Building a Reflective Homeschool, The Grace of a Hippo

During our yearly trip to the Omaha Zoo, I stood captivated at the rain forest floor exhibit. The typically sedentary pygmy hippo was walking along the river bed and as we watched, an adjective came to mind I do not normally associate with the hippopotamus: graceful. It literally danced along the rocks at the bottom of his tank, as light footed as a ballerina. Smooth, fluid and beautiful, it was in its element, doing what it was created to do.

The characteristics which make the hippo perfectly adapted to its underwater home have made it awkward and slow on land. Prior to my first encounter with the pygmy hippo at the zoo, however, I had only seen hippos lazily floating at the surface or lumbering on shore. Since only their weaknesses were visible to me, I have always characterized them by these same weaknesses.

Since I tend to view my children’s weaknesses as that which will hold them back in life, I tend to focus on them. I look at my daughter’s school work and know she is weak in spelling and strong in math. I could simply say, “Well, you just are not that good at spelling so we don’t need to waste more time on it. Spell check will help.” But I do not think we should back away from challenges so easily. She can learn to spell, it may just be more difficult for her than it was for me. I could also overwhelm her with practice, taking time from the studies she enjoys to make sure that she meets some sort of arbitrary standard. And I think I am guilty of that a little. At least at times. I do not want her to have weaknesses.

But that is because I focus on them too much. She is weak in spelling, Why? Given the fact that she still flips her letters around, I am beginning to suspect the possibility of a learning disability, but there is more to it than that. She has a strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. She excels in karate, loves art, science, math…essentially everything in which she is doing something. She has strengths which help her to excel in many things.

To support her education, I need to more effectively recognize the relationship between her strengths and weaknesses. I also need to give her full opportunity to explore her strengths and challenge herself. As she tests her own limits and learns more about herself and how she thinks and learns, she may begin to be able to use her strengths to overcome some of her weaknesses. Some things she will glide through, but with practice she will also be able to move serviceably through those things which are more challenging. And she will have the grace of a hippo.

Other posts in this series:

Horizontal learning vs. vertical learning
The treasure of experience
Sharing the wonder
Unanswered questions
The grace of a hippo
Tools Not Toys

Photo credits: The video is not by me, but it is of the pygmy hippo at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The photo is from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

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0 Responses

  1. Thank you for giving me some insight into how I can strengthen my children’s weaknesses. I was just thinking that focusing too much attention on weak areas could lead to discouragement.

    I really enjoyed your analogy. God created the hippo according to his purpose. He created our children the same way.

  2. Thanks, Renae. I did not really see the connection between my own strengths and weaknesses in college. I took a battery of tests as part of an education course and the results indicated that school should have been an exceptional struggle for me. I struggle noticeably with auditory information. Everything about school is set up to discriminate those like me. But I have always known that, so I have always compensated. I cannot listen and take notes. Instead, I have always listened carefully, visualized what was being discussed and took notes after the lecture.

    It just went along with recognizing my own strengths and weaknesses and how to compensate. I am hoping that my children will be able to learn to do the same.

  3. wow, great post- I love the graceful hippo word picture. Much to ponder regarding how we view and deal with our children’s weak areas, and even how we view our own.

  4. It’s Liz from

    I Speak of Dreams and
    More Joy in Your Family
    I came by thanks to a Google alert for “learning disability”

    A lovely and well-written post.

    If you do think your daughter has an LD (the spelling is a better clue that letter reversals), early remediation is better than later.

    You may find this website informative:

    I strongly recommend Susan Barton’s Reading and Spelling system (I am a Barton tutor, but have no other connection). It’s a one-on-one remedial reading (and spelling) system. The parent or tutor delivers the training, after being coached by Barton via DVD/video.

    Her other site, Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, has some very informative streaming videos on dyslexia that you may find useful.

  5. Thank you so much, Liz! I will check out the information. There are several things she does that have made me question if something might be going on. The spelling and reading are difficult to use because her vision is poor and and only recently fully corrected. She began to blossom in reading late in second grade, and I’m hoping the spelling will follow now that the vision is taken care of.

    But there are things she says I don’t quite know how to explain. They are not normal syntax errors, so I wonder about how she processes information.

    Anyway, thank you very much for the information and I will be checking it all out!

  6. Nicely written!

    I too have spelling as a weakness, as did Mark Twain (yes, that IS a comfort LOL) What does knowing about that weakness do for me? It makes me more aware; it makes me more willing to own my own errors and move on–they are not a reflection of the person I am; they allowed me to teach from a stand point that we all have weaknesses and knowing them and working with them makes us stronger, smarter…not dumber as many would have us thing; it gives me a reason to slow down a bit, to pause rather than steam roll through with my thoughts and ideas.

    Now often…I catch my own errors…after I have hit a submit button with no edit option….and THAT just about kills me LOL

    Weaknesses are not a bad thing, that public schooling so often has us believe, they are an opportunity, a window, sometimes even a blessing in disguise!

  7. Yes, the earlier the remediation the better, however, I have some free and cheap ideas before you spend the money for Barton.

    First, read my page about dyslexia:

    You can have her take the MWIA as a diagnostic test for dyslexia.

    Then, try my free online spelling lessons. Next, try Webster’s Speller. If you can’t figure out Webster after my spelling lessons, work through my free phonics lessons.

    You might have to use Firefox for my QuickTime movies, some users have recently had problems with Internet Explorer and QuickTime.

    And, I definitely recommend Hilde Mosse’s book.

    Good Luck!

    We’re starting homeschooling this year, we plan to use Webster along with a little A Beka. We also have Read, Write, Spell, and Type, my daughter has worked through it 1 1/2 times now, she doesn’t even realize she’s learning. It’s a bit expensive, but they can work on it on their own and it helps with spelling.

    P.S. I used to misspell about 6 words per page, after I tutored with phonics for a while, I now misspell about 1 word every 2 pages on average.

  8. You might also find Paul Hanna’s Spelling: Structure and Strategies helpful. It’s cheap used:

    He talks about different ways of learning spelling. One hands on approach he suggests is making a list like this:

    far, flat, sift, draft, graph, phooto, telephone, stif, stuff, puff, laugh, rough, tough, enough, craft, frog, and nephew.

    Then, you have the student come up with rules about the sound f on their own. (p. 162- 163 in his book.)

    She may also do well with this method (further explained here, with a link to speling rules):

    For further improvement, write down all the words you misspell. Once you have at least 20 words on your list, group them and analyze them. You should find some common patterns and spelling rules that will help you remember these words in the future. This is much easier and also more useful than memorizing lists of random words with no rhyme or reason to them.

  9. You visited my blog so I came over and visited yours. You are such a gifted writer. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of your postings. This one about the hippo was great. My daughter is spacial and kinesthetic in her learning. She is an amazing athlete. I see now that she is an underwater, dancing hippo struggling on land. Thanks for the analogy.

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