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The Then and Now of Special Education Homeschooling


By Peggy Ployhar

When our family started our special education homeschooling journey almost 15 years ago, the homeschooling landscape was very different than it is today. From my experience homeschooling and graduating two children with learning challenges, and a decade helping other parents, I have seen changes in different areas of homeschooling dramatically affect the special education homeschooling movement.

These changes are neither good nor bad but can create problems if a family does not understand how to navigate them. Thus, I want to share with you a picture of before and after in each of these areas and how families who homeschool children with special educational needs can achieve positive results in their own homeschools.


Resources
Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing as a homeschool curriculum written for a struggling learner. There were few curriculum choices for parents in general. Parents used whatever books or curriculum they could find and made them work. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but teaching resources were looked upon as catalysts to impart wisdom into children’s lives.

Today, there are so many homeschooling curriculum options for parents of struggling learners that narrowing down the choices can be daunting. Parents can find more options than they know what to do with, not only books, but also from online teaching resources, apps, and mainstream curriculum providers who are now catering to the special education homeschooling community.


Support
Homeschool support systems of the past were comprised of local families who were trying to find ways to connect with other homeschooling families. These groups were about community and building relationships so that every family, and each member of the family, could find a way to connect and feel involved. Families who had children with special educational needs were welcomed along with the rest because these groups focused on relationships and commonalities.

Over the years, homeschooling groups have evolved into structured programs to allow parents to share their teaching load. There still are some meet-up groups that focus on playdates and field trips, but these groups are harder to find. In general, though, academics have become the driving factor behind most groups that bring homeschoolers together. And, unfortunately, as part of this trend, parents of children who struggle with academics or working/learning in a classroom environment, have found less support for their families within these groups.


Foundational Basis
The homeschooling movement in the United States was initiated by parents who desired to instill in their Christian faith into their children. Faith in God and His call to “train up [children] in the way they should go,”  (Proverb 22:6) was the main reason most people homeschooled. This commonality joined homeschoolers together and it was almost assumed that if you were homeschooling your children, you were doing so because you had been called by God to this way of schooling.

If you were to ask twenty different homeschooling parents now why they homeschool, you will probably get twenty different answers. Families not only homeschool because of their faith, but also because of school violence, travel opportunities, the ability to teach towards their child’s gifts, or because the school was failing to teach to their child’s specific needs. Rather than homeschooling being a choice based on spiritual conviction, it is becoming a reaction to external forces that parents want to avoid.


Information
It is hard to believe that just fifteen short years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Smartphones were not around. Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most of the other places we frequent daily to get information and stay connected had not gained prominence. Our world is changing quickly, as are the jobs we are preparing our children for as we homeschool them.

The days of spending a homeschooling afternoon at the library seem almost antiquated. As parents, we are bombarded with information, and for parents, with struggling children the information can be smothering. Special education research, on what causes children to struggle with learning as well as the latest methods to help them conquer their deficiencies, are everywhere.

This information is in a constant state of flux and parents are never quite sure who to trust or what information will help their children. This surplus of information makes parents uneasy about their decision because they are pressured to make the “right” choice to help their child best overcome their learning challenges.


Education Choices
Parents who chose to homeschool twenty years ago were pioneers. When I started homeschooling, the stories of how these pioneering families fought for our freedom to homeschool were still prevalent in homeschooling circles. For this reason, homeschooling families were diligent about record keeping and staying active in politics. They intimately knew the price paid for their freedom to homeschool and were determined to protect that freedom.

Today, many homeschooling parents seem to have an attitude of indifference towards their freedom to homeschool. Families, in general, are not as committed to the homeschooling lifestyle. Instead, many parents view homeschooling as an option that may be least restrictive, more affordable, or their current best schooling scenario but should a better school choice for their child arise, they will consider a switch.


Planning for the Future of Special Education Homeschooling
I can’t say I have all the answers, nor can I predict the future, but based on the changes I have discussed above, it is clear that special education homeschooling has not become easier over the years. But, the simplicity of homeschooling a struggling learner has diminished and the ease of homeschooling our unique children has become a more viable choice for parents who otherwise would not have considered this option.

The best advice I have to give parents who are homeschooling children with special educational needs or considering it are the following:

  • Be discerning about resources you choose
  • Find commonality in a supportive homeschooling community
  • Witness to other homeschooling families
  • Teach others what you have learned on your own homeschooling journey
  • Understand that homeschooling is a wonderful freedom that some will choose for the long-haul while others may only make this choice for a season

This article was originally written for School House Rocked but was re-edited and reprinted with the author's permission.


 

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