Changes, Changes

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I find blogging somewhat difficult (actually pretty much impossible) when there is stuff going on in our lives that I’m not yet free to share! It’s not always the reason I get quiet, sometimes life just happens and sometimes (rarely) I have nothing to say or can’t get my thoughts organized enough to write them down.

This fall though, much of my silence has been because of two major changes in our lives!

 

Steinmann Number FiveYup! That’s Number Five! Due in May and eagerly anticipated by all especially Mouse who is hoping hard for a sister! We won’t know until he or she is born and Mouse reminds me several times a day that I am to call her as soon as I know to tell her!

The other major change is that we have been attending a Roman Catholic church since Labor Day. The children are in CCD (Roman Catholic Sunday School which goes so far beyond Bible stories and which we are very pleased with) and S and I are attending RCIA  (Roman Catholic Initiation For Adults) on Tuesday nights.  I have also started attending a weekly Bible Study of Catholic homeschool moms which has been a huge blessing, providing stimulating conversation, friends for me and the children and a place to thresh out the practical application of heartfelt beliefs to daily life!

As you know we have been living at least somewhat in tune with the liturgical calendar for a while. I did it before meeting S and as the children have grown liturgical family life has seemed a good way to draw the children into a practice of living faith at home. We are so pleased to have found a church and a group of friends for the children who also live that way and who think that faith is the primary importance in life. The children have never really had peers who celebrated Feasts and Fasts or who shared stories of saints lives and knew what St. Lucia buns were or why we don’t say Alleluia in Lent. It’s neat to see them start to realize that other people also value and do the things we do.

The church we have been attending is considered one of the most conservative churches in the diocese and we are pleased with the general tone and the efforts that are being made to encourage the congregation to be Catholic and Christian in more than name. The priest is actually Polish and while preaching is not his strong point (we do wish for better preaching) he is amazing for his relationships with the people and especially the children and young people in the parish.  He knows them by name and they are comfortable with him in a way that children often aren’t with authority figures.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about these changes as they progress, and welcome your comments.

 

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An Easy Learning Toy For The Toddler

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With Christmas quickly approaching the children are trying to make gifts for one another and their friends. Of course they aren’t very good yet at matching their abilities to their imaginations and desires to make things so most of the figuring out what they should do falls on me! Thank goodness for Pinterest! I want them to make things that are useful and or beautiful and that they can make well with minimal help. I also want to choose projects that further the interests and skills they already have. For the boys that means things that involve wood, paint and glue while Mouse works primarily with cloth and paper. Jack needs some new activities for his school shelves so the boys got together and made him a tray game to learn his shapes and numbers. This was a really simple project for a 5 and 7 year old with minimal assistance.

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An Easy Learning Toy For The Toddler: Shapes and Numbers

Ingredients

  • Wide craft sticks- you will need one stick for each side of a shape plus a few extras for shapes whose sides are different lengths
  • Paint- we used watercolors
  • Self-Stick Velcro Dots
  • Permanent marker
  • Felt
  • Scissors

Instructions

  1. Lay out the shapes you desire. We made a triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, and trapezoid (the trapezoid requires two craft sticks for the bottom edge)
  2. Paint the sticks on both sides and allow to dry. The sides can be painted differently but each shape should be the same color on one side. For example: the triangle could be blue on one side and red on the other, while the square could be purple and green.
  3. Lay out the shapes again and fix Velcro dots to the ends of the sticks where they cross, making sure that each joint has a soft and a hard dot.
  4. Label the completed shapes with the shape name and number each stick. Number the bottom of the trapezoid with only one number as it is a four sided figure although it takes five sticks to make it.
  5. Lay each shape on a piece of felt or fleece. Trace around the outside of the shape and cut out. Write the number of sides in the middle of the fabric shape.
  6. Put the pieces of cloth and the sticks in a bin or bag.
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Busy, Busy…

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The days and weeks just keep rolling by around here and whatever else may be true things are never, ever boring!

We got our first snow this week, just in time for Thanksgiving and the children have spent so much time outside shoveling it (the boys), rolling in it (Mouse) and laying the foundation of an igloo (everyone under Buggle’s supervision). I’ve mentioned several times that this snow will probably melt in the next week but I don’t think the message has sunk in!

We had a light week of school this week. Bull was off entirely, and the bigs just had a few assignments to bring all their subjects even with my planner again! I’m really happy with my decision to take the dates out of my lesson plan book this year. Not having dates to stress me into thinking we are behind has enabled me to relax and just teach steadily along. I did go through a few subjects this week and adjust them assignments as the children are finding them easier than I thought they would and I would really like to be finished with school by early May of 2015.

We are slipping away from year round formal schooling to more of a traditional fall/winter school year now that we are “Up North”. With so many winter days when it is too cold to spend much time outside and such beautiful summers when we don’t want to do anything but be outside, concentrating on getting the schoolroom side of things finished when we want to be indoors anyway seems to be a better schedule for us right now. Of course I’ve got some plans up my sleeve for continuing learning over the summer but it will be more of an unschooling/exploratory kind of thing and probably be science and naturalism based as well as including plenty of art and handwork.

My slow-cooker has been getting a real workout as Bull and Mouse have dance lessons on Monday and Friday evenings and S and I are taking a class at church on Tuesday evenings. Thursdays the three bigs have a Gym class and Swim lessons at the YMCA and today all three bigs are starting ice skating lessons at the rink in the park near our house. The police department offers free lessons and free skate rentals on Saturdays From November to January and I will happily take advantage of anything that helps them learn an athletic skill and burn off some energy! Also I expect the parental amusement factor to be high!

Tomorrow we begin the season of Advent after so many (34 this year!) weeks of Ordinary Time. Today I’ll be pulling out the Advent stuff and then next week we’ll be starting to make gifts for one another (a bit of a logistical nightmare when everyone needs some assistance from me and no one wants the others to see their surprise!) as well as decorations for our tree.

S and I are also beginning our plans for Christmas Feast 2014. I’m kind of missing the South and Tidewater Virginia in particular so we’re thinking about ham and oysters but everything is still tentative at the moment. In a couple of weeks I’ll start Christmas baking (started a list yesterday). For now I’m trying out recipes as I’m trying to do everything dairy free this year and some of my standbys need to be tweaked.

As you can see it’s all good, but the action never stops!

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This Thing We Do

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Been reflecting lately on why we homeschool. It’s hard sometimes and definitely uses time that could be used for something else but we still find ourselves doing it year after year…

 

So why?

  • For the good days when everything just flows and the students are eager to learn and the teacher is blessed with patience and we get to spend three hours enjoying each other’s minds…
  • For the bad days when the students would rather do anything else and the teacher is grouchy and we get to spend three hours growing each other in holiness…..
  • For the opportunity to learn how to relate to people at different ages and abilities,  bigs giving grace to interrupting littles and little learning to respect the bigs working time and concentration
  • For the chance to learn strengths and build on them from the beginning
  • For the space to turn weaknesses into strengths through patience and practice without making weaknesses the major focus of schooling
  • For the ability to find the things that interest us and follow them through multiple disciplines
  • For the way we can stop and spend time on things of great interest or on things that are hard without “falling behind” the rest of the class
  • For the opportunity to address attitude across academics and homelife without wondering if the attitude is coming from school or peers
  • For the chance to do things a little differently with each student until we find their best learning environment

I could probably go on but those are the first things on my mind this morning…..

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Invitations to Play and Learn: Less is More

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Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working at reducing the number and variety of things available to the big children (7 and 6) in non-school hours and the little boys (4 and 2) during school hours. Part of this is stuff has increased yet again and I find it is too much for them to pick up and keep tidy, but part of my purpose is to release their creativity by giving them fewer things to be distracted by. I know it sounds strange but I find with all the children (and with myself) that they are more ingenious when they have just a set of materials with which to develop their concepts. Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Little Boys

Sorted out the blocks that are useful from the other random building materials. We’d collected a bunch of block like things over the years, not all of them worked together, some weren’t enough to really do anything with. Everything that didn’t fit went in a bag for the thrift store. I was left with a large collection of blocks that were all derived from the same dimensional unit and worked well together. These I divided into two collections: one is rectangles and squares and shapes derived from rectangles and squares (pyramids, cubes, cubical columns etc.). The other one is spheres and things derived from spheres (domes, cylinders, etc.). I also included arches in this set. Jack gets to play with one set or the other, while Bull is allowed to use both at once since he is big enough to sort them back out again.  Many interesting things are being built and I notice much more attention on Bull’s part to what can be created based on the shapes available.

Washing machines made from arches and filler blocks.

Washing machines made from arches and filler blocks.

 

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

I’ve also begun setting aside specific items with the tools needed to use them. Blocks with holes in them, pegs and a hammer for example.

Pounding pegs into holes then adding more blocks to the tower is great for hand-eye coordination, and imagination. Jack spent a good part of his morning making "candles" pegs pounded into the single hole in a square block.

Pounding pegs into holes then adding more blocks to the tower is great for hand-eye coordination, and imagination. Jack spent a good part of his morning making “candles” pegs pounded into the single hole in a square block.

 

Big Kids

I’ve cut back on the materials available in the “Art Center” and made it much more focused on particular projects or themes that have to do with current interests or schoolwork.

For example: I’ve provided a couple of books for further exploration of Ancient Egypt to go along with our history studies. One is just a good coloring book from Dover Publications, with line drawings taken from Egyptian paintings, one is a craft book and one is the first volume of Draw and Write Through History. I put them on top of the Art Center shelves along with a couple of library books. Mouse in particular has gone down and worked for a while either coloring or using the Draw and Write book to show her how to draw a picture.  I find that the reduction in clutter and the reduction in available options leads her to do more careful and attentive work.

 

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for  handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations). The clementine boxes are for works in progress.

Her picture isn't specifically Egyptian in focus but with less paper available she used every bit of what she had, which is a new step and one I want to encourage

Her picture isn’t specifically Egyptian in focus but with less paper available she used every bit of what she had, which is a new step and one I want to encourage.

My intention is  also to go through Buggle’s workroom and reduce the available projects to encourage him to work more thoroughly with materials rather than jumping from project to project. I need to find a set of shelves for him space as well as just take the time to sort through it- which is rather a daunting thought at the moment!

I’d like to do the same thing with my sewing space- put away everything except the projects and materials I am planning to use this month, and remove the distractions that get me off focus and lead to lots of beginnings and few endings.

Not decluttering to declutter  but trying to find the best ways of presenting materials so that they are used and the children are challenged and encouraged. I want them to create, I want to create myself and I think creativity is so much a part of who we were created to be a image bearers. I also think that our best example of creativity is not creativity thriving in or leading to chaos and I’m trying to learn how to live that and teach it to the children as well.

“Less is More” works well for us. A finite set of materials leads to good work and easy (well easier) restoration of the creative space to order. Order gives us the opportunity to see what we have and begin creating again.

 

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Wrapping Up: Glimpses Of Our Week III

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Whew! What a week for busyness!

  • Homeschool picnic and first dance class of the fall for Bull on Monday
  • Cleaning up the schoolroom/basement and a visit to  the Farmer’s Market on Tuesday
  • School on Wednesday
  • School Thursday morning, followed by the big three’s first Gym and Swim class at the YMCA
  • School for Mouse Friday morning (Buggle was done for the week already),pick up Mouse’s glasses which had needed repair, Mom’s Bible Study, trip to Walmart, drop Mouse with a friend who would take her to dance, bring boys home, put VERY grumpy Jack down for a nap ( 2 hours later than usual), friend comes to watch boys while I go meet my new GP, out of appointment by 4:15 (so glad someone else could take Mouse to dance at 4:30!), come home, play with the boys for 30 minutes, go pick up Mouse, eat dinner, bedtime!

All good stuff, but I am SO glad our weeks aren’t always that busy!

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

 

One of those places where I am reminded how VERY observant children are!

Try to put a spoonful on a tortilla. Remember just in time not to touch what you’re cooking! Ask for a scraper.

 

Color coding his paper for even/odd and greater or less than 12

Color coding his paper for even/odd and greater or less than 12

 

 

 

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Kitchen Kids: Toddlers In The Kitchen

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One of the reasons that Buggle and Mouse are as comfortable in the kitchen as they are is that they’ve been in the kitchen with us from the time they were tiny!

Some of that is the function of the house we lived in at the time. The kitchen was the largest room in the house and we lived in it. When the children needed something to do while I was making dinner it was natural to put them in a highchair where they could see what I was doing and hand them bits of garlic to peel or bread to cut up with a table knife.

As they grew the things they could do that were useful grew as well and soon enough they could make a salad, or help cut up mushrooms for a meal in a way that really saved me time!

Now Jack is the toddler and most meals are prepped with him standing on a stool, watching, helping where he can and asking lots of questions “Mama, what you doing?” He’s still mostly in the fetch and carry stage of helping but the other day he made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when he saw the sandwich making things left out on the counter!

Six To Twelve Months

 

  • Sit in the highchair and watch and taste bits of things. If the children ask for it I generally give them a taste, unless it might be harmful (raw eggs) or is really spicy. Buggle loved peppercorns at this age and would ask for and then eat them!
  • Peel garlic- crush the clove a bit with a knife to loosen the skin then start the peeling before giving it to the child. They may get it peeled, they may eat it instead of giving it back to you. Keep giving them opportunities to try and they will eventually be able to peel garlic every time you cook!
  • Cutting- we use a table knife at first and just give them a slice of whatever we are cutting to hack at. A little guidance and help from time to time, placing my hand over the child’s hand on the knife and cutting to give them a sense of what cutting feels like. If they want me to use what they’ve cut I always do (sometimes rinsing it off a bit before adding it to the dish). They feel like they’ve really been a big helper and want to try again.
  • Salad- Tearing lettuce isn’t hard but does require concentration and a good pincer grasp. You’ll probably have to re-tear some of the pieces but maybe not, even at this age some children can get pretty obsessive about making small (miniscule!) bits out of a lettuce leaf!

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Twelve Months To Two Years

    • Stand on a stool and learn to keep their hands back when you have something sharp or are working with raw meat. I say “hands back” and gently put their hands away from my work. If they persist then I sit them on the stool where they can’t see what I’m doing for a few minutes.  Much repetition gets the point across and at two Jack knows when he can touch the board and when to keep his hands away.
    • Push buttons- on the blender, mixer, food processor, whatever. The boys especially love to do that and I constantly emphasize safety, teaching them to wait to push until I say and to keep their hands back from the blades if I have the machine open.  Cranking the pasta maker or the strainer for making applesauce are also good and they feel so strong and big.

Filling jars with peaches easy enough for a toddler

  • Putting things into containers (or jars if you can).  If you raw pack your cucumbers for pickles or your fruit for canned fruit a toddler can scoop up handfuls and drop them into the canning funnel. You may have to even out the jars a bit but they will learn.
  • Carrying things from one worker to another. I bought 40 pounds of strawberries this summer and the children helped me freeze them. I cut out the bruises and removed the stems, Buggle and Mouse sliced, Jack picked up what they had sliced and put it in a bowl and Bull loaded bags.  A nice assembly line and Jack’s picking up kept the big children from having to stop slicing to clear their cutting boards. Truly helpful and because he knows to keep his hands away from the knife he only picked up the slices the children had pushed to edge of their boards.

These are just a few of the things that a toddler can do to help in the kitchen.  Jack also gets things out of the cupboards for me and helps by stirring things, greasing pans, and of course lots of tasting! Kitchen time is a great time to spend with the children and learn some life skills along the way.

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Kitchen Kids: The Toddler Made Lunch!

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Jack loves to cook! His toy kitchen is in the corner of the big kitchen and when I’m cooking he orbits between a stool by the counter where he can watch and help and making “coffee” and other treats for me out of pom-poms and imagination. I love it.

The other day at he was fighting with Mouse over a toy she had and he wanted; so I invited him into the kitchen to help me make lunch.

I had hard boiled some eggs and was planning to make egg salad- but then I had a thought “egg salad is ridiculously easy to make- easy enough for a toddler to do with some help at strategic points.”

So up on a stool Jack went with a biscuit cutter in hand!

Great for hand-eye coordination and motor skills

Mash the peeled eggs with a pastry cutter!

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

Mash the mayonnaise and mustard into the eggs.

Mash the mayonnaise and mustard into the eggs.

 

All ready for sandwiches!

All ready for sandwiches!

 

One of those places where I am reminded how VERY observant children are!

Try to put a spoonful on a tortilla. Remember just in time not to touch what you’re cooking! Ask for a scraper.

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

 

Lunch is ready!

Lunch is ready!

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

"Baby made lunch! All by him ownself"

“Baby made lunch! All by him ownself”

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Wrapping Up: Glimpses of Our Week II

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Children romping after church. Buggle is such a good big brother!

Children romping after church. Buggle is such a good big brother!

 

 

Labor Day we took S with us to the creek where we love to swim. Jack and I played and the big three and S waded up the creek - not something I can easily do with Jack.

Labor Day we took S with us to the creek where we love to swim. Jack and I played and the big three and S waded up the creek – not something I can easily do with Jack.

 

I also did the first steps of repainting an old chest of drawers for Mouse's room.

I also did the first steps of repainting an old chest of drawers for Mouse’s room.

 

All finished.

All finished.

 

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for  handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

 

I printed something I found on Pinterest and made a set of directions for a handwork project. My goal is for the big two to do these fairly unassisted and I'll help the little boys who will work together.

I printed something I found on Pinterest and made a set of directions for a handwork project. My goal is for the big two to do these fairly unassisted and I’ll help the little boys who will work together.

 

Bull and Jack started their September handwork today.

Bull and Jack started their September handwork today.

 

Adding a figure of Namer to his Story of The World Notebook.

Adding a figure of Namer to his Story of The World Notebook.

 

I FINALLY got a chance (seized one is more like it) to sort the blocks by type a la Froebel. We now have a set of rectangles for the little boys to experiment with. Later on I'll give them cubes and shapes derived from cubes, and cylinders and shaped derived from cylinders....

I FINALLY got a chance (seized one is more like it) to sort the blocks by type a la Froebel. We now have a set of rectangles for the little boys to experiment with. Later on I’ll give them cubes and shapes derived from cubes, and cylinders and shaped derived from cylinders….

 

This is a rocket driving across the ground.

This is a rocket driving across the ground.

Busy, but good. Next week will be crazier as the big three start a Gym and Swim class at the YMCA and Bull starts dance on Monday with Mouse having Dance on Friday. Buggle is holding out for Cub Scouts……

I did a bunch of writing this week, some of which got posted other bits were saved for later, ran errands (S and I will spend a good bit of the weekend cooking things ahead for the next several weeks of extra-curricular stuff).

My two favorite posts this week were: on Speech, Reading and Phonics  and  Why Our Days Are Tiring

The biggest effort in parenting was continuing to work on the children saying “Yes, Mama”  and then following through (this article from Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year was a great encouragement ) and on attitude  (read why I think it’s important here).

Looks like it’s going to be a lovely and busy week and fall….K

 

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Special Needs: Speech and Reading

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One of my first teaching jobs was as a reading remediation tutor for a local first grader. My student was a bright little boy who was clearly trying hard but who appeared to be unable to remember the sounds of most of the letters. He wasn’t dyslexic, he simply was unable to remember which sound went with which symbol on the page. He also was nearly incomprehensible when he spoke and was receiving speech a couple of times a week. His parents gave me a copy of his speech plan and after looking at the number of letters that he couldn’t pronounce correctly I realized that his “reading problem” wasn’t a reading issue at all! His speech evaluation showed that not only did he not pronounce 50% of the letters correctly but that he was also unable to distinguish between the sounds if said correctly by someone else. In most cases he also could not tell that there was a difference between the way he said something and the way the speech therapist said them. No wonder, he couldn’t keep the letters straight when reading! His brain did not distinguish between “R”, “W” and “L” either with his auditorily or visually so it made no sense to him when a reading teacher would say “No” to whatever sound he was applying to the symbol in front of him. Additionally when he spoke he tended to run his words together and had trouble grasping the concept that he needed to begin and end  his sounding out of a word in a particular place. Once we understood the reading problem stemmed from his speech his parents, other teachers and I were able to increase his speech and to focus on pronunciation and enunciation in his reading practice as well. By the time he entered third grade he was doing quite well and was on grade level for reading and related subjects.

Lessons Learned

I learned some things in that encounter that have proven themselves with other students

  1. A special needs problem does not always have an obvious cause. Reading may be effected by vision, auditory issues, or learning style. It is important to look at the whole child.
  2. The way a problem presents can sometimes be confusing. In many ways my student appeared dyslexic ( trouble with sounding out, confusing letters etc.) but he wasn’t.
  3. Early intervention is very important especially when vision or speech/communication are effected. By the time he reached first grade my student had 5 years of bad speech habits to overcome. If he had received speech services as a three year old the reading problem would have been minimized and may never have appeared.
  4. Environment matters: my student’s father was from a family that had been in our rural, somewhat isolated county for over 100 years and he still spoke with the accent of the old people in the county.  In addition my student had been babysat by his great-grandmother (who remembered the first cars in our county and whose county accent combined with the effects of old age to be a very strong accent) and those auditory influences along with whatever issues he already had combined.
  5. It is very hard for parents and other primary caregivers to evaluate their child’s speech. They are used to the way the child speaks, they understand them, and the unconsciously compensate for the child’s communication difficulty.  Homeschool parents need to be particularly careful to solicit feedback about their children’s speech capabilities from people who see them less frequently such as Sunday School teachers in order to be sure they are not compensating for a difficulty that they are accustomed to.
  6. Hard work and coordination from all involved leads to better outcomes. The Speech Therapist, the parents, the classroom teacher and I all had to focus on the same pieces of the problem at the same time in order to make progress. In this case that meant focusing on one group of letters at a time. The Speech Teacher chose them and the rest of us tailored our interactions to reinforce the same sounds. Spelling and reading words contained them, the parents practiced them daily and watched their own pronunciation carefully and so on. The common effort meant that the student found it easier to reset many years of auditory and vocal patterning and learn to speak and read correctly and fluently.
  7. Finally learning disabilities or difficulties even when profound are not a sign of poor parenting.  My student and his parents needed additional assistance in order to move past his speech and reading issues. That didn’t mean they were poor parents, he was a poor student or his classroom teacher wasn’t a good teacher. It just meant that brokenness of the world had manifested in a particular way in their lives and they needed the help of the community to deal with it. Other judgement was beyond the scope of the case and did not need to be considered.

 

I think of these things whenever I work with students, especially those who have difficulties in reading or communication. The reminder of to examine things closely and not make assumptions as to causes has been very important and I would encourage you to keep these things in mind as you work through special needs difficulties yourselves.

 

 

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