As this school year comes to an end, I am reminded of last year at this time. We had decided that homeschooling was what we were going to do, no matter how many people thought we would never socialize again.
Before that final decision, however, I decided that I was in charge of finding the perfect situation for our daughter and I set out on a four month stressful, sad journey.
Now, before I start, I want to clarify that homeschooling is not for everyone. Public/private school is not for everyone. Strawberry ice cream is not for everyone. No matter what or how you decide, make the decision because it is best for your kiddo, best for your family, and best for everyone’s sanity.
Before we decided on any schools, I wrote up a list of all schools with a kindergarten class in a 40 mile radius of our house (23 in total), and called them all over the next few days. Some had waiting lists that I requested to be placed on, some were lottery schools I requested to be placed in. But I scheduled observations at every single school. Did you know you could do that? Yeah, I didn’t either.
So the next month and a half I toured schools and classrooms to see how things were layed out, how many visual supports were available, how much time teachers had to spend with students individually, and so many more things. I believe that if the schools/state are going to be placing high expectations on our kids, I needed to have a high expectation of how our kids were being treated and how they were learning. I still have maybe too-high of expectations about classrooms, and the schools, but I digress.
I spent between 10 and 30 minutes in each classroom I observed. I had a tour guide in a few schools, usually the principal or the teacher’s aid, but in others I was told where the classroom was when I checked in and was not able to ask many, if any questions because of course the teacher was busy.
In one school I was told I would need to meet with the principal before the tour, and when I explained my situation, that I was looking at schools in the area for my daughter who is on the autism spectrum, who would be entering kindergarten in the fall, The principal almost shut down. She didn’t seem to like that I was touring other schools trying to find the best fit. She asked questions like “So you probably won’t be enrolling with us then.” and “Where is you home district, can’t you find a class you like there?”. Wow. I followed through with the tour the principal’s assistant took me on. The assistant couldn’t answer some of my questions because she “wasn’t sure” or “I don’t know if we do that here”, but when I asked her how long she had held her position (as the principal’s assistant) she said four years. These were not difficult questions, questions I would have hoped someone who worked at the school for four years would be able to answer. I called my husband after and told him we are never sending our daughter to that school. And since then, all I have heard are terrible, unfair stories of that place. That is not fair to our kids.
They weren’t all that bad though. That was my horror story. But that was one school of 23, I was sure I would be able to find a good match in 23 school options! Well, we found one that was almost perfect. It was a Montessori school, with bathrooms in the classrooms, lunchtime in the classroom, 16 kids per class with a full time aid, a fenced play area and lots of field trips. The downside? Lottery school. And we weren’t invited to attend the following year. Bummer.
No matter what school I went to, I came with my notebook ready to take notes and one page full of questions to ask. Here are the list of questions I felt it important to ask about…did I miss anything? What would you ask?:
-Are teachers trained to handle and/or teach ASD?
-How do you handle an outburst or an over-stimulated behavior?
-Have you had many kids on the spectrum?
-Are there services in place for help if needed? (aid/para/SCIA, SDC, resource room, SLP)
-How do you handle discipline?
-How do you handle a specific diet/dietary restrictions?
-Have you had any experience with a communication system or use of extra visuals?
-How do you handle potty time/potty accidents?
-What are the expectations for entering kindergarten?
-If there is no 1:1/paraprofessional/SCIA available, how would you handle a distracted or distracting child?
-Is it possible to put her in a TK class even though her birthday doesn’t fall within the TK limit?
-Do you have a second language class in kindergarten?
-How many and how long are your breaks/recess/PE?
-Does the teacher have an aid in class? How long are they in the class?
-Are there parent volunteers? What are their responsibilities? Are they made aware of any behaviors?
-What are your school hours?
-Do you do many field trips? What are the safety measures when going out?
-What is the homework for kindergarten?
-How is lunch time handled?
-What are the expectations in the classroom at the beginning of the year? Sitting still, working in pairs, working independently, etc.
Some schools couldn’t answer some of these, they didn’t have policies in place for if a child had a meltdown, or what to do about a kiddo with food issues at lunchtime. I found out, in my excessive questioning, that schools in our area would report a parent to child services if their lunch was unhealthy. That was a very touchy subject for us seeing as how some schools saw beans and a tortilla unhealthy, and some were peanut free; but chips filled with chemicals and pizza was available as school lunches. For a kiddo with feeding issues, a lot or supports and safeguards to protect her and us as parents would have been needed. It didn’t feel comfortable or safe for me.
We finally found the perfect solution, an independent study charter. This particular charter has onsite classes available, SLP, OT, and a resource teacher on staff, we were able to choose her curriculum (if we chose one at all), and we were able to put in her IEP all the safety procedures needed for any situation where we would not be with her, which was rare.
So far this school year, we have seen huge progress in every aspect of Bug’s life. More words and talking, less behaviors, being able to add numbers 1-10, counting higher than was expected, sitting at table time for longer periods of time (see my post about supporting table time here). All around it has been a very positive experience for all of us. We have the flexibility to do official schooling, like table time, whenever works best for us, we can go for a hike and picnic on a Tuesday all day without having to worry about it being an excused absence.
There are so many benefits to homeschooling, as well as many benefits to public/private schools. We chose the path that hoped would work for us, knowing that if it wasn’t working, we could lower our standards a bit and send her to a local public school. We, thankfully, haven’t needed to consider that because we have only seen progress with her. So yes, I am a firm supporter of homeschooling, yes I will suggest that if you ask if it’s worth it, and yes I will continue to share our homeschooling struggles and breakthroughs. Not everyday is perfect, but we are a flexible bunch so we will keep doing what works.