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Blown away


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Saturday, September 25. 2010

This evening, I brought home four very tired children from a friends' house. Not only were they physically tired from a long day full of fun and play but they were mentally exhausted as well. As part of the new school program we are doing, the children all have to take pre tests at the beginning of the year seeing what they know of the material to be presented over the coming year and then they take post tests at the end of the year.

The testing was intense and intimidating. They were tested in math and language and each test was to take about an hour which translates for me to over 6 hours of testing. A friend of ours who was in the program last year, suggested we get together and have the kids play and have a bit of a party. We would have two adults proctoring 2 tests at the same time and the other kids would play. The two younger kids (A-girl and AJ) had portions that needed to be read to them and the other two were pretty much independent. So we got together this afternoon, all 4 kids took all their tests, we enjoyed dinner together and when all had completed everything, we went for ice cream. These tests were tough but I was so proud of all of the kids. They persisted, they really thought about their answers and didn't just give up when they didn't know how to do a problem but instead looked at the answers, eliminated the ones that didn't seem to fit or work and then tried to figure out the answers. They weren't always successful but they really tried. Time consuming but a great attitude towards this task.

I was blown away by the skills that A-girl demonstrated in the test taking process. I had no idea she had the skills to figure out some of the math problems she was given and I had no idea she could sound out words as well as she did. She didn't get all of them right but she managed to get enough to get the gist of what they were asking and then narrow down the answers. For example, when asked what is the opposite of (blank) she would say the answer she thought it was and then look in the multiple choice answers for one that looked like that or she would sound things out, get close, keep repeating the word over and over and then all of a sudden something would click and she would figure out what the word was supposed to be. Again very time consuming but she amazed me with her reading. She also cracked me up with her math. She new I couldn't read anything unless it was stated in the instructions to read it so she had to do it (meaning she had to figure out what was being asked and the answers all on her own). At one point, I had to contain my laughter as she asked me to put up both of my hands so she could use my fingers as well to figure out a problem that asked something like 22-10-6= what. She quickly figured out I didn't have enough fingers either so resorted to dashes on the paper and scribbling off the ones taken away. Again, I was blown away by the strategies she used to figure things out and the determination that she displayed despite being really tired by the end of it. She really doesn't know how to add the value of money yet but she managed to get a couple of the answers right to money questions but some showed good problem solving and a lot of luck.

AJ and L also did very well. The hardest thing for them was understanding that they weren't going to know everything on the test. They used great problem solving skills and also had some luck fall in there as well. Even though L's final results have not been recorded yet, they all worked hard and no matter what the scores show (I am not a fan of testing knowledge in this fashion) I am so proud of them. They are embracing this new journey and despite some rough spots and some struggles within the lessons and getting them completed in a timely fashion, I am so proud of them and continue to be blown away by what incredible kids they are (yes I know I am very very biased).

Early Morning Conversations with LJ


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Thursday, September 23. 2010

LJ has taken to crawling into bed with us in the middle of the night so we often have some nice little conversations early in the morning. They typically are him telling me which pet of mine he will be for the day. Others, like the one this morning are a tad on the odd side.

LJ: Mom, can I call you crouton?

me: Why?

LJ: Because I love you!

A little later, he informed me that he didn't like the tattoos that were on his arm from yesterday so I suggested we could just wash them off. A while later, I walked into the bathroom to see a very full sink of non draining water. He had "washed" off the tattoos. Our bathroom sink has issues with draining very slowly and at times it seems like it isn't draining at all. I commented that this time the sink must be really clogged as the water wasn't draining.

LJ announced, "It IS draining mom! YOU just can't see it!" Obviously he was right as about an hour later, it was drained.

Impromptu Tea and Dance party


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Monday, September 20. 2010

Lately we have been so absorbed in the task list of the kids' school that we have lost some of the day to day fun and joy that is so much a part of life in our family. Trust my kids to find it again. LJ was begging for a tea party and while I was out picking up A-girl from dance class, he and his big sister L set up a fun little tea party (similar to the ones Grandma I. threw for us while we were visiting last month) and this wonderfully fun treat time was followed by a wild display of dancing in the living room. Lots of laughs and squeals of delight.

Word endings with LJ


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Sunday, September 19. 2010

The other day, cousin L and A-girl were playing with Barbies. LJ wanted to play but the only boy Barbie seemed to be missing his clothes and LJ was quite upset that he couldn't play because his doll was naked. I assured him that it was OK. The girls were chatting together, deep in imaginative play. LJ stood to the side for a bit soaking it all in. It was as though he was trying to figure out how to bring his guy into the play. He finally spoke and said to his cousin "Can I drive your car after you drop her off?" She agreed and he put his guy next to her girl in the car. He then stated "Sorry I am kind of nakedish. I couldn't find my clothes." The play then continued with all sorts of banter and adventures between the three children and their dolls. I was still cracking up about the nakedish doll several hours later.

After soccer yesterday, we were walking home and he started adding "ish" to the endings of several other words than don't have or need it but he did create some very interesting words.

Opposite kind of days


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Sunday, September 19. 2010

For three of my children, today was filled with play. One of them played soccer and then spent the rest of the day picking apples and veggies at the farm of her cousin's grandpa. Another played 2 games of soccer and had a 4 hour continuation of his last game in the form of a play date with 3 of the boys off the team and a sibling. Another child did whatever he wanted to, although that pretty much is what he does all the tie anyway.

For the fourth, it was a math homework day........all day. She had not completed the math homework assignments and so as a natural consequence has a lot of homework to catch up on. I don't think either of us were really aware of the magnitude of the undone work. There are about 30 questions per lesson and 10 lessons in this unit. All homework has to be done in full to get full marks and turned in. We worked all day and are a little over half done. L is easily distracted, stares into space and needs lots of prompts to stay on task. This is not how I wanted to spend my day but I had to smile and I realized it was well worth it when she stated "I should have been doing this each day so there wasn't so much to do now." Learning certainly is taking place, even if it isn't exactly what I was hoping for. I would love to think that this won't happen again, but I know she is human, she will procrastinate and get distracted but i am hoping that she has learned a little about time management and leaving things til the last minute.

Things I have leanred this week


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Thursday, September 16. 2010

The best laid plans, always change. You will not be able to accomplish the things you hope to be able to because something (child's needs or behaviour, phone calls, needs of others) will interrupt you and you will need to make other plans.

According to A-girl, you can't kiss anyone on the lips because that is how you get married. She informed me that one of her friends told her that so she will no longer be giving me goodnight kisses except on the cheek.

Children move a lot slower than they usually do when you are in a rush, hurry or have a place to be at a certain time.

When you are looking so forward to sleeping alone in your own bed, it will thunderstorm and you will wake up unable to get back to sleep or two of your children will decide they need to sleep with you leaving you a narrow strip of the bed to sleep on and snoring.

When you perceive yourself in one way, others may perceive you in another which is good for growth and development but reality checks can be ugly.

Witnessing road rage between the two vehicles directly in front of us on a freeway entrance ramp when I have a car full of kids makes me extremely anxious. On the street approaching the on ramp, a vehicle was clearly impatient and weaving through traffic trying to get ahead. They cut in front of me between my van and another van with very little room. I backed off and they proceeded to ride the bumper of the van in front very impatiently. As we got onto the ramp, the frustration increased. The SUV riding the bumper of the van, the SUV driver honking obviously wanting the van to speed up (although he was going the speed limit and driving appropriate for traffic). As the honking continued, things got nasty. The van driver stuck his arm out the window and flipped the SUV driver the bird. The SUV driver pushed even closer to the van despite me not believing that was physically possible. As the two made their way down the ramp annoying each other, the van driver all of a sudden slammed on his breaks as we all were at the freeway entrance. Luckily for me, I had already decided to move quickly across lanes and get away from these two. The two vehicles avoided hitting each other and then moved into traffic. The SUV got in front of the van as they had wished but neither one of them sped away like they were needing medical attention or anything else that would have necessitated the behaviour displayed earlier on the street before the on ramp and then on ramp. I am still not understanding this at all.

When play is happening around my kids, they will play rather than do any school, be distracted by the play and be very frustrated.

Transitions are hard for my kids and I. We were almost starting to adjust to the new school year and then we added in dance classes and my working at the Y and things are in chaos again.

* Despite the rough spots, and perhaps because of them, our lives are very blessed and full of riches.

A quiet moment


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Wednesday, September 15. 2010

I am enjoying a quiet moment alone. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I was completely alone in my home. I dare say months. With our choice to school at home and the number of kids in our family, it is a rare moment that I have any alone time anyway except when they are sleeping and even that is limited as one stays up as late as I do and one gets up earlier than I would choose to. Since S started his master's program, that time is even less. That coupled with our new school schedule demands, other activities starting this week and me starting to teach swimming lessons again at the Y for three hours twice a week, things have gotten out of balance even further. By the middle of last week, I was starting to think we were getting the hang of things. Then I needed to go on a camping weekend with L's girls scout troop so some things got pushed from Friday's lessons. Then add in back to work Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon and we are now further behind. This morning they had a home school nature center class that occurs every other month with friends so yet again, we are falling behind the stated goals for the week. We were using some late afternoon and evening times to complete work but with dance starting this week, that time has been diminished. I am feeling frazzled and this few moments of pure alone time is such a gift. Thanks A for taking 2 of my kids while the others were out to allow me this gift.

I think though that things are starting to fall into place a bit more with school for kids. The first two weeks were really hard for AJ. He was very frustrated, emotional and really didn't like it at all. I have telephone meetings with the teachers who oversee the online lessons every couple of weeks and spoke with AJ's teacher at the end of the week. She suggested that we modify his program. Initially I was disappointed at the thought of doing this but I knew she was right that we had to reduce his frustration and get him to start enjoying it. The modification involves his handwriting. He struggles with getting his thoughts on to paper. If you ask him to dictate stories, answers or other writing assignments, he has great sentence structure, complete thoughts and ideas, great content but the minute you hand him a pencil and ask him to write, things fall apart. His thoughts become incomplete, the focus goes on making the letters and forming words and sentences and things get very, very frustrating for him. He mixes upper and lower case letters within words, doesn't space between words, uses no punctuation, has multi sized letters within words and reverses letters and numbers (this also happens in math) and he gets frustrated and angry. We have removed all writing except for writing class and he is dictating everything. Wow! What a difference. He still gets frustrated because he still has trouble at times getting his ideas out and he hates to get anything wrong (it was my fault today that he got one wrong on a math test because I didn't tell him he read the directions wrong in the multiple choice and he was to choose more than one answer.....I can't help him with the test at all and I also get frustrated with tests that don't really seem to get at the concept but don't even get me started on that one) so we still have frustration and tears but they are a lot less frequent than the previous two weeks. Unfortunately, these emotional outbursts are observed by the younger kids and LJ now feels that it is appropriate to stand in the middle of the room and scream at me for whatever he may need which seems to be a lot lately. We are working to eliminate that behaviour quickly.

L started off really interested and that interest is waning. She feels a lot of her work is repetitive and "busy work" which I can understand and hear that from a lot of other kids and their parents. She is figuring out the system and how to work within it which isn't necessarily the education I would like her to get but it is all part of the process. She is enjoying the live lesson format and is meeting some friends from her classes via email. She was discouraged and frustrated last night and shared that she didn't like this school but it really had more to do with her having what is referred to as "overdue lessons" where they schedule them for one day and you take more than that one day to complete them. She doesn't like anything in that column and there are days that we are not able to complete everything and other days we work ahead so it all evens out but it stresses her to see those overdue lessons and they cause her anxiety as she feels behind. She is frustrated because all my day hours go to the little kids and she has been spending her evenings with me but this week that hasn't worked because S is away and other evening activities have started up so my attention cannot be given fully to her which frustrates her. Again, all of this is just adjustment and we are working through it.

A-girl continues to sail through things. She is definitely not as strong a reader as the other kids were at her age and is behind in all the other areas as well when compared to them but she is right where she needs to be overall. She seems to be struggling a bit more than the other two with reading and having trouble with letter reversals, making up words, guessing at words and getting frustrated when reading (things they all did but to a lesser degree). The great thing is that she seems to have a lot of fun and enjoys the process. She enjoys math the most and never seems to tire of her math lessons.

Now if I could just add a couple more hours to the day for prep and organization of materials each day, household and yard tasks and squeak out a bit of time for me, life would be grand.

Finding a new normal


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Wednesday, September 8. 2010

Dare I say that our second week of school in the new online program is going better than the first? I truly hope that I didn't just jinx myself. Things are far from where I hope they will get and are not running as smoothly as I had hoped for but I am seeing small improvements.

AJ had a great day yesterday and most of today went well. He as able to complete all of his lessons and has been on track for two days with no emotional breakdowns yesterday. This afternoon, he fell apart. He cried, stated he hated his new school (which we heard a lot at the end of last week), told us it was too hard and was very upset. Most things come easily to him until he is asked to write something. When he needs to write something,it is like the connections in his brain misfire and things start to fall apart and quickly escalate to him collapsing in an emotional mess. I have noticed a dramatic decline in the neatness of his writing, increase in the number of letter reversals and he is again mixing upper and lower case letters within words and his resistance to writing has significantly increased. In talking with his teacher, we have modified his plan at the moment to take some of the pressure of writing off and have him enjoy learning. Yesterday was one of those days that had little writing and we had no issues. We will slowly increase the demand for him to write more but at the moment, he will be writing during language arts but even within that he can dictate his larger writing assignments. The difference between his dictations and his independent work is mind boggling to me. One is creative and uses full sentences expressing many ideas. The other is fragmented sentences, written in jumbled words and letters that are very hard to decipher. Now if I could just convince him that it is OK to get more than one wrong in the spelling pretest we could avoid another meltdown. If he obtains a 95% in the pretest, he can skip the spelling workbook activities. On each of the tests so far, he has only gotten 2 wrong but giving him less than the desired percentage and he has had to do the workbook pages. He is so frustrated by this.

A-girl continues to quickly finish her lessons but has started to resist, telling me she doesn't like it and that it is boring. Now whether she has heard this from her siblings or whether is it genuinely true for her I am not sure. I have given her extra lessons and she continues to not seem challenged.

L had her eyes tested today and she continues to be borderline. The optometrist is not wanting to prescribe glasses at this point but is hoping modifications to screen angle and distance from her eyes to the screen can help her out and avoid wearing glasses. She continues to be independent in her studies for the most part, however is not doing all the lesson assignments. I cannot decide whether she is avoiding it because it is too hard, trying to gloss over it because it seems easy, unimportant, boring or all of the above but she continues to leave questions in the lesson left undone despite me sitting with her and listing all of the questions needing to be completed before I can change her lessons from pending approval to approved. She resists and the lessons continue to be in pending. I don't understand why this concept is so hard for her. Even in new lessons she still leaves things out despite me telling her how important it is to complete everything before saying the lesson is done and having it wait for me to approve it. This is frustrating for me but it is all part of the learning process.

I do see glimpses of things starting to settle into a routine and finding our new normal. We were able to go to an appointment and run a couple of errands for two hours in the middle of the day and AJ an A-girl still were able to complete their lessons as we started earlier. L is taking notes and her test taking skills have improved. She is taking more initiative in planning out her day and has a plan for tomorrow to get back on track and finish pending lessons. The emotional responses are becoming less frequent and intense. I still spend long days in tasks and activities related to school but the laundry is clean (not put away), we had meals planned out today (rather than the eat what we can in the few minutes I was not tied to lessons) and we were able to attend evening activities for all three older kids this evening without needing all the late afternoon and evening hours to finish assignments. We are slowly moving to our new normal. There will be setbacks and moments that have me questioning what we are doing but we are moving in the right direction and I'll celebrate that.

Good-bye Summer, Hello Fall


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Monday, September 6. 2010

The weather is turning cooler, the days are getting shorter and although the calendar doesn't officially say fall has arrived it is fast approaching. For me, the closing of the Labor Day weekend is more about the beginning of Fall than the actual date Fall begins on the calendar. It marks the end of summer and the return to school and fall activities. Typically we started our home school the day after Labor Day and even though we had to start our new school adventure a week earlier this year, for some odd reason the end of Labor Day makes it feel more official. The Sate Fair is over, the outdoor pools and water parks in the area have closed and it is time to move forward with fall activities.

Last year we celebrated the end of the summer with a trip to Valley Fair. The kids wanted to do the same thing this year. It looked like we were going to have to change plans when the weather was to be a lot colder and wetter than we had hoped it would be. The temperatures were so cold that the water park was not the drawing card it was last year. We opted to carry the suits and towels in the wagon but didn't them on. We wore fleeces and sweat shirts instead. Despite getting wet a few times with light rain during the day and then a heavy downpour and thunder/lightening that closed many of the rides down a bit early, we still managed to have a great time.

Our family day was a great way to celebrate the end of the summer and kick off a new school year. We had a great time. This past week has been a great summer end celebration with a day at the State Fair, an afternoon at a water park, today's Valley Fair adventure and the start of school.

As the kids are all sleeping deeply after their day's adventures and the washer and dryer are working away to clean and dry the rain drenched clothing, I am pulling together the materials for another day of learning. We may not be starting the week in the best of spots (everyone caught up and on track, materials all organized and laid out, house clean and tidy, laundry done, meals planned and groceries bought) but we are content and at peace ready to take on another day.

A tough transition


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Friday, September 3. 2010

The first week of our new school journey has not passed easily. The first day went well but the following days have been quite a mix. From eagerness and excitement to tears of frustration, begrudgingly doing tasks and declarations of hating this new endeavor. From working hard, to skipping through all related readings, assignments and questions just to get it done. From perfect scores on quizzes to only 1/5. It has been quite the roller coaster ride for all of us. As a parent, it is very hard to sit back and watch a child earn a poor grade on a quiz because they just wanted to get it done and had no concept that this grade will significantly affect their overall grade for months to come. It is also heart breaking to watch a child struggle to stay focused, to spend all your energy re-directing, motivating, patiently waiting and taking almost all day to complete one lesson and at the end of the day when you had hoped to be caught up heading into the weekend you are still 4 lessons behind.

At the end of the week though, learning has taken place. It may not have been the type or kind that I was hoping for but we are learning. Learning that you need to complete all reading and homework assignments to learn the material to get a grade reflecting your abilities rather than just getting it done. Learning that if you sit and doddle for hours, finding every excuse under the sun to not do your work (hungry, thirsty, too noisy, too quiet, too hot, too cold, too much extra energy, too little energy) it and more will be there the next day. Learning that all change takes time to become part of a routine and run smoothly.

S was able to get an old computer that has not been used since 2007, up and running this afternoon and I think it will help balance computer use and hopefully speed things up as two of the kids were using the same computer which has its own scheduling issues.

We are not where we wanted to be at the end of the week but we are further ahead in accomplishing all assignments than we were on Monday. One child has worked on all lessons for the week but has not completed them. When I go to review them with her, she has missed certain questions, left out pieces of the homework and has several tasks to accomplish before her work is complete. Another has complete lessons untouched. If he could just stay focused for a short time, we could whip through these. Unfortunately a lot of his lessons have high levels of required writing and he is a very reluctant writer. It does not help that a subject that he typically is able to move through quickly has taken a lot of time this week. He tends to be able to well in math but when the focus of the week has been in writing numbers in the hundreds, thousands and millions in expanded and word form, lets just say the frustration level is high. The third one is the only one completed all lessons for the week. The only issue is that given the amount of time it is taking her her to complete the lessons, she should be doing a lot more of them per week but we were unable to accomplish that due to the time absorbed in the needs of the older two. The house has remained in a status quo when the reality is that we really need to get caught up with de-cluttering, household projects and tasks that have fallen behind after years of homeschooling and months of S being in school full time and working full time. Meals are made but not with the same time, planing and preparing that is really required to provide nourishment in the most efficient and effective manner. Clothes are clean but the top of the dryer has become the dresser drawer. All these things seem small and insignificant but all add up. We are exhausted (physically, mentally and emotionally) and struggle to find a balance between daily demands and the need to rebuild ourselves to handle the challenges of the day.

We have been told that this is an adjustment process and that it can take 2-4 weeks to get things flowing well. After the high emotions of last evening, I am not sure that we can survive a month of this. Luckily each dawn brings a new beginning and we are able to start again and work towards the type of experience we want for our family. The frustration over a very poor grade of yesterday turned into very good note taking strategies today. The skipping of reading and homework questions didn't completely resolve but progress was made. The realization that one was having difficulty reading the print of her online texts and struggling to see the difference between addition and division symbols in math problems online has resulted in a conversation with the optometrist, use of reading glasses and an appointment next week. We are learning to rejoice in and encourage the little accomplishments. We are learning what motivates our children and what keeps learning from happening as effectively as it could. We are experimenting with modifications to increase attention, keep our procrastinators on task and to see the signs that reflect that our student is done despite the long list of lessons still left to accomplish. Learning took place. Work was being done. Fun was being had despite and amidst the frustration and disappointment. We are learning and growing together and ultimately that is what is truly important.

The first official week of school for 2010-11


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Wednesday, September 1. 2010

I would love to say that our first week of school this year has gone remarkably well and that the changes we have made this year have resulted in a much more stress free day. Unfortunately, that is not our reality.

Monday, school flowed well. The three older kids were eager, enthusiastic and perhaps if I dare say, excited. They stayed focused, worked hard and completed their assigned tasks. It was a dedicated school day. Tuesday, we visited the State Fair and had an incredible family day. Because of the flexibility in the program, we were able to stay on track by completing work in the evening and also moving some to later in the week.

Today though was harder. Perhaps it was because I was trying to add in tasks that needed to be done for an event this evening that were much more time consuming (3.5 hours) than I imagined all while still trying to teach/facilitate and do the other necessary household tasks. Or maybe it was the fact the kids were tired or that they are adjusting to the changes the new way of doing school brings. Maybe it was trying to talk with all 3 kids homeroom teachers in addition to all the other things needing attention or trying to figure out some of the tech issues that cause me great stress.

I am one of those people that expects technology to work without any delay and become incredibly stressed and annoyed if it doesn't. Being part of an online school brings all sorts of tech issues into play such as trying to coordinate three schedules, needing to read, watch , listen and respond to things online with 2 working computers and one of them not being fully supported (many online videos have no audio when played on our laptop but work fine on the desk top computer from the school for L's use) and being available for each child to help keep them focused, on track and motivated.

We are still learning the names of the various texts, workbooks, and other books that accompany many subject areas and making sure that we are working in the right one. We are still figuring out how to accurately record data, mark off completed lessons, access resources and accurately complete online lessons for all three kids.

One of the hardest aspects has been the time piece. Each child is required to have 5.5 (for the younger kids) or 6 (for L) hours of school related activities each day. L has been very motivated and very independent but I am feeling like I am working all day and literally am. Since we are new to the program, the younger ones require a lot of my time and attention to stay on track. There are often times throughout the day when all 3 kids are needing assistance with school and LJ and cousin L also are needing me. We have not found it to make things easier, more efficient or less stressful but hopefully as we become more familiar with the process, things will improve.

L is really doing well. We are seeing her committed to getting her assignments done in a way we have not seen before. At the State Fair, we went to the online school's booth and L's homeroom teacher was there so it was great for her to meet her teacher and have that connection. She is amazing us with her ability to stay focused and on task for 4 to 5 hours in a row, to work hard til she has completed assignments and this evening she amazed us by working ahead on one of tomorrow's assignments.

Despite it being much to early in the process to see some of the changes we had hoped to, we are seeing ones we didn't anticipate so that is a welcome gift.



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