Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I Do NOT Homeschool

I have a lot of friends that homeschool.  I really admire people who homeschool.  I do not homeschool but I sort of fit the stereotypical "profile” of a homeschooler.  I have seven kids, am deeply religious, do not work outside the home, and I absolutely LOVE spending time with my crew.  My husband is a minister.  Many people assume I DO homeschool and are surprised when I tell them I do not.  I am asked fairly often why I do not homeschool.

I have a pretty good biblically-based reason for not homeschooling.   My husband was not “on board” and I am in submission to him.  We usually agree on everything and we make decisions together but in the end, if we disagree on something, his choice is the one that matters.  Is that hard?  Yes, sometimes it is hard.  Am I unhappy?  Absolutely not.  He is, by no means, a dictator.  He loves me as Christ loves the Church.  I am confident He would die for me or for any one of our children.  The very few decisions we have disagreed about over the years have only reinforced for me (in the end) that God’s plan for a man and a woman is the best plan.  Shawn makes the decisions that he feels are best for our family and he always has our eternal salvation on his mind.  He was confident we could raise our children to be faithful Christians (even with that “horrible handicap” of a public education.)  After all, both of us attended public school, were raised in the church, and remained faithful to God, so he knew it could be done. 

I read a blog article a week or two ago by a homeschooling mom.  She listed the reasons she does NOT homeschool.  I think that is the second one I've read that explains why a homeschooling mom does NOT homeschool.  In other words: she homeschools, but for different reasons than the ones listed.  The article was very well written.  I read homeschooling blogs and enjoy homeschool Facebook groups from time-to-time because I can apply what I learn even though I do not homeschool my kids.  Sydney has a learning disability and I’ve gotten some great ideas from homeschoolers.  Plus, homeschooling just interests me.  Remember, I wanted to homeschool but was not able.  If Tate’s transition to Junior High had not gone well, Shawn and I were going to reconsider public school for him.  The transition did go well and Tate is doing much better than we had anticipated.  His classmates treat him very well and I am in constant communication with his resource room teachers.  Tate is learning a lot and he loves going to school too!

I do see the reasons my husband knew (long before I did) that homeschooling was not the best way for us to go.  Ours would not have gotten the better education at home and my husband was wise enough to see that.   I still believe homeschooling (for most) is BETTER than a public education!  I do not need convinced!

I said all that to say this: If one of the reasons a homeschooler does NOT homeschool, is to constantly try to prove to me that their child is getting a better education than mine, then why do some constantly tell me that their child is getting a better education than mine?  Why is it that almost all the articles I see about the demise of America due to public education are posted by homeschoolers?  I am Facebook friends with many homeschoolers (or I was before this post) so don’t think I am picking on you alone if you post articles bashing my kids’ public education.

I do not need to see a new article each day about the common core.  I know the common core is not a good thing.  The educators in my kids’ schools know the common core is not a good thing.  The parents and teachers whose kids ARE being affected are fighting against the common core mentality.  My kids will be affected if the common core is adopted so I am staying informed.  I also know that many bad things happen at public schools.  I am often in my kids’ schools.  I see some things I do not like.  I see a lot of things I do like too.  I believe my kids are getting a good education.  I believe they are well grounded in the truth (religiously) and are able to handle the things they encounter each day.

I am aware that there are school districts in large cities where kids are not safe and kids are dealing drugs in the halls.  I know there are districts where we could not (would not) send our kids to public school.  We live in a small town, in a rural area, in the Midwest.  My kids’ graduating classes are usually around 100 students.  My kids are safe at school.  They are learning.  Their teachers are WONDERFUL.  Six of my seven kids have had the same teachers for kindergarten, first, and second grade.  Another teacher will have had six of my seven kids by the time my last gets through grade school.  I have the email addresses to most of the junior high and high school teachers memorized. 

I’ve never had a teacher that did not honor our wishes regarding religious beliefs.  Music teachers have accommodated us when my kids did not want to sing religious songs with instrumental accompaniment.  My kids have respectfully argued with their junior high and high school teachers when it came to biblical matters.  By the time my kids are in high school I think they can effectively defend their beliefs.  Most of the time evolution has come up the teachers have confided in me that they also believe in creation so they did not push the theory of evolution at all.  If I homeschooled my children I would certainly explain evolution to them so they could be “ready to give an answer.”

I try hard to be an encourager.  I encourage my homeschooling friends.  As a matter of fact, I have told more than one young mother who was considering homeschooling to DO IT.  If at all possible, their husbands are fully on board, and they have the desire, I tell them it is the best way to go.  But from now on I am going to ask a favor of them.  I’m going to ask young mothers who homeschool to never lead their children to believe that MY children are getting a shoddy education or that my family is not pleasing to God.   My kids have gone to bible camps with peers who are homeschooled.  My kids have been told that public schools are evil and parents who don’t homeschool are sinful.  My kids’ “friends” had to have heard it somewhere.  I asked a dad once if he believed it was sinful to send kids to public school and he said “yes.”  Have I known homeschooled children who are uneducated?   A few.  Do I know homeschooled children who are getting an amazing education?  Many!    

I've been pondering a lot of things lately.  I can't say this wrong or I'll make a lot of people really mad.  (If I haven’t already accomplished that.)  But, if one of the goals of a homeschooler is NOT to make me feel guilty for NOT homeschooling, then why all the negativity about public schools all the time?  If I were posting articles on my Facebook wall that listed the drawbacks of homeschooling, I would lose some friends I’m sure.  Some of my homeschooling friends always seem to be on the defensive anyway.  I can’t figure that one out either.  Hold your head high and raise your kids the way you think is best!  Don’t constantly try to defend it and justify it to others.  You are making the better choice!  

If you homeschool, please know my goal was not to offend you or to contest your choices.  Like I said, I do believe homeschooling a child is a really good decision.  And, I LOVE hearing your stories!  But, I hate it when you put down my kids’ schooling.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ten random things that you may not know about me:

Number One:  I have written Bible class material that is being used in Churches of Christ all over the nation and in some foreign countries.  I’ve also been told some homeschoolers are using it.  I enjoy writing and wish I had a lot more time to commit to it.  I don’t get paid to do it but it helps me to feel like I am obeying the great commission in a small way.  I especially like writing for preschoolers but have written several series for elementary school ages.  The material is published by Hanna Publications and is all reproducible and inexpensive.  

Number Two: Before I knew Tate had autism, I was afraid of people with disabilities.  I would never have approached a person with a disability in hopes of having a conversation.  I would have walked out of my way to avoid a person with a disability.  Now, I often go out of my way to have interactions with people who have disabilities.  This is one of the reasons I believe God blessed me with Tate.  I had lived most of my life as a selfish person and I needed to change a lot of things. 

Number Three: I cannot recognize the faces of new people I meet until I have seen them several times.  Also, when I see people out of the environment that I usually see them in, I have a very hard time placing them.  Being a preacher’s wife, I meet a lot of new people so this handicap is huge.  I cringe at the thought of how many people I have snubbed over the years, especially the ones that visited our congregation one week and saw me in the grocery store the next.  It would seem to the ones that I have accidentally snubbed that I am a very rude person.  This inability to recognize people is very frustrating to me and to Shawn.  He often has to explain to me who someone is and how I should know them.  I have tried very hard to memorize a face when I meet a new person but I just cannot do it.  I can sometimes remember a person after only one meeting IF they have something very unusual about themselves (like their size, a different kind of haircut, a tattoo….)  So many people look just alike to me.  I can sometimes remember a person by their voice before I can recognize their face.  I know a lot of people claim to be "bad with faces" but the problem I have is much more than that.  Tate struggles with this also and I know it is a characteristic of autism.  I have several characteristics of autism, although not enough to have an ASD diagnosis.  Relatives of those with autism, often have many of the characteristics of autism.  

Number Four:  I am a visual thinker.  I think in pictures.  One of the first books I ever read about autism was written by Temple Grandin, and is called “Thinking In Pictures.”  Temple is an adult with autism.  She thinks in pictures and likens her thought process to a roll-o-dex or flashes of videotape.  I was reading her book and had an “ah ha moment” when I turned to Shawn and told him I thought everyone thought “in pictures.”  He had no idea what I was talking about.  I have asked many people since then.  Apparently, few people think in pictures.  Because I am a visual thinker and think it pictures, it is doubly hard for me to understand why I do NOT recognize people’s faces until I have seen them several times. 

Number Five:  I have trouble following directions unless they are written down.  This is related to being a visual thinker.  When someone is giving me multi-stepped directions, I stop listening after the first two steps because I know I won’t retain any of it at all if I try.  I figure if I tune out everything after the first couple of steps, then I will retain the first two steps at least, and get two steps closer to the goal before I have to ask for directions again.  I have a son with Attention Deficit Disorder and this is how he has to operate.  My poor kids didn’t stand a chance with genes like mine.  Ha!  

Number Six:  I love my kids and I love spending time with my kids, so-much-so that it is hard for me to let them go to school eight hours a day, nine months of the year.  THAT, you may already know.  THIS is what I found remarkable:  I did not have any problems letting my children leave home for college.  I practically celebrated their departure.  Well, until this past fall, when I had three leave at the same time and one hadn’t even been home for more than a few days all summer.

Number Seven: The hardest role I’ve ever played is not daughter, sister, wife, employee, friend, mother, or even preacher’s wife.  The hardest role I’ve ever played is that of a daughter-in-law.  No one could ask for a better mother-in-law and example than I have but being a daughter-in-law and sharing the same man with another woman has been a super-challenging thing for me.  I’m really, really bad at it.  REALLY bad at it.  I cannot think of anything I have ever prayed as much about, worked harder to get better at, or worried as much over.  So… I always figured that being a mother-in-law would be equally as challenging for me.  It is not.  It is very easy for me to share my son with his wife and I’ve come to love my daughter-in-law like she is my own daughter.  My son being gone for holidays does not make me the slightest bit jealous or sad.  I’m just happy about who he is with.  Period.  I did not think it would be this easy.

Number Eight:  Almost every time I use a sharp knife I injure myself so I don’t keep any sharp knives in the house.  People are always telling me that a dull knife is more dangerous, but I have never cut myself with a dull knife.  No one else likes my knives but I sure do!

Number Nine:  It is totally out of character for me to watch and enjoy scary movies, read scary books, or listen to scary stories.  However, my favorite show on television right now is “The Walking Dead.”  I wish there was a new episode on every night of the week.  I just love it and none of my family can believe it.  It is so unlike me.  Don’t worry.  I am very careful to make sure my little ones do not see it.

Number Ten:  I set a goal when I was about eight years old to someday own a pool.  My parents did not allow us to participate in public swimming due to modesty issues. We have raised our children with the same rules.  The only time I was ever able to swim was at Bible camp where girls and boys swam separately.  Two summers ago we bought a thirty-foot, aboveground pool.  Of all the physical possessions (material blessings) I have ever been able to enjoy, the pool is probably number one on my list.  I even enjoy cleaning it! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spiral Notebooks, Old and New

Most of this post is a repost from eighteen months ago.  I updated it today.

One of the signs of autism is an unusual attachment to inanimate objects.  Tate began this at a very young age.  These objects come and go and sometimes come again.  Often, the attachments are video/television related.  One of the first objects I remember Tate attaching himself to was a Blue’s Clues notebook.  He loved the show so I got him a little plastic notebook that came with a crayon.  I had no idea what I had started.  Tate carried the notebook with him everywhere and he slept with it.  If the crayon was separated from the notebook he became inconsolable.  The crayon broke and I replaced it with a similar one but he couldn’t stop thinking about the broken one.  When Tate woke in the mornings, if the notebook was not right beside him, there was panic.  If Tate laid the notebook down and couldn’t remember where he left it, the whole family searched madly until it was found because Tate seemed to be in physical pain.  The notebook became too big of a burden for us to bear.  The Behavior Consultant I have relied on so heavily, advised me to take the notebook away and I threw the notebook out.  We went “cold turkey.”  It took about three days for Tate to accept it but it was gone and our lives became so much easier.  I think if we found a plastic, toy notebook like that today, he’d pick it up and hang on tight.  The pull of the notebook was that strong.  Any small spiral notebook is still very appealing to Tate and I am careful to watch for the obsession to begin.  I make those little notebooks disappear if I see an attachment forming.  I’ve hidden and discarded many over the years.

There have been numerous attachments to objects since that first notebook.  Toy Story toys were very appealing to Tate and he was very attached to a Woody doll for a while.  The doll became a real problem because Tate wanted the hat to stay on the doll’s head at all times.  Tate couldn’t sleep much at night for a while because every time he laid the doll down, the hat would come off its head. Tate wanted Woody next to him on his pillow (with the hat on) but the hat couldn’t stay on in that position.  Tate would stay awake, to hold the hat on Woody’s head.  I finally had to take Woody away at night and make a rule that Woody could not “sleep” in Tate’s room. That took days for him to accept.  When we saw Toy Story 3, we were in the theater.  There is a scene in the movie and Woody actually loses his hat for a while.  When Woody lost his hat, I thought “Oh no!  This is going to be a problem.”  It was.  I was empathetic as Tate stopped enjoying the movie and worried about Woody without his hat.  I feared Woody would go on to do Toy Story 4 hatless and leave me with a miserable little boy, but Woody recovered his hat so Tate and I were spared.       

In that same Toy Story sequel, Buzz spoke in Spanish and Tate became very insistent that his own Buzz should be able to speak Spanish.  He couldn’t let it go.  These kinds of thing become so important to him that he thinks of little else.  If I had been able to find a Buzz that spoke Spanish I probably would have bought it for him.  Most of Tate’s toys do not become obsessions.  Most of Tate’s toys are rarely played with at all.  He likes toys but he likes them to sit on a shelf so he can admire them.   Tate likes to organize his toys into groups.  Some of the groupings make sense to me but some do not.  His cars might all be in a box together but his Star Wars toys might be mixed in with other boxes of toys he “organizes.”  If I try to rearrange things it bothers him and he will often “fix” the “mess” I make when I try to organize.  Tate thinks in this same “unorganized organization” as well.  Temple Grandin explains it well in one of her books.  One memory or thought triggers another and soon Tate is thinking about something that is totally unrelated to the topic at hand.  Because the movies and videos are so appealing to Tate, most of his thoughts come back to a movie scene or character.  This kind of unorganized thinking makes it very hard for Tate to learn.  This is why Tate cannot learn from lectures.  Besides getting lost in all the language that he cannot process quickly enough, he is distracted by all his own thoughts.    

Sometimes Tate becomes attached to things other than toys. Getting new shoes was something I always dreaded when Tate was younger.  He would carry around the old ones, while he wore the new ones.  He had to “mourn” the loss for a day or two.  Trading our Suburban for a van a few years back was pretty hard on Tate. Getting new bedroom furniture was a very hard thing.  Tate has blankets and pillow cases that have become very important to him as well.  He has the "pet" rock named Rocky that has been very important to him.  Sometimes Rocky is a big part of our life and then we don’t see him again for a while but he always seems to resurface.  Tate has had attachments to sunglasses before and that attachment had to be nixed.  He wanted to wear the sunglasses, even inside, so it was hard for Tate to see.  One of the longest attachments Tate has ever had is to his watch and his hat.  Tate cannot tell time but he loves his watch.  He couldn’t buckle a watchband for a long time so I found a Velcro band.  The watch even quit working and Tate still wore it.  However, a few months back, he traded it for a new watch, with a strap that buckles and he learned to buckle it.  I was shocked he would even consider a new watch but he did.  There was a time when trading his old watch for a new one would have caused days of anguish.  Tate is so attached to his hat that some people have never seen him without it on.  Hats have always had a tremendous pull for Tate.  He had a fedora he loved when he was little but it was not age appropriate so we hid that one and he chose to wear a black news-boy hat.  Tate wore it until it was falling apart.  Each time a hat becomes worn or stinky, and it is time to trade for a new hat, I warn Tate for a few days prior.  When we actually trade, it can be very stressful for a few days afterward.  It is much like a small child giving up a blanket or a pacifier.  The last time we went hat shopping, Tate chose a ball cap with a Jayhawk on the front.  It was the smoothest transition we have had yet.  I told him to pick two so he could have an extra.  I expected him to pick two exactly alike.  I told him he could do that so the next trade would not really be a trade at all.  But he chose two different hats with Jayhawks on them.  Once in a while, I bring out the second hat and remind him we have it.  Hopefully, the next trade with go as well as the last.  He is really making some progress. 

Update: I wrote the above post a year and a half ago.  The original was entitled "Unusual Attachments."  I remembered it today because I did a really dumb thing.  I bought Tate a spiral notebook.  Obviously, I do not learn from past experiences.  I found some really neat colorful spiral notebooks on clearance a few days ago and gave Tate and Sydney each one.  When you use the special pen the notebooks came with, the paper changes colors.  I thought it would be a neat thing for Tate and Sydney to have and that maybe I could talk them into trying to take some notes during the sermons on Sunday.  I had totally forgotten that it might be a problem because I'd not seen Tate with a spiral notebook in a very long time.  How could I have forgotten?  He carried that notebook around all day.  He wouldn't put it down during worship to pick up a hymn book until I insisted.  Here we go again.  Three steps forward and two steps back.  This time, I can take the credit.  Ha!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Trials Produce Patience

This morning, I was vacuuming my bedroom and Sydney was begging me for a turn. (Why do kids love the vacuum until they are actually old enough to use one effectively?) I gave her the hose to go around the baseboards and reach under the bed. One of my nicest shirts was lying on my dresser, waiting for a turn in the washing machine. She managed to vacuum up half the shirt before I could grab it. She loved using the vacuum and giggled for most of the time she was dragging it around. I wish I loved the vacuum enough to giggle while I used it! Ha. 

The above took place right after I got Sydney out of the bath and had to clean up the gallon of water she had sloshed over the side of the tub. She also emptied most of a bottle of shampoo into the tub so she could have bubbles. She knows better! However, the bath was before her meds had slowed her down and calmed her, giving her a little bit of self-control. I love it when Sydney wants a bath in the early mornings because then she is “contained” for that 30 or 40 minute period it takes for her meds to kick in. So…. while this morning, I had to use an extra towel to clean up water, and the shampoo is gone, there are no spilled foods, dumped toy boxes, brothers complaining of torture, and nothing is broken. I’ll put shampoo on my grocery list and call it a successful Saturday morning.   

If you haven’t read it before, I have a post called Saturday Mornings With Sydney from December 2012 describing a typical Saturday morning here at the Smith house. Saturdays, during the school year, are the hardest because it is the day with the least routine. 

Sydney causes me more work in one day than any kid I've ever known but I love her with all my heart. When she was very young and I did not yet understand she had a disability, I was pretty hard on Sydney and REALLY hard on myself. All my other kids have conformed to rules and been easy to train. Sydney was like no child I’d ever been around. I have come to understand that "she is who she is" and she cannot help it. She will never "catch up" to her peers. Ever. The alcohol she was exposed to in the womb did damage that I cannot undo. There are helps available: like medications, physical boundaries, and visual reminders. We use them all.  

Sydney's behaviors do become more manageable with each passing year due to some maturity, but she will probably never be able to control all of her impulses. Of course, she won’t still be dumping shampoo in the bath when she is in high school but what will she be doing instead? It’s a scary thought. I won’t always be able to clean up "the messes" she makes when she is an adult, but for now I try to do it with a smile on my face. I memorized a Bible verse that has been helping me a lot. It comes from James chapter one: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience. And let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Don’t misunderstand. I do not think of Sydney as a trial or a burden! I think of her as a blessing and a teacher! I do see the FAS and Sydney’s lack of self-control as a burden to both myself and to her. And, just as God promised, I am learning patience and growing closer to Him!