Yes, I know the grammar is all wrong, but this Southern (American) saying is my first and best advice when deciding if homeschooling is the right choice for you and your family. Ask yourself is school working for my child? But working how you might ask. That is what we will explore in this week’s blog.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is academics. While there will be varying degrees of functionality within the Special Needs community, the measure for you should not be ‘normal’ but rather maximizing your child’s learning potential. For some that will be life skills like feeding themselves, talking/communicating and physical/occupational therapies. For other of us (myself included), it will be creating a unique environment that will encourage our children to learn at their level, given their needs. This could be providing oral and visual media rather than reading and writing. It could be providing a calm and quiet place that allows them to focus to the best of his/her ability.
I am not even going to pretend here…I do not believe that a classroom setting can do any of that. When you have one teacher (and perhaps a helper/assistant) and twenty something children, that would be a miracle even for those children, who fall within the ‘normal’ range of attention span and academic ability. But what of those for whom sitting still for even five minutes is nay unto impossible? What about those children who have to touch everything and see how it works to learn? How can a single teacher stick to the curriculum for the other children and still meet your child’s special needs. But ever the optimist, I suppose if you are lucky enough to have a statement that provides one-to-one assistance for your child and double lucky enough to have that someone be genuinely loving and qualified as my older, who is a teaching assistant, is; then by all means…DON’T FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKEN.
But academics are not the only measure of success either. Is school meeting your child’s unique social and emotional needs? This is the one that caused us to choose homeschooling for Emily. Schools must utilize punishment and reward systems to re-enforce standard behaviors…it is the only way that one teacher can manage twenty plus active children. For some children this can work well. But what if your child simply CANNOT do what is required of them.
This was Emily’s situation. Her school used a series of circles from red (bad) to gold (good) to re-enforce behaviors with rewards given at the end of the day. My delightful child could sometimes manage to hold herself together during the morning after all she knew right from wrong and truly did want to do what was expected of her. But towards the end of the school day, she simply could NOT control herself any longer.
Of particular problem was helping to pick up at the end of the day. She has little patience for this anyway (actually I am beginning to believe that she craves chaos as another means of fulfilling her sensation seeking). So inevitably she would end each day on red or at best yellow. I can’t tell you the number of times that I picked this child up to have tears in her big, brown eyes…’Mommy, I am red.’ And no matter how many times I told her that she was always gold to me, I watched her self-esteem decline because her teacher said she was naughty. When I tried to point out to the school that Emily could NOT manage things, they told me that they could not have different sets of rules for one child…and said that she just needed more discipline.
Have you ever had a boss that no matter how hard you tried you could not satisfy? How did you feel at the end of your day? What did that type of environment do to you emotionally? Imagine how your child might feel if he or she cannot behave the way it is expected and keeps being punished for something that is beyond his/her control.
But there is another element to consider as well. It is not just how the adults manage your child’s unique needs it is also how the other children/their peers treat them as well. It is called bullying. This too was a problem for us. I sent to school a confident, delightful little girl within weeks she was asking me…do you think I’m stupid/ugly? Why? Because one little boy kept telling her she was. And when I took my concerns to the school, I was told that it was just normal playground stuff. They said that Emily was able to stand up for herself. While all schools have anti-bullying policies, how those are enforced varies and your child may end up on the short end of that stick.
If at the end of all else, you are still left wondering…is school working for my child? I suggest you try one simple litmus test. For the next week, observe your child’s behaviors before and after school. Does he dawdle in the morning? Do I have to go to school? Does she pretend illness to get out of it? In the afternoons, does your child dance through the door holding their work up with a smile for your approval? Or does he drag his feet, head down and refuse to answer your questions about his day? Is she so tired at the end of the day that a ‘normal’ family life is virtually impossible? Do temper tantrums mar your precious time with your child?
Is school working for your child? Take your time…this is an important question.
Next week…we begin to examine the costs of homeschooling as we look at how much time it requires of you. Do you have the time for homeschooling?