Our Homeschool Adventure Blog

Chronicling our adventures as a small homeschool family with mom and dad both as teachers

Emetophobia

(This post is not about our homeschooling, but I wanted to share this story here as it has been a major event in our family’s life.  Honestly, trying to deal with the issue addressed in this post is a major reason why I haven’t posted in almost a year.  It has consumed much of our family’s emotional bandwidth.  As a warning to anyone who might have come across this post that has emetophobia, I will be discussing this phobia and the treatment of it.  This post will contain possible anxiety trigger words and topics.  Also, I apologize for the length of this post.  I want to share as complete a version of our story with this as possible so that it can hopefully help others.)

Have you ever heard of emetophobia?  This is actually one of the more common phobias in the US, but very few people have even heard about it because, quite honestly, it’s difficult and  embarrassing to talk about.  Emetophobia is the fear of vomit and vomiting.  Yes, it’s a real thing and before you dismiss it or think it simple or silly, I ask that you read on.

I have decided to write this post in hopes that it might help and encourage other people who have this phobia and their families.  I want you to know that there are many others like you and that there is treatment for this.  More importantly, my 12-year-old son wants you to know this.  After all, he’s the one that’s been living with this day-in and day-out for over three years, and he asked me to share his story with you.  In this post, I’ll call him NDEW.

About three and a half years ago NDEW traveled with me for a job interview I had.  We had friends who lived in the area where I was interviewing and he spent the day with them while I was at my interview.  During that day, NDEW came down with the norovirus.  I will spare you the details, but he was sick for our entire six-hour drive home.  I’m not going to lie.  It was pretty darn terrible, and I wasn’t the scared, sick 9 year old.  I will also say that during this time our family life was in a lot of upheaval.  My husband had lost his job, and we were looking at moving to a brand new place, where we knew no one.  I’m sure all of that didn’t help the situation.

NDEW’s first panic attack around getting sick happened less than two weeks later.  We honestly attributed his anxiety at the time to all the change going on in our lives and didn’t even consider that he could have developed a specific phobia to throwing up.  Soon after we moved we had him start seeing a counselor to work on his anxiety.  Yes, it helped in some respects, but this fear around getting sick never got better and actually got worse.

So this post doesn’t end up being even longer than it already will be, I’ll jump ahead and describe to you how severe things got before we finally found the help that NDEW needed.  Fast forward three years from those first panic attacks about throwing up-to December 2014-and this is where we were:

  • NDEW essentially refused to leave the house, especially if there was a chance he was going to be in crowded environment where someone might get sick or if he heard about some illness going around.
  • NDEW did not want to be around other kids, especially little kids, because they might get sick without warning.  Just the mention of someone being sick would send him into a panic attack.
  • NDEW couldn’t ride in the car for more than 30 minutes or so at a time without a panic attack setting in.
  • NDEW refused to use his bathroom in our house (needing to use ours instead) because that’s the last place he got sick.
  • NDEW had developed many superstitions around getting sick.  He felt that there were many things that if he did do them or didn’t do them it meant that he would get sick.  This aspect of this phobia can look very much like OCD.  We weren’t even aware of many of these superstitions and when we would force NDEW to do something that went against one of these (often unknowingly) he would act like a caged animal-total fight or flight response.
  • He became completely hyper vigilant about any physical sensations he experienced, especially in his stomach, and would be convinced that each meant he was getting sick.  A growling stomach from hunger would send him into a blind panic that could last for hours.
  • NDEW developed a vocal tic that sounded like a short cough.  He would do this to provide a physical release to the anxiety that he would feel.  Of course, this release was only temporary and the more anxious he became, the more he would do it.  At his worse moments he would cough 20-30 times a minute.  I’m not going to lie; that sound became like fingernails on a chalkboard to my husband and me.  It was like a big, red, neon sign or alarm shouting “I’M GETTING ANXIOUS!!!!!”  There was no ignoring it.
  • NDEW would regularly dissolve into full, screaming, crying panic attacks that could last for hours.
  • NDEW severely limited what he would eat to a few things that he believed couldn’t ever make him sick.
  • NDEW has always struggled with sleeping, but it got worse because he would be convinced that if he fell asleep, he would wake up sick.  We were all exhausted.
  • Because of his face blindness, NDEW is not a fan of being away from his dad and me because we often act as his “recognizers”.  This got much worse though as his emetophobia got worse.  The thought of getting sick out in public and not being able to find or recognize a “safe person” to help him was an absolutely terrifying thought.

Things got this severe gradually and it honestly was really bad before we realized how really bad it was.  Our entire life began to revolve around trying to manage this issue.  Needless to say, we weren’t very successful.   In many ways, the ways we were acting were making things worse and reinforcing NDEW’s anxiety, but we were so deep in it by that time that we couldn’t see it.  We were just trying to make it through each day with our family and our sanity at least somewhat intact.

When you think about phobias, most people think of things like spiders or flying or public speaking.  Not to downplay these phobias at all, but in many cases, someone with one of these phobias can avoid their trigger.  But how do you avoid a trigger that’s internal to you?  All of us at some point feel queasy, nauseous, “a little off”.  Maybe we ate too much.  Maybe we let our blood sugar get too low. Maybe that car or boat ride bothered us a little.  Maybe there’s no reason at all for it.  But you can’t avoid something internal to you and, when you are emetophobic, you carry around your phobia with you.  You can never totally get away from it, no matter how hard you try.  And try hard NDEW did.  I have seen emetophobia compared to PTSD, and in many ways, that’s probably an accurate comparison.  The speed at which the panic reaction sets in, the tie there often is to a previous experience that causes an almost “flashback” reaction.  All are similar to PTSD.  When NDEW was in a time of panic related to his phobia he would have honestly, seriously, told you that he would rather die than throw up or be around someone throwing up.  In his mind, this was literally a life-or-death situation and he reacted as if that were the reality.  No logical explanations or rationalizations could convince him otherwise.

One night in November 2014 when NDEW’s anxiety was at a particularly high level, I had reached the end of my rope.  I had heard the term “emetophobia” by that point and had even briefly read through the website of a woman in British Columbia who had suffered from it herself, had gone through treatment, and now almost exclusively treated people with it.  Her name is Anna Christie and I emailed her that night asking her for help, any help.  We were truly in a desperate place.

Ironically, NDEW really was sick the night I sent this email; it was not just his anxiety.  It was another experience with the norovirus.  Some people have said to me, “Well, didn’t throwing up show him it wasn’t the terrifying experience he imagined it to be and that he could live through it?  Didn’t getting sick help him?” No.  It most definitely didn’t.  His anxiety was some of the most severe I had seen it that night.  We actually ended up in the ER, looking for a way to help him keep down food and water but also, honestly, in the hopes that they might give him something for the anxiety as well.  After the illness was over we were right back where we had been.  His anxiety level didn’t reduce at all.

Ms. Christie emailed me back within an hour and gave me the name of a therapist that specialized in treating this.  He was located in Charlotte, only two hours from us.  At that time I would have driven 12.  The next day I called this therapist’s office and we scheduled our first appointment.

We have now been working weekly with Dr. David Russ at Carolina’s Counseling Group since that first appointment in December.  This phobia, like many others, is treated through a process called exposure therapy.  Trust me when I say that it is not an easy form of therapy but it works so it’s worth it.  Essentially, in exposure therapy, you expose the person to the thing they fear the most and then not let them use any of their defensive, distracting, or safety behaviors to deal with what they feel.  They sit there and feel the anxiety and fear that results.

Imagine the thing you fear the most in life.  The thing that makes your heart race.  That makes you feel short of breath.  That maybe causes that “unsettled” feeling in your stomach. That thing that your brain tells you threatens your very survival. Now imagine interacting with that thing on purpose.  It.  Is.  Hard.  No way around it.  As a mom, I will readily admit that there was a part of me that didn’t want to do this.  What parent wants to not only watch their child in distress but willingly exposes them to the thing that causes that distress?  After we met the first time with Dr. Russ though, I believed that it would work.  I believed that it would help NDEW and that we could get control of this.  So I was willing to go against that first, initial mom response and give this a shot.

More importantly, after that first meeting with Dr. Russ, NDEW believed it could work.  I cannot tell you how proud of him I am for facing this and dealing with it.  He would definitely not tell you that he enjoys it.  But he walks into that office each week and finds the courage to repeatedly face the thing that his brain, his nervous system, tells him is deadly.  I have seen him draw on reserves during this process that I honestly didn’t really know he had.

So what is involved in exposure therapy for emetophobia?  (Don’t worry.  I won’t go into lots of detail.)  The theory behind exposure therapy is that repeatedly exposing a person to the thing that causes them anxiety in short, but progressively more realistic or graphic doses, retrains the brain and nervous system to not see the thing feared as a threat.  NDEW’s exposure therapy started with different words that are used for vomit.  (As a side note, NDEW couldn’t use any other words other than “getting sick” when we started this process without a panic attack setting in.)  Dr. Russ would show NDEW a card with a word on it and then would ask NDEW where he fell on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of anxiety.  His goal was for NDEW to never go over a 5 or 6 on any given exposure, and to get him down to under a 2 before moving on to the next exposure.  The trick is to get that number down to under a two without using “safety” behaviors.  To sit and live through the 5 or 6 level anxiety and to see that it’s possible.  Some words bothered NDEW more than others, so we spent longer on those words.  The repeated exposure involved things like NDEW reading the word to himself, Dr. Russ or me reading the word aloud, NDEW saying the word aloud.  We would even make up silly songs where we repeated the word over and over.  I know this sounds a little wacky, but you know what?  It worked!  Over time, NDEW’s report on the anxiety scale would start to come down and, before we knew it, he was saying, shouting, singing the word without any reaction or anxiety whatsoever.  He would even get to the point that he could laugh about it! Once we got to that point, we’d move on to the next word and start the process all over again.

Now, a word of caution: By my description, it may seem like this would be something you could do on your own without having to pay to see a therapist each week.  Here’s the deal.  Dr. Russ has been working with phobias, including emetophobia, for many years.  He knows how to present a “just right challenge” to NDEW-to challenge him and not let him “take it easy” but also to present a challenge that wouldn’t completely overwhelm him and send him running out of the office in panic.  In other words, he knows just what to do to get NDEW up to a 5 or 6 but not take him all the way to a 10 (which is called flooding and is most definitely NOT helpful).  He can watch NDEW objectively and know when to push a little harder and when to back off a little.  Honestly, even with my background and training in counseling, it would be really easy for me, if I was trying to take NDEW through this on my own, to not push him hard enough or even to try and push him too hard at times.  In addition to NDEW’s willingness and courage to take this on and actually do the work, Dr. Russ’s guidance, insight, compassion, and experience is what has made this successful.  If you have emetophobia, please, please find someone to work through this with you.  Don’t try to do it on your own.

For NDEW, after words, we moved on to sentences, which got progressively more descriptive.  And then onto paragraphs, which, again, were progressively more descriptive.  Then we moved on to images.  The first images were line drawings.  Then more detailed cartoons.  Then photographs of actual people.  With each new exposure, we worked the same process and didn’t move on to the next one until NDEW was ready.  He passed through some exposures quickly.  Some bothered him a lot and maybe took a whole appointment and the week after’s homework to bring NDEW down under a two.  Yes there has been homework involved.  The homework has never been a new exposure.  It has always been practicing one that we’ve worked on with Dr. Russ to help cement the exposure as non-threatening to NDEW.  We may or may not have had various interesting pictures taped up around our house during this process.

We are now in the last phase of this process.  I suspect that we have a couple more months, maybe three, left working with Dr. Russ.  We are now working on videos.  Again, the first ones were very simple-Claymation and very simple computer animations.  Then we moved on to more graphic cartoons.  Now we are on videos of actual people.  Again I will say, this is not an easy process, but the results are so worth it.

What results?  Well, again, we aren’t finished with the process, but, already, there has been more of a change in NDEW that I can probably put into words.  All of those things I listed above? The unwillingness to leave the house?  The unwillingness to be around other kids?  The severely limited diet?  The tic? The superstitions?  They are all so much better.  Are we 100% there yet?  No.  Does this phobia still rear its ugly head occasionally?  Yes.  But when it does, NDEW is able to bring his anxiety under control so much more quickly and easily and we are learning how to support him without reinforcing his anxiety.  Last week, after we got home from our weekly trip to Charlotte, we were talking about how NDEW feels about how things are going and he said to us, “I feel like I’m getting my life back.  Like I can be a normal 12 year old now.  I will never regret doing this work and I owe Dr. Russ more than I could ever tell him.”  My husband and I feel the same way.

We know that we will probably always have to keep an eye on anxiety in NDEW’s life.  Especially because of his prosopagnosia, he is more prone to it.  But it feels like we have overcome a huge obstacle over the past 4 months and have tackled something big.  If you or someone you know suffers from emetophobia, please know that you aren’t alone and, if at all possible, do what you need to do to get the help you need.  It can be conquered and you can get your life back!  I hope that reading our story has encouraged you and given you hope.  Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me if I can help you in any way.  Many blessings on your journey toward healing.

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It’s so nice to have this smile back.

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What about Saturday?

I hope you’ll forgive me for stepping away from homeschooling for just a minute before I jump into that update, but today has me thinking about faith. (Not too long of a side trip, I promise!)

Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter. This time of year we hear a lot about these two days. But I’ve been thinking; what about Saturday? We rarely hear anything about the Saturday between. Different denominations and faith traditions refer to this Saturday in a variety of ways-Holy Saturday, Silent Saturday, Easter Eve. But about the only thing that can be said about this day is that we really don’t know for sure what Jesus was doing on this day. Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly. The only thing we do know is that the followers of Jesus were afraid, worried, sad. Can you imagine what they were thinking, especially the 12 disciples? They had walked away from their lives to follow Christ for the previous three years. They had spent every moment with him, watching him, learning from him. And now he was gone. He was dead. The horrors of Good Friday were over but Easter wasn’t there yet, and they probably had some doubts that it would come. I bet that confusion, questions, and a sense of not knowing what to do next were all common among Christ’s followers on that day.

How many times do we feel that way? We’ve been following Christ. Watching him, learning from his life. Reading his word. We think we know what’s going on, how we’re supposed to be living our lives as his follower. And then Saturday comes. Christ seems very far away, and, suddenly, nothing seems clear anymore.

Maybe you’re feeling that way right now. I certainly know that I’ve been there before. Many times. Maybe you’re trying to decide what to do in a relationship. Maybe a job has just ended unexpectedly. Maybe you sense that God is calling you to do something different, but you just can’t figure out what. Maybe you’re saddened and confused over something that didn’t go the way you thought it would. I just want you to know that Jesus is still at work. Even when it doesn’t look the way we think it should, or when he seems far, he is still working in our lives. I’ve heard the saying about Good Friday “Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming!” That’s certainly true; when things seem the most desperate, the darkest, there is still hope. But you know what, even during the “Saturdays” of our lives-when we might feel stuck, unsure, in between seasons in life-Sunday’s coming too! No matter which day we might find ourselves living through, Christ is still at work and, as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, he has a plan for us, and it’s a great one!

Okay, now on to a school update! NDEW is definitely still enjoying his usual weekly work in math, history, literature, science, writing, and religion.  Now that the science fair is over (picture below!) NDEW and hubby have started working in depth with the Raspberry Pi he got from his Aunt Tye and Uncle Tim for Christmas.  NDEW already has big plans for this and seems to be learning quite a lot about computers in the process.  He’s also getting ready for his music recital coming up in May and planning to play Let It Go from Frozen as a solo on the recorder.  He went out and found the music himself, crazy kid. 🙂  He’s also getting really excited about the upcoming Aladdin auditions with Beanstalk Community Theatre.  He continues to study the brain and nervous system in science and even had the cool opportunity to see an actual brain cell under a microscope at the recent Science Festival at ASU.  I think he even impressed the college students there with what he knew about the brain and nerve structure.  (Always good to know that what he’s learning is sticking!)  We continue to enjoy using the big wide world as our favorite classroom and hope you enjoy some memories below from the past month or so. They include the science fair, participating in some community events, fun games, lots of reading, a trip to the NC Zoo, an ASU baseball game, and an impromptu amphibian lesson…Some of which even occurred outside of school hours! (Shocking, I know!)

Science Fair Zoo 1 Zoo 2 Reading NDEW and KD Lady Bug Amphibian Baseball Games

PS: Before you go, I invite you to head over to Managing Your Blessings and read my latest blog post over there, “The Dreaded “S” Word! Thanks and enjoy!

 

Science, Literature, Snow, Blogging….whew!

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!  I can’t believe February is half over!  I just wanted to share a quick update.  (Who am I kidding, I don’t usually write quick posts!)

Valentine

(I recently took a personality quiz that said I was a reliable realist that was faithful, consistent, well-balanced and sensible but that had little time for extravagances and flightiness.   It also said that I tend to show my closeness to people who are important to me by deeds, and that my partner “should rather not expect romantic declarations of love.”  So, in light of that, I thought this Valentine was appropriate!)

Okay, back to school stuff:  NDEW’s been working really hard with his school work.  (Although he was super excited that I had scheduled a “day off” for today!  I guess every kid likes a break from school every now and then!)  In addition to math and grammar/writing (the two subjects that we take a more structured approach to), he’s been doing lots of cool science and literature work.  We take an almost unschooling approach to these topics and NDEW really guides a lot of what we do by his interests.  For literature he’s reading myths and legends from lots of different time periods and cultures and is really enjoying these rich stories.  I’m not surprised that he likes these stories though with as much as he loves Star Wars (movies, books, games, TV shows, etc. etc. etc. etc.), the Warrior book series, and the Redwall book series.  They definitely all have some similar themes.

In science NDEW is still learning lots about weather and meteorology. I had no idea that this would become such a science focus for this year!  He just keeps finding more and more that he’s interested in learning about it.  He’s currently going through the lessons included in the National Weather Service’s JetStream Online School for Weather and is getting a lot out of the content.  It’s fun to watch him apply it to what he experiences in real life.  I honestly think that part of why he likes learning about weather so much is that it gives him a sense of control.  Even though he knows he can’t control the weather, if he understands more about it, severe weather isn’t quite so scary.

We’re also learning more about electronics by working through the experiments that came with the Snap Circuits Kit he received for Christmas.  It is really, really fun (even for me and hubby!) and he’s learning lots of great principles through it.  On the life sciences front, NDEW has been learning about cells and their structure and then is starting to learn some human anatomy, starting with the brain and nervous system.  He said that he wants to learn about this body system first because he wants to know more about how his brain functions and how it relates to his prosopagnosia.  NDEW has really struggled with anxiety at points and we have definitely found that gaining knowledge is a way that he deals with his anxiety.  That’s why just learning about his prosopagnosia was such a big deal.  Being diagnosed didn’t cure him or really change anything at all in terms of his experience, but just knowing and understanding what was going on made a huge difference in the anxiety that he was experiencing.  I do think that some of his interests start with trying to cope with something that worries him, but then they blossom into a genuine interest as he learns about these subjects at deeper and deeper levels. Isn’t that just like God to take something that we fear or worry about and turn it into something positive!

In addition to these science and literature topics, NDEW’s still learning music and painting and you know there’s some history and social studies being thrown in there with hubby’s love for it!  NDEW’s also continuing his theology/Bible lessons and it’s leading to some awesome conversations around some really deep topics.  Love seeing him maturing and growing in his faith.  So all in all, lots of great learning going on!  Each day looks a little different but each day truly is awesome.  We’re committed to continuing to find and take advantage of the incredible learning opportunities that everyday life presents us.  If you were to walk into our house on any given day, you would definitely see something different than what you might see the day before or the day after.  We never know what awesome things each day might bring us!

Take yesterday for example:  We woke up to almost nine inches of snow-by far the most snow NDEW has ever seen.  He was so excited.  Luckily, it wasn’t terribly cold so we could get out and enjoy it a little.  There was lots of sledding, visiting with neighbors, learning about snow structure and how it forms (There’s that weather thing again!), even saving a little mole we found on our walk around the neighborhood!  Yes, we have set lessons and curriculum we work through, but the world is definitely our biggest and favorite classroom!

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In addition to all this great learnin’ going on, we’ve also seen some wonderful strides in NDEW in “growing up” type stuff and we’re super proud of him.  NDEW has always matured in spurts rather than in any continuous, smooth fashion.  Just when we think he’ll never “get it” it’s like someone flips a switch and he grows up overnight.  We’re so proud of him for taking the steps and facing the fears he has faced lately!

One last exciting update (I know, I know…this has been super long!  Thanks for hanging in there with me!); I shared in my last post that I was going to start writing for a wonderful homeschooling site called So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler?  Well, since then, this site has merged with another site, Managing Your Blessings.  Both sites were founded and managed by an incredible woman, Carlie Kercheval, and she had the vision to combine the sites for a variety of reasons.  I’m so excited to now be a part of the Managing Your Blessings writing team.  What an amazing group of ladies, from a variety of backgrounds, coming together to share their hearts and their faith!  My first post with MYB is up and I’d love for you to take a look at it.  You can find it here: Managing Your Blessings:  Yes, He is our only child.

That’s all from our world.  I’d love to hear what everyone else is up to.  Have you seen any big strides in your child’s development lately or come across a great resource?  I’d love to celebrate those with you and hear all about them!

How Technology is Changing How We Homeschool: Revisted

Back at the end of October I wrote about how we were starting to use some technology tools in our homeschool plan.  I thought I would revisit this topic and give you an update.

First, before I get into that though, I wanted to share some exciting news with you.  Starting in February, I will be a contributing writer over at the site So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler.  I’m so excited to be joining this great group as we travel our homeschool journey together and to have the opportunity to write about homeschooling an only child.  I’ll be sure to let you know when my first post is up over there, but head on over now to check out all the awesome stuff that’s already there!

Now, back to an update on our use of technology in NDEW’s homeschool experience.

First, we still LOVE his Kindle.  Like love it so much that he uses it at least a little every day.  It was so worth the money we spent on it.  Some of our favorite school apps right now are:

  • (Still) 5th grade learning games
  • (Still) Stack the States
  • (Still) Rhythm Cat
  • Jog Nog
  • Grammar Up
  • Arithmemouse
  • All the (free!) classic myths and legends books from around the world (I know it’s not an app, but we still use these a lot!)
  • Notebooks

I have to say a little more about Notebooks:  With this app you create virtual notebooks and can then write information in them.  You can make as many notebooks as you like, for as many subjects as you like.  You can write in each notebook as well as attach things like pictures and drawings.  Here’s the really cool part to me.  You can export the content of each notebook as a pdf (including attached drawings and pictures) and then save it or print it out.  NDEW has five notebooks currently.  They are Khan Science, Khan History, Myths and Legends, Electronics, and Weather.  After he works in one of these subjects he does a brief entry in his notebook describing what he did and what he learned-like a learning journal.  Then, at the end of the year, we’re going to keep the pdf of each as a part of our records for the year.  It’s a great little tool!

Back in October I also mentioned that we were beginning to use Asana as a record keeping and planning tool.  This is working out so well.  Every Sunday night I go into Asana and enter NDEW’s tasks for the upcoming week.  The tasks are organized by “project”.  For us, a project might be a subject or a source of material that NDEW uses.  Some of our projects include (not a full list):

  • Khan Academy Math, Science and History
  • Literature
  • Other Reading
  • Kindle Extras (like the apps I mentioned above)
  • Non-Kindle Extras (like music and karate practice, doing the Wii Fit, even, sometimes cleaning his bathroom!)
  • Other Science
  • Grammar
  • E-Learning for Kids (more about this in a minute)

I set all the due dates in Asana to the Friday of the week and then, each morning NDEW and hubby go online to Asana and select which of the tasks NDEW will do for the day.  At the end of the day, they go in and check of the completed tasks and I get an email showing me what he checked off for the day.  Getting this email helps so much with the “What did you do for school today?” question when I get home.  Even homeschool kids like to give the “some stuff” or “not much” type answers!  Now, I get home and I can say, “So I see you read __________ myth today.  Tell me what happened in the story?”  or “I saw you finished that project today.  Awesome job!  Show it to me!”  As I said before, I use Asana at work but I am SO glad we started using it for homeschooling too!  It’s made planning a lot easier for me!

Lastly, I wanted to share about an online e-learning source we’ve started using.  The website is E-Learning For Kids.  Their content is divided by subject matter and grade level and it’s very well done.  NDEW really enjoys it and it provides great review of concepts for him.  He works on it three times a week.  Best of all it’s FREE!  Yes, that’s right, free.  I seriously kept looking all over the site for some kind of hidden cost, and I haven’t found one yet.  They do ask for donations, but it’s definitely not required.  If you have a kid in preschool-middle school and are at all interested in some online learning content, go over and check it out.

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I would love to hear of any online or technology resources you use in your homeschooling plan, in a classroom, or with your kids.  What are your favorite resources?  Please share!

What a year!

What a year!

Yes, yes…I know.  I’m a little late to the “Year in Review” thing, but before checking in on what we’re up to now, I didn’t want to dismiss what a crazy, awesome year 2013 was for our family.  Sure, there were things that were challenges or struggles, but overall, as we have looked back through 2013, we are overwhelmed by the ways our family has been blessed.  2013 did not look how any of us thought it would, but what an incredible year it was!  Some highlights for our family this year, in no particular order:

  • Starting our family’s homeschooling journey.
  • NDEW participating in the enrichment classes offered by our local homeschool association, meeting some new friends, and finding new interests in music, art, and karate.
  • Our family traveling to Orlando for an amazing conference for my job, a trip which included getting to spend time with some friends and family we don’t see often, getting to serve together, and getting to participate in some incredible worship experiences (Can you picture over 2500 people, representing over 100 nations, worshiping together in one room in 5 different languages?  It was AWESOME!)
  • NDEW receiving 100s of postcards from friends and family (and some strangers!) from all over the US and learning some great US geography along the way.
  • My sister and brother-in-law’s wedding!  Yay Mr. and Mrs. Johel!!! (AKA T-Tye and Tim!)
  • The incredible kindness and love shown to us by friends and family as I recovered from pretty extensive sinus surgery (and how much better I feel after said sinus surgery!)
  • Meeting Dr. Ronald Franklin, finally getting some long-sought answers for NDEW, and learning about his prosopagnosia.
  • Hubby and I having the opportunity to serve at two One Day with God camps through Forgiven Ministries at Avery Mitchell Correctional and Northeast Correctional and being able to serve Christmas dinner with folks from multiple local congregations at Avery Mitchell.
  • NDEW becoming involved with Beanstalk Community Theatre, being a part of his first production, The One and Only Santa Claus, and finding a new passion for acting.
  • Hubby’s surprise 40th birthday party and the opportunity it gave us to spend time with some of our very best friends and our family.
  • NDEW getting baptized!
  • NDEW’s 11th birthday fishing-themed party, during which the girls out-fished the boys.

As you think back through your 2013 I hope you feel all the blessings in your life, even those blessings hidden in the struggles.  Our family wishes you the most wonderful New Year you can imagine, and then even more!  We worship and serve a Heavenly Father that’s all about “even more”!

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Happy New Year!!

(PS  Check out my next post with an update on some of our newest technology favorites! Oh, and enjoy some pictures from our 2013!)

IMG_3425 IMG_4484 IMG_4073 IMG_3953 IMG_4637 IMG_4090 IMG_3367 IMG_3865 IMG_3846 IMG_4547 IMG_5671 IMG_5777 IMG_6186 NDEW Play 3 NDEW Play 11 IMG_5430 IMG_5255 IMG_5207 IMG_5146 IMG_4778 IMG_3745 IMG_4841 IMG_4839

How Technology is Changing How We Homeschool

For a big birthday surprise, we recently purchased a Kindle Fire for our son who was turning 11. (For those who are interested in such things, it is a Kindle Fire HD 8.9” and the first tablet owned by anyone in our house!) We got it for him partly as a “WHOOHOO you survived!”-surprise; the last year of his life has been pretty challenging and he has worked through and overcome a ton. We also wanted to have this new tool for school.

I’m not sure why we didn’t do this sooner. Seriously.

Now before anyone starts picturing our kid sitting in front of a tablet screen all day with no interaction around his learning, that’s not what’s going on here. NDEW has three goal/task lists each week: Schoolwork with Dad, independent work on his Kindle, and independent work that’s not on the Kindle. And that doesn’t include his enrichment classes/activities away from home.
We are using content on NDEW’s Kindle as a way to review or preview material that he learns with Dad and works on in other ways and it is proving to be a fantastic way to engage him! So what content has NDEW enjoyed the most and gotten the most out of so far? Here are a few!

Stack the States: A great game to review US geography.

5th grade Learning Games: NDEW especially likes the math games

Rhythm Cat: NDEW takes music/recorder lessons and really enjoys it. He struggles with rhythm though. He gets the concept of note value but has trouble “feeling” how they fit together into a rhythm. The Rhythm Cat game works on just this skill and he LOVES it.

Blendoku: This is a game that works with color blending and NDEW really, really enjoys it. I can see him using the skills he is picking up on through it in his art lessons and paintings.

Duolingo: This is a language-learning app and NDEW is learning some basic Spanish through it right now. It’s so fun to hear him throw Spanish words into conversation every now and then.

Viewer for Khan Academy: This app makes viewing all of the awesome videos on Khan Academy super easy!

There are lots of other apps we have downloaded and NDEW is just starting to use like Dragon Box, some memory/brain games, and several science-related apps, so I’m sure I’ll be adding to this favorites list. This doesn’t even get into all the great (sometimes even free!) books he can get on his Kindle too!

We have also started using technology in some other ways now that NDEW has his Kindle. Here are a few of those:
Skype: We use Skype at work to communicate all the time, and hubby and I have been known to use Skype every now and then during the day as well. We set up NDEW his own Skype account on his Kindle (with only his Dad and I as contacts) and he will now use it to check in with me during the day from time to time. It’s fun to see a message pop up from him every now and then and to have that touch point with what he’s working on. It’s a great way for me to feel a little more involved in his day-to-day learning since I’m the parent that works away from home.

Video Diaries: We are now having NDEW do a short video diary at the end of the day to review what he’s worked on. He has a few questions that he is to answer about what he’s learned and he’s encouraged to be as creative as he wants to be with his daily report. When I get home and ask the inevitable “So, what did you do today?” question, he excitedly breaks out his video diary for the day and it’s a great conversation starter. It’s also a fantastic way to keep a running record of what he’s learning.

Asana: Asana is yet another work tool turned homeschooling tool! We use Asana as a task management tool at work and we’ve decided to try it out for school too. Unfortunately, there isn’t a Kindle-compatible app for Asana yet (that would be AWESOME!) but NDEW can access it through the internet on his Kindle or on our desktop. Basically, NDEW, hubby, and I are set up as a “team” in Asana. Hubby and I can go into Asana and assign tasks to NDEW, including giving him instructions, links he’ll need, setting due dates, etc. When NDEW finishes a task, he goes in and checks it off in Asana. Hubby and I then get an email that he’s completed the task. It’s a great way to keep us all on the same page, especially since NDEW works on lots of independent projects that stretch out over several days or weeks. Asana also gives us a place to keep track of what materials NDEW is covering through his work. Of course, we review all of these projects and tasks with NDEW in person, but this gives him a place to go for reminders on what he is supposed to be working on during his independent work time each day.

We are really enjoying the technology tools we are currently using to enhance our homeschooling! What apps, programs or tools do you use?

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NDEW excitedly checking out his new Kindle at his birthday party.

Getting Back to School

Welcome back to school everyone! We hope you all had a wonderful summer. Ours was very low-key, (as you can tell by the fact that I didn’t post even once on this blog!); It was SO nice. NDEW especially welcomed the downtime after a school year that had been really challenging at times and full of changes. He continued his recorder/music lessons, but other than that, just enjoyed spending time playing Mindcraft, reading lots of books, hanging out, seeing family, etc. We had tons of rain this summer so the outdoor activities were kind of limited unfortunately.

We started our school year two weeks ago and we have definitely decided to make some changes for this year based on what we learned during our first ½ year of homeschooling (January-June 2013).  For one, we are rearranging our school day schedule a little.  We found out last year that Hubby was often interrupted during their morning “classroom time” with work needs.  (Hubby works full-time from home while also homeschooling NDEW.  Isn’t he awesome?!?!)  It seemed that he was most needed to respond to work needs in the morning and he came to realize that he was also more efficient at handling work responsibilities in the mornings.  On the other hand, NDEW is not at his best in the morning, never has been, so we found that he was best able to concentrate on new material in the afternoon.  We moved the activities that NDEW would work on independently to the morning and put the learning of new material that he and Hubby would do together in the afternoon.  The kinds of activities that NDEW does in the morning tend to be review of previously covered material or activities that he easily engages with without much prompting like reading and computer work.

We also discovered last year that NDEW and Hubby like to really dig into their topics.  When we were trying to do several topics a day they always felt like they had just gotten started when it was time to switch to another topic.  Toward the end of last year, they tried out a rotation schedule of subjects where they only covered one subject a day but really got to explore it at depth.  It worked really well so we’re basing their “classroom time” on that schedule this year.  The two exceptions are math and grammar.  I firmly believe that these two subjects require intentional daily practice of skills, so NDEW and Hubby do a little math and a little grammar almost every day.

One of the things that I love most about homeschooling is our ability to tailor NDEW’s instruction not only to provide him support in the areas where he struggles and challenge in the areas where he needs it, but also to arrange a schedule that works best for all involved.  When we first started homeschooling I had in my mind that we really needed to transplant a typical, public school day schedule into our home.  Thank you so much to those who helped us see that that was not the case and who encouraged us to explore what worked best for our family and to think outside the box!

In addition to our regular at-home learning, NDEW is participating in a few outside activities this fall and is really excited about them. First, he is taking a karate class and a painting class through our local homeschool group. The first day of class was last week and he had a blast. The same group is also scheduling monthly activities/outings and NDEW is very excited about taking part in some of those too. We are so blessed to have a group like this to be a part of here! I’m not sure how many families participate in this group, but just to give you an idea of the popularity of homeschooling in our area, there are more than 280 homeschools registered in our county; our county has a population close to 52,000.

NDEW is still also taking music/recorder lessons and is really getting good at reading music and playing his recorder. I don’t dread it when he takes it out to practice any more. His teacher is interested in having him start learning the alto recorder soon so that should be fun too! (How many of you knew there was more than one type of recorder?) He is also interested in learning a new instrument so that might become a spring 2014 project. I won’t give away what he wants to learn, but let’s just say that it relates to his Wallace heritage. 😉

Last but not least, NDEW is trying out for the play being produced by the local children’s theater this winter. His tryouts are on September 22 so send some good vibes his way! We missed auditions for the summer production of Night at the Wax Museum, but NDEW served as an usher and greeter for the three performances (complete with ancient soldier costume) and really enjoyed himself. He’s been in a couple of other productions in the past (not with this theater group) and has had such a great time. He’s never met an audience he doesn’t like. LOL We’re very hopeful that this will be a part of our fall/winter activities too!
IMG_4735

Speaking of fall-just a few leaves have started to turn here in the NC High Country and we’re having some cooler temps in the morning. Are you starting to see signs of fall where you live? I, for one, am looking forward to the new season and we’re all super excited about this new school year. Thanks for continuing on with us on this journey!

A (half) Year in Review and Looking Forward

Today was the last day of 4th grade at the Wallace Academy of Learning. We celebrated with a math scavenger hunt review game and a silly, slightly gross science lab! What an interesting, enjoyable, six months we’ve had. I cannot believe we’ve finished our first half school year as a homeschooling family. Craziness.

As we’ve been wrapping up this week I took a look back to see what all we’ve covered. I was amazed at how much we’ve done in these 103 days of school!
Math:
•Fractions
•Decimals
•Percent
•Area
•Perimeter
•Measurement
•2 and 3-digit multiplication
•Division, including long division
•Some fun math “extras” through the G is for Googol book
•Lots of everyday, real-life math
Science:
•The Universe
•Planets
•Space exploration with lots on different types of rockets, vehicles, etc.
•Meteorology, especially extreme weather
•Geology, especially types and formation of rocks, structure of the earth and earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides
•Magnets
•Types of energy
•Electricity-especially using our “Electricity Playground” kit which was a huge hit and will be used well into the summer
•Reptiles, especially snakes
History:
•Jamestown Colony
•The French and Indian War
•The Great Awakening
•Biographies of the founding fathers
•The Constitution
•The Declaration of Independence
•The American Revolution
Geography
•Overall globe geography (hemispheres, lines of latitude and longitude, navigation, etc.)
•Categories of landforms
•The 50 states including capitals, natural resources, major landforms, etc.
•Lots of map practice

Add to these lots of reading, music class, PE class, many small “off topic” extra activities, lots of online games, and lots of TV documentaries, and we’ve covered a huge variety of topics.
Of course, we’ve also gained so much insight into how NDEW learns and how he interacts with the world that has been invaluable as well. In many ways, those are the biggest lessons learned in our family this spring!

Looking ahead…
We have decided to continue our homeschool adventure into 5th grade and are very much looking forward to having a full school year to work together. We have also decided to use a little more set curriculum. We will be using the Core Knowledge series. Many people know them by their What Your —– Grader Needs to Know books. We will be using their 5th grade materials and supplementing with materials from Kids Discover magazine, Intellego Unit Studies, Daily Grams Grammar Practice, and the Thames and Kosmos Physics Workshop. We chose these resources because we felt they gave us a backbone structure to work from and lots of great resources but also allowed us the flexibility in schedule and activities that we’ve loved this year.

Some of the topics on tap for us next year include:
World History:
•Inca, Aztec, and Maya Civilizations
•Feudal Japan
•Russian History
•The Renaissance
American History:
•Causes that led to the Civil War
•The Civil War
•Reconstruction
•Western Expansion
Science:
•Classification of living things
•Cells
•Human Anatomy
•Physics: Simple Machines
Math:
•Lots of Geometry

NDEW will continue taking a music class with our local homeschool group as well as start a weekly karate class with them. He will also be working with his counselor twice a month on facial recognition practice activities. We are looking toward lots of local “field trips” and planning a big trip to Washington, DC in the spring of 2014. I looks like it’s going to be an awesome 5th grade year! We plan to start 5th grade during the 3rd week of August. We figured that, even with holiday breaks thrown in, we’ll still end before Memorial Day next May.

Before we look too far forward into 5th grade though, we have 10 weeks of summer ahead of us. Woohoo!!! NDEW and hubby have some really fun stuff planned for this summer, in addition to hanging out and relaxing a lot. First, NDEW will continue his music class this summer and there is a homeschool group that will be having a weekly park day to get together and play. NDEW and hubby also plan to build their own light sabers, build some kind of outdoor tree house or play structure and plant a small garden. I’m sure there will be lots of library trips, bike rides, creek tubing, mountain exploring, movies, and computer games to go along with those projects as well.

We hope each of you have a wonderful, relaxing summer and we thank you for journeying along with us on our homeschool adventure!

Quote of the Year, from NDEW: “Not only am I the valedictorian of the Wallace Academy of Learning, but I was also voted best looking.”
(This kid certainly doesn’t have a lack of confidence! Oh my word….)

Honk if you love bikes!

NDEW Bike 1

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is to share some of the activities we are doing that cost little or no money. Homeschool curriculums can be expensive (although definitely worth it if you find just the right curriculum that matches your child) but you can also find lots of things to do and lots of materials to use that are inexpensive or free. One other activity like this that I’ve mentioned before is our use of the free state tourism guidebook magazines and the maps that often come with them as a part of our geography and math lessons. Another great resource is the website Teachers Pay Teachers (www.teacherspayteachers.com). While there are lots of resources that cost money on the site, there are lots of free ones too and their search feature works well.

Our latest free/inexpensive special school activity was a bike day. Last week, NDEW got a new bike so we decided to build a day’s lessons around this new bike, which NDEW was very excited about. Now, the new bike was definitely not free. Well, actually, I guess it kind of was! My parents sent me money for my birthday recently and I used it to buy us new bikes. You definitely wouldn’t have to get new bikes to do these lessons, however.

The day after we got the bikes, NDEW and hubby had to do a little adjusting on his so they used this opportunity of working on the bike to explore some questions. Here are a few examples:
•Talk about the different sizes of gears that the chain goes over. Why not the same size?
•Talk about what powers the front wheel.
•Have NDEW measure the circumference, radius, and diameter of his wheel. Have him calculate the circumference using the formula first (C= pi x diameter) and then actually measure it to see how close the formula is.
•Have NDEW figure out how many times his wheel would have to turn to ride a mile.
•Talk about metric and standard measurement using your tool set.
•Talk about how his brakes work (friction) and maybe even compare them to how the breaks on my bike work.
•Talk about why we use oil on certain parts of bikes.

Before they started working on the bikes, while hubby was getting his actual work-work done, we had NDEW read through some websites and watch some videos about bikes, bike history, and bike safety. Here are the links we used:
Websites:
http://physicsofbicycling.homestead.com/
http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/
http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/sports/physics/cycling-science-7-fascinating-facts-about-bikes#slide-1
http://airandspace.si.edu/wrightbrothers/who/1893/index.cfm (Website about the Wright brothers….the five slides starting on this link talk about their bike building activities and how that translated to aircraft)

Some videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shPgLBlBABc (Couple minute video from Science Friday)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dStGTWZlZHY (Silly Bike Safety video-a little young for NDEW but just a couple of minutes long)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=162fCN9-qnY (A better, longer bike safety video)
http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/04/15/2011/physics-of-the-riderless-bike.html (Another video from Science Friday about the physics of a rider-less bike)
http://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/engineering-and-technology/the-science-behind-the-bike (A series of videos about how science and technology have changed cycling)

Maybe this will inspire you to have a bike day of your own, our build a day of lessons around one of your child’s favorite activities. Have a great day!

I feel that I am entitled to my share of lightheartedness and there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s self simply, like a boy. ~ Leo Tolstoy, In response to criticism for learning to ride a bicycle at age 67

NDEW Bike 2

Given an Opportunity to Share on Psychology Today’s Website

As I’m sure you can imagine, the “family” of those who have prosopagnosia is a pretty small one, and it does not take long to get to know others, virtually at least, from around the country who have been impacted by this probably-not-so-rare-but-hardly-ever-diagnosed disorder. Glenn Alperin is one member of this family. Glenn is an adult, around my age, who lives with prosopagnosia. He received a head injury at 16 months old, and it is believed that this is what caused his case of face blindness. Glenn is quite outspoken about his prosopagnosia and has had many opportunities throughout the years to share about his experiences of living with this. He does this, he says, to advocate for those who live with this disorder, and to educate others about it. With research showing that possibly up to 2% of the population has facial recognition difficulties to one degree or another, there are probably lots, like our family, who are being impacted by this disorder and who don’t even know it. And those impacts can be confusing, scary, and debilitating.

One way that Glenn shares about his experiences with prosopagnosia is through a blog on the Psychology Today website. His posts talk about day-to-day life and considerations for people who move through the world not being able to reliably recognize others, even those closest to them. I found Glenn’s blog not too long ago and have greatly enjoyed reading the posts included. Even though Glenn is an adult, I could see many parallels between his experiences and NDEW’s experiences with prosopagnosia. After reading through the posts, I sent Glenn an email, letting him know how much I appreciated his willingness to share and that his blog had given me some great insights into what NDEW experiences. I explained that we had a son who had recently been diagnosed with prosopagnosia and thanked him for all he’s done to educate the public about the disorder. (In addition to his blog, Glenn has consulted on several books and films and has been interviewed for TV about having prosopagnosia.)

Glenn emailed me back and asked me if I might like to write a post as a guest on his blog and share about our journey to this point with NDEW. I was more than willing to. If, by sharing, I can encourage another family to keep searching for the right answers for their child, then I am more than willing to. I am very grateful to Glenn for giving me this opportunity and I feel honored that he asked me to. I’m the first guest blogger he’s ever had. You can read the article by clicking on the link below. In the article our son is referred to as Mark. Glenn and I decided that it was best if we did not use NDEW’s real name since this was a website with such a large, international audience. Readers of this blog know our son as NDEW, and those who know us personally know him by his real name. Trust me, it’s the same kid!

Thanks for taking the time to read the post of Glenn’s blog on PsychologyToday.com I am very thankful to have been given the opportunity to share.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/face/201305/outsiders-looking-in-familys-journey-prosopagnosia

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