Mom-to-Mom Support/My child is reading well below grade level. Can I still move her ahead in her other subjects?

My child is reading well below grade level. Can I still move her ahead in her other subjects, even if she isn’t reading well?

Young mother helps daughter with schoolwork


My youngest daughter has some learning disabilities and has been very delayed in reading. Over the last year we have begun to make significant progress, and I believe that this next year will bear even more fruit. But, we have often neglected other subjects to focus on the “reading” piece. What I am wondering is if you believe that with significant parent involvement we could use the 4th grade material perhaps supplementing with Little Stories for Little Folks?

Dear Mom,

You pose an interesting question.  Your question actually leads to a discussion of the function and reasoning behind assigning children to grade levels by age rather than skill level.

The practice of assigning six-year-olds to first grade, seven-year-olds to second, etc., has only become commonplace in the past century or so.  Prior to that time, the practice was (and still is, in many countries) to group children by skill level rather than age.  For example, a child working alongside his parents in the field might attend school for only a few months out of the year.  That child would naturally progress more slowly than a child who attended classes on a regular basis, regardless of actual mental ability. Thus, it was not uncommon in rural schoolhouses to find children ranging in age from six to sixteen all reading from McGuffey’s Eclectic First Reader.  No matter their ages, students moved to the second reader when they had mastered the first.  In other words, it was understood that academic placement was determined not by age, but by mastery of concepts.

Homeschoolers can, and usually do, follow a similar approach.  As homeschoolers, we are not bound by the pressure to move up a grade, whether the child has mastered the skills necessary to accomplish the work at that level or not.  Instead, we may work with the child at exactly his skill level in every subject.  For some, this might mean doing primary work in math, but middle school level in language, for example.

In your daughter’s case, you have wisely focused on reading.  That is a smart approach, for reading is key to nearly every other subject!  It isn’t possible to do 4th grade language or spelling, for example, without the ability to read the sentences in the exercises.  It might be prudent to focus most of your efforts on completing Little Stories for Little Folks. (You may wish to move back to an easy level at first, so your daughter can gain confidence and feel successful, before moving to the more difficult stories.  It would also be good, for more reading practice, to encourage her to create her own Silly Willy Sentences with the cards provided in the Little Stories for Little Folks program.)

You might also read aloud from history, social studies, science, and religion.  Doing so will expose your daughter to those subjects and offer opportunities for discussion, providing an avenue of learning that does not require reading skills.

With your good help, it sounds as if your daughter is beginning to progress.  Praise God!  Keep up the good work, and know that when she does master Little Stories for Little Folks, your daughter will be quite ready to tackle Level A spellers and language.

May our good Jesus bless and guide your school days,

Nancy Nicholson

About Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson is one of the founding authors of Catholic Heritage Curricula. Equipped with an abundance of God-given talent, a major in Secondary Education–English, and years of experience homeschooling her own children, she has written over thirty educational titles, beginning with Little Stories for Little Folks. Her unique ability to develop programs and workbooks that “fit” both advanced and struggling students is due to her experience raising children of different ability levels and learning styles: two of her children are developmentally challenged, while another went on to graduate from Harvard and is now a college professor.