Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Life and School, or LifeSchool!

The past couple of weeks we have been getting back in our homeschooling routine, which these days seems to have no real routine at all!  I say that, and yet we always seem to accomplish way more than it feels like in the moment.  We have learners who are eager, incredibly responsible and self-motivated, which makes my job far easier than it otherwise would be.  We are actually far more rigorous than most would realize, and probably more rigorous in most areas than our local public schools are if our test results are any indicator.  Though I find it hard not to constantly doubt myself, our kids are learning, and in some cases, performing far above what we were told to ever expect!

One advantage of homeschooling is that our kids are able to fit in electives and volunteer opportunities that might otherwise be too difficult to do with a traditional school schedule.  Right now, the girls are beginning online art lessons via Skype with a wonderfully talented artist and very kind friend from Salt Lake City, Raynola Dominguez.  You have to check out her artwork here:  Raynola Dominguez Portfolio  We are SO blessed to have her working with the girls, who were incredibly excited about this opportunity.  God continues to show up for us in all kinds of ways, and this was one of them, for sure.  Here are pictures from their first lesson:

The subjects I teach directly to the kids are literature, with our long time co-teacher and dear friend Miss Mary coming in a couple mornings a week to work on book studies while I work with an anthology textbook.  I also teach writing, and my best friend Candi is Skyping in to also help so we can have lots of one on one assistance which is really needed with the learning disabilities in the mix as well as the English Language Learner component.  I teach history, Contemporary Living (Life Skills, Marriage, Family, Relationships) and though we don't have a credit course titled for it, we also have a Spirituality/Character Development class every year which we explore in a variety of ways.  Right now we are reading the Tao Te Ching, working our way through it slowly and having ongoing conversations with our friends, Beth and Bob.  We have read The Road to Character and really chewed on that one, we have also studied world religions, and I use a variety of news articles to pull from for topics to discuss.  This year we are also doing a review of grammar one last time (Oh puuuuhlllleasssssse let it be the last time!).  I am using videos and worksheets from a variety of sources to teach science this year, and am discovering that science topics illustrated in video form are helping with retention, so we may look at that again in the future.  We are just getting ready to use a another of The Great Courses (We LOVE these!) to learn about engineering during the Greek and Roman era, taught by a professor at West Point.

Often though, I am merely the facilitator, finding resources, outside courses, and people who have areas of special knowledge to share with our kids.  We have been particularly blessed in that area, and I will forever be grateful for the influence and knowledge shared by a wide variety of folks, almost all of whom have donated their time to be with our kids.  It has made a tremendous difference for our little Academy.

Right now, Joshie has totally, TOTALLY kicked it in math!  No, I am NOT teaching it, they are all well beyond my skill level.  Josh is in 8th grade, and finished Algebra 2 in one semester this fall, and is doubling up on math at his request, taking Geometry and, get this, College Algebra online.  If he completes the course with a 70% or above, he will have earned college credit in 8th grade.  Watching how Josh has matured this past year has been a little astonishing.  At times I have to remind myself that he is only 14 years old, as he is such a self-directed and responsible young man.  Honestly, "boy" doesn't come close to fitting anymore.  Every morning for months he has awakened of us own accord at 6:00 AM, goes to the garage to work out, then comes in and does a couple extra math lessons before school begins, that is how he finished the course in one semester.

Basketball is Josh's passion for the second year in a row.  He is enjoying it so much and has shown a lot of improvement over last year!  However, as he himself admits, he is never going to be all that good at it, and yet his attitude is wonderful and he has said it doesn't matter at all, that his job is to try hard and be a strong encourager to others.  That he goes out there not able to really meet the skill level of many others, and yet give it 100% every game and care so much is a testament to his sweet spirit.  It is that very sweet spirit that is probably keeping him from being as good as others on the court, as we giggle all the time about how he is pretty tall compared to others but he simply doesn't have the heart to get in there and scramble for the ball, afraid he will push others around :-)  A fighter, he is not, and super competitive would never describe him.

Go Joshie!!

Larry, Mo and Curly are here checking out dining room chairs we desperately need but can't quite afford:

This may sound odd to many parents, but we really appreciate the kids' input when we go shopping for major purchases, and we use it as teaching moments for "Life Skills" about looking for value and quality, sticking to a budget, and purchasing right the first time.  We have explained that the wiser one is in spending their money, the less pressure there is to earn more to make up for mistakes in spending.  Buy once, buy right.  I can't even count the number of times they have talked us out of a purchase, or pointed to wiser options.

Matt has been doing an exemplary job of showing us just how he intends to handle the next few years of his education.  Electing to self-study and craft his own post-high school course of study in computer technology and business, he couldn't be working harder to prove to us that our trust in him is well placed.  He, too, finished an entire year of Trigonometry in one semester, while concurrently taking Pre-Calculus, which he intends to complete in the next couple of months, then move on to Calculus.  This kid has worked at a fevered pace (Well, Matt never, ever looks like he is working at a fevered pace, instead appearing to be slow and methodical but somehow getting an extraordinary amount done.) and has committed to finishing a three year textbook course for World History in one year, and thus far is half way through the second textbook.  He also took a step outside high school and into his post-high school career work and received his first COMP-TIA certification for computer fundamentals.  He had to test at Colorado Mesa University's testing center for proctoring and passed handily!  For those unfamiliar, COMP TIA provides internationally recognized vendor neutral certification for a wide variety of computer technology skills.  It is these sorts of certifications that Tech Departments are looking for in hiring folks for IT positions.  So I guess you might say we now have a true certifiable nerd in the family! Haha!  Actually, having an in-house "IT Guy" is coming in handy in many ways.

Then there is Kenny, who has had a rough few weeks, well heck, a rough year as you all know, and yet some successes as well!  We needed one after an experience this week which was unsettling and difficult, and yet necessary.  I recently contacted our local transportation company about training Kenny to use the local bus system.  We live in a small rural town with essentially two main streets.  Our thinking was that we could provide Kenny with more independence if we could get him using the city bus.

This past Thursday was our first training day, and I went along for the two hours along with a Trainer to show Kenny how he could ride the bus from our liquor store to Walmart and back.  Kenny was handed a map, and had the signs explained to him, and within 10 minutes it was clear to me he was confused.  I tried telling him to look out the window for familiar landmarks, rather than at the map, thinking that might help.  We did the route, he had to transfer buses once, and then we ended two hours later.

Quietly we got into the car, and then I turned to him and said, "Sooooo...what do you think?", and he was very quiet.  I knew what I had to say, someone had to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

"Kenny, you can feel safe to say this feels too hard for you.  It may be that it is too hard for you right now and later it will be easier, it may be that you are scared to attempt it by yourself, even if the drivers are super helpful, or it may be that you really can't do this, but you need to share your feelings so we can be on the same page."

Kindly, he looked at me and said, "Mom, I don't want to let you down.  I know you want a break from driving me places."

"No, honey!  That is not what this is about at ALL!  I want you to have the independence you are ready for and not feel held back by us making assumptions.  I will never mind driving you, and would much rather you feel safe and confident!"

Then, with great courage, he looked at me and responded, "Well, I learned something really important today.  I really, really can never drive.  I really am unable to pay attention even on a bus and figure out where I am, let alone where to get off, and now I know more than ever I should never, ever drive...I will kill someone, but we've always known that.  And also, mom, it is really scary to me and I don't feel ready.  I know I am 18 and I should be, but it was a lot more confusing to me than I expected, and it bothers me a lot that something as simple as riding the bus is something I honestly can't really do."

I explained that his Dysmaturity (the technical term for a person with mixed maturity...maybe 6 years old in some areas of development and 12 years old on another.  In Kenny's case, it is hard, because we really would put him at 10 or 11 years old in some areas of development, and 40 years old in others!) means that his younger developmental self may need a few more years to gain confidence and be able to try such things, that he understood he was younger in many ways and if his younger self was scared that was just fine, there was no rush ever.  Watching the relaxation of his entire body made me feel so quietly heartbroken for him.  FASD is profoundly handicapping, and yet is invisible.  Kenny can not form a mental map, and he can't remember streets he has been on two or three times a day for ten years. The issue of riding the bus was set aside for now, and probably for a couple of years.  He isn't ready and there is no sense pretending he is.

As often happens though, God intercedes and offers up other opportunities when doors close.  Due, in large part, to his care at Shriner's Hospital, Kenny has been interested in Shriner's and the Freemasons.  I have long hoped that Kenny, in particular, might find something to be interested in that would offer him the sort of growth experiences that Civil Air Patrol has for Matthew.  Having something with levels to work toward or accomplishments to point to, an arena all of his own to succeed in has been missing for Kenny.  Knowing that the Masons have levels to work toward, teachings that involve Scripture and history, experiences speaking in public and leadership, as well as a flair for the ceremonial, I felt all of this would be a perfect fit for Kenny's gifts and interests.  When we were in Massachusetts in the fall, he begged us to stop at an Open House for the Masonic Lodge at Lexington and Concord, where he was shown around and talked to several Masons who explained a lot to him.  He came away hooked!

In December, Kenny was introduced to the local Lodge after I reached out via email to a few folks and explained Kenny's circumstances.  The whole family was invited to dinner and shown around the Lodge, and the gentlemen were all very warm and receptive to Kenny, who was so eager and engaged, it was clear we may have found "his thing".  After being interviewed by 3 Lodge members last week, Kenny was notified he was accepted into the Lodge, and that they already have permission to offer adapted versions of their work which will mean far less memorization for Kenny, making it possible for him it perhaps succeed.  He will begin right before he leaves for surgery in February, and wants to be a Shriner and be a clown to help raise funds for the hospitals.

Giving Kenny a sense of purpose has been a real challenge and an obvious need the past year or so.  Over time, we are all seeing he may never be able to hold a full time job, and any part time job will have to be limited and well supervised.  He has an unusual combination of a higher than  normal intellect with FASD, and a true-to-form lack of executive functioning skills and memory that is typically found in worse FASD cases.  We are also looking at various post high school courses, perhaps even college courses one at a time, and at times I am very concerned about helping him steer towards a meaningful future.  We are extremely hopeful that his experiences with the Lodge may help him find confidence and success, as well as see that his life has value and worth regardless of how disabled he is.

To say he is excited would be an understatement, he immediately encased his acceptance letter in plastic and hung it above his desk, a sign that he, too, can do important things in the world.  After the shock of a far more complex surgery than anticipated, and the painful realization and acceptance of how much damage there is to his brain that the bus ride brought forth, this was desperately needed affirmation, and something to look forward to during healing time for him.

So there you have it, a catch up post that is mostly school oriented, but since this is my only "scrapbooking and journal" place, you all have to suffer reading it so I have it recorded somewhere and eliminate mommy guilt! Haha!  Life and School, it's all the same and it is messy and miraculous all at the same time!


Joyce said...

Love this post, esp the homeschooling stuff. Realizing I need to be more structured with my boys and getting ideas off other people, so thanks for that.

B.A. said...

My niece who is so much like Kenny was able to pass the driver's test but she can't drive. Can't remember how to get anywhere or how to get back home.
I once tried to get her to walk from her job at Chuck E Cheese to my house - less than a mile walk down a single road but it was too much for her. They have used 10-10 taxi a lot and I think she might be able to use a bus as long as there is no transferring.