When people find out we’ve elected to homeschool our children they either have no opinion or too much of an opinion for someone who’s not their parent. I find people are resistant to it without understanding it, have preconceived notions, or are so old school they don’t realize it’s possible for there to be more than one way to educate a child. I find all of the above frustrating and I don’t speak a whole lot about it to avoid frustration, thus would rather maintain a “we’re gonna keep on trucking” whether people realize it or not kind of approach.
I am not anti-school. I refer to school and recommend it for a lot of children I come into contact with. We have simply decided after extensive thought, consideration, and due diligence, that homeschooling is simply what is best for our family and mainly- what’s best for Caleb’s needs. Yes, we have official home school status granted to us by our county school board. I have plans and data and explanation for everything we do everyday we do it. Yes, my children can still be properly socialized and yeah maybe they won’t go to prom or play high school football but I believe every parent gets to make choices for the opportunities they want to prioritize their children to have access to. Ours just may be different than traditional high school experiences. But that’s ok with us. And yes, they can get diplomas and into college and have careers despite being home-schooled.
Things that have had to be considered for us to be confident in taking on such a major responsibility include (but certainly aren’t limited to) the following:
- A system. One that works for us. Not an educational one yet, but rather, an approach. That means defined roles and responsibilities between myself and my husband, a defined “where”, a schedule of when it happens, a plan for making up content when it can’t, and plans for carryover between the both of us.
- Cost. Homeschooling isn’t necessarily cheap. I buy the same instructional materials schools and teachers provide and office supplies such as a quality printer, personal laminating machine, etc. for making materials. I also pay for online subscriptions to access materials as well.
- Time. That’s the biggest one but one that has been achievable to date because going back to the first point, we established a system. As my kids get older, content will require more time, and there is a plan for that as well. (Also factor in “future planning” as a point of consideration for home schooling!).
- Self Awareness. This. Is. Huge. We were at an advantage because before we ever considered having children much less homeschooling them (fun fact: it wasn’t always our intention) I happened to acquire a couple degrees and real world applicable experience making me very well versed in typical/atypical child development across the content spectrum and how to work with children who need my help learning. This was a fluke in the universe that worked out to my advantage. This doesn’t mean that only people with a comparable background can successfully homeschool their child. Not at all. If you’re willing to commit the time and energy into learning and understanding both typical and atypical development, anyone can help educate their child. If though, you aren’t willing to commit the time or energy, aren’t willing to spend time researching and troubleshooting, or don’t find yourself with the patience to take on the role as your child’s educator, the ability to realize that, self monitor it, and make an alternate plan accordingly is invaluable. To everyone.
- Protection. We were not met with opposition when we sought out to acquire full exemption to homeschool our kids. We were, however, prepared in case we needed it as my husband and I (as well as all current or future children of ours) acquired a lifetime membership to a national homeschool defense league that will advocate for and provide legal representation to us if we ever needed it. If we don’t, it’s still worth the peace of mind knowing we have access to advocates and they are also plentiful in resources for parents as well.
Currently, I do not use an assigned and preset-premade curriculum for our Kindergarten and Preschool pursuits. We will, one day, but right now, I am not satisfied with current systems enough to invest the money into knowing I’m going to have to make extensive accommodations to meet the current needs of my Kindergarten aged child. I am close to purchasing a literacy instructional program I’m a fan of but am using our first semester now to solidify more of Caleb’s pre-literacy and phonological awareness gaps. Teaching a nonverbal/preverbal/limited verbal/verbal but not intelligible (he’s a combination of all of those things at any given moment) child to read is 100% achievable, however, takes considerable time and alternative approaches. That’s a post for another day 🙂 We also bought and utilize Handwriting Without Tears for writing work. Since I generate my own plans here is what they are based on:
- What is DEVELOPMENTALLY appropriate for my child? I do not target things that norms say he’s supposed to do as a 5 year old if there are still things he’s not doing that is expected for a 3 year old. We will do those, then the 4 year old norms, then the 5 year old ones. If I expected him to target things based on his chronological versus language age I am setting him up to fail. There are quite literal and developmental consequences, for example, for learning to walk without ever crawling.
- What is FUNCTIONAL? For Caleb and for our family as a functioning unit. Knowing the capitals of all the states but not knowing how to communicate feelings or physical states of pain would mean I’m teaching him arbitrary content that isn’t at all functional. There has to be a happy medium at which knowing “facts” and being a functional human meet which is what I try to do with my planning.
Here are the content areas we cover and the order of important/emphasis I put on them:
- Speech Therapy: Caleb has both ASD and severe apraxia of speech. We do 3 days a week dedicated to speech based therapy to address the motor planning part of his apraxia and 2 days a week formally addressing his mixed expressive-receptive language delay. Language is largely also addressed in other content areas and in normal daily routines. Our pragmatic (or social skills) as well.
- Occupational Therapy: Caleb does not receive formal OT. In the world of developmental pediatrics, ST and OT go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can not consistently provide quality ST if you are not meeting the sensory integration needs being addressed by OT. In some severe instances, I can’t address communication at all until OT gets in the picture to help little engines get regulated. I currently find myself capable of meeting Caleb’s OT needs. That does not mean I think of myself so highly to think I can call myself an OT, that I know all the things an OT knows, or that I’m too stubborn to ask for help. Quite the contrary, actually because I also know enough to know at what point I can no longer help Caleb myself with those needs and he will need to see someone else for them. Right now, in OT scope of practice, he has sensory and executive functioning needs which I feel I can address. When I can’t, I happen to be spoiled by having OT’s as best friends and they will help him instead.
- Science/Social Studies
- Creative Arts
- Self-Care/Behavior/Social Skills
- We do Gross Motor work on the weekends.
Before we started our school plans I researched and made a list of typical norms for 3-5 year olds across the following content areas: Self Care/Organization, Fine Motor (this includes Writing), Gross Motor, Creative Arts, Phonological Awareness and Literacy, Articulation, Social Studies, Expressive/Receptive Language, Play and Social Skills, Math, and Science. Then I went through and prioritized which targets from each of those categories met my current criterion for what’s functional and what’s developmentally appropriate. That’s where our weekly plans come from. Now that we’ve gotten back into our flow from our more lax summer schedule (we never fully stop but we do take a hot minute to breathe) we’ll resume weeklyish field trips after Labor Day as well. That’s when we take advantage of museums, festivals, play facilities, etc. If I can get there in under 2 hours, it’s on our list of considerations for places to go. Sometime though, it may just be a life event we plant for. On weekends we have scheduled field trips or an event to attend, I might make the plans follow the same structure but with a “theme” to accommodate vocabulary or social/safety information for what we plan on doing/where we plan on going.
After each lesson, I note take and trouble shoot how we can improve and what accommodations we need. They generally involve the need for visuals either for content or behavior I didn’t predict, a sensory accommodation, or an environmental change to make.
It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. And sometimes I psych myself out a little and feel worried about being “enough” because I know the stakes are high. There’s never been a moment though, that I felt like I wasn’t making the right choice. And whatever educational option leaves parents feeling “I know this is the right thing” is what I feel 100% they should pursue no matter what that setting is. I like teaching Caleb. Caleb likes learning. For now, he’s comfortable learning from me. We make a good team 🙂
Love and Autism