Thursday, April 01, 2010

Big Decisions

I am awake after having been up until 4:00 AM last night, working on something that has long been laid on our hearts but was finally truly confirmed this week. We have made what is for us a big decision, and not one I had anticipated 8 or 10 months ago and have internally fought a little as I have tried to envision it.

We are going to homeschool all the kids as of the end of this year.

I know that is likely hardly going to come as a surprise to any of you, as many have probably seen it coming even as I argued with myself trying to understand how in the world we ended up on this path when a the beginning of school this year we had 3 in school and none home.

The countless hours spent researching, praying, trying to convince myself that I can indeed do this even though it seems absolutely nuts has been very hard, especially in the midst of all the other changes going on. To be quite honest with you, I don't know if we will be successful as the needs are overwhelming and as we all know, I have no clue what I am doing. But I am doing the best I can to educate myself as quickly as possible as I felt this being laid on my heart stronger and stronger. It feels to us as if God has had this planned all along, and chuckled as it took us awhile to embrace it. Part of the mental fatigue I have experienced since arriving home has been staying awake all hours of the night sorting through curriculum options and methods, trying to do in a few weeks what many take years to do.

I still can not see myself as the teacher to 5 kids, some with such huge needs, me with no educational background, being essentially a spec ed/reading interventionist/speech facilitator/ESL specialist/1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade teacher depending upon the subject when I have no training and readily admit I am pretty much clueless.

But this week at home has convinced my heart that has overcome my doubts. We have done a little bit here and there with the group as a whole, as Matthew still has CSAPS and we are not doing "real" school but are sort of just playing around with it all.

It became incredibly obvious that for ALL the kids, Matthew included, this would be a gift to them to have them home learning with one another, drawing even closer to each other, encouraging and struggling together. Kenny was changed overnight. He has been "off" a bit trying to get back in the groove at school since returning, but this week he has been a different kid, like someone turned on the switch and he is engaged and interested and literally lit up.
The truth is that it is only HERE where he is really amongst his peers, not that he doesn't fit in at school, because he does well enough. I am speaking of academically...our home and under our roof is the only place where others are experiencing the EXACT same thing as he did and still does when it comes to learning language, culture, and assimilating. He is 3 years down the road and as we have discovered this week he still draws blanks on certain words because they haven't been used often enough in conversation to sink rug or spatula. HERE he does not appear stupid, HERE others understand that it is hard, HERE everyone knows the level of institutional deprivation experienced and recognizes he is not just another ELL student from a normal family. We know the learning "hooks" he does not have well developed yet even after being home almost 3 years.
Kenny has a LOT going on inside his little head, and a lot that has not yet been discovered that is not clicking. Dominick and I are both extremely worried that we will have a high schooler who can not read if we do not do something drastic right now and at least TRY to fix the problem. I know we may not be able to do so, but being in a regular classroom where he is trying to keep up with kids reading 4th and 5th grade level material (and even 6th grade for those who are ahead) next year will not benefit him at all when he is lucky if he is reading at a 2nd grade level. Do I know how to work with it? Won't pretend I do. But at home we can keep drilling and working with his level and immerse him once again in the basics and not force him to spend much of his day working with reading materials that are not geared towards his abilities. Thankfully he is fine with math, so that is one area we are not concerned about.

Then there is Joshua, who is doing so well in school. Why pull him? Because everyone else will be home and he needs to be as well. He is already bothered by Matthew not being there, and now the girls. This week we played multiplication bingo and without any help at all Josh was doing better than Olesya at it...he has a gift for numbers that needs to be nurtured and allow him to fly through material at his own pace.

This decision was a tough one on many levels, and it does not at all reflect our dissatisfaction with the school the kids go to. The fact is, we have a house full of square pegs and we have been trying to pound them into round holes. No surprise here, it doesn't work. You can NOT drop a child like Kenny or the girls into a normal, age appropriate classroom at their ages and expect the school can somehow miraculously make up for all that they have not experienced or spend one on one time with them at the rate that is needed so they can catch up as fast as possible. The system is not designed for one on one attention, and that is not a single teacher's fault. We have been BLESSED beyond belief to have our lives touched by some of the educators at the boys' school. Amazing, kind, wonderful people who have made this decision so very hard due to their care for our children and emotional investment in our family. I recall thinking back 2 or 3 years ago saying to myself how I was so glad we had so many years left to be walking the halls of this terrific place, that I was glad we were starting all over with Joshie so we could continue to be part of this caring environment. It has bothered both Dominick and I to think that there is much that will also be lost by not having the boys attend there.

But frankly, we feel caught between a rock and a hard place, and pretending our family fits the norm doesn't serve our kids well, and it ignores what we know to be true and very obvious right before our eyes. Our kids are not going to succeed with the standard practices of public education. We can not make up for 8-10 years of deprivation and institutionalization and we can not ignore its effect on our sons and daughters. We can not ignore that it will take 5+ years of language remediation for them to catch up, and that by then they will be almost done with school and how much will have been missed, and how much further will they be behind?

Kenny socially is STILL an 8 year old little boy and we are now at the "make or break" point with him and his peers, and we feel he is not ready to handle being around the changes and toughness that will come as the kids mature this next year or so. We see him as 8, he sees himself as 8, it is where he is and we feel he is naturally maturing at a rate that works for him, but will not be able to do so as the kids around him mature into this next middle school phase. What would it do to him? How would the next couple of years alter who he is and what additional issues might we have? Even within our home Kenny and the others have organically sorted out the age issue and he and Josh are being called the "younger brothers" with no malice whatsoever, it is where he is and that is fine with everyone. The fact is, Josh is more mature than Kenny on most levels, but Josh has an "old soul" feel about him that has always been there, so that is not really a surprise at all.

The girls do not have the same issues, of course, and are far more appropriately mature although Olesya is very obviously more affected by her earlier institutionalization than Angela was who entered at an older age. Olesya is about a year and a half to two years behind in some ways socially, as we think of her as being the 9 year old we thought we were adopting or maybe even 8 at times. For her this feels more temporary but she too needs that time to be the younger child and relish it with a family. She is not ready by any stretch of the imagination for middle school. Angela? She's ready in terms of maturity, but we feel it would serve to allow her to emotionally distance herself from all of us, and that would be heading towards a nightmare. The strides we are seeing everyday despite how hard they may be are what we need to see for her to be emotionally healthy. But even she would stagger under the academic weight.

I know most people do not choose to do this with their kids, they bring them home and put them in school and very often everything is fine. I am not saying at all that everyone should make this decision for their internationally adopted children. But this feels like the right thing to do for our specific kids at this point in time. We are stepping into it with a long term approach, but are 100% open to enrolling them back in public school should we feel that is best for any one of them. Right now though, this feels like the best decision for each individual child...including Josh whom many might ask about...and for our family as a whole. We are not like every other family, we are an amalgam of very, very different backgrounds, personalities and experiences.
Can I do it? I don't honestly know. But I will be giving it my best shot and recognizing that nothing I have ever done before this is as important as the job that now is set before me. I am tackling it like it is a job, it is serious business and I know full well all that I am lacking and will do the best I can to self-educate so I can facilitate the learning of each of the kids at the level they individually need.

There is one thing though that we have over anyone else or any other system, and that is a passionate love for our children and a desire to see them succeed at having a happy and productive life. Notice I am not saying that we will measure success by whether or not they all go to college. No, that is not to let myself off the hook so they can receive a sub-standard education and work at McDonald's their entire lives, but it is the recognition of what society seems to have overlooked somewhere along the line, and that is that college does not necessarily equal happiness. Contentment, doing our best, having God as the major influence in our lives, having healthy and fulfilling relationships, and following our dreams is where happiness comes in. None of that has a whole lot to do with a college education.

We actually want to make sure our kids are NOT thrust on the "think about college when you are in middle school, worry about a million activities for your transcripts, be terrified of low SAT's and study for a year" rat race that begins in 2-3 years for most of them when they have not yet had a childhood and have barely had the chance to begin one. There are other more productive and simpler ways to "do college" if they desire to do so, including starting at junior college, that immediately takes off the pressure and would allow them the emotional time and space to develop at the pace they need to become healthy adults. Homeschooling our kids allows us to remove them from the culture of higher ed thinking that could literally remove the last chance they have to kids, and we feel that is far more important at this stage for them to become healthy adults. It is also another acknowledgement that our family is different, our kids are different, and "the norm" is not right for them.

Frankly, we also have kids who have been institutionalized for most or all of their lives, and we are beginning to see how school is just another institution for them. What they need is the chance to experience family...home...connection...and society in ways they have never done before. We have girls who have never spent the night in a hotel! They have never spent extended periods of time in the presence of an adult who is emotionally invested in them. We had a son in Kenny who had never turned on a light switch until less than 3 years ago! How in the world is spending most of their day in another institution going to serve them well?

There are moments I feel we have failed Kenny terribly, as I have grown to see things differently. I felt (and still feel) inept and incapable, I see others as the experts but it is through our experiences with him that we have come to new ways of understanding what education ought to look like for he and the girls. If I were doing it all over, I would try and homeschool Kenny from the beginning. But I am 3 years old and 3 years wiser in some ways, or at least I hope so, and what we have learned at Kenny's expense has been a series of valuable lessons.
How will we afford for me to be home for the long haul? Not sure, and we are hoping and praying that this is not a temporary measure unless that is what is best for the kids. But we have taken the steps we can to do our best to live on less. Knowing this was obviously working for Matthew and that alone would require us to step up and figure out a way for me to be in the home and not working for the next several years we recently refinanced the house back out to a 30 year loan to cut our payment significantly. We are taking advantage of the homeschooling program through the public school so we have access to funding for curriculum. Yes, that means less freedom and more oversight but it also means it makes it possible when otherwise it might not be. We are going to be scrupulous in terms of spending money (or not) and do the best we can to live on less. We will do without a lot more than we have already been doing without. And I have a husband who takes his commitment seriously to homeschooling our kids, and has already told me he will do whatever it takes that is within his power to keep me home for the duration, even if it means taking on a 3rd job.

Man, you have no idea how many sleepless nights have gone into this. I am scared and writing this here is sort of making it official that yes, we are really going to do this. I know many people do it, and many do it with more than we are going to do it with. A few do it with this many with significant academic and language needs. But I think we are entering a new realm here and it is one that is not shared with anyone I know personally.
Guess this means I'd better run out and buy myself that blue jumper everyone always teases about homeschool moms wearing. Before this I could feel I had my feet sort of dipped in the pool, now it is going to be an inelegant swan dive and you can all sit back and watch to see if I come up for air or sink unceremoniously to the bottom. Just look for the bubbles, will you?


Anonymous said...

Very understandable decision about the majority of your kids, given their backgrounds and experiences. It almost sounds though like while homeschooling the others avoids the 'square peg in a round hole' problem, taking Josh out of school because the others aren't there may create a similar issue for him. I know by his age, I and most I've known had established some strong and enduring relationships with both teachers and students. Good luck with your plans though - individualized education like homeschooling, can provide strong building blocks for kids adjusting to such a new life. J.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! 'bout time, what took so long? ;-) Skip the jumper though, jeans and sweats work great!

God Bless,
Teresa F

Jeanne said...

I think its sounds great. I will compile a list of websites that have lots of materials to use for the core subjects as well as others too.

Jeanne said...

ok Cindy , here a few sites that i use with my students. - this site gives you worksheet for ESL students, if you register, which is free you can get more. - this is one of my favorite sites, it has a small yearly cost but you can make your own handouts , word searches, all kinds of things, they also have loads of worksheets on math, reading, etc. - another great site for worksheets.

I will send you more when i find the others i use.

Betsy said...

I think you are courageous to make the difficult decision that will be best for all of your kids. Your decision may look 'odd' to the outside world - but sometimes that is what is true for families that make decisions in faith. Only you & Dominick can know what is best for them! I have no doubt you will be successful and that you will constantly be learning, praying, revising and improving as you go along. I think you will be laying a strong foundation for your fantastic kids!

Anonymous said...

Me again, with a long, long comment...

I can see why you have been carrying around some extra burdens, as you wrestled with this decision, Cindy. Knowing you only through reading your blog and a few exchanged emails, I believe you are up to the task. And I know you are weighing the pros and cons. In your case, your kids are their own "classmates". Though I know your ages and maturity levels vary, your kids have shown you that they are a cohesive "unit", getting along, knowing how to encourage each other, enjoying their time together. That's more positive than some of the things that sometimes go on in a public classroom. I admire you, as I think I've suggested that I know deep in my heart there would be some great advantages to our last daughter in particular to be homeschooled. Many of the reasons you stated that your kids are not ready for the middle school experience are the same with her. I'm a coward, whereas you are not. And I also see some good things about her attending public school. We're lining up some tutoring again this summer, and I have plans to do more of the same myself. We're having more assessments done to see if we've missed a learning disability, which will hopefully get her more services in math.

I can see, as overwhelming as this must seem to you right now, that this could be a great fit for your family. They will also have the chance to gain much lost time together, spending it learning over the kitchen table, rather than in separate classrooms during their days in public school. In a way you are protecting them, pulling them back a bit from society, with the hopes that they will gain the things each needs to master their future worlds. I know you will also continue to expose them to various wonderful experiences, where they will also meet new friends and keep in contact with the world around them.

I'm very proud of you for the courage and faith you are showing in taking this step. Your kids will blossom in new ways.

I also see you to be a very humble mom, who will not be afraid to ask for help from your school system, if need be. The wonderful teachers your sons have had will surely continue to support your family.

I would just suggest not trying to "reinvent" the wheel. If some of your school's cirriculum is working already for your kids, can't you use it and supplement their learning with all those wonderful, creative ideas of your own?

Nancy in Iowa

Anonymous said...

I did it again...had to cut my comment in half and post twice. Over the limit with my thoughts.

I'm excited for you! I know some people can't wait for their kids to go off to school, to graduate. But what's that about? That's why you and I have kids...we wanted to spend time with them, and now you're going to have lots...and make up for time lost with them before they came home. I can only imagine all the amazing literature you will all be enjoying together, all the science experiments (which hopefully won't stain any linoleum!) Most homeschool families I know start out being willing to re-evaluate each year. One good friend has homeschooled seven of her nine kids (two are still too young) up until high school. The only reason I wish they'd make a different choice is a selfish one...I always wish her kids were in the public school so they could influence others! The same holds true for a cousin who schooled all eight through high school. They're the most amazing and caring adults. But each does what's best for their own.

Best wishes. You'll all thrive... and some days you might pull out a hair or two. But I'm happy for all of you to be about the exciting journey of learning together.

And just my thought that leaving only one in school, especially if he's been struggling emotionally, might send the wrong message to him. Everyone else gets to learn with mom, and not me?

I'd skip the jumper. It might be a joke, but honestly...who looks good in a denim jumper? And it's just a little outdated. And unless your faith tells you differently, I'd skip the bun and keep your layered cut!

And if you're traveling through or around Iowa this summer, let me know. We'd love to give a tour of an Iowa hog farm. There are calves in huts to bottle feed, some sheep, a couple of farm dogs, lots of kittens, and my sister-in-law raises puppies. The rule on the trampoline is one jumper at a time. Can you say "field trip in the making"?

Nancy in Iowa

angela said...

Just wanted to say that it looks like you have just the qualifications you need to teach them all. I have friends who hook up with a homeschool club and share activities and subjects too sometimes.

And when I had trouble teaching high schoolers after getting my degree, it's ironic to me after reading your story that I read parenting books and that helped in the classroom more than anything.

Anna said...

what a great topic. We too are praying about Gods will concerning "little G" and her education. I first need to travel to Ecuador and get to know her. I have time. Please skip the denim jumper....

Karen said...

Hooray! The truth (inside your heart and soul) will and has set you free!

I think once you get yourself oriented and connected to the abundance of resources out there, you'll all do exceedingly well.

Remember that you've got an abundance of "specialists" to draw upon. There are lots of us who can easily take on introducing your kids to something we're good at/interested in or who can spend one-on-one time with a child/learner who needs it. Put me down to help in any way that's needed.


Hilary Marquis said...

My dear friend,

You are going to do great! Do you know why? Because no one knows your children better than you do! You are correct, public schools are not set up for one on one. Even the small group special ed we found out was falling way short. I didn't/don't feel qualified to be a teacher much less a special ed teacher. But, I am finding I am the best teacher for MY kids right now. Tyler isn't nearly as upset when he's not having to fight other battles that come with Asperger's when he's in his "safe" zone. He can focus on the reading, writing, & math. We made sure we moved into a good school district here in MN. The boys know they can go back to the public schools if they want to, and we've discussed it. The answer was was a resounding, "NO!" Tyler is only in 2nd grade and before he left the public schools he was already telling me, "I'm not smart. I'm in the dumb reading group." That statement right there told me we were doing the right thing in pulling him.
I've seen what a battered and beaten self esteem does to a child...the adult suffers for it later too. My brother was bullied HORRIBLY. I swore when Tyler was diagnosed (that even though I didn't want to at the time) I'd pull him and teach him myself before I saw him abused in that way. My parents felt like they failed my brother because no matter what they did they couldn't stop the bullying. Homeschooling wouldn't have been an option for them at the time. Guess who my biggest supporters were when we decided to pull the boys? My folks :) Knowing that Tyler would never face what my brother did meant the world to them.
My kids may never be the "top of the class" but, they will learn at their own pace, we will celebrate each victory no matter how small, we will encourage one another as a family/class, they will enjoy learning, they will be comfortable in their own skin, and they will not be bullied or tormented! There is something to be said for those advantages.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your decision! I sense relief among the anxiety of it all. You have a keen sense of what feels right for you and your family. Go with it!! And I cannot imagine having all of the kids home schooling with Joshie not, all just belong together! And you have always offered them individual opportunities to explore and grow in areas they are drawn to outside of your home and school. I see only great things with this decision! When I think about the many children through the years that I have met who are home schooled I cannot think of one that has said they wish they hadn't been! You go LaJoys!
Love, Miss Joan

Anonymous said...

God's sense of humor--God does have a wry sense of humor, throws curves when we think we've set a straight path. I think, though, that God doesn't intend sleepless nights, but being human that is perhaps a precursor to getting the joke. Congratulations on coming to the point most of your "viewers" saw coming long ago.

Remember there is an army of people near and far that you can call on for help, advice, sympathy, laughter, love, and prayer.

Fail Kenny--never. You can catch up on the academics, but what you have given him in these years is far beyond price--security, family, love, acceptance, courage to match his, a foundation in faith, constancy,all backed by more sleepless nights and prayer.

In the coming months as you plan out the fall curriculum, think about those of us who will gladly be teacher's aides whenever you need us.

Love you,

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
Although I haven't yet adopted, I have BTDT on the home schooling and again, I had to chuckle! We started w/one b/c he was bullied, and by the next year pulled our 2d one out, who wasn't bullied, just b/c we saw the incredible benefits to it scholastically and spiritually. However, were you to ask the 2 boys, now adults, the 1st fully believes in home school and the 2d one thinks it was a mistake for him. Yet, in both cases we tailored their education, so that at one time the oldest took 2 home classes, 1 at school, and 1 college class per quarter all at the same time! The younger also had a mixed bag of home school and public school classes. I think most home schoolers really believe in it, and near the end our 2d son begged to take Algebra 2 at home for fear he would flunk it at school, as the teacher was known to be a stinker and it was his weakest subject. So, you won't know till they're adults whether it was a total success or not, even though in our case both did quite well on college tests and classes. It still hurts my feelings some that the younger one is not fully happy about the choices we made, esp. since we never forced him to home school. I think your decision is incredibly wise and brave. I know the battles and stress of it, and must say that it remains as some of the hardest, yet most rewarding, work I ever did. You will find your groove, but it will never be a piece of cake! If I were you, I would probably make exactly the same decision as you are, but then I have never been good about setting reasonable limits for myself. Just make sure you are emotionally ready for a long slog, and do what you can to lighten your burdens as you are clearly showing some signs of stress already. However, you will be their best teacher and I have no doubt that you are MORE than qualified enough to do this, so don't doubt yourself on that level. So, congratulations, and welcome to the grindstone...aah the sacrifices of motherhood! Sherry

Anonymous said...

I value and respect your decision. Remember that I am always here to help you with the kids academics. You are an inspiration and whatever I an do to help ease any struggles, please let me know!
Mary Morris, OES teacher

garnet said...

I found your blog a little while ago and jumped in while you were wrapping up your adoption. I dream of having time to go back and read the whole story.

First, I want to say thank you for sharing truly the whole story -- which includes the time once you're home. I probably will never get to adopt but I dream of doing so and I always so want to know what happens once everyone is home.

I am often not good about introducing myself and commenting, particularly as I find more and more blogs that I read, but I couldn't ignore this post. I'm a secondary school teacher who is so often frustrated by the way the school environment really caters to no one at all. It is designed to help the teacher, not the individual student. I say that as one who is guilty of doing that -- and really, how could it be otherwise. I absolutely applaud you for making the tough decision to teach your children at home. They will benefit the most from that and I wish so many more parents could so so. I wish I could be driven out of a job. Yes, no setup is perfect, but I see so many advantages to homeschooling that I teach my children myself after school even though my oldest is in the little school on our larger campus.

I wish you all the best. There will be many tough times but I am sure your children will be the better for this decision. And I've been praying that the girls will learn language at a miraculous rate so that they can understand and draw closer to you that much faster.