June 21, 2023
By Annie Yorty
Waiting has never been my strength, so you can probably imagine I’ve flunked the “waiting for God’s timing” assignment on several occasions. If you have ever been at the bottom of the class in this subject, read on to learn how God used teaching language arts to my daughter to show me His ways.
I taught Alyssa, my daughter who has Down syndrome, to read in the summer after she turned five. Of course, it didn’t happen with just a wave of a magic wand, but my intense efforts paid off quickly. At the same time, we worked on readiness for writing. Fine motor tasks usually prove difficult for people with Down syndrome, so we focused on developing muscle strength as well as the cognitive components of writing.
First grade came and went. Alyssa learned to create a spindly facsimile of letters.
Second grade came and went. Alyssa demonstrated the ability to lightly trace the letters of her spelling words. She could dictate a story to me and would painstakingly trace what I wrote. Though she had many thoughts, she still could not produce a single written word from her mind.
I redoubled my efforts in third grade. Every afternoon, we sat at the kitchen table to write sentences with spelling words. She would dictate the sentence she wanted to write. I would prompt her to sound out each letter and write the letter associated with that sound. I was willing to accept any spelling if she would only produce something.
Alyssa passed the midpoint of third grade, and I lost hope she would ever write. We worked so diligently, yet she couldn’t get it.
What was I doing wrong?
Since then, I’ve learned we must strike a delicate balance between pushing our children and waiting for their readiness. This is God’s approach with His children as well. Sometimes He prods us to move ahead, while other times He waits and prepares us behind the scenes.
Though I’m not a trained educator, I will share with you some helpful tips for teaching the reluctant writer, most of which I learned by doing many things wrong. You can read much more about my homeschooling journey with Alyssa in my book, From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down Syndrome.
5 Tips for Teaching the Reluctant Writer
1. Think outside the box. Since God knows every inch of territory both inside and outside the box, begin by asking Him for wisdom. Ask Him to help you sift through advice you receive from every side—friends, colleagues, Google, books, experts. As the parent, remember your expertise on your child trumps everyone else’s (except God). Ask questions, especially “Why not?” when your idea is dismissed as impossible.
For example, phonics was the box that imprisoned Alyssa’s writing. After she succeeded, I finally understood she did not learn to read or write by sounding out words.
2. Persevere in what you know to do. Looking back, I see things I would have changed in my approach with Alyssa. Age and wisdom have taught me to lessen my focus on the goal and increase my sensitivity to my daughter. Nevertheless, God tells us to persevere in doing good.
Alyssa’s inability to make firm letters told me she needed to continue both fine and gross motor strengthening activities. We tend to focus on the hands with writing, but the trunk and shoulder muscles must be strengthened as well. You might consider switching or beginning with cursive writing because it may be physically easier to write than block letters.
Whenever a task is difficult, I advise breaking it down into smaller parts. This helps you to troubleshoot the problem and allows your child/ren to show their capabilities.
For example, writing may be divided into different skills such as letter formation, copy work, content, spelling, and others. For a child who cannot put words on paper, offer the option of verbalizing the content. Write what she dictates and allow her to practice handwriting as a separate skill. Depending on the ability of your child, spelling may also be dictated.
3. Celebrate micro-successes. Often, our instruction emphasis leans toward weaknesses rather than strengths. Focusing on failures comes naturally, but it’s also a recipe for discouragement for the homeschool parent.
Ask God to help you design instruction to promote small successes. Use the strategies I mentioned to divide tasks so at least one capitalizes on a strength. Use trial and error to find a balance between challenge and ease so your student can incrementally achieve. Create a visual reminder of successes along with verbal encouragement to your child.
4. Ask for help. God created us to live in community so we can support one another to live for Him. Seek help and advice within your community of homeschoolers. If you have access to a university hospital, you may be able to obtain an educational assessment to pinpoint specific issues and suggest useful strategies. One of my favorite online resources is SPED Homeschool (SPEDHomeschool.com).
5. Remember the academic outcome does not determine your worth. God loves you with an everlasting love that does not depend on your child’s achievement. He is with you and inspires your creativity to meet the needs of your reluctant writer. His grace covers our parental deficits as well as our children’s weaknesses.
When God moves, He often bumps me out of the way. All I can do is stare, slack-jawed, at His work.
After I poured years of blood, sweat, tears, and prayers into writing, Alyssa independently produced her first sentences in the privacy of her own bedroom. Belle from Beauty and the Beast was the subject of her first literary masterpiece.
By God’s grace, Alyssa became a writer of much longer stories for His glory. She also spells well and writes in cursive. Near the end of From Ignorance to Bliss, you’ll find a chapter about Alyssa written in her own words. She would love to hear your thoughts after reading it.
Here’s a sample:
“I came out of the womb as a squalling and squirming bundle of joy one March morning in 1989. A nurse swaddled me and put a cap on my head. I was put on a bed with a pink blanket with stuffed animals surrounding me. I looked like a papoose with short brown hair, hazel eyes, tiny fingers, and skinny legs.”
Homeschool moms easily fall prey to discouragement because we invest our lives in a “project” that often will not pay off for years or even decades.
“Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap,
About the Author
"Annie Yorty, award-winning author and speaker, encourages others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life.
I invite you to connect with me at newSongpress/contact.html or Facebook.