After almost a decade of teaching my children with learning differences, this is, by far, my best advice for helping a struggling learner.
“I am not sure he is ever going to learn to read.”
I said this to my husband, over coffee and through tears one morning about a year ago.
My then twelve year old son had an educational therapy session scheduled for later that day and I was struggling with what felt like the futility of it all. The constant sight word practice, his resistance to reading the practice sentences, and the crippling guilt that was my constant companion.
None of it seemed to be helping him make any real progress. In fact, sometimes, it felt like he was going backwards.
When your child is struggling to learn, especially the basics like reading, writing and math, it’s too easy to play it all out and worry that they will never be functional adults.
(Trust me, you are not alone if you do this. At one point, I decided if I could just ready my son for reading a basic employment application, I would declare it a win.)
This worry and doomsday prep mentality is suffocating to us, and its demoralizing to our children.
Because we begin to focus only on what is not working, on the struggle and the deficits, instead of our children and their overall abilities. We lose sight of everything that is working and any progress that may have been made, when we turn our attention solely to the area of struggle.
My Best Advice For Helping A Struggling Learner
My son did learn to read.
You can read more about what finally made the difference in these posts.
He learned to read and yet, he is still certainly what one would classify as a struggling learner. What’s changed, now that we have seen this level of success in his learning, is what I desperately what to share with you today.
My best advice for helping a struggling learner is simply this – prioritize your child’s heart and the relationship you share above all else, especially the area of struggle.
It may seem simplistic, but please know, I think this is incredibly difficult to actually do. The entire world seems to scream at us the what-if’s.
What if he never learns to read?
What if he is illiterate and can’t understand street signs?
What if he is not able to get a job and support himself as an adult?
All of these questions have been asked of me at one point or another. Most of the time, it was when I was doing exactly what I am recommending you do.
When I pulled him from educational therapy because it was creating more stress and pressure than progress.
When I threw out the word cards he hated and instead let him play on the trampoline with the words posted all around him.
When we did nothing reading related and instead baked a pie.
These were the times that scared me the most – the times I followed my instinct and my child’s lead and flat out ignored the recommended daily reading practice requirements.
I can see now, looking back, that they were also the times that ended up making the most difference in my son’s reading ability, and more importantly, his overall well-being.
Not making the bulk of our interactions throughout the day about my son’s area of struggle allowed us both to develop confidence and enjoy learning together.
It has made all the difference, whether he is reading or not. Our children have to be our children first. It’s that simple, and it’s that complicated.
Please let me encourage you, making the decision to devote more time to your child’s areas of natural interest and strength is not taking the easy way out when you have a struggling learner.
It is helping them learn how they learn best. It protects their heart and your relationship in the process.
Given what I know now, this is the absolute best advice I can share.
For more on helping your struggling learner:
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.