Homeschooling: Getting off the mark

Since things did not really work out with a particular school we have made the decision to homeschool Aiden at least for the time being as we continue to search for the right place for him. I have found the challenge of setting up a homeschool to be very interesting and I have to say that together Aiden and I have learnt a lot in the past 6 weeks. I now plan to document the strategies that are working for us and hope to find more ideas to help us get over rough patches and discover more interesting ways of approaching our learning.

I invested a few days of pure research into setting up a homeschool, specifically one for an able autistic child. There is a HUGE amount of information out there and it can take months to sift through the websites and blogs. However having a fairly good idea of what your child’s learning style is can help you get off the mark quite smoothly. Here is how we have chosen to start:

Zoning: I have made a very deliberate effort not to convert the entire house into a school. Ideally, if we had the space, I would have liked to convert one room into a learning room/schoolroom. Given space constraints I have had to improvise. We only do ‘schoolwork’ on the dining table with Aiden sat on an IKEA high stool that provides him with the right elevation needed for writing.

Tools: My most expensive purchase was a good quality coloured printer. This allows me to prepare resources as well as print out photographic evidence on Aiden’s progress. Other tools included a laminator, sturdy storage boxes, stationery, a NUMICON home kit, OT pen and scissors, a visual timer, a hundred square, snap cubes, a box of plastic teddies (huge hit!), and some outdoor toys. We made an effort to stay within a small budget as it’s entirely possible that you will end up with tonnes of things gathering dust.

Storage: I have been very particular about storing the ‘school’ materials and toys separate from the children’s everyday playthings. The children understand that when material comes out of the ‘school boxes’ we will be doing some more focused learning. It also prevents the schooling material from being lost in the flood of regular bits and bobs in their playroom. That said, I have allowed that line to be crossed with certain resources as that allows for the learning to be carried beyond just the schoolroom into the child’s less structured play and that provides rich opportunity for both reinforcement of the lesson focus and also allows me to evolve the next lesson idea by observing his play. I shall discuss this in detail in a separate post.

IMG_1741(My boxes for Literacy, Numeracy, Logic/Problem Solving/Motor Skills, Craft, and Stationery.)

Human Resource: In my case this was invaluable. I simply don’t have the strength and patience to go it alone. Just keep in mind that by taking the decision to homeschool your child will be with you constantly, 24/7. There is a very real possibility that you will be sick of each other very soon. Also, it is a huge responsibility and I have been reduced to tears of frustration as we have struggled with addition facts and number bonds. (More on that later). I have been supremely lucky as I have been able to find a wonderful person who helps me with the homeschool. She brings in a fresh angle and approaches that are very different from mine. She has incorporated a number of very physical activities to break up the more desk based learning, like giving Aiden frequent breaks to jump on the trampoline, taking him for rides on a balance bike, giving him a big tub of uncooked rice to blow off some steam through sensory indulgence. If you can go it alone, more power to you. If you can find someone to help you along this journey by all means embrace this opportunity.

I am very excited about how much we have learnt. Aiden is now reading, writing, adding, his motor skills are improving, and he is learning that sometimes he has to finish a task assigned even when he’d really rather not. Naturally, there are huge obstacles. Primarily, given his very poor language skills it almost impossible to test his comprehension of text, to teach him about the world around us, even simple math is so language rich that one is flummoxed. However, if I have learnt one thing its that dwelling on what he can’t do will get us nowhere. Patience is the key. There was one area where we had no progress for weeks. Then I tried a completely different approach: different media, different resource and suddenly there was a breakthrough. So for me the key to success with homeschooling is to accept that progress will come in fits and starts. A parent of a now successful young man with learning needs once told us that it’s always one step forward and two steps back and suddenly your child will sprint. Then come to a stall again. Couldn’t have said it better.

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