The Constant Challenge: Challenge

The most common, most recurring challenge in our homeschool is challenge itself. There’s a sweet spot in which I want my kids to be working. Neither too easy, nor too hard, ideally they’d be always working just on the edge of their zone of competence, to borrow a term from a book I read recently.

If I err towards something that is easy, I risk boredom. In our house, boredom with schoolwork often results in dawdling, a poor attitude, and, somewhat paradoxically, taking too much time to complete assigned work.

If, on the other hand, I err towards something that is too challenging, I risk frustration. I risk tears, exclamations of an inability to complete the work, and possibly a cessation of all effort.

To complicate matters further, a tired, hungry, or thirsty child often looks similar to a child who is being asked to do something too challenging. On occasion, the tired child will look like the bored child.

I admit, even after all this time, I sometimes miss the signs of something being too easy. This time of year, it’s all too frequent that my kids are tired or working their immune systems hard to keep illness at bay. I know that EG usually takes a cognitive leap between mid-December and the end of February, and things that were just right only weeks previous become far too easy in a matter of days. I know this, and still I can miss it.

Of course, there is a time and a place for “boring” work. We must review math facts. We must continue to analyze the grammar of a sentence, no matter how many sentences we’ve analyzed previously. We must recite the poetry we’ve already memorized, lest we forget it. Books that seem easy need to be read, to increase speed and fluency. The problem comes when nearly everything begins to fall under the category of “easy” and “boring.”

I would argue there is even a place for the thing that is just slightly “too” challenging. To work at a problem or text, to grapple with it, and to emerge victorious – this, of course, is the stuff from which self-esteem is truly made. Still, that’s the place for a challenge problem at the end of a chapter of math, for instance. The bulk of a day’s work needs to hit that sweet spot, even as a small fraction of it is spent grappling, and another small fraction is spent on the “boring” and the review.

Hitting the sweet spot, of course, is not exactly easy. Even in one subject, it can be difficult, but multiply the problem across multiple children and multiple subject, and it’s no wonder I occasionally have dreams about magical new curricula, and more diligent children.

What do you do to hit the sweet spot with your child or children? How do you balance the need for all three types of material, albeit in varying proportions? And, let’s admit it – how often do you think “I coulda had a V8!” because you’ve been ignoring the evidence staring you in the face (again)?


Tifani said...

I wasn't sure how to respond your question about the Ponyo doll on my blog. Email me at tifanij at bellsouth dot net. I'm mathmom on the WTM forum.

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