How to measure progress when it feels like you’re not making any

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

We began this school year in almost the exact same place we did last year.

(and I don’t mean our kitchen table…)

My youngest son is one of the hardest working kids I have ever met. He has had to be – most of the time, he works twice as hard for twice as long to get about half the results of other children.

So it really shouldn’t surprise me that we are still in Level Two of our reading curriculum. Even more so, it shouldn’t matter. On my good days, it doesn’t.

But some days, the truth is, it feels like we are not making any progress at all.

When I worked outside the home, I loved feeling like I had achieved something. Measurement was an important motivator for me. It still is.

While my job has changed substantially, my desire to see results and have the satisfaction of making progress has not.

Over the past seven years, I have learned that sometimes, if I want to see progress in our homeschool, I am going to have to go looking for it on my own.

How to Measure Progress When It Feels Like You’re Not Making Any

Take A Step Back

Sometimes, I need to remind myself of how far we’ve come. While our timeline might look different than others, there is still progress being made.

Last week, I pulled out Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons (aff). I haven’t looked at this book in years. When we first started homeschooling, everyone I knew who homeschooled said it was amazing. I tried it with my youngest when he was seven and again when he was eight. It was a disaster.

Out of curiosity and a desire to see some evidence of growth, I had my son read one of the passages aloud to me from the end of the book. He did it flawlessly.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back, even in the curriculum we are using, to remind ourselves of the progress we’ve made. My little guy reading that one silly passage about pots encouraged me for a week.

Teacher Knows Best

One of the easiest ways to measure our progress is to ask my sons to teach it back. Either to me, each other or the dog – it doesn’t matter. It always amazes me to hear them sharing all they’ve learned.

I find this to be a much more effective way of seeing how well they have retained the information, than any test or quiz. Plus, it’s a lot more fun.

My 11-year-old is teaching his dog fractions.

Focus On Strengths

I find that most of the time if I am feeling defeated by a lack of progress, it is usually because my focus is on my sons’ areas of weakness, rather than their strengths.

If I really want to see how well my boys are doing, I need to look at the complete picture.  My sons make far more progress in their areas of natural strength than in subjects that are a challenge.

This is true for all of us, and shouldn’t negate the increased success we see in areas of strength. Even more so, I need to remember that their strengths are what will impact their future performance most!

Spelling may not be his strength, but humor certainly is!

Record It All

This is my number one tip for seeing progress, even when it feels like there is none.

At the end of the day, every single day, I list out all of our learning activities. On days when it feels like our learning is a complete disaster, I am still surprised to see how much we really accomplished.

Keeping a record of our learning activities serves as a reminder that my perception of progress is not always reality.

Often times, I will look at my list and think, “If one of my homeschool friends showed me this, I would be impressed with their day.” It’s amazing what a little perspective can do for a despairing homeschool mom.

The truth is this: we can be our own worst enemies.

Looking for the good, finding the progress and celebrating success not only helps keep our learning on track, it makes it much more joyful.

Do you find yourself feeling like you are not making any progress? What do you do to help move forward in your homeschool?












About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is the creator of Not The Former Things, a blog dedicated to homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs. She loves finding out-of-the-box ways for out-of-the-box learners to thrive. She is the author of two books, Special Education at Home and Everyday Autism. You can follow Shawna and Not The Former Things on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. Thank you for this! I love the part about writing down what you’ve covered at the end of the day.

  2. This post…it means so much to me. I am in the same boat and it is easy to get discouraged. Thank you for writing this.

  3. I can so relate. My 13 yr old is crying at the stress of writing down three sentences (copywork). Sometimes I just want to give up. His memory can’t hold the spelling of a four-letter word for more than 10 seconds. He has learned “th” so many times yet still tries to spell thing and think and with using “f”. All he wants to do all day is watch YouTube junk cartoons. And play online. 😢
    I write down each topic covered as we go through the day, and try checking on Fridays if any of it is remembered… often it is not. I have to try and dtay positive and see the progress where it does happen, but often feel like such a failure.

    • Oh my goodness, it’s like you are in my home. The working memory stuff can be so discouraging (for our kids too – my son will always choose YouTube too – it’s less discouraging). I don’t have a magic formula, but I can say that you are not alone and your son is not the only one. I think the fact that you are with him in all of this means more than any “f” or “th” ever will.
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Special Needs Motherhood Is Messy

  4. Yes especially to the last point! We are super relaxed homeschoolers. We do most subjects through reading aloud (Life of Fred, Story of the World, Bible, Read-Alouds), so sometimes I don’t always feel like we’ve done enough. But when I step back and write down everything the kids told me today that they had learned or that they knew (and I didn’t even know they knew!), some new revelation they had (today, my son told me “did you know mom that the word CAKE has a quiet ‘e’ at the end?”), I remember all over again that they are always learning. Great advice!
    June’s latest post: What Every Homeschool Mom Needs (that you can actually buy)

  5. I agree with what you have said that teachers know best, and teachers see the strengths and weaknesses of his or her students. I learned so much from this on how to measure the progress of a student. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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