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Lessons From An Accidental Homeschooler

May14

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Alpha Mom Lesson LearnedI went to public school. It was fine. I mean, sure, I had my share of problems and the occasional bully, and middle school was no picnic (though I don’t know that it is for anyone, really), but I look back and view it as a decent way to get an education. I learned a lot. I was accepted to college and later, grad school, so clearly something there worked out okay.

It’s not that I ever knocked private school or homeschooling, it’s just that I knew they weren’t for me. Public school works! And it would work for my children just as it had for me. It would work better, even, because I volunteered and got involved with the PTA and such. My firstborn—my daughter—loved school and excelled and her teachers were always eager to tell me how much they enjoyed having her in class. She was a handful at home, but not at school. Curious. (Teachers were quick to tell me that was preferable to the other way ’round.) My youngest—my son—was nothing but sunshine at home, but started having trouble at school almost immediately.

He was easily overwhelmed. Too much noise sent him looking for a place to hide. Various activities could send him into a tailspin if they didn’t go exactly the way he wanted them to; if random pieces of colored paper were being handed out and he wasn’t given a green one, for example, he’d have a full-blown tantrum. He seemed completely unaware of other people’s personal space, climbing over classmates at will or plunking himself in a teacher’s lap without asking, but would flip out if another kid brushed up against him when he wasn’t expecting it. If the books were supposed to be lined up a particular way, then by God they needed to be lined up that way and only that way or the sky might fall. “Do it all over again!” became his battle cry, and though we joked about it, it was clear that something was going on. So we had him tested. It turned out that he had Sensory Integration Disorder, and in our original school district this was something of a golden ticket to services: He was placed on a 504 Plan where he received regular Occupational Therapy to help him cope with his sensory issues, plus he received other accommodations like a pass to go to his “quiet space” whether he was too overwhelmed. Public school was pretty accommodating of his needs, and we breathed a sigh of relief that everything had gone so well.

A couple of years later, we moved, and we brought his 504 Plan to the new district and they assured us they could support my son in the public schools. And they did… sort of… but he continued to struggle, and within a couple of more years, we were having him evaluated again. This time, we were told he’s actually autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome, or High-Functioning Autism). More accommodations were needed, so his 504 was converted to a full IEP, and the school insisted they could do everything he needed. Sure, maybe they insisted that after we brought an advocate with us to a few meetings, but no matter! Public schools work and he had an IEP and even a one-on-one aide (which is very rare in our district) for his last year of elementary school. We were making it work… kind of.

And then we went to middle school orientation and it was pure chaos. It was loud and crowded and crazy. My son—11 years old by this time, but the size of a child much younger, and with the social grace of your average kindergartener—ended up curled up underneath a desk, asking if we could please go home. We had known that this might happen; that was just the moment when we knew we had to stop trying to stuff our square peg into a round hole.

We left, and I submitted our Intent to Homeschool paperwork. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I work full-time from home, so I knew I could flex my schedule somewhat, but I was still terrified of what this decision meant for my career, for my son’s education, even for our relationship. It’s been two years, and I’m still learning, but here’s a few of the things this experience has taught me.

Nothing is permanent; try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else. We looked into several homeschooling umbrella programs—I knew there was no way I could do this all on my own—and chose a nearly-full-time local program for his first year. This year we went down to just three days a week in last year’s program, and on his days at home he works on online classes. And as we wrap up this second year… well, we’ve decided not to enroll in an outside program for next year at all. He’ll do online classes from home, and we now have a wide enough circle of fellow homeschoolers around to set up some weekly enrichment activities with his peers. It feels like a natural progression, and if for some reason this isn’t right, we’ll try something else.

Look at what was working and what wasn’t, and plan accordingly. My son was fine in public school when he was academically challenged in a subject he liked, and often had difficulty when he was bored or stressed. Noting this, we moved him ahead in math (his best subject) and a wonderful teacher found what he actually liked to write about to get him writing again (after our state’s writing test all but made him stop writing entirely). He can take breaks when he needs them. Online classes are perfect for my Aspie—accelerated academics without the classroom chaos, and he can work at his own pace. The mixed-age homeschool group allows him to work on his socialization challenges separate from his main school work, which is helpful for him.

Homeschooling is different than you think. I knew homeschooling wasn’t all religious fundamentalists these days, but it wasn’t until we jumped in that we discovered there’s as much variety in homeschooling families as public school families, and variety in available programs, too. Even as a family with one homeschool kid and one public school kid, we turn out to be not that unusual. Different kids need different things. I think we see a higher percentage of special needs kids in homeschooling, but I have been surprised and delighted by the level of tolerance and acceptance this seems to breed. Many of us turned to homeschooling due to poor experiences elsewhere. As tribes go, it’s a pretty inclusive one.

You don’t necessarily have to know the whole plan right now. We walked away from public school with the knowledge that middle school tends to be especially brutal for kids on the autism spectrum (middle schoolers tend to be miserable, anyway, but this is where the gap between neurotypical and non-neurotypical development tends to be most stark). It seemed simple enough to step away for middle school, with the goal of putting him back into the district for high school. An interesting thing has happened in the intervening two years, though; while I now feel like my son probably could handle our local high school, I no longer feel like he necessarily should. We have a year to decide, but I know he’ll be fine either way.

Plans are good, but don’t forget to have fun. Most days when my son is doing school, I’m doing my own work, too. But sometimes it’s a beautiful day and we take a break to work in the garden or go pick berries. This is the huge upside to setting our own schedules, and any time we break from the routine to do something fun, it’s not just an adventure, it’s a reminder to me that my once-inflexible boy can now go with the flow in a way that he never used to. Homeschooling gave him that. Heck, I think homeschooling may have given that to me, too.

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


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20 Responses to “Lessons From An Accidental Homeschooler”

  1. js May 14 at 3:19 pm Reply Reply

    It’s great that you found something that works for you and your whole family. All I can think is, when I was in school, I would have loved the opportunity to not attend the same school and my many, many siblings and cousins. It would have be great not to have teachers assume we were all the same. I admire people who do home schooling because I freely admit I lack the discipline to make my child stick to a set curriculum, especially when it’s a nice, berry-picking kind of day outside.
    I hope everything continues to go well for you.

  2. Rachel May 14 at 3:57 pm Reply Reply

    Yes, yes, yes, and a thousand times YES!  These are the same things I’ve found after our first year of homeschooling, too.  I never thought I’d be this way about it, but it’s what’s right for our family.

    Brava for taking (yet another!!) step to determine what’s best for your family.  You are rockin’ it!

  3. Tenessa May 14 at 4:30 pm Reply Reply

    We’re “wrapping up” our 2nd year homeschooling. We pulled out because of the difficulty we’d had in finding teachers who were good fits for my eldest who is an Aspie with SPD and we had a second awful experience with a permanent substitute situation with two separate kids. So homeschool we went.

    It’s been fantastic. My kids are closer than ever (11 yo boy, 8 yo girl, and 6 yo boy), we spend a great deal of time together, we are able to switch the curriculum around to suit everyone’s needs, we have a fantastic, inclusive and diverse group of homeschoolers we pal around with, my daughter’s self esteem is back in tact, and all (YES, ALL) the major issues my son was struggling with on a daily basis are barely memories. So. Stinkin. Awesome!

  4. Tobi-Dawne May 14 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    Our high need daughter will be starting grade one next year. And we’ve gone back and forth on how we will handle things. Pre-K was awesome – she loved it and we loved both her teacher and her EA. Kindergarten… not so much, but we’re trying to stick with it. The grade one teacher seems amazing, so we’re hopeful. However, we’ve all decided that while we’ll give it a try, if we find school isn’t supporting her or giving her what she needs, then she’ll come home and we’ll try something else. It’s a scary thing trying to give your kids all they need to succeed.

  5. Tina May 14 at 7:13 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for the encouraging words. Guess what we’re moving to this next year? Yep, homeschool. And some friends think we’re crazy, we live in one of the best school systems in the state! But… yeah. I’m hoping for positive reactions like this next year at this time! :)

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 14 at 10:08 pm Reply Reply

      Good luck, Tina! Here’s to being pleasantly surprised! 

  6. suburbancorrespondent May 14 at 8:01 pm Reply Reply

    Just need to point out that homeschooling has NEVER been all religious fundamentalists. In fact, the father of the homeschooling movement (John Holt) founded the idea on pedagogical grounds, not religious ones. Every time I turn around, someone is writing an article the gist of which is “Homeschooling! Not just for religious fundamentalists anymore!”

    Pet peeve. Sorry. Curious to hear what online courses you found to work best for your son.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 14 at 10:04 pm Reply Reply

      Eh, there are a lot of people who homeschool for religious reasons, and there’s no denying that it’s pretty tricky to homeschool when both parents work. Fundamentalists are more likely to have a mom at home and more likely to believe that it’s mom’s job to provide schooling. So you’re right, of course, it’s not “all,” but it is quite common. Some is not all, though. ;)

      We are using our state’s Virtual School, which allows us to pick from the standard curriculum a la carte (vs. something like K12 where you have to take the entire grade curriculum). It has allowed him to start taking high school classes as a 7th grader, which—without having to deal with other kids—has been doable for him, a couple of classes at a time. Should he decide to pursue “regular” high school, he’ll either be able to take fewer classes at once or graduate early with these credits he’s accumulating now, in middle school. (There are End Of Course Tests administered at a certified testing facility so that he gets state credit.)

  7. Kerry May 14 at 11:40 pm Reply Reply

    Wow Mir, pretty disappointing that you would like your son to be accepted despite his differences, yet find a need to make judgements against religious “fundamentalists.” Especially in your last comment there when you say, “Fundamentalists are more likely to have a mom at home and more likely to believe that it’s mom’s job to provide schooling.” I guess you have us Jesus freaks all figured out.  Obviously, our reasons to homeschool are MUCH less valid than your. Do we all wear ankle-length denim jumpers, braid our hair, and go make-up free in your bigoted world view?

     Awesome example of tolerance!

    • Anna May 15 at 1:30 am Reply Reply

      I’m speechless. This is a really ugly post, and totally unnecessary. Mir shared legit information, and did not use it to demean or insult anyone.
      You could take it as a compliment, you know. Fundamentalists are more likely to have a mom at home, that’s true. And it is mostly because they CARE enough to make it work.

      Sheesh. I think Mir actually said it best- the homeschool circle is pretty tolerant and inclusive. And we all have different and multiple reasons.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 15 at 7:27 am Reply Reply

      Whoa. Kerry, where did I make any comment whatsoever on the validity of anyone’s choice to homeschool? I simply said fundamentalists are more likely to have mom stay home with the kids. Is that incorrect, in your opinion? Because I am pretty sure that it is 1) factual and 2) not a judgment of that choice.

      I have no problem with anyone’s choice to homeschool, or anyone’s religious choices, for that matter. I’m really unclear on how that leads you to believe that I’m a bigot, but if you’d like to have an actual conversation instead of just hurling insults, let me know.

      • Kerry May 15 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

        You’re right, your words weren’t outwardly offensive, and I’m sorry I used the word bigoted.  I reacted emotionally and should’ve taken a breath before replying. I just don’t understand why religious people have to be called “fundamentalists.”  That sounds very strong and extremist, like we’re this group of radicals or something.

        When you said religious fundamentalists believe it’s mom’s job to do the schooling, that seemed a little, I don’t know, judgey, like we are old fashioned and assign gender roles, or just let the “men folk” tell us what to do.

        • Mir Kamin
          Mir Kamin May 15 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

          There are religious groups—most of them self-identifying as fundamentalist—which do believe in certain tasks belonging to men and certain tasks belonging to women. That’s not a judgment. There are also religious groups where this doesn’t happen. My point was simply that all types of people homeschool, even working parents (and that’s a relatively new development in the homeschool world), and the goal in mentioning it was to be clear that the old stereotype of “all homeschoolers are super-religious and conservative” is not correct.

          I appreciate you coming back calmer. ;) While I will admit to periodic foot-in-mouth disease, in this case I do think you read something that wasn’t there. I’ve found that there’s nothing like a couple of special needs kids to teach you about being tolerant if you weren’t already. I’m most certainly not judging anyone.

    • erika May 15 at 11:21 am Reply Reply

      Kerry, there was no judgment in Mir’s writing. She pointed out something that is often a perception of many people. That is all.
      I think sometimes people see what they want to see (or in this case, read what they want to read).

  8. Susan Getgood May 15 at 8:26 am Reply Reply

    While my son has not been diagnosed as on the spectrum, the teachers at his old public school had suggested we do so because while bright, he was having trouble adjusting to the environment once he hit 4th grade. Midway through 5th grade we moved to another state for my job, and I ended up putting him in a very small k-8 private school — 60 kids TOTAL because the public schools in my new town are awful. It has worked out brilliantly. The small size means the teachers can pay attention to all the students, and they can let kids work at their own pace. No need to pull someone along with the class or hold someone back to keep everyone at the same level the way they often have to do in public schools due to resource constraints.

  9. Sheryl May 15 at 9:23 am Reply Reply

    I home school my kids from time to time in various combinations. I’ve home schooled all of them at once, and last year I home schooled my middle kiddle. If I feel they’re not quite where they should be academically or socially, or heck, if they just want to stay home for a year or two. I’m fortunate to have the privilege of staying home, so we have those options.

  10. Cat May 15 at 4:40 pm Reply Reply

    Hiya Mir!  I’ve followed and enjoyed your blog over at WS for a long time.  Thanks for the inspiration and support!  We have an extremely bright 13 yr old aspie (he is a triplet w 2 brothers in public school and a sis away at college). He is about to finish 6th grade at an amazing school but it ends at 6th ; (  We pulled him out of public in 4th and had him redo 4th after getting all C’s.   I haven’t been able to find the right place for him for the next yr  or 2 (if he skips ahead) until high school, which seems to have more options for his intelligence and interests. Anyway, homeschooling has always been a total non-option for me.  Just the THOUGHT gave me hives haha, probably due to the triplet boy thing ; ) and the fact that my husband and I had a totally conventional/public education But now, after reading this I am starting to think “maybe I COULD do it” but just with him.  So thanks and please keep helping us by sharing your struggles and accomplishments. 

  11. Kris Jun 10 at 11:05 pm Reply Reply

    As a reader of your blog who left encouraging comments to you whenever you mentioned homeschooling (back when you were not so keen on the idea), this makes me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy. That is all…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. School’s out for summer (or maybe forever) | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - May 14

    […] the meantime, if you are one of those I-could-never-homeschool types, I feel you. My latest post over at Alphamom is all about how I never could’ve, either, but then I did, and it’s been kind of […]

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