Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The rhythm of routine

It is now our third week into school and fall activities. It's even officially fall! The leaves are changing color, and the weather is cooler, reminding me that shortly my time to get out the door will double, even triple, as we scramble to grab boots and winter outdoor clothes. Oh the joys of Canadian living. There are lots of perks, but the weather isn't necessarily one of them.

I have been reminded, this month, of why I so much love living in a large city. I am very very much NOT a country girl. The sounds of traffic from the not-so-distant expressway are the white noise I need to sleep. The nosy next door neighbours are a great source of entertainment, and a recent discussion with one showed me how thankful I am to have someone to help in case of a last minute appointment, opportunity or emergency.

My exhusband and I have seemed to come to a detente of sorts. We've even been able to collaborate on events for the kids, and he was respectful and polite. I have no desire to explore a .. more intimate relationship with him, but I'm thankful that our divorce seems to have made him change some attitudes and behaviours. Of course, I'm not foolish. This could always be a short term change, in some greater game he's playing. It's only been 6 months or so. I will be watching, but if this is for real.. maybe we can someday be actual friends and coparents.

This year I am educating all five of my children. My 11 year old (almost 12!!) is in 7th grade, my 7 year old is in a modified early elementary program, my 5 year old is 1st grade, my 4 year old is doing kindergarten, and my 2.5 yr old is beginning preschool. I am, as always, amazed and incredibly proud of how well my girls do, and sometimes I even keep it all straight!

Our days and weeks are falling into a rhythm. I love this part. When we're out of crisis mode, when we have survived a transition, when we are settled and at peace, we naturally fall into a rhythm, a routine.  I am even waking before the kids now! (To anyone who knows me, this is a sort of miracle, lol!) We wake, we have breakfast and cuddles and get dressed, not in any particular order. Then we clean up and do chores - even the preschooler. I have a card system that is working beautifully to coordinate everyone and make the chores simple and fun. After we're done cleaning up, we start school. I try to make it so that only one child needs my attention at a time, but sometimes someone ends up waiti
ng. It's good character training time.

For my little ones, school is only until noon. After lunch, my littles will often nap, and the ones that aren't will be downstairs in their playroom, so that I can work, or work with my older daughter. Or sometimes, maybe even nap myself.

On Mondays, we are a bit different. My littles don't do as many chores, but instead work on their language arts and math early. At noon, we head out the door to my oldest's horseback riding lesson. I was so excited to be able to find.. and afford.. a short 1 hour weekly lesson for her. She's thrilled. In the evening, my 3 middle girls have beginning judo at our local community centre. Then we rush off across the city so my special needs girl can have a class just for her, to help her work on her social skills and her gross motor skills.

Wednesdays is our busiest day. Currently my littles and I do a playgroup in the morning, giving my oldest some much needed time and space to work on projects at home. Then we come home for a quick lunch and we're off again, this time to a class on butterflies for my 4 and 5 yr old, while my 7 yr old and I hang out, and my 2 yr old is at home napping, with my oldest supervising. We're home and we finish up any school stuff or chores before supper. When this class on butterflies ends in 3 weeks, we'll be starting swimming lessons at pretty much the same time, for everyone.

We've also managed to find a church, one that I think will become our church home. Not only has everyone been extremely accepting of us as a family, despite the stigma of single parenthood, divorce and family violence, but there are other homeschoolers as well! The teaching is not just the feel-good-look-good kind, but the kind that makes you want to go home and learn more for yourself. And the music is a great mix of old and new, tho slightly too loud for my special needs kid.. Oh well, headphones work!

As busy as we are as a family, there's also a sense of calmness, of security around it all. The rhythms we're developing, the routines that are falling into place, the very busy-ness of it all is the business of a happy, healthy, active family, that is connecting and growing and thriving. I'm very pleased and grateful at the peace of it all. My children are happy. I'm happier than I have been in years. It's awesome.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Birth Story: Promise of strength

Rattikankeawpun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I was all of 19 years old when I discovered I was going to become a mother. 19 years old, just finished my first year of university, at home with my parents for the summer, and the relationship from which child resulted had ended. I'd been sick for about 6 weeks before it dawned on me that I could be pregnant.

I made my best friend buy me the test, and with shaking hands I did it in her bathroom. It came up with two pink lines immediately, and I had to sit on the floor in shock. I remember nearly floating down the stairs to show her, in equal amounts excitement (I was estatic!) and fear (terrified of my parents' reaction, among other things).

I remember sitting on her couch, just trembling. I couldn't speak. I couldn't think beyond the thought that I was pregnant. It didn't even register that it meant an actual baby.

My parents' reaction wasn't pleasant, and the father of my child was as supportive as he could be for the shock of finding out his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. I stayed with him for about 6 weeks, growing increasingly sick, depressed and struggled physically and emotionally. There were days I couldn't get out of bed without immediately throwing up.

Hyperemesis is nothing to be ignored, and my obstetrician ordered several ultrasounds over the next few weeks, along with blood tests and a battery of examinations. I was on medication to try to control the vomiting, but I was still losing weight. There were concerns about my baby's kidneys and heart formation, and my stress levels grew higher, and depression grew worse.. a self-defeating cycle.

I moved into a shelter for young pregnant women, where I stayed till the end of my pregnancy. It was the 8th ultrasound, approximately 3 weeks before my due date, that decided things for my OB. She informed me that not only was I in "prodromal" labour, and already 3 cm dialated, that my baby was head down and in position, and that my little girl! was undersized and not growing in utero. She told me to prepare for a baby, because if I didn't have this child over the weekend, I would be by Tuesday of the next week.

I went back to the shelter with mixed feelings. I was 9 months pregnant, more than ready to meet this child, and yet.. the possibility of a less-than-healthy baby was scary. I spent the weekend on pins and needles, awake for hours with contractions that didn't stay regular, that ebbed and flowed. Tuesday morning, bright and early, I called the hospital to find out when I was scheduled to go in.

It wasn't until 1 pm that I was finally admitted to hospital. My mother arranged for her sister to accompany me, and the shelter had hired a doula for me, and they came into my room shortly after the nurses had me in hospital gown and hooked up to the monitors. The doula and my aunt had a grand time talking in the corner, while I was given an iv, and a scalp monitor was placed on my daughter, and the pitocin started. I watched tv, while they talked, and occasionally asked for a drink.

The contractions started at approximately 3 pm, and boy did they hit with a vengeance. The doula and my aunt occasionally looked over at me and asked how I was doing, but for the most part, I was left to myself. The nurse was with me all the time now, monitoring contractions and my daughter's heart beat, and encouraging me to bear with it. I asked and received a shot of novocain about 4 pm, and by 5 I was ready for stronger pain relief. My aunt talked me out of it, and I waited. At 6 I was more insistent, but the nurse checked and I was told it was too late!

It was go time, and they paged my OB, and began preparing to wheel me into the delivery room. Things were moving very quickly though, and faster than they were ready for, I was ready to push. They rushed me into the delivery room, and the nurse told me not to push. But my body had already taken over. My OB jogged into the room, just in time to catch my baby girl. As she was coming out, I felt a horrible burning, which I now know was called a "ring of fire", as I tore with her passage.

My newborn, Dec 16, 2003
My daughter was born at 6:33 pm, at 5 lbs 8 oz, and 19" long. She was a beautiful pink baby, so tiny the nurses called her my little peanut. I stared at her in adoration, as the doctor delivered the placenta, and then they whisked her away to do all their tests and baths and myriad other things. I was given another shot of oxytocin, as I was bleeding quite heavily, and my OB struggled to stitch up where I tore.

I think I was bleeding almost too much, because I believe I passed out. Anyway I ended up in a ward room, and I'm not sure how I got there. I wasn't allowed to get up for 24 hours, and the nurse brought me my baby. I tried to nurse, but I was so tired and so foggy, that I struggled. My baby was so small she struggled too.

The next day, the nurses helped me up and I showered, fighting nausea and dizziness. I was still bleeding very heavily, but they let me sit up and try nursing again. The day after, they sent me back to the shelter, with this tiny little girl.

The shelter staff was very alarmed. Here I was, pale as a ghost, anemic, sick, still fighting depression and exhausted, with this premie-sized newborn. The first night, I was up all night attempting to nurse my baby, crying with her, and the shelter staff grew more nervous. The next night was the same. By Friday, I took my now listless baby back to the hospital, where she was admitted for jaundice and put on formula.

Friday night, I slept beside her crib, feeding her every hour. Saturday, the hospital was ready to release her, and I waited for the paperwork, anxious to take my baby home again.

It was 9 pm at night when a man came into my room. He asked me to step outside into the hallway, and informed me he was so sorry, but I wasn't going to be able to take my baby home. The shelter had said they weren't comfortable with me being anemic and sick and my daughter being so tiny, to allow me to keep my baby there. So I sobbed as the social worker took my daughter, bundled up in her little car seat away to foster care.

I sat in the hospital lobby room, unsure of what to do, stunned. I was a new mom, foggy with blood loss, illness, depression and grief. I called the aunt that had attended my delivery, and she came and got me. I crawled into a mattress on the floor they gave me, and slept. I don't remember much of that weekend.

Monday morning, a new social worker met with me, to tell me my options. I desperately wanted my daughter back, and begged my aunt and uncle to let me stay with them. They refused, and I turned to the social worker. She told me of another shelter I could stay at, and helped me apply. I returned to the first, and gathered up my things, and moved into the new shelter.

Within a week, my daughter was returned to my care. I was ecstatic all over again. For about 3 days, I only put her down so I could sleep some. I lived in terror that someone would take her again. But as the days went by, I grew more secure, and settled into this new role as mom.

There were more challenges to face in the coming months and years, but motherhood changed me forever. I discovered I was stronger than I had ever thought, and that my daughter somehow gave me the promise that I would always have the strength I needed to face anything.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: Deschooling

Deschooling is a process of retraining and refocusing kids and their parents out of a public school mentality and attitude towards learning. The idea is to figure out that learning does not require a text book, a test, a worksheet or a teacher. Learning can happen anywhere. It is actually more important for the parents to "deschool" than the children, especially if you are pulling your children out in older grades. 

So what does it look like?

Specifically, you'll avoid worksheets and workbooks, you won't do tests, or sit down with one person lecturing and another listening. You will read lots and lots, but they won't be textbooks, just books on topics you enjoy. You will do projects perhaps, but these will be messy and fun and fascinating. You will go places - the store, the library, a museum, the zoo, the symphony, the movies, etc. You won't be sitting at a desk or the kitchen table answering questions out of a textbook. You might sit at the kitchen table eating a snack and talking about questions. You won't be lecturing your kids on the specifics of algebra, but you might watch a YouTube video on math in nature. You won't be cutting and pasting worksheets, but you might cut out magazine letters to create poetry art, or write a letter to the editor of your newspaper, or volunteer at a local homeless shelter. 

As a parent, you'll be observing your child(ren). You will reconnect with them as parents and kids, enjoying life together. You will figure out that Junior likes to build and learns best by doing, and Miss learns by reading and more reading, and Little One learns best by asking questions and talking about it. You might also figure out that your family thrives when you "go with the flow" or that you all much prefer set times to do certain things, and like predictability and routine. You might discover that you really like reading as a family, so a literature based curriculum is best, or that you really really hate the mess of science experiments, so maybe online options are better, or that your day just works better when you're at home so you'll keep field trips to a minimum -- or just the opposite. 

The rule of thumb is that you should take approximately 1 month for every year your child was in school. The focus isn't so much on learning anything or meeting goals or "keeping up with their class", but on reconnecting as a family and discovering the joy of learning. It may take less time for you -- it may take more. But don't skimp out because of a panic that "they aren't learning anything". They will learn. They will surprise you with what they learn. 

So often new homeschoolers short-change themselves and their children in this process. A sense of panic can set in, because it doesn't look like your children are learning anything, because it doesn't look like school. You may feel a sense of looming disaster, of "falling behind", that you are somehow neglecting them and their education by not churning out workpages, reports, and struggling with school work, like you are so used to. For some reason, we, as a society, have separated "education" and "learning" from life and fun. Education is over here, and it's supposed to be hard, and even a little boring, and you don't learn anything if it's not written down. Life is over there, completely separate, and you don't learn anything in "real life". But it's that mentality that this process of deschooling is designed to break down. Like in childbirth, if you can push through the panic, you'll have a brand new life and a lot of fun! 

It depends I think on what your purpose is in homeschooling. If you are approaching it from the idea that your child needs to know "xyz" information and skills by "x" age in order to be "educated" then yes, you'll always be thinking "grade level" and "ahead" or "behind". But if you think in terms of parenting, not just academics, and think about the information and skills of education as part of your parenting (that reading and arithmetic are just like walking and talking in your child's development), then there is only a "grade level" like there is "typical development". It's a range. Most children learn to walk somewhere between 10 and 16 months. If they aren't walking by 18 months, you take them to a doctor. Most children learn to read somewhere between age 4 and age 10. If they aren't reading by age 12, you might want to get extra help. It isn't about an arbitrary "grade level" (which by the way is very specific to region -- children are expected to be reading by age 6 in most states, but in other countries, not until age 8 or 9). It's about where your child fits on the typical development range.

Formal academics are not a goal. They are the means to a goal. Being a successful adult requires that they read and write fluently in at least one language, that they can add and subtract and manage money and think logically and critically, that they have some familiarity with the whys and hows of our society, economy and technology. *When* our children learn this is not all that important. It only takes 30 days to teach the average-intelligence adult to read. And with the internet and smart phones today, most information is easily accessible. College may not be everyone's best career plan, and there are other choices. Educate accordingly.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Refugee Crisis

The world is abuzz with the news and pictures from the refugee crisis in Europe. Phrases like "worst crisis since WWII" and pictures of dead children have shocked and horrified us, and the catch phrases and calls to action are churning out, particularly in the church. The bandwagon is out and picking up all comers.

I'm sympathetic. I'm compassionate towards the millions of displaced families, the fathers hoping to build a better life, the women and children fleeing the violence, the young adults running for their lives.. I get it. I hold no resentment, and I fully support those who are able to help to do so. 

My problem is this: why does it always take a horrific photo op and tragic stories to make people stand up and do something? This crisis has been around for more than a few years. The Syrian civil war was news in 2013. Libya and Sudan have had civil wars for decades, and there are millions more refugees crossing the Mediterranean. 

However, the refugee crisis overseas and our lack of response to it is not my complaint. It is shameful and appalling and yes, we, as privileged members of developed nations, called by Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless, with more than enough to go around, should be doing whatever we can to alleviate the suffering. But the refugees overseas, with their heartbreaking pictures plastered on our newspapers, television screens and Facebook newsfeeds, are not the only refugees in our midst. 

Look around you. Look around your communities. Do you see the refugees? The mothers and children fleeing violence in their homes, the young men fleeing the violence in their neighbourhoods, the fathers fleeing the poverty and hopelessness in their communities.. do you see them? Do you see the homeless lying in the streets, trapped by an illness that clouds their minds, fogged by addictions and barred by our society to anything resembling a normal life...  do you see the young women lining the street corners, held hostage by others, forced to sell their bodies and their very souls for profit.. do you see the small child who's father is unknown, and who's mother works 2 or 3 jobs just to hold body and soul together, who's world is held by a series of babysitters and teachers who come and go..  do you see the special needs of the child who through no fault of their own is hidden behind a genetic disorder that makes them unable to comprehend the world around them... do you see the family down the street or next door, who's skin is a different color than yours, who's mother tongue sounds like gibberish to you..  Do you see the refugees in our midst? 

Why is it that as a church we are so quick to help the "other" over "there"... but we can't see past our noses at the "other" that is right here, needing our help, crying for our support, desperate for the hope only we can give? 

Why is it that the "other" over "there", in the camp, in the boat, in the train station or airplane terminal, is worthy of our respect and treated like human beings in need of a hand up.. but the ones on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and shopping malls and churches, those ones get a shake of the head, a blind eye, a turning away..

Did you know that there may be families sitting one pew over from you who are refugees? A man who's barely holding it together long enough to smile and shake a few hands, dressed in his suit and tie, putting hundreds in the offering plate, but as soon as he can escape, he's headed home to get another drink. A woman who hides her pained expression behind platitudes and excuses, who quietly stands in the background so as not to attract notice, who hurries out, home to the man who will berate her again for saying hello to the pastor on her way out, accusing her of flirting and carrying on, who's praying that she can appease him so he won't hit her, or worse, hit the children. A child who's shy demeanor and soft smile hides the fact that she barely understands the words spoken to her, because her parents are immigrants and don't speak the language themselves. A sullen teen sitting in the corner, hair dyed bright colors, who's long sleeves hide the cuts he makes every night to dull the pain of rejection by his own parents..who's face says "no" but secretly hopes that someone will see that he just needs someone to tell him he matters. And so many more... 

What about them? 

Do we need pictures of broken bodies in our inner cities before we create eye-catching phrases to rais awareness? Do we have to hear of millions of broken families before we issue call to action emails and blogs? How do we come face-to-face with the refugee crisis we have right here at home? How do we open our eyes to see? 

Yes, there's a crisis overseas. It's urgent and devastating and tugs at your heartstrings. And I'm not saying no, don't look, don't listen, don't help. Do. See it, hear it, help! But not *only* there. Help here too. See here also. Listen to the cries around you. 

We have our own refugee crisis. And as much as we need to open our hearts and homes to those fleeing warfare overseas.. we need to recognize the warfare that is in our own backyards. And we need to help. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: FAQs

There's been a lot of interest lately in homeschooling, and I've been asked frequently about what it's like, the specifics and legalities, and how to start. While I can't speak to every jurisdiction, and the regulations will vary from place to place, here are some FAQs to get you started. 

Is it legal? 
There are only a few places in the world where it is, in fact, illegal to homeschool your children, and again, only a few where it is impractical to homeschool. But generally, homeschooling, in one form or another, is legal just about everywhere. I'm fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is not only completely legal but also completely without regulation. Please check with your local laws before starting. The best place to get truthful information is from a local homeschooling support group. Be careful about talking to the public school or school board: because it is not in their interest for you to pull your children out of the school system, they may not give you accurate information about the legalities and regulations of homeschooling in your area.

How do I teach them?
That is really a broad question. The specifics of your curriculum, teaching style and structure of your homeschool will depend on a lot of factors, and I will go over some of those (and how to best pick for your family) in later posts. But generally, since you, as their parent, taught your child how to walk, talk, feed and dress themselves, use the bathroom, and the basic rules of interacting with others, you can totally teach your child to read, write, add, subtract, or whatever academic skill or information they need to learn. You know your child best, and you were your child's first teacher. You are their best teacher!

What about testing?
For many people, homeschooling is actually about avoiding the myriad standardized tests that seem to plague the school system. And depending on your jurisdiction, that may be entirely possible. For others, standardized testing is a useful tool. Standardized testing is available for purchase privately, through the various publishers, and also may be available through your public school system. Please check with your local school board or homeschool support group for more information on that. 

What about socialization? 
Homeschoolers get asked this a lot. We even make jokes about it. Again the answer is "it depends". It really depends on what you mean by "socialization". 

If socialization means the ability to interact with others politely and respectfully, to handle difficult people and different opinions without emotional outbursts, to conduct oneself in public as civilized and well-mannered; in short, if it means the basics of social interaction, then homeschooling is your best choice to achieve that. Homeschoolers get the benefit of great modeling (through their parents), direct and indirect immediate teaching, correction and feedback (because parents are generally insistent on manners), and the opportunities to interact with people of all ages and lifestyle choices, because they aren't restricted to an age-segregated environment, with drastically different rules than real life and immense pressure to conform. Homeschooled children live in the real world, not the artificial one created by the institutional school classroom. 

If socialization means the opportunity to interact with age-similar peers, then again the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, homeschoolers, because of the flexibility inherent in keeping your children out of an institution, have much more opportunity to interact with others, similarly aged, or not. Whether its being out and about with their parents while they run errands, interacting at libraries, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds, or participating in the numerous activities available for children to take part in, homeschooled children get all the interaction that the parents choose to arrange. Because we are not spending hours after school on homework, our evenings are much freer for those sports, dance, gymnastics, lego, 4H, boy/girl scout, church youth and children's ministry, music, art, chess, and drama classes and clubs that the community offers, and because we are not restricted to school hours, we can also utilize special opportunities during the day. Also, many places have active homeschool coops and support groups, offering their own classes, playdates, and interaction opportunities.  It would be easy to end up out every night of the week with a class or activity, and sometimes we homeschoolers can wind up forgetting that we actually need to be home for the homeschool to happen. 

How do you stand your kids all day?
Some people claim that I must have some kind of superhuman patience to deal with my children all day, every day. Trust me, I'm not a supermom. My kids squabble and fight just like every other child. But I will say this: they don't fight near as much as some families. And it's not because of something I did or didn't do as their parent.  Consider this: a school-aged child spends roughly 5 hours a day being told to sit down and shush, to concentrate on academics, to stop fidgeting, to stop talking with their classmate, even to ask permission to use the bathroom! Is it any wonder that by the time they get home, they are exhausted, stir crazy, emotionally pent up, hungry and over stimulated? My homeschooled children, by contrast, can change positions as needed (and do frequently), get up and move as they want, use the bathroom whenever its necessary without having to ask, take frequent breaks, eat snacks as they get hungry, ask all the questions they desire, and don't have to wait (or at least not often). So they don't lash out, they are relaxed and calmer, and the little fights and fits that come up are the typical childhood issues, worked out quickly and well.. part of the education process. See the socialization question for how. 

How will I know what to teach them?
A typical course of study for children in every grade can be found at http://www.worldbook.com/free-educational-resources/typical-course-of-study .  Actual curriculum can be purchased online, from a local store if available, or at a homeschooling convention or vendor's fair. There are tons of options, and you can even create your own, if you desire. You can use an all-in-one preplanned curriculum, or mix and match subjects to suit your child's learning style, academic level and interest. You can even choose to forgo curriculum entirely and learn through other methods. Specifics on educational philosophies and homeschool methods, along with curriculum options will be explored in later posts. Just know that there are lots and lots of options here.

How do I start?
This depends on your jurisdiction and the legalities. If you are a parent of preschool children, you probably don't have to do anything in particular, really, except plan out what and how you want to teach your children. If you are a parent of children over the compulsary school age (somewhere between age 6-8) or have children already in school, you will need to withdraw them from school. The specifics will vary from place to place, but generally you'll want to send a letter of withdrawal or intent to homeschool to your local school as well as your school board, and get a copy of all school records to date, including test scores and any special notifications (IEP, special education plans, behavioural notices/plans, etc). 

If you are pulling your children out of school, you *must* take time to "deschool". This is a term veteran homeschoolers use to describe the process of adjusting from an institutional school mentality to the attitude and flexibility of homeschooling. I will talk more about what that process looks like in a later post. 

No matter how old your children are, there are certain steps you should take before beginning the process of homeschooling. You need the what and how to teach, and you'll want to set up and gather the supplies you need before hand. This preparation time is crucial to your chances of a successful year, but at the same time, don't get so tied to your plans that you forget about being flexible.  Steps to beginning include: 

1. Observation 
2. Decide on an approach
3. Choose priorities
4. Figure out a method
5. Shop/create curriculum
6. Plan out your day/week/term/year.
7. Gather supplies
8. Happy Homeschooling!

I'll talk about the specific steps in more detail in later posts. 

From a veteran homeschooler to the curious beginner: homeschooling is more of a lifestyle choice than an education. It's not necessarily easier than institutional schooling, though I would suggest it is less frustrating. It is, however, incredibly worthwhile! The connection to your children, the protection and security you can give them, the tailored education plan - being able to challenge their strengths and support their weaknesses, the flexibility for special occasions and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (no more having to pay peak-time prices for those family vacations!): these are just some of the many many benefits to homeschooling. 

You already have your reasons for not wanting to put your children in school. No matter what they are, homeschooling will achieve beyond those reasons, if you are committed to the long-view. I wish you well in deciding what is the best fit for your family!