Homeschooling to my child’s strengths

Homeschooling to my child's strengths
Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things.

Too often, I spend a ton of time, energy and effort focused on what my children can’t do.

I am ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.

Will he ever really learn to read fluently?

Why is it so hard to memorize the times tables when he can complete complex math problems in his head?

When do I need to employ yet another tutor or educational therapist to help “fix” all the things my children cannot yet do?

Before I had my boys, I worked in corporate training and development. As part of my work, I was invited to attend a session at Gallup, as they introduced the concept of “Strengths Based Training.” It was based on the book, StrengthFinders, and the basic premise was this:

Managing and teaching to an individual’s strengths, exponentially increases productivity and learner satisfaction.

Moreover, the research showed that a learner, when allowed to progress in a ‘strengths based’ fashion, increased their overall capabilities, even in the areas that are weaknesses.

The weak areas actually improve significantly, when a strengths-based approach is taken, than when remediation and focus is centered on poor performing topics.

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Six years ago, when my son was in first grade at a local public school, I felt like my professional background was screaming at me:

Not every subject should be equal!

The child who is excellent in math should be allowed to pursue science and history in a way that incorporates mathematics!

Don’t keep him in from recess because he didn’t complete the timed test! That’s not his strength anyway. It’s not statistically how he will best learn!

My strengths based professional development became one of the philosophical reasons we began homeschooling.

And yet, five years in, I still find myself spending more time and energy on the subjects that are areas of weakness. I know better. And yet, the desire to see improvement overwhelms my logical side over and over again.

I am not sure why.

I think it may have something to do with the fact that I am afraid, way too often, that I am failing these children and ‘what if he never learns to read or function in the world and I totally messed this homeschooling thing up and what will I record on a high school transcript in two years and did I mention that am freaked out that he will never learn to read‘?!?

Actually, I guess I am sure why.

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In an effort to take myself out of the emotionally charged areas of homeschooling, and back into a more professional approach to learning, I created a learning plan for my boys. It is similar to what I would’ve done for a corporate manager ten years ago.

Here are the basic tenants of our strengths based learning plan:

  • It clearly outlines my boys’ respective strengths (which incidentally, are often completely opposite), and the ways to incorporate areas of weakness into those strengths.
  • The goal is not to ignore the areas in need of remediation. For example, my dyslexic ten-year-old would not be well served if we just ignored reading entirely, and only did math problems with chalk markers on the sliding glass door. But we don’t spend the majority of our time on formal reading instruction. The focus on reading is less obvious in terms of time and attention, than the focus on the subjects that are strengths.
  • The majority of our time is spent on areas that are strengths. Science and history are huge for both of my boys. In fact, because these subjects are so strong, we easily devote 85% of our learning, both formal and informal, to these subjects.
  • Future success and employment is viewed through the lens of strengths rather than weaknesses.  The reality is that a child who is weak in math, will most likely not grow up to be an accountant. A child who struggles with dyslexia, will not likely grow up to be an English teacher. There are exceptions, of course, but typically our nature determines our interests, and ultimately our interests determine our ability to perform well as employees.Therefore, it is reasonable and actually wise to allow my children to develop their areas of strength. This prepares them well for the future.

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As we have made this change in our homeschooling, the environment in our home has has also changed.

Although I cannot yet say that my boys are both making progress in all subjects based on this approach, I can tell you that they enjoy their days and are so much more productive. If nothing else, their level of growing confidence and poise in learning, spills over into any areas of weakness.

Being allowed to learn in a way that is most natural for their individual strengths, makes learning so much more effective and fun.

I’m happy. They’re happy. We are enjoying our lives.

And that just might be our greatest strength of all.

Like this post? Share it!

What ways have you found to focus on your child’s learning strengths?

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.

Comments

  1. My biggest problem is often that I am worried about what others will think of my children and also my teaching style. My Mom homeschooled me and now I’m homeschooling my kids. Well, the other day she asked my oldest daughter about school and specifically about tests. We do a lot of unit studies, so there aren’t a lot of tests. My Mom’s comment was “well you certainly have it easy not having tests.” I found that so hard to receive and I felt like I was doing it completely wrong in that moment.
    Rosanna’s latest post: 6 Ways to Organize Your Bathroom

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Rosanna. Your perspective, having been homeschooled yourself, and yet still feeling the uncertainty and anxiety is a great encouragement to me. I am sure it was a difficult moment with your mom. I am so sorry for that, and I am glad you are finding your own way, with your own children. (And for the record, we don’t do tests either!)
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Focusing On My Child’s Strengths

  2. I think I may have been doing this for quite a while but just didn’t realize it. For a couple of years now, I’ve refused to allow my kids to get frustrated to the point of tears by insisting they complete lengthy assignments in the subjects they least like. To me, this was counter-productive because how will a child ever improve on something if they grow to hate it more and more? Instead, we’ve done short lessons in the area they don’t like, and, like you, have focused on their favorite areas. Luckily, my kids all enjoy mostly the same things, so that works out for us! The result has been that when it is time to do things they struggle with, they complain much, much less and are actually making more progress than before.
    Shelly’s latest post: Think You Know Why Compulsory School Exists? Think Again.

  3. Oh, this is such a good reminder for me! I also get so sucked in to focusing on areas of struggle and it is not how I want to teach my kids. More than anything I want my kids to love learning, and focusing on their struggles is definitely not the way to accomplish that. I love the idea of a learning plan, I can see that helping me to stay focused on what I want to prioritize instead of just ’emergencies’ of daily life.
    sarah’s latest post: Making compassion my first response

  4. I would love to hear more about this, but expanded into another post or two (or a series?) as far as how this practically looks. I think I’m on board with this, and want to know more. I know, vaguely, what STrengthsfinders is, but I’m always curious to hear more about practicalities. I also liked Jamie Martin’s idea that is somewhat similar about the 6 month ‘compass’.

    • The practicalities are what I love the most too! It’s what I love about the homeschool day in the life series. I will write more about the actual practice of this more and more in the upcoming months, I am sure. I haven’t used strengthfinders with my boys – but was it was the foundation of my professional career, and I think about it’s premise all the time.
      In the meantime, there are a few of my posts here on Simple Homeschool, that provide more specifics of how I tailor our days to my child’s strengths. Maybe a place to start?
      http://simplehomeschool.net/author/shawna/
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Focusing On My Child’s Strengths

  5. This puts into words the approach we took this year with my grade 2 son.

    He was resisting reading, writing and math and we were getting into fights about it, so we switched to focusing on the things he loves : outdoors, science, history, drawing, sculpting and some minecraft. (He loves minecraft, but it is not unlimited) .

    And of course listening to the books that he loves, but does not have the reading skills to read independently. He got into the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings this year.

    And we have seen a huge improvement in with reading, writing and math when it is limited to short lessons, with most of his time doing things that he is good at. He is not yet at grade level, but he is enjoying the learning process and making progress.

  6. Shawna, this is so encouraging. You articulate reasons for things that I do kind of intuitively (and b/c my husband insists) in our mostly-unschooling home. Thank you!

  7. Some years ago my former employer had us all go through the StrengthFinders program. I even had the book at one point (hmm…time to dig and see if I can find it)! At that time it seemed like just another “product” bought into and forced upon us without the premise of any of it ever being put into play by the employer. Who would’ve known the use for it down the road now as a homeschooling Mom to a child who is my polar-learning opposite! I’m saving this post to re-read…and re-read…and re-read! The only subjects we “do” are reading/writing/math right now as those are what we are to have her tested (or evaluated) on in my state. Math, no problem. Reading…she does the work I give her but she doesn’t enjoy it. Science and History she loves and I, admittedly, don’t focus on those enough. Time to regroup and think about things differently. Coming from a public-schooled background myself, it’s hard to change the things that were ingrained in a person since the age of 5. It’s a process for me…one I work on every day. This post has helped tremendously. Thank you!

  8. I lived reading this post. I use to be an elementary teacher, so I find myself wanting to teach everything instead of letting things naturally unfold. My daughter is only a year old. I’ve been struggling with a similar situation where I want to teach her now. Even though I know playing is all she needs right now. Your reasons are the same as mine when it comes to our decision to homeschool. Strengths and interests should be the focus not weaknesses.

    • My husband said it best the other day when he said to me, “I think you might be teaching in a way that is about you, instead of the boys.” He is a wise man, but fighting that urge is one of the most challenging things I have ever done as a mom. Thank you for sharing your struggle with it as well. <3
      Shawna Wingert’s latest post: Dreaming Of Heaven

  9. Too bad schools don’t buy into these ideas. Thanks for the info, makes sense.

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