Fun vs. Joy in Homeschooling

I have totally given up on the idea that learning must be made fun for the student. It was an idea that ruled the first two years of our homeschooling and quite frankly, I’m a little bitter about it now.

I feel like in many ways I have short-changed my children and their abilities, because I did not throw the idea over long ago. Fortunately, childhood is forgiving and our recovery is going well.

homeschool love of learning fun

The reality is, much of learning, especially in skills subjects like reading, writing, and math is just plain hard work.

I am a firm believer in making sure the work we do is developmentally appropriate even if it is not on the same timeline as the schools around us. I am also a proponent of giving a child the time they need to master something.

And of course I always walk a fine line in determining which problems are problems of an academic nature and which are problems of will. Even there I tend to err on the side of resistance being an understanding issue instead of a behavioral one.

It’s not an easy task, but it is what I signed up for when I volunteered for this position. And one of my jobs as the homeschool mom is to help that student push through the tough spots, learn to persevere and even suffer a bit if needed for the greater reward that is to come.

My goal is to do that without losing my patience, which admittedly is still a work in progress.

You can read or listen to this post.

And yet, like any good teacher, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to make tough tasks more palatable to the grieving party. We sometimes play learning games. We use technology and video when appropriate. We read living books. We use curriculum with effective classical methods and no busywork.

Of all of these, though, I think the most effective guard against succumbing to the stress is joy.

We had gotten off to a bad start with the math lesson. He actually completed much of the math sheet by himself, but misunderstood the problems in the middle section. Instead of solving for the unknown, he had simply created subtraction problems instead.

I gently pointed out his error, erased the answers for him and even sat, pencil in hand, and wrote the correct answers as he told them to me; he knew them easily. None of that helped. A perfectionist, he was down on himself, and the tears continued to flow even as we switched to handwriting.

The old me would have worried, wrung my hands, or started mentally planning a fun unit, convinced he was going to lose his “love of learning.” How I hate that phrase.

But those activities and fun units were never effective. Learning was never retained.

It wasn’t until I discovered that true love of learning and joy comes from children feeling successful that our homeschooling efforts finally produced fruit. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. The tears come. Frustration sets in sometimes. But it’s the feelings of accomplishment that come after this frustration that offer the greatest rewards.

Hugs — no help. Soft words — no help. Cajoling — no help. Funny noises? Now we were onto something.

I told him that V was my very favorite letter because it tickles my lips when I make the sound. Then I demonstrated loudly until he joined in.

And I love V because it is shaped like a vase, which holds bee-yoo-ti-ful flowers. And W is even better because it holds two flowers. He started to crack. Could I draw the flowers? Sure I could. And I did in the V and the W when requested. (Which also reminded him of Watergate and President Nixon — which made me laugh?!?!)

And in a few minutes the horrible math sheet was forgotten, the handwriting lesson was a success, and we all were feeling good again.

If asked, I don’t think there is any way in the world he would tell you that handwriting was fun that day. And I’m ok with that. Because it was successful. And we laughed. And later he drew an entire page of V and W vases filled with flowers and gave it to me.

And tomorrow, tomorrow we will tackle another math sheet together, with as much grace and joy as we can muster.

Just a note that I don’t always handle these situations so gracefully. Even earlier this week I struggled with annoyance and a poor response. It’s a journey, and I continue to pray that good responses outweigh the bad. Not being perfect, that’s the best I can do.

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  • Jill Foley says:

    I really, really like this post – thank you for this. We haven’t officially started our year yet, partly because I’m not ready for the struggles. I think I’ll be coming back to this for encouragement in the near future!

  • Beautiful, and so well put! I spent the first few years of our homeschooling journey doing it all wrong. Then last year, for several reasons, we put our two oldest into school. It freed me from my hangup that everything had to be fun, relevant, individualized (within reason;) ), and that every time they sneezed I could say, “that counts for science!”. Sometimes, work just has to be done, even if you don’t want to, even if it isn’t fun or glamours, even if its difficult. It can be done. When I don’t require my children to work hard, I rob them of the satisfaction of a job well done, the feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that when work rears its head in the future, they know they’ll be able to tackle it because they’ve dnpone it before.

    • Pam says:

      Well put yourself! And you are so right. When I stopped trying to make every experience a lesson and just started doing lessons it was so liberating. We do our lessons and the rest of the time we just LIVE.And this: “When I don’t require my children to work hard, I rob them of the satisfaction of a job well done, the feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that when work rears its head in the future, they know they’ll be able to tackle it because they’ve done it before.” That is pure gold! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Erin says:

    >>I have totally given up on the idea that learning must be made fun for the student. It was an idea that ruled the first two years of our homeschooling and quite frankly, I’m a little bitter about it now.<< So, so relate, however I wasn’t as smart as you, it took me far, far longer than 2 years to wise up, so I wouldn’t be hard on yourself at all!! >>The old me would have worried, wrung my hands, or started mentally planning a fun unit, convinced he was going to lose his “love of learning.” How I hate that phrase.<<
    I’ve finally wised up enough to realise a love of learning can be found in a love of achievement/mastery, it just isn’t always as pretty getting there;) Don’t know that I hate the phrase I just think it needs altering, “a love of mastery”:)

    • Pam says:

      Hmmmm I am not sure. There are many things I love learning about that I am no where near to mastering. 😉

      And honestly, my goal IS love of learning or in another overused phrase, my goal is to build life-long learners. So it is not the outcome of the phrase that bothers me at all, but more what it has come to represent in schools and the homeschool community — that there should be no hardship on the way to learning or we are somehow failing the student or going to turn them off learning for life. The road has to be easy or we must immediately change the path to meet the student. Does that make sense?

  • Heidi says:

    LOVE this post. I completely agree.

  • This might be the most relevant (to our homeschool) post I’ve read in a very, VERY long time. Thank you for this. I’m so excited to have found you blog! I will now run around (like a nosy little person) and explore. 🙂

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Thank you Jennifer. Explore away. You are always welcome.

  • Elizabeth Hafferty says:

    Great post. I’m going to save and REREAD later. I’m sure I’ll need a reminder at some point. 🙂 Thanks.

  • D. Bourgeois says:

    Thank you for reiterating what the Lord told me years ago… that learning sometimes mean challenging- not fun. However, the greater the challenge, the greater the relief. Joy comes in the morning!

  • I feel the same way. Thankfully I recovered only 1 year in (1st grade now).
    Instead of focusing on making learning fun so she loves learning, I want to teach her HOW to learn: to go from not knowing something, being scared, being intimidated and then doing it any way. Being disciplined to do a little each day and then to get to the other side: the feeling you get when you did it! Once I switched to that goal: teaching her the skill of learning as opposed to the joy/fun of learning, it all went better and she did learn much more.

  • Aubrey Carey says:

    Im so so glad to read this. Im nearing the end of our first year homeschooling, with a 3rd grader. I “researched” way too much and spent the first half of the year trying to make everything “count”, trying to make sure he was enjoying school, trying to make it not look like school. We tried interest led learning but all that really got accomplished was he read a TON of books on his own. Which is good, but I feel like he is behind now. We are now using Teaching Textbooks math, and CLE Lang arts. He loves the math, hates doing lang arts. But I needed something simple and easy to see progress, and these are working.
    Im having a hard time getting a schedule nailed down and making him stop playing Legos, or working with his Dad on the farm, to “do school”, but I know it needs to be done.
    We are only halfway throughthe math and lang arts and Im thinking we will just adapt and do a 6 wk on/1 wk off schedule through the summer and into next yr, to catch up.
    Im looking forward to going back over my vision and goals, and planning our next year, along with the FB group starting June 5th.
    I sort of feel like Ive wasted our time trying to be something we aren’t, (why did I think my boy who hates writing, has a short attention span and just wants to be done with school and play would enjoy journaling, lapbooks, and interest led, “fun” activities?;) but all I can do now is use what I know he DOES enjoy to plan ahead for next year.

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