It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

May 20, 2022 | Posted by Jennifer

American culture appreciates speed. So many people seem to be in a hurry. People fly down the interstate in their cars. Fast food lines move people through quickly so they can get on their way. Some companies even deliver products the same day they are ordered, and some areas even promise delivery within just a few hours! While speed is great for quickly getting the printer cartridges you neglected to notice you needed, it becomes a problem when we try to accelerate our students’ learning beyond their abilities.

How does this happen? There are a number of ways. When we select a curriculum that is above our students’ abilities, we cause more harm than good. This happens sometimes when we choose a program based solely on our students’ ages rather than taking into account their abilities. Just because a course is marked as “Grade 6” does not mean that it is appropriate for all sixth grade students. It is partly for that reason that IEW does not indicate grade levels on its materials. Similarly, just because a younger student is reading at a high school level, that does not mean that the student is comprehending at that same level. We need to account for other factors including maturity level when we consider placement. Students should work within their ability regardless of their ages. Sometimes that may mean that a ninth grade student is working in Level B materials. If that’s where he is growing and learning, he is in the right place.

Sometimes we pick materials at an appropriate level for students’ current ability but then try to force them to move too quickly through multiple levels so that they can “catch up” to their peers. This usually happens when parents are concerned that a student is behind in his learning. Reasoning that if they can get their child through two or more courses per year if they just keep at it, the parents run the risk of pushing their child too hard and overwhelming him. Or the other thinking goes, “Hmm. If one (curriculum choice) is good, doubling up is even better!” Not true! Instead it is much better to dedicate time and attention to the one and to work on it with diligence versus spreading the student’s capability too thin.

Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of parents, tutors, and teachers about reading and writing. If I had a dollar for every time I mentioned, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” I would be a lot richer! It is true though. I write from experience. I recall being the parent of a young child. I myself had a tendency to look ahead only a short distance. I worried about spelling, science, math, writing, history, literature—all of it. I fretted over my child’s third grade science curriculum. If we didn’t finish what I had planned for the week, we pushed into the weekend. In this manner I slowly wore myself and my children out. Eventually I realized that what I was trying to do wasn’t sustainable. I needed to look at the long game and give myself and my kids some margin to breathe and relax. When I did, our school plans became less frenetic and much more fun.

Andrew Pudewa has described this marathon in a number of different ways over the years, but one of my favorite articles of his that reflects this philosophy is “The Work of a Child.” In this beautiful reflection Andrew describes his son as “one of the most dyslexic people [he had] ever met.” Admitting that he felt some anxiety about his son’s educational progress, nevertheless Andrew was sustained by his certainty that his son would be all right. He shares his thoughts in the article:

With a great amount of unstructured time, [my son] was free to fulfill his natural calling to run and jump and build and fight and explore. As we had renounced video games and television as available forms of entertainment in our home, he was forced to be creative. He spent considerable time outdoors, often alone, observing and absorbing his world in a healthy, visceral way … So it was the combination of imaginative recreation, huge quantities of great literature, and a small but steady rigor of simple academics that got us over the hump and into the homestretch.

Andrew and his wife decided to nurture their son’s love for the outdoors while fostering a love for literature. And their son? You can listen to him share more about his learning journey by tuning in to Podcast Episode 197, where Chris appears as a guest and describes his experiences as a child living with dyslexia.

If you are tired of pushing your children, perhaps you need to step back and take a break. A marathon is an arduous event. Pace yourself. If you hit it too hard, you and your children will burn out. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race. Enjoy the view along the way.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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