Our son Malachi will celebrate his 5th birthday in January 2023.
At that point, Malachi will officially reach the age when parents begin the process of registering their children for kindergarten programs in their local school districts. For many families, this will be their first interaction with the education system, at least with respect to that child.
It will definitely not be our first interaction with the public education system (and that is true for most families of kids with disabilities or developmental delays identified in early childhood). Malachi was inducted into the larger schematic of the U.S. public education system before we even had the chance to celebrate his 1st birthday!
He first qualified for services through our state's version of birth-to-three, and then, at age 3, he was enrolled in a public preschool program where he received special education services outlined in an "IEP" (Individualized Education Program). And again, that trajectory of ascent into education is common for kids with noticeable delays during infancy and toddler years. Federal law provides for these services.
(The wrench in Malachi's story to this point, at least, is the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on his education and the services he would have otherwise received through his local school district. Due to the pandemic, Malachi's received his last year of birth-to-three services, as well as his first 1.5 years of preschool, strictly via Zoom. Understandable and necessary, but for many reasons, also not ideal.)
More than anything, I believe this early introduction to public education gave our family the time and space we needed to educate ourselves about the school system, special education, and the programs and services available for students with disabilities, and to weigh the pros and cons of enrolling in that type of traditional, in-person schooling. We had time to really think about these things and to approach conversations with an informed perspective. Ultimately, for a number of reasons, our family has decided to primarily homeschool.
What does homeschooling look like right now?
Adaptable. Evolving. Active. Hands-on.
And highly attuned to Malachi's individual needs, interests and goals.
Homeschooling provides us the opportunity to develop Malachi's school schedule and learning plan based on what makes the most sense for him, first, and for our family, second.
Choosing to lean into homeschooling this year has also meant expanding Malachi's involvement in community programs, peer-to-peer interaction, and outside therapy services.
Here is our current homeschool plan for preschool, Fall 2022:
Preschool "Circle Time" / Academic Learning - 4x/weekly, either virtual or in-person: Twice weekly, my mom, a retired kindergarten teacher, plans a 30-45 minute virtual "Circle Time" that covers Calendar, Weather, Phonics (ABCs currently), and theme-based learning (usually a song, story time and an art project). The other two days, Malachi will either attend a virtual story time program through our public library, or a preschool program hosted by a local neurodevelopmental center. When those public programs are unavailable, I plan a "sensory day" that we pack with "messy" play and art projects.
Public School Services - Variable frequency, in-person/in-home: Malachi was approved for the "Home Hospital Program" through our school district. This program is for students who qualify for IEP/Special Education services, but for medical reasons related to their disability, are unable to attend school in person. Once approved, an academic instructor and special education service providers support the student in their home. Malachi's current services through public school include:
Speech Therapy: 40-50 minutes weekly on Wednesday afternoons
Physical Therapy: 60 minutes monthly on the 2nd Tuesday
Occupational Therapy: 60 minutes monthly on the 2nd Tuesday
Academic Instruction: Special education teacher who joins with his providers when her scheduling allows
Private Center-Based Therapy - Two sessions weekly: Malachi attends a private therapy center for physical therapy and speech therapy, totally two hours weekly. His speech therapy goals currently center around an AAC device (i.e. communication via electronic tablet).
Hippotherapy - Weekly: This is therapy on horseback! Malachi rides a horse named Peekaboo every Wednesday afternoon. We have already noticed significant growth in his core strength and stamina in gross motor (physical therapy) skills. (Learn more about hippotherapy here.)
Dynamic Movement Intervention (DMI Therapy) - 2nd & 4th Fridays: A form of therapy for gross motor development. (I call it "Malachi's Acrobat School" because it involves a lot of BIG movements and balancing.) (Learn more about DMI here.)
E-STIM - Daily, at-home: This is "electrical stimulation therapy" that involves using an electrical stimulation device to send current through electrodes placed on specific parts of the body to stimulate the muscles. This is still a fairly new therapeutic treatment when used for this purpose, but with some really promising outcomes. Gerti Motavalli, a physical therapist in Florida, is really the leading practitioner in this method and developed the first spinal electrical stimulation protocol for children with Spina Bifida in 2017. Find out more about her work at spinalstim.net.
Standing - Daily, at-home: Malachi has a special piece of equipment, literally called a "stander," that is for (you guessed it!) standing. His goal is to spend 60 minutes daily, upright in the stander. (Read more about the benefits of being upright here.)
Drum Circle - Tuesday afternoons, virtual: This drum circle is not just for sound and rhythm qualities, though that is an outcome. Malachi has always been drawn to music, and we want to cultivate that interest. However, this drum circle focuses primarily on social emotional skills through movement and sound, as well as story time and discussion about feelings and how feelings can be managed in a healthy way. It's a really great program.
Wilderness School - Twice Monthly, Saturdays: Through the autumn months, Malachi participated in an in-person wilderness school in a large, forested area of a local park. The program is designed for young students, ages 4-7, and gives kids the chance to spend 4 hours outdoors, wandering through the woods on alternating Saturdays. This was a new and extremely challenging activity for Malachi and, due to the natural inaccessibility of the forest, required a significant physical investment from us. But I'm happy we tried the program, and we may enroll again in the spring if we see that Malachi continues to make developmental gains in these intervening months.
Fieldtrips - Every Friday, sometimes more often: Malachi has spent such a significant part of his life thus far in some sort of isolation, either due to medical need, time spent in the hospital, or more recently, the ongoing pandemic. This means that he has missed out on many experiences and opportunities to participate in activities and programs in the community. Travel opportunities were limited. Etc. Etc. One of our primarily goals in homeschooling is to create as many opportunities as possible for Malachi to gain experiences. So, at least every week, we get out of the house to do something new and fun. We have an annual membership to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and Imagine Children's Museum in Everett, both locations about equidistance from our home in different directions. And really, because we are not as tied down to a traditional school schedule, we have the flexibility in our day to find any number of things to do.
Travel - As much as possible! This is obviously a big one for us and relates directly to our shared goal of providing Malachi with new opportunities to engage with the world. And homeschooling, again, grants us more flexibility to hit that road and learn as we go!