Week one of home school was overall pretty great.
Week two...not so much. We battled resistance, rebellion, and tears all week long.
We planned so many very fun activities that any eight year old would love (so we thought). We had Ivelina making E's out of elbow macaroni, writing E's in shaving creme on her desk, making elephant masks, listening to books on CD, and counting elephant stomps. It was going to be a fun week!
Yet, Ivelina has it in her mind that she does not want to do school. As soon as her bottom hits her desk chair, she feigns helplessness and whines and cries her way through activities that are actually really fun! Sometimes, we even suspected that deep down she really liked the activity and wanted to get into it, but she had determined that she was supposed to misbehave during school time.
For anyone who knows anything about previously orphaned children, you may know that these behaviors are common in many adopted children. Acting helpless and fake crying (and real crying) are tools of manipulation that adopted children once used in their institutions to get their way or to get precious attention, even if it was negative attention. Previously institutionalized children are master manipulators. Ivelina is no different.
By the end of the week, we were angry, exasperated, and exhausted. We wondered what in the world we could do to help motivate her to try her best and have fun at school. Jeremy and I came together for several nights after little one's bedtime to discuss, plan, and brainstorm what would help Ivie show some improvements in her behavior.
A Break from Babies
The first thing we did was establish a break from Ivelina's favorite toys, namely babies. This was prompted on Friday when she literally cried and whined for two hours, but the moment school was over, she happily skipped away to grab her baby dolls. This mama said, "I don't think so!" We explained to her how inappropriate her behavior had been and how she was losing her baby doll privileges indefinitely until she shows some major improvements in her behavior during school. We boxed them all up and put them out of sight. It may sound mean to some people, but we were already thinking that she had too many toys to play with anyway (too much stimulation). Her play is more obsessive and possessive when she plays with baby dolls too, so we are happy to see her playing nicely with other more constructive things. I'm sure we will eventually get a baby doll or two down for her, but right now, she is taking a break. She's also using the word "break" all the time now. lol
Ivelina (translated): Baby dolls stay in the garage. Up high.
Me: That's right. You can have them back when you start having very good behavior at school.
Ivelina: Take a break, Ivelina. Ivelina not behave, no baby dolls. Break. Say break, mama.
New School Rules
We made a list of the poor behaviors that Ivelina exhibits during school time. Then we tried to come up with a few behavior goals that we would like to see her reach. We boiled it down to four goals.
I resurrected my artistic ability to illustrate the rules so that they would make sense for Ivelina. On Sunday afternoon, we all sat down at the kitchen table and explained the four rules. Jeremy and I modeled what it would look like to follow the rule and not follow the rule. She thought us not following the rules was hilarious! Then, we let her try. By the end of our session, she could explain all the pictures to us, telling us what they meant.
A New Reward System
Then, we broke out our new rewards system. Previously, we had a small piece of candy waiting for Ivelina in her last work box for the day. She only got the special treat if she finished school with good behavior. This wasn't working, so Jeremy thought of this idea:
We showed her a new "special treat bowl" and a big bag of tiny candies. We demonstrated how good behavior, meeting her behavior goals in each activity, would result in one candy being placed in her bowl. We let her do a simply tracing page while not following the rules, and then we let her try doing the page with good behavior. We let her pick a treat to put in her bowl. When school is over, she gets to have whatever she has earned in her special treat bowl.
Ivelina talked about the rules and the new special treat bowl for the rest of Sunday evening. Still, she also kept telling me that she was planning on misbehaving on Monday morning. Ugh... Monday morning was pretty typical. When I left for work and Jeremy was beginning school with Ivelina, she was already acting out. Her first two activities were bleh--typical bad behavior, a couple of timeouts, etc. However, during one pasting activity (Ivie loves glue) she was doing an awesome job and was very pleasant, so she got to choose a candy to add to her bowl. This was exciting for her and seemed to improve her spirits. When she got to add a second candy, her attitude really started looking up. By the end of school time, she had earned three small candies, and she got to eat what was in her bowl.
She absolutely understands these rules, and in fact, we have been using them for other parts of the day too. She also understands the special treat bowl too. It's really not very much candy that she's consuming, and it is a very high-motivation treat for her. She can earn one candy for each of her work box drawers. There are nine. I was praying so much this morning that she would at least earn a couple so that she could see her success. My prayer was answered, and I'm hoping that each day gets a little better. I think she really likes the visual of seeing her special treat grow in that bowl as she works.
After my mostly positive post last week, I just wanted to post a realistic view of what we are dealing with. Home school last week was exhausting! I also wanted to post our ideas that we are trying out because I know they may help another family that is having similar difficulties. Next week, we'll evaluate how this is going, and I'll post again. In the meantime, if you have had similar experiences and have any ideas for us, please feel free to comment.
I'll leave with you with one of my favorite photos from school last week, Letter Ee.
Thanks for reading,