Sunday, November 15, 2015

Homeschool for Healing And Other Good Things

Oh wow, Thanksgiving is just two weeks from today! This year we're hosting and it feels like there's a lot do. We've hosted several times in the past and it's always such a busy but fun time. The house gets scrubbed, folding chairs, card tables, big tablecloths and extra serving pieces are delivered from my Mom's house. Then we cook. And cook, and cook and cook. 

In late August or early September I drew this little Thanksgiving To-Do list. I thought about printing them off and giving them to friends. I don't know if anybody would ever want or need one, but for me, an upbeat and colorful page takes a hectic, stress-filled list and makes it an ounce happier. You are welcome to download it and print one for yourself if you'd like!

Along the lines of creating and crafting, I began some Chanukah themed window decorations. I didn't have time this year to make October and November decorations because I've just been so busy with Noah and homeschool. It was very sweet, when my neighbor realized that I hadn't put my monthly decorations up for two months, she called to make sure we were ok. Isn't that nice? Her intuition was right, things have been very different over here. It'll be ok though....

Part of Noah's anxiety has prevented him from staying with my parents while Jon and I go out for a date night. He used to go over quite frequently. They live just five minutes away. He's been too worried to stay with a sitter at our house too. So honestly, Jon and I haven't had a real date since mid-summer. It's kind of depressing. That said, finally yesterday, Noah agreed to have dinner at my parent's house. Jon and I took this opportunity to get Thai carry-out from a place in town and we just relaxed for a couple of hours. Jon read at the kitchen table and I sat next to him getting a head start on December window decorations. Some people meditate, I cut and past paper for our windows!

Since Chanukah and Christmas do not overlap this year, I thought that I wanted to try something new. We celebrate Chanukah and Christmas between both of our families. Since moving to this house I've always put Christmas lights and decorations in Chanukah colors up outside. Silver and blue. I don't know, it was a way to look festive and join in with all of the lights going up in town, but also as a nod to Chanukah. I get that might sounds a little silly to some, but it's how I feel!

(The following is just me thinking things out).
I've never put up overtly Jewish decorations in our windows. There's no reason, I just haven't. Then when I made these dreidels, with their hebrew letters and nine candles for the line of nine window panes, (becoming a menorah!) I took a step back. This might sound strange, but I had to talk with Jon because I didn't know if broadcasting: "A Jewish Family Lives Here!" Would have any negative implications. Is that crazy thinking? I highly doubt it would mean anything at all. In fact, many of our neighbors are Jewish and I would bet that it makes no difference what-so-ever to 99.9% of people here. In a community where Jewish people are the minority though, I just wondered if publicly showing you're a little different is a good thing? Ok, that's all I'm going to say, and I'm still going to put my decorations up during Chanukah! :)

Now homeschool- Knock on wood, things have been going better this week!!!! \(^-^)/
I think we're figuring it out! I mean, I think I am better understanding what Noah needs and how to get through to him. How to ratchet down the worry and motivate him to make an effort with his learning.

I have listened to podcasts about homeschooling, or rather in this particular podcast, unschooling as a way of healing  for children, and this episode as homeschooling being helpful for your children during hard times. (I just love the the podcasts by The Unschooling Life, by the way).
Having seen this in action now, I am a firm believer that sometimes, allowing your child to take a step back, to slow down and cocoon at home, can make for some much needed self-care and a new perspective on seeing his or her fears from the outside. 

As time goes by and we continue the daily conversation and work on just what happened this year, why he suddenly shut down and  refused school so incredibly vehemently, Noah is slowly starting to seem more like his old self. Less tears, less negative talk, less worry, less frustration and less feeling ashamed.

As his Mom and protector and advocate, I knew that my first duty was to get Noah feeling healthy and happy again. I rounded up all of the loving, self-care tools that I could. Like making sure he was getting enough sleep, clearing our calendar and moving quietly and slowly on HIS schedule and rhythm for a while. It might sound like I'm a push-over or a parent who is afraid to say "no," but we've truly had a crisis and if any, now was the time to just nurture my child's needs.

Another thing I did, which sounds too simple to be real, but worked, was that I made everything as soft and warm as possible. I've been dressing Noah in his sweatsuits, soft cotton clothing, bought him some fleece slippers and pulled out our big blankets. We spend a lot of time with lap desks, doing our school work on the comfy couch. In the past we've known that like many many kids, Noah might have some mild sensory issues. I'm still not totally sure, but I do know that this sensory based tool has really helped.

Other similar strategies that I've implemented - soft lighting, including the glow of a "studying candle." We play quiet music and sometimes whisper in the morning which makes us actually laugh because it's so strange.

Most of all though, I think coming up with a school day rhythm for Noah is what has helped him the most to feel a sense of calm.  It took me two and a half months and lots of trial and error, but I'm now pretty sure we've found what works the best. He knows what to expect, it's starting to seem familiar.
When we first began Noah wasn't used to having his Mom ask him to do school works for many hours. He resisted, he felt sad. Now it goes a more smoothly. I've come to see that the "school at home" model of replicating his old school day is not working at home, coming from a parent. I've learned that rather than learning from workbooks and print outs only, Noah is much more excited to learn by doing, exploring, reading and taking part in online educational programs. I've learned that breaking  focused academic work into short sessions and interspersing fun breaks is essential for him.
This thoughtful blog post on Simple Homeschool by Kara Anderson from the blog Quill and Camera resonated with me deeply on how much you should push your sensitive homeschooling child. I have found thus far that I get much better results from trying to understand Noah's learning style, then attempting to push him to do more and more at my preferred pace. It just makes for battles.

On the day in the picture below, we had some morning academic work and then promptly left the house for a walk in the woods before lunch and afternoon work. Noah brought his binoculars and we searched the forest for signs of life! We learned this little tid bit: "There are EIGHT species of Squirrels in Michigan! Chipmunks are considered "Ground Squirrels" and the Woodchuck is in the squirrel family. He's the largest member."

After our walk we came home for hot tea. This is a "Hug Mug" that my brother-in-law gave me perhaps ten years ago! You wrap your hands around the mug and it warms your hand. Just perfect for these misty and cold November days.

Another way we've been recently breaking up our sit down work sessions is by cooking. Noah has taken a big interest in learning how to cook. We made a loaf of  lemon poppy seed cake last week, and today we made these frozen sour patch grapes from Pinterest. Yum! Here's Noah learning one of the basics, scrambled eggs! I'm careful to stand right there with him when we're using the stove. He's turning eleven though in just a few day's time, so I think he's ready. (These turned out to be great eggs by the way).

One interesting thing that I've come to accept is that like learning can happen through any experience, it can also happen anywhere! Originally I had thoughts of turning our small, front room that is now my "office" into a school room. Take out my small hutch/writing desk and the two comfy chairs and replace them with a work table and two desk chairs and bookshelves. It never happen because our big kitchen table with it's bench was instantly more inviting. It's good for spreading out on. Our places of learning quickly expanded to include the couches with lap desks and apparently, ON the table is a good place for some reading too?

I know not traditional, and dangerously close to the television, but Noah learns very well ,at his "desk" in the picture below.  This is the little space that he's claimed when doing independent online learning. If it works, I can't knock it. He's got his tea, his sweatsuit and he's ready to go! :)

Here Noah is working on his two GamED Academy classes. Now that we're about a week in, I can't tell you how much I love this program. Yes, it uses Minecraft to entice Noah to learn, but it is also getting him to write essays, read about history and science, use his imagination and work together with other kids and teens in team work exercises. I didn't know how academic and learning heavy it would be when signing up, but it truly is full of it! This is such a neat idea. Here are short descriptions of Noah's two, six-week classes:

Castles and Cannons

In 476, warriors attacked the city of Rome and ended more than 800 years of glory for the “Eternal City.” About one thousand years later, Europe experienced a “rebirth” we now call the Renaissance. The era between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance is a thousand-year period we call the Middle Ages.
Culture in the Middle Ages is often described as barbaric. This was a rough time to exist! Today we think of the glamour of kings, queens, and the Knights of the Round Table, but the reality is that most people had little to no rights and lived in poverty! Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and experience the life of a peasant? Polish your crown and work on your castle? Engage in a friendly joust in the PVP based Knights Tournament? Join us for an amazing adventure through the Middle Ages – Minecraft Style!
Einstein's Space
Welcome to Einstein’s Space where we explore the innovations of inventors in their time and the ripples they left behind! Are you ready to build Minecraft replicas of an Apple Store and a Recycling Plant? Have you ever wondered who invented the car? Did you know that an invention doesn’t have to be a gadget? Some inventions have been new ways of thinking! We will be covering all this and more in class!

So far this week Noah has learned about the lives of medieval peasants and the feudal system. Then he learned about the lives of monks and had to write a comparative essay and finally, build a peasant house in Minecraft, which is called a "cruck house."  For his science class, Noah learned about Tesla and Edison and their whole A/C - D/C debate. Then he learned another day about some of Newton's laws and had to simulate one (the law of gravity)  in mine craft. He's also on a team build to create a massive telescope to peer into space!

We are still taking our regular trips to the library. Noah's most recent library haul kind of cracked me up with it's randomness. I think it's funny that he actually wants to read a dry Windows 8.1 manual and that he adorably chose "Kitchen Math." I'm glad that he finds books to read, no matter what they are.

The reason that I'm writing out all of this minutia, is not because I think anyone will find it particularly interesting, but because I want to be able to look back when one day I say to grown Noah: "Hey, remember that time in 5th grade when you refused to go to school and I had to homeschool you!?"

I personally have found the following interesting. This is the evolution of our daily schedule. I knew from the get go that Noah felt anxious if he didn't know what to expect for the day. At first I didn't write anything out. Then he told me that it would help him to know what we were going to be doing. I went online looking for a dry erase schedule board or something with pockets. Everything cost a bit of money. Finally I thought that a simple lesson planner could double as my school planner  and a place to take notes. Plus it was cheap. I found this one on Amazon. I loved it! Each day I scheduled out every subject, what we would be doing and then took notes on Noah's progress. IT.FREAKED.NOAH.OUT. Ok, maybe it was a little ambitious, a lot of work.... I was just trying to do my best! 

So then I decided to just write the highlights of each subject down on a piece of paper with drawing to make it a little fun and less intimidating. This took time each night and sometimes seeing the lists of tasks was still overwhelming.

I still take notes on Noah's progress and planning notes for myself, but what I finally came to was the bottom row. I just uh....put out some of the books that we'll be using that day and then quietly add in other subjects through out the day. Lol. It worked! I have no idea why, but the books represent (some) of our plans. 

Just so you know, that FRACTION STORIES workbook below is both hilarious and AMAZING. Best math workbook I've ever come across and Noah loves it!!!

Speaking of recommended books.... we ordered the most recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid for Noah. Hot off the press! I just gave it to him today and he said it was so amazing, he couldn't put it down! He read it in one sitting this morning. Definitely sounds like a good one. :)

Speaking, speaking of books.... We went to our library's book sale this past weekend and look what I found for just a dollar! As you might have noticed, I love all things Brain Quest. It's a great company. They make learning fun. One dollar!!! I was excited.

And finally, one more homeschool resource, well kid resource. I LOVE this Minecraft themed self regulation chart from the blog Jacob's Family. It's brilliant! Thank you! I came across it on Pinterest.
Noah gets annoyed at me when I make him talk about it, but most days I ask him if he's an Enderman, a Steve or a Notch. I mostly started because he was becoming frustrated with school work, but really it also works with anxiety. A great tool. :)

And that's the scoop! Time to wrap it up. We're having a new favorite, family make-your-own calzone night. Until next time, have fun and make sure to go easy on yourself.

Lauren :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grateful For.... Fall Decorations and More

This post is from early September. I meant to finish it up right away but I unexpectedly became really busy! Lol. Anyway, I figured that if I didn't post it now, it would be winter by the time I did, and an ode to Autumn makes no sense in the winter. ;)

I think one of the best feelings in the world is to be full of gratitude. Only the lucky ones get to feel gratitude. That's because they have something in their life to be thankful for, and they see it.

........I AM GRATEFUL!

I was just thinking the other night about an old app that I have on my phone called "Gratitude." I've had it since 2009, it's a little gratitude journal! Each day you list several things that you're grateful for. You can add a picture and rate your day. While I haven't kept up with daily entries this whole time, it is one of the only apps that I go back to time and time again. I love looking back through the years and remember great days and small things that made me smile from the inside out. (Although more entries than I want to admit include chocolate).

When I'm able, I'd like to blog more posts of gratitude. It makes me happy and puts life into perspective. Sometimes in the morning, before I open my eyes, I silently say to myself all of the things that I am thankful for big and small. I thank the universe. I go throughout my day when I'm mindful enough stopping and feeling gratitude along the way. "Thank you gorgeous yellow leaves falling , I'm so happy to watch you blow in the wind. I'm grateful for you September sunset. I'm so luck to see you again."

And when I do these things continually, or at least every morning for a while, a change occurs. There's a shift! I can't explain it, and it's almost too magic to be real, but truly, when you learn to come from a place of thankfulness and awe, life gets better. Life is happier, more gentle, less frenetic. Try it! You might really enjoy this.

And now, some things of late that I have been grateful for.....

I'm thankful for......

Small, beautiful, wonderful diversions from everyday struggles. Places like the Cider Mill!!!!  And the fact that Noah still wants to have his picture taken on the tractor. I'm glad he doesn't feel  too old for that . :)  Btw- my parents used to promise to take me here after nursery school for cider and donuts if I didn't cry at drop off. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! (Pun intended).....

Thankful for historic places. I love history, especially the domestic history of 19th century rural America. I know it's a bit narrow of a field but... The cider mill above was completed in 1837! It's pretty cool. They have found many artifacts around the mill and in the walls over the years and they're all on display. In the same small town as the cider mill, we went to see a house that was for sale recently! (I'm laughing because around this time last year, we also went to see a house in the same neighborhood for sale, and I blogged about it.) And once again we returned to our current house and said: "HOME SWEET HOME!" It's ridiculous, our house is our home, we'll never move! Probably.

I'm very grateful for good, supportive veterinary care for Josie. Poor Josie came to us at just 10 weeks, itchy and scratching. We ruled out fleas or anything like that, and I watched her for patterns. Like winter, much less scratching in winter. She seemed to scratch more outside and always on the grass. We eventually found our way to a wonderful veterinary specialist. She is a dermatologist/allergist. She was so great. Our vet wanted to first rule out food allergies as they are simpler to treat and fairly easy to spot. So, that's when we started a three month food elimination challenge. Three months in and scratching was still there. It seemed like she was allergic to every protein. We were down to just fish. That's when summer turned to fall and her scratching really ramped up. So much so that little Josie, to our horror, scratched a hot spot on the side of her face! :(

We ran her up to our regular vet, and this is where actually a good turning point came about. I'm sooooo thankful. Our vet listen to me when I said that I really really sense this is environmental and seasonal inhalant allergies, not food allergies. She believed my instinct!!! So, Josie's wound was cleaned up and we were given a cone and sent home with some topical medication and anti-histamines. The itching lessened a bit and the wound healed. Finally we were able to take the cone off  about a week later, but when we did.... as soon as she was out of our sight for a minute,she scratched another small wound! We decided to consult with our vet again. This time we all agreed that it was worth a try of a short round of steroids. We trust our vet to be safe and conservative with these and to have Josie on them for the shortest time possible. Her hunch was that Josie was having bad fall allergies, just like last year!

To our great joy, Josie's scratching was 80% GONE within two days of being on the new medication!!!! And after that, I have almost not seen her scratch or paw at her eyes of nose at all! This is a BIG DEAL after having an itchy, little pup for so long!

As we taper her off her medications, I don't know what it will be like when she's done, but I am hopeful that once the first frost comes, things will get better and I'm just grateful for our wonderful vets!

And now for my OBSESSION I mean something I'm REALLY thankful for.....FALL DECORATIONS!!!!!!

I need to breath my way through talking about this because I can go on excitedly about fall decorations for DAYS! Let's start with this I guess. Before I get to what I already owned and what I purchased (with coupons and deals of course) this is what I made. I was short one throw or pillow for this chair. I don't think my crocheted candy corn blanket came out too gorgeous, but it does what I needed! A little fall color and something to help keep us warm when the fall gets going. 

I have some big bins that we store in the basement and hold all of my fall decoration bits and bobs. Its an ever growing collection over the past ten years and my favorite season to decorate for. In my mind, I would like to have gorgeous, sophisticated, matching decorations. You know, like catalogue worthy things from Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel! In my HEART though, I know that my rag-tag group of scrounged up decorations is just perfect because they do the most important thing - convey the warmth and joy of what fall means to me. 

This is our little writing desk decorated. I love this book by Susan Branch. It's called "Autumn from the Heart and Home" and is full of autumnal recipes for your family and for entertaining. There are Susan's gorgeous watercolors too and quotes and tips, all celebrating this cozy season.

Here is our living room! I always worry that the big, red rug will clash with my seasonal decorations but I also always remember my Mom's suggestion of just ignoring the rug. So I did. This year I used all of my old fall decorations, including a ceramic pumpkin that held a flower arrangement that was sent to me last fall! Also, this year I decided to add some pillows to my collection, so I purchased these pillows at Kohl's. I waited until they were 35% off and I had a coupon!

 This year my Mom asked if I wanted to borrow her antique panted acorns. I said "sure!" and knew that I could find a place for them. She brought these little painted acorns and a few larger fabric acorns that she purchased at the art center where she paints.

So now I have an acorn chandelier for a while!

Oh! And I can't forget this month's window decorations!!! I made these early because I foresaw a busy autumn. Little did I know....

October is always pumpkin or Halloween or leaves. I wanted to find something "early autumn" to represent. Last year it was apples, footballs and pencils. School is a good September theme I think. And so is the cider mill, something that most everyone around here gets excited for in September.

So I made little red schoolhouses (IRONIC IN RETROSPECT!) and apple trees and baskets with apples. And then I made jugs of apple cider and donuts! That was the most fun. I tried representing the cinnamon and sugar on the donuts with some translucent glitter paint but it didn't translate too well visually.
I'm still happy with how things turned out. 

Another super deal at Kohl's this simple faux berry wreath. It's just what I needed. (Well, maybe).

 Here is a detail from my living room. That's the ceramic pumpkin that came from a flower arrangement that I received. My Mom gave me some of the little acorns and faux pumpkins years ago. Even the ribbon was recycled!

Same for this little corner of the room. It's nothing special and even a bit odd, but it makes me happy. 

Our whole writing desk dressed up.

So that's the scoop! Until next time, think about your "Thankfuls!"