3 Mistakes I Made with My Struggling Learner (Plus 3 Things I Did Right!)
I wish it wasn’t true, but I really believe we often learn best through our mistakes. That is as much the case with homeschooling as it is with everything else in life.
And my homeschooling blunders have been many. Some of them are easier to dismiss – like buying the cheap pencils, or thinking the world map I hung up in my kitchen could be removed without damaging the drywall. (Can’t always trust that “remove cleanly” statement on the label.)
But those mistakes that involved my struggling learner? Yeah, those aren’t so easy to dismiss.
I knew my daughter was different early on: She was hyperactive like no child I had ever seen. She had zero attention span. She talked much later than her peers and seemed to comprehend less. She obsessed over things like order, organization, and patterns, but couldn’t remember numbers or letters to save her life, even as she came into school age and beyond.
Learning to read was the most exhausting thing either of us had ever experienced. Even when we had the letter sounds down, learning to string them together into words was nightmarishly slow. We would make real progress one day, only to feel like we had lost all of it by the next. Reading, when it finally happened, seemed literally painful to my daughter. Sometimes it was like the letters were switching places. Other times the words just jumped around the page as if daring my little girl to try to keep up with them. And comprehension! Reading the words was struggle enough – understanding them too was just too much to ask.
Eventually we would get the official diagnosis: Yes, my daughter was dyslexic. She had a language processing disorder too, and that complicated things even further.
But while dyslexia can’t be cured, my now-teenage daughter has learned how to learn in spite of it. The reading struggle hasn’t disappeared, spelling is still a significant challenge, and math is no cakewalk either, but my child has improved incredibly and continues to do so. Sometimes I am amazed at her progress.
And I’ve learned a lot along the way, too! There are definitely some things I wish I had done differently. Here are the 3 biggest mistakes I made:
I allowed my fear of what others thought to drive too many of my decisions.
Hey, it’s tough when all your friends’ kids are reaching their learning milestones on time or, even worse, they’re reaching them all early! That’s exactly what was happening to me, and I felt like my daughter’s delay was not only a reflection upon her, but upon me as her teacher! In so many ways my methods then became a reaction to what I assumed people thought of me or my daughter, rather than basing my choices solely on what I thought would be the best thing for her personality and learning style.
I pushed too hard too early.
If there’s anything I wish I could go back and undo, it’s this. While I meant well overall, especially early on I chalked up my daughter’s problems to a lack of discipline or to hyperactivity issues that needed to be curbed, rather than recognizing there were some things my daughter just wasn’t ready for. (Often my reasons for doing this tied back to #1!) With time I came to learn that my pushing usually did more to shut down learning than it did to encourage or inspire it.
I held too tightly to traditional methods that obviously weren’t working.
I knew that every child can’t and won’t learn in the same way, and yet I kept trying to force my daughter to learn through methods that were familiar to me and had worked well for me in the past. I think I even thought that if these things weren’t working, then the problem must lie with my daughter or with me, rather than recognizing the real issue might lie in my approach.
So those are the areas where I blew it when it came to homeschooling my struggling learner. But can I share 3 areas where, thankfully, I got it right?
I sought help.
I could have held out forever, hoping things would just magically improve with time, but I came to realize I needed help from people who had dealt with these issues themselves and could offer me their wisdom. I poured over books, blogs, and websites dealing with educating struggling learners. At homeschool conventions I took every workshop along those lines I could take, and I stayed afterwards asking questions.
I was willing to make changes.
I wish I had been willing earlier, but I was eventually willing to make changes in my approach where necessary. Some of it required turning everything I thought I knew about education on its head, but it was a good thing for me and the absolute best thing for my daughter. When I learned to back off with the pushing, and to utilize some different methods, my daughter’s learning really began to take off and we saw consistent, definite progress. And both of us were so much happier and more relaxed!
I didn’t give up.
There were a few times I felt like such a failure I didn’t know what I could do except put my daughter in a traditional school. I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am I did not do that! There is no question to me now that the thing my daughter needed most was more time, a few changes in approach, and more one-on-one instruction, something she would not and could not have received in a traditional classroom. She has responded so remarkably well to the changes we made, and her learning has continued on at a steady and very encouraging pace.
Have you found yourself making mistakes with your struggling learner? What have you learned in the process that you can share with others?
It’s so encouraging when I know I’m not alone! I have made those exact same mistakes and, by the amazing grace of God, did the same things right (whew!). Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned.