Monday, July 30, 2012

A Day in the Life ~ First Day of School Edition

Ahh!  Best laid plans....  I had lots of hopes for our first day/week of school, but we have struggled with weeks of illness, poison ivy rashes, and high fevers.  We are just plain worn out and the house did not get as organized as I had wished.  I thought about postponing school.  However, we are not sick enough to be in bed anymore (just sick enough to be grouchy), and the kids are really looking forward to exploring our new supplies and books.  So, we begin with Tom Sawyer and I coughing up a storm, plus he still has a mild fever.  Today we will concentrate on getting our new chore routine completed, introduce our week long unit study, enjoy "Box Day", complete therapy time and do some language arts.  I am saving math, typing, our spelling program, and other lessons that require lots of direct or one-on-one teaching from me for next week.  I am recording in green some of the more memorable things that happened today in the day in the life of raising special needs kids. As you can see throughout the photos, Goldilocks put lots of Vaseline in her hair today so that is why her hair looks so greasy.

7 am ~ Time to get up.  My DH baked banana sour cream cakes (one grain-free and one regular) last night so there is a special breakfast waiting for the kids.  The kids are allowed to watch "Martha Speaks" on PBS and are required to do their "Just 5 Things" before 8:45 am.  Other than doing their Just 5 Things, they are free to do whatever they want until 8:45 am.  Today they made a cardboard TV.
[Just 5 Things ~ eat breakfast, clear dishes, brush hair and teeth, put clean clothes on, and do morning chore.  Tom Sawyer (10) makes all the beds; Goldilocks (11) brings all dirty clothes and dishes to the laundry/kitchen; and Little Red Riding Hood (8) tidies the bathrooms.]

8:45 am ~ We started school with "Box Day"!  There is still another box yet to arrive so Box Day will be extended this year.  Everyone picked their favorite thing and worked with it for awhile.  The girls sewed with felt and Tom Sawyer tried to solve the Perplexus puzzle.

(Goldilocks told me that she put a whole bunch of Vaseline in her hair while she was taking a shower.  She thought it would protect her from the chlorine in the pool ~ never mind that we have finished swimming classes and won't be using the pool much for the rest of the summer.  While I was trying to figure out what to do about that, she started drawing with a marker all over the brand new felt!  This is just two examples on why I can never turn my back on that one.)

10:00 am ~ We looked at our morning board.  Our morning board is the way we are doing circle time this year.  The board has any reminders for kids or Mommy, a poem from our poet of the quarter (William Shakespeare), calendar, our quarterly character trait (Diligence), a logic or visual puzzle to solve and a piece of artwork for our quarterly artist (this is missing because I am waiting for the N. C. Wyeth postcards to arrive).

10:20 am ~ We looked at all of our new independent language arts work books and completed a few pages.  Then the kids moved on to writing in their journals which they may write about whatever they want as long as they use complete sentences.  (Language Arts)

11:00 am ~ We started our unit study on the Olympics.  I am using Magic Tree House Hour of the Olympics and the companion research guide, Ancient Greece and the Olympics.  Today we read two chapters in each book, looked up Greece, England and the U.S.A. on the globe, played chess and put together Ancient Greece Mythology puzzles. (History, Geography, Logic, and OT)

11:45 am ~ The kids did their therapy time while I made lunch.  Goldilocks tossed the ball for Little Red while she balanced on a balance board.  Little Red also picked up marbles with her toes to strengthen her arch. (PT)  Tom Sawyer did a detox by resting his feet on a battery operated foot massage machine that hits all of the pressure points of the foot.  This year Little Red Riding Hood is getting physical therapy to correct her pigeon feet.  Her knees were starting to be damaged, which is really bad for a budding dancer.  Also, both girls have completed vision therapy and will need lots of reviews of vision therapy games at home to finish the healing of that part of dyslexia.  Goldilocks is still hard to understand even after repeated attempts of speech therapy.  I am considering what to do for her next.  Tom Sawyer continues to need lots of fine motor activities to help with the effects in his hands of having cerebral palsy, and he needs lots of detoxing for his food allergies.  All of these things will be addressed during therapy time each day.

(Sigh -- I walked into the kitchen and found that, once again, the dishwasher had been run through its entire cycle by our oldest son without first turning the water on [it's a portable dishwasher that needs to be hooked up the sink faucet] ~ this is a weekly mistake.)

12:00 pm ~ Lunch time!  After lunch Tom Sawyer had brother time with his big brother, Tim (22).  The girls watched some of the Olympics Gymnastics that I taped for them last night.

12:50 pm ~ We took Tim (he cannot drive) to his special needs college program. 

1:10 pm ~ Home again.  On our way out to drop off Tim, I discovered that Goldilocks (11) had drawn on the front fence with a marker.  She said she just felt like doodling!  Everyone had free time when we got home except Goldilocks who had to scrub the fence clean while I repeated several times about what one is allowed to draw on.  The other children played with Legos.

2:15 pm ~ Media Time ~  The kids started their one hour of media time.  Tom Sawyer watched some of Cars 2 and the girls played on  During media time, I looked over the new lesson plans that came from Rainbow Resource because even Mom loves Box Day (LOL).  Then I ended up in a long phone call with a friend explaining the process of foster to adopt.

3:30 pm ~  Oops!  They got a little bit more media time then expected.  I set the kids up listening to Your Story Hour ~ The Man Who Killed Pain (the story of anesthesia), while I took a quick shower. (Science)

3:45 pm ~ We left home to pick up Tim and stop at the grocery store for a few items on the way back home.

4:30 pm ~ Once we were back home, we finished Your Story Hour ~ The Man Who Killed Pain while folding the laundry and emptying the dishwasher.  Then everyone put away their belongings and picked many tomatoes from the garden.

5:30 pm ~ Daddy is home and we ate dinner.  Unfortunately, Tom Sawyer's low grade fever is back up to 101.3!  I am going to have to break down and take him to the doctor soon since it has been 4 or 5 days now.

6:15 pm ~ Daddy gives Tom Sawyer attention since he is feeling left out of all of the activity going on around here.  They read the new Basher Periodic Table flashcards that came in the boxes of loot this morning. (Yes, Tom Sawyer LOVES these.)

We plan on getting everyone to bed by 8:30 pm and crashing ourselves.  DH will read them Davey Crocket as part of the bedtime routine. (Literature) I think the day went pretty well, considering it was our first day back to school and was complicated by illness.

Blessings, Dawn

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Day in Atlanta ~ Photos Galore

Traveling with kids is always an adventure.  Traveling with special needs kids always adds to the adventure. I tend to research our jaunts in great detail and have multiple plans in case Plan A doesn't work.  I tend to over pack, too.  We had bathing suits, change of clothes, a towel, food for the day, drinks and blankets/pillows for the car ride.  We also set up the DVD player in the car (which only goes in the car for trips of 2 or more hours).

On this trip, we wanted to know if we could realistically count Atlanta as a day trip destination.  We were delighted to discover that the kids are old enough to make the 7 hour round trip and still enjoy a day of fun seeing the sights.

We arrived around 10:30 in the morning and found parking near the Centennial Olympic Park.  We enjoyed looking at all of the statues and talking about the upcoming Olympics.  We then played at the two playgrounds and enjoyed the wonderful splash waterpark.  We had a picnic lunch that we brought with us.  At the waterpark, there are several shows choreographed to music throughout the day.  We watched the mid-day show while eating Googie's Fried Pickles and hand-cut French fries (for Tom Sawyer).  I had never heard of fried pickles and wanted to try something famous to the area.  They were interestingly good.  Total cost of the first part of this trip was $6 for parking and $10 for food at Googie (which is in the park).

After the water show, we changed back into dry clothes in the clean public bathrooms and headed for Oakland Cemetery.  As regular readers of this blog know, I really like historic cemeteries.  This one was amazing.  It had a visitors center and a GIFT SHOP!  We purchased the self-guided tour book and set off to find some famous Atlanta natives.  We walked around for about half an hour and then opted for the car to tour the rest of the extensive grounds (48 acres).  I was stunned by how crowded the graves were in the Jewish section known as the Jewish Flats.  You would have had to step on stones to see the graves further back.  This section was mostly used by poor Russian Jewish immigrants.

The next photos are of some of the more ornamental head stones as well of the lovely gardens.  Unfortunately, I am still struggling to learn the ISO on my Dad's fancy camera, so the pictures are a bit washed out.  I am however, very pleased to have a camera again.

Total cost of second part of our trip was $4 for the tour book.

For the third leg of our trip we headed off to the most exciting part (according to the kids).  We went to Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta.  We reserved our tickets online the day before for the discounted after 4 pm slot.  It is open until 9 pm so there is plenty of time to enjoy everything after 4 pm.  We arrived and were shown straight into the "factory" part of the tour.  It was kind of cheesy, but did explain how Lego products are made.  We then went on both rides that were offered.  The wait time was about 10 minutes for each ride.  You were allowed to go on both rides multiple times, so we went on the Castle Quest ride twice.  There were tons of Legos everywhere to build with and lots of displays to explore.  There was also a very cool miniature diorama of the city of Atlanta (my favorite part).  The kids also enjoyed a playground (need socks sold there for $1) and we saw a 4-D movie.

The kids had a great time!  I do think this Legoland is geared towards the younger set (which they said on their website), and I am glad we made it here before they got any older.  Once they were done with Legoland, we went into the Lego store.  I was pleasantly pleased to see that they had many of the smaller sets (in addition to the grand sets).  My children worked hard to save their allowances and do extra chores to have spending money.  They each had around $30 to spend and were able to find several small things they could afford.  After their purchases were complete, we headed over to Zoe's Kitchen for dinner and headed home at 8 pm with very sleepy children.  Total cost of the third part was $67 to enter Legoland and $27 for dinner.  We also hit Starbucks for the driver's caffeine boost on the way out of town.  The gas cost us $50.  Total cost for the day (not including the kids' money) ~ $121!!

Reflections ~ We plan on going back in the spring to visit the famous aquarium.  I want to remember that the fries at Googies were safe for Tom Sawyer.  Also, Zoe's Kitchen is in the 2300 block of Peachtree street.  There are two meals that are safe at Zoe's for Tom Sawyer.  Starbucks and Googie sold Izzy drinks, organic sodas which Tom Sawyer loves.  We really did not need so much time for the Centennial Olympic Park.  If we had driven one more block away from the park, there would have been parking spaces costing only  $3 to $4.  Also, the Underground Mall (where you can see burned out walls from the civil war) was not far from the park and would have been a good, free place to visit had it been raining.  The Aquarium, Coca cola museum, and children's museum are withing walking distance of the park.

Blessings, Dawn

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

10 Random Homeschool Thoughts

This week Many Little Blessings is hosting "10 Random Things" I am thinking about our homeschool.  Here is my list of random thoughts.

1) Just two weeks to go until school starts ~ We did most of the fun on our bucket list.  We did not get any of the painting done.  However, we got most of the 1931 icky basement cleaned out.

2) We might need to think about year-round schooling ~ Summer break is proving dangerous for our family.  Last summer we were plagued with stitches and casts.  This summer we have had all manner of bee stings and strange rashes.  I am currently covered in poison oak or some such poisonous rash.   Yep, it sounds like it is time to retreat to the indoors.

3) This year we will have a dedicated science area ~  Our dryer died a while back, and we are hoping to replace the washer with a stackable washer/dryer system in a few months.  This leaves enough space in our laundry room for a science table.  I plan on rotating different science subjects through this space monthly.  The kids will have free access to this area whenever they wish to explore.  Currently, the children are exploring with the microscope.

4) Unlimited media for one week ~ There is always more media during the summer.  We just hate the heat and I am always trying to get projects done.  The kids slip into the bad habit of turning on the TV.  Instead of going "cold turkey" back to a strict media schedule this year, we are having one week of unlimited media.  You should have seen Tom Sawyer's face when I told him he could interact with media from sunrise to sunset!  My hope is that they (especially he) will get sick of media a bit and make a smoother transition.  Day one ~ Goldilocks spent about 3 hours on media, Little Red Riding Hood about 1 hour and Tom Sawyer was on 6+ hours.  We shall see if this works.  Next week they go to 1 hour media a day for the school year.

5) End of Summer deep clean ~  I will be using the next 2 weeks to declutter and deep clean the house.  It is really nice to start off the new year with a clean house.

6) Summer accomplishments (kids) ~ The kids each had a separate week of summer camp.  They all had a wonderful time.  The cost really took our entire summer budget but seems to have been well worth it.  They also did free swimming lessons.  Tom Sawyer will not need any more swimming lessons next year.  The girls are in level 4 now and are building confidence.

7) Summer accomplishments (me) ~ By the time we start back to school, I will have finished six books!  This summer I read Scarlet,  A White House Garden Cookbook, Overcoming Dyslexia, Dumbing Us Down, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, and Great Books About Things Kids Love.

8) Box Day ~ We started Box Day last year on our first day of school.  It is like Christmas opening the boxes and seeing all of the new learning things.  This year we will also be going out to buy a new pair of shoes for each child.  Some kids are walking around with holes in their soles ~ ahem.

9) Relief and hope ~ I am learning more and more about dyslexia and feel like there are some techniques that really might help us next year.  It is a relief to have something NEW to try.

10) I really want to only do the important things this year ~ My new motto is "If it isn't going to benefit our family more than the effort I have to put in it, we are not doing it."

I am joining Top 10 Tuesday this week.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, July 13, 2012

Collage Friday ~ Hollywild

This is a bit of a cheat post. We actually went to Hollywild a few weeks ago, and I never posted about it.  I figure it is more exciting to tell you about this trip than what is going on around here this week (two sick kids, one kid in camp, my camera got destroyed ~ sans no pictures, and I am covered with my first ever outbreak of poison ivy).  So instead of whining about current events ~ Hollywild!

We had a wonderful day with Daddy and Grandma at this private zoo.  It was only a couple hours away and was a perfect day trip.  I was impressed with the large variety of animals they had.  We really enjoyed visiting with the chimpanzee.  He was very friendly and quickly taught us some sign language.  We were allowed to feed him and he signed for food.  If we didn't give it to him he made spitting sounds.  If we fed him, he clapped.  The kids also loved the safari ride.  We saw many pregnant deer, camels, different varieties of cows, emu and a retired Hollywood rhino.

There was a petting zoo with lots of baby goats.  The kids loved feeding the goats with baby bottles.  We could have stayed in this section for hours and drained my wallet buying bottles.  LOL!

My husband made friends with a zeedonk (the result of a zebra and donkey mating).  The zeedonk was really sweet and an animal none of us had ever seen before.  

The kids spent a long time visiting with this tortoise.  He loved the crackers we had to offer. 

This was a really nice zoo.  I must admit, I was a bit concerned that a small, private zoo that did not have AZA accreditation might be depressing.  I'm sure some of them are, but this one was very pleasant.  All of the animals seemed happy and well cared for.  The animal enclosures were spacious, clean and filled with entertainment for animal enrichment.  I thought the fee to get in was fair, especially considering the cost of taking proper care of animals and that they had many unusual animals on view.

I am joining homegrown learners.

Blessings, Dawn

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

10 Exciting Things About Starting a New School Year!

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings
We start school in three weeks!  I am looking forward to a new year.  Our 14th year of homeschooling!  Here are 10 things I am excited about this year:

1) NOT reinventing the wheel ~ I love to create my own curriculum and come up with my own ideas. However, this year I am going to take a step back and enjoy the many literature unit studies put out by Veritas Press, Beautiful Feet, Prairie Primer, and Beyond Five In A Row.

2) Guiding my two tweens through tweendom peacefully ~  We will be concentrating on the three R's (Responsible, Respectful and Refined).  I hope to continue laying the groundwork for mostly peaceful teen years.

3) Really getting a handle on the dyslexia that is plaguing some of my students ~  We will be done with vision therapy in a few weeks and ready to go through remedial spelling and reading programs this fall.  Hopefully we will make great progress in writing this year.

4) Using Charlotte Mason techniques for art and music ~ We will be studying a different composer and artist each quarter.  I haven't picked our composers yet.  Our artists will be Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and N. C. Wyeth.  

5) Getting back to weekly nature study ~  We will be using the Handbook for Nature Study and Barb's blog, Handbook of Nature study.  I made a brand new nature box with all of our supplies for the car so it will be super easy to be organized.

6) Introducing "poetry teas" each quarter ~  Our poets this year will be William Yeats, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, and Robert Frost.

7) Dad taking over our family read aloud books ~  Dad is reading a family read aloud each night now before spending individual time with the kids each evening.  Currently, Daddy is reading Davy Crockett.  This will help a great deal in getting through more classics and history books.

8) Seeing the kids participate in activities that give them public recognition ~ I am trying to encourage good work ethic in several different ways this year.  One way is for the kids to make projects and enter them for public judging.  They will enter the state fair and the Festival of Knowledge (natural history) this year.  Additionally, they will be participating in "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake" with our dance studio.

9) Going on field trips ~ We love field trips and hope to do at least one a month.  We are hoping to do some homeschool days within a reasonable driving distance, such as The Biltmore House.

10 ) Starting back to our "out of the home classes" (okay, the kids are way more excited about this one than me) ~ They live for dance and being on the stage.  They are such show biz kids.  I really don't know where they got their love of the stage from ~ it isn't from me!

I am looking forward to getting back to school. But, for now, let's enjoy the slower days of summer.

I am joining ManyLittleblessings.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dry Ice, Water and Soap!

We had a wonderful time playing with dry ice on the 4rth of July.  The kids have made mini dry ice bombs in film cans many times.  This time I introduced them to the joy of soap added to dry ice and water.  First we started off with traditional dry ice in water.  The kids were impressed with how cold the water got.
We then added just a touch of dish soap to the edges and ran a soap soaked cloth over the top.  The bubbles immediately started to form.  The bubbles can be picked up and played with.  When you squeeze them together they pop into a gas form and disappear.

Very quickly our beloved collection of film cans came out and the experiments of dry ice bubble bombs got under way.

So much fun!  This activity lasted over an hour.  A total hit in this Mom's book.  The next day we made bubble snakes.  You place a sock over a water bottle (with the bottom of bottle cut off) and soak it in a soap solution.  Then blow with all your might.  We never did get one to touch the ground before breaking.  A better tutorial is here.

I am linking to Living Life Intentionally.  We have dry ice at our local grocery store. 

Blessings, Dawn

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Advice to New Homeschoolers with Special Needs Kids

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings

We are entering our 14th year of homeschooling this fall.  Every single year of our homeschooling has been with special needs kids.  Here are my top 10 suggestions to new homeschoolers who are raising and teaching specially challenged children.  (The pictures below* are a few of my favorite homeschool shots from the last 5 years.)

Provide a stimulating environment filled with new explorations ~ I have so often seen families with special needs kids get caught on the hamster wheel of repetition.  For instance, a child is struggling with addition and the family gets stuck working on addition for hours every day.  The mother worries that, if her child can't get addition down, then all is lost, so that becomes her main goal and all else goes by the wayside.  Repetition is a wonderful thing and very necessary with a learning disabled student.  However, don't let it become the only thing your homeschool does.  Continue to add new adventures in learning.

Therapy counts for school time ~ Special needs families tend to spend a great deal of time in therapy and doctor appointments.  This is valuable learning time and should be counted as school.  If your child needs therapy or medical care to enhance their ability to learn, then they are being educated while in therapy.  The public school counts the time in the speech therapy or reading specialty room, so why shouldn't we.?

Learning happens everywhere ~ I just cannot stress this enough.  Learning is going on all the time.  If you are providing new challenges, great books, character training, exploration of nature, loving and nurturing people in your child's life...he/she is LEARNING!

Do family projects ~ A good way to learn is as a family.  Everyone has the opportunity to participate in a project even if it would have been too challenging for one individual.  It also allows sibling cooperation to grow and everyone to show off their strengths.

Enjoy your time with your children ~ Living with special needs children is challenging at times.  Take note of the times that are most enjoyable with your children and do those activities often.  My kids are usually content feeding geese, exploring a hands-on museum, playing in a mountain stream and running free in a field.  We tend to do these activities on a regular basis to build happy memories instead of dwelling on the drudgery of special needs.

Every child has matter how disabled they are ~ It is very easy to get stuck on all of your child's weaknesses.  Don't forget your child's strengths...every child has them.  Once you know your child's strengths, it is easier to see progress and find their best ways of learning.  Indeed, not everyone is meant to be a great scholar.  Some of us are meant to be lower level service people or great homemakers.  Think about the simple jobs that others do that make your life more simple.  Thank goodness for a large variety of people and opportunities in our world!  What is most important (to me) is that our children turn out to be good and kind people.

It is okay to lower your standards ~ In an ideal world, dinner would be on the table when dh got home; the house would be clean; the kids would be happy and delight in telling Daddy all that they learned; and Mom would be fresh and enthusiastic about her day.  The reality is sometimes dinner is late and is only cereal with fruit, and the chores are done in a haphazard way. It is okay that not all the balls stay in the air all of the time.  The important thing is to know what things make everyone the most comfortable in your home.  My husband really likes the bed made when he gets home.  Sometimes, I make the bed when he is pulling into the driveway!  I like for everything to stay as peaceful as possible and that we have quality family time as many nights as possible.  Sometimes things need to be dropped to make other things possible.

Go out into the world ~ So often parents of special needs kids feel isolated from the world.  This can be doubly so for the homeschooler of special needs kids.  So many homeschooling classes and co-ops stress high standards in academics and behavior.  They often hold to standards that set our kids up for failure.  The result is that the parent ends up feeling rejected or too nervous to venture out into society.  There is acceptance in the world and the homeschool just is hard to find sometimes.  I find that smaller groups, individual friends (both homeschoolers and public schoolers) and special needs groups (Special Olympics, support groups and other special needs sport groups) are often a better fit for special kids.  If you can't get out in the world, bring the world to yourself and your kids (blogging, pen pals, Flat Stanley project, organizations that do in-home classes, such as 4H).

Don't believe everything the experts say ~ According to the predictions of my children's doctors, one of my children is supposed to be dead, another in a mental institution, and another barely able to walk, talk or be potty trained.  The doctors were wrong on all accounts.  (Of course, they have been right in many ways as well.)  I'm just saying, keep on keeping on and don't give up.

Slow and steady wins the race ~ Raising special needs kids is often a very slow process.  These kids learn slower, process slower, move slower (or much faster) and generally need more time than more normal children.  That is the joy of homeschooling!!  You have more time and can provide that for your children.  It does help to find a way to record your child's progress for yourself so you can see it in your more frustrated moments.

Blessings, Dawn

*Photos in order: Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood contemplating how to dissect this frog, two of our children in Tomatis therapy, Tim's drawing a Canada goose for his nature study book, Homeschool International Night with my family wearing masks from Venice for their presentation on Italy, our youngest artist drawing a portrait of Daddy at a children's science museum, Timothy trying to stop a man made geyser, two photos showing how we get the dirty clothing from upstairs to the downstairs laundry room, a favorite wooded trail, Tom Sawyer and Goldilocks playing chess at the library, Tim graduating at homeschool ceremony and receiving our state's high school diploma