By Shari McMinn
This spring I had the privilege of editing and updating CHEC’s popular and essential publication, The Homeschool Guidebook for Colorado. Published more than 30 years ago, then fully updated and reprinted in softcover in 2016, this is the ‘go to’ compendium for Colorado home educators. IT IS SO GOOD! I had forgotten how thorough yet easy to read it is. Chapter 8, titled “Different Learners,” was very helpful in homeschooling my unique learner students for more than two decades. I would like to draw from it for this month’s blog.
The referenced chapter outlines a variety of challenges — 20 in fact — that are the most frequent stumbling blocks for unique learners and their parents who homeschool them. One of the essential points made is to start with a baseline of what each student is able to accomplish now in his or her homeschool studies, then move up from there in the years to come.
What is a baseline? It is a starting point. It is a record for you and your student that shows where they were academically, emotionally, physically, and socially on the day you started keeping track of their educational progress. As you homeschool through a year, then on through many years to come, you will be able to track progress and growth. This record from the baseline up is for your family’s own knowledge. You can also share it when requested by others who have jurisdiction over your family. These might include your umbrella school administrator, public school district superintendent (if you file an NOI), or a caseworker if one is involved in your life for whatever reason.
Having adopted our five youngest children from child welfare, it was very enlightening for our caseworkers to see the amazing progress our children were making with a safe, steady, and nurturing homeschool routine. We were able to show them the baseline from where we started home educating each of them, compare their milestones to it each year, and recognize the full picture of growth at the finish line when my children finally crossed it upon high school graduation.
It is important to homeschool your child starting from the point(s) they are currently at in each of the major subjects — neither too hard nor too easy. When academic work is too hard for students, they can shut down mentally and emotionally, refusing to learn and losing a love for lifelong learning. Likewise, if academic work is too easy, boredom sets in for students who are not challenged, and they also lose their love for learning. It is important for the teaching parent to sensitively comprehend where a child is at, especially in reading and math, as they are foundational for learning other coursework. Oral language, including vocabulary, is also an important baseline to understand. This is a common problem area for children who have been neglected to the point that no adult has talked meaningfully to them since the day they were born, so they are far behind in word pronunciation and vocabulary range.
If your child has been in an institutional school before you began to homeschool, you possibly have tests or evaluations to use as their baseline. If not, then you will need to either test them, or better yet, sit with them and work through their current reading, writing, and arithmetic assignments so you see for yourself what they can or can not do.
This then becomes your baseline — the starting point for their homeschool education — from which to help your student move onward and upward. Advancement is never in a straight line; there will be ups and downs, and some subjects will be easier for them, some harder. This is true for all students, even more so for unique learners. You may find they are behind several grade levels in certain subjects and surprisingly ahead in others.
One of the best tools found in Chapter 8, “Struggling Learners,” is the list of potential learning issues your child might have. It is simple to work through each checklist as you observe your child daily, because you work with them closely and have a gut feeling about their struggles. As you rate each listed issue during the course of a week or two, you will study your student and realize what they truly struggle with. Whether it is dyslexia, giftedness, or pencil-resistance, you are creating a baseline of what is or is not a hurdle for them to overcome.
Then, you can put the pieces together for how you can come alongside your student to help him or her blossom in their homeschool education. Special therapies or other learning opportunities might be needed. Perhaps one type of curriculum methodology is a better fit than another. Testing your child’s learning style online is easy and actually kind of fun. All of these tools will help you become a more effective teacher, with your student blossoming into a more successful learner. This will also, hopefully, eliminate some of your mutual stress and conflict. Here is one such learning style quiz.
At the end of the year, whether it is a standardized test or alternative assessment that you do, you can review the baseline from early in the year to then chart their progress. Slow progress is often discouraging, but it is still progress. It is always worth celebrating the things in which your student does well or enjoys. Use those to encourage his or her learning in the subjects that are more of a challenge or are distasteful.
Using a baseline is like taking a road trip with a starting point and plotting your way through to the ending point. Where there is no map, it is easy to get lost. As Proverbs 29:18 states, Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (KJV).
Set your student and yourself up for success by taking time to chart your course. You will get off track sometimes, but if you know from where you came and to where you are headed, the journey will be more enjoyable and worthwhile.
Thanks for reading this month’s Unique Learners blog post. I hope you found it helpful. I strive to include encouraging, practical tips based on my real-life experience as a mom to many unique learners. My articles are now posted monthly on the 4th Wednesday at CHEC.org/blog.
Please click on this link for a free download crash course: How to teach your special needs child at home.
Finally, here is the link to purchase your own copy of the GUIDEBOOK, if you haven’t done so already.