Help! My Homeschooler is ‘Behind’

by | Jan 23, 2019 | Teaching Tips | 10 comments

One sure way to lose confidence in your homeschool is to worry that your homeschooled child is behind grade level.

One sure way to lose confidence in your homeschool is to worry that your homeschooled child is behind grade level.

Welcome back to the 5-Days to a More Confident Homeschool Series!  This week we’re looking at the things that trip us up and knock our confidence as we homeschool kids with dyslexia and other learning challenges.

Have you ever worried that your child is behind? I know I have. You don’t just homeschool 7 kids with dyslexia and never worry about their progress. It’s totally normal.

Why grade levels?

What we’re talking about when we talk about being behind is the idea of being behind grade level. So to deconstruct this idea of being behind, lets look more closely at the idea of grade levels for a minute.

Grade levels were created for organizational purposes. Schools divide kids up according to ability (age) and assign certain age-appropriate tasks to be completed at each level. This also helps with a nationalized education system. You can move anywhere in the country and third grade is going to cover the same subjects.  Who says you need to study weather systems in 3rd grade? Can you teach it in 2nd? 4th? There really is no correct time to teach these things.

Grade levels were created based on an average learner. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that in every class, there are kids who are ahead of the class and kids who are struggling to keep up. Grade levels are in imperfect science that simply can’t account for kids on either end of the scale.

How Schools Handle Students who are Behind

First of all, schools are rarely equipped to appropriately help kids who are behind. There is a lot of pressure to get kids to grade level and special education services are largely based on how far behind students are. But the system, in an attempt to manage limited special education resources, is full of  cracks that struggling students often fall through.

Struggling learners who are behind in school experience a variety of ill-fitting solutions (however well-meaning the teachers and administrators are).

First, because of the nature of the classroom, kids who are not keeping up with the curriculum are pushed ahead regardless of the fact that they are not understanding or mastering the content.

The result is kids who are overwhelmed. This constant failure to really learn results in stress, anxiety, and a lack of confidence in their ability to learn (i.e. “I’m dumb.”). See yesterday’s post on helping the discouraged learner here.

Second, struggling learners who are striving to just keep up, learn to hide their struggles to avoid embarrassment, trying to look like they know what they’re doing to save the shame of other students knowing they don’t get it. Adult dyslexics will recall during read aloud time, scanning the passage to see where they would be required to read, practicing the passage so that when it was their turn to read they are somewhat fluent. They managed to save face but are missing all of the information being read by others as they seek to compensate for their lack of ability to read. This is not real learning! This is survival.

Third, if a child does eventually qualify for special services, it is often after years of being behind and the services are often not research-based at all. It is a classic example of too little, too late.

This is what being behind often looks like in a traditional school setting.

The Reality of Grade Levels for Kids With Dyslexia

Kids with dyslexia don’t struggle to keep up with grade levels because they aren’t smart. They struggle to keep up with grade levels because they learn and master content on a completely different time frame than a traditional learner.

This different learning trajectory means that kids need to be taught differently.

They need to be taught at their level, with methods that work. This is the individualized education that even the International Dyslexia Association understands is necessary.

Dyslexic students need direct, systematic and individual instruction in reading and spelling and traditional schools do not always provide adequate levels of service.
– International Dyslexia Association

Your Kids Aren’t Behind!

I know, I know. Having a 5th grader who is still reading at the level an average 1st or 2nd grader is alarming. We wonder if reading will ever click with our kids. We wonder how on earth they’ll ever complete a 5-paragraph essay in just a few years? How will they get into college or get a good job?

The problem with this mentality is that when we worry about getting to grade level to the point of doubting our ability to homeschool we’re getting it all wrong.

Your kids are right where they need to be and it is okay to teach them at that level without shame and without fear.

Understanding and accepting that  our kids need to be taught at their level with methods that work is absolutely necessary of we are going to homeschool with confidence.

Having this mindset frees us to have a goal of getting our kids reading, writing, and spelling fluently but to focus on putting systems in place that meet them where they’re at. This is real learning!

Key Takeaways About Grade Levels and Being Behind

  • Grade levels are based on the average child and don’t take into consideration kids who are on either end of the scale.
  • Grade levels are useful for organizing large groups of children.
  • Kids who learn differently need an individualized education.
  • It is okay to teach your kids at their level.
  • Your smart but struggling kids are not behind, they are right where they need to be.

Teaching the Whole Child

A final thought about grade levels is that they only define one aspect of our kids. Our kids’ academic abilities are only one aspect of who they are and who they will become as adults.

Tomorrow we will look at becoming aware of, acknowledging, and cultivating factors other than academics that have a HUGE impact on our kids’ long term success. Read that post, How Important is Academic Success?, here.


  1. Tamera Jacks

    This is very encouraging to me. I think this is the biggest area of struggle for me teaching my daughter with dyslexia. I look at her peers who read and write exceptionally and see myself as failing. I want to push her ahead but as I do that it causes her stress and anxiety. I am very thankful for the reminder that I want her to master the information given not just get through it.

  2. Allison

    I know this in my heart but it sure did help to read it. My daughter says things like “I can’t read” and asks if she will have to be “left back” because she can’t read at the level of her second grade friends. Through reading aloud, she hears history texts and literature at a fourth and fifth grade level and her art and science could be done at any level of elementary school. We may be covering skills that other children learn in kindergarten phonics and math, but I have no doubt that her reading and math skills will be at an adult level by the time she is an adult, even if she uses accommodations. So she doesn’t need to be left back. We just don’t need to worry about the grade level system right now. Thank you for this.

    • Marianne

      Yes, yes, yes!!

  3. Rebekah

    Can I just say how much I love you??? ?? You are the most encouraging person in my life right now! Thank you for your posts!

    • Marianne

      Haha! You’re welcome!

  4. Autumn

    Thank you! This is so encouraging. I needed to read this today. ❤❤❤

  5. August Thurmer

    Thank you so very much for the encouragement. I was a public school teacher/administrator and I was not prepared in teaching my dyslexic child. Your constant words of support and the Susan Barton system are such an answer to prayer in helping her. I love her so much and she is so bright and I know that she has a wonderful future ahead of her. Thank you again for your words of encouragement. August

  6. Melanie LeBlanc

    Thank You! Thank You! for this post! I am so guilty of letting my fear of whether or not my child is on track and that my child is behind ruled my thoughts and my anxiety for so long! I have a struggling learner who is really having a hard time with treading and I have felt that i was failing every day for so long! Your post helped me remember that I have to focus simply on her and her level not everyone else and what everyone else thinks she needs. Thank You!!

  7. Tanisha

    Thank you for this article. My daughter has dyslexia and she is 8. We have been through 5 phonics programs and 5 math curriculums until we have found 1 to work. I too struggled with making sure we finish this… so I can catch her up to grade level. I am learning to find contentment in working with her at her level. When I do that she is more confident and she starts having an “I can do it attitude”, instead of feeling defeated. In both phonics and math, she is at a 1st-grade level (if she were in traditional school she would be in 2nd grade, she just turned 8 this month). I would rather her learn the information than just gloss over information and never learn it. That is what is happening in our schools. This is why I choose to homeschool. Currently, I am using Brain Integration Therapy by Dianne Craft and her books to teach my daughter how to read. Language Lessons 1st for grammar, etc. (I only do this once a week for now) and Book 1 from Simply Charlotte Mason for math. I am so pleased with all of my curricula chooses. They have truly made a difference in my homeschooling!

    • Marianne

      What a wonderful testament to homeschooling. You are on the right path. Your daughter is blessed to have you!


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