And the winner is….

Several months ago, Micah started writing an essay for a contest hosted by the American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program.  He doesn’t think that writing is his strong suit (he’d rather do math or science any day!), but he worked hard on the essay, spending 15-20 minutes or more on it each school day for a couple months.

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His hard work paid off, and his essay was chosen as the First Place winner in his age category!  Here are some excerpts from the email correspondence we received from the director:

Congratulations! I am pleased and honored to inform you that, after reading over 600 essays in both categories, we have awarded your exceptional essay entitled “My Brother, Matthew” with first place in Category 1 of our 2017 pro-life essay contest!

…Micah, thank you for your enthusiasm and passion for protecting the least of these in our society! We are all very proud of your dedication to life and pray that God continues to bless you as you stand for His precious children, giving you courage, strength, and joy as you influence your generation to stand for life!

 And later, she wrote:

We were all so touched by Micah’s essay. Not only was it very well written, but he really has a great understanding of Christ’s teaching about the least of these. There were so many wonderful essays but his really stood out for many reasons. 

Thank you for all you and your family do to promote the Gospel of Life!

The very first thing Micah wanted to do with his prize money was to buy a gift for Matthew.  After that, he plans to give to the Church, buy a lego set for himself, then save the rest for college.  We are so very proud of him, his achievements, and the incredible young man he is becoming.

To read his prize-winning essay, visit:  www.prolifeessay.com

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On Homeschooling

Recently, someone questioned our decision to keep Matthew home instead of enrolling him in the public school system.  I know that, to an outsider, it might seem like we are not doing all we can for our little guy by not taking advantage of the programs and therapies that are offered by the schools.

So, I thought I would take a moment to explain why we do what we do.

Our venture into the homeschooling world started with Micah.  As I explain why we decided to educate him at home, I’m going to brag about him a little bit.  (If you don’t want to hear it, feel free to scroll down a few paragraphs.)  Keep in mind there are many, many different reasons we choose to homeschool – I’m just going to touch on some of the big ones in this post.

At the Vawter academy, we can pray in school, we can talk about God, and we can incorporate our faith into all of our studies.  For example, Micah’s language arts book is called “Language of God,” and gently incorporates faith and values into each lesson.  Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite lessons:

In all that I think and say and do, God comes first.  Others are next, and I am last.  That is the proper order in writing, too.

YES: John and I are going to play ball.

NO: I and John are going to play ball.

His handwriting lessons have him write out Bible verses instead of meaningless sentences, and his science books teach about God’s creation.

We tell Micah that God has given us each different gifts, none of which are necessarily better/worse than others, but we all need to find out how God wants us to use the gifts He gives us to serve Him and do His work here on Earth.  Micah knows that one of his gifts is his ability to learn, but we honestly try to not let him know just how amazing he is.  He learns things very quickly, remembers them well, and begs for more.  When Micah was only 18 months old, he was pointing at and correctly identifying every letter of the alphabet.  This wasn’t because we pushed him, but because he was constantly pointing at things saying, “What’s dat?”

At the beginning of this school year, I ordered curriculum that was to last us through first grade.  However, he finished his (2nd grade) Science book in December, and I had to order the 3rd-grade book.  He only has one chapter left in his Spanish book, one story left in his History book, and just a few pages left in Language Arts.  We’re about a quarter of the way through his 2nd-grade Math book.  He started reading at a very young age, and reads everything he can get his hands on.  He recently read “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis in 1 day, then proceeded to read the entire series within a month.  When we had him tested last year (Kindergarten), he scored in the 99th percentile in every subject, and landed at a 5th-grade reading level.

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So, we decided to keep homeschooling him.  1: it’s working. 2: we both enjoy it.  3: we only spend a few hours a day on formal schooling, and he has the rest of the day to enjoy being a kid.  4: We can teach him things we want him to know, and shield him from things we don’t want him to learn just yet.  5:  I can (barely) stay ahead of him, keeping him interested and challenged.  6:  I like having him around, and so do his younger siblings.

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And then, there’s Matthew.  Yes, Matthew is different – he has Down syndrome.  So, our decisions to educate him at home are a little different, too.

First of all, we did try some of the services offered by the school system.  They were good services, and we have nothing bad to say about most of the teachers and therapists that worked with him – it just didn’t work for Matthew. (See my post: “Speech Therapy Drop-Out“)

Matthew is five now, and would ordinarily be starting Kindergarten in the fall.  He can identify and say (and sign!) all of his colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, white, brown, and silver.  He knows the shapes: circle, square, rectangle, triangle, star, heart, crescent, and diamond.  He knows all of his letters, capital and lower-case, and can tell you the sound each letter makes.  He can read 30 sight-words, and reads them in 7-10 word sentences when we put them together.  He can count to ten every time, and identify the written numbers.  He’s working on counting to twenty, but often gets lost in the teens.  Not too bad for pre-K, especially when you consider that he does have significant expressive language delays, so this is just the information that he can tell me that he knows.  There is probably a lot more that he knows, but just can’t express yet.

He is hard to capture on video – especially trying to juggle his word cards, the camera, and an active 9-month-old, so sometimes the first word of a sentence is cut off.

Because we feel that Matthew is thriving in his current learning environment, we see no reason to drastically change it by sending him to school in the fall.  We visited the school and the classroom where he would be placed, and we felt that it was not ideal for Matthew.  We live in a small community, and like all schools, ours are doing their best with limited resources.  Matthew would be the only child with Down syndrome in his class, surrounded by children with autism and behavior disorders.  The classroom and curriculum are geared toward these students, because they have to be.  It’s a great place for these students, but it’s just not the right place for Matthew.

Please understand that our decision to homeschool our children is in no way meant to insult any schools or teachers.  Aaron and I both have many friends and relatives who are teachers, and we appreciate the work they do.  We value their support, help, and insight as we discuss ideas and learning strategies.  Trust me, there is nothing like trying to run a “classroom” with four young children to make you appreciate what it must take to run a classroom with 30!

And, we do have difficult days.  I think all moms and all teachers do!  Most of the time, Micah does his morning work fairly independently, then we work on Spanish, math, and science after lunch when some of the younger ones are resting.  However, there are days when things don’t run that smoothly.  There are times one of us is tired, grumpy, or just doesn’t feel like working.  There are times we both get frustrated, times I lose my patience and yell at the kids … then feel terrible about it later.  There are times I am too distracted by laundry or dishes, and I’m not the best teacher.  There are times the little ones are too distracting to let Micah focus, and there are times Matthew flat-out refuses to obey or do anything I ask him to do!  In fact, we watch for little windows of Matthew’s most agreeable mood to work on academics, because if he doesn’t want to do it, it is NOT going to happen!

But, overall, we feel that our home environment is the best place for Micah and Matthew to learn.  If that changes over time, we will too.  We are simply trying to give each of our children what is in their best interest, at each step along the way.

Homeschooling Moments With Micah

“Mom, I changed my mind.  I don’t want to be a paleontologist when I grow up.  I want to be a genius instead.”

“… Mom?  What’s a genius?”

. . .

“Mom! [insert random factoid here]  People who are 50-percent un-smarter than me might not know that!”

. . .

Synonym game:  I say a word, Micah says a synonym:

  • Small.  “Little.”
  • Up. “High.”
  • Cool. “Cold.”
  • Pretty. “Nice.”

We are in SO much trouble.

Homeschooling Moments with Micah

(Yes, sometimes I think we could have our own talk show with this title!)

At the end of a big day:

Daddy: “What did you learn about today, Micah.”

Micah: “The Ten Commandments.”

Daddy:  “That’s great!  Can you tell me any of them?  What are the commandments?”

Micah:  “Well … like don’t steal stuff …, and don’t commit your neighbor’s stuff.”

Daddy:  “Was there any about your parents? … your mother and father?”

Micah: “Yeah.  There was something about adultery.”

1st day of Kindergarten

First day of Kindergarten

Micah started Kindergarten today, and loved it.  I know – it’s Labor Day – but I wanted our “first day of school” to be a day that Daddy was home to help run interference with our younger two.

I could write pages and pages about our decision to homeschool, but I think the following video will answer a lot of those questions.  We had to homeschool this kid!

When we were done for the day, Micah begged for more.  He’s so eager to learn, fun to teach, and will charm your socks off.  As part of an assignment today (working on rules of capitalization,) he was asked to write a sentence that describes someone in our family.  This is what he wrote:  “The pretty girl is Mommy.

I love you, my Kindergartener!  I’m so excited to be your teacher.

Baby Jacob

Baby Jacob

This sweet baby boy is Jacob.  (His mommy’s sister was a good friend of mine in high school!)  Jacob is having surgery to fix his heart early Monday morning.  Please pray for him, his family, and his doctors.  His surgery will be very similar to Matthew’s, and will even take place at the same medical center!

Like most of us, Jacob’s parents started their journey with him feeling pretty alone.  His mom, Susan, told me she was surprised to learn just how small the Down syndrome community is.  Here in Eastern Washington, there just isn’t much.  If it weren’t for you, my readers and on-line support group, I don’t know what I’d do!

Susan has also started a blog, The Ups and Downs of the Allred Family. They have already discovered that their lives have been forever changed, for the good.  In her last post, Susan writes:

“…What is it about this little child that draws me to him?  How can it be that after only a few short weeks I cannot imagine (or remember) my life without him? This one little soul, who has not spoken one word to me, hasn’t taken a single step, or even kissed my cheek had managed to utterly complete me…”

Please stop by their blog to check on baby Jacob.  Offer your support and encouragement.  Pray for them, and let them know that they are in your prayers.  I know that their whole family appreciates it.

. . .

Quick update on our family:

It has been quite a week.  All 3 boys are sick with a nasty cold, and as usual, Matthew was hit the hardest.  Last night, we were close to taking him in to the hospital because his fever was high in spite of Tylenol and Ibuprofen, his breathing was labored, and he just looked about as miserable as can be.  Aaron patiently held him in the recliner most of the night, and as he relaxed and slept, his breathing was more comfortable.  He was a little better today – taking fluids, eating a little, and even treating us to some smiles.  We’re hoping and praying for a restful night for all of us.  Thanks to good neighbors and my wonderful parents for helping to take care of us.

On top of it all, Wednesday morning held an emergency-room adventure for Micah and I.  “Superman” here was twirling in the living room when he fell into an end-table.  His bottom teeth sliced all the way through his lip.  Thankfully, no stitches were required – the doctors were able to use “super-glue” to patch up our little superhero.