"Why doesn't my child understand what the worksheet is asking?"
"My 5 year old can't remember her letter sounds even though we go over them every day."
"He can do math in his head easily, but ask him to complete a math worksheet and he just doesn't get it. What is wrong with him?"
I find that the longer I homeschool, the more paradigm shifts I have. One of the most reassuring shifts I have had is that if my child is struggling with something, he either is not ready to learn it and needs more time or the information is not being presented in a way that makes sense to him and he needs a different approach. Either way, the problem is not with my child.
In school we get the message that there is a specific set of information that every child of a particular age must and should know. The interesting thing is that no one seems to be able to agree on what that is. Go to different states and you find different "standards". Check out different curriculum and you find different concepts introduced at different times. Look at different "scope and sequences" and you see different focuses.
What this means is that the concept of "every child should know X by age Y" is a myth. It is borne of necessity because schools, driven by the fact that they have so many children to teach, can not tailor a learning program to the individual child's needs.
The great news is that, as homeschoolers, we have the freedom to let our kids learn on their own natural timetable and can tailor our approach to their needs. But this also means that we have to overcome the mindset of blaming the child if they are not learning. I read on an email list one time "resistance is a child's way of letting you know something is not working." Good advice and something that I try to keep in mind.
So then the question is, how do you know whether the child just needs more time or if they need a different approach? My answer is: know that you have time and listen to your child.
Jason (now 11) was a "late reader". At different times over the years I tried to gently introduce reading. However it was obvious that he was not ready...he was not interested and nothing seemed to "click" so I backed off and waited.
A little bit before he turned 8, I realized that he had a lot of sight words, but was not making the leap to reading. He seemed to have all the pieces swirling around in his head, but was not connecting the dots. I could see that he was ready but also that he could use some help pulling the pieces together
I tried one reading program and it was obvious that it did not make sense to him (it focused too much on phonics and letter sounds). I switched to another program (that had more visual cues) and it was obvious this was exactly what he needed. Reading "clicked" and it was very easy for him. He chose to finish the entire program and has never looked back.
Waiting for the right time and then finding the right approach resulted in a "late reader" who is not defined by his lateness. Jason never considered himself a "poor reader" because we never focused on his inability to read...we focused on his strengths and trusted that when he was ready, he would read.
This does not mean that I never worry or wonder if I am doing the right thing. And it does not mean that I never get frustrated when my kids are not getting something or that I never wish they would just get it already. But remembering "it's not the child" helps me put things back in perspective.
And best of all, it preserves my relationship with my children (by my not blaming them) and their relationship with learning (by them not blaming themselves). Which, when it comes down to it, is what homeschooling is about.
Stephanie is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows.