the unlikely homeschooler

montessori homeschool

Back when I was teaching, I thought homeschoolers were strange denim-jumper wearing aliens who hid their kids in attics and basements.  I kid.  I knew one homeschooler: my cousin Tara, who incidentally, finished high school at home and quickly went on to pursue her dream as an interior designer.  Now, in her early 30s, she’s living the dream she set out for at 15.  Don’t worry-she’s totally socialized.  I kid, the “socialization” issue is another homeschool topic I with attack with gusto in the coming months.

So, the word “homeschool” was in my vocabulary, but never in a million years did I ever even consider “homeschool” as an option for us.  Until, well, until it was.

I fought at first.  Kicking and screaming.  I cried.  I panicked.  Then, I did it anyway.

Now, entering year two of this strange path…it feels right.

montessori homeschool

I value the kids’ input in this decision, of course.  I asked Monkey, “Do you want to homeschool or go to the regular school down the street?”

Without skipping a beat, “Homeschool, no regular school.”

“Why?”

“Regular school is too loud, it makes me all dizzy. Too many kids.  Homeschool is fun.  Regular school is too crazy.”

I asked Moose, “Do you want to go back to regular school or stay with homeschool?”

“No school. No, OKAY!” Then, he burst into tears.  Okay, kid, point taken!

So, we enter year 2, of homeschool, with three students.   A freshly minted 6 year old reading at a third grade level,  a near 8 year old with a long road ahead, and the toughest student of all: a 35 year old with a hell of a lot to learn and unlearn about learning.  We enter with eyes wide open, ready to dive into new experiences, new groups, and new paths.

I’d never thought I’d be a homeschooler, but the world of autism and special needs has a way of throwing you curve balls.

And sometimes, you realize that all your life and work experience has prepared you for this moment.

Year two, bring it on.

 

Nicolette

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early birds and late bloomers: the missing ingredient from public schools

John Taylor Gatto quotes

My sons are polar opposites.  Monkey starting reading, on his own accord, rather early.  If I present a new topic to him once, he masters it.  Moose, on the other hand, needs tremendous amount of time, energy, and attention to learn new topics.  Repetition, movement, and music seem to be the modalities he responds to best. With a little under three months since Moose joined our homeschool unit, we still have a lot of adjusting to do!

What is happening in my lil’ homeschool happened in my classrooms as well.  Students enter your classroom door with an incredible variety of levels across all areas.  Differentiation is the buzzword in education these days, and teachers can differentiate until their energy levels tank out, and the simple fact remains: it’s humanly impossible to customize each student’s education.

Unless…you homeschool.

Sure, in the classroom, there’s guided reading and math groups, and workshops: but consider the 1:1 attention a child receives a day in schools.  It’s virtually non-existent unless that child is pulled out with IEP services, OT, ST, PT, etc.

Small groups still don’t have the same customization of 1:1 attention. That’s why homeschool works better, and even then, with two little ones in my care, it’s still damn hard.

I come to the homeschool table with a variety of grade levels and school environments under my belt.  After leaving the classroom, I ran a small tutoring business for five years, and worked 1:1 with special needs kids. I also have a PhD in the University of Autism.

I’m still the first to raise my hand and admit, I don’t know it all.  Not even close. But I know where to look and what questions to ask.  I know when to ask for help and when to fire said help.

So, a few months in, I’m reassembling Team Moose.  My mom is helping.  My best friend, Zia, is helping.  We recently found a new speech and OT that is beyond a dream come true…I can WATCH the sessions. There’s a symbiotic relationship already!

It takes a village, they say.  No, it doesn’t.  It takes an Olympic team of heavy-weight champions.

What better people to help us, than the ones most invested.  Those who really LOVE Moose.

It’s the principle that guides Son-Rise and RDI: it’s love.

Love is what makes a homeschool different than a public school.  It’s the missing subject really.  Sure, I loved my students when I was in the classroom.  I was the teacher who went to birthday parties and did home visits, especially at my first school.

Nothing in this world matters to me more than my children.  So, it was high time to take matters into my own hands. Running a homeschool and a small business and a home, for that matter, is exhausting work.  I’ve never worked harder in my life, frankly, than I have the past year.

But fueled by love and grace, we will get there.

John Taylor Gatto quotes

 

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Deschooling: The Great Public School Hangover

homeschooling and autism

I’m closing in our first year of homeschool with our youngest son, and it’s been over two months since I dove headfirst into homeschooling Moose.  From what I gather around the interwebs and every single book I’ve read about homeschooling, there is a period of “deschooling” that occurs once you wave farewell to traditional school.

I figured, HA! Deschool?  Really? We have SO much catching up to do! There’s no time to waste! Hurry! Rush! Plan!  If I can teach a class of 30 8th graders in Chicago, I can handle my two hoodlums.  Let’s do this!

How wrong I was.  I needed to ease in, not dive head first.  Hence, the “deschooling”.

Homeschool is a different beast.  It’s not learning from the hours of 7:45-2:45.  It’s a hands-on 24-7 job.  I thought teaching was tough, but it doesn’t measure up to  Sometimes we have character education at 4:00 am.  Sometimes informal, but real world math happens at the grocery store.  Every homeschool is different, just as every person is.  When you throw special needs homeschooling into the mix, well, you have a responsibility that is as heavy as Atlas carrying the world.

I’ve schooled many children over the years.  Over a 1,000 by the end of my teaching career.  But your own?  The process is different.  The investment is far deeper.  School is school, filled with procedures, routines, grades, testing, and tight schedules. Homeschool isn’t that.  It’s fluid, adaptable, and real.

Don’t worry, kids.  This isn’t on the test.

There is no test.

In life, the test is first, and the lesson second.

In school, we have it backwards.  Teach the lesson, then test.

Homeschool isn’t school, it’s life.

Now that I have been outside the public and private school system for a few years, my perspective is far different.  They say hindsight is 20/20, but know I feel like I have x-ray vision when it comes to the education of children, specifically my children.

We are going about this ALL wrong.  I used to make kids sit for 7 hours.

Kids are built to move, not sit.  I have two sons who are literally allergic to sitting in desks.

Kids are natural learners, and we suck the life out of them with standardized learning and testing.

Deschooling isn’t a break from public or private schooling, for me, it’a reevaluation of what education is.  My real education started the day I finished graduate school.

I’m still in the process of relearning about learning. Still in the process of defining what our homeschool is.  But that definition isn’t up to me exclusively, my sons are the architects of their own learning.

There’s no out-of-the-box curriculum for either of my sons.

For now, I will look to one of the greatest minds in education, Maria Montessori.  Her words are simple, profound, and deviate from what regular school actually does, but something that every parent and teacher needs to hear:

Follow the child.

homeschooling and autism

 

 

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Farewell, Chicago Public Schools. Hello, Homeschool.

public school to homeschool

Our days of fighting the morning beast are over.

Starting two months ago, Moose full-on STOPPED sleeping.  Like falling asleep close to midnight, despite his 8:00 bedtime.  He would itch his skin until he bled.  Refused to eat breakfast.  Fought me kicking and screaming to avoid his school uniform.  The morning, on his developmentally inappropriate amount of sleep, was a parent’s worst nightmare.  Kids at Moose’s age generally need 10-11 hours of sleep.  He was getting 6.  Not good for a kid with autism.  He started biting and acting out.  The poor kid.

I looked and felt like a mother with a newborn who never slept.  So, we would roll up to his school, sometimes two hours late.  It was bad.  And it kept getting worse.  Some days, it was just too hard to even fight him.  One morning, he bit me five times.  We didn’t even bother showing up to school that day.

I prayed.  I prayed harder than I ever had in my life. The big, wet tears kind of praying that gets ugly.  I asked God, please give me a sign.

Then, the IEP meeting from hell happened.

That was the sign.

No, it was more than a sign.  It was a giant SLAP in the face with a sledgehammer.  No one was on the same page.  No one.  I left there deflated and defeated.  I knew what I had to do.

School just wasn’t working anymore.  Moose’s behavior dictated that.  The eczema, food strikes, insomnia, and the rage were the big signs.

Without words, Moose shouted the loudest in those final months of public school.

So, a few weeks back.  I did it.

The scariest thing I have ever done.

I brought him home.

public school to homeschool

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on homeschool, learning, and new chapters…

dinosaur unit homeschool

A few months into homeschooling, and I realize, that my years of teaching and my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, don’t mean so much.  I ran into a father I knew from my sons’ school a few days back.  He casually mentioned that the only reason I could homeschool is because I was a teacher.  I laughed, and said, if anything, it’s a detriment! My teaching years were rough, and it’s one of the very reasons homeschool will ALWAYS be on the table for my family.

This fall, I had only one “student” enrolled here at the homeschool.  My youngest, dear Monkey, is by far, the most challenging teacher I have had.

I no longer look at him as a “student”, but rather, a partner in this messy process known as homeschooling.  Sometimes, it’s messy. Sometimes, it’s so beautiful, to see a connection made, a lightbulb moment.

I’ve learned that so much time in a school day is wasted.  Kids can accomplish great feats in a 1:1 environment.  Kids can learn to read without a structured program or curriculum.  Some readers are born from love of shared reading, like Monkey.  He astounds people at how well he reads.  I never taught him, he just absorbed the culture of our home.

I’ve learned that learning happens best in the real world, on the move.  I’ve learned for most kids, ignite the fire of curiosity and step away.

I’ve learned WAY more about dinosaurs that I’ve ever thought possible.  I could be raising the next dinosaur whisperer.

dinosaur unit homeschool

I’ve learned that kids sitting in desks and chairs is quite possibly the WORST thing to happen to childhood.  Working on the floor is grand.  There’s more math at the farmer’s market or grocery store than there is in any primary math curriculum.

I’ve learned fresh air cures all. Recess should be early and often.  Monkey and I walk at least a mile or two a day.  He is much more focused after a long trek with the dog.

I’ve come far in this semester, and now, it’s time to reflect a bit.  Homeschooling has magnified the ugly parts of me: my impatience, my disorganization at times, and my tendency to burn the candle at both ends.

It’s reinvigorated the teacher side of me: the playful, the curious, the fun.  Except, this time, it isn’t other people’s children.  It’s my own.  Sure, I don’t have the energy I did when I was 23 and childless, but I still have that love for learning.  There’s no greater gift I can give him than the time we’ve had.

As far as my oldest son Moose, we’ve been flexschooling Moose this year.  He leaves his autism program early each day, so we have time to work on life skills.  Simple things like shopping off a list at a grocery store, when it’s not a sensory overloaded hellhole.  A visit to a Nature Center.  Time to learn to ride a bike! All of the things we didn’t have time for when ABA therapy dominated our lives a year ago.

autism and life skills

A 7 hour school day is exhausting for him, so the early dismissal makes for a happy Moose.  The direction of Moose’s school days is in limbo now.  He is a “learner on the move” and the traditional school paradigm, isn’t really working for him.  Kinesthetic and tactile learners do not fair well in a visual/auditory classroom environment.  Most autism classrooms are heavily invested in PECS, and after 5 years of beating working with PECS visuals, I think a change is due.

He turned 7 this past October, and his language has flatlined.  Anxiety and severe eczema have dominated this entire semester. He isn’t reading, or doing the basic academic goals lined out in his IEP without maximum assistance.  I will never give up hope, but rather, we will leave no “therapy” or “avenue” unturned.

The only thing we really haven’t tried at this point, is NOT outsourcing a thing.  School is outsourcing, homeschool is the DIY hands-on approach that could possibly elevate Moose to the next level.

I’ve been trying out some Montessori methodology with him and have had great results.  I was told he would only whole word read, and NOT learn phonics, but he is learning the sounds and letter formation through Montessori sandpaper letters!  Sure, it will take more time and energy, but we will get there.

montessori homeschool

So, homeschool, seems the only viable option for him as well.  The Chicago Public School system has between 13-16 kids in their autism programs, which, is WAY to big for him.  He needs as small as possible.

Here at the homeschool, class size of 2!  Plus, one obnoxious school mascot.

With question, he will be home with Monkey and me this fall, if not sooner, depending on a variety of circumstances.  If anything, I need some time to plan and prep.  I’m looking into some additional training this March on Orton-Gillingham methodology.

I never set out to be a “special needs” teacher.  I remember when I was subbing for a bit, after Moose was born, I was placed often in sped classrooms. It never dawned on me that I would be thrown head first into this world of special needs on the other side of the desk.  I remember when I was a classroom teacher, feeling awful, that the IEP process was such a colossal pain.  I remember it took an ENTIRE school year to obtain services for one of my lowest students.  The system is broken.  It truly is.

It’s so different advocating for your own kids. These aren’t just students who will move on next year to a teacher down the hall.  These children are my heart, my life.  I’ve grown tired.  Tired of fighting the systems and powers that be.  Tired of the revolving doors of therapies and opinions.   The David and Goliath story reigns true. But sometimes, David knows best, instead of putting your energy in the fight, you put your energy into the two reasons you fight instead.

homeschooling and autism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I am homeschooling…

John Taylor Gatto quotes

After a long and difficult process of sleepless nights and agonizing, after long talks with my husband, we’ve decided to jump the public school ship for our youngest son next year. Monkey will turn 5 just a few weeks before the school year starts.  Many parents opt for “red-shirting” (which is holding a child back a year).  My husband is in agreement that despite our youngest son’s academic readiness, a 7 hour school day complete with a HUGE class size is too much for our little guy to handle at this point.

Monkey’s IEP points to auditory processing delays, and a traditional classroom relies HEAVILY on that learning modality.   My husband’s reasoning for Monkey to school at home is different than mine: he was the youngest in his class and he felt that put him at a disadvantage.  I don’t think a traditional classroom will serve Monkey well.  It’s a square peg meets round hole situation.  He’s the type of kid who teaches himself.  Like he did to read.  By himself.  Through fairy dust and osmosis.

Red-shirting means many things for the “young 5s”, especially boys who typically need more time in the realm of social-emotional development.  CPS frowns down upon red-shirting, and will simply sort kids Harry Potter style by age, without any regard for anything OTHER than age. As it stands, we are keeping Monkey out of public school. Period.

The kicker as of right now? Moose will stay in his autism program under “flex-hours” to fit his afternoon therapy schedule.

So, one son is homeschooled, rather the PC term is “home educated”.  The other son is still in school.

I finally got around to reading a book I meant to read a decade ago when I was finishing my master’s degree in education.  A book called Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto.  And wow.  Just wow.

John Taylor Gatto quotes

 

 

So true.  The best education is the one you give yourself.  You can pay for fancy private schools.  High-priced tutors.  But, no school or teacher can give you an “education”.  Autism has given me MORE of an education than either of my degrees.  I’ve learned more blogging than I did in college.

Life is education.  School is schooling.

About “schools” here in Chicago:

Class sizes in our CPS schools are between 35-37 kids in kindergarten.  Moose’s kinder only has 10 kids with a superb teacher and two aides. For Monkey, he will be thrown in huge class with a pared down IEP.  Monkey is already reading.

So while most kindergarten teachers are spending times on letter sounds and easy preprimer sight words…my son already has that down.  So, what do you get when you put a bored kid with a few sensory issues in a huge class size with tons of distractions?

A recipe for disaster.

I’m not stupid.  I have been there. Done that. Have the tee-shirt.

As a former teacher, I know how little time is spent on personalized instruction when you have a class size that HUGE.  An IEP says one thing, but true differentiation of instruction is a unicorn. It only happens in a 1:1 setting.  So, what, 20 minutes a day in a guided reading group?  Will that really challenge my son?

I’m not saying that teachers are incompetent, by NO means.  Teachers works their asses off.  They are just given the impossible task of differentiating instruction in a system that is beyond broken.

I want more than that for my children.  Moose’s situation as it stands, is a good one.  For now.  After 2nd grade, in two years, we will face the same choice for him.

Outside the public school system, the schools don’t fare much better. Montessori would be ideal, but the tuition is more than my mortgage. No joke.  For Monkey, private school tuition ranges from 5-6K a year in the Catholic school to upwards of 20K a year for Montessori and other private schools.  That’s a lot to chew, when I know I can do a better job with Monkey.

I know exactly his weaknesses and his strengths.

Sure, I know it will be hell at first.

Just like when I was 25 years old teaching on the west side of Chicago.

But you adjust and make do.

Monkey is a strong-willed and rather gifted kid who wants to do everything on his own terms.

So, starting this summer, expect to see more homeschooling come about here.

 

Nicolette

 

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