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! :)