Our Experience With Learning Delays
By Ginger Clausen
God has blessed my husband and me with three children ages 13, 12 and 11, one son and two daughters. We have spent the last three and a half years homeschooling them. It’s been a wild ride at times… But it’s been well worth it!
I attended a private Christian kindergarten because the public schools did not offer kindergarten in my area at that time, then I went to public schools all the way through high school. But when the time came near for my children to attend school, I wasn't sure that was the best option.
Preschool was an easy decision. Everyone sent their children to preschool. So we sent our son to a highly recommended Christian program. But shortly after preschool began he reverted to his babyhood habit of sucking his thumb... He had stopped this on his own, with no intervention by us, but started up again. School was stressing him out! I noticed that it was worse on the trip to and from school. He knew his alphabet and numbers. He always got along well with other children. We saw no need for him to go to preschool. So we pulled him out! Our son didn't miss preschool. He was visibly relieved.
When he turned five, however, he was ready for school. Everyone was asking him if he was going to kindergarten, but since he has a September birthday and the cutoff is September first, he was going to have to wait another year. But he was so ready! We decided to check into homeschooling. We knew several families who were homeschooling and enjoyed it. We also knew that we had an extra year because of his September birthday. We could try it and if it didn't work out, he would still be on schedule for kindergarten the next fall.
So we went to a curriculum fair. I had no idea there were so many different ways to educate children! It was overwhelming! However, one curriculum stood out as the best option. It came in a set, all put together, with step by step instructions for each lesson. It took me a while to figure out. The book was constantly open as I taught! I felt the need to do everything just the way the book said I should. I didn't want to make any mistakes!
We developed a routine of spending about an hour to an hour and a half going through the lessons. My son truly enjoyed the time every day. As he learned, I relished the joy of being a part of it all! But at the same time, it was very stressful for me because I had to deal with his two younger sisters, who were demanding my attention in many different ways! We soon realized that this was just not going to work out for us. It was too hard on me! By the time spring arrived, we were checking into private schools and compiling lists of pros and cons for each.
To be honest, a part of wanting to homeschool, was to keep the cost down. Private schools are expensive! The other option, of sending them to the local public school just didn't seem profitable in the long run. There was too much at stake! I had to spend so much time unlearning all of the worldly ideals that I had been taught in public schools, that I wanted to make sure our children had a firm foundation from the start. My husband agreed. He had been in a Christian school from the start and knew the benefits firsthand. He had also attended public school from seventh grade on when his parents could no longer afford it. He remembers the culture shock and the fact that he was far ahead of what they were teaching in the public school. From seventh grade on school was extremely easy for him, even though he had been a mediocre student at the private school. So the only other option for us, if homeschooling was too hard, was a private Christian school.
We found an excellent school, with shining recommendations and a warm, loving, atmosphere. Our son excelled at school! He loved it and by Easter he was reading! We re-enrolled him for first grade and enrolled his younger sister in kindergarten. A year later she, too, was reading!
By second grade, however, he was far ahead of his classmates. He was bored. We hit a brick wall when we asked if he could be moved up a grade. They didn't do that. So he endured the year with us paying the high tuition and all the while wondering if he would lose ground because of the boredom.
Meanwhile, our youngest daughter was struggling extensively. She was disruptive in kindergarten and was suspended for her misbehavior several times. Her and the kindergarten teacher, whom we had previously had a great relationship with, were constantly at odds… We knew our youngest was a challenge. She had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder at the age of three when she was literally bouncing off the walls!
The next fall we I took the time to warn the first grade teacher, explaining that she might have a difficult time with our youngest. Teachers, it seems, always seem to expect that your next child will somehow resemble the one they already know. In our case, all three of our children are totally different in physical characteristics, personality and temperament! Her response was loving concern. She would keep an eye on her and be aware…
The following year, the kids entered third grade, second and first. His third grade teacher involved her students in a lot of special projects so it was a fun year for him. We weren't fighting the “I don't want to go to school, it’s boring” battles. But once again, he really wasn't challenged. School was very easy for him. Our eldest daughter’s grades, especially in math, suddenly appeared to be on a roller coaster. One day she would do great, but the next she seemed unable to get anything right. She was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and put on medication. She continued to love reading, though, so we just kept hoping that everything else would soon fall into place, too. Our youngest adored her first grade teacher from day one! Our kindergarten troublemaker was never in trouble! She obeyed and behaved perfectly in first grade. Her teacher had a quiet and gentle spirit which all the children responded to.
By October, the first grade teacher suspected learning disabilities beyond the ADD. She recommended we get her tested, which we did. We found she had vision problems in addition to concentration problems caused by the ADD. She hadn't been able to see. Any work done on a blackboard or the large colorful posters in the classroom, as well as any book work was just a blur. Near sightedness or far sightedness was not the problem, but eye movement and the ability to focus were her weaknesses. She was officially diagnosed with learning disabilities in math and reading and we began what would be a year of vision therapy at Pacific University. By the time all the results were in, it was almost Christmas. At this point the rest of the first grade class was taking off in reading. She was at least a year behind them - she still didn't know all of her letters and numbers. So we brought her home. Ready or not, it was time to homeschool!
I taught her the alphabet with a pan of rice. I took her hand and drew the letters in the dry rice, tracing them and telling her their names and the sounds they make, until she could make them on her own. We worked with letter tiles, too. I found a set of plastic letters with raised arrows detailing the way to form the letter correctly. If you went the wrong direction in tracing the letter with your finger then the tips of the arrows would poke you, reminding you to go in the opposite direction.
I learned all about what kinds of curriculum are available. I learned not to trust anything I read or heard about curriculum; I had to SEE it for myself. The letters had to be big and easy to read. The pages had to be colorful and interesting. The pace of the books needed to be slow. I eventually developed a habit of buying several different books that we could rotate between. When one became too hard, we would set it aside for a later date, then go back to it when she was ready to handle the material.
It’s been almost four years now and we've made some changes. Number one, we learned to appreciate the opportunity to educate our own children! We found homeschooling to be so much more productive than traditional schooling that we pulled all three out! For our youngest, it meant she could work at her slower pace, for our oldest it meant we could provide more challenging materials and skip some of the drills that were unnecessary for his retention of the material. The source of our middle child’s roller coaster grades in math was discovered. She hadn't been doing her own math at all! She just copied other students work, she didn't care whose! She had been unmotivated at school. She had cruised along, filling in the blanks, but with little thought. When we brought her home, we were shocked to see how little retention she had of the materials that had been covered! So for her, we required that she redo every problem that she missed, going over the material until it was mastered, instead of just moving her along as happens in a classroom setting. Her confidence and care in her schoolwork increased dramatically over time!
Our youngest still struggles with her schoolwork, homeschooling wasn't a magic cure for her. But her dignity is intact. She knows she’s behind. She’s never been subjected to the shame and ridicule that she likely would have been in a classroom, though. She is a confident, outgoing, fun loving young lady who happens to struggle with reading and math. We're thankful her math is not as far behind as it once was. She still enjoys books, even though she reads at a second grade or beginning third grade level, even though age-wise she should be entering sixth grade next fall. It’s getting a little harder to find interesting materials at her level, but it’s worth it! She can identify many species of animals. She doesn't just see a dog on the street, she sees an Australian shepherd or a Chowchow. She knows all the breeds! She has helped at Sunday school as a music leader and she cares for her hamster, completely without help. She’s a good cook, too, only needing help with reading the recipes sometimes.
I still struggle with the work of homeschooling. It is NOT easy. Grading is time consuming and if it isn't done promptly, creates problems. For example, if they haven't mastered one concept, then they aren't ready to move on to the next and if I haven't graded their work, I don't know. My back aches bending over the books and my eyes sting from squinting at the pencil markings. It is one of my biggest struggles! Keeping up on housework, which piles up even more when the kids are home 24/7, is also a pain! The kids have had to learn household chores, as well as their schoolwork. All it takes is a winter illness for me and everything would come to a screeching halt if it weren't for the kids’ ability to pick up the slack! When I'm sick, I still homeschool, but everything else slides! If they didn't know how to help with cooking, cleaning and laundry I don't know how we would survive! Home schooling is a full time job, so just like a household where the mom works full time, everyone has to chip in a little more.
Sometimes I don't have what it takes to help one of my kids understand a difficult concept. When that happens, I find myself visiting our local homeschooling center, surfing the internet, browsing the public library or visiting the teachers' store searching for games, manipulatives or workbooks that focus on that area. Fractions are not fun to teach! My youngest easily understands fractions. They are not a problem for her, even though other areas of math are. However, my older daughter absolutely hates fractions! I couldn't seem to find a way to get the concept across to her! I bought fraction workbooks to focus on the area. I bought a set of plastic fraction manipulatives. I even cut out a set of paper ones. We worked with measuring cups and talked about it until I felt blue in the face. I had to keep reminding myself that if she were in school, with an experienced teacher, she still wouldn't necessarily “get it” there either. If she didn't understand in a traditional classroom, they would have gone on without her a long time ago, whereas her class of one was taking the time to go over and over it until she got it. She may be a little behind in math, but her reading class of one has done just the opposite; she’s far ahead of grade level and loving it!
Reading is the best part of homeschooling! Not only do you get to choose the best materials for your child’s unique interests, but you get to choose materials that will build their character, strengthen their faith, and inspire them. You still have to choose a variety of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and prose, but you don't have to stick with any set curriculum’s choices. Every curriculum uses totally different materials anyway. There isn't a set way to teach literature the way there is for math. Even in math, there are different methods…
My oldest daughter absolutely hated history. We dragged our way through a grade appropriate text book before I decided to assign her interesting history stories for reading assignments. Now history is one of her favorite subjects! She has read almost all of the “American Adventure” series, all of the “American Girls” books, many of the diary type novels, as well as the Little House books and Anne of Green Gables classics. She eagerly checks out between eight and twenty books a week at our local library. Everything from classics to hamsters to ancient Egypt - and no, we haven't studied that yet, but SHE has!
Since my youngest is so far behind in her reading, I make a point of checking out a lot of quality books on tape for her to listen to. Even though her reading level is still more at the Dr. Suess level, she has listened to Tom Sawyer, The Little Princess, Stuart Little, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Wind in the Willows, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, as well as many others. Videos that have to do with science and history are also checked out frequently, although we have to be very careful to watch out for evolutionist dates and ideas.
My kids have learned to love classical music, too. I didn't think it would actually work. I have never cared for classical music. But then again, I was never exposed to it. My husband was and we decided that if the kids were going to play musical instruments, they should enjoy classical music in order to truly enjoy playing. Our eldest daughter especially loves classical music! She likes to know which composer’s work we are listening to and what the name of it is. We bought each of the kids a tape with a different composer’s life story and selections of their work. They all loved them and traded tapes so that they have all listened to all three. Now they want more! We worked to make sure the kids could identify each of the instruments. We took them to a couple of symphony concerts and we spent time listening to classical music. What's truly surprising is that I, too, have learned to enjoy it! It’s not just elevator music to me anymore.
We can choose what kinds of books they read. We can choose the best environment for our kids. But we can't isolate our children completely; they see people behaving in all kinds of ways everywhere we go. We can choose who is going to teach them. Often, I am the best teacher for them. But sometimes I'm not. Our son has taken a band class for the last two years, learning to play the trumpet. I could never teach him something I don't know.
This year our oldest son went back to a private Christian school. It’s what’s best for him this year. He needed more elbow room, more time spent away from his mother’s apron strings. He wanted to go to the local junior high. For us, public school was out of the question. We feel blessed to have been able to make that choice. He’s old enough now to realize that lots of Christian kids go to public schools and that we could send him there, too, if we wanted to. We are faced with the prospect of high school in a little over a year. The school he is attending only goes through eighth grade. We still don't know where the Lord will have him for high school. A lot will depend upon our finances. A private Christian high school education is expensive. We know we could homeschool him all the way through high school, but it would be a challenge. There are classes available in our area that are specifically aimed at homeschoolers. He could take classes in the subjects that we find daunting to teach. We are thankful that we have a lot of options. Some homeschoolers utilize our local community college, with their children gaining high school credits and college credits at the same time. Most of all, we're glad that we have so much time to pray about it! Next fall his sister will be joining him in the split seventh and eighth grade class he is in now. We're thankful for the time we've had each of them home, but are glad to be able to send these two to school for junior high, for their sakes as well as my own.
Our youngest has reached a point where her studies need to be stepped up and I believe she is capable of it. It is not going to be easy! For starters I'm transitioning her to cursive and focusing on developing her sentence writing abilities. Her handwriting practice has been very nice for several years, but she has resisted putting everything into cursive. Its time now. Her Bs and Ds have almost stopped flipping and her reading level is high enough that we can begin to work on spelling and grammar, too. Its time for me to push! I know there will be some resistance, but I'm convinced it’s the right thing to do.
Our homeschooling journey hasn't been easy, but its definitely been rewarding! I'm not sure how long the road ahead is for my teaching career as a homeschooling mom, but I continue to trust that the Lord will guide every step of the way!