Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Teaching Tuesdays’

A special kind of different

As we discover more about the different learning styles I mentioned previously, I realise just how lucky I have been, and how I have been blind to my good fortune (or “blessedness”, if you prefer). Of the eight intelligences, I operate best in the mode most suited to learning in a classroom: words. I have all the tools to succeed academically. Lucky me! However, I form part of a group that comprises only about an eighth of the world’s population. In other words, 12.5%. The other 87.5% simply doesn’t learn well in “traditional” learning paradigms. The solution, these many years, has been to identify the lucky ones among as “gifted” and “dedicated” and “achievers”, and the rest as “problem cases”. As far as I can tell, the tactile-kinesthetic learners (those who need to move and touch and do and experience in order to learn) have the hardest time at all. A classroom is not the place for them. Not only is it incredibly challenging for them to learn in this way, but they are also demonised for trying to learn in their specific way.

Ironically, the tactile-kinesthetic learners are the polar opposite to me. If I can help it, I prefer NOT to touch or move, although I do learn by doing almost as well as by reading or hearing. And of course, guess which style both my children exhibit? Bingo.

So life is an interesting learning curve for all of us, as we focus on squeezing as much personal growth and development out of every moment of every day as we possibly can, experimenting along the way.

All of that is a giant and distracting preamble to the point of this post (*cough*ADD #JustSayin’) <– I can hashtag my own posts ‘cos I work in social media ;).

The point of this post is to share an article I read recently, which is very interesting indeed. It is “Take the green pill” : how to learn anything easily and effortlessly… by Joe Seeber. 

As he explains:

When it comes to learninghow to learn anything

… the most important factor is your mindset.

If your mind’s not right then you’re going to struggle with learning and grasping information.

This really resonates with me, and now more than ever. While I’ve never battled with academic learning, it’s been ages since I’ve applied myself to the process. In recent years I’d fallen prey to the notion that perhaps I was simply “too old to learn anything new”. Bah! Since I broke the shackles of that kind of thinking, my mind is full of new and fascinating ideas all the time, and I really feel like I could learn anything – even astrophysics – if I wanted to (and I kind of do).

But enough about me. Head over to Joe Seeber’s blog, read that article, and then tell me what you think in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

~ Vanessa


Parenting “on the spectrum” – part 2

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

In my last post I explained a little bit about what it’s like to live with a child on the autism spectrum, and how we identified that Goldilocks is such a child. Essentially, she has both Tourette’s and ADD, both autism-spectrum disorders. She also shows all the signs of high-functioning Aspergers as it presents in women and girls. So, without spending thousands of rands and dozens of hours on tests with the simple goal of acquiring a label for what we already know by plain observation, I’ve taken a different approach. I am harnessing the power of research, the internet, and maternal intuition to treat hat we’re presented with as best I can.

It is a work in progress. Every day present unique, unforeseen challenges, and I am sure I will never master the full scope of what it means to parent an “Aspie” with any degree of excellence. However, I can share what’s working for us right now, in the hope that it will help someone else.

Nine ways to help your Aspien Girl

  1. Identify her learning style

    We have spent a lot of time understanding just how Goldilocks processes the world. She is very musical, and even more kinesthetic. Ideally, I should be giving her hours of dance classes and free dance time, too. I am working on finding ways to share information with her that involve her whole body, and that use music. (Any suggestions are most welcome).

  2. Identify her triggers – food & environment

    Goldilocks can’t tolerate nuts, sugar, casein, lactose, wheat, gluten, grains, artificial colourants or flavourants, and any processed foods. Any of these, even in tiny doses, trigger asthma, tics, ADD and OCD. She becomes irrational, defiant and paranoid. She can’t control her body, her words or sounds, or her emotions. She is very likely to punch or kick others, break things, scream at people, flail around with her arms, forget things, shout, stamp her feet, be cheeky, be cruel in her words and actions, cry, make strange sounds and try to hide in small spaces. When she has not had any of these trigger foods, she is the easiest child in the world. She is pleasant, helpful, thoughtful, polite, kind and mature. She works fast and accurately in her school work and is artistic, creative and placid.

    Too much noise, heat or light, or noises that irritate; too much physical touch, or being forced into activities she can”t tolerate, trigger very similar reactions. While a certain amount of self-discipline is a valuable skill that she must acquire, forcing too much of it is a recipe for a melt down of epic proportions. It also results in what she calls a “tic bomb” at night, where she lies in bed making all the tics that currently form part of her repertoire, all at once, sometimes for hours on end.

  3. Make her feel safe

    This is key. At the tender age of eleven, with puberty looming large and what the scientific literature promises to be the very worst of her reactions to everything, Goldilocks finds it difficult, at times, to cope. My job is to let her know that it is okay to have “quiet times”, where she is undisturbed. It is okay for her to want and even need those times. It is okay for her to tic. It is okay for her to “cheat” in what she eats, and I will help her work through the consequences. It is safe to tell people about her challenges, and fine if she chooses not to do so. It is okay for her to go outside during Sunday School if the sheer weight of effort involved in socialising with so many people all at once is more than she can bear, and she devolves into one of her “tic bombs”.

  4. Make her feel understood

    As an extension of point 3, I need to make sure Goldilocks realises that I understand. In fact, I share (or have shared) some of these challenges, But even if that weren’t the case, I need to know as much as possible about what she faces. I need to do my homework. I need to invest time and energy into finding out what makes her “tic”, so to speak. Then I need to communicate that information to her, so that she knows she’s okay. And I have a duty to make sure that anyone else involved in her care in any way is aware of her special needs as well.

  5. Protect her from naysayers

    Sometimes, people just don’t get it. No matter how carefully I try to explain it all, or how much scientific backing I provide, they refuse to understand. They maintain that firm discipline will resolve the issue. Or they expect things she can’t hope to deliver. In those cases, I need to step in and run interference. I will always believe that education is the solution to our problems, and start these conversations with yet another attempt to educate the other person, to give them the tools they need to understand my unique little genius. And if they still stubbornly refuse to be nice, we gracefully exit the situation. We don’t actually have to put up with unpleasantness, and it’s my job, as her mom, to protect her from it wherever I can.

  6. Balance that protection with resilience-building determination

    Having said that, sometimes a little resilience goes a long way. I will protect my daughter, but I will also teach her to stand up for herself. I will protect my daughter, but not at the expense of a valuable life lesson: sometimes people are mean. Sometimes, people are hurting, and they lash out. We need to respond in kindness, gentleness and love. We need to be nice, even if others aren’t. This lesson breaks my heart a little bit, but it is vital, and I won’t shirk my duty.

  7. Don’t expect too much

    Goldilocks is gifted. Sometimes things come naturally to her. Often, she’ll look at a Math problem and it seems to solve itself in her head. She can read pages of old english fluently and with understanding. Science is as easy to her as eating chocolate is to me. And some days none of this is true. Some days, adding one to five is well beyond the scope of her abilities (just last week, in fact). On those days, I want to give up. My frustration is palpable, and she feels my disappointment like a living thing. A venomous snake, biting her, belittling her. Destroying her. I am ridiculous to expect to much on those days. I should revel in the good days and be patient and inventive on the bad days. But I am human (and busy) and I want every day to be a clockwork machine filled with highlights of genius and buoyed along by hours of happy, harmonious play. I expect too much. If I can give Goldilocks one gift, it is this: I will take each day as it comes. I will enjoy it thoroughly, regardless of how it goes academically. I will cease to measure “success” in academic terms, which have so little relevance to daily life. I will simply delight in watching her unfold into who she is meant to be.

  8. Don’t expect too little

    Even so, what can be worse than realising no one expects you to amount to anything? I will not do her that disservice. As parents of unique children, we need to be ready to expect the unexpected. They will always surprise us, and very often those surprises will be good – wonderful, even. I will expect her best, and thus elicit it, always encouraging her to be her own, wonderful self. I will remember that my idea of success, achievement, and excellence are not the same as her reality, and I will be sensitive to my tendency to measure things too strictly. We must embrace all that these angels offer us, and let them know that it is good.

  9. Love her unconditionally

    What greater gift can a child have than a mother’s love. No matter what. On bad days and on good. When she’s messed up. When I’ve messed up. When things are messed up despite our best efforts. This above all I commit to do. I will not hold grudges. I will not be cold and distant. I will not be unclar and vague. As far as I can, I will not be distracted. I will be available. But above all, I will love.

Today, I’d love to hear from you. Are you facing similar challenges? What’s working for you? And what isn’t? What have I left off this list and where am I going wrong? Please leave me a comment and let’s start a discussion on this vital topic.

With love,


Parenting the tactile-kinaesthetic learner

Involve me and I learnWe’ve recently evaluated our family’s learning styles. While there is a fairly balance between visual, auditory and tactile, I have not a tactile/kinaesthetic bone in my body, being strongly verbal-linguistic, and slightly visual. Goldilocks, on the other hand, is highly tactile, with very little verbal-auditory processing. Moreover, I am slightly tactile-defensive, meaning that I neither like to be touched, nor enjoy touching certain types of things (anything dirty or germ-ridden, for instance).

For Goldilocks especially, and slightly less so for Papa Bear and Red Riding Hood, that is how the learn and interact with the world.

Mom-de-Plume (DeeDee and Dexter’s Topical Writer Mom) is a lot like me, while her kids are a lot like mine, so we’re working on a curriculum for teaching gifted tactile-kinaesthetes. Well, I say we, but I mean her. I am an avid cheerleader at this stage! I may perhaps get involved in the design side in days to come. I’ll keep you posted.

In the mean time, this quote from Benjamin Franklin is becoming my mantra as I try to navigate new and uncharted territory:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel - Socrates

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel – Socrates

12 steps to homeschool on a shoestring

Teach kids the way they learnIf you’re new to home education, deciding which course of action to take can be overwhelming. The range of curriculae alone seems infinite. And before you even select a curriculum, you need to identify your educational philosophy. Do you believe in schooling at all, or do you prefer an “unschooling” approach? If you prefer a slightly more traditional approach, do unit studies appeal to you, or have the works of Charlotte Mason inspired you? Would you prefer to create your own material for your children, or would you feel more comfortable using prescribed programmes, designed by teams of experts and researchers?

Whatever your preferences, it is possible to give your children education of the highest possible standards without breaking the bank.

Twelve simple steps to quality home education

1. Understand your motives

Why do you want to educate your children at home? We wanted to spend more time with our children, make sure they had the best possible education available, protect them from harm, and address the challenges wrought in our family by food intolerances, scoliosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and other autism-spectrum disorders. I also wanted a safe environment in which to foster faith and enquiring minds.

2. Identify your goals

For our family, our goals are very simple:

  1. Build a thorough grounding in God’s Word.
  2. Inspire a love for learning.
  3. Thoroughly develop the ability to LEARN.
  4. Create a solid grounding in mathematical principles.
  5. Develop a firm grasp of language.
  6. Provide an overview of how the world fits together in both space and time (geography and history).
  7. Delve into how the world works (science and biology).
  8. Allow and support free expression.

That may sounds like a long list, but we have actually distilled all education in these simple principles. Furthermore, having identified what we want to get out of education in our home has given us the freedom to pursue it through whatever means presents itself. We are not bound by a single curriculum. Rather, we have the freedom to take advantage of every new opportunity as it arises, and harness all that it offers to accomplish these goals. Changing course midstream is not disruptive, as long as it continues to build on these principles,

3. Clarify your philosophy

Alright, you know why you’re homeschooling. Not to choose a philosophy (or two – or three – or more …) that resonates with you and, more importantly, that works for your family. We started out with a very simplistic system that used a series of workbooks to take children from one grade to the next. We all hated it and the early days of home education were filled with loathing and dread. From there we quickly moved to a unit-study-type of curriculum based on key character traits. This was excellent and served us well, but it didn’t really resonate with me academically. This year I’ve been researching the teaching philosophies of both Charlotte Mason, who based her programmes on what she called Living Books, and John Holt, who advocated unschooling. What we have now is a loose mix of the two, with some unit study work and a lot of free study thrown in.

4. Determine your children’s learning styles

If you insist on teaching material in a way your child simply cannot grasp, you’re wasting your time. It really doesn’t matter how great your curriculum is, or how well-structured your activities are. Moreover, not feeding their individual learning styles will quench any inclination to learn that they may have had, and may well turn them off learning altogether. We’ve recently invested in the excellent “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” on kindle from Amazon.com. Buy it. Read it. Apply it. Your home education experience will be improved immeasurably.

5. Learning to think is infinitely more important than learning facts

The explosion of the internet has shown beyond doubt that information is virtually infinite. New data is shared online every moment, and there seems to be n end in sight.  With all that is out there for us to know, who’s to say which bits are important? How can anyone decide what information a child absolutely has to know before leaving school, and what information can wait until they’re older – if they learn it at all? Obviously certain facts are not appropriate for certain ages. What I am talking about, though, is not the more risqué areas of science or history. I’m referring, rather, to the sequence and selection of data presented to our children. Do children in Grade 3 really have to know about volcanoes? Can they not learn about them in Grade 5? Or Grade 2? Or never? And if your child would prefer to learn about Titian than Hitler, is that a crisis? I don’t believe so.

It seems to me that structured lessons in airless classrooms, where a teacher’s attention is split between 35 boisterous young people and a rigorous syllabus are the true murderers of a love of learning. That, above all, needs to be fostered in home education. We need to ignite our children’s passion for finding out new things, and give them the tools they need to make those discoveries. We teach our children to ask us questions, look things up on the internet or in encyclopaedias, experiment, test, prove. There are thousands of ways to gather data, and these are what needs to be taught. With a strong grasp of language, a firm foundation in maths, and the ability to learn, no doors can be closed on their potential.

6. Map out your day

children are not a distraction from more important work.Once you know why you’re doing it, and you have an idea about how you’re going to carry it out, you need to address the when. If, like most of us, you work for yourself, juggling a full-time job, housework, and home education can be – let’s call it challenging. It’s very important to prioritise your children’s education. You only get one shot at this. A career can happen at any time. Your clients are adults and they can handle a little wiggle room. But a moment missed with your child is a moment gone forever. Don’t waste it.

For us, we find that first thing in the morning is by far the most effective time for structured education. This is when we do our Maths, Bible Study, and reading. Our “school” day rarely takes more than three hours, and we’re usually finished between 9 and 10AM. That may not seem like a lot of time, but the results speak for themselves: the girls are years above their grade level in both reading and Maths. They have a thorough grounding in history and geography for their ages, and both draw and paint beautifully. Even my tiger mom inclinations are satisfied by their progress.

7. Mix it up

Outings and crafts make the school year more interesting. Any subject can benefit from an outing that supports what is being taught. Everything from camping and hiking to museums and galleries can inspire a growing mind and entrench a lesson learnt. Art, crafts and play acting go even further, providing both kinesthetic and tangible reinforcement of concepts. Furthermore, these activities build their own set of valuable skills and strengths. A routine offers a number of benefits for learning, but occasional deviations act like oases, providing refreshment to wearying souls.

8. Be flexible

Your children are not like you. They don’t process things the way you do. They don’t see the world the way you see it. They are unlikely to learn the way you do. This can be the hardest part, but we need to be flexible. We need to accommodate our children’s uniqueness. We also need to accept the bad days. Some days, it’s hard to be present for teaching. Some days one of the kids will be having a bad day. Something unexpected could come up at the last minute. The key to success in home education is learning to roll with the punches.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail

As Thomas Edison famously said, I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways it doesn’t work. That’s a great attitude, and one that can help both our children and ourselves. In the beginning, especially, it can be hard to have the confidence to make a decision in the face of a sea of options and little advise. My advice is to plunge in, do your best and see what happens. Never stop refining; that’s the only ay to keep improving. It’s not over until you succeed. So if you haven’t succeeded yet, it’s because you’re not done.

9. Free is not cheap

We don’t pay for educational materials. As far as possible we follow Charlotte Mason’s “Living Book” approach in selecting our materials. Many of the books recommended by her are public domain and downloadable from Gutenberg.org. Even more  have been given to us over the years by loving family, generous friends and a raging book addiction. For Maths we use Khan Academy. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s resulted in a marked improvement in everyone’s numeracy around here. These resources have cost us no money (if you don’t count bandwidth), yet they’re proving to be the most effective tools around.  Just because they’re free that doesn’t mean that they’re not excellent, so don’t turn down an opportunity because it lacks perceived value.

10. Double up for extra oomph

For History and Geography we use Living Books. Right now, we’re working through “Our Island Story” (available free on Gutenberg). Not only do we use it for history and geography, it provides our reading practice, copy work, and language skills. And story time! That means that in one half hour session, using just one book, we get a whole lot of learning done!

11. Lifelong Learning

The two most important things you can teach your children as far as “school” goes are a love of reading and a love of learning – along with the tools to feed those loves. Facts change. Information increases. We can never teach our children all there is to know. But if we teach them how to find what they need to know for themselves, we have done them a great service.

12. Have fun!

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just take every day as it comes, squeeze every ounce of gladness out of it, and relish in the unique opportunity you have to invest in the future.

The Talk

No, not THAT Talk. But still, a Talk with a capital T. Do all homeschooling families have this conversation, or is it just me and some of my more delinquent homeschooling friends? Let me back up a little and give some background. Here’s what happened:

Last week was Billing Week. It’s the most important week in my business month. It’s the week when I frantically finish as much as I can so that I can reconcile as much as possible and bill as many people as can reasonably be billed, with the faint hope that some of them will pay me in time to pay the rent. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled roller coaster ride that adds the pizzazz to my stay-at-home-work-from-home-home-educating lifestyle. Needless to say, for one coffee-driven, sleep-deficient week, very little formal education gets done (although unfortunately I think a lot of other education takes place. The kids have a front row seat in the theatre spectacle we fondly refer to as The School of Life).

It’s never great to have even a day or two without focused education. We all seem to lose the plot. The girls get fractious. They snap at each other and forget their manners. They get bored. Since Papa Bear and I are stressed, slightly panic-stricken and utterly exhausted, we don’t always handle this situation with the best grace (although we really, sincerely try with all our might). The final result is that the little bit of “school” we do have becomes a loose, relaxed affair, and kind of blurry around the edges.

This week we’re working on getting back on track. As you know, I’ve already explained that we’re doing a month-long unschool experiment. This means that “school” shouldn’t really take very long at all. Bible time is about 20 minutes, and so is Maths. Technically, copywork shouldn’t take more than about 15 – 20 minutes so, at most, we’re looking at an hour of the basics, followed by an entire morning of super-fun learning adventures.

Yesterday, that “hour” took nearly three hours to complete. It was punctuated by wild hilarity and chaos, and the half hour of copywork yielded scarcely six deformed words a piece.

I lost my cool.

Using that quiet, sinister tone that only very angry mothers use, I explained in graphic detail every aspect of my day. I explained how I start the housework at 6AM, breakfast straight after that, then school. After school I work, make lunch, carry on with school, work some more, make supper, read stories to them, work some more, and do my best to get into bed by 1AM. The next day it starts all over again.

After that, I explained slowly and quietly how, when they took three hours to do one hour’s work, they were stealing: stealing my sleep from me. Stealing their experience of a happy mother from themselves. Stealing food from their own plates because I simply can’t achieve deadlines and will lose clients as a result.

The poor babies watched with pale faces and wide eyes, and I was astonished to find that I felt no guilt at all. I really felt that they should realise that if they don’t take at least some of the responsibility for their education and success, they may as well not even have the benefits of a home education. Their potential would hardly exceed becoming poorly paid waitresses in a local coffee house, and frankly they can acquire the skills they need for that in any government school. I explained that they have phenomenal potential, and they’re allowing it to atrophy with their sloppy attitudes and distracted focus on what really matters in life.

All the time I was talking, I could hear my dad pouring out of my mouth. I remember him saying these words to me. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the weight of responsibility and utterly not understood. I also remember pulling up my socks, working hard, being at the top of my class and achieving most of my goals in my life so far.

Perhaps I was hard on them, perhaps even cruel. I don’t think so. I realised that I am actually a Tiger Mom, after all, and that I do believe in giving my children the very best life has to offer: character, self-discipline, high expectations of themselves, and the ability to achieve no matter the odds.

Have any of you ever had to have The Talk with your home educated children?

Education at home: distilling what matters

We had a lot of reasons to start home schooling our kids, but at the end of the day there were results we wanted to see in our adult children, and what was happening in the classroom each day bore no relationship to our family goals.

We’ve tried a number of curricula and a range of course material, and this is what we’ve distilled:

I think that they will enjoy anything if we make it absolutely gripping. I also see no harm in starting with stuff they DO like. Eventually, they WILL be interested in everything. Here’s what I care about right now, in order:

  1. Do they have a strong concept of RIGHT and TRUE, and can they navigate their own lives based on this concept, without my help?
  2. Do they passionately LOVE to learn?
  3. Do they love to read, and take any and every opportunity to do so?
  4. Are they competent at Maths and able to grasp the concepts, extend them and, above all, APPLY them to the real world?

Beyond that, everything else is superfluous. I fundamentally believe that with these in place, the rest will come. They will eventually be curious about aspects of the world that may not old their attention now. And one day it will click together and they’ll be filled with wonder.

Considering that this happens to me more and more as I get older, I am not worried about them not completely grasping certain facts so early in life, because for me the facts are merely the vehicle taking them to the goals I’ve mentioned above. As long as the books I use to teach the facts serve my purpose, I will continue to use them. When they don’t, I’ll find ones that do.

We put a lot of energy into making sure there’s laughter in our household. Trying not to sweat the small stuff, laughing whenever we can, finding the lighter side of life. It’s not always easy but it’s already paying off, so in the long run I am very optimistic about the future.


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