Ashly Barta

 

I never thought I would homeschool. I was a public school teacher and believed wholeheartedly in everything the public school offered children.  As a teacher, I knew what I was capable of and what I knew in my heart to be right.  I saw teachers and administrators working day in and day out to help the children in our school district thrive.  Then I had my oldest son.

They diagnosed my son with epilepsy before he turned one-year-old. Our life in those early days after his diagnosis are a complete blur to me.  We tried medication after medication, seeking specialists out of state and more testing than I can remember.

My husband is active duty military and with his job it became clear I needed to step down from my full-time role as teacher and manage my son’s care.  We enrolled in Early Intervention and received occupational therapy and speech therapy.  I fell into a rhythm and we thrived.  I was in an area that I had many colleagues and I knew how to find the services we needed.  This helped so much! 

We were fortunate my family was available for extra support since this epilepsy diagnosis was not but a minor blip on our radar.  Then we received news from the military we were moving across the country! 

My mind was flooded with unanswered questions. How do I handle preschool enrollment in an unfamiliar state?  How would his IFSP transfer? So many questions we needed to find answers to.  Luckily I enrolled our son in a special education preschool in our district, and at first glance it seemed like a wonderful program. 

That preschool year started out great, but as the year progressed the classroom added more children until it became clear the teacher had become overwhelmed and needed help.  This situation frustrated me with the lack of services that were not being given to my son, even when his needs were clear on his IEP. 

We had two IEP meetings before Thanksgiving and each time I left defeated and in tears.  The teacher and staff were only concerned with what my son could not do, and not one time did they mentioned a positive achievement.  Why?  He was a brilliant little 4-year-old and deserved to be celebrated despite the difficulties he faced.  The school was not offering anything to make me feel like public school was a better fit.  My husband and I agreed that he would come home and we would try preschool at home. 

 

The teacher and staff were only concerned with what my son could not do, and not one time did they mentioned a positive achievement.  Why?  He was a brilliant little 4-year-old and deserved to be celebrated despite the difficulties he faced.

 

Then, before we knew it, we were moving again. Another unfamiliar state and new schools.  I again started the enrollment process only to find our district in this new state could not find the right school for my son.  The school close to our new home did not have a school nurse, the school in the opposite direction was at capacity.  The solution was to enroll him across town.  I just could not believe we were fighting to enroll our son in kindergarten. 

Then it hit me. It does not have to be this hard.  I went home and started researching.  I was a kindergarten teacher before I was his mom. How hard could teaching our son at home really be?  No one I knew homeschooled their children and no one I talked to really understood how I could even consider this crazy idea. But I was a determined mom. 

What I found was that our current state did not require an affidavit until age 6, so my rationale was that if I messed up this year, we could try kindergarten the next year in the public school.  My son could work at his own pace.  We could customize his education and set goals meaningful to his unique needs. 

Fast forward to the current school year. We are finishing up our 5th year of homeschooling.  We actually homeschool our daughter too.  She has always been a homeschooler and when you ask if she would be interested in attending public school she replies with a “no, thank you.”

The joy and peace homeschooling has brought our family could never stand up against the fear I felt that first year.  Epilepsy has taken so much from our family, but it gave us the gift of homeschooling. Our children are closer than ever, we have freedom to explore and travel, and when the military shakes up our lives we have consistent education in our home.

I believe my children have been able to blossom because we do not place them in a fish bowl of only children their same age, which is unnatural if you think about actual life.  They get to interact with children and adults of all ages.  They are not compared, rather they are celebrated for the individuals they are.  They are 100% comfortable with who they are.  They are free to express themselves without the fear.

Thinking about homeschooling?  Research your rights, services available to you in your area within your budget, school district or insurance based.  I also suggest sitting down and making a list of strengths and weaknesses that your child has. This will help you find curriculum and activities to fill your day. 

The best part of homeschooling is the flexibility you have at your fingertips.  Home environments offer flexibility that a classroom never can.  You can take breaks as needed and create your schedule to work around things like doctor or therapy appointments.  Find friends in the homeschooling community that you can lean on and learn from.  Therapists are also a significant source for activities and help.  Isolation and exhaustion in special needs parenting is a real threat, so finding that community whatever it looks like is key. Lastly, celebrate!  Create moments to celebrate every day.  Dance, make pancakes with sprinkles, and clean up that mess later!  We get to stop, slow down and enjoy the adventure with our children. 

 

 

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

Teaching a child how to hike parallels the larger tasks of homeschooling and parenting.  Hiking, as well as homeschooling and parenting, may have many technical pieces of instruction, but never should we dismiss the greater benefit of the journey itself. There is a greater benefit of the homeschooling journey too, and it has more to do with walking the path with our children each day than how well any of us masters the hiking itself.

 

A Family that Hikes Together

Our family has been hiking since before we had kids. My husband and I both came from hiking families. Plus, within a few days after each of our children were born, as an initiation into the family, we introduced them to hiking.

As an infant, our child would ride in a front-pack when we would take off for a nearby trail.  As each child grew bigger, the transition from facing towards one of us in the front-pack to facing out happened around the second or third month.  Next, the child graduated from our front-pack to a more sturdy hiking backpack.

But we did not leave each child in the backpack stage. Instead, we observed that child’s walking acuity.  We paid particular attention to how well the child mastered uneven terrain and how resilient the child was to the occasional fall.  Our oldest was a natural pack mule on the trail and thankfully so because he was as solid as one too. He became rather difficult to carry early as a toddler, and we were all too happy to let him take that stocky frame and carry it on his own two feet.  But his younger brother was completely different. Our second child had difficulty mastering uneven surfaces. He hated walking on grass and especially when he needed to transition from the grass to another type of surface. Thankfully he was extremely light, and we managed well in the need to carry him much longer than his older brother when we went out on our hiking adventures.

Each child’s readiness considered, we still did not transition right away to multi-mile hikes as soon as each started putting their feet to the trail.  Instead, we had each walk part of the way and ride the other. At first we continued to carry an empty backpack and allowed the child to ride when walking became too difficult or was slowing down the rest of the party, but eventually, we transitioned making our shoulders available for the occasional rest.  

 

Hiking Milestones

Not until each child had built up enough personal stamina did we remove the option to ride.  But, getting our children walking on the path by themselves was only the first milestone in teaching them to hike. In the years to follow, as our family hiking continued, we continued to teach our children lessons on the trail.  

Our children learned how to:

  • Plan wisely and pack enough supplies.  Acknowledging your unique needs and properly preparing to address those needs dependent on the conditions of the trail and the length of the hike is extremely important if you are to get the most out of the trip. Ill-preparation can lead to uncomfortable situations and the potential need to make otherwise unnecessary changes.
  • Be considerate of others. No matter who is on the trail with you or who will follow your path consideration is appreciated.  These lessons involved making room for others who are slower or faster than you are and making sure to “leave no trace” so the hike will be equally appreciated by those who follow.
  • Look out for dangerous conditions. Being observant or taking appropriate action when necessary is essential to hiking safety.  From determining an animal and it’s probable proximity from droppings and prints to knowing when to make noises to warn animals of your approach, when to stand still to avoid getting attacked or trampled, and how to protect yourself if caught in a storm are all invaluable lessons to keeping safe on the trail.
  • Enjoy the journey.  Taking time to look up from the trail to watch the wildlife, smell the flowers, take in a scene, or stand in awe of the magnificent beauty that God alone can create so flawlessly has to be cultivated and encouraged. Looking beyond the trail to be immersed in the experiences is the greatest reward a hiking experience has to offer.
  • Cultivate relationships.  Talking on the trail or even sharing long periods of quiet pondering when walking side-by-side with others strengthens relationships.  Hiking parties naturally bond on the trail and these bonds have strengthened relationships in our immediate family and with extended family and/or friends we have hiked with.
  • Never give up. Hiking can be very tiring especially in high-altitude, dry, and steep conditions.  The determination to finish the trail before you start, unless conditions cause a necessary detour, helps for keeping the course when the trail gets the hardest.

 

Greatest Benefit of the Journey

Why do I share these things with you?  Because over the years as our family has taken countless hiking trips from short half-mile hikes in quaint campgrounds to grueling hikes down into the Grand Canyon and up again, there is a wonderful parallel for how teaching our children to hike has mimicked our 17 years of homeschooling and 22 years of parenting. Little by little we have trained our children not only to hike but also how to hike well, and still at the ages of 22, 20, and 14 they continue to do a lot of “hiking” alongside us as we teach them how to best follow the trail God has set before our children in the way they should go. Thankfully they still desire that we keep hiking with them through the ups and downs of their daily lives which has been the greatest benefit of the homeschooling journey.

“Our children still desire that we keep hiking with them through the ups and downs of their daily lives which has been the greatest benefit of the homeschooling journey.

Our children at the beginning needed us to help them with everything.  But, teaching them the mechanics of life was only the beginning of teaching them all the knowledge that my husband and I had acquired over the years. In fact, we are still teaching our children as they actively navigate much of their trails now on their own. The same is true for homeschooling and parenting.  We teach our children reading, writing, math, and other life skills, but if we stop walking alongside them once we have taught them these things then we miss out on the greatest benefit of the homeschooling journey – the deepening relationship.

 

Path Yet Ahead

My encouragement to you as you look back at your homeschooling and parenting journey so far, and then look forward towards what yet you have to teach, there will always be enough path and time for the lessons that need to be taught as long as you plan wisely and determine to never give up. The key is in teaching the technical lessons that build on mastery and allow time for integration: enjoy the journey, cultivate the relationships, build awareness of potential dangers, and teach your children the importance of the impact God desires to make through them on the world around them.

Thankfully, God provides the trail as well as a continuous stream of supplies. So, as long as we follow His directions every day, we will not get off track or lose our way and our relationships with our children will only grow more strong and beautiful as we walk alongside them on this journey we have the privilege to share.

 

We at SPED Homeschool are so glad you have allowed us to take this journey with you, and we would love for you to share snapshots of what your homeschooling journey looks like.  Feel free to share a picture or story that makes your homeschool unique and beautiful, and let us know if you would allow us to share your story with the SPED Homeschool community.  When we share our stories, we not only gain a greater understanding of one another’s path, but those outside our community will also gain a greater understanding of what homeschooling looks like when a family works to help their child succeed beyond their struggles.

 

 


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