Exploring Kansas

In August we had the opportunity to take a day trip across the state of Kansas with my best friend from college and her friend from New Zealand. We hadn’t really started up the school year yet, so it was a pre-school year field trip.

What were we thinking?!?

The pink lines represent our route. We drove 814 miles (round trip) in less than 24 hours!

We started out from the Kansas City area bright and early and headed west. We made it to Wilson Lake State park in time for a picnic lunch. After lunch we drove north to Lucas, Kansas, to see S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, which is not even remotely what it sounds like.

The Garden of Eden makes for a fascinating study of history and American folk art. The complex was by Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, in the early 1900s. Central Kansas is largely prairie land that has been transformed into farms and ranches. There are precious few trees in the area. Industrious farmers and ranchers discovered that the local limestone was sturdy enough to be used in place of wooden posts for holding up their fences. The limestone is locally known as post rock limestone. Dinsmoor used this local limestone to build himself a two-story log cabin style home in the middle of town. Between the years of 1907 and 1928, he created his home, decorated his garden, and built a mausoleum that would be his final resting place.

The exterior of the “log cabin” home and part of the sculpture garden.

His sculpture garden was made with cement. In his self-published guide to his property, Dinsmoor said, “The porches, side walks, fences, strawberry and flower beds, fish pool, grape-arbor, three U. S. flags, Adam and Eve, the devil, coffin, jug, visitors’ dining hall, labor crucified, two bird and animal cages, and wash house are all made with cement. Up to this date, July 1, 1927, over 113 tons, or 2,273 sacks of cement has been used. The Garden of Eden is on the west; the front, or north represents present day civilization. There are fifteen cement trees from 30 to 40 feet tall. On trees, mausoleum, cages and dining hall are forty-eight electric lights. The most unique home, for living or dead, on earth.”

Here are some more detailed photos of the sculpture garden.

Every four-year-old needs a photo in front of a cement flag with her two stuffed kitties and her new best friend from New Zealand.

Cement sculpture of a Civil War soldier

Cement deer with real deer antlers

The sign for the Garden of Eden, also made of cement.

Adam and Eve stand below the Garden of Eden sign. The snake (behind Eve) is also a grape arbor.

This figure was sculpted so Dinsmoor’s wife could see it out the basement kitchen window, to keep her company while he was out working on the sculpture garden.

The strawberry bed

The top of the mausoleum

After thoroughly exploring the Garden of Eden, we got back on the road and headed farther west, in search of the Monument Rocks.

Monument Rocks are roughly 70 feet tall and formed out of Niobrara chalk. They are on privately owned ranch land, but the owners allow visitors to explore the formations. We had fun exploring the various formations, looking for fossils in the chalk, and taking in the majesty of nature.

This formation is called “The Eye of the Needle.”

One of the shorter spots, with a four-year-old for scale

Panorama of the Monument Rocks

Standing in the doorway to adventure

Brain-Body Connection in Learning

Part of my career I spent time supporting children in school settings. I observed the challenges that the school staff, the students, and the family faced each year, in helping students with disruptive behaviors in a school setting. I also implemented and supported many cognitive related interventions. I tried many different ways to help these students think their way out of the problem. When there was no change in disruptive behaviors, or disruptive behaviors increased, I wanted to know more about what could be happening for students. 

This led me to study more about the sensorimotor connection to behavior. If a child is not getting enough movement or sensory input, then they will act out in ways that will help the brain get what it needs to develop. If there are any other underlying mental health needs or trauma experiences, these needs could increase the disruptive behaviors or intensity of emotions the child expresses, resulting in the increased need of adult support.

I also noticed some behavioral patterns. In the midwestern state I live in, there were seasonal patterns. Up until the beginning of November, teachers and students were often able to make the learning relationship work. After the cold and rainy or snowy weather started, disruptive behaviors increased. The level of support these students needed was at a high level until spring break, when behaviors began to moderate, and by the time warmer spring weather arrived, it was only the most disruptive who needed the high level of support I provided. As I was struggling to understand how, with even therapeutic intervention, students were still demonstrating disruptive behavior, I kept searching for ways to support these students.

Pivotal information on learning and disruptive behaviors came for me when I read Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. “Real learning — the kind of learning that establishes meaningful connections in the brain [emphasis mine] for the learner, is not complete until there is some output, some physical, personal expression of thought.”

This helped me to see the connection between the brain and the body for young learners, especially young learners that demonstrated impulsive actions, lack of focus, or disruptive behaviors. This helped me to re-frame some of the behaviors from symptoms of mental illness, to the student attempting to integrate what he/she was learning. In fact, from Smart Moves again, “we tend to relegate muscles to the domain of the body, not the mind. But it is through expression that we advance and solidify our understanding.” Looking at disruptive behavior as an attempt to learn changed how I assessed behavior at the beginning. I began to ask different questions. Sometimes behavior was related to mental illness or trauma, sometimes behavior was related to lack of activity, and sometimes behavior was related to acting out mature movie themes.

My experiences from those years working in a school has changed how I view my children’s behavior. Raising two boys, we are prone to see disruptive behavior as well. These are some of the steps that I’ve taken to help our boys manage their activity and support their learning.

  1. Limit screen time.
  2. No movies and TV shows with fighting, threatening harm, or scary scenes.
  3. Agreed upon indoor physical activity during inclement outdoor weather.
  4. Introducing reading, numbers, and writing as the boys express interest.

Reference:

Hannaford, C. (2013). Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head. Alexander: Great River Books.

Turning “I Hate to Read” into “I Love to Read”

Our post today is by guest author Barbara Frohne. 

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When I started homeschooling my children, I found my daughter learned to read easily, and my son did not. I believed the saying that boys are late bloomers, so patiently waited for him to bloom, all the while trying to teach him more phonics, and reading many books to him. The thing is, he didn’t bloom. He cried and fussed when it was time to read. He told me, “I hate reading.” I didn’t understand why, because I loved books and reading, and learned to read easily. I am a former classroom teacher, so shouldn’t all of my children learn be educationally superior? Probably not, because genetics are involved. I later figured out that the reason my dad did not read was because of dyslexia, and my husband even has some dyslexia issues.

I eventually got my son reading, but it was hard work. When I put him into an Adventist academy, he was reading sufficiently to get A’s and B’s in his classes. About that time, I decided to get training so I could help even more children and adults learn to read and spell, without so many tears.

A Bit About Dyslexia

Here are some of the things I have learned since then. These are things that I really wish I had known back when my children were little, and I am ashamed to say that I did not, even as a classroom teacher.

Around 60 percent of the population has no problem learning to read. They learn to read quickly and easily. That leaves about 40 percent who struggle to learn to read for causes that include below average intelligence, speech, language or hearing problems, parents with limited English proficiency or low reading levels and practices, and limited oral language experiences.

But, there is a segment of those who struggle to read who have average or above average intelligence, and frequent literacy activities; yet, they still have difficulties learning to read. These people have dyslexia, and compose around 20 percent of the population.

Dyslexia is a language-based disability derived from differences in brain structure and function. People with dyslexia commonly have difficulty with reading, spelling, writing, information processing, short-term memory, planning, and organization.

Did you notice that I said that dyslexia comes from “differences in brain structure and function”? This means that the child is not going to grow out of it. Maturity does not solve issues with brain wiring. The earlier that dyslexia is identified, the better it is for the child, as they will not lose years of vocabulary development and fluency before they get help. Researchers have found that 74 percent of third-graders who are poor readers will still be poor readers in ninth grade — which means they won’t be able to read well as adults either.

Warning Signs

The good news is that the symptoms of dyslexia are easy to identify. Today I want to give you my short, down-to-earth list of the early warning signs that you might see in your child.

  1. Does anyone among your relatives have dyslexia? About 34 to 49 percent of people with dyslexia have a parent or sibling with dyslexia.
  2. Does your child enjoy rhymes? This is something that you can see in a preschooler. If your child cannot think of a word that rhymes with cat, such as hat or bat, they may have dyslexia.
  3. “I hate reading!”  If learning to read causes crying, loud outbursts of frustration, or emotional battles, there is usually a reason. It is not because they are lazy or stubborn. Most kids learn to read very easily, without any struggles, and even find it enjoyable. If your child is not finding reading enjoyable, or is spending his or her time trying to get out of reading, it is time to start figuring out why.

I have found this checklist to be very helpful: http://www.dys-add.com/resources/RecentResearch/DysWarningSigns.pdf  If a child has three or more of the warning signs in this list, it is time for their parent to learn more about dyslexia. Additionally, www.BrightSolutions.us is a very helpful guide for parents who suspect dyslexia in their children.

Solutions

The good news is there is help for dyslexia. Most people with dyslexia are intelligent and capable of learning and living productive lives. Programs based on the research of Drs. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham are the most effective in helping people with dyslexia learn to read. Traditional reading programs are not adequate. An Orton-Gillingham based curriculum will be…

  • Explicit – clearly and directly teaching skills for reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Systematic and cumulative – having a definite, logical sequence of concept instruction.
  • Structured – teaching procedures step-by-step; introducing, reviewing, and practicing concepts.
  • Multi-sensory – engaging the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic channels simultaneously or in rapid succession.

I researched curriculum extensively, and found some high-quality ones for classroom teachers, that required traveling to get training. The one I found to be most helpful and accessible for homeschool families, based on the Orton-Gillingham principles, is the Barton Reading and Spelling System found at BartonReading.com. It is available for a parent to use to teach their own child at home. Training videos come with each book you purchase, which you watch before teaching your child. Susan Barton, founder, teaches you step by step what to do and say to teach your own children, or to tutor other children. Certified tutors are also available who use this program to help children learn to read and spell, either in person or over the Internet. Your child does not have to have a diagnosis to use this program. This program will work, no matter their reading skills, if they can pass a simple screening test, administered by the tutor or parent. Barton teaches phonics in an effective way that would be helpful for all, but for some children, a program like this is absolutely essential to learning to read.

There are other Orton-Gillingham based programs available around the country. Sometimes you can access them through special schools in the large cities. There are other private therapists and tutors who can help children learn read and spell, so check in your area to find what is available.

There can be help available through the public schools, if you live in the right area. But, you need to know that public schools are not required to test for or remediate for dyslexia in many states, including mine.

Conclusion

You don’t have to wait until later to get help for your child if they are struggling to learn to read. You can can help even your child that hates to read. In my experience as a certified Barton Reading and Spelling tutor, I am seeing every one of my students learn to read and spell.

One homeschooled boy, age 14, did not like to read when he started with me. He thought he would grow up to be a contractor, because he thought they could get by without being able to read. After completing Barton Level 3, and starting to successfully learn the rules of putting letters together, he said to me, “Why don’t they teach everyone to read this way? This is the only way that makes sense.” He is now reading and spelling very long words easily, and will be able to pursue higher education if he so desires.

Another homeschooled teenage girl struggled to put letters together, often reversed b’s and d’s, and did not ever read for pleasure when she started with me. She is in Level 7 now and recently told me, “You will be so proud of me. I’m reading a book for fun now, and it is really interesting! I have another one already chosen for when I finish this book.” That about brought tears to my eyes. She loves to read now. This is what happens when you get a child the correct instruction for learning to read.

I wish I had known about the Barton Reading and Spelling System back when my son needed it. It would have made a huge difference in our homeschool experience. I know about it now, and I hope the story of my experience will help you assist your own children in becoming literate.

Barbara Frohne is a former homeschooling mom of two amazing young adults. She now teaches watercolor art and sewing in her home for community children after school. She provides private tutoring for children and adults learn to read and spell.

The Road Less Traveled

Every day we trudge on, fighting fights we weren’t meant to fight. We get to an age where our crises have momentum. Our kids struggle and the things we thought were hard when they were young seem trivial. Our marriages have become a boulder racing downhill with destruction ahead.

Then we have another fight in a different arena, then another. Things pile on. The new day-to-day things may not be BIG issues, or fights, but when we’re barely hanging on emotionally, anything is a big deal!

Every day, we stand at a crossroads between two distinct paths, two possible reactions. Most people live life having no clue that there’s another option…a road less traveled, as it were.

The options are this: continue fighting, becoming wearier and wearier. This path you are 100 percent responsible for the outcome. If there’s a shift and it improves, then YAY ME! You get the glory! But, if things don’t improve, then you carry the burden of guilt and fear.

Fear has you parent — or deal with any situation — from a foundation that’s crumbling. It makes your chest tight. It makes you angry. It makes you attached to the outcome. It has you scream, say things with venom and sarcasm, or say nothing in a stony silence that speaks hate.

Guilt is even worse. It’s like a running charge at a store that is ignored for years. It may seem like the balance will never come due, but it will. And, there’s no escape. Except there will be escape…from the fight. But, that escape will be into death or dementia.

The other option is just so wildly improbable that it will seem like no option at all. It will feel like a cop out — like letting those you’ve been fighting with “get their way.” It will go against everything we’ve been trained, indoctrinated, to believe and do. And, so few do it that there are few to testify.

This other option is to stand back and say, “Okay, God. I am done. It’s now all YOU.” What comes next will probably — if we’re really, really honest — sound something like this, “I don’t trust You. I think everything will go south fast. Let’s see what YOU can do…which is nothing…because I’ve never seen any kind of proof of the ‘power’ that You supposedly have.”

I’m just keeping it real. This is stuff we often don’t even admit to ourselves!

Our deepest, darkest secret is that most of us don’t trust God. We give reeeeeeeeally good lip service, if anything. But, it’s just that. How many of us have proof that God really still does what He did in the Bible?

I believe from the very most honest parts of my heart that it’s because we are really good managers of our homes, our lives. Our emotions. We rarely need God in a miraculous way! And, in the very first moment that we do need Him (typically in our early adult years), we have no example, no modeling, no reason to trust! And so, we begin our life of fighting fights.

By the time we get to the really big fights — the fights for our marriages, the fights for our kids’ hearts, the fights for our relationship with God — we have a life of proof that God doesn’t work miracles, that it’s only by our own striving that anything gets done.

But, I’m here to testify that there IS another way. This way is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, going in. I didn’t take this road because I wanted to!

I think of this analogy. Our life, fighting alone, is like standing on a cliff made of dirt. Sometimes in our lives, the dirt feels pretty stable under our feet. Other times, it’s like that cliff crumbling! We struggle to keep our feet, remain standing. Other days, we just lay there gasping for breath as we grapple to hold onto the ground as it falls away under our fingers, past the ability to even fight it!

In 2010, the cliff under my feet was just gone. Gone. Nothing left.

The crisis in 2010 brought me face to face with this second choice — the wildly improbable path at the crossroad is one of swallowing pride…one of just taking a deep breath and stopping the fight. This literally means stopping. The. Fight. All the fights.

We read about the Bible stories that are miraculous. Peter walking on water. The fish and loaves. Healings. It all seems so far removed from the REAL issues we deal with! Those are nice for sermons and Sabbaths and all! But, they’re not applicable to the day-to-day problems I deal with!!

In 2010 it became very clear to me that there was nothing left to fight, nothing left to fear, since my very worst fear had come true: I had lost my family. Lost my kids. Holidays would never again hold the same joy.

And so, it came to be that one dark early-summer night, I took my first step on the second path, the second option. I had no idea how it would all turn out, but I decided that I had no other reasonable choice. Had I even had a half-viable other option, I would have opted for that.

What it looked like was that I stood all alone on my back porch with my hands lifted high and I gave up. I gave it all up! I gave up my fight. I gave up my striving. I gave everything…but E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G…up. Including my children.

You see, I had this superstition, a superstition that was deep seated and based on experience. If I gave God permission to do something, He’d do it. No kidding. A decade before, I’d told him in a conversational prayer that was almost more of a mindless thought, “Whatever it takes to bring Whitney [my husband] closer to you, I give you permission to do.”

Less than two weeks later, Whitney lost his job.

He was unemployed for almost two years.

Our marriage almost didn’t survive those two years.

Coincidence? Perhaps! But, until that night on my deck, I wasn’t willing to run the risk!

And so, when I say I gave up my kids, I mean I gave up my children like Abraham gave up Isaac. I stood on that back porch and I said to God, “Okay, God! I give it all to You! Whatever I have, I give up! I give you my kids! If you have to take them [and I meant “if they have to die”], I give you permission! I give you everything, including me!”

That was the day my superstition died.

I discovered that my children, me, my family, were safe in my Father’s hands. Safe from physical harm. Safe from all the harms I might imagine.

I realized that after years of contending for my husband in his relationship with God, contending for my children on multiple levels, I had been in effect saying to the Creator God who speaks galaxies and universes into existence, “…[glances upward, holding up an index finger]…hold on a minute. I got this…”

And, all it had gotten me was broken relationships. It had gotten me guilt and fear. And in 2010, it got me the failure of my marriage.

In the giving it all up, God restored me. He gave me some good ol’ fashioned miracles!! Like…of biblical proportions!

He choreographed, in the most minute detail, the restoration of my marriage. Unimagineable, impossible, unbelievable, mind-blowing miracles!

No, my husband has not turned into a strong and mighty man of God. He still struggles with the whole concept of God, given the physical, emotional, and religious abuse he was dealt as a child. That would be my husband’s miracle, in any case. And, I’m no longer in the habit of sticking my nose in my husband’s relationship with God.

But, my husband no longer has a wife who tsk-tsks over him, trying to emotionally manipulate him, bully him (regardless of how subtlety…or not), or guilt him into “doing” religion the right way. He has a wife who respects the path that God has him on. Some days he has no clue what to do with that, and the past is a spectre he has to fight. I let him do that too.

In response to my flat-out giving up, God has piled miracle after miracle on my head and in my heart; I’m not the same woman. The biggest miracle has been me. How I see my husband, my kids. How I see their struggles. How I respond to their struggles, their failures, their missteps. It’s so humbling to watch. I am so profoundly thankful.

How about you? Many of you stand at that same crossroad. While you may not avail yourself of it yet…it took me until my mid-40s to come to it…just know. There’s another option.

Steps to Validation

In my last post I spent some time identifying more in-depth the process of modeling grace for our children, and also how they in turn will model it to us.  

The second step I identified was the idea that our children need their big feelings and emotions validated, even if they are expressing themselves in an inappropriate way. Once the emotion is acknowledged, it allows room for them (and us) to start moving towards resolution, versus staying stuck in the feeling.  

There are multiple sources available online that discuss the process of validation and what that looks like. I found a great article that describes the process well here: http://www.alustforlife.com/mental-health/children-and-adolescents/validation-of-childrens-feelings-promotes-positive-mental-health

Validation is an essential part of the relational process and one that is an ongoing struggle to maintain. It is so easy to expect validation from those around us, and yet not be aware and validating of what others are giving and saying to us. I think sometimes where this gets lost is when we are not providing our own validation —  spending time on self-care and in the Word; fueling our bodies with healthy things; and processing our emotions through prayer, song, journaling, or conversation with supportive people we rely on.  

The inner process of recognizing our own emotions allows us the space to offer it to our children as well. “Mommy is feeling frustrated with this project; let’s take a break,” is an example of one way to be aware and validating our own personal status and identifying for our children as well. When I notice my child is angry or upset, the most effective thing I can do in that moment is acknowledge it and help her label it if she is having trouble doing so: “I can see you are angry that Mommy asked you to stop what you are doing to help me with something else. Mommy gets upset when I have to stop doing something I like too.”

Validation for me is something I have to constantly be intentional and focused on so that I am not minimizing or dismissing my child or other persons’ concerns. Saying that we hear someone and their frustration does not mean it is nice, though, or an acceptable way to communicate. If your child says “I hate you,” validation would look like “I hear you are angry at Mommy.” Correcting them in the moment may or may not be effective depending on the age and temperament of the child. You can follow up with, “You can be angry with Mommy, but not say that. Saying you hate someone is unkind, and we don’t talk that way in our home.”  Again, parents should use their discretion as to whether they can follow-up in the moment or after the child has calmed down. 

I want to reiterate that validation does not mean condoning or agreement. It is, however, an important way to let our children know that we hear them and recognize their emotions.