We all want our children to learn as much as they possibly can, but as homeschool parents, it's easy to worry if they're learning enough. Do you sometimes wonder if your children are really learning all they need to? Relax, and read on...
The Big Question
Is my child really learning?
This is a question nearly every new homeschool parent asks. To some it may seem like a silly question, but believe me, if you homeschool, you have asked yourself this question—and probably on more than one occasion! There are many reasons homeschool educators might ponder this question.
First, if you're new to homeschooling, you may be doubting your ability to effectively teach your child. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the start; after all, how hard can it be to teach a second grader? But, as the days roll on and you hit a few rocky patches, it can be easy to second-guess your abilities.
Second, most homeschoolers are not assessed as frequently as those in traditional school settings—especially in the lower grades. Public school students follow established curriculum, complete the grade, and move on to the next. Of course they're learning - they passed, right? They have report cards and homework stuck on the refrigerator to show for it. And with the popularity of mandatory testing to ensure that no child is left behind, assessment is a big priority in the traditional academic setting. But as we all know, passing a grade doesn't necessarily mean students have learned what they need. So even with frequent assessment, you might still wonder.
Third, homeschooling has a tendency to be rather round about. Of course, some homeschoolers use very structured curricula or online programs, but for many, the beauty in homeschooling is the ability to tailor your learning and lessons to the moment, connecting history with a book your child just finished or doing a unit on whales because you visited the aquarium last weekend. Learning isn't often linear when homeschooling, which can make assessing progress in the traditional sense more ambiguous.
Lastly, completing lessons and homework doesn't take as long at home as it might in a traditional classroom setting. That immediately makes some homeschool parents wonder if perhaps they are not covering enough information. Maybe their child should be spending more time and covering more material. Surely, they cannot be learning everything they should be in this short amount of time...
Quieting the Fears
Take a deep breath and relax. In nearly all instances, your child is learning way more than you think. The fact that you are even questioning their progress is probably a good indicator that you take your child's education seriously and are concerned about doing a good job! Like many aspects of homeschooling, talk to some other homeschool parents. You will soon see that you are not the only one who has had this concern.
While you're talking to those other parents, observe or reflect on how you view their children. While they may have the very same concerns as you do regarding their own children, you may not see that at all. From your perspective, their children probably seem perfectly normal and on-track. Odds are, that's how they see your children, too. Often the concern is more a reflection of the parent's self-confidence in teaching than their child's ability to learn.
Still concerned and want proof? Read on for ways to confirm that your homeschooler is indeed learning.
Gauging Your Child's Progress
Keep in mind that learning is a broad term and encompasses so much more than content knowledge or even a basic skill set. For example, our daughter hated to read. When we pulled her from public school and began homeschooling in fourth grade, just getting our daughter to pick up a book was a fight. So, when we finally got to the point where she actually chose to read, that was real progress! No, it wouldn't register on a standard assessment, but to us it was progress and it was learning.
There are many ways beyond tests and quizzes to determine if your child is learning. Consider these:
Have random conversations with your child.
Discuss topics related to areas you are studying. Ask random questions when you are running errands or when daily life puts you into a situation where they can show you what they have learned (my personal favorite is the grocery store). I bet you'll be amazed at how much they actually know.
Listen to conversations your child has with another adult or older child.
Take note of how they describe things, the words they choose, and the way they structure their sentences. Those are all learning indicators beyond the facts being relayed.
Observe their daily habits.
Have your children mastered your homeschool organizational system? Do they follow the rules and do reasonably careful work? Do they ever come up with their own ideas for something or some way to learn? These are all signs of learning.
Incorporate discussions into your lesson plans.
Even self-taught courses can benefit from a good discussion. Children of all ages can participate if the discussions are structured properly. You'll get to see just how much your children are retaining and get a glimpse into how they make connections and correlations.
Testing with a Grain of Salt
There are times when formal assessment makes sense. As your children get older, testing and grading become a integral part of academic life and are necessary for college transcripts and admissions. Even with younger children, assessment can help instill a sense of responsibility for the material.
However, consider test scores with a grain of salt. Some kids are great test-takers but may not really know the material. Other kids really have mastered the topics but don't test well. Dr. Kimberly O'Malley points out that formal assessment in the form of testing is simply one indicator. Testing is an integral part of higher education, but don't base your homeschool effectiveness on a test score or two.
Trust your instincts as a parent and take the time to listen and observe your kids. Sure, you might need some formal assessment to confirm they understand trigonometry or can translate this sentence into French, but for many aspects of learning and especially in the earlier years, you'll know.