Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teachable Moments or "Malinky Moo Moo"

When you adopt an older child, you are more aware of making the most of teachable moments, and today was full of them. You also begin to recognize that much of what needs to be taught has nothing at all to do with what we would all consider "academics".

We are in "High Awareness" mode over at Team LaJoy Avenue, and quiet truthfully it can be utterly exhausting as well as touchingly wonderful. There are moments right now when I would give anything to have a simpler life, where my brain wasn't operating at Full Alert status and could slow down just a bit. I am more mentally tired than I recall ever being, and I am certain not every adoptive parent is as anal retentive as I seem to be over every tiny little thing. But I can't change it, I was created this way and it can be both a blessing and a curse. Right now, I am not sure what category I would fall in...blessing or curse. Probably a blend of both.

I took the girls to Visions for testing this morning and they found a Russian interpreter to help as the girls are tested to establish a baseline in each subject. Olesya looked terrified despite the fact we had made it clear with the help of friends the night before that it was only for our use and not to be stressed over it. In fact, I was told that the first 5 minutes into the test she was stumped on something and started to cry a little before they reassured her all was OK. Almost 4 hours of testing and they only completed the math portion for each of them, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that each is working at a very appropriate level...Olesya at 4th grade and Angela at 5th grade.

I do tend to take these tests with a grain of salt as they are not timed and are supposedly self-adjusting, but Angela is where I thought she might be after observing her skill level. It is Olesya's results I am questioning a bit as we have seen her struggle mightily to add single digits easily and quickly, and seem almost stumped with subtraction. She may understand the concepts, which is certainly good and we are happy to learn it, but I'd like her to be much, much quicker at simple calculations. Taking 15 minutes to add 100 single digit math problems is far too long. Based upon this information we are planning on stepping back one grade level for each of them to reinforce some items, to build speed, and to allow for less English explanations for some things. For Angela in particular at 5th grade level the math becomes more language based. We also need to reteach measuring with our system versus the metric system they have learned, so stepping back just one grade level will allow for time to do that and also serve to take the pressure off in math while not totally ignoring it while English is acquired.

They were both quite proud of themselves for scoring so highly, and at dinner tonight we made a big deal out of it with everyone giving them a standing ovation while their grins spread from ear to ear. So sad to me to think that no one has ever been there to celebrate their achievements before, and what a joy it is to provide them with a loving environment where someone actually cares that they did a good job or worked hard.

The flowers are slowly beginning to blossom.

As we have driven around our area the past couple of days we have seen many calves that have just been born. In our Pig Latinesque Russian-English Combo Language we have jokingly described them as "Malinky Moo Moo", as "Malinky" means small/little in Russian. I think it was Angela who coined that phrase and it stuck so that every time we see a little calf we all point and laughingly say "Malinky Moo Moo", sort of like Dominick and I would point to meat in Kazakhstan and ask a clerk if it was beef or horse by trying to whiny or moo ourselves. We were laughed at, but it worked every time and helped us make new friends who couldn't believe these silly Americans.

When we went to pick up the boys from school this afternoon, Joshie's teacher revealed without knowing our fascination with Malinky Moo Moo that she had calves at her house and offered to let us come visit. We jumped at that and hope to get the chance to do so very soon, as the girls are fascinated by animals, particularly Olesya who is quite the animal lover.

Down the hall we ended up stopping at one of the Kindergarten classes where they have a pet guinea pig and a pet turtle. All 5 kids were intrigued and wanted to touch them and see them, and the teacher kindly let the kids do so. Angela squealed in surprise when the turtle sort of hopped towards her, and all the kids touched the shell and pet the guinea pig. I don't think the girls have ever had that sort of opportunity before, and being present for these kinds of firsts is a real kick, and a blessing in many ways. Seeing delight flit across their faces as they ride a bike for the first time or encounter something new is God's gift to us as adoptive parents of older kids. We may miss out on snuggling a new born or watching the teetering first steps, but we don't miss out on all the firsts, and often it is as touching as those younger firsts would be. We don't take anything for granted, we treasure every single moment as we missed so darned much already that anything we can grab on to means so very much.

I was so touched to be stopped by some staff members and told how much the blog has meant to them. Our lives have been deeply affected by many of the wonderful teachers and staff at our sons' school over the past 5 1/2 years, and it is quite an honor to me that any one of them would even read a single post, let alone that so many followed us all so closely on this journey and offer their love and prayers as so many obviously have. It is this caring environment that made it such a very difficult choice to remove Matthew from school earlier this year. I really feel connected to many of these motivated teachers and nurturing staff, probably more deeply than I should. I am not quite sure why I do feel that way, but there are people there whom I have met whom I have often wished I could be friends with outside the school walls as they are just really decent, warm, wonderful folks.

I dreaded walking in the doors the morning we removed Matt from the school, but we had to make the tough decision to do what we felt was best for him, and we could clearly see that we were in danger of losing Matt academically and socially and we were not willing to take that chance even though nothing terrible had happened yet. We wanted to be pre-emptive. It bothered me terribly to think anyone there who does such a good job under often difficult circumstances would feel that it was a reflection on them. It really had nothing at all to do with the school or the education offered there, it just wasn't a fit for him anymore, just as it won't be a fit for the girls to start middle school with all their needs which are far larger than academic. We are bringing square pegs into the mix and trying to pound them into a round hole, and we need to provide them with a more personalized square hole to fit into, one that is a custom fit. We have 4th and 5th grade mathemeticians combined with Kindergarten level readers and who knows what level of social studies or science they have or what level they are writing at. That is basically impossible to accomodate in a public school setting, and that is no one's fault. In fact, there are moments in the past when I have felt quite guilty about bringing Kenny into the school with the academic challenges he presents, knowing there is really only so much that can be done when you have to teach 20+ students in every classroom. You teach to the middle, which is as it should be, and having a child like Kenny can be more of a challenge than anyone SHOULD have to handle if it is not their own choice.

But much of it has to do with our family life too, our children's backgrounds, the fact that at least 3 of the 5 are well familiar with institutional settings such as any school offers but it is HOME that is unfamiliar and needs to be "learned", and you can't teach that well in the few remaining hours left between after school activities and homework. Many people don't really grasp the immense amount of work ahead of us in terms of teaching "real life" and family dynamics. That takes time...lots of it...and with kids this age and the activities they participate in, it gets harder and harder to find the time to spend together so that those "real life" things can be taught and experienced.

Right now we are picking and choosing very carefully what "teachable moment" we are going to take advantage of. The girls are on overload much of the time, there is only so much input they can handle, so there things we are making a priority and things we will let go for awhile. For example, I am looking for opportunities to repeat specific vocabulary words throughout the day and to repeat them several times in several different contexts. "Mirror" was one of our words and we used it in the car for rearview mirror, for the cosmetic mirror, talked about seeing ourselves in it, etc. Repitition so it sticks is important.

But we also realize that it may take 3 or 4 tries to break old habits or to relearn something previously learned. I am sure we have a few more times of reminding that toilet paper does not go in the trash can but in the toilet. Old habits are hard to break and are automatic. I am grateful though that I am not being handed dripping wet underwear anymore from having been rinsed out in the shower. Table manners are in some ways atrocious but that is one area we are letting go of for the most part right now, there are plenty of other small corrections going on and they don't need to be pounded 24/7. I am looking for ways to take their base vocabulary of 20 or 30 words to build on as we discuss the world around us. That is not always easy, believe me. Creativity helps...but I am not at all creative.

The most teachable moments come in what is not said, but what is shown. They come from not getting upset or yelling when they spill something, as I watch them cringe as they anticipate some sort of consequence. Teaching comes in the form of respecting their limits and not pushing too far, it comes in handling moments with Angela in a non-vindictive way and showing only compassion and understanding in the face of animosity or confusion. Teachable moments come from acting loving when you have been rebuffed, for those actions speak for themselves and present a new way of being to the girls...a way of living without anger, of living with forgiveness and kindness.

The teachable moments are often directed at me as well, as God sets up scenarios and relies on my own past learned experiences to allow me to try and approach things differently and see what the end result is. I find myself learning a tremendous amount every single day right now, and sometimes I learn that there are many qualities I have which I don't really care for or where I need to work on myself more.

Whether it is explaining a can opener or potato peeler, how a toilet works, or who the various members of a family are, there are a million things to teach. There are times when I kick myself for not taking advantage of a specific moment when something was said or we saw something and it didn't clikc until later that it would have been a valuable learning experience.

At moments like that I have to offer myself mercy and forgiveness and remind myself that just as I see the girls as a work in progress, so too should I view myself that way. God has much, much more in store to teach me, and I just might learn a thing or two if I can let go of what I THINK I know and be open to the Spirit teaching me something new, even if it seems in conflict with what the world says to be true.

Yea, I think I will stick with God's teachable moments as opposed to the world's. So far it hasn't failed me yet!


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you are all home together and now working out how to be a family. Your blog has been such a blessing to me!

I love the term Malinky Moo Moo, I live near wild ponies and a lot of farming communities, so I'll be using that one! :)

Anonymous said...

while the girls are learning english, you are teaching us all russian. So far I've learned 3 words

Anonymous said...

Hey Cindy,

I really like the concept of Visions. I wish we had something like that here in Michigan. I really think Claire would benefit from being homeschooled as there isn't a great fit for her disability. It seems that the programs available are either below or above her level. I won't even go into all of the negative influences from peers. I wish there was a program for children with FASD. So sad. I am glad the girls seem to being doing well. You are truly amazing (give yourself some credit here, not everyone can do this).

Take care!

Robin Gillis

Anonymous said...

Another day, another gain or dozens of gains--I can take you to see and possibly handle pigs, probably can find some sheep. Lambing will begin next month in the bigger operations. I am not surprised to hear that the teachers, or anyone else, for that matter, have read your blog. It's better than reading a serial novel. Kick yourself--for what? You've already noted that your brain is in high gear 24/7. Hug yourself and consider yourself hugged by me.


Hilary Marquis said...

I think you need to bring the girls (and boys!) to our zoo this summer! We have a small petting zoo right in the comfort of our own home ;) Oh...and a homeschool conference going on in April...

Kelly and Sne said...

Still following and glad to see that all is well on Team LaJoy! I don't think the mental fatigue, being "on" 24/7, is only reserved for bringing home older children as we experienced the same thing. I think that we adoptive parents are learning just as much as the children are learning when you first get home. It is fascinating and fun and exhausting all at once. And it sounds like you are doing a great job at it. Love the stories of your real lives!

P.S. Do you suspect that there may be something physically wrong with Olyesa which is why she is slow at math? Needs glasses? Dislexia? A red flag went up when you said that she understands the concepts but is very very slow at doing basic problems.

Anonymous said...

Every one of our last four kids have struggled with math to begin with. I have my theories about "institutional" living and math. They say manipulatives are so important in learning math. Just playing with blocks, moving toys from one spot to another, puzzles, etc. Our kids did have toys in the orphanage, but when I watched video of the little ones there, you could see that they didn't have the luxury of exploring the toys as much as protecting them from other little hands. That plus just not having the conversation which lead to logical, mathmatical thinking in early I say, I just have my own theories. All four of them needed Title 1 math help. Two of the four are on track now. One is coming along, and our newest daughter...yikes! She has trouble remembering from one day to the next her math facts. Again, in my reading, it seems that early childhood trauma can effect how the brain functions in term of memory and logic. As you can see, I can't quote the specifics, but I just have my own underlying suspicions that our kids missed some of the "building blocks" that would help them in math. I think it can be "fixed" with extra time and repetition. We even just spend time talking about what math is, why and how we use math in our daily lives, etc. Our newest daughter also panics when she sees math, I think. We played a game suggested by our daughter student teaching in special education, and younger daughter knew more of the math facts than it sometimes appears when she encounters math at school. She said she does get anxious when she sees math. We're just needing to do a lot of explaining, visuals, manipulatives, and math "tricks" to help her remember her facts. Hoping we're not missing anything, but I truly think it's just a matter of confidence and practice for her.
Nancy in the Midwest

Unknown said...

Some advice about animal sounds. I wound up teaching an entire class about how animals in America speak English because animal sounds do not translate well. Pigs for instance makes the Russian sound KHRU-KHRU and if you say OINK OINK they think you have gone nuts try to have you committed. :) The kids liked to laugh me for that. It was a interesting teaching moment.

Anonymous said...

I really meant it when I saw you at school. If you need ANY help with instruction, please let me know! I love working with ELL students and their families. I have extensive resources for the girls academic levels and would always be willing to help you! Let me know! Just because they don't attend OES, doesn't mean we can't help them! You are doing awesome!
Mary Morris
5th grade teacher at OES