Classical Education for Students with Special Needs 

Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homechool conversations learning differences homeschooling help

Classical Education has a reputation for targeting the brightest and most precocious students and providing far too rigorous a path for any but the child prodigy. But is that actually the case? Can classical education provide a path forward for students with special needs? Indeed, classical education contributes to intellectual growth regardless of a child’s starting point! Read on to discover the transformative power of this educational philosophy, especially when tailored for special needs students. We’ll discuss the universal adaptability of classical education, showcasing its ability to nurture intellectual growth, foster independence, and provide a holistic educational experience for children with unique learning requirements. Learning practical strategies for fostering independence in children with ADHD and dysgraphia further underscores the flexibility of classical education, making it a valuable choice for families navigating learning challenges. Grounded in the principles of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, classical education emerges not only as an inclusive educational approach but as a beacon of hope and empowerment for families navigating the intricate terrain of special needs homeschooling.

Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homeschool conversations learning differences homeschooling help

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Classically Educating with Autism, Speech and Language Disorders, and Developmental Delays

Cheryl Swope, author of Simply Classical (a classical curriculum for students with special needs from Memoria Press), and her husband adopted  two children: boy, girl twins. Both twins had autism, speech and language disorders, and developmental delays. 

Cheryl’s interest in Christian classical education had deepened over the years. So when they found themselves parents to two children with developmental delays, they immediately put to use the principles they believed about a beautiful education.

Alongside speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, Cheryl and her husband exposed them to beautiful music, language, and the principles of cause-effect.

Cheryl notes, “It already was resonating with me that we needed something far more elevating than what was going on not just in the special-ed classrooms but in the regular-ed classrooms. I was drawn to the idea of classical Christian education, but then these children came to me, and I had to sort of re-unpack what I thought it was.

“I thought it was primarily highly academic and highly rigorous in its ideals, and it is for children who can have that. Then I started looking and it’s way more than that, which was good news for me because then I thought, ‘Well, I can bring this to my children no matter how far they advance academically.’ 

“Here were two children who found learning very difficult. They really didn’t understand even what language was for, English language. They were still working on their own syntax and vocabulary at the very basic level like just learning how to construct a sentence, speak in sentences.” 

Christian Classical education met these children in the midst of their learning differences and developmental challenges and provided an elevating path forward. 

Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homeschool conversations learning differences homeschooling help

Three Essential Tenets of Classical Christian Education

1. Classical Education is Formative

A classical Christian education is about more than academics. “It’s always been intended to be formative, meaning that we’re forming the person,” explains Cheryl. “That means that everything matters, what he sees, what he reads, what we read to him. All of it matters because we’re forming not just his character but his mind, his affections, his desires, his tastes for excellence in music and art. All of that is important. There’s no settling for second best or for what’s just popular or trendy.”

2. Classical Education is Transcendent

A classical education is also transcendent, focusing on things outside the individual’s circumstances and experiences, truths that are higher than ourselves.  Cheryl says, “My motto became sort of, ‘We do not need to be great to aspire to great things.’ The transcendent nature of a classical Christian education is found in the transcendentals. They’re called the ancient transcendentals of truth and goodness and beauty. I thought that those need to be my standards for the books that I choose, for really anything that we do in our leisure time, not just our school-ish time. This is our life. This is the life that I’m sharing with them.”

Of course, the highest embodiment of truth, goodness, and beauty is Christ Himself. A Christian classical education provides parents the opportunity to prioritize public and family worship, including elements of the liturgy into daily homeschool life.

3. Classical Education is Timeless

Classical education is not for a certain place, time, or especially gifted person. Cheryl notes, “We don’t have to make excuses for choosing classical literature, classic art, classic music… I think it’s almost like, even as Christians, we’ve bought into the idea of evolution that we’re just always getting better. If it’s newer, it’s automatically better. There’s a reason those things were deemed classics. I’m not talking classical in the sense of ancient Rome and ancient Greece, but just a book that’s been around for more than 50 years, there’s a timelessness to it. It’s often worth reading. That’s for ourselves and our kids.”

    This perspective on classical education for children with special needs was encouraging. “Once I realized that the education could be formative, transcendent, beyond our little circumstances with all of our disabilities and doctor’s appointments and all of that, and then it would be timeless, this truly would be something that I’m passing on like a heritage, the songs children should know and the poems they should memorize or learn by heart. Passing on God’s Word, having them memorize Holy Scripture, then it’s eternal,” Cherly continues. 

    Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homeschool conversations learning differences homeschooling help

    Misconceptions about Classical Education

    Classical Christian education has in many ways become stereotyped, especially seen in homeschooling conferences, catalogs, or on social media. Some say you choose it based on your child’s natural bent, as if it’s for bookish kids, not athletic kids, or gifted children, not those with learning struggles. But don’t discount classical education in your homeschool because your family doesn’t fit the stereotype!

    Cheryl, who was naturally bookish, says, “So I might’ve been a good candidate, but would anybody have chosen my little girl who stumbled around running into walls and she had thick glasses and had trouble speaking? Nobody would say, ‘Oh, now, that’s a good candidate for classical Christian education.’ She was diagnosed with autism and ADHD just so early because her needs were so visible. There’s no way that someone thinking of classical Christian education as that stereotyped thing would have come along and signed her up. Yet, because it is so much broader than we think, it really does have benefits, I believe, for any child.”

    Classical Education for the Medically Fragile Child

    In my own experience, the beauty of Christian classical education has never been so apparent as when I ended up in the emergency room with my young son. As a second-generation Christian classical homeschooler myself, what I love about Christian classical education is that it’s focused on who God is. Humility and doxology is more than just the name of my website. I’ve always told my kids that it is the end of our education. Seeing who God is both gives us a humble attitude, and also wonder and worship.

    That’s an essentially human thing, not something that’s only for the academically gifted or a certain type of person. That’s a human need we have,  to see the beauty of who God is and what He has done. I love getting to do that in my own children’s education. As our family has been going through a medical crisis with my youngest son this past year, it has brought to the fore for me so clearly, all those things I’ve said I wanted to emphasize in our education, the beautiful poetry and scripture and prayer and those relationships.

    When you don’t have very much time to do a whole lot of other things, those are the things we’ve continued and those have been the things that have mattered.The thing that I’ve always said I believed was true actually still is true when it comes to the crisis point.

    Cheryl shared something similar about her experience with a son developing a mood disorder who was hard to teach and hard to reach. It was a period of time for showing grace and prioritizing eternal realities in their homeschool.

    Individualized Learning in the Classical Homeschool

    Cheryl’s daughter began at the bottom of the bell curve for IQ and language. You might think “Oh, a child with language difficulties shouldn’t be in a language-rich approach,” but they pursued a classical education that included Latin and Greek. But when she was retested through the years, her IQ and ability to understand language had grown dramatically, surprising her evaluators. 

    Classical education also provides the opportunities to include students’ interests and passions in the curriculum plan.

    Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homeschool conversations learning differences homeschooling help

    Getting started with classical education

    Here are a few important steps when beginning to classically homeschool, especially if you have children with learning differences:

    • Get rid of things that aren’t true, good, beautiful and eternally valuable in your home
    • Prioritize the Gospel
    • Find a curriculum to make teaching simpler
    • Remain humble

    Modified Classical High School for Special Needs students

    • Adjust expectations
    • Modify timing
    • Consider if college or another path is a better fit for your student, and work towards that individualized goal
    • Consider organizing the transcript by subject instead of year
    • Check the legal requirements in your state

    How to encourage independence in students with special needs, ADHD and dysgraphia

    “Don’t think of it as all or nothing,” encourages Cheryl. “Just work on steps.”

    • Use a timer
    • Build stamina and competence gradually
    • Incorporate vigorous exercise, especially in the preteen and teen years
    • Use audiobooks and audio dramas liberally
    • Consider using speech-to-text software
    • Interview your kids and take their interests/needs/struggles into account

    Listen to the full podcast episode “A Beautiful Education for Any Child: Classically Educating with Special Needs,” an interview with Cheryl Swope, “Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology” Season 9, Episode 2

    Author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press, 2nd edition, 2019) and creator of the Simply Classical Curriculum for Special Needs (Memoria Press), Cheryl Swope graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in special education: behavior disorders and summa cum laude with a master’s degree in special education: learning disabilities. Cheryl has served in a university diagnostic clinic, a residential camp for troubled children from the inner city, a behavior disorders program for a large public school district, private schools for children with learning disabilities, and in private tutoring. When she learned of Marva Collins, who taught Latin, Shakespeare, and rhetoric to children of the inner city of Chicago. Cheryl began wondering why all children are not taught in this manner!

    By the time Cheryl married and the couple adopted toddler twins, Cheryl’s interest in Christian classical education had deepened. Both twins, Michael and Michelle, had autism, speech and language disorders, and developmental delays. Cheryl began witnessing surprising benefits as she homeschooled the twins with literature, Latin, music, mathematics, and the truth, comfort, mercy, and hope of Christ. They homeschooled through the children’s high school graduation. Today the family lives in a quiet lake community in Missouri, where Cheryl offers consultations to classical Christian schools and homeschooling families. Join Cheryl’s patreon for updates. Subscribe for free, Simply Classical Journal.

    Links mentioned in “A Beautiful Education for Any Child: Classically Educating with Special Needs”

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    Classical Education for Students with Special Needs homeschool conversations learning differences homeschooling help Cheryl Swope

    Read the Full Transcript of my Homeschool Conversation with Cheryl Swope below

    Amy: Hello, friends. Today, I am joined by Cheryl Swope. She is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child and creator of the Simply Classical Curriculum for Special Needs. She has both bachelor’s and master’s degree in special education and experience in a wide variety of contexts. Later on in life, when she married and the couple adopted toddler twins, her interest in Christian classical education had deepened. Both twins had autism, speech and language disorders, and developmental delays.

    Cheryl began witnessing surprising benefits as she homeschooled the twins with literature, Latin, music, mathematics, and the truth, comfort, mercy, and hope of Christ. They homeschooled through high school graduation. Today, they live in a quiet lake community in Missouri. Cheryl continues to offer consultations to classical Christian schools and homeschooling families. There is, at the beginning, everyone’s favorite official biography, but I’d love to just hear from you. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how you got started homeschooling.

    Cheryl: Well, thank you for having me. Let’s see. I will start with the fact that I was born and raised in Missouri. As you mentioned, I still live in Missouri. When I was a little girl, I loved school. When I was seven years old, I remember because my mom saved the little piece of paper that we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wrote on my little piece of paper that I wanted to be a teacher and a writer and a regular housewife.

    By God’s grace, I was able to do all three. I’ve been able to do all three. That just sums up me in a nutshell. How we got started homeschooling. When my husband and I married, we met in college. We were unable to have children. Five long years passed of waiting and hoping and praying, but children did not come, so then we adopted two children. As you mentioned, boy, girl, twins. You read their diagnoses, but they’re just wonderful people.

    They’re complex people, but they’re wonderful people. They came to us when they were just 14 months old. They were, by category, toddlers, but they were really more like babies. They still were not sitting up really well or walking very well. They both still took a bottle. There was a lot of bonding that was able to happen as a result of those developmental delays really. I still remember my husband and I, we had two rocking chairs.

    Oh, well, we only had five days to get ready for this placement. We were licensed. My husband was an attorney. I had a background in special ed and we didn’t mind if there were two. Some families only wanted one child, but we had always wanted a boy and a girl. That was like our dream. We wanted children under two and so here they were. As soon as they came to us, I feel like that’s when we started homeschooling.

    We did the speech therapy, OT, occupational therapy, physical therapy. More than that, we have pictures of placing them at the piano and having them just learn that you depress a little key and it makes a sound. I have pictures of my husband reading to the kids that very first night. We’re singing songs when they’re in the bathtub. Homeschooling, this was in the mid-’90s. It had already hit its stride. I had two friends that I respected who were homeschooling.

    I’d been thinking about doing that. I had good models for homeschooling. These were intelligent women who had chosen this not out of fear or trying to retreat from the world necessarily but really to do the best, most enriching thing for their children. I was already leaning that way. That’s how we got started really as soon as they came to us. Then when they were three, they qualified for Early Childhood Special Education.

    As a professional, I always thought that was great. Then as a mommy, my little girl especially, I just could not imagine placing her in a situation like that. She was so very tiny and so young. I don’t know. I thought we can do this at home with our speech and language and OT and PT support privately, so let’s do that. I don’t think they’re going to have them memorizing nursery rhymes and having it be so enriching.

    We’ll just take it a year at a time. I’ll get them ready for kindergarten and then they can go to school. Then kindergarten rolled around. My son just had a lot of separation anxiety, kinds of things, and still a lot of moods up and down. Even as a little one, his moods were up and down. We kept going. I always said, “If I find someplace better, then we will place them in that setting,” but we never did. They graduated then from our homeschool.

    Amy: I think so many homeschool moms say those famous words, “Oh, we’ll just try it here one year. We’ll take it year by year,” and then you hear, “Now, we’ve graduated.” It’s such a joy. Well, one of the reasons I was really excited to talk with you is I love your passion for bringing Christian classical education to every child. I really wanted to dive into that more deeply with you today, but I thought, first, we should probably just start at a most basic level and talk about the big idea of what even is Christian classical education and if you think there are any misconceptions or assumptions people may make when they hear those terms.

    Cheryl: Well, I had to grapple with that myself because I had started reading about classical Christian education prior to these children coming to me. It already was resonating with me that we needed something far more elevating than what was going on not just in the special-ed classrooms but in the regular-ed classrooms. I was drawn to the idea of classical Christian education, but then these children came to me, and I had to sort of re-unpack what I thought it was.

    I thought it was primarily highly academic and highly rigorous in its ideals, and it is for children who can have that. Then I started looking and it’s way more than that, which was good news for me because then I thought, “Well, I can bring this to my children no matter how far they advance academically.” I mentioned I loved school. Well, here were two children who found learning very difficult.

    They really didn’t understand even what language was for, English language. They were still working on their own syntax and vocabulary at the very basic level like just learning how to construct a sentence, speak in sentences. Three tenets. There are more, but just for now, that really were helpful for me. One is that a classical Christian education is not merely about academics. One, it’s formative. It’s always been intended to be formative, meaning that we’re forming the person.

    That means that everything matters, what he sees, what he reads, what we read to him. All of it matters because we’re forming not just his character but his mind, his affections, his desires, his tastes for excellence in music and art. All of that is important. There’s no settling for second best or for what’s just popular or trendy. First, it’s formative. Two, it’s transcendent, meaning no matter their circumstances, my children or your children or anyone’s child, we can focus on things that are higher than ourselves.

    This also was good news for me because I did not have a classical education. I had a good education, but it wasn’t classical. I didn’t know what that would look like. I never took Latin, for example, so how will this work? When we realized that this is aspiring to something higher than ourselves, that’s good news for us too because we can just– Well, my motto became sort of, “We do not need to be great to aspire to great things.” The transcendent nature of a classical Christian education is found in the transcendentals.

    They’re called the ancient transcendentals of truth and goodness and beauty. Realizing that, then I thought that those need to be my standards for the books that I choose for really anything that we do in our leisure time, not just our school-ish time, but this is our life. This is the life that I’m sharing with them. Then, of course, the highest, the embodiment really of truth, goodness, and beauty is Christ Himself.

    Making that church in God’s Word, singing hymns, teaching them little refrains so they would know that part when that came around in the service, ours is a liturgical service, so teaching them the liturgy so they could be participants early on. All of those things really carried me through, the harder parts of teaching them to read, teaching them to write, teaching them to do math, but realizing that there was something bigger going on. Formative, transcendent, and then also timeless.

    We don’t have to make excuses for choosing classical literature, classic art, classic music. We don’t have to make, I should say, apologies for doing that. Sometimes people say, “Oh, this book looks so dated.” To me, I see this a lot. I think it’s almost like, even as Christians, we’ve bought into the idea of evolution that we’re just always getting better. If it’s newer, it’s automatically better. There’s a reason those things were deemed classics. I’m not talking classical in the sense of ancient Rome and ancient Greece, but just a book that’s been around for more than 50 years, there’s a timelessness to it.

    It’s often worth reading. That’s for ourselves and our kids. Once I realized that the education could be formative, transcendent, beyond our little circumstances with all of our disabilities and doctor’s appointments and all of that, and then it would be timeless, this truly would be something that I’m passing on like a heritage, the songs children should know and the poems they should memorize or learn by heart. I like learn by heart better. Then passing on God’s Word, having them memorize Holy Scripture, then it’s eternal.

    Realizing that classical Christian education, just like so many things, become stereotyped, I guess. You see it, especially in homeschooling conferences or in catalogs. People try to compartmentalize different philosophies. Then it’s just cast into a philosophy as if they’re all equal and you just sort of pick one. Then the worst thing is thinking that you choose it based on their bent. I said I loved school and I read a lot. I was much more bookish than athletic. Okay, so I might’ve been a good candidate, but would anybody have chosen my little girl who stumbled around running into walls and she had thick glasses and had trouble speaking?

    Nobody would say, “Oh, now, that’s a good candidate for classical Christian education.” She was diagnosed with autism and ADHD just so early because her needs were so visible. There’s no way that someone thinking of classical Christian education as that stereotyped thing would have come along and signed her up. Yet, because it is so much broader than we think, it really does have benefits, I believe, for any child.

    Amy: I love that perspective. As a second-generation Christian classical homeschooler myself, that’s the thing that I am so drawn to, that I love about Christian classical education, that it’s focused on who God is. Like you were saying, something outside of ourself, that transcendent quality. Humility and doxology is more than just the name of my website. That’s the end that I’ve always said to my kids. That’s the end of our education. It’s seeing who God is should both give us a humble attitude but also wonder and worship, right?

    That’s an essentially human thing, not something that’s only for the academically gifted or a certain type of person, right? That’s just a human need we have, is to see the beauty of who God is and what He has done. I love getting to do that in my own children’s education. I’ll just say, our family has been going through a medical crisis with my youngest son this past year. It has brought to the fore for me so clearly, all those things I’ve said I wanted to emphasize in our education, the beautiful poetry and scripture and prayer and those relationships.

    When you don’t have very much time to do a whole lot of other things. Those are the things we’ve continued and those have been the things that have mattered. It’s not necessarily like a learning difference in the same way, but we’re having to learn differently in this season and to see that. The thing that I’ve always said I believed was true actually still is true when it comes to the crisis point.

    Cheryl: Really, what you’re finding is even more so, in medical conditions, those are special needs, not like we think of with Down syndrome or something, although children with Down syndrome have many medical conditions often in addition. Being in a situation where you have a medical crisis or you have a medically fragile child, it does. I feel what you’re feeling. We went through a season when my son was developing his mood disorders. He was so hard to teach, so hard to reach.

    I kept thinking, “He’s falling behind. He’s falling behind in academics.” I thought, “What could I cut?” I knew. I thought, “He’s so knowledgeable with the scriptures now and that it brings him so much comfort, but can I really devote an entire hour at the beginning like we’ve always done?” I probably should put math right up there or something. [chuckles] I was grappling with this and tried it. [laughs] It really was not very successful because I found we all needed that. I needed to have that tone set for ourselves.

    I even ended up calling that period. It was our middle school. It was called Grace Middle School because I thought, “Okay, Ephesians 2:8-10 really had to be the hallmark of what we were doing.” We memorized Ephesians 1:1 through Ephesians 2:10 in the entirety of middle school just to have that that we’re seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. All of those things, yes, definitely came front and center in a way that was far more than just theoretical just as you’re experiencing now, yes.

    Amy: I will sometimes worry to myself, “Okay. Well, I focus on memorizing these things that are beautiful, but maybe my kids will be behind one day because they didn’t know this list of facts or whatever.” I’ve always said, “No. In a time of crisis, we’re going to want to cling to this passage of scripture or this poem. We aren’t going to care about that date and dead person.” Sure enough, in the emergency room that first night, I was reciting Death Be Not Proud in my head. I was like, “Yes, this is why I need that in my heart.”

    Cheryl: Right. What else too that we’re talking about formative, we’re forming their minds. We’re strengthening their minds through all of this memory work. The learn-by-heart exercises, the copy work, we’re giving them a mental stamina. That’s going to serve them their whole lives and in the academic arena because I don’t want to dismiss it at all. Then when they are wanting to learn or needing to learn, then they have a stronger mind with which to do that.

    In my son’s case, we had to repeat an entire year of math because things were just so awful that year like skulls on crossbones on his papers and things. It was so horrible. Then he finally received treatment that helped bring things back. Then when he was ready to learn, he still had the strength and mind to be able to do that. Lo and behold, his math just skyrocketed. I love the title of your podcast, Humility and Doxology. It’s just the perfect summation.

    Amy: That’s what it’s all about. Well, you’ve already brought up several things, but I was wondering if there were any other things that particularly surprised you or maybe challenged and encouraged you during the process of homeschooling your twins.

    Cheryl: There was one thing that caught my attention. I tell this story often because it just was mind-boggling to me. My little girl, it’s tough to describe, although I do in Simply Classical and I have that book here. Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. You have the Gustave Doré illustration of Jesus calling all of the children to Himself. The details are in there.

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    My daughter’s IQ was measured when she was little and it was quite low, and then her vocabulary was measured and it also was low. It was commensurate with her IQ. I knew from my background, that makes sense that your language is often going to be where your IQ is. On the bell curve, she was down at the very bottom end of that. She just really did not understand words or what they meant.

    We had a wonderful classically-educated nun, who was at the children’s hospital where we went. She gave me so much homework just to teach her words. Anyway, that language therapist was amazing. We had her for years. Along with Latin and Greek words, roots of words, we played the little Rummy Roots game when they were just five and six as soon as they could learn to read. Basically, we’re just trying to do as much as we could with words and language.

    Again, you would think, “Oh, a child with language difficulties shouldn’t be in a language-rich approach,” but I found that it was surprisingly helpful to have that actually. Then literature and we did do Latina Christiana. We went through an entire formal Latin course. She was tested again when she was 11. This time, her receptive vocabulary, the amount of words that she understood, placed her at the opposite end. You okay?

    Amy: Yes, I’m sorry. I muted so I could cough.

    [laughter]

    Cheryl: That’s all right. At the complete opposite end of the bell curve, so where she was low before. Now, the vocabulary that she understood was now at the gifted end. Her standard score was 130. 100 is average. Before, it was in the mid to lower-80s. I said, “Quite low.” I know that it can be lower. Given how right she seemed to be in some ways, it was low. Here, we had a child who just, in a matter of years, about eight years, went from the very low end to the gifted range.

    I had taught in inpatient hospital settings with children with emotional disturbance. I taught at private schools with children with learning disabilities. I served in a public school district among 12 elementary schools as the behavior resource coordinator, sat in on a lot of staffings, led a lot of staffings, IEP staffing, and whatnot. I had never seen any kind of growth like that ever. That got my attention. It was almost by accident. I was sorting through her medical papers.

    That was before they were all digital, so it was just a stack of papers. I found this before and after of a test I was familiar with. I did not administer this. This was the children’s hospital administrative. That surprised me. Her IQ was rising, but it was still low average, and yet she was achieving in a lot of ways at a higher level. That continued when she was tested again in eighth grade. In fact, the evaluator said– This amused me. She said that Michelle, my daughter, “Michelle seems to be achieving beyond her potential.” I don’t know.

    Amy: How funny? Maybe the idea of limiting the potential was the problematic idea to start with.

    Cheryl: Right, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. Yes. Those things surprised and encouraged me, especially because it was right around that same time, about eighth grade, that one of our doctors told me that a classical education was completely inappropriate for both of my children and really wanted me to have them direct their education more. You think of the idea of electives, which that’s kind of a more modern idea. I respected the doctor and I thought about it, but I just had this sinking feeling driving all the way home. My kids were saying, are you okay, Mom? Yes, I’m just thinking.

    I thought, okay, let’s say that I asked Michael, 13 or 14, whatever he was, what he wants to do. I didn’t go ahead and do this, I knew what the answer would be. He would really want to eat a lot of donuts and play a lot of video games. He’s supposed to be gluten-free, because there seems to be some research, and I don’t mean to be controversial, but there’s enough to persuade me that there’s some link with gluten and autism and schizophrenia. It goes back to the ’60s. I just wanted optimal brain health. I thought, okay, if this helps, then okay. He would jettison that and jettison all of these ideas about timeless, beautiful things, things good for him.

    I thought, okay, he would be an overweight gamer, but it would be on his own terms. No, I cannot do this. I cannot in good conscience take that advice and say, yes, from now on he just directs his own course. What I found then when I was challenged is that it firmed up what I had thought, that it’s not time yet for him to have input. He’s not wise enough or mature enough to have input. Then just a few years later when we were entering high school, I did let them, not let them, but I encouraged them, one-on-one we sat down, to say what are you really loving studying? It had to be in the context of a classical Christian education, but what do you really love?

    Well, he loved history, loved history. Really this wasn’t that much later now that I think about it, because at 14 I signed him up for a history course at one of our local history museums. Well, fast forward, he loved it. His teacher loved his passion, his autism. He had this quirky love of our regional history. That ended up being his first paying job at age 16, was working in that history museum, cataloging artifacts. He even started giving tours. Then Michelle loved poetry. Shakespeare especially, just loved Shakespeare. She started studying poetry more than other things. We still had it very balanced, but they started having a choice in what they could study.

    That was wonderful. That was a great stage for us to see those things flourish. Then Michelle began writing her own poetry. She always had been, but they started to become really surprisingly good. This was a child who really had so much trouble with language. She has three books of poetry now available for other people. They’re on Amazon Michelle Swope. They’ve been an encouragement to a lot of moms, homeschool moms, and teachers, and just parents of children with special needs. There you go.

    Amy: I will have to link up those books in the show notes as well. Well, if a family is listening and they’re catching this idea that maybe this is possible, this is something that our family could do, what would be your advice for getting started either for the first time as a Christian classical homeschooler or maybe transitioning to that? Are there certain things we should prioritize and things maybe we don’t have to worry about so much?

    Cheryl: The first thing I wish I would’ve done, I’m going to say this, is remove from the house things that are not true, good, beautiful, transcendent, formative in a good way. Just get rid of the entertainment-driven things that are not good. The books that have trickled into the house that aren’t good. The music that you wish they would not be memorizing. Because they will. They will learn those lyrics by heart. That would be the first thing, is just to have a discussion and say, we’re going to talk about what’s worth owning in our home. I wrote an article called Books Worthy to Own, so you could link to that one also.

    Michelle and I went through her astounding collection of books that she’s picked up just for 10 cents at the library table, that kind of thing. There were so many that really had no place there. We had to have a good heart-to-heart and just cull. She made some money at Half Price Books. That’s the first thing is stepping back and saying, what do we really want to be ingesting, all of us? Then not just what’s bad to get rid of, but what’s worthy of keeping? That’s the first thing. Then I think that you and I have already touched on God’s word, just so important.

    We don’t know, any of us, how long our children will be with us. You can talk to a lot of people who thought that 18 was a long ways off, and now they have kids in their 20s and 30s who are not faithfully reading God’s word or upholding what we thought we were instilling. That’s just a priority, that this is classical Christian education. This is still Christian education. First and foremost, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That hope, that forgiveness, that mercy, that comfort and the discipline, the nurture and discipline of the Lord, all of that, that’s the top priority.

    The other thing I would say is to find a curriculum. A lot of times in homeschooling, that’s anathema, oh, we don’t need a curriculum. Everybody has a curriculum, whether it’s formal or not. The nice thing about a really good classical curriculum is that it’s pre-designed from the beginning to the end. We know what we’re doing in the middle. It’s step-by-step getting a child somewhere. It’s a better approach, I believe now, than piecemealing, where you started something and you say, oh, they don’t like it, or I don’t like it, so then I jettison it and then I get something else. It’s that, where sometimes a homeschool conference can feel like a carnival and you just pick different things.

    That’s the easiest way, is to find something that you already like. I have so much more respect now than I ever did before for the Memoria Press. Classical Core starts with preschool, which I actually wrote based on what we did in our own homeschool. It’s just for everybody. Then it goes all the way through an astounding accomplishment by 12th grade of having read The Iliad, The Aeneid, Shakespeare, Dante, The Hobbit, just everything. I guess that’s the best advice that I can give. Remove what’s not good and then adhere to what is good, but also what’s going to be systematic, easy to teach, easy to follow, and will really take you where you want to go, that’s again higher than yourself, and do that with humility.

    Like you said, well, we have to be humble. This isn’t an arrogant kind of education. The more you get into it, the more astounded you are that these are really worthwhile things that are beyond us. I often say that we’re reclaiming two generations in our case, not yours, because you already have this kind of education. For those of us that didn’t, we’re being taught at the same time that our children are, and that’s okay. That’s perfectly good. Then the doxology, just praising and thanking God for those gifts that have been given to us.

    Amy: It is really a joy. Even as a second-generation homeschooler, I feel like it has been such an incredible process of my own sanctification, growing in wisdom. It’s just really exciting to get to see right alongside your children, to learn and grow, to go farther up and further in.

    Cheryl: Yes, well said. Yes.

    Amy: I asked in Made2Homeschool, which is my online homeschool community. I told people I was going to be chatting with you in one of our circles, which is specifically for special needs families, and asked if they had any questions. A couple of ladies did, so I’m going to share their questions with you and get your input. Katie asked about high school. She wanted to know how you handled any state requirements for kids who struggle. Did you take more time to complete certain high school credits or just adjust expectations?

    Cheryl: We did both. I will say that this is not advice for everybody. I think that HSLDA does a really good job of laying out all the different options for families with children who have special needs. I received a lot of good advice there, but my children were not going to go to college. Once I realized that, that took a lot of the pressure off of me to try to get them to high school-level math, high school-level science. That just was not happening. My daughter especially had the learning disability that affects math. She was able to do a lot more than people would have thought she could do, my son too, but they were not going on to Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and trig, and calculus. That was not happening.

    We did adjust expectations, and then we also did extend the time. One option that I found at HSLDA was to create a transcript by subject rather than by year. Instead of saying what we did in our freshman year, which in a lot of cases was not high school level, then we just had it by subject. Say, foreign language, well, it took us a long time to study introductory Latin, but we did. Foreign language, Latin, one credit. That’s how we did it. It didn’t matter where that fell, or for my son, history, theology, these were things he just gravitated to. Now, he had several credits at a high school level in those, but in the end, I ended up creating a diploma that was modified. It still was a diploma for my children.

    Again, this isn’t for everybody, but this is what we did. I felt like I needed to say on there that it was modified. I didn’t want to falsely represent their abilities if they were going to be hired. It still was a beautiful, formal, traditional, elegant diploma that we displayed at their graduation party. Really since then, nobody has ever asked to see it or we haven’t done anything with it, but I’m glad we did that. That’s how we’ve handled it. Now, other people have gone to their own state, and that’s the thing, it does vary by state, or to the college where they believe their child’s going to attend, and it could be a community college, and find out just what are the requirements to enter that college.

    Say, it’s two high school math credits, or you have to have attained a certain amount or something. You can adjust your homeschool curriculum or your expectations to match where you think they’re going to go as opposed to just the graduation requirements of your state perhaps. This isn’t legal advice or anything like that. Definitely check by your state, but that’s what we did.

    Amy: That’s really helpful. I will link up HSLDA in the show notes as well. They have information both for high school in general and also for students with special needs. I’ll find those links and have them in the show notes.

    Cheryl: That’s also where we found our diploma too, by the way. Sorry, but they have these templates that are just– they’re really nice. Yes.

    Amy: All right, Samantha asks, I would love to know how to transition into more independent work. My oldest has some special needs, ADHD and dysgraphia, and will be 10 soon. He isn’t ready to read his school books independently, but I would love tips on how to get him there because I feel he is so close.

    Cheryl: It’s good that he’s so close. That’s good. It’s also good that you, the person asking the question, that you’re thinking about this now. Because 10, it’s just such a pivotal age for a boy. He wants to be more independent, needs to be more independent. We were reading the Little Britches series about this time by Ralph Moody. That little boy, I think he was 11 and he had to become the man of the house because their dad died, I think. I thought, wow, we have extended adolescence so far that that’s unthinkable now. The ambassadors to the foreign countries and from the founding of our country, reading things like that from different time periods, makes you realize what they really can do and need to be doing.

    I struggled with the very same thing with my son. I think the main thing is don’t think of it as all or nothing. Either he’s very dependent or he’s going to be completely independent. Just work on steps. For me, a timer helped a lot where initially I would just set a timer for 15 minutes, he’d be doing his math. He has processing difficulties too, very low processing, my son. It just would take him a long time. Then he has the inattentive ADHD. There’s just always something else to think about or look at. The timer helped him too, but it kept me from hovering or limiting his independence. I would set it for 15 and I’d say, do these next two problems and I’ll be back.

    Then I’d go throw in a load of laundry or something and then come back and check to see how he did and then set it for, very good, good job, or oops, that one is not correct, let’s see what happened. Then, okay, now do you think you have it? Are you ready for the next two? Good, and then set the timer again, and so on. Try to get that up to 30 minutes if you can. Wherever he already is independent, then make sure you’re not going backwards with that. If he really can do all of his penmanship, say, on his own, put on a little classical music and have him have that time, that’s his independent writing time. That builds that stamina again, builds that competence.

    Then the other thing that helped us quite a bit is to make sure that vigorous exercise became part of the picture when he was in those preteen years. Anybody with anxiety, or ADHD, or really any boy probably, the vigorous exercise was really helpful for my son. We actually purchased indoor equipment so that it wouldn’t– he couldn’t be supervised outside for different reasons, I mean it couldn’t be unsupervised. The treadmill or the elliptical, that was right there. That’s how we started his day. We also did swimming, a homeschool swim we just started in our little town. Then outdoor chores became added.

    The more physical chores became his, like vacuuming, that deep work, the heavy work, or bringing in the firewood. We had a fireplace or an insert that needed wood in the winter. Shoveling the driveway. Those were either his breaks or the way that he started his day. That seemed to reset for sitting down again and doing something. I love the question and I love the intent. I would just say, take it in steps.

    One other thing is audio versions of the books, of course. Just choose good ones though, not the ones read by a robot or computer. My son found Focus on the Family Radio Theatre dramatizations of stories. He and I together, we’ve listened to Ben-Hur, but he’s listened to Anne of Green Gables that way. I can’t think what else, but he loves those. Then the BBC versions are also outstanding. That’s true for the Shakespeare too, but my daughter has the BBC Shakespeare versions. Listening to them ahead and then reading, that may help independence.

    Amy: That’s really great. I love how you brought up some of the things that aren’t necessarily academic subjects and using those as a way to foster independence. I think that’s good for a child as well, because then they think of themselves as a person who has some independence and competence. Instead of it always being discouraging, well, I can’t do anything on my own. It gives them that idea that, oh yes, I can. It’s growing that mental muscle as well, that emotional muscle, so that then it’s strong as some of the other academic skills reach points of independence. That’s a really good idea.

    Cheryl: You can interview your kids there too. We do this periodically. What chores would you want to do? What chores are you okay doing? Then what chores would, really, please, no, not that one. Trying to pair them with things that they would want to do. Maybe this 10-year-old would like to learn about gardening, or maybe he likes raking leaves or whatever. Or of course, maybe he likes food. Maybe he’s gifted in culinary things. My son loves food. He started making our lunches. It was a big help to me, but also, yes, you’re teaching those skills that are not just skills, but we’re all in this together. It’s especially true as we get older, if they’re still living with you.

    Now, that person who asked the question may not be in that situation, but my children love– they’re 28 now, and we all live together. They love knowing that we really need them to carry on with things as we’re getting older. My son does, he can’t drive, but he does all the mowing, the riding lawnmowers. Not just us, but my retired neighbor across the street. She gave him a shirt that has a riding lawnmower, and it says born to ride. That’s his thing. Just train them up early to do whatever it is. My daughter doesn’t mind sorting the laundry. That’s her job.

    Amy: Perfect. Oh, I did want to mention too, you brought up audiobooks, which we’re a big fan of. I have some children who prefer to read with their ears as opposed to reading with their eyes. They find it easier that way. I have not done this personally, but I have heard for children who want to do a narration or things like this, or some sort of essay or writing assignment, but struggle with the physical act of handwriting. You can find ways to dictate, to leave a voice memo and send that to Mom, or to use now that we have so much voice-to-text capability. There can be ways to work around even dysgraphia issues, still enabling them to communicate the ideas they have at the level they can and not be hampered by some of those actual physical challenges.

    Cheryl: Yes, right, the speech-to-text, and there are varying levels of quality of those. You’d have to try. Then at a certain age, and I wouldn’t do this too young, but at a certain age, maybe early teen, having them type their papers can be helpful. I found that with my son, he was reading C.S. Lewis, loving the metaphors, the theological allegory. He was one that would always try to write the shortest sentence possible if it was pen to paper. I would never see anything profound because he was just trying to use short words that he could spell and just get it done.

    Then we did some keyboarding lessons. He wrote a paper, and I knew that it wasn’t connected to the internet, the computer that I was allowing him to use, but I still thought he took this from somewhere. I don’t know where. It wouldn’t have been an encyclopedia. Where could this have been? I said, Michael, where did you find this? He just looked at me really puzzled. Mom, I wrote it. It was tremendous. It was so powerful. The hope of the resurrection and Aslan and all of this came out because I allowed him to use a different means of expressing himself.

    I still would require writing today. He still uses his thankfulness journal. You can link to those two. That was hugely important for my son. Anybody who struggles with self-pity or moodiness or any of that, I’ve created these My Thankfulness journals and dedicated them to Michael. He still writes in that every night. You still want them to be able to put pen to paper, but having some of those accommodations can be good. Then, of course, oral discussion. We would also often have good literary discussions in the car when we’re going here or there, as opposed to requiring a report.

    Amy: Here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I ask all of my guests. The first is just, what are you personally reading lately?

    Cheryl: I am reading through the King James Version of God’s Word for the first time. I’ve read portions, and that’s actually the version, because it’s so literary, that we use even in our Simply Classical curriculum. We have short versions for children to memorize, but that’s where it’s from. It’s just so poetic. I just finished the beautiful book of Ruth, and I’m now in First Samuel. Then the other thing that I’m reading, this was inspired by one of my private consultation moms, is Dante. Had never read The Divine Comedy. This mom has twins, they’re both boys. One has serious medical conditions. They both have autism. Then she has another that she’s homeschooling, a daughter that she’s trying to give fair time to.

    With all of this going on, she told me that she needs something transcendent herself. Those boys are at a very low level. They’re just in our, I think, Level B of Simply Classical, which still has children’s poetry and everything, but she needed something for herself. I said, oh, what are you reading? She said, I’m reading through Dante. I was just blown away. I thought, okay, if she can do this, I can do this. Oh my goodness, it’s so profound. It’s no wonder, talk about timeless, no wonder it’s been around for centuries. I’m reading that as well.

    Sometimes I just want something cozy. I have my grandma’s diaries. My grandma was this cheerful, wonderful Christian woman who really prayed for me through turbulent times. She was a writer, but never had a college education, just always loved to write. 50 years of diaries, she left them all to me. Anytime I want to just pick one up at the age where I am, where she was, and see what she’s doing. I always have those going at any time.

    Amy: What an incredible gift to have from your grandmother. That’s amazing. I adore Dante as well. I would highly recommend checking out my Intro to Dante little webinar I did. It’s in the podcast feed, I believe. I’ll find the link and put it here in the show notes that I interviewed Wes Callihan and Kristen Rudd, two other folks who love Dante. My daughter is actually taking a year-long Dante class with Kristen this year, which is really exciting for me to get to have her read through the whole comedy as well.

    Cheryl: Very good.

    Amy: All right, well, the final question is, what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run more smoothly?

    Cheryl: The best tip, planning. Because then you know what your intent is, and you can convey that to the kids. Knowing also that you have a plan for the end of the day. That there’s going to be something enjoyable, whether it’s everybody taking a walk or getting to play outside or something like that. That they know that this isn’t– the workload in that sense, even the chores, that they will end at whatever your time is, 2.30, 4.30, and then there will be some relaxation. It’s really important to have that relaxation and refreshing time. I learned that the hard way too.

    It’s important to have it ourselves, but what we’re really doing then is modeling it. It’s, I’m relaxing right now. Talk to me at 5:00 or whatever. That we can protect that time, just like we protect the other time. Then along with the planning for us, a visual schedule was really helpful. For my kids with autism, they needed that reminder. We would overview the schedule at the beginning of the day, and that helped. Then for my son, he had these mood issues. I also overviewed the week so that he knew that on Thursday, we’re going to go swimming and on Saturday, some friends are coming over and he could see that there are some fun things coming.

    I think that’s the main thing for having the day go smoothly. Another side tip is to have light day homeschooling planned. You talked about it with your current situation with your child. I found it helpful to have my own light day plan so that I could prioritize on those days when either I was tired or they were sick or something that we weren’t just saying, oh, we’re not doing school, but that we had a plan for light day homeschooling.

    Amy: That is a really good tip, yes. Cheryl, this has been absolutely wonderful. I know it’s been an encouragement to me and I hope it is an encouragement to those listening. Can you please tell people where they can find you around the internet?

    Cheryl: Yes, Patreon. If you just look up Cheryl Swope, currently I’m the only one there. The full title is Cheryl Swope Consulting, but I’m on Patreon. That’s where prior podcasts and articles, conference presentations, it’s all housed there. I needed a place where it would just be a library of all the content over the last 12 years. That’s all accessible to anyone who joins there. Then my email is also there. If anybody just wants to contact me, that can be found there as well without joining. That’s just there.

    Then the other place to go is simplyclassical.com. That’s where we have the book. We also have a free magazine. It’s the Simply Classical Journal. That is free to subscribe at simplyclassical.com. Then the entire curriculum is there. We also have online classes through Memoria Academy for kids with special needs, and that information is there. Simplyclassical.com is that all-in-one place as well as my own Patreon.

    Amy: Wonderful. I will have all of those links for the show notes for this episode, which will be over at humilityanddoxology.com. Thank you guys for listening. If you would take the moment to leave a podcast rating and review, share this episode with a friend that you think would be encouraged, and we will talk with you again soon.

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