Saturday, September 28, 2013

It's All Academic

Fall is my very favorite time of year, and this year the healing effects are like balm to the soul.  After our challenging start to the school year, the doubts that assailed and the re-thinking of everything, it is wonderful to have finally settled into what works for us,and to have life be a bit predictable. Well, as predictable as it ever will be for us.

As the cooler weather descends upon us, and  mountains reveal their snow capped peaks already, we are moving along very well with school, and everyone is enjoying the routine we have.  We still have Miss Mary coming to help with reading two mornings a week, and invariably she brings along some surprise.  She is a well traveled soul, who often has artifacts to share with us from places we are studying.  A few weeks back it was a photo journal and several items that related to our Aztec, Inca and Maya study, and we handled a soft alpaca wall hanging, and saw items from little villages near Machu Picchu.  last week it was Concord grapes from her garden, and we attempted to make homemade grape juice with them.  It didn't quite turn out as we had planned, but it was fun to play with it anyway:

We are back to enjoying learning, after a long hiatus trying to fit into a system that wasn't right for us.  I am so glad I didn't hang in there solely for the funding.  Now, we are back to many moments like this:

A boy, his blankie, and a good book...oh yea, and a guard dog :-)  Josh has gotten hooked on a book series from the library, and has read about 10 the past 5 days or so. They are fluff books, fun adventure stories, but several times he has grabbed a pillow and gone out to lay on the trampoline and read.  We are working really hard at school, but there is now a little more time for the joy.  Volleyball makes it hard to have extra time, but I am trying to make sure we set aside "just because" time for learning.  The other day, Josh wanted to learn more about his ring.  He has taken a fancy to wearing one of the rings we got the boys when on one of our adoption trips.  It has a Muslim symbol on it, and is the style of a class ring.  He loves this and wears it all the time now:

I am so glad we thought ahead all those years ago in purchasing a few specific items for the kids to remain connected to their heritage.  For Josh in particular, this ring seems to fill a need.  As we enter the time of year when he always seems to struggle with sadness and insecurity, this seems to help a little.  He is back to following me around the house, worrying about the dog being missing every five minutes, etc. but this year this ring seems to be something concrete that is helping lessen things a tiny bit.  By December those fears will fade, and he'll likely be back to his old self once is like clockwork and we can depend on his emotional turmoil every year around this time.

School and learning is richer in so many ways, and I feel much freer to tweak and completely change as needed, which we might need more than other families.  

All the kids are doing well in their coursework, and here in a nutshell is what we are seeing:

1) Matthew is LOVING AutoCAD, as we knew he would, and he said he could work on it for hours if he had time.  He wants to pursue certification in it once he is done with his coursework and the additional courses he can take with his distance learning instructor in Florida.  He is almost ready for another promotion in Civil Air Patrol, and his group commander is trying to learn more about Ground School.  He wants to pursue his pilot's license, but even with Civil Air Patrol scholarships for some things, I am not sure how we can manage it, but we'll start with Ground School if they get that organized, and then take it one step at a time.  He's doing so well in CAP and learning so much, that we want to encourage him as much as possible.

2)  Angela is really stretching with her reading, and is tackling some very difficult texts for her English level.  We are so proud of her for taking it upon herself to challenge herself to read higher difficulty content.  She is trying her longest book yet, at 400 pages, and it took her 2 weeks to wade through the first 100 pages, but she is keeping at it.  In addition, she is also working slowly on an incredibly difficult read, in terms of metaphor and symbolism, with attempting  to read with me Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.  It was her request, and she said she doesn't care if it takes us a year, she wants to read it and understand all of it.  Of all the kids, Angela is the one who is working closely to the grade level we have her at in just about all subjects.  As a 7th grader, she is well placed, and she appears to have no learning challenges aside from being an English Language Learner.  She takes her school work very seriously, and is talking about college possibly, maybe for counseling, psychiatry, or something along those lines...a perfect fit for her should she decide to go that route.  She has asked for a class in beginning psychology in high school, which we will probably thoroughly enjoy doing together.

3)  Olesya has POPPED with her writing!  Oh my goodness, many times I would not know that she is an English Language Learner when reading her papers. It is like overnight she shifted into high gear, and as kids often do she made a big leap in skill level.  She surpasses Angela in writing and grammar.  We have a big problem with math, however, and she clearly has some sort of math disability, there is no longer any question about that.  We have been told by our prior school coordinator that she likely has Dyscalculia, based upon her previous experience working with kids with similar difficulties.  If she were in the public school system, we would pursue testing and accommodations, but being at home we don't have a need to do that and can just keep pounding the basics and accommodating as we need to.  It is a confidence issue for her, but over time she is seeing herself as very intelligent, yet having an area of difficulty.  In some odd way, I think her seeing Matthew struggle mightily in an area has helped, as she sees Matt as intelligent, but just having a hard time in a single area.  it has helped her gain a little perspective on her own intelligence, and no judge herself solely on an inability in one subject area.  We are going to finish 5th grade math with her, then work on some remedial workbooks and skills to firm up those concepts. Olesya is incredibly careful with her written work and projects, and will often redo them to make them even neater, and she is a solid 6th grader in all areas, too.

4)  Kenny Bo Benny...this kid is unbelievable.  Just unbelievable.  He has made so much progress, and we are seeing connections being made that would have been impossible 2 years ago.  His math gifts are just  He scored Post High School in more than one math topic!!  the work with his speech therapist helped us learn how to teach him more organizational skills, which will probably plague him his entire life, but are improving a little bit.  What has made a world of difference, though it initially did so in a very subtle way, was being able to enroll him in the online program Fast Forword for auditory processing disorder.  I had hesitated to use the gift of money donated toward meeting Kenny's needs, as I hadn't had official confirmation that Auditory Processing was indeed at least part  of what we were dealing with.  When his speech therapist turned to me after the first 15 minutes of working with me and asked why they hadn't tested him for it, I felt we had enough confirmation to move forward with that enormously expensive program.  It has been almost a year of working with it daily, and finally Kenny is hearing many things correctly!!  He is more able to tune in, and to catch things we are saying better and more accurately, and we have far less frustration.  He has permanent loss of function, and will never fully take in information well by solely listening, but it is definitely improved, and for a kid like Kenny any percentage of improvement in any area may be enough to tip him over the edge to eventual self-sufficiency.  His reading is better, but still has glitches that we continue to work on. I got another program to work with which is not really phonics, but is breaking things down into chunks when reading, and may help stop word guessing.  He is comprehending fairly well, and is reading at the 7th grade level, but not nearly as fluently as Angela is in the same textbook.  he is thinking about his future, and while we are all still uncertain what that may look like, I am glad he is making plans and thinking ahead. He is talking about owning a business of some sort, and part-time ministry work, possibly with young kids.

5)  Josh continues to astound all of us, and he is doing everything the "big kids" are doing.  He is doing biology and history right along with them, and seems more able to organize information than any of the older just comes naturally to him.  He is halfway through 7th grade math and will probably start pre-algebra in the spring.  He is doing mainly 6th grade work in everything else, as he and Olesya are pretty evenly matched and do their literature and grammar together.  We recently had a fun challenge, which I had not expected Josh to take on. We have been using this very cool set of 550 flash cards that are uniquely presented in a visual format, and on the back of the card there are synonyms, antonyms, and the word is used in a sentence.  These words are SAT words, and are high level vocabulary.  They were created by a couple of homeschool siblings and are called Marie's Words and you can find them here  Here is what they look like:

I was totally sold on these cards when we saw them at the homeschool show, and the creators of the cards challenged the girls...knowing they had only spoken English for 3 try and recall any 3 words that they presented.  They showed them 3 cards and explained them to the girls, then we had a few minutes of conversation, and then they asked the girls what the words meant. they recalled each one perfectly! I was thinking more about Kenny than anyone else, but knew they'd be good for all the kids, so I bought them.

As we have worked on them, we got to around 30 or so, and then the kids teased me and Matt bet me that I couldn't use all 30 of them in one sitting writing some sort of article.  I then told him I would do it if HE did, and we were off!  We didn't set a time limit, but I took about 45 minutes and Matthew took about an hour.  We didn't realize that Joshie sneakily decided to take up the challenge as well, and he decided to write a creative story and try to use all the words.  When it came time to read them, he shyly presented his writing to be read aloud with ours.  We all sat there with our jaws hanging open as Miss Mary read it.  While he didn't get a couple of them used 100% correctly, I was stunned how well overall he ended up using such advanced vocabulary word appropriately, and it was clear from his story that he really did know what almost all those words meant!  Though there are some grammar and spelling errors, for 10 years old, this was not half bad!  Not only that, but with all the kids I have seen several of the words turning up in their other writing.  I thought it would be fun to share what Josh wrote, and the words he used that were the list words are underlined.  Grandma Alice has always gotten a kick out of reading notes he mails her, so I know she will like this!:

     Long ago in a small village survivors of a family saw one of their own relatives be abducted by an ugly headless Greek God [or so they say]. People had a conundrum about this myth. This rumor even got to the governor of the state, he said his vocation did not deal with this sort of nonsense. Since this governor said this he assigned this to a novice  in the military to figure out what was going on, but this officer bemoaned this. Then he was so insolent to his soldiers that some even wanted a transport to another officer who was more nurturing.  The abound army of troops drove into the town. To some it was a paradise or even their utopia! Water falls were all over the great land and wild life was all over, who couldn't love this gracious territory? And if this wasn't gracious their ethics are messed up! The bad thing was the land under them was containing noxious fumes all over. After the military evacuated the people of the area,  the town was if it was a bastion of military guards all over shooting what ever came in sight.
     "I abhor what I'm doing in this wretched land. Trying to find a Greek God? Supplies went out yesterday after sarge disappeared with all our food. Today we're using our ammo to forage for food and after that we are trying to get some contact to the col (Colonel)., but we were cut off by some lightning hitting our cellphone tower." This is what the  private said to his brother who was  very superlative at every thing that he did.
     Excavating the land they found a helmet of Greek origin twenty feet under the surface. Indicated with many orders from the captain, they almost fell behind! The only person who soothed their souls was the sacrosanct priest named Paul the Second of New Orleans or so he says.  The captain had sovereign power over every thing even the most specific details. Sadly after the captain disappeared the power waned all the way to the second class Sargent Matthews. Nine days later the Sargent's convergence with the  ideas of the first class private. Now the men were getting wary and scared by the numbers abated and that night fifteen men disappeared and the next night five more what was going on? One man felt the wrath of the god, being taken by him into the skies and then he was brought back to tell the story.
     The private was always a paradigm at being tough and following orders. They said it was only a sojourn, but by now it was five months later leading into the month of Christmas and men were mad about being there way to long so they started to complain.  Sargent Matthews was the most cantankerous person on the planet [even though they were going a little overboard about this]! The ethos of this culture was so amazing with so much perseverance that the Sargent started to get more joyful and since they didn't find anything they moved out of the area and a obliterated the land. The next year the town was rebuilt, but because of the fumes under the ground, it was unlivable unless they didn't light even a match. Amazingly the aborigine descendants found a way to live.

So, with the first 30 words under our belts and the awesome results, we will definitely keep on working with this unique curriculum add-on!!

Another thing we are using with surprising interest from the kids has been three of the Great Courses from The Teaching Company. I had ordered one of the two high school courses they offer, which was Early American History.  I am always on the lookout for different ways of presenting information, and this one fit the bill as the lecturer presents vignettes from American History dressed in costume and told from the perspective of the character he is portraying. He is very good, and I had hoped this would be a good tool to accompany our
American history survey textbook.  The kids have really enjoyed the lectures thus far.  With Matt I had wanted to add in something more challenging, so I bought two of the college level courses, having no idea if they would be too far over his head or not.  They are a series of lectures on Turning Points in American History, and another titled The Skeptic's Guide to American History. these are challenging courses for any adult, and they really cause you to think about things differently.

When the other kids heard they were college level and presented by some of the best professors in the US, they were curious and wanted to see one.  We tried the first one in the Skeptic's Guide, which challenges the notion that the initial colonists practiced religious tolerance.  It was deep, even for me, but very well presented and it definitely had me seeing things a little differently by the time the 30 minute lecture was done.  Well, I guess now we are ALL going to watch ALL of them, because the kids thought they were excellent, and it taught them ideas they had never heard before.  Now, mind you, I am not going to pretend that we didn't stop and explain a lot as we viewed it, but once explained, they were able to speak intelligently about the information and they really enjoyed it...even better than the high school series.  It might take them 45 minutes to get through a 30 minute lecture with me stopping and explaining language, but so what?  I'd rather take our time and go deeper, rather than race through and hit it all shallowly. 

I figure even if some  of it is lost, there are other advantages for doing it.  They are learning how to take notes and pay attention to the key pieces of information presented. They are being inundated with high level language that one day will make total sense to them because they have been exposed to it over and over again, much as they are when listening to the sermons on Sunday morning.  And lastly, they are challenging themselves to hang in and pay attention to something that is presented that is very, very difficult for them.  

Another discovery for us was  which we are using often.  It has high school and college level courses for FREE, and better yet, they are presented as animated videos!  There are 5 quick questions after the short 7-10 minute video, and they are professionally done with great content.  This really helps cement info for Kenny, in particular, but it is also a nice add on for all the kids, and we have learned something different from each of the additional items we use along with our standard old textbook.  

All of this is SO much more interesting, and I daresay more valuable, than doing worksheet after worksheet, which was the path we were heading down this summer which sucked the life out of school for all of us.  We are all content and looking forward to an interesting time of learning together.  

There's the update!  Someday I will look back over this blog, or the kids will, and I'll be so glad I kept it up, even when it felt like I had nothing much to write about.  We will remember the hard times, and will laugh at the photos.  We'll recall what we studied, where we went, who were our friends, and who we were as a family.  It may not make interesting reading for many folks, though every once in a while there is a slice of life shared that seems to touch something for others.  Sometimes there are academic things I include on the blog specifically mentioned so that other families might find resources to help their struggling kids.  I know that many posts are too long, and if I were marketing a Mommy Blog, I'd do things very differently.  Most weeks, I am lucky if I manage to blog at all!!  But I am not marketing, I am just observing, documenting and sharing.  If someone is helped along the way, that gives me great pleasure and feels like a way of paying it back to all those who have shared their knowledge with me over the years.  But the most important thing is that our family's precious memories are preserved somewhere, and in great detail.  This ended up being waaaayyy longer than I had wanted it to be, and it is time for me to sign off...night everyone!

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