Little J spent the last year homeschooling. We pulled him out of his public school classroom half-way through 2nd grade because the problems he’d continually experienced in school up to that point – the constant complaints about behavior, his social difficulties, his complete refusal to do homework, and the school’s slow pace at doing anything to address any of this, plus his standstill in academic progress – all convinced us that the traditional classroom wasn’t for him.
His 2nd grade teacher had started the RTI (Response to Intervention) process for him but from what I could tell it would be at least another year before he qualified for extra help, and by that time I figured that his frustration and poor behaviors would become a permanent part of his personality, if they weren’t already.
In first grade we’d requested he be evaluated for an IEP, and despite the psychoeducational report that clearly stated he needed extra help and had major deficits in all academic areas, it was denied as his classroom teacher said that he was on grade level for all subjects – something we didn’t see at home, something our child couldn’t replicate on homework, and something the teacher couldn’t demonstrate at the meeting – but since that’s what the teacher reported, that’s what the IEP team went with.
In retrospect, we should have brought an advocate. In retrospect, we should have appealed. In retrospect, the standardized test the school gave him at the start of 2nd grade that showed below 5th percentile on all measures that should have kicked in intensive interventions should have alerted the school to what we’d been saying all along…but it didn’t. Shoulda coulda woulda.
It was like they had decided our kid was kind of bad and kind of dumb…and what do you do with a kid like that? Apparently our home school district does nothing.
Meanwhile, our home life had become explosive – J was usually completely worked up from a hard day at school and so needed to scream at SOMEONE to get his rage out, and on the rare day I’d attempt to get him to do homework (or the additional packet of work the teacher sent home that hadn’t been completed during the school day) it’d start more battles that wouldn’t end until we all tumbled, exhausted from the battle, into bed.
So we pulled him. Quit school. At first, it was really hard. J. would scream and fight me any time I’d bring up academic work, and he also had a hard time focusing on much of anything. He’d spend the day walking around the house, bossing me around, begging to be taken out to eat and refusing to comply with any request I made, no matter how fun. All he wanted to do was watch television, which I wouldn’t allow him to do. He fought and I fought and it was horrible. It was better than school had been, weirdly enough, but it was bad.
Then I got some really good advice from fellow homeschooling moms. They told me to take it easy. Decompress. Deschool. Quit trying to get J. to do anything academic and just relax.
So we did. From March until September he did little in the way of formal academics. If he wanted to watch something “educational” (meaning nothing on the Nickelodeon channel) he had to read to me, but beyond that he spent his days working on projects in the shed, attending homeschool activities like playgroup, art, Lego club, outdoor camps, and play practices. All was good. We essentially became unschoolers.
Unschooling is a philosophy that espouses that children should lead the way in their learning, and they’ll learn what they’ll need to learn when they need to learn it. Reading, math, science, etc. will all come along naturally. To read more about unschooling, please go here. Many kids thrive in the unschool environment, and there are many great things about it, but…
…although J loved having his time as his own, and by focusing on play and being friendly when we were around kids and limiting social encounters to supervised situations he actually jumped a grade level or two in terms of his social skills, he also never, ever chose to read or write or explore mathematical concepts like telling time or money or simple addition and subtraction – the kind you need to understand the world around you. I could tell that if I let him, he’d be in that shop for years, banging away on boards, stealing his daddy’s tools, and the thought of that made me really, really uncomfortable.
Also, knowing what I know about his brain and his lack of short term memory and his deficits in language processing (if you don’t know me from this blog already, you should know that J. doesn’t “just” have ADHD, but has FASD – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – which is the umbrella diagnosis covering his ADHD, SPD, bipolar, borderline intelligence, dysgraphia, poor working memory, processing disorder, etcetera, etcetera.) made me concerned that if he wasn’t using what he knew, he’d lose it. And he wasn’t likely to simply “pick up” reading skills and math skills like average intelligence children would in an unschooling situation.
So we started up school again. The day after Labor Day. The first couple weeks were rough, followed by a full month where we were in the groove – he’d read to me, cooperate with whatever other academic tasks I’d set up for him, and he even learned how to add double-digits using an abacus. In October we’d generally have 3 good, productive days out of the 5. And by “productive” I mean he’d do what I asked for about an hour and a half a day. That was our school day. An hour and a half. The rest of the time he banged on boards in the shed, accompanied me and his brother to homeschooling activities, and enjoyed a great deal of free time. I figured if that was what school was going to be like for him, then it was okay with me. Success.
It was hard on me, don’t get me wrong. He is an intense child and has many social deficits, not to mention negative behaviors, and it took all my energy to be around him all day long – and some days I didn’t quite make it. And I have a company to run. And I help with my husband’s business. And I have another child, and a husband, and a house…you get the picture.
And then, one day, he refused.
Three days of work each week went to maybe one day, and the rest of the time we’d spend fighting about what he should be doing, how I was mean, and how I never let him do anything fun. I wasn’t willing to go back to the way things had been in the spring, and he wasn’t willing to do anything academic.
Now, instead of J learning and thriving and being successful as a way of showing that the sacrifices I was making in my work, my family, my health, and my emotional well-being was all worthwhile – there was nothing. There was refusal, and oppositionality, and name-calling and frustration.
And then, one day, I decided that I’d had enough.
After fighting about it and having a miserable several weeks and racking my brain as to how to MAKE him read with me and MAKE him practice writing and MAKE him learn math I finally offered him an out: either do the work with me or go to school.
“I want to go to school.”
Every couple of days I would test his decision.” Do you want to do work with me or go to school?”
And so, Tuesday of last week, he went back to school. Not back to the elementary school that hadn’t helped him, but to a non-traditional, tiny, private school that helps kids with special needs like his.
And so far, so good. He seems to like the school well enough, although he definitely misses the homeschool activities and working on projects in the shed. But maybe more importantly at this point, I finally, finally feel like I can breathe again. Not being around such an intensely needy child is allowing me to be a much better parent to him when I am around him. Much better. I don’t constantly feel like I’ve had it up to here. I can put up with it, and be reflective about the best way to react and the best way to help him learn and understand. I am happy to give the reins to someone else for a while.
I don’t regret homeschooling him, but I sure don’t miss it!
(image by flickr user stevendepolo)