Podcast Season 2, Episode 30: The Real Pace of Learning

Children are expected to learn at a steady pace, starting fourth grade at a 4.0, and ending at a 4.9 or 5.0, with steady consistent growth of .1 each month along the way.


I have never met that child.


Every child I have ever worked with has had periods of explosive growth and periods of stagnation and even regression.


We expect that steady straight line, but the spikes and dips and plateaus is closer to the reality that I see.  I also want to point out that some kids will not start or end at the expected points, although I had them line up for this illustration.


And while it is easy to look at this overall graph and think, “Yeah, there’s nothing to worry about.  That kid made great progress!”  it’s not so easy to feel that way in November, when a kid who WAS doing really well, hasn’t made growth in months!


Kids will make progress, at their own pace, and you don’t need to panic when progress hasn’t happened in a while.


But you’re probably wondering: Why does this happen? What can we do about these plateaus and dips?  Is there a way to maintain better momentum?


Great questions!


Why does this happen? 

Kids often get very enthusiastic initially, and then become bored.  So their progress can be directly linked to their enthusiasm for learning the skill.


Kids also will have enough background knowledge to make rapid growth initially, before getting stuck on a harder concept for a while.  Then when they break through that struggle, they excel again for a while, before hitting another roadblock.


And for some kids, it has to do with self-confidence.  They don’t feel self-assured enough to make progress initially.  Then they have a breakthrough and feel great, and make huge growth before getting stuck and losing confidence again.


What can we do about these plateaus and dips?   Is there a way to maintain better momentum?


One of the best strategies to try when you notice boredom or resistance to daily lessons is to bring in novelty.  When things are new again, they feel fresh.  This can be as drastic as changing which curriculum you’re using, or can be as simple as:

  • Changing the tool: Crayons instead of pencils

  • Changing the location: outside, on the couch, under the dining room table

  • Changing the time of day: after lunch instead of after breakfast

  • Bringing in something new: music, snacks, a “new student” (the dog or a stuffed animal)


Of course, I am never a proponent of forcing a child to do something they are really against.  Have a genuine conversation with your child to see what is going on and why they’re feeling resistant.  Give them options, and ask for their suggestions.


You might need to take a break from the lessons for a while, but perhaps your kiddo would be on-board to do a little practice to maintain previously-mastered skills.


A word of caution

As you can imagine from all the possible learning graphs of spikes, dips, and plateaus, every child is different and comparing two kids is rarely beneficial.  


Keep your own feelings about your child’s progress in check.  


Your child is an awesomely unique human who is developing their skills in their own way and at their own pace.  Another child’s pace does not reflect anything on your own child’s pace.


However, if in your gut, you know that something is off- your child needs more help, a different program, etc. - make it happen!  Don’t ignore those gut feelings, just be sure that they ARE gut feelings!



We expect kids to make slow and steady progress, but I’ve never met a kid who did.  Adjust as needed!


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Decoding Learning Differences