This is my third year homeschooling Connor. For whatever reason, I had never really considered homeschooling as a serious option for my family before 2020. Then, the school shutdowns and remote learning that Spring opened my eyes to a whole world of possibilities.
Connor was in fifth grade and becoming more stressed out everyday. He was doing well in school – so we’ll that he no longer qualified for the IEP supports that had helped him when he was younger. But what the grades and submitted work didn’t show was the amount of pressure that he put himself under to complete those assignments. He wanted everything to be perfect all the time and worked hard to keep teachers from seeing how he struggled. Connor is autistic and there were so many small aspects of the classroom learning that just didn’t work well for him – but still, he pushed through. Right before Covid hit we were becoming concerned that he had become closed off and seemed ready to crumble at any moment. The pressure he was putting himself under was immense, and it was getting to him. Then everything shut down and it was like magic, the stress started to slip away as he able to do his schoolwork on his own terms in the comfort of home. His assignments no longer felt timed, he could focus on learning without the struggle of balancing social pressures at the same time, and he could get up and move as much as he wanted. Fiona had just gotten an indoor trampoline for her birthday, and it quickly became Connor’s favorite place to be. Taking constant “jumping breaks” throughout the day became a regular staple of Connor’s routine and it was so good for him.
Seeing Connor thrive just from switching to remote schooling at home was wonderful. Imagine how much more he could thrive with a curriculum and assignments completely tailored to his needs and interests. Despite never having considered homeschooling an option for us before, it became clear that that was the right path for Connor. Since then, he has flourished. He is less stressed, more social with everyone he meets, excited about learning, and most importantly happy.
Throughout the time that we have been homeschooling Connor, Fiona has continued to attend a wonderful little Montessori school. Homeschooling was always technically an option for her, but why pull her out of such a lovely environment that she was doing so well in? Unfortunately last school year was not so great for her. She missed most of the first half of kindergarten due to her medical issues, and dealt with a lot of trauma related to her hospital experiences. Academically she was doing great, but just like Connor had, she was putting herself under tremendous pressure to accomplish that while also worrying about health, friends, and everything else. She was so young, but the anxiety just kept building. We did everything we could to support her while keeping her in school and hoped that the summer break would give her a much needed time to rest and “reset” while moving away from some of the fear and trauma from her surgeries and hospitalizations.
We were certain that a relaxing summer break was just what she needed and that was the plan. Three days into her summer vacation, my mom was hospitalized and everything went sideways. I have always referred to Fiona as my Velcro child. Unless she was at school she was always by my side and snuggles are so important to her. Yet in the middle of the night I was gone and she was dropped off with family. I spent the next two weeks two hours away, practically living in the ICU waiting room and only saw Fiona for a few hours throughout that time because I needed to be with my mom. This time apart was so hard on Fiona and there were a lot of tears. There were a lot of similarities between my mom’s experience and hers and it brought up a lot of memories and worries for Fiona. After two weeks of fighting in the ICU, my mom passed away. Not only did Fiona lose a beloved grandma who played a hugely important part of her life, she also saw a much scarier outcome for her own health struggle. What was meant to be a restful vacation only amplified her anxiety and she went back to school in the fall without the improvements in mood that we had hoped for.
Fiona has continued to push through until now. Homeschooling was presented as an option plenty of times, but she loved her school so the answer was always no. Lately though, things have only been getting worse. School refusal has become a massive issue. She started crying at night about having to go to school the next day and every morning became a two hour battle to get her to school. She started begging to be homeschooled, but only in the mornings. When we picked her up from school, she was usually happy and insisted she didn’t want to be homeschooled. So we kept sticking it out until that changed. Over the past two weeks, her requests to be homeschooled became constant. She still loved her school but it just wasn’t working for her right now.
She has been at that school since it’s opening year when she was three. It is a warm, loving, and supportive environment and the teachers know her well and care deeply. It is also a great academic environment where she has learned so much and she takes a lot of pride in her schoolwork and the things she has learned. I had hoped that she could stick it out until the end of the school year, but she just couldn’t. And so we had to make the right choice and pull her to homeschool – something even her teachers agreed with as they have watched her struggle with anxiety more and more. It was sad to say goodbye, but it needed to be done.
So we are now a fully homeschooling family. Homeschooling elementary school is new to me and I am excited to start on this adventure with Fiona. I am also looking forward to being able to work with Fiona more intensively on her anxiety struggles and help support her through everything. At the same time, balancing a new baby, homeschooling an eighth graders, and now a first grader – all with their own specific and intense needs – is going to be quite a learning curve. Thankfully I am up for the challenge, and there are so many parts of homeschooling everyone that I am looking forward to, especially shared learning journeys and no longer having to follow any school schedule but our own.