Sunday, September 4, 2016

Weekend Schooling ~ Our Nontraditional Schedule

Because I work full time as a social worker, we do schooling on a nontraditional schedule. I am home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so those have to be our heaviest school work days. My husband is home on Monday and Tuesday, and does a few subjects with our son. School work requires one of us to assist with everything but cursive practice and copy work, because our son is dyslexic and can't read any of the work at his grade level.

Friday is also our co-op day, which may turn out to be good, or not so good. It starts next week. Co-op will cover science, art and gym. Because he is the only child left at home, and we live in the country with no neighbor children to play with, he needs this contact with other kids. Unfortunately it eats into prime schooling-with-mom time. We don't do as well with the academics in the afternoon.

That leaves Saturday and Sunday as being really important. Today was our second Sunday of school and it went really well. We started at 11:00 and finished at 1:30. In that time we did his reading lesson (AAR level 2), math (Teaching Textbooks level 4), Language Arts (Primary Language Lessons), copywork (from reading lesson), recorder practice (The New Nine-Note Recorder Method), Spanish (Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois), Ancient History (D'Auliare's Greek Myths), Cursive Logic, Shakespeare (a chapter of Who Was William Shakespeare), Artist Study (Giotto), free reading (Percy Jackson #2), Religion (part of a book about Mother Teresa).

He also played a game of chess afterward, which we are considering part of schooling this year, and have scheduled 4 days a week. It all counts as learning, right?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

What We're Doing In American History

History is one of my favorite subjects, so it mattered a lot to me that we love learning it, and so far we do! We are reading about four pages of A History of US each week, beginning with prehistory. We are now covering the earliest Native American Tribes. Along with that we're watching a short (about 10 minute) documentary about whatever the book covers that week. We are also reading Om-Kas-Toe, which is good historical fiction about a Blackfeet Indian boy. We spend about 20-30 minutes, twice a week on US history.

My plan is that we'll cover history up to the Revolution this year. I've got movies, biographies and fiction selected to go along with the book series. As we get toward spring I would dearly love to take a trip East and see Jamestown, Plymouth Planation, Colonial Williamsburg, Salem, Philadelphia and Boston. That's unlikely to happen, but maybe if I pick just one place we could do it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

This Week's Nature Walk


Our nature walk took the form of a mushroom hunt. I brought a camera along and asked Teddy what we should look for today. He chose mushrooms. I never expected to find 9 different kinds!


I highly recommend this as a way to get a child to focus in on details. Now to try to identify them. Although we have 14 field guides, none are very good for mushroom identification. We will be turning to the internet for that. Some will be lovely for drawing though.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

We Are Starting Today and Here's the Plan

Today is the day are starting school. It's a Saturday, but we have a nontraditional schedule due to our work schedules. This week, school will be Saturday through Wednesday. Next week it will probably be Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday.

Schooling on Sunday will be a bit strange, but the plan is that we go to mass, do religious education, reading, composer study/music appreciation,  art appreciation. I hope it will be somewhat relaxing. In fact, I hope that every day will be somewhat relaxing.

I read Homeschooling From Rest this summer, and I plan to put into practice as much as I can from it. I am aiming for joy and peace over accomplishment and production. School work is super stressful for my son, due to his ADHD and learning disabilities. His past experiences of school have been nothing but anxiety and failure. This is my opportunity to turn that around. I want to teach him that not only is he bright and able to learn, but that there is joy in learning. Just as importantly I want to teach him that school is not the most important thing in life. We don't measure our worth by grades.

I want my son to learn to love God, that he is loved by God, and that he is able to contribute to the world by having a loving heart. I want him to experience and appreciate the joy of nature, the miracle of science, the beauty of art, music and literature. I want him to be interested in history and other places and cultures. I want him to understand the doctrines of our faith and the history of our church.

It's a process and it doesn't have to happen fast or all at once. We will start small and slowly, first with the loving, appreciation and joy. If he isn't interested in all of the things I've planned, that's OK too. We will focus most on what sparks passion in him. 

For my part I hope to remain free of anxiety and stress about how much he gets done and how he's progressing. I want to be at rest, and help him to feel at rest in his home and in his education.

All that said, here are my plans for the year (subject to lots of modification as we work it out, and perhaps dropping some things all together). This a mainly a book list. All lessons will be short and no subject will be every day. We won't spend more than 2 hours a day total. Because of his Dyslexia, I will read most of it out loud to my son.

New Testament in a Children's Bible
Faith and Life book 4
57 Stories of Saints
History of US pre-history to Revolution
The Story of Pocahantas
Mayflower Adventure
A Light Kindled: The story of Priscilla Mullins
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Johnny Tremain
George Washington
Primary Language Lessons
All About Reading 2
Cursive Logic
Teaching Textbooks Math 4
D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths
Children's Homer
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare
Real Science 4 Kids Biology
Artist Study: Giotto, Fra Angelico, Leonardo daVinci, Botticilli, Michaelangeo, Raphael
Composer Study: Handel, Beethoven, Dvorak, Wagner, Haydn, Vivaldi
Poetry: The Harp and the Laurel Wreath, one poem weekly
Instrument: Recorder
Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois
Treasure Island
Percy Jackson #2
Where the Red Fern Grows
Co-op Art and Gym

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blackberry Season

Our wild blackberries are getting ripe. They are spread over a couple of acres, skirting a swamp. It's risky business picking blackberries. There are bees, deer flies and mosquitoes hovering. The brambles are dense and thorny. The tall grass has ticks in it, and the sun is beating overhead.

Still, every year our family spends hours picking. , that I'm sure everyone will remember, if only for the scars on out hands and arms from the thorns! We freeze the berries and make jam. We bake pies, cobblers, crisps and muffins.
Today Teddy and I picked 4 quarts, and I baked a super healthy Blackberry Crisp. We're thankful for summertime and blackberries.

·              3 cups fresh blackberries
·              ¼ cups Plus 1 Tablespoon Whole Wheat Flour
·              ½ cups Honey, Divided
·              ½ cups Rolled Oats
·              ¼ cups Chopped Walnuts
·              1 teaspoon Cinnamon
·              ½ teaspoons Ginger
·              ¼ teaspoons Nutmeg
·              1 teaspoon Canola Oil
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss berries and 1 tablespoon flour together. Add 1/4 cup honey (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup of honey for topping). Pour fruit mixture into the baking pan. 
In a medium bowl, mix remaining flour, oats, walnuts, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg until combined. Add remaining honey and canola oil. Combine the ingredients. Sprinkle the flour and oat mixture evenly over the blackberries.. 

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until fruit is bubbly and the topping is browned and crisp. Let cool for 20 minutes. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

When Learning To Read Seems Impossible

My son has Dyslexia and learning to read has been a heartbreaking experience for him. I was a preschool teacher until he was almost five years old. Not only did he attend preschool every day, I worked with him at home. He was given the most literature rich environment a child could have. There was morning storytime, afternoon storytime and bedtime stories. There were books available to be handled by him in the classroom, the livingroom, his bedroom and the car. Not only was he read to, he was read good quality children's literature. The very best picture books, and then chapter books were read to him.

Teddy loved books and loved stories. His attention span was good when he was read to one-on-one. Since his nearest sibling was a teenager when he was a baby, that happened every day.

All of his senses were utilized in his exposure to the process of reading. We made an A with popcicle sticks, finger painting, in sand, in the air, with crayons, with chalk. We made a collage of things that started with the short A sound. We found things around the house with that sound. We made apple sauce and apple pie, and talked about the A sound. We circled the letter A in books. By the end of the day he "knew" letter A.

The following day I would hold up the letter A and ask what it was. After a pause, he would answer S or T, or G or X. It was a completely random guess, unrelated to anything he had "learned" the day before. That started at two and a half, and continued through kindergarten, during which he was homeschooled.

I wouldn't have worried, because I know from experience that some children are later learners when it comes to reading, but the plan was that he would go to school the following year.

In schools where we live, a child is expected to learn to read in kindergarten, and continue in first grade to develop fluency, comprehension and overall reading ability. Not only was Teddy not ready for first grade work, he wasn't showing signs that he was ready for beginning kindergarten work.

We found a small private school, with a small class and a fulltime aid, and enrolled him in kindergarten at six and a half years old. The teacher was experienced, the classroom environment was calm and nurturing, and he received a lot of extra help. By the end of the year, he knew the names and most sounds of the alphabet. That finally put him at a beginning kindergarten level for reading.

Needless to say, first grade was a struggle, as he was way behind starting out. He started going to a tutor who used a specialized method for children with Dyslexia called Ortin-Gillingham. The tutoring was twice a week afterschool and Teddy was resistant. He was tired after a day in school, and he had a bad attitude about reading. He was watching classmates surge ahead in reading almost effortlessly, while he made heroic effort and still couldn't read. With the tutoring he made some progress and began to read, but by the end of first grade Teddy was still a year behind in reading.

During second grade Teddy became sullen and moody. He didn't want to go to school and every morning was a battle. After school he didn't want to go to tutoring and frequently refused to work. In the evening he didn't want to do homework and there was another battle. By the end of the year he had made some progress in reading, but his classmates had made so much more that he was even farther behind. Teddy was at a mid-first grade level reading when he started third grade.

The third grade year was a nightmare for all of us. By then, Teddy had become angry at the world. He believed he was stupid and would never learn to read like his classmates. He felt increasing amounts of shame and didn't want to let others see how he couldn't do the work. Every subject was now almost impossible to do without help, because there was reading involved. The more help the school provided, the worse his shame got, because it made his lack of skills visible to everyone.

To cover up the fact he couldn't do the work, Teddy began refusing to do the work at school. The teachers tried everything. Rewards and consequences meant nothing, because he preferred to have the other students think that he was oppositional rather than stupid. In Teddy's mind, refusing to do the work made him look tough and bad, but accepting help in front of the other students made him look dumb and inferior to them.  He chose the first identity for himself.

Now he was getting in trouble, and the teachers and students labeled him as a behavior problem. He didn't do his work and he didn't learn. Every day there were phone calls and emails from the teachers and principal. The fear and sadness we felt were immense.

We took him to a psychologist who confirmed what I described above. His self-esteem was shot, he believed he couldn't do school and he would no longer try.

We took him to a psychiatrist and she diagnosed him with anxiety and depression along with his previous diagnoses of ADHD and Dyslexia. It was also clear that he had poor working memory and executive function. We resisted medicating the depression and anxiety, because we believed that those things could be resolved by not going to school.

Now over two months later, the signs of depression have lifted. The anxiety is less and his overall mood is lighter and happier. We know that it was the right decision to take him out of school when we did, and not to send him back in the fall. He will always have Dyslexia, and perhaps other learning disabilities. He definitely has ADHD, which makes life harder for him than for others. The anxiety he experiences could be hereditary and organic, or it could be from feeling so much stress for so long.

I've done a lot of research over the past five years and I think that I understand a lot of what the problem is, and what strategies will help. But so much about neurological differences is unknown, due to being un-researched. What we do know is that the Whole Language method (language rich environment, lots of exposure to books) with standard teaching methods does not work with children who have dyslexia. It's frustrating when people who do not understand Dyslexia suggest that you read to your child more, or just wait until he's ready to learn to read. That is good advice for other children, but not children with learning disabilities. They will not learn to read without intensive intervention with evidence based methods. It will take them two or three times the work (and time) to learn what an average learner does. On top of that, it's hard, frustrating and discouraging.

There is little chance that a child with Dyslexia will love to read. I hope that several years from now Teddy will have the skills to read without so much effort and he can begin to enjoy it. This will require both patience and diligence from both of us, and for a boy with ADHD who has learned to hate school work, that's a tall order.

What has always benefited Teddy is that he loved to listen to stories. I do believe that his early and constant exposure to good books has made a great difference in his life. He has a large vocabulary, and his comprehension when read to is excellent. We read books that are far above what the ordinary 10 year old reads or has read to him. During the past year I have read aloud 54 chapter books to him. In that way he is an "avid reader." As I write this, my daughter is reading one of the Percy Jackson books to Teddy.

The other thing that I know works for Teddy is a systematic, multi-sensory approach to teaching reading to Dyslexics, in a one-on-one setting.

We are using All About Reading this summer, and when I can get past his opposition I can see him learning during each lesson, and retaining what he has learned.

The reason that I am using the Charlotte Mason method to homeschool him is that I can read everything to him, and he can narrate orally. Teddy will have to learn to read and write, but it doesn't have to be incorporated into every subject at this point. I want him to be able to enjoy learning history, geography and science. If he had to do work sheets or take written tests, he would be unable to like learning any subject that would normally interest him. With this method, the whole of his learning experience does not have to be dreaded and feel "too hard."

This is a work in progress, and maybe it will be for a long time. We don't have everything figured out. But when I finally made the decision to stop the madness of sending him to school, where he was learning nothing except to hate himself and the rest of the world, I finally regained some sense of control and hope.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Homeschooling As A Full Time Working Parent

I'm asked how I do it, and I haven't even tried to answer that question yet, but I think it's time to try. It may help me to write it out.

I am working 40 hours a week in the child welfare field. I have a four day a week schedule. My husband also works four long days each week. We have one day off together each week. That leaves two days a week that one of us is not at home. So far we've been playing it week by week with various arrangements. I've been using vacation days, our son's had some babysitters, he's gone to work with his father and a few times I've worked from home.

I'm the one who has planned the curriculum and makes the lesson plans. On my three days off our son does a "full day" of school, meaning almost all subjects. He does two shorter days of school with my husband. We do "school" five days a week, but not on the traditional Monday through Friday schedule. School work happens in the morning and early afternoon.  We are also trying to do school (mostly) year round, with several vacations thrown in.

That's basically it.

But you should also know that my house is not very clean, I have very little time to myself or to do social things with adults, and it's quite a bit of pressure. I would be hesitant to recommend to anyone else that they should work and homeschool at the same time. In our case there are circumstances which make it the best thing to do right now. That's a subject for a different day.

If I were not 100% sure that there is no other way, I don't think I would have the ability to do it. Mothers seem to find the energy to meet their family needs, no matter how difficult. And truly, I enjoy a whole lot of my overly-full life.