Do You Think I’m a Circus Horse?


Many of my friends tell me that they could not home-school their kids – because even trying to make them do homework is difficult, because their children resist teaching when it comes from their mother. Things they readily accept in school is a problem at home – like the children in kindergarten who readily eats what is served, while being picky at home.

To me, this is not a sign of children who have a problem listening to their mothers, because our attachment “comes in the way”. To me – this is a sign that our children know that we will actually listen, we will actually take care to meet their individual needs. This is not a problem, it is exactly the way it should be. But how then do I teach – if I have exactly the same response from my child, when I try to teach him something? Well… I don’t.

What? You don’t teach him? How can you home-school if you don’t teach him? Well… I trust him.

Simple isn’t it? And yet so hard!

My son resists teaching – but not learning. Every time I slip in to the “teacher role” and either teach him or try to test him – he looks at me like I’ve just landed from Mars. We call it his “Do You Think I’m a Circus Horse?” look – and he has had it since he was not much more than a baby. And it is not just towards me, or his dad: Last summer a neighbor, who is a swimming teacher, tried to teach him to swim – and he immediately resisted. He complied in school, but soon became really depressed, he hated it. Even if his grandma tries to ease some teaching in through a fun game, he resists the minute he feels that the game is not equal – that there is a purpose with the fun.

So I trust him.

Most of the time, it is really easy: He knows more math and science than most 6 year-olds. He questions me daily on everything science related and I can persuade him to go on a really long hike in freezing cold Denmark if he thinks he might see a bat. We discuss numbers, math, dinosaurs, volcanoes, planets, Darwin, Teutonic plates and human anatomy as casually as we discuss his favorite TV-show. I see progress all the time.

But when it comes to reading it is hard… really hard… And I have not been so trusting always. His dad and I both learned how to read at 4. And we assumed that of course our son, the intelligent and fabulous, would do the same. But he didn’t – and at 6 he did not show any interest in the entire thing either. Most Spanish children know how to read before they start primary school at 6. So thinking that he would be in Spanish school, we were a little worried – an took it upon us to teach him. And we did – he could actually read by the time he started school last summer – or at least spell out words like “you”, “me”, “I”, “am” etc. (in Danish of course). The only problem was, that he hated it. Enter Spanish school system with biweekly dictates of words w. 3-4 syllables (yes in 1. grade) most of which had no actual use in the life of a 6 year old. Daily writhing of long sentences in cursive letters and he loathed the entire concept of learning to read, let alone write! No way – he would have nothing of it!

So how does he learn? Will he ever?

I have told his dad, and his grandma’ – that if he learns to read at 8 or 10 even – I will still not push. Luckily for me, I don’t think I will have to wait that long. Because learning is happening. It happens exactly the same way he learned to speak Danish, or English, or Spanish. The same way he is learning math and all those wonderful science things that he learns: Organically.

What does organic learning actually mean? I means that it is not linear, it means that it happens at his pace, it means that it happens in leaps. Most importantly it happens with me as a bystander, as an assistant – a consultant. I have downloaded a lot of programs for him on the iPad – and he is free to use them when he sees fit (he is also free to use any other program, regardless of whether I think he can learn anything from it), there is plenty of educational programs on the internet – and he is free to see them as he sees fit (he can also watch anything else, regardless of whether … etc.). We have workbooks lying next to the crayons – he can choose to work in them as he choose. I answer his questions, I sit down with him and play games if he wants, I write notes for him when he asks me to, and help him write his own notes when he wants me to. I do not try to make him spell out words if he asks me to read something – been there done that, got the “Do You Think I’m a Circus Horse?” look.

We have not done anything remotely like learning to read for a loooooooooong time – seriously long. My husband, and my mom were a little concerned – I told them to relax (and told myself the same in that passing too). And then – poco a poco as the Spanish say – stuff started happening. One day he says “Mom-mom-mom ‘I read, I read, I read: Papel!” Really sweetie, where – “there on the garbage-bin ‘P-A-P-E-L’: PAPEL!'” (it was a paper bin – it’s Spanish). A few days later he asks to help me write the gift-cards on his friends birthday-present. Then he starts asking stuff like: “What is a syllable?” “What is a vowel?” Or “Why can’t you say ‘did he egg?'” “What does that sign say?” “Will you write a note for me?” Then he asks me to download a reading game to the iPad – and he plays it for hours, and he sits down to watch programs that teach kids letters, the alphabet, and reading words. This last week he has been actively learning to read for hours and hours on end. He take a brake – plays with Pokemon or Transformers, or goes for a walk with me (looking for bats), watches Johnny Test. Then he returns – to the letters and the words. Will he learn how to read this time? Maybe, maybe not – but he has moved one step closer, and he is loving it all the way.

But if you try to test his new knowledge? He will look at you with that “Do You Think I’m a Circus Horse?” look – and you will know that getting into his brain is not gonna happen.

But if you let go, hang out with him, respect him and listen – he will probably offer some cool information, either on what he has learned about reading and letters today, or on what cool Johnny Test did in this last movie, or how the sucker on an octopus will still work even after it’s dead.

Try to put that in a standardised test… Or even a non-standardised one 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Do You Think I’m a Circus Horse?

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  1. Looks like he is starting on the reading, but the main advice from the traditional school system is to read aloud to them. Books, comics or whatever they find interesting. It’ll trigger their interest.

    1. Thanks! I’ve always read to him – never considered it ‘reading training’ – just parenting. But the past few months he hasn’t really been interested. Not until last weekend where I found a Pokemon wiki on the Internet: We spent all day looking up pokemons and reading about them. Inspiration comes from the most curious sources.

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