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
I can not tell you how thankful I am to read this today. It is almost word for word my current situation and I have been majorly struggling, and definitely guilty of some undesirable behaviour. You have put my mind at rest – thank you – it will all fall into place in time. Love, not pressure, is what he needs.
Caroline Starr Rose
I’m not a homeschooler, but I am a former teacher and am the mom of two. I hope what I share might be helpful. My older boy could recognize letters before he could walk (he was a late walker — 18 months). He recited the alphabet backwards one day right after he turned two (still not sure how he figured this out). He taught himself to read right after he turned three. I did nothing special with him other than what any attentive mother would. It was in his own make up.
If you’re a Frances the Badger fan, you might know a phrase we quote a lot around my house. It comes from Bread and Jam for Frances. After Frances has eaten bread and jam for days, she eats a lavish, varied lunch in such a way that the food “all comes out even.” I truly believe this is the way it works for kids, too.
While my son is bright at twelve, he’s a seventh grader who sometimes loses points for not showing his work in math or other similar things. In other words, he’s a regular kid who happened to find his way more quickly in some areas (reading) and more slowly in others (motor skills). Once they’re older, a lot of those skills “come out even.”
Take heart, mamas!
Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Classroom Connections: THE LIGHTNING DREAMER and MOUNTAIN DOG, Two Verse Novels by Margarita Engle + Giveaway
I just love this, Carrie. Thank you for chiming in!
Jamie~Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Slow and steady :: On learning at your own pace
this is exactly what I needed to hear. your daughter sounds exactly like my daughter. thanks for your reassuring words!! I need to remember reading will come in time, when she is ready!
This post brought up an interesting thought for me. What do homeschoolers do if they discover that their children have learning issues. When I taught we would refer the children we thought may have issues to the right department and they would be tested. Not all children are just slower learner, some of them may have real problems. I wonder if any of you have had that issue and what you ended up doing about it.
I’d love to know, as well. I think my son might be Dyslexic.
This is something I worry with, as my daughter is 13. I really want to just completely unschool, but it’s difficult since she doesn’t seem to have anything she actually wants to pursue. In the midst of that, hubby has a strong need to see “written work” done. Trying so hard to find the balance and not worry because she is 13 (should be in 7th grade), but if I had to give her any “standard” school test, it would probably be 4-5 grade level. She excells in other things, just not in traditional learning.
See my reply below! We share the same struggles.
Gretchen’s latest post: Menu Plan – 10.6.13
I was with you until the catching up part. My son is dyslexic and he hasn’t caught up and honestly he probably won’t catch up. And while written word is nice and good it isn’t the end all be all. Reading is still slow and painful for him and reminiscent of his weaknesses so I don’t make him do it. We listen to books on tape. I read to him. All kids won’t honestly catch up. He spells horrifically. His writing is barely readable. So we did get a formal diagnosis. I wanted to know what I was dealing with and how to help. I just picked up the book “The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan”. It is amazing and so refreshing because he gives us hope of being able to live in a world where reading is the end all be all but thriving even if you can’t read well. I encourage parents to check it out! Even if your child isn’t dyslexic but is a struggling read it will give you hope!
Gretchen’s latest post: Menu Plan – 10.6.13
Wow! I feel like you just described my 6yo DD. She also wants to skip the learning stage and go straight to “expert phase”, as you described. She is so hard on herself and so afraid that I am going to be angry or disappointed in her. Unfortunately, it has caused us to have some rough days. She isn’t able to put all these feelings into words while we are in the moment, so when it is time to do school work, she yells “No!” and I push because I don’t want her to think that she can get out of responsibilities so easily. Finally, after talking to another HS mom, I paused and regrouped. I took a school break and worked on building up our relationship. I put aside MY beloved curriculum and began to focus on her interests instead. It has not been a smooth road, but it is getting better. She has more input in what we study and I am able to incorporate the “basics” of reading, writing and math within our science/nature study, which is one of her passions. I still second guess myself and wonder if this child led method is the right way to go, but your post reassured me that I am making the right choices for DD and me.
This subject is near and dear to my heart, and is one of my big motivations behind choosing to homeschool my kids. I was a slow-to-learn reader and my parents were very concerned that I wasn’t reading “on time.” They switched my school, and in second grade I was in the remedial reading group. By the end of that year I had learned how to read and my parents talk about that teacher like she was a hero. Like I would have been a lost cause if it weren’t for that teacher. The way the whole situation was handled was hard for me, as I felt like I wasn’t performing as well as I should and I frankly felt like I must be stupid. I was deeply embarassed by the whole thing. If I had been given just a little bit of time and a little bit of grace I feel confident that I would have figured out reading just fine. It wasn’t until a few years later – when I discovered great books like Where the Red Fern Grows and The Secret Garden – that I really embraced reading and I have been a voracious reader ever since. I plan to do things differently with my kids. I think it’s so important – not just for them to learn – but for them to feel good about the work that they are doing. I never want them to feel like they are “underperforming” just because they are moving at their own pace. Childhood is a delicate time when our sense of self is developing and I think how we handle these critical stages is so important.
Thank you, I saw the title “Slow and Steady” on my email this morning and waited excitedly all day to finally get to it. I love the wisdom that comes through on all these posts and I thank each of the contributers for doing so. With that said, we just started homeschool with our kindergartener and the first few weeks were miserable and I too acted out in frustration. I pulled back, remembering that a primary focus of us doing homeschool was to continue to build a wonderful relationship with daughter and that is not what I was doing at the time. I think I have since learned that she likes to do things that are easy for her and will do so with a good attitude. If the lessons are hard for her I need to only do a small amount each day, like 2 pages of a workbook. This still drives me wild –“what if we aren’t keeping up?” but I am learning to let it go, I think. Thank you for sharing your story it really helps take some burden off my shoulders.
I can’t even express the relief you have brought to me. My daughter is so smart but always wants to jump straight to advanced stage. I have decided to back off in kindergarten and just have fun. Thank you for the confirmation that following my mommy instinct is always best. You have made my day
First off, I UNschool, which is less about sitting down and doing ‘work’. My oldest daughter wanted to do workbooks and computer lessons and would spend hours and hours a day till she learned to read. She is competitive like that, a little know it all really, like me. Her spelling was still atrocious, but that changed when her grandma and aunt started messaging with her online (she’s 9) and she hates being corrected so much that her spelling is on par with mine in just a few months.
Her little sister expresses frustration about lack of reading skills but does not put in the effort. She turned 8 at the end of July, and I was super worried about how she was coming along. Esp. with the MIL (retired teacher) visiting. She’ll learn when she needs to, and that has turned into rather soon due to barriers in pursuing her interests. Until then, I make other things more accessible by offering information in forms other than print. Look up the blog, “I’m unschooled. yes, i can read” the young blogger mentions somewhere that she wasn’t reading till 9 or so.
I need to read posts like this everyday. Everyday because I am awaiting my perfectionist first born son to bloom in his reading skills. Waiting.
My kid struggles and feel shes behind. Right now we are doing Connections Academy. We are on the 2nd week and shes already behind. She feels she’s being pushed to much to fast and racing get the work done rather than actually learning the work. She screams and crys and I’m not sure what to do. I soul like to do a mix of homeschool and unschooling if that makes sense. She still had to pass state test or I won’t be allowed homeschool. Any ideas on any good programs for homeschooling that can go at a very slow pace and leta her decide what subjects she wants to do go the day. She hates reading and I’m the opposite, I read all the time.