Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Magical Place on Earth

Last week, my mom took me and the girls to Disney World for our Christmas present. We also got to spend one day at Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! It has more than 4 years since we attempted Disney with Reece. The last time we went she spent much of the time in the stroller we rented for her. She did have fun, but she was pretty much in her own world. My family and I are huge Disney fans, and we really wanted to include Reece in our Disney experience. Reece has really changed so much lately, so we decided it was time to give it a try.

Disney is absolutely fantastic with their accommodations for children on the spectrum. I had taken a letter with me from her doctor, but the didn't even asked to see it. I went to Guest Services on our first day in the parks and told them our situation. I was expecting a lot of questioning, as I had heard they have gotten more stringent since our last visit. But this cast member immediately went to get me a Guest Assistance Card which was marked for us to be able to use an alternate entrance where available. He did tell me about a few extra restrictions, but we weren't required to follow any of those during our visit. What this card allowed us to do was to use the Fast Pass entrance without having to get a Fast Pass, or we could also use the handicapped entrance. This means that Reece didn't have to wait very long for her turn to ride, and that truly made such a difference!

At Universal, I hadn't heard about any sort of accommodations, but I decided on the spur of the moment to ask at their Guest Services. The lady was VERY helpful and offered me a card that was similar to the GAC at Disney. I can't remember what it's called and my mom has it in her package of souvenirs at her house, but I will be sure to ask her to get the name of it for me. But all I did was tell the lady at Guest Services that my daughter has autism and was there anything they could do to help make the day go more smoothly. This card was similar to the one at WDW. If the wait was less than 30 minutes, it worked exactly like the GAC - we used the Express line. If the wait was 30 minutes or more, we had to get a cast member (guessing that's what they are called at Universal) to sign our card and give us a return time. We used it twice in this way and the return time was always equal to the standby time. Then we could go wait elsewhere and return during our time to use the Express line. This worked GREAT, but let me encourage you to take the advice the Guest Services lady gave me and do not take the child with autism with you to get the return time, lest your child with ASD get upset about not being able to ride right away like they are used to doing on the other rides.

All in all, the many things that I had been worried about with Reece during this trip did not occur. It was absolutely magical. She was patient. She was flexible. She slept in the strange hotel room (two rooms actually as we stayed over in Ocala Sunday night to break up the drive time). She talked to adults and children - actually she called all of the cast members by name. We had taken her up to a cast member upon our arrival and showed her their name tag, so in case she got lost she would know what to look for. I had bought Road IDs for both girls, and I told them that if they got lost, they should find a cast member, show them their ID which had my cell phone and my mom's cell phone number on it, and tell them they are lost. I was worried that she wouldn't keep the Road ID on, but she never flinched about it one time or complained that it was bothering her! She handled the crowds of people well, though we did our best to flank her on 3 sides. She did not have a SINGLE meltdown. Not ONE!!

It was truly amazing. A magical, magical time. We had breakfast at the castle (my favorite thing to do ever!) and she wore Belle's Christmas Dress costume that Riley had gotten during our first trip down. Belle came to our table and said, "Have you been going through my closet again??" and she just laughed. But I noticed that most of the little girls just giggled when the princesses spoke to them. I think it's a bit overwhelming to be talking to a real princess. Then Ariel came, which is Reece's favorite, and she was so excited, and so was I! I've never seen Ariel at the castle breakfast, and how exciting that she should be there for Reece!

I could go on and on but that would be boring, and I won't have pictures to share until my mom goes through them all and shares them with me. But I will leave you with my 2 favorite moments from the trip. The first was how Reece started off our days leaving our room at the resort. We were on the 4th, and top, floor and we would walk out of the room and she would loudly announce, "Hello, Earthlings!!!!" It cracked us up every single time. And the looks on the faces of the people walking down below were priceless!

The last thing I want to share was the parade during the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which had to be the most wonderful part of the trip. That day had been so long. We went to Animal Kingdom first and rode Expedition Everest 5 times, plus rode the other rides. Then we came back to the room to rest before the party. When we arrived at the party it was wall-to-wall people, so much that it made me uncomfortable. We hid out in the corners in several places while we ate dinner, and then later our complimentary apples, cookies, and cocoa. But the fireworks and castle stage show were extremely crowded. So before the parade (which started at 10:30, we didn't even try the earlier one which was much, much more crowded) I asked a cast member if there was a place where we could watch the parade and get away from some of the crowds. He directed me to the front of the park to a disability seating area. When we finally made our way there, it was already full, but the cast member working that section directed us across the street to a completely empty spot that I never would have found otherwise. We had front-row viewing and no crowds. It was the first time Reece has seen a parade, that she probably remembers, and she was beyond excited. She was wearing the Belle's Christmas Dress again and she was jumping up and down and waving and blowing kisses - and so many of the cast members would wave and smile and blow kisses back. And then, The Beast actually BOWED to her as they came by on the float!! She was so thrilled, and it was an amazing experience to see her that happy!

I know we can't expect another Disney trip to go as smoothly as this one did, but I will take the memories of this trip and treasure them forever. I am sure my mom would tell you that it was money well-spent! Each night on the bus back to the resort, Reece would snuggle up next to her and say, "Nana, this is the best day EVER!!" :)

Monday, December 06, 2010

An update

We are nearing our Christmas break, and I think it's safe to say all of us are ready! But we have had a most productive school year so far, with the possible exception of NaNoWriMo! LOL It's nice to see the books being finished and talked about, and progress being made in our math books. We're actually half way through the history book for the first time ever. It's mind-boggling! But, I remember that spring is always such a busy time for us, and we will appreciate the hard work that we put in now. I think it also helped that Austin's ankle hindered us from the many wonderful field trips our homeschool group had planned! LOL

Just a note about Reece and her math... we had to slow down a little bit, not because the math itself was any more difficult, but because so much of RightStart at this level requires advanced auditory processing. Well, it's probably not advanced for the target age (5-7 years old), but it is for a child with auditory and language processing problems. When she started to have to hold problems like 43 + 79 in her head and solve them, I saw her frustration level building. It wasn't that she couldn't do the computation in her head, it was that she couldn't hold those numbers in her head! I decided that while we'll continue to work on building her auditory processing skills, it wasn't worth the negative feelings that she was getting. So I simply started writing the numbers down so she could see them. It really helped a lot. I figured it was the sort of compensation that wasn't interfering with the purpose of the lesson, but would help alleviate frustration from her processing challenges. So we do a few auditorily, and then I'll write a few on the board for her to see the numbers.

And she continues to surprise me! Today was a lesson that I expected to be quite difficult for her. She was given a set of 5 numbers and had to select which ones added up to 20. There could be 2, 3, 4, or 5 numbers. But she breezed right through it and declared that type of worksheet to be the most fun kind ever! :)

Austin is doing much better. He is able to walk around on the boot without crutches, and he is back to drumming. He has joined a rock band and has been to two practices. He's able to "gazelle" again and I think it helps him quite a bit. We don't know yet about baseball this spring. He goes back to the doctor after Christmas and we'll be keeping our fingers crossed!

Riley is her usual busy self. Her dance company did their first missions/outreach project yesterday when they performed at a nursing home. It was a lovely dance and I'm very proud of her!

Hope to be able to post more during Christmas break!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

I made my word count goal on Sunday evening. The story isn't my best, by far, but I did manage to get it done and I guess that's the real point.

None of the kids made their goals. We won't be doing NaNoWriMo next year. None of us. It has just turned into too much stress and not nearly enough fun. I don't need yet another thing to be nagging the kids about. I even bought several of their rewards in anticipation of them making their goals and they didn't. I have a whole bag full of stuff. It's truly disappointing. And I don't need yet another thing that I feel pressure to complete.

Now I feel like the kids wasted an entire month of language arts. Yeah, won't be doing this again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Of Teenagers and Broken Bones and Autism

I try to limit what I share on my blog these days about Austin. It's not that I don't want to tell about his life or our homeschooling adventure, it's just that he has become very self-conscious about his struggles. I don't want to embarrass him in the interest of sharing our story, but I also started this blog as a way to put out there for others the real ups and downs that we experience. I wanted to be able to share our struggles, not only to show that we have struggles, but also to show that we muddle our way through them.

And this fall has been a struggle for Austin (and then, of course, us) of the sort of magnitude that I can barely begin to describe.

He is still recovering from the ankle injury in September. Who knew that a broken bone would take this long to heal? Last week he got his cast off, and a boot on. Not having any experience in the area of broken bones and casts, I assumed he would get the boot on and walk out of there under his own power. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. He can put weight on the leg for a few minutes at a time, but for the most part, he still has to walk around on crutches. The doctor didn't seem surprised by this (unlike me), and told us that while it was healed, the leg would be sore for a few weeks. We go back after Christmas for another appointment, at which point if Austin's not walking, I will be asking for a referral to physical therapy for him.

Yesterday he did join the girls and me at the pool. It wasn't easy to get him in and out of the water, but we managed. And he swam some laps with me. I made sure he took it easy, since he hasn't had any physical activity in nearly 2 months. I lost count while trying to do my own laps, but I think he did at least 5-6 laps of his own before he got out. We go to the pool just about every week, so he'll be able to continue the water exercise. I hope that will help to loosen up his foot and make it easier on him.

One bright note: he is able to play drums with the boot on.

To add to the complete wreck that has been fall at the BPA, Austin also came off his seizure medication. He started weaning off the meds in July, and took his last dose on the day of his ankle surgery. We had noticed some side effects of with each drop down in dosage (coinciding with the beginning of each new month). I did some research and learned that this medication is also used as a mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder. Then the complete weaning, coupled with the drastic change of a broken ankle/cast/losing his baseball season/losing the ability to self-regulate through pacing, has really been the hardest thing that we've had to experience in the last few years. I'm praying that, when all this is over, he will slowly return to normal. However, I have already decided that once he is able to walk and run again, if his mental state does not seem to be clearing out... we will need to seek outside intervention. I'm not sure what that will look like, but we'll start with the developmental pediatrician for recommendations. He simply can't spend the rest of his life feeling this way and having the sorts of thoughts he has been having.

We've been having lots of discussions about how many of this thoughts and feelings are those that most kids his age are having: being embarrassed about your family, being afraid you're going to say the wrong thing, feeling like you don't fit in. Austin has also been wondering about autism - and if he really has it or not. He said he doesn't feel like he fits in with other high functioning autistic/aspie kids any better than he fits in with NT kids. I can't imagine how that must feel... it reminds me of a quote from the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" movie: "Even among misfits, you're misfits."

Tomorrow is his half-birthday. We try to make those special by letting the half-birthday person choose fast food for lunch. Austin's still deciding - since I let him know that Longhorn Steakhouse is not my definition of fast food! ;) I pray for our family, and especially for Austin, that this second half of his fifteenth year of life will be filled with much more joy and peace than the first half has been.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All those dead people

In our continuing love of RightStart Mathematics, we have been moving forward in the lessons in Level B quite easily. I appreciate how geometry concepts are integrated into lessons involving arithmetic, as I feel they work different parts of the brain. Recently, we started learning about lines of symmetry. Every time I'd say "line of symmetry" to Reece she would reply with "All those dead people". I just ignored it, assuming it was one of her verbal stims she does now and then - where she repeats a line or two from something she has seen or heard.

Yesterday while we were waiting for Riley to finish up at her Glee Club practice, Reece wanted to draw. I gave her paper and a pencil and she came back with a rectangle, divided by a line of symmetry, and all over the line were little tombstones. She said, "Here is the line of symmetry... and there are the dead people."

Suddenly it dawned on me... cemetery!!! She was mistaking symmetry for cemetery! Poor girl, I bet she had felt like her beloved math had taken a much darker turn! LOL

Anyway, I explained the difference, and now she thinks she is quite clever talking! She even wrote "Line of Symmetry ... all those dead people" on her picture! :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Can't NaNoWriMo be in February?

NaNoWriMo is proceeding fairly well for it being in the month of November. I had mentioned before that this particular November was going to be incredibly busy, and that hasn't been an understatement. In fact, more things have been added to our calendars as the month has progressed. It would be very helpful if they could move the entire event to February!

The kids are behind on their word counts, which is frustrating for me, and rather disappointing. They started off last week very excited, and then it just petered off. It was their idea to participate, and if they don't start putting forth the required effort, we simply won't do it next year. This project takes the place of their language arts for the month, and I'm not going to have it be an excuse to just take a lazy way out and do nothing.

I'm ahead on my word count, only because I know that I will have a few days next week where my chances of getting any writing done are slim. I was hoping to pad my count so I wouldn't be stressed about it later. Also, my rewards for making my goals are entry fees into two races coming up, so that gives me extra motivation to get done. (Wish my kids felt their rewards were enough to keep them going... especially since I already purchased a couple of those things. I guess they can go in their Christmas stockings if they don't meet their goals for writing).

Hopefully we'll all get some good writing done today... I had thought we had nothing to do today, but of course, a quick glance at the calendar revealed that I was wrong! LOL

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 3

Mom - 6,927 (so far)
Austin - 1,046
Riley - 779
Reece - 747

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NaNoWriMo - November 2nd

Mom - 5, 185
Austin - 679
Riley - 467
Reece - 546

NaNoWriMo: Word Count, Day 1

Mom - 3,204
Austin - 214
Riley - 274
Reece - 270

I've never written in 3rd person before and it's trickier than I imagined. Also, writing in the afternoon with the distractions around is crazy! Much harder to get focused than it was in previous years when I wrote in the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Here we come!

Now that Halloween is drawing to a close, our attention turns to our novels! :) Here are our word count goals:

Mom - 50,000
Austin - 10,000
Riley - 7,050
Reece - 5,572

It's going to be quite a challenge for me to get my novel written this year, but I've used some race entries as motivation to get the job done! LOL

Will keep everyone posted on our progress! :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some bright spots...

Yesterday during Riley's ballet class, the 3 remaining homeschool moms (her class used to be mostly homeschoolers) and I started a conversation about high school. With my emotions running high, I fought back tears as I described some of my recent struggles. Later as we were leaving, one of the moms said, "You know... it's just part of being a mom, to worry about what the future holds for your child. I know you have it to a greater extent than others, but it's just a part of parenting."

That was a mini "a-ha" moment for me, and it recalled a conversation I just had recently with Austin where we were discussing his social anxiety. He had told me that he doesn't talk much in public because he's afraid of saying the wrong thing and looking stupid. I assured him that most teenagers are worried about the exact same thing - autistic or not. He was actually quite surprised - I'm not even sure he really believed me, but rather just thought I was saying that to make him feel better.

So going on the premise that it's not unusual to be concerned about my teenager's future, realizing that I tend to worry more than most (even though I know that I'm supposed to TRUST God and not worry), I will devote this post to a few things that have given me glimmers of hope recently.

1. The biggest one happened during church on Sunday. Reece had taken a squishy toy with her like she usually does, to calm her during the service, but she was 'juggling' it during worship time. I told her not to do it or I would have to take it away. She got upset and she crawled under the chairs. We're in the front row, so it's not like we're invisible - and I was worried that it would distract dh on stage leading worship. But I ignored it until worship was over, and then motioned to have her come sit on my lap. She actually got over it all fairly quickly, and I was thanking God to myself while we were singing "Indescribable", when I noticed that she was singing along. I started to cry at the overwhelming emotion of it all - not only had she pulled it together so quickly, but she was actually singing along when just a few months ago merely being IN the service was still quite overwhelming for her!

2. Math is still going really well for Reece. I love having something for her that gives her confidence in her abilities as a learner! It really makes ALL of her lessons smoother as a result.

3. Riley is doing much better with time management. Her schedule is incredibly full with 3 days a week of dance, one day of glee club/theater class, and youth group on the fifth day. She is easily distracted, and would piddle her time away, and still be working late into the evening. While I don't like having to put a time limit on her lessons, it's necessary for this year. If possible next year, we will need to scale back on her activities... or maybe her classes will fall later in the evening and it won't be such a crunch to get her where she needs to be. Regardless, she has learned that I'm serious when I mean the work needs to be done before dance class. She even made herself a little grid for time management (of her own creation!) and she posted it on the board above her desk.

4. We are on track, or even a little bit ahead, in just about all of our subjects! There are a just a couple that are behind, but that's because we started them later than the others. I don't think we've ever been this "on schedule" before. I wish our discussions/narrations were better, but that will be my goal for after the Christmas holidays.

5. Austin really seems to be "getting" fractions, thanks to Key to Fractions. He'll finish the series soon, and move on to Key to Decimals and finally Key to Percents, which should both be easier since it was really fractions that gave him the most trouble. As of right now, I'm planning to keep him going with the "Key to" series for Algebra and Geometry. If he successfully completes those before graduation, I will gladly look into my options at that point! :)

Well, there you go... a bit nicer reading I'm sure! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Movie Review: Temple Grandin

This is another one of those posts that's going to get too long, will surely involve much rambling, and may well end up being more of a time for me to spill my guts rather than review a movie, so I welcome you to grab a cup of coffee/hot chocolate/Mike's Hard Lemonade and make yourself comfortable, or just go ahead and move on to your next blog! :) Either way is fine with me!

One more quick note before I get started: I really have intended to actually blog about our school year but things just keep happening. I promise to get to that as soon as I possibly can.

And now... the movie review (and there will be spoilers):

First of all, let me say as a movie fanatic, that this was a very well-done movie. I absolutely loved Claire Danes' performance and I can clearly see why she won the Emmy. I was also surprised to see one of my favorite actors, David Strathairn, in the role of Dr. Grandin's high school science teacher/mentor - he also won for his role. I felt the movie was well-made, and it was enjoyable to watch.

As a parent of two children on the autism spectrum, it goes much further and deeper than just a good movie. I cried off and on through the movie, specifically the scene where Mrs. Grandin is being told by the doctor that her child has autism, and later where she sees her daughter being teased when she is at the boarding school and the science teacher stops her from leaving with Temple. Both of those scenes hit me hard as a mother of a child with autism.

Wow, this is harder to write than I expected. My thoughts are not flowing - instead they are coming all at once and very disjointed. I hope this all makes sense.

I loved seeing how Temple's smile when something really excited her. I know that expression, even though my kids smile quite freely. There is still something about that look of pure joy they get when they are really, truly excited - and it's usually over something other people might think is weird. But it's not to them. To them, it's pure joy. It also makes me remember how excited Austin used to get when my mom would come to visit. He actually would get so happy, he had to leave the room. He couldn't even say more than hello. He would see her, smile, and then go to this room. It was like that at Christmas time, too. For years he would see the presents and go right back to his room. Too much emotion to process.

I wonder if my kids will ever find their "thing" like Temple did. It really worries me at times, especially with Austin. And I'm not sure if that's because Austin will be a 9th grader next year and I'm spending a lot of time getting my ducks in a row for high school. But academically, it looks less and less like college is in his future, especially a four year college. Thankfully, he is opening up to the idea of life beyond high school that doesn't involve four year college, which is a huge answer to prayer. Several times recently, since his ankle surgery really, he has told me that there are "lots of opportunities out there". What does that mean? I truly don't know... and, while I trust that God has a plan for Austin's life, I often find myself terrified that I won't be able to figure that plan out in time to help Austin pursue it. Reece is still so young that it seems like I have plenty of time... plus I'll have had the experience of getting Austin and Riley to this point.

At the end of the movie, Temple says that her mom made sure she was in school, and out doing things, and being around people. This really hit me hard. I've been wondering lately if I made a mistake in homeschooling. It seems like our circle of homeschoolers has dwindled to practically none, especially when it comes to boys Austin's age. We know many families with young children who homeschool, but few with teenagers, fewer with teenage boys, and even fewer with teenage boys who seem to be able to/desire to relate with Austin. He spends a few hours a week with other boys during the baseball seasons (even with his broken ankle he was going to all the games and sitting with his teammates in the dugout). But I can't put him in academic classes, which is really all there is offered for this age group, because he can't keep up with a high school level class. I've debated asking the teacher if he could participate in the class as well as he can, not be graded or receive credit, and see if they would allow this - but if the work is overwhelming to Austin, it will damage his self-esteem, which seems to be precarious at best these days. Ugh, being 14 is HARD - Autism or not.

And I'm worn out. Mentally exhausted and drained. This school year has actually been one of the best in terms of getting our work done, but I don't feel like I've been able to give any of the children what they really need in terms of interaction and teaching. It's just about all I can do on any given day to get the meals made, never-ending laundry tended, housework somewhat completed, and the lessons for a 3rd, 6th, and 8th grader done. There are few times that I feel like I've had a good 'socratic' discussion with anyone. I'm barely staying on top of the readings, let alone analyzing it for myself so I can discuss it with them. I'm finding that I love the teacher's manuals that will give me some direction on what to say, because it's hard to really think deeply about "The Littles", "Little Women", and "Around the World in 80 Days" all at the same time. What are they missing out on? Is there an amazing art teacher that Reece is missing out on by being home with her mother who is loathe to get the paints out because of the mess. Is there a way for Austin to get auto mechanics classes, or maybe some sort of meteorology class where he can learn more about storm chasing? What about drama and choir for Riley that involves children her own age, rather than constantly involving the younger siblings because it's convenient for the other homeschool parents? I do the best I can... but there are 3 of them and one of me. And sometimes it would be nice - so very, very, very nice - not to be having to do all of this all by myself. Sometimes it would be nice to be the one they are complaining TO, not the one they are complaining ABOUT.

Okie dokie... back to the movie! LOL

Temple drives a car and lives on her own! That was so exciting for me! You don't know how often I wonder if Reece will be able to drive and live on her own. I'm pretty sure Austin will be able to drive, but with this economy, and the likelihood of him not having a college education, I am concerned about his ability to support himself and live on his own.

I also loved the moment towards the end of the movie where Temple was having a hard time leaving the store through the automated doors, and a kind lady helped her by holding the doors open. Outside the store, Temple learned that the lady's husband worked for the plant that Temple wanted to redesign. God placed that lady in Temple's path for a reason. Through that small interaction, she was able to get an inside connection to a place that was inaccessible to her previously! It was awesome!

Ok, I warned you I was going to ramble. And wow, did I! LOL Hope that makes some sense. I am still so full of emotions even now, nearly 24 hours after watching it. But I'm not sure if that's a reflection on the movie, or on the state of my mind recently! ;)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A sad farewell to Heidi

Today marked a sad occasion at the Black Pearl Academy: we finished reading Heidi. Yet again I find myself wondering why I never read this book as a child! It was so touching and so lovely! Reece actually didn't want to start the chapter today because she didn't want it to end! She says she doesn't think any other book will be as wonderful as Heidi!

I have to include another quotation or two, similar to the last one I blogged about, but really meaningful to me. Heidi and Clara are in their beds, trying to go to sleep after the exciting day where Clara takes her first steps. Heidi again talks about how wonderful it is that God doesn't always give us what we are asking for right away.

"Clara considered this, and then she said, 'But in that case, perhaps we ought not to pray for anything, because God knows - as we don't - what is best for us.'

'I don't think that's quite right either,' Heidi replied quickly. 'We ought to pray to Him every day to show our trust, and that we know that everything comes from God. If we forget Him, then sometimes He lets us go our own way, and then things go very wrong with us.'"

Wowsa!!! And this is a children's book??? Talk about convicting!

So next week we move on to The Secret Garden, another book I've never read. Riley read it several years ago - but I just gave it to her to read, because I was busy with OT/ST with the other kids. It's nice to have an excuse to read it aloud! :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Inner Editors

It's hard to believe it, but NaNoWriMo begins in less than two weeks! I had decided that we weren't going to participate this year, since we really have too much going on, but the kids were rather upset when I mentioned it - even Austin. Since the reaction was so intense, I decided we needed to attempt it, at least.

This week and next week we'll be doing our preparation work using the free workbooks on the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Program website. These workbooks are a really great way to discuss the important parts of a novel and how to approach writing one. We really used them in-depth last year and I know it helped the kids so much! I'm going to use them myself this year to flesh out the idea that I'll be writing, since it came to me last year as a dream and I only wrote down what I saw at the time.

I'm truly not certain that I'll be able to complete a novel this year. I am running two half-marathons this month, plus a 5K, plus Harry Potter 7 at midnight, plus a Christmas Shopping Day with my mom, plus a day out with my book club! That doesn't leave very much time for writing! LOL But I'll give it my best shot! :)

Today we sent our Inner Editors packing, and tomorrow we'll decide on our word counts and incentives!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More praise for RightStart Mathematics

There have been a few neat things going on with Reece and math the last two weeks. I have been so distracted with Austin's needs that I haven't had much time to post, let alone to reflect - but that's a topic for a post on a different day! :) I just need to write this one down before I forget!

Last week, I was getting ready to introduce her to the math balance. This manipulative reminds one of a regular balance (like she used to play back when she had a "school box" of toys that came out only during lesson time - she used her balance and the little counting bears together), except this balance has numbers and pegs and 10mg weights to attach to the pegs. The goal of the introductory lesson was to introduce the balance by using 2 of the weights and put them on the same number on each side to show that they balanced. Then you would use 3 weights - 2 on one side and one on the other (to make 10s). Well, I got out the balance and then Austin needed help with something so I told Reece I'd be right back. By the time I returned to her she had been exploring the balance and she said, "Mommy! Look at this!" and she placed weights on the 5 on one side, and on the 2 and 3 on the other side. She was so proud of herself! I said, "I wonder if you can figure out how to balance a 10." She went right to it. Then she took up 2 weights and put one on the 10 and one on the 5 on the left for a total of 15. Then she played around for a minute and put weights on the7 and 8 on the other side - this took some trial and error, something I'm working hard on with her (you don't have to be right the first time every time). She was so excited!

The next thing was yesterday when she was working on adding 10 to a number. She has been introduced to regrouping via the abacus(what RightStart calls 'trading' - it's hard but the term is growing on me). These problems of adding 10 she could use the abacus or not, but she was very pleased with herself that she didn't need to. But then we got to 93. Her answer was 104. I knew just from looking at her face and the uncertainty with which she gave her answer that she knew what she was doing, but her language processing was getting in the way. I suggested she put it on the abacus, and she had a little meltdown. "I'm not a math whiz anymore!" I assured her that she was, she just needed a tiny bit of help to see the number. So she did the problem on the abacus and had her "A-HA!" moment. I wrote more on the board for her to do... hundreds, and thousands, some with regrouping... er, trading, and some without! And then I gave her the REALLY, REALLY hard one: 995 + 10. I told her this would be hard so she might want to use the abacus. She merely grinned at me and said, "1005". I asked her how she got that answer, and she told me she traded two times on the abacus inside her brain. I wrote the answer on the white board and she asked if we could leave it there and could she draw a heart around the problem! ;)

Finally, today we began telling time with an analog clock. That's what they're called, right? The clock with the hands and the numbers? LOL Anyway, she's been dreading this for months. She was determined it was too hard. We began with adding 100 to a number, and she had no trouble with the trading in her head. Piece of cake. We were getting ready to do the first clock lesson which involved exploring the geared clock and learning where the numbers go on the clock. She played with the clock while we were doing the numbers thing, then she held the clock up to me with a time on it. It read "10:56" and she said... this is the time it is now. I said, "Actually, that says 10:56. To make it say 11:56, you need to make the hour hand be closer to the 12, because it's nearly 12:00, not 11:00." She looked at it for a minute, and then fixed it. And then she knew how to tell time. Because she started putting all sorts of different times on the clock - bedtime, supper time, rest time, rest time is over, the time it is now, the time it is now, the time it is NOW. LOL Anyway, she basically taught herself how to tell time! And she thought it was going to be so hard! ;)

I'm so relieved that math is enjoyable and understandable for her now! I keep beating myself up over waiting so long to get this program. But maybe she wouldn't have been ready for it 2 years ago? Maybe she just needed the time developmentally and now she's ready for math. Regardless, I'm SO pleased! She is totally a math whiz! LOL

Saturday, October 09, 2010

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

In case, like me, you weren't aware that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month - now you do! I learned about it from the blog of a fellow ROTE runner, Andi. Her little boy has Down Syndrome.

At our old church, there was a family who had a teenage daughter with Down Syndrome. She had several children after that child, and I remember a conversation with her when she was pregnant with one of those children. We talked about the pressure the doctors were putting on her for testing. She told me about the number of births of children with Down Syndrome in the world going down because many people were choosing to terminate the pregnancy. It broke my heart. Shortly after this conversation, the top news story was about the discovery of a gene marker for autism and how this could lead to prenatal testing for autism. So that discussion hit quite close to home.

Anyway, I just felt like I needed to share with you that October has another meaning...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hijacked: Our Autism Anniversary

This day was hijacked by Austin's ankle surgery... it all went very well, though, and he's now got a green cast on his lower leg! Unfortunately, I'm too tired to really comment on the most recent year of our autism journey! :) Please look for it tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Years of Autism: Years 3-4

Looking back, I think that Year 3 was probably the worst of all. We had started RDI with a consultant, which was a good thing and a bad thing. Ultimately it was great for the kids, but it was very bad for me. And when we first started RDI, it was hard for the kids because it changed everything about their world and they had to try to let go of the control and allow themselves to be guided. And it required me to let go as well, which has ultimately turned out to be harder for me than for them.

The end of Year 3 culminated with Austin's seizures which rocked my world even harder than the autism did. To this day, I don't think I've experienced anything scarier in my entire life than watching my son have a seizure.

As Year 4 began, I took up running, and I made a conscious decision to start trusting God more. Who would have thought that the running would be the EASY part? LOL

When the seizures started, my life was consumed by that, and we decided to let our RDI consultant go. It was a difficult decision, but it was one that I don't regret. Our styles never meshed and I feel like we wasted a lot of money. If I had it to do over again, I would have voiced my concerns on the very first day that we went for orientation. Hindsight is 20/20, but the damage from that experience is still evident - thankfully, NOT in the kids themselves.

Year 4 also marked some changes in Austin and Reece. Austin seemed to be over the worst of the onset of puberty, and we gained seizure control with the first medication and only one adjustment (and one additional seizure). However, instead of seeing outward signs of stress... we were seeing more internal ones. Instead of crying or tantrumming, we got anger. Definitely more age-appropriate, but still very disconcerting.

That year was a huge one for Reece as well, as it represented, in my opinion... her 'awakening'. She was finally part of the world and while that was great, it was also really hard for her and for us. She became aware of her differences, and that made her upset. But until she reached that point, it seemed like we couldn't move forward. So while it was hard to see her struggle, it was good to know that we could work with things now.

It's so funny how each of these years, independently, seemed like the "Longest Year Ever" but as I look back on them, it seems like an eternity ago. And that it was just a blip on the screen. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Pop goes the ankle"

The title of this post is courtesy of Reece, who has been singing this since Saturday...

I need to rant and rave and pout and cry here, because I can't anywhere else. It's OK to skip this. I just need to get it out, and I can't because I have to keep an even keel and be strong for my son.

Dduring his game on Saturday, Austin stole third base... as he slid in, something bad happened, and he cried out in pain. He came home and we did ice, compression, etc. Yesterday I took him to the pediatrician's office, and they wanted him to go to the orthopedist today. He already sees an ortho because he has "hemihypertrophy" (one side of his body is bigger than the other, which causes him to have scoliosis). So we go see the doc this morning, and have x-rays, and it's BROKEN. The tibia is broken at the bottom. And not only is it broken, but he has to have surgery to put a screw in it so it will heal properly. He will be in a cast for 6 weeks, and then a boot for 8-10 more weeks. Baseball season is over.

It's just NOT FAIR. Baseball is his life. It's all he does, and he's REALLY good. On the field, he is just like everyone else. He struggles academically, he struggles socially - baseball is the great equalizer for him. He plays twice a year: spring and fall. Now this fall? Gone.

He also is a drummer. He's really good at it, too, and has started going to gigs with his musician father, and was asked to be in the youth praise band at church. Well, drummers need their feet, right? So that's gone, too.

Austin paces to calm down. Sometimes when he's really worked up he almost bounces, and we call it Gazelling. So now that's gone, too. His main way to self-regulate.

It's NOT FAIR. Not fair one little bit. I know life isn't fair, but what else does this kid have to go through? Asperger's wasn't enough... he had to have seizures. Seizures are under control now... he's been weaning off his meds for the last 3 months, with the last dose on Thursday of all days. I was going to let him start riding his bike up to the convenience store on his own. Can't do that now. Not for 3 months anyway.

I can't say any of this out loud, or even vent it on FB since he's on FB, too. I have to be cool, calm, and collected so he doesn't get upset. He's such a nice kid... why does everything have to be so hard for him??


Monday, September 27, 2010

Five Years of Autism: Year 1-2

This coming Thursday, September 30th, 2010 marks the 5th anniversary of Reece's diagnosis with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I've been doing a lot of soul searching in the last week or two as I come to terms with what this has meant to our family. Luckily (?) I started my blog back in 2005, so this entire process - or rather, what I decided to share about it online - is available for me to peruse at my leisure.

This is a good and a bad thing.

It's good because Years 1-2 are a blur. Right after Reece was diagnosed, we started on the diagnosis process for Austin. So within an 8 month time span, 2 of my 3 children were diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. It was a scary time. The doctor gave me a very bleak outlook on Reece's future. I didn't share all of that publicly. It was way too awful. And then when Austin was diagnosed, that doctor blasted homeschooling over and over again. I sank into myself for a very long time, and I just don't recall very much of what was going on around me. It was so much of a blur of tests and speech therapy and occupational therapy. And worst of all, I was very, very angry with God for what seemed like a very, very long time.

It's bad because reading back in the posts brings all those horrible feelings back to me. I spent so much time being upset that I didn't pick up on this stuff sooner. That I didn't listen to what other people were telling me and recognize that my children were not developing typically. That I didn't listen to preschool teachers (and a Kindergarten teacher) that were telling me that something was off. Instead, I proudly stuck my head in the sand and said that you couldn't put my round box in a square box. I beat myself up for years over all the things I did wrong. And for every post that's on the blog, there are echoes of the posts I typed and never submitted. There are echoes of the tears that I cried into my pillow every night for years.

But in the end, it's good. Because it shows me (better than my very subjective memory can) how far we've come. And not just the kids... but me as well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lessons from Heidi

I hesitate to say yet again that I've been struggling with homeschooling this year. You would think that with this being our 9th year of homeschooling I would have settled into my groove and any fear and uneasiness would have long since past. It's hard for me that it seems each year gets more and more challenging for me in terms of the confidence I feel. And then last week during our week at the beach, when I was just able to be "MOM" and not teacher and autism therapist, I really felt a longing to stop homeschooling. I allowed myself to dream what it would be like to have some time to myself during the day, even if I went to work full-time (which I would do if the kids were in school - that income sure is enticing as well); how it would feel to be the "good guy" the kids could complain to about their horrible teachers; how nice it would be to not spend hours upon hours each week planning and prepping for lessons; how nice it would be not to worry about high school credits and how to make them for Austin when he struggles academically; and on and on.

I shouldn't have allowed myself to fantasize like that, because all it did was to make an already difficult re-entry downright miserable and sad. By mid-day Monday, I was fairly convinced that I should call the public schools and get the ball rolling on enrollment for the kids, and finding out what services they would be able to offer that we can't afford on our own.

Monday night I was given a gift in the form of a delightful "narration" of some scenes from Reece's literature book, Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Reece used her playmobil pieces and created these wonderful scenes. In this first one is Grandfather's house, with Heidi sleeping on her hay bed in the loft, Grandfather sitting on his chair that's attached to the wall, and Peter outside with the "goat."

In this picture, you'll see that Reece added the fir trees to the scene.
In this scene, Reece placed the carriage that took Heidi to and from Mr. Sesemann's home.
And this picture shows Heidi and Clara in the study with Miss Rottenmeier.

This was wonderful because the oral narrations Reece has been giving me from this book have been fairly sparse. I've even been wondering how much she understands. But it's obvious from the detail in her play that she is comprehending so well!

Today when I read her another chapter, I found myself deeply moved by a couple of passages. We are in Chapter 14, and Heidi says, "If God had let me come back to you at once, like I had asked in my prayers, none of this would have happened. I should have brought Grannie a few rolls I had saved, but they would soon have been gone, and I wouldn't have been able to read. God knew what was best, just as Clara's Grandmamma said He did, and see how perfectly he arranged everything. I'll always say my prayers after this, as Grandmamma told me to, and if God doesn't answer them at once I shall know it's because He's planning something better for me, just as He did in Frankfurt. We'll pray every day, won't we Grandfather, and we'll never forget God again, and He won't forget us."

My voice choked up as I was reading and my hands were trembling. Then just a few pages later, Grandfather goes up to look at Heidi while she sleeps. She had read to him the story of the Prodigal Son. "Several hours later, when Heidi was in bed and asleep, the old man climbed up to the loft and put his lamp on the ground so that its light fell on her. She lay with her hands folded, as if she had fallen asleep saying her prayers. There was a peaceful, very trusting expression on her face, which moved him deeply and he stood gazing down at her for a long time. Then he too folded his hands, bowed his head, and, in a low voice said, 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee and am no longer worthy to be called Thy son,' and down his wrinkled cheeks rolled two large tears."

Well, I lost it there. I cried, yet I made it through the rest of the chapter. But I wasn't able to even ask Reece for a narration. I just sat there with my heart full of emotion. Who knew how wonderful this book was? I knew the basic story, from a Shirley Temple movie, I think. But reading it for myself, sharing it with Reece, is a priceless experience!

As I prepared to write this entry, I looked over the Ambleside Online website to find out if this book was scheduled for Year 1 or Year 2 (since Reece is sort of straddling the two years). Imagine my surprise when it's listed as a Free Reading selection. I wonder how I decided this summer to put it into our schedule, especially at the beginning of the year? Maybe it was on the WTM list for the Modern time period as well, so I bumped it up? I truly don't know. But I'm so glad it's on there, and I'm so glad to be able share it with Reece. And I definitely needed to read/hear the Truth and read this example of faith.

I need to take these little moments and cling to them for my peace of mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

STICKY: Catching up!

The last 3-4 weeks have been quite crazy! I'm going to attempt to catch up in the next day or two, so check back often for posts under this one! :)

Beach Vacation 2010

After a 3-year hiatus from a family vacation (thanks to Dave Ramsey), we got to head back to our favorite beach! This was the 5 year anniversary of our first trip there, and we had an absolutely wonderful time!

The lighthouse which had fallen into the sea in 2005 has been moved and rebuilt, and we walked to the top!
This was such an "ON" week for Reece! She played and had a wonderful time. She slept well, and she only had one day where she struggled. It was so nice to see her having fun!
We did our traditional pictures again... will have to get the old ones out to compare! :)

And the traditional "Say goodbye to the beach" shot! :)
I have a feeling this may be our last family trip to the beach. It's very sad, but our family budget has taken some major hits. We have been able to maintain a "Vacation" budget, but the boys enjoy their fishing trips and the girls enjoy their Disney trips. That doesn't leave much left over for a family trip! LOL You never know, though... a lot can change in two or three years! :)

Another Half Marathon!

Over Labor Day weekend, I flew out to California to run in the Disneyland Half Marathon. Earlier this year I ran my first half-marathon at DisneyWORLD, and by running a half in the same calendar year at DisneyLAND, I would received the coveted (by me) "Coast to Coast Medal".
Running through another castle was great fun!
We got the added bonus of running through Angels' Stadium in Anaheim. Being a baseball fanatic, I was more than thrilled!
Here I am nearly at the finish line!
Back in the hotel room with my 3 medals: The one from March's Princess Half Marathon, the one from the Disneyland Half Marathon, and my Coast to Coast Medal!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Popping in for a brief update!

So far, the beginning of our school year has been a little crazy! Last week what was supposed to be our first full week of school ended up with Mom being so sick she couldn't even get out of bed Tuesday and Wednesday! Add to that all of our outside classes and sports starting, plus mom wrapping up her half-marathon training, and you have sheer chaos!

But there have been bright spots amid the craziness! :)

The most important bright spot is that the kids are getting themselves up and ready for lessons to begin. They are getting dressed and eating breakfast, and Austin is even showering in the morning because it helps to wake him up. I've noticed this week they have been waking up later and later (except for Reece, but that's another matter), but we are still getting started on time!

Riley's glee club and musical theater classes on Monday are nice and she enjoys them, but it's very hard on Reece. We are gone for 5 hours, 1.5 spent in travel, 2 spent for Riley to do her classes, and another 1.5 spent eating lunch. I am doing lessons with her during the waiting time, and we got permission to use a quiet area of the building away from the main waiting room, so it is quiet. But it's still being out for 5 hours which is hard for her. She hasn't slept well since Sunday night, and I think the business is part of it. She was also very argumentative and cranky during lessons yesterday. I am praying that everything will moderate as she gets used to this new schedule.

I already dumped a curriculum for Austin. I was using Vocabulary Vine, which bills itself as a spiral study of the most-used Latin and Greek roots. But the method is a bit contrived, and when they defined "enthusiasm" as "a god inside" because of the roots it is derived from, I threw up my hands. I'm trying to help broaden Austin's vocabulary. That is absolutely meaningless and is therefore a waste of time. I've got to regroup on that plan. Maybe we'll use Spelling Wisdom for dication and copywork, and discuss it and use that as a jumping off point for vocabulary. I'm not sure yet.

Which leads me to my last point. I'm totally in over my head. I can't keep up with all the readings. I do fine with Reece's because I'm reading most of them to her. And I do well with fine arts because I read most of that aloud, too. Same with Plutarch, which is pretty much over everyone's head and we're using the children's version. LOL But I haven't found my groove yet on the other stuff. I'm lucky that I am familiar with Riley's book and I have the Activity Guide for Story of the World to help me. I'm not panicking yet, because I know it's still early... and I've got the half marathon and our beach trip looming over me. It's not a fair test of my abilities when I'm being pulled in a hundred different directions. I'm going to try to be patient with myself and re-evaluate in October.

All in all, things are starting out nicely!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A few words about the first day (or two) of school

We officially began our new school year yesterday which basically means everyone gets up and I take their picture outside and we start back with the same sort of schedule we use during Sun and Fun: reading, math, etc. As always, I start us with a great wake-up routine. This typically lasts about a month, and then we're all back to wandering around in a daze in the morning. But since we have so much to accomplish each day now, I really hope we can stick with it.

I told the kids that they will be responsible for getting up and getting ready to go on their own. They need to be up, dressed, fed, bed made, teeth brushed, chores done, sitting at the table for family lessons at 9 AM. I'm not going to wake anyone up. There are no real negative consequences for not doing this, except missing breakfast because lessons start promptly at 9 AM. I am really trying to get away from punishment-oriented parenting. I've basically presented it to them as I know they are capable of doing this and they are getting older and they can be responsible for getting themselves up and ready. There doesn't need to be a punishment because they will be doing it. I have eager expectations! LOL It feels "Charlotte Mason-y" but it may just be wishful thinking. So far, both days, everyone has been up and ready! Austin has even gotten up in time to shower, since he says that helps him to wake up.

So we start our morning with family lessons. These vary day-to-day, with the exception of Bible and Scripture Memorization. We're also doing morning prayers, which is a challenge for me because there are few things I dislike more than praying aloud, even in front of my children. Thankfully, Reece has been willing to begin our prayers for us each day! :) Yesterday our family lessons were mythology and art history. Today they were composer study and oral reading (which will eventually lead to elocution, in my dreams anyway).

Yesterday I asked for narration on the section of the mythology chapter I had read, from Bulfinch's Age of Fable. Riley gave a nice, detailed retelling of the major events from the story of Prometheus and Pandora. Reece pouted that Riley said everything she was going to say. Then I turned to Austin, expecting to get his typical, "Nope, nothing to add." Instead, he surprised me with, "You know, I'm reminded a lot of the creation story and Eden. Except that it isn't eating an apple that brings all the sin into the world, it's opening a jar. And Pandora is like Eve." I sat there for a moment in a daze. Austin looked a bit concerned, thinking he had messed up! LOL I was quite impressed at his evaluation and told him so. :) It made me feel like narration has really kicked in for him!

Reece and I did some RightStart math games to review what she had previously learned. She was concerned at first that it wasn't Friday, and she only does math games on Fridays. I assured her that we can do math games on any day of the week. She said that we should do our math games ALL the time since she really learns math best that way! :) I told her we could do math games as often as we want to do, but that we still needed to do lessons and worksheets every now and then! Today we did a lesson in the book, but we had to improvise since the abacus was in the RightStart box which was buried beneath all of the books I'm rearranging on my 2 additional bookcases! LOL She got to use the "math journal" for the first time!

Riley got a new desk for her room, as is tradition at the Black Pearl Academy when you begin middle school. My dh and I were talking about this last night and how excited she is to be starting "middle school". In reality, nothing has changed... she's in the same house, same teacher. I guess the new desk really makes all the difference! LOL Whatever it is, she is up bright and early and getting dressed and really seems to be making an effort to work hard. I sincerely hope that continues. Her academic load is heavier this year, and she has additional outside classes that will take a few extra hours away from home.

As usual, it took a really long time to get through just a few subjects. This is not unique to homeschooling, so I wasn't too concerned. We'll all get back into our groove, I hope. Or we'll make a new groove maybe? I posted on FB about how long it took, and Austin replied, "I could have done it in half the time but you were busy with the girls." That's true! He was waiting for me to finish up a few things to start working on his new Racing Math book. It turned out he didn't need me at all for the first page, and I felt bad for making him wait. I told him to go ahead today and start on his own and we'd discuss any problems he had. He did that, and missed two (the answers are in the back of the book). He was able to fix one but not the other. I looked it over and realized that he had copied the number down wrong, which made his math wrong. I told him that's one of the first places to look - transcription errors - when you are having a hard time figuring out where your mistake lies.

Overall, the first two days have gone quite well. I'm nervous about adding more subjects next week. I think I'll have to just keep it fairly light as we start all of our activities again, and see how it goes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Day of School 2010-2011

I'll add more details tomorrow! :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Change in plans!

What?? "Already?!?!" you say. But wait until you see this!

Look what I found at The School Box today when I was getting posters and a new calendar for this year:

Racing Math: Checkered Flag Activities and Projects for Grades 4-8

Doesn't that look like so much fun!?!? So instead of the "Understanding and Solving Word Problems" series, Austin and I are going to do this Racing Math together! ;)

And when that's done... they also have Baseball Math! ;)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

School Year 2010-2011 Plans

I know you've all been checking my blog multiple times daily in eager anticipation of this post. What has all the agonizing and the planning and the stress been about? Has it been worth it? What is the end result??

Well, wait no more!

Austin (8th grade):
World History - Story of the World Volume 4, Modern Times
American History - Landmark History of the American People, Vol. 2
Geography/Time Line/Book of Centuries - from all content areas
History Tales/Biography - Across Five Aprils; Carry a Big Stick (Teddy Roosevelt); Never Give In (Winston Churchill)
Science - The Physics of NASCAR; The Physics of Baseball
Science Biography - Michael Faraday, Father of Electronics; George Washington Carver; Albert Einstein
Natural History - The Sea Around Us; School of the Woods
Literature - The Hobbit; Around the World in 80 Days; The Call of the Wild; White Fang
Grammar - Analytical Grammar, Season 2
Writing - Written Narration; Wordsmith
Spelling - Spelling Wisdom
Vocabulary - Vocabulary Vine
Critical Thinking - Logic Countdown (finish); Logic Liftoff
Math - Key to Fractions, Decimals, Percents (and Algebra if time); Understanding and Solving Word Problems

Riley (6th grade):
World History - Story of the World Volume 4, Modern Times
American History - Landmark History of the American People, Vol. 2
Geography/Time Line/Book of Centuries - from all content areas
History Tales/Biography - A Passion for the Impossible (Lilias Trotter); Carry a Big Stick (Teddy Roosevelt); The Story of My Life (Hellen Keller)
Science - Elementary Physical Science; Experiments Kit
Science Biography - Always Inventing (Alexander Graham Bell); George Washington Carver; Albert Einstein
Natural History - The Sea Around Us; Wild Animals I Have Known
Literature - Little Women; The Hobbit; Animal Farm
Grammar - Junior Analytical Grammar (finish)
Writing - Written Narration; Writing Strands 3 (finish)
Spelling - Spelling Wisdom
Latin - Latina Christiana 1 (finish)
French - First Start French 1 (first half)
Critical Thinking - Logic Countdown
Math - Singapore Primary Mathematics 5B/6A; Challenging Word Problems; Your Business Math

Reece (3rd grade):
American History - "Welcome to _____'s World" (from the American Girl company)
Geography - Tree in the Trail; Minn of the Mississippi
History Tales/Biography - Abraham Lincoln; Little House in the Big Woods; Little House on the Prairie; Understood Betsy
Science - Pagoo; The Burgess Animal Book
Literature (read-aloud) - Heidi; The Secret Garden; The Wind in the Willows
Grammar - Primary Language Lessons
Writing - Oral Narration; Copywork; PLL
Math - RightStart Mathematics Level B
Learning to Read - Sonlight Level 2 Intermediate readers

Family Lessons:
Composer Study - Bach; Brahams; Foster/Sousa/Gershwin
Nature Study - Astronomy; Rocks/Minerals; Climate/Weather
Poet Study - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Robert Frost; Maya Angelou
Hymn Study - WOW Hymns (one per month)
Shakespeare - The Taming of the Shrew; A Midsummer Night's Dream; The Merchant of Venice
Citizenship - Plutarch for Boys and Girls
Artist Study - Winslow Homer; Mary Cassatt; Henri Matisse
Art History - A Child's History of Art: Painting
Art - Discoveries in Art
Scripture Memory
Bible - New Testament stories from the NLT Bible

Yeah, I'm wondering how we're going to do it all, too! :)

And the planning is done...

I wrapped up the planning today and started working on the assignment sheets for the first week of lessons next week. I'm looking at it and thinking the kids are going to flip out when they look at it. I can just hear it now:

"But I thought we start off with a light schedule at the beginning!?!?"

"This is the light schedule."


All that's left is to gather some scripture memory verses and search for some poetry for recitation. Longfellow is our poet for the first term so I'll start there. I'd also like to add folksongs this year if I can get through all the resources.

My next task is reorganization... bookshelves and desks and supplies need some serious attention! Our first day is a week from tomorrow!

This is why God gives you a husband! :)

Russ made an executive decision for me. OK, before any Girl Power readers panic - I asked him to! LOL

Our children will be on the same time period for history. From here until the end of time, or until Riley graduates and it's a moot point.

And he told me that I can't turn back! ;) He's holding me to it!

He's a good man!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Why is this so hard for me?

I've been so sad this evening. I am looking at our plans for this coming year and it makes me feel overwhelmed and nervous, and sad. I've had myself all worked up about keeping the kids all in the same history cycle, and even talked to Russ and my mom about it yet again.

But then I did a "search" in my blog for same history, combining history, and history cycle and pulled up years of posts where I've struggled with this one topic. Why does this seem to be a sticking point with me? Why can't I just let it go?

Why can't I just decide once and for all - same time period or not? It's not a life or death decision! It's not a deal-breaker! Either one will be fine for all of us. Why do I make it so hard????

Ugh. I'm going to go to bed.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Too much?

I've got all the books for this coming school year divided neatly into terms, and those terms divided neatly into weeks - to give us a workload that is broken up fairly evenly.

But when I look at it all, it seems like there is so much I want to accomplish. I wonder if it's too much. And if so, what do I drop? Everything seems so important! LOL

I guess there's not much to do except to jump into it and see how it goes.

Now my next step is to determine what sort out output to require and how much of it. I know that this year Austin will do 3 written narrations per week, and Riley will do two. I also know that I want them both to do a time line of some sort, and I would really like to get a better grasp on a Book of Centuries. I really do not understand the nuances of the latter. The time line seems easy enough, and I found a template that I really, really love here. Scroll down to the end of the post for the links to the template. But Lindafay (the author of that site, formerly known as Higher Up and Further In) describes that as a book of centuries. Maybe they are the same thing?

As I mentioned in a previous post, determining how much to expect in terms of output is quite a challenge for me. I'm still not sure exactly how I'm going to handle it, but I do plan to talk to Austin especially about his expectations for himself when it comes to his narrations. I think he knows he can do a little more than he has been doing. But since we spent so much time learning summaries as narrations (which is the WTM/classical way) he may be thinking that 4-5 sentences is all that I am wanting, since that's what we did before. I also really want to stay on top of the oral narrations, and create a better dialogue with those. I've been too afraid to say much during narrations because of the admonition in CM circles to not interrupt or lecture, etc. But I am reading this book called Deconstructing Penguins about how to talk about books with kids, and I think it will provide a happy middle ground!

I have made good progress in planning this week but I'm still feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. I'll be taking some of the first term books with me next week to read during jury duty so maybe that will help my confidence, once I start into the books!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Planning season 2010-2011

The key here is not to panic!

That sure is a lot of books, isn't it? We can do this, can't we??

Monday, July 26, 2010

Another "YAY!" for RightStart Math!

Last night at the dinner table, our family got into a discussion about school. I mentioned that we all have strengths and weaknesses in academic subjects. When I was asked to tell them which subject they excelled at, I turned the question around and asked each of them to tell me which is the subject where they feel they do the best.

When it was Reece's turn she thought carefully for a minute and said, "I guess now it's math!"

I can't begin to describe how pleased I was to hear her say that! It makes all the difference in the world that she feels competent in math! What a huge blessing! :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Last day of Sun and Fun!

Our summer school time has come to an end! I really feel like this was the best summer of Sun and Fun we've ever had!! :)

Austin read for 45 minutes each day, finished Key to Fractions Book 1, finished 3/4 of Key to Fractions Book 2, studied the first 12 roots in Vocabulary Vine, listened to the rest of Story of the World Volume 3 and The Mystery of the Periodic Table.

Riley completed her Singapore Primary Mathematics 5A workbook, read for 45 minutes a day (plus she listened to countless books on CD), reviewed her Latin vocabulary, and listened to the history and science book above.

Reece completed the first 20 lessons of Right Start B, read 10 minutes per day (20 minutes for the last week as she worked to earn extra suns), listened to more of the Burgess Bird Book, and listened to as much of Riley and Austin's history and science as she cared to.

The next two weeks will be spent with some much-needed down time for the kids, and planning and prep work for me! :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Epiphany? Or: Still trying to teach an old dog new tricks

"I'm having a thought here, Barbossa..." - Captain Jack Sparrow

And so the pattern repeats itself.

I'm feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of a new school year and what I have to try to accomplish. I feel inadequate and incompetent. I panic.

I seek out security. I seek out the familiar. I flee to safety.

But then I don't feel safe. Instead, I feel like a failure. I still feel overwhelmed, but this time I feel overwhelmed AND like I'm copping out.

Tonight, I had an epiphany [Note: I reserve the right to be repeating something I've already said before, like from a previous epiphany. It takes me a really long time to learn some things]. It is as follows:

What if the reason I still feel overwhelmed and like a failure and like I'm copping out is because I'm, yet again, trying to control everything myself? What if the unending feelings of being overwhelmed are really a sign that I need not turn to a familiar homeschool curriculum guide or "better" lesson plans? What if they are instead a deep-rooted acknowledgment that I CANNOT do this. At least not on my own. At least not without relying on and trusting completely in God to be in charge and to guide me down this path.

There is no peace for me and that's just not how it's supposed to be when you are living in Christ, right?

I have a feeling that, if I do this right, the one who is going to learn the most this year will be me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some guidelines, please?

I'm trying to get a head start on my planning. And the thing that has me so perplexed, and wanting to run back for the security of the Well-Trained Mind, is that I am having a hard time determining what to expect from my children. I do know that I am not requiring enough from them. But I don't know what Charlotte Mason would deem as reasonable and not overkill.

Here is an example from the Ambleside Online Language Arts Scope and Sequence for Written Narrations, Grades 7-8:

"Written Narration. You will gradually be increasing the number and length of your children's written narrations during these years. You should also be helping your child perfect the mechanics of writing and begin learning to edit and correct their mistakes. Doing this with one narration per week is fine, and it will reinforce the grammar and punctuation that is being studied separately. "

It doesn't tell me how long the narrations should be at what grades, or how many narrations per week. What is the goal? One Written narration daily? One Written narration from each subject weekly? And how long are they in 7th grade? 8th grade? One paragraph? One page? Two pages?

This is where the Well-Trained Mind differs. In each grade, and for each subject, the output goal is explained in detail. I really need that information. I feel like I'm trying to plan a trip with an incomplete road map.

And for a personality such as mine, that is beyond frustrating.

I want to be able to incorporate as much CM methodology as I can, but I also have to be comfortable. I need to trust (there's that word!) that I'm doing all I need to be doing.

Right Start B: Lesson 18

Another good lesson today - more work with odds and evens. It's silly, I know, but it makes me feel better when we're doing lessons like these that are new material for her. I felt bad taking her back to what is basically the beginning when she's a 3rd grader. I'm glad she is quickly learning some new stuff.

She easily understood today's lesson, which meant she wanted to take over the games and make up her own rules. LOL I told her that I needed to teach her the lesson and play the games the way they are in the book first, but if we had time later, we could try to play the games the way she wanted. It worked. ;)

The last part of the lesson was to recognize the pattern of evens and odds for 1-10, and she did that instantly, while she was laying out the cards! Then she mentioned that we are counting even numbers when we count by 2s. I reminded her that we also count by 2s starting with the number 1, so then we were counting by odd numbers. She thought that was funny!

When I mentioned we were going to play one more game (the pattern dot cards with the place value cards) she said, "Go to the Dump!" I said that that game wasn't in the plan for today. She said sadly, "Oh." So I told her after the lesson we could play Go to the Dump and she brightened up. We played 3 rounds and it is safe to say she knows all the combinations for 10 now! :)

Just two more days of Sun and Fun before we take our summer break! I believe this is the most productive summer of Sun and Fun that we've ever had!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Right Start B: Lesson 17

Yesterday, we continued with the games in Lesson 16 that are designed to solidify the facts that add up to 10. I decided to move on to Lesson 17 today, knowing that we could continue to play the games and work on the 10s facts.

Today's lesson was quite short, and that was good. We had a really busy weekend, followed by a crazy busy Monday, and I knew that it would be a challenging day for Sun and Fun. I declared today "Triple Sun Tuesday" in an attempt to smooth over any troubles anyone might have with their motivation! ;)

Still, Reece was a bit difficult during the new parts of the lesson. We changed up the "comes after" game to include the days of the week instead of numbers, and she flung herself on the ground. I remained neutral. After she did a couple, I invited her to say some days for me and I would tell what "comes after" but she didn't want to. That's unusual because she likes to take a turn to play the teacher role.

We worked a little on the abacus, which is usually her favorite part, but she was resistant. No problem. We did what we needed to do and moved on.

There was a new game to introduce today, but I decided to have it be a one-sided game to begin... meaning that only she would play. I didn't think there was any need to add competition when she was already on edge. She competed against herself and had fun. She did more counting that I wanted her to do, but I also wasn't going to push it much.

To wrap up, we played "Go to the Dump" which has quickly become a new favorite. Her whole demeanor changed. Had I known it would have gotten that reception, we would have begun with it instead! LOL She wanted to include Austin but he was playing the role of the cranky teenager, so we just played together. The coolest part came when I asked for a 3. She said, "Go to the dump" and then added... that means you have a 7! And grinned at me! ;) So those facts sure are getting into her, but also she may be gaining a bit of game-playing strategy!

I can't remember if I mentioned that I was able to find a used Level B Lessons and Workbook from the RightStart yahoogroup! It came yesterday, just in time for me to return my friend's materials to her tonight at book club! :) I just have a couple of manipulatives left to order, and I'll be going through the Level B book this afternoon to see how much they are required, or if I can get away with not ordering them. Then I'll be able to place my final order and be ready for planning next week!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Right Start B: Lesson 15 and 16

Sorry that I didn't have time to blog about math yesterday. We had a very busy day, including a neurologist appointment for Austin so I didn't have any time. Unfortunately, that means that my recollections of yesterday are going to be vague at best. :(

Lesson 15 is the beginning of learning the facts that add up to 10. Reece does have experience with this from Singapore Math, and from working on her facts in MUS Alpha. But I know she spends a lot of time counting in her head with them, so I want to help her get past that with RightStart. We used the tally sticks and abacus to partition 10, and the whole/part charts to find the missing part. Then we played a matching game to find pairs of numbers that equal 10. I loved her reaction when I got out the cards and told her we were going to play a game. She said, "Well, that's new." Cracked me up!

Today we began a lesson for mastery of the 10s facts that indicates it can take 2 or 3 days. This one did just a brief stint with the abacus and whole/part charts, but jumped right into two new games. We just did one game today, a version of Go Fish where you are trying to match up two facts that equal 10. She loves Go Fish, so it was perfect! I'm planning to continue to play at least one of the card games with her to keep working on the 10s facts. It's not hard since she enjoys playing cards so much!

One funny note... when we were doing our lesson, Riley was in the kitchen. She said, "I wish I had learned math that like when I was little." Awwww! :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Right Start B: Lesson 14

Well, if I wasn't sold on Right Start before, lesson 14 did it!

The first thing was that one of the lingering issues in the back of my mind was resolved. I have been worried about the use of the abacus, and Reece's color obsession. The first part of that was helped when we started the new, larger abacus yesterday and she didn't have trouble. But I was still worried about her inability to transfer what seemed like a rather static usage to other areas. See, the beads have always been on the right and moved to the left to show the amount - meaning that the same color always is the first five (for our new abacus that would be blue) and the other color makes 6-10 (yellow in our case). But, today, we worked on showing the beads on the right instead (which changes the color arrangement)! And then we also worked on showing the numbers on our fingers to each other, which makes them show up "backward"! I was tickled! I was even more tickled that she didn't have any trouble at all.

The second part was that this lesson involved partitioning through 5 using the coins, and there were six word problems. You may remember that the final straw with MUS was when I realized that she was simply plugging the numbers into the equation. Today, these problems would be oral (read to her) and she would use the partition chart to solve them. She could also have used the abacus if necessary but she didn't need it. The instructions said to read the first problem and then wait. I love how they keep up the reminders to wait. As this first problem was straightforward, she didn't need much processing time. "M had two cents. She puts in 3 more pennies. How much does she have now?" She answered it easily.

The second problem was different. "B had 7 cents. She gave away 5 cents. How much does she have now?" I watched as Reece wrote the 7 and the 5 into the spaces for the "parts", and I waited to see what would happen next. She said, "Can I write a minus sign between them?" I said, "No, the numbers all have to fit into the circles you are given." I was about to give her a little more help when she said, "Oh... so the 7 needs to go in the big circle." And she set about to fix her own problem!

It was AWESOME!!!!!

Each of the problems was just slightly different - either by the usage of the name of the coin or the amount, or by it being a subtraction or addition problem. She really had to use her head. There were only 6 problems altogether, just enough to practice without overkill. She did need me to repeat a couple of the problems (mostly the amounts), but I wonder if that was because she was using most of her mental energy to attack the problem, so the actual amounts went by the wayside? She usually has great auditory memory. I wouldn't have a problem with her neglecting the static details if she was trying to focus on what the problem MEANT! :)

Now I find myself wishing we had done this a year or two ago. But I'll try to take comfort in the fact that maybe she wouldn't have been developmentally ready a couple of years ago.

Oh, and yet again she was being ornery while we were reviewing the coins. She thinks it's too funny to say "3 coins" so I'll make a funny face at her. @@

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Right Start B: Lesson 13

Now that I've decided to use Right Start, I wonder if I should continue with these posts. ;)

Today was the "dreaded" first money lesson. And to complicate matters even more, yesterday I received a box in the mail from a friend on the WTM message boards. She offered me her Level A materials for the cost of shipping. She said it would at least save me money on some of the manipulatives and card games. Oh, boy, did it! I am now basically able to buy the A-to-B Add on Kit! There are a couple of things I'm going to look ahead in the B manual I'm still borrowing to see if their use warrants purchase, but I'm going to end up saving about $30 at least.

But, her set came with an abacus that is much different than ours, larger and with different color beads. I really like it, but I wondered what Reece would think. I showed it to her yesterday and we got out my friend's abacus and talked about them being the mommy abacus and the baby. She said she likes the little one better, but she would say that because it's different.

So today we sit down for the lesson (she asked for math first, by the way)! And we did some review and then we started on the money. My goodness she was being ornery!! When I would ask her for the "amount" of money she would grin at me and say "3 coins" or "3 pennies" instead of "3 cents." Overall, I felt like she understood the lesson quite well. I was pleasantly surprised!

I would also like to admit that I'm pleased with myself that I'm not obsessing over the lack of daily worksheets! I was afraid that I would be! Maybe there is hope for me yet?!

One small step...

Yesterday, I ordered the bulk of the books I need for the 2010-2011 school year. I still have to get math for Reece, but I have everything else. This was a huge step because I've been so uneasy about plans for this year. I know, that's not surprising. But this year it's been on a deeper level because it really involves trusting the Lord more than myself. There are things I want to do (keep the kids together in the same history time period), things I feel we should do (usually those things that more closely resemble a traditional school curriculum), and things that really frighten me (keeping up with all these books with all three kids).

But ultimately I figured that I don't do a good job with trusting myself anyway. And every step along the way, from even before we got the diagnoses for first Reece and then Austin, the Lord has put people in my path who use both RDI and Charlotte Mason's philosophies. I mean, I was taking local workshops about the CM methods given by a nice lady named Sonya right at the time Reece was diagnosed. It was Sonya who invited me to her home and told me about RDI. This same Sonya who would begin Simply Charlotte Mason soon afterward. Then I learned more about CM by reading Tammy Glaser's site and blog and have become online friends with her (and hopefully one day we'll get to meet if I ever get back to SC to see my parents at THEIR house LOL). Since I don't hold much stock in coincidences, the only logical explanation is that the Lord has been leading me to embrace both RDI and CM. I guess it's a good thing He knows how stubborn and incompetent I would feel about both of these areas - He placed these people in my life before I even knew how much I would need them! :)

We've been using Charlotte Mason's methods now for almost 3 years. Well, I guess it's more reasonable to say that this will be our 4th year of using CM methods. As I have learned more about her methods I've been able to implement them more effectively and change what I was previously doing. Sometimes I'm more successful at these tasks than others! LOL Everything in me wants to revert back to more traditional methods. It made it so hard to order books this year because I have been fighting within myself.

So what made the difference? Why did I decide to go ahead and order the books and take the proverbial plunge?

Jury Duty.

I got a summons last week that requires me to report the week of August 2nd. This is the deferral I received from back in March when I was supposed to have Jury Duty but begged off under the homeschooling parent clause. I was really hoping they would have forgotten about me! :( Anyway, that particular week is the second week of my planning period. We start lessons the middle of the second week of August! And we have Sun and Fun up until the third week of July, then I plan the last week of July and first week of August. Well, apparently not this summer! LOL

There's just no more time for doubting. No more time for wondering if I'm doing the right thing. No more time for worrying if I'm making huge mistakes that will cost my children their future. I just have to go with the plan and pray that it works out in the way that it's supposed to. So the books are all ordered (except math which I hope to be able to order in the next two weeks), and they should be arriving right in time to begin planning!

Since I don't really have any confidence in myself right now, it's time to go back to my verse for 2010:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. (Jeremiah 17:7 NLT)