As homeschool parents, we sometimes measure our success in educating our children based on where they are according to grade level (or other man-made categories). Let’s face it, it looks good when our kids do well based on test scores, perform at or above grade level and ace other measurements of their progress. We beam when our kids are thriving and accomplishing things that are often leaps and bounds ahead of their public schooled counterparts. Even baby-steps ahead feel good. Maybe doubting family members and friends stop questioning what some would term an “educational experiment” and accept that we must be doing a good job because quite simply the “proof is in the pudding”. We hold up our measuring sticks to other families, public schooled kids, and other homeschoolers- feeling proud that we are doing so well. That other parent whose child isn’t reading and is in the 3rd grade…they just aren’t working hard enough or using the right materials. Our kids are better. We are better.
But then THAT child comes along. The one who isn’t doing well and suddenly there’s panic. You read desperate posts on homeschooling forums all the time from parents who are scrambling to find the magic curriculum, the seasoned parent who has been there that can hold a hand, guidance, answers, commiseration. You wonder what you are doing wrong. What is wrong with your child? What is wrong with the program you picked out? Are we dealing with laziness? A problem? A disability? How can you fix it?
You watch with a sinking feeling as your child struggles and slips and is no longer on grade level. Your 4th grader is working out of a 2nd grade workbook. The chapter books you were so eager for your daughter to start sit on the shelf untouched. The new math program you picked out languishes, while you struggle to find SOME way to get those multiplication problems to stick. There is the self-doubt. The wondering. The research. The worry. BUT, we forgot that kids come with their own timetables…
I sometimes wonder who are the curriculum gods that decide what must be learned by when and why. Although a lot of it may be based on research and theories of child development and so on…we as homeschooling parents need to remember that one size does not fit all. What the state of California determines is right for a 6th grader to learn in math may not be right for my 6th grader. Some babies learn to walk at 6 months. Others are 17 months. Usually by the time all of them are 2, you really can’t tell the difference between the ones who walked late and the ones who walked early. Some kids learn to read at age 3. Others are 8. A first grader may be able to rattle off the multiplication tables, but for some children, they are still struggling to remember what 8×7 is at 11 years old.
Homeschooling is the perfect environment for kids on a different timetable- whether that timetable exists because of physical and/or cognitive difficulties or is just the way your kid is wired. Because we learn at home, we are free to jump ahead or to slow the pace way down according to our children’s different abilities and interests. There is time to really absorb what is being taught in order to foster true understanding rather than a surfacy knowledge that can start to crumble if a child has been rushed and forced to move on before he is ready. How many children hate reading because their brains weren’t ready for it yet? It became “too hard” and something to be avoided.
I think the tendency to panic when our kids don’t meet the average timetables for anything (whether it’s walking as a baby or math as an elementary school age student) is normal. Sometimes there really is a problem that needs to be addressed and those warning bells serve their purpose. I’m not advocating in any way ignoring that as parents it’s our job to determine the potential causes and reasons behind delays. But whether there is a problem or not, we as homeschoolers need to realize that EVERY child is truly different. While sometimes comparison is good when it motivates us, sometimes we just need to put that measuring stick away and take a deep breath. The world would be a boring place if we all reach the same destination at the same time. Enjoy the journey.