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November 2016 Newsletter

Dear HSLDA families:

Do you ever feel like no one understands your homeschooling situation? Like you’re all alone in this journey, and you don’t know where to go next?

If so, we hope that this month’s article will encourage you. It was written by our friend Brenda Murphy, as part of a series of letters called “Vital Mercy.” Brenda and her colleagues wrote these letters after recognizing the absolute necessity of encouraging and equipping families who are homeschooling children with various academic struggles.

We like the title of this article because it reminds us that the struggles our children have are truly just a snapshot of who they really are. We hope you will be encouraged when you read Brenda’s letter. Perhaps you’ll recognize your own children described in one of her snapshots and realize that you are not alone!

Faith, Joyce, Carol, Kristy, and Krisa
HSLDA Special Needs Consultants

Snapshots of Struggling Learners

Brenda Murphy Brenda Murphy is the founder of SailAway Learning & Academy and a former homeschooling mom to her now adult children.

SailAway Learning and Academy is a private, faith-based educational services provider located in Tennessee, delivering proven learning solutions for students, parents, and educators. The Vital Mercy Love Letters were originally published on the Smoky Mountain Home Education Association’s website. The full series, about 12–14 letters, is still available online.

by Brenda Murphy
Guest Writer


It’s Monday, the beginning of another typical homeschool week. Breakfast is ready, and four of your five children gather around the kitchen table anticipating a nice, hot bowl of oatmeal and chilled, pulp-free orange juice.

It’s pulp-free because Sarah—the child who isn’t at the table—cannot and will not put anything with pulp in her mouth. It feels icky.

Finally she arrives, limping. She stops before sitting and looks down to survey her feet—one shoed, the other shoeless. With her head still down, she lifts her clear, blue eyes and smiles that endearing, disarming smile you’ve seen a hundred times. You know what it means: I couldn’t find my right shoe again today, but I’m hungry so I came to the table anyway.

You resign yourself; it’s just Sarah. The shoe will surface later; it’s not worth the battle. After all, she is such a delightful, charming, funny little girl. Everybody loves her; she has such a great personality. She tells the most creative stories, and when school gets hard, she always changes the subject and doesn’t seem to care that her younger brother now reads better than she does, and that you can read his handwriting and not hers.


Monday is now well underway. It’s mid-morning, time for math. Jeremy wants to keep reading. He loves to read and devours so many books that you make at least two trips to the library every week.

But at math time, Jeremy digs in his heels, dawdling and delaying the inevitable. “Do I really have to do math today?” he queries, knowing the next hour will be akin to a waking nightmare.

He will read the explanation of how to do the problems, for the third day now. You will show him how to do the problems—and with you right there, he will seem to get it. You have not lost hope.

Fifteen minutes pass. Head down, Jeremy is still diligently calculating, writing, erasing, propping his head in his hand. After 45 minutes, he’s completed five, maybe 10 problems. He brings them to you to check—at least that’s what you try to do because the multiple erasures make it hard to decipher his answers. The result: one correct, the rest wrong.

He’s really depressed. The rest of the day goes downhill fast after that. And you know he’s really smart. What gives?


This month the whole family, including mom and dad, are learning the states and their capital cities as part of this year’s American history study.

You’ve opted to use a unit study approach rather than a textbook because everyone loves the hands-on projects and oral exchanges. After a couple of weeks of working with the map and playing states and capitals games, some of the children remember them better than you do—except Miranda.

Precious Miranda. It seems even when she gets to look at a map, which the others do not, she cannot remember the states, much less the capitals.

Often, she mispronounces them. “Delaware” might come out “Dwellare.” It’s so frustrating for her; one day she remembers as many as 20, the next day not even two. She gets so irritated at herself she pounds her head with her hands.

Patience, Knowledge, and Direction

Sarah, Jeremy, and Miranda are struggling learners. Just as snapshots in their family’s photo album mark their wondrous individuality, so the imprints of misfires, backfires, and duds in their learning processes portray their world as hard, frustrating, less than satisfying.

Of course there are varying degrees of learning struggles. Some are subtle and soft, like a child taking a long time to retrieve a word he wants to say. Others are profound and obvious: the inability to read on grade or age level by age 10, illegible handwriting with non-decipherable spelling, and no recall of math facts.

Rather than categorize children who display such behavior as “disabled,” a more accurate way to view their struggles is to say they miss the mark in learning.

Just like any archer or golfer knows, you can take accurate aim at a target, sure you’re going to hit it, when oops! It veers to the right (or left); the arrow cannot be found, or the ball ends up in the deep rough. So, this tells the would-be Robin Hood or Jack Nicklaus that more study and practice are needed, or some serious lessons with a pro.

The good news is that with accurate, sufficient knowledge and practice and outside help, the struggling archer or golfer can become proficient—even expert.

The same is true of our struggling children who miss the mark. With patience, knowledge, and proper direction the academic missed marks can become areas of ability, even strength.

I know. I’ve seen it happen many times in the lives of my students and even in my own experience. Take courage, friend. There is hope for the struggling learner.

Additional Resources

• HSLDA searchable database of professionals (HSLDA members only)

HSLDA resources page

Learning Abled Kids

“Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner” by Kathy Kuhl

• For ideas and suggestions of curricula and teaching materials to match your child’s unique learning profile, be sure to check out the Home Ed. Expert Tool

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