Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling.
You know those high achieving homeschoolers who read by age three and recite the times tables backwards and forwards by 3rd grade? The ones with the perfect penmanship, excellent spelling, and an uncanny ability to build complex mechanical structures out of LEGO and K’nex without an instruction manual?
Most of us know someone with at least one or two of these characteristics, the super homeschoolers that are our community’s pride and joy and the ones who also privately put us to shame, especially during those moments of doubt when we compare them to our own, and wonder, are we doing something wrong?
My daughter was a perfectionist, easily frustrated by the slightest setback. At an early age, she showed proficiency in writing and drawing, filling our walls with copywork and colorful, detailed pictures.
By first grade, she could complete a perfect cartwheel, but could barely read with any fluency or know the place value of any given number.
What she was good at she repeated often and well. She loved stories and we read to her every single day. Whenever she wanted to write a word, we spelled it out for her, a letter at a time. Fascinated with science, we read her Ranger Rick magazines from cover to cover and watched Bill Nye often.
Occasionally, I’d ask her to add or subtract a few numbers and work through online reading programs, but never felt she completely understood the concepts.
Truth be told, I had more than my share of insecure moments when I worried about her academic level in comparison to other kids her age.
Photo by John-Morgan
“Shouldn’t she be reading by now?” I often asked my friends. “When will she ever memorize her doubles without counting out on her fingers?”
“Don’t worry,” they’d reassure me, “She will learn when she is ready.”
It wasn’t that I doubted her intelligence. She was a smart cookie and picked up new information well. It was just that she wanted to skip the learning period and go straight to the expert phase, which made everyday lessons a struggle. I didn’t want to deal with it so we had a very passive and easy going first grade with lots of play and very little drill.
Summer came and on a whim, I decided to try a 100-day-reading program (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons) with her. Amazingly, we completed the lessons in record time and she was soon reading entire passages of short stories. She basically “caught up” to her reading level within a couple of months.
During the summer, she signed up for the library reading program and, on her own, started on easy leveled readers and recorded them in her log. She completed her 50 required books and went on to read more. We ditched the online games for more traditional one-on-one phonics instruction to fine-tune her deciphering skills.
At the start of 2nd Grade, I gave her some 1st Grade math work, since she had not done them the year before. She completed entire workbooks in one day. She plowed through on her own, completely oozing with confidence in how easy the work was.
Somehow, in our passive lessons, she had picked up basic addition and subtraction. We started on 2nd grade concepts and those, too, she picked up rather quickly, and will most likely complete before the end of the year.
I am not good at waiting. I have high expectations and desire over-the-top academic achievements in all my children and I want it all NOW. Thankfully, I am also realistic.
I am glad I slowed down and allowed my daughter to start on her time, not everyone else’s, and certainly, not mine. We waited until she was ready and no doubt bypassed a year’s worth of frustration. I had often heard about late bloomers catching up on concepts at half the time it took most traditional learners, but never believed until I saw it with my own eyes.
Photo by Marco Gomes
In a way, it is similar to learning to ride a bike. Just a few short months ago, she was wobbly and full of concern, even with training wheels. I watched as all her friends rode off and felt her frustration from being left behind. We determined one weekend that she was ready to go for it and removed the extra wheels.
I grabbed her shirt and ran alongside her as she pedaled, telling her not to worry about falling, while at the same time, worrying about that very mishap. Eventually my grasp loosened little by little, until, within an hour of trial and error, she took off on her own and left me in the dust, looking like she had been riding all her life. It was an amazing, magical moment.
We won’t always have the luxury of following our own learning schedule, but I’m thankful that, at least in the early years, we can spend more time playing and allow the learning to happen naturally.
As the saying goes, slow and steady does win the race, or at the very least, gets you to the finish line all in good time.
“Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”
~ Chinese Proverb