Help! I Think My Homeschooled Child Is Falling Behind!

I was encouraging one of my daughters- whose name I won’t mention- to get going on her math today as she was dragging her feet. “You are already behind in math,” I said. “Do you want to get any more behind?!” This child looked at me with great sincerity and said, “Mom, I’m homeschooled. Who am I behind?”

She’s right, of course. One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is that there is no “behind.” But we homeschooling moms can get sucked into the idea that there is. We think thoughts such as:

“All of my friends’ kids who are in public school are reading now. Why isn’t my daughter reading?”

“That textbook says it’s for 6th grade, but my child- who would be a 7th grader- is struggling to get through it.”

“My friend said that public schoolers cover biology in 9th grade, but my child is an 11th grader and we haven’t covered it yet. We must be behind.”

“Surely all other 10 year olds have basic addition and subtraction down. My child must be behind because she still counts on her fingers.”

Homeschooled child falling behind

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I’ll admit that even though I’ve been around the homeschooling block long enough to know better, I still get caught up in thinking or worrying that one or the other child must be “behind.” I made one of these comments to a fellow homeschooler once. Her reply: “Behind what?” Ah, the wisdom.
Because I was a special education teacher in a former life and because I’ve been homeschooling for sooo many years now, I’m sometimes asked questions from other homeschooling moms about whether or not a child may be behind. Here are a few of the things that I try to get them to consider. They’re also the things I remind myself when it comes to the nagging worry about whether or not one of my children is “behind.”

Age does not equal developmental readiness.

The idea that all six year olds should be able to read or all ten year olds should understand multiplication or all nine year olds should be able to master cursive writing is not accurate. Children can develop at different rates. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of a problem.
One of my children was still having trouble even naming all of her letters when she hit the year she would have been in first grade. I was genuinely beginning to worry that there might be a bigger issue. I sat back and decided to be patient for a while longer, and by midway through the year she began reading. By the time she hit the age that would have marked second grade, she was reading chapter books. It was clear that she wasn’t developmentally ready for reading by age 6 but that this hadn’t been indicative of a problem.
Unfortunately when children are in a school setting, they are expected to develop at an “average” rate. If they don’t hit these milestones, then they are “behind”, but in homeschooling we don’t have to follow that standard. We can let children develop at their own rate.

Intelligence comes in many forms.

Education specialists have determined that there are eight basic ways in which people can be intelligent- linguistic, mathematical/logical, spatial, musical, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and natural. Out of all of these, traditional schooling methods focus primarily on linguistic and logical/mathematical. It is important to realize that children may have other forms of intelligence than these two.
If a child has a very high level of musical intelligence, but you’re using a traditional curriculum that focuses on linguistic or mathematical intelligence, that child may seem “behind.” The problem is that we begin constantly focusing on the areas in which he seems behind, and we don’t nurture his real intelligence.
Homeschooling can allow us to look at each child as an individual, and instead of always focusing on areas in which the child struggles, we can provide learning and resources that will help him to excel.

Children who are constantly told that they are behind can develop a defeatist attitude.

I saw this so often when I was a classroom teacher. For several years I taught second grade. The private school in which I taught used an aggressive curriculum that taught reading in 4K and 5K classes. If  child left kindergarten unable to read, he was “behind.” By the time they hit my class in 2nd grade, they knew that they were behind, and some of them were already giving up.
When a child is constantly faced with the fact that he can’t do what all of his peers can do, he often develops a very negative attitude. All of this creates a cycle because then the child won’t work as hard, meaning that he gets more behind, and this causes him to become more negative and on and on.
We can break this cycle in homeschooling. If we approach learning in a individualized way and assure our children that their progress doesn’t matter in relation to anyone else’s, we can give them more confidence. Use materials that don’t have a grade level. Avoid comparing kids to their siblings (which is something I have to make sure that I remember). Show kids their personal progress instead of comparing them to some kind of “average” standard.

When you compare yourself or your child to other homeschoolers, you do yourself a disservice.

So, we don’t have our children in school, and we don’t have a classroom of peers with which to compare them. That’s great. But then we are tempted to look around at other homeschool families and start to notice ways in which we are “behind.” Our children don’t know Latin. None of them are musical prodigies. They aren’t all getting a full ride scholarship to an exclusive college because of their extremely high test scores. It’s easy to start thinking along these lines and to consider ourselves behind.
The fact is that different families work differently. Different kids have different gifts and talents. It is perfectly okay that you have a different style than another family and that your child is doing different things. This is a big part of the reason we homeschool- so that we can be individuals and make individual choices about what is important to learn.
We once heard an entrepreneurial speaker at a homeschool convention. Her son had made his first $1,000,000 by the time he was 21. They were unschoolers. He never had a high school transcript. They never learned Latin. He never took dual enrollment classes. He didn’t go to college. Obviously it worked for him. He was highly successful, and more importantly, he was a Christian who sought to glorify God in his success. God made us different and made our children unique. We don’t have to “measure up” to what other homeschool families are doing.

You know your child best.

Sometimes there are legitimate learning problems that need to be addressed. You are the one who knows your child best because you are working with them day in and day out. As a homeschooling parent, you not only spent time with your children from birth teaching them basics like walking, talking, and self-care. You’ve also spent time doing academic things with them.
If, after you’ve been patient and you’ve stopped looking around and comparing your child to others, there still seems to be a problem, don’t be afraid to look for help. I’m not always in favor of labels. I recently shared a Homeschool Post article with my feelings about labeling kids with learning problems. But, sometimes your child does need intervention to help him learn.
If you feel like this is the case, ask for help. You know your child best, and you can tell when there are legitimate needs. If you don’t know where to go for help, HSLDA has a great resource page to get you headed in the right direction. Trust that you know your child, and don’t be afraid to seek help.
Homeschooled child falling behind

When my daughter questioned my statement about being “behind” in math, I laughed and told her she was right. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter if she had completed the material that was labeled as the grade she “should” be in. What matters is her individual progress and the fact that I’m teaching her how to learn.

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I’m not homeschooling so that my children can meet some random “average” standards. I want to teach them skills and academics that they can use in their own specific areas of strength to be the unique people that God intended them to be. When I stop expecting them to measure up to other people’s opinion of “average” then they won’t ever be “behind.”

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