“Moms, let me say it again. You can’t help him too much. Okay?” These firm, but gentle, generous words from my son’s Essentials tutor washed over me for the second week in a row and I realized what freedom they had brought to our homeschool experience. I had been warned the first year in Essentials could be overwhelming and it’s certainly had its moments for us, but I’ve found giving myself permission to help my son “too much” has been the key for us. I sit next to him and settle in to do his work with him. We work each step together. If he doesn’t know the answer in a few beats, I give it to him. Now before you go thinking this is only for Essentials, let me share how this has changed all of homeschooling for us. I’m not being dramatic. Literally all.
This perspective shift has effected us all, but for clarity I’ll keep this conversation strictly on my oldest. Here’s an example of a typical interaction for us and then how it’s changed.
My son encounters a math problem I think he should know how to do. He asks me for help. I reply, “Try again, bud. You know how to do this.” But he already feels stumped and my response exasperates him. Now I’m frustrated, because I see he’s close and I’m asking for a little more effort, but he’s not giving it. Mainly I just don’t want him to quit before he feels the satisfaction of figuring it out. But now it feels like we’re in a standoff, because he thinks he’s at the end of himself and I asked him to try harder. Blegh.
That was before. Now I think, “You can’t help him too much.” While I still think he could do more, I don’t feel the need to force his hand. (Remember, this is not when there’s a genuine lack of understanding. I *think* I’ve always helped when he doesn’t understand!) I don’t give him the answer, but I walk through the steps with him. I ask better questions. Questions that feel kind of like answers and definitely feel like help. If it’s math he’s struggling with, maybe I’ll work the problem on paper while he notes what I did different from him. If it’s piano, maybe I’ll play the piece for him. At the end of our interaction, he perks up, smiles, and gets back to work. He continues on without trouble. He just got stuck for a minute and needed someone to unstuck him. I can be that for him. I can help him “too much”. Instead of feeling stubborn and isolated from a perceived standoff, he feels comforted by our joint effort and my sympathy for his struggle. We’re in it together.
That relationship building alone is worth it to me.
Of course, there’s a time for the first approach and the “too much” approach won’t be the solution every time. And I realize as he grows older this approach may be used less and less. But, for sure and for now, we needed it more in our homeschool. I could go on and on about the reasons helping “too much” has resonated with me personally, but I think you guys get it.
Because is there really such a thing as helping “too much”? It’s like too much chocolate or too many hugs or too much sleep. It’s just not possible, am I right, friends?
I’d love to hear from you on this. Have you tried something new that’s making a difference in your homeschooling days?
Note: My son’s Essential tutor has kindly reminded me she was sharing words of wisdom from Andrew Pudewa. For more teaching wisdom from Andrew Pudewa, check out these two articles: So…So…Awkard and 4 Deadly Errors of Teaching Writing.