Dubito is Latin for “I doubt.” And it is the title for this blog post because I haven’t learned enough Latin to say, “Somedays I doubt whether my kids are learning anything, whether this is really going to help them, and whether I am doing any good at all or just messing up their lives forever and ever.” I think that particular sentence construction might be covered in Latin for Children: Primer B. So, next year.
My 3rd grader is finishing up his first year of Latin. Actually tomorrow will be the official “last day” in his Primer A book. I have been learning right along side with him, and I have had so much fun. I am naturally drawn to learning languages – German, Russian, Polish – and a brief stint with Norwegian (don’t ask me to use much of those languages except German at this point. That’s another topic). Latin seemed overwhelming, though. So you can imagine how relieved and delighted I was that CAP Latin for Children: Primer A was so fun, interesting, and actually taught language and grammar instead of just memorizing colors and pets and stuff. I feel like I have learned a ton!
So now maybe you can also imagine my dismay when, going through the last review chapter of the book with my son, he keep missing word after word after word. Didn’t he learn this stuff too? Wasn’t he engaged in the crossword puzzles, word searches, chants, grammar concepts (because isn’t everyone engaged in grammar concepts?), English derivatives, and vocabulary? Wasn’t he proud of himself for taking on a really difficult challenge and making progress and succeeding?
Wasn’t he succeeding?
How did I miss that? An entire year wasted? Was this just a big waste of time?
Now fast forward a few hours to Cub Scout Pack Nigh that evening. We met at a life sciences museum and were treated with a little class on habitats. (Which comes from the Latin word habitare – to inhabit – in case you were wondering.) The cute little cub scouts were so excited, bouncing out of their seats, raising their hands, answering the questions, and making random semi-related comments.
Except not my kids.
Didn’t they know any of the answers? Didn’t they know a bobcats natural habitat is the tundra? Or that frogs need lots of moisture so you would most likely find them in ponds and wetlands, but also forests and rain forests? Scientists think Zebras are striped so as to confuse predators attacking on the savannah – all those zigzag lines going back and forth probably make it hard for the predators to single out one zebra at a time. I didn’t know that. My children didn’t know that. But another scout did. They knew LOTS of things!
I’ve never taught my kids about habitats. Ever. Partly because I figured it was kind of obvious in most cases, but mostly because we’ve been busy studying other things. You know, like Latin. But now I wasn’t so sure that I was even actually teaching my kids that! Maybe I was teaching it, but were they learning it?
Rewind another full day to our official last day in our REAL Odyssey Chemistry book. As a final review the book had prepared a crossword puzzle with vocabulary from the last unit. Our words included stuff like reactant, product, neutral, base, acid, pH scale, combustion, physical, and chemical reaction. We spent so much time – and had so much fun! – learning about all of those things. I even wrote an ENTIRE blog post just devoted to this last unit! Why couldn’t they answer the questions? Had it been just fun, but little learning? Was it any learning at all? Was I wasting their time – and my time – by “playing teacher” instead of sending them off to school to be taught in classrooms with desks and teachers with actual degrees in teaching?
You are beginning to see how discouraged I was. I told myself last night – let me sleep on it. Usually a good night sleep washes away the gray clouds and disappointment and brings hope and sunshine with it, refreshed, ready to go, and determined to do better.
Except I didn’t sleep because the baby cried, needed a diaper change, wanted to be held, and refused to go back to sleep (quietly) without a WARM bottle of milk. And then the toddler cried… and cried… and because I was too tired to hold and rock him I mumbled something like, “how about mama just lies down with you for awhile?” and I scrunched up into his toddler bed and pretended I was comfortable.
However, when I did wake up this morning (in my own bed and completely exhausted) I was greeted by my cute little 5 year old – who had gotten up and gotten dressed all by himself, careful not to wake up the others.He crawled into bed with me and proceeded to tell me ALL about the life science museum, what he learned, what he liked, what he didn’t like, and how fun it was. He asked mequestions about taxidermy and came up with a beautiful story prompt (unfortunately already done by Night at the Museum, but still, you can see how good it was).
And in that happy, peaceful, never to be recreated moment I realized, I couldn’t remember all the Latin words from the entire last school year either! My mind was more focused on some chapters than others. Why should I expect an 8 year old to focus at a level I wasn’t even committing too? Plus truthfully, there are some changes I can make to how we study Latin for next year that will improve our retention and understanding. I even have a plan to keep up the vocabulary during our summer break now. It is certainly not a bad thing to recognize room for improvement, unless of course you don’t actually make a doable plan of action to improve where needed.
And that science crossword? In frustration I had asked my daughter at the time (and by this time we were all frustrated) “Do you really not remember any of this? Or are you just having a grumpy day?” And you know what, she actually had been having a grumpy day. She didn’t feel like putting effort into anything, let alone answering questions like “If a chemical goes through a change where the end product molecules are still the same after the change as they were before, what kind of change is this? (Fyi, physical change. It’s only a chemical change if the molecules themselves are altered and you end up with new molecules after the reaction.) She’s barely 7, after all.
Let’s look at the bigger picture now, too. My kids are all in challenging math courses and a grade level ahead at that. And they like it. My reading children love to read and they read for fun and/or for learning every single day. In fact, my children love to learn! Three out of 4 of them (baby not included) routinely check out nonfiction books right along side their fiction story books and novels. My oldest has done his own self directed character studies on people like John Paul Jones (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) and Paul Revere. As far as getting an education, we’re actually not doing that bad. I’d say we’re doing pretty darn good!
They are learning, and they are learning a lot, actually. But they are just human. Human children. And they have on days and off days. What was off, mostly in those moments mentioned above, was not my children, but my expectations. My children are smart, but I am not ready or knowledgable enough to say if they are “above average” or “gifted.” I can say quite confidently, though, that they are intelligent and happy and well rounded.
Should I really be upset that they can sit still and listen quietly to a presentation? (Not that the other children were unruly, really, just excited and a little loud.) Should I even care that my kids don’t know why a zebra may have stripes? Is their understanding of the world, their ability to work with others, to be kind, respectful, courteous, knowledgable, creative, imaginative, reasonable, logical, loyal, persevering, courageous, and faithful dependent on whether or not they learn the same things as everyone else at the same time in the same sequence and in the same way?
Oh yeah. That’s the entire point of homeschooling. What I really needed was just a reminder.
We teach what we feel is important in a way and time and place most conducive to learning for our own unique and individual children. Our kids are different, they learn in different ways, and they are interested in different subjects. They have strengths and talents that differ from even their own siblings, let alone the kids down the street or across town.
It is hard to be different. Even as an adult. And sometimes especially as a homeschooling adult. So sometimes I doubt whether what I am doing is right. Some moments it seems like it would just be easier to forget about all that I know and have experienced and do things the way everyone else does. My house would certainly be cleaner. (Ok, no it wouldn’t.) But I know too much and have experienced too much and I feel like we have benefited too much to go backwards.
Plus, my cute, growing-up-right-bef0re-my-eyes 8 year old can translate into English, label the parts of speech, and parse a Latin sentence. If nothing else, we’ve got that down.
(And just in case it is important, I got that cover image from google search which linked it to annasayce.com. I don’t know who she is or what she promotes. I just liked the picture :))