- My husband is a homeschool graduate and wants his kids to have a similar experience. HE LOVED IT and feels like he learned well how to learn and think through his homeschool education, more so than many people he went to college with that went to traditional schools. He’s lucky I agreed with him, as I felt like I never really learned how to study until I was in my 4th year of college!
- Medical consideration #1: We have one daughter with orthopedic issues that require doctor visits 5 hours away, along with 1-2 surgeries per year (on average; they started when she was 5 and will probably continue until she’s done growing, age 13 at the earliest prediction). The public school system actually ISN’T very friendly or accommodating to missing the amount of school required for all those appointments and procedures! Homeschool allows us to do what is recommended at the earliest possible time, instead of putting off surgeries and procedures until the next school break.
- Medical consideration #2: Erik has autism. His brain is unique that while he reads EXCELLENTLY, he has to work hard on COMPREHENSION. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to people that just because he can SAY the words doesn’t mean he has any idea what they mean. We can tailor his language arts to reading at his level while the comprehension/report back is also at his level (meaning 5-8 grade level reading, with pre-K to 1st level comprehension work). He also excels in math (except for story problems, which is a reflection on language comprehension more than the math skills themselves). By homeschooling he can continue at his own pace in math skills, and not be limited to grade level.
- Medical considerations #3: Kent has autism and ADHD (as detailed in a previous post). He jumps on a trampoline or spins in an office chair (or on the floor, or anywhere really) while listening to lessons. He does jumping jacks between written responses. Even then, the lessons are short, very short. We have breaks FREQUENTLY. Our day with him looks like recess with school thrown in once in a while instead of the opposite.
- Sleep schedules. We have a regular bedtime, so don’t think that’s it. But I have EARLY risers and night owls (I’m also a night owl by nature). Homeschooling allows me to work one-on-one with the early risers before the night owls get their brains working. Family subjects don’t start until around 9-10 am. They FINISH the school day for the early ones and start it for the others.
- General schedules. The national parks are MUCH more pleasant when most of the world is in school. I’m just being blunt there. Same with museums, zoos, parks… you get the idea. We live 2.5 hours from Old Faithful. There is SO MUCH to learn there, but honestly, we rarely learn anything on our summer trips because we’re a “novelty show” for tourists (“LOOK!!! They have 6 kids! They have TWINS!!!”) and the parks are SO crowded it’s hard to really hear anything at Ranger Talks and such. Also, recreation things like amusement parks, VRBOs (because hotel room for 8 is MUCH less affordable), and virtually everything is cheaper in the “off season”.
- I get to choose what my kids are learning. I want my kids to learn that scientific theories are theories. I want them to know all angles of the conversation when it comes to the origins of life, the universe, and really everything, so they can form their own opinions as they grow. I want them to question EVERYTHING (even when it annoys the crap out of me!) and know that there are times authority SHOULD be questioned! I want them to know WORLD history, not just Western Civilizations world history. I want them to learn the history of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe before the Roman conquest, etc., more than just the tracking of western civilization from Mesopotamia (touching a bit on Egypt too) into Europe AFTER the Romans conquered it, and only touching on areas as they were influenced by expansion. And I want them to see that science, history, math, and literature all intertwine. It’s ONLY in formal school settings that those are such delineated subjects!
- I get to choose evaluation methods. Traditional tests are NOT good indicators of learning. They just plain aren’t. Neither are worksheets for many kids. Or oral reports for others. As the homeschooling teacher, I get to choose what is best for each of my children individually to evaluate their progression.
- Administrivia (and stupidity of it all) in the public sector. I had someone tell me that I SHOULD send our oldest to Kindergarten when we first moved here, halfway through the year. When I explained our reasons not to, the response was (and I quote): “We could REALLY use her test scores to help our school.” Seriously. That was the final ABSOLUTELY NOT, end of discussion, for me. I will NEVER send my kids to that school, with administrators like that working there. Whether or not my child goes to that school should be based on MY child’s needs, not how my child will make your system look!
- Because it’s what’s right for our family. We are very religious, and pray LOTS about our wants and needs, and what is right for each of us individually and as a family. And homeschooling is something that we feel we have the blessing of God to continue. I actually do pray about it every year, and about each child individually as I do. If there comes a time that I DON’T feel at peace about homeschooling one or all of my children anymore, I will send them to school. But until then, THIS is really the whole reason we homeschool.
Autism. That one word can really throw people. It’s a simple word, that means a lot. A person doesn’t “have” autism, they ARE autistic. When you have something, it can be set down or removed (even if it takes a while to get there). When you are something, it is part of you, and admitting to that doesn’t lessen you as a person.
Erik has autism. We’ve known that for just over 3 years now. But I had inklings of something going on before he was 18 months. He was a late crawler. He always had low muscle tone. He didn’t communicate with words, either verbal or ASL/sign language (which I attempted to teach him) until after he was 4 years old. He was a BRILLIANT toddler. When he was 18 months old, if he disappeared, 95% of the time I’d find him sitting by the bookshelf with a book in front of him, saying the letter names one by one out loud as he “read” the book to himself. At 2.5 years old, he was reading out loud simple books. By 4 he was reading out loud words like “catastrophe” and “dictionary”. But he STILL could not communicate verbally. Reading was decoding. It was a fun game to figure out what that code meant. It didn’t seem to communicate anything for him, but he loved it anyway.
Right after he turned 4 we got him evaluated, because I was struggling with the lack of communication and his daily (often 10 times a day) screaming meltdowns. I was at my wit’s end, and had no idea what else to do. I knew autism wasn’t a “death sentence”, but I also had NEVER been around anyone who was autistic, and who was proud of that. Those I knew of, their parents talked like it was a failing they had to work through, or they did everything they could to hide the fact. Looking back, it’s SO SAD! How many hundreds of people (probably more like thousands and tens of thousands) have had to hide who they really are because it’s not “socially acceptable” to be autistic? I’m trying to change that for my son.
Erik has some autistic tendencies, but not many. His main stim is sucking on his fingers. We’ve gotten him “chewelry” to help with that, but he still prefers his fingers. And you know what? So did I as a child. I sucked my thumb for ages. And the process to break that habit was traumatic for me. Unless I absolutely HAVE to remove that stim, I won’t. I do encourage him to use alternatives in places that it will be considered unsanitary to suck fingers, but other than that, this is who he is and I’m okay with that. He sometimes still has meltdowns, but not so much anymore. The main issue still is flying insects. The sound of a mosquito, bee, or even common house fly near his head is enough to drive him insane. We have SEVERAL fly swatters, in every single room of the house, and he’s dealing with them better. But it’s who he is, and if hearing the buzz is enough to push his brain over the edge into meltdown, the least I can do is try to alleviate that by chasing down an errant insect.
It has to have been hard on Kent, watching Erik get so much attention for so long, while we tried to help him in his differences and delays. While Erik got to go to therapy twice a week, Kent had to stay home. And he was JEALOUS! Kent is a people person, and Erik is not. So for Erik to go out and Kent to have to stay home was a huge issue. Kent has ALWAYS had boundless energy. I’ve known for a VERY long time that Kent could be diagnosed with ADHD. People tried to tell me that he was just a “normal” kid, that I was seeing his energy emphasized because Erik was so low-key. Part of me wanted to believe them, but I also knew better.
As they got older, and Erik learned to deal with his differences more, I started noticing Kent’s difficulties. Reading has been a REAL struggle for him. He finally told me about 6 months ago that he could read just fine if the words would just quit turning around in his mind! LIGHTBULB! The child struggles with dyslexia! That helped SO much in understanding him and his difficulties with reading. I have NEVER pushed him to read more than he was comfortable with, but I was concerned that as much as he WANTED to learn to read, it was SO obviously difficult for him. I honestly didn’t change ANYTHING after that interchange and lightbulb moment, but something changed in him. He’s gone from not being able to read much at all to reading ABOVE grade level in 6 months.
Well, it wasn’t just the dyslexia. It wasn’t just the ADHD. I KNEW in my gut that there was something different about the way Kent’s brain worked. It was like Erik’s, but at the same time not. So I talked to our primary care doctor about getting a referral for assessment. Generally, recommendations for those referrals would come from a school teacher recognizing those issues, but I AM the school teacher, and I needed to know better what I am dealing with to be able to help him better. After a few issues with different providers and insurance issues, we finally got him in for evaluation.
The doctor that we met first was VERY respectful, gave Kent the respect he deserves as a child who knows how his own brain works, gave ME the respect as a parent/teacher to be able to articulate what my concerns were, and was very helpful in the intake appointment. As I knew all along, by the end of that first 90 minute appointment, the doctor diagnosed him with ADHD. He said there was absolutely NO point in subjecting Kent to the formal ADHD testing after his observation and the answers I gave to questions he asked. At the same time he recommended that Kent come back for autism specific testing as well as IQ and academic level testing, which I agreed to.
A colleague of the doctor did the testing, and she was SO good for Kent. She was respectful and he enjoyed the time he spent with her in the testing, so much so that he was disappointed when he was told we weren’t returning again. He spent two days with her, about 2.5 hours each day. She did an IQ test (WISC-V for those wondering), academic level testing (WRAT-4, which is how I know his reading is above level), the ADOS-2 test (a “gold standard” in autism testing, I’m told), the ABAS-3 test (ability to function in daily life activities, in relation to peers), and I filled out the ASRS DSM-5 questionnaire for things not easily testable in the office situation (like his refusal to eat 98% of food offered to him).
And then we got to wait. We had two weeks between the last testing day and when we returned for the results. All I can say about that time is that I’m SO GLAD we had a vacation already scheduled. It kept my mind off of wondering what the results would be, a little bit at least. Part of me was nervous they could come back and say it was all in MY head, that besides the ADHD he was an absolute normal child and I just needed to stop looking for issues since his twin had them. The other part of me was nervous that his differences would be diagnosed to be something much more complex than I could handle. And neither of those are good feelings!
When we went back for the results, Kent immediately asked to play with the LEGOs (he already had it in his head in the first 5 minutes it was going to be a very boring hour, and for him it was except for those LEGOs), and ignored us completey. The doctor beat around the bush for the first 10 minutes telling me about how his IQ is above those of his age range but that his academics don’t reflect him being as “ahead” as they would expect given his IQ and the fact that we homeschool. As he was trying to discuss nuances of what they found in the other testing, he finally just came out and said “I am diagnosing him with autism. He would probably be considered Aspergers on the scale.”
THANK YOU! It was SO much easier to process the information given after that point, because I wasn’t concerned anymore about being crazy or not being able to handle the diagnosis. In the end, he was diagnosed with autism and “ADHD, other: clinically significant ADHD symptoms in context of ASD” (which basically means that yes, he’s ADHD but that medication likely will NOT be a good fit for him). The rest of the information given was actually very informative, and I plan to use some of it in our homeschool. But to be honest, I had ALREADY figured out on my own those were things that Kent needed, and I already have the new curriculum that presents things “that way” on the shelves, and have had it there since BEFORE the initial intake interview. It was just really nice to have my gut feelings confirmed, and it will actually be beneficial (I feel) for him in the future to have the diagnosis on his record NOW.
This may seem like I’m downplaying the effects of these diagnoses to some people. Yes, having autistic twins can be difficult some days. But honestly, KNOWING why some days are difficult makes it so much easier to find the solution for that day, and help them through their hard times.
My twins don’t have autism; they are autistic. It’s not something they can set down and take a break from. They deal with their differences every single day of their lives. Some days they’re REALLY good at masking. In fact, most people who meet us have NO idea that they are autistic. Kent is the most social, happy-go-lucky child you’ll ever meet… until he’s done, in which case he’s DONE. Erik loves to be around people and show off his academic skills… until he doesn’t want to, and all he wants to do is go hide in a dark place (usually on his bed under a blanket, since we taught him that coping mechanism when we lived in a tiny apartment that didn’t have anywhere else private he could go).
Being diagnosed autistic isn’t a sad thing! It’s a description of how your brain works differently than what we consider “neurotypical”, which allows the autistic individual (as they get old enough to understand) and their parents to support them in their differences. CELEBRATE THEM!
We’ve homeschooled our kids from the very beginning. It’s been an adventure figuring out what works and doesn’t work for us. One thing I was VERY adamant about from the very beginning was that I did NOT want to be involved in a homeschool charter or parent partnership program through the public schools. The way those systems generally work (details vary by district, state, and entity) is that in return for a certain level of oversight and/or testing the program provides you with curriculum and materials to use in your homeschool. These programs are good for those who DON’T have money for curriculum and don’t have any idea what they’re doing or how to get started, or who are just more comfortable with “getting the box” and doing school that way. But I did NOT feel they were a good fit for our family, and refused to look into them AT ALL.
So what happened? It’s a long story. First, last summer, at the LDSHE West conference, there was a vendor table for MyTech High (an online charter school available for those in the state of Utah). I smiled as I went up to get my stamp (because if you got every vendor to stamp your “passport” you got entered into a drawing to attend the next year’s conference FREE) because I KNEW MyTech was ONLY in Utah and I was in Idaho. Much to my chagrin the marketer told me that he COULD still help me, since MyTech was expanding into Idaho under the entity name TechTrep Academy. And so I listened to his spiel, and told him I’d share with people up my way who might be interested but I was not. And honestly, I can’t remember a single thing he tried to tell me because I was SO against the idea of it at all!
Fast forward to March, this year. I attended another homeschool conference, this one MUCH closer to me, in SE Idaho. And there was a table for TechTrep Academy there. Because it appeared that EVERYONE was actively avoiding this vendor (and I KNOW how hard it is to be a vendor at these type of events) I went over and let her give me the spiel again. Except this time I really listened. And it sounded MUCH too good to be true honestly, and made me extremely skeptical. $1700 reimburseable curriculum allowance PER STUDENT in grades 1-8, and $850 for kindergarten. Simple weekly reporting online, no daily check-in for attendance, and the end of year state testing is required. I asked about special education services and IEPs, since I have two children diagnosed with autism and if they would be required to do the testing, I’d want accommodations for them. And honestly her response almost made me throw away everything she’d given me as soon as I left. “We don’t think children need to be labeled that way. You’re already doing IEPs for them as a homeschool mom, why would you need anything else?” Even when I specifically stated I would want that in place FOR TESTING ACCOMMODATIONS she gave the impression that it was HIGHLY discouraged to use them, but that there is a SPED department for the program to make sure those testing accommodations are in place should we NEED to disclose them.
Now that might sound great for most parents, but I am not most parents. I personally feel like diagnoses such as autism and ADHD are just as relevant to life experience as having a diagnosis of anisomelia (leg length discrepancy) or diabetes. They don’t make you more or less of a person, but they DO describe your experience in life, generally one that is somewhat different from the “normal” world. And to have those differences minimized, in a way that could negatively affect my children’s educational experience should I choose to go through the program or refer anyone else to it, is a BIG deal for me! So that interaction ALONE made me decide I was NOT going to consider their program AT ALL and that I’d just continue to do what I’d been doing and make it work.
Except I couldn’t get it out of my head. I honestly felt like I had something pricking me with a pin the entire drive home (over an hour, plus time to stop and nurse the 2 week old baby), telling me to look into the school. I DID NOT WANT TO!!! I tried to ignore it, I really did! And I managed to ignore it for an entire 8 hours, until I could NOT get back to sleep after another nursing session. I finally decided to look and see what I could find online about this program. Sadly what was available was very much lacking, especially from independent sources.
The website was relatively clear: $200 for each “core” course, consisting of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. $200 each for two elective courses, one of which was required to be a technology or entrepreneurship class (hence the name TechTrep). And $500 for technology (such as computers or tablets) and additional flex funds. All the money was available as reimbursement at certain periods throughout the year, when receipts were submitted properly and the items were approved (because it’s offered through the public school system NO religious material OF ANY SORT is allowed to be reimbursed, which is rather obvious to me). They offer a bunch of those Tech/Trep classes directly through the program too, so you didn’t have to work hard to get them if you didn’t want to.
Aside from that, there was information on their Facebook group (which I joined while at the table BEFORE the vendor made the SPED comments), which includes many parents looking into the program as well as ones who did it the pilot year last year (the year that I blew off the vendor at the previous homeschool conference). And there was literally NOTHING else. I checked YouTube. I searched Google. NOTHING came up that wasn’t directly from the school or sponsored by the school (which the Facebook group is). I honestly couldn’t decide if that was a good sign or a bad sign, given how new the program was and how busy homeschoolers can be.
After letting this whole concept smash my head for an entire week, doing all the research I could, and praying A LOT, I decided that I would actually be willing to do the weekly reports and have my children do the state testing in exchange for the funds. But I still couldn’t decide what to do. At that point I finally involved my husband in the process. We have an agreement that since I am the one implementing the homeschool I have final say in what happens as long as the children are learning (this took a bit of coordination for us to get to this point). So I presented everything to my husband. I told him my concerns (the way the SPED services were talked about in a negative light, the testing and weekly reporting requirements, and doing their school calendar) and the benefits of the program from my viewpoint, and gave him the website and Facebook group information for him to look at.
And here’s where we see the difference between my husband and me. 🙂 Two hours later (remember, it took me a full week of research!) my husband came back to me. He basically said, “It looks like what you told me. Do you think you can do it?” I told him I wouldn’t have even told him about it if I didn’t think I could handle it. His response was, “Well, I think it sounds like it could be a good thing for us right now. We can always try it for one year, and if we don’t like it just NOT enroll again next year, right?”
So that’s where we’re at. We registered Sariah, 5th grade, Kent and Erik, 2nd grade, and Samantha, kindergarten, in TechTrep Academy for the 2018-2019 school year. As it gets closer to starting, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being nervous about the entire thing, but I am also excited. Joining TechTrep has allowed me to get curriculum I’ve purposely NOT looked at while at homeschool conventions because I KNEW it was out of our price range. It has allowed me to look at what I REALLY wanted my homeschool to look like without having a “but we can’t afford that” outlook on things. And it’s been really nice the more I talk to the “front” ladies at TechTrep how accommodating and helpful they are. (I’ve since forgiven the first lady for her unknowingly insensitive comments.)
One of my favorite things about TechTrep is that they DO NOT tell you what curriculum to use, nor do they have specific worksheets or assignments for your children to do every week to verify that you’re actually teaching them. The weekly logs consist of blanks where you put what you covered each week for each subject, and they are entirely open-ended. They encourage you to snap pictures of written work or do video-clip responses to show learning, but it’s not required. This year there are “power learning goals” that each student has to cover sometime in the year, but in looking over them, they’re VERY basic stuff we’d be covering anyway so it’s not going to be a big deal to me.
As for the curriculum choices, especially for a new homeschooler, that can be VERY overwhelming to say “you can use anything”. They actually have a curriculum specialist, an AWESOME homeschool mom who just joined the team for this year after enrolling in the program last year for some of her kids. She has probably tried everything over the years with 10 children (she’s got a newborn also), and she’s really knowledgeable about what might work for different situations. She’s totally willing to sit down and help you choose what will work best for your situation, and that is awesome!
Here’s the most surprising thing I discovered about TechTrep. While they are NOT allowed to reimburse religious curriculum, they could not care less if you choose to use it. If you love My Father’s World, USE IT! If you love The Good and the Beautiful, USE IT! They can’t reimburse your expenses on those religious materials (anything that includes scripture or regular reference to God in the work), but if the curriculum teaches the intended core material and you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket for it, it’s entirely your choice to use it. The money available for reimbursement can be spent on printing, binding, art supplies for core learning response sheets, science experiments, math manipulatives, books (books, books, and more books), maps, materials for kinesthetic learning such as play dough, basically ANYTHING you can imagine as long as it’s not food, clothing, furniture, or religious in nature. And if you’re not sure if something “counts” for reimbursement, they will tell you straight up if you send them an email, BEFORE you spend your money on it, HOPING it will be reimburseable. They make it so easy!
Because the school year hasn’t started yet (first calendar day is August 20, with the first official weekly report not due until September 10th!) I can’t give an accounting for how much I like the program in practice yet. I plan to give reports about every quarter (or maybe halfway through) on how I feel about the program once I’m really into it. But I wanted to write this and get it out there in case anyone else has stumbled upon the idea of TechTrep Academy, and, like me, wants an “outside” view of it, instead of just what the school offers in their own sites.
If you have any questions, PLEASE ask them! I want to help others the way I wish I could have had others to ask, without needing to be on Facebook to do it.