Last day of school

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The highly anticipated end of the school year has come.  So much has happened this year learning and growing at home.  It’s been a good year.  I wish I was in more of a celebratory mood.  But I’m just tired and ready to let my brain relax and read for fun and catch up on Downton Abby and all my shows.

Today we went to have Kate’s evaluation for the year and it was pretty disappointing.  There’s no way to spin it.  I know I chose the wrong teacher; rookie mistake.  She was  pretty dismissive of our portfolio and was mostly focused with her reading ability, after only listening to her read for less than a minute.  I had stayed outside, to not interfere and it all seemed to be over in 5 minutes.  She never reviewed the actual portfolio with me, but she seemed ready to give me advice after she signed the evaluation. I was very uncomfortable.  I just wanted my paper signed for the district so I could get out of there before I said something that I would regret.

I know that I shouldn’t have taken it personally, but… it really hurt. It just brought me back to that negative place where I had tried to get away from by leaving the school system, with all it’s pressures to conform and have the kids performing at a certain level by a certain age or point in the school year OR ELSE.

Kate, happy to see the end of the school year.

Kate, happy to see the end of the school year.

I guess that for now we will do like the Taylor Swift song and shake it off… We have made it to the end of the school year.  That is a lot to celebrate.  Kate and I clinked our glasses at dinner in a toast to the school year.

Let summer/Hurricane season commence!

March-April Updates: Hands On Learning

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I am in awe that we are in the final stretch of this school year and   my daughter and I still like each other (most days).

What we’ve been up to:

Spanish- We are still taking lessons through the Homeschool Spanish Academy.  It’s been wonderful to see her make progress and feel more confident with her conversational skills and vocabulary.

Social Studies- In social studies we’re working on our Florida history using our first Intellego Unit Study.   This curriculum is web-based and focuses on engaging all learning styles.  So far, we’re very happy with this approach.

Math- I  decided to switch our math curriculum to Touch Math and have been using it for the past week. Her school used this program when she was in pull-out intervention in first grade. It was familiar to Kate and it is a solid curriculum, which made for an easy to transition.

Reading- We are continuing to use Explode the Code for reading, both the workbooks and the online version.  I was surprised that she likes the workbooks better.

Science- In science we finally put the materials for experiments from the Magic School Bus science kit to use to learn about electricity.  We also used the full episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Learning about static electricity with Dad.

Learning about static electricity with Dad.

 

In March we went on “Spring” Break to visit family in freezing Illinois.  It was wonderful to see family and Kate’s wish came true.  The day before we returned home they got four inches of snow.  She got to play in the snow and we had our flight delayed and then cancelled, but eventually made it home.

We got Kate a subscription to Kidstir to encourage her interest in cooking and baking.  Each week we try to make one of the recipes that they send along with kid-sized kitchen tools. She loves getting a package in the mail and adding the new recipes to the binder that they sent her in the first package.  She is learning the basics, like separating eggs and measuring ingredients and is motivated to stick to it and complete her cooking project.

Kate unboxes her first box from Kidstir.

Kate unboxes her first box from Kidstir.

 

Making one of the Kidstir recipes, chocolate lava cake.

Making one of the Kidstir recipes, chocolate lava cake.

In April we will be finishing our Spanish lessons.  We started art lessons with our city on Saturdays, something that was missing in our homeschool and which Kate was constantly requesting.  Music is coming up next with a much anticipated field trip to the symphony later this month.  We will try to follow-up with another Intellego Unit Study on the orchestra.

Later in the summer I would like to review the Intellego Study Units that we complete as well as the Touch Math program and Explode the Code.  I do see her responding well to these programs, but I want to use them for a while before writing the reviews.

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Proudly showing off her homemade sugar cookies. They were very tasty. 

Field Trip- Last week we were able to participate in an unexpected treat, a field trip to the beach where we learned about marine debris from a local 4-H Club and participated in a beach clean-up.  I was so thankful that it was scheduled on my day off from work and that we were able to enjoy the beautiful weather as we were doing hands-on learning together.

Kate, volunteering at the 4-H Education/Beach Clean-up.

Kate, volunteering at the 4-H Education/Beach Clean-up.

Read Aloud- Finally, our read aloud since March is the book: The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.  I got this suggestion from the website A Mighty Girl.  Kate loves princesses and I wanted to challenge her with a book where the main female character was  independent and interesting.  I’m amazed at how focused she can be when she is listening to a story.  Just when you think she might be losing interest she’ll stop you and ask the meaning of a word she hasn’t heard before.  Our new way to make the most of every minute together is to listen to the audiobook together while I get ready for work. So far, we are both enjoying this book and can’t wait to see how it turns out.  We’ll keep you posted.

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February 2015- South Florida Winter

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I have this love-hate relationship with February.   It feels like such a short month and we have so many birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Black History, Presidents, great weather for field trips.  So much to do. But somehow we have managed to make the most of our February and squeeze in a lot of learning.

Kate observing the wildlife on the Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, 2/2015.

Kate observing the wildlife on the Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, 2/2015.

Every year we return to Everglades National Park during the dry season and this year we had two visits, including a family camping trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.  Our first visit was with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida.   This is our third year participating as nature guides for local children from various non-profit organizations.  My husband and I worked with a great group of kids from an after school program in Homestead.  We spent most of our time on the Anhinga Trail, where we saw wildlife up close.  It was the perfect way to conclude our novel, Alligator Crossing.

My husband teaching the kids about water.

My husband teaching the kids about water.

The best part of this month was the great weather for our morning walks.  We observed the lovely buds on all the mango trees, including the one in our own backyard.  (I never observed this before.) After learning about epiphytes (air plants) and seeing them on the trails at Everglades National Park, we started seeing them everyday on during our walks, too.

Mango flowers in the South Florida winter.

Mango flowers in the South Florida winter.

We discovered my new favorite tree, the Starburst tree and some mornings we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the green parrots that visit our neighborhood.  We decided to put a bird feeder in our front tree, in hopes that from now on we might make some bird friends.

Double-breasted cormorant, one of the wading birds at ENP.

Double-breasted cormorant, one of the wading birds at ENP.

After completing our read aloud, Alligator Crossing we created a book project.  Instead of a report we created a box which contained the elements of the book with words and pictures.  We completed our Minecraft Homeschool Intro class.  Ironically, she enjoyed the actual online class more than the build time on their server.  Each week we learned about five amazing creatures, such as the coconut crab, red panda and the peacock mantis shrimp.   We decided to skip the next session but will probably sign up again in the summer for another of their Intro level courses.

We finally completed Level 1 of our AAR program. We actually started that program around this time last year.  To celebrate we’re going to take a break before starting the next level (for me) and we’re going to visit the American Girl store in Miami (for Kate).   In the meantime, we will work with an online reading program, Explode the Code.  I need something that she can do more independently.  I think AAR is great, but it’s teacher intensive and I need a break before moving to the next level.  I’ve also heard great reviews on ETC so I purchased some of their workbooks to reinforce the learning at home off-line.

As we complete the month we’re spending some time on Black History with a few great read alouds, including


Meet Addy  from American Girl and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.  Typically fourth grade is when Florida History is covered, so we will be be starting our Florida History and Geography Unit next month.  We have a few great field trips planned for this unit and hope to visit St. Augustine some time this year, as well.

When the month started I couldn’t imagine how much we would be learning, observing and doing together.  I realized the most important reason why I chose to homeschool was because I wanted to see her love to learn.   I’m trying to tune into what she’s excited about and make those our learning priorities and the result is fewer struggles and a happier kid and happier mom. The other day she told me, “Mom, we’re like besties”.  I initially turned to homeschooling because I felt out of options, but it seems more and more like this was the best option for us.

January Updates

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We have been pretty busy this month.  I would say it’s been a great month.  We took on a lot of new things, perhaps too many, but sometimes you just need that momentum to keep you excited and engaged.  (Okay, perhaps just me.)  Despite having to travel for a medical visit this month, I still feel we’re pretty much on track and somedays even enjoying ourselves.

During our recent visit to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

During our recent visit to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Kate has handled all the changes well.  We have been having weekly Spanish classes now this month and just love it.  We do these classes through Homeschool Spanish Academy.   Everything I read about this company in other mom’s reviews was true.  The teachers are so nice and highly trained.  Through a Skype connection they work one-on-one with your student and during that time they mostly speak in Spanish. When they assessed Kate they recommended she start with the middle school curriculum because she has grown up hearing Spanish and speaking a little, mostly with my parents.  I’m a native speaker, so I also work with her during the week on the assignments that they ask her to do.  It’s going great because this approach is focused on speaking and hearing Spanish, and Kate is an auditory learner.  So yeah!

Technology

The dictation feature on my MS Word was not easy to work with, so my husband got a Dragon app on his Ipad, which is working out a lot better for writing journal entries.  One thing that using  dictation software is  good for is helping you to organize your thoughts and ideas, which is a challenge for my student.

Kate is enjoying her audiobooks.  She listens to an audiobook for fun each day through Learning Ally. (We finally got all the IT issues worked out by the first week of January.)  The first book she wanted was Ever After High, a book about fairy tale princesses.   I also found her math book and put it on our digital book shelf.  We used it for listening to the word problems. We are just starting to explore these tools, but so far so good.  Also, the Minecraft homeschool course has been a lot of  fun.  I’ll write more specifics next time.

What we’re reading this month:  Alligator Crossing by Marjory Stoneman Douglas

We are using this book as the base for a literature unit with a focus on science (ecosystem), history and geography of South Florida.  This book was written in 1959 and yet the story is as relevant today as back then.  At the time she wrote this book, Everglades National Park had barely been established a decade.  Protecting the natural environment meant that many people were pushed out of their way of life, which included poaching alligators and hunting birds for their plumes.  It also included the freedom of living in nature, something very hard to give up willingly.

While today the challenges are different, their is a tension between the need to protect the environment and the legitimate need of humans to make a living.  Most recently their is a proposal to develop an area of pine rockland in Miami, making me feel that the issues are still very relevant to all of us, especially in South Florida.

This has been a great book to learn about the wildlife and the habitats of the Everglades as well as why this national treasure had to be protected (from poachers and “plumers”).  We’ve really enjoyed all our read alouds, but this book is special because it feels like one generation passing to the next generation the stewardship of something truly amazing.   We hope to finish reading it this week in time for our field trip to Everglades National Park next weekend.

Tomatoes from the garden. We used these to make tomato sauce ;).

Tomatoes from the garden. We used these to make tomato sauce ;).

The other day Kate asked me when we would read the next book in the Kaya series (American Girl); we have read four of the six.  I felt so lucky that we’ve shared all these great stories so far this year and I can honestly say I’ve never seen her so excited about reading, that’s for sure.

Homeschool 2.0

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Happy New Year!

Over the break I read a helpful book by Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. He is a super successful entrepreneur and advocate for dyslexics, like himself. Reading has always been a challenge for him, as it is for most dyslexics, and he shares what helped him to learn and live his dreams. He stresses that it’s about finding those strengths within our children and focusing on what they do well and even better than kids without LDs. We live in a world that places a high value on the written word and an educational system that tends to will exclude those who struggle with reading. He gives a lot of practical insight into how parents can be supportive and how to technology helps our kids to learn.

I also thought it was  cool that both of Ben’s parents were in the Peace Corps, as both my husband and I are returned Peace Corps Volunteers as well.  He mentioned how having parents that didn’t quite fit in themselves, helped them to relate to their son and understand his point of view and how that made a difference in how he viewed himself.

With all that in mind, this next half of the year we’re going to shift the focus from remediation to accommodations/compensations, especially using technology when we can. We know that there will be a steep learning curve, but the technology will  give her access to the learning materials that hopefully she will use beyond her schooling, in life.

Learning Ally (Text-to-speech)

I had already been planning to get this, but after reading the book I was I was so ready to set up her account and download the app onto her brand new tablet so she can get audiobooks anytime, anywhere.  Well…I’m still excited about doing this, but we were one of those super lucky customers that got stuck in glitchville and are awaiting to hear from IT because their system will not let us log in.  I am not happy about this delay, but I’ve waited a long time for this and I’m not giving up.  Eventually, Kate will have thousands of books to choose from that will help her read to learn, while she continues to learn to read.

Speech-to-Text

Over the break my older child, our little techie, showed me a free way to get Kate writing on the computer using the dictation feature on MS Word. We started to practice it over the break, because it’s not perfect. But I still wanted her to become familiar with it because I’m hoping this will be a way to get her to express her ideas while her ability to write and spell come along. While still doing daily handwriting practice, she started using this for her daily journaling. I need her to know that she can express her ideas on paper, in her own way.

What else we’re working on for January.

  • Science- studying ecosystems , which will include a read aloud by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Alligator Crossing and a trip to the Everglades at the end of the month.
  • Adding Spanish lessons using Skype with Homeschool Spanish Academy
  • Completing golf lessons- it’s been wonderful for her.
  • Taking her first online class through Minecraft Homeschool– She started her first lesson today,  as part of an intro course.  We thought it would be a good way to use her interest in gaming to learn.
  • Continuing to work toward completing level 1 one of All About Reading!
  • Keep growing our vegetable garden- tomatoes did okay and kale is very abundant.

Now I’m  ready for 2015 and the second half of the school year. Taking a break is exactly what I needed to feel energized and recharged for homeschooling again. Here we go…

 

Ready for Christmas Break 2014

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To say I am ready for Christmas break is an understatement.  Being your child’s teacher is challenging. If your child is learning disabled it can be especially challenging.  This Friday will be our last day of class until 2015.  Homeschooling this past month has often felt like an uphill battle; planning, organizing and staying on track.  We had several interruptions including travel for medical (routine follow-ups) and Thanksgiving holiday, which really threw off a lot of my plans to work on a few fun projects.

Struggling along in Reading

I had hoped to finish All About Reading Level I before the end of the year, but it’s not going to happen.  Those darn fluency sheets take her such a long time to complete.  It’s the most challenging part of the program for her (and me).   Not all lessons have fluency practice, but it’s basically 2-4 sheets of practice that includes new words, mixed review and sentences that the students are supposed to read (in addition to flash cards).  It requires Kate to read left to right and except for the sentences, the words do not have any relation to each other.   It’s strictly to practice sounding out words and consonant blends.  Each time she sees the lists she is resistant, but I know this is exactly what she needs to develop her reading stamina.  For example the word, shrank, she has to first sound out the sh, add the r, remember the short a sound, blend all of that and then add the nk.  That is very challenging for a struggling reader.  Once she reads that word the next word will be completely different, say the word, stomp. We certainly take breaks, which is why it takes a while to get through these practice sheets.

I compare this to when I would see a personal trainer, on the days we were doing upper body.  It was not something I looked forward to, in fact I hated it, but I’m glad he made me do it.  It makes you feel totally inadequate, but you are making progress by keeping at working at those areas of weakness.  I remember when I couldn’t do 10 girl push-ups, but I got stronger.  It’s hard to see her struggle, but we will get there in time.  So we are now 8 lessons away from completing this level, but I won’t rush the process.  I’d rather we spend all year on it, but knowing that when we move on, she has mastered it and is feeling super confident.  When we complete Lesson 49, the final lesson I think I’ll throw a party.

One big breakthrough for Kate was in science.  She and her dad finally got a few good lessons and some hands-on-learning.  They created a great video, which hopefully is the first of many fun science videos.  She much prefers speaking about what she is learning as opposed to writing about it.  Thankful, we finally found a way to get science in the mix.

Another area that is going really well is physical education.  She has been enjoying the golf lessons on Saturdays where she is learning a lot about this sport.   I finally had the chance to meet her coaches at SAINTS last week.  She loves this once a week PE program because the staff is out of this world.  We are so blessed to have this program available to us.

Our garden is growing and we’re starting to harvest some kale and lettuce.  But sadly, the  squash and cucumbers did not make it :(.   Hopefully, the tomatoes and carrots may still come through.

Holiday Reading

For the holidays we’re reading Molly’s Surprise from American Girl, it’s the third book in the series and it’s a Christmas story.  We still love Kaya and will continue to revisit this series next year to read the last two books.  Our other holiday book for read aloud is Boxes for Katje, which I had hoped to do a literature unit on, but ran out of time.  No worries. We have a lot of plans for reading next year, including starting a subscription with Learning Ally, which we’re hoping helps her to have more independence with reading.

I can’t believe we’ve been homeschooling for a little over 4 months.   It’s been a learning experience for both of us.  I hope the break gives us both the chance to recharge and start fresh in 2015.

Thank you for taking the time to keep up with us and our adventure of homeschooling.

Lesson Plans and Real Life

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Being this our first year of homeschooling, I read every blog I could find to see how other homeschool moms plan and implement their school year.  I was impressed and overwhelmed, especially when some are doing it for 3,4,5 even 8 kids. What I remembered from teaching high school, which has been useful now is that you plan goals for the year, quarterly or unit goals, and that guides the weeks and the day to day.  When things go crazy you can go back on look at my big goals and ask myself is this activity/curriculum/lesson/etc. going  to help us get to our big goal?

Our big goal is reading proficiency.  I want my student to gain the skills and the confidence that she needs to be a reader and a lifelong learner. So you have a great plan, that’s great.  Now get ready to deal with interruptions, things going unexpectedly and things just not working.  In the process we’re learning to make adjustments and keep our focus on the big goal.

Look  who we found while volunteering at the butterfly garden.

Look who we found while volunteering at the butterfly garden.

I had been feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed when I started to see how many actual days we had left for school with the upcoming holidays and Kate’s medical appointments.  Putting all that stress on myself didn’t help at all and didn’t change what is; we are on our own unique path.

We are making time for the important things, the things that make homeschool special to us both.  We won’t give up our morning walk.  At first I wanted her to keep up the pace with me, exercise, run, get that heart rate going.  Her idea of a walking was communing with the world.  She would look around, pick up sticks, literally smell the flowers.  So I slowed down.

She loves the vegetable garden and has taken the initiative to water the plants as faithfully as she feeds Skippy.  The minutes we spend together in the garden are full of wonder and optimism. Last week we also spent some time at the church’s butterfly garden, which challenges us to bring God’s beauty to others.

Yes, we all have big goals for our struggling learners.  We are so used to going into battle for them.  We are always ready to charge ahead.  I forget that there is strength in being still and knowing the deep connection to this moment and not letting it pass me by in order to check off a must-do list.  I’m glad I have my kids to remind me of these, most important, things.

Below is a picture of Kate at her first golf lesson this past weekend.  Thanks to the children’s hospital in our area, Joe Di Maggio Children’s Hospital, who organized this class for kids on or off cancer treatment,  she is able to take free golf lessons with an amazing group of coaches.  So far she loves it!

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What follows is a review of Time4learning, which was requested by a fellow homeschool mom.  Read on if you’re interested in this curriculum.

Time4learning.com offers a complete online homeschool curriculum for all grades, through high school, and all subjects.  Parents can monitor kids’ progress and schedule learning activities to be completed daily, weekly, etc.  I’m sure most parents would still need to supplement with science experiments, field trips, etc.  Still, for $20/month if this is your main curriculum, it is a good deal.

We used Time4learning in a very specific way; to supplement reading and for science curriculum.  I was also planning to use certain sections of the social studies curriculum for when we covered Florida history.   Most days that we worked together Kate was very happy to work on reading 15-20 minutes.  I chose 1st grade reading level.  That is a nice feature of Time4learning, being able to pick your child’s level in each subject.  This way if they need extra review or need to move ahead you can easily make those adjustments.  I thought the reading program was very interactive and offered her lots of practice with sounds, especially consonant blends, which she is struggling with for a while now.  I liked that it was reinforcing what we were doing together in our reading lessons.  However, after a few weeks it started to move to quickly.  Within a few weeks it was introducing silent “e” or long vowel sounds which is something that our reading program doesn’t introduce until Level II.  Their reading program didn’t provide our struggling reader enough repetition so after a while it got challenging and she lost interest, despite the animations.

For science I chose 3rd grade level since she loves science and has always done well with science since it is so hands-on.  However, because I chose that level because it would hold her attention, it was not animated and was at a very high reading level, which meant she couldn’t do it independently.  It doesn’t have the feature where it could read the text to the student so it required one of us to be there, which made her hate it.  She wanted to get into the fun stuff but instead it was very boring.  We had to do too much work to make it interesting and even then it wasn’t enough.  We all hated it and decided science is too much fun to do it this way.

Bottom line:   I had high expectations of Time4learning.  We stayed with the program for almost six weeks and decided it wasn’t worth the $ for us.  I couldn’t imagine using this as our main curriculum. This being our first year homeschooling we are still working on remediation, building confidence and independence.  Never say never, some day it could be good for her, but there are too many skill that need to be developed before this would be a good fit for us.  I’m glad we checked it out because it really is trial and error figuring out what works for our special needs learner.  So for science we decided to try Magic School Bus Science Kits as our science curriculum.  We got our first kit in the mail yesterday and are very excited to give it a try this month.  I don’t think this curriculum is awful. I think it’s great if your child enjoys and can work independently and if you are not a fan of workbooks and more traditional learning.  I can say it’s not for us right now.