I have this little problem. Maybe it’s called a compulsion? Whatever label you choose, I can’t help myself. I hate to double back. I like to get somewhere by the shortest possible way. If I have to go out of my way, I feel like I’ve wasted my time. I value the straight line between two points. Efficiency is my friend.
That’s why sometimes it’s tough for me to double back in homeschooling. For example, my oldest son, the math whiz, has shown me through his recent math work that he has missed some important concepts with fractions. He’s become accustomed to zipping through his math. But after grading his last math test, I’ve come to the realization that it’s time to double back and master the basics he missed because he sometimes works too fast.
I could be hard on myself, and let’s just be honest, I was for a day or two. But the truth is that it’s easy to get in that mode of pushing forward to make progress. However, education isn’t that simple. We aren’t dealing with robots or pages of data. We’re dealing with humans.
- Humans who sometimes work too quickly or too carelessly to grasp the concept.
- Humans who tend to be a little distracted during instructional time.
- Humans whose minds are not always ready for the next level of learning.
So what do you do in these times when children work too fast? What’s the next step when your children are zooming ahead but not retaining or truly learning?
1.Take a Deep Breath
Yes, you’ll want to blame yourself. Don’t. Fluctuations in the educational process are normal for kids. Yes, I said normal. Very few children are going to get through thirteen years of education without a few setbacks. Some will have lots of setbacks. That’s normal too.
A “two steps forward, one step back” expectation is pretty appropriate for most kids. So the first step is to take a deep breath and recognize that it’s not a big deal. You aren't a failure. And neither is your child.
2. Give Your Child a Short Break
It’s likely that your child has sensed that they aren’t understanding, too. It’s likely that they are feeling a little frustrated. The best thing to do when you or your child is frustrated is to take a step back. Give them a day or two of a break in the subject you are studying. I promise you, it won’t hurt to take a day or two off. Actually, it will work in your favor.
3. Review Your Child’s Work
While your child is on a break, look over the past several weeks of work. See if you can find the place where your child first started missing a concept. In subjects like Math, this is pretty easy. Usually, you’ll have a sense of where they started slipping.
In other subjects, it can be trickier, but there are always signs. Look for those little signals. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. Maybe your child forgot or missed the building blocks from last year that this year’s work is based upon. Don’t panic. I’ve taken my kids back a year before. It’s much better to stop and go back together than drag your child along at a pace they just aren’t ready for.
4. Re-Start in a Place Where Your Child Excelled
If your child’s slip up came in multiplying fractions, you’ll want to take them back to that spot, but I implore you, don’t do it! Instead, take them back a step or two before multiplying fractions to something they can do well like adding fractions.
This choice seems contrary to what you want to do, but it’s a needed step. Trust me. This step will give your child a sense of success again, and they’ll think, “Hey, I’m actually pretty good at fractions after all.” They need to feel success before trying the hard part again.
5. Slow Down the Child Who Works Too Fast
When your child hits a brick wall, give them the gift of time. Give them two weeks instead of one. Let them hover right where they are Instead of pushing them ahead. You can always make up the time later when they get to an easier concept.
Sometimes the problem is that your child wants to speed through work simply for the sense of accomplishment or to rush forward to screentime or outdoor play. During those times, you need to emphasize that the goal isn't finishing a worksheet, a book, or the week in the Instructor's Guide. The goal is learning, and you can do that at whatever pace you choose.
6. Go Over It Many Times in Different Ways
Sit down with them every day and present the concept until you see the lightbulb turn on. The first day, you might sit with them through the whole lesson. The second day, you might let them watch a video of someone else teaching the concept. The third day, do a problem wrong, and see if they can spot where you messed up. The fourth day, let them do one on their own and check it immediately. Slowly, but surely, hand the reigns back to them.
7. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage
Rather than a tip specifically for when your child is struggling, this is a tip for all the time. I am a believer in the power of positivity. I think that what you speak has a huge effect on your child. If they stay stuck in a pattern of failure, they can begin to think that they can’t do it. They may start thinking that they aren’t good at Math or Reading, and it’s tough to combat those thoughts. So it’s a great plan to be proactive, emphasizing their hard work and attention by saying things like this:
- “Hey great job in Math today. You really worked hard, and it shows!”
- “Wow, you really persevered in math today. You had some tough problems, but you stuck with it, and that’s the sign of a good mathematician!”
- “God has gifted you with an amazing mind, and I’m so excited to see how He uses that gift for His glory!”
8. Pace Your Child
Learning to set a pace for yourself is a big job. Even for adults, figuring out a good breakdown of a big project is tough. Even if your child is an independent learner, it’s helpful for parents to help with pacing. Each week, get a cheap, spiral notebook and write out what you want your child to accomplish. Let them know that they are welcome to keep working, but they have to bring their work to you to check before working ahead of what you’ve scheduled. This way, you can stay on top of things and make sure that your child is grasping the concept regularly.
The best piece of advice that I can give is to simply hang in there. When I was potty training my toddlers, I always heard from veteran moms, “Don’t stress...they won’t go to college wearing diapers!” And they were right.
If you keep at it, your child will learn addition, algebra, sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, and spelling. They will learn what you teach them and much more! But they won’t always learn exactly how or when we think they should. That’s what makes them unique. As you know, I love efficiency, but I’ve learned that efficiency doesn’t mean much in homeschooling. My motto is just like the tortoise, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Going back and repeating instruction is never a waste of time.