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How to Avoid the Big Pit of Comparison

Mom and son standing next to big pit

I’m worried my child isn’t making enough progress.

Most homeschool parents feel this way at one time or another. We regularly hear from parents who express concern about the progress their child has made—or not made—in reading and spelling.

When we question the parent further, we often discover that the child has in fact made excellent progress, yet the parent doesn’t recognize that progress.

In these situations, however, the problem is actually much more likely to be related to the parent’s expectations for the child’s progress, rather than to the child’s actual progress. It is very easy to become too focused on “the ideal.”

What Is Your “Ideal?”

Your ideal may be different than someone else’s. Maybe your ideal is to have your child complete All About Reading Level 4 by a certain age or to have him spell as well as the child next door. Maybe your ideal has been influenced by what your child’s grandparents think about his progress. Or maybe it’s even thinking ahead to your child’s future college career with worried thoughts like, “How will he get into college if he can’t even spell proficiently?”

In all the cases above, focusing on the ideal can create frustration because, until your child actually reaches your ideal, you will always be focused on how far he still has to go until he reaches “it” … whatever “it” may be.

Boy looking unhappy

To varying degrees, envisoning your child’s future can serve you well because it helps you gauge what you need to do. After all, if you’re completely happy with the status quo, there would be no reason to teach your children every day.

But while focusing on ideals can help us set goals, it’s not a great way to measure progress in a motivating way. In fact, always comparing your child to the ideal can lead to disappointment … and the Big Pit of Comparison.

Stay Out of the Big Pit of Comparison

What is the Big Pit, you ask? This is the huge chasm between where your child’s abilities are now and where you want him to be.

The Big Pit is a bad thing. It’s bad for you and for your motivation. And it’s bad for your child, his sense of self-worth, his enthusiasm for learning, and his future progress.

Boy looking defeated next to big pit

So instead of this self-defeating way of looking at your child’s progress, let’s take a step back … no, let’s take a step up.

A Fresh Perspective

To better understand where your child is really at and to stay out of the Big Pit, it helps to get a bird’s-eye view of your child’s situation.

Eagle flying

Look at the big picture from a vantage point where you can see the whole continuum, beginning with where your child started and ending with your ideal.

With this bird’s-eye view, you can see the ideal off in the distance, but you can also see how far your child has come.

Happy boy looking back at starting point

From this vantage point there is a LOT to celebrate.

What I would encourage you to do is frequently look backward instead of always looking forward. Instead of comparing your child to where you want him to be, think about where he started out. Then you can see how much progress has been made.

When you give yourself a bird’s-eye view, you can look back and see the ten-year-old who was struggling to read a year or two ago, but is now reading fluently. You can picture the boy who spent two or three days on each spelling lesson but can now complete a lesson in a day. You realize that the child who cried through every single fluency practice sheet is now smiling through them.

This new vantage point provides an inspiring perspective that will help you and your child stay motivated … and encouraged. It changes everything, doesn’t it? Can you see the difference?

Do you ever fall into the Big Pit of Comparison? What successes has your child had so far?

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Stephanie

says:

This article is uplifting. It is so hard not to compare your child with other children the same age, but we have to remember that they all learn at different levels. While your child may have trouble reading or spelling, they have other strengths that put them ahead of the game and they will eventually get to were they need to be. Thank you for the inspiration.

Kristin Meyer

says:

Incredibly helpful, thank you!

Allison

says:

Thank you for all the helpful articles and extra free resources on top of an awesome curriculum. I’m so glad I found AAR and AAS. I like to film my kids reading every few months. Sometimes it’s hard to see how far they’ve come in the day to day because it happens little by little. But going back and watching those videos is so encouraging!

Katrina Brockavich

says:

I try not to compare my kids to others, each other, or judge them by what people expect them to know at this age I don’t want to be judged or compared to anyone, so I wouldn’t want to do that to other people. All of my children learn best when they are given the chance to learn as much about the topic as they want in whatever way they can understand and retain the information.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So true! Thank you, Katrina!

Vicky

says:

This is so helpful!! It’s an easy pit to fall into.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Vicky!

Rachel

says:

The blogs are a great help and wonderful resource. Thank you for providing things to help us along but don’t cost extra. It means a lot.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Rachel. It’s wonderful to here that the resources are used and enjoyed!

Claudia Matchynski

says:

Both of my kids are at different reading levels. But they are both doing great!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Claudia!

Courtney Flanery

says:

The pit of comparison is a stealer if joy! Definitely something I have and still struggle with. The progress my oldest had made within the last year is amazing to me and I am so proud!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So true, Courtney!

I’m glad to hear about the progress you have made with your oldest! Of course, you are proud!

Courtney flanery

says:

Thank so much!

Priacilla

says:

My 11 year old has always read and spelled above the average level but my 8 year old is struggling. It is hard not to compare her to her older sister when I know multiple factors affect their differences

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand what you mean, Priacilla. My first child learned pretty much everything easily, so the struggle my other four children experienced was all the more concerning in light of that, especially for my second child. But they all learned at their own pace and in their own way, and all succeeded. And, in some ways, those that struggled developed strengths that their brother never did, like the ability to help others that struggle.

Tiffany petrie

says:

This is so encouraging! My seven year old is not reading yet and it worries me sometimes but I know he will get there!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad this was encouraging for you, Tiffany! I have had a couple of kiddos that were not yet reading at 7, so I understand. But they did finally master reading, and so will your child!

If you have questions or concerns, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Melissa Mills

says:

This e-mail is like a divine intervention of God telling me everything is going to be ok, because I have you in great hands. I just need to take it a day at a time.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad this was such an encouragement and inspiration for you, Melissa!

April Bean

says:

Thank you! I needed this today!

Quick question … do you have a range of time that you estimate the various levels to take? IE Should they each be for one school year, more or less?

And thank you for all you do! This curriculum has moved the dial significantly for our son!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so happy to hear that it’s been helpful for your son, April!

As for how long a level should take, it depends on many factors. Our programs are designed to be used at each child’s unique pace. Sometimes that means a level will take just a couple of months, and sometimes it means a level will take a year and a half or more.

On average, the All About Reading levels seem to take about three-quarters of a year to a full year, but again that is an average. Some master the material faster and some need more time. The higher levels of All About Spelling average about the same, but the lower levels tend to go a bit faster. It all depends on your student’s age, previous experience, possible learning disabilities or giftedness, and more.

We recommend working in All About Reading for 20 minutes a day five days a week and All About Spelling for 15-20 minutes a day also five days a week. You will start each day with reviewing, work until time is up, and then pick up where you left off the next day.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have additional questions or need more information.

Karen Mahon

says:

Marie, you must love children. You seem to understand them. Your methods make sense. I am working with my granddaughters on language – reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and all that goes with it. They all have their own learning speed you might say and skill levels. Thank you much for all your insight and sharing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Karen! Marie understands the struggle that learning to read and spell can be. Marie’s son is severely dyslexic, and being told by experts that he would never learn to read led directly to her creating All About Reading and All About Spelling. You can see a short video about her son’s story, Failure is Not an Option.

Catherine

says:

My daughter has ASD and dyslexia, the hill we are climbing is steep. I’m finally learning to focus on each moment, enjoy my daughter, and to stop looking for the finish line. “A watched bloomer doesn’t bloom.” Thanks for the reminder!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, I love that, Catherine! As a mom of children with learning disabilities myself, I understand the feeling when you still have so much hill to climb. But now that we are at or near the top, there is not only joy but such a strong feeling of accomplishment!

Betty

says:

This is the first time I understand that I have a problem with my daughter progress not her ,she has done a great job and progress from where she was at first I just couldn’t see it thank you it help a lot

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Betty. It can be hard to let go of the idea of where a child “should” be. I’m very pleased to hear that your daughter is making good progress.

Austin

says:

Our family really struggles with the pit of comparison. After getting custody of our little guy it was hard not to compare him to his peers as he is academically several years behind them. We needed to advocate for his educational needs which meant all too often we were focused on what he couldn’t do instead of what he can do. He’s made amazing progress with AAS and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in the future.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Austin,
Sometimes it takes a bit of comparison to know when your child needs more help. But it sounds like you have the most important thing down; you are looking at the progress your little guy has made! I’m pleased to hear All About Spelling is helping him gain progress.

Lily

says:

Are you offering fee excess during the Covid 19 pandemic for teachers to use with their class?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lily,
We have a blog post about tht, COVID-19 Quarantine Schooling Resources.

Hattie ROBINSON

says:

Thank

Alice

says:

Thank you so much for your very timely email. It does help to put things in perspective. I hope I can let this be my starting point.

I have a hard time staying out of the ‘big pit’. Lots of the homeschool moms we associate with are very ‘hard core’ homeschoolers. I have to remind myself that we move at Ella’s pace and we’re doing great.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Paula,
Awww, the mom comparison. Sigh. And it’s not just homeschool moms; you’ll find it with moms that don’t homeschool too.

I find it helpful to list the things we are doing that is impressive, especially the things that are impressive in different ways. For example, if someone talks about their grade-schooler learning Latin I may mention my grade-schooler having her own garden and even growing the herbs I use weekly in my cooking. I find doing this helps to change the focus from “my kid is so great” to celebrating the unique things in each child, at least for me. If they want to stay in the “big pit”, well I can’t fix that.

Audrey

says:

Such a good reminder! I’m going to be starting my first “official” year of homeschooling soon, and I know I’ll be tempted to compare my daughter with her homeschool and public school friends.

Juill

says:

A great reminder!

Bette

says:

This is encouraging for an older learner.

Lizie

says:

This is a very good reminder.

Bree

says:

This is such good advice! Focusing on progress can be way more encouraging than fretting about how behind one is.

Trisha

says:

Thanks for the article! I am excited to be starting to homeschool so my kids can avoid a lot of this outside pressure, but yes it is hard for parents, too. It starts so young- baby milestones even!

My son and daughter are very different, so that has helped me lighten up when comparing them to other kids or each other. They both have different strengths and weaknesses. Looking at the birds’ eye view of progress (not perfection!) is essential. It helps to see they are not “behind” in their areas of weakness, just maturing or learning more slowly, but always growing!

Jennifer

says:

This was very encouraging. I felt convicted reading this as I have done this with my son. He is has just been diagnosed with dyslexia and I found that I compared and had an ideal, which lead to frustration for both of us. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer. I know from experience that teaching children with dyslexia can look very different from the ideal, but with consistency and patience, the results can be even better than hoped for! Please let me know if you have any concerns or need anything along the way.

Sarah

says:

With identical twins I am always thinking about this and want to get them help where they need it without comparing to their sister.

Sarah Garnham

says:

We too, have three kids in three different levels, who each move through the lessons at a different pace. I love how this program has progress sheets to help the students (and teacher) see how far they’ve come. It’s also a great motivator (for some kids) to sit down and do lessons each day. When I get frustrated that we are not where I want to be, I have to stop and remember that the quality of our interactions is more important than the quantity of pages we cover.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great way to think about progress, Sarah! I love the idea that quality trumps quantity. Thank you!

Alison

says:

Avoiding comparisons is one of the reasons I homeschool. I want my children to be free to celebrate their successes, no matter what anyone else thinks they should or shouldn’t be able to do. My first son learned to read at 4. My second was still struggling at 7. (It was hard not to compare siblings, too!) But AAR was a great program for him because it was fun, varied and made it easy to see progress.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alison,
I think not comparing siblings is the hardest pit to avoid. It sounds like you are doing a great job in seeing the unique progress in each of your children.