College for Struggling Learners
by Lee Binz
Learning to Compensate
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 have what it takes!
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. He 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 this 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 them 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 to them their textbooks, and the classics. 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, he grandfather was a successful businessman. He was able to compensate. Her son Dan is able to compensate now.
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. So 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.”
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 two pamphlets that really helped her cope. One is Why Wait for a Criterion of Failure. The other is An Adaptation of the Orton-Gillingham Approach for Classroom Teaching of Reading, both 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 the 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 the 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
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 homeschooling 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 with being sensitive to learning style and interests, which, as you know, vary from child to child. A 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’t put this in a box. I can offer a short list, but there’s 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 or similar therapies offered by #5 and #6
5) The National Association for Child Development ( )
6) The Developmental Movement Center, Seattle (206) 525-8038″
Learning to Grow
Jay Smith of Linfield College says this, “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.
Learning to Succeed
You can request accommodation for the SAT and ACT if necessary, which does require a doctor’s diagnosis. If you don’t want accommodation for the 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.
If you think a diagnosis will help YOU, then I think it will help your child. In that situation, testing would be worthwhile, even if it’s inconvenient. If testing will not help you, then it may not be necessary.
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. There are colleges that specialize in learning disabilities. There IS a great college out there for him, and they will understand and accept any learning issues without hesitation. Search and you will find just the right college.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee’s 5-part mini-course, “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School.” You can find her at http://www.TheHomeScholar.com. Sign up for our newsletter, The HomeScholar Record: http://www.thehomescholar.com/homeschool-newsletter.php
Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.