When Your Homeschooled Child is Behind


When your homeschooled child is behind

It was still dark, my husband had left for work, and in the early haze of the morning something kept repeating in my head. “There is no behind in homeschooling.” Something I see frequently both online and in person, are pleas from parents asking for help because their student is “behind”. Maybe their 7 year old isn’t reading, their 12 year old is having trouble with multiplication, or maybe their 9th grader hasn’t learned biology. So exactly what do you do when your homeschooled child is behind grade level?

When your homeschooled child is behind

One of the hardest things for homeschooling parents to do is break away from the public school mindset. It’s exceptionally difficult to detach ourselves from the concept that all children should learn the same thing at the same time, it’s the only system most of us know. We know that it’s unnatural to expect all children to learn to read at the same time yet that’s what schools have to do because they’re responsible for teaching hundreds of first graders to read in 180 days. You don’t have that responsibility.


My first bit of advice to the parent who is worried that their child is behind is, simply, breathe.


Your child isn’t behind. Your child is where they are. The goal of home education is to meet a child where they are at and work together to progress. Homeschooling is just as much a growing process for you as it is your children.


Want to hear a hard truth? Your child’s intelligence and your skill as a homeschooler and parent have nothing to do with your child’s learning struggles and triumphs.


We’re living in a world with an epidemic of childhood depression, anxiety, and even suicide because of the pressure kids face in school. From the time they are toddlers children are expected to perform, and to outperform. Kids are taught that their entire life depends on how they do in school and how socially accepted they are by their peers. That’s a horrible way to have to live! Most adults can’t hack that, why should we expect kids to be any different?


To the parent who is worried that their child is behind in reading:
You’re ok, they’re ok, we’re all ok! There is no natural law that dictates the age at which kids must read. Learning to read is a very complicated process that requires a long series of developmental triggers. These triggers must happen in a certain fashion for your child’s eyes, nerves, and brain to be able to decipher symbols as letters, letters as sounds, sounds as words, words as sentences with meaning, sentences as stories…


If you have a late reader you can expect a lot of unsolicited advice, I know because I have been there. I actively hid my child’s illiteracy because I was tired of people telling me to send her to school. This one is tough, but if you can wait it out until your child is ready, it’ll happen. For my daughter it happened right around her 9th birthday.


In my experience the worst thing you can do is force a non-reading child through learn-to-read curriculum. Forcing a non-reader to read does nothing but kill their desire and self esteem. What you can do is find their motivation, find something they love and figure out how to encourage them to read. Give them books about those subjects, even if they don’t read them. Let them play video games that require reading. Let them collect comic books.


If your child reaches the point where they are upset, then seek help. Don’t assume it’s a major disability, just meet with a tutor and see what happens. Don’t rush into labeling your child because many times the label isn’t right or is purely situational but follows them around for life.

Remember that progress is progress, even if you think the progress is slow progress.


By the way, my kid who wasn’t reading until 9? She started college at 16. She’s in her 20’s now with a full-time job that she enjoys and that pays very well, more than any job I’ve ever held. She’s married and has two wonderful children.


To the parent afraid of their child’s place in math:
Oh man do I get your fear! Math is my scary monster under the bed…but it’s ok. Your child isn’t behind in math, either. Just like how it takes a series of developmental triggers to spark reading, it’s the same with math and for most kids math comes AFTER reading.


Math is everyday life! Math is figuring out how long until bedtime, paying for a piece of candy at the store. Math is rolling dice and moving that many spaces, math is figuring out which box of cereal is the best deal. Math is how fast the car was going when the police officer pulled mommy over (true story).


Math always worried me because advanced maths are required for college entrance exams and admissions. As someone who was mercy passed in high school (and yes, I still got into college despite dismal math SAT scores), I didn’t know how I would ever manage to teach my children math. And then it hit me: I AM NOT MY CHILDREN. If I pass my loathing of math onto them they will become me, but right now they are blank slates.


Here’s what I have come to learn: just like reading, kids “get” math when they’re ready and with the right motivation they can cover A LOT of math in a very short period of time. But you don’t have to take my word for it! Read this article, and this one. And while we’re at it, there are many different ways to learn math, let your child figure out the way that is best for them and ask them how they need you to teach them.


When your homeschooled child is behindTo the parent who is ready to call it quits:
I understand the fear. I understand the dread you feel when you go to bed, that you’re ruining your children and how they’re destined to a life of failure because they can’t remember their multiplication tables no matter how many times you recite them. That’s not a reason to quit.


I understand going to co-op with friends and dreading the time they ask your child to read out loud because your child is the only one in the room who isn’t reading. That’s not a reason to quit.


The truth is, if your child is struggling with reading or math, putting them in a classroom (or forcing them to use curriculum) will do nothing to help. Yes, your child may benefit from the tutelage of a professional but that doesn’t really happen in the classroom. What happens is you take your child to school and they’re put in “remedial” after you receive plenty of stern looks and “this is why homeschooling doesn’t work” lectures from staff. I’ve been the parent in the guidance counselor’s office, believe me when I say your child knows exactly what that means, and so do the other kids. Maybe your child will learn to read in school, but is the school environment worth it? Is your child learning to read at 7 instead of 9 or 10 worth putting them in school? School can be a useful tool, but is it the only tool? What would happen if you waited 3 more months?


To the parent with other people breathing down her neck:
Perhaps more than any other worry, the worry that other parents will judge me for my child’s struggles is the worst. The worst! While we may understand that our child’s struggles and triumphs have nothing to do with our parenting and homeschooling skills, Grandma Ruth and Neighbor Joe probably don’t. Heck, even other homeschooling parents may judge you for that.


It takes a whole lot of faith in yourself to homeschool, and even more to trust that your child will show you when they’re ready. Your child is worth it! Your child’s emotional well being is worth the wait.

Read More About When Your Homeschooled Child is Behind

Homeschooling 101
Is My Child Ready for School?
Is My Child a Reluctant Learner?

Meg Grooms is a long-time homeschooling mother of 6 children, ranging in age from preschool to married with kids of their own. Always a vagabond at heart, Meg and her family have embraced a slow travel lifestyle and currently call Southern California home. Your guess is as good as hers as to where they’ll end up next.

Meg blogs about secular homeschooling and gameschooling at Homeschool Gameschool.

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13 thoughts on “When Your Homeschooled Child is Behind

  • Jennifer

    I thought I was failing my kid. 3 years we homeschool and I stressed out the whole time. Xmas came around and we decided to put her back in school to finish off the year… 3 weeks back and WE HATE IT…so I’m withdrawing her this week and homeschooling again. You’re doing WAY better than you realize.

  • gardenofdarwin

    My first read at 3 1/2, and the second not until 9. I kept telling everyone that she was FINE and there was no way that this girl who was so fascinated with stories would NOT READ. Once she did, it was full speed ahead.

  • Lisa

    I needed to read this. My kids went to public school until this school year (Aug 2017). I’m so happy we did because my kids are happy and learning. My oldest is really behind, like a year behind, and at first it was hard to deal with that but after reading this, and helping him these few months, I’m not so worried because I can see he is learning at his own pace and becoming more mature. I don’t need to compare him to others of the same age. Thanks so much!

  • Michelle

    Needed this. My oldest had a speech delay and so obviously reading came later and is still a work in progress. We do so many fits and starts. But writing/spelling is my current nemesis. If you read late you write late. ?. He is 11 and writes at a barely “first grade” level. But your article reminded me that is an arbitrary scale set by schools (and it’s changed since I went! I was a star pupil but by today’s rubric I would have been average or behind). The key is sticking with it. And I have to remind myself-my child would, in all liklihood, be struggling just as much at school but with the added pressure and social issues on top. I just want my kids to care a bit more about their own schooling. At least I know where my kids are, and they’re not drowning in that they are being taught at their level-whereas as kid in regular school who is behind is trying to do school at a level that is so far above them it is nearly impossible for them to muddle throigh, let alone truly catch up and gain understanding.

    I have decided though, that we will focus more on the basics for the rest of this year and all of next. And I may require some work over the summer (1 sentence and 5 math problems daily) just enough to really keep the practice going.

    This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  • Linda

    I have 9 children. The first three attended a LOT of public school. My middle three have attended a little bit of public school, and my last three will attend NO public school! My OLDEST child (my guinea pig child, I call him) has always been SUPER smart, yet he didn’t really pick up reading until was was close to 10 years old, at that point, he finally “took off.” He didn’t learn to spell until HE wanted to make an effort to learn to spell, in high school (I had enrolled him in an online charted school at that point.) He had to email his teachers, and he didn’t want to look stupid, so he made an extra effort to MAKE SURE he was spelling his words correctly, and using the right words. My oldest three kids, ages 17, 16, and 14, last school year dropped out of public school and all attended college classes at the local community college. All three did GREAT! We will now see how homeschooling my other 6 kids will turn out. But I know that even though my 12-year-old hasn’t been a great speller in the past, he WILL pick it up. He didn’t really “take off” in reading until a few months ago! It’s going to be OK. He is struggling memorizing math facts, BUT he does a great job understanding math concepts, two totally different skills. Understanding concepts is much more important, especially since everyone in the real world uses calculators, anyway. We are still working on the math facts, but he is also working out of his algebra 1 Saxon Math book, as well.

  • Shelby

    Thank you for this! I so needed to read it. Woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, thoughts rolling around in my head as I worried if my kids were “behind” and whether I was doing enough and if I was ruining their lives by choosing to homeschool. I feel so much calmer now.

  • Lisa W.

    Goodness, did I need to read this today! We are brand new to homeschooling this year ( just started this week actually) and I’m already feeling I am in way over my head ( I’m sort of an introvert by the way). We were a public school family until now and the hardest part for me is this overwhelming feeling that I just need to ship my kids off to school, even though neither of my kids were thrilled about public school. They are both happy now at home & look forward to their work. You would think I’d be thrilled but I must admit, I worry about what others will think because most children we know are public schooled. I pray my anxiet passes & I will come to enjoy this journey. Thank you for your article.