Thursday, 9 August 2007

Back to Homeschool Week

This is my first time blogging, so here goes...

We have been in and out of home schooling for a few years now. I have 2 precious boys, ages 3 and soon-to-be 11 this month. For our 3 year old, it will be his first time home schooling as he starts JK this fall. He will likely stay home schooling until high school or university. For our almost 11 year old, it was quite different...

I was so excited when our first born was ready to start kindergarten. I loved school as a child, as I had many wonderful teachers. I remember there were so many things I wanted to be when I grew up that I just couldn't make up my mind; one of them was a teacher. I also wanted to be a nurse, a mom, a Cinderella, an author, an artist, and a 911 operator. But enough about me...

The first half of Junior Kindergarten went well, with only a few remarks from the teacher. My son loved craft time, but was not able to be left 'unattended' at the craft corner; he would either use ALL the glue on one paper (in a very creative way, mind you) or he would cut everywhere on the paper and ignore the dotted lines. This would leave the project looking like confetti. It was brought to my attention that my son was a non-conformist; he flat out refused to use only 2 colours at painting time. He wanted to use ALL the colours. Whenever there were specific instructions, my son tended to put his own twist on things. Anything but the exact instructions. He is still like that today; he likes to be creative on his own terms. I hear that he's not the only one out there like this. Aside from his 'creative insistence' in arts and crafts, he seemed to be doing well.

One day, when I arrived to the school for pick up, I was told my son was at the principal's office. He had been choked by another student. I was not told why this happened, just that the boy was sent home for the remainder of the day (half an hour). The next day when I walked my son to school, the other boy's mom was already there bragging to the other moms, "My son choked the hell out of ---- yesterday!" I couldn't believe my ears! She practically congratulated her son for his actions. After keeping my son home from school for a few days, they called me to assure me that everything would be fine.
I was getting the impression that he wasn't fitting in, as most of the boys in the class were friends with the bully. The teacher mentioned a few times that if my son were playing at the 'sand and water' activity centre and the bully started to play there, he would withdrawal and play by himself. He was shy, and not making very many friends.

At church, my son had no problems making friends. It was a safe, supervised environment with good family values. The funny thing is, most of the children he had made friends with there were home schooled. I had considered it at the time, and talked with the other moms a little bit about it. I had no idea what went into home schooling; I had never been to teacher's college, and didn't feel qualified to be a teacher. I also didn't feel that I had my husband's support to venture there.

The next year we were transfered to a new school due to a boundary change. The Pod System had about 5 classrooms with a common play area. Although the bully was in a different class, he shared play time with my son and often centred him out. A few times our son was caught defending himself against the bully, and was sent to the office for pushing. He also got in trouble for trying to stop some of the bully's friends from stealing his snack. Self defence is NOT tolerated! He started to have verbal blocks; when I would ask him how school went on the way home, he would open his mouth and couldn't get a single word out. He had to bang his hand on something to get the words out; this worried me, as we had been to the Rotary Centre for a serious stuttering problem when he was 3, and although he graduated from the program there was a possible risk of it coming back. When I spoke to the principal about our concerns, and our son's increasing lack of self-esteem, she said that at the time, it was not "serious enough" to prompt actions or behaviour modifications.

We went to see the doctor about this, as anytime school was mentioned he would freeze up and have great difficulty communicating. The doctor said, "Your son is showing great signs of stress. To give you an idea, his stress levels are about the same as an adult waiting for a heart attack. Take your son on vacation. He doesn't really HAVE to be in school until he is 6 years old." He suggested that we could even take him out and home school for the remainder of the year, and try sending him back for grade one.

A very kind friend from church offered to let us 'home school' with her family for a week while my son took his 'vacation' from school. This gave us a great opportunity to see what school was really like for home schoolers. After seeing how much fun my son had learning with them, and sitting at the desk, and paying attention with great anticipation, I gave some more serious thought to this. Could I ACTUALLY do this? After sharing my doubts, this wonderful home school mom showed me what was required of me, and even helped me write out a tentative school schedule for subjects. After finding out how easy it was, I realized I already had most of the resources needed at home. I talked with my husband, and was delighted to find out he supported me in our decision. We both felt so relieved to know there was a safe way to teach our son.

After about a week, my son's teacher asked me if my son missed school, and showed concern that I wouldn't be able to meet his needs. He saw her and excitedly proclaimed in front of all the children and their parents, "HI MRS.----, I HOME SCHOOL NOW!!!" When I later asked him if he missed anything about school, he replied,"They DO have that really cool climber." I smiled and thought, 'with all the parks and community centres in our city, I don't see that being a problem.'

I wish I could say we never went back, but alas, there is more to the story.

Going into grade 3, we were moving to a new area where a brand new school was being built. Our son thought that perhaps it might be cool to go back to school. I thought, NEW school, NEW teachers, NEW principal, and he's asking. So why not? After all, the new schools have the brightest teachers, right? Well, the principal was actually the SAME one we had before, but had transfered. Right off the bat, he was centred out and it felt like we were blamed for any shortcomings because we had home schooled him. Our son started becoming distracted in class, not finishing his work, and falling behind. The school refused to send home any homework to get caught up, and in math he was marked wrong for writing down 'advanced' answers that were not in the teacher's test key. He started to fiddle around instead of doing his work; eventually the teacher got someone else to scribe for him, to save time. He learned from this that he didn't actually have to do any writing, which lead to poor writing habits. The school diagnosed him as being ADHD, and sent him to a 'focus group' class (special ed) to develop coping skills for doing school work. This class pulled him out of the 'fun' subjects, making school more boring for him and less motivating. They failed to see one of the reasons for him being to inattentive; more bullies.

I was shocked when my son showed up in the middle of the day in tears, with ice stuck in his ear. Even though snow ball throwing is banned at school, he managed to get ganged up on by 4 boys in his class with ice balls. The school didn't notice he was missing, until my husband stormed into the classroom with my son, and took the 4 boys to the office to report the situation. Nothing was done about it; kids play. There were several incidents at school, and I was told that my son needed to learn how to report the problem better and to avoid the bully 'blind spots' where teachers can't always supervise at recess. He came home with bite marks on his arm that made such a great dental impression, he could easily be a guest star on C.S.I. But that was labelled as an 'accident'.

The stress came back, but this time it started showing up as check pains and spasms. We would have severe chest pains weekly, then daily, then multiple times a day. He would clutch his chest and scream, "My heart hurts!" The school did not take this seriously. When asked if they would please monitor his heart rate when this occurs, they agreed. But not once did the teachers notice when it happened in class. He came home from school at lunch and said, "Mom, I don't want to go back. I think I'm going to die there today," and begged "please let me go back to home school." I felt so scared for him; I didn't know what the chest pains were.

The head pediatrician at the hospital saw him and did tests. After observing our son, we were told it was signs of severe stress. He admitted that this school has a particular bully problem. When talking about ways to deal with it, my husband suggested home schooling and the doctor fully endorsed this idea. He ordered one more test to make sure: we had to have a heart monitor machine attached to my son for 24 hours while I was to put him under the most rigorous stress possible as a mother. So I gave him a drill-sergeant school day and tried my best to show him my worst possible school day (you know, those days when they just won't do their work). I had to know if I would be just as stressful as the school, or worse, as a home school teacher. Wouldn't you know it, not one chest pain or anything that resembled stress showed up on the test. This surprised me, but apparently I don't stress-out my child. The school suggested that we should let our child complete the school year, and then he would be enrolled and bussed to a special school the following year for behaviour modification.
The doctor had said the school's diagnosis was wrong: he was not ADHD, just a normal boy who had lost trust in his school and teachers, due to all the bullying.

So we took him out the day after we saw the doctor, and the chest pains miraculously went from 4+per day at school, to NONE! We did not expect to see such a drastic change; there have only been 2 chest pains in an entire year since then.

The school board has shared their concern with me: "how will your son learn to deal with stress properly if you don't let him be exposed to the stress?" I can confidently say that while a tank of sharks would definitely stress me out, who would like to be thrown in there just to learn a lesson? Every child deserves to learn in a safe environment.

Am I anti-school? No. A lot of kids like school and do well there. Home schooling may not be for everyone, and public school is not for everyone. I am so happy to spend every day with my children, and watch them grow.

How do I home school?

I am so happy that as home educators, we have the opportunity to cater curriculum to our child's individual needs and learning style. We have done the 'trial and error' method with a few different resources. We find that a hands-on approach works well for us. Most of our science lessons extend into interesting unit studies. Our focus has been to encourage our child to like learning again. He has associated writing on paper with negativity, so we are baby stepping our way through progress. I still haven't found the 'magic' program out there that will get him to write well and without groaning, but I haven't given up. We have found that computer studies is his favourite subject, and he will gladly type out his work rather than touching pen to paper.

I am so grateful for all the support I have received from our local home school support group. Their encouragement is priceless.

If you have managed to read this entire blog post, I thank you for sharing with us in our trials and adventures.