If someone were to ask me, “What is the most important thing you would share with a parent who is considering home educating their special needs child?”, my answer would be summed up in one Scripture verse:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1, KJV).
At the end of Colette’s kindergarten year we had a meeting with the Committee for Special Needs to plan her Individual Education Plan for the following year. It was then that I became acutely aware of the dangers of expecting a child to meet a specific timeline in their scholastic development. The committee members had all concluded that it would be wise to allow Colette to repeat kindergarten because she had not fully mastered the material. I was not surprised, and agreed. I asked how much she had mastered and they could not give me a concrete answer, but from what I could gather I thought it was only about twenty percent. After evaluating her program’s structure I realized that this was not the environment that would allow her to make any significant gains the following year. I asked what would happen if after a second year of kindergarten she still had not mastered the material. Would they allow her to repeat kindergarten yet another time? Of course, I knew the answer was no, because in New York a student may only stay in school until they are twenty-one, but no one would answer me. In those frustrating moments, I knew that my daughter would be moved along based on her age and not her ability, eventually becoming so far behind that catching up would be a virtual impossibility. If change was going to happen for Colette, I had to be her teacher.
Once I took her out of school and began working with her, I quickly realized that not only had she not mastered the twenty percent of kindergarten material that I had assumed, she had not even mastered fifty percent of typical preschool material. I will never forget that moment. I sat in my chair weeping while worry, fear, and dread overwhelmed me. Suddenly, all the curricula I had purchased became irrelevant. All the worksheets I printed, flash cards I created, and the books I had from the library were now like a thorn piercing my heart reminding me that I had a child who was academically nowhere near where she was supposed to be.
Eventually, I came out of crisis mode and realized that my new understanding raised an important question: Where is Colette supposed to be and what standard do I use to determine that? If I used the school standard all would appear hopeless. Thankfully the ever comforting Word of God came to me: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
I went back and did my own assessment to determine her degree of mastery of the most basic skills. Once I made my determination pondering those holy words again: “To everything there is a season,” I thought about the educational season that she was in. It was a season of building fundamental skills; skills which, if neglected or insufficiently solidified, would greatly hinder her long-term success. For Colette it meant that I had to go back and lay a foundation that had not yet been laid. “…and a time to every purpose under heaven.” I, however, had to accept that this was the timing God chose for Colette and my purpose for educating her was not just to get her to the next grade level, but to allow her to progress at her own pace. In fact, I had to completely let go of the entire concept of a grade level for her. She has academic, spiritual, social, and physical goals that transcend grade level. To hem her into a predetermined standard and assign her a grade based on age would be doing her a great disservice. The classical model lends perfectly to this. She will reach God’s purpose for her in His time and I have the assurance that His timing is perfect.