Friday, March 15, 2013

Homeschooling and the Struggling Learner

Homeschoolers are often portrayed as smart, savvy, super-socialized kids. Everyone brags about how their kids have progressed way beyond their public school peers. Studies that are widely regarded tout the abilities of homeschooled children every where and it is really made to seem like this is the norm. If you homeschool your kids they will be smarter, surpassing their peers in everyway possible, and will adore the process of learning. Standardized testing is something that a homeschooled kid can toy with and still outshine everyone else. The parents of these children give speeches, receive accolades in the homeschooling and the general community at large, and are sought after for advice.
For sure, there are super smart homeschoolers. There are super smart homeschooling families.
Then there is this: the struggling learner and their family.
Not many in the homeschooling world want to face the reality that there are struggling learners. There are children who are in 3rd and 4th grade who can not read fluently on a lower grade level, if at all. There are 2nd graders who have not yet mastered simple addition. There are 7th graders who read but comprehend little of the material. There are few homeschooling tutorials or co-ops that have classes for these kids. No one really brags on these kids or the parents of these kids. No one wants to talk about them much at all, unless it is to talk about everything they must be doing wrong and what they would do to change it. No one sees the value in the words of the homeschooling parent of a struggling learner – after all – it took her 4 years to get her kid reading on a 2nd grade level, she must be doing it all wrong, plus, her kids don’t know all their math facts, and to top it all off *no one* in the family has memorized The Preamble.

I can see the fear in recognizing these kids and families. Homeschooling pioneers really fought for the freedoms that we homeschoolers enjoy today. We are close enough to these homeschoolers, perhaps even being fortunate enough to be mentored by one of them, that we recognize the right to homeschool is a bit tenuous. Maybe we are afraid that if the government got wind of these kids who are seemingly left behind, that we would have new and unnecessary regulations and laws thrust upon us. Maybe we really are just a tad bit judgmental and really do feel that we are superior teachers or are using superior curriculum. Maybe we feel like we really can do “it” better and secretly blame the parent of struggling learners. Maybe we are the parent of a struggling learner and are scared of the judgment and criticism offered by the government, public school teachers, and other homeschooling families.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am the parent of a child with ADHD. I have also made no secret of the fact that I have a child with a chronic illness. But I am the parent of *three* struggling learners. For a while, I blamed myself. All of the children I homeschooled struggled. No one seemed to “get” anything. No one really wanted to “do school”. I changed curricula a few times, cried a lot, talked to a bunch of trusted friends, and received the well meaning advice from more than one Sunday school teacher. I even had one of my kids tested at the public school to see if they were mentally retarded. (She was not, but did test below average.) I thought maybe I was doing it all wrong and maybe they would be better off doing something else. I was evidently incapable of teaching anyone and was making a mess of homeschooling and was probably going to ruin whatever future my kids could have had.

Then came along my 4 year old. She is a homeschooling mom’s dream. This child learned simple addition in one sitting and then taught herself subtraction as she laid in bed that evening. (We still co-sleep with her). She essentially forced me to teach her to read and is doing well. I expect her to be reading on a second grade level in a few months. She has yet to officially start kindergarten or homeschooling.
Long nights of addition will do it to ya!
I use the same curriculum for all of my children. I use the same technique. I use the same schedule. I live in the same house. We all eat the same food. We go to the same church. We drive the same van. There is no fault. There is nothing to blame. It really is just what it is – some kids learn slower. Some kids may never be able to achieve high levels of academia. Some kids just are not that smart, intellectually speaking. Some kids really are just going to be average and that is okay. It is okay that some kids are just going to barely learn what they need to learn to graduate. One of mine is probably going to graduate with a special education diploma – that is okay if it the best that she can do.

We need to teach our kids to be the best they can be, even if that looks like it is less than their peers.

If you are the parent of a struggling learner, the time for self blame and feeling ashamed is over. It is not your fault or your child’s fault. 
If you don’t have a struggling learner the time for judgment & gossip has passed. Unless you are intimately involved in the life of the parents and children, you probably don’t understand and may not be able to understand where these families are at. Suffice it to say, these kids and their moms and dads work harder than you can possibly imagine.

We need to come together as a community and learn to accept other homeschoolers and homeschooling parents as they are. There is not one of us who can do it all. There is not one of us who has all the answers. There is not one of us who has the best way.

A gold star for everyone! 

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Peggy Dalley said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I often feel like the invisible woman in homeschool circles. I, too, am the Mom of three special needs learners - all have autism - one has dyslexia, one has CAPD and one has ADHHHHHD in addition.

The one thing that has saved my sanity is that we pulled the older two out of public school. That same school that insisted my oldest couldn't read due to his autism and refused to evaluate him for dyslexia. The same system that constantly tossed my kids out of class due to 'behavior issues' that were really them not following the IEPS. So I knew they would get more with me teaching them than they did at public school.

Again, I thank you. It helps to know I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I was one of those homeschoolers who had four superstar students (you know--99th percentile on every standardized test, college scholarships, even a National Merit Finalist.) And then my next three threw me for a loop. One who couldn't write well and wouldn't do his math. One who couldn't spell for the life of her. One who tested in the 4th (4!) percentile in math. People used to tell me I should write a book on homeschooling, but after my latter students, I decided it should be titled, "Homeschool Failures". I became very depressed & quit talking much about homeschooling. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Then, just like you, I had a last child come along who was quick and bright, well-behaved and easy to teach. Same methods, same parents, same everything. DIFFERENT KIDS!!!! A very hard thing about homeschooling is that we feel that the whole success or failure of our life's work depends on how well our kids do. We don't get paychecks or promotions or accolades, only a lot of criticism and skepticism from people. And no matter how well we try to school our kids, they just might turn out to be average or, horrors of horrors, well below average! Of course, no one expects school teachers to be able to have EVERY single student excel academically, yet we, as homeschoolers, are put on the defensive so often about the validity of homeschooling, we feel like we have to prove its worth by having star pupils. And God forbid your child be naturally shy and introverted, because that would show the results of his LACK OF SOCIALIZATION!!! (Never mind all the shy introverts who have been in the world since the beginning of time, no matter what type of schooling they had!) I don't know what the answer is, but I sure appreciate your article, and hope other homeschoolers who struggle with this will also take comfort in realizing that they're not alone.

Anonymous said...

Well said! My first child was the fast kid. My second didn't learn to read until he was 10yo. He's in his 20's and still can't spell well, but will finish college soon. He's gifted in the way HE needs to go.

I now teach in a small, Christian school. I can't give my students the quality education I gave my own children...both of them!

Jessica said...

Thanks! You are definitely not alone! I can totally relate to having and ADHHHHHD kid!

Anonymous #1 - "And no matter how well we try to school our kids, they just might turn out to be average or, horrors of horrors, well below average!" AMEN!! and AMEN!!

Anonymous #2 - Glad you liked the post!

Judith said...

I think Peggy got the idea:
A slow learner will still do better at home than lost in a class.
Of course, there are parents who don't do the right thing, but those who do still can't fully control how their children learn.

Jessica said...


Thanks for your comment.


Rebecca said...

There's no reason for anyone to judge or think they should be on a pedastool. If a parent is teaching a child, the child will grasp what they are capable of. I truly appreciate this post - in more ways than I could possibly explain in a comment... Thank you for linking up at Ultimate Mom.

Anonymous said...

This is a great article, and something like this needs to be read at every home-school convention. God has taught me so much through home-schooling. When I started, I thought (naively) that everyone learned the same way and that children were like little sponges, ready to absorb whatever intellectual knowledge Mom gently dispensed. We had no idea that our adopted daughter would be moderately ADHD...although I found that out pretty quickly. It was years, though, before we began to suspect that there was something else wrong...or a lot of somethings. Now I struggle with how to educate a child who developmentally in some ways may always be behind her peers; who sometimes can't grasp things that other children would recognize intuitively. Yet I believe that I've already proved the "expert" wrong about what our child can achieve. It's a long road, and not an easy one, but one that God has entrusted to us.