Saturday, April 30, 2011

Question #2

Another question that I am frequently asked is, "How do you know they are keeping up?" My first thought is, "keeping up with whom?" But I know that question means, "are your kids keeping up with public school children of similar ages."

I have spoken with two moms recently who told me that their children, although curious and smart are 'reading behind their grade level' and 'performing below' the others in their class and have been labeled 'struggling learners'. I asked them what they believed when their kids were developing as infants - did they believe learning would all come in due time? What if the pressure was removed to perform a certain activity, in a certain month or year, and waited (gasp) until that child produced that skill on their own. You know the stories of how people say, "he won't go to college in diapers!" I believe it can be the same for other skills they need.

I know families that allow children to gain skills at the time and pace the child desires and their children did not read until 9, and then read voraciously for years after that, above "grade level". I know of a family whose child was exposed to no formal math until their teen years and was able to easily master what would be considered *YEARS* of math in several short months. What if curiousity and developmental readiness matter way more than the mainstream thought leaves room for.

What about a child that learns faster than 'average'. I remember people asking me about 'keeping up' when Gavin was working from math workbooks labeled 'Grade 5' when he would have been in second grade. He was reading books that would have been considered way "above grade level". I was glad he had the freedom to move at the pace that worked for him. This is the child that sat up at 5 months, crawled at 6 months, pulled up at 8 months and did not walk until 14 months?! Development can be a funny thing.
There is nothing magical about the timeline when kids are presented with American History, Shakespeare, World Geography, look at the works of artistic masters, develop pie charts, use mapping skills, or learn about the Greeks and Romans. (upcoming Question #3 will cover another frequently asked question, "What if you miss something?") If you think that 'keeping up' means we study the same things that the public school does, and at the same times, and in the same way then we will have to tell you that we don't intend to 'keep up'.

Maybe it's easier for me to see, with the children that I have been charged with, because they have *very* different timelines, capacities, learning styles, and interests. But Ethan is right where Ethan is supposed to be, Gavin is right where Gavin is supposed to be, Mikey is right where Mikey is supposed to be, and Seany....well he is never where he is supposed to be!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kitchen Remodel - Installment #3

And...we have windows!

And all kinds of electrical receptacles, and plumbing and insulation, but I guess that's not as flashy as new windows, huh? What I find really stressful is making a life-long committment (no, for your information, I don't think that's too dramatic) to the finishes in my kitchen using what you see here below.

A square foot of flooring, one cabinet face and a piece of granite the size of my palm. If you can picture an entire kitchen done in those finshes then lah-di-dah! I can't see it. But I am trying. I take turns kicking different pieces of flooring around and then putting the cabinet and granite next to it. I guess at some point, you need to jump!

I picked a good range and a good refrigerator - only I don't think they look good together. How do I weigh function and form!?! Dennis tells me a still need to pick other major appliances, a sink (and how it will be oriented), faucets, hardware, lighting and paint. Anyone want to do it for me?

Until then I am mastering the art of cooking on the dining room table.

Step 1

Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
After I cook, I put my dishes in my makeshift "sink". Then I shamlessly drop the whole pan off at my mom's house to be washed. Nice, right?

You might also like:

Kitchen Remodel - Installment #1

Kitchen Remodel - Installment #2

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Phys. Ed. is more important than Algebra

Ethan joined in a pick up basketball game on our street this weekend. For many kids, that wouldn't be that exciting. But as a teenager with Down syndrome, it is exciting and complicated.

Since he was very young, much of our focus with Ethan has been on 'appropriate' ways to handle every situation from walking through the grocery store to sitting in church (some lessons have been more successful than others). It is so much harder for kids with DS to 'pick up' on the nuances of social function. It is harder to discriminate who we hug as opposed to who we might shake hands with, and whether a friendly shove from an opposing team member is an invitation for a wrestling match.

So I watched as Ethan walked out the front door, ball in hand. He yelled to the boys that he wanted to play. I don't know, for sure, what the boys were thinking. They have had lots of experiences with Ethan, but they were probably unaware as to whether or not he could make a lay-up, knew to pass and could discern whether he was on offense and defense. But he does know. And he knows because, unlike other kids who came to this knowledge effortlessly, we taught, re-taught, school taught, walked through the steps, reminded, and then did it all again.

At Midland School, there is a huge focus on physical education and intramural sports. Ethan has been taught the intricacies and skills of games such as soccer and basketball. He was taught where to stand and how to place your hands. I have seen the phys. ed. staff at Midland use markers on the floor, slow motion, and one-to-one instruction to make sure the kids, at whatever level they are at, can learn to play a game. The intramural games at Midland are important events, with spectators and cheerleaders!

I marvel as a court full of special education students, all with their own deficits and quirks, participate in a totally typical, fluid game of basketball. I watch as they run down the court, take appropriate positions, pass to each other, make baskets, show boat, and give high fives. For a moment, I realize that for some of these kids, it is a small miracle.

As the game went on out in the street, no one cared about Ethan's reading level or standardized test scores. They only cared if he could play a simple game of basketball.

And so did I.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Question #1

One of the questions I am frequently asked regarding homeschooling is "How do you know what to teach them?" It sounds like a simple question, but it really has alot of implications.

The question implies that, as a homeschooling parent, I am expected to teach my kids everything they are going to learn. In reality, they learn from lots of different people in multiple places. They attend various classes, events and lectures. They visit museums and science centers. They read. They watch various tv shows, movies, and documentaries. They learn from neighbors, friends, librarians, aunts, uncles, coaches and other kids and parents. As homeschool parents, Dennis and I view our role as the primary 'facilitators' to get them access to what they need and want to learn. I do not believe that I need to be able to teach them everything that they will ever learn (isn't that what youtube is for?!?), but to help them find the resources that enable them to learn. I also expect them to be able to find those resources for themselve in the coming years - just like Dennis and I when we want to acquire information.

This question may also mean how do I know when to teach them American History, introduce Algebra, study native americans or cover ocean life. There are many ways to accomplish this. There are many (probably thousands) of packaged curricula available that you could follow. Many are laid out comparably to how schools would cover those topics. We have used structured programs in the past. There is also a plethora of books that you could reference as to what your child might "need to know", if it were important to you to stay in step with children of similar ages that attend school.

We expose the boys to lots of people, places and things that prompt questions about and interest in Shakespeare, bees, geosolids, statistics, green anoles, pianos, trees, the human body, etc. and then get them books, activities, videos, websites, and museum exhibits about those topics. We find it is highly effective to teach them what they want to know, when they are actually interested. We are able to capitalize on their natural curiosity and interest in a subject. It is clear when they are done with a particular subject for the moment - and we move on the next!

One of the subjects people question how we will address is math. In our experience, the boys have been just as interested in math as anything else. We have not forced them to do specific lessons, and yet they have explored money, time, geometry, algebra, graphing, fractions, decimals, averages, addition, subtraction, mulitiplication and division, patterns, place value, the Pythagorean Theory, and much more. When they need to learn something we cannot teach them, we will help them find out where they can.

Questions #2

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kitchen Remodel - Installment #2

I've been framed! I swear!

I have to admit, it's pretty neat. I can kind of see a 'kitchen' now, just like the little pencil one on the paper I have been holding for weeks. That window you see 'framed' out right there (can you tell I learned a new word?) is the window that will be over my control center. It's labeled 'desk' on my paper drawing.

The wall on the left will be miles (they're labeled feet and inches on my paper) of cabinets and counter space. I have heard a rumor that I will be able to fit 3 uninterrupted cookie sheets along it! I can't believe the hype though.

That big openeing is for a slider and the "H" there (see, I am learning all the technicalities) is a wall that is part of the island, which will extend mostly to the front of it. We still haven't decided what to put on the floor. Should we continue the hardwoods that are on the rest of the 1st floor or use Congoleum tiles?

This whole area is walled off from the rest of the house, but our contractor, knowing how hard this would be on the Costello's, stuck our screen door in the wall so we can still access the laundry and computer room from the inside. Does he know us or what?

The boys have had chances to participate in the project. Just like their dad when he is vacuuming, don't they look more handsome when they are working?

Then I took this quaint picture of all the boys living in the one little room we have left. Looks sweet, right?

Then all sorts of quarreling broke out. I yelled at Mikey, Dennis yelled at Ethan, Gavin yelled at everyone, and so on. Then in true Costello form, we all settled down and went about the business of finding something to do that does not include the whole back of the house.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

DJ Ethan and the Ride to Teen Drop-off

Ethan always protests me giving him a ride anywhere. I don't know why. I let him blast his music, put his feet on my dash and let him put his arm out the window so that he can pretend his hand is riding waves. But he still asks for Dad. So tonight, he takes his dinner pizza to go. That is not to be confused with his breakfast pizza. Then the DJing commences.

Here's what was on the playlist:

Dynamite - Taio Cruz

Thank God, I'm a Country Boy - John Denver

Bullets in the Gun - Toby Keith

Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne

Sk8r Boi - Avril Lavigne

I have to take some of the blame since all this is all on my iPhone.

There's only a couple of rules. Don't talk while he's singing. Sing when he says, clap along when appropriate and don't make requests.

Ethan loves seeing 'cops' on the road for any reason. Traffic stops and accidents are paricularly exciting. He has learned to "X" them out in the air in front of him from his particularly superstitious bus driver. He comments on every dead animal - confirming that it's dead and what kind of animal I think it was. Sometimes we disagree. Thumbs up go to any driver owning a muscle car, an old car, anything Ethan deems a 'racecar', a Hummer or Jeep and anything with flames gets a rousing "Happy Boy!" from E.

He tells me to wait in the car. He does say "thanks", and he tells me to have Dad pick him up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sorry, no one is here right now.

I am not here doing this...

because I am here doing this...

and this...and this... My friend, Just Jewelry Girl, has been nice enough to offer my family (sans Dennis & Ethan - not because they are not invited - they're just busy!) hospitality because I cannot stand to see and hear my house being pulled apart! Yes, I know it is for the greater good, I am just a little short-sighted right now. She also has a kitchen sink, an oven and a stove that can boil water in about 5 minutes - all of which I can no longer do at my house. She even lets us eat off of 'real' plates - nope, no paper for her. Thank goodness for other homeschoolers!

Today I piled all the kids in the car to do a little "Roadside America" sight-seeing. We saw the giant duck in the photo, a giant indian and a religous shrine that had a "Stations of the Cross" path and a "rosary" walk. I did my very best, as a non-catholic to explain it all to them, but they seemed to like the visual aspects, the bible story and the space and fresh air. Gavin told his friend B, "sometimes, we just do this kind of thing".

I am hoping to avoid as much of what is going on at my house through day-trips, extended visits with friends, using my sister's apartment to do my laundry (and using her stove & oven), hiding in museums, traipsing all over NJ and maybe some neighboring states, car-nicking (our cool weather version of 'picnicking') and visiting you!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kitchen Remodel - Installment #1

I guess it should really be called "pre-Kitchen Remodel" because no actual remodeling or activity in the kitchen has taken place. But my anxiety level has definately taken hit. Our meticulous contractor gave us a 'project-long' calendar. On it, he put notes such as 'empty this room' or 'remove that furniture' and the like. Our home is small, and add to it the number of people that live here and innocuous statements like 'move this or that' turn into major undertakings. Our bedroom now houses, a computer table, a highchair, boxes of cds, and a china closet. The space where the china closet left is now our 'entryway', which in reality, is just a wall in our living room. Function over form!

This temporary wall has been put up to protect us for dust and other flying objects.

The wall has created a 'cave' out of our once open dining room in which we are now to eat, store all our groceries, 'cook', and somehow wedge our fridge into!

An additional temporary wall will go up, completely trapping us into three small rooms on the first floor insulating us from the construction site.

The room we have previously referred to as 'the porch' is where we have typically watched tv, played games, the Wii, colored, played with toys, listened to music, and eaten will soon become part of our new kitchen.

I did not realize that the back of the house would be pulled apart because of the need for new 'footings' and windows that will be reconfigured. I don't 'realize' alot of things about this project, which might be good.

We have been given very wise advice about focusing on the basics, living in the moment and keeping our eyes on the end result. Is there a life-lesson here, or what?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Is there someone I can pay.... this point for some nicer weather. I mean it. I am desperate. I've tried decortating the mantle with springtime paraphenalia. Bunnies and birdies and decoupage eggs beckon this season to deliver the relief I am seeking from the gray, dismal winter which has supposedly ended.

I've attached little paper butterflies to everything I can find, but I have been unable to add even a few degrees to the thermometer.

I've tossed to boys out several times a day, only to be met with requests for gloves, tissues and complaints of "we're cold!!". I can't argue with them - so am I. I will admit it, maybe I have a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Dennis keeps reminding me that "it's only March". Well, today, it's April, and I felt teased by one sunny, warm day we experienced two weeks ago.

Will a little Springtime poetry work?

Awake, thou wintry earth - Fling off thy sadness! Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth Your ancient gladness! ~Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn"

Come on everyone - think Spring and "fling off thy sadness"!