Slow Learners

Hints for Dealing With Slow Learners

 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 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 seven 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.


  1. Remove, where possible, any contributing factors. Our food is no longer natural. It contains remnants of sprays, hormones, antibiotics and additives. Many naturopaths will administer Vega Tests quite cheaply which show if there are intolerances to any food, additive, spray etc. This may result in changing the whole families diet. 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.


  1. Start working with the child at the correct level for them as an individual. If the child is older test their academic ability first. 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 what the mother knows.


  1. Begin work at the level the child’s results indicated for each subject whether this is first or sixth grade. 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 and the same applies to education. All children, other than those with severe brain damage, can learn but some children learn slower than others. Slow children are often quite intelligent. They simply have difficulties in some areas.


  1. 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 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.


  1. 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. 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 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.


  1. 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 they know in which 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. Homeschooling is not a race. Not every child needs to reach year twelve.


  1. 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 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.


  1. 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.


  1. Where possible make learning enjoyable. 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. Tables can be said while skipping, swinging on a swing or jumping on a trampoline. The rhythm helps.


  1. 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.


  1. 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?


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.


  1. Learning does not stop when we become adults. I have seen, both in my own child, and in one grandchild, that they can go on maturing into adulthood. As we get older many tasks are practical, and require patience and common sense. I am thrilled, that at thirty five, everyone at Jill’s work think she is super-intelligent and should do a uni degree and become a Kinder Teacher. She is not capable of that. What they see, is her ability to break tasks down into small parts and then carry them through; common sense; her ability to budget; her business sense; and her ability to deal with small children since she has been around them since she was small. These are a different type of intelligence and one needed in all jobs.