Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Sahara Desert and Cactus (and deep thoughts!)

I'm turning 40 in April. Along with that, I'm also going through a mid-life crisis I think, but not in a bad way. It's actually very good...Very exhausting mentally, but very good. It really is a God-centered mid-life crisis (I just made up this term, but truly, I believe it was fully brought on by God). Basically, He is having me question so many things as the mama bear, regarding if we are spending our time here on Earth doing what we should. Next year Sweet B will be in kindergarten (mostly homeschool except for two days a week) and Strong B will still be so young at 4 (I still can't believe my baby will be 4!) and I'm figuring out how to organize our time, our home, and my mind. 

And there's deeper stuff going on too, such as figuring out how to finally accept myself as I am (I am no longer an 18 year-old cheerleader and I'll never weigh 115 pounds again!) and I've got some wrinkles and I don't look so young anymore. There's also the beginning of a new life without a child who tube-feeds (but is still learning to eat) and thoughts of how God wants me to allocate my time now. I've been going to a bootcamp and it's amazing and I would have never been able to do that with the tube. 

Anyway, I'm thankful for the "constants" and the things that aren't changing, such as Mother Goose Time. 

Today I did two days of lessons. It's Sunday, which is usually a great homeschool day for us! I'm hopping around a bit with the lessons based on interest and a family field trip that we are going on tomorrow (the Butterfly Jungle exhibit at the zoo in anticipation of next month's Bees and Butterflies theme!!) 

All of the day's activities in the teacher guide were fabulous, but I chose three of the four in the interest of time.

I read "Sahara Blue Men" story to them and they passed around a blue napkin every time they heard the word "blue." 

We had a great discussion based on the questions given. It's hard for them to understand the Sahara desert being that they don't have much prior knowledge on the subject. I showed them pictures on Google and tried to explain it the best that I could.

We played "Race To The Oasis" twice and really focused on the different words used for subtraction such as "take away, less, minus, etc" and addition such as "add, plus, more, etc." It's important that they learn that the words mean the same thing.

"You are left with four canteens and I'm left with two! Which number is greater? (Bigger, more than, etc)."

We made colorful canteens for our trek through the desert. Once again, they learned that if you mix colors together, they make a brown color. I think this is a lesson that they'll relearn many times.

I had my husband take pictures of us working together, and I didn't realize that the sight of it would make my heart so happy. Strong B is three and a half and such a sweet boy. I want to snuggle him all day and he won't let me, so when he wants to cuddle or crawl on my lap, you better believe that I take advantage of it! 

They're best friends. Every day they ask each other, "Will you be my best friend?" 

Even with the mixing together of colors, it their canteens turned out perfect. You could see little wisps of color within the muddy brown.

As I mentioned earlier, we also did the cactus lesson, due to our upcoming field trip to see the cactus garden at the zoo.

We used green styrofoam-like noodles to form cactuses. Note: Don't use too much water, or else they shrink. It was pretty funny!! We called Tiny B's cactus "The Shrinking Cactus" and we all laughed so hard. 

Next week I'm going to write about individualizing instruction for Tiny B and Strong B. In it I'm going to talk about how important it is that I focus on fine motor tasks for Tiny B. Putting the toothpicks in the cactus was a task that helped her fine motor skills better than writing in a workbook could. She meticulously grabbed each toothpick with her pincer grasp that we've been working on for years and slid it into the cactus. She did this for about ten minutes and essentially performed her own occupational therapy.

I'm so thankful for such a wonderful week coming up...Good Friday where we will celebrate how Christ died for us, and Sunday where we celebrate how He rose from the dead. We've got an Easter party on Saturday with an egg hunt and decorating cookies and friends. We've also got our Easter kit from Mother Goose Time which I'm certain will include cute bunnies and lots of pastel colors!! What a fun life!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Discover the Desert with Mother Goose Time and a Rainbow...

It's been a nice, yet somewhat rainy week over here in SoCal. We were so disappointed when it started raining really hard the other day during our plans to go to Disney. It just wouldn't have been safe to make that drive on a Friday afternoon. I immediately thought that God must have something in store for us...another plan. Well, I was right because that evening Tiny B enjoyed chicken for the first time. She has taken tiny bites of it before, but then it just sits in her mouth. This time she ate about two ounces and loved it so much that she could have bathed in it, I think! She put her head back with every bite and dropped it in her mouth. There's just something inexplicable about watching a previously tube-fed child enjoy a new food. Yesterday I told her that I have seen a few miracles in her life, and one was watching her one-pound body when she was born. The other is watching her teach herself to eat.

We started the Discover the Desert theme for March in Mother Goose Time. As usual, it's adorable. I'm not much of a cowboy, but my step dad is and has decorated his home with a cowboy theme, so we Facetimed him and has my mom take us on a virtual tour of the cowboy boots they have used as decor throughout the home.

As you can see on the cover of the teacher guide, it's not only cowboys and cowgirls. 

It also includes the Mojave and Sahara desert, and desert nights. I love this page of the teacher guide, and I bring it with me to the library to help me find books to accompany the theme each month. I initially thought this month would be difficult when it came to finding books, but I was able to pull some together!

We started off with learning about cowboy boots (and our virtual tour) and made our own boots. Once again MGT had the kids use the pokey balls to dip in paint, and then lightly touch them on the surface of the boot paper. Strong B is able to do this but for some reason Tiny B gets carried away and ends up smearing them. Ha ha! I liken it to when I'm doing a painting craft myself and am enjoying it so much that I overdo it. She also learned a very useful lesson which is that when painting, you can only paint one side at a time...The youngest grade that I taught was 3rd grade and they pretty much had that down by then, so I'm not used to teaching them these things that I don't even think about!

Our theme poster magnifying glass search is always a favorite. I actually had misplaced the magnifying glass and I wanted Tiny B to find things in the picture without it, but she wouldn't have it. She loves those paper magnifying glasses. The theme poster is always a great jump-off for discussion and a great way to see the whole month at a glance.

They used twine to drag across their paper cowboy hats. I love the different ways that MGT has us do art. I think this helps to instill in the child that they don't have to draw to create art, and this also creates confidence, because by a certain age we usually want to tell people that we "don't draw well" or that we "can color in the lines." I used a gold paint and it was gorgeous against the brown.

On our day of learning about lassos, we tossed a cube with shapes made of lassos, and then identified and replicated those shapes on our own. This is excellent fine motor practice and I'm always a fan of fine motor activities to learn shapes/letters/etc that don't use a writing instrument.

We got little horse manipulatives that look like this this month. Absolutely adorable and perfect for keeping in our trays of sand to reenact scenes from the desert.

This is the storybook of the month. I love that it's nonfiction. Nonfiction is often the most interesting to children but the hardest to read and understand. Schools have made it a point to read more and more nonfiction, so I love that we are preparing them for that in preschool.

Last week we had a really gloomy day with rain. After the rain I looked out the window and saw a small piece of a rainbow. The kids weren't able to see it because it was very faint and then it disappeared and they were having difficulty seeing to where I was pointing. I was disappointed and had really wanted them to see it, even though it was tiny. A few minutes later they were at the window and they said, "Look at the rainbow!" I came to look and was shocked to see it spread, bright and beautiful, across the entire sky! It had been there all along and I had only looked at the end of it. I hadn't even taken the time to look farther up. It was a huge illustration of how God's blessings are just gigantic and that we need to take the time to look for them. Or perhaps we only see small blessings that are  nice in our lives but not amazing (we think) and need to look at the big picture. 

*I receive Mother Goose Time curriculum in exchange for my honest sharing of experiences, resulting from our personal use. All opinions/thoughts are my own and are in no way influenced by others.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Using Mother Goose Time Assessement

We are gearing up to Discover the Desert with Mother Goose Time (MGT) and put on our cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and attend a rodeo! (All in our imagination of course, through MGT, but if I can find a rodeo in Southern California, I'll gladly take my little cowboy and cowgirl!)

MGT asked me to try out their assessment system and write about it, and I happily obliged! I have a somewhat tumultuous history with Tiny B and assessments, starting with her poor ultrasounds and then APGAR scores at birth and continuing on to almost equally poor assessments done by occupational and physical therapists on the cold floor of their hospital offices. I was told countless times that she wouldn't live, and then that she wouldn't ever walk or be typical in any way. The assessments got better but they still didn't show what she was capable of. I can't tell you how many times she was assessed and just didn't do well during the current testing session. I tried to tell the assessor that she could do better...that Tiny B was just bored/tired/having a migraine...But most of the tests didn't allow for parental input of what I thought she could do when not in a testing session. And that is exactly why I LOVE the MGT assessment booklets, which is called the "Child Progress Monitoring Report."

They are very similar to around eight years ago when as a teacher, the school had me stop basing everything on actual grades on tests and assignments, and start looking at the child all around and what they were capable of in all situations.

I taught in the public school for ten years, and in that time I went from giving 3rd graders letter grades to giving 4th graders scores of 1 (needs improvement), 2 (working toward the standard), 3 (meeting the standard), and then later adding a 4 (exceeding the standard). The years that there wasn't a 4, there was talk of the students not wanting to try hard to do above average work. Then in 6th grade in another district I had to go back to giving letter grades based on testing and assignments only. My memory gets fuzzy but I also remember grading each and every standard such as addition and fractions and word problems. That was a lot of grades! Then there were years where it was only Math/Language Arts/Science/Social Studies.

So what I'm trying to say is that there are so many ways and beliefs as to how to assess and what is fair.
However, whichever way one decides to assess, one fact remains the same, and that is that assessment needs to drive instruction. What I just love about MGT's assessment is that they hold this to be of the greatest importance as well. Spending time testing the child really doesn't amount to anything unless it is used to further the education of the child. In the time that I taught, there was a big surge in that belief. I haven't been in the classroom for nearly six years, and I'm so happy to see that it is still holding true.

I took screenshots of the following slides directly from the Mother Goose Time site where they talk about assessments. There are so many things that I love about their assessment, but perhaps the greatest thing for me is that they want you to document their progress over time. It is not something that happens once. They suggest that you use different color markers (I used pencil) for each time period that you are testing.

Throughout the teacher guides, suggestions are given as to how to assess the student. It's natural, and most times the student doesn't even know that you are doing it.

They want you to record your observations in the booklet. The objectives are listed so clearly, and I just love that. It all comes down to understanding those objectives. As my children's teacher, if I know that they have clearly mastered an objective, I will oftentimes not do many more activities teaching those objectives. If they know the color green for example, I won't do any more lessons solely on teaching the color green, however, I will do lessons that further their understanding of things related to the color green, or that challenge them with the letter green.

Saving work samples is good practice as a teacher or homeschooling mom, and it's also fun! I often have to remind myself that I don't need to save it is helpful to look back on work samples to remind myself just how far they have come!

And again, the most important part and the real goal of assessment, which is to drive instruction or "inform your lesson planning."

I was sent a PreK/Kindergarten booklet for Tiny B and a Preschooler booklet for Strong B. It was so interesting to see the differences, and even more important than being interesting, it is necessary to know what the differences are, in order to really know what to teach! An example is that in the Pre-K/Kinder assessment, they want to know if she can identify and write numbers to 20, and in the preschool assessment, they want to know if he can identify numbers to 5. I can use that as my baseline, and according to where they fall in that skill (developing, meeting, or exceeding the standard), I can use that to decide where to focus in my instruction. In Tiny B's case, she can identify the numbers to 20 but cannot write them all yet, so this helps me in knowing where I need to focus.

Sidenote: I absolutely LOVE how you can check off the "in-betweens." In many areas Tiny B was meeting the objective and almost exceeding it but not quite, and there are little bubbles in which you can indicate this!!! Man, how many times did I wish that this was included in my report cards when I taught! How many hours would that have saved me in deciding what to write??

Anyway, as a homeschooling mom who writes about her own children on this blog, I often have to decide just how much to share. It's important for me to remember that Tiny B's story is hers to tell (the nitty-gritty stuff) and that I only want to share the miracles and things that wouldn't want to make her hide in a corner when she is thirteen. The same goes for Strong B and any child really...So, because of that, I'm not sharing their academic "scores" here. I do feel comfortable sharing a few of their assessments.

Strong B (3 years-old) is meeting or on his way to exceeding the expectations in Physical Development. Notably, when I asked him the function of some of his body parts, he said that his nose is made for HAVING BOOGERS (imagine that being yelled and then hysterical laughing).
This boy is the absolute sweetest boy...He's such a little rascal, and yet he has the kindest soul. And he's hilarious.

Tiny B is meeting or exceeding expectations in most areas of Social Development. She's developing in the area of taking care of her personal belongings (in all honesty...if I was not her mom, I would write that she is meeting this standard...but being that I am her mom and I am privy to the fact that she continues to leave her toys outside even when I tell her to bring them in, I feel that I must document this! Ha!) I wrote that she is still developing how to identify the feelings of others and respond accordingly, but again, if I wasn't her mom, I would have put that she is meeting that standard. I just can't forget the fact that she still wants me to do things like PLAY with her and FEED HER DINNER when I am so tired. Does she not see this?? Again, it does show that a mama probably sees her children a little differently than a teacher would...I am certain that this can be both good and bad!

The Language and Literacy feels just right regarding the amount of objectives. It's the perfect amount to really understand the child but not so much that it's overwhelming (I'm thinking of some renditions of report cards in my past, yet again!)

This is most definitely a tool that I will ask for next year when doing the MGT curriculum. It is quite possibly as crucial as the actual curriculum. Once again, MGT has wowed me in the gentleness in which they view the students, always looking to find the most positive parts of every child, and giving you a road map with which to address the areas in which need improvement.

I want to conclude with telling you how I feel about assessing Tiny B nowadays...While there is always a part of my brain that wants to fear what she might not be able to do, most of my brain is amazed at what she can do, and just how well she does those things. Tiny B's story has not turned out like the doctors told us that it would. If you were to meet her, you would not know that she had a very difficult (and very tiny 1 pound 11 ounce) beginning. You wouldn't know that she currently still has a feeding tube sticking out of her belly and you wouldn't know that she used to wear the cutest pink braces on her feet. You'd see her as a very typical yet vibrant and beautiful (and bossy) little girl. Yes, she still is in therapies, but those are getting less and less.

I know that this isn't the case with many kids with special needs, and so I say this not in a bragging way, but in a way that explains that God just happened to want this with her life, so far. He obviously doesn't want all outcomes to be this way. Some kids will always be "developing" in certain or even most areas that are assessed within an educational standpoint. This doesn't make them any less than any other child. In many ways, it makes them even more than "typical" children in the way that they can teach us and show us the things in life that are truly important. No child should ever be defined by their report cards or grades or scores, no matter if they are in preschool or in tenth grade. I so appreciate Mother Goose Time for seeing the whole child, and providing such an incredible tool to fulfill the real purpose of assessment, which is to guide instruction.

*I receive Mother Goose Time curriculum in exchange for my honest sharing of experiences, resulting from our personal use. All opinions/thoughts are my own and are in no way influenced by others.