Back to School 2016-17

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Our adventures in homeschooling officially ended after Spring Break last school year.  We found a small private school that accepted the state scholarship we had received.  The transition was hard for her because she was the new kid for a few weeks, but she made friends and went on great field trips and soon the school year ended on a high note.  She went to the middle school class, a one room school house for kids with a variety of special needs.  Many of her classmates are on the autism spectrum.   Her teacher and an assistant are pretty amazing at managing so many different learners.

My job last spring was to retire as the CEO of our homeschool.  It was a little sad for me, but I soon realized it was great to have time to work out, read books, and focus on my career, all the while knowing Kate was happy.  While I wish her school had a more inclusive approach to working with special education,  the school does have a very inclusive culture in other ways, such as creating a positive and affirming learning environment.  I like the fact that the school is small and everyone knows each other.  It’s very easy to call and get an issue resolved.  She is getting small group intensive reading four days a week this school year.  They have PE and social skills every day and monthly field trips.  She took the Iowa Test at the end of last year which will give us a good indication of her progress by the end of this school year.   The best thing I can say about her being back in school is that last week she was invited to a bowling birthday party of one of her classmates.  When we got there all her friends were happy to see her and she had a blast and never came looking for me.  Kate certainly is very social, so that isn’t the surprising part.  What was amazing for me to see was that for the first time since preschool she had a group of peers to whom she felt connected.

Our learning adventures continue.  Each morning on our way to school we listen to amazing audiobooks.  We set out to read 100 books during last school year, but haven’t met that goal yet.  We decided to keep going, to keep reading books she enjoys.  Most of them have been audiobooks and some are read-alouds.  We are taking our time and she is discovering great authors and book series.  The best moment for me was knowing that she loves Judy Blume as much as I did as a kid.  We just read our 67th book, The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickets, which we both enjoyed so much that we we ordered the next book in the series from the library.  She LOVES (and I endure) the Dork Diaries series.  We have also enjoyed books by Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

She is so absorbed with listening to books that I have to turn off the book at least a block before we arrive at school so that she can transition to getting-out-of-the car mode.  It gives us something to look forward to every morning and I’m always amazed at what she retains from these stories.  She is certainly a book lover, even though she isn’t able to read them on her own yet.  I  often get very upset with her because the floor of her room is covered with piles of books and American Girl magazines.  The other day she took a kids cookbook from the shelf and she initiated reading some of the ingredients and titles of the recipes to me.  I tried to play it cool.  I didn’t want to over react out of fear that she would lose interest in reading, but in my heart I was doing the happy dance while wearing MC Hammer pants.

Until next post, I hope you’re well and reading something awesome!

 

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Homeschooling like time is running out

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Happy 2016!  It has taken us a while to get back into our  homeschooling routine.   Our weather has been so weird, due to an unusually wet winter, that our garden was a disaster. The seedlings got so much rain that almost nothing grew, except kale.  Homeschool co-op began again and this semester Kate is taking Lego Club, a class called Fun FACTory, which focuses on learning and memorizing math, science and other facts, and finally a reading class, for kids who need extra help with phonics.  I think these are great options for her and she adores her teachers.  She didn’t return to the book club because it conflicted with the reading class, but I volunteered to lead it anyway.   We’re working on  a book about the Trojan War, a retelling of the Illiad for young readers.  This has been quite a challenge for me to lead, but I’m glad to give it my best.

Kate completed the Middleburry Interactive Spanish online course last week. We continue working on the Touch Math workbooks, which is simply the best program for her. We have gotten into a nice routine at home with Explode the Code workbook and then working two days a week with her reading tutor.  She is showing a lot more initiative with trying to read things like signs, the titles of books or movies, etc.  She also keeps making progress with the Reading Eggs program.  It has 120 lessons and she is close to completing the program.

One of our goals for the new year was to look for a small private school that is focused on special needs learners for next school year.  I didn’t want to wait to start looking in the summer, like we did last year.  By that point it’s too late to see schools open and to meet faculty and staff and some schools may not even have openings for new students.  We decided to start looking earl and we found a place that we like for next year.  However, one option that we are considering is that she would start this year for the fourth quarter of the school year, after Spring Break.  We agreed that it would be a good way to transition to school and become familiar with that school’s routines, make friends and not feel anxious about “school”  all summer.  If we move in this direction, which is very likely at this point, then we only have about five weeks left of homeschooling.  It’s bittersweet, but we knew that this would be a possibility for us.  I think she’s really done well and has made a lot of progress while at home and it’s always an options if things don’t work out.  I’m also excited about the chance for her to make friends, participate in school activities in a small school that has all of the services that she will need to be successful.  We’ll still continue to do our reading aloud of awesome books until we reach our goal of 100 books, hopefully before the school year ends.

For me it will be and adjustment, but it will be nice to let go a little and devote more time to things I want to do for myself and for that I’m thankful.   I am lucky that I enjoy working and it will be great to be able to focus more on my career. These next few weeks, we’ll enjoy every opportunity to learn together.   Then we’ll trust that everything is unfolding as  is best for Kate.

What we’re reading:  Just finished the best audio version of the BFG by Roald Dahl and we LOVED it!  We’re going to listen to James and the Giant Peach next.

Books read this school year: 48 -Almost 1/2 way to the 100!

 

 

10 Years Ago Today…

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There are moments in your life that you will never forget, nor want to forget. One such moment happened ten years ago today, when my husband and I sat across from a pediatric neurosurgeon as he attempted to tell us that our two year old had a serious life-altering issue, a brain tumor.   Every day after that one was different for everyone in our family. Every year since when December comes around I feel many emotions: a lingering and simmering sadness, hope, disbelief that all this really happened, grief for the friends we have lost, profound gratitude that we are all still together. It feels like all these emotions roll over me like a giant snowball, burying me alive. It’s impossible to put into words what I feel today, but I had to try.

When we were first diagnosed and I would meet another family whose child had completed treatment and were doing well, it would give me so much hope.  I aspired to be in their shoes some day, out of the woods, out of the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen next.  Our Kate was in treatment for almost three years. She endured ten brain surgeries, three different chemo regimens and countless medical procedures, before having radiation at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

They say that when a child is diagnosed with a life altering condition, the whole family is affected. Undoubtedly, Kate’s life was the most directly impacted but, ironically, a lot of these experiences seem normal to her; invasive medical procedures, hanging out at a children’s hospital, losing friends to cancer. She was a sweet and friendly baby, toddler, child and nothing has taken that away.  It really hits you  when you spend time in the PICU after brain surgery and your child is the only one talking and demanding chicken nuggets just how lucky we were. As she grew she asked questions.  We did our best to give her answers, except when, at age five, she asked why her friend died.  I told her I didn’t know.  The next thing she said was, “His mommy must be so sad.  We must pray for her.”  My heart filled with so much pride, because she is and will always be, my greatest spiritual teacher.

For our oldest daughter it has been tough having overwhelmed parents who were always trying to keep it together, sometimes just barely. In many ways, she was partially raised by my parents and my sister, who we depended on to step in at a moment’s notice.  The bond she has with her two cousins, Julie and Sebastian, is so tight that they truly are her siblings. She is quiet and creative, always observing the world around her.

When she was little we made arrangements to have my mom watch Kate so we could some special time with just her. It was terrible to be away from her for days at a time. Sometimes even when we were there, our minds were somewhere else or we were tired from being in the hospital.  We asked her what she wanted to do.  She said, “I want to paint with you.” We were prepared to do and go wherever she wanted.  We painted and the room was quiet, but we could feel this amazing connection to her, like nothing could separate us from each other, not cancer, not even our biggest fears.

As parents we have been truly blessed to witness the resilience of each of our amazing daughters.  I was raised that I should respect my parents and of course I did and do, but very early on my daughters earned my deepest respect.

When the life that we had suddenly became unrecognizable to us,  we had each other, in sickness and in health.  I’m blessed beyond belief with a loving husband who is my partner in this life. I remember, one day we were alone in the hospital elevator,  it had probably been a week since her surgery. He said something that made me laugh so hard and made me realize I hadn’t laughed in that many days. It was as if, in that moment of laughter and light heartedness, he rescued me and released me from a place of pain and grief.  We learned how to communicate what we each needed and that it’s okay to get counseling to work things through.  Despite everything, I think we’d say these last ten years have been the best years of our marriage.

Still we lived in constant fear of that next MRI, that next visit with the neurosurgeon.  Spending so much time in the artificial setting of the hospital turned me into a ghost of myself. Slowly, I started to live; I gave myself permission to be.  If Kate was going to survive she had to see her parents accepting and embracing life.  My husband told me that one day he got caught in the rain and it dawned on him how it made hime feel… alive.  It reminded him of his days running around Seattle.

It took a while, but eventually we started to make plans for the future, though cautiously at first.  A date night.  A camping trip just a few hours from the hospital, just in case.  One day we said, “Okay we’ll adopt that rescue”.   I would go back to school; we took it one semester at a time.  We were hoping for the best.

Do these life experiences define you as a person or merely awaken you?  I would say today that those events awakened me from the life that I realize now I wasn’t living fully.  I clung to self-defeating beliefs. I cared too much about what others thought. I doubted myself.  I believed I needed a bunch of people around me to get through things.  Those beliefs were challenged and many had to go.  I  learned to trust myself; trust that I could really be there for myself and for those I love.

Still I acknowledge we couldn’t have come so far without the support of my parents who have made being there for us their most important mission in life. Family members, near and far, friends and other families affected by cancer we’ve met along the way gave us hope and encouragement.  All of those acts of love and kindness restored our faith in the world.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that amazing support of the doctors, nurses and staff at St.Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.  They are deeply committed to their patients and families during and after treatment.  I will be eternally thankful for this institution that lives up to its mission: Finding cures, Saving children.

 

 

 

October/November Updates

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It took us a few weeks but we got our family vegetable garden going again.  We are getting so much rain lately that we barely do any watering.

Shopping for our veggie garden.

Shopping for our veggie garden.

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I am thankful that we joined the homeschool co-op in our area.  In exchange for a few hours of volunteering each month, doing simple things like being hall monitor or assisting a teacher, my child gets the chance to explore new things in a low pressure environment.  The beauty of co-op groups is that, at least at the elementary level, there is no grade level box to fit into, but rather it is organized into fluid age/grade grouping.  Kate made homemade pasta last week in her cooking class, which I guarantee is an experience she wouldn’t have had at home. I’m amazed at how her cooking teacher can get ten kids creating great food and cleaning up after themselves.

Cleaning up is an important part of cooking class.

Cleaning up is an important part of cooking class.

Kate found the perfect Halloween costume inspired by our time in ancient Egypt reading The Golden Goblet.

Kate, with her friend Fitz, ready for trick or treating.

Kate, with her friend Fitz, ready for trick or treating.

The new book is Tirzah, another historical fiction novel, about the exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt.  I’m sure she’ll learn a lot by reading this book.  I love how good books make you curious about the world.  I’ll be honest, so far we haven’t gotten into this book, but I’m sure that she will learn so much by going on a journey in someone else’s sandals.  Already because of our book club I was inspired to sign up for my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Coursera, to learn more about the history of this part of the world.

We continue focusing on reading skills.  Having a tutor work with her has taken some of the pressure off of me.  It’s great to get feedback from her on what she sees going on, what skills are emerging and which ones are still inconsistent.  Also, it’s nice that she actually looks forward to doing reading with the tutor.  (That’s okay, I don’t take it personally.) Kate and I do short lessons from Explode the Code workbook, reading aloud and oral reading from readers that she chooses from the library. I try to get her to practice reading to me every day, even if it’s ten minutes, to work on the fluency.

She is making good progress with her keyboarding program.    Where at first she became quickly discouraged, now she can concentrate for longer periods of time and is learning good typing habits.  I started to include regular handwriting exercises from Handwriting without Tears. We are also going to look into getting regular OT sessions going again.  The other day the cooking teacher asked me if she had trouble with handwriting and it was because Kate was complaining about her wrist hurting when she was whisking ingredients in her class. It may be time to reevaluate these skills.

While I am certainly not relaxed by nature and I live, work and commute in a not relaxing area, I’m glad for the constant reminder to stop and enjoy this life, now.

I’m thankful for all that we continue learning together.

 

What we are reading now:  Tirzah by Lucille Travis

Books read this school year: 30

What we’re looking forward to:

Visiting family in Illinois for Thanksgiving, Snow and

Christmas (and not just because of the break from school)

 

 

 

Monthly Updates: September 2015

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While we are still learning about the process of homeschooling, last school year was a steep learning curve.  It’s become more like a normal routine and my new work schedule is also making a big difference in giving us more quality time together.

Kate is really enjoying the classes offered at the homeschool co-op in our area.  She chose cooking instead of a music class this semester.  We are also part of the book club and are enjoying the first selection, a book about ancient Egypt, The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.  What an awesome way to learn history.  We complete the reading assignment together using Learning Ally audiobooks. She’s not always happy about completing reading assignments, but she is beginning to understand that to be a part of this group, she needs to come prepared.  I am getting less resistance and more interest as we get into the book.  She will often stop me to ask about words she doesn’t know.  For example, today those words were: sarcophagus and monotonous.  Sometimes we’ll do additional research online about interesting things that come up in the book about Egypt.   It’s also wonderful to see her interacting with the other students as they discuss the themes of the book.  We decided to put aside the other novel we were reading (Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale) and really focus on this one as our main read aloud to get the most out of the book club experience.

Grating cheese for pizza during cooking class at homeschool co-op.

Learning to safely use a knife during cooking class.

Learning to safely use a knife during cooking class.

I am very thankful for the homeschoolers co-op, however, it is a long morning and she comes home completely exhausted.  I also feel wiped out. Is it all the socializing or the free Muay Thai class that I take while Kate is in her cooking class? Yes, I am a student, too, of a martial art.  I bought my first pair of boxing gloves and shin pads and I’m learning how to use them.

Another super fun addition to the homeschool this year is Art.  I struggled last year with how to incorporate art and even put her in classes at the community center.   I can’t believe how easy it is to have art lessons at home with the Atelier homeschool program.  You just read a description of the project, gather materials, watch the DVD and do the projects.  So far we’ve managed to do a few projects and it has been the highlight of our week.

Creating a "Stormy Day" project using watercolors.

Creating a “Stormy Day” project using watercolors.

We are using a few new computer based programs this semester which we are really enjoying and may review them in more detail in later posts.

Keyboarding-Keyboarding without Tears (they also make Handwriting without Tears, which we love)

Spanish- Middleburry Interactive Languages

Math- CTC Math

We are also enjoying some more traditional curriculum this year, such as additional Touch Math products, MCP Phonics  workbooks and Learning Palletes.

Being able to mix it up is important to keep the energy flowing.  I think that I’m figuring out how to integrate all these different curricula to accomplish our learning goals while not feeling overwhelmed and burdened by these programs.  Consequently, planning for each week is much easier now.  I also started to give Kate her own to-do list with the activities we want to accomplish each day, including reading time and activities she needs to do independently or with minimal assistance from me.  I give her a daily to-do list so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed and can feel proud of herself for completing her work.  Each activity counts as a point and at the end of the week we count the points, which she can use or bank for rewards, i.e. going out for frozen yogurt.

Our current Read Aloud: The Golden Goblet

Books read this school year: 17

First Field Trip: Flamingo Gardens (SOS Save Our Swamp Educational Event)

What we have coming up: Restarting our family garden for the school year and hopefully an awesome Halloween (possibly Egypt inspired costume).

Easing Back to Homeschool 2015-16

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Last week our eldest started high school. (We’re so proud of her!) It has been a huge adjustment for all of us, beginning with the fact that her school day now starts at the same time that she used to be waking up last year for middle school.  The changes in our family’s routine only reinforced my decision to ease into homeschool with Kate this year.  We only did a few things last week.  We went to the library.  We finished one book we had been reading this summer and started a new novel.  She took extra naps as her body was getting used to waking up extra early.  She worked on her online reading program, Reading Eggs.  Weird name, good program. We opened up our first science kit from the Magic School Bus Young Scientist and did the first experiment.  I asked her what she wanted to learn about and do this year.

The toughest aspects of working with my child: ADHD, her low tolerance for frustration and the resistance she has  to “school”.   School makes her feel almost as anxious as going to the doctor, which is also a constant part of her life.  It can be exhausting on some days to try and work with her.  While last year I began the year with very specific goals for her learning this year I didn’t make such a list.  Having curriculum guides you towards mastery of reading, math, etc. but the goals I made last year only frustrated me and, in time, Kate as well.

What I’ve learned so far about working with my struggling learner  is that our routine needs to include breaks, movement and limit learning tasks to 15-20 minutes.  This year we’ve made some changes to bring in more variety and to include more opportunities for fun with others.

  • The most important thing I did was change my work schedule so that we have a lot more time to ease into our day and so that I am not feeling rushed.  Also, I want to have more time to relax so that I don’t experience constant burnout, as I did last school year.
  • We are going to join a co-op this year (or at least that is the plan.)
  • We will be hiring a tutor to help us with reading.  (This is an expense that we can now cover with our scholarship funds.)
  • Kate is going to read 100 books this school year.  When I presented her with the idea/challenge she was totally enthusiastic about it.  These will be mostly audiobooks and read alouds, in addition to her leveled readers from her reading program or series we find that we like.
  • While I’ve purchased a lot of things for this year I want to make sure that I don’t get married to any curriculum. Getting too attached to curriculum last year made homeschooling harder than it had to be.  The reality is that all curriculum needs to be adapted and modified.
  • We added meditation to our morning routine, which consists of a few minutes of guided meditation from a couple of kids CDs I bought from Amazon. She experiences a lot of anxiety around medical procedures and even educational activities, so I want to her to practice daily how to calm down and relax and become more mindful.  We have already added it to our routine this week and it’s going well.  ( I could use this practice myself.)

Curriculum for 2015-16

For reading we will start  with All About Reading and Explode the Code workbooks, which we have been using, but in time we will add in Reading Assistant from Scientific Learning. We will also continue with our summer program,Reading Eggs.  Kate loves this program and is making good progress.  For language arts we will be doing activities from a special education curriculum that I think will be perfect for us.

Math- We will continue where we left off with our Math Mammoth and Touch Math but will add Reflex Math (math game)and CTC Math (complete online math curriculum.  We also got a math games and Learning Pallettes, for hands on learning in math.

Handwriting-  Draw Write Now Book 2, Handwriting without Tears and Keyboarding without Tears

Science- Magic School Bus annual subscription (Loving it so far!)

Spanish- We’re starting with Middleburry online program but then will go back to our classes online via Skype through the Homeschool Spanish Academy

PE and music will be group classes. The homeschool co-op will provide the music class.  I’m looking forward to art this year since we will be doing art lessons with Atelier, which is a DVD based program.

One thing that is missing from our list is social studies curriculum and that is because we will join a book club at the homeschool co-op and all the theme of the books will be about ancient history.  So we will cover social studies through our book reading and group discussions/activities.  (More books to help us get to 100 this year!)

I am excited about the new learning tools and classes.  I think I like this more relaxed approach.  We’re ready for the school year, wish us luck!

What we’re reading now:

Read Aloud- Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale (Sequel to Princess Academy)

I think we found a new series of books during our last visit to the library that our Katie likes and is motivating her to read: Katie Woo.

Number of books read this school year: 03

Looking back at our 2014-15 homeschool year

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It’s hard to believe we are about to embark on a new homeschooling year.  I remember freaking out this time last year as we planned our first year of homeschool.  It was a challenging year, but we learned a lot about how to work with our special needs kid.

We spent part of the summer looking into private school options, because we received a scholarship from the state for special needs students that can be used toward their education, either pre-approved private schools or homeschooling expenses.  We are so grateful that she is a recipient of this Step Up For Students scholarship, it’s a huge blessing. However, by the end of July we realized that we hadn’t found the school we were looking for; one that specializes in special education and we could afford with the scholarship and that was close enough to home (so we could actually make it to class most days).   Therefore, we decided to homeschool for the 2015-16 school year.  I have been slowly getting back into the routine of planning, shopping for curriculum and organizing for the new year.

Before getting into what we have selected for curriculum and activities this year, I wanted to first make a list of the curriculum/websites/blogs, etc. that really helped us last school year.

Kate’s Top Picks for 2014-15

Touch Math– This is a top choice for special education for a reason.  I’m just bummed we got this late in the school year.

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Explode the Code Workbooks-  I couldn’t believe how much she enjoyed this simple workbook.  It’s a black and white workbook that offers plenty of phonics, reading and writing practice.  The best part is that Kate enjoyed working independently with this workbook.  We also got the online version, which she didn’t like at all.

Learning Ally is the best.  We enjoyed many audiobooks this school year, American Girl, other chapter books and even Wimpy Kid books.

Draw Write Now is a great copy work/handwriting and drawing practice book.  I never got any resistance from Kate when she got to work on this book.   It is a non-consumable book, which is a good value if you are homeschooling multiple kids.

Homeschool Spanish Academy was a fun and relaxing way to learn Spanish.  These teachers are highly trained.  How they managed to re-direct her and keep her focused for a 45 minute session is quite impressive.

Kate would say that All About Reading was a fun reading program.  Considering how challenging reading is for her that says a lot about this program. She especially loved completing the activities, which “tricked” her into extra practice.  We completed Level 1 and will start Level 2 next school year.

Summer 2015- enjoying a day out at the American Girl Store.

Summer 2015- enjoying a day out at the American Girl Store.

Kate’s number one pick for last school year is…SAINTS PE Program.  We were so blessed to have this program.  It was great for exercise and making friends.

Celebrating on the last day of PE program 2014-15 homeschool year.

Celebrating on the last day of PE program 2014-15 homeschool year.

Mom’s Top Picks

When you first start homeschooling you read every blog out there and it can be overwhelming.   I think there are many great blogs out there for every kind of homeschooling family, but these were my go-to blogs.

Simple Homeschool   Whenever I read this blog I feel inspired.  This mom is very knowledgeable and has a gift of communicating in a way that doesn’t alienate any homeschooler regardless of their homeschool style or preference.

Only Passionate Curiosity  This is where I go to read up and learn about curriculum that is out there for elementary students.  Her reviews helped us to find some things that worked for us last year.  She also has a huge list of free and low cost online resources for all subjects.

Homeschool Buyers Coop not only offered great prices on curriculum, but introduced me to many great resources.

Teachers Pay Teachers- great resources, cheap, quick downloads, teacher tested and kid approved.  I especially loved the materials for interactive math and sight word notebooks. They also have plenty of awesome freebies.

Next post we’ll detail what we’re planning for the 2015-16 homeschool year.