Some days it seemed like we were never going to go one lesson of math without tears, anxiety, frustration and an all around melt-down with loud declarations of “I’m just stupid!” All of fourth grade, my daughter Joy just couldn’t get past the huge hurdles of mathematics (whether real or imagined). Every new concept felt like the next wave of an army of numbers marching with the intent to destroy her while she was still weak from the previous battle of the last math lesson. We barely made it half-way through the book and we both ended the year feeling a little more than defeated.
I began my lesson plans for this new 2017-18 school year with an audit of our previous school year. I sat down to see where we had done well and where we fell behind. Of course, when it came to math I just knew in my heart that I was going to have to make Joy repeat 4th grade math. Part of the struggles we faced the year before had a lot to do with pride. We had many heart to heart talks about pride and how much her frustrations with not doing well in math stemmed from a root of pride in her own heart (and frankly mine as well. As we all know, our children are wonderful mirrors reflecting our own sinful tendencies right back at us. Our God is very clever that way). I wondered out how she would respond to me telling her now that we would have to repeat 4th grade math all over again instead of moving on to 5th grade.
I decided to sit each of the kids down privately and hear what their thoughts were on our previous school year. What did they think were successes and exciting experiences? And what did they feel they struggled with the most? And what should we do to help them succeed this year?
When it was Joy’s turn I listened to her tell me of how much she loved history and how she was excited to start learning creative writing this year because she had all these wonderful ideas for stories (which was a true victory from our 3rd grade year because that year journaling and creative writing were the bane of her existence.).
Then we came to the big question of assessing our struggles. She of course professed that math was her biggest trial; that she felt defeated and all around HATED MATH. What came out of her mouth next I wasn’t at all expecting and was a gift from our gracious God showing His work in her heart over the past year – not in the area of bettering her math skills, but healing an area of deep pride and humbling her soul. She said that she felt it would be best if she repeated 4th grade math – that it really was the only way she would feel confident moving forward and to just jump ahead to 5th grade math because she was now “in 5th grade” would only bring more confusion and defeat. I was astonished at the maturity that was flowing from this not quite 10 year old girl! I was so thankful in that moment for what God was doing to bring her out of an identity built on her intelligence and accomplishments and resting in the fact that she may not be best at everything right way – but she knew that the only way to get better was to go back and keep trying.
That moment started our journey from tears to cheers!
We started out this school year a little apprehensive about math. My inner-self cringed to think of how this might turn out…but we dove right in and I was oh so very pleasantly surprised. Everything that made her head spin last year came right together in the first lesson! She was grasping new concepts left and right! And her attitude and confidence have done a total 180 degree turn! After 2 months of school she now leaps up ready for action when it’s time for math. This week we doubled up on lessons each day because she felt confidently that she was ready to start moving ahead a little faster in the review because she can’t wait to get to new information. She begged me to let her do 3 lessons this Friday, but I didn’t want to jump ahead too fast so I said no. So she went back to past lessons (on her own) and did extra questions I didn’t make her do in prior weeks. There is about 30 questions each lesson and I only make her do 15 so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed. She went back and did all the questions I didn’t make her do prior FOR FUN! It’s like she’s a totally different child!
And the real rejoicing doesn’t necessarily have to do so much with understanding the math – although that is a significant victory. It has to do with the change in her heart and mind. It is rejoicing over how God has used this experience to draw Joy and I closer together and closer to God. How He has used this struggle of mathematics to reveal the pride in both our hearts and show us where our identities were falsely lying (for Joy, being the perfect student and for me, being the perfect homeschool teacher). It’s this victory that truly made all the difference – and it’s by His infinite grace we have truly gone from tears to cheers!