What Happened to Our Prodigy?

If anyone has ever labeled your child as slow, dyslexic, behind, learning disabled, etc., did you question your child’s normalcy?  Often these labels do not appear until the school years begin, but what is normal anyway?  Is it the way you do things?  Webster says normal is “regular, standard, natural, of average intelligence, also sound in mind and body.”

Is it possible that none of us is normal?  How can one meet the mind and body requirement of this definition with four preschoolers?  Perhaps during the preschool years, all goes well with your little gift from God.  He seems to be learning and advancing quite normally or even “above average.” During these years, your child is probably allowed to explore and learn on his own.  Oh, how proud you are when he, at two, recites the ABCs and, at three, describes to Grandma in perfect detail the ladybug and her habits!

Your child can sit for hours as you read to him–all the while asking intelligent questions and remarking reasonably, logically, even brilliantly about the material being read.  He can even dictate back to you what you have read, so he must have outstanding listening skills.

Life with this child is delightful UNTIL you begin to teach him the “correct” way to hold a pencil, the tools of reading, or the addition facts.  Then you think, “What happened to our prodigy?  Can learning to read be so difficult?  Why cannot (or will not) he hold the pencil correctly?  What difference does it make anyway?  Why does he spell was as saw?  What have I done wrong these past five years?”

If not handled correctly, “differences” in learning can change your home schooling experience into a nightmare.  So what do you do when your teaching attempts go wrong? First, take a deep breath and drop to your knees.  In fact, it will be to your advantage to take this position each morning upon arising.  Second, listen.  God has the answers, and He is willing to share them with you.  All too often we are diligent in our prayers but get busy and forget to listen.  Third, listen to your child.  Some children can actually verbalize how they learn, and others can show you through their successes in learning.

This does not mean that your child dictates your school day, but if you are to have success in your studies with his “differences,” you have to listen, listen, listen; then be willing to adjust your instruction.  After all, he has learned so much on his own.  He knows how he learns because, along with the learning “difference” that God put in this child, came the “know-how” for him to learn.

Last but not least, remember we all learn much better when all our senses are engaged.  Our eyes, ears, mouths, noses, and hands are all wired to our brains.  We are all multisensory, and we as teachers need to take advantage of that fact.

For example, have the student say what he is writing, so his ears can hear what he has said; his arm and hand are engaged in writing, so simultaneously he says, hears, sees, and feels what he is writing.  Four of the five senses have been used.  Using the traditional approach, only sight and touch are used; he sees what his hand is writing.  By adding his voice, he has used twice as many avenues to his brain because he also hears what his mouth has formed.  Statistically we remember only 10% of what we hear.  Guess what?  Your mouth is not wired to his brain.  Surprised?  It is my opinion that the multisensory approach is fail-proof when used repeatedly on new or difficult material, and, of course, as mastery is achieved, the student will no longer need to say everything aloud.

For young ones, the writing does not have to be with pencil and paper.  Learning to form letters and numbers by writing them in sand, flour, even the air works, especially with this multisensory approach.  Sure, this might make a noisier room, but learning is exciting, and where there is excitement, there will be noise.

As a child begins to write on paper, however, it is very important that a child learn and practice the proper way to hold a pencil.  As he gets older and must write more, his hand will tire and cramp if he does not have the correct grip on the writing tool.  Any good handwriting program will give an example or describe the proper way to hold a pencil.

The computer is such a convenience, and I know children who spend their school days in front of it.  I feel sorry for them.  There is so much more to learning than looking at a screen for hours.  The writing hand and arm are not only connected to the brain but also to the heart, and in early composition training, the child’s creativity will be more easily tapped if he uses pencil and paper to draft and revise his work.  Editing and publishing can be on the computer if necessary.

Finally, reading and writing are the foundation of all learning.  In fact, being able to read and write well are life skills.  A child who can read well can teach himself, so take as long as necessary for him to learn and practice the basics—even at the expense of delaying science and history.  If you know God has called you to homeschool, if you are diligent and consistent in your efforts, and if you see steady progress (no matter how small), resist the pressure that outsiders’ criticisms can produce.

I have tutored many public and private school children over the past fifteen years.  They had never mastered the basics of reading and writing.  They struggled.  This struggling is very painful for both child and parent.  All these children could have mastered the basics if, in the beginning, they had been given more time, more one-on-one attention, or been taught in a “different” way; but instead they were labeled and passed on, and their struggles went with them.  Each child is different.  Take the time your child needs to learn to read and write English fluently.  In the end, both you and he will experience the achievement that mastering the basics assures.