Every homeschool parent occasionally wonders if their children are learning everything they need to know. Since a literature-based learning approach doesn't use traditional testing, it can be even harder to objectively assess what your children are learning.
If you are feeling concerned, it is important to take a step back and examine what is causing that feeling. Chances are, your child is learning even more than you realize!
Is My Child Retaining Information?
Are you worried that your child can’t seem to retain detailed information from your lessons?
If your child is in their early elementary years (K-3rd), your expectations may need to be adjusted. These early years are an important introduction to the world and to learning. However, Sonlight is not designed with the expectation that a young child will memorize dates from history or develop a mastery of grammar.
Rather, the purpose of these years is to create hooks on which to hang future information.
The aha moment will come later as their maturity and understanding expands.
For example, if you read your young children a story about a prairie dog, they will likely enjoy the story. However, it takes on more meaning when you visit a zoo and see the elaborate system of tunnels real-life prairie dogs create. Your children may not have been able to recall detailed information about the habitat of prairie dogs when you first read the information, but a lasting connection is created later when they have experience to hang on that hook.
In a traditional classroom, the only way to assess students is by asking them to recite facts on a test. With homeschooling, true learning doesn't have to be limited to memorizing facts from a textbook lesson.
Learning is more lasting and meaningful when facts are attached to a real life experience or conversation. Seek out opportunities to help your child form those connections through field trips, cooking, and hands on activities. Or, simply start conversations with your children as you notice connections in your everyday life. As your perspective changes, you will begin to see the aha moments for yourself.
Is My Child Falling Behind in Math or Spelling?
You can begin by considering how your child learns best. Researching learning styles can be helpful, but don't be afraid to trust your gut; you likely already know a lot about how your child learns. After all, you were teaching your children long before they were school age.
Maybe your daughter has a keen eye for detail that has showed up in her drawings almost as soon as she could hold a crayon. If she begins to struggle with spelling, use that knowledge to create visual cues in her spelling words by writing the letter patterns in different colors. Maybe your little guy is quick to learn physical skills on the playground. Translate that into reciting math facts while jumping rope or marching up and down the stairs.
Sometimes, in spite of our efforts, the struggle continues. If so, it may be time to consider a different approach. You may need to try a completely different Math program. Evaluate what is not working with your current program, and go from there. For example, if your child is shutting down because the problem sets are overwhelming, you might try one that is less daunting. A little trial and error can be the best way to land on the method that works. If you're feeling lost in the sea of choices, the Sonlight Advisors can help give you an overview of the differences between various math and spelling programs.
Finally, if you are noticing something that just feels off, it may be a good idea to have your child evaluated by a professional for a learning challenge. Your state homeschool organization likely have some resources for dealing with learning challenges, as well.
Is My Child Behind Their Peers?
Learning may look unique for different children. In the early grades, children do not all develop the same skills at the same time. That is why reading groups and leveled math sessions exist in the same traditional classroom.
Just because a child is slower to master some skills does not mean they are not learning or not qualified for that particular grade.
Over time, and possibly over several grades, mastery happens.
When you start to wonder if your child is learning enough, don’t panic! Take some time to consider what learning should look like for your child’s age, maturity, challenges and temperament. Formulate realistic learning goals for the material you are teaching. If you set "knowing the parts of speech" as a goal for your 3rd grader, that may give you the objective measure you need to feel successful. It may also mean that in pursuing that goal, you give less attention to other things that are not as important to you. And that's okay; it's part of the flexibility of homeschooling!
Look for ways in which your child is developing a broader knowledge of the world. You may not be able to measure that, but it can be the most meaningful success that you have.
Don't be afraid to give things time; it's alright if we're learning how to teach at the same time our children are learning. Try new approaches, be creative, and trust your intuition. Your investment in your children is setting them up for success.