Curriculum, Chaos, Happiness, and Managing…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  So much has happened since I randomly decided to start up this little blog, then randomly fell off the face of the blogging planet.  What initially distracted me was the volume of research needed to select curriculum options we think will work for our little bug.  Then “life” tossed us a curveball we could not ignore.  While that event was a stressor for all of us, we’re starting to find our balance again, and started the whole homeschooling journey a bit earlier than planned.

 

Curriculum:

We ultimately decided on a hodgepodge of resources, which goes fantastically with our hodgepodge schedule!  We have a Time4learning account, which is excellent for our boy who loves his computer time, and a great supplement for all his courses to give him another format to see the material and more practice.  We have Abeka for History and Arithmetic.  R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey is his Science curriculum.  I stumbled a bit finding a Language Arts resource I felt cozy delivering and that he would have a chance of absorbing, and ultimately decided on a mixture of Easy Grammar, Daily Grams, and The Critical Thinking Co. workbooks.  For Health, PE, Art, and Music…  Well, we’re still working on those.  Once we get started, I imagine we’ll need to do some fine-tuning of these, but it is enough to get us started without overwhelming him or ourselves.

  

Chaos:

Our son’s unique needs make him easy meat for kids who need to knock others down to feel better about themselves, and while there were a handful of one-time pickers that listened to reason when they were called to carpet, there is one child that continued to be a problem.  Unfortunately, one final incident forced our hands to no longer trust school administrators to ensure the safety of our boy when he was there.  When my ten year old son came home crying one more afternoon, terrified and emotionally broken in a way I’ve never seen my boy break, we made the snap decision that we could not potentially put him in that situation one more day.  At this point, the details are unimportant, but it was bad, and I pray no other parent has to see their child in that kind of emotional pain.  Sadly, I know many will, because teaching tolerance with respect to individual differences and disabilities seems to fall off a lot of parents’ radar.

 Since we are Alabama residents, we needed to find a church school to take him on such short notice with so little time left in the school year.  We made many calls that night, knowing no one would answer the phone because it was after-hours.  But one wonderful woman did.  Calvary School, based in Madison, AL, has one more sweetpea on the enrollment books.  Thank you, Carla!  Her understanding and time helped us get the legal i’s dotted and t’s crossed so we can focus on helping Little B get on the right road again, educationally and emotionally.

  

Happiness:

 Each day since “that event,” our sweet boy is returning to us.  See, if left to his own devices, he’s a cheerful, silly boy!  He does not understand negativity or meanness, and when faced with it, he shuts down, not just during the episode, but for days afterward.   My angel is coming back to me, and while we have a huge undertaking ahead of us to balance work, his education, and house…seeing his smile again is all the motivation I need to move heaven and earth to make it happen.  And part of his lessons will be learning how to manage negativity from others – much as we would love to shelter him forever and keep cruelty away, we will not always be around – but for now, we are enjoying the carefree sunshine.

  

Managing:

The last lesson we’ve had recently is sorting out a schedule.  Since my husband and I both work full-time outside the home, taking on homeschooling is an all new time-management challenge.  We were already decent at teamwork to tackle housecleaning and cooking tasks to keep our home from looking like it was Ground Zero for an Apocalyptic event, and to make sure we did not “cater” with take-out meals.  That teamwork distribution just needs a bit more refining to open time for evening and weekend lessons.  We are distributing teaching of classes between the two of us based on our strengths and Little Bug’s preferences (Mommy is the reading and Grammar pal, while Daddy is who he goes to for Science help, for example)…all so we still have time for the fun stuff.  And, to make sure we have time to get all the “need to know” stuff in, we are using year-round teaching to allow more time to fit all the lessons.  While we do not begin major lessons for a few more weeks, I got approved as a standardized test deliverer through BJU, and this weekend, sat him down to do the Stanford 10 and OLSTAT testing so we have a better gauge of weak spots to focus, and make sure he is progressing.  It was a good dry run!  Time will test us on the rest.

 Of course, there will be days where hubby or I get sick, or I have some business trips coming up, but year-round planning gives a bit of wiggle room for us to be flexible.  I think that will be the biggest key for us, and something we will need to teach Little B: flexibility.

 

 Well, that gets us caught up!  During the next few weeks, we will begin lessons, so wish us luck.  We are open to suggestions to make it a seamless transition!

Things we never thought we would say…

 “Honey, do not put a sock on the cat’s head.”

“Stop kicking yourself in the face.”

“Bug, we do laundry in the washing machine, not the toilet.”

“You have to brush your teeth, or the Tooth Faerie will go bankrupt when all yours fall out, and not have anything for other boys and girls.”

“No baby, Santa is not going to eat your brains while you sleep.”

“No sweetie, Santa’s reindeer are not zombies, either.”

“I’m sorry that kid was mean, Bug.  Some people do not get enough hugs, so they act that way to the people that do because they’re jealous.”

“You do not get to put your classmates in time-out, honey, no matter how much they talk during quiet time.  That’s what teachers are there to do.”

 

When we started this parenting journey, we were in our mid- to late-twenties and while we did not describe ourselves as refined, we never expected to say a great many things that have since come out of our mouths so naturally in later years.  We heard people comment that kids do or say the strangest things, but we never really had perspective until we saw him doing things we did not think physically possible, or would just intuitively know to be a bad idea.  Thankfully, our cats are fairly mild creatures, and we are usually close at hand to stop pricey corrections that might result from flushing miscellaneous household objects, or all the other random things kids do.  Then there are the questions that come up…  Should we have let him watch that funny zombie video his cousins gave him on Christmas Eve?

I know most parents can relate to the above list, which is by no means comprehensive (at least four or five similar comments come out of our mouths on a daily basis).  For parents-to-be, consider this a heads-up we were never given.  Work on keeping your serious face because it loses something in translation for them when one or both of you are laughing as you instruct them that clothing is mandatory for humans in public but optional for animals, or reasoning with them why hygiene is important despite the seemingly logical arguments they spout back.

Autism: Two analogies to give perspective

When someone first learns our son is Autistic, the most common reaction is a blank stare, or a look of pity.  Unless someone personally knows an Autistic person, few understand that it is rarely a reflection of what was seen in the movie, Rain Man.  In reality, that imagery only reflects a small portion of those on the Spectrum.  I cannot describe all Autistic people, because I only know a handful; Autism is a Spectrum “disorder,” though I cannot stand the “D” word, because I disagree with it.  I can say with confidence that Autism does not mean my child is broken and in need of fixing.  He is perfect as he is, and just requires a different approach than might work with other kids.  That is like all children, though, right?  All children are unique in their own ways.  To follow are two analogies that might offer a bit of perspective for those not familiar with Autism – or Autism as is experienced with Asperger’s diagnoses – and is not meant to trivialize, but to give a glimpse of how Autistic kids are just kids that think a bit differently than the rest of their peers.

One analogy that might provide a hint of understanding will appeal to those familiar with computers.  My husband once described Autism as the difference between Windows and Linux platforms, where teachers are the users and children are the computers.  Most children function like Windows; it is the most common functional system of computers, and it is how most users know how to use a computer.  Autism is like Linux.  It is just another way of thinking and functioning.  A proficient user of Linux might be able to teach a Linux machine to function and behave like Windows, but it will never be Windows.  It may not be able to perform all Windows functions as a Windows user would expect, and in some cases, it will struggle to behave similarly no matter how good the user is at “programming,” but there are some tasks where it will excel and perform tasks far above anything a Windows platform could achieve.  Linux machines are not broken; they are just different and can perform just fine if treated with an understanding that a user is functioning in a Linux environment, not Windows.

Another analogy that sometimes sheds light on differences relates to cars, with standard or automatic transmissions.  Anyone who knows how to drive can drive a car with an automatic transmission.  You still need to know how to drive, pay attention to traffic and all that, but you can get where you’re going.  With a manual transmission, it requires quite a bit more effort, both in the learning process and daily driving.  Both function fine – a standard transmission is not broken just because someone cannot just get in and step on the gas to accelerate without further effort – and both will get you from Point A to Point B so long as the driver knows how to drive that car.  Standard transmissions may require more effort to learn and use, but they can perform at least as well – and in the right hands, much better in certain environments – than their automatic counterparts.

Autism is not a disorder, in my opinion, and I dislike the word.  It is merely a different way of thinking.  Unfortunately, most teachers only know how to teach one way; they know how to teach “Windows” because they are “Windows” themselves, or they know how to teach “automatic” driving because they are “automatic” drivers.  Those teachers think medication is the answer; we’ve been asked about why his doctor and we refuse to medicate, but to date, there is no magic pill that “fixes” Autism, because it does not need “fixing.”  It does require more work to teach an Autistic child how to function in the “normal” everyday world, but they can and do thrive and excel with the right support, education, and upbringing.

So please, the next time you meet someone that confides that the child over there is Autistic – you know, that kid that behaves a bit different from the kids he’s playing with, but looks like all the rest – pity is not necessary.  He’s perfect just as he is.  In fact, he might be capable of excelling far above his peers with the right love and educational environment.  He’s just like any other kid; they all have strengths and weaknesses.  They’re all unique, right?

Here we go! Excited and eager to start…

So, we’ve made some progress but still have quite a bit to research.  LittleB now knows the plan, and gets the biggest, cutest, happiest grin when we talk about how much fun we have in store for him.  When we snuggled on the sofa last night and started reading next week’s class-assigned reading story, he complained how boring the story was and said, “Mama, I do not want to read this story when you teach me.”  I squeezed him and whispered one of our best-kept secrets so far: “Dude, your first assigned reading for fourth grade is an Iron Man story Daddy found.”  His eyes popped wide and a goofy smile bloomed, followed by a hug that nearly squeezed the breath out of me.  He did what I can only describe as an interpretative dance of Happy into the family room where he assaulted his dad with hugs that became a round of wrestling.  We cannot wait to get started so we can see more of that enthusiasm seven days a week, not just on weekends.

We joined HSLDA on the recommendation of virtually every homeschool website and forum we came across, and that is the best $115 we have spent.  What a fantastic resource!  Who would have guessed Alabama’s homeschool laws would be a bit backwards?  (That is a joke, by the way.)  You must affiliate with a church school or hold a teaching certificate to homeschool.  I may look into the teaching certificate in a year or two, but for now, we found a church school that appears to meet our needs and does not dictate anything but what the State requires. HSLDA has a group that specializes in curriculum development and support for special needs children, and we are just now getting in touch with them; initial contact says they will be extremely helpful as we move through the curriculum planning process.  On the legal front, we are crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s before May when we are ready to withdraw him from public school.

We intend to get standardized testing conducted so we have a clear picture of where LittleB is academically so we can tailor his curriculum to his needs, and HSLDA pointed us to a few options.  I have the credential requirements to administer the IOWA myself, so we think we will do that to let him test in a comfortable environment (home) so his scores are not impacted by external distractions.  We are purchasing fourth grade curriculum now, but based on the results of testing, we will add 2nd or 3rd grade resources into the front end of his lesson plans to get him back to grade level.  Which leads us to our next hurdle.

Mr.B and I both have suspicions we will need to back his curriculum up to somewhere in second grade.  The more we dug into his current academic “place,” the more suspicious we became that his grades have been inflated.  As an example, LittleB has straight A’s with a few B’s, yet his STAR reading score shows he reads on a 2nd grade level and requires additional intervention; how is it possible to get high grades if reading comprehension – necessary for comprehension of every subject – is so far behind?  He’s getting ready to enter 4th grade and is over a year behind on reading comprehension.  Looking at work samples and his ability to demonstrate the knowledge at home, our suspicions are reasonably confirmed.  Of course we want our son to have the pride of earning good grades, but the key word there is “earn.”  We were initially upset to see this discrepancy, both with the school and with ourselves for not recognizing it sooner, but with a few dozen deep breaths, we are putting it behind us and moving forward.  In the end, it just means LittleB needs extra focus time on reading comprehension to get caught up, so that is what we will do.  Once we put our grumpy aside, we are coming up with dozens of ideas to get him excited about reading, and getting excited ourselves to start down this new road!

As far as curriculum, change must be intentional with LittleB, so we spent the last couple weeks researching the different curriculum options to put together a game plan that will transition him with the least amount of stress.  While we think he will eventually do well with a virtual curriculum – he loves computer time! – he is currently accustomed to book learning.  We are starting with Abeka math, language arts, and history; we’ve heard glowing reviews from everyone we’ve talked to about the system, and we liked that it came with curriculum design so we can transition ourselves a bit easier.  Math was a big question for us, but with his learning style, we think the spiral method will work better for him with the frequent review and refresher of material.  For science, we are using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey.  We are putting together a self-designed course we will call “Manners” to focus on life and personal interaction skills, and are deciding if we want to use a designed Art curriculum or let that go freeform; he loves to draw, color, paint, and listen to music, and I’m a fan of acrylics and have a ton of paints, brushes, and spare canvases, so we are debating if we cannot just let him “do his thing” in that department.  We also have a few virtual supplement options picked out – Time4Learning and ClickNKids – to give him some computer time, and see how he takes to a virtual system.  Basically, we are picking up textbook curriculum because we think his transition will need to be more gradual, but he sometimes surprises us and jumps into change, so we will use whatever curriculum format he enjoys the most and eBay whatever does not work.

As far as timeframe, he is done with 3rd grade at the end of May, and starting in June, we are going to begin a 2nd and 3rd grade review based on weak areas identified in the standardized testing.  Our theory is that he knows quite a bit of the materials from these grades, but there are a few key puzzle pieces that did not click for him.  If we can identify those puzzle pieces and hammer them home, everything will click in place and he’ll be caught up.  Of course, few things go according to plan, so we will play it by ear and see how it goes.  We may be able to get him caught up with just a Summer review, but if it takes until the end of the year or into the next, that is fine.  In the end, we need to get him caught up before he is pressed into new material, because the further he’s pushed without those critical pieces of understanding, the further behind he becomes.

The more we research, the more excited we all become.  Homeschool laws in Alabama throw a few extra kinks in the plan, but that is okay.  We have a few months to get our plans in place – we change nothing on LittleB without having it planned out and prepared in advance because change must be structured he struggle with chaos – and we feel more prepared each day.