Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things.
In what can only be described as a surreal moment, I found myself signing documents to enroll my son in public school last month.
I love homeschooling.
My sons love homeschooling.
I write all about how much homeschooling has made a tremendous impact on my sons’ education, despite their learning differences. The longer we homeschool, the more I can imagine us continuing to do it all the way through high school.
So it took a lot to sign those documents. But it was worth it.
The school program was through the hospital my son had been admitted to only a week prior, for serious medical complications. Because he required ongoing care and evaluation, this program was an excellent option. Nursing staff, therapists and teachers alike provided ongoing care each day.
My son was officially in public school for two weeks.
And I learned so very much.
Granted, this classroom scenario deviated dramatically from a “typical class.” It functioned more like a self-contained, special education classroom. And the truth is, many of the children in this class likely qualified for special education through their local schools.
It was a great experience for my son and for me, to get a little taste of what a classroom might be like for him. It was great to see what he enjoyed and excelled in. It was helpful to see where he struggled.
Mostly, what amazed me was how similar this program was to what we have already been doing at home.
You read that right – there were more similarities than there were differences.
Here’s what I learned from the two weeks my son spent in a public special education classroom:
Adult-to-student ratio matters
In this classroom there were many adults, from different specialties, all working together to help the children learn in the best way possible. The ratio was actually close to 1:1 if you counted all the nurses, therapists, and aides.
The children had individualized attention and it seemed to work very well. In fact, some of the other children, not accustomed to having someone to help them through transitions or difficult subjects, said they would like to just go to school at the hospital from now on.
I was impressed, and also more conscious of how much the individualized attention our children receive at home every single day, makes a difference in their levels of anxiety, understanding and overall learning.
It ALL counts
My son was technically in the hospital school program from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. each day. I was hesitant about this at first, as the time I designate to schooling at home is not seven hours, even accounting for lunch and breaks.
Then, I saw the schedule.
It included two 45 minute outdoor time-frames each day for “Recreational Therapy.” There was “Occupational Therapy” for an hour and a half each day. This included activities like making candles, creating dioramas, sewing pillows, and stamping leather.
Each week, there was an hour devoted to “art therapy” and another hour for “cooking.”
After breaks, daily morning time, and lunch, the time devoted to actual sitting at a desk and completing academic work was about 2.5 hours spread out over the course of the day.
Sound familiar? It does to me. That’s almost exactly what I would report for each activity on average in our home.
Socialization cannot be prescribed
This is the area that surprised me the most, although I am not sure why. My son was the only homeschooled child in this classroom. The assumption on the part of the teachers and therapists, and if I am being honest, me, was that he might struggle a bit with the social requirements of being in the classroom.
The exact opposite was true. Despite having a couple of diagnoses that actually make social interactions stressful and confusing for my son, he was clearly the one most capable socially.
He got along well with all the children, tried to help another little boy when he struggled, interacted well with the adults, showed his great sense of humor, made a close friend, and was easily able to follow all the rules for classroom structure.
A lack of socialization is a pervasive myth, I think, about homeschooling. But having a child diagnosed with social differences, means an increased need for me to answer questions about how my child will ever be able to interact well with others.
I am asked to account for this in doctor and therapist appointments all the time. It was incredibly encouraging to see that our efforts at home are making a difference in his social ability.
Teachers often support homeschooling too
The staff that worked directly with my son had nothing but great things to say about our decision to homeschool. They too, could see the benefits for my son. They too, saw the differences in him, even in a classroom setting (the unquestioned standard for childhood socialization).
There was, however, a meeting I attended at the very end of my son’s time in the program, with a doctor who did not interact much with my son. As I sat across from him, he looked through the stack of medical and educational reports in my son’s case file. Smiling, he looked up and said,
“It looks like your son is doing very well, despite being homeschooled.”
I felt a flood of emotion. Part of me understood that he meant it as a compliment, and I wanted to take it as such. But I couldn’t. “Despite being homeschooled???” I thought. I took a breath, and then carefully responded:
“I would say it’s possible that he is doing very well because he is homeschooled.”
I’m so grateful I had the chance to glimpse the other side.
And if you are homeschooling a child, especially one with learning differences and special needs, take heart. I want to encourage you that what we are doing at home, is no different than what the experts believe to be best for our children:
- One on one attention
- Time outside to exercise and play
- Art, hands-on activities, and real life skills
We do this at home, and feel guilty that it isn’t a math worksheet. Teachers do it, and it is respected as in integral part of education.
Maybe, like me, you question if you are doing enough, if your child’s needs trump your own intuition about homeschooling being the right choice, or if the “experts” might be better equipped to help.
Maybe, like me, you fear you are missing something important.
Maybe, like me, you need to hear that your hard work will pay off.
And maybe, just maybe, your child is doing well, “despite” (because of!) being homeschooled.
Do you ever wonder how your homeschool day would compare to a public school classroom?