Gracie’s Story: Homeschooling Helps a Struggling Reader
As a mother of three children with special needs, I know that it’s easy for parents homeschooling struggling learners to become discouraged. Teaching struggling learners and children with special needs is a challenging process—a step-by-step, child-by-child, trial-and-error process. But it’s worthwhile! I would like to share the story of my middle child, Gracie, hoping that it will encourage other parents of struggling learners.
Courtesy of the family
Pursuing Gracie’s interests in singing, ballet, cooking, and art has helped her develop focus and allowed her to express herself in many ways. Here she decorates a cake she baked from scratch.
“GRACIE IS NOW 9.
WE HAVE MADE THREE
TO FOUR YEARS OF
PROGRESS IN THE LAST
TWO YEARS. I AM SO
PROUD OF HER. SHE IS
PROUD OF HERSELF NOW, TOO.”
Gracie was 3½ when we adopted her. As she grew, though she is clearly very bright, she had difficulty remembering sequences, memorizing math facts, decoding words through phonics (although she knew them), consistently writing letters in the right direction, spelling, and expressing herself verbally unless the thought originated in her own mind. We waited to have her tested until she was 7 (the “magic age” for auditory and ADD testing).
During the period before Gracie was diagnosed, I researched and read tons. I found the section on HSLDA’s struggling learner website outlining ways to informally test a child and determine his areas of learning difficulty. This layman’s diagnostic checklist was invaluable, since it was very accurate and helped me not only identify areas of concern in all three of my special needs children, but also talk intelligently with their pediatrician to find correct and free therapies offered through state special needs assistance!
Gracie was formally tested at age 7 by an audiologist, a speech-language therapist, and a developmental pediatrician. She was diagnosed with auditory processing deficits, dyscalculia, dyslexia, receptive language delays, and ADD.
As recommended, Gracie took a year of speech-language therapy, working on her ability to express herself, vocabulary, sequencing, and other skills. We also continued following up with the developmental pediatrician.
Meanwhile, in our homeschool, I supplemented our phonics program with Dianne Craft’s right-brain method. I had my daughter draw each phonics lesson on a 3x5 card, put the “answer” on the front, hold it high to look up at it just like Dianne recommended, and learn each phonics pattern. She reviewed the patterns she already knew and learned new ones—until suddenly, she could decode and read!
Here for You
HSLDA’s Special Needs/Struggling Learner department offers a variety of resources for parents of struggling learners or children with special needs. HSLDA members may contact coordinators Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick for counsel and suggestions. Call 540-338-5600 or visit www.hslda.org/contactstaff.
For helpful resources 24/7 or to sign up for our e-newsletter, visit HSLDA’s Struggling Learner webpages.
When she began tackling words with more syllables accurately and with increasing fluency, I knew we had turned the corner from non-reader to reader! It took about one year for this process to be successful and for the therapist to help Gracie learn how to express herself. After year-end testing, we decided to take a yearlong break from formal therapy.
Around this time, I also tried Dianne Craft’s Biology of Behavior program with all my kids. We discovered that Gracie functioned better by taking a natural sleep aid at night and that she had a milk sensitivity. With my children having been adopted from Russia, this nutritional exercise, at a minimum, helped compensate for nutritional neglect experienced before adoption.
Once Gracie’s reading was in hand, it just required practice, practice, practice! We turned our attention to remedial math, again using the right-brain method of teaching. We use Addition the Fun Way, which uses stories and color to teach addition and subtraction. I have her learn each fact by drawing it and holding it above her forehead just as she did with phonics. I then write my own math practice pages to create problems using the facts Gracie has mastered. By doing this, she has gone from struggling through two facts last fall to adding and subtracting—even borrowing-up to six-digit numbers! She also uses this method to help teach math to her younger brother, Caleb, which provides review and gives her confidence.
Courtesy of the family
Gracie, Caleb, and Joshua Buck collaborated on
their entry in a 2008 science fair, using writing and
artwork to depict the life cycle of a butterfly.
It has helped to focus on Gracie’s obvious gifts in art, dance, and music. She takes ballet and sings in a youth choir—developing her focus and allowing her to express herself in other ways. She also studies art and piano.
Gracie works best in small bursts with breaks. I remain near her to keep her focused, but allow her to stand at her desk or walk around except during handwriting work. I found Accountable Kids great for behavior management, and I make weekly checklists for the kids’ chores, schoolwork, activities, and scheduling.
This winter, through a generous donor, our family tried Classical Conversations and loved it. Imagine my sense of pride when my daughter had no trouble doing weekly presentations! And after a year off from speech therapy, Gracie’s follow-up tests revealed that she is reading above 5th-grade level. Both the speech therapist and dyslexia consultant are astounded at Gracie’s progress!
Gracie is now 9. We have made three to four years of progress in the last two years. I am so proud of her. She is so proud of herself now, too.
Although this story is primarily about Gracie’s journey, my other two children have worked just as hard. Adopted at age 6½, Gracie’s biological brother Joshua came to us with several mostly physical difficulties resulting from abuse, neglect, and the poor nutrition and health of his biological mother. Today, at age 12, he reads at high school level, although his reading comprehension and vocabulary lag because of the Russian-to-English language transition. We’ve discovered Joshua has fine drawing and building skills, a passion for natural science, and near-perfect visual recall. He is now working on technical drawing.
My youngest, Caleb, was 8 months when we got him. Delayed motor development led us to occupational therapy, a diagnosis of hydrocephalus, and surgery at age 3. Two more years of therapy, along with ballet and music, have taken him from a boy who was afraid to climb or jump to one who leaps across stage in ballet. At age 6, he continues to work on his fine motor skills through therapy at home. He cannot yet pedal a bike or a trike and is just beginning to master simple puzzles, but he’s learning to color and write his letters. In addition, he remembers everything he hears, uses an expansive vocabulary, and radiates a winning personality.
We have been blessed with many excellent doctors and therapists, all of whom have encouraged our homeschooling and even recommended it. So far, God has provided us all we need.
It is possible even on a dime to homeschool special needs kids! We did this while living on food stamps, unemployment, and cash assistance. We have been blessed to have access to excellent medical benefits, therapists through Medicaid, and the encouragement of those who supported our homeschooling.
I am so thankful for HSLDA and all the support it offers to families of special needs children. I hope I can now offer that same support and encouragement to others!
About the author|
HSLDA member Heidi Buck teaches her three adopted Russian children (ages 6, 9, and 12) at home in Florida.