In school Andrew and I have been doing an extensive unit on the weather. He’s been interested in weather for a while now and a friend of mine recently gave him a Solar System book that renewed his interest in Outer Space (Thanks Marlorie! We love it!).
So last week, in a stroke of teaching genius, I combined weather and the Solar System for a few days. We read about how the Earth’s orbit around the sun is what makes the seasons change. He latched onto this idea and sucked the very marrow out of it. I read him a simple story that unfolds over the four seasons and we set up a model Sun and Earth for him to use while I read the story. He put the Earth on one side of the sun for “Spring” and as the seasons changed in the story, he slowly moved the Earth a quarter of the way around the Sun until it was “Summer”. He continued moving the Earth for the rest of the book, hitting the marks for each season as I read. I could tell as he was doing this that he totally understood this weirdo, abstract concept.
On Friday, I took the focus of our weather lessons from Science to Literacy. I read him a very simple book about a girl building a snowman and then at the end of the story I asked him, “Andrew, is there anything in this book that reminds you of something that YOU’VE done?” Good readers, I used to tell my students, connect their lives with the text and connect the text with their lives. My students never, ever had a hard time with this line of questioning. It was as natural to them as breathing. Not so with Andrew.
He squirmed. He paced back and forth at the table. He whined. He argued with me about the question. He wanted to answer it, but it was painful watching him try. There was no clear cut answer. He could not say “no, nothing like that has ever happened to me” because that’s not true. He has built a snowman. But he couldn’t say yes either. His experience was SOOO different from the book. HOW could he POSSIBLY answer this question?
I gave him a piece of paper folded in half and asked him to draw something that happened in the book on one side and something that happened to him on the other side. Then I left him to go make lunch.
He came in the kitchen a little while later with two snowmen drawn: one right side up (on the book side) and one upside-down (on his side). We talked more about how different his experience was from the book. Parts were the same and parts were different. And that that’s okay. It’s not going to be exactly the same. It can’t be.
It was fascinating to me to watch this boy, who a few days before was able to demonstrate the earth’s orbit affecting our seasons, not be able to make a simple comparison with this simple book. And not only was it hard for him to do it, it made him upset to try. He didn’t just say “I don’t know”, or ignore me, or go with a non sequitur, his favorite you’ve-asked-a-weird-question response. He wrestled fiercely with it wanting to answer and not wanting to answer at the same time while I just sat there watching him.
I am so cruel.
One of the things I really like about homeschooling is how individualized it is. I can teach Andrew at his level and I can teach him about the things that interest him. We can dissect the universe and learn obscure facts about Jupiter’s moons and really dive into the things that he enjoys. And then, when he least expects it, I can pull one of my tricks. One of my let’s-take-about-books-in-an-abstract-way doozies. And send him reeling. Just a little. Enough to stretch him the littlest bit. And then safely return to facts about the sun’s temperature.
He may never be well-rounded. He’ll probably always prefer science, math and logic to literary analysis and second language learning, but it won’t be for lack of me trying. I feel pretty stubborn about this kind of thing.
Andrew and I made this paper mache Earth as a model to use to talk about the Earth’s poles, spin and orbit. We are planning on covering it in clouds and showing what the weather is like in different parts of the world right now.