By Jill Camacho

When your struggles seem to never end…

Talking with hundreds of moms online each month, one of the most common heartbreaks I see lies in having no hope. It’s a tough thing to bear when your daily struggles of life have no foreseeable end. It reminds me of Proverbs 13:12 ESV; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

As a newer mom, I wrestled with tunnel vision and hopelessness. My circumstances were truly difficult, but they weren’t forever. The thing is, it was so easy to live life (and treat others) as though it was. Looking back, I believe the way I was handling my problems made my heart sick, as well as poisoned those around me.

Time changes all things

Looking back at all the difficult phases in our life, they’ve all ended. Even when it seemed like, in the moment, we’d never see a reprieve. If you’re feeling this way in your life, or in your homeschool, please take heart! All things change, ebb, and flow.

If you’re feeling like your child will never, for example, learn to sit still, stay calm, or read simple words (anything really), you’re not alone. Feeling that way is normal. Feeling sad is natural when hope is floating farther and farther away.

We have hope
But we have hope in Jesus. He knows how we feel, and he will redeem every bad situation. We may not know if each redemption is on this side of Heaven or not, but we do have hope.

What helps me in these situations is switching my perspective. I do this by actively remembering our past struggles. I remember how certain situations felt as though they may never end, compared to how long ago they now feel. “What was it God taught me in those seasons?” I ask myself.

I try and think of what I can learn now and pray, asking God for peace and to help me lay things down. I pray for eyes to see all the blessings He’s given me and for faith that helps me weather the storms through weary days. In addition to these things, I seek support!

These are all things you may want to try too! Don’t minimize your issues by telling yourself they are “not as bad as other people’s problems.” Leaving sadness and hopelessness unaddressed isn’t healthy. Find a supportive ear or two (whether in person or an online support group) and consider counseling with a therapist or trusted church staff member if you suspect it’s needed. Therapy has been some of the greatest help I’ve had!



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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

God is so good—and so amazing! In Jeremiah 30:17, He says, “I will restore your health and heal you of all your wounds.” He is vitally interested in our health and, more importantly, in our children’s health and abilities. He has made many provisions for us.
When I was a Special Education teacher, working in the pull-out Resource Room in the public schools, I learned about God’s goodness. I experienced how much my students were struggling with their disabilities: reading reversals, severe auditory processing problems that caused phonics rules not to stick, little writing ability, and difficulty with comprehension. I asked God to show me what to do for these wonderful students. These hard-working students had been in special education pull-out classes for years, and had terrific parents and good teachers, but had made very little progress in their skills over the years.

God answered my prayers in a very interesting and dynamic way: I soon received a postcard from another Special Education teacher, Paul Dennison, Ph.D. He was offering workshops to show his fellow special education teachers a method he was using that was helping relieve his student’s learning disabilities. He used specific midline therapy that could easily be incorporated in the classroom setting, right along with their daily lessons. I was thrilled and began saving my money to attend some of these workshops (a thousand dollars at that time).

God’s Brain Efficiency
In those workshops, I learned so much about how the brain works when learning new material.

The Brain is designed to learn new things and to store the old without effort. (Remember that little song about friends? “Make new friends but keep the old…one is silver and the other gold”. That is how the brain works.)

Have you ever stopped and thought, “I wonder if I brushed my teeth this morning?” You don’t even remember doing it. Why? Because it was what we call an “unconscious” movement. You didn’t have to “think” about it, because it was automatic. That is how “God’s Efficient Brain System” works. When we learn something new, we use our “thinking brain” to concentrate on the task. After a little while, it crosses the midline of the brain and is transferred to the brain’s storage unit, the “automatic” brain hemisphere, for easy access. The same action occurs when we learn to ride a bike or drive a car. At first, we concentrate on it (the left brain’s responsibility), and then it becomes automatic (the right brain’s responsibility). 

How did this affect my students’ learning difficulties? I realized that all the processes of learning, like tracking the eyes from left to right while reading, had not transferred to their “automatic” brain hemisphere. They were still having to use energy to “think” about their eye movements. They often looked at a “b” and had to decide (think about) if the letter they were looking at was a “d” instead. I discovered that learning in general, was not transferring to their automatic hemisphere, and thus often seemed to be “new information” every day. How could we make more connections, so that the learning could be stored in the long-term memory storage unit?

In the workshops, I attended those many years ago (20 years), I learned that God had set up the brain so that we could use specific movements that crossed the midline of the body to repair the disconnections and restore the connections in my students. This was a huge break-through in thinking, for me, as a teacher.
I began using these specific midline movements, I called Brain Integration Therapy, with my students daily before we started our lessons. It was a good “warm-up” session and was a nice start to the day. As I did these exercises daily, I noticed fewer reading and writing reversals in my students. The quick, easy daily midline writing exercise was quickly improving their spacing, and writing fluency immensely. I did not see as much change in the auditory processing and memory with the students, however.

I decided to go back for more training in midline therapy to see if I could make learning easier for my students with moderate and severe auditory processing problems (remembering names of letters, or sight words, or phonemes, or understand verbal information, etc.) It was in those more advanced workshops that I discovered the “key” to quickly creating the pathway from the “thinking” hemisphere to the “automatic” brain hemisphere. 

The Eyes Have It
I learned the powerful role of the eyes in accessing different parts of the brain. I learned that brain scans revealed that when the eyes look upper left, the right brain is activated. Since the right brain hemisphere is the “automatic” brain hemisphere, I found that I could much more rapidly create a strong pathway to the automatic brain hemisphere by adding another technique to the midline exercises. Once a week, I found I could activate the right brain to “take over” the process of eye tracking, or whatever area we were working on, by having the child do the activity that was not automatic, and then having them look upper left while doing the crossing the body movement we call the cross crawl. I did this with them. We did this movement for about a minute or so. I also used music to further activate the automatic brain hemisphere for this process. The results were amazing.

Using this once a week “Specific Brain Training”, I saw changes rapidly. As one of my students, Casey said, “I can remember the names of all my teachers now.” Delores, another eighth-grade student said, “I can understand what I hear. I don’t always have to say, ‘what’, anymore.” I saw rapid changes in how they were processing auditory information. All skills took a huge leap forward. They were so noticeable that parents came in to ask what we were doing. Even my special education teaching partner across the hall, Anna Alvarado, asked me if I would show her what I was doing because she was noticing such a difference in these same students when they came to her class for math. We became partners in our shared learning curve. In fact, at the end of the year, we had quite a few students who could “staff out” of special education (and only be monitored) because of the leaps in learning they had made. Soon I was asked to give “teacher in-service” workshops to our school, and then the surrounding schools, and then state-wide, etc. Now, there are many more “midline therapy” resources available in addition to the one I used. (See the list below for these resources).

A Teaching Revelation
I soon realized that I could affect the processing abilities of my students by helping them with daily exercises and the all-important once a week Specific Brain Trainings. These results often showed in their WISC-IV cognitive testing by the psychologist. However, I learned that the midline therapy did not teach them the skills they needed to make leaps in learning. I saw my students each day for classes in reading, writing, and math. I realized that I needed to teach them in a totally different way if I was going to see the progress I was looking for.

That is when I developed and used the “Healing Teaching” method. My students came to me each day, for about 50 minutes each class. I learned that when I incorporated the midline exercises and a new method of teaching in that time frame, I generally saw a two- year growth in reading and writing, and a three -year growth in spelling and math. I was responsible for their grade, and all the content of reading, writing, and math. For my teaching sessions with these struggling students, I put the “Brain Integration Therapy” and the “Right Brain Teaching Strategies” together to make this growth.
An example of a reading teaching/therapy session would be:
1) Midline Exercises.

Teacher and students did all 6 midline exercises together. (10 minutes).

2) Decoding.

20 minutes decoding (sounding out) long words, with the decoding unit (au/aw) in color in the long word. The picture that gave that sound was on the wall in front of them always (teaching to their camera).

3) Sight Word practice. 

I made Right Brain Sight Word Cards for them to easily remember their sight words and be able to spell them using their strong eye camera. You can easily make Right Brain Sight Word Cards just by drawing the name of the word (meaning) directly on the letters, so the brain sees it in a “unit” (word and name) and quickly retrieves it that way also. Color, humor, and emotion put the “Visual Velcro” on the words that the right brain quickly picks up and stores for easy retrieval.

4) Oral reading from a decodable reader with the decoding units in color. 

I just made my own, since there were none available. But you can just use color for the “phonemes” (decoding units) you are using. We never did any “cold reading”. That is, my students never looked at a page in a book “cold”. I always did my own Pre-Reading, where I looked over the page and pulled out all the “tricky” words and put them on a large piece of paper first. We then proceeded to sound them out, or just talk about them before they read them in the story. I learned not to “correct them” when they were doing oral reading. This was not effective for retaining the word, and they did not like to read orally for me if I did this. 

5) We only had our teaching sessions four days a week. 

On the fifth day, I took the students individually and did the all-important once a week Specific Brain Training. That took about 15 minutes per student. The others were listening to stories on tape. That was one of their favorite activities we did once a week.

A Winning Combination

The adventure of creating more brain connections through physical exercises, and through the training of the child’s right brain, where the strong photographic memory is housed, is a wonderful process to be involved with. It is life-changing. You will see more smiles than you ever have before. 

Let me know about your successes so we can celebrate together. God is so good.
Dianne Craft

 Brain Balance
 Brain Highways

 Brain Integration Therapy

Family Hope Center
 Little Giant Steps



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By Debbi L White

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the seashore. As I sat on the beach on two consecutive days, I observed a man attempting to negotiate the waves.

On the first day, he stood just after the waves broke, and inevitably they would knock him down. I watched as he was plunged beneath the surface, pummeled with the current, and then struggled to get to his feet. He always returned to the same spot, only to be met with the same recurring fate.

On the morning of the second day, I noticed that he ventured out a little further. At his new vantage point, he was able to dive into the waves as they crested. He remained in control of his body through the onslaught of the water and quickly regained his footing before the next wave arrived.

By the afternoon, the man had moved out even further. Now he stood in the water prior to the waves cresting. As a mounting surge of water approached him, he was easily lifted over the wave and then returned to his former place, remaining upright the entire time.

He was unaware of his spectator, but I have thought much about him since those days. It reminded me of the “waves” of life: how they come upon us and how we respond.

Navigating the Waves Upright
There are a lot of “waves” in life: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, medical problems, divorce…nameless tragedies. They affect us each differently, and various waves in our lives can have differing ramifications. I think a lot depends on WHERE we’re standing and WHAT we’re focusing on.

When I was 12, a friend’s father introduced me to Jesus. He instructed me to start reading my Bible and praying every day. Being the compliant child I was (at that time!), I started the lifelong habit of reading God’s Word daily. Many years later, I was honored to receive the Bible that belonged to a Godly mentor who had gone to Heaven. In the back, she had recorded each year that she had completed reading through the Bible. There were about 50 dates, and that was just in that Bible (which was held together by strong tape). I attribute her Godliness to that habit she had in her life, and I believe that it has been my utter dependence on God and His Word that has kept me “upright” through the onslaught of “waves” in my own life.

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (II Thessalonians 2:15)

Watching the Waves and Beyond
Where that man at the beach stood significantly affected the impact that the waves had on him. Where are you standing? Are you struggling with every “wave” that hits you? Do even the smallest trials and temptations knock you off your feet, send you plundering and struggling to get up?

Even if this man was out far enough that he could dive into a wave, he had to WATCH for them! If he turned his back and was caught unaware, he surely would’ve been knocked off of his feet again! Certainly, we cannot see most of life’s challenges before they’re upon us, but we CAN have our eyes FIXED on Jesus! By being in His Word daily and praying “without ceasing,” we know where our strength lies for every “wave” and our hope for every outcome.

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who in view of the joy lying before Him endured the cross, having despised its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Floating Over the Waves

What waves have crashed over you lately? Are you overwhelmed and exhausted? Are you concerned about making ends meet or meeting all of your family’s needs? Are you struggling with a relationship or a major decision? Perhaps someone in your family is facing a health crisis. Regardless of the “wave,” you can be assured that I AM is with you! Whatever you need, He is! Nothing you are going through catches our Father by surprise! Talk to Him, if you haven’t lately. Get into His Word, and listen to what He has to say to you. He’s going to help you float right over this wave and get your feet back down on solid ground. It’s a promise!

Are you looking for a community who will stand next to you and remind you that floating over the waves of life are not only possible for others, but in every situation, you and your family are currently facing? Then ask to join the SPED Homeschool Support group. We are much stronger when we face the waves of life together.

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By Tracy Glockle

Lexile scores for books can seem like a foreign language, a secret code of numbers and letters that seem to make no sense. But when you crack the code for Lexile scores, it can be an invaluable tool in helping your struggling reader to find books that are a custom fit.

Understanding Lexile Scores
Lexile scores evaluate books based on several factors to determine how hard a book will be to read and comprehend and what students will get the most from the book. The codes do not naturally indicate grade level, though there are charts to help you determine which ranges fall within a particular grade. However, the advantage to this ambiguity is that your child will not necessarily associate a grade level with a particular score.

Another advantage to the lexile scoring are the abbreviations that allow you to customize your search even further. A few favorite examples include:
AD (adult-directed): books that are better as read-alouds
HL (high-low): books that engage older students with lower reading levels
NC (non-conforming): books for kids who read at higher levels but need less mature content

Finding a Lexile Score
While there are charts to indicate what score correlates with a particular grade level, this method might not be the best since many of our struggling readers do not read at grade level. Perhaps a better method for finding a Lexile Score is to search books that your child enjoys reading and determine a range from those titles.

First, visit the Lexile Book Finder page and type in the title of a book that you know your child has read easily. 


Write down the assigned lexile score. You can do this a few different times with a few different titles to get a better idea of your child’s range. You can also determine a range by taking a particular score and widening that score to a range of 50 below to 50 above. For instance, if your child enjoys a book that is scored at 650, look for books that score between 600-700.

Next, enter that Lexile score on the book finder page and narrow your search to the particular genre or interests that your child prefers. 

Select a book you are considering for more information about the book, for targeted vocabulary based on your child’s reading ability, and for expected comprehension of that particular book.

Using a Lexile score, you can find a number of other book titles that match the skills your child is demonstrating in reading, plan vocabulary and reading activities with confidence and help your struggling reader to find books that inspire a love for reading.

If you are looking for a way to receive an official lexile score for your student, you can also take advantage of the SPED Homeschool discount that True North Academy offers on their Scantrol Performance Test, which includes a lexile score. To take advantage of this offer, visit the True North Academy Performance Series Test  site page and use the discount code SPED at checkout to purchase the test for just $19. 


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By Mary Winfield

In this series on teaching your child to write we have covered pre-writing pointers, forming letters, putting letters together, and getting thoughts down on paper. In this final installment in the series, we will look at research paper writing in older students.

Writing a research paper can seem overwhelming to both the student and the teacher! Luckily, once you know the process, it is made much easier. Here is the easy way to write a research paper.


In order to write a paper, you have to know about the subject matter. Help your child find reputable sources in books and magazines to help them learn about the subject matter. If you go to or do an internet search to find peer-reviewed articles instead of general websites.

As your child researches, have him or her keep track of what they are reading, where they found it, and what they learned. Your child can even copy and paste into a research document rather than writing everything out. Generally, your child should pull from at least 5 different sources when writing a paper (more if it is a longer paper), which means your child should plan on reading from more than five sources.


As your child reads, discuss his or her thoughts about different aspects of the material. What does your child agree with or disagree with? Why? These are important parts of forming the thesis or basic premise of the paper.

Once your student has a good idea of what his or her topic is, have your child write down a one-sentence summary of the premise and why he or she thinks that way. This will be the thesis. The next step is to break down the paper into points that back up the thesis. Let me give you a basic example.

Let’s say I am writing a paper on how to classify cows in the animal kingdom. My thesis would be something like, “Based on the presence of hair growth, birth of live offspring, and the production of milk to feed infants, cows should be classified as mammals.”

I would take the points that support my thesis (in this case, hair growth, birth of live offspring, and production of milk) and make them each paragraphs in my paper. Your student should start organizing their notes into sections (or put them on index cards or post-it notes if you want a very visual way of organizing it all).


Once you are organized, then writing should be easy. Introduction paragraph has a short overview of the paper and the thesis. Body paragraphs each have a point that supports the thesis along with resources to back up the claim. Then the conclusion states the thesis in a different way and makes any other conclusions.

You will also have to worry about citing sources and the list of sources at the end of the paper. The way that you do this will depend on which format you use (MLA and APA being the two most often used formats). You can, of course, buy manuals and resource guides, but my favorite resource is the Purdue Online Writing Lab which is free and will give you more in-depth help with all of these areas of writing a paper.

Writing a paper doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With the right process and the right resources, you can break it down into manageable tasks that don’t seem as hard.




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By Amy Vickrey, MSE

In my time as a teacher, I worked with many therapists. They are wonderful people with a wealth of information and resources! I also had the opportunity through one program I worked in to take part in home visits. If you are considering or have therapists who come to your home, here are some things to consider helping everyone be more comfortable.

  • If you offer a drink, offer something that comes prepackaged like bottled water. Your therapist may not be comfortable drinking out of other people’s cups like I was because of my food sensitivities.
  • Most will not accept offers of food or drink…they are encouraged to take care of these needs between visits.
  • Most will not use the bathrooms as they do not want to make you feel uncomfortable about them being in your house. If you are okay with them using the bathroom, it is ok for you to let them know in case there is ever a need. They might still say no.
  • If there are changes occurring in the home, it might be important to share so that the therapist can take this into consideration if your child slows down or regresses in therapy.
  • Before or after, save a few minutes of time to ask questions and let them know about progress or issues that arise related to the therapy. You see your child every day; they see them once or twice a week. You may see something before they do, and it helps to set a bigger picture.
  • Talk to them about questions and concerns that you may have, even if they seem unrelated. Many therapists have worked in teams with other specialists and can at least steer you in the right direction for concerns you have.
  • Share good things you are doing to help therapy along, like practicing skills, adding cross-midline exercises or even supplements that might be beneficial!
  • It’s ok to listen in, take notes, or watch what the therapist is doing so you can learn about how to help your child too!
  • Say “Thank You!” Even just a verbal thank you, a card made by your child, or praise for the work they are doing is appreciated! Many companies don’t allow the acceptance of gifts (especially if they are valued over a certain amount) but a simple thank you is always appreciated!

Are you looking for more ideas on how to incorporate therapy into your homeschooling?  Then make sure to check out our at At Home Therapy Resources as well as the SPED Homeschool Therapy Partners page.



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By Peggy Ployhar

This series on parenting anger has taken us through who is affected by parenting anger, when parenting anger occurs, why parenting anger is misused, how parents can switch modes from destructive anger to constructive anger, and what God’s greater purpose is for parenting anger. Then, we moved into a mini-series focusing on what parents can do to repair and rebuild broken relationships caused by parenting anger. This article on forgiveness and mercy is the 4th installation in this mini-series which has already touched on integrity, authority, and acceptance.

Everyone Needs Forgiveness

Forgiveness is much easier to conceptualize in theory than apply in real life. Emotions, past experiences, and desires to control our circumstances as well as others muddy the waters. When it comes to forgiving others, our natures cling to the hurts, harms, or unpleasant memories more than they desire to forgive someone.

The reality is, no one is perfect, and therefore we all have the potential to hurt one another. Forgiveness is a mode we must learn to live in and live in with peace. In a previous series on childhood depression, I described my Cyclical Perfection Wheel as a way God actually uses our need for forgiveness to perfect us through the process of sanctification. The goal of living our imperfect lives as parents is to show our children that we not only can forgive them, but we can also accept forgiveness ourselves.

Judgment Doesn’t Lead to Forgiveness

When parents struggle with anger, it often stems from judging right/wrong, good/bad, devious intentions/poor choices and making many more “assumptions” instead of holding out for God’s truth in a situation. This immediate need to resolve a situation based on human assumptions can lead children to believe mistakes of any kind are not permissible or forgivable. Over time, many children take on this judgmental burden and apply it to themselves without even knowing they are perceiving their world through this judgmental lens.

Judgment leaves no open door for forgiveness. Instead, self-condemnation fueled by misguided assumptions pull both parent and child away from receiving God’s mercy and complete forgiveness. Our parental fears push our children further away from us and in doing so make us their opponents instead of their coaches, as in the boxing ring example mentioned in the previous article in this series. So, while we think we are fighting to help our children battle life’s obstacles, we instead become the greatest obstacle in their path because of how we are judging their behavior.

Judgment Skews Truth
When we get angry and allow our judgment to lead the way on how we respond to our children’s behavior, we don’t leave room for the whole truth of a situation to come to light before we react. Often, when we wait to allow the whole truth to surface, we find our judgment was extremely skewed, and any response in the moment would have made the situation worse instead of better.

Just recently I received a desperate call from a mother whose son had been cheating on his school work and lying to both her and others about his progress. The mother’s first response to me was to ask what possible outside influences her son must have recently gotten mixed up in to cause him to change his behavior so dramatically. Her perception was that based on her son’s past behavior this sudden change must be someone else’s fault.

In talking more with this mother, I found out her son was under a lot of pressure and his actions were more in line with a depressed and anxious teen, than one who was acting rebelliously. I explained to her that even though she perceived her son’s lying and cheating as a malicious act, from the perspective of a depressed teen his actions were more likely self-preserving. Without trying to be devious to those who cared for him, his anxiety over what his future held after high school was causing him to act in a way that would keep his world in a place he felt he could survive. His lying and cheating, although not the best means to create a safe bubble, were allowing him to stay in a place he felt he could control and could distance himself from his fears.

Truth Opens the Door for Mercy and Forgiveness

Looking at a situation in truth allows for our hearts to see beyond judgment. This is what mercy is all about. Mercy is the opposite of judgment, but mercy is the necessary first step in bringing us to a place where we can forgive and receive forgiveness. In the example above, both mother and son must see the truth of how depression, anxiety, and assumptions are skewing their ability to work together towards fighting the battle ahead. But, mercy is not a one-way street. Even if this mother does her best to see her son’s battle from a merciful perspective, she can’t change her son’s ability to accept this mercy for himself.

Many times, we struggle with our inability to control our children and their decisions. Angry parent responses are often triggered by the desire to control our children. Thus, allowing our children to struggle and fail while we patiently coach them, pray for them, and forgive them is one of the toughest transitions parents must make to help children start the process of receiving forgiveness for their own failings.

Learning to forgive as well as accepting forgiveness takes time and lots of prayer. Mercy is often the step we try to skip in the forgiving process because it’s the most difficult part of forgiving; it requires us to let go of controlling the outcome and, at the same time, to fight our desire to judge. But we win this fight by praying for eyes to see others the way God sees them.

Allowing Forgiveness to Be the New Norm
As a child’s heart softens, he learns over time to be less judgmental of mistakes. Judgement is replaced by the life-giving response of giving and receiving mercy and forgiveness. This transition opens children’s hearts for instruction, because mercy is the new norm instead of fear of judgment. Children who operate under the umbrella of mercy learn to embrace their mistakes as ways to learn as well as a means to grow closer to their all-forgiving Father.

As parents, we also need to live in a state of mercy and forgiveness. We need to realize how our past actions towards our children, as well as how judgmental we have been of our own lives, is not healthy. God’s forgiveness heals any wounds our sinful actions have created. He even turns those wounds into some of the most powerful places from which we can minister to share His hope. But, asking your children to forgive you and accepting forgiveness is where the healing must start. Then, it must continue with restorations, which I will talk about in my next article in this series as we dive into the importance of honor.

Supportive and Forgiving Community
Until next time, I hope you embrace the forgiveness God has for both you and your children, and the merciful perspective He has to share with you on how He views each of your lives. If you are looking for a community who is willing to help you walk through this process, and who understands that parents are not perfect people, then check out the SPED Homeschool Facebook Support Group.

We also invite you to join our other Facebook groups as well as the SPED Homeschool Facebook Page. On the links imbedded here you can find the SPED Homeschool Resources Sharing Group where you can find as well as share resources that are helpful to special education homeschooling families. And, the SPED Homeschool Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook group is where you can find lots of new and used curriculum for teaching your special education homeschooled student.

Parenting Anger Series Articles:
Why We Should Be Talking About Parenting Anger 
Parenting Anger Demystified
The Parenting Anger Escape Door
Shifting Parenting Anger from Controlling Mode to Training Mode
How-To Effectively Instill Godly Character in Children Using Parenting Anger 
Integrity: Step 1 in Cultivating a Child’s Heart for Instruction
Humble Authority: Step 2 in Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Instruction
Unconditional Acceptance:  Step 3 in Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Instruction 
Forgiveness & Mercy: Step 4 in Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Instruction
Honor: Step 5 in Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Instruction 
Time Management: Step 6 In Cultivating Your Child’s Heart for Instruction

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Interview provided by Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.
Interviewer: Brian Phillips, CiRCE Institute

Author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child, Cheryl Swope is an advocate of classical Christian education for special-needs and struggling students. The love of history, music, literature, and Latin instilled in her own children has created in Cheryl the desire to share the message that classical education offers benefits to any child. Cheryl has a master’s degree in special education—Learning Disabilities—and a bachelor’s degree in special education—Behavior Disorders. Cheryl and her husband homeschooled their 19-year-old adopted special-needs boy/girl twins (autism, learning disabilities, and mental illness) from the twins’ infancy with classical Christian education. Cheryl holds a lifetime K-12 state teaching certificate in the areas of Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders. She has worked with special-needs children, youth, and adults for over thirty years … but nothing compares to the humbling education she receives walking alongside her own children daily through their struggles and achievements.

Cheryl was kind enough to answer some questions for us as part of our Words of Wisdom series. Enjoy.

1) You recently had a book published, Simply Classical. Tell us more about that.

Yes, this is the story:

Nearly twenty years ago, as new parents of adopted boy/girl twins with significant special needs, my husband and I wanted to give these children the best possible education available. We believed this was the best hope they had.

When the only classical Christian school in our city denied our children access, due to the twins’ many challenges, we determined to homeschool them. I sought a guidebook for bringing truth, goodness, and beauty to challenged children. I found none. I begged for conference sessions on classical education and special needs. No response. An online search revealed one pamphlet, written by a Latin teacher at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She offered tips for teaching Latin to university students with learning disabilities.

We pressed on, teaching reading, writing, Latin, literature, music theory, and arithmetic. We found this less daunting than we expected. Resources from Memoria Press, such as Latina Christiana and Famous Men of Rome, seemed especially adaptable. Even at lower levels, classical education materials and methods offered simplicity, beauty, and effectiveness. We continued. In addition to formal studies, we enjoyed the wonder of nature, music, and poetry.

My children’s challenges unfolded rapidly over the years. These include autism, attention and concentration difficulties; sensory, speech, and language disorders; borderline intellectual disability, learning disabilities, and severe mental illness. Even so, I witnessed measurable (and immeasurable) benefits of a classical education to both mind and character.

My twins’ challenges remained, but a classical education gave them an advanced vocabulary, stronger mental capacity, and greater self-knowledge. Most of all, they loved stories and words. As a trained special education teacher, the standardized test scores impressed me. As a mom, the love of learning touched me.

When both twins began to serve others in small ways, I understood this statement by David Hicks: “The aims of education … all must express not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble.”

Professionals did not always see this. After all, they often report clinically on only those quantifiable aspects of humans. They listed grim diagnoses with dire predictions. One day, while reading another report so depressing my husband could not finish it (“How can you read these things?”), I unexpectedly laughed near the end. This is why. The examiner wrote this about my daughter, a child with autism and with a full-scale I.Q. that leaves her in the borderline mentally handicapped range:

“Appears somewhat young for her age …. When asked to define the word ‘decade,’ not only did she provide a definition, but she gave the word’s etymology and proceeded to count in Latin to demonstrate.”

One afternoon, Cheryl Lowe, whom I had admired for years, answered my unsolicited handwritten letter. In the letter, I thanked her for the beautiful, simple, and easy-to-teach resources she provided our family. I asked Mrs. Lowe if she might be interested in a writing project. She was.

My daughter told me, “Mom, I want my story to help other children like me.” Together, Memoria Press and I created the guidebook I wish I would have had many years ago.

Even more, we created a book that many appreciate for its refreshingly clear, accessible treatment of classical education. Teachers tell me that my journey from progressivism to classical education, as told in Simply Classical, parallels their own. Others appreciate the hope offered through the story.

After Martin Cothran read the manuscript, he said this is “one of the clearest and most compelling cases for classical education in print.” But the most touching reviews come from moms of special-needs children. One wrote, “I feel as if a dear friend took me by the hand, sat down to tea with me, and said, ‘Yes, you can do this.’”

2) What were the biggest obstacles you faced while classically educating your children?

Both twins presented challenges. These changed over the years. Initially, the biggest challenge was obtaining their attention! With autism, they focused inward; as twins, they focused on each other. Given their neurological weaknesses, problems with attention, and necessary therapies, I found my best strategy was to keep moving! We established a gentle, but steady routine.

Each morning we reviewed the day’s schedule. For comfort and truth, we opened with the Holy Scriptures and prayer at the table. For beauty and music, we moved to the piano for hymns and Latin sacred songs. We then traveled to an open area for Latin recitations, which the children performed on their physical therapy balance boards. We followed recitations with formal Latin lessons at the table, and so on.

Later, as severe learning disabilities became more evident, their individual learning limitations and behavior difficulties presented the greatest challenges. A classical curriculum progresses quickly, so we adapted. We provided more review than the publishers recommended. We read most literature out loud to the children. As other classical teachers and homeschoolers will agree, this only enhanced the benefits for us. Many times we enjoyed literature we had never read before. The children thrived. We continued.

3) You mentioned, very early in your book, that many people think of classical education as elitist or only for the smartest students. Why do you think that is? 

I think this is primarily because most of us did not receive this “classical education” ourselves. We deem such an education inaccessible. We conclude that a classical education must only serve the geniuses among us. And, of course, for upper levels of classical study, a strong intellect is of great advantage! But even those students with academic challenges may benefit in wonderful ways from the content, methods, and tradition of a rich, classical education. As just one example, my own daughter despite her many challenges, which include schizophrenia and borderline intellectual disability, has now published books of simple poems beautifully rich in sacramental imagery. Read Dr. Gene Edward Veith’s account of Michelle’s poetry.

I have another close-to-home example of an unlikely recipient of classical education: my little, cheerful grandmother named Lois. Raised on a poor hog farm in mid-Missouri with a mother whose education ended at 8th grade, Lois attended the only school her family could afford. At a Missouri public school in the late 1920s, she studied four years of Latin and read Virgil and Cicero in Latin. She studied poetry and upper-level mathematics. Unable to afford college, she was neither wealthy nor “college bound”; yet she received many elements of a classical education. With impeccable grammar and a love of writing, my grandma penned encouraging letters and a daily journal that is now a legacy to our family.

4) What would you say to classical schools who want to serve students and parents with special needs? What do they need to know?

1. Open your doors. 
From a business perspective, this is an untapped market for private schools. With as many as 1 in 5 children labeled with some diagnosis (whether they should be or not), this is on the minds of families.

From a classical Christian perspective, opening doors to struggling students can provide a model of compassion, mercy, and community. In a fallen world, it is “normal” to find abnormalities. If challenged children can remain in the school with brothers and sisters, unexpected benefits may arise for all of the children. The challenged children become part of the culture of the school. Some can participate in plays or choir. They can enjoy music events or attend chapel.

2. Begin with the most willing, capable teachers. 
This will make the program succeed.

3. Be creative.

Look to the other dozen or more classical schools who do this successfully and publicly. (Many more classical schools already do this. Most do not even advertise the countless modifications they make!)

Many models already exist. Consider offering 3 days a week, with 2 per week reserved as homeschooling and private therapy days. The school might offer a special classroom within the school, create a tutoring “resource room” for struggling students, or provide an aide for the classroom. Consider an elevated tuition to compensate for more individualized instruction. Consider block scheduling for sequential content areas, such as Latin or math, to assist the inclusion model.

For any school interested in exploring this more fully, we recently recorded a two-hour video presentation for schools and homeschools. Available through Memoria Press, this presentation is intended as a discussion-starter. Schools might find this DVD useful for faculty in-service, followed by conversations about possibilities within your own setting.

5) What books are you currently reading? Next projects?

Next projects – Simply Classical Curriculum for special-needs children! With a slower pace, increased review, and an emphasis on beautiful books, the early levels serve homeschoolers of special-needs children and classical schools’ early childhood and student programs. These first three readiness levels are available through Memoria Press. We envision a classical curriculum for special-needs students ages 2-21.

Books – Inspired by a summer classical education conference session entitled “A Pedagogy of Beauty,” I am enjoying Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton. My own classical education is limited, but such books remind us that even at the introductory levels, we benefit! I appreciate the ways in which Scruton’s thoughts overturn pragmatism. He writes about the value of the true, the good, and the beautiful:

Even if it is not clear what is meant by intrinsic value,
we have no difficulty in understanding someone who says,
of a picture or a piece of music that appeals to him, that he
could look at it or listen to it forever, and that it has, for him,
no other purpose than itself.

I now have another book in my nightstand. My 100-year-old grandmother is now with Jesus, the embodiment of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty, so I am reading the invaluable daily journals of Lois, my classically educated grandma from Missouri.

This article first appeared in The Classical Teacher and the Circe Institute: Go to original article. Reprinted with permission.

For more information about Cheryl Swope and the other SPED Homeschool board of directors (Jan Bedell, Dianne Craft, and Elaine Carmichael) you can visit each of the website pages or the SPED Homeschool Board website page.

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