“Hey, Mom, homeschool is cool!”
Yessiree, it’s COOL to HOMESCHOOL! We were not lifelong homeschoolers; in fact, we took quite a circuitous route to get to homeschooling, so I consider I bring a broad, diverse experience to the homeschool discussion table. If you’re exploring homeschooling, our journey might intrigue you because we felt we needed to do what was right for Ryan at a particular moment in his education journey, and sometimes, what we did one year was not what we did the next. In fact, we tried just about every school mode available to us in that era!
Our Ryan started in the PreK Deaf Ed class at age 3*, which was standard for hearing impaired children in the early 2000s. He started in that class in our PUBLIC SCHOOL, where he was nurtured and blessed by very gifted teachers and therapists. (*Prior to public school, he was enrolled in Early Childhood Intervention for services up to age 3, which included Deaf Ed services through our school district as a Deaf Ed specialist would come to our house at least once a week.)
At the beginning of the next school year, we opted to put him in a CHARTER SCHOOL for the deaf which was just a year old in our area, but it had such rave reviews, we felt strongly that we should try it. He stayed there one academic year but it ended up not being the “fit” we were looking for.
The next year, I chose to HOMESCHOOL him in very experiential-based methods because he was still just four years old, and I strongly believed he didn’t need to sit at a school desk, at home or anywhere else, for three-plus hours a day. At this age, children learn through their senses and by being read to or talked with about the endless awesomeness of the world they inhabit. My educational motto began to develop in this era:
Life + Curiosity = Learning
I deeply believed if I could get Ryan to embrace a sense of curiosity about the world around him, he would become a lifelong learner. (Spoiler alert: It worked!) So, our journey of discovery began! I intentionally exposed him to the wonders, the beauty, the challenges, the questions of the natural world, of history, of personal discovery, and of the faith experience. Complemented by an ever-growing collection of educational resources I was amassing (because I realized I am a resource junkie at heart), he had plenty of school and learning opportunities that year. He loved learning, and I loved leading him to learn.
The next year was his first year of kindergarten. We chose a PRIVATE SCHOOL for kindergarten because it was the only way he could have half-day kindergarten, which was a priority for me. I wanted to have a half-day with him every day so I could continue the “life learning” which is so important at that age. (I am not a big fan of all-day kindergarten.) Two months before school started, Ryan got his first cochlear implant, so our world was changing quickly as he was becoming more and more oral and less and less dependent on sign language.
As much as we liked the private school, it used an accelerated curriculum (kindergarteners were taught first grade curriculum, first graders were taught second grade curriculum, etc.), and our boy was not an accelerated learner; he was relearning how to hear and decipher the world around him. His spoken language acquisition was increasing at a phenomenal rate — but the school pace was just too fast. We opted to go back to PUBLIC SCHOOL after Christmas to finish out his first year of kindergarten.
Now we were back at the same public school we’d left two-and-a-half years before. We were welcomed and slid back into its routines, blessed to have wonderful teachers, therapists, ARD committee members, and aides who cared so much for all the children, and Ryan benefitted from their dedication.
By the end of the academic year, he was doing so well with his first cochlear implant (CI) that we were asked by the CI team to consider getting his second CI that summer. Research was showing that children who received the second CI within a year of the first one did better than those who waited years between surgeries. Having already been considered a “late CI implant” at age 5, we had been worried we’d waited too long. But no, he was soaring with his new “ear.” We moved forward with the second CI that summer.
We then made a pivotal decision with the help and guidance of our Auditory-Verbal Therapist who had worked with hearing impaired children for more than 20 years. She strongly recommended we allow Ryan to repeat kindergarten in order to give his “ears” time to catch up without the academics demanded of him. It was a huge decision to contemplate because it would ripple down for the next dozen years and affect when he graduated, how he might be perceived by others, and maybe even how he perceived himself. He would be 19 when he graduated, and for some people, that’s a difficult concept to bear. We decided we would be honest with him: “Your new ears need time to catch up with all the language you are learning. Some people need to do a grade over because they made bad grades, but that’s not you. We want you to have a Junior Kindergarten year and a Senior Kindergarten year because we want your ears and your brain to be super-ready for first grade.” He took it all in stride and never missed a beat!
When we decided to have him repeat kindergarten, we were convinced it was the best thing for him at that moment in time, and if it bothered him for social/peer reasons down the road, then we’d “cross that bridge when we came to it.” We never once regretted our decision. That second year in kindergarten made a huge difference in his hearing, his maturity, and his academic readiness for first grade. He weaned himself off using an interpreter in class by October! We never once asked Ryan to not sign to us, but we let him lead the way on how much he wanted to sign and how much he wanted to communicate orally.
By that time, we were firmly established in our PUBLIC SCHOOL with Deaf Ed services provided through his IEP. First grade, second grade, third grade rolled along… but by third grade, I was having concerns about his learning disabilities. Being a micro-preemie (born at 26 weeks), he had attention issues, an increasingly apparent math disability, and some fine motor issues, along with the gross motor problems caused by some genetic anomalies. To say the least, he was a complicated kid medically. But he was the absolute delight of our hearts!
I began to explore homeschooling as his third grade year progressed. At first, I wanted to acquire more resources to help him at home (remember, I’m a resource junkie), but then I began to consider that schooling at home would eliminate many/most of the distractions of a “brick and mortar” school environment, plus it would allow him to have one-on-one instruction for every subject. Homeschooling would mean I could teach him at his pace until he achieved content mastery, not just until it was time to move to the next block in the curriculum calendar. By the end of the school year, after attending a homeschool convention and taking several intensive workshops on educating special needs kids, exploring curriculum that would target his math disability, talking with public and homeschool experts, and praying about it, we made the decision to homeschool him beginning in fourth grade.
It was a hard break with our public school friends, to be honest, because he had been there for four years (plus a half year when he was in PreK3 Deaf Ed). We missed seeing the people every day, but we truly began to enjoy HOMESCHOOLING for all it was worth — and quickly!
We developed friendships with other homeschool families and we all enjoyed the freedom of going on field trips at times when no one was at the museums, when our kids got special tours from museum staff, and more! We loved reading our daily readers on the comfy couch with our Odie dog snuggled up. We loved learning at Ryan’s pace. We loved just about everything about homeschooling, and so it was an easy choice to keep going.
We took it year by year, always being open to going to another learning environment if we felt it would be best for Ryan. But year after year, schooling at home was what best met his needs.
It was around junior high that his love for architecture began to show up — with gusto! Because of homeschooling, I was able to cater much of what he learned around his architecture interests. As a result, he learned about history — while we learned about architecture of each era. He pursued art projects related to architecture. He eventually taught himself drawing programs so he could move from drawing on huge sheets of butcher paper to drawing on a computer monitor.
From sixth grade and on, he took art classes at a homeschool academy in the area which had about 700 kids enrolled. (Ironically, this is almost as many students as his public school had.) Because he was a student there, he was able to graduate with 55 other seniors and experience most of the “rites of passage” that seniors have in their special year. A senior dinner, graduation ceremony, senior pizza lunches, a huge graduation party/reception with the other seniors and families, then a graduation party at home with family/friends. Cap, gown, diploma, tassel — he got it all.
Our nine years of homeschooling were: Amazing … Challenging … Hilarious … Eventful … Enlightening … and most of all, Cherished. Every moment of every school day wasn’t all that cherish-able, but the overall effect was just that — cherished and worth every effort and every moment.