Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Learning to homeschool realistically

I've been thinking a lot lately about the whole topic of "homeschool style". There are so many out there with some of the most popular being classical and Charlotte Mason. Then there are the more controversial styles, most notably unschooling. One can get mightily overwhelmed, along with developing the most intense migraine ever known to man, just reading up on the different styles. At the end of the day you are left with the big questions. What style do we choose? What style fits our family? How do we know which style is best for our family? How do we know it's working? And then that migraine comes back to life.

When I think of the style we use, I admit I'm stuck. We really don't follow any specific style. For a while I called us "eclectic" in that we use many, if not all, styles. To be honest, we use whatever works and that may change from one day to the next. All depends on what mood the kids are in...and the parents. Let's be honest, if you wake up feeling terrible you are not going to be an effective teacher and before long both you and the kids are exhausted and cranky and not one thing has been accomplished. Shoot, I remember that happening in public school all the time, you could tell the moment when the teacher walked in if this was going to be one of "those" days. And it usually was.

So, as I was thinking about it the other day, the answer finally hit me. The best way to describe our style is "realistic". The best way I can think to describe or define this is: realizing that there will be no one-size-fits-all method for our family and doing whatever has to be done to get through the day/week/month/year and accomplish as much as possible in the least painful way possible and as simply as possible. For our family, this is very true! Some days we get so much done I can't believe it and I'm honestly afraid to admit we had a wonderful day for fear of jinxing the possibility of having another great day. Other days you know the best thing to do is to throw up the white flag of surrender and put on any educational documentary on Netflix that will keep the kids interested for more than 5 seconds.

I am learning quickly to not compare ourselves to others and that we have to do what works for our family. It doesn't matter what others think or if they approve. As long as the kids are learning, it really doesn't matter how, what, where or when. It only matters that they are learning. And when one is homeschooling special needs kiddos, specifically developmentally disabled kiddos, you have GOT to be willing to bend and be flexible or you will break and it won't be pretty. I have had too many of those days already where I am curled up on the bed, sobbing my heart out and feeling like I have done nothing but fail our kids. You know those days, when you are mere moments from picking up the phone and re-enrolling them in public school.

But then the moment of self-pity passes. You wipe your swollen eyes, take a deep breath and pray. Your reevaluate what you are doing and what needs to be changed. Most of the times, it's Mommy's expectations and preconceived notions that need to change. I am too hard on myself and expect too much. And that's where the realistic approach comes in. I look in the mirror and say "you can only do what you can do and you can't expect the kids to do more than they are able to do". The boys have come a long way and are learning. Neither of them are at the grade level their "typical" peers are, but who cares? With both boys, you can only push them so far before they totally shut down and all learning progress comes to a screeching halt. And what's the point of that? Too much of that took place in public school for them both and became yet another of the many reasons we withdrew them. So why am I trying to continue what's already been proven to fail for them both? That, my friends, becomes the million dollar question. Why am I continuing to make the same mistakes that public school made? Because I got caught up in the very unrealistic idea that the boys should be doing "x, y, z" instead of seeing them for the individuals they are and creating a realistic learning environment based on their individual selves.

Josh and I sat down over the week along with my parents (who are a huge part of the kids lives) and made a monumental decision. To be realistic homeschoolers and set realistic goals for the kids. Combining life skills with academics and above all: simplify!!! Simplify is a word I'm trying very hard to get my foggy brain to focus on and incorporate into every aspect of our life. De-cluttering is another but that's for another post on another day.

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