Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Struggles With Language Arts

A mom wrote to me about her 7 year old son, asking for suggestions for a language arts curriculum. Her son has been diagnosed with AD/HD, and like many others he is creative, distractible, and likes some subjects better than others. Since my son had extreme likes and dislikes at that age, I could have spent a fortune trying to find a curriculum that worked for every subject area. Personally, I liked the pre-packed, one-company-for-all-subjects curriculum. That would have worked for only one of my three students, and I figured out that the struggles my son had would be an issue no matter what materials we used. So I learned ways to adapt and supplement what I had already purchased. Here are the things I suggested for consideration to the mom who contacted me about language arts: I would suggest that you try and figure out what it is about your current language arts curriculum that your son dislikes or is struggling with as he does various assignments. For example, if there is a lot of writing involved and he is a reluctant writer, then it makes sense that he is resistant with a curriculum that is heavy on writing. Maybe he needs help learning a proper pencil grip so his hand doesn't hurt, or maybe he needs his vision checked because it's hard for him to visually track when he reads. Does your son have an expressive or receptive language delay? If so, speech therapy type activities could help develop his language skills so that he can communicate more effectively in all domains. Try to see through his eyes and observe him. Ask yourself questions such as "Is the amount of print on the page overwhelming?" If your son takes one look at a page and thinks "This is going to take a long time", that notion is enough to send an AD/HD child off on a tangent! It's not because the work is too difficult for them, but because they dread spending much time on subjects that are not as interesting for them. There may be ways you can modify the curriculum you have now to make it work better for your family. With the flexibility of homeschooling, you can make modifications. Consider doing a half lesson a day, or splitting the language arts time into two sessions with other subjects in between. Allow your son to answer some questions orally instead of writing them down. Yes, he needs to learn to write. But as long as he is writing some of the time, it is acceptable to check his comprehension orally to see if he is mastering the material. Instead of a book report, he could draw you a picture and tell you what he learned from the book. He could do a shoebox diorama to depict some concepts. Remember, the goal is for him to learn the material, not just to finish the curriculum. These types of options allow him to be creative and show what he knows in ways that fit with how he learns. You could also utilize topics that interest him, and instead of using the written passages in the curriculum you have you could substitute sentences or paragraphs from books that you know your son will like while still teaching the skill the text intended. Maybe he could come up with some of his own sentences or ways to practice the skill being addressed by the curriculum. You will still need some written documentation, but a creative child like you described may come up with ways to demonstrate his knowledge that will be acceptable to you in addition to some of the traditional curriculum assignments. I hope this is helpful for you, and I wish you and your son much success in your home schooling endeavors.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Martial Arts and the Snow Shovel Kata

“Kata” is a Japanese word, defined as “a set combination of positions and movements (as in karate) performed as an exercise”. Since all three of my children took martial arts classes for years I have seen many skills practiced and katas are more relaxing for me to watch than sparring. Karate has been thought to be beneficial for children with AD/HD and other learning disabilities for a number of reasons. One of the aspects that I like best is that it allowed my children to be involved in a sport yet work at their own pace. They could work toward their next goal even if it took longer for them to get there than for others. Martial arts with an experienced instructor can be individualized to provide challenges and just enough frustration to allow the student to learn how to manage it with self-control. This is especially important for our impulsive children. As a mother of a quirky child, I was appreciative of the aspects of training that taught self-defense. Honestly, there was something different about Josh and aggressive or mean kids would just hit him or give him a shove. This happened often, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like for him if he had been in a traditional school setting. Josh never meant to be annoying, and he was able to forgive and forget pretty quickly. (This was not true for me, and often when Josh was being victimized I’d go all brainstem emotionally and want to retaliate for him, which is not good considering I am the adult and need to thwart such impulses and use my higher thinking skills. I always did, by the way, but sometimes the override of the emotions was tough to accomplish.) Another benefit from martial arts training is the cross-body movements that are incorporated as the student crosses the midline of his or her body, thereby utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and increasing coordination and fluency. Over the years, I saw my inattentive, accident-prone and clumsy son develop quicker reactions, improved balance, and such grace that he could be a ballroom dancer if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but isn’t it nice that he has a choice? The ability to transfer information quickly across the corpus callosum, the fibrous band that connects the brain hemispheres, is also important for academic tasks. Yet another benefit gained by participating in martial arts for our children with various struggles is the outlet for excess energy that hyperactive children exhibit. A good class under the guidance of an instructor who understands that some children have bodies that demand to be in motion can provide a safe outlet for physical activity. For children who struggle to learn the rules for sports and remember them from one season to the next, martial arts eliminates those “between seasons” gaps by being a year-round sport. For Josh, the parks and recreation program for sports such as basketball lasted six weeks. By about week five, Josh was finally starting to catch on and things were starting to click. He’d have one good week, and then basketball would be over for another year. Our local school district also refused to allow home school students to participate in any extra-curricular activities, including sports. The martial arts dojo was not affiliated with the school system, so my homeschooled children were welcome there. As a homeschooler, I was glad to find something my kids could participate in with others from our community. The classes blend new learning with review of previous skills, so the retention is easier to maintain. Josh especially loves katas that involve holding something like a long stick in his hands. He performs the moves smoothly, over and over, until his muscles have the motor pattern down. He has generalized this to every portable object that is long, thin, and straight and he performs his own version of katas whenever he has anything stick-like in his grasp. From uncooked spaghetti noodles to broom sticks, pencils, and dowel rods, Josh twirls and strikes away. Josh’s leaf raking kata is a blast to watch, but I think my personal favorite of Josh’s katas is the snow shovel kata. He looks like he’s really enjoying himself as he flings snow up over the wire in a neighbor’s backyard or into the branches of a tree. The snow does not end up in neat rows piled along the side of the walkway, but it does get removed from the sidewalk in creative ways. Josh also changes the kata slightly so the snow shovel kata is different each time it is performed. One more thing to love about martial arts training!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lives a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech "Facing the Challenge of a New Age" Address at the Institute of Non-violence and Social Change, Montgomery, Alabama, December 1956

I have always loved this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. I've come to think about it and appreciate it even more as my son grew up and it became clear that he was not going to be able to go to college full-time and instead entered the workforce. He is at a position that would be considered a menial job, but I am as proud of him as if he were in the most prestigious position imaginable. His character is good. His heart is in the right place. He is honest, trustworthy, and giving. So here's a salute to all those street sweepers, painters, composers, poets, and stockmen like my Josh pushing carts in from the parking lot. You do it well, and there's more to honor than a title and position.

Finding "X" in Algebra

Beckie has always been a bit impulsive, so it comes as no surprise that she has little patience for spending time solving algebra problems. She's entirely happy to have mastered the basic mathematics functions and as the problems in her current text get longer and more complicated her frustration increases. She struggles with inattention and her working memory is not great, so with multi-step problems she may start strong but fade quickly after the first few steps. I ask her to find X. She perkily points to it in her math book and says, "There it is! And there! And there!" I then more specifically and deliberately ask her to solve for X. She grins at me and wants to know why we can't just leave X alone, having found it already. She suggests that leaving X unknown will add some mystery and interest to our lives as we just leave X with its potential to be many things. I try to encourage her. I point out examples of how algebra is used in "real life" by adults in their work. She retorts that she will not be pursuing any profession involving algebra or geometry or any other higher math skills, so this is not worth investing her time in. I come back with examples of careers that would not be considered "math" jobs, but that never the less utilize math to some extent. Beckie offers the rebuttal that she will somehow find a way to determine which professions can avoid all but the most basic of math functions. I reply that if nothing else, doing harder math will prepare her for life because it will teach her to stick with things and think to solve problems. Beckie points out that her current problem IS math, and that for any problem she can't solve she is confident that someone can be hired to do so. I'm thinking of directing her toward becoming a lawyer, since she enjoys making her case whether she has evidence to support it or not. Plus, she can always hire somebody to get her to court on time and take care of the billing. She might be good at it, since she can be tenacious about some things. We have to work with what we have, right?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Neither Captivating Nor Capable

Although I'm not AD/HD, I sometimes do things without thinking them through, just like my family members who do have that diagnoses. Recently, our church's women's ministry offered a series of courses titled "Captivating and Capable", featuring such topics as cooking, baking, cleaning, ironing and laundry, car care, basic home repairs, make up and hair styling, etc. I read over the descriptions and decided I was definitely not capable in the areas of car care and basic home repairs, so I e-mailed the organizer and signed up for those two classes. The night before my first class I mentioned to my husband, Scott, that I would not be home the next evening because I had the basic home repairs class to go to. Scott looked confused, and asked what the class was for. I told him what would be covered, and then proudly announced that on Valentine's Day I would be in the car care class. Very romantic, no? Scott continued to look somewhat mystified and told me, "I could probably show you all that stuff." It wasn't until that moment that I realized I had inadvertently insulted him by signing up for classes to learn skills that Scott could share with me. I had never even told him I wanted to know those things, so lacking the ability to read my mind he had no chance to meet a need he didn't know existed. Actually, I don't even really want to know all that's being covered in the classes, it's more a matter of feeling like I should learn it just in case a water pipe breaks and Scott is not around to take care of it. In any case, I did not intend to hurt his feelings, but after reflecting about how I handled things I realized I did a pretty good job of it anyway. So I apologized to Scott, and canceled my attendance in those two classes. I hope that someone else (without such a capable man as I have) will benefit from filling in my spots in the class. And so, although I originally intended to improve myself, I find that I remain neither captivating nor capable. Having dropped the ball, I find that I must continue pressing forward on both counts.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Plop, Plop, Plop...A Dalmation!

This cold weather and the accumulation of snow has caused my black dog to come inside wearing snowflakes on his face and back. He is old now, 14 years, and for a large black lab mix that is a long life. Seeing him dusted with snow reminded me of a time when he was a young dog, sitting in his usual place near my daughter, Beckie. Shadow strategically managed to be around Beckie when she was eating from the time she was in a high chair. There were two good reasons for this: Beckie loved all animals and would gladly sneak food to him, and she tended to be a messy eater since she had sensory issues that led her to make every mealtime a full-body experience. Now Beckie has always loved ice cream, so I thought it was safe to give her some vanilla ice cream in a bowl while I cleaned up after the rest of the meal. Another thing about Beckie at that age was her constant singing or talking, and since she was very imaginative I didn't think much about her chattering, "Plop, plop, plop" as she ate. It wasn't until Shadow walked past me covered in blobs of ice cream that I realized she had been plopping spoonfuls onto him. She had seen Disney's 101 Dalmations movie and loved it, and before I could ask her why she had covered the dog in globs of ice cream she proudly announced, "Look! A dalmation!" She was quite proud of her creation, and Shadow happily lapped up the ice cream we scraped off his sticky fur and into his bowl. A win-win for Beckie and Shadow.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Empty Containers Put Back In The Fridge

I don't know if this happens in other families, but it is not uncommon at my house to look for something in the refrigerator only to find that the container is empty. I have rolled my eyes at the empty milk jugs that have been carefully replaced sans content. I write that off to habit combined with inattention. The habit dictates replacing the lid and putting it back in its original location while the inattention fails to note the emptiness of said container. It's more frustrating for containers that I can't see through, because I think I've found what I'm looking for until I actually remove the lid and discover the vacancy. Not that the containers are clean, by any means. There is usually a teaspoon of food or liquid remaining. I think if there is a full tablespoon, my family justifies putting it away because anyone can see it isn't "gone" yet. The other day I found an empty 2-liter pop bottle left on the pantry shelf. It was the pop that Josh drinks, and for the first time I considered that he probably had done this deliberately and not in an inattentive moment. So I added to my usual eye roll response, and asked Josh why he had put an empty bottle away instead of into the recycling bin. He immediately responded that he had done so to remind himself that he was out of pop and needed to get more. Every time he'd go to get a drink of pop he'd see it and be reminded that he was out of his soda of choice. My strategy is to use a grocery list and write down what I need to replenish next time I'm at the store. But lists and pre-planning are to Josh what cooties are to young children. Eeew! Icky! So his AD/HD strategy, and it is a strategy, is to cue himself repeatedly through visual and tactile means. Then, when he thinks about getting a drink of pop and sees a display in a store, he will respond by buying the pop and can then recycle the empty bottle that he's replacing.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Card Without An Envelope

I like symmetry. Even when I do creative projects, determined to use my right brain only, my end result looks balanced and planned out. So when I look for a note card that came as part of a set of 8 cards and 8 envelopes, I am fully expecting each card to have a buddy to enclose it. Last week, I wrote thank-you notes and gave two cards and envelopes to Beckie so she could write her thank-you notes. Today, when I went to get her another card I found the expected two cards remaining but no envelopes. I KNEW I had a one-to-one correspondence for my envelopes and cards. I figured they must have slipped down into the drawer and were hiding, so I went on the hunt. I couldn't find the matching envelopes, and although I didn't really think Beckie held the answer to this particular mystery I asked her if she had helped herself to a couple of envelopes without cards. To my surprise (and why does this kind of thing still surprise me?) she said, "Oh, yeah. I thought my handwriting looked terrible, so I did the envelopes over again." When we do school, she uses pencils. She is not a perfectionist and doesn't mind erasing or getting "close enough" on her work. Apparently, thank-you notes fall into a different category, and must be: A. written in ink and B. the best handwriting ever. I'm just glad I asked her before I: A. wasted more time looking for envelopes that were long gone and B. Convinced myself that I was losing it and needed to look into assisted living facilities that allow kids and pets.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I'm Down To One Teenager

Not too long ago, I was the mother of three teenagers. I remember when they were very young and I would hear warnings and dire predictions of "They're cute now, but just wait until they're teenagers!" and I felt trepidation at the idea of a bleak but unavoidable future. Have you noticed that some people, especially current parents of teens, can't wait to share the misery with parents of young children? I interpreted the messages as "It's too late to turn back now. You're already a parent and those teen years are coming. You can't avoid them so you might as well accept your fate and hope you survive. But you probably won't." I really dreaded dealing with teenage issues, and I've seen many tragic situations among friends and strangers with teenagers and it baffled me as to the best way to handle them. After all, I wasn't that great at being a teenager myself and I certainly never wanted to revisit those years. Then someone helpfully pointed out that all three of my children would be teenagers at the same time, and for a few years they would all be dealing with adolescence but at different developmental levels. Wow. What was I thinking?!? But it's too late and I probably won't survive anyway! So when Josh became a teenager, I was relieved that he did not immediately change into someone I no longer knew. Then 15 months later, Beth became a teenager and I still found her delightful. Four years later, Beckie joined the ranks of teenagers, and a new phase of our lives together commenced. We have had our share of "puberty attacks", where I tell my children that I have already been through puberty myself and am not to blame for their unavoidable entry into the world of adolescence. I explain that what they feel is normal, not permanent, and not an excuse for bad behavior. The kids actually were able to help each other, by pointing out their observations such as, "I think you're having a puberty attack. Don't take it out on Mom." So sure, we've had rough patches. But the surprise for me was that I enjoyed my kids as teenagers, even though it was different from the younger years. There were new things to explore, and deeper levels of conversation, and it was just plain cool to see the young adults they were growing into over the years. Now Josh is 21, and today my Beth turned 20. So I have only one teenager left, and I am crazy about her. These kids, these young adults, are individuals I am proud of and enjoy spending time with. So for those of you with young children, those teenage years aren't all bad all the time. There could be some really good times ahead. Fasten your seatbelt for the roller coaster mood swing ride, and it will be bumpy at times, but don't let the bumps keep you from the invigorating excitement that this time of life offers. When my kids were young, I was both fascinated and humbled by them. I still am.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Why Did You Pick Him?

My daughters, who love their Daddy and most of the time are crazy about him, have approached me at different times to demand why I picked "that man" to be my husband. Part of that question is merely a reflection of the frustration they are feeling over the latest conflict with their father. Admittedly, the communication with their Dad is not always ideal, as part of my husband's AD/HD manifests in thoughts conveyed only in his head without making it out of his mouth to those around him. He does not do this intentionally, or with great frequency, but when it happens it leads to frustration for all involved. The other aspect of the question is genuine bewilderment at how two people who are so opposite in so many ways ended up together as a couple. The girls have a point. If Scott and I were to enter our data on a dating site, I doubt that we would ever meet. Imagine Felix and Oscar. Tigger and Eeyore. You get the idea. We are very incompatible when it comes to organization and neatness. I love it and need it. Scott is o.k. with it but fine without it and will tell you straight out that he is a slob. I like to go deep with a few close friends. Scott is friends with whoever he is with at the moment. I am more introverted. He is more extraverted. I am a planner. He is spontaneous. I am goal oriented in the extreme. Scott reacts to things as they arise. I dwell on things. Scott lives in the moment. It sounds pretty grim for a relationship to thrive with two people who are so different from each other. So when my girls talk to me about "that man of yours", I laughingly ask if they are referring to THEIR father. Then I explain just a bit about why I am blessed to be with Scott, despite our struggles to be together in a way that works for both of us. I tell them how I was intending to be single when I was a new Christian in college. I describe meeting their Dad, but not getting to know him for another year and a half because I just wasn't interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with anyone since I was planning to remain single. I explain that Scott was gently persistent in getting to know me, and how eventually I noticed that he was very intelligent. I was drawn to how kind he was. I probed his beliefs and found that his values lined up with mine perfectly. I began to appreciate his friendship, and was bemused that even his sense of humor was strangely similar to my own. When I informed him that I intended to hold fast to my Christian worldview and live my life for Christ, he informed me that he had that same intention. I did nothing to try and impress Scott. I let him see my faults as well as my strengths, and he didn't run away screaming. Nothing I said or did even seemed to surprise him, he just accepted me and for reasons that were not clear to me, liked being with me. I decided he must be either very brave or a little bit goofy. I came to realize that I had nothing to lose by pursuing a long-term relationship with Scott and potentially a lot to gain by combining our lives. Even at that point, I actually came out and told him that if he walked away from me it would not have a huge impact because I had already committed to how I was going to live my life, whether I was with him or not. I THINK I was kind about it, but I know I sincerely meant what I said. It honestly wasn't until after all this had developed that a friend made a comment about how handsome Scott was, and I just laughed. Then I looked at him, really looked at him, and realized my friend was right. Scott continues to be devastatingly handsome to me, even now in middle age. At this point my girls are rolling their eyes, but before they can dart off I ask them if their friends have fathers who sing them awake in the morning, or who acted like a French teddy bear to give them goodnight kisses when they were little, or who doesn't mind shopping or watching chick flicks with them. Do they know of other men who will make popcorn for them just because they called him Daddy and batted their eyes at him? Do they realize he doesn't do things to hurt or frustrate them on purpose? Do they give him credit for all the rides he's provided, the lessons he's paid for, the discussions around the dinner table? And my final question for them is, "Now can you see, at least in part, why I picked THIS man to be my husband and your father?" You have a lot to be thankful for, my girls, and I pray you choose as well.

She understandeth It Not

Beckie and I are now studying Shakespeare, specifically Romeo and Juliet. As we started, I laid the foundation by describing the protagonists, major and minor characters, plot, themes, and so on. I found an excellent and affordable study guide at, which has been one of my favorite literature resources for years. I also like, and usually use a combination of both sites for my literature studies. Each site offers online information, including explanations of famous quotes, study questions, and online quizzes. They also offer downloadable resources for a nominal fee. I paid $1.99 for a 37 page PDF document that was instantly available to me to print off at home. It would have taken me hours to find and compile the information, so it was well worth it to me. It has been a few years since I taught Romeo and Juliet with my other homeschool students, Josh and Beth. Beckie was too young to remember more than an overview from her siblings study, so we are starting anew. We read through Act I, Scene I together. I paused periodically to explain or clarify what was happening and to check in with Beckie to make sure I hadn't lost her along the way. At the conclusion of the day's lesson, I asked Beckie what she thought so far. After a brief hesitation, she replied that she thought she understood what was going on, but that without my interpretations now and then you could say "She understandeth it not."Ah, Beckie! Thou art both a challenge and a joy to teach.