Once a month on the blog I like to share “our life” collectively as homeschoolers by interviewing an everyday homeschool mom. You will find a wealth of encouragement and resources in this post, Learning Beside Children With Learning Differences: Interview With Jenn. Enjoy!
Hi! I’m Jenn. I’ve been married to my husband, Nick for 22 years. We met in high school and married after college. Nick is a sales engineer; he works from home and travels and average of 4-8 days per month. I have a background in social work, specifically foster care and adoption. I am currently working part-time doing post-permanency casework. We have three children; 2 birth, 1 adopted (and have fostered 2 other children). Libby, age 15; Lincoln, age 13; and Levi “Mark”, age 8.
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What attracted you to homeschooling?
While we have homeschooled from the beginning (almost), I never intended to homeschool. When Libby was four, she went to preschool and Lincoln and I hung out. I missed her and didn’t like not be able to watch her learn new things.
We had a core group of friends at the time who were a few years ahead of us; I was hearing their stories of homeschooling, observing them, and hanging out with them at play dates. When the next year came around, Libby would have been starting Pre-K (she missed the cut off for Kinder) and Lincoln pre-school, we decided it made more sense for me to start homeschooling than it did to send them both to preschool. I also figured if it didn’t go well, she could start Kindergarten as planned the next Fall.
We borrowed some curriculum from friends and had a lot of fun reading aloud, going on hikes, writing letters, counting things, doing a low-key Kindergarten year. We ended up moving from Lancaster to San Antonio, TX in April of that school year, and I decided to homeschool there and find a community. We did three years of Classical Conversations before working with a group of people to start our own Charlotte Mason (CM) co-op, which we did for three more years before
What does homeschooling look like with the specific needs of your child?
During Libby’s First and Second grade years it became evident that something was not clicking with reading. It took some time and evaluations but she was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia in fourth grade. It was difficult to know when and if testing was needed but ultimately, we felt it was in her best interest to have the diagnosis so that she knew why her brain worked differently and so that we could talk about the strengths of a dyslexic brain.
We also suspect that she has ADD (co-morbidity is high and ADD in hereditary). The ADD affects executive function skills such as processing speed and working memory.
Homeschooling allowed us to work at her pace with reading, but provide the information through reading aloud or audiobooks that she was capable of comprehending. We worked on phonograms and remedial reading instruction through fifth grade.
We used an Orton-Gillingham program called Logic of English. She read her first chapter book in fifth grade and has not stopped reading since! Now in ninth grade, her reading level is on grade level for fiction because of context clues within the story; text books are still difficult and I will read aloud or we find audio books (library, audible, librivox, or learning alley). Reading aloud in a class setting is still difficult, as is spelling. We continue to remediate spelling using a program call All About Spelling. Voice to text technology has become very important for writing papers and taking notes.
How did you balance the learning needs of another child?
During Libby’s learning journey we needed to balance that of a traditional learner in the home, who everything came fairly easy for, and who was only 16 months behind. It was a learning curve to not hold Lincoln back, but not have Libby be frustrated. We needed to separate some subjects which I would have rather kept together and we needed to have conversations about God giving us different strengths and weaknesses.
At various points in time, we sought outside therapies to help Libby (and us) navigate her learning differences and support mental health. Learning differences/ADD are also associated with other issues such as anxiety, anger, and depression so we were always keeping our eyes open about needing outside support.
Adding another child with special needs
Within a year of moving to San Antonio we began fostering. We cared for three babies; two returned to family. One was not able to return and we pursued adoption. After three, years Mark became a forever Yackanech.
His learning journey is unique too. From five months until three years we did occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), speech therapy, and special instruction. At three Mark transitioned to the IU services and he received speech in the school setting. At that time, he qualified for a full-time preschool through the IU that would have placed him in a room with non-verbal children. We determined that it would be a better fit for him to remain home and in a language rich environment with his sibling and me. We took a break from PT and OT, as he was doing much better, but continued with speech at the school.
At age 4, we had him go to a church pre-school when we moved to new city because we did not have the support network/family nearby and I wanted to meet some of Libby’s educational needs. Mark loved preschool but struggled with attention, transitions, and music class. We had a 20-minute sensory diet routine that we did every morning before he went to preschool to help him. This routine took trial and error to figure out but included jumping on a trampoline, swinging, going for a bike ride, hanging upside down, and deep pressure input.
How do you solve a child’s educational puzzle?
We are currently working through some of Mark’s educational puzzle. He struggles with common adoption issues (grief, trauma, sensory issues, attention) that manifest while educating him. We are just now hitting an ability to sit and focus for 20 minutes at a time.
We are working with a therapist/behavioral specialist to help grow his abilities and help me in learning the best ways to manage his behaviors while parenting from a place of connection. In the next year, we will have him evaluated to determine if there are learning disabilities or global intellectual disabilities. We continue to do many of the same things for Mark that we did for Libby; lots of review, work at their level with the encouragement to make one more step (ability plus one), and lots of read alouds and oral narration.
What challenges have you faced homeschooling your child/children and how have you overcome them?
At times, I have wondered with each of my neuro-diverse children, if sending them to public school would be better. They would have more eyes of them to see if their learning differences need more remediation, instruction, or honestly if it would just be easier.
Instructing special needs children; parenting special needs children is a huge blessing and is refining, but can also be exhausting. I would have a friend encourage me and remind me that they would not get the individualized instruction, to the same degree, in a school setting.
We have also been able to keep a long-term goal in perspective…to encourage children to become lifelong learners. I want them to know how to learn; in the way their brain learns best. Sometimes, I need to reframe my expectations, adjust my methods, and pray for my heart to be soft and compassionate.
The other blessing of homeschooling is allowing non-traditional learners to find the activities that they love, bring life, and build their confidence in non-academic areas. We have been able to learn baking, sewing, embroidery, art, drama, choir, horseback riding and spend lots of time hiking and being in nature.
Any advice for other moms who have a child with special needs?
Remember your child is a person and all children develop differently. Don’t compare, but find another mom that “gets it.” Homeschooling special needs children is different, you may be walking beside your child a lot longer than most. Be willing to advocate for their needs and get testing or therapy if the learning disorder is impacting their self-esteem or your relationship.
Community is also important. The consistency of meeting with friends and fellow mamas while my older ones were younger and I was learning about homeschooling was key to me continuing homeschooling.
What resources have you found the most helpful for the unique differences of your child/children?
A Gentle Feast (CM book/curriculum guide for a family)
Logic of English
All About Spelling
Heggerty (phonetic awareness assessments and curriculum)
Learning Ally (audio books; need LD diagnosis to access)
Librivox Free public domain audio books
Homeschooling With Dyslexia
TCU College of Science and Engineering: Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development (TBRI video library)
Smart But Scattered (ADD information/Executive Functioning Help)
The Connected Child (Parenting Children from Hard Places/TBRI)
Helping the Out of Sync Child (Sensory Needs)
Your Kids Table Easy to Use Sensory Diet Template
Leave a Comment!
I hope you have you enjoyed Learning Beside Children With Learning Differences: Interview With Jenn. If so, leave a comment to let her know how her story helped you!
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Hi, I’m Sheri! I am a Christian saved by grace, married to my high school sweetheart, and a thankful mom to ten incredible kids. I’m a former public school teacher who never thought I would someday be a homeschool mom! Drawing on 13+ years of homeschooling experience, follow along to find help for getting started, tried and true homeschooling advice, life skills learning, simple Morning Time ideas, and interviews with everyday homeschool moms just like you!