As a home educating parent, there is a constant tension between getting the children to do what one feels must be done, and wanting to make the most of the flexibility, freedom and 'unschoolishness' which home education allows. It is so hard not to threaten them into getting on with things and end up ruling with fear. For me, this tension is most often experienced in relation to my eldest son (9). He is very able. He can also be lazy. He likes to stay within his comfort zone, so will always (if given the choice) choose activities he knows he can do relatively easily. I struggle to know how far to push him, yet I know if I don't, no-one else will.
Knowing he enjoys painting, especially on big canvases, and as it has been some time since his last canvas painting project, I decided it was time to have another go. This is quite an undertaking. He was enthusiastic so I bought a canvas, and gave him his subject matter. To stretch him, and to bring together several strands of our learning, I proposed he paint the picture seen by the character 'Christian' in Bunyan's 'A Pilgrim's Progress'. I also suggested he look again at the work of Michelangelo, whose life we have been studying, and draw inspiration from that Renaissance master.
Now that might seem rather a tall order, but I know that he is perfectly capable of this task. However, a battle ensued. He declared, "I can't do it." I replied, "I know you can, which is why I have suggested it, so why not get started?" There were some tears, and he told me, "I feel like an idiot. I can't do it." I told him that is not at all the point of home education and, if that is how he feels, he may as well go back to school. I know he isn't an idiot and that is why I have given him this task. "I know you can do it," I pressed.
Well, it turned out that, although we had re-read the description of the picture from the book, he was struggling to envisage the pose, so he needed a model. I therefore sat for him holding my hands in the required position, whilst he sketched. His youngest brother watched, fascinated. "That is really good," he said, which was a boost to confidence.
And it was good. Now I am waiting to see how the finished painting looks. The artist is also a dreadful perfectionist (like his mother) so I was encouraged that he was able to rub out his sketch and rework it until he was happy with the result. "What would Michelangelo have done," I asked, "if he had made a mistake on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?"
"Painted over it," was his guess.
"Well then so can you," I told him.