Thursday, July 23, 2015

Resources For Special Needs Homeschooling

Some Great Resources For Parents of Special Kids

1.  A lending library, family directory and discussion board are just a few of the resources available here for families with special kids. This Christian ministry also helps match adoptive families with special needs babies.

2.  Home School Legal Defense Association has counsel at their website for parents of special needs children as well as being a great resource for all your home education questions.

3. Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander- This book is full of developmental activities for children to age 5 and a list of what is “normal” development.

4. Homeschooling Children With Special Needs by Sharon Hensley- Another book, this one a great overview of how to homeschool a child with special needs.

5. Homeschooling the Challenging Child by Christine Field- One of my favorite books about homeschooling special kids, full of practical advice, checklists and resource lists.

6.Too Wise To Be Mistaken…. by Cathy Steere-  A memoir about one family’s journey through helping an autistic son. It also includes a good list of resources and explains some of the nutritional aspects of special needs as well as giving an overview of the neurodevelopmental approach to helping a child with autism. 

7. The Out Of Sync Child-Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.- The first book that really gave me insight into my daughter. It includes many exercises to help children overcome hypersensitivity. It also includes an excellent checklist to help parents determine if their children have sensorimotor issues.

8. Healing The New Childhood Epidemics by Kenneth Bock, M.D. - This is a fascinating book which links asthma, autism, adhd and allergies to toxins that children are exposed to as infants. I appreciated the information about the impact food allergies can have on learning and function and I feel it is important for parents to be aware of the connection between nutrition and behavior.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summer Of Fun

My time with my children is moving so quickly. These happy days of childhood will be over all too soon, and in my earlier years as a mother, I was often so deep into survival mode, that I couldn't take the time to reflect on how quickly the days were flying by. 

As I have grown to understand that my time to build relationships and influence my children is limited, I am even more intense about creating memories while we can. Because of this, I try to take time each season to brainstorm with them some favorite activities to complete. Each season has it's own special celebrations, and because there are fewer national holidays in the summer, we make a point of thinking up special summer celebrations.

Last summer, I found this amazing post by Ann Voskamp, which inspired me to look at even ordinary things as a celebration. As I started highlighting these occurrences to my children as special celebrations instead of taking them for granted as part of the everyday, our summer gained a little sparkle and delight.

This summer, we sat down and talked about all our dreams for the summer. Some of them are simple while others will take a bit more planning, but because we have created a culture that values simple fun, my kids didn't even think of asking for tickets to Disneyland, or a Hawaiian vacation.

On our list;

1. Sleep in a tent

2. Go to the beach

3. Roast s'mores

4. Have a party

5. Swim

6. Eat ice cream

7. Jump in a lake

8. Go to the fair

9. Go to a farmers market (I grow a fair bit of our fresh food, but haven't completely detached from grocery store produce.)

10. Ride bikes (we live on a dirt lane, so this takes a special effort.)

11. Pick berries

12. Read a novel (this one is for me, the kids seem to find time....)

We rescued a baby bluebird.

Through the years, we have also tried to find special books to celebrate the seasons. 
Preschoolers and Peace highlighted some great picture books on this post.

We checked out a few of those, but have also enjoyed A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor as a book to celebrate the seasons, and also, Swallows and Amazons for a wonderfully fun summer read aloud.

Had a family vacation.

What makes your summer extra special?

Went to the beach!

and read.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Nature Journaling

I have always tried to include nature journaling in my homeschool. I have a photo of my children, taken ten years ago, of them at a historic site journaling their lovely surroundings. Old notebooks are filled with drawings of trees and whales from those early days of nature journaling, and nature guides such as the Golden Guide were frequent companions on our forays into the wilds.

Our nature journaling has gotten a boost in the last few months with the addition of just a few amazing resources. 

The first resource that has helped us in our nature journaling efforts is the amazing artwork of Kristin Rogers which is featured in the bundles from Wild and Free homeschool community. Kristin is a photographer and artist from Southern California who is an avid nature journaler and homeschooler. Her artwork has inspired more nature journaling in my homeschool, but it has also inspired me to take the time to nature journal. My artwork is pretty basic, and I often want to pass it off as that of one of my youngest children, but I have so enjoyed sitting with my children and visiting together over paints and paper, instead of just giving them nature journaling as an assignment while I go on with other tasks.

The other resource that has made nature journaling more fun in our homeschool is the beautiful resource from Simply Charlotte Mason, "Journaling A Year In Nature". This is an amazing resource which has given us some great prompts to guide our nature study. The journal is spiral bound card stock, organized by season. The hard cover and spiral binding make it very convenient for travel, and the heavyweight paper holds up well to watercolor painting. The journal is organized by season and has pages specific to different kinds of natural wonders. 

My son and I drew crabs in the section on animals and insects, and my daughter and I painted tall trees in the section on trees. The journal also includes inspiring quotes to give you "something to think about" while you are journaling. We took the journal on our recent 10 day family camping trip and filled it with drawings and paintings of the natural treasures that we found.

We saw so much natural beauty on this trip; soaring trees and wafting ferns, tiny crabs hidden under rocks, and beautiful rushing waterfalls. I took lots of pictures, but we also enjoyed sitting quietly in the trailer after a day of exploration and recording our finds in our Simply Charlotte Mason Nature Journal. 

We have incorporated drawing and painting into every subject of our homeschool. We do written and illustrated narration in place of book reports, draw and paint narration for history subjects, and paint our way through science studies. Resources that help us become more proficient at recording what we are learning, such as "Journaling A Year In Nature" are a welcome addition to our homeschool.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Large Family Road Trip

We just returned from a ten day road trip with all seven of our children. We have gone on long road trips like this before, to Tennessee while we were missionaries in Mexico, and even earlier, we took our then four children to Canada for a two week long driving trip. This trip was different. Now, instead of taking four or five young children, we were taking seven children, and most of them are hardly children. We were taking a van full of big people, with big opinions. When everyone was small, it was easy to say where we were going and to make the decisions about what we would do. Now we would have to take the interests of a wide range of people into consideration as we planned our stops.

The idea for the trip had started when a magazine that I contribute to called Wild and Free, planned a conference in Portland, Oregon. We had talked for several years about taking our children to see the Pacific Northwest, but with our yearly trips to Mexico to visit the orphanage, it had been hard to find the time. However, with the opportunity to speak at this conference before me, the choice to take our children along became an easy one.

It was also an easy destination to want to visit because Scott and I both have special memories from the Pacific Northwest. I spent many summer days walking around Lake Marie as a child and Scott had gone up and down the I-5 to Oregon on his way to visit his aunties several times throughout his childhood. 

We started the trip with a day long drive to our first destination, where we camped beside pretty little Lake Marie. We walked the one mile pathway around the lake, smiling inwardly as I remembered walking around that same lake as a child, and groaning about the awful distance, much as my own young daughter resorted to. The ferns and mosses were awe inspiring, as were the tiny creeks. We had come from dry California, after all, and the rushing water everywhere filled us with joy.

After a sweet visit there with some of my dear relatives, and an amazing tour of my childhood home, we headed up the coast to our next destination, LaConner, Washington. When we pulled in, it was a bit discouraging. We were camping in a hybrid travel trailer and I wasn't at all excited about close neighbors hearing our every mutter through the thin walls. The last campground had been relatively deserted which is exactly how I like it. This one was teeming with people. We finally found a little campsite, which although cramped, was at least surrounded by shrubs, and set up our trailer. 

The next day we headed out early to see my aunt in Canada, and spent the day exploring the outskirts of Vancouver. We got separated without phone service in Lynn Canyon Park when the six and eight year olds who were with Scott decided they didn't want to go over the suspension bridge, and the rest of us were too hemmed in by people to turn around. I kept going, trusting that my husband and I and the younger children would find each other eventually.  We did find each other, and enjoyed the rest of our day with my favorite B.C. relatives.

The next day we visited Seattle, the place of my birth. One of the top places to go on the tourist information was Pikes Place, and since we all were wanting a good cup of coffee, a pastry and some books, we decided to go there. I don't recommend it with small children. My six year old thinks it is okay for him to run ahead like his brothers, and so I spent the entire time in terror that I would lose him among the crowds. After seven children and a Mexico move, I am not the most easily rattled person, but by the time I reached the car I was in tears. 

We headed out of the city to the beautiful Japanese Gardens, which was much more my pace. The whole Washington Park Arboretum was incredibly beautiful, with its lush rhododendrons blooming on every hillside. Someday I will go back to Pikes Place, but definitely not with a crowd of my own people to try and keep track of.

Our Washington campground was situated on the pretty Skagit Bay, and was a natural wonder for my children. The two youngest reveled in turning over rocks and counting crabs, of which there were plenty. The three boys built a raft out of driftwood and set out to sea, abandoning ship and swimming to shore when the currents gave them the impression that they might indeed be carried away.

One of our favorite parts of our time in Washington, was visiting the San Juan Islands. We were hoping to see whales while we were on the ferry, making it the cheapest whale watching trip with nine people ever, and although we didn't eventually see whales, we did eat a gorgeous tart at the San Juan Bakery, find some amazing books at the local thrift store, and finally get a great americano. Being more of a country girl, than an urban dweller, I found the slower pace on the island very refreshing.

We ended our trip in Eugene, Oregon, visiting another sweet relative, after spending two nights in Portland. The waterfalls surrounding the city were awe inspiring, and although I didn't do as much exploring as the rest of my family, because of the extraordinary conference I was attending, I did get to listen to one of our family's favorite musicians and meet his beautiful family, as well as meeting many other amazing women.

Because our time with our children is ultimately limited, Scott and I were so very thankful to explore some incredible places with them. The small trailer got crowded and smelly with all of us staying there, the car rides were long and tiring, but the sights we saw, the people that we met, and the sweeter bonds that we formed with each other, made all the little inconveniences insignificant. 

We only have one chance to raise our children, and intense time together is one of the best ways to connect and to stay connected. What will you do this summer to renew love and connection in your family?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's For Dinner?

I must admit, cooking is one of those chores that I would love to outsource. Although I don't, as a rule, dream of the day my children grow up and move out, I do look forward to not having to feed so many people. When they all move out, (in like 15 years) I will stock up on food from Trader Joe's and when my husband asks, "What's for dinner, dear?" I will holler from my spot among my garden or my books, "Look in the freezer, dear"

However, those days are far off, and so I do try to find inspiration to make decent meals for my family. I usually make the same things in a rotation of about ten entrees, give or take a few, and there have been a few real duds, such as the "goulash" I made by combining several kinds of leftovers in one big pot. My family was not impressed. It might have even caused a little conflict.

As much as I don't love cooking, I do love reading and was excited to find the book, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist at the library. I though it was a book about community which is a big idea for me right now. If I had known that it was mainly a book about cooking and eating, I might have thought twice about bringing it home.


I am glad I did though, because as I read about how much enjoyment Shauna gets from feeding the many people in her life, I felt inspired to make this same task more of a delight in my life. It isn't that I hate cooking, it is just the monotony of providing 21 meals a week that really begins to wear on me.

A last, remaining breakfast cookie

The book is full of descriptions of beautiful meals and beautiful community. Although, some of the community that I can develop with my large family is going to be different than what she can do, (I don't foresee taking my entire family to Paris for a week and eating fine french food at restaurants anytime in the very near future), I can work to develop a community around the table, right where we live.

So, in the last two days, I tried three of her recipes. White Chicken Chile, Breakfast Cookies, and Mango Curry. The first two were well loved by my family, and were so easy that I could see adding them to our rotation, giving my family some relief from the same few dishes we had been eating.

The White Chicken Chili was so easy in fact, that after I had finished serving and eating dinner, I made an extra batch of it to freeze. I actually cooked dinner twice in one night!

I hope you enjoy the recipe here, which I adapted from the book, and I hope you can get your own copy of the book, so you can try more of her great recipes. Then, invite some people into your home, put out the fine china, or the jelly jars and paper plates, and start building community right where you are.

White Chicken Chili

6 chicken tenders, cut into small chunks
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
6-8 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked or canned white beans
1 jar salsa verde (green salsa)

Brown chicken, onion and garlic in a large soup pan until chicken is cooked through and onion is transparent.

Add cilantro, chicken broth, beans and salsa verde to pan.

Cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes until flavors have intensified.

Serve with more chopped cilantro, tortillas or tortilla chips and sour cream.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Early American History-Immigration and Industrilazation

This month our history studies have focused on immigration and industry in America. As we have wrapped up our stories and readings from Civil War era history, we have begun to explore the late 1800's and early 1900's. This was an exciting time for our continent. So many new industries meant new opportunities for hopeful immigrants.

The thing that I have most looked forward to in our year of history co-op, has been this month's meeting. At the beginning of the year, when we mapped out the plan for our co-op, I knew this would be a fun day for our children. Instead of the usual program of singing, geography and art projects, our children would have the opportunity to open up a real store as well as explore their diverse ancestry.

The plan was simple. Each family would pick one of their ancestors to study, and prepare a presentation based on that ancestor's country and history. They would also bring products which related in some way to their ancestry to sell for a small amount, in this way representing the small businesses and farming endeavors which these people undertook in order to provide for their families. 
We did this same project over four years ago, in the last community that we lived in, and at that time, we chose Portugal which represents my husband's grandmother. For Portugal, we sold veggies from our garden, and homemade sweet rolls. This time, we chose England, which is where my grandmother's parents came from. 

We started our country fair by having each family stand at their "store" and share their presentation. One of the best parts of preparing an ancestor presentation is the opportunity to learn about our family history. I listened intently as my son shared the interesting information that we had compiled after interviewing my grandmother. For instance, I had never heard that my great grandfather was the son of an English strawberry farmer near Kent. Nor, that his brave fiancé, after waiting three years for him to send for her, took matters into her own hands, and headed to Canada. She wanted to give him the opportunity to make good on his commitment to marry her.

They did marry, and had six beautiful children, one of whom was my own dear grandmother.

We celebrated our heritage today at our country fair by cutting up an old sheet to make "Nearly Proper English Hankies" which we sold for twenty-five cents, along with fresh homemade scones and tea.

The children listened eagerly to their friend's presentations as well. They heard reports from several European countries, as well as one from our darling little friend, who was welcomed here eight years ago by her lovely parents, becoming a first generation Chinese-American.

After the children took turns giving their presentations, the stores were open for business! My kids were excited for the opportunity to make a meager profit, one of the benefits of not offering allowance. 

They were also excited to spend their money at their friends' stores. The goods for sale were exciting! Hawaiian soap, Scottish shortbread, and Chinese fans were big hits with my kids as they eagerly divested themselves of their small change. I did end up raiding my husbands coin stash a few times, to replenish their coffers, it didn't occur to me to teach them a real lesson on economy when they, and their friends were so hopeful of selling their products.

Although this day was simple to prepare for; we merely did a little crafting, cooking and report writing in the few days preceding the event, it had a big impact on the children. Now they can have a small glimpse into the process of creating products and marketing them, and a taste of what some of their ancestors experienced as they crossed the sea in search of opportunity.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Homeschool Speech and Debate

We just returned from participating in two back-to-back STOA speech tournaments. As I recover from the exhaustion which wandering around a campus with hundreds of teenagers has induced, I am reflecting on all that we learned from our experience.

We began the year by participating in a speech club with some local families. The boys enjoyed going to club, and the experience helped them to craft an organized essay and respond well to critiques from other parents. As part of the club requirements, we needed to participate in a minimum of two events. Many of the families had signed up for as many as eight tournaments, which in retrospect is a huge commitment of time and money.

We arrived at our first tournament, bright and early on a Monday morning. There might have been some mild hysterics in the car on the way up, but once we got there and they saw all the interesting young people, who were also clad in conservative dress suits, looking like so many mini business people, they started to get excited about competing, or at least about playing ninja and discussing LOTR.

As a parent, I was required to judge, so my two littles and I were given a round of humorous speeches to listen to. Only a couple of the eight speeches were actually funny, but having to tell teenagers that their efforts at inducing laughs were in vain, is not my jam. I gave my best shot at being constructive and kind on the ballots, as the critique forms are called.

On the third day we were required to show up by 7 am to see if any of our children had "broken" as they call making it to finals. Unfortunately, my boys had ranked fifth and below on nearly every ballot, which was quite disappointing. After we spoke with some of the moms, who had been doing it for a few years, but whose children had rarely broken either, we were mildly encouraged that it wasn't just us.

The next tournament, just a week later was not quite as confusing, since our previous experience was so fresh in our mind. We arrived, once again at the ungodly hour of 7am, dropped off our snacks and scripts and worked on finding our rooms. 

Again, I had to bring my two youngest children and when I had finished all my other duties, I was assigned a round to judge. This was a round of eight persuasive speeches and in order to give them my full attention I had left my 6 year old in the care of his older brother. About two speeches in, the older brother dropped him off, saying that he could no longer handle him. Embarrassing, but it would get worse. 

He was pretty quiet through the speeches, merely knocking his swivel chair against the bookshelves a few times in a passive aggressive show of protest, but by the eighth speech he was done. He quietly wandered up behind the speaker, picked up a soft ball, and lobbed it in the direction of the young speaker. I responded by running my hand deftly across my neck, a motion which I hoped would clearly communicate my disapproval. Needless to say, I gave the patient speaker first place, if not for his clever speech, then assuredly for his ability to concentrate amid the distractions. 

The boys finished up the tournament again without placing. I loved their speeches, one boy had written about the benefits of twelve year olds having part time labor and the other had written about finding joy in a world of sorrow, based on a book he wrote by the same name. However, as we watched the young people who swept the trophies, it was clear that their families had put in much more time than ourselves. One highly organized mother had invested in a week of speech camp for her successful teens, and another family had boys who were involved in many online classes, as well as having a father who was both a lawyer and their coach. It was like being at a gathering of the Tiger Mothers (and fathers) of the homeschool world.

Our year of speech was a worthwhile experience. My boys had the opportunity to craft an organized essay, respond well to critique, and get input from other caring mothers. We are very grateful to all the amazing people who contributed to our year, and the tournament. 

Would we do it again? I hope not. Although it was worthwhile, the idea of spending days away from home, hundreds of dollars on tournaments, and neglecting the schooling of the younger ones to be there, does not appeal to me. Although it is a wonderful opportunity for some families, it is not for everyone.

In speaking to adult alumni and their parents, it seems that the results are mixed as well. Some of them got scholarships, while others needed loans. Some had gone to college and others started their own businesses. One mother inferred that her chronic fatigue was a result of her years of debate. Another mother inferred that her children had become much more confident communicators, while another mother felt that her children had also gotten better at arguing with her, as a result of their experience. So, it seems that like many activities we put our time into; sports, lessons, and clubs, the results are mixed.

My prayer is that as homeschool parents, we would use our variety of gifts to encourage our students. Science clubs, art co-ops, choirs, business apprenticeships, 4H, and drama groups are all wonderful ways to encourage our students, and to develop the many different gifts that God has placed in our children.

If your community doesn't have a group that fits your family's learning style, then find some friends and start one. This is the beauty of homeschooling. One size doesn't fit all. It doesn't need to. You just have to discover what your family loves doing, do it well, and then trust the results to God. 

Did your family participate in speech and debate? Do you have a favorite homeschool club or activity? I would love to hear about your experiences!

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