19
Sep

Something left to give

 

I stayed away for oh so long from my blog.  Recharging?  Regrouping?  Hiding?  Not sure exactly.

There was a time after we adopted Grace that we were online A LOT.  Keeping connections alive.  Those invisible life lines were so necessary.  And it was draining on me.

Those days were followed by the whirlwind adoption of Samuel.  More online obsessing.

And suddenly my life felt dry and tired.  So much of the joy of interacting with friends online, jotting down family anecdotes and my heart that desired so much to do more for the orphan and widow, was just sucked dry.

I was dry.

I needed a fresh new start.  And so did the blog.

As for me, I bought myself a new Bible.  Rejigged our whole homeschool.  Dejunked my home base. And decided to freshen up the blog.  Make it more functional.

It’s not all there yet.  The Bible, the homeschool, the minimizing of the house – they each deserve their own post.  The blog is still under construction (my fault not my wonderful designer’s, who I’ll introduce very soon), but I felt the need to get on here tonight and get the ball rolling.  I’ve got something left to give.  And here I go!

21
Sep

Back to Homeschool

With the numerous interuptions and false starts we’ve had this Fall, today was finally the day I declared the official “Back to Homeschool” day.  Somehow with all the physio appointments, homestudy visits, clean up after our various home projects, our first day kept getting pushed back. Our kids always start back a week after the rest of the local school kids return to class.   Usually this is our “Not Back to School” celebration involving a trip to a very quiet mall in which to shop for fall clothes, one last trip to the beach or to Grandma’s pool in the middle of the week, and it usually gives me some extra time to get the rest of my straggling to do list all caught up. 

Without further ado, here are the somewhat smiling faces of this year’s class of students to Beacon Rock Homeschool.

First, we have James.  Entering Grade 10, at least a foot taller than last years photo and sporting a lot less hair, he has chosen his Star Wars Role Playing Guidebook as his favourite memorabilia item for this season.

 

Next up, we have Faith.  Also showing that summer growth spurt, she has chosen her favourite pet, Sparkle, and the latest script that she has authored, a sequel to her first show, Hannah’s Doom. 

 

Now we have our newcomer to the world of first day of  “Back to Homeschool”, Miss Grace.  Grace has been excitedly asking for us to begin for some weeks now, and she chose as her favourite item, not only her Princess dress, but also her fairy wings (courtesy of cousin E.).  An elegant choice, don’t you think?

 

Last but not least, we have Garnet.  This will be Garnet’s first year of full day homeschool with us.  He is unsure if that is a good thing at this point in his career, but he is unwilling to let it get him down.  He eagerly chose his Indiana Jones sword and his “frog gun” (it apparently turns all items in its path into… you guessed it, frogs.  100% for spirit and imagination, my delightful First Grader!

Won’t you join me in congratulating them? 

It looks like a great year ahead!

18
Sep

And life moves on…

Well, after feeling like the wind got knocked out of us on Thursday, we carried on.

We continued on with our home improvements, carried on with business and connected with friends.

I also got back to settling into my school brain

It’s a seldom talked about fact that it takes the homeschool parent just as long to get back into the swing of things as the students.  I’m sure its across the board with all parents though. 

Anyway, here’s my new favourite homeschool-help-type link:

Ministry to Children

Ministry to Children is an exciting new resource that I came across while looking for Bible story colouring pages awhile back.  They have a whole variety of things there, my favourite being the list of easy to learn memory verses.  We’ll be beginning our next week with Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true.”   Nice and simple for Grace to get her early English around and also simple enough for Garnet to say without stumbling over a tonne of syllables.  Easy and simple.  Works for me (and its not even Wednesday- ha)!

26
Aug

James (Homeschooling: How we do it – part 2)

(Scroll down if you are wanting to see what James will be using for curriculum this year.)

May I begin by saying that, yes, James is aware of what I am about to write about.  :)

When James was born he became, as all eldest children do, our parenting guinea pig. 

When we began our homeschooling journey, he again filled that role too.

Whether he liked it or not.

He was a pretty inquisitve kid and had interests that ran deep.  

He also struggled in the beginning and we had to work hard to find out what would not only help him reach his potential, but we had to work to keep that inquisitive nature alive in spite of his struggles.

Around the age of 8, James, who had been fighting to learn to read, all of a sudden came up to me with a Tin Tin comic and began to read the captions to me.

 

I knew that there was pretty much nothing that I had done to help him get to that point!

We had burned through phonics programs like they were newspaper in a campfire and nothing had seemed to spark the understanding that would lead him to find meaning in the letters and ,words.  And now suddenly, there he was reading as though it was no big deal.

I was stunned to say the least.

But reading or no, he still struggled to then produce his own written language and I began to notice that while he was able to pick up on political humour and sarcastic wit in the storyline of those Tin Tin comics (if you aren’t familiar with them, here is an overview thanks to W*kipedia ), he would skip words, translate words into some synonym of what was actually written on the page, and sometimes, he would pronounce words as though the letters were rearranged. 

And that was just his reading.

His writing was also very scattered.  This was across the board in both his handwriting and in his meaning.

At this point I knew we needed help, but I just wasn’t sure who to turn to.  I had a bright boy that had already been to see our family doctor about with concerns that he was struggling with an attention disorder.  He would hyper focus on things one minute and the next minute he would be unable to concentrate at all.

Not long afterwards 2 things happened.  We attended our homeschool convention and I found a fellow who was able to evaluate James’ abilities and also his potential diabilities and see how they merged together.  I am so thankful to have found him!  

For one, as we found out more about why James was having a tough time in some areas, we could balance it out by affirming him in areas that he was gifted in.  And gifted he was.  Suddenly we saw that our son who was unable to read well at age 8 was also functioning in many areas at a much higher level. 

They call this being “2e” or twice exceptional.  A perfect melding of giftedness and learning challenges. 

This opened up a whole world for him.

He was given the label dyslexic (involving his reading), along with dysgraphic (involving his writing) and as having dyscalcula (involving his ability with numbers and math). 

But on the flip side…

He was also shown that he has an incredible photographic memory, is deeply strategic, but he is also extremely visual spatial.  It was these abilities that enabled him to stockpile an enormous vocabulary throughout all those months and years that we struggled with phonics and yet consistently read to him from novels, picture books, instruction manuals, magazines, his Dad’s textbooks and yes, even comics (although not Tin Tin.  Those he had borrowed from the library and had pored over on his own, funnily enough!). 

Let me swipe a couple of comics from some of my favourite books in order to show you how his mind works.

 

James pictures the end result and is able to find his way to the end within himself.  Most of us are more sequential in nature and tend to go through a step by step process.

The way James learned to read is much more like the girl pictured above.  He has a strong visual memory and he can access it at a terrific speed.  He does not have the need to process words in pieces (decoding as reading instructors would call it). 

He has an inate ability to think outside of the proverbial box too, which gives him an edge in strategic thought, but also in creative thinking and seeing patterns in the world that most folks aren’t able to see without prompting.

Oh, and that concern over his attention?  While we do have a genetic link to ADD in our family, so much of his hyperfocus can be attributed to what is often called “flow” – actually a very good thing in a gifted person! 

(More about flow can be found in the book, The Mislabeled Child.)

The tough part with being able to both process words extremely quickly, memorize large amounts of vocabulary based on context and as well as be able to comprehend material much beyond his age, is that sometimes his brain works too fast.  He misses things, infers things that aren’t there or reads more into things than what is presented in the material.  He finds it very challenging to read through and understand directions or instructions that tend to be very short, without a lot of repetition or without a lot of contextual information.  Tests are excrutiatingly painful.  Workbooks aer often done incorrectly.  And then there is the physical act of writing.  He has long ago switched to completing most assignments either orally or on a word processing program on a laptop. 

But, we figured out what made him tick, what he needed to succeed and what his strengths are.   

And the best part is that he hasn’t become discouraged through it all.  He views his “labels” as tools and as a piece of himself.  He knows that the visual spatial part of him is some of what makes him special and along with it comes an ability to feel empathy, see strategically, think outside the box, be project oriented.  Yes, the dyslexia comes with it, but he is the first to admit that although he has had to fight hard to learn the same things as his peers, he is really proud of himself and thankful that God has shown him these things at a young age.

We’re just plain proud of him too.     

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Sooooooo, for how we homeschool him…

James is definitely an independent learner. 

He loves to read and process large amounts of information that way. 

 He finds it tedious to rehash things in the form of comprehension activities or questions, but he will gladly debate or dialogue over things he has read. 

I find it difficult to engage him on that level when he is in the midst of his school day (limited time, other distractions), but, oftentimes in the evenings he and I will play a game or spend time together when the other kids are in bed and Stephen is travelling.  It’s during those times that we can really get into some of what he is learning and break it apart and get to the crux of it.  I have had to bend my expectations of when school is and when it isn’t. 

Also, for his writing, he types.  A lot.  He can write a lot more efficiently when he types as his working memory does not have to be used up with the mechanics of putting pen to paper.  He is capable now, at this older age, to use a paper and pen to get things down on paper, but the end result is much more tiring for him and as a result there is less “meat” to his finished product.  Even without using a spell checker on his computer, his spelling tends to be a lot better when he doesn’t have to involve handwriting. 

One other thing I want to mention is that James needs a bit of background noise to work and get into his “flow” or hyperfocused state.  His grandparents bought him an iT*uch this past year and it has been invaluable!  It is portable and he can get right into his work no matter where he is or what else is going on in the house.  As his school day is longer and more intense than that of his siblings, it helps him tremendously to stay in the groove and get things done.

James has high hopes for his future.  He aspires to work with young children and has determined that one day he wold like to be self-employed.  Aside from the regular school work that he does, we try and accomodate ways that give him experiences towards those future goals.  Again, that means that we bend our own expectations around when, how, or what schooling is throughout our week. 

James has been a great first student and did I mention, we are so proud of him?  :)  

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If you are interested in some of the methods we have used to help James to strengthen his reading fluidity, feel free to e-mail me:

[email protected]

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2010-2011 School Year (Curriculum Overview)

  1. Old Testament Reading Guide, The Bible Jesus Read, by Phillip Yancey & Sonlight Core 100 Bible
  2. One Year Adventure Novel writing project
  3. Life of Fred Algebra 2 & Geometry
  4. Literature reading & discssion lists (history related)
  5. Apologia Biology with labs
  6. Canadian & US History (using Modern History Through Canadian Eyes as our guide & Sonlight Core 100 to complement it for the US portion)
  7. Mandarin at our local college
  8. Foods & Nutrition (online via our school of registration)
  9. Poetry, Art Appreciation & Shakespeare (we work on these as a family during our Tuesday Tea Times)
  10. Physical Education (hours log)
  11. SAT prep
(I reserve the right to change this, add to this, throw this completely out the window and start fresh at any time.)  😉

 

25
Aug

From Teacher to Tutor to Mentor (Homeschooling: How we do it – Part 1)

From the title of this post I am sure most of you can gather much of what I am about to share. It seems so simple now, but it sure wasn’t very obvious at the time!

I started out homeschooling our eldest at age 4 (that’s James at the top of this post).  You can read more about our decision to begin homeschooling and why we have continued on, by clicking on the “Home Education” tab at the top of the page.  At that time I was a bit nervous, but mostly excited and full of determination that this was the path that we were meant to follow.  Of course, my view on what I would be doing during our homeschooling day was pretty clear in my mind too.

I envisioned sitting at the kitchen table, the happy, fresh scrubbed face of my son shining up at me, ready to take in all I would teach him.

I was his teacher.

Yeah.  You know where this is going!

Instead I had a busy 4 year old who wondered why his Mom was suddenly set on pinning him to his kitchen chair and pushing workbook after workbook under his nose.  Oh sure I tried this project and that curriculum, but really all that boy wanted was to be allowed to get back to the business of being a boy!

Not only that, but as the months and years wore on, although I had long given up on both the kitchen table and most of the workbooks, suddenly I realized that my bright little boy just wasn’t learning.  And worse yet, that very bright, inquisitive spirit that we had so badly wanted to hang onto with keeping him at home, was quickly disappearing too.

I knew that something had to change.

I began researching ways to help my son with his unique learning challenges and began finding therapies and training that would help him.  As new methods and materials were being gathered to teach him, I suddenly realized something.  Much of what I was doing in our learning time was less and less about teaching him from my list of educational goals and learning outcomes by using many helpful tools such as this Chegg answers free website.  Instead, it had become much more of a one on one learning time that was tailored totally around what he needed.

I was his tutor.

Along came more children and subsequently more labels.  And with those labels, came more therapies.  More individualized lists of therapies and treatments.  Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the individual needs of my students.  It was a simply math equation.  A certain number of hours was needed to complete all their therapies and regular mainstream school work, and I only had, well, a much lesser amount of  actual daylight hours to accomplish it all!

What on earth was I going to do?

About the time I was ready to throw in the towel I read something online that piqued my interest.  It was all about apprenticeships and mentorships for young adults exploring their career goals.  Something clicked!   Now here was something I could wrap my head around.  I could teach my kids their lessons and train them individually in their therapies and then after a time of boundary setting and laying the groundwork, I could release them to carry out their tasks and therapies while coaching them.

I was their mentor.

So, what does this look like for us?

In the beginning of any new therapy or material we are working with, I spend, for example, an hour teaching about it, going through it step by step, making notes (in pictures or words) on the process that will be needed to do it.  That day may require that other schoolwork is lessened for that child.  Over the next 3 or 4 days (depending on what we are training them in), we practice carrying this out.  Each time I lessen the amount I do and increase the amount they do. Finally we come to a point where they are doing 80% and I do 20%.  The time that they are spending carrying out the task, I am available for questions, but they are expected to try and carry things out as best as they can on their own.  Sometimes I will select one of the other kids to be a buddy or helper in case they need it.   That way there is one more person that they can come to with a question or for an extra pair of hands.

I am amazed at how the kids respond to this.  There is something really empowering for them to be able to complete their work on their own.  And it gives me the freedom to move on and work with one of the other kids at the same time.

Does this cover all areas of our schoolwork?  No.

Does it all happen seamlessly?  Ha!  With 4 kids?  I’m not superhuman!

But, I am much more able to handle the tasks we have and much more able to also have time to focus on each of the kids’ characters, interests and giftings.

We even get to have fun once in a while. 😉

And it makes the decision of curriculum choosing much simpler.  Now curriculum must fit us, rather than us fitting the curriculum.  I look for resources that really compliment the mentoring ideal and as a secondary focus  the tutoring way.  It has to be a special pet interest of one of the kids for it to involve a lot of teaching from me, and then, I look for ways for it to be used for at least a couple of the kids at the same time (yes, you can use the same resource for a highschooler and a preschooler).

It’s all about the mindset.

And when my head is where my heart is,  my mindset is that of a mentor.

Questions?  Comments?  What journey have you undergone in your teaching?  I am always open to tips and new ideas and I’d love to hear yours!

24
Aug

Homeschooling: How it looks in our family (Introduction)

I have gotten lots of questions about home schooling since beginning this blog (Do you think it has anything to do with the title?  lol).  With that in mind, I have been wanting to do a series on how homeschooling looks in our family.  I just wasn’t sure how best to present it.  With school beginning just around the corner, I have decided to just dive in and take it one child at a time.  Starting with how I’ve changed as their teacher, I’ll then be following “age order” from oldest to youngest in each post, giving an overview of each of the kids’ unique needs & the materials we use. 

Keep in mind that for us, this will be our 10th year as homeschoolers.  We’ve weathered lots of ups and downs.  I think the best thing I am able to share is that each family has its own unique make-up and what works for us may not be the best thing for any other family. 

As always, feel free to e-mail or comment with questions, or better yet tips if you’ve got ’em!

  

28
May

Everyday Randomness

I know random is the tween catch all descriptive, but these days it just fits our lives.  So, in an effort to catch up on my blogging before our big adventure begins, here goes…

“I guess we’re all done training wheels in this house…” Said by Steve.  Reason enough for both of us to pause momentarily and feel a little nostalgic.  Grace and Garnet have officially figured out how to ride their two-wheelers.  We tried and tried to help them (including several on and off manoeuvres with the training wheels) and then one day they both took it upon themselves to figure out how to balance and pedal fast.  Braking came next.  Only a few band aids later and there has been no turning back.  The two of them are a force to be reckoned with when they work together! 

Happy Birthday Grandma!  The family put on a fun weekend for my Mom’s big birthday a couple of weekends ago.  The weather was beautiful.  The cousins were happy and had a tremendous time playing and dousing Grandma with water balloons.  Other than a smoky restaurant and a few shrill chirps from a smoke alarm, the whole weekend was beautiful.  A great family time for us to come together and celebrate with our much loved Mom / Grandma.

6 months with our Grace  Yes, this should warrant its own post.  And yet, when the day passed we were together celebrating Grandma’s birthday weekend.   She was just one of the grandkids.  Her English is blossoming.  Her accent and slightly husky voice is charming.  She had the chance to sit on her Grandma’s lap a whole lot and play with the amazing contents of Grandma’s purse on more than one occasion.  She ate ice cream twice in two days (something she tells me,“I no have this in Chwina.  Never, never in Chwina.”).     And I think that sums up how she is doing quite nicely don’t you think?

School’s Out  Yes folks, we made it.  Our first school year with four at home.  It has been a defining year for each of our kids in one way or another and I am so incredibly proud of my kids.  Really.  They all outdid themselves.

Our patio.  This was our first experience hiring a contractor to do work.  It’s been educational and overall I think the patio itself is a vast improvement over our ill placed, overgrown trees and dead, patchy grass.  It was just poured today, so we’ll get to enjoy it more fully when we return from our big adventure.

End of an Era – Goodbye Ayi Sherri  Garnet has been attending Sherri’s preschool for two afternoons a week since shortly after coming home.  This was a huge deal for us.  We had committed wholeheartedly to homeschooling our older two kids.  We had absorbed much material on building healthy attachments.  So when our little man came home from from China, we were all set to carry on as planned.  God used a few well placed observations by some foks who didn’t even know Garnet to soften my spirit.  Sherri was referred to us by a friend of my sister-in-law and after speaking with her on the phone I was amazed at the peace I sensed.  God used Sherri in so many ways to not only help Garnet learn, but also to develop trust and relationships in a safe testing ground.  As I wrote in the front of the Curious George book we gave her, “Sherri, you have been such an encouragement to our entire family…”  We’ll miss her very much!

Faith’s Year End Dance Production  Months and months of tapping around our house are about to be displayed for all her adoring fans grandparents to see.  Yes, the year end production is set to begin tomorrow.  She’s braved blocking and dress rehearsal and is now catching some beauty rest before the big day.  We can’t wait to applaud our girl.  Way to go Faith! 

Our Big Family Adventure (And yes we have housesitters – just in case anyone out there is getting any funny ideas about an empty house! lol)  We are heading out in a few days and taking a long road trip.  We’ll be camping some.  Doing some touristy things.  Spending lots and lots of time squished together in small confined spaces.  And you know what?  I can’t wait!  There will definitely be those tense moments that always happen on a trip like this, but we sort of planned it that way.  Life since returning home with Grace has been its normal full, busy, packed, crazy self.  Lessons and activities and work and friends and church and therapy and medical appointments and volunteering are all great things, but they leave little wiggle room for working out some of the issues that crop up more readily under the pressure cooker of 3 weeks together on our own without distractions.  So, I’m excited!  I know God has some big growth planned for all of us and I’m ready for a fresh breeze straight from Heaven.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9  This is the verse that God has really been speaking to my heart about the last couple of weeks.  I won’t kid you that I have been quite exhausted for some time.  Health issues and life, not to mention adding a spunky new seven year old to the mix can be physically and emotionally wearing.  When I think to myself that I simply can not step up and be consistent, be a translator, be a mediator, be an instructor, be a mentor, be an advocate one more time, He reminds me of this verse and speaks it to my deepest soul.  May I offer His encouragement to you as well?

I’ll update if I get the chance.  We’ll have a laptop along, but Steve’ll be keeping up with the goings on at work, so my computer quota may be limited.  Take care everyone!

30
Apr

Decisions, decisions

We are in the midst of our annual two day homeschool convention. 

I so look forward to going every year.  It’s so affirming to literally walk amongst a large group of like minded families.  The kids have their own mini, Christ centered educational camp.  The youth have workshops and receive hands on teaching from a number of the keynote speakers from the adult conference.  And Stephen and I have a chance to share a tea and puruse great books, seek out direction for our  next year and take stock of how the past year has gone. 

This year has been challenging in a new way though.  Last year I remember being curious as to where the kids would be at, particularly our newest addition.  What would she know already?  What would her interest bent be?  What is her learning style?  How quickly would her language be at a level that we could move beyond the basics to all the fun projects, etc. 

And here we are.  One year later and still many questions. 

I shouldn’t be surprised about this.  Each year brings new questions regarding the next year’s direction.  In many ways I enjoy the discoveries we make and the ways that we tweak their learning paths.  But, yet again, I am reminded that my family is not the “norm”.  Is there a norm?  You know, I never thought so, but somehow the reactions from others suggests to me that there must be.

Each vendor booth at the curriculum market makes me think this when they begin searching for details about our kids in order to begin to narrow down what they might be able to sell us offer us for the benefit of all of our children’s educational goals. 

They begin by asking our children’s ages and genders.  This is followed by questions to gain an understanding of what they have studied prior to this.  Sometime soon after this we find it necessary to divulge just enough about our kids that they begin to visualize the specific needs of each of our four and then they begin to either:

a. Scratch their heads.

b. Look at us in disbelief.

OR

c. Begin to convince us that no matter the wide variations in our children’s learning needs and backgrounds, theirs is the o.n.l.y. curriculum that will not only gain our children entrance into an elite university of their choice, but do it while allowing me to have time to catch up on my housekeeping, pursue a degree of my own and gain back all the blonde hairs I’ve been trading for grey as of late. 

Anyway, we seem to pose a bit of a problem to others.  We don’t fit into a neat and tidy little curricula box. 

And I like that about us.

I think it is what makes our family just that – our family. 

Over the years it used to stress me out a lot more than it has today and I am really thankful that He’s brought me out of that dark and weary land of curricula chasing and into a new era of realizing that He knows what my kids need and box or no box, I’m the woman He’s chosen to use in their lives to bring them into closer awareness of their part in His – story. 

Did I mention that I think I have the best job I could ever imagine myself doing?

(This is not the job I dreamed of, but He knew better.  Anyway, that’s a post for another day.)

So, tonight I pore over catalogues, click through the review sites, fill in my spreadsheets and pray and ask for wisdom.  He knows my kids intimately.   After all, I am only a tool in my Potter’s hands.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

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In another answer to a prayer I prayed many years ago, we were able to meet with the Independent Graduation Counselor from our school of registration.  In our province it is widely expected that students will enroll in the publically funded distance learning programs, as a home edcuated, Ministry of Education supervised student.  The family will receive a portion of the funds allotted to that student and by completing the required provincial outcomes, that student will receive a highschool diploma.  It is assumed that a teen will need the diploma to enter a program of further study at a college or university. 

However…

After meeting with the Grad Counselor, we have been told that by collecting samples of the work that our kids complete along the way, the school will approve that an appropriate level of work has been maintained (an informal rather than formal evaluation).  The school in turn will create a completion transcript for the student and recommend to the admissions counselor that the student be given entrance into the college or university.  The only requirement for entrance beyond the transcript?  An English placement exam that is designed for English Language Learners and for which there are numerous online samples and ministry supplied preparation materials.

He directed our steps in this when so many of our peers have gone the mainstream route.  We have been going on faith that God would be faithful as we headed down the unknown path.  And today He showed us His faithfulness in the flesh. 

I’m so thankful.