Andrew’s freckled nose scrunched. His eyes glanced upward. He swung his feet back and forth, first in unison and then alternately. Despite his recent growth spurt, those feet didn’t reach the kitchen floor yet. He had chosen the bench opposite the windows and when I glanced away, he stole peeks outside. Swing the feet. Scrunch the nose. Look outside. Yet the notebook page in front of him sat blank.
“You can’t think of anything to describe, Andrew?” I pleaded. “All I am looking for is one paragraph describing something. That is the point of the assignment – it's called descriptive writing. It’s really the first thing for you to learn. Once you know how to describe something, then we can move on to other assignments.” His legs continued to swing. “How about a toy? Want to run and get one of your Rescue Hero guys and you can set him up here in front of you and describe him?”
“Not really,” Andrew said.
His pencil dropped to the floor and he disappeared under the table to retrieve it. Now it was my turn to steal a look out the window. I didn’t know how much longer I could afford to sit here offering my second grader encouragement to write. The silent counting of the digital clock on the stove was my task master. Andrew’s writing curriculum had sat untouched week after week. I had carved these minutes out of my busy homeschool day to give it some undivided attention.
His voice echoed up from under the table, full of hope, “Mom, can I write a letter to Matt instead?”
I slammed the teacher’s book closed. “No Andrew!” I nearly shouted. “One paragraph! That is all I’m asking for! One paragraph describing one thing. Why can’t you cooperate?”
He stayed under the table. Silent. I scrunched his paper into a ball while pushing my chair back. The wooden ladder-back whacked the cabinet behind me, harder than I expected. The sound split my heart. This was not how I had planned the time. I had not planned for it to end in frustration. But there were lessons to teach, dinner to start; the baby would be waking soon. I didn’t have time for being unproductive. I pitched his blank paper towards the trash.
Bending over, I looked under the table. “Let’s try again tomorrow, ok?” I said to the Indian sitting cross-legged on the linoleum.
“Sure, Mom,” he responded. The voice was flat. His enthusiasm for writing anything, even one paragraph, had been thrown away with his blank notebook paper.
I sighed. It seemed this was the pattern for most of my efforts teaching writing in our homeschool. I started each new curriculum hopeful that the cycle of defeat would change for both my student and me. With each curriculum, I looked for something that would finally work, allowing children to produce original sentences, paragraphs, essays, and reports.
The Indian scrambled out of his makeshift tent and set off looking for the rest of his tribe. We’d try again tomorrow.