Monday, September 10, 2012

To Home School or Not to Home School - That is the Question

Mason started Kindergarten this year. I admit, I wasn't ready and I was dreading it. I've been privileged to be able to spend each and every day with my little man since he came home from the hospital (with the exception of 5 days a few years ago when I went home for my father's funeral). I was suffering from separation anxiety just at the thought of him being gone from 8-3 every day. He couldn't wait to go to school though. He LOVED preschool and was excited about starting Kindergarten.

Due to the way the preschool program is run here, he attended preschool at a different elementary school than our neighborhood school. Since he was in preschool for 2 years, we knew the transition would be hard for him so we opted to have him attend summer school so he could get used to his new school. He seemed to really enjoy it and wasn't really impressed when summer school was over and he had to wait a month to start the school year. He was pretty excited the first day and even the first week. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm has waned over the last few weeks.

Shane and I were concerned that Mason wasn't quite ready for Kindergarten but we didn't really have a choice. He is very dependent on adults still for a lot of daily tasks, i.e. eating, dressing, toileting, etc. We've tried to help him become more independent but he still struggles with fine motor skills so he can't fasten buttons or open containers and he needs constant reminders to go to the bathroom. He also needs frequent prompting and redirection when completing tasks. When we met for his transition meeting last April, it was decided by his entire team that he should be mainstreamed and not placed in an ISEC classroom, or self contained classroom. Given the progress he made in preschool, Shane and I agreed with this decision. Now, we aren't so sure.

At the end of the first week of school, Mason's teacher asked if she could meet with me to talk about tools that worked well for him in preschool. I met with her early the second week of school and we discussed the things that had worked the previous 2 years, i.e. a picture schedule, a fidget toy for circle time, and an independent work center to help him work on being more independent. His teacher also shared with me that he was a bit overwhelmed by aspects of the day and that she and the resource teacher were working together to help Mason transition a little easier into his new environment and new routine. By the end of the third week of school, Shane and I had a conference with the teacher, resource teacher and principal to discuss our concerns about Mason's level of independence and to ensure that his needs were being met due to some concerns we had regarding lunch. During that conference, the principal requested that we have another IEP meeting to adjust Mason's goals. She actually beat us to the punch because we had planned on asking for an IEP meeting ourselves. Although most of our concerns were addressed during the conference, we still felt a bit uneasy. The school is obviously trying very hard to help Mason be successful and to meet his needs, but we have been seriously considering homeschooling him for several weeks now.

We are concerned that Mason just isn't ready to be mainstreamed and that public school in general may not be the right environment for him. Last week he began crying as soon as I parked the car in the school parking lot. On Friday afternoon, he told me that he didn't want to go to school, that he didn't like it anymore. This morning when I went into his room to get him up and get him ready for school, he crawled into my lap in his rocking chair and clung to me like he was scared of something. I asked him if he wanted to go to school and he emphatically told me no. When I asked him why, all he could say was "because." I also received an email from the resource teacher a little while ago that he is off task today and throwing things and drumming on the table top. We have been worried that he is experiencing sensory overload at school and now I am almost certain of it.

I know we won't have a lot of support from friends and family if we do ultimately decide to homeschool. The main concern everyone will have is that Mason won't get the socialization he needs or that he'll miss out on all the things that go hand-in-hand with attending school. I can assure everyone that he will get the socialization he needs. We know of at least three families that homeschool their children, one of which has 7 children ranging in age from 3 months to 18 years old. As far as I'm concerned, she's an expert on homeschooling! Also, we've found a local homeschool group who organizes gatherings 3-5 times a week. Mason will have plenty of opportunities to socialize!!

As to all the things he'll miss out on if he doesn't attend public school, in my opinion, that's a moot point. Given his fine motor and gross motor difficulties, he's already going to miss out on a lot regardless of whether or not he attends public school. He can't participate in sports and I highly doubt he's going to give a hoot about dances or the prom. His interests don't coincide with most of his peers now. Why should we force him to participate in activities that he's not interested in just so he can have the same experiences we did growing up? We want him to enjoy his childhood and his teenage years, not be miserable because we forced him to conform to what society expects him to be or do.

Despite what the general consensus is, school isn't the right fit for EVERY child. For some, especially those that are special needs, it can be detrimental. From what I have seen in the last few weeks, it's already starting to take a toll on Mason. He is struggling academically. I've been reviewing what he's learned each day and he doesn't seem to be learning much. Everyone who knows Mason knows that he is extremely smart and he is like a sponge when it comes to learning. Something is getting in the way of that though. His behavior is an indication as well. He's always been a really happy little boy, but lately he's been more aggravated and frustrated than happy. If school is the contributing factor, then it is our job as his parents to do what's best for him. If that means homeschooling him, then so be it. I look at it from this perspective, college isn't the right fit for everyone. Some choose to simply enter the workforce right after graduating high school while others choose to join the military or attend vocational school. If college isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, then why should public school be considered so?

This is not a decision that we are making lightly. We have been struggling with it for almost a month now. We are weighing the pros and cons, doing extensive research, and looking for support groups as well. We realize that if we choose to homeschool, we will need help from others as well as a great deal of support. Our plan is to keep Mason in school for as long as possible and hope that things gradually get better. If not though, we are going to have to do what's best for him. We will wait it out and see how things go for the next couple months. If we do make the decision to homeschool; however, then we plan to start sometime after the first of the year. We have to notify the state of our intention first, as well as the school, and I will obviously have a lot of planning to do. It is not the ideal solution and we are going to do everything in our power to give Mason the most "normal" childhood we can but the reality is, he isn't a typically developing child. We can't force him to comform to the norm. It would be like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Mason deserves nothing but the best, including his education.

1 comment:

  1. Cheri, I think it obvious that you and Shane only have Masons best interest at heart! you deserve nothing but support for yor choices in life, especially when they are well thought out and you are doing what is best and healthiest for Mason. Way to go!! You are doing a wonderful job and I think you both are wonderful parents. Hopefully anyone who reads this will get beyond the stigmatism out there about homeschooling, because its not about homeschooling, its about what is best for Mason!