Asalamu’alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu, I hope you’re having a wonderful week so far. It’s been a busy week so far for us, but I’m enjoying the cooler mornings and colder nights. Winter is my favourite season of the year, Alhamdulillah, and I look forward to it, as do the kids. But, before we get into the tips, let’s stop for a moment and think about what is a ‘knowledge gap’ anyway.
Well, a knowledge gap is basically discovering that your child doesn’t know about something you feel they should. Notice I said, ‘feel they should‘. And the reason I say this is because that is all it is. For some reason, when we homeschool, because we feel the pressure of our children’s education, it worries us that much more when our child doesn’t know something because we assume other children their age do, and so our child must have missed something out due to us.
But let me reassure you, that isn’t the case. Because not knowing something is absolutely normal. For adults and children alike. For kids who go to school, for kids who are homeschooled. For the young and the old.
Learning is a life-long pursuit, it isn’t this destination that once we reach it, we’re done. It’s ongoing for us, and so it shouldn’t surprise us when our kids don’t know about certain things.
So don’t panic when you discover that your child doesn’t know a certain something. To find a knowledge gap is ok, totally normal and to be expected. It does not mean your homeschooling isn’t working, or that you’ve hugely fallen short somewhere. It really doesn’t. And to go along with that, I’d say that if it does really throw you off, take a moment to remind yourself of your goal as a homeschool parent to begin with. When we take the responsibility to educate our children as Muslim homeschool mothers, it isn’t so we can teach our children anything and everything right. Rather, we’ve taken this responsibility to educate our children because we want to give them a strong foundation for their deen first and foremost, and then also be able to academically educate our children to a high standard in sha Allah right?
We purposely don’t teach our kids anything and everything, because sometimes it’s of little value, other things take precedence and sometimes because we simply choose not to for many reasons. So really look into your priorities as a homeschooler, and of course things like homeschool requirements in your locality to start off with. Which takes me straight into tip one…
1) Remind yourself when you’re hit with that worry, that firstly it’s ok, and maybe it was intentional.
It’s important for us to make this clear, because in the next few tips, I don’t want you to assume than anything that your child doesn’t know is the knowledge gap I’m referring to. Not at all. Instead, it’s the things that you’d LIKE your child to know, that you feel they NEED to know, that you haven’t quite gotten round to (or maybe even forgot, it happens). Ok mama – not anything and everything ok!
2) Judge the intensity of the gap before taking action.
What I mean by this is evaluate the consequence of not knowing that particular thing before you decide on how you’re going to tackle it, because everything isn’t urgent though it may be important. So, for example, if you come to Islamic studies, and you see for example your child doesn’t know the categories of Tawheed or struggles with basic knowledge in Aqeedah, that would be a knowledge gap you’d want to urgently look into and rectify because it is SO important.
Or if you’re child struggles with reading because of a learning difficulty for example (not just because they haven’t learnt how to read yet because every child is different) than that would be a knowledge gap you’d want to bring to the forefront, ahead of something like grammar because the ability to read comes first. Another example would be in Math, your child not knowing how to do a complex equation because they struggle with timetables may mean that you might want to give those timetable the extra practice since that will make so many other Math concepts easier to deal with.
In a nutshell, evaluate the knowledge gap by urgency. And then assess to see if a foundational skill needs work instead if the bigger issue.
3) Make a plan to close the gap.
Now you’ve identified the particular area where your child needs help, make a plan to dive in deep. If that means pausing other things for a while, purchasing a curriculum that is very thorough in teaching that particular thing or catered specifically for your child’s learning style or learning difficulty, then do so. And try not to see this as a ‘pause’ in learning, or an ‘obstacle. Of course, do evaluate why this particular thing may have gotten missed (we’ll elaborate on this later), but really, this is one of the perks of homeschooling. We are able to pick out those things we genuinely feel our children need to know or strengthen and then customise their learning. This doesn’t just mean doing more of the things you want to, or love, but also taking extra time to cover things that your child struggles with too.
Alhamdulillah, we aren’t confined by someone else’s schedule, so we have the flexibility and the freedom to take the time to go a little slower in areas that need more help.
4) Use concept checking or testing.
To keep an eye on those incremental skills you want your child to know, or to see if you can ‘resume’ learning as normal, use concept checking and testing in your homeschool as a way to monitor progress. This is important as you homeschool long-term, and I have a whole mini course (Studious Homeschooling Essentials) about how to evaluate your homeschool to keep standards high in The MHSM Membership. Now, I know that not all homeschoolers like to use ‘testing’ in their homeschool, but personally I think both concept checking and more formal testing are good ways to see how your child is doing in certain areas. With concept checking, it can be as simple as asking questions throughout to check understanding which goes beyond a simple ‘yes or no’ style question or worksheet, telling your child to narrate back their understanding to you and using notebooking to really get an idea of what your child took away from the lesson. More formal testing is also useful for older kids, who you may want to prepare for upcoming exams. And remember, formal testing isn’t just about seeing if your child passes or not. It’s more so to diagnose which part of the topic/subject your child is struggling with, so you can go back and give those areas more attention. This is super useful in subjects like Math, where as kids get older concepts become more complex, so to pinpoint where exactly help is needed comes in handy.
5) Look at your overall schedule evaluate why.
When it comes to finding knowledge gaps, especially for those things that are urgent, it’s important to look at why that particular thing got slipped or missed. And this is where it’s really important that we evaluate our progress against our priorities. For example, if Aqeedah is a topic that we feel we haven’t given enough attention to, that maybe we really need to look into our current Islamic studies plan and adjust it. Or if we feel like Arabic isn’t moving as far along as we had wanted, maybe we need to look into why. Or if we know our kids will be sitting for formal exams soon but we haven’t done much exam questions or still have a lot of course content to cover, it’s a good time to really pause and adjust our plan as needed. I will point out here too that often we as homeschoolers resort to outsourcing in subjects we feel aren’t our strongest point or we feel would be best taught by someone more qualified, which is a great option. But even things that are outsourced need to be evaluated for efficiency and progress.