Hope for Your Struggling Learner

Jan 31, 2014 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


My brother struggled tremendously with learning to read. In my dad’s words, “He was the most dyslexic kid I’ve ever met.” It wasn’t till he was almost twelve that he could finally really read a book. In the years before that, he struggled year after year to get past reading basic three- and four-letter words, without much success. But I love sharing his story with discouraged parents because it gives them so much hope for their struggling students.

Do you have a student who struggles with basic skills like reading and writing? Maybe your child is getting older, and you find yourself worrying that you’re failing him—that his struggles in these areas will keep him from succeeding in school and in life. My parents often felt this discouragement, and I was so impressed with how they handled this throughout the years.

When my brother was nine, I got to see his education up close. My parents asked me if I could spend the year homeschooling him, and what a challenging but fun year we had together! He was the type of kid who needed to run around the outside of the house a few times to get out enough energy to be able to sit still and work on math. And we quickly discovered that he could focus on his spelling words much better if I let him stand on his head while spelling the words back to me! He was a bundle of endless energy, he could hardly read, and handwriting took tremendous concentration—in a typical classroom setting he would likely have had all sorts of labels slapped on him.

But what impressed me so much was how intelligent and creative this back-flipping boy was. Despite his struggles with basic skills, he spent his leisure hours listening to audio books (while climbing trees), voluntarily devouring classic works that I have yet to read, and talking about them with an insight that amazed me. We memorized poetry together, and he, unprompted, started composing his own poems. (I’ll share more about that in a later post.) He decided he wanted to learn cursive so he could sign his signature (which was apparently a requirement for opening a bank account). So I offered to read him a book that wasn’t available in audio for as long as he was working on his cursive, and he determinedly did page after page after page each day, developing a beautiful cursive hand by the end of the year.

Today my brother is almost seventeen. He reads 500-page books for fun, spends dozens of hours researching for speech and debate, and is very articulate and thoughtful. Far from handicapping him, I think his slowness to read actually opened many doors for him in terms of experiencing great literature and learning to express himself creatively. I would almost say I’m thankful for his dyslexia when I see the young man he’s become in spite of, and in many ways because of it.

So, parents of struggling kids, take heart! It was my parents’ patience and perseverance all those years that allowed my brother the space he needed to grow at his own pace, in all his uniqueness. At the same time they never stopped helping him in every way they could to develop the skills that he needed. Your struggling learners, too, have unique gifts and interests that you can nurture and encourage. Even if your children don’t and can’t fit into the usual mold, there are so many ways you can help them to learn and to grow, to overcome and to flourish.

You can read more about my brother’s story in this article my dad wrote for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine®.

When she was ten years old, Genevieve (Pudewa) Priest attended the first writing class her dad had ever taught. Little did they know then that IEW would grow from that seedling into a company serving homeschoolers and schools around the world! Having taught in Montessori schools, homeschooled a younger sibling, and taught IEW writing to homeschool students, she enjoys being able to offer support and encouragement to parents, teachers, and students in their educational journey.

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