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Unschooling/Special needs/Church (but not religious) Issue

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

After being out of church for some time due to dh and me being on quite a spiritual journey, I felt a need for us to get back into church due to dd1 really missing it and us not having good relationships with extended family and me feeling like we were a little too isolated. We are also very income-challenged and not able to enroll the girls in many activities, So I felt like we needed a community of our own, and I really believe I found that community a little over a year ago, in our local Unitarian Universalist church.


Both our girls just absolutely love the children's program and never want to miss a Sunday. Dd1 is eleven and it's exciting to her to have so much time to play and interact with her peers, because in other churches we've visited, kids in her age group were expected to fit into a very structured format. Dd 2 is six (she turns 7 this Saturday) and really loves it, too. She and her best friend there take their My Little Ponies with them and get lots of time to immerse themselves in their imaginary worlds.


Dd2 has some special needs. She was actually in speech therapy for six months when she was four, which helped her tremendously and also helped us to become more aware of when she was mispronouncing words and gave us ideas on how to help her pronounce things correctly. The speech therapy was provided at our local children's hospital through Medicaid, but they let us know that after she turned five, if we wanted her to continue it, we needed to do it through the public schools. We would have needed to enroll her even though she wouldn't have had to attend school, but we would just need to take her to the school every week for her hour or so of speech therapy.


We decided to just keep helping her at home. I had been impressed back when she started her speech therapy, because there'd been a gap of a couple of months between her evaluation and the start of her therapy, and the speech therapist had been really impressed by the fact that dd had already made some progress, just on her own without any therapy. So, in addition to my desire to avoid enrolling her in ps, I also felt that she would continue to improve on her own so long as we remained attentive and helped her as needed.


We all understand her really well at home, so sometimes we don't realize that it's still hard for other people, mainly because she talks so fast. I also talk very fast, and when I was nine or ten, I needed some therapy to help me with properly enunciating my words as they were getting slurred together. So I realize that this is an important matter and I want to do whatever is best for my children.


In addition to the speech issues, dd2 was also evaluated as being sensory seeking through the Occupational Therapy department of our local children's hospital. I took her to occupational therapy for a while, but decided to discontinue it because the therapist was becoming increasingly focused on school readiness, to the point of battling with dd2 because she wouldn't sit at the table for very long.


Of course, in this case, we also learned a lot about our dd's sensory needs and are committed to helping her get the sensory stimulation she needs. The main thing that is noticeable to others is that she sometimes does this shaking thing with her arms, which, as the therapist explained, was her way of feeling where her body was in space.


Anyhow, when we started going to our new church, I told dd2's teachers about the shaking and the sensory seeking issue just so they wouldn't freak out when they saw her doing this. As I've already mentioned, she just loves her class and seems to get along really well with all the other children. One other teacher mentioned that she does just fine playing with the other children but it can be difficult to get her to stop playing when they want to have a story or some structured activity. But the problem has never been bad enough for anyone to come and get me.


At any rate, last fall, she was due to transition out of the preschool and kindergarten class and into the first, second, and third grade class, but after her first Sunday in this class, the children's director asked me if I would be willing for her to stay another year in the pre-k/k class because she just didn't seem to be ready for the more structured activities in the other class and she had been very disruptive in that first class. I said that would be fine.


Well, the children's director has just scheduled a meeting for this Wednesday with dh and me, to talk with us about dd2's special needs. She said that she doesn't think they can keep dd2 with the younger group for another year after this, and, apparently, she still doesn't think she'll be ready to move up.


One of my friends in this church has a son who no longer likes going to church; he prefers hanging out with his dad at the video arcade while she goes to church with their other sons. It seems that there are some similarities between him and dd2, in that they wanted to hold him back for a year, too, but she wouldn't hear of it because she felt that the teachers needed to adapt to all different kinds of kids. This friend leans toward unschooling though she said she doesn't unschool 100%, and she said that the leadership in the children's program have a very schooly mentality -- our children's minister and Sunday School director are both retired school teachers -- and they are having a hard time adapting to the fact that there are now all kinds of different families attending our church. Quite a few families from our local unschooling group attend this church.


The big difference between dd2 and my friend's son is that dd2 would be absolutely heartbroken if we didn't go to church every Sunday. Both our girls are very attached there, so it's not at all an option for dh and me to follow our natural inclination of wanting to withdraw and isolate ourselves right now. At the meeting, I plan to let our director know that I will start going to class with dd2; in this way, I can help her adapt to the activities or take her out if she's really not enjoying herself.


I don't know what else to do. Things were so easy back when our girls were younger and happier with just us, but now they both crave connection with the larger community...but dh's and my trust has been so broken by some experiences we've had with "concerned" family members and others who think we are very strange and that we are not doing a good job raising our children. So we'd kind of like to hole up and avoid the outside world -- but our girls really need the outside world. What to do?

post #2 of 11

Hmm, are you able to observe your dd in her current class? Will her friend be moving up to the next class in the fall? Is there any chance you could be with her in the classroom for the next few months to act as her aide in a sense, guiding her to work on the particular skills she'll need to have in hand to cope in the next class?


With socialization as with all things sometimes skills improve just with time, but sometimes kids need specific guidance as well as maturity/readiness. I wonder if you could work with her to identify one or two specific behaviours to work on in the classroom setting and provide her with tools, strategies, guidance and feedback. I would think it would be possible to do so without portraying her as having or being "a problem."


I think it's wonderful that you are looking at this from all perspectives, and that you and the director have identified the issues of fit so far ahead of next fall's transition time. That gives you plenty of time to work with her with on specific skills and behaviours.



post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 

Oh, yes, parents are always welcome to visit in the children's rooms. I stayed with dd2 the first time she went to class to make sure she was comfortable, and I do periodically look into the room to see how she's doing. I've always seen her getting along with the other children, either playing with toys or sitting at the table doing a project.


Storytime seems to just be a short segment of the class time in this class; I think I've seen her in storytime one or twice and she seemed interested. I do know that she often likes to move around and play while I'm reading stories to her at home, and I've never made her sit still for stories, so this could be an issue with a group.


Dd's best friend is actually amost two years older than her, and is in third grade this year. She and dd became good friends over the summer when they had the groups combined, and this little girl seemed heartbroken when they had to be separated. I asked the teachers if they could be together during the activity hour, and the teachers were agreeable, so they get to play together for that whole first hour.


I agree that I should just go with her and try to help her adapt, or, if it's too structured for her, I can just have her go for the activity hour and do other things with her for the second hour.

post #4 of 11

I am really disappointed with how the church is handling this. A church, of all places should figure out how to work with children of all abilities. My son has special needs (asperger's, SPD, ADHD, muscle tone and coordination issues, a reciprocal language delay) and is homeschooled as well. Our church has been nothing but accommodating. When he moved from the toddler room to the pk/k room where there was more structure (on time, with his age group) the kids' pastor shadowed him if need be to help him get through. They came up with ways to accommodate his needs and let him do something else if the activities challenged him too much. Now, 7 months later, he is keeping up with the other kids for the most part. If I were in your position, I would first try to shadow her in class yourself, then look for a new church if it can't be made to work. I am so sorry that they are not being more accepting of your little girl. 

post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 

One of my friends there has two children with special needs and she sees it as such an accepting church for her and her family. I actually get the impression that they may be more accepting of this mom because her kids are in the public school system and she has both of her s.n. kids in therapy.


I get the impression that it's not that they don't want to deal with my child -- but, rather, that they may not agree with my way of dealing with her.


I am definitely open to the possibility that my feelings about their feelings about me may be largely in my head. I'm just trying to work through it all now so that I can interact in the best possible way in the meeting. I know it's not the answer to jerk my kids out of this church and just keep pulling them from place to place. We have no real extended family. We need a community.


So I am doing my best to work within the situation while still helping my children in the way that I feel is best.

post #6 of 11

I'd go to the meeting with the attitude that everyone wants what is best for your child, even if different people have different definitions of what's best. Having a positive attitude makes it so much easier to be successful.


I'd tell them you intend to be in class with your daughter to facilitate her participating. Then ask them what they intend to do to accommodate her. Maybe take them some literature on homeschooling and your philosophies. I can recommend two great books, but it seems unlikely they'd read them, so give them something short, concise, and main stream.


Here are the books I'd recommend:




This is a gentle book. It acknowledges there are many fine way to educate children. Some parents feel their children will do best in a typical school environment. Other parents feel their children will do best by homeschooling. Both ways are equally okay. At no time does it insult anyone's choices. After reassuring the reader that this book is not anti-school, it then goes on to address some of the major (incorrect) assumptions people have about homeschooling. Of course the first is socialization.

After the writers bring up a common concern, they gently inform the reader about the realities of modern-day homeschooling. As I read the book, I was reconvinced of our decision to homeschool. For me, the book made homeschooling so appealing.

If someone is uncertain whether they want to homeschool or if they have friends and family that are concerned about homeschooling because they have many common misconceptions about exactly what homeschooling is, this book may answer many questions about the subject. Because it does not alienate, it may do better than other books that are negative against school.




This is probably the best parenting book I have ever read. How you can offer your kids the skills they need to follow their passions and succeed (as they define it) in the world. Although it is geared to homeschoolers, most of this can be applied to children who attend school. She discusses Montessori, Charlotte Mason, A Thomas Jefferson Education (a form of classical education,) and unschooling. She has researched how many highly successful people were educated as they grew up. Although all were homeschooled for some period of time, many also went to school for awhile as well. She discusses people like Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt, Pierre Curie, Agatha Christie, Margaret Leakey, and many, many others. The bottom line is to help your child find their passions and teach them the creativity and skills to attain their goals.






post #7 of 11

My DS (just turned 9) is homeschooled and hasn't been formally diagnosed but he does have sensory issues; at Sunday School this did come up a few times and the teacher always was willing to problem-solve with us, for example when the class suddenly started to sing and my son sort of freaked out and wanted to run out of the room. And he's one of those who is always in motion and does have certain "tics" occasionally, but he's bright, verbal, creative, funny and personable....people do like him although I am sure they think he's a little weird too!


In any case, the reason I'm writing is to say that (a) things did help when we started to realize this was a sensory challenge that he had, and not a behavior issue (and you already do that with your DD2) and (b) it has gotten better with age. In other words he still seeks certain sensory experiences and he is still hates to sit still and prefers to move about while the other students sit, but he has gotten better at tolerating situations that would have sent him around the bend when he was younger. I can take him more & more places.


I was wondering....is there any way you could still go to the church but just not have her in the class? Here is what I mean. At our UU church, after service (and Sunday School), all the kids run upstairs to this big open room and play while the adults have coffee hour. What if your DD could take part in something like this (even if a Sunday School solution can't be worked out). That way she could still see her good friend on Sunday at church, just in a different way. And there might be other activities too, like picnics and hikes and other events that might be better suited for her than Sunday school. Just because she wouldn't be in Sunday School would not mean that she had to forgo the community. Just a thought.


I am sorry you are going through this; it's a shame when teachers can't seem to be flexible and understanding of childrens' many different styles and ways of being.



post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the book ideas SundayCrepes!


NellieKatz, for right now, my idea is to just go with her to class and help her transition if she wants to stay in it, but to take her out and help her find other ways to enjoy herself if she doesn't. They have a nice playground and the weather is getting warmer, so taking her to the playground might be an option sometimes. I can also take her up with me to the cafe, which is sort of like a coffee hour room and hangout for many adults and teens (often including myself) who feel more inclined to socialize than attend the service. She always has her horsies with her so she could play with them in the cafe if she wanted to.


I guess I'll know more after our meeting tomorrow afternoon. I'll be sure to come back online as soon as I get a chance to update everyone.


Thanks so much to everyone for your support!

post #9 of 11

I think the other question it might be illuminating to ask during the meeting is what specific activities they believe your daughter will be unable to participate in, so that you can decide if it's something you want to work on at home, or if you can come up with another solution.  If it's something like "won't sit for storytime" could she step out of the classroom and hang out with you for that portion of the class?      I have been in classrooms where there's one kid who doesn't want to sit for storytime, and other kids wander off to see what that kid is doing, and it can be very frustrating for the teacher, and the kids who want to hear the story, because it gets loud and distracting.  


I hope you're able to find a solution that works for everyone!

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone! I feel like the meeting went well.


The minister said that dd was actually doing fine in the preschool and kindergarten classroom and it wouldn't really be necessary for me to go with her to those classes (though, of course, she wasn't telling me I couldn't; the church has a policy that parents are always welcome in their children's classes and we wouldn't go to a church that said we couldn't go into one of our children's classes whenever we wanted to).


She said her concern was that dd's attention span for stories and structured group activities was even less than that of the preschoolers and kindergartners that she is in class with, which was not a big problem since things are still so unstructured for this age group, but she thought dd might have a really hard time come this fall, when she goes to the new class. She seemed really glad that I'd offered to go with dd, and said she thought that dd would really need me to help her when she starts the new class.

She did tell us that dd tended to be really disruptive whenever they had a special event, such as Sunday before last when a man came to talk about Mardi Gras and they brought all the children's classes together in the Children's Chapel to hear him. She said she sat with dd herself, and she said she always has herself or another teacher sit right next to dd whenever they are doing a big group activity like this, and dd had a great time in the beginning, when he was playing his drums and singing and encouraging the children to get up and dance.


Dd was really in her element, but then, when he had everyone sit back down and started telling them a story, dd suddenly jumped up and started playing the drums (she and the minister were sitting up close to where the man was talking. She had dd sit back down, but then dd jumped up two more times and tried to do it again. The last time it happened, she told dd that if she did it again, she would have to take her out, and then dd stayed put for the rest of the story.


She said that afterwards, a couple of the older kids came up and asked her what dd's problem was, and she told them that dd had some special needs and she was very spontaneous, but whereas they were spontaneous and knew when to stop, dd didn't know when to stop.


I told her that we'd just learned about this incident a couple of days ago from dd1, and that it sounded like it would be a good idea for her to let me know whenever there is any kind of a big group event like this planned, so that either dh or I could go with dd and take responsibility for her. She agreed that this would be a big help.

That was about it. She did do what I guess I'd call some "gentle probing" about whether we were satisfied with where dd was at right now, and whether we thought it might be a good idea to get her evaluated again since it's been a few years, to see where she's at now and what might help her. She shared about her experience working with special needs children in the public schools, and said that she'd really helped a lot of children to learn to read and enjoy school.


I just said that I wasn't really concerned about where dd was in relation to her age group, I was more interested in helping dd get to where she wanted to go, and the minister seemed satisfied with this or at least she didn't push the matter.


Oh, and she did say that all of the other preschoolers and kindergartners know how to write their names on their art projects, and dd still can't, and she thought this might cause dd to feel uncomfortable at some point, such as when she moves up to the older class and all the other children are reading and writing.

Since dd is now actually showing a lot of interest in letters, asking what words different letters make together, and recognizing some words -- she also really enjoys playing "school" with her big sister, writing letters, and doing simple addition problems -- I said that I think she'll really enjoy learning to write her name. I honestly think that learning this skill is right in line with dd's interests right now -- otherwise I wouldn't be willing to work with her on it just to please other people. And when we got home, she had a ball working on it with her sister.


Thanks again, everyone, for your encouraging words. I feel good about the situation, even though I realize that we're having to deal with some people who have a very different view regarding what's best for children. If my dds were like my friend's one son, who'd rather play video games than go out and be around people, then maybe we'd be able to just get together periodically with other unschoolers and not have to worry about interacting with the outside world.


But they both crave more interaction that what we get at our local co-op, which has many other unschooling families, and the interactions that they get organically in the neighborhood. So we have to adapt and deal with some people who probably think we're kind of "weird." It's a little scary to me since I've learned from past experience that having people think we're "weird" can result in a social worker visit.


I think I have something like post traumatic stress syndrome any time I sense that someone seems really "concerned" about my family. But I keep telling myself that most people can disagree without having to sic the state on people in an attempt to force them to conform. And, as time goes on, I think my trust in our new community will grow. And they'll get to know us better, too. It just takes time and some courage to keep making the effort right now.

post #11 of 11

Glad to hear the meeting went well! I think I'd have post traumatic stress syndrome, too, in your situation... But I'm sure the minister feels like you've heard her concerns and that will be that. And you're obviously an active and involved parent, suggesting yourself that you join dd for group events. I think as long as others (who ask) know you think about these issues and are addressing some aspects of them in some way, they won't think twice about your not doing exactly what they would do. Normal people only get worried if they think their concerns are being dismissed and the child is clearly not thriving. Even then, most people don't go past just lamenting to each other about what they would do.

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