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Homeschooling and Special Needs

My oldest son has pretty profound dyslexia. I had known he was struggling with reading, of course, but early on,  I attributed it to his being a boy, and much more active. than the norm.  He had tantrums during reading lessons, but so had one of his older sisters, and I thought he was just frustrated on a regular level. After much prayer, debate, and counsel, I realized it was more than that.

I learned of the Barton Method from a friend, and was grateful to learn we had a center in the Quad Cities.

I literally had to drag him into one of his first sessions, which, looking back, was not one of my best parenting moves. At the time, I felt so helpless. He felt so scared and overwhelmed. We were lost.

To my astonishment, he had to start at the most remedial level. He wasn’t understanding ANY reading or phonics at all. I had been helping him a lot more than I realized when we were reading together, and he’s so bright, he compensated  so beautifully that I didn’t know how acute his disability is.

I’ve seen him be brave. To continue to show up every week, and try his best, despite his fear, despite all the previous failures, despite my not handling everything right, despite how enormously challenging it is for him, is courage.

He’s grown immensely. A couple years ago, he wouldn’t sound out anything, and didn’t even want to do copy work because it was so hard for him. When he wrote “pirs” on the grocery list, it was a victory of the highest order. You’d better believe I bought him an entire bag of pears, and he didn’t even have to share them.

Giant lengthy tantrums used to happen on the regular, partly due to his frustrations with what he viewed as his inability to “do it right”, and partly due to his innate emotional dysregulation. They’ve largely stopped. I see this as a result of the tutoring, which has shown him how very much he’s capable of, and helped him realize he isn’t doing anything wrong. We’re helping his brain grow and giving him tools to be successful in spite of his disabilties.

Another struggle he has is ADHD, which is highly misunderstood, and highly misdiagnosed. Before our own family’s experiences with it, I didn’t even really think it was real for most kids, and adults, who were on medication for it. I thought it was because of the structure of schools, and expecting children, especially boys, to go against their very natures for so long. I still do think this is part of it, but I now know that ADHD brains are just wired very differently and their natures are completely divergent from a “normal” brain. ADDitude Mag has helped me immensely as I journey this new territory, in understanding how his brain functions.

Having a child with special needs and being a homeschooling mama who loves him more than breath is an extraordinarily difficult thing. I want to push him to be his best, as I do all my children. At the same time, I want to be cognizant of his contrastive abilities. I want him to thrive and yet it’s hard to know where the line of too much pressure lies.

All last year, he went  to school in the mornings to get one on one help from the special ed teacher in reading and writing. He was getting the Barton Method tutoring twice a week. We realized that he really was not benefiting as much from the reading recovery special education and would have had to adjust to a new teacher, so we pulled him from the public school program.

Now he strictly gets Barton Method tutoring two mornings a week. We do Classical Conversations and read alouds for the bulk of our curriculum. All of these things work amazingly in concert to play to his strengths while we bulwark the inherent challenges of dyslexia and ADHD.

Having a child with special needs is never easy, and homeschooling is inherently challenging. Combining the two can seem insurmountable. We’ve used our resources and contracted out some of our learning. God gives us strength every day, His faithfulness is great and His mercies renew. We all face tests of our abilities and resolve, but especially when we confront them together and we have support, we can do hard things.

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blog homeschool day in the life

A Day in the Life of a Homeschooler

When my oldest was approaching school age and when she was in early elementary, I was obsessed with looking up the schedules of homeschooling families. I did find a book which had a compilation of different families’ days and whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, and here and there I would find a blog post, but there wasn’t much out there at the time. I scoured the internet  and library looking for the “Day in the Life” information for several reasons.d.
Seeking new ideas is something I do on a regular basis. It’s so helpful to see how other people do it, and see what you can incorporate into your own life.
It’s fascinating! I am seriously curious about what goes on in other people’s homes. I love getting glimpses into the extraordinary ordinary.
I like knowing I’m not alone. It’s refreshing that I’m not the only one wanting to tear my hair out by two o’clock.
Because it’s so helpful for me, I asked several of my homeschool friends about their daily schedule. I’m writing a series of The Day in the Life of a Homeschooler posts. If you’re a homeschooler, and would like to be featured, I’d love to talk to you about that!
I would love to introduce to you my friend Sarah. We jokingly refer to each other as Sister Wife because last year we went to Vegas with our husbands and babies, but while her husband was in meetings all day, we figured we looked like sisterwives hanging out with Kevin. Her kiddos are 8, 6, 4, and 2, and she’s also a farmer’s wife.

6:30 am – Mommy and Daddy get up, get dressed, and drink coffee while checking Facebook and email and the weather reports. This is our most peaceful time of day. Daddy usually heads out to work on the farm before the kids get up. I get the farm’s bookkeeping and bill paying done during this quiet time. I try to log off the computer for the day when the kids get up, and NOT go back to check email or Facebook again until the next morning. We don’t own smart phones because we don’t want that constant distraction.

8:00 am – Kids start waking up. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth -times 4- takes forever and sometimes there are tears.

 9:00 am – If we are going somewhere (Grandma’s house on Tuesdays because she keeps the kids for a couple hours while I run errands alone, homeschool co-op on Wednesdays, horse riding lessons some Thursdays, library on Fridays) we head out. Often the 8 and 6 year olds have worksheets to complete in the car because we live a long way from everything and it keeps them from making too much racket during the drive. Math and spelling questions are shouted from the backseat of the Suburban up to me (over the noise of the 2 and 4 year olds in the middle row) and I shout the answers back. If we aren’t going anywhere, I attempt to get the 2 and 4 year olds engaged in an activity and then work on lessons with the 6 and 8 year olds.
Homeschool science slime
6 year old Joanna demonstrates making slime

We don’t cover every subject every day. They alternate between math and writing six mornings per week, 52 weeks a year. Science and art are covered at co-op for part of the year. Once a week we read a chapter from our history book, and throughout the week we read the recommended supplemental readings that go with the chapter.

9:30 am – Second breakfast
10:00 am – The big kids are finished with lessons and everybody has free time. For me,that means laundry, dishes, food preparation, gardening, and sometimes relaxing with my own reading material. The kids go outside when weather permits. Otherwise they entertain themselves in the house and that gets very messy. I am often interrupted by crying children who are having a toy squabble or other disagreement, or who have obtained boo-boos and need kisses, or who have invented something or drawn something they are eager to show me. Whenever perpetual disagreements or boredom strike, I give the kids chores to do.
11:00 am – Elevensies (Kidding… sort of… It’s unbelievable how much time kids spend eating!)

Joanna and 8 year old Katrina check out their specimens.
12:00 pm – Lunch. We usually eat leftovers from last night’s supper, or sandwiches or microwaved chicken nuggets. I do not cook a meal in the middle of the day. I basically hate cooking and do it as little as possible. The kids are expected to do as much as they can by themselves. I pay a quarter for emptying the dishwasher or sweeping the floor.
1:00 pm – Nap time. We never, ever mess with nap time. I am extremely strict about this part of the schedule. We are always home before 1:00. The 2 year old goes first. I remind the other kids that it’s time to be quiet and take her up to her room. After a few stories and some gagas (nursing), she’s down. Then it’s the 4 year old’s turn. He gets a few stories alone in his room and goes down.
Katrina loves to illustrate the stories she writes.
1:45 pm – Reading time. With the two youngest asleep, the two big girls and I sit together on the couch and read. I read a few stories to them, and they each read aloud to me from a book at their reading level. This is the extent of our reading “curriculum.” Occasionally, on staying home days, we do reading time before lunch so that I can have more free time
in the afternoon.
2:30 pm – This is MY time, and it is sacred to me. I send the big girls off to do whateverthey want (usually they play outside and  explore the far reaches of the farm) and I work on things that I care about. This often includes a home improvement project (my husband and I are rather proud DIY’ers and we are always renovating something). It takes me two hours a week to mow our yard. I squeeze in 30 minutes of exercise every day, usually during nap time but sometimes in the morning. Sometimes the big girls and I will get out a messy art or science project that we can’t do when the littles are under foot and work on that together. Sometimes we help Daddy fix broken machines or work cattle.
4:30 pm – Sacred nap time is over. The kids’ favorite show, Wild Kratts, is on, and all the kids sit and eat apples (the ONLY food they are allowed to have in the living room) while they watch. Sometimes this distraction allows me to keep working on whatever I started during nap time. Sometimes I get started on supper. Sometimes I watch with them.
Wild learning at its best.
5:30 pm – In the dead of winter, we usually spend a good deal of our evenings in front of the TV. The rest of the year, it is shut off after an hour and everybody goes back to playing and working outside. At the present time, we have no regularly scheduled
evening activities. In the past, the kids have done sports and dance classes that meet on weeknights, and I imagine at some point we’ll resume some of those things. Right now nobody is begging for those sorts of things so we’re not doing them.
We regularly enjoy local parks and playgrounds when we’re at loose ends. Often we meet
friends for a few hours either in the morning or evening (never at naptime!). We take nature hikes and the 8 year old tries to fish. The rest of the evening includes supper at some point, but we rarely sit down and eat together as a family of six. Usually Daddy works late (9:00 or later in the spring, summer and fall) and eats when he comes home (and often at least one kid eats with him). In the winter he sometimes comes in earlier and we might eat together. The kids enjoy a variety of electronic games, card games, and board games, and we play them together or separately. The kids need showers a few times a week and that can be a lot of work.
Ideally, all the toys get picked up and put away before bedtime, but sometimes I don’t  have the energy to make them do it.

9:30 pm – Bedtime. I put the 2 year old to bed because she still needs her gagas, then I take a shower and hit the hay. Daddy has always done bedtime duty for kids who are weaned. He reads them stories and tucks them in. It’s sacred time to him because during busy times of year he hardly sees them at any other time. (They all love tractor and combine rides with Daddy and we do that as often as possible, but it’s not always possible.) By 10:00, the whole family is asleep, resting up for another big day ahead.

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