For parents who are at the end of their rope, homeschooling may sound like the only viable alternative. Public schools have failed their children time and time again. Perhaps it’s a child with a disability who can not receive an IEP or 504 plan because their disability “doesn’t negatively affect their schoolwork.” Perhaps it’s a child whose IEP makes accommodations that prevent the child from learning to their full potential. It’s even possible that the child has fallen through the cracks altogether, their physical, mental, or emotional difficulties (including ADD/ADHD, ODD, dyslexia, and a wide variety of other disabilities) preventing them from learning in a traditional classroom setting.
Public schools have let them down. They know it; they aren’t afraid of it; but their children are suffering because of it.
Homeschooling seems, in many cases, like the obvious answer. Once the child is at home, there is no longer any need to worry about whether or not the school will provide appropriate accommodations for them. Mom or Dad can handle whatever they need, exactly the way they need it, and they can learn in their preferred environment.
However, homeschooling is not the best choice for every family. It might be the better choice for the child in question, but just how wise a choice it is depends on a number of factors. Before choosing to remove your children from public school, ask yourself a few questions.
Am I able to handle my child’d disability adequately?
This doesn’t mean for a few minutes at a time, or during a special event. This means day in and day out, all day, every day. Once you bring your child home, there is no one else to take over—and many of the problems that your child is having at school will come home with them, once they no longer have a teacher to take it out on. Is your child defiant, refusing to do his work in class? There will come a point, though it may not happen immediately, when he will refuse to do his work at home, too. Does he argue with his teacher? He’ll argue with you. Does she constantly need to be redirected to her work? This may be better at home, where she doesn’t have quite so many distractions; but it will mean preventing distractions from occurring in her work space during the time when she is expected to be working.
Do I have the time for this?
Homeschooling means lesson planning, and scheduling, and grading papers. It means field trips (because you can not stay cooped up in the house with your child all day every day without both of you eventually going insane). It means teaching lessons. If you’re already working from home, or staying at home with a young child, it may seem as though you have plenty of time in your day; but reevaluate. Take a careful look at how long it will really take to get your child through their lessons every day. Many states have a minimum number of hours that must be spent in homeschooling every day, but the fact that you’ve accomplished the minimum does not necessarily mean that you’ve gotten the lesson across.
That time will include distraction. It will include multiple repetitions of, “Have you finished your work yet?” It will include days when your child sits and doodles in the margins of his worksheet for an hour instead of completing it, and days when she is supposed to be doing internet research, but is really looking up information about her favorite pop hero, and days when he throws a kicking, screaming fit over having to do any work at all, but especially the lesson that you have planned for him.
High needs children are also more likely than others to require a strict schedule. If math is supposed to be done at ten o’clock every morning, then math needs to be done at ten o’clock every morning if it’s going to get done. That means that you don’t schedule appointments (doctor, dentist, eye exams) for that time—for you or for your child(ren). If you are done for the day at three o’clock, then you had better be done by three unless his fancy has been truly struck, because otherwise, your child will likely go into meltdown mode.
Are we going to butt heads constantly?
Being home together all the time is more likely than anything else to bring out the worst in both you and your child. Once you settle into a routine, it will get easier; but for the first several weeks or months, you may spend half your time wondering who this monster is that has replaced your child. The harder you try to keep your child under control, the more likely they will be to argue with you—and you may well give in to the urge to argue back.
Remember, whatever behavior problems your high-needs child has are not going to go away just because they are no longer in a public school setting. They’re still going to be there. There will still be frustrations, and triggers, and fights…and they’re all going to be directed at you. Once you are at home alone together, you are the one and only target, and the only thing you can do to change that is introduce a new person for them to argue with. If that is something you can live with, then go for it! If it’s not, then you may need to reconsider.
Am I organized enough to pull this off?
Many retailers provide curriculums that are tailored to the needs of “average” students. There are curriculums designed for struggling students, and curriculums designed for advanced students—but there are very, very few curriculums that are perfect for your specific child. Those curriculums will not include scheduled field trips, or information about what to do when your child seizes on a tiny scrap of information in one lesson of one chapter and runs with it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a relatively “complete” curriculum, one that covers all the different subjects and will work for all of your course needs—but many parents prefer to put their own curriculum together a piece at a time.
This requires organization, forethought, and planning. It means that you need to know where you’re going, when you intend to get there, and what you’re going to need when you arrive. Do you want your child to do a great art project? You have to have the materials on hand. Concerned about an upcoming math unit? Having a calculator, protractor, compass, or other materials on hand may make all the difference.
As your child’s teacher, you have to be able to keep up with their work and document their learning. Traditional “grades” aren’t necessary for a homeschooled child, but you do need a way to measure their progress and their learning. Pulling them out of a traditional school setting accomplishes nothing if they do not increase their education by being at home.
How social is my child?
Some children desperately need social interaction in order to fuel their hearts and minds. Being shut up in the house day after day with no one to talk to, play with, or even argue with will rapidly drive them up the walls. Even if they are having problems at school, it’s possible that it’s better for them to be there, where they can spend time with their friends, than it is for them to be at home, with no playmates. Of course, this can be worked around. Blount County has a wonderful homeschooling association; there are programs at the Blount County Public Library on a fairly regular basis; and church or sports groups provide plenty of opportunities for interaction. However, this also adds to the already-busy schedule of a homeschooling parent—so it’s definitely something to plan for ahead of time.