Alphabetical Order

If you have a first- or second-grader, chances are you'll be teaching them how to put sets of words in alphabetical order. This is a difficult concept to teach a child with Down syndrome who doesn't do well with analytic work.  As much as I try to explain it to her, she doesn't truly comprehend until she sees it and practices it repeatedly.  Trying to place words in ABC order can be confusing and tedious for Samantha. We've tried several times in the last few years with different manipulatives and worksheets, but she was just not ready.  I'm hoping this year will be the year she finally understands it.  We're starting slowly and using games that are engaging and fun for her.  I don't want to exasperate or frustrate her.

Oftentimes a visual-spatial learner doesn't do well with continual practice and repetition. In Samantha's case, however, she needs repetition as well as manipulatives and pictures.  I'm using vocabulary words from the books we're reading this month and from her Language Arts and science activities.  So these are words that are familiar to her or that she is learning.  I've created lists of these vocabulary words and added the alphabet at the top each sheet to help her see the order of the letters in the alphabet.  I highlight the first letter of each word and highlight the same letters on the alphabet line at the top of the page.  I'm finding this is really helpful for her in placing the words in the right order.  Next week I'll have her highlight the letters herself.  Eventually we'll move on to the second and third letters of the words, but I know we'll be practicing first letters for a while. This is where the hourglass learning comes in.  Small steps. We'll get there, if we persevere.

Homeschool Regrets

Someone asked me today if I've had any regrets with our choice to homeschool.  I can say without a doubt that this is the best choice we've ever made.  And we've never doubted this choice. Although there are regrets within my choice to homeschool, meaning there are things I'd do differently, I have no regrets of homeschooling our children.  I think most homeschoolers, at one time or another, wonder if we've made the right choice with curriculum or if we've spent enough time learning certain subjects or learning enough material.

One of my regrets with my older children is changing math curriculum too often. My oldest daughter Amber has always struggled with math.  I kept trying to find a math curricula that she would like, so I kept changing. I think this did more harm than good. If I had to do it over again, I would've stuck with one math curriculum once we reached higher elementary and from that point on.  You see, each math curricula teaches skills and concepts in a particular order and with different formats.  I think the frequent changes caused confusion for her and just aggravated her math anxiety. If I had to do it over again, I would do what I finally did last year. Together with three other families we hired a math tutor.  We took the four girls to her house for an hour twice a week. The tutor charged us by the hour for the four girls, so we just split the cost. We picked a tutor who loves math and is tutoring more for the love of teaching than for the money. Amber and another girl in the group were both behind in math and disliked it very much. By the end of the year, the tutor had transferred her love of math on to the girls and they were caught up!

My other regret would be that I started to panic once my kids became teenagers and I started homeschooling middle school.  Well, I didn't panic.  I'm being a bit dramatic. I did start to worry that I would not be able to teach them well. In part that was because of my struggles and my own weaknesses in math.  I worried I would mess them up somehow.  It's funny how people's first concerns seem to always be related to socialization.  That has always been the least of my concerns. They've always had plenty of activities and friends from 4-H clubs, boyscouts, drama club, music classes, ballet classes, field trips, yearbook club.  Too many over the years to name.  I think my biggest concerns have always been about record-keeping and making sure we covered the requirements for their high school transcripts.  I started to notice that a lot of parents would start talking about high school and college requirements as early as middle school.  But I'm so thankful for the large homeschool community that we are a part of and for the internet.  I've had a lot of homeschool high school help. My kids seem to be doing fine. So there was really no need for me to panic or worry.

What about your family? Any regrets with homeschooling?  Anything you'd do differently?

Science at the Park....a day in the life of an unschooler

My favorite years of homeschooling are the elementary years.  Now that Amber and Noah are in high school, we have to be a little more focused on academics and completing required high school credits for their transcripts. I am a lot more flexible and carefree with Samantha who is in elementary.  I enjoy going on field trips, homeschool events, park dates, going to the library.  My high school kids still go on field trips and homeschool events sometimes. When they were all little, it was quite often we'd all be out together. My husband would sometimes ask if we were homeschooling or roadschooling.

What I didn't realize back then is that what we were doing was unschooling.  We were not at home following a schedule and working from textbooks or workbooks. That's fine for some families, but it's not a good fit for us. Even though Amber and Noah are high schoolers and have more structured curriculum, I would say we tend to lean more toward unschooling.  When they were younger we used workbooks at times, but not on a daily basis or on a schedule.  Even now they don't have a schedule for each subject they need to finish daily.  They know what they need to complete by the end of the week and they get it done.  If my son is repairing his airsoft gun, building something in his room because he likes woodwork, or working on a drawing because he likes art, I'm not going to tell him he needs to stop to do his History lesson.  He'll make time for it before the end of the week.  He's learning to manage his time.  The same with Amber.  She loves horses and there are days when she volunteers at a ranch working with horses and kids with special needs all day.  I think that's one of the beauties of homeschooling.  They have more time to pursue and develop their individual interests.  

The only set schedule that we had for a few years was going to the park every Wednesday at 2pm to meet with a group of homeschoolers and the park ranger.  For a couple of hours the park ranger would 'teach' on different subjects while taking the group on a short hike followed by a short sit-down talk/teaching.  She would talk to the kids, show them pictures or have them color or draw.  One time she brought dead bugs for the kids to study.   We learned about flowers, plants, bugs, birds, trees, animals.  Wednesdays were our day of science.  For Amber it wasn't just science, it was also photography.  I think she enjoyed taking pictures of the bugs more than studying them.  On the way home from the park, we'd stop at the library and get books.  Whenever possible, we'd find a book or an educational movie that covered the topic we'd learned about that day. When we got home from the park, we'd read our book or watch the movie on that topic we'd just learned about. The kids would talk to me about what they'd learned and what their favorite part of the day was.  This made it easier for them to then journal about their day while Samantha played preschool games.  

So unschooling doesn't mean we're not learning.  Even mom is learning new things.  As I reminisce on those science days at the park I'm thinking I'll call the park this week and ask if a park ranger would be available to do that with us again. Maybe the same park ranger is still there.  I know Samantha would enjoy it, and it would be so good for her. I think families in our homeschool support group would love to participate in Science at the Park.  We've got a very active support group with families who like to get together and learn together.  If you're an unschooler, I'd love to hear what your kids are interested in and what unschooling looks like for your family. 

Mischievous Toddlers and Homeschool

This week I got a reminder of what it's like to homeschool preschool.  I babysat my little niece and nephew, ages three and four. Right now the kids are in preschool while mom and dad work. However, mom hopes to homeschool some day.  She's asked questions about how to homeschool and what curriculum we've used. I think she'll do a great job because already the kids are very inquisitive and bright. The oldest was continuously asking how this works or why this happens or what this word means. He'll be easy to teach because he seems to enjoy learning new things.

My kids are in upper elementary and high school.  So I think I had forgotten what it's like to have toddlers. I had to find different ways to keep the kids busy.  I found that the moment I left them to play alone, they got into mischief.  For example, we still have our Christmas tree up.  The youngest crawled under the Christmas tree and pulled out a small box. She must have been enthralled with the tiny Styrofoam balls inside the lid of the box, which are made to look like snow. Wouldn't you know she found a way to take the lid apart!  Now mind you, I only turned my back on her for a few minutes, but next thing I knew, the living room floor was covered with snow...err Styrofoam balls. When she saw the look on my face, she knew she had done something wrong.  I said, "Willow!"  And she looked up at me and said, "I sorry."  Uggh!  My heart melted.  I wanted to just pick her up and hug her.  I know. There was a huge mess of little Styrofoam balls everywhere. But she's so cute. And so sweet.  And she helped me pick up as many as we could so I could put them back in the lid and seal it back.  No harm done.  My kids are growing so fast that I can truly appreciate toddlers, even when they get into mischief.

So that happened on Monday.  This was a clue to me that I needed to plan ahead and keep them active.  We went to the library and borrowed as many books as we could fit in a bag and we read often throughout the week. But we didn't just read. We acted out scenes from the books, too.  Samantha has a lot of puppets. So we put on some skits using some of the stories from the books we read.  I want to make reading fun for the kids because I know they'll soon be learning to read.  So when Samantha or I read to them, we'd change our voices and make funny noises. The kids loved that. Samantha and I enjoyed ourselves, too.

In addition to reading books we played games, made cookies, made some crafts, colored, hand-painted, and even walked to the park. It helps that they're both close in age. It's easier to entertain two than it is to entertain one, I think.  They play well together, too.  I think it would be more challenging to have only one child to homeschool.  I'd love to hear your thoughts. Especially if you have one child now. Kids learn best through active play at this young age, and engaging as many of their senses as possible.  So what do you do with your child?