When Our Precocious Homeschooler Suddenly Went Flat

When Our Precocious Homeschooler Went Flat with Hal and Melanie Young from Making Biblical Family Life PracticalOur first son was a precocious learner—he was reading at four years old, and before long he was two years ahead of his age group in math. We just congratulated ourselves that our child was brilliant, homeschooling was awesome, and we were fantastic parents.

And then he hit the wall. At the age of ten, math was taking three hours to finish—and sometimes that was all he got done in a day. He lost his focus, he struggled in things that had been easy, and he convinced himself he was no good in school.

What happened? Simple – he was on the way to adolescence.

What we didn’t realize until later was that it is perfectly normal for kids to hit an academic slump when they start their pre-teen transition. In fact, it’s so common, school systems intentionally plan for fourth grade to be a catch-up year. It’s a developmental stage that they all go through.

The reason they struggle is two-fold. On the one hand, their brains are beginning a transition from childhood to an adult configuration. The part which handles executive functions—concentration, focus, judgement, priority-setting—literally unravels. It will come back together with some new functionality, like abstract reasoning and the ability to connect ideas across subject lines, but for several months, they truly lose some ability in school.

What’s more, the hormonal surge that starts the familiar changes of adolescence creates an emotional whirlwind. They become uncertain and overreact to difficulties, and when school becomes harder, they can lose confidence in themselves—even give up trying.

What can we do to help our kids through this challenge?

We find the most important things are to protect their love of learning and bolster their academic confidence. Set those as your two primary goals for these transitional months and you’ll lay a foundation for success in high school!

  • Recognize this for what it is—a time of transition. Don’t assume their sudden struggles are laziness or rebellion. When you see unexpected emotions, doubts, and academic floundering together, it’s time to adapt—not discipline. They all go through this.
  • Explain and encourage them through this time. Tell them why they are having trouble keeping their temper or remembering their vocabulary words—and explain that this is a temporary problem! It’s especially important with boys; their intellectual growth spurt happens in high school, and if they were already struggling before this time, they may give up before they ever hit their stride.
  • Don’t push them beyond their development. You wouldn’t expect your five-year-old to slam-dunk a regulation basketball goal, right?—you let him finish growing up. The same thing happens in academics. Even an early learner has to wait for some things to catch up. Abstract reasoning, for example, doesn’t appear until the end of this transition; you won’t be able to teach your 8-year-old to do algebra, no matter how smart she is. Give it time.
  • Go broad and deep, not further. If your child seems to hit a wall in a subject—math in particular—don’t keep pushing. Instead, explore other subjects on the same level. Dig deeper into things they are succeeding in, and let their brains mature a bit more before you take the next step up.
  • Embrace their interests. Kids this age typically have an obsessive interest in something. It may be dinosaurs, horses, warships, the Middle Ages, baseball—fill in the blank with your own child! They will naturally study the things which captured their imagination. If you need him to write a paragraph or do a research project, adapt the curriculum to leverage those interests. Instead of a lame prompt like “What I did last summer,” assign him, “What is the value of space exploration?” or “Explain the process for training falcons.”

We’ll say it again—this is commonplace and temporary, so when you see the signs, change your focus to protecting their love of learning and bolstering their academic confidence. It’s one of the important ways your relationship will change as your son or daughter becomes a young man or woman!

Want to know more about how to make the teen years great? Check out our new book, No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope. You’ll find out more about dealing with middle schoolers and pre-teens on everything from schoolwork to family relationships to media use and spirituality. It’s available from http://www.nolongerlittle.com/ or Amazon.com.


With humorous banter, laser beam insight, and lots of practical advice, Hal and Melanie Young address real world issues, current events, marriage, parenting, raising sons, and family life on Making Biblical Family Life Practical. They’ll encourage and inspire you to walk out the Word of God in your family — and work toward reforming our culture, too. Click here to check out their podcast!

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