Saturday, June 24, 2017

Anne's Summer Studies--June

A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille

I long ago decided that TJEd in its purity was not for me nor my children.  I felt at loose ends too much, and with various seasons coming and going, I felt punished for opening workbooks and simply saying, "This is what we're going to do today."

Quite simply, I don't always have it in me to inspire instead of require. :)

But rereading this book now made me realize that truly our household is an educationally inspiring household.  We read lots of classics.  We talk a lot.  I check in with my kids, and I provide lots of inspiration through my own example and through the supplies we keep in our home.

It was a joyful reread, and it inspired me to keep up with our family reading . . . because lately I've felt in something of a slump.

Core and Love of Learning--Oliver and Rachel DeMille

When I finish assessing my kids, I'm going to write myself a separate post, assessing how I'm doing with the various "ingredients" recommended.  The first time I read the printed transcript of this audio recording my sister gave me, my oldest was still a toddler, and even when I've turned away from TJEd philosophies now and again, I've never really let go of these early practices because they are good, and they are so firmly entrenched as habits from our earliest days.  In rereading this personal classic, I felt really encouraged that my kids have a top-notch home environment, and truly, I need a dose of positive feedback--even if it is from myself. :)

Love is a Start: The Real Challenges of Raising Children with Emotional Disorders--Donna Shilts

Rereading this one was so encouraging.  The first time I read it, the 4 newest were only recently placed with us, and I didn't really know what was coming.  It's been nearly 2 years since their placement, and over a year since the adoption was finalized.  We've been living with and learning from one another for all that time, and what we've lived and learned could fill a book of our own!  I can really relate to the author's story, and though my children are not as profoundly affected as hers are, we have had many similar experiences.

The following paragraph struck a chord in my heart both times in my reading:
 "Young children with fetal alcohol effects are contradictory in their behaviors and at times most difficult to understand.  No two are alike which only adds to the confusion.  They are resistive to change in their environments, require considerable supervision for safety, can be demanding and relentlessly needy, are easily frustrated, have trouble with transitions or change of activity, are unable to grasp consequences, lack stranger anxiety, have short-term memory problems, have difficulty following through on tasks consistently, and they may have huge emotional responses to seemingly minor incidents."
The first time I read it I cried with relief and fear because we were knee-deep in all of this.  The second time I can say honestly that we have overcome so much, and the kids are exhibiting fewer and fewer of these characteristics as time passes.

 In reading Love is a Start again, I am convinced that we are doing just the right things to help our family grow, but I get the feeling that Little Brother is going to need some extra help in the coming years.

I feel profound gratitude to Donna Shilts for writing her story so that I could learn from her mistakes and be saved some of the heartache she endured.  She helped pave the way for my family to succeed.

Dr. Beechick's Homeschool Answer Book by Ruth Beechick
Selected and Edited by Debbie Strayer

I picked this one up on a whim at the library.  I mostly just skimmed over it because I don't really have any of the questions that were addressed in the book, but I did find one gem of information that I want to keep in mind.

From page 122 in answer to a question about potential reading problems:
"If the child is right-handed, does he have a matching right dominance in eye, ear and foot?  If there is any mixture of dominance it can cause a sort of scrambling of messages in the brain.  Dominance problems are often solved by physical exercises designed for the purpose."
Just last month I noticed that Little Brother is far more coordinated with his right hand than his left, but he chooses to use his left hand for all fine-motor activities.  I thought it was kind of unusual, and I've made a point of having him practice finger-spelling with his left hand (we do a little sign language for fun and coordination) to help improve his fine-motor coordination.  This small portion of a paragraph just jumped out at me as being so sensible and true for Little Brother!

At this point, I'm not going to dive into any special therapies beyond the sign language we're already doing and continuing to encourage many hours out of doors allowing his body and brain to grow in healthy ways.   Pixie has mixed dominance (right hand, left eye), and she has no problem reading or learning or thinking, so it is only a potential issue--not an inevitable one.

But I'll be watching Little Brother to see if mixed dominance becomes an issue for him.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

This book has been around since 2009, and it has spawned hundreds(?) or even thousands(?) of articles, blog posts, spin off books, etc.  The principles explained in this book are easily found everywhere and anywhere, but it was a good re-read for me.  I'm good at simplicity parenting.

One principle I felt a sense of relief at reading was the idea that as kids under 10 aren't good at verbalizing feelings, we don't need to push them to do so.  We can watch their behaviors and offer support.  As an adoptive mom of kids from trauma, I'm told by therapists and counselors to give my kids words and to verbally process everything!  Honestly, it's exhausting, and doesn't seem all that productive.  Perhaps my kids do need the words and processing time because of their tremendously traumatic pasts, but perhaps I can back down and just let them grow up in our healthy, safe home until their brains develop enough to verbalize.

Honestly, based on lots of other research about brain development and what kids need and my own frustrating experiences with trying to teach kids to use words to express abstract emotional experiences, I'm leaning toward backing down and letting them be.  Goodness knows they're seeing the rest of us model positive behaviors everyday.

Well, I Wonder by Sally Schweizer

If ever a book arrived at the right place at the right time, having this book arrive in my hands this summer is it.

It is the first three chapters of the book that speak to my heart right now.  We've survived the past almost 2 years of expanding our family so dramatically, and we are finally shifting from surviving to thriving.  Last summer I could not have handled this information, but this year I can.

(I think . . . I hope.)

The author speaks much of the imitative nature of young children--that they will imitate more than we ever dream.  This is not new.  I did know this, and I am painfully aware of my own poor example on more than one occasion.  However, she writes so naturally of ways to model positive behaviors and how to inspire children to behave in ways that will bless themselves and their communities that I feel entirely capable of following her example.
"Our words often fall on stony ground, whereas what we do, may work like a charm."   (p. 68)
"Have we come to misunderstand children (through being in such a hurry); so much so that we have forgotten that children's consciousness, their minds, are intrinsically different from ours?" (p. 6)
Page after page of practical advice mixed and mingled with anecdotes and philosophy held me breathless from the beginning to the end.  I disagreed with more than one idea, but overall, I felt intensely inspired.

How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson

I was mostly bored by the first two chapters that describe why we need nature the first time I read this book, and I felt the same the second time; I don't need to be convinced of that.  But I loved rereading the rest of the book--the how-to portion of it. 

It is not a lesson plan sort of thing--no what to do on Monday and how to follow it up on Thursday. 

It is full of ideas to fill my brain with joyful ideas so that I'm ready to suggest something when the time and place are right.

It is full of anecdotes that stay in my brain and inspire me.

It is full of suggestions and tips for how to be a good nature mentor.

And in the re-read, I find myself energized and better prepared this year than last.

Assessment 2017--Mister Man

What do I write about a really bright kid other than he's really bright? 

I've not tested him, but he's reading novels (voluntarily and voraciously) that appear on lots of 3rd-6th grade reading lists, so I say confidently that he's a good reader.  He remembers what he reads, and he understands it based on the narrations he follows me around sharing.

He intuits math concepts before I even think about teaching them to him.

He memorizes math facts almost faster than I can present them.

He both follows directions included in his Snap Circuits kit to build pre-designed circuits and invents his own successful circuits.

He plays make-believe.
He invents with building toys.
He makes astute observations on our nature walks.
He revels in outdoor play.

His gross-motor skills are not as strong as his fine-motor, but he's long and gangly, and his bones seem to be growing faster than his skin or his muscles, so he aches a lot.

He delights in everything!

Seriously, he lives in a state of constant delight--sunrise, birds, books, meals, Legos, fireflies, snowflakes, raindrops, mud, flowers, insects, clouds--for Mister Man everything is a reason to rejoice.

He delivered a brief talk in primary a few weeks ago.  Afterwards, a woman who heard it came up to him and asked, "How old are you?"

"Five," he answered.

"I thought you were ten!" the woman exclaimed.  "You did such a good job!  I can't believe you're 5 years old!  That's amazing!"

He needs lots of quiet time--like his mom. :)
He needs lots of sleep.
He needs lots of people to listen to him express the ideas that are constantly running through his active brain.
He needs some help to remember to be kind to those who don't think as quickly or as thoroughly as he does.

Not always, but sometimes.

His pencil grip makes me nuts.  He uses all 4 fingers along the length of the pencil.  We've used pencil grips, and we work with him to help him use a "correct" grip, but he defaults to his preferred grip. 

I'm thinking I'll not worry about it, as his penmanship is beyond his years.

He's a classic little brother--thinks it's hilarious to make his teenage sisters squeal.
He's a loving, protective big brother--caring astutely for his 4 younger siblings.

He's a delight in every way.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Assessment 2017--Brother

Brother is a gentle soul.  He looks somewhat mischievous in this picture, and like any 5-year-old boy, he has his moments, but they are the exception to the rule.  He is gentle more often than anything.

Our goals for Brother this school year were simply to heal.

To heal from his fears.
To heal from his trauma.
To heal his body.
To heal his mind.

He has a long way to go, but truly, I can relate stories of healing that testify to the power of God.

Fear of water
Brother came to us terrified of water.  We don't know if it this fear came inherent or via outside forces, but it is a terrible fear.  Even baths often end in tears and screaming.  Short of doing what it takes to get him clean each day, we've simply given him opportunity to explore the joy of water at his own pace.

Last summer we purchased a lake pass (yes, we had to pay for the privilege of swimming at the local lake!) and some life jackets, and headed out to play a few times each week.  Brother mostly played along the shore, only getting as wet as he needed to cool off in the hot summer sun.  When he did venture into the water, he did not want to be splashed or get his head/face wet.  By the end of the summer, he worked up enough courage to jump off the little concrete walkway (wheelchair access to the water) into about 12 inches of water.

At home we put out a wading pool or sprinkler most days, and Brother happily filled his days with pouring the water from one plastic bottle or bowl to another.  Rarely did he immerse himself in water, and never did he voluntarily allow himself to be splashed.

Over the course of the school year, there were few opportunities for water play other than bath time, and face/hair washing continued to be screaming nightmares.  It did not matter how often we reassured him, how much we tried to teach him, or how gentle we were--Brother could not hear that he was safe.

Then one day it clicked.

I explained (yet again) that he needed to be clean, and that he would be cleaned much faster if he sat still, stopped screaming, closed his eyes and mouth, and tilted his head back.

Suddenly he heard and followed my advice.

He smiled at me, "I did what you said, Mommy.  It was fast!  The water did not hurt me!"

He clenches his fists and holds his breath in fear, but he does not scream or thrash around anymore.  He smiles every time I finish washing his face and hair, "I did it, Mommy!  I'm okay!"

And this summer, we spent time at a family member's home with a swimming pool.  Brother put on his life jacket and paddled around joyfully for hours on end.  He also jumped in off the side and slid down their water slide.  It is clear that being submerged still frightens him, but he shakes it off and smiles joyfully at his wonderful accomplishment.

Fear of animals
Brother was so afraid of animals when he arrived at our house that he couldn't even walk through the garage where our ancient dog, Genevieve, slept in her kennel.  He had to be accompanied, and he sometimes had to be carried because he could not make his feet move if he knew she was near.

Genevieve died shortly after the children arrived in our home, and we were left with only Percy the guinea pig and JoyJoy the cat.  Percy was a grumpy old guinea pig, and he died after another little while.  JoyJoy is rather an independent, outdoor-living, hunter of a cat, who occasionally allows us the privilege of showing her some affection.

Brother learned that he could pet her occasionally, and it was good for him.

Unfortunately, along with petting her, he would sometimes try to kick her or pull her tail.

Fear is a funny thing, and I guess it led Brother to be aggressive.  We had to ban him from touching JoyJoy unless we supervised him.

Time passed, and this year Belle got Theo the puppy for her birthday present.  He was 3 pounds of energy and cuteness.  He was just right for Brother to cuddle and love without fear.

Within a week, Brother could pet Theo without flinching.

Within a month, Brother could play rough and tumble with Theo without crying.

Brother has tried to hurt Theo many times, though, and he has had to be supervised when near our energetic puppy.

He is learning that being kind brings the best rewards, and often he can be found gently petting Theo's head or fingering his tail.

And that has helped Brother learn that other animals can be friendly, too.  At the most recent homeschool camp out, Brother spent long moments petting and loving on a friend's dog--even though this dog outweighs Brother.

He will probably always be cautious around animals (good!) but he's no longer terrified into immobility.  He's learning how to show affection and tender care for other living things, and I see new strength in Brother for it.

Brother was not able to solve problems when he first arrived.  If handed a bin of Legos or blocks, he did not know what to do with them.  It did not take long for him to understand that he could build with them, but if a piece of his structure was unstable and fell off, he'd melt into the floor because he could not fix it.

He literally could not.

He could remember that perhaps a yellow piece belonged on his structure, but he could not figure out how to replace it.

Slowly, with experience, that changed.

Brother can now build and rebuild without crying . . . too much.  Certain toys do still give him pause--Lincoln Logs, ball-and-stick builders, Zoobs; there are times I hear him crying as he builds, and when I look to see what is wrong, he is crying over how he cannot get a piece to do what he wants it to do.  But he does not give up.  He cries and tries.  I leave him to work things out, and he succeeds, coming with a big smile to invite me to see what he built.

He does not choose the hard way or the long way to do things as often as before.  He's figuring out what is necessary and what is superfluous--such as choosing the route to the dining room that is most direct and has the fewest closed baby (pet) gates.  He used to walk into the kitchen, circle the island, walk around the table, and then climb across the chairs to get to his seat for breakfast.  Now he can walk into the kitchen and directly to his seat.

Just the other day he was wearing a dress-up costume that was too big.  It kept flopping over his feet.  He came to me to ask if he could put on his shoes in order to keep the costume on.  I was very impressed with his ability to identify the problem and solve it himself.

He's come a long way!

Brother is still a very little boy, and I expect that he will forget instructions sometimes.  But Brother's memory is a marvel because of its flaws and its power.

At first, Brother cannot remember new information.  A new story, a new experience, a new instruction--all of them are heard and lost within moments.  However, when that information is repeated many, many times, he gets it.  He gets it so solidly that I'm often startled by the perfection of his memory.

In learning to read, he struggled to understand that letters in a row made words.  I wrote about his experience in a review post some months ago.  However, with practice, he really got it, and he remembers words that he's learned in the past without needing to sound them out.  This sounds like what any child should learn to do, and it is, but I'm struggling to convey just how interesting my experience with Brother is.  He seems to go from completely confused to completely confident in the blink of an eye. 

The same has been true for how to wash hands, how to brush teeth, how to put toys away, etc.  One day I'll be despairing that Brother will never learn what to do, and then I'll stand astonished as he teaches a sibling what to do with perfect clarity.

The key is for me to just keep on repeating what he needs to hear until he gets it.

And then he will get it!

I think Brother may have a gift for math.  We've done basically zero formal math study so far, but he seems to intuit number patterns and rules. 

I'm not sure about this.

More on it in another year.

Motor skills
Brother's gross motor skills are awesome--just like Beowulf's.  He's lithe, strong, and a good runner.  Rose Red has commented more than once that Brother could be a champion soccer player.

His fine motor skills were delayed, but suddenly blossomed this year.  He quickly progressed from fist-gripping his crayons and pencils to a beautiful writing grip with no outside intervention.  He simply seemed to grow into himself.  He progressed from scribbling to intentional drawings.  If the classic Draw-A-Person test can be given any credence, then Brother has grown significantly in his emotional/intellectual abilities.

He can print his name.
He can trace and sometimes print other letters of the alphabet.  
He can cut with scissors with reasonable accuracy.
He can button and zip.
He can unlock doors.
He can buckle and unbuckle his bike helmet.

He'd like to be allowed to help in the kitchen.

We'll see.

Brother arrived looking like he was suffering from a bad case of chicken pox or measles.  His skin was covered with open, infected, bumpy sores.

After the first two rounds of antibiotics to clear up the infections, we've simply followed doctor's orders to use hydrocortisone cream and lots of moisturizer--we like petroleum jelly with cocoa butter best of all. 

Brother's scars are fading, and his skin is mostly smooth.  Summers are the worst for bringing on the itchy rash of eczema, but with minimal maintenance, Brother's skin is clear and comfortable.

Emotional Growth
How do I describe what Brother's days were like a year or more ago? 

There just aren't words.

I can say that he spent long hours crying and crying and crying. 

It's just not enough to convey the sense of despair and anxiety he lived in and that we lived in as a result.

He spends much less time crying now.

He can hear and understand that he can choose to use words and obey which will give a quick positive outcome, or he can cry and refuse to obey resulting in a time out in order to get back on track before getting to a positive outcome. 

He can sit and calm down in a time out.  That's an accomplishment of this year.

He's less capable of choosing when he's tired--like any kid--it's just more extreme for Brother.

When he's irritable, he falls into passive-aggressive behaviors, but he's irritable less and less often.  He's starting to seem more like a healthy kid than an unhealthy one.

To Conclude:
Brother loves singing, cars, trains, magnet bricks, bedtime stories, mud, goodnight kisses, his stuffed bear, playing make believe, digging holes, carrying in groceries, going on walks, helping Mom, and sucking his thumb. 

A year ago, I was pretty sure that Brother really would struggle to learn and would be rather limited in how far he could go socially or academically.  This year, I'm pretty sure I was wrong.  He takes longer to learn than I'm used to, but when he learns something, he really learns it.

He's friendly, sweet, and giving.

He cares truly about the well-being of others; he has the gift of compassion.

Sometimes his true gifts are clouded by the evils that hurt him before, but those clouds are clearing.

Brother is starting to shine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Assessment 2017--Little Brother

The kids have been after me for a while now to change Little Brother's internet name to Beowulf.  So, as this is as good a time as any, I'll do it now.

Beowulf is 4 1/2 years old.  Our primary goals for him this year have been to :

1.  Get him potty-trained
2.  Establish healthy sleep patterns
3.  Dress himself
4.  Help him with anger management.

For a brief week, we thought we'd achieved potty-training success . . . but we were wrong.  Beowulf just doesn't care if he's wet, dry, or messy.  He's perfectly comfortable in any state, and even seems unaware of the difference in any of these conditions.  This is probably a sensory perception issue.

I remember coming into his room one morning to get him up for the day, only to be overwhelmed by the smell of a bowel movement.  When I asked, he told me he was completely clean and had no idea what the smell was.  He was shocked when I opened his pull-up and showed him the poop.

That was fairly common 6 months ago, but recently he has been 100% successful at having bowel movements on the toilet.

Urinating, however, continues to be a problem.  He uses the toilet the majority of the time, but if he gets mad or just plain too interested in what he's doing, he'll go without even knowing it's happening.  His pull-ups have those designs on them that disappear if he's wet himself, and he has to look at them each night to know if he's dry or not.

We've stopped actively pursuing complete toilet training success.  Instead we're continuing to buy pull-ups for Beowulf, reminding him to use the toilet often, and accepting that a child who cannot tell the difference between wet and dry is going to take a good while longer to be truly potty-trained.

Healthy Sleep Patterns
When Beowulf joined our family not-quite two years ago, he was in the habit of getting up at night to play.  He'd turn on the light, wake up anybody else he could find, and invite them to party with him.   He also wanted to nap for many hours in the middle of the day, he wouldn't go to bed at night, and he got up before dawn no matter how much or how little sleep he got. 

It was exhausting and unsafe.

The first think we did was cut out his naps.  This helped a little, but not a lot.

Then we moved him to his own room with nothing in it but his bed (this is easier said than done).  We put an alarm on his bedroom door that scared him senseless when it went off.  This kept him in the bedroom and unable to wake the rest of the family.  We all slept better knowing where Beowulf was at all hours, and he seemed to be bored enough to sleep.

Circumstances led us to have to put Brother in the bedroom with him, but this began the mess of having him want to jump and play and scream instead of going to sleep.  The developmental pediatrician recommended Melatonin.  I was hesitant.  But desperation won out over hesitancy, and Melatonin helped a great deal.  We'd dose him about half an hour before bedtime, and he'd be too sleepy to play when his head hit the pillow.

This did not keep him asleep through the night, however. 

We kept enforcing the rule that kids are to stay quietly in bed until 7:00 am.  He's rarely successful at staying quiet or in bed, but every bedtime we repeat, "What do you do if you wake up before Mom comes?" 

"Stay in bed, quiet mouth, quiet hands, quiet feet."

And 6 out of 7 mornings I hear him yelling in play at 5:00 or so in the morning (once it was 3:45 am), and I go to him and say, "What are you supposed to do?"

"Stay in bed, quiet mouth, quiet hands, quiet feet."

He knows the answers, he just can't make his body do what his brain knows.

The early waking wouldn't be a problem if he weren't exhausted by 4:00 pm.  He can't nap or he'll be up all night.  So we just keep slogging along, putting him to bed at 6:30 or 7:00 pm because that gives him the maximum number of sleep hours before affecting his wake up time.

Once he falls asleep--totally easy if he's alone, totally impossible if he has any company (we use Melatonin sparingly)--he's sleeping soundly through the night, and his early waking may simply be a part of his personal make up.  I keep telling myself there will come a day in a decade or so when I'll be begging him to get up on time instead of begging him to sleep a little longer.

Dressing Himself
Beowulf takes upwards of 20 minutes to change his clothes--i.e. from loose-fitting pajamas into a t-shirt and elastic waist shorts.  The clothes he's going to put on must be right side out and have an easily distinguished front and back.  Every movement takes careful, focused thought and attention. 

But he can put on these soft clothes, and earlier in the school year, he could not.

Buttoning and zipping a fly on a pair of pants is totally beyond him. 

But, just this past Sunday he conquered the buttons on his dress shirt!  I did the top button for him, which left him 4 small buttons.  I've been encouraging him to button one or two buttons here and there through the year, sometimes guiding his fingers in how to grasp the button and push it through the button hole.  It has been tremendously hard work. 

Church was starting a little later than usual due to stake conference.  We were actually ahead of schedule getting dressed, so after buttoning the top button, I left Beowulf to work on his other buttons.  It took him 40 minutes, lots of tears, much encouragement, and so much hard work, but he finished the remaining 4 buttons all by himself!

I did a happy dance for him, high-fived him twice, and got him to shout out, "I can do it!  I can do it!" with his arms in the air.

He's still got a fair bit of work toward independent dressing, but he's on his way, and I'm proud of his accomplishments so far.

Anger Management
Our Beowulf has a hair-trigger, powerful temper.  The slightest touch or smallest word can send him screaming to the floor.

Oddly, though, I've watched Baymax whomp Beowulf in the head with a toy, and Beowulf has done nothing more than cry quietly.  We don't let Baymax do that without an appropriate consequence, and we do comfort Beowulf, but I'm always perplexed at what makes him fall apart and what doesn't.

Because of his years of violent screaming, his voice is permanently hoarse--he sounds like he's recovering from laryngitis.  The pediatrician says give him more water, but he drinks tons of water, and his voice is the same.   His tantrums are definitely fewer and farther apart than they were at the beginning of the year.  He's really doing much, much better, and I wonder if his voice box will heal someday.

Most people find his hoarseness appealing in such a small boy. :)

Tantrums used to last longer than they do now, too.  His quiet place is one corner of our front porch where he has 3 different textures--concrete on the floor, wood on one wall, and brick on the other wall--to touch and ground him, and he has the fresh air, trees, wildlife, flowers, grass, etc. to look at and calm him.  I used to try to hold him through the tantrums, but he's too strong, and we both would end up all sweaty and covered in other bodily fluids, and it was just too hard on us both.  Now that he's learned to use the quiet place, he gets calm much faster, and he's really a happier kid over all.

We've been working on using words to ask for needs to be met.  He's probably almost as successful as the average 4-year-old at remembering that words work better than crying.  We do a lot of reminding that words are the communication tool of choice in our home.

He has a short emotional fuse when trying to cope with challenges.  If a crayon won't fit into the box or a train piece won't fit onto the track, he'll collapse on the floor crying, but that was truer earlier in the year than it is now.  He's learning to keep trying even when activities are hard, and I admire him for that.

In general
I've been casually administering ASQ-3 screenings to Beowulf every 6 months or so, and I just administered the 54 month test recently.  As usual he scores as high as possible in gross-motor skills.  He is awesome at gross-motor skills!  He's improved from low-average scores in problem-solving, communication, and personal-social to high-average scores.  His weakest area continues to be fine-motor skills, but he's improved from well-below the cutoff at 36 and 42 months, to being in the middle of the cutoff range at 48 months, to almost meeting the cutoff at 54 months.  That tells me that my system of following the advice I read in Balanced and Barefoot a year or so ago, is working. 

He still holds a crayon with a fist grip, but he's improving, and I have no plans to change what we're doing with Beowulf.

If he's like Brother, he'll suddenly be ready to learn to read in another 5-8 months, but he's is own person, so we'll wait for him to grow into himself.  We're in no hurry for academics here.

He loves to identify letters, and he loves to count things in his world.  He enjoys his bedtime story, and he's learned that outside play is waaaaay cooler than inside play (even when it's hot out).  He's still totally enamored with trains, and shows no signs of outgrowing this particular passion. 

He cannot retell a story that he's heard, even immediately after hearing it, but he can remember a few highlights from a very familiar and beloved story (as in one we've read at least 50 times).  He can pray a simple, sweet prayer.  He hates having his head touched (haircuts make him cry), but he loves to sit in my (or any) lap, and he likes how my hair and skin feel under his hands.  He sits quietly through an entire sacrament meeting (over an hour) as long as he has a small toy car in his hands.

He's passionately alive in water.

He is constantly seeking tactile stimulation with his whole body (i.e. throwing his body against the couch with a flying leap and sliding down it so that every inch of his body rubs against it), and he is often unaware of the space his body is filling (he seems genuinely surprised to find that he's smashing a toy with his foot as he stands or kicking a sibling in the head as he lolls about on the floor). 

If it has an engine, it is cool--be it motorcycle, trash truck, or sewing machine.

The funny thing is about loving things with engines, is that he's crazy sensitive to noise.   The blender both repels and fascinates him, and he throws his hands over his ears, making grotesque faces and contorting his body as he tiptoes closer and closer to the irresistible machine.

It's the same with the vacuum.

I feel that socially, Lola and Baymax are catching up to him, while Brother is moving beyond him.  He and Brother are still best friends, and short of separating them nothing can make them stop giggling once they get started.  When it comes to outdoor play, he can keep up with the "big" boys, but in quiet play, I see him relating more and more with Baymax--2 years his junior.

In my opinion, Beowulf shows mild signs of FASD.  We're not sure what his future holds, but he's learning and growing in remarkable ways.

Review: Internship for High School Credit

Pixie (age 15) loves to dance.  I've often seen dancer friends turn that passion into a career over time, but they danced so much more and so much longer than my Pixie.  I haven't wanted to discourage her, but I've been quietly doubtful that she could do much with what experience she has.  However, I have been happily proven wrong by Internship for High School Credit offered by Apologia Educational Ministries.

Quite simply by creating this guide book, Apologia opened my eyes to the potential my girl has for engaging in and making joyful use of her passion.  And then the Internship for High School Credit book itself has given me confidence and a sense of order (without having to reinvent the wheel) for guiding her through what's going to be a great educational adventure this fall.

There's a downloadable sample of the Internship for High School Credit available (click the title of the book in this post, then click on the "download" button below the picture of the book).  In the sample, you can see the entire table of contents and read the introduction, which includes information about the history of apprenticeships and compares/contrasts apprenticeships with internships.  It also describes some of the benefits of internships for today's students.

Then there's a small but useful "how to use this book" section.

After that there are 5 sections.

In Section I the student prepares for an internship--deciding what kind of internship, determining what hours will be worked, writing a resumé, writing a letter of introduction, interview hints/tips, etc.  

Pixie determined that she'd like to teach dance for our homeschool dance company.  As she's been a member of that company for 4 years, she already knew the director personally, so she skipped the step of writing a letter of introduction (I feel that I missed giving her a valuable writing opportunity by not requiring it of her--lesson learned for next time!) and simply talked to the director in person. 

It was an easy sell.  The director has seen Pixie dance, has first hand experience with her choreography skills and style, and knows Pixie's work ethic.  She got the job on the spot.

But I'm thinking I may have Pixie practice writing a resumé simply for the experience, and to have it on hand for the future.  The directions for writing one in Internship for High School Credit are simple, straightforward, and approachable.  In addition, there is a student sample that takes away a lot of the mystery of resumé writing.

Section II is written to parents.  It's only 5 pages long, so it isn't overwhelming, and it contains information about transcript documentation, giving a course title, and determining number of credits.

Section III is the largest section, and as Pixie hasn't started her internship, we've not completed this section yet.  It included weekly worksheets for a full semester (16 weeks) with hour counting sheets for 4 week units.  It has a page for setting semester goals, it has tip boxes (i.e. "Do more than is required of you." [p. 56]), a midterm assessment sheet and an end of semester assessment sheet for the internship supervisor to fill out, and two end of semester self-assessment questions for the student to answer.

Section IV applies only to those students who are doing a year-long internship.  It is much briefer than the first semester because it assumes that a level of competency was achieved in the first semester precluding the need for continued worksheets.  It does continue to offer hour counting sheets for 4 week units, but it changes from worksheet style reporting to a project/paper style reporting, due every 2 weeks. 

For example, the assignment for semester 2, weeks 5-6 require the student to research college majors applicable to the internship being completed and write a paper comparing the various majors

Section V is to be completed when the internship is over.  It has a final writing assignment and instructs the student in writing an appropriate thank you note.  It outlines how the student can request a letter of recommendation and how to update the student's resumé .

At the end is an Appendix with information appropriate for school guidance counselors (and perhaps homeschool parents who see themselves as such).

I talked to my Belle (age 13) about doing her own Internship for High School Credit.  She's long been interested in farming, and we have a 25 acre urban farm located only 10 minutes from our home.  We've met and made purchases from the farmers many times, and working with them would be a great learning experience for Belle.  After looking over the material she said, "I'd like to be older, Mom.  This feels too advanced for me." 

She's right.  It is high school level work.

Pixie is really excited to be a dance instructor for the 2017-18 school year.  We both are happy to have guidance from Internship for High School Credit by Apologia Educational Ministries in helping her to make the most of her experience.

For more reviews about the Internship for High School Credit, or for reviews about How to Homeschool joyfully, confidently, and with focus, click here or on the banner below:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Whistlefritz

My littles absolutely l♡ve the videos, music, games, and activities in the Educator's Spanish Collection by Whistlefritz.

We'd been cobbling together some Spanish lessons on our own for quite some time, but it was a struggle to be consistent because sometimes a new day would dawn, and I'd realize I'd forgotten to prepare.

It's a nice change of pace to always have something ready to go so the kids are getting consistent exposure to the Spanish language . . . something they look forward to!

The Educator's Spanish Collection includes:
5 DVDs
3 CDs
Book of 40 lesson plans
Matching game--Spanish verbs

Who at my house likes it:
Baymax and Lola--2 1/2 yrs
Little Brother--4 yrs
Brother and Mister Man--5 yrs
Ladybug--6 yrs
Little Princess--7 yrs
Nature Angel--10 yrs

(The videos and lessons are definitely geared to very young children.  Nature Angel wouldn't choose to watch the videos herself, but she's happy to join her younger siblings.)

How we use the materials:
The kids watch a DVD episode each school day for a week. (That's how the program is consistent for us!)  By watching the same DVD all week long, they get to hear the same vocabulary and sentence structure over and over again.  I've noticed that while on Monday they just laugh at the antics of the puppets and cartoon characters, by Friday they're asking thoughtful questions and repeating some of the words and phrases they've been listening to all week.

One day each week I present one of the lessons from the plan book.  In my heart, I'd like to present a lesson and then review it and extend it (suggestions are in the lesson plan book, and you can view a sample lesson plan here) on 2 other days, but I'm simply not there right now. 

If we had a CD player in our van, I'd put the 3 CDs in there and we'd listen to Spanish vocabulary songs, early learning songs, and fingerplays while we run errands.

But we don't.  

So we really only use the CDs in conjunction with the lesson plans.

The songs are lively and catchy.  Having the words to the songs printed in the lesson plan book makes it easy for me to sing along and lead the kids in improvised fingerplays that really help them learn.

And the matching cards are irresistible fun for the kids any time.  They include pictures and words for 25 common verbs and can be used in a variety of ways.

General Observations:
According to the FAQ page:  "The Lesson Plans are a coherent, “scaffolded” curriculum in which later lessons build upon prior lessons."  And later on the FAQ page it is recommended for those unsure where to start:  "Start from the beginning of the Spanish Lesson Plans for Kids curriculum and work your way through the book. The Lesson Plans have a clearly defined structure and order. The structure of the curriculum will lend structure to your overall Spanish instruction."

I can see that this is true in the sense that Lesson 26 "Let's Eat:  Vegetables" is reviewed in Lesson 27 "Let's Eat: Fruit." And Lesson 27 is reviewed in Lesson 28.  However, in our experience so far, the lessons don't seem to need to be presented in any specific order.  If I had fruits on hand, but I was out of veggies, it would be perfectly easy to switch the order of the lessons and review the names of fruit on the veggie day. The lessons focus on vocabulary acquisition.  We've happily jumped over lessons for which I didn't have the supplies, going on to other lessons and circling back without a hitch.  Every once in a while a later lesson will refer to an earlier lesson or to handouts needed from an earlier lesson, but nothing has kept us from being able to complete the lessons in the order that we want.

Lesson 1 calls for making puppets to use for practicing greetings.  We had lots and lots of old socks and googly eyes, so though the lesson calls for simple paper bag puppets, we had a grand time making these instead.  We named them and get them out each week to review our Spanish greeting skills.

The lessons often require some sort product that I don't have around the house.  For instance, Lesson 2 requires transparency sheets; lesson 4 requires balloon stickers (I bought those dot stickers that people use for pricing at garage sales); Lesson 5 requires multicolored goldfish crackers, etc.  I've had to plan ahead and do careful shopping in order to complete the lessons as planned.

We discovered that the transparencies used for practicing (and making) colors (Lesson 2) clung to our windows, and the light shining through gave us a better color-mixing effect.  We also discovered that because our red was so strong, it took 2 blues to make purple and 2 yellows to make orange!

On the flip side, some lessons (i.e. Lessons 18 and 19) require nothing more than making copies of handouts or game pieces.  Those are the lessons toward which I gravitate on busier than usual weeks!

Grammar is presented in the DVDs; the spoken conversations are the grammar lessons.   I noticed that the host often repeats sentences several times changing only the subject and the verb conjugation to allow children to hear how the sentences change naturally--without formal grammar activities.  

The music tracks on the CDs are not labeled in any way that I've been able to find.  There is no list of titles on the CDs themselves, and when I put the CDs in my computer to see if our music player would give me a list, all the songs were simply labeled "Track 1," "Track 2," etc.  This has proven very frustrating when trying to find a particular song for a particular lesson.  While the words to the song are printed in the lesson, and the title of the CD is referenced in the lesson, I've had to spend many minutes hunched over the CD player listening to the first lines of each song until I find the right one.

My husband, who served a 2 year mission in Venezuela as a young adult, was home one day as the kids watched.  "What's this?" he asked.

"Whistlefritz Spanish lessons,"  I answered.

"What's it for?" he asked with furrowed brow.

"Ummm, learning Spanish?" I grinned as I answered.

He chuckled, "Yes I know, but it seems like a Latin American kids' show, not an American how-to-speak-Spanish show."

"I know.  I think that's the point.  This program uses the immersion technique to allow kids to get really familiar with the language.  I think that if it reminded you of something you'd have seen in Venezuela, then that's great!  It's got an authentic feel."

"Yeah, you're right," he said, and then he started telling me funny stories about Venezuelan Spanish and Mexican Spanish and misunderstandings that can happen between the two.

I noticed as the kids watched "La Fiesta de Fritzi" that the family baking a birthday cake is a family of color.  In my multicultural family, we are always grateful to find positive multicultural examples of families learning and growing together.  In addition, the children throughout all of the videos are of various human colors.  That's a plus for us.

Overall, we're having a good experience with the Educator's Spanish Collection by Whistlefritz.  My kids really like the DVDs, the songs, the matching game, and the lessons.  I find the lessons take advanced planning to execute, but they are engaging, and I'm hearing my kids practice Spanish often.

We used 1 DVD every day for a week which means we watched all 5 DVDs in 5 weeks, and on week 6, we cycled back to the DVD we'd watched in week 1.  Nature Angel and Little Princess exclaimed to me later in the afternoon, "Mom!  We understand more than we did at first!  The first time we watched the video, it was like Sara was just waving her arms around and talking nonsense, but this time we understood what she was talking about!"

They're very excited to keep watching and understanding more.

So am I.

To read what other crew members have to say about Whistlefritz, click here or on the banner below:

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Second Form Latin

Belle says, "I love Second Form Latin!  I love Latin!"  We have the Second Form Latin Complete Set.

She discovered Memoria Press and their award-winning curriculum when Rose Red had the privilege of reviewing First Form Greek.  Belle spent a long time looking over the format of the lessons and all of the resources available and came to me asking, "Could I do Memoria Press Latin?  If it's like the Greek lessons, it's really good."

We spent some time researching the Second Form Latin Complete Set table of contents and lesson design, and Belle fell in love. "Please, please get this for me!" she begged.

When the opportunity arose to review this curriculum, we certainly jumped at the chance.

And the experience has been just as good as we hoped.

In the beginning:
The first thing we found out when our curriculum box arrived was that the flashcards are not pre-cut.  Belle and I spent a goodly amount of time tearing along the perforations and organizing the flashcards.  Each flashcard has a small number in one corner indicating which chapter to which it belongs.

It wasn't hard; it was just a surprise.  We actually had a good time chatting and laughing as we worked together.

The second thing we found out was that the week's lessons the teacher's manual in Second Form Latin are laid out topically.  Because I need my teens to work independently on most subjects, I gave Belle all of the materials to use on her own.  With the lessons laid out topically, we had to have a bit of a curriculum planning meeting to show her how to divide the topics up into daily bites.  I gave her a small notebook to use for planning each week's work, modeling how to break up the topics in a manageable way.
It's a little blurry (sorry), but here is a week's plan.  Go here to see it crisp and clear at the Memoria Press website.  Each red-numbered or red-titled section outlines topical material to cover during the week.

The third thing we discovered about Second Form Latin is the emphasis on memorization!  We thought, based on Belle's previous experience with Latin, that she would easily dive into Second Form Latin--even enjoying a bit of review of previously studied material.

We were wrong!

When she began lesson 1, she had to spend an extra week memorizing conjugations and declensions that she'd had experience with, but had not memorized to the point of mastery.

At first she felt really overwhelmed and voiced her concern that she wasn't going to succeed, but I encouraged her to take the time she needed to get familiar with the patterns and reminded her that she has a gift for memorizing.  We spent some time together finding helpful resources in the backs of the student and teacher manuals (i.e. memorization and grammar charts).

By the end of the second week, she felt comfortable enough to take the lesson 1 weekly quiz, and she did just fine!

Seeing her good score on the quiz boosted her confidence, and she moved happily into lesson 2.

Now that she has some experience under her belt:
Belle says, "I really like Second Form Latin because the lessons only teach a little bit at a time, and I can really learn the material.  I never feel overwhelmed or confused anymore, and I love Latin!"

That first lesson was a doozy because we hadn't had experience with First Form Latin, but the learning curve was manageable by taking extra time to get familiar with the Memoria Press Latin curriculum style.  Since then, Belle has comfortably completed a lesson each week, studying 5 days each week, and has done quite well on the quizzes (not perfectly, but quite well). 

A few times Belle has come to me for assistance with vocabulary review or grammar study.  It is nice for her to have a live partner giving her feedback about her answers sometimes.  Otherwise, between the flashcards, the text, the DVDs, the quizzes, the teacher guide, the pronunciation CD, and the answer keys, Belle has really been able to work on her own and learn Latin to the point of mastery.

Second Form Latin Complete Set is challenging but manageable with plenty of resources for study.  It is orderly and enjoyable for my 7th (headed into 8th) grade girl.

To see what other reviewers have to say about a variety of Memoria Press curriculum options, click here or on the banner below!