Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gifts My Children Have Given Me

              that they don't even know about.

Builder Boy gave me the gift of being a mother. That was my greatest wish for all of my life. And my worst fear was that it would never happen for me. He literally made my dream come true, and I am so grateful.

Early Bird gave me two gifts. I never liked the color of my eyes very much. They're a shade of hazel that I used to describe as "partly dried horse poop." (And I know what that looks like from experience.) But when Early Bird was born with hazel eyes the same color as mine, I loved them. And it helped me find beauty in my own eyes. His eyes have turned brown, but that gift remains.

His second gift to me was what I learned about myself when I started researching giftedness because of him. Builder Boy's gifted traits were more subtle than Early Bird's, and I needed his obviousness to start researching. And when I did, I learned about myself as well.

Lady Bug gave me a chance to express my secret girlishness that I kept hidden for so long, and spurned me towards getting help for childhood hurts.

I am so grateful to them. And I will never forget these gifts they have given me.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Right Start Math Drop-out

Okay, I'm finally ready to admit it: we are Right Start Math drop outs.

I love Right Start Math. Truly I do. It helped me improve my own mental math, just teaching Builder Boy the first level! It had great hands on stuff that Builder Boy needed and the way it dealt with numbers really worked for Builder Boy.


It took too long. There was too much stuff to look ahead and plan and get out (even though it's all laid out for you.) And Builder Boy could not just do a set time limit. Oh no, we had to do an entire lesson. And then we had to add on something from a previous lesson that he just LOVED. So that even when it was easy for him, it was still taking much longer than I was willing to spend on it.

We didn't even finish the first book. And I got so sick with Lady Bug's pregnancy, and...yeah. After Lady Bug was born I tried to start it with Early Bird, and it worked for a while. But again, too long. Especially now that I have two students.

I wanted so much to go through the whole program. But the best curriculum isn't one or the other, but rather the one that gets DONE. So I'm not going to be buying the next level. (Which is a bit of a relief money wise, though I still believe that if you have the money and it works for you, you should totally do it.) So what now?

Working on Dreambox
Well, sometime before I had Lady Bug I signed Builder Boy up for a free trial of Dreambox online. I knew after watching for just two days that this was something I was willing to pay for. (And it wasn't too expensive, either!) The on screen abacus they used was the same as the Right Start Abacus, which was good. It also introduced other things that were new to Builder Boy. I was very happy with the way that they presented most things. I had heard that there was an assessment test, and I was confused when nothing I saw him doing looked like an assessment test. The "tests" were actually sprinkled in with the other activity choices. When a new concept popped up with a star on it, it was a test. If you knew it, you moved on and didn't do any more. If you didn't "pass" high enough, or pushed the "I don't know" button, then they teach it to you. Very low key, and perfect for test anxious kids. I really loved the progress reports sent to the parent's e-mail, and the ability at any time to see where exactly he was in various sub sections of math. Also, it was cartoon-y and fun. It had a built in reward system and other "games" (that were actually math application practice and logic games) and little stories and videos that the kids earned by doing enough activities. It was perfect for Builder Boy and he loved it. Until he didn't. I don't know if it was a lack of practice, scaffolding, or teaching, or if he just wasn't developmentally ready; but somewhere at the end of the 2nd grade materials Builder Boy hit a mental wall and just couldn't go any further and started crying every time I asked him if he wanted to do it.

He'd been playing quite a bit for several months at that point, so I gave him a math break. He'd almost completed 2nd grade math before Christmas, so I wasn't worried about him being behind. Plus, Dreambox saves the child's progress, even if we dropped our membership for a while.

December is when I was dealing with the worst of my postpartum depression, so math got dropped for several months. In February I purchased the first six Life of Fred books (grades K, 1, & 2.) Builder Boy devoured them up in a week. We've started going though them a bit more slowly now together, once in a while.

Around that time we also started working on telling time. I mostly made stuff up and got Pinterest ideas for that.

Sometime around March I picked up Second Grade Math in Action (Sylvan Workbooks) (Math Workbooks) at Costco, and we did whatever Builder Boy felt like in that for math.

Taking the ADAM
Around this time I started looking into Math Mammoth workbooks. I really liked that they had not only grade level books, but subject specific books to work on areas that needed more practice. Since we'd been practically unschooling math, I thought it would be good to get a better idea of where Builder Boy was. So I signed him up for the ADAM K-7 by the same company that produces the DORA. Like the DORA it was online, so no writing (yay!) and adaptive, which means less time wasted, and you're not stuck in one grade level only. His scores left me a bit more confused, however. (I still recommend it! Worth the $20.) But as part of the report it offered the Khan Academy lessons that corresponded with his lower scoring areas.

I've been hearing about Khan Academy for years; since I first started reasarching homeschooling online. They're free (yay!) so I signed Builder Boy up. It is not a cute and there's no play like Dreambox. It is just plain math. But you can earn badges, which fills Builder Boy with pride. And the teaching videos are great.

Builder Boy has been working faithfully on Khan Academy since early April, and he's almost finished with the Early Math (K-2nd Grade) stuff. Their assessments make you prove more times that you can do it, and I like that. It makes advancement a little bit slower, but so far it hasn't frustrated Builder Boy. There are things that the videos, which teaches, I'm thinking, a more traditional way, that sometimes aren't everything Builder Boy needs on his own. But because I'm watching a little bit, and I watched some of Dreambox, I can tell him "remember, it's like __________ on Dreambox?" And that different way he learned months ago he can then apply to the Khan Academy problem, and then he's good. It's only been a month and a half, but I've seen a great jump in his confidence and his ablity.

So now the plan is to finish the Early Math and then continue to 3rd Grade Math at Builder Boy's own pace throughout the summer, taking a break near the end of the summer. (We school year round. At least, that's always the plan.) In the fall we will do Math Mammoth 4 days a week and Khan Academy on the 5th or for extra fun or to earn extra rewards or something. I'm looking forward to having Builder Boy take the ADAM again next year and see the difference.

I don't know if Math Mammoth is going to be the curriculum for us or if we'll have to go looking next year. At least it's pretty inexpensive in comparison to Right Start. (I'm planning on buying the pdf and printing it out.)
Links in this blog post will either take you to the main website of the company mentioned or another blog post of mine with further information. Only the link for the workbook is an affiliate link. The rest are linked purely for your convenience.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What does $4 worth of Easter eggs look like to a baby?

Bliss. It looks like bliss. I couldn't find ball pit balls by themselves at Walmart when I went looking in April, but I did find Easter eggs at the time, which are almost as good. And, because of their smaller size and shape, they're probably easier to pick up than ball pit balls. Lady Bug sure has fun with them!

Warning! Cheap plastic eggs can break easily. Do not leave baby unattended with the eggs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Writing With Ease 1

We are now over a third of the way through Writing With Ease 1 so I thought it was time to blog about it.

Writing With Ease is an elementary writing curriculum by one of my favorite curricula companies, Peace Hill Press (printing company of Susan Wise Bauer: co-author of The Well Trained Mind, and a leader in the homeschooling world.) I purchased both the 4 year guide and the Level 1 workbook, though most people can use just one without the other. The 4 year guide is better for if you want to use your own literary sources, the workbooks are if you want it all laid out for you; which I prefer.

I have noticed several of the same questions being asked  about this curriculum on the Well Trained Mind Forum, so I thought I would answer the ones I am able to. (Please note, my experience is only with the WWE1 and FLL1, and not with any of the higher level volumes.)

Do I have to start Writing With Ease: Workbook 1 in 1st grade?

My answer: no. The books are labeled by level, not grade, for this very reason. We actually did not begin WWE1 until halfway into our 2nd grade year (for Builder Boy.) Here is why:

Handwriting, despite progress, is still a weak area for Builder Boy, and I did not want to overwhelm him. If he's struggling to form the letters, he's going to miss the forest for the trees, know what I mean?

Also, I was uncomfortable having Builder Boy writing words that he could not yet read. I did not want him just memorizing words, and it did not make sense to me to have him writing something he could not read. We we started WWE1 his reading level was around 3rd-4th grade.


Do you really need to do both Writing With Ease and First Language Lessons?

My answer: yes. There is some overlap. If you are doing both, unless your child is a strong writer, the copywork in FLL1 can be skipped. WWE1 does cover the same grammar that is in FLL1, but at a more accelerated pace, and with less instruction, practice, and review. I actually think you should not begin WWE1 until your child is at least halfway though FLL1.


Do First Language Lessons and Writing With Ease lessons match up? Do they have to be taught at the same time?

My answer: no. I recommend beginning WWE1 after you have finished at least lesson 50 of FLL1. When you get to WWE1 there will be some minimal review, but it's good practice and application. 

 But if you don't start them at the same time, won't that mess up your schedule?

My answer: if you're flexible, no. One way to do this is to start with the first half or so of FLL1 only your first year. It is gentle enough that if you skip copywork and do it completely verbal, and with some extra kinetic activities added, that it can be done with kindergartener or 1st grader. Then the next year you can finish FLL1 and continue with FLL2, while beginning WWE1.

If you're the type that just HAS to finish a book a year, and doesn't want to finish one early in the year and continue on without finishing a second, then my advice would be to stretch FLL1 over the kindergarten and 1st grade years and then start FLL2 with WWE1 for 2nd grade.


Does it matter if I do the lessons within the week out of order?

My answer: not at first. WWE1 is broken up into 36 weeks, with 4 days of lessons for each week.
  1. Day 1 is copy work
  2. Day 2 is a narration exercise
  3. Day 3 is another copywork
  4. Day 4 (for the first three weeks) is another narration exercise. 
Day 1's copy work is connected to Day 2's narration story, and Day 3's copywork is connected to Day 4's narration, all coming from the same literary source.
It was weird to me that the kids do a copywork not knowing the context, so at first I flipped it and did
  1. Day 2 Narration
  2. Day 1 Copywork
  3. Day 4 Narration
  4. Day 3 Copywork

At week 4, Day 4's lesson is both narration and copy work. They same flipped schedule can still work. An alternate schedule that we have used successfully is:
  1. Day 2 Narration + Day 1 Copywork
  2. Day 3 Copywork
  3. Day 4 Narration + first part of copywork (my boys tend to have longer narrations than they are comfortable writing in one sitting.)
  4. Finish Day 4's copywork. OR nothing if it got finished in the first attempt.
Now that we've gotten comfortable with the program, I think I will try the original schedule and see how it goes.

What if you have an early learner who isn't up to a lot of writing, but loves making stories and would benefit from this curriculum?

My answer: the same way I include Early Bird in most of Builder Boy's subjects. I outlined my philosophy for adapting curriculum for young, early readers on Dusty's blog here. How I include 5 year old Early Bird with 7 year old Builder Boy is this: they both listen to the story and take turns answering questions. They both give a narration sentence.  All done orally, no problem.

For Day 1 & 3 copywork Early Bird chooses which ever word from the story he wants. I put it on K paper with crayon and allow him to write (or not) as he chooses. Sometimes he does, sometimes he asks me to write part of the word, sometimes he just doesn't. All of that is acceptable. For the Day 4, I have him draw a picture illustrating his narration sentence.

Here's a look at what we did for Week 12 (which actually covered two different poems/songs.)

Narrations dictated to me.
Builder Boy, "Day 1" Copywork

Builder Boy, "Day 3" Copywork
Builder Boy, Day 4 Copywork of his own narration sentence.
Early Bird's copywork, self chosen words

Early Bird's illustration of his narration sentence. (He requested that I label it.)

The original link is to the author's business page where you can purchase Writing With Ease not only in workbook form, but also in PDF if you prefer to use their illustrated writing pages instead of writing paper, but don't want to scan and print that many pages. The picture is a link to the listing for the workbook, which is often (but not always) less money to purchase. Both are affiliate links.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Search for Friends

Before we moved, I had one friend who had a girl Builder Boy's age, and another daughter ten months younger than Early Bird. We went to a very small, older church that for the last year before we moved had no other children. We attended Bible Study Fellowship once a week and Builder Boy did AWANAs once a week. That was almost the full extent of their experience with other children. They never mentioned making friends in either of their activities. They were (and still are) each other's best friends. My friend's older daughter started public school in kindergarten, so our time with her became very limited during the school year.

After we moved, we did not know anyone. We now belong to a huge church that is easy to get lost in, and hard to connect with people. The boys each have their own Sunday School classes; but the classes are so large that they tend to get lost in the crowd. We started AWANAs again this fall, but still no friends made.

Early Bird started bemoaning our lack of friends, and kept mentioning how sad that made him. I asked him what about the kids in Sunday School? Nope; they don't count. So I asked him what "friends" do, and he defined "friends" as people who came to our house and played. After we joined a weekly small group from church, where we go to someone else's house every week, he has been perfectly content.

If your child is expressing a need for friends, defining terms and expectations can be very helpful.

At first, I really hoped that the small group weekly get together would produce friends for Builder Boy. There were two boys close to his age and I had high hopes. But as time went on it became clear that Builder Boy did not fit in with those boys; and one in particular did not want to include Builder Boy.

On one hand, I can understand. Builder Boy is still working on his speech; if you're not used to listening to him, he can sometimes be difficult to understand. He likes things a certain way and when things do not happen that way, he can get upset. Which, thanks to emotional over-excitabilites, is more emotionally expressive than other kids would expect. Builder Boy also has different interests than other kids his age, and has not been exposed to most of the pop culture that the other kids have.

On the other hand, I had very few friends as a child; in some grades none at all. I am very sensitive to my child being purposely excluded. (Which he is thankfully so far oblivious to.)

I had a good talk with the mother of the other little boy, and

I realized that I needed to adjust my expectations. 

It was unfair of me to expect that group to provide everything for my kids, friend wise. Even though it would have been nice. And talking to Builder Boy I realized, he has different needs than the ones I have been trying to fill. For Builder Boy, everyone (unless they are out right mean to him) is his friend. So he thinks he has a ton of friends. He doesn't really have much of a desire for much else at this time. (Which is not unusual for a seven year old boy.)

Determine your child's actual needs.


And lastly, diversify.

This applies to both where you are looking for friends, and what your idea of a friend is. Builder Boy does much better with kids much younger or older than him. Okay, I need to stop obsessing about him having a best friend his own age. Now that it's almost summer and our out-of-home activities are over for the "school" year, we have more free time for playdates. Early Bird's "bestest buddy EVER" from our church is from a homeschooling family with older boys that are very sweet about playing with the several years younger Builder Boy. And it's working out GREAT! Their mom, who I have talked to about having difficulty finding friends, has suggested that he's more likely to have stuff in common with homeschooling kids than with public school kids. (Not trying to be a homeschooling snob. That's just been her experience.) So, gulp! we're going to join their learning club in the fall. We're also looking at Boy Scouts or 4-H clubs in the area, though that's probably going to be put off until next year. One new thing at a time! We will probably have a better chance finding friends where we know they will share at least one interest.

Builder Boy came out of his Sunday School class all excited last week because he finally had a friend! It was girl. Not that I have a problem with him making friends with a girl; I was just hoping he could hang out with a boy, too. But he's very excited and he made her a card to invite her to our home to play. He noticed that her dress had rainbows on it, so he inferred she must like rainbows and made her this card:

Flowers, a rainbow, butterflies, and hearts. Not your typical boy card; but super sweet. He drew what thought she would like.

I don't have all the answers; and we still don't have scores of kids clamoring to be the boys' friends. But each is getting the needs they have at this time met; and that makes a happy mama.

So if you, too, are struggling to find friends for your homeschooled and/or gifted kids, here are my tips:
  • Determine your child's actual needs.

  • If your child is expressing a need for friends, define terms and expectations so you're on the same page.

  • Adjust your expectations.

  • Diversify.

This blog post was my contribution to the GHF Special Tips, Toys, Tricks, and Tools for Parenting and Educating Gifted/2E Blog Hop. For more great tips, toys, tricks, and tools, click here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Too Much "I love you" ?

Several years ago, perhaps before or around the time Builder Boy was born, I was watching an episode of Survivor. (Okay, I was watching a whole season of Survivor.) The contestants received letters from home as a reward. One of them received a letter from his mother in which she wrote "I love you," and he cried because this was only the third time in his life she had ever said that to him.  He was an adult! And his mother had only told him two other times that she loved him? I understand that some people are not great communicators, but I saw how much that affected this grown man, and I vowed my children would never be able to count on one hand how many times I had told them I loved them. Unless they were counting that day only.

One time I shared on facebook that I told Early Bird I loved him, and he answered with "meow!" Someone commented that saying "I love you" so much to my children diluted its meaning, and I needed to say it less so the kids would appreciate it more. Um, no. I am not letting a day go by when I do not tell my children I love them. Every time I put them in the car, I kiss them and tell them I love them. Because what if that was my last chance to tell them that, and I missed it?

Yesterday, a person from an online community I am emotionally invested in unexpectedly lost her young son. I doubt she regrets saying "I love you" as many times as she did, and probably wishes she had said it more. Please; hug your children; tell them you love them.

In honor of a little boy, who's favorite color was red.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lady Bug is Nine Months Old!

I'm a week late in posting this, but that hasn't stopped Lady Bug from growing! She is nine months old now, and today her second tooth broke through the gum line.

I'm not sure how much she weighs, but she feels huge. These past three months have passed much faster than the first months did. But Lady Bug is not listening to me when I tell her she's the perfect travel size.

We are slowly and carefully working on overcoming her aversion to being on her stomach or downward facing. No rolling back to front or crawling yet, but she's finally showing interest in moving herself toward something; if she wants it enough. It's funny watching her squeal at something, commanding it to come towards her.

We have begun working on the baby sign for "more." I accept clapping or any form of bringing hands together at this stage.

Eating is going well. I've been making different combinations of foods for her, and she likes lots of healthy foods. She also is working on holding things to gnaw on and putting small things in her mouth. Maybe with the emerging teeth she'll be able to start to chew soon.

I've been "shopping" among the stored baby toys from the boys. Lady Bug now enjoys playing by herself for a time. Apparently, her older brothers also like playing with her baby toys; so she rarely plays alone for long.
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