Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What to Actually Learn from Ferguson

Once again Ferguson is blowing up my Facebook news feed, so I feel the need to mention the drama, because I agree that we can’t just sweep aside decades of inequality. However, I’m not sure people are focusing on the actual issues of this case, but instead are focused on what they perceive or “assume” happened. Yes, there are more shootings of black suspects than white, but the reason is not necessarily racism. The reason for these shootings is simply the fact that there are more black suspects.

About 40% of the prison population is black, compared to about 14% of the total population. Obama himself notably interchanged two phrases in his speech. In two subsequent sentences he mentioned “some communities of color” and “low-income, high crime neighborhoods”. I’m not sure anyone else has noticed yet, but he used those phrases as synonyms. If even our “black” president believes that some areas of a city, country, or state are dangerous because of the mentality of some of the residents, why should we expect our police force to act any differently?

Now, we have a problem that we can focus on and make progress towards. Why are the “black” low-income neighborhoods perceived as the violent and dangerous threat? Is this an economic problem, or an educational problem, or a cultural problem? What can be done about this problem? If we can keep or get our black fathers and uncles and brothers out of jail, if we give young mother’s the advice and training needed to raise their children, if we can fix the problems in our low-income schools by getting people to actually volunteer in them one-on-one to change our world, if we can stop the cycle of poverty in even a few families, maybe we can truly start to fix the problem.

Secondarily, police officers are given more license to harm because they are often in the way of danger. I was told, if I was ever pulled over, to keep my hands on the steering wheel unless the officer asked for my license and registration. I am probably the least likely suspect (white and female) but an officer doesn’t know based on the color of your skin or the glint of your eye whether you are reaching for a gun or your license and registration. According to a grand jury, it was not about the color of anyone’s skin in this particular case. The problem is that a suspect was advancing towards a police officer. There are white suspects who have been killed in exactly the same manner. Maybe we can use this to advise our children of all colors to respect the police officers authority and follow instructions, including laying face down on the ground or turned away from an officer to be handcuffed.

There’s a reason that “police assisted suicide” is a phrase. Police officers are trained, as they should be, to protect themselves from an imminent threat. If you want to teach your kids the same thing that I was taught about respecting and obeying police officers right away, I think that’s a great idea. Just don’t tell them it’s because of the color of their skin. When you tell a young child that a police officer will target them just because they are black, you are creating a new problem. Now that child has a hatred for and will antagonize white police officers, creating just the problem you were trying to avoid.

Now, I’m also not going to ignore the fact that a few police officers are actually racist and need to be taken off the streets. I’m not saying that’s the case in this situation, but I would assume, based on the reactions that at least a few police officers in Ferguson are harassing or targeting the black community in some way. The main problem we face, is how to identify the small percentage of police officers who are creating a problem. My suggestion would be a two part system. One part would be an independent national database to track complaints. You should be able to call a 1-800 number and report if you were targeted unfairly by a police officer or other law enforcement official due to your race, gender, or age. A third-party would then need to investigate to substantiate the claims, but that should be fairly easy (was the police officer in the stated area at that time, was there a conflicting report, was the person making the report charged with a crime).

The second part includes taking action on the database. Now, if a number of reports show up on a particular police officer, we can make changes, such as fining the officer, assigning administrative leave, switching the officer to desk work or kindly suggesting they find other employment. We also now have evidence, if this officer is then charged in a shooting, with whether they were acting on their documented racist tendencies, or if this is the first time something has happened and they were acting solely out of fear and self-preservation.


Let’s not make Ferguson into another hate-filled racial problem. Let’s use the media coverage given to solve a problem, not start more problems. I completely agree with the prosecutor’s comments on the 24-hour news cycle and social media. Somehow, with the advances of social media, each individual has become a judge, jury, and lawmaker of their own. We are not a law unto ourselves.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Kindergarten Homeschool Plan

The following is my basic homeschool plan for Kindergarten. We plan on starting Kindergarten in January, even though my son won't quite be 4.5 because he is already doing most of this. We will start 1st grade whenever I feel he's "ready" (which might be 1-2 years, if necessary). 1st grade will look different because there will be slightly more "required".

My basic philosophy is that kids will learn what/when they want to learn, and they do tend to learn somewhat naturally. On the other hand, they also have to be shown/taught certain subjects to enable them to learn more efficiently and reach their full potential. Therefore, I have certain "required" subjects in "Kindergarten" and everything else I am either classifying as "optional" (in other words it does not have to be done on a certain day, but I would like to get to it at least a few times a month) or "fun" (not required at all, but still educational). For Kindergarten, I have very little required, quite a bit more optional, and even more fun. Because isn't that what Kindergarten should be about?

Required

  • Learning to read - I will allow my child to choose based on his preference between the book "Learn to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" (we are currently on lesson 40 in this book, but he doesn't ask for it as frequently) and what he calls his "words and such" which is Easy Peasy (allinonehomeschool.com). As he gets a bit more proficient in reading, I will also allow him to pick a book to read independently to someone.
  • Math - I have chosen Singapore Math Essentials for our basic curriculum. However, if he chooses to pick another option, I also have "The Complete Book of Numbers and Counting" Pre K - 1st Grade. I also have some math dry erase fact sheets for addition and subtraction that he can choose as he gets a little more practice/proficiency to help him learn his facts.
  • Handwriting practice (this may include Handwriting Without Tears, practicing writing his name, practice with different utensils/materials, etc.) This is a big struggle for him right now because he is so young and he has some sensory issues which means his fine motor skills need some work as well.
  • Bible - I haven't picked the exact method yet for teaching this. I want it to be fun and applicable, but I also want to teach him some of the main Bible stories. We may go back to reading stories from his children's Bible which he loved, but we haven't done in awhile, or we may start a new family devotion time, or some of both.

Optional

  • Science experiments (1-3 per week) - we have purchased the "Clifford" science experiments from the Young Explorer's Club and may move on to the "Magic School Bus" from the same company if we like it, or just come up with our own.
  • Read living books together - science, history, unit studies
  • Spanish - I don't think I will use any curriculum for this, because I took so much Spanish in middle and high school. I will just try to teach the basics as we are going along randomly. He can already count to 10 in Spanish so I will just mention other topics/words/phrases as he shows an interest.
  • Sign language - we love to watch sign language videos on YouTube, so I will continue to do this every so often.
  • Arts and crafts - I will plan some type of art/craft at least once a week, but it's not his (or my) favorite type of learning, so we will probably keep it simple and minimal.
  • Culture - I would love to introduce him to poetry, famous artists, classical music. This will probably happen through unit studies, maybe one per week.
  • Music/songs - he loves to sing, but will generally not participate until he knows a song completely. We will continue to watch YouTube video songs and rhymes until he gets more comfortable singing on his own.
  • Exercise - we love to take walks, swim/play in the pool, and he has a new kids yoga video. He also has taken soccer and swimming lessons, and I'm considering karate and gymnastics lessons. I plan to put him in no more than 1 structured activity at a time.
  • Math/science/history/Bible games, activities, or unit studies - randomly whenever we feel like it.

Fun

  • Playdoh
  • Free art or craft
  • Lego's, Lincoln Logs, blocks
  • Drawing, painting, or coloring
  • Puzzles
  • Cuisenaire rods
  • Unifix cubes
  • Pattern blocks
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Nature walks or visiting the park/playground
  • Pretend/dress up/act like an animal
  • Reading together (his choice of books)
  • Stringing/beading/lacing
  • Scissors and cutting practice
  • Sensory activities and/or therapy
  • Kinetic sand
  • TV shows and computer games (PBS Kids)
  • Free play (for him this is usually anything with wheels - trains, cars, etc)
I haven't yet purchased all of the "fun" toys and games, but that's what Christmas is for this year! 

I did want to mention, when I say "required" I don't plan on forcing him to sit down screaming while he works on his handwriting. I've found it works best to say what I want him to do and he can decide (somewhat) when to do it. For instance, if I've said it's time to work on his reading and he doesn't want to, that's fine, but he won't get privileges (TV time, computer games) until he finishes his required school work. This is what is known in various circles as "Grandma's Rule" and it does work!

What's your curriculum like for Kindergarten? Are you homeschooling or looking for educational activities for your child after school or during the summer? Feel free to post a comment about it!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hardest Best Decision

Confession: I'm a stay at home mom who doesn't stay home. I'm a part-time working mom with 3 jobs (1 at home, 1 outside the home, and 1 a mix of both). I tend to work about 10-20 hours a week at all 3 jobs. I also drive my son to preschool two days a week, and attend a Mom's group or social event at least once a week on average. I'm also a wife. There is no way to "get it all done".

However, I feel that staying at home or partly staying at home is the absolute best thing I can do for my kids at this point in their development. I've recently made the decision to homeschool, though, so now I'm even more terrified that I will be "staying home" forever.

I work at my jobs because I love them, not because of the money. The majority of my hours, I earn about $8 an hour on average. However, I get the benefits of feeling significant, getting out of the house, and helping people (more than just my kids). At home, I face the isolation, stigma, and depression often associated in today's society with "at home" mom's. Why is this only prevalent in today's society?

Well, about 50 years ago when "everyone's mom" stayed home, women had neighbors. They had friends their age in the same situation, they had no "stigma" to fight against to prove their worth. Now, we have to join "groups" to meet other people in the same situation. We have to search online and across town, and hear about friends of friends.

So, I am a little terrified that if I homeschool because it's the best situation for my children at this point in their lives, I may never end up being able to convince myself that a "regular" school is the best situation for them. So then I can "never" fulfill my own dream of going back to school to become a marriage and family therapist and help thousands of people (I know I'm being a bit naive that I can truly help people - people have to first want to help themselves).

In reality, I'm probably postponing my dream by about 6 years or so. But isn't it interesting how our minds can make us feel trapped? I'm not truly trapped. In reality, I'm making the best decision I can for my family at this point in time. Is it self-sacrificing? Yes, to some extent. Is it also freeing, because I do have the decision-making power? Absolutely.

Why am I making this difficult decision? Why don't I just put my kids in school and/or childcare full-time, like everybody else?

For one thing, I was a homeschooler from Kindergarten through 4th or 5th grade (I was doing 5th grade level work, but when I went to "real school" I chose to go with my age group rather than my school level). I've also been to private school, public school, college, and I spent almost a full semester as a teacher at a public school. While I had a great experience with academically gifted/advanced placement high school courses, I also had some pretty terrible experiences in "regular" classes. I also, as a teacher, saw how ineffective the "system" was for reaching students.

In today's world, the "system" wants to make everyone the same by "including" all students in the same class. So one teacher is being asked to teach 20% who don't speak English, 20% with moderate learning or behavior problems, 20% who can't read, and 20% advanced kids. Oh, and there might be a remaining few children who are "normal" whatever that means. How can one teacher teach all these students (20-30 of them) without a TON of wasted time and effort? Even in the "best" schools (which just means fewer percentage of students in the "lower" categories) there will be kids who are bored and kids who are left behind.

To make a long story short, I'm comfortable being my child's teacher, I feel like elementary age kids need more time to play and less time in a boring school setting, and I want my child to be taught at his level and not taught towards the "average".

Why have I resisted for so long? It's really hard being home all day. The hardest thing I've ever done is become a (mostly) stay at home parent. There are no accolades. There is hard work, there is financial sacrifice, there is loneliness and boredom. There is the stress of constant discipline and oversight, trying to keep two young boys alive and in reasonably socialized behavior. Also, the longer you homeschool, the harder it is to go back to "the real world".

When you're child is in 4th grade and you explain to them that instead of having school for 3 hours a day and playing the rest of the time they will now be gone from 7am until almost 3 pm, not counting any additional transportation time if they have to ride the school bus or travel across town for school. Then they will have homework when they get home. It's also hard as a parent to let your child be gone for that long, when you can't oversee their behavior or learning. I don't know how long I will homeschool, but I think it will likely be through or until middle school for my oldest child.

My "dream school" for them would actually not be homeschool or public school, but a type of cooperative learning with about 15-20 kids in a relatively close age range and 3-4 teachers with a basic curriculum or plan and some fun group activities for 3 hours a day or so. At least for the elementary school years, they really shouldn't need much more than that.

Want to know our curriculum for next year? Look for a new post on Monday! Post your comments regarding homeschool below!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Second Child Birth Story

Youngest children may be spoiled, but in some ways they do get the short end of the stick. For example, my youngest child (known as J for this story) will be 2 years old this March, and I'm just now getting around to putting his birth story on "paper". The interesting thing is, it's the most amazing and miraculous birth story so far (of my two children).

The first part of the "miracle" is actually difficult to explain. I consider it a part of J's birth story, despite the fact that it was prior to his conception. We actually found out in January 2012 that we were expecting and started seeing a nurse-midwife since I was unhappy with my treatment at the multi-doctor practice I saw for our first child. Our first appointment at this new practice was supposed to be for our 12-week appointment and took place in March of 2012. Unfortunately, there was no heartbeat. An ultrasound eventually showed that a missed miscarriage happened. Sometime around the 5th or 6th week of pregnancy I had miscarried, but my body hadn't realized it. I did complete the miscarriage at home that week and only had to see an empty amniotic sac rather than a partially formed baby. I avoided the dreaded D & C, but did have to return several times to a very unsympathetic nurse for blood draws to make sure my hormone levels dropped appropriately.

You may think this is the opposite of a miracle, but I'll explain my reasoning at the end of the story.

Fast forward two full cycles after my hormones were regulated (the minimum amount the midwife told us to wait before getting pregnant again) and we were able to get pregnant again right away. Now, instead of our first and second children being two years apart, they would be almost exactly two and half years apart, with an expected due date of February 20th. Now, with the bad experience at the nurse-midwife and the person in charge of blood draw (I do not do well with needles and she would not allow my husband to come back with me during blood draws), I decided to choose yet another practitioner. This doctor attends the births for all her own patients, despite having an "On call" doctor and a multi-doctor practice, and delivers at the hospital with the best/highest level NICU in our area.

Based on an early ultrasound (due to the previous missed miscarriage), my due date was adjusted from February 20th to 26th. It was a relatively normal pregnancy. I didn't have the smell/taste aversions quite as bad as I did with D (firstborn). I also gained a lot of weight (about 60 pounds or so) which was about the same amount I gained in my first pregnancy. This time around, however, I carried all the weight in my belly. I never measured "large for dates" although I was asked in December if I was having a "Christmas baby" even though I was only 6.5 months pregnant, as well as if I was having twins.

Well, February 20th came and went with nothing more than a few bouts of Braxton Hicks contractions. I was disappointed, but thought that I would certainly give birth by my adjusted due date of February 26th. On February 25th my doctor said that she would "talk about inducing" at the next appointment, but not to worry about it yet. Finally, on February 28th, I went into labor. I knew it was the real thing, because I had experienced the real thing before. It was very similar to my early labor with my first born, except for one major difference, I had unfortunately caught the stomach bug the same day I went into labor.

Very similar to my first labor, I was originally told by the hospital to go home and rest. I tried, but this time around "resting" was laying on my side on our bed and then getting up every hour to sit on the toilet with a trash can in front of me. I could not hold down any liquid or even ice chips, so I finally checked myself back into the hospital and told them they had better keep me this time and that I needed an IV (again I hate needles, so this was desperation). I knew I needed something to help me get through labor. I will say that a sugar IV was the best thing that ever happened to me at this point, I desperately needed some energy and hydration.

Fortunately, the third time they gave me anti-nausea medicine, it seemed to work, and I was able to rest for a little while as my labor progressed. I still refused an epidural, and my angel of a doctor had no problem with that. However, as I got into the transition stage, it was really hard to get over the mental hurdle from being sick all day. The pain was just overwhelming and I was not able to handle it as well as with my first born. I did eventually ask for and receive some pain medicine through the IV, which allowed me to rest between contractions.

Finally, just after midnight on March 1st, I started to push. After about a half hour of pushing, the doctor started to act a little worried. There was a lot of meconium in the fluid. After a few more pushes she was able to see the baby's head. She asked for a nurse to bring in her "instrument bag". It sounded like she thought he was breech, but I wasn't concerned about that because I could tell that he was head down. After a little over an hour of pushing, and after alerting the NICU unit because of the meconium, she said that we would need to use vacuum suction to help him out a little more quickly. At that point, I was up for anything that would get him out more quickly.

After one or two successful attempts with the vacuum assistance, his head finally came out, followed quickly by his shoulders and body. The NICU team quickly took over and had the baby intubated, cleaned, and diapered before the doctor finished delivering the placenta. We were able to hold him for a few minutes before the NICU team whisked him off to be treated for meconium aspiration. He had a very low 1-minute Apgar score (I believe it was either 3 or 5) but since he was being treated right away, no one seemed terribly concerned. After being intubated he perked up quite nicely, and seemed like a perfectly normal healthy baby, despite being a bit big. He weighed 11 pounds 1 ounce after being intubated and having a newborn diaper on. He was 22 inches long.

My husband went with the baby to the NICU and I was transferred to a recovery room. After my husband came back down from the NICU, he ran home to change out babysitters for our older son and grab some food. While he was still gone, one of the NICU doctors and the "on-call" doctor from my doctor's practice came to my hospital room. It's never encouraging when there are two doctors coming to talk to you. They said that J was having seizures due to hypoxic ischemia and needed to be treated right away. They had actually already started the treatment by giving him anti-seizure medicine (it took 3 medicines to find one that worked), but they wanted to let me know what was happening. The other treatment they wanted to try was brand-new. Sometime in January of that year, this hospital had received their first "cooling blanket" to treat infants with hypoxia. They would cool down his body to create a hypothermic state and he would stay in that state for 3 days. It was the only treatment available that had a chance of working, so I agreed to start that treatment and called my husband right away to let him know. Essentially, the anti-seizure medicines could stop the seizures, but there was still what they called "suppression activity" on the EEG which meant that the brain damage was worsening.

The first time I saw my son in the NICU his toes were already blue and he was sedated so he wouldn't pull off the many wires and tubes. However, I was also told that only a short time after being put on the cooling blanket, the EEG showed that the suppression activity stopped and the brain waves were completely normal. After 8 total days in the NICU the top pediatric neurologist in the state said that he was cautiously optimistic that J would make a full and complete recovery with no brain damage.

I know it was a miracle that this was the only hospital in the area with that specialized equipment. The equipment had only arrived a few months before my son was born and needed it. He was already in the NICU for meconium so the doctors and nurses recognized the seizure signs right away and got him treatment right away. If I hadn't had a miscarriage and the same scenario happened, he would not have had access to this treatment. When I first heard the diagnosis, I wondered how much brain damage there would be, now I only wonder how I will keep up with my smarty-pants 20 month old who has a 200+ word vocabulary and chases/climbs/jumps to keep up with his big brother. He is above average on all the developmental tests, and his neurologist has completely cleared him.

Every time I visit the pediatrician, she marvels at this "perfect" child and tells everyone what his original diagnosis was. I think I never realized exactly how bad the situation could have been until we were required to speak with a social worker prior to J's discharge because of his diagnosis. She was so serious discussing all of the treatments available and I was just so excited that the neurologist thought he would be fine. I know many parents are dealing with treatment plans and therapies and we did have a few extra follow up appointments in the beginning. I pray every time I see one of my friends who are dealing with speech therapy or epilepsy or babies who have died at 3 or 10 months old from various conditions. I know that bad things do happen to good people and we don't always understand why. Maybe we won't understand until we get to heaven, or maybe the answer is that evil and death and suffering exist in this world. I also know, that in this case, one bad thing did happen, but a miracle happened too, and I'm so excited to see the plans God has for my spoiled rotten almost-two year old.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

House Hunting

I'm torn between two houses. There's the "imaginary" house in my head - move in condition, plenty of room for a possibly growing family, low maintenance, convenient to shopping, work and school, in a good school district. Then there's the house I currently live in. All of the above except the move-in condition and extra room.

We used to call our apartment our 800 square feet of heaven. Now we've upgraded to 1100, but added two little boys to the family. We actually moved into this house when I was 8.5 months pregnant. It's 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. It has adequate closet space, a huge backyard, and is in a good school district. The problem is the size, and the clutter. I know I could get rid of the clutter and it would feel so much bigger, but that takes time. I know we could put the two boys in one room if we needed to, but my husband did not enjoy sharing a room with his brother, so he would rather have another bedroom if we add to the family.

My problem is that our housing right now is so affordable, I can't justify increasing our property taxes, insurance and utilities, not to mention the much higher principle and interest payments. I also look at the places we would need to cut our budget. We would have to give up something for a higher housing payment. We live on a pretty tight budget in any case, because we tithe based on our gross income in addition to participating with other charitable giving (Feeding America, World Vision - 4 sponsored children, Operation Christmas Child). When I think about what those charities mean versus my "wants and desires" I feel pretty selfish.

We don't live in a mud or stick house. We don't worry about what to eat or whether we have enough food for our children and ourselves. If we need new clothes, we drive 10 minutes to any store we could want. If we need healthcare, we have access to among the best doctors in the country within 30 minutes or less.

I'm trying to learn contentment, but it can be so difficult at times.
We do have some of the best trees on our block.
Feel free to comment on what you are least content about and why.