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In Tears Over School- The Struggling Learner

Posted by Michelle Osborn on

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In tears, again, my teenage daughter said. “I just can’t learn. I’m not smart. ”

 “You are very smart. God has made you smart in exactly the ways He wants you to be smart.   (How am I Smart by Kathy Koch, Excellent book! Updated edition

I nudged, “You may not be as word smart as you’d like to be, but you are body smart. She knew exactly what I was talking about because I had shared what I was learning through the book I had just read.

“You are a beautiful dancer!” I reminded her.

“Mom, what subject am I good at? Name one!” She retorted.

My mind raced for a quick answer. I knew the longer I took to respond, the more depressed about the situation she would be.

“See, you can’t even think of one can you, Mom?” 

“You are really good at sign language. It comes to you so effortlessly!”

“No mom. I mean my “real school subjects!”

I knew what she was trying to say. “Sweetie pie, some things are difficult for certain people, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be good at them. It just takes more work for some.”

 This conversation and ones similar to it has happened many times, in the last couple of years, in our home. She did very well with her school subjects during her elementary school years. It was when she started doing middle school and then high school level work that she and I both noticed that is was more difficult for her to retain all the information. This mostly was with subjects like science and history, where there is much more reading, discussion, and retaining facts. It is there where she struggles.

 We had tried just about everything I could think of: me reading to her, her reading to me, her reading to herself, taking turns reading, discussing what was read, her writing down important facts, reviewing what we talked about the day before….. and I had prayed, a lot about this! I had searched for answers in books, blogs, talked with friends. Nothing seemed to make learning easier for her.

 The challenge was she did not have a definite learning disability that could easily be pinpointed. Of course, as a homeschool mother, I noticed that she could, at times be easily distracted, but this did not follow a pattern either. She did not always pay attention to what was being taught or what she had just read.  Since she had always done well in school up to this point, I simply couldn’t figure it out.

 Then I came across and article in my HSLDA magazine entitled “Improving your child’s working memory- and academic success” by Carol Brown.   In the article Carol explains that “working memory is the system that allows you to hold multiple pieces of importation in your mind, where they can be manipulated. A strong working memory helps you comprehend, listen, take notes, and remember a sequence of events or steps.”

The five top symptoms of poor working memory:

  • A student may have difficulty learning to read. He may read a word and forget it a few lines later.
  • A student may have difficulty following multistep directions and maintaining attention.
  • An older student may be following a lecture until he is distracted by another student’s question and forgets what he has just heard.
  • It may be difficult for the student to remember basic math facts or the steps to solve a math problem.

 After reading the article, I thought, “This is it! I now know what the problem is! I just needed to learn how to help her strengthen her working memory.” I read these five symptoms to my daughter and asked her what she thought. Her first response was, “That’s me!”

 Since that time, we have been working with Carol Brown and Equipping Minds. We learned that she needed to teach her brain how to process the information she was reading and hearing. I decided to take a break from our history and science curriculum and concentrate on the games and activities that would help strengthen her working memory. History and science are two subjects that require quite a bit of working memory: reading, remembering facts and ideas and being able to discuss them and turn them into answers. These, also, were the subjects that caused the most turmoil in our homeschool day.

 My daughter felt that she was wasting her time because she didn’t think that she was retaining any of the information with regards to science and history. It was quite frustrating to her and me. 

We started out by using Equipping Minds cognitive therapy with one of their therapists (Skype sessions). At the same time, I went through the parent DVD, workshop and workbook and learned how to help her myself. Now, we spend about 30 minutes of our school day on "brain training" with activities and games Yes, games! Very specific games!  Blink, Set, Qwitch, Spot it, and Stare Jr 2nd Edition. We are also working on Perplexor workbooks and memorizing the Presidents by using the book, Yo, Millard Fillmore (This book uses many technics for memorizing and is fun for all ages).  As my daughter plays these games daily, she is strengthening her working memory. 

There has been great improvement.   We have added back into our daily studies: history, science and literature and she is doing so well! She has been able, for the most part, to retain the information she is reading and then translate it into verbal and written answers. Equipping Minds was a life saver for us. Because we personally have seen the results. we have made it available to purchase here at Yellow House Book Rental. It was well worth the cost for the returns we have seen!

Equipping Minds is perfect for anyone who wants to sharpen their learning skills, people with extreme memory/learning disabilities and all those somewhere in between. 

My advice, do not wait until your child is old enough to voice their struggles in learning. If you see the slightest hint of struggles get help and play games- brain training games. We all can benefit from playing these games. You won't regret it.

What have you found most helpful in teaching your child with learning challenges?

If you have any questions about this program and how it has helped us, please send me a message. I would love to connect with you. 


Michelle Osborn the founder and owner Yellow House Book Rental, a service to homeschool families. She is a 20-year homeschool veteran of four, two married, one in college, and one teenager at home. 


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