Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day Twenty-Five: Homeschooling With Exceptionalities

Does there sometimes seem to be an extra measure of grace and patience allocated to particular mommas? If that were true, then my dear friend Betty is a recipient. I know that the Lord doesn't have favourites but if anyone is capable of that which makes the average woman shake her head, it's Betty. We met when we were in primary school and we've been together through thick and thin, remaining close through parenting struggles and now homeschooling. This friend teaches me so much. I thought I'd interview her to give you a glimpse into how she homeschools children with exceptionalities. I'll let her explain...

How many children do you have and how many are homeschooled? 
I have 5 children and presently only 2 are homeschooled.  I have been homeschooling for 5 years now.

Year 1,  I had my 2 youngest in pre k level and my oldest in grade 4.

Year 2, I had my oldest in grade 5 and my 2 youngest in kindergarten level.

Year 3, my oldest was home in grade 6 level, and my second oldest was home at grade 3 level (according to the school board) but she could not accomplish grade 1 level curriculum that I had purchased for my youngest children.

Year 4, my oldest was at home working on his grade 7 level, my second oldest was home in grade 4 - working at level 1/2 and my middle child was also in grade 4 at home working at level 2.

Year 5, my second oldest is home in grade 5 working at level 1/2 and my middle child is home in grade 5 working at level 2/3.
Phew! When did you begin homeschooling and did you always know it would be the right choice for your family?

I never dreamed I would educate any of my children at home, but as a parent when I saw my children floundering in the school system I had to step up.  I tried every avenue to keep them in the system, it was a full time job being at the school advocating for my 3 oldest children. Meanwhile, I had 2 young children still at home.  We prayed constantly for guidance - then we just had to take the leap of faith that it would be the right decision to educate from home.
What are the specific needs of your children? How do you modify curriculum for them and is it important to you to keep them at their "grade level" or is it okay to use one that is geared for younger/older students?

When my second oldest was born we were told she has " fetal hypoxia", which is lack of oxygen to the brain, during her delivery. We were told she wouldn't walk or talk - she does both and is our daily reminder of God's awesomeness in our lives. That being said she is not without challenges. /The bruise on her brain has left her with great learning difficulties. As she gains new skills previously learned skills can slip away, for example, toileting, in relation to life skills and addition moving on to subtraction, in relation to academics.  Both my 2 oldest girls also have a genetic syndrome that shows itself in their lives as autism.  This is a very broad term and no child is alike, but exceptionalities must be made.
It is very hard to educate either daughter.  My first full year teaching them was their grade 4 year.  I purchased grade 3 curriculum from "Sonlight" with grade 2 readers.  This was absolute torture for me.  Besides being a fabulous curriculum for my son- he flew through the curriculum - I naively thought just getting 1 grade lower in readers and my girls would be good to go.  Reading and comprehension just were a no-go.  I had to do better for them.  

I found "FIAR" books and lap books- my 10 year old daughter loved listening to "Warm as Wool" book and I helped them make little lap books with vocabulary words.  In my mind we were taking forever with this one book, but after 1 month she could tell me about about the book.  Yeah!!!

This year I wanted them to read more "chapter" looking books ( my need, not theirs).  I came across Pathway readers.  They both are reading at grade 2 level ( beginning).  They do read these aloud to me and then we do comprehension together, but I have to model how to read for them.  Reading is just words on a page to them.  When I read to them they hear a story and how to use expression.
Currently my 11 year old daughter loves reading, "llama llama" books.  We have read them so often I enjoy hearing her "read with expression".  We are not at a point yet where she understands that words rhyme but she obviously feels the beat of the story.  

Keeping your child at grade level for their age doesn't help anyone.  My son was doing grade 9 level work at grade 7 age just to keep him happy and progressing.  My daughters are doing grade 1/2 level at grade 5, 6 age.  I would absolutely love to wake up one day and give my daughters their grade for their age and them be successful at it- don't we all want that for our children, but until then I have to take one day at a time and may have to repeat the same math page 10 times before they can fully understand what's going on and I can move on.  That is the beauty of home education, I have the ability of time, and I care enough to take the time.
What does a typical day look like for you and how does homeschooling fit into your schedule?
Every day is marked out the exact same, and yet depending on mood and behaviours every day is different.  Each school day we begin by journaling we move into English and then math.  Afternoons are for art science and nature studies.  If you have ever watched the movie "50 First Dates", that is what it is like to teach my oldest daughter. Every day she writes in her journal, everyday it reads the same.  I now write on the white board - today you will use the word "but" in a sentence, just to change it up.
What are a few pieces of advice you'd give to moms of students with learning challenges?
My advice is pray!  And have lots of patience!  I have to put reminders (yellow sticky notes) for myself all through my house and in my car- show grace, be patient, use a quiet voice, be humble.

You have to do what's best for your child, family, and marriage, and that may change all the time ( and that's okay).  A dear friend of mine said both she and her husband had to decide, "Are we going to be a homeschool family or not? If the answer is yes, then we homeschool. No more 'should we's'." 

For us and many families that are raising children with exceptionalities we want to do what's best for our child and that may change in an instant.

Look at the big picture, especially on a hard day, look how far they have come.  Don't get bogged down by the details. Turns out I'm the one learning every day!  
Will you homeschool your other children in the future?
You never know!  But what a blessing it has been!

Do you have any concluding thoughts?

Even though they have special needs that can be very frustrating, they have the happiest most innocent smiles, and they are so blissfully unaware of the drama that other kids carry around- I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to raise these precious children and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thank you so much, Betty for willingly sharing your journey. God bless you immensely, my friend!



Brandee Shafer said...

Thank you both for this!

Jo Brent said...

Betty and Heather,
You are both incredibly inspiring. Thank you for sharing.