Getting Started Homeschooling
By Tom and Sherry Bushnell
Before Withdrawing From a District
*Send in your letter of intent to your school district
*Meet your state qualification for private schooling or umbrella school if
it is needed, BEFORE you pull out.
*Put together a program you are comfortable with.
If your child is severely disabled, a communication direction, OT< PT< self-help skills, and sensory activities may all be easily done at home and can be made to look good on paper. (See Debbie Mills IEP Planner at the endof this article under Autism and Down Syndrome resources.)If your child is able to start reading, a sight word or phonics direction, plus math and science/social studies might be put together quite easily along with any other special interests. (See resources at the end of thisarticle.)
There is a special term we use to describe education our special needs at home. The words PRIVATE PROGRAM step around the red flags that go up for educational professionals concerned for the welfare of special needs students leaving their district. Our attitude can make all the difference when we are withdrawing from a district. With confidence we smile at the future. Our private program is so successful that we cannot think of doing anything different for the child we love (and assume they love too.) Wanting what is best for our child, we have spent countless hours researching. Pouring over catalogs and methods we have selected the BEST for our child. Wavering in resolve or where to begin will only rouse pity for your child in the hearts of the educational professionals. With thankfulness for all the teachers have done (and that they are still there if we need them) we back out the door smiling as we go. If you must meet with the district for some reason in the process of withdrawing, (and we cannot think of a reason why a parent would legally have to) leave your child at home and dress smart. Carry a brief case or folder and cell phone on your hip. Have someone call you for a brief moment during the meeting. Look professional. Take another professional to an IEP meeting if you are trying to get services. It's the bedraggled tired mother they are anxious to "help". You may feel tired, bedraggled, even angry but do not make waves when you leave. The only emotion on your face should be a simple smile.
Putting together a program
This can be done independently in most states. Even most umbrella programs give the option of a cursory approval of a parent's program. If help is needed in getting started there are several options for special needs students. See end of this article. For all disabled students, there are many directions parents can choose from. For the unique learners or dyslexic there are structured programs or the other extreme, self-motivated learning (see this magazine's article titled He's So Busy Learning We Forgot To Do School!, about this option.) Most parents choose something in between. For the severely disabled there is a more structured approach like applied behavior analysis for autism. The other extreme would be creating a learning environment for a child to explore at will. Each of us will probably have more than ordinary education to consider. These variables will narrow our choices and shape our program *What age our child is and how mature they are, number and age of other children being schooled at home
*Dad's availability at home, his job and work schedule, Mom's availability
due to work, illness or other responsibilities
*Financial considerations. What resources can be afforded?
*How disabled a child is and what the care needs are. If a child is total
care, the program would be very different than for a learning disabled son
or daughter of Down syndrome child who can spend more time helping mom.
*Where we live geographically. What are our state homeschool regulations?
How safe is it to homeschool in our area?
*Therapies and other outside commitments that take us away from home.
The way to put together a curriculum very quickly is to use what you have on hand at home. Enrolling in an over-the-mail umbrella program such as Hewitt or Christian Cottage Schools would meet the requirements quickly too. The best way to put together a tailor made program is to order all the catalogs and take your time. Most of the catalogs listed at the end of this article are free for the asking. We have learned a whole lot just reading them Arm yourself with catalogs, manuals and books addressing your child's needs. Find a nice box or shelf to set all of your incoming material on. It is so easy to get overwhelmed with information when it all comes in so fast. Do not despair. You will sort it all out in time. Start with one area.
We use observation to keep up with where our children are at, not expensive tests. The Brigance inventory from Woodbine House is a good resource (although pricey). Some states require testing. We highly recommend private testing done for learning challenged special ed students. A homeschool friendly tester can be licensed and may cost money. Save up for it. It will put you miles ahead in sleep at night! Other states require testing, but do not require you to send the results anywhere. As the burden of proof is on the parents to prove that progress is being made, some families, instead of testing, keep a journal or portfolio, complete with pictures and any work done, in case of trouble. We do suggest complying with your state's regulations as far as your conscience will allow. Perhaps a move to a different state is in order if you are not comfortable with the homeschooling laws AND not comfortable sidestepping the law.
<< Buy it here!
*Order catalogs at the end of this article dealing with communication
*Find books on the NATHHAN web site dealing with your child's area of language need. Order them from NATHHAn or from the bookstore or local library.
*Don't over look simple ideas such as family picture albums, homemade books with magazine pictures cut and pasted on card stock, language picture cards or other visual aids.
*Look into getting Straight Talk (See ads in this magazine) or perhaps work with your child's speech therapist on a consultation basis, attending therapy with your child once a month, writing down home work. Letter Recognition and Reading
*Start with colors and shapes, right and left, up and down.
*Order catalogs from companies that have kindergarten or early reading material of various kinds. Do some research. Ask others homeschooling a child with a similar disability what is working for them.
*Use conformity in the letters chosen to read such as all lower case, all upper case or cursive. Why should a child who is struggling with learning the alphabet be made to learn 3 different sets from the beginning?
*Eliminate busy pages and worksheets. Keep it black and white and simple for those who are easily distracted.
*Link letters with shapes or animals or at least something for them to hang the letter on in their memory.
*If your child has a learning "disability" check into various methods of correction such as the LindaBell-Mood program Orton Gillingham, Vision Therapy, Reading By Colors, etc. .(if not just to assure yourself that you are informed of the options).
*Be sure your child is able to do phonics before buying a program or investing months of you and your child's time on a method that will not work for you. After letters are recognized simple letter sounds ad words, pig, bob, fan, etc.. will give a clue as to whether phonics will work. Quality phonics programs are expensive but a real help. For the very beginners, there is no need to buy a program if it is not legally required. Use household resources for beginning concepts.
*As much as we are fond of the phonics reading method, there is nothing sacred about phonics. Sight reading can be just as effective if a child is struggling to learn to read in the first place. Sometimes phonics rules elude our children and they spend so much mental energy trying to cope with the exceptions that they cannot remember the word. We have found this especially true in children with Down syndrome. Some have learned the letters and even the sounds of the letters, but many children cannot put the simple sounds together. In addition, phonics rules can be added as a spelling help later if reading is mastered after all! Our goal is to learn to read, not conquer a popular reading method.
Learning to Count and Separating Amounts
There are people who do not learn to do math, yet function fine in a family and job. Counting is a simple proves for those of us who are gifted with the mental ability to do so. For those children who struggle it can be a real concern for parents.
*Order catalogs with math resources.
*Look into methods of teaching math, such as Cuisenaire Rods, Math-U-See, Mortenson Math, Saxon Math, If I Can Build It I Can Understand It, Miquon Math and JoHamma Math (Editor's note: This program was invented by Tom who calls to his boys . . ."Get 'Jo Hammer and 'Jo tape measure and let's go outside and get to work!")
*If your child doesn't grasp counting, find ways to help him succeed in measuring things. Ill a board with slots with 10 spoons. Put napkin in each glass. Measuring is more attainable at first than counting in your head. Social Studies and Geography Taking our NATHHAN trip across the country was invaluable for our children's understanding of different climates, landforms and just how big our country is. If the Lord affords you the time and resources, travel is a great way to teach your son or daughter about what our world is really all about. Reading maps become much more interesting when you are traveling along the route you are looking at. Even a simple day trip reading maps, comparing history books with real life and talking about what you see out the van window is preferable to sitting at home.
The Most Valuable Resource Of All
The most important resource we have is access to the throne of our Heavenly Father. Home educating any child is a lot of work, let alone a child with extra challenges. How can we do it all? How do mothers of many children fit one more thing in their day?
*We ask the Lord for his blessing each day. We totally trust He is with us and all things work together for the good, even disastrous days. Romans 8:28
*We put others first and practice dying to ourselves, Ephesians 4:17-32. This may mean that our sacred alone time and space may be invaded. (We might just find we didn't need it so desperately after all!). Our recreation, hobbies and amusements may be curtailed as we meet the needs of those around us first. What an awesome feeling to be able to be free to serve others.
*We prioritize. This means that in communication as husband and wife, something will not get done that day. This also means that much WILL be accomplished that day. (In our home, there is never enough time to do everything anyway!) Ephesians 5:22, Titus 2:4-5
*We limit and combine outside trips. This includes shopping of all kinds, errands, therapies, Dr. and Dentist appointments, sports, lessons in the arts, and church activities. We become home oriented so that we can focus on the more important things, like raising children. *God is faithful to provide for all of our needs according to His will. Matthew 7:7, Matthew 6:25-34, Mark 11:24, James 1:5-8.