Early Girlie Homeschool

Teacher-Mom Blog

Beginning Homeschool To Do List:

1. Speak with school coordinator(s).

2. Review Legal & State Requirements. 

3. Update Immunization & Medical Records.

4. Write Educational Objectives.

5. Get Affidavit and Attachments Notarized.

6. Submit everything to school coordinator.

The Other To Do List:

1. Seriously wonder about my capability to do this.

If Earlie Girlie is an enigma for teaching professionals, how am I going to do this? No teaching degree. Self-doubt battle begins. My close friends assure me that I'll be great. PA State Law says that if I'm a non-criminal parent with a high school diploma, I'm qualified to teach my own child. Lower the unattainable bar I have raised for myself.  

2. Feel immediately overwhelmed by the long list of National & State Academic Standards. Wonder if it is sane for any one person to try to meet the goals. Write Thank You notes to all teachers; their jobs are impossible.

3. Curriculum research. Earlie Girlie hates worksheets and resists all adult-lead learning activities. This narrows it down to...uh...

4. Cyberschool? - She won't sit still long enough, finds it completely not engaging. Wants to go outside, so we go sledriding and talk about the Olympics. No, we don't have a halfpipe. She gets mad because I won't even try to construct one. My fear of head injuries and broken bones trumps expensive backyard construction. Compromise by making a halfpipe for toys. Happy again. 

5. Explore teaching philosophies & modalities. Homeschooling & Unschooling blogs, Montessori and Pinterest saves me from panic. There are lots of ways to instruct and learn. She deletes several things from my pinboard and then takes over by looking up cakes. Wow. We pick out dairy free cupcakes to make. No one can study while hungry.

6. Post a social media announcement that I will be homeschooling. Hope for help & brace myself for feedback. This ensures that every teacher in my nework will offer suggestions and condolences. They like teaching, and they like having their own children in school, very much. I'm throwing away a luxury of having free time while other people teach my kid, and may live to regret it.

7. Wonder if YouTube is a viable teaching tool. She's sitting next to me finding all kinds of things she likes - music, documentaries, kids shows. She follows a ukulele tutorial by a 10-year-old kid. I follow a tutorial on how to set Parenting Controls and tune all of our instruments. OK YouTube, you taught us some things.

8. Portfolio. Ask the school district if setting up a website to log everything will count. They love the idea!This will help me organize ideas, post photos & keep the school informed. Maybe she can do some distance learning or exchanges with other children. As she ages, posting online will become more significant to her.

9. Make my own list of Educational Objectives that surpasses the Standards, making an even longer list of things to do. 

10. Realize that I'm spending more time researching what to do than actually doing anything in particular. Teachable moments could be happening right now, but I'm typing.

If you're still reading, it's time to stop & go do something!

Peter Pan Lessons (Grade 2)

In February, the ballet is hosting a sensory-friendly performance of Peter Pan. We are going! Earlie Girlie saw me buy tickets, and asked what it was for...which is when I realized she was not familiar with Peter Pan or his story. Just to clarify, Peter Pan DOES NOT belong to Disney, though the studio is a critical part of the legacy. While Earlie Girlie's Dad is a huge Disney fan, I first saw it as a stage show. So, we bring together different viewpoints. I am excited for us to see it as a ballet, with new costumes and perhaps a new sequence to the story. It is a great opportunity to explore a theme across a variety of mediums. So I consulted the Pinterest oracles, and put together some lessons.

Earlie Girlie's Dad, having interned at Disney Studios as an artist, will be covering the animation process. The Dad dug through his collections, including a vintage copy of Berrie's novel Peter and Wendy, a copy of Walt Disney's animated Peter Pan (1953). He found bonus documentaries about how the movie was made, the history of the stage play, silent film, and live action model. He also has Hook, a live action movie of Peter Pan. During a rainy month, we watched it all, after lessons. 

As I whipped up a Peter Pan hat with red feather, E.G. dug through her closet for the rest of her ensemble. She found a green shirt with feather beading. We played with shadows on the wall as I photographed her. She imagined what it would be like for Peter Pan to show up in her room, so she wrote a short story about it the next day. "Project Runway Junior" is on its first season, and the group of young designers had five hours to make a runway carpet look for the cast of Peter Pan the musical! That coincidence gave us a chance to discuss costume and wearable designs. We decided to make our own necklaces to wear to Peter Pan ballet.

At the time, I was not the biggest Disney fan. (Either you will gasp, or heave a sigh of relief, depending on your own degree of fandom.) Disney always portrays step-parents, fathers, or mothers as antagonists, and at least one biological parent is killed or missing in the story. It's a morbid way to draw people in to look at the child's world, separating them from grown-ups. There is the whole finding "the one" person to couple with, the one who will save you and make you happy from that point forward. If you have ever underestimated the use of music on the subconscious, now is the time to reflect on everything you've listened to as a child, and see how much of it you built your life around. It is important to honor relationships that cannot last. It is not healthy to rely on just one person, especially to put your happiness on hold, to be rescued from your life. I realize how much fandom Disney has, but I often wonder if it stifles people's own creativity. At what point does a person pull from his or her own imagination, and not something that's imbedded from Disney? Weddings, tattoos, cosplay, home decor, the list goes on. I enjoy elements of the stories, characters, and music, but there are a lot of flaws that get overlooked. Keeping an eye on the pros and cons is important. I'm just not sold on the whole Disney package. A student and teacher's job is to critically analyze what they are reading, viewing, and thinking. There are objective and subjective markers that can be applied, and that is what I want to equip my child with: ways to reflect.

After watching the short Disney Studio documentaries, I appreciate the historical impact that the animated films have made. I certainly can appreciate that people hand drew and painted each cell, and thousands of artists had to draw alike to get it done. I like that the Disney studio brings classic tales forward, stories meant to be told by firelight in the dark,and handed down generation to generation. I like that there are documentaries that explain how he struggled as an artist, yet believed in his vision and used every penny he had to follow his dreams. Walt Disney's achievements did not come without effort or sacrifice...which is a message every artist and child with a disability needs to hear over and over again. Their efforts, difficulties, and struggles are worthwhile, especially when it leads them to something they wish for.

Some of the history I enjoyed learning about: Walt Disney was most inspired by fairytales his grandmother read to him. He and his brother scraped together their own money to see the stage play Peter Pan, or The Lost Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, by James Matthew Barrie, which ran from 1904 to 1913, in London, England. Back then, Tinkerbell was played by a ball of light, and some jingling bells. The play quickly became a favorite among children, though the character was originally written in an adult novel. Walt's school put on the play, and Walt starred as Peter Pan, wearing a rope, and flying into the audience. He was later inspired by the silent film (1924), where Tinker Bell was pantomimed and portrayed as a tiny fairy. In Disney's version, The Lost Boys long for someone to tell them stories (a nod to Walt's grandmother), and Peter Pan goes to find a storyteller for them. Peter overhears Wendy telling stories to her brothers, and decides to take her to Neverland because she tells the best stories (mostly about Peter Pan).

Walt Disney was brilliant for weaving what he loved most about childhood and escaping hardships into the retelling of classic tales. He knew how to use music to tell the story, and his composers have written some of the most time-tested songs in history. Disney somehow knew that succeeding in a prolific media would mean a dose of immortality. In a way, he hasn't had to grow any older.

Aug 2014

First Grade Beginning of School

School starts in 20 days! Earlie Girlie has been talking about going back to school nonstop, excited to see her friends and teachers. She can't seem to understand why she won't be in her (beloved) Kindergarten teacher's class anymore. Same school, new teachers and classroom. First graders have a hard time grasping this concept. 

Meanwhile, I am preparing my homeschool materials and lessons. This year, I'm pulling from Montessori, the arts, and our ever-growing interests.

Maybe we'll make a cute back-to-school countdown.

Today, I interviewed her for a micro-preemie support group. Their questions lately have been about what happens as they grow up, what delays and challenges should they expect, what types of therapies and things do they provide them with now, as babies? She peeked over and asked me what I was doing. I said, "Giving advice." Earlie Girlie: "I want to give advice, too! Can I give advice?" Why not? So here's our Interview.

Tips for Micro-Preemie Parents, By a Micro-Preemie.

I interviewed my 24 weeker, now age 6.

Q: What do you remember from being a baby?

A: I was teeny-tiny! Lots of people took care of me. The doctors gave me high-fives. I lived in the hospital and at home with you and Daddy, and my nurses. I had lots of nurses (listing their names).

Q: What do you remember liking the most as a baby?

A: Bath time! And my Brobee, he's my best buddy (her stuffed monster).

Q: What's your advice to preemies? What should they learn?

A: (Singing) "Keep trying, keep trying, don't give up, never give up." (Talking.) It's a Yo Gabba Gabba song and book, and I remember it all the time.

{That made the interviewer tear up a bit, but I resumed my professional composure and continued.}

Q: What were some of your favorite baby toys?

A: I like my plush characters, and my stage, and shakers. My Leapfrog drum! Drums are percussion instruments, not a toy. Babies can play with music, anyone can.

Q: Favorite baby books?

A: Goodnight Moon, Hungry Bunny, Dr. Suess ABC's, I Love You Through & Through. Photo books of me!

Q: Media recommendations for preemies?

A: Sesame Street. Baby Signing Times. Yo Gabba Gabba. Harold & The Purple Crayon. Backyardigans.

Q: Best creative toy?

A: A big box! You can do anything with a box. Sit in them, get sent to China (for pretend), put toys in, pull up on to stand.

Q: Is there anything else you think preemies should know?

A: They should learn the names of everyone and everything they like. They can't talk yet, so you have to tell them what it is, who it is.

Q: What's best about being a baby?

A: Everyone holding me. (Pause.) Can you hold me, Mommy?

Cuddles & end of interview. There you have it, developmental advice from a micropreemie!

Guy Carlton Wiggins."Washington's Birthday - Wall Street" (1927).

Oil on canvas. American Impressionist.

February 22, 2014 (George Washington's Birthday Celebration)

Early Girlie has a fondness for Presidents. I'm not sure why, but we are often drawn to people and subjects without quite knowing "why". We just are. Before she could talk, she would point to books that she wanted me to read to her, and she would flip through flashcards on her own, asking me to tell her who or what it was out loud. She's the only 3-year-old I knew who actually grabbed books and cards about the Presidents when we went shopping. I shrugged and figured that she'd get a jump start on memorizing them for 5th grade like I had to.

When she did finally speak, post airway surgery, she was in preschool, just 4 years old. The children were excited that she started saying hello to them, and speaking a few words. They were gathered around a poster with round shapes, including a quarter. The children were describing the quarter as "round, money, a coin" and Earlie Girlie chimed in with "Washington". They all looked at her in shock and said, "Who's that?" I explained he was the man on the quarter. The teachers and I were dumbfounded. How did a child who just learned to speak know this?

Looking for ways to celebrate Washington's birthday, I found Guy Carlton Wiggin's work. Our weather has been similar to the day he painted in 1927. What I found interesting about Wiggins is that he was actually trying to paint summer scenes in his studio, and frustrated, he looked outside. His paintings of winter scenes were immediately sold out, and were very lucrative for him. However, he didn't like winter, and he refused to continue painting snow scenes, even though people thought he was crazy for passing up the opportunity. Sometimes you have to disappoint others to stay true to yourself. Other times, your own resistance to an idea gets in your way. It's important to know what is the driving force in your decisions - listening to intuition, or worrying about what others will think.

Eventually, you learn that when opportunities present themselves, you have two choices: go with it, or go against it.

If you're meant to do something, the universe will work to put you in that place. You can try to ignore it. However, you'll notice how over time, your options get limited. You end up returning to the situation that presented itself, and when finally you go with it, it seems like the best thing you could have done. You face it and it's not nearly as bad as you feared. Kind of like homeschooling. I had clues all along that this would be Earlie Girlie's path, but I wavered. I wanted to blend into our suburban surroundings, to give her a chance to be a traditional student. I still like the idea of having the best of both worlds - the social elements and structure of school, and the ability to self-guide and learn at your own pace at home. After all, even Wiggins painted summer AND winter scenes, which are selling for about $206,500 at Christie's right now.


Matryoshka from Krasnodar, Russia (1998), gift from foreign exchange student.

 Matryoshka - Russian Nesting Dolls

Matryoshka {literally "little matron"} are a set of wooden dolls that nest inside one another. The dolls are traditionally carved from one block of wood and are split so that they separate. When opened up, they reveal another smaller doll, and another, and so on, nested inside. The smallest doll does not pull apart. Nesting dolls can include anywhere from two, five, or seven dolls.

The first Russian Matryoshka dolls were carved around 1890, and were inspired by dolls seen in Japan (where they are also still popular).

Savva Mamontov's wife presented the dolls at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, during the Art Nouveau era. (The Mamontov family was a wealthy patron of the arts and had the ability to start a trend.) Soon after the exposition, matryoshka dolls were produced all over Russia and shipped around the world. They are still a well-known tourist item.

"I was a rich man, that's true, but I gave up everything since I believed that money is for the people and not people for the money." - Savva Mamontov's,  from his Diary.

Matryoshka dolls often follow a theme, such as peasant girls in traditional dresses, fairytale characters, or even world leaders. 

In reading translated poems about nesting dolls, I found out that many say that the dolls "hold a secret," which is enclosed in many layers and protected. This may be why world leaders are often portrayed jokingly. The dolls seem to be an acceptable outlet for parody.

Matryoshkas also are used as a design concept that shows a recognizable relationship of "object-within-similar-object", like nesting tables, or a rectangle laptop with smaller rectangle and square computer keys. In nature, if the outer layer is peeled off an onion, a similar onion exists within. In French and Western art history, mise en abyme is a formal technique in which an image contains a smaller copy of itself, in a sequence recurring infinitely. Test it yourself: Use two parallel mirrors to reflect an object nested within itself, seemingly on and on.

Fractals are along the same concept as matryoshkas. Fractals are a big deal to all of my scientist friends. I think fractals look cool. (They agree, but there's more to it.) My understanding is rudimentary. A triangle is a triangle no matter how big or how tiny you draw it. When I think of fractals, I think of triangles, a pinecone, or a computer chip.

Art, nature, science, and math cannot escape one another, no matter how much we want to compartmentalize. You'll see a lot of our homeschool work is integrated. I guess it's just the way our lessons seem to unfold. Learning one thing leads to curiosity about another, related concept, so a lot of it is following tangents. Small discoveries leading to bigger ones. 

My challenge in revisiting my own educational background to learn how to bring something to a child's level of understanding. Earlie Girlie will memorize anything, and link it to something she knows. So we have nesting objects, layers, Russia folk art, and fractals. Just dolls, right? Maybe secrets inside of secrets.

Serendipity, Fractals & Pineapples

Academics like me know that seemingly unrelated facts or situations will eventually tie together and make sense. Serendipity is what the romantics call it. Scientists call it "scientific discoveries" or maybe Law of Attraction.

Earlier in the month we chose Hawaii for American and tropical climate studies. Then we moved onto chilly Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the art of nesting dolls, where we stumbled into fractals. Ready for the tie-in? The pineapple is a natural-occuring fractal! 

Earlie Girlie tried, but drawing a pineapple from a reference was too difficult for her. I wanted her to at least recognize the basic shapes involved, so I cut the main forms as we talked. It's February, so I cut heart shapes and she arranged them on the big oval pineapple. She cut triangular leaves, and arranged them herself. She made sure to have even amounts of hearts and leaves, counting each one. The scrapbook papers she chose have additional fractals! Can you spot them?

I was unsure of how many heart shapes to use for the pineapple's bumpy surface. We pasted even numbers. Then my geneticist friend called to swap art and science lessons for our kids. I told her about the pineapple lesson. She pointed out that "the pineapple is arranged in two interlocking helixes, just like DNA. There are 8 in one direction, and 13 in the other." Huh. Now we know. Well, they can't all fit on the front view of Earlie Girlie's pineapple.

After viewinga short tutorial on how to cut a pineapple, we talked about what we noticed - prickly, spiky, dull colored outside. Juicy, smells yummy, slippery, smooth, bright colors inside. Opposites.

The best part about studying fractile-riddledpineapples? Eating them with someone you love. 

Little Leprechauns

Children often mimic others unconsciously. They also mimic another's mannerisms, words, emotions, and tone of voice on purpose. I have been hearing Earlie Girlie trying on others' vocal habits - tone of voice, volume, catch phrases, the way they pause or studder. This may be one of the most significant signs of social language awareness.

When I think of little kids pulling pranks, there seems to be at least one person who ends up in tears. I'm usually the one consoling that person. Reviewing the misunderstanding. To me, pranks are only funny if everyone involved can laugh by the next day.

Earlie Girlie didn't have steady access to her voice for the first 4 years of her life. This included the ability to laugh aloud, or to make sounds while crying, or angry. She had American Sign Language (ASL), which we learned together. The quiet days. Those are over.

Now that she can talk, Earlie Girlie loves to experiment with her voice. She mimcs the voices of her favorite characters, and people we know, with accuracy that is surprising and often amusing. It clues me in to how she perceives others, especially how they are speaking to her. At times, hearing her rendition of me is humbling (using a higher pitch voice than her normal tone). It does make me more aware of how I speak to her. In my defense, the stern tone of, "Don't do that!" refers to something potentially life ending. Such as: Using a rocking chair near a large window to "pretend" to catapult into the snow outside to "help the mailman". Some children have the ability to completely tune out vocal cues that warn against danger. Or, they don't comprehend why something is dangerous to begin with. Or, they misunderstand a person's intention (to save from broken glass, not to be mean & punitive). It's hard to tell. Language is complicated.

Part of cultural language involves being let in on the joke.

A meme is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture" (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary). That's what most of our holiday traditions & folklore are - memes. Americans create theatrical parodies of almost any event. Our photo-text Internet memes rotate daily. Cover versions of celebrity songs are everywhere. A homage shows an admiration for, or alignment with lyrics, style, or person. Some show distaste for the original artist or concept through spoofs. Have you ever watched a spoof from another culture while having no idea why it was so funny? Cultural context is certainly relevant to understanding social cues, including what we find amusing. We are inspired by ideas and recreate them, often in humorous ways.

Jim Henson's Muppets - on The Muppet ShowSesame StreetFraggle Rock, and Pajaminals  - are great examples of homage (and spoofs) of popular songs, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, everyday experiences and pop culture trends. There is something educational about parody done in a positive way, of being silly and having fun with a concept. The new Muppets movie, and Sesame Street's continued presence in media is proving that this type of humor is still relevant in our culture. Some jokes are stand-alone and slapstick, but the more you understand the original reference, the funnier it is. The jokes are packed in layers, like matryoshka dolls.

We constantly stumble on examples of memes, spoofs, parody, and homage in everyday life. Making an educated guess about the punchline, the intent, and emotional context is important socially. Education often guides a personal reaction. Will you become angry or laugh along? Whether you should take something to heart, or consider it nonsense, determines part of your attitude. It's never too early to develop critical thinking -  even with laughter & leprechauns!

Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) was a necessity for us. Earlie Girlie, our family, home nurses and I learned together. Mostly, we learned from repeated viewings of Baby Signing Times & Signing Times series on DVD, from Two Little Hands Production. We started Baby Signing Times when she was about 10 months old. I was the one who lagged behind in learning certain signs. By the time she was 3, Earlie Girlie could understand & sign a list of 600+ words and the alphabet in ASL.

What I find inspiring is the fact that Rachael, who created Signing Times, is a musician mom whose child, Leah, is profoundly deaf (and featured in the videos along with her cousin, Alex). Her second child, Lucy, was eight weeks premature, born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Talk about lightening hitting a family twice. Doctors worried that Lucy would never be able to speak, let alone use her rigid fingers to sign with her deaf sister. Her mom wrote the song "Show Me a Sign" in hopes that she would one day communicate. It's amazing to see the kids age on the films - all of them talking, signing, and joking with each other. Rachael's optimism and songs are so catchy, I'd hear them in my sleep or wake up thinking "what's that melody from"? Looking back, I realize what a major inspiration they were as Earlie Girlie was growing up. They weren't teaching for fun - they were teaching out of necessity, out of sharing what they had to learn the hard way.

Now, we sign for its convenience and beauty. During play groups, I was the only parent who didn't yell across a noisy room - I just caught her looking my way to sign "stop", "share", or "up the ladder, down the slide". She finds it easier to learn how to spell something by watching me sign the letters, and repeating them as I sign. Sesame Street teaches sign a little bit, but we need something more comprehensive at this point. She wants to learn more ASL, so I am trying to find additional resources. 


One of the greatest benefits for homeschooling is getting to go at my child's pace, as well as incorporating what I'm working on. I am running two art sessions a week at schools, grades 3-5 right now. So I'm developing art activities for each of these groups, often testing it out at home. Early Girlie gets to see that process, and if she wants to, joins in. Once we post the projects online, she gets to see the kids and their work. Sometimes I adapt what the older kids are doing into a project for her. This, in turn, helps me figure out what types of projects to bring into programs where I work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Sometimes I have an age range of 2 - 13. My job is to create projects that will be suitable for everyone. I've learned how much children enjoy layering art supplies. I also incorporate ways to layer individual projects into a collaborative piece. This way, even the youngest scribblers can contribute to the oldest's projects. The young ones are tricky. I'm always thinking of ways to make art safe, appealing, and meaningful for children. I have to think about the introduction, the art-making timeframe, cleanup and closure of each session, and the lessons I want to impart along the way.

Layering is a type of sequencing I'm most familiar with. It is something very important to understand in visual art. You have a foreground, middle ground, and background. In set design, any type of play or film, you have the same details to work on. Even make-up and getting dressed involve this process. In our lives, we have what's got our attention, what we know we should be working on, and back-burner tasks that we're putting aside for now. Layering happens on a psychological level. We have things we are thinking about, and things we are trying not to think about or feel. Our conscious and unconscious decisions clues us into the fact that we do have an emotional foreground, middle ground, and background. In everyday life, nothing stays the same for very long. Two-dimensional art is the only thing that captures a single moment when all of those components are stagnant. Examining art and life is a great mindset to be in, to really study a situation. 

One 3d grade class of mine is working on an illustrated story process. They worked in small groups to paint backgrounds on canvas, made middle ground scenes from recycled materials, and drew their characters on plain paper. Each of these layers offered a different art experience, and social experience. Once photographed, I printed these on posters that ended up looking like a book promotion. The faculty facilitator created iMovies. We made fake food out of cardboard and Model Magic to serve at the art show. We curated the work for a family exhibit, and it really looked like we'd gotten them book and movie deals!

I gathered from the first drawing session what the 3rd graders most wanted to do:  make their own characters and storyboards. So I went with it and showed them elements that adult authors, illustrators, editors, and publicists utilize. Earlie Girlie was on the sidelines of this process, but she got to see a lot of what was going on. I think this inspired her to want to do her own stories and similar work.

Earlie Girlie usually begins by studying what others do. When I explained foreground, middle ground, and background, she immediately went to The Muppet Show theater. She pointed out Blues Clues characters and the way they were layered on paper (good eye)! We looked at how Knuffle Bunny uses a juxtaposition of black & white photography of New York and Holland cityscapes, and how the illustrated characters pop into the foreground. A lot of media geared toward a young audience uses a blend of real-life people and imaginary characters. That visual mix is normalized in our culture. I've always found it fascinating and entertaining. If you can identify with either a real person or an imaginary character, it means you're connected, you don't feel as alone in the world. It's very important for children to have this piece psychologically - to have people, feelings, and situations they can identify with. Opposite personalities help us discover the shadow-self layer, the nagging fears we have that we don't want to face alone. We learn a great deal by watching others be grumpy, funny, or optimistic. 

It's been a while since we watched or read Blues Clues. Reading the Knuffle Bunny series at school brought up all of her old favorites. She found a documentary "making of" Blues Clues, which she watched twice, pointing out what she noticed, as she was dancing around, collecting supplies. This lead to me drawing Green Puppy on paper step-by-step. We talked about how to make the characters in layers - pencil, crayon, ink. Lightest to darkest color and medium. We erased the lines we didn't want to show in the final product. I've always found it important to show children rough drafts and behind-the-final product work. Seeing only the polished piece makes art feel too daunting. The truth is, it's done in many imperfect layers.

There are at least 80 staff who work on Blues Clues. The scripts and each stage of production is reviewed by professors at Columbia University, school psychologists, teachers, and preschool children. That's the part I didn't know. Earlie Girlie loved seeing the children and adults who do the voices of the characters, and how everyone interacted on set and at work. She liked seeing everyone sitting in the Thinking Chair.

I asked Earlie Girlie to create a middle ground props for the characters. We made a flag of Ireland to Green Puppy to create "Green Puppy Loves Ireland." We used layering of colored card stock to create the flag (scraps from my class). She added 3-6 dots to each character, counting them out in groups of 3's. She also wanted to make three characters.  She used a recycled food box to make "Blue and Magenta Clued in a Box." (See Portfolio page). I keep clean recycled products within easy reach, which she rummages through daily. She grabbed some cardboard, drew the square, and I cut it out. She added Blue's paw print, to show the final clue. For the background, we used a photograph of Ireland, and a tempera painting she'd done previously. 

Her story involved Green Puppy going to Ireland and returning home to find clues. The paw prints led to a surprise party where Blue and Magenta were hiding in a box. (We'd made things out of order, which is typically how it's done in real productions.) She was able to layer the components into a story that made sense visually and verbally. I was impressed that she could finally do this part - it's hard to get her to tell a coherent story most days. This is great progress! Who knows, maybe she could develop a fun St. Patrick's Day story to send to Blues Clues @ Nick Jr. fan mail. 

Recycled paper cut-and-paste projects are a great way to show layering on a single item, or in a completed work. You don't have to build it all at once. Use previous paintings, scribbled drawings, or photographs to give characters a fun context to play in. Happy layering!

Matryoshka of My Own

Speaking of layering...I just had to do my own set of paper Matryoshka dolls! Good use of left-over scrapbook paper, and recycled paintings (hair was watercolor, purple-blue body tempera). Sequins act as rosy cheeks, babushka knots, and buttons. Looking at this now, I realize Earlie Girlie, me, my mom, and our aunt represent four generations of our family. We are preparing for a big family reunion out of state, and Earlie Girlie will finally get to meet her great, great aunt in person. She's a tiny spitfire of a person. Actually, my great aunt is one of my favorite people.  I remember her most by her signature, bone crushing hug, great hearty laugh, love of fashion, and spunky personality. Although I don't see her often, I've always felt very connected to her.

Naturally Colorful

I confess: I typically use PAAS brightly, unnaturally hued pellets to color eggs. The kit that comes with the little metal dipper, round discs of pigment, stickers and the clear wax crayon. It's an Easter tradition for American suburbs, right? When I was her age, my neighbors would set up the picnic table and about 8-10 of us would dye eggs together. I was always the last one sitting at that table. Each egg was intricately layered in colors, decorated in various ways with wax resist or showed various saturations of PAAS dyes. Her daughter would take the least amount of time possible, quickly move onto playing in the yard. It is certainly ironic that her daughter is the lounge artist type, and mine is hyperactive like her. When they visit, I often sit with her daughter to draw or do crafts while she runs around the yard with my daughter, switching activities 10 times faster than I would. Somehow, our daughters are growing up with reverse personalities. Nature versus nurture? Apparently, our kids can express the opposite of how we are, because it's too fatiguing and confusing to straighten it out.

When I set out to show her this tradition, Earlie Girlie quickly rejected my box of PAAS and scanned the kitchen, asking to use spices. She asked to do science. She had her own hypotheses to test. So I figured out how to create natural dyes (online, of course). We set up to work with a little science log, some recipes, and a plan. At least I got to use the traditional Pyrex measuring cup.

Earlie Girlie measured the water, vinegar and turmeric to create a pale yellow egg. I quickly snapped photos. The results were quickly devoured. She used cinnamon and nutmeg as well. Next, she scanned the fridge and found pickled beets, which we didn't add anything to. She was most excited and re-tested to get pink and magenta. She correctly supposed that letting the egg sit longer in the dye would produce a deeper hue. Spinach only yielded a pale yellow, not as nice as turmeric. She chose cran-grape juice, and coffee grounds. The cran-grape produced an unexpected but interesting grey, with the slightest lavender tint. The coffee grounds created the effect of a natural-looking brown chicken egg. We hypothesized, tested, and sampled our way through this science project.

I was curious about the health benefits of her selections, so I did some additional research. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in India for medicine, and I know is supposed to be good for digestion. It's attracting current research for use in treating cancer, arthritis, allergies, and dementia. Beet root juice reduced blood pressure in those with cardiovascular disease, during some preliminary research. Spinach is known for its rich antioxidant vitamins, and minerals such as iron and calcium. Cranberry juice and grape juice have been studied for their positive benefits against bacteria in the urinary tract and bladder, as well as reducing hypertension. Although it is noted that coffee drinkers tend to live longer than those who do not consume coffee, it is uncertain if there is a direct correlation. Too much caffeine isn't healthy, but even the antioxidants in decaf coffee seems to show some cancer-preventing benefits.

In Europe, Red Dye #40, among others so popular in the U.S., is not recommended for children. A few years ago, in 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for the FDA to ban Red #40.  Some companies make dye-free versions of products, such as Children's Tylenol. Scientists are pressed to find proof that dyes and lakes are toxic before the FDA and manufactures pull them from shelves. One argument is that natural dyes can also pose allergic reactions and adverse effects on health. It is becoming impossible to tell who will be allergic or sensitive to which ingredient(s), whether they are natural or not. Many of us choose not to worry, and assume that it's the FDA's job to keep us safe. 

After digesting all of this, Earlie Girlie's way made me feel a lot better about eating the eggs once they were colored. Chances are, I absorbed nutrients along with the pesticides in those plants.


I've always enjoyed flying. It's amazing that we can soar through the air in what is essentially a pressurized metal can with a few propellers. Jet fuel has a lot to do with it, sure. At first, the attempts to fly a plane were for crazy, daring inventors. Now, flight is a normal way to travel. We no longer enjoy nonstop flights from our hub. However, I found that two flights with a layover is perfect for traveling with a child. Here are some other tips that worked for us:

1. Take a travel buddy.  Earlie Girlie's little monster doll has traveled well. He goes everywhere with her, particularly places of uncertainty like hospitals, surgery stays, and now (finally!) on vacations. It's someone to clutch hands with, and feel reassured by. If you're alone, the passenger next to you instantly becomes your travel buddy for the duration of the flight.

2. Talk through it. Reassuring someone else can help calm your own nerves. Earlie Girlie was showing him the ropes, letting him peek out of the window, telling him not to worry when the engines start roaring. Cuing him to yawn as we elevate.

3. Review the "what if's" in terms of safety features. It's good to go over scenarios. If you really don't know the answer, you can ask. Less scrambling when there is an emergency, turbulence, or if you need the restroom, a blanket, a drink, or someone gets sick during the flight. It's no fun to figure these things out, well, on the fly.

4. Marvel at how awesome it is to be in the air, up in the clouds. Soaking in the experience and letting the stress drift farther below is something I look forward to. It's a great feeling. We talked about what clouds are made of, how they are actually heavy and suspended by air, just like the plane. They aren't light little cotton balls, after all. 

5. Electronic devices. On the way there, it's far to exciting to wonder about everything that's happening and going to happen. On the way home, it's a great way to entice someone back onto a plane for what they now know will be several hours. What I didn't plan on was having so much turbulence that we weren't allowed to use Wifi or any internet connection. I didn't download anything ahead of time. Oops. So much for the iPad. 

6. Be creative with the mundane.  Most people look forward to that little drink or snack on the plane. Earlie Girlie liked watching the cart, wondering what was in it, and getting to place her own order. Our drinks were served with two coffee stirs...bonus. Her drum solo commenced. The side of my empty water cup became a guiro. The sound was soft enough with all of the noise that I couldn't even hear her drumming. 

7. If you or your travel buddy are falling asleep, you know you want to avoid that horrible strain in your neck muscles. Flip down your table tray and rest on it, like someone's who's stayed up too long grading papers or prepping for exams. A stuffed buddy can double as a pillow. For Earlie Girlie, I was concerned about her airway staying open. Even post surgery it's not 100%, so positioning is important. I had to hold her from slipping, but this worked out well.

8. Talk to strangers. I usually talk to whomever I'm traveling next to. It's a great learning experience. Earlie Girlie enjoyed this part a lot. We met someone young and very chatty who enjoyed her questions, knowledge of the Presidents and art. He showed us a painting of Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, a favorite saved on his iPhone. I'd forgotten all about that painting. I helped him through his anxiety of flying, as I was reminding Earlie Girlie of ways to relax and enjoy the ascent into the air.

9. I let the person in front of us know that if Earlie Girlie or I bump their chairs too much, to please let me know. That way, I don't have to worry about someone sighing and quietly stewing until they snap. Earlie Girlie has involuntary movement in her legs, but also, she's a kid. Kids often move more than adults do. They often don't realize that their tray is connected to some else's seat. We can feel each other's movements in a way we normally don't. On the upside, their squirminess prevents deep vein thrombosis during a flight. We should actually fidget & stretch. Part of being a good traveler is showing some awareness and courtesy that we're traveling in close quarters.

10. Know at least the first name of the people you're sitting next to.  In case of an emergency, you want to know a little bit about the people around you. Half of the time, I'm seated next to someone who is absolutely terrified to fly, and I do some relaxation training. Before anyone falls asleep, I ask if they want me to wake them up at a certain point. Some people get really cranky if they miss their snack, some are grateful to wake up once we're back on the ground. 

The stewardess had her hands full of other terrified fliers a few rows behind us. She surprised me by thanking me for calming the travelers next to me. Although I was talking to the guy next to me, she others listened along and did the relaxation exercise. I told her they could add a relaxation exercise after the broadcast about oxygen masks and emergency exits...not the most reassuring way to start a flight. Watching people pray sometimes spikes the nerves of other passengers. Nothing wrong with thinking positive, and getting others to see that it will be alright, we'll be in it together.

If everyone does a little bit to make things easier on another passenger, even a very turbulent flight can go rather well.  

A Musical Family Reunion

Unlike Dorothy, we flew to Kansas on two planes, quite comfortably. My mom's 70th birthday was the real reason for the visit. She didn't want the spotlight, so we called it a family reunion. I had not been to Kansas in over 15 years, so I had not met any of Early Girlie's generation. Many of us had children around the same age, and were excited to see each other again. Some of the great aunts visited us a few years ago and held her in the NICU. A few saw her as a toddler, when she could sign, and was still trached. None of them had seen her since decan (trach free). All of them had prayed for her survival. Including our 90-year-old aunt, who still gives bone crushing hugs and is as feisty as ever.

It was the first time Earlie Girlie would meet many of her relatives, or stay on a real farm on flat land. Last time I was there, I saw a tumbleweed blow through my aunt's yard. I grew up thinking those were only a part of Bugs Bunny cartoons set in the Old West. I had no idea tumbleweeds were real. My aunt's response was, "You've never seen a tumbleweed? Seriously? Well, I'll be." My brother and I find this endlessly hilarious. In our defense, we grew up in the suburbs full of hills and mountains. We visited farms on school trips. Our cousins helped raise buffalo, and worked on wheat fields, cattle and pig farms. They thought our accents were "big city".  Of course, some work in commerce and technology, but we were more focused on our differences back then. 

Early Girlie greeted every relative warmly and remembered every name of every person she met. After meeting around 150 people in a week, that's saying something! She also asked which musical instrument they played. We all started talking about and learning about each other's talents and interests. For the sisters, it was contest of who knows who best. Earlie Girlie and her cousins played on whatever she could find - drums fashioned out of cups and bowls, the old piano on Saturday, the organ on Easter Sunday, the plastic whistles from the Easter Egg Hunt. On Monday, she asked our aunt if there was a music store in town. Not only did they have one, but our second cousin owned the shop. He played the banjo and violin for us, and let us play too! Maybe she assumed her musical talent is genetic, or longed for a connection to her relatives.

When we got back, I kept struggling with names as I sorted photos. I decided to help her create a musical genogram or graph. Family trees provide names and dates, but we'd like to know more than that. I'd done geographical research for various school projects. Psychologists often use genograms rather than family trees, so I used them in grad school and sometimes in clinical practice. It's been a while. I'm thinking a bar graph may be more Kindergarten level.

I'm not sure, but she may be the only tuba player in our family history. At any rate, she did it again. Everywhere we travel, she finds at least one musician who sees her as one of their own. I have a knack of finding any artist to talk to in a crowd, so maybe she will always find musicians.

Inspired by Elana & her Dad

Elana Simon. I'm not sure how we stumbled on her newscast, but it was serendipity. This amazing young lady found value in her history and bout with childhood cancer. Rather than leaving the past behind, she is searching for answers in very creative ways. She has already helped scientists to understand a rare cancer more thoroughly by using social media to get tissue samples of tumors from people with the same disease she had. Her father is also a scientist, in a different part of the field. Now, they are working together, using their complimentary talents and interests. Individually, they are certainly impressive people. But their collaboration and desire to help others is what I find most inspiring.

Specialists often have me wondering about Earlie Girlie's ability to be self-sufficient on a daily living aspect. On the other hand, she shows savant-like abilities beyond what is typical in children, or even adults. In our culture, "success" is often measured by how independent you can be from your family and other people. It keeps my heart sad sometimes, wondering about her future, will she be able to do "normal" things that I do easily and take for granted? Watching their story, I feel more hopeful to create a life together with my daughter that includes us working together, and separately, to achieve our goals. Homeschooling has paved some of that for us. I'm certainly not always the teacher. Her birth catapulted me into the medical and special needs world where I knew little to nothing about. In her lifetime, I have learned to observe what she needs, and to learn more about ways to help her get to the next step. Education can happen in many ways, and being a traditional student myself, I'm learning about the variety of options each day. We learn together, as we both continue to grow. If there is anything in science worth our contribution or pursuit, I will look to Elana and her dad as inspiration.

Drumming is a Pathway

I was introduced to djembe and hand drumming in 2005 by Jim Donovan. He made everything so simple to follow that I was able to recall and use his methods to teach Earlie Girlie from infancy and onward. This is why she has proper positioning on the instrument, and already knows several common rhythms. The complexity is rich as we continue to learn. It is exciting to continue my own learning through him, in creating a personal Mission Statement, and to watch his online tutorials with my daughter. "Eat, sleep, breathe, drum." is one of the mottos he lives by. When I think of someone who has a dream, feels a true sense of purpose in the world, and is in tune with connecting with other and helping others, Jim Donovan is on the top of the list. 

Jim Donovan describes his mission in 3 beats: Connect. Empower. Inspire.

I was finishing up my graduate degree in Art Therapy when I met Jim and took some of his courses on djembe in 2005 and 2006. After that, I was in hospitals with Earlie Girlie, both of us just trying to survive. In 2008, when Earlie Girlie's home therapists were telling me with heavy hearts that she had no bilateral coordination, and was not showing interest in their activities, I realized I had to do something. I brought out my djembe. By the next therapy visit, she was drumming with both hands and able to alternate hands. They were blown away by her progress. I thought it was normal. At least, it was something normal from my life. Something that I could contribute among the medical-focused world we catapulted into. I didn't think of drumming as difficult. Even after they explained that it was for someone with brain injury. I reasoned that we give babies rattles. We start being instrumentalists by making sound with rhythm instruments. So, Earlie Girlie began playing at 8 months of age. She plays daily, without prompting.  

Drums are among the world's oldest instruments. The djembé is a West African instrument, known for it's call, "Anke djé, anke bé" which translates to, "Everyone gather together in peace". If you've ever played the djembe, it is one of the most inviting instruments. All you need is your hands. The combination of wood and rope is so visually interesting and noticeably textural. 

Drumming is great education. It requires listening, repeating what you've heard, and learning what sounds go together well. Hand drumming involves learning how to make bass, tone, slap, flam, and other sounds on the drum. One can't help but notice patterns, by sight, sound, feeling. Counting the beats aloud = math. It's a joining of physical coordination and math, yet it's soulful. It's fun. Invigorating. Empowering. For us, it has been a pathway to healing and enrichment.


Opera: The Voice of Hope

It's a rainy May Sunday afternoon, and I'm desperately trying to get things organized in my room. Earlie Girlie is cuddled up in a pile of blankets, scanning the Internet for Plácido Domingo and Plácido Flamingo (of course Sesame Street's homage to a famous Spanish conductor and opera singer). She is watching The Three Tenors perform, and exclaims, "There's Pavarotti! He's singing too! Who's that? [pointing to the third singer]" The Three Tenors include: Spanish singers José Carreras and Domingo, as well as Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti

This leads to my own search of Domingo's biography, which is impressive. As of 2013, he's played over 144 roles. Few people have ever accomplished such an expansive career in their chosen field. What a great addition to her assignment! Coincidentally, Plácido Domingo's name translates to "Placid Sunday." What a perfect time to enjoy his work and life!

Over the years, Domingo has held benefit concerts and released albums to alleviate some of the devastation from Mexico City's earthquake (1986), Hurricane Katrina (2006), and to aid conflict in the Sudan (2007). He founded Operalia, The World Opera Competition to aid young singers, and propelled several important artists into a career in opera. 

During the 2006 Hurricane Katrina Gala benefit concert, the conductor-mentor Domingo announced,

"If music be the food of love, then opera is the voice of hope!"

What a profound moment of truth I had when I read this. In my world, my daughter has been the voice of hope. Given all of the music therapy and speech therapy Earlie Girlie has had over the years while never having a voice...now she is singing along with Domingo, with a vibrato. This is no small miracle for someone who's had bilateral vocal chord paralysis! 

As Domingo's explained, "Singing becomes a form of therapy. The voice collects and translates your bad physical health, your emotional worries, your personal troubles."

Next on my list is finding a music therapist for more continual work. After all, who I am to doubt the serendipity of this fine, peaceful Sunday?

Colorful Toy Picture Graph

I knew we had the family musical instrument graph to tackle, but I had not introduced the concept of a graph. I think it was covered in preschool. But I never know her level of comprehension, past memorization. The Addison-Wesley Math-a-pedia, has great illustrations and simple explanations. Thanks to this reference, I understood how to bring things down to a Kindergarten level. "Real graphs" use real objects. Immediately, I thought of color sorting, something she understands.

I got out my color chips (paint sample swatches). I asked her to chose 2 colors for the graph. This example shows blue and red. Then, I had her find all of her little plastic characters who were either blue or red. We looked at each set, and estimated which had the most, and which had the least. Next, she counted each set and selected a number card to place above the set. She created a 3rd category for characters who were both blue AND red, almost equally {see portfolio for more examples}.

This process continued for quite some time. She sorted green, yellow, purple, and pink characters. They talked to each other. Had tea. Discussed their favorite instruments. I was too hungry to continue to the neutral colors, but she intended to sort those too. The characters went back into the bins all color sorted. We talked to each other. Had lunch. Discussed our favorite instruments.


Musical Instrument Genogram Graph

We did it! We found a way to make Kindergarten-style graphs, using toys, number flashcards, and paint chips we already had around the house. Actually, it was Earlie Girlie's idea. She incorporated the concepts (above) that I'd showed her for the color sorting graphs.

This mini object graft was created after "we" spent hours collecting vintage images, cutting and pasting them onto index cards, along with words in tiny print. The paper image collection was not exactly Kindergarten quality work, because it relied on proper spelling and precise scissor cutting. Earlie Girlie preferred to work independently while I did the more tedious cutting. She studied the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra Seating Chart. {found on www.lancastersymphony.org}. Of course, paper was less textural than what she wanted. The cutting and pasting wouldn't sustain her attention.

We found that by manipulating the materials, it was easy to show how many males and females played each instrument. By placing a marker in between instruments, it could show that a person played both. For example, one person in our family played both trumpet and French horn. This posed a problem because we assumed we would simply count the total number of musicians, in addition to showing what instrument they selected. This idea did not account for the fact that a few of us played more a few instruments within the same instrument family. {See Portfolio for more of these graphs}.

It was easy for her to manipulate how the data was displayed when we used toys. We could count how many males and females played a single instrument. We could count entire instrument families, such as Woodwinds, or separate them into reed and flute instruments. She liked setting everything up in orchestra sections. I pointed out that most of her great-grandparents would have played religious and folk music, not orchestra. So we arranged graphs to show folk instrument players too. We discovered different ways of selecting and showing data.

Initially, I had everything separated by generation. I counted my generation, and the two previous ones. I did not count her generation, though I know many of the great grandchildren are learning instruments right now. The 4th generation data was too hard to collect, and Earlie Girlie would have skewed the results with all of the instruments she plays and wants to play. She didn't seem interested in the generation concept. Instead, she laid out the people counters as "boys" and "girls". She wanted to know how many people played each instrument, and if she had enough to conduct a family orchestra.

What we also discovered was that no one in our family claims to have played the tuba. Earlie Girlie may be the first. She noticed the untouched harp and cello.  "Why not the piccolo?" I asked hopefully. She answered, "No, you played flute, you can learn piccolo too." She sounds like my symphony band instructor, "You played piano, you can pick up marimba and xylophone easily." Sure. Better yet, let's stick to the graph.

Kindergarten Year Completed!

Technically, our school year has ended. Our Homeschool Portfolio has been submitted to the school district. I even made a little photo book. Still trying to figure out what to keep...I'm so nostalgic so that part is difficult! Met with teachers to discuss potentials for next year. I have two months to figure it out. But first, let's celebrate!

Three birthday parties helped kick off a beautiful summer vacation. We attended a lovely picnic for a 96-year-old who is my "adoptive" grammy. A friend asked her what her favorite birthday was, and she didn't think long before she answered: "My 7th birthday!" She explained that her parents invited her second grade teacher, and she thought it was the greatest thing in the world to have her favorite teacher at HER birthday party. It felt like having a celebrity show up. To a child, a teacher is very much like a celebrity. A teacher is someone they recognize among others who have a "look up to" place in their minds and hearts. That echo lasts many years. 

The second party was for one of Earlie Girlie's classmates. It was outside on a sunny day at a  magical castle-structured playground we love to go to. What a perfect spot for a birthday party inspired by Disney's Frozen! The birthday girl was dressed as Elsa, and the kids sang and played really well together. The parents kept remarking what a great Kindergarten class we have, how accepting and sweet the children are with each other. We made crowns (reindeer antlers for the boys), played pin the carrot nose on Olaf, watched the piñata fall after three swings. Frozen snow cones were served as a very fun touch. Great food, games, and friends.

The following week was a Circus themed party for twin boys in her class. I told the balloon artist that when their mom said "we have a balloon artist" I was thinking poodles, maybe a hat. "I know how to make a poodle," I offered. He was crafting a ninja, and then a minion for the twins. This guy blew away all expectations. He was amazing to watch, and even incorporated what I'd said about poodles - he gave one to the dinosaur balloon creation, to eat. The kids laughed, "Look, the dino's eating hot dogs!" but I knew it was a poodle, it's the only thing I know how to make. Earlie Girlie asked for a monster. He was confused. Not a crown, a butterfly, but a monster, preferably green. So he made the single eyed Mike from Monsters Inc. which she dragged around all day and night. The kids got their faces painted, some of the girls got their nails done.

The circus games were hilarious. Parents tried to explain how the ring toss, beanbag toss, knock-over-the-cans games worked. The five and six year olds had it sorted out for themselves. Why stand all the way back at the line and watch your friends miss the target? They stood in line, and passed the beanbags down to the closest person, who stuffed them over, in, or on the targets. "We won!" they'd cheer. One of the dads tried to correct them, and they politely listened. One of the twins finally said, "But that's too hard. I can't get the beanbag in from there. And it leaves everyone waiting." The dad said, "Well, yes, that's the point, it's a competition, and a challenge." The little boy looked at his friends and said, "Well, if we all move back, we can just try to pass to each other from the back of the room. Nobody drop it. That would be hard." So the kids invented their own ways to play and they were happy. After laughing a lot, I found it revealing to see that if given the choice between a competitive game and a cooperative game, they found it most important to work together and to have fun. My classmates, my generation, would have chosen to be competitive. I'm becoming rather fond of this generation. They are going to do things differently, more inclusively, and will politely disregard what the elders have to say about it.

Summer vacation doesn't mean Earlie Girlie is not going to learn anything. I'm sneaking in lessons, reorganizing our living space (read: trip to IKEA). I'd like to include more Montessori materials and implement math and sensorial lessons. I'm already trying to figure out what to do for 1st Grade. In between all of the partying and planning, I am actually working. I'm running professional development / summer kick-offs for all of the non-profit's camps. I supervise about 15 other art therapists and coordinate with all of our sites to make sure everyone is doing their paperwork, showing up, and implementing fun, meaningful workshops. My own workshops start in a few weeks. I condense my work schedule in order to spend 1 or 2 days a week out of the house for no more than 6 hours (including travel time). The rest I do from home at my leisure.  

My professional focus has been on 3rd-5th grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) programs. "Teach what you know" - it's true. All of that art history in my brain had to go somewhere, so it went into Earlie Girlie's lessons. All of the science topics my friends talk to me about, it doesn't just go in one ear and away for good. I implemented that too.

I'm on the Board at the nonprofit I work for, mostly because it's fun for me to learn about all of the different elements of the business. I help wherever I can. At a break during our June board meeting, I showed one person the portfolio book I made. It quickly circulated. The superintendents and other board members loved it! They thought my lessons were more advanced than the fancy schools their grandchildren were attending, and (I think) joked that they wanted me as a tutor. I was asked to make a book like this for our program. 

I don't think anyone realized how much I have struggled with feeling competent as a homeschooler, and a Kindergarten level teacher. I know what I'm good at, and this felt like a shaky first try. We'll see what the outside evaluator thinks. Getting more than a polite nod from my colleagues means I'm actually on to something. They don't gush easily. It's our job to critique what we're doing and how to do it better. I stand firm in the belief that the student matters most. I'm not really doing this for outside approval. I just have this ongoing fear that I'm going to break my fragile child. Sometimes I see still her as this 1.5lb baby and I hope she's in the right hands. I want to make sure I'm doing what's best for my daughter, and not giving her a shabby education that isn't going to be useful. Everything I do should reflect what is best for a student. Learning is a true joy. Learning is fun, and a little challenging. Happy summer!

First Day of 4th Grade!

Behavior Chart Medicine Bag: Earlie Girlie and her Dad brainstormed themes for positive and negative behavior. They learned that many Native Tribes did not use words “good and bad” but rather “peace or war” or “sun or rain”. Zoey chose Medicine Bags with the symbols for “Sun” and “Rain.” Using Photoshop, he created two bags, each with symbols for sun and rain.

A personal medicine bag was used to maintain personal harmony with the physical, spiritual, and supernatural. Young people had small medicine bags, adding objects to represent personal experiences over the years until they needed to make a larger bag.

Weekly School Checklist: Together, we reviewed the subjects we would cover this week. We will check off each subject as tasks are completed.

Setting an Intention: I used “Today I will be” and a list of attributes, both written on one page, and cut up into strips. We each chose a strip of paper with an intention on it. Earlie Girlie chose “Listening” and I chose “Caring.” At first she groaned, but worked hard to be a good listener throughout the day. I focused on being caring about her needs to ease into the challenges that school brings to her, and going about things at her pace.

Practice Being Calm: Earlie Girlie has a hard time with focus, attention to non-preferred tasks, and keeping her mind on the present. She often splits attention to her imagination, and quickly links information from new to familiar. She has one of the quickest tempers I’ve ever experienced. She is also very curious and impulsive, eager to try new things.

One thing I do as an art therapist is let the art supplies spark interest. Children immediately gravitate to my displays on the art table and want to know more. They often ask what they will get to do, if they get to keep their projects, if they are allowed to use the items that caught their eyes. Soon, they cannot wait to start. I don’t have to do much to gain their attention.

As I hoped, E.G. couldn’t resist asking about the bag of stones I had on the table, along with the book, A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles, by Thich Nhat Hanh. I told her that she can practice Listening as we read the story and instructions together. Although I’d already selected four stones for her to use, we took out a basket of rocks and acrons to select our own. I was pleasantly surprised when she sat in half-lotus pose, and breathed deeply, following the meditation. She connected each pebble with her own words, in addition to the ones from the book.


Pebble #1 A Flower - fresh, beautiful, open to the moment.

She added the words: careful, pretty, and smell.

For me, it made me aware that people are delicate and require great care.

Pebble #2 A Mountain - solid and calm

E.G. big, strong, climbing

Me: grounded, strong, stable, certain

Pebble #3 Calm water - refelcts clarity of mind

E.G. swimming like a duck, refreshing like a bath

Me: clean, fresh, calm

Pebble #4 Space - freedom, physical space

E.G. outer space, curious, imagination (freedom to be curious)

Me: I also thought of outer space and creativity, imagination, freedom to explore our potential and curiosities.


Creative Play & Math: Inspired by the pebble meditation and materials, E.G. decided to select 4 pebbles for her Dad, as well as 4 for her grandmother. In addition to our 8 pebbles, I used this as a way to reinforce addition and multiplication. She lined the pebbles up in columns, counting them and skip counting (multiplying). Next, we made a circle to place each rock inside to meditate. Then, we created two levels of a mandala, counting rocks and acorns. She placed each one carefully and adjusted it aesthetically. I photographed the display, and she kept it there for a while, then cleaning up when finished.

Creative Writing / Printing: This lead naturally to the next subject, creative writing. I pulled out a writing prompt: “At night, when I’m in bed, my LEGO Minifigures like to…” E.G. laughed with delight at this idea. Immediately, she gathered some toys and said, “At night, whem I’m in bed, my LEGO Minifiures like to be on the Muppet Show! Kermit is the host and director. Gladys the Cow is first, singing with props. Miss Piggy asks Kermit, “When will moi go on?” Kermit says, “Gladys is first, Piggy. You’re on in 8 minutes.” Miss Piggy grumbles. Kermit insists that Miss Piggy takes her turn, and Piggy looks at Gladys, and setps aside gracefully.

As I helped her spell, I took note of which letters were difficult for her to print, as well as her spacing on the page. With Cerebral Palsy, printing can be extremely painstaking and difficult, often looking developmentally far behind actual age.

Music: E.G. practice some keyboard chords and scales. Although she knows the names and sounds of each note, she does not know how to read the notes on a staff yet. This year we will be working on that! I marked an easy practice song with the note letters, to help her start making connections.

Lunch: Knife skills:  I had E.G. practice knife skills for putting PB&J on bread, as well as cutting stems from strawberries, and red peppers. She had difficulty cutting the peppers all the way through with the special knife she uses. (It is clear with blunt serated edge, safe for kids.)

Art-making: Following the pebble meditation guide, we created 4 paintings to represent each of the concepts: flower, mountain, water, and space.

Science: Today’s solar eclipse (Aug. 21) is all people have been talking about the last few days. We watched NASA and news coverage, and waited to see it for ourselves! She shared facts that she already knew about the sun. We reviewed sun safety and why we should never look directly at the sun, since it can damage the eye’s retinas.

Reading: E.G. chose to use her favorite reading app, Kids A-Z to do some independent level reading. Each story is read aloud, as the student follows along, looking at the words and pictures. Next, is a multiple-choice and written quiz (for her level). Finally, she reads the story aloud to me. Sometimes she records it, but the recordings are no longer sent to school so we skip this step.

Spelling: Since we will be studying Native America and Colonial cultures, I thought it was important to be able to spell the words we will see many times. Usually, I give E.G. a list of words that sound and spell alike. This will be a challenge, so I am only giving her 6 words to begin.

Words: colony, Colonial, America, native, Indian, pilgrims.

VocabularySpellingCity app allows you to create your own word lists and sentences. I print out the words in handwriting practice for her to trace each word and write it again on the same line. I also printed out each word, definition, and example sentence for when we don’t use the app.


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