This is the first post in a series of my experience as a homeschool mom. Even though we stopped homeschooling this academic year, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about our journey and how we did it.
For two years, I was one of those moms. The kind of mom that recognizes something absolutely amazing in her child but she knows that the child can’t thrive (or even survive) a traditional school environment.
It was hard.
There were tears.
I felt guilty and questioned myself even though I knew in my heart this was right.
And ugh….writing lesson plans every Sunday night.
I was a homeschool mom.
For our family, it was a difficult, but necessary decision that turned out to be for the best.
When CJ was two years old, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. One day he was a typical toddler and was playing on the couch and all of a sudden he fell over into a fury of convulsions.
Amidst the screams and cries for help, my ex-husband and I called 9-1-1 and sat through the 2 minutes of horror that was that was his first seizure.
That day changed our lives forever. The following days were filled with more emergency room visits (because often they send you home and tell you to follow up with your pediatrician) and endless internet searches (At the time, I didn’t even know what epilepsy was.).
For the next 3 years, we dealt with the disease. It was very unpredictable. Anti-seizure medicines don’t work right away and have a lot of side effects, including more seizures. We also had two other babies to take care of.
Shortly after he turned 5, things changed. He had one seizure at school and that was it. We didn’t see seizures again.
For 8 years.
After two years, he stopped taking the medicine.
We watched carefully, but nothing came back.
When I spoke of epilepsy, I changed my words from, “We are at a really good place right now,” to “No seizures in ____ years!”
At one point, I even started working for the Epilepsy Foundation as an Education Coordinator so I could help others.
The kids volunteered at epilepsy awareness events. It was one of our causes.
But three weeks after his 13th birthday, the seizures came back.
And this time the rules were different. The seizures were different. The doctors were different. The schools were different. The sisters weren’t babies, but tweenagers who got easily freaked out by all of this. And as if there could have been a better time for all of this to happen, we were dealing with seizures in my post-thyroid cancer life.
Even though he was taking medicine again, he was having an excessive amount of seizures of day. Before I knew it, within two months, he accumulated 20 absences from school. Without knowing exactly how to do it, I knew what had to be done.
He needed to be homeschooled.
So I began looking at the laws and guidelines surrounding homeschooling and I talked to my boss about having some flexibility in my work schedule while working 40 hours a week. And very early in my research process, I discovered that this was doable. Very doable. Despite the fact I was a single mom who worked outside of the home.
Here’s exactly how I did it:
- I talked to CJ about his options with school first. I talked to him about possible accommodations his school could make, we talked about what-if scenarios, and we researched alternatives. At the time, the biggest issue for him was the fact that he had to wear a helmet because he frequently had “drop” seizures where he would fall to the ground with no prior warning. Wearing the helmet allowed him to have greater mobility at home. He could move freely from room to room without hurting himself if he did have a seizure. At school, though it proved to be a bit more difficult. All of the classrooms are in portable buildings outside. They also use an outdoor classroom that is adjacent to a creek regularly. For him, wearing a helmet everyday dropped his swag-meter down by 100 points. For me, I saw broken bones and a lot of other injuries as a result of the falls. In that initial conversation, we just shared ideas, and weighed the pros and cons. We didn’t decide on anything.
- We launched a huge internet research operation so we would know and understand the homeschooling journey we appeared to be approaching. We looked at curriculum programs and state requirements and talked about life after we regained seizure control. We knew that our plan was always for him to go back to school once they subsided. There was never a doubt in my mind that they would subside, I just didn’t know when. Did you know that several colleges and universities have very affordable options for homeschooling children in grades K-12? We found part of our curriculum through the Duke University Tips Program.
- As a family, we held several meetings to discuss the impact this would have on everyone, including CJ’s sisters and my ex-husband. We needed everyone to understand why we were doing this.
After all of the talking was done, we were off and running! The decision was made, announced, and it was time to implement our carefully researched plans. These things listed below were key to our survival as a homeschooling family.
- We joined a family homeschool support group. Y’all, this one was probably more important for me than it was for him. I had the opportunity to visit and get real advice from other homeschool moms on everything from lesson plans to state guidelines to field trip ideas. To this day, I am still in contact with the women from our homeschool group because they are just so awesome.
- I assessed my skills and my ex-husband assessed his skills. Based on what I did at the college I worked at, I could teach goal-setting, study skills, reading, and writing. My ex-husband, a police officer, could teach government, criminal justice, and forensics.
- We used our village for other experts. A friend suggested a book that was written by one of his law school professors. In the book, Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League, Paula Penn-Nabrit discussed about how college students helped their family a lot as homeschool facilitators. Because I worked at a college at the time, it was not hard finding education and allied health majors who’d be interested in working with us. I also talked to family friends who agreed to mentor CJ according to their interests. In those two years, CJ learned how to write code for a website, serve as a co-host for a friend’s talk radio show, learn the basics of financial management and the stock market from a banking executive, and led our family in a nutrition revolution and overhauling our poor eating habits.
- We quickly realized that learning does not have to occur only during the hours of 9 am and 3 pm. It happens at 9 pm or 3 am or even on weekends and holidays. As a matter of fact, because the school the girls’ attended had a half-day every Wednesday, they were able to join in on some of our homeschooling fun.
- I took off from work 3-4 days a month for field trips and academic enrichment activities. We got out of the house as much as possible to explore the world as a classroom.
- My ex-husband would spend 1-2 school days a week with him, based on his abnormal work schedule as a police officer. It’s funny how that abnormal work schedule with “weird” days off was such a thorn in my side for so many years and now came in handy as he was able to spend time with CJ during the week.
- This one doesn’t seem that big of a deal, but it was. I made sure I took the full hour for lunch every day at work. Some days I was able to go home and have lunch with CJ and his tutor, or if I didn’t make it home, we had a virtual lunch and visited over Google Hangouts and FaceTime right from my office.
- We changed the lingo. All of the college students were called tutors, not babysitters. That was very important to his 13-year-old ego. There were many days that the tutors actually functioned like babysitters. If the seizures were heavy, he would sleep a lot. In turn, I would pick up the academics that evening once I go home from work. On the heavy seizure days, we just needed someone to make sure he didn’t have any additional side effects from the seizure activity. Since they were college students, they were able monitor him closely but still do their own homework as well.
- He stayed in touch with his friends from school. With the wonders of video chatting and texting, it was almost as if he didn’t miss a beat socially. As much as his health would allow, he would visit friends and hang out as often as he could.
Once we started and got into the routine of things, I then realized that I needed to create space for all of our homeschooling materials. Since I was not the only adult that helped him with his homeschooling, everything had to be organized.
The other little pickle in our homeschooling plan is that we physically did not have a lot of space at home. So in addition to being organized, I had to do it in a small space. When I tell you I made use of every inch on one of my bookshelves, I am not kidding. So here’s what our homeschool materials/ textbook/ bookshelf looked like:
Each shelf had specific subject areas, including a section for reference materials and magazines that we used for current events. We even kept school supplies in the bottom drawer with writing utensils, highlighters, markers, etc in the cylinder on the middle shelf.
During the school year, I was a fanatic about keeping that shelf neat and organized. Even on weekends. But in the summer, not so much. And then there’s the walls. I keep them covered with resources related to the topics we were studying. Here’s an example:
Sometimes I’d place the chart paper on the wall and use it like a blackboard for him to do problems on, or he could write questions he has as he’s progressing in any given lesson.
I used the sticky-back chart paper. And when were on a break from school, I just took the sheets down. Even now during the summers, our dining room and living room are covered with the kids’ summer bucket lists, Bible verses they are studying, and chore charts.
Was it easy? Not at all. Was it worth it? Most definitely! Is there anything I would do differently? Stay tuned for the next post in this series!