Originally Sent: 9/11/2014
September 11, 2014
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Helen Keller Knew Latin!
Classical Christian Education … for Special Needs?
The Struggling Learner/Special Needs Department of HSLDA is pleased to have a guest writer for this month’s newsletter. Cheryl Swope, the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (with foreword by Dr. Gene Edward Veith), serves as the special needs consultant for Memoria Press and is a homeschooling mother of two children with special needs. This month, Cheryl shares some practical resources, tips, and personal success stories about teaching writing to children who struggle and who have special needs.
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Literature, sacred music, art, and even Latin—do you ever wistfully turn the pages of a classical education catalog? Do you wish your special needs child could be given such beauty? Would you like to bring a more humanizing and formative education to your child?
Some parents and educators have the misconception that classical education is only for “smart kids.” It is easy to understand why someone might think this way. Latin at age 8? Herodotus by 14? With such standards, one might reason, surely classical education is only for born geniuses—the brightest and best of our children. Certainly for advanced performance at the highest levels of classical study, this theory has merit.
But what about those children who are not born geniuses? What about those who, far from being intellectually gifted, are living with cognitive challenges, language disorders, or physical disabilities? Does classical education have anything to offer them? Can classical education benefit any child?
No doubt Helen Keller’s concerned parents asked the same question back in 1887. Their young daughter was deaf, blind, and severely “behaviorally disordered.” Distraught and fearful for the little girlâ€™s future, as most parents would be, the Kellers hoped that Helen might somehow receive an education. In the late 1800s, this meant a classical education.
Helen Keller began her adapted classical education at the age of 6 with her private teacher, Annie Sullivan. Although no one could predict the eventual outcome, the Keller family embarked on this ambitious, beautiful journey nonetheless. And the world received captivating evidence that classical education truly can benefit any child.
Ready for More? Consider These Tips for Beginning (or Strengthening) Your Child’s Education
The very tenets of classical education assist us:
Teach by asking questions—the Socratic method. Ask clear, step-by-step questions to assess, lead, and strengthen the child's understanding. The oral Socratic method with good discussions can effectively replace some written answers.
Teach “slowly and steadily”—the tortoise and the hare. Delve deeply and seek mastery. The high quality of the best resources will assist the child’s mind and character, even when taught at a more relaxed pace.
Enjoy the original “multi-sensory” methods—recitation, dictation, oration. Enjoy songs, chants, and narration. Allow shortened exercises. Add visual cues or movements to accompany auditory learning.
Read aloud great literature. Even without extensive literary analysis, rich and beautiful language soothes, lifts, and teaches.
Repetition—reading a story or poem several times can build fluency, expression, understanding, and appreciation.
Encourage wonder—coax the child’s own questions. Seek truth, goodness, and beauty together.
A Personal Experience
As a very young child, my daughter Michelle exhibited an odd, puzzling language disorder. Words perplexed her, as much as she perplexed us. Even the language therapist admitted, “Michelle’s language is not just delayed; it is aberrant!”
After language therapy and an education rich in literature, poetry, hymns, and Holy Scripture, we witnessed in Michelle something we never expected from such a child. Although all of her disabilities remained, Michelle began to love words. She even began to write some of the most touching poetry I have ever read.
One day Michelle said to me, “Mom, I want my story to help other children like me.” Because of her autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and schizophrenia, Michelle could never give voice to her story. So we did. Through Time’s Looking Glass: A Book of Poetry, a simple collection of Michelle’s poetry was published earlier this year.
She now finds great solace in words.
With sparks of joy in our eyes,
—Michelle Lynn Swope
Explore Classical Education for your child more fully in several ways:
Read the honest, encouraging story of two homeschooled children—my own adopted twins. Even with autism, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and severe mental illness, they enjoyed a classical Christian education. Find their story along with resources and strategies to benefit your own child in Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child.
Learn the fascinating historical precedent. Discover what happened after language unlocked young Helen Keller’s mind at the water pump so many years ago. Yes, Helen Keller knew Latin!
Join us for support in our free, online Struggling Student discussion forum. You can ask questions about your own child. Memoria Press and I moderate this forum and read posts daily. (If you do not wish to post, you may appreciate the many stories from other homeschooling moms of special needs or struggling students!)
Take heart, even if your child has significant special needs or an intellectual disability. Consider the unique new Simply Classical Curriculum filled with beautiful poetry, Scripture, music, and more—just for children with special needs. After all, in Martin Cothran’s words, “If a child cannot accommodate the amount or depth of knowledge of most children, it is not less, but more important that what they learn be of the highest quality.”
Above all, with compassion we remember our child’s humanity and God’s gracious, merciful provision for our child’s every eternal need through Jesus Christ, our One Thing Needful.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Is. 43:1b)
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You’ve probably heard it said many times that there is “no perfect curriculum.” And if you’ve been homeschooling for very long at all, you probably agree. Some programs and approaches will be better suited for your child than others. See the HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens website for a terrific description of various curriculum options and educational approaches.
If you’ve considered a classical approach, but felt it would be too rigorous for a child with special needs, we hope this article has encouraged you to explore the idea further. The special needs department is here to encourage and equip you in your homeschool journey. Please visit our website for a wealth of information about homeschooling children with special needs.
—HSLDA Special Needs Consultants
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