Parenting Lessons I Learned the Hard Way: Home Sweet Home School

Our family home schooled through high school. No, that is not exactly true. I home schooled through high school – my son, Derrick, was dragged along for the ride. The mistakes I am about to share are what I learned from this experience. They are mistakes that Derrick and I have discussed, so I am not talking behind his back. Both of us have made peace with these mistakes. Well, at least he has. As you can see, I’m still talking about them. Maybe by sharing our story, I can help another parent.

Let me start at the beginning. From kindergarten through fifth grade, my son attended regular school. But in fifth grade, Derrick started showing signs of trouble – he didn’t seem to enjoy school anymore. He fell behind, and appeared to be disconnected from the teachers and his school work. By the end of fifth grade, I had been at the Head of School’s office more times than I had been in all of the previous years combined. The school year ended with Derrick seeing a counselor who determined that he had Attention Deficit Disorder (“ADD”).

Fifth grade was difficult for both Derrick and me. For him, it was a self esteem issue. For me, it was a low-lying panic and sense of failure. My son was visibly struggling and I didn’t feel that I was doing anything to help him. It was like watching your child go under in a swimming pool without jumping in to save him. By the end of that year, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Whatever it was, it had to involve me jumping into the deep end of the pool. That jumping became the decision to home school. (Did I mention that I don’t know how to swim?)

Mistake #1 – not revealing to Derrick what was going on until right before school was to start. For him there was no sense of closure, no saying goodbye to friends and faculty. I am convinced that our first two years of home school were rocky because I did not allow him the time he needed to make the transition. (“You’re not my teacher! You’re my MOM.”) He had been at that school since kindergarten. Now I was telling him he was not going back – he would not be at the Upper School with his friends. In retrospect, it was awful. But at the time, I thought it was for the best.

Mistake #2 – trying to recreate school at home. I made an effort to cover exactly what I thought regular school would be covering. In doing so, I totally missed the glorious benefit of home school. Homeschooling allows you to look at subjects differently to learn the same material. For example, when we got to physics, which Derrick loudly resisted, I was able to catch his attention by revealing that the roller coasters he was fascinated by were powered by physics. In the end, our curriculum consisted of a NASA program on roller coasters (free of charge) and Kinex. We were able to cover the science I wanted him to have by speaking a language he would understand.

Mistake #3 – not making it crystal clear to Derrick that he could return to regular school at any time. Derrick shared with me later, after he had enrolled in college, he would have really liked to have gone to regular high school. He wanted to see if he could use the skills he was able to perfect at home back at school. When he explained his thoughts to me, it made perfect sense. He felt that school had bested him, that I pulled him out because he couldn’t hack it. He wanted to go back to prove that he could. He wanted to go back with his new found voice and confidence to prove everyone who questioned his attention span, wrong.

Derrick is now in college. He boasts a 4.0 average. And he has never taken any medication for ADD. My home school mistakes were not fatal. But they took something from him that I am unable to give back – the chance to prove something to himself. That, sadly, is final. There is no way for a “do over”. But home schooling gave us the time to really get to know each other. I am proud to say that I genuinely like and respect the adult he has become.

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