Have your kids ever given you an incredulous look because the answer to your question is so obvious – to them? I’m pretty sure I’ve given that kind of look to my children many times, even though I know they are outside the box kind of thinkers. In fact, I’m not sure they know there even is a “box”. Some things just seem so apparent to me that it’s hard to remember that my kids don’t approach life in the same way I do. Our kids can feel that same kind of frustration if we don’t immediately understand their way of thinking when something seems very obvious to them. A few days ago I was preparing to do some school work with my Beckie, and she was flitting around the house burning up some excess energy. I called her in to the dining room, and she came right away. I turned my back to take our books off the shelf, and when I turned around she was gone. I arranged the books for the first subject of the day and called Beckie back into the dining room. She popped right over, but when I leaned over to clear some space on the table for our globe, she darted off again. This yo-yo action in and out of the room happened several times within a couple of minutes. I called her back, and asked her why she kept leaving the room when she knew it was time to do school. That’s when I got the look that said, “Why are you asking me a question when the answer is so obvious?” I waited for her reply, truly not knowing the answer, and she simply sighed and said, “To dance!” She said it in that way kids have of letting you know you should have known the answer but they will try to patiently explain it for you. I think that’s a good reason and a way for hyperactivity to be expressed in an acceptable way, though it explains in part why school sometimes takes us longer than I expect it too. In fact, if we didn’t actually have to get anything done, I might have joined her in dancing.
Today at my church the topic of the main teaching was parenting and the great influence that our parents have on us. My daughter, Beth, attended the first service and expressed her gratitude to me for being a good parent. Ah…there’s nothing like getting some appreciation from your offspring. My younger daughter, Beckie, gave me a hug and pointed out that it was a good thing she was my daughter. Upon further elaboration of this thought, Beckie explained that God had spared me from having to feel envious because if she had been someone else’s daughter that is surely what I would have felt. I would have wished she were my daughter, resulting in envious feelings as I watched her being a member of a different family. So God gave Beckie to me to parent and enjoy, and she fully expects me to do so with humble gratitude! Two girls, two different “take away” messages. I do agree with Beckie that God blessed me with the privilege of being her mother, and the mother of Josh and Beth as well. Plus, I got to homeschool them all. That must be why I’m barefoot much of the time – He blessed my socks off. Just ask Beckie.
As long as I’ve been a homeschooler, I always seemed to have some very portable items I could grab as we headed out the door so we could work on something in waiting rooms. For one thing, my kids were NOT good at the waiting part whether it was a doctor’s office or a grocery store line. For another thing, I thought they might as well be learning or reviewing rather than complaining or getting into things. Now that I have an IPhone I have downloaded all kinds of educational aps so I always have something to do while I wait. Yesterday I had an appointment with my allergist, and while waiting for him in the examining room I pulled out my phone to work on my Spanish skills. I especially appreciate being able to push the speaker icon and hear the Spanish phrases spoken aloud. I was diligently concentrating on learning the phrases when my allergist walked in. He said, “Hi. How are you?” just as I pushed the speaker icon and my phone loudly pronounced, “Tengo hambre” which means “I am hungry”. I sheepishly looked up from my phone and told my doctor, “I guess I’m a little hungry?” He laughed and said a few Spanish words to me so that we could further our rapport before getting down to business – in English, so I’d actually understand what he was saying besides discussing our hunger. That was not the only part of the visit that amused me, however, as I had earlier been reviewing my information with the nurse. This office has transferred all of the patient information to computers and it was all typed in by hand. The resulting file on me indicated that I get vitamin B injections (I never have) and that apparently I use my asthma inhaler as a nasal spray. Interesting picture. I do have an asthma inhaler, but since it’s for my lungs I use it as, well, an asthma inhaler. I have two nasal sprays for my allergies, so it really never occurred to me to also sniff my asthma inhaler. I think I set the record straight, but now I really want to see what my primary care physician record says that I’m up to! Waiting rooms are a great place to learn all kinds of things.
I’ve met many parents who are pretty sure their child has AD/HD or some other learning challenge but they are hesitant to make it official by having their child evaluated and diagnosed. The fear that a label may limit their child, be inaccurate, or be used in discriminatory ways is valid. When my son, Josh, was approaching school age I thought about the advantages of private schools with smaller class sizes. Several people suggested that I go ahead and enroll him without telling the school personnel about his AD/HD diagnosis so they couldn’t turn him down. That was before we knew he also had an auditory processing disorder. I was assured that once he was enrolled in the school, they couldn’t kick him out just because he had a diagnosis and they would be forced to work with him. Wow! For one thing, Josh was pretty easy to pick out of a group as being different than his peers. I’d give it 5 minutes tops before things became unavoidably noticeable. So basically I would have had to keep him out of sight until school had officially started. Then there was the whole idea of the people he would be spending hours with each day being tricked into having a student that they weren’t prepared for and apparently didn’t feel equipped to deal with in their classroom. That made me feel sorry for Josh and for the teachers, since having someone who was “forced” to work with my child because I had hidden some vital information from them just didn’t sit well with me. I loved that boy, and the thought of sending him somewhere that he might not be wanted didn’t make sense to me. I had the same dilemma when it came time for Sunday School at church. I didn’t want to bias the teachers against Josh by telling them all his struggles, so I coached him on the way there and dropped him off like all the other parents with their children. The Sunday School teachers, bless them all, are volunteers in the church and most don’t have training as educators – and for most kids that’s just fine. But to do the “drop and run” with a special needs or challenging child is not a good idea, as I came to realize. Every week, the other parents would pick up their children and happily leave. When I came to pick up Josh, I inevitably got pulled to the side and told, “I need to talk to you about Josh.” Then I heard, week after week, a full litany of complaints from frustrated and bewildered teachers who were describing things that were not unusual for Josh but were not typical for most children. For example, Josh was not adept at sitting still for long. He was not deliberately disruptive and was never disrespectful, but his need to stand at the table while coloring his page instead of sitting in a chair like everyone else was considered problematic. His sensory issues led him to sit at the back of the group on his carpet square, and everyone else was huddled together and bumping into each other which Josh was carefully trying to avoid. But that meant he wasn’t “with” the group because he had made a row of one – just himself! And the list would go on and on until I was finally allowed to leave with my miserable son who knew that somehow just by being who he was he had screwed up again and people were unhappy with him. Those experiences led me to advocate more and be preemptive with anyone I left Josh with for any length of time. When there was a sub or a new Sunday School teacher, I made a point of telling them a bit about Josh and strategies that would help them, and I was careful not to dwell on the negatives. I shared Josh’s strengths, too, for I found that if I became negative about my son others felt free to share every little thing they saw as being wrong or weird about him. I was well aware of Josh’s struggles and it served no purpose other than to discourage me when others felt the need to complain about him. All this, and he wasn’t even doing anything “bad” on purpose! When someone was going on and on about all the things Josh did or did not do, I learned to quietly point out something that he had done right, or I’d share something that Josh had enjoyed learning in their class previously. This seemed to derail some of the negativity some of the time. Just as with our kids, nothing works all of the time but something will work some of the time. We need strategies for working with those who are in a position to care for our children, and hope that something will work some of the time. Whether you are a natural advocate or a reluctant one, if you have a child with a learning difference or special challenges, you must be an advocate unless and until your child one day develops the skills to advocate for himself. In my experience, being deliberate in my advocacy was hard but preferable to what happened when I just waited and hoped things would work out for the best.
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NASB)
When you are homeschooling a special needs or struggling child, you are not always on the same timeline as others. The curriculum you use needs to be adapted and usually one of the biggest modifications involves time.
Our children with various challenges and differences do not develop at the same rate as those who are typically developing. They need more time to learn skills and retain information. They may mature more slowly and need additional practice and support to progress. My son could take two hours to do an assignment I thought should take twenty minutes, and it was the same way with chores. Other children have medical issues like seizures that can interfere with their ability to remember previously learned skills. They need to re-learn information, and that takes time and makes the rate of progress variable. So given those kinds of situations, how can we make the most of our time and be good stewards of that resource?
One lesson I learned about my use of time was that I really needed to focus on my goals for each of my children. Once the goals were in the forefront of my mind, it was easier to eliminate things that were not conducive to helping achieve those goals. When everything is treated as being equally important, there is no priority and the important issues may get pushed aside by lesser matters.
With my son, Josh, it became clear that he was not going to be able to do many different subjects in a single day and finish all of his work. Although he didn’t need as much sleep as I did in those early years, I didn’t want him spending all day and then the evening trying to get his schoolwork done, struggling all the while. I homeschool for many reasons, including helping my children develop a love for learning. Spending too many hours on school tasks seems like a good way to achieve burnout for all of us. My husband and I agreed to focus on the basics with Josh, and limit the amount of time spent on highly structured learning tasks.
I had to pare down my long list of what I would like to do and instead think realistically about what I could do each school day. Because Josh and his sister, Beckie, had learning challenges I had to eliminate some of the supplemental material I had originally planned on and limit the work to the core essentials of their education.
In addition to recognizing the best way to invest our time, we need to try to teach our children to make the most of their time. Many kids live in the moment, which is a perspective that has blessings of its own. Without losing that ability to fully experience life as it happens, we need to gently guide our children to consider future events and plan for them in a thoughtful manner. This does not come naturally for most children, and there may need to be consequences that occur as part of the learning process.
Here is an example from the Boring family homeschool: I have a lesson planned and go over it with the kids. They start goofing around, are not working on their assignment even though they know what is expected and are capable of completing the work. I do not mind spending more time on a lesson if my children do not understand something. However, when it is clearly a matter of choice and they are choosing to be silly, they are wasting their time and mine and there will be consequences. I think that the children should experience the consequence of their poor decisions so that hopefully they will make better choices next time.
With that goal in mind, we started “homeschool homework” when the children were wasting time. I would set a time limit for a certain assignment, and if they did not complete it within that period, they had homework with Dad when he got home. This kept them accountable to Dad, and kept them from more play time until their homework was done. This worked well for us since my husband did not have to plan or teach the lesson but could just follow-through with what I had assigned.
Making the most of our time will be manifested differently for each of our families. We all have limitations and demands on our time. Finding balance, remembering our goals, and investing time in our children will allow us to experience the satisfaction of time well spent.
Here is an idea for an easy matching game for colors and sizes using recycled materials you probably have in abundance. Start saving the plastic lids from jars – peanut butter, mayonnaise, milk and juice jugs, pop-up wipes, etc. When you have a collection of lids, take a plain file folder and arrange the lids however you like on top of the file. Trace around the lids, then remove them and color in the circles to match the lid colors. I didn’t color in the circles for the small milk jug size since most of my small lids are the same color, but you could match colors on that size as well if you have a variety in your own collection. I outlined my circles in black to provide a greater contrast to make the target stand out. Store the lids in a gallon-sized zipper bag and you have a quick and easy matching game. The larger lids are great for little hands or for those who find fine motor tasks difficult. To make the game more durable, laminate the file folder. You’ll be able to re-use this game with your own children, plus it’s a great portable game to take with you since it’s lightweight and doesn’t take up much room. It’s an inexpensive, fun way to help kids learn and a great way to recycle those lids.