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Homeschooling: Bringing Home the Child Who Doesn’t Know as Much as You Thought She Knew

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Homeschooling: Bringing Home the Child

Who Doesn’t Know as Much as You Thought She Knew

By Linda Dobson


"Yes, I did it last year but no, I didn't learn it."

This scenario plays out in a frightening number of instances when parents take children out of school for homeschooling. The circumstances are always similar.

Parent believes child is doing very well in public or private school. After all, child is on the honor roll, receiving straight A’s on report cards, is liked by teachers, and is producing copious amounts of homework.

Here’s how this scenario played out in the Missouri, Swanson household when Stephanie, the oldest of four children, came to homeschooling from public school in fourth grade because private school wasn’t financially possible.

With too little confidence in her own abilities, mom Jenny bought a curriculum she calls “idiot proof” and began homeschooling by reviewing what her oldest child knew. “She was not as educated as I thought,” remembers Jenny. “She had major trouble with reading and spelling, and she had no learning skills whatsoever. How did she make it to fourth grade on honor roll like this?” Jenny wondered.

Customized Learning with Homeschooling

Coming home was a wake-up call for Stephanie, too, as she realized her former A’s and B’s, awarded for speeding through lessons while learning little, were meaningless. “I gave her smaller assignments and helped her concentrate harder on them,” says Jenny. “I tossed out the grading system, and we just didn’t move on until she knew the material. At the same time we switched to a different style of curriculum so we could stay away from the ‘school’ formula. She loves to read, so we do a lot of reading and projects.”

The results? Within a year Stephanie acquired better study skills and could once again move quickly through lessons. “She enjoys learning much more now,” Jenny says, “and comes away with more knowledge.”

See also “Why You Don’t Need a Curriculum for Learning

Mary Nunaley’s sixth grader was on the honor roll during her stint in a Tennessee private school. Imagine Mary’s surprise upon discovering that her daughter didn’t know the times tables and her reading was “horrid.”

Math became a homeschooling nightmare. At the end of the first year, Mary’s then-three-year-old son learned to run screaming out of the room in anticipation of conflict whenever Mom mentioned math or Saxon (a math textbook series).

“Three years later,” says a proud Mary, who hung in there with lots of repetition and alternative math activities,” not only is she breezing through math and enjoying it; she is also partway through the algebra 2 book as an eighth grader. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

Homeschooling: Teaching vs. Learning

I began homeschooling with the notion that I actually had the power to teach my son things, even if he thought he didn’t want to learn them. The peculiar focus of this insanity for me was math. Sam is a voracious reader, so I figured that most other “school” topics would be addressed in his reading, but what about fractions? Probability? What if I completely forgot to teach him geometry?

I brought home workbooks, textbooks, software – everything I could find to make this subject he had learned to despise in school more appealing. I asked for one page of math per day. No, make that thirty minutes of the latest math-based computer game.

One day, while sitting at the dining room table with Sam and the math book, I experienced a revelation. We were reviewing some topic that he’d completed in public school the previous year, yet he was not demonstrating any command of it whatsoever. In frustration I fumed, “You know this stuff! You learned it last year!”

His matter-of-fact response was “Yes, I did it last year but no, I didn’t learn it. And if I didn’t learn it then, what makes you think I’ll learn it now?” I was so stunned by the simplicity of his reply that I couldn’t answer at first. Of course! I was never going to make him learn anything. After a minute I said, “You know, you’re absolutely right,” and closed the book. Permanently.

Do I worry that he’s never going to be able to calculate the area under a curve? Yes. Do I still experience lack-of-math anxiety occasionally? Definitely. But I am coming to trust that if he ever needs to determine the unknown variable in an equation, he will be motivated by that need to find out how it’s done. And that’s the kind of learning that sticks.

~ Michelle Yauger, Arizona

Adapted from The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child by Linda Dobson; more info on this classic help book at link.
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4 Responses to “Homeschooling: Bringing Home the Child Who Doesn’t Know as Much as You Thought She Knew”

  1. Great article thanks! I think its important as parents to stay on top of things no matter where or how your child is learning. If we as parents don’t observe, keep watch and test our children’s abilities often we may lose sight of what it is they are learning and how effectively they are retaining those skills, if at all.

    • Hi, Linda, Thanks for such nice words. Plain ol’ observation is so easy and so valuable a source of important info. Still working for the day that the benefits are available to ALL children! Thanks so much for reading, and taking the time to comment – great to have you here!

  2. Mother Mary says:

    gosh, you mean we weren’t the only ones!?!?

    No. 1 son was 14 when we’d had enough. He got good grades, never failed anything and liked school. But a suspension where they sent home him and his books for me to teach for 2 weeks clearly demonstrated how little he had learned. (Little did they know, huh?)

    His reading was on the Dick & Jane level and his math was basic. We made a list of what we thought he should be learning and went at it. In the days before curriculum-in-a-box we were on our own, but we made it. He probably learned more in that 3 years than he had in the previous 10. And the best part was he KNEW he’d learned it, not just gotten a grade for attendance. His pride in himself was the real deal.

    I guess what you are saying is that very little has changed since 1981. And all that money we give the school!!!! sheesh.

    • I didn’t know that, Mary, about how you got involved w/ homeschooling. Was that in NJ? Yes, it’s the vast amount of $$ we spend, but look at the dates we’re talking about…two, going on three generations getting the same “education.” A sin and a sham.

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