Homeschooling in the Midst of Chaos

My house is a total wreck. I didn't realize how long it's been since my husband started renovations until I read one of my previous blog posts! When a friend asked me about it last night, I told her we started the first week of January. Now I'm reminded by my blog that it was just after Thanksgiving! It all started with just making the opening to the kitchen wider, and that progressed into tiling the whole house (except the bedrooms).
The fact that I thought it's only been since January scares me that I may be getting used to living like this! Nooooo! I think it may also be a way of preparing myself for the fact that we may not be done for at least another month or so. I'm just trying not to keep track of time. 

Our work spaces have been moved to our beds. My daughter has a small table she pulls up to do her homeschool. She's used to doing her school at the dining room table. 

She spends a lot of time in her room reading also. That's her favorite thing to do. She could read all day if I let her. I'm not complaining. I do have other children that don't like to read. So I know it's a good thing. But sometimes I have to pull her out of there and bribe her into playing a game with me, going to the playground, taking our dog to the dog park, going for a walk. A few weeks ago we went strawberry picking with our homeschool group.

 Last Friday we went to a Valentine's Day party for our homeschool group where the kids decorated cupcakes and boxes to place their exchange Valentine's cards and candy. Saturday I took her to a girls' book club and then to a dance for families with kids with special needs. She had so much fun dancing with her friends. 

Today we went to the theater to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She loves dance and music. So she had a great time! Last month I took her to the Winter Jam concerts, which are 10 Christian bands. I think she talked about that for weeks. And next week we're going to see a play that I've coordinated for our homeschool group to attend. Sometimes she'll skype with a friend. And she can do that for quite a while, too. But I'm happy for her to spend time talking with a friend on Skype. For a child with Down syndrome communication skills practice like this is so helpful.

Fridays is a great day for outdoor fun with friends at her homeschool PE group. We live in Florida and this morning was unexpectedly cold. I know. It's not cold if you live in any one of the other states, but for us Floridians anything below 70 is too cold. So I'm glad we had other indoor plans for today because it was too cold for P.E.  It was 59 degrees!  We both left the house wearing boots, heavy sweaters and scarves. I'm sure you northerners would be laughing at us if I posted pictures. 

Well, you get the idea. Yes, she's working on her homeschool curriculum at least 4 days a week, but we're also trying to get out of the house a few times a week, which we normally wouldn't do if the house weren't under construction. We're also finding creative ways to incorporate homeschool outside of home. Like at the grocery store, she'll pay for a few things herself. Before we get to the register, I help her add up everything on a calculator and help her to count out the money. And of course, always try to go when it's not busy and there are no lines. On our way to her speech therapy, we listen to audio books. This helps her with comprehension. Her reading fluency and comprehension have really improved tremendously this year. 

She also likes to practice her writing on a Boogie Board that she got for Christmas. 
She sits in the passenger seat, writes out something, and then shows it to me. I'll give her hints on mistakes she may have made in spelling, punctuation or capitalization. She erases and writes it over again until she gets it right. This is much easier and a little more fun than doing it on paper and having to erase. She doesn't even realize that she has to erase the whole thing and write it all over again. She loves her Boogie Board, so that doesn't bother her. It's good handwriting practice. If it were on a notebook paper, she'd only erase the mistake.  This photo shows how she wrote about her speech therapist, Elle. Elle got a kick out of this.

 Of course she also uses handwriting worksheets when we're home. I have notebooks for each of my kids of their journals, essays, and handwriting practice throughout the years. These notebooks and their art work are our most precious keepsakes in their homeschool portfolios

Skip Counting with Learning Disabilities

It's Saturday and I'm homeschooling. It's the Saturday after Christmas and I'm homeschooling!! I wonder if there are any other homeschool moms doing this today. I'm sure there are some moms who are planning their homeschool lessons for the new year, but probably none who's kids are doing homeschool lessons.

Samantha was awfully quiet, so I went in her room to see what she was up to. You know, we need to wonder what they're up to when they're so quiet! Trust me, with twins, I've had my share of "Oh, no! What were you possibly thinking!" although I didn't actually say that. hahaha. At the time it wasn't so funny. But now as I think back on those moments, they're quite amusing. Now if Samantha is quiet, she's either eating some snacks she shouldn't be eating (last month she ate most of her Halloween candy in one sitting!) or she's on her bed or on the floor reading. And she always has a selection of books lined up around her.  I've told her so many times that she only needs to take out one book because she can only read one book at a time. I guess she just likes lining them up around her. So that's what I expected to see again. Instead, I found her playing on her iPad. It was a game app where she was applying make-up to a face....which is fine. Sometimes. (The internet is off on her iPad and she can't install apps without a password).

Anyway, I've got a bit of time on my hands today. So I decided to go through her iPad apps to separate what I call the fun learning games from the fun silly game. It'll be easier for her to find the learning games before doing the silly games. I included some brain games on the same screen with the learning games. She enjoys playing these brain games on the computer.  These games are good memory and logic practice, but they're also great hand to eye coordination exercises. So I found some for her iPad, as well.  We started going through some of the apps together and deleting those she either doesn't like or are too easy for her. Of course, to do this, she had to actually play some of them. As we were doing this, we found one of the math apps had skip counting. Now, I know we've done skip counting by 2's, 5's and 10's in her first grade homeschool curriculum. She scored very well on her quizzes and tests before we moved on to the next lessons. But as I watched her play the skip counting game, I learned she had forgotten her 2's and 3's.  Of course, this is not uncommon for Samantha because of her Down syndrome. I think most kids with learning disabilities have this challenge. We often have to go back to something she hasn't practiced in a while and do some review.

So after seeing her struggle as she tried to answer the questions, I decided to pull out some notebook paper. I wrote out the numbers from 0 through 100 and had her count by 2's and circle the numbers in red, then count by 3's and circle the numbers with a pencil.

Then I had her write the numbers in columns as she counted by 2's. I taught her to whisper the number she didn't write as she counted by 2's. This will help until she understands and memorizes it. Counting by 3's was a little different. You can see 3 lines under the 1, 2 and 3. She used those to count by 3's.
I lined up the columns on the notebook paper so she could see a pattern as she counts by 2's and 3's.  It's much easier to do when counting by 2's though.  As you can see from the picture to the right, it didn't work the same as she tried to skip count by 3's. So I turned the paper sideways and had her do the 3's this way.

The 3's were difficult for her no matter what we did.  But at least she was able to see a pattern. We'll have to do more skip counting repetition the next few days and then maybe once a week until I'm sure she's got it...and then, of course, come back to it to be sure she hasn't forgotten. I've already found some great ideas on Pinterest.  I'm not sure how important it is for her to learn to count by 3's, but I think it's possible for her to learn it. So we'll try.  I showed her with pennies why it's important to count by 2's. We counted the pennies by 1's. And then by 2's. And she recognized how much quicker it is to count them by 2's. Right away she said, "That's much faster!" It's almost like one of those comic book strips where the light bulb comes on over their heads. :)

As she was trying to write out the 3's skip-counting, I had to have her take a break. It's almost like she started to shut down. She couldn't even remember what number came after 77....78, 79...instead she was saying 90 comes after 77. She knows her numbers very well. She was getting frustrated, and so was I. So she was definitely due for a break. This is the beauty of homeschooling. We can do that. Heck, here we are homeschooling on a Saturday! But that rarely happens. ;)

During the break I'm writing this blog post while we also watch this live cam (Southwest Florida Eagle Cam) on another laptop.
We've been watching a couple of eagles and their little eaglets. One hatched yesterday and the other hatched today. So we've also been learning about eagles. It's so interesting how mom and dad both take turns with the eggs/eaglets. They also both bring back fish to the nest for feeding. We look forward to watching them grow over the next few weeks. I've got to search for more sites like these! But now to get back to math......

I had to come back to say that we went back to the Number Math app and she did great!! I'm so proud of her. She finished and walked away saying, "I love that app, mom" and "you're such a good teacher, mom."  Now that makes it all worth it!!!

Christmas At Our House

That vacation I told you about last week....well, I came home to a surprise from my husband. Kitchen renovation! This is a good thing and a bad thing. We've slowly been doing small renovations throughout the years. Well, not we; my husband.  He likes to do everything himself.  The only thing we've hired anyone for is refinishing our pool.  I'm actually proud of him and how he can do so much himself, even if he's learning as he's working. And the final project always looks great to me. It's also a good example for our sons. Our oldest is married and he's taken after his dad. He also likes to do most things himself. If he doesn't know how, he calls dad. And if dad doesn't know how, he goes to YouTube. :)

It also teaches our kids hard work. Hard work teaches good character. You see, my husband works long hours. This may take him longer than he'd planned or than he'd like it to take, but he still does a little bit of work when he comes home late and tired. And of course, even on weekends he's in the kitchen working to get it done. This is probably the one room with the most need for renovations. It's fairly small with a small entryway. Even with only two of us in the kitchen, it feels crowded and we're in each other's way. So my husband opened up the entryway by tearing down part of the wall. He also tore down a whole counter from one side of the kitchen and raised the drop-down ceiling. This makes the kitchen roomier, but it also opens up the rest of the house and makes it look a little bigger. This is a good thing. We've been wanting to get this done for years.

So what's the bad part? It's right before Christmas and our house is a mess. Our entire pantry, cookware and silverware....everything in our kitchen is now on our dining room table-slash-work table. Yes, that's where I work and that's where the kids do their school work. Oh, and it's also where we eat. Haha! Yes. My first thought of missing the table is schoolwork. That's a homeschool mom for you...and one that doesn't like to cook, even though I do it every night. Originally I told him I wouldn't be cooking until the kitchen was done. Well, that got expensive within just a few days....and I was only half teasing, anyway. So I'm back to cooking, and we're eating where we can. We're also doing schoolwork wherever we can. Here's a picture of Samantha doing her school work while I work on my laptop.  We've both found a spot in the living room. She's trying to get through her 4th grade Language Arts online homeschool curriculum so she can move on to her fifth grade curriculum

See our Christmas tree over there in the corner? We bought it last week and it stood outside until last night. We finally made a little space and brought it in today to decorate it. But we've had a busy day and it looks like it won't get done until Thursday. Today is Monday. My daughter insisted on the tree. I've been tempted to give it to a family in need. We just don't have the space for it. I know. Bah-humbug! No....I guess it'll be good for us. We need some festiveness around here. And besides, I need to wrap those Christmas presents I've been hiding and put them under the tree.
Oh, hey, the house across the street looks really nice. We have a great view every night. Look, doesn't it look nice? Every year they add something new to it.

And here's Samantha at the ballet. We went to see the Nutcracker.  
And today we went Christmas Caroling. We also have a Christmas party this week. See, we're trying to have Christmas spirit.
How about you? Are you feeling as unorganized at home as I am this Christmas? Or are you done with your shopping, have all your decorations up, and you've been baking those Christmas cookies? If you have, send some my, really. I'd love to hear how your December is going. Maybe give me some tips to getting an unorganized under renovations home looking a little more festive.

Family Legacy

We couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving. It seems like each year it just gets better. I have 5 brothers and sisters. Including my mom, her 6 kids, spouses, and grandkids we total 35. About 26 plus a couple of friends made it out to our Thanksgiving family reunion. We rented a huge 10-bedroom house for all of us to stay in together. The house had a theater, a pool and a game room.  Did I say a theater?!  I mean, we live in Florida anyway, so the pool was no biggie for my family. And the game room was fun for the kids.  But a theater?! That was exciting. My own personal theater. Well, at least when the kids were out or in the game room it was my own personal theater.  It was also a favorite with the teenagers. My son actually slept in there a couple of nights. But when they were in the game room, the theater was mine! :) No, seriously, we had a couple of nights we all chose a movie and watched together. It was very nice.
Even though we were staying near the Disney parks, we had plenty of entertainment right in the house. Some days some of the families visited the parks, went to football games, and went shopping, but most days we just hung out at home. The guys watched the football games on TV or went swimming with the kids. My favorite was when we played Monopoly Deal or Uno. There were times that we had several games going at once because to have too many players in one game just made the game slow. And with a dining room table that sat 20, we could have several games going. We also had a blast playing Charades. Kids and adults together.

Thanksgiving dinner was catered, so we didn't even have to cook. Can you tell I don't like to cook? We do have some cooks in the family, though. Every day someone baked cookies or made some deliciously sugar-filled dessert, like bread pudding. My husband loves making big breakfasts consisting of pancakes, bacon, eggs...the works. 
This is a picture of our Thanksgiving buffet. There is an inset picture of the back of the house. I cannot imagine having to clean a home this size. We like our small house. :)

I can only tell you that we all gained so much weight in just a few days. We have a few athletic or fitness-minded family members, so there were quite a number of daily walks around the neighborhood. We actually had a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. And still we all gained a lot of weight.
Turkey Trot!  This is less than half of our group.

I'm the only one who homeschools my children.  So I thought my kids would not be able to get any schoolwork done. I was wrong, though. One of my sisters' kids are in private school, but they're very disciplined and did schoolwork each day. The house also had an office, so the kids and I would work in the office a couple of hours. Fortunately, I brought two of our laptops. So while I worked, Samantha also did her 4th grade curriculum online. It helped that my kids were not the only ones doing school and that I, too, had work to do so I could supervise them.

Even my teens got a little bit of schoolwork done. You can see Noah doing his homework while listening to music. I don't know how he does that!
And Amber is doing her math online. She's got a dry erase board where she does her math problems.

Isn't this an amazing chair?! We wanted to take it home. No-can-do. We looked it up online and it costs more than our couch!

All in all a great time was had by all. Most of us stayed up late and woke up early, trying to fit in as much time together as possible. Saying good-bye was difficult, but hopefully we'll do this again next year. Some live as far as Nebraska, Texas and Costa Rica. Only one of my sisters lives in Florida, but still a 4-hour drive.

We loved the time we had together and the legacy we're leaving our children of love for family.

Teaching Money

Samantha has most of my attention this year since her sister and brother are more independent with their college and high school homeschool. She's doing well with her third grade curriculum for science and social studies. Language Arts is her favorite subject, so she's moved up to the fourth grade. She loves to read. So between all the reading she does on her own, and her Language Arts curriculum, her comprehension is improving considerably.  She's been practicing cursive on an app we purchased on her iPad.  Cursive Writing Wizard.  She likes it because it's colorful and engaging. We haven't transitioned to cursive writing on paper yet.  She's enjoying the practice on the iPad.

It really helps that I'm able to tailor her curriculum to her needs.  She's in third and fourth grade levels in most subjects, but we're still pedaling along with math at first grade level. We've been having to do quite a bit of review for math. I don't know about other kids with Down syndrome, but math is so hard for her. It's a struggle. This week she was learning money on her online math curriculum. To make it more concrete, I layed out some coins for her. She had coins on the screen, but I thought it would help if she could also physically see the coins and handle them as she counted out the change as outlined in her lesson. She was still struggling. So I brought out some manipulatives that I had used with my older children.  I showed her how 10 cents is the same as 10 pennies. And a nickel is the same as 5 pennies. Using the blocks, the '10' block is the same as 10 single blocks (also known as 1 units). I did the same with the nickels and quarters. This took some time, but it really helped!  I know it clicked for her.  That's the good news. The bad news is that I know that if we don't continue to practice this every day, she will lose it. She'll forget.
While a 'typical' child can do these problems or repeat this concept for a few lessons before it becomes concrete, it will take Sami weeks and maybe months of repetition to make it concrete because of her Down syndrome. And if we miss a few days, it could set us back to point one.  Though she doesn't really like worksheets and workbooks, I'll throw some of those in every now and then. But since she likes her online lessons and those are more engaging and fun, she'll be doing that every day. One way she's been practicing is at the grocery store. When we're at the store, I let her pay for something that she wants for herself. Before we get to the register, I tell her how much it costs. I give her some coins and have her count it out. It takes her a few minutes, and I usually have to help her a little, but I think the more we practice like this, the more she will be able to grasp the concept.

This is homeschooling. Tailoring lessons, playing with different methods, making it part of our life, incorporating our lessons into our daily activities. It's a way of life. People who don't homeschool sometimes say to me, "I don't know how you do it," to which I respond, "If I can do it, so can you." It really is the most natural thing. You don't think you have the patience?  Neither did I...let me rephrase that...Neither DO I.  Sometimes I have to walk away and rethink 'how' I can help her understand. We're both learning and growing. We teach our children the alphabet and how to count to ten before they even start 'school' officially. So why can't we just continue to teach them everything else they need to learn?  The one-on-one attention we can give our children as we teach them is invaluable. I remember being nervous when I started, but only because I was afraid of the unknown. Homeschooling was a new adventure. Did you feel like that when you were considering homeschooling? Looking back, what would you say to yourself knowing what you know now?

Thanks for visiting and reading my blog. I'd love to know you were here. Let me know your thoughts, your experiences, and I'd even welcome any suggestions or tips! :)

Homeschool Vacation

It's pretty obvious that our homeschool is in full swing. I haven't blogged as much as I'd like.  We've been busy doing school....doing life, and even squeezing in a vacation. We were all able to take time off from work for a few days at the same time. I'm so thankful that my kids, who are now working part-time jobs, work for a company that is flexible enough to give them a week off at the same time. Yes, they both work for the same company.  And my husband, who's employer is not as flexible, was also able to take an entire week off. I, on the other hand, still managed to get my work in. But that's okay because I love my job. Besides, when does a mommy really get time off?! :) But I'm not complaining.

Do we need a reason for a vacation at the beginning of our homeschool year? It's too early to be burned out or overwhelmed.  We're just starting to get adjusted to our new schedules, and yet here we are taking a vacation. And yet it's a perfect time for homeschoolers to take a vacation. When all the kids are in school and there are no long lines at the amusement parks. We've been taking this vacation for the last few years in celebration of Amber's birthday.  It's also at the same time as Rock the Universe, which are concerts of some of our favorite Christian rock bands all in one place: Universal Studios.  Amber and Noah saved their money and purchased park hopper passes so they could enjoy the rides at Islands of Adventure as well as Universal Studios.  We stayed at a timeshare resort with lots of amenities and activities, which Samantha, my husband and I enjoyed while the older kids were at the park. I think my favorite was the lazy river (pool). Samantha will tell you that her favorite was getting to sing Karaoke by the pool each evening.  I wish I had taken a picture of that. I didn't get many pictures of us at the parks or the resort, but I did take a ton of pictures at the Museum of Science, which are good keepsakes in our homeschool portfolios.

What's a vacation for a homeschooling family without getting in some educational fun? I wanted to find something else to do with my kids other than the amusement parks, and we hit the jackpot with our choice of the Science Museum. I think it was one of the most memorable times of the whole week. The first thing we walked up on was a giant chess board. My older kids didn't get past that until they played a game, which took them a good 40 minutes or so. In the meantime, Samantha and I visited every station that was close to the chess game. There were so many hands-on exhibits for all ages. None of us were bored. Samantha's favorite was the weather station where she got to be the weather reporter in front of a live camera.  She enjoyed watching herself on screen as she read the prompter and reported the weather.  Once done with the chess game, we moved on to other hands on activities, like the flight simulator and the race cars.

There was a Whisper Dish that held our attention for some time. This was a large dish that you would whisper into, and then across the room was another similar dish where you could hear what that person was whispering. We learned that before World War II, and before the invention of the radar, acoustic mirrors were used to detect incoming enemy aircraft by the sound of their engines.  My son found this most interesting.
My daughters were enthralled with the Laser Harp. No strings. Rather than plucking strings to produce sound, we plucked laser beams, which lit up in beautiful colors. Another favorite was the Anatomy Challenge, which was actually a giant Operation game. Remember those? You need to have a steady hand to remove the organs from the 'patient' without setting off the buzzer. This one got Samantha a bit frustrated, as she couldn't quite get it.  Amber, Noah and their friend Jeremy challenged each other on who would be the best surgeon.  It hasn't been that long since they did an online science program, which included anatomy, so they were familiar with the lessons in these exhibits. It was definitely a fun day and money well spent, teacher's discount and all.

Full Schedules, but never too full for......

It's August and school has started. If you're on social networks, like Facebook, you can see it by all the 'first day of school' pictures posted by parents. How about you homeschool mommies?  Did you take first day of school pictures, too?  I hope so. Why not?  It's a good way to see how the kids grow and change from year to year. We have a picture frame with a picture for each year of school. And it's so special to me because I can easily see their physical growth from the time they were five years old until their cap and gown graduation picture at eighteen years old. Yes, we have a homeschool graduation with cap and gown.  And they get to choose any color cap and gown that they want. Our daughter just graduated, and I'm surprised she didn't pick a tie-dye cap and gown. I'm telling you, she would've tie-dyed it herself, like she does with most of her T-shirts. She chose, instead, a pretty baby blue....although, I would've been fine with tie-dye. Homeschool graduations are far from boring, though, with our graduate slide shows and personal dedications.

So now my graduate has started college. Her plan is to stay home and attend our local college for her Associate in Arts degree. Then she plans to transfer to a university when she has a better idea of what she wants to do. Right now she's thinking of going into education or be a sign language interpreter, but that could change. This semester she's taking a sign language course, which may give her a better feel for that field. She's registered as a full time student this semester. She's also working part-time. And she now has a boyfriend. Yes, a boyfriend. If it were up to me, that would not be happening. Only because she will always be my little girl and it's a little hard to accept that she's growing up. Having said that, he's a really nice young man. Her mom and dad approve. ;)  We're really not concerned with her making a bad choice in that department. Dad doesn't have to put the fear of life into him. Instead, we trust we've raised her smart enough to be with someone who will honor and respect her. This week we got to see a lot less of her. She was either at school, at work, on a date with her boyfriend and friends, or with her nose in a book or computer. After a summer of just hanging out together at the beach, watching movies, going out for ice cream...or just hanging out at home, this is a new routine.  We will need to get used to her full schedule...but never too full for some family time here and there.

Moving right along to our next child still at home and homeschooling is our son in his last year of homeschool high school. He's got a full load as well. He's also working part time. He works with his sister, who is in a supervisory position at work and is the one who does the scheduling for all employees. This can be a benefit for both of them when they need a particular day off. It's also a benefit that they get to drive to work together or play tag with the car as one arrives to work while the other one is leaving work. Noah is also dual enrolled in high school at home and college. He's taking English 1101 at the same college as his sister. At home he's doing math, anatomy, pre-calculus, worldview, and a Literary course. He also meets with his local Sea Cadets on a weekly basis and serves in the children's worship team at our church. Full schedule for him, as well....but never too full for family time here and there.

Last but not least is our youngest, Samantha. We homeschool Samantha all year. Because of her Down syndrome, it's just best that we don't take time off from school for more than a week or two at a time. She did take a week off each summer month. Now that we're officially starting a new year, we're working on some lesson reviews. For math we're reviewing her first grade homeschool curriculum.  We use Time4Learning curriculum for Math, Language Arts, Science and Social studies.  In Language Arts we're reviewing 4th grade and then moving on to 5th grade. This is one of the things that I love about this curriculum. She can work at her own pace and at the grade level she is really at. She's not struggling to keep up or moving ahead before understanding a lesson.

We've added a P.E. day to her schedule this year, which she is really excited about. We have a homeschool sports organization that is simply amazing. There are about a hundred kids on each P.E. day meeting at different parks around the city. Kids are taught about almost every sport, including archery, which is a favorite. But most importantly, kids are taught to encourage and respect one another and work as a team. I'm also looking into adding a science day at the park with a group of kids from our homeschool support group. We did this a few year ago with a few families. The kids learned a lot from the park naturalist. It was nice to get out once a week and do school at the park.

As you can see, each of us has a pretty full schedule.  I don't know how people are still asking about homeschoolers and socialization. Looking at our homeschool support group's calendar, we're going to have a hard time saying no to a lot of events and activities planned for the year. Already this month we've registered for a field trip to the zoo.  Even my daughter in college is coming with us. We're excited about this field trip because it's been a long time since we've been to the zoo, it's been a long time since we'be been on a field trip with this group, and we'll be seeing lots of old friends we haven't seen in months. And we're happy to have a day planned ahead for family time.

What does your school year look like? What are you doing differently this year from last year?  Please comment below. I love new ideas or comments.

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