Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Pendulum of Motherhood and Homeschool

There are days when motherhood seems like a conspiracy that I created and is perpetuated by 4 conniving, charming children with an impeccable sense of timing. There has been a torrent of vomit and diarrhea and when the river seems to abate the flood starts up again. So while I was rushing the littlest into the bathtub to contain her river, the little man was downstairs getting himself into our pantry of unopened items.
One disaster at a time, right?

Another was bouncing off the walls from a sugar high and the last was in a puddle of tears from fatigue. Kent was out for the worst of it but somehow I survived that night.

Then there are the picture perfect days where all is right with the world. We work as a team to set up an above ground pool with plenty of wet fun in between. Get our chores done quickly to do our shopping, oldest two bake muffins for lunch and listen to a podcast learning all about yeast, baking soda and powder. The late afternoon finds us with a quick lessons on parts of speech and fun with mad libs. (why must all their verbs be bathroom related?!!?)
Such is the pendulum of motherhood! Thankfully most days fall in the middle with only moments at either end!

I recently spoke to another mother who homeschools and was inspired by her to begin recording what I do in the day rather than look at my list of unchecked items. I realize that we are covering more material than I had thought because I was still needing to 'unschool' my frame of mind. The scripture reading we do as a family (which we could never manage to fit in before) first thing in the morning has Bug-love reading sight words much quicker in addition to learning new words. Bud is learning the nuances of tone, pronunciation and rhythm and we all share in a little spiritual feeding to start our day.

Shopping trips have had my children drooling over toys they see and calculating how much money they have yet to save to be able to buy the coveted item. Incidentally, this has been the drive for Bug to do math. I printed a 1-100 grid, we colored numbers in by five, learned the values to each coin and use that paper to add. First we place the largest coin according to it's worth (example, quarter at 25) then each additional coin to count up to it's worth and place it in it's next spot. She's notices that all the 'silver' coins land on the areas colored by 5s (so long as she starts with anything other than a penny) and has begun easily recognizing the higher numbers. This has lead to a game of 'store' where she labels random items that I purchase and give her money for. She then adds up the items to either give me change or ask for more. It's a bit laborious with the paper, but she's conquering math without even knowing it and seeing the value of it.
Even on our worst sick days there is always reading or listening to our books on tape. They've since learned all sorts of vocabulary that they find amusing to use. We've continued with Anne of Avonllea and they have looked up words like 'bane' and 'agony'. It wasn't all too surprising to hear Bu-love tell me that Leora was crying and in the depths of agony. Out of date phrases have also cropped up, such as,"Mark my word ...."

We've had some relaxation ;time daily which was lisening to some imagery scripts but Isaac was dying with having to stay still so we made a switch to yoga. We found a fun channel called Cosmic Yoga where the hostess tells stories and you mimic her movements. She's a great story teller and Isaac loves it. He is learning something new while hearing some favorite stories.
Some backyard fun.

Recording what we did really did give me better perspective on what I was accomplishing here at home and perhaps I don't give my children or myself enough credit. I'm so glad we're on this journey together!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mother's Day 2016

In the weeks leading up to Mother's Day my two oldest were on the verge of exploding with excitement for me. They had been secretly helping Kent with a gift for me. Along the way they learned how to sand, stain, nail and weave to creat this beauty:
I love how they had a hand in creating it and learned so many skills and promise to find a place to hang it in our home.

Chocolate covered strawberries and a tres leches cake completed the day.

I'm so grateful to be a mother to these munchkins! It is nothing like I had ever thought it would be, I've done things that I never thought I could and learned things about myself that have made me a better person. I'm so grateful for the blessing of being a mother to my little loves!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rides, Horses, Lizards and Fun!

I'm Chinese. I grew up in a very Chinese household. Education was everything as evidenced by the universal jokes that all Asians Americans can relate to; a letter grade of 'A' is adequate, 'B'stands for bad, C is catastrophic and D is disowned and finally F; forgotten forever. Heck, even nonasian knew this which is why I was once asked the reason for me being in the regular math class rather than the AP class. My reply, "I'm the dumb Asian in the school". (in reality my parents weren't as academically hard on me due to my 'yellow brain damage' But that's another story for another day)

Grades meant a great deal, they reflected your intellect, your hardworking and projected your future and what parent didn't want the best future for their child. Once I became a teacher I realized how illogical this really was. Grades today reflect how adequately suited you are to a system that values certain traits - traits like neatness, following directions, orderly and outgoing. Those who learned differently or who had traits less valued struggled within this system because their intellect and skills were not measurable or considered valuable. As a result you were labeled as difficult, slow learner, poor listener, shy or withdrawn

A trip to the fair! Thank heavens for Ms Marni who made this possible. We got to test out Eli's responses to the rides and stimulus and Isaac had a lesson on physics that he didn't entirely enjoy but won't be forgetting soon. On the other hand, Keila couldn't get enough!
The ironic thing is that as future teachers we were learned in college that there are other types of intelligences (emotional, kinesthetic, etc) and taught to look for these to engage the children. In the meantime class loads grew bigger, standardized test became more important and as a teacher I was just staying afloat with the kids that fit well into the system. So much of literature even in recent years reflects this, such as Quiet by Susan Cain which talks about the strengths of introverts rather than the more egregious extroverts. Books such as these remind us that all personality types have gifts to offer especially when it is not so obvious and we as a society miss out when we select for certain traits.

It took Eli a bit to relax but once the spinning rides started, he was having fun, even if he only gave reluctant smiles and giggles to Ms. Marni.
Just before his first rollercoaster!

After I quit teaching I began to look at things a little more objectively. Did I just want to know that my kid had master certain skills and could regurgitate it back in paper? Did these grades honestly reflect his/her intellect or rather how well they fit the system? What attitudes were taught with regards to learning, failure and success? Did I truly want them to be a product of that system?

Now in all fairness the same education system can work for some - just not for my two oldest. They have grown to believe that failure was shameful rather than a learning opportunity or a step moving toward success, that being smart meant you had to be better and quicker than others and that knowledge had no real application. Kent and I wanted their confidence or success not to be found in letter grades but rather in discipline, good teamwork, constant learning and applying and then never giving up.
Sorting, cleaning shells and looking through a classification book.

These are some of the reasons we've made this change. I honestly don't know if I can teach my children these things, but I do know that in the years we've been in the system, despite high grades, praises from teachers and fellow students- my children haven't learned it and when things don't work, you fix it. Only time will tell and with each child it will be their own story.

In the meantime I've begun experimenting with different things. We recently made a field trip to a lady in Black Canyon City who owns 3 horses she uses for equine assisted therapy. I had actually looked into this when we started working through Bug-loves anxiety but most places charged so much for the program it just wasn't something we could justify in our budget. This lady was different, no matter the number in the group she charged for the cost of a bale of hay ($18.50) for two hours where you could do ground work (no riding) with the horses and in the process learn a great deal about yourself and how you work with others.
Prior to going we watched a video or two on YouTube (love the Internet!) about others who had experienced equine assisted therapy. I had little notebooks for the two to journal and draw what they think the experience would be like. Kent took the morning off and I had respite watching the younger two and we drove out for a two hour experience.

Catherine was wonderful and so accommodating. We had some quick introductions and filled out a paper to help her understand our personalities so she could find a horse that fit us. Biscuit was just like Isaac, energetic, friendly and playful. We tried to get Biscuit to stand still or to weave through barrels but found that incentive was what drove him. He had to know what was in it for him and as soon as he heard the horse cookies fall, he was easy and quick to get to task. Lady Bellam was different altogether. Cookies would not tempt her, but security, affection and a sure sense of direction did. She was much more like Keila.
Isaac has a fear of animals, especially large ones and it took quite a bit of convincing to even get him in the corral with the horses (Rita's ice was promised - the power of incentive!) He learned how to communicate with the horses decisively and clearly once he could set aside his fear. That empowered him in some ways so that he began to relax a little more and watch us work with the horses.
As long as I stayed by Keila's side she was an eager learner. Both she and Lady would try and anticipate what I wanted and if I should hesitate or communicate badly things went awry. On the other hand, when I did well, they both followed beautifully. By the end Lady would keep pace with me no matter how I changed things up and stop the moment I stopped.

Biscuit took me by surprise and began to tickle my neck. Such a playful fellow!

After the two hours I came away with a few thoughts. First off, I'm not always good at communicating what needs to be done. Giving that direction gently first, then a little more persistently and finally firm but calmly does a great deal. For my oldest I need to help him see the benefits behind the task and empower him with a level of control. With my daughter I began to see that her anxiety stemmed from anticipating what everyone else sought of her. I needed greater patience when a task was not completed correctly and make sure my instructions are clear and my mood calm because she could read those emotions like a book.
We got to hear about the horses and their stories which helped us to understand their particular responses to the environment. King George had a particularly sad story and Kent took to that horse a great deal. Really the lines between animals and humans is a fine one and you couldn't help but come away feeling more sympathy for all of God's creations.

Keila really enjoyed the experience and was highly motivated to write it in the journal I provided. We even read Black Beauty by Anne Sewell in the days that follow. Isaac hates writing but he sure loved to hear me read to him.

Teacher appreciation posters that the kids helped me put together.

This little fellow got stuck so we took a closer look and helped him out of his little predicament.

Backyard fun. The little pumpkin wants to be just like big sister, even if her feet can't reach the pedals.
Soccer drills with Baba.

So it's quite an adventure of sorts. At the very least we are making memories and having fun together and hopefully along the way they are being taught, especially in the things that matter most.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Speech, Speech, Speech!!!

Nearly a year ago we put in an application for a speech assisted device from Arizona Long Term Care. Between the application processing, the assessment, more paperwork and delivery we finally received it almost 3 months ago. We were given a Ipad air 2 (Yes, my youngest son is the techiest of us all!) with two really helpful programs. One is called Pictello and essentially we can create our own picture stories with our voice recorded or the computer voice reading. The first thing I created was a picture story of his typical day at school so that perhaps he wouldn't need to be herded so much and would automatically proceed to the next activity. It was really nice since I could take pictures at the school with the actual items he uses.

The second program was Touchchat. Initially I was extremely frustrated about it. We had just written up Eli's IEP where I asked that all his teachers would use and learn to set up the program for themselves. I had hoped to get training done at the school but apparently that isn't an option. In addition the at home training was so backed up I would be looking at 3 months before that could occur. There were free training sessions available but they filled very quickly and with our large family it was hard to find a time slot that would work. Needless to say I was really irritated.
Thank heavens for the internet. Honestly just about everything can be found online so one evening I popped onto YouTube and searched for Touchchat Tutorial. Sure enough they had several consecutive videos with great detail on how to set it all up. Once I had the basics and practiced a great deal I had it down enough to train Eli's teachers at school. It's been great to see them using it and gives me a better idea of what is worked on and what he has interest in.

Initially he was very resistant to using it but once he understood the power of it he was much more willing. The first day his preschool teacher asked what he wanted to do, he touched the 'I want' button that gave him other options. Next he touched 'books' and he ran off to the reading corner. She was pretty surprised by it but it helps others to see that he comprehends so much more than he can communicate. He still hates using it with our family, I suppose it's that we can understand him without it and he knows it. It hasn't replaced his language, according to his therapists he is more vocal. There are less tantrums and throwing when he is finished with tasks. Combined with his vocalization attempts he seems to be coming out of his shell a little more which makes me so happy.
He struggled so hard to cut with his loop scissors and work on it for over 20 mins. I admire his determination!
We've also begun paying for a speech program called Gemiini. The videos are anything but entertaining, but he is really attentive and I can see him try to shape his lips as he watches. It was also added into his IEP and one of the team members was extremely excited to hear that we were using it. In addition to speech there are reading programs. Some studies show that DS children will 'read' long before speaking. It's not so much that they sound out words but that they recognize that C-A-T means cat. Their visual memory is extremely strong. He watches it at school and his teacher has said she wants to use some of the reading ones for all her students. In fact she just purchased the cords needed to play it on her smartboard. Perhaps in that way when others are viewing it with he, he will not feel so isolated from his peers.

Maybe in the future it will help us avoid the following pictures:
This is what happens when I take a 20 min nap and I thought he was occupied by his favorite show. Apparently he was hungry, but the croutons weren't to his liking but a whole sleeve of graham crackers was!

He works so hard to do the things he does. We see it but I don't think we will ever know his level of frustration and also triumph. He's my little hero!