International Communication!

This blog will never break any records. Still, I think having over 5,100 visits in the past year is pretty good – a lot more than I could handle in my house (although it often looks like I have!) Acording to WordPress, these visitors were from 6 continents and 24 countries around the world! It makes me wonder about all of you. How many are homeschoolers or thinking about homeschooling? How many just wanted information about one of the topics touched on in one of the 93 posts here? I’m sure a few got here accidentally. I surf the web enough to have that happen now and then. Maybe a few are old friends of mine checking up on what I am up to since I gave up trying to change the world. Who knows?

I guess what I really wonder about is what we can learn from each other. A blog is pretty much a one-way conversation unless the viewers leave comments, like our top recent commenters Tracey, daisy, tara, Jennifer, and topsietechie. So why not add your voice to the international conversation. Share your views, ideas, problems, questions and requests. Let me know what would make you want to visit again. I promise to continue keeping this a family friendly site, if not always entirely free from controversy.

And for all the visits last year, thanks for dropping by. Hope you enjoyed your visits to the Hilltop. Drop in again anytime, 24/7. I’ll leave the light on for you.


Happy Holidays!

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The other night I was trying to read to my boy at bedtime. Although the story was getting very exciting and the main characters were being attacked by pirates, he was squirming around, crawling under the covers, interrupting every few words joking about the unusual names of places and things. Finally, I said,”Look, I can’t read to you if you don’t listen. Tell me what is happening in the story right now, or I will stop reading.” He pulled the covers over his head and said,” I wish there were more kids in this class, so you wouldn’t ask me all the questions.”

It was so unexpected and surprising that I cracked up, then forgave him and kept reading (when I could keep from chuckling).

“My child hates lessons!” “My child can’t write (hates math, can’t read, all of the above)!” “Homeschool is a constant battle.” “I am frustrated and worried to the point of tears.”

I am seeing many posts like this on the e-mail lists I belong to lately. I read them and think, “Yes, been there, done that.” I am so glad that things are changing for us lately. But can I tell these parents how to change things for their student? Maybe not. Each child is different. Yours may or may not have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum or some other learning difference. Each parent/grandparent is different,too. But I can share what is working for us, and I can try to provide some hope. I hope something I say here will at least let you know that you are not a bad parent or a poor homeschooler.

First, I want to make three confessions: 1. It took us a long time to get this far. 2. It may all change for the worse tomorrow. We can only take it a day at a time. 3. Not everyday is a good day. Some days still s…!

Tip number one is that it takes more than a schedule and the right curriculum to turn things around. For my 11 year-old boy it took the right diagnosis and medication at the right dosage to help him control his behavior and thinking ability. It also helps that he has a case manager/ counselor who visits him for an hour once a week. We also use the Total Transformation approach with him (it works). Sometimes there are therapies or therapeutic programs you can use that will help your child.

Next, my boy needs activities in and outside the home, including play dates at least once a week, when possible. Occasional classes and field trips provide variety, enrich his learning, spark interests, and give him a chance to interact with others outside the home, both authority figures and peers.

 Exercise does a lot to help him with self-discipline and focus, as well as being good for his health. In warm weather he loves swimming and he has year-round karate classes twice weekly, with daily practice. He is very proud that he is so close to attaining his junior black belt. Karate also teaches him many positive attitudes like respect, responsibility, self-control, and confidence.

Consistency in discipline, schedule, and expectations is the hardest for me to provide. But I am getting better at it. Some days I feel lazy, too. Having him help make what few rules we have, helps, too.

Readiness and interest are very crucial to learning and willingness to learn! Probably my boy’s change in attitude and effort on lessons is due in large part to changes he is going through naturally as he approaches adolescence. Focusing on and valuing what he truly wants to learn about is also very important. Another blogger quotes, “Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” ~ Katrina Gutleben

Finally, finding out how he learns best (learning style) and which materials really work for him took a long time, but I think we are there! The curriculum that I outlined in my blog post titled “Our New Year” seems to be a good match for him – at last! We are still following it and haven’t dropped a thing, so far. We are getting ready to add back in lessons on programming in Visual Basic. I am very pleased with the materials we are using because he likes them and is learning willingly (for the most part), but as they say, “Your mileage may vary.”. For details see “Our New Year,” If you are an unschooler, and it is working, ignore this. We definitely do not do “school at home,” though, and he still likes for me to be beside him or working with him.

Schedule:  We spend from 2 to 3 hours daily, mostly 5 days a week on lessons or learning activities. Because we are both natural night owls, we start late, and sometimes wait until afternoon, when he seems to do better. I also remind him to practice karate daily. He is asked to help with a few basic chores or lend a hand now and then. Otherwise, he is free to play Roblox, Algodoo, etc., build with Lego robotics, mess around with electronics, or whatever he is currently interested in. He also watches a few cartoons on TV and plays games on his 3DS. Since many of these activities are also educational and he especially loves them, we have no real limits on them, except to get to bed reasonably on time, where I still read to him nightly.

As you can see, I take what Tracey on the “All Kinds of Learners” list calls a bottom-up approach. In other words, there are fundamental needs that must be addressed first before curriculum matters at all. If they are not, even the best materials will not work, the child will not learn and no one will be happy. I believe in working with the whole child as an individual with individual needs. I don’t care what the schools or even the psychologists/psychiatrists say, the child is the only expert on him/herself.

Disclaimer: I speak as a grandmother raising one particular child with mild Aspergers. I have learned from many other homeschoolers and have researched, read and tried many things. This is where I am now, but my advice might be different a year from now (or even next week!). Who knows? If what I say helps you, that is great. If it doesn’t, feel free to ignore it or leave contradictory comments. One of the best things about being homeschoolers is that we are constantly learning, expanding our understanding, reshaping our philosophy, and changing our behavior. And remember, children are fortunately quite resilient! Challenging and exciting, isn’t it?

Hands-On Equations Review

(Since my Reviews page is a bit full, I will start posting them here. That way, each review will be available as a separate page, also.)

  A Personal Experience Perspective 

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my 11-year-old grandson has mild Aspergers and is a right-brained learner. He seems to learn best with visual and hands-on material. He also has developed a strong dislike of mathematics because he can’t memorize math facts, no matter how many times we try with different approaches and materials. I finally decided to just move on and trust that he would pick up more of them as he used them. Besides, he understands concepts and can always use a math chart or a calculator. Actually, he often uses other tricks to figure it out.

I have also read comments saying that many children like him actually do better with higher mathematics than with arithmetic. So in the hopes of convincing him that he is not bad at mathematics, I decided to try “Hands-On Equations” (HOE) and jump right into an introduction to algebra.

We started this past summer and are finishing the third, and last, level now. It worked magic! He now likes doing math and even asks if we can do it before other subjects. He is doing well with it, too.

The program includes a DVD, which we tried in the beginning, but he did not like it, so we stopped using it. However, he loves the use of the flat “scale”, which teaches the concept of equality and reinforces the idea that “legal moves” must be performed on both sides to keep the equation balanced. The two-colored markers for unknowns and numbered cubes for positive and negative numbers have helped him to quickly visualize solutions. Sometimes he simply tells me the solution and I have to go through the steps, or ask him to “explain it” to me so I can check him.

The lessons are short and illustrated in color in the book, then a class worksheet is provided for each lesson, with review problems included. The word problems are numerous and he is working word problems that a few moths ago would have totally confused him. I think he is ready to zip through pre-algebra, at least.

Oh, yes, he usually is able to do the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division required in his head, one way or another. Those he has trouble with are just minor problems, not failure experiences anymore.  And his math confidence is restored! (Perfectionism is good in math, but not the effect it can have on self-confidence and attitude towards math.) I highly recommend “Hands-On Equations”!

 Check out the website here. Or see it on Amazon.com.

Hamsters and Homeschool

















We have a new addition to our home and homeschool, and he is a rodent! His name is Squeker (not a misspelling) and he is a Golden Syrian hamster about 9 weeks old. He was not a sudden or spur-of-the-moment aquisition, either. My hubby said he wanted to see a one page typed paper explaining why Dana should have a hamster and how he would care for it. With a little help, that was accomplished.

Much research, thought and careful planning went into his choice. Dana researched online before announcing that he thought a hamster would not only be a good pet, but a neat 4-H project as well. So our first purchase was made at the county extension office, where we bought the two 4-H Pocket Pets Project books. After reading a lot, he decided that a Golden Syrian would be the best choice for him, and we were off to the pet store for equipment and supplies. That was a hefty dent in the pocketbook, but Dana has agreed to earn money to help pay for it and to buy future supplies. 4-H doesn’t start up until February, but he has a head start so there will be less pressure later to complete the project book and required activities.

(Photo above was taken by Dana on his 3DS.)
As a homeschooling project it is already paying off in learning (research, reading, record keeping, planning and writing). As a life skills learning opportunity it is also showing results already. He is learning some things that are very hard for an Aspie, like empathy, patience, responsibility, planning ahead, and more.
Maybe every prospective parent should be required to do all this with an animal before being allowed to have children!  I do know that no baby has ever been more wanted, prepared for and lovingly nurtured than Squeker.

Our studies are moving along now, so we want to add some field trips and take advantage of learning activities around us. Fortunately, I have found three that look like fun educational opportunities for Dana.

The first one on the calendar is a science workshop provided free for 6-8 graders (homeschoolers welcome) by Kenyon College, which happens to be very near where we live. The LADS (Learning And Doing Science) session for boys will be from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm, Saturday, October 22. This free session called “Chemistry All Around You” will include”  “KABOOM! Come see the hidden powers of common household items. How can you tell if a liquid has enough acid in it to burn through a table? You don’t want to touch it to find out, but a food in your fridge can tell you. We’ll watch candy blow up, and make and eat delicious instant ice cream. Come learn how chemistry can be cool! Registration will be open from September 1 to October 14, 2011.” If this one goes well, we will also register him for one in February on light particles. For more information, if you are anywhere in Knox County, Ohio, go to: http://www.kenyon.edu/physicslads They already held the first session for girls, but another will come up in March (http://www.kenyon.edu/x58103.xml )

Then, on Saturday, November 5, from noon until 4:00 pm, we will be taking a “Walk In the Past” at Mohican Outdoor School in Butler, Ohio. This is a family event giving the opportunity to experience what life was like in Ohio in the 1800s costing only $5.00 for the whole family. Click here for more info and to download flyer:  http://www.mohicanoutdoorschool.org/events/view/56/169.html No registration required.

On Tuesday, November 15, Dana and his granddad will be attending Mohican’s Fall HOOT (Homeschool Opportunities for Outdoor Training).

The website says: “Join us for the Fall 2011 Session of HOOT!, from 10 am – 2 pm.  Let’s start digging – that is, digging in our mock archaeology dig site!  We will explore the geology of Hemlock Falls, and learn about archaeology during this HOOT! session.  Cost per child: $5.00.  No fee for parents.  Please bring a packed lunch for child and adult, something to drink, and outerwear appropriate for the weather, as we will be outside for most of the class times, rain or shine.  Pre-registration required.”
Click here to register online

Hopefully these will all be great experiences and are all either free or extremely inexpensive. If you don’t live in my neck of the woods, check your own area for great activities. Happy Fall homeschooling!

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