It has been a week. A week to reflect on my previous posts. It is interesting to me how when I set out to share this story, my intention was to quickly run through the circumstances that led us to today. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, this story seems to be taking on a life of its own. It seems to me that I must have needed to share this story.
I left off at the point where our Montessori School was not going as planned. After the first week, I began doing some research for alternatives. Alternatives to teaching these boys. After all, one of my goals was to inspire these boys to love to learn. I knew that Cheese was struggling. But my hope was that he would love to learn despite his struggles. I did not want to our school to become a worksheet wasteland. Nor, did I want our school to be a "grill and drill" environment, where we went through flashcards over and over. There were things about our Montessori environment that were working for Cheese though. He did enjoy working through the Montessori math materials. He was patient enough to sit at our table counting beads! I blame his "math brain" on his motivation to sit and count those beads. I believe that those early math concepts really became a part of him, allowing him to work through more difficult arithmetic with ease.
After a fair amount of research, I settled on Waldorf Education. Waldorf uses stories to teach the letters. There is a significant amount of art and practice as one would work through those stories. Thus, giving the learner a nice amount experience with each letter. I found Oak Meadow, Christophuers Homeschool, and Waldorf Essentials. Through these three curriculums, I cobbled together a group of stories that would represent all twenty-six letters. It took Cheese and I about three months but upon completion, Cheese seem to finally understand the difference between letters and numbers. He also seemed to be starting to absorb the fact that these letters make sounds, and then those sounds come together to make words.
Obviously, I had great excitement that Cheese finally appeared to be making progress! I began to drink to proverbial Waldorf "koolaid"! Really believing that I have found the thing that was going to help him. You may be wondering though, about the little boys. I began introducing the stories to them without as much luck. They were not as interested, or as motivated. And trying to work with them with an a fairly labor intensive curriculum and trying to continue to work with Cheese, left me fried at the end of the day.
I can remember finishing up school. Leaving the school room in shambles, crayons and papers and materials strewn all over the tables and floor. Walking past the kitchen, seeing the dishes and pans that had gathered from both breakfast, lunch, and the many snacks. As well as the dishes that had been left on the kitchen table from all those meals. There were crumbs on the floor and crumbs on the table. The counters were covered with all matter of food. As I glanced to my left, the sofa cushions were often removed from the sofa and now were in a pile on the floor, from a fort construction attempt at some point during our school day. Many toys also littered the floor.
Passing all of this mess, I would find myself in my shower. Trying to wash the stress, the overwhelm, and the exhaustion from my body and mind. After my daily shower, I would leave the mess and begin researching again. Still searching for the solution.
This pattern went on for a couple of years. We would find things that would work and leave things that did not. But it was a constant trial and error.
Through the entire five years though, one constant was reading to the boys. I read to them daily. They really enjoyed history, so we took to historical fiction. But we also read more modern books. It has and always will hold a special place in my heart. That time reading to them. The conversations that spurred from the many stories are too many to count. They were rich and fun. An opportunity to discuss not only the ins and outs of the story (helping reading comprehension) but also simply about life. During those times, we learned together our values. It was also a time to challenge them on their thinking. What this did was create any environment where thinking happens. This still remains today, it is not unusual for us to begin watching the news and pretty quickly the mute button is pressed and a philosophical conversation ensues.
We were able to manage growing our math skills and staying roughly on target, in terms grade level. Also, through reading chapter books their vocabulary continued to grow as well as their understanding of history and science.
Reading....reading continued to be a problem.
Of course, I am thinking that it is me that is causing the problem. I am also aware that although we would make some progress we also hit "walls". Furthermore, I was aware that we are getting to a point that they would be so far behind that they would not be able to keep up if I put them in school. The little boys are now beginning to really struggle too. Similar to Cheese, they seemed to get to a certain point but were not able to take their learning to the next level. To really read.
It turned out that my neighbor's son also had some learning differences. She suggested that we try out the speech therapist that helped her son and a handwriting program that also provided vision therapy.
This speech therapist suggested that I attend a workshop/training for a specific reading approach that was based in Orton-Gillingham. Orton-Gillingham is a researched based, specific reading instruction program. Exasperated enough, I decided to go. I learned a bunch. Obviously, about dyslexia, since Orton-Gillingham is touted as the one program that can help to remediate dyslexia. Through this workshop I learned that dyslexia is only passed on through families. Armed with this information and knowing that not only does dyslexia run in my family but also my husband's, I began to "assume" that this was both the problem and the answer.
I purchased the materials and began working with the boys. During the workshop, I learned that I should not be expecting the boys to memorize their math facts. It is common knowledge that the dyslexic brain can struggle retaining information. I also learned that I should not be expecting them to do any reading outside of what I am doing with them through the new program.
But once again, feeling the pressure to help these boys, I reached out to the handwriting program that my neighbor had suggested. They did an assessment and determined that they could all use handwriting therapy as well as vision therapy. This was really expensive. So, we started Cheese in the program. Pretty quickly into the program the vision therapist pulled me aside and indicated that Cheese would have to read for her. I indicated that we were doing specific reading instruction at home and that he should not be required to do any reading until he reached a certain level. Keeping in mind that Cheese still could not read. He was ten at this point. She agreed to put off the reading part of the assessment.
Only, just a few weeks later she set him up to read for her. He came out of her room, saying that he needed to use the restroom. I left the little boys in the waiting room and walked to the restroom with Cheese. He was very distraught. He indicated that she was making him read. That he did not feel like he could. So, I went into her room and asked what the expectation was. She showed me the required reading passage. She showed me this reading passage despite our conversation about the reading program I was using and that we needed to wait to give this part of the assessment.
These moments were particularly challenging for me. It was not lost on me that people, particularly professionals, felt that I did not know what I was doing. As if somehow I did not know this already. Daily I grappled with our decision to homeschool. Daily both my husband and I would lament about whether we could help them. We were certainly trying. We were asking for help. Asking questions. Asking for a partnership. But this professional, despite my request had decided otherwise. So now I am left, standing in her small office. Glancing down at the reading passage and back up to her. I was well aware that this reading passage was much too difficult for Cheese. Not only was this professional not willing to accept my request, she was also not listening to my explanation that his reading skills were really behind. I began to feel an almost out of body experience as she begins to say to me that if I don't make him read this passage I am not supporting her. That there will be more difficult challenges down the road and if I am not supporting her now, Cheese will know and refuse to do the work.
But I explained, I thought to myself. I explained that we were doing a reading program at home. That he was making progress for the first time. That we were working with a Speech therapist. That I had gone to a workshop on how to implement this program. But despite all of this, I still felt like a failure as I stood in her office. I still felt like a silly parent trying to do something that I was not capable to doing. I felt like a fool.
Even so, I was not going to make Cheese read that passage. What was the point. I knew he could not do it. I knew that all it would do was confirm, once again, for him that he was a failure. That he could not read. That he could not read despite everything that we had done thus far. I held fast. The professional was visibly upset. She called me later and expressed her disappointment in me. She indicated that I needed to force him to do things that he did not want to do. She may be right. However, in this situation I had asked. I had requested. I wanted to form a partnership. I was paying over two thousand dollars a month for vision therapy. I needed a partnership.
All I wanted was to help our son.
After listening to the vision therapist, in a split second rash decision I indicated that this would not work. That I needed to find an alternative for Cheese. Once again, not only did I feel like a failure both as a parent but as a teacher, another professional doubted me.