Sunday, March 18, 2018

Homeschooling Updates and Changes

***** Update*****
Oh my goodness guys!!!
This program, Simply Classical Curriculum,  is AMAZING!!! The creator of this program is so supportive, she is a mama of special needs kids herself. She has been so helpful with any questions I have had and questions others have as well. There is a group on facebook for the Simply Classical Curriculum Families. There is also a forum on their website that people can ask all questions about the program. So supportive and amazing!!
I have looked over all the books and I am floored! It has everything I have wanted and MORE!!!
The kids this year  (with level 1) will work on everything from learning prayers, learning to count by 1s, 5s, counting forwards and backwards, days of the week, months of the year, how many months are in the year, how many hours in a day, learning about vowels and what they are and how many there are, about the oceans, working with sandpaper letters, phonics, numbers, addition, listening to classical music and learning about famous works of art, science, history, geography, and so so much more!!
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 also join the rest of our kids being homeschooled, as we see her regressing back to orphanage behaviors while in public school.

With our younger children who are doing Kindergarten this year, we have some big changes too. 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.
So before I talk about what I choose as our main curriculum let me tell you where the kids are right now. Willow is 5. Developmentally she is closer to 3. She struggles with saying words and sentences correctly. She has trouble remember colors even after 2 years working on it. She is able to count to 10 but not beyond. She can only identify a couple of numbers. She has learned all her letters and some of the letter sounds. I would put her at an preschool level with a couple of early kindergarten skills.  She does have good fine motor skills and is able to write some letters, she is still trying to work on writing numbers.
Veronika is reading at a 1st grade level, she is able to do simple addition, we are still working on subtraction. She has a great memory and can recite things like the days of the week, months of the year, pledge, bible verses, she can say what state and country she lives in. Fine motor skills is a struggle and one we are working on all the time. She is able to count to 50, with visuals can count to 100. She knows all her letters and letter sounds.  She is just starting to figure out how to decode words by sounding them out.
Gavyn is reading at a 2nd grade level, he can do simple addition, still working on subtraction. He also has a great memory and can recite things like days of the week, months of the year, pledge, bible verses, knows what country and state he lives in. Fine motor skills is even more of a struggle for him than for Veronika. He can count to 50 and with visuals can count to 100, he can also identify numbers 1-100 when out order. He knows all his letters and letter sounds and reads sight words but also bigger words like strawberry, wardrobe, gorilla, etc. If Gavyn has seen the word once he will remember but he is not able to sound out words currently.
We wanted to pick a curriculum that would work with things they are good at (memory in Veronika and Gavyn's case), but also work on things they struggle with by giving them extra help in those areas (fine motor). We also wanted something that would take into account that speech is something our kids are still working with and while we want them to understand stories read to them we wanted it to be able to help our kids learn HOW to answer questions, how to follow along with a story, and then just encourage them to talk about what the story was about but not expecting them to be able to give a lengthy play by play of the story.
We wanted a curriculum that I would not have to sit there and modify things all the time. We wanted a curriculum that would be filled with things like art that went along with what we were doing, we also wanted our kids to learn about classical things like fine works of art and to have an appreciation for poems. We wanted their curriculum to have lessons in literature, poetry, music, art, history, geography, science, and the world.
So I started looking....   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 called Simply Classical Curriculum. 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
So what does this curriculum offer?  (taken from their website)
* tactile/sensory and movement/kinesthetic activities to aid learning and memory in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
*observational nature study and classification with My Nature Journal.
*Simply Classical Copybook and recitation exercises to strengthen language abilities, memory, and knowledge.
*Through explicit step-by-step instruction and ample review, you will teach your student to:
  • read words and sentences
  • achieve mastery of foundational arithmetic facts and skills
  • learn timeless biblical stories with memory verses
  • improve penmanship, oral language, and written expression
  • appreciate beautiful books, art, and music
*essential skills and tools for learning
*content to elevate your child's studies with Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination.
*introduction into to literature, poetry, music, art, history, geography, science, and the world.
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!!

So you may be asking yourself... why in the world did we go with a special needs program? Shouldn't we push our kids to be able to keep up with their peers if they can?
Let me first off by saying, MOST (not all) but MOST kids who have special needs are on an IEP. They are getting extra help somewhere. Maybe it is to be able to have a time extension for their work, maybe it is modifying something like spelling words or writing. But in some way there are usually modifications made even as early as kindergarten.
With the Abeka program we have been doing, we have been thankful and blessed that the kids have been able to keep up with the program academically. HOWEVER, they are not able to keep up in the writing aspect. So while they are doing great with learning, we are having to make modifications.
We would have to make some modification with almost every single program I found out there... EXCEPT this one. The modification has been made. It has been taken into account it meets my kids exactly where they are AND better yet, not only does it meet them where they are at, it gives them ways to improve those skills without taking away what they are learning! YES, you heard it, it does not sacrifice what they are learning. I poured over their traditional program and their special needs program and discovered that any modification I would have to make to their traditional program, had already been made in their special needs program with the added benefit of building in a way to build that skill they needed help in. The best part was I didnt feel like the special needs program dumbed things down. 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