Have you ever received a thoughtful or significant gift when it wasn’t even your birthday (or any special occasion for that matter)? You might have experienced, as I did, an array of emotions from complete shock to sheer delight or profound humility to deep thankfulness.
It's happened to me only a few times. I can still feel the overwhelming emotions.
In a recent interview with my daughter on the Trail Guide to Learning Facebook page, I experienced some of these same emotions as she had the opportunity to share her perspective on using Trail Guide through the middle school years.
It really was like receiving a meaningful gift! All the “feels”—surprise, sheer delight, and deep thankfulness as she shared some unexpected consequences which themselves turned out to be tremendous gifts!
Let me begin by saying that I intentionally chose to use the Trail Guide knowing some of its potential strengths and benefits. Developing critical thinking skills and a love of learning were at the top of the list. But, it wasn’t until this interview with my oldest child, Eliya, that I realized just how significant these unexpected gifts from Trail Guide were to my children...and to me.
Discovering Learning Challenges
As parents, we do the best we can to research and choose curriculum that best fits our vision and values as a family. We put considerable time and thought into the needs of each child and even the particular season of our family's lives.
At a minimum, we at least to experience the benefits of our curriculum choices but there will always be some things that go beyond our expectations and, quite frankly, even surprise us.
Having high hopes for each child—no matter what personal challenges or struggles they are faced with—we intend to give them the best opportunity to succeed and excel in whatever God is calling them to do in life.
I’m no exception.
However, I’ll be honest enough to admit that raising four children within eight years of each other in age sometimes left me overwhelmed in homeschooling and often wondering if my kids would indeed reap the benefits I hoped for using Trail Guide.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after finishing the series with my oldest two children that we realized they both had mild to moderate reading difficulty. As their mother and teacher, I found myself questioning how it was I missed such important learning challenges in my kids.
My oldest child self-diagnosed with mild dyslexia and ADD. My second child was diagnosed by an opthamologist with eye tracking issues that required thousands of dollars and many hours of eye therapy to correct.
What?!?! How did I not know?!
How in the world did they do as well as they did in school?
As much as I have been tempted to feel guilt for not having known and helped them in some way, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the bigger picture. But this deeper understanding was truly crystallized through my daughter’s reflection.
Over these years, I’ve come to trust that God really means it when He says that He uses all things for our good. I no longer experience the fear or regret that plagued my past.
I am more confident than ever that He wants to use even our greatest mistakes and challenges for something purposeful in all of our lives. That is a key part of why NOT being aware of their challenges while we used Trail Guide is such a gift to me NOW.
This interview helped me see God’s good plan for my children’s challenges in ways I never could have expected.
How was Trail Guide the answer?
The flexibility to adapt lessons, along with the engaging of many learning styles, significantly helped my children navigate their difficulties.
Trail Guide’s approach to learning allowed them to develop strategies to compensate, turning potential weaknesses into strengths and ultimately building confidence instead of discouragement.
And they did it on their own, unaware of what they were actually doing.
Connected Learning Makes Sense
Research proves that when learning is related students better retain and enjoy more what they are learning. However, it didn’t occur to me that this unified approach also offers a flexibility to learning that enables students to work around challenges without needing to emphasize them.
My kids could not only do work at their own pace/ability level, but they also discovered how to learn absent a rigid method.
That flexibility allowed them to adjust and do what they were good at and stress less about what was difficult.
For example, Trail Guide has copywork or dictation lessons. I often observed writing was a stressful activity for kids, so we adjusted to accommodate their needs. Sometimes we did copywork. Sometimes I dictated to them. And sometimes we needed to skip a day.
If writing in any subject was a struggle, we did less. Sometimes I would write for them or allow them to process verbally.
Often my kids gravitated heavily towards the art and music lessons. I took advantage of that by allowing more time and emphasis when it came to those subject areas. We listened to the orchestra CD used in Paths of Progress for hours on end—not just the lesson it was assigned.
Who knew that this choice to be flexible was growing into such confidence!
Various Learning styles
Trail Guide engages not just one style of learning but many. If your child is not naturally inclined to one learning style, you can adapt it or choose to expose them gently, considering that it may create unnecessary stress in learning.
My kids were very verbal and tactile in their learning styles. They wanted more discussions and hands-on activities.
We had elongated and sometimes lively discussions (that may or may not have strayed off topic). I often chose to have them share verbally rather than in writing.
I’m convinced this allowed them to also enjoy our relationship in learning more, as I focused more on their strengths and less on perceived weaknesses.
Trail Guide has a weekly review which employs many types of games. They loved to play the games together and compete with each other. Because learning was fun, hands-on, and competitive with his sister, I feel that my son (who later had a year of eye therapy) could push himself further than he would have otherwise.
Eliya always loved literature and learning through storytelling. I think it was one of her favorite parts of using Trail Guide, which is so rich with good literature. Even with her reading challenges, Trail Guide afforded the opportunity to read at her own pace or to listen as I dictated.
Looking back after all these years, it’s my daughter herself who expressed that this approach to learning “allows kids to feel successful even if they have disabilities.” I don’t think either one of us had considered this before.
No matter what difficulties she or her brother were overcoming, they were motivated to learn. They inadvertently learned some of the most valuable lessons in life. That is better than solid gold!
What were challenges that could have held them back or discouraged them, turned into strengths instead! Thank you, Trail Guide authors!