Our unique family has an unusual history. We started out in the usual way: my husband Matt and I got married. Maybe that’s where the “usual” ended, because nine months later, we had our first baby, a beautiful little girl. Sixteen months after her, another daughter was born. At one point I had four children six and under.
When our eldest was four years old, we put her in our church’s preschool at their elementary school. We loved the teacher! She was awesome with the kids, attentive, and friendly to me. She was understanding and supportive when our daughter just could not let me go in the mornings. She struggled with anxiety, despite enjoying school and even having a best friend. It became quite clear by the end of the year that she was far ahead of her peers and would end up bored and unchallenged in kindergarten.
We chose to homeschool her for her kindergarten year. The plan was to homeschool her through maybe 1st grade or so, until she was at about the same level as her peers at school. Meanwhile, our second oldest began preschool.
Same teacher, same events and curriculum – and she learned nothing. The teacher often wondered why she just stood off to the side and watched others play rather than playing alongside or with them. Our daughter had always been like that. We figured that was her personality. She was a watcher before a doer. We brought her home for good at the end of the year.
As Number Two struggled in preschool, our oldest rammed her way through Kindergarten in four months, as suspected. It then became abundantly clear that she was smart yet struggling to find her place academically through first grade. So we kept them both home permanently, and the rest followed suit – never stepping foot in a brick-and-mortar school.
Fast forward several years. We moved out-of-state, had a fifth child, and then God led us to adopt internationally. Shocker! We brought home two unrelated children in 2015 and began homeschooling them. They struggled so much with various things, and still do. It was through their struggles and diagnoses that I finally noticed our biological children also have special needs. Our oldest is a gifted stealth dyslexic (finally, the academic struggles make sense!). Our second is gifted on the autism spectrum (what was formerly known as Asperger’s), along with ADHD and SPD. Our third is empathically gifted, perhaps with some stealth dyslexia going on. Our fourth is gifted with ADHD caused by food sensitivities. Our fifth is gifted and just like Number Four (but too young to diagnose yet). Our five adopted children struggle with FASD, PTSD, anxiety, reading and math, and social/emotional immaturity.
Our last three, whom we brought home in 2018, are in public school for the time being. Their emotionally-charged and immature behaviors caused us all massive frustration and affected our bonding with the kids. We struggle often with public education. Schools tend to be reactive rather than proactive, even when Mom is telling them what needs to be done for her kids to thrive. We made a difficult decision putting them in public school, one over which I cried ugly tears on more occasions than I can count. Anyone who knows me would tell you how much I dislike the methodology of the public school system and the unchristian things taught there. However, the respite it provides was sorely needed for all of our sanity, and in that regard, it was definitely the best thing we could have done for this academic year.
So today I am homeschooling seven of our children, even on the days that they have work refusal (let me tell you, that’s a thing!), and three of them attend public school. My hope is to bring two of them home again at some point, but the third has many, many issues that may keep her there longer, or indefinitely. I’ve learned to accept that fact. I’ve also come to the defense of other parents of struggling kids who have had to make that difficult decision. Often, there really are no other options for special needs kids.
Don’t get me wrong – homeschooling your special needs kids is a great choice, and often what is best for everyone. And I love teaching all of my kids! The three do school with us at home on their days off from public. I love watching God’s plans for each of our children unfold before my very eyes, even when His plan ends up being vastly different than mine.
Sara Baerbock married her college sweetheart Matt 17 years ago. Together they have 10 children, and have been homeschooling for the past 11 years. When she’s not planning school or advocating for orphans, she enjoys writing, reading, researching, and going for long nature walks.