The Homeschool Daily Planner for CurriculumThe Homeschool Daily Planner for Curriculum
Homeschool
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When you're juggling homemaking and homeschooling, organization is vital! This book won't help you with the household chores, but it will help you plan and coordinate an academic year for one to four students. Includes forms for teacher resources, curriculums used, books read, extracurricular activities, and a year's worth of weekly lesson plans. At year-end, you have a permanent record of what's been accomplished! 124 pages, spiralbound softcover from Aaron.
     

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Tom Bushnell and his wife Sherry head up NATHHAN, (NATional cHallenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) a Christian, non-profit organization dedicated to providing encouragement to families with special needs children who are homeschooling. In addition to homeschooling their nine children, the Bushnells enjoy wood working, farming, fellowshipping with other believers and singing hymns as a family. Tom shared the following comments in an interview with Christianbook.com.

CBD: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Tom Bushnell: My wife Sherry and I have been married for eighteen years. We have nine children ranging in age from sixteen to two. Three of our children are adopted and have special needs: Sheela, ten years old, who is blind, from India; Jordan, eleven years old, who has Down syndrome, and Lynny, who is seven and has cerebral palsy and autism. In 1987 we had a little girl born to us who had Down syndrome. She went to be with the Lord after open-heart surgery at the age of three months. That's how we got into the special needs world. Six months later we adopted Jordan. We've always been committed to homeschooling all of our children, and so that's what we are now doing.

CBD: Can you tell us something about NATHHAN and how you first became involved?

Tom Bushnell: In 1990, NATHHAN began with a phone call from a single mom in Pennsylvania who had a son with Down syndrome to another mom in Texas who had a daughter with Down syndrome. They were thinking that they were the only ones out there homeschooling their special needs children. Word just kind of spread like wild fire through the homeschool movement. We got involved back in the fall of 1990. By 1992 it grown to the point where the moms couldn't handle it anymore. They had over 400 families and a newsletter to put out, so they asked for some help. We offered to take it over. NATHHAN grew and grew and grew. By January of 1995 I had to close down my landscape business and be at home full time for the ministry. Over the last four years NATHHAN has expanded and worked through the growth pains, finding our place in the homeschool market. We've been balancing a ministry approach versus a business dealing with real money. We are now operating as a non-profit organization. NATHHAN's printing and office expense is covered by NATHHAN memberships. Our personal needs are fully supported by donations from families.

CBD: So you're working full-time with Nathan? Can you tell us more about what changes NATHHAN has gone through the last several years?

Tom Bushnell: In 1995, due to our guest load and office needs, we built a 1,500 square foot addition onto our home back in Olalla, Washington. We love guests! However our family grew exhausted due to additional growth and balancing a Patent Learning Center/Farm and office. We really enjoy visiting with parents who have special needs children, but it was just more than my wife, children and I could do. We didn't have funds to hire a whole staff of cleaning, office and cooking professionals to make that all happen. We saw the need for a change either in donations or in our payment structure. The coup de grace for the Parent Learning Center came when I injured my back helping a neighbor. I was out of commission for months, with little hope of being able to lift as I did before the injury. After much prayer and continuous confirmation from the Lord, we moved to Porthill, Idaho, to start over building a home/office, lowering our payments and making it possible for NATHHAN to support us. We are building a log home and are presently living in the basement while we finish the log work.

CBD: Can you tell us about what you're up to now in your new location and how you've transitioned? It must have been really a challenge—just the move alone.

Tom Bushnell: Yes, it took a little while to get the move done, but if you just keep at it one load at a time, eventually it all happens. The move went really well. The older boys were just a great help being able to lift all the heavy things. Thank the Lord, my back is fine now, but I still can't lift heavy things. We are here in Porthill, Idaho, on 46 acres. It's really beautiful. The mountains are all covered with snow. The children are enjoying this winter, as we get more snow here than we did in Washington! Life is considerably simpler here. We use a generator for power. We have one phone line. We do a lot of canning and growing our own meat. We are enjoying getting to know our neighbors who are farming.

CBD: Do you have animals that you all are taking care of?

Tom Bushnell: We have about twenty-two dairy goats right now. They are bred and soon we'll have a whole lot more! We also have a few other animals such as pigs, chickens and three dogs. We have a good sized field out there. Our seed garlic crop has been planted and we are sowing clover this spring.

CBD: Does the livestock play a part in your homeschool?

Tom Bushnell: Absolutely! Homeschool isn't always just sit down and do workbooks, especially when you have a special needs child. Several of our children aren't really capable of sitting down and cracking the books for an hour or 45 minutes or even 30 minutes at a time. We use hands-on activities and give our special needs children lots of opportunity to learn how to be a blessing We approach teaching in a different way, although we are not neglecting math, reading and social studies. A lot of times books aren't that meaningful for a child who doesn't know their colors, up from down, left from right, or who can't even talk. Yet, being able to fold wash cloths, use the potty themselves, and be thankful, are simple things that make our children who are disabled a blessing.

CBD: Can you offer any specific advice for people who have a special needs child that would be of help or encouragement for them, if they are just starting out?

Tom Bushnell: The first thing we do is pray. We need to be firm in our convictions, because we will be challenged. We can be challenged by relatives, neighbors, fellow church members, school systems, social workers, and grocery clerks. What is our motive? What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? What do we feel the Bible says about it? What verses do we use? Be firm in our convictions, and we can give every man an answer with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15). Next, we would recommend the husband and wife be in agreement about this. If the husband and wife are at odds over homeschooling, it would be really difficult to do. It could cause division in the home. Obviously, I am partial to homeschooling, but the Bible doesn't say, "Repent and homeschool, and you shall be saved." Look into joining the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Their phone number is 540-338-5600, and they're at www.hslda.org on the web. It's a great Christian organization of men that will go to bat for families with very good, professional lawyers who have done a lot for homeschooling across the country.

Develop your curriculum. Write down your game plan. Put your goals down on paper. What are your spiritual goals for your child? What are your social goals for your child? What are your life skill goals? Is it tying the shoe, brushing the teeth, is it riding the bus? Is character development going to be close to the top of the list? Write down the academic goals as well. In our home academic goals are important, but they are not priority number one, two or three. We need to keep them in perspective.

Once we have decided what approach to use and are ready to pull our children out of public school, we need to be careful. "Be shrewd as serpents and harmless as doves." Be respectful and courteous to anyone in the school district you have contact with. Thank them for all their help and input. Be very pleasant with them. We avoid the word "homeschool." Tell them that you've have found a "private approach that fits my child's needs and the best part is we can afford it. If it doesn't work out we will be back. And if we have any questions along the way, is it OK to give you a call? Thank you. Goodbye." You see what I mean? And now you're out nice and clean. Remember, when we get to heaven, we'll find some of these people working in the public school system are Christians. We don't want to needlessly offend other believers. They have to go home and look in the mirror at night. They're in a difficult situation. But on the other hand, there are other people in the public school system who have a different worldview. they could actually cause a threat to our family. The public worldview is that children belong to the state, and parents are entitled to raise their children as long as the state deems them qualified. The Christian worldview, on the other hand, is that children belong to God, and God has entrusted them into the care of the parents.

CBD: With your special needs kids have there been any particular approaches that you have found particularly valuable or helpful specific approaches to education that you thought worked particularly well?

Tom Bushnell: Each child is different. Each one of our children learns in a different way. The most important thing is a loving parent who obviously cares about that child and knows that child. With observation parents can figure out how their child learns. We need to avoid burning them out. Keep it interesting and fun. Moms are going to need to be masters of repetition. They're going to have to find six, seven, eight, ten, twenty different ways to the same information. Make therapy play time instead of a torture session. No matter which curriculum we use, we need to capture our child's heart. What do they want to learn?

CBD: What does NATHHAN provide for families now?

Tom Bushnell: NATHHAN is publishing a magazine four times a year, The NATHHAN News. It has lots of letters from families and lots of resources. We have a lending library. It's up on our web site at www.nathhan.com . (That's NATHHAN with two "h"s.) There are over 600 titles in the lending library now. It operates through the mail. We have a family phone book we put out every March. It will include close to 1,000 families this year. The only way you can get one of these phone books is to agree to be in it. It's not for commercial purposes; it's for encouragement. It's a great way to find other folks in either your geographical area or in a similar situation, having a similar challenge you may be dealing with. We aren't running the Parent Learning Center, although we still love visitors!

CBD: tell us if you have any special plans or visions for the future of NATHHAN?

Tom Bushnell: Things are going really well. We are continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. We just want to be able to encourage parents, and hopefully challenge each other at the same time. NATHHAN doesn't have all the answers. We provide resources and suggestions, encouragement and support. Parents, you can do it! We feel that if God has called you to raise your special needs child, He will give you the ability to do it. He'll give you the grace to get the job done.

CBD: It sounds to me from what you've said that a source of strength for you is that your whole approach is built on your faith and trust in God who entrusted these children to you.

Tom Bushnell: We feel a tremendous responsibility. Thank the Lord, we have great liberties in this country. We are also very thankful that we are in a homeschool friendly state. It's actually very accepted; much more so then it was ten years ago. Our worldview is that homeschooling is a way of life, not just a curriculum choice.

CBD: We are very grateful that you've been willing to share your experience and wisdom with us, and we wish you all the best.