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I have been mulling many blog topics, so I need to get a few of them out there.  This one seems most important.

Why am I writing this?  Let’s just say that children have a way of making you eat crow.  You eat your hat. You find out even though you thought you’d been humbled since having children, you still might have a long ways to go toward being a less judgemental human being.  You have got to keep your mind open, because sometimes God has another plan, and it’s often not the one you would have chosen At. All.  If this has not happened to you yet, it probably will.  Go with it.

Dear Doctor somewhere in the greater Seattle area, as well as to those who may feel you would NEVER put a child on medication for attention issues or many other things,

I will not identify you, but I will write a public apology after having written this post about how I strongly disagreed that my child needed medication for ADHD.  I was sure we could keep going without medication.  At least I thought I had a few more options to use beforehand.  I used them.  You were right, Doctor.  My child is doing much better on medication and our relationship and his ability to function have all improved.  Here is a link to what I thought before, which has to be modified slightly.  http://wp.me/pQx9m-1o.

We began and finished a year of Vision Therapy, and it did a lot of good.   In fact, it was well worth pursuing, because my husband went to a meeting about it and said, wait a sec, that’s me.  So he decided to go to Vision Therapy, too!  And now he can read for longer periods of time and pay attention.  So that was yet another reason we should be glad we adopted.  Strange paths we travel.

Vision therapy is a lot like occupational therapy with the focus being the eyes.  Both kinds of therapy have lots of naysayers, but the strangest things do help some kids, and are worth trying.  Our son’s math improved greatly after this, but his reading didn’t.  I wish they had referred me further, but they did not.

My next realization came during a very stressful year.  I will not go into gory details, but there was a lot of stress around here, and not a whole lot of money, and I thought maybe it was just the stress of the situation that was making our child act out.  After a while, it was apparent that he was lying and stealing and having tantrums and encouraging a lot of anger in the family.  It was getting downright dangerous, how he could not control himself, and I finally decided to take him back to the counselor we saw when we first adopted him.  This was a very good thing.

Our counselor recommended a few things, and we got a full educational psychology evaluation in the same building.  It would have been expensive to do all this, but we were extremely blessed by the cadillac of insurance plans that particular year, and so we went for it.  I cannot explain this “coincidence” at all.  We always seem to get what we need when we need it most.  Insurance was it this time around.

After the full eval, the psychologist told us it was abundantly clear that he had pretty severe dyslexia and getting more severe ADHD, both of which needed a game plan.  She referred us to yet another professional in the same building, a psychiatrist.  I had, meanwhile, asked my family doctor for a referral to a pediatrician who did meds in her building, but when I met that doctor, I had a feeling he was the type to dispense meds and not really try any harder than that to listen.  My gut said to keep looking, which is how I ended up with the psychiatrist.  I figured he was especially qualified to know about side affects in children and such things, but also still an MD.

We decided to try a medication that is well known, and played with the dosage a bit.  We also found that most of our children sleep better and more quickly if we give them Melatonin, which is a simple over-the-counter supplement.  The immediate affects of the medication became clear.  First of all, he did not lack energy.  It did not turn him into a shadow of his former self or a zombie or anything.  Not at all.  But now he could make some sort of sense out of phonics.  Finally.  He also stopped the non-stop chatter that would just wear a person down.  The ongoing counseling he was going through started to have more of an affect on our relationship because he could actually make the choice to calm down and think.  Before meds, sometimes he needed a time out nearly all day in order to function in our family or learn anything from homeschooling.  I had hated fighting with him so often.  Now we had some tension, but it was possible to overcome it.  Bad side affects:  Well, he’s much less hungry and has lost a little weight.  He also gets a “rebound” affect when it wears off around dinner time, but that’s what the trampoline is for.

I should add that we tried two other things as well.  I went ahead and had the school district test him again, and he qualified for special education in math, reading and speech.  We checked with OT, but some of his physical skills were so good, the OT was amazed and said it probably had more to do with attention than actual skill.  Yeah, he’s pretty awesome at sports and mechanics.  That’s where dyslexia comes in.

In the meantime, I also began medication.  I had no idea I needed it, but irritability and depression are two sides of the same coin, and I could not stop my occasional periods of downright unreasonableness.  I went on meds before our son did.  It helped me not to overreact during an especially trying year.  I miss my more emotional side sometimes, but I like the part where I can now parent without losing it.  It’s worth it, completely.  I am also FAR more patient with my husband.  And I like myself better now that I can parent the way I meant to. I’m not perfect at all, but now my kids and husband aren’t flinching.  Really.  I’ve tried two different kinds because my baby reacted to one in my breast milk, and was thrilled to go back when I was done nursing.

My condition is called PMDD, or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  People think this stuff is made up.  I promise that it is real.  You can take that or leave it.  Here’s a link to super duper PMS.  The key part to the symptoms was the fact that I didn’t know I was that difficult to get along with.  It’s a bit like Jekyll and Hyde.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pmdd/AN01372

It’s not exactly fun to announce that our family needs meds of the psychotropic variety, but you know what?  It would be less fun to keep going like we had been and be miserable and have children who disliked us when they grew up or a very empty marriage.  These are all things that could have happened, and I think between counseling and medication (lots and lots of both), we have beaten the odds.  Part biology, part circumstance, this has been an amazing year, but we may have beat what maybe used to be what people called family curses.  Did you ever have a crazy uncle Harry in the family?  Might he have been less crazy if meds had been invented?  Maybe, maybe not.  Meds can’t always help.  Sometimes they do a great deal of harm.  There are plenty of horror stories along those lines.  That’s why you have to make a call, and a cost/benefit analysis.  Will it cause more harm doing what we’re doing, or is it worth the risk to try this route?  Only you can decide.  I wish it were easier to make that call, but it just isn’t.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention friends and prayer.  We prayed and prayed and we asked for guidance and found the best counselors out there.  We kept trying whenever we had a bad feeling about someone or something.  God has blessed us with friends who don’t judge and who keep right on helping or just saying they’ll help if we need it.  They know us and they still love us.  I wish everyone were so lucky.

Each family has to make their call.  The internet is full of sensationalism, but you have got to clear your mind.  You have to try something new if what you are doing isn’t working, and continues, year after year, to not work.  If a child cannot control himself and is always in trouble, how will his brain think?  It’s not good.  I’m so glad I took a chance.  I’m so glad we all did.  Once again, I was wrong to think I knew it all.

Next year, maybe I’ll learn something else new and mind-bending.  You just never know.

Links for dyslexia:  http://dyslexia.yale.edu/About_ShaywitzBios.html  Read Sally Shawitz’s book: Overcoming Dyslexia.  She’s not at all a fan of homeschooling, but I’ll overlook that in favor of her wonderful bios of older people and how they worked with their dyslexia, and her resources and explanations are beyond excellent.  Referred by our educational psychologist.

Links for ADHD:  http://russellbarkley.org/  Great stuff.  The best book of his might be the most work, but is something every parent should read at least for ideas:  9.Barkley, R. A., & Benton, C.  (1998). Your Defiant Child: 8 Steps to Better Behavior.  New York:  Guilford.  Referred by our child psychologist.

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I am so excited to have permission to send this out.

This is the MODG (Mother of Divine Grace School) newsletter for enrolled families, and it features an article on keeping your kids safe in the digital age from a Catholic perspective.  It is so wonderful because it is extremely informative without being holier than thou or anti-tech.  It says the amazingly obvious and yet not so obvious: you need to parent your kids even if you don’t like learning about all the latest gadgets.  Lots of tips, too!  Thank you so much, Cyndi Montanaro and Laura Berquist!  For more information about the school, go to www.motherofdivinegrace.org.  I have been grading papers from MODG for about 11 years now.  This is the best article ever, and my technology specialist (husband), approves, which is saying a LOT.  Enjoy!

MODG NEWSLETTER Vol 12 No 3

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This is a seriously inspiring collection of lighthearted Catholic homeschooling moms who have decided that unschooling is for them, at some level.  Some more than others.  All describe their lives as a family in extremely intelligent terms.  I LOVE this book and will have to buy it.  It’s been making the rounds through on of the homeschooling mom groups I attend and I’m so glad some days when I snoop on someone’s bookshelf.

The book has to make the rounds, and the next person is a person I shall see every morning this week, so  I want to type this before I move it down its chosen path to inspire others.

I may have mentioned this here before, but maybe not.  I went to both Catholic and public schools.  I’ve never been terribly good about following directions, but I did earn a 3.5 GPA and higher most of the time.  I hated school.  I loved sports.   It wasn’t a total waste of time, but I can’t say it was how I wanted to spend my time.  I knew two families growing up.  Each had five kids, and I was friends with the oldest in each family, both girls a couple of years younger than I.  Well, one of them, five years younger, and we shared a driveway.  The driveway is a long, rocky, country driveway, and we were perched uphill from the family we shared with.  They were unschoolers.  My parents really wondered how anyone was going to turn out, but they have all turned out fine, often better than fine!  The other family used a rigid and thorough curriculum, and their kids have all turned out fine, too.  Because of those two families, I’m willing to bet that most things we’ll do with our family are going to be fine, too.  It’s too easy to feel guilty!  Some people should feel guilty, granted, but they are not usually the ones who do!  Silly world.  Memories of the unschooling family and the magazine called Home Education Magazine calm me down when I feel like the weight is too heavy and homeschooling is too hard.  It is so nice to know that, at a certain point, a child’s education is really up to him or her!  Sometimes that point is a lot earlier than we think.

Back to the book.

The author lists 13 families.  Most of them unschool, but the last four do a combination of ideas, like classical supplemented with some unschooling ideals.  Yes, it’s possible.  It sounds kind of like us!  The one I liked best was the one who had both a husband and a son involved in the computer game design industry.  A conservative Catholic homeschooling family with gamers who actually make money?  What??!  So I wrote to her about finding the balance in Gaming vs. Other Things, and she was quite sensible.

I loved quite a few chapters.  There is also a “Philosopher’s Perspective” in the epilogue, along with a short set of book lists.  Probably the most important thing that sets this book apart is her focus on St. Therese of Lisieux.  St. Therese focused on her “Little Way” of doing all things for love of Jesus, especially the small, everyday things.  In fact, she compares some of the saint’s writings with those of John Holt, who wrote “Growing Without Schooling”  and “Why Children Fail”.  There is a similarity about their way of telling us that we can no longer see the forest for the trees.  Sometimes life and the point to life (or the point to education), is a whole lot more simple, and therefore harder to grasp somehow, than we thought.

As an aside, I need write this somewhere.  She highly recommends the book “I Believe In Love”. I MUST remember to tell my book club!  If you are in my book club and are reading this, please, please write it down for next year so I will read it!

Here is a quotation from this book which I made my oldest child read, because it was such a succinct way to begin theology.  On accident.

Pg. 121-122:

My Plan: To study World War II

Where the Plan Took Us: To Theology and Beyond

While reading historical fiction set during the war, we discussed the Holocaust.  My then ten-year-old said, “Mom, how could God let this happen?  He’s so good.  He could have stopped it.”

How does one explain the problem of evil to a child?

I began by telling her that she had asked an eternal question, a philosopher’s question, a wonderful question.  I said that people have lost their faith over that question when the answers seemed inadequate, elusive, or wrong.  I took her back in time, to Adam and Eve, and asked what God gave them. 

“A choice!” she said.

“Yes, a choice.  He allowed them to choose good or bad, right or wrong, didn’t He?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you think he did that?”

“Hmmm… I don’t know.  Wouldn’t it be nicer if he’d made them obey?”

“Well, yes, in some ways, it would be nicer.” (I reminded myself to explain felix culpa to her later.)  “But let’s think about what kind of a relationship comes out of making someone do something. 

(They then perform a sock puppet show making up vignettes about those two types of relationships and crack themselves up.)

… For love to mean anything, it has to be freely given.  Had God made us pliable puppets, our love for Him would be meaningless. 

… Then we talked about the freedom God gave human beings — our free will– allowing us to make choices about everything, including love.  Where the possibility of true love exists, the possibility of utterly rejecting love co-exists.  And where the possibility of rejecting love exists, there is the potential for evil.  Some people will choose evil.

There are some beautiful quotations sprinkled throughout and I will leave you with one on pg. 71:

God’s love can only unleash its power when it is allowed to change us from within.  We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age.  Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires.  — Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Youth, World Youth Day XXIII

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May I also add that there is a BOATLOAD of information about all my favorite things, but especially about organizing it into bite-sized pieces?  It’s wonderful!  I’m SO excited these people are all blogging together.

I think my head may explode.

Here is the contest and all the links.  May your head also explode for sheer joy.

http://heartkeepercommonroom.blogspot.com/2011/07/four-moms-giveaway.html

 

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We are going on a new adventure.   Another one. 

Once upon a time  I was a special education teacher.  For two years, before our first child came along.  I have learned SO MUCH from having children that a college degree and even two years of teaching could not in a million years have taught me.  Wow.

A great bit of that education has come from the child we adopted.  He came with what they call, “issues”.  Ha ha ha… sorry.  Don’t all children have issues?  His have to do with prenatal history and postnatal trauma.  And of course, when you enter into the nature vs. nurture discussion, you figure out pretty quick that this personality did not come from either side of anyone in this house’s family.  And that’s ok.  But it’s still striking how apparent that is.  And yet, he is every bit your child, just like the ones who came to you by birth.

We have been through a lot of doctor visits and a lot of therapy, though not as much as some.  We’ve learned lots about speech therapy, special needs preschool, the craniofacial clinc at UW, the CHDD at UW, raising drug affected babies, and sensory integration dysfunction.  And all because of one child!

Last March, I went to a conference and heard about vision therapy.  For more information, go to www.covd.org.  Very good stuff.  It turns out that a lot of symptoms that sound like ADHD are sometimes vision problems related to whether your eyes are working together as a team, whether they get tired because they are a teensy bit off, etc.  This kind of thing is not caught during a normal eye exam, which is why so many kids aren’t caught.  Adults, too.  Some are worse than others.  Our son does act a lot like he has ADHD, but I’m one of those who thinks of Ritalin and the rest as an absolute last resort.  I do think some people need them, but I think it’s drastically less people than are actually given meds. 

We are beginning vision therapy now, and we have it covered under our insurance, unlike most people.  It covers 33 visits, lifetime.  That’s enough to get some serious answers about whether we’re on the right track.  If you don’t have insurance, it’s about $3000.  But, if you think it’s what is wrong, then you may have saved a child a lifetime of pain.

The book was required reading at the office we are visiting.  Also, I was just at the CHDD, where I was told by a doctor I do not know that I really ought to consider Ritalin, at least give it a try, and since these are obviously social problems that I’m mentioning, well, homeschooling really won’t help.

Uh huh.  Because sitting at a desk will help so much.  I am determined that behavior modification is the best thing.  I don’t think the doc gave me one ounce of thought.  I don’t think she knows that when you are a parent and your child has a difficulty, you often become an expert on that difficulty, often more so than the doctor, simply because you are more interested.  By a long shot. 

Oh how I wish she had listened about this instead of prescribing Ritalin.  If her final notes say all that, I’m so writing a letter.  And if I ever teach special ed again, I’m going in knowing what I’m doing this time.

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When I was in college, I learned about Marva Collins.  She started a school in west Chicago, because she knew as well as anyone how bad the schools were — she taught there.  Her first book, Marva Collins’ Way, led to some fame for her and her school.  She was ostracized because her strong faith in children’s success led her to disagree strongly with teachers who were ok with the status quo.  She had her school visited by President Reagan and others, and more than one president asked her to be the Secretary of Education.  She, like many smart people, knew she could not really affect lives while surrounded by beauracracy, so she politely refused.  She and John Taylor Gatto are somewhat similar in that regard.  They were praised for their teaching skills, but ostracized for their convictions.  I am re-reading “Ordinary Teachers, Extraordinary Children”.  I heard her speak in Spokane, and I got her to sign my book in 1996! 

Here is a website that put a quote from the book right out there, and I will reprint it here anyway.  She is quite a character.  One of my favorite things is that she uses the same words all the time to “brainwash” her kids to think positively.  “Why do you think you should not be chewing gum in class (talking to your friend, passing notes, etc.)?”  “Because I am much too bright to waste my time, Mrs. Collins.”  And so forth.

Here’s the blog: http://www.melanielewis.org/poems/poem30.html

Here’s the quote:

 
“I am a teacher.  A teacher is someone who leads.  There is no magic here.  I do not walk on water.  I do not part the sea.  I just love the   children.”   
– Marva Collins

 

Society will draw a circle that shuts me out, but my superior thoughts will draw me in. I was born to win if I do not spend too much time trying to fail. I will ignore the tags and names given me by society since only I know what I have the ability to become.

Failure is just as easy to combat as success is to obtain. Education is painful and not gained by playing games. Yet it is my privilege to destroy myself if that is what I choose to do. I have the right to fail, but I do not have the right to take other people with me.

It is my right to care nothing about myself, but I must be willing to accept the consequences for that failure, and I must never think that those who have chosen to work, while I played, rested and slept, will share their bounties with me.

My success and my education can be companions that no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, and no enemy can alienate. Without education, man is a slave, a savage wandering from here to there believing whatever he is told.

Time and chance come to us all. I can be either hesitant or courageous. I can swiftly stand up and shout: “This is my time and my place. I will accept the challenge.”

from the book, “Marva Collins’ Way” by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin, published by St. Martin’s Press.

Want to check out Marva Collins’ Preparatory School?

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This book is a MUST READ.  Seriously.  If “Rikki-san” and I ever give it back to the local library, you can borrow it if you live near us.  If not, get your library to get it.  OR BUY IT.  I will be.  I just need to do a book binge soon anyway, so I will wait til then and do it all at once, right about the time I buy a bunch of homeschool supplies.   Here is the link to the author’s website:

http://www.bringingupgeeks.com/Home.aspx

This book is a very good, over-arching book about what it means to depart slightly from the mainstream and expect excellence from your kids.  I know I just committed a major faux pas there, but have you been to the mall lately?  I’m sorry, but as far as I can tell, if you are in middle or high school (and often elementary), to be cool you need to imitate adults.  And we’re not talking intelligent adults.  I mean the kind on MTV.  The kind who get to be in the paper for reasons we all hope our kids never will.  The “popular” kids get to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy, as Miss Frizzle would say on the Magic Schoolbus, but I don’t mean science and school.  I mean sex, drugs, and other risque’ behavior.  It is very sad, but I can remember a few close calls as a kid I don’t think my parents know about.  And that was 20 years ago. 

I know there are a lot of fabulous kids out there, too, but they tend not to be popular except in really awesome schools.  This book addresses that and how to make family life a priority, even if your kids do all those normal things public schooled kids do.  This book is seriously awesome and well balanced.  If you are ever, ever in contact with ANY children, you gotta read it!

Soapbox dismount commence.

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