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Homeschooling: When it Becomes Necessary

Last week, I presented a webinar on homeschooling for the Tourette Association of America and I thought it would be a great topic to tackle here on the Parent Empowerment Groups blog. My husband and I started tossing around the idea of homeschooling during the summer of 2014, after our oldest son finished first grade. We met with some friends who had chosen this route for their children and took them up on their suggestion to attend an informational day on Classical Conversations to educate ourselves on the program. After spending a lot of time thinking about this option, we felt like homeschooling wasn't the best choice for our family at that time, and sent him to second grade and our oldest daughter to kindergarten.


Fast-forward three years to 2017: we had three kids in public school (first, third, and fifth grade) and the ship was sinking. We pulled our younger son from school just shy of three months into his first grade year. He had struggled significantly during kindergarten due to his disabilities (Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, anxiety, Dysgraphia) not being properly acknowledged or accommodated. He was perceived as having a behavior disorder, though it is explicitly written in IDEA that Tourette is NOT a behavioral or conduct disorder (learn more here: https://tourette.org/media/TS-IDEA.pdf). We spent hours educating the school staff, yet he was repeatedly punished for the symptoms of his disabilities and spent a significant amount of time secluded in the principal's office and restrained because he spiraled out of control when backed into a corner.


When it became evident our efforts to educate the school staff were futile, we opted to begin homeschooling. The damage had already been done, though, and just the word "school" triggered an explosive reaction. We learned he had PTSD and it changed the way I approached educating him at home. His neuropsychologist informed us we may need to deschool him since he had such a violent, adverse reaction whenever school was mentioned and he felt it could take up to two years to do so.


Oof.


That information was a lot to digest and I felt an infinite amount of guilt for the time we spent trying to make school work for him. Looking back, I'm not sure why my husband and I were so hell-bent on that option. From the emails and phone calls I received from his principal and teacher, I knew it wasn't working, but I had no idea how bad it really was for him within those walls on a daily basis. Listening to the memories he shares, and my older kids' stories of what they heard and witnessed, makes me sick to my stomach.


Our first few months of homeschooling was a learning experience for us both. I set basic expectations, like reading each day, playing on learning apps, and sitting down with me for some basic work in math, language arts, or science, but if there was resistance and increased agitation, I didn't push it. He loved hands-on learning, so I bought some science kits he could tinker with and encouraged watching educational shows on Netflix, like The Magic School Bus, when he needed something to do.

For the most part, my main goal was to help him regulate his heightened emotions and response when he felt like he lacked control of his environment. We spent a lot of time going to therapy and trying to find doctors who could help him manage his Tourette and comorbid conditions.


My older two kiddos remained in school, but as the year progressed, my son struggled to perform, particularly with written work. We had him privately evaluated for Dysgraphia, as we knew the district was unable to do so. We were confident this "hidden disability" was the reason his grades were plummeting and knew this information would be helpful for his teachers and the administration. We shared the evaluation with them and asked for accommodations via a 504 Plan. The administrator rebuked our request and informed us he was doing "just fine" and needed no accommodations. Ugh. They had learned nothing about how a specific learning disability in written communication impacted a child and we had no fight left in us to go to battle once again to obtain an appropriate education for another one of our children.


Meanwhile, our third-grade daughter was falling behind in math and had a difficult time recalling basic math facts and grasping the multi-step processes. We suspected she, too, had a learning disability and the thought of even mentioning this to the school's team made my stomach churn. I had reached my advocating limit.


One cold Wednesday morning in January, after reading the email informing us there would be no discussion of a 504 Plan for our son, we looked at each other and said, "Screw it."


We walked out of our bedroom a half hour before we would typically leave for drop-off and told our kids they would not be going to school anymore. There was no planning. No preparation. Just a gut instinct that said they would all be better off at home. This was how I became a homeschooling mom of four kids (my youngest was just four at the time, but she joined in on daily school time, too).


Several years have passed since we made that decision. Our younger son is now going into fifth grade and has never returned to public school. The other three returned briefly in the fall of 2019. Our oldest son last only a few months in junior high before he succumbed to bullying and extreme social anxiety that wreaked havoc on his mental health. Our girls went for half of the year, but we moved to Florida in January of 2020, and opted to homeschool once again.


When our school year resumes in August, my kids will be in ninth, seventh, fifth, and third grades. It seems crazy that I have been responsible for much of their education to this point, but all-in-all, I think we're doing pretty well. For some, traditional school is just not a good fit and homeschooling becomes a necessity.


If you find yourself questioning whether or not your child would be better off transitioning to homeschooling, do your research about your state's requirements and explore your options. It can be scary to make the leap, but you may be surprised how wonderful the opportunity may be for your family. There are likely local support groups and co-ops you can try out and over time, your network will grow.


On the flip side, if you give it a try and it is not working for your family, your kiddo(s) can return to school. Remember, nothing is permanent. Making the decision to homeschool doesn't mean you're locked into it for the rest of your child's educational years. Instead, view it as an adventure and see how it unfolds.


You will never know if you don't try. It may just turn out to be the best decision you ever make for your family

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