Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Loving To Learn Again- The Beginning of Our Homeschooling

My daughter was a public school student up until the fourth grade. There were times before that when we had problems with teachers, but it was her fourth grade year that finally made me realize that I needed to stand up for her more. That is the year I watched my usually sweet, happy child turn into a depressed and moody bundle of nerves. She would often come home from school crying and constantly talked about how stupid she was. Each time when I would try to find out what made her think these things, she would immediately clam up and retreat into herself.

Sis’s main problems in class were that she talked too much and fidgeted in her seat. As soon as the teacher hinted that this was a problem, I sent in information on little things she could try that might help, as well as a stress ball for my daughter to squeeze and sugar-free candy for rewards and treats (this teacher gave the kids sugar daily but expected them to sit still). In return, she suggested that I put Sis on medication for ADHD and seek counseling. I tried to nicely tell her not a snowball’s chance and thought things were going well until the night I went to the school for a parent-teacher conference.

When I walked into the classroom there was a lone desk sitting in the front facing back toward all the others. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the poor child who was being humiliated like that. Sad, that is, until I found out that the seat belonged to MY child. That’s when I became furious! Yes, because of things my daughter had trouble controlling, she was humiliated daily in front of her peers and I was informed that she was not allowed to join in group activities either. The teacher also encouraged the other students to make fun of Sis’s mild speech impediment in order to “encourage” her to do better in speech therapy.

As I said, I was furious and a part of me honestly wanted to physically hurt this woman. How dare she cause my daughter pain like this! What’s even worse is that Sis was so scared of what her teacher might do to her that she had endured this treatment for most of the year without telling me. My heart broke for her. The teacher made several lame excuses and then tried to call me a bad parent for Sis being the way she was. All I could do in response was inform the woman that she was very lucky I consider knocking her out to be unladylike!

Once I realized that the teacher wasn’t worth arguing with, I went to the principal who honestly turned out to be just as worthless and uncaring. So I wrote a letter to the superintendent of schools documenting exactly what was said and what I expected to be done, and I pulled my daughter out of public school without a single glance backwards.

Now, we had planned to start homeschooling the next school year anyway, so this was only an early start on our plans. Since starting homeschooling, I have been given back my sweet, happy child and she has honestly blossomed more than I could have hoped for. Her naturally outgoing personality has made her lots of friends at the weekly homeschool groups we hang out with, and she’s starting to recover from the damage done by her public school teacher.

Oh yes, there was damage that we are still trying to fix. Sis still worries about not doing well enough, she still thinks she’s stupid at times, and she constantly doubts her own abilities, but we’re working on it. I just remind her that she’s smart, funny, and doing a great job. I also don’t give her letter grades on her work because she felt like a failure any time she got something wrong. Now she does the work, if it’s not right we discuss it and learn how to fix it, and then we move on.

Homeschooling has had its ups and downs for both of us but it’s definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I never knew I could find so much joy in learning with my children, and being there to guide them in all ways. My daughter never knew learning and life could be so much fun! At home, Sis is always a great student and the “teacher’s” pet. Every day with her is an “A+” kind of day.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Homeschooling A High Schooler- The Beginning

I honestly never considered homeschooling my teenage son. He had always been in the public school system, liked it there socially, and wanted to stay there. When it came to learning though, he could have cared less and showed no interest at all.

For me, the very thought of trying to teach him with my limited education made me feel deer-caught-in-the-headlights sick. I just didn’t think I had the smarts to do it. It was something we didn’t discuss and we both figured that if things weren’t broke, then no need to try to “fix” them.

Then in November of last year we moved to another state and he had to enroll in a new school. We had to send him to a school considered one of the worst in our area and trying to get him registered was a complete nightmare! I often tell people that it would have been easier to have him run for Senate than it was to get into that school. You could only register on certain days and at certain times, they fought me over his transcripts even though I had prepared ahead of time and brought a copy from his previous school with me, and he wasn’t allowed to enroll until he had two immunizations that we hadn’t previously needed.

There were several reasons why this last issue was such a big deal. The biggest problem was that they wanted him to have both shots before he could start school, and at three to six weeks apart. This meant he would miss at least a month of school if we could get him in to someone immediately. As it turned out, no one could see him any sooner than four weeks. Meanwhile, my husband and I were trying to figure out when he could take Bret to get the vaccinations, because morally and religiously it was against my own personal beliefs. It was just not something I could do anymore. When the kids were little I was ignorant and didn’t know I had a choice when it came to vaccinating. Now I do.

As I was trying to figure out how to take care of everything, Bret came to me and said he would like to try homeschooling. In his opinion, the school wasn’t safe, he didn’t want to have to start all over again in another place, and the fact that our state ranks near the bottom in education bothered him quite a bit. He wanted to homeschool and give himself a shot at going to a good college. Inside I was both jumping for joy and having a nervous breakdown! How was I going to help him learn everything he needed to? What did I need for a high schooler? How do I do this without messing him up for life?

I researched every homeschool method out there for many weeks, hoping to find something that would be the perfect fit for Bret. Meanwhile, he was spending his new free time reading every book he could get his hands on. He has always loved reading, but he had never had as much time as he wanted to spend just relaxing and going through his books. The boy was reading a new book every two days and our library basket constantly stayed full. That’s when I realized that he had already found the perfect way for him to homeschool. Bret was finding his own interests and learning everything he could about them. All he needed from me was to provide him with the “tools” to continue learning. What a relief!

So now I am enjoying my new position as “teacher’s aide” and watching my son begin to love learning all over again. I still coach him at times and help him out with new subjects when he needs it but so far he is doing a great job of figuring out exactly what he needs.

The bright eyed little boy I once sent off to Kindergarten is back. The only difference is I don’t think he would let me hold his hand walking home nowadays.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Volunteering

For a few months now the kids and I have been discussing the need for them to do volunteer work. My feelings are that my kids need to learn more responsibility and to care more about someone other than themselves. They’re good kids but they can be a little selfish at times. So to me, volunteering is the perfect way for them to learn these lessons, build self esteem, and find the joy you get from helping others.

We had already discussed possibly volunteering at a senior center close by or assisted living community. The Humane Society is out because Big B has severe allergies to pet dander (mostly just dogs). Another thought was the Soup Kitchen downtown. I had also already decided that we would pick up trash at some of the local parks as well.

Then a few weeks ago two opportunities literally fell into our laps. The Library is taking applications for teen volunteers for the summers so Big B filled one out and if he gets on there then he can put his love of books to good use. The second one is thanks to our friend K who works for the local Wildlife Rescue which is always in need of volunteers. .

The Wildlife Rescue takes mostly teen and adult volunteers but Sissy is allowed with an adult who will take responsibility for her. The only problem was that I can’t be there with her because I have to have the Wild Child aka Lil Man around. Thankfully K said Sis can volunteer during her shifts and she will keep an eye out for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my daughter happier.

So both Sis and Big B have started volunteering on Fridays and Big B volunteers on Mondays as well. They do everything from cleaning cages, changing mats, making food, feeding the nonendangered animals…lots of “grunt” work which I think will be good for them both.

They both love it so far and have decided that they are going to be Rehabilitators one day. It’s so nice to see my kids actually into something that helps others. Of course, it doesn’t surprise me though because Big B is into raptors and birds in general so I knew he would find at least some interest in it. Sis is in love with all animals and truly comes alive around them. I had no doubt she would be good at this and I’m glad I was right.

My kids are learning responsibility, kindness, and heck they are even getting a good Science lesson each time as well! lol. You can’t beat that! The kids also get to be around K’s son, Thor (not his real name but it’s a God I know he likes), who I feel is a good influence on them. He also knows the ropes at the Wildlife Rescue and is able to help the kids learn how things work.

I think this is something my kids will be doing for a long time to come. Very rarely do people find their niche so quickly but thanks to the help of a friend my kids have found theirs and are finding the joy and satisfaction of volunteering.

As for me, I’m still looking for something I can do with a rampaging three year old attached to my hand. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

“Heathen” Fun and The Owl Girl

On Sunday, we went to a Beltane celebration at L’s house. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect since we had never been to one before and since this was also mostly for the kids. As soon as we got there we joined everyone else at the rock labryinth. Before you entered L did a sage smudging and told you to think of what you want to accomplish this summer. Then you walked through the circular rock labryinth until you got to the middle. There milk and honey were left for the fairies, L asked all the kids questions about fairies, and everyone repeated a chant as they jumped over the “fire” (this was really just smoldering logs at this point). By jumping over the fire you were leaving behind the bad things holding you back. Then everyone reversed and walked back out of the labryinth.

It was honestly really neat and cute. Big B chose to sit in the van instead but Sissy enjoyed it and Lil Man had me carry him most of the time. After we came back out, the kids all had a water balloon fight. Sis and K’s son seemed to especially enjoy seeing who could soak who the most. Eventually Big B couldn’t resist anymore and he joined in the fun as well. All the little kids were screaming “get the black guy” (my son was wearing black) and I was just howling! Later he told me “Mom, I’m a very white person so why were they calling me the black guy?” and after laughing hysterically I told him, “Honey, the wonderful thing at that age is that they don’t see skin color. They were talking about your shirt”! He thought that was the neatest thing.

After the balloon fight the kids all gathered around the Maypole and L handed each of them a ribbon. Lil Man was about as in her face as a kid could get making sure she heard him say he wanted a yellow ribbon. She was so patient and eventually he did get his yellow ribbon. Of course, when it came time to actually dance around the Maypole the little bugger ditched me! I was left getting closelined by little people who couldn’t make it over the head of even a bent over 6′ tall woman! lol

L also showed them a trick with paper butterflies (balancing them on one finger) and gave each child a “Love Bug” which was a rock with a rainbow painted on it and googley eyes. Lil Man feel instantly in love with them and even stole Big B’s.

We had such a nice time and I am so glad we went. We all came home exhausted and in such a wonderful mood. I am also happy to report that we didn’t have a single sunburn including me! YAY!!

Who’s the Owl Girl you ask? Well that would be Sissy. The other day the neatest thing happened to her. Our new friend, K, is a Wildlife Rehabilitator which means she nurses back wildlife that is brought into their center. At any given time she could have several owls, hawks, falcons, and you name it. Well the other day she had a little Burrowing Owl and let Sis wear the glove and “hold” it. Within a minute or two the owl was standing calmly and just staring at Sis. Meanwhile my constantly fidgeting constantly talking daughter was completely calm and had the most beautiful look of content on her face that I have ever seen. It was truly an awesome experience even for K and I who were only watching Sis and the owl.

K informed me that the owl will only stand for her and won’t even stand for the people who clean it’s cage and handle it all the time. I think she was trying to stress to me that this owl just standing there was a very odd thing for it to do. Today after Science Class, K told Sis that the owl hasn’t been the same since. I guess she’s not eating as much and won’t even stand for K now. It looks like my daughter and this owl have spoiled each other with some kind of weird bond. Thankfully (for both of them) Sis will get to see the owl (Athena) every Friday when she volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue with her older brother. I’ll fill you in on that too but it’s a whole nother post!