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Saturday, November 23, 2013

A New Direction

I've been contemplating a bit more the wisdom from my high school AP physics teacher.  He sent me quite a long email and spoke about a few different things.  Jon and I discussed some of them.  I think part of my push with the kids is to feel like I'm doing the right thing.  Although I also feel like, as their first educator, that I need to be sure they have everything they need to be successful.  But when I step back and look at the atmosphere that was beginning to be created, it was one of some tension.  So we are going to head in a new direction in our home.  I'm still going to meet with the principal on Tuesday to see how the school can push Carolyn's critical thinking skills.  But at home we're going to keep reading, expanding our books to different cultures within whatever the kids' interests are.

The big step we took today is to cancel our subscription to Reading Eggs.  The kids don't need to push their skills in reading or math.  They enjoyed using the program, but I could also see the frustration at times.  So we are going to dial back the electronics (although we never used them all that much) and turn to interactive things.  Christmas lists this year will consist of plenty of blocks to build large towers.  Some of my best childhood memories are of building towns with Lincoln logs.  The kids seem a bit young for these yet, but we might look into expanding our set for birthdays or next year's Christmas.  I'm debating about some of the math manipulatives I currently have on the lists.  I think that the kids might enjoy having them to make up their own games with.  The shapes I think they'll enjoy creating pictures from, so we'll keep those.  Neither kid wants much of anything.  But we want to continue to encourage imagination, and get away from single function toys.  If I look at what they play with the most, I could get rid of a lot of things in the toy room.  And after Christmas, we may go through and have them decide what we really want to keep, and what we should set aside for a garage sale this summer.  They have some great things that we could probably sell and put the money in their college accounts.  But the main thing is, we're going to stop doing anything "educational" at home.

I gave this a try today and the results were interesting.  The kids played while we were still in bed this morning.  Pretending to babysit their bears.  After breakfast we brought out the playdoh and they rolled and made "cookies" with small cookie cutters we have.  When they grew tired of that everyone but me got a haircut.  And then the kids had a bath to brush off the hair.  We settled onto the couch and read 2 chapters of Mr. Popper's Penguins before lunch.  During lunch Carolyn noticed the labels on the tomato jar we were putting the orange peels into.  So we walked about what 1/2 means, and expanded to 1/4 and she went through taking parts of a pizza.  Then they took a nap.  We snuggled in bed some and both kids asked to play on their iPad/Tablet.  They brought them into bed and Carolyn chose sticker Sudoku to start.  She'd never played it before but was quite quick to catch on.  When she started guessing we suggested she move on, and she chose the Tangrams app.  I showed her she could choose the have it show her what pieces to use and she enjoyed piecing them together onto the picture.  After about 30 minutes we turned everything off, had a snack, and headed to the mall to walk around and have dinner.  On the way to the mall, Carolyn counted from 2 to 80 by 2's.  No prompting by us, she just wanted to see how far she could get.  Interesting what will happen when you don't have a video screen in the car!  We had a nice evening and dinner, let the kids run around in the play area for a while and then came home.  Without any effort on our part, Carolyn did some math "learning" and game strategizing today.  I'm sure there were a couple other conversations to explain things throughout the day that I'm not remembering as well.

So from here we focus on more exposure to lots of topics.  I'm looking forward to our library trip on Wednesday both for the craft and because Carolyn will get to pick some of her own books for the first time since this summer.  First tomorrow we have another day of rest at home and then Monday and Tuesday both kids have trial ice skating lessons for the first time.  This will be a new journey, but hopefully one that keeps us close as a family and decreases the stress on everyone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Some hope

Despite a very rough start to the day, Carolyn had a good day.  At school they did their usual stations since it was Friday.  One of the stations they were drawing pictures and writing single words to create a story.  In other words, leaving out the connecting words.  It looks like perhaps something a Native American may have written on the teepee.  She enjoyed telling us her story when she came home, and proceeded to write out the story with all the words on our easel whiteboard.  She also came home with an assignment to take pictures of shapes around the house.  We found trapezoids, pentagons, octagons, hexagons, triangles, squares, rectangles, circles, and made our own rhombus.  I added an extension where we went through and wrote down a list of what shapes are in each picture.  It was good practice writing letters and numbers, as well as spelling the mathematical terms.  All those words that are "le" are so hard to remember.  So Carolyn has a better feeling about school at the moment.  We'll see how things go next week, although with only 2 days of school they can't be horrible.  I have sent email asking to find more extension activities for Carolyn to do to push her critical thinking skills.  Hopefully we can look over the curriculum next week and identify where that can be done.

At home we are going to focus on reading rich literature as much as possible.  This week I got some books that are stories that incorporate math.  I found a list of the top 100 children's book and another of the top 100 chapter books.  So we'll work through each list.  I'll probably get 5 or so from the children's book list each week.  We started reading Mr. Popper's Penguins today and got through 6 chapters in one sitting before we took a break for snack and other things (like the shape hunt).

I received a well-timed email from one of my former HS teachers today.  He has always been very level-headed and was very supportive as I started teaching.  He raised 3 kids in Glenview as well, so can give advice from experience.  Interestingly, he suggested the Mindset book I read in August.  He also said he got some great insights from Nurture Shock, so I have put that on hold at the library and will pick it up on Wednesday when we go.  He made some statements to try and get me to think.  I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation further, even though through email.

Feeling in at least a little better place right now.  Looking forward to a weekend of snuggles, reading, popcorn, and probably some games.  I wish it was warm enough to spend a bunch of time at the park!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Disappointing conversation

So at 9:30 last night the principal emailed me to postpone our meeting.  Something came up, so she offered 2 times next week.  Considering I slept horrible last night thinking about what to say and how to say it, I was pretty frustrated.  But I sent my request for babysitting on to Jon's dad and luckily he's able to oblige.  So we rescheduled for next Tuesday.  We did agree to talk on the phone as well.  So after a great morning with James, I spoke with the principal for about 20 minutes.  I shared with her my background and my concerns of what is happening.  I let her know that the goal for meeting next week is to come up with specific plans of how we're going to help Carolyn.  I'm disappointed with some of the things said during the conversation.  She emphasized the social importance of the classroom and learning to work with other people who don't understand.  I get that it's important, I do, but not all the time.  Every student should have some time (10-15min?) every day where they feel their needs are being met.  Right now, that is absolutely not happening for Carolyn.  I am worried that school for her is going to become a place where she has to go and follow directions, I am worried she is going to lose her love for learning as I see it fizzling some already.  The principal's only suggestion for now is to have her meet with the social worker to see how she's feeling about school.  I agreed, but don't think it will help in any way.  There are no social-emotional issues at school, her teacher reports great behavior and didn't have anything to criticize at her conference a month ago.  But if we can get something going, I'll jump through whatever hoops.  I hope that the message I got from today's conversation - that Carolyn just needs to learn to help her classmates learn - is not the only choice.  Because if that's going to happen, my only real option is going to be to bring her home.  She likes the social aspect of school so at this point I don't want to do that to her.

I noticed today that there is a night and day difference in Carolyn when she has time to do something that is mentally stimulating.  Today they had their usual explorations, which are stations around the room.  Once of the choices is independent reading and so Carolyn chose a book to take to school and read that.  But that is something she could be doing at home.  And today I know she was not well rested because she was up twice last night. 

James and I had a wonderful morning today.  After dropping Carolyn off at school, we came home and he helped me put the soup together for dinner.  Then he brought his football and crab catch items into the living room and we listened to music and played catch, with an intermission to dance.  When he got sick of that we played Cooties for a bit, then he cut out the pieces to work with Bob book 1.  He knows all the sounds in the book (although there are only 6) and can sound out all the words.  It's going to be interesting to watch him progress with his reading since he's so different from Carolyn with learning.  He got to talk on the phone to Kathi for a while, which he loved.  We also, of course, read a bunch of books.  Just a nice, low key morning at home with lots of hugs and laughs.

Looking forward to 5 days with my family next week with no interruptions!  And can't wait until winter break so we have even more time together.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Frustration Mounts

Carolyn forgot her iPad this morning.  So on our way to soccer, I dropped it off at the school so they could deliver it to her.  She got off the bus without it in her backpack.  I come to find out that they won't deliver them during instructional time, so Carolyn didn't get hers today.  And because there's no lunch break for kindergarten or anything, she is without it tonight.  We were never informed of this policy and it makes me angry.  I wasted 15 minutes of my day so that my child would still be without her iPad and then be without it tonight.  There was no mention of the policy when I dropped it off.

Carolyn has now gone 3 days without anything to challenge her at school.  Her behavior is quickly deteriorating at home because she has to try so hard to behave appropriately when she's bored.  She has such excellent company manners but it should not be this hard for her.  There has to be some solution.  Maybe I'm being na├»ve, but I see SO many opportunities for differentiation that are being ignored.  Comparing numbers?  Use numbers bigger than 10 for the kids that can.  Identifying pictures?  Let them see the words to read them!  Working on writing? Encourage kids to reread and edit their own work - it takes seconds to tell a kid to reread what's there and be sure it has the right sounds.  We will work on some more math this afternoon, whether it be worksheets or games.  But at the moment my heart is breaking because I can see how hard she is working to hold everything together.

Hopefully my meeting with the principal will turn something useful up.  She doesn't want to leave school because she does like the social aspect.  But I can't keep fighting these behavioral issues when all that she needs is some mental stimulation.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Easy Math Game

Carolyn loves to work on math, but I'm trying to pull back a little on teaching her new math facts.  She is really good at "counting on" or subtracting by counting backwards.  I came across this game, http://www.k-5mathteachingresources.com/support-files/Race-to-50.pdf, and have adapted it for our needs.  We are using some of Carolyn's necklace beads as markers and I pulled out a couple hundreds charts.  Each person gets a marker for the game board and one for their chart.  We move around the board according to the original directions.  The hundreds chart has turned the game into a race to 100, but also an easy way to work on addition.  We have a chance to talk about how adding 10 means you just go down to the next row.  And when you land on top of someone else, you add that number twice.  This shows you can have multiple addends within a problem.  And as we play, I restate the addition problem to emphasize that is what we are doing.  Carolyn really liked playing and has already asked to play again after lunch.  As a twist in the future, we might count down to work on subtracting.  My hope is that this type of game will help her work on her adding/subtracting and satisfy her need for numbers without obviously working on math.

I heard back from the principal and am waiting to see if I can arrange for someone to watch the kids for a meeting at 11:30 on Thursday.  I must admit that the more I read about homeschooling though, the more I think it's for us.  I'm going to try and go in with an open mind and see if we can find things that will satisfy all of us.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Now what?

I have a bunch of work to do today, but I need to write this out before I can even begin to focus on work.  I met with Carolyn's teacher this morning and now really don't know what to do.  Carolyn is showing what she can do at school.  In 2 days, she wrote a three page story and started a new one, complete with illustrations.  She is not afraid to read in front of her class at all.  Carolyn is not the most independent learner, but I would imagine most 5 year olds really aren't.

The "answers" I got were less than promising.  Her teacher said she would nudge and push Carolyn to do a little more when given a chance.  There was no discussion about this in regards to any math, where they are studying shapes and will later this year look at solids.  Carolyn already knows those and we've done them at home by chance, with math seeds, and with magnatiles.  She emphasized that she really only likes to use picture books in the classroom, suggesting that they can have as much difficulty as longer books.  I just don't see how the plot difficulty of a book with 20 sentences can be the same as a chapter book, and Carolyn really enjoys the extended plots.  She did say that Carolyn can bring in books to read if she would like.  So I'll be discussing that with her this afternoon.  I just really didn't get many concrete answers for the plan for the year.  I asked if we're likely to have this boredom issue each year and she just said possibly.  So without many answers, as we were rushed at the end, she said she would understand if I pull Carolyn but that she doesn't want to lose her. 

Almost felt like an endorsement that the classroom can't meet her needs because they are so specific.  This is one of those things that frustrates me.  The kids that are behind get all the support in the world, but the ones that are ahead get less than even the average student because they are already so capable.  It looks like the next step is going to be meeting with the principal.  I think I'll give it a week and see how things are going.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fall fun

I continue to struggle with what to do for Carolyn and school.  The last couple days we've been doing some learning activities at home and the kids have been loving them.  We've been creating a list of questions that we'll get books to find answers.  I spent the morning looking for things that I can confidently do at home.  I found some great reading and writing lessons on www.readwritethink.org and some good math ideas on http://www.k-5mathteachingresources.com/kindergarten-math-activities.html. It will be easy to pick and choose from these activities things that are at Carolyn's level and that she finds interesting.  I think I'm going to start with looking at "The Snowman" and writing a story to go with it.  Then I'll have Carolyn make some of her own drawings and write a story to go with it.  We'll give it a try tomorrow afternoon.  I'm going to switch between reading/writing, math, and science working on one project at a time as time allows.  I'm also going to speak with Carolyn's teacher about what is happening in the classroom.

I also reached out the high school principal, since I've kept in touch with him for a while.  And I emailed my other former HS physics teacher.  I asked both of them their thoughts on homeschooling and how it might effect HS.  I found out my 4th grade teacher and 4-5 principal are still at the school and contacted them as well.  I just said hi to them since it's been a while and I'm not sure they remember me.  But once we reconnect I'm going to ask what they think.  I'm guessing they'll remember me since my mom was pretty memorable.

Today we played in the leaves, made leaf rubbings with chalk on the driveway, cleaned up the backyard for winter, and then brought some leaves inside.  Making leaf rubbings on paper turned into cutting the steams off and forming straight letters with them.  Carolyn made her own and I made some for James to identify.  We took a break for dinner and now we're going to make thankful turkeys out of tracing hands.  It's been a nice day, even if I didn't get the PJs made I was hoping to work on.  The best laid plans... I know it'll get done!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Schooling Dilemma

I should really be working right now, but I have to get this out before I can focus.  I am really unsure what to do for Carolyn right now, and James in the future even.  Carolyn has been coming home lately riled up from the day, and it's clear she isn't being challenged at all while at school.  I wrote to her teacher and the response was that they've been doing some benchmark testing lately.  Yet I feel like they were just doing that a few weeks ago.  So how much time is being spent evaluating these kids?!  And how often does Carolyn have to sit around while they check on the abilities of all the kids?  Yes, she can count to 100, knows all 42 sounds, can write all the letters in lowercase, can identify a square, circle, triangle, and their vertices.  For that matter she can count by 2 (to 20), 5, and 10.  And yes, it's only November.  She hates guided writing where she just has to fill in a couple words that match a picture and doesn't get to use any of her own ideas.  She can complete a level L story and questions on RAZ kids by only listening to the story once.  She often wants to practice learning her math facts.  I can't help but feel like her time is being wasted each morning when she goes to school.  I've written her teacher again to see if we can meet or talk on the phone about what the rest of the year is going to look like and how to proceed from here.

And all of this makes me miss my mom so much because she was good dealing with all of the school stuff.  I'm fighting back tears right now because I just wish I could talk to her right now.  I want what's best for my kids, but I don't know what that is.  If I had all the money in the world we could send them to Montessori or an academy some where.  But we can barely pay our bills and fix the things that break.  But right now it seems my heart is breaking for the frustration that Carolyn faces each day.  People do need to learn to be patient with others and that not everyone learns at the same pace, but I guess I don't feel like learning at 5.5 that you are supposed to wait around while others catch up is appropriate.  And it's the exact problem with the education in this country and why we're falling behind in math and science.  I see Carolyn's love for learning slowly fizzling and I hate that, but I don't know what to do to give her the best results in the long run.  And it makes me crave a phone call with my mom like nothing else.

I love you Mom, and I miss you more than words can say!