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Slow Learners

Slow Learners

Homeschooling & the Slow Learner

Homeschooling & the Slow Learner

The term slow learner refers only to the child's learning pattern and not to their intelligence. These children generally struggle in the areas of english and maths but may be very good orally and with their hands. They are not stupid children. There are no stupid children any more than there are unteachable children unless the child has severe brain damage. Anyone who calls a child stupid simply reflects their own stupidity.

We have homeschooled for nineteen years using a variety of materials. Our children range from the very bright to the very slow. Each is an individual and has individual needs. This article is written as a result of our experience in homeschooling a slow learner and after many conversations with other mothers of slow learners. While it is written for those homeschooling the principles are general and many of these principles apply to all children regardless of their learning abilities.

Children's learning and growth patterns appear to be similar. A child will remain the same height for a long time and then grow over night. Children appear to learn in the same way. A child will have a plateau where the parent can reinforce what has been taught and then over night they will suddenly find a concept that was too hard is very clear. The plateau varies from child to child and may not be constant even for the same child. Understanding this often removes the frustration parents feel.

When you have homeschooled for many years, and all your other children have learnt to read without problems, finding you have a child who is a slow learner can be somewhat of a shock. The initial reaction for most parents is denial followed by a feeling of guilt. However, this is quickly followed by a determination to help the child regardless of the sacrifice.

Over the ten years of teaching our youngest and of helping others certain principles have become clear:

1. Identify the problem.

Mothers should listen to their heart and instinct. We have found that mothers, because of the time that they spend with their children, can usually explain exactly what the problem is. Too often these same mothers have been made to feel inadequate and ridiculous by the very professionals they have sought help from. Some have even been advised to seek psychiatric help as an over-protective mother. The problem is not the mother it is the child�s learning ability and will only become worse the longer it is left. If you know there is a problem don't be put off. If no-one else will help you, we will.

2. Remove, where possible, any contributing factors.

Our food is no longer natural. It contains sprays, hormones, antibiotics and additives. Many natropaths will administer tests quite cheaply which show if there are intolerance�s to any food, additive, spray etc. This may result in changing the whole families diet but the result can be worthwhile. In our daughter�s case it was food like corn, oranges, apples, milk and garlic which were helping create a fog in her brain and stopping her retaining facts. It was not the whole solution but it was a start.

It is also important to have the child�s hearing and eye sight tested. Dealing with a slow learner is frequently a process of elimination and the more you can eliminate the better.

3. Start working with the child at the correct level for them as an individual.

We have found that most mothers have a fairly good idea of what grade level is appropriate for their child. We generally suggest that the child is tested at a level below this to ensure that there are no gaps. Rather than embarrass the child, inform them that you are going to test their teachers. The child should not be assisted. Once the child begins experiencing difficulties the test should be stopped. The aim is to find out what the child knows not the mother. With a slow learner this can sometimes be detrimental. You may e-mail us with details of what your child does know, e.g. can add and subtract, write simple sentences etc. We will help you choose material appropriate to the child.

4. Begin work at the level the child�s results indicated for each subject

It does no matter if it is first or sixth grade. It is better to go too far back and have the child scoot quickly through several levels thus ensuring there are no gaps than have the child begin too high and fail.

A child�s ability can vary dramatically between subjects. Do not ignore the test results. When we build a two story house we do not try to build the second story first, we begin with the foundations.The same principle applies to education. All children, other than those with severe brain damage, can learn but some children learn slower than others. Slow learners are often quite intelligent. They simply have difficulties in some areas.

5. Choose materials suitable for your child.

We do not buy one set of clothes of identical colour for all our children. Neither should we expect to do so when it comes to educational material. Some children need factual material, others creative material, others more hands-on material. Again, mothers should follow their knowledge of their own child. Many slow learners need to visualize a concept an understand why they need to learn it before they can understand it but this does not mean all material must be hands-on. Often it is only the introduction of a new concept that needs to be hands on.

6. Extend the child on the same level.

Slow learners need far more extension than other children. Choose books that present the same skill in a different way until the child becomes confident and until the principle reaches the child�s long term memory. (See our quick grade guides and follow them for success.) Many slow learners have short term memory problems. Repetition, repetition and more repetition is the key. One of the delights of Australian material is that there may be as many as four or five different books which can be used to present the same concepts at the same level. Each one has a different cover, is illustrated differently and so appears different to the child. The result is that the child becomes confident. Instead of assuming that they are "stupid" and can not understand they will gradually come to a point where they know how smart they are and that they can "if they try a little harder." A child�s confidence in their ability to succeed is, we are convinced, a major factor in their ability to learn. No-one, however brilliant, will ever succeed if they are convinced they will fail. Failing for too long brings a child to a point where they will no longer try and some will even deliberately fail believing that at least this way they control the results.

7. Never deliberately place a child in a position where they will fail.

We all fail at times and this is part of life but no adult will attempt something at which they know they have no hope of succeeding. For example, someone who can not knit will not attempt to knit a jumper. If they want to knit a jumper they will learn how to knit first and, beginning with small projects, increase their ability until they can knit the jumper. Never place the child onto the next grade level until you are certain they have mastered the one they are working on. When the child tells you how easy the work is you know you have arrived.

Homeschooling is not a race. Not every child needs to reach year twelve. You will notice that we have suggested in our quick grade guide that a slow learner is tested a year below the level they are working on. This assures success and helps overcome the child's fear of failure. Since a mother has to work constantly with a slow learner she already knows the extent of her child's knowledge. The test is simply to re-inforce this in both the mother and child.

8. Set realistic goals.

We all need short and long term goals but they need to be obtainable. With a slow learner aim for a grade six standard (end of primary school) and consider anything extra a bonus. By grade six most children should have learnt the majority of the basic skills they will need all their lives. English and maths need to be written but other subjects can be completed orally. Slow learners will often pick up an amazing amount from watching their mothers. Model as much as possible of what you want them to learn.

9. Set bite size pieces.

Many slow learners can not work for long periods of time so break the lessons into fifteen minute time frames. Choose material that does not contain too much on one page or enlarge the page and cut it in half. Providing you purchase and do not resell the material, most publishers do not mind if you enlarge a page.

10. Where possible make learning enjoyable.

When the child enjoys something their mind is wide open to learn. Revision, of phonics for example, can be in the form of a game. Children are always willing to play games so they will often get the cards out each day. Consider using the Activity & Craft Sheets as children generally enjoy them. Tables can be said while skipping, swinging on a swing or jumping on a trampoline. The rhythm helps. Usborne Books produce models, e.g. a Roman Fort, which provides a means for a child to visualize history.

11. Be aware of your child's nature

Many slow learners have minds that race. This can make it very hard to write as their fingers will not run fast enough. A computer or word processor will often help since their fingers can work faster. With story writing talk about the exercise first and help the child to spell when requested. If using a computer teach the child to take notice of red lines inserted by the computer as this generally means a mistake has been made. Teach them to read what they have written and not what is in their head. Once a mistake is pointed out a child will eventually come to the point where they are able to correct it--this takes time and practice and will not happen over night.

Slow learners also like order in their life. This order can vary from having everything on their desk arranged in exactly the same place to, in our daughters case, knowing exactly where every member of her family is and that they are all right. Many are also subject to panic attacks. What makes them panic can vary from child to child. Often it can be tied into their need for order. As they grow a continuing sense of security makes these attacks less frequently. When our eldest daughter moved into her own house Jillian was very upset. She was convinced she would never see Elizabeth again even though she lived five minutes away. Gradually she came to realize this was anything but the case so by the time the third child moved out it was just a part of life.

12. Hormone changes seem to aid the slow learner

Slow learners often begin the learning spurt later however they seem to progress for far longer than the brighter child. The bright child may begin to learn to read at 3 years old and may simply "absorb" information for years. However once they reach puberty learning is not quite so easy as before although it is never really hard. It appears for the slow learner the opposite is true. The early years during which time they absorb so much basic knowledge, is a great struggle but as they hit puberty life become slightly easier, although never easy. At sixteen and a half, Jillian continues to learn, although slowly, academic principles that I had long ago ceased to believe that she would ever learn. She will never be an Einstein but she functions well in our business. She has a beautiful phone manner, she can write invoices, pull orders, mail, bank and complete many of the jobs necessary to make her an asset to any business. She has even begun a Certificate 2 Business Administration Course. She has learnt many things because they are important to us and because we are her family are therefore important to her. As a child who has trouble memorizing she has memorized every piece of advice I have given to mothers and can give it in the appropriate way at the appropriate time.

13. It is important slow learners learn a job one step at a time.

Too many new jobs and multiple instructions can cause them to panic. However once one job has been learnt another can be added and then another and another and the child will be able to retain all of the instructions. Perhaps once again it is the unknown that causes the panic. Slow learners will generally do well in life if provided with the basics they need and the confidence in themselves.

14. Rejoice in success

Even a small gain should be a reason for rejoicing. Do not count the failures. Houses are built one brick at a time and so is a child�s education. Mastery of one principle leads to mastery of others.

15. Never give up.

All children can learn but some take longer. If one thing does not work try another, and another and another, until you succeed. Your child�s only hope for success is you. If you give up who will help? Remember everyone is teachable. The secret is to find the key.

 If you need help or wish to discuss homeschooling we can be contacted between 2pm and 11pm Eastern Australian Standard Time. Ph: (03) 9742 7524. 

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