A couple weeks ago, if you had been a fly on the wall of my house, you might have assumed my youngest son, O-Age-Seven, had never had a reading lesson before. Even though he’s almost done with Bob Books Set 5 (he’s my final guinea pig for the printable lessons), he struggled with almost every word on every page.
And I don’t just mean the new words.
No! He even read was backwards — as saw. He couldn’t decipher the word said even though he’s read it perfectly hundreds of times. He sounded out and as if he’d never seen it before.
It was horrible! And I felt a tiny bit of worry creep into my mind — that is, until I reminded myself of what I’ve learned over the years.
When I was first teaching reading, days like that were so discouraging to me. When it was one of my tutoring students, I would start to doubt my abilities as a tutor. I would worry that the parents would fire me. I would wonder if I would ever be able to be effective. Sometimes, I would even get frustrated or angry.
I took many years for me to realize that usually a day or two that felt like a step back were followed by moving forward once again. It turns out, this is a normal pattern of learning.
I don’t pretend to know why it happens — why does a child seem to move backwards in the learning process at times? Is this just the way it works? Or is it a result of too much sugar over the weekend? A sign that he’s tired? I really don’t know.
And I don’t need to know.
Unless the backward motion continues day after day without end, a bad day or two is not the end of the world. (Even though it can feel like it when you’re first starting out.) It isn’t a reason to doubt your ability as a teacher. It doesn’t mean your student can’t cut it.
The real question is how to respond to it.
I was reminded of the fact that when his older brother was this age, and did the exact same thing, I almost had a panic attack.
We homeschooling moms put so much pressure on ourselves. Homeschooling has become a lot more normal, but during our early years, I felt very defensive about our unconventional choice, and as hard as I tried not to, I often viewed my oldest child’s performance as evidence that I was doing the right thing. Because of this, there was so much wrapped up in bad days — they felt like a judgment on me as a teacher.
It took me a long time to realize I needed to relax. You know how the Bible says that worry doesn’t add a single hour to your life? Well, it doesn’t help your student progress, either. In fact, if you express that tension, it can actually cause problems in your homeschool.
On this particular day, because this is my youngest child and I’m not nearly as uptight as I used to be, we continued with the usual lesson, but I cut it short — we only read a couple pages of our Bob Book instead of the 10 I had scheduled — and I helped him a lot. Other times, when we were earlier in the process, if I could find a way to just skip the lesson without making him feel like a failure, that is what I did. I think either is a valid option — the point is to try to prevent the child from feeling discouraged.
So, do what you can, help where you can, and be patient. Most importantly, don’t freak out.
Chances are, tomorrow will be a much better day.
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