Monday, October 14, 2013

Two Week Check-In

Well, two weeks down, seven more to go until we move back to the US. Wow. Well, seven more school weeks; we have a vacation in there too.

The new schedule is working really well. Really, really well.

We're rather unconventional in that we stay up late, the kids go to bed at the same time as the grown-ups, and we let them sleep until they wake up. As such, the oldest boy gets started with his classes around 11 every day, and works until whenever he's done, often six-ish or so. He likes this plan.

I didn't think he would. I thought he'd balk at not having any free time between the end of school and his dad getting home from work. I was wrong. He much prefers this to starting school the minute he wakes up. Fine by me; he works hard, gets his stuff done, and is succeeding in his classes thus far. One of the biggest reasons we homeschool, and why we chose this online program over others, is for the flexibility, so I consider this a win-win.

He starts off with Algebra II, which is going remarkably well thus far. There's a bit of review of Algebra I, which he's doing pretty good with, and so far the new curriculum is fantastic. I'll do a review on that once we're a bit farther in; as he's only finished one week of Algebra II thus far, I feel it's still to early to give the glowing report I'd like to at this point.

After Algebra II, the most revolutionary thing --- Chemistry via Skype. My husband The Chemist calls The Writer and they video-chat over the reading for that day. The Chemist answers any questions and uses an online, interactive white board app on his iPad to write examples and things. Then they go through the homework assignments together; The Writer gives his answers and if he's wrong, The Chemist helps him find the right answer. If he's correct the first time, great! The Writer takes all quizzes on his own, and they do labs in the evenings & on weekends. I am so so so grateful I'm married to a scientist; I cannot imagine trying to do Chemistry completely and utterly alone at home.  The Chemist uses his lunch hour at work to do this, so it's on "his time" not work's, and he enjoys it so much he's thinking of teaching all the boys science in this manner.

After Chemistry and lunch, everyone else gets started and the day goes along relatively smoothly, much like any other homeschool around the world. I work with The Adventurer immediately after lunch, and then he has quite a bit of free time between when he finishes and when his brother's finish. As such I'm introducing a new tweak today --- scheduled breaks for both The Adventurer & The Artist, where they will stop and play a quick board game, stop and walk the dogs, stop and do art, etc. The Writer can break with them if he wants to, though it will slow his day down considerably if he does. I think and hope that the breaks will help The Adventurer to feel like he's not just left alone all afternoon to wallow in boredom. We shall see.

If you have a younger child who relies on older siblings to be his playmate, how do you help him fill the hours that the siblings are otherwise occupied? I'm open to any & all ideas! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Already changing the schedule.....

Much discussion ensued at my house yesterday, as I prepped the schedule pages for the kids.

A certain teen is really bemoaning the fact I want him to get up early, and says he much prefers to start later even if it means ending later as well. Compromise has been reached in that he will not have to start school until 11, but then will have to work until 6 or 7; if  he is not finishing school by the time The Chemist gets home from work, we will begin having him start earlier. He claims that he only needs a 30 minute break to eat lunch, as he prefers to walk the dogs in the afternoon when he's done. And he is pretty sure he won't need a full hour per subject as I had envisioned.  We shall see......

The Chemist is going to, fittingly, help The Writer with chemistry during the day; he's even found an on-line white board that can be used so that he (the Chemist) can draw equations and notes so our son will hopefully understand a bit better. Put with Skype calls, this should be a huge help, and is something they can do even when The Chemist has to travel for work. I'm so glad I married a scientist.

The Adventurer and The Artist then will also start later, but meals and snacks will stay at their given times; The Adventurer requires frequent feeding or he gets cranky. And by cranky I mean downright unmanageable. Not fun.

I discovered I can drop a few of the therapy items from his rotation, too. We did some work on sequencing yesterday, just for the fun of it, and he put every set of cards in order in record time, even building double sets from similar-themed cards. For example, one set showed a woman knitting a scarf. Another set showed the same woman knitting a cap. He first assembled each set on its own, then turned them into one long string, wherein the woman first knit the cap, then the scarf. I think we've got sequencing down well enough to drop it from our work.

I plan to spend some time next week printing up worksheets and puzzles for him, so that I'm ready. He needs to do hidden pictures, word finds, code games, pattern games, and the like, but those require printing. Which I stink at, printing the day of. So I thought I'd print a few weeks' worth all at once, and have them on hand.

I did threaten the boys that if they can't get along, we definitely can start school early. They're meant to have off until October 1st, but yesterday was a grouchy day, due to boredom levels. School would be a perfect remedy there.....

What does your school year look like? Anything new on the horizon?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back from Vacation --- Plans for 2013/2014 School Year

Yikes, what a long break! I didn't mean to neglect this blog for so long, so if anyone is still reading -- thank you!  We had a family trip to the US over August, and now are busy preparing for our move back to Texas this December, but meanwhile, school still has to happen. For that to work, I need plans. More scheduled plans than usual, because there's too much to juggle in my usual "it happens when it happens" method.

My youngest needs a predictable routine, and I'm finally admitting that and trying to work that into our day-to-day life. I didn't attempt it before our visit to the US -- no sense starting a routine that would just be disrupted the minute we stepped on the plane. But now, a new school year, and an upcoming move, having a familiar routine in place well before then -- one we can maintain in our own new home -- will be key to helping him adjust to the changes going on around him.

For most of our family, this move is a move "back home."  For him, who came to Brazil as a 2 year old, this is a move to a foreign country, even if it is one we've visited often. He told me this last trip, more than once, "I think I am more from Brazil than I am from Texas/The United States." Of course he's my most change-resistant child anyway, so this move should be lovely.

Sorry, getting sidetracked there....where was I going? Oh yes, schedule. Plans. Routine. With The Writer entering 10th grade, and after a 9th grade year that was slow going, he needs a more set schedule to stay on pace. Ditto that for The Artist, who is entering 7th grade this year. And as mentioned, The Adventurer needs the routine for stability. So, a schedule.

I decided to mimic a public school, with periods. Time slots. Start at this time, do this subject, then do this, then this, then that, until finished. My older boys will still have some freedom within that framework; they can move right from one subject to the next, or they can take little breaks in between as needed, but anything not finished within the hour-long "period" for each subject will be "homework" to be finished after-hours or on the weekend. No more saving hard projects for later.

Luckily for me, their on-line school is implementing a new tool to help with just that; lessons will only be unlocked in consecutive order, the next one available when the previous is turned in & graded. Two will be open at a time, so that the student can work on the second while the first is graded, but no  more than that. This will be a huge help, and hopefully alleviate the one flaw we felt with their system.

Here's what their schedules will look like, then:

10th Grade/The Writer --
9 a.m. -- breakfast
9:30 a.m. -- 1st period/Algebra II
10:30 a.m. -- 2nd period/World History
11:30 a.m. -- 3rd period/Music History
12:30 p.m. -- lunch/Chemistry help
1:30 p.m. -- 4th period/Spanish I
2:30 p.m. -- 5th period/Psychology
3:30 p.m. -- 6th period/English II

He may have to use extra time for Chemistry; we're not sure yet how that is going to work out. My husband The Chemist is going to help him with this, hopefully over lunch, but I'm not sure how it will play out. He might have to do book work ahead of that Skype session, or he might then have homework to do in the evenings, I'm not sure. English is scheduled last so that he has plenty of time to do whatever written work is required.

7th Grade/The Artist --
9 a.m. -- breakfast
9:30 a.m. -- free time on the computer
10:30 a.m. -- 1st period/Pre-Algebra
11:30 a.m. -- 2nd period/History
12:30 p.m. -- lunch
1:30 p.m. -- 3rd period/English
2:30 p.m. -- 4th period/Science
3:30 p.m. -- art/projects/free time

His schedule is a bit lighter since he's not in high school yet; his art class is a home course (Artistic Pursuits), and Pre-Algebra is Teaching Textbooks; the rest are on-line with Texas Tech University ISD.

2nd Grade/The Adventurer --

After much debate, we're calling this 2nd grade although he is 8.5 years old and could be considered 3rd grade. With his delays, and state laws in Texas that allow us to delay his Kindergarten start until age 6, and a firm belief I would have done so (in fact, I did do so in our home school), this is where he is.

His routine will look like this:
10:30 --Writing Road to Reading -- 1 lesson per day
 11:00 -- Therapy Block -- alternate activities, 2 activities per day (approximately 15 minutes)
11:15 -- Handwriting Without Tears -- half a lesson per day, in the Kindergarten book, + sight word review
11:30 -- Game Time -- he will choose one board game from a designated selection, as a mental break/recess
12:30 -- lunch
1:30 -- History -- one chapter, more or less, per day; studying an overview of American & Texas history
2:00 -- Math -- one lesson per day from Singapore Math 2
2:30 -- Earobics & Edmark -- phonics/reading therapy software, one session of each per day
3:00 -- Activity & Science -- he can choose a hands-on activity, from a pre-set selection, and I will read Science to him
3:30 -- story telling -- he'll tell me a story, using story starters, that I will type, he will illustrate, and we will read together throughout the week; aiming for one story/week

Times on his schedule are best-guesses; things may or may not take this long, but breaks are built in so what looks like a long day, isn't really. Mostly the guide is "what comes next" which is the part we'll follow and stick with.

Going to be a busy year! We're scheduled to start October 1st......wish me luck!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Getting Some Help

Things with The Adventurer have hit a bit of a wall, and I'm turning outside our home for some help.

While we got a very detailed report a year ago, as part of his initial evaluation, the tips and suggestions were, are, so many and so varied that I find myself overwhelmed with what to do, when.

The short list  of what needs to be worked on includes Working Memory, Processing Speed, Phonemic Awareness and Visual-Motor Coordination.  Unfortunately, that breaks down to a very long list of specific tasks, and I find myself letting slide the more "minor" aspects.  Which is not good, because all of those "minor" aspects are actually key components to his ability to really learn to read. Sigh.

So, outside help.  An on-line friend has just launched a business to look over data supplied by the family and help come up with a plan of action for teaching the student.  Basically, she takes the big goal, "Teach Child to Read" and breaks it into smaller, manageable goals for you, and then suggests activities, links, materials, etc. to help you get there. I've sent off a summary report to her, will schedule the payment and then she'll schedule a phone consult with me to make sure she understands what are current struggle is, and where we want to go.

I cannot wait. As I was summarizing things for her, I realized just how much I've let slip through the cracks. All those little bitty therapy type activities.......set aside. Oops.

Meanwhile, The Adventurer continues to make completely random progress, which is honestly the most mind boggling and overwhelming aspect of teaching him, at least to me. Since he was evaluated in August 2012, he's gained 7 letter sounds, bringing his total to 18 letters for which he knows the sounds (some of those have more than one sound). He still stumbles over some of the same exact ones he's been stumbling over, which is not the most encouraging thing. The letter f, for example, we've been reviewing for years.

At the same time, though, he has learned how to segment words into sounds, has learned to recognize a vowel sound when in the middle of a word, and has learned how to decode a series of three letters into the three sounds represented and thus read the word, so long as it's made up of letters/sounds he knows. Which is all huge, and super encouraging.

This non-linear progress is present in math, too, wherein he can divide and multiply (not on paper, but in his head, he can tell you if we have 12 or 15 donuts, how many that means each person in our family gets to eat).  At the same time, subtraction drives him batty. Non-linear learning. Fun stuff. Very challenging for me, and I am really hoping my friend has some great ideas to work around that.

What's the point of this post, then....?  Well, to not be afraid to get outside help when you need it. Don't feel you have to do this all alone; whether it's outsourcing higher level maths & sciences, or seeking advice on helping a student with learning disabilities, or even just hiring an artist friend to do art lessons, or a music teacher for music lessons.  If there's anything you aren't comfortable teaching, get some help. I know I am.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Motivation, and lack thereof....

Okay, friends, I need your help.  Best tricks for motivating an older student????

My oldest, The Writer (15/9th grade) is a wonderful student. Very self-driven, a bit of a perfectionist, works hard, does well, really a dream student.

Except for art. Which he's required to take, more or less. The state of Texas, in which we do not reside but will soon(ish) be moving to, requires one year of a Fine Arts credit for all high school students. Faced with that, he chose between Art, Drama or Music, and landed on Art.

His perfectionist tendencies collide with the course requirements, such that most projects take him a bit longer than they should, which in turn completely zaps all motivation for working on the projects.

Case in point: a multi-step project which has been "in progress" for roughly a month now; he's on the final step, with a small fraction left to go, and there it sits, unworked on, day after day after day.

In all his other classes, he's motivated. A self-starter. Diligent. Really a model student.

Just not with art.

The work he does turn out? It's pretty good. Not art scholarship good, but not bad, either. So it's not a quality thing, just a "how do I get this kid moving" thing.

Which brings me back to the question --- best tips for motivating an unmotivated older kid?

How have you dealt with this in your home school? Or even in other tasks, if you are not a homeschooler?

I'd love any suggestions you might have!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

One Week Later.....

We took him for pizza to celebrate. I still get happy tears when I watch this...yes, we've a long way yet to go, but look how far we've come already. Wow.

Sorry the quality is bad; I had to shrink it to get it to upload. You'll want your speakers on full blast, as his voice is soft.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Seven Words

Hope. Excitement. Encouraging. Fear. Worry. Cautious joy.

Those are the seven words I'm feeling right now, because of these seven words:  cat, bat, rat, mat, sat, hat, pat.

My Adventurer read those seven words to me today. He didn't realize that's what he was doing, but he did it.

We reviewed letter sounds first. He again, still, said that the letter h makes the sound /j/, and that the letter d makes the sound /p/ or else /b/ or maybe /g/ as in girl. And that the letter l makes the sound /j/, except, no, wait, it makes /l/ as in lollipop.

He noticed, apparently for the first time for him, that both g and j make the sound /j/.

He spent a few moments after each letter repeating the sound over and over again, just to cement it in his mind before we moved on to the next letter.

Because he was doing so very well, I decided to try something. To show him that just as he can point to or touch individual tokens, or tap out the separate sounds of a word (such as pointer finger, middle finger, ring finger, each tapping the table in turn as you say the separate sounds of the word "cat" -- /c/ - /a/ - /t/), so too we could point to letters as we said the sounds.

We (I) laid out all the letter tiles, in order, a to z. Then I pulled down b, a, t. On purpose, because he has those letter sounds down pat, and because it would allow me to swap just that beginning letter and make lots of new words.

No sooner did I put b-a-t in front of him did he say, "/b/-/a/-/t/; /bat/"

"Yes! exactly!" I said. "And look, if we swap the b for a c, now what?"

"/cat/. Duh...."

Right! Now what?, I asked, as I swapped the c for an m.

Mat, dummy.


And so it went, all the way through all seven words, me swapping out just the one letter, correcting him for calling me names, him calling out the word almost before I moved my finger away from it.

I asked him, at the end, "Do you know what you just did? You read. Seven whole words. You read them!"

I forgot that he absolutely detests praise, particularly for things he is self conscious about.

He declared he didn't really do it; I told him the sounds. He argued that it was supposed to be impossible to teach him how to read. He defiantly protested that he didn't do anything, I told him the answer; and that all I did was tell him the sound, he could have, did, figure it out on his own and he didn't need me. He boasted he could have done it blindfolded, without my help. He spewed anger as he said if he did, in fact, read, then he already knew how and always had. That he didn't need me. And that it was impossible to teach him how to read.

Round and round in circles his protests chased one another, from pride & joy in his success, to embarrassment over the fact we were cheering such a seemingly small thing, to insecurity as he wondered if it was a valid success, since I did prompt him with the sounds of some of the initial letters, to fear over whether he really had done it, and whether it would still be easy tomorrow or if it would keep getting harder, back to wanting to feel joy for reading, and unsure if it counted, since I helped.

No, he didn't say any of that. He ranted and protested and down played and belittled, his usual defense mechanism when something like this happens. So I let him rant, and quietly said I as proud of him, and we moved on to math, and I moved on to the other seven words.

Hopeful. Excited. Encouraged. Fearful. Worried. Cautiously  joyful.

And these: Careful to let him see only the hope and joy and excitement; careful to only encourage. Today, he read seven words, and I will celebrate that, holding at bay the worry and fear over whether or not he'll still be able to read those same words tomorrow.

He read. Seven whole words. And I could not be more proud.