Sunday, June 7, 2015

Our Homeschool Beginning

I guess the best way to start a blog about homeschooling would be to show you where we began our own homeschooling journey and why.

Here's our story.

I had graduated, quite a few years ago, with an Early Childhood Education degree and even though I did have some confidence from experience gained from working with preschool aged children, I was very nervous and skeptical about whether I would know what to do with my, then, third grade daughter when we chose to pull her from public school. As I have learned, this self-doubt happens to the best of us homeschooling parents. It's not unusual. So, take a real good, big sigh of relief, now. 

     My daughter had been diagnosed with Attention Deficient Disorder (ADHD) and had been struggling in the public school classroom since Kindergarten. My daughter is a delightful child and behaves wonderfully. It is her focus and attention that gave her problems. So, we were very blessed that we did not have the behavioral issues which can accompany the ADHD diagnosis. In addition to ADHD, she had a few things working against her. Her birthday fell late in the school year, so she was also younger than most children in her class, and she eventually was diagnosed as functioning developmentally two years below her chronological age. 

Knowing and accepting my daughter NEEDED individual attention, and NEEDED to be taught two grade levels below her current public school placement, I threw caution to the wind, took a deep breath, gave myself a good old-fashioned pep talk, counted my past educational experience as a blessing, and dove right in. Four years later, I can confidently say (no shout), "Homeschooling her was the best decision I ever made"! So, if you're wondering if you're doing the right thing by homeschooling your child or children, I bet the answer is an astounding yes.

I didn't know how we were going to afford buying the materials needed to start. My husband is disabled, so our budget was small. Luckily, the hoarder part of being a teacher proved to be a positive character trait, just this once. (Sheepish "hehehe" inserted here.)

Years prior, my husband had homeschooled one of his sons. He and some of our friends and acquaintances had used the A Beka program. It has a good reputation and is used by many of the Christian church schools in our area. However, we had enough to make the down payment, but didn't have enough to commit to the monthly payment, afterwards. 

(Our homeschool room the first year.)

As the public school's first day of school approached, my inexperience with homeschooling and our budget dictated the curriculum I ultimately put together. I spent a lot of time on the Internet researching everything I could on how to start homeschooling. Online, I would run across homeschooling parents who talked about putting together their own curriculum then, that nasty self-doubt monster creeped back into my head. I thought to myself, "I can't start off homeschooling without having someone giving me a schedule of what to do and what to cover each day. I can't start homeschooling without having all the books and materials from the get-go. I need someone else to have it all put together for me and I'll just follow their guide." I was wrong. 

One of the best things I did was to just start searching textbooks, workbooks, and materials from local bookstores, Amazon, Ebay, and even my own basement. (Here's where my teacher hoarding came in handy.) Turns out, I had a ton of materials that had been sent home with my older kids at the end of previous school years. I couldn't believe how much stuff I never had really paid attention to them bringing home and was sitting in my basement. Also, I had many educational posters and classroom decor from when I was teaching preschool and from when my older kids were younger.

At the time, I didn't know my daughter was functioning SO FAR below grade level. I had assumed she was only about 6 months behind mostly due to her young age in a classroom of older kids. I was fortunate to go to our local bookstores where I found the Spectrum workbooks by Carson-Dellosa Publishing. I literally sat on the stores' floor and just flipped through and read parts of the wookbooks. I kept in mind to think like my daughter while looking at the pages. The pages had just enough color and graphics to be interesting without being overwhelming and too stimulating. Another feature I liked was the perforated edges so I could tear out each page. This cut down on all the other pages becoming a distraction to her. I started out by purchasing the Spectrum Math, Spectrum Spelling, and Spectrum Reading workbooks. I wanted to give them a try before I really put all our budget into books and materials. At that time, I desperately needed to find out just exactly what my daughter did know and what she didn't know.

I was SHOCKED to find out that my daughter who had just graduated from public school's third grade and who was going to be sent into fourth grade, didn't even know what made a number odd or even!

(Wall above student desk.)

I made an appointment with a teacher who owned a local teacher supply store. It just so happens, she is a homeschool math teacher. Lucky us! In just one visit, she worked with my daughter to get an idea on how to guide me and give me her suggestions where to start and what to focus on. But really, simply just opening the workbook and starting to work was the best way to go. I bought the third grade level thinking, "Well, she's just finished the third grade. Let's just see which things she needs strengthening upon." This is where the shock factor happened. It wasn't too long before I said to myself, "I think I'm going to need to go back to the second grade material and start from there". I ended up having to actually go through the first AND second grade books sent home by the public school in years past. I've learned what it means for a child to have "holes" in their education. That's where a student has been rushed through a particular topic in a specific subject and hasn't really grasped it or has forgotten the information. In our case, my daughter had too many "holes", so much so, it was just easier to repeat it all. 

(Big brother reading a book to little sister.)
Accepting I was going to have to go so far back was the hardest part. However, it turned out to be the best part and the best for my daughter. As it were, my daughter was so used to bringing home bad grades, that was her ONLY school experience. She, literally, did not have the consciousness that she was capable of producing good grades, let alone actually getting B's, A's, or a 100%. As we went back and started fresh, she would receive a 100% and ask me, "Mom are you just giving me an A?" I spent the first three to four months trying to convince her that she was earning those good grades herself. I spent many days explaining to her that it wasn't her fault she had been getting bad grades in public school up to that point. She just needed to be taught at her level. 

The first half of our first homeschooling year was all about teaching her and teaching myself a different way of thinking. Teaching ourselves it was OK and permissible to break outside the traditional public school way of doing things. The first few years of homeschooling was about learning for ourselves that the end goal is to walk away better educated and to be able to carry that education throughout our lifetime. 

(Social Studies section behind teacher's desk.)
Education is not a rush job and should not be treated as if it can be gained by a hit-and-run strategy. As we were taught in our education courses in college, the child's needs come first and every child is different. The public school sector voices this, regularly, and these are good things to say when trying to get a job as a teacher. But, IF we really BELIEVE this, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves. Do we really want to make an authentic effort to do what it is going to take to honestly educate our youth? For our household our answer is yes.

Our first year of homeschool ended with tears and not the kind of tears you're thinking. After about a year of struggling to build my daughter's self-esteem, one day she looked up at me from being seated at her desk and said, 

"Mom, I like being homeschooled, now, 
because I finally feel smart."

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