Sunday, November 29, 2015

It's All In The Details

There are many things that I want to help Ronin improve during his first homeschool year. Things that perhaps others would take for granted as part of a naturally developing student. I have found that there are some basic tenets of learning that Ronin struggles with, but given time and guidance, he can grasp and successfully learn. One of those things is adding detail to his work. In the past, he has always done just enough to be passable. You could tell that he cared nothing of the subject and wanted nothing more than to get it "off his plate" so to speak. Sadly, I always wondered if that was something he would do all the time - how do you instill a desire to care about your work? 

Well, apparently the answer was right in front of me. Write about what you know! And that's exactly what we do. For now, his fascination with sea animals, in particular sharks, have not waned. Below is a picture map he drew that he explained was both map and diagram that included his favorite gamer characters as they battled the ever destructive sharkosaurus (at least that's what I think he called it). This was the first time I witnessed him put so much thought and detail into his work. It was certainly more than I asked or expected and he spent quite some time working diligently on it. 

Afterwards he gave me a lengthy explanation about his drawing and what it all meant. He was very proud to share all the details (in sequential order to boot!) and how they were significant to moving his "plot" forward. I was so impressed with his train of thought I just had to document it. You have no idea what an improvement this is for him from a speech point-of-view and from a learning standpoint as well. I hope this is the beginning of his love of storytelling.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Other Curriculum: P.E. Fine Arts and Special Needs Curriculum

In addition to the main subjects, Ronin also has P.E., fine arts and his speech therapy.

For P.E., we do a variety of things. He plays Wii Fit Resort, goes golfing with his dad or spends time at our local parks. This year, Ronin will have to do a physical fitness test, so we also plan to learn to do proper push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. As long as Ronin is moving, I'm happy to let him do whatever activity gets him excited. He also has the option of signing up for enrichment classes through his homeschool program that also provides other physical activities and introductory sports.
Fine arts was tricky for me because I'm not creative by nature. But I found a few sketchbooks that Ronin uses to perfect his drawings of his favorite things: dinosaurs and sea mammals. I've also bought him a simple recorder to introduce him to music. We are both learning as-we-go to cover this subject, given that neither of us have a great interest in fine arts or performing arts. But so far, he has been open to learning and discovering new mediums.

Lastly, as part of his IEP (individual education plan), he also has speech therapy. Using his school-issued laptop, he skypes with his therapist twice a week. Together they do activities, play games and work on speech issues. It's one of his favorite times of the week.

Friday, November 20, 2015

History Curriculum

For our history curriculum I originally was just going to use historic literature. I was going to choose a fiction or non-fiction book for each learning period to cover each of the history topics. I planned to also find unit studies to further help Ronin get more details from the literature. In theory, it seemed enough, but I had a change of heart and felt like I needed something to give us clear direction and support the historic literature. So, I went ahead and ordered Studies Weekly Social Studies. Actually having the studies weekly has helped me to match up the historic literature so we are reading and studying similar topics. Ronin gets his historical background and facts from studies weekly and then we are able to apply it to the literature we are reading. So far we've been able to cover Pre-Columbian history, Spanish Explorers and New World/Columbian Exchange. Using the literature helps to bring the history alive and it's far more entertaining to learn history when it's a well-written story. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Visiting Cousins

 Their cousin Elijah (next to Ronin) from Las Vegas came to visit. The cousins were all excited to see him. 
They love that they are all so close in age. Growing up together is a blast. 

Science Curriculum

Science is a tricky subject for Ronin. He loves the labs, experiments and hands-on kits, but he finds it challenging to often grasp the concepts being discussed. He's revealing himself as a visual learner and one that needs to see and touch things, but science can often be a lot of reading. So, to peak his interest without overwhelming him with too many words, I opted for a highly-recommended curriculum call Studies Weekly. The material is presented in a weekly newspaper-style format that includes a teacher's supplement that offers up additional activities and worksheets. It often refers the student back to websites that would be of more interest and also includes review questions to make sure the student grasps the concepts. We often will sit together and read through the paper and do the suggested activities. Because it's not a huge textbook and we read a different newspaper each week, it feels very doable for him.

In addition to Studies Weekly, we also supplement with Brainpop and YouTube videos.

Math Curriculum

Ronin has always loved math and found it to be the most interesting of school subjects...until last year. He saw a nosedive in his ability to grasp math soon after common core was enacted at his local charter school. What use to be a subject that excited him soon became a subject that he loathed. So part of this year's homeschool goal was to get Ronin excited about it again. After doing a few assessments, we found that the Math U See method was the best fit for him. With just enough review to practice his skills without feeling overwhelmed, Ronin has begun to "like" math again. The kit also includes integer blocks that help him to visualize how the method works. The math level he started with is a bit of review, so we are getting through it quickly. We hope to move on to a more grade-appropriate math by second semester. Getting him excited about math again has been a wonderful rediscovery. The smile says it all, right?

To supplement his math curriculum we are also using Dreambox, Splashmath and Brainpop

Friday, November 06, 2015

Making A Much Needed Change

I'm not one to talk about my weight. Ever. It's an uncomfortable topic to discuss for me. Even when told in a positive light, I still shy away from giving details. But I've been feeling burdened to share my story in hopes that it would help someone else who has also felt trapped and hopeless in their goal to lose weight. 

Before The Weight Loss
Truthfully, I believe I just got to a point where I was in denial. I didn't want to believe that I was THAT big. Even as I looked at myself everyday in the mirror and noticed the extra rolls and swollen face I just couldn't believe that I was anything but sort of overweight. I went to the gym regularly 3-4 times a week. I worked up a good sweat and even did some weight lifting. But I was perplexed that even with all this regular gym work, my jeans were tight, my jackets wouldn't close and my shirts were magically shrinking. I use to love running, but found that lately after a good run my right hip was painfully sore and my legs and knees seem to reject the long hauls. I chalked it up to old age and bad shoes. So, I gave up running

Starting the Weight Loss Journey
I had been taking a cardio class at my gym for a few years. The trainer announced that he was starting a Bootcamp at a neighboring gym and was inviting us to come check it out. I didn't take the bait initially, but many of the gals spoke positively about it, that I went out of curiosity. I instantly liked it. It reminded me so much of my days as an athlete doing tough but challenging exercises that built up strength and speed. I really took to the boxing that was also included in the class. But even after a few months of Bootcamp, I still wasn't seeing the weight drop or the muscle definition even as my strength was increasing. 

I finally had my "moment". After a few pep talks from my trainer and a heart-to-heart with my husband I realized that all my supposed hard work was for naught if I wasn't willing to make the final and hardest step (for me) -  and that was changing my diet. Even just that word "diet" makes me cringe. In the past, I've tried to change my diet and saw a few successes. But none of them stuck and none of them were sustainable. I would just gain it back and then some. I would lose a few pounds and celebrate by eating more! It was hard to face my many failures in this area when I have found success and control in so many other areas of my life. It was as if I wanted this one area to be where I didn't have to think or care and just be...whatever that would look like. I convinced myself that I was fine with it - that with age,weight gain happens. But if there is one thing I cannot live with it's disappointing others. And I realized that I was doing a disservice to my husband and kids and ultimately myself if I didn't get some control in this area of my life. With a family history of cancer and diabetes, it was only a matter of when I was going to have either. Would I be so selfish as to put my family through that? I knew it was time to make a much needed change.  

During the Weight Loss Journey
It was February 3, 2015 when I finally decided to make the change. I took it day by day and recorded everything I consumed in a food journal. The first few weeks were spent tweaking and removing things that I thought were initially healthy and finding better alternatives. I spent some time shopping for new pantry staples and removing many things from my refrigerator. I began with small changes like not eating white carbs at dinner and removing snacking from my daily eating. I replaced juices and sweetened teas with water and fresh made smoothies. I started to have "real" breakfasts that included eggs, whole grain toast and veggies. 

I increased my exercised from three days to five days a week and did a mix of cardio and weigh lifting. Each week, I weighed myself and took pictures of my progress. The picture from the first week was pretty painful to look at, but I told myself that if I stuck to this for even just 4 weeks, this picture could look a lot different. The following week, I lost a whopping two pounds! But even with that small weight loss the picture told a different story. Already I could see in the progress picture that my body had responded well to the new diet and new exercise regimen. That was enough to get me through the first month. My weight loss was very gradual, where each week I only loss a pound or two. Some weeks I lost nothing. I tried not to get discouraged reminding myself that at the very least I was headed in the right direction, albeit slowly. 

Four weeks, became eight weeks, became twelve weeks. I set my first weight goal for Memorial Day - about 16 weeks in.  I was diligent to continue refining my diet and also increasing my weight lifting. I found that having my trainer and group of gals who were also like-minded kept me on track. Memorial Day came and I hadn't met my goal weight, but I had already lost over 20 pounds and gained some muscle. This was the longest I had ever stayed on a "health kick" and realized that what started as a goal with a certain end, was now becoming a journey with an indefinite end. A few weeks later I made my first goal. 

Still Going Strong
I continued on through the summer, with the goal of losing an additional ten pounds. If I was able to lose those ten pounds my BMI would finally be in the normal range and I could go from eating at a deficit (burning more calories than you consume) to maintenance (eating calories to maintain your current weight). Again summer came and went and I continued to lose the weight slowly and did not make my initial goal by Labor Day as I had hoped. Some doubt started to set in and I wondered if perhaps I was setting myself up for failure aiming for a weight that I hadn't seen since I was in junior high. Maybe even if I did get there, could I really maintain it? 

I did my best to shake the doubt by keeping my head down and just focusing on the goal ahead. I reminded myself that up to this point, I wasn't feeling deprived and I wasn't starving. As a matter of fact, I was eating quite well and enjoying really good food. I no longer desired sweets, junk and carb-heavy food the way I did in the past. And if I really wanted it, I would plan ahead by adjusting my food and exercise for the week. So yes, there were occasions for doughnuts, french fries and pizza. But I never over indulged and I was always back to my more nutritious diet the next day. Eating all this rich and calorie-laden food became a treat rather than the norm - and that was satisfying enough. 

Ultimately, I learned to look at food differently. Before, each meal was treated as if it were the last meal I would ever have, so I enjoyed it ALL to the fullest. Every meal became a celebration and a reason to indulge. Now I see food as fuel (for my rigorous workouts) and base my choices on how it will help me towards my weight goals. It does mean that I have to be thoughtful about what I eat all the time - no more aimless snacking. And admittedly, it get tiresome, but it has gotten easier over the months. I also learned that trying to lose weight is really a mental battle. And for me that mental battle was most difficult in the kitchen. Committing to the workouts was easy. Committing to being diligent in the kitchen was HARD. But when I finally made that choice to stop and think before I ate, that's really when the weight loss started to happen. When I stopped thinking of the big picture and focused on the little steps it felt less daunting. 

So even though I didn't make my next weight goal by the end of summer like I hoped, I did make my weight goal by October 16, 2015 and I have maintained it since. Funny how I thought maintenance would be much easier, it isn't. But there is more breathing room and I am enjoying not eating at a deficit. One of the biggest perks other than weight loss has been the muscle gain. It seriously just showed up one day. My mind was so focused on getting the scale to go down that I hadn't been paying attention to all the muscle I was developing until one day someone pointed it out. And if your friends with my husband on Facebook, you saw the picture he posted - which blew me away just like everyone else! 

With the holidays just around the corner and the days of indulging ahead, I'm hoping to lose another five pounds to help cushion all that pie and stuffing I plan to have. I'll also be working hard in the gym and continuing to make my goals there. Mostly, I'm just so thankful for how humbling this whole process has been and how God has been my ever present comfort and strength. He has put some key people in my life who have been instrumental in helping and educating me along the way. They know who they are. I know that even though I put in a lot of hard work, it didn't happen outside of what He enabled me to do. We will see where I am at the one year mark, when I hope to update you on my progress. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Language Arts Curriculum

In a recent post, I shared the curriculum that I'm using for the my first year of homeschooling. Today, I'll get into more detail about the Language Arts curriculum I chose for my son Ronin.

Language Arts

Writing - Institute for Excellence in Writing - Student Intensive Writing
My son does not like writing. So to ask him to write even a paragraph on anything is like pulling teeth. I needed a clean slate and a new method. IEW has been a god-send. Its method is unlike anything I've ever seen and it has changed my son into not only a writer, but a pretty good one at that! We are still in the beginning stages, but I am really happy with the foundational work we have laid down so far.

Grammar - Easy Grammar Grade 5
This was recommended by a friend and I couldn't be any happier. Also a new method of learning grammar that I've never seen and it's been a positive change for my son, too. He doesn't feel paralyzed by the English language anymore. As a matter of fact, he's pretty good at dissecting and breaking down sentence structure now. Who knew prepositional phrases could be so life changing? 

Spelling - Sequential Spelling Level 1
Spelling is his favorite and easiest subject. This new spelling method has been very agreeable and is helping my son to feel confident in his spelling abilities. I love how it builds spelling through word families. You can go here to learn more.