Monthly Archives: September 2016

A day worth documenting…

I already posted early this morning, but we had such an amazing day that I wanted to document it here.  I am posting a second time today, as a reminder to myself, as a future reminder to Berrik, and mostly because I am so proud of my boy for how hard he works and how much success he achieves in spite of whatever life throws his way.

First thing this morning we did a quick review of sight words.  We typically do sight words by making a trail through the house and jumping over them as we read them, or lining them up in a row and bouncing a ball beside each one as we read them.  The extra movement/activity makes Berrik at least twice as fast at getting through his sight words.  There were a couple of newer words that were stumping Berrik this past week, as well as a couple BRAND new words.  He flew through the words and got them all!  He has many many sight words mastered now… well past 200. We don’t review them all each day.  I usually do all the newest ones, plus about 10 – 20 of the ‘old ones’ and over the course of a couple weeks he ends up reviewing them all.  The newer ones he does daily until they are totally mastered.  Because he is reading so much now, we add words from his books as well, so he is picking up new words at a pretty impressive pace.  Which of course makes his reading that much better.

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After breakfast and getting dressed for the day, we headed off to Sound Connections.  Berrik was focused and worked so hard with Lucy.  He never ceases to amaze me with what he knows how to do, and how he can figure things out.  He impressed both Lucy and I today in several areas, which means he’s moving on to more complex things.  The line to learning for Berrik (and everyone else, I would imagine) is not linear.  He progresses so quickly, then plateaus, sometimes regresses a bit, and then leaps ahead again.  This post is a reminder to me that when he plateaus or regresses that I need to breathe and let him get through things at his pace.  I think those plateaus are when he’s really processing things in his head and by relaxing and staying with him where he’s at, he’s able to create a solid foundation, maintain his confidence, and leap ahead when he’s ready.

After Sound Connections we headed to Phoenix Foundation for Count Day celebrations.  September 30th is the final day for registering with the school board of your choice, and therefore after today, wherever a child is registered is where the government sends their funding, whether it be a homeschool board or public or independent or whatever.  At Phoenix this is a big day with lots of fun activities scheduled.  There was a huge bouncy castle which was a big hit with the boy… and I was so proud as he was extra careful around the littler ones, and even used his own body to shield a toddler from a very rambunctious bigger kid… I love that he is aware – it isn’t always the case, so when it happens, it’s exciting.  Self-regulation doesn’t always come easy to kids like Berrik.  They also had a school photographer there to do school pictures if we so desired.  We so desired.  Berrik sat up there and worked so hard to follow the photographer’s instructions.  It melted my heart to see him trying so hard and doing well.  I think it’ll be a fantastic photo.  At noon, there was a hot dog lunch that consisted of a hotdog, a bag of cheese puffs or Doritos, and either a pink or purple pop of some kind.  (GROSS).  As usual we had packed lunch so Berrik happily ate his veggies, fruit, cheese, crackers and a homemade banana coconut flour muffin.  He doesn’t even notice that the other kids are eating all that other stuff.  There was a bake sale going on as well, so many kids were walking around with candy apples, cupcakes and other sugary treats but again Berrik didn’t even comment.

When we were finished lunch, we rushed into the gym for the Karate demo.  Berrik loves Karate (and was pretty sure the two guys were real ninjas).  When the one guy broke through 2 pieces of wood at one time with his bare hand, Berrik just about lost his mind.  It was awesome.

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Next on the list of activities was Mad Science.  All the kids that had registered in that class were called into the classroom about 10 minutes before it was scheduled to start and asked to sit at tables.  I went in to observe, although most parents did not. Many of the kids (likely hopped up on sugar and chemicals) were bouncing out of their seats, banging on the table, scrapping with each other, and even melting down completely.  Berrik just sat there holding his stress puck (more on that later) and watching the chaos, but not participating in it. Not a very scientific study, but I’d say in the case of  Sugar Lunch v. Healthy Lunch, sugar lunch was the LOSER.

Finally Mad Science started and the teacher went over a few ground rules and then started her presentation.  She asked the kids what electricity was for.  Berrik’s hand shot up and she called on him.  He said, “Electricity is what powers everything we use like computers and electronics.  Electronics… electricity…see?” (emphasis on the ELECT) After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I almost cried.  Berrik didn’t have the opportunity to participate in class in this way when he was in school.  Twenty seven kids in a class, and being slower to process information due to expressive and receptive speech delays meant the chances of Berrik being able to answer a question in class were slim. I think he even surprised himself!  What a kid.

 

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At Count Day there was also an opportunity to buy resources from KidsSource (I think that’s who it was).  I bought Berrik a stress puck (one of those squeeze toys shown in the photo) as he focuses better in class if his hands are kept quietly busy.  The one he chose was black (it was the only color left).  He held it up to me and said, “Mom, what if this was red?”  And I was like, “Um, ya.  What if?”  And he persisted, “Mom, if this was red it would be just like those little things that float around in our blood.”  Again, jaw drop.  “Um, you mean red blood cells?”  “Ya, ya, red blood cells…  it totally looks like a red blood cell.”  Indeed it does my little smarty pants.  Indeed it does.

Berrik does amazing things every day. But today was one of those days where he just rocked it out the whole darned day.

What I am Learning About Homeschooling (& Myself)

We are one month into homeschooling officially.  Unofficially we’ve been doing it since June, but those first three months were mainly focused on language and literacy, with a small amount of math.  Now we are into Science and Social Studies, fully into Math and continuing along with Language Arts.  Phys Ed is less a ‘class’ and more a daily survival method.  And a teaching strategy.  Art is… well, Art is something that Berrik gets quite a bit of in his classes at Phoenix as so much of what they learn is through creating.  So we don’t focus on art too much at home.  Thirty days in and this is what I have learned:

  1. I am competitive. I want to win at everything.  (I don’t… but I’d like to).  Homeschooling is not a competition.  And ‘winning’ is not the same in this context.  This has been something that I have had to really spend time with, inside my head.  Winning in this context is many things.  A productive, grounded, confident adult (it’s important to have long range goals, right?).  Literacy. Numeracy.  As Berrik develops skills in both of these areas, we continue to win.  There is no end goal in these skills…. my literacy continues to develop still.  I hope his does throughout his life as well.  Last Monday, winning was getting through the afternoon without resorting to threats or bribes (ok, so I didn’t officially win that one…  Next time.  Maybe.  Probably not.  Sigh).  Because of the humanness of good days and bad days and good hours and bad hours, and unexpected interruptions to our day due to a sick or injured sister (both on the same day!), winning is sometimes just still being functional at the end of the day.  Or maybe even just still breathing.  I was chatting with a friend of mine yesterday who I love.  She gets me.  She works with kids like Berrik so she knows what’s what.  I don’t have to explain things like that to her.  And she’s a killer mom too.  She told me that I was good at homeschooling and that I needed to cut myself some slack.  She’s right, but it’s so much easier said than done.  I’m riding that roller coaster and learning to brace myself through the downhills and spirals, but darn it, if Berrik has a good ‘learning’ day, and I feel like we’ve made progress, then I feel like I’m winning.  When everything goes to hell and I feel lucky that everyone’s been fed that day (and let’s be clear, they are usually fed on those days because I’ve ordered in), then I start to doubt myself and feel like I am ruining Berrik’s life.  Dramatic, I know.  Ask my mom – I have an incredible flair for the dramatic.  And lucky me, I passed this trait on to 2 of my 3 children.  I guess I should feel more for Kevin on that.  Sorry dude.  Genetics are funny that way.  Ha ha.  Joke’s on you. 😉  But I digress.  My point in all this rambling is that I’m beginning to realize that the wins are not the higher level of reading that Berrik has moved to, or the new math concept that he has mastered.  It’s the time I’m spending with my boy, and my whole family.  It’s the ability to eat dinner together at the table and talk about our days (even if we’re eating take out and I look like I’ve been through the ringer).  It’s the deeper understanding of what makes all my kids tick.  It’s learning to cut myself (and my kids) some slack.  I read yesterday a quote that said, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”  This is something I need to remember.  And with humans, failure is relative.  We may fail at one thing on one day, but in the big picture it’s all success because we are happy, healthy, learning new things, and moving forward.
  2. Learning happens all the time, not just 9-3.  This is something that I really love about homeschooling.  I feel like there is significantly more ability to foster creative curiosity about the world around us when we are homeschooling.  And not just in Berrik.  I am constantly looking around now, looking for opportunities to show Berrik something that might help him understand a concept.  I’m noticing things more.  And now Berrik is too.  The more I try to show him things, the more questions he asks.  This is such a significant life skill, and one that I am re-developing right alongside Berrik.  This realization helps me somewhat with my issues in point #1.  Even if we get through exactly zero ‘official’ school work, Berrik is always learning.  Sometimes he’s learning patience as we wait in Dr. office with sister, or get in the car, AGAIN, to get sister to her acro class, or pick up sick sister from school.  I have purposely refused to allow him technology in these circumstances because patience is a virtue (which means we are BOTH working on this in these moments), and knowing how to entertain yourself is a critical life skill.  In this age of technology, most of us have lost the ability.  And if you’re bored in the car, there is nothing else to do but look around you and see what’s going on in the world.  Berrik fires questions at me like an interrogator in the CIA in the car (and don’t think it doesn’t occur to me that if I just gave him the Nintendo DS, I could have a little peace and quiet while we drive!), and I like that (In theory.  I like it in theory because it means he’s curious about his world.  In reality I’d like to listen to Alt Nation and pretend I’m on a fun road trip back to Kelowna to hangout with Dorrie and Jon in their VIP house with their VIP food and visit beautiful wineries…)
  3. Every homeschooler approaches homeschooling differently.  For different reasons.  At Phoenix I have talked to a few parents. And I have a few friends who homeschool.  Their reasons and approaches are all different.  I’ve come to realize that’s a good thing.  The competitor in me tends to want to compare what I’m doing to what others are doing and see if I measure up.  I’ve had to consciously decide to stop this. More than once. Everyone is different because everyone is different.  Duh.  The only question to ask myself is whether our approach and reasons are working for us as a family.  So far, I would say yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  And if I ask the kids what they think about how things are going this year, they all tell me they like it.  Kevin is 100% behind me on this too.  Not that it hasn’t taken some adjustments….  “Oh, you’re not working this year?  Super, I’ll just stop doing all of the things I used to do to help out…”  Um, no.  I’m actually working quite a bit more this year….  just different work (and super crappy paycheque).  We’re adjusting and figuring things out.  Kevin knows now that if I appear that I’ve been through the ringer that day, I likely have, and he should tread carefully.  “Hi honey… um….how was your day?…  Thanks for ordering dinner in tonight…Great idea.  Why don’t I take Berrik outside to play ball for a bit?”  Hahaha.  He’s so smart and catches on so quickly.  (For the record, this only happened one day this month, but I foresee more opportunities for Kevin to apply his learning in this area….).

It is early days for us when it comes to homeschooling.  I feel like I will learn more from this experience than anyone.  And I am pretty sure the ‘wins’ for the year will be much more significant than literacy or numeracy.

He’s the teacher. I’m the student.

My life is a constant series of ups and downs.  It’s sometimes hourly, but more often it’s daily or every other day.  And then there are few higher level things that are every month or even every 6 months.  Does everyone feel like this?  I imagine so.

Berrik has good days and bad days.  The girls have good days and bad days.  I have good hours and some really crappy hours… and Kevin….well, same deal.  I wish I could say my good hours stretched out to good days or good weeks frequently….  Now I know this sounds like I’m perhaps depressed, or struggling.  I’m not.  I actually feel pretty good most of the time, even on the ‘downs’.  This is a skill Berrik has taught me.

Since he was a 2 year old, we’ve had many ups and downs.  He was very late to speak so those initial years of navigating the world of speech therapy had us riding a roller coaster of emotions that ran the whole gamut; fear, joy, hope, defeat, excitement, sadness, disappointment, guilt, and contentment.

This roller coaster has continued although in different forms, and not just with Berrik.  It’s part of parenting, part of living, part of loving and being connected to people.  Unavoidable as a human, as far as I can tell.  What makes the difference is how you ride the roller coaster.  What I have learned to do over the years, is when I’m speeding down the hill and my stomach is in my throat, I remind myself that I may spiral upside down next, but eventually will be back on the slow, steady uphill climb.  I try not to focus on the fact that this roller coaster ain’t ending until I reach my ‘final destination’ if you catch my morbid drift.  I don’t always keep my crap together when I’m upside down or speeding down a hill, but I am fortunate to have parents, a husband, siblings and some really wonderful friends to talk me down if I get too freaked out.

All this to say, we are currently going up and down like a bunch of maniacs.  Berrik had some test results come back recently that showed that the yeast overgrowth in his poor little gut came back.  I was not surprised as I could see the symptoms in him.  But it was disheartening because this kid has completely avoided sugar and yeast since January 2016, and the only ‘sugar-like’ substances in his diet have been fruit, potatoes, and the odd gluten free bun or pancake. However, when I went to discuss all the test results with the doc, she was quite pleased with everything that she’s seeing, and we created a plan to address the yeast and a few other things…. so while I was feeling like we were going down, we are actually doing ok.

Berrik’s school is going really well overall. But some hours don’t go well (which is usually because I’ve chosen a method of learning that doesn’t suit him in that moment).  And while I sincerely believe that it is my responsibility to figure out how he learns best and support him to learn in that way, it doesn’t mean that I feel all zen when he refuses to engage.  The yeast symptoms exacerbate this little phenomenon.  Yay me.  Poor Berrik.  These things are completely out of his control.  These are not the symptoms of an undisciplined kid who just needs to get in line and do what I say (wouldn’t life be easier if my kids would just do what I say?).  So when I am feeling particularly un-zen-like and am ready to put my head through the drywall, I remind myself that Berrik is also not having much fun in this moment, for reasons he understands, but cannot do anything about.

We have had some major ‘successes’ since June…some that were so incremental that I didn’t really notice until a few months had gone by and then it hit me how far he has come.  Others, like last week at school, are big all at once, when he is focused all day, excited about what he’s learning, telling me all about it, and grasping concepts that were foreign to him the week before.  And there have been some things that I was sure he had mastered, and then I realize we aren’t quite there yet.  Up and down.  Up and down.  I may be Berrik’s teacher when it comes to schoolwork.  But he is setting the example for how to ride the roller coaster. He seems to just take everything as it comes.  Sure he has his moments where he is annoyed that we are getting in the car to drive his sisters somewhere, again, and we are counting by 2s and 5s or playing rhyming games.  Or when he is tired of putting his food into an increasingly complex pattern before eating it, “not EVERYTHING has to be about learning MOM!!!!”  But considering all he’s been through, and what he has ahead, he is not the one who loses sleep or worries over the future.  He’s going to be a ninja and an astronaut when he grows up.  An astronaut because he wants to travel to space, and a ninja in case he encounters evil when he gets there.  He dreams big because he believes that if you work hard, anything is possible.  He knows this because he has already lived that experience many times in many ways in his nearly 8 years.   He’s the teacher.  I’m the student.

Overparenting, or “Oh crap, I’m totally guilty of doing this!”

Can you hear the hum of the helicopter hovering over my children?  Sigh.  I can.  And I’m driving the helicopter.

I have often waxed on about how we are overparenting our children and creating anxious, entitled, confused young adults who can barely keep themselves alive, let alone make good decisions and problem solve through bad ones.  While our society makes it challenging to avoid some of the overparenting that happens – anyone with kids likely has judged, or been judged regarding young children walking to and from school alone, or walking to the park alone or with other young friends or siblings – that is just one small part of the epidemic of overparenting that is happening all around us.  We can use that as our excuse if we are super happy with burying our heads in the sand.  But if you picture yourself with your head stuck in the sand, what body part is now most prominent?  If you can’t picture this, ask your spouse or a good friend to demonstrate it… you’ll get the point, and if you’re organized and quick about it, you’ll probably get a good photo to post on Instagram.

So, enlightened parent that I am, I was pretty sure I was doing a semi-reasonable job of NOT overparenting. <insert head in sand photo, or just a dramatic eye roll here>  But the truth is that I am overparenting with the best of them. I read this article today:  Overparenting is Doing More Harm Than Good  And as I read it, I actually said a couple bad words out loud.  Nothing like finding out that you are guilty of EVERY SINGLE item listed to describe overparenting.  Let me summarize for you:

  1. Scheduling play dates instead of letting kids just go outside and find some friends to play with.  Granted, because we are all overparenting, there aren’t always a bunch of kids running around outside to play with, but still.  I do this for Berrik, and I sadly also do this for McKenna and Avi and they are 13 & 11!!!!  Good grief.  #fail
  2. Go to every game or practice.  I have  3 kids so I don’t get to every single game or practice.  But a LOT of them.  And I wouldn’t miss a dance performance, choir performance, piano recital, karate parent night, ball game etc. unless I absolutely could not avoid it.  I thought this was me supporting my kids, and showing them how much I value them. Where is that effing parenting handbook anyways!?!  I thought this was the right thing to do!!!  Last night I was at the dance studio watching Mac dance for the first time this month… <pats herself on the back for nailing non-overparenting of one aspect of McKenna’s life for a solid 10 straight days>.
  3. Hires tutors throughout school years – not because they need tutors, but so they can improve their already excellent grades.  While I haven’t hired tutors for my girls, I did ‘homeschool’ them in math all summer even though they both have high grades in math.  My intention was to help them gain confidence and give them a head start on the school year in a subject they are least comfortable with.  Upon reflection I realize I probably sent them the message that their A wasn’t quite good enough and that I expect more from them.  Ugh. #homeschoolfail #parentingfail #selfesteemenhancingfail
  4. Want kids challenged at the highest level all the time.  Groan…  So guilty of this.  With all three kids.  One might even say I’m currently doing it full speed with Berrik and this homeschooling gig.  #wthiswrongwithme
  5. Want kids to ‘find their passion’ in middle school and/or highschool.  Just last evening at the dance studio, where I was basking in the joy of watching my daughter be challenged at the highest level in her tap class, I had a conversation with another dance teacher about Avi ‘finding her passion’ in choir. As I type this post, I am rolling my eyes at myself so frequently that I’ve given myself a headache.

I was not raised this way.  I was a farm kid who was lucky enough to live in the same farm yard as my grandparents and my cousins, and only a kilometer down the road from more cousins.  We left the house and headed off to whatever adventure we could find all the time, with no intervention from adults, and came back when it was getting dark or we were getting hungry.  We learned problem solving.  For example, on the round bales stacked two high we had to figure out what to do when youngest cousin falls (read: gets dropped) down the holes between the bales to the bottom (sorry Andrea). We discovered how much gas you need in the jerrycan strapped to the dirtbike to get to Sedalia and back. (Mom, did I ever tell you about the time we went to Sedalia?)  I had chores on the weekends and may the good Lord (or more likely Grandma) save you if you didn’t get them done before Mom got home from her shift at the hospital.  We helped with dinner and dishes (except when I just HAD to go to the washroom, and took my book in there to read to give Ryan plenty of time to get a head start on the dishes…for the record, I believe that qualifies as strategic thinking).  We had 2 channels on the TV and one was often a bit fuzzy. We didn’t watch it much.  Our first computer was a Commodore Vic 20 – the 20 is for kilobytes.  So you can imagine we weren’t doing too much on that fancy piece of technology.  We read books.  And played outside.  We put tea towels on our heads to pretend we had long hair, and ate Grandma’s cookie dough until we were sick.  We played school sports and I danced one or two nights per week, likely for 30 minutes at a time.  We went to dance festivals and to be honest I can’t really even recall if we ever won.

There are many things we did that I think we were exceptionally lucky that nothing permanently disfiguring or worse happened.  By today’s standards were were totally underparented. But I will say that when I went to college, I knew how to cook for myself, do my own laundry, and problem solve out of many a pickle… I registered myself for classes, talked to my professors if I had a concern about a grade, and even used that strategic thinking to avoid 8am classes at all costs.

The article I linked to above says this:

Have you ever stopped to question what the end result of all this involvement is? It’s a generation that can’t do anything on its own.

A generation that needs coaches, tutors, mom and dad to be at the sidelines at all times.

A generation that thinks it always needs to be number one at everything.

A generation that is never satisfied with who they are.

A generation of anxious, nervous kids.

A generation that is not hungry for anything because everything is handed to them, everything is fixed for them.

We are robbing them of the opportunity to grow up and discover themselves. To figure out who they are, what they love, what they excel at, what they want to excel at.

Let’s stop protecting them from the world and start preparing them for it, instead.

Sigh.  You know how as a parent you have those days (or more likely 15 minute increments) where you think, wow, I’m really nailing this?  Only yesterday I had one of those moments.  It was while I hovered in my helicopter watching McKenna dance and discussing how my middle schoolers had each found their passions, and mentally congratulating myself for challenging Berrik to learn a few more sight words and achieve more math problem solving skills earlier in the day.

What’s most interesting is that while I intellectually get that overparenting is not doing my kids any favors, it will take a significant mindset shift for me to break these nasty habits.  It’s all about balance, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to try to scale back where I can.  Baby steps.  Head is officially out of the sand, but it’s going to take some time to land this helicopter and park it for good.