Tuesday, August 25, 2009

keeping it real

I've gotten a few very nice compliments that I didn't deserve lately and I think it's due to the fact that I only post when I'm in a good mood and I've had a productive enough day to sit down and tell about it. Consequently, most of my posts are about good days and things that are working for me. I suppose those who know me know me well enough to understand that our life is much messier than that and I, like most people, really don't have it all together.

In the spirit of keeping it real, and hopefully opening a few minds, I am going to put myself out there a bit and share something that is a real struggle in my family. Growing up, ADHD was something like the sixth member of my five person family. It affected all of us to some degree, even if it was just by association. Back then, there weren't really labels for it and even when pediatricians and teachers finally recognized it as a real problem, they didn't know what to do about it aside from pushing meds like ritalin on desperate parents. Now, years later, practically everyone says their kid has ADHD and our society has been so inundated with information on it, that no one really takes it seriously anymore. More often than I would like, I've heard people tell me that it's just an excuse not to parent your children, or that it's just another label we put on kids to explain away their bad behavior. To me, it seems like we've gone from bad to worse. ADHD is real, just as real as dyslexia or any other disorder that profoundly affects learning that way. And, despite it's notoriety, it's really misunderstood.

Now, I find myself in a really unexpected role. My son, Dana clearly has ADHD and I am struggling with what to do to encourage and equip him to learn and thrive. Thankfully, Dana is homeschooled and his world has been a fairly safe one so far. At home he has the freedom to be his quirky little self without being ridiculed or bullied. At church, in Sunday school and evening classes, he has to interact with other children and obey his teacher, which has been a needed challenge.

Still, at soccer practice and any other place where there are lots of children and a good amount of noise, he's completely overwhelmed and he shuts down. Poor Matt. He coaches Dana's team and to every other parent watching from the sidelines, it probably looks like we're making the kid play soccer against his will. In reality, Dana begs us to let him play and then by the second or third practice, he refuses to try. Fear of failure and inattention take over and the pep talks begin. Thankfully, we had a great practice tonight. Between Matt coaching and me shouting encouragement from the sideline, Dana was fairly focussed and really proud of himself. At one point, a parent kindly volunteered to step in and assist Matt with the coaching. He started barking orders at Dana and the three other boys he was working with. He spoke so fast and he seemed to be talking over them. Within seconds, Dana was flopping his arms and legs around and walking like a straw man, completely tuning this well-meaning father out. I'll be honest, I was angry and fighting back tears. Thankfully, Dana listened to me as I did my best to repeat the man's instructions and he was able to stay on task. Tonight was a good night, but lately I'm weighed down with the struggles that he'll have to face as he gets older. Especially, because no one seems to care that he's struggling and very few people are willing to accomodate his needs. I know he's not the only kid that struggles with this either.

Lately, I've been spending my spare time learning about what Matt and I can do to help him. Here are my main goals, at least for now:

1- Encouragement... he needs a lot of that, and at the very least, he needs as much encouragement as he gets discipline. There's so much to praise him for anyway. I didn't mention this earlier (shame on me), but ADHD kids have some kick-butt attributes too. They're usually very bright and incredibly creative, not to mention good at problem-solving.

2- Structure... each day needs to be pretty much the same around here, with the exception of friends visiting and Sundays. Dana thrives on routine and I bet most kids do, but when we don't have one, he flounders.

3- Consistent, godly discipline... I need to work on keeping my cool when I'm at my wits' end. Tired or not, he needs to know that no matter what, the rules in our house don't change and neither do the consequences.

4. Diet... this is a work in progress, but gradually, I'm going to try to keep sugary foods out of the house and stick to all natural foods.

5. Exercise... as much as he struggles with it, I really think he needs the social and mental benefit of playing a team sport. It's good for him to learn to work in a team and to stretch himself to persevere when he's tired. Unless he really starts to hate it, we're going to keep plugging away at this. Thankfully, the soccer program he's playing in is really low key and kid-friendly anyway.

6. Open communication... we haven't done it yet, but Matt and I are going to sit down and talk about this with Dana. It's time that he understood why he struggles more than other children do. I'm sure those of you who are anti-labels will have a hard time with this. Why would we put a label on our child? It's simple. He knows he's different and he's struggling with feeling inadequate. He needs us to say, Dana these are your strengths and weaknesses and this is why you are the way you are. God made you this way. He doesn't make mistakes.

Again, keeping it real, I know I'm going to botch this all up over and over again, but here I am again, clinging to my God's hand, asking for mercy along the way. God made us who we are for a purpose and I'm trusting that He knows exactly what He's doing with Dana.

In the meantime, if you have any great insights or resources, send them my way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

pictures in my mind

We did it. We completed our first week of homeschool. I somehow managed to perform all (most) of my regular daily chores as well as parent four children with vastly different needs, teach a first grade curriculum for the first time and start kindergarten with Janie. I'm not bragging, but I have to stop and admit that it was a tall order and I did it. It's possible and it was a good week, not a horrible one. Today I need to make up for the laundry I didn't do all week, or at least the rumpled clean laundry I didn't fold, and clean the bathroom. Neither one is looking appealing. I'm groggy and waiting for my iced coffee to kick in.

For now, I'm going to allow myself a blog post. I don't have tons of photos of our week. I wish I did. It was enough that I did what I planned to do, which was a lot. Looking back, though there were some moments that I've saved and pictured in my mind. I hope my memory is good enough to always remember these things, but just in case I forget they'll be recorded here.

On Monday, my biggest surprise came from Janie. I knew that she had learned from watching Dana do his schoolwork. I knew she was smart. Still, she wowed me. She sat up straight and expectant as I gave her first one task and then another. Each time, she looked at me with eager eyes and said, "What's next Mommy?" AND, at the very end, when I had run out of things to do with her, she said, "Is that it?" She was smiling, but I could tell she expected more of a challenge. After all, she's been working quietly beside Dana for over a year, listening as we work and singing along to the little kindergarten songs we sing. Why am I surprised at all?

One of the greatest joys of teaching my children at home is watching their God-given desire to learn flourish and blossom all on it's own. I can't take any credit for their desire to learn. God made them curious and creative, and I get to be the one to guide their discoveries. This week, I have so enjoyed watching my little Clara Joy learn along side her big sister. She sits quietly next to me while Janie works on this or that project. Every so often, Clara shows me a letter she has drawn or asks me to recreate the work Janie is doing, so that Clara can do it too. Her drawing and hand-eye coordination have come so far, and I'm not making her do anything. I just get to watch her learn and grow all on her own.

Dana is doing well too. Handwriting has been a little painstaking, but he's making improvements and as far as I can tell, he's right where he should be. So far, Math appears to be his strong subject, which is funny, if you know me. Math was always a struggle for me. What struck me about this week wasn't his lessons or the strides he made in Reading or Math. It was his compassion for his little sisters and brother. This morning, as he left for the first soccer practice of the season, he wouldn't leave until he kissed each one of his sisters and his baby brother goodbye. He also took a minute to reassure Janie that it wouldn't be long until she had her first practice too and that he wouldn't be gone very long. She really is his closest friend and he knew she was sad that they were on separate teams this year. I can't help but look forward to the day when he shows that kind of sympathy and love with his own children. He's my sweet boy.

It's been a good week and I'm ready for that lazy Sunday nap, even though it's still Saturday.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It's begun

I'll actually start teaching next Monday, but really, the school year has begun. Matt's back to work, I'm planning and brainstorming for Dana's 1st grade curriculum, and we're back to our normal daily routines, minus a formal teaching time (we're always learning). It's a good feeling over all, but still a bit hard to say goodbye to our fun summer. The kids are sad that Daddy's gone all day again, but life is simpler and Matt's got a clear daily purpose again.

And while I'm feeling inspired and energetic, I'll put in a little plug for our curriculum. So far we have used My Father's World for Kindergarten and we're about to use it for 1st grade as well. It's been a perfect fit for us, because it's very hands-on Charlotte Mason approach to education, and yet it's planned out for me, with careful lesson plans for each day of the year. Kindergarten took us about an hour or more to complete each day, with a lot of our play and outings focused on the same weekly themes. Dana seemed to catch concepts instead of me having to drill it into him. On the whole, it was very natural and it suited Dana's personal learning style so well. The fact that he still loves learning is testimony to that. The next best thing about it, though was that it was so inexpensive, literally less than half the price of other comprehensive curriculums. This year, I'm really excited about his 1st grade curr. It's very hands-on again, and the theme for the year is Bible History. Everything he will study falls under that umbrella, which reminds me of something I forgot to mention. I have really appreciated the way MFW teaches from a biblical world view without being isolationist. MFW does a great job of insulating children from the secular world around them, not isolating them from it. Children study the world that they're actually in, and they engage their culture, while at the same time understanding that God is sovereign over it. MFW isn't the only curriculum like this, but I'm thankful that it's so well-done. I'm too mentally scattered to pull something like this off on my own, and that's the truth.

So, even if you're not clicking over to their website to order their stuff :), I have to put in another plug for the art program we're starting this year. This book is amazing.

The cover illustration was drawn by a 5 year old after taking an art class with the monart method. The monart method teaches children (or adults) to recognize basic line shapes (squiggly, curly, angled, etc.) in what they see and to use that art alphabet and their imagination to draw (or paint) a creative and more skilled picture. Before I teach it, I'm supposed to go through the exercises myself, which may take a few days. In the meantime, I'm really excited to see how Dana does. He's already showing so much natural artistic talent that I know he'll love this.

What about you? Anything you're excited about teaching this year?