Home Is Where School Is
By Maureen Bennie
Cuts have occurred in education over the past several years in our Alberta public education system. While all children suffer from cutbacks, the ones most affected tend to be the children with special needs. With class sizes growing and classroom resources diminishing, another educational option for the special needs child is available – homeschooling.
What does homeschooling provide that public education can’t? Parents can create an educational program that best suits the learning style of their child. No one knows a child better than the parents. Instructions can be repeated and simplified, they can be written instead of verbalized, instruction is one-to-one, expectations are clear and feedback is immediate, the curriculum is student centered, and frequent breaks are provided. The home can provide a learning environment free from stress, noise, a highly structured schedule, and wasted time.
Dr. Steven Duvall, behavioral psychologist, did a study in 1994 comparing public special education classrooms and homeschooling. The two biggest differences he found were the physical arrangement of the room and the amount of academic responses. Homeschooling had the children and teachers sitting side by side 43% of the time while special education classrooms had such an arrangement only 6% of the time. Children in public special education classrooms spent 74.9% of their time with no academic responses as compared to only 40.7% for homeschooled children.
Some parents fear homeschooling because they feel they are not qualified teachers, particularly in the field of learning disabilities. The good thing is you don’t have to be because there is support available. The Argyll School with locations in Edmonton and Calgary is a public run school that offers support for parents who are educating their child at home. The Argyll School serves a variety of students with varying needs, some of who are not attending school for physical or psychological reasons. Their staff works with parents and students to personalize their learning to best meet their needs. Their programs are from K-12.
Randy Billey coordinates the high school program. Billey says, “If a student isn’t having success in traditional schools, we look at why not. Our mandate is to provide quality education. Students can come in to our school for one-to-one help but our program is not classroom based. We offer the Alberta Program of Studies and traditional home school programs.” Billey stresses that the parents play a critical role in the learning process. “Parents assist and compensate their child as best they can. They often use private tutors.” On-line learning is part of the high school program, also known as distance learning. With the Internet, learning can now take place 24 hours a day. Because Argyll has a centre with teachers, students can come to the centre for one-to-one instruction with a teacher if they need help in a certain area. The school provides flexibility which is key for students who have learning disabilities.
The Argyll School has a monthly newsletter to keep parents and students informed of developments and activities. The staff coordinates activities for the students such as an outing to the zoo to give them the opportunity for socialization, something many students with special needs struggle with. The school has an excellent, informative website at www.argyll.epsb.ca.
Karen Beech, a mother of two children, homeschools her youngest child who has global delays. “I chose to homeschool because I didn’t feel comfortable putting my 8 year old daughter on a bus. The school board could not promise me a full-time aid and I was not allowed to accompany my daughter to school to assist her.” Karen’s daughter is dependent on adults to help her with daily living skills such as feeding and toileting. Karen says, “My daughter will only allow one or two people that she knows to feed her.”
Karen is a certified teacher but says you don’t need to be to successfully homeschool. “You know your child best,” she states. Karen has been homeschooling for three years. Her daughter is technically in grade three but functions at the level of a two- year old. “Homeschooling gives me peace of mind. I have the advantage of having therapists come into my home, we work on daily living skills, and we work around my daughter’s schedule – what suits her best.” Karen says her daughter is happy being at home.
Are there any disadvantages? “Yes,” says Karen. “You don’t get breaks. You are with your child 24/7.” Karen has found programs in the community that are already set up for her daughter to socialize with other children so she is not just with her mom all day long. Socialization is am important component of childhood development.
Karen’s advice to other parents is if you are considering homeschooling, realize it involves commitment. You have to be organized and follow a curriculum. Karen advises parents to check out different homeschool programs to find the one that best suits you and your child. Her school of choice is the School of Hope based in Vermillion, AB that has a special education teacher on staff; however they only have a certain number of spots available for special needs students. They are full for this year and Karen recommends if you are considering this program to phone them and get on a waiting list. Start looking for programs in January for the following year. “Not all homeschools will access the special needs funding available for your child. Be sure to ask questions about funding from any prospective school,” cautions Karen.
Karen says, “Homeschooling feels right for me. I see my daughter improving and her needs being met.” You may want to consider other alternatives to homeschooling if: you feel you don’t have the patience to teach your child, you are a perfectionist, you do not have an optimal home learning environment (younger siblings may be too distracting), your family is coping with major stresses such as health problems, or your family relationships would become adversely affected.
If you do decide to homeschool, be sure to enlist the support of family, friends and other homeschoolers. Take time for yourself too. Parents often neglect themselves when rearing a child with special needs. Seek counselling if you need to, use your respite care, and develop personal interests outside of your child.
Homeschooling can be a successful alternative to public schooling. The homeschool movement is growing in the province of Alberta providing parents with lots of choices. Whatever you decide, be sure the choice is right for your child. The greatest reward we can have as parents is a happy child who flourishes.
Leading website on learning disabilities:
Excellent book about homeschooling a child with special needs:
Colacion Hayes, Lenore. Homeschooling the Child with ADD (or Other Special Needs). Prima Publishing, 2002.
Source for Article
Ishizuka, Kathy. The Unofficial Guide to Homeschooling. IDG Books Worldwide Inc., 2000.
Reprinted from the Western Parent