Categories
AFHE Home Blog Homeschool FAQ Homeschool Help Special Needs Uncategorized

Teaching Special Learners: A Good Work

by Megan Allison

Do you get excited when your child sounds out words and reads a favorite children’s book back to you? What about when he or she starts rhyming words out of the blue? Sings a nursery song? Counts to 20 all on her own? When he says “Mama” for the first time? Wonder, joy, and overflowing love is how I have felt.

How do you feel when your child does not say a word? One year passes and sounds are not turning into words. Second year: sounds, but very few words. Lost words. Concern, fear, dread, frustration. This is where I found myself almost nine years ago with my second beautiful baby boy. A happy, smiling all the time, quiet toddler. A boy without words.

Parents are eager for their children to learn. Reading great stories together bonds a family. Being able to talk and share with one another seals and deepens our relationships. When learning is cumbersome and difficult, don’t we as parents want to drill down to the problem and solve it? We quickly search for answers, wanting to waste no time getting to a solution. We search the Internet, talk to our spouse, consult friends, ask a teacher, express our concern to the pediatrician, and seek out other professionals’ opinions. When we really think there’s an issue, we want to find a diagnosis and get right to executing a plan to help our children on their educational journey. Here are six tips that I’d give myself if we were just starting out:

Take an expert’s opinion with a grain of salt 

Experts are human, too. We’ve had the same pediatrician for almost fifteen years, but when he told me that my middle son was just being lazy about talking, it didn’t make sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, experts can help us rule out diagnoses and narrow our focus. By partnering with specialists, we learned from an audiologist that our son didn’t have anything wrong with his ears and another professional determined our son has childhood apraxia of speech. We’ve tried sign language, fish oil, and crossing the midline activities. Some of these have helped, and with others I’m still debating the benefits.

I found it helpful to consult with specialized doctors, but ultimately my husband and I decided what road we would travel. I enjoyed researching about speech apraxia and many of the suggested activities because I believed I needed to educate myself in order to assist my son. I could do many of the therapy suggestions at home at no cost. Additionally, having researched apraxia, I could dialogue better with the professionals we were seeing on a regular basis. I was equipped when the time came that we decided to go ahead with speech therapy, but not pursue vision therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy.

Have patience

Our children are keenly aware that they are having difficulty. I’ve learned and I’m still trying to do better that our children are watching us and need to see us giving them grace. Even when we’ve explained the information for what seems like the hundredth time, grin and bear it, and explain it again. Have patience with yourself, too. You are much stronger and able to do more than you’ve ever thought yourself capable. 

After hours upon hours of speech practice, I know more now than I thought possible about the development of speech, how to teach a person to talk, good advice and bad advice for parents of children with speech difficulty, and I can lip read now, too. That may seem like small potatoes, but to this gal who is more inclined toward math and science and has difficulty remembering what a demonstrative pronoun is, this is a big accomplishment.

There is no one-size-fits-all or easy solution

When a child learns differently, it can take considerable amounts of trial and error before finding what works best for your child. Research takes time, and a method that works for one family may not work for another. One of the gifts of homeschooling is that you spend the majority of the day with your child, so you know your son or daughter intimately.

One recommendation I received was to read every day to my son. I just shake my head now thinking back on that advice, because for my son the solution had nothing to do with reading to him more. The language connections between the brain, tongue, palate, and ears weren’t happening for him, and he wasn’t able to produce the sounds in order to speak no matter how many times he heard my words. He needed to be taught how to speak. 

Teaching our children is good work. Any work worth doing is going to take grit, determination, and sacrifice. I try to remember it’s like growing a garden. You don’t plant today and harvest tomorrow. It’s going to take time with days of watering, weeding, fertilizing, more weeding, removing bad bugs, and finally harvesting. The fruit is a result of the hard work put in. I’m a few years in now with teaching, and the blessings and rewards have made all the work worth it.

Don’t give up too quickly on a method

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes a memory, so keep repeating grammar rules and math facts over and over again. Each time you practice, the brain is making those synapses fire, and it’s laying down that pathway for memorization to happen. I encourage you to keep plugging along with the basics. Keep it fun, make it a game, use it with something your child is interested in, or let your child be the teacher.

One of the best gifts of homeschooling is that time is on your side. You’re able to tailor your child’s education, and there’s plenty of time for repetition and review. I’m not convinced that there’s one program that will quickly solve learning difficulties. You’ll have to decide if it’s time to persevere or, if you’ve given a program a lengthy, thorough trial, then it may be time to tweak it or look for something new.

Resist fear

The unknown can be scary. Panic can set in if we let ourselves entertain all the what-if questions that reach our minds. Fear is a sales tactic, and I saw it used often when we were navigating our options. But what happens when you embrace the child that you have and the situation that you’re in? Fear can immobilize, or it can motivate you to move to research, to advocate, to ask lots of questions, and to not stop at anything to help your child.

Look back over the tips. Decide where you are in your journey and identify your next step. Are you just beginning and need to research? Are you knee deep in a method that you should keep persisting in, but with some adjustments? Today, decide to look fear in the face and use it to propel forward: use it as a call to action.

Find a friend

Look outside your immediate family for who can support you. It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggling, and there is a time for grieving over your child’s difficulties. It is often a lonely walk, especially when your child looks normal from the outside, and few people truly understand what you are going through. Even among your family, it can be hard to share one another’s burden.

I found it helpful to get connected to a homeschool support group to make a friend. It may be as simple as reaching out to others in similar situations through Facebook or meeting regularly with someone who will listen to you. There are many in the homeschool community eager to offer support. A kind friend can encourage and refresh you, so you can return home with new strength to meet the challenges with determination and grace.

Homeschooling can be a great experience in teaching special learners.

Our son turned 11 in July. He enjoys Legos, model airplanes, and erector sets. He is still a quiet, sweet child, but has occasional moments when he talks a mile a minute. He graduated speech therapy a few years ago. He seems to struggle with memorizing for the long term, but we call him our walking thesaurus because he can impressively change out words he’s supposed to memorize for a similar word. He understands the big picture. We’re in a season of repetition and review.

Homeschooling has been a great experience for us as we explore the things he likes and spend extra time as needed on memory work. There are no monthly educational assessments, and I love that he has plenty of time to play, take field trips, build all kinds of things, be a boy, and work at his own pace. Surprisingly, this work I am doing is changing me, molding me into a stronger, more disciplined, and more patient, compassionate person. My hope is that you find encouragement in my story and the strength to press on another day taking it one day at a time, knowing each step is a step forward.

Megan Allison lives in Glendale. She enjoys raising her three boys to love and serve the Lord. Megan actively serves on the board of her local support group where she encourages families in their homeschool journeys. She is passionate about equipping homeschoolers with the tools for success in their homes and communities. She desires to live out Titus 2:3-5. In her spare time, Megan likes to jog, spend time in nature, and date her husband Tim.

Categories
AFHE Home Blog Encouragement Homeschool Help Uncategorized

Homeschooling Under Hardship

“Sylvia, you are going to have to learn to share the load.”

I had just poured out to the counselor how I wasn’t sure how I was going to homeschool our four children while running the household and maintaining my 30-hour work week. My husband’s health was improving, but he wasn’t well yet. I was overwhelmed with the thought of all the things that needed to be done in a day, already feeling like a failure before the school year even started.

The counselor, honest and kind, sat across from me and told me I couldn’t do it all.

I cried.

A year before this conversation, our family looked fairly typical in the homeschooling community: dad went to work full-time, mom stayed home and took care of kids and homeschooled. I worked part-time but mostly for extra-budget things like vacations, and only ten hours a week. I taught co-op classes, was involved in church, and had started slowly working toward a degree in nursing.

My husband, Kevin, had dealt with anxiety issues for most of his adult life, but it was managed with a low dose of medication and created little interference. At the end of 2017, a car accident and a series of extremely stressful work situations took their toll on him, and he began having up to ten panic attacks a day. It finally became apparent that he needed to leave his job in order to address his health crisis. At the same time, a part-time job at my church matching my skills opened up. Within a short period of time we turned into a  family where mom worked two part-time jobs and dad was home sick … and summer break was coming to an end.

After I cried with the counselor, Kevin and I sat down and made a plan where he taught two days a week and I taught two days a week (he worked from home the days I taught, I went to work the days he taught). He wasn’t able to drive long distances, but he could go to the grocery store around the corner. He made dinners a couple nights a week. On days he felt really bad, we let things roll. We went to counseling. He found a better medicine. Things improved a little at a time. Eighteen months later, we have learned a few things about homeschooling in hardship

1. My expectations are my worst enemy

I had a picture in my mind of what homeschooling and homemaking should look like. I began to feel overwhelmed when I couldn’t make the picture match my reality. What I learned is that the flexibility of homeschool was a huge gift in our crisis. Dad could teach school, we could have evening class (or Saturday!), and I could modify curriculum or even stop a subject for a while. I know a family who dealt with a serious health emergency by taking a break from school completely for a season. I have the freedom to make school work with our whole life, not dominate it.

2. Grieve the losses

It’s all right to be sad over things that aren’t the way you want. My youngest child was seven when I went to work. She’d cry and cling to me as I’d leave. In the beginning I was  defensive, but then I learned to say, “I miss you too when I’m gone. It’s hard to be away from you.” I had to put my own schooling on hold. My husband wants to be well. These are sad things and we’ve cried over them.

3. Gratitude allows me to celebrate

There are things in my life that are good. When I get too grumpy, too overwhelmed, or tempted to turn to bitterness over how things are, gratitude realigns my heart. I’m grateful for a husband who does the hard work to get better. I’m grateful for a household full of love. I’m grateful for the other families I’ve found who are surviving really tough things who understand what it feels like to walk through the fire. I’m grateful for a God who never leaves me. I’m grateful I still get to teach my children.

4. Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others

Here’s the honest truth: I am TERRIBLE at this. If we were on an airplane and the cabin depressurized, my first inclination would be to help everyone else put on their masks until I collapsed. In life, if I fall apart because I neglect myself, no one gets help.  I’m learning that it isn’t selfish to say no to a legitimate request because it’s more than I can do. It isn’t wrong to sometimes use my precious free time to do something I want to do instead of something someone else wants to do. It’s okay to take a nap, delegate a task, give 85% of myself to an activity instead of 100%, or spend money on an item that makes my life easier. Balance means we all get a turn receiving care, and that includes me.

5. Suffering is a teacher, not a punishment

We live in a fallen world and lots of things are broken, which means suffering happens to all of us. Walking through it has solidified my trust that God is good and He sustains me. Suffering is not caused by my lack of faith or disobedience. God does not sit in Heaven shaking His head at my fragility and failure. My circumstances are not something God is doing to me, but something He is walking with me. In it, He has gently shown me my own pride, rebellion, idolatry, and lack of faith, which points me back to His goodness and grace.

6. The long-term crisis is not less valid than the big emergency

We are in this stage now. I call it the slow burn, the fatigue that’s caused by stress over a long period of time. Maybe there was a major event, but the long-term grind can be just as exhausting. I’ve found that those with long-term illnesses or those grieving the loss of a loved one have much to teach me about endurance. I work hard to continue to talk about it, to ask for help, to acknowledge when it is hard, and to reevaluate and change if necessary.

You are not alone

If you are in the middle of hardship, you are not alone. I found out that there were many families around me who homeschooled as they dealt with situations that disrupted their plans. Because they were willing to talk about their challenges, I was brave enough to share my own. This may be my new “normal” life, but I know I have others who walk with me in it. And while I will never say I’ve enjoyed the experience of suffering, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned from it.

Sylvia Miller lives in Phoenix. She and her husband, Kevin, have the privilege of co-discipling their four children through homeschool. Sylvia works part-time and is going to school verrrrrry slowly with the goal of becoming a nurse in the next eight years. She finds joy in flowers, people-watching in airports, and phone conversations with friends.

Questions about homeschooling in Arizona? We’re here to help!

Arizona Families for Home Education (AFHE) is the statewide homeschool organization here in Arizona. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit run by a board of directors made up of couples who are all homeschooling parents ourselves.

homeschool@afhe.org
602-235-2673 ext. 1

HELPFUL ARTICLE TO READ
Homeschooling in Arizona

FIND A HOMESCHOOL GROUP
Arizona Homeschool Groups