Learning That Looks Different

I can imagine that to outsiders looking in, my Instagram feed looks strange.  What we consider homeschooling doesn’t look like schooling at all.  Where are the text books? Where are the worksheets?  And how is going to the gun range “schooling” at all?

The whole gun range rant is for another post.

But in essence, the truth is: If I wanted to recreate “school” at home I may as well send them to school and save me the trouble.

If “school” was producing such great results, with amazing prodigies in science, sports, and art, our education would rank higher than that of other countries, and our college graduates a much more formidable force in the competitive labor market across the world.  But it doesn’t.

I’m not saying that there aren’t children who do absolutely amazing in public school – because there are.  However, I would argue that succeeding at Public School is not necessarily equivalent with being a successful individual.

So in my personal experience, I need to determine what would my child look like as a successful individual, and work my way backwards from there.  And here is my flow chart:

  1. Being uninhibited in kindness and compassion is a big priority for my children.  They are very tenderhearted, and I don’t want them to be “toughened up” by bullying.  I don’t want them to learn through peer influence and unsupervised socialization to be callous, or rude.  As a result, at this time public school is not the best choice for them.
  2. My kids are argumentative and struggle with submitting to authority.  There is (believe it or  not) a benefit to this: they don’t accept any information at face value.  Everything is questioned, researched, debated… from a history lesson to the chore of washing dishes.  If I want the learning to be meaningful, they would benefit best from a Socratic approach to learning.  And that’s just not a style of learning in most public or private schools.
  3. Creativity helps my children de-stress.  It’s also how they express themselves.  I’m sure there may be a charter school that would allow them to turn in their report in Manga form *somewhere*, but I haven’t found it.
  4. There are learning disabilities to consider!  My kids aren’t behind as a result of ADHD but I also know that the way I work with them at home has helped them to not be handicapped by this condition.  They can stand on their heads, pace back and forth, bounce a ball, and overall wiggle their way through all their learning assignments without being reprimanded for the inconvenience it would cause to the class.  Homeschooling for the win!
  5. A strong family unit is by far the most influential and beneficial factor I could give my children.  I don’t know whether they’ll be doctors or game programmers, but I know that they will grow up and be in relationships, get married and have children of their own (possibly).  And regardless of what they do as a profession, they need to learn how to love their children and their spouses.  Research shows they learn that from experiencing it at home, and I don’t think a few hours around the dinner table is enough.

Am I a helicopter parent? A little bit.  But there is science to back up that a happy heart leads to a smarter mind.  Looking at each child as a unique individual and helping them feel joyful means that they will retain more of what they learn and *gasp* develop a LOVE for learning.  Not learning for passing the test sake.  Not learning for passing the class sake.  Learning because knowledge is worth acquiring.

This is why homeschooling looks different in every home, and it varies within the home from school year to school year.  It’s fluid and organic as the students themselves.  And it will provide very different results from what you might have experienced in other children.  That’s the point.

Unquantifiable Benefits of Homeschooling

At the beginning of every year, I start evaluating all things from last year to determine our course of action for this year.  It’s kind of like setting New Year’s Resolutions, except no one keeps those.  I like to go a bit deeper and try to journal out things I wanted to do but didn’t, things I AM doing that I no longer want to do, things that worked out well and things that didn’t.  Then I try to be a bit more intentional moving forward.

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Homeschooling is one of those things that I can slave away and need some coffee in the morning and wine at night to get through.  But then again, that has more to do with parenting and less to do with schooling.  Temper tantrums, disobedience, and eye rolling happens in seasons for every kid (and I have three!) and they would happen here or in public/private school.  They just wear on me more when we are home together.

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However, every year I also find very tangible benefits to homeschooling.  Some I can put down on paper or a chart.  Some I just can’t.  More often it’s the unquantifiable benefits that far outweigh them all and has us pursuing the same course.

We are getting ready to do assessments with their contact teacher at their charter school tomorrow.  I needed some quantifiable results from an outside source to see if the kids are doing as well as I think they are.  Even though I’m seeing it with my own eyes, I have a hard time believing my 8 year old with ADHD does multiple digit multiplication in his head.  As much as I watch him do it.  He’s a self proclaimed 3rd grader that is supposed to be in 2nd and I’m not sure he has memorized his time tables.

It also feels like all of the sudden the three of them took leaps forward when it comes to writing, grammar, and penmanship. I would pat myself on the back if I knew how I did it.  I had been frustrated for almost an entire calendar year and all of the sudden – Whoosh! As if by magic – it clicked and it’s happening.baking cookies

But if I’m completely honest, my 5 reasons to continue our homeschooling journey are:

1.- My kids aren’t fussing with each other nearly as much as they were last year!  They have awesome moments of playing together or working together and they have more moments of resolving conflict calmly and respectfully.  If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, this is HUGE.  As in, knock on wood, walk away and cross your fingers HUGE.

2.- My kids are taking a step back and making wiser decisions about their friendships outside the home.  They are realizing that even though they can be friendly to everyone, not everyone is a good influence on them.  I don’t think there’s a curriculum that teaches this.  But I’ll take it.

3.- My kids are the most outward-thinking, compassionate beings I have ever seen.  I am frequently getting reports from other parents who thank me about something very kind and helpful my kids did… of which I had no idea.  And would never had known if the parent had not messaged me.  Not something I can take credit for either, except to say that I’m convinced learning and living from a position of rest helps them to be less self-centered.Bible Quiz

4.- My kids are overcoming bullying a lot more effectively.  Yes, homeschoolers get bullied.  Because homeschoolers are socialized.  They are “weird” and often their kindness gets mistaken for weakness.  While it’s never pleasant, we’ve been able to address and recover from every incident and I am thankful for that opportunity.

5.- My kids have not gotten sick in a long time.  I have missed annual appointments because I forget.  Nothing lasts more than a day.  No fevers.  No runny noses. YAY!

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I’m a firm believer in that if it ain’t broke… don’t fix it.  I’m seeing homeschooling working on all fronts.  So that’s how we plan to continue until changes need to be made.  With my husband returning to medical school there is a possibility that sometime in the future I will have to work full-time so he can attend school or do rotations full-time.  We will cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m praying for a way to continue on this course that has been  specifically charted out by God for us.

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Dear New Homeschooling Mom

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Dear new homeschooling Mom,

I’m so excited that you have taken the big leap!  Not because I hate public school or think private school is overrated, but because I know it takes a special kind of bravery to take hold of  your child’s education and put that burden on yourself.  It’s a huge responsibility, and definitely not a step you can take and be a wimp about it.

kidsI pray your husband and you chose this path because you love your children, and you want to redeem your time with them.  Because you envision something different for your children than what the rest of the world does.  I certainly pray it wasn’t under traumatic circumstances like bullying, an abusive teacher, or a learning disability that can’t be worked through.  These are problems you can only run from for so long.  Look instead at all you gain!  Fear is not the best motivator when times get rough.

I love seeing pictures of your new homeschool area!  I’m sure you were stoked to get those cute little desks from IKEA. I love the alphabet and math facts on the wall.  I frequently see all your efforts and questions to create a learning environment.  But can I interject?  Your homeschool area is… your home!  The rigidity of sitting in a desk 8 hours a day is one of the biggest downfalls of the school system.  Don’t be disappointed if that school desk collects a lot of dust while all the kid’s work is on the kitchen counter, the sofa, or his bed.  That’s a good thing!  Comfort is a perk of being home.

petsI also see all your questions about curriculum.  I have a few suggestions on that, but the shocking truth is: It’s not necessary.  There are hundreds of way to homeschool for free.  Between online sites like mathgames.com (completely free), a library card, and a child’s interest you would be surprised how much learning can take place.  I don’t want to discourage you from picking a curriculum, I just don’t want you to put all your hopes and dreams on it.  It will be great – for a season.  Then it will get difficult, and then you’ll love it again.  These rhythms of learning are normal.  So instead of beating your head into the wall when it fails, just set it aside; borrow a book on the subject, read it together, and try again later.  I promise you it will still be ok.tri

Please stop asking for permission to do what is right for your child.  If the question is, “Is it ok if we…?” The answer is, “You’re the mom.  You know best.”  Every child is different and what is good for Billy may not be good for Susy – and these two might be siblings!  Grab a cup of coffee, a good book (I recommend the Bible) and relax!  No matter how a schooling day goes, the household enjoys it more if YOU are enjoying it too.

The only thing I ask of you is that you take this amazing opportunity and become friends with your kids.  You can’t demand good character out of a hollow relationship.  They will be with you now for a long time, so prepare yourself to have little shadows in the ebbs of your life.  They will watch how you treat others, how you care for the home, and how you love your spouse (and vice versa!).  It’s waist deep in this lifestyle where children can really learn to be honest – the way mommy is honest – and patient, and kind… While they can re-learn math or reading at any point in their lives, growing up with integrity is kind of a one-shot deal!  They’ll Anakinonly be children once, and in the blink of an eye they’ll be off to college… And you’ll miss them terribly.

I am just now on week two of the school year.  We live in a one-bedroom apartment that is like a Little House in the Big Woods type of experience – only we are surrounded by a concrete forest in the middle of the city.  We eat, learn, play games, laugh, discipline, pray and cry in the same area.  And yet, it’s working!  Witnessing the growth is such a reward.  If it is working for me in these crazy circumstances I’ve been in, I’m sure it will work for you too.

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All Things Are Possible… With ADHD

This is blog 3 of 3 on the subject.  If you’ve just joined me, you can check out post 1 and post 2 first at these links!

Confession: I am realizing now that my apprehension against Ritalin is kind of like judging a diabetic for using insulin instead of dieting and exercising regularly.

But after a lot of research I’ve realized where my negative stereotype came from:

  • Seeing so many kids diagnosed early: What kind of four year old ISN’T a wiggle butt?
  • Reports of “zombie like” side effects on the medication.
  • The stereotypical “welfare mom” who takes advantage of the diagnosis to dump the kid from dawn to dusk at day care.
  • The ease of the diagnosis in the first place: even teachers and social workers can diagnose a child and refer him to get medications!

There’s always a little bit of truth to these stereotypes after all, or they wouldn’t stick.  Really difficult kids drive referrals, which is why boys are diagnosed in day care and most girls fall through the cracks.  That “zombie” kid may have been over-medicated because there isn’t an exact science to the amount of medication each individual kid needs – and as I’ve learned full well through  my RA journey, sometimes it takes months (in my case, a year and 2 months) to get the balance of medication right!  Lower income parents have a more difficult time with ADHD children and less support, having to work more and not necessarily having the child’s needs be any cheaper…

I’m no expert, but I have read enough on the subject to understand that the medications prescribed for ADHD are stimulants to help an underactive part of the brain – the part that helps with slowing down and thinking things through.  It’s not easy to dial it down!  But it makes sense to me because after Anakin would stand in the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, for 15 minutes, I would have him drink a cup of coffee with me in the mornings.

Cafe con leche, also known as cafe au lait.  Half brewed coffee, half milk, and some sugar.  It saved my life on more than one school morning myself… But I digress.  I did this every so often, specially on challenging school days.

I tackled all these concerns with his pediatrician too.  I came to understand that for most public school kids, they get put on longer-lasting medication.  Many schools are not exactly tolerant of a daily trip to the nurse’s office for another dose.  So when the aim is to help a child get through an 8-12 hour day, it’s not inconceivable that the dosage can be largely over-shot.

We decided to try a small dose that a) works immediately (side effects and all) and b) lasts only 3-4 hours.  If it was going to be too much, and negatively affect him, I wanted to know pretty immediately and call it good.  I also homeschool, and have been doing so the past 2 school years successfully without any medication.  In this time:

  • He learned to swim.
  • He published a book on Amazon.
  • He is a Cub Scout
  • He reads high school level fiction and even Kathy Reichs (we’re all a fan of the television show Bones)
  • He designs video games and learned coding
  • He’s an excellent chef – with the best mac and cheese in Alaska, I’m sure!
  • He’s made and kept a few good friends
  • Shot a .22 with outstanding accuracy
  • Premiered in a Christmas production with a local theater company
  • Performed in a choir, singing middle school level pieces of music with at least two part harmonies.

Needless to say, all things ARE possible.  Even with ADHD.

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The particular issue in this season of our lives is that the distractions and noise are constant and at times chaotic.  Not only was he having a difficult time focusing but the stress of trying to concentrate with the odds against him were also giving him headaches, depression, and an upset stomach.

So far, I’ve tried a dose of Ritalin twice – and always with his consent.  I’ve asked him, “Do you want to take your medication for XYZ this morning? Or do you think you can handle without?”  He’s asked me to do cub scouts and church without meds.  But on meds, he tackled a lot of chores and a lot of school work – might I add in an impressive amount of time.  DRASTICALLY less fussing with the sibling over every. single. chore.

Rabbit trail: How do I know this kid is a math genious? Because he’ll tell me, “Caleb only vacuumed 1/3 of the surface area upstairs.  Mean while, I have swept and mopped the entire floor down stairs, which is about twice the surface area Caleb has to vacuum upstairs in the first place! Therefore, it stands to reason that I should get on the computer first and not do any more chores – not even his chores!”  For the record, Caleb is 7.

He has complained it bugs his stomach but not enough to slow him down.  No change in personality either, just more task efficient; seeing the problem as “what needs to get done?” and then doing just that without complaining, fussing, or bullying his siblings into taking his place.

I don’t doubt that with or without medication Anakin, along many other kids, will accomplish things that will surpass anything his father and I could’ve hoped for!  While we read through the literature and learn better skills, we can certainly use treatment as our ally.

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And we will probably BOTH need treatment.  All my research shows me that ADHD is hereditary, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Anakin probably inherited it from me.  If I braved this process for him, I owe it to him to brave it for myself too because I can only parent as far as I know.  If you want to know how this saga progresses, you’ll have to follow my blog.  Only time will tell!

Do you face medication concerns when it comes to your loved ones? How do you handle that conversation? Share below!