Friday, September 21, 2012

Catch All Blog Post

As the kids are doing their schoolwork, I too have catch up work to do today!  Blogging is lagging lately, because we have been so busy I haven't had time or mental space for it.  Between digging into schoolwork with gusto, working outside to get the house in better shape for the coming winter, and church stuff, I am going too many directions!  This will be a sort of catch all blog post.

We finally finished the house, including the little things associated with completing the painting.  Dominick operated the airless while the kids with some help from me did every single thing else.  They  masked and prepped, they cut in, they painted up on the roof areas, they took things like butterflies off and put them back on.  They have spent the past 4 weekends doing nothing but working HARD around the house, and I am stating it boldly that we are super proud of them.  Here are the results:

Much cheerier looking!

Getting rid of the dead or dying shrubs along the driveway made a BIG difference in helping the ol' homestead look much neater.   We had hoped to save them, but alas, it was not to be.

Even close up, you can see they did a super nice job!

Back view.

OK, so there were definitely a couple of "Ooops's".  I am so, so thankful that through the years I have learned to zip my lip and show gratitude despite the mess.  Our kids have developed such a great work ethic, and I have to hope that it has been in part because A)  We didn't expect "perfect" and push them aside to do it "right" and B)  Because we applaud their every success, and then work together to fix whatever didn't go quite as planned.  Then there is C)  We work alongside them, we sing, we laugh, we sweat and groan about how awful a job sometimes is.  But we do it together.  A little spilled paint is not even worth considering even slightly important when I think about the tens of hours of very hard work these kids put in the past few weekends.  

Even better?  Today when I told them that Dominick and I were going to take them out for dinner tonight after volleyball, I got serious incredulous looks from all of them, and I heard not one, not two but all five saying collectively, "Why?  We live here too!  It's our house too and we need to take care of it, not just you guys."  I  just told them that we thought we ALL needed a reward, so watch out Denny's, here we come! Hahaha!  OK, maybe for some that isn't such a great reward, but for us it is a nice night out for a treat.

School is moving along so well!  Since July we have put in about 275 hours of our required 320 for the semester, so I think we have done an outstanding job!!  We are blessed...and I do mean have a retired teacher friend volunteer to work with the kids 2 mornings a week.  She is one of those special once-in-a-lifetime teachers every kid hopefully has the chance to have at least once in their school careers.  Miss Mary has been a longtime family friend and staunch supporter of our kids.  She spent every Thursday evening this summer downtown picking up trash with them to help them earn money for camp.  We love Miss Mary, and she will add so much to our homeschooling!  Not only will the kids benefit from learning from her, but it is providing me some much needed time alone working with Matthew, who often gets the short end of the Mom Stick.  While Miss Mary works with the other kids reading Amos Fortune, Free Man, I will be reading Call of the Wild and eventually Last of the Mohicans with Matthew, then all the kids will be doing various book studies on the books read.  To prep the kids for Amos Fortune, which is the story about a young African boy stolen from his family and taken as a slave to America, Miss Mary brought items from her own African journeys to share:

Miss Mary knows how to bring learning to life!

The real deal...items direct from Zambia.

Even Sunny had to get in on the musical fun!

Olesya loved this little instrument.

Joshua...the Little Drummer Boy

After an extremely frustrating and exhausting IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for Kenny (For special ed), which had me walking out shaking my head in aggravation, it seems someone somewhere finally heard us.  You might wonder what I am striving for with these meetings.  Well, you all know the very well documented and over-tested challenges we have discovered with Kenny.  Our problem is that his IEP covers speech only.  Yea, you read that right...the kid with huge issues is only being offered services for speech despite the loads of documentation I have offered, the outside testing that has been done that verifies every.single.thing. we have pointed out until we are blue in the face, and still they have not wanted to put it as part of his IEP plan. We have been very lucky that our homeschool program staff is so supportive in trying to get us the help we need.  During the meeting, our program staff was awesome and also backed me up, saying, "Well just how many times does this poor mom have to document her concerns?  We think she has gone above and beyond, and the District needs to do something." when the District personnel asked for more testing.  In particular, I was so disturbed by the attitude of the one person in the room who is the only one we have to work with week after week, and she came off as extremely condescending (not just my opinion, the others in the room felt the same way) and I was very, very leery about our first speech appointment last Friday.

God must have heard my prayers, because from the moment we entered the room last Friday, there was a COMPLETE turnaround in her attitude.  She admitted directly to me that she had failed to read any of Kenny's file before going to the IEP meeting because she hadn't had time (It had gotten to he very late), and she very sincerely apologized for her wording on various things at that meeting.  We sat down, and within 10 minutes of working with him, she turned to me and asked, "Why in the world hasn't anyone tested this child for auditory processing disorder?  It is so obvious something is wrong here I just can't believe no one has done anything about it."  She then said, "You are 100% right...he definitely has APD issues."

What came next was only a gift God could have given when she said to me, "Luckily, I am one of the few speech therapists also trained in auditory issues, so to me it is an easy thing to spot.  For those without training, it is not, so I'll excuse them for that.  But what you put in your letters of documentation was enough to signal huge red flags for me.  Now, it takes only a few minutes to see him replicating everything you said."  She told me that independent of speech therapy, whether it was approved or not, she would work with him a good deal of the time on auditory and other processing therapies.  She also said she was going to have a talk with her boss, the very person who was so awful to me on the phone last year insinuating I was a Mom Nut Case, and tell her that she was wrong, that Kenny NEEDS to be tested to be worked with effectively because she needs more information.  She did say that still may not happen since it is all about money and they do have a legal "out" for it, but that she would push for it, AND, most importantly put the first note on his IEP.

Today, we went and I was even more heartened when she had 4 different activities we are to work on at home, each one very clearly targeting the very issues we are struggling with every single day.  We may have just hit the jackpot and found someone who not only hears us, but has a plan how to help us.  I am SO impressed with her responsiveness, and her understanding of the exact problems we are facing. She gave me a hug when we left and said "I know that this has to have been incredibly frustrating for you.  It sounds as if you have fought for years for Kenny.  Thank goodness he has a mom like you, because most moms are too intimidated to go up against the system, or they just give up.  He needs you! And I promise you, I DO understand what is going on with him, and though we won't be able to fix it all, he will show improvement if you continue to work as hard at the things I give you to work on as you have everything else."

Validation is enormous.  More important is the concrete assistance we may have here.  She will likely be Kenny's therapist for the next three years, and I am actually excited to see what Kenny will be like at  the end of that time if she can remain on board and continue to work with him and guide me.

The iPads are huge.  I mean, huge.  For an English as a Second Language child, or for a child with special needs, I can not tell you what a wonderful and helpful tool it is.  We are already using them in all kinds of ways, but let me give you an idea of what we did just today with them...they CAN be toys, but in the hands of the right teachers they can be enriching tools like none other!  Today we:

1)  Used both Google Earth and National Geographic Atlas maps to look up countries in Africa.  We saw the Slave Coast (did you know it is actually labelled that way on older maps?), as well as Zambia, Gambia (Where Kunta Kinte was from in Roots), and Ghana where our story character is.

2)  We used our personal planners to schedule in volleyball games and practices, as well as other events so everyone remembers what we have to do.  Kenny REALLY needs this.

3)  We kept electronic notes of every vocabulary word that was not known while working with Miss Mary, and will create a long vocabulary list of definitions at the end of each chapter.  These will be stored in an ongoing fashion in a notebook app, as well as assignments.  Each of the words is instantly accessed using the app along with the connected thesaurus app...which really helps the girls figure out what a word means if they find they are still struggling with the dictionary definition.

4)  While the other kids were reading with Miss Mary, Matthew and I downloaded our FREE copy of Call of the Wild using our Kindle apps on the iPads, then we started reading it.  We came across several new words even to me (ferine and brumal) and with a touch of our finger, an instant dictionary definition popped up.  We highlighted the words to create our own list for later use.

5)  We looked up a news story on USA Today.

6)  Joshua videotaped Miss Mary playing the clay pottery mouth whistle to look at and listen too later.  He took photos of the drum to use in a report later on.

7)  I took speech notes and was instructed on a new app to look at for use with Kenny.

8)  Olesya began looking up the Quakers for a report for Miss Mary that ties in with our book.

9)  They all are logging their hours on their Chore Pad app, which allows me to then quickly look at what work they have accomplished this week and then put it in the official school log.

10)  We had a quick lesson on how to use their note taking app, learning the ins and outs of it.  We will be taking one app per day and learning how to use it, then planning how to integrate it into our learning.  What is stunning is how the kids have so quickly taken to using it, seeing easily how they can put them to good use without me suggesting it.  Also, because of its perfect size, it is NOT like having a bulky laptop that takes up a lot of "real estate" on the study area.  The iPad is like having a magazine or notebook paper on your work space, nothing more awkward than that.  Because of the sheer ease of use, the kids are using them constantly.  Angela just handed me a news article about the election and women voters that she found which had a FAR higher reading level than she can normally handle, but she was able to get the gist of it and told me "You need to read this, Mom, it is SO interesting!" so it might encourage stretching our abilities even more.

And that is how we have used them only in 6 hours of school for one day.

Can you imagine what the real use will be as time goes on?  This is one of the most exciting things I have witnessed in a very long time.

So there you have it, our "Catch All" post.  I need to run as their math time is up and I need to get some social studies in before we head off to volleyball games.  Bye All!


Anna said...

Can you point me in a direction for finding apps that are relevant? This is one area I am hoping we will find help in when our daughter starts receiving services in the school. I am so glad to read this update. The house looks wonderful and I am thrilled to hear of Kenny's new teacher. God is faithful.

Lindsay said...

I'm so in love with iPad :)

If Matt enjoys Call of the Wild, then I totally recommend White Fang to him. It's a more challenging read but - IMO - a much better one too.

Anonymous said...

Your home looks wonderfully cheery with the new coat of paint, Cindy! And I'm delighted that you finally have a speech therapy person who also has recognized the auditory needs Kenny has!
Thanks be to God for answered prayer!
Love, blessing and shalom!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Cindy...I was just popping by your blog since I haven't heard from you in a little while. I know you are busy. It sounds like you are having fun as well! Your blog is very inspiring. I will have to stop by more often.