It’s J’s first day of spring break vacation, exciting and daunting because it raises the question: what will I do to keep him busy and engaged all day?
Luckily for me I learned during home school that a little planning goes a long way and a lot of planning saves the day. So the first thing we did today after breakfast was make a loose schedule. I could see J relax as soon as I started to write-up the familiar template. Schedules saved us during home school and made me realize how much calmer J was when he knew what was happening, when it would end, and what was expected of him. Sounds simple enough right? Even I like having that knowledge but I don’t need to have it written down nor do I need to refer to it as often. I came to accept that this was one of those things that made J, J.
Once I started using schedules with J I became addicted! The results were undeniable. He was so much calmer and looked forward to writing them up with me. It showed me he cared about having a choice, he enjoyed sharing his opinion, and that he cared about being acknowledged. He was present, he was awake, although no one else seemed to notice, but I was beginning to and he was so happy to see me working with him instead of around him.
This became our morning routine. Every morning we would have breakfast and after we would write-up the schedule for the day. I like to use a dry erase board because it allows us to switch things up in case anything needs to be altered, here is an example of what a schedule during home school would look like: Sample of a Daily Home School Schedule
He was not always in a cooperative mood especially with subjects that challenged him more. It definitely helped him to know there was an end point to the torture known as “math”. This also kept him focused and although he needed to check the schedule every so often it also helped him learn more about telling time.
I started using this format outside of home school since it was working so well. Whenever I knew J might have a hard time with the task at hand be it going to the doctors, a family function, or a trip to the supermarket, I implemented the schedule. It was usually much simpler and looked like this: Quick Schedule using First and Then
Now J is at the point that I can use this format on a verbal level. I can tell him first we are going to the supermarket, then we are visiting grandma, and then we will go home. He usually repeats it to make sure he got it. He even says it on his own sometimes if we are doing something he doesn’t want to, like if he has school, he will say “first school then come home and free time”. It’s a great comfort for him to know he has a say in what his day looks like. If we are going somewhere new or I think an activity maybe challenging I will try to have this ready but if I don’t I will write it up on the fly with a pen and pad I always carry on me.
If you are finding your child is having a hard time cooperating even if they are not on the spectrum I encourage you to give schedules a try. Allow your kids to help construct them with your pre picked options. I hope the routine of schedules brings peace and organization to your house as well. Please comment and let me know how your attempt went or if you have any questions or stories to share about schedules.
Once I had decided to take the plunge and home school J there were lots of things I needed to do logistics wise.
Letter of Intent – First I had to get in touch with my district’s superintendent and notify him of my intentions to home school. This is done with a letter of intent. This will keep you out of any trouble intimidating administrators may say you are about to be in for your decision to home school. I even had one administrator tell me that what I was doing was illegal and I could go to jail for this! Imagine that? Someone telling you that you can go to jail for trying to help your child especially when they have no other options or solutions to recommend. As long as you file this letter with the district before July 1, your good. I filed in October because I was not planning to home school, it just became the most logical option after my son woke up one day and refused to return to school. He physically planted himself in his closet in his room and refused to leave it for fear of being forced to return to school. We tried everything, coaxing, remaining calm, yelling, screaming, physical force, punishment. It got to the point that my son would even refuse to use the bathroom for fear of being forced out the house. My child is not small so it wasn’t like I could pick him up and throw him over my shoulder. Even my husband and father couldn’t physically force him nor did we want to. It was quite a sight. He would go limp so we couldn’t grab him, drop to the floor inside and outside and kick and scream and cry “no school, stay with mommy”. He was very verbally limited so to hear him clearly state no school was concerning. Why no school? What was happening that he couldn’t communicate to me that would make him behave this way? I had to give him words and that was my first goal for his IHIP. Here is a link to what a letter of intent looks like: letter of Intent
Here’s what my letter looked like, names and addresses have been changed for privacy purposes:
27 Home School Lane
Brave Lady, NY
October 22, 2012
Mr. or Dr. (in my case)Superintendent
P.O. Box 000
To Dr. So and So,
I am sending this letter of intent as required of Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education.
I intend to home school my son, J who will be entering grade 4 for the 2012- 2013 school year. J has a diagnosis of Autism and was previously enrolled in special education classes at Such and Such school. Our curriculum will consist of ; Speech, Occupational Therapy, Social and Developmental Skills, Physical Education, Health, English, Math, Geography, Social Studies, Science, American History, Independent Living Skills, Art and Music.
Then there are the meetings the district calls to try to talk you back to sanity, because honestly no parent of a special needs child has any idea what an undertaking this is until you’re in the deep end of it all. They offered alternatives but none seemed to fit the bill for what my son needed at this point in his education and there was this immutable voice inside me saying he needs this, he needs you, he needs to be home. I would not suggest that anyone with limiting health conditions start this but if you do keep in mind to take care of yourself as best as you can. Organization and schedule/routine go a long way as I will discuss in later post.
IHIP– The unfortunate thing most people don’t know about special education is that it’s all lumped together, regardless of the child’s diagnosis or age. Most public programs run from the age of 5-21 years old which is something I always have a problem with. This would never happen in a typical school so why is it ok in a special needs program when appropriate peer interaction is a social skill most children with an IEP would need? For those of you new to the special needs community an IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. Every student in special education has one. So instead of having programs tailored to specific disabilities and the common concerns associated with these disabilities these IEPs are ideally tailor-made to address every educational concern for a special needs student. When I decided to home school my son I had to come up with an IHIP which stands for Individualized Home Instruction Plan. Lucky for me I was always very hands on with J’s IEP construction and reviews so I was familiar with the format. I also found a sample on the web that gave me a great place to start.
Here’s a link to the site in case your thinking of making an IHIP: Home School NYC
This sample really got me inspired and opened my mind to the possibilities of academics, something that was seriously lacking from my 10 year old’s scholastic career. I was so thankful to find it because it was not suggested to me. I did not receive much help from my district in regards to making this an easy or informed decision. I really had to research everything on my own, thank God for the internet! Most districts would not be happy about a parent home schooling their child Special Ed. or General. So it’s not something that’s encouraged or supported more than the requirements by law. It took me about a month of evaluating my son’s skills and learning exactly where he was educationally before I could finalize his IHIP. I’ve changed the names and personal info for privacy reasons but the rest was what I hoped to accomplish. Here’s what our IHIP looked like:
INDIVIDUAL HOME INSTRUCTION PLAN
NAME OF CHILD:J
GRADE LEVEL: 4
TODAY’S DATE: December 20, 2012
SCHOOL YEAR: 2012-2013
EXPECTANT DATES FOR QUARTERLY REPORTS:
1/30/2013, 4/15/2013, 6/30/2013
J will be using various methods/tools for fourth grade instruction in all the subjects specified in Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. The corresponding subtopics may include and are not limited to:
J will learn, to read and write numbers, sequence, odd and even, geometry via shape identification, measuring ,time telling, chart and timeline making and reading. Addition, subtraction, fractions, quantity and value, grouping, sorting and basic money skills. We will also lay the ground work for multiplication and division by skip counting and fractions.
The English Language
(Reading, Writing, Spelling, phonics, grammar, vocabulary)
J will learn how to write size appropriate, proper use of capital and lower case letters, identifying vowels, increase his comprehension and vocabulary, enunciate and identify sounds by learning phonics, identify verbs and nouns, adjectives and pronouns, possessive nouns, creating short stories, reading different forms of literature, such as poems, short stories, chapter books, fiction and non fiction books.
(U.S. History, Geography) history of the American flag, the star-spangled banner, the pledge of allegiance, native Americans lifestyle, settler lifestyle, the history of bridges and famous New York state bridges. This will also be accompanied with trips to various museums such as the museum of natural history, the metropolitan museum of art, the museum of moving motion, the statue of liberty, the Brooklyn bridge, the Empire state building, and the Dimenna Children’s Museum of History. Geography will be taught via an introduction to map reading in regards to our local, national and international regions. World cultures, Regions of the world, Continents, Earth’s resources, Climatic regions of the world, and Using a globe.
Environment of the local region, Biological organization, Classification systems, The insect world, The reptilian world, Plants and animals of the past, Structure of plants, Seeds, Ecosystems, Balance of nature, Human body, Weather’s influences, Weather instruments, Climate, Cause of seasons, Oceans, Air and water pollution, Magnets and electricity, Light and color, Solar system and the universe, Living in space, Scientific method and scientific inquiry
Personal and mental hygiene, Dental health, The body and its functions, Skeletal and muscular systems, Care and proper use of the body, Principles of digestion, Basic food groups, Good nutrition habits, Safety
Music/Visual Arts/Phys. Ed.
Wide exposure to all forms of music, classification and basic history of music, musical scales, basic Piano keyboard. Arts and crafts, trips to art museums as stated above in Social Studies. Structured dance lessons (latin, modern movement, traditional basics).
Structured play, ( bike riding, running, Calisthenics, seasonal sports, indoor and outdoor play) 3 hours per week.
Related Services/Speech, OT
J will also receive necessary services such as Speech and OT as provided by the school district of (our town).
Instruction methods/tools may include and shall not be limited to: reference materials (atlas, dictionaries, globe, maps, encyclopedias, non-fiction books, videos, the internet), workbooks, worksheets, hands-on activities, experiments, projects, newspapers, magazines, frequent field trips, group activities, classic/contemporary literature, research, journal/narrative/essay/poetry writing, games, creative thinking, predicting/forecasting, gathering facts, written peer correspondence (pen pals), music CDs, CD ROMs, piano keyboard, art supplies (clay, paint, crayons, pencils, sketch pads, felt, chalk, etc.), play, conversations, and real life.
Primary instruction for J will be provided by JRED, his mother. Supplemental instruction will be provided by others, as necessary.
Once you submit one of these your district will take you much more seriously, mine did and I started working closely with the director of pupil services who was so much more helpful and knowledgeable. I still work closely with her in all the planning for my son’s education. I always feel like she has his best interest at heart and really tries to work with us to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. We were really blessed when she came along.
So now that my Letter of Intent is filed with the superintendent’s office and my IHIP is also submitted to the pupil personnel office in my district, its time to form a curriculum. This is the fun part believe it or not, because this is when I actually start to form lesson plans and decide what J would be learning for the next three months. This is where I can get creative and really cultivate a learning experience just for him. You could plan ahead for the whole year but I liked having the freedom to adjust my lessons to how J would respond to the new material. Some things would require more time for comprehension before we could move on like addition and subtraction. That was a tough concept, it really worked best with tangible items like little counters or beads. He really likes when we use food like little goldfish crackers or cereal puffs. It really depends on what works best for your child. The key is to let them go at their pace and not to get frustrated when it differs greatly from your own. Here’s a site I found useful, they have a lot of great resources for home instruction if you have the funds to invest:
For math I liked the UNIFIX blocks because I could write the numbers on the side to reinforce the value. You can buy 100 of these for less than $15 on Discountschoolsupply.com. Here’s the link below if your interested.
One of the things I did when forming my son’s curriculum was writing up a list of goals I had for him. This gave me direction and a base to come back to when I felt as though we took a wrong turn some where. This is no small task. It took me a good couple of hours to sit down and really think about what I could do and what J could do. I had to be realistic but I also didn’t want to limit him, I wanted to challenge him and see what he was capable of. I laughed as I wrote that last sentence because of what did happen on several occasions when I was “pushing the limits” as you will read about in later post. I also kept my daily curriculum in tuned with the school and national calendar. I always tried to have our lessons coincide with what season we were in as well as corresponding holidays. I will go more into this in later post.
Well I hope that helps you get off to a good start if you are debating home instruction. Keep in mind home instruction is not just limited to a child not enrolled in a center based program. I still carry on some home school subjects at home to keep J busy, but we’ll talk more about that later. Any questions on home school, IHIPs, or curriculum please don’t hesitate to comment.
When I started this blog back in 2013 I had no idea how consuming home schooling would be. I definitely had no time to contribute to this blog the way I wanted to. So it’s been forever since my last post and I have so much to share. I can finally sit down and formulate all this great knowledge into something understandable for the world. J is back in a center based program. Home school was amazing but it kicked my butt mentally, spiritually, physically and financially. I learned so much about him, how he learns, how he communicates, and what the best approaches to his challenging behavior are. I learned even more about myself like what I was doing wrong, how creative I could be, and how strong of a person I really am.
If I had the resources and help, I might have considered homeschooling indefinitely. J learned so much when he was home the results were undeniable. His reading skills improved drastically, his independence soared, and he was beginning to look at the world with an inquisitive eye I had never really seen in him before. However the lines of mother and educator were blurred and there was never any time off. It was non stop and exhausting. I was losing myself in his world of Autism. I was neglecting my husband, family and friends. I let go of my goals and aspirations. I was neglecting myself on almost every level, I was existing for one sole purpose, J.
Most days this didn’t matter, I knew this was temporary, that I had a limited amount of time to help him and I had the rest of my life to help myself. Other days home school would consume me so much I would fall behind on everything else I was responsible for and then I would stress. And then the chest pains started. I would get dizzy often and wake up and go to sleep with headaches. I lived a very healthy lifestyle other than all the stress of home schooling, so my mind spiraled out imagining what was wrong with me. I started home schooling J in October of 2012 and by February 2013 I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Attacks. My doctor said I was on the verge of having a stroke or a heart attack at the age of 31 if I continued living at this level of stress.
I wouldn’t be any good to anyone if this happened, so I made it my mission to find a program that would work with me, that would look at all I learned and apply it. In the coming weeks I will share stories from our home school experiment, ideas to help issues we tackled, and strategies tried and true. I will discuss further why returning to a center based program was better for J and myself. J is now 13 and as most parents of teenagers know, the rules have changed! I will discuss how we are managing the new hormones, the debate to medicate, social skills, and everything else that comes with pubescent territory. I look forward to sharing this pivotal part of my life with you and hope that it leaves you inspired and empowered or at least a little more positive.