Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wishing You a Good School Transition

As a stay-at-home homeschooling mother, I take my quiet time, or my super-productive time, when I can get it. There's always more than enough to do, so a break from the children and the noise is usually a working break, rarely a true do-nothing break. Sometimes having any break means staying home from things like the church picnic on a hot and humid day, so the whole house can get cleaned in one full swoop, or the homeschooling schedule can be designed or tweaked.

So last Sunday, I stayed home with one child while the rest of the family went to the church picnic. Maybe you know that moms and dads don't always agree on safety rules? Well, that includes climbing trees around here. I think without a spotter, and without sticking to lower branches, it's just too dangerous. Husband feels otherwise because as a child he climbed trees plenty and never fell.

One of my children decided I needed a ride in an ambulance to make my mothering life complete. I can't give details because said child thinks accidents are embarrassing, but suffice it to say we have a little more stress on our hands now. After many, many tests, the child is mostly but not totally out of the woods after a concussion and an overnight hospital stay. We go back in two weeks to hopefully lose the neck brace and on that note if you say a quick prayer I would appreciate it.

Hopefully you don't disappear for good, because I really like you guys. Have a good transition back to school! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beth the Brave

The used books I've been ordering for Sonlight Core B have been trickling in, and this week Leading Little Ones to God arrived, which is part of the Bible portion of Core B.



Recently Mary told me that when we do devotions she has a hard time following, and when we're done she doesn't remember what we talked about. Now, I have my doubts about the sincerity of this because her knowledge of God is pretty mature for a seven year old, so something has been sticking all these years. I have no doubt that she already has a saving knowledge of God.

She struggles currently with feeling like a failure because so often it's cloudy and her thoughts turn to storms and how fearful she is all the time. She feels worthless, compared to others who go about their lives and seem to ignore storms. Why do I unravel at something other people can easily ignore, she wonders. And why did God give me this fear?

Seven years old is early to deal with such big thoughts and big doubts, but I can see that Mary is learning a great deal about God this summer. New believers are often coddled by God a little; I was definitely coddled in the beginning. As a brand new Christian, I prayed for a husband and got one. But when I prayed for a child a year after marriage, there was heartache before there was dancing. The Lord felt I was ready for a testing of my faith, and I feel that this summer has been the first testing of Mary's faith.

Sometimes things aren't neat and tidy and the answers aren't easy and flowing. It's true that some people barely notice the thunder and lightning, while others throw up from the pathological fear of the worst that could happen. While there's no easy answer, I can assure Mary that God didn't give her the fear. Our imperfections, illnesses and disorders are a result of the fall of man in the garden. God allows them, but he didn't cause them. He can miraculously take any pain away from us, but he doesn't always choose to.

Hard things for a seven year old to ponder, for sure. Our lesson last night in Leading Little Ones to God brought up this very topic. This book still uses scripture as the base, but it goes a little further and tries to make it relevant for a range of ages, which I think will work nicely for our family, as opposed to my husband and me trying to make a lesson from our own exhausted heads each night. Devotional books for children tend to teach smaller portions of scripture at a time, and we tend to err on the side of too much scripture per sitting, which is fine for the boys but not for our girls.

The lesson focused on the question of how Miriam responded to having to throw her baby boy in the river. How are we supposed to respond when bad things happen to us? Why would God allow these things in our lives? What did Miriam do and think when she was told to throw her baby in the river? Why would God allow that? What options did Miriam have? How did God respond? What happened to baby Moses? How did God work through his life? It was a lesson made just for my daughter, who had struggled with why God would allow such a ghastly fear in her life (along with learning to read being so hard for her, although that didn't come up this week). Mary doesn't only have fear when it's actually thundering, but when it's forecasted as well, which is quite frequently in Ohio.

We have a choice in how we respond, and in our own nuclear family we have an example of a grace-filled response. Beth. We often overlook the burden on Beth's life because she never complains about her arthritis. In fact, we thought her medicines were working to eliminate most of her pain, but recently we found that not to be the case. She walks on her toes and has done this since the age of 3, which is when her left ankle became affected. She was released from therapy a few months ago because her range of motion with her knees was very good, and her physical abilities and strength were no longer affected by the arthritic joints. They seemed to think the toe walking could be a sensory issue, and not a pain issue because there was no other sign of pain. I never did agree with the sensory hypothesis, but neither did I think therapy was going to address her pain.

As her mother I recognize that the swelling in her ankle has never responded as well to her medicines as her knee joints have, for whatever reason. Beth is more willing now to respond to my questions about her arthritis, and not fear that her responses are going to lead to more doctor's appointments and more shots and discomfort. After trying to get her to walk normally for two years now, she point blank told me this week that she walks up on her toes because it feels better. I then asked her where it hurts when she walks on her feet. She pointed to the swollen area on her left ankle, just as I suspected.

Have you ever walked up on your toes for very long? It is very uncomfortable and your balance you will notice is terrible. It's very awkward. My heart aches for my little girl, and at the same time my heart marvels at her strength and determination. She never complains, and she wakes with a smile, even though mornings find her up higher on her toes, because arthritis pain is typically worse after inactivity. Beth loves life and it's only needles or a mention of blood that makes her frown.

We need the Beths and Miriams among us to inspire us and remind us that we can respond with grace. We can still love life, and we can still smile. We can open our hands to all that God has, and say, "Let me be faithful, Lord. Fill me with your joy. Let me spread your joy to others. Let me be like Miriam, who trusts you. Let me be like Beth, who counts her life all joy because of what she does have." 

It's okay to get discouraged and wonder why, but we can't get stuck there. There is a way out of our despair and our Father will lead us, sometimes through the example of those around us. Very gently last night during devotions I brought up the conversation Beth had with me about her ankle pain. The other three children and my husband and me have been so caught up in the pain and discomfort of OCD fears and storm phobia fears, that we'd forgotten the little angel among us, who had something to say to all of us with her quiet determination, and her quiet faithfulness.

There were some tears at the realization, and little Beth, terribly embarrassed at the attention, slipped behind the couch. She loves to perform for us and dance and dress up in fancy dresses, and sometimes she says she wants to be an actress, but don't ever praise her. She doesn't want that.

She's too young to give God the glory, and of course she doesn't consciously live so wisely, but to God be the glory all the same....

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jeremiah 31:2-3 Thus says the LORD:”The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gearing Up


John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Blogging seems like a long-lost friend...like something I used to enjoy when life was manageable. Mentally I am kicking and screaming just a little as I accept that it too must go in the name of learning disabilities and other special needs. If I can write once or twice a week here, I'll be doing well.

I had my state-required homeschooling end-of-year portfolio review meeting with a gentle and quiet Christian homeschooling mother/speech pathologist/portfolio review teacher. She has three boys, one of whom is starting at Akron University on Monday, and another who is 14 with learning disabilities, and another who is 11. I enjoyed my meeting very much. She's a true supporter and would make a wonderful friend, if either of us had the time.

Now on the agenda is planning a brilliant schedule to accommodate four learners and a lot of hands-on, teacher-directed lessons, plus going to therapies and keeping up with housekeeping and cooking. Excuse me while I go hide under the bed with a Hershey's bar and pretend this monumental task didn't need tackling.

Schedule writing is not my friend, but it must become so.

Gearing up emotionally....

The last few years I taught first grade behavior problems had become more prevalent, partially because I taught in a low-income area short on hope and solutions, even though a Healthy Start grant program was in its second year on our campus. All the names of incoming students were put on cards with notes about their previous year. Then we met while the principal and others carefully divided the cards between six first-grade teachers so that no one teacher got all the low ones, or all the behavior problems, etc. This became the new system, in response to the new, tougher kids coming in. The class-composition meeting was always a scary day; I walked to the cafeteria after the buses pulled away, with a lump in my throat.

As I reached out to receive the cards handed to me, I looked at each one with a heart half-expectant, half-afraid. "What does God have for me? Will I be able to handle it? Will it be as hard this year as last year?"

No, I didn't sit in a meeting when God decided what my offspring should be like.

Should they have blond, brown, red, or black hair? Should they be stubborn or easy-going or a mix? Should they be calm or anxious? Should they have hyperactivity, or focus?

If I were filling out a questionnaire for God about my desired offspring, would I have check-marked all the optimum traits? And if so, what would God have thought of me?

Now I'm an experienced mother of four, with four special-needs children, spanning the gamut from learning-disabled to hyperactive to impulsive to pathologically/obsessively fearful, to diseased joints. Soon we'll begin a year of hands-on, teacher-directed lessons in reading (All About Reading), spelling (All About Spelling), grammar (Winston Grammar), writing (Write Shop), and math (possibly Right Start Math, but Saxon has hands-on components as well in the primary levels). Two of my children need this kind of learning because of dyslexia-type issues, and I'm not yet sure about my kindergartner. Paul may need it too.

I don't quite know how I will keep up, along with cooking from scratch, doing the laundry and cleaning, and shopping and going to appointments and doing therapy homework, and coaching children through fears. And being a wife? Don't even ask. I don't even know. I'm completely and totally overwhelmed, and it's all I can do to put one foot in front of the other right now.

We changed churches and we've been to the new one the last three Sundays. We all love it and I signed up to help in the nursery, which turned into teaching every other week in the 4-year-old classroom, with Peter's help. Don't ask me how that came about. The director is a smart lady and works swiftly so you don't know what hit you.

Today I read a quick article about an American doctor who was healed from Ebola, after being given an experimental serum. They don't know if the serum helped, or if it was all God. The doctor worked for Samaritan's Purse and prayed during his illness that God would be glorified through it.

I have never, ever left a comment on a news story, but the ten comments left after this news story appalled me. They were 90% negative and/or sarcastic about God, and I couldn't stand that, so I left a comment about how God healed the man because the man directly asked that God be glorified through the illness. And do you know what happened several minutes later?

A man replied to my comment: "So why does God hate amputees?"

If we're handed the tough cards--they can get a lot tougher than what I've experienced--does that mean God hates us? Is it tempting to believe that, when you look around and see others seemingly blessed, and even healed? What stance should we take once the reality of our situation becomes clear? Is the reality really what it seems?

No matter how many times I write a post about this same issue--and I'm sure you'll agree there have been many--I still need to write yet another to sort out similar feelings when I'm overwhelmed anew.

Here's the thing: To God Be the Glory, just like the doctor said.

We will not be overwhelmed when we let go of the outcome and give it to God. If God cares how clean my house is in the midst of homeschooling, he'll put in place the skills and schedule to make it cleaner and neater. He'll change me and my children so we can do more, in less time. If God cares about my Peter going to college, he'll solve the dysgraphia and dyscalculia issues, either through me or in spite of me. If God wants my Mary to start enjoying school and to develop a can-do attitude about learning and facing fears, he'll make it happen either through me or in spite of me.

My part is simple, and even if I had four children completely normal in every way, my part would still be the same. It's the same for the amputee, and for the Samaritan's Purse doctor, and for you, dear reader.

We get up every morning and ask: "Lord, how do you want to use me today?" 

And next..."This day is yours, Lord. How do you want to use it?" 

Romans 6:13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.


Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up: The Learning Disabilities Post


My appointment with our portfolio review teacher is next Wednesday, which officially ends our school year. Following that we will take two to three weeks off while I focus on writing our fall schedule, and looking in depth at some new curriculum we purchased. All of our curriculum has been purchased with the exception of Write Shop Junior E, which is a new product not available yet on the used markets. I also need a used copy of Right Start Math Level B, which we'll need in several months. We have other writing and math resources in place, but these are curricula I really want in addition.

There are just a couple changes since I last wrote about curriculum. I bought a used copy of Ann Voskamp's A Child's Geography for the family to do together. I also sold the Sing, Spell, Read & Write kit so that I could buy the All About Reading Level 2 and All About Spelling Level 1 kits to address Mary's mild dyslexia. So instead of using the Sing Spell Read & Write for Beth's K year, we are using Sonlight Language Arts 1, which is for students who can already read three-letter words. Mary will use the Dr. Seuss books to supplement the stories in All About Reading 2.

I believe in a lot of reading practice and I've increased Mary's practice sessions to two to three 20- to 30- minute sessions, using My First I Can Read books from the library, and the Usborne Phonics Readers, which are wonderful. There are three other easy-reader series in my public library that Mary can read with me sitting by, so thankfully along with my home library we have enough material.



She still needs the systematic phonics lessons that she'll get in All About Reading 2, however. Just practice is not going to move her significantly ahead, without learning the phonics one new phoneme at a time. Too many phonemes at once is way too confusing for her, and that was the problem with the Sing, Spell, Read & Write program, even though it was multisensory, which is good for dyslexics. It introduced too many phonemes at once, after the basic alphabet and consonant digraphs and blends were introduced. She did fine with all the beginning phonics, but beyond that everything was/is a challenge.

She also has trouble with sequencing things like months of the year and days of the week (even in songs or rhymes months and days are hard), so memory for random sequencing is also affected, and this is the case for Peter as well, although Mary can sequence events in a story very well, as can Peter. Their comprehension is excellent.

The Saxon Math we're using is an excellent program, but it's not addressing Mary's dyscalculia (math learning disability). I have had no success in getting her really comfortable with the numbers to 100. She struggles to remember which comes first when she writes 51, for example...the 1 or the 5. She gets it without my help usually, but she struggles (the patterns don't always help her as expected). She can't always read the numbers correctly out of order, and when the number chart to 100 is put into her hands, she struggles to find any certain number, or even the column it is located in (too much data at once).

Many aspects of math are no problem for her, and I can say the same about Peter, who also has dyscalculia. Every student can be affected somewhat differently. Right Start Math presents the numbers differently, so the names of them aren't so problematic, and facts/concepts are understood and memorized via games and different kinds of manipulatives, not through worksheets. It is a multisensory, hands-on program recommended by parents of dyscalculics. I hope to buy it used by Thanksgiving or Christmas, and in the meantime we will continue with Saxon and my attempts to present lessons using multisensory techniques.

Dyscalculia and Going to College With Learning Disabilities

I have learned recently that dyscalculia can make learning algebra very difficult, and if a student is formally tested and has proof of the disability, a waiver can be given for math in college, so that classes like statistics can be substituted, allowing otherwise very able students to get degrees and go on to fruitful jobs. There are people out there who couldn't complete their degrees because of failing algebra multiple times, and not having knowledge of their own disability, or their rights. Even non-math-related fields require algebra as a general education requirement (usually) so knowing your rights and advocating for yourself are essential. We will be saving money to get Peter (and eventually Mary) formally tested so that algebra does not present an obstacle in college (multiple variables on both sides of equations, along with negative and positive integers mixed, are just too much data and steps for some dyscalculics), although I am not putting any ideas into the kids' heads about algebra being hard. I keep my research to myself and only reveal it on a need-to-know basis.

My husband also has a couple learning disabilities (undiagnosed and unbeknownst to him until I began learning about our children's issues), and while husband doesn't remember a struggle with fact memorization, such as Peter has had, he absolutely remembers algebra being a nightmare. He went to a Bible college, which was five years of Bible and related subjects, not any general ed, so the algebra wasn't an issue. But, of course, his degree is not transferable to a regular college for higher education units. He would have to start all over to obtain a bachelor's degree, unfortunately, as the Bible college was unaccredited at the time he attended. His father didn't agree with him going to college after high school, and provided no support, and his mother had died a year earlier in a car accident, so he had no help in planning for a career, and obviously made some regrettable mistakes, as he doesn't have the skill set for pastoring (not that he isn't a faithful Christian). To this day he doesn't understand how he could have gotten the signals from God so crossed. We are told not to make major life decisions within two years of a loved one dying, and this is sound advice, and definitely applies to an unaccredited out-of-state Bible College for a 17-year-old youth within a year of tragically and suddenly losing his mother.

I don't go on this bunny trail much, but my head can just spin thinking about how different things could have been had my husband's parents been more aware of his issues, and if he himself had been aware. Being afraid or dismissive of a label is a dangerous thing, as is being too trusting that a public school can understand and solve everything related to education. Regular classroom teachers cannot be expected to catch much about learning disabilities, especially in the context of 22- to 32-student classrooms. As a student or adult, if you don't have any knowledge or understanding of the nature of the obstacles in your life, you just feel helpless and hopeless and dumb, and like everyone around you is speeding right by in the race of life. Anger and bitterness can set in, and problem-solving capabilities can further erode as dysfunctional thinking patterns take root.

Educational testing that can diagnose a specific learning disability is done by psychologists or educational testing services. Public schools do not test for specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia, but rather, they test for discrepancies between IQ and academic performance, which indicate that a learning disability is present. If academic performance is low, but IQ is not low, then a learning disability is suspected. They can determine if it may be an auditory processing disorder, or a visual processing disorder, etc, but that doesn't help when obtaining waivers for college. The disability itself has to be named (i.e. dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), not the type of processing disorder(s) represented.

Go here to learn where to have your child tested:

International Dyslexia Association

Academic Language Therapy Association

Association of Educational Therapists

Insurance does not cover it, unfortunately, so for lower-income families, in which learning disabilities are highly represented, it is a very unfortunate reason that incomes remain low, because without the cash for testing, no waivers for higher education classes are likely to be pursued or obtained.

Before budget cuts, the disability departments of some universities tested for learning disabilities, but that is less prevalent now. If your child has an LD, look into the quality of this department at the college or university your child is considering.

Even a student with profound dyslexia, I learned, who spells entirely by sound, is supposed to be worked with by his or her professors, though not every school will comply with this without being pressured. I read that community colleges are more flexible in working with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities Act is valuable, but we have to know how to advocate for ourselves much of the time. Profound dyslexics can be very bright and express themselves beautifully, but they might not be able to spell well enough for traditional spell-check programs to help. I've read about an iPad app that helps dysgraphics turn their sound spelling into conventional spelling. The iPad is an exceptional device for assisting those with learning disabilities, due to the myriad of educational apps.

Students with even profound dyslexia can still learn to read with assistance, but they can sometimes remain slow readers. High school or college students who read slowly can invest in books on CD, and in assistive technology that transfers text into speech, so that heavy college loads can still be handled.

I grieve the 13 years I spent teaching in public education, not knowing the necessary facts. How many of my students fell through the cracks in my first grade class (9 years in the regular classroom), because of what I didn't know? A student who acts out in class (behavior problems are a symptom of disability, at home and at school), or who appears to have ADHD or ADD, should be monitored closely for a possible learning disability, even if the academic work isn't significantly behind yet.

Parents should know early that they need to get their children tested outside of the public schooling system for the best results, after initial evaluations indicate a problem, or before school evaluations if desired, when the parents suspect a problem. Kids with disabilities struggle to grasp the information, and the behavior problems they display are a cover-up so that peers and the teacher will not know. Their frustration levels can also lead to outbursts. They feel dumb, because of course they don't understand that learning disabilities do not speak to intelligence, but to how the brain processes information coming in from the senses.

We have a neighbor girl with severe ADHD and ODD who has failed a grade and is still significantly behind her peers in reading and math. Her teachers do not know what the problem is so they are not doing anything differently for her, nor could they given their workloads. Repeating a grade is rarely the answer when a learning disability is the issue, and schools are too quick to suggest retention. And even if a student qualifies for some time with a resource teacher, if it isn't one-on-one and doesn't address the specific disability, it isn't likely to make up significant ground, especially if begun after 3rd grade. Our neighbor is very bright and I wish I could help her (she has asked me to school her many times), but I can't take on another student in my home given my own children's needs (especially not one with behavior problems), and her mother is too poor to pay for testing for her, and too dysfunctional herself to commit right now to homeschooling (nor would she be able to pay for even used curriculum).

See this post for more information about the range of disability with dyslexia, and the question of whether to come up with the $2000 or more dollars to test. The average child or adult with dyslexia may struggle significantly, but many are not profound enough to qualify as having a disability.

In short, learning disabilities are a significant and commonly misunderstood problem in our society, and failing to address them early can lead to increasingly complicated issues, such as low self-esteem, identifying with negative youths, drug and alcohol abuse, and dysfunctional thinking patterns and problem-solving capabilities.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is a help in solving these problems, but it is up to the individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves. With functional parents willing to research and advocate for their minor children (and homeschooling them if possible), and educating their children about how to overcome these obstacles, the outcomes can be excellent. In a Christian home where the Lord reigns, dysfunctional behavior can often be avoided or corrected early, especially when no one is in denial.

What are your experiences with learning disabilities? What information can you share about overcoming or advocating? Thank you, dear reader.



Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thankful Thursday Kids' Addition


Psalm 92:1-2 It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night,

Beth, age 5

~ being a ballerina
~ my family
~ the flowers
~ for God
~ for the beautiful sky
~ for Christmas
~ for my dolls
~ I'm thankful for what God made outside
~ for my big brother Paul
~ that God made me
~ for shoes
~ for food because it keeps us living
~ for the bugs
~ for the frogs
~ for the Mercy Me song "Shake" and the newer song "Greater" also by Mercy Me (because we are wild dancing fools here...even Mommy)
~ for worms because they help our plants grow

Mary, age 7

~ for the Yukon
~ for fine, fresh cool weather this morning
~ for clothing
~ for the bugs
~ for the snakes
~ for Clover who croaks at me (my favorite toad that I keep finding in my yard over and over)
~ for the grasshoppers
~ for the flowers (marigolds, dandelions, sunflowers, lilies, goldenrod, morning glories)

Paul, age 10

~ for football tickets
~ that I won the library drawing for the summer reading program and got baseball tickets
~ for my little sister Beth
~ for playing games
~ for a pretty day
~ that my arm cast isn't as bad as I thought it would be (broke his wrist yesterday morning playing Revolutionary War battles)
~ for our Hot Wheels and Geo Trax train toys 
~ for our stuffed animals and the games we play with them
~ that I'm a Christian

Peter, age 12

~ for God and his trees
~ for the camera
~ for my corn
~ the marigolds
~ the sunflowers
~ the squash
~ the cucumbers
~ the purple morning glories

"For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends."-Ralph Waldo Emerson


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