“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I was folding laundry when Noah ran up the stairs to show me the number sequence he had completed. The numbers from 30 to 70 were written out in order with a number missing every four or five numbers. I had asked him to fill in the blanks.

I took a look. The numbers were just barely legible. There were three errors where, in a lack of attention to detail, he had repeated the number directly preceding or following in the sequence. I circled the mistakes and asked him to check his work. He dashed downstairs and was back up less than a minute later. This time there was only one mistake, but it was because he hadn’t taken the time to correct it. I pointed this out to him and he sighed, “Oh, it’s good enough.”

I set the paper down on my bed and said, “Do you know what book I’m reading now?” He shook his head. “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.” We talked about what biographies and autobiographies are, and I told him people will likely be reading his biography one day. Then, I started talking about Benjamin Franklin and how he had left school at an early age to make his own education, and how successful he had become. I told Noah a few anecdotes about Franklin’s life, ending with one where Franklin starts a club with his friends. The purpose of the club is to write essays and deliver them to the group, who then tears them apart so the writer has to build them up again, and how in turn, they help each other become better at both writing and debating. “Benjamin Franklin took a lot of pride in his work. When it wasn’t perfect, he tried again. And again. And he always did his best.”

Pause. “I’m gonna fix that mistake.”

This is somewhat of a new concept around here. Six or seven weeks into our first homeschooling year, everything we’ve covered has been easy for the kids. Noah knew his letters and has been cruising along with his reading quite well. He’s a grade ahead in his math skills (addition and subtraction). Zahra’s still whipping through her multiplication tables without error, and we don’t even “do” reading per se since she always has her nose in a book. When people ask me how homeschooling is going, I have to say that academically, it’s a piece of cake.

But I knew this day would come, when we would find ourselves at a roadblock, or more specifically, a child who would have trouble understanding a given subject. Or, like this morning, a subject that requires more effort out of them. The moment has come when we’re not coasting and now we have a little challenge. Something has come up that’s not perfect the first time and we have to work on it. How will they face that challenge?

Noah taking pride in his work is a big deal to me. I don’t want him completing tasks hurriedly and with minimal effort. I want him to find joy in a deed well done. His handwriting is usually atrocious, but at the same time, I know he’s capable of writing well. I’ve seen him do it many times. I’ve also seen the time and tremendous effort that he has to put in to writing well. And if he’s focused on getting the right answer or finishing the task set before him, I can see why he would put in minimal effort and be done with it.

I have no intention of making this kid sit at the table and write out rows and rows of numbers and words to work on his handwriting. (Although, I have to admit, I did try that. It ended in frustration and angry words.) I’m sure it will come the more he writes. So now I’m focusing on finding a way to make him want to write more. He has to find the project that he wants to do, that he will take pride in and to which he’ll give his best effort, in order for us to see what he’s truly capable of. This other work that he’s doing for me, it’s a side dish among many at the education feast. And since he follows the beat of his own drum, there is little chance I’ll see his true genius until he has found it himself.

We also hit another bump in the road today. I discovered that Noah’s been doing math “in English” and then counting in French in his head to find the right answer. In other words, if I ask him what eight plus four is, he immediately knows it’s twelve and could answer in English. But if I ask him the equation in French and want an answer in French, his pause is not him trying to figure out the answer. It’s him counting in his head from one to twelve because he doesn’t know that twelve is douze independently from the rest of the number sequence.

What does that mean? That means that given the number “43”, he can’t tell me “quarante-trois”. That means that if I write out the numerals from 11 to 20 and say, “show me ‘treize’,” he randomly guesses. That means that I thought we were up to 70 in our French number review, and actually, we’re back at 11.

For this to be easy, he has to take pride in this knowledge. For him to internalize it, it has to mean more than no errors in a sequence written on a piece of paper. He has to want it. He has to take joy in it. The same joy he now finds in reading signs wherever we go. The same joy he gets out of leading me on a hike through the forest. He’s craving utility in his knowledge.

This excites me. This promises adventure. And while it won’t be anywhere as easy as his sister who, with her free time this afternoon, decided to do math puzzles and research on China, it will certainly be rewarding and of great value in showing us all how to learn.