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 :)


Lilypad said...

We are also Jewish in a pretty non-Jewish area and I also wondered about decorating our windows when my son was little. In our favorite neighborhood that we felt comfortable in, we always put our lit menorah in a window in the stairwell where it looked fantastic from both inside and outside of the house! But in other, more temporary places (we rented for 5 years before buying another home last summer), we didn't display the menorah. My husband grew up Orthodox with a common Jewish last name and remembers people calling his house and screaming anti-Semitic things before hanging up---that blows my mind. And when he was little, he thought that the annual bomb threat at the Purim carnival was just part of the festivities. Sigh. There are plenty of nut-jobs in the world, unfortunately. I imagine nowadays, Muslim families are the ones getting calls like that. :-(
I'm so glad that you and Noah are doing better. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder and has always dressed in really soft clothes, to this day (at 14) he wears only knit sweat pants, we find dark ones that are more in a regular pants style than ones that scream "sweatpants" so he feels like he fits in well with the jeans-wearing kids. We also have that worry book, by the way! The time you take to relax together and just hangout will help acclimate you both to this new lifestyle.

Lauren said...

Hi Lilypad,

Thank you so much for you comment. Oh gosh, I have tears thinking of what your husband went through. That is incredibly sad. So sad.... I think you are right. I'd hate to think of anyone of any faith getting calls like that. We have a very common Jewish last name and only a couple times have gotten people saying slightly inappropriate things. We've been lucky.

I appreciate that you shared about your son and knit pants! I'm with them, knit pants are most certainly more coney than jeans! :)

Thank you very very much for your encouragement. It means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

You were my help and encouragement while I grew out my natural hair color (which looks great BTW--get lots of compliments), so let me encourage YOU now.

Homeschooling is probably the best thing I ever did. My son and daughter and I homeschooled from 4th & 6th grades through high school graduation, and into college. They are now 26 and 28, natural self motivated learners, fine interesting people, and mature adults.

The first year or 2 you are just getting your feet wet. Keep what works, toss what doesn't, and know that it's a marathon and not a sprint. Relax into it, ENJOY it, and day by day, month by month, you will see the most amazing fruit from your labors. Read aloud every day. Historical fiction for that age is so great--there are so many classics to enjoy. You don't have to get it right all the time--flexibility is essential. It looks like you are doing great already!

Hang in there Mama! As they say, it goes by so fast.

Lauren said...

Belle, thank you so much for all of your insight and encouragement and for your inspiration!!!

I'm glad that your silvers have come out great! :) Thank you for taking the time to help me now. :)

I'll remember your words and caring them with me. We'll read some historical fiction this week too, great idea!

Thanks for the hugs. You made a difference in my life.


De Re said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog for about a year or more. I read and re-read for encouragement. I know this isn't the point of this post, but in the fall foliage collage, is your hair white now? please please post photos. I love to see more good positive posts.

I wish I had some words of wisdom, other than patience will help you conquer anything, but I think I read that here. Although, by the sound of it, you are doing a great job and Mr. Noah is a lucky kid.

Lauren said...

Awww, hi De Re, thank you so much for your encouragement!!!! <3 <3 <3
Thank you, really.

You know, over the years the front of my hair has become more white. When I'm outside taking pictures it looks a lot lighter. I promise to take more soon and post them, ok? I will I keep meaning to blog more but have just been so busy.

Thank you for writing, I really appreciate it!!!
Lauren :)

Sue Paget said...


I've been meaning to leave a comment on your home schooling adventure since I read about it a while back so apologies for this belated message.

Girl - you are a born teacher. You were born for this role and honestly, I think you will help so many parents and their kids through your experiences with this. My kids are all grown but there were definitely times when they were in school where the idea of homeschooling would've been a much better option than the bullying and the pressure but at the time, it just seemed like something that was out of our realm of expertise. Everything worked out fine in the end but perhaps if we were back in time I would've rethought this.

Noah is getting the most amazing education and that he's in such a loving environment combined with a teacher who has an absolute knack and passion for crafting and creating is a blend of wow. I wanna go to your school!!!

Ahhhh, when you shared about giving him soft, comfortable clothes, etc - my eyes filled with tears - such an intuitive, sweet idea and a perfect example of how your sharing will help someone else who reads this do that. I will certainly pass this tip on - in fact, you make me want to put soft clothes on right now!!!

If Noah ever needs to do reports on Australia - you know where to ask for info!!