Welcome back for week two of my Homeschooling Made Simple series, featuring Joell of Red Van Ramblings! She shares her inspiring homeschooling journey, which is a unique one with a son who has Asperger's Syndrome, who spent most of his life in public school before they decided to homeschool. I am honored to have her on the blog! In this series, I am interviewing several bloggers who homeschool to get each of their perspectives, ideas, and suggestions and offer them to those of us who are new to homeschooling or thinking about pursuing it.
Please show Joell some love for taking the time to share her heart with us by visiting and following her at Red Van Ramblings! Take it away, Joell!
I am so grateful to Sara for giving me the opportunity to share with you all some thoughts about our family’s homeschool experiences! I hope you find it both helpful and encouraging!
Our homeschool journey officially began in the late summer of 2009, as my son began his freshman year of high school. But getting to that point was a bit of a journey in itself! The possibility of homeschooling had never actually occurred to me until sometime in the fall of 2008. I mean, public school had worked for my husband and me — and for pretty much everyone else I knew. Add to that the fact that my husband, Clyn, comes from a (very) long line of public educators and administrators. Not only had I never considered the possibility of homeschooling, it was something I had said — out loud — that I would never do. Ever heard the saying, tell God your plans and then listen to Him laugh?
In the spring of 2000, our lives took a new turn when our son, Jacob, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. In the summer of 2000, we moved halfway across the country, and in the fall of 2000, our son entered the public school system as a kindergartener. For the next 9 years, we proceeded to jump through the hoops of the public school system, including IEPs, self-contained classes, mainstream classes, homework woes, trying to communicate with teachers, meltdowns, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, and mid-day phone calls. There were ups and downs, and academically, Jacob did very well. But as he approached his high school years and his noise sensitivity and anxiety seemed to heighten, we wondered how he would make it in public high school. Conclusion: We knew Jacob would be miserable if we sent him to the local high school, and therefore, we would all be miserable. And that is no way to exist. We could do better for our son. We had to find another way.
On the other hand, there was our daughter, Emma, who is 3 years younger than our son and not on the autism spectrum. She seemed to thrive in public school. It worked for her.
We prayed about what to do. We knew that, financially, private school was not an option, and truly, that would not be the answer for Jacob anyway. And then, through a mutual (public-schooling) friend, I met a homeschooling mom, who was full of info and seemed very normal. I mean, come on, don’t we all have our stereotypical notions of homeschoolers? You know you do! And I was no exception. We had a wonderful conversation.
It seemed that we had our answer.
We’re Gonna Homeschool. What now?
The hardest thing for me about homeschooling was making the decision to do it. That is not to say homeschooling is easy, but certainly, wrestling with the decision was the biggest hurdle. Well,that, and deciding that it did not matter what other friends or family members would have to say. And even though everyone has been incredibly supportive, there are always the inevitable questions: How will he get proper socialization? (A question every homeschooler I know laughs out loud at!) How will he ever go to college if you homeschool him? (Well, many homeschooled kids go to very prestigious colleges and as for my son, he may or may not go to college, but it won’t have anything to do with the fact that he is homeschooled.) What makes you qualified to educate your child? You don’t even have a degree in education! (Well, I do have a college degree, but that is irrelevant. What qualifies me to teach him is the fact that I am his mother and I know him best and I will fight like a mad wet hen to make sure he gets what he needs!)<
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s next?
Since we were jumping right in at the high school level, I felt the need to make sure we were doing everything to meet the graduation requirements of our state, which was easy to determine by an online search at the Department of Higher Education of South Carolina.
Here, again, I think it is important to reiterate what Thaleia said: Homeschooling laws vary from state to state. You MUST investigate the laws that are specific to YOUR STATE. HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) is an excellent resource for finding out what keeps you legal. There is other great information on the website as well.
After we educated ourselves about the legality of it all, we had to find an accountability group (part of what keeps you legal in the state of South Carolina), withdraw him from school, and get hooked up with as many homeschoolers as possible.
Support is KEY! I cannot stress that enough!
How do you find a support group? Google is your friend. Search homeschool support groups and your city and state, and you should find a list of what is available in your area. How do you know which one? Look at a few websites and see what those groups are all about. If you know local homeschoolers, ask questions. Are you looking for a specifically Christian group? A Catholic group? Or a group that is not religiously affiliated? There is something out there for everyone.
So, on the suggestion of my new homeschool friend, we joined a local support group. There are over 400 families that participate in our support group. They organize field trips. They share their struggles and triumphs. They share information about opportunities for clubs and extra-curricular activities. They share curriculum ideas. The sell and swap curriculum. They have clubs for students, Student Council, Prom, monthly meetings, Christmas parties and organize graduation ceremonies. The opportunities are literally endless and our support group has been a huge resource for us!
I bent the ear of the homeschool friend I had met. She put me in touch with another homeschool friend. I learned that there was a huge homeschooling contingent in our area. Huge. I also learned that this group of homeschoolers is an extremely generous and supportive group of people. I went to visit a homeschool mom, and she showed me how she did things during her school day and what worked for her family. It was invaluable. You cannot talk to too many people!
Which Leads Me To Curriculum
I consulted with an old family friend, a retired educator, about the curriculum. I reconnected with a high school classmate who has homeschooled all four of her kids (two of whom have special needs) and asked her a million questions about the curriculum. I asked anyone I could find about the curriculum! There is SO MUCH wonderful curriculum out there, it is easy to get overwhelmed! But what you have to think about is YOUR child. What is going to work for him? What is going to work for your family? There is truly something for everyone, every lifestyle (structured/relaxed), every learning style (auditory/visual/hands-on).
Since the only thing my child (and I!) knew was traditional schooling, we went the more traditional route of textbooks. I figured we would start there and make changes as needed. (One of the obvious PROS of homeschooling!) You can totally change the curriculum mid-school year if you find that what you are using is not working—and we’ve done that a couple of times.
I would consider us eclectic homeschoolers since we like to pick and choose from different publishers what curriculum we like versus using a boxed curriculum, which means you purchase from one publisher your curriculum for every subject area.
Some great publishers/curriculum we’ve used include:
- Sonlight (9th grade English/US History integrated)
- Teaching Textbooks (math—wonderful curriculum for the math-challenged mom)
- Apologia (science—great from elementary all the way up through high school)
- Hewitt Homeschool Resources—Lightning Lit and Composition
- Abeka (Health, Spanish)
- Alpha Omega (We used Switched On Schoolhouse, a computer-based program, for a couple of electives)
- Notgrass Company (We used his Government and Economics, but he has another wonderful history curriculum as well.)
- SMARR Literature
- Easy Grammar
As far as expense goes: YES, you can spend a small fortune on curriculum. But keep in mind there are a lot of freebies out there as well. Search the web, and you can find tons. Or you can fashion your own curriculum by pulling library books and creating your own assignments.
In our area, there are always a few used curriculum sales in the summer where you can find some great used curriculum at rock-bottom prices. Also, through the email loop of our local support group, there are individuals buying and selling curriculum all year long. In addition, you can find used curriculum on eBay, Craig’s list and Amazon for good prices.
Why Is It Worth It?
We have benefitted greatly from participating in a local homeschool co-op. In our case, we have over 300 students each Thursday who come to take all kinds of classes from pre-school age up through high school. What has been great about the co-op is the opportunity for our son to ease back into a classroom setting by taking one or two classes. His first year, he took one class. It went great. The next two years, he took two classes. This year, he is taking four. Classes he has taken at the co-op include: Spanish 1 and 2; Labs for Biology, Chemistry and, this year, Physics; Intro to Engineering (creative building—trebuchets, geodesic domes, air cannons—fun stuff!); and Web Design. The classes are taught by other moms and dads who are like-minded and very willing to be flexible and understanding about Jacob’s needs. Many of these folks have special needs children themselves.
There are tons of extra-curricular activities available to homeschoolers. Jacob started playing French horn in 5th grade in public school and we found a symphonic band at a local music school that he participated in during his 9th and 10th grade years. There are also sports through our support group—baseball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. There are drama clubs and Lego clubs and American Girl clubs, Geography Bees and Spelling Bees and Yearbook staff and, and, and….
In my opinion, there are as many great opportunities for homeschoolers as there are for public schoolers. Homeschooling is what you make it. You can be as busy and as social as you choose to be. In fact, many homeschooling families that I know are so busy with all their activities (read: socialization!) that I am sometimes not sure how they fit in all their academics!
The opportunities are out there. And hey, if there is something you are looking for and you don’t find it, start a group of your own!
I do not regret for a second the choice to bring our son home. It has been an amazing experience for him, for me, and for our family as a whole. It has been tough at times, and there have been moments where I have questioned my sanity! But, he has had the opportunity to mature in his own time and with the help and patience of his family and others who know and love him for the awesome kid he is, not just the Asperger’s kid at school, who has an IEP, who does extra work for the teachers and staff. We have choices to alter assignments, take extra time, try different approaches, to take breaks when he needs them. If I have one regret, it is that we did not start homeschooling him sooner.
The boy who had so much anxiety and always wore earplugs everywhere four years ago, never wears them anymore.
He has become more independent.
He has become more responsible.
He has made friends.
And he never hits himself in the head and says, “I am so stupid,” anymore.
He is an A/B student, and he will graduate this spring at a ceremony with 65 of his peers.
And I don’t believe for one minute that he would be where he is today if he had remained in public school.
We could not be more proud.
Since 2006, Joell has blogged at Red Van Ramblings where she writes about her family, her faith, mothering, Asperger’s and autism, aging, lessons she learns, homeschooling her son, public schooling her daughter, and anything else that comes to mind when her fingers hit the keyboard. She is married to her high school sweetheart and the mom of two teens. She currently teaches two science classes at her local homeschool co-op, a job she fell into and loves. She firmly believes in approaching life with humor and faith in God and that everyone has a story that can impact the life of someone else—so tell it!
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