Written by Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.
I’ve heard people wonder if homeschooled students can fail.
I don’t mean having something not turn out as planned or not doing well after graduation. I mean fail. You know, be held back a grade.
In a public or private school, everyone has to move at roughly the same pace. While students may have access to after-school tutoring, special education classes, or help from their teacher, ultimately if they don’t learn enough of the material to be successful in the next grade, they are held back so that they have time to learn those concepts before moving on.
But homeschooling parents can give their students time to master the concepts needed at one level before moving on to the next. Grade levels are arbitrary in a homeschool. Our kids really only need to worry about grade level in situations which require separating students into same-age peer groups, such as co-op, church classes, or recreational sports leagues.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we just let our kids skate along and graduate without acquiring the skills they need to be successful in life, work, and secondary education after their homeschooling years are over.
So what do you do when your student isn’t mastering the concepts needed to advance to the next level?
1. Use assessment as a tool.
Some kids don’t test well, and an exam can be even more intimidating for a child who is struggling. However, assessments can be helpful tools for pinpointing exactly where your student is having trouble. A test may reveal, for example, that your student needs to work on mastering his multiplication facts.
2. Slow down.
Sometimes all you need to do to help a student with a particular subject or concept is slow down. Early on in my homeschooling venture, someone introduced me to the notion that sometimes facts, ideas, and skills need time to percolate. Even if you don’t see your child actively working to understand a concept, those thoughts may be ruminating in the back of his mind.
I saw this clearly when my oldest was learning long division. It was pretty much the bane of our existence. Since it was near the end of a school year and she was struggling so much, we knocked off math a little early for summer break. When we came back in the fall, she suddenly understood it!
The skill that had been such a struggle the year before made sense after taking some time to step away from it.
3. Consider making curriculum changes.
Your student may need a different approach. You may have a visual learner who would benefit from more written instruction. Your kinesthetic learner may require a more hands-on approach.
We’re using Apologia’s marine biology course this year. I got the superset, which includes both audio and video options. I love that it offers so many different ways students can learn the material.
4. Consider your teaching methods.
I have a friend who is a high school math teacher. She works with struggling learners, and she once told me that she teaches at least two different methods of figuring out each type of problem because not everyone processes information the same way.
My oldest struggled with multiplying larger numbers, such as three-digit number by two-digit numbers. I did some investigating and discovered lattice multiplication. It looked kind of crazy, but it worked wonderfully!
After using the lattice method for a few months, she was able to transition to the traditional method of working those problems. She just needed a different approach to help the concept make sense.
5. Get a tutor.
There is no shame in not being able to teach your child everything. Our job is to facilitate their learning, not personally teach everything.
Consider your options. Private tutors may be cost-prohibitive, and learning centers may not be the right atmosphere for a homeschooled student. Often there are parents in the homeschooling community who offer their expertise to tutor students in one area or another. If you live near a college town, you may be able to find college students who provide tutoring services.
6. Try a co-op.
Your child may not need private tutoring, but could still benefit from a different approach to a problem subject. Check with local co-ops to see if they offer classes that could help.
7. Test for learning disabilities or developmental delays.
Sometimes academic struggles may be a warning sign of a more complex issue such as learning disabilities or developmental delays. Discuss the possibilities with your child’s doctor and your homeschool and/or parenting community.
Consider taking a simple learning disabilities assessment to identify potential causes of the struggles you’re seeing.
Look for ways to learn more about your student’s struggles so that you can choose the best means for facilitating his education. If he seems to learn better in a particular way, research ways to best promote that learning style.
If she has a learning disability or developmental delay, learn all you can about it and the best ways to help her compensate for the difficulties that it causes.
9. Seek professional help.
My son struggled with severe dyslexia. One of the best decisions we made was to seek professional therapy.
With the help of someone trained in the specific methods for teaching dyslexic students, my son made more reading progress in five months than he’d made with me in five years.
Our job, as homeschooling parents, is to facilitate our child’s learning. That means recognizing when it’s time to slow down, when it’s time to reinforce, and when it’s time to outsource.
There is no need for a child to fail in a homeschool environment because there’s no need to move on before he or she is ready.
What tips would you offer a homeschooling parent with a struggling learner?