Studying the Ocean: Project Ideas and Videos

For the past three weeks we have been studying four types of the ocean floor as well as the ocean zones. This year we have been using the Classical Conversations Cycle 1 curriculum at home, without a community. Learning together at home and using YouTube videos works best for our family in this season. I love the layout and content in CC but halfway through the year I backed off from using the full curriculum and stopped emphasizing memory work so much. I decided to just use the Foundations guide as an organized guideline of the topics we would cover in science and history. We had created a lot of memory work games and it worked for a while but our family had a very rough winter and we needed things to be lighter. This involved using more time on the couch for morning time together. Our morning time has included Bible time, read alouds, Life of Fred, YouTube videos about the topics we’re studying and projects. I’ve honestly really enjoyed this change of pace!

For the oceans unit, we studied each portion for about a week and a half and then made our projects. I found this ocean floor project, shared by another CC mom, over at Solaratiamom. For the ocean zones we added to the original project by using the cover of the shoe box to divide our zones and put the animals in their appropriate places. I did a simple google search and pulled from random sources and printed out a collection of clip art and images to cut and paste. I loved how easy this project was and the kids love having a secret ocean shoebox that they can open and close and store in their room.

We read from books like, “Ocean: A Visual Encyclopedia” by John Woodward and The Usbourne Science Encyclopedia. Here is our playlist of videos that we watched on YouTube over the past three weeks. My boys most enjoyed learning about all of the creepy and cool living things in the Bathypelagic and Abyssalpelagic zones! We haven’t filled up our Trench zone yet! If you are studying the ocean with your children, I hope you found this helpful! Happy Homeschooling!

Social-Emotional Tools and Ideas for Parents of Different Kids

***Scroll to the bottom for my recommendations of a few excellent SEL products from Socialthinking that you can use in your homeschool!***

It has been a pressing desire of mine to find time to make this blog into something that other parents can use. Parents who may be weary from the daily grind of raising and educating their out-of-the-box or different child. I want to provide glimpses into our day-to-day in small, practical ways so that you can take from it what you want and throw away what isn’t useful to you. I want to share the tools I am learning along the way from professionals who work with our family. And of course, I also want to be a voice for others that share a similar walk and help you feel encouraged, if I am able to.

So first off, if you are visiting my page today as a battle-worn, weary parent, I would like to empathize with you for a moment. We all go through seasons in parenting (and homeschooling) where it just feels impossible. As Christians we are no strangers to dark times and periods of despair just because we’re Christians. We are human and not immune to suffering. Count it all joy, brothers! Really though, the struggle truly is where the spiritual work gets done. The difference we have as Christians in our suffering is the hope and peace that we have in Christ and the growth that can come from it, if you lean into God and allow it. Eventually, when we begin listening to the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit that beckons to us in those low pits, we are able to adjust our lenses and realign ourselves with God’s truth. A lot of times that also requires good friendships that are able to help steer our minds in the right direction. Once we are able to get our heads out of the sand we remember that we aren’t truly alone…even when it can feel like we are so terribly alone. Even if there is a lack of close relationships or people involved in your life, God understands the big picture and all of the details that many others do not see going on behind the scenes. And He is never too busy. He only asks that we make time for Him and put Him first. I think for special needs parents, the seasons of ups and downs– hills and valleys–can be quickly moving; because the burn-out is a behemoth. I carefully selected that word. Getting respite and breaks is so important and it isn’t always available.

I want to quickly throw in here that I really don’t like the term “special needs.” In my honest opinion, I just don’t think that my child’s needs are *special*. Both of my kids are special in the way that anyone’s kids are special. They are God’s unique design. I think I would prefer the term “extra-needs kids” or “different-needs kids”, but I didn’t create this terminology. The struggles that children with “special needs” live with just make their needs different and extra. They require a lot of extra help and they may require more from you and I. More patience, more resourcefulness, more brain power and out of the box thinking, more rest, more caffeine, more relying upon God. Sometimes I run out of more. If you know my family personally and you have been willing to give the more that my child needs on any occasion, I am so grateful for your support. It takes a village, doesn’t it? I also don’t believe that special needs parents are any kind of *special*! I am actually pretty average and mess things up all the time. Luckily, I know that God is filling in those gaps.

It has taken so much time for me to really come to terms with the fact that some aspects of our approach to parenting look different than other people’s. My child sometimes needs tools that don’t look like typical parenting tools. Some of them even go against what is taught in a lot of really amazing Christian parenting books. Some of them even look like bribery (and on some level they kind of are!). I am talking about consequence and rewards charts of course. It’s not outright bribery though, I don’t walk around with cash in my pocket so that my kid will obey me. It’s an intentional system that my child is a part of, understands and benefits from both in training and gratification. This is what works for him. On the whole, I have found that the books I have read have great insight to the overall big picture of what it looks like to Biblically approach parenting in a fallen state and in a fallen world. However, so many of these books are lacking in the understanding of parenting kids with neurological differences. One thing that is always addressed is how all of behavior is a heart issue. It’s tough, because on the one hand, I really do believe that. But on another hand, in some cases, there really is more. I’ve seen it on the regular. Sometimes there is also a very real neurological issue that gets glanced over in these books. I still find the main message useful and beneficial–it just leaves a part of the audience walking away without the whole picture. Does anyone else feel that way? One book I have found that speaks to the population of parents who have kids with extra challenges is “Different” by Sally and Nathan Clarkson. She also has a podcast where she discusses the book and her experience raising Nathan, with Nathan! I encourage you to check it out. I really love how she frequently referred to her kid as “out-of-the-box.” The book isn’t a how-to guide, but it is an excellent read if you want to feel validated and seen by another parent who loves the Lord. Her son also co-writes it and it’s encouraging to read things from his perspective. So often parents with different kids feel unseen among other believers. That’s a people problem, by the way, not a Jesus problem. We’re all sinners and fall short for each other in all sorts of ways. We aren’t perfect. I am very grateful for the people I have in my corner; they’re invaluable.

Moving onto the actual tools and what we’re using in this season of our life, I want to share with you our puzzle piece system, because maybe it will help you or inspire an idea for you. This idea came from the wonderful behavioral specialist we work with. At the root of many approaches to behavior modification you will find that consequence/reward piece woven in. If you have a child on the spectrum or with other developmental delays, this may be a regular part of your day to day life already. I actually recently read half of a really good parenting book that talked about how parents are taking the wrong approach when they attempt to control behavior with consequences and rewards. Honestly, I really like this book as it’s filled with a lot of useful encouragement, hard truths and Biblical wisdom; but in this area I knew the author was speaking from inexperience with kids on the spectrum. That’s okay. Sometimes I get deeply frustrated when my child won’t do tasks without reward. Don’t get me wrong, he does do tasks without reward at times and we celebrate that. But he often doesn’t and when I read these books I have to remind myself that it isn’t because I am not addressing matters of the heart or that God isn’t working in my child’s heart. If you can relate to that I want to encourage you! Don’t be so hard on yourself. It is just different and your child’s development in social-emotional areas is just different. They will get there! I work on addressing matters of both my own heart and my children’s’ hearts diligently and I pray for us all diligently. I am sure you do as well! So we have to remember to trust that God will do the work that only He can do. In addition to all of that, we do use consequence and rewards programs.

The puzzle piece system isn’t rocket science and you may have already used something similar at some point in your parenting. It can be used for any big behavior goal that your child is working towards that you’d like to reward.

We have been doing Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy (under the guidance of a therapist and behavioral specialist) to help our son with OCD compulsions. We use rewards and distractions to help him fight those compulsive urges. The idea is that a big part of getting an anxious child to agree to combat their compulsions in the first place is through motivating them with something that they really want or to turn it into a fun game. It’s also a good idea to focus on motivating them by reminding them of why they don’t want to let OCD grow and all of the fun things they can do when they’ve conquered their compulsions! Video games are my son’s favorite thing so we often tie them into his rewards and distractions. Whatever your child is really into can be what you use. For our reward system we have printed out a picture of a Fortnite image, laminated it and cut it into an 8 piece puzzle. Each piece is worth $1. He works on one OCD challenge each week. Each day that he successfully completes the challenge, he earns one puzzle piece. In our case, when he completes the puzzle, he earns $8 in V-Bucks in Fortnite. This has been working really well. Our child has been steam rolling through challenges. Though with OCD, a lot of times as you crush some compulsions, new ones pop up. It’s like whack-a-mole. The rules, boundaries and goals have to be clear-cut and the parent has to stay in charge as the encouraging coach.

I would advise researching ERP more before jumping into this process and if at all possible work with an experienced therapist for your child. If you are struggling with your child’s OCD and you don’t have access to a good counselor, I would like to point you in the direction of Natasha Daniels. She has a YouTube channel with excellent content and also a Facebook Group for parents where she frequently shares content and chimes in. She even has courses for parents looking to coach their children through OCD. Natasha Daniels was the first step for us while we waited for therapy and she was a huge help!

Another resource I wanted to share with you that has been pretty helpful this year is from a Social Emotional Learning company called Socialthinking. I purchased their products from their Superflex and Social Detective Curriculum this year and we tried it out. Here is what I will tell you, unless you are running a classroom of special needs kids or are very innovative and creative in your own homeschool, I would skip buying the actual Superflex curriculum book. It has a lot of projects and activities that are only geared towards groups and a public school environment.

However, what was excellent and very useful was the storybook: “Superflex Takes On Rock Brain and the Team of the Unthinkables.” In this story your child will meet Superflex, a superhero whose super power is his ability to use flexible thinking in social situations. The Unthinkables are a host of characters that are causing trouble in different scenarios. Each Unthinkable is known for their specific troublesome trait. For example, Rock Brain makes people get stuck on their plans and ideas, Glassman makes people have huge, upset reactions and One Sided Sid gets people to only talk about themselves. There are more story books in this series that I intend to get and the books alone are enough to introduce these ideas to your child in a gentle way. There is also an excellent Bingo game that you can purchase along with it and it has multiple themes to use where the Unthinkables show up.

We also used the book from Socialthinking called, “You Are a Social Detective”. This one was great for just reading on the couch with the kids and opening up discussion for problem-solving in different social situations. It introduces some great terminology to remind your child of certain expected behaviors. For example, they introduce kids to the idea of Body in the Group and Brain in the Group which just teaches kids, in a broken down way, how to demonstrate that their body and their brain are both present and involved in a group activity. It teaches how doing these things gives others positive feelings about our presence in the group. The book also gives kids opportunities to look for clues in different social situations, and use what they’ve learned to make a smart guess about what is going on.

I have really enjoyed using these resources and my kids especially liked the books. My youngest child loved the Bingo game as well. Ironically, my out-of-the-box kiddo didn’t love it as much and would rarely play it with me because, “He knew what I was trying to do.” Laugh…out…Loud. Hey, this mama tried! Sometimes my best laid plans go over like a fart in church.

One last thing I would like to remind you of, is to not forget using the tools that you need to be sustained! I just came out of a dark season and as I pulled my head out of the sand, I realized that I hadn’t been feeding my soul and my mind properly. Whatever you can do to get into God’s word and be encouraged, make time for that. For me, instead of getting up and scrolling through the news and social media, I’ve started listening to podcasts with my coffee. Just light, easy ones that speak into my tired mama heart before I start a homeschool day with my kids. The Read Aloud Revival has been so refreshing, as well as Off the Bench with Heidi St. John.

That is all I have for you today. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope this was helpful and you were encouraged. I pray you will be strengthened and supported in your walk as you raise up your children.

Be well,

Erin

My Different Child

In acknowledgement of #AutismAwarenessMonth, I found this fitting. I did not write the short story in the image above and cannot seem to find the original author on the web. However, I felt so compelled to share the message and unravel what that means for our son and our family. Nothing to cure…..just different struggles than the norm. I am not going to lie and say that the difficult symptoms of having a neurodiverse brain are a beautiful song…I don’t think someone with autism would say that either.

But the way it impacts our life is quite a tapestry of beauty. It alllows those close to the neurodiverse person to grow in patience, grace and acceptance. It has allowed me to begin to shake away the fear of judgment from others and to learn how to ignore comments, advice, stares and eye rolls that would have and did crush me before. It has allowed me to look with crushing humility at my old self, in the mirror of the past before I was a mother. Back when I felt so confident that the behaviors I saw in some children would “never be my child.” That allows me to have compassion on those people who say things and just don’t know….and it also causes me to wince for them knowing in the future that they may have to learn the hard way, as I did, just how clueless and judgemental they really are.

Raising my son has taught me to ditch things in my life that were not good for me. I dont drink alcohol because raising my child requires extra energy because he needs extra attention. Schedules need to be stuck to, conversations and corrections need full brain power and patience. For me, alcohol just clouds all of that and gets in the way.

I have gotten really good at saying no to certain invitations or requests that pull me away from my responsibilities and almost really good at not feeling bad about it. So I am thankful to my son for requiring more of me and forcing me to grow and be present.

Most important of all I have learned to lean on and trust God in bigger ways than I have ever been capable of, which is what has enabled all of this growth. Autism is not a plague or death sentence. It’s hard, but so isn’t everything and it doesn’t need any pity. I don’t think parents of people with autism are super heroes. I dont think people with autism are super heroes. People are just people. We all have our struggles and gifts and they are all different and important and the struggles require extra support from others. And these struggles really do shape and mold us into something better when we let them. Autism awareness month to me, is about being thankful for the opportunity to raise my son and grow where I otherwise would not have grown as quickly. It’s also about asking others to try and grow for the sake of others.


To spread awareness and acceptance, I would love to share something a friend told me after our child received a diagnosis: If you’ve met 1 kid on the spectrum, you’ve met 1 kid on the spectrum. Every person is effected differently.

Here are some things I’d love to clear up during Autism Awareness Month:

Having autism does not neccesarily mean:

The person is secretly a genius or has some incredible talent for counting hundreds of items that just fell on the floor. That’s media portrayal and not everyday reality.

The person is an awkward, introvert. Many autistic people are extroverted, which presents a different set of challenges at times.

The person cannot speak or has verbal delays. Many children with Asperger’s, a form of autism, develop language skills on time or earlier than usual.

The person does not have empathy or a sense of humor. My son is hilarious and loves humor and he has wealth of empathy. It just doesn’t always present in the way that neurotypical people express empathy.

The person should look autistic. I am not even sure what that means but I’ve heard it nonetheless and it always makes me laugh. How is someone with a neurological difference supposed to look exactly?

Thank you for reading, I hope someone was able to either relate to our life or learn from it in some way.

A little structure goes a long way…

So the summer is halfway over and the new school year is inching toward us. It definitely goes by quickly and I imagine even more so for families who are unsure of what this new school year is even going to look like. You may be stuck in limbo with decision making—and I’d say you’re most likely not alone there. It’s hard to make decisions when so many variables are not set in stone. That’s why so many families are turning to homeschool right now. There are just too many moving parts happening with the public school system and it’s too hard to say yes to sending the kids off to school when there’s many districts without a clear cut answer on what school is going to look like. And no one wants to make the choice to continue public school and then be thrown into remote learning again two months into the year and have no back up plan.

Anyway, this post isn’t about making the choice to homeschool- it’s more about getting you through the summer with some sanity left to spare when September rolls around! I wanted to talk about how a summer schedule can help with that. This summer hasn’t exactly been the norm. Most things are closed and trips, vacations and cookouts aren’t happening like they usually do over the summer months in many parts of the country. With that, the days at home with kids can be long. When I say summer schedule, I am not talking about extending the school year–so don’t run away. It’s just that some structure amidst the monotony of feeling like you’re living the same day over and over can help break things up. I found that the best way to help myself stay engaged with my kids and help my kids from going stir-crazy themselves during this time has been to give them some sort of summer schedule. Some intentional blocks of time during the day. It’s not intense and we’re definitely not tied to it—but it gives us some sense of purpose and function especially when the world is flipped upside down. As the school year gets closer, we’ll stick more closely to the summer schedule to get them more ready for the more solid structure again.

I mentioned how the schedule helps me engage with my kids. Maybe you’re one of those moms that I long to be, the type that is just naturally *on* with her kids, without having to put forth much effort. If so, this may not be helpful to you. I don’t know what makes me not like that. Maybe it’s my slow processing speeds and my kids high talking speeds or maybe it’s my introverted tendencies and my kids constantly forcing me to people from sun-up to sun-down. And I don’t know about you but when I am cooped up in the house with my kiddos for long periods of time and there’s nothing on the agenda, my tendency is to check out. Sure I answer their questions but I skim the surface, I don’t go really deep into the answers. Sure I meet their needs, fetch them snacks and meals, wash them up, do all of the *things*, but I don’t spend an afternoon building forts or painting portraits of one another. For whatever reason, I need to be scheduled to do those things!

One day, perhaps a couple of weeks after the school year wrapped up, it occurred to me that our mornings were more rocky than they usually were. I was scattered and unfocused in the morning and my kids seemed to lack direction. So we were pretty much feeling the same. I noticed that we’d let go of a habit that was essential for us starting our day off right. When the school year was in session, we always started every morning with our Bible time and prayer. Then, when school came to an end that piece suddenly went out the window. I didn’t let go of it because Bible time and prayer isn’t important to me. I let it go because I am a creature of structure and habit and Bible was tied into our daily school schedule. Not our daily living schedule. Oops, I’d put God in a school box and not a life box. I hate to say that God needs a scheduled slot in my life but it’s the only way I stick to anything. Anyway that’s what got me to thinking that we needed some sort of structure to survive and enjoy this summer. If you’re looking for a rich yet bite-sized Bible devotional to do with you kids I highly recommend the ones in the photo below. They answer common and thought provoking questions and describe different aspects of science beautifully.

You might be thinking that as an exhausted parent, a schedule sounds like just another thing to do and be responsible for. I understand that, but I have to tell you that when I spend small chunks of time engaging with my kids in meaningful ways, they are in better moods throughout the day. In my house that is worth the weight of a little scheduling! When I am on autopilot my kids sense it and they gravitate toward me even more! Autopilot is never a restful existence even though I sometimes try to convince myself of it. I have fallen off the schedule wagon for a couple of weeks after having big changes to our home life and I’m feeling the disorientation of it. I especially need the structure when there are big changes–so I will be going back!

Staying involved for designated times gives the kids the security that they’ll have time with me, they know what their day will look like to some degree and then they’re more likely to give me my time when I need to restore myself. When I created an intentional schedule to do with my kids, it gave me short spurts of designated opportunity for me to engage in a meaningful ways with them. And if I am exhausted, which I usually am, I know that I can push through and do it because the chunks of time are bite-sized and down-time is scheduled in. It keeps me going. Plus, the beauty of it is that if something more appealing comes up, we can toss it out the window on a whim and do that instead. The schedule is just there to keep us going day after day when there is nothing interesting on the calendar.

So if you’re still with me and want an idea of what our days look like, check out Our Summer Schedule

Of course your days don’t have to look like ours. You might not want it to look anything like ours. It’s just what works for our family and it gives you an idea of what you can do. You may notice I didn’t use any time stamps on our schedule. That’s simply because it’s summer and I want our days to be relaxed and not confined to the clock. We wake up at different times every day depending on how well we slept and I never want to feel like I am rushed or late for something on our schedule. It’s more of a flow. You’ll also notice we only have a small block of educational screen time thrown into the day. Sometimes I am more liberal with the length of time, most of the time I try to stick to the schedule because it helps my kids keep their screen addiction under control. Yes, it is an addiction for them! We do video games on the weekends because one of my boys really needs the strict limits. Again, it’s whatever works for you.

Well that’s enough for today, I’ve gone on long enough. I hope you’ve found this helpful and if not that’s okay too! I do appreciate you dropping by.

Stay sane,

Erin

Faith the size of a mustard seed

Welcome. If you have stumbled upon my page while looking for encouragement or practical advice relating to homeschooling, I hope you’ll stick around and check back in regularly and that I can be helpful to you. I am here writing for the beginners. For the parent that has been thrust into considering homeschooling for whatever reason and never thought they would embark upon this kind of journey. For the parent who is trying to take it ALL in and keep their head above water amidst the overwhelming sea of information and decision making that comes with making this kind of life change.

I won’t have all the answers, that’s for sure. I don’t even have tons of experience under my belt! I’ve only been doing this for 2 years. But I suppose that’s why I have such a heart for beginners and can relate to that stage so much–because it wasn’t that long ago where I was in that same spot! So as I said, I definitely haven’t been doing this long, but I am going to be as authentic as possible in everything that I share with you about what has worked and hasn’t worked and why.

And I’m going to share with you in my posts why you are the best person on the planet for the job! If you’re anything like I was in the beginning (and even still now at times) you’re not buying that for a minute. Maybe you’re thinking you’re not educated enough or have forgotten too much of your education to homeschool your children. Maybe you think you’re not patient enough, not organized enough, not focused enough….not….ENOUGH. But the truth that I have been learning along the way is this: that is a big fat lie. And you’ve allowed yourself to be programmed to believe it for too long, so it may take some time to rewire that belief.

What does it take to start homeschooling? For me it was literally faith the size of a mustard seed. And a situation that was challenging enough to put me in a spot where I would even consider it as an option! Are you there? I get it. Let me be honest with you—I said I would never homeschool my children. A friend had mentioned it to me when my oldest child was in preschool and struggling with some things. I scoffed at the idea. I was fine with the early childhood stuff but there was no way I could teach them the foundations of their education. I couldn’t be responsible to teach them to read or write or learn math concepts—I didn’t even understand math concepts myself! I had forgotten all of those as soon as I passed the required tests in school!

No, I definitely wouldn’t homeschool my kids and mess up their education. Plus I needed the break that came with them being in public school. My kids were two years apart and non-stop, on-the-go boys and we were just finally reaching the stage where one of them was heading off to preschool! I was a little excited at the prospect of my youngest heading off a couple years down the road as well and having actual ALONE time!

Well, my situation, you know, the one that put me into the spot to even consider homeschool, came in the form of my kindergartner with special needs and an IEP, struggling so badly to fit into the public school box that he was being sent home a couple times a week. The teachers and special education staff simply didn’t know what to do with his struggles inside the classroom and they wouldn’t provide the full accommodations that were written into his IEP. It was frustrating and I didn’t feel comfortable sending a part of my heart off to a place where the people didn’t know what to do other than send him back home to his mama. I’d been wrestling with the thought of not sending him back at all for weeks as things got worse and worse at school. I knew that keeping him home would mean that his education would rest on my shoulders. There were only two doors. I kept looking for a third door, but it never showed up. God just gave me the two. The one I walked through required faith. All I could muster up was faith the size of a mustard seed, but if you know of this biblical parable, then you know that God says that is enough! I’d prayed and prayed and talked with my husband and church family a lot in those weeks. We decided to walk through the homeschooling door and we decided to homeschool our youngest child as well, who was 3 at the time.

It’s been two years now and we’ve come along way. The kids have learned to read and write and do math, oh my! And they’re quite good at it, I must say. And their mama is learning to break out of the public school education box that she grew up in. I’m learning to see education differently. It’s more about quality and less about test scores. And from that, I am seeing them absorb more and have more time to study what interests them. I hope you’ll come back to visit and read about our experiences and homeschooling in general. I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve been learning with you. If you’re considering homeschooling or are new to it and feeling overwhelmed, please feel free to email me with any topics that you’d like insight on. Thanks for reading!