Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Field Trip!

 To the corn maze!  With two other families and former fellow co-op'ers.

We divided up into three groups to do the corn maze.  The girls' team came in first!

Boys' team was second.

And the mom's team was..... third.

We were still happy though!  It was a beautiful day to be outside, and we really enjoyed being together and catching up on each other's lives.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unit Celebration ~ South America!

Last Friday we had our Tapestry of Grace unit celebration (year 3, unit 1).  We had covered the first 25 years of the 1800's, with a three week mini unit on South American independence, so we decided to have a South American fiesta!  This was not completely authentic to the time period ~ for fun we threw in a pinata, which I could find no reference to in the early 1800's, but which is something South American children enjoy today.

We ate "Pabellon Criollo" for dinner, which is a traditional Venezuelan dish of rice, steak, and beans.  "Pabellon" means "flag", and the three different foods are arranged in stripes on a plate, to loosely picture the Venezuelan flag.  I showed the children how to arrange their food, but did not require them to do it this way or to eat food they didn't want to. :-)

Hanging on the walls were the writing assignments/posters the children had each made about different South American countries.  Only two of them were completely done, including our daughter's poster on Brazil...

..and son C's poster on Venezuela.

Son G's poster on Peru.  The paragraphs were the main thing (that was their writing assignment for two weeks) but each of the children did have to finish putting on their pictures after our unit celebration was over.

After eating, each of the children read a report on something they learned about during this unit.  Son C portrayed a young Simon Bolivar, and told how he was inspired to lead revolutions in several south American countries, freeing them from Spanish rule.

Sons G and L portrayed Lewis and Clark.  They told about their expedition to explore and map the western territories.  It was funny and very well done!

Daughter G reprised her role as a reporter for Christian Historical News, and reported on the passage of a bill in British Parliament that made the trading of slaves illegal.  This occurred in February, 1807, hence her scarf and gloves!  She adapted this from the report she had written earlier on William Wilberforce's life.

All of the children present.  What a great looking bunch of kids!

And finally.... the moment the children were all waiting for.... the striking of the pinata!

Even the moms got in on the action!  That alpaca was a tough nut to crack!

It was a fun evening, and I love that it marks the END of that period of study, and now we are mentally moving on to the next 25 years of the 1800's!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Week In Review

 This would be for last week. :-)

We did all the usual work, but focused on our writing assignments which we'd been working on for the past two weeks.  To wrap up our three week study of South America in the early 1800's, each of the children chose a South American country to write about.  The specifics of the assignment were as follows:

I specifically added the "one picture must stick out from your poster" part to give each of the children a chance to be artistic and creative.  I was curious how each child would choose to do this. 

Little Man chose to study and write about the country of Bolivia.  For one of the four pictures on his finished poster, he chose to put a map showing where Bolivia is located.  Here he is coloring in the country of Bolivia on a map of South America.

Sons G and L chose the countries of Peru and Ecuador, respectively.  Son G became fascinated with Machu Picchu, while son L was enthralled with the Nate Saint missionary/martyr story (he chose to write about missionary work in Ecuador for his fourth paragraph).  Son C, not pictured, chose to write about Venezuela.

Daughter G chose the country of Brazil.  She had such FUN with this assignment ~ spending hours and hours researching this particular country, finding pictures that would adequately represent the incredible flora and fauna of the Amazon region, and choosing the subject for her "famous person" paragraph (retired soccer star, Pele).  Her poster is the only one completely finished.  Unit celebration is fast approaching this weekend, so everyone else is finishing up with their poster assembly this week!

I love writing assignments.  They can encompass so much learning from many different disciplines.  We did quite a bit of internet research, so I had the opportunity to help direct the children in how to do this.  We did use some info from wikipedia, but talked about how usually that source is just overwhelming because there is almost too much info.  Certainly for the scope of their paragraphs, I discouraged wiki.  We found books at the library, we read, we outlined, we wrote, we edited, we typed, we printed pictures, we drew pictures, we worked a bit on graphic design ~ the laying out of all the pieces on posterboard.  Such great learning!  And the children really know about their country of choice, so much more than they would have known otherwise.

I can't wait to display these posters at our unit celebration!

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's Official!

Son L is taller than me.

Three months ago he was an inch and a half shorter than me, and I predicted that he would pass me up by Christmas.  Sure enough, in the last week or so it happened.  At 5' 8" and with lots of hair, I couldn't make myself tall enough to match him.

This is the "unofficial" picture.  We did the official measurements against the wall.

He is delighting in the thought that I have to look up to him now!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Point of Hard

Ever wonder why things just can't be easy all the time?  When you're having a hard day, a conflict with someone, a bunch of stuff goes wrong or just bugs you.... have you ever wondered why it couldn't just all work itself out?  Why does it have to be so hard?

I have.

And if you were hoping that I had the answer, I will tell you right now that I don't!  Sorry to disappoint.

I had one of those days yesterday.  Just about everything that could go wrong, did.  Actually, not really everything ~ there are lots of worse things that could have happened, but I mean that everything in the normal course of our day was just "off."  We were all exhausted from the care giving we've been doing, so we intentionally slept in.  Started school late.  Children felt pressured to "catch up."  I couldn't help each child right at the moment they needed me to.  Frustration mounted throughout the day.  It was a soccer-practice-mad-dash-to-church-while-eating-dinner-in-the-car evening, and I was looking forward to meeting my husband in the church parking lot, switching vehicles, and going home for my only-90-minutes-of alone-time-I-get-all-week (literally).

Hubby needed to help his dad and sister with something, and called to tell me he wouldn't be able to make it to church.  I would have to go back and pick up the kids after Awana and youth group.  Heavy sigh.

But I'd still have the time between dropping them off and picking them up, right?????


One son did not get required work done, so had to stay home from youth group to finish it.  With my help.  Even though we'd started school later than usual, with good time management he could have had it done.  Heavy sigh.

We sat down to work on his writing assignment, which had been his afternoon "block" work (remember the new block schedule?) that he had not even started.  Outline was not in his writing notebook.  Nor was it at the computer, in his room, the schoolroom, the kitchen, or anywhere else in the house.

I told him it looked like we'd have to start from scratch and make a new outline, but let's pray first and ask the Lord to help us find it.  Son gets a hopeful look in his eye and eagerly prays with me that God would reveal the whereabouts of the missing outline.  I could tell he fully expected the outline to magically appear as soon as we finished praying.

But it didn't.

He continued searching with renewed vigor.  "Mommy, I just know God is going to answer our prayer."

We look in all the same places a third time.

"Honey, it might still turn up, but let's use the time we're spending right now looking for it, on making a new one.  At least then we can move forward with this assignment."

Son very reluctantly sat down next to me and we began the process of outlining.  He was disappointed, but held it together pretty well.  I was proud of him.  As we were working on his fourth or fifth sentence he said with a quiver in his voice, "I thought God always answered our prayers."

I am silent as the weight of the moment sinks in.

What an important and revealing statement!  Lord, give me wisdom.  Calm my frazzled nerves.  Please use me here and now in the life of my son, in spite of myself.

"He does.  But He doesn't always answer with a 'yes', or in the way that we want Him to."

More silence as the truth of those words sinks in to both our hearts.

No more is said of God and prayer for awhile.  We finish outlining two paragraphs and I leave him to begin writing from the outline while I run up to church to pick up the other children.

About a half hour after the kids and I were back home, hubby gets home.  Within 5 minutes of his arrival, he locates the original outline (under a small bookcase in our kitchen, upside down so the white paper blended in with our kitchen flooring).  The original paper included outlines for all four paragraphs of his writing assignment, so during our evening of work we have only duplicated two of them.  Son is ECSTATIC! 

"You're right!  He did answer!  Just not when I wanted him to.  Maybe he wanted to teach me patience, or teach me to work harder earlier in the day so I wouldn't have to miss youth group."

Could this be why the day was so hard?  To teach my son (and me) an important lesson that couldn't be learned if it had been easy?  To make me rely on His strength?  To show Himself faithful, in His own time?  All of the above?

I don't know.  Probably.

What I do know is that my son learned an important lesson.  I do know that I had to rely on Him because my patience and strength were gone, gone, gone.  I do know that He was, is, and will forever be faithful, because that is who He is.  And I do know that He operates outside of time, while I am very tied to time, and I kindof like things to happen right now.

It is always GREAT when things are easy.  I like easy as much as anyone.  But there is a point to things being hard.  And I want to get it.  I want to learn it.  I want to grow from it.  Because I really want to not just get older, I want to mature.  And also it would be kindof nice if I learned it well the first time so it wouldn't have to be so hard the next time.....

(yes, I am a wimp)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Block" Scheduling ~ or what we're trying when the first schedule epically failed

Remember this post?  The one where I displayed my middle three boys' assignment charts?  We made a valiant effort to make them work, and I kept encouraging the boys, son L in particular, that it was a time management thing more than an "I can't do it" thing.  But in the end, it was just not going to cut it.

Son C has done fairly well with his assignment chart, so for now we are keeping his the way it was.  Why fix it if it ain't broke?  But for son L, he struggled all throughout the day to switch gears between subjects (note to self, he has always had trouble with transitions, why did I not expect this?).  I thought I had given a reasonable amount of time for each scheduled subject, but for him it was NOT enough.  Each day, according to the little squares on his assignment chart that were not checked off, he fell farther and farther behind.

Many tears.  Many late night conversations.  Many prayer times together.  Many pep talks, especially when the dreaded "I'm stupid" words came.  I was and am committed to helping him succeed ("success" in his mind being completing a day's worth of work in one day with enough time left to play before dinner, "success" in my mind being putting forth his best effort most of the time and finishing assigned work before dinner) but I wasn't convinced he couldn't succeed with the way his assignment chart was currently written.  I made myself more available to him.  I played quiet praise music in the school room.  I gave him a signal that meant "focus" whenever I saw he was being distracted.

No significant improvement.

One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is the ability and freedom to change things midstream if they are not working.  And clearly, this was not working.  An assignment chart is simply a tool.  Not our task master.  If this particular tool wasn't working, maybe I could change it to make it fit more closely the way he worked.

Enter "block" scheduling.  His new assignment chart has a morning "block" of 2 hours, and an afternoon "block" of 2-3 hours.  He now does his 4 academic subjects only twice a week (during a morning or afternoon "block") instead of every day, doing 2-3 days' worth of work each time.  This way, when he gets  in the zone he can simply stay in the zone, and not have to switch gears to another subject when the first subject was not yet completed.  We made the switch mid-week last week so the jury is still out.  But so far, so good.  This schedule also gets rid of the 3 subjects he was "supposed" to do on Tuesdays, in between classes at co-op.  So now during his co-op "off" hours he can just hang out with friends or work on things he wants to do, which will make Tuesdays much more fun for him.

(click on picture to enlarge)

Son L is our child who lives with Sensory Processing Disorder, so certain aspects of learning have been challenging for him his entire school career.  We have tried a variety of things to help him over the years, including professional therapy.  The physical and occupational therapy he received was excellent and definitely a piece of his school success puzzle at the time, but the thing that has probably helped the most was just doing lots of reading and then experimenting with various "tools" and routines that might help him.  Each child that lives with SPD is wired so differently, it is often a process of trial and error to find the right "cocktail" that best helps your particular child.

Things we are currently trying:  I am letting him use a tiny little mp3 player I got in my Christmas stocking a couple years ago, to see if music in his ears will help him focus.  Music in the schoolroom is great for 2/3 of the family, but a couple people work better in quiet, so this will accommodate everyone (he may or may not be receiving his own mp3 player for Christmas, but you did not hear that from me!).  I have also given him a new "desk ball" to use.  This is a squishy palm sized ball that he can play with at his desk.  He likes to hold on to something while he's working, and this makes no noise.  It is also something he can squeeze hard without hurting himself, and it "pushes back" to give him some tactile pressure.

He used to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair, but he has outgrown the old exercise ball and I have yet to purchase a bigger one.  That will be the next thing.

He also still responds well to a set routine, with predictable meal times and bedtimes (and lots and lots of snacks!).  As noted earlier, he tends not to transition well, so if I can give him lots of warning and lots of time to move to the next thing, he does much better.

My job as teacher/mom is often tricky, as I work to give him the appropriate tools for success, while also holding his feet to the fire and requiring him to do the work, turn things in on time, finish things completely, etc.  I pray constantly for wisdom, and am so thankful that God has promised to give it!

Son G also asked for block scheduling, so I have switched them both over to this type of daily routine.  I am letting the block schedule play out for another week or so, and if it proves to be helpful I will then take about 27 blank copies back to FedEx/Kinkos and have a new book of assignment charts made up.  Hey, it is only $5 so we didn't waste too much with the first book now going unused!

Live and learn.  :0)

(and as before, feel free to email and request a copy of the new block schedule.  If my family has to do this any more times, chances are good that one of our schedules will work for YOU!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Our Week In Review

No pictures this week.

You may just want to stop reading right now!  haha

It was a low picture-taking week for me.  Too busy working yet another new schedule/routine.... more on that later.  And trying to get everyone where they needed to go, prepared for whatever the activity/class/event was.  While still caring for my father-in-law here at home, and visiting my mother-in-law in rehab.  She is doing well and gaining strength each day, but it will be a while longer.  Oh, and I had a head cold.


This will be short!

God is good.  Ultimately, that is my take away from this week.  Of course, that is not new news.  But it is still true.  And I am experiencing His goodness in the midst of what life involves right now.  Circumstances do not change God's character.  Did you hear that?  Let me say it again, because it is truth, and it is amazing.  Circumstances do not change God's character.  He is as true, as pure, as holy, as good, as kind, as jealous, as faithful, as trustworthy, as providential, as personal during MY difficult circumstances as He was during Joseph of the Old Testament's difficult circumstances, and as He was during any happy, easier time when it was incredibly obvious that He was "being" good to me.  Because God doesn't just "do" good things for us from time to time, or when we think we're being exceptionally spiritual and have an in with Him.  God IS good.

I think I am barely scratching the surface of what that really means, but even understanding a glimpse of it is pretty amazing.

I am thankful that God is good, and that I belong to Him.

We did do school this week (new schedule, remember?).  We continued our 3 week study of South America, plowed a little farther into chemistry and Spanish, practiced reading, corrected math problems and re-learned some tricky math concepts... I started a new John Grisham novel (A Painted House) that I am really enjoying during book time every afternoon...

but my main take away this week is....  God is good.  And owning that truth is ultimately more important than any of the other stuff.