Every child learns differently. Early on, most parents can see the type of student that their little one will become. Some children are naturall inquisitive and studious. Others are too outgoing to sit and concentrate. And some children simply have to put more effort into focusing on their studies. It’s hard to admit that our children might not be geniuses. Of course we want things to be easy for them! I mean, we want them to work hard, but we don’t want them to get discouraged and frustrated by school. And Heaven above, what if they can’t ever figure things out? With all the social pressures of school, sometimes we forget to think about the important part of our children’s education, the actual learning.
A friend of mine has three kids in school right now. The oldest is a sophomore in high school and the youngest is going into fourth grade. As we were talking about supply lists and her soon-to-be-free afternoons, she told me about her biggest back to school fear. Her youngest son’s third-grade teacher had suggested holding him back a year. Jacob* was a hard-working, well-behaved child, but he just wasn’t picking up the material. He passed his classes, barely, and he was studying intently for every C- he received. Maybe they needed to test for learning disorders, but no matter what, they needed to do something.
In the end, my friend and her school decided to run the tests, but move Jacob along to the next grade. But all summer long, she has wondered whether she made the right decision for her little boy. Most importantly now that the decision has been made, what does she do to help her son in what will surely be a difficult year?
Even though she’s a mother of three, Janet* never had to stress about her older children’s education. Both kids managed to get good grades and complete their assignments with little to no help from Janet and her husband. As parents, they had never been presented with a situation where they simply didn’t know how to help their child learn. Sure, you give explanations now and again. Maybe you proof-read a report or check their math answers with a calculator, but to actually teach? To help a child make the connections they’re missing? That’s a lot more difficult. And its an issue that some parents never have to worry about.
In the end, Janet has to approach Jacob as an individual and different from her other two kids. It isn’t enough to tell him that she expects straight A’s, which has always been her expectation for their oldest kids. She needs to set realistic and obtainable goals for Jacob, so that he can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when his hard work pays off. Janet and her husband have to reach out to area specialist and to her school, so that together they can formulate a plan. And she has to help Jacob recognize the things that he does well, instead of harping on the areas where he struggles. This is her plan of action for the up-coming school year. (No, I didn’t come up with this plan for her. But I’m honored that she talked through it with me.)
In four years, Janet has put more effort into Jacob’s learning than she did into both of her first children combined. It’s not easy to watch your pride and joy struggle through cursive writing and multiplication tables. It’s not easy to keep them optimistic and positive when they are faced with challenges that their classmates don’t have to worry about. But a difficulty learning doesn’t equal a failed education. It just might make your educational goals change. Janet and Jacob will make it through 4th grade and then 5th and then 6th. And when Jacob graduates, I guarantee that my friend will be the very proudest Mama of them all.
*Janet and Jacob’s names have been changed.