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I did an immense study, year after year, comparing curriculum after curriculum, and matching each child to the best one for his or her abilities, and style of learning. This study began at the beginning, and continued for the whole fifteen years I taught regular subjects.

This is the story of our beginnings.

   I pulled my children out of school one by one, for the most part. I began with the one who needed the most, to be taught at home. Because my first student was one with moderate retardation, who was twelve, and could not print his first name, I began, by creating my own work sheets for him, and making endless copies at the local office store.

   My second student was six, and would not respond at school, even to speak. She has Down's Syndrome. She refused to eat there, play there, listen to the teachers, or have anything to do with the other children. The teachers did not believe me when I said she could speak, and asked me to make them a list of the words she could say. Her IEP was little more than the hope that she would learn to make a mark on a paper by the end of the year. I knew this school was not working for her, as she had been coloring pretty much in the lines at home for a long time. She talked well, and while she was a loner at heart, she did play with her siblings. Within one glorious month at home, she could print her first name. I bought my first school books, and started her in first grade. She did well. She could not do math, but she was beginning to READ, and spell, and she could print!

   By eight years old, she was immersing herself in reading. You could always find her in some corner, when she was supposed to be doing her job, deep in a book. She could read it out loud to me also, and then tell me in her own words, what it was about, by the time she was ten.

   Well, this was terrifically exciting. My older daughters with Down's Syndrome, having come all the way through public school, could not read.

   By now, when the other children came home from school, the first thing they wanted, was to see what new thing was up on our bulletin board. Someone's coloring, someone's newly printed name, a color chart, a letter chart...

   When my first two students were doing so well, I brought home two more, who were also being wasted in their special ed class, and wanted to join our homeschool. They had a very good teacher, who was stuck with an impossible classroom. She was very frustrated not to have time for the ones who were in wheelchairs, since several severely emotionally disturbed children were in her class, loud and wild; and took a great amount of her time. These two of my daughters, though in wheelchairs, both had normal intelligence. Yet, at eight and nine, neither could read past a K-1st grade level. Neither could do any math at all. This teacher was very happy, and told me so, when I told her they were going to have a better chance at learning, with more one-to-one.

   I bought the A Beka curriculum for these two. By this time I had studied a few different ones, and thought A Beka was beautiful. I started my daughters in the second grade, determined that I would help them catch up. They did. They both did extremely well, in fact. I sat with them for periods during the day, and with the other two for periods during the day. While I was working one-on-one, the others would be having recess, or watching science videos, or coloring, or doing any number of things. This was working out better than I could ever have dreamed. My children were learning, and they were happy! We went on field trips, and we were having a wonderful time.

   The next two children came home. These children used a different curriculum, as well as a sprinkling of A Beka, to match the kind they had been using in school. I had six students, and we moved from the small schoolroom, to our large, 28 foot rec room, and that was our schoolroom for all the rest of the years.

   I had been teaching now for one triumphant year, and these six children were learning with me, in our schoolroom, faster than I ever could have thought possible. The oldest, though with much less ability, was at last happy. He did his best in every way. He behaved himself, and he loved listening to me read. He loved sitting on the piano bench with me, while I played, and we sang together.

   That summer, I bought boxes and boxes of books, studied curriculum after curriculum, and custom designed each child's fall program. I even wrote IEPs for the special ed students, because I was trying to hard to do everything the best that I could. By now, everyone wanted to join our home school. None of them enjoyed two hours a day on the bus, and recesses were difficult, with much teasing, and some students pushing wheelchairs over, at times injuring children. Two of mine, to be specific. One had to have stitches over his eye. The school didn't even call me. They sent him home with dried blood all over his eyebrow, and around his eye. It had obviously been hours since it happened. The ER said it would have been easier to sew him up if he had been brought in right away. I was so angry, but said nothing. I did not want to make any enemies at school. But I began to make plans to bring this son home too. He wasn't learning anything at school, and was being bullied by the other children.

   Well, the next fall, I brought home all my children. We started off with a bang! We went on a great field trip the first day of school, down to the waterfront, the aquarium, and the IMAX Theater. We rejoiced that we were able to do this, while all other children in the city were sitting at desks! We gathered fall leaves on the way home. The next two or three days, we eased into school, with art projects and lots of stories. Our biggest bulletin board, in the living room, was covered with brilliantly colored leaves, and art projects.

   I was thrilled. It was like - oh, I can't even imagine anything to compare it to! To see my children's time being used constructively - to see them learning faster, better, with eagerness - to see them learning to play together like they had never had time to before except in summers! I could never express my joy.

   And I continued to study.

   I tried many kinds of ways to make my own teacher-job easier - not the teaching, but the record keeping! I got too tired grading papers every night after they had gone to bed.

   At first, keeping track of each child's progress, I carried a three ring binder around with me, called "The Rhythm Of Our Days" and made notes while I taught. But I needed a better way.

   Eventually, I hit upon a way that worked out all the rest of the years. I invented a chart which covered every subject. Each page represented a day, and left a box for time spent. I went to Kinko's, and had a year's worth bound together, and each child had their own. Each a different color.

   While teaching a child or two or three, I had their books open, and marked the pages done, and the time spent. There were places to make comments, and I did. It was at this time, that I began to school year-round. We never stopped doing what we were doing. Learning never ended. And it was very easy to get all the legally required time in, when we had a whole year to do it in.

   At the end of each year, I made a detailed report card for each child, and labored to grade them fairly.

   It was so wonderful, to spend my early mornings, instead of bundling everyone off on the bus, which took hours; making breakfast, and sitting down to read to my children while they ate. It was wonderful to be able to be off on field trips during the hours when more buses used to arrive back home. Those buses used to come at 5:30 A.M. for high school, 8:00 A.M. for grade school, come back home at noon, bringing the Kindergarten children home, unless it was a year when legislature dictated that they stay all day; 2:30 P.M. bringing high schoolers home, 4:00 bringing grade schoolers home, and 5:00 bringing home the children who stayed for after-school sports. It had been very difficult to even squeeze in grocery shopping, during those years. Now we were free! Free to go to the zoo. Free even to go camping while other children were in school, if we so desired!

   My youngest children were the most fortunate. They were homeschooled from birth. I spent so much time at my desk, putting children's good work in their files, and also during the evenings and on weekends, that my four year old twin daughters learned to read the names of each of their siblings. They did this, by watching me pulling out folders, and put them back in. I guess I must have said the name while I pulled them out! Now remember, this list of names was very long! I decided they should be in K-4, so I started a class for them. Little Michael, who was three, joined in. He wanted to be in on it, and we got him a chair, and the same books, though he was too young. We just let him enjoy himself, and feel like part of the class.

   We combined Kindergarten, and K-4 the next year, which was a very easy combination, for the three youngest children.

   Organization was the key. Our household was running along, at the same time as homeschool. By the time I was teaching the little ones too, I had to hire a lady to do all the cooking and housecleaning during these very busy years, with so many little ones. I also had a wonderful friend who took care of my helpless children, while I taught.

   Besides A Beka, I studied Alpha Omega, Rod and Staff, Accelerated Christian Education, Sonlight, Bob Jones, Weaver, and more. I used lots of some, and some of all. I'll add them in when I remember, or go look in the files.

   Only my nearly grown children watched TV, and out of sight of the younger ones. We had many hundreds of videos - science, social studies, and stories. These were designed for ages from preschool through high school.

   Also, we made steady trips to Barnes and Noble Bookstore, and brought home, as well as ordered through the mail, a steady stream of new books, which I read to them, and they read to each other, and to themselves. Ah, reading! What a joy!

2004 Rosemary J. Gwaltney