Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Educating Savages

I am a homeschooling mom.

How I wound up here, teaching these three little Savage boys instead of doing whatever it was I was supposed to do after 5 years of graduate school, I have no idea.

All I know is that it's a lot harder than it looks.

Not the school part, of course. The school part is actually quite easy and fun. We have a great Cyber-school curriculum and the kids are learning all kinds of cool and interesting things. My 1st grader spent the year learning about things like ancient Mesopotamia and art history. He already knew how to read and he was able to skip 1st grade math completely, so for those two reasons alone he was glad not to be stuck in a first-grade classroom all year long. My 4th grader is also a year ahead in math and spent a lot of time this year working on literature and composition, his weaker areas. We ALL started learning Spanish together. Teaching this stuff is loads of fun and I love doing it.

The hard part is the little Savages themselves.

Sitting them at a table together keeps them both within view and helps me answer their questions without having to run all over the house. So when they are doing independent work, this is where I like to keep them.

Unfortunately, the minute I turn my back to unload the dishwasher, wipe the bottom of the littlest Savage, or (gasp!) do something as daring as answer the phone, my quiet homeschooling kitchen-table of knowledge turns into a chaotic circus of pencil throwing, taunting faces, paper-stealing, and of course, tattling.

"He's making the loser sign at me!"

"He's tapping his pencil!"

"He won't stop making that popping sound!"

"He wrote on my paper!" "That's because he wrote on mine first!"

"Ow ow ow - he threw a pencil at me!"

"Ow Ow OW! He broke my arm and now I can't do my math!"

And that's all before I get the silverware unloaded.

Separating the boys solves this problem, but creates new ones. I used to be able to work together on the computer or at the table with one of my students while the other one played or worked quietly on his own.

That was before Little Savage turned 3.

I never could understand why the term "terrible twos" ever became part of the cultural lexicon - I think two-year-olds are the cutest, sweetest, funniest little things on two legs.

It's when they turn three that they become possessed by the Devil.

I'm not saying that they're possessed all the time - if that were the case, we wouldn't keep them. No, in order to secure themselves a continued presence in the household (or on the planet, for that matter) they cleverly intersperse their evil behavior between bouts of the most adorable behavior ever, and they look especially angelic while they are sleeping, so that even during the most frustrating moments, we still want to keep them around.

My own Little Savage has the most adorable little face, the sweetest little smile, and when he looks up at me with his big, innocent, blue eyes...

...I can almost forget for a minute that he has a death-grip on the hair of Numero Dos, who is screaming and writhing on the ground in a dramatic fashion befitting a persecuted middle child.

This Little Savage is, by far, my easiest child, I remind myself as I dive across the room to remove from him the broomstick he is wielding at his cowering brother. When you tell him "no" he says, "okay" and finds something else to do. When you say it's time to go, he takes your hand and leaves. When you tell him to share a toy, he cheerfully walks over and offers it to another child. He's a sweet, amiable little guy who loves to give hugs and kisses and loves everyone.

Especially his brothers.

When he's done pulling their hair and throwing heavy toys at their heads, he gives them a big squeeze and a kiss and says with total sincerity, "I'm thorrwy!"

Having such a child certainly livens up the day, but also makes for a logistical nightmare when trying to teach two others. If I am working with Numero Dos, Numeros Uno and Tres do pretty well together, as Uno at age 10 is almost as big as I am and can control the Baby Savage with brute force if necessary.

Numero Dos doesn't do as well when left alone with said Baby Savage. He will let himself be pummelled, pinched, pulled and provoked until he is screaming and crying, but he won't leave. We've pointed out to him that even the dog, who is 65 steps lower than him on the evolutionary ladder, knows to get up and move when the baby starts to pull on his ears, but it's no use. Needless to say, Numero Uno has not had the level of individual attention I would have liked to have given him this year.

He doesn't mind, of course. Especially when we're right in the middle of something as exciting as finding out the area of a triangle and I have to leave to go break up another fight. When I finally return to resume our lesson, nine times out of ten he's gone and I have to spend the next 20 minutes a)finding him, b)getting him to stop the new activity he has started and c)convincing him that he still doesn't know how to figure out the area of a triangle and that he needs to come back.

By now it's time for another fight between the other two, so at this point it is often easier to rationalize that playing fetch with the dog is actually as educational as calculating area would have been anyway.

Which is my theory on the invention of unschooling.

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