Friday, October 2, 2015

Autumn Fun Days (plus a little school)

Lately we've been fully embracing the flexibility afforded by homeschooling, opting to allow Amber more time for social activities and hobbies. It's partly because life had become rather uneventful and depressing with the endless cycle of doctor visits, core subjects, and exhaustion / sick days.

Over the past month we've accepted every social event that interested Amber, even if we felt it might cause a sick day or two afterwards. These fun times, along with the regularly scheduled medical appointments and therapy, have resulted in a greatly reduced amount of regular school time. We do still feel the academics are extremely important for Amber, yet she needs a life that doesn't revolve around her limitations and illness. We also know as Winter nears the likelihood of Amber being healthy enough to attend activities diminishes.

Weekend: Ready for church with the realization, she is now taller than Mom (me!), it was especially noticeable since she wore wedges and I wore flats.
Park time with her cousins. She was taking a break from baseball because her heart rate hit 180 bpm. It was time to get low and stop moving. But she clearly didn't stay stationary for long - see the swinging.
This week we did not spend a single day completely at home, although enough school work still was completed. I attribute the amount of work actually able to be finished partly to Amber's dedication and diligence as well as to finding curriculum that is a near perfect fit for my child.

Our outside activities this week were:
  • Weekend cousin visit - With church and Sunday school on the weekend as well, the accumulated exhaustion resulted in a very rough Monday morning (umm. actually, she wasn't showered and ready until the morning was over).
  • Physical Therapy, immediately followed by another doctor's appointment  - in the end, the drive and time spent in appointments cost us all of Monday afternoon.
  • A heart stress test for me - Amber spent the morning worried and most of the afternoon at her grandmother's. (My stress test came back perfect, so no worries.)
  • Flute lesson
  • Middle School Youth group night at church - which meant resting for several hours before dinner in order to go.
  • Homeschool co-op - which takes an entire day.
  • Teen group (homeschool) mini-golf - but we picked up friends, went out to lunch, played mini-golf, went for ice-cream, then returned the friends home. So, an entire fun day as well.
Middle school youth group night - waiting for the fun to start and being goofy. She was in a great mood.
When we were home, Amber was extremely motivated to complete her school lessons. I am pleased to see her maturing and demonstrating an understanding of academic responsibility. I even offered to postpone her math lessons one day, but she replied "It's important to me that I study math and I am taking it very seriously this year, Mom." Well, alright then. It's wonderful to see such a completely different attitude towards math from how she felt a year ago. All because we stepped back and switched math curriculum. Even though Life of Fred is no where near as rigorous (in my opinion) as Saxon Math, Amber is willing to complete the lessons and seeks out additional online work when she feels the Life of Fred lesson was not detailed enough.

Amber even took her poetry assignments in the car with her on several occasions, which allowed us more time at home for discussion. Look for the review of this curriculum coming up next week, but I will say it has fit perfectly into our planned literature outline.

Poetry & knitting - actually at home!
A little wave for Mom (she caught me photographing from afar) and a lonely kitty who missed us being home.
All in all, it was a good academic week with every subject being covered at least once, and our favorites fitting in multiple times. Next week looks to have a little more time at home, which is needed after a busy, away-from-home week like we just finished.

Happy Weekend! (and Autumn weather is finally here)

Linking With:

Weekly Wrap-Up   photo purpFFBut_zps970d6cbe.png Homegrown Learners

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

{Review} High School German 1 - Middlebury Interactive Languages

We love language in our house; not just English, but foreign languages too. Amber is fascinated by languages and would study them all day, every school day, if allowed. Recently, we were given the chance to review our choice of online language course from Middlebury Interactive Languages.  Of course, we chose German as it's Amber's current foreign language interest. We were given six months (one semester) of access to High School German I - Second Semester.

Unexpected Homeschool: High school German from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

To start, let me be honest. I believe the best way to learn a foreign language is with a knowledgeable native speaker, or with a fluent instructor, in a face-to-face setting. Unfortunately, this is not a realistic option for many students who desire a quality foreign language instruction which provides more than only reading instruction.

This is where Middlebury Interactive Languages excels. It provides online foreign language options for elementary grades through high school in a wide array of languages. The interface is extremely easy to use and understand with multiple ways for your student to access their lessons. The calendar option allows you to schedule the individual assignments based on your schedule. The student then simply clicks on the lessons scheduled for the day.

Unexpected Homeschool: High school German from Middlebury Interactive Languages.
Schedule lessons on the calendar for easy student access.
The menu system also provides an entire table of contents with the lessons broken down by semester, units, lessons and assignments. The table of contents also denotes which specific assignments in each lesson have been completed. It is extremely easy to determine where you need to start up again if you are not using the calendar option.

An online grade book keeps track of the student's progress through the assignments and quizzes making it easy for the parent to check on their child's progress. We found this aspect very useful when I wanted to enter Amber's grades in our own tracking software, yet hadn't been present to see her complete the lessons.

Unexpected Homeschool: High school German from Middlebury Interactive Languages.
The Grade book makes tracking progress easy.
How do the Language Lessons Work?
Middlebury Interactive German is an entirely online product which includes reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary instruction. German cultural information is deftly used throughout the lessons. Audio clips are used for instruction on pronunciation of individual words and sounds, as well as providing the sentences and conversation needed for listening comprehension exercises.

Each unit has a vocabulary word list associated with the focus topic for the entire unit. The list is printable, with English translations, along with having audio clips to help with pronunciation. You will definitely want to print these lists too, as the English translations are only on the printed list and not on the viewable lesson screen.

Grammar is taught within each unit theme using video lessons to demonstrate the new concept. Each video comes with a printable script, which details the grammar lesson in clear to understand text and well designed tables.

Through multiple choice questions, drag and drop graphics, text writing blocks, and even voice recording activities, the vocabulary and grammar of the lessons are reinforced. Middlebury Interactive truly has found a great way to help students learn German online.

Unexpected Homeschool: High school German from Middlebury Interactive Languages.
Menu system, drag and drop vocabulary, and grammar reinforcement.

How did We Use Middlebury Interactive German?
Amber had already taken a year of high school German I at home using a high school curriculum with me as her instructor. I do speak German as well as teach it at our homeschool co-op. Since Middlebury Interactive courses can be selected by semester, we opted to request the second semester of high school German I for review after a summer break and perhaps some additional material towards the latter portion of the semester.

We chose to not use the calendar method of accessing the assignments, but instead Amber went through the table of contents to access the lessons. She usually did an entire lesson's worth of assignments in one sitting. This allowed Amber to move quicker through the review topics and spend whatever time needed on new material, instead of following a scheduled lesson plan like she does with new material in other subjects.

Amber very much likes Middlebury Interactive German and is often willing to work through it on days when she's tired and needing a break from school lessons. She found it very easy to complete the majority of the assignments, even the newer material. She did appreciate the printable grammar reference, but said the grammar explanation in the videos was a little confusing. She wasn't as thrilled with the lengthy vocabulary needed each lesson, but adapted.

Unexpected Homeschool: High school German from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

The speaking assignments do expect the student record their responses with a microphone on their computer, which Amber does not have. Instead, she completed those assignments with me since I am able to determine the proper answer. Thankfully, all assignments of this nature have the ability for the student to mark them complete, as opposed to actually completing the recording.

We both feel Middlebury Interactive German is a wonderful alternative to high school German instruction when a quality local course is not available. It also makes a superb supplement with extra practice and various instruction methods for those already taking a traditional foreign language course. We have been extremely pleased with the progress and improvement Amber has achieved through Middlebury Interactive German.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Finding the Positive in Life

This has been one of those weeks where I'm inexpressibly grateful we homeschool. Amber and I spent some precious time together just being us, as well as some unexpected recovery time. None of that would have been possible if she was in a school away from home. We've had several discussions this week about the many positive aspects this life style affords us.

Amber and I chose to take Monday as our September Amber-and-Mom day, which means no school! We trekked to the mall 30 minutes away in search of clothing for the ever growing girl. She found a very few acceptable tops and couple of jeans at Hollister, as well as a few non-clothing items at the LEGO store. It was a fun time despite our small purchases. We then had a leisurely lunch about halfway home, yet still close to the Children's Hospital Specialty Center where she had PT later in the afternoon. 

Lunch after a fun shopping trip; LMO using her dad's computer, again.
Physical therapy was a nightmare though. Amber's therapist had gone home sick and the other therapist who specializes in EDS was busy, so we were given a randomly available fill-in. He knew nothing about dysautonomia or EDS. As usual Amber wanted to go back to the therapy room without me, which was another mistake. She did not speak up when the therapist put her on an elliptical machine right off the bat. It triggered an episode of tachycardia that lasted almost 24 hours despite medication. Her entire session was activities specifically forbidden by both the local and Mayo dysautonomia doctors. The therapist also worked her joints so incorrectly that Amber could barely walk Tuesday as a result of the extreme knee pain. I did call back Tuesday and speak to the office about our experience. Amber will now only ever have the one of the two EDS knowledgable therapists, or they will kindly call and reschedule her appointment. 

For the rest of Monday after PT Amber played LEGO minifigures online, rested, and watched Stargate SG-1 with me. Fred had a late video conference, which meant we were even on our own for take out pizza dinner.

Kitty therapy after a long day Monday; Salad and Chocolate Thunder from Down Under (Outback) for a very very late lunch on Tuesday. Some days you can't get much sicker, so why worry about food reactions.
Tuesday was a fairly awful day. Amber couldn't sleep Monday night because of the tachycardia and labored breathing. By Tuesday morning she had a fever. We spent the day resting and hoping she could recover before her flute lesson and confirmation class on Wednesday. I'm happy to report she made it to both activities on Wednesday! And since this was the last class of the module, it means she completed the entire first confirmation module of the year without needing to reschedule for a private afternoon lesson!  The next active module isn't until January and we're hoping it's equally successful. 

We did finally get Amber's heart rate back down to a more manageable rate by Tuesday evening and her fever had abated. She still slept in very late on Wednesday, however she was much improved over Tuesday. She continued to have breathing trouble throughout Wednesday though. We aren't sure of the exact cause, but the sensation of being oxygen hungry and chest pain always coincides with prolonged periods of tachycardia. Despite the rough therapy, Amber says Monday was a great day together and she enjoyed our restful Tuesday, except for the sickly part. She's really working at keeping a positive attitude.

Doing much better on Thursday. She was a little puny after co-op classes, but still greatly improved.
Amber did complete a few lessons on Wednesday - poetry, spelling / vocabulary, German and her final confirmation test (it was harder than any other school work). She's also attempting a full day of school today after a full day of co-op classes yesterday. We're still not worried about the slow progress in September as August was extremely productive. We've also learned over the past year to take recovery days instead of always foraging ahead. While Amber might have been able to complete a couple of lessons on Tuesday, it would most certainly not been her best work and, more importantly, could have delayed her recovery by an additional few days. 

Amber loves Autumn with all the lovely spice smells and decorations. We noticed a dramatic improvement in her mental outlook after we decorated for Autumn a few weeks ago, but the house still smells like recycled air-conditioner air. However, on Tuesday we finally figured out how to bring back the scent of Autumn to our home.

Silly cat - we still see you; 
Spelling work today. Amber had been looking all over the house for her buddy, Milori. All she had to do was start school and he joined her.
We always had the large brooms of cinnamon in the Fall and at Christmas, but after getting Biscotti 4 years ago we had to give them up because the cats eat the cinnamon. Tuesday afternoon we managed a desperate grocery store run and saw the cinnamon brooms in their usual place. Amber loves the smell and was quite downcast over them. I said, "If there was a place we could ensure none of the cats would get to it, we could get it. I just don't know where to put it." Amber  did know where and now our main level smells of cinnamon without the Bath and Body Works air spray.

Amber's playroom door
So while this week has been fairly unproductive with book work, we've had lovely time together and learned some valuable lessons for therapy sessions and even dysautonomia crashes. This weekend we are still relaxing, possibly seeing my mom and sister's family, and hoping to start well again on Monday because it's a crazy week coming up with many out of the house appointments and activities.

Happy Weekend!

Linking With:

Weekly Wrap-Up   photo purpFFBut_zps970d6cbe.png Homegrown Learners