Friday, October 28, 2016

Homeschooling a Special Needs Teen ~ November Goals

We have had to change our homeschool approach several times in the last year for our son. He used to love unit studies and lots of hands-on projects. As the years have gone by and the workload has become more intense, he has struggled and become more and more disinterested in school. This year I took a very child-led approach in the beginning. This break helped him to reconnect with his former love of learning. But I am aware that much of the way he used to learn is not having the level of retention that he needs. Therefore, we are trying some new learning approaches. 

As my son has grown into his teen years, he has really started to come into his own. However, the older he gets, the more I see some learning challenges that could potentially affect his future. Here are some of his personality traits.
  • He is very bright. 
  • He doesn't feel confident about his learning abilities.
  • He is obedient (if he truly understands what you expect from him). 
  • He NEEDS very clear visual directions. 
  • He is an extreme visual learner with a need for carefully picked hands-on projects that pull the lesson together.
  • He becomes fixated on learning certain things, and it is hard to keep him focused on the regular assignments.
  • He loves music and art and is creative in those areas.
  • He is very particular about words ~ they must be clear, used properly and be used few and far between (so instead use visual communication).
  • He is a concrete, black-and-white thinker, who struggles with gray areas (especially in social skills and how he feels others should meet his high standards of behavior).
  • He says what he thinks, even when it isn't nice (which is a poor social skill). 
  • His body, which is affected by cerebral palsy, gets in the way of his creativity and takes a lot of energy away from his day.

To try to find the best educational fit for him, I am trying to plan month-by-month what we will do. Of course, as always, I will try to meet his desires and encourage his love of learning, while establishing the basics as a strong foundation for his future. November is one of the most challenging months of the year for our family. It is when The Nutcracker and the Mouse King takes over our lives. Listed below are our goals for November and how I hope to implement them.
  • Math three times a week (if we are able to do more...great... but three times is a must).
  • He will read four times a week for personal reading time.
  • He will also read one  historical chapter book or biography and give some kind of a presentation on what he knows.
  • Science with our friend weekly (two to three hours).
  • Art ~ with Miss Laura weekly, with Grandma once, ArtAchieve and independently.
  • Write two 500 word essays ~ due dates ~ November 10 and November 23.
  • Start Cover Story with our homeschool friend two times a week.
  • For family read-aloud time, we will read Hitty Her First Hundred Years.
  • CNN Student News daily.
  • Practice musical instruments daily.
  • Read to him the book, Manners Made Easy for Teens.
  • Dance classes, extra weekend rehearsals, Tech Week for The Nutcracker and the Mouse King will total up to an estimated 40+ hours for the month (not including the four shows in December).

It seems like I may be missing something, and I am sure there will be educational opportunities that present themselves along the way, but this is the main plan. Most importantly, my goal is to provide a rich environment filled with love and peace. 

Blessings, Dawn

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
My son decided that he would like to start learning a foreign language this year. We decided that Spanish would make the most sense with his current career desires.We were offered Middlebury Interactive Languages for review. We received one full semester of this online interactive program. We chose Spanish Middle School Year 1. Middlebury Interactive Languages offers German, French, Spanish and Chinese. All of these courses are online and need an Internet connection to work. 
This program retails for $119 per semester without teacher support.We reviewed semester 1 without teacher support. If you would like teacher support, the cost is $294. The student will be able to speak lots of common Spanish words, carry on a simple conversation and understand grammar patterns. They currently offer Spanish from elementary through high school. The course is self paced, but it is meant to be used three to four times a week. 
I feel that foreign language is one of the hardest courses to find a good fit for homeschoolers. Learning languages is much easier in a group setting, and it can be especially hard if the teacher doesn't know the language. In our family, I have only a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, but my husband is semi-fluent. My son had very little exposure to Spanish before this program. He only knew a few words. 
How my son felt ~ He liked that the program had lots of variety. There are multiple games, presentation styles and videos. The curriculum concentrates on helping the student be able to read, listen, speak and write in Spanish. This is an immersion program and the "teacher" speaks in Spanish from the very beginning. My son found the program engaging. He also found the website very easy to move around. He liked the cultural information that he learned throughout the course. However, he felt like all of the information "was coming very fast and hard to understand". He was a bit intimidated by the format and intensity of the program. On one hand, he liked that it wasn't at all babyish, but he thought that it wasn't for his grade level. He asked me several times why I had gotten a program that was for adults. 
What I thought ~ First, I feel that it is only fair to state that my son has several learning challenges. He is 14 and straddling subjects in 8th and 9th grade this year. He is very bright but needs lots of external support and very clear-cut directions. My son is an extreme visual learner with a strong need for hands-on activities. He struggles with auditory processing disorder. To say that any foreign language is going to be hard for him to master is an understatement. It doesn't matter how it is presented; it is going to be hard. So even though my review of this product would say that it did not really work for my son, I haven't found any foreign language program that clicks with his special needs. 
So all of that aside, I thought the program was well presented. I agreed with him that it seemed very adult like and actually thought I should use it for myself to freshen up my Spanish. I liked the variety and ease of use. I appreciated all of the printouts. I strongly appreciated that throughout the course the speakers were easy to understand. Their accents were not overly strong, and I could clearly repeat the words. Our microphone turned out to be a bit wonky with the program and did not consistently work. This was more likely our fault than that of the company. However, since my husband can speak all of the words easily, he was able to correct our pronunciations.  We liked the program overall. 
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
To see what others on the homeschool review crew had to say, click on the banner below. 
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
Crew Disclaimer
Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Productive, Project-Based Homeschool Week

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the variety to our days. No two days or weeks are alike. We do have certain routines that happen daily and a flow to our weeks that are mostly dictated by dance classes, but we are not locked into a schedule that, over time, becomes drudgery.

Some weeks, we spend a great deal of time on "seat work", other weeks are defined by field trips or a multitude of projects. This week was the latter. We began our week with Robotics Club. This club grew out of a Lego Club that we have belonged to for years. Then our little group of homeschoolers purchased an EV3 to share, so the four teens in our group are using books and videos to learn about it. Each month they alter the EV3 and then program it to do something new. This is a self-taught adventure for them. There is a nice combination of creativity and tech savvy between the teens and they keep coming up with new creations. Anne continues to enjoy Lego Club with the younger kids, because she isn't interested in the more intense learning environment of the Robotics Club.

We also had an especially exciting time with our science this week. We had our friend S over again, and we built model volcanoes. The kids said it was just as much art as science this week. It took them a good 2.5 hours to build and paint their volcanoes. Next week, we will be doing seven to eight different kinds of eruptions. It is going to be exciting! We have decided to stick with our original plan of making this year's science course be a physical science course, so we will be transitioning from chemistry to geology around Christmas.

We went on a fantastic field trip to see a performance of Twelfth Night. The performers did a wonderful job, and the all student audience was kept on the edge of their seats. There is no better way to study Shakespeare than actually attending a performance. It was the way it was intended to be experienced. We read a short synopsis before attending. 
Wow, my phone doesn't take very good pictures!

One of the kids' dance classes was held outside in a city park. The director of our dance studio feels it is important for the students to learn how to choreograph, improvise, and perform on the spot in front of strangers, so she occasionally takes the older ones outside and lets them create a piece and then perform it for whomever is passing by. 

Quick list of our learning this week:
  • 2 hours of math
  • Robotics Club
  • 3 hours of science, including making volcanoes
  • 3 hours of review items (mostly language arts and history)
  • Art with Miss Laura
  • ArtAchieve lesson 5 (dragonfly) with Grandma
  • Reading daily
  • CNN Student News daily
  • 10 hours of dance for Anne, 6.5 hours of dance for Dean
  • Twelfth Night live performance
  • 3 hours of music ~ Anne started using two hands on the piano
  • The Presidential Debate
A photo "just because" ~ isn't this vulture neat? We passed him eating a rabbit on the road. He showed off his wing span for us.

We also accomplished as a family ~
  • Two of the three of us who are eligible to vote, voted in our state's Early Voting. It was a long line for the first time in my voting life. We (kids included) listened to many interesting conversations in line. 
  • Dean and Anne got their flu shots.
  • Dean went to therapy.
  • We went through the winter clothing storage closet. Everyone has a winter jacket, although Dean's is barely adequate. Consequently, I am still on the hunt for something more suitable for him. Bring on the snow!
Last, but not least ~ If you are at all interested in reviewing homeschool products, go to this post and apply. We have really enjoyed being on the Homeschool Reivew Crew this year. It has been a great learning experience for all of us.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, October 14, 2016

Homeschooling Isn't a Race -- It's a Journey!

Weeks like this remind me that homeschooling is a journey, not a race to the finish line. Sometimes we as homeschoolers get caught up in To Do lists, comparing ourselves to each other and worrying that we aren't doing enough. This has been one of those kind of weeks around here. I have been homeschooling for 18 years and still fall into that trap now and again.

Really, it wasn't a horrible week. We had a lovely birthday celebration for Anne. I am now officially a mother to three teens and a young adult. Our home is filled with hormones and emotions. With that comes more arguing, more tears, more apologies and lots of highs and lows. This week we were at a place where working on relationships was much more important than getting through our academic To Do list.
I love seeing the relationship grow between these two brothers.
School did happen, of course, but it just wasn't my highest priority. Homeschooling is a lifestyle. Some weeks are going to be stellar and some aren't. That is life. I record our days, because it is very encouraging to look back and see all of the valuable things we accomplished, even when I think nothing much happened.

Below is a list of what we did accomplish academically ~ 
  • Chemistry with our homeschool friend
  • Art class
  • Reviewing sign language
  • We Will Rise ~ Documentary on girls being educated around the world
  • Completed our October puzzle
  • Anne wrote a 500 word paper on Queen Elizabeth I and fashion during her reign.
  • Dean wrote a 500 word paper on our New York City trip.
  • Each child did two hours of math.
  • Anne finished Alice in Wonderland.
  • Dean continued reading his chapter book.
  • They both attended dance ~ 10 hours for Anne and 6.5 hours for Dean.
  • CNN Student News daily
  • Anne worked on coloring intricate Queen Elizabeth I paper dolls
  • Chemistry homework ~ writing about assigned element
  • At least 30 minutes of music practice each day
  • A Scandal in Bohemia, a Sherlock Holmes Story
  • Language arts work books -- one hour
  • Some work with review products

It is a blessing to homeschool, even more on the weeks that are hard than the weeks that run smoothly. We have time to work through issues, support our interests and just love each other. It is such a gift to be able to adapt our schooling to our current needs. I hope that next week goes more smoothly, but I am glad for every day with my crew, hard knocks and all.

Blessings, Dawn

Homeschool Coffee Break

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Party Time ~ Anne's 13th Birthday!

Punch with dry ice
Anne decided to have a Halloween themed birthday party complete with an overnight. She had five girlfriends over. I forgot about the noise level that six girls can make together. HaHa!

Anne put lots of thought into the food. We decided to have a make-your-own pizza bar, make-your-own trail mix, a "fun" cereal and fruit cocktail breakfast bar, and donuts instead of cake. The kids loved it and the clean up was easy.

Make-your-own pizza

Jello brains
Anne was thrilled with the mini-boxes of cereal. We never buy them, so they were a real treat.

My most exciting find was a bag of Boo Chips from Trader Joe's. They are little bats and ghosts. How perfect!

We had lots of activities planned just in case they needed guidance. We didn't get to all of them, but they had fun with the ones they did do. The girls really enjoyed breaking into teams and making Jack O' Lanterns to be judged by Dean.

Dean and Dad made dry ice bombs. Some of the girls thought they were way too loud and scary, so we had lots of screaming. They moved on to making their own trail mix. We had pretzels, candy corn, pop corn, M&M's, mini marshmallows and peanuts. Then we watched BeetleJuice. It was a hit ~ scary, but not too scary. Then they giggled and squealed until about 2 am. The next morning they went through the breakfast bar and made their plans for the last few hours of the party. They spent a long time doing their nails in shocking Halloween colors and watching videos on YouTube. They had a blast and we can claim another successful party.

The big question is ~ Who is going to clean up?!?!

Blessings, Dawn

Hip Homeschool Moms

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Life in a Special Needs Family ...

I sat down to write about our week and thought that nothing remarkable had happened to report. At least, nothing that would seem remarkable to a normal family. But to me, it was a very remarkable week. We did our schoolwork. We went to dance class. We cleaned the yard up some more. We transplanted the Iris bed and made it larger. We moved a million pounds of rocks we found on the property to make nicer borders on our front yard flower bed. We continued our commitment to emotionally supporting another family who started homeschooling in the middle school years, and we are providing transportation two days a week to another child whose mother has been hospitalized for weeks. We sent our adult son to away camp for brain-injured adults. This is his first time away from home without a parent accompanying him. That is our week in a nutshell. Not very exciting on the surface. However, very exciting in the details.

Every family is unique and has its own challenges. The main challenge for our family is that each member of our family has a disability. Some of us have more minor issues than others, but we all struggle with something that impacts every single day of our lives. For me, that is learning disabilities that I was diagnosed with at a very young age. Thankfully, with lots of parental support, a few years at private school that specialized in learning challenges and a natural desire to stay organized, I learned to cope with my learning challenges at a young age. However, spell check on the computer works over time for me, and my mother cleans up my grammar on every post. I love to write and it is a labor of love to do it. My husband also struggles with learning challenges and relies heavily on me to keep us organized. However, he has great work ethic and a patient temperament. We both love to learn and read, which is a huge asset. All this to say, my husband and I had our hands already full before becoming parents.

Then you add our adult son with brain injury due to several heart attacks in infancy and Dandy Walker Syndrome which affects his brain, two adopted children with Fetal Alcohol Effects (one of which has severe mental health issues), and a daughter with mild dyslexia and anxieties (which she comes by naturally) and you have a rather interesting set of challenges. You throw in PTSD for a few members, cerebral palsy for one, heart condition for one and a host of minor irritants -- and it gets downright crazy some days.

Even though our daughter (Goldilocks) with Fetal Alcohol Effects and severe mental health issues doesn't live with us at this time, she is still very much a part of our family and impacts us daily. We talk to her several times a week, take  her to one of her weekly therapies, talk to at least one of her mental health team members weekly and attend multiple appointments/meetings. Then there is the unfortunate fact of trying to heal from the damage that occurred from living for 11 years with such a mentally unstable and at times dangerous person. The healing is slow but we see improvements all of the time.

The healing process is really the remarkable thing about this week. Our adult son went off to away camp. He is 26 years old and this is his first time away at camp. It is a huge milestone. This huge accomplishment means that the healing our family is working toward is really beginning to impact our adult son. He has had the opportunity to go to this camp before but refused every time. This time he asked to go, was willing to go without parents, did not change his mind and got on the bus that took him off to camp. It is a MIRACLE! He is texting me every 20 minutes or so and has tons of support to help him at camp, but it is a miracle nonetheless. I am immensely happy for him.

It is also remarkable that we are now able to be of more support to others. It may seem like nothing to support another family through their early days of homeschooling and provide a few dozen rides to a kid in need, but for us it is a big deal. We are a family that has spent years being completely consumed by getting through our own troubled days. To keep our own little family stable took everything my husband and I had. Our lives were so messy that we could not possibly extend ourselves into helping reduce the stress in other people's messy lives. But now we can and it feels great. We are abundantly blessed!

Blessings, Dawn