Many parents feel ill-equipped to teach their struggling learner. Learn the three questions you need to answer to help your struggling learner succeed.

Preview: Many parents feel ill-equipped to teach their struggling learners. In this post, you will learn the three questions you need to answer to help your struggling learner succeed.


“I’m a failure!” she exclaimed as tears flowed down her cheeks.

My daughter was working on her math assignment and was stuck.

Again. 

Math is hard for her. It always has been. Like most academic subjects, it just doesn’t come easy to her.

I sat down beside her, wrapped my arm around her, and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Many parents feel ill-equipped to teach their struggling learner. Learn the three questions you need to answer to help your struggling learner succeed.

She said, “I tried, and I failed.”

My first words were encouragement. At least I hoped they would encourage her. I told her that Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Thomas Edison

Then I said, “Let’s take a look at the problem together.”

I took a deep breath and read the word problem out loud. Then we worked through the problem step-by-step. I had to explain how to solve the problem three times, each a little differently before it finally clicked.

When we had finished, she no longer felt like a failure. She still doesn’t like math. And she still doesn’t feel like an academic superstar. But at least she doesn’t feel like a failure. 

Academic learning is difficult for one of my daughters. 

She is intelligent, but school work is hard for her. Tears, frustration, fear of failure, mental fatigue. It’s all a common occurrence in our home.

Even with the frustrations and stress, we know that homeschooling is the right choice for her. If she were in a traditional school setting, she would be 

  • Labeled a struggling student.
  • Bored because her understanding exceeds her reading and writing skills.
  • Made fun of because she might not be able to keep up with the class.

My daughter is thankful for the opportunity to homeschool.

She recognizes the many benefits homeschooling provides for struggling learners. Because we homeschool, she can

  • Learn at her own pace.
  • “Read” books above her reading ability by listening to audiobooks or books read out loud to her.
  • Learn in a way that maximizes her strengths and improves her weaknesses.

It can feel overwhelming to know how to help your struggling learner. Many parents don’t feel capable of teaching their child with learning challenges.

  • They don’t know how to find resources.
  • They are afraid they will lose their temper.
  • They worry their child will not be adequately prepared for life beyond homeschooling.

You can teach your struggling learner at home! 

You are uniquely qualified to teach your child.

You know your child best.

You love your child.

You would move heaven and earth to help your child succeed.

But HOW do you teach your struggling learner without losing your temper, crying a bucket of tears (you and your child), or feeling like a failure? 

In this post, you’ll learn the three questions you need to answer to help your struggling learner succeed. With a little creativity, a new mindset, and a whole lot of patience, you and your child can have a successful homeschool day.

You can listen to episodes 54-56 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast to learn more about these questions and hear how I’ve applied these concepts in our homeschool. Each episode is embedded below the related question.

Plus, in episode 57, you’ll hear how Crystin Morris of Delightfully Feasting helps her struggling learners succeed.

1. Do I have realistic expectations of my struggling learner?

Most of us went to a public or private school. That’s our only frame of reference. 

There are generally three pathways in a traditional school setting: remedial, average, advanced. Students are placed into one of the three tracks early in their educational journey. 

The evaluation criteria may not line up with a student’s intellectual abilities. Instead, test scores, reading level, and writing ability often determine a student’s educational pathway. 

Every child is different and learns at a different pace. 

Your expectations should consider your student’s abilities and limitations, as well as your homeschool goals and objectives.

The first question you should ask yourself is, “Do I have realistic expectations of my struggling learner?” You may be expecting more of your child than he is currently capable of doing. 

I have to be careful not to compare my children with each other. I also have to remind myself to use lists of typical development, such as What your 5th grader needs to know, as a general guideline. My children are individuals, and as such, they learn at their own pace.

As long as your child is making progress on his individualized education plan (IEP), he is not behind. He is progressing at his own pace.

Define your homeschool goals.

When I get worried about whether my child is making enough progress or not, I remind myself of why we are home educating and the goal of education.

The goal of education should not be to teach everything one needs to know to get into college but rather to instill a love of learning and teach a child how to learn and think.

To determine what to expect of your struggling learner, first identify your homeschool goals. What are your reasons for homeschooling? What do you want to achieve? Knowing your purpose helps you identify the steps you need to take to achieve those goals.

Next, make an individualized learning plan for your child to help him take steps towards achieving those goals. The rest of this post discusses ways to establish your student’s educational plan.

2. What changes could I make to my child’s learning plan?

The second question you should ask yourself is, “How can you set your child up for success?” What changes could you make to your homeschool, your child’s learning environment, or his curriculum that would make it easier for him to make forward progress?

I focus on the following five aspects when deciding what changes I could make for my struggling learner.

Observe the situation.

Start by watching for cues. Pay particular attention to the following situations, and use your answers to help you formulate a customized plan for your struggling learner.

  • When does your child get frustrated?
  • What is challenging for your child?
  • What subjects does your child find easier?
  • What subjects does he find more challenging?
  • Do different learning environments make it easier for your child to learn?
  • Is there a time of day when your child struggles more?

Make sure her foundation is solid.

When you build a wall, you first prepare the ground to have a solid foundation upon which to build. As you build the wall, you make sure that each layer is level and not missing any pieces.

You should follow the same process for your child’s education. If your child has missing pieces of information, he will not progress in his understanding. 

Shore up any weak areas before moving forward. Your child may appear behind when you take the time to improve weak skills. But when he understands the foundational concepts, he will progress quicker and with less frustration.

Take baby steps.

Identify a reasonable goal for your child for this homeschool year. Break the process down into manageable steps. Then focus on one step at a time. When your child accomplishes one step, celebrate her success! 

Be patient with her as she makes progress. Many struggling learners do not follow a traditional timeline. My daughter did not read well until she was eleven years old. We celebrated each step she took towards independent reading. Every step forward for a struggling learner is a significant accomplishment that you should celebrate!

Maximize your child’s learning environment.

Your child’s learning environment could make a big difference in her success. Some students need a quiet environment. Others need to move while they learn. Each child’s needs are different so experiment until you find a learning environment that works best for your child.

Consider adjusting your homeschool day. Depending on your child’s needs, you could

  • Start your homeschool day early.
  • Delay starting lessons until after lunch.
  • Break the day up by completing a few assignments right after breakfast, followed by an extended break before completing the rest of your lessons after lunch.

Changing the scenery helps some learners. My daughter prefers to complete her science lesson at my office desk, practice spelling words with sidewalk chalk or a game on the computer, and read her history assignment while swinging in the hammock. 

Remove obstacles to learning.

As much as possible, make learning fun and engaging. You could incorporate living books, audiobooks, and games into your lesson plans. Take field trips to bring subjects to life. Consider completing hands-on projects.

You might need to make accommodations such as allowing your child to use dictation software to complete written assignments or allow her to use a voice memo app to record oral narrations instead of writing her answers. Grammarly is also helpful as children learn to edit their narrations.

Every child has a preferred learning modality (visual learner, auditory learner, or kinesthetic learner). Presenting information so your child can best understand it will remove some obstacles for your struggling learner.

3. How can I empower and motivate my struggling learner?

Learning new material is hard work! And it is even more mentally fatiguing for our struggling learners. This can make it a challenge to motivate our struggling learners. Here are some ways I empower and motivate my struggling learner.

Talk about the challenges. 

When my daughter seems disrespectful or unteachable, I have to ask myself if this is a character issue or because she is tired.  Children are still learning how to identify their feelings and frustrations.

Sometimes what looks like disrespectful behavior is frustration at not understanding a concept. Help your child learn to process her feelings by talking about her challenges.

Point out how your child learns best and how everyone learns differently. Discuss how you prefer to learn. Talk about some of your challenges. Above all, remind her that she is smart and capable. She learns differently and needs to use different learning strategies. 

Celebrate successes.

Next, celebrate successes. When my daughter was reading fluently, she proudly announced, “I’m a fast reader just like my sister!” The truth was that she did not read nearly as fast as her sister, but she believed she did, and that motivated her to keep trying. Instead of pointing this out, we celebrated her increased reading speed with her.

Celebrate their effort instead of focusing on the end result.

Don’t define your child by labels.

Labels are helpful by identifying specific ways to help your child, but they can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Help your child learn to view his struggles as an obstacle he can overcome with effort.

Encourage your child to assume responsibility for his education.

Remember the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”? The same principle applies to your child’s education. You can not make your child learn. It’s up to him to put in the effort.

You can help him learn to notice when he struggles and make changes on his own. Talk about ways he can be in charge of his learning, such as finding a quiet place to work, taking frequent breaks, or marching in place while working on memorization drills.

Learn more: How To Help Your Child Assume Responsibility For Lessons

Identify what motivates your child.

Take advantage of your child’s interests. If he enjoys working with his hands, allow him to practice narration skills by narrating car repair or a woodworking project. 

My daughter enjoys sewing and wants to be a nurse. One year she researched nursing uniforms through history, made a visual timeline, and sewed a historical nursing uniform for her American Girl doll.

Timeline of nursing uniforms through history and a nursing uniform for American Girl doll.

This project required her to learn research skills, read a lot of information, and assimilate that into a comprehensive report.

Related: Encouraging Maturity With Responsibilities and Privileges Lists

Can you homeschool your special needs child?

Yes, you CAN teach your special needs child at home! Misty Bailey is a homeschool mom of three children. In this podcast episode, she shares advice and practical tips for homeschooling a child with special needs.

She reminds us that you can do it! You can be your child’s best teacher, even if he has special needs!

  • Why it is important to teach to your child’s unique needs, regardless of whether your child has special needs or not, it is important to consider what your child needs and not compare him/her to anyone else. Take your time as you discover what your child needs, and begin to implement those practices.
  • The importance of being a student of your child. You may want to use a particular style or philosophy of education but realize that it will not be the best fit for your family or your special needs child. No one is a purist, and it is okay to use what works best for your children. Have an open mind to recognize when you might need to use an approach you would otherwise not consider.
  • Why a diagnosis can be viewed as a gift instead of a label. Take a step back and notice the small cues you may be seeing; then consider how they fit together into a bigger picture. Knowing what you are facing can allow you to provide additional tools to help your child be successful.
  • The one thing you should stress over academics—relationships. Be flexible and go with the flow. Sometimes you may need to close the school books and just read a book for fun. It’s not all about academics! Above all, stress your relationship. Consider if pushing him will hurt your relationship more than help him succeed academically. Each day is a gift and joy to spend with your children.

You can connect with Misty at Joy in the Journey.

How to Provide a Living Education for Struggling Learners

Providing a living education is an excellent way to meet the unique needs of struggling learners. Not only does it provide what they need, but it also encourages them to push through the struggles and assume responsibility for their education.

In this episode of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, Crystin Morris of Delightfully Feasting and I discuss ways we help our struggling learners by providing a living education.

You can connect with Crystin or register for her upcoming workshop, Living Education for All: Charlotte Mason for Out-of-the-Box Learners, at: http://www.delightfullyfeasting.com/

Next Steps

Teaching struggling learners can feel overwhelming, but you can teach your struggling learner at home!

First, take a deep breath. 

Remember that you have been teaching your child since he was born. You can teach him now too.

Next, download the questions graphic.

Print out the graphic, save it to your phone, or plaster it all over your house. Do whatever you need to do so you will see the image when you face the next struggle. Ask yourself the three questions, and make a plan.

Finally, know that you are not alone!

There are many helpful resources available to encourage and equip you to homeschool your struggling learner or child with special needs. These resources would be a great place to begin.

Do you also have a gifted learner? Learn how you can help your gifted learner thrive in your homeschool.

Need help homeschooling your struggling learner?

With personalized coaching, we can work together to identify obstacles and make a plan to overcome the roadblocks keeping you and your children stuck so that you can achieve your homeschool goals and enjoy your homeschool experience.

Click here to learn how coaching can help you overcome obstacles preventing you from homeschooling with confidence and joy.

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