Recently, someone questioned our decision to keep Matthew home instead of enrolling him in the public school system. I know that, to an outsider, it might seem like we are not doing all we can for our little guy by not taking advantage of the programs and therapies that are offered by the schools.
So, I thought I would take a moment to explain why we do what we do.
Our venture into the homeschooling world started with Micah. As I explain why we decided to educate him at home, I’m going to brag about him a little bit. (If you don’t want to hear it, feel free to scroll down a few paragraphs.) Keep in mind there are many, many different reasons we choose to homeschool – I’m just going to touch on some of the big ones in this post.
At the Vawter academy, we can pray in school, we can talk about God, and we can incorporate our faith into all of our studies. For example, Micah’s language arts book is called “Language of God,” and gently incorporates faith and values into each lesson. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite lessons:
In all that I think and say and do, God comes first. Others are next, and I am last. That is the proper order in writing, too.
YES: John and I are going to play ball.
NO: I and John are going to play ball.
His handwriting lessons have him write out Bible verses instead of meaningless sentences, and his science books teach about God’s creation.
We tell Micah that God has given us each different gifts, none of which are necessarily better/worse than others, but we all need to find out how God wants us to use the gifts He gives us to serve Him and do His work here on Earth. Micah knows that one of his gifts is his ability to learn, but we honestly try to not let him know just how amazing he is. He learns things very quickly, remembers them well, and begs for more. When Micah was only 18 months old, he was pointing at and correctly identifying every letter of the alphabet. This wasn’t because we pushed him, but because he was constantly pointing at things saying, “What’s dat?”
At the beginning of this school year, I ordered curriculum that was to last us through first grade. However, he finished his (2nd grade) Science book in December, and I had to order the 3rd-grade book. He only has one chapter left in his Spanish book, one story left in his History book, and just a few pages left in Language Arts. We’re about a quarter of the way through his 2nd-grade Math book. He started reading at a very young age, and reads everything he can get his hands on. He recently read “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis in 1 day, then proceeded to read the entire series within a month. When we had him tested last year (Kindergarten), he scored in the 99th percentile in every subject, and landed at a 5th-grade reading level.
So, we decided to keep homeschooling him. 1: it’s working. 2: we both enjoy it. 3: we only spend a few hours a day on formal schooling, and he has the rest of the day to enjoy being a kid. 4: We can teach him things we want him to know, and shield him from things we don’t want him to learn just yet. 5: I can (barely) stay ahead of him, keeping him interested and challenged. 6: I like having him around, and so do his younger siblings.
And then, there’s Matthew. Yes, Matthew is different – he has Down syndrome. So, our decisions to educate him at home are a little different, too.
First of all, we did try some of the services offered by the school system. They were good services, and we have nothing bad to say about most of the teachers and therapists that worked with him – it just didn’t work for Matthew. (See my post: “Speech Therapy Drop-Out“)
Matthew is five now, and would ordinarily be starting Kindergarten in the fall. He can identify and say (and sign!) all of his colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, white, brown, and silver. He knows the shapes: circle, square, rectangle, triangle, star, heart, crescent, and diamond. He knows all of his letters, capital and lower-case, and can tell you the sound each letter makes. He can read 30 sight-words, and reads them in 7-10 word sentences when we put them together. He can count to ten every time, and identify the written numbers. He’s working on counting to twenty, but often gets lost in the teens. Not too bad for pre-K, especially when you consider that he does have significant expressive language delays, so this is just the information that he can tell me that he knows. There is probably a lot more that he knows, but just can’t express yet.
He is hard to capture on video – especially trying to juggle his word cards, the camera, and an active 9-month-old, so sometimes the first word of a sentence is cut off.
Because we feel that Matthew is thriving in his current learning environment, we see no reason to drastically change it by sending him to school in the fall. We visited the school and the classroom where he would be placed, and we felt that it was not ideal for Matthew. We live in a small community, and like all schools, ours are doing their best with limited resources. Matthew would be the only child with Down syndrome in his class, surrounded by children with autism and behavior disorders. The classroom and curriculum are geared toward these students, because they have to be. It’s a great place for these students, but it’s just not the right place for Matthew.
Please understand that our decision to homeschool our children is in no way meant to insult any schools or teachers. Aaron and I both have many friends and relatives who are teachers, and we appreciate the work they do. We value their support, help, and insight as we discuss ideas and learning strategies. Trust me, there is nothing like trying to run a “classroom” with four young children to make you appreciate what it must take to run a classroom with 30!
And, we do have difficult days. I think all moms and all teachers do! Most of the time, Micah does his morning work fairly independently, then we work on Spanish, math, and science after lunch when some of the younger ones are resting. However, there are days when things don’t run that smoothly. There are times one of us is tired, grumpy, or just doesn’t feel like working. There are times we both get frustrated, times I lose my patience and yell at the kids … then feel terrible about it later. There are times I am too distracted by laundry or dishes, and I’m not the best teacher. There are times the little ones are too distracting to let Micah focus, and there are times Matthew flat-out refuses to obey or do anything I ask him to do! In fact, we watch for little windows of Matthew’s most agreeable mood to work on academics, because if he doesn’t want to do it, it is NOT going to happen!
But, overall, we feel that our home environment is the best place for Micah and Matthew to learn. If that changes over time, we will too. We are simply trying to give each of our children what is in their best interest, at each step along the way.