Saying “Goodbye” to Homeschooling

These are the last days of school, and the happy chaos of summer vacation begins in 3 sleeps!

“Finally” and “sadly”, my kids are back on campus after 22 months of homeschooling. 

We all had some experience with homeschooling during the school lockdown of March 2020. It was messy and slapped together. It didn’t work for those without access to technology. And it didn’t even try to work for those who needed special education support.

Many families sent their children back to campus that Fall. Our family took a different path and we kept our kids home. They continued with distance learning for almost two more years. 2020-2022. That is a lot of years to teach one’s own children. Believe me.

First, I sent my vaccinated middle schooler back to campus in 2021. Yee-uh! Because teaching a teenager is not fun. (Although I did teach him multiplication in one summer, bridging an academic deficit they ignored for 3 years. Thank you, public schools.)

The two Littles stayed home with me until February 2022 when I sent my 3rd grader back to campus. I staggered the return of my kindergartener and in April I sent him back, too. And between them each catching several colds and having 17 specialist’s appointments and assessments, I’ve had 4 days to myself. That’s been exactly enough time to get my hair done, have lunch with one friend and take a well-deserved nap.

I have started to disassemble my homeschool classroom. It has returned to a space for books and bean bag chairs, where Zoom calls are verboten. 

I sold some of the learning toys and classroom furniture on FaceBook and I had the VERY odd experience of being reverse homeschool shamed. 

A buyer for a tiny classroom chair shared that she needed it because she homeschooled her children. I said, thinking I’d met someone who wouldn’t think I was nuts, “I did homeschooling, too! It was great but my kids are all back on campus now.”

With a head shake, “Is that a good thing?”

Oh, lady, ouch! Where’s the love? Where were you for the last 2+ years, when I fought the district to keep my kids home? Where were you when I was in tears, trying to learn how to teach phonics to a kid with a lisp? When I had not a single mother friend who didn’t think the choice to homeschool was for freaks? When I had to explain my choices and endure the judgment of family and neighbors?

I was so busy being everything, I didn’t think to find that support system for myself as the educator. It’s hard enough to maintain an autism village. But an autism and a homeschool village sounds like the needle in the haystack. 

My chair buyer was clearly not willing to embrace me, even after I gave her a steal on that chair with the free kick band. And if not her, then who? I know one mom (Hi Amber!) who could empathize but she was in Kentucky! Not someone who could take socially distanced walks with me and compare notes about work/life separation when one’s bedroom is the adhoc school fitness center.

When Delta was roaring across California last summer I did have the choice of keeping the kids in distance learning with the public schools. But the district would require that my autistic children forfeit their special education services.

They said that distance learning would “constitute a “change in placement” and my autistic kids will have to come on campus if they were to keep their IEPs. They were forceful about their “safe reopening plans” and didn’t listen to me when I repeatedly said, I am making this choice for the health of my family.

Bye Del Mar public schools.

(Note: In November of 2021, the State of California determined this to be illegal and overruled the school district’s motion to deny special needs children their services, allowing them to continue to participate in distance learning with their full service grid intact.)

I pulled my kids out of the DMUSD school district and chose a charter school that would allow me to develop their curriculum and teach them at home.

If I was going to do all that teaching, I wanted the control to teach what I understood to be important. I wanted to step in when my children were struggling to implement in person assistance when they were frustrated. The virtual school could only offer one solution which was to be dumped into a “break out room”, another Zoom session with a bored teaching assistant. Most days this was where they were put for anything from not paying attention to failing to understand the assignment. Not an effective solution for educating anyone let alone a child with autism. 

And so began my sudden journey into homeschooling. In keeping with my OCD response to life’s little flips, I retrofitted our loft to become “The Library”.

I named my school SHIFTING TIDES ELEMENTARY because I love the beach and because life just keeps on pulling the sand out from beneath our feet. 

I got two little blue Kaplan chairs and found two desks and a new bookshelf at a thrift store. I hung up maps and got accordian folders and new glue sticks and handwriting books.

The charter school offered the annual curriculum for each child and approximately 100 lbs of accompanying textbooks, but I was also free to “do whatever works for your family.” 

The kids had the option to attend classes and receive in person services on their campus, but I said, no thank you, COVID and all that, I’ve got this. I couldn’t get around some standardized testing and every 6 weeks I did have to post learning samples and complete a grading journal. Easy Peasy! 

And for a while, it was fun!

The kids and I were learning together, what THEY wanted to learn about. I let them take the lead. One day it was the King Tides and rising ocean levels, and the next, it was about ancient Babylon, and then ethical and sustainable chocolate farms. I may have skewed the lesson plans a little heavy in the direction of anthropology and kitchen science but such is the privilege of being the school principal and lead teacher.

I’m so, so, so, so lucky that my children are inexplicably bright. They were devouring books. One kid learned multiplication and the other one to read! Yes, I’m proud. Please indulge me!

But there were essential therapies like speech and OT that they really needed. I saw how those worked remotely the previous year. SPOILER: Zoom adaptive P.E. is hilarious. And I really didn’t want to be in a classroom when I was getting those emails every day about COVID exposure. 

We were making it work ourselves, cobbling together private services for the boys. It wasn’t perfect, but the kids were more relaxed and I saw an improvement in behavior problems. 

I think I could have kept going for years had one major thing not been working against us. 

-All of the distance learning before I even hung up the shingle for Shifting Tides. That time was stressful and exhausting and had really taken its toll on me and my husband. 

I needed to shift some of the load back to the schools. I wanted to let go of teaching pencil grip during “Writing Club” and just offer the loving support of mothering. My low back is tingling now  remembering the weight of being all of those things to my little people. No village? It was too much.

Would I do homeschooling again? Maybe.

I loved watching that EUREKA moment light up my child’s face. Knowing that I helped him get there. But I was so frazzled having to be everything to my autistic boys. They needed the specialists and their therapy time, even if only to let me off the hook for making them do things they didn’t like. I needed someone else to be the Bad Guy.

Is the public school doing a better job than I did? I don’t think so. They don’t know my kids and what makes them tick. Now, after a couple of months, two kids have regressed significantly which the school denies. They even denied them summer school this year because “we haven’t noted any significant regressions that would warrant that service.” That’s fine for now, because I’m so sick of school, I need summer vacation as badly as the kids do.

As for the children, after the first few weeks back, they realized that it had been nice to be home. But they would tell you that it’s worth their frustration and anxiety to have the chance to play and make new friends. 

There have been a lot of tears from all of us as we adjust to the new routines and faces. Were I to do more homeschooling in the future, I would build myself that village of other homeschooling parents. But we’re at the finish line. A few more days of watching movies and we’ll be free. We’ll be together again and even though we won’t be in school, I know we’re going to learn a lot and have some epic field trips. The next school year is already making a stink on the horizon with threats of revoking services. Same old story for the special needs community. At least I’m back in a village.

Published by Cynthia Zorabedian

I have always identified as a writer. My skills were honed early, writing poetry and research papers. Lately, my words have been used largely in passionate letters to the school district in which I advocate for the rights of my autistic children. My humor is my release from the stress of being a special needs parent and I'm finding so much joy in my new blog. I'm a Boston girl who now lives in Southern California with my husband and three sons.

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