By Maggie Dail, M.A. Learning Specialist
Homeschoolers that I work with and encounter conscientiously teach their own with the greatest of goals. While not all, but many of these families also face learning challenges in their children. When we work together to determine the missing pieces in the learning process or set up an academic plan, parents begin hopeful, but often times become overwhelmed and fall into a number of pitfalls. Sometimes parents set themselves up to fail when they adopt another person or school’s expectations. Here are some that I have observed:
- Forgetting that character matters. I have a little poster on the wall above my desk that lists about 31 “Important Things That Tests Can’t Measure” (All About Learning poster.) I administer many assessments, but they do not give the full picture of a child. We must keep things like determination, helpfulness and self-control as priorities.
- Binding yourself to someone else’s schedule. When possible, come up with a schedule that fits your family. If you homeschool all of your children, you do not have to think about a school schedule. Studies show that a schedule that is not too strict or too loose provides the best academic results. Your “perfect schedule” will not mimic that of another, but will be yours.
- Sticking to a nine-month a year academic schedule. While this must be a family decision, I highly recommend considering a year around program with shorter breaks. Yes, we need breaks, but THREE MONTHS? School textbooks typically spend the first 4- 6 weeks of school reviewing from last year. Why? Because people do not retain new information for three months. Taking this much time off at a time proves even more challenging for those with learning difficulties. For those working with us for Brain Training, we recommend shorter breaks throughout the year. Ask yourself, “What are the things I continue doing consistently throughout the year even if I am ‘on vacation’?” My list includes: personal hygiene, eating, sleeping, daily time of prayer and Bible reading, activities that I use to keep my mind alert as I age (word games, world language lessons, puzzles). One thing that should be on the list, but it is a struggle when away from home or if I am not feeling especially great: physical therapy exercises that help maintain my joints. For your struggling learner, some Brain Training should be on that list. If you choose or must follow a nine-month schedule, be sure to find time during the summer to review the basics in math, have them read much and go on field trips.
- Trying to implement too many new things at one time. When you add something new to your schedule, you want to be consistent, so that means you need to add slowly. We must remind those working on Brain Training to add some activities each day or so until all of the recommended activities have been added. Even then, it may seem like too much, so we recommend that they work through the whole plan evenly. For instance, if they do not complete the whole plan in a day, pick up where they left off the next day so that within the week the whole plan will have been completed 2 or 3 times rather than 5 times.
- Expecting to fulfill difficult academic goals without providing the proper foundation. I do not believe homeschoolers keep their children home from school because of laziness. They want the best for their children so they set high expectations. Often, at the expense of building that foundation, they keep demanding their children succeed in the academics. Believe it or not, children who follow through consistently on their Brain Training activities and spend less time on their academics, actually test higher than those who spend more time on the academics and barely get to the foundational activities.
As you approach the holidays, the summer or any break think about how you can maintain progress rather than find your child struggling to get back on track or losing ground.