Thursday, May 10, 2012

I am addicted to reading and I LOVE IT!

As far back as I can remember, my all time favorite thing to do is to curl up with a good book. Even back in my own school days I can remember spending every spare minute in the school library or in some corner of the playground reading whatever I could get my hands on. My favorite school librarian loved me as I was one of those students who was always in the library, scanning the shelves for something new. She even got to know my tastes and would set aside certain books for me to try. I remember those school libraries fondly, especially the one at the school I attended for the upper elementary/junior high years.

I have had times when I've read a book so much that it starts falling to pieces. That would definately apply to my much loved set of The Little House on the Prairie books. They are all the ones that my parents originally bought me and I am so proud to see them on my daughter's bookshelf. Several of them no longer have covers and I have no idea what became of them, lol! I've thought about replacing them with copies in better condition but I just don't want to. It feels like a betrayal of an old friend to toss out the old and replace with newer and nicer. Plus I like seeing my name written in the clumsy signature of a kid just learning to write in cursive.

I have old favorites and new favorites, all friendly faces that I read over and over again. Lots of times I will no sooner have finished the last book in the series than I pick up the first one and start all over again. I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I'm reading the last book, the feeling you get when that long awaited vacation to your favorite place is coming to a close and you aren't ready to go home just yet. Some of my favorite series are: The Little House series plus all the spin-off series (I'm in the middle of the Rose years now), Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Ramona Quimby. Then there are my favorite authors that I will read anything they've written: Jane Austen, Maeve Binchey, Frank Peretti, Bryan Davis (actually got to meet him in person, very sweet man!).

My tastes range all over and I'm not confined by one specific genre at all. I made a promise to myself a couple years ago to seek out classics and read at least one or two a year. My school years didn't involve reading as much as it did when my parents grew up and I felt I'd really missed out. Through that promise I met such characters at Natty Bumpo, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Tess Durbeyfield and many others. Although one advantage of discovering these characters and books in my adult years is I have an understanding of the stories that I could never have as a child or teenager.

My husband tends to tease me about my reading as I can get easily lost in a book. It's just a passion. To read, to expand my world to other places and times. I simply enjoy it. To know me is to know how much I love to read. Magazines and newspapers and internet forums and other publications have their place. But nothing is dearer to my heart than a beautifully written story.

All The Reasons Why...And Then Some

Looking back through my posts I realize that I've never posted about the reasons why we've chosen to homeschool our kids. Truthfully, Josh and I had always planned to homeschool. My parents had wanted to homeschool me and my brother but back then they couldn't afford it and private school was out of the question. Josh was homeschooled himself through high school and had also attended private Christian schools off and on through his schooling years. We did a lot of praying and discussing and we both felt the same, we felt the Lord leading us to homeschool. I apologize for the length of this, we went through a lot before we finally opened our eyes to the wisdom of homeschooling our kids.

Then the big whammy that life threw into the mix, Joey having down syndrome and Jaysen having autism. We honestly thought that we couldn't homeschool, that they had to go to public school. It really wasn't that bad at first. Through preschool and the first couple years of elementary school, Joey had excellent teachers who were truly the cream of the crop. The kind that adore their students and love their jobs. Things went downhill with the next teacher, one who did not care for the students and was not interested in truly educating a group of special education kids. Joey went from the star student to the class troublemaker. Joey was accused of being uncooperative, mean, aggressive with other students and even accused of inappropriately touching another student (it was determined later that it wasn't true). It didn't help, either, that the school cooks weren't as careful with his dietary restrictions as they were required to be and Joey was eating a lot of stuff that made him sick. The final straw came when Joey had a potty accident and the staff left him in the bathroom for more than 30 mins without checking on him and carried on with the rest of class. We brought Joey home and never looked back. We have spent many a day wondering if the problems Joey experienced with that teacher were due to Joey truly being a problem or if it was the teacher. Our instincts told us it was the teacher but we couldn't prove it. We've since talked with another mom who had a child in that class and she had the same experience with her daughter as we had with Joey. Lesson learned: trust your instincts.

Jaysen unfortunately had a less than positive experience at first thanks to a set of dreadful Head Start teachers who refused to give him the help he needed and fought us as we sought to find out the correct diagnosis for Jaysen's issues (at the time we thought it was ADHD only to find out it was very much more). When Jaysen was recommended to spend a third year in preschool, things began to get better thanks to a wonderful teacher and staff. That following summer Jaysen was diagnosed properly with autism and was then referred to an inclusive kindergarten program designed specifically for children with autism. His kindergarten teacher was AMAZING!!!! She fought hard to get Jaysen into the right class when he went to 1st grade and helped us get set up with a fantastic teacher that Jaysen would have for two years. But that 2nd grade year was not fun. Jaysen came home from school in tears many times, the friend he thought he had betrayed him and teamed up with another boy to tease and bully Jaysen, other kids were bullying Jaysen and by the end of that school year, Jaysen was so miserable that he begged us to never make him go back. I had wanted to pull Jaysen sooner but Josh felt Jaysen needed to stick it out. Even on Jaysen's worst day of homeschool, he still has no desire to go back to public school. I know in my heart that if Jaysen had continued in public school the bullying would've turned physical and I don't want to even think what may have happened.

One of the things I had always disliked about sending the boys to public school was feeling I had no control over their lives and I had no idea what was going on. Up until they started preschool, I had been so involved in all their therapies and appointments and such. I knew everything that was happening and what it took to deal with each individual issue. Once they were in school, I knew nothing. Nobody would really answer my questions with much detail and every summer I would ask for lists from the therapists of things to do with the boys over the summer to keep up their progress; nobody ever provided a single list. More and more I felt like I was losing my children and I could nothing about it. The nagging and tugging at my heart continued until I finally listened and realized what it was; the Lord. When Josh and I sat back and listened to Him, we finally heard what He had been saying all along. We could homeschool and we should homeschool and God would open all the doors we needed to make it happen.

One of our biggest worries was how would the boys continue to get the therapies they needed. We couldn't afford to pay out of pocket and the state insurance wouldn't cover much. We found out that in our state, public schools are required to provide any and all theraputic services that children need regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in public school. That was good, but Josh and I really did not want to have anything to do with the schools at all if we could help it. Then God opened another door when our daughter was 15 months old. Katie hadn't met her speech milestones and the doctor referred her to a pediatric speech therapy practice. We talked with the staff and to our suprise they accepted the insurance for all 3 kids, so therapy problem solved!! A simple referral from the doctor and we had that fixed. Joey had actually been graduated out of 1-on-1 physical therapy at school, his gross motor skills were right on target for his age and the school therapist felt he no longer needed help and could continue in a group P.E. with just a few adaptations. Of course, with homeschooling, we can easily accomodate all his adaptations and he also participates in a baseball league just for kids with mental/physical disabilities. His fine motor skills still need some work but that is easily worked on at home with some good books and tips from the internet plus the different techniques we learned over the years.

With the exception of a few things here and there, nearly all of Joey's behavior issues have disapeared. We still have a problem with the habit he learned with his last teacher of "playing stupid" when he doesn't want to learn but he's figuring out quickly that if he doesn't do his lessons then he's in big trouble. Both boys have improved so much with being homeschooled and we are really proud of how hard they work. Katie is our only one who will be homeschooled from the start and she's doing well, although she has some cognitive delays as well as her speech delay but the beauty of homeschool is we can work with her issues and help her more.

Homeschooling the kids is anything but easy. But I will take a bad day of homeschool over a day of either of the boys coming home from school in tears any day of the week.

I have followers!!!

It's kind of scary as I'm not a very outgoing person, lol! I welcome the new faces and hope you enjoy what I write. I don't get to write as often or as regularly as I'd like but I try to get in a new post every couple of days. I apologize ahead of time if I bore you or drive you nutty with my silliness. I do hope you enjoy my writing and hopefully find something helpful or entertaining or both. :)

A quick look at the next school year

I try to make the month of May my annual time to go back over how the school year has gone and make whatever necessary changes need to be made. We're going to take a new adventure with schooling this next year and venture into unit studies.

So this is what we're narrowing it down to (could be many changes before we hit the start):

Both boys
The Prairie Primer (covers history, geography, writing, science, health, Bible, social studies)

Ray's Arithmetic (multiplication, division)
McGuffey 1st reader
Rod & Staff spelling 2
Easy Grammar grade 2
HWOT cursive
weekly guitar lessons
Bob Ross painting lessons dvd and various learning to draw books

Math U See Primer
McGuffey Primer
HWOT printing
our own spelling list
life skills (operating a calculator, recognizing various public signs, operating household appliances, etc)
flash cards

Developing The Early Learner
HWOT preschool
HOD Little Hands to Heaven
Rod & Staff preschool books
flash cards

Jaysen is still a couple years behind but I try not to focus on that but focus instead on simply learning the skills and encouraging him. Joey is going to focus more on practical skills and life skills, a bit less on academics. I'm not too much worried about Katie really doing any formal schooling just yet, she mostly wants to do school because her brothers are. Katie does have a delay with her cognitive skills so we are throwing in the new book this year to see if that will help her.

And for those that don't know what the initials stand for, HWOT is Handwriting Without Tears and HOD is Heart of Dakota.

My plan, at this point, is to start The Prairie Primer either the end of May or beginning of June. Josh is wanting to go camping the first week of June so that may delay our start by a week. Well, we'll just have to see. :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why can't he find a friend?

Joey is our precious little man. He is a joy to be around, he makes everyone around him smile and it's hard to stay in a bad mood when he goes through the house singing as loud as he can. He has had kids in his Royal Ranger class say that Joey is a cool kid and last week had everyone singing a rousing chorus of "Kumbaya".

And yet, Joey isn't totally accepted. He's still left out of a lot of things. I know it shouldn't be a suprise anymore, but it still hurts when he doesn't get invited to birthday parties or playdates or anything. This past Sunday, once again, one of the boys in his class at church had a birthday party and, once again, Joey wasn't invited. It stung just a little, but I'm trying to learn to expect it. What I didn't expect was to see in pictures that were posted on Facebook that nearly all the other boys in the class had been invited...except for Joey. That slammed into my heart like a spike.

I don't know what quite hurt more, that Joey hadn't been invited or that the parents didn't think I would notice the fact that the other boys were there. Despite the appearance at church that Joey is accepted and welcome, outside of church it's another story. Yes, Joey doesn't do very well in large and noisy crowds. But he is getting better and I'd like to see him be given the opportunity to try to attend things instead of automatically getting shut out.

It honestly would hurt less if people would approach us about it and say "we know Joey isn't comfortable in noisy crowds and we're afraid he wouldn't enjoy himself" and give us the opportunity to say "thank you for considering that". And it's true what Josh says, I don't want Joey to be invited because people think they have to. Pity invites are worse than just being cut out to begin with. I don't want Joey invited unless people really want him to be there.

Yet it still hurts. It hurts to the very core of me. While I do believe Joey feels it as he does ask sometimes why he doesn't have a friend, I think Joey has a skill to just go with the flow and move on. He has much more wisdom than his mommy does. Who wants to be somewhere if they aren't wanted? What fun is there in that?

But my heart still is broken that we have yet to find anyone who truly enjoys Joey and wants to be friends with him. My prayer is that one day he will find a friend. Someday.

New things in our school

Trying to play catch-up with posting. I've got all kinds of things in my head that I need to write and rarely have a few moments to get them typed out. Here goes. Thankfully I always have the option to come back and edit later.
We've made some recent changes for the boys and I'm very excited that they seem to be working pretty well so far. I posted before about starting the boys on the McGuffey readers and looking into Ray's arithmetic for Jaysen. Both have made a difference! Jaysen is enjoying reading, to the point that he is practicing his reading skills everywhere we go. Even reading street signs and menus and cereal boxes. Reading is finally beginning to click for him and it's beyond words exciting to see him loving his new skills. Joey is also enjoying the books and is beginning to learn new words.

The math was just what he needed. Ray's is based more on mental math and is perfect for Jaysen. He learned back in second grade, on his own and the astonishment of his teacher, to do mental math and has fought tooth and nail to write out his work when doing worksheets. His argument is always "if I can do it in my head why do I need to write it down?" He does make a good point, although it does make it tricky for Mom & Dad to help him fix his mistakes if I can't "see" where he went wrong. But, this is a natural skill for him and a strength and we need to encourage his strengths. Doing mental math was not something that was stressed much when I went to school and to this day I struggle to do math correctly in my head.

We have also decided to try our hand at a unit study. Eeek! Seriously though, I have always been intrigued by them and wanted to try them. It can be a bit overwhelming as they do require some time and effort to plan and prepare. Plus, what topic do you choose? To help with that decision I had the boys watch some documentaries on different topics and noted what caught their attention. Jaysen showed a huge interest in medieval times and the old west/pioneer period. Both are two of my favorite time periods. I did some research and found a literature based unit study based around the Little House On The Prairie book series called The Prairie Primer by Margie Gray. Everything I read about it called out to me that this was just what we were looking for.

I sat down with Josh, showed him the website, we talked and prayed about it. We both felt that this may be a good program for the kids. We asked them what they thought and both boys were really excited about it. So, we bought it! It's going to take some prep work and planning, but as I read through it I know the boys are going to have a lot of fun with it. Now we just have to decide when to start it. I can't wait to get started!

Relaxing with a visit to the library

If there's one thing that makes us different from other homeschoolers it's that we don't visit the library as often as we probably should. We're so busy with work and church and just life in general, we don't schedule in library time as much as we should. I don't want to think how long it's been since our last visit, but I made a point of going today. I took Jay with me while Josh stayed home with the other two kiddos (Katie was napping and Joey wasn't interested in going). I don't always get an opportunity to do things with each of the kids so I snap up the opportunities.

Jay and I had a great time. I quickly got the books I was looking for so he would have more time to look for himself and not have to be bored waiting on mom. He had his heart set on finding a book he could read by himself and a book that would be "fun".  But, this trip to the library wasn't going too well, the poor kid was getting pretty frustrated and overwhelmed by the selection. He was already dissapointed that someone had already checked out all the Lego books and movies.

I suggested that we try to find something new we'd never heard of before. He wasn't too wild about that idea, he's pretty rigid about things (to be expected with a child with autism). I shared with him how I looked for new books when I was his age. That I would go through the rows, pick out a random book and try it out. I found many wonderful suprise favorites that way. So I did just that, grabbed up a random book and handed it to him. This particular book was one of a series of books, each about a different member of the Knights of the Round Table. Jay still wasn't too sure, especially that this particular one I picked up wasn't the first of the series. We found where the others were, the first one was checked out but the second one was on the shelf. I picked it up, handed it to Jay and suggested he sit down and look through it while I went to grab a book I needed that I forgot. He shrugged his shoulders and went to the reading area. My hope was that after he took a look at it he might get interested in it.

It worked! When I got back I asked him what he thought. He said "well, I like the pictures and it's not a really big book and I know some of the words". I asked him if he thought he'd like to try it and he said he would. I reminded him that if he didn't like it he simply had to bring it back and get something else. Then he said "I think I'll probably like it. I like knights and stuff." Good job kiddo!

I'm working on getting Jay to broaden his interests in books and not stick to the usual super heros and Lego themed choices. For one, there's not that many options in our library system for those and two, I really want him to see how large a world there is in books. Since he started working with the McGuffey readers, his reading has improved big time and he's becomming more confident and excited about reading. I want to cultivate that new found love of reading and open his eyes to just how fun and amazing reading can be, especially if you step away from the "safe zone" and explore something new. He made a first step today.

The siren call of the 3-ring binder

This is such a stupid post but I am going to write it anyway. Of all the school supplies I use, the 3 ring binder has become my all time favorite. It's so easy to organize with them, should I ever get the time to sit down and actually organize anything (wink wink). But I do like them. The boys are even getting into how handy they are. We recently switched Jay to a new math book and we found it free online (public domain). I printed up a couple chapters and initially put them in a vinyl folder with the metal tabs. It was nice except the the part where the metal tabs is connected stuck out so far onto the paper that it made it tricky for Jay to keep the pages open without bending them up. I switched it out to a 3 ring binder and he says "Mom this is so much easier to read now". Score one for mom.

I am now fighting to not take every teacher's guide and workbook I have for the kids and whack off the bindings, 3 hole punch everything and stick them all in binders. It's going to become an addiction. Come back to school supply sale time I may be in serious trouble if there are any really excellent sales on 3 ring binders.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm late, I'm late for a very important grade!!

On Wednesday morning I took Joey in for his annual checkup at the pediatrician's office. Kinda scary that this was his final pre-teen checkup (he turned 12 this year), but apparently according to the pediatrician Joey has technically stepped into the realm of adolescence and therefore there was a new form to fill out. A form for kids 12 years old and up that, from all appearances, is a sort of assessment of the mental and emotional state of the patient.

I had to work hard to not laugh right out loud when the receptionist spoke to Joey and told him she had something for him to fill out, considering that he has down syndrome and can't read let alone give written answers. ;) So, we sat down and went over it together. As expected, most of the questions didn't apply to Joey mainly because intelligence-wise they just didn't relate to him. But I came across one question that made me stop and think. The question was if he's happy with his grades. The problem is, we don't give grades.

I have never given my kids "grades" or graded their work. Plus I'm not sure how to assign grades. Personally, I've never liked grades. I've always felt that if a student knows the concept, does a good job on the work and shows they are learning from it, then why are grades necessary? Some would argue so the child will have something to show for their efforts or that they need the reinforcement from seeing how well they've done by a letter grade or that kids need the incentive to work to achieve the next level and other arguments. But, again, I just don't see the need for them for our children. I have taught the boys in the manner that they get their assignment, complete their work then bring the work for me to look over and mark for corrections. If it needs correcting, we go back over what the mistake is, how the mistake was made and how to fix it. If they've done the assignment with no corrections, I let them know how proud I am of them for their hard work and they then run off to dad to show him what they've done. Of course our kids are still young enough that it's enough for them to keep working harder by receiving praise and encouragement from their parents.

So I thought long and hard about it and talked with Josh about it. Should we be giving grades? Should the kids be expecting to see an "A" or "B" or whatnot on their papers? Is it enough that we work on their mistakes and then on to the next assignment/subject/etc? Is it fine that we give them praise and encouragement to keep up the good work? Then I remember back to my own school days and how I used to stress over what my report card would say and whether or not my parents would be pleased or disappointed. I have to ask myself what is the point of giving grades and what purpose would it serve with our kids. Plus, out in the real world, no one is giving out grades. Your work is more or less critiqued as you go and as more often than not you are lucky to get anything more than a "keep doing what you're doing". The more I ponder, the more I just don't see how giving out grades would benefit our kids.

I think we'll stick with what we're doing.