Monday, July 16, 2012

Don't Panic! Musings about realizing that your child's learning is ahead of schedule.

Before Early Bird I would have told you that I was flexible; that I could adapt to whatever happened. I love making lists and schedules, but I don't always stick to them, and I can throw them out and start again if I need to. I really love knowing what to expect. I love those milestone lists and charts for kids. I bought a book with some in them before I was even married! (It was on sale and I put it in my hope chest.) When I had Builder Boy I studied those lists and charts and knew what was developmentally appropriate and worked on those things. He never disappointed me and kept to the schedule.
Then Early Bird came along and six weeks before his 3rd birthday he started reading. On his own. In one week he went from reading "bed" and "red" to over 40 consonant-vowel-consonant words. Two and a half weeks later he could read any CVC word presented to him, was working on consonant blends, and had several "sight" words memorized as well.

I started panicking. I wasn't ready yet to teach him. I knew what I was going to do with Builder Boy; I had a plan. But I didn't have a plan for Early Bird; I wasn't emotionally prepared to have an early learner. I found myself thinking over and over, "What am I going to do with him?" I could not think of anything else. I could make no plan; my confidence was gone. I started "borrowing guilt," as my father-in-law put it. I was worried about ruining this, of teaching him wrong, of pushing too much, of holding him back, of killing his joy in learning. I worried that he would become frustrated with a lack of knowledge and stop wanting to learn. I worried that he would just memorize words and be a fast sight reader but a terrible speller (like I am.) I didn't know if I should work with him to make sure he learned his phonics, but risk taking the joy out of learning for him, or if I should leave him to his own devices and risk him learning things wrong or getting frustrated and give up. He asked over and over to "do words," begging to start and pleading not to stop way past the time I felt used up. I was afraid to stop before he was ready, afraid of saying "no more!'' and possibly discouraging him.

I reached out to people in my life, looking for help. I asked for prayers for God's guidance and for peace of mind. But the people I asked could not understand why I was freaking out about something that they saw as being so good. I process things better when I can talk to someone; bounce off ideas and get advice that I would never think of. But no one in my life could help me. So I gathered my courage and started a thread on the Accelerated Learners board where I had been lurking, asking for help. And I got it. I got to hear from people who had dealt with the same emotions that I had. I learned that, yes, it is possible Early Bird would become a sight reader and a horrible speller and that other parents had dealt with it and I could, too. I learned that there was a possibility that he might give up and stop for a while but that that didn't mean he'll never learn again. And most of all I recognized my dependence on needing a plan, needing to know what to expect and what was going to happen. I learned that I needed to accept that I was not going to be able to control this and that I needed to let go of some things. It helped a lot and as I "talked" with people on the board my panic receded. I still have moments of "what do I do now?" But I am taking everything in stride now. I'm not making plans, I'm just doing what he wants to do (which is still a lot.)

A lot of the advice I received had a lot in common, so I have condensed what I learned from others into:

5 Steps for When You're Panicking:

Step 1) Breathe. This may or may not work for you. If you are holding your breath or forgetting to breathe then this is a very good idea. If you are like me breathing more means hyperventilating. But whether you need to breathe more or less, the main point is to take a moment (or lots of moments) to calm down, if you can.

Step 2) Pray. If you don't believe in God or personal prayer skip to step 3. For those of you who do pray remember that God gives us only what we can handle with His strength. Remember that God answers our prayers on His time, not ours. Remember that God doesn't always give us the answer we want, but the answer that is the best for us. Find someone else to pray for you. I would suggest keeping this to one or two people, and to someone who will understand why you're stressed.

Step 3) Find people who have gone through what you're going through. This helped me tremendously. I didn't get to the point where I felt like I could do this until I got feedback from parents who had been there, done that with early learners. I learned that, yes, my worries about things going wrong could happen but others have dealt with those issues, too. I learned that really good things could happen, too, and I had to make sure I wasn't blocking those things from happening. And I learned that I am not alone.

Step 4) Learn to let go of control and expectations. This step takes time; sometimes a lot of time. I think it took me at least a month, maybe more. It means changing a habit of thinking, a way of looking at things. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't have goals; it does means that you don't stress about the time-frame. This is done best with help from someone who knows you very well.

Step 5) Remember to play and have fun. When I received this advice I thought "well, duh! You don't need to tell me that." He was having a blast playing with letters and words and I wasn't forcing it on him. I remembered to play with other things, too. But in looking at what he was doing and where he was going I overlooked gaps. Sure, he's ready for some 1st grade material, but what about the pre-school skills like coloring, drawing, scissor skills? What about music, which he loves, but we don't do enough of? It took me 4 months to realize that there were gaps, but now that I know I am I have created a "pre-school" just for him so we can work on those things together and I can learn about other gaps that I hadn't anticipated.

I hope someday, when I have more experience, I will be able to help others the way that the wonderful parents over at the Well Trained Mind forum helped (and continue to help) me.

Thanks, you guys.


  1. Mrs. Warde, I think you beautifully captured the anxiety/disbelief/panic that can accompany watching your child develop in a way that is not neurotypical. I think your five steps are good things to remember for parents of kids with learning disabilities too.

  2. Very helpful post and great advice. I find myself having to remind myself of #4 quite often.

  3. Oh, goodness, thank you. Someone else in my position! HOORAY! My little is turning four in a month, and is plowing his way through Hooked on Phonics (green?) 1st grade. And I don't mean he's going through it no big. I mean, today we started back up after a two week break (spent a week visiting family, then another trying to 'detox' and capping it off with Day Out With Thomas yesterday), and he went through Level 1's lessons 8-15, and Level 2's lessons 1-3. Now, I didn't make him go through all the paper on it, as he hates review, but we did do the unit reviews, which he all-but-aced - he needs a little more exposure to the sight words, and the "big words" (kitten, muffin, Dennis) are mildly problematic for him. He is blowing through kindergarten math as well, and I've spent the last several months feeling like a chicken with no head - running all over trying to find resources, trying to keep up with my son, trying to figure out what's going on... and then, trying to figure out how to help him manage his overexcitabilities... It's been crazy-making! Thank you for the reminder to breathe - SLOWLY - and take it one step at a time. It's remarkably good timing, what with this morning! o.o;;

    1. I am so glad I could help. :) If you haven't already you should definitely check out the Accelerated Learners Board on the Well Trained Mind Forum. You will find even more parents who have been through what you're going through.

    2. So am I! Little is on a roll here - he's having a hard time with those longer words, but is blazing through the rest of things. @_@;; I knew he'd need to be homeschooled because his psychomotor overexcitability is beyond being accommodated in a school setting, but some of this... Boggling.

      I haven't recently looked at WTM - the last time I was over there I caught some second-hand flack for looking into educational options for a 2+yo (he knew his letters and sounds, and I was looking to help him along when he asked me to teach him to read!), and the vibe was very much "little kids don't need learning, they need to play." (This is long form for "I searched all the threads I could find and anyone asking a similar question to mine seemed to be dismissed out-of-hand because little kids are babies, not ready for school.) I'll have to look again and see what's there. I'm not drilling him, I swear! Heck, he just (like, as I was typing) ASKED ME to watch four more reading lessons. I'm running to keep up! At this rate, he'll be in the grade 2 books by August! Which, thinking aloud, means I ought to get on over to Chapters and see if they have them, and then find sources for 3+, 'cause I've never seen those at the store. GAH! Okay, *breathe.* See what I mean about perfect timing? (And also, sorry for not warning you I'm a very stream-of-consciousness typer.)

    3. I am the same way! And sometimes I'm thinking/talking so fast I skip stuff and I leave people wondering where I'm coming from. I know what you mean about people discouraging you from wanting to help your early learner. I've gotten the "just let him play," too, and with Early Bird that's just something that's just not going to work for him. Has your Little one played They have a video and some other things about "chuncking" words that helps both of my boys. When ever Early Bird comes to a longer word he starts singing the "chunck that word" song. I would love to talk with you more. Can I have your e-mail or facebook id? (I'll delete it off of here as soon as I get it, if you'd like.) I couldn't see a way to contact you through your google profile.

    4. Actually, why don't you e-mail me at my buffer account and I will send you my real e-mail from there. It's

    5. Sure! I'm "Care Martin" on facebook, I think I have to unlock a little for that, but I'll do that right now. ^_^ Whole load of drama there. XD I try to ignore it.

      Oh, the "let him be a kid" thing... I hate that. I was talking to some family while we were in town and got "well, why not let him be a kid?" and it's two points there - first, he's ASKING for this. I put on one reading lesson, because he asked me to teach him. Once that's on, he will keep watching them forever. And request them later in the day. Second, where I live, he would be starting Junior Kindergarten in the fall. FULL DAY JK. So, my teaching him 2-3 hours a day on LONG days? Much less (and therefore more time to "be a kid!") than the other kids, who are in school for SIX HOURS A DAY starting at age 4! Crazy-making!

      Starfall, he has played, but he continually navigates back to the letters/sounds. He doesn't like having to actively work at the program. I'm probably going to try it again, as at the rate he's going, it'll be maybe two weeks before he's in the 2nd grade book, and I don't know if I can get that here that fast. XD Anyhow! Off to check out my privacy settings! I am SO GLAD to have someone to panic with who won't think I'm either hot-housing or bragging! Yay!!

  4. Sent a pair of emails to you. I saw your note about stress in the more recent entries, and am figuring that's what happened. Let me know if you need me to resend, otherwise I'll just be patient (and wanted to let you know in the meantime I'd sent, in case you were wondering!). ^_^

  5. Thank you!!! You are exactly right. I checked it, e-mailed you back, and will now e-mail yo from my main account.


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