Learning at Home: Our Origin Story

This began as one of the ubiquitous curriculum choices posts but I realized that I needed to back way up and describe what led us here. Here’s the backstory on the formation of our family and why we’ve finally decided to take the plunge into homeschooling.

Our Origins:

I had my first baby, Bear, in 2013 and wanted to stay home with him way back then. But I had a ton of student loan and credit card debt and simply couldn’t stop working. Our second baby, Bug, was born in 2015 (19 short months after the first!) and I still had to continue working, but was lucky enough to switch to part-time employment in 2016. Our third baby, Birdie, was born in 2018 and I was incredibly lucky to have a supervisor who advocated for me to work from home after she was born, so I spent a year working mostly from home and only going into the office once or twice a week to check-in.

Things were really hard for us. My husband was working nights and I was working days and we were like ships in the night. We were always exhausted, didn’t have the energy we needed for the kids, and still didn’t have enough money to stretch into the next month. I spent all my energy in the evening just tidying from the day and had no opportunity to actually clean, so things were always a mess (big trigger for me!). I didn’t want to live a life where my children were on the back burner. I wanted to be steeped in mother culture, one in which my kids, husband, and home were in the forefront. (Which, by the way, I would never have predicted as a teenager or in my early 20s.)

Slowly, we were able to eat away at the credit card debt, which was a painful process. Once we realized how much money we were spending on interest each month, it became clear that we had to buckle down. So we did and we managed to pay off nearly $30,000 of debt in three years, thanks to using our income tax returns and a couple of gifts from my dad. It felt so good to make that last American Express payment!! I still have student loan debt, but the interest rate isn’t as overwhelming and I should have it paid off in the next couple of years.

We finally made the decision for me to stay home full time when it was clear that Bug would be diagnosed with autism and we had our debt under control. We knew that things were incredibly difficult for us, even more difficult than it was for most typical families with very small children. That diagnosis gave us permission to acknowledge that we couldn’t go on as we were. Knowing that our challenges weren’t the result of just bad parenting allowed us to recognize that our life was (and is!) atypical and we would need adjustments to ensure the happiness and success of all of us.

Quick note to add that no family is typical or normal. This I know! Our family has a neurological atypical component added to the mix.

Bear had two years of Kindergarten in public school. He started in the Fall of 2018 at 4 years old. If he would have been born just 3 days later, then he would have started school the next year, so we knew that he was going to be the youngest child in his class and that he’d struggle with a lot of things developmentally. We made the decision to start him in school because Bug’s behavioral challenges were really amping up (it’s quite indescribable how difficult things were) and we had a brand new Birdie at home with us. We wanted him in school to ensure that he had lots of attention and was learning. Well, struggle was an understatement. That first year was hell for all of us, Bear included. Getting him out the door in the morning was hard, getting him out of the car at drop off was painful, and he often refused all of the work during the day.

He repeated Kindergarten in the 2019-2020 school year with the same teacher (who is amazing). He did much better but was still quite challenged by the classroom setting. Even at his young age, I could tell that he internalized some of the disadvantages he had from starting school a bit too early. He’s reluctant to read alone and do any writing because he doesn’t think he’s smart enough for it. He often went to the school office to do his work because he refused to work around the other children. Since remote learning began on March 18th and we’ve continued our learning at home through the summer, his confidence has gone way up. He and I have found created alternatives together. He’s found ways to give himself permission to make mistakes, to be silly, and to find ways to inject the most fun into everything. Not to mention, I can immediately use reinforcers in ways that the school can’t. Want to watch an episode of the Magic School Bus? Let’s finish this math lesson first. He’ll collapse to the floor in pretend exhaustion, but within ten minutes he’s at the table and ready to go. Stealth learning has been key!

My husband is finally 100% on board with homeschooling given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. We were constantly sick with colds when Bear was in school and it’s preposterous to think that kids won’t spread this virus given how easily it moves between hosts. I believe that our school district will take every possible precaution to protect kids, but I also know that kids are kids: they are careless and make mistakes because they’re still learning how to be people and how to think about others.

On top of this, Bug is a mouther and everything he comes across gets tasted and tested for possible sensory relief. If he is exposed to the virus, he will very likely get it. And because he’s nonverbal and tough as nails, it will be difficult for me to know that he’s not feeling well, which means that he’ll take the virus into his treatment center which is full of vulnerable children. Keeping Bear home from school minimizes our risk and exposure to the virus, which has a ripple effect. In turn, it minimizes the risk and exposure for a group of children, many with comorbid conditions, who are vulnerable to getting really sick. Not to mention that many families with autistic children are lucky enough to get help with caregiving from grandparents and older relatives, who are also especially vulnerable to the virus.

It just makes sense to us.

We’ve had several conversations with family members about homeschooling over the years and have received quite a bit of pushback about the idea. I won’t share any specifics, but we’ve heard some very interesting and illogical arguments against homeschooling and have gotten no encouragement to proceed. But most people we’ve talked to seem to agree with our decision since the virus has struck. This is an unprecedented time that calls for big changes in the way the world operates.

I have all sorts of emotions about this decision. I’m really nervous and it’s a lot of responsibility, but there are lots of resources out there that I’ve been studying for a long time. I’ll be sharing them in my next homeschooling post, along with our curriculum choices for the year. And although I’m nervous, I’m also really excited to be spending this time with my children. We’ve worked really hard to be able to ensure that there’s a full time parent at home with them and I want to make the most out of it. I want to be able to help my children find their passions and discover ways to nurture them. I want them to learn about the world around them and to love learning. Sitting in a classroom was exactly where I wanted to be when I was a child, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone and that it has to be that way. We’re on a new adventure!

15 thoughts on “Learning at Home: Our Origin Story

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  1. Thank you so much for this super interesting article!! You really have pulled through a lot – as a couple and as a family! Kudos!

    Homeschooling is illegal where I live (and there are quite a few prejudices flying around πŸ˜‰ ), so this was a fascinating read – it seems that it’s Bear’s best choice for sure! Kids learn differently, and if he’s more of a solitary learner who prefers to study in small bursts, way to go! (Years and years ago, I was reading a blog of a Canadian friend who was UNSCHOOLED – I never heard about that before as well, but it was fascinating when she explained it, and I can only imagine how much work her parents must have put into that – it’s definitely not the easy option, so I wish you strong nerves, but from what I have read – you’ve absolutely got this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Julia! And how interesting that homeschooling is illegal in Germany! There are so many different homeschooling philosophies that it’s overwhelming. But no matter what, it’s a lot of work for the parents when done well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. At least for the first nine weeks of the school year, our son will be learning from home. The school system is providing a Virtual option for those who don’t feel comfortable being in class with the virus still rampant. I am so grateful we can partake of this option. My husband and I work opposite schedules so he can be with our son during most of the day and I am home on Fridays. After nine weeks we can make a change if we want. The virus is NOT under control in any way in Tennessee so this is the best option for our family. I wish you well in your homeschool endeavors!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so awesome that your school district is giving you that option. It seems like schools are getting SUPER creative right now, which is amazing. Our district hasn’t released their plans yet, so I’m waiting to see what they finally decide on and am willing to reconsider our decision if there’s a totally at-home option.

      The opposite schedule situation is really hard – I feel for you! Stay safe, Laila. The south seems really scary right now and you’re in my thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think home schooling is the best option ever, right now. These are scary times, and I would do the same thing you are! I know that there is a local support group of mom’s home schooling in my area on Facebook. Teachers are even part of the group and are helping. It is really a wonderful thing to see! Perhaps there is such a thing in your community as well… I think the support of others doing the same thing is crucial to your sanity πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so great to have so much support here on my bog – thank you, Kat!! I love how everyone is pulling together and trying to help families just get through it.

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  4. Wow, Katie – go YOU and GO YOUR FAMILY! You’ve made some hard, thoughtful decisions – but they’re made with love and knowledge … y’all are going to do great!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am so impressed by how much thought you’ve put into this decision, and while I know it’s going to be a challenging thing, you are doing it for the right reasons and clearly have the commitment. I think it’s probably likely at this point that many of us with school-age children are going to be doing school at home in one form or another. I really admire that you’re taking this on — even though I have a degree in elementary education, I have been out of the classroom long enough that I’m not sure how well I’d do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know you had a background in elementary education! That’s awesome! And thanks for your encouragement. I’m excited about the opportunities and also really nervous, And relieved because this is something that I’ve WANTED to do for a long time and it’s not being something I’m forced to do, which is where a lot of parents are right now (and absolutely no judgement towards the parents who don’t need this on their plate right now. If I was working, then I’d feel the exact same way!). I have so many emotions about all of this!!

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