Sunday, March 18, 2018

Homeschooling Updates and Changes

So many changes lately. We have been trying public school with our teenagers and we are just feeling very uncomfortable with it. One of our daughters is in a Life Skills Class. One of our first issues was that they wanted her to help clean the cafeteria after everyone finished eating lunch. I was shocked that they consider this a life skill and was part of the kids' day. This sends a horrible message! It tells the kids who are not in life skills that this is all our kids can do. That they are the "clean up crew". I would have no problem if ALL classes took turns cleaning up the cafeteria, or maybe every child of a certain grade did it as a service project or something. However that is not the case. Right away I told the school this was unacceptable and that our daughter was in school to learn, not to clean. Another thing we have had issues with is that certain teachers forget she is in class and we keep getting calls from the school saying she is absent! This has happened over 20 times. Finally after complaining each time the teacher started marking her as in the class... much to our dismay the teacher  marks her as being in class even when she is absent!!!
Our daughter is 16, turning 17 this spring.  Next year she is old enough to do the transition program for kids ages 18-21. This program helps young adults with disabilities learn how to do things like take public transportation, learn job skills, and many other skills they will need to be part of the community. That means she really only has one more year of "school" left after this school year.
Because of this we have decided that she really needs to get every single ounce of schooling she can get out of it. However, the school is not living up to our expectations since they cant even figure out when she is in class. Due to our frustrations with the school we have decided to homeschool until she is able to begin the transitions program.
Our other daughter will finish out the school year, at which time we will then decide if she will continue next year in public school or will join the rest of our kids being homeschooled.

Another big change is the change in our curriculum. We have been doing Abeka DVDs. Our kids have been doing great with keeping up subjects, however we have discovered it is very hard to jump ahead when we want or stay back when we are confined by the DVDs to go at a certain pace. Sometimes I would just like more practice or if our kids are ahead in a certain area, we would like to be able to go faster. I feel like we really need the DVDs using this program since the worksheets seem to not cover enough. I will say that when I used just Abeka with our older kids without using the DVDs it was great. I actually do like the DVDs but for our younger kids, they are getting bored with the DVDs and it is a struggle to keep them engaged.

We have been doing a few other things in addition to the Abeka DVDs. One of those things, which we have loved working with since our kids were little is So Happy to Learn!! This is a wonderful program. Not only do you get worksheets to download monthly, there are early reader books you can download and print, conversation cards, question cards, sight word flash cards, math worksheets, and so much more. This is not a stand alone program. There is a Facebook group that you can join and tons of video examples so you can learn exactly how to present everything to get the most out of the program. Even better, there is a real person behind all of this, not a company. Mrs. Brown, the founder of So Happy to Learn, is available on Facebook to answer all questions a family might have. In addition the Facebook group helps link other families who are using the program so they can share their experiences and ask questions. It is really a wonderful and amazing resource. The biggest part of this for me is that Mrs. Brown has been working with children with special needs for a very long time and she is adding things all the time which helps as the program is always growing and getting better and better with time. Mrs. Brown teaches children who are local to her in her home, and for kids who are not local she has started the So Happy to Learn at Home program. I strongly recommend this program to anyone who has kids who they feel are not enjoying learning as this program not only grows learners, but it grows kids who are HAPPY to Learn and end up having a love of learning! 

Another thing I have been using with them is Rod and Staff workbooks. They are AMAZING!!! It is actually a preschool program that they are working with but it works on fine motor skills, which they really really need. **this is where our kids have a lot of struggles** I LOVE these!! They are not flashy or colorful, but they are wonderful for our needs and I could not be happier.
Preschool - Set of 6 ABC Series workbooks + GHIJKL 
Rod and Staff

Because some of our learners really have a hard time with fine motor skills we also use Handwriting Without Tears to help them learn to form letters and also just to get even more fine motor skills in there. 
Handwriting Without Tears
Handwriting Without Tears

We also use a program called the TV Teacher. The TV Teacher features Miss Marnie. She is an occupational therapist who started making the videos because of one of the children she taught. She not only teaches writing but she does it in a fun and engaging way.  She also teaches some vocabulary words for each letter which are based on body parts, spatial concepts, opposites, shapes, colors, animals, musical instruments, sensory items, community helpers, cutting, painting, behavior modeling, gross and fine motor activities, daily living skills, etc.

TV Teacher

So what will we be using next school year? We will continue to do the So Happy to Learn at Home program. I love watching this program really grow and I do no think there is any program out there that gives what this program does. I find myself in awe at how much the conversation cards and the question cards have really changed our children's vocabulary and just learning how to have a back and forth exchange. It is a no pressure program that allows the child to be free to make mistakes without feeling worried they will be in trouble if they make a mistake. I feel like I am a better teacher due to this program!
To get extra fine motor skills we will continue the Rod and Staff, Handwriting Without Tears, and the TV Teacher (yes I know it sounds like a lot but our kids, due to having Down syndrome have the biggest struggle with writing. By using several different things for writing we are able to keep them from becoming bored. One day maybe we will be doing the TV teacher and maybe the next we will do Handwriting without Tears. Each day we do two pages in our Rod and Staff books. In addition to all those things we of course do things like playdough, opening and closing clothes pins, using a therapy ball to squeeze to build hand strength, and many other tools.
Our main curriculum is  actually one I had not heard of before. There were a LOT out there we did hear of. We looking into SonLight, My Father's World, Bob Jones, Abeka, Easy Peasy, and Switched on Schoolhouse We asked other families who also homeschools what they use and someone mentioned one they used and love is actually set up for kids with special needs. I debated for a very long time if this was a path we wanted to go down, especially since they have been doing really well with a non special needs program. I did a lot of research to decide if I was comfortable with using the program, or if I should use their program for kids without special needs. In the end, the program we ended up going with is the one the company has made for kids with special needs. You may be wondering why, and what is the difference between their program for kids with special needs and the one that is for kids without special needs. 
Direct from their website about their program for kids with special needs...
  1. A slower pace with ample review including optional 8-week extensions of early levels for year-round schooling or for additional practice before embarking on the next level of study
  2. Clean, simple books with elegant illustrations to cultivate a taste for excellence
  3. A multi-sensory presentation of material with visual, auditory, and tactile input wherever beneficial for the student
  4. Oral language components to promote oral language development and reduce the demand for written responses
  5. Skills checklists with recommendations to boost development of pre-academic, social, and motor skills in the early years
  6. Integration across subjects for improved understanding, further repetition, and greater mastery of material
  7. Themed levels to offer fewer subjects per year with greater depth while providing a comprehensive curriculum over time
  8. A “trivium” approach with recitations in the early grammar levels to strengthen memory, analysis in the middle logic levels to develop clear thinking, and opportunities for expression in the upper rhetoric levels to cultivate eloquence
  9. Socratic questioning at every level to promote the pursuit of truth
I love the tactile part of the program, things like using sandpaper letters, white boards that are magnetic and using magnetic letters and numbers, wikki stix plus much more! I also love the choice of books they use. I love the fact that everything will be able to be taught by me and not a DVD teacher. I also love that the program encourages critical thinking at our kids level. As the program progresses in future levels they will also be learning Latin! I am VERY excited about that!!
I already received the curriculum and books and I'm so excited to get started!

Simply Classical Curriculum

And now some pictures of our homeschoolers hard at work and play! 

Rod and Staff

Rod and Staff

Rod and Staff

Happy to Learn at Home worksheet

So Happy to Learn at Home worksheet - Just look at that smile!

So Happy to Learn at Home worksheet - He loves these worksheets!

Rod and Staff

Handwriting without Tears
Handwriting without Tears