Teaching children with learning differences can be challenging, especially if you feel like you don’t know what you are doing. My son has severe dyslexia. It was a complex challenge for both of us. There were lots of emotions to be dealt with, both for myself and my son, as well as working out the mechanics of his education on a daily basis. Life is never so tidy as to hand us just one challenge at a time. By the end of our time working through his program, truth be told, I was burnt out.
Now that time has passed, I can look back at the situation more objectively and with the benefit of hindsight. There are things I wish I had known, and supports I could have put in place for myself that would have made a big difference. If I had to do it all again, here are some strategies I would implement. Some I did, and some I wish I had done, but, all, I believe, are important. Perhaps what I have learned will give you an idea or two that will help you on your homeschooling journey.
1. Intentionally establish a support system.
A three prong approach is quite valuable. There will be some overlap, of course, but think about covering these three areas.
Nowadays there are many resources available to you where you can find information and groups of people in similar situations. Fellow parents who are living with the same challenges you are facing are an essential source of community and encouragement. Consider establishing a little support group, even if it is just a monthly cuppa over Zoom. Or look for a podcast, Facebook group, blog, or online support group. Find what works for you.
Someone to Talk to
Establish a relationship with a counselor, pastor, friend, or older homeschool mom who has been through it. Whoever it is, it is very beneficial to have a set time to talk regularly with someone about the challenges you are facing. We have all had the experience of getting stuck in our head. Thoughts can swirl on an endless loop, but when we are able to share our burdens with a sympathetic person, relief comes (and often clarity as well). Journaling can also be a helpful way to process.
Your Cheering Squad
These are the people that love you and want to encourage you no matter what. Put them on speed dial, and ask them to support you in prayer. Let them know that their encouragement is invaluable to you. Conversely, watch out and protect yourself against those who tend to be critical.
2. Be proactive about stress relief.
When Mama is stressed, it spills out onto the rest of the family: the kids and husband are on edge, and peace slowly erodes. It can easily become a vicious cycle. You must take care of Mama. We don’t have to be first on the list, but we do have to be on the list.
If any one member of the family remains at the bottom of the list for too long, it is inevitable that at some point they will move to the top of the list, usually at a crisis point. By taking care of Mama, you are taking care of the family. It is not selfish; it is stewardship.
Find things that give you pleasure, put a smile on your face, release that pressure valve, and invigorate your spirit. Have tea in a china cup. Light a candle. Take a bubble bath with a book and chocolate. Whatever it is, take a little time daily and a little more time weekly to relieve that stress.
3. Pace yourself.
Accept the fact that your pace may need to be slower than you’d like. Readjusting your expectations may be necessary. I needed to readjust what was “on time” and what was considered “behind” for this learner. And more importantly, I needed to acknowledge that this was ok, which I didn’t always.
4. Measure progress, not perfection.
Progress isn’t always a straight shot, and it often varies from child to child. Just because a child can’t remember anything about yesterday’s lesson doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress. Expand your time horizon. Do you see progression compared to last month or the beginning of the school year?
5. Celebrate victories.
This is super important! When we don’t acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, we can grow weary, and it is difficult to keep moving forward. We all need to feel as though we are accomplishing something, especially when that something is extremely difficult and you don’t like it. Find lots of ways, big and small, to celebrate your child. From high fives and happy dances for the everyday victories to end-of-the-year awards, notice and acknowledge when your child shows signs of progress.
6. Conquer attitudes.
Attitude is everything. I often tell my kids, “If you want to change your world, change your attitude!” I can’t think of too many other things that are as impactful on your life as your own attitude. Students who have learning differences often feel they are not smart, which leads to a serious struggle with wanting to do the work. This is a perfect storm for a bad attitude. Learning to adjust one’s attitude is a life skill and one that will be well worth the effort.
7. Have a mantra or two.
Be mindful of that little voice inside your head and the messages that are constantly running in the background of your mind. This will help with attitude as well. Fill your head with positive messages: “I can do hard things!” “I can do all things through Christ!” Whatever it is, positive mental chatter is a game changer. Recognize what you are saying to yourself and then work to reprogram it to truth. This is part of bringing every thought captive.
8. Get help when you need it.
Look for opportunities to outsource or barter. Consider simplifying and streamlining some household systems for a season. Investing an hour of meal prep time to make some “dump and go” freezer meals can ease the dinner hour tremendously. Sometimes there are things that need to give way during a stressful time of life.
Involve the kids wherever possible; homeschool life is a big group project. My kids learned to do their own laundry much earlier than I initially anticipated simply because I needed the help.
Arrange a play date rotation with another mom or two so that once every other week you have a few hours to yourself. Be creative! Help is available.
9. Set up tasks your children can work on independently.
For my child dealing with dyslexia, it was very helpful for me to employ other ways for him to work independently of me. An online math program that he could do on his own was a life saver. We also used lots of audiobooks. Are there others who can help the child while you work with others? Take advantage of an online class that they can enjoy and work at independently.
10. Balance your time.
If you are homeschooling multiple children, be mindful of how much time you are devoting to each child. My dyslexic child required much more time than my other children, and the others often felt it, especially the young ones. Balance may not mean that every child gets the same amount of time, but it does mean every child gets the time they need. I was often surprised at the difference in the amount of time they truly needed me compared to what I was anticipating them needing.
11. Spend time with your children outside of school.
Hands down, the number one best thing I ever did as a homeschool mom was to set up a regular one-on-one date with each child. We called them “tea dates.” With five children it was necessary to set up a rotation. Time and money were tight, but from 3:00 to 4:30 pm every Wednesday I took one child out for tea. We established from the beginning that we had a budget of about $10, and the point of this time was for the two of us to just enjoy being together. They could talk to me about anything they wanted, and they knew they would have my undivided attention.
This time looked different with each child. My boys typically wanted to get a snack and go to the park to play ball or ride bikes. My daughters often enjoyed getting an actual cup of tea and window shopping. Whatever we did, we always thoroughly enjoyed being together. To this day, these are some of our sweetest memories.
Everyone benefitted from this practice. The ones left at home really looked forward to their turn with Mom, and it taught them to wait. Five weeks is a long time to wait when you are little, but it was a very special day when it came! They were times filled with simple pleasures: a picture of just the two of us, undivided attention, a shared treat, and time together. It wasn’t expensive, but the value was priceless. Truly the best investment of time I ever made!
12. Keep the big picture in mind.
As Stephen Covey says, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” We can quickly get sidetracked and lose sight of what the goal is. Write it down, and keep it before you (posted in a prominent place), so that when you are slogging through the rough waters or attitudes begin to waver you are redirected to the point of it all.
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