I seem to always come back to the local homeschool support group as a default answer, but truthfully, there is no better source of help in most situations. Most homeschool groups are comprised of both new and veteran homeschoolers who have, no doubt, gone through a myriad of ups and downs throughout their homeschooling career. Most have "been there, done that" no matter what your situation is and they will be more than happy to help a fellow homeschooler navigate the path to the best solution.
If you do not belong to a homeschool support group or you don't feel comfortable discussing the situation with a member of your group, there is a large online community of homeschoolers. Multiple message boards are available. Some message boards focus on specific teaching styles or on a specific type of curriculum. I have found most of these also have sub-boards that address challenges to homeschooling such as varying learning styles, challenges to learning, and/or behavior problems. Popular message boards include: VegSource, Homeschool Christian, Homeschool Central, and The Well Trained Mind. Some curriculum providers also offer private, by subscription only, forums. Sonlight is one example. While there is a small portion of the forum that is public, the vast majority is private (which might appeal to those who are squeamish about their discussions being read by anyone and everyone who happens to find it).
When your situation is more serious than the issues homeschoolers routinely face, you may need to consider another source of help. If you suspect your child may have a learning disability you should first consult your pediatrician. He or she can direct you in getting your child tested and then can assist in finding ways to help. Guidelines vary from state to state regarding how homeschoolers gain access to public programs for learning disabilities. If you and your pediatrician believe that a behavior problem like ADHD, Aspergers, or Sensory Integration Disorder might be contributing to your child's difficulties with learning you can ask for a referral to a child psychiatrist or psychologist for testing and treatment, if necessary.
How do I know if my child is making satisfactory progress? What do I do if he/she isn't?
(Note: State laws vary widely from state to state. Some require absolutely no reporting or record keeping while others require yearly testing, evaluations, or portfolios. You should always keep in mind what your state laws are when considering how to evaluate progress. You can find out your state's laws here.)
One of the most common ways to assess progress is through yearly testing. Sometimes local homeschool groups will provide standardized testing in the spring each year. If you do not have access to this or if you wish to test your children yourself you can purchase standardized tests directly from Family Learning Organization. After ordering and receiving the appropriate testing packet you administer the test yourself and then send it back in for grading and evaluating.
If you have the option and prefer not to use standardized tests as a means of evaluating progress, another option is a yearly portfolio. The yearly portfolio is a collection of competed work that represents a sampling of the year's studies. Comparing the work from the beginning of the year to the work from the end, as well as comparing one year to the next, can be useful in determining how much progress has been made.
Personally, I have always chosen the portfolio method. It is my opinion that the tests are not entirely accurate representations of what children have learned in homeschool. Most homeschool parents are not "teaching the test" and as a result the scope and sequence doesn't always line up with what public schools are learning in the same school year. That aside, most homeschoolers do extremely well on standardized tests anyway. I've just never found the tests to be a necessary or desirable component of our schooling.
Regardless of which method you use to assess progress you may occasionally find that your child is not progressing as you'd expected. I think the first thing to look at is your expectations. Are they too lofty? Were you expecting too much? We all want our children to excel at everything they do, but the truth is that sometimes they excel in one area and are average in another. When my firstborn learned to read he picked it up at amazing speed. By the time he was in 3rd grade he read on a 9th grade reading level. When my second son started learning to read I had to reassess my expectations because he was nothing like his brother. He started off much slower, and it was a longer process to teach him to read. The opposite is true when it comes to math. My second born picks up on math concepts with lightening speed, while his older brother needs a bit more explanation and practice. I have to adjust my expectations accordingly with each of my children.
Once you've evaluated your own expectations you might still find that your child is still not doing as well as he or she should. If this is the case, evaluating where the weaknesses are will help you pinpoint what areas to target. You might try some remedial work in this area in order to bring his or her performance up to an acceptable level. Extra workbooks and even educational computer games can be useful in this area. There are websites that offer free or low cost access to "homework help" where students can access anything from spelling games to math puzzles. We've used Spelling City to help my son when struggled with spelling. A quick google search can yield you many results in most subject areas. If the problem is more serious you might consider a private tutor who can meet with your child on a daily or weekly basis. If you suspect there may be a learning disability you should consult your child's physician for direction.
Coming next: How do I juggle multiple homeschooled children?