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Archive for July, 2011

We are very blessed to live in a state which does not put a lot of restrictions and demands on homeschooling families. I have read homeschool blogs where families are talking about all the hoops that their state demands them to do in order to be able to exercise their right to homeschool their children. It always drives home just how good we have it here.

I applied to join the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) this year. While I don’t expect any problems, it is wise to join. This is even more important when you have a special needs child. They have several options in joining, the one I chose was their monthly payment plan. For $10 a month, you can be a member. They are truly making it available for even the most modest of income levels.

One thing that the organization requests is something that I had already planned on doing – keeping records of our homeschool. In our state, we are not required to keep records or make reports to the state. Even though we are not required to do so, I feel it would be a benefit to have the records for our own use. Through keeping records, I can track the kids’ progress much easier. I can have documented that we are in deed compliant with the state homeschool law. We are required to homeschool 180 days per year. If you don’t keep attendance records, how can you prove that you have done this if ever questioned? If you don’t have documentation of what your kids are learning, how can you prove compliance to the law’s required course of study? All it takes in one person to make the comment to the authorities that they don’t think you actually homeschool your children. Once the accusation is made, you then have to prove otherwise. Many families choose to forgo keeping records if their state doesn’t specifically require it. This is risky. If an accusation was ever made, could you prove that you were following the state’s law or would you be scrambling to find a way to prove it?

I am planning to keep 2 records for the homeschooling. The first is a planner that I have in a binder. You can make a customized planner through free printable planner pages found online or through purchasing a planner such as the one I am using called the Master Planner. The Master Planner can be bought on CD, as a hard copy of originals you can then make the desired numbers of copies from, or as a download of the pages in pdf format. Using workboxes, I am also incorporating the forms from Sue Patrick’s website to plan out and keep track of what is placed in each workbox. This binder is my working copy of the records that I will use most often.

The second method of record keeping is using the free Basic version of Homeschool Tracker. You can download the program for free from their website or purchase the deluxe version. The basic version is more than sufficient for our needs. I am able to keep records of curriculum, daily lesson plans, all materials used in the lessons, field trips, attendance, and grades. The basic version has everything you need to meet the requirements from even the most restrictive state. All of it is neatly organized on reports that you can print out and submit to those requiring the information. This will be my back-up copy of the records that will be available if every I should need to provide a report to anyone. One feature that I like is that there is a teacher’s journal portion that can be used to write up an IEP if your state requires one. I am also able to use that section to track Little Man’s therapy visits to further document them.

Between the two forms of records, I feel we will be well prepared if it were ever necessary. If our state should ever happen to change the homeschool laws to require more reporting and record keeping, we will be ahead of the game.

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What a week ahead of us! My beloved husband is going to be home for nearly a week! It is always a special time when Daddy is able to be home. The kids look forward to having time with him. Even Little Man gets excited when he sees Daddy’s truck pull into the drive. For the time Daddy is home, he seldom has a moment without one or both kids with him.

I am finishing up the organizing of the homeschool room. It has been the most challenging. Turning a living room into a school room/study area has been an experience. I will be so thrilled to have it done. I am now burning the midnight oil to have everything ready so that Daddy can help me move the furniture into place. I have a heavy old wooden desk and a treadle sewing machine that need moved. Both are staying in the room, but need to be moved to a more convenient spot.

The dog’s sleeping crate will be moved out also. He has been staying outdoors all through this hot summer and is enjoying it. The crate will be turned into a travel crate to put in the back of the pickup truck for trips to the vet and such. The dog, Baron, was initially brought home to become a companion dog for Little Man. Once Baron realized that he has a lot of space to run and explore outside, he became an outside dog. He is still a companion, but is outdoors. This meets a need that I am pleased about. Having snakes on the property (Oklahoma has a lot of them and many are venomous) Baron is great as a warning system. Barking and fussing at the snakes lets us know right where they are. I have watched him actually run off and try to kill a small snake that was in the yard. Since he has been going after the snakes, we rarely see one in the yard now. Baron stays close to us when we are outside. If Little Man starts going to far away from me, Baron will bark or go and try to round up Little Man, which stops Little Man in his tracks.

It has been quite the process in clearing out the clutter and getting the house reorganized. I have been surprised at just how much has been donated or tossed in the trash. The house is starting to get a roomy and more sparsely furnished look though. My dream house is one that is so sparsely furnished that you literally only have the things used on a weekly basis. The only “safe” items to store are seasonal ones like winter gear that can be worn more than one season and tools. It is very freeing to purge so much from the home. Little Man is happier and more playful & explorative in the open areas. If a room is too cluttered or filled with furniture, he gets more withdrawn.

One area that has been much easier than I thought it would be was sorting and purging the excess toys in the kids’ room. There are many toys that they have outgrown or have pieces missing. Even the Little Princess is fully on board with tossing out the excess. She is realizing that this means she will have less, but what she is wanting to keep are things that she actually does play with. I am noticing that she is taking much better care of what she is keeping. Little Man hasn’t seemed to miss anything we have bagged up. He has certain things that he plays with and those are being kept for him.

The end goal is to scrutinize whatever we keep and store to determine it’s value to the family. Having limited storage in our small home, each item must be carefully considered. By taking the time to consider each thing, we also are becoming better stewards over what we have. A home should reflect your lifestyle. We focus on our family and the kids’ education. The house should reflect that. Once the kids’ room and homeschool room are done, there will only be 1 room left to purge. I am so happy to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a hard task, especially in the heat without having a/c or fans. The end is in view though and it is looking like a wonderful sight!

While Daddy is home, we are planning to grocery shop and do some canning. I bought 4 dozen new pint jars so that I have a new batch to use in canning meals for him to take out on the truck. Eating at truck stops can be expensive and often is not very healthy. By home canning his meals, he is getting home cooked meals that are healthier and much cheaper. He loves having them. He cooks the meals in a little cooker that he keeps on the truck. Only thing missing is the fresh baked bread. Haven’t figured out how to manage that on a semi yet. LOL

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Blessed relief! We finally have had a break in the heat. Last night we had thunderstorms and then gentle rains throughout the night and into the early morning hours. I love hearing the rain. Not looking forward to the humidity we will no doubt be enduring this afternoon, but the rain is still a blessing.

I am gradually making changes in the routine in preparation of starting the new homeschool term. Little Man doesn’t always tolerate changes in routine, so I am having to do it gently by making the changes so subtle that he isn’t noticing them right away. Getting us on a new schedule is by turns a blessing and a burden. For nearly a year, we had family members living with us until they could get a place of their own. During that time, the routine we had simply went out the window. It is hard to maintain your familiar routine when another family is living with you and they have a completely different schedule that conflicts with yours. Now that they have moved to their own home, I have been trying to get our routine back.

This time around there is one major change to the routine. As the little Princess is doing her homeschooling, Little Man will be doing his own version of homeschooling. As I have mentioned previously, he will be doing 12 workboxes of his own. I have his homeschooling set up so that he does it in 3 sessions of 20 minutes each with a break in between. During each of the sessions, he will have 4 workboxes to complete. Each containing a simple activity that will promote fine motor development as well as laying the foundation to prepare him for actual preschooling that will begin next term when he is 4 yrs. old. I have already begun the preschooling in a sense. When showing him a poster of colors, for example, I will point to each color and tell him what it is. He now can point to a color on that poster if asked to do so. Next challenge in teaching him colors is to transfer that concept from the poster to other objects. Right now, he thinks red is only on that poster. It is amazing how his mind works in such a literal manner.

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Homeschool Countdown

In our home, the homeschool countdown has begun. I have set the date of August 22nd as our 1st day of Homeschool. This gives us 4 weeks to get everything ready, all curriculum purchased and organized.

Our living room is becoming the homeschool room. What a task that has become! Taking our only family room and turning it into a study area for the kids has been a challenge. We are happy about it though. Whenever we do have visitors, we always seem to be in the kitchen/dining area anyways. The study area will be not just for the kids, but a reading area for my husband and I as well.

I am setting up the room with the Sue Patrick’s workbox system in mind. The children will each have their own small bookcase for their workboxes as well as a desk for Little Princess and a little table and chairs for Little Man. Little Princess will have her school assignments along with fun stuff in her workboxes. There will be center activities as well available for her each day. She is really looking forward to it. We had workboxes for a period of time last year and she loved it. A favorite activity of hers is going to be done again this year. We are making a scrapbook of sorts to correspond with the chapter books that we read together. I have a comb binding machine, so I am taking the Little House themed lapbooks from Homeschool Share and turning them into little books. Worksheets will make some of the pages while others will be added scrapbook pages with pictures of her ding the activities. A new activity that we are adding is the Keepers of the Faith program. She is in the “Little Keepers” age level but is excited about doing this. Already, she has helped pick out the things she wants to do first. We are not part of a club, but are doing it on our own.

Little Man is going to be doing the workboxes for the first time. His boxes are part therapy and part educational. I have activities and games to add to the boxes. He will complete 3 sessions of 20 minutes each through the day. This is the amount of time that the developers of the TEACCH method recommends when starting out. He will complete 4 boxes at each session. By the end of the day, he will have had 1 hour of therapy/preschool and will have completed 12 activity boxes. Some of the activities to start with will be simply to work on his fine motor skills where he is needed help. They will also begin to teach him to take instruction. One thing that he lacks is the understanding of how to play with toys. This is common with autistic children. They have to be taught how to learn and often how to play. One activity is pulling the tall stacking pegs out of a rubber mat. This simple activity actually serves 3 purposes. It works his fingers in that he has to grasp the pegs and tug hard to get them out of the mat, which will help in developing strength in his fingers. Second, he is putting the pegs into a container as he removes them from the mat. This is a form of transferring items from one location to another. Third, he is learning a step in how to play with the pegs. Once his coordination is improved, he will start being taught to put the pegs into the mat and later to stack the pegs.

All available wall space is going to be used for bookcases. Low bookcases will be placed under the windows with taller ones in between the windows. I will have a desk in there as well as a couple of 4-drawer carts to put on either side of the front door. The carts will store our supplies. The larger bookcases will have the family library of books as well as a shelf for curriculum materials for the kids that are not currently being used. Rod & Staff has their curriculum set up in units and only the unit being worked on will be in Little Princess’ workbox. The workbooks for the remaining units will be stored on the shelf.

One thing that I am a stickler on is the idea of keeping a couple of deep dishpans on the bookcases. We keep library books in these bins. One is labeled for the local small library and the other is for a much larger library in a city about 40 miles from home. We go to these libraries on a regular basis and to make it easier to keep it all organized and not mix the books up, I keep them in separate bins. I have affixed onto the front of the bins a clear ID pouch with an index card in it. The pouch is vinyl, so I am able to write with a dry erase marker the due date of the books in the bin.

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Having a special needs child, I am learning first hand just how judgmental people can be. In their defense, I can only say that it is based on their own lack of knowledge or understanding. It doesn’t happen often, but we are faced with it from time to time. My wonderful husband is a truck driver and away from home for over a month at a time. Even out on the truck, he has been faced with those lacking knowledge.

One day when going into a truck stop restaurant to get something to eat, my husband overheard a small group of truckers talking about autism. It was during the Autism Awareness month of April. Joe didn’t pay much attention to the conversation until one trucker said that “autism is a label that professionals have put onto kids whose parents practice bad parenting skills.” Bless my husband! He is a very quiet and thoughtful man, thinking through his thoughts before speaking. He asked the trucker what punishment a parent should use to correct a child who makes no eye contact? What punishment should a parent use to correct a child who doesn’t speak or cannot feed themself? What punishment does a parent use to stop a child from screaming in terror or pain caused by the stimuli around them? As my husband continued asking the questions, going down a list of things we face daily with our son, the truckers got very quiet. Without saying it directly, they began to understand that our child is autistic and we face these things as a reality of autism and not a symptom of bad parenting. By the time my husband was done eating and leaving the restaurant, the outspoken trucker had filled out an Autism Speaks donation card that was available at the cash register.

Many times though, it seems that I am a magnet for the outspoken and the rude. Likely it is due to my nearly always having our son with me. Unfortunately, I am not as “thoughtful” and quick thinking as my dear husband. Most of the time, I am silenced by the sheer nerve of people. I cannot imagine what goes through a person’s mind that gives them the idea that their hurtful comments are both wanted and appropriate. Last week, I was faced with likely one of the worst I have had thus far.

I took our children to church in Oklahoma City, to the congregation that has become our family. On the way home, I stopped at a Denny’s restaurant to get lunch before the 80+ mile trip home. The waiter looked to be in his 40’s. Micah was in a “chatty” mood and was very vocal. When in this mood, he will mimic phrases that he has overheard or single syllables. On this day, he kept saying “Da-Da” and giggling. The waiter looked at Micah and said to me, “He talks really good for a retarded kid his age.” I was stunned. What do you say to that? It was a very uncomfortable moment. I let him know that Micah was autistic. This waiter then said that I was being snowballed by the doctors. That the term “autism” was just a nicer way for doctors to say that your kid is retarded.

Our 5 yr old daughter was with us and after the waiter left the table, asked me what retarded meant and if Micah is retarded. This was not a conversation that I was prepared for. Our daughter adores her brother and is fully accepting of him as he is. I gave her a very simplistic definition of mental retardation to her and explained the difference between it and autism. I then reassured her that her little brother had autism and is not retarded. She and I have talked before about Micah being different from other kids. She is more than okay with that. In her words, it is okay – he is just being Micah.

When the waiter returned to the table, Abbie let him know that her brother has autism. She also informed him that God allowed him to have it because it makes him special so he can help teach us how to have unconditional love for others. (Nice to know that she really does absorb our talks!)

I write of these experiences because there are many who go through this and don’t speak up. As a parent to a special little one, I can say in all honesty that it is hurtful to have others judge and condemn without knowledge. Autistic children do not have mental retardation. They are not dumb. They are not useless and without a purpose in life. They are not spoiled brats having a temper tantrum. They are not someone to be hidden away from society.

When Micah is in certain types of lighting, such as when a fluorescent light is blinking, it causes a pain reflex reaction. Someone once described it to me as being stung by a wasp inside your head. When you hear the cries, you can literally hear the pain in his voice. Imagine being lost in thought to the point of being unaware of others in the room. Suddenly, you have that pain reflex kick in. Or maybe you think you are alone and suddenly you find yourself in a place where you are in sheer terror. Not simply uneasy, but stark intense terror of your surroundings. Your only means of communication is to cry or scream. Does this make you a spoiled, undisciplined brat?

Imagine you are in a foreign country where you cannot speak or read the language. You literally can only make gestures to try and communicate your needs. Does this make you dumb? Even someone like Einstein would appear to be dumb in that situation! Just because an autistic child or adult cannot communicate in the same way that you do doesn’t make them less intelligent.

My heart breaks daily for my son. I am past the stage of blaming myself for his autism due to being 45 yrs old when I had him. I am past the point of second-guessing everything that I did during the pregnancy, the preterm labor issues, and everything. I know in my heart that God would never have allowed Micah to be autistic if it was not something that He could use to show His grace and love. Micah has a purpose in life. If it is God’s Will to heal him, it will happen. But, I firmly believe that one day Micah will be able to stand before others and give his testimony of what he has been able to do in his life through God’s grace in spite of being autistic.

What I am not past yet is the pain and hurt that I feel when some unthinking person rips into me in the store because Micah is crying. I have literally been told to “shut the f-ing brat up” when he was crying at a store. I have had the snotty comments and judgments made from people who feel it is their duty to tell me how my parenting fails. I have had people, like that waiter, make judgments about my son that are ignorant at best. I thank the Lord that Micah doesn’t yet understand the harsh words of others.

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Hunt for a Stroller

The great stroller hunt has commenced. Little Man is getting too tall for a standard stroller. They have that little bar across the front to keep the child from falling out. If Little Man is wearing shoes, it is hard to get him in and out of the stroller. We had an umbrella type of stroller but he always looked squished across the shoulders in it. He never liked it and gave a fuss when put in one.

Now, I am in a bit of a quandary. He is getting too long legged to easily be put into the seat area of a shopping cart. Like with the strollers, his feet are hard to thread through the opening when he is wearing shoes especially. I can’t have him walk with me all the time. He wanders off easily if he is distracted by something that interests him. We have a wearable ID on him whenever we are out just in case he wanders, but I am buying a backpack-type harness that he can wear to help keep him close. That will work in short spurts, but not all of the time. We are wanting to take the kids to the zoo and other places this autumn when temps are cooler. Little man can’t walk that far. He needs a stroller for the all-day outings. So, begins the search.

I started by looking at the strollers in the local stores. They are not sized for older toddlers/preschoolers. I am thinking of getting one similar to those used by joggers, but am not sure how large of a child they can handle. It is frustrating. He hates feeling too closed in, which the umbrella strollers have a habit of doing. If it were only a matter of making him obey when I tell him to stay near me, it would be one thing. For Little Man though, it is a safety issue since he is so delayed cognitively and doesn’t even begin to understand what I am saying when I ask him to stay with me. He is also very quick at getting out of those velcro-type straps used on the baby tethers that you see Mums use to keep their little ones close.

Life was so much easier in this arena when he was still small enough that I could use the baby sling. Now that he is 3 yrs old, he is harder for me to carry for very long. I know that there is a solution out there, but where? Considering the way he wanders at every opportunity and that he doesn’t have the stamina to walk for long periods, I am expecting to have to use a stroller at least part time until he is nearly 6 yrs old. Much of it will depend on his ability to understand the concept of staying near and not wandering away when we are out running errands. I really need something that will work for that length of time.

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Another week has slipped by. I took the little ones to the Oklahoma City yesterday. We went to a book store and found a couple of great resources to add to the home school library that I am building. One book, “What Your Preschooler Needs to Know” edited by E.D. Hirsch. The book is one of a series starting with Preschool and going through to the Sixth Grade. In this particular book, there are nursery rhymes, stories and more to read to and teach your child. The little rhymes and children’s poems are short enough to make a good option for copywork as well as items for the child to memorize.

Another book that I found was a thematic study book about plants. The book includes the life cycle and is set for the early grade levels. The Rod & Staff curriculum for 1st grade does not include Science or History. I am finding ways to incorporate them into the year’s curriculum. The Science focus for the year with be primarily Earth Science and basic Biology.

In planning the subjects, one of the best resources available to a homeschool parent is World Book’s Course of Study. This link is to the World Book Encyclopedia’s Scope and Sequence listing. It covers all grades through 12th. For the High School years, it is divided into general or college prep courses of study. This listing is based on national standards and provides parents with a great base to work from. There are many items listed under the Science and History/Health/ Social Studies headings that can be taught using lapbooking, notebooks, centers activities, or literature based methods.

I have printed out the Course of Study listing for the current and next couple of grade levels. This will be a part of my homeschool binder. When I am at book stores and am looking at resources for the Science and History centers, I will use the listing as a reference as to what topics to look for. I may not strictly stick to the list, but it will be a useful guideline.

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