Saturday, April 19, 2014

Home School in Oklahoma

Brian is now a Home School student.  We just finished our 4th week and here are some of the activities we've been doing.  Following the fun pictures is a rather lengthy explanation of how I made this decision for Brian and developed a plan for how to teach Brian at home.

Moon Sand

Lava Lamp

Brian Teaching Samantha how the Lava Lamp works

An exploration walk (we were on our way to the museum on-post)

Climbing the sideways tree

Museum (this is the outside portion)


Nature Walk (see the cardinal!)

Ice Experiment

We have also watched some movies- like Magic School Bus, Wild Crats and National Geographic.  Brian has also completed about half of the requirements in his Wolf Cub Scout book.  He has done things like cook a meal outside, build a kite, build a windlass (water well crank) swim for 25 feet, learn about how to keep our world clean and how to save energy in our house.  We have a much, happier and helpful Brian and a much, much happier mama.

Here's the very lengthy story.
Home schooling is not a new topic for my Dusty and I.  We actually spoke a lot about and prayed about teaching Brian at home before he turned 5 and entered kindergarten at our local elementary school.  Our discussion at that point went something like this.  I am perfectly capable of teaching him at home because I have a teaching degree.  However, Brian and I might murder each other before any learning takes place.  I wanted him to learn to listen to and respect other adults.  We also had discussions about not wanting our children to be socially awkward or unable to make critical decisions on their own but we were also worried about all the negative and evil influences they would inevitable encounter in public school.  We looked into charter schools but felt the drive (about an hour roundtrip 2x/day) would be too much for me and ultimately more of a stress on our family than was worth it.  However, I think my part of this decision was most swayed by an article in the (I'm pretty sure) church news that my Grandma gave me.  Basically the woman talks about how our children are such a value to public schools because they grow up learning how to be good leaders.  She said in essence that if every Christen person pulled their children out of public school, there wouldn't be any good left.

I felt that rather than be worried about the evil influences my child would experience, I would push into the schools, helping where I could to create a better learning environment for everyone.  Between my other children, Brian's incredibly clingy nature and my part-time work, I was unable to volunteer as much as I had envisioned but I was happy with Brian's education and experience.  Kindergarten was fantastic and allowed Brian to become more independent than he would have at home.  I was and still tend to be a coddling parent, putting on my child's shoes even after then are perfectly capable of doing it themselves.  For the record, I do still feel it is important for us to "push" into the schools and our communities and offer our strengths and opinions instead of ignore the negative things and close ourselves off to the world.

Brian's 1st grade year was horrible compared to kindergarten. His teacher, through no fault of her own had a very different personality and classroom management from his kindergarten teacher. And so it started.  the notes and phones calls home, the teacher conferences, the talks with Brian, Daddy's talks with Brian, the restricting of privileges at home and at school.  We made it through the year by trying this and talking and trying that.  This is also when homework started to become a struggle as well.  Brian had absolutely no desire to complete homework and reading a 50-100 word book 3 times literally took over an hour.  I should also note that his slightly above grade level math skills were ignored.  I had to ask about his math scores during parent teacher conferences and the teacher looked shocked that they were on par.  Why, oh why can we not play to a child's strengths?

Second grade started without any thought of homeschooling on my part.  We got a phone call the first day of school and I thought, "No!  Not again!" but I simply laid everything on the table.  I explained to Brian's teacher exactly how I viewed Brian and his personality and what he needed and what would not help.  And it worked!  He had a great fall term!  Our fall parent teacher conference was wonderful!  And then Brian's teacher went on maternity leave and then we moved to Oklahoma.  The first few weeks in Oklahoma were fine and then it started again.  Well, I was tired of it and I was to the point were I was unwilling to even try and work with his teacher.  I saw the same relaxed classroom management in this classroom teacher as Brian's first grade teacher and even less effort to make things work.  Again, I am not faulting the teacher.  With a classroom full of 25 students, a classroom teacher has to teach to the middle- the middle level, the middle behavior, the middle personality.  Yes, there are little accommodations that are easy and can make a difference but Brian is not middle/average anything.

After a spring break long talk with Dusty and God, I marched in the office Monday morning, March 24th (shaking in my boots from nerves) and un-enrolled Brian.  As a tender mercy from the Lord, the office staff did not ask any digging questions and simply followed procedure and asked me to fill out a form, collect Brian's things, pick up his report card etc.  If they thought it was odd that I was leaving Samantha enrolled in kindergarten, they gave no indication which was also a blessing.  I really thought I was going to have to talk to the principal in the least and defend my decision.  whew!

I found myself at home all day with my 8-year old, a list of Idaho's state curriculum standards and no clue what to do.  That's probably not completely true.  Given my teaching degree, I had a very good idea of how to plan a lesson and create learning objectives and align teaching activities with state standards but when I did that, it backfired.  I created a lesson plan and Brian hated it.  It felt exactly like homework every afternoon where I stood pulling teeth to get him to finish his work so he could go play.

Now what?

Blessedly, the Lord placed a wonderful new friend in my path here in Oklahoma who has been home-schooling her children for 5 years and I have an amazing and loving cousin in Canada who was willing to listen to all my concerns and questions and point me in a good direction.  These 2 women helped me see me for who I am and helped me have the confidence and courage I needed to do something different.

I approached homeschooling like most of us approach something new- the way I would have liked it. I grew up the perfect honor roll, student.  I love to read, I would love to go back to college!  I would love degrees in business and psychology and a doctorate of education.  I was that student asking the teacher for extra work in elementary school because I liked to fill in the blanks and get the perfect score.  But that is me, not my son. "Books and Cleverness.  There are more important things: Friendship and bravery."

These are the articles that my cousin sent me to help me rediscover what learning really is and create a doable plan for Brian and I.
Proprioceptive System  Don't be scared by that big, weird word.  The article is very well written.  It did take some time for me to digest but a very enlightening read for me!
This one talks about some of the same things.
Is Your Child Ready to Read?

These are a few more articles that have helped too.
The Importance of Play
Magical Childhood

So right now, our home school looks a lot like playing, and it is.  Because for a child, playing is learning.   Right now, we are in our de-schooling period. While Brian is playing, I am trying to keep up and make his learning a little more obvious to him.  When he reads a sign on our walk, I can point out, you sounded out that word, it's a lot like this word.  Or when we're leaving the house to go on an outing, I say, "it's 1:30 right now. We have to pick up Samantha at 3:30.  How long to we have to spend at the museum?" There are a lot of ways to increase incidental learning.  The other thing I am really working on right now, is learning how to communicate with Brian.  He can share a lot more about what he is learning if he has confidence.  Again and again, not faulting the public school teachers (remember, I've been there) but to a child who sees something or listens to something read aloud to them and wants to make a connection to that, the teacher's, "now is not the time for comments Brian" can be very damaging.  Brian is learning that at home school, anytime is a good time for a comment or question.  At some point, all this talking will turn into writing and all this playing will become more structured.  In order for Brian to be able to continue to learn and do the things he wants to do, he will need to acquire better reading, writing and math skills.  As he progresses, I will look into the possibility of using marketed curriculum, online education, charter schools and yes even public school.

Is Brian behind the Idaho state educational standards?  Yes.  Will he continue to be behind?  Yes.  But he WILL grow up to become a skilled, employed, successful adult.  I can't predict what Brian's future will hold.  I have no idea if he will get a typical college degree.  But I am okay with that and I am beginning to embrace that.  I can provide a safe environment for Brian to learn naturally.  I can foster that learning by engaging with him.  I can lead him to greater learning.  I can help him develop his strengths.  I can say no to a public school that for him would force him to believe the worst in himself.  I can teach him that there is value in knowledge.  I can remind him that learning is exciting and fun!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More is less in Oklahoma

March 20- April 7

Saturday, March 22nd we drove to Medicine Park, a cobblestone city, to do some sightseeing.  It was  a fairly cold day but we enjoyed ourselves.  These pictures are from the lake/river.  Cobblestone in this case does not mean cobblestone streets but actual cobblestone buildings.  I thought we took more pictures but couldn't find them.  After we got back, I took Samantha out for my birthday.  We did a little shopping, got a treat and got our hairs cut. I picked up Chinese for dinner on the way back.  My actual birthday is the 23rd but I was saving cake for when our families came for Brian's baptism.

The week was eventful considering Brian's schooling (which I will post all about later) and because the youngest 2 kids got sick :-( but we were so excited for Friday!!!  We did stop at Geronimo's grave one afternoon with some friends.

My parents and Aunt Sarah arrived about noon Friday and Dusty's parents arrived about 5.  We had a pizza and cheesecake birthday celebration and then cleared a space in our 600 sq ft apt. to play hand and foot with 7 adults!  What a riot!  At one point, mom and I went to give each other a high five and completely missed.  I almost started crying I was laughing so hard.

Saturday we all went to the Museum of the Great Plains and after throwing possible discounts (military, senior, student, under 5 etc etc) at the curator, she ended up giving us a group pass for less that $30!  What a deal for all of us!  The museum was a wonderful combination of great plains history and culture including hands on activities for the kids and science exhibits where we were able to lay on a bed of nails and write with light.  Everyone had a blast!  The fun continued outside in a Fort ruin with Museum volunteers dressed in period clothing and ready to share everything they knew!  I ended up leaving early with the younger kids and leaving Dusty and Brian with his parents to continue to fun.  That afternoon, the boys went to the Field Artillery museum on post while the girls went shopping!  We picked out Easter Dresses for Samantha and Mary and then everyone helped me find something new for my birthday.  I ended up getting a new dress as well!  Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the General Women's meeting with both my mom's and my little sister.  As we were driving to the meeting I realized how special of an opportunity it was and really missed Samantha during the meeting as I saw all the young girls 8 years and up sitting with their mothers.  We stopped at Braum's on the way home and ended the evening with another rousing game of hand and foot. (I should of gotten a picture of all of us crammed into our living room!)

Funny story about Braum's.  Braum's is a fast food ice cream parlor that is very popular in the area- kind of like In-and-Out on the west coast.  When we arrived in Oklahoma and were taking one of our first drive-around-and-get-acquainted-with-the-area drives, I spotted Braum's and said to Dusty, "We have to go to Braum's while we're here!"  He responded with a, "what for?"  bahumbug.  "Well it's just the cool thing to do out here!"  I however, really didn't know never having been to a Braum's before.  So when my parents arrived, they asked if I had been to Braum's yet and proceeded to tell me that when we were living in Kansas (when I was ages 3-5), we would got to Braum's as a special treat.  It's so crazy to me that I subconsciously remembered Braum's as being something special from when I was so young!  Dad also told me the story of when his dad, my grandpa Arlo Fillmore came to visit and took them to Braum's and he ordered vanilla ice cream.  (Braum's has 30+ flavors to choose from!)

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 brought Brian's special day!  The morning was filled with dinner preparations and just getting everyone ready.  We were on time to church (starting at 11:30) and got to all sit together!  The baptism was scheduled for right after church.  This seemed really odd to me but many of the members have to drive close to an hour to get to church so they try to have everything all at once.  Brian and I invited 2 of our new friends and their families to attend the baptism with us who were members of other faiths.  They both accepted and attended!  (A lot of our ward friends came too!)  I was really touched and excited to have them share our special day.  Dusty's parents gave the talks, my mom and sister did the music and my dad gave the closing prayer.  The talks were very non-traditional but very personal to Brian and given in a way to help him remember the covenants he was making and how to keep them.

Grandma Allen gave the talk on Baptism.  She brought blocks labeled with things Heavenly Father has asked us to do in order to keep us on the path back to him- read our scriptures, say our prayers, keep the Sabbath day holy etc.  She had Brian help her read these.  Then she held up a bag of macaroni noodles.  These represented all the fun and good things in our lives that we love to do- watching movies, playing outside, riding our bike, etc.  She had Brian and the other children in the room name all the things they like to do.  I was happy to see that our friends' children participated.  It warmed my heart that they felt welcome and comfortable enough to do so.  Then she pulled out a jar which represented Brian's life.  She poured in the macaroni noodles (fun things) which filled almost 3/4 of the jar and then had Brian try to squeeze in as many blocks (important things) as he could.  Well, of course, they wouldn't all fit!  So she had Brian help her take out the few blocks and then pour the macaroni back into the bowl.  Then, Brian placed all the blocks inside the jar while Grandma reminded everyone what they represented.  Brian then poured the macaroni on top of the blocks and ALL of it fit!!!  When we put God first in our lives, we'll have time for all the fun stuff too.  But, if we put all our fun stuff first, we won't have enough room in our lives for God's plan.  Then Grandma gave the jar to Brian.  Brian is literally the spitting image of Dusty in looks and personality and I often turn to Grandma Allen for help in understanding how best to parent Brian.  I love how well she understands and connects with him even though they are only together a couple of times a year.

After Brian was baptized and dressed, Grandpa Allen gave a talk on the Holy Ghost.  (I had to chase Mary at this point so I didn't catch the entire talk).  Grandpa Allen pulled out a bunch of mouse traps and set them up on the floor as they talked about some of the things that Satan would try to tempt us to do- be mean to our siblings, not help mom, shop or swim on Sundays etc.  Then he blindfolded Brian and made him take off his shoes (which he did not want to do!) and talked about how the Holy Ghost is our guide through this life and we need to learn to listen to and trust His voice.  Grandpa asked Brian who he trusted- mom or dad and he said dad (thank goodness!) and so dad came up to the front of the room across from Brian to be the voice of the Holy Ghost.  Brian had to listen and follow Dad's directions to safely navigate through the mousetraps.  About halfway across, Grandpa started saying counter directions and tried to tempt Brian to not listen to Dad's voice.  After Brian made it safely across, Grandpa simply said, "Now you know you can trust the Holy Ghost."  I often marvel at Grandpa Allen's testimony as he is a convert to the church having been baptized as a teenager.  What simple, yet impacting talks for Brian to be able to remember.  We actually repeated this activity in family home evening so the other kids could have a chance practicing listening to the Holy Ghost too.

After the Baptism we invited everyone over for a small dinner and dessert.  Our apartment is WAY to small to hold 20+ people so I had called the Hotel earlier in the week to ask if there was any sort of conference room we could use.  They said the conference room was under construction but we were welcome to use a training classroom located on the 6th floor.  I looked at it and since it was much bigger than our living room, I thought- perfect.  Well Saturday afternoon, I got a message on our hotel phone saying that we couldn't use the room anymore because it wouldn't be ready.  Wait... what?  So I went down to the front desk to figure out why one day before our family gathering, I had to find somewhere else for 20+ people to congregate.  Long story short, the hotel needed to use room first thing Monday morning for a training session for their employees and didn't have time after our event to clean and re-arrange furniture.  I was allowed to use the room but only on the condition that I would personally be responsible to leave the room exactly how I found it!  Well duh!  I almost laughed at the employee when it became clear to me that the staff was worried we would literally be throwing and damaging furniture during our family gathering.  I'm not sure what most Oklahoma families do during celebrations but apparently the hotel rooms do not get treated very nicely.  Needless to say, the staff were completely satisfied with how we left the room.

I was very grateful for the use of the room and we had a lovely time.  One of our new friends brought Brian a gift- a little worried about the appropriateness of it.  After I assured them it was welcome, Brian opened it to reveal a custom made dog tag (they knew Brian well enough to know his obsession with all things Army!).

They were a little worried about the context of the scripture they had quoted ( this is the chapter where Alma and the sons of Mosiah go about destroying the church of God) but that after having done some research, they felt this was a good fit.  They also pointed out that the letters in Alma's name could represent each of the children's names in this family with whom Brian had become such good friends.  I am beyond touched that this good family would take the time and effort to search in the Book of Mormon to find a scripture to honor our son.

And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their atrust in God shall be supported in their btrials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be clifted up at the last day.

We ended Sunday with a final game of hand and foot.  My parents and Sarah had to leave right after breakfast Monday morning in order to drive to Dallas to catch their flight back home.  Dusty had class so his parents hung out with us for a little bit but then they headed out about 10.  Dusty's mom had purchased Brian a rubber band loom for his birthday and spent the morning teaching him how to do it.

As often happens after company and/or big events, Dusty and I got sick :-(  Too much excitement and too much sugar and too little sleep I suppose.  So the rest of this week and the weekend were pretty laid back.  We were grateful for General Conference so we had the excuse to stay home all weekend and sit on the couch while listening/watching.  It was a wonderful conference!  I took Samantha out during priesthood session for a little date.  She has been a little moody lately so I wanted to give her some extra attention.  We got groceries on the way home.

We've had a lot of fun playing with our new friends here, playing at playgrounds and dodging unexpected weather like the thunderstorm that hit right as we were picking up Samantha from school!  We ran almost all the way home!  Dusty is still doing well in his classes.  He's had the opportunity this block to have several field days where they get to practice what they're learning and actually shoot the big guns.  He really enjoys this and even video taped one of them!  I have started counting the days until we're done which I'm afraid will make the next few weeks a little long.  I have met some amazing people and developed some friendships which I hope will continue but there's nothing quite like home.  As our time left in Oklahoma grows shorter, our thoughts have naturally turned to, "What happens next?"  Dusty has thought many times throughout our married life about teaching at a high school and we actually got a call from a friend who works in the Pocatello School District about a possible Automotive Teacher opening down there.  Dusty went ahead and submitted his teacher certification application so we'll see what comes of that.  If he does happen to get a job in Pocatello, he would plan to commute so we can stay where we are but we'll see what the Lord has in mind.  This journey has definitely confirmed in our hearts and minds that the Lord is in charge and we can be happy no matter where we are or what job we have.  We can even live with 4 kids in a 2 bedroom, 600 sq ft apartment with no oven!  This experience has also opened my mind to how abundantly we are blessed with temporal things and how little we really need.  I do miss being able to sew but I think we will be surprised by how much stuff we have when we get home that we lived without for 6 months!

This is called a Red tree.  This picture doesn't do it justice but the color is amazing!!!