Friday, June 28, 2013

Sun and "Fun"

So this week, I came to a realization about our Sun and Fun program. It hasn't been too much "Fun" for me. I've been harping on the kids to get their stuff done - no, really, just the girls. Austin wants his gift cards so badly it wouldn't surprise me to see him working on the weekend! The girls want their rewards, too, so I'm not sure what the problem is, but it's annoying me.

And quite frankly, the purpose of Sun and Fun is for them to keep their skills up while I get the planning done for the upcoming school year. This I cannot do when I'm having to follow them around to make sure they do their stuff. And you know what? They are too old for me to be doing this.

So yesterday I told them that there were going to have to take the initiative with Sun and Fun. If they are going to do the work that day, they will do it and mark it off. Writing needs to be emailed to me, or written and turned in. If assistance is required with math, arrangements must be made before lunch time. To verify that all work has been done, the sheet should be handed to me to sign off.

All of this ties right in to my goals for the kids to be understanding and working with deadlines and turning in work in a timely manner without reminders. I think they will find this necessary during their outside classes, so maybe this summer experience will help.

It is my intention to do much more detailed planning this summer, and in order to do that, I need time. I have 5 weeks until we begin our new school year, and really that's just 4 weeks because I'd like to take the week before school off from planning. This is definitely do-able but it's going to require some serious work on my part. But I think it will help me in the long run and free me up during our 'break weeks' to actually be able to enjoy some down time.

5 weeks until the first day of school? YIKES!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Planning is in full swing!

This is my favorite part of homeschooling! :)
I have completed and printed out the book lists for our School Year 2013-2014! And not only that, but I also planned out the dates for school next year! I am on on the ball this summer!

Trying a different approach to planning our weeks on and off! 
Next week I hope to begin ordering the books we need! :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sun and Fun 2013

Today the kids and I begin Sun and Fun! We have done this just about every year since we began homeschooling, but this is truly something we would do even if the kids went to a classroom school. Taking off of academics for an extended period of time just isn't a good idea! We could do a more traditional form of year-round schooling, but I think we all enjoy a little bit of fun in the summer.

Typically, the kids have had to do some reading, writing, and math each day and they would earn a "sun". Here is a post outlining how we did it in the past. But this year, each of the kids has something specific they are working towards. So I made a paper for each of the kids.
They each have to read 30 minutes a day, and they have a reading list of 2-3 books each. If they finish these books before the end of Sun and Fun, they can pick what they want to read from the public library or from our extensive personal library. They each have to pick a topic from the narration jar and write according to their age and abilities. And they each have to complete a math worksheet from their regular math programs. They have to do this 20 times before the end of July, which works out to be 3-4 days per week, or 4 straight weeks, whichever they prefer.

Austin wants gift cards for Pizza Hut and Bojangles. Isn't that such a teenage boy thing? Riley wants tickets to see a concert in September (so her reading list is a bit more extensive). And Reece wants the paid version of Minecraft for her laptop. Once they have completed their Sun and Fun, they will get their rewards!

I've made myself a couple of summer reading lists as well! I have been really slack about reading for enjoyment in the last couple of years because of trying to keep up with all of the kids' reading.

Mom's Summer Fun Reading

The first book, Blue Like Jazz, is one that my friend Laura lent me a long, long time ago about Christianity and faith and I can't wait to read it (and get it back to her!). The next book is Every Woman's Guide to Cycling, because that's my triathlon focus this year. The third book is Amplifying Our Witness, about teaching and reaching teenagers with developmental disabilities. And the fourth book is Simply Classical, a book about using classical education methods with special needs kids. I also have a book on my Kindle from the library called The Help, which I'm sure just about everyone has heard of. That will actually be the first book I read because it goes back this weekend.

Mom's Teacher In-Service Reading
The second group of books are my Summer Teacher Prep books, For the Children's Sake and Towards a Philosophy of Education (Vol. 6 of the Charlotte Mason series. These two books I read every single summer to refocus on our educational philosophy before the new year begins. Since I have been doing this, I have not experienced the panic and obsession with school choices. This summer I'm also going to read The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer to see if this might be a better choice for Austin to read over the next two years instead of How to Read a Book (which is a much denser read).

I've also got to work on lesson planning, but I'll focus on that more later in July! For now, I just want to get back into a habit of reading again. I really miss it!

What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 17, 2013

"This isn't what I thought it was going to be like"

Austin said this to me the other day and while I took a little bit of time to talk with him about it in the moment, I've really been pondering his comment ever since.

He was talking about cat ownership. He was talking about  how much our kitty, Sebastian, has changed in temperament in the 6 months that we have had him.

Sebastian on his 6 month "home-aversary" on June 12th
And he is right. When Sebastian first followed us home, he spent most of his time snuggled up in our laps. He would go from one lap to the next and would purr and snuggle. Over time, he spent less time on our laps but would still hang out next to us or near us. And when he wants some time alone, he will go under one of the beds. Austin tends to follow him around, even under the bed, to be with him - and he is usually met with a typical kitty "leave me alone" reaction.

In April, we went on a trip and left Sebastian here at the house while our neighbor came to take care of him. As soon as we got back, we packed up the entire contents of the house, moved it out to a storage pod, and completely redid the interior of the house from the floors to the furniture to the bedding. Sebastian spent the night of the flooring at a friend's house. That is a lot for a cat, I think. Regardless, it seemed to be a lot for our cat. He started hissing at us anytime we came near him. He spent most of his time under the bed in the girls' room. He also started doing his business on the floor in the bathroom sometimes instead of in the litter box. It has upset all of us, I think, to have him react this way... but I think it's upset Austin the most.

I did a little research on "hissing" in cats and learned that it's not always an aggressive thing. So instead of trying to correct him for it, I have started speaking to him in a calm voice to reassure him that he's OK and that we love him. And when we try to pick him up and he hisses, then we just don't pick him up (unless we're picking him up for a reason where we have no choice). We're trying to help him to feel comfortable, and loved, and respected.

So when Austin said what he did to me last week, I asked him why he was feeling that way. He said that he sees pictures of his friends and their cats and they are snuggling and they don't hiss at their owners and they can pick them up anytime they want to. I said to Austin, "Does it matter?" I asked him if he thought we should love Sebastian any less because he doesn't act like all the other cats. Of course, he said no. I told him that was good. That our job was to love Sebastian and take care of him and help him be the happiest cat that he can be, in whatever way that looks like for  him. Austin agreed and he hasn't mentioned it again, though I wonder if he's thinking it.

Now, if you've been reading carefully, you may have already picked up on the parallel that hit me like a ton of bricks in the hours and days after this short conversation with Austin.

It's just the way I have so often felt since autism and epilepsy have come into our lives.

"This isn't the way I thought it was going to be like." I wasn't expecting to parent two special needs kids. I wasn't expecting to have a child who struggles with learning. I look at my other friends and their kids and I see what they are doing with such ease and it hurts my heart that, if my kids can do it at all, they have to work so hard to manage it and then they have to spend so much time and energy to recover. The things that other people take for granted with their children growing up and moving on, I don't get to do that.

But as I intimated with Austin in our brief interaction, "Does it matter?" It's been a long, hard road to get to the point where I can say with honesty, "No, it doesn't matter." Last week during one of my runs, I really felt like God was telling me, "Look - success is going to be different for Austin. It's NOT going to look like your friends' kids, but it will be success for him. It's not any less of an effort just because it doesn't match what the world views as success. And it's not any less important. But if you're looking for the approval of the world, you're not going to find it. You're only going to find sadness and frustration." The reason I know it's from God is because it's the truth. And it's not something that I'm likely to have understood on my own. Yet, I understood and felt the peace that came with that. ("Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

There isn't much in life that turns out to be what you think it's going to be. And despite all of the platitudes going around on Facebook that tell us we're supposed to "take the lemons and make lemonade", it's not always that easy when you're getting lemons thrown at you from all directions. But sometimes, illumination comes from being able to look at the same situation from the safety of the outside looking in. And then, suddenly, it all makes sense.

It's funny how much having a cat around can teach you...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

We're going to get socialized!

It's official! For the 2013-2014 school year, the students and staff of the Black Pearl Academy are going to be members of a homeschool support group! I am mostly excited, but a little nervous as well. Our history with homeschool group membership has been precarious.

I joined a local homeschool group/co-op during our first year of homeschooling! It was a huge blessing to me because I was so nervous about homeschooling in general, and I made some of my closest homeschooling friends in that group. You know who you are! ;)

As was the case when we were in playgroups before we started homeschooling, the kids' behavior was often an issue and I was on the receiving end of some not-so-very kind comments about my parenting skills. It hurt greatly, and marked me considerably.

When the autism diagnoses came into play, I backed off from homeschool groups. I used the excuse that we needed to spend our time working on therapies, and that was partially true. But the biggest reason was that I just wanted to hide. I was devastated - probably clinically depressed - and I just didn't want to deal with it. It was hard to be out in public with kids who didn't act the way they were supposed to and to feel like people were judging me and my kids. I could take the time to explain that they have autism, but then that would open me up to all of the What Not To Say to the Parents of an Autistic Child. At the time, in the middle of what felt like "the crisis", I simply couldn't do it.

Once the crisis time passed, we joined back up with some friends who had been in the original group and formed somewhat of an informal group. That was great, but it seemed to fizzle after a couple of years. Most of those friends joined various other more formal homeschool groups - and they invited me time and again to visit their groups and see if they were right for us. But I just wasn't ready for that.

Over the last year, as things have started to settle down in our family and being out in public isn't quite such an ordeal as it used to be (for most of us...), I started considering some options for the coming year. Riley has been complaining about being lonely for awhile. She is an extrovert, whereas I am most definitely an introvert. I can handle small outings and I do end up enjoying myself, but talking to people in a group gives me a lot of anxiety and I need a good bit of time to recharge afterwards. At first, I wondered if putting her into school would be the answer. She has been averse to this idea for a long time, and I must be as well since I didn't put her back into school during 6th and 7th grades (the years I refer to as "The Time of Great Testing"! LOL). Her closest friend, and many of the girls she knows and likes from her dance studio, are members of a particular homeschool group. I had been invited by her mom's friend several times over the years to visit the group, and this year, she happened to invite me to come to their High School meetings.

That was just what I needed. Even though the other moms aren't dealing with the same things I am with Austin (special needs, cognitive delays), we share a common theme of doing something that is unusual and frowned-upon in our area - homeschooling high school aged people.  I found this group of ladies to be kind and really focused on providing a quality high school experience to their kids. They offered a few parties and other activities for the older kids in the group, and that is what I'm looking for.

I think this group will offer something for each of the kids as well. Reece's good friend is a member of this group, so that's a good place to start. She has a hard time sharing her friend in a group, however, so that will be something good to work on. They offer park days for the younger kids and I plan to take Reece as often as I can. I think she is ready to learn how to manage a somewhat larger group dynamic. Riley knows many of the kids and I will get her involved with as many of the activities as she can manage with her dance schedule and her academic schedule this year. It will be more challenging for Austin. As far as I know, he is the oldest boy in the group, but it's not a bad thing for him to hang out with guys a year or two younger. He just has to want to do it. Now that he's 17, he is identifying more with adults, and would rather hang out with them/us. But I would really like for him to get to know the other guys in the group, and maybe develop a friendship. 

So, I applied last month and then waited anxiously for word of our acceptance, which I finally received yesterday. Even though we know close to half of the group, I am considering sending an introductory email to the group to explain a bit about Austin and Reece. I am sure word has/will get around, but I would like for folks to be understanding. We are not dealing so much with meltdowns anymore, but more with verbal issues (which do not seem to be any easier because folks assume the kids are being rude or sassy to adults). But then again, I hesitate to label the kids before people even get a chance to get to know them. So I'll be praying about that in the next couple of day.

There sure are a lot of changes in store for our coming year!

Please don't forget to "LIKE" the Black Pearl Academy on Facebook!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

No more little kids

With all my obsession over the grade levels of my kids, many experienced homeschoolers may be asking what the big deal is. I know lots of folks who don't use grade levels at all and just teach the child where he/she is in each level, ala Betsy from Understood Betsy. Don't get me wrong, we do that, too! Individualized instruction is one of the greatest benefits of home education!

But in our state, we are tied to grade levels due to the standardized testing requirement in 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. Also, we do activities in various places that use grade level to divide the children so that comes into play as well.

And this coming year, Reece will be a 6th grader. Around here, that means "middle school" and "youth group". In fact, Reece has already 'moved up' at church and is officially in the youth group now, although we don't officially promote until July 31st in our school. She no longer goes to JAM time (children's church) and instead she sits in with the adults and other youth in the worship service. It's sort of freaky!

As for academics, nothing much changes for Reece except the typical increase in expectations that comes with any new year. She will be continuing to take dance classes this year, and each class will be an hour long. She would like to add a modern dance class as well, but I'm not sure if that would be too much. She will perform in both recitals next spring for the first time!
My other beautiful ballerina!
I think it's going to be quite an exciting school year at the Black Pearl Academy!

And Sun and Fun (aka Summer School) starts on Tuesday...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another high schooler?

While it's hard to believe that Riley will be an official high schooler this coming year (9th grade!!), it really doesn't represent a very dramatic transition in the way of her academics. She began her high school level Latin 1 and Algebra 1 halfway through 8th grade, and she started working on her high school World History 1 and American History credit at the beginning of 8th grade.

The biggest adjustment for my high schoolers (both of them) this year will be the addition of outside-the-home classes!

I have known for a couple of years that the big kids would be taking outside classes this year. I think it's especially important for Riley to have some classroom experience and over the next couple of years she will be doing both physical classes and online classes to prepare for some of the kinds of classes she can expect in college. I also want her to have a chance to have some deadlines that are enforced by someone besides me. Additionally, I'm hoping that she will have a chance to work with individuals who can someday write her recommendations for college and/or scholarships. For her, she gets the much-desired social interaction that she wants - without going to public school, which she adamantly does not want to do. She is going to take Biology with the lab (YAY! LOL) and a Graphic Design elective that she is very excited about. She will also have a study hall and she may even stay for lunch! This will be a once per week class, on Fridays. (We are also awaiting word about acceptance into a local homeschool group - this is for Riley's benefit as well. This group has a very active high school group, which is so hard to find! That's going to be its own post, though, once I have word that our application has been accepted!)

For Austin, the goals are basically the same. He will be taking a Speech/Debate elective class on Wednesdays and I'm very excited about it for him! He has some really great thoughts and he struggles with how to organize and express them. He also needs to practice participating in a classroom situation and handling the distractions of other people. The teacher he will have is excited to work with him and she promises a safe and encouraging situation for him - no bullying allowed!

I'm a little nervous about how we're going to manage all of our lessons with some of us being out of the house a couple of days a week, but I am certain that we'll make it work! It just might be a little crazy while we adjust!

Leaving you with a picture of Riley from last month's dance recital! Isn't she beautiful?!

My beautiful ballerina!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The last books you'll ever read!?

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year again! Planning Season - that glorious time of year when anything seems possible and the next school year is perfect! :D

This coming School Year 2013-2014 will find me with an 11th grader, a 9th grader, and a 6th grader.

What the heck?!?!?!?!

I'm not sure how this happened, except that we started homeschooling in 2002 and that was 11 years ago and this is how it goes. 

So this year, I find myself overwhelmed with the task of planning the last 2 years of Austin's high school education. Since he may not be college bound, I feel the burden of getting "all the learning" into him while I can! I know this is illogical, but that's how I'm feeling right now. 

I find myself making list after list of "Books Austin HAS to Read Before Graduation!" The list is so long the poor kid would have to spend 15 hours a day reading just to get through them all.

And let's just ignore the fact that most of these books I'd never even heard of until a couple of years ago, let alone read myself in high school OR college, and I managed to live these last 40-some years in ignorant bliss - MY SON MUST READ ALL THE BOOKS!

So my major task this summer is to find balance. He can't read all the books. But maybe, just maybe, in the next two years I can help him find some joy in learning. School hasn't come easy for him - not even a little bit. I know that has to be frustrating for him (it has been for me as his teacher and I'm not the one who really has to do the hard work here), and I can certainly understand why he'd be ready to shut the books and never open one again. I wouldn't blame him, honestly. 

But that would be such a shame. So my goal for Austin in 11th grade will be to help him find some joy in it all.

My "baby"?!?! This was from his deep-sea fishing trip last weekend! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

More than I ever could have hoped for!

Last week was Reece's last week of Vacation Bible School/eXperience at the church where she went to preschool! I am not going to be able to post in detail about it, not so much due to privacy issues, but mostly because I'll turn into a blubbery mess all over again!

Reece has had a helper in VBS for the last 5 years, a lovely young lady named M, who actually requests each year to work with Reece! 

Reece and M this year!

Reece and M in 2009!
As you can see by looking at these two pictures, they have both grown up to be beautiful, lovely young ladies!

M has been a treasure for our family! She has not just 'babysat' Reece, but has really pushed her to grow and little-by-little integrate into the VBX each year up to this year when she was fully mainstreamed!
2009 when M used to have take Reece up to the balcony because the noise of the closing ceremonies was too much for her!  

By 2010, Reece could handle being in the sanctuary, but sitting on M's lap!
This year when Reece is in the middle of her age peers, dancing and singing along, and M is sitting with the other youth helpers for 6th grade!

One thing this church does with its 6th graders are mission trips. They leave the church each morning during VBX and serve others in the community. They have fun while they are doing it, but they are learning to be servers instead of only being served. When Reece was small, I never imagined that she would be able to do these 6th grade trips. And not only did she do them, but she even did "Messy Games Day" and LOVED IT! It was almost more than this mama's heart could stand!

Reece has already indicated that she wants to be a youth helper next year, just like her sister (Riley helps in music) and her beloved, M. But next year, M is graduating high school and I don't know what we may end up doing. I hope that she is able to participate in a real and meaningful way and truly be a helper. Maybe M will have her own class next year and Reece could be a youth helper in her room?! :D

 Regardless, I am so proud of Reece for how well she has done with VBX over the years, and I am eternally grateful to M for all of the love she has shown my baby girl! This young lady has a bright future ahead of her!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

More test results...

In my email this morning I saw the title, "Test Results." The email was from the lady who did the group testing that my big kids participated in last month. I was talking to my friend, Lisa, at the time and said, "Remind me that this is NOT important!" As a good friend and mentor, she obliged.

And then I opened the files.

And yes, the results don't matter - but I am really, really pleased!

There were a few surprises but they were all in a positive way! Yes, even for Austin!

So while the results don't matter, it sure does serve to relax me a little bit during this all-important "Deciding What to Do for Next Year" season! :)