Saturday, March 10, 2007

Homeschooling, Unschooling and other crazy things people do

As we get closer to the time when Joseph will enter 1st Grade (or real school as I think of it) I'm starting to wonder if the school he's in now is really the right place for him. His teacher this year is great and so is his IEP case manager. What if that's not the case next year? What if he has another great teacher but she's just too busy and overwhelmed to give him the attention he needs on a daily basis? What if she's terrible and doesn't know how to deal with his behavior? So I've been thinking about some other options.

I don't think I could do this. I dont' have the skills needed to make Joseph sit down and learn. There are days when I think I don't even have the skills to deal with him just during regular day to day stuff. (Note to self - does this mean that I'm used school as a way to get Joseph out of the house and out of my hair for a few hours a day? Probably. I can live with that.)

I know that homeschooling has it advantages but one thing it's lacking is the social aspect. Joseph is naturally brilliant and could learn academic stuff in any enviroment. One thing he gets at school that he can't get at home is the scoial stuff, the give and take of working with other kids, dealing with a group, learning social norms. He needs to see other kids modeling those behaviors for him and he needs to see it every day. I suppose in theory I could just make sure that he's involved with lots of activites with other kids but I just don't feel like it's the same. I think homeschooling is out. (Sorry Mom.)

Unschooling is out for the same reasons as homeschooling and for a few other reasons too. From what I gather unschooling is based on the idea that kids have a natural desire to learn and instead of using a set lesson plan you seize on that natural desire to learn and build from there. I suppose that works up to a point. If you take your child for a walk and they wonder why leaves are green you could take opportunity to explain to them the science behind. If you take your child to the zoo and they ask why zebra has stripes you could use that to open up a discussion about natural selection and animal behavior and the food chain.

But that only works up to a point. Your kid is never going to come to you and say "Gee mommy, what's algebra?". Not that that seems to matter in unschooling though. From what I've learned through reading some blogs of unschoolers most days seem to consist of the following: 5% of your day is spent making wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free cookies with carob chips. Use this as a chance to expain fractions as you show how 4 1/4 cups = 1 cup. Explain to your child that you will end up with cookies that taste 1/10 as good as regular cookies. 95% of your day is spent laying in your hemp hammock, smelling like patchoilli and feeling superior, certain that you are raising the most perfect children ever.

(If I seem a little bitter about this you can thank the lady who sent me the email suggesting that Joseph doesn't really have Aspergers and if I just unschooled him he would turn out all right.)

Charter school
This is a real possibility. There is one charter school in our town and I was pretty impressed with it. I was not as impressed with the way they made us think Joseph would get into it's kindergarten when we really had no shot. There are a lot of things I like about this school though so I'm wondering if it might be worth looking into for 1st grade.

I like the student to teacher ratio that the school has and the emphasis that they place on children being well rounded. I like that they have year round school because I think Joseph would really benefit from that. This school has a lot going for it.

The big problem with it that I can see is that right now the school only goes up to 5th grade. Do I really want to have him go to this school for 5 years and then yank him out and put him in a new school with all new people right before junior high? That seems kind of cruel. And then there's the issue of if we can even get him into the school. There's a lot to think about here.

Private school
I think this option is out. I appreciate a lot of things that a private school can offer but the only private schools in our area are affiliated with churches. This is not so great for us. I don't want Joseph learning religion in school. I have a real problem with that. I don't think Joseph would like it much either. (The other day he asked me a question about something to do with religion and I explained it to him the best and most unbiased way I could. After thinking about what I said for a minute he said "That sounds false to me.") I don't think private school is an option right now.

Public school
This is where we're at right now. I think this is where we might stay but I do have some concerns about it. I worry about class sizes and the staffs ability to address Joseph's special needs. To be fair I'm not sure if I feel like anyone can deal with Joseph the way he needs and that due in part to me not being sure exactly what it is he needs.

Joseph's current school is pretty good and it does have a lot going for it. It's a newer building so the facilaties are pretty state-of-the-art. Everyone we've dealt with on the staff seems great and really seems to care about kids. So far I feel like all of Joseph's needs have been met and hope that won't change.

So what do you think? Do I need to adopt a "if it's don't broke don't fix it" way of looking at all this? Is public school the best choice for Joseph? Or do I need to look further into other options? I'm open to opinions and ideas here (but if you write me an email telling me that public school is making my kids autistic I'm going to have to mock you) because at this point I'm feeling a little unsure about what's right. So whatta ya thing?


Undercover Angel said...

It's a hard decision to make.

I homeschooled my son Tiger for a year and a half because he had problems coping with the Public school system, and I've never regreted it. The only reason I stopped homeschooling him at the time was because I had just become a single mother and needed to go out and work in order to support my large family.

There is a lot of curriculum available for homeschooling, that will help you with what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it. There are also a lot of websites with information that could help you.

Additionally, if you are worried about socialization, there are a lot of homeschooling groups that get together on a regular basis. Find out if there is one in your community - if there isn't, find some homeschooling moms and start one.

Another option would be to try the public school system for half a year, and see how he does. If it's not going well, then maybe decide to do something different.

Megan said...

As a teacher in a public school system who works directly with kids with autism, I understand your concerns. Although I am a little biased towards public, I don't agree that it is always the best option for every child with special needs. If I were you, I would try to go and observe a couple of different places so you can really compare. Also, ask to meet with or talk to the special ed team at the public school to describe program options and how they plan to meet Joseph's needs. Maybe come up with a list of questions for teachers and a list of expectations or things that you want for Joseph to share with them. Although public school class sizes are growing, most school special ed programs are designed to meet the needs of students with special needs and are supposed to adapt the environment to meet their needs. Some programs do this better than others, which is why I always recommend to my parents to go and observe firsthand. I hope this helps. I know I am not a parent, but I do know something about special education in public schools, so I thought it was worth a try. :)

melody said...

Tough decisions can drive us crazy, can't they? Ultimately you have to make the decision based on what you know, we don't really "know" you, your son or your family.

I homeschool my 3 special needs sons, autism is one of the needs, and it is best for us. Socialization isn't an issue. I'd rather have my children with adults and a small circle of close friends than exposed to the majority of peers in public schools. So much inappropriate behavior is instilled by peer pressure, even at very young ages. My sons are learning the values we hold high, and so far I see them carry these values into any social situation they enter.

And OMG was I ignorant when we began the homeschool journey. (OK, probably still am) There are still days I wonder how I will continue this and if they learned a thing.:)

There is no one right way for everyone. I applaude you for taking such care and time in deciding what is best for your child.

susan said...

I don't have a special needs child so I probably don't know what I'm talking about...but my youngest daughter had two boys with aspergers in her grade throughout her public elementary school years. (One may be autistic but I'm not sure)

Both boys socialized well with the other kids. One of the moms would come in and speak to the class at the beginning of each year expplaining to the kids why her son was different from everyone else and answer any questions they may have had. From that point on they were just accepted as one of the other kids. Yes, they were out of the classroom a lot for their private classes but it was never a big deal.

One of the boys was voted as the male Humanitarian of the Year in 6th grade.

I know that they are both at the Jr High right now, but I don't really now how that's going. Mom's don't stand around and chat at classroom parties anymore!

I don't know if that helps or not. It's a big decision to know the best for your child. Good luck.

(I don't think I could ever handle homeschooling either!)

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Might I suggest private school. A private school is smaller and you child will be loved and taken cared of. I am still seeing my old teachers and guess what they remember my name! Yes you explained religion to him in an unbiased way. Let me guess it was something like this: one day god sent his son down on earth to save the world etc. No duh that sounds false, it even does to me! By not explaining the spiritual side it makes it sound like a super hero comic.
Your boy can chose to not believe and will still get a great education