Your homeschooler is behind in academics and your greatest homeschooling fear is realized. Maybe it’s a struggle with algebra or your kiddo still isn’t reading on the expected grade level. Your niece has better handwriting, your mother-in-law is judging, and the pressure is on to somehow bring your child up to standard.
The pressure that homeschooling parents feel is great and very real. Even if you’re in a state that doesn’t require the oversight of an umbrella school or yearly testing, there is still the need to “prove” how effective your homeschooling is to the very opinionated people who doubt your choices.
As the sole educators of our children, there’s a lot of weight on our shoulders to get it right. It’s almost like we’re constantly trying to outrun a monster named “grade-level expectations” that threatens to destroy our homeschool – and confidence.
That monster is real, made of societal expectations, state mandates, standardized tests, mothers-in-law, articles about 15-year-old homeschoolers graduating college, and our own pride. And while the monster may not have real horns or claws, the bites are still very painful.
Help! My Homeschooler Is Behind!
So what do you do when your homeschooler is behind? How do you survive the guilt, fear, and maybe even embarrassment? How do you help your child beef up the academics while still keeping a love for learning intact?
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Start with Grace
First, you give yourself some grace. Yes, it’s the child who is of concern, but it’s the homeschool mom who takes it personally and views it as a reflection on her when her child gets behind. We’ll get to helping the kiddo out soon, but the first order of business is to cut yourself some slack.
No method of schooling guarantees 100% success at every benchmark in every subject. Kids in public schools fall behind, too. Kids in private school miss days and struggle with math, too. Your homeschooled child is not doomed because of your education choices or their asynchronous learning. No child develops at a completely uniform rate, so allow yourself to shake it off when some subjects prove troublesome. A failing subject does not mean you’ve failed your child.
Once you’ve caught your breath and stepped off the ledge, take some time to explore what it means to be “behind”. Is your child not yet mastering skills that their peers are nailing in traditional school? Are your kids not reading the same chapter books that you were at their age? Are the criteria you’re grading your child by actually arbitrary standards that society decided upon?
Remember – grade levels were invented by public schools as a way to lump children together by age. Reading does not have to happen by 6 and graduation does not need to take place by the age of 18. The milestones that our homeschooled children are so often measured against are, in actuality, generalizations that were agreed upon in order to teach 30 children of differing abilities and roughly the same age.
Ask yourself who is child behind and what they’re behind, and then decide if it’s a worthwhile system of measurement.
Tackle It One Step at a Time
If you’ve noticed that your child is struggling with a concept or repeatedly earns weaker grades in a particular area, the good news is that they’re homeschooled! They likely aren’t struggling because they’re homeschooled – they’re more likely to succeed because they’re homeschooled.
As I mentioned before, children in all types of learning environments inevitably struggle with one thing or another. It’s normal and even expected. What’s not so normal is the access to one-on-one, customized learning, like your child has. You are equipped to notice a deficit and address it sooner!
During regular lesson time – or even by adding 20 extra minutes to your school day – work on what needs improvement in unique ways.
- Play games that incorporate the skills your child needs to practice.
- Use hands-on materials and experiences to help abstract concepts make sense.
- Watch a YouTube video that explains concepts or formulas in different ways.
- Read a book that brings the topic to life.
- Go back a level (or two) to reteach where the problem started.
- Visit a specialist.
- Hire a tutor.
- Get ideas from veteran homeschoolers.
Whether your child is struggling with phonics, math, or anything in-between, there’s a game for that! Card games, board games, active games, and even game-like practice are all go-to helps when a homeschooler is behind in a subject.
Card games like Clumsy Theif, Snap It Up, and Zoom help to practice basic math facts without monotonous flashcard drills. But, don’t discount regular games with a plain old deck of cards like War and Rummy. Board games like Sum Swamp and Pay Day are super-fun and build skills. Jumping rope or passing ball to math facts can be a giant help to kids who are active learners.
And that’s just math! I’ve written a bunch of posts full of great games to build understanding and practice skills:
Use Hands-On Materials
Lots of things in learning are very abstract and can be quite difficult to understand until we build visual understanding. For instance, seeing the equation 4+5=__ means absolutely nothing to most young children until we help them to form pictures in their brains of what the concept of addition really means.
To do this, we can pull out any type of manipulative like Cheerios, pencils, or teddy bears. We typically make up a story by saying, “You have 4 Cheerios in that pile. When I add 5 more Cheerios to your pile, how many do you have?”
It seems simple, but that single moment of story-telling and moving Cheerios can build a powerful understanding about addition that makes a “forever picture” in the brain about the otherwise abstract concept. Having this hands-on, visual experience to build understanding in the simple things (like 4+5) is a foundational building block for bigger and harder concepts about addition later. It’s pretty amazing how this works!
Games can be included as a practical hands-on experiences. So can science experiments, field trips, model-making, real-life projects, and more. Think creatively about what hands-on opportunities you can offer your child to build a better understanding of the things they struggle to learn.
Sometimes, all it takes to help a child better understand a difficult concept is a simple YouTube video. Why? Some children are very visual and videos feed into their learning style. But, often, videos are taught by professionals who really know how to explain the concept at hand. If not professionals, the creator of a video might simply teach it in a different way that “clicks” with your child.
The video category also includes documentaries that dig deep into difficult topics, video-based instruction from teachers who are experts, online tutors, and even fun classes that take learning from a completely different angle.
Really good books are almost magical. They can draw kids in and teach difficult topics effortlessly. In the space of 32-pages, a living picture book can give new life and understanding to a topic in under 15 minutes.
If your homeschooler is behind, a quick trip to the library can make a world of difference. Here are some examples:
- If circumference, radius, and diameter aren’t making sense, grab Sir Cumference and the First Round Table from the library.
- If verbs are hard to remember, read It’s Hard To Be a Verb.
- If the parts of a cell are confusing, try The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom, Super Scientist.
In some subjects, our children can get behind because they simply don’t like the textbook. Whether it’s boring, monotonous, too much, or even too little, using living books in place of (or in addition to) the textbook can help.
Go Back a Level (or Two)
Consider having your child take a placement test to determine if their deficits are real. If so, you will have a decent idea of where your child’s abilities land and can go directly to the appropriate level – even if it’s lower than you want.
When taken back to the lesson or level where the problem started and reteaching for understanding, it’s not surprising to see a child catch up rather quickly.
Having hard data like this is a great way to identify and address specific struggles. Rather than doubting yourself completely as an educator and throwing in the towel when you lose your confidence, you’ll be able to tackle what, specifically, your child needs more help with.
Visit a Specialist
If you suspect that your child is falling behind because of an identifiable learning issue, bring it up with your pediatrician and ask for testing referrals. Often there is some hesitancy to “label” children in the homeschooling community, but understanding how and why your child experiences difficulties can only serve to benefit the both of you. Whatever your child is working with, do not let it intimidate you. At least not for long.
Hire a Tutor
Because needing help with school is such a common issue, and because learning differences and disabilities are so much more understood today, there is no shortage of resources for when your child has a need for something extra or different.
Tutoring centers like Sylvan or Mathnasium are typically easy enough to find, and online tutors have become a very viable option for homeschoolers in the last decade. Dozens of curriculum companies offer online classes, some of which are even one-on-one. It is nearly impossible to be without help or resources, should your struggling child need some backup.
Get Ideas From Veteran Homeschoolers
Countless homeschooling parents have, thankfully, gone before us and shared their wisdom, giving us an enormous community of people who want to help and can help to address our childrens’ difficulties.
Check with your local homeschooling groups or other parents at your co-op and ask what their favorite methods and materials are for, say, dysgraphia. Read blogs of longtime, trusted homeschoolers who have walked through similar struggles with their children. You can homeschool a child with learning disabilities. You can even homeschool when you are the one struggling with a subject.
Your Homeschooler Is Behind…But Not For Long
The next time that you feel your stomach drop at the realization that your homeschooler is behind, remember to take a breath. You are both in the perfect setting to address whatever issues may be causing the struggles.
I know you feel the pressure to prove that homeschooling is the best choice, you want your friends and family to marvel at what a fantastic job you (and your kiddos) are doing. Even when faced with a deficit, especially when noticing a deficit, you can coax those oohs and ahhs from those who doubt you when you show them how quickly and personally any issues are addressed.
You know by now that homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, so don’t let some turbulence threaten your entire journey. Know that you are equipped, able, and secure as an educator, and that it doesn’t really matter, in the end, if your child needs a little extra help to reach the finish line. That’s what you’re there for.
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