The sun is low in Calgary and winter has set in. Despite frigid temperatures and snow-piled streets, the school buses are running. My eight-year-old daughter is rushing around trying to find the “right” pair of pants to wear. She needs to get dressed quickly and to be out at the bus stop before 8:35 a.m.
Rubbing her eyes, Mara takes a deep breath to calm herself down. She didn’t get enough sleep last night – again. Mara has always had trouble sleeping. These days, she can’t sleep without the television on and sometimes it takes too long to drift off. She feels lonely without the comfort and stimulation of the television to help her through the night, when it’s dark and the air is deathly quiet.
Never happy with her clothes, Mara is continually distressed with the feeling of all but her most comfortable favourites. She wants to wear the same pair of shorts all winter; too short for the season, but just the right fit and feel for her. Although we are hesitant to define her as abnormal and have not yet confirmed the label for Mara’s concerns, sensory issues and emotional sensitivity have made it difficult for us to get Mara to school on time, willingly. After discussing and exhausting all of the options with two different elementary schools, we have – reluctantly and at the same time enthusiastically – decided to exercise the homeschooling option.
“Mara is her own person, with her own mind,” we say, reinforcing ourselves. The truth is, the options are not available to us within the traditional educational system to meet Mara’s individual needs and wants. I would love to be working on my work instead of teaching her, but at the same time I want to do the best for my daughter and make her life as happy as possible. We are motivated to resolve the troubling distress Mara experienced at school, and in order to accomplish both work and learning, I have undertaken to provide education to my Grade 3 student, while focusing on my writing in the evenings and on weekends. It isn’t perfect, but we get to spend time with each other, no longer distanced by the two kilometres to the neighbourhood school.
Mara’s brother George, on the other hand, is asking to start school now. George is a different child than Mara. He is happy with structure and less bothered by his sensations. The next few years are going to be an experiment with George. He will see his sister learning at home, but he may crave the company of others and enjoy the routine of the day-to day in a typical elementary school. Not wanting to apply a template to George, we as parents need to give him his own chance with elementary school. Ultimately, we will support what he chooses for himself and what is best for him.
Given our experience, if someone were to ask what we would want as a family from the educational system for our children, I would say flexibility and funding. We need the flexibility to participate when we can without being hampered by the threat of legal measures to enforce attendance. On the other hand, funding for tutoring would help us at the homeschool to bridge the financial hardship that comes with meeting educational expectations when we can’t meet regular attendance requirements, despite our best efforts.
Like all parents, we want the best for our children. Our approach with Mara is based on this, so “homeschool it is” for us, and that’s the way it’s going to be.
We will wait for an education system that can better adapt to the individual needs of students and that offers students more choices and opportunities for independence – and maybe by high school we can find a happy medium for Mara in the school system.
Perhaps someday the school system will become more accepting and supportive of parents who need the flexibility to fulfill their parental roles, while attempting to meet their family’s needs as a whole. We can work together when parents, students and teachers are all included in developing and encouraging student achievement and growth, and families are recognized as central to academic success.
Photo: Scott Dunlop (istock)
First published in Education Canada, May 2015