…without using a checklist
As a momma, you want your children to learn, to grow, to excel in their studies, and to succeed, right?
But how do you know they’re learning what they’re supposed to be learning? How do you know they’re excelling in their studies? Or even making progress in their school work? Is there a way to know whether or not your children will succeed as you homeschool them?
What do you measure against?
What do you hold your child up against to figure out whether or not they’re learning what they should be learning?
And if you think your child isn’t learning all they need to, you start to feel like a failure as a momma, right? You start to feel like you’re not doing your job right. You start to feel like you can’t hack it as a homeschooling momma.
Now, I’m not gonna lie: This is a big subject! It’s a lot to unpack. To unravel. To identify the different pieces of this concept.
Because, let’s face it, your child’s success in their studies starts to get all wrapped up in your identity as a momma. Their success feels like your success. Their failure feels like your failure. And all these thoughts go round and round and round in your head like a cat chasing the red dot of a laser pointer.
But imagine this: Let’s say this cat has a string tied to its tail. (For the record, I didn’t actually try this, so no cats were harmed or bothered as I wrote this blog post!) As this cat runs around the room chasing that illusive red dot, it pulls and draws the string along behind it. And as it pounces and dashes here and there and everywhere through the room, it creates this massive, tangled web of string that can cover pretty much everything, right?
So often, this is what it feels like when it comes to talking about your child’s success at homeschooling, isn’t it? It feels like you start thinking about one thing, then you hit a jumble of something else and you’re off on another area and then something else comes up…. And before you know it, you’re lost in this tangle of thoughts (or string) and you don’t know which way is up or which way is out or how to make sense of it all!
So let’s break this down and take it one bit at a time, shall we?
Checklists: Good or Bad?
When you first think you need to check on how much your child is learning, what immediately comes to mind? Chances are, the first thing you thought of was a checklist.
And it makes sense! What better way to check and see if your child is on track with their learning than to look through a list and be able to check off the boxes? Doing this will tell you whether or not they’ve learned all they should at this level of schooling.
It’s almost like a pilot going through a pre-flight checklist before taking to the skies. The pilot want to make sure everything has been checked and is in good working order before leaving the ground. Just like you want to make sure your child has learned everything they need to learn before leaving this school grade and moving on to the next one.
But what sort of checklist do you use? And more than that, is a checklist what you should be looking for in the first place?
Now, checklists have their good points and they can be helpful things. Personally, I’m a big fan of checklists for many things in my life! And when you start getting into the high school years, checklists can be extremely helpful. Particularly as your child is starting to choose a field of study they want to pursue in college.
However, when you start using a checklist as a measure of how much your elementary homeschooled child is learning, there’s a fatal flow in the concept: Not every child learns at the exact same pace.
Why would you use a checklist created by someone who doesn’t know your child, who doesn’t understand your child to measure your child’s success against?
It seems as ridiculous as giving a rabbit a swimming lesson and telling it that it failed as a rabbit because it only managed not to drown. Or giving a fish a climbing lesson and telling it that it failed as a fish because it can’t climb a tree. Crazy, right?
And yet, if you’re not careful, this is what a lot of these checklists will tell you!
Children Are Unique
Each and every child is created uniquely. They each have different gifts, talents, and abilities. They each learn in different ways and at different paces. They each have different strengths and different weaknesses.
One child may be more inclined to math while another may be more inclined to reading.
Another child may excel in reading but struggle with science.
Another child may be at one grade level according to their age and yet be learning 2 grade levels ahead in math or phonics.
Still another child may be working through some learning difficulties and is “behind” where the age standard says they should be.
But this is the beauty of homeschooling!
You see, the beauty of homeschooling doesn’t lie in the fact that you can hold your child up to a given checklist and they can check all the boxes and get a gold star. The beauty of homeschooling doesn’t lie in the fact that you get to – or have to – recreate a brick and mortar, traditional classroom inside your living room or at your kitchen table!
The beauty of homeschooling is found in being able to meet each child individually where they’re at in their learning journey. It’s found in being able to help them along, to challenge them to new heights. To be able to slow down and make sure that a lesson is fully understood and mastered before moving on. To not feel forced to get through a certain number of math lessons by the end of the year or not being afraid to keep going in your math lessons if your child is excelling. (Or any subject for that matter!)
The beauty of homeschooling is found in being able to tailor your approach to your children, to their learning levels, and to meet them where they are. It’s having the ability and capability and freedom to encourage your children to learn into their strengths while still working to make progress in the weaker areas.
What Do You Measure?
So, if you’re not going to use a set checklist to measure your elementary-age child’s progress, there still needs to be some way to check and see if your child is learning, right? After all, the entire goal of homeschooling is to teach your children and for them to learn and grow in their knowledge.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that you stop checking to see if your child is learning. Far from it! What I am saying is that just like homeschooling is a unique approach, tailored to your child, your method of checking the progress your elementary-age child is making should also be unique.
But how do you do it? How do you measure your child’s progress? Again, checklists are nice and easy because the checklist essentially becomes the measuring stick you can hold your child against.
Think about it like this: The rabbit would fail if the only thing on its checklist was the swimming lessons, right? But what if the rabbit was asked to run as fast as it could? And what if you timed how fast this rabbit could run a set distance? Then, what if you asked the rabbit to jump as far as it could, then measured the distance it’s able to jump? Chances are, those numbers would be pretty good, right?
But how do you know if the rabbit is getting faster or jumping further? Well, what if in 3 months, you had the rabbit run the same distance and timed him again? What if you had him jump as far as he could and measured the distance again? Then, you could compare this very rabbit’s time running a set distance today with his time 3 months ago. You could compare this rabbit’s distance jump today with his jump 3 months ago. And chances are pretty good that you/ll see progress. Over time, the rabbit will be able to run faster and jump further.
This is the same mindset you need to adopt when checking your child’s progress. Now, I’m not saying you need to mark out a track in your backyard and time your child as they run a lap around the track and do it again in 3 months. But I am saying you need to compare your child’s progress with your child.
You see, checking how much a child has learned by seeing the amount of progress they’ve made is a much better and much more accurate measurement than trying to force your child into a box created by someone who doesn’t even know your child.
How Do You Measure Progress?
Let’s face it, as a homeschooling momma, you’re working with your child day in and day out. You see their struggles and their successes. You see when they get the concept and when they don’t grasp it right away.
But when you’re working with your child in this close, day to day capacity, it’s really hard to tell if they’re making progress! Honestly, many times it can feel like you’re just spinning around in circles and not getting anywhere!
You see, so often learning happens in small, incremental steps instead of by leaps and bounds. Sometimes you do get to see those learning leaps happen and it’s incredible when they do! But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
So if learning happens in these small, incremental steps, how can you see that they’re happening at all?
The key to seeing progress is to pull back and look at the big picture.
Here’s an easy way to do this: Get a worksheet from the beginning of the year (or at least 3 months ago) in a subject, let’s say handwriting. Next, get a handwriting worksheet your child just did within the last week. Lay them side by side and look at them. Can you see progress between the two?
Or maybe you’re looking at two phonics worksheets or two math worksheets. Can you see progress? Is your child working through harder concepts? Are the math problems getting more challenging? Are the words they’re working with getting longer and more complex?
Now, this simple worksheet comparison test works well for many subjects, but there are some subjects that don’t have worksheets. Reading is one that comes to mind. But again, this principle of pulling back and looking at where your child was a month or two or three ago compared with where they are now holds true. By taking this big picture view, you can see whether or not your child is moving in the right direction or whether they’re struggling in a certain area.
As you measure progress, remember two very important things:
Measure a child’s progress against themself! Don’t measure one child against a sibling’s progress or against your friend’s child. Measure your one child against their own work.
Measuring progress is not an excuse to stop teaching your child. The goal of homeschooling is to teach your child, which means they need to be learning! But you have to blend this learning and moving forward with making sure your child masters the concepts and the lessons being taught.
Why Progress Is A Better Measure Than A Checklist
When you measure your child’s progress instead of holding them up to a checklist, you’re giving them the freedom to be themselves.
It all goes back to the concept that all children don’t learn at the same rate in the same subjects. Some excel in math. Others excel in science. Others excel in music. Others excel in literature. Now, every child needs a solid base of knowledge in all subjects – particularly in elementary school. But when you allow them to learn at their own pace, you’ll start to see their strong subjects and their interests emerge.
If we take this principle that all children learn at different rates in different subjects, why would you want to hold them up to a checklist that’s saying “every child must know the following things by the time they read such-and-such an age”?
You see, measuring progress is an individual approach to knowing whether your child is learning. It’s measuring your son’s math progress against where he was at the beginning of the year. It’s measuring your daughter’s math progress – not against your son’s – but against where she was at the beginning of the year.
Does this create more of a sliding scale? Does this approach make it a little more subjective and sometimes a little more difficult to measure progress? Yes, sometimes.
But on the other hand, you’re not trying to force a rabbit to pass a swimming test. Instead, you’re measuring how fast the rabbit runs compared to how fast he ran 3 or 6 months ago. You’re not trying to force a fish to climb a tree. Instead, you’re measuring how fast the fish can swim now compared to how fast he could swim 3 months ago when he was a baby fish.
a dose of reality
Now, I understand that there comes a time in every child’s education where you do need to work with checklists. Using a list to make sure you’re covering all the subjects you should is extremely helpful. Using a checklist to make sure your child has a certain proficiency in specific subjects as they prepare for college is an extremely helpful tool.
But when your child is young, particularly in the elementary school grades and younger, checklists can cause more harm than good. Again, this goes back to the principle that each and every child is created unique. And as unique individuals, they learn at different paces than others and at different paces in different subjects.
The biggest key of all is this: Give your child the freedom to learn at their own pace!
Give them a solid foundation to build on. A foundation of learning and book knowledge. A foundation of understanding and love. A foundation of being free to explore different areas of study. And of being able to learn at a pace that keeps them challenged and moving forward, but not discouraged and giving up before they begin.
And when you build this solid foundation and measure your child’s progress by the standard they set, you’ll start to see them learn and grow in ways you never thought possible.
At this beginning of this post, I mentioned how easy it is for our identity as homeschooling mommas to get wrapped up in the success or failures of our children. How it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re not doing enough to help or teach your child and to start feeling like a failure. This is a big topic…one that I don’t have nearly enough room to unpack in this blog post!
But I don’t want to leave you hanging on these topics, either. Check out the resources linked below. Resources created to encourage you as you walk this road of homeschooling your children. You’ve chosen a challenging road and sometimes it’s so easy to lose perspective. Take a few moments to pull back and gain some perspective as you continue to teach and pour into your children.
- To the Frustrated and Overwhelmed Homeschooling Momma
- Unravelling The Truth From The Lies: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
- Dispelling the Myth That You Have To Do It All
- What To Do When You Crave Balance As You Homeschool
- Simple Ways To Overcome Frustration And Enjoy Your Homeschooling Day
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.