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Making The Move To Homeschooling

Aug 17, 2007
You're seriously considering homeschooling your child, at least for a little while. You've figured out the legalities and your priorities. You've even got a good idea of what you're going to teach, maybe even how you're going to teach it. You didn't start out with this in mind, but you can't help but think, at least hope, you can do a better job than the schools.

Now for the scary part. How can you deal with your child's "special needs?" And how are you going to succeed where others haven't?

Make your child your partner in this. Age and personality will have much to do with exactly how you manage this, but respect your child's input while still keeping in charge. The two of you are going to take control of this situation together.
Start with your bottom line priorities. Some possibilities:

To get the skills to be able to go back to school next year and succeed.

To stop the destructive forces you can see damaging your child's academic opportunities and/or wreaking havoc on his/her emotions and self-esteem.

A whole book could be written about this, it can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. The important thing is to figure out some priorities.
This is because one of your main goals will probably have to be to:

Design the schooling so that your child can begin to unlearn that s/he's a failure as a student. You don't want your child thinking that you've removed him/her from school because s/he just can't make it at school. Then expectations of self will be even lower than they have been, and that's probably pretty low.

Often, though they have not told anyone, students may have deep fears that they are damaged goods, and that you just don't understand that.(You're the parent after all, you always say nice things. That's your job.) They may even be afraid that if you become their teacher, you'll find out just how stupid they are and won't love them anymore. That's not common, fortunately.

Because of this, simply "deschooling" as many homeschoolers do may send exactly the wrong message to your child. If you make no academic demands for a time, your child may perceive that it's because you have no academic expectations. You need to "deschool," but it needs to be more than just an "absence of school."

Many students with learning disabilities or attention problems need more structure. Some lose skills quickly when they aren't practicing them. It pays to understand your child and realize that what works wonderfully for another child simply isn't appropriate for yours. You want to provide the positives of the structure that your child needs, without all the negative experiences that may be associated with it.

Prove to your child that s/he can learn. Then prove it again. It may take lots of evidence and time. What might be obvious to you as good progress and good work isn't at all obvious to kids. They will assume they are eons behind "regular" students regardless of the validity of that belief. I've also had students who didn't realize that things that were easy for them were actually difficult for others. They were convinced that that high IQ score was a fluke. Many of these children have it deeply ingrained that anything they can do, anybody else could have done better. Sometimes (though not always!) the child who proclaims that he is so smart he doesn't need any of this (if you would only appreciate his genius) is the most afraid that you'll really discover that he is too stupid to learn. A reading notebook is one way to do provide daily evidence of progress. Keeping a good portfolio of projects and assignments is another.
Never underestimate the need for them to consciously make the connection between their work and intelligence with their successes.

There's a concept in education called in the jargon the "locus of control." If it's "external," you think that life happens to you and you don't have a lot to say about it. If it's "internal," then you think that you can have an impact on your own life.Consider that for many students, there hasn't been a good connection between trying hard and success. This is especially true of gifted students with learning disabilities. Things that they put very little effort into may be praised and lauded; but that spelling test they studied for an hour for? "Needs improvement." What's easy for others is hard for them and vice versa.

Giving back the feeling that what *you* do is the most important factor in what you learn is a first step to getting to where what you think of the results is more important than what others think.
Don't forget your own transition. Stay away from "I *don't* want." You want to build towards, not run from.If you're leaving the school system in frustration, consider this: rebellions and revolutions have life cycles. You can guide your rebellion from the school system down paths that are more likely to lead to success, especially if you're aware of pitfalls.

Letting your anger be your main motivation will mean that you are more concerned with "showing" the school system something, and with NOT doing what they did. That might be exactly the right thing for your child -- or not. Why do you need to impress the school system, anyway? You're not truly free from its hold if you're still waiting for a bigger superintendent to come along and set things right.

And, eventually, that anger subsides, and then where are you? Unfortunately it may leave you looking for something else to get angry about (without necessarily being aware of it.) Consciously guide your planning towards the goals and priorities you have set. Use the energy from your anger, but shape it into something positive. It's an infinitely more effective statement of your success.

Look for support and use it. For example, if you're ADD, you may need help building a structure -- and sticking to it. Don't be afraid to acknowledge this (and realize there are teachers out there being paid for the job who are just as disorganized as you are and they don't quit). Consider bringing in outside help, especially if working with your child is going to bring up ghosts of your own. Sympathy can be a good thing if you share learning problems with your child, but it can also keep you from being able to successfully teach in a problem area. Sometimes having had to learn "the hard way" gives you an advantage, but not if you insist that your child learn *your* hard way when that may not be appropriate.

Don't expect perfection. You will make mistakes. When you are drowning in self-doubt, hunt down support and perspective. If need be, focus harder on the things that are working -- and don't be afraid to talk it over with your child. It could be that modeling how you handle mistakes and grow from them and learn from them is the most important lesson learned.
About the Author
Joyce Jackson is an educational expert and consultant in northern California. For her latest book and information see Homeschooling Easy.
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