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Teaching Special Learners: A Good Work

by Megan Allison

Do you get excited when your child sounds out words and reads a favorite children’s book back to you? What about when he or she starts rhyming words out of the blue? Sings a nursery song? Counts to 20 all on her own? When he says “Mama” for the first time? Wonder, joy, and overflowing love is how I have felt.

How do you feel when your child does not say a word? One year passes and sounds are not turning into words. Second year: sounds, but very few words. Lost words. Concern, fear, dread, frustration. This is where I found myself almost nine years ago with my second beautiful baby boy. A happy, smiling all the time, quiet toddler. A boy without words.

Parents are eager for their children to learn. Reading great stories together bonds a family. Being able to talk and share with one another seals and deepens our relationships. When learning is cumbersome and difficult, don’t we as parents want to drill down to the problem and solve it? We quickly search for answers, wanting to waste no time getting to a solution. We search the Internet, talk to our spouse, consult friends, ask a teacher, express our concern to the pediatrician, and seek out other professionals’ opinions. When we really think there’s an issue, we want to find a diagnosis and get right to executing a plan to help our children on their educational journey. Here are six tips that I’d give myself if we were just starting out:

Take an expert’s opinion with a grain of salt 

Experts are human, too. We’ve had the same pediatrician for almost fifteen years, but when he told me that my middle son was just being lazy about talking, it didn’t make sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, experts can help us rule out diagnoses and narrow our focus. By partnering with specialists, we learned from an audiologist that our son didn’t have anything wrong with his ears and another professional determined our son has childhood apraxia of speech. We’ve tried sign language, fish oil, and crossing the midline activities. Some of these have helped, and with others I’m still debating the benefits.

I found it helpful to consult with specialized doctors, but ultimately my husband and I decided what road we would travel. I enjoyed researching about speech apraxia and many of the suggested activities because I believed I needed to educate myself in order to assist my son. I could do many of the therapy suggestions at home at no cost. Additionally, having researched apraxia, I could dialogue better with the professionals we were seeing on a regular basis. I was equipped when the time came that we decided to go ahead with speech therapy, but not pursue vision therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy.

Have patience

Our children are keenly aware that they are having difficulty. I’ve learned and I’m still trying to do better that our children are watching us and need to see us giving them grace. Even when we’ve explained the information for what seems like the hundredth time, grin and bear it, and explain it again. Have patience with yourself, too. You are much stronger and able to do more than you’ve ever thought yourself capable. 

After hours upon hours of speech practice, I know more now than I thought possible about the development of speech, how to teach a person to talk, good advice and bad advice for parents of children with speech difficulty, and I can lip read now, too. That may seem like small potatoes, but to this gal who is more inclined toward math and science and has difficulty remembering what a demonstrative pronoun is, this is a big accomplishment.

There is no one-size-fits-all or easy solution

When a child learns differently, it can take considerable amounts of trial and error before finding what works best for your child. Research takes time, and a method that works for one family may not work for another. One of the gifts of homeschooling is that you spend the majority of the day with your child, so you know your son or daughter intimately.

One recommendation I received was to read every day to my son. I just shake my head now thinking back on that advice, because for my son the solution had nothing to do with reading to him more. The language connections between the brain, tongue, palate, and ears weren’t happening for him, and he wasn’t able to produce the sounds in order to speak no matter how many times he heard my words. He needed to be taught how to speak. 

Teaching our children is good work. Any work worth doing is going to take grit, determination, and sacrifice. I try to remember it’s like growing a garden. You don’t plant today and harvest tomorrow. It’s going to take time with days of watering, weeding, fertilizing, more weeding, removing bad bugs, and finally harvesting. The fruit is a result of the hard work put in. I’m a few years in now with teaching, and the blessings and rewards have made all the work worth it.

Don’t give up too quickly on a method

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes a memory, so keep repeating grammar rules and math facts over and over again. Each time you practice, the brain is making those synapses fire, and it’s laying down that pathway for memorization to happen. I encourage you to keep plugging along with the basics. Keep it fun, make it a game, use it with something your child is interested in, or let your child be the teacher.

One of the best gifts of homeschooling is that time is on your side. You’re able to tailor your child’s education, and there’s plenty of time for repetition and review. I’m not convinced that there’s one program that will quickly solve learning difficulties. You’ll have to decide if it’s time to persevere or, if you’ve given a program a lengthy, thorough trial, then it may be time to tweak it or look for something new.

Resist fear

The unknown can be scary. Panic can set in if we let ourselves entertain all the what-if questions that reach our minds. Fear is a sales tactic, and I saw it used often when we were navigating our options. But what happens when you embrace the child that you have and the situation that you’re in? Fear can immobilize, or it can motivate you to move to research, to advocate, to ask lots of questions, and to not stop at anything to help your child.

Look back over the tips. Decide where you are in your journey and identify your next step. Are you just beginning and need to research? Are you knee deep in a method that you should keep persisting in, but with some adjustments? Today, decide to look fear in the face and use it to propel forward: use it as a call to action.

Find a friend

Look outside your immediate family for who can support you. It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggling, and there is a time for grieving over your child’s difficulties. It is often a lonely walk, especially when your child looks normal from the outside, and few people truly understand what you are going through. Even among your family, it can be hard to share one another’s burden.

I found it helpful to get connected to a homeschool support group to make a friend. It may be as simple as reaching out to others in similar situations through Facebook or meeting regularly with someone who will listen to you. There are many in the homeschool community eager to offer support. A kind friend can encourage and refresh you, so you can return home with new strength to meet the challenges with determination and grace.

Homeschooling can be a great experience in teaching special learners.

Our son turned 11 in July. He enjoys Legos, model airplanes, and erector sets. He is still a quiet, sweet child, but has occasional moments when he talks a mile a minute. He graduated speech therapy a few years ago. He seems to struggle with memorizing for the long term, but we call him our walking thesaurus because he can impressively change out words he’s supposed to memorize for a similar word. He understands the big picture. We’re in a season of repetition and review.

Homeschooling has been a great experience for us as we explore the things he likes and spend extra time as needed on memory work. There are no monthly educational assessments, and I love that he has plenty of time to play, take field trips, build all kinds of things, be a boy, and work at his own pace. Surprisingly, this work I am doing is changing me, molding me into a stronger, more disciplined, and more patient, compassionate person. My hope is that you find encouragement in my story and the strength to press on another day taking it one day at a time, knowing each step is a step forward.

Megan Allison lives in Glendale. She enjoys raising her three boys to love and serve the Lord. Megan actively serves on the board of her local support group where she encourages families in their homeschool journeys. She is passionate about equipping homeschoolers with the tools for success in their homes and communities. She desires to live out Titus 2:3-5. In her spare time, Megan likes to jog, spend time in nature, and date her husband Tim.

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Ten Questions About Homeschooling in Arizona

With more than 38,000 students being homeschooled in Arizona, this parent-led, privately funded education at home model has proven to be an effective option for many families across the state.

Perhaps you’re considering homeschooling your child. We’ve put together answers to ten frequently asked questions to help you as research and learn more.

#1 – What is homeschooling?


Arizona state law defines a homeschool

Arizona Revised Statutes §15-802 G 2
“Homeschool means a nonpublic school conducted primarily by the parent, guardian, or other person who has custody of the child or nonpublic instruction provided in the child’s home.”

Homeschoolers are parents or guardians who assume full responsibility for educating their children at home and must provide instruction in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, science, and social studies pursuant to ARS §15-802.

Student Classifications

There are six general classifications of student in Arizona: Public School, Charter School, Virtual Charter School, Private School, Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA contract student), and Homeschool.

Especially for at-home education options, there can often be confusion about whether a student is a homeschooler. While the schoolwork may take place at home, neither virtual charter school students nor ESA contract students are classified as homeschoolers according to Arizona Revised Statutes. Homeschooling is a legally defined option that is distinct from all other education options in Arizona. 

Arizona Revised Statutes §15-802 (a) states: “Every child between the ages of six and sixteen years shall attend a school and shall be provided instruction in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.  The person who has custody of the child shall choose a public, private or charter school or a homeschool as defined in this section to provide instruction or shall sign a contract to participate in an Arizona empowerment scholarship account pursuant to section 15-2402.”

In the infographic to the left, we give a brief overview of each of the Arizona Education Options and the student classifications available in our state.

Learn more at AFHE.ORG/AZ-LAW


#2 – What are the advantages of homeschooling?

Homeschooling has many benefits including the following:

  • Parents are able to tailor a course of study to their child’s individual abilities, learning style, needs, interests, and future goals.
  • The flexibility to customize the pace at which the child moves through material is beneficial for concept mastery.
  • The one-on-one tutorial style of learning is highly effective.
  • Parents are able to choose the worldview through which their children are educated.
  • Learning together provides an even greater opportunity for building strong family relationships.
  • Parents have the opportunity to address character issues consistently.
  • Students often have more time to pursue areas of interest.
  • Class sizes are MUCH smaller.
  • High school students can get a jumpstart on college education or career preparation.

Homeschooling is more than an education option. It is a lifestyle of learning and discovery!

#3 – What’s required to homeschool in Arizona?

COMPULSORY ATTENDANCE AGE
Ages 6 to 16. Parents may elect to delay formal education until their child is 8 years old by noting so on the affidavit (must still file the affidavit at age 6).

ATTENDANCE
No minimum days required. Attendance tracking not required.

SUBJECTS REQUIRED
At least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, science, and social studies. Parents select and purchase the curriculum and resources of your choice. Homeschooling allows you to move through material at a pace that works best for your child, and to customize the topics taught within each subject area.

TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS
None

NOTIFICATION
Submit a notarized Affidavit of Intent to Homeschool with proof of birth to the County School Superintendent’s office within 30 days of starting to homeschool (or within 30 days of your child’s 6th birthday if you started homeschooling earlier). The affidavit is filed once, not annually.

RECORD KEEPING / REPORTING
None required. Parents are responsible for creating their child’s high school transcript and should keep records for 9th-12th grades to calculate GPA and complete the transcript.

STANDARDIZED TESTING
None required. There are a number of private testing services that homeschool families can utilize, if desired. Read more in our testing FAQ.

 

Five Steps to Filing the Affidavit of Intent to Homeschool

  1. Download and fill out the affidavit
  2. Get it notarized
  3. Submit proof of birth with the affidavit
  4. Mail or hand deliver the affidavit and proof of birth to the County School Superintendent
  5. Get started!

Enjoy the learning adventure with your kids.

DOWNLOAD THE AFFIDAVIT HERE


#4 – How do we get started?

Homeschooling is as unique as each family that embarks upon this journey. Your homeschool is going to look different than other families’. It may take some trial and error to get into a routine that works well for you and your children.

Here are some things that you can do to help you have success as you get started.

  • Read books about homeschooling.
  • Familiarize yourself with Arizona homeschool law.
  • Find a homeschool support group in your area.
  • Talk to experienced homeschooling parents.
  • File an Affidavit of Intent to Homeschool.
  • Select and purchase your curriculum and resources.
  • Set goals for the year.
  • Get organized. Organize your home, your supplies, and your schedule.
  • Be willing to adapt as needed. Expect there to be a learning curve for you and your kids.
  • Attend the AFHE Homeschool Convention in July.

If you’re transitioning from public school to homeschool, you’ll find some very practical encouragement about what to expect in this helpful article by Laura Gadbery.
Ten Things You Might Experience Transitioning from School to Homeschool


#5 – What does it cost?

The cost of homeschooling is as varied as the individual families who teach their children at home. It depends on a number of factors including:

  • The curriculum and resources you choose
  • How many and what types of extracurricular activities your child participates in
  • Field trips and enrichment activities you choose to do
  • If you decide to have your child take a standardized test

Homeschooling does not have to be expensive, and it is a worthwhile investment in your child. 

We are often asked if there are tax credits or funding for homeschooling. We have answered that question in this article: Do Homeschoolers Get a Tax Credit?

#6 – Where do I find curriculum?

There is an abundance of curriculum and resources available to homeschooling today. Attending AFHE’s annual Homeschool Convention is a great way to view and shop for a wide variety of curriculum and resources in person all in one place.

You can research on the internet, talk to other homeschooling parents and support group leaders, and read reviews and books on this topic. A couple of recommendations:

Cathy Duffy Reviews, cathyduffyreviews.com

The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles by Carol Barnier (available through Amazon)

In addition, Arizona is blessed to have a local resource center in Phoenix that has a bookstore with new and used curriculum. Their knowledgeable staff can answer questions and provide direction on choosing curriculum.
Covenant Home School Resource Center, chsrc.org

IDENTIFY YOUR CHILD’S LEARNING STYLE

Identifying your child’s learning style can help you choose curriculum that works best for him or her. There are a number of books on the market that can give you insight in this area. Two examples are:
Demystifying Learning Styles: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Tyler Hogan, Bright Ideas Press
The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias (available on Amazon) 

#7 – What about graduation?

 The homeschooling parent is responsible for creating and maintaining their child’s high school transcript and issuing a diploma. Students who are homeschooled through high school are able to successfully go on to college, the workplace, and the military.

HELPFUL ARTICLES AND RESOURCES

Homeschool Transcripts, More Important Than Ever by Colene Lewis
Diploma Equivalency in Arizona by Tom Lewis
The High School Handbook: Junior and Senior High at Home by Mary Schofield (Amazon)
HSLDA: Homeschooling through High School
NHERI (National Home Education Research Institute)

 

AFHE Graduation Ceremony

Each spring (usually the end of May), AFHE hosts a beautiful cap-and-gown graduation ceremony for Arizona homeschool students graduating from high school at home.

It is a special celebration of an important milestone and includes a commencement speaker, musical performances, senior class address, diploma presentation, photos of each graduate, and more. The registration window is mid-November through the end of February. LEARN MORE

#8 – What about sports?

Arizona Revised Statutes §15-802.01 states that a homeschooled child who resides within the attendance area of a public school shall be allowed to try out for interscholastic activities (such as sports) on behalf of the public school in the same manner as a pupil who is enrolled in that school. Parents who choose this avenue should familiarize themselves with the policies of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).

There are a variety of opportunities available to homeschooled students within the homeschool community and in the private sector as well, including competitive athletics programs run by homeschoolers for homeschoolers, club ball organizations, programs offered through city parks and recreation departments, and more. One example of a competitive sports opportunity for Arizona homeschoolers is EVAC Sports. 

#9 – What if my child is struggling or gifted?

Homeschooling can work really well for children who are gifted learners or who have special learning needs or unique learning challenges of all types. Parents can offer their children individualized education, flexibility, encouragement, and support. AFHE is building a SPECIAL LEARNERS RESOURCES page on our website and we also hold special learners events for parents periodically.

Additional resources:
spedhomeschool.com
hslda.org/strugglinglearner

#10 – What about socialization?

Socialization is defined as “to make fit for companionship with others; make sociable.” Many homeschooling families have discovered that healthy socialization takes place when children are exposed to people of all ages in various settings, rather than being limited to a group of peers all about the same age. Children can learn to socialize in everyday activities such as a trip to the grocery store or library, visits with grandparents, play dates with friends, support group activities, park days, and so on. More importantly, children often receive their most valuable socialization in the nurturing environment of home and family.

Arizona has a vibrant, active homeschool community with many opportunities for socialization. One of the biggest challenges families encounter is dealing with the abundance of activities available. Parents should look for activities that enhance the homeschool experience without leading to the frenzied distraction of too many outside endeavors. Learning to say “no” to the good and the better helps a family leave room for the best.

We’re here to help!

If you have questions about homeschooling in Arizona, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are homeschooling parents ourselves and we are here to help.
homeschool@afhe.org | 602-235-2673

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Homeschool Graduation: Is a Finance Class Required?

by Allison Gentala, AFHE Board Member, Director of Government Affairs

Over the years, Arizona lawmakers have sought ways to ensure that high school graduates are well prepared to face the world that awaits them. In order to accomplish this, bills have been passed adding tests or classes to the graduation requirements of Arizona high school students.

In 2015, HB 2064 was passed requiring all public school students to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school starting in 2017.

In 2019, SB 1184 is before the legislature and would add the requirement of a finance class to ensure that students know how to balance a checkbook, make a budget, and understand the consequences of debt.

While both of these new graduation requirements are wonderful for preparing students to launch well into adult life—and we would encourage you to equip your students with this knowledge—neither are required of homeschoolers.

Homeschooling is not regulated by the Board of Education

Privately funded education is not subject to oversight by the Board of Education. Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) §15-203, in listing the powers and duties of the Board of Education, says that “the state board of education shall exercise general supervision over and regulate the conduct of the public school system and adopt any rules and policies it deems necessary to accomplish this purpose.” No power is given to the Board of Education to supervise or regulate homeschool.

Homeschooling has its own legal definition found in ARS  §15-802, which states homeschool is “a nonpublic school conducted primarily by the parent, guardian, or other person who has custody of the child, or nonpublic instruction provided in the child’s home.”

Graduation requirements for homeschoolers

The parent sets the graduation requirements for their homeschooled student, creates the high school transcript, and issues the diploma. If a student is college bound, it is helpful to research college entrance requirements for a school your child is likely to attend and plan their high school courses accordingly.

The AFHE Legislative Team is actively watching legislation that may impact Arizona homeschool freedom. We hope updates like this are beneficial to our community.

Learn more about Arizona homeschool law

Do you have questions about homeschooling in Arizona and the law? Check out AFHE’s AZ Law page.

We invite you to send in your questions to homeschool@afhe.org and we may use some of them for future blog posts.

You can support the legislative work AFHE does on behalf of Arizona homeschoolers through a one-time or recurring tax-deductible donation. DONATE HERE