Our oldest child, Joshua, is 8, and he was diagnosed with Kabuki Syndrome when he was 22 months of age. Thankfully he began various therapies at birth due to health, feeding, and developmental issues, and we have had a wonderful group of therapists, teachers, and other trained and knowledgeable people support us over the years. We’re grateful for the many professionals who have taught, empowered, and supported us during these almost 7 years. After 15 months of home-based therapy, Joshua attended a phenomenal clinic-based program for toddlers with special needs from 19 months until 3 years of age. He then attended three full years of public special education preschool with some of the best teachers and therapists imaginable.
Since my husband and I have made our son’s educational decisions on a yearly basis, the spring of 2009 was full of thoughts about Kindergarten. I visited several classrooms that were recommended to me for Joshua for Kindergarten. I was impressed with the level of expertise of the teachers I visited with and their low student to teacher ratio. However, there were several things that didn’t sit well with me about sending Joshua to school this year. We decided, because of some reasons I will share with you, to homeschool Joshua this year, and it’s been a year full of challenges, achievements, victories, and joy. Making decisions about a child’s education can be stressful, scary, exciting, frustrating, and everything similar and in-between. My husband and I weighed our options, and decided that homeschooling was the very best thing we could do for Joshua this year. We knew that there would be many things I’d have to change about myself and how I manage our home to make it work, and we were ready to make the sacrifices. We believed that we could offer Joshua the right individualized education, flexibility, encouragement, and support.
Our biggest reason for choosing to homeschool Joshua is that homeschooling allows us to teach our kids that our family is their source for strength, support, and love. We do this by spending the best hours of the day with Joshua. As a society, we put our kids into school buildings for the best hours of the days, and then we are amazed that they don't want to be around their families as they grow up. We haven't taught them that family is important. We have taught them that their peer groups are far better to draw upon to work out daily struggles and challenges. We want Joshua (and our two younger children) to bring their struggles, challenges, and joys to our family for help, support, and celebration.
We love that Joshua can work at his own pace and learn academic concepts, social behaviors, and life skills to mastery. He isn’t labeled as a poor or difficult student. Homeschooling eliminates the comparisons, labels, social pressures, and distractions that a regular classroom brought. Also, I am allowing Joshua to develop socially and emotionally at the rate that is his. Homeschooling gives us the freedom to allow this growth naturally. Joshua behaves and engages others socially at about a 3 year-old level, so Joshua is not pressured and pushed to be someone he’s not and continues to make progress through sibling interaction, therapy, and social outlets. Homeschooling is not just academic training, but life training. Joshua needs solid and repeated training in personal care, and homeschooling allows me to teach him in the setting where the work needs to be done.
The number one question I get from others about homeschooling is about socialization. How does Joshua learn appropriate social cues, behaviors, and how does he gain friends? Often, the number one difficulty teachers have in the classroom is how to get the kids to STOP socializing so they can teach. A social environment is not a very good educational one. School as a social environment can be quite detrimental. Children learn the painful social lessons of being odd friend out at recess, how getting a C is an embarrassing label, the shame from having an accident in their underwear, and how the girls have to be boy crazy to fit in. All over the news, there is talk about how our kids are growing up faster and faster every year. I am perfectly fine with choosing Joshua’s social activities so he can get the full benefit of team building and peer dynamics while still retaining his childhood. Our community offers a wide array of social, academic, and skill-building classes and activities, and I choose as to carefully select the social situations that will teach my three children, in the most age-appropriate ways, how to get along, work, play, fight, and grow with other kids. I understand that this mean that my children’ socialization skills will be behind those of other children. I do believe that they will learn all of the things that they will need to be successful adults-- eventually. That learning will take more time than those who are taught in school [buildings], and I am absolutely fine with that.
I know Joshua best, and I can use real-life experiences in a natural setting to make learning more meaningful. I establish a “need to know”, taking advantage of actual—not artificial—motivation for him to learn. In the process of doing this, I emphasize Joshua’s strengths while working on his relevant needs. Every attempt he makes to learn something new and review previously mastered material and skills is celebrated. He always feels successful even though he knows he is incapable of many things his younger sister can do. He knows he’s making progress, and he is so proud of himself for the progress he has made. I am there every day supporting him, cheering him on to new challenges, building trust, and providing the leadership and structure he so badly needs.
Homeschooling does take time to plan out and implement. I am sacrificing the time I would have to myself if I had sent Joshua to school, but I believe the result of homeschooling is a better education, a better relationship, and a teacher who deeply loves and wants the best for Joshua. I believe I am showing Joshua each and every day that he is worth my time and effort. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it is for us. We will continue to make our children’s educational decisions on a yearly basis, but our hearts lean toward homeschooling all three of our children for at least a portion of their school careers. We strongly believe that homeschooling can provide a wide enough and strong enough platform for our children, even for Joshua with his special needs.