Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Homeschool Happenings

Most of you reading this probably know that we made a huge change this year and decided to pull Aubrey out of public school and begin homeschooling.  I have debated whether or not I would share some of our adventures on here, but I figure it falls under the realm of Sticky Genius, so why the hell not! I thought it would be nice to share with you a few fun things we have been doing in homeschool that have helped us get past some of the public school slump.

My daughter is such a smart little girl.  She loves to learn.  Unfortunately, she faces some behavioral and learning challenges that were a little to complicated for the public school to understand and respect.  I could go on until I'm blue in the face, but I feel that one of the best things about leaving behind public school is that we left behind the negativity that was surrounding my daughters ability to succeed and excel in school and life.  Therefore, I will not dwell on the negative, but move on to more positive things.  The beauty of homeschool is that I can adapt to her needs, to her learning style, to her pace, to her moods, and there is no anxiety around learning.  It's just much more relaxed, flexible, and fun.

Aubrey has several challenges to overcome in order to learn in the classroom environment.  She was born with a Congenital Heart Defect that, I believe, had an affect on her brain function due to lack of oxygen, surgeries, time on the bypass machine, etc.  She has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety, she has executive function (EF) challenges, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  SPD encompasses a lot of things that explain so much as to why she is so sensitive to many things regarding the senses and stimulus.  Specific to learning, the challenge for her is a visual-motor sensory integration dysfunction.  Which, in layman terms, means that she has trouble getting the information from her head or off of the smart board onto the actual paper.  Somewhere the connection from her knowing what she wants to write or having to copy something off the board (visual) gets lost in the transition (processing) from her brain to her hand, to the pencil, and onto the paper (motor).  As I'm sure you can imagine, this was a big issue with the public school.  Even though she was allowed dictation, output kept coming up as a problem for them and ultimately they didn't feel she was producing enough written work to continue on to the next grade successfully.  She also has trouble initiating tasks (EF) and staying focused on work independently (ADD).  Eventually, she ended up shutting down completely and employed the use of "escape behaviors" (anxiety) that could be disruptive to the class in order to avoid doing the work.  What was sad was that it was clear to me she was picking up everything they were teaching if she was quizzed orally.  She is definitely an auditory learner.  She remembers so much of what she hears, even if she looks like she isn't listening or is fidgeting around, she is listening and absorbing what is being taught.  I think that makes her a bit of a kinesthetic learner, too.  If she is moving, she is more focused.  I am sure that's the influence of the ADD.  I wanted to take the pressure off of her with the physical writing to help decrease some of the anxiety around it and focus more on helping her learn through auditory and kinesthetic means for some things for now.

One of the areas of struggle for Aubrey has been her recall speed of math facts.  I blame the switch to common core a bit for this.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the whole point behind the arrays and all that jazz, but when Bayne was in the lower grades it was all about flashcards, repetition, and memorization. That is how it was in my day, too.  For some reason memorization of math facts is like a bad word in the public schools now.  If homework wasn't such an epic struggle for us we might have had more time to work with flashcards in addition, but it was and we couldn't.  We spent so much time drawing 60 circles to form an array that we missed out on doing at least 10 math problems the would have reinforced the math fact.  She totally gets the arrays and why 8x6=48, so common core did it's job.  It was when I started to ask her what 6x4 was and she started drawing circles in the air that I realized we are going to have to go back to basics or we are going to be stuck on each problem for 5 minutes instead of 30 seconds.

One of the ways we did this, aside from flashcards and math workbooks (don't worry, they are in line with common core, lol), was by doing math hopscotch.  Every week or so I change the hopscotch court to reflect a different number.  Here we were doing multiples of 6.  We played just like regular hopscotch, but we had to say the multiples of 6 as we jumped and whichever spot the stone landed on you had to say the math fact.  So if it landed on 36, you have to say 6x6.  This has sped up her math facts a lot.  If she's unfocused or stuck (I swear sometimes her brain just freezes) when we are on a problem I just say, remember the hopscotch and it triggers her memory and she pulls out the answer.  As an added bonus, she gets some exercise and vitamin D, too.  

Although Aubrey has anxiety and reluctance around writing, I still want to encourage her to put her thoughts on paper.  I saw a tutorial for something called a Smash Book on pinterest.  It is like a journal and a scrapbook combined.  Anytime we go anywhere special or do something memorable we bring home some type of souvenir.  Usually something from nature, a brochure, or a ticket stub.  Then we write a little something about our adventure.  She is still rather reluctant to write, so I have been letting her dictate her thoughts to me and write only key words herself.  She also labels all her keepsakes herself.  Here is just one small example of a smash book page in her book.  We had a playdate with her friends at the park and they found hundreds of snails on a tree.  She had to take home two to keep as pets.  She gathered some grass for them to sit on for the ride home.  She taped the grass onto the page and drew pictures of both her snails, since we obviously weren't going to smash the real snails in the book.  We did, however, let the snail leave a slimy trail across her smash book page.

Our snails ended up living in a terrarium we built for a couple weeks before I convinced her to let them go free in the garden.  Before we let them go we painted dots on their shells with acrylic paint, so that we could identify them if we came across them in the yard again.  So far still no sign of Frederick and Kawaii Guy.  Who knows how far they've gone.

For a kid that doesn't like to write, she sure has some impressive spelling and grammar skills.  She nearly always scored 100% or close to it on spelling tests.  I really should have her edit my blog posts for me, too, because her punctuation and grammar skills far surpass mine.  She had an excellent phonics teacher in 2nd grade.  They taught them a lot through song, which nailed the auditory component for Aubrey.  She would come home singing all the rules.  

We are using Wordly Wise for our vocabulary and spelling, just as they are in school.  We backed up to level 2, so that I can use level 3 and 4 next year, because she zooming through these words.  Since she doesn't always want to write we mix it up when we practice her words.  The first day she answers the vocab questions for each word.  Another day she will silently study the words and definitions.  If she is up for it, she will write the words and then draw a picture of the definition.  She is also aloud to dictate both the word and the definition to me.  

Even though she is reluctant to write, I want to make sure we are still working on our fine motor skills and hand strength.  This was a perfect opportunity to mix some occupational therapy (OT) in with her learning.  It adds a little bit of kinesthetic movement to it, too.  Sometimes we use stamps.  She has to roll out the playdoh and smash it on the table, then stamp the word into it.  Each time she has to squish it up, roll it out, stamp it.

Sometimes she doesn't feel like stamping, so we make each letter of the word out of playdoh one at a time.  This requires her to do a lot of rolling, squishing, and bending, and pinching.  All great to help build and strengthen her fine motor skills. 

All the supplies fit perfect in one of her old pencil boxes from school, too!

Flexibility is the key with Aubrey.  In school she would become defiant and shut down because it was too much of a 'my way or the highway' mentality.  If she feels forced to do something she often won't even try.  She needs to know she has a choice and that helps decrease a lot of the resistance around doing work.  I can understand why public schools can't always cater to kids like Aubrey.  Luckily at home that is no longer an issue.

Keeping with the playdoh theme, we started making some stop motion videos in lieu of written reports.  We have done two reports for science so far.  We started with some simple subject matter, so we can figure out what the heck we are doing as we go.

First, we did the life cycle of flower.  This was fun.  We ripped paper with our hands, we cut paper with more precision, we cut strings, bent pipe cleaners, rolled, squeezed, and shaped playdoh.  Tons of fine motor skills involved, so there was some OT work involved.  It was artistic, so we got some art in.  It was science, as we learned all about the life cycle of a flower.  She learned about making a stop motion video and also about video editing from her Dad.  Even though she didn't physically write the report, we worked on it together.  She dictated it and I helped organize her thoughts onto paper.  She did all the narration for the video.  You can check it out on youtube if you click on the link here:

We have also been starting a lot of herbs from seeds at home, so she is watching the process in real time, too.  Super fun stuff.  I love that we have her Dad involved in the process, too.  Lucky us, we have an awesome editor in the family.  Personally, I think this is way more beneficial than writing a paper.  This will have a life of its own on youtube now.  She can watch this again as an adult, where a paper would find its way into the recycle bin and never be seen again.

The second video report we did was on snails.  We studied the snails we kept as pets, read books we checked out from the library, and watched a few youtube videos.  We used recycled products to make a fun back drop, used clay to make snails, and had a great time painting everything.  We shot another video, her dad cut it together, and she narrated the report that I helped her write.  

You can check that one out, too, if you like!

Here is a sneak preview into our next video about the Native Americans and early settlers.
To be continued :)

As I share all this I can still hear the nay-sayers in my head.  I am still trying to shake the negativity from the school.  I still feel like I am breaking free from the conditioning.  It's hard not to worry that you are doing the wrong thing.  They make us believe that there is only one way to success and that is through the public or private school system.  If she doesn't learn about x,y,z by this age at this specific time she will be a failure!  I am starting to pull back the veil little by little and I can see that this system is flawed.  I have known for years that just because you can succeed in school, does not mean that it guarantees you success in life.  Some of the most successful people I know are those who struggled in school and eventually found their own paths by following their passion.  I think for the majority, public school is fine.  My son is still in public school and I have no intention of taking him out because it works for him.  He's happy there.  He's learning.  He has friends.  It's a positive experience for him.  For my daughter, it has not been.  She is sensitive and has special needs that need to be taken seriously.  She was never going to fit in the box.  It has been a horrible struggle with more negative experiences, than positive for her.  Now that we are out, I feel like I am picking up the pieces and helping put her back together.  I'm helping her find her way to what she loves and bringing the joy back to learning.  We still learn all the subjects she learns in school.  We still follow the general direction of the masses, but the pressure has been taken away.  Flexibility has been included.  We don't "have" to do anything exactly one specific way at a specified time.  For a child who is rigid and inflexible this makes ALL the difference in the world.  I believe by allowing her some time to decompress, find alternative approaches to learning, provide choices that she can govern, and accept her where she is at and what she is capable of doing at any given time will ultimately bring her success.  

I saw this quote recently and it struck a cord with me.  

My flower was in the wrong environment.  She could not bloom where she was, so we changed the environment.  I actually named our homeschool "Room for Blooming".  I had not seen this quote until after.  Couldn't be more apropos.

Just in case you all need proof ... it's in the pudding.

I'd like to share a small miracle of sorts.  My child who will not hold or use a pencil for more than 5 minutes without complaint, dropping it, crying, or melting down has taken to drawing comics.  At night when it is quiet is when she likes to work.  This use to be her time to read.  She would read for 2-3 hours at a time.  Just a couple weeks ago she started drawing during this time.  The room is dark and she works by the light of her desk lamp.  She will draw for 2-3 hours a night.  Not only does she draw, but she WRITES!  And her handwriting looks amazing now that she doesn't have to fit it in between the lines. She has been making comics based on a youtuber that she loves to watch.  She works so hard on these, it is so cute!  I don't care if she isn't writing three paragraph long book reports on her own.  I am just so happy that she has found joy in holding the pencil and working with it for several hours at a time.  I don't feel worried that she won't graduate from high school if she doesn't write an essay on her own by the end of third grade.  I know she will master that skill before she is 18.  I don't feel rushed for her to have a thesis statement and supporting facts by the age of 9.  I feel like a good mom who followed her gut, who listened to her child, who is helping her find her own way to the pencil and the paper, who is allowing her child to build her fine motor skills, her writing voice, her endurance, her creativity in her own way and in her own time without a fight or any anxiety around the act.  

Here is just a small sampling of some of the work she's been doing.  

This was when she first started and it was less than a weeks worth of her drawings.  I have had to go out and buy two more packages of paper from the 99 cents store.  I have also had to start a new folder because the first one was overflowing with her work.  

All that worry, all that negativity, all that pressure they put on her ....

... honestly ...

I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up being an excellent writer one day.  

And even if she's not, she will always be a success in my eyes.


  1. Thank you for sharing this most excellent unfolding of Aubrey. And your unfolding too. I wish you both peace and moments of joyous quiet and joyful laughter. I suspect you are BOTH getting taller. Love EVERYONE in your household, Moses

  2. Kudos to you for doing this for your daughter! There is no doubt, brains work differently. Wishing you and Aubrey continued growth, learning, and joy!

  3. Erinn, you are doing an amazing job. You are correct, a flower will not bloom in the wrong environment. I can honestly say that I am not capable of homeschooling and what you are doing with Aubrey blows my mind. you should be so proud of yourself, Aubrey, and Bayne for taking on this responsibility. accept the comments from naysayers, but allow that to encourage your progress! much love, angie, Laila, & Riley