Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Lego Party on a Budget!

Tom Sawyer is 11! He wanted a Lego party this year. We decorated with party goods from the Dollar Tree. The streamers, good containers, tablecloths, paper products and empty goody bags cost $18. Not bad.  We served organic popcorn (for everyone but Tom Sawyer, who is allergic to corn), veggie platter with hummus, watermelon, and potato chips. We also had organic soda and cherry juice. The boys really enjoyed standing around the food bowls and eating. I really didn't need plates ~ LOL.

Tom Sawyer made a Lego man centerpiece. It came out great. Each side had one letter in the word Lego. He is such a creative kid.

The cakes were an adventure. There were four kids at the party with food allergies, including Tom Sawyer. I decided on one vegan cake and one grain-free cake. I made a building block cake. I followed the instructions found here. The block cake was chocolate vegan. The second cake was a grain-free cake. I used this recipe but added lemon juice to make it lemon flavor and omitted the chocolate. I didn't have any liquid Stevia, so I used sugar. I think that is why the cake was so flat, it was too heavy with the weight of the sugar. The grain-free cake was so good. We loved it and I think it will be our new "go to" cake. The food cost about $25.

We had lots of fun activities planned. It was a rainy day, so the kids were rained in. Twelve kids, most of them boys, made for a noisy party. They were not very interested in most of my ideas. The boys mostly wanted to hide from the girls. They did settle down to a few activities. The most popular was Lego Bingo.

They also watched a Lego movie, played with Legos and some tried out the Lego games I found at the scratch 'n dent grocers in our area. These games were found for half price the morning of the party! They cost about $12 combined.

The gift bags were from the Dollar Tree and I decorated them with Lego templates I found on the Internet.  The bags were filled with cheap candy or 100% fruit ropes (depending on the individual's allergies), bouncing balls, glow in the dark sticks, and pencils. The cost of the bags was $18.

He got so many cool gifts this birthday. They were all perfect for him. He has been busy building ever since.

It is a tradition to put a gift outside our son's door the night before his birthday. He tends to rise very early, and it keeps him busy while the rest of us sleep. We put his grandparents' gift out because we thought it would take him the longest. He rose at 3 am (yes!) and spent two hours building this White House Lego replica. He loved it!

He also got several Walmart gift cards and went out to buy these cool guys.

What a fun party!

Blessings, Dawn

Week 32 Two Birthdays and A Concert

On My Mind ~ Busy, Busy, Busy -- This past week was a whirlwind. We had a lot of fun, but I am ready for it to slow down a bit. Goldilocks had her last choir rehearsal and concert this week. I think it may be her last time with the choir. I love the homeschool choir she has been in off and on since she was 6. However, she really has a love/hate relationship with it and isn't memorizing the songs like she should. She mouths the words much of the time on stage. She also refuses to practice at home. She doesn't spend her free time singing either. It isn't a passion of hers and it isn't raising her self-esteem, as far as I can tell. I think we have used up the choir's usefulness (at least for now). My goals for her next year are to raise her self esteem, support her mental health and increase her academic and life skills. The choir just doesn't fit our goals.

George Washington Carver and A Birthday Party ~ George Washington Carver invented a host of things to make out of sweet potatoes. My Mother loves sweet potatoes. So, it was a perfect solution to conclude our study of George Washington Carver with a sweet potato party for my Mother! We had pie, chips, rolls, and casserole all made out of sweet potatoes. It was so good...

A Lego Party ~ As soon as my Mom's birthday was over, I started planning my son's 11th birthday. He decided on a Lego theme and I loved the idea. He thought I got a bit carried away. However, when it came down to the party, he was delighted. To see the full details of our Lego Party, go to this post.

All the Rest ~ We had a great week overall. We continued with Goldilocks doing her core schooling on the computer. She definitely prefers doing school on the computer and it makes my house a lot calmer. The other children continue to learn loads more stuff without all of her interruptions. I plan on Goldilocks continuing on the computer all through the summer. She is so far behind that she really can't take a complete break from school.  If you are interested in seeing the flow of our day currently, go to this post. It is our most recent Day in the Life update. I can't believe we only have a month left to this school year. I am working on our final lesson plans. Are you all almost done?

Homegrown Learners

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Day in the Life ~ April Edition ~ Our New Normal

Update 8/26/13 ~ The below system reflects the last few months of our schooling. However, Goldilocks (who has numerous mental health issues) began cheating on the computer and stealing sugar prodcuts from the kitchen. So, now she homeschools in her room with workbooks and books on tape for three hours each day while the other two homeschool with me. I go into check on Goldilocks and answer any questions she has every half and hour or so. She is doing better work and really prefers the silence of her room. It is a good fit for all of us.

I have changed the way we homeschool so many times in the last 14 years. We have homeschooled with only one, up to four and back to three kids. We have used a literature approach, workbook approach (for only a few weeks at a time during a crisis), unit study approach and unschooling approach (for one year ~ way back when). Now, we have made another change and it feels so good. I have turned Goldilocks's education over to the computer. She is doing most of her academic work with Time 4 Learning. It is a big change and one that I thought would benefit her, but never imagined it would benefit the other kids so much. Goldilocks now spends between 2 and 3 hours on the computer with Time 4 Learning each day.  Here is a day in the life in our new normal:

6:45 am ~ I am up and stumble off to the kitchen to start my husband's coffee pot and tea for the rest of us. We are having buckwheat hot cereal this morning. No one likes it much, but we have to finish the box. I opt to just have a Greek yogurt fruit shake and some watermelon. Tom Sawyer's birthday party is just a few days away and now they are predicting rain! I have to think of more indoor activities. I start searching Pinterest for Lego games.

8:00 am ~ Where did the time go? The kids are all up and eating the unpopular cereal and tasty watermelon. Tom Sawyer and Tim are having "playtime" together (laughing hysterically over You Tube videos of chemistry experiments gone wrong). After breakfast everyone does their personal hygiene chores and gathers what they need to be ready for school.

8:20 am ~ It is school together time. We pray for our day and people we know who are struggling. We also do jumping jacks and leg compressions for sensory wake up. Then the kids watch CNN Student News (current events) and listen to three chapters of Little Town on the Prairie (literature). I move all of the kids to the family room to watch this week's movie, Spellbound (character training). My kids often seem to lack motivation to reach higher, strive harder and just plain excel. I like for them to see others reaching for high bars and hopefully they will reach more often themselves. Spellbound has been a great movie for this ongoing discussion in our family. It follows eight kids trying to win the National Spelling Bee. We watch the movie chosen for the week for about 30 minutes each day until we finish the movie. While the kids are learning through media forms, I am mopping the floors in the same room as them (works great for keeping everyone in their seats, ha ha) and folding laundry.

9:30 am ~ At this point we separate. Goldilocks goes to the computer for the next two hours and the rest of us move to the library. Goldilocks will do math and language arts on the computer. I do still need to work on this one part. I can't maintain line of sight while I am in the library. I have to keep checking on her to make sure she is doing what she is supposed to be doing. Tom Sawyer and Little Red Riding Hood start with silent reading time. In the last two weeks Little Red Riding Hood has taken off with Paddington Bear books. She loves them, even though they are a bit of a struggle for her!

10:00 am ~ I read to the kids Grandfather Tang's Story (math). I am returning to literature-based math to supplement Tom Sawyer's and Little Red Riding Hood's Teaching Textbooks math. The kids play with Tangrams while I read.

I love this way of learning! It just feels so natural. The big change in our day is that with Goldilocks engaged with the computer, our interruptions have been reduced by 75%. I knew she was adding chaos to our day ~ but I didn't realize how much.  

We read two more picture books. The first is Molly, By Golly The Legend of Molly William, who was the first woman firefighter. We then read Fifty Cents and a Dream, a story about young Booker T. Washington (both books tie into the period of history we are studying).

11:30 am ~ It is time to get lunch going and I start potatoes boiling for mashed potatoes with salsa. Little Red Riding Hood is on the computer doing Teaching Textbooks (math), and Tom Sawyer is doing Explode the Code and Cursive Writing (language arts). They trade when Little Red Riding Hood is done with the computer. Goldilocks reads to me and works her way through Draw Write Now.

12:00 pm ~ Lunch time! We finish up school by taking care of our tadpole and recording any changes (science). There are none today.

12:45 pm ~ We take Tim to college and come home to clean up the yard so Daddy will be able to mow when he gets home.

1:30 pm ~ The kids have free time and choose to play on the Kindle and computer. I sneak a chapter of the book I am reading, The Help, and make a few phone calls.

2:30 pm ~ We have outdoor time and work a bit on our "secret garden". We also just enjoy the sunshine.

3:30 pm ~ Chore time... The kids reload the dishwasher and clean the bathrooms.

4:00 pm ~ We pick up Tim and return home to make dinner and enjoy time with Daddy.

Another day is done. What a blessing it is to homeschool ....

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Week 31 ~ Field Trips, Garden and Computer School

What a great week we had! We were very busy. However, I can see the fruits of our labor coming through into our everyday lives.

Field Trips ~ We had a wonderful time going to a science festival this week. The kids studied coins under a microscope, studied water displacement by pushing pencils through a small plastic bag filled with water, made slime and did lots of other fun science experiments. Tom Sawyer spent most of his time playing in the Lego science area.

We also visited out local extension office with lots of cuttings from trees in our yard. They were able to help us figure out what kind of trees we have. They also gave us soil sample kits so we can find some great places to plant blueberry and raspberry bushes.

Lastly, we went on a field trip to see a local private school's spring performance. They do a play or musical each year and invite homeschoolers to the dress rehearsal. This time, they did The Little Mermaid. We were disappointed that they did the Disney version instead of sticking to the original story. Oh well, the props, costumes and acting was GREAT!

In the Garden ~ We were shocked to find asparagus growing in the middle of our strawberry garden this week! Boy, it grows fast and was ready to cut for dinner in just a few short days. We only got a couple stalks. It will be very exciting to see what treasures the yard will reveal over the coming months. We also are finding tons of rocks all over the yard. I am building a stone wall at one end of the secret garden. It is coming along nicely.

Computer School ~ Goldilocks started Time 4 Learning this week. She is really enjoying it. I have her in second grade across the board. I think I am going to need to lower the math or ditch the math completely. It is shocking to see how much she is struggling with this grade level when she is supposed to be leaving 6th grade. I do worry about her future. What will become of this child? On the bright side, she is sitting still for three hours a day and really paying attention to the computer program. Also, I can see how much easier school is for the other children without her constant interruptions. I will continue with this way of schooling Goldilocks for the next few weeks. She is still doing literature, art, music, science experiments, CNN Student News, and Life of Fred math with us.

What We Are Reading ~
  • The Story of George Washington (finished)
  • Brick by Brick ~ About how slaves built the first White House
  • The Little Mermaid
  • American Girl Doll books
  • A Boy Called Dickens
  • Why is Milk White and 200 Other Curious Chemistry Questions
  • Life of Fred - Dogs
Other School ~
  • Teaching Textbooks
  • Squilt lesson #8 ( We do these lessons very much like FIAR and listen to the piece of music all week long).
  • G.W. Carver unit study
  • Paragraph Writing
  • Journals
  • Biology ~ The structure of flowers
  • DVD on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge
  • CNN Student News
  • We are taking care of a newly hatched baby turtle that my Mother found.

Where We Are Going ~
  • Field Trips
  • Choir
  • Dance classes
  • Orthodontist (round two of braces is just weeks away for Goldilocks)
  • Doctor for Tom Sawyer's 11 year check up (He is 72 pounds, which is finally back on his growth curve at 25th percentile.)
Last Thoughts ~ Between the Boston tragedy and the terrible factory explosion in Texas last night, there have been lots of conversation about these events around our home. I am using this opportunity to discuss with the children that they can only control themselves. They must choose joy every day and spread joy as often as they can (Psalm 43:3 "Send forth your light and your truth"). We talked about having a servant's heart and how they can serve and spread light into the dark corners of this world.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, April 12, 2013

Week 30 ~ Birthday, Tile Mosaics, and Spring

On My Mind ~ My oldest turned 23 this week. This was a rough year for Tim. Our move to a new home as well as his pacemaker surgery took quite a toll on him. He recently had a brain map done by his doctor, and we were surprised to see how much stress his brain was under in comparison to the last brain map. His doctor said it was probably the surgery and living through those weeks on emergency mode (when his pacemaker was in failure but we were required to wait for his Medicaid to approve the surgery). It explains a lot about his stressed out mood this last year. My prayer and goal for him this year is to find happiness and relaxation. On the very bright side, Tim has a great group of friends. They are a really nice set of "kids" who don't curse in front of me or my family and are unfailingly polite. He gets together with them a few times a month. Besides that group with whom he takes fencing classes, Tim has another friend who is older than him and who also has special needs. They both volunteer each week at the nature center. They also enjoy going to the movies and recently tried roller skating. He is another great guy and gives me a glimpse into Tim's future. This young man also lives at home and gracefully models living with a disability.

Stepping Stones ~ A few months ago, my sister-in-law gave us wonderful garden mosaic tiles. I wanted to wait until it warmed up so we could make them to place in our "secret garden". There is so much landscaping to do in our yard! The goal this year isn't planting so much as figuring out what is already here and removing the dead/unwanted plants. However, I do hope to plant a bit in the secret garden. The tiles will be such a nice addition to the stone path I hope to lay in the coming months. She sent us seven tiles. The kids really enjoyed making them. They take two weeks to cure enough to be stepped on. I can't wait to decide where each one will be placed. Each week we will work on our secret garden and update on this blog what we have accomplished. Besides making the tiles this week, we also cleared out more dead undergrowth and worked on the little stone wall at one end of the garden.

Making Our Homeschool More FASD Friendly ~ I've been reading Fantastic Antone Succeeds for the last week or so. I am getting lots of ideas on how to make our homeschool work better for Goldilocks. One idea that really helped this week was introducing tactile wake-up time. The theory is that kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) usually have sensory issues. This is true for both my adopted FASD children, Tom Sawyer and Goldilocks. They both can be noisy (yet hate others' noise) and touch others way too much (but hate to be touched by others). You can see how crazy-making that can be in a day. Well, this week we had sensory wake-up each morning. Most mornings the kids played with shaving cream or "cloud bags" (shaving cream in double zip-lock bags). I noticed an improvement in Goldilocks' ability to stay in her seat and pay attention for the first hour of school. I am also moving her into more alone/one-on-one time school with me instead of group school with her siblings. Her test results came back from the Hewitt Pass Test and she did VERY POORLY -- even worse than expected. We are hoping the changes we are making at home and starting her with a reading tutor will improve her scores. Also, she will be going to respite for a whole weekend once a month for the next few months. Hopefully, this will help her get emotionally stronger. There is no way she is going to make huge gains with her academics until she is emotionally back on track.

Our School This Week ~
  • George Washington Carver unit study
  • Teaching Textbooks for math
  • Life of Fred ~ Dogs
  • Daily journal writing
  • All About Spelling
  • Lots of Reading ~ my kids are in love with Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist books
  • Lots of learning about photosynthesis in biology
  • CNN Student News
  • Each child finished another workbook during independent language arts time.
  • SQUILT study on O' Fortuna ~ The kids loved listening to different versions of this song. Thank you so much, Mary, for the all the great SQUILT lessons. We loved this version by the Piano Guys.
    We also spent hours outside exploring nature this week. The weather is warming up! It is always impossible to keep them inside during this season. They planted strawberries, a raspberry bush, and a tomato plant, as well as jumped many hours on the trampoline.

    Blessings, Dawn

    Friday, April 5, 2013

    Week 29 ~ April Already

    On My Mind ~ Wow! It is April already. Time just keeps flying by me like a wind storm. This week felt like one of those weeks where nothing much happened, but actually plenty happened. I am glad I write down everything we did each night. That is a nice habit I developed years ago when we started homeschooling. Accumulated over the last 14 years, I have a stack of notebooks filled with lesson plans and notes that I have written.

    Most Exciting to Me ~ On Easter Sunday we explored a new church. I understand that Easter Sunday is not the best day to explore a new church, but I really did not want to attend the one we have been attending this past year. It is boring and not meeting our needs very well. Much to my delight, the kids and I loved the new church. My husband will try it with us for the next few weeks and maybe we will make the switch. I hope it stays as wonderful as it was on Easter Sunday. I really enjoyed the music and message. The kids loved how friendly everyone was and how welcome they felt in service (kids are expected to attend service and they actually seem wanted there).

    Most Exciting to the Kids ~ The kids loved Easter! We managed to squeeze in two more public Easter egg hunts and one more "official" hunt at home. The kids conducted several unofficial hunts all by themselves. We went to a huge hunt that was supported by our local health food store which had safe candy for Tom Sawyer. They even had safe cotton candy he could eat! It was so much fun watching Tom Sawyer eat that safe bag of cotton candy. He LOVED it. It was the first carnival food he has had in three years.

    Books We Listened to or Read ~
    • Here Lies the Librarian
    • The Bobsy Twins (Little Red Riding Hood likes these.)
    • Nancy Drew (Goldilocks is reading these)
    • The Story of George Washington Carver (Our new FIAR book)
    • Fantastic Antone Succeeds Experiences in Educating Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (This is what I am reading and it has some great ideas.)
    • Ragweed (Tom Sawyer finished this.)
    • Basher books
    • Scooby Doo books
    • Life of Fred Dogs
    What We Are Watching ~
    • Iron Chef U.S.A (The kids love this show.)
    • Forks Over Knives (Continued research on the food we consume)
    • 19 Kids and Counting (Season 12 on Amazon)
    Where We Are Going ~ This was a "get back in the swing" of things week. We went to dance four days of the week. We also have neurofeedback later today for three of the kids. We also attended a special program at the library about how to become a backyard scientist. The kids liked petting the snakes and turtles.

    Goldilocks ~ Goldilocks got on a wait list for a free reading and writing specialist with the literacy council. It will most likely be late summer before she is matched with a tutor. However, we are delighted to be on a list. I have talked to several tutors who would not take Goldilocks because she was too complex or delayed. The woman at the literacy council was not at all surprised by Goldilocks's diagnosis and delays. She said they had lots of qualified tutors who could work with her. As for math, she continues to struggle. I have decided to only work on addition with her for the next few weeks. She gets 2 minutes of media time for each correct worksheet. I want adding to be automatic instead of her counting on her fingers to solve problems. This is my holding pattern while I research the best options for her. I am looking at Math U See, a math program for Down Syndrome (that is supposed to be good for FASD kids) and a private tutor.

    All the Rest ~ We started the next level of All About Spelling this week. The kids continue to like it and they really retain what they are learning. We also learned about cells in Real Science 4 Kids. The children have a special time set aside for doing workbooks each day. They all really like workbooks! I never have understood why. However, it is good reinforcement and gives me time to work on how to help Goldilocks more.

    Blessings, Dawn

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    FIAR ~ Night of the Moonjellies ...

    A few weeks ago we enjoyed the book, Night of the Moonjellies. It is a sweet story about a boy who spends the summer with his grandma at the sea shore. She runs a hot dog stand. One day he finds a moonjelly and brings it to his grandmother. After a hard day of work at the stand, they spend the evening out on a boat releasing the moonjelly.

    We really had fun with this book and did several activities. They are listed below:
    • Watched two Imax movies ~ Into the Deep and Tropical Coral Reefs
    • Used chalk pastels to create a picture of the ocean at night
    • Ran our own hot dog stand complete with hot dogs, French fries and milk shakes
    • Made a lapbook from
    • We dissected a frog, perch and a clam
    • Visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
    We loved seeing real moonjellies!

    Tom Sawyer did not want to use the boat I cut out. He made his own.

    Goldilocks loves to use pastels.

    Little Red Riding Hood really wanted her moonjellies to stand out.

    Blessings, Dawn