Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Science in a Nutshell

We've used Delta Education's Science in a Nutshell as part of our homeschool science curriculum for a while now.  While I do like them, I can't give them an unqualified thumbs up.

The kits come with most of the supplies you need to perform the experiments.  However, you must check the experiment ahead of time to make certain you have the other supplies needed.  They aren't always simple items like tape & scissors.

I also recommend that you carefully check your kit when it is received.  I ordered several kits.  There were broken, missing, or expired parts in some of them.  Delta Education was really good about replacing the parts, but it would have been hard to take care of it I hadn't check the kits until I was ready to use them.

The projects can be done by homeschool families, but all are written to be done by small groups in a class room.  As homeschoolers, we've seen this before, so it's not a deal breaker.  It's just nice to know that you may need to adapt some.

The projects and learning activities require parent involvement.  Unless you have an older learner who is fairly self-motivated, plan on doing these along with your child.

If you want to use the work book, you have to make copies, which is a hassle.  Individual workbooks aren't available.  However, the book is spiral bound, so it's not difficult to make the copies.

The text/workbook organization is jumbled and confusing.  It's not a straightforward approach.  It is designed to be used by a teacher in a classroom.  I can see that a teacher who plans on using something over & over, would put the time into figuring it all out.  But, I want something easy to open up and use.

However, I do like the kits.  The experiments are easy to do.  My kids get excited when I pull one out.

There are plenty of supplies for more than one child to use the kit. The kits come with most of the hard to find parts and supplies.

I love that they come in nice, tidy, easy to store boxes.  The boxes stack easily and are easy to move around.

We've used them to best success when I've set up a co-op or "summer science camp" with four girls.  Even numbers are better since many experiments put the students into pairs.

Delta Science recommends these kits for grades 2-6, and I agree that this is a generally appropriate range.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Homeschool School Room

Sometimes I am asked what our homeschool room is like.  The whole world is our school house.  We go on field trips and learn from a wide variety of teachers.  We watch spiders hatch in our back yard & study ecosystems at the beach.

You can find my children reading all over the house.  Ballerina prefers her bed.  Princess & Little Red like to  curl up on the couch.  Farmer girl reads everywhere including in her garden.  We have books stashed in most rooms.  I try to sneak a variety of educational books in, and I never comment when I catch the kids reading them.

But, that's not really what people want to know.  They want to know where we do our book work.  So, here are some pictures of our "school room."   And, yes, it usually does look this messy or worse.

Ta Da!  On the left you can see one of three desks lined up on that wall.  Baby Boy has a red and blue "tool bench" in front of the sliding doors,   On the right behind the table is one more desk and shelves.  The blue covered chair in the right front is mine.  It's on rollers so that I can zoom around the room to help each child.  

Each girl has her own desk with space to store her books and other assorted junk. Farmer Girl's desk, on the left, is graced with a paper mache dragon head right now. It's a model of a dragon from the book she is writing. Ballerina painted her desk a bright and very pretty pink, which doesn't go with anything else in the room, unfortunately. But, she likes it, and that's what matters. Princess has the desk on the right.

Little Red uses this desk. She doesn't really need a desk yet, but she likes to have her own space just like the older girls. The rest of the unit holds assorted books, paper, paint, crayons, other supplies and rewards (aka bribes.)

Despite the fact that each child has her own desk, the dining room table is everyone's favorite place to do work.  

My desk and computer are in the background.  I'm not known to share either very often.  

Since I am stingy with my computer, we have a family
computer station set up in the living room.  The internet is locked on this computer, so the kids only have access to pre-approved sites.  I unlock access when they need to be able to view a broader range of material.

We used to keep this computer in the dining room on the shelf next to Little Red's desk.  The noise level in the dining room made it hard for Farmer Girl to work on her on-line Latin class.  So far having the computer in the living room is working well.

Those are the "official" school  spaces.  We spend a couple of hours every day using these areas.  The rest of the time is spent actively involved in hands-on learning.  But, if you ask my kids, they'll say it's just play.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Plastic Bag Ban


This just irritates me.  I'm all for decreasing waste, not littering, and using reusable items.  I recycle heavily, and I also try to reduce our waste.  I utilize reusable containers as much as possible.  I've been trying to convert to using reusable bags with moderate success.  We reuse, mend, repair, recycle, upcycle, hand down,  make do, and get creative as ways to reduce waste.  And I will admit that, to a point, I actually agree with the idea of not using plastic single-use bags.

However, I don't believe that a majority of Bellingham residents actually want a bag ban.  Grocery stores offer bags because consumers want them.  If we all used reusable bags, grocery stores wouldn't offer them.  I do believe that more people are changing over to using reusable bags.  Social pressure and education are having a positive impact.  

But, what really bothers me is that I don't believe that it's government's role to make this sort of decision.   I'm tired of a paternalistic government deciding what is best for us regardless of what we want.  The message continues to be, "You aren't smart/wise/informed enough to make a good decision, so we will make it for you.  If you don't agree with us, we will force you to do what we think is best."  A little power has gone to our representatives heads.  This voting season, I will be voting for candidates who will focus on core government functions and will stop meddling in areas that they should stay out of.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cryin' through Temple Grandin

I just finished watching Temple Grandin.  I cried for Temple, at her pain.  I cried for her mother, at her pain, and at her frustration, and at her patience and tenacity.  I wonder if I can be as supportive of a mother as Temple's.  Can I find that balance between providing support & celebrating my daughter's uniqueness with the need to push her & help her to fit into society?

My precious daughter is beautiful, intelligent and very high functioning.  She doesn't look or seem autistic at first.

However, I am in the position to watch her daily struggles. Often, exasperated teachers reprimand her, once again, for not letting other children have a turn to answer the questions.   Some locations overwhelm her with too much input.  Noise increases her agitation.  She knows that she doesn't quite fit in with other little girls, but doesn't understand why.  She sees life as black and white; there are no shades of grey in her world view.  Children tease her because she talks a bit differently.

In search of a diagnosis, we've seen medical specialists in specialties that I didn't even know existed.  I've cut tags off clothing and taken my daughter on a search for sheets that were soft enough for her.  I've learned about spinning (no, it doesn't involve fibers) and how to make a people taco, about proprioceptive input and cross body movements, and about weighted blankets and clothes that give hugs.   I've read multiple books on social interactions and found Ipod apps to help her learn to interpret facial expressions.

I have spent many hours physically restraining her to prevent her from hurting herself or others as she screamed and flailed with frustration after a morning of "holding it all together" in public.  Over the last several years, we have worked with her, helping her to recognize when she is loosing control.  Now instead of having screaming, flailing tantrums when overwhelmed, she comes to me and asks for help.  Usually, she can hold it back until she is with me, but the longer she holds it together, the more intense and the breakdown is and the longer it takes for her to become calm.  Sunday afternoons are becoming a bit stressful right now.  Unfortunately, she will accept no one but me to help her, and she is unable to do much self soothing yet.  It's exhausting to be someone's constant and sole source of support.  

However, this is progress.  She is learning to recognize when she needs help.  She is willing to accept it.  And she is allowing one person into her personal world.  Additionally, we've learned that a dark, quiet room and deep physical input seems to help her regulate. We've created a space of her own, for her to use as a retreat.  She is experimenting with different activities to find some that can help her calm down.

She is working hard at learning subtle social rules, even though she really doesn't understand them.  We are working on reading people's faces and body language.  And, I am working on pushing her more to do what she is capable of doing.  Her conversational skills are improving.  A week ago, she even set up a play date with another girl from church.  I was so proud!

Despite the progress that we have made, I continue to feel that maybe I'm not doing enough or that if I did something different or better, she wouldn't struggle so much.  Like Temple's mother, I sometimes feel very alone.  People who barely know her announce that the doctors & therapists are wrong, that there's no way that she has autism.  It's difficult to work as hard as I do with her to have people tell me I just need to work harder, or that I need to cut the apron strings, or that putting her in public school will solve all her problems.

On the other hand, I compare myself with other parents who have children with much more severe needs than my little girl has, and I think that what we are dealing with doesn't deserve the help we get.  Yes, I actually do think that sometimes.  I am my harshest critic.

However, in quiet times of reflection, I know that she is doing as well as she is, that most people don't realize that she has autism, because of my concerted, daily effort in her behalf.  I have to trust my heart and follow the Spirit's guidance.  When I really listen, I know that we are mostly on the right track.

We are blessed that she is now able to, mostly, keep it together in public.  We are blessed that we have had access to a wide range of services.  We are blessed that I have the education I need to navigate the system and advocate for her.  We are blessed to have caring therapists.  But, most of all, we are blessed to have our wonderful daughter.

Thursday, July 7, 2011