Friday, November 29, 2013

Preschool Update

People are always asking me how Isaac is doing in preschool. I know that several professionals in the special ed. community disagreed with our decision to pursue sending Isaac to a mainstream preschool and despite their opinions, we felt it would be best for Isaac to attend a school other than the one he was on track to attend due to his special needs. We are so happy with the decision we made for Isaac. He is thriving and is having so much fun in his current preschool setting. After only a couple weeks of preschool, I noticed that Isaac was beginning to act more like a boy and less like a baby. We tend to call Isaac our "forever baby" since his daily care is more involved than the typical three year old, so it is incredibly exciting to see him blossom (finally) from baby to boy. Isaac is making tremendous progress in speech development and gross motor skills. It is so exciting to hear him begin to verbalize some of his needs and wants, and I love watching his karate and superhero moves. Last October, he was only taking a few steps and even then he was mainly furniture walking. Now, he is jumping--JUMPING! It's incredible.

It still tugs at my emotions to see a typical three and a half year old standing next to Isaac, but I have found ways to cope with those emotions and I always remind myself of how much progress he has made over the last six months. What most people do not realize is that Isaac's self-care (toileting, dressing, feeding, bathing) is still that of an infant. This is what becomes the most discouraging, but I am so used to our "normal" that on most days I have become somewhat blind to Isaac's delays. When he is in a good mood, Isaac is the most entertaining, interesting and funniest person I know.

"Come, Beda (Isabella). Kame (Game)."

He still snuggles with us every night to fall asleep.

Preschool Thanksgiving Feast. He actually touched a green bean.

Isaac gets so excited to see Isabella each morning. He shouts, "Hi Beda (Isabella)! Hi! Yo (show), Beda!" (she gets to pick a show each morning and our little TV addict can't wait to find out what she will choose to watch)

My preschool goal for Isaac was for him to simply play and engage with other children his age, and most importantly, to have fun. Without a doubt, each of those goals has been met and we are so thankful for his wonderful preschool teachers and the safe and encouraging environment they have provided for all of their students.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changes and Challenges

This week was hard. Jobs are potentially changing, parenting is presenting new and confusing challenges, my dog keeps shedding clumps of hair, and my family won't stop eating. I guess that sums it up from greatest to least greatest challenges and yes, I'm tired of providing food for everyone. I think a national holiday from eating should replace Valentine's Day, or something. I suppose that's why in my escapist dream last night I took my friend's van off roading and refused to admit to authorities that I'd hit a parked Escalade. I needed to have some crazy fun in a...van, and since I drive just about the cheapest car on the market, I needed to bash into something really pricey.

This morning I read the Introduction to Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown, I'm looking forward to reading more of this book but today I am thankful for these words from a speech (shared by Brown) Theodore Roosevelt delivered in 1910:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the
man who points out how the strong man
stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could
have done better. 

The credit belongs to the man who is actually 
in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; 
who errs, who comes short again and again, 

because there is no effort without error
and shortcoming; but who does actually
strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, 
the great devotions; who spends himself
in a worthy cause; 

who at the best knows in the end the triumph
of high achievement, and who at the worst, if
he fails, at least fails while daring greatly...."

At the start of this week, I wanted to give up on a lot of things and I wanted to sit and complain to anyone who would listen (thank you to those who did listen to me complain, and for my husband, who said not to give up). Despite feeling discouraged, I'll continue to do my best while putting one foot in front of the other, and pursue what gives me fulfillment. If I continue to fail, I'll know that it is not in vain. 

As for parenting, Brown shared these words, "...the practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive--it turns parenting into a shame minefield. The real questions for parents should be: 'Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?' If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn't exist, and I've found that what makes children happy doesn't always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults" (15).

I feel like this is the year of making Isabella unhappy and I am constantly analyzing situations trying to figure out what I am doing wrong and I how I can improve. I am thankful for Brown's words because I can't be perfect in this part of my life or any other. Thanks to some advice from my mom, I am working to make some changes and lay some new ground rules--not necessarily to add to "happiness" but to bring clarity and order to our day.

Moving on...

We had our first snow fall for the year and Isabella exclaimed, "I was MADE for this weather!" She truly was. Over the summer she said all she wanted to do was be naked in the snow. For now we make her wear snow gear.

Isaac even ventured out. This was his first time in the snow and proves that we've come a very long way in working out his sensory issues.

In case you're wondering, the chickens were not at all happy with the snow. They stayed huddled in their coop which gave me plenty of opportunities to talk about how "cooped up" our chickens were--I love that I can make myself laugh.

I should share that the mere fact I even had a dream, shows that I am sleeping better. I haven't had to sleep with Isaac in almost two weeks and his night-wakings are shorter and less frequent. This is either a reprieve from my own impending insanity or a move toward sleep independence. Either way, I'm enjoying every moment of deep sleep.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Week in Pictures


These two went from the worst enemies to techie friends. Milo insisted he needed to wear Isabella's jacket. This is how they survive ballet each week...

We enjoyed a quick visit with my brother...

Isabella and I spent an evening at a friend's art show. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to see her work (maybe more on this later).

Some toys are transitioning to bedrooms. This is hopefully marking the beginning of toys migrating away from the living-room. We'll see.

Hard at work on a history project...

This one stays in color so we can look back one day and remember just how pink our bathroom was...
 (No joke, even the counter is pink--stop being jealous)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Learning to Get the Most Out of Home Education

Over the summer I read, Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson, which I cited in my last post about homeschooling. It is probably important to point out that this book is basically a methodology of homeschooling and will not give you any concrete information regarding which workbooks you should use to fill your year of home education. I really enjoyed reading this book. Though I had a year of teaching kindergarten (to my one student) under my belt, I still felt like I didn't really know what I was doing. Sure, we'd had a successful year of learning to count to one hundred, some simple addition, and a bunch of phonics, but I still felt like I wasn't getting the most out of home education.

I initially thought of homeschooling as, "school at home", but now I've changed that philosophy because it is much more than that. I learned that in order for us to get the most out of home education, I would have to purposefully see each part of our day as a learning opportunity (maybe "each part" is an exaggeration, but I'll clarify). Now, this may be obvious to some people who have either been parents much longer than I, or who are in the education field, but a light bulb went off as I read Educating the WholeHearted Child and I realized that I had to learn to tie everyday experiences to our schooling. For example, shortly after we finished reading Mr. Popper's Penguins, we visited the zoo. Isabella was very excited to see the penguins again since we'd just finished reading all about the adventures of Popper's penguins. While looking at the penguins at our local zoo, it became an opportunity to compare and contrast those penguins to the penguins in the work of fiction we'd just read together. This exercise may be completely obvious to another person, but for me, it changed the way I approach homeschooling and helped me seek out opportunities where I could tie in our subjects with things that Isabella may not think of as "school". In his book, Clarkson writes that, "Learning is something that goes on all the time and in many places. When you begin to see your entire home as a means for learning, home education takes on a whole new meaning. It is not just education done at home; it is education done with the home. Home is not just a place where education happens--it is an important tool and means of education" (123). Though much of our learning takes place inside our home (or in our backyard), it also takes place "in many places" and I think this helps extend interest and excitement in learning. If children are taught that the potential to learn exists away from a worksheet, life becomes more interesting. 

As I've learned, it is important to create a home that is alive with learning and find a way to extend the home learning model to places outside the home. It is equally as important to create a space specifically devoted to the part of schooling that is structured learning. "...When one entire room or area is permanently dedicated to home education and other dedicated learning spaces are strategically located throughout the house, it speaks volumes to your children that their learning is so important that you want to give them special places for it" (123). We live in a relatively small house, but we have managed to designate one room as the office/school room. Our office used to be the office/play room and last year we did our school work in the kitchen. Now that we've moved the play room toys to the basement and delegated the office as the school room, it is much easier for Isabella to focus and get her work done. Living in a single story home, it is challenging to schedule school work around nap time or around Isaac's mood. Now that we can go in the office and shut the door or I can get her started on something and then shut the door so she has quiet time away from Isaac, it has made all the difference. Containing school work to its own room, allows us to get a lot more done during the tail end of nap time (I try to take a 20-30 minute nap every day while Isaac sleeps) without trying to sit in the kitchen whispering our way through a lesson in an effort not to wake up Isaac. The "school room" doesn't have to be an actual room. It could be a nook in the living-room or dining-room that you've carved out for your little student. I've read about many families who enjoy gathering around the dining-room table for lessons and then they manage to clear it all away for dinner--you just have to find what works for you. I have definitely learned that no two families are alike when it comes to schooling--homeschooling, or otherwise. 

In my opinion, structured learning is important, but not so important that it has to rule our lives. Yesterday was a beautiful day, and living in Ohio, on the brink of a long winter, it's important to savor any nice days that are left, so even though I had whole list of schooling that we needed to get done, we did the bare minimum (for us, that meant a spelling test and a math lesson) and spent the afternoon outside playing with the chickens (as much as one can play with a chicken, but they are quite entertaining). One of the major benefits of homeschooling is that we can be flexible. Since two days out of our week have standing appointments for Isaac and often weeks have additional follow-up medical appointments for him, we have to stay flexible. Sometimes it bothers me that we have to squeeze in a spelling test here or work on a math assignment there, but I just remind myself that flexibility is one of the reasons why we home school. Sally Clarkson shares that, "Homeschooling should be a blessing to us, not an unbearable burden. If it has become such a burden, then perhaps we have required things of ourselves that the Lord never asked us to do. Perhaps the standards we are trying to follow are not God's standards but man's. Perhaps we are living by formula rather than by faith" (300). I tend to be pretty hard on myself in most areas of my life, so this a very good reminder for me. 

I think most mothers struggle with comparison, or "man's standards", as Clarkson wrote. It almost always looks like someone else is better at handling this game of mothering but the reality is, "no one else can nurture your children the same way you can" and in terms of homeschooling, "it is natural and normal...that you will homeschool differently than other mothers. So don't compare yourself with other homeschooling mothers, and don't compare your children with other[...]children! If what you are doing is working, don't worry about what others are doing that you are not. Just be yourself and enjoy your children. They will enjoy the relaxed, real you much more" (297). Easier said than done, right? I will attest to the fact that even when a little bit of that comparison is let go, as a teacher (to my one student) I am more confident that Isabella is exactly where she should be in terms of her academic progress.

In my process of learning how to get the most out of home education, I've had to give up preconceived notions of what homeschooling should look like and instead, discover what it looks like for our family. It's extremely helpful to glean information from other parents, but as we say in La Leche League, "What is said here may not work for you and your family, take what does, and leave behind what doesn't."

Meet, Oreo (if I'd ever purchased a package of Oreos, Isabella would understand that an Oreo is more black than white), she is the slowest of all of our chickens and also the one who survived an attack from our own dog, so I guess she has some spunk after all.

I believe this is Treasure...

and, Brownie...(and the one in the background is either Spot or Spots--it's easier to come with ten chicken names when you can just take one name from singular to plural)

Next time, I'll share why homeschooling has given me an even greater appreciation of teachers.