Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Day of 2011

It's been awhile since I've posted a picture of the kids - can you believe how big they have all gotten?!?! I sure can't! This picture was actually taken on Christmas Eve. We had a wonderful Christmas, by the way!

Like any year, there was good and bad. And I don't expect any different in this coming year! My hope is that what changes is my reaction to those things, both the good and the bad!

2012 is going to be a big year for our family. Austin turns 16, Riley turns 13, and Reece turns 10. I turn 40 a number which shall not be named. Our family dynamic is changing so quickly as the kids move into adolescence and begin a trek towards adulthood. Austin is hoping to get his learner's permit and license (which he will be able to do once he is seizure-free for six months). Riley just wants to dance and dance and dance and dance. Reece is so excited to have "two numbers" in her age, like Betsy and Tacy. I'm just wanting my body to finish healing so I can get back to my regular running!

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year's Eve! Happy 2012! :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'll be back...

I think I'm getting to the point where I can post regularly here again without being Debbie Downer all the time! So hang tight with me - if you're still out there at all - and I'll be back soon!

I'm also trying to figure out how to balance sharing my experiences while respecting the privacy of my teenager and almost teenager. It was different when they were younger. But that's the story of my life these days! LOL



Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Back.

Last night at band rehearsal, Austin had a grand mal seizure. This comes just one month after he was given the "all clear" (meaning that he was seizure free for one year without medication). He is back on medication now - a stronger one - and we will follow up with the neurologist this coming week.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Narration by stealth

Today Riley began her geography book, The Brendan Voyage. We are batting zero in terms of books that she is happy about reading this year so far, but I remain optimistic that something will resonate with her at some point.

As you can imagine, her narrations about these books have been pretty pathetic. And sometimes sarcastic (being a preteen, that seems par for the course). But I actually don't mind the sarcastic ones because she at least has to be understanding it well enough to make fun of it! LOL

But today I decided to try something new. During the girls' dance classes this afternoon, I read the same chapter she read earlier today. Then on the drive home, I started talking about what I liked the best about the chapter: what excited me, what made me concerned, what surprised me. I went on to add what I was thinking and what questions I have for the rest of the book. She didn't really talk as much as I was hoping, but she did interject her opinions here and there.

And then, she stopped, and said, "OHHHHHHH."

I looked at her with a puzzled expression (somewhat feigned LOL).

"You're trying to get me excited about this book. I see through you."

I think I should get an A for effort! :D

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Monthly Reflections 2011-2012: September

In a grand effort to avoid lesson planning, I present you with a new blog post! LOL

September was a challenging month to get in our lessons. First, my older daughter had a wonderful mission trip opportunity with her dance company to travel to New Mexico and minister on a Navajo reservation. It was her first time away from home, and it made me nervous, but she had a great time!

I did lessons with Austin and Reece while Riley was gone. Sadly enough, it went so much more smoothly. I think that was why it was so hard when she came back. I wrote our August reflection post during the time when she had just come home. I probably should have waited until things were settled in a bit before I posted. My emotions were raw. Yes, school is more stressful for all of us when Riley is home. But I do not want to send her to school to get her away from me. One of the reasons I started homeschooling her in the first place was because I wanted to be able to connect with her, which has always been a challenge for me, even when she was little. I just have to figure out how to do that. And unfortunately, I think this is a bad time to try to do it because she is right in the middle of the developmental stage of her life when she is pulled between childhood and adulthood. So, like with the special needs kids, we'll make accommodations. For her, this might mean some online courses, at least until she is better able to take instruction from me. But at this time, I simply don't perceive that God is calling me to put her (or any of the kids) in school.

5 days after Riley came home from her trip, it was time for me and the girls to go to Walt Disney World for a week with my mother. Even though I know it isn't the fairest thing to do, I left Austin with a list of assignments for the week. I didn't break them down into daily assignments like I always do, however. I just gave him a list by subject and what needed to be done by the time we got home. My dh called me on Friday morning (down in Disney) and said Austin was texting him asking him questions about his work. I had assumed that they would be working together in the evening, but I guess I wasn't specific about my expectations with either of them. When I got home, Austin had completed only 2 pages of math. He did no reading. He attempted to do his science assignments without watching the lessons first. He did do all of his writing assignments but those are broken down into daily assignments by the curriculum itself.

In short, in the words of my 12 year old daughter, it was an "epic fail."

I think the leap between a daily assignment sheet and a 'syllabus' for the week was just too much. That's not his fault. He wanted to work and he seemed to try, but because he is used to working alongside me most of the day, when he got stuck he just didn't do what to do. That could be a little bit of his fault! LOL I have to keep in mind that if I am going to expect him to work at "high school level," which is outside of the Zone of Proximal Development for him, then I'm going to have to be on hand more to scaffold the learning. That's just how it goes.

Reece surprised me yet again this week. She had finished the 2nd "Betsy-Tacy" book before we left for Disney World. I had the 3rd one ready for her to begin, and that would be the last one for now, as Betsy and her friends are much older than Reece in the next book. But when we got back home, I couldn't find the book anywhere. I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a couple of selections for her to choose from, each a book by Beverly Cleary. She didn't seem really interested in either one. So I picked up "On the Banks of Plum Creek" from her read-aloud list. I asked if she'd like to start it herself. She said, "Do you think I'm ready?" I smiled and said that I did think she is ready to read it on her own. She immediately grabbed it and ran off to her room to begin!

Well, a few minutes later, I found the elusive Betsy-Tacy book - right where I had put it so I would know where it is. @@ I walked into Reece's room and asked her if she wanted to put aside Laura Ingalls Wilder since I had found her book. To my surprise, she said no! Here was this big thick book... and she wanted to read it! She wasn't too afraid!

When she was finished with the first chapter, she came out of her room and looked very upset. I asked what was wrong and she said, "Pa SOLD Pet and Patty!! Can you BELIEVE it?? And Laura is upset but she thinks she is too big to cry! I am so mad at Pa!!" I tried to take Pa's side, but Reece was having none of it! Guess that would count as making connections, huh?

So, yeah, lots of ups and downs this month. I should be used to this by now. And we'll keep plugging away. I am starting to believe that our focus this year is going to end up being much more about our relationships than our academics. Not that academics are not going to be accomplished, because they are - you know I'm too much of a box checker to become an unschooler! LOL But if Education is ... "an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" then it's about more than just the academics, and I can't ignore that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homeschooling Meme

Courtesy of Tammy at Aut-2b-Home, I present you with a homeschool meme!

1. One homeschooling book you have enjoyed -

I especially enjoyed reading For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. In fact, I think I need to read it again as a refresher.

2. One resource you wouldn't be without -

The internet. If I had to, I could completely educate my children using the internet (and many of those resources would be free!)

3. One resource you wish you had never bought -

Sadly enough, the Well-Trained Mind book. As much as I love it and it resonates with me, it has set me up to feel that it is the gold standard and anything less than that one particular brand of classical education is not good enough. It's not the book's fault, not the authors' faults, strictly me. And it has caused me more than enough grief in my 9+ years of home education.

4. One resource you enjoyed last year -

RightStart Mathematics, Level B. This curriculum connected with Reece and she was finally able to understand math. I wish I had been able to use it for the big kids!

5. One resource you will be using next year -

I am assuming they mean the school year we are currently working on. If not, I have to answer this way anyway because I simply can't think of next year yet! LOL Since Austin's science class got canceled, I found an online resource for Physical Science. The instructor is a local math and science teacher and he offered a trial of the class for free online. Austin responded well to it so I purchased the entire DVD set. This same instructor offers Pre-Algebra videos online for free. He has higher level math courses and a physics course that can be taken in person in the Atlanta area, or as an online course. I am fairly certain that Riley will be doing her math through him at some point.

6. One resource you would like to buy -

Honestly, I don't want to buy anything right now. I am overloaded with curricula and options. I just want to feel confident in using what I have on hand in the best way that I can!

7. One resource you wish existed -

Something like Ambleside, but where the books are more modern. If it could also be set up so that the entire family was on the same history time period, that would be nice. And since I'm dreaming here, it would have detailed guidance on what to expect at each level in terms of oral and written narrations, etc.

8. One homeschool catalog you enjoy reading -

I used to love to read the Sonlight catalog but they changed it this year. I guess I will hold on to my last copy for dear life!

9. One homeschool website you use regularly -

Simply Charlotte Mason because it has the clearest explanations of Charlotte Mason's philosophies. I do not always follow all of her suggestions, but I do appreciate the ease with which she breaks down Mason's ideas.

10. Tag six other homeschoolers -

I don't know any others that haven't already been tagged by Tammy, but if you're a homeschooler and you're reading my blog still (God bless you! LOL), then do this meme and please comment so I can go read it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monthly Reflections 2011-2012: August

I originally began this post on Labor Day. I wanted to give anyone who might still be out there an update on how our first month of the new school year went. I got a few paragraphs written, but then I stopped. I couldn't really get a feel for what was wrong. I didn't blog at all in August because I didn't want to do the same old complaining that I've been caught up in for so long.

"It's hard."

"I'm scared."

"Don't know if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

I'm sure you're wanting to say, "We know already. For pete's sake, get over it and move on!" LOL

I understand and I will tell you that I'm working on it. This summer, and especially through August, I have come to regret that we ever started homeschooling. It's been a horrible feeling, especially since I have always been so strongly convinced that homeschooling was the right choice for our family. And yet, for the last few months I have been left to wonder why I ever started in the first place, and where our family might be now if I had never taken Austin out of school.

Of course, when I drift into these thoughts the picture I have of "where we would be" is very rosy. The kids are happy in school and doing much better academically than they are at home. They are in good public schools because I have been working for the last 7 years and we are able to afford a home in a better school district. Austin and Reece have been getting the therapy that they need through the schools, and Austin was diagnosed much sooner because the schools recognized the problem long before I accepted it. We have nice new cars that have fewer than 100,000 miles on them. The girls each have their own rooms because we can afford a bigger house. My dh only has to work one job, because I am working. The kids get to do more activities because we have the money to pay for it. Everyone gets along much better because they aren't around each other all the time, and we are all much happier.

::sigh:: It's a nice picture, isn't it?

If I'm honest with myself, I know that this picture doesn't not necessarily represent reality. Maybe it does? Maybe it doesn't. But it's hard to remind myself of that truth on those really hard days. And they've ALL been hard lately. But maybe that's because I spend too much time thinking of what could have been (that nice picture?) instead of what is.

So here is what is, or what was, for the month of August:

Austin tries very hard and is determined to do his very best to reach his goals.
Riley is going through a very challenging time in her life, but she will get through it eventually.
Reece is excited about learning and is having a lot of fun.

So there you go! Short and sweet!

September will be a very ineffective month academically, so I am hoping to make it a very effective month relationally! Will let you know how that works out!

Monday, August 01, 2011

T-minus 3 days and counting

Our first day of school is Wednesday. Not sure how much time I'll have for blogging, but honestly, I don't get a whole lot of hits on new posts anyway (now that I know how to check it LOL) so I don't think it will be a huge loss to folks! ;)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Let's try this again... a question?

OK, I deleted my earlier post. No room for negativity. We are committed to make this work for the first term and we will do our best and learn from our experience.

Riley did crack me up this afternoon after stumbling onto Ivanhoe and declaring that she "isn't going to read that". She told me that she doesn't NEED to read classic literature that is too hard and she doesn't understand. She told me that I NEED to find books that are interesting to her and that she enjoys.

What do you think? Does a 12 year old (7th grade) child get input about what books are too hard before she even tries them?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Some peace...

This weekend I have been working on breaking down our term weeks into daily assignments. Because the big kids' books will be a step up in difficulty, I think it will be even more crucial to break up the daily reading into small chunks, as Charlotte recommended. This will give the kids more time to focus on the complex language and to get familiar with the characters (both fictional and real) and with what is going on.

So I've just started this process, and I'm finding that I'm not nearly as overwhelmed as I have been. Yes, it's going to be a lot. Yes, our days are going to be longer. And yes, I'm prepared to drop some things or take it even more slowly if necessary. But overall, I think we have a good place to start.

I'm also really excited for Reece's schedule because I think she's going to be able to read one or two of her own school books for the first time! We'll have to see how it goes with her comprehension, but I'm going to have her give it a try!! Yes, some things I will have to read to her still, but I think she'll be able to handle Child's History of the World and American Tall Tales and Marco Polo! :)

I'm hoping to wrap up the planning early this week and get onto the reading! I need to get a head start so I am able to keep up!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Family Lessons, First Term 2011-2012

I think I listed all of our books in the other posts. I will check tonight to see if I left anything out. (As I type this, I am thinking I left out Language Arts, but I will look later)

The rest of our lessons are done together and involve Fine Arts, Bible, Plutarch, and Shakespeare.

Art History will continue the Child's History of Art series with the Sculpture book. Last year I had only used the textbook, but this year I ordered the curriculum from Calvert School. I am anxious to have the art prints!

Our Artist/Picture Study artist of the term will be Henri Matisse. He's french, and I thought Reece would like him! Plus I already had the prints printed out! :)

Our Hymn Study will find us finishing WOW, Hymns that we began two years ago. The hymns we will study include Great is Thy Faithfulness, Rock of Ages, and Be Thou My Vision.

Our Composer of the term is Tchaikovsky. We have hit on him before a few years ago, but I wanted to study him again now that Reece is older.

Our Shakespeare play for the first term is Henry V. I have to be open and tell you that I selected this one because the DVD is a Kenneth Branaugh production, and I like him. LOL

We will study the REAL Plutarch's Lives beginning with Poplicola. We are using the study guide from Ambleside Online.

This year we will be reading the REAL Pilgrim's Progress (we may take 2 years, depending on how it goes with everyone). We first did the picture book version, Dangerous Journey. Last year I read aloud Little Pilgrim's Progress, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm excited to attempt the original!

We are also going to be doing some Bible Study this year with John, Luke, and Acts. I think we will read together, taking turns, and discuss using the Life Application Study Bible to guide us. I haven't yet determined our Memory Verses.

And there you have our family lessons - we begin each day together in the kitchen or living room with these lessons! :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

History and Literature 2011-2012, first term

With all of the stressing out I've been doing recently, I decided to try something new with our coming school year and my planning. I'm not sure if it's a sound idea or if I should be ashamed of myself, but I am trying to strike a balance between stepping out in faith and trust, and controlling my fear (which a dear friend reminded me is NOT from God). I'm only going to be planning the first term. I will only buy the books that are required for the first term, and plan out our first term, and do the very best to make that work. And if I get to the end of the first term and it seems like it has been a complete disaster, then I can regroup and make adjustments. But I won't know if the books are too hard, or if the schedule is too overwhelming, until we give it a try. And since I have felt for a long time that God has lead us to find CM (and Ambleside) then I will put my trust that He will also help us through it, or show me once and for all that it's not working (even with the modifications) so I can try to work out a new plan.

One of the reasons (and I hope I'm not repeating myself here but I don't have time to go back and re-read my recent posts so if this is a repeat, please ignore it) that we didn't go with ancients is that I was looking at the different books for ancient history and they all seemed completely overwhelming. I had planned to use Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World (first book in her new series for adults) but was discouraged from using it with a less than advanced 9th grader by folks who have used it with their high schoolers. And works written in ancient times are very, very complex and hard to understand. I had looked at the suggested ancient history texts for AO Year 6, but those looked too easy to count for high school credit. So I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. I considered using My Father's World Ancient History for high school but it was simply too expensive considering we are paying for a science class for Austin this year.

That left me looking at HEO (upper years for Ambleside) again, but I was determined that we should get through modern history by 12th grade, which means something had to go. And that something would have to be ancient history. But then I looked at the texts for Year 8 (which would be our starting place if I wanted to finish through modern history - Year 11 - by 12th grade) and that is Winston Churchill's history series, which may just be more difficult than anything written by Susan Wise Bauer. The only difference is 400 fewer pages in Churchill. So there we go.

Basically, I have been feeling like either way, it's going to be overwhelming. But Austin is determined to finish high school in the next 4 years and to try to go to the local tech college (basically the equivalent of community college here). So he's going to have to be willing to step up to the plate and take a big swing at some fast pitches, if you'll excuse the baseball metaphor.

In light of all of that rambling, here is Austin's history and literature book list for Term 1 of his 9th grade year:

The New World by Sir Winston Churchill (History)
Martin Luther's Defense before the Diet of Worms (History)
A Man for All Seasons (Biography)
A History of English Literature for Boys and Girls (Literature)
Everyman: a Morality play (Lit- play)
Westward Ho! (Literature)
Johannes Kepler (Biography)
Fierce Wars & Faithful Loves (Lit- Poetry)


Riley's decision-making was a little easier because I know she is capable of a challenging, college-prep, curriculum. She just doesn't really WANT to do the work, and she battles me when I attempt to make her do it. I decided that I did want her to get a high school level look at ancient history, since she has done a cursory look twice before. So I bumped her up to Year 7 (Year 6 would have been next, but I was planning to stretch it out because she had finished moderns last year, and I was going to add a term in ancient Egypt). I decided that it was more important for her to get another go at Ancients in 12th grade, assuming that she does well with this year. I am most concerned with the Churchill history book as I heard that the first one is the hardest to get through. I purchased both books from audible.com so they can each follow along and listen to their history if that will be helpful.

Here is Riley's history and literature for the 1st term of 7th grade:

The Birth of Britain by Sir Winston Churchill (History)
Joan of Arc (Biography)
King Arthur (Literature)
Ivanhoe (Literature)
History of English Literature for Boys and Girls (Literature)
Life of King Alfred (Biography)
Idylls of the King (Lit- Poetry)

Reece's was a little easier, though I still have doubts about whether or not I should take her through all of the Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer. But I know she will enjoy the stories in Our Island Story and Child's History of the World. Again, I'm just going to step out in faith and see how it goes. For trivia purposes, this is the AO Year that I used when I started AO way back with Austin and Riley! :) I think she will be able to read a couple of these books on her own this term, but I will have to figure out a way to ease her into that! LOL

Reece's history and literature list for the 1st term of 4th grade:
Our Island Story (History)
Child's History of the World (History)
This Country of Ours (History)
The Heroes (Literature)
The Princess and the Goblin (Literature)
Starry Messenger (Biography)
American Tall Tales (Literature)

So, at last, there are the history and literature lists. It seems very overwhelming to type it all out, but I'm hoping that the slow CM style readings will make it all much easier to manage. Regardless, the Black Pearl Academy will be taking a step up for all of its students this coming year!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Let the ordering begin...

I went ahead and began to order books today. The last couple of weeks of planning and list-making has been a challenge. And I had some battling to do within myself. Which is normal for me, but I have a new perspective on it. I so often waiver between what I want to do, what I feel like we've been led to do, but then I get scared and think I can't do it and then I try to change things up and it makes everything so much more complicated. And then I try to make my book lists "perfect" so we don't "miss anything" and it ends up being so stressful and unpleasant.

So I took a deep breath, and I was honest with myself. I can't make anything perfect. What I can do is to stick with what has worked, adjust it as necessary, and make that fit into the "high school transcript" paradigm.

So, in short, we are not all doing ancients next year. In fact, none of us are. With all of our starting and stopping with history over the years, as well as with our love of mythology, we have spent a lot of time in ancient times. Looking at the big picture, there were other things I wanted to cover. Therefore, Ambleside will be our framework, as usual. Austin's framework will begin with Year 8 Lite, Riley's framework will be Year 7 lite, and Reece's framework will be Year 3. I chose the lite versions for both of the big kids (there is no 'lite' version in the younger years, so I'll just pick and choose books as I see fit) because the books are very meaty and challenging. I don't want us to feel unnecessarily rushed trying to fit it all in.

Riley's history time period will be the middle ages, and Reece and Austin will be in the Renaissance and Reformation. I don't have time today to list out the books, but I will work on posting the rest of the book lists this coming week, I promise!

With the coming election season, I decided this would be a good time to study our government in more detail. Ambleside has a selection of books listed, but I didn't really care for them. Instead, I went with a recommendation from the Well-Trained Mind called The Complete Idiot's Guide to the American Government. We will read through it slowly over this year and the early part of next year, and it will tie into our current events study (which is going to be new for the big kids this year). Then the kids will read through the foundational documents of our government as they come to them in their history studies. When this is done, I will award 1/2 Government credit to Austin.

For Geography, Reece will read a book about Marco Polo (she should be able to read this to herself!!), Riley will read a book called The Brendan Voyage, and Austin will read The Life of Christopher Columbus. The Brendan Voyage looks exceptionally interesting. Here is a description from amazon:
Could an Irish monk in the sixth century really have sailed all the way across the Atlantic in a small open boat, thus beating Columbus to the New World by almost a thousand years? Relying on the medieval text of St. Brendan, award-winning adventure writer Tim Severin painstakingly researched and built a boat identical to the leather curragh that carried Brendan on his epic voyage. He found a centuries-old, family-run tannery to prepare the ox hides in the medieval way; he undertook an exhaustive search for skilled harness makers (the only people who would know how to stitch the three-quarter-inch-thick hides together); he located one of the last pieces of Irish-grown timber tall enough to make the mainmast. But his courage and resourcefulness were truly tested on the open seas, including one heart-pounding episode when he and his crew repaired a dangerous tear in the leather hull by hanging over the side--their heads sometimes submerged under the freezing waves--to restitch the leather. A modern classic in the tradition of Kon-Tiki, The Brendan Voyage seamlessly blends high adventure and historical relevance. It has been translated into twenty-seven languages since its original publication in 1978.

The book on Columbus comes from his own journals, so that should be fascinating, as well! We will coordinate mapwork to go with each journey. Additionally, the kids will be locating the places they read about in their other subjects on maps, globes, and atlases.

We are going to attempt timelines and a Book of Centuries again this year. We have had horrible luck making these work in the past, but I'm going to try again with Austin and Riley. I am afraid this is one area where I'll have to practice "good enough" thinking.

As I mentioned earlier, the big kids will be studying Current Events. I am going to subscribe to World magazine for a Christian perspective, but I would like a more traditional media perspective for them to compare. I am considering Newsweek, but I'm very open to suggestions.

We will do an introduction to Economics with the book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? I have heard good things about this book, so I thought it would be a gentle introduction. I don't know where we'll go from there with Econ, but I do know that I want to use Dave Ramsey's books for the personal finance portion.

I guess that will be all for today. I need to list our family lessons still, as well as the books for history and literature. That will come this week! Thanks for your patience!

Friday, July 01, 2011

You want the book lists? You can't handle the book lists!!

You know, I could probably start a theme with my blog post titles. They could all be movie quotes, just modified to fit my topic that day. I know I could do it... I usually quote movies all day long in my every day life! LOL Something to think about, I guess!

But, first, the topic at hand. You'd like to know what we're doing for our school year next year, wouldn't you? OK, I know you wouldn't. But since my blog is basically my little diary, then I'm going to go ahead and type for my own sake. And because I'm trying to avoid the housework. Shhhh, don't tell anyone! ;)

I thought I would start by including the areas where I am the most confident in our plans and save other areas for different posts. That's my theory anyway, so let's see where that takes us.

MATH
Reece will continue with RightStart. She will continue working in Level C, and I suspect she will finish it and move into Level D, but it's all at her pace.

Riley will do pre-Algebra, either with Horizons or with the Lial's Basic College Mathematics book. I may have her finish the Singapore Primary Math series in addition to the pre-Algebra book, but I'm not sure.

Austin will attempt Algebra 1 with Key to Algebra and Lial's Introductory Algebra. I'm not sure yet how to combine them, but the plan is to start with Key to... and go from there.

LOGIC
Austin and Riley will each do The Fallacy Detective and The Art of Argument, but not together. I'll start one child in one book, and the other child in the other. I guess for a topic like Logic/Debate, it might be better to do it together for discussion purposes. We'll have to see.

TYPING (Reece)
Typing Instructor Deluxe, on the computer - Riley used this and did very well.

SCIENCE
Austin will take an outside class for science this year for the first time. The instructor uses BJUP's Physical Science textbook. The class meets once a week for 90 minutes, and he will have additional assignments to complete at home. Riley will begin Apologia's General Science book. In addition, she will read It Couldn't Just Happen, and biographies of Archimedes, Galileo, and Galen. Reece will learn about flowers from The Burgess Flower Book (a beautiful out of print book I won on ebay!!!!) and insects from Jack's Insects (reprinted by Simply Charlotte Mason). We will get kits from Insect Lore and grow butterflies and others, and we will grow some flowers.

I'm going to go ahead and stop there... I guess it's an OK start, but considering we're in July already, that's a little unnerving! LOL

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Does the secret lie with Charlotte??

(OK, who wants to tell me the movie reference in the title of this post? I don't have anything to give you as a prize, except the satisfaction in being as goofy as me, and my husband who inspired the title)

As promised, I am going to blog about Reece's test results. She was given the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement last Friday. I was able to observe the testing and I had been pleased to see that she handled everything quite well. Not only was I glad that she felt competent (which was the purpose for doing this test instead of just having me administer the ITBS at home) but I could be assured that the results would be more accurate. I noticed, and the tester noticed, that she gave up easily with more difficult tasks. However, this was not accompanied by a meltdown, which I see as a very positive indication.

The results were very encouraging! I knew there would be some "below grade level" areas. Math would be one, as would spelling and writing. We simply haven't focused on spelling and original writing that much following the Charlotte Mason approach. And math had been a real struggle for Reece until we found RightStart Mathematics. These things considered, Reece scored a 2.5 GE in writing, and a 2.9 GE in spelling, and anywhere from 2.9 to 3.5 GE on various math tests.

Let me take a moment just in case anyone doesn't understand what is meant by a GE. GE stands for "Grade Equivalent". It means that Reece performed on this test the way you would expect someone in that grade/month to perform on the same test. So Reece is considered to currently be at 3.9 - third grade, 9th month. Her writing score of 2.5 GE indicates that she performed on this test the way you would expect someone in the 2nd grade, 5th month to perform. So the child who completed the "first grade" math book for Right Start (which is the grade level B is designed to be used for) tested in the late 2nd grade to mid third grade range in math. Her overall math score was 3.4. Not too shabby at all, if you ask me.

One funny note about the math before I move on: she would not attempt anything that "looked" hard on the written math test. I had tried to explain simply multiplication to her the week before the test because she has been skip-counting, which is multiplication in it's most rote form. But she was just frustrated and overwhelmed by it. No biggie. But during the oral portion of the math test where she was having to solve problems, she had a problem which required the use of division. She solved this problem easily. I told her after her test that she used division without even knowing it and she was quite pleased with herself. So RightStart is helping with mathematical thinking! Ok, moving on.

Her reading scores were even more surprising. Her overall reading score was 4.8 (4th grade, 8th month). That doesn't mean she's reading on nearly a 5th grade level, remember. It simply means she performed above average... how a nearly 5th grader would be expected to perform. This was surprising to me because she does not like to read and she gets easily frustrated by it. Letter-word identification and reading fluency were both 4.7, so this shows me that she just needs to gain confidence in her reading. She seems to be right on target!

By far the biggest surprise came in the category of "Story Recall" and "Story Recall - Delayed". In the first test, the tester read a story and Reece was asked to retell the story with as many details as she could remember. This was done fairly early in the process, maybe the 2nd or 3rd section. Then after the rest of the tests were over, the tester part of the first sentence of each story again, and Reece had to retell as many details as she could remember. Sound familiar? OK, you ready for those scores? Story recall: >13.3 and Story Recall - Delayed: >17.8.

Um, that would be COLLEGE level equivalents. From my autistic rising 4th grader. Narration works. And not only does it work, it ROCKS!! Can you see it in the scores?? It's right there in black and white!

So as my husband said after reading these results... "Maybe the secret lies with Charlotte?" ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Testing, testing...

No, this is not a test! The tests have actually all been completed this year! ;)

The state of Georgia mandates that we administer a standardized test at the end of 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. That means that Riley and Reece were due for some testing. Austin had comprehensive testing done back in the winter, which wasn't required by law, but I did to give me a fresh look at his current abilities before we begin high school. I blogged about his results here.

Reece was tested privately by the same lady who tested Austin in the winter, however, we only did the achievement tests (Woodcock-Johnson) and not the comprehensive testing. I will be able to blog about her results when I receive them in a few days, but the testing experience itself went much better than I had anticipated. Reece didn't have a single meltdown while we were there. She worked very, very hard! From just what I was able to observe, her results will be a pleasant surprise.

Riley's ITBS results came in the mail on Friday. She had tested with a group for the first time this year, mostly due to the struggles we've been having recently. I did not feel like I had to patience to administer the test with her one-on-one, and I felt like she could use a group testing experience. I was anticipating a slight dip in her test scores, just because the last year or two (mostly the last year) she has been very difficult to teach. She argues, cries, refuses to do her work - her energy has been spent trying to get out of doing work, rather than buckling down and learning. I have alluded to our struggles, but have only really scratched the surface. The onset of puberty has not been pleasant at the Black Pearl Academy, to say the least.

So her scores came in, and while they are still quite high and in the "above average" range (for all but math... more on that in a bit), they are still below what I know she is capable of. I've been assured that this could be related to puberty, or the fact that it was the first time testing in a group and she was being VERY social, or other factors, but it still frustrates me. I know she's capable of so much. I wish she would apply herself and focus. She is so smart.

Math is one area that is going to have to be fixed, however. Her scores in math went way down. Down to right in the middle of the average range. I'm simply not comfortable with that, especially with Algebra right around the corner. I think I'm going to need to switch to different math curriculum. She didn't used to need lots of practice and review, but apparently that has changed. I want to make sure she is completely confident with arithmetic, even if that means that we end up pushing Algebra back to 9th grade. :(

I have been battling with negative thoughts all weekend. I am blaming myself. I used to joke that I had Riley's excellent test scores to remind me that I wasn't a complete failure as a homeschooler. Well, guess what? Yeah.

I wish I could go back to the days when homeschooling was just fun and there wasn't so much pressure.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We have lists!

In a feat that is nothing short of a miracle, the book lists are done and the shopping lists are prepared. I am ready to begin purchasing our materials for school year 2011-2012, aka 9th grade, 7th grade, and 4th grade! I'm going to wait to order until after the 4th of July to avoid all the holiday craziness.

Also, I did decide to enroll Austin in the science class. We are both excited!

More details on the plans will come this week! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do we need a little class?

I'm truly making headway with our book lists for the fall. I am trying to keep a balance for Austin between reading the classic great books and reading adaptations or historical fiction. Ancient works of literature can be challenging, and I want him to be able to understand what he's reading so he can make connections with the story. So far, I want him to read and/or listen to a translation of Gilgamesh, the Iliad/Odyssey, and the Last Days of Socrates. Those classics, along with the historical fiction and mythology, will be quite sufficient.

I am considering having us use the Windows to the World program from IEW, as an introduction to literary analysis. I say "us" because I would buy a student book and complete the curriculum alongside Austin. Lit analysis is one of my weakest areas, and one that I never really understood in school, so I could take this opportunity to work through it with Austin! I'm just not sure how true to CM's principles it would be. I need to research that.

Now, about the 'class' that I mention in the title. A few days ago, a post came across our local homeschooling yahoogroup about a lady offering high school level science classes in the home of a lady who lives 10 minutes from my house. Her name had been recommended to me by a long-time homeschooler, so I took the time to email her and ask her a few questions about the appropriateness of her class for Austin.

She answered all of my questions favorably, basically telling me that any child who works hard and gives their best effort (whatever that might be) will pass her class. They will have homework, but the once per week 90 minute class time will be discussion and lab oriented. Tests will be sent home and administered by the parent "in the way the parent deems most appropriate." I did ask if she would be comfortable with him not participating a lot, especially at the beginning. Austin is very quiet while he assesses a new situation, and I wouldn't want him to be penalized for this. She said if he was asked a question, and he wasn't comfortable speaking, he could simply shake his head and she would move on. (When I told Austin this, he said, "Well, that would appear rude, so I think I would just try to answer the question in the best way I can." You know I loved that response!!!)

I've been securing Austin's input during this entire process, forwarding him the emails from the teacher. He is concerned that the work will be too hard. I assured him that I would be able to help him in any way that he needs with his homework, and we would prepare for the weekly class as best we can. I truly think this could be a good experience for Austin. If he wants to go to college, he will need to be able to work in a classroom situation, and the way this class is set up seems to resemble a college class setup somewhat (preparing the material outside of class and using class time for discussion and hands-on work). The price is reasonable and the teacher is experienced and knowledgeable.

I will be praying over this decision and discussing it with Austin and my husband.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Worldly Expections

Well, this has been an interesting morning. I blogged the post below right before I left for church. Literally. I clicked "Publish Post" and we walked out the door.

The sermon series this month is on the book of Hebrews. Today's sermon was on Hebrews 2: 1-4 specifically:

(A Warning against Drifting Away)
1 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.


Towards the end of the sermon, our pastor started speaking about Peter and how we always talk about how he sank in the water when he took his eyes off Jesus, which is true - but why don't we focus on the fact that Peter WALKED ON WATER. He was listening to Jesus and following the truth. It wasn't until he was distracted by the world around him - by the expectations of the world - that he panicked.

Pause for a minute and think on that.

Am I the only one making the connection between this message and my blog post?

My stress about high school is all about the world's expectations. I think that's natural, though. For the first time, our home school is held up to a standard - in an area where those standards have been plastered all over the news for the last 6 months or so. Austin has special needs and would certainly have an IEP in school, I suspect. But I'm really not familiar enough with 'the system' to understand how that would apply to our situation. And now that he has tested "in the normal range" I feel like I am really at a loss.

But maybe this morning's sermon is a reminder not to FOCUS on the world's expectations. Teach Austin. Teach Riley. Teach Reece. God gave them to me (us) for this purpose. Going by the world's expectations I brought a child from the low range to the average range in 5 school years, so I must be doing something right. But that isn't my true purpose - to look good on tests and get good SAT scores and get into colleges. That isn't the entire meaning for our home school.

My purpose is to raise a young man and two young women to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. They need to have an academic education, to be sure, but they also need to have a deep, strong relationship with their Heavenly Father. They need to know that there is a purpose for their lives, and that they can trust and depend on God to take care of them. Worldly things will come and go. Standards will change with the whims of the generations. But a person who has a strong character and work ethic, who cares about other people and the world around him, and who has a strong applied faith - that's the sort of person that I want to be able to raise.

Ugh, there is that "I" part again. It's so easy to make it about me. If my kids are successful, it sure would make me look good, wouldn't it? I shudder to think that this is where my true problem lies - in my own vanity. I do truly in my heart want my children to have whatever future they want to have. And I do not want it to be that they cannot do something they want to do because I did not properly prepare them. But this really should not be about me "looking good" to others. And I pray that my apprehension when it comes to high school is NOT related to that. It IS a huge responsibility - but to God and to my children. It's not about me.

Maybe if I fix my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water, too?

One day I will look back on all of this and laugh, right?

I wish I could convey how completed freaked out I am about homeschooling high school. It's gone completely beyond the "Oh, here goes Niffercoo flipping out about education plans again - must be June" to "I think Niffercoo might seriously be having a break down about high school."

I think it all came to a climax yesterday when I threw myself face-down onto the bed and started to sob. My poor husband just patted me on the back.

The "plan" that I came up with last week (and proudly announced on Facebook) is simply not doable with the the number of children I have who need individual instruction. Austin is actually going to need MORE of my attention this year, especially at the beginning of the year. I'm sad to say that I have really not required as much from him as I should have in the last few years. This past year was better, but my expectations for output (oral or written) have been lax. I'm seeing the results of this poor execution now. So we have some back-tracking to do to make sure some skills are in place. He despises oral narration because his expressive language delays make it hard to get OUT what is inside his head, and it's frustrating for him. Because I don't like to see him frustrated, I haven't worked enough in the ZPD (getting him to the edge of his competency where LEARNING takes place) - and this has been a mistake. I can see myself doing this same thing with Reece already, so as usual, she will benefit from my mistakes with her brother! ;) I will be requiring much more in the way of narration from ALL of the kids this coming school year.

I'm going to regroup this week and think in terms of the practical - what can I manage to do, and do it well. I do think we'll be returning to the Ancients for our history and literature, even though I really don't want to. I feel like we've "been there, done that" because we started and stopped ancients so much, but I don't think the kids will feel that way. In fact, Reece was only 6 when we did ancients last (and we flew through it, only spending half a year on all of ancient history), so I'm not sure she remembers much at all (aside from the stuff she's picked up from Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles! LOL).

I'll really be glad when I have a plan I can live with!

Monday, June 06, 2011

I'm baaack!

My two week mental break has come and gone. Actually, it ended up being more like a three week mental break, because last week my mental energy went to preparing for my first triathlon. But that is behind me now, and today I begin to refocus on our education plans for 2011-2012.

This will be our 10th year of home education, and I will find myself with a 9th grader with special needs; a 7th grader in the midst of puberty; and a 4th grader with special needs. The mere fact that I can type out that previous sentence proves that I have made at least one education decision already - we ARE going to homeschool in 2011-2012. For the first time since 2002, I found myself seriously considering placing everyone into public school (we cannot afford private school). So, since that foundational decision is made, it's time to move on to the next step.

What are we going to study next year?

I. don't. know!! ;)

I wish that were an acceptable answer! LOL Unfortunately, it isn't.

My goal for this week is to come up with an acceptable answer to that question! Of course, I'll keep you posted!

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Charlotte Mason quote to guide me

In my friend Tammy's blog post today, she gave me a quote that I think I will tape to the top of my notebook and laptop as I prepare to plan for Austin's high school education. It comes from Charlotte Mason's third volume, School Education, page 170:

"The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care?"

Thanks, Tammy! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer break!!

Last day of lessons treat - Bruster's Ice Cream!!


Last Friday, the Black Pearl academy wrapped up the third trimester of lessons and today is officially the first day of our summer break! As I type this it is 9:24 AM and none of the children are out of bed yet! LOL I am glad they are getting to rest and relax, and it feels good for me, too (though I did get up to run this morning but an hour later than usual and I didn't have to rush over to the pool so we could get over to glee club by 11:00!).

I promised my husband (and myself) that I would not think about anything relating to home school for 2 full weeks. Well, actually, he wanted me to take much longer than that, but I do have to make decisions about next school year and order materials! LOL But for the next 2 weeks I am going to try to be "mom" and enjoy my kids. Actually, I'm really hoping to do more of that this whole summer. This school year was really challenging and I found myself so drained at the end of every day that I didn't have any energy left to be "mom". And I found myself wishing they were in school so I could be the fun mom they come home to and we could all enjoy being around each other again. But there has to be a way to realize that without sending them away all day.

This week will not be conducive to making that happen, however! LOL It's that crazy week each school year where all of the activities culminate in dance recitals and end of the year concerts and stuff. This year all of the activities are going right up to the recital because we lost a week due to the snow storms in January. Also this week, Blue October is in concert in town and I certainly can't miss that! And finally, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is premiering and I can't miss that, either! And it's also the peak training week for the triathlon! So, you can see, we'll be running around like crazy! But next week we'll start to settle into a nice relaxing summer.

We will still do Sun and Fun for 4 weeks this year - from the middle of June until the middle of July. Our lessons will resume in early August to make way for the guys fishing trip in early September and the girls Disney trip in late September! :)

So you see how badly I need these weeks of rest and mental relaxation?? As much as I would like to get a head start on planning, I really need to live life outside of school for a few weeks. So no visits to the Well-Trained Mind boards, or to the Ambleside yahoo groups, or to SimplyCharlotteMason.com! Just time to be a regular mom!! :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eye-opening

In our state, we are required to test our children every 3 years, beginning at the end of 3rd grade. Since Riley is a 6th grader this year, that means it's her turn to test. I have always tested my children at home using the ITBS. Since I have a college degree, I am able to be an official tester through Bob Jones University. However, the last time I tested Riley (which was in 4th grade since I was testing Austin already and figured I would do them both at the same time), we had a really difficult time of it. She argued with me and questioned every instruction that came out of my mouth. Since she has only gotten more argumentative with age, I decided that this year we would take advantage of the many group testing opportunities available in our area. Besides, I think it's a good idea to have experience testing in a group, since the higher stakes high school tests (PSAT/SAT/ACT) are all done in group settings.

When Riley learned of my intention, she was extremely upset and resistant. I knew that she would be fine once she got through the first day, or even the first section. It was the fear of the unknown that was getting to her. Also, she has been very upset about our lack of following a "traditional curriculum" and she feels she is behind because of this. It's been a source of strife between the two of us for the entire school year. I purchased a test prep book for her to use for the first time, in the hopes that having familiarity with the test procedures would reduce her anxiety. Instead, it made it worse, especially with science and social studies because we don't follow the public school scope and sequence. Oh well, I tried, right?

Today was the first day of testing. I decided to volunteer to be a test helper, in case Riley's anxiety was overwhelming. I thought my presence in the building (even though I wouldn't be in the same room) could be reassuring. Thankfully, she didn't seem at all nervous this morning, like I was afraid she was going to be. I saw her at the first outdoor break and she had made a friend and they sat as far away from me as possible while still staying on the property. On the way home I asked how it was going and she said that the test was "not easy, but not too hard" so I think that's a good sign. I asked if she thought testing in a group was more fun than testing alone at home and she said, "NO!" but I honestly don't think she would admit that to me after all of the drama she made of it before! ;)

OK, can you believe I haven't even come to the eye-opening part?? I'm going to get to that right now!

The testing lady put me in with the 3rd graders. She had the kids divided into 3 groups: 3rd graders (the youngest age that she offers testing for), 4th-8th, and high school. Since I have a child working in the 4th-8th grade room, she placed me with the group of five 3rd graders. They are all very sweet, and as the day went on, they grew very talkative! All I did was keep track of the time for each section, and answered any questions the kids had. I did not administer this test - that was the testing lady's job. Mostly I sat and read.

And I watched. Reece is a 3rd grader this year, and her testing will come next month. I watched these kids and I tried to picture Reece in this same situation. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that she wouldn't be able to handle it. Even playing games out on the grass during our break times would have been overwhelming for her.

Academically, the test is way too hard, but I know that already. She's very behind, but she is making progress on her own schedule. That's one reason I despise the requirement for standardized testing. It's not going to tell me anything I don't already know. She's behind for her age/grade. DUH! The testing itself is going to be stressful because it's going to be full of stuff that she doesn't know how to do! And she's smart enough to know THAT! And smart enough to be upset when she's faced with a test that is determined to find out how much she doesn't know. Lots of wonderfully negative episodic memories! @@

I am trying to remember my determination to trust in God, and not let what I experienced today get the better of me. It's so hard, though. Every single time we leave the house these days, Reece has a meltdown. Her last soccer game was on Sunday, and her helper wasn't there, and she sobbed bitterly the whole time. "Soccer isn't worth playing if Sara isn't here!!" After 45 minutes, we decided to call it a day and go home. She didn't want to leave, so she calmed down. Just in time for it to end early so they could give out end of the season awards. Yesterday at Riley's ballet class, I took math games to keep us busy, and she had a meltdown because the game didn't go the way she wanted it to go. I took her out to the car until she could get control over herself. It might not be the best way to handle it, or the "RDI" way to handle it, but she has simply got to learn that she can't scream and cry when she doesn't like what is happening around her. If she's developmentally around 3-4, then that's what I would do with a 3-4 year old who was having a temper tantrum. We would leave the place until she got control of herself.

It's just so hard. I don't think it's been this hard since she was actually 3-4 years old. I never used to take her out of the house back then. And that's how I feel about things right now. I'd just rather stay home (or leave her home) than deal with the meltdowns. I don't remember it being this bad with Austin. But then again, that was a long time ago so maybe I'm just not remembering. And they are different kids. She's had a lot further to go than he did.

So I will write all of this out, and then I will make myself forget about it. I will push it aside and remember that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. And He has a plan for her life. And I will pray yet again that the meltdowns will cease because I honestly just need a break from it! :)




Thursday, May 05, 2011

Another Autism Anniversary

As the end of our school year approaches (NEXT FRIDAY!! WOOOHOOOOO!!!), I am finding myself with a bit more time on my hands as some of the subjects we are completing fall off our schedules. I'm not sure if anyone reads here regularly anymore since I've been so hit and miss with posting.

May 2nd marked the 5th anniversary of Austin's Asperger's diagnosis. I wrote a series of posts back in September when we hit our 5th anniversary of Reece's diagnosis, but I'm not sure I ever got around to talking about this particular year of autism for our family. Austin's ankle surgery took over precedence, and honestly ushered in some of the most challenging months I have ever faced as a parent.

I don't recall if I mentioned before but his surgery coincided with the end of the weaning process from his seizure medication. So he was physically restricted (when his main method of self-regulation involved movement), he was not able to play the drums or baseball (his two favorite activities), and his brain was adjusting to the removal of some powerful medication. It was awful, and he was aware of all of it. I truly believe, looking back, that he sunk into a depression. He talked suicide several times.

You know, I need to stop for a moment - this is such a hard age to try to write a blog about your child. He will be 15 in less than 2 months, and I know he would hate it if he knew I were talking about these sorts of things. But I do try to explain to him that the reason I share these things is to let other people know they aren't alone in their struggles with autism/epilepsy/home schooling. And I want people to know how brave and strong Austin is!! He is downright embarrassed and ashamed about his Aspergers/ASD diagnosis, and that pains me so much. Not that I want him to embrace ASD as his identity, because he is so much more than the sum of his diagnosable behaviors. He is an incredible child of God who has a place in this world if he will be strong enough to work as hard as he will have to work to achieve it. I know in my heart that God took him down that path to show him that he is stronger than he ever thought he was. I hope Austin can see that one day. And I hope he can learn to accept himself for all of his strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. My prayer is that much of this embarrassment is typical teen angsty stuff and that he will come through the other side of it with a new perspective on himself.

I had decided to seek professional help for Austin if I didn't see marked improvement once he was mobile again. Thankfully, that was exactly what happened. Austin had joined a band towards the end of that time, and I credit that with helping him come back to a better state of mental health.

The last few months of this fifth year of autism have been spent dealing with completely non-autism-related stress. My middle child - 12 year old Riley - has been exhibiting some pretty overwhelming behaviors. I've learned in the last 2 months that it possibly could be related to puberty, and I read a wonderful book called Strong Willed Child, or Dreamer? which I mentioned last month. However, things seem to be getting worse instead of better, and I have placed a call to the kids' developmental specialist to see if he can give me some suggestions on who might be able to help us. I can't help but feel a sense of shame and responsibility - she has always been a challenging child, but I spent the first few years of her life dealing with Austin's behaviors. And then I spent the next few years of her life dealing with Reece's behaviors. I guess I didn't spend enough time dealing with HER behaviors, and now they are out of control. I'm looking forward to getting that phone call back from the doctor's office and see what they recommend we do.

As I mentioned earlier, our last day of school is next Friday. Then we will take a month off completely before we begin Sun and Fun. In that month, it is my goal to work on our relationships as a family and between the siblings. I really want to enjoy my kids again - not being teacher and taskmaster, but as being mom.

Because if it's one thing that autism has taught me, is that it's ALL about the relationship!! :)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The day that God hit me in the head with a CD

How often have I complained about not hearing from God? How often have I joked about wanting Him to email me or text me or even send me a Facebook message with clear instructions for my life (homeschooling/autism/spiritual journey)? Well, imagine my surprise when He hit me in the head this morning with a CD!

The last few weeks, if you haven't been able to figure it out, have been dreadful. Awful. Horrible. I could add many additional adjectives, but I'm sure you get the point. I have been regretting ever starting homeschooling. I have been questioning every decision I ever made in my parenting, and in my life. It's been a deep, dark valley. And it seemed that there was no way out.

This morning I was getting ready for church and I was very tired. Reece hasn't been sleeping well, and I've been getting up very early for my triathlon training. And that's not even taking into consideration how tired the tri training has made me. I wanted to wear a necklace for a change and was looking for my one lone necklace in my dresser. I looked all over but couldn't find it anywhere. As I turned around to finish getting ready, something hit me in the head.

It was a CD in a paper case and it was absolutely covered in dust. I'm not sure where it has been all this time, but it was filthy. The title was "High School: You Can Do It!" and it was a CD of a lecture from the GHEA homeschool convention back in 2009. The speaker just so happened to be the same person who did Austin's testing back in the winter. I took her "Homeschooling High School" seminar last spring, but I had never listened to this CD after I bought it.

When I got home from church, I ripped the CD onto my mp3 player and listened right away - because, quite honestly, I'm not going to ignore the fact that I got whacked in the face by a CD that has obviously been so easily hidden on my dresser. It was GREAT! An hour of encouragement and information (but not details because any time I try to get into details lately it's created a panic in me). From there, I looked on my mp3 player and found Sonya Shafer's Looking Past the Fear seminar that I had downloaded from Simply Charlotte Mason. I immediately listened to that one as well.

The results were immediate. My heart hasn't been this light in ages! The answer is clear. In my own power, in my own strength, I continue to falter. I continue to panic. The only way I'm going to be able to continue on - and I've honestly been wondering if God was calling me to stop homeschooling - is to keep my eyes on God. And when I feel the panic creep in - because I am feeling incompetent (Hello lessons from RDI) - I have to refocus on Him. Again. And Again. And Again. Until it becomes the FIRST reaction.

"Believing, then, is directing the heart's attention to Jesus." p. 90 (The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer)

"The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One." p. 91, The Pursuit of God

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wordsmith

Last summer I picked up an older version of the Wordsmith writing program for $5 (and that was the teacher book and 2 unused student workbooks). I figured for that price, I might as well give it a shot. I'd planned to take it slowly, which is good, because we got a late start on it. But so far, it seems to be working well for Austin.

The book features exercises that work with words, which has been very helpful for Austin. For some reason, his spoken vocabulary is better than his written vocabulary. His writing style is immature, to say the least. Couple that with horrendous spelling and writing that has gone downhill for the last 4 years, and it's not a pretty picture.

But, so far, it's been successful for Austin. We're in the "word play" section which means he has been knee deep in a thesaurus, which is excellent for a kid with a limited written vocabulary. And so far he has written 2 paragraphs, both of which we have edited together and then I had him type for a final assignment. Yesterday, he was actually excited about the writing assignment which was to use interesting, meaningful adjectives to write a restaurant review. We had just been to Pizza Hut on Monday, so he decided to use that experience (however he did attempt to convince me to take him out for lunch so he could have a 'fresh' experience to draw from! LOL).
He was excited to write... that in itself was worth the $5.

Today we edited. I asked him to go through the paper and underline any word that he was unsure if he spelled correctly. He got every single misspelling, which shows me that he is aware of what he cannot spell, so that is good. Since this was a writing lesson and not a spelling lesson, I wrote the correct spelling under the incorrect ones and put a check mark under the couple that he had misidentified as incorrect. Then I asked him about his opening sentence which was unclear (and wasn't actually a sentence at all) and we reworked it. Then I suggested that we wrap up the paragraph with some sort of closing. And off he went to type it out - reluctantly, being the only teenager in the 21st century world who doesn't like to type. @@

He looked at the typed out version and sort of shrugged. "I bet Reece could write something better."

"Doesn't matter," I replied. "You are you. She is Reece. You write differently than she does. And the other thing that matters is that you are getting better in your writing, which you are. I think this is the most mature, varied, and interesting paragraph that you have written so far!"

And I meant that. His first paragraph for Wordsmith was 1 long, run-on sentence. This one still had a few clumsy sentences but that will be covered later in Wordsmith. I personally believe that the clumsy/run-on sentences come from a brain that wishes to convey the sort of sentence structure he reads every day in his lessons but that gets tripped up in the language processing disorder.

I'm hoping to finish Wordsmith with Austin next year so we can move into Teaching the Essay by the Analytical Grammar folks. Writing will really require our focus in high school!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cross Post: Lessons from Hills

The following is cross-posted from my Running Blog. I felt that it is as applicable here as it is there.

I have spent the last couple of months meandering my way through Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run. The book is set up perfectly for picking it up and reading a chapter or two whenever I can squeeze them in. And since it's a Kindle Book, and I always have my Kindle with me, I can do that fairly often.

Today I read Chapter 18, Hills. I have been looking forward to this chapter and purposely put the book down yesterday when I knew this chapter was coming next. I wanted to read it with a fresh brain (or at least as fresh as I can have on Easter Sunday when I would be getting up before dawn to get a bike ride in before church). And you see, the reason I wanted to read it with a fresh mind is because hills are my nemesis. And living in Atlanta, Georgia, this poses a problem.

There are few areas that could be considered "flat" where I live. So there are natural hills rolling throughout any training plan that I take on. But there are hills, like in my neighborhood and the local park where I like run, and then there are HILLS, such as the affectionately nicknamed Cardiac Hill at the Peachtree Road Race. I have been intimidated by hills of all sizes since I first began running. I was looking forward to some advice from Kristin Armstrong on how to deal with those hills in my running program.

However, as she has done through the previous chapters in this book, Ms. Armstrong extends the concepts of battling hills from the running world into the realm of our everyday hills - challenges that we all face, be it a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a job loss, or in my personal situation, an autism diagnosis and/or epilepsy diagnosis. I used the 'notes' feature on my Kindle to highlight this passage:

"The incline ahead is steep and unyielding. So how do we prepare? Running hills gives us some clues. First, we relax - which is hard to do but essential. We cannot make any assessments in a state of panic. Then we remind ourselves and each other that we have strength for climbing. Then we breathe; ideally, we breathe deeply. Then we begin." (p. 191)

I cannot begin to describe how much I was touched when reading this. You see, our family has been living through an immense amount of stress for the last year. I won't go into all of the details here, not only because it would take forever, but also because I don't care to relive each episode. Trust me when I say that it feels like our family has been facing one steep hill after another with very few level stretches to allow us to catch our breaths and regroup. We have been living in the 'state of panic' that Ms. Armstrong mentions, and that makes for some rough times. And I start to feel like giving in, and letting that hill beat me. I feel like I'm running this race all by myself.

A few sentences later, Ms. Armstrong continues:

"We lift our legs and pump our arms and go at our own pace. This is incredibly important. It's so easy to lose heart on a hill when we compare ourselves to those around us. We waste energy by taking our focus off the goal, which is of course going through the hill to the finish, not to it." (p. 191)

Imagine a little light bulb going off in my head. So much of the stress and discouragement during this "hilly" period for our family has been heightened by the feeling that we are not measuring up to others around us. I have fought hard not to do this in my running, I wonder why I would allow myself to do it in the other aspects of my life. Nobody else is running my race. They don't have to - they are running their own races, with their own hills to tackle. I need to run my race, and tackle the hills in my life the same way I tackle them on the trail: "low and slow". When I come to a challenging hill, I put my head down, keep my feet low to the ground to conserve energy, and slow down as much as I need to to manage the climb. If I can apply this technique to the other hills in my life, perhaps they won't seem so daunting.

The other light bulb was the last sentence, about getting through the hill to the finish - not just getting TO it. For me, this meant keeping the understanding in my heart that these hills are not the end point, but only a temporary challenge in the everyday course of life. She points out that the smaller hills are practice for the bigger ones, and the more you practice the fitter you become and the less you fear. This called to mind my Bible verse of the year:

"Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything." (James 1:2-4 NLT)

So the trouble (hills) is an opportunity for testing, for my endurance to grow (just like in running)? I need to embrace the hills? The parallels between my verse and the following quote from Mile Markers are beautifully clear:

"When we practice enough by running hills, we develop our own rhythms and strategies. The same with life's hills: The smaller ones make us fit for the biggies, and we can maintain our same rhythm. The more we practice, the fitter we become and the less we fear." (p. 192)

I have often said that running has changed me fundamentally. I realize that I am stronger physically than I ever believed I could be. I have made goals and reached them faster than I could have imagined. When I started out running, I wanted to run 3.1 miles without stopping. Then I wanted to run 13.1 miles. And now I have a triathlon and full marathon looming on my horizon. I am strong. Some days it's really easy and some days it's downright awful (like yesterday). So why is is that when it's a rough day out on the road I don't get despondent like I do when it's a rough day with the kids? When autism (or puberty) is the hill du jour and stands before me like a monster why do I want to give up so easily and feel that all is hopeless? Why is it so hard to take the lessons that I have learned from running and apply them to other areas of my life? Why can I remember that God has gotten me through some massive hills before but I fail to trust that He will get me through the next one as we push forward to the finish?

The answer is that there is no reason aside from my foolish pride and stubbornness. I seem to be able to tame those beasts out on the road (more or less). It's time to get a clue and apply those hard-earned, sweat-filled lessons to the other hills that I face!

Friday, April 22, 2011

We're almost there!

We have just 3 weeks until the end of our school year! For the first time - EVER - we are on target to finish up in May! In fact, Reece has already wrapped up history, and she will be finishing literature next week. She has 2 more books to read, and geography and science. (Skill subjects like math and writing aren't "finished" as I just move on to the next book whenever she finishes one up.)

I'm really pleased with how well we have managed to stay on track this year, though I have to admit that Austin's broken foot had a large part in that. Since he couldn't get around, we didn't go on any field trips, which meant we stayed home and did our lessons! LOL

As I mentioned in my last post, we all have a great deal of spring fever going on... but seeing those assignment sheets and knowing we're nearing the end helps all of us to keep pressing forward!

And I've decided to put off planning for next year until I have a clear mind and some mental space available to really think clearly. I believe that if I try to do too much in the way of planning right now I will end up making poor decisions. So I will refocus in late May! :) Or maybe early June, after my triathlon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yes, I'm still here!

Have you noticed a pattern with my blog? When I'm feeling incompetent and stressed I tend to post less?? LOL

High School continues to weigh heavily on my mind.

We are wrapping up the end of our school year and I'm reflecting on all that we accomplished and the things I wish we had done better with - unfortunately, it always seems to be the things that are the most important, like narration!! @@ I hate it when that happens!!

I think we're all pretty well burned out on this year. Reece starts every day by telling me how much she hates school and how she wishes she never had to do it. That absolutely break my heart. To those who might suggest a break... we just had spring break the week before last! LOL

We will have a month off (from the middle of may to the middle of June) before we start our Sun and Fun this year. I am going to use that time to finalize my decisions and purchase curriculum so I can take the middle of June-middle of July off before my planning period comes at the end of July! I think my brain could really use some downtime this year.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Thank You Notes

I was raised to hand write thank you notes for my birthday and Christmas gifts, and I'm raising my kids to do the same. I remember it being sheer torture and I gave my mother unending grief about it. My kids don't seem to have the same issues. I tend to think it's because they are home educated and they see "write thank you note" on their assignment sheet and don't think twice about it!

I've gradually increased the amount of original writing for Reece over the years. She started off by tracing "Thank You" and writing her name , then by writing "Thank You" and her name, and finally last year she wrote the "Dear _______", "Thank You", and her name. This year I wanted to see what she could come up with on her own, and boy was I in for a surprise!

The first note she wrote was to my Uncle Bob. She has really taken to him, though she's only ever met him once when she was a baby so she has no memories of him. He sent her a rock this past summer that he found in Oklahoma and she has affectionately named it, "Bob the Rock." He is a retired police officer and detective, as well, and she thinks that is totally cool.

I stayed in the room to help her spell unfamiliar words but I wanted to see what she was going to write. She wrote "Dear Uncle Bob" and "Thank you for the money. I bought ice skates. Love Reece". Then at the end she put "P.S. I hope we can meet together some day." I prompted her to add commas after the greeting and salutation, but that was as much help as I gave. (BTW, he was very touched by her letter, as you can imagine).

Over the next several days she wrote other letters like this. She remembered to include the commas in the rest of the letters. PLUS, one day she wrote that she was going to buy "art supplies, candy, and Coke." At first she had only written, "art supplies and candy" but she decided to add the "Coke" because she thought it would be funny. So she paused and said, "I need to erase that 'and' and put one of those little periods with the tail (comma), and THEN put a another one of those little periods with a tail (comma), and THEN put the and before I write "Coke". Yes!!! You sure do!! Isn't that cool??

Then on another letter, she wrote that she was going to buy a "maxi dress". She added, in parentheses, (a maxi dress is a dress that goes all the way down to your ankles). She wasn't sure that Great Grandpa would know what a maxi dress was - and she was correct! Plus, she used parentheses!!!

She has not yet had formal writing lessons as we would typically think of it. Yet, she has done writing - through extensive copywork, and we are just starting some studied dictation (but not very much yet). But through our copywork, we have discussed using commas in a series, and using parentheses, and so on. And now, through writing thank you notes - a real life use for writing - she has learned that we need to put a comma (period with a tail LOL) after the greeting and closing!

It was thrilling to experience!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Middle One

I don't think I often mention my middle child very often on my blog. I don't purposely intend to leave her out, but with her being "typically developing" I don't often feel that our experiences are very applicable to a blog about home education with special needs/autistic children.

I have always laughingly said that Riley is "typically developing, but anything but typical" or maybe that she suffers from "middle child syndrome". But lately, in the last year or so, something else seems to have been going on. I do know that it's partially related to puberty - she just turned 12 and puberty has hit us full on. But there has consistently been a sense that something is different. I have learned not to ignore that voice, but in my attempts to research, I've always come up short.

I thought for awhile that she had a raging case of ADHD. Or perhaps that she has a shadow of the Autism Spectrum. Both of these could be true, but recently a friend mentioned a book that she thought would help: Strong Willed Child, or Dreamer? I purchased it for my Kindle and I have been slowly working my way through the book. It has been eye-opening, to say the least.

I think it's fairly safe to say that Riley is a dreamer (As an aside, the evaluator who tested Austin gave me a survey to fill out based upon this book and identified Austin as a "diplomat", which so totally fits. I believe that I would be labeled as a "driver" LOL). I have not only highlighted passages throughout the book that seem to describe her to a T, but I find myself reading them out loud to my DH (We are both struggling mightily with Riley).

I have to admit that I read the book wanting ANSWERS. Just like I seem to do for everything. I'd like a "10 Easy Steps to _______" (and you can fill in the blank with "Homeschooling Austin and Making Sure He Gets Into College", or "Getting Riley to Stop Arguing All the Time", and even, "Being a Good Christian". Unfortunately, I'm learning the hard way that there are no true lists like that for anything worthwhile in this life. ) The author even warns that Doers will be wanting to jump in and fix their Dreamer, but that cannot be your goal. I'm sure that caution was meant for me!

There are many things I could comment on but what prompted me to blog this evening - after I had shut down my computer for the night - was Chapter 9, which deals with Dreamers in school. I nearly skipped this chapter believing that it wasn't applicable to our situation. But I'm glad I didn't. Dreamers are described as being global learners, learning best from whole to parts, not responding well to linear, input-output modes of education. When I read this I had to push back the feelings of frustration bordering on failure - I'm such a linear, input-output thinker. Am I doomed to never understand my daughter? Am I doomed to never provide the type of education she needs to remain engaged? Have I mentioned that she is the only one in our family who will not get Spring Break this week because she failed to complete her work? She still has math to finish.

My hopes rose a little bit when the author describes that, while Dreamers don't typically do well in our American education system, they usually do well in a British-Classical Education model of reading classic and modern books and developing their own ideas on the subject matter. "Hmmm," I thought, "That's what we've been doing the last few years.... perhaps we are on the right path."

Then a few turns of the page... er, clicks of the button on my Kindle... later and I see the subject heading of Home School for Dreamers. It is a small section, to be sure, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this paragraph, "In her book For the Children's Sake, Susan Schaffer Macauley outlines her philosophy of education based on the work of educator Charlotte Mason. Read this book and/or others on home schooling before undertaking this option. You need to have a clear philosophy of education before you embark into teaching. Although home schooling is not appropriate for every child or every family, it is an option that allows for the individualized approach a Dreamer needs. If you try home schooling, make sure that you are teaching in the way he can really hear."

I was absolutely floored to see Charlotte Mason recommended in this mainstream book! I myself had never heard of Charlotte Mason until I started home schooling. She was not discussed in any of my education courses in college! Despite being 4 years into following Charlotte Mason's approach to education, I am still such a baby. But I see the most fruit in the one child who has been wholly educated in this way - Reece. I'll have to save that for another post this coming week, but the strengths of a CM education were very evident in watching her compose her birthday thank you notes.

I do not believe in coincidences, so I will take the mention of CM in this book to be a confirmation that continuing with CM methods and reading this book for help in understanding Riley is this the correct path to be following, even though it is challenging for me personally. Remembering as well that I first learned about CM through learning more about our RDI therapy, there is no way that one thread flows through everything in our lives by mere happenstance.

Even though the struggles with autism, and epilepsy, and preteen dreamers has left me confused and exhausted and frustrated and overwhelmed, it is evident that God is guiding our steps towards the way He wants us to raise and educate our children. I can only hope and pray that I am able to adjust, adapt, and implement these methods before they are all grown up! :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Charlotte Mason for High School?

Can anyone tell me which volume would give me the most pertinent information about the high school years (or equivalent in CM's time/place)? I am really trying to keep my CM goals in mind while I am thinking about high school - it's so easy to stray, but I'm really trying to continue to follow the philosophy that has served us so well. But I need to know what to read to figure out what the underlying principles that will be guiding us.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Average

On Tuesday, I met with the evaluator who performed Austin's cognitive and achievement testing last month. The purpose of this evaluation was to continue the paper trail that we began 5 years ago with neuropsych testing, and to see how far he has come.

I was utterly unprepared for the results.

Average - basically across the board. One higher, 2 lower, but basically - Average.

Why is this significant?

Because 5 years ago, the results were quite different. The results were "low average". One was average. Several were lower than low average.

But now we're looking at average. The evaluator not only thinks that Austin is capable of completing a regular high school curriculum, with enough effort. She thinks he is capable of going to college, in some shape or form.

This is a really good thing!

But now I feel like I'm starting from Square One. The things I had had in mind to use for next year no long seem like "enough". I know the math isn't "enough" because she told me it isn't. She wants me pursue a more traditional math curriculum than the Key To... program. I am going to use the Key To Algebra over the summer and into the fall as a Pre-Algebra program, as a friend of mine did this with her son and he said it was very valuable.

One measure of comfort does come from the fact that the evaluator told me that what I've been doing with Austin is working well. I think I'd like her to tattoo that to my forehead! But she also recommended the My Father's World high school program, if I would like something all laid out for me.

Lots of decisions to make now. For my perfectly average kid! ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Finally, a RightStart complaint!

Lest you begin to think I'm being paid for all of my RightStart praise (though I wouldn't mind a free copy of Geometry for Riley next year LOL), I did find something that I do not like about Level B.

Today was the last lesson, and it involved giving the End of the Year test. I was shocked to find that it was 4 pages long! This from a curriculum that rarely had a worksheet, and when it did, had very few problems on it... it was shocking. I decided quickly to take 2 days to complete the test.

Then, I was disappointed to see that many concepts were covered on the test that had not been reviewed in many, many lessons!! Also, there was one problem that has NEVER been covered. I'm not sure if the problem was a typo, because if it had been worded differently we could have easily solved it. But I was proud of how Reece handled it. She got as far as she could - she put all the information in the right places (this was a Part-Whole circle problem). But the problem was going to require her to subtract 39 from 87. We have barely subtracted at ALL, and certainly not problems that complex. If she had been required to ADD those two numbers, then she could have completed it.

It's not a big deal though... the test isn't a big deal to me in the grand scheme of things. And I was pleased to see how well Reece has done despite the lack of review on some of the topics. I guess we will be starting Level C on Monday!!

Rock ON!

Austin's band had another gig the weekend before last, at the same venue. My mom paid for a professional photographer to come and take some good pictures, since she couldn't be there. The pictures turned out fantastic! I thought I'd share a few here:



The guys have 2 more gigs on the books for April, including a Battle of the Bands! They are currently working on their "summer tour schedule" which includes the metro Atlanta area (since none of them can drive on their own yet! LOL). Austin is getting a lot of good feedback on his drumming ability, and he's getting some experience in dealing with being out around lots of people. We're seeing a renewed sense of confidence, and he is wanting to get out more often - he even went to church last night which is something he hasn't done this school year, since Riley joined the youth group. My husband said he saw them actually hanging out together, along with other kids from the youth group who were waiting for their parents to finish up praise band practice!

Baseball practice also resumed last weekend, and Austin has a way to go in his recovery. Thankfully, by the time boys are his age, if they are really good players... they are turning to the JV programs at the high schools. So the boys who are left in rec ball are the ones who may not be so good, but who really enjoy playing baseball for its own sake. I hope that means there won't be so much pressure on him this season. As for me, I'm not sure I can watch a game at all anymore - when they leave for the field I am a nervous wreck until they get home and I see that he's not injured. :(

Spring is springing here in Georgia, and the busiest time of our year has commenced!