Troubleshooting Your Homeschool Plan: Curriculum, Teacher, or Child?
by Kyndra Steinmann
At this point in the year, most of us have at least a month’s worth of schooling checked off the calendar and we’re starting to think about what is going well and what….isn’t. Time to troubleshoot your homeschool plan!
Around here we’ve had our share of tears, thrown pencils, siblings yelled at, and declarations of “I’m never doing ____again!” And I’m doing my usual mid-semester evaluation of what I have planned.
Is it too hard? Are the lessons too long? Should I have picked a different curriculum? Or maybe not chosen this subject at all? Are all our history lessons going to involve a fuss?
I can stew about these things and drop subjects in frustration, or I can evaluate the problems and try to determine if the trouble is the curriculum, the teacher, or the student.
Is it the curriculum?
Sometimes a curriculum that looks really good isn’t a good fit for a particular child. It may have worked for everyone else in the family but now it isn’t. I like to ask myself the following questions:
- Is the workload just too heavy given the amount of time available? Is this making the student feel pressured and stressed?
A student who is anxious about getting the work in may react with tears or anger, or they may rush and do sloppy work. If this is the case, the curriculum itself may be fine if the assignments are divided differently or reduced.
- Is the curriculum too easy or repetitive, giving a bored student opportunities for mischief or an excuse not to focus?This can be tricky. Some curricula use repetition to make sure that students have the techniques they need down. Repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing—in fact, there are a number of studies that show that on average students need to do things 30-50 times before they are truly comfortable with a new technique—but the manner of repetition may not work well for a particular student. In that case, I may choose to modify the assignments by making them oral, having the student write on the blackboard, or having them type, in order to give a different feel to the lessons. If I think things are too easy, I may double up on assignments or even skip ahead to something more difficult.
- Is there something about the physical appearance of the curriculum that is making lessons difficult for this student?We use a math curriculum that I love, but the spaces for writing answers are really small and my 1st-3rd grade students find the pages of the book incredibly frustrating because their fine motor skills just aren’t ready to write that small. I usually have them write some of the answers and tell me the rest while I write. The lessons go much more quickly that way, since the child can answer as quickly as I can write instead of having to take time to write answers in small spaces.
Is it the student?
Sometimes a student’s weaknesses are highlighted by a particular curriculum or type of assignment. In our house this year, we are doing a good bit of dictation in history, and the assignments are proving very difficult for the ten-year-old. At least once a week, there are tears or yelling at the other children who are doing the same assignment, and some weeks there is a complete meltdown. I have considered dropping dictation from his schedule but have concluded that, though this is something he finds difficult, given the ease with which he does most of his other lessons, having some struggle to overcome with this one is a good thing. I remind him that this lesson is harder for him than for his sister because they are different people. I make it clear that I am willing to help with spelling and go slowly so that he can keep his work neat, but I am not going to drop the subject because it is important for him to learn to push through difficulties cheerfully.
Of course, sometimes a student has enough weaknesses that it is appropriate to put a set of assignments aside for a while so that they can work on those areas one at a time, but the plan should always be to return to the original assignments if at all possible.
Is it the teacher?
As much as I love my children, there are some things that I cannot teach them. Sometimes this inability comes from my own lack of understanding of the subject, which makes it difficult for me to explain the concepts in a way that my child will grasp. Other times I understand the subject well but because I am primarily a visual learner I find it hard to translate the concepts into a lesson that my hands-on learner will find comprehensible.
At other times a conflict of personality can rise between a student and myself. I can become frustrated with an attitude and find it difficult to teach a subject with kindness and grace. At such times I need to recognize that I may need to repent and approach my child with humility and an apology as we work together.
Careful evaluation of problems helps to reduce the panic I sometimes feel when lessons don’t proceed the way I’ve expected them to. Often I begin to see how to address the issues as I identify exactly where the difficulty arises and I am able to move onward with the children in a spirit of teamwork.
Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Sticks, Stones & Chicken Bones, Facebook, and Pinterest.