I'm in the middle of school planning for the year ahead. So many choices, so many options, so many bases to cover in the dwindling years I have left teaching Jo at home. High school--and all that it entails--is steaming towards us. I think back on the meager beginnings of our little homeschool and wonder where all the years of making saltdough letters and counting forks and spoons out of the dishwasher have gone. In the beginning, there was a long tunnel of time stretching before us. Surely, my little girl was as grown up as she was every going to get.
Jo is knocking at the door of adulthood now, and while she's got several years before that call is answered, we can all feel it coming. She is nervous, excited, overwhelmed and overjoyed, all at the same time. This upcoming year will bring Sonlight's Core 200, pre-algebra, chemistry, and a host of other things that will stretch her mind, put her academic skills to the test, and probably even reduce her to tears on one or more occasions.
And yet, in the midst of my planning, it's not Jo and her high school plans that are leaving me with a dry mouth. I ought to be frightened of teaching high school. I ought to have a healthy acknowledgement of the increased responsibility. I ought to be scrambling to have a plan for records, a stable of mentors, that sort of thing.
But what I'm really worried about is ...
Preschool, of all things. Preschool, which I could teach with my eyes closed at this point, assuming that I consciously taught preschool at all. Running a finger under letters as you read aloud from a favorite picture book. The right way to hold scissors. How to hop from one foot to another without losing your balance. Sharing. Singing an endless array of Bible songs. Puzzles. Counting games.
This fall, I'm going to be fully responsible for a kind of preschool I've never really envisioned in our lives: special needs.
After so many moments of conviction that even I couldn't deny them, it's become clear that our local public school program isn't the place for Oli. He's receiving speech and occupational therapy, yes. But the quality of those programs has diminished as the school district has struggled to reallocate funds in a drastically slashed budget. Preschoolers who with cognitive delays come after high school sports in the minds of many, and thus Oli now sits for group sessions with a therapist who must try to elicit speech sounds from six low-functioning four year-olds at a time. Her chances of succeeding are depressingly low.
And, we realize, that continuing on the path we've started down with Oli promises basically the same returns.
It's not just the dubious therapies. There have been other signs, as well. Oli has picked up a few quality habits that, until now, we have been blessed to never welcome inside our front door. To our horror, his ability to parrot behaviors is as keen as ever. While he may not be learning to recognize his name, he now knows what it means to shout "Kill you!" when a tussle over a toy isn't going your way.
Public school--not even public preschool--isn't a good fit for us.
So we have made the prayerful decision to bring him home. But what does that mean?
This past year, I spent a huge chunk of time (and an equally big chunk of our homeschool budget) on Olischool. While his classroom teacher was ostensibly in charge of leading him through the motions, here at home we did everything in our power to fill Oli's moments with opportunities for learning. Still, in the back of my mind, I knew that he was getting "real" preschool down at the school. His teacher--a certified, experienced professional--was doing the heavy lifting, I told myself. I was just filling in the gaps.
Go ahead and laugh at me for these thoughts. Go ahead and tell me that an experienced homeschooler ought to know better. I'm a big girl. I can take it.
The illusion has been shattered. I know that I was meant to be in charge all along. Now it's time to take the bull by the horns and admit to myself that I'm certified by a higher power and called to this job. I can do it. With God's help, I can teach this boy.
This fall will find me swimming in a new pond. Not only will I have a high schooler to guide, but a special needs preschooler, as well. The stakes somehow seem high, but I've been in these situations often enough to know that a few years from now, I'll most likely look back and wonder what I was so anxious about. Hopefully, as I reminisce, Oli will be sitting beside me. Reading a book. And wondering why his Momma is laughing so hard.