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Home Education Magazine

July-August 2001 - Articles and Columns

Education Without Medication

Why I Chose to Homeschool My Son - Karen Hoogland

Many people have questioned the wisdom of my decision to homeschool my son, Timothy, but this is not something I decided to do on a whim or because it is the "in" thing. I am not reacting to the recent headlines in the newspapers, which describe the violence occurring in so many public schools, and I am not retreating from the world for religious reasons. I truly believe it is in the best interest of my child to be educated at home.

From kindergarten through third grade, I heard all the teachers say the same thing about Timothy. They all said he was an incredibly bright child, with an incredibly high energy level. A couple of them even admitted they had never had a student like him before. These teachers each had at least fifteen years of teaching experience, so how could it be they had never had a child like my son in their classes before? Why were they asking me for suggestions on how to deal with Timothy at school? Yes, I am his mom, but the school officials made it quite clear that they are the experts on children. In this case, however, they were experts with no answers and no solutions, except one: Ritalin. Their big answer was that they believed Timothy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

My husband and I did have Timothy privately assessed for ADHD two years ago. We met with our pediatrician, a licensed counselor (who regularly works with children with ADHD), and a psychologist specializing in ADHD. Following three months of various tests, it was decided that Timothy is not only dealing with ADHD, but that he is also "gifted." All of the professionals involved agreed medication was not warranted for Timothy. All of them recommended that he be given a more challenging curriculum at school, along with more opportunities for physical activities. As his parents, David and I agreed to take the advice of these professionals, so we embarked on a year long battle with our school district to get an appropriate curriculum for our son. The school district was not willing to provide any more materials for our son. The school district did offer Timothy the use of a computer for half an hour each day, but other than a last ditch effort by the assistant superintendent to convince us to medicate our son, there were no other solutions offered.

Recalling how his teachers have always looked to me to "figure" Timothy out, I decided to pursue other schooling options. I had learned, from our pediatrician, that children like Timothy benefit from smaller class sizes, a curriculum suited to their level of understanding, and more opportunities for physical activities. I spent six months searching for alternative schools which would meet these criteria. Private schools did not offer any of them. One alternative did meet all three criteria: Homeschooling.

Homeschooling affords the best option with regards to class size and student-to-teacher ratio. From preschool through fourth grade, Timothy was in classes of no less than twenty-five students. Each class had only one teacher and the occasional parent volunteer. On the many occasions when I did volunteer in his classroom, I noticed Timothy spent a considerable amount of time waiting. Waiting for the rest of the class to complete work he had finished in less than five minutes. Waiting to move on to the next subject. Waiting to be challenged.

Since completing the first year of homeschooling, I can clearly see the benefits in this type of education. There is a renewed spark for learning in Timothy that had been buried for several years. Timothy has pursued his passion for snakes, insects, history, electronics, and computers. Now, when he finds a snake, an insect, or is given a box of computer components, Timothy searches out the information he needs to understand what he holds in his hands.

Recently, Timothy caught a garter snake. I told him he could keep the slithery black fellow if he could find out how to care for it. Determined to add the critter to our growing menagerie of pets, he searched the Internet for information on snakes. He found many different books and articles on snakes. He discovered how to feed it and provide shelter for it. Timothy learned so much about snakes simply because he found one unlucky enough to wiggle into our backyard! We find learning opportunities like this snake episode all the time.

Timothy has considerable physical freedom while learning at home. He does not have to stay seated in a hard desk chair for most of the day. Often, he prefers to read while stretched out on the living room floor, with one of his pet rats perched on his shoulder. He usually takes a walk through the house between his chosen studies. He will play with the dog or his pet snake. Once he has stretched out his body, he is ready to stretch his mind a bit more.

Many people are concerned about "socialization." Many have indicated they think kids can learn only with kids their own age. Most of the socialization Timothy experienced in the public school was negative, and serious problems arose when some students began picking on him for his interests. Timothy has a remarkable talent for electronics and computers and has grasped concepts that many adults cannot comprehend. He has built computer systems using scrap parts given to him by friends and family members. Unfortunately, Timothy's peers chose to verbally and physically abuse him nearly every day for his interests and abilities, but now that he homeschools, this type of negative peer pressure does not exist. He is free to pursue his interests without worrying about what other kids think.

Homeschooling has provided many opportunities for Timothy to take part in real world experiences; he is able to interact with people of various ages on a daily basis. He helps with the banking, our family business, budgeting for groceries, and various household tasks. He has many opportunities to work and play with children from all age groups. We are members of a homeschool support group, a 4-H Club, and a Cub Scout Pack, so Timothy has more opportunities to "socialize" with other children than he ever did before. One big difference in this kind of "socialization" is that it is positive, so he does not get picked on for being smart. He does not get picked on for his love of gadgets and gizmos. His opinions and interests are respected among his new homeschooling companions.

Many people are concerned about what he is learning. They wonder how I will know "where he is at." It is fairly easy for me to "know" what level of work Timothy is capable of because I am with him every day. Timothy records the projects he has completed, along with whatever other activities he has accomplished, in a journal. He maintains a portfolio by saving samples of his various work, filing them away in a folder. I take pictures of the many programs Timothy attends, placing copies of these pictures in his portfolio. Timothy also keeps a personal journal; he writes in this several times a week, recording his thoughts about the different subjects he has chosen to study.

I am well aware of the fact that some people are skeptical of my decision to homeschool Timothy. I chose to homeschool Timothy because it provides the best educational opportunity for him. I did not jump into this style of schooling without considering all available opportunities. The public school refused to educate him in a manner that would allow his mind to flourish; they wanted me to medicate him so that he would be calm and compliant. After this last year of homeschooling, I can see that homeschooling is meeting Timothy's needs, allowing him to channel his high energy levels in a positive way. He is excited about learning and motivated to learn new ideas. He is very independent, and he is always reading new books. He is happy again. I have always felt that my goal in raising Timothy is to teach him how to be the best person he can be. The best way to reach this goal is to educate him, not medicate him. The best way to educate him is to teach him at home.

(c) 2001 Karen Hoogland

July-August 2001 Issue

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