Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

If you are a parent of young children today or you teach your children at home, chances are very good that phonics is your exclusive go-to approach to teach reading. A conviction that phonics is the ONLY way to teach reading, and success with other children with this approach, leaves you purchasing one phonics program after another for a child that just doesn’t seem to “get it” with the current phonics program. Yet still, a satisfactory result eludes you. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. Definitely showing my age now! This method did work and I got through college while maintaining Dean’s List status. After graduation, my first job was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the students and I still find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our home school with an intense phonics program. Well, to be perfectly candid, I only successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics. The other one, labeled as developmentally delayed, struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

Reading is complex. The individual has to gain meaning from a string of symbols making up a word and then combine that with other strings of symbols to gain an understanding of what is written. Let’s explore from a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the skills that make a successful reader?

 

Skills of Successful Readers

1. Visual Skills:

    • Acuity – a reference to 20/20, is the eyes giving a clear picture to focus up close or focus at a distance 
    • Tracking – the eyes moving smoothly across a horizontal line without darting back or forth that would give the wrong feedback to the brain about what is seen
    • Convergence – the eyes working together, placing the image of one eye directly on top of the other so there is no distortion of the letters or swimming of word on the page
    • Central Detail Vision – the ability to see directly in front of you – children that didn’t go through the proper developmental steps to gain good central vision often don’t have good eye contact, they don’t write on a line well and often skip little words or parts of words on a page while reading. Consider this video from the  YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips for information about checking the eye function at home.
    • Visual Discrimination – the ability to see subtle differences between very similar words like “then” and “them” can be developed with practice – consider this  Visual Discrimination Game to advance that skill

 

2.   Auditory Processing:

A prerequisite skill to reading in general and for phonics, in particular, is auditory processing (auditory short-term memory). You may not have thought about it but phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of auditory information (sounds) in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability.

Without the foundational skill of auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, an individual’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be effective. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your whole family visit  www.BrainSprints.com (scroll down to the “Tools” section). This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. When you accelerate this skill, you accelerate success in reading. Learn more: Auditory Processing-Best Kept Secret in Education

 

3.  Information Storage:

From a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the efficient storage of information or being able to get what is in that little brain out into a functional form requires proper placement of the information. It is a bit like a filing cabinet. If you put information in the 2nd drawer in the proper folder, it is easy to get it when you need it. Improper filing of a piece of paper in the 2nd drawer with no folder can be frustrating, time-consuming and energy expending to find. The same can be true of storage in the brain. For more understanding of dominance that is key to storage, watch “You Knew It Yesterday!” 

 

An Alternative Approach

Many families have found help with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach.

While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. If your child is an emerging reader, consider  3Rs Plus with the accompanying flashcard and detailed instructions. Beginning readers are very encouraged when they tell dad, “I read this whole book!” Granted the book is only 12 pages long and contains one to two sentences on each page but in their mind, they did read the whole book.

Children reading at 1st-grade level, I recommend Pathway Readers and the flashcards developed for the first few books in this series.

You can also read a sentence or two and in some cases a paragraph or a full page and have the child read the SAME selection after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence! For leveled books that will work on reading recognition as well as comprehension, just search “Reading” at the  Brain Sprints Store.

 

Bringing This Information Together

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? First, you realize that we are all sight-readers. Let me ask you this – Do you read all the words phonetically when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be extremely slow and laborious to do otherwise.

Secondly, rest assured that as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, you can go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words. 

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more individualized direction consider a  Free 15 minute Consultation with a Brain Sprints’ coach.

 

 

 

 


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Here is the best homeschooling advice some seasoned special education homeschooling moms shared with us when we asked for their top tips.

 

Peggy Ployhar– SPED Homeschool Team Member

Here are the top 5 homeschool mom tips:

  1. Teach your child, not curriculum. 
  2. Take one day at a time. Celebrate a victory, let go of a hurt, and accept grace for a mistake.
  3. Trust wherever peace leads you to teach your child and don’t compare it to what anyone else is doing.
  4. Take care of yourself even if it means doing less than you think you should be doing.
  5. Don’t stop dreaming for your child or yourself.

Homeschooling success has very little to do with the curriculum, but everything to do with what we do every day in our homes.

 

Amy Vickrey– SPED Homeschool Team Member

Give yourself:

  1. Time to decide on curriculum, approaches, and learning styles. 
  2. Permission to make mistakes, start over new each day, take breaks, and change your mind if something isn’t working. 
  3. Permission to use a curriculum or a unit study in a way it was not originally intended by the author. Make the curriculum fit your child. If you can’t make it fit, then change the curriculum.

 

Dawn Spence– SPED Homeschool Team Member

Here are my top three:

  1. Use color coding
  2. Integrate  games
  3. Believe in your children

#3  seems so simple but kids love to hear from you how smart you are and that you believe they can do things which they may have trouble believing they can do themselves. Growing up with an undiagnosed learning disability, I would often hear from my teachers how stupid I was. This is the opposite of what our children’s hearts and minds need to succeed. Daily affirmations and love give our children the encouragement they need to face their mountains with confidence.

 

Daily affirmations and love give our children the encouragement they need to face their mountains with confidence.

 

Shannon Ramiro– SPED Homeschool Team Memeber

I find the most important things are:

  1. Plan what you are going to do ahead of time.
  2. Don’t expect the day to go according to plan.
  3. Have everything you need for however long you believe your child can pay attention (materials including all pens, manipulatives, teacher manual, workbook, everything) within arm’s reach because the minute you have to get up to go find or get something you will lose your child’s attention and getting focused again will take even more time away from your lesson.
  4. For reading, if they are beginning to read, and can read the level of text but are struggling, take turns. You read 1-2 lines, and then you ask them to read 1 line.
  5. Determine how long your child can actively be engaged, then plan your lessons accordingly. Take breaks as needed. Do not attempt to stretch any learning past what they can tolerate.
  6. Switch topics and incorporate their interests as much as possible.
  7. Add movement throughout their lessons.
  8. On days your child can’t focus on lessons, go outside and talk about what was observed.

 

Corinna Ramos– SPED Homeschool Community Member

I use Minecraft in almost every subject because that is what works for my son at the moment.

  1. In math I write out my son’s problems, then he goes onto Minecraft and uses squares to work out the problem. It is amazing how well he has learned multiplication through the use of blocks in Minecraft. He can take math word problems and use Minecraft to make the problems into how he can understand them and come up with the right answer. 
  2. I also use Minecraft for history by having him build historical sites. It’s like he is walking through history. 
  3. Minecraft also teaches my son about science. 
  4. When it comes to writing…of course he writes about Minecraft. I have him write in a daily journal about what he did in Minecraft that day and he actually participates.

 

Chrystalina Tosado– SPED Homeschool Community Member

I study my child and make sure school works for him. Here is what I found:

  1. My son learns better on the afternoons
  2. He can’t have distractions close like toys
  3. At certain times he needs breaks. We jump, do an exercise, or just relax
  4. In art, we always do crafts that are based on my son’s interest like dinosaurs, or the current season, and then we use these projects to decorate his working space.

 

 

 

 

 


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Jan Bedell, PhD, M ND

 

Math is a necessity for functioning independently in life so the sooner our children get it, the better. In our view, mathematics is divided into three main areas: Understanding of all the concepts, word problems, and math facts mastery.

 

1. Concepts of operations matter 

The word “concept” means what exists in the mind as something comprehended or understood. We want our children to easily understand when they see certain math symbols like +, -, x, ÷. They should instantly know that when referring to addition it means putting things together to get a larger amount; having a certain number of items and then taking some away is subtraction; multiplication is groups of the same number and division is separating things into groups with the same number in each group. 

You can use manipulatives to help the process of mastering the concept but far too quickly our educational practices tend to put the children on their own to do the assignments. Our skewed perception is if we “help” that somehow we are cheating, that the child just needs to do it on their own.

Let’s look at it from another angle. What if you were teaching piano and right after introducing the names of the notes on the staff and teaching the timing of whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes you put a piece of Mozart in front of the child and say, “Now play this”. You would never think of doing that! 

It is the same with anything you want to teach to mastery. You demonstrate, observe and help the process along a continuum of steps. The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to math involves lots of “input” (giving the answer, demonstrating the concept often, guiding as the child has their turn with new and review material) and the results are stellar.

If you really want to accelerate math skills, do what we call at Brain Sprints, 50% instruction. This is teaching and instructing goes fast while giving input for future success in math operations. Here is how it works. You do a problem and the child does a similar problem until that concept is mastered. For a beginning mathematician, the whole page would include additional problems where you alternate from mom to child even if you think it could be done independently.

If your child is older, say 3rd grade and beginning multiplication, your page might have a multi-digit addition problem that you do and a multi-digit subtraction problem that the child does and the rest of the time is spent on the new concept of multiplication. After the “review” of addition and subtraction, you do a multiplication problem and the child follows with a multiplication problem until you have done six to ten problems alternating between mom and child. It goes fast and you avoid any need for correction as you are guiding so no mistakes are made. Imagine your child’s continence when math is fun, easy and quick instead of a drudgery followed by frustration and the need for the dreaded corrections. 

There is a resource available here:  Visual Circle Math that gives specific directions on how to do this technique with sample pages. This is terrific for those children labeled with or suspected of dyscalculia or those that are exceptional in math and need to move on to more complex concepts without going through a full curriculum to reach those next levels.

 

The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to math involves lots of “input”… and the results are stellar.

 

2.  Word problems are fundamental

Word problems are the application of the understanding of math concepts. Along with the conceptual understanding, you have to be able to hold the information in your short-term memory to know what operation(s) to use to solve the problem. One factor that has been a huge deterrent to a child’s ability to complete a word problem is the auditory processing level. Parents are often confused when their child with a full understanding of a concept has such a struggle with answering a word problem. It makes more sense when you realize that your ability to hold pieces of information for a short time and manipulate that information in your mind takes that foundation ability called auditory processing. When this developmental skill is low, word problems are often a nightmare.

The solution seems contrary to traditional approaches. Many curriculums teach strategies for solving word problems that often fail when the problems become more complex. Instead of strategies we recommend working on the child’s auditory processing ability. This will not only help with accomplishing word problems but will increase the child’s ability to stay on task, follow directions, comprehend what is said and read and many more functional abilities that will help the child through school and life.

Scroll down to the bottom of this auditory processing information to get your Free Test Kit. If you start increasing this skill, the struggle with word problems will greatly diminish.

 

3. Math Facts are important

Some public schools are not putting any emphasis on math facts but still expecting correct and speedy answers on classroom assignments and standardized tests. This is counter-intuitive. It only makes sense that when children have rapid recall of math facts they enjoy math assignments more as it takes less time to finish a lesson and there are minimal to no corrections needed. The struggle often is, how to get a child to retain math facts. The educational system has come up with these “magic” cards with a problem and no answer that makes the children want to hide when they see them because they don’t know the answer. The other “tool” often used is a speed drill with 70+ problems and the instructions given are, “Get faster at this!”

Not equipping a child with instant recall of math facts is like strapping their legs together and asking them to run faster. If math facts mastery is your goal, try The Rapid Recall System (created by former home school mom and now Master NeuroDevelopmentalist, me). Here your children will see, hear, say and write five specific math facts 14 times a day and only two of those times is information coming from the child. Instead of asking the children to guess at the answer which reinforces the wrong answer when they say it wrong, with Rapid Recall, the children have twelve times of input where the information is going in so it is stored for easy access. The good news is that it only takes 6-9 minutes a day and after 5 days, they are on to the next set of facts with daily reinforcement of the previously learned facts.

Not sure if your child needs to work on math facts? Take this Math Facts Proficiency Test and see how the score compares to different grade levels in this skill. No matter what the age, Rapid Recall System can help your budding mathematicians to retain math facts for life. 

For the SPED Community, use the Discount Code RRS20SPED for 15% off.

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

 

Last year while I was speaking at a homeschool conference I off-handedly mentioned that I was the oldest of 14 and had 10 adopted siblings, something I occasionally mention, but after feeling a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I went with it.

After wrapping up my session I joined one of my session’s breakout discussion groups. Without knowing it, the group I joined had an adoptive mom. As we chatted in this group, this mom asked me, “What is the most difficult part of being an adoptive sibling?”  Now you must understand, I don’t have the experience of having lived at home with my adopted siblings because they entered into our family after I was living on my own, but this doesn’t mean I haven’t wrestled with various aspects of being an adoptive sibling and the impact it has made on my extended family.  In response, I told her about my greatest struggle, watching my mother’s health decline as she took care of all my adopted siblings yet did not prioritize self-care. In fact, it was not until my mother had a heart attack a few years ago that she even took this matter seriously.

After I responded, this woman looked at me with a rather concerned face and then told me this was the same issue she and her oldest biological daughter argued about most.

 

“…keep persisting and showing her how much you love her and her family by not giving up or letting her play down her need to be loved and cared for just as much as the children she pours her life into each and every day.

 

Later on that day I was able to talk with this woman’s daughter and encourage her to help her mother find ways to take care of herself. I also reassured her that it was not selfish or ungodly for her to want her mom to stay as healthy as possible while taking care of her siblings.

 

From this perspective (and having been a foster mom myself for three toddlers for 13 months), I would like to share with you a few friendly ways to help the adoptive moms around you care for themselves, so in turn, they can be as healthy as possible to take care of the orphans God has brought into their homes.

  1. Stop by to drop off a special treat or gift, but be ready and willing to stay to visit or help in any way needed.
  2. Write a note of encouragement and be specific. Tell your friend what you have observed that she is doing and how it is making an impact.
  3. Bring over a dinner that can either be easily heated and served or quickly and conveniently frozen for future use. Flexibility, as well as keeping the dietary needs of the whole family in consideration, means your meal won’t go to waste.
  4. Offer to help watch the kids. One caveat on this suggestion is that oftentimes foster children can only be watched by “approved” caregivers. If this is the case, and you still want to help, it is often okay for an individual to watch the children while the foster parents are on the property. So, let mom take a nap, do something she enjoys by herself in another room, or give mom and dad a date night in the dining room while you watch a movie and play games with the kids in another area of the house.
  5. Plan a weekend away for your friend by enlisting the help of her spouse or another caregiver who can take her place while she is gone. Don’t spill the beans until everything is planned, that way she can’t make an excuse for not getting away. Then enjoy treating your friend to some girl time.
  6. Be available to talk, but mostly be available to listen.  You may not even know how to respond to the many situations your friend is going through, but your willingness to listen and speak truth and hope into her life as the Spirit leads will be greatly appreciated
  7. Take on the role of an accountability partner by asking your friend what goals she has and how you can be instrumental in helping her achieve them.  For instance, maybe she has a fitness goal and going for a walk every evening together will help her get more exercise. If you don’t live close then consider how the two of you can connect on the phone or for a video chat regularly to catch up as well check-in.
  8. Be on call and go as far as making a reminder card your friend can put somewhere that will always remind her you are just a phone call away for anything she may need.
  9. Be transparent about your own failings.  Parenting foster and adopted children reveal huge gaps in our own lives and relationships.  The more you are willing to share your shortcomings with your friend, the more she will feel safe to do the same with you.
  10. Pray for your friend, her family, and her children. God does amazing things when we pray.

 

In the fall of 2017, I followed my own advice for #5 and planned a girl’s getaway trip to New York City. Before I even told my mom that I was going to kidnap her for 3 days to take her to NYC with me and my daughter, I made sure my dad was able to get the help he needed while she was gone, bought the airline tickets, booked our hotel, bought tickets to a Broadway show, and even planned a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park.  I knew if I had told my mom ahead of time she didn’t need to get away and she especially would have told me not to go out of my way to plan anything extravagant. But, I wanted to spoil my mom for a few days so I made my plans before she could change them. Our three days in New York City were magical and she, my daughter and me created memories we will never forget.

You too may experience some resistance from your friend as you find ways to help her remember to take time for herself, but I want to encourage you to keep persisting and showing her how much you love her and her family by not giving up or letting her play down her need to be loved and cared for just as much as the children she pours her life into each and every day.

 

 

 

 


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Shannon Ramiro

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a friend of mine, Karrie Cannell, about her international special needs adoptions. I hope you enjoy her story as well as the insight she has to share with other families who may be thinking of adopting a child with a disability from another country.

 

What led your family to do an international adoption?

One morning I was online and came across a little boy’s picture that was listed for adoption. I had never thought about adoption, we had 8 children, so it wasn’t even on my mind. I kept going back to his picture. He had the same skin condition, epidermolysis bullosa (EB for short) as my stepdaughter. I knew I could care for him. I talked to my husband and we talked to our kids, and we all prayed about it. The next thing we knew, we were knee-deep in adoption paperwork.

About halfway through the adoption process, we found out the boy we were looking to adopt had a biological brother with the same skin condition. They had been separated 3 years before. We immediately decided to adopt both boys. About 7 years later we adopted again, and it happened about the same way. Someone knew we had kids with EB and shared a little girl’s picture with me. At first, I was just advocating for her family to come forward. Little did I know I was going to be her momma.

 

Were there language barriers before, during and after the adoption? How did you navigate them?

We didn’t speak Ukrainian and the boys didn’t speak English. We used Google translate at first, but once they were immersed in the English language they picked it up very fast.

With our daughter, we didn’t use Google translate. She was adopted at a much younger age than the boys. Since she was only 3, we just pointed to things and slowly repeated ourselves, speaking to her in English. She picked up English even quicker than the boys did. Looking back, I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly hard.

 

What has been the most enjoyable part of being a foster/adoptive family?

It’s different with each child. The boys have significant delays caused by the lack of care from their biological mother and the orphanage. Getting them home and giving them better care all around is my greatest joy. Seeing them enjoy life and experience things for the first time is also a great joy.

For our daughter, she also lived in an orphanage but doesn’t have the mental delays like the boys. She was very young when she came home, so the transition was easier and she was happier. Her joy is infectious and she loves being in our family.

 

I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit.”

 

What was the most challenging part of your international adoption?

The biggest challenge was probably getting the boys the mental help they need. Finding someone who specializes in Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and truly knowing how to help us was our biggest issue, and still is. It’s been a tough road with the boys, a journey I never knew I needed to be on, but I am so blessed to be where I am at with them.

 

What specific learning challenges have you encountered with your foster/adopted child(ren)? What resources have you found the most helpful in these situations? 

Mental health resources have been our biggest challenge. As the boys get older we have found what works for them and what doesn’t. 

 

What advice do you have for families who are thinking about looking into an international adoption?

I wish we were more informed, educated, and better equipped to help the boys with their mental health issues. There needs to be more resources to help families that are struggling. More respite. More knowledge. More information when you feel alone and lost and feel like you have nowhere to turn.

 

 

 


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Ashly Barta

Have you ever felt the longing to add to your family? The thought of adding to your family either by birth, adoption, or fostering can be an important life decision, adding military life into that equation can make it a bit more difficult to navigate.   Military life has its advantages and disadvantages; deployments, frequent moves, financial strain, and little to no family support.

I recently visited with a friend that went through the adoption process while she and her husband were stationed overseas.  Not all adoption agencies are willing to work with couples that are not currently residing in the country so make sure to do your research.  My friends were able to use a social worker local to them in Germany who then worked closely with the adoption agency in the United States to bring about their adoption. 

The adoption process for them was long and hard at times. It consisted of a lot of paperwork and many hoops they had to go through to show they would be good parents.

When I asked my friend what she would want everyone to know about the adoption process, she said, “I would want people to understand that there is a lot of heartache and loss in adoption. The ache of couples just wanting to be a family, the heartbreak of the mother having to make this choice and eventually our little people will have that heartache and loss.” In the end, the gift is so worth it.  Your child is a gift, your love and respect for the birth mother is a gift, and the knowledge gained from the experience is God’s gift.

My friend also spoke to me about the titles they have chosen to use in their adopted family.  We call our guy’s mom, his tummy mommy but as he grows older that may change. She is his mom. She created him and chose to give him life.  We are his mom and dad, we are all he has ever known. So in their house, they have mom, dad, and tummy mom.

Your child is a gift, your love and respect for the birth mother is a gift, and the knowledge gained from the experience is God’s gift.

For those wanting to adopt I would suggest looking into all the possible ways you can adopt before deciding on a specific path. Foster to adopt, infant adopting, as well as international adoptions are each unique and not one is right for every family that feels called to adopt. Learn and understand the processes of each before jumping in. Start saving now if you plan to do an infant or international adoption. Look into grants, hold fundraisers, have yard sales, every little penny helps.

Also, make sure to find an agency that truly cares for the expectant mother’s well being. Understand that it can take tens of thousands of dollars to complete an adoption from beginning to end, and in infant adoption, the expectant mother may choose to parent after you’ve been matched and are attached to the idea of this baby being your child.

My friend ended our conversation by stating, “Do not let PCS dates, fear of moving, or fear of deployments stop you from pursuing adoption and/or foster care.  Just as everything else that comes with military life, don’t put things off until you have a better schedule, better job, better location, just let your heart speak for you.”  I have to agree. One call is from higher up the chain of command and He will always work things out for the best.

 

 

 

 

 


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Dawn Spence

I had the privilege of interviewing the Northcutt family and want to share their beautiful adoption story with you.

 

What opened your heart to adoption?

My husband worked in the social work field and we had friends that worked in the field too. Too many times my husband, his co-workers, or friends had to sleep in their offices with foster kids because there were no foster homes to take them in.

When my husband took another job, after 13 years in the field, I said we are going to foster because now I can do something about it. We said we would take one of each (we have 2 bio kids one of each) but were licensed for 6 total (state’s limit for our space). The first call we got was for part of a sibling group of 6, they needed 4 beds. I didn’t have the heart split them up, so we accepted them into our home and that was the start of our adventure. We were parents of little ones again.

This last year we completed our first adoption. Our son came as a very tiny and sick NICU baby that we brought home when he was 3 days old. I walked into his hospital room and the nurse looked at me and called me mom. That was weird and very unexpected. I asked to hold him and as I held him the nurse stood there and said: “Well mom he needs a name”. I looked at my husband and we knew this baby would be ours forever. How did I know this? I don’t know, it was just a God thing.

We have fostered for just over 2 years now and 29 beautiful babies have walked into our hearts. We have adopted 1 and this year will probably adopt 2 to 4 more. Why adopt them all? Because God commands us to take care of the orphans and this is our homeschool family’s adoption journey. We have been called to love these children. 

 

How did adoption change your homeschooling life?

We homeschooled our 2 biological kids. I graduated one at the age of 16 and she is now a senior at SHSU, at the age of 19. We have another in high school who still lives at home. Our homeschool day looks nothing like public school. We have 5 toddlers/babies right now who are all under age 3. My son gets an education that no curriculum could ever provide because of our home environment. I am a school teacher at heart and we did a lot of table learning when he was younger, but it is very different now.

I look forward to starting the homeschooling journey all over again with my littles because I learned so much when we homeschooled our older kids. Like the things I wish we could have done differently as well as things that were just perfect that I look forward to repeating.

My older kids will be better parents and more compassionate after being part of raising these littles. They have more life skills than any curriculum could teach. Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love. We know we can’t save the world, but we can make the world look a little better for at least one child as we love them.

I don’t sit and teach my son anymore, but mostly that is because he is in high school and his lessons are self-paced. I give the bones of what he needs to do to him and then he finds the time to get his schoolwork done. Sometimes getting his schoolwork done is very hard because of everything that goes on in our home with fostering and raising babies. We are on the go a lot so he does school in the car, sometimes while holding or feeding a baby, or while watching the babies play. I help him when he needs it but my son is very self-driven so that doesn’t happen often.

 

Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love.

 

What is the best part of adoption for you?

I can’t pick just one thing, so here are two:

1) Getting to enjoy my newly adopted son while he grows, laughs, learns, and is healthy. He is 17-months old, he is not sick anymore, he is absolutely spoiled, and I am beyond blessed that he calls me Mom.

2) Getting to watch my big ones love on these babies with Christ’s love.

 

What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is thinking about adoption?

If you are thinking about adoption then just do it. Don’t wait. The timing is never perfect in our eyes. You will never be financially stable enough, have enough room in your home, or any other excuse you can come up with. If we don’t step in and do our part, who will?

We adopted our son as an infant but we did that because God sent him to us as an infant. This year we hope to finalize an adoption for a sibling group of two girls ages 2 and 7. We will possibly adopt another sibling group of two special needs boys if they cannot return home.

All of our kiddos have some major trauma in their pasts which in itself causes a lot of special needs. My biological kids are Neurotypical so I am by no means qualified to parent a special needs child, but who is ever qualified to parent right out the door? You learn as you go, and you just figure it out.

Don’t be afraid of adopting because you are not sure you can handle a child’s needs. We are moms and dads and God has equipped us for whatever He calls us to do.

As my husband says, “Don’t think about the what if’s. Think about who, and how that ‘who’ needs you right now.”

 

 

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

I had the privilege this month of interviewing my parents, Joe and Margie Prenosil, who have been special needs adoptive parents for 30 years! I hope you enjoy the insight and wisdom they have to share from their many years of experience as they have loved and cared for my siblings.

 

How long have you been parents? How long have you been adoptive parents? Was it always your intention to adopt?

We have been parents for almost 50 years, and adoptive parents for 30 years. As far as our intention to adopt, after 4 years of providing foster care, it was something we started to consider. At that point in our foster care services, a baby came into our care who no one wanted to adopt because of the complications he had with severe cerebral palsy. We decided to adopt him and thus Nicholas became our first adopted child.

 

Because you have specifically adopted children with special needs, what challenges/obstacles did you face early on? And, what resources did you find the most helpful for navigating them?

Our challenges started with finding what resources were available to us from our county and state as well as various specialized clinics. The first thing we found helpful was to expand our foster care work to also include our county. This step greatly increased our learning curve regarding what resources and connections were available locally that were most beneficial for each obstacle that came our way. 

The first obstacle we had was learning all the medical information needed to treat and comfort the children we cared for. It was a medical education that took many years for us to feel like we knew what we were talking about regarding various medicines and adaptive equipment.

Our second obstacle was identifying where to acquire handicap equipment and transportation. The most useful resources we discovered while working with individuals who helped foster parents in our county.

One final obstacle, but one that benefited us the most in subsequent adoptions, was learning our state referral chain for requesting assistance. In our area, we were to go to our county Case Manager first before requesting services from the state Adoption Assistance Specialist.

 

What were some of the things you learned from parenting your biological children that helped parent your adopted children?

First was realizing there was a developmental difference between typical children and special needs children. Once the differences were identified, it was a matter of determining whether to seek advice or accept the condition and adapt from there. 

Daniel, our fourth biological child, had some special needs so parenting him provided a bit of a transition gateway for our adoptive special needs parenting skills. Daniel was dyslexic and hyperactive. Sometimes his difficulties were too much for others to handle. Because of his struggles, we often had friends and family ask whether we were going to bring him with us when we came to visit. Daniel took special needs classes in high school and Margie did most of his reading to accommodate his Dyslexia.

 

“…be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

 

What were some new parenting strategies you had to learn after adopting children with special needs?

When requesting services or equipment, we learned we needed to share the worst incident instead of the best-case scenario for that child. Also, we learned not to assume that we would always be available to provide the service or help and to also build in requests for helpers. 

We also learned to hire PCAs (Private Care Assistants) as teens who came from large families. In general, these youth were already trained through regular family life to care for their siblings, so all we had to do was additional care training that met our child’s specific needs.

Another strategy we learned was to fully understand what your school district does and doesn’t provide. Two of our children were able to receive in-home services from the school district because of the severity of their conditions.

 

How have you managed family life, church, school, extra-curricular activities, and respite time over the years? Do you have any advice for other adoptive families of children with special needs on how to best juggle these demands?

Family Life: We didn’t adopt children older than our birth children, thus we limited the competition. Our adoptive parenting years started as our birth children were starting college and lives outside our home. Full-time help came over a period of years. First, we hired a full-time PCA using a waiver and then eventually were able to add our youngest son on as hired help. When our son left for college, we were able to hire a full-time PCA that stayed with us for thirteen years. She helped to coordinate other PCAs, cover homecare when we needed to assist a child away from home, as well as respite time for us. She left after the deaths of two of our totally disabled children.

Since then we have relied upon young adults from 16-20 years to fill the gap. Plus after the decrease in PCAs and Margie heart attack, the county helped our ability to work with an agency to hire and maintain staff by reclassifying our home as a group foster home. We are the only one in the county. 

Our church and extra-curricular activities center around family members which extended to include PCA youth (16+) and their families. Through the church, stay connected to a larger community as well as develop relationships with families we know well and feel good about hiring to do care in our home. 

Because we had a full-time PCA/agency, we could coordinate yearly getaways for ourselves but for about three years when we were between agencies, we were unable to get any time away.

Advice to parents: It is impossible to duplicate what we have done to the letter. Stay flexible. We learned that we needed to change as our children’s needs changed and as well as determine what appropriate assistance was necessary for us to help each child with specific needs.

When starting this type of journey, a couple needs to assess whether their current family can accept and contribute towards bringing in a new family member. Second, they need to take into consideration this child’s care may be a lifelong commitment and both parents need to be committed to this child, not just one.

Next, you should assess what financial and community support is available to you if you adopt. Any financial support provided to care for a child should only fill the gaps for that child’s care and should not be seen as another source of income. When you put income before the care of a child you are not letting God do his work. First, seek the Kingdom of God, and then everything else will be provided. We found this to be very true. 

 

“…be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

 

If a family was interested in adopting a child with special needs, what advice would you want to share with them based on your 30+ years of being adoptive special needs parents?

First, you need to consider your motivation for adoption. If you have a perceived idea of what you want a child to become without understanding all the baggage this child has acquired and will continue to work through in your home, stop. You will be disappointed. Understand that first, the child will educate you by their behavior, life experiences, and what they want (which is not always appropriate). They will lead by showing you what triggers their actions, and you must observe before acting. You will probably need professional help in understanding the underneath behavior and be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

Children in the foster care system have learned to defend themselves when everyone else in their lives has failed them. You must be willing to struggle with them as well as be their spokesperson because they may not have the words to describe what they are feeling. If they are in trauma, they may take a long time to change, if ever. Also, be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

After considering the above questions we then suggest you again consider why you would want to adopt. Here are two reasons we have found provided a stable foundation for us as we have adopted. First, a real desire to be faithful to the child we are adopting no matter what. We may not change the child we adopt. Ultimately God is in charge of change and we must be willing to let God take the lead in this area or be okay if change is not in His plan. Second, we must be able to accept our failures, limitations, and frustrations. Every day we review our day with God and choose to be happy with what the day afforded us. We ask God for guidance, change what we can, and then we are joyful about the journey and the amazing people He has allowed us to share our lives with.

 

 

 

 

 


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SPED Homeschool Team

 

Organization goes far beyond making sure everything is in its place, especially for homeschooling families who live, eat, learn, and play under the same roof every day. And, who would know better than experienced homeschooling moms who live this way 24/7? This is why we asked our team of experienced homeschooling moms to share their best homeschool organization tips that work while juggling teaching, housekeeping, and everything else going on in their lives.

 

Amy Vickrey

Making time for my spiritual life with my children has been a priority.  I am working to teach them that they have a choice regarding love, joy and their relationship with God.  To prioritize this goal, we started reading a daily devotional each night. This simple addition to our schedule has helped me remember to spend time engaging my children in God’s word and sharing time praying.  We have also added hymn singing after our devotional time. It is so sweet to hear my 3-year-old join in singing “How Great Thou Art” and “It is Well.” These precious memories will carry them and me far into the future because of this simple change I made in their bedtime routine.

For schoolwork, my oldest does his best when he can see his workload from beginning to end.  We used checklists, a clipboard, and other techniques to help him see his schedule visually. Because he can see his schedule and can to do tasks at his own pace and take breaks when needed.  In the end, he knows there is no TV time until he finishes so this acts as his reward for finishing all the tasks on his list. We also make sure to target our school time for the time of day when my son’s learning peaks.  This targeted learning time has greatly reduced daily schoolwork battles. One additional thing that helps us with school work is that I have built a therapy team with people other than myself who provide therapy sessions and work on educational (or pre-educational) goals with my children.  I let them take care of those specific skills so I can concentrate on other skills at home.

For meals, I find writing out a basic menu for each day on a calendar works best for me.  This way I will not repeat the same 3 meals my kids prefer more than I can stand, and it also allows me to plan ahead of time for expanding their palettes. This simple calendar planning also expedites the time it takes to put together my shopping lists and actual grocery shopping.

In general, balancing homeschool, work and school has been a challenge.  As a single parent, I am blessed to have a supportive family, but the majority of the responsibility still falls on my shoulders. I have found I have to stick to my schedule, make use of downtime, and not overcommit, especially on weeks bigger projects or assignments are due. 

 

Ashly Barta

I have found homeschool organization success in keeping each child’s work separate.  I use a binder for all wipe-clean pages and checklists. We use daily checklists and reverse planning to ensure we accomplish everything on our list each day.  I found that with reverse planning I have less pressure to complete all the things in a rush, we can dive deeper into the subject matter or take time for extra practice if needed.  My son has epilepsy so it allows us to take breaks when needed and I have learned to love the rest time just as much as the work time. Along with the binders we also utilize workboxes (Latchmate totes found at  Micheals) and a morning basket.  The Latchmate boxes house the main curriculum along with flashcards, pencils and whatever else my children need to complete their work.  On the other hand, the morning basket holds coloring books, a Bible, read-aloud books, and other similar materials.

 

It is amazing how implementing a few simple organizational tips can help homeschooling and a busy home life stay on track!

 

Dawn Spence

Something simple that helps me in staying organized is meal planning. My kids even help when they know what is on the menu by reminding me what meat I need to take out of the freezer so it is thawed properly. Meal planning also helps keep me keep to a budget and be thoughtful about creating healthy meals for my family. Sometimes I plan for one week, but if I am on a roll I plan two weeks out. Having a meal plan also allows me to order my groceries ahead of time, which is another big time saver. It is amazing how implementing a few simple organizational tips can help homeschooling and a busy home life stay on track!

 

Peggy Ployhar

One way I have been successful in organizing my children’s homeschooling materials is by giving them a dedicated place for their things and a yearly planning calendar.  As you can imagine over the past 17 years of homeschooling in 4 different houses as well as 2 separate times of living in our travel trailer while homeschooling, this organizational method has been thoroughly tested. My children’s spaces have ranged from tubs, shelves, drawers, and cupboards but they have always been a unique space that is just theirs to store books, projects, and the other things they use regularly for school. As for planners, I have tried many over the years, but eventually realized what worked best for us were the cheap student planners you can find at just about any store at the beginning of the school year. Each year I buy one planner for each child, making sure the cover, as well as the layout, work well for recording everything in that student’s schedule.  Then I write in lessons, a week at a time in pencil, in each planner. When my children were young, I helped them with organizing their spaces and planners, but as they moved into their junior high and high school years they took over managing almost everything, sometimes even their own weekly lesson plans!

 

Whether it is organizing your schooling materials, your homeschool spaces, your student’s schedules, or even your meals we hope our team’s homeschooling organization tips have inspired you to make one or two small changes towards being more organized in your homeschool and homeschooling family life.

 

 

 

 

 


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Cammie Arn

Looking back I realize that finishing a homeschool day well has changed for me over the years. When my children were little, I felt accomplished if that day I had a plan for dinner, everyone got dressed, and we read at least one book. Now after 20 years of homeschooling, I find my day finishes well when dinner is planned before breakfast, the children have completed their day’s assignments without complaining, I’ve spent my quiet time with God, and my family did something fun together. Below are some of the things I have learned these past 20 years in striving towards my goal to finish each homeschool day well.

 

Simple Planning to Finish Each Homeschool Day Well

Planning is essential to finish each homeschool day well, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate or complicated. For instance, I have a small bulletin board in our school area where I post the syllabi’ for the school year. This way everyone knows what needs to be done each week. I also post my menu and chore assignments where everyone can see them. Once these items are posted, “it’s the law”. We also make it a point to focus on school first. After breakfast until lunch school work is the priority . I’ve also trained my children that school and house responsibilities are to be completed before any free time activities are permitted.

 

Bigger Picture Focus to Finish Each Homeschool Day Well

Staying on track and being mindful of bigger homeschooling goals can also be simplified. When my oldest began high school I created a 4-year high school scope and sequence. Since then, each summer and Christmas break I re-evaluate this plan to ensure my children are making adequate progress or if  extra time or help is needed to reach a goal. Another planning element added to our at-home study lesson plans are yearly classes our children take at a local co-op. Each summer I incorporate each co-op classes syllabi into my children’s yearly goals. 

 

One additional tip I have learned for tracking textbook lessons is to copy the table of contents from the book and assign specific due dates for each chapter. Then I laminate the table of contents page and use it as a bookmark for the textbook. This way my children know throughout the year what date a specific reading assignment is due.

 

In the end, material things don’t matter but people do. Making sure I spend time with the people I love is the best way to finish each homeschool day well.”

 

Crushing Difficult Tasks to Finish Each Homeschool Day Well

In order to not procrastinate on difficult tasks, I try to do the most unpleasant things in my day first thing in the morning. This way these items are done and I have the freedom of mind to move on to whatever else the day holds. But, on the days when I just can’t get to these more difficult tasks, I assign them to someone else.  Just kidding. They wait until the next day or time they can be dealt with, unless I can find someone who is able or willing to help.

 

Looking Back and Ahead to Finish Each Homeschool Day Well

When I look back I realize what matters most are the people in my life and the relationships we share. The question I ask myself at the end of each day is, “Have I met every need I could as best I could today?”  Looking back to what matters most today and into the future to what will matter most in the years to come provides the best framework for where it matters most to spend time each and every day. In the end, material things don’t matter but people do. Making sure I spend time with the people I love is the best way to finish each homeschool day well.

 

 

 

 

 


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