Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Homeschool Open House

Welcome to our homeschool!  This is our 9th year homeschooling.  Wow, how time speeds by us.  In case this is your first time visiting our blog, my husband and I homeschool all four of our children.  They are ds (17) known as  "the big teen" , dd (6) "Goldilocks", ds (5) "Tom Sawyer", and dd (3) "Little Red Ridinghood". The other somewhat unique thing about us is that two of our children are adopted, and three of our children have special needs which include: ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, severe learning disabilities, cardiac problems, respiratory problems, Sensory Integration Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and fetal drug exposure.  All of these issues both enhance and complicate our homeschool experience.  So now that you have met the family, on with a glimpse of a day in the life of our homeschool.

(Dining room, where we do all of our table time schooling. 
However, we read in the living room and do activities all over the house.)

This school year, which is about three weeks underway, I am teaching 11th, 1st, kindergarten, and preschool.  We homeschool 5 weeks on and 1 week off with a total of 36 weeks of "documented school".  The rest of the weeks that are meant to be break time are fit around Christmas, late spring, and any major events in the year.  We tend to take May/June off as our major break, since spring fever always strikes, and we all hate the heat of summer.  It is easier for us to school during the summer in front of the A/C unit.  My son says all this "when we are in school versus not in school" is just a spoof.  In his words, "We are always being educated, but during official school time, Mom just has a plan.  That's really the only difference."  Shucks, how to make a Mama proud.  At the beginning of the year, I have a general outline of goals and courses for each child, as well as how we are going to go about achieving it.  Then I write out goals for the next 5 weeks during the week in between lessons.  During the 5 weeks on, I plan out each week's lessons on Saturday night.  So in reality, I only have to stay one week ahead of my kids!  Breaking it down this way helps me avoid getting overwhelmed and burning out.  Sometimes a special event or opportunity comes along, and things have to be bumped to the next week.  This is totally fine with me and I am flexible.  I follow Charlotte Mason's philosophy for the most part, but do really like indulging in unit studies on occasion.

So this year the big teen is taking seven courses:  English III (British and American literature), Theater, Nature Center Internship, World History, Biology, Creative Writing and Art II.  With the exception of theater and the internship, all of these courses are being covered at home.  For those of you that follow my blog, you may see me mentioning other classes that he is doing. Since I have all 4 years of his high school years written out complete with lesson books to fill in, if something comes along that would fit into his learning, I can document it.  Much to his delight, there is no math listed here.  He will be doing some math by private tutor to help prepare him for Algebra next year but this will be limited.  My big teen still needs a lot of support from me because of his learning disabilities, and so most of his schooling still requires me to be near him.  Thus, his schooling is scattered throughout the day when I can devote time to him.  Some of the fun/messy courses such as Biology and Art are covered at night when the little ones have gone to bed.  English III is covered by reading a running list of great literature from Britain and the USA.  He has been taking acting classes and will be in a play soon for Theater.  He is Charlie Brown in the play.  He continues working 3 mornings a week at our local nature center for his Internship.  World History is being covered by reading all of the Genevieve Foster books, watching all of the "Western Tradition" college classes on PBS, and dabbling in some projects around particular events.  Other videos will be added where useful.  He will also be doing a few research papers on selected topics.  We will be completing Biology by dissecting a frog, sheep's heart, starfish and perhaps more, using our microscope to study a variety of things.  Our text books will be Real Science 4 Kids and my college textbook.  For those of you who are familiar with Real Science 4 Kids, you may be thinking it is really odd to be using an elementary program and a college textbook as guides.  When you are dealing with a very bright child who is very academically challenged due to learning differences, these are some of the wild leaps one must make.  He can work with the workbooks and text of Real Science 4 Kids without being terribly challenged, and I can use the college textbook to extend and complete concepts that are presented.  In Creative Writing we will be using several resources and opportunities to write poetry, journals and essays.  Writing is my big teen's most difficult area, so we will really be focusing on this course.  Lastly, for Art II he will be using the Meet the Masters Program.  We have been very pleased with this program.  My Mother, who has a degree in art, will be teaching most of this course to him.

(The big teen with his new microscope!  He loves it!)

(We made him his very own writing nook for creative writing
complete with his own computer for writing ONLY!)

My little ones are all early risers, so much of their "table time" school is done before 10:00 in the morning.  I loosely use the Core Knowledge series of "What Your _____ Grader Needs to Know" to make my goals for the year.  This year, even though I have three different grades for the little ones, they are doing many of the same lessons but just with little alterations.  For example, Tom Sawyer(5) is very good at math so he is working on identifying, copying and adding numbers into the 100's; Little Red Ridinghood (3) is working on numbers up to 50; and Goldilocks(6) is working on numbers up to 25.  Usually I start the day with a Bible story (Tomie DePaola's Book of Bible Stories and The DK Family Bible ) and then move on to reading lessons with Tom Sawyer and Goldilocks using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  This program is working great for Tom Sawyer, but Goldilocks is stuck on lesson 8.  I will probably be moving her to Veritas Press Phonics Museum.  I was so lucky to find this used program at a homeschool book sale, and it really covers every learning style in every lesson.  After reading, we move on to table time and do math, which is Miquon Math for Tom Sawyer and number workbooks for Goldilocks and Little Red Ridinghood.  We often also play a math game, or make a math graph or read a preschool math book.  We then move to art.  We do an art project almost every day because my kids are addicted to art.  Also in Charlotte Mason fashion, we are doing picture studies of famous works of art.  Usually the little ones need some free play by this point, and the big teen is ready for me to help him.  The little ones will do more table time later in the day with cooperative games, play dough, drawing and copy work.  Depending on the child, copy work consists of copying lists, Bible quotes, Bob books, and each child's full name and address.  History, science, music, physical education, and Spanish are done a few times a week but not every day.  For history I am reading them children biographies of famous people, and starting a timeline of early America.  For science, we are keeping nature study books (Charotte Mason) and performing fun little science experiments.  Spanish is BBC's "Muzzy" videos and Spanish/English books on tape.  Music is piano lessons by me for the little ones and listening to music and learning songs.  Also, Goldilocks is joining the Homeschool Choir.  Physical education consists of outdoor games, YMCA swimming, long walks (more than 1/2 mile), and classes (ballet classes and swimming lessons).  Throughout the year, we will also be dabbling into mini-unit studies of books from Five in A Row, Vol. I .

Here are two of the little ones working on a noodle number graph.

Our afternoons are filled with outside play, science projects, baking, visiting with friends and errands.  We also enjoy taking long walks on days that the weather is nice.  Also, the kids often watch a special video or the PBS channel in the afternoon for an hour or so, while I work on a hard concept with the big teen.  About once a week, all of the children will help with a cooking and baking project.  This is a time of great excitement, and often it is hard to make sure that the  treat is still intact when Dad gets home. Our children are allowed to have two outside activities each at any given time.  Goldilocks will be in the homeschool choir and homeschool art classes.  Tom Sawyer and Little Red Ridinghood will be taking semi-private swimming lessons. Little Red Ridinghood will also be taking a preschool dance class.   The big teen spends a lot of time at the nature center, but he is considering taking a chess class, too.

A glimpse into our homeschool would not be complete without stating that character training and working to better our community is at the forefront of our thoughts as parents.  There are days when working through a character flaw in a child takes precedence over all else.  This is fine, since having children who become adults that are productive, community-minded citizens with kind and charitable hearts, is more important than how much math or history they have under their belts.  We also have a character trait of the week (or month if it is one we struggle with).  For example, this week we are working on Stewardship with a slant toward conserving our resources (turning off lights when you leave the room, etc.).  For the three youngest, much of this training starts at home doing chores with happy hearts and showing kindness to family members and others.  They do participate in several charities each year, such as Operation Christmas Child and Heifer International.  For our big teen, working at the food bank and other activities with our church are often on his schedule.

I often am questioned by people about how I can homeschool with so many special needs children.  The answer is with a lot of faith, and I actually don't know what it's like to not live with special needs children.  In other words, I don't really know that it can be easier.  When I said in the opening that having special needs kids has both enhanced and complicated homeschooling, I meant that having these children has made me a better parent.  I have had to strive harder to find the right resources and learn how to parent/teach my children effectively.  For example, learning the Tomato Staking parenting style has been so important to our family.  Due to my Goldilocks' behavior issues, I was searching for how to run the home more smoothly with her constant disruptions.  Tomato Staking is the answer to my prayers and has helped a great deal.  Learning to live with children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction has helped me learn how to run a calmer home.  I have a tendency to overstimulate children.  My sensory boys have also taught me so much about learning styles and how to introduce things that are gentle on the senses.  I could go on but you get the point.  Is it easy?  NO!!!  Is it worth it?  YES!!!!!  As you all know, every one of us faces a challenge in our homeschool journey -- that is what makes it our calling.

Here is a list of some of my favorite resources --

  • Home Education (The Original Home Schooling Series) by Charlotte Mason --  This six-volume set is a great resource once you get used to the Old English prose.  It is just jam-packed with info and has even given me insight into parenting my RAD child.
  • Blockbusters Online -- There is a wealth of documentaries and movies about famous people and events as well as great literature that has been put to film at this site.  Best yet I just keep a running list and the movies arrive in my mailbox when I need them.
  • Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola --  I love anything by Karen Andreola!  I come back to this book year after year and seem to glean something new each time.
  • Hints On Child Training by H.C. Trumbull --  This book is a wonderful guide that has helped me several times over the years with children who are stong willed.
  • PBS Television -- We tape shows that will fit in with our schooling throughout the year.  I find that there are many great shows about artists, "Masterpiece Theater", music and college/GED classes that are great resources.  I use these shows for my big teen, who loses his focus easily, as a fun addition to our normal curriculum.
  • What Your  _____Grader Needs to Know (Core Knowledge series) --  As I said before, I use this loosely.  It has helped me slow down.  Sometimes I get ahead of myself and skip over some of the building blocks when teaching. This series reminds me of how to start with the foundation and teach up. 
  • Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock -- This is a must for a Charlotte Mason teacher of older kids.  The lessons and resources in this book make nature study a very complete and educational experience.
  • "The Bible on CD As Told by Max McLean" --  This is a great resource and having it on CD makes my life so much easier.  My big teen loves to listen to it in the car and it can go anywhere with us.  If I am looking up something, I usually go to the family Bible; but if we are listening to the Bible for a lesson, I use the Bible on CD.
Well, there is a peek into our home!  I will leave you here with the final note that although some days do not run nearly as smooth as what is described above, it is a pleasure and a gift that we as parents have the opportunity to teach our children at home.  I cherish this experience even on the days that seem like total failures, for there are lessons to be learned from hardship.  Sometimes the hardship lessons are the ones who truly lead us to whom we are meant to be.  Thanks for coming over! 


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blessed to be homeschooling

This entire week I have just felt more blessed than usual to be able to homeschool.  There really is no particular reason, just a feeling strong in my heart this week.  It is so rewarding to watch my husband and son spending time together discovering our new microscope and the little ones asking for table time so we can get more school done.  My kids do watch TV, but, fortunately, they are not addicted to it and only watch PBS and DVDs already reviewed by me.  They are filled with other interests and can't wait to play outside.  My elderly neighbor, who loves sitting on her porch so she can watch my kids play, came over and told me a sad tale the other day.  She said that her daughter, who is a public school teacher, said that on Kindergarten surveys parents stated that their kids play outside less than an hour a week.  How sad!  My kids play outside for at least an hour every single day.  They love long walks (although not in the pouring rain, like we did last week when we got caught more than a mile from home).

Well, I know I am preaching to the choir; but I just feel so so blessed to be home with my children, teaching about and experiencing the world with them every day!



Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A couple of fun days!

Well, we are really underway in our schooling for this year.  The little ones are loving science this week.  We are learning all about the water cycle, complete with a field trip to the local science museum.  We really had fun at the museum today.  There was a visiting exhibit of THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS and weather.  The kids loved going in and out of the bus, and sticking their arms in the hurricane and snowstorm tunnels.  The museum also had a great example of the water cycle.

We also have been blessed with two play dates with the little ones' friends plus a church party in the past three days.  One of the play dates was with our brand new neighbor and she is a real sweetie.  She is between Goldilocks (6) and Tom Sawyer (5), so she is the perfect age.

Also, the kids were working on their numbers today and Tom Sawyer identified all the numbers I asked him up to 75!  Woo hoo!! (So much of my goal for making sure he knew all the numbers up to 25!)  It is amazing how much they just pick up!

Well, I am sure I have rambled on enough for one evening.



Saturday, July 21, 2007

A funny little story ...

My kids are fed very little food that has chemicals, artificial ingredients, corn syrup, food coloring and preservatives.  We hardly ever eat candy that isn't organic, and we try hard to eat as healthy as possible.  This is partially for health purposes and also because my boys both have cysts in their brains that cause them to have trouble processing chemicals.  When we are out and about, my kids often ask if there are chemicals in things that they want to eat.

So we were at the lake on Friday with one of my friends and her children, and she had brought a large variety of snacks in he hopes that some of them would be safe for my kids.  Some of them were not too far off, so I said they could have those.  When my kids asked if there were chemicals in them I said, "Yes, but not so many that you can't have them for a treat."  The kids were so excited about those shiny pre-packaged foods that they never get to have that they could barely decide which two they were going to eat.

The first funny was when my friend pulled out candy corn- a definite no-no.  My Little Red Ridinghood (3) asked what it was and where do you get it.  LOL  I really do think she has seen candy corn before but maybe not.

Then my little Tom Sawyer (5), after having two snacks, came to my friend and said, "Miss Kristi, may I please have some more chemicals PLEASE."  My friend and I laughed and laughed about that.

Then when it was time to leave, my Goldilocks (6) wanted to take the empty SHINY packages home, so she "could remember those yummy chemicals" they got to eat!

I am sure my friend thinks my kids are deprived, but they are really healthy, and no one would want to live with the behaviors that come out of my boys when their brains are exposed to a large amount of food chemicals.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My little guy with face paint!

My little guy showing off his "art projects"!  Do you think he has enough face paint under those sun glasses?!  This child never misses an opportunity to dress up and talks about Halloween year-round.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A few goals for Mommy ...

With this being our first day back to "school", I thought I would write a few goals for myself!  After all, the teacher needs to keep learning new things and improving weak areas, too!  Not only are these goals for me but they are fun goals -- not the stay-on-top-of-the-house and go-to-bed-on-time goals.  That just goes without saying.

1) I will scrapbook 2 pages each week.

2) I will practice the piano for 1 hour each week.

3) I will read for a few minutes every day -- a literature book, not a parenting book.

4) I will sit outside and breathe fresh air and be quiet for a few minutes every day.

5) I will work out for at least 2 hours every week.

Ok, so these goals are not too lofty, but they are a start.  I am hoping by starting small I will stick with it.  Hey! today I played the piano for 30 minutes and sat outside!  I will share my little ones' goals for the year soon.  Maybe for Tiany's blog open house!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Counting Blessings Sunday!

I thought for this counting of blessings Sunday I would show thanks for the things that often drive me crazy, but are really blessings.

1) I am thankful that I finally figured out how to load the photo above.  Trust me, for a non-techie person like me, that really drove me a bit crazy.  However, I am glad I finally learned how to do it.  I don't know why it is so incredibly fuzzy, however!

2) I have said it before, but I am really thankful for my home.  It is old and needs a great deal of love, money and sweat put into it, but it serves our needs, has a great backyard, is solid as a rock, and is within walking distance of several amenities.  It also is filled with yester-year charm.  (The picture above is of my husband and son putting some new porch roofing on after a bad wind storm blew the old away.)

3) I am thankful for my children's bountiful energy.  Although sometimes I wish they would just be still and quiet, their energy level reflects that they are healthy and fully love life.

4)  I am thankful for my Tom Sawyer's (5) stubborn personality.  That boy can drive me crazy with his very stubborn ways but I know he would not be alive right now if he had not been born so stubborn.  The things he had to live through in the first few weeks would take your breath away, and doctor after doctor has been amazed that he made it.  God made him the way he needed to be for his path in life.

5) I am very thankful for the mental health team that we have for Goldilocks.  Sometimes I get completely fed up with every one's opinions on how to raise her and heal her heart, but I know they mean well.  It would be so much harder to walk this road without supportive and caring people around me.

6) I am thankful for the weed-infested garden.  Even though we have been plagued with drought and it demands attention that I often do not feel I can provide, it is beginning to yield food.  The veggies taste so good, too.

7) I am thankful for my own learning challenges, because it helps me be more understanding as a teacher to my children who are learning challenged.  Also, I am all the more grateful for those of my children who do not struggle in their learning rather than taking it for granted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wise words ...

This story really spoke to me.  Sometimes I can get bogged down with fixing my special needs kids.  Although it is great to do everything to help them meet their full potential, I need to look more at all the gifts their uniqueness give us every day.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.  "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."

The old woman smiled, "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?"

"That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them."

"For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house."

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Counting my blessings Sunday #5

Another busy week gone and a new one already begun.  So here we go on some of what I felt thankful for this week.

1) I am so thankful for the reprieve in my daughter Goldilock's behavior.  I am not sure what is going on, but as I have stated before she has RAD and tends to misbehave a great deal.  She needs her world kept very tight and small and learning the parenting style of tomato staking has been a saving grace for my family.  For the past two weeks, she has had very few incidents and no major blow outs.  In addition, she has shown affection to me in appropriate ways and not because she wants something!!!  This is a first in almost 5 years of raising her.  I have gotten lots of spontaneous hugs and compliments!  Unbelievable.

2)  I am thankful for our opportunity to go swimming twice this week and that the little kiddos are getting used to the water and preparation for learning to swim.

3)  I am thankful for my husband, and I finally have health insurance so I can go to the dentist and chiropractor.

4) I am thankful for our two A/C units.  I have never dealt well with heat and the last things my kids need is a grumpy mommy.

5)  I am thankful for my adoption support group and the blessings of babies that are being bestowed upon several of our members right now.  It is awesome for my two adopted kids to have so many adopted playmates.  They don't feel different at all and will have others to grow up with and talk to during those times when they question why they had to be adopted.

6) I am thankful that my Mother raised me at her side in the kitchen and that cooking/baking comes very easily to me.  I smell fresh baked Banana Sour Cream Cake coming from the kitchen right now.

7)  I am thankful for the gift of music.  It is such an easy way to fill myself up when I am feeling down or overwhelmed.



Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Kids and their stuff!

When will I ever learn?!  My home is filled with wonderful toys.  I try to stay away from twaddle and stick with educational toys, and there are so many wonderful ones out there to own.  I think I do a fair job of being choosy and not filling my home with so many toys that my kids get overwhelmed.  But what do my kids really play with?  Drum roll, please.  The most popular thing this week is ... a weathered board of plywood that is warped in the middle.  It has been a bridge, body size shield, a fort, a camp-out kitchen, and a see saw (they have a lovely, more expensive than I care to admit, see saw; but no, they like the warped board see saw).  This is the story of my life!  Last week it was three cardboard boxes and a pile of marking pens.  Oh -- what my kids can do with a roll of tape and a ball of string would amaze or scare you, depending on how neat you like your house to be.  Please don't get me wrong -- I am delighted that my kids are so creative and easy to please.  The question is -- when am I going to learn to stop buying the stuff?  Some of our toys are used daily, such as board games, balls, art supplies and Lego's, but the rest is used far less often.  (The exception is Little Red Ridinghood's (3) dolls.  She plays with her dolls all the time, but there are 16 of them.  No wonder she says she is going to have 23 babies when she grows up!)  Well, off I go to clean up and think about how to de-clutter again!  Wish me luck!



Sunday, July 1, 2007

Counting Blessings Sunday # 4

This past week was very busy and productive.  We are almost complete with our latest weekend warrior project -- the dining room.

1) I am very thankful that my dining room floor is almost done!!!  My hard-working dh spent the whole weekend sanding and refinishing it!

2) I am SO thankful that we found Tomatis (an auditory processing therapy for children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction issues).  We are so blessed that this therapy, which is very hard to find, is right in our city and that it is helping our Tom Sawyer so much.  The changes in him are awe-inspiring.  Our big teen, who also has sensory issues, starts tomorrow.

3) I am thankful that the cylinder problem that our minivan was having was fully covered under the warranty and that they fixed the problem in less than an hour!

4) I am thankful for youth and energy.  I don't know how I would get through my busy days without them.

5) I am thankful that the dining room radiator is all done being painted.  Did I mention that I hate painting radiators?  It does look lovely and like new.

6) I am thankful for my dear children, who have been such good sports during this latest renovation about walking around the outside of the house every time they needed something from the kitchen, have eaten all of their meals outside with the dreaded bees, and have had to spend most of the weekend outside in the heat because of the nasty fumes from refinishing the floors.  They have done all this with very little complaint, although Goldilocks thought that since we have no dining room at the moment, maybe I should bring her breakfast in bed!

7)  I am thankful for my 1931 house.  Sometimes I rant and rave at it and it seems like the repairs and rehabbing will never end, but it really is a solid house.  As worker after worker has said, "The bones of your house are wonderful and solid."

Blessings and Peace to you in the coming week,