Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speaking of School...a New Journey

Abby and Natalie - Sept 2013
It's seems appropriate that the last post over a year ago was about the girls starting school.  Well, school is once again the topic of discussion, but not in the same way.

Natalie and Abby had a great year of kindergarten last year.  They enjoyed making new friends and playing on the playground at school.  They very quickly learned to read and once it clicked, they soared ahead in their reading ability.  Natalie struggled some with being able to finish her work in a timely manner, so we prepared to consider future options for ADD evaluation if we needed to.

Over all, however, they had a very successful year and we were pleased.  We LOVED the year round schedule.  It allowed us to do some wonderful things during the breaks.

Natalie and Abby with Great-Grandma Courliss - Sept 2012
Abby and Natalie - Tawas Point Sept 2012

Tawas Point, MI

Michigan - Sept 2012

Abby and Natalie - Big Meadows, Skyline Drive, VA - Sept 2012

Abby and Natalie - Luray Caverns, Luray, VA Sept 2012

Natalie, Poppy and Abby - Limberlost Trail, Skyline Drive - Oct 2012

Natalie and Abby - NYC, March 2013

Natalie and Abby - end of Kindergarten - June 2013

All in all, Kindergarten was really good and we were pleased over all.

The summer was short - but fun.  With only 5 weeks to play with, we had a lot to do and not much time to do it!

Abby and Natalie - First Day Camp - Caroline Furance, Luray, VA - June 2013

Abby, Mommy, Natalie - Storybrook Trail - June 2013

Abby, Natalie and Kenan - Summer Faith Adventure - June 2013

Abby and Natalie - NC Aquarium Manteo - July 2013

Very quickly, mid-July came around and we were very excited for first grade!  We had fun meeting their teachers, shopping for supplies and heading off for the first day of school!

Natalie and Abby found the reading nook! - July 2013

Natalie and Abby - shopping for 1st grade
Natalie and Abby - 1st day of 1st grade! - July 15, 2013
Abby and Natalie - ready to go

The girls seemed to enjoy first grade at first.  They were disappointed that none of the friends they were closest to in kindergarten were in their new first grade class.  We also had an incident early on in the year with a classmate asking to see Natalie's underwear!  I was very proud of Natalie because she told him, "no, that's my private parts and I'm going to tell my mom."  The teacher handled it beautifully though, and we didn't really think it was malicious at all.  They enjoyed the first field trip they took and recess was a big hit - of course.

At the same time, we were really struggling with homework.  The girls weren't big fans of the idea and every night it was a huge struggle.  Often, we weren't getting it done.  It was A LOT of writing - actually all writing.  We tried a variety of ways to get things done but it was a struggle.

At the same time, Natalie was really beginning to struggle even more with her school work.  She was not able to finish her work in school and it was becoming more and more of an issue.  We worked with the teacher on some options, but they didn't seem to be working.

At the same time, Natalie was also struggling with her own emotions.  She had began to say things about herself that caused us great concern.  She was saying things like, "I hate myself", "I'm a terrible girl" and other things along that line.  Her behavior was also starting to fall apart.  She was throwing tantrums, trying to hit and kick and yelling in defiance.  The tantrums were becoming a daily event, sometimes more than once a day and were even spilling over into public, which was completely out of character for her.  In late August, we put in a request to be seen by a child psychologist both for the emotional issues Natalie was having as well as an evaluation for ADD.  We were able to get an appointment in mid October to start meeting with a psychotherapist and start the ADD and emotional evals.

In late October, Ben and I took a trip to Thailand with Ben's mom (who is from Thailand), Dad and sister.  While we were gone, the girls were lucky enough to have Poppy, Nanny, Grammy and Auntie to take care of them.  They didn't miss us at all-)  My mother and sister were both giving us reports while we were gone of problems they were noticing with information coming home from school.  Additionally, my mom had visited the classroom to help with a Halloween project and was concerned by what she observed.

When we returned from Thailand in November, we resumed Natalie's evaluations and I decided to spend a day in the classroom to observe and see what exactly was happening when Natalie was "distracted" from her work.  After a day in their classroom and another half-day on a field trip with them, I could not have been more saddened and concerned by what I discovered.

To shorten a VERY long story...
- the teacher had poor grammar and often used double negatives and even the word "ain't"
- when writing an example on the board, she used a sentence structure that I had never quite seen - "I open my cookie apart to show two pieces."
- she gave them a math assignment to figure out in small groups, then never showed them how to actually do the problem

and then, the worst part....
- The teachers, especially the assistant, were, in my opinion, verbally abusive to certain children when dealing with behavioral issues and trying to get them to complete their work.  Children were berated, threatened, and spoken to harshly.
-  On the field trip, the assistant repeatedly referred to one child as "boy", and in, "boy, you better stop that" or "boy, I don't know what's wrong with you".  This was not a "oh boy" with a big sigh.  It was more like a "come in from the fields, boy" kind-of boy.  It was unbelievable.
- The children seemed scared - scared to answer questions with the wrong answer and unsure of what the teachers want from them.
- The energy in the room was low and depressing.  There was no joy or excitement in the classroom.  By the end of the day, I felt depressed.  I couldn't imagine spending all day there.

I had also observed the assistant tear into a child on the playground at recess one day.  Additionally, I'd witnessed other teachers and staff berating students in the hall.  My mother reported she had observed the same behavior.  As we began asking the girls more questions we became aware of the computer teacher who apparently yelled at everyone and made kids stand against the wall in punishment.  In fact, Abby reported being afraid to even ask a question of this teacher for fear of getting yelled at.

We quickly began to realize that Natalie's behavior could be directly related to the emotional climate in the classroom.  We also realized we had significant concerns about the quality of education the girls were receiving.  They appeared to have very little math (we saw almost no math homework in 18 weeks of school.)  We were having difficulty seeing where they had learned much of anything new at all.

We took our concerns to the principal and asked they be moved immediately to a new classroom.  Again, a long story, but ultimately moving was very complicated and our concerns about the emotional climate were very much dismissed.  After much discussion, we made the choice to pull the girls out of school and home school for the rest of the year. ( When we told the girls Monday was would be their last day, Abby nearly started crying because that was computer day and she was afraid to go to class.  I promised her I would show up and go to class with her - which I did.)

I will say the teacher was fantastic about their transition.  She had the class sit down and announced that Natalie and Abby were going on new journey.  She allowed the kids to say goodbyes to them which was so, so sweet.   Many of the children offered up their favorite toys or boots as gifts:-)   I had also brought cookies and cupcakes and we had a little going away party.  It was really nice for all of the children to be able to have some closure and say goodbye to each other.

Last day of 1st grade at Pearsontown - (Abby and Natalie) Dec 9, 2013

And, so our new journey begins.  The girls' last day of school was December 9.  We started easing into home school but with Christmas we took it easy until after the new year.

From this point on, I am excited that I will be able to post about our home schooling journey - all the up and the downs (which I am already discovering!) and hopefully, the joys of learning as well!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Dawn of a New (school) Age

Natalie and Abby - 1st day of Kindergarten

Well, the time has come.  Despite my best efforts, Natalie and Abby turned 5 and started school.  I'm actually incredibly proud of them.  We had a great time shopping for supplies, talking about school, reading books about school, going to meet their teacher and starting the first day.  They did absolutely amazing - no tears and barely a glance back.  Mommy and Daddy both walked them to their class the first day, but once they saw the play dough at their table - they barely even said good-bye!

Oh, since someone is bound to ask...we had every intention of separating them for school.  I'm a firm believer in letting them be their own distinct selves.  I have rarely dressed them the same - and not in years.  They are individual people and should be treated as such.  However, as we began discussing school and telling them that Natalie would have one teacher and Abby would have a different teacher, it became clear this was extremely distressing for them, especially Abby.  Her sweet little eyes would get big and nearly fill with tears, and she would say, "I don't want to have a different teacher than Natalie.  I want to be with Natalie."  After some discussion, we decided that since they had never been to pre-school, going to school AND separating them might be too much all at once.  So, at the last minute, we decided to keep them together.  They do sit at separate tables, and it appears that they play separately on the playground as well as together at times.  For this year, it seems like the best decision, and we will be probably separate them next year.

Their new school is a year-round calendar - so they started on July 19!  They had a staggered entry which meant the first 4 days (16th -19th) a 4th of each class came to school.  On Friday, July 20, everyone was there.  It worked out great for us since their start day was the last staggered one and we could just start - and keep going - like they would every week.  I think we are going to love the year round calendar.  Our first break starts September 15 for three weeks and I am already planning a trip to Michigan, camping, and time with grandparents.

Abby and Natalie at their classroom
As far as adjusting, the girls are really doing well.  They love recess - of course - and playing something called, "puppy pants" with some boy named Matthew.  I wasn't really sure what to think of that until I learned it's basically a game of tag with the girls (with other girls as well) shouting, "puppy pants" at Matthew.  I have no idea what that even means.  They have also enjoyed making sand pictures in the shady area under the slide.  It sounds like a pretty good place to play - since it's been nearly 100 degrees here.  I was thinking back to the days before AC.  I am SO glad they don't have to deal with that.

They also, ironically, seem to like lunchtime.  I'm quite sure it has nothing to do with the actual eating part, and everything to do with getting to sit at the little tables in the cafeteria.  We have had some issues with various parts of their lunch not being opened by the teachers.  I'm trying different things to make it easier.  There are also still days they don't eat much at all, which frustrates me from a place of nutrition and calories, but also of waste.  This week's trial:  not sending as much food.  Hopefully, they will either eat it all, or I'll at least have less to throw away.

Natalie and Abby at their table

The only thing the girls don't like is computer class.  Apparently, they were put in front of a computer and given an educational game to play.  They had a really difficult time working the mouse and making it click the right place.  The other kids apparently seemed experts.  I think it frustrated them, especially Abby.  But, I'm actually kind of proud of this deficiency.  It means they have NOT spent their days parked in front of a computer playing games - even educational ones.  They have played, colored, dug for worms, played with snakes, read books, watched animal and history shows with me, played outside, visited museums, zoos, and parks, and learned to be creative and innovative.  I figure we have plenty of time to learn how to use a mouse - they can never re-do their first 5 years of development.

As I anticipated, we are having a few issues with Natalie and her inability to maintain focus.  We've seen this behavior at home for a while and been working on it.  Natalie is sort of like a cartoon character who gets distracted by every single shiny thing.  The character stops everything to follow the shiny thing and walks into a wall.

We have a meeting Monday with all relevant parties to figure out the best options.  We have to determine the cause for her behavior.  Is it ADD, and OT/fine motor issue, immaturity or simply, "this is not what I want to do right now"?  The good news is that she is not disruptive.  She's not wandering around or bothering other children.  It sounds like she's mostly just staring into space.  I know we will figure out the best thing to do and get Natalie on track asap.

Overall, Natalie and Abby are enjoying school.  The only hint we've had that trouble could be brewing in the future is a repeated question, "mommy, how long do we have to go to school?"  My answer is usually, "forever:-)".  I'm pretty sure though, that they don't fully understand what that means for them over the next 13 years - and beyond!!  At least I can tell them they will have a break in about 5 more weeks:-)

Packing our Book bags the day before!


Abby's Mouse and Baby Sam waiting for her in her seat
Natalie's Baby Kitty and Rainbow Sparklepups

Wow - I've been really lazy.

I had no idea I'd been this bad.  Almost no posts at all for a whole year.  *sigh*  There's no point trying to catch up completely, so I'll just go from here.  I may try to summarize a few things, but from now on, at least I'll try to keep up.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Mind of a Child

I love the way Abby's mind works.  For me, one of my roles as a mother is to introduce my girls to a variety of experiences and the natural world.  Generally, I pick the things I like - since, well, I can.  So, that means the girls have learned about two of my favorite things:  volcanoes - and snakes.

In the realm of snakes, Nat Geo Wild is my friend.  I love that channel.  We watch lots and lots of animals shows, and honestly, I enjoy them as much as the girls (maybe more).  A few days ago, we were watching a show on snakes (cobras, I think) and I was reiterating the way the fangs work (like a needle when you go to the doctor).  Abby then pronounced, "it's like a volcano".  This confused me quite a bit, so I asked, "how is it like a volcano?"  And, clearly, and accurately, she explained that the poison comes from a hole in the snake through the fangs.  Then, I glimpsed her mental image.  "You mean like the magma chamber of a volcano...the lava comes up the tube and then comes out?"  She nodded.  Obviously, that's what she meant.

See if you agree.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Time Marches On...

Abby, Natalie and Dolly the Horse
Abby (top) and Natalie
 This is the hard truth.  In less than one month, Natalie and Abby will turn 5 years old.  For the record, I refuse to accept this.  As I did when they were born, I shall dip my feet in the great river of Denile and stay there, say, forever, seeing them always as my little girls.

Natalie and Abby
Natalie and Abby
Unfortunately, the news gets worse.  Not only do they turn 5, Natalie and Abby also start kindergarten this year.  And as we have chosen a year-long school, "this year" means mid-July.  So, in less than 3 months, I will ship Natalie and Abby off to school, and probably sit in the car outside the school the whole day in a quivering heap.

Natalie and Abby
Natalie and Abby
I never thought I would be this melodramatic about it, but I am becoming
acutely aware of the fact that my girls are growing up, and
frankly, I don't like it one bit.  I think my real problem is that I'm trying to wrap my mind around the fact that they will actually be going to school.

Abby and Natalie
Natalie and Abby
Abby and Natalie
Somewhere in my mind, I fantasized that I would homeschool the girls and they would be with me forever.  Then, the reality of "me" kicked in, and I realized that just might not work.  (As an aside, I've been dealing with an absurd case of chronic drowsiness to the point of being near comatose at times.  I was literally falling asleep between words as I read to the girls.  I now have "wake-up" medicine that seems to be helping.)  If I were more organized, a better house- keeper, or, recently, simply conscious, maybe I could have done it. But,*sigh*, it seems not to be.

So, now, they must leave me, and I will hate it.  And, then, I shall swim.
Mommy holding Natalie and Abby together for the first time - 7/27/07

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ballet - Garden Performance - May 15

So, I'm a little late in posting this...but better late than never:-)

Natalie and Abby finished their first year of ballet in perfect form as the Walkerdance Studio of Burlington held their annual Garden Performance. Dance Studios take note: this is how all Studios should showcase their students. There were no fancy costumes, no bright lights, no hours of rehearsal or hours of performance. Just a simple patch of grass, potted plants outlining the stage, black leotards, pink tights and a skirt provided by the studio and parents in their lawn chairs. Every class performed and it took about 40 minutes. It was perfect.

Having the girls at Walkerdance this year was actually a big thrill for me. Walkerdance was my Uncle John's studio and where my sister and I took dance when we were little girls. John hasn't taught at the studio for several years, but hand-picked the teachers so his philosophy permeates the place. It was a gift to them to be there this year and well worth the 45 minute drive each way. My uncle John had a long and distinguished career and it was an honor to have the girls at his studio this year. (his bio - since I am super proud:-)  (go to bottom of the page)

Natalie and Abby lined up for their big entrance. Abby is in black and pink and Natalie is in pink and black (hehehe)

The girls first piece was to recite the ballet poem John made up decades ago to help young (and older) dancers learn the language of ballet and what the terms mean.

Abby performing the poem and movements of the words.


Natalie performing the poem
Natalie taking a break to pick some grass.
Floor work - performing a ballet movement diagonally across the floor.


Uncle Johnny, Natalie and Abby
Auntie came to see our show! (Natalie and Abby)

Our teacher, Miss Emily (Abby and Natalie)