Meet my friend Rebekah! Rebekah and Greg live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Greg is an optometrist. Rebekah stays home with their kids. She has also started the non-profit fair trade company Havyn International which supports artisans and farmers in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized. They have five children and have been homeschooling for over ten years.
In this interview, Rebekah shares her story of adopting their five children internationally. She talks about finding resources for kids with special needs and how she provides nurturing environment for her children who backgrounds of trauma.
Hi! I’m Rebekah! My husband and I have been married for 22 years. In our second year of marriage I almost lost my life to Meningococcemia and there was a very long healing process for me. We decided to adopt internationally and brought twin, two year old boys home from Russia in 2007. They were globally delayed, as they had been born 3 months prematurely and spent their first two years of live in an orphanage. Several years later, we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia when she was 10 months old. Three years after that we brought home our 3 year old, visually impaired son home from China. Our son also has autism. Then we went back to Ethiopia to adopt our daughter who was 15 months old at the time. So, we have 3 sons and 2 daughters from Russia, Ethiopia and China.
What attracted you to homeschooling?
When our twins came home from Russia we knew that they needed family, not another institution. We started considering homeschooling pretty soon after we brought them home. You know, this was before social networking was popular, and I really didn’t know anyone who homeschooled. In fact, my experience with homeschooling was extremely limited. I grew up in South Jersey, and I knew a hand-full of homeschoolers and always felt sorry for them. So, I was pretty nervous about homeschooling, but I knew in my heart that this was exactly what God was asking me to do for our boys. God is good and kind and He equips us when He asks us to do something. He brought some amazing families into our lives who also felt the call to homeschool. Because I had a support system right away, I feel like I was able to sort through and work through all that homeschooling entailed for our family…which, because of adoption and trauma and global delays, looked very different from the other families that we knew. But the support that we had and the budding friendships that our kids were able to enjoy kept us going even through the hard times.
What kind of resources did you find for the special needs of your children?
Because all of our children came to us through international adoption, we have had some extra layers to work through. Our kids deal with educational delays, ADHD, autism, anxiety, and trauma. So, we had to look for outside resources to help our children. We also had to think outside of the box for homeschooling. This was often a frustration for me, and it has taken me years to not feel like I have failed my kids because my kids are not able to be at the same educational level as many of their peers. But if I could encourage parents of kids with special needs, especially the unseen special needs….YOU are exactly what your child needs. It has taken me a long time to accept that, and honestly, I still struggle with wondering if I should have used the school system more. But I know deep in my heart that having our kids at home has given them so much more. Having said that, I do believe that parents have resources as homeschoolers that are available to them, and we should use them. Early Intervention and the IU 13 was wonderful. Our kids received speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, vision therapy, and play therapy through those services. The therapists came to our home for years. It just became part of our schedule. However, once a child is school age, the IU will no longer provide services for homeschoolers. One thing that parents should know is that if you have a child with special needs, even ADHD, anxiety, and those unseen needs, you can apply for Medical Assistance in PA. Medical Assistance will cover all of your child’s needed therapies. So, because of that our son with autism, who still needs therapies, is able to go to a private therapeutic center for speech therapy and behavioral therapy. There are also agencies out there that help with certain disabilities. My son with visual deficits is also very involved with Vision Corp. They offer activities and camps for the visually impaired, completely free of charge. Anyway, when you homeschool kids with extra needs, it really does fall on you to do your research and find the services for your kids. There is so much out there.
What would your experienced self tell your newbie self?
I would (and continue) to tell myself that what my family is doing doesn’t have to look like what everyone else is doing. That is the beauty of homeschooling. Our family looks and functions so differently than every other family in our circle of homeschoolers. It is tough and many times I have felt like I am failing, but knew that I couldn’t physically or emotionally do more than what I was doing. I remember asking a friend for their homeschool schedule. She emailed it to me and I bawled. I couldn’t attain to what she was doing. My kids couldn’t do it. We have had to be flexible in our days, because our kids have always needed more breaks. It takes us longer to get through math lessons, because some of my kids need more time to grasp concepts. I would tell my newbie self to cheer others on in their own unique homeschooling journey, AND to cheer myself on in our unique, homeschooling journey. Don’t compare. Live out what God has given to your family to the best of your ability.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge was being in the adoption process several times, bringing children home and helping them through trauma while homeschooling. Adoption is all consuming and helping children learn about family and work through trauma and then have special needs on top of all of that is very emotionally consuming. And it is time consuming, because you are always trying to make sure that you have therapies and services that your child needs. But there was also so much beauty in it. I look back and know that being together has been a beautiful journey, even during the intense times.
Have you made mistakes and what did you learn from them?
Well, no matter who you are, you will make mistakes. I think that as I said, one of my mistakes was comparing what we are able to do to what others are able to do. The comparison trap will kill your homeschooling journey. One of the wonderful reasons to homeschool is to be able to meet your unique child’s needs. Some kids need academic challenge to thrive. Some kids need to take things slowly. In the beginning, I pushed my twins to read too early. I actually think that it hindered them in their reading. I wish that I had just relaxed and not pushed kindergarten workbooks and things like that right when they turned 5. They weren’t ready and needed so many other things.
What does a typical day look like for you?
So our typical days have evolved over time. With each new child added to our family we have had to rework and sometimes fly by the seat of our pants. But now, I feel like we have a pretty good routine. I am not a schedule person and I need to be pretty flexible and intune to how my kids are doing on any given day. But typically, we begin our mornings at 9am with Bible and prayer together. I have found this to be very critical for our day. Each child prays for someone here or for our friends in other countries, we pray for their dad every morning and they pray for each other. After that, I tell them what the day is going to look like and make sure they know what chores they are responsible for that day. Then we go into our book work – math, spelling, science, history, etc. and I work with kids individually during the morning. Many times they will take breaks outside as needed. I have found that short breaks getting fresh air or working out for my 15 year olds, helps them to do better with their work. Once they get frustrated I have lost them for the day, so I often find myself gauging emotions and heading them off. At lunch time we all sit together and I read a chapter book aloud. Then they take an outside break and we either finish school for some of the older kids or chores get done. I typically allow them to watch something on TV while I am making dinner if everything else has been accomplished. So, that is an ideal day. But people should know that part of homeschooling is discipleship. I often find that I need to put a lesson aside to sit with one of the kids and work through some emotion that they are struggling with or to speak truth to them or share something from God’s word. I feel like being rigid and pushing schedules does not work for my family.
Rebekah’s Favorite Resources
Green Meadow Farm Green Meadow Farm offers free therapeutic horse therapy for children who have experienced trauma. There is also a “Pasture of Peace” for families to enjoy quiet time while their child is with the horse and trainer.
IU13 Therpeutic intervention for children who need extra services.
Schreiber Pediatric Private therapy agency, providing Speech, OT, PT, and Behavioral Therapy.
Vision Corp Vision Corp helps individuals with vision loss to attain independence. My son with vision loss has enjoyed their activites throughout the year and camp in the summer.
Math U See The math program that changed everything for my kids and taught this life-long “math struggler” how to finally understand math and how to teach it.
The Struggling Reader A reading program that focuses on a kinestetic approach, offering multi-sensory activities to teach skills. They also provide flash cards and testing materials.
My Father’s World We haven’t tried My Father’s world for the upper grades, but we have loved it for the elementary years. It is a classical/Charlotte Mason mix.
Rebekah’s Favorite Books
Sally Clarkson- Different. I absolutely love this book, as it gave me a sense of “I am not doing this all wrong”. She and her son, who had some challenges, wrote it together.
The Kids’ Favorite Books
Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. We have read through this together many times. Even my teenagers enjoy these stories time and time again.
Have questions for Rebekah? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, though, moms are busy! Response time may be delayed, but she will try to reply as soon as she can!