Our journey to homeschool

A friend asked me recently why I decided to homeschool my son. We decided to homeschool our 5th grade son partially because of the pandemic but primarily after trying other options over the years and exploring both public and private alternatives around us we realized that a hybrid homeschool program is the best schooling option for him. After looking into several schools my husband and I felt that only one school in our area of San Jose, CA was a reasonable fit for our son. Let me repeat that: only one school near us was fit for our son. It is a public charter school that you get in by lottery. The school has a hybrid homeschool program where kids are in school just 2 days a week with a teacher and homeschooling 3 days.

You might ask, “What is wrong with your son that other schools weren’t a fit for him?” but that’s the wrong question to be asking. The question we all need to start asking is, “What is wrong with our schools that a boy like my son doesn’t belong in most of them?”

Let me tell you about my boy. He like many kids today that I’ve seen at our public schools has ADHD and struggles with anxiety. He does best in a class that is well controlled and structured. When my son’s anxiety is big he has a hard time managing his emotions. In school he doesn’t thrive in the core subjects (math & writing) but he manages slightly below grade level and does well with one-on-one tutoring or small groups of kids with similar needs. He is a really great reader, better than most with outstanding reading comprehension. In his writing he has a lot to say on certain subjects and his stories are incredibly creative, however his organizational skills are sometimes lacking and he might possibly be dyslexic, but our school district doesn’t test for dyslexia so I’m not certain. He knows an amazing amount of history, particularly WWII history (all self taught.) He enjoys learning about other countries, science and doing hands on experiments. He has a HUGE imagination! He learns best through role play and creative play. At home he often draws and he creates stop animations of actual WWII battles using his Lego mini figures and doing his own voice overs. He learned to do all of this primarily on his own. He is driven to learn about things that he is interested about, yet most schools around us don’t support him.

Why is that? As an active parent volunteer in the public school system I have witnessed some things over the past six years and I have some theories on this.

Public schools in San Jose, CA cater to the average kids and active ADHD kids aren’t average since they often fall behind in reading, writing and math, the subjects that they push really hard at school due to Common Core testing on those subjects. Kids who excel in those subjects aren’t average either and often end up bored in public school; they might thrive in a private school where academic standards are often higher but private schools like that would be a nightmare for a kid like ours. Girls tend to fair better in school overall than active boys who crave movement and have a lower tolerance for sitting still for longer periods of time. Class sizes in the elementary classrooms are too big for any one teacher at 25 kids or higher. The schools that allow parent volunteers to come into the classrooms to help manage kids do better, however many schools don’t have enough parent involvement and since Covid hit, districts like ours no longer allow parents to help out on public school campuses. Kids will suffer from that decision. Common Core State Standards were implemented to strive to get all kids to the same academic level at the same time but this goal is unrealistic. Richer districts with more parent participation have a greater chance at success since teachers are getting help in the classroom but regardless of how much parents do or don’t do, all kids (rich or poor) learn differently and develop at different rates and no amount of parent participation addresses that.

Last year during the Covid school shutdown I got an even clearer view of what was expected of kids inside the classroom. Because my son was having such a hard time I sat with him and helped him while he was online from 9:05-3:15 which was the required time on Zoom calls these kids were asked to endure. I saw his anxiety appear daily due to the teacher giving lessons that were far too long for kids with ADHD to follow and assigning work that with unrealistic expectations. So great was the focus on math and writing there was little time left over for science, social studies or the arts. The teacher seemed to have little choice in this as she was constantly having to prep the kids for the next math and writing assessments. My son’s IEP small groups were not very helpful either as the kids in those groups had a widely diverse set of needs and many times the needs being catered to them were not what my son needed. The only benefits in those IEP small groups were that occasionally he got individualized help from his teacher and he got regular interaction with his peers. Had I not seen first hand what was going on last year I wouldn’t have known what a poor fit this school environment was for my son and I wouldn’t have switched to a homeschool program.

His new hybrid homeschool is a much better fit for him for many reasons. The class size is smaller with only 19 kids. The work he gets now in school is at an appropriate level for him so he isn’t overwhelmed by it and learning is led by the students’ interests. Kids don’t have to participate in regular math and writing assessments, therefore, being slightly below grade level in some areas is acceptable so long as he is continually learning and moving forward in those areas. Writing work is geared toward his interests not topics strictly assigned by the teacher. The teacher is firm but kind. There is a lot of play based learning and little to no worksheets given for kids to do as they do mostly hands on exercises.  He is given time in school to interact with his classmates and have a snack. There is no homework given leaving time for more play based learning outside of school. Quiet reading time is given in the classroom after recess to ease in transitioning back to learning time. At home my lessons with him are catered to his needs and are way more effective than his group IEP was. The focus is more evenly distributed between math, reading/writing, science, art, social studies and P.E. Due to all of these things I am not seeing the anxiety at school that I saw last year (or in previous years for that matter), nor am I’m getting push back from him in the writing or math assignments that I am giving him at home. It’s a complete turn around from last year. My son loves school now and he’s learning a lot!

We know that we are lucky for so many reasons, the primary one being that we can afford for me to not work and that I have the ability to teach my son and give him this kind of education. We are also fortunate that we got a good number in this school’s lottery! It would be nice if everybody who wanted to homeschool their child could do it. But my wish is this: I wish that all schools got rid of Common Core Standards and more schools offered hybrid homeschool programs or 5 day a week in school programs using the model that my son’s current school does. I would love to send my kid to in person school 5 days a week but the types of schools like the one I’m looking for are rare or nonexistent in most areas.

Our plan is to continue to either homeschool our son at the school he’s at or find some other non-traditional teaching solution for his middle and high school years for as long as we are able to. When he does transition into middle school next year not even the homeschool program he is currently in will be an ideal fit as middle school class sizes reduce to much smaller sizes (this year’s middle school homeschool class is just 9 kids). Families opt out of homeschooling in middle school for different reasons: parents not wanting to educate beyond elementary school years or opting out since the school doesn’t offer sports or other after school activities that some kids want at that age. My son may be lacking as many peers in class to interact with next year. If anyone knows of a middle or high school in their city or town similar to the ideal one that I was describing please let me know about it as we would consider relocating!