A Parent’s Perspective: How I Am Successfully Homeschooling My Child
By Traci Gulledge Street:
Traci grew up in the Flathead Valley. She graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in communication studies, and has worked with kids off and on for many years. In the rare moments when she’s not actively being mom, she enjoys collecting and researching items from the 1950s and 1960s.
The COVID-19 pandemic has people considering homeschooling, which can be overwhelming and daunting. Many parents are not, by trade, teachers. Lots of us have tried (and failed!) to emulate traditional school. Others do well, setting up classrooms in their homes and planning and following a set curriculum.
Whatever your reasons for choosing homeschooling, thanks to COVID-19, there are now more resources available to the homeschool parent than ever before.
When my son was almost 4, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. At the time, I was working for the local school district as an aide to an autistic child. I had learned about PECS (a six-phase communication system using pictures) and Proloquo2go (a popular and robust communication app for iPads), and I knew what stimming* looked like. I was more fortunate than most parents – I already had a minor introduction to autism.
As the parent of a newly diagnosed child, you often don’t know where to turn or who to trust. You most CERTAINLY don’t trust yourself! You begin by researching and listening to the experts...you search out the supports available in your area...you try to relate what you read and learn to your own child. And after a while, you learn to listen to yourself, and to your child.
- Following My Instincts: It was this instinct that finally led us to pull our child out of public school. By the end of first grade, my child began refusing to go to school. He cried for hours in the morning. I had to drag him out of bed. I finally looked at my son and wondered if the benefits of going to school outweighed potential damage to his mental health. I can’t say what exactly caused his extreme reaction to school that year. The school tried, but in the end, it just wasn’t working for him.
- Incidental Learning: Children are natural learners. Their curiosity lends itself to learning. You can turn almost anything into a learning experience! Baking cookies? Learn about fractions or chemistry! Going on a walk? Talk about why the leaves turn colors. At the grocery store, discuss where your food comes from and how it gets there.
- Utilizing Interests: For my child, we take his extreme interests and use them. We have spelled words and done math with Legos. We have written letters to family about his favorite mythical beast, the Kraken. I ordered workbooks specific to Minecraft, his current favorite video game.
- Socialization: People often worry about a lack of socialization for homeschoolers, but I have met many parents who find homeschool works better for their child with a disability. My son has made friends who have similar interests, and at times, friends who may have similar communication styles or social awareness. Because of this, I have also made friendships with parents who understand my situation — moms who recognize when we have reached our limit and understand if we have to bail on plans.
- Setting Our Own Pace: I believe children learn at their own pace. For my child, being in his own environment has often been a better choice. When he was younger, he often had insomnia, which made it hard for him to have a successful day at school. Now we are able to flex his schedule to meet his needs. We can often rework the “classroom” to meet him where he’s at, such as doing something outside, taking breaks, or having a later start time.
At some point, he may want to go back to public school. If he chooses that, I will do my best to support him. As he gets older, homeschool becomes more challenging for both of us. The main thing I’ve learned, however, is to keep moving forward, and to open my eyes to experiences that promote learning.
*“Stimming,” or self-stimulating behaviors, are repetitive movements or sounds. Many people on the autism spectrum stim, although stimming is not strictly an autistic behavior. Stimming can be self-calming, focusing, or simply help a person feel where his body is in space.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction Just for Families page lists content standards for each grade and homeschooling resources. The page advises parents to contact their County Superintendent to register their homeschool.
Distance Learning with MontanaPBS
The Best Homeschooling Resources Online
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Montana Family to Family Health Information Center, the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, or the University of Montana.