Listening through a Homework Challenge

My daughter was given a month to learn all the states and their capitals. She’s in fifth grade. About two weeks before the due date, she had learned some states, but not many, and I made the suggestion that we work together. I offered to help her learn groups of about six states at a time, thinking that this would help her meet the deadline.

After she memorized the first six, she got completely overwhelmed. She felt she couldn’t possibly learn all the states, and she had a huge cry. Then she proceeded to learn the second set of six states and capitals, but again she felt that this was too much for her. She had another long cry. She kept saying, “I’ll never learn this. I just can’t do it!” She also got mad at me for having this particular idea of how to learn the states, and cried about my “interference.” I was somewhat confused by this, and wondered if I had gotten too involved in this assignment.

Somewhere between the third and fourth set of six states, she again felt hopeless about learning them all, and had a third big cry. Each cry she had went on for a half hour or more. She felt she could never do the assignment, and expressed frustration and anger at me, at the assignment, and at the world. I knew that the crying would help her eventually, so I kept listening and wondering how this was all going to turn out.

After the third cry, everything changed. All of a sudden, she learned the next sets of states quickly and easily. She took on a set of 18 states and capitals, and did them all at once. Three days before the test, she asked me to quiz her on them, and she knew them all! She was ecstatic, and I think there was a part of her that was amazed that she had done something she was sure she never could do. She was absolutely proud of herself.

The day before the test, she was completely confident that she would get 100%, and she was actually looking forward to the test! She usually showed a lot of anxiety around tests, so I’d never seen her like this before. After the test was over, she expressed dismay that it was over, and she told me that she wished she could do it again! She has referred to it again and again as one of the major learning feats of her life, and she has thanked me profusely for my help with the project, saying that she never could have done it without me. It was so helpful to me to see this whole process work!

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