What is the hardest part about homeschooling?

The answer to this varies.

In many circumstances I am searching for concrete.  To me, there is nothing concrete about homeschooling.  Before #1 was born I was a classroom teacher.  There were a lot of rules that I had to live by and I knew my role.  I had my classroom at the end of the hall where I taught 1st grade. The curriculum, standards, and schedule were dictated to me.  Not all bad.  With homeschooling, for better or worse, I’m the superintendent, principal, teacher, cook, janitor, secretary, community liaison and the parent.  No one is telling me what units I must do, or what due dates there are.  There are no set school hours or calendar.  There are no tests.  No report cards.  No conferences.  No one else in charge of his learning.  I don’t have any idea how many months or years I will be doing this.  These are all good things for the type of learner #2 is, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help him in this way. I enjoy the challenge, but it’s sometimes very hard for me to live with the chaos.

Life is still happening.  The house gets continually used (trashed).  #4 is home much of the time doing what preschoolers do, moving things around.  Last year #3 was home too and they moved throughout the house like a pack of wolves just waiting for an opportunity to deconstruct something.  If I had a job in which I left during the day I think it would be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.”  However, I sit by #2’s side at the dining room table for most of the day with the knowledge that if I turn my head the house looks like this:

living room

and…..

entry

and….

kitchen

and get ready…..

boys' room

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

In response, I make my bed every day.

When the day is particulary chaotic, at least there is this.

bedroom

And you better believe there are crisp hospital corners.

The emotional answer to the question is that it’s hard not being able to spend the time with #4 that I spent with the 3 boys when they were little.  Again, if she was out of the house, it would be different.  However, she roams for much of the day, stealthily flying under the radar.  She is independent, happy and easy-going.  She seems to understand that her brother needs my attention and she doesn’t.  Her preschool teachers said they think #4 should go around with a banner that reads:

“Live and let live.”

Megan

Perhaps I have found the principal for my homeschool.

Advertisements

Searching for concrete

This morning I woke up to another winter wonderland.

snow

I’m searching for concrete.  I need something hard to run on because I’m sick of feeling like I’m running on sand, sheets of ice or running backwards.  I want to wake up in the morning and know what the surface beneath my feet is going to be like.  I don’t want to guess anymore.  Do I wear spikes? How many snow drifts will I have to hurdle?  Are there hidden sheets of ice under the 4 inches of snow?  The thing with running on smooth concrete is that you can go fast because you aren’t guessing and wondering about every step.  Running is automatic, and you don’t need to think while you are putting one foot in front of the other.  You can enjoy the beautiful scenery and a wonderful conversation with your friends while getting exercise.

A dyslexic reader is also searching for concrete.  Before they are taught the mechanics and system of the English language, English is just a jumble of symbols that don’t seem to make sense.  The letters are not reliable.  The letters sometimes have different sounds based on……what?  It’s very confusing for many people, but particularly someone with dyslexia.  Concrete concepts in reading and spelling are something that don’t come natural to a dyslexic, and their brain isn’t wired for this.  Rules need to be taught in a very systematic, concrete, repetitive way with a lot of guided practice.  You actually need to rewire the brain and train it to accept the concrete rules.

Try reading with a young dyslexic child.  When #2 was in first grade he would pick up the book Go, Dog, Go! during his read aloud time after school.  He would look at the picture, put his finger under the words and say,  “The two dogs rode their scooters toward each other and waved hello.  They were happy because they had on very interesting hats.  The big dog took the feather and that was OK.”  Here is the page:

Go, Dog, Go!

The letters and words didn’t matter, he knew there was a rule about getting the clue from the picture and that has something to do with these letters on the page.  Because the letters made no sense, he would give his best guess.  This reading strategy, when in absence of any phonics skills, doesn’t get a reader very far.

Imagine how exhausting it would be if you were asked to read and write for much of the day and you could only guess, hope for the best, and pray you weren’t absolutely humiliated at some point when you are asked to read aloud or write something.  Guessing wouldn’t get you very far and would be incredibly frustrating if everyone around you seems to know some secret code and you don’t.  Until I started teaching #2 with the Wilson Reading System I had always been confused by spelling and syllables and phonics.  Very quickly I realized how easy it is to spell when you understand there are concrete rules for spelling and syllable division.  Closed syllables, open syllables, vowel-consonant-e, etc.  Rules when there are double letters.  Rules when there is a schwa sound (a vowel that has an unexpected sound).  Rules for exactly where one syllable ends and the next one begins.  I had gone through my life thinking everyone was constantly guessing at this confusing thing called spelling and I just had a real knack for constantly guessing wrong….little did I know there was a concrete system!  Guessing is no way to go through life.

Dyslexics innately rely on higher level thinking skills to understand the world, not concrete rules.  Dyslexics can take a lot of random ideas and put them all together in one thought must faster and easier than a non-dyslexic (such as talking about the weather, running, phonics, reading, spelling and a little life history all in one thought. If you don’t at all understand this post…perhaps its because you aren’t dyslexic!)  Phonics, spelling and multiplication tables are concrete and systematic.  At first these rules are seemingly random to a dyslexic and must be memorized with repeated practice….lots and lots of practice.  Spelling and reading need to be taught with concrete rules where the students divide words into syllables, label the syllable type, mark vowels, locate blends and digraphs, and ultimately read or spell the word.

marking words

After these skills are practiced over and over with a teacher reminding the student of the steps the student slowly gains automaticity.  Automaticity is when you don’t need to constantly think of the rules.  The goal is for a dyslexic child to eventually write the word “dependable” without needing to go through all the concrete steps each time:

  1. How many syllables are in the word? 3
  2. Is there a suffix? Yes. I’ve memorized suffixes and I hear -able
  3. What is the base word?  depend
  4. Ok, spell the base word first.  Remember the suffix at the end of the baseword steps.
  5. What is the first syllable? de
  6. What kind of syllable is it? Let me think.
  7. I know its an open syllable because I hear a long vowel sound at the end and its not closed in by a consonant.
  8. How many sounds are in the first syllable? /d/ and long e.
  9. Now I’m going to write the first syllable.
  10. Stop…there is a /d/ sound.  Every time I hear that sound I need to think….donut door.  OK, I know how to write that.
  11. What was I doing? (working memory getting overloaded)
  12. Oh yes, the first syllable….what was the word? Oh yeah, dependable.
  13. Write the d…..e….because its an open syllable.
  14. And, the next syllable…..what was the word? Dependable.
  15. OK, second syllable. pend.  I know its pend because “able” is at the end and that’s a suffix.  Remember, only the base.
  16. spell base word first, then add the suffix.
  17. second syllable.  Its closed.  I heard a blend.  how many sounds. write the sounds.
  18. p….e…..n…..STOP!!!! WHICH WAY DO I MAKE THE D???? DONUT DOOR!!! OK, ……d.
  19. I’ve got the base.  Now the suffix.  able.  that was the one with the schwa sound that I had to memorize….its spelled a…b…l….e.
  20. OK, finally I have one word down….dependable.

Made it!  (Now try writing a paragraph!)  With constant guided practice, eventually a person with dyslexia can look at the word and read it quickly (reading fluency) and write the word automatically.  Gaining automaticity is vital to reading enjoyment, reading to learn and written expression.  Without it, the student will go back to guessing because, in a sense, that is infinitely easier than constantly remembering all the steps for each word you face.  With automaticity, working memory is not overloaded, the deep meaning of text can be appreciated and reading and writing become enjoyable and not a slog.  The student is confident they KNOW what the word is, there is no more guessing, they understand the concrete rules of language.

marathon

The goal is to be sure of your footing and run as fast as you can down the concrete, covering as much ground as you can….and loving every minute of it.

Pencils

On Fridays I hope to have a very brief post with a quick tip that I’ve discovered.  Today….pencils.

#2 was also diagnosed with dysgraphia, which is a difficult with writing.  At the beginning of 3rd grade just making letters was still quite difficult.  I discovered these big pencils at Target and Lakeshore Learning Store.

pencils

I’m sure there is some science behind why writing became easier with these bigger pencils, but sometimes I just go with it and move on.  If your child is having a hard time with letter formation and writing endurance, try them!

Running backwards

“Remember 5 days ago when I was so happy to be running in capris?” This is a text I sent one of my running partners last week.   Minnesota is enduring the return of winter.  Little did we know in December that getting through this winter would be its own form of an endurance event.  Each time I look out the window, it seems like we are in a time warp and have gone backwards in time.  We are stuck in February.

path in snow

Sometimes my days with dyslexic children are like this.  Last week while #2 was writing I had to remind him that b is made “bat-ball” and d is “donut door.” I thought I was going to lose it.  Honestly. I usually sit by his side while he is writing and watch him make every letter so I can stop a mistake before it starts.  The more times he forgets which way a b goes and writes it backwards, thats twice as many times I have to remind him which way is correct.  Last year we sat with colorful reminders of trouble letter shapes in front of him.  This year we have tried to move towards cementing that knowledge and relying on kinesthetic reminders with his hands or verbal reminders.  This multisensory approach is incredibly important to dyslexic students when we are trying to make new imprints on their brain of what a b looks like.  Its stunning how much practice an intelligent child needs on such a basic skill. Someday I hope he gains automaticity in his letters (although there are many times that I also whisper “bat-ball” or “donut-door” when I’m writing).  #2 can discuss presidential history, but when it comes to writing I constantly feel like I’m going backwards or stuck in a time warp….Its always gloomy February.

Last fall I heard Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree, speak.  His book is about parenting children with differences.  One part I really connected with is that the parents that seem to come out of difficult parenting situations to tell stories of success have found deep meaning in their parenting journey.  This is something I have found myself going back to as I look outside and wonder what month is it and then I look at #2s writing and wonder the same.  Am I making progress?  Is this worth it?

And yes, it is.  The patience and time it takes to help a child with profound dyslexia is worth it.  I don’t know the path it will take, but I’m determined to make it worth it.  There are bright spots with his language.  18 months ago he broke into tears if he was asked to read a book as simple as Go, Dog, Go!  Last week during free read time I looked over and found this:

fortune cookie wookie

There is hope.  Its amazing what discipline, practice, grit and perseverance can do.  It can turn a non-runner into a marathoner.  It can turn a non-reader into a voracious reader.  Lately its a small battle to get him to put DOWN a book, especially when its such high class literature as The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book.

Today my text to a running parter will be, “Let’s try to qualify for Boston at the TC marathon this fall.”  We all need hope.

You can use your two ears to read too.

One component of the Wilson Reading System is listening comprehension.  The goal of this is to expand vocabulary, general knowledge, the love of literature/information and work on comprehension skills while not being bogged down by phonics, decoding, sight words, tracking, etc.  Yesterday I read aloud a fascinating article in the Smithsonian Magazine about a family that lived in isolation for 40 years in Siberia (super article…go read it!).

 

globe

#2 was fascinated at had a lot of questions about Russian history, geography, religious freedom, nutrition, endurance athletes and life in Siberia, all of which we discussed. I also wove in questions about the characters in the story.  “What do you think the dad was like?” “Tell me know you know about Dmitry?” “How do you think the scientists felt when they discovered the family?” Drawing these inferences from text is so important to reading comprehension. When a dyslexic child is reading they sometimes are spending so much energy simply understanding the plot that asking high level questions would overwhelm them and make reading that much harder.  The skill needs practice, so I have moved high level comprehension to mainly a listening activity at this point for my homeschooled child.  Its amazing to me how much he can get out of a complicated article…many times he understands more than me because I’m the dyslexic one spending my working memory on decoding the text, I don’t have enough power left to deeply comprehend.

IMG_2764

While he is listening to a complicated text I find its good for him to have something to do with his hands and so he knits hats with the aid of a circle loom. They are easy to use and he gets a sense of accomplishment, especially when you use extra bulky yarn!