Thursday, August 22, 2013


It seems we are perpetually reinventing the wheel here at our Crazy Castle in Mooselandia.  If it's not creating someone small's education from the ground up, it's his medical health.

See, Monkey exhibits nearly every sign of ADHD. Both inattentive and hyperactive - as well as most of the commonly corresponding traits children with ADHD often display. With his annual checkup, I brought this up as concerning to his pediatrician, as his reading lags behind his other skills - largely due to an inability to focus.  The pediatrician brushed us off with an admonishment that these types of concerns need to be addressed in a separate behavioral appointment - as if she had told us this before.  So, I nodded, told her I'd book the appointment, and she gave me a card for a website to go fill out a survey (the survey from the CDC wasn't good enough).  So, I took the card, we left the appointment, I booked the behavioral appointment for the following day, and we went home - me chasing Monkey, who was running top speed through the doctor's office as if he were on the playground, completely oblivious to me, the people around him, or what the rules of behavior might be in an office setting.  We went home and filled out the survey, which was emailed straight to the doctor, then we went about our day.  That evening, Monkey filled out the website's "Youth Self-Reporting" form, with things like "I want to focus on books and games, but I can't" and "I can't stop fidgeting" and "I often get up and leave my seat when I shouldn't."  These things indicate a problem to me, and one that is not inherently a simple fix.  But, I crossed my fingers, and we went to bed.

The next afternoon was the behavioral appointment. Skeeve came with us, so I could have him take Monkey for a walk if need be - I wasn't going to have Monkey sit in a room while I told a veritable stranger how difficult it is to parent him, and how we are rapidly reaching a point where we love him to bits, but none of us like each other very much right now.  That seemed needlessly cruel to me.  I'm very glad for this bit of forethought, in retrospect.  Because, quite honestly, the pediatrician had made up her mind about us from the first day she saw us. We came in with these same concerns, and she scolded us for letting Monkey ride her wheeled stool through the exam room while we waited.  She wasn't even there yet, and then she promptly proceeded to scold him as well.  Okay, weird, but whatever. She told us at that point that she believed he had an attachment disorder, and that we could take him to the child psychiatrist to have our concerns more thoroughly addressed, but really what we needed were parenting lessons.  Now, bear in mind, this was a child who, at the time, still nursed away boo-boos, slept 50% (or more!) of the time in our bed, and came running to us to share and talk about everything.  He had about as much attention disorder as he did naturally occurring blue hair.  The psychiatrist agreed on that front. Which was something, because he didn't do a very good job with anything else, determining from a 35 minute office visit talking to ME that Monkey was not at all gifted, nor did he have ADHD, he was a perfectly normal little boy. 

Anyhow, back to the behavioral appointment. Skeeve took Monkey for a walk, and I explained the situation to the doctor. The running - for an hour or more, continuously. The well below age level meltdowns over things like "holding hands in traffic."  The "talk his way out of anything, right down to insisting he'd kill anyone who tried to take him away from us."  The complete lack of focus.  Her diagnosis? "He seems perfectly fine in the office. The psychiatrist agrees with my assessment, and I suggest you look into parenting lessons."  Now, bear in mind, she's seen Monkey in her office, when he was well, for a grand total of 20 minutes. In the last year. To assess his behavior that day on having observed him for quite literally less than five minutes, while discounting everything I've told her - that was bad enough. But then to write off what we're experiencing as being due solely to poor parenting?  Excuse me?  Obviously this did not go over well, and an argument ensued, including mentioning that the day after we'd seen the psychiatrist, Monkey had come down ill - as in fever of 102*+, spent all day in a nest of blankets watching a movie and utterly miserable. She looked at me as if I'd implied the psychiatrist had poisoned my son. Apparently, one can now be a pediatrician without knowing that being ill will throw a child's behavior off for days - both before and after.  Anyway, as Skeeve brought Monkey back and entered into the melee, the doctor told me she never said Monkey had an attachment disorder (I, apparently, made that one up), and that while she would never intend to belittle my professional training as a teacher, "It's different when it's your own child."  Monkey's opinions carried exactly no weight. My opinions, Skeeve's opinions, none of it made a difference. Our experiences did not line up with her original assessment of poor parenting, so they were invalid.

Monkey's primary care has been moved to my own doctor, a lovely Family Doctor who listens to me, engages me in conversation, and is glad that I take an active role in my health care. I have also called the local children's mental health outreach (they have a 4-6 month waiting list for services), to start that process. My question, however, is why is this even necessary?!? Why on Earth would a doctor look at a family obviously in distress, with a strong genetic predisposition to attentional disorders, with an assessment on file stating that attentional disorders are very likely with this child... Why would a doctor look at all this and say "nope! You're just shitty parents, that's all!"  Why should I have to make all the calls, set up all the appointments, force my way into and through the system, just to have someone take a serious, genuine look at my son's troubles? Something is wrong here, and since we were all doing just fine from Monkey's birth until about age three, I suspect it's not our parenting. We had NO terrible twos! It was easy, everything was calm and nice, and we all got along, and everything was fine and fun. So, what, we lost the ability to parent the day he turned three? Somehow, I suspect not. But something went amiss, and we've spent the last two years trying every behavioral option we can, to no avail.  Why do we need to reinvent the wheel? Why should it be such a struggle to listen to a child and his parents about what is going on in that child's head? Why should ANY parent have to fight AGAINST their child's doctor to get the care that is in the child's best interest? 

It makes no sense. It's an embarrassment to the profession. And it happens far too often.

So if you're out there, and you feel like you're taking two steps back for every one forward, and you're fighting uphill for the things your child needs...  Know you're not alone. You're not the only one fighting this battle. It sucks that this seems to be common, but it kind of helps to know that it isn't just one person, one family.  There's more out there, going through the same battles. And if you can find those people, give them a shout. It's always nice to hear a friendly voice.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homeschooling: Where and How I Began

Technically, it's "where and how to begin" but I'm so ludicrously new to this I can't tell you what anyone else does, just what I do.  Yes, I'm pedantic.  So shoot me.

Anyhow.  Technically, we started homeschooling last year for Junior Kindergarten, when Monkey turned four. His age peers were all heading off to JK, and Monkey stayed in preschool... while functioning much higher.  So we dinked along, we did really well for ourselves. We finished several books and started new ones, and it didn't occur to me to think it odd.  Then we moved forward to this year.  I order curricula in March, when we get tax returns in, and I plan what to do after that for social and extracurriculars.

For curricula, I essentially went around listening to everyone I could find who was homeschooling.  Every single person.  From Smrt Mama over at the McLearnins Academy for Smrt Learnins, through to Patchfire, and to my homeschooling mama-friends over at Contrary to Popular Parenting.  I looked at what everyone was doing. I took some input from The Well-Trained Mind as well.  I pulled together what looked like it covered everything, and would keep us solid in subjects for a good while.  We learned quickly that some things just won't work for everyone. I was kind of surprised by that, as being a schoolteacher by trade, I'm used to THIS BOOK FOR EVERYONE.  How could a good history book like Story of the World not work for us? Madness!  But, it didn't, and we're still kind of wobbling all over for the subject, working from a core of story-ish books, and moving out from there.

This year, before we begin school - which will probably be on Thursday, holy crap!! - I went through our local Mooselandia area standards for primary grades, figuring I'd get a handle on what I was doing.  Well, after finding the Mooselandia standards a nearly-unusable wreck (for my purposes, anyhow), I started "fixing" them.  I pulled them all off the website for K-3. I sorted them by subject, labeled them by grade, and stuck them together in a lovely spreadsheet for my own use.  That was kind of where my trouble began.

See, I took the standards, and I checked off which of them Monkey was able to meet.  I gave myself a panic attack - first at his abilities globally, and then again at the discrepancy between his maths and science and his reading.  So, quite naturally, I flipped out.  This lasted about a week.  Happily, it was still break-time.  So it didn't "cost" us anything. Now that I have my head back on straight, I'm getting things ready for the fall.  I picked a manipulative-based math program, and Monkey enjoys it. I started him a level below what I thought he could do because I know his fine motor skills aren't his top thing. Knowing this, I purchased two years of maths books last year, and another this year.  He blew through Right Start A in no time, and is about a third of the way through B.

Science, I took a lot of confusing time with. We ended up going with Thames and Kosmos Little Labs for the bulk of things, as it covers most science easily, without making it unnecessarily difficult or boring.  Monkey EATS UP science, though, so while I have enough labs for now... I've been watching another science book for when we're done with what we have. 

Many of the "softer" sciences I find we cover just in daily living. Social Studies is handled on a walk to the park, or the pharmacy!  Who are the people in your neighborhood, right?  As far as History proper, I'm finding storybooks to be the way to go...

I'm fairly sure this is boring. But, honestly, I write it to say that we got what we thought would be good. And some of it was perfect. Some of it was so awful we needed to stop, and some of it was so wonderful we're going through it far faster than I thought we would.  It ends up being a big guessing game.  You go with your gut, then make changes as you see how things work.  If you have a spectacular maths program you love, but your kid hates it?  Just drop it. That's all you can really do. Trying to force it is part of why we're not putting our kids in public school, right?  Just drop it, and try something new.  Beg, borrow, whatever you have to do to get a free trial if need be... Trust me. You'll all be happier if you just drop what isn't working.  And if something is working too well, and you're afraid you're going to finish it all in a week?  Great!  Go at whatever speed you want to, and replace as you can. You bought (likely) a year's worth of stuff, who cares if they go through it in a week? They still got the year's worth of learning out of it!

Yes. I, the panicking queen, am pretty much telling you to just roll with it.  There's not much else you can do, and please, I've had my panic attack already - allow it to have been yours as well.  ^_~

Honestly, that is really the hard part.  Everything comes with teacher's guides anymore, so all you have to do is open the book, and it's already got the lessons written out for you!  Actually presenting the material to the child is the easiest part of this whole gig.  Getting the kids to sit still for it, well, let me know if you have any good ideas, 'cause I'm flat out.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Common Core Furor.

I find myself in a very unusual place today.  It seems that recently a large number of people have come to the conclusion that the Common Core Curriculum Standards really stink. They're awful. Some of the comments include things like:

They know what they are doing to our kids and they are boring them to death in schools so more will drop out, lowering standards so certain people think they are getting smarter and making the cost of collage (sic) so high that only certain people can afford to go !

There are certain things in life worth getting pissed over. The intellectual loss of an entire generation is one of those things.

The simple fact is that children learn at different speeds on different subjects. Some administrator, who most likely spent little or no time actually being a teacher, buys into some program, with very little input for teachers. Why is it that for the past 2 months my child has not been instructed in any new material? 4 weeks for prepping/reviewing for a state mandated testing, so their scores are good, and now another 4 weeks of prepping/reviewing of math material for a placement test for her high school next year. That's a 5th of the school year not advancing academically, just going over what they know.

I, apparently, am not at all in anything resembling a charitable mood. My thoughts are very single focus, largely because this is something I have heard over and over and over again... however, whenever I've heard it before now, it has been met with one single response: "you can't expect special treatment for your child, no matter his need, that wouldn't be fair." However, now that the standards are being changed such that a large number of children in the US are facing the daily dilemma of the gifted child in public school, there is suddenly uproar. "What do you mean, my child has to spend months in school learning nothing?!? How is this right?"  Or "Our children will be bored! Why are we expected to let our children languish waiting for other children to catch up before they can move on?"  Pardon me while, in my thoroughly uncharitable mood, I raise an eyebrow and state plainly:

What a load of hypocrisy!

If I advocate for an appropriate education for my child, I am asking for special favors, and am placing my child above others, thinking that he is somehow better than other kids, and that he shouldn't be allowed to outpace the other children, as 1) they all even out in third grade, and 2) I'm just exaggerating his abilities to make myself look better anyway.  But, when the situation that many gifted children all over the world face daily suddenly looms large over their children, suddenly it is an outrage, and people should not stand for this!  What's all the more irritating is that not one single person complaining now will even think twice about once again relegating gifted children back to being bored, to being perpetually left behind and denied the education they deserve - because anyone who is on a trajectory faster than the average can just fend for themselves if they're so smart, completely missing the point that they were just arguing for the same exemptions for their children that they are systematically denying to mine, and to others like him.