Busy but still at it…and eyes on the sky!

Merry late Christmas, and Happy New Year to all of you!

Between our work schedules, our little Bug’s education, and general household upkeep, we have kept extremely busy.  So busy, in fact, that most everything else has slid by the wayside, including my goal to post at least once a week.  I had a few spare minutes this weekend, though, so decided to catch up on some of these to-do list items.  Here is what we’ve been up to:

The kiddo is excelling beyond our expectations since we’ve begun his homeschooling in earnest!  When we started, he could not tell me what a noun was, struggled with addition concepts, and acted as if we were demanding he remove his own limbs without anesthetic if we handed him a book and suggested he read it.  Since then, he can diagram sentences without much help (identifying and labeling all the parts of speech with few errors), has mastered addition and subtraction, and multiplication and division and can explain the relationships, is moving into fractions, can still spell like a little champ and actively seeks definitions of words he does not immediately understand, and is reading chapter books for fun without pressure to do it!  The best part is, he is retaining it all because we continually ask him questions about concepts learned a while ago and he can answer.  He ended his public school education at the end of third grade, testing at the early second grade level in most subjects.  We cannot wait until the end of this year – his fourth grade year – to test again because we are pretty confident he’s made up ground.

The thing that makes us the most proud is how he’s adopted a love of science, specifically astronomy.  His daddy is his science teacher, and they started with Earth & Space Science.  They since moved into Life Science, which upset him because he was having such a good time learning about the sky mysteries.  His fascination with the planets, stars, and all those fantastic things in the sky brought on such a light of curiosity and intrigue in him that everyone in the family has fostered it.  His grandparents bought him an Orion Dobsonian XT8 Intelliscope for Christmas, and it was beyond generous for a budding, young astronomer that might decide he’ll be a fireman next year!  It’s certainly done its part in further sparking his curiosity, though!  We got it assembled and outside for the first time last night, and realized we have a huge learning curve to get him truly started.

Still, despite some cloud cover, we got our first glimpse of something in the nighttime sky and it was amazing.  The picture below is Jupiter, shot with the XT8 scope, 25mm lens (we failed to swap in the 10mm for better magnification), taken through a bit of cloud cover, and with the camera on my husband’s phone.  It does not do justice to what we actually saw!  We could see two of the stripes (zonal winds), and the four Galilean moons; three of the moons are somewhat visible in the picture, and if you look really hard, to the left of the left-most moon in the picture is the fourth but the camera did not get it clearly.  Our little budding astronomer has a long list of sky targets, but the weather appears against us for the next few nights.  Still, it was a great first night out with the telescope!

We are so proud of him.  He has hung in there with the change in schooling, and is doing amazing.  We are so pleased to foster this interest in him, though if he changes directions next week or next year, we feel confident the XT8 will still be part of family nights in the back yard for some time to come.  Despite how he would have responded last year about something clearly educational, he no longer gets a disgusted and broken-hearted expression when we say we have lessons, particularly if it involves anything beyond our atmosphere.  And while telescope viewing and looking up planetary facts is obviously educational, he just says it’s fun!  In short, 2013 turned out to be a pretty great one, and we have even better hopes for 2014.

Here’s to hoping all of our New Years also take you sky high!

Image

Jupiter 01/04/2014 10:28PM – Orion XT8 Scope, 25mm lens, moderate cloud cover, camera phone

Advertisements

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.

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.