Thursday, November 01, 2018

Homeschool Kindergarten Goals

Kindergarten is optional.
Please repeat many times before proceeding.

Kindergarten can be a fun and useful foundation to future education. Please repeat many times before proceeding.

Okay, now that we've prefaced with that. . . 

I am not the world's expert on kindergarten. I'm kindergarten-ing my third child right now, but I'm not nearly the most experienced or wise person I know on the issue. And I know my children; I don't know yours.

But my goals are much broader than what my children have done and who they are as children and students, and I think many of these ideas don't just apply to my children, but could work for most children.

My children have finished phonics at different ages. They have adapted to the pencil grasp and basics like coloring in the lines at vastly different ages. They moved from kindergarten to 1st grade math at different times. But the principles below still apply to all three, and I think they will easily apply to my fourth child, because these goals are more about principles. The specifics are suggestion, to be tweaked as needed.

Another caveat: not all moms need to love all the same things. We are individuals with gifts, inclinations, and different passions. I happen to be a mom who REALLY loves the kindergarten age.

Since I am nothing if not verbose, I try to break up paragraphs and label sections clearly, to ease the eyes and allow you to read as desired, instead of get lost in a 10,000-word forest of my ramblings :-D.Sorry that I do nothing by halves :-P.

And for your benefit, here's the

Table of Contents
All the Prefaces
Table of Contents
Reading Philosophy
The Language Foundation
Specifics of Phonics
Handwriting Philosophy
Specifics of Handwriting
Math Philosophy
Specifics of Math
Science Philosophy
Specifics of Science
Spiritual Training, Habits, and Chores
Extras in the Kindergarten Years
Why Kindergarten Looks Different for a First Child (and why that's okay)
About Changing Your Plans
The Trickle-Down Effect
If You Have a Gifted Child
A Weird Way to End a Post on Kindergarten Goals

Reading Philosophy for Kindergarten

My number one academic goal for a child of kindergarten age is to light a fire of loving books. I did NOT say to love independently reading by mastering phonics, or even necessarily starting phonics in the kindergarten age. I said to love books. Those are different things. A child loving books and loving to read with others will take him far in life. Learning to read super-early has been proven over and over in many studies to take him absolutely nowhere extra, on average.

If a child is ready to read in kindergarten or before, go for it! Just make sure HE's ready to read, not that you're ready for him to read. ;-) Don't do it for bragging rights! One of the very best things for my relationship with my first child at age 4 was to teach him to read! But it doesn't mean every child will benefit from it, nor is that a general goal for all of my children.

So my reading philosophy for kindergarten and before is to love books together. Foster a love of books by reading together a LOT. This doesn't mean that you should feel guilty if your newborn is colicky and you can't sit for long periods and read, and read, and read with your kindergartener. But treasure it, protect that time, make room for it over worksheets or formal phonics. It will take a child far.

For my third child, Martin, he has been eager to be "big" and learn to read himself, so we do a bit of phonics 2-5 times a week, but I read to him a good deal more. I try to keep a constant influx of fun books in the house, to "light his fire" of reading love. These books include any that trusted friends recommend, random suggestions I see online, beloved family favorites, seasonal-specific options, options specific to his interests (ocean-anything is his major obsession!), and suggestions from a few blogs I follow.

I am a dedicated user of our online library catalog, for library reserves. I read education posts in one tab with my library catalog up in another tab, and I will reserve any and all suggestions that look remotely interesting. I will NOT browse through our library willy-nilly in person, especially with my dear children in tow, as it usually yields a pile of library books that are mostly drivel. :-P

Find blogs and forums you love and trust, to give you awesome ideas for read-alouds. I love Read-Aloud Revival for a great start on book ideas, but there are so many great additional options. I like to suggest people start at Read-Aloud Revival, because Sarah MacKenzie is so much more than booklists; she is all about the relationship that comes with reading with her kids. I also freely drown people in book recommendations, when asked. :-D Just make sure to put on a raincoat!

The Language Foundation 

The REASON reading is so important is because reading is one of the best ways to gather language, learn new language (not just foreign languages, but your own, as your vocabulary and usage increases), and to gain new knowledge. Reading truly is the key to academic education.

But in order for reading to be deeply beneficial, your child has to have a good grasp of language in the first place! In the next section I'll talk about the signs I looked for that my young kids were "phonics-ready," but a pre-skill they had before that was fluent language. That had to precede "phonics skills" like letter sound awareness.

The English language is about 85% phonetical. The remaining 15% of words aren't as straight forward - mainly sight words or more complex words that are partly phonetical, exceptions to general rules, etc. Learning to read is often and well-described as "decoding," because what a child really is doing when they learn to read is taking the language that is already in their brain and learning what it looks like on paper. For each of my children, it's been interesting to see that they really are pulling from their knowledge of their primary language as they decode words, and their guesses and revisions of what they're trying to read are referencing the English they already know. (This is also why I think asking a child to decode nonsense, nonexistent words as a phonics exercise is not a great idea, as a general practice!)

So, for a child who is delayed in language because of a communication disorder, autism, hearing loss or deafness, emotional trauma, or language deprivation, or any other reason, focusing on LANGUAGE well before any kind of phonics (even decoding 3-letter words) is so much more important.

My youngest child is deaf, and we have used a combination of sign and speech with her. She is rapidly catching up to her hearing peers with speech and language (via cochlear implants), but I don't anticipate that her English will be as ridiculously-advanced or complex at age 4 or 5 as my other children. I don't anticipate her being an early reader, but I anticipate her being a good reader after she has a solid language foundation and she's ready for phonics. This might be at age 5 or 6, but it might be later. I'm quite willing to focus on language through daily life and conversation, progressing in sign language myself, and through me reading TO her, even if that means she doesn't read early or "on-time." I refuse to press a skill (reading independently) that needs a base of fluent language, until I feel that base is fully in place. You don't start building a house until the foundation is solid!

Specifics of Phonics in Kindergarten
(and preschool and 1st grade+, as needed)

What I've done for each of my kids is to start by playing with letters. Sometime in the preschool years. These can be letter magnets, shapes, cards, tiles, whatever. With my oldest, we lived in an apartment complex with a ton of cars parked right outside our townhouse, so we studied license plates and pointed out letters and numbers a lot that way. As my kids become interested in the names of the letters, I foster that interest.

After they have the letters down, start mentioning that the letters make sounds. If they enjoy parroting back the sounds to you (in speech or song, in much the same way they might parrot back animal sounds), gently encourage that, but if they're uninterested, try again several weeks or months later. Don't overwhelm with too many new sounds or letters in a single, short sitting with them (preferably on the floor).

At that point, with each of my 3 older children, I left it at that until they started noticing on their own that the letter sounds they'd been taught appear at the beginning of spoken words. A conversation with a 4yo might happen like this:

Martin: "M-Martin. My name starts with the 'M' sound!"
Me: "That's right! Your name starts with an 'M'." (I might also write out his name to show him.)
A few days after, or later that day. . .
Martin (randomly, while listening to me read a book about bears): "B-bear. B! The bear starts with the "B" sound!"

This has been a reliable indicator with my oldest three that their sound awareness has taken root a bit, and that they were interested in the relationship between sounds and words. It happened with their initiative each time, though you could certainly point it out yourself. This is the point that I have started an actual phonics program for each.

It has NOT meant the same thing for each child, nor has it happened at the same age for each child.

For my oldest, it meant that he sped through phonics in 5 months at the age of 4 years, and he hasn't slowed down reading since. For my second it meant starting phonics SLOWLY at age 4 (after she'd begged me for months), and taking a full year to complete. She was eager, but needed more time than her brother, and I purposely didn't rush. For my third, it meant starting phonics slowly at age 5, after much begging and obvious initial interest in reading. It meant going very slowly the first few months, as his interest was greater than true natural inclination. And in the last month or two (he is almost 5 1/2), it's meant that suddenly, he's really getting this reading concept and doing fabulous, even though at our rate, I still think it will be a full year at least of slowly doing phonics before he's "done."

For some children it might mean waiting until age 6 to start phonics, or beyond, or it might mean a different and more specialized approach to reading, if they have additional educational concerns. Reading does not come easily to all people, but for many children, it's just a matter of time.

Having an independent reader is never one of my goals for kindergarten. But if it happens naturally, that's okay. In fact, it's really handy! I just don't expect or stress over it.

We have used Hooked on Phonics, and loved it. There are other good options out there. All About Reading is kind of hard to beat, from everything I've heard from friends, read in reviews. . . plus I've loved their spelling curriculum (to start later! - not in Kindy!)

Handwriting Philosophy for Kindergarten

It is okay if your child doesn't form letters well as a five-year-old. Yes, really.

I have a child who figured out the pencil grasp at 18 months and was forming nice letters (that she taught herself) at around age 3-4.

I also have a child who didn't color in the lines of pictures until age 7, and until this point found any small amount of handwriting to be absolute torture.

Boys often do NOT have fabulous fine-motor skills. I'm very afraid that our expectations of handwriting (and other fine-motor skills) for kindergarten are based on the average girl, not the average 5yo. (That's just my private opinion, which I just posted on Blogger.) Don't get me wrong: some boys DO have great fine-motor skills at age 5, and some girls do NOT. I get that there is a wide variance.

Handwriting is honestly one of two areas that I would definitely do differently, could I have a "re-do" with my first child. (The other area would be to focus more on self-control; I did focus on self-control a LOT, but not in the same way I would now, given a healthy dose of perspective, re-training of myself first, and an understanding of 2e children.)

Specifics of Handwriting in Kindergarten 

There are many ways to "play" with letter formation besides pencil and paper. Since realizing this, I haven't had a child who DIDN'T like pencil and paper, but if I had another child like my first, I would do things like salt tray writing, wikki sticks, etc. first. I would buy big pencils, or other alternate writing instruments like big crayons or triangle-shaped pencils.

I would relax more.

Even with my first, we didn't do a lot. A few times a week, he traced a line of letters (all the same - so maybe five "big A's"), and then I required him to try to form one of the same letter on his own. Now, honestly, I wouldn't require the independent formation, if he wasn't inclined. I don't see this as necessary for a 5yo anymore, but I would encourage interest and skill that did exist, and have for my other two.

Other great tools that are pre-handwriting, that I used with some or all of my kids: Mazes! These are fabulous fun for pencil control! Dot-to-dot! Coloring!

Once a child has good pencil control and has practiced the basics of each letter formation, I would suggest doing one of the following (and a child might be ready for this in kindergarten, or might be ready later or earlier):

(1) If a child is still learning to read, copy out 1-3 sentences from his phonics lesson onto primary ruled paper, and let him copy them below your copy. My third child is loving this!

(2) If your child has mastered phonics BEFORE getting past basic letter formation, then move on to a basic copywork or penmanship book. I love Rod and Staff penmanship, which I used for my first two children. (I used option (1) above for my third child, so we have not used Rod and Staff yet.)

Math Philosophy for Kindergarten

You do not need a math textbook in kindergarten.

BUT, I use one. So there.

I really really love Singapore Essential Math K (books A and B), which is not to be confused with their more involved "Early Bird" program for K. I use the texts as a springboard and as a general guide for topics to cover. They have fun pictures that illustrate the concepts.They are super low-key.

But I do not consider our text to be the "main thing." We don't even write in the workbooks! That's how much we use them as guides, not as exhaustive worksheets. Remember what I said about my oldest child not being "comfortable" with handwriting until age 7? Well, one thing I don't regret is allowing him to do the vast majority of his math until age 7ish (far beyond his kindergarten book!) orally or with manipulatives.

We use a lot of manipulatives in the kindergarten age. We learn numbers in the same way we learn letters, and we learn to write numbers in the same way we learn handwriting.

And we talk math. We talk about math in every day life, we count objects, we "take away" objects (which is far more fun than adding them, though we do that too). We skip count, or count forwards, or backwards while playing hide-and-seek. We measure things. We ask "how many more" of something we need to make 5 total, or 10 total. If I have 8 cookies, and my four children are splitting them evenly, how many does each child get? Take 10 blocks (tell your child how many you start with), and hide some of them under a bowl, then ask your child how many are under the bowl, given how many are still showing on the table.

Specifics of Math in Kindergarten

 Buy a set of Unifix cubes. Do it. We use them all. the. time. For kindergarten and far beyond. I also really like a good base-ten set, as it's easier when we get up past 100.

Use dice (all kinds!) to roll two numbers to add together. (Or subtract!) Buy a clock with gears, that you can use for years to come, as you learn time. A child doesn't need to start time in kindergarten, but understanding the hours is a good base, and you will use it for the future.

Find a basic kindergarten curriculum that isn't too involved, isn't too worksheet-y. Or if you're braver than me, don't! Find a basic list of kindergarten math facts, and fly with it! (There are children who love to do endless worksheets, and I've had one of them, but most children will NOT bloom with a really involved curriculum that requires 36 weeks of lessons for kindergarten.)

Then whatever curriculum you choose, use it as YOUR guide more than your child's guide. Your child honestly doesn't ever need to see the book. It's okay if he does. It's okay if he writes in it! But it is your tool, not your master. You can use it as a reference, to see that "okay, we could now work together on comparing groups of things, and discussing 'more' and 'less' in sets." "Ah, now that we've done adding and subtracting in 10's, we can expand that to doing the same, within 40." "Oh, skip counting is a kindergarten topic! We can do that next!

As you do things like adding and subtracting, make up stories with your kids. All my kids have loved this, but for my oldest, it was THE hook that made him fly through math.

Scenario: I hand him 5 brown unifix cubes and tell him he has 5 kittens. Then I show him 3 red unifix cubes and tell him I have 3 kittens. "If I give you my 3 kittens, how many do you have now?"

We repeated this over and over and over and over, altering the numbers, doing addition and subtraction, doubling with small numbers, etc. We also used poker chips, as those are another nice manipulative for this age. You do not need ALL THE MANIPULATIVES, but it's nice to have a few kinds, for variation.

Science Philosophy for Kindergarten

Go outside. A lot. Teach your child the glory of God's creation by admiring His handiwork.

Specifics of Science in Kindergarten

(All optional! Science is totally optional!)

If you want some really fun science books that introduce nature and science topics in a gentle and fun way to children, I have never read anything by Dianna Hutts Aston or Gail Gibbons that I haven't loved :-). They have written so many wonderful titles each! I also love the many, many insect books that Eric Carle has. The Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature is a fun and engaging volume of lots of science and nature topics. I don't particularly care for the way the father is portrayed, but when gently addressed, I feel it is still worth a read. :-) We wore out our first copy, and are now on our second now-tattered copy.

We actually read science books heavily in the kindergarten years, because we have very curious children when it comes to the natural world! We also do very few experiments because that's not Mommy's jam. (We do some, just not many!)

Spiritual Training, Habits, and Chore Goals

This is really the meat of the younger years! I probably should have put this first, for this very reason, but I am really trying to address academics in this post, more so than "everything else," and it seemed to fit better with all my "other topics" after the basic subjects that are actually academic. But I feel like these are so much more than "everything else."

If you work on discipling your small kindergartener, showing him grace and Christ, modeling worship for him day in and day out, and help him begin to hide God's Word in his heart, you have done more for him than if he has mastered phonics, loves to be read to (yes, even that!), and has started memorizing his multiplication tables.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 

We do family devotions after supper most nights of the week, which consists of part or all of a chapter of the Bible (We read consecutively through the Bible, and when we finish, we start again!), with appropriate explanations, followed by a prayer or song. Short and sweet, but nourishes the soul over many days and weeks and years. We also catechize starting around age 4.

With all my school age children (not just kindergarten), I do a variety of spiritual training. Sometimes in school we are more consistent than other times. Sometimes we focus on scripture memory, then we might focus on a devotional book to read at the beginning of our school day. I love the scripture series memory cards that correspond to CMI's Bible and catechism Sunday school curriculum. And we have enjoyed the audio of The Jesus Storybook Bible numerous times. Right now we are reading through Leading Little Ones to God, which is a lovely devotional that is Biblically-sound and a good level for preschool up through all of elementary.

Habits of courtesy, manners, and cleanliness set a child up for life. This is NOT my strong point! It is what I strive for, but remembering the importance of focusing on these is not my natural bent! I have grown a lot in this area as a parent, and I have so far to go! Having neuro-typical children currently in the "little years" has made this a much easier thing, but the "easier now" has also come with a change in my focus, expectations, and attitude.

And chores! No, I don't think a 5yo needs to have a long list of chores to complete every day. But a 5yo can be helpful and can do it cheerfully. What small regular jobs around your home can you train your 5yo to do and do well? You would be surprised at how well this skill of doing a job cheerfully and thoroughly can transfer later into the classroom, not to mention all of life.

My 5yo is in charge of unloading the dishwasher, in helping with daily and weekly pick-ups of the house, and can help with some very basic kitchen things like peeling carrots and stirring oatmeal. He can bring library books or smaller bags of groceries in from errand trips. He puts away his laundry with a bit of help. He is one of my most enthusiastic dusters (when we actually get around to it!). Just a few small things that are well within his abilities and are good both to train him to be useful and to make him feel useful.

(If you do find the magic pill for getting all children to do all chores at all times, without complaining, please let me know!)

Honestly, this section deserves more, but as this is something I feel that I am still growing and learning in at a much more rapid rate than the other areas, I'd rather let other writers speak on the topic :-).

What are "extras" for the kindergarten years? 

Crafts. Crafts are extra.

I am a semi-crafty lady, but I do not consider myself to be a crafty mom. If my 8yo was my only child, we would do crafts all day, every day. Every history unit would be one big craft fest. We would celebrate every holiday by making oodles of handmade decorations.

But with four children, not all of whom like CraftsMoreCrafts, and one of whom is a very precocious 2yo, I find the more I focus on the activities/worksheets/crafts accompanying school, the less reading we do. And we all really love reading! The more "enrichment" crafts we do, the less time we spend outside. And I'd rather them run around in the leaves and swing for an hour than put together a lapbook about autumn that required way more effort for me than for them. For the average child, they will learn more by getting dirty or by being read to. This does not mean crafts or lapbooks are bad, but that they are not essential and that for many children or families, too many can and will detract from the "better."

If you like crafts, have the time, have a child inclined to it, go for it! Crafts can be wonderful memory-builders and can help with fine-motor skills. But don't guilt yourself if you don't do "enough" of them, and don't be frustrated if your 5yo isn't as enthusiastic about that perfect craft project as you are. (I had one of those children!)

Classes outside the home. Definitely extra.

Do you know your child does not need to know how to "do school" in a classroom environment at the age of 5? Really! Yes, learning to sit still, being polite in turn taking, and respecting teacher authority can be enhanced in the classroom setting. But our forefathers did a much better job instilling these traits in their progeny with a lot less class time and a much more "delayed" approach to formal education. So please don't call classes a necessary or even the best way to foster these :-). Family devotions and daily family life can accomplish the same goals.

"Wrong" at this age? No! But not required, and often not even useful!

Apps, or other electronic means of "education." 

No, I'm not going to call you a bad parent if your child uses an iPad. Or watches TV shows. Each of my kids has enjoyed a limited use of the free version of Starfall for fun letter play, at age 4 or 5ish. We love Octonauts, and my kids have actually learned a lot from the show. They've also watched a fair bit of Wild Kratts and a few other "educational" options over the years. I also find, though, that the less screen time my kids get (even the educational kind), the better they attend to family life, participate in chores without complaint, play outside eagerly, and the more they don't ask for MORE screen time. (This is especially true of one of my children.) Screen time for a young kid isn't evil, but it's rarely the best option.

As parents, we cannot be all things to all people at all times. We have limited time, limited emotional energy, and limited hands to hold everyone. I get that! (I've been through chronic illness myself while homeschooling a chronically ill child. I REALLY get that.) You do not have to be Super Mom. Use tools, tricks, and toys well, and use them sparingly. They really are more effective that way :-).

Why Kindergarten Really Does Look Different for a First Child (And That's Okay) 

If you are homeschooling a first child through kindergarten (or preschool, or first grade, or anything!), you are experiencing a first. A first time YOU are responsible for teaching the material. A first time you are gauging your child's strengths, weaknesses. A first time you have to decide which of many people/blogs/pinterest boards are "right."

(Good luck! You can't win this battle, Mom! Your standard and your judge is your Lord, not the neighbor, the Super Blogger Mom, your mother-in-law, your mother, or the woman at church or the store or play group who wants to live vicariously through you.)

This is the first time as an educator that you have to decide if your child's disobedience is solely his own fault (We call this "sin nature."), or if you have encouraged his disobedience (We call this "exasperating your child.") by expecting too much, too soon. When you school your second child or any successive child, that child will be different from your first, and you will STILL have to make those calls (and you will still make mistakes!), but it won't be the same as figuring it out the first time. Trust me.

So give yourself grace. Grace to make mistakes. Grace to experiment, to try, to fail, to change your plans if you realize this was NOT the best option for your child.

But about changing plans. . .
It's good to change plans when we realize your plans are a bad idea.

But sometimes the plan isn't the problem; you just need to give it more time.

I met a homeschool mom a few years ago who was on her FOURTH reading curriculum with her five-year-old daughter. Nothing "worked" for her - the mom, not the child. Yes, there are bad reading curricula out there. But she freely admitted to me that the bigger problem was her lack of consistency. The curriculum wasn't providing a magic genie to teach her daughter to read, bottomline.

Don't be afraid to adjust your timetable expectations, not your curriculum. Don't be afraid to admit your attitude might be the larger problem, or that HOW you do the curriculum is more important than WHAT curriculum you use. Does your child need the consistency of doing a very small bit of schoolwork every single day, or he won't do it at all? (I had one of those!) Does your child need to only look at "schoolwork" 2 days a week? If your kindergarten curriculum is so intense that for an average child, you can't "get through it" in a year by only "schooling" for 2 short days a week, I would suggest your kindergarten curriculum is too much.

Do throw out your curriculum if it's not working for you! But give it time to prove itself, and don't cycle through curriculum willy-nilly. This can be just as damaging to a good education, if not more so, than a bad curriculum. A curriculum is a tool, but a good teacher can make up for a bad curriculum. Confusing a poor child by constantly changing direction, focus, philosophy, and books can be very unsettling.

A Word About the Trickle-Down Effect 

So back to why kindergarten looks different for a first child.

It's because you don't have the trickle-down effect! After I explain the trickle-down effect, I will explain why understanding what you DON'T have (the trickle-down effect) as a first-time kindergartener-schooler does change how you might school different from that sage wise mom of 6 who informs you that HER children never "need" special kindergarten crafts or math at age 5, and how she waits until they are age ____ (fill in the blank) to start phonics.

The trickle-down effect means that my 5yo Martin doesn't have a science curriculum for kindergarten this year. Many of the books his 8yo sister is reading (or having read to her) for botany this year are also read to him, and he loves it! The trickle-down effect means that his 8yo sister reads him many of her simpler history books. It means he wants to trace our geography maps because everyone else does!

The trickle-down effect means Martin learned to count to 100 simply by listening to siblings.  It means that when his sister told him (a bit condescendingly) a few weeks ago that "he'll get to fractions when he's older," he whipped out a pencil and paper and drew me a circle divided in two, and explained to me that he drew "two tooths." (Read it out loud.) Then he proceeded to write several more fractions in standard numerator/denominator form, and told me (correctly) what they were.

It means he decided this year that he is "learning Latin" because his older siblings are learning it. He enthusiastically participates in Latin chants and oral quizzes, which involve no-pressure for him, but will make the language somewhat familiar to him when he studies it formally in 3 years. The trickle-down effect also means that when he learns a new Bible memory verse or catechism question, he's already heard it many times from siblings, even if he hadn't memorized it himself yet!

Martin is my wonderful but decidedly "most average of my children" child. I don't give you all the trickle-down-effect anecdotes for him to make you think you're missing out or to brag on his imagined genius, but to help you see what a very average child picks up simply by having older siblings in the home!

The trickle-down effect means my second child taught herself her letters and most of the sounds by spying on my time with her older brother, and then she proceeded a few years later to teach her younger brother the letters. It means I never taught my third child "formally" how to identify shapes or colors. It just happened.

I believe strongly in not allowing a third child to be lost in the parent's effort to always "aim for the older kids" in read-alouds, to the point of leaving the youngest behind. This is why Martin and I read so many wonderful picture books together, and why there are certain chapter books that my husband hasn't read to the kids during his evening reads, as there are plenty of other wonderful chapter book options that the three olders can all enjoy.

BUT, my 5yo still gets exposure to a lot of really wonderful, complex chapter books that he wouldn't be exposed to, if he wasn't #3 child. He enthusiastically listens to our audio book rotation (currently reading through 100 Cupboards on audio, on car rides) and great history read-alouds (he was fascinated by Story of the World). He is constantly the victim (hehe) of his older siblings eagerly wanting to expose him to their new favorite books, by offering to read to him.

Basically, a lot of "extra" benefits, he gets simply by living in a house with a homeschooled 8yo and 10yo. You can't recreate this if your kindergartener is your only!

And that's okay.

You may choose to do more crafts or activities or games with your first child. If you love to do this, relish it! You may have time with future children, and you may not. Enjoy this time, with this little person. When your next child comes along, relish what his kindergarten years will look like, even if it doesn't look the same. If you find yourself "doing less" as far as the "extras," remind yourself of all the wonderful trickle-down effect and sibling camaraderie (and squabbles, ahem) he's getting instead :-).

Sometimes when an older mom who has done kindergarten teaching several times tells a new mom to take it easy, it's because she's right. Spot-on. Kindergarten does not have to be rocket science! It can be very low-key and should be, in fact. But sometimes, I'm convinced that her kindergarten children are learning far more and are way more ready for 1st grade than she realizes, simply because they are not first children.

If you have a gifted child.

Your friend who has decided to redshirt her kindergartener may have made the right choice for her child. But you don't have to give in to her pressure on you to do the same for your child, especially if you suspect your child is gifted. Putting a truly gifted child delayed a year might do more damage than help; it could make your child labeled ADHD, defiant, or just plain ornery. He might lose his love of learning, or never develop it. So do what you feel (after thought, prayer, and observation) is right for your child, not what your friend is telling you to do. (The same could be said for the opposite, of advancing a child rapidly, without reason.)

Not every child that a parent thinks is "gifted" really is. This is okay! Most kindergarteners are bright, love to learn letters, etc. You are their best cheerleader! Enjoy their milestones!

But if you think giftedness is a possibility, look for truly out-of-the-ordinary traits over multiple years, that indicate to you that your child might need education fostered in a more individual or accelerated way, allowing him to move at a different pace than his peers. Don't draw attention to him, either to himself or others (except a trusted few, who could mentor you on this path), and don't unnecessarily label him a grade ahead, simply because NOW he's tracking ahead. This can bite later, if he merely is a quick bloomer or blooms temporarily under pressure, but will level out to average over the years (and this is fine!). Remember that your child is still your child, not a trophy.

You can always graduate a child early if he gets through the coursework, but this can be decided YEARS from now! It's a lot emotionally harder to move a child "back" to his chronological grade later on, if you realize that you pushed too much, too early. If your child flies through phonics and kindergarten math at age 4, it does NOT mean he needs a complete 1st grade course load the following year!

Many gifted children have asynchronous development, which means they excel in certain areas, but are "average" or even behind in other areas. My super-early reader who had a high vocabulary and rapidly progressed through math BUT was "behind" in handwriting and emotional development is a perfect example of this! He's highly gifted, but his schooling has taken a lot of careful thought.

For example, he made it through phonics and kindergarten math prior to his 5th birthday. But I waited a year to start an English or history or science curriculum (until he was age 6), and I waited until he was fully 7 years old to start formal spelling. (I recognize that some educational philosophies don't even do English and spelling in elementary, but I'm speaking as someone who does do it, but didn't "push" into it just because he had finished kindergarten material.) He continued to progress in math and is to this day advanced in this area and is working well "above grade level," but we did most of it verbally for a few more years. We also did a lot of his math while jumping on a trampoline or racing around the house.

Just because he could read a 200-page book from a young age doesn't mean I required that, and certainly didn't mean I required book reports, detailed verbal analysis, or anything else that a middle or high school class that assigned the same book might require. He just read it, and sometimes we talked about it. A gifted child needs permission to act their age. Not act childishly, but act their age.

Now, this might seem like a weird way to end a post on kindergarten goals, but. . . 

I have an idea. 

Instead of focusing on having children "kindergarten-ready" in the preschool years, so they enter kindergarten "on track" (whatever that means?), what if the early years of 3-6 were spent towards the goal of having a child "second-grade-ready" by the time they were 7-8 years old?

This gives so much breathing room for a child being a child and spending a lot of time in the great outdoors, for a "second-grade-ready" list to be finished at quite a varying rate, depending on the development of the individual child. It gives flexibility for children who don't develop a pencil grasp early, for children who struggle with phonics, for children who need extra focus on discipline and self-control.

The purpose of this goal is not for a parent to slack and give no direction in education or self-discipline in the early years, but to focus on the child's rate of need and development, not rushing towards a goal that is too early for some. I think it could save a lot of headaches and a lot of worry, and allow children to thrive, if done well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Elementary Science in Keisterland, Through the Years

My kids and I love science! We devour books on nature, plants and animals. We read about weather, the water cycle, astronomy, you name it. We've made body posters, etc. It's a fun topic that we are continually exploring and enjoying.

But what's my "game plan" for science? What is the nitty gritty of how I plan and implement curriculum for science? This year I have a kindergartener, 3rd grader, and 5th grader, and a healthy dose of distraction in the form of a 2yo. You can subtract each age by one and figure out where we were last year, and the year before, etc. Each year changes and I'm all about realism and doing what works for us.

But first, my philosophy. I think science is a huge bonus and exciting adventure for elementary kids. I say "bonus" because I don't technically think a science text is necessary in the elementary years. We often use one, but I don't see it as necessary. I don't see the elementary years as a checklist for studying "x" number of scientific subjects. I mean, I have a mental list of types of things I have tried to cover, but I really and truly believe that it's not a big deal if you haven't studied the human body or astronomy by 6th grade. I just don't.

I want my kids to love science. I think a really important aspect of science is just being outside. Notice plant patterns, animals you see, talk about weather. Nothing fancy. Go for hikes, have a wildflower search. Let them throw rocks into a pond, hopefully not at each other. Rake leaves and talk about why leaves change color and fall. Help them to NOTICE. If an adult is interested in nature and observing the outdoors, a child will follow lead. I am reading an absolutely fabulous book right now called "The Last Child in the Woods." PLEASE READ IT. It is so good!

In fact, the only homeschool group we are a part of is a nature group that just goes to local nature parks and lets the kids roam around and make dirt mounds and collect sticks and play in creeks. Seriously, no formal curriculum. Kids just enjoying catching frogs. Sometimes a parent gives a little "talk" at the end about a certain topic, but the format is short and super informal. The goal is time in nature, in community. Seriously, that's our only homeschool group.

So that's my philosophy in elementary, for science: wonderment, observation, exposure to nature, perusing topics. Oh, and good books. We love good books on science.

We have used a lot of the Apologia elementary series for science. I really just love them. They are so approachable, conversational, appropriate in level, and have always sparked interest in my kids. They are not dry and boring. I love that they "sit" on one area (plants, for example, or all flying creatures) for an entire year, so you really get a chance to think about a whole topic for a while. No racing around from "magnetism" to "skeletal system" to "trees" in the course of three chapters. That gives me whiplash.

We started with Botany when Hans was in kindergarten or first grade, I think? We read the entire text. and did almost all the experiments. I love, love how simple and approachable the plant activities are. We dug up roots, collected and classified leaves, took rubbings of leaves and bark. It was FUN. We started an extremely-amateur nature journal.

Then we read Flying Creatures in its entirety and kept a bird poster. We took a lot of neighborhood walks and learned to NOTICE the birds around us. I learned so much and so did they! Every bird we correctly classified, I found a realistic coloring page online and Hans and Gretchen colored, cut out, labeled, and pasted to our poster. We still talk about the birds we observed. Science fell apart towards the end of the year (health and house woes!), and although we did finish the book and enjoyed all the insect reading, I'm pretty sure zero hands-on projects happened. Ha! Gretchen was only K age, so she was not required to participate in any of this, but she usually wanted to.

For our Swimming Creatures year, I'll be really honest. Our lives were a mess. Rampant health issues, and recently moving to a new state. . WE BOUGHT THE AUDIO. Best option ever. It's the only year I've really wanted the audio, and it helped us through. Oh, also, we watched a LOT of Octonauts. For reals, that turned my now-5yo into a sea creature lover, continuing to this day. I bought the Swimming Creatures science experiment kit, in the hopes that we'd do the experiments, and in predictable fashion, we got through maybe 1/3 of the options. It was just NOT a great year for extras. Keepin' it real!

Last year was supposed to be astronomy, and technically it was. I bought the AIG text "Our Universe," and Hans read it on his own in a week. I honestly don't know how much he read, but he loved it. And I bought a ton of Usborne books about the solar system, space, astronomy, etc. and sprinkled them on the coffee table and let the kids have at it. That was our "formal" science. It was a BAD year for my health (Lyme and EBV), and my oldest was still recovering from Lyme and PANDAS. Remember my philosophy about science being a bonus? YES. The kids savored the Usborne books and read them several times on their own, but I never formally assigned them. Oh, and we FINALLY made it to a local stargazing event (ONE, not the original 3+ that I was hoping for), in late winter.

But you know what we did during that year? We read a TON of science and nature books from the library. Unscheduled, not required, not on a specific topic (since our specific goal that year was astronomy and we'd already covered it), but we loved it. Anytime someone on a blog or FB mentioned liking a given book, I checked if our library had it and put it on reserve. I sprinkled the books on the coffee table, and I read some out loud, as time permitted. The older kids read many to Martin or to themselves.

And we joined our weekly nature group, which gave us lots more informal opportunities to talk about nature and observe things. I got several books from the library that filled in minor "gaps" (remember, it's all bonus, but mental goals are helpful!) that Apologia really doesn't cover, such as the water cycle and weather. We also have taken advantage of the city's free-admission science museum many times. We love the displays and the hands-on room!

(Also in the last 5 years, we've done a mini human anatomy study twice, where we read a human body encyclopedia (I think it was a DK book) and made a human body poster and read about each of the 10 body systems. Fun!)

So that's a bit of glimpse into our science through the years. So what's this year?

Well, my oldest was poised to take a look at some basic chemistry and physics concepts, and I knew he'd love the Apologia elementary-level Chemistry and Physics book. But in flipping through it, I knew that to truly enjoy it and get a lot out of it, this was not going to be a sprinkle-on-the-coffee-table year for science with him. So he and I are slowly picking our way through that book and really enjoying it! My goal is to do some of the experiments, if he reminds me (I love that clause with an older child! Then it's his responsibility), and if we have the supplies or they can be bought cheap.

But in looking at the C&P book, I really didn't think Gretchen would get as much out of it. She's smart as a whip and I could have assigned her the same, but I knew she'd bloom more by cycling back to studying botany (which we'd read informally a lot about the last few years, but hadn't actually focused on them). Why push it? So instead, we are using the Apologia Botany as our guide, but she's welcome to join us for Hans' science. What this means is that she often wants to "pop in" while we're reading, but doesn't have the pressure. And since this girl is all about plants and FLOWERS, this year is a fun year for her!

And note I said the Apologia Botany book is our "guide." It's not actually our main text. I'm using the chapter titles and topics to search for books on the topics. Via friend recommendations and handy internet searches, there are just so many wonderful books out there, and I'm all about library reservations. We are using some of the activities in the text and reading some aspects of the text, but using alternate books for about 90% of our readings. These readings are sometimes together, and sometimes Gretchen reads to herself and sometimes to Martin (age 5). Martin's participation is optional but encouraged.

Why am I not reading through the Botany book cover-to-cover? A number of reasons:

- Having already gone through it myself, I have a much better idea of great options to cover. Reading it through once trained me as a teacher as much as it informed Hans as a student. Now I have a great idea what to cover!
- I am realistic, and knew that I would not get through reading two science books (the botany AND the chemistry/physics) cover-to-cover in a school year without hating it or making the kids hate it. I didn't want to be stressed, as I knew that would transfer to the kids.
- Gretchen is a very proficient reader, but handing her a wordy (even though conversational and approachable) text to read herself wouldn't work as well as handing her a book on flowers to read herself. She is probably reading about 1/2 of the books by herself or to Martin. But I try to listen to her desires to read with me, and any of the more involved books we read, we read together. Just because she CAN read a book herself, doesn't mean I require it at the age of 7 (she is 8 next week). (We have the same philosophy at this stage with her history reads.)
- It's just hard to beat the really gorgeous books I've found for botany. I have a much better idea of where to look and what to look for, for gorgeous and engaging science books than I did a few years ago. And I love using them!

So there you go: what we've done, the better years, the surviving years, the general philosophy, and the changing process of kids getting older and branching into two different fields of study in a year. Hope this is helpful to anyone else trying to figure out the process or needs some grace and space to relax and find your own way. You've got this.

Of Kavanaugh, political angst, and training our littles.

I have 2 girls who I hope never experience sexual assault. I pray that they are surrounded throughout their lives with real men who will value them for their person, not their body. And I pray they will never falsely smear another person's name through the mud for political gain or revenge.
I also have 2 boys who I hope will never be rightly or falsely charged with assaulting someone else. I pray they will be wise with their actions and thoughts, and that they will value women and not view them as sex objects. I pray they will never have their lives ripped apart because of their own stupid actions or because of the manipulations of a liar.
It's hard to be a mom in 2018. And my oldest is only 10 years old. We haven't hit puberty yet, and I am totally not interested in discussing Kavanaugh with my kids. It's not because I don't care, it's not because I think they would never be in a similar situation (as either Kavanaugh or his accusers, and either as guilty or innocent). It's because instruction needs to be age-appropriate.
Yelling in a tv or laptop screen that someone is a liar or that such-and-such political party is corrupt or that all of this is for political gain or that we should ignore due process of law and accept a sketchy testimony. . . none of that teaches someone under 11 years old a whole lot except that Mommy is angry (and believe me, I'm angry about a lot of aspects of our current political system) and jumps to conclusions. So I don't.
But what CAN we do? What can young moms do for our kids and for future generations, when we have nastiness in the world? What can we teach our kids today, tomorrow, and the next day, to help prevent another Kavanaugh disaster?
- Teach them to respect others. Teach them proper touch and don't shame them if they respond strongly to someone touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teach them boundaries of touch, modesty, and listening to the feelings of others.
- Read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Talk about the importance of telling the truth, what a handful of lies can do to your believability, and model truthfulness to them. Do you stretch the truth to them? They will learn to stretch the truth to you and others.
- Talk about being falsely accused and what that feels like. Role play with them and you be the accused. Respond in various ways, either humbly, defensively, pathetically, angrily. Ask them which responses make your testimony of innocence look more believable.
- Talk about what it feels like when you are telling the truth and you aren't believed. How does that make you feel?
- Teach them not to name call. Humans are created in the image of God. Treat them like it. Treat them like it even if they are acting like trash. Challenge them, engage them, accuse them through proper channels. But don't be passive aggressive, don't shut down communication prematurely.
- Teach them the dangers of narcissism. Teach them they are not always right. Teach them to view a situation through another person's eyes. Are they defending what they did (or didn't do) to a sibling? Ask them if they would feel the same if they were in their sibling's place.
- Teach them to address the issue, not their own anger. And if you ask them a direct question about a situation, teach them that you expect a direct answer, not a rabbit trail. You are their first courtroom.
- Teach them to choose friends wisely. I'm talking here about close friends that you hang out with a lot. Open a conversation about peer pressure and "what would you do?" scenarios if others are doing things they know are wrong. Give examples at their level of times you made the right or wrong choice. Be honest with them.
- Teach them not to hold grudges. Don't judge a person because of his past. Teach them forgiveness. Model it. Don't bring up their past offenses to them constantly. Be wise in discerning someone else's character, but don't assume that the person they once were is the person they now are.
- Teach them that mumbling "I'm sorry" in a surly tone isn't repentance. Explain to them the difference between a lame apology or an excuse for their actions, v. genuine repentance. If your words don't match your actions, it shows.
- Teach them that this world is not their home. Teach them to pray for our Lord to come quickly. And for us to be faithful workers in His kingdom until that day.
- Teach them that there is forgiveness in Christ. Always. That means that there is forgiveness every time you as a parent fail to model all of these bullet points to your children. Every time you don't respond in forgiveness. Every time you don't model a cool, calm, and collected manner of assessing a situation. Every time you aren't completely honest with your kids. You will fail, I will fail. Let them see our humility, our picking ourselves up and practicing what we preach. Let them hear our reminders to them and us that our model is Christ, not any mere human.
Don't give up. Don't cop out. Don't check out. Don't flee. Stay and engage and train our future. But pray for the day when the glory of the Lord will fill this earth and there will be no more political posturing or political parties. Amen to that.

Monday, March 13, 2017

What a cochlear implant is NOT, what it IS, WHY we chose to implant our daughter, and our expectations for Heidi

As mentioned previously, our youngest daughter, Heidi, was born deaf. She is almost 15 months old, and received bilateral cochlear implants last week. I first heard of cochlear implants (CI's) a few years ago, but really didn't understand what they were, how they were used, or what they can or cannot accomplish until recently. And even now, I only have a rudimentary knowledge as to the range of outcomes for CI's and some of the pros and cons. We're still novices at this!

But given how little I used to know about CI's and given that I receive many many questions from friends and family that reflect a similar basic gap in understanding, I thought I'd write out some info that can hopefully clear up many of the questions people have regarding Heidi. I don't mind questions and always appreciate people caring enough about Heidi's journey to ask questions. . . even if they are very basic questions or questions based on a misunderstanding. That's okay! And for my friends-and-also-professionals who read this, feel free to make any corrections on my explanations :-D.

First of all, what a cochlear implant is NOT. This honestly is a really important thing to understand. CI's are absolutely NOT a cure for deafness. When I first heard of cochlear implant surgery (we had a deaf neighbor when we lived in Texas, who had CI surgery around age 6) it was explained to me as a way to correct deafness and let someone hear. Um, no. No, no, no. This is not like repairing a torn ligament or even like something such as corrective eye surgery. Cochlear implant surgery does not fix deafness. And I'm not mincing words here, or trying to hold onto a label of "deafness" that I somehow don't want to let go.

So what IS a cochlear implant? Basically, CI surgery implants a device into a person's cochlea (in the inner ear) that allows the auditory nerve to be stimulated through electronic means, to bypass the usual sound pathway of ear canal, eardrum, middle ear bones, etc. For whatever reason, one of the main causes of deafness (by no means the only cause) is insufficient hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells are extremely crucial to hearing and the stimulation of them through the usual means are exactly HOW a person hears. Without these hair cells (or other possible reasons why hearing is absent), sometimes a CI can be used to stimulate the cochlea in a mimicry way.

What was actually inserted into Heidi's head last week was two sets (one for each side) of electrode arrays that were slid into her cochleas and naturally coil up into the snail shell shape of a cochlea. Different pitches of sound in normal hearing stimulate different areas of this snail shell shape (and transmit this info to the auditory nerve, and in turn, the brain). In a similar way, with the technology of a CI, sound transmitted through an external microphone and processor then sends a signal to trigger electrodes along the inserted electrode array, which in turn stimulate the area of the cochlea corresponding to that sound.

In theory. Actually, it doesn't work out so perfectly in actuality. The sounds perceived by a CI recipient APPROXIMATE actual sounds, but can be "off" in pitch by quite a bit, which matters some in learning to listen and/or speak, and even more in learning to listen to music, as pitch is more important in musical settings. A CI recipient goes through gradual therapy over several months, that introduces the brain to more and more of a range of sounds, as the brain accustoms to sound and perception of sound. And even after initial auditory-verbal therapy, most CI recipients will need additional speech therapy to groom their speech.

Some CI recipients never develop enough sound discrimination to develop speech, while others are indistinguishable in speech from a "hearing" person. Some CI candidates are very accustomed to sound and speech, and prefer using sound v. choosing silence and signing. Other CI candidates find their strength in sign language, visual perception and expression, and other non-auditory methods of exploring, communicating with, and viewing the world, and either benefit from a CI in more general ways (awareness of environmental noises, but not speech) or don't benefit from CI's at all. More on the varied "success" of CI's later. . .

But back to what a CI is not. Remember that I said CI surgery is not a cure for deafness? One of the very real reasons it is not is because a CI does absolutely nothing unless the outer processor is attached (with working batteries). If the outer processor is not being worn, no electrodes are stimulating the cochlea, the auditory nerve is not being stimulated, and no hearing is taking place. In other words, the person is still deaf. Cochlear implants are battery operated devices that can be turned on and off at will.

Post-surgery, one of the most common questions I've gotten is if we've noticed Heidi responding to sound yet. We haven't yet, for the very simple reason that she hasn't even been given her outer processor yet. In order to not associate the new experience of sound with potential pain, the surgery site has to fully heal before she's given her initial sound stimulation in a few weeks. In addition to the electrode array, also implanted directly under her skin is a magnet that will be used to attach her external processor in place when she's using her CI's to access sound.

Even when she's "turned on" at the end of March, her processors are programmed very low, to only stimulate a select range of sounds. As the months progress, the idea is to slowly program her to receive more and more sound input, as she becomes accustomed to sound and as her brain learns to process sound. Remember, as far as we can tell, she has probably never heard anything, so this is all new stuff for her brain! I've met one mom with a deaf daughter who was implanted about a decade ago, and the mom told me that her daughter didn't even respond to sound at the initial stimulation, because the program was turned so low initially. So it'll be interesting to see if Heidi even visibly "notices" her initial program, or if that'll wait until future programs that add more to the spectrum.

Okay, so here's the million dollar question and the most controversial: why did we choose to implant Heidi? For many people we have met, the assumption was that OF COURSE we'd implant her, because why wouldn't we want to use this amazing technology, and for other people we've met, they've been very leary of the use of cochlear implants and counseled us against or counseled us to wait and let Heidi decide. Why or why not?

Well, I'll start off with saying I totally "get" why someone would choose either path. We wrestled with a lot of pros and cons, and while we felt confident in the end with wanting to explore cochlear implants for Heidi, we also understand the concerns with CI's and why others might choose other paths. Here is what it boiled down to for us:

On the con side, it really really gave us pause to consider allowing our child to go "under the knife" for a non-life-threatening reason. We didn't take this lightly. We know every surgical procedure has risks, and drilling into the skull (to be quite frank) certainly has some. So does having a permanently-implanted device in your body. We're okay with Heidi just the way she is. She doesn't NEED hearing, she can have a full life without it, and we believe that she could be just as content in her deafness as we are with it. Not just "okay" with deafness, but thrive with deafness.

Hearing loss is just that: a loss of hearing. Heidi's brain is fully functioning, she is in excellent health, and is poised to take on life to the fullest. As long as we pack language into her, she's fine. And we truly believe that. This is exactly why we've poured so much of our time and energy into sign language this past year, and why we will continue to make sign language part of our family culture and part of our means of communicating with Heidi.

The two major objections to CI's, especially to those in the Deaf community, as far as I can tell, revolve around concern with (1) neglect of sign language in order to focus on listening and speech and (2) perception of deafness as a "disability" that needs to be fixed.

As I already said, we don't plan to neglect sign language, as we simply don't know what Heidi's success with a cochlear implant will be. If a child is not given a full language by age 5, this language deprivation can have permanent repercussions on their mental and cognitive function, even if they're given language later. Because we don't know NOW if Heidi will have full access to language through a cochlear implant EVENTUALLY, we don't want to wait and wait and then find out after she's already language-deprived that she needed sign language and that we should have been learning it sooner.

To address the more controversial topic of deafness as a disability, one must understand that a culturally Deaf person not only is fine with their Deafness, but is happy they're Deaf, and offended by terms such as "hearing disabled." This is why I use the term deaf to describe Heidi, because it simply isn't an offensive term. It's a perfectly acceptable label. A person who is culturally Deaf doesn't need or want pity, and is quite happy in a soundless world. For hearing parents to have the chutzpah to "fix" their deaf child without consulting the child is potentially offensive to many who consider themselves "capital D" culturally Deaf.

From the beginning of our journey with Heidi's deafness, I've sought to be very sensitive to the Deaf community, Deaf beliefs, and a Deaf perspective on what Heidi needs, listening to the voices of the Deaf community as well as medical professionals. I think both worlds have much to offer us, as hearing parents of a deaf child. I absolutely will not tolerate comments to this post that mock the Deaf community or Deaf beliefs. Period. I find their language beautiful and their love of who they are AS they are (rather than a discontent in who they are not) to be inspiring and comforting.

But that being said, yes, I consider hearing to be the normal way that God created man to communicate, and we believe God's promise in the Bible that He came to make the deaf man hear and the lame man leap for joy. Deafness is not a blessing to us (except in so much that we believe that God redeems everything for Himself and brings good for His people out of all circumstances), it is not something we sought, it is not something we would pray for in another child. But we would welcome another child who is deaf! And we wouldn't choose to prevent more biological children if we discovered Heidi's deafness is genetic. Our deaf child is a blessing! However we also do not have an objection to adding sound to our deaf child's world, if we think it could give her advantages.

And to address a side issue, why did we choose to implant Heidi NOW, v. waiting until she's older and letting her choose that herself? The biggest recommendation I've heard from the Deaf community is not to NEVER implant Heidi, but instead to wait until she's a bit older (anywhere from elementary age or older) and let HER decide if she wants to experience sound. This is her world, her body, and her experience. Let her decide.

And we considered that. But ultimately it boiled down to, for us, a realization that either way - whether we chose to implant her now or waited and let her decide - we already were deciding a major decision for her. We had to choose whether or not to give her that chance for sound access during her most crucial period of language development. She doesn't NEED that sound access, to be clear, but we did have to make the choice either way, to give it or to decline the option.

Getting a cochlear implant at age 7 or age 10 or adulthood - especially for someone like Heidi who is prelingually deaf - is simply NOT the same experience as for someone who is a baby or toddler. There are crucial developmental windows for developing speech that would be missed. Yes, a CI recipient who receives one later can often still get some use out of a CI, but not in the same way that an earlier recipient would. The longer the human brain does not have access to sound, the more the brain rewires itself (how cool is that?) and is "taken over" by the other senses, to compensate. If we waited until Heidi was older and let her decide, she would not have the option to go back and recapture that crucial developmental window for speech and language.

We do NOT believe that a family who doesn't choose early implantation is "depriving" their deaf child of sound or speech. Absolutely not. They are simply choosing a different emphasis and a different option for their child. But we also do not believe that by choosing implantation for Heidi, we are "depriving" her of her deafness. Our intentions, rather, are to give her the fullest opportunity to experience both the hearing and deaf worlds. In order to truly experience the closest that she can to the hearing world, she can best do that by early access to sound stimulation. Should she choose at an older age to "turn off" sound, she can simply stop wearing her outer processor. We would totally support that decision at an appropriate age. Yet another reason to have a sign language base of communication!

We live in a hearing world, and we live in an English-speaking world. And like most deaf children, Heidi was born into a hearing family. If possible, and according to Heidi's abilities, we feel that it will benefit Heidi over time to have tools that allow her to access both the hearing/spoken aspect of our family culture and especially (since the outside world cannot adapt in the same way our family can) to access spoken language and sound in the outside world.

Having access to sound, even electronic stimulated sound - and potentially having access to speech -might allow Heidi to be a much more independent communicator than if her main method of communication was sign language. This in no way is disparaging the use of sign language, either as A means of communication or the ONLY means of communication for her. This is simply recognizing that while living, communicating, and working in modern-day America, not having need of a sign language interpreter to go about daily business can be a huge asset to a deaf individual.

If Heidi was born into a fluently-signing deaf family, this would be completely different. Her language access would be complete and accessible from day one, and her family culture and her built-in close community of friends would already have her language and her culture. (Talking through walls and talking while doing eye-intensive tasks is a major part of our family habits! That's been really difficult to slowly adapt! We are a "hearing culture" family, for sure!)

But Heidi wasn't born into a fluent signing family. And her family, while trying to learn sign, will not be fluent anytime soon! If we choose a signing-only environment for Heidi, realistically she will have limited communication with most of our acquaintances, friends, and family. Yes, we plan to seek out deaf friends in the Deaf community, but we also have a very large foot in the hearing world. We and she don't NEED her to be part of our hearing world, but we'd like her to have as many ways as possible to feel that she belongs in our family and our world in every way. This means developing sign language so that we can communicate with her effectively, but it also means considering ways that we can include her in our inevitable hearing activities, as her ability allows.

There are SO many factors that affect the "success" of a CI, including if a person is deafened pre- or post-lingually, if they have multiple-challenges rather than "just deafness," if they receive adequate follow-up therapy, if they get appropriate language input, if their auditory nerve is fully-functioning, etc. And honestly, there are just a lot of mysteries and questions in medical research as to how to best predict the success of a cochlear implant, for the purpose of accessing sound and developing speech. It might work, it might not.

Our general expectation for Heidi is that she will soar. In her time, in her way. We expect LANGUAGE for her, not because language is automatic, but because it is so essential. We don't know what else to expect, and we're not sure what form that language will take - spoken, signed, written. . . some combination?

Honestly, this is really new ground for us. With our other 3 kids, they became extremely fluent talkers at a young age with ginormous vocabularies simply because their mother never shuts up, tele-commentates EVERYTHING to her babies, and because they were blessed with no communication barriers. With Heidi, language will take a lot more purposeful input than just her mother constantly talking. Factors like background noise, effectiveness of her CI's, therapy, how quickly her family learns sign language and how faithfully they sign with her and around her (it has to be in her field of vision!). . . so much more at play and so much more one-on-one attention needed!

We honestly don't know what to expect as far as what communication mode will work best for her, both short-term and long-term. We've been told by well-meaning people that she will definitely prefer sign language over sound and speech, and that might be what happens. We're okay with that! We've also been told by equally-well-meaning people that she will likely prefer sound and speech, because for most children implanted at her age, it comes easier for them than sign language. That might be true. We're okay with that!

We do not expect that she will be a fluent English speaker, though we are poised for that possibility and it is in the realm of realistic results. We also do not expect she will choose sign language as her primary means of communication, but we are okay if she does, and are working towards greater sign language fluency. We expect God's grace in the craziness and His direction each step of the way. We expect we'll make a lot of mistakes, learn a lot, pray a lot. We expect our whole family will continue to learn a lot and grow a lot through this whole process. And our prayer is that Heidi will thrive and learn to effectively communicate with us, with others, and with her Creator. That's quite enough for us. Anything else is icing on the cake.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

2016 Keister Year in Review

I think this may have been the first time I've gone a whole year between postings on this blog, but it has been a doozy of a year. The best one-sentence summary of our year is my niece's comment to my mom that "it always seems to be something with Aunt Susan's family." Yes, Madeleine. Yes, indeed.

A much longer update? See below. (I am long-winded; you have been warned.)

We bid adieu to 2015 after welcoming Heidi into our family. Heidi was the sweetest newborn ever, and I spent 99% of my time in January snuggling with her on the couch, not because she demanded it (easiest baby ever), but because I could not get enough of her sweetness (she still is a really sweet little one). We'd been in Wichita for 6 months and started to settle in, loving the area, our church, the people, Adrian's job.

Then 2016 took off like a jack rabbit.

Since Heidi was a homebirth, my midwife gave me the contact info for a local audiologist and told me to get her newborn hearing test done "in the first month after birth." (For a hospital birth, it's usually done before discharge.) Heidi was only a week and a half old when Adrian asked me if I'd scheduled the test yet, and asked me if I'd noticed if Heidi had a startle reflex. "Oh, definitely," I replied. "She startles if I touch her sometimes." Then he asked, "But does she startle to SOUND?" Hmm, I had to think about that. Then I started experimenting. She didn't care if the vacuum was on right beside her, she didn't alter her suck pattern if I started talking while she was nursing, and she didn't get distracted by her rambunctious siblings bursting into the room and yelling while she was drifting off to sleep. Hmm, new territory, this.

Less than a week later, she failed her initial hearing test (but many children do and still have perfect hearing), and more notably, a month after that she had a more extensive hearing test with a diagnosis of "severe to profound deafness." Well, that was definitely a different beginning to 2016 than we'd anticipated! This was a whole new world to consider, so many options to look at, so many professionals who offered advice (conflicting advice, just to make it more confusing).

But God. God gave us such peace. I cried for just one evening a few days BEFORE Heidi's first hearing test. As soon as Adrian mentioned his suspicions and all of our "well, try this and see if she startles" home tests didn't stimulate a hearing response from Heidi, I knew. I knew she was deaf. I told the audiologist before the first test, and again before the second. I cried that one evening before the first test, because I had to lay aside MY dreams for my daughter. Every parent has an image of their relationship with their child, and my image involved lots of talking, listening, laughing, and. . . hearing. Language, and specifically SPOKEN language, is so important to me. Treasured by me. So I wrestled with God that one night as I laid aside those dreams. Then I took up the gift He gave me and have been so thankful for who Heidi IS, not who she's NOT.

God is so gracious. He gave me such peace and He gave Adrian such peace. That was the one time I cried about Heidi's deafness. I've been fine with it since. Like, really fine. Like, weirded-people-out-with-how-fine-I-am-with-it sort of fine. I can't even explain it. But after that night, I was "over" her deafness.

This is Heidi, and now we know more about her, and we're going to find out the best way to nurture Heidi. Okay, well. . . her middle ear doesn't function "correctly." So what? That's all that's wrong? What great news! We can work with that.

Deafness is part of who Heidi is, but it isn't all she is. Heidi is a bubbly, exuberant one-year-old with everything in her little head working just right. . . except the middle ear. She's just as mischievous, fun-loving, and bright as her siblings. Keeps me on my toes, can cause trouble right here in Raleigh-city (because yes, we moved again. . . more on that in a bit). She has definitely earned her nickname "rotten stinker" with her antics. Walking, climbing, addicted to nursing and Mommy snuggles. Stubborn. Has the most gorgeous peals of laughter. The apple of her sister's eye, and feared by her oldest brother because of her spit-up powers. And her 3yo brother just thinks she's a live teddy bear. She lights up every time Daddy comes in the room, but thinks she needs to fight him for bed rights next to Mommy each night.

We enrolled in a sign language class the week after Heidi was diagnosed. Our plan was to pick up Latin in 2016, for homeschooling. Instead, we've been learning sign language. Latin will have to wait a bit! And Heidi is signing back! She doesn't have fluent signers at home, as she would if she was born into a deaf family, so her sign language progress will not be as rapid, but we're signing to her, and she's signing a few words back, and that's pretty dang exciting, I must say. We have a private deaf tutor, which has been a challenge and a great experience.

A deaf child born to hearing parents is at a huge risk for language deprivation. The brain is ready for language, but language doesn't just happen without input, and for hearing parents, that input is naturally primarily talking and listening! So we've been learning a whole new world and way of thinking about language. We've learned SO much about language acquisition, sign language, alternate forms of communication, and surgical options for deafness. There is so much info out there! And everywhere you turn, everyone has a different idea. You basically can't have a deaf child and not offend someone with your choices. And that's just kind of the way it's going to be, we've realized.

We believe strongly in giving Heidi a visual full language that does not rely on technology, and have invested a lot of our free time and money into making that happen. We still have a long way to go, as we learn and use sign language. But as we've studied different options and prayed over the last year, we're also excited about the possibility of cochlear implant surgery as a way to give Heidi electronic hearing which could potentially open up a lot of possibilities to Heidi, and allow her greater independence and give her listening experiences.

Results for cochlear implants for deaf children are mixed. They can be amazing miracles for some children, and they do not work as well for others. And they're only a tool, a battery-operated device that is not a permanent surgical "fix" for hearing loss. But as we've looked into cochlear implant options, it has become evident to us that for many children, they are a really incredible tool that opens up their world to sound. We want to give that option and that opportunity to Heidi, so we are planning to pursue cochlear implant surgery for her in the next few months. Since cochlear implants are a huge subject of controversy within the Deaf community, maybe I'll save that issue as a whole for a separate post, in which I explain why we came to that decision.

But back to our life in 2016. So Heidi is diagnosed as deaf. We start learning sign language. La-di-da. Oh, hmm, let's move, to keep things lively. So off to Raleigh, North Carolina we go in June. My oldest child has spent homeschooling in a different home for each of his first 5 years of schooling (preK-3rd). Someday, I hope to not be a nomad. We do think choosing to move was the right decision yet again, but we were also sad to say goodbye to Wichita and our wonderful community there.. Adrian chose to go back into engineering (after a few years in private teaching). A good career move, but another transition in 2016. . . a busy year. He loves his new job here in Raleigh, and it seems a good fit for him.

Prior to our move in the summer, our seven-year-old Hans (now eight) started his own drama, not to be outdone by Heidi. As some may remember, our time in Texas from 2013-2015 was really really difficult on Hans' health (and my own). Texas was a valley for us, and a large part of that valley was the pervasive and toxic effects that mold wreaked on Hans' young body. Mold had debilitating psychiatric effects on Hans that were truly frightening and paralyzing for our whole family. When we moved to Wichita, he started to heal and unfurl and blossom. Then in March many of his symptoms started to reappear, though our rental home in Wichita was mold-free. It took quite a bit of sleuthing, but it was finally evident that he was having a PANDAS reaction to strep. (Google that if you want to be happy that all strep gave you was a sore throat - ha!) But just as we finally realized WHAT was triggering his health struggles (after a month of doctor consultations and head scratching), everything cleared up overnight. Instantaneously. GONE. Physical symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, emotional symptoms. Boom, over.

But then PANDAS came back in full force a few months later in June, right as we were in transit from Wichita to our new home in Raleigh, NC. If you take a look at our (many!) medical bills over the summer, they basically follow us eastward, as we stopped on the way and visited doctors. We were all treated for strep (because we were all positive asymptomatic carriers, except Heidi), and Hans started feeling better. But then boom, back again. This was something more. He was clearly reacting to strep, but that wasn't all. We'd even managed to confound his PANDAS specialist. He wasn't responding to treatment anymore, after a brief initial improvement. It was truly scary and completely debilitating for him and for us all.

Did I mention we'd just moved across country? And were learning a new language for our deaf daughter, finding professionals to help Heidi, establishing new relationships in Raleigh, trying to start back up homeschooling, get involved in our local church?

Among Hans' incredibly-extensive battery of blood tests he had over the summer was a Western Blot test for Lyme. You must understand that he'd been tested a few times before for Lyme, by multiple doctors, always with a negative test result. But you also must understand that Lyme tests are incredibly poorly-designed and yield beaucoup false negatives. I'd suspected he had Lyme back in Texas, but his tests came back negative and all his symptoms seemed to be able to be explained by the pervasive mold we had, so we moved on and didn't pursue further. But one key to the puzzle is that mold sensitivity and PANDAS can both be caused by the underlying issue of a chronic Lyme infection. And yes, good guess: his test this past summer (finally) came back positive for Lyme.

We flew out to Seattle in August (me, alone on a plane with 4 kids, one of whom was completely psychotic at the time - an experience), combining a trip to my parents and brother and family with a visit to a Lyme specialist. And then we entered the complicated, expensive, lengthy, and time-consuming world of chronic Lyme treatment.

It's a long road. Lyme is not an easy thing to conquer. Having friends who have walked this road before us, I knew it was a long journey, and honestly, chronic Lyme is one of those things I've feared. One of those "Dear Lord, please just don't give me THAT trial" sorts of fears.

But God doesn't promise to keep us or our loved ones from trial or physical suffering. He does promise to walk with us through it, though. He walks through the fire with us, and He promises that the flood waters will not overcome us. Scriptural promises like these have been very dear to me this year. Texas felt like a valley of dry bones. I KNEW God was there, but it was so hard to feel His gentle touch. Texas felt like a very severe mercy, but He brought us through that. Wichita was an interim period of green meadows, spiritual refreshment, nourishment, and refocusing. Then we were led into another valley. But He has been there too.

If I could sum up Hans's experience when strep and Lyme are attacking him full-force, I would use three fictitious characters: he is Kay in the Snow Queen (pierced in the eye by a sliver of mirror that causes him to see the evil in the world and not the good), he is Peeta in The Hunger Games (hijacked by Tracker Jacker venom, unable to distinguish truth from fiction), and lastly, he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Hans is not all those things all the time. He was all those things this past summer, and the old Kay/Peeta/Hyde comes back to visit periodically, as his body flushes out Lyme. Lyme is a very cyclical treatment, where you start to feel better, then tons worse as you clear toxins, then some better, then worse, etc.

Chronic Lyme manifests in different ways for different people. For some, it's primarily chronic pain, for others it may be heart or thyroid issues, for others fatigue, autism, early-onset Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, etc. Basically, Lyme is the great imitator. Which is another reason (besides poor diagnostic testing) that it can be hard to diagnose.

For Hans, he continues to struggle with fatigue, intermittent aches and pains, and periodic psychotic episodes (that have thankfully lessened and spaced out dramatically with treatment). We have Jekyll for several days, and then Hyde comes to visit. We have to watch what Hans eats and drinks, monitor his meds, make sure he gets rest and sleep, but also plenty of exercise, mind refreshment, the whole nine yards.

And somewhere in all this, school is still supposed to happen. This has been quite the year of adventure for homeschooling. By some miracle, we did get our goal for schooling done by the Christmas break, and the kids have learned so much, but it has been quite the year of innovative educational options. alternate scheduling, adaptations, and sometimes just hair-pulling :-). Ha!

2016 was a hard year full of trials, but it was also a good year. Hans has grown so much spiritually through his struggles. I really treasure so many deep spiritual conversations we've been able to have with him, and the insights he's shared not in spite of his trials, but because of his trials. If you're familiar with the Hunger Games and Peeta's slow recovery from hijacking, Hans' story has so many eery parallels, and the real/not-real games that helped Peeta sort out fact from fiction have helped Hans as well. I will always think of Lyme as tracker jacker venom. And I will always think of the Gospel and scripture as the antidote, because we've seen that in Hans' own life. Yes, he needs physical remedies, but he also needs the balm of scripture.

We're all starting to settle into Raleigh life and a new welcoming church. We've enjoyed living just a few hours from my sister and her husband, and enjoyed many visits back and forth with them before they head overseas again in early 2017. We enjoyed a week-long visit from Adrian's brother and his family in November, before heading to Charlotte to spend a week with my whole family for Thanksgiving. My parents flew here for Christmas and Heidi's 1st birthday. And now boom, a whole year is gone, and we're into 2017. Hans' treatment will continue for quite some time, and we go back out to Seattle for another check-up in February. Heidi will hopefully have cochlear implant surgery sometime in the next few months.

My own health was up and down for a good portion of the summer and fall (in a more stable place the last 6 weeks or so), but pales in comparison to Hans'. When I couldn't get out of bed myself for several hours at a whack on random days, and we're already working around Hans' treatment, it can make homeschooling even more challenging. I'd love to write a post soon about homeschooling through chronic illness (either child or parent). It's been a unique experience.

Gretchen and Martin have barely received a mention in this post! Gretchen is 6 and my creative, crafty one. She is my non-squeaky wheel. She is a good help, and loves to spend most of her time doing crafts: origami, cross-stitch, drawing, beading. . . anything she can get her hands on. She joined an American Heritage Girls troop this year and loves it. She, Hans, and Adrian all are doing Tae Kwon Do too, through a local TKD school.

Martin is 3 and all boy. My aunt got him a tiger shirt this summer that said "Life is an adventure" and "It's a jungle out there," and that pretty much sums up Martin perfectly. Rambunctious, fearless, exuberant. . . and also can be a perfect crank if he's over-tired or his blood-sugar has crashed ;-). He's a prolific talker, and can wax eloquently(?) for long periods of time about Octonauts or Wild Kratts, should a victim arise who will listen ;-).

Life is full. Challenging, but still good. God works all together for good for those He has called, and I count myself blessed to be of His number.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Heidi Annaliese's Birth

Short G-rated version:

Our fourth-born child and second daughter, Heidi Annaliese, was born on December 30th at 12:16am weighing 8 lbs even. We are grateful to God for a swift and uncomplicated labor and birth, and a healthy baby and mommy.


The longer version, for the dedicated among you who can outlast my ramblings:

My due date for this baby came and went. I was due Christmas Eve, though this was a "best guess" by an early ultrasound, as I could not remember my LMP for the life of me. Finalizing repairs on our house in Texas, a whirlwind of house showings, and a gradual return of health from our mold exposure can do that to a person ;-). Keeping track of dates was just not super-important to me ;-). I was vaguely aware of when I was pretty sure I'd ovulated and remember thinking "I should probably record my estimated ovulation, just in case I need it," but I never acted on that. The Christmas Eve due date did line up perfectly with my first positive test (and my negative test a few days earlier), so I'd say it was a reasonably accurate date.

I had really hoped to have this baby by Christmas, for no good reason except it fit my timeline. ;-) Up to that point, the baby had been in perfect LOA position for a few weeks, very low in the pelvis, and I felt pretty well physically, and aligned and ready for labor. My chiropractor had really helped with my tailbone alignment and core strength exercises the previous few months, and I'd had zero pubic bone pain or tenderness for the first pregnancy in my experience. Usually I spend the last month of pregnancy in pain when walking, because of the tenderness of the pressure of the baby on the pubic bone - even in Martin's pregnancy that overall had so much less chiropractic discomfort. So I was really feeling optimistic about my alignment and baby's chance of exiting without a huge deal.

Then I fell on our basement stairs and whacked my tailbone on Sunday, 5 days before Christmas, which set me back some in physical preparation for labor. My midwife's main concern (since the baby seemed fine and still plenty active, and I hadn't fallen on my front side) at this point was that my tailbone get a chance to heal some before going into labor, as laboring with an injured tailbone could be excruciatingly painful, particularly the pushing phase. So I went from poised-and-eager-to-go-into-labor to kind of in limbo, while waiting and wanting to have this baby, but really wanting to let my tailbone recover in the meantime.

In the 3 days after falling, I visited the chiropractor every day, which really helped. The baby had shifted its head sideways a bit after the fall and the head was no longer firmly engaged in the pelvis, but by Wednesday the 23rd, my tailbone and the rest of my skeletal system was holding alignment well, my tailbone tenderness was almost non-existent, and the baby's head was back in a nice location and sloped correctly. *phew* So we were back to the waiting game and thankful that I'd had the time I needed to get my rear back in gear, quite literally.

I was starting to get pretty discouraged a few days after Christmas, though, watching Adrian's school vacation tick slowly by and knowing when my dad and sister and brother-in-law were slated to leave (my mom had bought a one-way ticket and was able to be more flexible), and wondering if we'd spend all of Christmas break waiting and waiting. . . and I kept hoping I wouldn't have another super-late arrival like Martin.

I woke up Tuesday the 29th feeling like all the hypothetical ills of pregnancy, both physical and emotional, had descended on me. I knew this wasn't true, but it was really hard to fight off the discouragement and the intense grogginess (even after a good night's sleep) that about bowled me over and persisted throughout the day. I kept repeating to myself everything I KNEW, which is so much more true than what I FELT. I reminded myself how blessed I have been this pregnancy physically, how normal and totally within range it was to only be 5 days "late," etc., but I felt like I was fighting off demons of doubt all day. I hated it! I'd been hot-natured a lot the last month in pregnancy, but I was getting flushed and hot especially easily that day, and my fingers also were suddenly barely swollen enough to make my rings hard to get on and off. I was dragging physically and my brain was fogged, I kept messing up my words when talking. I was kind of a wreck.

It was so weird and sudden, and I had just been re-reading Baby Catcher, in which the author had the same thing happen with her pregnancies, where she would sail along just fine, loving being pregnant, and then BAM, the day before she went into labor, something happened and she felt physically and emotionally horrible, as if the weight of the world was on her, and then she woke up the next morning in labor. Anyway, I struggled through Tuesday, doing a lot of resting, and finally felt much more normal after a long late nap that afternoon.

I was feeling a lot more like myself at dinner and enjoyed playing Apples to Apples for a while after the kids went to bed. We started playing around 8pm and I had light contractions all through the game. I wasn't timing them and they weren't intense, but they were pretty often and definitely a bit more "real" feeling than all the painless Braxton-Hix contractions I'd had for weeks and weeks. But still extremely light cramping, nothing major.

After finishing our game we sat around and discussed other ideas for the evening, and we settled on watching a Poirot episode. We didn't start watching until about quarter of ten, which is rather late for me, but I said that I'd had a long good nap and knew I'd be wakeful for a while longer even if I tried to sleep, and "besides, I've been having a lot of light contractions the last couple of hours, so I'm wondering if I'm in labor."

That got everyone's attention! Adrian asked what he could do to help, and I told him the best thing he could do was leave me alone. Ha! This is so classically me in labor :-). I'm not mean or rude, but just don't want attention and certainly don't want the stroking and coaching and massaging, etc. I don't even want hand-holding or touching - from anyone. Which is why I've never invited friends or family  (except Adrian, of course!) to my births or had a doula. I want Adrian there, but he knows his main job is just to BE there, or help by getting me a drink or something. And everyone else (midwives, etc.) is there for strictly safety and other physical support reasons.

So we all sat down and got about an hour into a Poirot episode (Death on the Nile - great, calming birth episode, hehe). At some point past 10pm, I let Adrian "do something," meaning, I let him time several contractions, and then he called my midwife Kathy to let her know I was probably in labor. I was having to start concentrating some during contractions (though still wasn't noticeably acting differently and just sitting there calmly watching the movie) and they were about 5 minutes apart or so, and over a minute long. Kathy said they'd start heading our way.

One thing that was very different about how I mentally processed contractions with both this labor and with Martin's (v. Hans and Gretchen's labors) was in visualizing my cervix opening. With Hans and Gretchen, I tried (semi-successfully) to relax during each contraction, but I still had a mindset of that intense cramping being a somehow foreign thing happening to my body. (This was especially true with Hans' labor.) I really tried to recalibrate myself during Martin's pregnancy to think of the contractions as serving a very useful purpose. Not just a random collection of birth pangs that eventually ended in complete dilation, but as individual steps that were actively opening my cervix little by little. With each contraction I visually pictured the baby's head bearing down and slowly opening my cervix, and it really helped me to see each contraction as a means to an end and as a positive thing (although discomfortable and eventually painful, as labor progressed), not just something to endure.

Claire, one of the assistants, arrived maybe 30-45 minutes after Adrian called Kathy, and started getting stuff set up and getting out birth supplies - which was reassuring, as things were starting to pick up and I liked having someone on the premises who could catch a baby, if necessary. I'd offered that job to my brother-in-law, but he wasn't eager, go figure ;-). And actually, with about 30 minutes to go in the Poirot episode, with me getting up more frequently to head to the bathroom or such, Hannah and Justin just turned off the episode (we finished it the next day) and headed down to bed, without even asking us! The nerve ;-).

My parents and the kids were already settled down in the basement to sleep too, so we had the main floor to ourselves. We had vacated Martin's room, which is next to ours and has very little furniture in it, and moved the birth pool (which had been inflated but upright in our room for a few weeks) in there. I was still mainly in our bedroom for contractions, leaning a lot on the birth ball while kneeling, sometimes standing or swaying, and I was having to breathe deeply through each contraction now.

Our midwives, Kathy and Brandi, arrived before too much longer, maybe about 11:30? Not sure. And Adrian filled up the birth pool, but we quickly discovered that even our very HOT hot water heater (which we had turned on very high for the last few weeks to be ready, and had been burning our hands with for this purpose :-P) was just not enough to fill up our pool, so we ended up with a half-filled pool with tepid water at best. Kathy and Adrian started boiling water in our large stockpots to supplement, as my contractions got more intense and closer together.

I got in the water just a bit (to my waist) to get a feel for the temp, but quickly decided that I couldn't possibly relax through contractions in there, and Kathy had just checked me when she arrived, and I was at 8cm, and I didn't want to be in cold water when it came time to push. (With Martin, I went from 7cm to complete in a few minutes, and this birth was feeling like de ja vu in how it was progressing.) So I got out and moved to the bed, using the birth ball to kneel for a few more contractions. At this point they were really intense, I was having to vocalize/moan pretty loudly through them, and then I could feel the baby's head start to descend. Yep, I was definitely going to be having another land birth, not a water birth ;-).

Honestly, I still haven't figured out the best way for me to push in labor when on land. I delivered Hans in a big jacuzzi, and I didn't even have to think about positioning, which was the advantage of being buoyed up by the water. With Gretchen, I moved to the pool at 10cm, and although her birth pool dimensions and height weren't ideal and made for some positioning challenges, it was still easier than pushing out of the water. And for Martin's birth, he came so fast that I had the odd experience of not pushing at all. My body did all the work and he was out in a few pushes, and my job was basically to not add to the already-quick delivery. So I didn't know what to expect this time around.

This labor was definitely a bit different than previous ones, in that I could definitely tell that with the contractions, they stayed more productive and intense (even in transition) while I was upright, whereas with Martin's, for example, I labored on my side for most of the (short) labor, and birthed on my back, because there was no time to think about positioning and he just flew out before I could get up and get to the birth pool. I know some women like delivering in a side-lying position, but I quickly discovered with Heidi's birth that my legs were completely clamped together in that position when a contraction hit, and it would have taken a vise to get them apart during a contraction in that position. At least on my back, I had gravity to help open my pelvis, even if from many perspectives, back-delivery isn't ideal.

So when it became evident that this baby was coming NOW and the pool was not happening, I quickly settled into a back-lying position, for no other reason than the thought of increasing the intensity of pushing by squatting was NOT attractive. I did fine, though, but much like my contractions being stronger while upright, being on my back just wasn't producing very productive pushes. The baby wasn't stuck and was gradually descending, but it just wasn't as fast as it could be. After a few pushes Kathy said the baby would come either way, no worries, but it would be quicker and easier overall for me if we could just get me tilted up a bit. After my previous experience of not having to push with Martin, I had to re-calibrate the expectation that yes, I'd have to put forth some effort to push this baby out ;-).

I said I couldn't lean myself forward to be propped up so Adrian and Claire (I think?) leaned me forward and shoved some pillows behind me. It's amazing what just a little extra angle can do, and the next few pushes were definitely more efficacious, but Kathy suggested that it would be even better if I could grab my knees and lean forward, which I did. The baby's head quickly crowned after a few pushes and at that point the sensation was so intense that I couldn't hold onto my knees and asked the others to keep them in place (the only time I asked anyone to touch me the whole labor, I think!), which definitely helped. There is nothing quite like the relief of feeling a baby's head slip out, followed by the body!

Heidi immediately started wailing on exit, so we knew she had a good set of lungs! She was born at 12:16 am, and my parents and sister and brother-in-law could hear her healthy cries from the basement. They came up after a bit and waited in the living room to hear more news. We hadn't found out the gender beforehand, but as soon as she was lifted to rest on my abdomen, I could tell she was a girl. When she was weighed later, after placenta delivery and nursing and such, she was 8lbs even, which kind of cracked me up since she had measured so low in fundal height the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, for some unknown reason. Apparently she was just really low and really curled up or something! Martin was my next biggest baby at 7lbs 8oz.

The cord was a bit short, so I had to wait for the delivery of the placenta to latch her on, but then she nursed eagerly while we both got examined. I had a few minor skid marks, but didn't need stitching. I basically have had minor tears in the exact same place with all 4 deliveries. I've been stitched the other 3 times, but this time my midwife suggested letting it heal on its own and lessening the scarring as a result. So it was kind of nice not to have to pause for stitching up, and I've had very little tenderness and no swelling this time around.

For the first delivery in my experience, my midwives were also able to offer some easing and support with pushing. That's not as possible in a water birth (but the water can help with that), and Martin flew out too quickly, but this time as I started to push and as the baby's head crowned, our midwife Brandi gently stretched my perineum and massaged it with some arnica oil, which definitely was not a pleasant sensation, but I could definitely tell it helped, along with the hot compresses they used.

We are so grateful to God for an easy birth, and once again, I really enjoyed being able to stay at home and not worry about birthing in a car or anything. It's nice to settle into your own bed to rest after the birth. I've also birthed in a birth center (for Hans) and a hospital (for Gretchen), and they weren't horrid experiences and great options to have. I think a woman should pick a birth option with providers that are skilled and respectful of them, but that doesn't have to exclude non-homebirth options :-). But it's also nice that so many non-American nations ;-) recognize the safety and even benefits of homebirth for low-risk women. I'm grateful for the option for myself!

And for handy reference, my other birth stories:

Hans Friedrich

Gretchen Liesl

Martin Wilhelm