We hope that what we teach our children sticks with them, and that they build on that knowledge for the rest of their lives. But traditional approaches to education often fail to help children retain the material. Short units that focus on good test performance succeed in short-term retention, but do not result in learning that sticks with students long after they’ve finished the unit. However, different approaches that emphasize mastery of concepts help students retain material longer. Two dominant approaches for learning that sticks, specifically in math, are mastery and spiral learning. These learning strategies are tools you can use to choose and adapt curriculum to best support your children.
One of your reasons for homeschooling, in addition to shaping a biblical worldview, is most likely your desire to give your children an education that is truly valuable to them. You don’t want to “teach to the test” or just push forward even if a lesson isn’t fully understood. Your goal is mastery learning. You want your children to learn at their own pace so that they can fully understand. But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, one of your children just isn’t getting something?
Take a Step Back
Consider your child’s life in perspective. Much of what he’s learning in elementary through high school builds a body of knowledge that he can develop more in college or over the course of the rest of his life. It’s not unlike how we grow in our walk with Christ. Many of the lessons we learn as new believers are general. As we mature, we come to a deeper understanding of God’s love.
Chances are, the lesson your child is struggling with is a general concept that he will study in greater detail later. If he can’t quite master it now, he might just need more context and maturity in order to grasp it. Consider putting the lesson off for a few days and doing some review work. This is where the extra resources in BJU Press teacher’s editions may come in handy. Or work ahead and come back to the lesson once he’s ready.
Be Patiently Persistent
Make it a point to always come back to any lesson you decide to put on hold. It’s one thing to take a break from a hard lesson, but you don’t want to teach your child that it’s OK to give up on a hard lesson. Achieving mastery learning with hard concepts takes persistence, but it also takes time. How often have you felt that God was teaching you a lesson you thought you’d already learned?
You may find yourself revisiting the same lesson many times before your child begins to develop mastery. So long as you take your time with it and gently remind him of the lesson, he won’t get a negative outlook about it. Remember, mastery learning isn’t so much about what a child knows as it is how he learns. You want him to develop automaticity, or the ability to automatically respond with the needed information. He doesn’t need to know everything about a subject before he can claim mastery. He just needs to be able to use it correctly without having to review a lesson first.
When you approach the goal of mastery learning with perspective and persistence, you can considerably lessen the weight on your child. You don’t have to be stressed out or concerned about how quickly your child is learning because you know that when he masters it, he will retain that information far longer than the all too familiar “cram-pass-forget” method of learning.