Why Is My Child Falling Behind in School? How Do I Help?
You awake one morning with a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach. You suspect that your child is struggling in school, and you feel a stab of guilt as you realize that you may not be doing everything possible to make sure they succeed. This feeling can occur whether your child is in public or private school or even if your child is being homeschooled. First, relax and be kind to yourself. The truth is that we all have these feelings of doubt, and often they are not warranted. Other times, however, our gut instinct is correct, and we need to make a change to better our child’s education sooner rather than later.
Why Is Evaluation and Reflection Useful?
The first step in this gut-check is to determine whether your child is, in fact, struggling in school. Through your own observations, you may be able to pinpoint difficulties with attention span, ability to make sense of tasks, or even specific skill areas. From there, reflect on what your child says and does, and gather any evidence you can that may support the concerns you have. This can include assignments, projects, quizzes/tests, progress reports, and drawings. You might even ask friends, family members, coaches or teachers what they observe, too. Depending on your child’s situation, you may need to watch them over a period of weeks to determine whether your observations and data truly indicate that your child is falling behind.
You may be able to use the information you obtain to do much more than satisfy your curiosity about your child’s learning. You can use the information to target any learning gaps, avoid future learning challenges and also set practical goals and prevent student burnout. Remember, however, that while observing your child and collecting evidence of their learning can occur daily, evaluation through more formal assessments should be used strategically with an eye to how the results will benefit future learning.
How Can I Tell If My Child Is Learning Enough?
One important point to establish right from the start is why you believe your child is struggling in the first place. What is your child saying or doing? Are they displaying emotions or reacting in ways that suggest challenges? Look for signs like frustration and overwhelm, work that is incomplete or not even started, task avoidance (like always asking to go to the bathroom during a particular subject or begging to take the day off), and, of course, lower scores on assignments and tests. Note when your child is less engaged in learning or makes negative self-statements. These can all be indicators that your child is feeling less than confident about what is being learned.
Knowing how to monitor and evaluate your child’s learning effectively can save you time and effort and provide valuable information while maintaining your child’s positive self-concept. Remember that open and ongoing communication with your child can be the best tool to determine if they are learning enough. Ask your child to reflect on the school day: What was easy? What was difficult? Why do you think that particular lesson was difficult? Is there a way that I can help with something? If your child can verbalize the root of the difficulties, your detective work becomes much more streamlined. However, many children find self-evaluation challenging. In the absence of clear direction from your child, there are several evaluation methods you can use to determine whether they are truly falling behind:
- Prior Performance: Use what you know about your child’s habits and levels of anxiety, as well as grades, test scores, and other measures, to determine if they are on the same trajectory compared to prior performance. If things have changed for the worse, that may be an indication that your child is falling behind.
- Goals: If your school or homeschool has explicit student goals for your child, use these to measure progress. Well-written student goals should be achievable. So, if your child is not achieving goals, they may be struggling in some way.
- Educational Standards: Existing standards are designed to establish age- or grade-level expectations for academics, social-emotional development, and other areas which may be of concern. You can use these educational standards to determine if your child’s progress aligns with expectations for a child the same age or in the same grade level.
- Peers: Talking to your child’s classmates or other homeschoolers may not be the best way to determine whether your child is falling behind. Rather, you may look to measures like standardized testing as a way to compare your child’s knowledge and skills against norm-referenced measures.
During this process, you’ll also want to rule out underlying causes of learning difficulties like unsupported vision and hearing problems, or undiagnosed learning differences. In these cases, having your child professionally assessed can help you better understand what help they need. Knowing why learning difficulties are occurring is just as important as determining the extent of them and how to reduce challenges.
How Do I Help My Child?
Once you’ve determined the extent and possible reasons for academic difficulties, the next step is to find solutions. Remember that learning may not be a consistent process. Some things are easier to learn for some students, while other concepts and skills may just be more difficult to learn. If you are seeing temporary or specific learning gaps, you may be able to trust the process within your child’s current educational situation. However, if those learning issues are more pervasive, you may want to consider changes that can help your child reach their full potential.
If your child is being homeschooled, try making instructional changes, switch up scheduling, add more hands-on learning, adjust the learning area, supplement what you are currently doing, or switch your existing homeschool curriculum entirely. Time4Learning offers an easy way to switch with flexible start options, a low monthly fee, no contracts, and customizable course and activity options.
If your child is attending school, you may want to supplement their learning with additional support. One way is by closing learning gaps with afterschool enrichment. Using Time4Learning outside of school hours can help your child practice skills and learn concepts in a targeted way. You’re able to select subject areas, specific activities within courses, and your child is able to revisit instructional activities or even retake quizzes and tests. If your child is struggling for reasons that may be more global in nature, you may even consider making the jump to homeschooling as a way to reverse learning loss.
Is homeschooling right for your family? Maybe and maybe not. Understanding the extent and causes of your child’s difficulties can help you plan the next steps for their educational success.