I was still in bed when the phone rang. I answered groggily but my brain snapped awake when I heard my OB-GYN on the other end. I had undergone a diagnostic amniocentesis recently and I knew I was about to hear the results. “She’s definitely a sweet little girl.” Pause. “And she has Down syndrome.” These words shook the course of my life. Tears came. The line was quiet. I needed to say something.
“Well, then I will start to pray that I will be a good mom to a girl with Down syndrome.” Over the next few months that prayer was my lifeline. Too overwhelmed to put words together, I simply sobbed, “Please let me love her!” At the time, all I could see was the diagnosis.
But now, I see the girl: a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl named Amy who loves animals and cooking, who considers Anne of Green Gables a friend, and who knows every song in The Sound of Music. When Amy was a baby we were told repeatedly, “She will do everything your other kids do, but she will do it at her own pace.” Finding that pace was a struggle.
My goal for her education has been the same as I had with my four older children: to foster a love for the good, the true, and the beautiful, with the aim of producing men and women who are both knowledgeable and virtuous. Quintilian sums this up as a “good man speaking well.” Since my goal was the same as with my other children, I thought I could use the same curriculum but modify the pace. Yet even at a slower pace these were giant steps for Amy. I knew she was smart and could learn. And, convinced of her abilities, I would drive her to frustration and tears. Then, realizing I was asking too much of her, I would “wait until she’s ready,” which felt like standing at the bottom of a smooth wall, too tall to climb. No matter how long you stand there, it doesn’t get easier unless you have a ladder.
In the same way that a slow-motion video reveals details the eye cannot perceive at regular speed, there were mini-steps in the education of my typical kids that were not noticeable at a typical pace. Helping me define these mini-steps and build a “ladder” of them has been the biggest benefit of using the Simply Classical Curriculum. The pace is rigorous yet achievable. Having several multi-sensory options gives the lessons more than one opportunity to stick. This approach keeps us moving forward without frustration.
We start our mornings with prayer, as both a reminder of where our strength comes from and an acknowledgment of our endeavor to love God with all our minds through academic study. Then we move swiftly through our recitation items. We keep it upbeat and short. On the days that speech comes slowly, she listens while I recite. This strengthens her memory without overtaxing her. The recitation is easy to personalize, so we add the catechism from her class at church.
After recitation gets her brain active, we jump into reading. A firm base in phonics is important so we allow plenty of time for it. If she needs repetition there are numerous ideas in the Curriculum Manual for manipulatives, multi-modal games, and activities. Then we head outdoors. This is a welcome break for her brain and a chance to strengthen her gross motor skills. Sometimes she picks the activity, like jumping on the trampoline, and sometimes we play a suggested game or gather a nature collection.
With minds fresh from the outdoors, we begin math. Since math is an abstract concept that is difficult for Amy, we were easily able to personalize this one subject and repeat an earlier level of math while keeping the other subjects at a higher level. Next comes copywork, which provides beautiful passages for Amy to write, think about, and illustrate. The earlier levels of the curriculum encouraged building a love of coloring as a calming activity. As a result, she has not only improved her fine motor skills, but she has become very artistic and enjoys doing her best work to create a keepsake.
Art, music, poetry, geography, history, and nature study are offered as the “dessert” portion of the day, a chance to relax and pursue curiosity. Sometimes I save these little nuggets of beauty for the evenings, often before bedtime. Even a small taste of these elevating pursuits keeps us from getting bogged down in a mindset of only working on therapy skills.
We finish schoolwork before lunch and have the afternoon free for going to the park, swimming with her Special Olympics team, grocery shopping, etc. School is no longer a frustration to cry over or get stressed about. We enjoy spending this time together and Amy is making steady progress up the ladder of learning.
What a joy to be the one who gets to spend these days with her—to be the one who sees the determination as she blends sounds into words, who observes the wonder as she closely examines a spiderweb in the garden, who sits next to her during The Nutcracker, knowing she truly appreciates the music. I remember my five-word, gasping prayer, “Please let me love her!” and I am in awe at how abundantly God answered that prayer, far beyond all I could ask or imagine.