Carschooling

20160810_102523It’s been a month since Ronan started kindergarten, which means Ethan should have had a month of learning too. Well, that’s not exactly how things went, but I do feel they are getting better. The first week was really rough. We spent about half of school time in 20160810_104714the back of our uncomfortably warm Expedition. We spent an hour or two at the library each day, but then Ethan would get to loud and rambunctious and we had to leave. We tried going to the park twice – Ethan was immediately bored. We shopped at the local thrift store and walked around the grocery, but Ethan wanted to yell and grab for things so those activities didn’t last long either. 20160810_110546We started parking in the parent pick-up line two hours before school let out and doing more schooling there, but it was always a struggle because of the heat and because by then he was hours overdue for his nap.

After a week and a half of that, I ran into a lady I had seen several times at my local library. She also happens to be the PTA president at Ronan’s elementary school and lives only a few miles from our house. She asked if I wanted to carpool, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. She then said that she wasn’t sure if her shy daughter would be ok riding with me, or if her husband would ok sending her kids with someone who was basically a stranger, but she’d still be happy to take Ronan to school. So…a carpool where I don’t have to do any of the driving? Sounds too good to be true. And I’m starting to think it was. That lasted a week. Then she had a death in the family, followed by a medical issue, and now I haven’t heard from her in a  while. I told her to text me when she’s ready to start carpooling again since I don’t want to be a pest. I mean she really does get absolutely nothing from this relationship. I just wish I knew if she changed her mind. I see her most days, either dropping her kids off or picking them up, so I’m not sure what other reason there could be. I’ve stopped expecting the break to be temporary.

20160914_141904The last couple of weeks have been easier. Not as easy as staying home of course, but not really bad at all. Ethan is now used to the library enough that we can stay all day most of the time. On Mondays, the library is closed, so if I have Ethan, I just waste the extra gas and go home. Ethan knows basically all of his uppercase and most of his lowercase letters now. He knows some of his letter sounds – probably a lot more than he wants me to realize. He has improved drastically at puzzles, coloring,20160812_112328 blowing bubbles, and voicing semi-coherent thoughts. He is still completely hopeless at counting and number recognition. Colors and shapes are also iffy, though once again, I’m pretty sure he knows a lot more than he lets on.

When we started, I tried to entertain him, to guide him through learning activities. When he got bored with one activity, I would look for something else, and honestly, I think that was most of the problem. At home, he’s pretty much left to his own devices. He knows that if he wants me to read, he should bring me a book. If he wants to play with me, he should bring me a toy. I think the forced interaction was difficult for him to handle. Now, I usually read a book while watching him do puzzles, play with letter tiles, or play make believe, which he can do with no toys whatsoever. I get interupted a lot, but I don’t get frusterated much. On average, we probably read about ten books a day and he does six to ten puzzles. He spends a lot of time in his own world doing things that seem to make sense only to him. We meet his brother for lunch. At the end of the day, we park instead of waiting in the car line, and he runs around while I talk to other adults. We might not be accomplishing as much as we could, but life sure is a whole lot more enjoyable this way.

 

 

First day of kindergarten /how important is patience anyway?

Ronan started kindergarten today. He really didn’t want to go and nothing I said could change his mind. Then we got to the school and found out that their new security protocol was not prepared for a large volume of parents wanting to walk their kids to class. We waited in line for an hour before the administration decided maybe they should suspend the protocols for today. Tomorrow, hopefully Ronan will be able to find his classroom by himself. He wanted to go alone today, but since he couldn’t  even remember his teachers name, that sounded like an extremely bad idea.

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Luckily, the lady behind us in line had two boys that were practically the same ages as mine. Her older son was entering kindergarten for the second time after completing two years of pre-k at the same school (He’s high functioning autistic and special needs kids are offered free preschool starting at 3 years old in Florida), so she was able to answer a few questions that I had forgot to ask his teacher. She told me almost immediately that her oldest was an angel but that her youngest was mean. Neither of her kids did anything bad while we were waiting in line. They both stood still and quiet pretty much the entire time. My kids were not so angelic. My youngest hit her youngest several times for absolutely no reason. My oldest was constantly hanging on me, whining, and dropping his school supplies (on purpose). After about 45 minutes, my youngest, Ethan, initiated a game of tag. They didn’t go anywhere or bother anyone, they just ran circles around me. I didn’t think anything of it (except being kind of happy that they were entertaining themselves instead of whining) when the mom behind me reprimanded her kindergartener saying he “knew better.” She had been talking to another parent, so I assumed she just saw her kid chasing/pushing my kids and didn’t realize it was a game, but when I informed her, she said “I know. He knows he’s supposed to stand still in line.” So I made my kids stand still too. Ronan whined and asked why and I told him the other kids weren’t allowed to run around so it wasn’t fair for him to do it. I stand behind the decision not to let them tempt other kids into misbehaving, but I’ve got to ask, should a five-year-old be expected to stand still in line for an hour? It seems crazy to me, but ALL THE OTHER KIDS WERE DOING IT. At first I assumed maybe she had the rule that he had to stand still because of something related to autism that I don’t know about, or because this is his fourth year in school and he is used to standing in lines, but there were lots of other kids that looked to be about five years old, and none of them were running around either. At what age should we expect kids to act like miniature adults when faced with an abundance of boredom?

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Two-year-old School Update

11933405_10204381788535699_3273444842393780469_nI’m extremely excited for school to start this year. Partly because Ronan will be entering Kindergarten, but partly because that means I will be able to start homeschooling Ethan full-time. If you missed my previous posts, Ethan is a developmentally normal two-year-old with an extremely academically advanced older brother. When I realized about a month ago how far behind Ethan was when compared to Ronan, I decided I needed to step up my game. While Ethan and Ronan have very different personalities, I feel their learning potentials are about the same. In the past month, I have been spending a lot of time with Ethan trying to teach him all of the things Ronan knew by his second birthday. So far, it’s going great. He gets his colors right about 50% of the time, knows quite a few of his letters, and while he doesn’t want me to know it, I’m pretty sure he can count to at least 5. He is also using two-word sentences all the time now, and many of the things he says show more thought than they did a month ago. The difficulty with teaching Ethan is that he is extremely stubborn and defiant. He loves to learn, but he doesn’t like people to know that he’s learning, so it’s hard to know what he has learned and what he’s still struggling with. He will find letters on signs or in books and point them out to me, but if I ask him about a specific letter (even one he knows well, like O), he usually ignores me or lies. He’s been this way since 8 months, so I can say with certainty that it’s not a phase. I’m wondering how that will work when he’s older.
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Educational Collages

About a month ago (maybe two or three- I’m terrible at keeping track of time) I made some collages to help Ethan learn his colors. 20160707_082714They are 8 1/2 x 11″ so that they can fit in page protectors, but I made them on construction paper so that the paper color matched the color I was trying to show. Right now, they are loose since Ethan prefers them that way, but they will probably end up in a binder eventually. I’m not going to lie- they were a ton of work, but he loves them and they are definitely helping him learn his colors.

Well now that I’ve started my crusade to teach Ethan stuff, I figured I needed a plan, activities, HELP. And apparently, my first project is making collages for the letters of the alphabet. I have capitals on one side and lower case on the other. They are on two separate sheets of paper so that I can separate them later if I want them side by side in a binder or if I want to mix them all up and have him match capitals and lowercase or something. I have a lot of pictures cut out for all of the letters (though the more obscure letters are a bit lacking in diversity. I think Z has zebras, zippers, and zeros, and that’s it. Maybe I’ll draw some zigzags and see if I still have any zucchini seed packs laying around). The only ones I have completed are B, C, and D, and D isn’t even close to filled up, but I think they are looking great so far and Ethan has already gotten excited about all of the pictures. It will probably also help with his speech since he leaves off the beginning of a lot of words (banana is “nana,” dinosaur is “sore,” etc). He loves books, but often gets bored 3/4 of the way through and wants to play or pick a different book. I think a large part of the reason he loves his “papers” is because they are a better fit for his attention span. I’ll try to remember to post his progress in a month or so.

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This Isn’t What Two is Supposed to Look Like… Except that it is.

My youngest son (Ethan) just turned two yesterday and I’ve been feeling that he was falling behind where he “should be.”Compared to other kids his age, he seems pretty average, but my other child (Ronan, who is five) is NOT average. As a stay-at-home mom of one, I had tons of time to work with him on everything from recognising letter names, to pronunciation, to counting. We went on walks, learned about nature, animals, textures and colors, and continued building the sign language vocabulary that we had started on at 6 months. His “terrible twos” lasted from 18 to 24 months, whereas Ethan has just started his. Now, at five years old Ronan’s academic knowledge would put most first graders to shame. He will be starting kindergarten in a month, and I will be driving him to a school 17 miles away so he can be in a program as advanced as he is. A lot of parents I know don’t understand why I push him to keep learning when he is already so far ahead. Some have even told me I shouldn’t  be worried about what school he attends because “he’ll do fine wherever he goes” or have implied that I’m doing him a disservice by teaching him ahead of his peers. I have never questioned my methods or wondered if any of those other moms were right. My oldest child is awesomely intelligent and my youngest will be too. Someday. Hopefully.

I knew that Ethan was not as far along as Ronan had been at the same age, but I wasn’t really worried about it. Of course he wasn’t learning as quickly. He almost never gets one-on-one time with me, and I’m much more tired and almost constantly aggravated now that I have two kids always wanting different things at the exact same time. The TV is on for a larger portion of day, and my brain is trying to turn off for a larger portion as well. I figured he was still advanced (he’s not) and he’d catch up once Ronan was in school all day. I also figured I was probably remembering Ronan as more advanced than he actually was. So one day -about two weeks ago- I pulled out Ronan’s perfectly filled out baby book (Ethan’s is missing a lot of info and the info that is in there is mainly guesses since I only pull it out about twice a year. I still don’t have pictures from his first birthday and I forgot to take any of his recent birthday party).

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Ronan, age 2

I was right about being wrong about how advanced Ronan was at his second birthday- just in the completely wrong direction. By his second birthday, he was speaking in complete sentences, saying things like “Thank you very much” and “How about we go to the mall instead.” I’m lucky if I can get Ethan to put two words together. Heck, I’m lucky if I can get him to pronounce all of the syllables in a multi-syllable word or refer to animals as names instead of the sounds they make.

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Ronan, age 2

Ronan at two: “Mom, look at that cute cat!” Ethan at two: “Me-owme-owme-owme-ow!” Apparently Ronan could also recognise all of his uppercase letters (Me: “Ethan, what letter is this?” Ethan:”greeeeeen” BTW, the letter is probably written in blue or black) and he could count to 10 (Me:”one…two…” Ethan: “Twooo…”). The baby book does not specify whether he could count up to ten objects or if he just knew how to say he numbers in order, but I’d guess he was counting objects because that’s how I taught him. He didn’t learn the alphabet song until after he started reading, so I doubt he learned his numbers without understanding their purpose.

How in the heck am I supposed to get my normal two-year-old caught up to those standards?!? And once again, moms ask me why it matters. They say thing like “well as long as he’s on track…” and “He’s doing fine. My son didn’t talk at all until he was three.”And I have to bite back a nasty retort like “if I thought like that, my kids would be as dumb as yours!” which is not only incredibly mean and probably untrue, but it is worsened by the fact that most of the parents I talk to regularly, have kids who are struggling academically, often because of an actual handicap. Sure Holly, you’re frustrated, go ahead and  make other people feel worse about their own parenting struggles. That’ll help. The fact is that every good parent (and by “good” I mean you aren’t giving your child sips of bourbon so he’ll sleep while you’re shooting up cocaine. I’d assume everyone reading this is in the “good parent” category.) worries about something their child isn’t doing well enough or is doing so well that it’s causing problems in the opposite direction. Weight gain, sleeping through the night, potty training, manners, academics, motor skills, friendliness vs stranger safety… the list is endless. Ronan has always had terrible gross motor skills (At four, his skills were worse than most two year olds) and other moms gave me the same dismissive treatment when I worried aloud about that. “Oh he’ll figure it out eventually. He won’t go to college not able to throw a ball.”

Part of me realizes that all of that is supposed to be reassuring, but it’s not. Instead it just makes me want to scream “Doesn’t anybody believe in parenting anymore!? Your kid is not supposed to be figuring everything out on their own! You’re supposed to teach them and help them reach their full potential! Am I the only one that got that memo!?”

Ok, enough venting. Back to my problem that no one but me seems to see as a problem. My two year old is drastically behind where my five year old was at the same age. Even though they are three years apart, I know they will compare themselves to each other because that’s what siblings do and I don’t want Ethan to feel inferior.

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Ethan, almost 2. All of my two year old pictures of Ronan show him doing things.  I think we might be narrowing in on the problem.

Once Ronan is in school, I can start spending all day with Ethan reading, counting, doing puzzles, building with blocks, etc. but I still wonder how long it will take to get him caught up to Ronan. Will I even be able to do it? Because Ronan’s school is so far away, I plan to try spending as many days as possible at the nearby library and the park which unfortunately does not have a playground instead of driving all the way back home. That will also force me to spend that time teaching Ethan since I won’t have anything else available to do. I can pack books, puzzles, and possibly even blocks to take with us as well as lunch and a blanket and pillow for nap time. I drive an Expedition with a flat folding third row, so hopefully the cargo area will work out for naps and possibly even a play floor if the park doesn’t have any non-parking lot paved areas. I still feel like we will run out of things to do and unfortunately Ronan’s baby book didn’t give me any insight into how I taught him the things he learned. I know it wasn’t just by reading him a billion books.

Does anyone have any ideas of educational activities at the two year old level that would keep him entertained without electronics or a lot of stuff? Something that would give us a break from books, puzzles, and blocks? When should I start trying to teach him to ride a tricycle? He loves balls, but other than counting our throws, I can’t think of any way to make that more educational. Ethan is a lot better with gross motor skills than Ronan was, so I’m not super worried about working on those skills especially since I doubt Ethan will give me a choice in the matter. Two year olds aren’t known for sitting still and Ethan is no exception. I’m sure even just talking to him constantly (which I’m awesome at but never do when I’m aggravated) will help a lot…… And we can take walks while I point out all of the green trees, brown dogs, noisy trucks, etc…… And we can color…. and paint or play with playdough since we’ll be outside a lot. Thanks guys. You’ve been a big help. Maybe I can handle this after all.

Homeschooling Beginnings

I have been extremely bored lately. The last two months were hectic and now that everything has slowed down, I’m having a hard time slowing down with it. I started homeschooling Ronan a couple of months ago so that helps during the week, but we don’t homeschool on weekends. The kids are getting older and more self-sufficient, so they need less of my time and attention. I’ve found myself thinking more and more about going back to work even though I won’t be doing that until they are both in school in about 3 years.

So to take out some of my nervous energy I set up another month of homeschool packets this morning. It didn’t help. But it did get me thinking about the fact that I haven’t blogged about any of it.

From what I’ve read, most people that homeschool preschool don’t use worksheets or make their kids write anything. Their kids do a lot of hands-on learning: they play with playdough and sensory bins, do letter hopscotch, scavenger hunts, coloring, and seasonal crafts usually involving stickers or handprints. My son is not that lucky. His mom is mean and actually makes him learn stuff during homeschool. And it’s working.

I started out giving him 4-5 worksheets a day and that’s worked pretty well. Some days, he whines and argues and homeschool ends up taking all day, but if he actually sits down and works on it, it’s only an hour or two. Until recently, I have let him pick what order he was going to do his work in. That stopped last week. I have found that choosing a worksheet often causes more whining and stalling than the worksheet itself.

So what kinds of worksheets do we do? Well, I recently started making Wednesday a fun day so on Wednesdays we just read nursery rhymes and answer questions about rhyming words, synonyms, etc. and maybe do a worksheet that covers something he’s been struggling with. (Last week it was addition and subtraction fact families.) We also read about art (which is terribly boring but Ronan doesn’t seem to mind). I’d like to start doing art projects or science experiments on Wednesdays, but so far that has rarely worked out. On Mondays and Thursdays, Ronan gets three new easy reader books to read. So far they have been 4 pages each, but  tomorrow they will be going up to 7 pages. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he rereads the books to increase fluency. He also has a spelling test every Friday. It includes ten new words plus one or two that he had trouble with the previous week.

Every day we read from a different subject. On Mondays, we read literature- poems or fictional stories, often either from other countries or popular stories that we grew up with like Hansel and Gretel or Jack and the Beanstalk. On Tuesdays, we read history. Wednesdays are for art and music. Thursdays are math, which often involves more counting, math terms, and mental math than reading. Science is on Friday. Most of what we read comes from “What Your First Grader Needs to Know”edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. though when Ronan finds something especcially interesting, we stop and get more books from the library on that topic to read instead. I try to tie in other subjects when I can as well. When we studied Egypt,we got several movies and a bunch of books from the library. We learned about Egyptian art and religion, pyramids inspired a quick study of three dimensional shapes, and for science, we made a mummy apple.

When it comes to worksheets, I consider myself lucky. Our town has a non-profit called Friends of the Library that holds a large week-long sale twice a year. I get all of my workbooks, easy readers, and other teaching materials there. Most books cost between 10 cents and 2 dollars and I spend $20-50 at every sale. I am stocked with an abundance of options which I mix together to keep things interesting and make sure we are covering every topic for the right amount of time. It also helps me to vary the difficulty so that every day there are some things that are review and others that take more thought and effort. Mostly, the review isn’t necessary, but it makes him feel like he’s getting a break while he’s actually practicing his handwriting. (I used to give him handwriting sheets but he started getting extremely bored with them so now I just make sure he’s writing other things every day. He also hates coloring, but there are plenty of ways to work that into math and phonics too).

Every day, Ronan writes his spelling words. Some days, all he has to do is write them and say them in a sentence. Other days, he has to unscramble them. We did a word search once, but Ronan still struggles with those so it hasn’t become a regular thing. I should probably try having him make a word search for me instead.  Once my printer is fixed, we’re going to try playing spelling word battleship.

For math, he usually has one worksheet with addition or subtraction problems (regular or story problems) plus a “fun” math worksheet where he has to do math problems to get through a maze or make a picture. Sometimes when Ethan lets us, we play a math game instead. Two favorites are ten-frame war and place value bingo.

For English, we do a fairly random variety of worksheets that work on blends, vowel sounds, rhyming, syllables, spelling, and reading comprehension. Most of it is too easy for him, but it gets him writing more. The sheets I have found that are at his comprehesion level usually require him to write full sentences or even paragraphs and his hand muscles and attention span aren’t ready for that yet.

I am happy to report that Ronan has recovered all of the progress that he lost in preschool and then some. He will also be attending an advanced kindergarten class in the fall and after meeting his teacher, I am confident that she will keep him learning. Pretty soon it’ll be time to start homeschooling Ethan, and when I’m done with that, I’m considering getting a bachelors in k-12 education and becoming a teacher. I guess we’ll see what happens between now and then.

 

 

My Feminine Boy

IMAG0334My husband and I have struggled with Ronan’s love for all things girly for years. At two years old, Ronan wanted to be a princess for Halloween. Right now, he has his nails painted in five different shades of pink and purple. He loves crafts, necklaces, dresses, and all things sparkly. Continue reading