Monday, February 17, 2014

Simply Classical - A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Review Series 3 of 3)

This is Part 3 of 3 for a book series review on Simply Classical - A Beautiful Education for Any Child.  If you are just joining me, then I'd encourage you to go back and read the previous posts for part 1 and part 2!  This book is a sensible approach to the classical education model for children with special needs of any kind or learning disabilities.  Today's post will focus on the final third of the book, Chapters 7 through 11.  It also has been a weaving of my own story of my special needs son's life, with the book review.  I pray that the reader is blessed by my previous and final post on this subject.

Chapter 7

This begins the nuts and bolts of how to implement fully, a classical education with children that have special needs.  The focus of this chapter is on behavioral and social development.  A break down is given by age for approaching the molding of your child's behavior through routine and structure.  She begins with Infancy to Age 3 and gives instructions in manners, helpfulness and academic focus as you introduce color, letters sorting etc.  She then moves on to Ages 4-8 and gives attention to the need for order, as well as how to extend attention span, provide quiet time; utilizing checklists and incentives.  She also begins a greater discussion on structured academics for this age group and introduction of art and music, as well as social awareness.  Throughout, resources are provided for families to look into for their child. The next age breakdown is 9-12 and the emphasis becomes more study.  The previous ideas from ages infancy to 8, have been setting the stage for deeper focus, compliance, routine and instructional control.  However, there is still a focused discussion on social skills and teaching more than academics, throughout this age and period of development as well.  Specific behavior problems are addressed, for those who may persist with behaviors and some novel suggestions such as "thinking papers" is provided to the reader.  Character development with great resources for molding this, is also presented.  Ages 13 and beyond, is the final age breakdown and focus - with guidance for personal interests and abilities and ongoing therapies and challenges discussed.  Detailed information concerning some persistent challenges such as social, depression, organization and the emotionally disturbed child, are explored well and resources and insight is given to guide parents in handling this type of child.  Interesting approach of teaching logic, as being a catalyst for assisting with behavior problems, by addressing fallacy, is an interesting read and certainly unique to the special needs world of heavy behavior modification based models of thinking.  Much effort was extended to the reader, to guide them in developing strategies that are classical in nature and help utilize what we work so hard to teach, as a means for addressing behavioral problems in adolescents with special needs.  There is a wealth of advice that will be unique to most parents with special needs children, who have pursued the "usual methodologies" for kids with special needs.  It's a breath of fresh air to read her suggestions and laid out guide for achieving excellence in educating this population of learners.

My Story

When my son was little, I had a fantastic (and still have) Mentor in my life.  She encouraged me in many of the ideals that are presented in this book for early education.  Focus on obedience, structure, expectation of achievement and ability, as well as the filling of my son's head with good and noble ideals and literature about character development and the Word of God, were all pursued by me.  I often would get compliments when he was little about how "remarkably well behaved" he was.  When my son turned four, he ruptured his appendix.  The tide would change shortly thereafter.  He became a different child and struggled with OCD, persistent severe GI issues and a myriad of other medical issues would surface.  His personality changed and became oppositional, defiant, checked out, disobedient and aggressive.  It was puzzling, heartbreaking and made me question my approach to teaching him.  I began to seek outside of my circle of influence to "experts" in the field.  I was led down a path of behavior and verbal based therapies, that reinforced the very things I wanted to get rid of.  It would take us a number of years to gain back the instructional control that was once had and it felt like a black hole for meaningful education, while we struggled through that period of medical crisis.  I would say that medical issues need to be addressed before learning on a meaningful level can take place.  That can be true for the parents, more than the child, at times.  I had a difficult time requiring much of him when I knew he was so sick and we weren't even sure why -it broke my heart to push him when he was so sick and in pain all the time.
Mason and his sister playing at the beach together!
Chapter 8

This chapter focuses on accommodations for improving learning.  She starts out by redefining the classical education model, to make sure the reader understands what the key elements are, so as to maintain them, while modifying their classical education.  She provides very practical suggestions and ideas on how to provide a visual teaching strategy to augment aural presentation of information.  This is to improve their ability to retain and learn.  She gives resources, examples and proceeds to move through a variety of academic areas, with ideas on aides for teaching those.  This chapter is a very instructive and guided outline for the questions that one may have to this point in the book, of "how does it look" to do what is discussed and presented in the previous chapters, on teaching a classical education to your special needs child.  Probably some of the best information for those who need to "see what the theory looks like" in action.  She gives alternatives for teaching to areas of struggle, such as allowing oral or alternative responses and reduction of work load.  She briefly touches on modifications, even to the collegiate level.  A great summary of "quick tips for further modifications" is very helpful and filled with great ideas and resources.  A key statement in this chapter is "With necessary modification, the child's mind and character will continue to benefit greatly from studies of good literature, history, Latin, mathematics, logic and more.  As he becomes an educated human being, he will find areas in which he can contribute his talents.  He must study all areas of classical education to achieve a solid foundation.  In later years, he may emphasize his own areas of interest and strongest abilities, as he cultivates greater self-knowledge and learns where he can best serve others.

My Story

Modifications are key to the success of any student with special needs. Understanding the keys to modification for them and ways to engage them, so they want to learn and are able to tap into their own abilities, is important to their success.  One of the areas of tremendous struggle for my son was with his vision.  I found it exceedingly difficult to teach to him because of his level of visual impairment.  I was not able to access anyone locally that we could afford, for VI services for him and we had to make a difficult decision at that time, to put him into public school to access those services.  God was so good - He actually allowed Brittney to be hired as Mason's one to one aide in the public school!  She was able to learn all the modifications for his visual impairments and how to utilize all the various equipment he would need, such as; slant boards, learning to type and use a computer, voice adaptions on the computer, taped textbooks, font sizes and spacing that worked for his impairments - to name a few. He also received sighted guide training to navigate his environment safely through orientation and mobility services at the school.  They tried teaching him braille, which he could type well, but his sensory integration deficits made it too difficult for him to "read" it.  So it was a great time of trial and error to figure out what would and what wouldn't help him progress further in his education.  The biggest benefit was that it allowed her to bring these techniques and modifications home to us so we could then return to homeschool again 2 1/2 years later when he hit middle school.  So I would encourage parents that while I find Mrs. Swopes ideals terrific, there are times and situations, based on available services and costs - that may require modifications for you and your child, regarding homeschooling.  That doesn't negate your ability to homeschool your child classically altogether, but rather, looking at their education and therapies as a woven tapestry to gain their most beautiful education is a proper perspective.  Bathing all in prayer, so God is ultimately given glory for whatever He calls you to do.  There is no shame in doing what is best for your child, even if it means accessing a public school option for a time or taking a break from classically homeschooling to provide a needed service or therapy -if it can't be integrated into a homeschool setting as suggested in this book.  As long as you remain the advocate and ultimate "teacher" of your child - you've continued the calling.  Mason was a light in his school and his personality and love of God was shameless and he became a beloved part of that setting and was a witness to many, along with Brittney.  When he returned back home to homeschool, he had gained significant skills that made our continuation of homeschooling a joy and not a burden, as it had become previously, while we struggled before his placement in school for that period of time.

Chapter 9

This chapter is a focused "to do list" of implementing the accommodations discussed in the previous chapter.  She goes back through the various age groups making sample schedules and showing the reader how to make these accommodations work on a day to day basis, while maintaining a classical education.  There is even more detailed information concerning recommendations for materials and resources to further help with implementation.  She ends with a fantastic list of her recommended reading materials by subject and gender, that is very helpful - I have already ordered a few of her choices.

Chapter 10

This is a chapter where multiple stories are shared from various families that have implemented a classical education with their special needs children.

Chapter 11

This is a chapter of encouragement.  Parents are encouraged to provide their children a classical education despite the world's measurements through testing/scores and recognition is given to the benefits that can't be measured.  She also summarizes her own children's stories.  She writes by way of summary "For the Christian parent and teacher, rest assured that modified classical Christian education is not new, but simply a reclaiming of pedagogical purpose.  Classical education addresses the soul."  Ultimately, that's what we are responsible for...aren't we?
Mason in a wedding - which a few years ago,
I would have never thought he could do!
He did awesome!
My Story

My son is 14 years old, as I write.  A lot has changed.  We have gotten him diagnoses he needed, medications he needed, therapies he needed and assistance he needed.   A faithful, fantastic young woman has been in his life since about 2 years old, coming alongside of him - teaching him and investing in him -in his life - like he's worth it - which is a rare thing these days.  Much of the world sees our children as dispensable, uneducable - not worth it.  She is his "best friend"- as he describes her.  That is precious to me - given that he has no "friends"-yet he recognizes something significant, different and soul touching in this relationship he's had with her.  Given her help, we have together -forged the way for this child to learn and be educated.  Today he reads well (going to the Library almost daily), spells excellently, knows world geography and States history, he does addition, subtraction and some multiplication.  He can type on a computer and use the internet.  He plays piano by ear, he has more scripture memorized than most Christians I know.  He loves God and finds Him a source of comfort when he's sick or hurting.  He loves the symphony, the ocean, swinging, veggie tales, Sesame Street, plays, musicals, opera, jumping on the trampoline and reading books.  He requires help to eat, dress, travel about in his community and navigate much of life outside and inside his home.  He's a unique little guy who has brought much joy to our family, despite the many years of struggles.  He is also the anvil God has pounded me out on -and it's been a blessed remaking, for sure.

Final Thoughts to Summarize 

What I longed for as a Mother to a child with exceptional needs when he was young and I was just starting out, was a plan.  Simply Classical is just that.  It offers a plan for how to utilize a classical education for any child with special needs.  Mrs. Swope has walked down the road ahead and provides guidance, advice, wisdom and direction to those endeavoring to give their child more.  It offers hope through her transparency, as she shares how challenging her own adopted children were with their multiple diagnoses - ranging from Schizophrenia to autism to cerebral palsy.  You can clearly see that she accomplished what seems so out of reach for families with special needs - a beautiful education for her children.  The outcome is nothing short of miraculous and yet it's so attainable for those who read along.  She gives schedules, resources, examples and honestly sets the tone for what the pace and expectations are for these children.  She makes a great case for why classical education, including the instruction in Latin for special needs children, is a way to organize and reorder the brain and bring language into grasp for those who struggle so mightily.  She debunks modern educational approaches (progressive education) for these children and she should know - a previous master degree'd Special Education Administrator for years, she has seen the affects on these children. What is most beautiful about this book for me, is that she sees children with special needs as worthy of teaching beyond the daily living/functional skills that school systems across the country and parents have willingly accepted as the best model for educating them - never endeavoring to reach for the beautiful but rather the functional.  I think if you want your child to reach their full God given potential - then this is the book to reach for to begin that journey towards a beautiful education for your exceptional child.

Mason being silly at the store!  
Mason and his sister at a Carnival after getting their faces painted like Zebras together!



  1. Thank you for these reviews and for sharing your story. You are inspiring me, Colleen, and others I'm sure, too. :) Hugs!!

    1. Melody - I hope you get the book and you are very blessed in reading it! It is well worth a read for us Momma's of special kids - CC or no CC! It's a beautiful approach to education for special needs children. Big hugs to you and the girls!

  2. I definitely agree that we must get medical issues treated before expecting our children to be able to focus on learning. Bethany has just been seizure free for a year after having about 50 seizures a week for 12 years. She literally could not even function well enough to lift her head off of her pillow most days. She is just becoming interested in the world around her now. I also agree that we must not withhold therapies that we might not otherwise be able to provide for our children just because we need to access them through the public schools. You've given me much food for thought. I think I'll get a copy of the book when I can!

    1. Sylvia - Yay! I hope you do get your hands on a copy at the Library or via purchasing. It's a fantastic book - her story is inspiring for those of us with severely impaired children. A worthwhile read for sure! Blessings - Colleen