How to Rescue an Older Learner

I’m often asked how to cope with removing an older learner (student) from a failing situation in “school” and beginning to homeschool them. That’s sort of my specialty since I taught these older learners for so many years. I called them “Failure Oriented,” for by the time I got to them, they were totally accustomed to failing. They had learned to be a success at fooling around, leading a group of misfits, or other less than stellar situations. I have found that all of us need 80% success in order to thrive. And intelligent kids strive to thrive even if it means being a success at something less than their capabilities.

Here are some ways to help your older learner stop failing and begin thriving:

Pray. Daily. Hourly. Pray for him. Pray with him. Pray for him in his presence. Thank God for him and for giving him to you. Rejoice over the fact that you are together again to learn and grow in many ways.

how to rescue older learners

Forget any thoughts of a schedule or “school” at first. His or her years of failure and frustration have left them with a wounded spirit and, likely, a “chip on their shoulder.” It will take some time allow your child to heal. Depending on how seriously they have been wounded, recuperation is needed before progress can be made; it may take six months to a year to rebuild their self-respect and willingness to be challenged. You may need to rebuild your own relationship and his ability to respect authority. During that time, there are many ways to get better acquainted with your child’s skills and uniqueness. Involve them in home activities from cooking, chores, building, and cleaning – whenever possible have them work with an adult (father, mother, an older teen, or someone from church). School has likely concentrated on their weaknesses; you must help them find their own skills and build an environment which allows them to thrive.

You can determine what your son or daughter is really capable of by simply spending time with them and observing their strengths and weaknesses in many situations. Do things together that are not “school” in their mind. Visit museums, fairs, sports events, tourist sites, war memorials and other interesting places. Entertain interesting people in your home and provide opportunities for them to relate to people of all ages. Get out into nature and draw or photograph the many wonders of this created world. Watch their response. Are they interested in things that they see, hears about, or can touch and manipulate? Watch what they like to do in their free time (sit around, talk on the phone, read, play computer games, get with friends, play with Legos®, and so forth). Take classes together (building, cake decorating, painting, mechanics). Give them some trial time with gymnastics, wrestling, martial arts, fencing art, music and any other activities that are non-threatening to them.

Together, watch historical television and videos – check out Moody Science videos (available from Bob Jones University…800-845-5731). Visit the Creation Science Museum if you can. Get books at the library – some to look through, some of them to read, some they’d like you to read to them. Read to them from easy biographies, science and history books and books of adventure that have thrilled generations of boys. Give them the time, space, permission, and tools to get involved in projects he or she enjoys – legos®, woodworking, gardening, designing and collecting… whatever – and take LOTS OF PHOTOS as they go about it! Later when you’re moving toward school, they can organize and label the photos.

As you are doing these things, make a list of their interests, remember their questions, record their comments. Feed their specific interests while you expose them to a wide variety of social and learning situations. Watch as they recapture the joy that public school with its labels and stigmas sucked out of them. When you think they’re ready to begin some school work, start with a gentle approach to science (experimenting, observing, watching, drawing) as well as reading real books, particularly biographies of successful people that instill character in your child. The Childhood of Famous American series is a great place to start.

Don’t worry about grade levels or other ‘school terms.’ Just see where they are and work at their level. He or she will learn to read and do amazing things once his confidence has been boosted, and they are truly experiencing success. In short, learn together through life and get reacquainted with your child as he heals and gains confidence and strength and a willingness to learn!

Three of my books may be of tremendous help to you in this process. Begin with Learning in Spite of Labels to gain a new perspective of education and your son. Then jump into Choosing and Using Curriculum to be introduced to all kinds of approaches, materials, and methods of homeschooling plus what companies cater to the style of teaching/learning you choose. (This book will save you buckets of money!) Then check out the two Luke’s Lists books. One (Luke’s School List) is an outline of every school subject (language, math, science, history, geography and the arts). Just reading through the lists gives loads of information, or it helps you know what he already knows vs. what he needs to learn or tells you whose biographies fit what time in history, and so much more. It can be used as a guide or as a record-keeping system. The other (Luke’s Life List) is a similar list of biblical, social and life skills from infancy through adolescence.

PRAY for guidance! Read and educate yourself. Determine what you really want him to learn in the years he will be with you. Then you’ll be ready to begin to plan for what YOUR VERSION of school should look like!

Joyce Herzog taught nontypical learners in public and private schools for 25 years before moving on to encourage parents in the art of schooling at home. The goal of a teacher, she says, is “to enhance the environment to nurture and guard the learning, encourage the child’s unique passions, and draw out the built-in God-design that prepares this child to accept and develop his calling.”