Monthly Archives: July 2013

Guess who’s turning one today?!

I can hardly believe it’s already been a year since Yirmiyahu was born.  So much has happened and time has gone so fast, and at the same time, I wonder how a year has already gone by?

It’s been an intense year filled with many challenges, the likes of which I hope I never have to go through again.  But as far as Yirmiyahu himself, he has been a bundle of sweetness that has brought untold joy to us all.

For my readers, what did you think when I shared that we had received the diagnosis of Trisomy 21 after Yirmiyahu was born?  Did you feel sorry for us, flinch at our bad luck and feel we deserved consolation?

I didn’t.

Though it seems most parents are initially devastated by the diagnosis, I wasn’t.  One reason for this is that I didn’t accept for even for one second what the doctors told me to be the final word, as a sentence for what our baby’s life would look like. I knew that they couldn’t predict his future, despite their solemn faces as they delivered the news and told me all the things he’d never be able to do, all the problems he’d have, all the things they were so sure that they knew.  I knew that this baby would have his own journey, just like each of our other children.

There was so much they didn’t tell me – I imagine that every year the list of things that they didn’t tell me will grow.  They didn’t tell me how our hearts would open wider and become more understanding and accepting of people and their challenges.  They didn’t tell us how our paradigm of the world would shift.  They didn’t tell us how much excitement we’d feel over every step of his development – his first smile, when he rolled over, sat, supported himself on both knees, held a bottle, waved goodbye, said ‘mama’ to me ….

They told us he’d be mentally retarded, and the social worker reassured us by adding that kids with Down syndrome love to hug and kiss people and don’t know they’re different.  This supposed consolation was worse than the doctors’ gloominess – this is what I had to look forward to?  None of them told us about the sparkle of intelligence and curiosity in his eyes or the depth of love in his heart.  They didn’t tell us how much he’d be able to learn, or stress how critical to his development our emotional investment in him would be.  They didn’t tell us about the impressive accomplishments of so many people with Down syndrome, things that would give parents so much encouragement and hope rather than fill them with discouragement and despair.  And they could never have told us how lucky we were to have this wonderful child become part of our family.  They couldn’t tell us what they didn’t know.

A baby with Down syndrome has some differences from a typical baby.  And that’s okay. It’s okay to be different.  We’re all different in some ways, and part of our growth as human beings is to widen the circles of those that we accept and include in our lives, even when they don’t look or act just like us.   But a baby with any kind of disability is still much more alike than different from all other babies.  They thrive on our love and acceptance and appreciation.  They have futures that can’t be predicted in advance regardless of their diagnosis or lack of diagnosis.  The future is open to us all and it’s up to each of us to make the most of it.  The doctors forget that.  But we as parents know better.

There are many milestones ahead of us. Crawling, walking, talking, reading.  There will be times of struggle and worry, times we doubt ourselves and times we are afraid for his future.  Like with all of our children.

I am so happy and grateful every single day that Yirmiyahu is part of our family.  As he is.  Because as he is, is just perfect.

Happy birthday, Yirmiyahu!


Fun, games, reading and how kids learn

I received the following comment after yesterday’s post:

>>this is interesting to me. i have always wanted to homeschool but it a very foreign idea for my dh. i am surprised to hear that your main plans for the year are reading and playing games. if my dh ever agreed to homeschool, he would want me to have serious academic plans. how do you explain your approach to someone like my dh, who i’d describe as interested but skeptical.<<

What I wrote about was my summer plans, not my official homeschooling schedule.  My homeschooling schedule is a bit more structured.  However, this question brings up a perception about education that I’d like to address.

What if my homeschooling plans were to basically read with my kids and play games?  I feel very, very confident that they’d get an amazing education and have a wonderful quality of life.  Why?  There are a few things to consider, but right now I’ll just address the primary issue of how children learn.

Children are natural learners – the desire to explore and understand the world around them is an inherent part of who they are.   This is unfortunately a quality that is usually suppressed once they are in the school system; it’s not cool to be interested in knowledge and the school structure seems almost designed to make children disinterested in learning for its own sake.  Their understanding of what knowledge is morphs into the hugely limiting idea that it’s what your teacher tells you in the course of a classroom lesson.  Kids learn to keep quiet rather than ask questions and be engaged, to waste as much of the teacher’s time as possible and find creative ways to waste their own time during the lesson.  (I’m remembering the endless lists some classmates would make during high school classes- for example, all the songs they could think of  was one list – I remember being motioned to and the list pointed at so I could add my suggestions.  To the teacher it looks like you’re writing notes.:))  When it comes time for a test, they scurry to study, spit back the information they learn and then promptly forget it all again – unless a person finds value in information, he doesn’t have reason to remember it.

This is why teachers are usually so delighted to have homeschooled kids in their classes, and why colleges have a preference for homeschooled students – because they haven’t developed this apathy towards learning.  They’ve maintained the  inquisitive and interested way of looking at the world that all children start off with and it’s a pleasure to teach people who want to learn.

All people learn much more when they’re engaged and having fun.  This is why I’m not a fan of structured curriculum that is divorced from a child’s interests.  Without interest on the child’s part, his retention of the material is going to be quite poor.   Games are a wonderful way to spend time with your child, or for them to spend time with their siblings or friends – and for them to learn lots in the meantime!  We have a lot of math type games in our home, and I’ve found this a wonderful way to integrate learning lots of mathematical concepts.  (I’ll write more about this in a different post if there’s interest.)  Ditto with word games – there’s plenty that can be learned by playing games.  My kids spelling got lots better when they started playing Bananagrams often!

playing memory card game with ds4

playing memory card game with ds4 today

What about reading?  Reading with children is not only a great opportunity to snuggle up on a couch together for an enjoyable shared story.   Enjoying time together with your children is so valuable in a number of ways – and did you know that there’s a tremendous benefit to children academically when they feel connected to the parent who is homeschooling them?  Kids learn more and learn better when they’re with someone they feel safe with and cared about.  But setting that aside, reading is a phenomenal way to learn just about anything!  Where is knowledge?  In books.

You can read all sorts of things together, fiction and non fiction. I’ve read lots of historical fiction with my kids and they’ve learned lots of history.  You can read fictional books like A Wrinkle in Time that explore scientific concepts.  Nowadays we have so many beautifully illustrated non-fiction books on just about every topic.  My four year old’s current favorite book is Sefer Yonah/Book of Jonah.  I’ve read it a few times in just the last week!  (This is the actual biblical version, with child-friendly illustrations.)  I read it with explanations of the commentaries and questions of my own sprinkled in, and and he’s soaking in much more than if I formally sat him down at an older age and lectured at him and had him fill out worksheets.

Of course, kids can read on their own as well.  I limit ‘twaddle’, the fluffy mind numbing low quality pulp fiction, because it’s like candy.  Okay in small amounts but sickening if it’s your main diet.  Once you provide your children with good quality literature, you’re giving them a regular opportunity to soak in good language usage/structure/grammar, not to mention the many thought provoking ideas they can contemplate.

Kids will want to do things on their own in addition to this.  They aren’t going to sit around on their hands after playing and reading looking at the celing!   What kind of things will children who are interested in the world do?   Something will stimulate their interest and they’ll ask, “Can we do a project?  Build something?  Plant something?  Do science experiments?  Play an instrument?”  As they get older they often look for more structured ways of learning things on their own.  And the beauty of this learning is that it’s meaningful to them.

Does this make sense?  Feel free to ask more questions if there’s a point that wasn’t clear!