Summer Courses and Summer Lessons

My daughter's homeschool graduation ceremony and party are both this weekend.  I'm looking forward to this week being over because it will mean some free time for me. Finally!  The kids are done with school and have had a lot of free time...too much free time, if you ask me.  So I've registered my son for a couple of courses.  He just started an online HTML Basics For Beginners course that can take him three weeks to complete if he does one lesson a day.  He can work at his own pace. I'm thinking it will take him a little longer since there are days that he works and may be too tired for a lesson or he may take a day off here and there. He has asked for more hours at work during the summer, and that's fine with us. He needs to start saving money for a car now that he has a driver's license.  I've also signed him up for an online course on creative writing help.  This is an online course with a certified teacher. I'm thinking it will be like a writing tutor. I've been wanting to try this writing course out for him and summer is the perfect time for it.

Our youngest daughter we always school year-round because to homeschool Down syndrome means we cannot take too long of a break. In addition to her online curriculum, we also continue with copy work and dictation. She also loves to read.  Her greatest motivator is music and watching a movie like Frozen. So if she wants to listen to music or watch a movie, her schoolwork must come first. She hardly ever fusses about doing her school work, though. 

As homeschoolers, though, you know that learning happens naturally, even when we don't plan on it. For example, Memorial Day my husband had the day off, which doesn't happen too often. The kids also made sure to request the day off from work so we could spend the day together. We slept in a little that morning, but around noon, we headed out to a beach an hour away. We hadn't been to this beach before and wanted to check it out. Well, as we were about 5 miles from our exit on the highway, we heard a loud pop. Sure enough, a flat tire. I had just finished asking my husband a few minutes earlier if he had taught our daughter how to change a tire. What a coincidence, huh?  Apparently it was a screw that was already in the tire and popped out, creating an instant flat tire. I'm just so glad this happened while my husband was with us, because we didn't even have a spare tire in the van! Fortunately, a friend lives close to where we were stuck and he came and gave my husband a ride to the tire store to get the tire plugged.  My son took the tire off, and my daughter put the tire back on.  We were on our way to the beach soon enough and had a fantastic afternoon. Who would've thought we'd have a lesson that afternoon, not just in changing a tire, but in patience and God's provision.
What will your summer look like?  Do you homeschool year-round?  

Our First Homeschool Graduation...and all that's involved

We're excited about our trip tomorrow.  We're heading to Orlando for the Florida Parent Educators Association annual homeschool convention. That was a mouthful! It's the FPEA, for short. Two of my kids will be traveling with me.  They're excited to meet up with friends who don't live close to us.  They'll have some free time to hang out by the pool or play some sports. As I've mentioned before, we have our first graduate from homeschool this year. Although the FPEA has a graduation ceremony and prom for the graduates, my daughter has chosen not to participate because she really won't know any of the other students. Instead she will be participating in our own graduation and promotion ceremony with our church.  Most of the families in our church homeschool and we've been at this church for the last 8 years.  So she's grown up with these kids all through her middle school and high school years. As a matter of fact, there will be five graduates this year. All girls. All good friends.

We've planned a big graduation party for the girls.  It's a party for the girls and their immediate family members and their friends.  Each graduate got twenty invitations, and since most of them share the same friends, it was easy to keep it to under a hundred. All the families will have a separate private party or dinner for relatives and friends not attending this party. The girls have done a great job at doing most of the planning themselves. They created their own Graduation board on Pinterest where we're all adding pins of things we like for either the graduation pictures, like poses, or decorations for the party or ceremony.  We've had a few meetings throughout the year to plan both the ceremony and the graduation.  We'd also like to plan a graduation trip for the girls with the moms, but we're still working on that one. 

As part of the graduation ceremony we've agreed each graduate will have their own table where they can display pictures and other things that represent who they are, their interests, or their schoolwork throughout the year. They will all have a couple of things in common. One is an 8x10 framed picture in their graduation gowns at the center of the table. This will identify whose table it is. Each table will also have their own individual journal for friends and family to write notes of encouragement or congratulations. For our daughter, we decided to have some of her horseback riding trophies, her writing notebook of stories and essays that she started when she was seven years old, a photo album of pictures from kindergarten and including her graduation pictures, and a poster of pictures we've taken throughout high school with friends.  Some of the pictures we'll have are of her riding events, public speaking competitions, summer camps, and yearbook club. I also have a frame that has a picture her for each school year, beginning in kindergarten and ending with her graduation picture in the center of the frame.
I also need to create her diploma using a free template I found on one of my favorite high school homeschool websites, which I use for other resources. Most homeschoolers create their own diplomas.  There are some homeschoolers who use umbrella schools and they get their diplomas from them. Lastly, each graduate will have a five-minute slide show. Yes, that's mom's job. I should've had that done already, but I've had a full schedule the last couple of months.  And I'll have to admit that because I've never done one before, I may have procrastinated just a tad. Thankfully, my nephew has agreed to help me this weekend, and my son will watch so he can learn, also. I want to add messages to the slideshow from her dad and from me, and from her brothers and sisters. The other option would be to have a song playing in the background and say something to her in person on stage. But I'm afraid I may start crying if I choose the second option. The first option is safest, although it may not be easier. We'll see. 

So I've already ordered the announcements, sent out invitations for the graduation party, the ceremony, and our own family gathering at our home after the ceremony. One other thing I've been doing the last week is printing pictures. How many of you do what I do and have hundreds of pictures sitting in our hard drives and in our SD cards?  Well, I've printed over a hundred pictures, and it was so easy to do!  Why don't I do this more often?!  Sending the pictures to print was the easy part. And with the use of coupons, it was not expensive at all. The tedious part was looking through all our files of pictures and SD cards. But it was fun. My sisters and nieces had fun as I texted old pictures to them. We have a 'family chat' where we all can communicate with each other in one place. We had fun reminiscing together for a couple of hours last night through text. A few months ago I started filing my pictures by month and year. That should make it easier for my other kids when it's time for their graduations.  Part of me wants graduation to come and go already because of all the work, but another part of me is saying, "Time is going by too fast. Please slow down." Anybody else with me?

Exhibit Hall Expedition

So remember that consistent practice I talked about last week?  Well, it's been a challenge this week.  Yes, the high school prom and the used curriculum sale have come and gone.  Our oldest son's wedding and all the planning and activities that came with that are over, but now my daughter graduates in two weeks and there is so much to do.  Our homeschool conference is also next week. Our kids look forward to the time away because they get to hang out with all their friends who also attend. I have a few days before and after the convention to get some pictures together for a slide show of my graduating daughter. In addition to that, I need to record a message from each of my kids and from us (her parents, slash, teachers) that will make it a memorable occasion for her.  I'm thankful for the option to record the messages because I'd probably break down in tears on stage. I know I'll be crying looking through old photographs!  Actually, today we attended the graduation of some of their friends at a local homeschool program, and I was crying through those slide shows! Our kids have grown up together, we parents have taught each others' kids in co-ops. These are all of 'our' kids. And time seems to pass so fast. It was bittersweet, indeed.

With all that's going on, we're able to still stay on task with Sam's handwriting practice.  I mentioned last week that I wanted to transition from the RediSpace notebook paper she's been using, which has dividers between letters, to regular notebook paper. As you can see from the picture, her handwriting still looks pretty good.  That RediSpace notebook paper has made all the difference.

The one thing I didn't anticipate is that it took her twice as long to finish her copy work using the regular notebook paper. She was being so careful to write neatly.  But I know that with more consistent practice (there it is again), she'll get more comfortable and confident, and her writing will become more fluent. At this point I don't think she'll need the RediSpace paper any longer. I'm glad we tried this now, before the convention. I won't need to buy it anymore. Now I'll be exploring the convention's exhibit hall in search for new things that will benefit her.
I've heard new homeschoolers say that the homeschool convention is so overwhelming.  I don't think they're talking about the speakers or workshops, but rather the exhibit hall.  There are so many options available to us, that one can get easily overwhelmed, especially someone who is new to homeschooling. There really are so many curricula to choose from, and so many resources....for our typical kids. For families with children who have special needs, who have learning or developmental challenges, it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack. For years I tried to use curricula with Sami that I had used with my other children or that were the most popular only to become frustrated trying to adapt it to her needs, making additional copies for more practice and adding to them to help her understand concepts. I realize there is no such thing as an all encompassing curriculum, but even more so if it's a struggle to homeschool central auditory processing disorder because your child doesn't process information like most typical children do, or to homeschool a child with Down syndrome who needs lots of repetition, or a child with ADHD who is very intelligent but cannot sit at a table writing in workbooks for an extended period of time.

So now I look forward to the homeschool convention in the hopes of finding a new resource to add to our homeschool, especially for math. Math is still a struggle for Sami. I discovered some new things this week as I was teaching her to count money. But more on that on my next blog entry. ;)  I'm always open to new ideas and look forward to my Exhibit Hall Expedition!

Handwriting Secrets

This week we were still recovering from our last week and weekend. We were very busy last week with last-minute wedding arrangements, the wedding rehearsal, bachelorette and bachelor getaways, a used curriculum sale, and finally the wedding, which was on Saturday.  It was beautiful. It was an outdoor wedding and the weather was perfect.  The party followed indoors where everyone enjoyed good music and had a blast taking pictures in the photo booth.  I'm so happy to have a new daughter...and a new granddaughter, as she has a sweet 3-yo baby girl.  They are wonderful additions to our family.  Our son's mother-in-law lives a few blocks away from me and we are best friends. We work out together and go on walks together.  And her younger daughter is good friends with our daughter and our other son.  So our families have already blended well together.

I am so thankful for the homeschool curriculum we finally found for Samantha.  I don't have to worry about planning the lessons for the week.  It's been such a crazy few weeks, but she's been able to work independently when I've needed her to. Sam needs so much repetition and consistency that to miss a whole week of school work would set us back weeks.  It would be like taking 2 steps forward only to take 10 steps back. We homeschool her year-round. If you have a child with special needs, then you understand that not all curricula works in homeschooling special needs. And we tried MANY!

For the entire last week she did not do any copy work or writing, so this week we needed to catch up and get some student writing practice in. We use Mead Transitional notebook paper, which has been so helpful for Samantha.  She's learning to space her letters appropriately. Before finding this paper at the homeschool convention, it was frustrating her as she had to focus on the size of her letters, the distance of her letters, as well as punctuation and capitalization.  It's been so much easier to have a guide that helps her keep the letters within spaces. We've been using this paper all year.  If you look closely at this picture, you'll notice the blocks for each letter. It trains her to space her letters correctly. It also trains her where to start and stop so she doesn't try to go too far off the page.
I think she'll be ready soon to write without it. If she still has trouble writing without it, I'll have her write at least once a week on regular notebook paper as we slowly make the transition.

Something else I'd like to start teaching Sam is to write short paragraphs. This will be our new goal. I don't yet know how I'm going to handle teaching her the types of sentences or when to place commas in a sentence, but I don't think it's necessary to teach Sam things like comma rules or the complex details of grammar.  Yes, I taught my other children all these things, but I don't think Samantha will need to know these things. My main focus with Sam is that she would learn to communicate as clearly and effectively as is possible for her, whether orally or in writing. So for now, I'll need to keep this as basic as possible.

You see, while it takes a typical child a few months of handwriting practice to develop good handwriting skills, it takes a child with Down syndrome a little longer.  It may take Sam a few months longer, or maybe even a year or two longer, but she will get it. She learned to read when she was 9 years old, but she is an avid reader now and would rather sit in bed and read than sit and watch TV. Progress may be slow, but there's progress. Consistent practice makes better learning.