Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Decisions, Decisions

Liam has great balance and long legs.  We've looked for a while for a sport/activity that he might enjoy that would help him develop those strengths.  We tried Taikwando, and while the instructor was extremely patient, Liam had a lot of trouble focusing with so many other kids in class - also - he doesn't like to hit things!

Last Summer, we joined some friends on the beach for a birthday party and Liam started running along the beach.  While we knew he enjoyed running at school, we had never seen this kind of speed and form.  It gave me an idea.  In February, Liam will begin training in Track with the Special Olympics.

We just got the schedule of trainings and upcoming meets and the very first meet conflicted with the big, Harry Potter themed, Adventure Camp Weekend in Cub Scouts.  It was time to make a decision.  We'd been weighing our involvment with Cub Scouts for some time.  Liam likes the predictable ceremonies, but shows little or no interest in the other activities or his fellow Scouts.

John and I decided to pull the plug on Liam's Scouting adventure after his final big Pack event - the Pinewood Derby.  Even though he had to be led and prompted during most occasions in Scouts, he had some fun, especially on hikes or outdoors.  Here are a few fun moments.  We have been invited by the Pack leader to join the Pack any time in the future, which was a very kind gesture.  Liam's best friend from school is still in Scouts and we'll stay connected through him.  As a family, we'll continue with our favorite activity -  hiking and Liam will keep on running!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lest anyone reading this blog get the idea that we are living a lovely life of miraculous achievement and progress - wonder parents and our brilliant child - let's talk about the whole lotta "NO" going on these days.

When I used to teach creative dramatics and Shakespeare in the schools, there were two grades I hated to work  with - third and sixth.  I hated teaching them, because it just sucks to be them.

Being 8 is awful.  New thoughts, new physical and mental skills are forming, and yet (usually), the emotional maturity lags - a lot.  This leads to very strong ideas about what they want to do and zero ability to handle the inevitable dissapointments of overreach, or even a simple, "no."  Just as things even out from 4th through about the middle of 5th grade, hormones kick in and all hell breaks loose again.  I have seriously wished for a giant bucket of ice water to fall from the sky on a class full of 8 yr. olds in full booger mode.  Remember, the series "South Park" started them in 3rd grade!  As for 6th graders, I'd like to ship them off to an island somewhere and let them sort it out, "Lord of the Flies" style then pick up the survivers at 17.

Liam is very, VERY 8 right now.  He's more excited about and engaged in new things than I've ever seen him and he is not happy about not getting to do more of whatever strikes his fancy.  We both end up saying "no" a lot more often.  To the point where I have dubbed myself the "Queen of NO."

What's usually a normal part of parenting a kid, is complicated by the inablility to negotiate effectively or understand "squishy" time.  By squishy, I mean expressions like, "later,"  or "maybe tomorrow" or even "after lunch."  These times aren't fixed, and while Liam may be willing to put something off, he wants a definite ETA.  And then, sometimes, "no" is just "no."  No - you can't change the system preferences on Grandma's computer.  No - you can't lay on the cat.  Don't eat boogers.  Just - no.

Yes, I'm a typical parent in that I get annoyed when my kid says "no" to my face.  But, I'm also doing a little happy dance inside, knowing that he's learned to voice his objection, instead of throwing the computer mouse, biting his hand or pitching a royal kicking, screaming fit on the floor.  Sometimes, he still does, but more and more he'll say "no" or "I'm not finished yet" or "I don't WANT to do that."  Then we can work on whether the moment is negotiable or not.  He is slowly learning that "later" doesn't mean "never,"  it just means "not now."  "Not now" still sucks when you're 8, but it's a tiny, tiny key to mastering executive functioning (something every 8 yr. old struggles with and reason 112 why it sucks to be them).

Liam waited a full 2 days to do more clay art.  In between, we went back to his old school for an after-school art program and did a cool Picasso mask on a paper bag.
He is ASKING for more art.  I love it.  Here is our growing collection of drying clay sculpture.

The good ones are his.  Am I good at clay?  No.  Does it matter?  No!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Scoring and Slipping

Today we finally got to play with the clay.  But first - a trip to the dentist.  Our last trip had gone really well.  They got the first x-rays of his mouth and the doctor did an exam without a meltdown.  Today there was a bit of back-sliding.

The Dentist found a stain between his teeth and so we tried his first cleaning.  
At first, there was no way anybody was putting that spinning polisher in his mouth.  Then we let HIM do it (without the spinning).  The dentist left to see another patient but was OK with me working with Liam with a mirror and the polisher to try to get him to tolerate it.  It was just too weird.  In the end, he did rub his teeth with it, with the power off and the Dentist sent me home with a small container of polish to try at home.  Not bad.

We stopped off at Rite Aid and found a Mario Brothers Spin Brush.  I plan to mix his toothpaste with the polish and he can be in charge of making the spot go away.  That's the plan, anyway.

When we got home, it was time to make good on my promise of a clay lesson.  I watched YouTube videos and chatted with my talented, sister-in-law who teaches clay art to kids in Oregon.  We made sculptures of Jake, the cat.  
 Liam's cat is an adorable little character, while mine looks a little annoyed at having been created.  Liam's hungry to do more.  I contacted a local art teacher who offers kids classes and privates in sculpture and pottery.  I think it'd be fun to really learn how to sculpt and I wonder what Liam would think of a pottery wheel.

Tomorrow, we'll join the kids at Riverside Drive's Super School program in the painting and drawing class for the beginning of a 6 week session.  Liam's been talking about it for a few days - which is rare - so I know he's excited.  As much as I love art and teaching, It's nice to have a break and let someone else be the teacher for a little while!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Laws of Attraction

Today Liam announced that he was going to "learn about art, books and science today."  That was an agenda I could get behind.  He opened Brain Pop and watched a video on sculpture and then pretended to chisle a sculpture in stone.  "Do you want to go to the museum today and see some?" I asked.  "No. I'm still playing on the computer."

"I meant later.  Or would you rather make a sculpture?"
"Make one.  I want to make a sculpture of Doodle Jumper."
"OK.  I'm going to get some clay, and we can try a new way of making a sculpture."

We talked about the difference between two and three dimensions, then I let him play with his computer and have some breakfast.

Dad took him onto Grammar Trainer while I did my morning auditions (I subscribe to an online voice-casting service and usually spend an hour or two on auditions a day), then after a computer break, he got to choose what we would do next.  I decided to work on non-fiction, so I took out two sets of books; one set on the solar system and one on magnetism.  I let him choose.  If he chose the solar system, we'd work on the model he got for Christmas after we read the books.  If he chose magnetism, we'd start on the cool magnetism experiment kit - reading the information and instructions as we went along.  

Magnetism it was.  The workbook for the ScienceWiz Magnetism kit is simple to follow,  graphically engaging and punctuated with the experiments.  And it comes with all of the supplies - a real plus.  He gained context clues from the illustrations and had a blast with each exercise.  We got lost in magnets - tracking what was magnetic on a chart, then running around the house to see what was made of iron.  At last we built a little magnetic fishing kit and broke for lunch.  

I went to Michaels to get a science notebook, clay and sculpting tools.  He knows how to shape soft clay, but he's never worked on removing clay or adding on bit by bit to create a sculpture.  We ran out of time to do it today,  but Liam discovered the bag with the heavy box of clay just before bed time.  "I got a present!"  He was dissapointed that we couldn't open the clay tonight.  To be honest, I want to watch a couple of YouTube videos to remind me of how to do it.  My medium is Etch a Sketch, after all!  We'll work on sculpture tomorrow.  As I thought about teaching sculpting to Liam, this quote came to mind:
  "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." - Michelangelo

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Liam decorated Dad's cast with Pi

We're constantly looking for a key - a password - that will unlock Liam's potential and help him succeed.  What is the combination that will allow him to take in and return ideas in a way that keeps him happy and functional in the world?  Every day is split between practice with what we have and searching for new tools.  How wonderful it is when Liam reminds us of the tools he already has.

I'm not sure what reminded Liam of BrainPop (a program owned by LAUSD and used in school).  Maybe it was memorizing his new, 13 picture, ST Math password.  We were sitting on the couch with is iPad, doing a new level of ST Math when he said, "I'm going to go learn science on Brainpop now."  "OK, we can be done with math," I said - curious about just where he would go with this.

He trotted off to his room, pulled up BrainPop on his computer, went to the science tab and chose a topic from the life-science section - one which needed a password.  I didn't know his school passwords and wasn't sure we could access the lesson, then I thought to ask Liam if he knew his login and he didn't miss a beat.  He entered his username and password and got to work.

He chose the lesson on fish, which made sense, since we'd been talking about them lately.  I didn't stop him when he jumped around in the lesson (missing sections to get to something he found more engaging).  I was more interested in seeing how he wanted to use the program.  If he liked the lessons, I could guide him later.  After skimming the animated video, He chose the "draw about it" activity for review and then asked about parts of a fish (info he missed while skipping through).  It gave me a chance to communicate and share a mini art project.

So, at least sometimes, the way to find Liam's "password", is to simply ask him for it.

He also rememberd that we'll be returning to the school this week to take an after-school art program.  He's hungry to learn and he has definite ideas about what he likes.  We have the passwords for these:

Time to open him up and see what's in there.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Building and Balancing

While researching what we would use for school, we found and were given a lot of resources.  I've created a stack in the dining room of things that are in use or "on deck."   Liam has been eyeing the pile and today asked me what a magnet was (if you build it, they will ask).  

Before our trip, I had hidden one science project near the printer in our bedroom with the thought of bringing it out in the "new term."  He must have sent something to print, ventured into my room and emerged with the box just after Christmas asking, "What's THIS surprise?"  The question was too cute to deny, so I let him open it early.
It was a kit to create a battery-powered digital clock using two lemons.  Luckily, we had two lemons ready to go from our wee tree in the back yard.  I'm not sure if this expression is excitement or a comment on lemon juice as a conductor.

The most exciting resource, by far, has been access to the ST Math program (  It was designed specifically to teach math concepts to students for whom written instructions were dificult to follow (including ESL, ELD and those with Communication Disorders).  Originally, the program was not offered for homeschool use, but I sent in a request to be included when it became available and got a reply at the beginning of the month that there would be an initial trial through June. We've been using it for two days and I've found it to be a brilliant program which aligns perfectly with our goals.  He's already completed the entire multiplication section and is nearly where he left off at school in November.  So we won't have to reinvent the wheel on math after all!  

Of course, all work and no play makes us all a little stir crazy.  Really.  My husband and I both work at home AND we're home schooling.  I try to get us out of the house at least once a day.  Last week, I was able to combine an outing with a math lesson.  I found this on my way home from the gym (middle of the street with nobody to ask):
We went to Burbank mall and he got to choose what to spend it on.  It wasn't a tough choice - indoor bungee jumping!

Although it was supposed to be 5 minutes for $10, there was nobody else around, so the attendant just let him keep going.  He said he loves it when the kids are having fun!  I love it too.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

School, Home and Vacation

This holiday season was the first where we've had to differentiate between home-school time and home-vacation time.  I've always been someone who works well with a schedule - a list-maker, happy to check off my to-do list on a busy day.  Our new situation is more open, relaxed and to my type-A mind, a little unsettling.  It's taken the last month to let go and start to see the possibilities of taking our time.

Instead of rising to an alarm at 6 am, rushing my son into clothes, toothbrush, throwing Cheerios in a baggie and hurrying off to school by 7:30, we can now wake up when we are. . .well. . .awake!  Meals can be taken together instead of in the car and there is time for Liam to take care of his own morning routine.  One morning, I was thrilled to watch my son emerge, fully dressed in his choice of a long-sleeved red t-shirt, and gray trousers without being prompted or asked.  He'd also put his pajamas away.

Being home most of the day, makes trips for errands and shopping fun, instead of one more dreaded task in an already tasky day.  His old schedule had him in school, with an aide for 6 hours per day and 2-3 hours of ABA after school 5 days a week.  Leaving home meant no time to play on the computer or draw - something he had to wait for all day.

We did get some full-on vacation time, taking a trip to visit relatives in Florida.  Trips have always been like a mental breath-mint for me.  The absolute inability to deal with anything pressing at home  lets me look at the world with clearer eyes.  As for Liam, he met Secretariat's great-grandson, Joe, and let the horse nuzzle his head, played XBox 360 games with his cousin, ran around in the dark with a spotlight, listening to coytes, ate Grandma Carol's Pizzels and swam with Papa John. He also had a full-scale meltdown when we moved from my parent's place with high-speed internet and great computers to my brother's house with limited access.  My nephew saved the day with his X-Box game - the perfect distraction!

Now that we are back in "school" mode, we've outfitted each room with a clock, to help Liam get a sense of when things are happening and when they will be expected to happen (hard stuff for him).  I'm very excited to have started a new math program designed by the MIND Institute at UC Davis called "ST Math".  It is a non text-based approach to math from K-12.  We're also revisiting a program we've had since Liam was in Kindergarten, the Grammar Trainer.  These are easily added to the Time 4 Learning curriculum we subscribe to and the supplemental workbooks (Brain Games) that we love.

Returning from vacation also means catching up on important appointments. Because of Liam's interest in "Dr. Chris: Pet Vet,"  I brought him along for our cat, Jake's overdue vet visit.  Dr. Steve let Liam listen with the stethescope and for some reason, the sound of Jake's heartbeat gave him the giggles (they lasted the rest of the day!).  We'll use the video we shot as a jumping off point for writing about the event.

We also had a chance to visit with friends who have two young daughters (2 and 4).  For the first time, we watched Liam playing full-out WITH other kids.  Their preschool age makes them perfect playmates for Liam, since we'll all have flexible schedules.  It seems to be a combination of his social age being about at their level, while being aware of being the "big kid" and really enjoying how they follow his every move.

On another social front, Liam continues to attend Cub Scouts.  He avoids the boistrous interactions with the other 8 yr. olds in unstructured time, but enjoys following along with activities, like the flag ceremony and playing marbles (he won the first round).

With January in full swing, our days are even beginning to take on a recognizable rhythm and shape that makes my type A heart skip a beat.  Here's to a productive new year.