Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homeschool 2014-2015: My curriculum choices, and now we're official!

When we first decided to homeschool, I was surprised to discover that here in Louisiana children do not reach compulsory age for school attendance until age seven! This meant that as we were homeschooling kindergarten and first grade, we did not need to submit any notification to the state because Sunshine was not yet legally required to attend school. (Just don't tell her that!)  She will turn seven this fall however, so this school year marks our first as official, state-recognized homeschoolers. There are two registration options for homeschooling in Louisiana; we have chosen the least involved method for the time being, which simply requires that we register with the state as a private school. This meant our school needed a name, so we have chosen St. Dominic Savio Academy. I like that St. Dominic Savio isn't terribly common, but he's also very relatable for kids. He himself was still a teenager when he died, was very devout, and tried to help his schoolmates life holy lives for Jesus; a trait which I think any Christian parent hopes their child will have.

As a complete novice homeschooler when we started out in kindergarten, I opted to use a complete "box" curriculum while I was still discovering our styles of teaching and learning, as well as what types of curriculum were out there. For first grade I made a few substitutions, and this year for second grade I've gone totally eclectic and chosen all subjects myself. With Sunshine's giftedness this really is the best option for us, as it allows me to choose materials that are on her level, regardless of what letter or number is printed on the cover.

Image Source Image Source

Update: Links have been added! In the next few days I hope to have time to share my morning work printables available for download in a new post.

Morning Work: For her morning work, I created journal pages for Sunshine to keep in a binder. One side has her writing her name and the date (since she's my only student, she never has to do so for any of her papers!), our number of days in school, some basic addition, subtraction, and greater/less than, as well as writing the time in both analog and digital. On the back I give her a sentence to proofread for simple mistakes, she has a place to write her spelling words for the week, and a short 2-3 sentence journal topic.

Math: We're sticking with MCP Math, which we started off with in Kindergarten. It's not mind-blowingly exciting, but it seems to be getting the job done so I figure why fix what isn't broken? We're supplementing with Math Wraps to help practice her facts, some Base Ten blocks, pattern tiles, and logic puzzles.

Reading: I wanted a program that used real books and not readers, so once we got through the Little Stories for Little Folks phonics readers and Bigger Stories for Little Folks short stories from Catholic Heritage Curriculum (CHC) last year, we moved on to the Storytime Treasures series from Memoria Press (MP). The reading material in Storytime Treasures was a bit simple for her, but I found it to still be a good fit for her as she gets used to the comprehension portion of the student guides. We're finishing up More Storytime Treasures now, then we will move on to MP's second grade literature program.

Handwriting: Up until now, we used and liked the handwriting books from CHC. Sunshine, however, really wanted to learn to write in cursive this year, and CHC doesn't introduce cursive until third grade. So since I would say our current curriculum is Kolbe Academy "inspired," we're using this book which they recommend. I like that it reviews printing one more time before moving on to cursive writing.

Phonics & Spelling: Sunshine has always been a strong reader, but I wanted to make sure that for the sake of her spelling she didn't miss out on learning phonics rules. I particularly went looking for phonics and spelling programs that worked together, and settled on the "plaid" phonics series and Spelling Workout series, both from MCP.

Grammar & Writing: Last year I totally could not settle on a program, even after reading through lots of reviews. I was already using a couple of things from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) and was pleased with them, so I found their English materials on Amazon and decided to just go with that until I found something else for the long term. I still haven't found anything else, and like I said with Math why fix what isn't broken; so we're sticking with Houghton Mifflin English again this year. It's obviously designed for use in a traditional classroom, but thanks to Amazon I can get the textbooks, workbooks, and even teacher editions pretty inexpensively.

Science: Since this was and is still my favorite subject, we decided it would be the one thing we would splurge on. For second grade we are continuing with the Harcourt ScienceFusion series. Each year I've been able to save 40% by purchasing through the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op; it's still expensive, but the multidisciplinary approach of digital lessons, book work, and hands on experiements really seems to help her grasp the concepts more clearly.

Social Studies: For the past two years we've used a general social studies, Harcourt Horizons, which I was buying inexpensively on Amazon. I've been happy with it as a general course, but this year at Sunshine's request we've decided to go it alone as we are starting in on world history. We're using "History Year by Year" as our spine and fleshing it out with library books and other activities. Continuing this year is our world geography using Little Passports as our spine (which is one of Sunshine's favorite parts of homeschool), and we're using the Evan-Moore Daily Geography Practice to work on map skills.

Religion: For religion this year I'm letting Sunshine go to CCD classes at church; last year since we were just starting out I did her CCD at home while we settled in. But I'm still supplementing at home with the CHC sacramental prep materials "Preparing to Receive Jesus" as well as the Baltimore Catechism, saint stories, the CHC character cards, etc.

Extracurriculars: We are of course continuing gymnastics classes for part of her PE lessons. She's still in Girl Scouts, and as her art/music class she has joined our church parish's children's choir. We also enjoy using the Wee Sing cd's and books at home. And for visual arts, in addition to our random arts & crafts projects she has requested an art center in our office/homeschool room for her birthday, so soon I'll be assembling a collection of nicer art supplies and a space to work. Plus we've signed her up with a membership on DIY, so while we haven't had much time to play with it yet it looks like it will be a good tool to give her an incentive to explore a lot of different areas.

We certainly don't get to every subject every day, but when I lesson plan I just make a list of lessons for each subject, rather than actually scheduling lessons onto a calendar, and when we pick something up we just start again where we left off. I figure the school year isn't a race, and we've got 180 days to fill. As long as I feel like we're making satisfactory progress, I don't stress too much. After all, one of the joys of homeschooling is flexibility, right? The weather is FINALLY nice after the sweltering southern summer, so a lot of days I let her out to just enjoy the freedoms of childhood. There will be plenty of cold, wet days and hot, sweaty days to hide inside with our formal learning.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Homeschool 2014-2015: How we got here

Sunshine and I are now about a month into our new school year, so I thought this would be a good time to remind myself and share with everyone else how we got to this decision and place in our family life. Later I'll write more about our actual curriculum this year.


Neither Papa Bear nor I were homeschooled, and I don't think I ever knew anyone who was. Papa Bear attended local public schools from K-12, I attended public schools from K-8 before asking my parents if I could attend parochial high school. (This is ironic because he and I actually lived in the same school district growing up, but on either ends of town. Had I gone to public high school we would have graduated togther, but instead I never met him until we were grow up.) We live now under the same school system we grew up in, though since we live one town over a whole different set of local schools. Our school system as a whole is one of the best in the state, and a big factor for many people who didn't grow up here but moved out this way to raise their own kids. So for Sunshine, going to public school certainly would not have been the end of the world, but we both had this nagging feeling that it just wasn't the right fit for her at this time.

You see, I was identified as gifted in second grade, and had services from the end of that school year through 8th grade. There are a lot of gifted tendencies in my side of the family, and though we never have had her evaluated we presume that Sunshine is gifted. This is based not only on our own observations, but those of her teachers and directors in our church preschool, as well as some of Fidget's therapists, plus discussions with our pediatrician. Because of her giftedness, a number of things made me feel uneasy about putting her in a public school class.

For starters, the state requires children be 5 by September 30 to start kindergarten in a public school (and most private schools use the same criteria). In our church preschool we weren't too bothered by waiting to start because we were mostly sending her for social reasons, and her school days were pretty short. But as we started looking toward kindergarten, our school system said they flat out do not consider early entry at all, and they would offer "enrichment" at that age level but not acceleration. I know teachers are used to offering differentiated instruction, but I don't see what enrichment they could offer without acceleration that would actually be useful in preventing her from getting bored.

We also worried about boredom turning into a behavioral issue, esp. as we have only full day kindergarten here. One aspect of her giftedness is clear asynchrony in her emotional development, so I worry that frustration and boredom would have led to inappropriate outbursts. Also, so much is written these days about how pliable and wired to learn the young mind is; therefore we felt like making her sit in a class that was below her skill level would be in many ways a waste of her time. And from personal experience, I worried about years of teaching below her abilities would lead to poor study habits which would come back to haunt her later in life.

Next we looked at parochial K-8 schools. Our parish doesn't have its own school, but the school we would have considered seemed amazing and not terribly far. And I do think they would have done a better job of challenging her. But there was the transportation issue, plus the biggest concern was how we would ever afford nine years of it for her, plus nine more for Fidget. So after eliminating our two traditional, mainstream options we began to discuss homeschooling. At that point she was so far ahead that even if homeschooling was a total bust and we put her in public school starting in first grade, there was little concern about her falling behind her peers. I presented my findings from internet searches about the strengths of homeschooling in general, and he agreed to give me one year to try it out.

This was in about February 2013; Sunshine still had preschool until mid-May. But once we told her we had decided to homeschool, she declared she was ready to start then, even though she was still in pre-k! So I ordered the kindergarten curriculum from Catholic Heritage Curriculum (CHC), and about a week before Easter we started kindergarten. She truly flew through her lessons and by the end of August had completed all of her kindergarten books. We started first grade the day after Labor Day 2013, and finished up first grade around the end of July this past summer. (We had numerous breaks through out the year because of life getting in the way - my nasal surgery, my dad's hospitalization and eventual passing, Fidget's developmental evaluations, his ear tube surgery - so our school year got drug out quite a bit.)

This first year and a half certainly had its share of difficulties, but what doesn't? In particular because formal homeschooling is new for both of us, there has definitely been a bit of a learning curve to figure out what works for us. But I feel like we're finally finding our groove; and while there are some moments when I would gladly get up and shove her onto that yellow bus, there have been so many more that I am quite grateful for the opportunities that homeschooling allows us and look forward to many years to come.

Will Fidget enter our homeschool one day? I hope so, but only time will tell. We're not ones to put down an entire school system, or condemn all teachers. I know there are lots of good, traditional brick and mortar schools and teachers that do great things for a lot of kids. This decision was all about what was right for one child at this one time in her life. If at some point an option presents itself which we feel is better, then yes we might consider sending either of them. But there's no reason to rush; right now I'm just taking second grade one day at a time.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Random midnight musings

I have no idea what thoughts are about to flow forth from my fingers to this screen.

It is 12:30am as I sit down beginning to type this. I should be in bed. I was in bed. So why am I now up staring at a computer screen??

I. Can't. Sleep.

I haven't been up and down with either of the children (though Fidget did have a fever at bedtime). Papa Bear isn't traveling for work or out on a fire call; he's snuggled up sound asleep with his other bed partner (aka his c-pap machine). Even the cat is curled up on the corner of my bed, near where my legs should be.

I just can't sleep.

<Random sidebar #1: I say near where my legs should be, not where my feet should be, because I sleep with my feet hanging over the edge of the bed. Post-SCI, what sensation I do have tends to be hypersensitive, and when I sleep on my stomach, the pressure of the bed against the tops of my feet is actually to the point of being painful, esp against my I can feel that my feet are in pain, but I can't move them to fix them. It's obnoxious.

<Random sidebar #2: Sleeping flat on my stomach is for the sake of the skin on my rear. When you're hospitalized with paralysis, nurses want to come in day and night so they can turn you so as to prevent bed sores. Important, but annoying. So I set about to strike a deal with my night shift staff; since I was a belly sleeper anyway pre-paralysis, if I got them to help me roll all the way over would they please just leave me alone the rest of the night?? Luckily for me they went for it. At home, I will typically put my feet up on the bed, and then instead of a lateral transfer I just roll into bed, so I'm already belly down.>

Once I fall asleep I'm usually fine, but I've battled trouble falling asleep for a long time; over ten years I'm sure. I've tried all the methods that are "supposed" to help one fall asleep, but with little success. I think it comes from my gifted brain; I have major trouble shutting my thoughts off at the end of the day. I know it is often recommended to put your thoughts down in a journal at bedtime, but that doesn't work for me because I just keep making more and more thoughts. Mental plans, stewing over things that have gone awry, perseverating over random bits of's like the Energizer bunny lives in my head. Usually I have success putting sitcom reruns on the TV: ones that I've seen so many times that I can just listen to them without having to actually watch the show, and following the dialog is just enough distraction to save my mind from itself. The Cosby Show is one of my favorites for this; well, actually, it's just one of my favorite sitcoms period, and the fact that I've each episode so often makes it quite useful for this purpose.

<Random sidebar #3: I'm so used to writing things on my iPad, that I now find it really annoying that the computer doesn't automatically correct my spelling/caplitalization/etc.>

Other nights, though, even the Cos can't help. My only recourse is some benadryl if I'm desperate, and then running myself to the point that I drop of sheer exhaustion. Once I reach that stage where I can hardly keep my eyes open, I'll climb in bed and put some instrumental music on Pandora, and finally drift off to sleep. I just wish that had come about two hours ago. My only saving grace is that because of Fidget's fever I cancelled his ABA for tomorrow. Mondays are his early day, with the therapist coming at 8am. Obviously I wish he weren't feeling poorly (esp since I'm not sure exactly what the problem is) but it will be nice not having to be up and moving after being up late.

It has now been half an hour since I sat down at the keyboard. I can feel the benadryl kicking in, and my yawns are coming pretty frequently. So I will shut down the office (again) and the living room lamp (again) and put on some relaxing music (again). I will offer prayers of eternal rest for my Dad - this past Saturday would have been his birthday - and pray that this time God grants my body rest before doing it all over again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whirlwind Wednesday: Sept 17

Today was just...odd. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened, but our plans were constantly changing, and when I'm juggling so many balls at once I really prefer to stick with the game plan. Deep down I'm a much more relaxed, go with the flow type of person; but at this point a plan of attack is a matter of self-preservation. Changes to Papa Bear's work schedule mid-day, which resulted in having to find transportation home for Sunshine after CCD and Children's Choir at church; Sunshine being less than cooperative with school work in the morning (but thankfully straightening up and working really well all afternoon); and Fidget being offered ABA hours this evening to make up from a missed session on Monday -- it seems like I was constantly getting thrown curve balls and having to adjust. But we made it through to bedtime with no major issues, so I guess that's really all that matters.

Poor Fidget was so confused tonight; usually he had OT on Wednesday evenings, but we recently terminated services with our therapist. I liked her fine on a personal level, but for a variety of reasons it just wasn't a good therapy fit. We've already been accepted by a new therapist, just waiting on paperwork to process. But since he is blissfully unaware of these things, he kept asking me if, "J come?" I tried to explain that she isn't coming any more, but he was stuck on that line of questioning. Then when his ABA therapist showed up, he was really confused as she's normally only here in the morning!

ABA is continuing to go well; Tuesday we had his bi-weekly clinic meeting with his case worker & therapists going over what goals he's mastered in the last two weeks, and what we need to work on next. And Papa Bear had his parent training session this week also, which I am very grateful for. It's one thing for them to teach him things, but another thing for them to help us reach him, be consistent with teaching compliance, etc; but with most of the ABA during normal working hours Papa Bear doesn't get much opportunity to observe and ask questions. Speech is going well also; to look at his monthly report from when he started in March, to his most recent one from August, is really staggering in the volume of words and quality of his communication. 

And despite this morning's attitude hiccup, Sunshine is continuing to settle into a groove with her homeschool work. We've still been sticking with mostly the 4 R's - with only occasional science, history, geography - but I anticipate us diving into those next week. She and Papa Bear took a trip to the library last week, so I'm stocked up with books for those subjects again. And now that she's adjusting to the increase in difficulty from 1st to 2nd grade, Sunshine is getting quicker with finishing her core schoolwork. It also helps that she is eager to start those subjects since they are more fun, but knows she has to get through her core work each day before we can move on to the fun stuff. And we've had a number of discussions about the fact that Not Everything In Life Is Fun! But lucky for her, when you're only in second grade there is still a LOT of fun to be had. :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whirlwind Wednesday, and 10 Random Facts

Yeah, yeah, I know; the crickets have been back around here. I've been in the midst of a major carpal tunnel flare-up, so typing blog posts isn't exactly the best thing for me to be doing. But it's late, and despite taking two benadryl and two fioricet (I've struggled with severe tension headaches since high school) I'm wide awake all by myself, so tonight I feel like writing.

Labor Day weekend I was excited to have a friend & her family staying the night with us. She and I met through a Catholic homeschoolers FB group, so this was our first time meeting in person. She, her husband, and four kids were such a joy to have in the house! There was definitely some wound up loudness that evening, but it was that happy excitement sound that I love to hear in the house. My disability has turned me into a bit of a homebody, but I love to have my little house full of people and fun.  The only hitch to that visit was that Papa Bear was working out of state, so I was by myself getting the house ready and taking care of all the hosting duties. I may not have been quite as prepared as I would have liked, but sometimes that's a good lesson for me to not insist on perfection.

Sunshine and I started our new homeschool year about a week before Labor Day - 2nd grade! Sometime soon I'll have to post about our curriculum choices for the year. We mostly use a typical textbook approach, but I'm a bit eclectic in that I source all of our books myself rather than buying a full curriculum from one provider. With neither of my kids falling into a typical, age-appropriate behavior range, I can't imagine that sort of thing ever being a good fit for us. We've been a little slow going, but I think we're finally starting to hit our groove again. Her homeschool gymnastics class started about a month ago, 3 weeks ago we started back with Girl Scouts, and just today she started her catechism class and children's choir at church. Now that all of her extracurriculars are in progress, and Fidget's therapy schedule has become pretty routine, hopefully we can firmly decide what times each day work best for her studies, and what balance of subjects works best around our other goings-on.

Speaking of Fidget's therapy, his ABA is continuing to go well. His case worker Miss S came out today to do some parent training with me: teaching me how to run some of their program lessons when he has days off, how to improve his compliance, and how to better manage his attention-seeking behaviors: esp the negative ones, like last weekend's incident where he buttered the cat. Let me tell you, Earth Balance spread is not easy to scrub out of cat fur! S is coming back Monday evening to do the same with Papa Bear, and moving forward we may set up some parent training sessions for going our to eat, as that has been a huge behavioral issue. At home we can work through things, but it's hard to work through a kid throwing bean burrito in a restaurant! But with a trip to WDW in the spring, we very much need to learn how to manage it and help him cope. I have to say, I love that his therapy contract includes coverage for these parent training hours!

Now that we are starting to settle into our new weekday routine, hopefully I can start attending to some of my own personal business again. I've been holding onto a script for wheelchair repairs for over two months now, and I desperately need a new set of tires! I've got some other organizational projects around the house that I really want to tackle as I know the holidays are just around the corner, but I've got to get this CT pain to settle down first. Ironically I'm already scheduled for a nerve conduction study at my next neuro appointment in October so we'll see how things go then. I'm hoping he won't say it is to the point of needing surgery, but I wouldn't be surprised if he does.


Tonight one of my favorite bloggers, Chrissy from Life with Greyson + Parker posted a list of ten random facts and invited her readers to do the same. So I thought I'd post them here and just link to it in her comments. Some I'm using the same categories she did, others will be my own. So here you go!

1. Favorite TV shows: I very much miss the 80's/90's family sitcoms. My absolute favorite of all time is The Cosby Show. Maybe it's because of watching Bill Cosby do all those Picture Pages on Nickelodeon as a kid, but Cliff Huxtable has always been my favorite TV dad. Aubrey loves to watch Full House with me, and as I have a lot of fond memories of myself watching Nick at Night with my mom (Donna Reed, Patty Duke, Dick Van Dyke, Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, etc) I'm happy to indulge her and pass that memory on.

2. I've never really been one to struggle with major addictions, thank goodness. Not a smoker, not a daily drinker, never did any illegal drugs. But my one vice, which I know is bad for me but I love, is soft drinks. A can of Dr Pepper Ten is my version of a morning cup of coffee! Esp in the last almost-ten years, one of my medication causes horrible dry mouth so I always feel like the carbonation helps take that dry feeling away. And when I was pregnant, plain water actually made me more nauseous with both kids. Go figure.

3. I've had a big interest in the space program ever since I was a kid. I always wished I could have gone to Space Camp, and have sometimes pondered that if many individuals with paralysis can move better in the water, what would it be like to send a paraplegic into space? The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 are two of my favorite movies.

4. While I try not to overshare TMI details, I fully admit to posting a lot of mundane stuff on FB. I think part of it is that since I'm a stay at home mom, and don't drive, FB is a big source of adult interaction for me. I know it's not the same as being with real people, but at least it gives me a chance to be involved in mature adult conversation.

5. I started covering my head for mass at the beginning of advent last year.  I was always curious why Catholic women quit wearing veils/scarves/hats to church, and when I started researching it I found that I wasn't really satisfied with any of the answers. Nothing I read seemed like enough reason to eliminate a practice that had been in place for hundreds of years. I don't know that I'd say the church should demand it for all, but personally I find a lot of devotional value in it.

6. Like Chrissy, I am almost always running late. DH is more of an early bird though, so I've had to really work hard to overcome that chronic lateness and meet his expectations of at least being on time. The tendency of my family to be running a little late has become a running joke of it's own!

7. While I can be a perfectionist about some things, I'm also work best in a state of organized chaos. My house may look like the clutter is just a big jumbled mess, but I almost always know exactly where things are. When they get lost is when I clean and put them away!

8. Some of the holidays I can take or leave, but I looooove Christmas time! Last year Fidget was only able to participate in opening presents for a short time before he needed to retreat to his sensory safe place, which we affectionately call Fidget's World, so I have to adjust my Christmas morning expectations a bit to meet him where he is, but I really do love the whole season. All the decorations in the stores, songs on the radio, lights on houses, special treats....I just love it all! So many people are going gaga over pumpkin everything in the fall, but I'm just biding time until all the pepperminty things come out.

9. DH and I both like to cook, but despite working a full day DH often comes home and fixes dinner. He's pretty much always got the option, but most days he would rather cook than wrangle kiddos. We're both having to change some of our techniques at the moment though, to allow for Fidget's dietary restrictions.

10. Our cat loves to sleep in my wheelchair at night. Once I've put Sunshine and Fidget to bed, she will often start meowing at me to go to bed as well because she wants my chair! She's always been very protective of Fidget though. When I was pregnant with him she would come lay curled up around my belly (even when I wasn't showing much), and if he is crying she will come and start meow-crying at me to make sure I go attend to whatever is bothering him. And thankfully, as evidenced by the cat-buttering reference I made earlier, she's always been very patient with him and tolerates a lot before she starts batting him away.

And a bonus random fact: I frequently get confused over which is the proper American spelling: gray? grey? I always forget. At the moment I'm pretty sure it's with the "A", but mainly because Sunshine corrected it when I wrote it on the while board. Oops, teacher mama fail!

So there you go! Have a great rest of the week everyone!