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How Homeschooling Saved My Smart, Curious Son

I didn’t want Blaise to lose his wonderful passions when he was shamed in public school for things he can’t control.

An ADHD student being homeschooled.

I homeschool my sons. There are many reasons why. I don’t agree with the way the public school system emphasizes memorization over critical thought; I’m disturbed by the hard push for standardized testing. I believe students learn best in mixed-age groups, especially when it comes to social skills, and I think each child should have the chance to learn at his own pace, not at the dictates of someone else’s schedule. I also homeschool because six-year-old Blaise has ADHD.

ADHD complicates the school experience. Children are expected to sit still for hours and quietly do self-motivated seatwork. Recess lasts for only 15 minutes. Distractions abound — distractions that other children may tune out, but which ADHD kids notice. All these things lead to poor academic performance, which turns kids off school permanently. Blaise is smart. He likes to read, and he likes science. I don’t want him to lose those passions because he’s shamed for things surrounding them that he can’t control.

So when everyone posted “First Day of Kindy!!!” photos on Facebook, we quietly returned to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and went out to catch some toads.

Our school day looks like this. Instead of waking at 5:30 a.m. to catch a 6:30 bus, Blaise sleeps until 9 (after going to bed around 9 or 10 p.m., he gets his full complement of z’s, which helps with his ADHD symptoms). We eat breakfast and watch TV until about 10, when school generally starts. Blaise reads a book aloud to his brothers and me. Then he writes in his journal, usually about his latest dragon drawing. His handwriting sucks, and he can’t make lowercase letters. We do some handwriting work, but I don’t push it hard. It’ll come.

After that, we do science or social studies. These take various forms. Science might be a learning box for Kiwi Crate, which asks us to build a pinball machine, or catching frogs and determining their gender, or watching dissection videos on YouTube, or listening to a podcast on astronomy or the Permian extinction. Blaise can identify most of the bones in the human body. He can tell you anything you want to know about dinosaurs, including which epoch they lived in, and describe different theories for the demise of Ice Age mammals. We pick what to do based on his interests, so he stays focused.

It is a struggle some days. His little brothers are the greatest source of distraction, especially when they crawl on us or jump on the bed. His middle brother also has his own school “work,” most of which involves the computer, and we often have to go into another room while he completes it. If a computer game’s running, Blaise can’t pay attention to school.

We also take breaks between lessons. Sometimes, he asks for them himself; sometimes I dictate them, when I realize he isn’t paying attention. Usually he retires to play LEGO for 15 minutes. Sometimes he asks to play a video game, but I generally discourage it during school hours, because it hypes him up and scatters his attention even further. This can lead to a tantrum.

There are other struggles not related to sitting down and teaching him. While I can teach reading by having him read books, and science by picking and choosing what we’re interested in, I need help with things like math. To me, math means drills, which would incite instant rebellion in my house. So far, we’ve been using Mathseeds, an online program designed to teach math. But we’re running out of lessons, and I need to pick another curriculum, one that de-emphasizes drills while making sure he learns basic addition and subtraction facts. That’s hard.

Social studies is also a struggle. I don’t want it to be memorizing strings of facts, but I want him to know about things like the American Revolution. We spend a lot of time in the state museum, and use books we buy there to teach him. At six years old, however, social studies is mostly memorizing your name, the fact that states exist, and your country. So I have some time yet. Luckily, the state museum involves a lot of walking around, so we can learn on our feet.

I’m glad I decided to homeschool my ADHD son. I love it. He’s free of the shame that might come from his behavior in a school system. It can be hard to keep track of materials — my husband and I both have ADHD as well — but I’ve found that putting things in the exact same place, with pencils and pens, every single time, really helps.

There are some obstacles we wouldn’t encounter if we went the route of traditional schooling. But overall, it’s been a positive experience. Blaise is ahead of his “grade level” in every subject. In fact, we’re free from the idea of grade levels, and instead of teaching a first grader, I can just teach Blaise, with all his quirks and difficulties and strengths.

In the end, that’s what homeschooling is all about.

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