Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School!

Well....sort of. Today was our first day of school, but for the first two weeks, we're mostly just reviewing. This is partly because a particular oldest child of mine has scarcely picked up a pencil in three months and needs the review, but mostly, it's a budget issue. When the majority of your income depends on a school year only paycheck, it's hard to gather the appropriate materials needed before the school year starts. So, we still need some things like new colored pencils, glue sticks, etc. Also, this year we're actually going to be using a ready made curriculum for Little Professor for the first time, and it hasn't arrived yet.

Overall, I was quite impressed with our first morning of school. There was (almost) no whining or crying, and the older two actually wrote TWO pages worth of journal entries voluntarily, and (for Little Professor) IN CURSIVE! Princess even wrote most of her journal entry, instead of dictating like she did for her kindergarten journal. And Puppy felt so left out, I'm going to have to get one for him, too! Last year, journal time was the absolute worst part of every day, but I'm hopeful that this is a sign that it will be easier this year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Potty Training

This is a topic that I get asked about all the time. I have a LOT of potty training experience, between my own three little monsters, the preschool classes I used to teach, the daycares I worked at, plus providing ABA for kids with autism for over 10 years. There are very few kids I haven't been able to teach how to use the potty. So, while it may not be a glamorous thing to be an expert on, it certainly does come in handy!

First things first...the child in question has to be ready. There is no magic age, and it is different for all kids.

Signs to Look For
 ~ Your child remains dry for at least an hour when in diapers.
 ~ They let you know when they need to be changed, at least some of the time.
 ~ They can pull their own pants up and down (doesn't have to be perfect, but they should be able to manage mostly independently).
 ~ They can follow simple instructions (come here, sit down) and imitate other people.
 ~ They express an interest in what you are doing in the bathroom, or want to sit on the potty.

You really need ALL of these criteria first, in order to be successful in a reasonable amount of time. If you're not seeing something, like being able to pull their pants up, ask yourself, "have I ever let them TRY?" Sometimes it's not that they aren't capable of doing something....they just haven't been given the chance! Same thing for being interested in what Mommy and Daddy are doing in the you let them come in with you? Most moms do, but if you're potty training a boy especially, it's helpful to have dad take them once in a while, too. Or older siblings, cousins, etc.
The best way to start is with imitation. Put their little potty in the bathroom, and when you go to the bathroom, they sit on their potty across from you. Don't ditch the diapers yet; this is just to get them used to the routine. They should go through the whole process with you, from pulling their pants down to washing their hands after (and there are very few kids who don't LOVE to wash their hands!). Have anyone else in the house (who is willing/comfortable) do the same thing. The more opportunities to practice, the better! 

Next, pick a good time to start. You'll need at least a couple of days where you don't have much of anything else planned, and you can just stay home. Also, don't pick times when you have some other stressful events going on in your life, or your child's life. New siblings arriving, moving, starting a new daycare, mom going back to work, etc...all bad times to start potty training. Aim for an uneventful weekend.
Then, start getting your kiddo excited about it! Take them with you to the store and pick out new undies (you will need A LOT, at least 8 pairs, more if you don't want to do laundry every day). They should be loose fitting...not so loose that they fall down, but loose enough that they are easy to get on and off. Read potty stories, watch potty videos, it doesn't really matter which ones, there are zillions of them.

Finally, the big day is here! Dress your child in just a t-shirt and underwear. Then have them go potty, starting with pulling their own undies down. Let them sit for 1-2 minutes, or as long as they can stand it. I liked to keep a stack of books in the bathroom to keep them occupied while sitting. Make it fun! You don't want them to dread the next trip to the bathroom. And don't make it too long. A couple of minutes is plenty to start with. On the off chance they are successful on the first time sitting, make a big deal about it! Kids love the potty song and dance (it really doesn't matter what version you do; make something up and have fun with it!). Stickers are also a big hit usually. An M&M or something else small is fine for a reward, too. It's easy to stop giving them the rewards when going potty becomes a habit. Most likely, though, they're not going to do anything the first time. So, praise them for trying and sitting nicely, have them pull their pants back up, wash their hands, and set a timer for 15 minutes. (If they are successful, make it 30).

 Then, this is VERY IMPORTANT!
  In between trips to the potty, periodically ask them if their pants are still dry.

Remember, there are two goals with potty training:
First, of course, is to get them peeing and pooping on the toilet. That one is pretty obvious.
But secondly, and possibly more importantly, is for them to NOT pee or poop in their pants any more!

There are a lot of kids who will happily pee every time someone sticks them on the potty, but they will also happily pee wherever and whenever! That is hardly successful potty training! So, you ask, "Are your pants still dry?" Show them how to check (and double check, because sometimes they really aren't sure, and sometimes they lie). Then praise them, a LOT if they are! "Wow, you are such a big girl/boy! I'm so proud of you for staying dry, etc!"
The other reason this is important is that THIS is their motivation to STAY dry. You want them, eventually, to be telling you when they need to go. It takes some time for kids to start recognizing that signal sometimes, because odds are, they've never had to pay much attention to it before. It also keeps the potty idea in their mind, without having to spend the whole day sitting there.
After that, it's basically just repeat as necessary until they start to actually use the potty and stop having accidents. This can take anywhere from half a day to several weeks...just stick with it, be consistent, and try not to get discouraged. They will get it eventually.

So, what do you do when accidents happen?
First of all, be prepared, there WILL be accidents. If you can't handle cleaning up puddles, well, I suggest just waiting until they're old enough to say, "What the heck am I still doing in diaper?" (It does happen; that's the approach a relative of mine used with her oldest, and what do you know? He was potty trained in one day. Of course, he was 4 1/2.....)
So be prepared! Put down towels if you don't want your couch to be peed on. Buy a bottle of Nature's Miracle from the pet store for your carpet. And most importantly, RELAX! Do NOT freak out at your child! Accidents are just that: ACCIDENTAL! Remember that potty training is a learning process, and is all completely new to your baby!
When accidents happen, you say, "Uh oh! We don't pee in our pants! We need to go to the potty!" Then, have your child take off their wet pants and put them in whatever laundry basket you have designated for that job (or right in the washer, which is my preference!). Have them help clean up any messes. This is another built in motivator for not having accidents! No one wants to clean that up! At the same time, though, it's not a punishment. It's a natural consequence. You make a mess, you clean it up! As long as you are not yelling or freaking out, it's not punishment.
So, they clean up the mess, and then go back and sit on the potty again, while you remind them, "The potty is where you go pee (or poop, or whatever terms you want to use)!" Have them go get clean undies and put them on. Then it's back to repeating as necessary.

Gradually, your child will have more successes than misses, and you can slowly increase the time between potty trips.

So...what happens if you do all of that, and you're still not having any luck, and you and your child are getting fed up with this whole process? Back off! Sometimes even when kids meet all the signs and can follow through with the routine, they aren't actually ready. So you can STOP! Before it becomes a huge source of frustration and turns into a daily power struggle. And that's FINE! In fact, with my second, she was 100% completely day time potty trained at 21 months...for about 2 months. And then she started having tantrums over getting her potty seat dirty. Yes, really. She would also freak out about having wet panties. AND, she was so tiny, that even with the ring insert on the toilet, she was in danger of falling in (or, at least SHE thought she was in danger, so she wouldn't sit there). So even though she'd been in underwear for months, I put her back in diapers. She was mad the first couple of days, but still less upset than she had been about all the other issues. A few months later, when I was off work for Christmas break and she was bigger and 26 months old, we tackled it again with the ring seat, and TA-DA! Back to using the potty in less than two days, with no screaming or frustration from either of us! Never had a problem again! So, even though she met all of the physical and developmental milestones that showed she was "ready," and even though she had every capability of being successfully potty trained, emotionally, she just wasn't there yet. When she was *really* ready, it was remarkably easy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kristen and Luhk's Fund to Fight Cancer

My friend Kristen is one of the most amazing people I know. She is an inspiration to anyone who knows her! Kristen has already kicked cancer's ass TWICE, while also managing to single-handedly raise her 7 year old son, Luhk, who is adorable, funny, smart, and autistic. Unfortunately, Luhk has also been diagnosed with cancer. He has at least one tumor in his pelvic bone, and possibly more throughout his little body. He also has a brain malformation that is causing his brain to sit too low in his skull, sliding down toward his spinal column. So far, it's not slowing him down much! But they definitely have a fight ahead of them, and they can use all the help they can get! Every little bit helps. I know I have a lot of friends out there who are compassionate and generous...any little bit makes a difference!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bribery vs Rewards

We've been crazy-busy this summer, so I haven't had a lot of blogging time available, and since none of our summer activities are really homeschool related, I haven't had much to write about anyway.
So instead, I'm going to try to write a couple of "general parenting" posts about topics I seem to have frequent discussions about....this way, I won't have to keep repeating myself, and I can just refer people here ;)
Topic number one, bribery versus rewards. People use these terms interchangeably, but they are NOT the same at all.

Scenario #1
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She's prepared, though! She reaches into her purse and pulls out a lollipop for him! He gets up, stops screaming, and sticks the candy in his mouth.

Scenario #2
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She bends down, reminds him of the rules of the grocery store, and that children who follow all the rules can get a lollipop from the cashier at the check out, and then reminds him of the rules again. He whines and sniffles a little more, but gradually manages to pull himself together and they can continue shopping.

One of these is bribery, the other is a reward. Can you spot the differences?

Scenario #1 is bribery. The "prize" is given BEFORE the desired behavior occurs, as a way to coerce the child into good behavior. In the short term, yes, it seems like it works, and quickly! And there are situations in every mom's life where she has resorted to bribery, and sometimes it's necessary or even helpful. For example, I've been known to hand out lollipops or stickers or small toys to children who are about to have blood helps distract them from the blood draw, and sometimes that helps. But, we're not doing blood draws every week.
The major problem with bribery is that it's actually inadvertently rewarding a behavior you want to see LESS of, which invariably means that you will actually see MORE of it. What message is Mom #1 sending her child? Basically, if you scream in the store, I will give you candy. So, what does the little cherub learn to do? Well, if there are people around, Mom wants me to be quiet, so she will give me ANYTHING I WANT if I scream and embarrass her in public! Yay! Even if she took the time to explain the rules again, he's not listening...he HAS his candy!

Scenario #2 is a reward. Rewards work long term. It takes longer, but is ultimately more effective, because the child has to actually *do* something in order to get what they want. Therefore, gradually, eventually, they figure out that screaming leads to nothing, and good behavior leads to something they want.

The other benefit to rewards is that it's easier to *stop* giving rewards for good behavior than it is to stop bribing your child to be good. When your child has learned appropriate behavior in the grocery store, for example, you stop getting a treat at the end of every trip, and save them for exceptionally good behavior. You fade out the actual candy and move on to just praising them for how well they did and how proud of them you are. Eventually, they don't need any specific praise for that specific behavior, and it just becomes habit.
On the other hand, if your child starts expecting their lollipop the minute they walk into the store, how do you get rid of that? What happens when you forget it, or you're at the store to buy more lollipops because you used the last one on the last trip? Or it's the wrong COLOR? Well, then you either have to leave, or drag a screaming kid through the store with you. You're pretty much stuck, because they've learned to reward YOU for the behavior of giving them candy. They're rewarding you with their good behavior. And you've done so well for them, since rewards are more likely to become lasting behavior.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Screen-Free Day

Somehow over the past six months or so, my kids have become completely addicted to anything with a screen.
They've always watched tv and played video games on and off, but lately, it seems to be CONSTANT. And the worst part is, when it's time to turn the tv off, or give up a turn on the computer, or the battery on the iPhone finally dies, the whining starts.
"I'm BORED!"
"There's NOTHING to DO!"
"I don't have ANYTHING to play with!"
Suggestions to clean or possibly start boxing up some of their unused and apparently unwanted toys are always met with cries of, "No! I still want that! I just don't want to play with it NOW! When is my turn on the computer?" Once I successfully convinced Princess to read a book if she was so bored, but usually I just get eye rolling.
So last night I warned them. Today was going to be a screen-free day. No PlayStation 3. No Netflix. No Leapster Explorers. No iPhones. No computer, even for school-related activities. NO SCREENS.
Needless to say, they were not overjoyed at the concept. "But what will we DO all day?" they cried!
When I got up, of course, they had already snuck out to the living room and turned everything on, and they were SHOCKED when I went around turning things off and collecting the small screens. SHOCKED,  I tell you! "You mean you really MEANT that????"
Distracting them through breakfast and schoolwork time was not too difficult, and I only heard small inquiries like, "But....if we do all our schoolwork, THEN we can have them back, right? What do you MEAN, no?" Then we headed off the initial round of boredom with a polymer project, followed by lunch, and then making rock candy.
But then....we were done with the planned activities for the day.
Princess and Puppy caught on a lot faster, and vanished into Princess's room, where I could hear happy squeals and probable jumping on the bed.
Little Professor wasn't having it. He couldn't think of a single thing that sounded like fun. Not one. He even tried just sitting on the couch and staring at me, waiting for me to give in. I don't know why he thinks things like that will work, but he keeps trying. He's persistent.
FINALLY, he decided that he might as well play with Legos, since there wasn't ANYTHING fun to do in the whole world unless it was playing Uncharted 3. Pretty soon, he was wandering out to show me his creations. Then the other kids wanted to play, and the next thing I knew, my living room floor was ankle deep in an entire Lego village! When they eventually tired of Legos, they all, unprompted, went to play in the boys' room, and when I peeked back to see why it was so quiet, I discovered a pirate ship built out of pop-up play tents taking up most of the room. All afternoon, there was only one fight, and NO whining about not being allowed to turn on the television. And they hopefully will remember that there ARE other fun, non-electronic things to do tomorrow...when we do it all over again ;)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Secret Plan is Working!

(insert maniacal laugh here)

Little Professor hates to read fiction. It's been a constant battle since he taught himself to read at three and a half. He will read science books, encyclopedias, text books, and any other based-in-fact book he can get his hands on (and then recite it ad nauseum), but hand him a novel and it's "too hard," " too boring," and there's "no point."
This is particularly hard on me because I LOVE to read. I'll read anything I can get my hands on, and have been known to go through a dozen books in a week. (Who needs clean dishes anyway?)
I've been trying different genres with him and he has actually enjoyed some of them. He's reading Little House on the Prairie by request, because Little House in the Big Woods was required reading that he actually enjoyed. It's still non-fiction, since it's a sort of autobiography, but it READS like a novel, and he's still enjoying it, so I'm happy about that. That's still part of school work, though, since it goes along with our whole American History unit.
I really want to expand his reading horizons and help him learn to love it, and read not because he has to pick a book for school, but because it's FUN!
So, I browsed the library last week and found The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, which is a great book. Little Professor whined that he already has too much reading to do, but we checked it out anyway. And it's just been sitting around the house. So last night, I put it on the shelf next to his bed and just told him, "It's there if you're bored or can't sleep." Poor kid has insomnia, so he does often have trouble falling asleep. He told me, "No way, I'm not reading that!" but I just left it there, just in case.
Well...I just tucked him in a little while ago and he told me, "You know what, Mom? I read a few chapters of that Indian book, and it's pretty good so far!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why We Homeschool: Statistics

I found this handy graph today while reading an article titled "Why In the Hell Would You Homeschool?"
Despite the title, it is actually a pro-homeschooling article, and the parent who wrote it sounds a lot like me, and many other parents who have decided to go this route.

I don't really like this graph, though. Why did we decide to homeschool? How can I narrow it down to one choice? Honestly, I would have to give the same answer as the majority of other parents...I can give my children a better education at home. The reasons I can do that, though, are a mix of the other answer options. Kiddo with special needs? Yep. Behavior problems at school? You betcha. School not challenging child? Poor learning environment? Absolutely. Family reasons? Well, that's how Things 2 & 3 ended up staying home...they've never been IN school, so a lot of the other reasons wouldn't apply to them.
And (I know this might sound odd), but objections to things the school teaches and developing character and morality are definitely among my reasons to homeschool! This is not so much of an issue now, but at one point, we lived in Cobb County, Georgia, home of the infamous "evolution warning sticker."  This was also the district where my sister was being taught American History by a woman who called the Civil War "The Northern Aggression." Not exactly objective teaching.
As for developing character and morality, well, children learn by example. They don't need religion to be moral or to have good character, but they DO need good roll models, and opportunities to practice. Sure, these things can (and do) happen in school, but they also are exposed to a lot of negative influences and crappy roll models. My goal is to teach them how to figure out how to tell the difference, without just throwing them in and waiting to see if they sink or swim.
So, what's left on the list?
Religious reasons.
This still sort of applies, indirectly. We're no longer in a district where I have to worry about creationism being taught in school, or abstinence-only sex ed, but we are still in an area that is not very diverse in belief, unless you count the differences between the Catholics and the Baptists (of which there are many). I'm not planning on preventing my kids from learning about the beliefs of others, but I want them to have a rounded view of religion. They need to get some basics from all the major religions, past and present. We discuss beliefs that people have, why they have them, and whether or not each story sounds plausible to them (none so far!). If they decide to pursue a religion, I won't stop them...I'll just help them with their research.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Never Say Always

Always and Never. The two worst enemies moms create for themselves.
Before I had kids, I had a lot of never and always plans and ideals about motherhood. And I probably had a more realistic view of what motherhood was actually like, since I was the oldest of four kids and started babysitting at 11 for the neighbors, and ultimately had a job where I was teaching parents how to do a better job with their kids. Yep. Before I had kids of my own. So I thought I was pretty reasonable about knowing that I couldn't say I'd NEVER feed my kids frozen pizzas (although, thanks to food allergies, I couldn't for the first 3 years anyway), or that my kids would NEVER watch tv before the age of two. I knew that those things were unrealistic goals for any mom.
I had plenty of them, though. And looking back, it was just setting myself up for failure in my own mind, even if it didn't make me different from any other mom out there.

#1- I would NEVER co-sleep!
Yeah, that lasted about 3 days. To be fair, I knew nothing about co-sleeping except that the people I knew who did it, hated it. Also, I am such a light sleeper, I knew I'd never really get to sleep with a baby in bed with me. I sort of lucked out though, because Little Professor wanted his space when he slept, so he rarely slept with me after the first couple of weeks, and was sleeping in his crib, through the night at just 2 months old. So I understood WHY new moms would sleep with their new babies, but I also thought I was doing something superior because MY baby was so easy and sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night from an early age. Must have been my awesome parenting skills, right? Couldn't possibly be because he had sensory issues about sleeping next to someone or that he spent so much of his awake time studying everything he could see that he completely exhausted himself by night time.
Princess really taught me my lesson, though. She was a very needy, clingy, super-attached baby. When I would get home from work, she would attach herself to my chest and that was it for the rest of the day. I learned to do everything either one handed, or with her in a sling, because I couldn't put her down without heart wrenching screams. It was exhausting! We were both worn out. So, she just came to bed with me because it was the only way we got any sleep. And honestly, I *liked* snuggling and sleeping with her when she was tiny. Eventually she was able to fall asleep on her own, and started the night out in her own bed, but continued to come in to my bed sometime in the middle of the night until she was close to 5. And she really only stopped because I couldn't sleep with her in bed with me any more. I was waking up in pain from being squished all night, so we had to put a stop to it. So now I snuggle her in her bed at bedtime, and she comes in to my bed for morning snuggles, as long as she can refrain from laying ON me.
By the time Puppy came along, I didn't even pretend I was going to put him in his own bed. I pulled the side off the crib and shoved it up to the side of my bed so that I could keep him from being squashed by his big sister, but he was a co-sleeper from day one. Eventually, he started falling asleep in his own bed, but he still ends up in with me more nights than not.

#2- I would NEVER let my kids play violent video games!
This is one of those things that I've learned the "pick your battles" lesson over. Little Professor is playing Grand Theft Auto as I type. Would I prefer that he didn't? Hell, yes! And I stuck to this rule for 7 years, and even got backed up by my husband.
Last year, though, it all fell apart. The fact is, most of the other little boys that Little Professor plays with are allowed to play violent games. His cousin has been playing Halo since he was 3 or 4. I have no control over what other parents allow their children to play, and was losing the battle of keeping Little Professor for watching them play. And I had my husband buying games for himself and playing in front of the kids. I could have kept fighting about it, but ultimately decided that fighting over it constantly was probably worse in the long run than just letting him play the damn things.

#3- I will ALWAYS use positive behavior reinforcement and gentle parenting techniques.
Hahahahahahahahaha! Anyone who claims they never yell at their kid either has a baby under 12 months or is LYING. Or high.

#4- I will NEVER be a stay at home mom!
And here I am. Ok, technically, I still work. A little. When I feel like it. And some days, I am still not 100% sure I'm doing the right thing. But 99.999% of the time, I know I am. I was lucky; I had a job that I loved and was good at and was passionate about. And none of that really changed, but I left it all behind anyway. What changed was my priorities. Ultimately, Little Professor needed me to be his teacher more than he needed me to be able to pay for private school. He needed someone who was committed to helping him CHANGE his behavior, instead of just reacting to it and sending him out of the room. So, while I will continue working my 2 hours a week for my sanity break, I know that being a stay at home, homeschooling mom is the best choice for our family as a whole.

#5- I will ALWAYS have a clean house!
Ok. Just kidding. I was never *that* naive!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Why We Homeschool: Myth-Busting

We homeschool for one main reason: I firmly believe it is the best choice for my kids, especially Little Professor. We have come across criticism from various people along the way, and surprisingly, most of the critics are relative strangers to us, and know very little about homeschooling! The majority of our friends and family have been mostly supportive, or at least willing to take the time to learn what homeschooling means, and why it works for our kids.

Myth #1:
"You just want to keep your kids sheltered!"
Nope. In fact, my kids are out in the "real world" far more often than kids in brick&mortar schools. They are exposed to a larger variety of people, cultures, and beliefs than most in-school kids. Also, being atheist doesn't mean we never discuss religion. We probably discuss it more, if anything, because we talk about different beliefs of many different religions, with no one way being presented as better than any other.

Myth #2:
"Your kids aren't going to know how to handle themselves in the real world. Being bullied will make them stronger and/or they need to develop a thick skin!"
Yikes. Again, my kids spend a lot of time in the "real world." They handle themselves just fine. Also, being bullied doesn't make anyone stronger. And personally, I don't see how a "thick skin" is such a great thing. Having a thick skin just means you're not showing how you feel; it's not changing the feelings! Instead of trying to "toughen them up," I am working on building self confidence. If you believe in yourself, it doesn't matter what the bullies of the world say, because you know it isn't true.
Also, homeschooling doesn't eliminate the possibility of being bullied. It just means that I am usually *aware* of what is going on, because I am either nearby, or because my kids share everything with me. We still spend time with other kids (and adults), and that means sometimes there is bullying. Sometimes *my* kids are the bullies. But in either event, I can help them come up with better ways to handle the situation, whether to stop the bullies, stop BEING bullies, or reaffirm that the bullies are wrong.

Myth #3:
"Your kids are going to be anti-social weirdos."
Well....Little Professor probably IS, but he would be if he were in school, too. That's the Asperger's, not the homeschooling. The main difference about being homeschooled is that around here, it's OKAY to be weird! Annoying as hell sometimes, but still okay :) We're not going to tell him that there is anything wrong about the way he does things (unless he's actually hurting someone, of course). He knows his diagnosis, and he is more or less aware of what it means...but he doesn't think there is anything wrong or different about him!
As for the other kids, they socialize just fine. They make friends easily and everywhere! And they are more tolerant of the other weirdos out there, because they know that everyone is different, and different is good!

Myth #4:
"You must not care about what happens to public schools. If public schools are so bad, you should be fighting for change from the inside!"
This is actually an argument I've heard from other atheist parents, or other very left wing liberal parents anyway. First of all, we took Little Professor out of PRIVATE school to homeschool him. If anything, private school is more of an attack on public schools! However, having had him evaluated twice, by two different public schools, since then, and being told that homeschooling is probably the best option, well, I think I'm inclined to go with the schools on this one.
I used to teach public school, too, and I quit because of how awful it was. Could I have stayed and been one of those public school teachers that they make movies about? theory, maybe. In reality, it was so depressing, and I was so miserable, I wasn't even being as effective as the (very low) standards the school expected. Well, I guess that's not entirely true, since I *did* manage to get all the kids on the bus alive at the end of the day, which is the goal I was given to shoot for.
So, do I want to sacrifice my child's current emotional and educational well-being in an effort to maybe make a tiny improvement for the next generation? Absolutely NOT! My job, as a parent, is to do the best *I* can to help my kids achieve the best *they* can. Right now.
That doesn't mean, however, that I don't care about what happens to kids in public schools! I do! For one thing, I have young relatives in public schools across the country! And even if I didn't, the majority of the population is in public school, which means these kids are going to be growing up and getting jobs and entering politics and affecting life for all of us in every way from bagging our groceries to running the country. So YES! I care about the quality of education they receive! And I pay attention. And I VOTE.

Friday, April 20, 2012

That Moment...

My favorite thing about homeschooling is that moment when you can SEE that something "clicks," and suddenly your kid can understand a new concept. We hit that moment with Princess this week. Suddenly, all of those letter sounds and sight words came together and she is really reading! It's just an amazing moment to be able to share with someone; the fog has lifted and she can make sense of things!
The best part about her being able to read (still just a little, mainly Cat in the Hat level) is that it means she is a little more independent with her schoolwork now. This makes things easier because I can go back and forth between kids more easily.
Princess is still not a fan of reading, but I've caught her reading things when she thinks I wasn't paying attention, especially on the computer. I also kind of feel like my job is half finished now, because once you can read, you can find any other information that you want!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Butterflies and Other Critters

I was pretty impressed with myself yesterday evening, when I happened to catch a painted lady butterfly. If you've ever tried to catch butterflies, you know it's not the easiest thing in the world to do. We put it in one of our butterfly habitats with some flowers and sugar water, and everyone admired it for a while and then kind of ignored it.
Imagine my surprise then, this afternoon when Puppy came running in to tell me he had caught another butterfly! The kid is quick! So the second joined the first....and 10 minutes later, Princess caught her first! Little Professor finally managed to catch one, too, and we are now up to a total of six! Four are painted ladies and the other two are white, but I have no idea what kind they are. The kids have gathered a bunch of flowers and branches, and the butterflies seem perfectly happy...not that I would probably be able to tell if they weren't!
The butterflies are joining our ever growing menagerie, which is pretty interesting in a house where I said we would never have pets. We now have the butterflies, two tadpoles caught from a nearby pond, and Little Professor's Russian Tortoise, which is honestly the best pet ever. Mostly because it requires very little work on my part.
The tadpoles and butterflies are (hopefully) part of a lesson on metamorphosis. I say hopefully because so far, the tadpoles are showing no evidence of changing, and for all I know, all the butterflies are boys and we'll never get any eggs, let alone caterpillars. But I'm optimistic!

Friday, April 6, 2012

No, Really. I Hate Shakespeare.

Admit it. You are guilty of stereotyping. We all are. Generalizations are just human nature. We make them, and they are frequently reinforced, because there is usually a grain of truth somewhere. Stereotypes aren't always such a bad thing, but of course they can be. I think as long as you are aware that you are stereotyping and realize that they are generalizations, not facts, it's not a problem.
We also all fit into someone else's stereotypes, too, even if we don't see ourselves as part of the same group other people do. Usually, we know we belong to a "type," and we seek out other people of the same group. It helps narrow down the billions of people in the world to a manageable number, so we can find like-minded people who we are more likely to agree with or get along with.
But no one fits into on profile perfectly. Personally, I break a lot of the generalizations people make about me.

Confession 1: 
I'm a vegetarian, but I don't like animals. Really. Keep them away from me, please. And don't ask me for money supporting animal rescue or no-kill shelters. Or assume that I belong to PETA.
Obviously, animal abuse is wrong and horrible, and the people who abuse them should be arrested and prosecuted. I'm totally on board with that. BUT, when there are so many HUMAN rights being violated, trampled, or ignored right here in the USA, I really don't care how many unwanted kittens are being euthanized. When kids in this country are going to bed hungry every night, I have no real compassion for dogs who need thousands of dollars worth of surgery so they can survive with just three legs and one eye. Don't like the way animals are being treated when they are raised for food? Stop eating meat; but don't expect me to get teary-eyed over the factory chicken photos.
I am glad that there are people who are responsible pet owners, and who help rescue otherwise healthy but unwanted animals...but don't assume that just because I don't eat animals that I am one of those people.

Confession 2:
Not to brag, but I'm really pretty smart. I have an above average IQ, and I'm well read. But I have actually had the following conversation:
Me: Ugh, I don't want to read more Shakespeare.
High School Classmate: Why not? I mean, I don't want to either, but that's because I don't understand any of it.
Me: Oh, I understand it. I just don't LIKE it.
HSC: But you're so SMART!
Me: Yeah, I'm smart enough to know I don't like Shakespeare!

I'm also lousy with computers, reading poetry makes me sleepy, and I stopped taking math and science by senior year of high school, because physics is booooring. I did well in school, but it was a means to an end; I never particularly enjoyed it.
The worst part of this particular stereotype is that for a long time *I* bought into it, too. I really made an effort to get through Anna Karenina when the other honors English students and I were assigned that for reading instead of being made to sit through grammar with the rest of our 10th grade class. I TRIED. And I was disappointed with myself that I hated every word of the 90 pages I read. I even forced myself to read Shakespeare that hadn't been assigned, thinking that maybe if I found the right story, I could say I liked his plays. It never happened; all it did was waste a lot of time I could have used for reading something I enjoyed. It continued through most of college, too, before I could admit to myself that being smart didn't mean I had to like all of the stereotypical "smart people" stuff. And it was a relief! So, now I'm perfectly comfortable with admitting that I liked reading Twilight, but I have to space out my Jane Austen novels, or they all sound exactly the same.

Confession 3:
I'm a baby-wearing, co-sleeping, occasionally cloth diapering, homeschooling, long term breastfeeder, but have ZERO interest in homebirths, or even natural childbirth. Bring on the epidurals! I completely enjoyed all three of my childbirth experiences (although not the 9 months leading up to them!), and that is largely due to the wonder of epidurals. Also, when I think of homebirths, all I can think of is that *I* would be the one who had to clean up the resulting mess, which is not something I want to do immediately after giving birth. No thank you! The three days I spent in the birth center after my youngest was born (mostly due to a broken air conditioner at home and 95+ weather) were like a little vacation. As soon as I got home, it's just back to life as usual. I liked the little break, where I could pretty much just lay around and hold the baby and get spoiled. Eventually I got bored and was ready to go home, but it was nice while it lasted.
This approach to childbirth horrifies a lot of moms who agree with many of my other parenting choices listed above. The moms who agree with me on hooking up the epidurals are usually horrified by nursing a toddler or cloth diapers. Well, to each her own. Do your own research, make up your own mind, and try to ignore the other side telling you what you're doing wrong, because you will never make everyone happy all of the time.

Confession 4:
I admit to making my own baby food, and that I (unknowingly) did child-led introduction to solids (I didn't know it was a whole philosophy at the time), but it had nothing to do with making the best foods for my kids or going organic or any other parenting philosophy. I had two reasons: food allergies and money. All of my kids have had some type of food allergies, and it is easier to figure out what they are allergic to if you are making your own food with no added ingredients or worrying about cross contamination during processing. It's also easier to avoid allergens once you do figure it out. Also, making your own baby food is cheaper. And the child-led solids thing came about for the same two reasons, plus a third...laziness. Spoon feeding an infant is messy, time consuming, and creates more dishes to wash. Breastfeeding doesn't even require you to sit up. So, there you go. My reasons for following this whole parenting movement that I knew nothing about were purely selfish. Honestly, I have to wonder if this is true for a lot of the child-led weaning advocates, but they try to cover up their selfishness and laziness by making themselves sound like super-moms. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're Having an "Unschool" Day

Unschooling, for those people who don't know, is a controversial topic, even among other homeschoolers. Unschooling involves little or no "traditional" schoolwork like sitting at a desk doing math worksheets or taking spelling tests. It is very much child directed, with children choosing what they are interested in and learning more about it, with parents facilitating learning opportunities, but not directing the child on where to go with it. They look for learning opportunities in every day life, instead of constructing topics to be studied. Like all forms of education, it's not right for everyone, but it can be done very successfully when it's being done well.
Overall, we are not an unschooling family. While I can understand it's merits, it's just not something I feel comfortable doing full time. Maybe it's the four years I spent in college learning how to be a teacher. But I do use some of the principles. I think all parents do, whether they realize it or not. Our science curriculum especially is very child-directed. I let the kids pick a topic they want to learn more about, and then we work together on finding books, projects, or experiments that help them learn more about it. Kids are naturally curious, and when something interests them, they will learn as much as they can about it, and it will STICK! Little Professor is particularly good at memorizing facts and reciting them back at every possible moment.
Other times, I direct his learning when he doesn't even realize it. I have discovered that while he drags his heels on assigned reading, if I leave interesting looking books next to his bed, he will almost always pick them up and read when he thinks he's supposed to be sleeping. He thinks he's being rebellious, and I get him to read without a fight. It's a win/win!
In general, however, we do spend between one and two hours a day on traditional schoolwork, where we sit at the table and they do have to read, write, and demonstrate concepts they have learned. The rest of the day is open for projects, play, and other activities.
Some days though, like today, my kids take over.
Confession: I am not a morning person. I joke that this is one of my main reasons to homeschool, but there is a grain of truth in that, too.
So, my kids almost always get up before me in the morning. Usually they watch tv or play video games, because they know when I get up, those things are getting turned off. And that's how today started, for sure. But it's also a beautiful day out, so before I was even up, they were already begging to go outside. While they were finishing breakfast, I was still dragging through making my coffee. And they were dressed and ready to go out and play before I was really fully conscious.
So, they went out. They played. They caught bugs. They found interesting rocks and brought them in for me to look at and help them identify (Little Professor was disappointed to learn that there really aren't any volcanic rocks in our area, but decided that metamorphic rocks are almost as cool). We had a mini-discussion on geology. They came in for lunch and then asked if they could play Connect 4 instead of starting schoolwork right away. Connect 4=sharing, taking turns, counting, conversation skills, and visual/spatial awareness. OF COURSE they could play Connect 4! And they did, for over half an hour. Now Little Professor is doing some reading, but also voluntarily. Princess is bugging him to tell her about the story he's reading (Mary Jemison), and Puppy is running around with a bra on his head.
Not every moment has to be about learning ;)

Conversations About Death

One thing I have come across from various religious folks who don't understand atheism is, "How do you talk to your kids about death?"
It's actually not that difficult.
I had this conversation with Puppy the other day.
P: Mommy, when people get too old, they die?
(His great-grandmother died last year; the only "real" death he is aware of)
Me: Yes, that's true. No one lives forever.
P: That means YOU could get old and die? (His voice was starting to waiver a little).
M: Yes, it does. Everyone dies sometime, but I won't be old for a long, long time.
P: Even ME? I could get old and die? (Tears definitely near the surface now).
M: You won't be old for a long, long time. We can't live forever, and really, no one would want to. But you don't need to worry about it right now. We just do our best job to stay safe and healthy so we can get old. That's all you need to worry about right now.
P: Oh. Ok. Can I play with playdoh?

Yep. That was it. No need for fairy tales, no need to lie, and no need to burden a 3 year old with the other reasons people die before they get old. He asked his questions, got the facts, and hearing the truth was all he needed. Life goes on. Hopefully for a long, long time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Autism Awareness Month

Today is Autism Awareness Day, kicking off Autism Awareness Month. According to the CDC, the rate of autism has gone up 78% in the past ten years. That's pretty freaking unbelievable.
The biggest question, of course, is WHY?

Mark Roithmayr, president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, says more children are being diagnosed with autism because of "better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50% of 'We don't know.'"
Yep. Still. No one knows. You'll see lots of theories, some valid, and some, well, some are so insane you can't believe they're real.

Honestly, the why isn't on the top of my list of questions. I'm looking to the future for the kids we already HAVE with this diagnosis. I mean, I guess I don't understand why there isn't more of a public outcry over these numbers! Imagine 1 in 88 kids in wheelchairs. You'd barely be able to walk down the hallways at school. 1 in 88 kids who were blind, or had cancer. 1 in 88 kids just vanishing....this is MORE THAN 1% OF OUR POPULATION! These kids are going to grow to be autistic adults. Despite what Jenny McCarthy thinks, there are plenty of adults with autism now, and there are about to be a whole lot more.  Hopefully, many of them will be able to care for themselves and have jobs and contribute to society....but they won't ALL. And they won't all have families to care for them, either.
There is some awareness regarding adults with autism now. The Secretary-General of the UN had this to say today:
Although developmental disabilities such as autism begin in childhood, they persist throughout a person’s life. Our work with and for people with autism should not be limited to early identification and treatment; it should include therapies, educational plans and other steps that lead us towards sustained, lifelong engagement.
I completely agree. I would really like to see more attention being given to older teens and adults...we have all seen the adorable faces of the little ones with autism...let's see how some of them have grown up! 

Friday, March 30, 2012


So, who do I homeschool?
There are three of them.
The oldest is really my reason for homeschooling. He's 8 and more or less doing 4th grade this year. He's my Little Professor. He's been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, plus ADHD and a mix of other alphabet soup diagnoses. He's also very, very gifted and when he wants to learn about something, he's like a sponge! Of course, the things HE wants to learn about don't always match up with what *I* want him to learn, but we can usually find a middle ground. I've also gotten pretty good at adapting what I want him to learn to make it interesting for him.
Little Professor doesn't converse very well, but he is the king of lecturing. When he learns something, anything, that he thinks is interesting, he will corner someone and tell them every excruciating detail. From sharks to bugs to video games, he has an amazing number of facts stored in his little head. He doesn't care if you're interested or if you already know what he is telling you, or even so much if you just walk away...he will just. keep. talking.
The up side to this is that he has taken over a lot of the work of homeschooling his younger siblings. He will latch on to whatever topic of the day we're discussing, and usually takes over. They have learned a lot from him, especially when it comes to math or science.
Up next is Princess, age 5. The nickname says it all, really. She is the only girl, and since she is more or less developmentally typical, she is frequently the leader in choosing what the other kids should be doing. They do tend to follow her lead, too. She is loud, opinionated, bossy, and always thinks she is other words, she takes after me ;) It doesn't matter who she is playing with, older, younger, boy, girl, it doesn't matter, she just want to be in charge. Most of the time this works out perfectly, since Little Professor either goes along or just walks away, and her little brother hasn't earned the nickname Puppy for nothing!
Puppy is almost 4, and he follows his big sister everywhere. It is heartbreaking to have to separate them for any reason because they cry when you separate them, and then whoever is left at home just wanders around aimlessly and bored until they are reunited. Lately, though, Puppy is starting to stand up for himself a little, which has lead to a lot of screaming, "YOU DO WHAT I SAY OR I'M NEVER PLAYING WITH YOU AGAIN!" followed by crying on both sides. I try to stay out of it and let them work it out on their own, at least until the hitting starts. Puppy is very flexible most of the time, though, and manages to work what he wants to do into whatever game Princess is forcing on him. I frequently find him crawling around on the floor in full princess dress and accessories, driving his race cars over the My Little Ponies.
Welcome to my blog! I've been homeschooling my three kids for three years, and it's been a blast. Last year, however, we moved to a very rural area where there are very few homeschooling families, and the majority of the few we have found are homeschooling for religious reasons. It's been interesting.
Originally, we tried joining the only local homeschooling group, which was recommended to me by the public school. It's held in a Baptist church, but hey, I'm open-minded, I have no problem with Baptists or Christians in general, and a little religious education isn't going to scar my kids, so why not?
Turns out the Baptists aren't as open-minded as I am. Shocker, that one.
I had the following conversation six time on the first visit alone:

Helpful Baptist Homeschooler: So, what church do you belong to?
Me: Um, none, actually.
HBH: Oh, are you new to the area?
Me: Well, yes, sort of.
HBH: So you're looking for a church? Because let me just tell you about how wonderful our church is!
Me: Actually, no, we're not looking for a church, but thank you.
HBH: Oh.

Then they sort of back away slowly while avoiding eye contact....
We gave up after the third trip, when I was warned that the botany group would be discussing plants featured in the Bible. I didn't mind the topic, but being warned was a little unsettling. 

I get asked why I'm homeschooling a lot, especially since religious reasons are definitely not a contributing factor. Well, there are a lot of reasons, but it wasn't something I originally set out to do. I have found, though, that there are more and more reasons every day, and I can't imagine sending my kids to school at this point!