Tag Archive: Literacy


Chi and Pynni

I never would have believed in a million years that Pynni would be harder to teach than Chi.

There are any number of challenges I face when dealing with Chi in any situation, and they all seem to be amplified when set against a backdrop of education. Until homeschooling started, education was a struggle of epic proportions with Chi. It required meetings and extra work and special considerations in class and lots of pep-talks and tons of extra time and effort spent on homework. There have been various therapists and therapies and extended leaves from school due to upheaval in the teacher situation.

My whole experience of parenthood with Chi has been difficult at best.

Cutie Pynni Pie

Pynni has been the complete opposite. She was a very happy baby and almost always had a smile on her face. That has been the case with her through all her phases. She finds the humor and the joy in everything. She has a curiosity about the world around her that Chi never exhibited. She has been keen to learn and was ecstatic at being in school.

Through everything that we went through last year, her love of school remained untarnished, but her love of learning was damaged. Now, I struggle to get her to participate. She lays her head upon the table and mumbles into the crook of her arm when I ask her questions. She huffs and rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders. I don’t feel as if she doesn’t know the answer. When she’s struggling with a concept, she will strive to retain her ignorance. She actually refuses to get a new concept. I can see her choosing to ignore the click in her brain as something starts making sense.

Food is FUN!

Reading has been a particularly hard subject. I’ve chosen to teach Pynni to read through the use of phonics as opposed to the memorization of sight-words that was used in public school. Part of her struggles with reading stem from the difference in learning styles. She wants to look at the picture and guess at the words that she doesn’t have memorized as opposed to sounding out the words she doesn’t know using the letter sounds she does. I took her back and started at the beginning. We were able to speed through the first 30 lessons or so because they were all relating to letter sounds, at which she is proficient. The following two weeks we worked on simple three letter words and combining them into simple three or four or five word sentences.

The third week of school she hit a wall and refused to even try to overcome the difficulty she was having with words ending in ‘en’ (Ben, den, hen, pen, etc). Part of it is this crazy North Carolinian accent she is sporting. Words like hen sound almost like ‘he-yun’ but the biggest part is that she isn’t used to seeing a word and then sounding out the individual letter sounds before saying them all together in a word. She wants to be told what the word is every time she sees it until she knows it by sight. So after she cried, well, weeped is probably more apt, all through one reading lesson, I realized that I was going to have to spend a little more time on these simple words and sounds before moving forward any further.

Look, Ma, no nostrils!

So I did some research and found a workbook that teaches phonics that can be used in conjunction with my reading curriculum. She balked at first, but has realized, I think, that when she takes a deep breath, she can do the worksheet easy-peasy. Once she started doing the worksheets easily the reading part of school got just a smidge easier.

I went to visit my parents at the end of our first 5 weeks of school (after which we were taking a week break) and had our first homeschool away from home experience. It went really well, except for the fact that there isn’t any one particular room I can shut Pieces (and whichever sibling isn’t working) into where they can stay occupied, out of trouble, and quiet, so there were a lot of interruptions. Regardless we got the work done and began our first break.

Pynni's Waxed Teeth

My mom observed the schooling. She has been extremely supportive and is very interested in what we are doing. She took the opportunity to listen and watch how school went with Chi and Pynni. She says that I am obviously frustrated with Pynni when she starts in with the mulishness. I told her that’s because I AM frustrated and I slow my speech down and speak more clearly because I’m trying not to yell at her and wring her ornery little neck. *ahem* She says Pynni gets more and more recalcitrant as I stress my enunciation more and more. And apparently I use too much bass in my voice. I point out that I have never talked to my kids like they were frightened little animals who might shy away at the slightest provocation. I have always talked to them like people who deserve respect and that raising the octave of my voice seems false and patronizing.

Well. It can be good to get outside opinions on things because seeing what needs changing can be difficult to discern from inside the problem. The first thing I’m going to do is divide up their learning. I will start with Chi and typing because he can get that finished before we take Pieces to preschool. After the preschool drop-off, Pynni will do math followed by Chi doing math.

Lamp Post Academy

Then I will alternate the subjects and the students in that manner until we get to the things they do together: history and science. Hopefully that will negate any attention span issues with Pynni.

The second thing I’m going to do is incorporate educational games into our curriculum. There are great, fun games out there that reinforce reading and spelling and math and logic. That, I think, will help make my kids more excited about learning.

Finally, I will try to curb my frustration differently. I’m hoping that switching from student to student will help alleviate my frustration as well as their attention spans, and in the end, we will all win.

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It is official. I sent in my notice of intent (NOI) to open a homeschool in the state of North Carolina and they responded to let me know they’d gotten it. Got that? I didn’t have to ask. I tell them what I’m going to do and I do it. So far? That’s my favorite part.

To successfully file a “NOI” one must pick a name for your school. The name needs to be something that won’t look stupid on your kids’ high school transcripts, if you go that far. So no Mac-n-Cheese High or Hogwarts School. If you pick a name that is the same as an existing homeschool, your name will be tacked onto the end of it. It could end up being New Life School Johnson or Raleigh Academy McGregor (which goes back to the whole stupid name thing) because they tack your last name on to the school if there are duplicates (thank god, there’s a list). So I researched school names and checked against both stupidity and the list of existing schools.

Lamp Post Academy

I picked Lamp Post Academy. Lamp Post because one of my favorite childhood book series is The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I like the imagery of a lamp post in the forest for no particular reason. I like the ping on the imagination and the memories it conjures. I like the idea that Lamp Post is a light in the darkness, illuminating your path, and in this case, it is the illumination of knowledge on the darkness of ignorance. We will be learning things at LPA. I’m excited to start.

I will not be “unschooling” as the trend in homeschooling seems to be. Our day will be structured and our curriculum specific. I will be catering to the needs of my Aspie (the schedule being one of the things) and throwing in fun to keep them interested. Our day will be fairly short compared to public school, but probably longer than it will be when they get older and can do a little more independent work. Pynni will be the most labor intensive since she is in the first grade and will be needing me to work very closely with her. In the beginning weeks, maybe as long as the first year, I will be doing a great deal of hand holding for Chi. In the end, my hope is that he becomes accustomed to my schedule and will crunch through the subjects one after the other without a whole lot of redirect from me (on good days).

I have all of my curriculum picked out and I’m going to start out with just the basics to get the feel of this homeschool thing and then add things like science and history and foreign languages in stages as we get more comfortable with the process. More about all that later.

We start on August 22. I know I said earlier that we were going to start after our vacation this summer, but I came to realize pretty quickly that I just wasn’t going to have the time to get completely prepared to start by then and that it would be better for Chi and Pynni if we started after Kip and Mae go back to their mom’s. So the 22nd it is.

Pieces doesn’t start preschool until after Labor Day so I will be starting out thin in the subjects we cover for the first two weeks.

I’m going to start with Math, penmanship, writing and reading. The math is going to be the most difficult to teach because of the breadth of the divide between what Pynni will be learning and what Chi will be learning and how much direction they are both going to require from me. The penmanship will be taught to all three of my kids at one time. I’m starting some gross motor skill reprogramming with Chi and I’m just going to include the two smaller ones in these exercises. It won’t hurt them and might help them in the end. The writing is a program I’m going to do to help teach Chi that writing isn’t so scary. I’ve talked about it before here. I can teach Chi and Pynni side by side at first, but I’m thinking Chi will sprint through the early levels where Pynni will be taking her time. Then reading is kind of a gimme. Chi is advanced enough that he is going to be given chapter books to read and then a worksheet to complete after a couple of chapters. I will be teaching Pynni to read so I figure I will just teach Pieces alongside her. If it turns out that Pynni is further along than Pieces can keep up, then I will divide and conquer in that manner.

Once Pieces goes to preschool, I will add grammar and vocab, spelling and typing. Wish me luck!

Oh yes. The system has failed. What are the statistics for illiteracy in middle school students? I don’t know but I found this when I googled “illiteracy statistics us”. What it says is that 42 million Americans cannot read at all and another 50 million read no better than a 4th or 5th grader and those numbers grow by 2.25 million every year as kids leave the school systems to become part of adult society. Those numbers are scary and I actually have a passion for teaching literacy, but that isn’t the point of this post.

My point is this:

My daughter is not one of those people nor will she be. We work with her on reading and writing and math after school every day. EVERY DAY. I was told in February that she was not going to pass Kindergarten when I knew for a fact she was at or beyond grade level in every subject. Still, I took the IRT’s advice and the PrinciPAL’s suggestions and began doing even more work with her. Then, her teacher came back to the school from her maternity leave (all is well with her baby, yay!) and was appalled at how her class had been handled in her absence.

She set about reassessing all of the kids and found that, at least in Pynni’s case, she had been miss-assessed (is that a term?) and was actually above grade level in reading and writing and at grade level in math. She told me that Pynni would most certainly move on to first grade, and might not have to go to summer school. (I’m still reeling from this. Summer school for rising first graders? Really? That just seems like overkill.) “MIGHT not?” I asked. Ms. S said that the administration felt that she would need the extra tutoring that summer school would provide even though Ms. S was not recommending it.

On Thursday, I found out that Pynni is being recommended for a P.E.P. (personalized education plan) which would be GREAT except that it is reserved for academically troubled students. Ms. S stated that she was against such a thing and that in the end it isn’t bad, but the administration is determined that Pynni is this horribly slow student whose parents are checked out and is in need of all kinds of interventions to keep her from falling behind.

I cannot express in words that don’t make me sound awful and uneducated how angry all of this makes me. I appreciate that they are trying to catch the “at risk” students before they are sent forward through the system without all the necessary tools, but Pynni isn’t one of them.

Conversely, Chi isn’t necessarily “at risk” but he needs all the help he can get. He needs academic and sensory interventions. He most likely needs an aide specifically for him in the classroom and that will increasingly be the case the further through school he gets as he accumulates subjects and teachers. But can I get many of these things without jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop? No.

Then the school tries to “help” Chi prepare for this test they’ve been hanging over his head since the beginning of the year by putting him in this before school “camp” twice a week. It turns out that it was a camp not geared toward kids with Chi’s particular needs or even with needs similar to his. It wasn’t a camp taught by a teacher with any experience either with Chi or with any other Aspies or simply Autistic kids. Said teacher was not briefed on how to handle Chi. Thanks in part to this camp, Chi almost completely regressed into the state he began the year in.

This is not the kind of “help” Chi needs. (Mrs. Eff agreed and we are pulling him out of that camp.)

Chi is smart. Ridiculously so. He astounds me with what he understands and what he knows. The kicker? He doesn’t like to write. Period. He will avoid it at all costs making it hard to judge how much he understands about what he’s reading or measure his writing ability when it comes to grammar or expository writing. He doesn’t like to answer questions. He doesn’t like to be the focus of attention. He would prefer it if you didn’t look at him directly (I mean he does YOU that favor, after all).

It takes a special person to see beyond his issues into the wonderful kid underneath. It takes a special person to recognize the wonder that is Chi’s intellect within all that refusal to write and cooperate and compromise.With this we have been blessed beyond belief, though. Chi’s teacher is truly a miracle in his life. She truly cares about him. She gets him. She is able to see issues and work to help him overcome them without diminishing him. She appreciates that his brain functions differently than most people. She sees that he has understanding beyond what he is physically able to show her.  (I know I gush about her, but even with all of that, you really have no idea just how great she is and how much I appreciate her)

The problem is that we can’t pocket her and cart her around from grade to grade and class to class for the rest of Chi’s schooling and even she is worried about his ability to succeed in the future grades. Not because he isn’t smart enough or because he’s behind, but because not everyone can work with him and see all of his facets through the coating of his Aspergers PDD-NOS and SPD. He’s a kid who could use the extra help.

Is there a way I can transfer the help for Pynni to Chi?

So I think the system is broken. Ninety-two million is a lot of people who leave school either unable to read or are barely functionally literate. Neither of my kids will fall into that category and I will not be allowing them to fall behind in other subjects either, and so I’m wondering, “How often is this extra help misplaced? How many kids, like Pynni, receive extra help they don’t need? And how many who do need the help slip through the system’s safeguards?”

Plenty apparently.