alphabet soup

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

There are no regimented minute-by-minute agendas here. Just a loose schedule with firm standards, attempting to run a tight ship in choppy waters. It’s a little nuts.

I’m learning a lot about not being in control…about doing things differently than we’re used to.

It’s not an overnight process for me; there’s lots of trial and error for this detail-oriented INTJ. As other things speed up and complicate in life, other things have had to slow down and simplify…and my conversion from Type A to Type B is still in the highly experimental beta stage. 

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

But there’s progress: I broke up with Martha. Her photos are gorgeous, her style is impressive, but I think meals categorized as “quick and simple dinners” should require less than 35 steps, 2 food processors, and a therapist. 

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

When I actually make myself a lunch instead of just microwaving leftovers, it’s pretty simple fare. Veggies, toast, an egg…nothing fancy. But I crowd the mushrooms and can only take a couple of photos of the process before I make a mess and wreck the egg, thereby reminding myself why I write about peace in sentence fragments and stick to making coffee, leaving the world of food blogging to the capable hands of Joy the Baker.

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

We do school differently now. After teaching three kids to read by age six, teaching preschool to our 8-year-olds who are learning letters and sounds and shapes with our four-year-old is new territory for me.

Writing was a trying business to Charley, who seemed to have no natural power over a pen, but in whose hand every pen appeared to become perversely animated, and to go wrong and crooked, and to stop, and splash, and sidle into corners, like a saddle-donkey.

– Charles Dickens, Bleak House

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kids

The milestones are different, the challenges are different, and my involvement with them is different than it has been with any of our other kids.

Sensory issues. Institutional autism. Trauma. Attachment issues. Fetal alcohol spectrum.

alphabet soup: yielding control and simplifying while homeschooling/preschooling special needs kidsIMG_5421ship at harborphoto courtesy of Unchained

Or, commonly abbreviated: SPD, IA, PTSD, RAD, and FAS. It’s quite a cocktail, made more complex by the fact that some conditions are typically dealt with in ways that are counter-productive to others. For example, with attachment issues, you do ABC, and never, ever do XYZ…but with FAS, you usually do XYZ because ABC doesn’t even apply. Awesome.

And for a child who has both, and more? Fortunately, we have 20 more letters of the alphabet to tinker with in trial and error. Nothing fancy, try not to make a mess, and for crying out loud, don’t wreck the egg. Priorities.

Which means I’m letting go. Teaching Andrey and Reagan in the normal way usually becomes a mutinous game of manipulation – if I point to a red circle and ask them what it is, they’re just as likely to give me the wrong answer on purpose (“yellow square”) as they are to give me the right answer on accident.

 So preschool, for now, is sneaky. 

It looks like me teaching Chamberlain while they are playing nearby or looking at a book.

In reality though, they’re eavesdropping. They’re watching closely, listening in, often pretending not to. And they’re learning, in spite of the alphabet soup of diagnoses they might be labelled with

Sometimes they join us to play with letters and numbers and such. I’m learning to haul up the anchor and move on after just a few minutes while they’re still cooperating – if I don’t, three seconds later there is testing, manipulation, and mutiny, and we’re sucked into the vortex again.

Keep it short, keep it happy, keep it simple. And then change course, before it’s too late.  


We write letters on little sticky notes. We write letters on the windows with dry erase markers, and then cover them with the matching sticky notes.

We write big letters in glue, and cover them with tiny pieces of torn paper (learning letters + sensory play + motor skills = big win).

We color and scribble and fill up notebooks with lines and curves that often don’t make sense. And assessment doesn’t come in questions and answers – it comes in the turning of the tables, when we eavesdrop on their play and conversations with each other.

Do they know colors? Heck yes – just listen to them argue over lego pieces. Can they count? Depends on who’s asking – but listening to them play Hide and Seek reveals quite a bit. There’s progress, and the simplicity keeps me sane.

Of her childhood, Helen says herself that, save for a few impressions, “the shadows of the prison-house” enveloped it. But there were always roses, and she had the sense of smell; and there was love – but she was not loving then. When she was seven Miss Sullivan came to her. This lady had herself been blind for some years…


It is not too much to say that imprisoned and desolate child entered upon such a large inheritance of thought and knowledge, of gladness and vision, as few of us of the seeing and hearing world attain to.

Like all great discoveries, this, of a soul, was in all its steps marked by simplicity.

– Charlotte Mason, vol. 1, Home Education

I need Him to remind me often about why they choose to stay in the dark, and why He chose us to be their family. This lady had herself been blind for some years…


Learning is not merely the two-way street of give and take between teacher and student anymore.

It’s an ocean to navigate, and the familiar constellations are upside down in this new hemisphere, along with new ones we’ve never seen before. We yield to the Captain who calms the storm…and there’s fresh coffee in the galley.


alphabet soup — 13 Comments

  1. Wow, this is so beautiful! What a amazing world you are learning to live in! God bless you, as you release Martha and embrace a Mary heart!

  2. Shannon, I relate to this so much that it makes me want to cry! I too am attempting to teach preschool to my almost 8 year old from “Spaghettia”! I didn’t homeschool my older 2 children so this is all so new. Love your insight and your ideas. I’m so frazzled and frustrated that I often can’t find the creative energy to do any of those things….its hard, very hard! I pray for the energy, the desire, the equipping from the Father! My little needs me to jump in and keep trying even thought he makes it so difficult! I find encouragement from reading your blog. Thanks!

    • I’m right there with you! It’s a heart-battle for me every day, and I honestly don’t always want to fight it. Praying for you tonight…

  3. I am older and my children grown, I have grandchildren now spending weekends and filling our hearts. Whenever I remember to come and read your post it always, without fail, amazes me.

  4. Here are some other sensory letter learning that might help.
    Sandpaper letters,
    cornmeal on a jelly roll pan that they can trace the letters into
    shaving cream on a table or counter top. (this is and was a favorite of my sensory kids and art kids, when I was teaching. All ages love this and it gets the table clean.)
    crayons on sandpaper
    pancake mystery letters (they give a letter and you write it backwards in the pan with the batter and then after it has cooked a bit cover it with more pancake.)
    They will do it. Keep an eye out for dyslexia as many institutionalized kids do have it. It took us years to figure it out but there are therapies for it.
    We used to take pretzel knots and eat them into letters.
    I hope some of these help you.
    I am praying for you and your family.

  5. “I need Him to remind me often about why they choose to stay in the dark, and why He chose us to be their family…” I know you’re speaking of your littles, but it makes me think of our relationship with God in general. I relate to this sentence in this way- (even after hearing the gospel) why do we (all) choose to stay in the dark when He chose US to be HIS family? I wonder why do any of us choose the darkness? Some of us stay there for minutes or days and others stay there for a lifetime. Often, I feel like a moth to a flame even though I KNOW the fire will burn me I continue on my course. My only answer to date is that sin runs deep in our veins and our fleshy nature is so strong. At this point I’m just being chatty and thinking out loud and so little of this has anything to do with the subject you wrote about <>, but one of my favorite “Aha!” moments was when I read the following paragraph from Beth Moore’s book, Believing God-

    “Four ducks were splashing in a mud puddle in the sidewalk while a large, pristine pond was just over a small hill …God was saying, “that’s my church. My blood-bought, Spirit-promised church splashing in a mud puddle with a sea of living waters within her reach. Just on the other side.”

    We are all on this journey to move from the mud puddle to the pond. Especially your wee ones who learned to live in darkness so early in their little lives. So many are still out there. I wish we could save them all. Good thing Jesus wins in the end.

    I will end my rambling here…
    I pray God pours out a great blessing on your family and opens their little hearts and minds to all that He has for them and may God bless you with infinite grace and patience as you teach and shape those little hearts and minds…such a very important job. Much love to you Shannon.

  6. Wow… and yes! and oh my the alphabet soup… so glad that GOD trumps them all! Praying for you!