Learning Styles—Your Blueprint for Homeschool LearningSuccess™ Part 1
by LearningSuccess™ Experts Mariaemma Willis & Victoria Kindle Hodson
Whether you’re a homeschooling veteran, a new start, or just thinking about taking the plunge into homeschooling, finding out your child’s learning style will show you the route that you need to take to ensure your child’s success!
One mother we met at a conference assessed her children’s learning styles and came back the following year to tell us, “This has been the best year ever! I gave my kids the profiles, bought materials for their learning styles, stopped trying to make them learn the way I learn best, and it made all the difference. I wish I had known all of this sooner!”
Finding out your child’s learning style has benefits for your child and for you. This kind of information can improve: 1) your child’s chances for success, 2) your ability to communicate with your child, 3) your ability to teach effectively, and 4) your chances of raising a competent, responsible, independent, creative adult.
If you want a sturdy, comfortable house, you wouldn’t try to build it without a blueprint. If you want to take an enjoyable trip, you wouldn’t go across the country without using a map. If a coach wants to bring out an athlete’s best, he wouldn’t recommend a training program for her without knowing her strengths and weaknesses.
Of course you want the best education possible for your child. After all, you’re so committed to the best possible education that you’re doing it yourself or thinking about doing it yourself. Yet, in the rush to get your curriculum together, are you attempting to educate your child without a blueprint of how he learns best, a map of where she wants to go, or a clear understanding of his/her interests and talents?
If your child’s individual learning needs are not your guide you’re likely to be setting up or buying a curriculum that is similar to the one you had when you were in school or a curriculum that you wish you had had when you were in school, or a program that was designed as a “one size fits all approach by people who know nothing about your child.
If you did well in math and you want your child to learn the same foundation skills that you did in the same way you did, you are destined for distress. If you had a terrible school experience and you are selecting materials and strategies that you wish you had had in school, you’ll have fun buying all the things you like and you’ll think that you have a perfect curriculum, but the kids might hate it. And, if you choose a curriculum because you’ve heard that it is a “good” one, or because your best friend used it, or because you liked the presentation made in the ad you read or by the sales person, that program probably won’t fit your child’s unique learning needs. For example, if it is a program for a child with a Producing Disposition (organized, linear learner) and your child has a Performing Disposition, (spontaneous, moving learner) your chances of success are about zero. Choosing a program that brings out the best in your child can make a world of difference.
Improved Communication With Your Child
When you find out about your children’s learning styles, you’re saying to your child, “Tell me about yourself.” Learning style information that comes directly from a child is a powerful message to a parent. And because you are asking for the information you’re saying “I want to know you better.” This may be the most powerful message a parent can give to a child.
If you are willing to make curriculum changes based on learning style information, you are showing that you are flexible and want to work with your child’s learning needs. Your actions are saying, “I care,” which is more powerful than simply saying the words, “I love you.”
The unexpected effect of listening to our children more carefully is that our children often are more able to listen to us. When you start working with your children, they start working with you.
Improved Ability to Teach Your Child
When you have the learning style results for each of your children, your chances of being a more effective teacher increase a great deal, and the chances that you will burn out on the job decrease!
Learning style assessment results are your child’s blueprint for success. For example, if your child has a Thinking/Creating learning disposition, you can begin to understand why all of those workbooks and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that you loved when you were in school don’t work, and you can allow your child extra time to daydream and wonder. If your child has a Visual-Picture and Kinesthetic-Sketching learning modality you can start looking for pictures to add to your Visual-Print phonics program, and you can get a roll of butcher paper and lots of drawing tools for doing math and reading comprehension exercises. If your child has an Interactive-Nature talent you might get prepared for doing lessons outdoors and taking field trips into nature for science, writing, and math.
You will no longer expect the impossible and you won’t feel frustrated and guilty when your child can’t achieve it. You won’t be comparing the “terrible” spelling scores of your child who has a Performing disposition and Body Coordination talent with the “wonderful” scores of your best friend’s child who has a Producing learning disposition and a Word-Language talent. You will be able to translate your child’s learning needs into a shopping list of workable, useful, fun, inspiring materials. You will be effective because you know the person you are teaching.
To be continued…
©2010 by Willis & Hodson/Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC
Mariaemma Willis, M.S. & Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A. are the authors of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten, and A Self-Portrait™ Online Learning Style Profile. They are founders of LearningSuccess™ Institute, offering Life Launch High School, customized programs for homeschool/independent study, and LearningSuccess training for parents and teachers. email@example.com, 805-648-1739
Family Games for Fun and Learning
By Carolyn Forte
The most essential factor in playing a game is fun. No one wants to play a game that isn’t fun. If a game is too complicated or too slow or even too simple for the some of the players, they will probably refuse to play. This can make choosing a family game a little complicated. You need something simple enough for your 3- or 4-year-old, yet interesting and challenging enough so Dad doesn’t fall asleep and your teen doesn’t completely zone out into the nearest hand-held device. Believe it or not, this is not the impossible dream. There really are unplugged games that can fill this bill.
For starters, let me introduce Ruckus from Funstreet, Inc. This card game targets age 7 to adult, but my 3- and 5-year-old grandchildren play it with gusto. The genius of Ruckus lies in its counter-intuitive game rules that give the slowest player the advantage. Typically, older players cannot resist making swift moves, which in Ruckus can work to the advantage of younger, slower players.
The game consists of cards with a number of rather wacky designs in the corners. The object is to collect as many of one design as possible by “stealing” them from other players’ table cards. There are a series of mad grabs (no taking turns here) in each round and the last one to seize a stack gets to keep it. Although it is advertised for 2 to 4 players, it is also fun with 5 to 8 players; they just have to be able to reach across the table to grab the cards they want. It is pandemonium – and lots of laughs. If you try it with a big family, I do recommend that some teen or adult is available to “help” the pre-schooler reach those cards across the table.
The educational value in Ruckus is twofold. First, young children learn to recognize and identify different designs, a valuable pre-reading /visual discrimination skill and second, folks of all ages learn to give and take as the cards fly around the table.
Ruckus is a relatively new game using an unusual format. However, many of the old, traditional card games like Go Fish, Old Maid, Concentration and Rummy are classics because they are so much fun for all ages to play. They have stood the test of time because of their use of strategy, memory power, and skill, yet they are simple enough for most pre-schoolers to understand and play (with a little coaching when needed).
Birdcage Press took advantage of this fact in creating a line of educational games that teach Art Appreciation, History and Science. They are already known for the stunning graphics in their Go Fish For Art series which includes card games for Renaissance, Impressionists, VanGogh and Friends and Modern Artists.
Recently, Birdcage came out with four new games in the Wild Cards series. Baby Animals Around the World is a card game that comes with a little 25-page book about the 18 adorable animals featured on the 36 cards. You can play three different classic card games and learn quite a bit about the animals of five continents plus the polar regions. The suits are labeled by continent or the poles, so you learn geography and science unconsciously as you play. In addition to the continent label, each suit has a numeral (1-6) in the upper left-hand corner. Animals from Africa have a yellow numeral 1 in the corner, animals from Asia have a red 2 in the corner, and so on. Thus, my non-reading grandchildren can collect suits by color or numeral. Older children and adults will enjoy reading the informative paragraph about the animals on each card.
Wild Cards Dinosaurs uses the same format and also includes a little book containing descriptions of each of the dinosaurs. With these cards, you can play “Old Dinosaur,” “Jurassic Memory” and “Go Dig for Dinosaurs.” My 3-year-old granddaughter likes “Jurassic Memory” best because she is such an ace at remembering where things are in the array on the table. This is one area where I have noticed that very young children can often outperform teens and adults.
Don’t ever think that card games such as these are a waste of time for your older children. If they enjoy them, encourage them to play. “Old Dinosaur” may be a simple classic game, but it is a good introduction (or review) to a study of dinosaurs.
Also new from Birdcage is the Battle Cards series which includes Spacecraft, Military Jets and Aircraft. These cards teach kids (and adults) about the history, features and uses of aviation technology. These are fast-paced games based on the classic “War” card game. You can play different versions using the 5 facts on each card. You will learn the history of aviation from pioneer biplanes to the latest super-jumbo jet. At each turn in the game, a different plane may win. One may fly faster while another flies higher or farther. Some reading is required so this series is for age 6 and up unless an older person teams up with a non-reader.
Venturing into ancient history, Birdcage has come out with the Go Fish for Ancient Egypt card game and book. In addition to beautiful photos of ancient artifacts, the cards in this game contain a wealth of vocabulary and information about ancient Egyptian rulers and culture. If you haven’t studied Ancient Egypt yet, this little card game will go a long way toward whetting your children’s appetite for a study in greater depth. If you have learned about ancient Egypt already, playing a game like this from time to time will stimulate further discussion and solidify memories. Please don’t feel that you need to play a game about ancient Egypt only while you are studying it or a game about reptiles only when you are studying river life. Children (and adults) don’t learn and remember in neat little columns like you see in the typical scope and sequence. If you only mention the ancient world when it shows up in the history book or the study guide, your children won’t retain much. Most things have to be revisited numerous times (educational psychologists say at least seven) before they stick in the memory. That’s the beauty of games. You can revisit and review things studied in the past while adding variety to your day.
Another wonderful advantage to playing a wide assortment of games is that we remember things better that have an emotional connection. It has been discovered that the part of the brain that stores memories has a close connection to the part where emotions are housed. When children are excited and having fun, they tend to remember more about that experience. Accordingly, it is important to keep the game time fun. If interest is waning, drop it and do something else. Keep a variety of games on hand and don’t be afraid to change the rules or even invent a totally new way to play. If your children get antsy, add movement to the game by requiring a run around the table when you score a certain number of points, or make a funny face when you pass a card, or make the animal noise when asking for (or finding) an animal pair. If you have forgotten how to be creative, set your children loose. Tell them they can make up new game rules and then try it out that way. If the new format doesn’t work, you don’t have to play those rules again; make up another variation. Anything that is fun and fair is good.
Once your children have become familiar with the information on the cards, you can use them for a guessing game in the car. Have one child pick a card and read some of the information about the subject for the others to guess. If you are using Baby Animals Around the World, name the continent and see if the other players can guess the animal. Or, name the animal and ask the other players to name the continent or region it comes from. You can play similar games with any of the card games mentioned above. When the game cards contain rather obscure information, have the reader continue to give additional clues until someone can guess the subject. You can keep score if you wish, by handing the successful guesser the card; the player with the most cards wins the game. However, we have found that it is just as much fun to play without keeping score.
Above all, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that playing a game is just for fun and diversion. Never feel guilty for playing games when your children could be reading or filling in a workbook. Many times a game can be more productive than a workbook in accomplishing a learning goal because happy learners remember better. C.F.
Carolyn and her husband, Marty, own Excellence In Education Resource Center, in Monrovia (L.A.), the largest homeschool book store and resource center in the state of California offering an extensive array of products and services. Visit their website at www.excellenceineducation.com for much great information.
By Carolyn Forte
Many years ago – it was in the spring of 1973 — I found myself in the agonizing position of having to ignore the pleas of my first-grade students for better instructions as I administered the state-mandated standardized test for math. My students were frustrated by the confusing directions that I was reading to them. I was not allowed to re-word or amplify the directions, only to repeat them over and over. Most of the students in my class knew and understood the material that was supposedly being tested, but due to the unfamiliar wording of the directions, they were confused and a couple of my brightest students became so upset that they cried.
That was my first really negative experience with the “new math.” In the following years, I made it a point to pay close attention to the constant changes California was making to its math curriculum. I began to notice some disturbing trends. California students have been on this “new math” path for over 40 years. That means that more than two generations of students have been confused and frustrated by the math they had in school. The situation is now so bad that two mothers with PhDs in math have complained to me that they couldn’t figure out their child’s elementary school math homework!
For years, I have advised parents to avoid math books printed after 1970 because they all confuse arithmetic with algebra. A very frustrated algebra teacher pointed out to me the result of this madness: his students had developed such illogical and jumbled thought patterns that they couldn’t learn and apply the most basic principles of algebra. Dr. Jane Healy explains in her book, Endangered Minds, how children, when confronted with conceptual tasks beyond their maturity, develop inappropriate brain pathways to solve the task they have been given. However, since these pathways are not correct, they lead eventually to dead ends and the children are blocked from further learning in that area. Remediation is difficult and time consuming. This is happening every day in our math classrooms and alas, since nearly all math curriculums follow the national standards, our homeschool parents are falling into the same trap.
The “new math” was an abject failure from the start, but instead of trashing it, the math textbook planners just went to work to make it even worse. After 40+ years of revision and “reform,” we now have an unintelligible jumble of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus (yes – calculus!), statistics and probability thrown at our children from kindergarten on up. Is it any wonder that American students need tutors to learn math?
This, however, is only the most obvious problem with our math books. I noticed that what educators call the “scope and sequence” was being accelerated, little by little. Math concepts I taught in the first grade forty years ago, are now being thrust on four-year-olds. Children in the 1950’s did not learn to “borrow and carry” or “regroup” until the third grade, but today’s texts push this difficult concept on first graders. While I began to learn multiplication in the fourth grade, children are now being introduced to multiplication in the second grade and sometimes even earlier!
This vastly-accelerated and developmentally-inappropriate math curriculum would be bad enough by itself, but there is more. It has to do with the nature of learning: How our brains receive, store and retrieve information. Much research has gone into this arena and much has been learned, but most of it is studiously ignored by the curriculum developers.
Our brains are marvelous and logical instruments of learning. Every second, a vast amount of information is received through our senses. If our brains did not have a filtering mechanism, we wouldn’t be able to focus on anything, much less make sense of it and choose what to remember. Most of the new things we encounter are discarded automatically, so we can focus on a few things that we decide are important. Some things, like language, we learn almost automatically through repeated exposure, but others require more purposeful focus. The more meaningful a new idea or task is, the more easily and quickly it will be lodged in long -term memory.
Numbers in isolation are not very meaningful, especially to young children. Numerals (the marks we call 1,2,3…) are especially abstract. Some children catch on to the symbols easily, but others take longer to learn them. Most current math books past the kindergarten leve, present math mainly as isolated numerals to manipulate. This was not always the case. The earliest American math textbooks for young children presented math in the context of life. Problems using numerals in isolation were relatively rare. The problems given were meaningful and thus, easier to understand and absorb. Still, children had to move from introduction of a new concept through four levels of memory and understanding before they had that concept in long-term (essentially permanent) memory.
When we first encounter a new bit of information – like a new word – we have had exposure only. Suppose you hear the word anathema in a conversation. You have been introduced to an unfamiliar word. Perhaps you look it up and discover what it means. You are now at the first level of learning. If you don’t encounter anathema again for many months, you will probably forget what it means. But if you hear it again or see it in print soon after that first encounter, you will recognize it and perhaps even remember what it means. Now you are at the second level of learning. In school, a test in which you match words to their meanings or where you have a multiple choice of answers, measures this second level of learning. This level is not very advanced and again, if you do not encounter the word anathema for a long time, you may forget it or confuse it with another word.
In order to advance to the next level of learning, you must be able to recall the word and have some sense of its appropriate usage. Fill-in-the-blank tests are at the third level of learning. At this point, you can do more than just recognize the word when you hear it, you can recall it and maybe even use it cautiously. You are not at the fourth and final level of learning until you understand the word so well that you can easily explain it to someone else and are comfortable using it in conversation. At this point, you are not likely to forget it. You are at the fourth or fluency level, and more or less own the word in your long-term memory.
Whenever you learn something new, you go through the four stages. The speed with which you move to fluency will vary with the difficulty of the task, your prior experiences and (if you are a child) your developmental level. Some tasks, such as learning to turn on a faucet, will move very quickly to level four, but others, such as playing a musical instrument, take a very long time.
Different children learn at varying rates but our school curriculums handle these differences very clumsily. Often, a worried parent will tell me that her child can’t remember something he learned the day before. Once I explain the four levels of learning, she is somewhat relieved but still needs help to shepherd her child through the four levels in each math concept presented in the text. Often, the solution involves setting the text aside and working on one or two concepts for a while, hopefully making them more meaningful to the child. This approach makes many parents nervous. Understandably, they worry that their children will fall even farther behind.
This worry has its roots in a basic misconception about learning math. Instead of worrying about how far or how fast your child is moving through math textbooks, worry about how well your child understands the relatively few concepts presented in them. If you subtract the superfluous advanced math concepts (anything that looks like algebra, calculus, probability or statistics), you will have a sane and workable list of arithmetic concepts, which can be conquered bit by bit, always working toward that fourth level of learning in each concept. Once a child has mastered arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percent, measurement, area and volume), moving into algebra and geometry is easy.
Unfortunately, today’s math texts begin presenting algebra-type math in kindergarten. This is where the confusion starts. Algebra has its own set of rules, terminology and signs that are quite different from those of arithmetic, the only exceptions being the signs for plus (+) and minus (-). Bowing to the requirements of National Standards, the writers have tried to marry the two, which is something like trying to mix oil and water. The inevitable result is confusion, accelerating with each passing year. Faced with a largely unintelligible hodge-podge of facts and algorithms (education jargon for “procedures”), children resort to memorization in place of understanding.
Math is basically logic applied to numbers. It was invented to make life easier, not to give us headaches; but in order to be helpful, math must be understood. For understanding to develop, math must be presented in a logical sequence using practical, familiar examples. Each concept must be understood before another is tackled. Forcing children to memorize the procedure for long division or multiplying fractions, without understanding why it works will lead to a dead end. Yet, this is how nearly everyone learns math today: Little understanding and a whole lot of memorizing.
Memorization without understanding is ultimately useless. Think about it. When you memorize an algorithm you are limited to exactly the same type of problem as the one you memorized. If your next problem is varied just a little bit, you will be lost because you only memorized a procedure and have no understanding of the principles needed to solve the problem. This method ultimately leads to frustration and failure. Whereas it takes a little longer at first to develop an understanding of the principles used in arithmetic (and later algebra, geometry, etc.) and then to build up speed and proficiency, in the end much time and effort will be saved.
On December 28, 1928, a physics teacher named O.A. Nelson was invited to take part in a meeting of high-level educational planners, including Drs. John Dewey and Edward Thorndike. The meeting was chaired by a Dr. Ziegler. Later, Mr. Nelson reported:
“We spent one hour and forty-five minutes discussing the so-called “Modern Math.” At one point I objected because there was too much memory work, and math is reasoning; not memory. Dr. Ziegler turned to me and said, “Nelson, wake up! That is what we want . . . a math that the pupils cannot apply to life situations when they get out of school!” (quoted from The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Iserbyt, page 14)
Mr. Nelson went on to report that the radical changes then proposed were finally introduced in 1952. It took another generation for the changes to really take hold, but by 1970 they were almost universal. That year the “New Math” textbooks were adopted by California and introduced in the school where I was teaching. Since I taught Kindergarten that year, I didn’t have any math book to contend with, but I heard all the other teachers complaining bitterly that the children weren’t getting the new math. Our Principal told them to just plow through the books anyway. They were told to do two pages a day regardless!
Today, most people can’t even remember when math was taught in a logical manner and the “New-Modern Math” seems normal. Everyone is frantically pushing memorization of both facts and algorithms at younger and younger ages. This is understandable, since most math books are more confusing than not. Memorization is the only way to get through it. Algebra, Euclidian and Cartesian geometry, probability, calculus and more, are mixed in a crazy jumble with old-fashioned arithmetic.
To make matters immeasurably worse, this Franken-math is being pushed on younger and younger children, creating a whole generation of math-phobic children. Tortured by developmentally-inappropriate concepts they have no hope of understanding, many either work themselves to a frazzle or give up on math altogether. In order to hide the dismal failure of the new math, new courses were invented: Pre-Algebra and Pre-Calculus, two-year Algebra and Geometry. What we used to learn in four years, now takes at least six. Planners have pretended to make math instruction more “rigorous” by forcing everyone into a so-called college prep math track. Many fall by the wayside as thousands of students are thrown into limbo each year when they can’t pass the required math test to get a high school diploma.
Homeschool families spend huge sums on math programs and tutors, trying to force their children through the absurdities of our continually deteriorating textbooks. They think that their children just aren’t good at math, or don’t work hard enough, or have memory problems. They will go from program to program and system to system, trying to find something that works for their children. The gold ring often eludes them, because, in many cases, they are trying to accomplish an impossible task.
I’m sure you know children who have no problems with math. There will always be those whom I call “math-naturals.” They have a natural affinity for numbers and enjoy figuring out why things work. They will do well in math no matter what you put in front of them. Because their brains are wired for math, they go along with the program and gradually figure out how things work on their own, often without realizing what they are doing. I’m worried, however, about the majority, who aren’t getting it. Besides, why should the “math-naturals” have to work extra hard to learn what should be relatively easy if presented properly?
The promoters of Common Core insist that they are addressing some of the above-mentioned problems. Don’t be deceived. Common Core just muddies the water further. Common Core math is sold to the public with a promise of deeper “understanding.” This is the same old rhetoric we have been hearing for half a century and it is just as false as the old “New Math.”
Finding a usable math series, however, is problematic. Most people are so addicted to workbooks that the very thought of teaching arithmetic without them is terrifying. This need not be so. As stated before, there are just a few arithmetic concepts that must be learned and understood. Taken a step at a time, the task is not daunting and there are guides to help you along. Here is a list of some materials that are useful if you want to teach your child (and yourself) real arithmetic before moving on to algebra and higher math.
Ray’s Arithmetic Series (a complete set of four textbooks — approx. K-8 although the problems in the last book would stretch most college graduates — even with a calculator). This is by far the best math program I have ever seen, but it requires parental involvement. You can’t just hand it to your child. The first two books (approx.. K-4) are for the teacher. There are workbooks available for these two volumes. There is also a parent guide by Ruth Beechick.
The Three R’s and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully Grades 4-8 both by Ruth Beechick. These are parent guidebooks which will give you an idea of what to teach and when. You will need to find your own practice sheets or workbooks.
How To Tutor by Samuel Blumenfeld. This single volume outlines how to teach both reading and math through approximately 4th grade. There are two workbooks that accompany it.
Math-It and Advanced Math-It from the Weimar Institute. This kit includes an excellent guide for learning math facts in a logical manner, several solitaire games for increasing speed, and a parent guide, which lists all the math concepts from kindergarten to grade 8. It also teaches math tricks our great-grandparents knew that make mental math much easier and faster. You need to provide your own practice sheets from online or purchased workbooks. You will need to study a little to understand the great math tricks that we weren’t allowed to learn, but you will find the time well spent!
I realize that using the materials listed above is too radical a move for most, so I have this advice if you want to use a current set of math workbooks:
- Ignore and skip anything that looks like algebra or higher math.
- Consider carefully your child’s learning style and maturity when choosing your math book. Remember that most concepts have been accelerated a full two years. This is not a race! The same concepts will be learned 10 times faster if you wait a few years.
- Make sure your child is learning and understanding each concept even if you have to stop and work on it with outside materials before moving on in your text.
- Trash the book if your child is not able to understand and/or retain the information. Maybe your child needs more hands-on practice with real things, cooking, money, games, etc.
Don’t worry if it takes you two or even three years to get through a math book. If all the concepts presented are learned to memory level 3 or 4, your child will move more quickly through the next book. As each volume only presents 30-50% new material, there isn’t really much to learn each year. You needn’t worry about the algebra concepts you skip either. They can be learned very quickly when they are needed for real algebra. Remember, since most students don’t ever really master many mathematical concepts, the books review all of them ad nauseam year after year.
Most children can learn all of basic arithmetic in two or three years, once they are developmentally ready. The problem we have today is that by the time they are ready to take it all in easily, they are usually too burned out and discouraged. If you go at a reasonable pace and make sure your child understands each concept, s/he will learn it well without undue stress.
If you want an algebra program you can go to without slogging through “pre-algebra” first, I highly recommend the courses offered at www.mathrelief.com. Once you have a good grasp of basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percents, measurements), you can go directly to this algebra course. With brief and clear explanations, it has been used successfully by both advanced and struggling students.
Carolyn Forte is a former elementary school teacher and homeschool mom of two grown daughters. Along with her husband, Martin, she operates Excellence In Education Homeschool Resource Center in Monrovia, (L.A.) CA. Her website is www.excellenceineducation.com; she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copy of a Counterfeit
As soon as you break free of the orbit of received wisdom, you have little trouble figuring out why, in the nature of things, government schools, and those private schools which imitate the government model, have to make most children dumb, allowing only a few to escape the trap.
John Taylor Gatto (A Conspiracy Against Ourselves) www.homeschoolnewslink.com)
By Carolyn Forte, www.excellenceineducation.com
Christian homeschool parents almost universally assert their intention to provide their children with a Christ-centered education. They carefully select books and materials with a Christian worldview and actively seek guidance from Christian homeschool leaders. They worry about “doing it right” and “picking the best curriculum,” as they survey the vast array of choices in catalogues, web sites and curriculum fairs. Many stretch the family budget to buy curriculum packages complete with tests, workbooks and even videos or satellite classes.
They are often aware of the problems in the schools, especially when it comes to worldview issues, but few recognize the inconsistency in copying the system they claim to have rejected. They readily replace secular textbooks with Christian materials, but seldom do they examine critically the methods used. In ignoring the methodology, Christians have allowed the secularists to have the last word, for the methods used in today’s textbooks, whether secular or Christian, actively promote a secular worldview by advancing a humanist/socialist model for child training and learning.
Those who designed our modern school system were largely atheists and social Darwinists whose goal was to create a benevolent paternalistic/totalitarian system of world governance. They included Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford and J.P. Morgan. (See John Taylor Gatto’s exhaustively-researched tome The Underground History of American Education.)
Knowing their ideas would be rejected out of hand by the overwhelming majority of Americans in the late 1800’s, this powerful group devised a system in which God was acknowledged with Bible stories, hymns and references, while the educational methods employed actively militated against the Biblical worldview held by the vast majority of Americans. The public schools actually looked Christian for the first six decades of the 20th century. The texts contained Bible stories and scripture references. Students learned famous hymns and other Christian songs, but gradually, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Engle vs. Vitale in 1962, Biblical references and materials were removed from the nation’s textbooks and with them, all traces of the Judeo-Christian worldview. At this point, Christian textbook companies stepped up production in an admirable attempt to bring the Judeo-Christian ethic and worldview back into textbooks for Christian schools.
However, when Christian publishers designed their books and materials, they copied the methods and traditions of the secularists, which had been the standard for several generations. The age-segregation and the selection of concepts taught in the public schools were — and still are — adopted uncritically by Christian schools and publishers. If the secular schools have fifth- and seventh-graders studying world history, so do the Christian texts. If public schools push “literary analysis,” — traditionally studied in the tenth grade — on fourth-graders, the Christian books soon do likewise. When the public schools invented “pre-algebra” and “pre-calculus,” stretching four years of high school math into six, the Christian publishers quickly followed suit. Soon after the public schools moved algebra (traditionally taken in the 9th or 10th grade) to the eighth grade, the Christian publishers did the same. No one questioned whether pushing very abstract higher math into junior high was a good idea; the goal was to provide a replacement for the godless texts, not to create an educational program that actually followed Biblical or even remotely-sensible developmental principles.
In the last 60 years, arithmetic content in the lower grades has been accelerated a full two years, forcing first-graders to deal with concepts that third graders learned in 1950. To make matters exponentially worse, these same first-graders are also required to perform mathematical tasks once reserved for ninth- through eleventh-graders! “Algebra” and “Statistics, Data Analysis & Probability,” are now mandated from the first grade! This is not even sane, let alone possible from a child-development standpoint. Yet, Christian publishers blindly follow this absurd tack toward mathematical oblivion. A more perfect plan to destroy all interest in math in most children is hard to imagine. In Endangered Minds, Jane Healy, Ph.D., reveals brain research that shows how young children develop inappropriate brain pathways when given tasks for which they are developmentally unprepared. The result is that they often arrive at a dead end, greatly impeding, if not totally blocking, further learning in that area.
Although most people recognize that math teaching has changed over the years, few realize that a much more subtle transition has been at work for a hundred years in all subjects. Memorization of facts has replaced thoughtful reasoning. Mindless busy work and largely fruitless drill has replaced logic, extensive reading of complex material, reflection, discussion and debate. Something called “comprehension” has replaced understanding. History texts which race through the centuries at breakneck speed, barely touching on the most salient events and personalities, have replaced the real, living books that students over age 10 or 11 used to read. All this was done while American parents looked on, passively trusting the professionals to know what was best for their children.
No doubt, being steeped from childhood in the methods and design of the public schools, the Christian publishers never thought to question the way “education” was scheduled (scope and sequence) or how it was delivered. They probably thought that simply putting God back in the books would provide an adequate fix. People gravitate to that which they are used to, even if it is unpleasant, unproductive, and even nonsensical. It takes some research into the origins of the current public school model to find the cleverly-disguised, yet very effective, methods designed to dumb us down and remove our ability to think logically and reason Biblically.
Fortunately, a number of brilliant authors have taken the trouble to research the birth and development of American public schools and connect the dots for us, focusing a searchlight on that which was intended to be too obscure for the average citizen to discover. Samuel Blumenfeld’s heavily documented NEA- The Trojan Horse in American Education, takes us back to the 1830’s and the early push to impose a Prussian-style school system on the most literate country in the world. His research puts the lie to the idea that America ever had a need for government schools.
John Taylor Gatto, in his Underground History of Education exposes the Prussian connection further as German-trained or -influenced leaders undertook to remake America’s schools between 1890 and 1915. This is when the high school was born, in an effort to artificially extend childhood an extra four years. Kindergarten and age-graded classes were imported from Prussia along with “scientific” systems of training and management. No part of these changes was Biblically based or intended to promote a highly-educated populace. The opposite is true. Our public schools were literally created to feed dumbed-down, complacent workers, trained to follow orders uncritically and to endure “boring, repetitive tasks for long periods of time,” (Toeffler: The Third Wave) to the Industrial Revolution. According to New York State Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto in his essay Against School, “H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim . . . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States . . . and that is its aim everywhere else.”
In 1928 a physics teacher named O.A. Nelson was invited to a private meeting of high-level education planners, which included Dr. John Dewey and Dr. Edward Thorndike of Columbia University, as well as Dr. Ziegler, Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is what he reported:
“The sole work of the group was to destroy our schools! We spent one hour and forty-five minutes discussing the so-called “Modern Math.” At one point I objected because there was too much memory work, and math is reasoning; not memory. Dr. Ziegler turned to me and said, “Nelson, wake up! That is what we want . . . a math that the pupils cannot apply to life situations when they get out of school!” (Charlotte Iserbyt: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America pp.14-15) Yet today, Christian leaders uncritically accept all of the methods introduced by these utopian secular humanists.
So, what are these methods, imported to America barely 100 years ago, with the intention to remake America and create a godless socialist utopia? John Taylor Gatto’s essay, The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, published in his first book, Dumbing Us Down, provides a good introduction. He shows how every school teacher — outside of an extreme alternative school — teaches children that skill in the game of schooling — not learning — is the path to success. Although some of the “lessons” listed are specific to schools, homeschools that use contemporary curriculum materials and methods, fall victim to many of the same problems. In adopting the methods of the school, even homeschooling families can unwittingly teach many, if not most, of Gatto’s seven lessons:
- Confusion: Too many unconnected facts to “learn” while the deeper meaning of history, science, etc. is given short shrift.
- Class Position: Being locked into a grade level, regardless of ability.
- Indifference: Don’t get too excited about what you are doing, because you will soon have to switch to something else.
- Emotional Dependency: This is normal in a family — not usually a problem for home school families.
- Intellectual Dependency: You need a teacher/curriculum to learn (a HUGE problem for many homeschoolers)
- Provisional Self-Esteem: You’re only worth something if you’re a “good student.”
- One Can’t Hide: There is no privacy. (Usually not a problem in a home setting.)
These are the hidden lessons of modern schooling, but there are more visible methods, with which we are all familiar, that both promote and expand the hidden lessons. None of the great thinkers who helped to found America had what we would think of today as a formal education. Even what they called “college” would be totally foreign to us, although it was far more intellectually rigorous. Somehow, these men designed a radically new system of government that has stood the test of time, without ever having been exposed to:
- Multiple-choice tests
- Fill-in-the-blank tests
- Age-graded text books
- Standardized national tests
- Inane questions at the end of the chapter
- Study guides
- 13 years of formal schooling before college or beginning work
- Scientifically sequenced (programmed) learning
- Rigid time schedules (what must be learned at a specific age)
- Grades, labels and Carnegie Credits
- Inflexible curriculum designed to teach a little bit of everything, seldom with any depth and usually useless and/or irrelevant in a practical sense
None of these is mandated by Biblical principles and most of the above violate God’s principle of individuality. They actively suppress divergent thinking, one of the hallmarks of genius. Each child is created in the image of God as a distinct and unique human being, with his own set of talents, interests, passions, learning styles and developmental schedules. This is the opposite of the philosophy of the Social Darwinists who invented a system, which would “manufacture children like nails.”
Most early homeschoolers, including this author, did not have access to formal curriculum materials. This turned out to be a great blessing in disguise. We improvised and creatively sought ways to provide our children with a good education. These children, now adults, are modern proof that a giant stack of text and workbooks is neither necessary nor desirable. It occurred to me many years ago that Abraham Lincoln never filled in a single workbook page. In fact, he had less than a year of formal schooling. Benjamin Franklin had about three years. How did these brilliant men learn so much without school? The answer is that they knew how to learn and were able to teach themselves or find appropriate mentors.
As it happened, my children didn’t much care for the few workbooks available to us, so I found other ways to reinforce learning. We discussed the books they read and used math in daily life. We played games, cooked and created businesses instead of drilling math facts. We looked for real-life opportunities to learn, which included:
- Create many small businesses
- Volunteer in multiple situations
- Actively explore our region
- Find a pen pal
- Enter contests
- Get involved in different sports, clubs and activities
- Develop many skills and hobbies
- Take classes when available, appropriate and affordable
- Learn musical instruments/join a choir
- Read, ponder and discuss
The result of this approach was a busy, happy and amazingly productive homeschool experience and daughters who know they can learn anything they put their minds to (with or without a teacher). Like the Colfax family, who sent three sons to Harvard, we made no attempt to copy the school system. All of the so-called “requirements” are highly flexible. What is required, is that your child be prepared to take the next step in life. If calculus is vital to that next step, then he had better study math through calculus. However, if algebra II is never going to be needed, why waste time learning something that will be forgotten almost as soon as the last final exam is completed? Most colleges will accept students with no more than high school algebra! In fact, one doesn’t even need a high school diploma or the equivalent to go to most colleges. Colleges across America are falling all over themselves to recruit homeschoolers, many of whom have not followed any formal “requirements.”
A truly educated person must have the skills to critically evaluate (with research if necessary) whatever s/he encounters. This takes more than skill in reading, writing, math and a base of common knowledge. It takes wisdom and discernment. Whatever the many goals of our public schools may be, there is little evidence that the acquisition of wisdom is among them, especially since God and the Bible are banished from the schools. However well-meaning the Christian publishers may be, by using the methods of the Social Darwinists, they consume vast amounts of our children’s time in trivia and busy work that will yield scant fruit socially, morally or academically.
Although valuable wisdom can be gained from books, especially the Bible, children generally need guidance and a model. Tests, quizzes, study guides and questions at the end of the chapter are unlikely to provide this. These materials typically waste time that could be put to more productive use. The minor details of any book (the Bible excepted) are not usually of life-altering import. It is the issues presented and the character of the subjects portrayed that provide fruitful topics for exploration. Parents who want to promote a strong Biblical character must be actively involved in discussions prompted by the issues students encounter in their reading. It is not necessary to read every book your child reads in order to discuss the books with him. Although a short summary of most books is readily available online, even this is not necessary. Simply begin by asking your child to tell you about the book:
“Tell me the story of the book.”
“Where/When did it happen or is it fantasy?”
“What character or event impressed or interested you the most and why?”
“What do you think was that person’s most striking or important trait or contribution?”
“Did you approve of that character’s actions?” “Why or why not?”
“What lesson did you learn from the book?”
“Would you recommend this book to your friends?” “Why or why not?”
There are many other questions you can use to get a discussion started. Learning from a book is quite different from learning about a book. Most so-called study guides or quizzes are simply about remembering details. That is busy work with little, if any, educational value. If you can’t take the time to discuss a book, ask your student to write about the book. Young students can relate something of the story, but by age 11 or 12, they should be starting to focus on an important theme, character or event that seemed significant. Remember, developing your child’s character takes your input. Children can be swayed to un-Biblical worldviews by books. There are subtle messages in every book, which convey the authors’ worldviews. Where adults will simply see a cute story, children make all sorts of inferences regarding the relationships and behavior portrayed by the characters. Young children are concrete thinkers and will often take a fantasy story at face value, confusing reality and fantasy. Without guidance, they may come to admire character traits we wouldn’t approve. You can avoid that by regular and ongoing discussions on every possible topic.
Adults, as well as children, absorb information bit by bit from many sources. Schools were not designed to expose children to a wide variety of literature. The constant inane questions to “check comprehension” slow down the reader and use much valuable time that would be more productive if used for reading and reflecting. The constant annoyance of writing out answers to questions can also serve as a deterrent to reading. If a student thinks that he must answer a list of questions for every book read, he may either avoid reading or skim the books looking only for the answers. Thus, far from instilling a love of learning, we are sending this student in the opposite direction, as he develops avoidance strategies.
You may have noticed that a great deal of the Bible is concerned with history. This is no accident. Over and over, God admonishes His people to remember their history and the great things God did for them. He even wanted them to remember the names of all their ancestors all the way back to Adam! Most American Christians, however, can’t place Martin Luther in the correct century. That is, if they even know who he was! This is because the Social Darwinists developed a history “program” that was so boring and irrelevant that few will go near anything that sounds like history for the rest of their lives. Thus history has been forgotten, along with its lessons. People who do not understand the lessons of history are easily led, usually to their doom. This is a universal truth; Americans are not exempt.
Although the Christian curriculum publishers have done an admirable job in improving on the secular texts by giving a more complete and thus, more interesting history, they have retained the methods of the Social Darwinists by teaching enormous chunks of history in short time periods and by including lots of questions (mostly busy-work) and many tests and quizzes. History may be quizzed for fun, but to learn the lessons of history, discussion with a more mature mentor is mandatory.
I can hear the howls of protest already! It is very likely that you don’t know much more history than your children. I was there once. Nineteen years of “education” left me with a very fuzzy picture of history. You are older and wiser than your children, so learn it along with them and search out the answers to their questions. Above all, the history you give your children must be riveting! History is very, very exciting. It’s not hard to find good books that contain you-can’t-put-it-down stories from history. However, these are never textbooks. Stay far away from textbooks if you want your child to love history and learn its lessons. Also, slow down. History must be digested. Don’t ever try to cover 6000 years of human history in one year (World History). That is like trying to “learn” U.S. Geography by boarding an airplane in New York and flying to L.A., looking at the terrain all the way. You will notice, and even remember, quite a lot, but you won’t really have much understanding of U.S. geography.
History must be learned piece by piece, like putting together a puzzle. Each story has a lesson and several stories put together have a larger lesson. When many, many stories are learned, the lessons (understanding) get bigger and bigger. You cannot “teach” your children all the lessons of history; they must continue to learn for their whole lives. If you help your children love history, and teach them that history has much wisdom and many useful lessons to teach, they will continue to learn on their own, finding answers to many of the great questions of life.
Much of the Social Darwinist’s plan involves endless busy-work, with little thinking required, or even allowed. Educational rhetoric notwithstanding, creativity is definitely not encouraged. Even in the study of English composition, the rules are designed to stifle expression:
- 5 paragraph essays (why 5?)
- Rigid formula for a paragraph (try to find one in a real book that has a topic sentence, three supporting sentences and a conclusion)
Gradually, all creative and individualistic avenues of expression have been eliminated from our public schools. Art, music and drama still lurk on the fringes of the Christian curriculum, but they are considered to be frills, hardly necessary or important. By focusing almost exclusively on the so-called academic subjects, by disconnecting science from art, and math from music, American educrats have created a dull, soulless and almost useless educational experience. By making every topic of study dependent on measurable “benchmarks” of learning, they have squeezed the life out of our schools and drained the vital energy necessary for developing true understanding and wisdom out of our students.
Some homeschool veterans have taken great pains to design curriculum materials that are more suitable for learning than the textbook model. They are all good for some children and they are all unsuitable for some children. Sadly, there are also many that copy heavily from the secular model, providing large doses of busy work. There is no perfect formula, no style or set of materials that is suited to everyone. If you pick a creative program, remember that it still must be modified to fit your child and your family — not the other way around. To put it another way, the curriculum is your slave; do not enslave your child (or yourself) to the curriculum. Just because the author of the homeschool program liked a particular list of books, does not make those the best or most educational books for your children. It is fine to look to a more experienced homeschool mom or dad for advice, but always remember that your children are unique. Always feel free to alter, delete or rearrange the parts of any program.
Use discretion when choosing and using materials. If your children balk at a particular book or activity, consider prayerfully whether it is truly the best way to proceed. There are many lists of recommended classics, from ancient to modern. Feel free to roam through them with abandon. There are many “classics” that I personally loathe and would not recommend to anyone, yet others actually love. Each person has different tastes, loves and interests. A book that is boring or repulsive to me, can speak to others. Therefore, if your child hates a book you have assigned, take a look at his learning style and pick another book that is better suited to him. There are thousands of great books to choose from, so discarding one will hardly harm his education.
Start to de-school yourself and learn what you missed. As you become more enthusiastic about learning, your children will learn from your example. Stop worrying about schedules and “keeping up.” You are merely trying to keep up with a train to nowhere! Abandon that fruitless track and learn to explore and examine, create and investigate anything interesting that comes your way. Become aware of the learning opportunities all around you and begin to take advantage of them. Remember that most of our ancestors were prepared for college or career by age 14! It doesn’t really take very long to learn to read, write and calculate well enough to survive as a competent adult.
The time wasted plodding through a modern 13-year curriculum is truly appalling. Eliminate the busy work and your children will have time to create a business, study a passion in depth, become expert at something, invent a new process, write a novel, build a generator, develop a talent, explore a career.
Children who are allowed to take responsibility can do amazing things. I know a homeschooled man who was a licensed locksmith at age 12 and a very competent carpenter by 14. My daughters could run a bookstore by age 12. On one occasion, the owner was asked for a certain book. She told the customer to ask my daughter, because Tenaya knew the store better than the owner! Children become far more competent and responsible when given the opportunity to do real things. Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore researched the most successful homeschool methods and developed The Moore Formula, as a practical application of their findings. It is explained in their book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook. For further help and encouragement, Anthony Esolen’s new book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, offers amazing insights into childhood. We consider it a “must read” for every parent. Esolen, an English professor, gleans wisdom from great literature (including the Bible) as he takes the reader on a tour of the perils confronting modern children.
Finally, take great care in choosing the educational model you follow for your children. Examine the methods, regardless of the labels used to dress up the program. For example, labeling a program as “classical” is a current fad. Many authors have written “classical” curriculum materials. They don’t all agree on what constitutes a “classical education” and just because a program or curriculum carries an attractive title, does not mean it is good for your children. You must get past the rhetoric and look critically at the actual methods and materials used to decide if it is truly “classical” or just a progressive pig dressed up with lipstick and cloaked with Christian rhetoric. If the materials and the methodology pass, you must also decide whether it is suitable for your unique children or whether it can be made suitable by tweaking it here and there.
Above all, keep learning yourself. Parents are busy and homeschooling parents are often exhausted, but you can learn with your children by playing audio books in the car and having family game, movie, or read-aloud nights. Be sure to build into your schedule plenty of time for fun and relaxing activities. Remember that God created music and art, as well as math and science. The homeschool experience should be a happy one that fosters a love for learning in a relaxed atmosphere, free of arbitrary mandates.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 ♦
Homeschooling the Late Bloomer
by Carolyn Forte
More than thirty years ago, as a college student, I worked as an aide at Carl Harvey School for the Orthopedically Handicapped in Orange County, California. During two summers working with severely handicapped children, I learned that “experts” can help and advise, but that the very best results come only with the efforts of dedicated parents who are willing to spend limitless hours with their handicapped children. Conversely, I learned that any parent who gives a school or therapist all the responsibility for educating or training his child, physically or mentally, had better seriously lower his expectations. One would think that this kind of information was a given for most homeschoolers. Most of us are homeschooling at least in part because we have rejected the “experts” and decided that we can do a better job ourselves. It is clear, however, to anyone watching the homeschool movement today that the “experts” are moving back in and therein lies the danger.
The definitions and types of handicaps have exploded since the 1960’s. Where once we thought of a child who was deaf, blind or physically handicapped as disabled, we now have a disability to fit almost everyone and a host of “experts” to match. This proliferation of “disabilities” makes a handsome addition to the GNP but it leaves a lot of pain and agony in its wake.
As a classroom teacher in the 1970’s, I had my share of so called “learning disabled” children in my classes. Without exception, the district offered no real help except to recommend drugs. As far as I could see, drugs only created “drugged” children, more manageable, but heartbreaking. Most of these were just normal children in an inappropriate setting. I don’t know what causes all the “LD’s” we are seeing today. It could be allergies, vaccines, TV, preschool, food additives, sugar, drugs, a lack of fresh air and appropriate exercise, a whole host of unknowns, or maybe it is a mirage—a phantom “ailment” that would be instantly cured by removing the irritant, school. At any rate, after 14 years of homeschooling and seven years as an ISP principal, I am more sure than ever that the best help for children with problems will come from a devoted, caring parent. Experts may be cautiously consulted, but seldom will real help of any kind, come from a public school district. More and more, I fear that many “experts” are our children’s worst enemies. Experts give us schedules of normalcy. Every child is measured from birth against a series of “norms”. From birth weight to the SAT, our children are compared to a phantom “norm” child. Those who come tolerably close are left alone. Those who stray too far from the mid line are tested, remediated, medicated and otherwise labeled. Parents become frantic in their search for a “cure” for what may be entirely within the normal range for the human race, although outside the limits set be the “experts”.
When children fail to fit within the limits set by the educational elite, they are called “learning disables” or LD. There is now a whole fistful of noxious LD labels one or more of which can be easily attached to any child (or adult) at all. Americans have so eagerly embraced learning disabilities that they will happily attach them to luminaries like Edison and Einstein. Instead of tossing the labels as clearly absurd, they validate them!
It took a long time and much study and observation, but I have become convinced that in the vast majority of cases, “learning disabilities” are more in the mind of the beholder than in the object of the labeling. If we could relax and allow our children to grow naturally instead of worrying about meeting the artificial timelines made up in ivory towers by people who have a great deal to gain by creating disabilities to treat, we could save ourselves and our children a great deal of pain, anxiety and frustration.
Our younger daughter was hyperactive from conception. She thumped and bumped around inside me, pushing and shoving and generally being a pain in the ribs. I should have known she would be a black belt one day. As an infant she was everywhere at once. Changing her was like trying to diaper a tornado. She climbed everything in sight. Restaurants were out of the question. In the market, I resorted to tying her shoelaces together to keep her in the seat of the cart. At 13 months, she was climbing eight-foot playground ladders and going down the slides alone. I stood underneath but she never fell. She was strong and coordinated but she had to move all the time. I tried to give her plenty of opportunity to work off her overabundance of energy; we even had a little indoor gym and Wonder Horse. Tylene seldom rode sitting; she preferred to bounce for all she was worth while standing in the saddle. Being thrown occasionally didn’t bother her a bit.
Tylene could sing a tune perfectly in pitch when she was less than a year old. At three, she started playing the piano by ear, plunking out difficult, chromatic melodies she had heard me sing. She was clearly gifted musically and athletically, but at six, she could not identify most letters or associate any of them with sounds. If she had been tested by an “expert”, I am certain we would have been informed that she had “auditory processing” problems and couldn’t learn to read using phonics. In light of her musical processing skills, it would be absurd to say there was something wring with the way her brain “processed” sounds, however, it is entirely reasonable to say that she had not matured sufficiently to easily connect sounds and symbols on a printed page. Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore call the point at which children are mature enough to easily learn to read the Integrated Maturity Level or IML. Tylene had clearly not reached her IML at six.
Tylene also had difficulty in other academic areas. She could not copy from a board or a book. She could trace large letters but her hand-eye coordination was poor. When she could not learn to read we did not worry at first. Her eyesight was normal, her hearing was obviously exceptional. Her older sister hadn’t read until age eight, so we waited for the time when Tylene would start to catch on. However, at eight, she still didn’t know the whole alphabet, let alone associate the letters with sounds. She really wanted to read, and was embarrassed that she could not. No matter what we did, she just could not get it. We prayed, researched, read, asked friends with late bloomers for their ideas, all seemingly to no avail.
Reading wasn’t the only difficult subject. Tylene was slow to grasp math too. Writing was torture and memorizing scripture was very difficult for her. This last was especially hard on her as she loved her AWANA club and was determined to complete every handbook, which meant a lot of Bible memorization. Did I mention she was also strong willed. When she decided to do something, nothing would deter her. She would work and work and work through tears, frustration and anger to achieve her goal. However, even this level of determination did not help her to read – yet.
Eventually, I learned that she seemed to be on an academic schedule that was approximately two years behind her older sister (putting her four years behind Tenaya academically). If Tenaya learned it at eight, Tylene learned it at about age ten. She finally began reading when she was 10 ½. It happened literally overnight, just as Dr. Moore had predicted. We had no formal reading program; she had just been slowly learning the letter sounds. She could recognize the sounds by age 10, but connecting them into words did not happen until suddenly one day she discovered that she could do it. From then on, she simply read until she caught up with her “grade level” when she was about 16. Writing was also slow to come. She did not write much at all until she was 13. Her manuscript was pretty sloppy until at 15 she decided to take up calligraphy. She never did adopt cursive writing for more than her signature, but her manuscript is beautiful and easy to read.
Where is this very late bloomer now? At age 20, she is enjoying her second year of college with a major in Theology. The girl with poor hand-eye coordination as a child is now an accomplished artist who creates beautiful, handmade greeting cards for her friends and family. She has been a karate instructor since achieving her black belt at 16. She is an intern for a church high school youth group. Does it matter now, that she didn’t read until she was ten? Should I have taken her to a host of experts to treat her for dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ODD, etc.? I thank God I did not. I knew that she would be crippled by the system so I kept her out of it. We were blessed to meet Dr. and Mrs. Moore early in our homeschooling adventure. Dr. Moore said that things would “click” normally between the ages of 8 and 12. Tylene was ahead of schedule at 10 1/12!
The “experts” with their rigid schedules, forcing everyone to read and count at six, have a great scheme going. By cutting as much as six years out of the normal developmental schedule, they guarantee a livelihood for themselves and physical, psychological, and financial pain for thousands of families. If you want to know what orthodox research has to say about learning and child development, read Better Late than Early or School Can Wait by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
As a former classroom teacher, it was not easy for me to accept the concepts of delayed academics and “unschooling” in general. I had to learn over time that the rigid learning schedules I was used to were unnecessary and perhaps even harmful. Both of our daughters learned to read easily (without any formal lessons or methods) once they were ready. So, what did we do all those years before Tylene could read at her “grade level”? We lived life and played games. I read to them for hours. The girls were always with me, helping great-grandma, running errands for grandma, working at church and inventing businesses. They were involved in an integrated (handicapped and non-handicapped) vaulting club. Vaulting is the art and sport of gymnastics on horseback. Although the girls really enjoyed it as a sport, I saw a form of therapy for Tylene. It used up a lot of energy and developed large motor coordination, which is a precursor to fine motor coordination. As a bonus, we all got to work with children and adults with a variety of handicaps, from cerebral palsy to autism.
Tylene loved all sports and at 13 took up karate. This brought on a huge burst in academic progress. Her writing and spelling improved dramatically and her ability to concentrate on school subjects gradually improved. By the time she was sixteen, she began spending five to eight hours a day at her dojo, preparing for her black belt test. After earning her black belt, she became an instructor, continuing to learn more as she shared her expertise with younger students. At 17, her reading ability had improved to the point where she could handle a full academic load with very little help. It was about this time that we discovered that Tylene had a problem with her eye muscles, which prevented her from sustaining a focus. Although she has 20/15 vision, she now uses reading glasses, which reduce the strain of reading. When she has a break in her school schedule, she will get vision therapy, which should help even more.
We are thankful that we had the opportunity to homeschool and keep Tylene away from all the experts. She had a friend at church who had similar problems except that the friend, whom I will call Ann, went to school. Ann was run through a series of special ed classes and various private therapies. She still cannot read although in all other respects, she is a normal teenager with normal intelligence. She was crippled by the system and now refuses to even attempt to read. Ann is one of thousands who have been irreparably damaged by “experts” who have convinced parents that they know best.
Children have unique developmental schedules. They all follow a rough pattern, but the timetables vary tremendously. Learning styles make a difference too but even they can be overrated. I have heard the most absurd statements from people who have had their children tested by experts. Many mothers have told me that their children have “auditory processing” problems and so cannot learn phonics. Think about that statement. If a child cannot hear (process) sounds, he cannot learn to talk normally, yet so-called experts are claiming that children with normal speech and hearing cannot “process” sounds. Tylene would have been given that diagnosis before she learned to read. She could not “process” the letter sounds into words until she was 10-1/2. Phonics was not the problem. The reading method was not the problem. In fact, there was really no problem except in the minds of those who expect all six-year-olds to read. When Tylene was mature enough to read, she read. When she was ready to write, she developed beautiful, easy- to-read manuscript. She does not use cursive except for her signature, the only time cursive is ever needed today.
Understanding learning styles and learning “differences” is important. Taking a child’s strengths and weaknesses into account is vital. You can use the strong areas to pull along the weaker ones. Tylene’s strengths in music and sports helped her in learning other subjects. By leaning on her strengths, we could work on her weaknesses. She could learn anything in a snap that was put to music, so we looked for audiotapes. Even though her hand-eye coordination was poor, she was very creative and loved arts and crafts. Therefore, I encouraged all types of art and sent her to classes, which she loved. Eventually, her abilities caught up with her creativity. She won numerous blue ribbons at the LA County Fair for her creations. She became an accomplished artist and calligrapher.
I know how hard it is to wait for things to happen. It is so tempting to try to “keep up” with that mythical “grade level”. Don’t misunderstand; Tenaya and Tylene were constantly learning. We did not sit back, stare at the tube and wait until everything “clicked”. We were busy with all kinds of projects from making and selling Easter candy to volunteering in a Christian bookstore. All the projects became our “curriculum”. It was relatively easy to adapt our projects to the girls’ needs and use them to learn important skills. What we did seldom looked like “school” but was very productive in the long run.
A child who learns on a different schedule requires a lot of patience and creativity. Knowing other parents in the same situation helps a lot. I was blessed to know several other homeschool moms with late learners. We shared ideas at our weekly park days and field trips. Our children therefore knew other “late learners” and knew that they were no the only children who did not read early. I cannot imagine going through it totally alone. This is why I consider park days so important both for children and for parents. We all need to know that others share similar problems. We need to pass around ideas and give each other support. There are many kinds of learning “differences” with many different causes and outcomes. The more we share, research and reassure each other the better off all our children will be and the less likely we will be tempted to entrust our children to “experts”. CF 2006 Modern Media