to the notes later or not, but I have a spatial/visual memory and still can close my eyes, move my hands and recall details based on sense memory more than just visual or audio recall.

    I wonder if he needs more senses involved in his learning as a lot of what she describes is what I would do in 1st or 2nd grade to help me remember things – I just naturally added in acceptable motion. (I do not really think verbally either – so I did not talk a whole lot at that age)

    Fortunately, about halfway through 2nd grade, when I was getting into trouble for not sitting still again, my teacher realized that I had done all the written SFA projects for the next 3 years already, and had me tested for the gifted/talented program. From that point forward, I spent the bulk of my days in a learning lab where I researched, wrote down things, and basically learned in a manner that was much better for my learning style.

    But this poor child does not have a teacher who has been taught how to identify, assess, and engage different learning styles at all.

  • lisu

    I was really proud of myself when I taught myself how to file tax returns. Even though it’s dull boring, it was empowering to be able to take control of my finances after years of not having a say in what happened to my money.

    I think unschooling can be useful to start with, as long as the child has some basic structure to ensure that they learn the things they don’t enjoy doing. If the kid has an appropriate level of competence in those areas, I’d be quite happy to let them teach themselves everything else.

  • Melody

    I’m not against homeschooling though not a fan of it either, but I think this does show one of the difficulties with the different roles of being both parent and teacher. As a teacher one thing is required, while as a parent perhaps another thing.

    I have had some kids in my class at school where their parent was their teacher and it was a little awkward on occassion. It’s a different role that you have yet the child is still your child and so you do have a different relationship besides the teacher-pupil one as well. It may work fine, but it can also cause some problems.

  • Melody

    Exactly. Teachers have more possibilities for this sort of thing, plus far less distractions too. It’s part of the both being at home and at school at the same time. There’s a degree of informalness – your parent is your teacher, you’re at home at the same table where you also eat or draw, and perhaps your toys are lying about, or the cat or dog is having fun in the garden and you want to join or what not…

  • jennabobenna

    I have ADHD. I wasn’t diagnosed until the summer before I went to college because as a female honor roll student with attentive-type ADHD, I compensated for my issues more easily than others and didn’t attract too much negative attention from authority figures. That said, my late diagnosis left me struggling with basic studying and time management skills in college and beyond. Your recommendation for how to handle her son is spot-on. I would additionally recommend that she try to understand why he is doing what he is doing. Even if he doesn’t have ADHD, he could be struggling because he’s bored or he has too much energy. She needs to work with him to create a plan that works for both of them. At work today, I worked with my supervisor to create a loose daily schedule because I’m struggling to stay on task and I need more structure to meet my goals. Her son could well benefit from a more structured environment too. Or maybe he feels like he doesn’t have enough control over his activities and his bouncing around is his way of exercising control over something. One thing is certain: praying and focusing on herself is not going to help her son or bring any sort of resolution.