Help! I'm Homeschooling a Six-Year-Old!

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Editor’s Note: Today, we welcome Jennifer Fitz to our CatholicMom.com family of contributors. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Jennifer through her blog, and want to share that even though I am not a homeschooling mom, I have found Jennifer’s brand of writing to be fun and inspirational. Please join me in welcoming her to CatholicMom.com. Jennifer, we look forward to learning from you! LMH

Everyone knows about the “terrible two’s,” but you don’t hear much about homeschooling’s dark secret: Six.

I was fortunate to belong to a supportive homeschooling community when my eldest turned six. Fairies had come in the night and replaced my sweet kindergartner with a school-hating, sibling-resenting, shouting, complaining ball of fury.   But there was good news: All the other mothers-of-first-graders had suffered the same fate.  Maybe it wasn’t our terrible parenting after all?

My theory is that six-year-olds are almost, but not quite, to the age of reason.  Their little brains have grown enough to be able to experience big new ideas and feelings, but they don’t yet have the emotional maturity to cope with it all.  Every difficulty and disappointment feels like a disaster.

The emotional turmoil can wreak havoc on your homeschool.  But if you feel called to homeschool, don’t give up so easily!  Homeschooling can also provide a great opportunity to guide your child through a difficult year.  Here are some ways you can customize your homeschool to make first grade memorable in good ways:

Don’t force the abstract and fine-motor skills.  Do provide phonics, handwriting, and math activities.  But even if you are following a formal curriculum, use your child’s cues to slow down or speed up as needed.

When in doubt, get up and move.  First-graders are wiggly.  They can sit still, but they can’t do it all morning.  Most first graders can concentrate on new skills and information for about ten minutes, and then they are ready to decompress by switching to a craft, fun chore (feeding the dog, checking the mail), or creative play time.

Dive into the real world. Six-year-olds desperately want to plant a garden, bake cookies, and collect every shiny rock in the neighborhood.  Their experiences now give them data for understanding abstract scientific principles in later years.

Teach through stories and pretend.  Bible stories, picture books, fairy tales, and tell-me-about-when-you-were-little all have one thing in common: They make the abstract concrete.  First graders gather information from stories.  They take the pictures in their head, and use them to build an understanding of how the world works, how God loves us, how time unfolds.  Acting out stories through dress-up and creative play is how they try on those ideas and master them.

Play games together.  Games teach self-control, logical thinking, and cooperation – important skills in first grade.  But six-year-olds melt easily when playing against siblings and peers.  Your child needs an adult at the table to set the tone and to referee misunderstandings.

Sit together.  Read, talk, or work side by side.  Six is a hard year.  Your child needs your companionship. Your child needs your steady, unshakable love.   Your child needs you, a living breathing model of what all-grown-up looks like – including the reassurance that even grown-ups can fail miserably and live to try again.

Six is a hard year for homeschooling, or any kind of schooling.  But it can also be one of the best.

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Fitz

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11 Comments

  1. Lisa, thank you for such a kind welcome! I’m thrilled to be here. I’d recommend anyone who missed Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur’s column here the other day on “How to Homeschool Your Preschool Child” consider that one to be a prerequisite.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Jennifer! I’m homeschooling an easy 9-year-old and a very resistant 6-year-old boy. Glad to see your suggestions – and glad to know it’s not just me! 🙂

  3. I think “it’s not just me” is the #1 thing. Especially when someone gets hit with the six’s right when they’re starting school — it’s easy to assume the problem is the school, when really it’s nothing that time and patience won’t fix. We have a rising 6-y.o.-right now, so it’s a topic on the top of my mind these days.

  4. Jennifer — great column. I could have written this column several years ago about my then-six-year-old. He’s now a sophomore in college at Harvard. We almost didn’t make it through the first week of his first grade at Catholic school, but it seems we worked our way through the challenges. Great suggestions. So happy to have you as part of our CatholicMom.com family!

  5. Lisa, yes! One of my favorite friends is in her 80’s now and was a career-long first grade teacher. I’m convinced the teachers who really develop that skill for helping students through that first year are a national treasure. (They are also, in my experience, very happy people. Not a coincidence.)

  6. St. C – glad it was helpful!

    Sarah, That’s hilarious. Since I’m working on a post about why you (yes you, specifically,and other moms in your shoes) don’t homeschool and have good, sensible reasons for that decision.

    I’d vote that your (personal) take-away from this post is:
    a) These are some things to keep in mind for outside-of-school hours.
    b) If your first-grader is having a hard year at school, don’t throw in the towel yet, see if providing some emotional support and 6-18 months of patience don’t clear it up.

    Jen.

  7. Sarah – Fear not. I mention the time-commitment thing. Like say for people who are already working a not-very-part-time job while the kids are in school. You might know someone in that situation. :-).

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