Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teaching Myself

I love to read, as in I eat books for dinner. It's nothing for me to devour a book in an afternoon (just don't ask me to cook dinner). I think that I have always loved to read. I went to kindergarten knowing how to read. Since my husband also loves to read. I assumed we would have a house full of book worms, kids who loved to read, kids who, like me, stayed up late at night reading even at a young age.

I thought teaching my kids to read would be easy.

If only I knew then what I know now!

I have four kids and three of them have dyslexia. I strongly suspect that my youngest, who is 5, is also dyslexic. Teaching them to read has not been easy.. Teaching them to spell has been difficult. Teaching myself how to teach kids with special learning needs has been very, very trying.

In fact, shifting what I think of as 'education'  is the hardest part of my homeschool year.

I don't remember anyone telling me that learning required desks, chairs, worksheets, posters, and a chalk board but those were the things I believed were essential. I recalled being sat in a chair and then given information. My job as a student was to give that information back on worksheets, then again on tests. I never liked school but I assumed that there was something flawed in me. I never dreamed that it may have been the system that was flawed.

Until, that is, I started homeschooling my own children.

It's a long story as to how we got here, but the gist of it is this: I have three kids who are dyslexic and I suspect our fourth child is also. My husband is also dyslexic.

I spend A LOT of time spelling for my people.

I can laugh about it now, and usually so can the kids, but there was a time when we al though we were doing something really wrong.

I thought I was teaching wrong. I felt like I was failing my kids.

My kids thought that they were being kids wrong, that their brains were wrong, They thought that they were stupid.

I had to completely shift what I thought of as 'school'.

I bought the curriculum everyone said was the best. I followed the directions. I would not deviate from the plan. We schooled in desks during school hours. What my daughters didn't complete during school was to be completed as homework.

We were not having fun.

The year that I had fourth and second grade daughters, and a little boy in pre-school was the very worst. The. Worst. Ever. My oldest daughter, Kiley,  took a very long time to read anything and would avoid anything with reading. Her times tables weren't memorized and spelling was impossible. Her younger sister, Laurel, was struggling to read and write in second grade. I thought something was not right and called the elementary school in our district and expressed my concerns. "They'll grow out of it," the counselor said, "Everyone learns at a different rate." On one hand I was thankful for the relaxed approach, but on the other my gut was telling me something was really off.

Most days ended with all of us crying and/or yelling in frustration. I was threatening and demanding about them getting their school work done. I said some pretty crappy things to my girls simply because following directions was so important to me. I just wanted to do it right, you know?  I was terrified that I would do something wrong and they would end up missing out on college. Did I say that they were in fourth and second grade? Yet I was freaking out about college!

One afternoon, after lots of tears, I woke up to the fact that what I was doing was not working.

I thought about why I wanted to homeschool, I thought about what memories I wanted my kids to have from their childhoods. The crying, yelling, frustrated days that were filling in our pages were not   part of that story. The realization that I was misdirecting the boat was crushing. I cried very, very hard at what we had lost due to my fear of not doing it right. Then I wiped my face off and had a talk with my girls.

We stopped 'school'. Timed math tests, worksheets, copy work - it all just stopped. Immediately. We went to the library and I let them pick out whatever books they wanted. I checked out some books on learning styles and one on learning disabilities. I let audio books as reading. For an entire month we did whatever we wanted as long as it didn't involve television. We cooked together, went on field trips, played board games, card games, and I read out loud all of the time. We played lots of types of music, danced, and the girls practiced piano. The kids played outside a lot, too, sometimes all day. Finally the sweet memories I had been hoping for were being made.

In that month I saw my relationship with the kids, especially my daughters, healing. I saw them lightening up. I felt the weight of the worldWe all stopped being burdened by 'school' and just enjoyed our days. The knot in my stomach unraveled as I finally took charge of our homeschool. I let go of the worry that if I didn't use the 'right' curriculum- the ones that all the homeschool magazines said were the best - that we would fail.

We fell in love with unit studies and hands on learning. I tried different math curriculums. My confidence in my ability to teach grew exponentially when I walked away from boxed curriculums. I finally started to see what worked for my kids as individuals. Also, in the middle of all of my reading, I came across a book called The Gift of Dyslexia, by Ronald Davis. I remember reading portions of it out loud to my kids and having them gasp in recognition, with shared experience. It was such a comfort to know that there was a name for what they were struggling with, but also that there were some benefits to it. My husband, too, found relief in admitting that his battles as a child and an adult had a name.

It's taken time, but I am no longer afraid to homeschool.

I know that learning doesn't take place during a set time, that workbooks don't always work, and that relationship is the most important element of our homeschool. 

Figuring out that my kids have dyslexia freed me from everything I thought about education. Once I became aware that they struggle with a learning disability there was nothing I would not try. My mission became to empower them to achieve whatever dreams that they had. I encourage them to hone in on their God-given talents, to choose what they are passionate about, and to never be afraid to try something even if it doesn't turn out the way that they thought it would. Dyslexia has forced all of us to think outside of the traditional schooling box, but it turns out that's what dyslexics do best.

This is my 13th year homeschooling. While it's definitely gotten easier I still have to evaluate what worked in the past as well as what didn't work. I occasionally still struggle with how to do this thing, and to be truthful I sometimes find myself feeling envious of families whose children are able to just sit down and get their work done (do those families exist??). I sometimes find myself ruminating over the days when I tried to force my children to fit into a curriculum and allowing guilt to  paralyze me. At the end of the day, though, when I survey our stacks of books, projects scattered about,  when we have awesome impromptu history discussions in the car, I know that education, in my family,  happens best without a box.

Linking up at Simple Homeschool, one of my favorite homeschool blogs. :)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I think many of us moms who never before saw homeschooling in action, started out by copying traditional schooling because that was all we knew how to do. I pulled my son out of first grade to homeschool him and at first I went crazy trying to follow a rigid boxed curriculum. On top of that, I printed out the whole school rubric for first grade and started using it as a check-list! I impressed my friends, but it didn't take long for me to realize that my son was miserable doing worksheets and that my nature is to push against the box anyway! So we ditched it all in favor of a lot of library visits, nature walks and child-led learning or in other words, we unschooled for his elementary years. We created a lot of special memories together.