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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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He's So Busy Learning We Forgot To Do School!

By Tom and Sherry An article for parents of curriculum disabled children.

If you would like to see pictures of the "House that Josh built" CLICK HERE


 Our second son has such an engaging smile, that most folks can't help smiling back. He is a no-nonsense fellow, that prefers how-to books instead of make believe stories. The fall he turned 7, as a newer homeschooling mom, I'd done such a good job pumping him up about learning how to read, that every week since August he'd been asking, is it time for school yet???? The day finally arrived one sunny September day.

We sat down to read and had a wonderful day of reading about letters, making the alphabet sounds, counting and listening. Long about dinner time, my usually sunny son's countenance was cloudy and concerned. In fact, all evening he looked. well, disappointed. As we tucked him into bed he looked up imploringly saying .. "I thought you said I was going to learn to read today?" Sigh. As a homeschooling mom I got an "A" for building up an exciting base for his reading career. I got an "F" for helping him understand reality. We talked for a while, and by the time he was nodding off, his sweet smile was back again.

We'd purposely delayed formal learning until age 7 because we felt, as Raymond and Dorothy Moore feel, it is "better late than early." But, liittle did we know how long it really would take our son to read. A great proponent of phonics, Mommy was armed to the teeth with phonics games, an inexpensive but excellent program, phonics books and videos (teaching almost anyone to read, they claimed). By the end of our school year after months of spending hour each day, we finally mastered the letters.

Over the next summer, we decided it was the fault of the phonics program and acquired a new phonics program (Hooked On Phonics). On the first day of school that year, our son listened to the program for 10 minutes and I knew it wasn't going to work for him. The voice on the tape grated him and he was totally closed to learning to read if she was going to teach him. Not giving up, we purchased another phonics program. By the end of the next year, we had mastered the letters, sounds.... even a few small words! By the time he was 10 we had gone through more phonics programs than we want to remember. He was reading only short vowel words. Handwriting and spelling were torture.

When Josh was 10 , we used Samuel Blumenfelds' Alpha Phonics. We felt we were finally making some progress. He was getting older and found most phonics programs babyish. This one he liked. That same year, he found a book that went along with his interest in log homes. It was an expensive book and we couldn't see buying it, especially since he really wasn't reading yet. He promised he would learn to read if only we would buy it for him. We compromised. If he could read the book, borrowed from the library, we'd buy the book for him. He earnestly kept at that book, learning to sight read. All day, all evening, anyone that could read was his target. "And what does this word say???" This word now? And what does this word say? In 6 weeks he was reading at a 6th grade level and comprehending everything. We were blown away. All those phonics programs, all those hours of patient instruction. What happened? Once again, mommy got an "A" for enthusiasm, but an "F" for observation. We were busy conquering a reading program and not learning to read.

Ah yes, a little more about Josh. He is good in math. that is solving problems in his head. Worksheets were (and still are) pure torture. Does he spell? Enough to get by. He uses the spell checker when he has to write a letter. His hard time with academics is just a very small part of Josh. We saw that in order to complete Josh's preparation for service for the Lord, something was going to  have to change. Working with his hands is his gift, not academics.

This article is all about learning. NO, it's not about molding a child into a scholastic wonder or 'how to succeed in a curriculum." It's about shaping a unique learner for a life of loving to learn. It's not about fitting a square peg into a round hole, it's about finding the right spot to fit comfortably.

 When Josh was 10 and Jake was 12, we put the desks away. For good. We used the kitchen table. We made academics a small part of our day as a family, not the major focus. We spent 1 hour a day doing school after breakfast, Bible and chores.

Our whole concept about meeting educational goals changed when we sat down organizing long term goals for our older sons. Education means different things to different people. For Josh it means teaching him to teach himself. It means fostering in his heart a love for learning and preparing him in a trade (or a variety of trades), so he can support his family if God blesses him so.

We decided to take a new approach with Josh in particular, but we jumped in with both older boys. We wanted our experiment to be as real-to-life as possible. This is what we did. Being self-employed, we saw the benefits of teaching our sons to run their own business. For each one, we created a checking account (complete with checks) on the computer. We ordered all the forms (for real) from the state for starting a small business. Each of our sons thoughtfully created a name for his business. Josh's was Lincoln Log Homes and Jakes was Bushnell's' welding Company. They made business cards, ads and we studied the whole realm of advertising, including how to sell your product. This took us months and we delved deeply, reading books and manuals. Some of the subjects we covered were: starting your own business, designing ads and business art, how to treat customers, sales, business ethics, banking and loans vs. paying cash, budgeting, and the intricacies of how accounting works plus a whole lot more. This covered pretty much the first year. These businesses became VERY real to Jake and Josh. We discussed these subjects impromptu and at great length sometimes into the evening. Josh's purpose for education and learning had great meaning for him. He had tremendous personal motivation for remembering these important facts about owning his own log home business.

By next fall, Josh (11) had built a miniature log home from straight tree branches, peeling each "log" carefully and fitting them together, learning the basics of the different notches and styles of how to build log homes. He ate, played and dreamt building with logs. His far away looks no longer meant "I wish I was a million miles away" it meant, "I am building with logs in my brain, rehearsing how I am going to do this later." Later came much earlier than Mom had anticipated. Soon Daddy taught Josh how to use a chainsaw. It was love at first sight. After several cords of firewood, cut up with record speed, as now there were 3 chainsaws going that fall, we started talking about finding some real logs to practice carving notches.

By God's providence, Daddy came in contact with some good sized pole ends left over at a pole yard. A dump truck full was delivered to our shop. These logs were a dream come true for Josh. He stopped day dreaming and went to work. His textbooks that fall consisted of his Bible and Birch's Log Home Manual. We also acquired B. Alan Mackie's books, plus catalogs, videos and manuals that supported this interest. Over the spring and summer, Josh built a 10 by 8 log building from huge logs. (We brought the building with us to Idaho and have it standing today as Mommy's chicken coop!)

Now almost 15, Josh much prefers the building part of creating with logs and not the business end such as doing taxes and keeping track of his expenses. He's learning to save receipts carefully. Each tool is important to him as he earns it with his own money. He has diversified in interest somewhat. Over the winter he really got into draft horses and farming with these huge critters. He does plan to get a team some day.

We have found that for our family, using real life to meet educational needs, surrounding our children with learning opportunities and immersing them in a steady diet of character building and real life application has worked for us.

We shudder to think what would have become of our sunny disposition Josh if we had majored on scholastic academics instead of fanning to life his talents. The public school was definitely not the place for our family, but now we can really see why, as the years have unfolded.

Our experiment in the school of real life has now formed into our way of life. We do not separate school, play and work. Even our play has become real, as we encourage our younger children to practice what they want to become when they are grown. We do not play, kill, steal or cheat. Our older boys grew up so fast. We can clearly see that we have only a few short years to impart wisdom and good habits. These habits include getting along with our brothers and sisters, working together, keeping on when it gets tough, being a man or woman of God now (not later when we grow up).

What about our special needs children? Jordan is 12 years old and has Down syndrome, Sheela 11, blind from birth and Sherlynn 7, with autism and cerebral palsy are just as much a part of this lifestyle as the rest of our crew. In fact they benefit the most from this style of learning.

Our family philosophy of putting others first (which we do not always do, unfortunately), along with a "self-feeding" attitude towards learning instead of "spoon-feeding" information has been a good combination for us. So in light of this, are learning disability labels necessary? We feel that in order to secure government funds or to go to college they would be. BUT, if a family chooses to disengage from the system and feels comfortable coping with learning differences, labels are not necessary.

We don't make a big deal about our learning differences. Sometimes our lack of prowess in the scholastic level becomes plainly apparent to others. Sometimes we still find ourselves cringing inside when discussing the best spelling program, math levels, and preparing for college. Because we have not conquered textbooks of information and workbooks by the dozen, by the world's standards, perhaps we might be lacking in meeting the generally high homeschooling standard. but homeschooling failures we are not. After years of real struggle, seeing the good attitude in our son toward learning, and watching him enjoy the happy feeling of success that being proficient in a skill brings assures us that the path the Lord has led on is right for us. The word unschooling seems to bring such negative connotations, even evoking strange reactions from some homeschoolers. Those who have fought for homeschooling rights in the early 70's and 80's have carved a high standard for homeschooling, patterning after education in general. From our observation through NATHHAN the idea of academic excellence can leave parents further frustrated after they pull out of the system. Are the same academics at home the answer? Perhaps a totally new approach toward education is necessary.

What do we say to eager proponents of high standards in home education? Nothing. Most of them cannot comprehend why we would not try harder. "He just needs to work more!" "You're not giving him the right motivation" "Without X standard in education, he will be a social and educational misfit." "A new approach will work." "Don't give up, he'll get it someday." These and many more are common statements heard by "homeschooling failures" like us. Happily, the Bible does not give a standard for education, except in character development.

The Lord gives parents the command not to provoke their children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). This combined with our Heavenly Father lovingly creating our children individually with different talents and gifts gives us the responsibility of finding the best way to develop a loving heart and working knowledge in our children.

We want to share with you hope. If you were your child and needed a different approach to life to succeed, would you want your parents to come up with a plant to help you? Of course. The Start of A New Idea

What are your interests? They just might be mirrored in your son or daughter, especially if you are good friends with your children and are already home schooling. Our children are really good at picking up on our bad attitudes, too. How do you feel about learning? Are you frustrated at failure and not making the grade? Do you hope this too shall pass and it will al just "click" some day (hopefully soon)?

We are going to share with you some ideas that might spark a new way of learning for some of you. (Editor's note: We got permission from Josh to do this article by sharing with him the very real possibility that a young man or woman may be rescued from a life of drudgery by sharing with you his story!!)

Self Motivated Learning Resources

Where do your interests fall? Part of our family philosophy toward self-motivated learning has been steering our children toward good information and away from bad. We have a high standard for fiction reading material. We are also careful about non-fiction. Real life pictures and graphics can be just as bad as the world really is! There are so many wonderful resources available, why waste money on garbage.

Without getting all caught up in self-love or self-esteem, we can enthusiastically encourage our children into an every day, healthy excitement for learning. Our method of doing this involves hearty approval and interest in what our children are interested in. This approval also involves our time and pocket book. Ah, yes, money. We are on a variable, limited income working for NATHHAN, yet God has provided splendidly beyond our wishful dreams. He will do the same for you.

We have found that when we are enthusiastic about a topic and in a "learning curve" as we call it, there are usually many others in the community that also are very interested in the same topic. The Lord has brought friends with expertise in these areas to share with us" Organic Gardening, Greenhouse, Cattle Farming, Computers, Cooking, Canning, Butchering Meat, Editing, Writing, Sewing, Desk Top Publishing, Piano/music in general, Welding, Logging, Working with Wood, Building Furniture, Sewing of all kinds, the list goes on and on.

A Direction Worth Pursuing

For the sake of discussion, suppose we had a child who was interested in nothing else other than TV and computer games. The first step would be talking as a family and making some decisions about the future. How are the resent inputs of information affecting our family? If the TV was a negative, we'd pack it up and put it away (or at least make 3 the only channel for the VCR!) Next we would take several interesting field trips over the course of a month. At least one a week. These field trips would include getting out and walking around, touching things, asking questions, finding in a knowledgeable adult willing to share, going to the library, the zoo or a farm, looking at museums and factories, and going to work with an adult for a day or two. All the while, we as parents are observing, making mental notes and speaking together as husband and wife, praying about which direction to encourage our children.

All of this will take our children's cooperation. If our children are in the process of disengaging from the system, they may be peer dependent and we may need to cultivate a better relationship with our child before we start on this type of adventure. Homeschooling children need parents to be both the authority in their lives and their best friend. Here is how we have gone about finding information that interests our children and creating the learning curve.

We take our son on an errand to the grocery tore and pick up a spare tire at the tire shop. An interest is sparked. Our son seems to be asking a question or two and hanging around the door of the tire sop peering in. We ask permission and the manager allows us to come closer to watch how tires are repaired, studs installed and tires remounted on a rim. 20 minutes later we leaves with new input in what kind of information sparks interest, and our son leaves with an idea of how tires are dealt with.

Picking up a new magazine at that same tire store dealing with fancy tire rimes and car accessories, we lay it on the table and forget about it. It disappears. A day or two later we say candidly to our spouse, 'Honey, have you seen that magazine I brought home to look at?" Our son gets a sheepish look and saunters back from his room with it in his hand. "Sorry Dad." We say "No problem son," "What did you think of that programmable horn on page 30?" Our son looks at us in wonder. "Are you thinking of getting one Dad?!?!" We say. "Nah - don't think your mom would go for that, but what about those leopard spotted seat covers for the front seat!" And so it goes. The next week after you find what interests him the most in the catalog, you bring home a book or magazine along those lines. As interests become more specific, the material will get easier to come by, especially with the availability of just about anything on the internet. Most interests are sparked spontaneously and naturally. Watch for eager eyes and lingering questions.

Using Real Life to Meet Reading, Math, Writing and Spelling Goals

Most of us with unique learners are not college bound. This article may not be the answer for those who want college to be a goal for their child. College is totally possible for self-motivated, learns-differently learners.. if THEY are aspiring to go. Excellence in creative writing, math or science certainly has its place in our home. It just doesn't fit all of our children's needs in education.

Any book, including the Bible, can be used as a text book. In the file folder of our children's minds, important words that mean something will be remembered if they have something to hang the fact on. The books, manuals and magazines we acquire that interest our children can all be used as a textbook. The car parts catalog can be used as an excellent math book. Here are some ways we have used these.

Resources for math from car parts catalog

Make a wish list of tools or parts.

(As when our boys were starting their own companies and what tools they were going to need.) Add it up. Give them a budget and find as many things as they can to fit into that money ceiling.

Finding the sales tax.

Dividing the amount to be paid for the parts into x amount of equal payments.

This is done in all seriousness, assuming that one day they will really order them (If they have done well, surprise them with a part or two!)

Reading, Writing and Spelling from a cooking magazine?

Words that are important to us we learn to spell for convenience or to reduce our embarrassment at a later date. Right? Perhaps there is a question about a product in the magazine, or an article that has interested her. We do not contact the magazine for her. We let her do it, keeping it simple, even using the computer and spell checker (after all, this is real life.) We encourage them to practice the words they need to use until they can spell them easily. (Or at least have an idea how they are spelled). A few at a time.

Meeting State Requirements and Testing

The whole idea of conforming a unique learner into a scholastic achiever is as improbable as changing a busy mother of 10 into a football hero. Let's bloom where we are planted. Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of the teacher's unions or educational professionals whose job is to see that each child in their jurisdiction is educated to the standards set by law.

For some families self-motivated learning is too big of a stretch. It is too relaxed and too informal. A lot of families combine regular studies with immersing a child in information, creating a learning curve. Each family is different. Thank the Lord for that!

Some of the things families have done to promote a more relaxed approach to learning, yet meeting state requirements are:

Moving to a state that allows more freedom

Having testing done by a professional who considers learning uniqueness into the results.

Daddy comes home to work and shares the learning with mom.

Unit study approach

Learning to put "immersed learning" into professional 'eese' and keeping track of actual hours of "study". These hours of study and subjects are kept in a portfolio for review. Take lots of picture of accomplishments.

The Importance of a Good Education

What is a good education? Is it the regurgitating of facts from a text book? Is it the ability to take a test well? Is it terrific handwriting? In the real world, all of these mean little. Only the hardiest survive in the business world. Those without savvy are forgotten quickly.

Where are your children going? What has God called them to do? Those with gifts outside of academia are better prepared for real life starting now. We've all met the "professional students" perpetually attending college. Knowledge and degrees are where they derive their identity. Then there are those who say life actually started after graduating from high school or college as they finally got to spend time pursuing their interests and learning a skill for life.

To a young unique thinker stuck in ordinary school, the world looks like an awfully big place with no hope of achieving success. With God's help we can fashion our sons and daughters into bouncing-out-of-bed-for-the-excitement-of-a-new-day type of people. Ask the Lord for His will in your learns differently child. He will supply all your needs in His timing.