In Which We Talk About Homeschooling in the Murphy House

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In July 2015 our homeschooling life took a drastic turn.

Some Background

As most of you know, our oldest son Rich suffered a traumatic brain injury and a broken pelvis in a car accident in February 2013. Praise God he has made a complete recovery. At the time of the accident we made the decision to do all of his therapy at home. Through friends of friends we learned of an organization committed to training parents to work with their children. This philosophy completely agreed with our belief that parents are their children’s best teachers, the most knowledgeable of their children, and the most motivated to help them succeed.

We contacted NACD (The National Association of Child Development) and they worked with us to evaluate the areas that needed work, creating a unique program particular to Rich’s needs. We had regular contact with a “coach” who helped us implement Rich’s program and quarterly assessments to make changes to his program as he progressed and improved. NACD works with parents and children with all types of issues, not just brain injury, and often we wished we had known about them when we were working with Rich’s younger siblings. You see, the NACD programs are designed not to just just teach struggling learners to cope with their weakness, but to actually change the brain to fix the problems the child experiences.

(Here is Rich in his wheelchair in the spring of 2013 with my parents—”Granny” and “Grandpa.”)

 

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Fast-Forward two Years

In June of 2015 I reached a point of despairing with several of our sons. A couple were struggling with reading and math, making little progress despite the consistency that had been lacking in the past. With one son, I felt like I was beating my head against a wall. I focused on him, spent more time one-on-one with him than I ever had with any other child (and that’s saying something!) and not only was he not progressing, it was as if he was getting no input at all. We started All About Reading Level 1 and two months later, he was still on Lesson 3. And still not getting it.

I knew. I recognized the symptoms from when our second son was the same age. The light bulbs were not coming on. He was seven, almost eight, and couldn’t handle the very basics of academic work. Not only that, but he was struggling in just about every area of life—attention, his social skills were sadly lacking, disciplining him was an exercise in frustration. He was living in his own little world and we couldn’t seem to get him out of it.

Although by God’s grace, and a lot of work, or second son had (eventually) managed to survive his academic studies, even going on to develop an interest in writing, just the thought of going through all the years difficulty, watching him struggle, it made me feel so . . . weary. For a week, my heart was heavy as I cried out to God asking him for answers. How could we make learning not so hard for this child? How could we disciple this child that didn’t seem to catch on the most basic of instruction?

Desperately I prayed until the wee hours of one morning. I woke up with an answer. I remembered our experience with NACD. I researched, re-listened to the initial “Guide to Child Development” MP3 we had downloaded. I looked up and watched free videos on YouTube about NACD’s perspective on attention deficit and autism. Throughout this time Steve and I talked and prayed. The Lord opened up the financial opportunity to pursue that path.

We decided to have all our children who were school age and preschool age evaluated, since all had shown deficits in some areas or another. With the preschooler, we wanted to see if there were ways to prevent some of these issues from developing. We traveled to Charlottesville, VA (four hours away) and spent two days getting seven evaluations for Matthew (16 at the time), Harrison (14), Jonathan (11), Jackson (8), Gabriel (7), Josiah (6), and Maggie (4).

The first assessments were pretty amazing. It didn’t look like Ellen (our evaluator) was doing all that much. There were a couple of simple academic tests, conversation, and little activities she asked the children to do that didn’t look like much to us. After the child left the room, Ellen proceeded to explain what was going in each child’s brain. She understood where their particular struggles were (even if the child had not displayed it for her in that hour!) and she had a plan for how we could help them work on these areas. She even had insight into the personality quirks of each child and an explanation for why the child displayed them. After those two days, I understood my children better than I ever have.

“Doing Program”

Implementing “program” for seven children was a drastic departure from our very laid-back approach. It took several tries to find an organizational style that worked for us. Weekly or daily checklists seem to work best. Soon we found that we needed to take a team approach, using older children to help with younger children, assigning buddies, and generally teaching everyone how do all the program activities with everyone.

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Every four months we have follow-up evaluations, sometimes traveling to Charlottesville, sometimes via Skype. At first, we had all the children seen every time, but now we only have the children evaluated who most need to be seen.

Changing the way we “did school” was a BIG DEAL. Remember, we had already “graduated” three children, so we were pretty set in our ways.

Was it worth it?

ABSOLUTELY! The differences we see in the children is amazing, and not just in academics, although that is greatly improved and I’m happy to report that all the children are at grade level or above in all their academic subjects. The differences in our son who struggled the most are night and day. He has become affectionate, empathetic, a hard worker, and responsive to typical discipline.

When a new problem crops up, I feel more equipped to deal with it. NACD provided the tools I was looking for with a perspective that I agree with.

And that is where we find ourselves today. And it is a really good thing because at our twenty-week ultrasound the doctors found a neural tube defect, myelomeningocele or “spina bifida” as most people call it. Little Patrick is going to have some serious challenges, particularly as it relates to his bowel, bladder, and lower body mobility. Learning disabilities are associated with spina bifida, as well.

We are so grateful for all we have learned through NACD already. We know that God has been preparing us for this new chapter in our family life as we look forward to the joys and challenges of working with Patrick after he is born.

Some Catching Up

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So much has happened since our last series of blog posts! I’d like to give you a detailed record, but I’m afraid I can neither remember it all nor would you all be interested. Here are some highlights.

In August 2015 our oldest son, Rich, married his lovely bride, Hannah. (You will remember that Luke and Sabrina married in May 2015.)

I think you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them if you want to see details better.

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Then, in April 2016 Luke and Sabrina had a little girl, our first grandchild and granddaughter Lillyana. Rich and Hannah had a little boy, Jed, in June of the same year.

Here is Lillyana on her first birthday.

IMG_5778Here is Jed at Christmas time.

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Yes, we think that they are both amazingly adorable!

Two more grandchildren are on their way, too!

Last summer (and into the fall), we built my parents a house next door. As in Steve and the older boys literally, physical constructed a house for Mom and Dad. Here is it in-process.

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This year, Rich has begun construction on his house at the far end of the property. (I’m sure there will be more pics of that to come.)

And as I said yesterday, after a long series of miscarriages, I am 25 weeks pregnant with our eleventh child, a son whom we plan to name Patrick. But more on Patrick later.

Year 2 is Available at Highlands Ministries

Year 2 is Available at Highlands Ministries
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Organic-Homeschooling-Curriculum-Year-2-STOREFor the past several years, Steve and I have been writing and “podcasting” for Highlands Ministries Online. Our podcast is called HomeWise and is available through iTunes or through the Highlands Website (http://highlandsministriesonline.org/free-resources/homewise-podcasts/) It is less focused on academic study but rather a broad conversation about family life.

When we simplified the Organic Homeschooling curriculum (which I think I’d prefer to call an un-curriculum) we decided to go to a yearly format. Four years are planned. The first two are complete. The curriculum is designed to be used with all your children together who are ages 3-12.

You can find Year 1 here: http://highlandsministriesonline.org/store/book-dvd/organic-homeschooling-year-1-curriculum/

And Year 2 (which unfortunately took longer than anticipated to complete) here: http://highlandsministriesonline.org/store/book-dvd/organic-homeschooling-year-2-curriculum/

The years do not correspond with grade levels, since it is a multi-age format. They are designed to be completed in order beginning with Year 1 and progressing to Year 4. If you still have little ones coming up in the wings, restart at Year 1 again when you complete Year 4.

Year 3 and Year 4 are in-process now, so hopefully we won’t run into any roadblocks and those will be available soon.

We have a lot more to share, things we’ve learned, changes to our household, family, and homeschooling. We have a new baby on the way (due in July) and a lot to share about that so look for more posts coming soon!

Year 2 Coming Soon!

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I have had a lot of inquiries about the Year 2 (and 3 and 4) curriculum. Yes! We are working on it and hope to have Year 2 published and available through Highlands Ministries (highlandsministriesonline.org) soon. I’m sorry for the delay.

As many of you know following our loss of a baby at 18 weeks gestation, my health took a serious nosedive. We also had computer and back-up crashes that seriously hampered our ability to finish.

BUT we are back on track and hoping to get Year 2 out very soon.

Do You Ever Feel Thwarted???

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This may or may not be someone who shall remain nameless

That was my day Monday. As the saying goes, I couldn't win for losing.

First, let it be noted that it was Monday. 'Nough said.

So, yes, I got up late. And, yes, all the normal morning things took twice as long to accomplish, but I was bound and determined I was going to get back into my exercise routine. I got half way though when a child (who shall remain nameless) came howling from the barn. I ran out to the porch. While investigating the situation, the Jehovah's Witnesses showed up. Now, we live in the middle of nowhere. How did they find us?

By the time I was through with the JW's and got to the bottom of the situation with the kids, I had completely cooled down. I gave up on the rest of my workout.

Finding the two little ones to start our lessons was a challenge since one (who shall remain nameless) decided to investigate all fifty acres of the farm. I opened my mouth to begin teaching when the lunch person came in asking, “So, what's for lunch?” Already?!?

I did about half of the lesson with little ones and then paused to eat. Well, not the first menu suggestion, since we were out of cheese. (When are we ever out of cheese?)

Trying to hurry the clean up along I pulled out a chair to sweep and found someone's (who shall remain nameless–wait, he's been nameless three times–I see a trend) lunch on his chair. Apparently, the dessert offered tempted him to hide his lunch. But it took some time to deal with the situation.

Ugh, it was after one o'clock. I try to get outside for an hour between one and two because I need vitamin D. I scooped up all the little ones craft supplies and took them out to the picnic table. And here is where it gets really interesting.

Just as I set up my chair, a huge clap of thunder rolled. “Don't worry, Mom,” my big kids said. “It's been doing that all morning.” Dark clouds rolled in, another big boom, and I scooped everything up and took it all inside. Just as I got everyone settled in our dining room, a windowless antebellum log cabin–the electricity went off. As steam poured out my ears, thunder rattled the house.

We lost a branch and my son and daughter-in-law had no electricity because a telephone pole went down (which actually brightened our day because they came to visit.)

Once the electricity came back on we actually accomplished everything I set out to accomplish, praise the Lord, but WHAT A DAY!

How about you? How's your day going?

 

History Comes to Bristol

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Last Friday, our family attended a lecture given by Steve Wilkins about Confederate generals Lee and Jackson. Here are two biographies he wrote for the Leaders in Action series.

All Things for Good

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We were so impressed with the stories of godly character from these men's lives.

From conversations we had with Pastor Wilkins, I decided to begin a new unit on Booker T. Washington, particularly focusing on his autobiography, Up From Slavery. Look for more information on that coming up soon.

 

Preparing for Summer

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I recieved a nice e-mail from Becky with All About Learning as a follow-up to this blog post that included this information:

“I wanted to let you know that we do have a free letter tile replacement program–if you are missing 6 tiles or fewer, we will pop them in the mail for you at no charge. :-)”

 

Isn’t that great to know?

Seasonal Change-over

We had a big day yesterday. It was the big change–transforming the house and wardrobes from fall/winter to spring/summer. We usually get this done in late April or early May, but with the wedding we didn’t get to it.

Because our home is not large, it makes for quite a chaotic day when we bring in all the summer clothes and pack up all the winter clothes and give away all the clothes that don’t fit anymore. It probably doesn’t help that I got a little over-ambitious and decided to sort through books and reorganize the shed, while we were at it. We also had to go through the hat and glove bench (which had a whole lot more than hats and gloves in it) and transform the boot tub into a pool supply tub. (We have a four-foot inflatable pool that we enjoy every summer.)

Here are few quick thoughts on completing big projects:

This is a family event. Everyone participates. Throughout the process, everyone had a job to do. Delegating requires more thought on mom’s part, but once children are trained it is amazing the productivity of teamwork. I could never accomplish all I do without the help of all the children.

Assign older children to apprentice younger children. Some moms-of-many have the older children care for and play with the younger children while mom accomplishes the work. We prefer to all work together.

Include rewards if the work is hard. Yes, I’m not above bribery–for me or the children. At the beginning of the day I promised that if we accomplished all we set out to do we would buy pizza (a big treat for us) and rent a movie. About an hour into the work, I rewarded all the diligent workers with a small handful of candy. I did this a few more times throughout the day. Although we had plenty of discipline situations to deal with, the “catch ‘em being good” method encourages a positive attitude toward work. And, yes, we enjoyed our pizza and movie last night.

Give children specific instructions rather than general goals. When I was a child, “go clean your room” overwhelmed me. Especially with boys who struggle with organization, I have found that more specific instructions help. I tell the boys “make your bed, put the dirty clothes in the hamper, put the toys away, and clean up the trash.” This results in a clean room, but they don’t get as overwhelmed when they focus on one task at time. By the way, some children struggle with remembering more than one or two instructions at a time, so I often give one of these directions and then say “and then report back to me.”

Know when to retreat. There comes a point in every big project when you lose sight of what you’re doing. When that point comes, take a break, eat a snack, and go sit outside for fifteen minutes. Usually after my brain has had time to rest I am ready to tackle the next thing.

Specifically concerning kids clothes: Use a chart to evaluate each child’s wardobe. Down the left column. I list all the types of clothes my children need (short sleeve t-shirts, short sleeve collared shirts, shorts, jeans, etc.) and an estimated minimum number that they need. Across the top row are all of the children’s initials and their estimated sizes. I use tally marks to keep track of the acceptable clothing as we sort. At the end of the day I can easily see what I need to purchase.

This morning, as I think about all we accomplished I am very impressed. Not only did we get a lot done but we are also ready for all the summer fun that I am (working on) planning. After all, wihtout the infrasturcture of organized spaces and clean laundry, summer activities won’t be nearly as much fun.

What are you doing to get ready for summer? Share your ideas below.

 

 

 

Planting Vegetables and Trees

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One of the first things that drew us to the property we live on was the huge, old maple near the house. The maple not only provides cooling shade for a house without central air conditioning, but it is beautiful. Given the age of the house and the estimated age of the tree, we believe that the maple was planted after the house was built.

The foresight of those who came before us in planting a tree where it would provide shade and beauty in future generations is humbling.

Planting Garden Seeds

Every year we plant a vegetable garden in the back yard. Not ambitious gardeners, we plant enough to feed our family for the summer months, but not so much that August is spent canning and freezing. (Note the reference above to the un-air conditioned house.)

Gardening is a fun short-term project that yields almost immediate benefits.

Long- and Short-term Goals

In parenting, we must always keep both the short-term and long-term in view. We must train and discipline our children to be a blessing to others now and in the future. Training in hand washing, answering respectfully, keeping rooms clean (or trying to!), and how to wash the dishes, these are the short-term, garden seed style investments.

It is easy to get wrapped up in these.

Long-term character qualities like patience and kindness, considering others ahead of yourself, and being faithful in responsibilities are like planting saplings. The work is harder and the growth is slower, but the long-term results benefit not only your immediate family but also your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

As you go about your day, be mindful of the seeds and saplings that you are nurturing in your child’s life. Don’t neglect one or the other and you will enjoy the blessings of an early harvest and lifelong shade.

 

Better Use of All About Reading

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We’ve been using All About Reading (AAR) for about two years. It is, by far, the best curriculum for children with dyslexia that I have seen. I wish it had been available fifteen years ago when our Luke was a little guy struggling with reading. At that time I had fifteen phonics programs on my shelf–and I just wanted one of them to work.

AAR combines all the best components of those curriculums into one cohesive whole. My children enjoy the illustrations and stories. The only thing I don’t like about AAR is that we keep losing the letter tiles.

Today’s blog post at All About Learnig gives an example of a mom teaching many littles and how she adapts AAR for her family. Perhaps her idea for organizing letter tiles will help us keep better track of them!

More About Struggling Readers

As a homeschooling mom of ten children, ages twenty to three-and-a-half, including eight boys, I’ve learned a thing two about teaching reading over the years. Statistically, forty percent of eight-year-olds cannot read. Before you cluck your tongue and blame ‘those public schools’ I want to interject that I have found this statistic to fairly represent homeschooled children, despite our strong emphasis on early phonics. I believe that this is related to the way young minds mature. History is full of examples of “late bloomers” such as Thomas Edison who was labeled a “dunce” in school. Edison’s mother’s response to remove him from that environment and teach him at home was not only appropriate, but also a very effective solution. (Hang on while I turn on the lightbulb in the lamp next to me.)

In our home, half of our children would have been labeled “struggling learners” had they attended institutional schools. In general our “late bloomers” lag behind in their studies until they hit the age of fourteen (approximately) when they suddenly burst ahead knocking out their remaining studies to be able to complete their courses early on “on time,” according to a traditional school timetable.

 

Words of Advice for Dealing with Struggling Learners

I’ll probably go into more detail about some of these over the coming months, but for now, here are a few quick bullet points to remember:

  • Don’t panic! Despite the homeschool success stories, your child’s struggles are normal and natural and will be overcome.
  • Don’t compare. Each child has his own unique timetable, character strengths and weaknesses, and personality.
  • Be consistent and reasonable. It is better for a struggling learner to spend five to ten minutes every day in practice than an hour once a week.
  • “Every day” doesn’t mean every day. It would be nice if life never got in the way of our goals, but it does. Faithfulness, not perfection, is what is most important.
  • Patience is being developed–your patience and your child’s. The more you enjoy the process, and stop pushing for the product, the more relaxed you and your child will be. Patience is good for your relationship with your child. Patience is loving.
  • Keep hope. He will learn to read. God is refining your child uniquely for his purpose. We have found that struggling learners are harder workers, more cheerful in the face of adversity, and more compassionate as a result of their own struggles. The character forged into their lives more than makes up for the fact that learning to read wasn’t easy.

This summer is a great opportunity to experiment with fun ways of learning. Whether you do more reading aloud or find a fun outdoor reading game on Pinterest, use the coming months to practice enjoying the journey.

Got any great ideas to share? Post them in the comments below.

 

We’re Ba-a-ack!

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As you may have noticed, the Organic Homexchooling blog has taken a backseat in our life in recent years. In addition to the regular challenge of prioritizing how to use our time as we manage a house-full of children, in February 2013, our oldest son, Rich, was in a serious car accident with a prolonged recovery. It was during that time that our old laptop died and (such a silly thing, I know) I (Kara) could not figure out how to blog easily from an iPad.

Family Update

To bring you all up to speed on where the Murphy family is now, we entered a new stage of life on May 16 when our second son, Luke, married his beautiful bride, Sabrina. Luke and Sabrina live about a quarter of a mile away. What a blessing to have them so close.

The week before the wedding, our oldest son, Rich, proposed to the love of his life, Hannah. They plan to marry in August.

That leaves us with eight children still at home. Elizabeth (or Lizzy, as we call her) is seventeen and driving. She is almost done with her formal schooling and beginning to look for new ways to serve beyond our four walls.

Matthew (16) and Harrison (14) are beginning to make the transition from child to adult. They stay very busy with their mowing business and doing their studies, most of which they do independently.

The five younger children are the main focus of our organic homeschooling—Jonathan (11), Jackson (9), Gabriel (7), Josiah (6), and Maggie (4). For the first time in our parenting, we have no babies or toddlers in our home. We'll see what the Lord does about that in the future.

Easter 2015 (Sabrina, Luke's wife) is in white between Steve and Luke)

Steve is still a full-time pastor. Steve and I now write and create podcasts for Highlands Ministries. You will also find the new year-long Organic Homeschooling curriculum sold exclusively on their website.

Another fun change is that my parents, Tom and Carol McGinnis, moved in next door. The children love to have daily interaction with their grandparents. I love to have a place to escape to from time to time when I need a few minutes of sane conversation.


Warning: Expanded Topics Ahead!

When we began the Organic. Homeschooling blog in 2009-2010, we used it to promote our monthly subscription-based curriculum and to support the Organic Homeschooling users with encouragement and additional ideas, research topics, and project and craft ideas.

This summer, I plan to expand the topics of this blog to include other topics that are near and dear to my heart–health and fitness, home and family life, nature, crats and activities, hobbies, and so on.

This is your forewarning. If you do not wish to read about family music night, our favorite movies, picnic ideas, T-Tapp, Trim Healthy Mama, taking nature walks, preschool summer crats, pool time, knitting projects, scrapbooking, fiction and non-fiction writing, Every Thought Captive, and our new HomeWise podcasts, now is the time to unsubscribe from the Organic Homeschooling blog.

You have been warned.

If however, any of these topics interest you, let us know in the comments below. If you do not comment, I will be forced to blog according to my whims something I will enjoy, but that you may not.