The Early Years
For the first few years, our homeschooling venture seemed to be going well. Our young daughter learned to count and recognize letters. Soon reading, writing, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division followed, and Mom breathed a sigh of relief. Then middle school hit. Beginning algebra and structured essays, oh no. That child who flew through academic work with ease was now struggling. Had we totally messed up our daughter’s academic trajectory? What should parents do?
First, know that struggling to learn advanced concepts is normal. The ease with which many children complete elementary education doesn’t typically continue into secondary school. After all, learning complicated subjects is not easy for adults either; it is the complexity of the subject matter that has changed, not the child’s abilities.
Navigating Post-Elementary Academics
So, how is a parent to help a child navigate this more demanding learning environment? Share your own struggles! Let your child know that you had to work hard to learn concepts that did not come easily to you. Striking a balance between encouraging diligence and reasonable expectations is key.
What are reasonable expectations? In this area, you, the parent, are the expert. You know your child well. Present new and challenging tasks sequentially and observe. A student’s complaints that this is just too hard don’t necessarily mean the work is beyond the student’s capability. Requiring students to push beyond the boundaries of their current skill levels is an important part of academic growth.
On the other hand, realizing that a child is overtaxed is important too. In homeschooling my daughter, I watched as she wrestled with algebra concepts during her seventh-grade year. After observing her struggle with little success for a few weeks, I quietly substituted a simpler pre-algebra curriculum. I did this with some trepidation: my child was now a year behind in math.
Although I lay awake at night worrying about that decision, it was one of the best I made as a homeschooling parent. That year of relaxed expectations resulted in a great boost in confidence. In subsequent years, my daughter worked through the dreaded algebra and is now navigating Calculus IV. Is she a great math scholar? Probably not, but adjusting expectations gave her time to gain the proficiency she needed to accomplish her goals, and that can be true of your child as well.
Slowing down to allow extra time for content mastery won’t mess up your child’s education; in fact, it may prevent your student from abandoning an area of study entirely. If you realize that, even when putting forth great effort, your child is frustrated and failing, don’t be afraid to scale back. You won’t be sorry you did.
For inspiration, read this short article, “Slow Homeschooling,” by Patrick Farenga
Marilyn Whitlock loves learning and sharing that love with others. She has a bachelor’s degree in English education, a master’s degree in English literature, a graduate certificate in instructional design, and has completed coursework for a Ph.D. in English literature with a concentration in British literature of the 18th century. As a Ph.D. candidate, she received a full academic scholarship, was a graduate assistant, and taught freshman composition. Since completing her education, Marilyn has taught in a variety of venues including public schools, private Christian schools, and within the homeschool community.