The Christian’s Call to Be There . . . Through It All

By Natilie D. Wooldridge

Why We Homeschool

When Shawn and I were married in 1997, we knew we wanted to raise a family. I wanted a half a dozen or so, and Shawn was just thinking that an even number would be nice. We didn’t just want to have kids, but we wanted to raise them in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. The first few years of our lives together we worked with the teens in our church. God used this opportunity to shape our hearts for child rearing. About 75% of our church kids were government school kids and the rest were homeschooled. We noticed a difference in their lives. The public school kids were very concerned with the opinion of others, but in the home-educated group we saw a concern for others. We saw nonstop learning potential. We saw a desire that was unlike anything we had been exposed to in our childhoods.

In 2001, God blessed us with our first daughter, Macie. We knew that it was God’s desire for our family to raise our child, not to expect a babysitter or anyone else to do this job. That would be like giving our blessing away. To make a long story short, when I had our first daughter, I turned in my suit and heels for an apron and cute house shoes. I loved being at home with the baby as well as being there when Shawn came home from work. It was an easy decision to follow the Lord’s call to the home, but it was not easy dealing with all the criticism from former peers and from family. I knew that God had called me to this work and that blessings were in store for us.

When Macie was nine months old we moved away from everyone and everything we knew. It was another whole new adventure for us. About a year after that we found that we would be blessed again, with a girl. What we didn’t know (and chose not to know) was that she would come with a special situation. Emma was born in April of 2003 with spina bifida. This is a condition that occurs within the first twenty-eight days after conception, creating a neurotube defect. Her defect appeared as a myelomeningocele, a hole in the top part of her lower spine.

This presented a whole new way of living to our family. She was born paralyzed from the waist down and had a myriad of other health problems. After prayer and reflection, we decided that God still wanted us to keep our family together and not have one at home and one in a specialized daycare. God blessed us with Emma’s many improvements and Macie’s protective spirit for the family. Soon we were blessed with another girl, Brooke, in 2005, and a fourth girl, Lexi, in 2007. By the time we had Brooke, Macie had mastered kindergarten, homeschool style. By the time we had Lexi, Emma was beginning her school journey.

As I am writing this, I now have Macie doing grade 3 work, Emma doing transitional grade school work, and Brooke excitedly doing preschool work. Macie is hyperactive but loves to read, draw, and make things. Emma likes to play games, entertain, and build things. Brooke loves puzzles, Boz the Bear, and learning what to do with numbers and letters. Lexi loves playing with baby dolls and singing all types of songs.

You might be wondering, “Can I homeschool with several young children?” and “Can I homeschool a child with special needs?” My answer, with confirmation found in His Word, is “Yes, you can!” Your schedule may not look like what everyone else is doing, but one of the beauties of home education is that it doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s. Trust me, the Wooldridge family doesn’t do things like anyone we know, but we are not doing it for others. We are doing this for the honor and the glory of the Lord.

A Little Bit About Emma

Let me take a moment to tell you a little more about Emma. God has remarkably equipped her.

Emma is very independent and confident. God blessed her with a strong sense of adaptability. By that I mean she may not do what others around her are doing exactly, but she is not going to let that stop her. Emma likes to stand at the computer to do her reading skills and listening skills. Emma likes to play soccer. Emma loves to talk to others. She wants everyone to be happy. She tools around with her walker and likes to carry her own things, figure out what letters spell, and stir her own cookie dough.

She has undergone a bevy of surgeries and procedures. Some of them have been major. She has been to many clinic visits and physical therapy sessions. We have kept on homeschooling through everything. It has been a great fit for our family. We can take our school on the road, to the waiting room, or to the hospital. Emma really likes to do things on the computer, but she loves to draw and practice her writing everywhere we go.

I was a bit worried about what her learning potential would be, mostly because we read so much about children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus having learning disabilities. She doesn’t seem to be affected with anything major and that’s a blessing from God too. Sometimes when we are recognizing letters or words, she turns them around, and we are keeping an eye on that. She has good math skills, with the exception of recognizing length of time, but when you’ve spent a lot of time at hospitals and doctors’ offices, that could happen to anyone.

We are frequently asked by those in the government community (caseworkers and the special education sector, in particular) if we need a break or wouldn’t it be easier if we would send our kids to school. Our answer is an empathic no. We are able to work Emma’s educational needs around her medical needs. Emma is very receptive to our educational style, and they have told us it seems to work “in our case.” The fact is that all Christian parents are equipped to homeschool their child with special needs because they have been given this child to nurture. Education is just another facet of life. There are lots of great resources to help you do it and lots of great families with similar situations to encourage you.

How We Homeschool

I have never really put a label on what type of schooling we do, but I can tell you what we don’t do and let you be the judge. We don’t use one solid company or method to educate the girls. We may switch the books or sometimes even the subject. We rarely sit for long periods of time at a desk or table. We don’t follow an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily regimen for school. That kind of schedule wouldn’t work with Emma’s medical needs. We don’t limit our kids by focusing on grade/age levels. We work on improvement and mastery of skills. We do lots of hands-on activities. We also take a lot of field trips, and we take our kids to hear senior adults talk about their past and share skills with them. I think interaction is key to excite the learning process.

We do have a schedule. In fact, we have a modified schedule for each season. We do this because we have school year-round. This works great with the young ones and all the traveling we have to do with Emma; they seem to have better retention of what we learn with the year-round plan. We have a winter schedule that is geared around traveling and unexpected visits. We have a spring schedule that gets us outside as much as possible and gets our hands in the dirt. The summer schedule gets us outside in the morning and inside when it’s hot. The fall schedule is my favorite, because that is usually when we camp. We also have to allow time in our schedule for things like Spina Bifida Clinic four to six times a year, church camp, and surgeries. Whatever comes our way, we have taken hold of a lifestyle of learning. By that I mean we take every possible learning experience by the hand as opportunity affords us to do so.

We believe that doing things together embraces the learning-every-moment lifestyle. We play the cleanup game, and then three times a week we go for a walk for forty-five minutes when Daddy arrives home from work. Sometimes Emma and Macie ride their bikes, and sometimes Emma goes in the stroller and Macie walks. (Emma was given an arm-tryke a few years ago.) We have time for Macie to bounce on the trampoline to help with her hyperactivity. We have time to do therapy with Emma too. Our family is busy in the evenings doing church activities, karate, soccer, or family dates.

Once a month Shawn and I go on a date. We try to find a babysitter and go out of the house, but sometimes we have our date at home while the kids are safely in another room watching a show or listening to one or playing dolls or puppets. On Saturdays we take a short day trip or go to the park. In the fall, we go camping and study the natural beauty that God has afforded us in Arkansas. In the winter, we go caroling and make special treats for others. In the spring, we work on our garden and outdoor projects. In the summer, we go to church camp and try to schedule any procedures Emma needs at the time.

Shawn and I enjoy our homeschooling life together. We are excited to be parents raising our children. We love to see our children working together, thinking of others, and enjoying God’s world. Christian parenting is not always easy, but I am thankful for my heavenly Father who hears my prayers. I am thankful for other Christian families responding to the call and praying with us when we need it. I am glad to pray with them too. I am thankful that God has given us each special child, fearfully and wonderfully made, to raise them for His honor and glory.

Natilie Wooldridge holds a B.S. degree in exercise science from Arkansas State University. She and her husband are lifelong residents of Arkansas, where they are raising their daughters. They enjoy family togetherness. They have been homeschooling for five years. Natilie is involved in many community activities and is an advocate for families with special needs and the field trip coordinator for their local and regional homeschool groups. Natilie has two blogs on HSB, www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/bromexi and www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/spinabifida. She and her sisters also have a frugal living and recipe exchange at www.sistersisters.wetpaint.com.

Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2009.

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