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Unlearning Traditional Education: Our Journey to Success...and Sanity

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

The Conversation


I have a love-hate relationship with blogging. I do. Mainly because of lack of time. However, I think I am a pretty good storyteller, speaker and writer. There are so many things that I want to share.....life experiences, that I really do believe would benefit others. And people often come to me for advice or ask questions about my life from travel to homeschooling. I prefer more intimate conversations though. So let's think of this entry as an intimate conversation.


 

The Decision to Homeschool: How it Started


When we decided to have my oldest son evaluated for ADHD, I wasn't sure what I wanted to come from the evaluation. I guess I was hoping for strategies because I didn't know what to do. As an educator, I knew what so-called behaviors of ADHD looked like in children. Throughout my career, I'd had many ADHD students. My husband and I talked about it alot. He's an educator too. We would joke about it ("That boy must have ADHD or something") mostly in regard to our son; usually when he seemed to be getting on our nerves. But his behaviors were affecting our family life, homeschooling as well as interactions outside of the home. A friend of mine suggested we look into testing since her daughter (who is his playmate) acted similarly and had been diagnosed. I didn't want to think about it being a possibility but I wanted to be successful at homeschooling.


When I first decided to homeschool, there were two main reasons for our decision.


Overall, public and private preschool did not work for him or us and we felt it was in his best interest to just teach him at home. He is a bright brown boy; definitely advanced for his age. Even his teachers agreed. But, he seemed to always get into trouble in school; mainly for impulsive behavior. As a preschool student he had already been in TWO "schools" (one public and one private). I had been teaching him “formally” since I decided to be a SAHM/WAHM in 2013. He was about 3 years old then. He knew all pre-k and k topics and skills before he went to traditional school. In Fall 2014, due to his late birthday he was not old enough to attend Kindergarten so I enrolled him in a private school nearby for Pre-K.


 


At Preschool 1:


Teacher: "L was calling out again today during the lesson."

Me: "Can you describe what was going on? What were you teaching?

Teacher: "The alphabet and sounds."

Me: "Well, he can read. I told you that.Maybe he was bored. I thought you had an aide that would be able to assist."


This happened EVERYDAY for the entire month of September. When I enrolled him, I told the enrollment counselor that I was a teacher and that he already knew a lot of the pre-k skills. I even met the teacher prior and discussed my concerns. She assured me that she had an aide who could pull him to work on other skills. Sometimes I really felt like they were picking on him; as he was the only little Black boy in his class. He was 1 of 8 Black kids in the whole school! I later found out, from the principal after I pulled him out, that "not all of the teachers were ready for a diverse set of students". WTH!?


 


At PreK 2 (our local public school):


Teacher: "L was rolling around on the carpet during most of the lesson today".

Me: "What was happening during that time? What were you teaching?"

Teacher: "Counting and numbers."

Me: "Well, he can count to 100, knows his numbers and he can add."

Teacher: "Well you know pre-k isn't mandatory and since he is very advanced for his age, I don't think he even needs to be here. We need to focus on the kids who aren't prepared for Kindergarten."

Me: "Excuse me. Public school Pre-k is free and accessible to all eligible children regardless of skill and ability. As a teacher, you should be looking for ways to differentiate."


At both schools, the teachers were either calling me or emailing me everyday or wanted to have long conversations about his day during dismissal/pickup. None wanted to have parent teacher conferences "because L is ahead and we need to talk to the parents of kids who really need help". We hadn't even gotten through an entire school year before I finally decided to pull him out in February 2015 and homeschool him. The schools were not meeting his needs academically or socially.


 


Official Homeschoolers (2015)


When I registered him as a Kindergarten homeschooler with our school district in the Fall of 2015, I went about the business of planning our "official" homeschool year. I knew I wanted our learning experiences to be fun but I also wanted some structure; 1) I was still working part-time, 2) I have an A-type personality and 3) I believed that if he didn't have something to do at all times he would drive me crazy. While we had some great activities and field trips, I got sucked into the concept of traditional learning/education; which is totally absurd because even as a public school teacher, I was a rebel and hated following the ridiculous rules and standards that were set. I always modified or created my own activities to meet my students' needs. I threw caution to the wind alot to focus on my students needs, learning preferences and learning styles.


I knew my son was a kinesthetic learner. We did hands-on activities but not enough. Although he was a fast learner and VERY SMART, I feel like I tortured him some days by having him complete worksheets (mostly because it is required in our district as proof of learning during homeschool reviews).


I had curriculum from my public school teaching days. So I used that. I also bought traditional textbooks from online. I created lessons that helped me focus on content for the year, month, week, day. We had a schedule. Days were short (2-3 hours) but seemingly rough. My son learned alot. BUT I was teaching him like he was in a traditional school setting; the very one I loathed. The very environment that he was unsuccessful in the prior year. We both struggled. As the saying goes, "hindsight is 20/20" and I was sure that my approach to teaching him in a traditional manner had done more harm than good. Let me explain what I mean.


 

ADHD: Nature or Nurture


It wasn't until I pulled him out of school and we were together all the time did I begin to notice certain behaviors more. We never gave him sugar/sweets because we knew he was already very active; he didn't need anything else to hype him up. My husband and I just thought "boys will be boys". But when we were together for lessons (just he and I), he was very easily distracted by the slightest external stimuli. He could not keep still. He made alot of careless mistakes. He rolled on the floor, touched things, constantly moved around, interrupted me while speaking (could not wait his turn to speak). I yelled ALOT. Even when there was no teaching, he was all over the place; during playgroups, outings, fieldtrips, around the house. He did NOT walk anywhere. He ran and even if I said stop running, he couldn't. He skipped instead. As an educator, I had studied child behavior and I mostly chalked it up to his current age level.


As a teacher he was driving me crazy.

As a mom, he was driving me crazy.


Others would say, "That boy is always on 10!" On days when I would be traveling for work and my hubby was alone with the kids, he noticed the behaviors too. He would call and say, "Oh now I see what you are talking about." I sought advice from my mom group as well as my homeschool moms group. Everyone said that I needed to let up alittle; that he was smart and he didn't need to sit still and do work; that he just needed to be a boy and play. In my heart, I knew that was partly true but I also felt it was more than that. Or at least I thought I did at that time.


 

TODAY'S REFLECTION MOMENT


Sir Ken Robinson makes a valid point in this video.




.....that we are penalizing (ADHD) kids for being distracted from boring stuff (at school). Am I the reason for my son's increased behaviors? I pulled him out of school to homeschool him which is where he should have been free to think, do, create, explore, enjoy learning. How dare I penalize him for being bored and distracted? "Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents". The curriculum I had created did not celebrate his talents daily. So did I cause these behaviors???


"Children are natural learners. Curiosity is the engine of achievement. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they can learn unassisted often."


We should stimulate, provoke, engage.


Changing the Paradigm: As Sir Ken Robinson said, "The habits of institutions and the habitats they occupy must be changed. Human beings are naturally different and diverse".


So why couldn't I just let go and be more like an unschooler. I think I have a control issue. I need to be in control. Ha! Can't believe I said that aloud. Seriously, I need order. I also believed that my son needed structure to stay on task; to focus; to work. However, my son really needed freedom and less control to just learn on his own terms. I needed structure to stay on task, to focus, to work. But I worried that if he did have an attention disorder, and if we didn't figure out how to help him now he would suffer as an adult. So like I said in the beginning, we had him tested. Let's just say it was not what I expected.


 


ADHD Results (Nov 2015)


I love our pediatrician. I really do. But the ADHD testing process was the worst! I spoke to him at L's last appointment and he gave me 2 ADHD questionnaires to complete: one for parent, one for teacher. My husband completed one as the parent and I completed the other as the teacher. We did them alone and separately. The results were pretty identical. We faxed the form back to the pediatrician who scheduled an appointment to come in. We were very naive. We seriously thought that he would then see a psychologist or something. Nope. The pediatrician just said, "Yup. He has ADHD. Here is a prescription". I was like, "Whoa. Wait a minute. Is that it? No, behavior study or anything from an outside source?" To which he replied, "No. You are the source". Needless to say I was shocked. I rejected the medication. I had heard stories of kids being zombified and/or aggressive and I didn't want that for L. The pediatrician just told me to hold on to it and fill it when I felt we were ready.


Over the next few weeks, I was frustrated, angry, tired. I did not know what to do. His behavior was still the same and I realized I was starting to dislike my child. That is THE WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD. His behavior made me not want to be around him because it was soooo draining. Some days I had to call in reinforcements (sitter) just to get through the day. But I had not reflected on any of my own decisions and behavior during this time. I had not watched Sir Ken Robinson.


 

The Right Decision?


We got the prescription filled after two long weeks of feeling like a failure as a mom. We were preparing for a family vacation to Disneyworld and I could not imagine what the days would be like in such a place with him. On the Monday before our trip (scheduled for Thursday), we tried it out. I didn't see an immediate change so Tuesday we gave him his next dose. Then something happened. He became the son that I thought I would have: docile and compliant and still. Too still. On Wednesday, it was the same; and while I enjoyed having consecutive moments of quiet, focus, breathing, it didn't sit right in my stomach. I didn't like who he was. He wasn't the bubbly, carefree child we knew. Then I had to make a choice. Do I continue the medicine and risk him not truly experiencing Disneyworld as his authentic self or keep him on it and consequently keep me sane? You probably think that I kept him on it but I didn't. While I could foresee me or my husband running down Main Street USA after him, I wanted him to enjoy his first time at Disneyworld.

And honestly, it was not bad at all! I think the shock of being in the most magical place on Earth innately calmed all of us. We were just a regular family on vacation.



 

School Days



When we returned from Disneyworld, I took a few weeks off from "teaching" to regroup. I decided to revamp our homeschool schedule and curriculum to cater more to his learning style. We are more of an eclectic homeschool family. We do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We incorporate road schooling since I travel a lot for work and unschooling when he shows interest in a specific topic. I take the kids with me if I can and we learn about the city or state we are in and visit the local attractions. We still do workbooks but the schedule is not so rigid. We go on LOTS of field trips and do all kinds of fun, hands-on activities. In case you are wondering about the various homeschool styles, below is a quick summary.


 

HOMESCHOOL STYLES


  1. Traditional Homeschooling: doing "school" at home; lecture style teaching; solid schedule; mimics a real school

  2. Roadschooling: use the sights, attractions and people on the road to teach

  3. Worldschooling: the world is the classroom; travel the world to learn

  4. Unschooling: child choice; no formal lessons

  5. Eclectic Homeschooling: use multiple approaches to schooling

  6. Classical Homeschooling: Using the “trivium” model, children move through three main stages of learning: concrete learning (the grammar stage), critical learning (the logic stage), and abstract learning (the rhetoric stage). It’s a language-focused, literature-focused style of learning

  7. Montessori Homeschooling: child centered approach focus on hands-on learning, self-regulation, active learning, choice

  8. Homeschooling with Unit Studies: Unit studies are time-specific overviews of a defined topic or theme that incorporate multiple subject areas into the study planCharlotte Mason Homeschooling

  9. Waldorf Homeschooling: educating the whole child (body, mind, and spirit);de-emphasizes academics; Art, music, gardening, and foreign language are key focuses; No textbooks are used in the first several grades; No formal grades are assigned during the elementary years; integration of the natural world into all aspects of education


 

Back to Traditional School


When I got pregnant with my third child, due in Winter 2017, we decided to enroll both boys in a mostly Black (kids not teachers) catholic school in the Fall of that year. We knew it would be difficult to homeschool after having a c-section. It had been almost 1 whole year of ups and downs with homeschooling. I was a bit reluctant but my husband and I decided to put him back on medication so he would be successful in his new school. We spoke to the pediatrician who changed to a different prescription. We could immediately see the difference, for the better. L excelled at school! We had little to no behavior problems at school and minor (sibling spats and usual child behavior) at home. We decided to let the boys stay one more year at the school so that I could truly heal and prepare for our next educational path.

I guess you can say we took a homeschool gap year :) It was truly a time of discovery and enlightenment.


 

Life Now (2019)

Fast forward to 2019, we will start our homeschool year with a 1st grader and L is now a 4th grader. I decided to let go more so that this year's focus is dedicated to:

1. Celebrating their various talents

2. Letting them be curious, natural learners.

We still have a schedule due to the nature of my work (and the boys' personalities) but I have incorporated more road schooling, unschooling, gameschooling and worldschooling. We just came back from Niagara Falls and Toronto. In the next few months, we are doing a USA road trip, a trip to Cuba, learning from a real paleontologist and more! 3. Recognizing the natural diversity in the boys AND myself.


I do not know what the future holds for us but I know we all will be successful....and sane. Hopefully!


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