Monday, January 12, 2009

Back and forth my mind goes

I tend to overthink a lot of things, and this topic has had my brain going back and forth for two years. Should we join a homeschool co-op? I suppose the reason I keep flip-flopping on the idea is because in theory I love the idea of a co-op, but in practice I just don't see how it's possible for us at this time.

Anna is very blessed to have a best friend who lives down the street from us. Anna and Maddie have had a special friendship since preschool that even survived our two year "vacation" in Chicago, and since they live so close they get to see each other fairly often (although they would argue it's not nearly enough). Anna is also friends with another homeschooler at church, but it is harder for them to get together because of schedules and distance. Otherwise, Anna has few friends. Of course, she gets along well with many other kids at church and on swim team. But one of the reasons I was relieved to not have a birthday party for her this year is because it would have been a pretty short guest list.

It's even worse for Ryne and Grace. Ryne is blessed to have a great group of friends at Cub Scouts. He's known most of these boys since he went to Kindergarten at a Christian school, and they truly are neat boys. They are so accepting of Ryne, even when his behavior is hard to understand. But about the only time he gets to see them is at Cub Scouts. Grace has a few friends, but it always requires some special planning on my part to set up play dates, and I admittedly have not been as diligent as I should in setting up play time with her friends.

So it seems logical that a co-op would be a great solution. It would provide a great opportunity to meet kids their own ages whose families share similar values as ours, not to mention learning some subjects that would not normally be included in our homeschool curriculum. It seems to work wonderfully for thousands of homeschoolers. My area of town might not have as many co-op opportunities as others, but I still have options. I've mentioned before that we have a great group of homeschoolers we meet with for field trips and an annual Christmas party. This same group has a small co-op that meets once a week that would probably be a wonderful fit for us.

And yet I keep deciding the timing isn't right. I tell myself that our schedule is too packed as it is. I currently schedule us to "do" school four-and-a-half days a week, leaving the extra half day for a field trip, dentist appointment, etc. So far this school year we have had only two or three weeks where we didn't have anything scheduled for that half day. And there have been plenty of weeks where we've had to take more than a half day. For example, this week we will be going to Chicago for a doctor appointment, so we will do good to get half our normal workload done. This is not a common occurrence, but it seems like our schedule is full of uncommon occurrences. In addition to our jam-packed school schedule is my jam-packed personal schedule. To be part of the co-op I would have to teach a class, and I just don't see how I can devote the time needed on top of what I'm already doing.

Probably more daunting than scheduling issues, is the whole autism thing. Ryne's social skills, while improving, are still quite lacking. If we joined a co-op I would have to be constantly monitoring him and helping him navigate the social scene and his interaction with his teachers. Frankly, I don't have the energy for it right now. This was one of the reasons why we chose to homeschool in the first place.

Some would argue that he is going to have to learn these skills someday, and that I am not doing him any favors by sheltering him. But I am not trying to shelter him forever. That is why we started RDI, so maybe someday he could relate to other kids in a meaningful way. But RDI is a developmental approach, meaning he needs to learn some foundational skills before he can relate like his peers.

In December I shared how finally learned some basics in my Photoshop Elements software. I loved the experience of playing with the different tools, even though I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I bought a magazine all about digital scrapbooking to read on our trip to Denver. As I flipped through the pages, I was fascinated by all the pictures and the cool things all these people did on the computer. But that's about as deep into the experience as I got because I was out of my league. Instructions for adjusting Tolerance settings and changing the Angel Jitter were completely lost on me. This is how Ryne is with relationships right now. He's fascinated by people and loves to be with other people, but he just doesn't get the intricacies of social communication. Yet through RDI, we are learning to guide him slowly through the social maze. We may just be working on the basics right now, but without the basics he will never progress to the more difficult stuff. Just like if I want to learn more advanced digital tricks, I need slow down and master the basics first.

Just when I think I have it settled in my mind, another thought enters. Should Anna and Grace be deprived of the opportunity to develop friendships because Ryne isn't quite ready? I am constantly struggling to balance the needs of two neurotypical homeschoolers with the special needs of the other, whether the needs be social or academic.

Back and forth. Back and forth. What to do? Today I think I have the answer. When I look at the interactions between Anna, Ryne and Grace, I can see that they already have friends. They have each other. Oh, yes, they fight and they can drive me crazy with their bickering. But they also have a marvelously fun time together. They perform goofy skits together. They make up silly songs that make sense only to themselves. They joke back and forth. They draw together, commenting on each others' pictures. They chase each other and wrestle. Right now, I think it's enough.

I'll probably change my mind next week.

And then change it back again.


  1. Kellie, I will be praying for you for wisdom in your decisions. When I read your blog it's like a peak at some of my future obstacles, I am sure.

    When are you coming to Chicago? That's near where I live? Actually I live in Joliet. Do you drive or fly? Sorry if I am being nosey.


  2. Kellie, let's schedule a time to get the kids together!! My kids think your kids are GREAT! Maybe we can do a field trip of our own?


  3. I think you've come to a good conclusion, Kellie. I have had great experiences and horrible experiences with co-ops. The horrible times were usually when I was trying to force socialization into our lives. If it's ever the right time, God will give you a peace about it. I have found some of the most meaningful group experiences have been when I join in with one or two or other moms and we commit to having our kids work on a short-term project or have a club time together. We keep the commitment low, an hour or two per week and only meet for about a month. Then we take a month or two off. My kids have formed some deep, meaningful friendships that way, and it has never stressed me out. I actually enjoy it. Keep smiling. I can tell you are a great mom who has her children's interests at heart, especially your precious Ryne.

  4. Hi Karen,

    I am commenting a little late but my e key does not work all the time and today it is. But I feel the same way you do. My son is only going on three and am so unsure of what the future holds. I have two older girls.But I choose carefully about the events we choose to attend. Because of my son's autism. We have a very active homeschool support group in our area. I would love to let the girls do lots of things but it's just so hard. My son is non-verbal and he has gotten in the bad habit of hitting and biting when he gets mad. Of course we don't allow this. I feel like my girls are missing out on things because of it. I hope and pray that things will get easier as time goes on. But I just wanted to let you know that I feel your pain but it is kinda of nice to hear that I am not alone even if our sons are years apart. Thank you so much for your post it has help me. God Bless You.

  5. Hi Kellie,

    Perhaps you could consider looking into some activities for the girls where you didn't have to be there, or where only the girl involved needed to be there.

    Perhaps you could follow up with some of the mums from church or swimming to see if Anna could spend a few hours one afternoon a fortnight (after school time, if their kids aren't homeschooled) having a regular play date (or whatever they call it when the kids are 11!). Perhaps there is some service you can swap for this - like swapping babysitting - if it isn't really possible to have Anna's friend come over to your place on the alternative weeks.

    You could also consider enrolling Grace in an away-school kindy for one day of the week. Sort of like the co-op except you'd be paying for the privelege in cash rather than by running a class. And so you wouldn't have to be there for the whole time either.

    But this is my best idea:

    To help you schedule play dates for the kids, allocate them each one week in a rolling schedule. Then, each week, make an effort to book a time with the relevant family friend for the kid whose turn it is for next week's play date:

    Week 1, book a play date for kid A.
    Week 2, play date for kid A, book date for kid B.
    Week 2, play date for kid B, book date for kid C.
    Week 4, play date for kid C, book date for kid A, etc.
    (Or be planning a fortnight ahead if needed.)

    This way you are only ever planning one play date a week and so not over extending yourself mentally. And if you don't organise a play date one week, well, you just miss that week and begin the rolling schedule where you left off the next week.

    Oh, and of course the other thing you could do is enrol back into a BSF Day Class and then organise lunches in a park to follow after with some of the other mums who have kids in the same kids' class as Grace. But that still leaves you with the question of what to do with Anna and Ryne for the time. Perhaps you could look into Evening BSF classes and see if they meet any friends there who they could become closer to?

    ~ Sharon

  6. Hey my dear friend. I'm finally getting back to your blog! Glad to see I haven't missed too much. Wanted to comment on this one, because I'm currently in the same situation with Nathan and Mason! In fact we have a co-op here in town that I recently contacted the person who is in charge of it to see if there is a way for this to work out for our family's special needs. Good news is she seemed to think we could work something out, but I'm still waiting to hear more details. So maybe all it would take is to ask one of your local groups if they can accomodate you. For me I don't have the energy to spend with Mason for 4 hours trying to engage him in their classes. I really don't believe they have classes that really would meet his needs at this point in time anyway, and I need to be able to have some one on one time with Mason. So for me, (I know that seems selfish), I'm looking for a resource where Nathan can meeet and make new friends in a safe,good and healthy environment and at the same time learn things he's probably not learning at home and I need to be able to bring Mason back home so he is in an environment that is safe, familiar and that I can breath without worrying what he's in to, doing wrong, or even worried about his safety. Mason's not ready either for a length of time that our co-op offers and while I would like to get him to that point, I know you are right and it has to be done in a developmental order/approach. I too feel overwhelmed with the thought of having to be at his side for 4 hours trying to get him engaged appropriately--just thinking about it wears me out. lol. But I wanted to write about this, because I have avoided this for 2 years now and I met someone who was also a part of this group and upon explaining to her our situation, she seemed to think there shouldn't be any reason why we couldn't work something out, understanding that I personally could not teach a class at this time. I've had others mention, that I could be with Mason in his classes, but you know with Mason we would be lucky to do something for 10 or 15 minutes! Things have to be constantly changing for him and it's just not the right time for him--and hopefully they will try and understand that. So I should know in the next week how it pans out and I'll keep you posted. Maybe you'll be able to find a compromise too.

  7. I have found that small co-ops with about 5 families are the best size! You can meet at a home, and if your son has issues you are right there. My son is in highschool (my autistic child) He still has problems understanding how to interact - but since I am right there with all the kids I can help him when needed. For the most part he does ok. He sometimes doesn't see that the other kids are tired of his "jokes" or sometimes doesn't read their body language. He's usually the smartest kid in the group and he's gotten pretty good about giving the other kids a chance to answer the questions first! Currently, we are in 2 co-ops and both meet at our home. Once is a multi age age, music and geography co-op that my 8 year old participates in as well. Its only 6 kids - 2 others my sons age and 2 younger closer to my daughters age. We just make it appropriate to their individual levels. The science co-op is high school kids only and is 5 families (6 kids) So, the small number really help out. The bigger ones tend to be chaos... LOL Sometimes I feel I give more than I get out from them. Just my thoughts....

    I also have gone back and forth through the years as to whats best. My son's doctor when he was younger thought homeschooling him was the worth thing possible. I look back and see that because he had appropriate behavior modeled through me he does better than a lot of kids. I don;t think he would have gotten that at school - and a co-op is only as good as the group makes it. So, I have found if you make the group its always pretty good :)

  8. Ladies, thank you so much for your wonderful and wise comments. I have printed them out and have been praying for a good plan. I will probably blog about this again.

    Again, thank you for your support and encouragement!