January 13, 2014

When Homeschooled Children with Learning Differences Feel Self-Conscious

When I got home from work one day last week, Hubby asked me to step in with Boo Bear's reading lessons. For the first time, she was refusing to make use of the tips and tricks for readers with dyslexia he picked up with his Orton-Gillingham training. He was at a loss for her reasoning and becoming frustrated.

when homeschooled children with learning differences feel self-conscious
Boo Bear working on her handwriting and spelling.

I immediately had a suspicion. Sneak hasn't shown any signs of having inherited dyslexia, and Boo Bear, while she's seen me read every day throughout her life, hasn't seen me use similar techniques since she was a toddler because I haven't needed them as much since Hubby stopped needing my help grading papers. So, I suspected she might be feeling embarrassed because it seems to her that her younger sister is "smarter" because she doesn't struggle as much with reading.

Boo Bear confirmed this. She didn't want to make use of these tools that have been serving her well for the last two and a half years because they made her feel different, even with just Hubby, Sneak, and myself around her. Even though we've spoken often about the fact I have the same issue, she hasn't seen me struggling with reading and writing, so she felt like I was fibbing just to make her feel better.

So, I told her about the days when she did see me struggling. I told her that back before Sneak was born, Hubby would have me help grade papers. Some of his students would answer the multiple choice questions with lower case letters, and I would have trouble discerning the b and d answers.

"Do you know what I did?" I asked.

Boo shook her head.

"I did this," I said while holding up my hands with index fingers up and the others curled to meet my thumb.

"You did bed!" she exclaimed, eyes wide in shock.

when homeschooled children with learning differences feel self-conscious
Boo Bear reading with Hubby back during the summer.

I nodded and then assured her almost everyone used that trick when they first started reading, but some of us need those tools every now and again even after we've been reading for years. I told her our brains work a little differently, but so did a lot of other people's. I named some other family members who happen to have dyslexia and/or dysgraphia to one degree or another, and I asked her if she thought those people were smart. 

She did. Of course she did, they're some of the most engineering and mathematically inclined people in our family.

"Everyone has things they do to help themselves remember or make sense of things now and again," I told Boo. "You tap out syllables and use the 'bed' trick. Sneak uses songs. I use muscle memory and dictionaries almost constantly, and other people count using their fingers."

I explained that the only reason she didn't see me using the same tools she does or struggling as much with reading now as she is, is because I've been reading for a very long time. I just have the benefit of lots of practice. I asked her how often I practiced reading, and she answered every day. I nodded before telling her how proud I am of her because I couldn't read as well as she is at seven until I was almost ten-years-old.

"When you get older, you might not need to tap out syllables or use the 'bed' trick anymore, and that would be wonderful. But, even if you still need them now and again, that's okay.

"You should never be embarrassed because of the things you need to do to make your mind work its best," I told her. "Everyone has something they do. Everyone's brain works in different ways, and that's a good thing because different ways of thinking result in different ideas and skills."

The fact Boo Bear began feeling self-conscious when encouraged to use these kinetic learning tools threw Hubby and me for a loop. If she was in classes with a couple dozen other students, we would have expected it and been more prepared, but she's only with us. We never imagined she'd feel different in a place where she wasn't alone in her learning difference, so we were surprised when she suddenly started saying she didn't want to use her learning tools.

It's no secret children are very observant, but for however amazing they are at picking up on some information, they can be prone to overlooking "silent" struggles. So, even in such an environment, they can begin to feel alone and self-conscious of perceived differences. It's your job as their teacher to make them feel comfortable using whatever tools they need to excel.

Don't be afraid to be vulnerable or show them your own struggles. They won't think less of you. They'll be inspired by your hard work to keep up with their own endeavors.

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