Christmas at our home....unusual gifts

We had a great Christmas this year. It's probably our oldest son's last year at home, since he's engaged to be married in the Spring. I video-taped and savored every minute of our day. It may not be our last Christmas together, but it'll be a little different since he won't be at home and he'll be married.  Still a wonderful thing since I'll now have another daughter!

The first thing we did Christmas morning was open our most precious gift, which is in a red box wrapped with a gold ribbon.  Our oldest son read from Luke 2, the birth of Jesus.  Then we opened the box and took baby Jesus out as a reminder of the best gift of all, and we prayed.  This helps us keep Jesus at the center of the reason we celebrate Christmas.

This year we decided to pick names from a basket and do Secret Santa. We figured this would be a good way to help our son as he's saving for his wedding and marriage.  Some of us went beyond our Secret Santa and got gifts for others, too (like mom).  I can't not get gifts for all my kids and my husband. :)  But the lists that each person made were really helpful in knowing what to buy. Since I put all the lists in the basket, I got a peek at them before we each picked a name. Everyone was really happy with the things they got because they were all things they needed or wanted.

Amber got her penny board.  She had tried her cousin's penny board at our Thanksgiving get-away and really wanted to get one. It's kind of a skate board but smaller. Samantha's favorite gifts were her new shoes, a slinky and a Boogie Board.  Both of our sons' favorite gifts were instruments.  For some reason my kids are musical. Neither my husband nor I play an instrument. As a matter of fact, I don't think either one of us can sing either. My husband and I got Noah a Doumbek, and Julian got a Didgeridoo.  I know, unusual instruments, but it's what they like and asked for.

Our kids and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law

Including these two instruments some of the instruments my sons and daughter play are the piano, guitar, ukelele, bongos, and trumpet.  Noah is playing in a band with a group of friends, and he likes to play the guitar and drums. They played at a couple of events this Christmas. Amber plays the piano and the ukelele.  She wants to learn to play the guitar.  Julian plays the trumpet and some piano.  He can pick up an instrument and teach himself to play it.  Even our daughter Samantha, who has Down syndrome, is not to be left behind with the musical bug. She loves to sing and dance.  She had a lot of fun last night at our friends' home playing Just Dance on the Wii with her sister and cousins. She also likes to play art games and musical games online.

We usually take time off from school until the the New Year.  Daddy, big sis and big brothers are working today, so Samantha did a little bit of learning.  Although she thinks she was just playing.  It's a rainy day and pretty quiet at home today. And being that it's the day after Christmas, the stores and the roads are busy.  It's a perfect day for baking and just relaxing at home. While we wait for some cookies to bake, Samantha is playing some keyboarding games online, which help her with her hand-eye coordination.  She's also using her sight word list as she practices her typing.  So she's learning to type as she practices spelling and her sight words! Killing two birds with one stone, as they say.  And she enjoys it.  It's a fun challenge for her.

So how was your Christmas?

Homeschooling High School...trying to stay organized

I tend to be a procrastinator. So when I found out that December 1st was the first day to file applications for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, I decided I'd better do it before I forget and risk it not getting done at all. Homeschooling high school requires a lot more discipline on my part and our kids' part.  I need to be organized and disciplined in doing things like making sure that I keep good records for their transcript, staying up to date with the ever changing regulations for dual enrolled students, keeping track of the high school requirements for college, keeping track of their high school and college grades and credits, and more. The kids have to be sure to serve the community by volunteering at a place of their choice, practice good time management, save money, study and be diligent, and so much more.  It's their responsibility to be sure to get their volunteer forms signed for the hours they've volunteered. These are essential forms that we need to keep for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which is why I also have to be careful they're filed away properly.

By filing away properly I mean to keep the important papers and their school work organized and filed separately. I keep their SAT test scores, results from homeschool standardized tests, evaluations, and forms sent to the school board in a separate folder that I keep filed on a shelf for easy access.  Their school work I keep in a separate folder (pictured below). These folders are kept on a high shelf in their closet.  At the end of each school year, I take my kids' school work and I save samples from each subject for each month of the year in a big folder, whether it's art work or samples from their workbooks or textbooks. I don't save everything because we just don't have the space for that. So this is what each folder would look like for each child and each year.

I do like to save every one of their essays.  Each child has a large notebook where the essays are kept.  So we can easily see the progress in their writing throughout the years.  The beginning of the notebook has their journal entries.  When they were 7 years old, they started writing journals.  They were too young to write essays.  So this was their writing practice. My kids will say they don't enjoy writing.  However, I can say that because they've done so much of it throughout the years, it's not an area they struggle in. It's important that they can organize their thoughts and then express them well in writing.  In an SAT, it's important that they're able to do this in a short amount of time. If I'm not mistaken, the SAT only allows 25 minutes to complete an essay.

My daughter has taken the SAT three times, and this year took the ACT.  My son has taken the PSAT, but this year he will take the SAT for the first time.  This year he hasn't done much creative writing, so we're going to sign him up for a course where he can get some SAT essay writing help.  Most of the writing he's done is for his Literature class, which is mostly writing about the book he's just read.

Honestly, the high school years still make me nervous.  I'm so thankful for the internet.  All the information I need is right at my fingertips.  When we first started homeschooling, the library was my best friend. Now the internet is my best friend.

Pushing through, headache and all....

As a stay-at-home mom and homeschool mom, I don't get the day off.  Not even a sick day.  I don't remember the last time I stayed in bed the whole day.  When my kids get sick, I have them stay in bed. That means no school and no television. We have no TVs in the bedrooms.  So they can't pretend they're sick to stay in bed and watch TV.  I remember doing that as a kid.  Just to make sure they get the rest they need and they don't spread the germs and get everyone in the house sick, they get quarantined, so-to-speak. They can read books and sleep.  If they're really sick, that's all they want to do anyway. Well, today I had a terrible headache. One of those headaches that hurt just to open my eyes.  I would've given anything to be able to just stay in bed.  I couldn't read, but I wouldn't have minded having someone read to me.  I often tell my kids, "When I'm really old, I just want to sit by the window where I have a view of nature (garden, mountains or ocean), play worship music and read to me."

On days like today, I'm thankful for our online curriculum and for teenage kids who help me with their little sister Samantha.  I only had to guide Samantha on which assignments she needed to do, and later look at her scores.  At one point, though, I heard her giggling and laughing.  I had to walk over to her computer to make sure she hadn't stopped doing her work. And she was.  I lingered close by just to hear what was so funny.  She was working on her 4th grade Language Arts, which is her favorite subject.  Today's lesson was on antonyms.  I know if she'd had to study antonyms from a workbook, she wouldn't have enjoyed it or understood it as well. Samantha is a right-brained visual learner.  So actually having the lesson presented visually is very helpful in retaining what she is learning.  The interactive and animated lessons really hold her attention.  Today Rita and Jack Riley were making her laugh with their jokes and the funny sounds they were making as they explained and talked about the different antonyms.

Samantha's social study lesson covered a lot of new vocabulary that are unfamiliar to her.  Her lesson was about Vikings.  Before finishing the lesson and starting her quiz, my older daughter Amber made a list of all the words and had her play some vocabulary games to help her understand and remember the vocabulary definitions and spellings.  One of the games was filling in which word accurately completes the sentence based on contextual clues.  Samantha does most of her online lessons independently, unless she's having trouble with a concept or has to repeat a lesson. When she's ready to take the quiz, she lets me know and I watch her go through it.  I was so proud of her as I watched her get every answer correct. I think the vocabulary context games helped her remember and retain the information in the Viking lesson.  Tomorrow we'll read a book on Vikings and that era.  We'll also review the lesson one more time just to be sure it's concrete before moving on.

Why Homeschool...a discussion with extended family.

This year was a most memorable Thanksgiving.  We spent five days with my two sisters and their families. We rented a big house where we could all stay together near the parks in Orlando. Between the 3 of us, we have 13 children ranging in ages from 6 to 28.  We also had my son's fiancee and her 3-yo precious daughter.  We rented a 7-bedroom house with a swimming pool, a pool table and a theater.  Yes, a theater!  The older kids ended up sleeping in the comfortable theater seats since they'd start to watch a movie late in the evening and just fall asleep.  A teenager's dream come true.  The house was absolutely beautiful, but that's not what made our vacation so memorable.  The time we spent together is priceless.

The kids have a lot in common even though they have a different upbringing and have lived in very different states or parts of the country. My youngest sister and her family have lived in Central America for the last 4 years. Their kids have always attended private schools and have an affluent upbringing, but are genuine and humble. They're very close to their parents. My  other sister just moved back to Florida after living in Montana for 8 years. Her older kids attended both private and public schools. They're 19 and 21 and have been on their own for a couple of years. Their youngest was homeschooled last year for 3rd grade, and is back in public school now. And we have always lived in Florida and homeschooled all our children except our oldest, who attended public school.

At one point the older kids had a discussion about education.  My son's fiancee mentioned that she wants to homeschool.  She was also homeschooled her high school years.  Although my son was not homeschooled, he has a desire to homeschool his children.  My nieces and nephews made the same arguments we always hear about socialization.  One niece is still in high school and the other two have recently graduated. My kids and I shared some homeschool statistics with them, but also agreed that homeschooling is not for everyone.  More and more families are homeschooling, but there is still a lot of naivete about homeschoolers; particularly that homeschoolers are 'sheltered'.  This came up in the conversation several times.  I tried to explain that all homeschooling families are different and that while there may be some families that may be what they consider sheltered, the homeschool trends are changing and evolving.  For example, we're homeschooling high school and we have access to every good thing a student in a brick and mortar school has. My kids can participate in a homeschool athletic organization or even a public school sports team.  We have our own yearbooks and yearbook committees. We have a Homecoming Dance and Prom.  We have art clubs, Speech and Debate Clubs, Drama Clubs and many other clubs.  As a matter of fact, if a family has a unique interest and wants to start a club, like a Lego Club, there are plenty of families that will join and help to coordinate meetings. One of the things I love most about homeschooling is that we're not segragated. We all work as a team and play as a team.

As passionate as my family and I are about homeschooling, though, we understand that we're not all called to homeschool.  Fortunately the conversation was light-hearted for the most part.  My nieces and nephews are all respectful and loving. Also, my brother-in-law has a great sense of humor, so he would throw in a light-hearted joke here and there.  As strong as our opinions may be about education, our love and respect for each other is stronger still.  All in all a good time was had by all and we're already planning our next get-away.  Spring Break!!  Maybe my three brothers will join us with their families for this next reunion.  Won't that be a full house!

Homeschooling With Down Syndrome

To say homeschooling with special needs is to cover a wide spectrum of diagnoses.   Even within the diagnosis of Down syndrome, there can be differences.  Each child is individually different.  I can share my experiences in homeschooling our daughter with Down syndrome, but it may vary for another child with Down syndrome.  Yet there is still the common factor of the diagnosis and the implications that carries, such as the fact that it takes our kids with Down syndrome longer to learn new concepts and new lessons. Our children with Down syndrome are visual learners. They learn through repetition and imitation, which is best taught if you homeschool Down syndrome.

We've been teaching our daughter at home since Kindergarten.  We also homeschool our two older children.  It takes much discipline and consistency to teach our daughter with DS.  We need to cover a topic or concept for several weeks or months before it becomes concrete. And even then, we still need to review a few weeks later to make sure it's not forgotten. You know the term 'out of sight, out of mind'? Well, that's very true with Sam.  It could take years to learn a concept that may take a typical child months or weeks to learn. At times it can be a challenge to continually teach something when it may seem like it may never become concrete.  Teaching our daughter Sam has been more challenging than teaching our other two children, but it has also been the most rewarding.  Not to say that teaching our other children is not rewarding.  Let me explain. When we've been working for so long to teach her to tell time, for example, and I can see that she's trying and she wants to succeed, but she just cannot understand how a clock works, it can be discouraging.  With a typical child we can say, "Oh, they're not ready for this.  We'll revisit this in a few months."  We cannot do that with our daughter.  Though it seems like she's not ready, we need to persevere.  

In our culture today, clocks are rare. We've got digital clocks on our oven, our microwave, our watches and our cell phones. Yet it's still important that she not only learn to tell time, but that she learns to add time and subtract time. And this is easier to do on an analog clock. If you have to be somewhere in two hours, what time will it be? This involves problem solving and analytical thinking, which is difficult for a child with cognitive challenges or with Down syndrome. We need to consistently practice telling time, and adding and subtracting time every day until we see that glimmer of understanding.  At this point, if we miss a few days, it could mean backtracking and starting from the beginning.  For fun daily practice we use educational videos and educational games and activities until we know it’s concrete. That means that we've missed a couple of days or more and come back to it, and she still remembers it. That's when we say, "It's worth it!" It's worth the discipline and time it takes. It's worth the extra time of research for new ways to teach a concept.  It's worth the's tears.  Of course it's worth it. And it's rewarding. You see, I always tell her, "Yes, it's hard and it's going to take some time, but you CAN do it." So it's rewarding when she's been trying for so long and I finally see that big smile when she realizes she CAN do it, and she squeals, "I did it!"


My husband and I embarked on this homeschooling journey 13 years ago.  We will be graduating our first homeschooled child this year. Our two older children attended a brick and mortar school. They're in their late 20's now.  Our daughter is married with 3 young daughters, and our son is engaged to be married in the Spring.  When we started homeschooling back in 2000, I don't think I thought this far ahead to homeschooling the high school years.  I remember a few years into homeschooling, saying that I didn't know how I was going to do the high school years. It scared me to think about it.  But God called us to homeschool, and God equips us each step of the way.

Our oldest homeschooled daughter is dual enrolled, taking some college classes at our local college. This year she started working and is driving.  She wants to study elementary education and sign language interpretation. Our son has two more years of school at home, but will soon start dual enrolment with one or two college classes. This year he's attending a home-education program where he attends once a week for classes like math, science, and English,  He then does all his assignments at home the rest of the week.  I also teach him other subjects.  In previous years they have also participated in public speaking and debate among other extracurricular activities. Our youngest is our son's twin. She has Down syndrome. Because of her DS, she's learning at an early elementary grade level, but she's showing continual progress and growth. Last year she participated in a similar homeschool program where she attended once a week. This year her core curriculum is Time4Learning, which she has been doing for the last several years.  By the way, these local homeschool programs allow and encourage parents to sit in the classroom.  Parents are still the primary educator and teach or reinforce the concepts or lessons that were covered in the classroom.

It is my desire to share what we have learned and are learning from our experience in teaching our children.  Through our local homeschool support group, I met several veteran homeschoolers who taught me so much and were my support system in the early years of homeschooling.  Now I can give back in the same way.  And the neat thing is, that the internet allows me to reach more homeschoolers.  We only had one family with a child with Down syndrome in our homeschool community.  I learned a lot from other homeschoolers, but I also learned from trial and error.  If I can help you avoid errors from sharing my experiences, then the mistakes serve a purpose.

It seems that in this journey we've had times where we've felt like we were dragging our feet through the valley, climbing up mountains on our hands and knees, feeling our way around a dark forest. But there have been times where we've also felt like we were just skiing down a mountain with the cool wind hitting our face, splashing in a clear blue ocean, and running through a field of beautiful wild flowers.  Through the highs and the lows, there have been lessons. Mostly lessons that have grown us in character and drawn us closer to God and to each other.  I've picked up some treasures along this winding homeschooling road.  I'd love to share them with you.  At the same time, I'm still on this journey and would love to hear what treasures you're carrying that may be new to me.  Join me.  Let's join arms and walk this road together.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  ~Proverbs 27:17