Monday, August 9, 2021

Book Review: Blazing New Homeschool Trails: Educating and Launching Teens with Developmental Disabilities by Natalie Veccione and Cindy LaJoy

 This review was originally written for Disabled-World and can be found by following THIS LINK.

Blazing New Homeschool Trails book cover, surrounded by a wrench, roller skates, and a bowl of veggies. You know, homeschool supplies. :D

Weekdays: Bed times were tough. Mornings were tougher.

Weekends and holidays: those were the too-short sparks of absolute joy and comfort.

When my four sons were school aged I ached with worry and indecision about school. Each one of my sons, at different times and in their own ways, struggled to stay their vibrant brilliant selves while being shuffled through a system that has grown cumbersome and dangerous.

Eventually, my sons found their own ways out. General education diplomas mostly. My youngest graduated with his class and even went to University for a bit.

But I will always wonder what might have happened for them had I been brave, creative, and willing to homeschool them myself. Oh, I thought about it at the time. I thought a lot about it. But I always chickened out, falling on the excuse, “If I try and fail, then I've failed. If the system fails, that's on the system.” Of course, it's not about me it's about my children and this excuse does not hold water.

What, I wonder, would I have done had I come across the book Blazing New Homeschool Trails: Educating and Launching Teens with Developmental Disabilities by Natalie Veccione and Cindy Lajoy? What, I wonder, new trails might my sons and I have blazed had I discovered resources such as Cindy's Facebook group or Natalie's podcast?

I don't know what I would have done. But I do know it would have been a gift.

Regardless of whether or not you are a homeschool parent, a potential homeschool parent, or simply a parent who wants encouragement to blaze new trails, this book can be a friend.

Encouragement is the prevalent mood that barrels through Blazing New Homeschool Trails. Whether reading a segment written by Natalie or Cindy (both homeschool moms), there is a strong feeling of being believed in; being cheered on. And it is effective.

The authors don't deny the challenges. They share personal struggles and obstacles with us readers, put a mirror up to our own worries as they reveal theirs, and remind us that this will be work. But parenting is always work. Parenting neurodiverse teens in a world built with them as an afterthought, and too often considered a burden, is extreme work. And while we avoid the work that might do the most good we're doing the harder work of undoing harm.

I saw it with my brothers. My mom pulled all four of them out of school (they had various developmental disabilities, including FASD – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and they learned more skills and academics in one year of homeschool on the road with mom than they had the previous eight or nine years in a variety of schools and classes. They learned more and everyone was happier. I wonder, what would it have looked like had mom started sooner? How much less building up of broken beliefs in themselves? It doesn't help to regret, but it can help to share with someone who is still at the beginning and can choose to start sooner.

While reading the stories Natalie and Cindy share in their book I kept being reminded of mom. The people and stories are different, of course, but there are so many parallels. Adopting children with uncertain diagnosis and experiences, seeking help from educators who are often ill-equipped even if well meaning, moving neighbourhoods in order to leave persecution or overwhelming judgment, seeing your children as capable and worth the time while being frustrated with people meant to help who are unable to do so, inviting laughter and honesty into the home at every turn, and taking an approach to teaching that sets everyone up for a healthy future, not only good grades and other short-term accolades. I am certain you will recognize parallels from your life, too.

Blazing New Homeschool Trails offers a strong foundation while being a short and simple read. This book can be read quickly but does not leave you with less because of it. The tools to blaze your own trails are there, infused with encouragement and specific tips. Stories of what the authors did in their homeschooling, how it effected the family, what changes were made, and how things evolved over time.

More than that, they take the time to join you in your homeschool room. They include specific practical tips (the value of visual supports, for example) and also remind you to take advantage of the freedom homeschooling allows. Sometimes it's a good idea to simply change the subject, for example, rather than try to force a lesson. Pushing too hard at the wrong time only builds more barriers and leads to frustration and low self-esteem, for teachers and students. This flexibility is not natural in a typical classroom.

Blazing New Homeschool Trails can be helpful regardless of the type of learners your kids are. But it is particularly valuable if you're teaching and learning with people who have developmental disabilities of any sort. Both Natalie and Cindy look at their children from a place of love and belief in them. They don't ever use language that forgets. These are friends and role models you want as you blaze your own trails. Because that's the thing. You will have to blaze your own trails, with others as support but not exactly as leaders. This is something that comes through well in the book. They can't tell you how to do it. They can show you how they did it, what the guiding principals are to build your one-of-a-kind curriculum on, and why for many families it is more than worth it.

My sister is a homeschool mom. Her daughters were only beginning to struggle in school when she had a moment echoed in Cindy's story. Both my sister and Cindy had a strong gut feeling they would lose the spirit of one of their children if they didn't get them out of the school settings they were in. And both of them had the courage to follow that feeling.

Did I have a similar feeling when my boys were little? I think so. But I didn't follow that feeling.

Blazing New Homeshool Trails is a great introduction to what it can be to follow that feeling. Not all learners need homeschooling, but if you have a gut feeling yours might blossom with a different kind of learning environment, one you can build with them in mind, I recommend taking the time to read this book. Not only because helping your children blossom is lovely but because not doing so can hurt and harm them.

If you are already a homeschooling parent – especially if your students learn differently! - this book is a good tool to have on hand.

For parents who choose not to homeschool, this book is still a good idea. It can help you build a healthy learning environment for your children during after-school hours, weekends, and holidays. It can encourage you when you're feeling at a loss and remind you to look for opportunities a little differently.

For parents who have children, especially teens, that are developmentally disabled, this book is more than a good idea. It might be a necessary one.

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Blazing New Homeschool Trails on Amazon:

by Natalie Veccione and Cindy LaJoy

pages: 97