Friday, 29 April 2016

Education: learning to read, the story of C

So in school they teach you to read, but what if the method they use in school to teach reading, doesn't work for the brain of your child?




Well.... that's what happened to us. My child (C) could read simple books by the age of 4, C would read them to my mother and myself, nothing complicated, simple 3 to 4 letter words were in them. Then we started school. As we didn't want to have a standard government school, as wanted more arts and crafts for C, we choose a Waldorf school as they do a lot more than just the academics, which I found very important as I'm of the opinion there is more to life than just academics, especially to tease the brain into doing its work.

The years (age 4-5-6) before the academics started (around 7 years of age) were really good. C loved the teacher, who was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Juffie Hanneke was just amazing. She was very knowledgeable on the age group and really could "hold the space" wonderfully. It was very nice to watch the children play outside from a distance, which I sometimes could. There was rarely anything such as bullying going on in her class. Fantastic. I cannot say enough good about her. I have unfortunately not spoken with her in many years.

But then C moved from the kindergarten class to the first grade class and had a change of teacher. That is when the misery started. I was scolded by C's class teacher and the remedial teacher for having "taught" C to read the wrong way. I had not taught C to read. C had done this all without help. 
This is actually normal and within the Waldorf community is quite known. In a Waldorf school that works according to the principles of Rudolf Steiner, there is no method taught on how to read. Children are left to crack the code themselves, which they can, which results in them doing it the way that works best for their brain, which has the end result or rarely problems occurring with reading and writing.
C was unfortunately also relatively bored during lessons, this was seen as "not interested", which wasn't the case. C actually could usually tell me exactly what the lessons had been about as C has a very good memory. C ended up having difficulty with the way things were taught and the way the interaction with the various children was going. C was bullied. This didn't help the learning process of C at all, which was not acknowledged by the class teacher, who was of the opinion C was to blame for being bullied. C regularly came home with bruises and came home crying every day. The mornings became harder and harder. C didn't want to go to school and was trying to find all kinds of ways of being able to stay away. As it was not possible to just take C out of school or change schools due to local laws we were awfully stuck.

So C had to stick with it and I had to stick with a child that was getting more and more unhappy and was more and more becoming of the opinion that C was a problem to others. I did not like that at all. I knew C wasn't to blame for the whole problem. I just didn't know the details to it yet.

At some point the remedial teacher came to the conclusion that because C was behind on arithmetic and reading C needed remedial teaching, but in stead of actually getting further with things, C ended up going backwards in the learning process, which I found quite disturbing. The remedial teacher was unwilling to acknowledge that. She was of the opinion that that was impossible and that C had just had lucky shots before, so C didn't really know before.
There was one assistant of the remedial teacher that C got along with really well and who understood C and could work with C the way that was necessary for C. His name was Jos, he was a wonderful man, I have kept contact with him until he died unexpectedly. He explained to me that the problem didn't lie with C, but with the methods used. He explained that C was quite intelligent, no doubt about that, but that C needed a challenge and not dumb repeats. Unfortunately his views were not heard by either the teacher of C, nor the remedial teacher. As he had these same issues with several other children of this school, he ended up quitting because of these problems.

During this whole ordeal I was told that C was going to be referred to being tested for learning disabilities and behaviour problems, as in school they were convinced that C had ADHD, as the son of her class teacher had that as well and C was so much like this boy.
I was sure that was not the case, if anything than it would be something of high functioning autism and maybe dyslexia, which I had filled out in the forms, but it seemed that nobody was interested in that, as C was tested for ADHD and dyslexia, but not autism.

The result was that the verbal intelligence of C was well above 100, but the on paper intelligence was 94, which was the only thing that counted, not the verbal intelligence for some weird reason. I guess it's because school is pretty much only on paper. With regards to the ADHD there weren't enough markers to give C that diagnosis and it was recommended to test C for that in a few more years. I am still very pleased there weren't enough markers as I would not have wanted to go through the ritalin discussion as that would not have been something I would have been willing to discuss.

The result of these tests meant that the school of C was going to refer C to a school for children with Special Needs. This I found mindboggling as there wasn't much wrong with C. Several of these Special Needs schools I visited did not want C because there wasn't enough wrong with C. But one school was interested, later on I found out that this particular school was closely working together with the school C was in and they had a mutual financial interest. But that was also the school that was the furthest away, which meant I would have to send C by taxi as I would not be able to take C myself any more. This all really bothered me, something felt awfully off. 

After thinking about this and know that most of the test results were not making C a special needs child, but a child that could stay in a normal school with a bit of extra help, I came to the conclusion that I didn't want C in a school that was not going to do much for C, only to get C through secondary school at the lowest possible level and make C a practical worker. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I knew C needed more out of life than just a simple job like that.
So I decided I wasn't going to let that happen to C, so I didn't register C for any of the special needs schools, which resulted in the remedial teacher having a fit. She was of the opinion that I was ruining the life of C and wrote me a letter that, as I wasn't following their recommendations (orders?) they were withdrawing from the duty to teach. My thought was, nothing different than the special needs schools, they only do the minimum and nothing more, and that meant from what I saw, a lot of computer games, which were not necessarily the ones I would consider educational and I am very liberal on that.
The remedial teacher also threatened to report us to Social Services as I was neglecting the needs of C. Luckily she never pushed that through.

So C stayed after the summer holidays, the school required C to attend, but didn't make any effort for C any more. This gave some peace for the both of us. After a while it became clear to me that our time in NL was numbered and that we would move to the UK, which I found a blessing as that meant that there was no way C would go to school again. C could play computer games at home just as much as they were doing in the special needs schools, but I was sure I could do more for C than just that.

So we moved and left the misery behind. I was dumb enough to try to immediately "play school" at home. Of course that didn't work. C needed to de-school and not such a little bit. C needed a lot of time to get over the school trauma, which was huge. C thought that C would never read or write or learn anything substantial. C was 10 at this time and completely illiterate (remember that C could read a bit at 4?).

My want for doing school at home resulted in a lot of stress and such and a lot of crying and upset people. So after a year of pushing I threw in the towel and gave up. This was a blessing in disguise. C could now deschool, which was sorely necessary and quite overdue, mess about with stuff and computers and get the brain working nicely again. C did all kinds of stuff that didn't involve paper or letters or numbers. We visited musea, we watched DVD's and did lots of stuff, other than just living. C asked lots of questions which we would talk about.

After another year, C was 12 by now I wanted to know whether C was actually dyslexic or not, so I had C tested by a friend who was doing this in our home. C was according to the results indeed dyslexic, but nothing bad, as C also is a visual learner, which meant that the dyslexia was because of the system of spelling taught in school. If C would simply learn words as pictures, there would be no dyslexia any more after a while. C could remediate it. The tests also showed that C was well ahead of C's age with knowledge, it showed the knowledge age was 14, while C was 12, so 2 years ahead with knowledge. So that meant that C was indeed not a retard, as I had been, in more polite words, told by the school in the past.

Due to the misery that had happened during the time in school of C, I was completely not interested in anything Waldorf any more, which was quite a shame I found out later, as the Waldorf system is not really what is used as such in Waldorf schools in NL. As the Waldorf schools are subsidised by the government, they have to play by the government rules and as such have to do tests and have to do 7 years primary school in 6 years and all kinds of things like that. So in essence it was a public school with some added on arts and crafts the Waldorf way, but not a real, proper Waldorf school.

This I only learned after several years when we ended up living in Switzerland and we had a very proper Waldorf school in the village right next to ours which was totally awesome. I also made a friend in Switzerland who had taught at a Waldorf school and was totally into it. This sparked my interest in Waldorf again and I ended up reading and reading and reading about it, much more than I had ever done before. I had read about Waldorf, but only the books that were available on loan from the school, which was interesting, but didn't go deep into the philosophy. Now I did and I was amazed. My friend Cari and I also had several conversations about Waldorf and she helped me learn quite a bit more about it, for which I am forever in her debt. Unfortunately we lost contact over the years, but I still remember her fondly.
So I adopted a more Waldorf type of talking to the kids and also did lots more arts and crafts with them and we ended up teaching more and more in the Waldorf way. This worked for all of our kids, not just C. They love the arts and crafts and love the toys, in the meantime several of them have outgrown most of the toys, but they still love the look of them :-)

At around the age of 15 C decided that C wanted to read and write properly as C wanted to write fan-fic stories. I stimulated this and within a few months C had it all sussed. I could not fully help as C needed to this mostly alone, C wanted that. So C only asked for help when it was needed. It was slightly more complicated for C to learn it all as C had first learned it without effort at 4 and was then taught that the way C had done it was wrong and was taught in school to do it in another way. So C had to unlearn what was taught in school and C had to find C's own way, which worked out just fine in the end.

My next child was never taught to read in any way and managed, at the age of 9 to learn to read - without much help - in 3 months in 3 languages. This child just took books and went through them, irrelevant of the language. We have childrens books in 3 languages.

After this C became more and more confident that C could do things. It took several more years before C felt fully confident C could learn. In the meantime I think this has been achieved. But for a few years it was still a struggle to find out what C could and wanted to do in the future, work and such. C loves computers and loves drawing and such. It never occurred to me that that could be combined. But at some point my partner came with the idea that maybe C could be interested in Graphics Design. C had no idea what that was, so he had to explain that to C. Once C figured out what it was there as a spark. C liked the idea of it, so C looked into a bit and thought it was worth a shot to do a course or so on it.

Anyway C is now doing a series of Graphics Design courses on Coursera.org and has aced (93.1%) the first course C did and is continuing with the other 4 in the series and is actually having a great time doing it as well.
So much for that child never being able to reach anything and as I a parent I should stop dreaming and accept that my child was slow and such as I was not doing my child a favour by keeping up the pressure and such. The worst insanity I ever heard. As far as I am concerned there are no children that will never achieve anything. Some may need more time for certain parts, or less time, but anyone can achieve much more than is usually thought or even expected. Too much misery being created by thinking people cannot.
No such thing. I was ******* right!

*** Update 13 May 2016: Today C got the results back from course 2, typography and she aced that one as well, 97.2%. It feels awesome to be right :-)

Please do leave a comment or ask a question if you have one. I'd love to hear from you and will do my best to answer questions you have.