Monday, April 25, 2016

The Art Of Learning: Dance n' Beats

The amazing news that I wrote about in my last blog post, is that Tiny B just had a beautiful development in her metamorphosis...The doctor approved the removal of her feeding tube and we removed it that same night. 

When we had her tube placed at nine months old because she had stopped eating due to severe reflux, I had asked the doctor if she thought we would be able to remove it at a year of age. That makes me laugh now (and cry a little too!) because the reality is that we wouldn't be able to remove it for another five years. In between there was diagnoses of cyclical vomiting syndrome and migraines and then there was tube dependency (which I will write about at a later time) but God has allowed us to break free from the tube finally. There are still struggles and needs from being a micropreemie, but we will continue to grow and be thankful to God every single day. 

We released our butterflies and much to my surprise, that was the best part of raising the caterpillars! To see them feel the wind, see the sun, and find their wings for the first time was truly an experience that everyone should have! And it's not expensive! Look up butterfly kits online and you'll be surprised at the prices. 

Teaching is an art, and so is learning... Every month I order Dance n' Beats from Mother Goose Time. I do this for so many reasons...It's just a lovely program. It comes with a book of lesson plans as a DVD that has songs and dances. Your child basically follows the movement on the screen. The names of the movements are written on the screen which you can call out or just let the children see it for themselves. 

I also order it because it counts as part of Tiny B's PE hours (she is enrolled in a public charter homeschool) and it allows her to really focus on her gross motor skills. She spent years in physical therapy and I removed her from it when I felt that she could get the same amount of instruction from activities which are more fun for her, such as tumbling and Dance n' Beats! 

Strong B is three and a half, and he doesn't do the DVD's as often as Tiny B, but he enjoys them and has got quite a few dance moves from it that he likes to show off! Gosh, if he was ever fully clothed I'd actually have pictures of him to share here...I guess that's the life of a three year-old/homeschooler!

The songs are the same as the monthly theme CD's that come with the Mother Goose Time main monthly curriculum. Therefore, they really get to know the songs well and can even begin to perform the moves when the DVD isn't on!

The brain and body are connected, and it's sometimes a challenge for Tiny B's former micropreemie body to get the directions from her brain. The repetitive nature of the movements and songs in this program really help her to cement those skills and ultimately gain confidence in her brain and body. 

I said earlier that learning is an art. The kids really need to actively participate in the lesson in order for the objective to truly sink in...Tiny B likes to put her tutu on for the dances and even lines her babies up. Now that's active participation and truly turning her own learning into an art. 

I love watching my own butterfly children actively participate in their own learning and really make the lessons their own. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mother Goose Time Workbooks

We are in the car on our way to the appointment we've eagerly awaited/dreaded for nine months...Today we will hear whether or not Tiny B is approved for feeding tube removal. I have a small amount of fear, but I have a greater amount of faith that God has got this and that our prayers will be answered. I'm not afraid to speak my mind and to advocate and I have other doctors behind me in this. 

Tiny B is going to tell the doctor herself that she is ready for tube removal. We've practiced her speech and she is ready. She is also having a kidney ultrasound, and because my brain is full of thoughts about both appointments today, I forgot that she had a huge speech evaluation today for her Triennial IEP. 

When it rains, it pours, and we've also got some other things happening, one of which is that I have a painful kidney stone. I don't understand God's timing but I'm so thankful that I was able to hear God at a women's church retreat I attended this weekend, in spite of the pain. So grateful.

I wanted to share a little about the Experience More Math and More Literacy workbooks from Mother Goose Time. These are an addition to the main curriculum and definitely necessary for Tiny B in transitional kindergarten. These books are taking the place of the workbooks given to me by her public charter homeschool program. I order them every month and I love that the theme from the month's curriculum is also the theme of the workbooks. This month is Bees and Butterflies. 

Experience More Literacy contains all sorts of language arts activities. I love the variety. I especially love the reading activities like this one. 

She really enjoyed reading the new words as they were formed as I moved the letters through the slots. Anything that gives her self-confidence, I cling to. We kept this out and she made sure to show daddy later. 

I wanted to include one example of writing. This page is too advanced at this time for her, so we do what we can, which is the single letters, and simply read the sentences at the bottom. We also talk about the sounds and which words they're in. 

Later in the day we pulled out the curriculum which we were working on for the day, which was butterflies. We were so happy to see that it was almost the same as the workbook activity but with an extension of finding the letter that forms the word in order to turn the caterpillar into a butterfly. So adorable, and she was able to reinforce the skills she had just learned. 

The Experience More Math workbook also has the same theme as the monthly curriculum. 

These pages contained patterning and matching the shapes. 

You can find skills books anywhere, but I love that these go along with the monthly theme. Kids tend do do a lot better when they are interested in the subject matter. I remember being able to do a million lessons with sarcophagi--different writing lessons, nonfiction reading and storytelling...all because the 6th graders were soooo interested in sarcophagi! Who wouldn't be?! 

At the end of each workbook there is a small review of the skills where you can assess your student. 

I've come back to finish this blog post after Tiny B's appointments, and I have amazing news. I'll have to wait until next time to share it!

Sunday, April 10, 2016


As I watch our many caterpillars make their chrystalises in our family room, I can't help but think of Tiny B's life and how she started out as a tiny baby in my womb, whom doctors thought wouldn't make it. I remember sitting on the hospital bed five and a half weeks before her birth and telling a doctor that I knew she wasn't going to make it, and that doctor telling me to not lose hope...She was the only doctor who had any words of encouragement during that time. 

She was born a tiny 1 pound 11 ounce baby, who slowly grew, yet continued to struggle with sitting up, rolling over, and eating. She got her feeding tube at 9 months-old when she stopped eating and she didn't walk until she was 2.5 years old. 

Slowly she started scooting around the room on her butt and then pulling herself to stand with a lot of practice, and finally she walked (after some doctors said she might not) and she slowly started to be able to skip, and at 5 years-old she finally fed herself enough to not be supported by her feeding tube. 

I'm absolutely intrigued by our caterpillars and I have literally spent hours this weekend watching them circle their container, hang in a J position, and finally form their chrysalis. The majority did it at the same time but there were a few who were very behind and haven't made it to chrysalis form yet, but we're watching and waiting.  

They all do it in their own time and when they're ready, just like my little girl. Tiny B has formed her chrysalis and she's emerging, with her little wings. We are focusing more on experiences and interest-based learning rather than it being all about writing her letters and making sure she knows sight words. I pray that I've met the right balance for her in transitional kindergarten. In the coming months I am going to move more towards these concrete skills because she does start kinder in the fall (homeschooling with me still, but she'll also attend her public charter school two days a week) and that's going to be a definite shift, but I'm still going to follow her lead and place more priority on experiences (such as seeing the musical "Lion King" last night and entering a plank challenge today!

Yep, she was in a plank challenge today and held her plank for one minute and thirty-five seconds and would have gone longer if the other kids didn't start coming out of it. It amazed me. Behind us is the man who did the world record plank today at around five hours and thirty five minutes! 

She is turning into a beautiful butterfly right before my eyes. A tiny but beautiful butterfly. 

On the day that we learned what a chrysalis was, we did the "Wrapped in a Chrysalis" activity from Mother Goose Time. 

Strong B and Tiny B acted out the stages of the lifecycle of a butterfly, from egg on a leaf to beautiful butterfly. This activity engaged them for a long time. I don't have pictures of Strong B because he was running around like a crazy child. He loved wrapping himself in his Lightening McQueen blanket chrysalis and emerging as a butterfly living on buckets of sugar. 

We also did a patterning activity that day and read a bilingual book. My dad's first language is Spanish, and therefore Tiny B has taken quite the interest in it. 

We had to go to Tiny B's twice yearly orthopedist appointment. I brought our Mother Goose Time activities for the day's lesson, which was on butterflies. I love the portability of the program! I just brought glue, scissors, crayons, and the bag of activities, and we were set to go--I mean wait--in the room until the doctor could come in! We completed the Lifecycle Plate activity in its entirety before the doc came in. 

These appointments are so hard on me. But they are all a part of her making her metamorphosis. 

In our caterpillar homes at this point, we had two chrysalises, two hanging caterpillars, and one caterpillar still doing laps on the bottom of the cup. In a few weeks they will emerge with a new life. I love being able to show my children the wonder of God's creation, and I'm going go come up with an activity for them to see just how similar they are to these little caterpillars. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016


I currently have 17 caterpillars in my family room. This grosses me out completely. But this is what we as mothers must do in the name of home education. 

In anticipation of this month's theme, "Bees and Butterflies" from Mother Goose Time (MGT), I ordered caterpillars online. It's apparently going to take around three weeks for the caterpillars to turn into butterflies and then they'll love for two to four weeks after that. 

When I told Tiny B what we were going to do, and I asked her if she was up to taking care of butterflies, she got insanely excited. I know that bringing the lessons to life with real experiences is a must, and she is possibly the most eager student, ever. 

I took Strong B on his first train ride, and the entire time he couldn't stop talking and thinking about the beautiful (horrendously ugly) caterpillars we had seen at the train station, so this is how I ended up with seven more caterpillars in addiction to our ten original "cute" ones. We read about how to care for them and we are ready! 

I started on lesson 11 this month because 11-20 is about butterflies. The first ten lessons are about bees and I plan to go and do those after we do our butterfly lessons. The month looks adorable...As I unpacked the daily bags I saw lots of cute games and projects. I have a feeling we will still be working on this theme into April!

Day eleven's lessons was about eggs. We started with a game of "Would You Rather?" in which we answered survey-type questions about bees and butterflies and used attribute blocks (the yellow and black blocks) to show our answers. To extend the lesson, I asked them to count how many answers were in each column. 

We watched a YouTube video about the life cycle of butterflies. I then hid their leaves in the room with their name on it and had them fly like butterflies to their leaf and lay their eggs (attach tiny pasta to the leaves with glue). 

Next, we talked about how stories have a beginning, middle, and an end, and they came up with their own egg stories. It was the first time that I've ever had them dictate stories to me. Strong B created a hilarious story about a trash can, fire truck, and bees. Tiny B dictated a story about a queen butterfly and death and college. She wanted to continue with her story forever and it was amazing, but I was hungry so we had to stop after we used the entire back of the page. I definitely can see that she is going to have a talent for coming up with imaginative stories and I'm going to need to need to continue to help her develop this amazing skill. I love homeschooling because I can truly work with each of them to develop their talents. 

She did what so many kids do which is have a beginning, middle, and an end, but then after the end she continued going on and on and on...I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! Ha! I didn't stop her because she's only in preschool and I'd rather her develop this imagination than get an exact beginning, middle, and end. That will come later. 

I did one mini-lesson from tomorrow's lesson on caterpillars. We read the recipe card together and made caterpillars. It's going to be such an exciting month with these butterflies! Perhaps they'll grow on me and I won't be so grossed out...We'll see! At least I won't be bringing bees into my family room.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Individualizing Instruction

I'm This post took me a really long time to write. I think it's because the subject is so sensitive to me and I want to do it justice. I think it just took a took a long time to process what to say. 

I have a secret. When I was an elementary school teacher, I was intimidated by the special education department. Not the teachers...They were fabulous. It was the IEP's (Individual Education Plans for the kids in that department), meetings, legalities, and modifying instruction for the students, that scared me. If I had become a special education teacher, it would have been so much easier to get a teaching position. There were literally hundreds of applicants for the position of general education teacher for each interview that I attended. But I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to reach the kids who needed more attention, so I got my credential in general education. After being in the classroom for one day I realized that it wasn't just the kiddos in special education that would need their education to be individualized, it was every student. I learned to do what we in the education field call "differentiation." This concept was HUGE. We're talking hours and hours of inservices (classes for us teachers) dedicated to the subject every year. I drew upon this wealth of information given to me, every day in my classroom, as most teachers do. You can't have a successful classroom without doing this. But still, even after ten years in the classroom, the kids with IEP's intimidated me. And this makes it extra ironic that my own child ends up with an IEP and I find myself in these intense meetings with specialists as I sit in the spot of the parent instead of the professional. There are times when I literally feel as if I know nothing...That all of those years didn't happen. When it's your own child, it's just different and harder. If I could go back and do those years over again, I would have walked the parent into the IEP meeting with a warmer smile and perhaps even asked if they wanted coffee. I would have been a lot different.

 I desperately wanted my daughter to spend another year in preschool/transitional kindergarten, but in the public school system, a child who has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) such as my daughter, just isn't allowed to be "held back." There are many reasons for this, the most of which being that kids who are held back are thought to want to drop out of high school because they would be eighteen years old and only juniors in high school. The other thought is that if a child has learning difficulties that warrant an IEP, those difficulties aren't going to change over time and that it is unfair to hold them back. I agree with these assertions most of the time and believe me, I explained them to many parents over the years who begged to have their child retained. 

My daughter has a different story though, being that she would have an additional year of preschool if she had been born when she should have been instead of prematurily. I felt that it was deeply unfair that I had to send my already tiny girl into a classroom where she would be the absolute youngest and she was already at a disadvantage with her prematurity. There was nothing that anyone in the public schools could do and everyone's hands were tied (they tried!), so after months of praying, agonizing, and looking at different options, I went to the public charter homeschool and told them my feelings, and in under a minute, they had her signed up for another year of preschool. I would be the teacher and I could individualize her instruction. It was perfect and a gift from God. I strongly feel that I did the absolute best thing, and when she enters kindergarten in the fall (still in a homeschool environment but she'll attend class two days a week), she will have had an entire year to mature. If she would have been born when she should have been, this would be her year to be in kindergarten anyway. 

Every day I truly have to think about how to individualize (differentiate) her instruction, whereas I don't have to think about it as much with Strong B. And sometimes I feel truly terrible at it. I think that as the years go by of homeschooling, that I will feel more confident with how I tailor it for her. She makes it easy...She is so incredibly hard working and sweet. Something that has stuck with me ever since my undergraduate program in child development, is Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. If you have ever taken any class about children ever, you have heard of this. Vygotsky's theory was that you should take where the child is at and stretch a little above it, and that is where instruction should be. I use this mode of thinking most of the time with Tiny B. 

I'm going to take one lesson and explain how I differentiated for her. 

Tiny B has fine motor difficulties, specifically writing. This is common with micropreemies. It is a challenge because cognitively she is on par with other students her age. I jump on any writing opportunities for her that are different. This year her occupational therapist wants her to work on fine motor skills that will help her with writing, but not a lot of actual writing yet. In my heart I know that it's just not the time to start working on her letters a lot...I firmly believe that if I do too much now when she's not ready, it will only cause her frustration. This activity really appealed to me.

I must admit that I got so excited that I didn't even read the first set of instructions which was to draw on materials with different textures. That would have been awesome! I pretty much changed the instructions, but I realize now that following them exactly would have been amazing as well. 

We discussed hieroglyphics and what they are. I took the sand from a pyramid art project, and I put it in a tray. I took the hierogylphic cards that Mother Goose Time gave us, and had her draw the pictures in the sand with her finger.

I had her then use a cotton swab to draw the same pictures. Using different tools to draw, instead of a pencil, can be easier and helps her to build up to using a pencil. 

I then progressed onto drawing letters in the sand using her finger. 

Then, because she understands some difficult concepts and needs to be challenged in some areas, I had her draw her own pictures and make up story sentences that go with them. It's so funny, because I almost did this exact same lesson with my 6th graders, except that it was on paper!

She drew "Tiny B is happy." I hope that when she grows up she'll be happy with the choices that I made for her. I think she will. 

*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.