College for Struggling Learners #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholarJune 2018
By Lee Binz
The HomeScholar

Dealing with learning challenges is difficult, but in high school, it can become seriously concerning. You don't have to be afraid! With the great student to teacher ratio of homeschooling, and the love for your child, you can overcome learning struggles! A parent is a successful homeschooler if their child is performing to the best of their ability. It’s an emotional struggle, best understood by other parents who have faced the challenge.

Learn the “12 Keys to High School Success” and understand how struggling learners can succeed as they begin high school.

Homeschooling works, because it can improve their academic performance level, even allowing children to achieve grade level in their most challenging subjects. Younger children thrive at home, without teachers labeling them or children teasing them. Parents can use a learning style that works for each child, and keep the repetitive work to the minimum their child needs in order to practice and learn. Older children can still learn high school subjects without relying on their weakest abilities to get the information. If reading is a challenge your child can learn through listening, if writing is difficult your child can answer questions orally. Without being slowed down by their unique learning challenges, teens can progress through all the grade levels and into successful adulthood.

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Debbie was at her lowest point when she realized her 12-year-old son, Dan, could not read or write in his Sunday school classes. She had to carefully shield him from the judgment of others. Her homeschool friends were very understanding, but she worked hard to keep him away from situations where he would have to read aloud. She was distraught. Again and again they changed curriculum, hoping each time that a new curriculum would change everything. It seemed like nothing would ever work. He struggled with learning all the way through high school. She never had him officially tested, because she didn't want him to be labeled as an adult. Dan has achieved wonderful things since graduating homeschool! 

When Dan turned 18, he started working at Starbucks. An excellent worker, he received nothing but positive feedback, which motivated him to continue his education and decided to attend college. He didn't score well on the SAT®, so they did not report his scores to colleges. He entered college "through the back door" his mother said, by attending community college first. His excellent work ethic and love of learning helped him thrive where others felt adrift.

Dan transferred from community college to the university with a 3.89 grade point average. There were 300 applicants to the business school that year, and Dan was one of only 100 admitted. Debbie says, "He finally realizes he can do it!" 

Debbie has some great advice for parents. Don't push [your child] before they are ready. She was glad she kept him home, so that he could avoid the negative feedback from a public school setting. She read aloud to Dan constantly – even his high school textbooks, when necessary. She used verbal assessments in all his classes, and didn't introduce essay writing until much later.

She recommends books by Dr. Raymond Moore, including Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child's Education and Grace Llewellyn, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education and Cynthia Tobias, The Way They Learn. She says, "You feel like you're failing – like you didn't do something right." Don't be deterred, though. It takes a lot of one-on-one time, but that's the benefit of homeschooling. Read their textbooks and the classics to your child. Even in college they can be allowed help with reading.

In her lowest moments, Debbie would remember her grandfather. He also could not read. His wife would read blueprints to him each night so he would be prepared for work the next day. Still, her grandfather was a successful businessman. He was able to compensate. Her son Dan is able to compensate now.

Teenagers Change Their Minds

Her biggest surprise was realizing that Dan wanted a college degree. She had never thought he would go to college, and only vaguely considered a technical school. But when he worked at Starbucks, he identified his gift in business. Her additional advice is the same as mine. She says, "Even if you think they won't go to college, they may – so always be prepared!"

Dan is so thankful he was homeschooled. He has said he would never put his own children in public school. He knows that if he had been in public school, he wouldn't be where he is today. Nurturing is critical, and homeschooling can provide that best. Debbie says, I remember the hopelessness. They CAN succeed and excel – just give them the tools."

College for Struggling Learners #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar

Learning to Teach

JoAnn homeschooled her two daughters, feeling extremely unsure of her abilities – until her girls were officially diagnosed with learning disabilities. Once she had the diagnosis, she realized that homeschooling was the best option. She didn't want her girls ostracized and placed in a "special" group that would have a negative effect on their socialization skills. Even her mother became increasingly supportive of homeschooling after the diagnosis was made.

Her two girls could not read until half-way through 5th grade. They struggled in reading, writing, and spelling. Joann took her children to The Slingerland Institute. She recommends a pamphlet that really helped her cope, Why Wait for a Criterion of Failure, by Beth Slingerland.

JoAnn's advice is "Never despair! The timing of brain growth is on your CHILD'S timetable, not yours. Accept it, because you certainly can't change it!" She wishes she would have dropped more academic subjects when they were in elementary school. Still, she is so glad she homeschooled. "Homeschooling is better for dyslexic kids for the positive encouragement and socialization." 

She taught with multi-sensory input and multi-sensory output. In every subject she worked to provide lessons with audio, visual, and tactile input. She would supplement courses with drama, hands on projects, and verbal assessments all the way through school. Her daughters were especially helped by the use of color. Her daughter still color codes her college lecture notes to improve her retention.

JoAnn's older daughter went directly into a university and majored in biology with a minor in chemistry. She has recently graduated with an advanced degree as a Veterinarian Technician. Her younger daughter also went directly into a university. She will graduate with a degree in interior design, and has already done some design work for Bill Gates as a college intern. Both girls were very successful in college.

Learning to Cope When Children are Young

Jill is hesitant about labeling her daughter in any way, but knew she faced some unique challenges even though she wasn't formally diagnosed. Her daughter recently became a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist. Here is what Jill says about her daughter's struggles: "She worked hard and I'm very proud of her. She is the daughter that would fit into the statement 'I could never homeschool my child because....' She is very active, intense, dramatic and a joy to be around. I am convinced that if she were in the public school we would have been 'encouraged' to put her on medications (the standard line around here, when she is getting jumpy is to 'run up to the mailbox and get the mail' which is a mile round trip). She has forced me to think outside of the box and, well, it is an adventure I'm sorry to see come to a close."

Like the other mothers, Jill was able to find a way to harness strengths and weaknesses, and teach her child to compensate for difficulties. With a parent's close attention, unique coping mechanisms can develop. A homeschool parent can see small successes, and learn to shape and mold new ways of coping with each challenge.

Joelle is right in the thick of things, with her young child. I asked her for some advice for others, and she emphasizes that coping comes from faith. This is Joelle's experienced advice.

"A learning 'disability' (a word I hesitate to use for anyone who doesn't have a severe condition) isn't something you can just make go away if you have a clinic and a handful of web links. A learning challenge is best addressed by being sensitive to learning style and interests, which, as you know, vary from child to child.

College for Struggling Learners #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholarA learning challenge is also a mindset, a lifestyle, and sore knees from prayer. A learning challenge means you'll come face to face with your pessimism and lack of faith through tears of mourning for the child you don't have. But lest anyone abandon hope, a learning challenge also means seeing God answer those tears by turning them to tears of what is, hands down, absolutely the most incredible joy when you see the triumphs. You will see those victories sooner or later on Earth or in Heaven.

A learning challenge leads to personal growth in the siblings of the challenged child. A learning challenge is a worldview, a lens, a perspective. It's the fierce mother-bear love you have when you whisper to your child, 'Don't listen to the naysayers. I love you no matter what, and I'm still your teacher.'

I can offer a short list of helpful resources, but there is only one resource on here that I can guarantee hands down will help everyone. The rest can be labeled 'of interest.'

1) The Bible. Children are people - in fact, they are the most human of people. There are lots of passages on how we are to deal with our fellow humans. This is the only resource on this list that I can guarantee will help.
2) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv - read this concurrently with #3
3) Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head by Carla Hannaford - which will probably lead to curiosity about #4
4) Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole Brain Learning or similar therapies
5) The National Association for Child Development

While your children are young, find what works for your child. Do your research, beginning with the Learning Disabilities Association. As your child grows, there is a shift in your purpose. Eventually your purpose becomes learning how to compensate for learning challenges in a way that will allow your child to succeed in college and career.

Learning to Compensate with Older Teens

In a school setting, children are often given an accommodation for their learning challenges. In the adult world, people learn to compensate for their weaknesses all the time.  If you have a child that struggles with writing, you can help them learn to compensate.

Teach keyboarding skills with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Provide audio books to increase their vocabulary when they can’t read advanced books. While parents of young children rely on audio books for literature, you can find high school curriculum and textbooks with an audio download available. Even popular science texts, like Exploring Creation with Biology and Discovering Design with Chemistry have an inexpensive audio book available. Although not perfect, it’s possible to have a computer read aloud texts and websites.

Consider getting adaptive technology that will help teens compensate. One popular example is Dragon Naturally Speaking, a speech-recognition software that will type for your child. It gives "users the power to create documents, reports and emails three times faster than most people type - with up to 99%accuracy. My husband has tried the software, and had a lot of fun with it, and for a computer-savvy teen it should be a breeze. Your teen will have to "train" the computer to understand their voice. Once the computer types what was said, some editing may be required, but it’s much less work that having a teenager write an entire paper.

I do think Dragon Naturally Speaking can help improve academic performance across many subjects, allowing your child to perform at a high school level. They can use it to compose reports or assignments in all their subjects quickly. Then they can succeed in history, economics, science, and other subjects, without being penalized for their weaknesses in English. This can improve their love of learning, and lead to a better educated child in the long run.

Seek a diagnosis and accommodation when it will help your child. If you think a diagnosis will help you teach your child, then it will help your child. It you think a diagnosis will help your child get into college, or succeed in college, then it will help your child.  In this situation, testing would be worthwhile, even if it's inconvenient.

College for Struggling Learners #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar

Learning to Succeed in College

Keep in mind your long-terms goals. You want your child to grow up and have their own home. You want them to succeed and thrive in anything they choose, whether it means college or career.

Some colleges specialize in learning disabilities, and you can easily see them proudly sharing their specialization when attending a college fair. Many colleges offer support services to help students that face learning challenges. Anita in Missouri wrote, “All of the colleges we visited with my son had learning help centers that provided free assistance in many areas; studying, writing, test prep, and many other areas as well.” You are not alone, there is support for your child in college. There really is a great college out there for your child that will understand and accept any learning issues without hesitation.

Find helpful colleges by going to a college fair. You can do additional research with this college guide that prioritizes in this kind of specialized college search. The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences.

It’s helpful to prepare for the SAT® or ACT® when possible. High schoolers face multiple timed tests in their life, but below average scores have to be a recipe for failure and negative feedback. Instead, request accommodation for the SAT® and ACT® if necessary, which does require a doctor's diagnosis. If you don't want accommodation for college admission tests, a diagnosis may not be necessary. You may feel comfortable with your homeschooling methods, and don't need additional help or direction. Perhaps a specialist will not impact what you're doing, and a diagnosis may not change anything or be worth your while. On the other hand, if you are completely baffled about how to teach your student in a way that makes sense, and the input of a specialist will help you and change what you are doing, then evaluation may be useful.

Ten Tips for Handling the College Admission Process

Colleges love diversity in general, to encourage vibrant interaction in classroom discussions. They are looking for all different kinds of personal experiences and backgrounds. Because your struggles are part of who you are, you can bring much-needed perspective to college!

College for Struggling Learners #Homeschooling @TheHomeScholar

1.  Start thinking early. Create a plan for maximum flexibility for your child, to be prepared for any college or career choice.
2.  Take college prep classes. Use accommodations and any learning styles or methods that work.
3.  Be creative with curriculum. Use outside the box subjects and curriculum. For example, using ASL for foreign language.
4.  Encourage confidence and assertiveness. Teens should understand their medications and what they need.
5.  Find adaptive technology. Determine what will help them succeed. For example, consider using Dragon Naturally Speaking.
6.  Document disability when helpful. Obtain a recent diagnosis and assessment, when you think it will help your child. Then research an IEP, and keep notes about accommodation you provide while homeschooling.
7.  Ask for help when needed. Whether extra help, note takers, or special software, keep written notes establishing a record of the individualized program you do at home, including timing and location of tests, presentation of materials, or other techniques you have used to improve understanding while homeschooling.
8.  Search for colleges that provide help. Attend a college fair, visit interesting colleges, and contact the college’s academic support department. Ask about the success of other learning disabled (LD) students in their program.
9.  Accentuate strengths and achievements. Create comprehensive homeschool records that show the academic rigor of your homeschool, without mentioning adaptation. Include an activity list, with volunteer work or employment successes.
10. Arrange accommodation in college. Prepare a list of reasonable adaptive services that might be helpful, and discuss those with the college the student will attend.

Learning to Grow as Adults

Jay Smith of Linfield College says, 

"The advice that I’d give to your students, is to simply be proactive in their college search process. The students shouldn’t be afraid to ask colleges if they offer support for students with learning disabilities, and what that support entails. We have high expectations of our students, but we also understand that we all learn in different ways."  

Some colleges have an extremely supportive environment for children with learning disabilities. Redeemer Pacific College is a small Catholic college in Langley, BC, affiliated with Canada's premier Christian liberal arts university, Trinity Western University. Admissions Coordinator Jennifer Friesen says, "All RPC students are able to use the services for students with disabilities offered through TWU, including access to the Learning Resource Centre and starting off their university career at TWU's Freshman Academy." The Learning Resource Centre offers services such as note taking, accommodated examinations and providing material in alternate formats.

Freshman Academy is a program for students who have not met the requirements for admission into university due to a low grade point average or missing academic courses. Friesen says, "Freshman Academy allows students to go through their classes in a small cohort with the support of their professors, a faculty Learning Coach, and their classmates. Once students have completed Freshman Academy they are able to directly enter their second year of university at Redeemer Pacific and Trinity Western."

When I go to college fairs, I notice how many colleges truly specialize in students with learning struggles. They want your students, and they are ready, willing, and able to teach them.

College for Struggling Learners
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