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A whole new world

After years of homeschooling, is this family ready to deal with the public school system?

By Loran Saito

My second son, Evan, was born at 36 weeks, after a full week of attempts to induce labor. I was suffering from pregnancy-induced hypertension, so — ready or not — we had to get him out. But he simply wasn’t ready to be born just yet. My husband has commented that since that day, Evan has always done things when he is ready.

When our oldest child reached school age, we decided to homeschool all four of our children. As Evan matured, it became clear that, especially for him, this decision had been a good one. Some areas of learning are inexplicably hard for him. Homeschooling has given him the freedom to work at his own pace without comparing himself to his peers or being judged as a slow learner by teachers or other kids.

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that Evan’s struggles have become more pronounced. Despite his being articulate and expressive, startlingly original and creative, a strong reader, and gifted with curiosity and a memory for history, we realized that some basic skills, like math and writing, are painfully slow and difficult for him. As we watched his younger brother and sister grasp the same skills easily, we couldn’t ignore the fact that his learning needs are not typical.

Recently, when he started fifth grade, we decided it was time to have Evan tested for learning disabilities through our school district. Having kept our kids home for all these years, entering the public school system for the first time was a little scary. When the process first began, we found ourselves feeling defensive about Evan and wanting to let the team know what a sweet, hardworking boy he is. We wondered what they could tell us that we, his parents who have spent every day of his life learning with him, wouldn’t already know.

Evan went through a full set of cognitive tests with the school psychologist. A meeting with her and the rest of the support services team confirmed what we suspected: He has a learning disability. The testing showed that working memory difficulties are resulting in severe limitations in Evan’s math and writing. The school has offered him special ed services for math and writing. Though they are still grappling with exactly what that will mean for a child who is not enrolled there, it appears that it will involve daily visits to the school for 30 minutes to an hour at a time. We’re also asking them to teach us their strategies so that we can continue to teach Evan at home.

After years of being the main authority for our children’s education, it feels strange to my husband and me to turn even a little of that authority over to others. We hope that with the help he receives at the school, Evan will learn more about his strengths and weaknesses as a learner, gain confidence, and be able to advocate for himself so that he can choose whatever schooled (or not schooled) learning opportunities he wants for his future. And we feel fortunate as homeschoolers to know that if the services don’t help him, we can just consider this a useful exercise, go back to our regular routines with a little more knowledge, and find other ways to help Evan succeed.

Loran Saito is a writer who homeschools her four children. She lives in Massachusetts.

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