As many people are facing new uncertainties because of the coronavirus pandemic, more people than ever are considering homeschooling this year. Our local schools are requiring students to wear masks in the common areas of the school, but not in the classroom. Even so, just two days into the school year, one of the elementary classes is in quarantine after exposure.
I can’t imagine what those families are going through. We are largely unaffected by the changes in most aspects of our daily life and homeschooling is not affected by them at all. I’m so thankful that we made the decision long ago to homeschool our children.
We started back to school at the end of July after a short summer break. I hadn’t planned a long break because two of the boys tend to lose skills over extended breaks. Plus, they all benefit from having more routine and structure to their days–and so do I.
So, what do you do when you are homeschooling a seventh grader and two kids who fall somewhere between kindergarten and third grade for most of their learning? Well, you do what works best for your family and your kids, but this is what I’m hoping to do this year:
- For Micah, who is in seventh grade and works well independently, I want him to gain more independence with keeping track of his assignments. He has been doing this for a couple of years with math, but I’m giving him a lot more responsibility this year. He will keep track of all of his assignments and I will check on them weekly.
- For Mark, I want him to master single digit addition, read more fluently, and slow down and pay attention to what he is doing instead of rushing to get it done. Goals with Mark are harder to quantify because like most kids with Fragile X Syndrome, what he is able to express is usually only a small portion of what he understands. I just have to assess what I see as his overall progress in less measurable terms.
- For Max, my goals are a bit different. He was already two grades behind in public school when we adopted him, but realistically he was much further behind in terms of math and reading skills. He also has focus issues and hates schoolwork. My goals for him this year are to master addition and subtraction facts up to 20 and progress through second grade math, and for him to do his best work without arguing or complaining.
Of course these areas are not the only things we will work on, but they are the goals that I see as the most important for the start of this year.
Let the packing begin! No, we’re not packing for our trip to Florida, yet. (I like to plan ahead, but I’m not that organized!) Before we can have the carpet and flooring installed, we have to pack up everything and get it out of the way.
It’s amazing how much stuff we have accumulated over the last six years. We’ve never lived in one place for that long before, so I’m used to cleaning out every so often when we move. And I usually try to be diligent about getting rid of things that we don’t use. But with six people in our family, it adds up to a lot of stuff to pack up.
I’ve discovered that my biggest weakness in decluttering and thinning out our possessions: books. I’m sure anyone who home schools can relate to this, especially if you home school more than one child. So far I have packed 5 large boxes of books and still haven’t finished my books or started on Todd’s. (I think the only people who accumulate more books than homeschoolers are preachers.)
In the midst of all of this packing, we are still trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible–keeping appointments, working on school work. But I must admit it all of this has really been wearing me down the last few days. In order to pack things up, you have to drag things out. So now in addition to part concrete/part carpet floors in our bedroom, I have little stacks of things that didn’t quite fit into the box I was packing when I got them out, plus boxes full of things that I have packed up, but haven’t taken out to the shed yet (books are heavy). All of this visible chaos makes it hard for me to concentrate on anything other than the clutter all around me. I just want it all done.
And it will be. Or it won’t be. God’s grace is sufficient. He will work things out in His timing, not mine.
Why do we home school?
Well, why don’t we home school?
It might be easier to list the reasons that we don’t have for home schooling. We don’t home school as a knee-jerk reaction to some negative experience with public or private schools. We don’t home school because we feel pressured to do so by family, friends, or our church (yes, there are people who do). We don’t home school because we think we are better that those who don’t.
So why do we home school?
Well, I’ll start at the beginning. We sort of backed into home schooling. We didn’t go into it with grand ideals or lofty goals. We were just trying to do what would work best for our family. (And really, isn’t that what it all boils down to for almost everyone who home schools?) Our original plan (as much as we had one) was to enroll our kids in the school run by our church. I taught there for a year, and I think that it would have worked out well for us, too, had we stayed there.
Around the time Matthew turned three, we moved away from that area. We settled in to our new community and met some people at our church who home schooled their children. (My sister had also started home schooling her children by this time.) It just seemed like a good fit for us. Matthew was already reading, and I knew that he would be bored if we waited until he was old enough for school. So, I bought a math book and a phonics workbook and jumped right in.
As the years have gone by, we’ve accrued some reasons for home schooling. We do want to provide our children with a Christ-centered education, because we do not believe that it is possible for education to be neutral. We do want to tailor our children’s education to suit their needs as individuals who have different strengths and weaknesses. We want our children to grow up under our guidance. We want them to grow up together with a close relationship that we missed out on with our siblings.
Although we had a somewhat inauspicious start in home schooling, the reasons that we have continued are really all the reasons that we at the beginning even if we hadn’t thought them all out.
Do you home school? If so, what are your reasons for home schooling?
We spend a good bit of our time away from home. Mark has speech and physical therapy twice a week, and occupational therapy once a week. (For more about that read here.) The five appointments, plus the time spent traveling to and from and getting everyone ready to go, add up to over five hours per week. That takes a pretty big chunk out of every week for us.
Although I consider Mark’s therapy to be part of his schooling, it doesn’t count for his siblings who are just sitting in the waiting room. Matthew is in tenth grade this year, Maggie is in eighth, and they do a lot of their work independently. They usually bring some of their school work with them to work on during Mark’s appointments. They usually bring it, but whether or not they do any of it depends largely on whether or not the television is on in the waiting room. Last Thursday it was off and they both quietly worked their way through their math lessons. When we were here last Tuesday, the television was on; and although they had their math books out, they didn’t really accomplish much. On days like that, they have to spend more of their afternoon on schoolwork instead of having free time to play or read (unassigned books) or work on other things. They are old enough that I let them make the choice to waste their time in the morning and suffer the consequences of an afternoon spent on school work instead of fun.
At six, Micah is young enough that I really don’t push a lot of “school work” on him. We do have a math curriculum that we use and a phonics workbook. I mostly let him go through them at his own pace as he is interested. Some days he does four or five pages in his workbook, some days he does one. He likes to take a backpack with him to therapy, but he rarely does any of the work he brings. He likes to watch the TV and most of the shows that are on while we are there actually are educational for a six-year-old. He also reads a lot of the books in the waiting room, most of which are about his reading and interest level. This way he gets some reading in, too, and doesn’t even realize he is doing “school work.”
Sometimes we listen to audio books in the car on the way to and from therapy. Some of our favorites are from the Lamplighter Theatre Series, such as “Sir Knight of the Splendid Way.” They are really well done and entertaining for all ages to listen to, and they are such incredible stories. We also listen to classic audio books that we have downloaded from LibriVox.org for free. They are as well-dramatized as the Lamplighter ones, but they are free and have a wide selection. (One word of caution, they have all kinds of audio books on LibriVox, so you may want to monitor what your children listen to from there.)
I try to lower my expectations of what we can actually accomplish on therapy days while trying to balance that with what I know we need to get done on a weekly basis to reach our goals. Do you home school away from home? How do you manage it?
Fragile X syndrome is the leading inherited cause of developmental delay and cognitive impairment. It occurs in about one out of every 4000 males. (For more information visit the National Fragile X Foundation.)
Why am I telling you this? Our middle son Mark was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome when he was 2-1/2. Although he is almost nine now, in many ways he functions at a younger age, especially in his language skills.
I suppose I could write about how Fragile X Syndrome affects our daily lives, and how things are different as a parent of a child who has special needs. But Mark is who God created him to be, and Fragile X Syndrome does not define him any more than diabetes defines someone who has it. So, Fragile X Syndrome doesn’t AFFECT our daily lives, it is part of our lives, part of who we are as a family; and yes, it makes our lives different from what some would describe as “normal” or “typical.”
For example, we spend over three hours a week (nearly five if you count driving time and getting everyone ready to go) at therapy appointments: occupational, speech, and physical therapy. This means that we don’t do all of our home school at home. It also means that we can’t be quite as flexible with our time and we may miss out on some activities that we would otherwise have time to do.
We seldom do things spontaneously. Fragile X Syndrome typically causes anxiety and sudden changes to routine often increase anxiety. Mark usually handles routine changes–especially if it’s something fun–better than what I have heard is typical for people with Fragile X Syndrome. (I think this is partly because he knows that wherever he goes or whatever he does, the rest of the family will be there.) When we do something out of our normal routine, we usually have to limit it to one variation at a time (i.e. run only one errand on our way home) or Mark gets overwhelmed.
I would list other ways that having a child with special needs makes our lives different, but honestly this has been our normal for a long time and I don’t really know the difference anymore. God has blessed us with four children who are each special in their own ways.
I don’t know how you would define the word homestead. When I was growing up, the term always conjured up scenes from “Little House on the Prairie.” A farmhouse, a barn, chickens, cows, horses, and crops in the field. Our current homestead doesn’t look much like the one that was portrayed in the television show.
We actually live in less than a quarter of an acre in a small town. Our backyard is just big enough for our chickens, our garden, and the trampoline. We don’t have an old-fashioned farmhouse (although I would love one), just a typical “ranch-style” house. The only animals that we have are chickens and cats. We don’t manage to grow much in our garden (although I have lofty goals every year).
We hope one day to move out into the country. We would like to have enough land that our children can raise any animals that they want–and are willing to take care of. I would like the kids to have lots room to build things and work on projects that they want to do. I would love to have room for more books. I would like to have more room to have people over. We would love to be able to have a bonfire without neighbors calling the fire department.
But for now our home is in town. Our yard is small. Our house is fairly small. This is what God has given us for the time being, so this is where we will serve Him for now. We will take care of the animals that we have. We will work on projects that we have room for. We will be thankful for e-books and the library. We will practice hospitality by inviting one family at a time. We will enjoy the bonfires that we are invited to and just make our own s’mores in the microwave.
I’ve adjusted my idea of a “homestead.” A homestead is more about the intent to build something worthwhile than it is about the animals raised or crops produced. Our homestead is where we make our home, where we raise our children, where we fellowship with friends and family, where we serve the Lord in our daily lives. Some day our homestead may be bigger, or it may be smaller, the location may change, and eventually as the kids grow up the number of residents will change, too; but I pray that our intent to build something of eternal value in the lives of our children will not change wherever God places us.
It’s been chaotic around here the last couple of months (see prior post). But to be honest, it seems chaotic around here fairly often.
With the flood and the ongoing clean-up and repairs, it was an easy decision to cancel school for the first week. It’s not like we could hear each other over the fans that were drying out all the water. Or move around with all the furniture pushed into the corners away from the wet spots.
It was a more difficult decision to get back to our work the following week. The fans were gone, but so was the floor. Obviously, the flooring does not play a pivotal role in our school work, but we did need make some adjustments. I do quite a bit of hands-on learning with my younger two. And the concrete is not a good place to sit and work on puzzles or play with math manipulatives. Sending two little boys who are finished for the day to their room to play while their older siblings finish up is not a good idea when only half of the room has carpet. But sending them outside to play when they are going to be tracking all sorts of stuff in isn’t much better. We thrive on routine around here. (Okay, mostly
we I just don’t handle it well when something messes with our my routine.)
While there were things to work around in order to accomplish school work, I realized that there also wasn’t much else for them to do besides school work. I had confiscated the Legos after the flood, because they were just too much to handle. (Have you ever stepped on a Lego on concrete?) Most of their other toys are things they play with on the floor, too. And I certainly wasn’t going to let them watch videos or play on the computer all day. So we got back to school work. They spread their puzzles and math blocks and other things out all over the table. They are learning to keep them contained to one area so that everyone has room to work at the table. Matthew and Maggie are learning to deal with the distractions. They are finding a new routine.
The hardest thing for me has been trying to keep from being distracted by all the chaos. It’s really hard when it is visibly in front of me at all times. I can focus on a lesson, but when it’s over, I start thinking about the floor. Initially I would look online to see how much vinyl flooring and carpet cost, what’s available, do they install? Lately it’s been more along the lines of thinking if we did this instead of that, or if we installed this ourselves then maybe we could make do with what the insurance paid without; but then if we do this, then there is this problem and if we do that, we can’t do this, etc. And before I know it, I’ve wasted half the morning trying to figure out the same problem that I wasted yesterday morning on. It’s become a part of our everyday chaos.
The everyday chaos in some ways is harder to deal with because it is so EVERY day. You can’t cancel school because the toilet overflowed (again). But you still have to clean up the mess. And I have to find the balance between dealing with the interruptions that are part of life and trying not to let them consume my life.
How do you deal with the daily chaos in your life?