This is hard, Mom… Finding Your Level

"This is hard mom, I don't understand," Daniel looked at me with concern as he said this.

The work we have been doing hasn't been every day, but we do pick up the school books a few times a week during the summer to keep them sharp. Science has been relatively easy for them up to this point, they love science - it's always easy for them, but they're starting to get into areas where they do not have any experience. So it starts to look a little harder.

I stopped, gave a little more explanation so that they both understood and we moved on.

It wasn't a big deal, just a venn diagram, but they had never seen one before, and with bright children for whom everything comes easily, when they get into an area that is difficult they sometimes feel as thought there's something wrong with them.

After we finished, I asked them both, "What is happening when something starts to get hard? Is it because it's too hard for you and you should quit, or is it because you have just found your level?"

Both of them realized immediately that it was just that they'd found their level, so we discussed this for a few minutes and came to the agreement that instead of racing through this section, we'd slow down just a bit to make sure that everything was clear before moving on.

The conversation brought up a thought though, how do you handle things when the going gets tough?

In our case, we started deliberately below their level because we wanted to fill knowledge gaps and build upon a strong foundation. This created its own set of challenges because of the afore mentioned conversation -but it's not insurmountable as long as the kids understand that it's not a big deal, and to just take their time through the tough parts.

As much as it created challenges, I believe that starting just a little below where I knew them to be overall was the right decision. I found things that they had no knowledge of, but would have expected them to, given the other things they knew! So how did we figure out where to start?

Every so often someone asks me how I knew where to start homeschooling the boys. There isn't really a simple, clear cut answer, but there were a few things that I did after we decided to homeschool that helped us make a good decision on where to start.

I went looking for a set of standards that was written prior to the advent of Common Core. We wanted this to use as a basic "checklist" to approximate what they knew and didn't know. This was far from scientific, but they came out of public school with such anxiety about any testing, that placement assessments were causing stress rather than helping things. there are also books that show you what kids ought to know by X grade. I recommend picking up one of those too - might be easier than what I did with the standards! The newer ones are aligned to Common Core, so picking up an older edition would be more helpful because the K-3 stuff is especially weird in Common Core.

Rather than using a placement test, I went through this list with each of them so that I could just check off the items. This gave me a pretty good idea where they were, so that I could find practice exercises to start filling in gaps. We didn't buy curriculum right away, because we just didn't know what to spend money on. So we read a lot, journaled, worked on times tables and found our feet while we decided what curriculum to look at more closely.

We've now found curricula that we love and that works for us. We're always finding something new, and there are so many options for homeschoolers. I think that's the hardest part for us. Making a decision. The great part is that when you make a decision and it's wrong, you can change course right then and there. We aren't stuck with one way of doing things, or with one curriculum set. We can do what we need to, when we need to, in order to give our kids the best education possible.

2 thoughts on “This is hard, Mom… Finding Your Level

  1. “What is happening when something starts to get hard? Is it because it’s too hard for you and you should quit, or is it because you have just *found your level*?” Oh my goodness, this is wonderful stuff. Wonderful. Thank you, Gail, for giving me a new phrase to use with my kids. It’s so important to our family to teach persistence in the face of challenges and we haven’t been able to find an appropriate way of framing it. “Found your level” is it. Thank you!!

    1. I’m so glad I could help! I’ve spent a few years teaching music, and I find with many students, they can coast along and suddenly they hit a speed bump and just get derailed.

      In many discussions and lessons, I’ve just come to the conclusion that what’s really happening is they’ve found their level. When I had this discussion with the boys just the other day, it was like the light bulb went on and they were just fine in continuing, even though it was hard.

      I have always believed it’s in the struggle that we gain the most strength.

      Keep strong and homeschool on!

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