homeschooling

Homeschooling…. Here we go!

When Berrik was a baby and the girls were just entering school, I may have said I would NEVER homeschool.  Not because I really had anything against homeschooling per se, but more because I thought I would not have the patience or the ability to do it well, and I couldn’t forsee the need for it.  When Berrik was a toddler/preschooler, I recall saying I would consider homeschooling as a last resort if things were really dire…. I wonder now if I subconsciously knew that Berrik would not experience school and learning in the same easy way the girls have.  He was experiencing speech delays at that time, so there were certainly some signs.

But, even as recent as this past June, when I took a year off of work to ‘help’ Berrik get on a good path for learning (whatever that means…I knew generally what I wanted to achieve, but truthfully I had no real solid sense of how the heck I was going to do it!), I was still thinking he would attend school and I would volunteer frequently in the classroom to provide him support and help reinforce what he was learning.  I actually said, I don’t want to homeschool him… I wouldn’t know where to begin….easier to just volunteer in the school with him…

And then came Sound Connections.  After several weeks of seeing Berrik absorb the material like a little sponge, and respond so positively to the multi-sensory style of learning along with the very ‘Berrik-specific’ methods (ie: using mini-sticks hockey games or any sport with a ball as part of the teaching)  I started to say to my mom…hmmm I wonder if I should homeschool him…he would do so much better this way, we could achieve so much more.  And look how confident he is getting.  This was a huge shift in thinking for me and it took a few weeks of researching homeschool boards, reading literature about learning disabilities, early intervention, homeschooling, and really just soaking the idea into my brain before I could decide.  The tipping point was when I came across the Phoenix Foundation homeschool board.  Their philosophy of learning seemed to match closely with mine, and the resources and support felt like a good fit.  Like so many of my life and parenting decisions, I had that ‘gut feeling’ that homeschooling was best for Berrik this year, and that Phoenix was the school board we needed to register with.  So with that, I drove down to their school and registered.  Done.  That was late in July.  Here is a video that describes my favorite thing about Phoenix – their Creation Studio: Phoenix Foundation  Berrik will attend some classes and participate in field trips with other homeschooling kids…and we will also do a bunch of work at home. Plenty of opportunity to engage with his peers, but the advantage of picking and choosing what will work best for Berrik, and the ability to continuously adapt.

The thing that I think I love best, is how inclusive and supportive this board is.  Perhaps they all are, I have no idea.  But regardless of learning disabilities, cognitive ability, whether kids are on the autism spectrum, have ADHD symptoms or are neurotypical, the school is set up to support kids to success. It’s not a special needs school, but they seem to truly recognize the value of teaching the way kids learn, rather than shoving square pegs into round holes.  High school kids have an option to participate in a mentorship program where they receive training and support, and then are ‘hired’ to mentor kids who may require extra support in the classroom.  This means Berrik can attend classes with some one on one support, and it means he can experience time with his peers, without mom hanging around.  For a kid who typically needs instructions given twice (or more), and who tunes out as soon as he gets behind, having an older teen sitting with him will make a world of difference.  This is what we couldn’t get in regular school.  Teacher plus 27 kids made it impossible for someone to keep tabs on whether Berrik understood the directions and/or followed through on them.  And while I could also do this for him, I feel it’s important for him to have some time independent of me.  Stay tuned to hear how well this works…his first day of ‘classes’ is Sept 13.

This past week all 3 kids took a break from their ceaseless social and activities calendars and spent a week in Oyen with my mom and dad.  This allowed me to plan Berrik’s learning and get prepared for the next few months.  I feel ‘ready’ now and am excited to see where this journey takes us.  As always, the support of my parents is endless and so critically important to our family.  Berrik got in another week of swim lessons, did his homework daily with mom or dad, and the girls even kept up with their math summer work (both girls find math their most challenging subject, and while they get good grades, I wanted them to keep practicing to build confidence – math is one of those subjects that you need A before you can do B, and if you are strong at A & B, then C & D will be easier….). Perhaps most important, the girls got some downtime to just chill and spend time with grandma and grandpa, and with each other.  I hope when my kids have kids, I can be as supportive to them as my parents are to me.

 

 

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.

 

Language & Literacy

When I decided to take time off work, I knew I needed some kind of plan…some way to figure out how to help Berrik learn to read, improve his language skills, figure out what type of learning works best for him, and on and on….  It was a tall order and I wasn’t really clear on how to go about it.  There are so many ‘programs’ and theories about how best to teach a kid with learning disabilities, but since the strengths and weaknesses of every child are so unique, I found myself going in circles trying to figure out what to do or where to start.   I researched obsessively, I attended some info sessions – and as an aside, I was shocked by some programs that made incredible claims of success, but required HUGE payments up front…like thousands of dollars – and at the end of the day, it all came down to a somewhat random conversation with a friend who I consider to be the most disciplined, and thorough person I know. I don’t see her often and I was telling her about what was going on with Berrik and my plans to take some time off work.  She mentioned, in an offhand way, that her children attended a program called Sound Connections, and were experiencing incredible success.  Like goosebumps on your arms, life-altering successes.  Little did I know that one conversation would lead us down the path we are now on!

I looked up the website for  Sound Connections and thought it sounded good.  The website was less impressive looking than some of the other program websites I had seen, (which is maybe very telling – not so much money and time spent on website and over the top marketing and more time on actually helping kids?) I trust that friend of mine implicitly so I gave Sound Connections a call.  Annette Rogers, the creator of the program, called me back and we spoke for the better part of an hour.  It was a very ‘eureka’ hour for me, as Annette clearly knew about what I was experiencing with Berrik, and said some key things that really resonated.  Things like, labels don’t matter – she was not concerned with IQ, attention issues, dyslexia…etc.  She said that her program will work for any kid… for all kids…regardless.  She didn’t say, Berrik will learn to read in 3 months and will never have issues again…but she did say, that he will be literate, and it may happen quickly and it may happen slowly, but over time he will be literate.  Realistic.  But confident.  For a natural cynic, it was interesting how quickly I trusted Annette.  Added bonus, she is a speech and language pathologist, and Berrik has had expressive and receptive language delays since he was a young toddler…  Annette understood what that means, how it impacts literacy and performance in school, and her program helps with that too.  SIGN US UP.

We started Sound Connections in early June – literally the Monday after I finished work.  We now attend 3 days per week for 45 minute sessions, one on one, and do the rest of the work at home.  In another post I will describe what these sessions are like, and what it’s like to implement it at home…and I’ll tell you about how Berrik is doing!

Foreshadowing here….  I’m discovering that teaching Berrik at home, throughout the day, integrated into our day to day lives, in a way that works for him, is so much more effective and efficient than a classroom environment….  Stay tuned for more information about that!

In the mean time, if you have a kid who is struggling with language and literacy, call Sound Connections.  Don’t wait for your kid to lose all confidence or fall years behind.  And if you’re already there, years behind, frustrated, and feeling overwhelmed, then DEFINITELY call Sound Connections.  I cannot say enough about this program.  You pay as you go (a month ahead), and it is WORTH EVERY PENNY.

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