UNDERDOG, ALPHA-DOG OR SLY DOG
In our family I’ve been homeschooling my children for four years. I started with Margeaux when she was of preschool age, and she has thrived with this educational style. Way back then we began learning the colors and shapes by studying Disney animation, carried on through Disney-centered phonics and math, and then we studied the countries represented in Epcot’s World Showcase. She currently devours advanced Disney-adopted literary classics like Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins even though she is in the first grade, so it is obvious she has been served well with our choice to homeschool. However, Miller has been struggling with his studies at home lately, and it has given me cause for concern.
Miller started off brilliantly when he was three (much like his sister). In some subjects he was on track to surpass her achievements, but now . . . . not so much. Of course in any style of education, there will be good days and there will be bad days. In recent weeks, though, I loathe to admit that the bad ones have been coming in greater numbers. It has made me pause at times to re-evaluate whether we will continue on our homeschool path or transition to institutionalized education.
While our family is a homeschooling family, I am not a hard-core homeschool-mom. Unlike that brand of mom, I am not one to extol the “superior virtues” of this educational form over others. The reason is I firmly believe the best style of education is different for various families, children, locations, circumstances and times. So far these variables have always pointed us to homeschooling, but discerning what is best for our family now seems more challenging since this recent change in Miller.
“Come on, Miller,” I instruct. “Let’s see if we can get a little further today.” Miller drags his unwilling body to his school desk, and I take my place at the front of the room near the board. After the routine declaration of our country’s pledge and one round of that world-peace promoting song, “it’s a small world,” we sit to discuss our daily work.
“Today we are going to continue with reading skills, arithmetic combinations, writing, science and geography,” I explain in a cheerful tone that is of Cast Member quality in Mickey’s land. The look on Miller’s face is one of pure torture, and I overcompensate for his lack of enthusiasm with my best toothy smile and animated behavior. “Let’s look up on the board here at some sentences I’ve written. Can you read them out loud for me?” I inquire. With a heavy sigh Miller stammers, “The d-du-duck is m-ma-duh-mad.” It is painful to listen, and I have difficulty understanding his regression. Just a month ago, Miller could have read this sentence without hesitation. “Yes, the duck is mad. Good job,” I encourage, “Let’s try the next one.” “The ri-ri-rid,” Miller stutters. “Oops! There are two vowels in that word,” I remind. Miller corrects himself, “Ride. The ride is f-fu.” Miller wrinkles his face in disgust. “Mom, I don’t want to do this,” he whines.
My heart is broken for him. He is clearly struggling. I suggest, “Maybe we should review. Let’s go through the alphabet and recite our phonics.” In a deadpan voice Miller says, “A says ah for Abu , B says buh for Beast, C say cuh for Clarabelle, D says duh for Donald . . . .” As he goes through the whole Disney alphabet, I am relieved that he has at least retained his preschool material.
“OK,” I say as I regroup, “Are you ready to try the sentence again?” Miller shakes his head, looks out the window at the beautiful spring day and asks, “Can we do something else?” I consider his request, I am not normally one to bend to whim, but I acknowledge that one advantage of homeschooling is flexibility. Perhaps on this occasion I should give a little and accommodate my frustrated underdog.
“Alright,” I relent, “Let’s work on geography.” As I pull out my teaching aides, I cheerfully instruct, “As you know we’ve been studying Canada which is our country’s northern neighbor. It is represented on the extreme right side of Epcot’s World Showcase and is the home of . . . .” I pause for Miller to finish my sentence, but he just gives me a blank stare. “Kenai and Koda of Brother Bear,” I declare. Why does he not remember? We’ve been discussing this basic knowledge for at least a week. As I go over once again the particulars about Canada’s terrain, cultural diet, official languages and government, Miller doesn’t seem to retain any of it.
My concern is growing into bewilderment. What if he is learning disabled? I am an intelligent girl who’s completely capable of teaching a kindergartner, but I have no training in special education. Perhaps I am unfit to meet the needs of Miller. It’s been a month since I’ve noticed his academic decline. Have I missed the key window of opportunity in recovering him from his mental deficit?
A new logical thought comes to me and strikes terror in my heart. There was obvious progress made behaviorally and academically when my children’s health improved. What if this is a sign that a new health problem has cropped up? I begin to feel slightly ill as my imagination lists various potential ailments for my consideration. Will my son be alright? Will our lives be further disrupted by therapies and interventions? What does this mean for our Disney vacation? I feel myself go pale with fright.
I am pulled out of my thoughts by Miller. “Can I go outside and play,” he asks as he notes my change in demeanor. I feel inclined to give my consent. I don’t think I can teach right now anyway, for I’m suddenly nauseous and may need to vomit. I hold up my finger to gesture that he should wait on my response, and I sit in silence momentarily as I attempt to sort my thoughts.
Miller is impatiently kicking his foot against his desk, waiting for an answer when Margeaux appears. She has school worksheet in hand and, obviously, is here to ask for some assistance. However, she sets eyes on the board and says, “Oh! Those sentences are easy.” Miller sits straight up. His eyes widen, and he stiffens as if the hair on the back of his neck is bristling. I have seen this behavior from Miller a time or two before in Margeaux’s presence.
Being the oldest and a high achiever, Margeaux has always taken a leadership role amongst my brood. As a result, she is admired and respected by her younger siblings. However a few times now I have seen Miller move into a competitive mode in response to her, and he has even made Margeaux follow his lead on occasion. I’ve rationalized that though he is a middle child, he is also the male of my offspring. This has made me suppose these small measures of competitiveness are actually small steps toward the alpha-dog position.
As Margeaux opens her mouth to read the first sentence, Miller blurts with the speed of Disney’s 1935 Max Hare, “The duck is mad!” I raise one eyebrow as I look at my eager guy. Curiously I petition, “Margeaux, why don’t you read the next one?” Miller beats her to it and verbally gushes, “The ride is fun!” “Hmmmm,” I wonder. With a bit of a condescending tone I say, “That was good Miller, but now I’m going to write a sentence for Margeaux. It will be too hard for you.” I quickly scroll across the board a statement with a word that is not phonetically pronounced nor one that I have attempted to teach before. Margeaux sneers in Miller’s direction. Miller growls back. When I finalize my sentence clearly with a period, Miller yells, “THE MOUSE HAS RED PANTS!”
Both Margeaux and I stand with mouths agape and in shock. My hopeful alpha-dog is actually a sly dog. All this time he has cleverly disguised his laziness as ignorance. By design, he has purposefully been frustrating me in hopes of negotiating an early recess. Spring fever has overtaken him, and he will do anything to get outside.
I note that two can play at this game. “Well, Miller,” I proclaim, “You seem quite good at reading, but most people don’t excel in reading AND math. Let’s see how you do.” His little nose wrinkles with determination. He is going to show Margeaux that he’s got what it takes. “I have one Mickey balloon, and Daddy buys me one more Mickey balloon. How many Mickey balloons do I have?” “Two,” Miller responds. “Well, that was easy,” I explain, “I’ll give you a tougher one. In Walt Disney World there is one Magic Kingdom, one EPCOT Center, one Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and one Disney’s Animal Kingdom. How many theme parks are there?” Without hesitation he declares, “Four.” I find myself impressed and decide to test the boundaries once again. “I have one more question. If you get this right, then I will let you take a break.” Miller agrees and looks poised to pounce on the word problem. “I have a 3-day park ticket, but I only use one day. How many days do I have left?” “Two,” Miller exclaims and jumps out of his desk.
We gather everyone and head to the yard. As I supervise my little scholars outside and watch them work The Wiggles out of their systems, I marvel over the way I was duped by my little guy. He had momentarily tricked me into thinking he needed a lower standard, but in reality he needed more of a challenge. I’ll have to keep my eye on him in the future. That kid is no saintly Ol’ Yeller. He is a mischievous little Scamp.
*for ideas on incorporating Disney into your homeschool curriculum contact NDM#1 at firstname.lastname@example.org