Are you a parent who is passionate about learning? Do you want your children to enjoy school and find success IN and OUT of the classroom?
Then welcome to Learn Their Way!
In this week’s episode, we’ll discuss developmental milestones.
It’s completely normal to worry that our kids are falling behind, whether it’s reaching developmental milestones, keeping up with their peers, or meeting state standards.
In this episode of Learn Their Way, we’ll share a few more tips for personalizing learning for your kids, at home and in the classroom. We’ll also provide a bit of context and lots of encouragement when it comes to healthy child development. All that really matters is that our kids are making progress at their own pace.
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EPISODE 6 TRANSCRIPT:
Welcome to the Learn Their Way podcast, where we teach strategies designed to help students understand how they learn best and find success in and out of the classroom.
I’m your host, Melissa Droegemueller, and in this episode, we’ll discuss how we can help our kids reach their developmental milestones at their own pace.
Well, hello! Welcome to episode six: Your Child is NOT Behind
Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that I’m pretty passionate about: developmental milestones.
You may or may not already know this about me, but I started my career in the classroom as an elementary school teacher. Every year, on the first day of school, I would group my students together according to the age they took their first steps. All the early walkers would go together, all the kiddos who started walking around their first birthday would sit together, and all the “late” walkers would go in a third group.
Okay, no — that’s ridiculous.
By the time my students got to me, it didn’t matter how old they were when they started walking. Or talking. Or sleeping through the night, or becoming fully potty-trained.
When our children are babies and toddlers, their pediatricians have lists of milestones that children typically reach by a certain age. These lists can be helpful, especially for first-time parents, who want to know what to expect… and when to worry.
My own two children reached several of their milestones at wildly different ages. Our oldest was born 14 weeks early, spending several months in the NICU. She — understandably — met some of her milestones later than her peers, taking her first independent steps right around her second birthday after a few months working with a physical therapist. By her third birthday, she was the faster runner in her preschool class.
When our second baby came along, I was much more relaxed about those milestone checklists. She learned how to walk, talk, and all the other things…at her own pace.
There is a wide range of “normal” for young children. For some reason, that’s more easily accepted during the toddler and preschool years than it is once they start Kindergarten. Suddenly, our kids are in school, and they need to be working at the same pace as 20 of their peers, or they risk “falling behind.”
During my first four years as a teacher, I had the incredible privilege of teaching in a multiage classroom. Half of my class were 3rd graders and the other half were 4th graders. The next year, the older half moved up to fifth grade, the younger half stayed with me for fourth grade, and we welcomed a new group of 3rd graders to our classroom.
Because we had such a range of ages, from children who had just turned 8 to others who were nearly 11, it was easy to treat every student in my class as an individual. They all had their strengths and weaknesses, of course, but they were able to work at their own pace.
One of my mentors on my team, a teacher who had been in the classroom for more than 20 years, told me once that every classroom is multiage. And she was right.
Many children with spring or summer birthdays now wait a year to start Kindergarten, while some younger kids start right around their fifth birthday. Because of the September 15th cutoff in Iowa, where we live, our daughter was actually still 4 years old when she started Kindergarten, while her cousin — who was born exactly three weeks later — is in the grade below.
A traditional classroom can have a range of ages up to 18 months or so, and that’s not even bringing into consideration children who have repeated a year or skipped a grade.
Some of my youngest students have been my brightest — their struggles were not with the material we were learning, but the fine motor skills required to keep up with the writing or the emotional maturity to keep up with their older peers.
I also have a summer birthday and could often empathize with my younger students. The benefit of being in a multiage class is that every other year, half the class was actually younger than them, and they had the opportunity to be one of the older kids in the room.
As I said in episode 2 of the podcast, very few children are actually ready for ALL of the concepts covered in a year of school…which means that at some point, every child is going to feel like they are “behind.” Good teachers know that learning is a journey, not an assembly line. Unfortunately, they often have to go along with what the district office says they should be covering on any given day, even if that pace is too quick or too slow.
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In my parenting and homeschooling Facebook groups, I see lots of grown-ups asking for advice and support when they feel like their children are falling behind their peers.
I want to be crystal clear on this: in most cases, children are NOT behind. Asynchronous development is completely normal. Just because a child is at the 3rd grade level in math doesn’t mean that they should also be at a 3rd grade level in spelling. Or reading. Or science. All that SHOULD matter is that a child is progressing.
Too often, we push kids too fast. We dump too much information on them, and instead of checking for understanding (and slowing down when necessary), we give them a lower grade and move on without them, causing them to fall even more behind.
My senior year, we read Crime and Punishment in English class. I struggled so hard, with the names and all the schoolwork I had to complete for my other classes. I got behind in the reading and bombed quiz after quiz until I caught up. Did my teacher talk to me about it? She did not.
Somehow, our current education system has become more about judging what a student retains for a test than helping them understand the material and love learning.
If a child gets a 100 on a test, that might mean that the material is too easy. Or it might mean that they sacrificed hours of sleep or family time to cram something in that they weren’t ready for. And if a child fails a test, that doesn’t mean that they’re lazy — it might simply be time to slow down and reteach a concept.
If you are a homeschooling parent, you have a lot of freedom to meet your child exactly where they are. And if your child is in a traditional classroom, you have every right to (respectfully) talk to their teacher about differentiation or modifications. We have the power to change the system from the outside in, instead of accepting the status quo.
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In our family, we work for concept mastery — at the pace that is right for each individual child. That means:
- shorter lessons when necessary
- extra practice problems if needed
- reteaching and retesting when a child doesn’t pass the first time
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have high expectations for my kids or let them get away with not trying. It does mean, however, that I don’t punish them for not understanding the material.
Throughout the course of the day, we teach multiple learning strategies and work on executive function skills, like slowing down and self-checking work before turning it in.
Sometimes, when kids are struggling, we need to try a variety of things and see what sticks.
One of my children prefers to read her science book independently and complete her assignments individually. That works for her.
My other child reads her textbook, but she also needs video lectures that go along with the material. We watch the videos together, pausing to discuss the concepts as we go along.
Unlike my little introvert, she also prefers to learn inside of a community, which means we look for online classes with a small group setting. This semester, she’s taking an online writing class with a published author, and the students are able to submit their work to a private forum for feedback and critiques from each other.
When something doesn’t work for your child, make a small tweak and try again. Over the next few episodes, we’ll continue talking about ideas like learning styles, flexible seating options, and other things that you can try to help your child find success, in and out of the classroom.
All right parents, it’s time for homework. If you have a few minutes this week, I would love for you to pull out a piece of paper or journal, and reflect on these questions:
- Where does your child fit in the age range of their classmates: one of the oldest, one of the youngest, or somewhere in the middle?
- Have you ever felt like your child was falling behind in school? How did you handle it?
- What are your child’s areas of strength? Which subjects are more of a struggle?
- What are some ways that you can slow down when you feel your child is having a hard time learning the material?
You can head to rollingprairiereaders.com/episode6 to read a full transcript of today’s episode, to download a copy of these questions, learn more about executive function skills, and see our favorite resources related to today’s topic.
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode, and thank you for supporting Learn Their Way!
Be sure to tune in next time as we talk about why we need to be careful with putting labels on our children. See you then!