Friday, September 27, 2013

Week 9 ~ End of Quarter One

I can hardly believe that we are finished with the first 9 weeks of school already. Where did the time go? We had a good first quarter. We did a great job consistently doing math, grammar, creative writing, literature, art, music and life skills. For the most part, we stuck to our plans. We are only slightly behind in our American history. We were supposed to be done with the "Roaring Twenties", but we are still in the middle of WWI. I had hoped to cover Frank Lloyd Wright before our break, but we are very consumed with our own local architecture and did not get to him yet. Also, we haven't gotten to Marie Curie yet. She was meant to be a big part of our science this quarter. For this reason, science was much lighter this quarter than my two "science nuts" prefer. It is all good! One of the huge blessings in homeschooling is being able to delve into things as much as you want. Slowing down just means we are learning and living a full life!

Little Red Riding Hood (9) ~ My girl had a really good first quarter. She thrived in our new homeschooling structure. She completed an entire Explode the Code book and is looking forward to my ordering another. She only made it through a small handful of chapter books this quarter, but they were all 4.1 to 4.6 grade level, according to bookwizard. She is still a very slow reader so I will be making reading one of her main goals next quarter. I will also be working hard with her on spelling. She did excellent with math with a 98% accuracy in Teaching Textbooks level 4. Her typing is coming along and she is narrating very nicely what we are learning. Her attitude this year is improving. However, it is still best that she doesn't know right away when she is getting things wrong. Her perfectionist side rears its head and she will do no more until she has had a good cry about whatever is going wrong. She is loving gymnastics and her tween classes at the dance company. She loves her new ballet instructor and thinks the bar work is GREAT! She will have at least three different dances in the "Nutcracker" this year. Everyone comments on her delightful flexibility, but she really still needs to concentrate on balance and strength. Gymnastics is helping with balance. She is learning to do a split and cartwheel on the balance beam (she has been doing splits and cartwheels on the ground since she was 5).

Tom Sawyer (11) ~ I am proud of the accomplishments Tom Sawyer has made this first quarter. He has read 12 chapter books (more if I included books that he re-read). They were all 5.5 to 6.9 grade level. He remained steady in math and language arts. He has always been bright, but I am happy to see him becoming a more solid student. He is doing a better job getting the "not so exciting" work done. He is working hard to keep his hands in the right place while typing and his speed is increasing. He is still struggling with creative writing and has lots of trouble thinking up what to say. He is sitting still and being much less disruptive this year. The removal of Goldilocks from the two younger children's lessons has impacted Tom Sawyer the most. He is a much better student and is no longer the class clown of our little homeschool. It is amazing to me how much the negative sibling dynamics between Goldilocks and Tom Sawyer were impacting his studies. His complaining about school has almost ceased and he gets right to work on the day's lessons. He has good insight with our literature and history lessons and answers the questions much better than last year. He is also enjoying gymnastics and boy theater. He is a bit disappointed that there are only two boys in his theater class. He even has hinted that he might want to go back to ballet if the class does not increase.

Goldilocks ~  What a change there has been by schooling this one in her room! She is doing a much higher quality of work than I have ever seen out of her. Mind you, she is still working/struggling in third grade curriculum when she is supposed to be in seventh grade. However, I am delighted to see her putting some effort into her studies. She is writing, reading and doing math every day. I am happy to see some progress in spelling, typing and book reports. The weekly book reports are filled with typos, but her thought process is very slowly improving. She is using the word "and" more appropriately in sentences (instead of a dozen in one sentence). She is reading at least one chapter book a week. They are mostly Magic Tree House books, which are 2.6 to 3.0 grade level. She really wants to read the Royal Diary series and is struggling through one of those books right now. They are 5.9 grade level. I am really happy to see her desire to learn increasing. I have always thought that if she could drop her lousy attitude, learning would be easier for her. She is still having tons of attention issues. Her tutoring is going well in math. Goldilocks has made the biggest improvement in vocabulary, likely as a result of the many audio books she listened to this quarter. She has completed the entire Narnia series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Freaky Friday, The Wind in the Willows, and Ballet Shoes.

Our American Girl Doll Club ~ The most exciting thing this week was the second meeting of our American Girl Doll Club. The kids finished learning about Rebecca. They learned how to crochet chains. Now, they need to learn a new stitch or we are going to have yarn chains as long as our house! I never thought they would take to it the way they have. We also made bagels from scratch. This is a very hard project without a Kitchen Aid mixer, which I don't have. (I guess we had an authentic experience since they wouldn't have had such things in turn of the century America -- especially not in the poorer neighborhoods.) They came out pretty well and everyone enjoyed them. I think it was a bit too much flour and yeast for Tom Sawyer. He was off for a while even with the use of supplement, GlutenEase.

Favorite Book this Quarter ~  Our favorite book was listening to War Horse. What a superb book about the first World War! It kept us on the edge of her seats until the very end (which was mostly happy or at least a relief). We have not seen the movie so I do not know if it is good. I don't think we will either. There are many deaths of horses and men in this story. I do not think the kids are up to the graphics that movies add. It is best just for them to imagine it the way they have. Anyway, this story was probably our favorite for the first quarter.

Homegrown Learners

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, September 20, 2013

Week 8 ~ A Graduation, a Graveyard, and Geography

In My Life ~ We had an enjoyable week with lots of fun learning and our schedule is working pretty well so far. I really worked hard on making our schedule more organized this year. Our days are taking on a predictable feeling, which is good for everyone. In about 5 weeks or so when the freshness of new classes wears off, then we'll know if we are too busy. Ha!

7:00 am to 9:00 am ~ Time to do their "Just Five Things" (brush hair and teeth, eat breakfast, make bed, put on clean clothes and watch CNN Student News) plus free time. Tom Sawyer is the only one that is up with me at 7:00 am. Most of the kids show up around 8:00 am.

9:00 am to 12:15 pm ~ Main school time

12:15 pm to 1:50 pm ~ Lunch and media time

2:00 pm to 4:00 pm ~ Chores, errands, doctor appointments and outside play

4:00 pm to 7:00 pm ~ Dinner, out of the home classes (cheer leading, gymnastics, dance and math tutoring)

7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ~ Time with Daddy, bath, snack, bed
At the park
Graduation from Physical Therapy ~ Tom Sawyer graduated from PT this week. He could use more, but our insurance only pays for a certain number of sessions each year. Our physical therapist made a long list of exercises to hand on to our special needs gymnastics coach, who has agreed to incorporate the PT exercises into his gymnastics lessons. It looks like Tom Sawyer and Goldilocks will qualify this year for the Special Olympics and will be doing gymnastics. I was surprised that Tom Sawyer qualified because his IQ is normal. However, his ability to meet his fullest potential is hindered by having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. As his doctors, therapists, and coach all pointed out to me, he does as well as he does because of the one-on-one tutoring that homeschooling affords.
Tom Sawyer doing a back stretch with his physical therapist
Geography ~ Our "Color Chart United States of America" map arrived this week. The kids are enjoying coloring in a little bit here and there whenever they pass it in the hallway. I keep hearing information drift down the hallway while they are coloring, "Look, here's the Wright Brothers' plane at Kitty Hawk," and "Did you know that Armadillos are from Texas?"  I was going to put down rules about what states to color first and how to go about doing this project. However, I realized those rules would decrease the fun of just enjoying the map. So, I let them do it the way they wanted. I am so glad I did. I love it when learning happens naturally.

Math and History at the Graveyard ~ We took our learning to a graveyard this week. Since we are currently learning about the 1918 flu, I thought a concrete way of understanding this topic would be to do a bit of research at the cemetery. The cemetery manager helped us find out about the 12 local people who had died of the 1918 flu epidemic that are buried in this cemetery. Thankfully, the manager was as much of a nerd as me and had already pulled together some great statistics so we also could make a math day of it. Even so, we did not have much luck finding most of the grave sites. Our local cemetery is 100 acres and has over 15,000 graves going back to the 1840's. While we managed to find the family of one victim, the victim's marker was gone. We also found Thomas Wolfe's brother who died in this epidemic. Our statistics ended up being similar to the national statistics. One thing that made the 1918 flu so unique was that most of its victims were killed in their prime. The weak, elderly and young children usually did not die from it. In this cemetery the victim's average age was 36. The youngest and only victim in our graveyard who was under 20 was just 10 years old. Yes, my son is walking barefoot around the graveyard. He is that comfortable! I have been taking them to various cemeteries since their infancy. As always, the kids got side tracked by looking at the graves of babies. We were working in different sections than usual so they found lots of different graves of infants that they hadn't seen before.

Speak Like a Pirate Day ~ Little Red Riding Hood was listening to the radio this week and heard that Krispy Kreme Donuts was giving away a dozen donuts to anyone dressed up like a pirate on International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19). The girls made costumes for themselves and Tom Sawyer. For fun, we went to Krispy Kreme and practiced our best pirate brogue. Ah, mateys, they feared us so much! Krispy Kreme turned over the treasured donuts faster than we could say, "Shiver me timbers!" We rarely eat donuts, so this was a huge treat.

Books We Read This Week ~ 
  • Freaky Friday
  • War Horse
  • Helen Keller's Teacher
  • The First Teddy Bear
  • Life of Fred Farming
  • Girlfriends Exploring Women's Relationships in the Bible (me)
  • The Last Runaway  (me)
  • Camping with the President
  • Garfield several books
  • Girls are reading different Animal Ark books
Super Finds ~ I found a really cool deal at a yard sale recently. I found this nearly new word processing typewriter for only $5. It is still sold on Amazon for over $100. The kids love typing on it, and I love that I don't have to worry about a certain kiddo sneaking onto the Internet when she is supposed to be doing a book report.

I am joining ~
Homegrown Learners

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, September 13, 2013

Week 7 ~ The Week with Lots of Sugar!

In My Life ~ Good news -- the echocardiogram that Goldilocks had on Monday came back normal! I haven't spoken to the doctor to see whether more testing is necessary, but it's great that her heart looks good. The nurse said, "There are no restrictions."  Also, I asked Goldilocks' math tutor whether she saw learning issues. She replied that, while she wasn't sure what the labels would be, Goldilocks had many challenges, and it was no wonder her schooling has been slow going. I am pleased with the progress we are seeing!! She is improving in math, little by little. We are also looking into getting her a full psychological educational evaluation. She hasn't had one since she was really young, so it is time for another. Hopefully, this will shed some light on exactly what her learning challenges are and where they are coming from.

Banana Split ~ We celebrated the invention of the banana split (1904) this week. The kids each picked a container of ice cream. The kids made whipped cream from scratch. I don't think we have had so much ice cream in our house in years. I am going to hide some of it in the basement freezer. Speaking of the freezer ~ I've been adding one or two things to it each shopping trip. It is starting to look like we actually have a small stockpile of food.  The goal is to eat from the freezer during December, so I will be able to use some of our grocery money for Christmas shopping. 

Yard Sale and Bake Sale ~ The kids spent the week searching the house for things to sell. They're trying to earn pocket money for the trip to Washington, D.C. that we will be taking soon. They spent today baking muffins and making signs. Tom Sawyer really got into sign making and included cartoons with all of his signs. They are hoping for big returns. We shall see how tomorrow goes. The weather is supposed to be lovely.

Our Architecture Unit Study ~ We studied the Grove Arcade this week. The building is of the Neo-Tudor style, with a paneled effect and Gothic detailing. It has numerous griffins, gargoyles, and grotesques (which are heads) inside and out. It is rumored that the clown-like faces on the outside depicts a local man's face who had not paid his debts to Mr. Grove. Consequently, Mr. Grove had that man's face plastered all over the building to remind everyone that he was a debtor! Tom Sawyer and Little Red Riding Hood built houses using sugar cubes and "mortar" (flour, water and arrowroot). They are having fun exploring The Ultimate Building Book by Steven Caney.

Books We Read This Week ~ 
  • Young Teedie Roosevelt
  • My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10
  • Life of Fred Farming
  • You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt
  • How to Train a Dragon  Book 3
  • Animal Ark Books
  • Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (book on tape Goldilocks)
  • What To Do About Alice
  • The First Teddy Bear
Earrings for Girls ~ As you may have noticed in the pictures, the girls have earrings now. Goldilocks had her ears pierced in infancy (before we got her). I took the earrings out of her ears when she was a toddler, because she was trying to swallow them. Anyway, I really didn't like a toddler having earrings. But now she wanted to get them pierced again. I suggested she try to push earrings through the old holes. They went through easily, even though she hadn't worn any in about 10 years! Little Red Riding Hood has been gearing up to get earrings for a few months now. I told her she had to wait until she was almost 10, which is in October. The almost 10 part is because I wanted her ears to be healed before December's Nutcracker performance. I didn't want a backstage mom to take the starter earrings out (kids aren't allowed to wear jewelry while on stage). This happened to a little girl last year and her ears got infected. So she got them pierced last weekend, and was really brave. Little Red Riding Hood is being very good about cleaning her ears twice a day.
Blessings, Dawn

Friday, September 6, 2013

Week 6 ~ Titanic Dinner, State Fair and Back to Dance Classes

In My Life ~ We had a good week. The downside was dh getting a nasty stomach virus and missing two days of work. The rest of us ended up feeling a bit sick but not nearly as ill as he was. The rest of the week went well. We made it through most of our intended learning. The kids did all the normal stuff ... language arts, math, reading and finished up our unit study on Thomas Edison (we used Beyond Five in a Row for the unit study). The week also held a few highlights...

A Titanic Dinner ~ For Labor Day we decided to have a special dinner in remembrance of all of the third class passengers on the Titanic. I used the book, Last Dinner on the Titanic, to put together a third class menu. I must say, they ate fancier than we do most days. The kids looked through all of our books about the Titanic tragedy and followed their own interests. Little Red Riding Hood liked the fact book, 882 1/2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions about the Titanic. Tom Sawyer was more interested in books about the discovery of the Titanic and what it looks like now. Goldilocks liked reading the Magic Tree House story about the Titanic. All of the kids helped make dinner. We worked on learning how to braise meat, make broth soup, make Italian Ice in the ice cream maker and bake homemade bread. Tom Sawyer concentrated on setting the table. He loves deciding on place settings and where each guest will sit. We found a website on the Internet that listed the passengers in third class, a bit about them and whether they survived or not. We found people close to our ages who had survived and made index cards for each place setting. Then everyone assumed their character for the dinner. It was hard to find surviving men from third class. My adult son got to be one of the few men who managed to swim and pull himself up onto an overturned lifeboat. We have now made a third class dinner and a second class dinner from this book. You can see our second class Titanic dinner here. I doubt that we will ever make a typical first class dinner served aboard the Titanic. There is way too much alcohol used, and it would take one person days to make all of the dishes. Our Titanic dinner taught the kids home economics, history, research skills, theater skills and math.


Beef Broth
Pot Roast
Fresh Baked Bread
Jacket Potatoes
Lemon Italian Ice
Iced Tea

State Fair ~ We attended the state fair this week. It was a hot day (by mountain standards). We had a great time. We all went on the overheard zip line ride (in a little vehicle that held us), ate cotton candy, saw a man shoot himself out of a cannon, visited all of the animals, and witnessed the pig and duck races. I thought the duck races were so cute. The kids also brought their own money to go on extra rides if they wished. I only paid for the one ride. Tom Sawyer ended up going on the Ferris Wheel and a spider like ride that flipped this way and that. Little Red Riding Hood wanted to play a game but couldn't find one that was a good deal. She couldn't see paying all that money to win something she could buy for $1 at the dollar store. SMART GIRL! Goldilocks only had a dollar saved up, so she and Little Red Riding Hood decided to split a soda (a rare treat for them). There was much deliberation about how to spend their money, and I think they drove some of the vendors crazy with all their questions about cost and length of time of each ride. Tom Sawyer even used our cell phone to time how long each ride was that he was interested in, so he could determine the best deal. I thought it was all a great learning experience for them. After all, one of the most important lessons in life is how to spend money wisely. What really cracked me up was the kids' reactions to the prize winning vegetables. The two youngest were beside themselves with interest. They just gushed over the size, color, and shapes of the veggies. It was hilarious to watch!

The Rest ~ This week was more social than most for our family. In addition to the fair, we attended a birthday party, gymnastics, dance classes and went to our local special needs family support meeting. The kids really are enjoying the monthly family support meeting. All the families eat dinner together and then break up into smaller groups. There is a sibling group for the "normal" kids where they can share their feelings (if they wish) about their special siblings and have a great time playing. The other two kids went to the youth group where they talked about their feelings, did "about me" pages, and played board games. We parents went to an adult support group meeting. Everyone enjoyed themselves. 

Blessings, Dawn

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Medical Update on the Kids

It seems like it is time to update here about the kids medical issues. If for no other reason, then so it all can stop swishing around in my head. There is lots of new information right now and I need to start compartmentalizing it.

*All of the pictures in this post are from blueberry picking recently. After blueberry picking, the kids enjoyed a very cold splash in a mountain stream.

Tim 23 ~ Tim has been an irritable person most of his life. However, in the past few years he has struggled more and more with irritability and frustrations over daily activities. Every little speed bump of life is like hitting a mountainside to him. We decided to leave conventional medicine (that was giving us almost no help) and look into alternative medicines. We had him tested for cortisone levels and tests to see how his adrenals were doing. The test results are back and indeed his cortisone levels are very high and his adrenals are not doing well at all. Testing of his neurotransmitters revealed that two of them are very low. These are serotonin and GABA, which help with happiness and a feeling of well being. The doctor started him on some new supplements, but she told us upfront that it might not be enough, since his brain is so badly injured. So far, he is complaining of having lots of trouble waking up in the morning. However, he has been functioning better and having more small pleasant moments than before. We are hopeful that this new protocol will help him over the coming month. We are also trying to stimulate more alpha waves in his brain and decrease the amount of his beta brainwaves. One way to accomplish this is by using classical music. We are playing lots of Bach around here right now. So far, I am seeing a little bit of improvement in mood while the music is on, but as soon as the music stops, he is right back to not feeling well. We plan to purchase Wild Divine soon. Our psychologist has been suggesting it for years. Now we are going to take the leap. It should be useful to multiple people in our home.

We are also exploring changing Tim's diet a bit. He has a latex allergy and we found out that there are several foods that cross-react with latex due to having the same or similar latex proteins. One such food is bananas. He has been allergic to them for years. Now that I see the list of what other foods he might react to, I am realizing that he already avoids some of them because they make him feel bad. It seems like this could be contributing to his mood as well.

Furthermore, we needed to get him a psychological evaluation to keep him at the brain injury program he is now attending four days a week. The results are not back yet, but the psychologist wanted to tell us about his IQ. The verbal part of an IQ is very noticeable when people interact to people because it includes vocabulary, sentence structure, comprehension and carrying on a conversation. Tim has a very high verbal IQ in the superior range. However, the rest of the scores that make up his IQ are in the low average or even below. With such a high verbal intelligence, Tim is able to speak with complex vocabulary and comprehend what others are saying even in a complicated conversation. This explains why there are people (such as the teacher he was having trouble with recently) who think there is nothing wrong with him and accuse him of not applying himself. It takes longer to realize out that he processes information slowly, has a terrible working memory, and has very poor math skills. All of this combines to make it difficult for him to navigate his world, to manage time or even remember his phone number. So when the experts average out his IQ it really cannot reflect Tim's abilities at all. In fact, the doctor said that Tim falls into a very narrow category where the IQ test is useless. In some ways, this is a relief to know. However, it reinforces why he is so frustrated and overwhelmed with life.  Lots of work to still do here with my oldest. I am hopeful that we are on the right path now.

Goldilocks (12) ~ Where to begin...Goldilocks continues to struggle with behavior. She is always creating chaos but complains to anyone that will listen about how her family isn't calm enough and that she hates chaos. When she is in respite care, however, our home is amazingly quiet and calm. Some of the experts think she is exhibiting RAD behaviors (which she has a diagnosis of) and others think her PTSD is being triggered by having to live with her birth brother Tom Sawyer (children who were abused in their birth home and then adopted together often have lots of sibling adoption issues). An additional possibility is that she is showing signs of borderline personality disorder, which her psychologist thinks might be true. Her birth mother has this diagnosis. People with borderline are easily bored and crave chaos/excitement and will create it if it is not present. No matter what is causing her issues, it is very hard to live with at times. We are having a terrible time finding a therapist who we can afford and is also the right fit. Mental health services in the state of North Carolina are very poor. The special needs family support network in our area has given me some places to contact to try to find some funding. I have found some horseback riding psychotherapy in the area which I think would be a good fit, but it is $100 an hour. When you are talking about $100 an hour, funding quickly becomes a major issue. She is still receiving neurofeedback, which is supposed to be calming and improve her processing. However, the doctor doing neurofeedback says it will take YEARS to see improvement. I am not sure I will continue this if I find a good therapist that our insurance takes. We will only be covered for one or the other.
This is a very typical pose of Goldilocks.
I am at a loss as to why she curls her hands this way.
Has anyone ever seen this or know why?
We are waiting for our insurance to catch up with the recent change in pediatricians. Once that goes through, Goldilocks will be having an echocardiogram to begin figuring out if she has Marfan Syndrome. This diagnosis will help us know whether or not the dizzy spells are something to be concerned about.

On a very light note ~ She is ready to start round two of braces and will also need the penguin to help expand her jaw line.

Tom Sawyer (11) ~ Tom Sawyer seems to be making a vast improvement in tolerating foods that he hasn't been able to eat in several years. Lately, he seems to be able to eat organic, unbromated wheat flour if he is given GlutenEase (made by Enzymedica) a supplement. He still reacts to barley. Many of the wheat flours in the store include barley with them, so he can't eat wheat products prepared by stores or restaurants. He does experience stomachaches if he eats wheat without GlutenEase, so we still may need to look into Celiac Disease. His doctor who follows his allergies suggested that he should be tested but didn't want him to go back on gluten to find out. However, I think it would be worth knowing if the tests are not too dangerous or invasive. He does not want to remain gluten/grain free for life if his digestive system could be cured. He continues to take l-glutamine, vitamin C, PB8 probiotics and digestive enzyme supplements to promote digestive health. To our relief, he seems to be handling all food better with less hives, redness, skin issues and behavior issues. He still looks very pale most of the time and complains about exhaustion. I am interested to see what our new pediatrician thinks about his food issues. He seems to be filled with fresh views on what might be going on with the kids.

The dentist is sending Tom Sawyer for an orthodontist evaluation. We knew this was coming for a long time. His teeth are crowded and his chin is starting to recede (just like his biological sister). He has always had very thin and deformed enamel on his teeth which increases the chance of infection and complications. He has already had dental surgery for a growth in his mouth a few years ago. We are concerned about how to keep him healthy through this process. Fortunately, our orthodontist has done a great job with Goldilocks and says he has lots of ways to help Tom Sawyer with his sensory issues.

Tom Sawyer, who has mild cerebral palsy, is nearly finished with physical therapy at this time. While he needs more, our insurance will only cover 16 sessions a year. Consequently, the physical therapist is giving him a list of exercises to do at home so that he can keep making progress (that is, if I can make him do them often enough). He finds physical therapy very painful and it brings him to tears. Still, Tom Sawyer has made amazing progress and can do many things that he could not do at the beginning of this Summer. He can sustain his energy level better and keep up with other children for longer periods of time. I am hoping that the special needs gymnastic class he recently started will help him keep working on his trunk and legs.

We will be looking into an occupational therapy evaluation once PT ends in a couple months. Writing is such a struggle for him. His hands tremor and his whole body tenses with the process. The physical therapist said he is having trouble because his core is so weak and recommended that an occupational therapist could help with fine motor as well as some gross motor. In this way, he can continue getting help for his core while working on the smaller muscles in his hands as well.

Little Red Riding Hood (9) ~ There is really nothing to tell here. She is by far the healthiest and easiest child I have. She struggles a bit with balance when dancing (more than she should after so many years of dance). This is probably because she inherited a mild case of pigeon-toed walking, which would be of little concern if she wasn't interested in dance. We are in a holding pattern to see if the dance studio thinks she should return for a few more sessions of PT. She starts dance classes again next week, so we will see then what the teachers think of her progress over the summer. She has done lots of yoga, standing on her toes, and other balance work to improve her balance.

Well, there is an update.

Blessings, Dawn