How to Find and Fill Academic Gaps

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Watch the video above or read the transcript below to learn how finding academic gaps is a good thing in your homeschool! If after watching or reading, you still have questions about what your child needs, reach out to an Advisor who can help!

Welcome and Introductions

Stephanie (00:02): Hello, everyone, and welcome. Today we're going to be talking a little bit about how you can find the gaps and fill the gaps in your child's education. I have joined with me here Judy, Karen, and Tender. And I'm going to let them introduce themselves. Welcome, Judy.

Judy (00:20): Hey, Steph. Thanks for asking me to join you. I am Sonlight's marketing sales coordinator. And so I get to work with wonderful Sonlight moms like Tender and Karen on the convention floor every year. And I'm also a retired Sonlight homeschooling mom of three amazing adults and just starting our second generation of Sonlighters in our family.

Stephanie (00:45): Thank you. And hi, Karen!

Karen (00:47): Hi, I'm Karen. Like Judy said, I'm a curriculum consultant. I work the homeschool conventions, normally, not this year. But normal years I do. And just really enjoy connecting with the moms on the floor, and dads, and talking to people about homeschooling. I'm also a retired homeschool mom. I have four kids that went all the way through high school. So I'm not starting on the second generation yet. She's ahead of me.

Stephanie (01:16): Great. Thanks for being here, Karen. Hi, Tender.

Tender (01:19): Hi. I'm also a sales floor convention rep. So I enjoy getting to go and speak with customers about Sonlight. But I am currently homeschooling four children of my own here at home. And I have a senior this year, so we will be launching our first into the realm of college. And then they go down to actually junior high. I have now just high schoolers and junior highs. So I have a 12th, 10th grader, 8th grader, and now a 6th grader.

Stephanie (01:55): Perfect. Well thank you all for joining me. I'm Stephanie Rose. I'm Sonlight's community manager. And so now that you're a few weeks into homeschool, you might be seeing where your kid, your child, your children are shining and maybe where they're struggling. Maybe you've brought your child home for the first time and you're realizing they don't have those multiplication facts memorized like they should, or maybe they're slightly behind or ahead for reading. So we really, this is really focused on how you can address different struggles that your child might be experiencing and how you can adjust your school year, just in the slightest, to catch that child up based on where they are.

Homeschooling Helps You Identify Academic Gaps

Stephanie (02:39): So we'll jump right in and we'll talk about how to find the gaps first. So you brought your child home from public school or maybe from private school or maybe you've homeschooled all along and you thought you caught something that maybe wasn't quite where you thought you were. And so how do you find those gaps? How do you look at where your child is and sort of assess that?

Judy (03:06): I think one of the hugest benefits of homeschooling is that it's very much a one-on-one, like a tutorial relationship. And so you will know very soon what your child knows and what they don't know. And finding a gap like Stephanie described is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very positive thing because now you have the opportunity to work in those areas. So you may find just in the simple, day-to-day working through math lessons or working through a writing assignment or having your child read out loud to you that there are some areas where they struggle and maybe you didn't know about it before.

Stephanie (03:51): I think the other thing that we want to make sure to say is if your child is struggling, he or she is in the right place because you can really tailor everything to be exactly what they need.

Judy (04:03): Yes.

Karen (04:04): Yeah. The reason I started homeschooling was because my daughter did have gaps. And she had a great teacher. I mean, a wonderful teacher. My son had had the same teacher. But no matter how good a teacher you are, you can't catch everything. If you have a class of so many kids, you can't catch every gap. And even if you could, you can't slow down to take care of one student. Which is one of the things I've really enjoyed about homeschooling is the fact if it took my daughter a long time to finally get something, I could take that time. I can keep explaining it different ways, I can do whatever it takes, until I know she's got it.

Karen (04:47): And honestly, one of the most rewarding things for me was seeing those aha [moments] where… Because she was feeling like she was stupid in math. She was stupid in reading. And so when she finally realized, oh, I can get this, that was so exciting. And that's when she really took off academically was because she realized, oh, I was just missing some things. I'm not stupid. They were building on a foundation I didn't have all of the pieces of.

How to Check in and Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses

Stephanie (05:19): Absolutely. Thank you for that, Karen. So how can a parent check in with their child and sort of evaluate strengths and weaknesses? Do you guys have any tips on how a parent can do that?

Tender (05:34): I mean, sometimes it's obvious, like in checking their math or something, that you realize that they're not understanding a certain concept. And so sometimes like then instead of just moving forward, we're going to let's take it a few things back and get some more practice problems with this particular, whatever that concept is that you find them struggling with. Or I mean, if it's like in that math takes a tremendous amount of time, sometimes that can mean, oh, we need to work on our multiplication facts because this would be… Multiplication or doing long division, it really helps if you know your facts. It takes a long time if you're still having to consult a multiplication chart and you don't know these off the top of your head.

Tender (06:25): And so sometimes I would approach some of those as like, "Hey, if we practice and work and do our flashcards on the multiplication, this is going to help make your math go faster." And usually kids are all for, "Oh, can I make it go shorter?" And so I would say, "Let's just take 10 minutes a day and we're going to practice our multiplication and then we'll do our math and see if that helps in your long division and what you're working on."

Mastery Is More Important than Staying on Schedule

Karen (06:54): Yeah. I think it's really important, and this took me probably my whole first year of homeschooling to learn this… It's more important to stop and work on those things and take longer than to stay on a schedule or like I have to do a lesson a day or I have to keep up with the schedule. Because the foundation is so important, if it takes your child a week or two to get a concept down, or they're struggling with something in reading and you need to just stop and just work on that for awhile, that is so important. Because when they start building on that foundation and that foundation is not all there, that's when they start getting discouraged or feel like I can't do it or I'm stupid or whatever. And that first year, I was a box checker. I was like, I need to stay on the schedule… And so it took me a little while to learn that, that it's more important that my child get it than that I stay on a schedule or do a lesson a day or whatever.

You Can Adjust the Pace

Tender (07:53): Yes, Karen is totally correct that I have had to learn that as well. And really, especially with reading for one of mine, I've needed to slow way down than maybe what the schedule says. But if I adjusted that schedule for that individual, that that really helped. And then we were able to, in some cases, just slowing down for a while was all that needed to happen for one of my sons. And then, like Karen said, that we had the aha moment where it just kind of everything, the light bulb came on and it clicked. And then we were able to move ahead really easily. And that's not always the case. I've had another one that still, it's just better if we go at a slower pace. So I don't worry necessarily about the particular day. I just keep making progress as we can make progress. And sometimes that means we're going to go into the summer on a particular subject because we just need to do it at a slower rate.

Karen (08:54): Yeah.

Judy (08:55): And I think everybody realizes this, but maybe it is worth repeating: Every child is going to be different.

Tender (09:02): Right.

Teach Each Child as an Individual

Judy (09:02): So I know when I started homeschooling with one of my children just took off and just excelled, especially with reading. So when it came time to teach the next child how to read, that was my expectation for the next child. And it didn't turn out to be that way with the next child. And so every child excels in some subjects and struggles in others. And it's just good to remember that they are all different if you're homeschooling more than one.

Karen (09:36): And the same kid can be way ahead in one subject and struggling in another. And again, that first year, I wish somebody had told me all of this when I first started, because I felt like, okay, she's in third grade, we have to finish all X, Y, Z in this… Because that's what the schools do. And so it literally took me probably that whole first year to finally get it. I can go at my child's pace. I am not beholden to anybody's schedule. She is not behind. She is where she is and we're continuing to progress. And it would have lowered my stress levels if I had known that. And I learned it the hard way, okay. But I did learn it.

Stephanie (10:21): I was going to say that, Karen. Thank you for saying that. You are, any step forward you're making is a little bit more than you did yesterday. So if it takes you a little bit longer, it's okay. You can get to the next step in three days and that's okay. Yeah. So perfect. Okay. So we've heard from a lot of parents who might be struggling with getting their child on board to maneuver through any subjects that they might be struggling with. So do you guys have any advice on how you can, you really have to get your child's buy-in a little bit to be on the same page so you can really focus on those subjects that they're struggling in. Any advice?

Motivating a Struggling Learner

Judy (11:08): I think I would say first off, if this is your first year homeschooling expect that to happen. You can't take a student from what they know, drop them into a brand new environment or scenario for education and expect them to just make the transition like that. In fact, there's a pretty general rule of thumb that says take the number of years that your student has been in a classroom setting… So if you have a third grader that you've pulled out, then have the expectation that it's going to take about three weeks for them to make the transition and to adapt to the fact that, yes, you are my teacher.

Judy (11:49): I know my grandson said to his mom not long ago, "But you're my mom, you're not my teacher." And that's a pretty common reaction because kids categorize the authorities in their life and you are in the mom slot, and he might be in the dads slot, and this person over here is in the teacher slot and now you've messed all that up for them. And so I think that's probably the first step is to give yourself grace, give them a little grace, give them some time to adapt.

Judy (12:25): But ultimately, whether they like it or not, they're going to have to adapt because this is what it is and there's not a whole lot we can do to change that scenario. And so then it becomes a perfect opportunity to teach some of those hard lessons in life. Like, you know what, there are always going to be things in life that we don't like that we just have to do. And so at some point I think you move beyond buy-in and you move to a scenario where you have to help your children build in that area of their maturity and their character to accept what this change is, at least for now.

Use Positive Words and a Growth Mindset

Tender (13:10): Yeah. And I think using positive words on, I know you can do this and I know this is hard, but like Judy was saying, but what's even more important that you learn to do this the right way. Like let's say it's handwriting, and all their handwriting, they need help in this area and they just absolutely do not like it, that I want to help you and I know this is going to be hard for you. But even more than correcting your handwriting, it's that character that's getting built in. I point it out sometimes to them that we're also working that you're going to work on perseverance, even when it's hard. And so then I look for ways, how can I encourage that? That I know it's not a fun task for them, but I want you to do your best.

The Value of Timers and Short Lessons

Tender (13:56): And so sometimes I'll give them a timeframe. I'm going to put a timer on for 15 minutes. And for 15 minutes, we're going to do this copy work with your neatest handwriting. And then we'll be done. So I just, sometimes I ask them for a specific amount of time so that they know that an end. And if it helps to have a timer that, but I'd set forth my expectations of for these 15 minutes I want you to really focus. I want you to do your best. We're going to start all our letters from the top. We're going to do them just as we have learned here. And I want you to have as neat a copy work as you can do. And so that that kind of puts a time limit on I'm asking you this effort for this amount of time and then we're going to be done.

Tender (14:41): And I do think that on the especially hard subjects that are hard for them is please don't do it for an hour. It would be better to do a really concentrated, say I want your concentrated effort for just a few minutes and then we are going to take a break. And maybe after lunch, we'll do it one more time. Or if that was going over multiplication or something. But it is better to do short, intense little intervals than to do, like let's do an hour of English today, or write your creative paper that we need to work on. That just, the long periods of time aren't going to yield the benefit of short, intense, let's just take this little bit of time and do it for all this week. Or really, for this week, we're going to do five days of 15 minutes each day doing this one thing. And that really, I think you'll see better efforts that way.

Give Kids Choices and Provide Clear Expectations

Karen (15:37): And if you have an older student, my oldest was 7th grade when we brought him home, I tried to give choices within some framework. So I love the fact that Sonlight carries a bunch of different math programs. I let my child choose which math program he felt would work best for him. It's like, here's our parameters, you can choose any of these. Or like on the history, if there's different programs, different levels that would work, I would say, "Which one interests you the most?"

Karen (16:12): And so getting that buy-in definitely helped a little bit. When the complaints started coming, it was like, "You chose this math program. You said you really liked the way they taught it or however it worked." And so that kind of… And he had to admit, yeah, I was right and stop grumbling about it. So I think that helps. But I also, I agree with what Tender was saying about if there's a subject that your kid just really doesn't like, break it up into smaller pieces throughout the day, if you can. Because then they don't feel like it's going to take forever to do it.

Judy (16:49): Tender made a good point about setting expectations. I found that, especially for younger children, at the beginning of the school day, if I could say things like, "By lunchtime, we'll be all done if you work your hardest." Or, "Before daddy gets home from work, we'll be all done if you work your hardest." Or, "If this happens, then this can happen." And so I think every day just giving them some framework for their day, because to a seven year old, when you plop a workbook in front of him and sit him down, he looks at that and thinks this is going to take forever. You know? And so whether it's a timer or some event that occurs every day that you can attach things to, I think setting expectations are a huge benefit.

Karen (17:40): And I also would give my kids a little bit of freedom. You want to go work on your math outside on the back porch because the weather's really nice? Go for it. I don't care. You're not going to have to sit at the kitchen table and do it. As long as they're doing their work. Now, if they're goofing off or the work doesn't get done, they lose that privilege. But allowing them that freedom, they feel like they have a little control. I can do it the way I want to do it.

Karen (18:06): And as my third grader grew older, like fifth grade and stuff, she liked doing all of her schoolwork on her bed in her room. As long as she stayed on top of it, I was totally fine with that. Anything that was her individual work. As long as it wasn't suffering it was like, "Sure, go ahead. I don't care where you do it." So sometimes little things like that, making them feel like they have some control or it's not quite as boring because I have a little bit better environment or whatever, that can help too.

Stephanie (18:37): I wanted to say that I've heard some homeschoolers for skill-based subjects, their age plus two minutes, that you set the timer for that. So that's a standard that you could use. You could use five minutes a day for five days. You could… Whatever. And here's the other thing. I would suggest trying many things until you find what works.

Karen (19:00): Every kid is different.

Stephanie (19:02): Absolutely.

Think of Your Days as Small Experiments

Tender (19:03): Think of it at all as small experiments. We're going to try a small experiment today and see how this goes and see… And then if that experiment goes well, then we're going to keep doing it. But if it doesn't, well, we will adjust and find a different approach, just like you said, Stephanie.

Grading and Giving Progress Reports

Stephanie (19:20): Yeah, absolutely. So now that you've brought your child home, let's talk about grades and progress reports and what that all looks like. Because I do think a lot of people think that they… Well, how do I assess? How do I know that they're learning? How do I give them grades? And while there are some States that require some sort of report, for those that don't, maybe we can address that.

Judy (19:51): I think this is where you talk about the difference between couch subjects and table subjects.

Table subjects are those skill-based subjects like math and spelling and handwriting that you do at the table, typically, but not always. And those things are easy to grade because they're either right or wrong.

And so you certainly can generate a grade for that. And if you live in a state, like you said, Stephanie, where you're required to generate some sort of quarterly report or year end report, those subjects are very, very easy to do that for.

Judy (20:31): The couch subjects are different. Because couch subjects are things that are literature based, things like a science in the younger years and history and Bible and literature. And so those things are not as simple or as easy to grade. And so a lot of times my approach to that was simply I know what my child knows. And my child will always get a positive grade or a pass on a pass fail type of scale because if they don't get it the first time, we have the freedom to go back over it again, as Karen's already mentioned, until they get it.

Judy (21:09): And so I think it's important to remember that you don't have to bring school home. You're not generating a report card like a classroom teacher has to do. But if your state requires that kind of reporting, then that's kind of the way we approached it in our homeschool.

Karen (21:28): Neither of the two states I lived in while I homeschooled required grades. So at the younger ages, I didn't grade anything. When I went over and corrected their math, like Judy was saying, I would have them go back, okay, you missed this, let's correct it. And we kept doing it until we got it. Because my purpose was not just do a lesson and move on. My purpose was they understand it because you're building on things. And so we never did grades. I would do a quarterly evaluation just for myself so I could kind of evaluate where the kids were if I saw areas they needed to work on. And I would share those with my husband because he would want to know how are the kids doing? But I did not officially do grades on anything until high school when we needed to generate a transcript.

Karen (22:17): Because like Judy said, I can tell if my kid is struggling with reading. I can tell if they're just really being sloppy with their handwriting and they don't care. I mean, I can tell. I'm working with them every day. One-on-one is just so ideal for this, because you can tell immediately. And because they're your child, you know. Are they being lazy or are they just not getting it and I need to like go over this or explain it a different way or whatever? You can tell because it's your child.

Tender (22:48): Yes. I mean, I live in a state that doesn't require grades or any formal record keeping. So I have not, up until high school. And then yes, I keep a transcript and have grades for each of the subjects for my high schooler. And honestly, their first test… I mean, they we've always had math with like quizzes or review tests. And so they've always done math tests, but they've never had other tests necessarily until high school. Then they started having science tests and review and doing, and sitting, going to do an SAT. But that they have still been able to be successful and have those testing skills, even though we didn't do just tons… We did zero, really. I mean, honestly in the elementary years we did not do that much testing. But that they have been able to be, as high schoolers, they're able to test well and work on that. It's just, they didn't have that much experience as they entered high school.

Tender (23:54): And again, like as Karen said, on math was probably the most important where I was grading. And if things were wrong, we went back and it was more important that we correct it and know, understand why we missed it than putting a letter grade on something. So I would only just say, "Oh, let's go back." And it was for correction purposes, "Let's correct this and get it corrected." And then make sure that they know the concept than to put a number or a letter on that piece of paper.

How to Adjust Your Curriculum to Suit Your Child

Stephanie (24:29): So how can you adjust your Sonlight guide and make changes where your child needs them or where they're struggling?

Judy (24:40): I think that's going to be unique to every family situation. But I can tell you, one of my students did not read until they were eight, nine years old. And reading was a challenge for that student. And so I looked for ways to lessen that burden by adapting what was required of that student every day. And so for example, one year we did Sonlight's Eastern Hemisphere study, and that student, I had them scheduled to only do every other reader that was assigned. And that meant that they had twice as long to get through a scheduled amount of reading as the typical schedule or the regular schedule called for. So it was a very simple fix. Doesn't mean that those other books never got read. We read them over the summer or for extra reading at bedtime. But it meant that as far as what was required academically by me of that student, I just looked for a way to lessen that burden.

Judy (25:46): Had another student who struggled with fine motor skill issues and handwriting was a chore. It was a nightmare. And so all of our creative writing became this frustration because this child spent so much time focusing on how to get hold of that pencil and hold it correctly that there was no brain space left for being creative or for putting together written material. And so I taught that student how to type at a very young age. And so they were able to remove the burden of holding a pencil and it freed them up to be able to do that. So I think one of the ways to adapt any homeschool curriculum is to look at where your student struggles and find ways to remove that burden or that challenge.

Karen (26:38): Yeah. I remember I had a child who also the handwriting was holding up everything. So I had him dictate to me until he was old enough to type and that eliminated that problem because he could spend the time thinking through his writing assignment instead of worrying about writing it down. And there've been other times with another child, sometimes we had to take longer to do a writing assignment. If it took a couple of weeks, kind of like you were talking about with the readers, Judy, and we would maybe drop a writing assignment and stretch one out longer to allow enough time to really not feel overwhelmed by it.

Karen (27:25): So I would sort of try to be flexible with that. And some writing assignments were breeze and some weren't. And if there was a writing assignment that I knew, "Oh, she's got this down pat," that might be one I'd drop and then allow her to take a little more time on the more difficult ones.

Consider Seeking Outside Help for Genuine Learning Disabilities

Judy (27:43): I think it's also worth mentioning that children, some children do have legitimate learning challenges or disabilities or whatever title you want to put on it. I'm a firm believer that every child has subjects in which they're challenged and every child has subjects that are a breeze or they excel in. But there are students out there who have overarching learning challenges, whether they are vision challenges, whether they are processing or cognitive issues, whether they're motor skill issues, like I mentioned with one of my kids.

Judy (28:24): And I think for those, you may have to look for outside assistance. You may have to reach out to someone who's walked that path before you. I think one of the best resources is to check with your state homeschool organization. Most state homeschool organizations have experience providing direction and giving recommendations to resources that are going to help you help a student who truly has a struggle that may be beyond what you're able to deal with just on a one-on-one basis. So I think it's good to remember that that truly can be a legitimate problem and there are resources out there. You're not alone in dealing with those.

Karen (29:16): No.

Stephanie (29:17): Absolutely. I was going to say too, you can always call your pediatrician. They can also help you with a lot of those things that are medical diagnosis. So they would be the first… You can certainly look up and ask for advice and follow what others have done, but your pediatrician is another great resource for that too.

Judy (29:39): Absolutely.

Encouraging Advice for Parents

Stephanie (29:40): Yeah. So these are all great things. Any other advice you might have for parents as they venture through the next few months of school? So we've done a few, now we're sort of into the next few months before the holidays…

Tender (29:58): I would say to keep on keeping on. And everybody's going to have their… We're going to all have our bad days. We're going to all have our days where everybody's whiny or crying about the assignments. And sometimes even mom too wants to whine or cry about… But we do set the tone and say, "Oh, we get to…" I try to be encouraging with my words and say, "Oh, I'm so glad I am able to do this with you. I'm so glad… I love hanging out with you. I love learning all this. Did you…"

My kids laugh at me because they're like, "Mom, you get so excited about school stuff." Well, it's like, "Well, yeah, this is so cool to learn all these things. And I didn't know this when I was your age." So sometimes that excited excitement in you enjoying it, that does rub off on your kids. Not always, but it can help at times.

Tender (30:55): So I would just say to keep on keeping on and that slow and steady wins the race. It's not going to happen all at once. We just, every day we do a little bit and then that little bit, by and by, it's going to, you're going to be able to blink and then it's going to be, "We did a whole year!" But you do it day by day, not by all at once.

Stephanie (31:21): Yeah.

Karen (31:22): And I think too, if you can understand you're not going to ruin your child. That was my biggest fear when I started. I'm going to ruin her, I just know it. I know that's going to happen. And it took a while for me to really relax and enjoy it, like Tender was talking about. So if you can understand, as long as they're moving forward, as long as they're further today than they were yesterday, you are doing just fine. And be able to relax and enjoy it and know that your child is going to be doing well.

Judy (31:56): I think you need to look for a community. Nobody has to travel this path alone. Certainly we have resources through Sonlight, through our connections groups online and our in-person connections groups and find someone that you can come alongside with. And ideally find somebody that's a little further down the path than you are and who can look back and say, "You know what? You can do this. I'm a mile ahead of you and I'm still moving on. And so I'm here to encourage you and help you along the way."

Stephanie (32:32): Absolutely. So flexibility, patience, grace, community. Those are your four takeaways I think from what they just said. You can find out more about Sonlight's connections groups. And as always, our blog is a wealth of resources, So those two resources I think would also be helpful for you. So, thank you guys so much for joining me today and we will talk to you soon. Bye.

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