Friday, December 25, 2015

Couldn't Possibly Ask for More

Oh Holy Night...

Oh Come Emmanuel...

The First Noel...

Silent Night...

It's not about Santa and stockings, though those things may be included.  It's not about the gifts prettily wrapped and resting beneath an ornate tree.

This season was, by all accounts in our family, the best yet.  I was told by Angela that it was ushered in with a Thanksgiving to remember, and ended with a new tradition and a double dose of Jesus and carols.

We are no longer in the little kid stage.  I loved it while we had it, I miss that we didn't have more of it with our kids who came home at older ages, but what we have now is so rich, so meaningful, that it leaves little to yearn for.  

And I know to others it might seem a little empty, a little lacking...too few packages to unwrap, too little time without work as the store remains open, too many who ought to be around the table but aren't.

I look around that same table and see abundance.  I see love.  I see overcoming.  I see gratitude.  I see friends who are family.  There is no lack here, and it is beautiful.

Leading up to the holiday, we had a choice between a few more gifts, or money spent on baking ingredients.  So much fun was had, as Olesya made her butter mints even prettier than last year, and Joshua and Kenny decided to go on the hunt for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, finding one at that was a sure fire winner.  Angela made peppermint bark.  Matthew simply ate it all!

Sunny offered moral support from her throne in front of the fireplace...

 Tonight we continued our tradition of having friends over for Mexican food, then hustled off to church so the kids could help set up luminaria lanterns prior to the evening service.

The candle light service was beautiful, and as I sat there and watched all five LaJoy youth participate in one form or another, either by taking the offering or with candle lighting, I was struck by how time has passed so quickly. They are so mature, still not quite yet adults, but certainly no longer children by any means.  They step up so often to handle things around our home, the business, and church, and are moving gently into adulthood having been guided by the very people that surround them in our congregation.  This is a group of kids who have been well loved by so many, who have been nurtured and cared for in ways that are hard to describe, but for which I am deeply grateful.  

When the service was over, off we went to work at the store for the remainder of the evening.  There was snow to shovel, a sign to change,  trash to throw, and customers to greet.  The amazing thing?  Every one of them had a blast and said they LOVED our new tradition of being there to help cover one of the busiest nights of the year.  Not a complaint was heard, only joyful laughter and giggles along with the "Merry Christmas" greetings offered every customer who entered.

Angela and Matt changing the outdoor sign in the snow.

A Snowy Kazakh Man~

An equally snowy Russian woman!

And a shot of dapper looking Joshie, just because we all thought he looked quite handsome.

As the evening grew late, and things started to slow down at the store, someone mentioned the Catholic Church and midnight mass.  I offered to take whoever wanted to go with me, as we had enough help at the store.  Who has teens who want to willingly attend two different church services on Christmas Eve?  We do.  Olesya and Kenny decided to remain behind to help Dominick close up, and Josh, Angie, and Matt all eagerly wanted to attend and see what a Catholic Christmas Eve Mass was like.  We bundled up, and off we went...and it was beautiful, different for us, and helped extend the meaning of the evening just a little longer.  Sitting there beside the three of them as we sang together, and fumbled our way through an unfamiliar service, there were new scents, sights, and sounds to take in.  Afterward, in the car driving home, all three suggested that we make this a part of our Christmas Eve tradition as well, now that we will likely all be staying out later with the store on this special night every year.  

Listening to their warm comments about the evening, I was thrilled that presents weren't once talked about, but "presence" was in many different ways.  Christmas Day itself is an afterthought, according to them.  Christmas is about Christmas Eve, about "Framily", about music and faith.  I really have no idea quite how we got to this point, how we managed to make it about the things that really matter, despite cultural pressures, but I realized tonight it is firmly cemented, and though they might all one day walk a different path and things might shift, there is no doubt that something meaningful is now ingrained and it won't easily be abandoned.  

Tomorrow will be a little different, as the boys all head off mid-morning for a road trip to Colorado Springs to get Matt delivered to his leadership camp.  Weather is ugly, roads are bad, and we are praying for safety for them.  The girls and I will send them on their way, and then settle in to spend some time together uninterrupted.  It won't be as adventurous as the boys, but I trust it will be a sweet time.  How can it not be when I will be spending the day with two of the kindest young ladies on the planet?  We will open gifts before the menfolk leave, and take a few photos, no doubt.  But our hearts are already as full as can be, and here in the silence, I know that for this night, all is right in my world.  

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Major LaJoy

We have a Major in the house!  Cadet Major Matthew LaJoy received his promotion at the Civil Air Patrol Christmas Party last night.  Another step on the road to his goal of earning the highest rank possible in the Cadet program, Matt has 2 more phases to complete out of 16.

Watching him last evening, it was hard not to recall the shy, reticent 12 year old boy who had been looking forward to starting CAP since he was 9 years old.  That first evening I accompanied him, and seeing those older youth who had worked hard, looked sharp, and presented as so mature, it was hard to imagine Matt one day following in their footsteps.  12 year old Matthew lacked confidence in himself, and his introverted nature meant he was often in the background.

Advance four years, and his experiences in Civil Air Patrol have been formative for him in ways I never would have expected.  We talked once about how I wished each of the other kids could find something similar that would offer them similar opportunities for development.  Matt wisely turned to me and said, "Mom, I wouldn't worry.  None of the other kids needed it.  They are all more outgoing, and more comfortable in social situations.  Without CAP, I never would have been.  So God gave me what I needed, and God'll give them what they need."  I love being "schooled" by my kids, and it wasn't much longer after that when Kenny stepped onto Leadership at church and there, found his place.  In time, each one will find their unique place, if we just keep exposing to new things.

Matt was surprised on the spot, and was told he was leading the evening, which meant he had to speak in front of almost 100 people, and was asked to explain the Cadet program to the families in attendance.  He sat down and quickly created a brief outline of what to speak about, using key words, and then did a nice job as he spoke of following his outline, fleshing it out with details, and staying on topic.  It was clear he had anticipated what parents and new cadets might want to know about the program.  I have to admit I was super pleased, as he was putting into action skills he had been taught at home in school, and I was so happy to see he could apply them in a real life pressure situation.

Here are photos from last night:

Relaxing before the event

Everyone was eager to see Matt be promoted

OK, so maybe these two were eager for the pizza! Haha!

Looks like Dad isn't so tall anymore!

Entertaining ourselves, everyone kept grabbing my camera and playing with it,
so I finally got a few pics with ME in them!

Two "retired" Cadet leaders were present for Matt's promotion.

We are at the point where this is a Big Deal.  Achieving this rank and above is something few cadets ever accomplish, so few that he is now the first in the history of his Squadron to ever reach Major, let alone the ranks that follow.  We were told at his last promotion that, in fact, no other cadet on the entire Western Slope has ever reached this far.  

As we support Matt's efforts, it means sacrifice...hahaha!  In order to promote beyond this stage, he has to attend a Leadership School, and it was scheduled for the same time frame as his church camp this summer.  Matt had made the decision to put off promoting so he could attend church camp for his last eligible year, a decision we whole heartedly agreed with.  However, we learned a couple weeks ago that they were squeezing in another Leadership School between Christmas and New Years over at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, so guess who gets to leave Montrose possibly Christmas Day to drive him over?  Weather may allow me to leave the next day, we will have to see, but at least the other boys are accompanying us so I will have a nice little road trip with my men!

It is so much fun to watch the kids blossom, to see them work hard and achieve dreams.  Each of them is doing so in their own ways, some with more public recognition, some with less, but each is growing and maturing, figuring out their way in the world.  Nothing could be sweeter as a parent, nothing at all. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Traditions Matter

Traditions matter.  They cement families in a way nothing else will.  Sometimes they are silly traditions, like walking down Main Street in the winter and stopping for hot chocolate, or making the Elf on the Shelf have at least one scenario each year where he is pooping on something.  Other traditions are more meaningful, like singing "I Love You Forever, I Like You For Always" when you read the book by the same name 4,682 times, or when you insist that a certain meal has to be served for a certain holiday because, "But mom, it is our tradition!  We can't change it!"

When you have children who spent half their childhoods in orphanages, those established traditions become ever more important, and with each passing year they speak to a constancy that they cling to.  Now home 6 years, the girls are so rooted in these traditions that they really, really matter.  They speak of their old traditions from their life in the orphanage with fondness, but THESE traditions, the FAMILY traditions are the ones that will be carried forward.

As we ease our way through Advent, we are participating in our family rituals that have happily become more important than the cultural Christmas expectations.  We are stretching to try new ones out, too!  The week or two before Christmas is becoming an ever more pleasant time for us, as we have let go of the commercialization and embraced the things that are far more important.  Each year I notice the stress level drops and the enjoyment factor increases.

This past week was SO much fun!  We tried on a new tradition, and it fit beautifully, as we got up quite early last Sunday and traveled to the next town over to prepare, serve, and eat breakfast at the homeless shelter there.  We had been looking for some volunteer opportunity we could have together as a family, and this was a big win.  Everyone enjoyed it, despite the 4:30 awakening necessary to get there on time.

Familiarizing ourselves with the kitchen

Olesya is SO good in the kitchen these days!

Pancakes for 20 or so, we are good at assembly line work!

No surprise to see Josh volunteer to handle the bacon :-)

Kenny is an excellent flapjack flipper

As we ate with the guests at the shelter, I looked around the room and our family had strategically spread itself out among the entire group.  Everyone was warmly visiting with the guests, listening to stories of long haul truck driving careers, jobs being looked for, and more.  The ease with which each of the kids participated in conversation with complete strangers was surprising to me, particularly "strangers" that others often avoid talking with.  We were complimented on the meal, and left the guests to their expected chores of cleaning up.  As we drove home, Angela cracked us all up as she said, "Wow, this time of day really IS pretty!  I don't want to get up this early every day, but once in awhile it is nice."  As a lovely sunrise presented itself to us, we all confirmed that this felt like something we wanted to continue doing, so we have a new family volunteer project two Sundays a month through the winter months the shelter is open...and yes, Angela and Olesya even agreed it was worth getting up that early for :-)  A new tradition has begun.

The evening closed out with what has, without equivocation, become a highlight of our holiday season.  For many years now, we have helped our adopted Grandpa George decorate his Christmas tree.  We share a meal he has prepared, we goof around, we visit, and have a sweet, sweet time of being one another's extended family.  The kids are pros after all these years, and tackle the decorating with enthusiasm.  20 minutes later, with all those hands, the job is done, and George has a little bit of Christmas surrounding him.

This man is a treasure to us.  He has loved us through so very much, prayed for us, and been present via email through very difficult times when we were far from home.  Our entire family appreciates the wisdom he shares, and the acceptance he offers such a large group of kids being in his home.  Over the years, George has taken ALL the kids to the movies (What guy his age would ever tackle that, even when they were all younger?), has offered great encouragement to Kenny, introduced Matt to a wide variety of music, taking him alone on "dates" to local concerts when Matt was only 5 or 6 years old.  

Loving George comes very, very easily.

I realized I had never grabbed a group photo in all these years!

And THIS is what Christmas is

Being loved...

Knowing you are loved...

Actively loving.

This is a tradition that has shaped our family in subtle ways.  It makes us recognize the need to be there for others, to BE family for those whose family is far away, to share our family as we can. WE have been blessed with remarkable people in our lives, people who have literally formed the LaJoy's into who we are...and are helping us "become".  They have encircled us and supported us in tangible ways.  Their love will never, ever be forgotten...and we hope they see us pay it forward as often as we can.  Because that matters.

Then, another newer tradition is Miss Mary taking us out for a LaJoy Academy Christmas Party at the same Chinese buffet in town every year.  What a spoiling moment that is for us, as going out to eat at a "real" restaurant is a rare occasion for us!  We bring little gifts and cards to share, we laugh over fortune cookie messages, and we really just relish being together...our friendship runs so very deep.  Our homeschool efforts simply would not be the same without Miss Mary participating a couple mornings each week in lively debates, and bringing her many gifts to the table in working with the kids on book studies.  And I, personally, would never have made it without her steady encouragement and constant praise.

Love the smiles, always hard NOT to smile with Miss Mary around!

So thankful for every single person around this table.

So yet another tradition of the season is behind us, one that makes it feel like the holidays have truly arrived.  They are all little traditions, nothing spectacular, but they have meaning, they create a sense of rootedness that is important, and every year they burrow into the heart just a little deeper.  Tonight we head to Matt's Civil Air Patrol Christmas Party, something that has also grown to become part of our tradition.  On Christmas Eve we will have more traditions with friends for dinner then church candlelight service, which really makes the holiday for us.  

Not necessarily a Christmas tradition, but one I hold just as sacred is curling up in the winter with the kids and reading.  Do you know how lucky I am that in the late teen years, I STILL get to snuggle with my Big Kids and "read them a story" as we explore new books?  Wow.  I never, ever thought that when I was rocking Josh and Matt in their nursery and reading Curious George for an ungodly number of times that I would still be able to feel their warmth nestled in next to me 15 years later as we read.  Of course, I missed out on it with Kenny, Angela and Olesya, so being able to grab a little piece of that now is extra sweet.  We missed so darned much with those three, but I think we have done a terrific job of making up for lost time, and revisiting much beloved traditions.  Here, thanks to Pastor Karen's loaning of a book, Angela and I are tackling a new tome from Rabbi Kushner explaining Judaism.  Angela was enthralled by the book and wanted to read it with me, so here we are, off on another reading adventure!

I was as surprised as anyone else might be that THIS was the book that captivated Angela, but it is quite a good read and we are thoroughly enjoying it.  She has highlighted so much in just the first 2 chapters.

A rare selfie

Kenny and I are reading together as well, but I found I can't read with both of them in the same day, as it is too deep and requires too much brain power.  He and I are tackling  Reza Aslan's No god but God:  The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.  Yea, not exactly bedtime reading.  That boy challenges me all over the place.  His reading is not as fluid as Angela's, and he is processing some deep material with that one, so I think it will take us a looooong time to read it.  However, it is fascinating and we are having some interesting discussions about it!  

And, for the final new tradition, when it snows, Dad calls in The Crew for the store to shovel!  Our liquor store is quite busy, and Dominick can't get the shoveling done by himself, so, it looks like our new tradition is that Snow Days are Shovel Days at House of Spirits!  Luckily, with 5 kids, the job is relatively easy, and Montrose never gets that much snow, so it won't be a frequent occurrence.

I like our traditions.  They are traditions of service to others, service to family, traditions of enjoying education, of enjoying the arts, and traditions of love and friendship shared.  Sure, there are decorations and a few gifts, there is a tree and a creche, but that is all "window dressing".  Being steeped in meaning is what we value, even if others look at it and see nothing of value at all.  Discussing making Christmas candies, which is on its way to becoming a new tradition versus cookies,  I was surprised to find the boys were disappointed to think they might not get to participate, even Dominick, so we will make a few today, then hold off and spend Saturday night as a family of 7 crammed into our kitchen working together, laughing together, bumping butts together, creating sugary, chocolaty goodies and making a huge mess.  I am sure that singing Mary Did You Know? will be part of the evening as well, loudly and totally off key.

We don't have a Better Homes and Garden Christmas.  We don't have a Martha Stewart Christmas.  I think we have more of a Charlie Brown Christmas :-)

What more could a mom ask for?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

'Tis Always the Season

'Tis always the season...

The season to be kind
The season to offer our hearts to others
The season to put aside that which doesn't matter for that which does
The season for love...for hope...for noticing

'Tis always the season...

We just aren't always ready

Today, at the grocery store, I had a moment.  Those moments are woven throughout our daily lives, if we are listening, watching, present.

I had Olesya, Joshua and Kenny with me as we did a little grocery run.  A little for us turned out to be $125, and that IS little for us! Haha!

As we were near the bakery, I was perusing the rotisserie chickens, when I looked up and discovered I was suddenly left all alone.  Olesya had wandered off to get something for herself, and the boys had been chatting away and then, silence.  I looked around after grabbing my bird, and there it was, in the middle of the market on a busy holiday weekend.

The Spirit was right there, and it came in the guise of teenaged boys.

I grabbed my camera a moment too late, I missed it by a split second, but I'll always remember it.

Josh and Kenny had rushed over to visit with two friends in town, Roger and Ivan.  Both men are older, and are developmentally delayed.  We brought Christmas to Roger several years ago, and he has never, ever forgotten it, and Ivan has worked at the food bank with us and has sometimes needed a "partner" to help him with his work, and Josh or Kenny has often been that partner for him.  In the moment prior to me pulling out my phone to take this picture, Josh was holding Roger in a long, warm embrace, and the delight on Roger's face was so evident, as was the glimmer in Ivan's eye as Kenny leaned over to table to more easily hear what he was saying.

These men might be different.  To some, I bet, they are even a little scary...because in our America today, sadly, "different" is scary.  But funny how the Spirit works, once you get to know the "other", they often become dear ones, and the fear dissipates.  

We are all one, there are only walls of ignorance and hate.  We erect them, and we have no idea what we are missing out on.

Reading online forums about connecting parenting, and seeing how desperately parents are trying to hang on to the souls of their children who have been battered and broken by a cruel world that has been unfair to the extreme with them, it is hard for me not to recall those early years with Josh, who fought love so mightily, whose own soul was one of those bruised so deeply we wondered if he would ever be able to feel secure enough to accept love, let alone offer it easily.

To watch this almost 13 year old young man rush eagerly to offer one of life's "others" hugs, warmth, and love almost brings me to my knees in gratitude.  Really.  The year has been filled with hard stories for me to hear, stories of relinquishment, of heartbreak, of loss of hope.  There ARE families who don't make it, there ARE kids who are so shattered that no amount of love or expertise will ever put them back together again.  At times, it feels hopeless.

But...there are the ones who make it.  There are the ones whose beginnings do not dictate their endings.  There are the ones who are courageous enough to reach out for love, trust it, and it changes them forever.

It also changes all of us, doesn't it?

This is the face of Reactive Attachment Disorder.  This is what stared back at me for 2 years straight, and that I often saw for 2 more years as his tormented and broken heart began the long road to healing.  This is the face of a child, who if he had not healed, would have had no empathy, and would have grown into the soul deadened adult you find in every prison:

To those not parenting it, this looks a moment that every parent has that makes them crack up as they try to sound serious when disciplining their child.  To those parenting a RAD child, this is a look of defiance, of perpetual explosive anger just waiting for the next opportunity to spring forth.  

And believe me, it is damned hard to hang in after day, month after month, year after year.  It is damned hard to keep your own heart pliable and accessible when the daily onslaught leaves you raw and hurting...and you know you have no choice but to trudge back into the connected parenting trenches the next day, doing the hard but invisible work of even something as simple as trying to help your child accept a hug from you without squirming, or having them look you in the eye.  That took until he was 6 years old.  

11 years from the time that picture was taken we have a healed and whole son, an incredibly affectionate, authentically loving and kind son.  An occasionally insecure son, but one who can talk about his fears, share those concerns appropriately, and can use coping strategies gained through years of long, hard work.

This is a season in which so many families are feeling empty, filled with despair, wondering if they can even hold on another day.  Their children are disregulated even more due to the holiday stress, old memories surfacing, and feelings they can not name.  For some families, merely surviving the holidays is considered a "win".

We've been there, we know what you are going through.  I am here to tell you, to reassure you that it CAN get better for many, many of your children.  It can if you can just hold out a little longer, keep your heart from closing permanently a little longer.  You are it, you are often their only hope, a large number of children absolutely can heal.  I know, I live with a houseful of them, and trust me, we are not exceptional parents.  We are not any different than any of you.  Well, maybe we are a little more stubborn, given our combined Italian and German heritages :-)  We have no secret formula, we screwed up a million times, and Grace brought us through.  It doesn't take "Super Parents" to help kids make it, it takes committed parents who never give up until it just becomes too unsafe.  I get that sometimes, there are no alternatives, but often we just need to hear from someone who has made it safely to the other side that it can, indeed, be done.  

My prayer for each and every one of you is that you can grab hold of something this season that gives you hope.  It may be just a moment when a child allows you to hold them, or smiles at you, or calls you mom to your face.  It may be another parent who offers respite care, who offers a listening ear, or who simply nods in knowing understanding.  

'Tis the season for hope, my friends.  May you blessed with a bucket full when you most need it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

iPads as Band Aids

I have mulled this post for a few days, having read an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post.  It was written by a teacher and bemoaned the appearance of iPads in her classroom.  You can find the article here:  I Gave My Students iPads - Then Wished I Could Take Them Back .

The educator, Launa Hall, had some strong points in her favor.  She spoke to the way iPads decrease social skills as kids bury their heads in electronics, the challenge of technological problems eating away at instruction time, and the decrease in creative play with concrete objects such as Legos.  

As someone who has used iPads in the "classroom" pretty much since Day 1 when we started to homeschool, I wanted to offer some thoughts as I now feel competent to speak of such things with that much experience under our belts.  We have found that iPads have greatly enhanced our learning, and we use them hourly, but they are not a magic potion or panacea.  They are strictly a tool, and when utilized well, they can be a fabulous addition to education.  However, when simply handed over to a child or teacher without planning or forethought, they can indeed be a distraction.

I honestly cannot imagine homeschooling well without each child having an iPad.  Was it an extravagance?  No, not in our case, though I am sure some might have thought so.  For our unique situation, it was a money saver and a necessary special education tool.  When we began homeschooling 6 years ago and eventually saw the need to get iPads for each child, we had two brand new English Language Learners, one highly special needs learner, one Dysgraphic learner, and little Joshie :-)  We clearly had a different situation on our hands than many families do.

Here is what I have learned, and how we used them (and computers, etc.) effectively:

1) Rules MUST be established immediately.  Ours were:  A)  You will never, EVER use a device when someone is speaking to you.  You will turn it off and look at them,  B)  You can only use them when given permission. C)  We have the right to look at anyone's search history at any time...and do actually do so.  D)  No Social Media until 18 years old.  We don't need the distraction in their lives and, due to the kids' circumstances we recognized a level of naivete that makes it quite unsafe.  I know others have different rules around social media for their kids, but since ours are not in school and "everyone else is doing it" this hasn't even proven to be a real issue at all in our house and we still have yet to be asked even once when they will be able to go on Facebook, Snap Chat, or other platforms.  We may elect to drop the age a little as maturity has developed, but we have been lucky and I admit we have exceptionally compliant kids.  We've never had a serious issue with misuse.  

2)  We view the iPads as having instant access to the world's largest library!  It has replaced our need to purchase dictionaries and encyclopedias, we have access to virtually any piece of information at any time.  It has also replaced the need for physical maps, folders, binders, planners, 

3)  The physical structure of an iPad versus a laptop makes a psychological difference...a huge one.  It sits flat on the table and takes up little space, and yet can be grabbed and information looked up instantly.  There is no barrier between teacher and learner with a screen, there is no hiding behind a screen, and we found it is literally ten times more likely to be used because access is instant, versus thumbing through a big dictionary or encyclopedia.  Do any of you know a kid (or adult!) who will actually stop what they are reading, run to grab the dictionary, find the word they need, and then go back to their book?  Not many.  But a kid will take 3 seconds to look it up online...or with Kindle versions simply TOUCH the word and have the definition pop up!  A book is only as good as how often it is used.  The accessibility of information, and the way it sits with no bulk on a desk helps, believe it or not, it really does.  Ours are used constantly throughout the day in highly appropriate ways.  

4)  The iPad brings the dictionary to life with audible pronunciations, which for ELL learners was hugely helpful.

5)  The cutesy projects are great, multimedia, etc. but in the long run, we found they were distracting and were along the lines of building dioramas... every kid ought to create one once in their school years but does that really lead to deep learning?  Not so much.  I feel like many folks who want to look at using iPads in classrooms want it to look flashy...maybe to justify the purchase price.  For some reason, perhaps because I am old school, I saw the potential of iPads as more than gaming devices and creating little Steven Spielbergs.  I wanted something to add to our class time, not detract from it.  

6)  Apps are cool.  Some are great.  Most are no better than flash cards...and yet it is time mom saves tediously working with those flash cards independently with 5 different children.  Most apps, I have found, really are just time savers or more convenient versions of workbooks, flash cards, etc.  They are not Magical Learning Tools...they virtually replace hard copies of things.  Sure, there are a few that are great...we found the speech ones super helpful for Kenny to visualize tongue placement for sounds.  

7)  Unlike computers, iPads are easier to work with...far easier.  For Kenny and his learning challenges, and even the girls sometimes, computer are complicated,  difficult to understand file sharing, etc., and harder to use.  An iPad, for kids like Kenny, allows them to interact with computer technology in ways that are far simpler.  The clean, uncomplicated interface and intuitive workings of the iPad make it all so easy.  Kenny has a computer and can use the word processor, but that is it.  He uses his iPad for all kinds of things, and it has been a blessing for him in all kinds of ways.  The visual nature of file storage there helps him tremendously.

8)  The social aspect can be enhanced if one works at it.  We look up and share news stories every morning, when games are played online they are often played together and the conversation flows no differently than if over a board game...teasing and joking are always present.  Videos are watched together and displayed on a larger TV screen we have just for school, then discussed.  

9)  The author of the article complains about issues that we might not have to worry about at home, or anticipated ahead of time...things such as usernames and passwords not working (we elected to have a common format for usernames and the exact same password for all), not enough bandwidght (thanks to Matthew we increased our bandwidth and added wi-fi repeaters to ensure good signal throughout the "school"), alarms going off all the time (it happens once in awhile, but not regularly, and we are glad they have learned to set alarms to schedule their time)

10)  They replace things only after they have been learned in traditional ways first.  We replaced hard copies of dictionaries only after skills had been learned with them.  We replaced Encyclopedias only after they had been used a few times in hard copy form.  We replaced planners and calendars only after hard copy forms had been used.  The understanding of the virtual formats is not full, we learned, until the non-virtual format had been touched, felt, played with, and worked with.  In other words, we introduced certain usages of the iPad just as adults would be introduced...after having a non-virtual tool to work with, then moving it into a virtual platform.

When it comes down to it, iPads don't teach a darned thing.  Sometimes I think this is forgotten.  They are tools that enhance teaching, no better or worse than a stack full of books, a typewriter, a calculator, videos, word processors, musical selections, maps and more.  It just gives you access to those things.  A TEACHER teaches, and turns to the iPad to supplement and explain a concept, to help a learner better visualize a concept.  When we are disappointed with outcomes of iPads in classrooms, perhaps it is because we have no clue how best to use them, or we view them as yet another way to "fix" education.  No tool is going to fix education.  Better instruction, better curricula, deeper rather than shallow learning will fix education.  

When we think iPads will cause kids to be more engaged because they are more entertained, we have totally blown it.  Kids are entertained by being intellectually stimulated by great conversation, excellent assignments that make them think, well written literature that transports them...not rote filling in of worksheets.  Great teaching and fixing education doesn't take iPads.

However, iPads can make a big difference if viewed appropriately.  They can help carry a conversation further and deeper with images that explain and maps that show.  They can immediately bring answers to questions that might be otherwise bypassed.  They can allow for "drill and kill" that IS important work for things like math facts, spelling practice, etc, and free up teachers for other tasks. For special education purposes, iPads can be invaluable for certain tasks and brain training.

America is obviously in an education crisis.  More and more kids are graduating high school being unable to read, write, or compute at even a 9th or 10th grade level.  They graduate though, we push 'em through.  Throwing technology at them to "fix" the problem IS half the problem.  There is no antidote to poor teaching practices...and I don't blame teachers one iota.  Teachers today are retiring or changing careers in droves because they can't truly teach in a classroom, there are prescribed lessons to be taught in only one way, and they already know it doesn't work well.  They are dictated to by a system that is continuing to fail egregiously, and if they want to keep their jobs they are powerless to change it.  

Let's hope that eventually the classroom environment can bring in technology to enhance rich and diverse learning experiences, rather than be expected to be the Band Aid which ultimately disappoints.  

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Lame LaJoy News

Winter has firmly settled in around us, though currently there is no snow on the ground.  The air is frigid, activities abound, and lots of little projects were completed around the house.  I even had a "Martha Stewart" moment, myself!  And as I finished this post I came back up to report that this is pretty much a Kenny-less and Olesya-less post!  No pics of them, really!  Olesya is a bit camera shy so it is harder to get her to let me take pics, and Kenny just wasn't involved in any of these projects this time around.  I'll have to remedy that and focus on some pics of just the two of them and create a Matthew-less, Joshua-less, Angela-less post soon!  Haha!

We are off kilter versus traditional brick and mortar schools, as we school year round with breaks here and there as we feel like it.  It takes the pressure off, and offers us all a more relaxed way to approach our learning.  We finally finished our 2 1/2 year study of US History, and the kids are working diligently on their final projects, which I will share when complete.  They will be creating a timeline of all of American history (Matt already reported having over 300 events to include!), and writing two longer essays to close out their studies.  We will begin what will likely be 2 years of World History in January.  

We are continuing with our Entrepreneurship year long course which will move into year two with a particular project we have in mind, if we can pull it off.  Matthew completed his Udemy course of Engineering and 3D Printing.  The girls are still taking Russian 2 evenings a week.  Kenny and Josh are going to try out playing basketball, and have already stared practices.  Thankfully, neither of them have high expectations around becoming jocks (thank goodness!) so they are doing it just for the fun of being around other kids, and learning something new.  I have already been informed by both of them with great laughter not to plan on seeing them play much in games.  Josh just completed his Photography course and they had a small show where he displayed two of his images:

Ansel Adams...uh..I mean Josh LaJoy

His portrait of Sunny

Joshie has always been a sucker for a good sunset pic.

Angela is preparing to begin a distance learning year long course for Interior Decorating.  She has been so excited about this, and can't wait until her materials arrive!:

She's also been busy helping Dominick, learning new skills:

Taking a tire off the car

Cleaning behind the stove

Then, before Thanksgiving, because our new friend Billy was coming, it was decided that Joshua wanted to build a new gaming computer like Matt did a couple years ago.  They all wanted to be prepared to have a Major Gamefest, so Matt also decided to crawl under the house to run a new LAN cable to their bedroom, which Josh also helped with.  It was so sweet to watch Matthew instruct Josh and teach him about all the parts necessary for the computer build, and then work with him on soldering and explaining every connection needed.  I must say, he was a good instructor, and Josh came away feeling confident he could do it all by himself next time.  Josh saved all the money for the parts himself, and sat down to talk to me and inquired if I thought it was a good investment or not, and then shopped carefully with that hard earned cash.  It was a terrific project!

Examining the partial build

Instructor Matt!

Some part...don't ask me what it was.  The entire project was without adult involvement, even the "under the house run the LAN cable" portion.  

I have to laugh over this picture, as I recall when Matt was maybe 2 years old and Dominick had to go under the house, Matthew stood there and when he disappeared he SCREAMED because Daddy was suddenly missing!  It was really pretty funny, and we teased him about it many years later.  Guess he is no longer afraid :-)

Josh waiting for Matthew under the house to drill through and run the cable up.

Taaa Daaa!  Finished product, up and running!
Stellar cool pink headphones and all!

These two dudes were busy, as the very same day, they fixed the refrigerator door with the part that Dominick ordered.  The store has kept Dominick quite busy, and it is super nice to have a couple of handy men around to help out with such tasks and give Dominick a break when he gets home.  Even better is how cheerfully they all help with any task.

Dominick sent me this photo, taken sometime this summer, and I just liked it!

And here the trio are making lunch for themselves.  The girls usually let them in the kitchen first then do their thing after they clear out. roll, please:  :::::::::BRRBRBRBRBRBRBBRBR::::::::::

My Martha Moment!!!

Please don't laugh, it's not a total Pinterest Fail!!

I wanted to put more current photos up in the wall, as we had only a very few of the girls.  Yea, I know, they've been home six sue me, I've been a wee bit busy!!  Anyway, we had also had a couple of the heavier collage frames fall and break so it was time.  I looked at Pinterest (Yes, I really did!!  Blew you away with that one, eh?) and saw a lot of expensive ideas, or ones I knew might be inexpensive but which would be total busts with my lack of talent, and then I saw one that I though we might be able to do.  I would have loved a few of those lovely canvas prints, but that is so far out of reach budget wise I just can't go there.  So here was the empty hall with the old photos taken down:

Dollar Store clipboards

$2 craft paint and $3 wooden words
And free labor for painting them!

And with the help of $4 collage prints from Walgreens, we have a wall of photos displayed!
I made on mistake, and that was to print far too many images on each page.  However, we have so few of 3 of the kids that I wanted them to have as many as we could put up for the world to see, for their history matters just as much as Josh and Matt's, despite us not having as many memories recorded.

And there you have it, all caught up with Lame LaJoy News!  Wasn't this worth your time reading?!?!  NOT!!! Haha!!