Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In The Spotlight: Abigail

Our beautiful Abigail is so precious and unique that designing this blogpost about her educational milestones has been challenging for me!  It is hard to place in a nutshell what is so mysterious and wonderful and that makes me feel inadequate to describe her achievements.  I wish I had journaled at least about some challenges and accomplishments, but don't we all?  This post is mostly for the sake of Abigail and for any of my children who also have children with these challenges.  Maybe my children could somehow feel more "in-the-know" than their mom even did!  I want to be real about the difficulties and the frustrations.  I think that as parents, we can celebrate the things that were easy for our children, and we really love bragging about the challenging things... you know... especially when they are OVER.  I guess it is human nature to want to do this, but it isn't always fair... especially when it comes to trying to remember events and the significance of those challenges years later!

Today I am going to talk a bit about Abigail's journey, especially because some of her challenges are  nowhere near over.  This is exactly why it is important to remember, so that each success is even sweeter!  I love teaching all of my children, of course, and yet the blessings as well as the challenges of teaching my daughter deserve a spotlight.  -Now more than ever!  Because I am making this a blog-post that anyone could read who may not even know my family I must take care of first things first:

I am so proud that my daughter is mine!

Motor Skills

Abigail's first struggles showed up with motor skills.  I never have been one to get too uptight and concerned about those kinds of things, but these are always things that doctors should pick up on and make referrals about.  Abigail was referred to the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program when she turned one year old.  She was not crawling yet at all.  She would sit on a blanket, and cheerfully play with toys and watch her very active brother!  I perceived it like this:  Abigail has a busy, big brother who brings her stuff all of the time.  Why would she want to crawl?  

That may not have been an inaccurate assumption!  However, I had no idea that there are babies in this world who actually have to be TAUGHT to crawl.  Her big brother did all of that stuff so naturally without much assistance from us.  The ECI physical therapist that worked with her gave me exercises to do with her, and we both recognized that Abigail's nature was very timid.  Encouragement went a long way!  She began crawling at about 15 months.  Pulling up was a very scary practice with her, that she had to be taught to do too.  (much to her annoyance, I might add!)  She was very fearful if anything went wrong and would not want to try again for a very long time.  Even if what went "wrong" was just a teeny bobble of movement.  She liked to feel sturdy and secure, so even though I was always there to help her, her own muscle movements scared her.  Abigail had muscle tremors.  That is what we called them, but I'm not sure if that is a medical word.  She trembled all the time and had weak muscle tone.  Her body literally vibrated sometimes!  Especially if she was tired or had just awakened from a nap.  We began to get concerned the more she began using bigger muscle groups for such exercises.  She ended up going to a neurologist and had an MRI.

getting ready for the MRI

The results didn't show anything alarming.  The neurologist said that sometimes when kids are delayed in their motor skills that they will present those little tremors that she had.  Abigail began walking somewhere between 22 and 23 months of age.  It took lots of work and lots of her triumphing over her fears.  Her nature is just to be very careful and her sweet disposition would have made any parent content with who she was despite her not performing "tricks" like walking!  We were so thankful for the help of Pam and Julienne who worked with her through that ECI program.  They gave us the necessary encouragement and more knowledge of how to encourage her.

Pre-K and Kinder Years

Abigail had a couple of easy preschool years and had no trouble learning colors or shapes or some letters and phonograms.  I began suspecting dyslexia at age 4, however.  It's just a mom thing.  Anyone could have mentioned to me that you really can't know about such things until age "such & such," but Moms have Mom-power.  We just know things sometimes when we can't even explain.  And though I might have been more accepting of someone saying, "Abigail's struggles are still age appropriate" if she was my first child.... well, she wasn't.  Phonograms were fairly easy to learn except b, d and p.  Writing was a significant challenge, so I didn't press it.  I had realized with Isaac that it worked best to only bring out pencil and paper activities ever once in a while... maybe not even once a month!  It seems I might have done it even less with Abigail, because I realized it was harder for her to have a steady hand than it was for him.  We instead "wrote" letters in corn meal, on a ziploc bag with soap in it, in shaving cream on the table.  She LOVED these activities.  I used the program Spell to Write and Read, by Wanda Sanseri.  It is what I used with Isaac, which is also supposed to be good for dyslexics (not that I officially knew or anything yet... just mentioning).  One reason it helps struggling writers is its emphasis on the clock-face for direction.  Once I taught Abigail which way was clock-wise and which way was counter-clock-wise by feeling those directions, we could talk about movement in letters.  In general opposites were confusing to her: over and under, up and down, right and left, were confusing for her even when those topics were handled apart from writing (like in children's books).  Touching a Judy Clock and turning the hands was much more of a kinesthetic movement to talk about in conjunction with direction.  An example of an exercise we did was to write the clock's numbers on a paper plate.  

The lower case letter "a" when written begins at two on the clock, goes counter-clockwise (UP and OVER) to 10, all the way down and around to 4, then straight up to 2 and back down.  To this day she has to be reminded of the clock if I really want her to focus on writing an "a" or a "g" correctly.  These letters are in her name, but she still writes them incorrectly if she isn't thinking about it.  Or, she writes her name like this:   A-b-i-G-A-i-l.  (without the dashes of course, just trying to spread it out a bit so you can see it.)  I suspect cursive will be easier for her, and if I had to do it all over again we might have started with cursive.

Some other issues or characteristics of Abigail at age 4 and 5:  She had difficulty following two step directions or directions with lots of words in one sentence.  I couldn't say, "Abigail, go get your pink shoes that are by the bed in your room."  I would have to rather say, "Abigail, go into your room." ...... "Are you there?" ......  "Go to where your bed is."  "Do you see your pink shoes?" ..... "Pick them up, please." ..... "Got 'em?" ..... "Bring them here, please!"  When putting shoes on, she always put them on the wrong feet.  I could tell, or I just knew somehow (?) that this wasn't about her understanding of which foot should go in which shoes.  I could point out the big toe part and she would match it all up (pointing at the correct shoe and the correct foot) and then STILL cross her leg over to the other shoe to put it on the wrong foot.  Hard to explain, really, but she did this a lot.  Abigail did not learn to tie her shoes when kids normally can.  (For that matter, at age 10 she still has troubles.  I've tried different ways of teaching her that haven't helped either.)  I suspect that just like other milestones she has accomplished later than others she will eventually practice this enough to be successful.  Abigail began showing her extreme creativity from about this age too.  She made the most beautiful water color paintings at age 3.  They weren't of anything specific, but her use of color was fantastic!  At age 4-5 she began getting a little more specific about her painting.

I kept this particular drawing that she made because it was the first time Abigail wrote "words" on purpose without my direction.  It is interesting to me because she obviously had the spellings of their names memorized and then the first line is pretty phonetic and the second line's word is sort of jumbled in order.  She was frustrated with "The Brothers," as she used to call them.  She was 7 years old when she did this.

1st line is "Fuss Each Other" 2nd is "Polite Isaac Andrew" I assume she was thinking to write, "Don't fuss with each other.  Be Polite Isaac and Andrew!"  
She drew them making ugly faces with a "don't" sign!
The smaller picture is her standing at her door watching them be mean.

When Abigail had just turned 7, we took her to the school and had some testing done.  Her IQ test was pretty low, but the diagnostician didn't believe that it accurately described Abigail.  She got rave reviews on her phonetic knowledge, but not her reading of simple words.  Her writing showed lots of turning/flipping of letters, but they said that these traits were still "age appropriate."  Not to be rude, but I struggled really hard to not laugh out loud when I was told that.  Homeschoolers get one-on-one private tutoring every day! They don't have to share a room with a teacher and how many students???  Keep in mind, I had four kids, but two of them were napping for the hour I worked with Abigail on such things.  I figured these issues were not going to just go away.  I didn't rebuttal, I just listened when they said, "If she is still struggling with these things in a year, we can do further testing."  Abigail struggled with stuttering and had difficulty with descriptive language so they allowed her to have speech services through the school.  She really enjoyed her time with Mrs. Munson, and I appreciated this help with her so much!  A year or so later I did call the school about the dyslexia remediation services to which I was told they didn't provide these services for homeschoolers.  They said they only provide speech.  I didn't think much of it, even though a good mom-friend of mine who also homeschools had used their services before.  We just kept trudging along with what we were doing.

The older Abigail has gotten she has become even more detailed and wonderful about what ends up on her papers.  She LOVES anything having to do with story.  I think she is a novelist at heart!  She writes picture stories that are very detailed and long.  She will write a story in a journal by drawing a picture per page and then tells us the stories. (P.S. journals are always a good gift idea for Abigail.  Ones without lines or drawing pads are so good!)  Sometimes when she writes a new story I have let her dictate them for me and then she enjoys trying to read them back.  I think she is SO creative!  

Part of one of her picture stories.
Sometimes bigger paper will have frames like these and each picture sometimes represents a sentence or even a paragraph!

Most of the time her stories have to do with horses, princesses, kings and queens, and LOTS about jungles.  I'm afraid she not only desperately desires to visit a real jungle...  I have often wondered if she will LIVE in one or near one some day!  She has such a wonderful fascination of them.  The next pictures are just some examples of the kinds of learning activities she enjoys.  None of the stories are written with her hand, but they are dictated to me.  It is so important, I think, to let her think as intelligently as she does without feeling the constant trial of forming letters and spelling correctly.  We work on that too, of course, but I find that these particular activities are not only enjoyable for her but also keep up with her actual knowledge.  I mean, what 9 year old girl when thinking of "E" words, thinks of an ELK?  I think Abigail comes by that choice in animals quite honestly!  Her taxidermist uncle should be proud! The one on the top right says, "Eraser."

I have lots of the following activities that she can do.  She looks at a picture and then tells whatever she thinks the story should be.  Nana also gave her a much more fancy book for her to do this kind of thing with!  I love it!  But at this very moment I am just pulling stuff out of her school notebook, and that book is somewhere (!!!??!!!) in her room!

Once a week for school weeks we do a nature "walk"... except there's not much walking involved! Ha!  Sometimes I direct the activity and tell the kids to find something specific to draw and learn about.  Other times I don't.  One really fun, special thing about Abigail's creativity is that it isn't near enough for her sometimes to draw what IS... she draws what could be!

For instance, I wanted the kids to go draw our new baby plants in the garden, but Abigail wanted to draw what she thought one of her sunflowers might look like some day.  :)  She drew the dragonfly that wasn't really there and the storm cloud that she thought would surely improve the gardening situation! 

This day I was very careful to tell her to please actually draw what she SAW, although I'm not saying I fuss too much about her drawing things she doesn't see.  With that instruction she did draw her actual sunflower plants (which didn't yet have the big flowers).  The garden was starting to produce, so surely there was enough exciting things to draw. :)  I think these plant drawings are AMAZING!

 Abigail with her sunflower row :)

She drew the Red Cedar tree in the front yard.
And then all of the kids also did bark rubbings of this tree, our pecan tree, and our juniper trees.

Abigail takes notes in our "family school" portion of the day by drawing pictures as well.  You would really just have to watch this to believe it.  She draws these pictures like I would "jot" down notes in my classes once upon a time.  She does it very fast and keeps up with what I am talking about by doing this.  I think it is absolutely brilliant and is nothing that I would have known to tell her to do... she just does it!

This day we were talking about a certain tribe, but I couldn't tell you which one unless I dug everything up about them.  This was something we read about in a missions book called "Window on the World."


A close-up.  Do you see the one dipping his head under the water to eat a fish?  Cute!

Rainforest:  Her favorite topic, especially when it comes to rainforest animals.

The following is another note taking page, but I wanted to brag about something here.  She knew which pages in a book we were about to discuss and in the time it took for me to change a couple of kids' diapers she had internalized the images in the book.  This particular book is a picture encyclopedia with descriptions.  Each page may have ten smaller pictures, and we look at two sides of a page each time we do this.  As I was reading to the kids, I kept telling Abigail to come look at the pictures with us while I read, but she refused and said, "No.  I've already seen them."  I sort of was frustrated with her, and even wanted to think she wasn't paying much attention.  But by simply looking at the pictures (I know she wouldn't have read the words) she knew which animal or plant I was talking about and "jotted" the picture-notes down as I was telling about them.  This was the day I began never taking her doodling for granted, even if I had somewhat before.    She can still tell me what all of these pictures  are from our lesson last August.

I love the peacock, especially!  I can't even remember the name of the plant though.  I'd go get Abigail if she weren't already asleep.  Ha!

Curriculum-wise I have tried lots of different things to help.  She had great success with the Reading Eggs online curriculum that she worked with for a year (2012-2013)  I'm not exactly sure why, but I will say it was fun for her and having enjoyment while working on something challenging is important!  She really has had lots of success in the reading department in a year.  Not because she's trying harder and not because I'm trying harder.  Things, for whatever reason, are just coming together better.  

Abigail had her official dyslexia diagnosis in September.  Although I had considered testing before, I hadn't seriously pursued her being tested because I really didn't feel I needed the information or the proof.  I'm starting to really reach out for help now though because Abigail is eager, but I'm also needing to trust someone else with these tasks because of the beautiful busyness of my home.  It is difficult at times to give her the consistency she needs without interruptions.  The person who did her testing talked about the importance of the daily, consistent practice.  Some days, although time can allow for me to work with her, I am just not feeling patient enough, quite honestly.  A lot of times I get frustrated not necessarily with her, but with me.  There have been times when I have used less "scripted" curriculum where I'm just not really sure where to go next or how to explain something better.   I want to make sure that I don't contribute to her being stressed about reading, so I've thought it best at times to let it go on my end some days.  The online programs I have used have given a buffer at times when I need her to still work on reading, but I don't need it to be with me directly.  Those thoughts and actions as well as her age and eagerness I think have all contributed to her successes in reading.  Even though she has struggled with fluency and still does, I can actually SEE the progress which is so encouraging!  Currently we don't have the reading eggs program, but I am using All About Reading (for one on one time) in conjunction with Time4learning.com.  I cannot say enough about the All About Reading program.  I wish it had existed when I first started teaching!  I highly recommend it.  It's not different than Spell to Write and Read in the way it approaches learning reading, it is just that it is scripted material and tells me exactly what to do next and even what to say!  Another favorite I should mention here is a blog I follow by a mom who has 7 dyslexic children.   http://www.mariannesunderland.com  She wrote the book Dyslexia 101 (affiliate link) that I have really appreciated.  I found her when I was trying to read reviews on All About Reading.  She gives it rave reviews too.

We have made a decision to do further testing and have Abigail receive tutoring from the folks at Lexercise.com.  Abigail is just at a very eager stage and we want to help her capture that as best as we can.  It helps that her nature is not one to suffer defeat and she always has a bright outlook.  That is most certainly a blessing!  The decision to go with this company has come after much prayer and thought.  I had first sought help again with SISD in September.  Our public school informed me (again) that they don't provide these kinds of services for homeschoolers.  I found out that it is actually wrong for them to tell me that (it violates F.A.P.E.), and we could have reached out to our wonderful Texas Home School Coalition for legal help.  Whitley isn't comfortable at this time, with the thought of ruffling feathers that way and we just feel that our preference would be to seek help from someone(s) who actually wants to help her.  I must stress that I think the teachers at school would be delighted to help Abigail, but the answer we got eventually led us to pursue other venues.  Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.  Maybe we're just being "chicken."  We are excited about this new part of the journey though, so I guess that's the main thing!  I read about the Lexercise folks from this mom's awesome Review which led me to dig even more.

So we no longer have a cleaning lady and are hiring a tutor.  (YOU MIGHT PRAY FOR ME!!! -Or come clean my house!  -Or both.  HA!)  

Sweet Abigail, "hitting the mark".....

I'll close for now and hope that I will be able to update on this progress more often in the future.  But if not, at least I did today!

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Some recent schooling-time photos

Here is some photos of the more mama-directed seat-work lately.  
I like to post some pictures here ever once in a while of them doing their work! 
It's sort of a school progress memory-blog for them AND for their mama too!

I'm working on a special post about what Abigail has been up to lately and
will save some of those pictures for that post.

Andrew is doing the "Explode the Code" books this year.

stamped their passports when we "went" to Canada

Photo taken during "book basket" time.  My basket is full of books that they can use for independent learning that deals with what topic we are on.  These would have been picture books of Canada, an atlas book-marked on North America and some books dealing with Northern animals we don't see here in Texas.  One book was about caribou.
North America + Central America geography game.  We have a game page for South America now too.
Isaac very proudly pointing at Ecuador when we began our South America unit.

Working on labeling with our flag-stickers and atlas

This was learning about ground temperature earlier this year.  We put two pieces of ice in zip-loc bags.  One bag got buried about 6 inches deep and the other stayed on top in the sun.  As soon as that piece was melted, we uncovered the buried one and observed what didn't happen to it.

A puppet show "IAA Club" put on for us!  It was great!!

program... I love this for so many reasons!  HAHA!


Other activities...

projects from The Outdoor Handy Book

Keeping Fit!

Now Andrew is in Tae Kwon Do too! 
This is such a great thing for them to all be involved in together!  David can't wait to start too, but my rule so far is that you have to be 6 or 7!

taken on Andrew's first night of practice

Family Trips...

Western Art Meuseum

We interrupted our My Father's World curriculum after we finished studying South America,
so that we could do a Texas History unit.
Next week we are going to San Antonio to Homeschool Day at Sea World and will visit the Alamo!

Here are some photos of more dad-sponsored learning. :)




Biography of Cameron Townsend... Our family read-aloud book
when we were learning about Mexico and Central America
The boys literally went from sitting on the couch to right next to their dad as he was finishing the book.
I HAD to take a picture!

Biography of Nate Saint...  We read this one during our South America unit.  It was special to us because our close friends, The Hollingsworths, live in Ecuador.  It was fun hearing names of places they've been to and live near as we were reading/listening to this book.


Our old house provides plenty of opportunities for the kids to learn to do certain jobs and work with their hands in general.
I'm pretty sure I posted this one on our other blog, but it is worthy here again.  Our three boys, and their buddy, Nathan, had a real JOB this day.  They helped Whitley replace a line under the house that he could not have done without them!

Always learning!  It's fun to take breaks and remember ever once in a while too!!

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