Saturday, June 8, 2013

Against the Odds: Why I am Choosing to Homeschool

Whether I am making major decisions in or out of the classroom, I usually follow a process and do my best to refrain from making rash decisions based on emotions and reactions.  First, I will research to see what the experts have to say... I will then pray... I will make a list of pros and cons... I will pray... and along the way talk to family, friends, and colleagues who have made a similar decision.

 

A few months ago, my husband and I started to seriously discuss my homeschooling our youngest child.  The one with Selective Mutism.  The one that although has struggled since he entered preschool as a three year old, has made incredible progress with his social anxiety.   His academic performance is within the normal range, he ended his kindergarten year whispering to his teacher, even giving a couple presentations in front of his class and parents (all whispered- but still he stood up and "talked").  He now looks forward to attending friends' birthday parties (although he won't speak or whisper to the other children), talks to clerks and waitresses, talks to strangers in the neighborhood, and when visiting new friends' homes.

But this is also the kid that for this entire school year would come home from school angry, frustrated, and sometimes full of rage.  Just when I would get him calmed down, it would be bed time and his anxiety about the next day would drive him to tears.  In the morning, my usually jovial child would refuse to get dressed and sob that he did not want to go to school.  He begged me to homeschool him. We knew that much of this behavior was a result of  him not being able to talk out loud or express his emotions the entire day.  All his emotions were repressed and stifled.



First day of kindergarten... note his facial expression

Once he got to school, his day would go better.  He never did talk out loud, but thanks to his teachers and everyone from the custodians to secretaries to the principal to teacher aids, he became more relaxed and comfortable.  However, looks are deceiving.  Inside he was filled with anxiety.  All.day.long. He did not talk or whisper to other children at recess and did not like days when the routine was altered such as when there were parties.

But he made it through a rough school year.  And so did I.  But then my husband and I decided that what was best for our family was for me to not work outside the home.  With that decision meant I could no longer afford to send the boys to the private school they attended.  The school we all love.  

The thought of putting Christopher in public school terrified him and me. He had made so much progress in and especially out of school with his social interactions.  We were afraid if he were to attend public school next fall, he would regress, which is common in some children with Selective Mutism when faced with major changes. Their coping skills are immature and they are not equipped to deal with the "normal" stressful situations that their peers can.  For many S.M. children, school is the source of intense pressure and anxiety.

So, we entertained the idea of homeschooling.  God had called me home to nurture and take care of my family.  Did that also include homeschooling?  What did the research say about homeschooling a Selective Mutism child?  Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, a leading expert in the field of S.M., states in her book Easing School Jitters for the Selectively Mute Child (2011) that she is against homeschooling the S.M. child unless there is consistent social interaction with the child's peers.  Yes, the parent(s) can provide authentic, "real-world" social interactions throughout the day as the parent attends to errands and appointments.  However, learning is a social activity that is optimized when collaborating with one's peers.  How would I replicate that in a homeschool environment with only one child?  Would attending a co-op setting once a week be enough?

After more praying and talking with colleagues, including my son's guidance counselor, we made the commitment to homeschool next year.


Why Have We Chosen to Homeschool ?
  • To prevent Christopher from having to deal with too many changes that could possibly affect his mutism.  See, what I have not mentioned thus far is that we are also moving to a new town thirty-five minutes away.  In three weeks, he will leave the only house and neighborhood that he has ever known.  We think that moving, leaving his school, and entering a brand new school would be too much.
  • God has called me to be home with my children as a stay-at-home mom to fulfill my calling as a full time mom who is not distracted my the pressures and demands of also working outside the home.  I want all my decisions to glorify God and to be what is best for my entire family. That includes bringing my child home to educate him. To allow him to embrace learning in an environment where he can talk about his learning. As teachers, we know how very vital it is to discuss one's learning. Brain based research tells us that learning is not a solitary behavior. Learning is augmented when done is social situations that involves various modalities and social interactions.
  • To capitalize on Christopher's progress in social situations outside of the house.  He has worked so hard and now talks in public in almost all situations.  Within the last two weeks, we visited two new friends' homes.  He talked out loud, played, and interacted with the other children.  Children he had never met before.
  • We want to help him apply these skills in more structured, "school-like" situations.  For example, attending craft time at the library.  Participating in sports.  Attending homeschool functions and co-ops. We want to remove the stress from a brick and mortar school and work on changing his perception that any school environment is frightening.  We will take baby steps to help him develop more appropriate coping skills in dealing with his intense anxiety.
  • And eventually, we will help him to desensitize and apply these skills when visiting his older brother's school.  If he accompanies me to his brother's school without the pressure of being a student there, then there is a very good chance that he will feel comfortable, may even talk out loud, and be able to transition to the school in a year or two.
  • In a nutshell, because his social anxiety is now almost exclusive to school situations, if we remove him from a traditional school, we lessen the stress. In turn, we build off his strengths of socializing in other public places, and then desensitize him to a new school environment, the one his brother will attend.
I realize that homeschooling is not for everyone.  I never in a million years thought that I would homeschool.

But this is my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

What is your story?  Do you have any pearls of wisdom to share as an experienced homeschool parent?  I welcome your advice and suggestions!




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16 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can't wait to see how his year goes. :)

    Martha
    My Primary Paradise

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    1. Thank you, Martha! This will be an exciting journey for sure!

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  2. Lauren, I have no words of wisdom for homeschooling as it wasn't something that I did with my own children. However, I've had two children with selective mutism come through my classroom in recent years and witnessed first hand how difficult and stressful life in the classroom can be for them. For both of these girls, being in the classroom was still the best option as their parents were not up to the challenge of homeschooling them. By the end of their fifth grade year with me, both were able to speak within the classroom setting, one more confidently than the other. In fact, she is now quite the chatterbox making up for years of silence! But that doesn't change what the first five years of school must have been like for these two precious girls. Your decision is based on very sound reasons and I doubt that you will ever regret it. I wish the best for you and your family!

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    1. Hi Lori- Thank you for sharing your inspiring experience with S.M. My hope and prayer is that my son will be the chatterbox at school one day that he is at home! I thank you for your encouragement! :-) Lauren

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  3. HI Lauren,

    I am in awe of your commitment to your son. It sounds like you know exactly what he needs right now, and have planned accordingly! =) My sister homeschool's my nieces, ages 10 & 11, because in my teacher wisdom, I once said to her that homeschooling was a better choice due to the pressures of testing, large class sizes, and all the other nonsense we deal with day to day in the public school. We sat down and wrote out exactly how many minutes a day my nieces would actually be learning in the school environment and looked at all sides if they were advanced, average or below average learners. She decided to homeschool. It is now six years later and their current test scores show them to achieving way way way beyond their grade level. My sister makes every day count, whether its classroom instruction or a visit to the zoo. They are more prepared for life at their age than most children I know. So you will do great! For a homeschool child, every moment is a teachable moment. There is so much they have learned they never would have learned in a public school classroom. I am sure she would be more than happy to provide you with any insight you may need. She stays current on curriculum and does lots of research before deciding. I wish you and your family the best of luck and the peace you so deserve!
    Samantha
    Ms.Smarty Pants

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    1. Hi Samantha, Thank you for sharing about your sister. She sounds like an incredibly talented and dedicated mom! And you are right, every moment is a teachable one, if I remember to slow down and savor the the little things! Does your sister have a blog? :-) Lauren

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  4. Hi Lauren,

    I have a lot of respect for you, making the decision you have to stay home and teach your son. You'll not regret making the decision as a family. One thing that rang true for me was what you wrote about simplifying your life by getting rid of the clutter and finding peace. The clutter doesn't always have to be tangible, but rather stresses of daily life. It sounds like you've found a happy place. Your son will only benefit from your choice that you've made as a family. Thank you for sharing your story. I have no doubt that it will inspire many people. I know that it has inspired me.

    Wishing you and your family all the best.

    Dani
    Crayonbox Learning

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    1. Hi Dani- Thank you for your sweet and thoughtful reply. It touches my heart to know that I have inspired you and possibly others. You are right- the clutter and the garbage in my post was a metaphor for the stresses that just about buried me alive. The state of education in public and private school is beyond messy. I keep wondering why we have made it so complicated? I'm coming home and keeping it real and simple. Thank you for stopping by! :-) Lauren

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  5. All the best with your homeschooling! Our 10th year will be in the fall. My youngest son has Sensory Processing Disorder and quickly becomes anxious, overwhelmed and irritated in traditional classrooms. Being able to keep him home, make adjustments in his schooling for success and giving him time for OT/LT has made a HUGE difference. He's even been discharged from therapy!

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    1. Hi Jessy- What an inspiring story! I am so happy that your son has had much success and I can only pray that my son will as well. Thank you for stopping by! :-) Lauren

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  6. What a wonderful, well thought out post. My son has ADHD/ODD/and very probably Sensory Processing Disorder. We don't homeschool because of his diagnoses, we decided to homeschool long before that, but because of that, I can't imagine the stress he would be under in a brick-and-mortar school setting. And that would, of course, manifest itself in his behavior. ((((hugs)))) to your, and best wishes and prayers on your journey!

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    1. Thank you, Kristi, for your encouraging words! I am so excited for this new adventure and being able to teach my own child I'm a bit anxious, but my husband is so supportive and actually wants me to homeschool both of the youngest boys. Stay tuned; I'll be sharing my journey! :-) Lauren

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  7. Good luck Lauren! I am actually considering the same choice for my 4-year old for the year after next, which I also never thought I would ever consider. I am mostly concerned about the class sizes and the fact that all specials have just been cut due to budget cuts. But, I am still on the fence and have to do some more research myself. If I can find a good HS coop, I might jump over that line for sure. :) Let us know how it goes! And make sure to check out The Homeschool Chicks and Teaching with TLC blogs (a few friends of mine). Good luck and I am sure he will flourish - no one is a better teacher than a caring, loving parent.

    Charity
    Organized Classroom

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    1. Hi Charity- I'm so honored that you stopped by and I thank you for the homeschool blogs for me to check out. This summer my mission is to get my homeschool room set up and to start networking with other moms. I am using a cyber school which is free here in PA and includes certified teachers that instruct on-line and offer support. My middle child will enter public school for the first time in the fall as a 2nd grader (he's been in private school since he was 3). If it doesn't work out, I'm bringing him home for school as well. From my research and people I have talked to, they have nothing but positives to say about homeschooling. :-) Lauren

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  8. Hi Lauren. Next year will be our first "real," full homeschool year, as my daughter will be in kindergarten. It was a shocking decision for us as well, as we always thought those who homeschooled were the weirdest of the weird. However, as we got to know our child, and looked ahead at what the options were, we just kept coming back to that I could do a better job at home than in a group of 20+ kids who are at such differing learning spots, public or private. We did pre-k twice a week at a local church this past year and did a little homeschool stuff at home, but we will be using real curriculum and have a real schedule starting in the fall. Good luck making the transition!

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    1. Hi Kate! Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing! Class size is a big issue with me too. Some kids can handle being in a large kids and others cannot, for they kind of get "lost in the shuffle". My boys were in a private school the last 4 yrs where they had small class sizes. This past school year (grades k,1) they had no more than 14 in their class. What curriculum are you planning to use? I wish you a very fun and productive school year. Stop by and let me know how it's going! :-) Lauren

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