Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Gift to You All

As early as 1844, in the "deep south" a greeting was given on Christmas morning - one that varied from the "Merry Christmas" that is so common today.  As people passed one another on Christmas Day, they would tell each other "Christmas Gift!"  What did this unusual saying mean?

As opposed to today's fashion, the focus of Christmas was not receiving gifts.  Christmas trees were in use, but mostly in the center of town or a church or other public building, not commonly inside people's homes.  The idea of gifts under the tree was not used, though many localities would tie candies and paper gifts to the tree for the children of the town, to be given during a play or other celebration on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Gifts in the home were homemade, typically, and not overly large.  Usually, they were designed to fit inside stockings (not the over-large ones we use today, but their normal socks, which they washed at night and hung by the fire every night to dry). 

So, if the focus was not on the gifts, why would people tell one another "Christmas Gift"?  Because this phrase happily reminded everyone that the greatest gift was one that we already had - the gift of Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect (sinless) life, died the most horrible, cruel death on a cross, and was raised again three days later.  All this was done to pay the price for our sins, which are ugly and change our soul from the image of God into a deformed semblance of the perfection we were made to attain.  We now have the chance to wash away that deformity in the precious blood of Jesus through baptism, and then that blood will continually cleanse us as we grow in His Word.  This is the true Gift of Christmas, and we need to be reminded on every day, not just December 25, that the price was paid for us.  It's up to us to accept this gift and continue to learn how to serve God.

As time went on, this phrase "Christmas Gift" changed, and so did the meaning.  Children began using the phrase "Christmas Gift" as a race.  Whoever was the first to say it to another was supposed to be rewarded with a gift of some kind from the one who was slower in giving the greeting.  In some regions, this phrase changed to one I grew up hearing from my grandmother, "Christmas Eve Gift."  Just like the variant of "Christmas Gift", we all tried to be the first to say it so that someone else had to give us a gift.  We never actually gave gifts, just enjoyed a moment's superiority over our siblings or other family members.  I do not think this is wrong, but it does take away from the original intent of the greeting.

On this happy day when many in the world are celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray that we remember the true gift of Christmas. 

Christmas Gift to You All!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How do you Homeschool?

            As a homeschooling mother, I frequently find myself explaining to other parents that we do not attend certain other schools in the area – we homeschool.  This usually comes up as the parent is complaining about issues with their schools – teachers losing a child’s paper and then berating the child instead of accepting responsibility, teachers accusing high-ability children of cheating, state tests which cover too much material to study in one semester, 2 – 3 hours of homework nightly for 2nd graders, bullying by students or teachers – the list goes on and on.  However, when I suggest that the parent “could always homeschool, if public school is a problem,” then I get blank stares.  I’m certainly no genius, so there must be some “trick” to it.  How do you homeschool?

            Looking at our success, even though I have a child who has special needs, I am amazed when I hear parents of children with no health or emotional issues say that they could never homeschool their children.  I have many more problems than they will ever face (thankfully!  I love my daughter, but it is difficult working with a child who needs more than the usual attention), yet I am able to do it.  Even with a child without the difficulties my daughter has, I would recommend starting the way we started – slow.  If your child has ever been in public school, s/he will need time to “de-school” – to get out of the school-mode. 

            When you homeschool, you shouldn’t just carry home what they are doing in public school – your focus should be to teach your child what they need to be able to be a successful adult.  They need to read, write, solve basic problems, and think for themselves.  Researchers are now saying in 10 years the number one career has not even been invented yet.  That means our kids need to know how to adapt and learn new things.  Keep that in mind when you decide the plans for your homeschool.  Flexibility is the key.

            The first two weeks of every public school year starts with the teacher teaching procedures – how life will be in a particular classroom.  In your homeschool, begin with 2 goals - go to the library once a week (later, it can be changed to every other week, but you should plan on going at LEAST 2 times per month) and take a field trip once per week.  The rest of the time, allow your child to direct himself or herself.

            For most children who have been in public school, directing their own actions and interests will be very difficult!  It will not take long before they are coming to you, as though you are the social director on a cruise ship, asking what they can do. “I’m bored,” will probably be a phrase you will hear a lot these first two weeks.  My suggestion is to create a “Job Jar” and fill it up with slips of paper with various chores.  Every time they come to you for suggestions, direct them to the Job Jar (give yourself permission to be a "broken record").  Remember – you are establishing habits that will continue as long as you homeschool.  You DON’T want them to come to you for the rest of their lives every time they are bored!  They will either start to love doing chores (yeah for you!) or they will learn to think for themselves – something they cannot learn in school with 20 – 35 students in every classroom.

            At the library, give your child some guidelines of what to check out and then give them freedom of choice.  For example, my daughter is allowed to check out 5 items, but no more than 2 of them can be videos.  Yes, I allow her to check out videos.  At the beginning, I also checked some videos out, and all of mine were the educational kind that looked interesting as well as educational (including “How to Draw” videos and lots of non-fiction videos designed for children).  She very quickly started checking out these videos for her 2 choices, so I changed and started checking out one entertaining video so she didn’t feel like she had to if she wanted one for fun.  The rest of her items to check out are books.  If there are particular books for school we need, I check those out.  She is freely able to choose the books she likes.  This encourages her to enjoy reading, and it has been one of the best things we have done.  She now loves to read or to have me read to her (I used to read to my students who had no special needs, and I fully support anyone who reads to their children, even as older teens).  Read, write about it (journaling or writing an essay), then discuss it.  Even if that is all we do during the day, I know we have progressed.  When we began to homeschool, she had no interest in books.  Now, she loves them!

            Field trips are vital to any educational program, and the fact that schools are cutting back field trips show how out of touch they are with documented research.  We now have 2 family passes to area attractions – the zoo and a local science museum.  If we cannot go anywhere else during the week, we go to one of these two places.  At the beginning, there were days when I could not get her to sit down (all kids have these days).  On those days, we stopped fighting and took extra field trips. Those who don’t understand how kids learn say that we are just playing on these weeks with extra trips, however, playing IS how children learn, particularly children under the age of 12.  Not only has my daughter learned about our city’s local heritage, but she has also learned about many things from various museums in the area.

            So, what do you do with the rest of your time?  Assign chores (a necessary life-skill), then let them have time to explore their surroundings.  This includes reading, playing with their toys in their rooms, playing outside, riding bicycles, talking to friends, and so on.  Play board games with your children. 
         Conversation and experiences are the most important things you can build in these early days – and later on, too!  Computer time is good as long as it is an educational activity and time is limited.  The brain needs to make connections, but those connections are limited if the format is digital.  You want to allow your child to explore topics that he or she is interested in and to learn to do things he or she finds valuable to learn, and you will find yourself buying “toys” that are more educational, and your kids will find themselves looking forward to playing with those more than others.   This will encourage your child to love learning.

            Finally, keep lessons short.  If your child’s attention span is wandering, take a break.  Even better, look at what your child is supposed to learn and find another method to learn it.  Pencil-and-paper work should only be done after a child has learned a particular skill, not at the beginning.  Check on the internet or in books at the library for other methods to teach a particular skill.  Let your child help you look – they need to see you learning as an adult, too!  Even the most distractable kid can focus if they know they only have to do it for a short period of time, so pay attention and stop if they are mentally done.

            Go to the library, go on field trips, and discuss everything you do. This is the basic formula for a successful homeschool that will help your child become a productive, self-assured adult.  Stress does not mean a child is learning, but success does.  Remember, you CAN teach your child, if you only decide you want to!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs

            Having a child with special needs has been a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.  Deciding to homeschool her, however, has been a learning experience for both of us, and I think I have learned more than she has!  The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it can be done, and in spite of the challenges, it is one of the best decisions we have made for our daughter!

            Sometimes when people ask me what is “wrong” with my daughter, I want to just say one thing – CP, ADHD, etc., and be done in one quick word or phrase.  The fact is, though, Babygirl has many issues that she is facing, and there are different times when doctors are addressing different issues.  Her Cerebral Palsy is mild, and now we are not doing much to address it.  Her severe ADHD is an on-going problem, as she basically cannot function if she does not have her medication.  (NOTE:  I was a public school teacher for 12 years – I know ADHD and its effect on kids.  Hers is definitely severe, at the very least).  Babygirl’s ADHD specialist referred her for an IQ test.  I used to pride myself on being able to guess (within about 5 points) what a child’s IQ score would be – Babygirl was 20 points below my lowest guess, barely keeping her in the classification of “MMR” (mildly mentally handicapped).  Her scoliosis is our latest problem.  There may also be an issue with her eye muscles, but that is still being evaluated…Hmmm.. I think that’s all the issues I can remember now.

            With so many health issues, I sometimes feel guilty that there are days (or weeks sometimes) when we have so many doctor’s visits, or visits to specialists or other groups for therapy, that we can barely do any school work!  While the orthopedist has been watching her spine for 2 years, between February – August of this year, the curve of her spine went from 13% (near normal) to almost 20%!  At 22%, he wanted to discuss putting her in a back brace!  In an attempt to avoid the back brace and, possibly later, surgery, we are going to a certified reflexologist for the “Raindrop” treatment once per week and a chiropractor three days per week.  Neither is proven to help, but I feel like we’re doing more than wait until it’s time for a back brace, and it has helped some with her because after 4 months, her spine's curve has not gotten worse.  Plus the monthly, every-other-month, and annual doctor visits to several other doctors.  Plus a therapeutic horseback riding center she visits twice per month.  Plus a produce coop which I run of my house that takes up one day every 2 weeks of my time, not necessarily hers.  (Though she is limited on how much work she will do independently, so I can’t just assign her work while I’m busy).  When did we ever have time for school???!!

            With all these appointments and interruptions in our days, would she be better off in public school, since we don’t spend all day, 5 days per week doing pencil and paper work?  This question has bothered me some, but when I take the time to consider the alternatives, the answer is always “Absolutely NOT!”   If she were in public school, then either I would have to take her out of school for the doctor visits, which would upset the teacher and cause both the teacher and my daughter to do extra work, or Babygirl would not get to go to the doctor & chiropractor visits as often, so she would not get the treatments she needs.  Since I view these medical visits as necessary, cancelling the appointments would not be an option, so she would still be missing a lot of instruction.  Besides, Babygirl does not learn from paper-and-pencil work, anyway.  Homeschooling gives us the flexibility to go to doctor’s appointments and do activities that allow my daughter to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as help her learn life-skills which she will need beyond “book learning.”

            So once I figured out that traditional school-work does not help my daughter, in fact it only causes her frustration, I had to look for other ways to “do school.”  I want her to read daily, do some type of math daily, and when possible, write.  Once these things are done, I can feel confident that we have “done school” for the day.  Even with my daughter’s disabilities which make understanding difficult, I have found that discussion is very helpful for her.  Everything we do, I plan on spending 2 – 3 times the original activities’ length of time in discussion.   For example, if it takes us 5 minutes to read a book, we plan on discussing the book for at least 15 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less – that’s just an average time).  If we are practicing addition facts, I will plan about 5 – 10 minutes of work, and about 5 – 10 minutes of “guided practice” before the assignment and 20 minutes afterward to discuss anything which she had problems with, whether it is writing the numbers, moving the objects to count, or memorizing the facts.   Science and social studies come from either the books we read or experiences from local sites.  Writing assignments vary from handwriting practice to journaling to organizing her thoughts using the 4-square technique.

            Do I try to keep up with public schools?  No.  I make a loose guide at the beginning of the year, assigning a topic to study every month for each subject, but I do NOT make any attempt to “keep up” with what public schools are doing.  If Babygirl were in public school again, she would be in a separate class which would not teach what other classes were learning, anyway.  My goal is to teach her what she needs to learn for life.  That includes reading, an understanding of basic math, and writing skills.  She needs to know what is happening currently, as well as the history of this area where we live.  We see how our surroundings work (science), and read books and do experiments to find out what she does not already know.  All of it involves a great deal of discussion, frequently in the car or the waiting room of a doctor’s office.  If she is interested in a topic, I will find a helpful site on the internet and create a link for her so she can explore it on her own (who knows how many times she watched the video of a platypus swimming!!  But other kids are amazed how she can tell you all about this bizarre creature).  Because of our success, many people don’t immediately know that she has any special needs, which makes me very happy.

            Babygirl has blossomed in ways she never would have if she had been allowed to stay in public school.  I have nothing against her teachers – they were doing the best that they could.  However, I am her Mom, and I am the one who understands her better than any of the school teachers.  I am looking at the whole person, not just academics.  Keeping her at home doesn’t mean that I am the only one to meet her needs – it just means I need to coordinate her getting services she needs.  I am able to make connections with specialists, as well as explore the latest research on her health issues so that I can help her grow to be the most productive person she can be as an adult.  She can learn her limits as well as her strengths, and that gives her a much better chance at future happiness than she would ever have being stuck in a classroom all day, being reminded that she is different from other kids.  If you are not homeschooling your child with special needs, I encourage you to check into it.  It can be frustrating, but the rewards are innumerable for both you and your child!