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Homeschooling for the faint of heart

Sometime between Valentine's Day and the following Friday, I decided to home school Everett. Now eight-and-a-half and having just passed his third-year special education re-evaluation (still qualifies under the eye-rolling educational diagnosis of "severe emotional disturbance"), I had been thinking (along with the teachers and administrators) all the way into January that things were getting better. Never the sort of kid to have enough good days in a row for successful extracurricular involvement, I'd signed him up for LEGO club, which he participated in through to the end commendably. We'd agreed to do "Battle of the Books," and I was the team parent, and had read the books with him. The assembly where he and his team would compete for a chance at regional tournament was coming up on the 18th.

What's more, he was generally getting along with his teacher, though he'd been through four that year; one permanent teacher who took a job elsewhere; one long-term substitute; one new permanent teacher; then the last one, the day after new-permanent-teacher took over. We all decided it would be best to move him to the older class (the only third-grader in the behavioral classrooms at Bridger, he had been the oldest in K-3 and was more appropriately served, we thought, as the youngest in 3-5). At first, things went great.

Until they didn't. One bad day turned into a week-long bus suspension (shortly after we'd gotten the paperwork done for both boys to take the bus) and then suddenly, he and a friend were suspended. On Valentine's Day, we had a re-entry meeting and, after handing out his dragon valentines, it became obvious that he wasn't emotionally ready to re-enter. Not on Wednesday, either. We missed the Battle of the Books assembly -- the one we'd been reading for since October. On Friday, the counsellor came by and I told her how I felt about this right now: that home schooling might be a better option. About the same time, Rebecca invited me to Get the Scoop on Schooling, "an Evening of Information, Inspiration, and Clarity about Educational Options for Our Children" (Monday February 28 at The Warehouse, 6:30 p.m.). I responded "yes" immediately.

After years of considering this option, and many times typing or saying to someone in the heat of emotion, "I'm THIS close to homeschooling!", the balance had tipped. I felt it was inevitable and that continuing in public school had no possible good ending.

I was -- I am -- reluctant for a dozen reasons. I love public school; I myself am a happy and proud product of just the public schools that Everett should be attending (we're in the neighborhood for my husband's middle school alma mater, and the high school we both attended). I was home schooled for a year growing up, and hated it. Everett shares many of the characteristics that had me jumping out of my skin; he's motivated by competition, he loves being busy with activities, he needs friends like others of us need food. I want him to run in the Run for the Arts; I want him to Battle with the Books; I want him to be out of the house (in a positive way) so I can focus on my writing and have a little quiet time to myself. My husband will be away until at least June; I'd just a few weeks earlier signed Monroe, the youngest, up for preschool with my sister one day a week, and Mondays were all my own.

I only had two of those Mondays, not even enough to get a rhythm of productivity before they were supplanted, once by Truman's sickness and the second time by Everett's inability-to-reenter. Their loss is felt dearly. I need, more than ever as Everett and I have struggled to work back from this new emotional nadir, clean and clear time to myself that is not the few hours ripped from after-bedtime.

But the alternative is not good. Everett is convinced he can never get along at his school. (And his "never," which I'm usually able to unwind after 24 or, at the worst, 48 hours, is for now unyielding.) I think that he has had too many different teacher-bridges to a calm typical elementary student burned -- he's not one usually able to reforge a relationship with an adult once it's been destroyed, at least, not easily. He holds grudges. Four in five months is a lot. The only true public option beyond this behavioral classroom is back to Pioneer School, an option that means isolation with other kids who suffer from, mostly, worse difficulties than Everett; an option I've sworn to myself I won't accept again. Even if I had the resources for a private school, I hardly think transitioning him into one of those would be any easier.

So, we're homeschooling. For now, this looks like this: lots of limit-setting around what sort of behaviors I'll accept. Occasional trips to the library. Long rainy afternoons where I read a good book until my throat aches. Some reading and exploration around topics that interest him (we've been discovering how volcanoes work and I've been explaining the real meaning of "epic," his current favorite exclamatory). But mostly, we're working on emotional stability. It's still a long way off.

I, the very faintest of heart when it comes to home schooling, have entered into it with trembling and trepidation. I know there are lots of resources and online help and communities and special classes for home schooled kids, but for now, I'm just surviving.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations, but fair warning: I'm not likely to be printing out worksheets or signing up for community support groups this week. Sometimes getting through the day without too many explosive episodes or swear words is the only goal I can shoot for.

Here's hoping that, when it's gotten better and then worse, it still gets better.


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You go, girl. You are taking care of your son, the individual. Doin' what it takes. Good job. Be patient with yourself..... I've heard it takes a month for every year your kid's been in school to "unwind" (unschool? un-do?) Something like that. Just enjoy your Everett; it sounds like you both need a breather! :)

Amen, Wendy! Live out loud & rock it, mama. Anyone can do anything for a few months, right?! Take a week or so to de-com-press then go with what works for both you and Everett. You know what he needs to enjoy learning. I personally think that you are making the right decision. 110%. You do not want to push him further and have his fire within completely burnt out. It is just not worth it. Take baby steps with little expectations and yes, it will get better. There is no such thing as the "perfect teacher" so just let your gut & motherly instincts lead the way...you will be just fine. I promise you. It may not be smooth sailing but you will get the job done along with building Everett's confidence and love for learning in the meantime. Start over in the fall with a fresh, sparkling dinner plate. I will be cheering for you...it is all perspective. Remember that.

I agree with the previous posts. De-schooling is an important step, and there are many resources out there. Good for you that you're not ready to print out worksheets. Take some time to heal for both you and Everett. And then, enjoy it!

I also wanted to chime in and say you're such a great mother for taking such a brave and selfless step! Best of luck.

Your twitter stream asks for suggestions on how to get started with a calm activity for a Monday morning. I'm not a homeschooler, but how about a library trip? Nothing like coming home with a stack of new books to settle into a cozy couch with on a rainy day. Break it up with some yoga before lunch, haul out some art supplies and have him design a new book cover for one of his favorite books after lunch . . . all nice and easy but very calm and comforting. Hmmm. Maybe I need to go to the library myself.

If you're husband is in the military, do you qualify for any sort of family services with Everett? When I was an undergrad, I did respite care for a family with a little boy with disabilities (Autism), and it was paid for by the Air Force. I came a few hours a week and worked with him and played, and his mom got a break. Or can the school district offer any sort of at-home tutoring, if the placement in the classroom isn't meeting his needs? I just read the part about having only had those 2 Mondays with a break, and was trying to think of some ways Everett could get something and so could you!!!

thank you all so much for the well-wishes and heart-helpful comments. it's more than I deserve :) and j, thanks for the reminder: yoga would be a good thing to weave into our days. he loves it, and it's something we can do any day.

anon, that's such a great idea. I should really call around and see if I can get some tutoring or other activities through the Army or another public source.

I applied today to write a book about bike rides in Portland, and the specs are for 25 kid-friendly rides. I told him I'd give him part of the money *if* we go the job and *if* he helped me. he was delighted with the idea! and it gave me a perfect opportunity to teach a little division. (10% royalties at $14.99 a book times x divided by 2...)

There's a Waldorf school in Portland that does a one day a week class for homeschoolers, if that helps you at all. I can't remember which school it is, but as a reluctant potential homeschooling mama myself, the prospect of at least one day a week without children makes it all sound so much more possible for me, at least.
The things you've gone through with the public schools are ridiculous! I really hope you find something that works for your whole family soon; you deserve to!

First, I totally feel for you. My son also struggles with his behavior at school. We started him at a Waldorf-style charter for first grade, which ended up being a total disaster (as much because of the staff's disfunctionality as because of our child's behavior problems). After that, we had him at home for about six weeks in the fall while we figured out what to do. Now he's at our neighborhood school and he's hanging in there.

You didn't mention what you thought might be the cause of your son's condition, nor what therapies you have pursued, and maybe these are for another thread. But in case it's helpful I want to mention a couple things.

First, a therapy that has made a really tremendously huge difference for my boy is targeted amino acid therapy. Rather than giving him pharmaceuticals, we opted for 5-HTP (which is a precursor to serotonin--you can buy it at any healthy food store) and a combination product called "200 mg of Zen" or "Zen Mind" (two different brands) that combines 550 mg of GABA (a neurotransmitter) with 200 mg of l-theanine (from green tea, helps GABA to absorb). Things aren't perfect now, but they are manageable. The other piece that has noticeably helped a lot is the gluten-free casein-free sugar-free diet. "What does he eat?!?!" you might ask, and that would definitely be a topic for another thread!!

The other thing I want to mention is environmental toxicity. Portland has some of the worst industrial toxic air in the country (google "Smokestack report" to see how our air falls into the worst 2%-15% of the country depending on neighborhood) and then there is transportation pollution on top of that. There is some good evidence that environmental toxicity triggers ADHD, ADD, autism and other cognitive/behavior issues. This new article does an amazing job of explaining the connections and the challenges we face as a society in this area: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6162/

The writer says that one out of every ten school age children is now diagnosed with ADHD, and one out of every four dollars we spend on education is now directed toward supporting special needs students.

I bring this up for a more concrete reason, however. You may be able to get your child tested for the environmental toxics that the Smokestack Report shows are most prevalent in your neighborhood, and then start working to reduce his toxic load and protect him from the most obvious sources. When we took our child out of a private Montessori school in NW Industrial, it reduced his toxic load considerably.

So much to say to you, Sarah. But for now, congrats on this brave step, and my absolute promise that everything will be ok.

It sounds like you're making the right decision. I may be biased - I am a k-12 homeschooler, as is my husband. No, I didn't purposely seek out a mate with an eerily similar educational background; it just worked out that way! We both turned out "normal" ... we both earned BA degrees and have social skills and all that ... :)
We're planning on homeschooling our children as well.

The aspect I love the most about homeschooling - the one thing that convinces me that it's worth a try - is your ability as a parent to tailor your child's education to their personal needs and to actively encourage their natural leanings and learning style. There's nothing like that. Even the best public educators, no matter how passionate and movtivated, cannot provide a personalized educational experience for 20 or 30 children. I'm not knocking public schools - I'm the type who would have thrived in a traditional classroom. But nobody knows your child better than YOU.

You'll definitely want to get plugged in to a great support group and you'll probably have moments of self-doubt along the way (what parent doesn't???), but don't worry - you CAN do it!

Have you read this book?? I LOVED it. It presents a very balanced view of homeschooling, from a first-hand perspective and I found it fascinating.


Good for your for doing what's best for your son/family. My husband and I were both in the public school system (and have been surprised somewhat by all of the homeschoolers we've met who are former teachers).

There are several yahoo groups for homeschoolers in Portland - GPH (Greater Portland Homeschoolers), PDX Unschoolers, HIP (Homeschoolers in Portland) (to name a few) and the Life is Good unschooling conference in Vancouver WA over Memorial day weekend. Summertime is a great time to meet other home/unschooling families as there are several park days all over town. We love homeschooling here!

As a military family you probably have Triwest insurance. Depending on Everett's diagnosis, you may be eligible for up to $2,500/month in coverage for therapy services through the ECHO program. Something to look into if you don't want to do it all on your own.

This is a huge step but it sounds and feels like the right thing for you and your family, Sarah! I'm sure it wasn't easy decision.

I have a friend who is home-schooling one of her three children and even though she really wants to do it, it is clearly a very difficult job. I just wanted to say that I empathise with just how terribly hard this situation is and I think you are a very brave and clearly a loving mama. I do hope things get easier for you - I am really mourning the loss of your free Mondays because as a parent with lots of support from my own parents, some me-time makes a huge difference. good luck, you are doing an amazing thing.

I don't know if this is what you want right now, but I think the one day a week program that someone else was talking about is through Shining Star. They meet at a park or farm and spend the day outdoors. Parents and little siblings can come with. http://shiningstarschool.com/

If I were homeschooling a third or fourth grader, I'd check out this woman's blog. I haven't seen it all, but her lessons on fractions were just unbelievably engaging. She really seems to have the creativity component figured out. http://naturenest.wordpress.com/

I was recently researching this option as well. Your son may enjoy trackersnw, they have classes for home schoolers. It is expensive but they have financial aid... Also I thought OMSI used to have classes for home schoolers, but I didn't see them listed.

You can find OMSI homeschool classes on the Yahoo Group called Oregon Homeschool Science Club. They are quite reasonably priced, but I believe you can't join until next session (fall 2011).

Village Home Education Resource center also offers classes 4 days a week in Beaverton, and 2 days a week in NE.

Sarah - I have been following your posts and I realize your son goes to Bridger - I just recently visited that school and was very depressed when talking with the principal and hearing her speak. That school really needs love & support and usually that involves a principal that will fight for their kids. This was lacking - this was my second time meeting this principal and my impression was reconfirmed. I am sure there are great parts to the school and I'm sure the principal is up against a lot but that unfortunately is reality in PPS. I am certain the PTA is going above & beyond - but if my option was that school - I would home school too. Not trying to rag on the school - the williamette week did a very interesting & depressing comparison of a day in the life of a Bridger student vs a Hosford a school a few miles away: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-11193-left_out.html

I only point this out because as many of us parents are checking out schools in PPS now - this is a key factor when you sign up your child and how they thrive or not depending on their school.

I wish you + Truman well. You are a great mama.

Trackers PDX offers a one day a week program for homeschooled kids. A friend of mine does this and says its wonderful and that her daughter absolutely loves it. So you can both homeschool AND get a little break! You're doing wonderful things for your child.

Congratulations. I homeschooled my oldest for 2nd and 3rd grade, and it was a really great time for me to reconnect with her, although she decided to go back in 4th grade. There are tons of homeschoolers in Portland and many homeschooling parents who can relate to having an intense child. It is a good idea to reach out and connect with others. You will eventually find your groove.

It sounds like this is the right decision for you and your son right now - even though a difficult one. Good for you for going with what feels right.
When you get to the point of wanting to seek resources out, pioneer woman has a great blog (her wedding story is awesome) and has a page for homeschooling based on her experiences with homeschooling her kids in Oklahoma.
Also I've seen homeschool book clubs at the Fairview-Columbia library every so often.
Best of luck!

As a parent going it alone right now, is ther someone you could co-homeschool with?
I was homeschooled for 1st, 2nd and 1/2 of 6th grade. I do feel that it was a more focused education(I also went to private, public and one room schoolhouses). But I had two parents in the home.
My father worked w/ us on math, physical and technical-- we designed and built a rather sophisticated treefort one year -- and my mom focused on writing,language and arts.
I commend you. I would love to homeschool, but feel so intimidated by thought of balancing a career, parenthood, and my other relationships, with school as well.

I know that this is a little late in coming, but I hope that someone is still reading these, because now I find myself considering homeschooling... yes in part because my son is being teased at school and I do not know how to break that cycle without real and substantial help from the staff (which is not coming!) but also, last night we made jam.

I know, it's not a big deal, but we learned about pectin and natural pectin and percentages and fractions and after we made the jam, he at more waffles this morning than I have ever seen him eat because he was proud of his jam. And I was proud of him. Proud of him in a way that seeing him do repetitive worksheets will never make me. Proud of how he started to immediately integrate his knowledge and ask about making other kinds of jam, sharing jam with other people, getting out to the farm to pick more berries and so on.

He was actually excited, actually learning. No social games, no fights over getting work done, no procrastination or loss of interest.

So, now just to convince his father.

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