Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Interview with Olivia (and some other home learning musings)

This blog began as an un-schooling and natural parenting blog. I wanted to document our journey, and be an encouragement and possibly an inspiration to other home learning parents. Home learning is a HUGE undertaking. I underestimated the level of time and commitment. I also underestimated how many of my own issues would be triggered: my competitive nature, my anxiety, and my insecurities.

As Olivia begins grade 11, I took time to reflect and collected some of my thoughts here.

A (not so) quick summary of our fun with home learning and learning differences

I have always thought of my daughter as gifted because of her many talents. Even as a very young one she was able to draw amazingly well, to dance remarkably and passionately, her empathy and compassion for people was off the charts. She's a natural musician- playing violin by ear, and singing as it turns out. These were her inborn interests- her natural leanings. She was confident and fearless!

When my daughter was 10, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia; basically reading, writing, and math learning disorders. Comparatively speaking, 10 years old is considered pretty late to get this kind of information.

We had been approaching "schooling" from a natural and trusting perspective. I believed (and still do) that people are learning beings, regardless of age we are always learning. I believed the academic tasks we associate with school learning, the reading, writing, and math, were things that could be learned without a curriculum- lead by passion, interest, and necessity.

Moving forward with this new diagnosis, we learned that the recommended interventions were largely unavailable in our small community. I wondered: Have we failed her by not forcing a curriculum or doing a more traditional method of schooling? What would we do now? For a time I felt very lost, insecure, and at odds with myself and my choices. My competitive nature had me comparing my daughter with others her age, even though this conflicted with my core beliefs about natural learning. She too, would compare herself to her peers, finding her deficits and feeling negatively about her differences.

What I had to understand is that my daughter's brain is wired differently. This was not my fault, and all the un-schooling philosophy in the world had not "caused" her challenges.

Olivia adds, "Different has a stigma of always being a bad thing, when it doesn't have to be. I knew I was different and I always looked at it as a bad thing. It's only been for a few years that I haven't felt that way. But it feels better now to see it as a good thing. From a psychology standpoint, when you are younger, you always feel more connected to people but when you're older there's a separation from everything else and you start to see yourself as your own person. Separate from others, separate from your parents, separate from your friends or peers, but when you're young there isn't a difference between you and the people around you. There isn't that separation. Now that I'm older, there is a separation and I can see that I am my own person and I can realize that I am not so-and-so and I am my own being. I am me. Reading about other people with dyslexia and some of the amazing things they were able to do, helped to take away the stigma of it being bad and it put a lighter spin on it. It didn't have to be a weakness, it could also be a strength in some ways."

The school encouraged us to continue on as we always had, and not to push her academically but to support her in her strengths.

Olivia says "because you did this, it helped me to see dyslexia as a strength."

She taught herself to read shortly after diagnosis. Many of the things we did to support her had nothing directly to do with reading, writing, or math. Horse back riding, art and pottery, and dance. We found tutors who were patient and kind. They would allow her to take her time and make mistakes. The human connection between them seemed to be the most important part. One tutor began to work with her natural creative inclinations and inspired her to start writing. Olivia's love of telling stories motivated her to want to create stories to share with others and she completed her first novel!

She says "I always wondered about the writers of stories, what gave them drive to write this? What inspired this? What made them want to create this? I wondered if I could write a story. Would people would want to read it? And if they would wonder who wrote it, and what made me want to write. More than that, I wanted to prove that I could do it."

Which brings us to now... grade 11

Olivia has only been reading for 6 years. Think about that for a minute. In 6 years she caught up to her grade level. She is the expert on her experience so I asked her some questions:
How is it that you are "caught up" to grade level in only 6 years?

"It was motivation and a lot of hard work. I think it was my love of stories and wanting to share those stories with other people that gave me the drive to learn and keep working on it even though it was challenging."


What would you say to other home learning parents whose children have learning differences?


"Keep encouraging your kids to do what they're good at and do the things that they love."


How will that help them to get better at the things they are struggling with?


"For example, if they have dyslexia, if they are able to see that dyslexia also comes with a lot of good things, not just the challenges it makes it a lot easier to cope."


What would you say to parents that are worried that children won't learn what they need to know?


"Kids like to ask questions and find the answers. Wanting to find the answers becomes the motivation. It's kind of a domino effect. It just kinda happens. It depends what kind of learner kids are too, are they someone who learns best by listening or are they maybe more visual or hands on? It depends on the person. Explore how your kid learns best, what is their preferred way of learning?"


What inspires you? What's next?


"That's a big question... there's so much. Last year I got so much feedback from my classmates about my novel. Some wanted to know more about certain characters and others wanted to know about my creative process and what points I wanted to stand out, such as the morals of the story. I was writing it in the same few years that I was realizing that dyslexia wasn't a bad thing. All the characters were very different, but they were all so wonderful in their own ways. It was really inspiring!

I'm working on a new novel and I'm excited to see what kind of feedback I get from it because it's very different from things I've previously written."

If any of this post resonates with you because you are a home learner, or a parent of a child who learns differently, or maybe just someone feeling a little lost. (September is notorious for making me feel like I'm bobbing around in vast, sometimes stormy ocean.)
The following is my heartfelt unsolicited advice:

1. Breathe. Really take time everyday to breathe. It might mean taking a walk, sitting outside, or hiding in the bathroom. (I know how it is, sometimes that's our best option!) But breathe.

2. Decide what is REALLY important to you when it comes to your family's learning, because you are the parent and you get to do that! Is it A's in every subject? Is it enjoying your time together, even the learning time? What kind of qualities do you want them to have as adults? Think beyond curriculum, what skills/qualities do you want to nurture in them? Do you want them to be kind, considerate, confident? Do you want them to understand what their strengths are and how to chase the things they feel passionate about?

3. Realize that a stressed out brain doesn't learn. This is science. If your child's brain is flooded with stress hormones for whatever reason, (they are struggling with the subject, they're uninterested, they want to run, they're hungry or tired...) the learning simply won't happen. It can't, the stressed out brain only cares about survival. I would extend this to include that a stressed out brain doesn't teach very well either. When my brain is stressed or anxious, I'm a mess. I'm in a hurry. I can be very unreasonable. Nothing I do from that place is going to support learning, except my walking away to calm down. Learn to recognize when stress is at play so you can take care of yourself and your little one - do something different!

4. Fun and engagement is when learning happens, so figure out how to make it fun. If that means talking to the teacher and trying to make adjustments to the plan, then do it! If that means scrapping the plan and building your own based on your child's needs, then do that! (Isn't that at least part of the reason we choose home learning in the first place? We want the best fit for our kids?)

5. Take your time because you actually have a lot of it. The time period between kindergarten and graduation is 13+ years. That's a ton of opportunity to enjoy being with your little one. The learning will happen, I promise. It can't not happen, unless you are all swimming in stress 24/7, see no 3.

*As a side note, my son also taught himself to read at 10 years old (no dyslexia, just his time to learn it). He too is reading at his grade level now. He just started grade 7. I never wasted spent my time forcing him to learn what sounds each letter makes, but he learned it because it became important and relevant to him. When he was in the early grades we spent time learning about things he was interested in, in ways that worked for him. He'll be doing the FSA testing this year to see how he compares to others in his grade, I'll let you know how it goes... I know I'm curious.

6. You got this. You grew and birthed this little being into existence. Arguably, you love them more than anyone. So listen to that mama gut. You got this.

Click here for some of our fave resources from earlier years :)

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