Homeschooling & the Slow
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
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
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
4. Begin work at the level the child�s results indicated for each
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
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
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
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
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.