Storytime

With so much in our daily lives that is ever-changing, one thing I do try to keep consistent is beginning each school day with storytime. The three of us sit together on the sofa or on the porch, reading various types of stories together.

Some of our favorite things to read are:

These are just a few selections that we return to time and again, but we love to read a plethora of different fiction stories, or books on history and science as well.

We evolved as Storytellers. A good story, whether true or make-believe, speaks to the inner reaches of our spirits.

“Story telling is the most ancient form of education. It is about the remembering, making, and sharing of images that bind together time, nature, and people. Stories, like the sacred plants, are medicine and food come from the Earth. They remind us that we do not stand alone. Through them we live in the body of coyote and crow, tree and stone… In this way, we confirm our relationship with all of creation.”

Joan Halifax

There is hardly any other experience when I feel so close and in tune with my kids than when we are cuddled and sharing stories. I hope it is one of those things in their education they look back upon and cherish.

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When Change Is Needed

Sometimes things seem to be working out just fine, until one morning you wake up and nothing seems to be working anymore.

Your routine, your appliances, your lesson plans, your to-do lists, your efforts with anything… There is something amiss with all of it.

As I expressed in my last post, my husband and I have a deep and sincere desire to forge a new life for ourselves and start a homestead. We have realized for years that we simply don’t fit into the current social standards and ways of living and a great change seems to be needed.

But sometimes, only small changes are needed – and these small changes can have a large impact.

Recently I began noticing that my son was having a hard time with his fifth grade curriculum. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the curriculum itself, nor is there anything wrong with my son…it just isn’t a good fit at the moment.

It just wasn’t working.

Being only 9 1/2 years old, a fifth grade curriculum is a year (or two) ahead of what other children his age are working on. We jumped ahead a year when we pulled him out of public school, only a couple of months into his kindergarten year, because he was already ahead academically and we thought he could handle a first grade curriculum. And it turned out he most certainly could.

Though we had many battles of will (which we still do), he was more than capable of handling curriculum that was more advanced than what his peers probably had. Until now.

Up until about forth or fifth grade, a lot of a child’s learning is rote memorization. While working on our forth grade curriculum last year, there was a great deal more critical thinking and reading comprehension involved, which J.J. has a lot of difficulty with (I think mostly due to his being on the spectrum), but we forged ahead anyway. I thought if I just kept challenging him and pushing him forward it would eventually “click”. This is how a lot of things work with him. We will struggle through things together until one day he just gets it.

But… It still hasn’t clicked yet.

So, as I was going through my mountains of school materials, workbooks, and math manipulatives (thanks to my retired school teacher father-in-law!) this past weekend…I decided make better use of all of the materials my father-in-law has most graciously given to me. We have workbooks on Logical Thinking, Critical Thinking, Reading Comprehension, oodles of Math Workbooks at various levels, and much, much, more.

I made the tough decision to set aside the fifth grade curriculum for now, in hopes that we will strengthen some of the skills J.J. has the most difficulty with before we eventually return to the curriculum.

I say “tough decision” because I have to admit to myself, my husband, and to my son that things aren’t going well right now. I have to set aside my pride and admit that things just aren’t working out — even with what I consider a near-perfect curriculum. I have to admit that we need to slow down. I have to admit that there are things my son has great difficulty with. He is a very bright child and thrives with tasks and subjects that require memorization, but has troubles when deeper and more critical thinking is involved.

I have to admit… That it’s ok.

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I am so very fortunate that I do homeschool and it is a great privilege to be able to give my son what he needs — a few years ago we needed to jump ahead, and now we need to slow down.

Perhaps things will click and things will speed up again. Perhaps we will slow down to the point where he is on the same grade level with his peers again.

The point is to give him what he really needs. Not to give him what I think he should need…but what he truly needs.

I am so very grateful I have the freedom and opportunity to give that to him.

 

 

Living Without the Internet

So the other day my husband and I got a letter in the mail earlier this week from our internet provider telling us that they were implementing a new “Technology Fee” (give me a break…that’s lame) which would total an extra $9.95 a month. We were already over-paying, in our opinion, for the internet, and this technology fee came as the last straw for this family that is trying to live as financially conservative as possible. In this world where prices and problems are constantly rising, we could no longer justify that expense each month.

This came as a difficult decision, because it isn’t like we didn’t use the internet much at home.

We used it ALL the time. And I mean ALL the time.

We were constantly researching things (how do you make a timber frame home with only old-fashioned hand tools?), using the internet for school, and as news-junkies – my husband and I were always watching Democracy Now and other independent news outlets to remain informed global-citizens.

Even though I had already come to the same conclusion when Nathan suggested we get rid of the internet, I was skeptical of how I could make things work on a daily basis for myself and my family.

Luckily, Nathan has access to wifi at work. As for the kids and I…we will be trekking to our local library (which we go to often anyway) and using the internet there. Yesterday I made a list of all the things I need to look up and use the internet for (because I love lists and written organization), and I will go equipped with our laptop, iPads, and notebooks in hand.

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It has been a few days since the internet signal stopped gracing our home, and (surprisingly) we have not run to the router screaming and crying, hoping for the tiniest signal to pull through.

I almost felt liberated as I unplugged it, actually. We are always aiming to live a life of purpose and meaning with our family, and I feel like this is a big step in that direction.

Instead of spending hours glued to my phone or computer trying to remain “connected” in superficial ways…I will be more connected to the people at home that mean more to me than anyone or anything else on this Mother Earth.

And we will save more than $800 a year.

Who could argue with that? I don’t know about you, but as much as I love to have the internet, I like saving money more.

Family Supports Waiver

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This past summer J.J. was deemed eligible for help with the things that create the bad days for my Buddy.

Just two months ago, he started receiving services through the Family Supports Waiver, which is through Medicaid. I had applied for this waiver along with two others – the Developmental Disabilities Waiver and the Autism Waiver – when J was first diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder five years ago. We were then placed on the waiting list for each of these, like most, if not all, families are when they first apply.

I was beyond excited when I found out J was being taken off the waiting list and being considered for services that until now, we couldn’t give him because of the high price tag.

Now, here we are a few months, several forms filled out, countless papers signed, many phone calls and meetings and decisions later… And we see two lovely ladies and one kind gentleman each week, at the moment for a combined total of 8 to 10 hours each week. This is a HUGE amount of services, especially when considering we will never see the bills.

J is receiving Music Therapy, Behavioral Support Services, and Participant Assistance and Care through the waiver. So far, Music Therapy has been absolutely incredible!! The Music Therapist works so well with J — she challenges him, yet she makes it fun enough that he doesn’t realize he’s getting pushed to do things he normally wouldn’t care much to do.

We are only in our third week with the Behavioral Therapist — this service took a little longer to get started, but judging by how well she has done these first few weeks, I think she will be an enormous help with J.J. beginning to learn how to identify and handle his emotions in a more appropriate and constructive manner.

The third service, Participant Assistance and Care (PAC), is not a therapeutic service like the other two. Essentially the service provider can work on almost any goals we have for J, but there is not a clear-cut plan of strategies on how to meet the goals. So far, the service provider has been wonderful, kind, and attentive, but it has been a challenge for me to let things play out without a strategic written plan. I want J to get the most out of these services as possible, so it is hard for me to accept the days when it seems like not much was accomplished. I do consider that, perhaps, I simply fail to see the benefits of J’s hours of interaction with these other individuals each week.

These waiver services obviously have several benefits:

  • Therapeutic and Social Services that are free to the clients
  • Eligibility is based on the individual’s disability and need for services, not on income
  • A relatively large budget — I believe we have around $16,000 total for the annual budget

However, I do have some cons, which are primarily personal issues:

  • Having therapists and service providers here for 8 to 10 hours each week greatly cuts into our school hours
  • Having these therapies/services three days each week means I have to keep up on my housework a lot more
  • There is the added stress of having to keep others updated constantly on your child’s progress, inner-workings, household dynamics, etc… One of the beauties of homeschooling is not having to work with others on your child’s life, progress, and education. Now I have to do that, not with his education, but on the goals stated in his Individualized Service Plan (ISP).
  • I can’t wander around in my pajamas all day as often

Basically the cons all add up to lessened flexibility in our day-to-day lives. I can’t just decide on a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday that we should go to Eagle Creek Park because the weather is beautiful. While it is true that certain tasks to achieve the goals for J have been delegated, I am still gaining much more work and stress because of some of the things listed above.

J.J. already takes a great deal of time to complete his school work each day, it has been extremely difficult to accomplish everything we need to do, and so our school hours often spill over into the weekend.

However, despite all of this, I am welcoming the extra work because (I hope) it is for J.J.’s best interest. I hope these services make a noticeable impact on his behavior and level of independence. We shall see with time.

Have any of you dealt with these services for yourself or someone you know? What has your experience been? As always, I would love to hear from you.

Have a beautiful day!

Five Year Anniversary

This past Sunday, October 12, 2014, was the fifth anniversary of J.J.’s diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I honestly wasn’t sure how to feel… I’m not sure I felt anything besides pure astonishment that five years has already passed since that nine hour day at Riley Children’s Hospital.

Since the diagnosis, my daily life has been filled with one reminder or another of the diagnosis — sometimes it is positive, and sometimes it is negative. There are phenomenally great days, and unbelievably bad days. I am grateful for how much progress J has made, yet I am fearful of what the future may hold for him.

The world in which we live is full of doubt, yet hopefulness in the face of such doubt. I don’t know what the rest of today holds for J…let alone 10 years from now when he will be a legal adult. He could look the Wide World in the eye and challenge it to hold him down. Or he could need assistance in one form or another for the rest of his life.

There is such uncertainty each and every day, that at times I find it insufferable.

Yet…

J has provided me with such an incredible opportunity to grow not just as a mother, but as a human being, and to look at the world with wider eyes, more compassionate eyes, more loving eyes. I believe…I know it is because of him and the kind of child he is.

Today J stands up tall as an eight year old boy and reaches almost up to my shoulders.

Today he has whined and complained about his schoolwork and gotten angry when I insisted he had no choice in the matter. He sighed heavily at the thought of having to drink water before his meals. He has fought with his sister about where to sit on the couch, and he has fought with me about several things just as silly.

However, today J has also given countless hugs and kisses to Ava, Nathan, and I. Today he has cuddled close as we did our reading, and he has worked on writing a lovely and creative story. Today he has emphatically studied nutrition and insisted that he tell me all about it at least three times.

Today has been a roller coaster, as most days are.

I take the bad with the good and insist on remembering more of the good than the bad. Each day can be an exhausting challenge for Nathan and I as his parents, but it is also more rewarding than I could ever express when we think about where the three of us started on this journey. All three of us have come a long way, and we should all feel so very proud.

I know I am certainly so proud of my Buddy, especially…

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He’s pretty darn amazing.

Photo Credit: Nathan Monk

Trying New Things — Changing the Way We Learn

I am consistently humbled and reminded, frequently, that it does not matter how well I plan things out — to-do’s, lesson plans, etc. — it all usually gets tossed to the mighty and strong winds of change and the plans are swiftly swept out the window.

A few days ago, I was approaching a school project with J.J. — he was supposed to write a fictional story. Simple, right? Just the sort of thing an imaginative 7 year old boy should be good at… But it proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. In all honestly, I should have seen the difficulty coming, as things usually are more difficult than I think they will be. I seem to forget that my son has difficulty focusing his attention — especially if it is something he is not excited about at that very moment in space and time.

I approached the project to the best of my ability: I got out brainstorming sheets, referenced his Basher Creative Writing book, and we discussed, at length, different genres and examples of each one. Upon deciding he wanted to write a “fantasy” story, I pulled out the brainstorming sheets and set to work.

Since J.J. sometimes has difficulty with “bigger picture” thinking, I thought we would conquer the story one part at a time. I figured it would be helpful to start with Character Development. (I realize now how ridiculous it may sound to tell a 7 year old that we are going to work on Character Development…but to be fair I simply asked him who he wanted in the story and what each of their characteristics were). I thought this would go swiftly, especially since he chose to write about the “Bird Family” which he made up and draws about all the time. However, almost every one of my questions was met with an “I don’t know” or simply no answer at all. Yet, after several tries and some input from good ol’ Mom and Dad, J.J. finally had his set of characters for the story.

Yesterday, we tried revisiting the story, this time trying to begin building upon the details and events. Where did the Bird Family live? What did they do? I tried offering big picture questions, detailed questions, suggestions, examples…everything I could think of without giving him any answers or writing the story-line for him. Again, after several tries and many breaks in between…we only had a few new pieces of information for the story.

We need to try new things. We need new strategies. We need to let our writing efforts rest for awhile, in hopes that he will have some sort of interest at a later date. Right now, I think J.J. and I need to focus on things he wants to learn about. Things of his choosing. After all, how is he going to actually learn and retain any new information unless he has some interest in it? How are we going to have a good homeschool experience if I am constantly trying to force him to learn certain things, or be creative in certain ways? It’s simply not going to work. In a strange contrast, the older J.J. gets, the more reasonable, yet more strong-willed he becomes. 

So, I had J.J. compile a list of things he is currently interested in and wants to learn more about. He came up with: Dr. Seuss (as a person and writer), “Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms” and “Horten’s Incredible Illusions”, Magic and Magicians, Architecture, Somalia, India, Mexico, Aztecs, and Plants.

Quite an interesting list if you ask me!

We will certainly still do lots of math and reading and other “core” requirements. We will just do the bulk of our learning in a different sort of way. It will be largely literature-based as we learn this new information about his topics of choice, but I told him I expect him to be able to pay careful attention when reading, watching, or listening about these topics and to be able to tell me what he just learned.

I estimate the list of topics will take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full month to explore in-depth. However, I am not pinning any sort of timeline or deadline for it…since I know what happens when I try to put those sorts of requirements on things of this nature. It simply won’t adhere to my expectations. Instead, I am going to try to have fun with this and make it fun for J.J. as well. After all, I’m sure I will learn just as much as him in the process!

This will certainly be an interesting experiment, and I am sincerely looking forward to it!

Sometimes…

**This is an archived blog post from August 2, 2012**

I’m going to be completely honest… Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing. By homeschooling, I mean.

It’s just after 10 in the morning, and we were only a couple minutes into our first lesson of the day (Math), and already J.J. is sitting a time-out. And it was a struggle to get him there.

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Sometimes I wonder if homeschooling is what is best for J.J. I know we are only in our second week (of our second year of homeschooling), and I (to an extent) expected these fights…these battles of the wills. He and I are both stubborn and expect things to be a certain way, and our expectations are often at odds.

Sometimes I understand his struggles and why he fights against what I expect of him. Sometimes it is tough…I get that. He needs to accept that not everything is going to come easy to him. He is used to being able to easily memorize things and recite them, but when it comes to actually doing…that can be unsettling for him.

Sometimes I don’t understand why he fights. “Pick a color [pencil] to write with.” Why is that so hard? Maybe it is simply what he does not want to do at that moment, so he moans and groans instead. Maybe he realizes that once he chooses his colored pencil he will be expected to write or draw or solve math problems… I don’t know. All I know is that it is extremely frustrating and brings into question everything I am doing…everything I am working my ass off to achieve with and for him. No amount of yoga or chamomile tea can stifle my frustration at times.

So yes, sometimes I question why I am doing this. Yet when I think of the alternative…Public School…I know that I am doing what is best…for J.J. Just because it is not easy (for either of us) at times does not mean it is not what is right. Maybe, sometimes, it is rightbecause it is difficult.

In any case, he is now calm and it is time to reconcile.

Then…back to work.