Frequently when a child leaves traditional schooling, they can be considered “behind.” Either the school was not able to keep the student aligned with their class, or a parent recognizes that their child is struggling. In fact, these issues are a major reason families decide to homeschool. During remote “crisis schooling” last year, millions of parents found that their children were not at grade level, and state exams show that the majority of public school students are not proficient in key subjects.
It is understandable that parents reclaiming responsibility for educating their children would be concerned about being behind, and frequently this is a focus for new home educators. Parents want to get caught up quickly, sometimes trying to use the same curriculum that the child struggled under. However, a hyper-focus on this important objective is often counter-productive, leading to an upsetting beginning to home education, without addressing the core issues.
If we break down what being behind means, it isn’t history, health, or PE. It isn’t even writing at its core. Being behind almost always breaks down to a poor foundation in reading and/or math. Because these two of the three “Rs” are fundamental building blocks to all learning, they must be shored up first, giving the student confidence and understanding, and helping to rekindle the love of learning that is at the center of achievement.
For this reason, de-schooling is an important tool in resetting focus. Children who are told that they are behind naturally come to hate subjects and can even have an internal dialogue that they are stupid. Having a period of time with less structure that looks nothing like school starts the process of rebuilding confidence, using the child’s interests as a springboard. Think about what excites them, their favorite early books, the games they like that require some math. Encourage them to think about their goals and apply them to education steps. Everyone masters content at different rates. Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four and could not read until he was seven.
When you feel they are ready for more structure, it is a good time to figure out what parts of reading and math are the issue. A test presented without any pressure can used as a diagnostic. Try to find tests appropriate to the child’s level that provides some insight into learning deficits.
Search “free reading assessment” to find many resources online. Paid tests like Iowa or Stanford will provide a Lexile reading level that can be used to find books at many libraries. Can your child decode words, sound out new words and understand the context of a sentence or paragraph? Are there reading or comprehension issues that might suggest dyslexia or another learning disability? Being behind in a traditional school often means they never got a chance to read at an appropriate level. Now is the time to find engaging books and not worry about whether it is “age-appropriate” or academic.
Search “homeschool math placement” to find many free resources online. Often these are connected to a specific curriculum. Look for agreement between different systems. Math consistently builds knowledge. It’s OK if your child doesn’t fully grasp times tables, division, or fractions. Start wherever the challenge starts and build from there. Khan Academy uses videos “gamified” tests to master problem areas. Once shaky foundations are shored up in math, progress can advance rapidly. Unlike traditional school, home educated students work at their own pace.
The key steps to address being “behind” are 1) to get away from a schooling mindset, 2) assess where the challenges are, and 3) focus on reading and math before adding other subjects that rely on these foundations.
By C Levell