28 May 2017

The Fence

I have a completely fenced in backyard! The back lot line had a fence running along it, a mix of six-foot vinyl and four-foot chain link that is ours and four-foot wood that is our neighbor's. A nice, thick hedge also runs along one side of the property, perfect for keeping out traffic, but not trustworthy enough to keep a dog in. There was a small gap over by the hedges, though, that kids could easily slip through. In order to use the back yard at all, we had to erect a snow drift fence. It didn't stop anyone from escaping, but it slowed them down enough for me to catch them. Roxy was always tied up on a cable.

If I needed to change Theodore's diaper or check on dinner, I had to drag all three kids with me and make everyone take off their shoes (inevitably someone had stepped in dog poop). It was exhausting, so we didn't go outside much. We also put the snow drift fence up along the shortest possible path, which cut out a ton of yard. We had two different fence companies come out to give us quotes, but a professional company was wwwaaayyy out of budget. We're talking $3-6k. To fence in half of a backyard. So we looked into doing it ourselves and found we could manage for about half of the low end of our quotes. There were some minor delays, like Matt's demanding job sucking up his weekends and a fence on back order, but last week we prepped the yard and got everything laid out...

I propped that fence up so I could fantasize until fence day.

Then called in a bunch of friends and family to help and erected a real fence!

The kids can run around and I don't have to worry, the dog has tons of space to roam, I can change diapers or check dinner without dragging everyone back inside. I can toss the laundry in the washer. Heck, I can now look down at my phone and check a text message while the kids are outside! Plus we increased our backyard space by about 150%! We more than doubled our backyard. It. Is. Amazing.

Me inside. Eleanor outside. By the street. And I don't have to freak out.
All the gaps have been filled and there is a chicken wire fence running along the bush. It saves money and is visually prettier, especially once the hedge's branches grow and take over the fence. There are a few little cosmetic things to touch up, things we can work on all summer long. We'll paint the fence white once the wood is no longer green, we're thinking August.

The kids aren't exactly sure what to do with the great outdoors yet. Eleanor likes it until she sees a bug. Abigail gets bored and wants to come inside and watch television. Theodore likes it as long as either Matt or I are outside too. Breathing fresh air is going to take some getting used to, I guess.

A fenced-in backyard means that I will be able to take care of the extensive flower beds much more easily. I can weed while they play! I was so excited I sat down with some gardening catalogs - outside, working while the kids played without a watchful eye glued to their every move - and created a master gardening plan. New flowers and trees where I want them. Now we can slowly expand as budget allows and time permits.

I also mapped out a Garden of Eden, as Matt calls it. We have a giant space in our side yard (about 20' by 20', although that second twenty could be as large as 40' if I took over some backyard space) that has rich dirt and gets plenty of sun. I would love to plant some fruit trees and a vegetable garden over there. I mapped out a little plan and drew it up in color.

I would also like to plant an almond tree, chestnut tree, and oak tree in the front yard, giving us lots of nuts to eat! (Can people eat acorns? Hmmmm.) We will build it up super slowly, giving me time to learn how to can and dry and preserve my harvest and for the kids to get old enough to help. Maybe give us time to save up for a chest freezer.

I'm so excited about our future here, with the extensive garden, the built-in bookshelves in the living room, I feel so blessed that I get to raise my family here. It's a regular prayer of mine that we can continue to live here until we are too old to mow the lawn any longer.

24 May 2017

Summer School Curriculum for a Kindergartner with Down Syndrome

Abigail's favorite thing in the entire wold, second -maybe- to ice cream, is learning. She loves books, letters, words, numbers, and counting. I realize some of those things sound redundant, but they aren't. "Hi, Roxy! Rrrrr," she says in the morning, telling the dog what sound "R" makes. Her teacher reported during Abigail's IEP meeting that she doesn't want to play with toys during free time, she just wants to stand up front with the calendar and pretend to be the teacher. Summer break is like a punishment around here.

Abigail's intense desire to learn + the very well established "summer slide" + her learning difficulties = summer school is a really smart path to trod.

I decided that we were going to do school four days per week for 2-3 hours per day during Theodore's naptime and we would be in the basement (so as to keep the main floor quiet). My kids are (usually) well behaved in the morning and willing to play with each other or independently, but by the afternoon, they need supervision and structure, so it seems like an ideal time to insert some focused school work. We'll see how my theory plays out come June 12th. Abigail just turned 6 and is in Kindergarten this year and will be repeating it next year, but with a larger percentage of time spent in the mainstream classroom. You can read more about why half way through this post.

*Quick note: I am not getting paid to promote anything in this blog post. This is all just my honest opinion. The Amazon links are linked to a program where a minuscule percentage of sales are donated to Abigail's school, but I have no idea if when you click on them, that program will transfer to your cart. You can designate your own organization to benefit from your purchases at Smile.Amazon.com

1. Before I did anything, especially visiting Pinterest (ie, the Source of Inadequacy Inspiration), I decided what subjects we were going to study. My goal is to keep Abigail from loosing what she has already learned. I also think of it as making sure her foundation is solid. I had to keep reminding myself of that as I started researching and Pinteresting ideas because there are a million really awesome, enriching, brilliant ideas that are sure to make you feel like a failure for not already doing them. I opted for math, reading, and writing, as those are the biggest subjects in her classroom this year. I looked up pictures of lesson planners online and copied one into my bullet journal style planner. (Abigail's is on the left side.)

2. Abigail has homework every week and her teacher often sends home the completed worksheets they did in class, plus we talked about it extensively during her IEP meeting, so I had a pretty good idea about what types of activities would be best when I set about researching. I spent lots of time on Amazon viewing different workbooks and reading customer reviews.

For math, I decided on DK's Math Made Easy. It's one of the more expensive options, but it really seemed to me to be the closest to the worksheets she brings home.

I also wanted to do a fun math activity each day, and this is when I started using Pinterest. I tried to be really specific in my search - "addition for Kindergarteners" - and tried to stick with things similar to Abigail's weekly homework bags. I already had the jungle animal counters, I bought them a few years ago on Zulily, but they do have them available on Amazon. Learning Resources makes a million different themed counters and they are great quality. We have used ours over the years for color and shape matching and patterns. Anyway, I numbered sturdy index cards 1-10 and made "+," "-," and "=" sign cards. We'll shuffle them and she can draw cards and use the animals to find the sum. I made up another worksheet to go with the cards for a hashmarks system she and her teacher worked out.

I found this on Pinterest, which promises to be wicked cool - addition and writing practice.

Which brings me to this awesomely handy invention. They are dry erase sleeves, so you can use the same worksheet over and over if you want. I plan to let Abigail write in the actual book so I can track her progress and because I'd rather her not running around willy nilly with a dry erase marker, but for some activities, this will save me from writing the same things over and over again.

Then I have a few extra things we can throw into the mix as the summer wears on, like number flash cards for 0-200 and this Count to 100 book I bought at a friend's Usborne party.

Reading. So Abigail is currently using a tiered reading system at school and has a nearly 100% accuracy rate with the first level and something over 50% for the second tier. As far as I can tell, they don't publish that exact program anymore, but I found this version that is nearly identical and happens to be insanely affordable. I got the first tier to keep up Abigail's self confidence when reading, which I'll intermix with the second level throughout the month.

It'd be pretty awesome if by the end of the summer, I need to buy the third tier. Most of her reading exercises will be based off the book, well go through it again and talk about what sound the letters in the book make - "What's this word? Oh, 'sun'! What sound does 's' make?" Abigail also really struggles with her verbs, so I made up some verb flashcards based on the books. We'll go through the pictures and match up the card with the action. "Is she sleeping or driving?"

I also bought a package of general sight words, they all seem to be the same, so I bought ones that were inexpensive to go with the sight words print outs that Abigail has brought home from school to practice with.

I also have a few extras for this category too, various educational games she's received as gifts at holidays and some worksheets her teacher sent home.

Writing. I thought handwriting was the easiest subject to compile. I found a handwriting book that is part of the Handwriting Without Tears series. I was really attracted to this because it was written by an occupational therapist and it seemed to teach students how to actually write the letters. Most supermarket handwriting books are made for kids who can just trace or copy what they see, but I think Abigail could benefit from something more instructional. It breaks letters down in such a way that plays to some prewriting exercises we've done that her equine therapy therapist recommended.

I also bought a ream of handwriting paper for $8 and made up some worksheets for Abigail. She'll trace in pencil what I write in high lighter (she does that technique at school) and I'm trying something I saw on Pinterest. Abigail already knows how to spell her first name, but I'm introducing it with her first name and we'll use it to teach her how to spell her last name. On Thursdays, I'm going to have Abigail trace a fun little story using sight words she knows, something totally fresh that I think she'll love.

And then I got some grippies to help her hold her pencil properly, especially as her hand muscles start to fatigue. (Easily fatigued is a Ds thing.) I suspect she'll hate them, but it's worth a shot. The Frozen pencils are something we've had lying around for a while now.

Lastly! I ordered some stuff to put on the walls. I got a numbers chart that I don't really know what to do with. I just figured when the kids need a break and look around the room, I wanted them to be seeing educational stuff. I also ordered a wall pocket chart that we can use with index cards and the sight word cards we already have. (The wall chart does sell it's own recommended flash cards separately, but they are crazy expensive, so we're using our own.)

Abigail can work on putting together sentences, Eleanor can work on spelling her name, and I can make up my own flash cards with index cards as we go.

Phew, okay! At this point in the process, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with options and ideas. When our giant Amazon box arrived, I tore it open and then it just sat there for a few days while I walked around feeling inadequate.

3. I needed to break things down, so I made a "master list" for the subjects which tells me approximately what I want to do each day. For example, for reading, each day we'll read one book and do one activity. On Mondays we'll just run through the flash cards. On Tuesdays we'll play a game. On Wednesdays we'll do the verb flash cards for the book. On Thursdays we'll do more flash cards. I did this for each subject. Parameters. It's the equivalent of saying "I want to have breakfast for dinner on Tuesdays, Mexican on Wednesdays, and a slow cooker meal on Thursdays."

4. Next I needed to get specific. So, now we're moving to "eggs and bacon this Tuesday, pancakes next Tuesday, waffles the Tuesday after that." I decided to assemble the lesson plans for the first week only so I can see how my plans flesh out in reality before I commit to planning the entire summer. I'll probably take things week-by-week, assembling plans on Friday afternoons, at least for June. On Friday mornings, we'll go on a field trip and won't do school in the afternoon.

This step took me awhile. My desk was a mess for many afternoons while I tried to figure out the nitty gritty. This step is definitely only manageable after you've finished the first three.

Cat - you're so helpful

I numbered the books so I could keep better track of them. I assembled packets of flash cards. figured out which math game we would play on which day and I made sure I had all the pieces we'd need. I wrote down in detail which pages of which workbook we were doing on which day.

I assembled all the papers in an accordion folder with four pockets on each side (one for Monday, one for Tuesday, etc). This way, when we sit down to do school, I can simply pull out each day's work and we can get started.

Anything that didn't fit in the folder went in a small basket.

All extra supplies went in a large basket that I'll ideally only need to pull out on Fridays when I make the following week's lesson plan.

Organization and structure are synonymous with support. The more organization and structure I have, the more successful this venture will be!

5. Lastly, I rearranged some furniture in the basement and made a little school area.

One light is burnt out, the others haven't warmed up yet. The perfect dreary before photo.

Voila! Abigail's summer school is ready to go! I'll update again in late June to let you know what is and is not working for us in the event you'd like to try any of these ideas out. In the meantime, I've got a little preschool to drum up for a certain little girl who just might die of jealousy/heart break (I swear they are the same when you're three-years-old) if she doesn't get to "do school" too.

22 May 2017

7 Quick Takes Monday

1. I ran a 5K on Saturday - through an apple orchard.

This was my second 5K, my first one was last August. Theodore was 9 months old. Training gave me pain in my right foot, but Urgent Care said it was just a sprain. I didn't want to use a minor sprain as an excuse to skip out on my first ever 5K, so I decided to run anyway. But it was actually a stress fracture and it started hurting pretty bad. I did walking/running intervals and ended up spraining basically the rest of my foot and my ankle, and straining my leg muscles all the way up into my glutes. Plus there was a photographer at the finish line and I looked terrible in the photos, which, of course, were blasted all over Facebook. It was an awful and embarrassing experience, so I was really keen on a second 5K to overlap the memory of the first.

It was gorgeous but hard as there was a variety of terrain and it was super hilly. I tried to start training for it two months ago, but running started stirring up the stress fracture again, so instead, I threw myself into the workouts for my Zumba weight loss challenge (like planks, leg raises, step ups, Russian twists), plus the Jillian Michaels squat challenge, weekly Zumba (when I could make it to class), and rowing on our rowing machine. I was able to run the entire 5K - no walking, no resting - without ever doing a training run! And I have no foot pain! I'm pretty proud of myself, actually, and really happy that I got a participation/finishers medal, even though it's uncool to support participation awards right now. I was definitely floating on an exercise endorphin high for the rest of the day.

2. After much time in prayer and thinking and talking to Matt, days spent racked my brain, Googling, and calling around, we/I finally came to a few conclusions.

-This is not a good time for me to become a Zumba instructor. I want to, badly, and I get a good feeling whenever I bring it to God in prayer, but it would require me taking on a whole bunch of responsibility that I don't think I can commit to right now. I had hoped since it was a different kind of responsibility that would enrich me in other ways, I could add it to the mix. It was hard for me to come to that decision, and I cried a bit. I'm not saying never, I'm saying not right now. Unfortunately.

-I need something. Badly. But it needs to be something I can do during the day because I can't guarantee that I'll have evenings, plus I'm crazy drained by 8pm anyway. I thought throwing three kids in the mix would make it impossible for me to find anything affordable. I can't hire a baby sitter or ask family to watch the kids a few days a week so I can sit in a coffee shop or something. But I found one thing that fit almost every bill and Matt thought was brilliant. We figure we can afford it at least through the summer.

It includes free childcare. I won't get to be part of something larger nor give back to the community. But it's a huge step up from nothing. I'm planning my first workout session tomorrow and I'm super excited. Hopefully the soreness from the 5K will have worn off by then too.

3. I've been working diligently to create a summer school for the girls. My goal is to keep Abigail from loosing the skills she's gained this year. I've based my curriculum almost entirely off Abigail's homework and the worksheets she completes that the teacher sends home for me to see. What isn't copied from school comes from therapists we know. Eleanor's school will be much less structured, but she is absurdly excited to do "Eleanor's school." I have a feeling once I get everything set up, we're going to be starting right away.

When I get everything set up, I'll write a detailed post.

I've assembled almost all of my supplies and made up a "master schedule" for both girls. Next I want to make a weekly schedule for the first week. I'll take things week-by-week until I figure out what works and then I'll fill in the rest of the summer.

I am hoping to do school in the basement during Theodore's nap time. This way the upstairs will be quiet for his nap, I won't need to revert to television every day, and we'll be in the cool basement during the hottest part of the day. So I've also been re-arranging things downstairs. I'm still working on it, so I don't have any afters, but here are the befores, taken before the overhead lights had even warmed up all the way. Talk about staging perfect befores...

4. I'm totally in a meal planning rut. I have a million new recipes I could try shoved in a beat up green folder and a list of regular meals I'm tired of (and are too wintery, like chili and chicken pot pie). I spent an afternoon last week dividing and sorting recipes into fun new folders from last fall's school supply sale.

It did inspire me a bit, although I think our finances would benefit from me also planning out breakfasts (the amount of money we spend on cereal each month is staggering), plus I could use a faster meal planning/grocery list making process. The two new to dos sucked out all my fresh inspiration. This chore is fast becoming one of my least favorite ones.

5. I'd be much happier if I could just make baked goods as suited my cravings for our meals. Homemade poptarts for lunch anyone?

6. Roxy does not like taking baths, but will get in the tub and stand quietly while water runs down her fur if I ask her to, because she is a very obedient dog. Whenever I give the kids a bath, she squeezes into the bathroom and looks pitifully at me. "Must I take a bath, Person? I really don't want to; I will, but please don't make me." Even though I never called her in there. Even though the tub is full of kids. Even though I am giving her no indication that it's her turn. Even though I've never bathed her right after bathing the kids. She comes in, lays down, and begs me with her eyes to forget she's there.

7. In between the girls' birthdays, we had a small party that was basically just my parents and my grandma over for dinner and presents. Long story short, it was supposed to be a party for Eleanor that was converted over into a party for both girls.

It is amazing how many Sofia party supplies you can get at Oriental Trading for $20. It is amazing how much happiness a preschooler can get out of $20 in Sofia party supplies.

I also made a unicorn cupcake cake for the girls, dying the batter rainbow colored and filling the cupcakes with sprinkles. It was actually pretty easy, just very time consuming.