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.
To 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
Meg Grooms is a decades-long secular 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, currently calling 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.