Friday, December 5, 2008

Two Peas at Opposite Ends of the Same Pod

Homeschooling is wonderful for many reasons. One of them is the ability we  parents have to free our children from cookie-cutter education.  While a school teacher is pretty much limited to treating a classroom of thirty-five students as one body, a homeschooler has the distinct advantage of molding the schedule, the curriculum, and the surroundings around each of her children's particular physical, emotional, and educational needs.  We have been doing this officially for nine years, and I am just starting to figure it out.  Does that mean the previous years were wasted because I didn't know what I was doing?  No, I don't think so.  It means that the differences in my kids' personalities are just now beginning to really show. 

My first two daughters' personalities are at opposite poles.   Alizona is afflicted with perfectionism.  At night, Alizona pulls her covers neatly and smoothly up to her chin.  No wrinkles.  She makes her bed perfectly first thing in the morning, and she can't stand to have her things out of place.  She is the cook who most definitely needs a recipe, and it had better NOT be one of those that only lists the ingredients.  She wants to know what kind of bowl to use, which ingredients are mixed when, and exactly how big you are supposed to make your cookie dough scoops.  She crocheted an afghan for herself last year, and it is beautiful -- completely square and even, with not a visible mistake.  Her goal is a perfect end-product or a 100% grade.

Booklover, on the other hand, is no perfectionist.  She doesn't even have her covers tucked in at the foot of her bed.  At bedtime she flops the blanket over herself, and nevermind if her arms and legs are sticking out.    In the morning Booklover rolls her blanket up into a ball and stuffs it into the corner at the head of the bed, along with her pile of pillows.  The bed looks neat because only the fitted sheet is showing, but it is NOT made according to Hoyle!  And as for the rest of her stuff, well, it is half-way organized chaos.  And she would be sooo happy if I would let her loose in the kitchen.  Once she experimented by mixing rice, pencil shavings, flour, food coloring, pepper, a bit of water, and a variety of herbs and spices, and cooking it for a bit.  It didn't magically turn into anything edible, but it was fun. Who needs a recipe?!  For Booklover, the process and the goal are one.  She would have a ball learning to sew something for herself without using a pattern.

So you can imagine, can't you, which of these girls likes the objective orderliness of math, and which one can't stand to be locked into one method of solving a problem?  Which one just can't stand to have to answer a question beginning with "why", and which one loves to answer the same question with a very out-of-the-box response?  Which one enjoys experimenting in the kitchen? And which one wants install more RAM in her computer? Which one is creating little felt people, and which one is organizing and re-organizing the music on her iPod? Which one studies quietly at her desk, and which one stands at the ironing board with her math book, a bottle of glue, a pair of scissors, and a little pile of fabric?

Alizona loves math.  Math has right answers that never change. There is only one right way to do it.  There are rules to follow, and no decisions to make.  She would benefit greatly from a boxed curriculum such as ACE.  With lessons being grouped in PACEs, she would be able to see her progress. She would know exactly what she must accomplish in school each day.  She would love the organization!   Give her all true-or-false, mulitple choice, or fill-in-the blank questions. She would love to have her own bedroom, a haven where she could shut out the noise of a large family, and concentrate on her work.  Alizona needs lists to survive, and, is this weird or what -- she envisions numbers and letters in different colors (for example, she'll say, "Five is yellow.") and they make orderly designs in her head. (If you don't understand this, you are not alone.)  She wakes up completely with the alarm, and she asks permission about EVERYTHING.

Booklover struggles with math.  It's too orderly.  She doesn't mind following rules if she understands why the rules are there.  (While it is important to understand the why's behind math, I admit there are some days when I just don't care if she gets the why's -- just follow the rule!  Subtract always means to add the opposite.  Period.)  And in order for her to remember the rule, she has to know why it works.  Since she can't get that subtraction rule right now, we are stuck in "undoing" algebraic problems that involve integers.  One of these days she is going to get it... but in a classroom the teacher wouldn't be able to wait for her.   Booklover flies by the seat of her pants skirt (like her mom), sleeps in,  and is haphazard about her chores and other responsibilities. Her philosophy regarding permission is basically do it and THEN ask if it's okay.

Since I have only four students, and not thirty-five, I don't see any point  OR any advantage, where their best interest is concerned, in making all of my children learn the same thing in the same way.  Alizona's school curriculum is currently made up of Rod and Staff science, Teaching Textbooks Algebra I (I quote, "I love Algebra! Teaching Textbooks is WONDERFUL, MARVELOUS, AND SUPER-DUPER GREAT!!!!!!"), What Ever Happened to Penny Candy?, Landmark's Bible Doctrines class, and some reading from The Annals of the World. (Bad choice, that word, "some".  She needs to know exactly how much!)  She is also writing a work of fiction, which I am counting for grammar and creative writing.  She feels very comfortable learning the same way most other kids do in a classroom.

Booklover, on the other hand, Hates (note the capital "H") reading from textbooks and answering questions.  She also does Teaching Textbooks for math, but she disdains the videos.  Her science lessons consists of watching Robert Krampf's Experiment of the Week, sometimes repeating it herself in my kitchen, and then writing a short report on what the experiment involved and what it demonstrated.  We started with some keyboarding software but she found it to be "soooo booooring".  I remedied that by volunteering her to type Word documents from the hand-written or typed stories that author Susan Marlow wrote in her childhood, so that "Suzy Scribbles" can post them on her blog.  Booklover is now having a blast with typing!  For history she is reading several chapters of either a book from the old Landmark History series or  the We Were There series. Her creative outlet is making something with her hands, whether it be food or fluff.  I tell you, she is having so much fun that I almost feel guilty calling this "school", but I am so happy to finally have found some ways for her to learn and enjoy herself at the same time!! 

I have two more girls coming up behind these opposites.  Hopefully they will both be somewhere in the middle, and I will not be thrown for a loop, trying to understand another extreme.  But if they do have their own extremes, I will be so thankful to have their education in my own hands.  After all, my goal is not to have them learn everything that some bureaucrat decided all kids must know, but to guide them in finding the talents and strengths that God gave each of them individually, and in the things HE wants each them to know. Sometimes that is not easy, but it's right.  (When was doing the right thing ever easy?)  I have the promise of God's guidance and his provision, and the peace of knowing I am doing the best thing for the children he loaned me.   



  1. I am a mix of Alison and Amy put together. LOL


  2. Oh forgive me, but I find it all a bit exhausting, mentally. I mean I know it's important to know their learning styles but somedays I wish they would all just get it at the same time. I think I burned off far too many brain cells as a young adult or maybe I'm that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type personality that just doesn't get the kiddo that has to have everything perfect...and she does. I'm getting better though at teaching to their strengths and I know that I have their best interest at heart as opposed to the public school system. Fortunately God is continuing to strengthen me in the role of teacher and give me discernment as to how my kiddos are wired. I think it is important that we are able to be flexible too, something else He is working into me. Great Post! Blessings, Julie

  3. You can have a blase ending (not that I think this was one) when you have such a great post! I so enjoyed reading of your girls' differences and how that impacts every single thing they do. This was practical and inspirational all at the same time. I blogged recently (like yesterday) about how posts like these bless me. My two older children are opposites as well, and like you, I am still coming to terms with how to guide them in learning and developing their own strengths. I think this is a gift that most teachers do not have; not only do they have to teach 35 kids, but they treat them as if they are one student. This means that if you don't hit the middle of the road, you're either frustrated at what is moving too slow, or overwhelmed at something that's moving too fast. We can slow down or speed up, and knowing when to do what only comes with much prayer, divine guidance, and a keen ear to your children. God bless you for sharing, my friend.

  4. Reading their blogs... that is them!! =) That is somewhere between VERY funny, beautiful, and normal!!! Love it!! LOL. How wonderful to let their personalities free to bloom in their parent's sanctuary...

    Oldschoolmarm, I hope I don't burn off to many brain cells before I get my own troop of children!! (or was that a joke!) How is that done?? Grinding into algebra?? Ha! (who do I sound like here?!) I am somewhere inbetween the two girls, maybe a little more like the second one. =( (Shhh!)

    You must be a very interesting person, having done all those things in a long previous post... sorry, I haven't been here for a long time a caught up. I think. I wonder how many of those my Mom did? She was a plenty interesting person to live with, so with all those "accomplishments" or whatever you wish to call them, under your belt, I'm sure you are (or could be? I love written speculation and fasiciousness) a captivating teacher, LOL. Now that I'm on the subject of teaching... did I spell that word right??!

  5. You made Alizona sound like the ideal child-- completely up with the alarm!!!! Hmmmm... seems to me she wrote something about having to clean up her desk not too long ago?? =) Correct?

  6. This is too funny, my husband was the same way (at least with numbers) as a kid - he tells about how each number was a specific color and on top of that they had personalities...certain numbers were good and others were bad...some would fight each other etc. I always thought he was the only one who did that...but apparently he isn't! I will have to let him know he's not alone :-)


  7. I've heard people say that numbers are different colors... but that hasn't been my experience.

    This was a great post. I have to say that I'm a "fly by the seat" kind of lady - but Blondie is one that likes the rules. She's up with her alarm, starts her school promptly at 9am and goes through it systematically until it's done.

    I have no idea what Red will do when he gets old enough....

  8. ChristinethecuriousJanuary 6, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    Wow! What a transparent post. Great job on characterizing your kids learning styles and modeling the ways you are teaching them.

    As another learner like Booklover who has a hard time remembering mathematical procedures unless I completely understand the "whys" behind it, may I suggest a strategy that will take some of the frustration out of it for you? Check out your library for history of math books, math puzzle books, and the books recommended by Julie B at

    If you give Booklover the assignment of checking out alternative explanations for procedures she is stuck on, she may find interesting and ultimately profitable side lines and bunny trails in mathematics that will loop back and help her out. Patricia Kentschaft's Math Power ( might be a good read for her too, even though it is written to parents, as are the Marilyn Burns books. (which are hysterically funny, especially the Turkey Dinner chapter in Math: Facing an American Phobia

    I didn't know until late high school that there were math books besides text books, until my trig teacher assigned us a research paper to write. Many of the helpful tutoring kinds of books are written to break things down step by step - not really inspiring for someone who wants the whys - or how can functions help me knit something funky for my felt people? Look for books written for grownups who love math - they are easier to understand than the lets endure this awful math class together sort of book.

    Higher math will actually come easier for her than the arithmetic she is currently battling, as long as she doesn't give up.


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