Have you been dealing with a frustrated child this last school year? Is your child not learning at the pace that you think they should be? I think I have some insights and ideas that will help you.
First of all, let’s not only acknowledge that each of our children is uniquely made, and therefore they don’t all learn in the same way, but let’s actually make sure we are putting that knowledge into practice.
What does “put that knowledge into practice” mean? It means that when our children struggle with learning, we don’t panic and push harder because we are afraid they will “fall behind.” Maybe our expectations are inaccurate and inappropriate for our uniquely-made child? We are, after all, far from perfect, and our children are a beautiful mystery with wonderful interests and gifts ready to be uncovered.
Part of being able to successfully educate your children with excellence is first, being willing to do some detective work and discover how their brains work, and second, being confident enough to change course when the way seems blocked. Let’s look at some ways for you to maximize your child’s learning potential.
(I will not dive into the world of learning disabilities in this post. If you suspect a learning disability, we have an excellent Special Learners team that will help you. Consider joining the IAHE Special Learners Facebook Group for information, support, and encouragement.)
Check your relationship.
My middle child is quieter and just went about his days seemingly working away at his school. I had been checking in with him orally, but when I finally found some time to sit down with him and do a visual check-in, it turns out that he wasn’t nearly as productive as I thought he had been. He had lost motivation when I had drifted away and not been actively engaged with him and what he was learning.
I learned that, even though this son is quiet, he still needs me to be engaged with him and hold him accountable. As soon as I became more regular about checking in on him, discussing expectations, and praising him when he met those, his learning progress jumped right back up.
You may also find yourself butting heads with a child, and this could be interfering with their progress in schoolwork. I have certainly gone through times when there is much more arguing and grumbling going on between a child and me than there is learning. That’s a signal that it’s time to stop the schoolwork for an hour, an afternoon, or a day or so and evaluate the situation.
Homeschoolers, you have a golden opportunity here! This is your chance to prioritize your relationship with your child and let them know that you love them for who they are, and you have their best interests at heart. A solid and secure relationship with our children is extremely important in creating a positive, successful learning environment.
Study their learning style and adapt.
Several years ago, one of my daughters was starting a new math program where she was supposed to watch the video lecture and then complete the problems in the workbook, which also contained the lecture in written form.
For the first week, she watched the lecture then did the problems. During the second week, I noticed that she stopped watching the lectures and just went straight to the workbook. I was a little upset thinking she was being lazy (even though she is not a lazy child). However, she explained that she learned so much more and could work more quickly by reading the lecture herself and then doing the problems. Aha! Of course. She is a visual learner. I knew this, but I had failed to apply it to this situation.
Do you have a child who just can’t seem to sit still? I have one of those. He is constantly moving his legs while sitting, fidgeting with items in his hands, and wanting to be up walking around. I used to get so frustrated with him because I thought he was paying no attention to me when I was reading aloud to him or explaining something. It took a while for me to realize that he was actually retaining information better when he was up moving around than when he was forced to sit still. He is a kinesthetic learner.
Have any of your children ever asked you to read portions of their schoolwork aloud? Do they retain information better when they are listening and discussing information than when they are reading? Do they prefer audiobooks to reading a book themself? Maybe you have an auditory learner?
There are other learning styles out there that people use to help explain and understand how their children learn best, but understanding these three will go a long way in helping your children learn more effectively. I have tried to fit my children into my learning style, and let me tell you, it doesn’t usually go very well. We both end up frustrated and discouraged. Take the time to study your children’s learning styles, and then adapt their curriculum to it or find a curriculum that allows for different learning styles. You won’t regret it!
Try a different curriculum.
My youngest son started a spelling workbook at age eight that had worked fine for a few of my other children. After several lessons, he began struggling and soon said he was a terrible speller. Not only was it sad for me to see him struggling like this, but I was also concerned that maybe he was going to struggle with dyslexia like his older brother. I decided to switch to a spelling and phonics book that groups similar words together. For example, one day he might learn words such as pool, spool, tool, and stool. This switch made a world of difference! In a short time, he was flying through the book, and more importantly, had gained back his confidence.
If you have a child that is struggling with a certain book or curriculum or is easily frustrated by the way the lessons are taught, consider looking at other options. Some children learn well with workbooks that involve writing out answers to lots of questions, while others would be frustrated with that and learn better through oral discussion or giving presentations. Some children learn well with science guides that involve lots of hands-on activities, while others learn more through reading and filling out a science journal.
When you understand true homeschooling, you can rejoice in the freedom we have to customize our children’s education. We don’t have to squeeze them into a box with others. We are free to acknowledge their differences and seek out resources that will bless, encourage, and educate them.
Take a detour.
Is learning the multiplication table the bain of all homeschooling families? It seems like it might be. It certainly was for us. A couple of my children especially struggled with learning their multiplication facts. After plowing on ahead for a while with child and parent becoming frustrated, it finally occurred to me that I was not taking advantage of the freedom that I had in homeschooling. I was acting like this child was in public school and had to keep up with peers and stay on track. It was another Aha moment!
The next week, we ditched the multiplication tables and learned how to use a ruler and measure different items around the house. What a relief it was for both of us to take a detour and remember that learning should not be fraught with that much frustration. If it is, something needs to change. After a time, we returned to multiplication facts, and surprise, they were a little easier this time, and progress was made.
You may find that you bought a history book that you thought would be super exciting for your children. Maybe they are growing bored or maybe they just need something to make it more meaningful. Consider taking a week or two off from the norm and instead doing some research about a historical person or event, watching a historical documentary, or visiting a historical site near you. Maybe your children would enjoy looking at some more maps of the places you are studying.
Remember, you have the freedom to set aside the textbook and pick up something different. Learning should be engaging and interesting for all parties involved. Don’t get stuck in a rut just because you think you have to stay on the path you started down till you reach the end. Sometimes the detours are what make life more interesting.
Learn from living books, and real people and experiences.
Have you ever thought of taking a year off of a curriculum? Wait! Take a year off of a curriculum? That’s right. It is what my co-op did several years ago. We just could not decide on a curriculum that we all liked, so we didn’t use one. Instead we did various science experiments throughout the year with each mom deciding what kinds of experiments she wanted to lead. It was a wonderful breath of fresh air for that year, and my children still remember it to this day. Here are two websites full of interesting experiments if this interests you.
Are you or your children tired of the structure and checklists that a formal curriculum may require? Do you need something outside-the-box to jumpstart learning? Maybe you should think about using living books to study certain subjects. Living books are real books written by real authors. This works especially well for studying history, but you can also use living books to study geography, certain aspects of math, civics and government, and even science. Maybe you just need something different.
Here is a civics guide that combines interesting articles and videos to help your whole family learn about our government and our civic duties.
Maybe your child is becoming frustrated or bored with writing. Do you know an author, a blogger, a journalist, or even a friend or family member who enjoys writing? Help your child to write interview questions and then record (audio or audio and video) the interview. Afterward, your child can play back the interview in segments and write down whatever portion of each answer is appropriate. They are practicing asking questions, listening, and writing down what they hear. These are all excellent skills to practice, and in the process, they will hopefully be inspired by what the interviewee has to say.
If you can’t think of anyone for your child to interview, check out all of our blog posts and magazine articles in Homeschool Indiana for ideas. Any of these authors would probably be more than happy to talk with your child about writing. Let us know in the comments.
Sometimes it just takes your watchful eye and a willingness to try new methods in order to maximize your child’s learning potential. You are their parent, and you want what is best for them. Their joy in learning will make all the effort worth it.