You may want your child to do all 100 math problems, even though she did the same kind of problems yesterday, and got them all correct. Your child may cry. You may let them move ahead, or you might say no, you need to complete the course as written, it will only make you stronger. More practice makes you better.
Or you may be pushing your child forward, even though she missed half of the problems from yesterday’s lesson, you are moving onto the next thing. That is what the curriculum does, and after all, it was written by experts who know better than you. But the experts don’t know your child. They don’t know how much repetition your child needs before they have mastered a concept and are ready to move on. It is the job of the curriculum to provide as much material as you may need.
You don’t have to be an expert to know when to skip and when to repeat lessons with your child. You just have to trust your child’s brain. To help you do that, we will dive into the amygdala, which can teach us why it is so important for your child to be in between the states of boredom and frustration when it comes to learning.
When sensory data goes into your brain it must pass through the emotional core, or limbic system, the amygdala is a part of this system. This emotional part of the brain acts like a filter, deciding whether the sensory input will be allowed access into the higher brain, and also where that information will be sent. To get the information all the way up into the higher area’s of the brain where it can be understood, processed, and saved into our amazing memory banks, we have to pass the test of these filters.
What happens when a child is stressed out and frustrated while they are trying to learn? Perhaps they are frustrated because they are bored, having to do more and more assignments covering the same information that they already know. Or maybe they are frustrated because they did not understand the last concept, but the curriculum has moved on, now they have no idea what is going on. In either situation, if the child is upset enough to enter stress mode, their emotional filters will divert all information away from the higher thinking brain and into the fight or flight automatic centers of the brain. Learning is essentially shut-off.
On the other hand, if your child is interested and relaxed the emotional filters will send the information up to the thinking brain where it can be processed and stored. Keeping children relaxed and interested sometimes seems like trying to walk on water. However, the key is to keep learning consistently at the next level of ability. When they need to move on to the next concept, let them. If they want to skim over several chapters and take the test because they have learned the content before, let them. They will also know when they need to slow down. When they need to hear the same concept again, maybe taught a different way. They will practice without boredom or frustration when they are in their sweet learning spot. This sweet spot is something no curriculum can predict. It is the place between too easy and too hard.
This is our job as teachers. To know the pace our child needs, to move ahead, or stutter, according to the needs of their brain. To keep them relaxed, they need to feel like they will be able to understand what is taught and that they will be able to move forward and learn more interesting things as soon as they are ready. This means they expect to understand, and therefore, their emotional filter routes the information to the higher brain. Of course, we cannot always predict when a concept will be to hard, or when we need to speed up to keep things intersting. However, if a child knows they can usually pick up the new concept, they will stay relaxed for longer before entering a panic state. If they know there is a teacher or parent they can count on to go over the concept again and again, and explain it in different ways, and that they will be given the time and space they need to get it, before moving to the next step, they can go through the process of feeling lost without panicking, because they know from experience, someone will help them find their way.
In the end boring worksheets, sometimes referred to as busy work, turn our kids brains off. They enter a state of stressed boredom and their emotional filters turn on the reactive survival brain. This is not a healthy state for our children’s brains to be in on a frequent basis. When they are in this state, their brain is actually blocking them from learning. So let’s be in tune with the brain, and feed it what it craves, interesting content on the right level. Don’t be afraid to tweak the curriculum to meet the needs of your child’s brain.
To learn more about how children learn check out the book: How Your Child Learns Best by Judy Willis, MD, Med. She not only explains the workings of the brain and learning in an easy to understand way, but the book is also full of hands-on strategies to use with your child. It is a great book for both homeschoolers and parents helping their kids with homework.