My Child is Falling Behind… And I Couldn’t Be Happier
My child is falling behind.
She’s not meeting standards. Actually, she doesn’t even know of the standards.
She doesn’t write perfectly on the lines. She doesn’t even write every day. She only writes when it interests her. But she’ll tell you all about the play she’s writing. Her eyes will come alive as she tells you of her detailed plans.
She probably couldn’t interpret a bar graph, or calculate the area of a square. But she’ll count up the money she’s saved from selling her paintings and tell you how many sweets she can buy with it. She’ll study the clock and work out how long it is until Daddy gets home.
She’s never written a report on a science experiment, or filled out a worksheet to record her results. But you can see the joy on her face watching episodes of the science show she filmed with her sister.
She’d be unlikely to sit for 30 minutes and let anyone teach her something she hadn’t enquired about already. She’s not concerned with what other people think she needs to know. She tells me she can learn things on her own. But she’ll spend endless hours outside without ever getting bored.
She’s not accustomed to sitting at a desk and learning from a book. But she knows the feel of dirt under her fingernails, wind in her hair, knees grazed climbing rocks, sand between her toes.
She’s only enrolled in one extracurricular activity, and only because she thinks it’s fun. She doesn’t know a second language, or how to play an instrument. She doesn’t play a sport yet.
She’s never been student of the week. She doesn’t often compare her achievements to others her age. She thinks everyone learns things in their own time.
She’s never taken a test. She doesn’t feel a sense of urgency to learn everything as quickly as possible. She doesn’t feel the pressure of preparing for the future. But she’s content right now.
She knows little of history and geography just yet, unless it relates to one of her interests or family members. But she can tell you where to find the best rocks to climb. She can tell you how the sand at the beach was formed.
She knows many things. She can tell you the speed at which a peregrine falcon can dive, or how a worker bee communicates with the other bees. She’ll tell you about the amazing creatures she’s found in rockpools, the many things she’s studied under her microscope, or why the sky is blue. She reads and writes as much as she needs to at her age. She can already do most basic maths needed for daily life. She can sew, and cook, and talk to anyone of any age. She spends her days happily playing, immersed in nature, creating art, imagining, laughing, following her interests.
But, according to the timeline of learning laid out by our education system, she is falling behind. That phrase. ‘Falling behind’. It seems to strike fear in parents. We can’t let them fall behind! We need to get them caught up! They’ll miss opportunities. As if not knowing the difference between a noun and adjective at age seven has any bearing on your future.
What really needs to change here? What is the real problem? Because looking at my child I can see it’s definitely not her. She’s happy, she’s thriving, she’s learning, she’s doing everything children her age should be doing. She’s way ‘ahead’ in many areas actually. In things she wouldn’t have time to learn right now because it’s not in the curriculum for a 7-year-old. Most importantly, her love of learning has not been squashed in the race to meet ‘standards’. Her curiosity and passion are contagious.
It’s not our children who need to change. It’s our ‘standards’. Standards and requirements that are stealing childhood, stressing our children out, affecting their mental health, not respecting individuality, killing their innate love of learning, and making them feel inadequate when they can’t keep up.
So yes, my child is ‘falling behind’. In all the right ways. And I couldn’t be happier. Without wasting time learning irrelevant facts to pass a test, she has time to focus on the truly useful and meaningful things for her life. The things that make her, her. In her own time, with joy instead of stress.
I am entirely uninterested in ensuring she keeps up or gets ahead in a system that does not respect, value, or cater to children’s needs. I am not willing to trade her childhood in order to meet someone else’s arbitrary expectations. I would prefer a happy, confident, self-directed learner who doesn’t know all the answers but knows she has the ability to find them, rather than risking my child losing their love of learning and self-confidence but ticking every box off a curriculum. That seems like an obvious choice.
We know by now what children need. We know by now that our system is doing a very poor job of providing it. We’ve all read the research, the articles, the blog posts. So it’s time for us to do something. To not be an accomplice or bystander in the stealing of childhood. To not fall into the trap of pressuring our children to ‘get ahead’, or lecturing them about ‘falling behind’. To be a safe place. To show them what’s really important. To value what children really need. To take the pressure off when the world is trying to do the opposite.
Our children are so much more than their ability to pass a test. Do we really want them to lose themselves in pursuit of meeting standards that don’t value the unique people that they are? I don’t.
My child is falling behind. And in the process, she’s gaining so much.
One cannot fall behind if one is not in the race to begin with. My husband is kind enough to remind me of that when I freak out.
“Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Lily Tomlin
MATURATION IS ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING. IF THE CHILD IS NOT DEVELOPMENTALLY READY, NO AMOUNT OF PUSHING TO LEARN IS GOING TO MAKE THEM LEARN.
SO YOU TAKE THE CHILD BY THE HAND TO MAKE THEM WALK, WHEN IF YOU WOULD WAIT AND WATCH THE CHILD WILL EVENTUALLY WALK. SO LET’S NOT FORCE CHILDREN TO LEARN, BUT BE THERE TO ENABLE THEM TO LEARN, TO HELP THEM LEARN WHEN THEY ARE READY. TESTING IS NOT THE END OF LIFE. BEING A REAL PERSON THAT THEY ARE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF LIFE. SO LET’S LOOK AT THE ENDING OF LIFE AND START LETTINGTHEM LIVE LIFE NOW. READ TO YOUR CHILD, TALK TO THEM, PLAY GAMES WITH THEM, TAKE WALKS TOGETHER AN THROW LITTLE PEBBLWES INTO THE WATER AND WATTHE RIPPLES FLOW AROUND AND AROUND. WHAT PEACE AND JOY. READ THE BIBLE TO YOUR CHILD AND TEACH THEM BIBLE VERSES. THAT WILL TAKE THEM FARTHER THAN FOLLOWING A CURRICULUM.
Awesome – I need to write that one down and remind myself once in awhile – we know this but tend to forget once in awhile 🙂
I love this. Thank you.
Love it and needed it right now ?
Absolutely LOVE this! Children are quite capable of learning by themselves and I truly wish those in charge of our school system would wake up and realise that. My two girls are not of school-age yet but they know so much, and not once have I tried to sit them down and teach it! I love their excitement and enthusiasm about things that interest them and I also love watching them just ‘be’. Thank you for your writing! xx
I wish they would too! Just look at kids! It’s so easy to see what they need. Thank you 🙂
I’m imssdrpee. You’ve really raised the bar with that.
So needed this right now…thank you xx
Most entrepreneur’s will tell you as long as you know how to read and write and can do year 4 math, then you’re good to go! Go and Iive in the world of making your Dream a reality. Most cases that will be serving and loving mankind to leave the world better than you found it!
The generation ahead is set to make history. Remain blessed
Hi Sara, thank you so much for sharing your journey here. I am new to ‘homeschooling’, and my journey really did start as ‘schooling’ at home. Within a week we had ripped up the timetable that I meticulously planned, and I remembered my beliefs about learning and life. I also remembered my daughter’s nature, and natural pace. It was my aim to let her ‘fall behind’ from the Year Four curriculum that she is supposed to learn. When it comes to a child’s developing mind, I am opposed to the word ‘supposed’, and a child who is falling behind with someone else’s agenda is surging ahead with her own. This post has really resonated with me, on my journey of giving my daughter back her childhood, and her intrinsic love of learning. Knowing that others out there share your philosophies helps with being brave in the face of being asked to explain our lifestyle to my more ‘mainstream’ friends. Beautiful post, such beautiful photos!
“a child who is falling behind with someone else’s agenda is surging ahead with her own”
^^ love that!
I took my then 15 yr old son out of school last year, and let him follow me in a tour of some online project friends, ending up in 18 countries within 8 months. Now he has found his own job as a programmer, happy without having to suffer thru school. I also got closer to him and understood him much more as well as enjoyed the relationship.
I so wish I would have started home schooling my children in the beginning, instead of waiting until they were in 4th and 5th grade and the joy of learning was already lost in them… I am determined to get it back!
I think you will! xx
Oh my goodness, thanks so much for your honesty. I am so sick of these standardized tests that do NOT actually prove what a child knows and how smart a child is. What happens when kids know the information but they freeze up on tests. Uhhhhh.Every child learns differently and the approach to teaching now is what’s going to be on these tests. Really…. what happened to actually teaching? So much focus on state standards and the kids miss out on so much. Having to see my kids experience this is making us want to homeschool.
Madness isn’t it?
This is so beautiful and captures the wonders of a childhood (and parenting adventure) well spent and deep, connected learning. Thank you for such an honoring of your child. Thank you for sharing.
You are a true hero. Thanks for the inspiring post! I read this right on the heels of reading Free to Learn by Dr. Peter Gray.
My favourite!! Such an inspiring book hey!
As true as it is, we live in a world were we still have to get jobs and live. I understand that nature is great, but i still want my children to finish school. My kids have finished with great scores and moved on to successful careers. Employers in the real world. DO NOT value many thing other than school and Honors. Unless we are raising kids to Live under trees. Sure one in maybe 5 kids will grow up lucky enough to succeed in life without school but what about the rest. I guess i might be a little bias since my children finish with honors. To encourage kids falling behind to be removed from school and do what they want and have fun.? When one of my children fell behind, we helped him and he ended up exceeding his grades. Like some people say “Beauty comes from the inside” well that’s something ugly people say. The truth hurts sometimes so im sure this REALITY post will get removed.
REALITY is that schools and this kind of mindset are leading to depressed, anxious, unhappy, unmotivated kids. But hey if they get good grades to please us then who cares right?!
REALITY is that if test scores are your goal, then homeschooled kids perform better in ALL areas than their schooled peers anyway.
REALITY is that universities love homeschooled kids because they are self-motivated and independent learners.
REALITY is that if you want to accept the world the way it is, then go ahead doing the same old thing. Spend your life working a job you hate to afford things that don’t make you happy in the long run anyway. But some of us are aiming for more.
Yeah, we still have to get jobs and live. Homeschooled kids grow up with an entrepreneurial mindset. Homeschooled kids are more likely to find what interests them early and find a way to make money from their passion.
Many people are growing up without schooling and thriving, whether you want to believe in another way or not.
Sara, I agree with you. I have to say I’ve used a mish mash of materials and approaches over my 22 years of homeschooling. A bit of Charlotte Mason, some Classical, a textbook or two, several unit studies, with periods of delight-directed learning interspersed. There was plenty of time for playing, activities, exploring interests, music lessons, sports, friends, etc. I am grateful that I learned to relax and not worry about doing things “by the book” or “getting behind”. Four of my five children are college grads now (2 graduated with “honors”) , with fulfilling jobs and relationships. They have learned to “think outside the box” and take risks and follow their own path. One is directing a preschool program for refugee children in our city. Another has been working as a university dept. office manager while pursuing her photography on the side, and will soon start a new job as intern coordinator for a non-profit dedicated to providing clean water solutions in impoverished areas of the world. My oldest served as an officer in the US Army for 5 years after college, including 2 tours in Iraq, and is now a supply chain manager at a large food processing plant. The 4th is an entrepreneur who is on an extended, many-month cross-country trip with his wife (also a homeschool grad), because their business allows them to work wherever they are- so they are exploring the country for a while. I have one more who has one more year of high school. So, homeschooling works. I don’t think the particular approach matters as much as instilling an excitement for learning, having some fun, focusing on building good relationships and strong character, and balancing the child’s wants with the parents’ wisdom. Thank you for your article. I have shared it with my homeschool association.
Not everyone hate their job, not everyone suffer through school. I personally love my job. I don’t remember being depressed, anxious or unhappy due to school. I don’t also feel unmotivated but on the contrary belive I’m still very curious and motivated person. And not because of the school or despite the school, but because it’s my nature. And in my opinion it’s the same with kids. If he/she is naturaly curious and inquisitive, he will be like that no matter if attending a school or homeschooled. If he is not, even homeschooling will not dig it in him. Articles about homeschooling like to emphasize that “all children are …”. That’s nonsense. Children are very much different. And what will tell you many people that came very naturally in their family, you will always find other cases where it wasn’t like that at all.
I remember my years in school as full of experience and fun. Of course often during breaks with the friends and classmates. But it matters too. We did lot of pranks and silly things that I will never forget and probably wouldn’t experience outside of school. Regarding lectures it very much differed with the teacher’s personality. Some of them were really interesting and life lectures when the teacher was natural authority and very clever person enthusiastic about his subject. I remember several of them and will never forget them. And I believe they formated my personality and life opinions. Other were boring when taught by boring person. And we still found the way how to get through them (yes, we misbehaved and e.g. played some game under table and I love to remeber these moments too). So like many things in life everything depends on people. And I believe I wouldn’t have opportunity to meet such a variety of people and situations without school and deffinitely don’t recall my childhood as anxious or unhappy.
And to summarise that, I’m not against homeschooling. On the contrary I love many aspects of it. But I’m looking also on its reverse side and dislike this general demagogy that it’s the only right way and school is bad and cause of all evil. That’s simply not true. And as children are of course very different, the same it is with the ways of learning. For some can be homeschooling the best way of education, for others that wouldn’t be a good choice and would deprive them of some opportunities.
I think it’s great what you are able to do with your daughter, if that works for her and you. I’ve homeschooled and my children have also been in public schools. Please be as open minded as you are asking others to be. Just like you said, “what works for one doesn’t work for others”.
I am parent of one happy healthy child that his homeschooled and one equally happy and healthy child in public school. Assuming all public school kids are depressed, anxious unhappy and unmotivated is the same prejudiced misconception as people assuming that homeschoolers are all academically behind, unsocialized and unable to function in the ” real” world. Luckily we don’t all have to figure out the ” best” way to educate our children but only what is best for our kids. My son thrives learning at home and my daughter is exited to go to school. She loves the hustle and bustle of school, her teachers and having a huge variety of friends and classmates- she wants to be in school. Unfortunately I get prejudice from both homeschool parents and public school parents. Some kids are naturally curious and self motivated and will teach themselves to read, do math on their own but there are some children that thrive in learning groups (at home or in school) – some kids need to touch things to understand, some are ferocious readers. To generalize is doing kids a great injustice. And yes … I HAVE met those anxious and depressed public school students AS WELL as homeschoolers that are suffering from educational neglect. I think it is important to realize that every child is unique and amazing … and needs to be supported, loved and educated. How and when and where … that is a journey for many ….
If you could just edit this so it will fit on a t-shirt that would be great…..then I could wear it always, and just point to it whenever anyone questions my daughter’s falling behindness. 🙂
I think it was Winston Churchill upon being held back a grade said they always asked me what I didn’t know; they never asked me what I did know. That’s a weak paraphrase, but same idea. Tests do not determine what a child knows, and it’s a disservice to our children to place so much emphasis is put on them. Great read for home schooling momas.
I always hated school growing up but I would skip classes to go to the zoo and then for some reason I became a teacher at a public school but only lasted two years and now I am so excited to be homeschooling this year and well every day we are homeschooling about something because she is always learning and I absolutely love love love what you wrote here.
HOH, YOU MEAN LIKE WATCHING THE WATER FLOW DOWN THE WINDOW ONA RAINY DAY AND TALKING ABOUT HOW GOD DOES THINGS LIKE THAT. LIKE PLAYING WITH A CATEPILLAR FOR HOURS AND THEN LETTING IT DROWN IN THE LEMONADE YOU GAVE THEM TO DRINK. LIKE NO BEING DISCOURAGED WHEN THE BASEMENT FLOODED AND YOUR ART PROJECT GOT WET, SO PUT INTO A GREAT BIG PLASTIC AND FILL IT WITH AIR. IT WILL BE DRY WHEN THEY GET THERE. SO MUCH FUN, SO ENABLING YOUR CHILD TO LEARN, HELPING THEM,BUT LETTING THEM DO IT AND NOT DOING IT FOR THEM. THAT IS WHAT MOTHER’S ARE FOR.
Thank you so much for sharing. It is a wonderful story about being in the moment and children learning with a sense of awe, wonder and discovery.
Thank you for sharing this. We’ve just started our journey to self directed learning and already the critics are trying to make me feel as though I am failing her. Even though public schools here are out for summer break, people think my daughter should be sitting in a room with a book, coping work and doing math.
My 6 year old kindergartener is already reading, her ability to do different types of math is beyond her age level, her vocabulary is off the charts, and all this was on her own. These are things that interest her, so she wants to do them.
She knows how to grow plants from seeds, how to plant them and care for them. She understands things some adults are not aware of, because she took an interest and wanted to know more about it.
Kids are curious by nature and I believe we squash that curiosity by trying to force them to stick to a certain guideline rather than letting them explore the world around them and learn through experiences.
When my daughter first started public school she was so excited about learning. Her pre-k teachers had been amazing. They understood each child was different and celebrated that by trying to teach them how each one learned. If my daughter didn’t understand something, they encouraged her to try again and sought a different way to teach her.
A couple of weeks into kindergarten, my little girl shut down. She was no longer happy about learning. She was stressed. She started crying over the simplest worksheets. Then she started pleading not to go. The child who woke up every day before 5am asking if it was time for school starting two weeks before school started was gone. Left in her place was a distraught child that said she didn’t want to go back because she was the dumb kid in class and her teachers yelled at her for not knowing things immediately.
My once confident child lost her belief in herself, in her abilities, and in those that were meant to help her grow. I became so angry at not only the teachers, but myself. They may have tried to put her fire out, but I let it happen by not listening to my child and my gut and pulling her the second she was unhappy. Finding out she was being mistreated was what did it, but I should have removed her before then.
Her confidence and passion for learning are coming back, and I finally feel like I can breathe. I know it’s going to be hard, dealing with all the critics, but the more she learns, the happier she is learning, the more I know it’s worth it. Her smile alone is worth it. She’s happy again, and so am I.
So happy for you that you’ve found another way!!
Thank you! I am constantly fretting over why my kids aren’t on “grade level” in their curriculum and trying to explain to my husband. But the reason is what you wrote. There is so much more to being a kids than standards and curriculum.
Beautifully written, this is how it should be for every single child! 🙂 x
Sara, thank you for this thought-provoking post! I can see a very loving and caring mum through every line of this post. However, I can would love to share my thoughts if its ok. In reality not all schools put huge accent on tests and make their students sit at the desk the whole day. Some kids naturally like being competitive and strive for better grades. But still in reality many end up being great friends, pursue their dreams and become very happy in life. I think what is far more important in determining child’s future and happiness is positive climate at home, loving atmosphere and supportive parents who stand behind their child no matter what, and guide them through every challenge. I am a homeschooling mum through and through, but it’s my choice and it works for our family. Reality is very different to different people.
i love this in theory, but i struggle with application. I’ve memorized verses like “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, with prayer and fasting, make your requests known to God” and “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind”. We live a long way from a library, and i have always seemed to have a noisy baby or toddler and am not sure it would be kind to others to bring them to thhe quiet library, anyway. i cant afford to buy every book that the 6 of them find an interest in, nor do i have storage for all the books that would be. in some ways, i feel like following a curriculum, but keeping it low-key and not stressful, allows me to know they are getting some basics anyway. they do alot of unschooling/self-directed learning in between my “box checked” activities, and i try to use what they are doing to obtain as much school credit as i can, but there are so many of them, and only one of me and I can’t be as closely involved as I’d like, observing what they are doing, documenting it, praising them, helping them “learn what they’d like to learn”. We still live according to the laws of the state we are in. In ours, we have to document 180 days of “school” with 4 hours or more of instructional time PER day. Again, in theory I love this, just not sure how to make theory reality in our house.
Love it! I grew up this way without attending school and my childhood was a MAGICAL experience which set me up for the magical creation of my own life. My daughter is going to be unschooled just like I was and I can’t wait to watch her!
Love this soooo much!!!!
Thank you 🙂
Bingo! I’m dying to start work on curriculum that is “readiness-based”. Some day soon.
This is a really great perspective. My kids just finished their first year of homeschool after being in public school through the 6th grade. B I have to say the culture of “falling behind” was very ingrained in them as well as me. Homeschool was wan experiement to see if we could step off the treadmill. But if it didn’t work or wasn’t for us I didn’t want them to be “behind” if they went back to public school.
After a successful year I do feel more free to slow down and take some liberties that we did not do last year. The benefits of homeschooling- it changes every year. Maybe everyday, haha!
So much flexibility! 🙂
This is so beautiful. I could have not written my thoughts as well as this but it is exactly what I have been thinking. Thank you for sharing.
“It’s not our children who need to change. It’s our ‘standards’. Standards and requirements that are stealing childhood, stressing our children out, affecting their mental health, not respecting individuality, killing their innate love of learning, and making them feel inadequate when they can’t keep up.”
Yes, I love this. Thank you for saying exactly that, and the many other wonderful points here. I am going to subscribe to all your posts 🙂 – Eric
I am a public school teacher and see the intesified look of anxiety and distress permeating students’ daily lives. STRICT curriculum implementation and testing have taken precedence over organic growth and development. Data and reportable test scores now define children. Public education is a business reflecting the Wall Street paradigm.
I love this!
I’ve been looking up homeschooling and how to do it for my daughter in the future (she’s only a baby right now) but I’ve seen a lot on the government websites about how a moderator will come once a year to check that the child is up to date with the basic curriculum for their age. It also said if your child is deemed to be falling behind they can insist that they go to school.
How do you keep your kids free to learn what’s important to them without the government getting involved and saying they NEED to learn the curriculum?
I love this, I agree completely although I think you should introduce her to a second language, I teach young kids and they love learning another language, they have fun learning “silly new words” and it sparkles their curiosity about many things.
I think children should lead their learning but I also think that we should introduce them to new things, I give an example; here in my country we don’t have volcanos so kids don’t learn about them at school but last year I changed my book and there was a lesson about volcanos, they were very excited! We ended up studying about them for almost a month.
As a teacher and someone that loves unschooling I firmly believe that kids want to learn everything, you just have to introduce them in the correct way and they will love almost any subject, and yes, I rather have a kid that is “falling behind” but happy that a brilliant student that is miserable (I have a lot of those 😢)
Thank you for the encouraging words…..
Perfectly written. Couldn’t agree with u more about these systems trying to fit yr child into a box designed to compare apples with oranges. I believe in self directed , self paced learning. It has so much more significance to the person whollistically. Systems are killing kids love of learning.