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The Look

This was an assignment Josh did for a homeschool writing class. In addition to the ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing issues, Josh struggled with social nuances. Some of Josh’s struggles he understood and could identify. Other symptoms left all of us baffled, even Josh. I’m glad that even at this young age Josh knew he was smart and strong, so some of my truth messages were getting through to him in the midst of his challenges. It’s interesting to me that “I know karate” made the positives and the negatives list. Knowing karate was good for Josh, in that it provided an outlet for his excess energy and helped him develop coordination and self defense skills. It also allowed him to be part of a group sport, but one that was individualized so he could progress at his own pace. Knowing karate was a negative for Josh, because as soon as other kids found out he was training in martial arts they asked if he was a black belt and then wanted to take him on. Josh was never aggressive, so demonstrating his karate skills outside of class was not appealing to him. One of the first things most boys do in social settings is talk about their favorite sports teams and the sports they participate in. Josh was more interested in drawing and creating things than in sports, so he didn’t have much to talk about other than that he knew karate. This led to the inevitable challenges to prove his skills, which Josh did only when he absolutely had to for self defense. Even then, he ended the confrontation as soon as he could. This homeschool flashback provides a snapshot of a young boy’s emerging self perception. Teaching him at home gave me the opportunity to help him develop a balanced view of himself, which is revealed by this writing assignment as he recognizes some of his strengths despite huge challenges. By the time Josh reached adulthood, he had a mental list of positive and negative things about himself that was accurate and realistic.

Because I Said So!

Children are inquisitive. They are born with curiosity and a drive to explore their environment.  Just think about a newly-mobile toddler eagerly investigating every nook and cranny of a room, every piece of fuzz or dead bug, every cigarette butt or pebble on the sidewalk.  The young child’s need to learn and explore seems insatiable.  It is one of the reasons parents can’t take their eyes off the child for a minute, or that exuberant child may climb on top of a table or throw a set of keys into a trash can.  Children reawaken our own sense of wonder and discovery as they take delight in everyday moments.

In time, this desire to learn about the world moves from mere physical exploration to verbal communications.  This is the developmental stage characterized by the child asking questions, many of which are repeated verbatim by the child even though you have already answered the question multiple times.  I think children ask the same questions over and over again for a couple of reasons.

First of all, they truly want to know the answer.  By asking the question over and over they are learning if the answers are always the same.  Knowing that the answer is predictable and consistent is reassuring for a child.  As exhausting as this questioning phase can be, it is important to the child because this is how they learn concepts such as yes means yes and no means no.  The answer is always the same. Without learning this consistency at a young age, a child is likely to continue to test limits in hopes that this time he will get a different result than he has on previous occasions.  Being consistent in your responses will help the child learn that you mean what you say, and ultimately benefits you both as you establish healthy boundaries for behavior early on in childhood.

Another reason children ask so many questions is to keep you engaged with them.  It is an effective strategy to keep the interaction going.  While you are answering his questions you are paying attention to the child, and that is often more rewarding for the child than the actual answers. The question is just a means to an end. If your child has asked you the same question repeatedly even though he already knows the answer it may be the desire to continue conversing with you that is the driving force behind that behavior. There may be times when you have been answering your child’s questions all day long and finally tell him the answer is, “Because I said so!”

Certainly there are times when your child just plain needs to do what you are requesting without hearing a full discourse on the reasons for your request.  This is especially true for those issues that come up frequently and have already been explained to the child.  He knows the answer, and you do not need to defend your position to your child when he is fully aware of your reasons.

Falling back on the response “because I said so” does have some drawbacks to think about.  As home educators we want our children to learn to think logically and develop critical thinking skills.  Part of that process is learned through asking questions and consideration of the answers.  The challenge for homeschooling adults is to determine the child’s developmental level and to encourage the child to ask genuine questions to increase his learning and expand his knowledge.

Another danger of telling a child “because I said so” is that it can result in rebellion, depending in part on the child’s personality and temperament.  For some, any attempt to shut down the child’s questioning results in further attempts by the child to engage in verbal sparring or negotiation.  Have you ever been caught in an exchange with a child who responds to everything you say with, “Why”?  A child who feels he is being ignored may pull out all the stops in an effort to gain or regain attention.

On the other hand, there are children with personality types and temperaments who are less likely to resist or respond strongly when an adult stops engaging with them.  This child may learn to be increasingly passive in accepting whatever comes his way rather than being actively engaged in interactions and learning. He may learn to be content just going with the flow without questioning where he is headed and why he is going there.

When a child asks the same question they have asked countless times already, I think it is fine to tell him that he already knows the answer and you will not keep answering that particular question for him.  Try to discern the motive behind the child’s questions so you can respond accordingly.  You may recognize that the child just wants your attention, or perhaps the child is truly interested in the topic but doesn’t have the language skills to ask other questions to solicit more information from you.

Answering a young child’s many questions takes a lot of patience and wisdom in knowing how to respond.  Questioning can be a wonderful way to learn new things, or it could be an attempt to keep your attention on the inquisitive child. Next time you are tempted to respond with “Because I said so!” consider how that might contribute to passivity or a rebellion.  Listen beyond the question to hear what is on your child’s heart.  Truly, it takes discernment to know how to respond wisely to a child and his many questions.

The Real Social Security

It’s hard to avoid, especially when you are a child. You read about it, hear others talk about theirs, and are prompted to write, talk and answer questions about it. What is the subject of this insidious obsession? A best friend. Doesn’t everyone have one? Don’t get me wrong, I think best friends are wonderful. What I have difficulty with is the emphasis expressed to children about the need for one. The question, “Who is your best friend?” assumes that the child has one very special friend. Writing about what you like to do with your best friend is easy – if you actually have one. If you don’t, then the perception can be that something is lacking and you should try to obtain a best friend as soon as possible.

There are many wonderful children’s books describing the shared adventures of best friends. As a child I had the impression that everyone was supposed to have a best friend and if you didn’t, something was wrong with you. I felt the pressure to latch on to somebody so that I could have a ready answer when asked who my best friend was. Having a “best friend” was my goal, and I wasn’t particularly discerning in my selections.

In kindergarten, my best friend was Mike because he and I shared the same birthday and he gave me some pennies one time. In first grade, my best friend was Darryl, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy who held my hand under the table during music class and showed me how his eyes crossed when he took his glasses off. I thought that was so cool! After first grade Darryl’s family moved away so I had to find a new best friend and some other lucky person got to see Darryl’s crossed eyes.

There was an unspoken pressure to find a best friend replacement whenever the previous relationship cooled for any reason. By late elementary school, everyone understood that if you had a best friend you would have a seat saved for you even if you and your best buddy weren’t next to each other in line. There would be a spot reserved for you as your best friend placed a hand on the chair beside her and informed any would-be interlopers that the seat was saved. Before the teacher finished saying “Find a partner” for an activity, you and your best friend already knew you would pair up together. No one else even bothered asking you to be a partner since everyone understood that you would be with your best friend. You and your number one pal never had to wonder who you would eat lunch with or talk to at recess. Having a best friend was a relational social security that offered the assurance you would always have someone around.

For a child who struggles socially, making any friends let alone a best friend can be difficult. It’s complicated, because most of us have no idea how to teach our kids social skills that come naturally for most people. When you see your child try unsuccessfully to join a group or make a new friend, it is heartbreaking. How much should you try and intervene? You can’t make friends for your child, but sometimes your child doesn’t seem to be able to make a new friend by herself. Unless you’ve held a lonely child in your arms, knowing how badly he wants to have a friend but isn’t experiencing successful relationships it is hard to understand just how devastating it can be for that child and his parent. I’m afraid that some of that need for social security through having a best friend can follow us into adulthood. For example, my daughter got to know a girl in our homeschool support group and the two of them really hit it off. They had a lot in common and enjoyed being with each other. The new friend’s mother had been college roommates with another homeschool mom in the group, and those two mothers had already decided that their daughters would be best friends. My daughter watched as the other two girls were shuttled to each other’s houses for play dates and signed up for classes together at the local parks and recreation programs without a backward glance. These moms were not being deliberately unkind or exclusive. They were trying to give their daughters the kind of social security they had valued when they were growing up. There were quite a few moms in my homeschool support group who would not sign their children up for sports or other group activities unless their child’s best friend would be in the same group. The child with a best friend does not have to make an effort to include another child, because socially they are set. The child without a buddy in the group is more motivated to find another child who is at loose ends socially.

I tried to teach my children to look around and notice who might need a friend, and make an effort to include them. I was no doubt more sensitive to this than most, because I was a mother of one of the socially isolated children. Can you imagine the depth of sadness a parent feels when they are the only friend their child has? Truly, a good friend is an incredible blessing.

I get to know quite a few moms during my speaking engagements and my speech therapy practice. I’ve met some incredible women who agonize over their children’s lack of good relationships. Some children act in atypical ways because of their challenges such as autism or attention deficit disorder. Their moms work hard to teach them social skills, but their children continue to struggle and after awhile they are no longer invited to group social events because they are “different” and their behaviors make others uncomfortable. Now, in addition to isolated children there are increasingly isolated mothers.

As much as I’d like to believe it is the rare exception when an adult loses friendships because of her child, I know from personal experience that it happens frequently. Moms of special needs children need extra support, but often end up with less support because of their child’s differences that set him apart in a negative way. It’s a cycle that deserves to be interrupted.

This whole “best friend” situation can perpetuate the exclusion of those without one particular best friend. Maybe we could teach our children that even if they have a best friend they can still be friends with others and include them. Adults, even if your social needs are adequately met, I can guarantee you that there is someone in your life who longs to experience even a little of the camaraderie you share with your best friends. You and your child may not feel the need to add another friend to your life, but please look around anyway because someone undoubtedly needs your friendship. Can you share your social security with someone in need? If so, you just might change their lives – and teach your child how to love like Christ does along the way.

The Hyperactive Slug

Here is a phenomenon that I think I understand until it happens in front of my eyes again and I find myself baffled anew despite what I know. Two of my children have ADHD and the hyperactivity component is strong. My son, Josh, is a fidgeter and a tapper. When he was younger the phrase “ants in his pants” seemed pretty accurate. By the way, if your child is a literal thinker like Josh was, do NOT tell him he has ants in his pants unless you want said pants removed in a panic while the child hops around screaming “Get the ants off! Get the ants off!” Same thing for telling a child that he needs to get his head on straight. I’ll never forget the look of confusion and dismay on Josh’s face as he slowly reached up to his head to see just how crookedly it was placed on his little shoulders.

My ADHD daughter likes to run across the room and then slide as far as her momentum carries her on my hardwood floors. This is a fun pastime for her and one of the ways she expends excess energy. This behavior has been going on for years, and since she is now legally an adult I’m thinking she may not outgrow this hyperactivity. I can picture her in advanced years, gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, attaching waxed wheels onto her walker and scooting across the nursing home floor. Over and over.

So, okay, as someone who struggles with fatigue problems I admit to being envious of the energy that hyperactive people seem to have in spades. But here is the baffling part – my hyperactive children can go from full-speed to sloth-speed just like that. During our homeschool day, Josh would wiggle and squirm until we took a break. Then he’d run around like a cyclone until I called him back to the table for our next school subject. After reluctantly returning to his chair, Josh would go from full-on energy to extreme lethargy in a matter of seconds. He would slouch and prop his head on his hand as if it took too much effort to hold his head up without support. Often, this child who needed way less sleep than I did would begin to yawn. He appeared to be anything but hyperactive. What’s going on?

I’ve also observed that despite obvious hyperactivity much of the time, when I actually need Josh to move quickly he seems incapable of doing so. In fact, the more Josh is urged to hurry up, the pokier he becomes. Despite encouragement (and some yelling and begging) with increasingly desperate exhortations that we need to leave right away or we will be late, Josh doggedly has one speed, and that speed is slow. Slow, methodical, and plodding are not my idea of hyperactive. The more pressured and hurried Josh feels, the slower he seems to move. Even telling him to “Run!” doesn’t work. He might trot a few steps at most and then return to his set pace. It’s aggravating, but Josh isn’t being deliberately obstinate or difficult. Again, what’s going on?

Josh, like many children with learning challenges, had difficulty regulating his state of alertness. He tended to manifest extremes – high energy or slug-level energy, with not much in between. Josh couldn’t explain what was happening, because it was all he ever knew so it was his “normal”. I tried dietary interventions, thinking he was experiencing some kind of physical crash. Except it was only happening when Josh was asked to engage in tasks that demanded sustained attention and a relatively still body. My dietary interventions had no effect with Josh. I tried having him sit on a hard wooden (uncomfortable) chair so he couldn’t get overly relaxed. This, too, had no effect. I offered ice water for him to sip, an inflatable cushion disk or therapy ball to sit on, fidget toys, and other sensory strategies, and over time we were able to find some things that helped some of the time. I’m still looking for anything that actually helps all of the time. It is my dream and quest.

For parents and teachers, it may be helpful to take a look at the “Take Five” Alert Program. It will help with identifying states of alertness and ways to promote regulation of the attention state. In addition it is a useful tool in helping your students understand themselves and how they can make adjustments to meet the needs for both calming and increasing alertness.

God bless our amazing children, who force us to become better teachers than we ever wanted to have to be! But we are better teachers now, because these struggling learners have stretched us far beyond what we thought we knew. We are so much richer because of them.

10 ways to recycle your old tablecloth

I love the look of wood floors. I also have a dust allergy and since rugs and carpets tend to retain dust the wood laminates and flooring seem to help. I use a central vacuum system so the dust is not recycled back into the air, leaving me a sneezy mess for hours after I’ve finished cleaning the floors. After vacuuming, I whip out my Swiffer to finish up the cleaning. It looks great until it rains. Let me explain.

My 95 pound goldendoodle doggy, Slapshot, is active and playful and his big paws get very dirty. I keep old towels and rags by the back door to wipe his paws when he comes in from my backyard. Neither of us is very proficient at getting the dog to stand on 3 legs while the fourth gets wiped off. At the first opportunity, the dog trots off and inevitably I’ve missed some of the mud on his paws and it gets distributed on the floors.

Then we added another goldendoodle doggy, Daisy Mae, to the family and the dust and mud seemed to increase exponentially. With two dogs, they tend to wrestle and chase each other around the back yard. My back yard is fenced in, but it’s not nearly large enough for these dogs to run freely. They have a kind of running circuit they’ve developed, which has resulted in paths that have worn the grass away leaving only dirt.

Every time it rains, the dog-worn dirt paths turn into mud. This was messy enough when I had just one dog, but with the two of them they have expanded their dirt paths into mud pits. They romp around and cover themselves and each other with mud as they play. When they come back into the house, they smell like swamp things. Since the paw wiping attempts can’t eliminate all the dirt the floors tend to get filthy and the dust increases.

In my dream house I now include a shower stall in my laundry room so I can spray the dogs and wash them off every single time they come in. Maybe, since it’s my dream house, I can rig something up kind of car wash style so the dogs have to pass through that and the bathing occurs automatically when they reenter the house. I definitely want to include those swishing cloths at the end and the blow drying, so by the time the dogs emerge they are both clean and dry.

Since my dream house doesn’t exist, and I like to recycle and save money, I was pretty happy with myself when I thought of putting an old vinyl tablecloth just inside the back door. Those flannel-backed tablecloths are easy to clean but not especially long lasting. A few mishaps with the scissors while working on a homeschool project can leave holes pretty easily. A cat jumping onto the table can leave claw perforations and sooner or later the table cloth needs replaced. It seemed such a waste to just throw it out. When we had a rainy spell, the inspiration to use it as a floor mat hit me like a mud pie in flight.

It didn’t eliminate the mud that the dogs tracked in, but it contained some of it and I could just toss the tablecloth into the washer as needed. It worked better than my previous attempt to contain the mud by layering newspapers across the laundry room floor. The dogs tore the paper up, and then the cat peed on them. Enough said about that.

Then my inspiration kicked up a notch and I realized that the tablecloth would actually absorb some of the wet mess if I put it on the floor upside down so the flannel back was facing up. Please don’t ask why I didn’t think of this until several days into my tablecloth floor mat idea, because I don’t have a good answer. It seems so logical in retrospect.

Now when I let my muddy dogs in from the mud pit known as my back yard, I keep them standing on the flannel for a few minutes. It seems to help wick away some of the moisture on their paws so there’s not as much to try and wipe away. It doesn’t get rid of all the mess, but it does lessen it considerably. That got me thinking about other uses for my tablecloth, and you can add your own ideas to mine. Here’s what I came up with:

If you have an old flannel back table cloth, you could cut it into large pieces and use them for:

  1. changing pads
  2. art smocks
  3. under messy painting and art projects
  4. muddy boots and shoes parking mat
  5. car floor mats
  6. camping mats to keep your seat dry
  7. drying pad for hand-washed items
  8. under pet food and water dishes
  9. seat protectors in your car when kids and pets are wet or muddy
  10. under bowls when cooking with children (anti-slip and drip catching)

By the time my old flannel-backed tablecloth is worn out, I’ll have another one with holes and rips ready to replace it.

Calling All Homeschoolers! Buy Yourselves Some Flowers! (Encore post)

It’s time for an exhortation, my friends! This is a call for all homeschoolers. If you are starting a new school year, on your first day back to school go buy yourself some flowers. I started this tradition for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting out right each new school year by buying some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or you are an “empty desker” with grown-up homeschooled children. All are welcome!

I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a son and daughter who struggled with numerous learning challenges, school was never an easy time for us. I have friends whose children basically taught themselves to read. That sure never happened in our home school. As the “Back to School” specials and commercials increased in frequency during August and school supply sales had started as early as July, I found I had to take deep breaths and tell myself, “It’s going to be all right, Melinda. You’ve made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it. One day at a time. One lesson at a time.”

While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started again and were making plans to meet for coffee the first morning school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point and I would not be included in the neighborhood back to school social gatherings. In my community, very few people choose to homeschool. In fact, in all the years I have been homeschooling there have only been a handful of other homeschooling families in our area. I made up for this by talking to myself while drinking my coffee as we started our homeschool day. You can call it a parent-teacher conference if it makes you feel better!

I actually homeschool year round, but we have a much lighter schedule during the summer months. The onset of a new school year meant getting back up to a full schedule, and I admit if I thought about it too much it was more overwhelming than exciting to think what the next year would bring. It didn’t seem right to begin the homeschool year feeling a bit sorry for myself, so I made myself coffee and decided to celebrate the new school year with my own homeschool style kickoff.

I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. If you have a struggling learner or family challenges and you homeschool long enough, you come to realize that not only will you have “on” days and “off” days, you sometimes have “off” years. During one particularly hard year, my son hit a growth spurt and grew two inches in about six months. Unfortunately, it seemed like that was all he did, because the physical changes affected him so greatly that as far as we could tell all we had to show for our time was his big feet and dangly arms but not much had happened in the academic realm.

The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so when I picked out my flowers I selected a “With Deepest Sympathy” card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn’t until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the “With Deepest Sympathy” part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of “Mo-om!” and we all had a good laugh together. I think it’s o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. It’s absolutely worth it, but we do make sacrifices and face challenges at times.

One year my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children mature and decide to buy you flowers! In the meantime, please join me in buying yourself fresh flowers and having your children sign the card for you. Be sure to share this idea with your homeschooling friends as we embark on another school year. I’d love to hear about your “Back to School” flowers.

 

Dear Slapshot

Slapshot has been a certified therapy dog since February 2011. He loves sharing his doggy love with people of all ages, and enjoys his fan mail and the pictures children draw for him. Recently an organization invited Slapshot to have his own column in their newsletter. Slapshot is happy to answer any questions he can (I type for him since he has a little difficulty with the act of writing!) and here is the first installment for the column, “Dear Slapshot” as dictated to Slapshot’s handler, Melinda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Slapshot,

What is a therapy dog? Can any dog become a certified therapy dog?

Sincerely,

Curious in Columbus

 

Dear Curious,

A therapy dog has to love people of all ages and want to visit with them. I kept showing my owners that I was a dog meant to be shared by greeting everyone we met on walks. When I showed them how much people liked visiting with me, they took me to an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International and I passed my test. Any breed of dog can be evaluated to see if therapy dog work is for them. A dog has to be at least one year old, but training can start earlier than that and I was 2 years old when I became a certified therapy dog. I am almost three years old now and I love my work. Therapy dogs have to have a great temperament and tolerate other animals. I actually like most animals, too! Not to brag, but I think I’m a natural at this therapy dog stuff. I’d like to meet you, too, and your family and your friends, and your neighbors, and your pets – well, you get the idea!

Sincerely,

Slapshot

 

 

 

 

Dear Slapshot,

What kind of dog are you?

Wondering in Westerville

 

 

Dear Wondering,

Well, I am a very good dog, for one thing. And people tell me I am handsome. But I guess you are wondering what breed I am. I am a goldendoodle. My Dad was a 55 lb. standard white poodle and my Mom was a 75 lb. golden retriever. Guess how much I weigh? 95 pounds! I was no runt of my litter! Goldendoodles are considered “designer dogs” because they are intelligent, have good temperaments, and don’t shed as much as most dogs. Honestly, I still shed some but my goldendoodle sister doesn’t shed much at all. She also only weighs 53 pounds and we look very different even though she also had a white standard poodle Dad and a golden retriever Mom, but not the same parents as me. I’m pretty big for my breed, so some people are a little intimidated until they get to know me. One patient I visited told me I was as big as a calf, whatever that is. I guess she likes me, though, because she still pets me and even told me she loved me. I love her, too.

Sincerely,

Slapshot

My Beckie, Homeschool Valedictorian 2011

1993 was a monumental year.  It was the year I started homeschooling and the year that my youngest child, Beckie, was born.  Beckie was the kind of baby who quieted as soon as she was picked up.  She always seemed content just to be with people.  As an infant, Beckie was perfectly happy with attention from any adult or child.  By the time she was a toddler and on the move, she enthusiastically joined in play with other children.

Her brother and sister (Josh and Beth) were crazy about her and wanted to include her in all their activities.  They loved to teach her about whatever they were learning and when we were out and about Josh would hold one of Beckie’s hands and Beth would hold the other.  Beckie was a very versatile playmate.  She loved tea parties, dress-up times, Legos, and playing in dirt.  Josh says Beckie is the best little brother he could ever have wished for.

I can still picture Beckie’s beaming smile as she grew up, and remember thinking how very loved and confident she always looked.  More than once I thought I could have aptly named her “Joy” instead of Rebecca, because she typically seemed so joyful and brought it to others.  It was hard not to smile when Beckie was in the room.

Like her brother, Beckie has dealt with attention challenges (ADHD), sensory processing difficulties, and an auditory processing disorder.  Despite these struggles, Beckie has faced them with grace and determination and has experienced success.  Today she is a second degree black belt in karate and at the time of her high school graduation she has already completed her first year of college.

Beckie has grown into a lovely young woman.  She is compassionate, optimistic, funny, and strong.  Her sense of humor and quick-witted observations are delightful.  Beckie’s enjoyment when she is with animals and children is contagious.  She is a loyal friend and a defender of the underdog.  I think Beckie is amazing, and it has been a privilege and a blessing to be her teacher and Mom.

Beckie graduated from our homeschool, the Family Home Academy, on May 22nd, 2011.  Congratulations, Beckie!

 

Calling All Homeschoolers! Buy Yourselves Some Flowers!

It’s time for an exhortation, my friends! This is a call for all homeschoolers. If you are starting a new school year, on your first day back to school go buy yourself some flowers. I started this tradition for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting out right each new school year by buying some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or you are an “empty desker” with grown-up homeschooled children. All are welcome!

I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a son and daughter who struggled with numerous learning challenges, school was never an easy time for us. I have friends whose children basically taught themselves to read. That sure never happened in our home school. As the “Back to School” specials and commercials increased in frequency during August and school supply sales had started as early as July, I found I had to take deep breaths and tell myself, “It’s going to be all right, Melinda. You’ve made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it. One day at a time. One lesson at a time.”

While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started again and were making plans to meet for coffee the first morning school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point and I would not be included in the neighborhood back to school social gatherings. In my community, very few people choose to homeschool. In fact, in all the years I have been homeschooling there have only been a handful of other homeschooling families in our area. I made up for this by talking to myself while drinking my coffee as we started our homeschool day. You can call it a parent-teacher conference if it makes you feel better!

I actually homeschool year round, but we have a much lighter schedule during the summer months. The onset of a new school year meant getting back up to a full schedule, and I admit if I thought about it too much it was more overwhelming than exciting to think what the next year would bring. It didn’t seem right to begin the homeschool year feeling a bit sorry for myself, so I made myself coffee and decided to celebrate the new school year with my own homeschool style kickoff.

I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. If you have a struggling learner or family challenges and you homeschool long enough, you come to realize that not only will you have “on” days and “off” days, you sometimes have “off” years. During one particularly hard year, my son hit a growth spurt and grew two inches in about six months. Unfortunately, it seemed like that was all he did, because the physical changes affected him so greatly that as far as we could tell all we had to show for our time was his big feet and dangly arms but not much had happened in the academic realm.

The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so when I picked out my flowers I selected a “With Deepest Sympathy” card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn’t until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the “With Deepest Sympathy” part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of “Mo-om!” and we all had a good laugh together. I think it’s o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. It’s absolutely worth it, but we do make sacrifices and face challenges at times.

One year my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children mature and decide to buy you flowers! In the meantime, please join me in buying yourself fresh flowers and having your children sign the card for you. Be sure to share this idea with your homeschooling friends as we embark on another school year. I’d love to hear about your “Back to School” flowers.

Speaking Opportunities

I have been speaking at conferences for over 10 years. I’ve had the opportunity to speak in multiple states to groups consisting of a couple dozen people up to a couple hundred people, and I love doing it. I’ve talked to many people who say public speaking, even just the thought of being up in front of a crowd, intimidates them and they will avoid it if at all possible. When I walk into a room to give a presentation and see the podium, microphone, and usually a white tablecloth on a nearby table with a pitcher of water, I slide into the zone. I feel relaxed and at home. I think it helps that I know people aren’t really coming to see me personally, but to hear the information I have to offer. I feel honored that God has chosen to use me to share what I have learned to help other people. It’s not my great successes that draw people, either. Folks can relate to my struggles, failures, mistakes, and determination to keep trying until I find something that works. I’ve been at this long enough now that I meet people who heard me speak years ago and they seek me out to tell me that they’ve applied what they learned from me and it changed the way they related with their child. As they approached homeschooling in a different way the changes improved not just their school experience but their relationship with their child as well. When people hear my workshops and see me with my grown son, they realize that despite extreme challenges we have survived. Not only that, we are extremely close and enjoy spending time together. That gives people hope. I recently had one mom watch my family for a few minutes and then in an awed voice she said, “You seem happy. After everything you’ve been through, too.” I could tell she was in the trenches of homeschooling a challenging child, and seeing a “veteran” homeschooler gave her hope that she could make it, too. I want to let you in on a secret. I am not a natural optimist, nor am I naturally encouraging. No one has ever described me as “perky”. I have natural gifts, but I have prayed to have the gift of encouragement. God allows me to encourage, but I have to work at keeping my thoughts right. I’m actually pretty pessimistic when left on my own, and I can see the cloud for every silver lining. Big sigh. Can you imagine Eeyore giving workshops? Anyway, I have trained myself and disciplined myself to work at being encouraging. I have had a measure of success in doing so. When I speak to others, I can see when something makes sense to them. I love to see people looking around when I describe a challenge I’ve faced, because so many of us with struggling learners feel isolated and our friends can’t relate to the challenges we face. Then we meet each other and with great relief realize we are not alone and many others are dealing with issues similar to our own. It’s nice to be with people who understand and can relate to our feelings and experiences. Tonight I will be speaking to a home school group for their kick off meeting. As far as I know, I will not know anyone there. There will be a mix of new homeschoolers and those who have been at it for several years. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to encourage and inspire those who, like me, have decided that homeschooling is the best fit for meeting their child’s educational needs. Next Monday, I will be doing a workshop on Adapting Curriculum for Struggling Learners with Heart of the Matter (HOTM) during their online conference. I was thrilled when they asked me to do this. I have presented the workshop many times before, but never just online. I am actually feeling nervous, because I am not strong with the technical aspects of presenting. It didn’t help that during our first practice run my microphone didn’t work, which is the stuff of nightmares for me. The second practice run went o.k. after about five minutes of me freaking out because the microphone was not functioning properly. A substitute microphone seemed to work, but I still feel nervous. It’s weird I know, but I would be completely relaxed speaking to a stadium full of people yet speaking online throws me for a loop. Once I learn how to do this and have some experience, I’ll be thrilled to know how and expand my skill set. My husband, who is naturally optimistic, assures me that “It will be all right.” I’m almost finished putting together a new workshop titled, “So You Think You Can Homeschool?” I can’t wait to share it somewhere, anywhere!