One of the more challenging aspects of homeschooling has been hammering out the schedule. Buddy is in therapy for twenty hours a week, four days a week. This is good because they do work on academic skills, but it still makes finding the time challenging. In the morning I’m so focused on getting everyone dressed and out of the door on time that it doesn’t happen. And after five hours of therapy, Buddy is tired and doesn’t want to do more table work. And then in the evening I see clients for my counseling practice.
I just saw this article on NPR on how pre-school teachers are often poorly trained to teach pre-school, and it goes a long way to explaining what went wrong when we sent Buddy to pre-k. His teacher had no idea what was appropriate behavior for pre-schoolers, seemed to have a poor grasp of child development, and was expecting him to have skills above his grade level. Even ignoring the fact that he has autism, his pre-school was not a good environment for him.
I have pulled Buddy out of school and we will likely homeschool him for a few years. It may work so well I may decide to homeschool him the entirety of his school career. Or he may get to a point where he and I feel comfortable sending him to public school. I also had developmental delays that I outgrew when I was 13, and I thrived in junior high. Buddy may be the same way. And right now I’m undecided if I’m going to send Sissy to school or not.
I know some people love homeschooling and are huge enthusiasts. I may grow to love it. As it is, things are too new now and we’re still building our team and finding our momentum. Even if I do fully embrace homeschooling, though, I want to improve public schools.
Well, the first week was rough. First, Buddy was not happy about the changes to his schedule, especially in the morning. And in the afternoon, the vibe I got from him was, “I’ve just done five hours of therapy and now you want me to do more directed activities? I’ve had enough!” I was hoping on Friday, when he does not go to therapy, it would be a bit better, but it wasn’t. I could get perhaps 5 minutes of engagement, and that was it.
It was a bit discouraging, especially since I used to do this stuff with him, but I also became concerned that, after 20 hours of therapy a week, asking him to do directed activities at home was asking too much.
I met with the director of his therapy program and discussed my concerns about duplicating what they were doing there while homeschooling. It’s a bit of an awkward time because they are between case managers for him, but the new one coming in used to teach kinder, and the director agreed that we need to work together to make sure I’m not duplicating what they’re doing and burning him out. So for now I’m mostly suspending the homeschooling until I work out some goals with the new case manager with the exception of reading. I should have done this before I launched the homeschooling, but I didn’t anticipate how unenthusiastic he would be.
I had planned to go the Montessori route with teaching writing skills before reading. I’d made some textured letters and prepared a lot of different mediums for him to practice writing, such as salt trays, playdough, white boards, regular paper. While he loves playing with salt trays and playdough and with white boards, though, I had a very difficult time getting him to draw shapes and practice his letters. I used to be able to do it before he was in therapy, but now that he is, he wasn’t interested. Though he would tell me which shape/number/letter he wanted and have me do it.
The other part of this is that his fine motor skills are very poor, and I think for now he just needs to do activities that build them up but aren’t directed.
At the same time, he recognizes his letters and when he sees letters he lists them. He doesn’t know all of them, but it is something he seems interested in doing. And the best learning I get with him is when I read to him at night. Through books I’ve taught him his colors, numbers, and how to count. So I got out some alphabet books and went through it with him, and he enjoyed it. We even have stuffed alphabet letters that he keeps in his bed, and we made a game of finding the stuffed letter that matched the one in the book.
And the nice thing about homeschooling is learning time can be at 8PM and in his bed.
So for now I’m just going to focus on building fine motor skills and working on the alphabet at night. And in the meantime, I observed him at therapy for the first time today, and it was wonderful to watch. For one it helped calm my worries that if I didn’t dive in and do as much homeschooling as possible he wouldn’t be learning anything. He was doing matching games for instance. But overall he was happy, engaged, and practicing his communication skills. He is in a good place!
This upcoming week, we plan to start homeschooling. This is a bit ironic since the schools in our area are getting out for summer break. However, Buddy thrives off structure, and one of the perks of homeschooling is that his schedule doesn’t get thrown off by summer break, winter break, spring break, and all of the other school breaks!
Buddy is in a therapy program year round, twenty hours a week. While they do work on academic stuff and preparing children for an academic environment, they are not a school. Overall, I am just thanking my lucky stars they continue as normal through the summer so the routine we’ve established won’t be thrown off, and he won’t lose all of the progress he’s made like he did last summer.
Since pulling my son who has mild autism out of the local ISD to homeschool him, I’ve noticed a divide in the responses I get. People who have worked with the schools or who have children who are differently abled are telling me that this is the best thing I can do for my son. People who have typically developing children and have not worked with children with special needs are baffled, though.
They wonder why I didn’t try to transfer Buddy to a different school, or why I didn’t address my concerns with the school. Or even try a different school district. And I can see why there is this disconnect. For the record, my husband never understood my insistence that I be able to pull our children out of school to homeschool should the need arise until he saw just how poorly Buddy was treated, how anxiety ridden Buddy became while going to the ISD, and how much calmer Buddy is now that he is out of it.
After a two week Christmas break, school started up again this week. I am never sure whether or not Buddy likes it. When I asked him, “Are you looking forward to going to school and seeing your teacher?” He just repeated her name.
But he seemed eager to go. I was starting to rethink the homeschool idea, with one exception. These week long or longer break wrecks havoc with his schedule, and the school year has a lot of breaks. One benefit from homeschooling would be being able to start a year round schedule to give him the consistency he craves.
Yet even with the long breaks that public school has I wondered if it could work. He’s making good progress. He’s identifying his letters, drawing shapes, he’s not been counting as much as he used to but I think that’s because he’s trying to get his letters down. I’m also starting to have more little conversations with him. We were doing a puzzle that had stop lights on it and he said the green one was blue. I corrected him, and he looked at it and said “I see blue.” Usually when I pick him up from school and ask how his day was he just repeats “day” or says nothing, but on Tuesday when I asked he said, “I read books and played with blocks.” Yes, this is something most five year olds do, but six months ago he wasn’t even talking every day. I was dancing on the moon because I was finally having these little conversations with him! One day his teacher said he was talking a lot at school and they were real excited about the things he’s started doing.
So it was a slap in the face yesterday when I got his report card showing no progress and saying he zones out in class a lot.
I started crying so much while driving him home that I had to pull over. I’ve been seeing him really bloom these last few months and the school didn’t acknowledge any of it and said that he’s having more difficultly. Once again, he’s not where most five year olds are, but he is not on the same timeline for most five year olds! And it’s not fair to compare him to that!
I’m wondering why there’s such a disconnect, and I’m wondering if he feels discouraged there, because I know I’m feeling discouraged.
Some little things are making me mad. For instance, there’s a color code system at his school for behavior and orange is perfect behavior. Every day he has come home with an orange dot on his daily sheet. I don’t know why anyone at this school can’t mention this to me as a positive. Especially considering most kids with autism have behavior problems. Or why the talking he was doing didn’t make it on his report card.
Things I was taught as a counselor include that it is more important to notice and feed what a person is doing right than to focus on what they are doing wrong or not doing. I don’t know where in our society we got the insane idea that if we focus on everything a person is doing badly they’ll change, because it’s not what happens. People get discouraged and live down to those expectations. I feel like he is being set up for failure in pre-k!
I also know from experience just how painful and discouraging this is. I really struggled in elementary school, thought I was an idiot and shouldn’t even bother with college, and hated school. Things didn’t click for me until junior high, when I literally went from special ed to advanced placement and honors classes in two years. This leads me to believe that Buddy is developing on his own timeline like I was. Thing is, those elementary school years nearly broke me, and if I’d not had a supportive family it may well have.
All kids need to be set up and the goals placed upon them realistic for success, but for a child with special needs this is even more important!
Once again, I’m wondering if his teacher has a good knowledge base of what is normal for a kid with autism (since as she is a special ed teacher she should, but having been through the public school system in Texas, I can say that doesn’t mean much). Once again I’m frustrated that the school does not seem like a good place for him to be and that the better option would be to find a therapy group that specializes in autism and homeschool him, because that’s going to cost me both in money and time.
At any rate, when we got home I burnt the report card. Once I got Sissy down for a nap and Buddy happy in front of “Wreck It Ralph” I called Andy and told him what happened and we both agreed to celebrate Buddy that night. When Andy got home we told Buddy that we were proud because he always got orange dots for his behavior and that he was talking to us so much more and we were going to celebrate all of the amazing things he was doing. Then I asked him is he wanted pizza or fries, and he said pizza. Him just telling us he wants pizza is new and progress. Usually if we give him a choice he doesn’t answer us and we have to guess. But last night he wanted pizza.
When we got to the restaurant he jumped out of the car, grinned and hugged me. He’s always on his best behavior when I take him out and he was last night. Then we went for ice cream.
When I went to get him ready for bed he jabbered, and while I could only pick up every few words, he was talking in sentences. When Andy came in to sit with him Buddy told me, “Love you, night.”
Andy and I can’t help what the school does but we sure as hell can make sure Buddy knows his abilities are acknowledged and appreciated.
I recently came to the conclusion that it is in Buddy’s best interests to homeschool him. Schools in Texas are simply not kid friendly, and I am very worried about some things happening in his pre-school and that are happening in the districts. I am excited about being able to take this path with him, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that the public schools are so toxic to learning that I feel my only two options are to pay a lot of money I don’t have for private school or to homeschool.
Some background. Pretty much everyone in my family has been a teacher at some point in their careers. Three of my four grandparents have taught in the schools (the fourth gave flying lessons). My mom has worked as a kindergarten teacher for a private school, and I’ve studied child development, worked with children who are differently abled, and taught children and adults in several different settings.
Growing up, my parents were very anti-homeschool. They had a lot of valid complaints about it. It’s largely unregulated. Concerns about Evangelically Christian curriculums and socialization. However, I also have many different learning disabilities, and I really struggled in school in elementary school. My parents advocated for me, and often it was like hitting a brick wall. I know people look at me and say I have a Master’s degree so it can’t have been that bad, but I often feel like I made my accomplishments in spite of school and not because of it.
People who know me now also don’t realize that in elementary school, I hated it so much I never planned on going to college. It wasn’t until things got easier for me in junior high that I changed my plans. But what I found in elementary school made me hate learning.
My parents had been disillusioned by their experiences with me, and for my mom I will say not pulling me out and homeschooling me is one of her biggest regrets. Right now I have the means to generate income in the evenings so I can stay home with them during the day, and though it will be a tremendous amount of effort on my part I feel it is the best route to go down.
That said, I am angry. I am angry that the schools in my area are so not kid friendly. I’m also angry that I have yet to meet a parent in this area who is happy with what is happening in the schools, and I wonder why these policies are being pushed through even though they are so unpopular.
What am I talking about when I say schools are not kid friendly?
- No talking at lunch. One of the school districts in my area has a policy that kids eat in silence and then lay their heads down when they are finished. If they talk they are sent to detention. Um, isn’t one of the selling points of school socialization?
- Standardized tests. Texas started this trend. It is deeply entrenched here. No one particularly likes it but the general attitude is, “I survived standardized testing and I turned out OK, so I’m not going to protest it.” When I worked as a substitute, one classroom in particular stands out in mind. The lesson plan for math was to have the kids go through the testing manual, just like they were taking the test. This teacher had her lesson planning book out and I looked at it. It was not just something she had assigned for the sub, EVERY DAY all she did for math was having them answer questions in the testing manual. I had several kids ask me about a question that tested their knowledge on the mean, median and mode, and I had to stop class and give an impromptu lecture on it. None of them had heard about these concepts. In short, I do not want my kids to go to school where the textbook is a test manual.
- No playgrounds. I have subbed at elementary schools with no playgrounds and no recess. Kids need to move, and they need to play. They both learn better and behave better when they have time for unstructured play. But these days people see unstructured play as worthless…
- Homework. My son is in pre-k. He gets a packet of handwriting homework to complete throughout the week. This is not age appropriate work, it also doesn’t teach handwriting that well, and if anything seems like torture for the parents. It also advantages kids who have parents who have the time/means to do this with them over children with parents who do not.
- Labeling kids instead of behaviors. When I took an educational psychology class in college, we were told about a study where they gave a group of students a test, randomly selected several students and told those teachers that those students were gifted and they would be the next Einstein. Let me make this clear, these kids were actually average, no different than their peers. The only difference was in how they were labeled to their teachers. At the end of the year, those students who in actuality did no better or worse than their peers, surpassed their peers on a test given to them at the end of the year. The reason was because of the attention that their teachers gave to them. Cameras in the classroom showed that the teachers subconsciously set those kids up for success in a way they did not set up other students, and those students benefited. Sadly, we also know the reverse occurs. A kid gets saddled with the label of being “dumb” or a “troublemaker”, and teachers look for behaviors that confirms those labels while they discard behaviors that don’t as flukes, if they notice it at all. So I was very angry when I started getting notes home that my four year old with autism was being “defiant” for not staying in his assigned area. For one thing, I’m not even sure he understands the concept of staying in an assigned area, for another, teachers should know better than to label him as defiant! They should describe his behavior, not saddle him with a dangerous label that could follow him as he progresses in school! (Further, they have the behavior color codes, and every day he gets the perfect color code, which tells me his behavior is not disruptive and giving him such a negative label for not following instructions or staying in his seat when he has documented issues showing he does not always understand what is expected of him troubles me).
As someone who knows so much about child development, it is frustrating to see so little of the fruits of what we have found works best to help children learn in the schools. Kids learn best through play. Kids learn a heckuva lot more playing with blocks than they do with flashcards. Kids often want to please, but sometimes can’t figure out what we want because their brains and senses are still developing, which is why we describe the problematic behavior rather than labeling them as troublemakers! Or rather, this is what we should be doing, but aren’t.
I want to send my children to a school environment that is based on play, that gives them lots of time outdoors to move, that has someone help them as they learn to interact with others. We know so much about what works when it comes to educating children. And I am mad as hell that we do not see this in our schools.
I’m mad that my tax dollars are going to support a school system that I see as being so kid unfriendly that I am worried about continuing to send my son there. And the general consensus among my fellow counselors and specialists in autism when I tell them about my decision has been, “that’s the best thing you can do. The earlier the better.” The fact that people know and accept that the schools are not kid friendly, especially for kids who are differently abled, and movements to change it in my area are practically non-existent (I’ve checked) is maddening.
It also concerns me that in Texas, there’s pretty much a two tier educational system. A quality one for those who can afford private school and/or have the means and education to homeschool effectively, and then the lesser public school options. Yes, I could put my efforts to trying to starting a movement for reform, but my parents were never very successful, and I figure any change would happen too late for my children to benefit. The better option seems to be to put my efforts into giving them a quality homeschooling education.
I found a secular curriculum where the lessons plans are done out with modifications for children with autism. My child’s progress will be tracked by a computer, which will make things easier on me as I still will have to see clients in private practice to stay afloat financially. I also plan to keep Buddy in private therapy and to find a music group and swimming classes for socialization. He also loves his Sunday School class at the UU and will be exposed to different points of views there. I really dislike the idea of homeschooling to indoctrinate.
A final thing I think is imperative is to read the critiques from adults who were homeschooled. And reading and listening with the intent to understand and learn from them. What did they like about it? What would they change about it? What can I do to avoid the mistakes their parents made and build on what successes their parents had?
I’m making a big decision that will impact my kids tremendously. I owe it to them to make sure I give them an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.