Thursday, December 16, 2010


I thought I should probably take a look at where we are as this calendar year comes to a close. Here's a little look at what we have been doing this school year and where we plan to go after our holiday break.

After starting the year with Singapore math for both boys, we decided Calvert math was actually the best fit for both of them right now. JT is skimming his way through the 5th grade text, only working on concepts he hasn't already learned and things he needs to review. EM has been working in the 3rd grade text in the same way. JT will probably cover 3 more chapters in the Calvert book. When he has completed those, I plan to move him to Key Curriculum Press's Geometry series. We may alternate between those and Life of Fred Decimals and Percents. EM will probably also work on the first book in the Geometry series and then move back to the Singapore 3B book.

When we started this school year, I borrowed text books from our local school district. In PA, school districts are encouraged to allow homeschooing parents to borrow the books for their child's grade level. I had the boys each use the school's reading text book. JT has already completed the entire year's reading from the book, EM is close behind. I also supplement with novels, books related to other subjects we are covering and poetry reading about once a week. EM has a workbook that ties in to the reading text, so he does some of that work. They are both also doing worksheets related to library use, alphabetizing etc. In the new year, JT will work his way through an older 6th grade text book I picked up at a library sale. EM will move on to reading more chapter books and short story collections.

I am using the Grammar Island book for EM and Grammar Voyage for JT. Both are part of the Michael Clay Thompson language arts curriculum. JT also uses a textbook from the 80's entitled, English Skills. I try to give each boy at least one writing assignment per week. JT does a great deal of creative writing on his own. I generally allow him to follow his own path for writing. EM needs a little more structure, as he doesn't naturally enjoy the process. However, he does a good job when he has a little help. Teaching him to outline and other pre-writing skills has brought about a great deal of growth in his writing style. I will continue to encourage him in that way. By the end of this school year, I would like to see him put together a short biographical report. JT will also be doing a research project in the spring on a science topic of his choice.

We have weekly spelling lists. There is always a pre-test on Monday, sentences or definitions later in the week, review game on Thursday and final test on Friday. JT uses the English from the Roots Up Cards for his spelling lists. EM is using the 2nd grade Calvert spelling lists and worksheets.

For History, we are working our way through The Story of the World, Volume 1, Ancient Times. The boys both find the stories engaging. We often do the map work in the activity book from the series. We do not always take the time for all the crafts and other work. Recently we discovered some really fun videos on Youtube for our history instruction. The creators have put history to pop music. My favorite is the Canterbury Tales to California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas. Good stuff...and it's educational!

We decided to cover three major units in science this year. We started out with weather and water. I found a Christian based science series that we have enjoyed. God's Design for Heaven and Earth, Our Weather and Water, fit well into our plan for this unit. We also regularly use experiments from the Janice VanCleave books. After our vacation, we plan to begin a unit on geology. The boys are looking forward to breaking out the volcano building model kit and the rock tumbler. When that unit is finished, we hope to have time for an astronomy unit before summer.

Our remaining subjects are on our schedule once a week. Health, civics, art, geography and music are mostly taught in a hands on sort of way. For example, this week for health we watched a video on fats that we found on Brainpop (still my favorite online educational tool!) then we did an experiment we found on the Happy Scientist website. We took our chips, pretzel and tortilla chips from the cupboard. We placed a few of each onto a paper towel, drew a circle around each group, labeled the circle with the name of the snack and allowed them to sit for a bit. We then checked which had the most fat based on the greasy stains left behind.

Art is sometimes a tie in to our history lesson, sometimes it's a craft project, sometimes I just pull a step by step drawing book out and set them loose. We have a well-stocked art supply cabinet that is always available for their use. We also read a bit about art history and they spend time looking at examples online.

Physical education is part of our schedule, but it has no set time or place. Right now, the boys are starting their basketball season with the Upward program through a local church. When they aren't playing basketball, they ride bike, swim in the summer, run up and down our hill in the backyard and are generally active enough that I don't worry too much about 'teaching' gym. That may have to change as they get older.

Overall, I feel like we are accomplishing more this year than we have in any other year since we brought the boys home. We are keeping to our afternoon school schedule, usually wrapping up for the day a little after 4pm. I have found that if I don't jump right into schooling immediately after lunch, they resist starting at all. So I have to be diligent with the schedule. Our household has really relaxed into a good rhythm this year. We may be more laid back than some families as far as routine, but I feel what we have here fits us well. We are happy, healthy and learning as we go.

A note about my posting schedule. I will not be posting the next two weeks while we are on our holiday break. I will return January 6th of the new year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

About two years ago, I started recognizing patterns in some of my youngest son's 'quirks'. He had always hated places with loud noises. Going to a movie theater or fireworks display had been a problem...until I discovered earmuffs made it bearable for him. It soon became clear that he didn't even like 'busy' places. If we went to a place like the mall or a museum, he became distracted and irritated. Sometime around the age of three, we had him evaluated by a speech therapist. She worked with him for a brief time on a few minor problems he had. Background noises were a problem for him. If he was reading and JT made even the slightest noise, he would be annoyed and claim he needed to start the reading assignment from the beginning because he couldn't remember what he had read. Then when I started giving him spelling lists last year, I noticed that he seemed to have much more difficulty with simple words than I had expected him to have. His reading levels were above grade...why was spelling such a problem for him?

A friend suggested that he might be dealing with Auditory Processing Disorder. After reading the symptoms, I wasn't 100% sure that he was, but figured it might be a good idea to have him evaluated.

The evaluation was done at a local university through their speech and hearing clinic. I felt like I might be wasting their time, but just couldn't shake the feeling that something 'just wasn't right'. It turned out I wasn't imagining things. He has a problem with his auditory processing. The official diagnosis in the summary reads like this,

"Overall test results indicate an auditory processing disorder associated with decoding type deficits as well as maturational issues. Specific deficits noted include poor phonemic awareness, synthesis, and sound blending abilities. In addition, ----'s test results indicated abnormally large right ear advantage scores."

We were given several recommendations. We were told to begin using a home computer program called Earobics. We were given classroom suggestions; preferential seating (keeping him close to the teacher or white board), seating away from visual and auditory distractions, extra time to complete assignments when large amounts of reading are required. We should change multi-step directions to simple statements, one direction at a time. More use of visual aids. Keeping instruction time short. Students with impaired auditory function become tired more quickly, so they need regular breaks in the school day.

I have done all of these things since day one of our school year. But there was one more recommendation...

"A speech and language evaluation to determine current receptive and expressive language skills is warranted."

Next week, at his yearly physical appointment, I will be looking into having this evaluation done. I was hoping that just doing the home use of Earobics and being careful to instruct him in a way that suites his needs would be enough. But I'm seeing him struggle where he shouldn't need to be struggling. He is interpreting things we are saying in unusual ways. And now it's starting to frustrate him. During his testing, the audiologist gave me an example of where he had a problem. They read the word 'boat' to him. He was to tell them what he heard. He heard, "big toe". Some days I wonder exactly what he hears when I talk to him. When I told the audiologist that I had 'felt' something was wrong, but could never really be sure she said, "The gifted ones are tough. They do a good job making do with what they can do. They hide it well."

I am so thankful that EM does not need to be in a normal classroom environment. It would make his problem so much more of a problem. I am working to educate myself more thoroughly on exactly what is going on for him. I just bought a new book, When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder by Dr. Teri James Bellis. I'm hoping this book will help me to help my son.

I know many people think if your child is gifted, you have nothing to worry about. If they can get good grades, why push them any harder? Why worry about challenge? If I had been happy with good grades, I would never have known something else was going on here. Maybe we can make things easier for him in the future.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Paperwork Paranoia

The day before Thanksgiving, two mysterious envelopes arrived in the mail. They each contained a document from our public school titled, "Pennsylvania Mandated Health Requirements for 2010-2011 Term for ALL STUDENTS."

I instantly broke out in a cold sweat.

Why does any paperwork I receive from our school district bring about this reaction? This being our first year homeschooling without the charter to deal with the paperwork, I am fearful of any new development in this department. Also, previous experiences would certainly have something to do with it. Back in the day, when JT was in the public school system and when we were attempting to get EM into the public school early for Kindergarten, most correspondence from the school was either bad news or...bad news. Typically an envelope from the school district would cause me to get angry before I'd even open it. This time they tricked me by using a plain envelope with no return address.

I started looking over what they had sent to me. EM's paperwork had him labeled as a first grader. This is understandable as he never attended their school AND he started Kindergarten at 4. Because they had him incorrectly labeled, they were asking for extra screenings. They also had some questions about his immunization history. JT's was even more irritating. He did skip 1st grade, so I would understand if they thought my 9 almost 10 yr old should be in 4th grade...but NO...they had him marked as a 3rd grader?! He even attended school there for the years when he skipped the grade.

Completely irritated and ready for action, I realized the school offices would be closed until the following Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday and the beginning of deer season. (It's a Pennsylvania thing.) Grrr! I spent a few moments off and on over the holiday planning my rebuttals. I wrote down all the proof of where they should be placed. I checked state regulations on medical requirements for homeschoolers. I was READY.

Wednesday morning I called the school and asked to speak to the nurse. She was extremely pleasant. After finding the boys' paperwork and making the grade corrections without question, she told me I wouldn't need those extra screenings after all. Since JT would be starting 6th grade next year and the state requires a physical for that grade, she suggested that I could, according to the regulations, get that physical for him anytime from the beginning of this school year. Overall, she was pleasant and helpful.

How silly I felt....and relieved.

So often as homeschoolers, we put ourselves in defensive mode as soon as anyone questions what we are doing. When you are being different, it's easy to feel oppressed. This experience taught me that it isn't always the case.

I'll still be ready for next time..."Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."