Category Archives: Collaborative Learning

The Television Question

In unschooling circles, the television and video game question will come up consistently.  Many unschoolers, especially radical unschoolers, talk about the idea of giving unlimited access to these types of things in order to prevent the “forbidden fruit” temptation from occurring.  This means that the more you forbid something, the more it is desired.  So, the idea is if you give a child unlimited access, he/she will saturate his/her need or desire for it and achieve balance.

I have a different perspective.  It’s not that I don’t think the above scenario works.  It might.  I just think differently and my perspective has seemed to work as well.  Since this television question is so prevalent in unschooling circles, I thought I might try to create a post about how it has worked in my house.

My older children don’t watch a lot of television now as either teens or adults.  I know each of them had their seasons of watching a lot of television when they were young.  Most of my older children enjoyed movies on VHS or DVD when they were growing up more than live television, though.  I remember a season of guilt for myself when I was horribly sick during a pregnancy and my then almost 2-year-old watched a bunch of television in order that I could survive it.  In fact, I think that happened on several occasions during pregnancies of various children for those in the home.  I released the guilt!  I don’t remember any of my older (birth) children having a problem with television viewing and balance when they were younger.  On the other hand, as a whole, I didn’t have a “free reign” policy, but I didn’t have a “dictator” policy, either.  I observed their choices, I gave them information, and if at any time I felt there was too much going on, or an out-of-balance situation happening, I would let them know I wanted the television turned off for that time.  It tended to be a decision for the day versus a continuous need.

My youngest two children are adopted.  My older adopted son, William, is much like my birth children.  He has a natural balance with television.  In fact, he rarely finishes watching a show before he is out creating his own reenactment of whatever he was viewing.  I have seen television and movie viewing for this son as a great resource as I described in this post.

My seventh child, Joseph, has finally given me the opportunity to make a mindful choice on my position on the television question.  He is my first child that seems to overuse television.  He is also my only child I have had who would be classified as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) if I believed in diagnosing such a thing.  He definitely has a high energy level.  He is also an extravert (another of my only traits!).  Put those two things together and you often have a child that likes to get up and in people’s faces to meet his needs.  In my experience with many high needs children, the ages up to 11-13 years old is a time of helping my children learn skills and strategies to manage their high needs.  In other words, before that, it doesn’t always look pretty around here as they figure it out:  anger, impulsivity, frustration, picking, meltdowns, explosions, aggression, disrespect . . . it’s all there being figured out.  How do I conduct myself in order to achieve positive relationships?  That’s a huge part of my job during the 2-10 year stages.

For the first time, I noticed that television could be used to give myself a break from a high needs child.  I’m pretty sure ADHD type of children often are quite calm during television viewing.  Joseph was no different.  Again, another opportunity for guilt . . . nah!  When he was younger and his most intense, television was something he chose consistently and I had no problem with that.  There still seemed to be some level of balance all in all.  However, I noticed as Joseph got a bit older, and at the same time, more competent in his behaviors and relationships, his television viewing increased.  All of a sudden, my observation showed that he was using television as a convenient babysitter.  As an extravert, Joseph liked being with people ALL the time.  In fact, I find that playing alone is not something he does very well.  So, the interaction of the television filled that role.  But, I noticed he would turn it on and just go from one show to the next, sitting like that for hours on end, days on end, weeks on end.

Although I noticed in myself a little bit of a desire to take the easy route and let the television viewing continue, I knew it was time for Joseph and I to release the need for television to serve the function it did.  Because the fact of the matter was, evidence through observation showed that the productive function had lived its course.  Joseph was more capable of interacting with people respectfully and  I needed to be in a space to encourage more of it and support his next emotional and behavioral growth.  Plus, for some reason, probably my age and stage as well, I just couldn’t stand the “noise” from the television.  So, I instituted a “no television until 6:00 p.m.” space.  I say space because rule really wasn’t what it was about.  I told Joseph that “I notice that you sit in front of the television and don’t move for hours.  I think you need to find other things in your life.”  So, according to unschooling think, I had just created the “forbidden fruit.”  I never had to do this before.  I was curious myself what was about to unfold!

It’s been 3-4 months since this began.  If I recall, I remember Joseph habitually going to the television.  I would remind him of the new plan.  Really, I think the most difficult thing for him was to figure out how to balance his extravert needs with the idea that not everyone will be available to him.  Yet, William did usually want to be part of some play scenario, and now that they could do so much more effectively with both of their better emotional and behavioral skills in place, they were really starting to enjoy each other.  And trust each other.  At this time, Joseph doesn’t ask to watch a movie from time to time often (I separated that somewhat out from the television viewing aspect).  He’s even having times of playing by himself successfully.  He is engaging more often on his own initiation on focused learning.  He even wanted to learn to play the violin and speak Spanish.

What I don’t see is him “sneaking” television in.  Or feeling denied.  Or going to friends’ houses to get his fix.  I see it opening the space up for him to explore lots of other things that he wasn’t choosing to do because it was easier to sit in front of the television.  I am not against television.  I find it a highly useful resource.  I don’t across the board make sweeping judgments or decisions or declarations about it for every person in the family.  I use my power of observation, my attunement to the needs of each of my children, and assess the function this particular tool is being used for and come up with individualized plans to support each child on their journey of growth and learning.  I think when that happens, good things result.  It did in this instance.

Writing in the Teen Years

I’ve written a couple posts about writing in the years from 5-10 years old found here and here, so I’ve decided to write a post about this subject for the teen years.  I find that IF people decide to give space in the 5-10 year ranges for writing to develop more naturally, they really start to panic by the time their child reaches 13 years old and “college” and “adulthood” seems to loom bigger in the minds of the parents homeschooling their own.

There is a current discussion going on at my Homeschooling Creatively list about writing.  Gina shared a link to a blog post she wrote as she figured out where she’s at on the subject at this time.  I agree wholeheartedly with what she figured out as she found herself going through writing curriculum after writing curriculum.  She finally just sat down with herself and evaluated how writing really happened for her in more of a natural and free-flowing manner; and thus, started questioning why she was feeling a need to be systematic with the approach with her daughter.  So, at this time, she’s choosing to trust the natural process to writing.  It inspired me to write this post about how four of my children have come to writing.

First, let me preface with some deconditioning that needs to be done about writing.  When we think about writing and school, we think book reports and essays and research papers.  Frankly, so much of this type of writing is not required in real life.  More importantly, there are scads of other styles of writing that are neglected as valid.  Further, these styles are often what is most conducive to a right-brained learner’s strengths.  Some of these writing genres are:  lyrical writing, poetry, skits and scripts, fantasy and creative writing, fan fiction, book and movie and music reviews, comic book and graphic novels, journals and diaries, and more.  People believe that to learn how to write a research paper, one must write research papers.  Maybe that is one way.  But, what I have found with myself and all of my adult children so far is that having confidence in, enjoying, and knowing how to express themselves in any way (including verbally, visually or in written form) translates to being able to figure out how to write in various genres that may be requested of them later.

Here are my children’s stories (ha, pun intended!):

Eric is my artist son.  His teen writing started at 11 years old.  He handwrote a 100-page script for a movie he was making with his two best friends.

Inspired by his favorite video game at the time, Zelda, Eric also began writing a novel after reading one based on this game that he felt fell short of what it could be.  He made it to about 35 typewritten, single-spaced pages.  And it was excellent writing, though he had never had a writing lesson or curriculum before this.

Eric was a huge list-maker and has probably literally created thousands of pages of lists throughout his teen years (see an example below).  He continued to draw extensively during his teen years as well.  It wasn’t until about 18 years old that he (again) became inspired from his then favorite video game, Final Fantasy, to write another novel.  This time, he made it to about 300 pages typewritten, single-spaced writing.

During his time in college from around age 20-22, he was required to write various essays and research papers.  He had no problem doing so and receiving high marks, though he had never written one previous to this experience.  Currently at 23 years old, Eric is working on two writing projects:  a graphic novel and an Ancient Japanese samurai warrior atlas.  Below is some of his research regarding his atlas:

Abbey, my second child and only daughter, is my nature girl, animal girl, and eventually, my writer girl.  I start off with this explanation because if I had said she was my writer girl, you may think she was always writing, and she wasn’t necessarily.  She really was big into nature and animals growing up; all the way until she was about 13-14 years old.  In her 5-10 year ranges, she dabbled in poetry, lyrics, and short stories about animals.  Not often for any of these things, and not extensive; her short stories were usually about one paragraph.  Her biggest writing venue was journals, starting at about 8 years old, on her own initiation and desire.  Here is a sample (and a day in the life of a young unschooler!):

Between the ages of 11-13 years of age, Abbey started to seriously look into animal careers.  She volunteered at the zoo in the chimpanzee exhibit, and she applied and was accepted into a competitive veterinary camp at Michigan State University at 13-14 years old.  All of these helped her know she was dissatisfied with those fields, and she was still wondering where her passion would lie.  It was at that time, around 14-15, she started taking pen to paper with a novel idea, but this time, unlike every time before, the ideas kept coming.  Soon, she realized that she was actually on her way to writing a novel.  Further, she discovered she was really enjoying herself.  And so, a complete shift occurred, and she started focusing on writing.

By age 19, Abbey had written two novels that she wanted to edit enough to self publish, but decided to take a sabbatical from writing and attend college out at Brigham Young University in Utah.  As she became required to write research papers, essays, and other forms of critical writing, she was able to figure out how to do so and received high marks.  Thus, again, another child is able to accomplish writing college level papers well without any previous structured writing curriculum to “teach them how”.  It was simply a translation of their overall competency in expressing their ideas in a genre that was their strength area (in her case, fantasy writing).

Next comes Eli, my builder son, who is also diagnosed with high functioning autism.  Interestingly, he struggled with expressing himself verbally in any form in his early years, including up until the 11-13 year timeframe.  And yet, because of our strength-based environment, he did find outlets to express his ideas, particularly through building with Legos, Lego Studio, and comic book making, inspired by his oldest brother and his interest in trains.  As his brain naturally shifted in that 11-13 year timeframe, he became more aware of his place in the world, and wanted to improve in his weak areas, including English related areas.

It was during this time that we started finding ways to improve his spelling and vocabulary, both extreme weaknesses for him.  We also developed grammar more, which became a strength because of the “sameness” of that subject, as well as patterns of knowledge associated with it.  In other words, we started with the parts initially, to build a foundation.  His spelling improved from atrocious to fair, and eventually even to “good”.  Vocabulary was one of those areas tough to improve in but we tried various ideas to slight success.  But, to be clear, these focuses were only about 3-4 times a week for maybe up to 30 minutes.  It didn’t become a spotlight; it just showed up on our radar.

At the 14-16 year timeframe, I had him work through some of the Writing Strands books, starting with the Level 2.  He wanted a way to start from the extreme basic level of constructing a thought or idea or sentence, and this was made to be student-driven.  He worked through these for 1-2 years, I think.  Definitely not more than that, and probably more toward the 1 year mark.  He did feel it gave him a basic understanding and proficiency on how to have a basic foundational understanding of sentence structuring.  His going through the Daily Grams for grammar may have also been a good modeling tool for him.  He did the grammar series from the first level as well until the end, which probably took him 3-4 years, starting at around the 11-13 timeframe.

Since he continued to be serious about his desire to attend college, and because of his total lack of writing in any genre form, I decided it would be advantageous for him to work from a more formal text that required answers in longer written formatting.  Because he is a math/computer science person, I decided to choose a subject in that genre that he had some interest in and would use in college:  science.  So, starting at 14, he began working through the Apologia science series, one text per year.  I had his father sit with him initially to help him know how to navigate creating answers in verbal sentence formatting.  It didn’t take long for him to pick up on how to do that.  However, I still had his father check over his work consistently to keep him on the right track in this skill development.

Since that was going well, and he really was quite self sufficient in the short answer verbal response, I decided to give him the opportunity to upgrade his verbal response level, as well as delving in a less strength-based subject, at the latter end of the 14-16 year range.  I had him read the chapters to Story of the World because it was more simple language and to-the-point writing which I wanted because it was a weak area for him.  Eli then would provide a summary as a way to help him develop interpreting receptive language into expressive language (in other words, understanding what he reads and then turn that into written words of explanation).  That was a hit and miss endeavor because of inconsistency with availability of his father’s mentorship.

At the 16-17 year range, I decided it might be good for him to simply be more exposed to good writing through reading, since he didn’t choose to do that much for himself, except for computer texts and manuals.  So, I invested in some Total Language Plus booklets and encouraged him to read some classics that stretched his understanding level.  For him, that was middle school level reading.  Because this program was more language intensive in the activities, I felt it might be a good way to integrate spelling and vocabulary and such.  It did stretch him and it did seem to give him some overall good exposure and experience with the written word.

So, between the Total Language Plus activities and readings for exposure, and continuing with the science texts year to year with his father mentoring in that area, as well as periodic summaries in history, Eli was building a foundation in the manipulation of the English language in all its facets.  At 17, he chose to start attending community college to earn his Associates in Science degree.  He started off with his strengths first:  math.  The second semester, he chose to try his first writing course.  What we discovered there was it was a better fit for him with English related topics to choose an on-line course versus an in-class course.  In this way, he could always take whatever time he needed to put into the assignment in order to feel comfortable with it.  With an in-class course, they often would do some “free writes” in the classroom, and Eli does not process quickly and his writing would look less developed in those circumstances.  Thus, the teacher questioned the discrepancy of his at-home assignments and his in-class ones.  We were able to transfer to another instructor who was more understanding of why this occurred, and because her class only met once per week, all the assignments were at-home, with class time devoted to teaching new concepts and working on current papers.

For his assignments, he used his father and I as people who could critique his work in a way that would most benefit him.  He wanted any grammar corrections to be edit marked so that he could study his grammar mistake patterns so that he could more effectively correct it.  Many were “autism related” as he wrote as he sometimes “spoke autistically”, so it helped him catch those idiosyncracies without being embarrassed.  Further, we helped him learn “paragraph patterns” by taking what his teacher was sharing and creating a form initially.  Because of these supports individualized in a way that worked best for him, Eli very quickly was able to become independent in his own edits and putting together effective papers.  It was amazing to visually see the number of edits in the beginning of the semester versus the handful or less of grammar edits needed by the end of the semester as well as the quality of writing increase which reinforces the idea of the effectiveness of this type of mentorship.

First semester corrections; more simple writing:

Second semester corrections; more complex writing.

A quick commentary on the mentoring style we used with Eli.  It seems that there is either a “hands-off” approach to writing because anything else is considered “cheating”, or there is outright “cheating” by having a friend or family actually do the writing for the person.  I knew there would be little to no progress if we were to rely on traditional teaching methods by giving an assignment, having him work through it himself, and then correct him after the fact.  In that format, all sorts of bad habits are formed, you have to fail before you succeed, and it feels like a struggle as you invent the wheel yourself.  I created my theory based on an unschooling mother and son I listened to at a Growing Without Schooling conference long ago as she explained that she would sit next to her son and give him word for word, if necessary, in the beginning, until he got the hang of it himself and initiated continuing on his own.  Her words echoed in my mind years later as she said, “How does someone learn to write if not from someone who knows how to write?”

So, those first times with the science texts, Eli’s father would help him word for word, if necessary.  He found that Eli was quick to understand the pattern of short answers in sentence format, so he was only needed to give periodic advice as he looked over his work.  When they mentored with the summaries, there was more suggestions and specific ideas needed as he learned to organize thoughts and put those thoughts into a cohesive sentence.  While reading books that stretched his comprehension, he occasionally would ask his father to help interpret sections with him.  Finally, with his college papers, we helped with idea starters, with thought order, and then editing for grammar and flow.  He might need 3-4 drafts in the beginning, but as mentioned previous, by the end of the semester, he was doing most of the things we initially helped him with independently and quite competently.  In this instance, it showed that getting rid of our conditioned ideas on teaching writing paved the way for effective mentoring in writing.

Which sets the stage for my current 16-year-old, Alex.  Growing up, he always loved to listen to his brother and sister do “cat stories”.  These are stories that revolve around our cats that we have, each having their own unique voice and personality.  In fact, Abbey made him a video story for Christmas one year found here, here, and here.  In fact, every year for at least three years, she made him stories for Christmas gifts.  Subsequently, he constantly begged Abbey to do cat stories for him and consistently bothered Eric for comic stories.

First, Eric worked alongside Alex and taught him to do his own video game playing, which is one venue he liked to have his siblings “make up stories” that correlated with the action involved.  After Alex learned to play video games, Eric then helped him create his own commentary as he played.  This happened when Alex was 10-11 years old.

Around 13 years old, Abbey decided to start mentoring Alex in story telling.   They started out with creating sentences from vocabulary words he was working on.  She then expanded him in creating short stories with the list of vocabulary words.  When Alex was around 14 years old, Abbey decided he was ready to learn to write his own stories.  It started very much like it was for Eli and his father, but definitely more help needed.  Abbey would sit side-by-side with Alex and help him every inch of the way in developing his story, knowing how to proceed and what to write, and how to bring out the personalities of his characters.  Alex really started to get excited about the idea that he was learning how to create his own stories from his own fingers (through typing).

Mentoring had to take a break when Abbey went off to college when Alex was 14.5-15.5 years old, but now at 16 years old, Abbey and Alex are back at mentoring in writing again.  Alex begs every day to work on his book.  He has completed his first story and they are in editing now, and he already has an idea for his next book.  Alex is at the stage where Abbey is encouraging him to write on his own to develop his confidence in his own ability, and it’s going well.  Abbey’s husband, Ben, now helps Alex with his writing as well, so with two different styles of support, it is stretching Alex even more in writing independently.

It’s interesting to realize after writing this that my two oldest children, who had natural knacks with language and/or writing, when given the time and space to come to that place on their own time table for their own purposes, fell in love with writing.  In fact, Abbey has been quoted to say, “Writing is like breathing; if I don’t do it, I’ll die.”  My next two children, who didn’t have a knack for writing or language, under competent mentorship in the style that they desired to learn for their own purposes, grew to love writing themselves.  I remember walking with Eli on the college campus as we were straightening out some of his classes on writing at the time, he turned to me and said, “Now I understand why Abbey loves to write; I’m really enjoying it!”  It supports my idea that if a parent (or educator) focuses on creating a positive relationship for each child in each “subject area”, then when it comes time to develop the skills required for adulthood, that child will embrace the process without a negative connotation from previous failed experiences and can even end up liking it versus tolerating it.  Pretty cool stuff!

High School – Learning versus Credits

Recently on my Homeschooling Creatively list, there was a discussion about what kind of learning counts for high school credit.  Although I know what is being referred to since I attended high school, this vocabulary doesn’t really show up on my radar based on how we home educate our children.  Frankly, even when I was in high school, I was completely unaware of the whole credit thing, so maybe I’m ahead of the game that way.  It wasn’t for good reasons as apparently my high school counselor didn’t consider me college material enough to mention anything to me, and neither of my parents have a higher education (one only has a tenth grade education) to tap into it through them.

I remember some time when my oldest son was in the 11-13 year timeframe, or maybe it was from Loretta Heuer during a Growing Without Schooling conference, but it was mentioned that I should “keep track of” the things my children do that would be high school transcript noteworthy.  And, when my oldest was 14-15 years old, I did do that for a while.  And then life happened.  And learning.  Besides, I found myself getting tediously involved in defining the nitty gritty trying to get it to line up with what I saw other high school students doing.  But why should I do that?  I am not replicating high school in my home.  We are a strength-based life learning home environment.  When my children decided what they wanted to do, college or something else, we would figure out what to do in order to have them achieve that goal.  And so life continued.

So what did we do for high school if not thinking about credits?  I describe it in my Collaborative Learning Process.  My children continued to strengthen their gifts (60%), and I provided support in helping each person improve any weaknesses from where they were in order to take it to the next level based on how it affects where they want to go (30%).  There were never any conversations about, “okay, so you want to go to college for computer programming, so what are you going to do for high school credit to show that.”  My son loved to computer program, so he did so, because he loved it, and was intrigued by it, and wanted to know as much as he could figure out.  My job was to keep feeding in the resources so that the interest would grow to its fullest capacity.  My daughter spent her last few years writing fantasy novels.  She learned by doing.  A few adult friends shared their favorite writing resources with her that got her looking for additional resources that would help her along her learning curve.  Interestingly, she knew when she was ready for more information and knowledge, and when she just needed time to sweat it out herself.  All of this could be translated into “credits” later; yet, it never entered my mind to think that way either in the moment.

Then there is the category of either “not that interested in it” or “difficulties learning or understanding it” subjects.  Each child had subjects they never gravitated to in some way by the 11-13 year old stage.  It was during this first stage of formality that I would introduce these topics to them in a way that could work for them, just so that they had some kind of positive interaction with it at least once.  For my oldest, it was math, and some formal grammar.  For my daughter, it was history and math.  For my third child, it was science and grammar.  These fell into the category of “just not that interested in it”.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it; it just didn’t have much meaning for them to pursue.  Yet, each I thought would benefit from a short-term exposure.  So, I found a resource that would match how they like to learn, and each felt positive about learning it to the level they took it.  Again, I didn’t think, “alright, you need a well-rounded education and in order to get credit for high school, you have to do x, y, and z.”  Now, take my daughter’s math as an example; she decided to learn up to algebra, and then decided it was sufficient.  In her transcript for college, I gave her “high school credit” for pre-algebra, geometry (since what we used incorporated it throughout), and algebra I (since she had to do a serious study of it for her ACT test, which she scored solid on).  She is an English/writing focus, so math was not relevant to her getting accepted into the university for which she applied.  Her ACT score “proved” that she had the “competency” for which I recorded.  But again, the reason we did what we did had nothing to do with high school credit or a transcript to get into college.  It was able to be worked out as we needed it.

I think there are two types as it pertains to the “difficulties learning or understanding it” arena.  There is the difficulty with a subject that is important to the child’s strength goals.  My daughter is a writer, and spelling and vocabulary didn’t come naturally to her.  This would be important to her, so we came up with resources and strategies that would help her improve these areas.  We didn’t create a “course” for her to receive high school credit for if she “passed”.  We took her from where she was, found resources that matched how she learns, and helped her improve step by step over a period of a few years.  We collaborated to identify these areas for each child so that their strengths could continue to flourish.

I have children who have a hard time learning certain subjects because of a biological difference.  This is different from not learning it well because there just isn’t an interest or natural inclination toward it.  The two that I asked to do math later don’t take to it easily.  But I don’t think everyone is meant to be good at everything.  I think a person has strengths and weaknesses.  And the weaknesses don’t have to mean “difficulty learning based on a deficiency”.  I’m not that keen on history and would have to work hard to do well in it in a school setting.  I don’t have a natural inclination toward it.  I’m not talking about “school created labels”, either.  Those typically are all about a different learning timeframe and learning resources, and if those are valued, it can either eventually be learned easily or if not, usually be put in the previous category of “difficulty with subject because of lack of natural inclination”.

My sons with autism are who fall into this category to which I am referring to as “biological differences to learning”.  My third child struggled with learning language as a child.  So, it would make sense that reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing not only didn’t come naturally to him, he had to learn it in a way that takes a different way of focusing and learning.  Strategies may need to be employed based on their particular biological difference.  Or, he’s simply just going to have to think about it a lot more, and put a lot more time into it, because of it’s “unnaturalness” to his nature.  So, again, he and I would sit down and I would come up with some resources that I thought might help him, or some strategies that I thought might be useful, and let him know that if he wanted to improve in this area, he would need to put the work into it.  We discussed the ways not having these skills could interfere with his life plans, and to what level he might need to take it to circumvent that.  We used hands-on supports, resource supports, mentor support, and modeling supports in order to help him achieve his goals.  You notice we didn’t “remediate”.  He had a positive view on these areas because he was never labeled negatively as it pertains to them.  And, as has been said throughout this post, high school credit had nothing to do with what we were doing.  We were collaborating on goals and learning.  That was the focus.  It still is the focus as we navigate the high school years with each of our children.

For us, there is no “high school”.  There is simply a continuing learning process, based on stages of growth.

Passions, Obsessions, and Self-Stimulatory Behaviors

I believe there is a lot of confusion about these terms used in home/unschooling, in regard to the right-brained learner, and in the autism community.  I thought I might be able to shed some light on the differences based on my experiences with my various children.

I think Alex, age 14, can serve to illustrate the difference between all three to start us off.  Alex was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was 2 years old.  He has two older brothers diagnosed as well.  One of his “special interests” around that age was ceiling fans.  However, as a 2-3 year old with limited cognition, his interest in them was purely for self-stimulatory satisfaction.  He enjoyed watching the blades spin around and around and gets a kick out of the sensation he gets from watching it from certain angles.  Around 3-4 years old, his interest shifted into obsession, even almost addiction.  Suddenly, it’s almost like the joy of watching it no longer existed, but was replaced with a need to turn them on and off, with a frantic-like quality.  I found that he didn’t want to do anything else, in any way, shape or form.  The most important difference, though, that made it an obsession/addiction was the idea that he was taking no pleasure in it, and he couldn’t seem to stop his need to do it all day long.  (We “broke” all the fans in the house, and that helped him “snap out of it” after a few months, so that we could “fix them”, and he could go back to enjoying the experience of watching them again.)  I don’t know when it went from self-stimulatory behavior to passion.  I think it was around 8 years old when he realized that there were more components to ceiling fans than just the thrill of the viewing of it.  He started to assemble fans, collect fans, create his own fans, understand how all the parts create the whole, and to appreciate vintage fans.  Alex has a full life with several focuses or passions as well as meaningful relationships and interactions, with future plans and hopes and dreams.  One of his passions is ceiling fans, which may lead to his future career path.  He is a part of on-line forums for fan lovers and they have interesting conversations among each other.  He has even found an IRL friend through his passion who shares it in a meaningful way (he restores ceiling fans at s Habitat for Humanity Restore).

So, my definition in practice of these three words are this:

•  Self-stimulatory behaviors create enjoyable sensations, particularly sensory input sensations, that a person does for pleasure.

Some examples of this are when Adam, age 16, diagnosed with autism (moderately-severely affected) flips coins into a bucket over and over again.  He loves how it feels on his fingers, how it sounds as it rhythmically clinks, and how it visually looks as it floats into an arc into the pile created.  Or when Alex enjoys something for whatever reason, he makes a particular noise while tensing up his body and rubbing his fingers together as a way to express sensorially his satisfaction.  When he was younger, around 1 year old, Alex would crawl into a tight space under my night stand and play with a cord.  His enjoyment of this practice was a positive sensory experience.

I think the categorization of “self-stimulatory behavior” is overused in the autism community.  I believe it is most true from those who view autism as a negative attribute (that’s a whole other post, because I feel there are two sides to that thought) and one to be expunged.  For instance, I believe many would consider Alex’s ceiling fan passion a self-stimulatory behavior.  He can do actions that express that side, but it is overall a passion.  A good example of the misconception is playing the piano.   There is certainly a sensorial appreciation to playing with the listening of the music to the touching of the keys to the patterning of the action, but for most people, it is either a pleasant skill to enjoy or a passion.  Another personal example is Eli, age 18, diagnosed with high functioning autism, starting at the age of 1.5 years old, spent hours with trains.  He would lie down as he meticulously linked the metal cast die trains together, close one eye, and pull the train toward him and past as he watched his creation from various angles.  The experts would call that “looking at the parts”, but in actuality, he was enjoying his three-dimensionality aspect of being right-brained.  There is one type of conclusion in the autism community about “enjoying parts”, but there may be another explanation as so many individuals with autism are right-brained learners, with three-dimensionality gifts, that may be exploring what that means by bringing parts up close and personal for a season while younger.

•  Obsession is when an interest has taken over a life devoid of other enjoyable features and there is no longer joy associated with the action.

Some examples of this is when Alex, 1-2 years old at the time, would line up his Duplo blocks into a line over and over.  He would often get agitated as he did it, thus, not taking any enjoyment from it.  However, he would get upset if it didn’t line up as he wanted, or if it got messed up.  He was not receiving sensorial benefit from it, nor was he enjoying the experience.  Sometimes, Adam accidentally lets one of his self-stimulatory behaviors turn into an obsession related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.  For instance, if he has no other cognitive stimulation going on in his life, instead of using his coin flipping as a sensory outlet and calming enjoyment action, he can begin to create patterns within his mind as he does the flipping that begins to cycle.  He noticeably becomes agitated while flipping, his actions become spasmodic, and the sounds he makes become intense.  He is no longer enjoying the experience and often has a difficult time completing whatever cycle he has created that has taken over the process.

What it is not is often confused with the beginning stages of a passion, particularly with people with autism who may seem “out of balance” at this stage.  For instance, when Eli was 1.5-4 years old, he spent hours creating train tracks and playing his trains.  Then, from 4-12, he spent an equal amount of time with Legos.  During this timeframe, Eli had no interest in friends, though he had consistent interactions in formal settings I brought him to, and had many “odd” ways of interacting and difficulty communicating effectively.  However, Eli was gaining much pleasure from his interest, he was competent in diverse ways, he continued to learn and grow from its practice, and he was in balance for the stage of autism he was at during that time.

Alex’s interest in John Denver songs and the Beatles may be misinterpreted by experts/people of a different perspective as either a self-stimulatory behavior or an obsession, but I see it has a developing passion.  Alex will listen to a particular song over and over again, taking great pleasure out of hearing it, so it could be seen as a pleasant sensorial experience as his reasons for doing this.  Or, because of this repetition, it may be seen as an obsession.  However, though I believe he is having a pleasant sensory experience, he is always learning and growing in more information about these two artists.  It has also expanded into other music.  He has also developed other skills through the interest such as creating his own montages.  I see it as a passion.

Because of the nature of autism, particularly in the early stages of development when a young person with autism is still trying to figure out our “culture” of cognitive understanding, the things that interest them may be more sensory in nature because of how attuned their sensory system is to their surroundings.  Further, as they get older, and if they have not been helped in knowing how to interact with the world in which they live, the interest may become obsessive because they don’t know where else to take it. However, I find that as we expand their understanding of their interest to the world, it becomes a healthy passion like anyone else enjoys.  I wrote a post about that idea here.

•  Passion is when an interest engulfs your being and it brings great pleasure and satisfaction, with consistent growth and/or learning associated with it, insomuch as a person wants to spend many hours a day engaged in its pursuit.

A right-brained learner often is engaged in a passion, particularly one of the creative outlets (music/dance, art/drawing, theater’/showmanship, math/numbers, video games/computers, mazes/puzzles, fashion/sewing, cooking/gardening, building/electronics).  They will spend hours and hours, days and days, years and years in its pursuit in their ability to reach excellence (it is said that 10,000 hours of dedicated pursuit is needed to excel in something).  I wonder if because our schooling system is focused on a generalist education, that we think anything that someone spends hours pursuing must be bad, thus, placing the negative word “obsession” on it.

Some examples of passion pursuits in our house is the hours upon hours of Lego building Eli engaged in, or the hours upon hours of drawing Eric, age 22, engaged in.  Interestingly, Eli’s Lego building led him to computer programming.  At 14 years old, he started spending hours and hours dedicated to learning how to program.  He carried around his programming book as his “bible”.  We give value to this as a passion because it is recognizable as a “career path”, but his surrounding himself with his Legos was no different than his programming.  It was the predecessor to his finding his career path passion.  I always tell people to look beyond the exterior act.  What do you see happening as they pursue this interest?  I saw this one time when Eli had learned about pyramids:

pyramiddrawcut1

legopyramid

This Lego pyramid had as much intricacy inside as it is outside, as depicted in his drawing beforehand.

Everyone has their own balance in life.  In order to develop a passion to excellence, many hours need to be dedicated to it.  This is what a strengths-based, gift-centered learning environment can look like.  Some are introverts and need less interaction time than those who are extraverts.  Some cerebral types of children need less physical activity than those who are active and high energy.  I remember learning an interesting lesson from Eli when he was 9 years old.  I was actively looking for a good match for him in a playmate in order to develop some of his social skills.  I noticed another homeschooled girl who seemed to be “odd” like Eli, so thought it might be interesting to see how they might get along.  In order to facilitate the initiation of diverse activities, I created an idea board of things in the house they could play with, and each could take turns making a choice.  This is what they chose as their first three activities as I observed one day:

First, they chose a puzzle with many pieces, I think it was 100 or something, and they both bent over the activity, deep in concentration as they constructed this puzzle.  Then, they chose a board game that was fun, like Cootie Bug or something that took luck and playful interaction.  Then, last they created their own interest by cutting a long piece of yarn from a skein, attaching it to the back ends of themselves, and finding a circular path in our home and following that path, letting the yarn drag behind, and trying to leap toward the end of their yarn as they circled around, to see if they could grab it . . . a strange, yet delightful to them, escapade.  Suddenly, it occurred to me.  Now I see why Eli had a difficult time finding friends:  he went from a highly cerebral activity, to a traditional (normal) activity, to an odd activity.  Uusually, he would lose someone in the transition, as so many children are either one, the other, or the last, but not all three in one.  His diversity of interest created a division in peer match-ups!

Thus, what it is not is when a child is engaged in a pursuit of potential passion, and they get “out of balance” during a stage that they don’t have the skill set to know how to manage their interest.  Video game playing is a perfect example of this.  My oldest son loved playing video games starting at 5 years old.  Around 8-9 years old, he went through a stage that appeared to be “obsessive/addictive.”  And, in actuality, it had shifted into that realm (just like self-stimulatory can warp to passion, so can passion deteriorate into obsession) because he didn’t have the skills of self-management.  So, suddenly video games were not fun anymore, and he was acting out in frustration, yet refused to stop playing because he had to make it to the next level.  His actions became spastic and his attitude became ugly.  So, just like with my 3-4 year old who needed to take a break from ceiling fans in order to break from the obsessive nature he had found himself, for my 9-year-old, I could pull him aside and give him good information about what he was experiencing, how to manage it effectively, and what had happened to something that was of high interest to him.  Over a year’s time of discussion and collaboration and knowledge sharing, his self-management and “in balance” needs were consistently integrated from himself in order to place his video game interest back into passion mode.  (He used his interest in video games as inspiration for his art and history projects throughout his childhood and into his life’s pursuit.)

In conclusion, spending longs hours in the pursuit of something does not make it an obsession.  We are so focused on being a little good at everything that we forget what it looks like to specialize in something and how much time it takes to excel at it.  Further, being in “balance” looks different for various children based on temperament and learning traits, but also looks different at the various stages of development, including factoring in extenuating circumstances, like being diagnosed with autism.  I have developed my observation skills in order to see beyond what is front of me, but more importantly, I have questioned the generalist attitude of our learning environments for our young children.   We need more passion in our lives; we can give that to our children in our perspective and our learning lives!

Auditory Processing

I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of “auditory processing disorder” and/or “central auditory processing disorder” and how it relates to the right-brained learner.  It appears that at least half the people I meet with right-brained learners think their child also has an auditory processing issue.  So, as always, I’ve been filtering that thought through all the good information I share about the perspective shift on right-brained learning.

Mass institutions of learning generally teach in a left-brained fashion using a left-brained scope and sequence.  The right brained learner has their own preferred scope and sequence, but it is not well known what that looks like.  In fact, sometimes I think people are completely unaware that right-brained learners would naturaly have their own scope and sequence.  Thus, it is one of my missions in life to share what that scope and sequence looks like, so it can be valued, let alone even recognized.

That said, some people choose to categorize a left-brained learner as “auditory-sequential” and a right-brained learner as “visual-spatial”, based on those attributes being prevalent in the respective learning styles.  I don’t like that differentiation because it assumes right-brained people cannot be auditory learners or left-brained people can’t be visual learners.  I think these are input modalities:  some do well with auditory input, and others do well with visual input.  I have six right-brained children and 1 right-brained husband.  Four of them do well with auditory input (Weston, Eric, Alex, and Joseph).  Three of them do quite poorly (Eli, Adam, and William).  It seems they either do very, very well, or very, very poorly as it pertains to auditory input.

So, does that mean my children who do poorly with auditory input mean they have “auditory processing disorder”?  It is true that they can barely process any auditory information effectively . . . or do they?  I started looking closely, especially as I noticed a few things with myself.  I am a strong left-brained learner.  My daughter is more whole-brained, but learns in a left-brained manner, and mainly uses her visual skills for creating her fantasy novels.  I have noticed lately, when my builder right-brained son, Eli (who doesn’t prefer the auditory input modality), has read things aloud to me from his computer, wanting to ask me a question, I cannot for the life of me process that auditory information without having to get up and go look at the words.  My daughter has mentioned that she cannot concentrate on talks at church without doodling or taking notes (a common way for a right-brained learner to attune to left-brained or non-creative tasks).

So, I started thinking about how schools are set up.  They are lecture based with note taking.  This would go along the lines of how a left-brained person could process auditory information effectively.  If they can write or see words (many times, notes were put on the board or on overheads or in outlines as the lecture was given) as they receive the auditory input, they are able to effectively and efficiently process that information.  Because a right-brained person’s natural gift is not in words, many times those who do not prefer auditory input cannnot take notes and listen at the same time.  However, Eli, who also is a natural at math, he can easily follow a lecture in his math class because the instructor inevitably is working out math problems as she explains.  Thus, a visual that makes sense to my son is hooked to the auditory in order that it makes sense to him and can process it effectively.  If Eli goes to a class at church where the teacher brings in picture visuals and hands-on activities, he processes the auditory information fine.  If they do not, he struggles to pay attention and process the auditory input.

In our instructional world, we tend to use three of our five senses extensively:  auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (touch).  Smell and taste certainly come into play in such professions as cooking and general environmental assessments.  Therefore, I challenge the idea that there are “glitches” in some right-brained learners who do not prefer to process input auditorially.  Eli prefers to process visually and kinesthetically.  That is 2 of the 3.  He can do that third one when paired with one of the other two.  I realize I may be similar.  I need words involved in order to process auditory information, but because our society is set up to favor the left-brained processing structure, I do not need to figure out creative ways to accomplish the ability to process auditory information.

Eli is working out creative ways to accomplish the need to process information auditorially while in college by finding other sources to accomplish the same thing utilizing another of his input modalities.  Taking on-line classes is a great option for him in lecture based classes.  Because auditory input and words go hand in hand, he can take his time reading and processing the information at a pace that works for him.  Yes, he has the option of getting a disability plan in order to tape record his lecture classes, but why?  Eli subconsciously resents the idea that he needs to have a “disability plan” when he feels he is quite capable of learning the information if it is presented in a way that works for him.  So, isn’t the learning environment “disabled”?  It works for certain people, but not for others; yet, if it were structured differently, bringing in all the three input modalities, I think there would be less problems involved with most people.  Eli received a high A for his online class for Psychology quite easily.  And he really enjoyed the material and talked about what he was learning all the time.

The last thought pertains to processing auditory input from a conversation or if a friend or such is explaining something to you.  Then, there is often no visual or kinesthetic hook to the auditory.  I asked Eli how he processes our conversations.  We have had discussions about the idea that looking at someone tells them you are paying attention.  A young person, who attended public school worked for me this summer shadowing my son, William, at a day camp.  It was apparent the first time I gave this young man instructions that he had “ADD” as he would not look at me when I spoke, and would not remember half of what I said to him.  I asked Eli if it would be easier to not look at me when I spoke in order to process the auditory input more easily.  He said it wouldn’t because if he looked off, he might become visually distracted by something and that is when his ears would shut down.  I noticed that exact thing happening to this young man who worked for me.  I told the young man he needed to come up with some strategies to help him, but he has no tools to pull from, and he has just graduated high school with high grades!  After bumping into his mother, she has been concerned that he has relied upon the medication to learn, and after doing a few “placebo experiments” with her son, she has found that he is reliant upon it.

I am grateful for the homeschooling environment.  While young, I could center Eli’s learning around his strengths and his preferred input modalities in order to create a strengths based, gift centered learning environment.  Once he hit around 11-12 years old, his brain shifted once again (as most people do) in order to start taking in more abstract information, which includes having a greater awareness of what is working and not working in one’s life, and being willing and able to partner with a more knowledgeable person in order to create tools and strategies to improve weaknesses as they negatively impact strengths.  (In other words, the improvements or skill development made sense as it related to what he needed to work for him in what areas.)  For conversations, if it is a topic of high interest and background knowledge he already has accumulated, he can hook the auditory conversation to the ready visuals in his mind.  If it is entirely new information being discussed, he has found looking at the person creates the ability for him to concentrate on what is being said.  In real life, I don’t foresee this being a constant need, as the area of work he will go into will be one based on his strengths.  The friends he associates with will be those who have commonalities.

I am more than pleased at how Eli is finding his place in our society, whether it is based on his strengths or his weaknesses.  We live at a time there are many options, and he’s not afraid to take them.  He doesn’t see it as a deficit that he chooses another alternative, but as a smart choice that allows him to enjoy the experience because it is based on areas of strength for him.  In other words, he knows how he learns, and he’s not afraid to use it 🙂

Update in our Household

As a blogger, I find that I go through life after an experience saying, “That would make a good blog post”.  And then it passes me by and I’m sad that I’m not capturing the moments or the perspective on paper.  (As a side note, I’m using my blog as my journal.  Every year or two, depending on how much I wrote during that period, I print everything off into a large binder, putting everything in protective sheets, and labeling the front.)  So, to try to get going again on a consistent basis, I’m going to update everything happening around here in synopsis format, or better yet, in hopeful blog post options, and hopefully I will blog about each individual thereafter over the next couple weeks.

Cindy (that’s me!).  I’ve been continuing to work on my right-brained book.  I carved out time this summer to finish it, but worry it won’t happen.  I also worry that I’m my biggest enemy to completing it.  How do authors do it?!  I’ve been a support person to my oldest son, who seems to suffer from bipolar as we now see it.  At times, this has brought me to the edge of cracking under the pressure of doing all that I’m supposed to do as the center of this family.  We’re currently in a good place.  I am in the middle of organizing this coming year’s family focus for everyone.  My plate definitely runneth over in that category, but it should be an exciting year of growth for many!  So, at least three posts there.

Weston (my hubby).  I’m blessed to have the husband that I do, who learns and grows with our family, and supports me as best he knows how.  We both know in our particular family that we had to divide and conquer.  I take the emotional, educational, and therapeutic roles; and he takes the financial role with key support positions in the home, with particular children for certain areas, as parenting relief for me for high time consumption children, and overall involved father, particularly with community activity involvement the children are in (like coaching soccer and leading the youth group at church, etc.)  He is also the one in charge of beautifying our home front and keeping track of our overall vision for it.  He’s also a great father who shows our boys how to be men of substance, and show our daughter what a husband can be for a woman.  Staying on top of things with his job in this economy takes a lot of stress, and we have had our adjustments in that arena over the past  year.  Also, this is a creative man who has always needed to be challenged intellectually, so he has discovered an excellent match for him to continue some education.  This looks like another three posts!

Eric, Age 22.  We have partnered together to continue to understand his anxious and depressive state from the time he was 16.  Since my last post, I have come to realize he is battling bipolar.  So, that is definitely several posts right there.  Anyone who lives with bipolar can attest to my statement that it is the center of his life right now as he figures out how to effectively manage it.  When he can be plugged into his life that he desires as well as consistently engaged in his creative outlets and life’s passion, I will know we are on the right track.  Baby steps at this point; hopeful progress with our current knowledge.

Abbey, Age 20.  Big changes for Abbey as she has left to live out in Utah at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo starting this summer.  The first weekend of orientation was evidence to her that she would learn and grow tremendously in this new venue she has chosen for her next stage in her life.  She has already had many ups and downs that has provided growth opportunities for her.  It has been fun to discuss how her unschooled life impacts her life at college, both academically and socially.  That should be several posts and more.

Eli, Age 18.  Has this young man ever wowed his mother this past year!  In his “senior year” of homeschooling, he wanted to start attending community college in order to grow more in his passion of math and computers.  He also wanted to face his weak areas and discover what he may still need to do in order to succeed at his life’s plans.  Eli is diagnosed with high functioning autism and could have had many other “learning disabilities” attached, such as ADD (big time), CAPD (big time) (central auditory processing disorder), as well as how his ASD (autism spectrum disorder) affects his ability to speak, read/comprehend, and write English well.  Eli is also a strong right-brained learner, a builder with a specialty in spatial awareness.  Many of you know my passion about the right-brained learner and that there is another legitimate, valid path to how they learn.  It is not uncommon for a right-brained person to not prefer auditory input as well as have a difference in attention factors.  Many also know I have a particular perspective on how these learners should be valued for how and WHEN they approach learning.  I believe in a strengths based foundation and coming to formal academics and learning starting at 11 in order that they can understand the need to build weaknesses as it effects strengths, as well as being able to be truer collaborators at that stage.  Well, Eli has shown how well all of this has worked out for him!  He is truly coming into his own and flourishing.  I have also had an opportunity to work with someone who attended public school who is “ADD” and how that impacts him.  I want to do a whole set of posts sharing Eli’s journey to give hope and insight to all the people who have young people with “learning differences”.

Adam, Age 16.  Adam is now my TALL young man, as he has reached about 6’1″ on his tiptoes.  He lives with moderate to severe autism (moderate because he is partially verbal and can learn to a certain level, and severe because he battles extreme sensory bombardments on a minutely basis and it’s hard not to be consistently agitated and on guard) and he has always toe-walked to some level.  Well, it caught up to me and now we are scheduled for foot surgery this September.  I’m committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again because I expect this recovery to not be easy based on his limited cognition.  However, Adam also had his first emergency room trip this summer after putting his hand through our front window which required 40 stitches.  He was amazingly calm and cooperative, so backward blessing as it was, it gives me hope for his recovery from surgery.  In NC, the compulsory age for school is 7-16, and because Adam will not ever drive, he is no longer legally required to school.  Of course, he enjoys being mentally engaged and loves math and spelling and books, so we do as we want in that arena.  With Abbey going off to college, he has lost his therapeutic tutor from the past 1.5 years and transitioned quite well to Ashley this summer.  I knew this was temporary as she is a school teacher, so Adam will once again transition to someone else soon, probably a man named Russell.  Adam enjoys working with his tutors!  So, there are definitely some posts here on behalf of Adam.

Alex, Age 14.  Alex has really matured this past year.  He has successfully navigated the stage of my Collaborative Learning Process by the same name; the collaborative learning stage.  He is fully independent with his formal academic work, and actually reminds me to get it for him!   He has a system that works for him, and me, and this year I want to start challenging him subject by subject past his comfort zone, but still embracing his learning style.  He also has incorporated daily chores into his life that he, once again, ASKS every day which part of it he should do.  I definitely want to use my recent foray into this stage with Alex to share with readers how this stage looks and what and why I do what I do.  There is often MUCH resistance in this stage, but it has to do with being gently, but firmly, guided into the arena of  self-awareness, self-determination, and a solid work ethic in order to translate toward the ability to set one’s own goals to achieve purpose with one’s passion.  Once they get through this first stage of shifting by collaborating with me in what works for them and what doesn’t, it always amazes me what awaits on the other end of this stage:  the Gift Focus Stage.  And the independence and self-initiation that occurs is phenomenal!

William, Age 10.  I forsee big changes for William this year.  Since turning 10, I saw the beginnings of the 11 year old shift in that, for him, it is more that he may be able to cognitively make strides.  This is another son with many, many labels attached, and would create much worry if I didn’t know better.  We have dabbled here and there, but he is now ready to make some leaps.  I am fortunate to have helped him qualify to receive CAP services here in NC (a Medicaid disability waiver program), so I will be training a therapeutic tutor for him soon.  Up to now, William has been learning where his strengths are, and for most people, looking at someone like him would be hard pressed to feel he has any.  But, if you ask him who he is, he’ll let you know that he is the best pretender there is, he loves to cook and to garden, and he generally wants to learn how to be in control of himself.  In fact, last night, Weston, William and Joseph watched Merlin on recorded TV (William LOVING soldiers and knights and swords and weapons), and my husband actually thought he could then put him to bed.  But, as I know SO well about William, right after watching the show, he was in costume within seconds and prepared to go into his imaginative place.  I corrected my husband as it pertains to this child and William was given space to expend his need to process what he saw through role-playing, and ending with some drawing at the table (which he would be considered to be “dysgraphic”).  I suspect William will be reading in his 11s somewhere, maybe 12.  Same with math.  It’s all good.  It all works out.  William is much more capable of putting in effort and understanding at his stage now, and he has a solid foundation of his strengths, which we will continue to grow and nurture 60% of his time.  Lots of posts with this child pending!

Joseph, Age 8.  He is one of my most naturally social children of all my children.  Interestingly, he also cares deeply about what others think of him, and he is my first child who cares what he is wearing and looking like.  It’s really interesting and fascinating to me.  The YMCA in which we attend holds a summer day camp each year, and William and Joseph both wanted to attend last year (I had them go half of the time), and this year (they went almost the entire summer).  For Joseph, it starts off fairly well, but by mid-way, trouble starts a-brewing.  He is easily offended and hurt by typical child playground tactics as well as typical adult punitive, rule-based consequences and interactions.  When Joseph gets hurt, he gets physical.  We’ve been working on that a lot.  I definitely want to write a post about how the way I parent affects their ability to interact with “schoolish” types of interactions successfully.  It’s tricky when my child wants to be part of this type of thing for a season.  Usually when we hit this point, though, he’s ready to be done.  We both recognize the limitations of his expectations and understandings with the environment and how people behave from those settings.  Joseph is also showing that he is more than ready to tackle reading and math things, so we have already somewhat started, and he should be able to finish the process of starting and going by the end of the year.  At the beginning of this year, I started William and Joseph in group activities, especially because Joseph is so social.  They have done swim team two times a week, karate one time a week, and YMCA sports year round.  Joseph is a natural at most things he does, though being small, he probably should concentrate on areas he could continue to progress in to the level he would probably want to later on.  Karate is a good fit for him, as is soccer.  We think wrestling would be a great fit as well, so we’re working on that.  We still encourage all things, naturally, like swim and even football, which is what he is wanting to do as of late.

Pets.  At current count, we have 8 cats (indoor/outdoor):  Socks/17, Belle/12, Sunflash/11, Xena/9, Ellie, Hanabi, Wally, and Sammy (brothers and sisters)/all 1, two dogs: Spencer/9 and Precious/7.  Abbey lost her tree frog she handraised from an egg from the wild, Tasolen/5; and the boys lost their three rats: SugaBuga, Stripe, and Squeeker/all sisters/3.  We still have our large fish tank, but our pets are diminishing all and all as to variety.

We are still living on our 15 acres in the log house and loving every minute of it.  We finally found a renter who contracted to buy our other house, though it will be a 1-3 year contract period.  But, with this economy, they were good renters to find as they repair all things and take care of the house as if it is theirs, which is what we wanted.  It will still be nice to have it sold.  I guess that could be a post.

Now, I need to commit to posting as indicated in his post.  Lots of good stuff happening!  Oh, I’m going to try to get a new family photo when my daughter comes home at summer break!

Biology Dissection

I have had three children navigate their version of experiencing dissection in the category of biology.  My first child, Eric, took a class at our Natural Science Center shortly after moving to North Carolina, so he was probably around 14 years old.  This was a “homeschool class” that was said to be designed to fulfill this and that educational requirement in this and that.  You know the stuff that is normally said that would be appealing to school-based thinking, but doesn’t matter at all to me.  But, it did mention dissecting some things and I felt that Eric would be interested in the whole biology aspect and could tolerate a smaller version of dissecting.  Eric tended to like a class situation for something like this.  He attended and if I recall, they were in groups of two, and they dissected a cow eye and a pig fetus, I think.

Abbey, my second born, was interested in delving into hands-on experiences to determine what type of animal-based career she might be interested in for her future.  An opportunity was discovered to attend an eighth-grade veterinary camp at Michigan State University when she was around 14.  She had to fill out an application with essays, along with my having to fill out forms and essays as her “science teacher”, in order to be accepted into the program.  Abbey was accepted and spent an intensive week doing a myriad of diverse hands-on activities to help her understand what it would take to succeed in the university program as well as the field.  It was there that she had several opportunities for dissection, as well as observing a variety of actual surgeries.  Here is a picture of one of her dissection opportunities:

Eli, my third born child, is my latest to go through the biology dissection.  Science is one of those subjects for him that was right in the middle.  He has a basic interest in science, especially since the hands-on aspects of the experiments makes sense to him, but the textbook aspect of it, or the verbal explanations, could be a bit of a struggle since language is difficult for him.  Because he has been my first child that knew as a teen that he wanted to go to a university as soon as he could for computer programming, I thought science was a great subject for him to explore learning through a textbook.  Eli had enough interest/knowledge from the hands-on aspects of science in order to help him potentially do better with the print material typical of college, so it would be a good experience for him.

So, at 14-15, he worked through Apologia’s Physical Science, and at 15-16 he worked through their General Science, and at 16-17, he made his way through the Biology text (he is currently finishing up with Chemistry).  I ordered the traditional dissection package from Apologia’s recommended site and a dissection kit came in the mail followed closely by the specimens of an earthworm, a crayfish, a fish, and a frog.  Now those brought me back to my biology days in high school, along with the smell of the preservative!  Eli followed the textbooks directions for dissection and answered the questions.  Here is a picture that, as noted, also attracted interest from others:

Three children; three different biology dissection experiences; it all works based on their strengths.

Acquisition

I originally had this post titled Possessions, but I changed it to Acquisition, because I think Possessions is another category I would like to post about a bit later.  Sara and JoVe set the scene with their thoughts from their blog posts:

Sara shares a quote near the beginning of her post on this subject:

From The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben:

Since we live with relative abandon year-round, it’s no wonder that the abandon of Christmas doesn’t excite us as much as it did a medieval serf.  We are – in nearly every sense of the word – stuffed.  Saturated.  Trying to cram in a little more on December 25 seems kind of pointless.

JoVe replied in her post Christmas blahs:

Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It seems pointless. If we need anything, we go and buy it.  And we end up with a pretty loose definition of need.

And if Tigger needs new pyjamas or coloured penciles or sketchbooks, why should she wait another 6 weeks for them just because they would make good presents? The definition of need tightens up considerably at this time of year. Pyjamas she has already because her others were too small.

I’ve mentioned before on-line that I consciously chose in the beginning of my homeschooling journey to try to raise my children “the old-fashioned way”.  This stems a lot from my own childhood (funny how much what we do can often lead back to our early shaping).  We didn’t have much growing up, but what I had I treasured.  I wanted my children to have that same appreciation, and I knew that too much acquisition would hinder that.

It came more easily to do this because we started our family very young (my first was born when I was 21) while we were in university (I supported my hubby through six years to complete his undergraduate degree that included a two-year “live-and-learn” stint).  We had our first three children during his university years while I either provided daycare to children in my home, worked an evening job at a law firm, and/or my hubby did part-time work on campus to make ends meet.  Our goal was to raise our own children giving value to our time to our children as our greatest gift and sacrifice on their behalf.  Being able to afford “things” didn’t come often.  I found that the gifts for birthdays and Christmases were the main source of gift-giving times at that time, so our saturation level, as mentioned in the posts I referenced, wasn’t an issue.

Once we left university and my hubby began his first degree-earned job, I came home and student loans came due, and money was still tight.  Another child was added and simple family togetherness was our center-point.  I remember taking family walks around our neighborhood and walking a couple blocks down to the small town outdoor ice cream shop.  Getting the ice cream cone with the candy faces put on them was the only expense put out to enhance our excursions and build memories.  Friendships were another acquisition sought after during this time period.

For my three oldest, this type of viewpoint was their foundation.  Only my oldest would have consistent figures bought for him (about $3-5) at the time that seemed to be important to him in a “collection” sense.  (I have since found out through the book “A Mind at a Time”, by Mel Levine, that some people have a stronger sense of “insatiability” to objects that can be best supported through collections; my instincts seemed to prove well for him!)  I helped this child know how to hold off on “needing” something through financial self-limitations and the greater understanding of common sensibilities toward balanced acquisition.  For the most part, birthdays and Christmases were the gift giving times.

The exception was the purchases for personal growth items such as the colored pencils and sketchbooks JoVe referred to in her post.  Though finances still kept this in reasonable check, books and paper and craft items were consistently found in our home.  We still were frugal on how these were acquired, however.  My hubby was able to often supply us with paper from the used printer paper from his work that was to be discarded (do you remember the continuous feed paper with hole punched sides?)  Boy, do I remember those boxes of paper my children would go through, and use easily to create books!  We would save everything from cereal boxes to paper tubes to egg cartons to use to build things.  So, imagination and creativity were also a center of our acquisition perspective.

Things shifted when we discovered that three of our children were struggling on the autism spectrum in 1996.  Interestingly, acquisition was not on the radar of these children.  Once I did my research on how to help each of these children develop to their full potential, exposure to all the things they didn’t notice became high on the list in helping them engage in the world around them.  Because objects were the safest things for the younger of the boys to trust, heavy doses of acquisition of things began in order to help them develop the breadth of knowledge of the world of objects.  Instead of creating saturation, for my boys with autism, each purchase was a step on their path of understanding.

So, the first three children were raised with carefully chosen and treasured objects of interest that enhanced the development of their gifts and passions.  The next two children were raised to recognize the value of how objects can be used to develop their gifts and passions.  And then we adopted in two young children into a houseful of prized and respected interest items as well as buckets of various developmental toy objects.  They neither understood how each object was purposefully chosen over time to find their place in the home, nor were they part of the developmental choices of adding each object.  On the other hand, they had their own issues to work through.

As many foster children experience, the older of the two was quite “lost” with the transition of his former home of need into this new home of abundance.  He didn’t have any developmental understanding of playing with toys nor the framework of possessing them.  Destruction of items is common in the early stages of fostering children.  He needed to have all objects removed from his use and recreate the acquisition process in order for him to know how to use and possess each thing.  It was quite an interesting phenomenon.  On the other hand, because he often would receive whole collections of common objects, saturation still often occurred to overwhelm his ability to understand how to possess in a healthy way.  It’s been a process.  All in all, we try to keep acquisition of things to the special occasions in order to help prevent oversaturation as a common theme throughout the year.

In today’s world of abundance, I think it takes a conscious, mindful choice on the part of parents to observe and utilize our instincts to determine what is most useful for each individual child in our care in developing a healthy emotional relationship with the world of objects and acquisition.  Most important is how we help them take ownership by empowering them with their own personal understanding of these things in their own lives as they make their own choices.

Sleep Patterns

A question came up on my Homeschooling Creatively list about sleep pattern differences.  One of the “temperament traits” of a right-brained learner is that they are almost always night owls.  From the responses given to the original question, my yahoo list is full of these right-brained night owls.  Further, in the autism spectrum world, extreme sleep pattern differences is also the “norm”.  The theory by Jeffrey Freed in his book, “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World”, is that autism spectrum is a form of “extreme right-brainedness”.  For those on the high functioning end of autism (Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism), I often say, “take the traits and learning style of the right-brained learner and add a plus to everything, and that’s what you are dealing with.”  An example:  a right-brained learner often resists trying new things initially.  For a HFA/AS person, they resist new things to a higher degree.

All of this said, this post will resonate with those with children like mine.  For the rest of you, it might seem extraordinary and strange, but in the world of the right-brained learner and autism, it’s perfectly “normal”.  And my take is that if something is “normal” for a third of the population or more, then is it really abnormal, or really normal in its realm?

First, let me break down the two styles of sleepers in my family.  I have three children who are “regular night owls”, and we two parents fall into this category as well.  And I have four children who are “extreme night owls”.  A regular night owl tends to shoot for their bedtime around midnight, and falls asleep fairly easily.  They tend to need between the typical 8-10 hours of sleep each night.  If they don’t get enough sleep one night, they tend to want to go to bed earlier the next evening, or sleep in later, to “catch up” on their sleep.  In other words, you notice when they don’t get enough sleep by an adjustment in their sleep patterns temporarily.

On the other hand, extreme night owls tend to have a difficult time falling asleep, taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to do so, especially if they go to sleep before their natural circadian rhythm indicates.  It is tougher to find their natural sleep rhythms naturally; I find that we had to experiment with what works best, and for how long, until it worked well for them; the test being that falling asleep came more easily (even if with help through something like melatonin), and that awaking came more easily, and they weren’t tired throughout the day.  I found that when left to their own haphazard sleep schedule, bedtime routines were all over the place (one night at 2:00 a.m., the next at 4:00 a.m., the next at 1:00 a.m.), or sleep/wake cycles became flipped (having to stay awake all night and day to flip back or sleeping night and day to flip back to sleeping at night and being awake during the day), and that it affected their behaviors (feeling tired throughout the day or aggravating temperament differences like depression, anxiety or mood swings).  To take further note, getting them up earlier, or at a consistent time (outside of their optimal), when they went to sleep late to help them get a better sleep pattern did not work.  They would still stay up late, but their behaviors would skyrocket as their bodies reacted.

So, what do I do?  I do what works for the individual and family collaboratively.  First, there are some societal conditionings that I came to terms with in order for it to work best for each.  The shoulds are:  early to bed; early to rise; this adage came about during the pre-electricity era.  Our natural circadian rhythms reflected the rising and falling of the sun and so there was nothing to interfere with that working well for most people.  However, with the advent of man-made light, it has changed our circadian rhythms indefinitely.  This is why when there are severe sleep differences, the understanding of the way our body responds to its environment is important to understand.  For instance, my son who is battling depression and has severe sleep differences needed to change his sleeping quarters from the basement where there was no natural light into an upstairs bedroom with four windows and plenty of natural light to assist in many areas of need.

The next should tends to revolve around the same type of thing, but has more connection to our workforce and schooling practices:  Getting to bed in order to get the “proper amount of sleep” of 8 hours backward from when you need to awaken for our cultural practices of the former, usually needing to awaken at 6:00-7:00 a.m. in order to arrive to our designated places.  For instance, in our church, we have a program called “early morning seminary” for our high school students.  Each high school student will gather together either at our church or someone’s house in a central location to study the scriptures together before going to school in order to start their day off right.  In order to accomplish this, it often begins at 6:00 a.m.  Those of my children who are your “regular night owls”, could adjust to this request, certainly still with sacrifice like everyone else, but doable.  Those of my children who are “extreme night owls”, this was a nearly impossible request that physically negatively impacted them.  Another program in our church is for our young men to serve 2 year missions from ages 19-21 years.  There is a strict sleep pattern schedule of bedtime at 10:30 p.m. and wake up at 6:30 a.m.  As much as my oldest son desired to adhere to this structure, his body would not allow it.  It is with the extreme night owls that “willpower” is often not enough.  So, basically, an extreme night owl will lie awake in bed for hours (as will even a regular night owl) when placed in bed at 8:00 p.m. in order to “get enough sleep” as a child, and it just messes with their self-image and adds to the behaviors and tiredness because of it not aligning with their particular sleep rhythms, not the actual quantity of sleep.  In other words, quantity of sleep only benefits when coupled with optimal sleep timing.

Last, the other should I can think of that I had to analyze is the idea of parents creating authority over their children.  My understanding and experience as a child with this is that parents create the structure of the children throughout the day, and decide when bedtime is to be for “their own good”, as well as making sure the parents get a “break” from their parenting job during the day in order to get their “alone time” during the evening hours.  The problem I saw in this as I had originally tried to adhere to this “normal” expectation of a parent with their children as it pertains to bedtimes is that it would negatively impact my relationship with them.  For instance, in order to get a night owl child, and especially an extreme night owl child, to go to bed when they weren’t naturally ready was to either yell at them, punish them, get aggravated with them for constantly goofing off or coming out, and overall just become more tired with the struggle of getting them to bed to get “my time”.  By the time “my time” came, I was exhausted from the battle.  I quickly realized it wasn’t worth it.  It also helped for me to think about my own childhood and the times I just couldn’t fall asleep.  When I was “goofing off”, etc., I wasn’t doing it to be “defiant”, but because I just wasn’t tired.  I gave that same respect to my children and decided to view it differently; well, view it from what it really was:  a child that wasn’t tired.

Alright, so the scene is set to share what works for us this day, with the children I have.  All of the knowledge I have gained above has come through experience, experimentation, contemplation, and collaboration to get where we are today.  What that means is that what I learned from the first few children have benefited the subsequent children, who have had to experience less difficulty from not knowing how to establish their preferred sleeping patterns.  I know better now how to recognize the nonverbal sleep needs of my younger children and the pre-“know-how-to-verbalize” adolescent sleep shifts of my early teenagers.  I hope something can help those of you with similar children.

My 17 year old son and my 19 year old daughter are two of my “regular night owl” children.  My 19 year old puts herself to bed by midnight and wakes herself up at 8:30 a.m. in order to be ready for work at 9:30 a.m.  My 17 year old puts himself to bed around 10:00 p.m. because he is still in the seminary program and has to wake up, which he does on his own, at 6:00 a.m. to be to his class at 6:30 a.m.  My other “regular night owl” is my just-turned-8-year-old son.  We try to have him going to bed around 10:00 p.m., which works for him for the most part.  He wakes up anywhere between 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

As for my four “extreme night owls”, I’ll begin with my youngest two first, because they benefited from what I learned from the others, so it is fairly straight forward for them.  My 9 year old takes 1-2 hours to fall asleep, but usually it is only about the 1 hour if put to bed at his optimal time.  We put his 8-year-old brother to bed first because he falls asleep more quickly (thus, more of a “regular night owl”), and have the 9-year-old play in our large walk in closet for about a half hour.  Then, he goes into bed when the other is asleep and it usually takes him anywhere from the 30 minutes to the hour to fall asleep himself.  I allow this timeframe to fall asleep at this age because I don’t want to do the chemical help until it gets further along, which usually happens around puberty.

So, that leads to my just-about-to-turn-14-year-old pubiescent son.  He used to do a similar sleep pattern as the 9-year-old before puberty, but around 11-12 years old, it was time for his shift.  First, I take into account how his sleep pattern affects others.  With nine people in our house, people share bedroom space typically.  He is one of those in the basement with two others, without walls for the most part.  At the time of his shift, one person who slept down with him had to get up for seminary, and the other wanted to tackle his sleep pattern differences, and needed everyone to be asleep before he could accomplish his needs.  That, factoring in that the 14 year old (then 12 year old) was having a more difficult time falling asleep (now creeping into the 1-3 hour timeframe), it was time to figure out what he needed to have a more easy sleep transition, both in figuring out his optimal time, and what he may need to help him do so.  Midnight seems to be a good time to work toward, and with the addition of melatonin a year later, he is easily able to accomplish this and fall asleep within about 30 minutes.  He wakes up at 9:30 a.m. in order to receive “therapy” for his autism needs, which works for him well right now, though when this need shifts, maybe 10:00 a.m. to noon until puberty passes and then 10:00 a.m. thereafter will probably be a good fit for him.

My oldest 21-year-old son has been the one who has taught me the most, and naturally, being the first and oldest, has had to go through the difficult learning curve of figuring this all out (his younger siblings have a lot to thank him for someday).  He has done all that I outlined above to help us know what doesn’t work.  He started off like his younger siblings:  at around 5 years old or so, he would go to his room to do quiet activities at the same time hubby and I did . . . around 8:00 p.m., and then it was “to bed, to bed time” at around 10:00 p.m. (again, when hubby and I went to bed).  Then, around 8-9 years old, he would be up until around 11:00 p.m.  And then it crept to midnight, etc. until puberty.  This is the timeframe I didn’t understand about the rhythms of my children/extreme night owls, so he went through a lot of rhythms, my expecting them to even out over time, but they didn’t.  He did the early/mid/late sleep pattern shifts, he did the go-all-the-way-around-the-clock even-it-back-up corrections, he tried to go to bed earlier in order to be able to wake up easier for the early morning activities he desired to attend, he tried different alarms in order to awaken more easily, etc.  Depression began around 16 years old, and anxiety hit as he tried to navigate the mission structure at 20 years old.

It was only just before that time, at 19 years old, that I figured out the melatonin connection and worked that into his repertoire.  And, over the past year, I finally put together the tired factor and the behavior factor.  First, he came home from his mission after 11 months because he needed to be treated for sleep apnea as an answer to his extraordinary tiredness he was experiencing his entire mission.  However, upon getting and trying the C-PAP machine, it didn’t change anything for him.  His behaviors continued to escalate as did his anxiety and depression.  Once bottom was hit, I decided to really push the sleep pattern needs.  This is when he came up from the basement dungeon into the lighted room, as well as committing to going to bed at midnight, with the help of melatonin (and my company), and experimenting with when to awaken (10:00 a.m. seemed to be optimal).  His tiredness all but disappeared, but when he slips in his poor sleep pattern, the tiredness returns with a vengeance.  Also, when he sticks to this sleep pattern, his depression and anxiety are more manageable, and thus, less manageable when he slips.

Last but not least is my 16-year-old son with moderate autism.  He gets a class of his own because he is not able to reason his needs with his sleep differences.  So, I have to work with him, and use his autism behaviors to my advantage.  He enjoys routines, so once I am able to ascertain a sleep pattern that works for him, and me, then I can use timeframes to help him be independent with it.  He is one of the few children with his own room (the oldest has his own now, too, because of his depression battle needs) because of his high need for alone time, and his sleep differences.  On the other hand, regardless of what the stereotype of autism is, this son seeks out those who understand him.  True, he ignores most people because he knows they don’t understand his differences of perspective.  But, those of us who get it, he seeks us out constantly.  My hubby, myself, and my daughter are his favorites.  Also, anyone who does “therapy” with him will be someone who “gets” him, so he will seek them out.  So, my bedroom is one of the places he will hang out during the day.  He comes down into the greater area periodically throughout the day, and enjoys being outside from time to time on his own or with the animals.

That said, he comes downstairs at 11:00 p.m. (exactly, you know, because he watches the clock as it gets closer, and he will come to me and declare, “Mom, it’s 11:00!” . . . that’s autism, and it can work in your favor . . . I simply respond, “Yep!”)  This is when he does his computer time.  He loves YouTube, though with his recent added awareness of negative sites, yet lack of awareness of the negative impact, I may need to get him his own playlist (a father of a son with autism created this awesome site that a person can create playlists for your children in order to help keep them from the junk that is available on YouTube, but still enjoy the great stuff there, too).  Anyway, then at 2:00 a.m., he comes to me wherever I am (sometimes I may still be awake with my oldest; mostly not if he is where he needs to be; so usually I am in bed), and he declares to me, “Mom, it’s 2:01” or whatever near 2:00 a.m. time it is, and I respond, “Yep!”  He then goes to his bedroom.  At 4:00 a.m., he comes to me in bed and states, “Mom, it’s 4:00!” and I respond, “Yep!”, and then he says, “Go potty,” and I say, “ah-huh”, and he does so.  He states the time again when he comes out (maybe a half hour or so . . . he’s still a guy, even with autism . . . LOL!), I give him his melatonin, he crawls in bed with my hubby and I in our king-sized bed, and he proceeds to fall asleep within about 30-60 minutes.  (He began to sleep with us when his puberty sleep schedule shifted around 12-13 years old . . . it works for everyone since I know where he is, and he seems to need our connection during sleep . . . patterns have changed over the years since then; this one has worked for the past year.)

So, what does this mean for poor mom’s sleep schedule?  It all depends.  Hubby helps put the younger ones to bed.  Oldest son needs me as he works through his depression, and falling asleep is the hardest time for him emotionally, so I stay with him until around 1:00 a.m. and he is asleep.  I then crawl into bed, get the 2:00 a.m. call, the 4:00 a.m. call, the 4:30 a.m. call, the autism humming and shifting in bed until he falls asleep, and then I awake with the littles around 9:00 a.m.  It is certainly not optimal for my sleep, but the Lord seems to bless me with the capacity to do so as I support the needs of each family member.  I’ve also become accustomed to it all.  Abnormal is normal for me.  And I know it won’t be forever.  And even though I get my “clock calls” throughout the night, he is independent, so I can keep on sleeping.  And I hope depression will recede over time where I can go to bed at my typical 11:00-midnight timeframe.

Most important, though, is that my relationships are strong with each child.  Late nights have been some of the best connecting moments with some of my extreme night owls.  And showing respect for who each child is based on this one aspect of their physical needs impacts their emotional and mental lives more than is realized.  But, above all, it impacts their own self-image and our relationship foundation.  When everyone finds what works for them as individuals, and functions well as a whole in the family, our interactions are strengthened and their lives are in balance.  Frankly, I have found that establishing optimal sleep patterns for each person establishes a smooth overall daily rhythm for the entire home.  It’s definitely worth figuring out.  Thank goodness for the flexibility of homeschooling!

Learning vs. Schooling

Does anyone else have a bunch of saved posts in the Post Writing section that you started and didn’t finish?  I do.  So, I decided to go through some of them and see what I found.  Apparently, I had taken a blurb from a post I had written on a list somewhere and copied it in for further contemplation.  So, here’s the blurb:

Ah, yes, the discovery process of what will and won’t work in your home with the schooling process 🙂 What I learned is “schooling” doesn’t work well in a home unless you want to wear a “teacher’s cap”, which I didn’t. I wanted to be a parent-facilitator, which shifted the focus from “working on” to “working with”, sooo, I had to figure out a “learning process” for our family, not a “schooling process”. Does that make sense?

What that meant for me is to look for those learning moments and be there, and fully use those moments when the children are eager and interested and seeking. This meant that at that moment when I was thinking I was going to get some laundry done, the learning moment took precedence. Needless to say, in our home, housework is sporadic 🙂

I’ve mentioned this before somewhere, probably on my blog, that sometimes I get to wondering if I’m just a lazy person when I see how others are doing all these lessons and activities with their children, especially their small children.  I just don’t, but it works really well in our home.  This post of mine reminds me of why we do it this way:  we encourage a learning process instead of a schooling process.  I like that.  I guess that’s probably why I kept the blurb to write about.

First, in the young years, I SO believe in the idea that play is a child’s work.  So, play is a central part of the learning process in our home in the early years.  During the preschool years, I focus on helping my children learn their colors and shapes; counting and saying the alphabet; all done incidentally and through toys/play usually.  During the 5-7 year old range, I mainly pay attention to the potential for reading and early math such as one-to-one correspondence.  Often, my children aren’t ready to formally learn to read, but reading aloud is a center.  Also, playing around with numbers via manipulatives, natural occurrences, and the such are encouraged.  This is also the age that my children seemed to focus in on one type of play type, whether it was Legos, drawing, pretending, or sports.

In the age range of 8-10 years, I also believe in what Jenifer Fox said in her book, Your Child’s Strengths, that you can’t create the gifts inside your child; they are already in there waiting for expression.  I feel it is my job to provide the opportunity for my children to discover their gifts, and that’s what this stage attempts to do.  What I saw in my children is that their focus solidifies during this stage and a more mature representation of that gift emerges as it is integrated into other subject areas as well as other higher level play outlets.  Reading definitely takes a front row seat during this stage as I facilitate in that direction in the manner and timing that works for each child.  Basic math also is highlighted.  My read alouds also tend to shift toward more educational ideals.

I do love that I get to observe my children in their young years (5-10 years old) enjoy getting the most out of these play stages.  So many today are cut off in the preschool years from unimpeded play opportunities and explorations.  There are preschools with centers, scheduled play dates with friends, and screen time filling in the difference.  I don’t regret one moment the old-fashioned childhood I am gifting my children.  I was listening or watching some program recently (I forget which) where a person was reminding everyone how easy it is to get so busy that we don’t make time for our children.  It was mentioned that a child gets only about 2 minutes a day of individual time!  Ouch.  I couldn’t understand how that could be.  But, then I thought about the typical household of children going off to school and parents to work, so no time there or in the morning beforehand as it is so scheduled to get everyone where they need to be on time.  Then, there are after school activities and dinner to prepare, so there is no time there until after dinner, but then there is homework and parents cleaning up, so that leaves just before bedtime, but so many are using the TV as vegging time, so where IS the time?

I love that our lives are so flexible and open-ended.  I love that there is exploration opportunities and boredom to fill with new ideas, activities, and discoveries.  I love that they each have had their fill of play until it has fulfilled its role in their lives.  I love that I have many minutes to hours of individual time with each child each day, as does even my hubby upon returning home from work.  Because they filled their days with what they need to give themselves as children, when Daddy comes home, they want to give fully to all that he offers them.  Sometimes it’s cuddling together with a good movie, sometimes it’s getting out the balls and bat and playing together, sometimes it’s working alongside him with a project, and sometimes it’s taking a trip somewhere.

Not only has our “learning process”  helped each of my children find their passion and purpose thus far, it has helped each of us live with no regrets.  Time is precious, and we have that and take advantage of it in spades:  individually, within relationships, and as a family!