Sunday, January 15, 2012

Roll with It

One of the best things about homeschooling is the flexibility it offers.

If your child is an early bird, you can get school underway at 7am and finish by noon, leaving the rest of the day for whatever you want. Afternoons could be spent on field trips, hanging with friends or just goofing off.

Conversely, if your child is a night owl, you can sleep in and start when you feel like it. This seems to be the course of action around our house, and as long as we get our lessons in, I don’t mind. Drew wants to sleep until 9am or so, take some time waking up (read: play Wii or other handheld game), and then start school around 10am. Most of the time, the entire day is accomplished in pajamas! Of course, starting later means you finish later. Recently, my son lamented this fact when we were sitting on the couch reading social studies and the school bus drove by. "Hey, it's time to stop! The other kids are done!" he tells me. I replied "Yes, but they started when you were still sleeping. And, they didn't get to play Mario Bros. today either...."

This flexibility offers other bonuses, too. Earlier this week, my son and I were both sidelined by sore throats. If he were still in public school, I would have kept him home for a sick day. This means I would have had to call in to the school and report his illness, answer the 20 questions that go along with calling in, and discuss the list of symptoms with the school nurse. I would have also played the mental math game and thought about how many days he's missed so far, how many days are left in the school year, can we "afford" to take a day, are there any tests or important lessons he would miss, etc. For some reason, this usually results in my feeling “guilty” for keeping him home for "just a sore throat." Fortunately, I didn’t have to do all this. I could concentrate on what mattered most - getting him well.

While we nursed each other back to health, the day was not totally lost from a schooling standpoint. Certain subjects were still accomplished, albeit more relaxed and with a slower pace. Reading was done while curled up with a blanket on the couch.

Obviously, the flexibility is a plus. However, it can also be a curse... from my son’s viewpoint, anyway. Our homeschool does not take days off for “professional development” or “teacher planning” (something our public school district does at least once per month). We also don’t follow the public school calendar when it comes to holidays. (Unless you have a federal job, MLK and President’s Days are work days for most everyone.) And lastly, we are still in session when everyone else has a “snow day!”

However, we do get to count sledding as physical education! :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Learning in your PJs


“Homeschooling?” you ask?

Yes, homeschooling!

Actually, it surprises me, too! A good surprise, though. The feeling you get when you know you’ve made the right decision.

In sharing this decision with others, it seems as if many think we may have rushed into pulling our son from the public school system, or didn’t otherwise think it through. This is definitely not the case. Honestly, our decision was YEARS in the making.

Elementary school was a roller coaster ride, with Drew’s success largely dependent upon factors out of our control – how well the regular education teacher understood autism, his/her relationship with Drew, Drew’s relationship with his para, how consistent the para was. The list goes on.

I should point out there were some awesome teachers and paras at the elementary level. Those years were a blessing. However, there were also some “jaw droppers.” These were teachers and other school staff that, frankly, left me floored as to why they were even employed to work with children in any way, shape or form. In these situations, we found ourselves saying “Gosh, I hope next year is better….” But I realized we were saying this almost every year in one way or another. We also found ourselves pointing out or asking common sense things of staff, like “Would you not allow him to tear up his clothing?” or “How did [x] happen with a para right there?” My husband I would look at each other and say “you know, we could do a better job….” But we never acted on these thoughts.

Then there were the annual IEP meetings. Every year in the Spring, we met with school staff to discuss the following school year’s IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. The IEP listed all of the accommodations and modifications that were needed for Drew during school, but also outlined what his autism looks like and how it affects him. These meetings, literally, were hell. Again, you go through the process of pointing out common sense things to the school staff about your child, which are then shot down by the “team” in favor of “better” ideas. These “better” ideas through the years have included Drew completing language arts worksheets to meet writing goals as opposed to actually (wait for it….) writing a paragraph. Again, my husband and I would think about homeschooling, but were too afraid. After all, public school is just what you did, right?

This current school year was the first at the middle school level. We met the previous Spring for the IEP to discuss what middle school would look like for Drew. In fact, we met for almost 6 hours over two different meeting dates! You would think in 6 hours, something would actually be accomplished. You would also think that, with as much time invested in the IEP, it would actually mean something. Well, you would be mistaken. The transition to middle school was awful. Drew was in school for one month before we pulled him. In that month, I sent many, many emails, met with teachers numerous times, and came to know the principal on a first-name basis. Also during that month, Drew experienced an entire week of after school detention, in-school suspension on at least two occasions, and also came to know the principal closely. Unfortunately, the principal didn’t bother to get to know us at all during this time. I highly suspect she never even read the latest IEP that took hours. The IEP “team” met an additional 3 times during this month, but changes never came to fruition. At the last meeting I attended, the principal (who had threatened out of school suspension) indicated that Drew just needed time to “get” how middle school works. My husband and I decided we “got” how middle school worked, and wanted no part in it.

So, here we are. We are now a few months into homeschooling, and are enjoying every minute of it! J Drew is enjoying it as well. I constantly ask myself why we didn’t do this sooner, especially when I think of all the time we wasted in public school, wishing things were better. But now, my time and efforts are better directed. Instead of hours beating my head against the wall, trying to work with school administration and staff, or preparing for IEP meetings, I am instead working directly with Drew in a way that is best suited to him. If something isn’t working or needs to be changed, we do it. No “team meeting” is necessary, and no arguing over the obvious. You know the adage – if you want it done right, do it yourself!

We are now in complete control of our son’s education. A very scary prospect, but also very empowering!