Tag Archives: homeschool

So Many Reasons to be Thankful!

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This time of year I find myself reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for. With the Thanksgiving holiday comes acknowledgement of all those blessings that we perhaps overlook or take for granted when our focus is not on thanksgiving and counting our blessings. It is perhaps a sad reality that it takes a nudge from Hallmark to get us thinking about all we take for granted. But I am grateful for a reminder to ponder on all the blessings God has bestowed upon our family.

One of those blessings is the opportunity we have had to teach our children at home for the last 14 years.

Homeschooling wasn’t a lifestyle choice we sought out. Rather, it was one that landed in our lap unexpectedly. Gracie attended a traditional “brick and mortar” public school for Kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience and we had no reason to seek out a different educational path for her (or the children that followed) and yet during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade year we began feeling prompted to look into homeschooling. This heavenly nudge scared me to death. I didn’t know the first thing about homeschooling, I had no idea where to start, and I knew everyone we love would think we were crazy, but the more I pushed off the notion of moving our child back home for school, the more God pushed back…

So, I began to research our options.

I soon discovered that the resources and support for this educational path were abundant. There were so many options and so many paths within the path of educating children at home. We finally decided to take the leap of faith. The thought that calmed my nerves was that it was only 1st grade. Surely I couldn’t mess Grace up too badly over the course of one year…It was only 1st grade.

The journey that began with such anxiety and uncertainty soon became the source of much joy and endless blessings for our children and our family as a whole. We decided to take the path of cyber schooling, choosing a cyber school that first year that would allow me to do most of the hands-on teaching but allowed for the teacher-support and accountability that made me feel more secure in this new role.

As our first year came to a close I knew that this was the right model of education for our family. We fell in love with the school-at-home lifestyle and all that it offered us as a family. A year that began with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty ended with feelings of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We had done it and done it well.

When we felt the nudge to begin walking this unfamiliar path we had no idea the “why” behind the prompting. We didn’t have any idea of the challenges the next few years would hold, or how this educational path would benefit our family as we navigated those challenges, until we found ourselves in the midst of them…

Challenges like Grace and Molly’s reading struggles due to Dyslexia, Rusty’s challenges with Selective Mutism, and our adoptive sons’ needs for therapeutic support and opportunity for family attachment made the home school environment ideal for meeting their unique, individual needs.

There is no way we could have anticipated those challenges when our children were small but Heavenly Father could and He set us up for success as a family by placing us on the exact path we needed to be on to support our children in their own individual journeys.

Over the last 14 years we have spent countless hours reading novels while snuggling on the couch, performing countless science experiments at the kitchen counter, working our way through endless math worksheets that got progressively harder with each passing year, traveling around the state to learn first hand about the world around us through countless field trips, and making lifelong friends through our co-op and cyber schools. We have been blessed with thousands of extra hours to parent, teach, and train our children at home while most of their peers were spending their days with teachers and school staff, a blessing that has allowed us to facilitate growth that would have been especially challenging had we traveled a more traditional path.

This pattern of education is not the right fit for every child or every family, but I am so grateful we were nudged (or shoved) onto this less traveled path, because it has made all the difference.

This year Braden was our 6th child to venture down this road. Last year he opted to attend our local public school but during the summer he came to us asking if he could be cyber schooled for his senior year. It has been a great fit for him and he is thriving. So much of that success is due to the phenomenal cyber school that has been an incredible blessing to our family for the last six years. Braden has joined Rusty at 21st Century Cyber Charter School for 12th grade. This is the same cyber school that did such a phenomenal job of preparing Grace and Molly for success in college. As I consider the blessings that have accompanied this educational journey, 21st Century is at the top of that list…

So, it was fitting that during this month of gratitude, we were able to join staff and other 21CCCS families at the Murrysville location for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The outing was split into two parts. First came the preparation. Then came the feast. The students arrived at the school building two hours prior to the scheduled feast to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their families.

We dropped off Braden and Rusty and they, along with other students, began preparing our meal.

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When we arrived two hours later the yummy smells permeated the halls.

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When Tyler, Toby and I walked in we found the students and staff enjoying a Thanksgiving trivia game.

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We joined in using our phones to compete against other players in the room.

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Then it was time to eat!

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The students had all done a great job of preparing a mouth-watering feast,

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Complete with pies for dessert. Rusty and Braden made the Oreo crème pies for the meal.

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It was a wonderful celebration of all that we have to be thankful for.

And for this momma, our school-at-home journey and 21st Century Cyber Charter School are found at the top of that list!

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We are blessed!

 

A Monthly Update

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Often in my focus to report on the “big” events of life I procure a pile of photographs documenting the smaller moments that add up to life here on Patchwork Farm. This blog is dedicated to that collection of captured moments. Here’s to the moments that make up our ordinary, extraordinary life!

Searching for Buried Treasure

Toby is a member of a local metal detecting club. The Beaver County Metal Detecting Club is comprised of 20+ men and women who gather monthly to compare notes and swap stories of their best treasure finds over the last month, as well as organize formal hunts a few times a year.

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A few Saturdays ago was the annual fall hunt with the club…something Toby always looks forward to. The hunt keeps him out of the house all day as club members participate in a series of hunts, searching out buried treasure hidden by members of the club earlier in the day. Toby always returns home a bit sore from all the up and down movement that comes with an all day hunt, but with a smile on his face, eager to show off his haul.

Tyler is always first in line to help Daddy sort and count his loot.

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Great Blessings

We would just like to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support you have shown our family and Ozzie during this hard season of life. We have felt the sustaining and strengthening power of many prayers and are happy to report Ozzie is doing better than we ever imagined. He is thriving. The results of the therapeutic support he is receiving is nothing short of miraculous and we are so proud of him and the hard work he is doing to heal. He will be starting EMDR therapy this week with a licensed EMDR therapist and I firmly believe this therapy, used with patients suffering from PTSD, will be the answer we have been seeking to unlock the memories of abuse at the hands of Ozzie’s birth mother and birth father, and open the door to begin healing from that trauma.

Family-Based Rocks!

Because Ozzie will be away for a few months, our Family-Based services are coming to a close. Family-Based is another layer of therapeutic support we implemented in hopes of helping Ozzie stabilize and heal at home. That was not God’s plan for Ozzie and our time working with Family-Based was short lived, but it served a purpose. I can now look back and see why God opened a door that closed so quickly after entering it. Our time with Lisa and Valerie was short but they provided support and resources that were key in helping our family heal…particularly in meeting the needs of the older kids who were dealing with their own trauma…trauma that comes as a result of adopting a child who had been abused and suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was Valerie that introduced my older kids to the Ready Yourself Youth Ranch that they now volunteer at two mornings a week, helping with horses and learning the skills they need to become mentors at the ranch.

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Last week was our last home visit from our Family-Based team. They brought cupcakes to celebrate and a craft project for the kids to do while they talked and helped the kids process the muddy mix of emotions everyone is struggling with since Ozzie left.

They painted river rocks together. In our area there is a fun movement taking place that involves painting rocks, tagging them with #beavercountyrocks, sealing them and then hiding them around the county. Once found you can follow the travels of your rocks on Facebook as seekers take photos of your rock, post it, and then hide it in a new location.

The kids had fun painting their river rocks to get into the #beavercountyrocks game.

The results were fun and creative!

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Now, where to hide our rocks?!

Ukulele Adventures

For Molly’s birthday she received a ukulele from my parents. She has been toting it back and forth to co-op each week where her friend, Caleigh, has been giving her lessons. With all the toting back and forth Molly decided a case was in order. She found one online and used some of her hard earned money to purchase this charming panda themed case. Molly is thrilled!

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PSATs…BLAH!

Last Wednesday Molly and Rusty had their PSAT test. This test…preparation for next year’s SAT test, is just a sad testament to how old my babies are getting. I look at Rusty and Molly and can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we are creeping closer to college searches. Neither were particularly thrilled with taking the PSAT but were excited that they were able to test at our school’s new Pittsburgh location and see their Pittsburgh based teachers.

Tatum and Annaliese, two of Molly co-op friends, were also signed up for testing, so we volunteered to load up Big Bessie and take everyone down on Wednesday morning. Rather than have everyone drop off kids off at 6:30 in the morning, we just had the girls spend the night. It worked out well. They managed to take something they were all dreading and make it fun.

Earlier in the day Molly prepped the bus for their sleepover. She thought it would be fun to camp out in the bus, and I was thrilled to see the bus getting used after a summer of sitting dormant. Molly made the beds, carried out movies they could watch on the TV, and filled the fridge with snacks and drinks.

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I think the girls had fun,

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And everyone survived testing, although I think they would all say they are glad it is done and over with!

Rusty on the Road

Rusty is slowly and hesitantly embracing his role as a new driver. Being the third child I have taught to drive, I find it interesting how personalities shine forth in each child’s driving style. Rusty, who has always been extremely careful and conscientious, is a slow and steady driver. There is no speeding, law bending, or bone breaking moves with him behind the wheel.

Tyler must disagree, as he has taken to wearing safety gear when Rusty is behind the wheel. ūüôā

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I fear the day it is Tyler’s turn to get behind the wheel. I think I may have to borrow that helmet!!

My Mini-Me

Grace is now a red head and I think she plans to stay that way. After years of bemoaning the fact that I ended up with three blondies, I finally have a redhead… thanks to L’Oreal!

I don’t know if it is the red hair or if the genetic connection has become more pronounced but I feel as though I now have a younger (and much cuter)¬† mini-me!

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My Buddy

Tyler is now my buddy. With Ozzie away and the older kids engaged in school, social activities, and work, it feels as though it is often just Tyler and I hanging out. Between therapy and tutoring appointments 5 days a week, we spend a lot of time on the road together or at the table together doing school. After a decade of juggling the teaching of 3-5 children their lessons every day, it is bizarre to have hours to spend working with just one. The older kids are so independent now that they only come to me when they need clarification or help with a question, which frees me up to work with Tyler all day…

and I must admit I’ve loved.

We have had a lot of fun delving deeper into subjects that interest him, seeking out fun science experiments and art projects to enhance his online school lessons, and having the time for weekly trips to the library. Here are some of his recent projects:

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The Monster Under the Bed

All of the one-on-one attention has been a blessing in other ways too. Tyler is struggling with monster sized fears, fears we are working to address in therapy. These fears are driven by the abuse he suffered as a small child and while he struggles to express the thoughts consuming him in his head I have been able to piece together the fact that they are trauma driven simply by where and when they are most prevalent. His PTSD seems to rear its ugly head after the sun goes down. Nighttime is scary time and his bedroom and the bathroom are the places he fears most. From his child profile I know that dark, closed places and the family bathroom are where most of the abuse took place, so it make sense that those are the places he fears most.

Miss Tina, our therapist, has been working with Tyler to help counteract the negative emotions connected to those locations with positive ones. We do this by making happy, light, funny memories in those locations. We play family board games on his bedroom floor, we have shaving cream battles in the bathroom….whatever we can think of to bring light and peace and laughter to a place that is dark and scary in Tyler’s mind.

One way we have done this is with the use of bathtub crayons in the shower. Bathtime is a nightmare with Tyler. He is terrified to shower or bathe. And knowing what was done to him in his birth family’s bathroom, I understand that. But we have to help him overcome that fear, so we bought some bath crayons, and enlisting the help of the other kids our shower wall has now become a message board for the kids. Tyler’s curiosity of what funny photos, messages and game boards have been drawn on the shower wall since his last bath has surpassed the fear of bathing (as long as we do daytime showers.) And I have LOVED reading the dialog back and forth. What an awesome way to battle a fear, encourage writing, and strengthen bonds between siblings, all in one swoop!

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Healing bonds via Snail Mail

Strengthening bonds has been a focus in all our family’s relationships this past month. We have all felt the polarizing affects of RAD and trauma after the last 8 months of being in crisis mode. This ongoing, escalated state has a huge effect on relationships and the family dynamic. Now that everyone is stable we are trying to begin healing the damage. One way we are facilitating that healing is through weekly letters between Ozzie and the other kids. Every Sunday they write him a letter which are then mailed out through the week. Ozzie then can write back and the kids can begin reconnecting again.

This week we did something different. We each did a handprint on paper using paint. When our handprints had dried we flipped them over and everyone wrote something they love or admire about Ozzie, using the line, “A high five for…”

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I then laminated our handprints and connected them with a metal ring as a special momento for Ozzie, allowing him to reach out and touch our hands whenever he feels lonely.

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Well, there you go…

A small snapshot of our ordinary, extraordinary life.

God is good!

 

A Blessed Saturday

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Toby was home on Saturday so it turned into a project day. It was cool and rainy, giving us the perfect excuse to hunker down and work on some house projects.

Number one on the list was painting. Over the last few weeks Toby has been working¬†to patch and sand the many holes made in the drywall over the last year as a result of little boys raging. The bulk of the damage was in Ozzie and Tyler’s room but we also has a few other spots through the house that needed patched. Toby was all done with repairs so everyone pitched in to repaint Tyler and Ozzie’s rooms and touch up the other spots.

Now given the instability of things around here lately, I do recognize the efforts may be futile, but for now the walls are beautifully pristine. ūüôā

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While we were in painting mode we decided to tackle another project that has been sitting on the back burner for the last year. A while ago we were given an old set of school lockers that we thought would be cute in Tyler’s sports themed bedroom. They needed painted so they have been sitting in the basement waiting for some TLC. We finally got around to the task last Saturday. We let Tyler pick the colors he wanted to spray paint the lockers with the understanding that Mom and Dad had veto power. Tyler’s first pick was neon pink. When that was vetoed he chose red, green, and yellow for the doors and chalkboard paint for the sides so he can draw on the lockers.

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He loved helping prime the lockers. I think maybe he enjoyed it too much.

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He declared with glee, “I feel like one of those bad boys who color on buildings!”

Beware world: if you see the following image tagging the buildings and bridges of Pittsburgh then you will know Tyler has turned to a life of crime!

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In the afternoon we loaded everyone up for errands. Molly needed to be dropped of at work so we all tagged along.

Work is going well for the girls. They are thriving as Pretzel Factory workers. In fact they are doing so well that they received a personal call from the district owner who has noticed the girls’ work ethic and diligence and called to inform them that they will both be receiving a raise. She said that their store’s sales have increased significantly in the last quarter and she credits Grace and Molly’s work with the increase in the store’s profits. The girls were thrilled…not only for the pay raise but for the recognition.

After a trip to Home Depot and Walmart we headed over to Ellwood City. Rusty had heard news that the comic book store in Ellwood City was having a “Free Graphic Novel” day. Every customer who stopped in could pick from a selection of free graphic novels. Rusty loves graphic novels and asked if we could go check it out.

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We arrived and found a large selection of books to choose from. Rusty was in heaven. The kids searched through the pile of choices looking for the one they wanted. Toby and then previewed possible choices, making sure the content was age appropriate.

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There was something for everyone! Who knew my girl Janet Evanovich wrote graphic novels?!

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Everyone left with some new bedtime reading.

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When we returned home Toby gave the boys haircuts while Grace and I had her weekly one-on-one time. She chose to make fudge. She found a recipe for cookies & crème fudge on Pinterest, so that is what we made. The rainy weather made baking a perfect Saturday afternoon activity and the results of our labors were then enjoyed the next evening as our Family Night treat.

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We are all adjusting to the new normal of having Grace gone more than she is at home. Between two jobs and school she is a girl on the go, but is thriving and loving life. She has fully embraced her new status as college student and is loving her classes. In addition to school changes Grace has transitioned from being a young woman at church to a young adult. She no longer has early morning seminary or Wednesday night youth group. Now her Wednesday nights are spent at institute (church classes for college aged students.) This past Sunday was also her first Sunday attending church down in Pittsburgh at the young adult ward where the congregation is comprised of 18-30 year olds. It is a chance for her to get to know, socialize with,¬†and worship with like minded peers… and also happens to be where Toby and I met 20 years ago. It was a bit surreal sending her off to our old stomping grounds for church. It feels like I was in her shoes just yesterday. How can we be old enough to have a daughter that age?!

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But I am also excited for her. That was such an exciting, sweet time of my life and I am thrilled she gets to embark on such a grand adventure. Week one was a huge success. Grace loved it. Now the rest of us just need to get adjust to being a family of 6 at church. It has been especially challenging for Molly,¬†who has had to get¬†used to not having her best friend/sister in Young Women’s with her.

This seems to be the season of change for our family…both good and hard.

We are still working to get Ozzie in a good place and appreciate all of the prayers said on his behalf. We have felt the sustaining power of the many prayers lifting us up these past few weeks and we are very grateful. When we have a better idea of where we are at and what needs to happen next we will share but until then, thank you for your prayers.

 

School is back in Session

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What a summer it has been!

As I look back on my own blogs…the recordings of all that transpired over the last 3 months… I am shocked at all the living that happened in such a short time. Our summer was filled to the brim with graduation, girls’ camp, multiple Boy Scout camps, Trek, tutoring, a wedding, and a whole lot of travel.

It has been a summer of extremes with many high highs and some hard low lows. But it has been a summer full of blessings as we have worked to get services in place for both little boys, all while making time to create some fun memories amid the chaos.

Now we are on the cusp of school beginning again. You can tell it has been a well lived summer by everyone’s acceptance and even eager anticipation of the return of school and schedules. We had a lot of fun playing this summer but we are all ready for routine.

This school year promises to be unlike any in the past as we adjust to Grace starting college and our schedule being filled with even more services and support than last year. This is a blessing. I am grateful for the access and availability of good programs to help meet my boys’ needs, but I’m still not sure how it is all going to mesh together. There will be an absurd amount of moving parts¬†in this year’s schedule. Tyler will have two different reading tutoring sessions twice a week, both an hour away which means we will be gone from 3:30- 7:30 every Tuesday and Thursday. Both boys will continue with trauma therapy every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 10:30-12:30. In addition Ozzie is now also receiving extra therapeutic support in the form of family based therapy in which two therapist come out to the house three days a week. Add to all of that occupational therapy for Tyler, co-op on Wednesdays, church activities,¬†piano lessons, equine therapy for the two boys, and the girls’ work schedules (Grace has now picked up another job of babysitting three days a week from 5:30 am- 8:00 am) and I’m not sure how it will all come together. ¬†I am trusting that the gracious God who delivered these services and support to our family will also align the moving parts into a seamless schedule.

Sunday night was family night. Now that Grace¬†has a Monday night class and Molly will be working regularly on Monday nights, we have moved family night to Sunday evenings…a time that is reserved for family. This week rather than a typical lesson, we had our annual back to school dinner.

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While everyone was laying down for Sunday naps I snuck into the dinning room to decorate the table for our dinner and lesson. I had fun tapping into my creative juices and making the table look festive with a back-to-school theme.

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For dinner I prepared our traditional Sunday meal of spaghetti with meat sauce and Caesar salad.

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The kids sat down at the table and as we ate we played a school themed trivia game to test everyone’s recall after a hiatus away from school.¬†The game is¬†geared more to Tyler’s age group, allowing him and Ozzie an equal shot of answering the questions as the big kids.

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After dinner we cleared away plates to prepare for the lesson part of the evening. Every year as part of our back-to-school dinner Toby and I prayerfully select a quote or a scripture to build our focus around for the upcoming school year. This year we chose the following quote by Gordon B. Hinckley:

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As we shared it with the kids we talked about the truth of that quote. It isn’t the big, life-changing moments that build our life, but rather the simple and small choices we make daily.

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This led into my object lesson. We began by having everyone share something they felt they did successfully the previous school year and then share an area they would like to improve in this upcoming school year. We asked them to envision what they would like this school year to look like and then discussed what small, simple, daily decisions they needed to make to achieve that larger vision.

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Each one of the kids were given 3 Legos and asked what three goals they wanted to set for themselves that would be the building blocks for their structure of success. They wrote their goals on the Lego bricks and now will be able to use them as a visual reminder of the daily choices they are striving for this school year.

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We then completed the same exercise with a tower of 5 bricks, which will serve as the family’s goals for the year. We asked the kids what building blocks were most important for a happy, healthy home life and they came up with these 5 areas of focus. This tower of goals will sit on the window ledge in the kitchen and serve as a reminder of the choices we need to be making daily.

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Then it was time for everyone’s back to school goody bags.

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This year I went school shopping on my own and put together pencil pockets full of back to school supplies that were reflective of each child. Everyone was thrilled with their new supplies.

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Is there anything better than new pencils and empty notebooks?!

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The night ended with lemon meringue pie,¬†Toby’s choice for the family night treat, and back to school blessings.

This year we will have a college freshman:

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A 11th grader:

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A 10th grader:

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A 7th grader:

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and a 5th grader:

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Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive, sane school year!

Let the learning begin!

The LeMoyne House

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The day after our adventure into Pittsburgh to visit the¬†Heinz History Center we had another field trip 1 1/2 hours south of us to visit the LeMoyne House. This field trip was with our old cyber school¬†which we were invited to attend with¬†our friends, the¬†Caylors. It is a rare occurrence to have two fieldtrips in one week but the timing of this fieldtrip couldn’t have been better, given we had just learned all about the LeMoyne house the day before at the Heinz History Center in their Underground Railroad exhibit.

We were thrilled to stumble across this display at Heinz History Center that really set up the story of the next day’s fieldtrip. It¬†was beneficial to all the kids but really important to Tyler who needed that point of reference to be engaged and get anything out of this upcoming¬†historical home tour.

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There at the Heinz History Center they had a 3D computer replica of the LeMoyne house that you could “tour” and read some of the firsthand accounts of the stories of the underground railroad that occurred there.

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The kids were able to listen to the historical account of one of the LeMoyne sons being sent up to the second story balcony where he was instructed by his father to drop the beehives, that were kept there, on the heads of the slave catchers if they tried to force their way into the house.

We also¬†read the account¬†of Mrs. Lemoyne’s quick thinking when she faced slave catchers pushing their way into her home to search the house while her husband was out of town. She quickly ran upstairs, put on her nightgown, and climbed into bed, pretending she was sick. When the slave catcher came to her bedroom door she scolded him for trying to enter the bedchambers of a married woman. Shamed, the slave catcher left without ever discovering the seven slaves she had hidden beneath her bed.

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We were able to tour the bedroom and see the bed from the story while visiting the Lemoyne house.

 

Tyler’s response to the story: “That is one smart, tricky lady!”

The next day we drove to Washington county to tour this beautiful and historical home that is now part of the National Park Service.

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“The stately stone house, located at 49 East Maiden Street in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, was built in 1812 by John Julius LeMoyne, the father of Francis Julius LeMoyne. Both father and son were practicing physicians, but it was the courageous Francis Julius LeMoyne who, despite the strict Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, risked his personal freedom and fortune to do what he knew was morally right ‚ÄĒ take a stand against the institution of slavery. This successful 19th Century doctor, reformer and builder of the first crematory in the western hemisphere, opened his home and properties as stops along the Underground Railroad, the series of safe hiding places for runaway slaves as they trudged north on their precarious journey to Canada and freedom.

The father of five daughters (and three sons), he also believed in and promoted education for women, specifically helping to found the Washington Female Seminary. Always a supporter of education, this successful physician funded several chairs at Washington College (now known as the prestigious Washington & Jefferson College), started Citizens Library, a free public library for the people of Washington and neighboring communities, and founded LeMoyne College (now known as LeMoyne-Owen College) in Memphis, Tennessee, predominantly for the education of the newly freed slaves. The LeMoyne House is now a museum filled with period artifacts and dedicated to Dr. LeMoyne’s memory.” – Washington Historical Society

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As the first confirmed underground railroad station in Pennsylvania, and now one of only six registered underground railroad homes in Pennsylvania, the Lemoyne home tour¬†was a¬†fascinating way to spend our day. It was amazing to step back in time and witness the affect one man’s life and the choices he made¬†had on hundreds of others. It truly stands as a testament to the far reaching affect we can each have when we stand for what is right.

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Home for the Holidays

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Last Wednesday our co-op went “Home for the Holidays.”

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It was our big, annual Christmas party with our cooperative learning group. After 10 years of Christmas parties there are not many themes we haven’t covered. We have done “Christmas Around the World,” “Holiday TV classics,” “The Polar Express,” “A Musical Christmas,” and “Favorite Christmas Stories.” This year we were racking our brains for something we haven’t done before…a theme we could build our Christmas party around. We came up with “Home for the Holidays” and it turned out to be my favorite theme yet!

On the first Wednesday of December we always have our final co-op for the month, returning back after the new year. On this Wednesday we don’t have any of our typical classes or activities. Instead we have a party and fill the day with Christmas crafts, games, gift exchanges, and a Christmas lunch. It is always a lot of fun despite the boatload of work¬†leading up¬†to this special day.

The theme this year, “Home for the Holidays,” was¬†magical in its simplicity. The idea was to allow the other families at co-op a glimpse into¬†the individual¬†holiday traditions that our families hold dear. Each mom was given a classroom to decorate¬† with decorations from home and were given 20 minutes to do an activity or craft with the kids, reflective of a holiday tradition their family cherishes. There were seven rooms and the kids were split into groups of 6 and rotated through the different “homes.”

It was so much fun seeing what each family came up with and learn more about each other’s Christmas traditions.

The Caylor family has a tradition of decorating a stocking each year (individually) to reflect the interests and experiences of each person’s life that past year. Miss Tauni had many of her own stockings from the previous 20 Christmases hanging on display as an example of what they have done in the past.

For the craft she had sewn little stockings for each of the kids to decorate with glitter paint. It was such a fun tradition to hear about and the kids all loved making their own little stockings. It was fun to see what designs the kids all came up.

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The McCready family has the tradition of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December as a family. At this station the kids had the opportunity to make an ornament. Miss Corrina printed out a variety of black and white photos of the co-op kids that they were able to choose from, cut out, and place in a glass bulb with glitter and snow to make a snow globe ornament. On the whiteboard she had written some of the more notable quotes from the film that the kids could copy on the outside of their ornament with a gold pen.

After completing their craft the kids had fun filling out the “It’s a Wonderful Life” trivia sheets.

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The Hudak family has the Christmas tradition of decorating Christmas cookies and watching “Home Alone.” In their room the kids decorated cinnamon ornaments shaped like gingerbread houses with white puff paint, creating an ornament for the tree that looks like a frosted gingerbread cookie.

While the kids worked they watched part of “Home Alone,” enjoyed rice krispy treats,¬†and played “Bean Boozled.”

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In Miss Nicole’s room the kids learned about their family’s tradition of collecting nutcrackers and Christmas salt and pepper shakers. The kids were able to see some of the boys’ nutcrackers and Miss Nicole’s shakers that were on display.

For the craft the kids were able to choose between painting a miniature nutcracker or glass salt and pepper shakers while munching on Christmas cookies.

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In Miss Kathy’s room the kids were able to participate in their family’s tradition of decorating gingerbread houses. Miss Kathy had pre-constructed houses made from graham crackers that the kids were able to cover with candies.

In their family they also have a tradition of watching Polar Express so she gave each of the kids a silver jingle bell with the tag, “The bell still rings for those who truly believe.”

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In the Stone family’s room the kids were able to participate in an epic photo booth and make decorated frames, reflective of the Stone’s annual tradition of holiday photos.

Miss Rose¬† brought a box of holiday costumes and props and the kids were able to stand in front of a green screen and pick from a series of backgrounds on Miss Rose’s I-Pad to make fun holiday scenes. This was a¬†favorite stop for the kids on their trip “Home for the Holidays.”

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Our family’s room was the last stop of the morning and all the groups joined together for our activity. In our room we decorated the table with some of the sillier traditions we enjoy as a family. We shared the antics of Buster, our Elf on a Shelf by displaying some of his past pranks.

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For our activity we recreated the funny “white elephant” gift exchange that is part of our Christmas Eve traditions every year. The kids had fun helping me prepare for the activity by scouring the aisles of Dollar Tree for 23 crazy items to wrap for the game.

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One by one the kids took turns picking gifts and stealing from each other until everyone had a wrapped gift. Then one by one they unwrapped their crazy gifts, sharing in the same laughs our family enjoys every Christmas Eve.

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After our final “Home for the Holidays” room we enjoyed a pizza lunch with side dishes, drinks, and desserts brought in by each family.

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Each mom was in charge of decorating a lunchroom table with Christmas decorations from home, thus continuing our “Home for the Holidays” them in the d√©cor.

After lunch we concluded the party with a gift exchange between the kids. Every student had previously drawn a name of another student and with a $5.oo budget shopped for a special gift.

The kids sat in a big circle and took turns delivering their gifts to the person they bought for. All my kids were thrilled with the gifts they received.

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Tyler received the movie, “Olive the other Reindeer” from Saga. This cute movie about a dog named Olive who wants to help save Christmas, was a perfect choice for Tyler. He insisted that as soon as we got home he must watch it with Olive since it is a movie about her.

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We could not have asked for a more perfect day. It was magical.

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This was Gracie’s last co-op Christmas party. Next year she will be off at college and we will be down one McCleery. After 10 years of co-op Christmas parties it is hard to imagine one without her there. I’m so glad her last one was this one. Getting to walk into the “homes” of these women who have been like second mothers to her, and learn more about them, and the joys they find in this time of year, brings such a special meaning to the theme of “Home for the Holidays.”

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Gorgeous Grace

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Gracie is a senior this year…

EEEK!

I am not sure how that happened.

It seems it was but a moment ago she was in the toddling phase, just leaning how to navigate, and now she is perched at the edge of the nest ready to take flight.

This is such an exciting time of life for her as she looks out on her future, full of such possibilities. She is loving her senior year and we are enjoying all the senior year milestones that come with this stage of life.

Yesterday we enjoyed another senior year bonding moment as mother and daughter when Grace and I had a photography date at the park.

Rather than hire someone else to photograph her for senior pictures we decided it would be more fun to do it ourselves. Grace and I both have a love of photography and felt we were adept enough behind the camera to pull off at least a couple successful shots for her official senior photos.

I always feel the best shots are the ones taken when the person behind the lens and in front of the lens are connected. There is a sincerity in the smile and a love reflective in the eyes of the model that doesn’t come across as well when there isn’t a relationship between the photographer and the¬†person in front of the camera.

We made a mini date out of it.

It was a needed break for both of us as we stepped outside in the gorgeous fall weather, away from the struggles inside the house, to simply play in the leaves. We had fun choosing props reflective of Grace, her personality, and her story and scoping out the perfect natural backdrops.

In the end the results are exactly what Grace was hoping for.

Sure, the quality of my work may not compare to the gentleman who has a professional photography business set up on Main Street, but there is a sparkle in Grace’s eyes that would have never been found if¬†a stranger¬†had been¬†on the other side of the camera.

We played.

We laughed.

And we made some incredible mother/daughter memories that are priceless.

Oh, how I love my sweet Grace!

Here are some of her favorite shots:

(PS- She’s love some feedback on which ones you think she should choose.)

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My take on “Summer Scheduling”

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Summer has arrived and with the end of school comes our annual family meeting about summer goals and schedules.

Yes, I know what you are thinking.

And, yes, I can see the eye rolls through the computer screen.

But give me a moment to make an argument for summer schedules.

While our days are more regimented than most people are comfortable with…especially in the summer months…I find my family thrives and gets the most out of our summer months because of a summer schedule. For our two children that have come into our lives after a life of trauma and chaos, I find the practice of scheduling and predictability essential. Even for kids that haven’t experienced childhood trauma a schedule can be a stabilizing force. The wonderful feeling of freedom that comes from a summer free of routine and responsibility can leave some children spinning out of control.

The use of a schedule also benefits the Momma. There are less behaviors to correct and less bickering when children aren’t free falling through their day. Which is not to say we don’t enjoy the lazy, unplanned moments of summer. Part of the fun of summer comes from the opportunity to be able to be impulsive and unrestrained by the extra commitments and demands of the school year, so we work to find a balance.

Let me explain.

Many years ago we discovered the benefits of summer scheduling. While we still enjoy the fun of lazy summer days, I have discovered that summer time is a perfect time to focus on growth areas with our children that the busy school year doesn’t allow us time for. The lifting of external demands allows us to redirect our time and energy on those areas of our home that could use extra attention. This could be in the physical upkeep of our home, the spiritual upkeep of our testimonies, the emotional care of our children and our spouses, or even self care that has been pushed to the very bottom of the priority list in the midst of more pressing demands.

As¬†we pray about how to best be a faithful steward of the extra time we are¬†blessed with during those days of summer break,¬†we look at a few main areas…the educational needs of¬†the children, the care of¬†our home,¬† growing and developing as individuals, and the strengthening of¬†our family.

In the summer months we continue to do school, just on a smaller scale. Typically we do 2 hours of learning a day. We use that time to keep the basics of math and reading fresh in their minds as well as work on areas that need extra remediation. With multiple kids having an IEP because of learning disabilities or Dyslexia I have learned that taking 3 months off school  stalls their progress too much and we pay for it come September, so we just modify our learning for the summer months.

One of the things we discuss at our annual summer planning meeting is what educational goals or what struggles¬†each child ¬†would¬†like to work on over the summer months¬†and then I come up with worksheets, games, and books for them to use as ‚Äúschool‚ÄĚ during the summer to meet those needs. For some kids¬†we will¬†work on cursive writing, others will be strengthening their math facts practice, and spelling and reading is a priority for others. This is also the time I will introduce some fun learning games or unit studies that I have been wanting to do with the kids that I just don‚Äôt have the time for during the school year.

After the kids all made their lists of summer learning goals we moved onto summer chores.

The kids all have daily and weekly chores they are responsible for. Some are indoor chores, some are outdoor/farm animal chores, and some are seasonal chores that only come during the summer months. My kids keep the same chores for a year and then we switch them every summer. I do this, rather than rotate them daily or weekly, for the sake of my own sanity. It is easier to know who didn’t complete their chore when it is only one person responsible rather than try to remember whose day it was to unload dishes. I also do it this way because they really learn the skills of each job if they do I for a longer period of time. Their chores are assigned based on age, skill level, and ability. The kids rotate through the chores year by year with our hope being that by the time they leave home they have learned all the home/life skills needed to live independently.

Summer is the time we switch kids from one chore to another because that is the season that I have the time to train them at their new task , as well as the time to follow-up on each task daily to make sure they are capable and responsible and accountable for the work they did.

Summertime also allows us extra time to work on life skills that perhaps need to be taught but there is just never time to address them. From the time my kids were little I would schedule 15-30 minutes a day in their summer schedule to work on a life skill. My kids looked forward to this time because we made it fun. We were able to address issues that maybe drove me crazy (like messy clothes drawers) and turn it into a fun learning activity (like a clothes folding relay race.) During this time we taught things like:

How to properly wash our hands, telephone manners, how to address an envelope, how to call 911 in an emergency,¬†how to clean up after yourself¬†when you take a¬†shower, how to cut your own nails, how to answer adults with ‚Äúyes sir, yes ma‚Äôam,‚ÄĚ how to braid hair, etc.

Many of these skills are now being retaught to our younger two who have come to us with gaps in their early years of learning these basics. I plan this time of our day by keeping a list for myself during the year of¬†areas that I see a need more training, or skills I see my children lacking, and¬†then use¬†that list¬†for ‚Äúlife skill time‚ÄĚ during the summer months.

During this summer planning meeting we also ask the kids to set a few goals for themselves. We ask them to consider a physical, mental, spiritual and educational goal to work on improving over the summer months. They might pick things like ‚Äúexercise for 30 minutes a day,‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúpractice piano twice a day,‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúread scriptures for 20 minutes a day,‚ÄĚ

and then we try to plan the time into their daily schedules to allow them to work on those personal goals.

And, of course, what is summer without lazy/ do nothing moments?

A portion of our day is left open for creative, independent play. Tyler calls this time ‚Äúplaying imagination.‚ÄĚ During the summer months the electronics are limited and the kids are encouraged to get outside, go explore, be creative. This is their time to be kids and independently lead their own activities. They go on bike rides, pack a picnic and walk down to the pond to catch frogs, take books out to the hammocks and read, play capture the flag or run through the sprinkler. This is my time, while they¬†are out playing, ¬†to tackle my own summer ‚Äúto do‚ÄĚ list of items¬† that I never seem to have enough time for during the school year when I am busy homeschooling 5 kids and am busy with after school activities. Summer is my time to catch up on those chores I can‚Äôt seem to find time for during the school year‚Ķ

cleaning out drawers and closets, catching up on scrapbooking, filing paperwork, redecorating, refinishing furniture, etc.

Summer is the perfect time to play ‚Äúcatch up.‚ÄĚ

So last night was the night we went over all our plans for summer and now I will take all my notes from our family meeting, as well as Toby’s input on things he would like to see done, and issues he would like to see addressed over the summer months, and I will make our summer schedule which we will implement beginning next Monday.

For many this may seem rigid or too structured for the freedom that comes from summer time, but for us this works well. This is our 10th year using a summer schedule and the benefits are huge. I have seen how those 12 weeks of summer can fly by in a blink of an eye. The grand plans you have in May can quickly get lost or tossed aside when August arrives and you realize that summer is almost over. By entering summer break with a plan we find that we get more from our summer months and can begin school again in September in a  much better place if we follow a summer schedule.

It is not for everyone but it works for us.

Last night was also Family Night so in addition to our annual summer scheduling meeting we had some fun. While surfing¬†SugarDoodle I found a link for “human pi√Īata.” After reading the description I knew it was a perfect kick-off for a summer of fun. I made a run to the Dollar Tree to get the supplies needed. I spent $6.00 and bought a t-shirt I could ruin and $5.00 worth of candy.

When I got home I hot glued all the treats to the shirt and hid it away until it was time to play.

The game was simple. It’s basically¬†tag with extra motivation. ūüėČ

¬†You have a runner and chasers. The runner’s goal is to keep possession of the loot that is glued to their shirt¬†and the chasers goal is to pull off candy when they get within reach of the runner, thus adding to their personal candy stash. The great thing about this family night activity is that the treat is included ūüôā

It was a hit!

And a perfect kick-off for the summer ahead.

(The kids took turns being the runner. Tyler was first.)

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Welcome Summer!

End of the year picnic

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Two weeks ago we had our last Wednesday co-op for the school year. Our cooperative learning group breaks for the summer and resumes in the fall with the start of the school year. Today was our end of the year picnic. We gathered at Pearson Park to eat and play and celebrate another successful co-op year.

While the grey skies threatened rain, the drops never did fall, and it ended up being a nice day despite the overcast skies.

The end of year picnic always brings feelings of excitement as the reality of an approaching summer break comes into view. I think we are all ready for summer!

The carefree month of June will soon be upon us, but today we celebrated May with good food, good friends, and a sense of accomplishment over a job well done.

How grateful I am for this amazing group of women and kiddos in my life and in the lives of my children. I count this group among my greatest blessings!

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Our co-op’s got talent!

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Wednesday marked the last day of co-op for the year. It is hard to believe our co-op year is over. It feels like just yesterday we were beginning another school year.

The end of co-op always brings a mix of emotions. There is that end of the year excitement that precedes the start of summer break, mixed with a bit of melancholy over the passing of another year. I find that (as a Momma) there is a sense of relief that the school season burdens are beginning to lighten and that another co-op year can be marked down as a success.

Every year we have a co-op talent show in which the kids have the opportunity to share with their peers their talents and interests. Typically this happens at our co-op Christmas party. This year we decided to put off our co-op talent show until the final day of co-op.

Talent show day had finally arrived!

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After lunch we gathered everyone in the lunchroom to enjoy the vast amount of talent that exists in this little group. ūüôā

Here is a peek at the talents we enjoyed!

Caleigh played “Till there was you” from The Music Man on piano.

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Tatum played “Rordino” by Jean Rameau and “Prelude #7 in B Minor” by Robert ¬†Vandall on the piano.

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Tiernan played “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “O Come Little Children” on the violin.

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Annaliese played (and sang) “First Day” by Bright Eyes on her guitar.

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Olivia played “River Flows in You” on piano.

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Ozzie played “Russian Folk Song” and “Planetarium” on the piano.

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Joanna played “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music on piano.

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Elizabeth performed rabbit showmanship with her bunny, KitKat.

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Saga made us laugh with the jokes she prepared.

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Emily danced to “Let the Fire Fall.”

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Our favorite twins, Alec and Micah, entertained us with their annual comedy show.

And Grace performed “We’re Going to be Friends” in American Sign Language.¬†Molly and Grace¬†have been working¬†hard the last month to learn the ASL signs to this charming little song. They recently had a new friend move into their young women’s group at church who communicates with sign language and¬†they have been participating in a sign language class at church taught by¬†her mother. The girls decided they wanted to learn a song in sign language to share with their new friend, Rachel.

They decided that after the time they put into learning it  they would also use it for their talent at the talent show. Unfortunately on the last day of co-op Molly woke with the flu so Grace had to perform it alone.

She did well even with the last minute loss of Molly.

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(When Molly felt better they recorded it to send to their friend, Rachel.)

To see the full version, as performed by Grace and Molly, click on the link below:

It was a perfect way to end a wonderful co-op year! We will get together again next week when many of us will go together on our annual trek to Kalahari Indoor Water Park. Then again the following week for our co-op’s end of the year picnic.

The school year countdown begins in full force as co-op comes to a close. Only five more weeks until we will all be chanting:

“No more pencils!

No more Books!

No more teacher’s dirty looks!”

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Last day of co-op group hug.

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