Monthly Archives: April 2017

When to Push

I try to remember the first time I thought that my kids might have learning issues. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the light bulb went off.

That’s the beauty of homeschooling. You figure out how your kids learn and you keep moving forward. At first it was hard for me because I’m a rule follower. If the instructions say to do it a certain way I tend to believe that’s how it must be done. I have figured out that instruction manuals are not always right.

I’m guessing it was around seven or eight years ago that it dawned on me that my teaching wasn’t the problem.  Well, I should say it wasn’t the only problem.

 

I’m a paper and pencil girl. I love to write. I think in words; short and sweet words, or long and lively ones. I learned to read before entering kindergarten. I any free time I had reading throughout my growing up years. I loved to practice handwriting for fun. Math and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, though. 

Reading made all of my children cry. All of them. It caused them great anxiety. For two of my kids writing is possible but laborious and not quite worth the amount of effort they have to put in. 

Dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia. We’ve got it all.

So how do you teach when learning is really, really hard? How do you know when to push, and when to back off?

First, observe how your child learns.

I was so surprised that my second daughter actually finds it distracting to be read aloud to, especially if she doesn’t have something to do with her hands. Her younger brother is the same way. We do read aloud with play dough, drawing books, and Legos. That’s also where audiobooks come in handy. They can do other things, and so can I, while listening to great books.

Another miracle came in the form of YouTube. There is total trash to be had there, for sure, but there are also some awesome learning channels. Spencer, my third child, takes in information best from videos or hands on learning. Then he dictates information back to me in a journal because writing is his mortal enemy. (We’re working on keyboarding and speech to text but this is a great way for me to see what info he’s taking in.)

If a certain curriculum that you bought because it was the best, or worked really well for someone else, doesn’t work for you DON’T USE IT. Or feel free to modify so that it does work for you. Ask your child how they think they could learn this thing.

Second, observe what your child is curious about.

 

My boy always has a frog or a lizard somewhere.

 

For kids with learning disabilities passion about a subject will always drive them over the speed bumps. It’s worth doing the hard thing if there’s a reward at the end. Plus, research shows that interest led learning is the way to go for children who learn differently.  My kids have taught themselves knitting, sculpting, chemistry, herbology, herpetoculture, drawing, cake decorating, ukulele…I could go on and on. I imagine that this goes for kids who don’t have learning issues, too. 

Don’t we all learn best when we’re excited about a subject?

Find what they’re interested and allow them to pursue it. Start with books at the library then try and find real life resources in your community. YouTube is an excellent source for this kind of stuff as well.

Build on their interests to teach them other subjects. Geography is not fun when you’re just memorizing things. However, when you’re learning where your favorite scientist or composer lived it suddenly becomes interesting. I tend to teach grammar through editing but we don’t get bogged down in too many details. If we’re feeling curious Purdue has an awesome website for that.

Thirdly, don’t feel sorry for them.

Frankly, this one was hard for me in the beginning. I still struggle with it a little now. Feeling sorry for kids who struggle with learning won’t do them any good. In fact, I look back I can see where I made some mistakes by parenting through guilt rather than compassion. There were times when I inadvertently gave my kids the impression that they were not capable of something hard. Then I had to do the  work of undoing that message.

The best thing I ever did was stumble upon Marianne Sunderland’s site Homeschooling with Dyslexia. I read a post about struggling versus stubbornness and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Knowing I was not alone, that I was not the only person in the world who had multiple children with learning challenges gave me courage. I re-evaluated how we had been doing school and I changed some things.

I’m still learning about education with my number 3 and 4 kids. I tease mine all the time about how it would be much easier for me if all their learning differences were the same. I do know now that to prepare them for the world I’ve got to teach them to work around their learning issues. We are realistic about what’s difficult but choose to focus on their strengths.

When my children were really little I used to say, “When things are hard we just try harder.” I DO NOT say that any more, partly because of this article. I have no understanding of how hard it is to learn to read and write with their issuesNow I ask them how we can work around it, what I can do to help. By allowing them to part of the solution I give their power back which helps negate the learning disability’s power in their lives. 

There are sometimes, though, that we take breaks from certain subjects. I do think that the brain needs time to process information. We don’t do spelling every day because 15-20 minutes three days a week is a lot of spelling for someone with dyslexia.  I’m using game schooling for math because paper and pencil just don’t work for Spencer.

To tell you the truth I quit doing spelling with my oldest two kids when they were in middle school. I didn’t know about All About Spelling back then, which is the best thing ever in my opinion. Every week the spelling list left them defeated because no matter how much time they spent trying to memorize their words it just didn’t happen.

If frustration levels are too high learning isn’t going to take place anyway.

Once we took the source of frustration away their spelling improved on its own. Texting, keyboarding, and speech to text apps were a huge part of that advancement. Some things you figure out along the way.

Asking my kids to explain to me what they’re learning about helps them, too. It’s called multimodal learning. Taking in information is important but so is relaying knowledge. 

Legos are an essential part of our homeschool.

 

Ultimately, figuring out when to push and when not to is about knowing your child.

I have to trust my kids when they say, “I cannot do this right now, Mom.” This requires me to take a step back from shoulds and have-to’s. I have to evaluate WHY I feel it’s important they learn this thing I’m pushing on them. Occasionally I’ve caught myself pushing because  I want to impress people with our homeschool powers.  I may have to remind myself (again) that education is not an emergency.

I don’t believe tears should ever be part of learning.*

I’ve learned that if I’m always pushing my kid they don’t learn to enjoy pushing themselves. I want them to enjoy learning for the pure joy of it, not because they have to. I’ve found thinking of myself as a guide helps. I’m not here to force them to learn things they don’t want to. Rather, I’m here to guide them toward the things they’re interested in.

Allowing my kids to be in control of what they learn has made them brave. They’re more willing to take risks knowing that ‘passing’ a class isn’t the goal. Although my second born loves to get A’s and complete assignments and make sure her grades are recorded. Still, she knows that’s not the most important thing in life, she knows that’s not what’s expected.

I think my kids are the biggest, best Brave Misfits ever.

I’m amazed that when I quit pushing they began to excel in certain areas. Sometimes I still have to nudge them along, and sometimes I have to say, “This is really important to me.” and we figure it out together. Overall, though, I’ve quit pushing. I’ve quit forcing, and we rarely have tears. I’m good with that.

 

Are there any areas you’re struggling with? Do you find it hard to know when to push and when not to?

 

*I am talking pre-school to third grade here. Sometimes as kids get older tears may be part of the process of finishing a project or a assignment. Tears may happen when you put down boundaries with them. I do not believe, though, that tears should be part of acquiring new information. That part should be fun and if it’s not I do think it’s important to take a step back and figure out the why of the tears.

Community Matters

A couple of days a month I drive to a house in a rougher section of town. I have friends who meet me there, some I know and some  are strangers to me.  We have coffee together, maybe share a meal . Sometimes we do art together. Sometimes my friends just sleep on couches  or the floor. Sometimes my friends need fresh clothes and a toothbrush. Sometimes my friends need hugs.

My friends have worked the streets. They may be addicted to drugs, or alcohol. They may be experiencing homelessness.

I volunteer with an organization called Natalie’s Sisters, a ministry devoted to showing the love of Christ to women who have been sexually exploited, either on the streets or in clubs. The Natalie’s Sisters drop-in center gives women a respite, a place to go  where they are safe and free from judgement. Food and clothing are available, as are other services to  help them.

My first experience with the group was meal drop off. I rode with two other women and a police officer to deliver meals to women on the street.

Poverty was not new to me and I knew about sex trafficking.

I had never seen it in action, though. I had never seen women getting into a car  and driving off to conduct their business. I had never seen a person so strung out on heroin that they could barely form sentences. I had never seen women so thankful to be treated with dignity.

When I came home, after that first night, to my warm house and full pantry and healthy children I cried. Hot, angry tears left my cheeks wet. It’s so confusing that a different world is only a few miles from my house. Suddenly everywhere seemed dark and dangerous. I wondered what happened in my own neighborhood that I didn’t know about.

I wondered how I can have so much while others have so little. 

I wondered how I would sleep knowing that my new friends might not be safe.

I wondered a lot of things.

I’ve only been volunteering for six or seven months but I am so changed. I have learned so much. Examining my preconceived notions of what it meant to be on the streets, what I thought prostitution looked like, was hard but important.

Pretty Woman is not how it is, in case you were wondering.

On of my first full days spent at the center I just sat back listening to some of the ladies chat with each other. We were making bracelets together outside. The sky was blue, the clouds white and puffy. From far away the noise was just women talking, laughing. Up close their words punched my gut.

Their lives were not safe. Some of them had lost their children. Some had been stabbed, others slapped and hit. Some needed to find a place to sleep for the night.

Still, they had room in their lives for  laughter. They made room to be caring. They took the time to  hug and ask each other to stay safe.

They have community.

I think that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from Natalie’s Sisters. Community matters. Having people who listen, and have your back, people who will make things with you, and share a meal with you. That’s community. That’s important.

 

Community is essential, in fact, to being human.

Natalie’s Sisters is a bridge between communities that are separated only by social constructs.  Natalie’s Sisters is Jacob’s well.

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, breaking all the rules of Jewish culture. He sat at the well and offered her Living Water, so that she would never thirst again. The woman listened to him, shocked that he knew her sin. That used to be the part that got me, too. The disciples were shocked to discover the two of them in conversation.

This is my favorite New Testament story. There is so much happening here. It is not that Jesus knows her sin that is important. No, the important kernel here is that Jesus knows her. He knows the authentic her.  He knows each of us, the real us. That’s what’s important. 

 

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” ~John 4: 23-24, The Message 

 

One of my favorite writers, Shannan Martin, shared on her blog about this, the importance of being known. Her life was forever changed when she learned the names of people previously only theorized about. She knew about them as a concept,  in the context of improving the lives of those stuck in poverty.

Shannan learned that poverty, when given names, can’t be looked as something to be fixed and she filled her blog up with words that left me hungry and knowing something new. Poverty needs relationship, shared meals,  and yoked shoulders. That’s where we’ll see change. (Go read her stuff. She’s amazing.)

I’m learning the same thing. My friends have names, they have beautiful faces, and unspoken dreams. Putting a list of shoulds and have-to’s on them won’t work because their system is broken. Their personal system is broken, and the government system they have to work within is broken.

I don’t know why there are the gaps that there are, no matter how much I read it about it. I don’t understand addiction, sexual trauma, or why change is so slow. I don’t know why it’s not just about providing money and food, but it’s not. 

 

What I have learned is this: the more time I  spend with my new friends the less space there is between us.

 

After these months I’m comfortable knowing that it’s not my job to fix their lives. I’m called to know them. I’m called to be their sister and love them just where they’re at. I love them addicted and strung out, and I love them clean and sober. I celebrate the triumphs in their lives whether it’s jeans that fit or the choice to go to detox.

Their lives matter just as they are.

What I can see is that my time at Natalie’s Sisters is changing me from the inside out, too. I see that I am becoming Jacob’s well, not just visiting. I am allowing myself to be a space where cultural barriers are broken, a place that Living Water can be offered from. I am becoming more like Jesus, able to see people for their authentic selves. I’m not seeing addicted people, homeless people, or bad people; I’m just seeing people.

See, you can’t be in relationship with people and not be different. I no longer avoid people pretending not to see them. I look them in the eye because being known is more important than food or water. I believe that.

Today I am convicted to pray to become Jacob’s well. I want to be a place where others can meet Jesus, drink of the Living Water, and never thirst.

I think it’s key to remember that the woman at the well didn’t leave believing. She left wondering. She also left cognizant of the Truth that she was known.  I believe that her questions caused her to seek answers. She went back to her village with her questions, but I also have no doubt that she was changed from what she now held in her heart.

Her heart held the treasure that she was known by the Creator of the universe, the Maker of all things good.

What is better than that?

My heart holds a new truth, too. I know that it doesn’t matter if people walk away from me believing. I used to think I was a failing Christian if I couldn’t convert non-believers. I know that it’s important that they walk away wondering, seeking answers. It’s important that they know  that I see them for who they are, their true self, and that I love them. 

That’s it.

Jesus will take care of the rest.

 

Be brave, misfits.

May you find Jacob’s well today.

 

Books That Changed My Life

 

Photo Credit: Pascal Rey Photographies Flickr via Compfight cc

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read. I was definitely one of those kids that always had a book in hand, or tucked under my arm, just in case I had time. I sat in science class with my textbook propped up on my lap and my ‘real’ book inside so that the teacher thought I was absorbed in the boring words.

I stayed up late, flashlight in hand, reading until the words blurred on the page. I suffered for reading a good book, but I would read bad ones, too. I’ve just always loved the written word.

In looking back on my life there are books that literally changed me, made me think differently, caused me to view the world from a completely different perspective. I consider this to be a great thing. I’m still adding books to this list, but here’s a start:

1. The Velveteen Rabbit -by Margery Williams

This is one of the first books I remember having read to me. I identified so strongly with the child who had to have their favorite toy taken away. I felt so sad for the bunny, too. Now, as an adult I identify with the rabbit. I have written about it before, but I believe that I have been loved into being real, too.

2. The Hundred Dresses – by Eleanor Estes

My second grade teacher read this aloud to our class and then gifted me with a copy. The ending surprised me so much. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book transformed how I looked at people, but especially immigrants.

3.  Rebecca’s World – by Terry Nation

This is one that I stumbled across in 5th grade. I used to go to our school library and browse for as long as I could. I found this book on the shelves and sat down on the orange vinyl cushions scattered about the library and read until it was time to go home. I think I got in trouble because I didn’t want to return this book.

4. The Hobbit – by J.R.R. Tolkien

Dad read this aloud to my brother and I, or maybe it was both of my brothers and I. What I do know is that we loved it. I looked forward to finding out what happened with Bilbo and Gollum every evening. I’d say it was also during this time that I knew I wanted to be a writer.

5.  Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret – by Judy Blume

I was in sixth grade when I read this and loved it. If you were a girl born in the 70’s you absolutely read this book. If you didn’t, you should.

6.  The Catcher in the Rye – by J.D. Salinger

I found a copy of this book in my Grandpa’s coat closet. I think it was during 7th grade, and I think it may have been right he after he died. The book had a picture of Holden on the cover, wearing his hunter’s hat. I loved everything about the book, even what I didn’t quite understand at that age. I read that book every year. I adored Holden and his quirks, I loved him for his weird vocabulary. I also couldn’t stand him and found myself squirming during some of his conversations  with adults. I think that’s why I liked this book so much. Holden isn’t completely likable but he’s recognizable in each of us. My daughters read it and hated it, so that stinks. I guess they’re a couple of phonies.

 7. Gone with the Wind – by Margaret Mitchell

I don’t know what possessed me to read this book in middle school. I’m sure it was to avoid doing school work. It was the first historical fiction I had ever read and enhanced my love of history. I’d also never gotten to know characters so well, some I loved and some I hated. Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship really confused me . That hasn’t changed. This book allowed me to see how description creates a strong sense of place when reading. It also taught me that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie.

8. Julie of the Wolves – by Jean Craighead George

I picked out this book because my mother’s name is Julie. It’s a very intense story that gave me a look at a completely different way of life. It caused me to see that we are each experiencing life in very different ways. Julie is 13 and I was probably around that age when I read the book.I think I’d probably always assumed that all of us humans had pretty similar life experiences.

 9. The Color Purple – by Alice Walker

I’d say this book is in my top 5 all-time favorites. The scope is incredible. I learned so much about slavery and racism, but also about how those issues are entrenched into our society.  The book also illustrates the deep cords of relationship. I used to re-read it every summer. It’s been five or six years, so it’s probably time again.

10. Lord of the Flies – by William Golding

I’m sure I had to read it for school. I know I stayed up all night to finish it, and it may be when I decided to homeschool my future children.

I’m kidding about that. But really, this book made me think about society, groups, and the behaviors that drive us.

11. The Princess Bride – by William Goldman

This was one of my best friend’s favorite books so I had to read it. It is so great, so funny. Again, better than the movie. I also learned how to use humor in writing from this book. I wanted to name our first son Wesley because of this book. Maybe I’ll get a puppy, or an R.O.U.S.

 

So that’s the top 11. There’s more to the list, but those are the ones I read between the ages of 10 and 18 that had the biggest impact on me. In high school I entered an embarrassing Harlequin romance novel phase that I’d rather not speak of. When I met my darling husband I began reading in earnest again. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Tolkien were staples of the early years of our marriage.

What got me thinking of this list is the book I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. It’s another life-changing book, at least for me. Zusak’s writing is amazing. It’s literary. It’s beautiful. The story is one that has stuck with me. I was taking a writing class at the time I read it and I felt so jealous that he’d been able to write all of this beautiful stuff. 

Speaking of the writer’s class, my big news I wanted to share is that an essay I wrote (in the writing class I was telling you about) has been accepted for publication in Mother’s Always Write, an  literary publication celebrating motherhood. The essays and poetry in MAW are inspiring as well as beautiful. Go check out their site and for any aspiring writers I highly encourage you to look at their Writer’s Boot Camp. This helped me take my writing to another level.

So, I’m curious…

Are there any books that have remained with you long after you read them? If so, what are they? I’d love to know. I’m always on the hunt for a good read.

 

 

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