Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOS Review: The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers

Jo wants to be a veterinarian. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know this to be the case. Ask the child to pick a book--at random--to read, and it will most likely be about animals in some way, shape, or form. Give her free reign of the day's plans, and you just might end up in a barn somewhere. Allow her to write freely on a topic of her choosing and yes, it will probably be related in some way to a four-legged friend.

This is an almost-life-long obsession. It started when she was 3, and has run rampant since then. From "I want to be an animal doctor," we have progressed to this: "I want to study large animal medicine so that I can be a field missionary that uses animals as their primary tool to opening the doors to unreached people groups."

So yeah, she's got what you might call "goals." :-)

Being faced with a child like this--a child with drive, vision and determination--sometimes leaves me at a loss as a homeschooler. Educating Jo can--at times--feel like loading cars on to a train that's already speeding to its destination. The problem? I'm supposed to be the conductor!

What I've wanted, more than anything, as we began to take our first tentative steps onto the high school loading platform, was a guide. A real guide. Something to hold my hand in a general way, yes ... but something that held specific information, too. Unfortunately there is not, to my knowledge, a book out there called "How to Homeschool Your Child to a Fruitful Calling as a Missionary Veterinarian."

Trust me--if the book existed, I would own it.

Instead, I own what I think just might be the next best thing: The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers, by Jill Dixon at Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. (Ebook $26.20, hard copy $39.95)

This book replaces the role of a high school guidance counselor; instead of sitting in a wood-paneled closet of an office across from a school employee who has has no relationship with your child beyond the set of test scores he or she has in front of him, you--the parent educator--administer a series of common sense, revealing personality and interest tests and seek to discover (together!) how to match gifting with calling.

The tests are typical of what you'd expect to find in a career-planning guide, but with a twist: this author believes wholeheartedly in God's plan for a person's life, and the overarching theme of calling and equipping is present on every page. Even a child like Jo, who seems to be set in a particular direction, can uncover some truths about herself using the diagnostic quizzes. For example, Jo scored extremely low on the auditory learning assessment. This allowed us to discuss specific strategies for learning situations where there's no printed material available-- a skill that is vital learn when you're eyeing a college career.

After the tests are taken and scored, the book moves on to what I think is its most vital function: listing potential careers that match up with specific areas of giftedness, and then outlining a course of study that will best prepare a child to enter that field. Suggested classes start as early as middle school, depending on the degree of specialty.

And this is truly where the book shines in its service to homeschool parents. How often have you looked at your son, whose leanings are clearly in the mechanical engineering end of things, and wondered exactly what level of math he might need to be best prepared for college? How often have you watched your daughter throw herself into party planning and thought that there just might be a future home-based business there, if only you knew what direction to point her in?

The author of this book clearly believes that a degree isn't for everyone. Careers listed range from highly technical fields requiring doctorates to simple services that, while often overlooked, are worthy employment capable of feeding a family just fine. She also encourages balance for both sexes in the selection of a career, urging women to consider how a job might impact their future family while asking a young man to weigh family obligations against the lure of a high-paying job that requires weekly travel. This kind of eye to the future is often missing from career guides, and helps even the parents of homeschooled kids check our own ambitions at the door. Sure, your little genius may just be able to pull off an 80 hour-pre-week corporate lawyer gig in D.C. But, just curiously ... who's going to raise your grandkids?

I love the practical, reassuring information contained in this book. Flipping through its pages reminds me that although the high school years must necessarily be a time of narrowing of vision, they should also be a time of self-discovery and growth. Using the tips and plan laid out here, I think Jo and I will enjoy her high school years. Sure, we'll be spending a lot of time cutting open formaldehyde-laced pigs and eyeballs ... but it will be a good season. We know where we're going, we know how to get there. And any book that can help me to relax and enjoy that ride is welcome in my home.

Monday, September 28, 2009

TOS Review: A Journey Through Learning

You kind of like lapbooking, am I right?

You like the idea of it.

And the end product? How cute is that?

It looks like something that your kids would enjoy, if only you could figure out exactly how put it all together. All those little pieces. And those mini-books. And what on earth is up with those little bradded wheel-dohickeys?

I kind of like lapbooking, too.

But my kids ... well, they love lapbooking. They love it so much that they will actually beg me to come up with some lapbook project that they can throw themselves into. Then, when the folder is finished, they will wait impatiently for Dad to get home from work so that they can vie nosily for his attention as they rattle off the parts of a bee, or pester him to lift flaps to reveal miniatures of various Van Gogh masterpieces, or take their mim flash-card quiz.

Yes, my kids love lapbooks.

But I have to admit, they're a lot of work. I've managed to churn out a couple of completely independent ones over the years. More often than not, I've taken the prepared bits of someone else's ideas and morphed them into a lapbook I know my own family will enjoy. Very, very rarely have I taken a pre-written lapbook project and followed it to the letter. Why? Well ... the truth is ...

Most of them just aren't that good.

Maybe I'm too picky. Or maybe my kids are just a little too ... unique? Maybe it's because so many lapbooks are really designed with early elementary kids in mind. I'm not sure. All I know is that very few lapbook ideas excite me.

A Journey Through Learning
, though, is a little different. First and foremost, their lapbooks are in color. I don't know about you, but I hesitate to pay for grey-scale, line-drawing type lapbooks. I can pull generic lapbook elements off the internet and put together my own ideas if that's all the publisher is selling. A Journey Through Learning's lapbooks, though, are professional and thorough, with directions on assembly, cues for placing specific elements, and detailed text to give meaning to the handiwork your lapbookers are engaging in.

In addition, these lapbooks follow rabbit trails that give a certain depth to their topics. For example, a lapbook on autumn doesn't just stick to leaves and pumpkins. Oh, those important symbols are included (and examined quite thoroughly!). But one side street leads to Thanksgiving. Another meanders to bird nests. Still another follows paths of migration. And yet another leads to autumn recipes.

See? Depth.

A Journey Through Learning lapbooks don't stop at creating a cute keepsake alone. Notebooking and narration are encouraged, and a book log is included for noting other resources that complement the study. A few hands-on activities are sited, as well, extending the learning even further. Topics are varied; I received five lapbooks that touched on eco-systems, seasons, animals and Biblical truths. Each one was a quality unit study in and of itself, with the lapbook as the centerpiece project for a full slate of learning.

A Journey Through Learning lapbooks are available for instant download for $13 each. They are reusable, customizable and chock full of ineteresting nuggets that are bound to take your kids down rabbit trails of their own.

But you do still have to clean up the snippets of paper left over from all that cutting and pasting. Sorry.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Here in Topeka ....

Mamaw called during one of those moments today.

You know those moments--the ones where the toddler has decided that he simply
cannot live without a fresh sippy of water, the baby has realized there are bananas on the counter and by golly, he's howling mad-hungry! and the older kids seem to have forgotten Family Rule Number 431, which clearly states that no lightsaber duels shall take place on the grounds between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

In other words, it was utter chaos.

Utter, absolute, no-way-around it

I answered the phone the second that I saw who was calling, and she was greeted to a cacophony of noise the likes of which are rarely heard outside of rock concerts.

I greeted her, then took twenty seconds or so to set everything to rights. Oli got his cup. Manolin was served a banana. And the older three were sent off, properly scolded, to redeem themselves with a handful of extra chores designed to keep their hands busy and their mouths shut. Then--silence. Blessed silence.

"You busy, Baby? You got time to talk to me?" she asked. "Because I just heard some awful things people were sayin' about Kirk Cameron and Hitler."

What, pray tell, makes you think I'm too busy for that?

It had been a true "you've got your hands full" moment. They don't happen all that often. It's pretty rare, actually. Maybe it's because I don't have five kids neatly spaced at the every-twenty-months rate. Maybe it's because I just have a really low threshold for noise in general, so it's simply not allowed. Maybe it's because Jo is more help than hindrance at this point. Whatever the reason, it's an odd day that finds me screaming, in Grinch fashion,
"One thing I can't take! All the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!"

My Mamaw, though, noted the moment. She truly can't conceive of a house with a half dozen or so kids in it because, well ... she only had three. So the way she figures it, my life must be hers 50 years ago,

As I tried to calm her concerns ("Honey, you need to take good care of yourself. Put some movies on for those babies. Ain't nobody hurt by them watchin' cartoons for an hour."), something most unexpected happened:
my children were systematically abducted by aliens, who sucked out their brains and implanted naughty, unacceptable behaviors into their minds.

It started with Atticus, who is honestly most prone to oblivion and therefore most likely to miss the fact that
mommy is on the phone.

"Momma! Mom! Look! I found it!"

"Atticus! I am on the phone. Go to your room for interrupting."

Kid one sulked away.

Two seconds later:

"Mom! You said to use the lemon oil, and all I can find is--"

This would be Logan, who got the same treatment.

Three minutes into a pleasant conversation:

"Mom! You moved my book! Where's my booooook?"

Jo was yelling from the top of the stairs. I asked my grandmother to kindly hold for a second while I shot nasty glares at my daughter and used the hand signal that means
"I am so mad that you did that, I can't even put it into words. Sit on your bed until I can talk to you."

Naturally, the two little ones were putting on a show. Oliver was tackling Manolin, who retaliated with his brand new trick of biting his big brother on the arm. He was quite proud of himself, right up until the moment when I swooped him up and deposited him in his crib for a cool-down. Oli was howling, writhing on the floor, and generally letting us know--with some indignance--that this behavior simply could not stand. I tried to silence him with a hug, a cuddle, even a pumpkin muffin.

No go.

Then, the pièce de résistance: the other line beeped.

Mamaw burst into laughter.

"You're probably cookin', too, right?" she asked.

I eyed the stove, guiltily, where I had been starting the prep for our lunch of mini-pizzas on English muffins just before the phone rang. I sighed heavily.

Mamaw started humming a song I vaguely remembered as she laughed.

"Here in Topeka, the screen door's a' bangin'," she giggled.


"An old, old Loretta Lynn song. You look that up on your computer when you get to sit a spell. I think you'll like it."

We got off the phone. Life settled. Lunch was made and eaten. I headed to my computer for my afternoon work session while the children rested. I googled. And I found this:

Which clearly, clearly was written by someone who understands what it's like to be a mom.

It gave me a laugh today--almost as big of a laugh as I got from hearing my Mamaw grow faintly wistful at the thought of babies clinging to her skirts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I (heart) this giveaway!

Check out Karla's blog, Roads to Learning, for the cutest little September freebie ever. I'm not going to tell you what it is; you'll just have to peek for yourselves! Plus ... a chance to win a Sonlight book tote. But you have to hurry--the giveaway ends September 30!

TOS Review: Growing Healthy Homes

Nutrition is one of those areas where families--homeschooling or not-- make a huge impact on a child's habits for life. If you serve healthy foods, your child will eat healthy foods. If you save junk food for an occasional splurge, your children will learn to do that as well. If you yourself make healthy choices, your children will see and emulate.

But the next step, of course, is actually teaching your children the how and why behind the choices that you make--for yourself and for them.

I admit that this is an area where I've fallen short. Like my mother before me, I exercise fairly strict control over the diet of the household. I make the grocery lists. I control the menu. I prepare things the way I want them prepared. You will rarely see an avocado being served at our table because I don't like avocados. Likewise, you won't see soggy boiled vegetables, bags of potato chips, okra, or snacks that come without some nutritional impact (usually protein-based). That's just the way it is ... because I am the mommy. Fear me!

I realized this summer that while I've taken the time to teach Jo how to cook, I haven't gone very far in the area of passing on the deeper knowledge required to run a healthy, happy home. She knows that some families munch on pre-packaged cereal bars, cookies and go-gurts all the live long day and that we, as a general rule, don't. She knows that the aisles in our local grocery store are full of convenience foods that we never touch. But I've never really sat her--or the boys--down and told them why. And that why makes all the difference, doesn't it?

To that end, I am head over heels in love with Growing Healthy Homes' curriculum entitled Nutrition 101: Choose Life! Part anatomy lesson, part cookbook, part guidebook to healthier living, this massive (447 pages, including index!) course is an amazing resource that I have returned to time and again for everything for general information on the body, to the specific role of nutrients, to yummy recipes that my kids love to help prepare.

We are using Nutrition 101-- believe it or not-- as the backbone to an intensive study of the human body. Starting with the brain and ending with the endocrine system, this curricula provides students with a basic introduction to the systems and functions of God's design for us. The text is written as a readable, instructive outline and is followed by a series of questions aimed at both younger and older learners. This is narrative instruction at its best-- the questions aren't simple "Name that part!" quizzes. Rather, they are thought-provoking extension questions that will lead you and your children to google bike helmet safety, the invention of injectable insulin and other deeper topics that you otherwise would have never examined in depth.

Each of the six unit lists additional resources (books and websites) as well as activities, like checking facial peel products to see if they contain papaya enzymes. And this is where the hands-on stuff converges with the practical: not only do the units tell you about nutrition, they actually show you nutrition in action. In other words, activities you can eat. Yes!

Kid-friendly and still pleasing to the adult palate, the recipes here feature foods that focus on the body systems you're studying. Included along the way is a crash-course on cooking methods that will serve your kids their whole lives. I'm not kidding! Have you taken the time to teach your children how to blanch vegetables? I hadn't! But now, not only can Jo, Atticus, and Logan tell you what it means, they can also describe the texture and flavor of green beans that have been prepared via blanching.

This is good stuff. Life stuff. Skills that will serve children well into adulthood.

Nutrition 101 is a multi-age program, meaning that your entire family can benefit from it. I bet you'll learn something, too. It's pricey ($79.95 for a cd-rom or $99.95 for a hard copy) but I guarantee you will get at least a full year of actual instruction time out of it, if not more. That, of course, doesn't begin to allow for the many, many years of reference you'll find it serving when you start to wonder what the difference is between Vitamin D and Vitamin D3.

Some things are worth their weight. What they can teach your family is, simply, too precious to count in dollars. To me, raising children who eye canned soup with disdain and know how to fuel their bodies well and effectively is priceless. If it is to you as well, check out Nutrition 101.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TOS Review: Studypod

The kind people sent at Studypod sent me a bookholder. It was their intention that I hand it over to my children, let them utilize it, and then pass on to you the results of the trial.

But, folks, I must admit: I have not done my job.

See--I received the Studypod. I opened it up, fiddled with the hinges, and generally figured it out. (Took all of two minutes, by the way.)

Then I put it on my kitchen counter, plopped my Bible into it and well ...

It's kind of stayed there.

Yes, it's still on my counter. It has held my smaller, paperback cookbooks. It has stood up to my multi-tasking Bible reading as I wash dishes. It has even saved my school day on more than one occasion as I've slathered almond butter on sheaves of bread while reading aloud from whatever book we're enjoying for school. I think it may have gotten as far as the coffee table, where I used it once or twice to hold a book steady so I could read aloud while folding clothes.

So, sadly, I can not tell you what my children think of the Studypod book holder. They have not had the luxury of seeing how it fit onto their bookshelves (it's designed to stow away nicely). They haven't been able to stash pencils and whatnots in the handy front pockets. They haven't tested the ergonomic properties of the item. They haven't even been able to see how easily the pages turn while a book is held in the metal tongs.

What I can tell you is that I love the Studypod book holder. I think any homeschool that has a mother doing the bulk of the teaching via literature needs one so that she can keep her hands free even when her voice isn't. And folks, it's just $19.95. A pittance to pay for the convenience of a book held firm while a diaper is changed, a sandwich is made, or a paper airplane is folded.

Get thee a Studypod!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I've been mothering avid readers for approximately 8 years now, and I think I'll never come to the end of my fascination with children and their obsessive, head-first dives into various genres of literature.

It's a beautiful thing to watch develop: child tentatively pulls a book from the crowded library shelves. Child examines cover, weighs the pros and cons of the artwork and font selections. Child slowly flips to the inside cover and digests the summary blurb. Child's eyes brighten. Child brings book to Mother for approval. Mother repeats said process. Mother nods and puts book into bin. Books are checked out. Child can't be satisfactorily seated in the truck without first digging through the bin and reclaiming the book. Child buried face in book before Mother turns key in engine.

And the love affair begins.

I have alongside my keyboard right now no fewer than six books that my children have requested I research. They've read these books, declared them masterpieces, and are clamoring for more. Something similar. Could this be a series, perhaps? Anything by the same author? A note from Jo, stickied to the cover of a book called "The Smartest Animals on the Planet," begs: "Anything like this, Momma. I LOVED this book!!!" The word love is underlined in purple glitter ink not once, but twice. Yeah, I think she liked it.

Jo's very first literary love was a series called Pony Pals, a sweet, girl-meets-pony set-up made all the better by the presence of a group of dear friends who, you know ... are pony pals. My cousin, Kindred Blessings, happened upon the books sometime around Jo's fourth birthday, and I tell you, I don't think the child read anything else for a year.

Right now, I'm watching Logan experiment with the same kind of passion. At the end of his bed is a small bin of "rest time" books and toys. Currently, it's brimming over with slim Magic Treehouse readers.
Today, it's a trip to visit polar bears. Yesterday, it was the Civil War. Who knows that tomorrow will bring? Unlike Jo, I am allowing Logan to wallow in this starter series without fear that it will "twaddle" away his appetite for the real meat of fine writing. Within three years of her obsessive relationship with the Pony Pals, Jo was reading Little Women--and not in abridged form, either. Sounds like she turned out just fine, Miss Mason.

Atticus' most enduring obsession thus far has been with his beloved Redwall series. He never tires of re-reading the massive tomes, of dragging them to the car for long trips, of toting them through doctor appointments. The battles, the heroes, the foes ... they are all among his close confidants. A life without Redwall would be, for Atticus, unacceptable. Yes, he reads other things. A novel a day, usually. Unless he is exceptionally busy, at which point he will beg to stay up later so that he can dig into his fantasy life for just a little while longer. His personal favorite genre is fantasy and science fiction--both of which I know next to nothing about. It's a stretching thing for me, too, this digging and dwelling.

For some reason, my children simply can not encounter a book that they love without longing to return to it. They will either read it through once, elicit a sigh of satisfaction and immediately turn back to the first page, or they will scour the library shelves in the hopes of finding a sequel, a prequel, or something along the same lines as the gem they just polished off. The biggest disappointment, they have told me on multiple occasions, is finding out that an author has simply told one story and stopped. Surely there's more! they will beg. Please, Momma, look!

And so I look. I spend a good bit of each and every afternoon tracking down titles that will feed the reading beast. I listen closely to my children's conversation, picking up hints of interests. And, of course, I examine the stack that grows by my computer and follow the leads where they go.

Topic: dragons--must fit our personal values. Check.
Topic: submarines--preferably fiction. Check.
Topic: country veterinarian--nonfiction. Check.
Topic: adventure story--must have boy as main character. Check.

Someone told me recently that at some point, books are no better than television in their ability to enslave the mind. On some level, this is most likely true. The biggest part of me, though, resists such dismissive statements regarding the value of a child whose main pastime is the joyful, eager, and passionate consumption of good books. My children spend ample time playing, imagining, interacting and exploring the world around them. But, like their parents, they are equally happy with a fantastic book, a cozy spot, and a cup of something warm. That, my friends, is a genre I understand. Understand, yes ... and even endorse.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dating Mr. Blandings

Mr. Blandings and I don't get out much, and it's killing me.

You got hung up on that first part, didn't you? It was "Mr. Blandings and I don't get out much," that you heard, right? Well, go ahead and scrape your jaw off the floor: I tell you, it's true! Sadly, an outing alone is something of an anomaly in the matrix at this point. There was a time when the thought of going out for dinner and a movie alone, without my precious little ones, was completely unappetizing to me. I didn't want to miss a moment. Couldn't surrender an ounce of control. It must have been new mommy haze because I'll be honest--at this point, I am totally, completely, 150% o.k. with someone else plunking my little angels into their beds and flipping off the lights.

I can miss a reading of "Goodnight Moon" and be o.k. Someone else really can help find the mouse.

My older kids can get to bed an hour and a half late and be o.k. Consistency isn't that important to me.

I'm over the "What? Me? Leave my angels in the hands of another? Surely you jest!"

Now I'm stuck, utterly, in a new reality. The "'s killing me" reality. We could also call this We Aren't Rich Enough To Go Out Because Paying a Babysitter To Watch Five Kids is More Expensive Than Dining at a Four-Star Eatery.

Pity us. We are a flirty young couple stuck living the lives of old married folks!

Our nearest family is far enough away that the plane ticket for a night out is well ... prohibitive. :-) Yes, Benny lives a mile away but frankly, combining our two broods for one evening is anything but relaxing for the husband called upon to give horseback rides, kick soccer balls, and endure WeeSing tunes belted out at full volume over a hastily thrown-together meal at a table overrun with wiggly bodies and gleeful clapping.

And heaven forbid said man actually had to work that day.

So, Mr. Blandings and I don't get out much. Instead, we set up date nights here at the house. I feed the kids early, we send them off to bed slightly before bedtime, and together, Mr. Blandings and I whip up our favorite Thai dishes. Then we settle in to play a game, watch a movie, or read.

It's sweet stuff. Romantic. But still, kind of routine.

I find that at this point in our marriage, I am hungering for more togetherness. If I could turn back time, I can't tell you how many extra in-law sponsored date nights I'd indulge in. If I had relatives near ... well, I might be taking advantage of them, that's all I'm saying. I'm not sure what this new stage in my heart is, but all of a sudden, my husband--who I've always cherished, loved, and considered my best friend--is suddenly always, ever on my mind.

We're been married 13 and a half years, and yet, seeing Mr. Blandings across a crowded soccer field still sends my heart tittering. Hearing his voice as he says his pet name for me is simply enough to make me feel like a giggling, frivolous schoolgirl.

I am, simply, in love.

Oh, yes, I adore my children. They are precious beyond precious, loved beyond loved.

But my husband? Now, there's the stuff that dreams are made of. :-)

So you know what? I really, really want to date my husband. I really, really want to look into his eyes across a table in a dimly-lit restaurant and talk about something other than diapers and school schedules. I want to hear his heart. I want to debate current events. I want to hear him tell me how much he loves me.

I want to be young and crazy and completely romantic.

Any ideas how to do that with five kids under the roof?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Speechless ... in a good way

Oliver's birthmom signed relinquishment papers today.

No termination trial.

No appeal.

Just papers.


Now the adoption that happened in our hearts 20 months ago can now take place in a courtroom as well.

Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I was going to write about my vacation. Really, I was. I was going to tell you how blissful it was to be completely and utterly secluded from the bulk of civilization. I was going to proclaim the virtues of vacant beaches unmarked by hideous tire marks (who drives on a beach?!?!). I was going to gleefully recount how joyful it was to be without a telephone, a television or internet service. I was going to paint a picture of my idea of a perfect beach trip: nary a chain restaurant, kitchsy shop or taffy pull in sight.

But then life intruded and here I am, thinking instead of Oliver and sighing one of the deepest, heaving sighs I have ever felt wrack my body.

Your children should move you to tears. It is their right. They are beautiful, and blessed, and adorable beyond words. They are amazing creations handed over to you for a time; neither an extension or yourself nor a completion thereof--a distinct entity of their own. But still, somehow, a connected piece of your senses that hits you in the soft places and moves you to emotions you can't quite muster otherwise. It is heart stuff, this. It is tear-inspiring.

Until this morning, I have never, ever cried
because of one of my children. I have cried for them, with them, and, oh yes, I have cried out to the Lord on their behalf. But never have I surveyed a moment and felt myself shaking with the kind of desperation and fear that I found myself awash with this morning. Never.

Last night, Oliver flooded his bedroom. How it happened isn't important. All you need to know is that he overpowered two obstacles and worked his toddler magic on three separate childproofing mechanisms to get to the toilet and manage this feat. Mr. Blandings and I awoke at 1:30 in the morning, put things to rights (no small task) and spent the few remaining dark hours with one ear towards the room where the mischief had been made.

This morning, after fitful, restless sleep, I found my way downstairs, the incident still on my mind.

How, Lord, can I parent this boy? Show me, Father, because I am flying blind here. He's never done this kind of thing before. And he's not even three yet! This is going to get worse, isn't it? Help me, Jesus. Help me be his Momma.

And with that, I opened the door to my garage and stepped out into my flooded schoolroom.

My schoolroom, people. My schoolroom.

There are few
things in the world that I have a sense of connectedness with. Strip me of my house, my car, my favorite black Old Navy t-shirt. Take my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Burn it all. I don't care. I could walk away from it all and feel nothing but a lifted weight.

But my schoolroom? My books?

The tears were real and they were painful. My feet tread the soggy carpet as I took stock: our entire Core 5--with some of the books that helped cement our call to Nepal--was completely awash. My used IG's, which had been destined for reuse: limp. Our beloved, much-used copy of Usborne Time Traveler ... so wet that the once-hardback cover had disintegrated to mush. This doesn't even mention all of my books, my treasures--the ones I was saving for special read-alouds with my kids--that are now molting in a box on the curb. My beaten, highlighted high school copy of
To Kill a Mockingbird will not be passed in the hands of my own high schoolers, it seems.

And amid all of this:
oh, Oliver ... what does the future hold?

Oliver has FAS. I have said this before. What I have not said, what I have not
had to say until now, is that the primary hallmark of FAS is a complete and utter inability to learn from one's actions or to control one's impulses. FAS, in a nutshell, is brain damage. And friends, you do not grow out of brain damage.

Oliver is loved, adored, and cherished in our home. He is a valued member of our family, inseparable from us. His place in our hearts is not at risk. But, nonetheless, our hearts break. Because we know that this is but the first taste of what we will experience as we watch Oliver grow and yet still remain, in many ways, the toddler that he is today.

I can't replace our books. The cost of buying them all again is simply too much. But, praise God, Oli is safe. This time, he did no damage to himself. This time, he came through unscathed. And that is far more valuable to me than any SL Core could ever hope to be.

But my heart knows there will be a next time. And I'm praying now--constantly--that God's hand hovers over him, and pulls him back from the falls and scrapes and dangerous places.

So today, I cried because of one of my children. But I also learned a whole new way to pray. I learned the kind of total supplication that one must enter into when the odds are impossibly stacked against you. I have, I think, come to the point of total, utter dependency on the One who chose the members of our family by birth and adoption. If the cost of all that is merely a few boxes full of book, ought I not be grateful?

TOS pre-review: College Prep Genius

Am I a glutton for punishment? Apparently, yes. After the hulabaloo stirred up here over the college issue (to go or not to go ... that is the question!) I am reviewing a product called College Prep Genius. This is a $115 investment that promises to prepared homeschoolers for the PSATs and SATs. My initial peek says that this is a do-it-yourself crash course something akin to the Saturday classes many public schoolers attend, slightly tweaked to give an edge to kids who haven't spent as much of their time taking standardized tests as some portions of the teen population.

Stay tuned for more controversy .... I mean, thoughts on this product. :-)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Cozy little cabin.
Foggy, wet northwest beach.
Five kids digging in the soggy sand.
Dog dragging driftwood.
Fog rolling in (or is it out?).
Camp chair for two.
Husband by my side.
Blanket on my lap.
Spiced cider in my hand.

Oh, life is going to be so good.

See you next week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

TOS Review: ALEKS Math (revisited)

I've reviewed ALEKS math once before, in January of this year. At the time, I wasn't horribly impressed. Yes, I mused, the program was thorough. Yes, it seemed like it would get the job done. But no, it wasn't my first choice for a math program.

And you know what? It still isn't. If it were up to me, I'd take a stack of games scattered all over the living room floor. I'd have my little brood carry their own calculators to the grocery store. I'd let my kids tinker with running a business of their own.

And I do all of those things. But for some families, for some children, for some seasons of life ... it's not enough.

Right now, I am doing the delicate work of balancing the education of five little people. I have a child who is gearing up for high school far faster than I'd anticipated, a "just give me the worksheet so I can get this over with" learner, a daydreaming 7 year-old who would rather spend his day mashing pastels into new colors, a 2.5 year-old who can't speak in two-word sentences with any consistency and a 15 month-old who clings to my skirt asking, "Whas' dat?" of everything and everyone.

I am busy. I am very, very busy.

And I need something like ALEKS math.

More appropriately, Atticus needs something like ALEKS math. It's no-nonsense approach fits his analytical personality. It tells him what to do, how to do it. He does it. Feedback is forthcoming. And then ...

He is done.

Box checked.

Next assignment, please, Mom.


I never envisioned myself as the kind of homeschooler who would happily hand over an element of her child's education to a computer program. But, alas, here's the truth: Atticus is good at math. He enjoys it, to a point. He has no patience for my fumbling, manipulatives-based instruction. ALEKS gets the job done, and at the end of the day, we are both satisfied.

ALEKS is not a graphics-driven program. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about it. It is math: straight-up. As such, the parental feedback is excellent and data-driven. Want to know how long it took your child to figure out that concept? How many additional skills he needs to tackle? How far he's come since taking the initial assessment? It's all there, in an easy-to-access, user-friendly format. ALEKS even provides a link to your state's standards for the child's grade level, so that you can compare progress. A free trial is available to see if it's a good fit for your family.

As I said in my last review, I prefer warm, fuzzy math experiences. ALEKS itself is neither warm, nor fuzzy. It is just math. But I guess if I serve it up with a kiss on the forehead as I walk by, I'm accomplishing both, right?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Idle hands and all of that

I've posted multiple times about homeschooling a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. I guess I'm something of an in-the-trenches pro at this point. Why? Atticus has sensory issues. Logan has sensory issues. Oliver has sensory issues. I suspect that Manolin has sensory issues.

So I've btdt.

Once you make the commitment to keep a steady, balanced sensory diet at work in your child's life, dealing with SPD is nowhere near as difficult as it may seem at first blush. The initial diagnosis, the tinkering with schedules, the working through the therapy plan, the worry ... all of that eventually gives way to something of a norm for your family. And from there, well--you're just one other mom advocating for her child with a little scrubby brush and a book of heavy work activities.

There is something of a trick to homeschooling the child with SPD, though. I won't lie to you. Balancing activities that keep sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding behaviors in check is a challenge when seatwork needs to get done. And let's be honest--
eventually, some seatwork will have to be done. Not when your child is 2 or maybe even 7, but eventually. Depending on the issues and the strengths your own child has, the homeschool plan may look radically different. For Atticus, a vigorous brushing, ten laps up and down the stairs in an army crawl and ten good minutes of pushing a laundry basket filled with the heaviest books we could find was enough to prepare him for a long reading session. Your mileage may vary, of course, but this was how I stayed sane in the early years.

Now that we're past those days, and Atticus can regulate himself more often than not, I've moved on to more subtle methods of sensory input. In this post, I'm going to share directions for one of the most successful tools in my little toolbox.

Very Cheap Fidget for Very Happy Hands

What you'll need:
medium-sized balloons (as many as you'd like to fill)
a small funnel
one or all of the following: flour, sugar, dry rice

one chopstick
one small measuring cup

Step one: Inflate a balloon. You'll want to fill it fairly full--the object here is to stretch it out quite well.

Step two: Deflate balloon, and slip opening completely around the end of the funnel.

Step three: Begin filling the funnel with your choice of rice, flour or sugar. A general guide: rice makes a lumpy, slightly scratchy fidget that's good for kids who seek sensation. Depending on how full you make the balloon, a sugar-filled one often has the most "give" and is the easiest for kids who struggle with finger strength. The opposite is true, though, of an over-stuffed sugar balloon--it's actually the hardest to work. And a flour balloon has a nice, stretchy, rubbery quality that just about all kids like.

Step four: Decide how full you want your balloon to be. (More full generally = harder to maneuver and more sensory feedback for kids.) Keep in mind the size of your child's hands, too. You want the end result to be about palm-sized. To keep adding filling, you may need to periodically tug at the sides of the balloon, or even take it off the funnel and re-inflate it for a moment before continuing. (I don't recommend doing that with flour!) Using the chopstick to wiggle the contents of the funnel down can help, too.

Step five: Tie off the end of the balloon after pressing out as much air as possible. The small, heavy little bag you have now is the fidget. I hand them to children doing seatwork, keep one in my backpack as a random toy for kids bored in the car and otherwise recommend them for keeping hands busy in general. Enjoy!