Homeschooling: How Michelle Duggar Approaches Learning Difficulties
Photo credit Peter Dazeley
When my husband, Jim Bob, was a little boy he had a speech impediment, and he really struggled with reading. As a homeschool mom, understanding his perspective helped me to not have certain expectations about how my kids would all learn.
When we were first married, we would read the Scriptures together in the mornings, and I would read, and then he'd take a turn. He would literally flip words around and put different words in different places.
I noticed some of our kids had the same struggle. It was important to be able to explain to them, "It doesn't mean that you're not smart. You're very smart." Those are the kids who may struggle with some parts of schoolwork but can fix anything, take stuff apart and really understand how things work.
One time when I was teaching the kids to read and write and I got a precious little keepsake of a "Mommy, I love you" picture with the literally the whole message written backwards -- if you put it up to a mirror it looked perfect! The next week they might write a word correctly and then the following week it would be incorrect, and we'd go over the lessons again and it would eventually click for them.
There's a phonics program that I would teach the kids to read with, and for some of the kids it would take me take me three times of going through it because they just didn't catch it the first time, and then the second time. And finally the third time they'd grasp the concept.
I think if they had been in a public school setting they could have been labeled as reading-challenged. But because they were being tutored one-on-one with me I was able to just work with them and not pressure them. Different kids blossom at different times. I didn't focus on and fret about the age that the kids were able to read by, whether it was sheet music or reading lessons.
There would be times I'd hear different kids say, "Well, so-and-so reads better than me," and they were referring to a younger sister or brother. I would try to strengthen them where they needed their strengths and encourage them to not compare themselves with others. I'd say, "Okay, you've got 15 minutes, and you're going to read this book to your 3-year-old sibling, who loves to be read to anyway. It doesn't matter if you get the words right or not." I think by them practicing that way it allowed them to be teach themselves by inadvertently teaching their younger sibling.
I'd give them examples in history of people who were great, amazing scientists and amazing people, but struggled academically in school. I'd point out that despite their struggle they became great thinkers and did great things for mankind. I've learned by teaching 19 children that each one is so different, and to not expect them all to do the same things at the same time or to do them exactly the same way either.
It was initially a learning curve for me, too. The times that the kids were struggling I'd think, "Oh, my, I'm not a good teacher. I'm not getting it across." I had to figure out their minds worked. It was amazing -- some excelled in English but not math, while others were great at math but had a hard time in English.
It's also really important to seek professional help as well. We have speech therapist friends who practiced with our kids. It's something that as a parent I know can help encourage a child to learn and give them a new set of tools to work with.
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