When your main occupation is schooling your children at home, sometimes it’s hard to decide what comes first. What should you concentrate your energies on? What is highest on the list, among so many things of great importance?
When we first began homeschooling in 2010, it all seemed pretty clear to me. Just getting my son out of the special ed classroom, that self-contained class of fourteen who happened to have roughly the same diagnosis, roughly the same age, seemed to me to be of primary importance.
I had been volunteering in the classroom, so I had seen a thing or two.
I had seen the kids playing on computers, or standing patiently in line on the little patch of vinyl that had their name on it. I had seen them checking their schedules and participating in cooking exercises.
I had seen them gathering for story time, one of them perched precariously on the back of his chair, expertly wobbling it to and fro on the back two legs. I had seen adapted PE and even a choral concert at Christmas.
Why, with so many lovely activities, so many earnest and well-meaning people involved, would I want to run away?
I had borne witness to other things as well. A biting incident. An attempted escape. An actual take-down. A disturbing, yet tolerated, pre-pubescent cuddle.
I could also read the signs, proclaiming that my son was not welcome.
The stares of the other kids, as the class walked down the hall, or as they played on their own special playground. The notes from the gen ed teacher, about how, in oh so many ways, my son was not suited for inclusion. The egalitarian administrators’ refusal to give me any additional help, when I actually tried walking my kids to school for a week. The teacher’s awkward, embarrassed, but accusatory account of my son’s shameful actions when he pushed a table, when he hurt another child.
I was aghast that these things could happen. Even more so, that my son could have had a part in them.
It was a fine place, but if they could not protect him, or protect others from him, how could I ever sleep at night? And so, I pulled him out.
School at Home
Once he was home, I began to attempt school at home. I thought I needed to buy a chalkboard and a tiny desk, do every class every day, memorize and follow all the Florida state standards.
I soon gave up on that.
Suddenly the sweet side of my son reappeared. He did want to imitate school—to do early morning warm up exercises for example—but soon he was able to be more flexible. We did lots of park outings, lots of museums and art activities. He progressed, he enjoyed life, he blossomed.
My main priority in the first few years–which I think, at least for a time, we achieved– was to make him love learning again.
Changing with Age
But how do you decide what to prioritize later, as you become a more seasoned homeschooler, as your child advances in age and ability?
I brought my younger son home the second year we homeschooled, and both boys did a lot of work together, until about middle school. As my younger son became more independent in his learning, my older boy continued to need structure.
We split their sessions, so that Math, Language Arts, and Science were learned separately, while social studies was more of a read-aloud, together. It was a longer, but less frustrating day for me. We joined a co-op and incorporated current events and interests into our programming.
When Disaster Strikes
Last year, an earthquake rocked my world.
At the same time that my adolescent older son was becoming more and more difficult to control, my own health was deteriorating. I had a hip problem that went from irritating to debilitating, and the only answer was surgery. As I waited months on end for that date to come, we suffered chaos and confusion in the home.
Things were broken. Words were said. Feelings were hurt. Many things went undone.
What were my priorities at that time? Safety, for one. We all needed to be safe in the home.
I relied on my younger son to manage much of his own workload, which he did brilliantly.
I, meanwhile, concentrated on, first, managing my older son’s behavior, and only then, adding schoolwork, as he could handle it. We ultimately had to add medication and art therapy into the mix, but not before trying everything else.
During this time, the Florida Standards did not even cross my mind.
Keep the Flame
So, what are my priorities for this year?
It’s hard to tell until you’re deep into it, what will prove most potent, most valuable. But now that things have settled down a bit, and I can walk on two strong legs, I think my greatest desire is to have a simple, predictable, executable routine that is flexible enough to allow us to grab all the great opportunities that come our way.
And still, to never blow out that precious flame of learning.