Thursday, February 24

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Ending Quietly

We've had a busy month:

  • Two snow days
  • One son's physical
  • Swim lessons for two boys
  • Taekwon Do for one
  • A movie making co-op
  • Bible study every other Friday
  • Retreat planning
  • Retreat cancelling
  • Going to visit a friend
  • Having a cousin come visit here
  • Tae bo workouts
  • Tebow's autograph
  • Volunteering for picture day
  • Babysitting for a single mom
  • TNL each Tuesday
  • Free the Girls event
  • Meeting with a right-brain tutor
  • Doing the left-brained taxes
  • A co-op Valentine's party
  • Our homegroup on Sunday
  • Two parent/teacher conferences
  • Coffee with two friends
  • Classes for B on Fridays
  • A tour of Celestial Seasonings
  • Two boys to the dentist
  • One unit on water
  • And now... sickness.  Which means we missed out on the aquarium and a play.
February didn't get to me this year.  Our regular schedule was interrupted, we found new inspiration, we accomplished a unit of study, I focused on being intentional, we played and I'm not frazzled, worn, discouraged or derailed.

We've been purposefully busy.  So now, it's okay for my two littlest to chill on the couch -- albiet coughing and moaning -- and let February slide on out.  We will greet March with healthy new bodies, a new unit of study, longer hours of daylight and the beginning of Lent.  

We made it.


Wednesday, February 16

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Finding Affirmation

I've mentioned before that B is dyslexic.  I've also vowed to get him some help and this Saturday I did.  

I contacted a local educational consultant - slash author - slash "Outlier" (he's completed his 10,000 hours in the field for any of you who've read Gladwell's book), Jeffrey Freed.   He's worked with a couple of my friends' kids and I knew he'd be just the man to help B out and give me a feel for where we're really at with this.

I can tell you, I've never had an experience where I felt more affirmed. I think I was beaming as B completed every little activity Jeff asked him to do, even when it became more and more difficult.  Jeff assessed him in reading, spelling and math skills and when he was done he touted B's brilliance and giftedness and definite "right-brained" slant.  He even said, "I don't even think he's truly dyslexic, he's just that right-brained."   It's so good to see your child attempt something that you know is hard work and succeed (can you spell perpendicular backwards without a pause?  Now do it if you're dyslexic).

It's also good to be affirmed for making all the right choices for B in his life so far such as keeping him out of a cookie-cutter school experience, avoiding situations where he could be labeled or emotionally abused, giving him a non-pressured learning environment and encouraging him to continually push his feelings outward.

All these years, I've truthfully homeschooled for my oldest son.  He was the one that would have wilted in a classroom (or killed it, take your pick).  And in the past couple years as I've clued in to B's exceptional needs it turns out that homeschooling was the exact thing he needed too.  He wasn't just a tag-a-long in my endeavor to help my oldest, he was getting his needs met as well.  That's amazing because at one point I was almost convinced that he'd be a great public school kid...

God is good to us.

This week, we are customizing B's curriculum.  Since I'm already a unit study practitioner, it's already fairly customized.  But I'm trying out some of the things that Jeff suggested.  B is happier, I feel less pressured to add in more and more (Jeff said take stuff out!), and I'm praising him for asking questions.  Here are three things I'm focusing on right now:

1.  If B can't visualize it, he can't learn it. This means, write words in colors, even changing it at each syllable.  It means as he's reading silently to remind him to get a movie going in his head of what he's reading.  It means have him close his eyes as I take him through an auditory sequencing scene.

2.  Work his left hemisphere.  Because he sits so strongly on the right, his left is obviously weak.  So we're creating crossword puzzles, working through some sequencing exercising, and determining how similar things are different.  As I find more ideas I'll incorporate them.

3.  Use intensity in short periods.  The photo above is how we took a break yesterday.  Rather than plowing through our work before lunch, the boys went outside (yay!) and played in the biggest pile of snow we have left. After about an hour of play we finished our reading exercises and called it a day.  It'll take some getting used to for me to have a break in the middle but I think it's good.

Tuesday, February 15

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Remember to Celebrate

Midway through February comes a little day of love, like a built-in day to take a breath and remember why we do this: love, intense and never-ending for these little people learning to become big people.  

I spent most of Sunday working on our taxes and when that was finished I decided, spur of the moment, to have a little family celebration.  It is our tradition to have two desserts on Valentine's Day.  So, I made a chocolate souffle to go with strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream.  B & S decorated the table while I made quick, simple valentines with chocolate candies on top for the boys.  Then I went and picked up heart-shaped pizzas.  

Love all of these boys.  

Yesterday, we went to our homeschool group's Valentine Party:  all the bowling and video games you can fit into two hours.  My boys have never had the opportunity to exchange valentines and they were thrilled to find their bags filled with little notes, candies, pencils and silly bandz.  It was so cute.  They also each picked out two pieces of candy to give to their older brother who wasn't at the party.

And that's all we did yesterday.  I didn't squeeze in anymore school work in after the party. I just let the day be the lighthearted day it was supposed to be... remembering sweet moments with my kiddos, enjoying how they are growing, appreciating their strengths.  Celebrating.

Thursday, February 10

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Bite Sized Pieces

Where my boys ate lunch yesterday... crawling on the counter as if they're part cat.

Our Wednesday routine is this:  I take J to his school and then I go to my gym to workout.  Back at home dh begins B on his Math and one or two other things I've left out for him to get to.  S follows along with something he considers to be similar.  (Love that little brother HAS to imitate his big).  After I return, dh leaves for the day, I shower, eat and I start with B around 10:30.

Yesterday didn't happen like that.  The icy roads made traffic slow and I wasn't able to make my class in time. DH was flexible yesterday and suggested I try for the next class after I come home for a bit.  (Love that man.)  I went home for a few minutes, let B finish his breakfast and then did our read aloud time, in his jammies laying in the sunlight pouring in over our couch.  Bite Number One.

I gave him instructions for three things to work through and then I went to the gym.  When I returned B proudly announced that he had finished two if the items including all his math AND the math we didn't complete the day before "without complaining."  So proud... both of us.  Bite Number Two.

I determined that we'd have lunch and then get going on the rest of our stuff.  I didn't lie to myself.  We actually did it.  We chunked it up:  Water experiments, pond life food web activity and then I combined his grammar lesson with his daily writing... making  a list of adjectives that describe life in a pond.   My son was engaged and I was completely present.  Bite Number Three.

In the last few minutes before we needed to pick up J, I had B read to me.  Gathered on my big bed with my two sweet sons, knowing we had completed everything, I listened to my dyslexic son read  a chapter at his grade level (!) while his little brother took a quiet nap next to him. It was restful.  I didn't feel anxious listening to my slow reader because everything else was done and, frankly, I didn't want to be anywhere else.  Bite Number Four.

Me: 4
February: 3
Pulling ahead.

Wednesday, February 9

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Getting to it When I'm Prepared

I read a post on Donald Miller's blog yesterday and it simply made me laugh.  There are so many mornings after breakfast that I say to my boys, "We're starting at 9 o'clock!" and then...

I answer emails and check out Facebook (still have 30 minutes left).

Quickly make up that flipbook for B's notebook page and research some online activities to go with learning about pond life (10 minutes left).  "Boys get dressed please."

Then I remember what bills need to be paid, which makes me balance the whole account, add some things to my to-do list for the day, download some ecoupons to my shoppers card because one of my to-do's is to go grocery shopping, check email again and start responding again... and before you know it, it's 9:30, they still aren't dressed and I'm feeling very distracted.

I can so relate, Don.

So, I didn't want to jump into yesterday until I was ready.  I had to shake off the distractions and organize myself a bit first.  I began yesterday by doing the planning I should have done over the weekend.  This cut into our school time, but the boys were playing with Hot Wheels tracks nicely so no harm done. When I've planned a little, I feel so much less stress.  In trying to tackle February I'm also trying to tackle my stress level and flying by the seat of my pants doesn't support that goal. Over the course of the day we implemented much of what I'd planned and felt no stress.  Goal reached.

As we pursued our plan I had two sweet moments:
1.  While teaching S about yeast so we could make his big letter "Y," we pulled out my bread machine.  It became a project for all three of us.  B chose what "flavor" we made (sweet white bread), S helped to measure and turned it on.  We all looked forward to it as it baked.  In fact I had a ton of snow to shovel off the driveway and when I came from finishing that chore, I came in to the relaxing smell of freshly baked bread.  I loved that most of all.

2.  While teaching B about water we've been doing some experiments out of a book I got for free from the library cast-offs.  It's actually a great book with accessible experiments utilizing items I actually have in the recycle bin!  But the best part is seeing B's excitement to do the simplest tests: coloring water, freezing it to see if it expands, melting the colored ice in warm water while watching the denser, colder water fall to the bottom of the pitcher, and mixing salt water and fresh water and seeing where things will float.  He's really excited about doing these things.  And that is exactly why I enjoy being a homeschooler.

Me 3
February 3

I'm catching up.

Tuesday, February 8

I Will Not Let February Get to Me: Taking the Pressure Off

Pressure Point Number One:  As I sat down with my lesson plan yesterday morning I felt instantly behind.  This two week unit on water and famine was supposed to wrap up this week, but a fun field trip last week made me behind a day.  Getting behind a day when you only have 8, hurts a little.

Pressure Point Number Two:  Looking ahead I saw that our next unit is supposed to be plants.  Obviously, my curriculum hasn't looked outside my house where at least a foot of snow is covering all my plants.  How was I supposed to make that work?

Pressure Point Number Three:  My 4 year old was supposed to start a new unit at the start of February, but with two snow days and a field trip day, I kept putting him off.  He wanted to begin, but I hadn't prepped at all.

Pressure Point Number Four:   We were getting a late start.  This always happens as winter settles in.  Getting out of bed is harder, pancakes sound better than cold cereal, bathrobes are more cozy than clothing and before we know it, it's later than I wanted it to be.

My solutions:

#1: Program a new script in my head -- "Field trips are not superfluous goof-off days."  I never consider field trips to be part of our curriculum unless they directly address what we're studying.  But this cool opportunity arose and so we took advantage of it:  B was at the Microsoft store making a commercial with a team of two other boys.  They were learning about technology, working together and thinking in terms of creative possibility.  I reminded myself that everything in my curriculum can't be so matchy-matchy.  That break from the usual is often the place where our learning clouds open and we get something we didn't get before.  

#2: Remember that I am not teaching a curriculum, I'm teaching a child.  Because we just extensively covered plants several months ago and because we're in the dead of winter and don't have an outdoor lab we're telling the curriculum, "no."  Pushing plants to a time of year when they're actually growing makes more sense.  Instead, we're going to extend our water unit because we can and because B is really into the book of water experiments that we're going through.

#3:  Give my preschooler just a little bit and he'll be happy.  I don't have to have a full-fledged lesson plan for the day with all the parts and pieces cut out and laminated for him him to effectively learn.  His time is more about getting my attention than it is about learning something new.  I read him a cute book and then took some previously used pieces from the last time I did this unit (with B when he was 4) and ran with them.  I showed S the idea of fractions:  1/2, 1/3 and 1/4.  He discovered two things all on his own: 1.  that 2/4 = 1/2 by stacking the pieces on top of one another and 2.  If we cut two halves in half, we get 4 pieces.  High fives all around and he was filled up for the day.

#4: S can review his letters and other skills on the computer and it's perfectly valid.  While he's doing this, B and I can move much more quickly through his lessons and projects and memory verses.  Without little brother asking for another copy of a color page, a chance to play with me, a snack, etc.  we were done by lunchtime, S was happy, B was interested and yesterday was a good day.

Monday, February 7

I Will Not Let February Get to Me

Home educators often get discouraged in the middle of winter.

  • We are very aware of how much there is left to cover for the year and some of us even wonder if the first half of the school year meant anything.   
  • The weather is less than ideal and so we are Vitamin D deficient, our events get postponed on icy days which creates disappointment, and the children can't easily go outside (tomorrow's high is going to be 12 degrees and we have 4inches to a foot of snow on the ground depending on where you stand).  
  • Besides all of that, taxes need to be filed, summer vacation reservations need to be made and we might still need to get Christmas boxed up and put away.

I neared the end of January and felt like I was in a good place to meet February this year.  I was feeling confident.  Then we had some terribly cold weather and school was cancelled for two days. (For those of you who don't know, my oldest is in a charter school while I home educate my two younger boys.)  This meant that my oldest was home and it created some tension.  When he's off and his brothers aren't I give him study time to complete homework or to work ahead on his school work.  But he's continually coming to ask questions and it's disruptive to our flow.  I'm still figuring out a balance so he doesn't feel like a disruption.  Needless to say, my expectations weren't being met and I needed to lower them a bit.  But by Friday I was still feeling that February feeling.  Rats.  I thought I had it beat this year.

So, I'm determined to stare the month in the face.  To look at each day with the blessings it holds and be thankful for the moments that mean the most.  I am determined to not get sucked in by the discouragement and just know that in the thick of things is when most of the change is happening.  

Bring on the changes, February.  I'm ready to learn.