Friday, October 17, 2014

Permission to Do What You Need

We've come to the end of another 5 week session and were able to end with some strong academics.  It was still a difficult week for Amber's dysautonomia, but we've been working on adjusting her schedule to deal with her low orthostatic blood pressure and reflex tachycardia.

By accident when we were just going with the flow on Monday, we came up with a new plan that's working well, at least on days when she doesn't have co-op or a morning appointment.  Normally Amber showers as soon as she wakes, just like me.  We've never been the "hang around in your pajama" type.  But with Amber's dysautonomia, many mornings it is too hard for her to get out of bed, so she stays there and rests / sleeps.  With the new routine she stays awake when she first wakes up, but instead of attempting her shower I bring breakfast to her bed.  Amber then gets up just enough to make the bed and maybe fetch a fuzzy blanket.  After this she does her morning school lessons from her bed.

It really felt like we were slacking off the first day of this schedule.  Amber still showers and gets ready in time for lunch, but the delayed shower helps her by spreading out the incidents that will cause tachycardia.  She also is able to rest during an extended lunch time and be more productive throughout the day.  Actually, she was more productive this week than in a long time.  We learned that we need to rethink how everything works around here and we do have permission to schedule our lives as needed. 

Working from her bed both before and after a shower.  And some of the work produced.  She also wrote articles and designed advertisements for her Medieval Times newspaper.

I joined a support group for POTS (dysautonomia) on Facebook, but it is actually the electronic extension of the group based out of the neuroscience center where Amber's doctor works.  The group has monthly meetings and other get-togethers.  Unfortunately, we've been unable to make any of the meetings yet, but it's been lovely to talk to people online and know that we aren't alone.  It's so humbling to have these people, who I know are feeling just as awful as Amber, be willing to help guide me through the care of my child.  Amber is younger than most of the other POTS patients, so that means I'm kinda the healthy person in the support group.  However, they are such a wonderful, welcoming and supportive group, even if I'm not the "sick" one. I hope one day we can be like this for others too.

Now for a confession.  We've been struggling with science this year, even though it's Amber's favorite topic of them all: Earth science and astronomy.  Especially the astronomy.   And by struggling, I mean we're lucky to have done more than 5 lessons all school year.  The curriculum is lovely and I still wish, oh so much, that it worked for Amber.  We've used several products from this company, so it's not like this was our first go around. Still Amber is finding the reading to be uninteresting, she hates the assignments with a passion, and thinks the very few experiments are dull.  It is also missing topics that she loves to study about space.  Clearly, this was not the reaction I expected when I purchased the curriculum.  I do have to admit right now we are in the section where there are no experiments because the author expects us to be participating in a science fair (not happening).  I've tried to come up with some of my own experiments, but I don't have the time.  That's why I bought curriculum, to spare me the time.

We gave ourselves permission to jump ship this week and look for a new science curriculum.  I would love to be able to pull something together myself for this topic. However, I did learn from my experience with history this year - where I basically spent months recreating Tapestry of Grace before realizing it already existed.  Also, I don't have that type of time anymore.  I need something more hands on with less emphasis on encyclopedia reading & note taking, more adaptable to Amber's fluctuating energy and abilities, and it MUST not need huge amounts of adjustment from me.

(Top-L) Our little Frozen fanatic in one of her Frozen themed outfits.  I totally forgot to take a picture with the very cool Elsa pants and other Olaf top. (Top-R) She adores chess and tactics. This was working on the homework for her chess class.  (Bottom-L) While the leaves were turning colors we didn't have a lot on the ground, until one day, we did.  (Bottom-R) Dinner with Fred's parents and an early Halloween gift from Amber.  We are sad because later this month they are moving across the state to help other relatives.
I showed Amber samples of the Apologia science I intend for her to use next year and it received an absolute "no" from her.  Apparently it is too "textbooky".  She's really embracing this whole project learning aspect of school.  We then discussed the future of her science lessons as she will be using Apologia in high school, especially since Amber has indicated in the past week a definite desire to go into a science field.  As a compromise we will probably not use Apologia until high school (instead of 8th grade), but Amber has agreed that is will be necessary to move into something different for a high school level of learning.

After half a day of research together we settled on trying a couple of topics from REAL Science 4 Kids, Focus on Middle School.  Amber thinks she will like this and it's adaptable enough.  We can also add in readings from the multitude of science resources that we have already from the other curriculum.  I'm still mourning the loss of Elemental Science, but will try to be positive about the new curriculum.  We ordered both the Geology and Astronomy Focus on Middle School units, however neither cover weather which Amber has been looking forward to studying.  So, now I'm trying to put together a middle school worthy weather unit to use while we wait on the new curriculum.

This is especially timely since in early November we have a homeschool group field scheduled for the National Weather Service office in St. Louis.  Actually, it's not in St. Louis, it's in a western municipality about 7 minutes from my house.  If anyone has any ideas for a weather unit, I would be thrilled to hear.  Next week is our break week, so I've got a small buffer to come up with ideas.

Despite the ongoing dysauotnomia flare, Amber has created quite a few history projects this week and written 6 articles for her Medieval Times newspaper.  We both truly love our combination of Tapestry of Grace and Home School in the Woods Project Passport Middle Ages.  We wrote a review of Project Passport Middle Ages this week.   It really does provide a wide array of learning methods.

My Little Pony... er Amber.  It was the October "Amber and Mom" day today.  A trip to Build-A-Bear and the LEGO store, lunch with Grandma and then fun at home. 

Amber has been busy practicing her flute this week too.  Monday evening she did her first ever rehearsal with a choir.  Tomorrow Amber is playing the welcoming music for the creative arts center's King's Faire, and then is accompanying the choir on one of their songs.  Amber was so proud of herself for successfully navigating how to become an accompanist since her experience is as a solo or band player. 

There is also a church confirmation group hayride and bonfire on Sunday.  We want Amber to participate in as many activities as possible with the group, but many are simply not plausible - like the weekend retreat.  However, if I provide her snack for the bonfire and attend as one of the chaperones, the event on Sunday is quite acceptable.  I hope this doesn't wear Amber out too much.

While next week is an official break from school and co-op classes we have a full week scheduled.  Between the two of us there are 4 doctor's appointments (3+1), a homeschool group teen outing, the homeschool group Halloween party, and foster parent classes.  Amber has more testing at neuroscience which will hopefully include her autoimmune anti-body test.  If they haven't worked out the politics to make that test happen by our appointment we will probably begin the process to have Amber seen by the specialist at the Mayo Clinic in order for them to do the blood test.  I'm seriously disappointed in how so many medical groups / companies claim to have the best interest of patients at their core, but still can't manage to get one little girl her very needed blood test.

Happy Weekend!

Linking with:

Weekly Wrap-Up  photo FF_zpsc6f74f35.jpg Homegrown Learners

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Heritage History

Heritage History

We've been using various products from Heritage History for almost the whole length of our homeschooling experience. If you've never heard of Heritage History, they provide complete, illustrated texts of over 400 classical children's histories.  Their books are available to read online for free, or pay to download in three different formats.  A broad range of reading abilities are represented in the books and as well as most history eras.  Heritage History also groups books together in collections or curriculum CDs that create a flexible, living books, independent study program.

New for us this year we signed up for Heritage History Academy. Instead of receiving a CD of the British Middle Ages curriculum we have access to all the books for download during the duration of the class period.  We have always put our Heritage History books on the iPads, so downloading didn't even create a change in our book usage. 

The Academy also includes recommended reading selections, not just whole books but chapters in each book. There is even a tracking mechanism to help the students remain accountable for their required course reading.  We do not use the tracking feature mainly because this is not our primary history curriculum, but I've played around with it. Each course also has maps, timelines, character summaries, review study questions, tests and additional topic information. Again, we have not fully utilized all of these features, however we are pleased with the quality of those used.

Using Heritage History
Despite the wide array of features, the online academy is a little awkward still; especially the use of parent accounts and student accounts. There is also a fee for each additional student. We chose to use the Academy this year mainly to save shipping charges as the pricing is nearly identical to that of the curriculum CDs. However, if I had multiple students it would not be to our benefit to pay the fee for additional student accounts. Now, if you are using this as a primary curriculum, which is entirely feasible, the cost is well warranted to set up each student separately. It just doesn't make sense for us when all we really need are the books. 

New this year at Heritage History is the ability to purchase a library pass to the entire Heritage History website.  The pass allows students to download every book on the website at one cost for an entire family, and the pass is good for three years. If only this option had been available when we started our school year.  I'm still considering purchasing it anyway to gain easy access to the remaining collections and curriculum we do not already own.  

Heritage History
Now that we are using Tapestry of Grace, I was thrilled to find many of the reading selections recommended in the year plans are available through Heritage History, even if the page numbers do not match the Tapestry of Grace listed versions.  It is definitely more cost effective to use Heritage History than to purchase all the books suggested in TOG.

We cannot imagine homeschooling without the resources provided by Heritage History. It has been such a dependable source of history reading and we look forward seeing the new products provided by Heritage History.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: HSITW Project Passport: The Middle Ages

We have used several products by Homeschool in the Woods in the past, but Project Passport: The Middle Ages is by far our favorite.   It has been the best addition to our school this year.  We use it as a supplement to our history lessons, but it is entirely possible to use it as a stand alone history curriculum.

The product includes 25 "Stops" where you learn about different aspects of the Middle Ages.  Each stop has text to read on the topic, plus an "itinerary" for the teacher to use in planning and organizing the lessons.  In addition to projects the Stops also have timeline and newspaper article entries as well as dramatized "audio tours".
HSITW Viking Longship
We have chosen to integrate portions of the Stops into our history schedule, which is mostly chronological, instead of in the order presented in Project Passport.  It did take a little effort to coordinate the reading and writing assignments, but we have been extremely pleased with the results.

Amber actually prefers the timeline from Project Passport to any other timeline she has ever used, including the iPad app.  We chose to print the timeline on card stock, then three hole punch and put it into Amber's history binder.  Instead of gluing or taping the lovely timeline figures, I printed them on label sheets so that Amber need only cut them out and peel off the backing.

HSITW Bayeux Tapestry ProjectHSITW Medieval Society Structure

The audio tours have been perfect for our drives to Amber's many doctors' appointments.  I copied the MP3 files from the CD over to my iPhone and we can easily play them in the car now.  It is quite fun to hear all the reenactment sounds coming through the car's sound system.  Our favorite tour stop so far has been the Battle of Hastings.  We actually "met" William the Conqueror.  One side note though, the tour guide has an accent that we can't identify, but she sounds like every word is a struggle to say.  Some words we have great difficulty understanding.  We aren't entirely sure if this is an accent for the dramatization or if she is covering up her natural accent.  At any rate, it is a little distracting. 

"The Medieval Times" newspaper project has been a huge hit with Amber.  Never before has she actually asked when her next writing assignment would be.  The project gives you topics for each article, but really leaves it up to you as to the details and direction you want to take the article.  Space is limited, so it teaches the student to be concise while providing needed information.  Amber also loves the advertisements dotted throughout the newspaper. Some of her favorite days are when she is assigned both an article and a couple of advertisements to draw.

Working on her newspaper articles
While some of the projects are a little young for Amber, the majority are quite appropriate and enjoyable.  We especially appreciate the option to create either a lapbook or a larger version of some projects as Amber is not terribly thrilled with lapbooks.  This product would have been a hard sell for Amber if I told her that the majority of the projects would be part of a lapbook.  And for those of us who are someone artistically impaired, the images of the completed projects are a happy bonus.  I'm not sure we would have ever quite finished our Viking longship without the sample picture. 

HSITW Medieval Clothing Puppets
Puppets were much preferred to the lapbook option.
It did take me a little while to figure out the layout and really "get" all the options.  However, once you are comfortable with the layout it will flow well and you won't have to figure it out again for the other Project Passport products.  The itinerary is definitely the teacher's go-to spot for each Stop.  It lists the assignment options and gives instructions for all projects related to that Stop.

We are always pleased with the products from Homeschool in the Woods, but Project Passport: The Middle Ages has far surpassed our expectations and we can't wait to move into Project Passport: Renaissance and Reformation.