In celebration of the slow learner

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

I remember exactly when I first heard the term “slow learner.”

I was in the third grade, and my desk was next to a sweet boy with freckles and blue eyes.

In class, I diligently filled out all the worksheets, and raised my hand to answer all the questions (my husband and I went to school together and he distinctly remembers me being “very Hermione”).

I was careful to listen to the teacher, to write my name in the upper right-hand corner, and painstakingly bubble in A, B, C or D, with my Number 2 pencil.

The little boy next to me could not have been more my opposite. He struggled in the classroom. I often read things to him under my breath when he was unable to decode them. He seemed to have a motor inside him that kept parts of his body moving at all times. One time, he drew me a perfect, frame-able picture of a cat, instead of writing a summary of the story we had just read aloud (which incidentally, was about a cat.)

A teacher’s aide often came to assist him. When another student asked why she was always at our table, she answered, very plainly, “Because he is a slow learner.”

When she said this, the boy blushed so red I could barely make out his freckles. I looked away, not wanting to make it more embarrassing for him.

My stomach ached every time that aide came in for the rest of the year.

I was eight years old and it was clear – being a ‘slow learner’ was a shameful thing.

My youngest son is ten years old.

It took him three years (count them, three years) to learn the alphabet fluently.

Four years to spell and write his first and last name correctly.

He still sometimes fails to recognize basic sight words, that he has been practicing for the better part of five years.

Last week, when asked by his therapist to recall a particular discussion from his last session, he shrugged at her and said, “I am just a slow learner. I get confused in my mind and have to sort things out. I think it’s cuz of my dys-a-lexia.”

My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest.

I immediately tried to encourage him, to dispute his use of that term, but he looked at me like I had two heads.

He did not feel ashamed of his assessment, nor the description “slow learner” at all. Not one little bit.

For him, it was like saying the sky is blue, or ice cream tastes good.

He said to me, smiling, “Well, it does take me longer most of the time to learn things. I am a slow learner, Momma.”

Then, he turned to the therapist and said, “But the good news is that once I know it, I don’t forget it. I have a mind of steel.”

I sat up a little straighter, regained my composure and said to her, “He’s right.”

slow learner 2

Maybe you are a mom, like me, struggling with having to do the flash cards again, and again, without really ever being able to move a card into the mastered pile.

Maybe, like me, you started off the school year with the same curriculum as last year.

Maybe, like me, you have often worried that your child is not progressing as fast as the other children in the co-op, or as fast as his older sibling did at the same age.

If you are teaching a “slow learner” please let me encourage you.

I think it is infinitely more important that our children feel confident in their ability to learn something, than in how long it may or may not take to actually learn it.

Speed has never been the goal. Mastery, progress, confidence – these are all things that take time, and that are worth the wait.

Apparently, I needed my sweet son to remind me of it.

slow learner 3

After the appointment, I thought about that little boy in third grade.

He might have been slow with the worksheets and the test forms, but he was also the kid who climbed the highest, created the most beautiful artwork, and fixed my backpack strap when it broke so that I could still carry my stuff home.

Like my son, he might not have learned everything at the same pace as the rest of the class, but I am 100% certain he was intelligent and kind.

Like my son, he had talents and interests that were well beyond his years – they just weren’t the ones being measured.

I wish I could go back in time, get him outside, moving, and away from that desk.

I wish I could compliment him on his art, and ooh and ahh over his skills on the jungle gym.

I wish I could tell him, “You take all the time you need.”

Do you worry about “slow learning” in your homeschool?

Originally published October 6, 2016.

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is the creator of Not The Former Things, a blog dedicated to homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs. She loves finding out-of-the-box ways for out-of-the-box learners to thrive. She is the author of two books, Special Education at Home and Everyday Autism. You can follow Shawna and Not The Former Things on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. wow, thank you for this post. My oldest daughter (also 10) is, I guess, a “slow learner”. This is the reason we homeschool. She would be lost in the system and the older she got, the more she would realize and be embarrassed about it. That poor little boy that you remember from so long ago..just brings tears to my eyes. Kids can be mean, really mean. You weren’t. That says so much. I pray that by homeschooling my children, I am saving them from that unnecessary bullying, even if its just a little. Thank you again

    • My daughter (10 tomorrow!) is also a “slow learning”. We are homeschooling her for the first time this year. She did “fine” in school, but I felt like she needed more time to explore the concepts, more time to enjoy what she’s learning, more time to relax instead of trying so hard to keep up. It was pretty rare that she felt “bullied” but it happened a couple of times, even from her teachers (inadvertently by not calling on her ever when her hand was up). She knows she struggles more than the average kid. And I’m hoping to give her a bit of freedom from that.

      • I love this! Yes, the freedom and the time homeschooling gives us is invaluable for our kids.
        Shawna Wingert’s latest post: When Your Child Is A “Slow Learner”

        • All I can say is thank you. Thank you so much for this article. I so desperately needed to read this. I am new at this and only 4 weeks into homeschooling my daughters. Despite my own anxiety and heartbreak of watching both my children struggle, I am learning it is ok to be different. I’m learning everyone has there own way and time of understanding. I take a lot of deep breaths but most importantly I will not give up in helping my children succeed the best THEY can.

    • I agree. I think, although I didn’t realize it at the time, part of our decision to homeschool was to shelter our boys from that kind of experience.
      Thank you for your comment!
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: When Your Child Is A “Slow Learner”

  2. This story brought tears to my eyes. Of my five children not one has done things “on time” — every milestone from walking to talking to reading to drawing people with arms and legs to writing legibly (my 15-yr-old has developed his own, mad-scientist handwriting style) has been “Late.” You’re so right that while these beautiful little brains *aren’t* learning to talk or walk or color in the standardized test bubbles with perfect symmetry, something else even more amazing is going on.

    That 15-yr-old, who walked late, talked really late, didn’t use personal pronouns until he was 5, types instead of writes or no one can read what he’s writing, that same boy who, when he went to public school, was deemed “slow” because of that same handwriting? He’s studying college mathematics, he’s cracking codes, he’s living his passions (obsessions?) precisely because his brain took longer to do the “ordinary” things, because deep down, he was extraordinary. So are all the other “slow” children – in their own beautiful way.
    Rebecca Grabill’s latest post: How I Streamlined My Homeschool Day and Saved My Sanity

  3. A big click to the “LIKE” button !

  4. I used to worry about it when I first started. I still hadn’t come to the realization that school timelines are nonsense. My 8 yr old son just learned how to read last month. While I don’t consider that slow, if he were in school, that would be a different story. And your son is exactly right- my son just learned last month but is already fluent enough to read to his little sisters. Although it took longer, once it clicked, he picked it up much faster. And like you said about the boy in your class, my son excels in sports and is a whiz at calculating larger numbers in his head.
    Shelly’s latest post: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Deciding to Unschool

  5. Beautiful post and music to my ears! Sometimes one feels so alone with your struggles to teach these learners. I have two, one is 10 and the other 15. My fear is always that I will fail them in some way. Thank you for the encouragement.

  6. Jill McCarty says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have 4 kiddos, 2 boys then 2 girls. The oldest (7) is such a quick learner and things just make sense and stick. He was reading at 4 after we barely talked about letters/sounds. The second guy (almost 6) still doesn’t know his letters and sounds. On the one hand it’s been intimidating b/c I fear I won’t be able to teach him to read, and on the other hand I just get discouraged or worried for/about him…Is he ok? Will he learn to read? He’s great at so many other things…he loves math, he’s super athletic, and just a funny kid that makes people laugh. It’s easy to get caught up on the one thing that’s been such a challenge for him. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Sukatmini says:

    I have a boy (7 yrs). He called me mama when he was 3,5 yrs. People said he’s late and he grows as a shy boy at school. Until one day I decided to homeschool him. And wow, everything has been changing better now. He is very talented in drawing and art. He has a magic visual art in his mind. He is able to describe the lesson by drawing in detail. So for me no body is slow learner..every body is unique.

  8. I am so glad I read this today. I have been struggling with educating my children. We have been homeschoolers in the past and I felt burnt out this summer so we enrolled our children in a public Virtual school and that was not what we thought, it was horrible and didn’t work for our family. But the positive side is it rekindled my passion to homeschool my children again. So I have since gone back to homeschooling but I have a child who sounds very much like your son. He has a horrible time focusing and I worry about him being behind and I have been struggling this past week feeling like a failure as a mom and educator. But this was something I needed to hear and be reminded of. This was one of the beautiful reasons I started homeschooling in the first place, to meet each of my child’s needs and not make them fit into a box they didn’t fit into. Thank you for sharing this snippet of your life with the rest of us 🙂

  9. Sharon Fry says:

    The best thing we ever did for our 3 boys was to homeschool them. 13, 11, 6 and they are all very different. My 11 yr old is dysgraphic and also dyslexic. But his ability to think outside the box completely amazes me at times. He’s taught me so much about schooling and why it’s so important to let them go at their own pace. All my boys have unique and beautiful abilities that we might not know about were they being schooled elsewhere. I so appreciate your post and am encouraged to press on and focus on what is right and good instead of the challenging moments that are bound to come – regardless of how we school them.

  10. Phyllis at All Things Beautiful says:

    This is a beautiful post. Yes, I have a slow learner who is now in high school and I still have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Thank you for the reminder. He is a talented and special child, but learns differently and slowly. I focus and what is easy for him and work at his pace on the rest.

  11. I so needed to read this today. Thank you. I have a ‘slow learner’ academically who can, though, build, garden, fish and farm like a man. He is doing work six years ‘behind’ in language arts and four years ‘behind’ in math. Just lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure a lot of the time so it is so nice to read about other people going through the same thing.

  12. I still have tears running down my cheeks after reading this post and all the comments. I’m homeschooling two “slow learners” (9 and 7, with a 3 yr old in tow) in a pretty isolated context (living in rural Central Asia) and have spent so many days with my toes hanging off the edge of the “hopeless/done” cliff. I’m very certain that the benefits of homeschooling and growing up in a culture where kids are still expected to play outside all day and help out at home far outweigh the difficulties. But when the difficulties are particularly difficult, I tend to think that I’m just not cut out for this. I really needed to hear the voices of all you moms who continue to persevere and focus more on the remarkable aspects of our “slow learners.” Thank you.

  13. Evangeline says:

    Hi, And thanks so much for posting this. It is a very hard thing when you have a child who struggles in this way. My child is 15 and it can be very disheartening and frustrating for both of us when he can’t remember or get as much accomplished in the same amount of time as other children his age. Sometimes we feel as if we are all alone in this journey when no one else seems to be struggling this way in homeschool circles. It impacts so many things in addition to just academics. Yet we continue on doing what we can. But it is very hard. I often feel like the Mom named Lisa who posted about feeling like I am failing him in some way. Thank you for taking time to celebrate and recognize our very special learners. Because of what you have written here, it has inspired me to celebrate and recognize my own child more, focusing on what he is accomplishing or has accomplished rather than worrying as much about what he is not. I appreciate that. 🙂

  14. Thank you for writing this and for sharing it. It was beautiful, touching and true. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, also, to everyone who commented, each was a blessing to read.

  15. I love this! I was (am) a slow learner as well. 🙂 Homeschool was the BEST thing ever for me! I know that it was a challenge for my mom to see that I was not meeting the “standards” yet she kept on and met my needs and took it all in stride. I currently am an aide in a special needs class and have worked with resource students as well from time to time. My heart goes out to them because I know exactly how it feels! I am so thankfully to be at a place where I can make an impact on their lives and remind them that they are 100% okay. Go figure, I ended up being an almost 4.0 student when I went to high school. After taking a break from school I am dabbling with the idea of going to college to become a resource teacher. Of course, I would love to be a wife and a stay at home mom someday as well but for now, I am embracing life for what it is and loving it! Slower learners are awesome! 😉

  16. This is beautiful (and all the comments as well). Still wiping away tears, but what a blessing! Thanks!

  17. Thank you so much for your post. I have been struggling with thought of labeling our son a “slow learner” or someone with a learning disability. As a mother, I don’t think I could ever see him as something other than perfect.
    This post really hit home. Thank you for your work!

  18. First off, this was beautifully written. Second off, I went through the same ‘trauma’ as a slow learner. Just because it can take me longer to process something does NOT mean that I’m stupid. A doctor told me that its partially because of my ‘ADD,’ but I look at everything as a gift. Silver linings.

  19. When I see all of the comments, you’ve obviously touched the hearts of many mamas–mine included. Thank you for this beautiful, beautiful post. I’ll be reading it again every time I lose perspective about my sweet slow learners.
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (In Which Autumn Arrives)

  20. This is a gorgeous post. I too have a ‘slow learner’ who could be given many labels that would require specialist help in the classroom-all of which would mark him as different from his peers………’not good enough’. Instead, he is completely unaware that he is years ‘behind’ the average student of his age group, and is just happy to work appropriate to his ability. I love that his confidence has been maintained. For that reason only I would homeschool.

    Thankyou from a fellow Hermione (I used to do my husband’s worksheets 🙂 )
    Kelly’s latest post: MOOCs-a free, high quality homeschooling resource

  21. Crying.

    <3 I am blessed to have you in my life. This post was beautiful.
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: Books to Help Parents Grow Readers

  22. Thank you for this post; I really needed those encouraging words. My son is a slow learner compared to his siblings. At first I thought I was doing something wrong cause we have to stay on a certain lesson for weeks. My husband says he’s gonna get it, it just takes time. Knowing I’m not the only parent with a slow learner is helpful. Thank you again.

  23. Awww, I love this so much! I wanted to say this is beautiful even before reading all the lovely comments also calling it beautiful! Funny how it resonates so much for me even though I was a Hermione and my kids are “fast” — but oh, how we all need to be loved and valued just as we are; probably most of us are outside of the box in a number of ways.

  24. I want to thank you with tears in my eyes. It is encouraging to know that I am not the only one learning to deal with my “blessing”.

  25. Thank you! So wonderful to hear about other mama’s in my shoes this week! Just pulled my brilliant 9 yr old daughter from school to homeschool. Feeling so much pressure to make sure she has every opportunity she needs, but she needs it to be simple. Love reading all of these comments as well. It’s wonderful to not feel alone in this journey.

  26. JUST: Praise.The.Lord. Every child deserves this kind of respect and consideration and trust. Bless you!

  27. Thank you for this. My son feels stupid because the public school system made him feel that way. Yes, some things take longer for him to learn. But once he’s got it, he has mastered it. Then he flies at Mach 10. So far he’s only been out of “the system” for about six months, and he’s still triggered emotionally when I try to do things with him that look like “school.” But he’s learning all sorts of things and is very bright.

  28. Well, that was just a beautiful thing to read. Thank you.

  29. Lindsay Cooper says:

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you so much.
    I have 5 children; 12g, 10g, 7g, 3g, 1b. We started with “regular school” because I knew nothing of homeschooling. I just knew I wanted to go back to school and to work to provide for our home. My oldest thrived in school, and was with the best teachers for 3 years. My 2nd didn’t talk before she entered school, but once she did, she hasn’t stopped. She learned to read at our local headstart and she’s an avid reader now (I never really took the time to read to my children before I had my 4th). My 3rd is so different. We pulled them to homeschool for the 2012-2013 year. That first year we tried little that stuck with my then 3 year old, and I didn’t really think too much of it. The following year we started really noticing her speech issues and focused on getting her help, and figuring out what was wrong, so aside from a few things, I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t until really trying to get her to kindergarten level that I really noticed a problem. Right now, she’s 7.5 and is working hard at learning to read, and she’s getting it very slowly.
    Having never taught a child to read, I had no idea what I was up against. It felt like I just kept hitting a wall with her. She just couldn’t get it. I was very fortunate to have learned to not treat her like there was a problem with her, as to not discourage her. When it clicked this year, I think she was as excited as I was. It’s been a beautiful thing to have them all at home, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose to keep her out.
    Now, I’m starting to teach my 3yo and am seeing the different learning style and her ability to quickly learn. This may be my challenge.
    Sorry for the novel!

  30. Thank you for sharing! This article helps me so much!! I needed to read this today.

    God Bless you!

  31. This had me in tears. My son is also a “slow learner” with a “mind of steel” – we are three years into this homeschool journey and I keep wondering what the problem is. Is it me? Him? Our chaotic home environment? …but maybe there is no problem. Maybe slow isn’t bad. Maybe slow is just different (from me). Thank you for these words!
    Katie’s latest post: Going Grey

  32. Thank you for writing this! Our beautiful, loving, energetic 14 y.o. daughter struggles so much. It seems like nothing academic comes “easy” for her, although she certainly can learn things….especially things that interest her. I constantly struggle over how MUCH to challenge her without completely exhausting or discouraging her. Don’t we all wish each child came with an instruction manual?

  33. Brandon Biers says:

    My oldest son is now 21. He was labeled slow and special ed in elementary school. We lived in an area with a high concentration of very high achieving, affluent families and children. He was not reading at all upon entering 3rd grade and was placed in all SPED classes. We then moved to a more rural area where he didn’t stick out so much as being “slow”. His new 3rd grade teacher told us that she felt he was very smart. To make a long story short, he did learn to read in 3rd grade, asked to be placed in regular math in 5th grade, asked to be placed in AP math in 9th grade, and is now a senior electrical and mechanical engineering major with a 3.6 GPA. Early reading is so highly valued by parents and educators alike yet it should NOT be the determining factor in whether or not young kids are given the chance to continue learning and not automatically labeled as slow. My son is doing advanced math in college that blows my mind and I am an EE as well. Perhaps his brain was just busy thinking about things other than reading when he was a little boy. I shudder to think where he might have wound up if we had stayed in the ultra-high achievement environment.

  34. Holly Camping says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. It hits home hard for me. My 7yo son has struggled with just about everything from his alphabet (he has a hard time recognizing letters out of context with the others), knowing the days of the week, knowing and writing his middle name, his birthday, etc. He is brilliant in other areas, makes amazing pictures, draws simple machines and how they work, talks about inventing things to solve problems, and is so very kind. This story is so helpful to me, as it reminds me that I’m not alone in stressing out about him. Thank you again.

  35. Jaime Scharf says:

    I want to give you a huge hug of thanks. I have tears in my eyes. Someone understands. My boy is 9 and an emergent reader. He is super intelligent. Like crazy smart. But reading has not come easy or fast. Opposite.

  36. Thankyou! Well iv got a little guy sounds alot like yours !I keep thinking oh my sons gonna catch up he’s in the third sapose to be in the fourth but it seem like he’s getting farther and farther behind in school! I’m at a point Iv gotta yank him out and he school him he hates school he use to love school he says the bullies pick on me cause I don’t play the games rite he forgets what to do who’s side he’s on and throws the ball to the wrong side he fakes like he’s deathly sick because he don’t wanna go to school he say he can’t I tell him you can!But I’m just heartbroken he refers to some kids as the smart ones!I tell you areally smart!He get a helper but he only gets one hour a day or has a helper stands over him as you mentioned it inbarist hI’m he will lie to them and say I don’t need your help just because! Thankyou for you inspiration!

  37. Bless your sweet son! I so needed to hear this today. I had to wrap my heart around the fact that my daughter doesn’t learn at the same pace as her siblings and I just need to celebrate each milestone and not compare her to anyone but her own very special self. Thank you for sharing this post today!

  38. I was the slow learner in school. My reading level and comprehension was above grade level but writing and math were struggles for me. I had some excellent teachers and some teachers that should never been allowed in the classroom. I was the kid that my parents practiced my spelling words with me every night and I still failed every test. I was the kid that could tell you a story but the act of writing it down was beyond by abilities. Maturity, learning to type, and learning how to do an outline made it possible for me to be successful with no accommodations in high school-college.
    I am so thankful for the opportunity to homeschool my children where we can take our time and move on when we’re ready not when the government says we have to go on.

    • This is my son. He’ll be ten later this month and struggles the same ways you did – with writing and math. We are learning to do more orally, but so much is still really challenging and difficult. Your comment encourages me! Thank you!

  39. This is beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. I have a gifted (IQ = 145) learner and a slow learner, and it is nearly impossible for me to stop the comparisons in my head. I never, ever let them come out, but I worry so much about my younger daughter’s progress. Thank you for the reminder that she’s going to turn out okay.

  40. This is such an encouraging post! I have a brilliant 10 year old that is yet to emerge as a fluent reader and it has been a struggle in our house. This year I’m ditching formal lessons and we are just focusing on natural reading opportunities. We all need the pressure off. Even my seven year old would still be considered an emergent reader. Very early decoding skills. I told him we can do more lessons if he wants or we can just relax for the year. And now I’m going to try not to panic for the rest of the “school year”.

  41. Happy to have read this. My 9 year old is so creative and sweet, helpful and forever making friends … but she really struggles in school. I will probably have to have her do 3rd grade again, and my heart breaks for her … every time she asks why she isn’t reading well, or cries over her math … inside, I’m weeping buckets for her. She tries so hard, but it gets clogged somewhere. Over and over again we keep going.

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