Saturday, October 17, 2009

Choosing to Homeschool Jessie

When Jessie was very young (still an infant!)I began worrying (that's just me!) about whether I should homeschool her, like I already was with my other two, or if she would be better off in school with the benefit of someone trained in special education. By the time she was a preschooler I felt pretty sure we would homeschool, but not sure about at which point. She did attend preschool at the local public school for two school years with her best friend, Joshua. You'll be hearing lots about him all along. She attended three mornings a week and was home by lunch. The first year her class was very small, with only special needs kids. The second year, the class was 1/2 special needs, 1/2 typical (if there is such a thing) kids. It was a pretty good experience for us, and I don't regret doing it, but there were things that helped convince me that homeschooling was going to be our route. Deciding to homeschool her kindergarten year, when her buddy, Joshua, continued at school was really hard for me. I agonized over the decision for months, weighing every pro and con, and cried quite a bit, and prayed A LOT. It was terrible trying to make the decision.

Heather (Joshua's mom) and I had become friends partway through our pregnancy when neither of us knew our babies would have Down syndrome. We were already becoming good friends and when they were born just 3 weeks apart, both having Down syndrome, we became the very best of friends. Our families spent a lot of time together. It has been so wonderful to always have a friend, who really understands almost without words, to go through things together with, the good and the bad. When she was leaning toward school and I was leaning toward homeschooling we both felt swayed by what the other one was feeling. It was extremely difficult for us to each make the choice about schooling that was right for each of our families. In those first months of Joshua going to school and Jessie homeschooling, it continued to be difficult comparing everything the other was doing. There were things about school that Jessie enjoyed and she would say sometimes that she wanted to go to school, that was ROUGH, but truly, she just can't evaluate all the variables. The grass always seems greener on the other side.... Eventually, we each settled in, happy with the choices we'd made.

I homeschool Jessie mostly for the same reasons I homeschool our other kids. I am able to target her teaching to exactly where she is. We don't spend time, except for more occasional review, on things she already knows. Nor am I teaching above her level of ability, things that don't have any meaning for her. Jessie is a good sight reader (not as good as others I've read about!), but she's got a very good visual memory. Second year of preschool she could read all her classmates names and wouldn't wait for them to answer when the teacher held up their names. I am able to teach to this strength at home and am constantly searching for new ways to teach Jessie things. While I know some special education teachers do an excellent job, it is hard for them to know and teach to the different strengths and weaknesses of each child in the class. I don't know much about all other disabilities...but I eat, sleep, read, live Down syndrome. No matter how much a teacher might have her best interests at heart, all of our teaching is one on one with only Jessie's learning style to consider.

Also, I realize I have control issues where my kids are concerned, but I think that is a good thing. I like knowing all of the things that influence them and choosing which influences are acceptable and allowed. As they mature, they have more freedoms and are exposed to more and make more choices on their own. Right this moment that applies more to the older two than Jessie, but is true for her too. I haven't said anything at this point about spiritual reasons why we homeschool only because at this point they apply more to Jordan and Evan than to Jessie. They each have Bible teaching on their level as a part of their school day, as well as "teachable moments" that happen nearly every day!

With all 3 kids, we have so many wonderful memories of hours spent reading together, cuddled on the couch, or propped up on pillows reading in my bed. Teaching them each to read....truly priceless. I will never forget the excitement or the phone calls to Daddy. When Jessie was just beginning with homeschooling her siblings would fight over who could call him and tell Dad what new thing she'd learned or done, now she calls him herself. She LOVES the phone.

There is plenty of time in the day for dancing in the kitchen together (she watches way too much "So You Think You Can Dance"!), she loves to "help" cook, and I really enjoy so much the more relaxed lifestyle of homeschooling. Although we are very busy, I think the homeschooling lifestyle allows for more family time and though hectic enough, is less stressful in many ways. For example: we never have homework...when we're done, we're done.

At one point, I considered letting Jessie go to school for the social reasons she wanted to go and supplement her teaching at home after school. After seeing how tired she was after 1/2 day of school during preschool, I really don't think I could get a lot of value out of her later in the day, after having gone to school. As hard as it was initially to make the decision, I have no doubts or reservations now that we are doing exactly what WE should be doing, what is right for OUR family.

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