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Homeschooling: Special Needs
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Managing the Homeschool Teaching Day with a Struggling Learner

by Pam Gates

As a homeschooling mom of six, one of the most challenging situations that has arisen is having a struggling learner who needs one-on-one time with me. I do as much of my homeschooling as possible with all of us working together. Even with math, which is so individualized, I prefer to have everyone working at the same time so I can move easily from one child to the next, helping where necessary. Our day is full, so the thought of spending an hour to an hour-and-a-half with just one child seemed difficult at best. The reality is, though, that that one-on-one time is crucial for the struggling learner.

Up to the time I began my third child’s more formal education, I thought I must be a pretty amazing teacher. My two sons had no struggles academically. My daughter is very bright, so it was a surprise to me when I began noticing her having difficulty grasping even simple things.

She wanted so badly to learn. But by the age of 7 she was already considerably behind. She could not count to 10 comfortably. She could not say the alphabet (even with the song). She could write her name, but was unable to name each of the letters in it consistently. She could not remember phonics, so reading was nonexistent.

I scheduled a consultation with an educational diagnostician in Denver who was able to diagnose my daughter as having dyslexia. The diagnostician outlined a daily schedule for us to follow and taught me specific teaching methods (most of them right brain strategies). She also taught me therapy designed specifically to open my daughter's blocked learning gates and guided me through a nutritional plan found to work particularly well with children with dyslexia.

I left the appointment relieved and excited, but somewhat overwhelmed. Frankly, at this point, educating my daughter had become so frustrating for both of us that we had drastically reduced the amount of time we spent on it. But I went home determined to prayerfully carve out the time she needed.

Please take this in the spirit it is intended. I know how difficult the task is and how the enemy tries to cripple us with guilt, so I was asked to share practical advice to help those of you who find yourselves in a similar situation. With our schedule as it was, how could I possibly give Breanna the individual time she needed, continue my sons' education, and manage my 4-year-old, 2-year-old and newborn's schedules?

Time Management Suggestions

Set your priorities. The first milestone was the realization that teaching my daughter to read was the most important thing to focus on at that time. Her two big brothers could afford to take a break, if necessary, while I concentrated on her for awhile. I found that my children who are not struggling can catch up in a short time. You may decide that it is necessary to ease up on the amount of curriculum you cover with them during the school year and spend some of the summer break working to pick up the slack.

Realistically look at your daily schedule. What activities could we drop, or at least put on hold for a while? Music lessons, sports, field trips, even extra church activities may need to be set aside. Remember, this is not a permanent situation. It is often more difficult for us as mothers to give the extra activities up than for our children.

Extend your teaching time. For me this meant getting up earlier in the morning. It is much more productive for me to get myself to bed earlier and have more hours in the morning than to plan to get things done after the children have been put to bed. The energy I hope to have in the evening hours is somehow nonexistent. As for my children, I began making sure they were up, breakfasted and ready for the school day by 8. Look at your schedule to see what works best for your family.

Delegate within the family. My husband encouraged me to look at my daily tasks and determine which of my responsibilities I could turn over to the children. For example, we set up a simple breakfast and lunch menu and my three older children (10- and 8- and 7-year-olds) were each responsible for one day a week. As a mother, your time is more stretched. It is important to free yourself from some of the more repetitive tasks. Generally, our children can take on a lot more responsibility than we give them credit for. Once the initial (rather messy) training period is completed, this turns out to be a real blessing.

Delegate outside of the family. Recently, someone suggested hiring a homeschooled teen in the area to come over for an hour a day to do some of the teaching with the other children. It is important to note that I, as parent, am the one who needs to be focusing on my struggling learner. If funds are tight, consider instead checking history, science, and literature videos out at the library to keep your other children productively entertained during the tutoring session.

Incredible Progress

The individual time invested with my daughter was invaluable. We would not have been able to accomplish all we set out to do by keeping her constantly in the family teaching setting. She had to have some time free of distractions with me. After about six months of more concentrated time with her, she had made incredible progress and was able to work alongside the other children most of the time. We have been using the teaching strategies found to work best for her and have continued with the at-home therapy, along with nutritional interventions.

It has been a long, sometimes laborious, process, but now, six years later, you would never know she ever had dyslexia. She is reading, writing, and doing math at grade level. Last year her language arts teacher in our once-a-week home school co-op said she was amazed at her talent for poetry. Her teacher this year commented that she sometimes uses my daughter as a "second teacher" to help some of the other students. Best of all, my daughter no longer considers herself dyslexic.

Just as with homeschooling in general, this is obviously a very personal situation. I encourage you to pray for wisdom and patience to accomplish the task God has placed before you.

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