Homeschooling In Freedom

   There’s something that’s been on my heart and mind for months now.  Maybe years, but certainly since growing in freedom in the Lord as we’ve been homeschooling, which is now in it’s fifth year.  And that is, a stifling spirit of striving in the “Christian” homeschooling community.  Trying to decide what came first for us; “freedom” or homeschooling is very much like the proverbial “chicken and the egg” discussion because it was right around the time the kids were seven and six years old, when we moved to WA, that we immediately began our journey of learning what it REALLY meant to be free in Christ that we came to the conclusion that homeschooling was the way we were going to educate our kids (by the way, “came to the conclusion” is code for God dragging us (me mainly) kicking and screaming into the homeschooling process, something I vowed with all my heart I would NEVER, EVER do in a million years, but that’s another story).  So anyway, we went through a course called “Freedom” (short for Freedom in Christ) at a local church and it blew us up to a whole other dimension of knowing God.  We’ve never looked back and I can’t EVEN imagine what our lives would be like today if we were still mired in the unbelievable bondage and pain we had been sinking in for so many years. 

   At the time we began homeschooling our seven year old son and five 1/2 year old daughter we began to break the chains of striving, failure, fear, anger, poverty, and a myriad of other forms of bondage that were drowning us.  We’re a work in process and have SUCH a long way to go, but we’ve also come a
L O N G way and I’m grateful to say we’ve come a long way as homeschoolers.  Both of our kids have special needs and our homeschooling looks different than the “typical” family (ha, there’s a lie right there if I ever heard it!), and yet I still struggle against the stereotypes of what homeschooling “should” look like.  Between my Twitter and Facebook accounts I’m bombarded with messages from other homeschoolers who are discussing the earth-shaking topics like the best P.E. curriculum (?) and their worries that they’re falling behind with their curriculum-in-a-box.  Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m just hoping that my daughter won’t completely melt down as we broach the subject of long division (she did, by the way on the first day, so we cut the lesson short and went to the rock climbing gym) or that she’ll remember from one day to the next what a verb is.  Needless to say I just can’t relate to these people who have everything so neat and tidy in a box with children who awaken every morning waiting with baited breath for their new adventures in learning.

  So that got me thinking, if I’m one mom out here in the universe who is everyday engaged in spiritual warfare, breaking and severing the lies of the enemy and pressing into what GOD has to say over our lives and into my heart, especially as it pertains to homeschooling, maybe there are others out there battling to stay afloat in the sea of Homeschool Striving.  Maybe I could talk about how we do our homeschooling and maybe that might help another mom or dad out there who is overwhelmed when they read about how their five year old with Down syndrome is reading and writing and producing documentaries for their local cable channels (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slightly).

   Homeschooling for us is amazingly simple.  On some levels.  Our oldest child, Hayden, is 12 and is, among other things, currently working on reading words that I’ve written on roughly 3″x8″ poster board stock.  I try to do that at least once a day with him (usually while he’s eating his breakfast and his younger sister is doing her chores).  In a perfect world I would do these reading words three or four times with him throughout the day, but our world is far from perfect.  He has Down syndrome and lots of oral motor issues so everyday I try, (emphasis on try) to do muscle based oral motor exercises with him, like using a toothette (think foam lolly pop on a stick) to stimulate his gums and tongue, we work on horns (I follow a specific hierarchy which I learned from going to a MBOMT seminar and from buying the specific tools at (www.talktools.net), blowing bubbles and he drinks from specific straws to help strengthen his jaw, tongue and lip muscles.  I try to do neurodevelopment-style exercises like crossing mid-line, standing on a balance board and singing, marching, swinging, jumping on a trampoline and things like that throughout the day too.  Hayden is also hard of hearing (h/h) so American Sign Language is his first language and we are always, always, always working on expressive communication with him, be it through ASL, or encouraging him to attempt to verbalize words.  Hayden this past year has become potty trained, which has been an AMAZINGLY victorious journey and everyday we are amazed how FAR LESS stressful our lives have become.  None the less though, that’s an area of his life that needs to be managed so we are always working on those self help skills, along with dressing himself and doing what most people would call “basic” chores like busing his own dishes and cups from the table and wiping down the table after he eats.  What’s “basic” for a family of typically developing kids takes our child 15 times as long to do.  So while I’m doing any of those self help things with Hayden, I try to make sure our daughter is constructively occupied.  Enter Sage Lft, stress (the stress of keeping one child busy while I’m tending to another…..not that the child entering from Stage Left is stress).

   Our daughter, DP, is 11 and is multi-talented, multi-faceted, and very intelligent.  Her special needs come in the way of not always being able to transition from one activity to another (especially if it’s not her idea), not being able to handle too much sensory input (with her tolerance level changing daily), and having rigidity of thought, to name a few.  All of her symptoms add up to having Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that up until recently was largely not diagnosed in girls.  Structure is VERY important in her daily routine.  For her schooling we’re working on things like different ways of looking at a problem (like multiplication and division are two sides of the same coin) and fine motor skills to improve her handwriting.  On some days we’re only able to do one “academic” activity, like the four long division problems we did the other day.  Then we went to the rock climbing gym.  And that has to be okay for me.  It’s hard because my entire foundation for life is firmly rooted in striving, perfectionism and never being able to do enough in my parents’ eyes, and therefor mine, but I have to look at everything we do with her through the eyes of a child with autism.  Forcing a mold of a typical child on top of her just doesn’t work. 
 
   So homeschooling with her sometimes means playing games of Scrabble, or “memory”, or “Rummikub”, or doing crossword puzzles, or playing “hangman” or “Wheel of Fortune”.   Lately it’s been difficult to get her interested in playing games, so the “rules” of what works and doesn’t work with her seem to be changing.  Often homeschooling a child with autism is like tap dancing on shifting sand.  The one thing I HAVE learned about educating children at home is that it is VERY MUCH a symbiotic relationship.  I can’t PUT knowledge into either of their minds or hearts, they both have to be willing participants, but with autism in particular being such a complicated onion with varying degrees of confusing layers, it’s challenging to say the least.

  More thoughts later…………….

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