I’ve been on both sides of the turf. Having spent several years in the school system as a Curriculum Specialist Assistant, Tutor, and Preschool Teacher, I’ve seen academically challenged students.
On the other side, I’m a mom of four kiddos who are being homeschooled by me and their father. From this aspect things look a little differently. Pinpointing an academic struggle in a child can sometimes be the wrong call. So, how do you know if your child is really struggling academically?
There are five questions I’d like you to ask yourself, and five tips I suggest to help ease the pressure off you and your child.
Before getting into the questions and tips, I’d like to share my personal experience with wrongfully labeling one of my children. Our third born, Euphrates, would be considered late to most stats and labels today. He was well into being two-years-old and none of us could understand him.
He not only couldn’t form words properly, but he also chose a more silent route. He just didn’t talk that much. Being the mom with an education background and a Google search queen, I took to finding out what was wrong with my child… in all the wrong places.
I went into speech therapy Facebook groups. I even held an online Homeschooling with Exceptionalities event and made sure to have a speaker that talked about various speech issues. I Google searched. And I was ready to call in some outside help.
Bryan and I even had our own parent-teacher conference and mapped out some things we could do differently to try and spark his speaking and work on his language skills. But the one thing I failed to do was look at my child.
I failed to step back and really monitor him. It was only after Bryan mentioned that I stop being a crazy person and just let him develop how he is developing. Watch him for awhile, and look for natural ways to help him. Lo and behold, it worked. His issue wasn’t something that needed intervention, speech pathologists, or even extra time going over flashcards. He needed time.
That’s why I wanted to write this blog post. Because there are so many homeschooling mamas who are stressed and wondering if there is something wrong with their child academically. I’m willing to bet that over half of the concerned homeschooling mamas actually have nothing to worry about. I’ve seen it. Shoot, I’ve lived it.
Disclaimer: If you believe there is an academically-challenging issue with your child, please use your own discretion in seeking the proper help.
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Are your expectations set too high?
This is an issue that we all encounter in every area of life, but especially as homeschoolers. We are pressed by what others thing, what the government thinks, what the people who come up with the developmental milestones think, and so on.
All of this bombards our thoughts and can lead us down a path of setting the bar extremely too high. And for what? So we can say that Molly has been reading since the age four? Or that Sean is doing high school math in the 5th grade?
I will be the first to admit that I have set some pretty high expectations for my children, only to resign them and tweak them to something more realistic.
My tip for you about setting high expectations is to – RELAX. Yes, relax. With there being so many approaches to home education, don’t worry about trying to align with any of them. If I had to suggest one, though, I’d go all in with the child-led approach. This doesn’t mean let them do whatever they want. Nope. It simply means following their lead and using their unique developmental journey as the guide.
Are you motivated by comparing?
This is another biggie. As homeschooling continues to thrive and become normalized, there are groups, COOPs, and programs popping up all over the place (and virtually). This means more and more moms have opportunities to talk about how they’re homeschooling and even share a few stats here and there.
No-no number one will ALWAYS be sharing and/or receiving for self-validation. I say that because deep down we may all do it. We want to be validated in what we are doing, especially when we have taken our children’s education into our own hands. We want to prove to people that “we got this!”
My tip for you about being motivated by comparing is to – STOP. Genuinely be happy for others and where they are in their journey, but beyond that, ignore it and embrace your own journey. You will always know what is best for your children. Never deviate from that.
Are you ignoring the strong areas?
In most cases we overlook strong areas and check them off as milestones reached. But what if we have it all wrong? Perhaps ignoring strong areas can be a hindrance when trying to work on its polar opposite (which we’ll discuss next).
A strong area for a child doesn’t necessarily mean that it is one to be ignored and checked off the list. It simply means that perhaps less help and/or instruction is needed for that particular area.
My tip for ignoring strong areas is – USE THEM. If you are homeschooling multiples, allowing your child to help their siblings (using their strong suit) can not only help give them purpose, but it can also keep that area sharp.
Are you placing too much focus on weak areas?
This can go hand-in-hand with the previous question because while you may be too focused on the weak area, bringing their strong suit into play may actually help.
Author and Education Strategist Anita Gibson shares in her book, Star Finder, that-
“most of us were brought up with people focusing on our areas of weakness. They didn’t mean any harm; their desire was to see us improve in an area that may have hindered us in some way.”
As a homeschooling mom, that quote right there was the foundation to why I wanted to fix my nonverbal two-year-old. In my mind I saw a hindered child because he wasn’t communicating to my liking. As Anita goes on to suggest, it starts with reframing our thinking. Without doing this, you get frustrated… your child becomes frustrated… then everyone is at wits end feeling like there’s nothing else anyone can do.
My tip for placing too much focus on weak areas is – DON’T FORCE IT. Instead of forcing your child to improve in their weak areas, try to find unique and creative ways to build in on them through fun and interactive activities.
Are you correctly identifying the area of concern?
This is another question that almost seems like a cache 22. Back to story about my son, because I placed so much emphasis on his weakness and what he wasn’t doing, I ignored what were some of the root causes to his muteness.
I figured since me and his dad talk all the time, and his two older siblings talked all the time, surely he would pick it right up. I didn’t see the times when he was trying to communicate but was ignored. Or the times when he needed help with something and instead we just did it for him. When Bryan pointed those two key things out to me, I thought no wonder! Be ignored and have things done for you enough times and you begin to accommodate to that.
This is also something I had to realize with behavior “issues.” When my children begin acting out of character, instead of jumping all over them, I begin the watch process. I watch and see if there is a need not being met that they can’t quite identify and I go from there. Nine times out of ten, it’s simply a case of unmet needs.
Of course I don’t always get it right and it’s a work-in-progress, but that’s just it… My tip for correctly identifying areas of concern is – WATCH. Step back and analyze your child by watching them. They will most likely reveal the issue and often times even better when we’re not standing over them forcing what we think is the problem.
A new way of looking at it…
There are all sorts of labels we can put on our children. With that comes the pressures of fixing and/or removing those labels. May I suggest a new ways of looking at your child’s academic journey?
1. You are more powerful than you think. You have been given the unique and awesome role as a parent and with that comes the amazing journey of figuring out their God-giving gifts and abilities. It will take time, and it will take patience… but they are there.
2. Create a positive schooling experience. Dr. Sheva and I talked thoroughly about the difference between schooling and educating, and either way you look at it, our children should be able to look back and have positive things to say about their academic journey.
3. Take care of yourself. When you are operating at your full potential, that pours over onto your children. This means making time for self-care and not feeling guilty about it!
4. Be a STAR finder. In Anita’s book, she talks about what it means to be a star finder. STAR is an acronym that stands for strengths, talents, abilities, and resources. She walks you through each of these areas, showing us parents a new way to think about our “struggling” students.
I’ve mentioned Anita’s book, Star Finder, several times so I can’t help but end with telling you that it is a must have. It is packed with personal testimonies and real strategies that have been tested, tried, and proven true to helping parents celebrate what their children have versus what they don’t have.
You can also catch an interview I did with Anita talking about this book, and more – CLICK HERE!
I’m also including a free EXCLUSIVE printable – a 5-page Individual Profile Pack – that can be used year after year to help you track your child’s individual and unique developmental journey. This is from my Frugal Moms Guide to DIY Curriculum Planning masterclass for moms.
With this pack you’ll be able to:
- make special notes and set goals
- note specific skills that may need improving
- note any resources, products, activities, etc. that will be used to help
- document new skills to focus on
- and have space to jot down additional notes
I recommend notating your child’s strengths and seeing how they can naturally help in areas that may be considered weak. You may download and print as many copies as you need for personal use. Please do not share PDF, but do share this blog post so others can take advantage of it!
CHIME IN: How have you navigated figuring out if your child is really struggling academically? What did you (or didn’t) you do? Share in the comments below!