Homeschooling: Two Stories

Article Highlights:
  • This article is a sidebar to a main article on the pros and cons of homeschooling and homebound programs for children with muscle diseases.
  • Homeschooling means children are taught at home, usually by a parent. The course material and pace of education are chosen by the family.
  • Two parents talk about their children's differing experiences with homeschooling and several parents offer advice to those considering this option.
  • See also:  Learning at Home (main story) and Homebound Programs: Two Stories.
by Christina Medvescek on February 1, 2002 - 4:42pm

A stress reliever

Spencer Robedeaux, 12, seventh grade, Lancaster, Calif., Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)

Jenny Robedeaux wasn't sure she wanted to educate her son Spencer at home, but he insisted. Both mother and son have CMT, and Spencer also has diagnoses of attention deficit disorder (ADD), migraine headaches and depression.

School was a struggle for Spencer. He experienced daily migraines, numerous office referrals for not paying attention, and increasing aches and pains from carrying a heavy backpack (the school has no lockers). In cold weather, his hands were stiff and achy. He worried about being teased, especially about his leg braces.

"Spencer really wanted to be in a homeschool program," Jenny says. "I was — and am still at times — very unsure of my capability to be a teacher. Plus, there are good things about school, things I didn't want him to miss out on."

Spencer Robedeaux and his mom
Spencer Robedeaux has had fewer health problems since his mom, Jenny, began homeschooling him.

Luckily, the Robedeauxes' school district offered the perfect compromise: a home education independent study program. For students who qualify, the program provides textbooks, workbooks, curriculum guides and help in setting up a homeschool program. Parents and students meet regularly with a district teacher to turn in workbooks, attend workshops, go on field trips or take tests. IEP goals are honored, and any required special computer equipment is available, although not always in the home.

Several months into the program, Jenny and Spencer are pleased with the results.

"It's a lot of work and takes a lot of time, but wow, what a stress reliever!" Jenny says.

"I used to worry about him all day long.

Now he is feeling so much better. He is off his Ritalin [for ADD]. His headaches are down to one a week. His attitude is better. He is warm in the cold weather.

Public school can be so hard on kids with CMT and ADD.

"I don't love homeschool, but it is nice that he is feeling better and I like being able to help him at home."

Spending time together

Tim Carol, 11, fifth grade, Woodstock, Ill., Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)

Unlike Jenny Robedeaux, Cheri Carol always felt a "leading" to homeschooling. Starting with her older daughter, who was hanging out with the wrong crowd at school, Cheri soon was teaching three of her four children (the fourth preferred the vocational education program in the public school).

Among her reasons for teaching Tim at home: "I just felt like I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could."

Cheri attended but didn't graduate from college and has no formal teaching experience. None of that is required to homeschool in Illinois. Armed with prayer and the help of a local homeschool network, she's teaching a Christian curriculum that covers the educational basics and appeals to Tim's scientific and engineering interests.

Anything can spark an extracurricular lesson. For example, a recent trip to Canada over the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge (a suspension bridge) led to building and testing the strengths of different bridge structures.

Although the school district has been willing to provide physical therapy and the use of a heated therapy pool, the Carols prefer to work with their own specialists.

For Tim, the best parts of homeschool are not having to get up so early and being able to work at his own pace and in his own space — at the table, the counter or stretched out on the floor. He sticks with a topic until he has mastered it, then moves on.

Homeschool also has meant less fear of getting bumped and falling, fewer colds and infections, and a faster recovery time when he gets sick, his mom says.

"Watching him grow and progress in his education is the best," Cheri says. "But mostly I just like the being together, and not leaving it all up to someone else."

Terrie Lynn Bittner, a homeschooling mom who maintains a Web site called the Treasured Time for Homeschooling, suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I have time to educate my child? To be successful, both parents need to see this as a full-time job for the teaching parent.
  • Do I have the financial ability to homeschool? Books, materials, curricula and organization dues all add up. But while homeschool is more expensive than public school, it usually is less expensive than private school.
  • Do I have a good relationship with my child? Homeschooling means you'll be spending a lot of time with your child, with few breaks. And all kids (and adults) have days when they don't want to work.
  • Do I like to teach? Do I know how to find the answer if I don't know it? Can I compensate for what my child is missing at school? Does my child want to be homeschooled? Am I organized and self-controlled? If it doesn't work out, will my child be academically prepared to re-enter school?

Becky Maxwell, mother of Anthony "Boomer" Maxwell, 11, CMT type 2 and spina bifida, Eagle Rock, Miss.: I decided to try homeschool last year after Boomer missed 44 days of school and the school refused to pass him to the sixth grade, even though he could do the work. He was getting discouraged, and my goal was for him to learn without the pressure of a time limit, so he could enjoy the learning experience.

My advice to other parents is to go for it! Find a style that suits your schedule and do it. If one thing isn't working, try another way. Find information online or at libraries and look for local homeschool support groups. Once you start you will find you are not alone.

And don't worry that you are not teaching material. You don't have to have a master's degree to homeschool. Just review a subject before teaching it. It can be fun!

Debbie Bonds: It's very intimidating at times to realize you have the responsibility to make sure they get an education. But then, if they were in public school, I would still be responsible, to be sure the kids are there and encouraged to learn. I would say the pros and cons [of homeschooling] even the scales, but it's not for everyone.

Kathy Fallon: You have to look at it like a job. You have to prepare, discipline yourself and make a commitment to stick with it, or else it's not going to work. If you had a job, you wouldn't wake up one morning and say, "I'm just going to lie around and watch TV today" or go into work unprepared. It's the same thing.

Jenny Robedeaux: To me, homeschool is as much work as public school. I used to have meeting after meeting about Spencer's IEP, the teachers were calling, the nurse was calling, the principal was calling. My advice if you want to homeschool is to find a program that you are comfortable with and try it. If you hate it, you can always quit. But it's nice to know you tried everything you could to help your child. I hope I never have to send Spencer back to public school.

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