Dylexia, a Gift

We always have several gifted children in our family.  I consider dyslexia a gift, and am a recovering dyslexic myself.  At lease one of our children has this same gift, another is gifted with a processing disorder, and a third is gifted with developmental delays.  The rest are Run of the Mill Every Day Children.  We home school because God has called us in that direction, and what we have come to find out, is that it is the very best environment for our children.  It has given them the ability to work through and mature into their gifts at the proper pace.  We have done the testings, evaluations, therapies, etc.  They have their place certainly.  But, viewing these diagnosis as one would a hang nail makes all the difference in our world.  We can do our part to worry that little thing into infection, or we can guide toward toward slow and steady healing.  Parent(s), your approach will make all the difference in the world.  We could not find and follow the proper pace in a certified professional setting.  Therapy, aides, practice are not something we do once or twice a week at someone’s office (although we have certainly utilized these amazing opportunities and learned so much from them), these are things that we weave into our lives.

That being said, our home school platform is academic in nature, but our focus is to strengthen our character.  Through character we do our best each week rather than focus on an accumulation of worksheet pages or textbook completion.  Each child, no matter their giftedness, is at a different level in every subject.  That does not preclude our ability to expect each child to produce and participate to their best ability.  When I evaluate students who are said to be unable or incapable it has always boiled down to one of two things.  The parent is expecting too much or the parent is allowing the child to convince them that their lack of effort is connected to their lack of ability.

We love our children, we don’t want them to struggle.  But God does not promise us that His blessings are sweet pleasures.  Our children with all of their abilities and lack there ofs are blessings through and through.  How will we guide them?  To feel as though God made a mistake?  To feel sorry for the extra work it will take to achieve their best- which will be different than another persons best?  Or, to persevere and walk the course provided for them?  What other way is there?   Lay down that struggle of finding a cure, of finding the quickest way around.  The only way to achieve that end is to walk through this calling.  Create in your child a sense of wonder at the extra time God spent making them.  How many people are just like the normal Joe?  Praise God, you have a gift.  Praise God, you have a purpose beyond yourself.  Praise God,He has equipped you.  How often have you come through an ordeal to think, “I would never have wished to go through that, hope it never happens again, but am soooooo thankful that I went through X, Y, Z.”?  Walk through.   Nourish with peace.  Pace with prayer.

We created an academic focused Writer’s Circle (and beyond) so that all children could have a place of success as long as they were willing to work to their best ability.  Consider doing the same for your children.  If you are in our area please join us (ages 6-15).  In the past 6 years we have never had a child drop out because it was too difficult.  We have had a very few choose to leave because they were unwilling to put forth the effort.  Our expectations are individualized to each student as is ‘homeschool’.    We always have a mix of students who are brilliant mixed with gifted students.  It is inexplicable why it works so well, but the outcome each year amazes us again and again and again.  It is just something about Writer’s Circle.  I truly can’t explain it, it just is how we are.  I don’t have any formula or plan aside from what is previously stated.  Somehow, this combination of student abilities, teacher/parent expectations, and focus on kindness and hard work brings out the best in our students, gets them excited to bring forth their best.

Summer School aka Year ‘Round Schooling aka Relaxing

With summer swiftly arriving and calling us out of doors it is a joyful release to know that the required 180 day academic year is (almost) over.  But, if you are like us and enjoy the ‘anchorage’ of daily worthwhile accomplishment, it is also a time of continuation and exploration.

We will continue our math and reading- Possibly some journaling, and we will take on an area of interest or weakness.   The groaning and gnashing of teeth will be short lived if you just take to heart that your home culture is one of real life which means that while our job requirements may change, they do not stop, and rarely take more than a short lived break.  It is who we are.  It is what we do.

Last summer we worked on Latin.  This summer we will focus on art and handwriting (a form of art in my way of thinking).  And don’t forget the math and reading.  You know that science will, literally, creep in, and history will be present in many of the books read as well as be a daily dinner (table) discussion.  Viola!  Year ‘Round Schooling.  Simpler than you thought?  Precept upon precept.  Our goal is the love of learning for the sake of understanding The Word as well as an accumulation of knowledge and ability.  Our accumulated work/textbooks no longer bring joy past their completion and blessed laying down.  Not that they are not valid stepping stones.  But, they are not the spark that ignites the spirit of joyful curiosity within.

Don’t Label Your Student ‘Smart’

So often in emails I can hear the sweet love of homeschooling and all that you get to do in a day. It tickles me to be even a tiny part of that! A common occurrence in the elementary years is well state by this mom- in the positive and well intention-ed manner of all the goodness that is a homeschooling mom. It is evident that these parents are doing a great job- and are loving doing it!

“We are “starting” 2nd grade this year, even though technically we “should” be starting 1st grade if we were following the public school birthday schedule. This upcoming year is our 3rd year homeschooling. We don’t plan to put our daughter in public or private school, but if we were to consider it, how would that work? If we show work that she completed 1st grade last year, would that count?”

Our opinion is that you should keep children in the grade their age states. This is NOT to say that you should teach her only at this level! The reasons we encourage this are: Going forward easy breezy is smooth sailing when they are little, but often a wall is hit and then the child has panic and confusion over ‘losing’ her smarts, not being able to over achieve as pleases their parent(s) –self mis giving over why it had been so easy and fun to thrill mom/dad with braininess and now the subject seems difficult. Who am I if I’m not super smart? How can mom/dad still be thrilled with me when I’m not smart? I’m gonna lose my pedestal!

Now, we know that is not how we approach or feel, but a child does not and these unspoken worries can eat a child up, cause them to freeze academically, turn away from enjoying learning, and so on. No matter what we say, it is what has been said and the reactions they have seen and conversations overheard that stick in their heart’s memory. Don’t feel terrible if this is you. We see this on a regular basis and we see these families make corrections and move forward happily. But, after much hard work toward changing everyone’s approach, views, and verbage.

So, stick to grade level, teach at academic level without acclaim or proclaim, tell you daughter what a ‘hard worker’ she is, avoid using terms like, ‘you are so smart’, ‘you are an artists’, etc. Expect that throughout her academic career she will zoom ahead and lag behind in any/all subjects. Just take today for what it is and approach tomorrow for what it will bring. No need to title, label, or proclaim.

YOU Are Your Special Needs Specialist

Special needs students require the same credits as above but with a longer time limit and lower rate of achievement expectation.  We set goals for our daughter, focus on her self organizing, self starting, self pacing for her academics.  Her electives are predominantly focused on life skills, character development, nutrition, and health.  Her math is not high school math, but it is math.  Her other books are high school level and she will complete many of her 9th grade courses this summer –taking a full 365 days to complete 180 days of work.

We expect her high school work to be completed in 5+ years at which point she will graduate with a SC High School Certificate or a SC High School Diploma with Exceptions.  Those exceptions being that she will most likely never take a formal SAT/ACT style test, or be eligible to enter college without beginning with remedial courses.  Since my God is far larger than our greatest visions/plans we will never put  a cap on what our daughter can do, but this day she will move forward in all areas of growth and we will walk with her on this road.

In hindsight we realize that a traditional school would have offered her many specialized approaches and therapies that may have moved her ahead in her abilities far quicker than we have.  It would also have taught her what she could not do.  By being homeschooled, correcting her speech, OT, PT, etc needs we moved slower in accomplishing the same goals, but she has no idea that she cannot do certain things.  We don’t believe that she cannot do anything if the desire is planted in her heart and it is from God.

Note- we did partake of the special services offered through the public schools but were quickly dissatisfied with their short sessions, even shorter shared sessions, immense paperwork, and taking more time to stop our day, travel to/from, and get back into a groove for sometimes only 15 minutes of therapy.  There were days that she received the full allotted time of 45 minutes and the less used therapies like OT were incredible, but the overbooked and overworked therapies like speech were ineffective.  So, we did the homeschool thing- became therapists, learned what she needed, how to provide for and meet those needs, and built it in as a part of our daily routine–all day long, every day and not just for a short time once or twice a week.  Her improvement was steady….and continues to be steady with some leaps and some rests along the way.

Less is More

Rest easy.  You cannot academically ruin an elementary level student.  I promise!  The most typical mistake is in doing too much academically rather than too little.  These little sponges will soak and soak and soak in the information as they see how pleased it makes you (with them).  And then at some point around 2nd-4th grade they are saturated, may shut down, and lessen or lose their enthusiasm for learning. What happened? It used to be so easy to please you, it used to be so easy to keep up with the work?  Meeting moms expectations and thrilling her with your ‘smarts’ was a breeze, but now it is hard work -and the amount of work has become heavy.  So, mom, keep it light, avoid most of the fluff subjects beyond phonics, read alouds (at, below, above level), and counting.  Really, if you have not opened your curriculum you can send it back or keep it for use here and there.  Avoid worksheet/workbook worship, avoid more than 15-30 minutes of sit down academic work (multiply this per grade up to 5th-7th grade-ish).  Utilize nature, literature, and discussion as much as possible.  Create an environment of learning, a culture of curiosity, within your home rather than a classroom in your kitchen.  Get excited over finding reference books at the thrift stores and build a library of $1 books one at a time.

If you find yourself on the edge or your child lacking zeal for learning, step back and look at what you are doing.  And, don’t allow the student to dictate your day by his/her attitude.  Have few rules but keep them consistently, keep them with love and grace and firm control.  Some ideas of what I mean are: good attitude, kindness toward others, quick obedience (even, and especially, when not getting ones way), attendance to/completion of lessons in a quick, efficient and correct manner.  These foundational stones will return to serve your future years of school, home or traditional, in a manner that will tickle you to your toes.  Lack thereof will create an equal and opposite reaction.  Have no fear.  Adam and Eve homeschooled their children, so did Noah, so did Mary & Joseph.  This is a natural gift that we all have.  Only we have been taught that we are incapable of tapping into it unless we are issued a piece of paper by a professional.  No!  If one man can do it, you can do it.  Pray, read, join a support group, join in groups/activities as you are able, take joy in your child every day, take joy in days that ought to be scrapped of traditional learning and turned into park days or pj days, take joy that you have freedom to teach deeply in the areas that are of importance to your family.  Do not fear that someone will tell you it is inadequate.  No two schools are at the same level, no two students are at the same level.  Your child will learn one subject easily and one not so easily.  Have a child behind in one subject and ahead in one is quite normal.  You need not fit ‘someone’s’ idea of normal, you just need to follow your child’s abilities and learn precept upon precept.  Completing a workbook, text, or curriculum each year does not mean the material has been learned.  It has been covered.  Far better it should be learned.

Okay, so I could ramble on all day as I love this stuff and want each of our Faithful Scholars families to feel empowered and confident in their roles as homeschool teacher and administrator.  I am here to answer whatever question you may have- on topic or off, silly or serious.  Don’t ever think you are the only one experiencing anything- it is a lie.  We all go through much the same experiences and when we share our troubles we find our answers as well as love and grace!

Eager and Early Learners

…Eager and Early Learners

I can remember my husband buying a book on our honeymoon entitled, “Teach Your Baby to Read.”  We had already planned to homeschool our children, when they came, but this was not what I had in mind.  A year later our first child was born and that book sat on the shelves.  Though I was determined not to push reading on my infant daughter, I did assume I would begin teaching her at a relatively early age.  By the time she was eighteen months, we were well into flash cards of letters and phonemes.  At the time it seemed simple—she had an inordinately long attention-span and was not a particularly active child.  She preferred to sit upon my then pregnant belly and spout out letters, shapes, colors, etc.  By the time she was four, she was reading and writing simple sentences.  I, of course, beamed with pride and wished for opportunities whereby people could stumble upon the fact of her genius.   We continued along in this vein and she progressed along schedule.   I couldn’t have been more pleased when she was reading all the Little House on the Prairie books and writing short stories in kindergarten.
So, for several years I pushed her and pushed her to be a prolific reader and writer.  It probably had a lot to do with pride, but it wasn’t just that—I felt a deep responsibility to cultivate her God-given talents.  To be a good steward of her gifts, so to speak.   I pushed her in every area, and as a dutiful eldest child she seemed up to the task.  She strove to please me and everyone around her and to be a model child.  But all was not well.  Our daughter was struggling with emotional issues.  She became a classic worrier and felt she could never quite keep up with the expectations we set on her.   We didn’t see it that clearly at first and thought it had more to do with trauma after the accidental death of our neighbor.  The emotional problems intensified–unwinding into several complicated years of ups and downs;  all the while we were brought to our knees begging the Lord to give us wisdom.  What we eventually saw, through a series of events and with the help of the books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, was that she was under immense pressure to perform in every area.  As the eldest of our four children, we expected her to set an example for the rest.  She did this admirably—so admirably in fact that we missed how it was hurting her on the inside.  For a long time we focused on having her memorize relevant scripture—to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  We were on the right track, but not addressing the whole problem.  The rest of the problem was not in her heart and mind, but in that of her parents.  To put it simply, we were stressing her out.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t really figured this out yet.
It took another year before we truly came to see what we were doing to her.  She began to no longer enjoy reading or writing and could no longer think well.  It seemed, in fact, like she wasn’t learning anything.  We all trudged along while learning slowed down and enjoyment waned.  I can’t say that there was an aha moment when everything came together and suddenly changed for the better.  What I do know is that things are improving for the whole family and it has a lot to do with changes in me.  It’s a daily challenge to trust the Lord more than myself and to believe that He has a plan.
I expect a lot of my kids—I don’t think that will ever change.  I am attempting to find the balance between maintaining high standards while eschewing unreasonable expectations.  It’s difficult to simplify the last ten years of this journey into a few simple paragraphs.   I am still struggling to learn that it is okay to allow kids to advance at their own pace and to not push on them societal norms about academics.  Children who grow up in a home where learning is clearly important will incorporate that ideal into their own.   The problems and their solutions are far more complex than what is written here.  Hopefully though, with the Lord’s help, we are at least on the right track.

A day in the life of …. homeschooling with preschoolers!

…a Homeschool Family with Pre-schoolers

No two school days are exactly alike in our house. With a 7 year old in first grade, a 5 year old in K4 and 3 and 18 month olds underfoot, we adapt each day as needed to get in what we need to while having ample fun and play time. We love field trips and hands-on activities, like trips to the zoo or museum and lots of crafts and art projects, but we also make sure we cover the basics – reading, writing, math, science, history, Bible, Latin. We participate in group educational experiences in programs like Classical Conversations and Monday’s Artists. We take dance, violin and piano lessons. And we do school year-round which means the summer months (when classes are out) look very different from the “school year” months.

On a day where we have no classes outside of the home (a true “home school” day), we get started around 6 AM with morning wake-up snuggles and breakfast. The children play and watch a couple of their favorite shows while everyone is getting going (and mommy is having her coffee). By 9 AM we head down to the classroom and start the little ones playing while my 7 year old starts her workbooks (Explode the Code for language arts and Singapore Math). I help my 5 year old with his reading lessons and answer any questions my 7 year old has afterward, while my 5 year old reads his Bob books to his younger siblings (who are still playing in the floor).

Once my oldest has finished her workbooks, we move onto our Bible story time which I read aloud and we discuss as a group. The younger two often play more than pay attention but that is OK. We work on our Bible memory work – books of the Bible and some verses – before we break for snack time around 10 AM. While the younger 3 children finish their snack and play, my oldest child works on a writing assignment – copy work and writing a friendly letter to a girlfriend which we will mail later. Then as a group we go over our history sentence memory work and timeline cards and I read aloud a story to them that goes along with the lesson. The youngest one usually is still playing. We break for some outside playtime while I make lunch.

After lunch we’ll play a little more and then around 1 PM the little one goes down for her nap. My 3 year old colors or plays quietly while I do science – a lesson and possibly experiment – with the older two and finish up anything we missed in the morning (math for the little one, Latin maybe) but we don’t do every subject everyday either. Then we do an art or craft project where all 3 children can have some fun. I try to tie it into history or science when possible but sometimes we just do whatever they ask for. After art we snuggle up for some read-aloud time – sometimes it is related to something we are studying and sometimes it’s just for fun.

When the baby gets up we all head back outside for playtime for the rest of the day until dad gets home. At dinner the kids recount to dad what we did during the day (which lets me know what really sunk in and what didn’t). My husband says he is getting smarter just by what the kids are teaching him. We enjoy family time and and before bedtime I or my husband reads aloud to our 5 and 3 year olds, and my 7 year old reads aloud to us (or sometimes we read to her). In general I’d say we read a lot, we play a lot and we laugh and snuggle a whole lot. That’s what makes it all worth doing!