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Homeschool Help for When a Child is Challenged

A question was recently asked in a Facebook group:
How do you help a child who is struggling or being challenged?


My answer to this is very different now than it would have been when we first started homeschooling over 17 years ago. Back then, my understanding of education was shaped entirely by standardized schooling. However, I’ve since come to recognize the obvious—that people are much too varied for any kind of formula approach. On top of that, the common reaction of hammering down imperfections, hyper-focusing on weaknesses in order to “fix” them, is counterproductive. In fact, it can even damage a child’s natural love of learning.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)


The key, I’ve found, is simply to tune-out expert “edu-speak”and tune-in to what my daughter is telling me (both verbally and non-verbally). I note the issues that need to be corrected, discerning which ones are more important at the moment. Is it capitalizing proper nouns? Does she need to recognize how fact families work? Then, because education is not a race, I address them over time in a patient and nurturing way.


What does that look like?

I know my daughter well and, like any parent, I can sense when a meltdown is headed our way. So, with that in mind, I always introduce difficult concepts and skills in small, bite-size pieces. Then, I lay off the instruction and let our focus shift to something else for a while. That way the seeds can take root. I still bring attention to these concepts when they occur in the context of real life and incorporate them into activities and games so they can be practiced. But my goal is to encourage not overwhelm, to give her time to process and connect the dots herself.


Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:6)


Think about the journey we’re on from birth to death (which, by the way, is the same length of time we all happen to be “students”). In many ways, we are climbing a mountain toward heaven. At times, there are steep inclines where a lot of energy is exerted but not a lot of ground is gained. At other times, however, the terrain levels out which gives us a much-needed chance to rest. That leveling doesn’t mean learning isn’t happening. On the contrary, we’re exploring what’s around us and expanding our knowledge of the mountain’s finer details.


Schooling, by its design, usually has us hiking up the steepest parts of the mountain in the name of rigor. One challenge ends and another is presented, so ready or not, students are constantly striving onward and upward. But in strenuous times of pressing toward a summit, our heads are down in concentration and attention is narrowed. Short sprints like this are healthy and good, within reason. But, if that’s all there is, then it’s no wonder students burn out and become stressed to the point suicide.


Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)


To anyone on a challenging climb, plateaus are a welcome sight that serve a valuable purpose. They are necessary base camps where we can re-energize, regroup, and take time to investigate more deeply. It’s where we can listen to God and feel our spirits being lifted.


When our sprints are followed by these refreshing rests, my daughter is perfectly willing to venture into the unknown the next time. In fact, she’s often eager to do it. Eventually, we get so far out that we have to move our base camp farther up the mountain. This ebb and flow is how we roll; it’s all about watching for times and seasons, and it’s a game-changer!


The kind of learning that utilizes flat areas as much as inclines means the emphasis is not on the rigorous covering of ground. Instead, it’s a “bigger picture” approach to a panoramic knowledge of God’s creation. There is time and space to move around that doesn’t exist in linear schooling, and it allows us to see how everything fits together and interacts.  It often doesn’t look like progress to those viewing it through the filter of schooling. Yet, there IS significant progress—comprehensive, varied, productive, and joy-filled.


For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15a)



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