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Problem Learners? Inspect What You Expect

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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I regularly receive phone calls from homeschooling moms who are referred to me by mutual friends. Often they are calling because of a student who does not finish academic assignments or takes an inordinate amount of time to do so. The frustrated mom will "confess" that she is considering sending her child to public school where there are "experts" who know how to deal with problem learners.

By asking many questions and getting a grasp of the particulars of the situation, I find that the issue often boils down to an unclear vision of educational goals along with unrealistic expectations on the part of the homeschooling parent. A child who daydreams does not do so because she is homeschooled. Teachers in day-school classes deal with the same issues. Since all children don't learn at the same pace, a younger child who struggles with a subject that an older sibling breezed through is not proof positive that homeschooling isn't the correct choice. I regularly assure mothers that their dilemma is not extraordinary, and rather than "jump ship," they need to make some procedural changes.

In my book, Lessons Learned from Years of Homeschooling, I devote a chapter to the epiphany I had one day when dealing with my reluctant, smart-mouthed son/student. It was then the concept that "learning is privilege not a right" was crystallized. I realized that I placed a higher priority on academics than on developing godly character and he noticed that fact and was exploiting it. I share this incident with my distraught callers to assure them that negative responses from their student(s) are more indicative of the fall of man than of their inadequacy as teachers.

Here are some tips for running a successful, well-oiled homeschool:

  • Be sure you are clear on your academic goals. Articulate these goals so that each student knows what he is expected to accomplish each day, week, or month, depending on the age of the child. It is beneficial for everyone to know where you are headed. 
  • Make it a point to "inspect" what you "expect"* in order to avoid bad habits and failures to complete assignments. It is important to catch these early rather than have them go on for weeks or months. 
  • Be flexible in re-ordering your plans for a particular subject if the student is working at too slow a pace, too fast a pace, or needs another mode of instruction to help him grasp the material.
  • Pace yourself, create a schedule that you can stick to so that you are not running a race even superwoman would lose.
  • Make it a priority to include life-skills into your homeschool that are not academic.
  • Involve your husband with the day-in and day-out realities of the issues you face and listen to his counsel and perspective. Remember, homeschooling is a team effort by both parents.
  • Pray without ceasing that your focus remains on furthering the Kingdom of God.

One reason why children may become lackadaisical about their academics is too much free time on their hands, concluding that there is no reason to meet deadlines. From the time my children were eight years old, they were required to do their own laundry, prepare their own breakfast and lunch, and occasionally make dinner or help in its preparation. Additionally, they learned how to grocery shop, working off the list I gave them. Four times a year they were involved in helping my husband with his mailers to customers. Piano lessons, athletic endeavors, and outside play were also part of the mix. In other words, my children had more responsibilities than just "book learning." Our academics, which included liberal amounts of time for good reading, were not always considered drudgery. Because there were many things on the day's agenda, it became obvious when schedules and deadlines were not being met. By the time they were older and earning money outside the home, their employers appreciated how responsible and reliable they were.

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in a homeschool environment is to fail to appreciate the uniqueness of the home education situation. The main benefit of home education is the ability to have integrated learning where the needs of the family are not subservient to academic requirements and the Word of God can be at the center of all activities. Then, rather than becoming perpetual students, children are discipled and become productive adults ready, willing, and able to work.

* This was a phrase my husband originated and continued to remind me of throughout my homeschooling career.