What Do I Do When My Children Forget What They've Learned?
© Beverley Paine July 2006
A homeschooling mother recently wrote to me expressing her frustration that her child seems to forget what she's taught and the lessons need to repeated, a situation that has both of them tearing out their hair. Simple maths processes the child seems to master one week are tackled with difficulty the next.
When I volunteered in a classroom fairly regularly, and even with my own children, I noticed this 'forgetting' was a common problem. It doesn't just happen with children with special needs. When it happened to an eleven year old boy I was helping one day I became cross, thinking he was lazy or toying with me, however he seemed genuine disturbed by his lack of understanding of basic number skills. The next day he could do the work without any problems at all. He didn't even think about his issues the day before as being unusual or problematic!
I learned from that episode that children don't make anywhere near as much fuss about what, how and when they learn as much as parents and teachers do. They seem to take it for granted that they'll overcome most difficulties and accept that they will learn what they need to most of the time. They certainly do get hang ups about learning ability when we make a huge fuss about it, or worry too much. It doesn't help when what we're making them learn is totally irrelevant to their needs, as in the case with this particular homeschooling mother's child.
The other thing I learned from the episode in the classroom is that there are many factors involved in successful learning. I suspect that the student was in a stressed condition that day. Perhaps he'd had a sugar binge the day before, or his parents had argued the night before. Perhaps he'd skipped breakfast so he could catch the school bus on time. Perhaps he'd been bullied, or witnessed bullying on the school bus... Maybe he had something on his mind - he was very passionate about his hobby and there's a good chance he was mulling over something to do with that and couldn't spare the brain cells to work out a few unimportant (to him) sums in a work book...
The point is that we ask way too much of children most of the time. No one really completely understands how we learn and every learns differently. Our brains are wired differently. We perceive reality different. We build memories differently. It's easy to generalise because on the surface we definitely seem more alike and different, but when we generalise that usually means that someone's needs are ignored or discounted.
There's a good chance that the homeschooled child is learning so much more than any one can determine. She isn't learning what the teachers and curriculum writers want her to learn, but perhaps that's because she's using her brain to learn things that are more important and vital to her. If she were my daughter I'd let her fail at her school work and tell her that in terms of her whole life school isn't very important at all. It's just a hoop she has to jump through now. And how she jumps through that hoop isn't very important. She can trip and fall and stumble through but ultimately the grades she gets at school aren't going to make much difference. As adults most of us agree that most of the facts we learned in school we forgot and that learning really began once we were allowed to live and move in the community and workplace. When we're loved and cherished as children and encouraged to do the best we can with what we've got (and not compared constantly to others or some arbitrary standard) we're bound to succeed in life.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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