Saturday, February 5, 2011

the Zoo Boy post

OK, here's that post I've been promising to write. I've considered several approaches to writing this, as I'd prefer that it was a coherent mapping of my thoughts and potential strategies on this. But I'm pretty sure it's not going to wind up like that -- most likely it's just going to be me regurgitating my somewhat disorganized thoughts onto the page. So be it. This is going to be long, and potentially boring for casual readers of this blog, so please feel free to just skip it entirely.

Before I begin, however, I want to point out that I am not judging my son, I'm just trying to find ways to help him be more comfortable with the work I feel that he needs to do. I am sharing here as a record for myself for the future (it's always good to be able to refer back to certain points in time in detail, and this is how I do that) since this is my only journal/record of our educational journey, to let some of our friends and family who read here get a bit of a more details glimpse into a boy they love, and to maybe spark some ideas/thoughts/empathy for other parents and family of kids with similar challenges.

A lot of my own struggles with Zoo Boy-related issues has to do with my own guilt at feeling like I've not paid enough attention to his needs for the first half of his life, because I was so busy attending to his brother's much greater needs. It's not crippling guilt -- I know full well that I did the best I could, there are only so many hours in the day and only so much effort that one body can give. However, fact of the matter is that it would have been more ideal for Zoo Boy if his challenges could have been addressed at the just-developing level rather than more or less left alone until the remedial level. So yeah, some guilt. But the tide has now turned, and I now have the time to more fully address some of my concerns about Zoo Boy's development, and to help ease the way for him the way I've done for J.

So let's start with a little background, for folks who might just be tuning in, and to organize my understanding about both my son and the typical development of children. Zoo Boy will be 8 years old in another month, if he were in school he would be in 2nd grade. He has a vast array of sensory system related issues (although he is definitely not on the Autism spectrum), most notably sensory defensiveness that has led to small motor skill problems. Since he mostly avoided small motor skill stuff as he was developing, the muscles (and muscle memory) needed for those tasks are underdeveloped, and he finds anything like that exhausting. So things like handwriting, crafting, and manipulating small objects is very challenging for him. As a result (of both that and his general personality) he is very resistant to even trying those sorts of things. He is equally resistant to doing large motor activities (like, you know, general exercise), probably for the same reason, but in that case I've really stayed on top of it from the get go and have been pretty natural at finding ways around both his resistance and his large motor toning. However, getting him to get enough physical activity remains a challenge for me.

A little more background, but this time on me: I came to parenting and homeschooling with a very strong belief in unschooling -- allowing the child to develop at their own pace, following their own interests to approach each of the main learning areas in a very natural manner, in their own time. I still am a very strong believer that unschooling can work beautifully for a lot of typically developing children, and in those cases, it can be the ultimate holistic learning experience (where each project undertaken by the child encompasses math, science, language arts, artistic creativity and critical thinking skills, etc, etc, etc).

However, for a child who is NOT developing in a typical manner, I think that purely child-directed learning can lead to a situation where areas that are already strengths for the child become ever stronger, consuming all of their time and effort, and areas that are challenging are mostly ignored and left to remain that way. In those cases, I believe that some sort of structured learning plan is imperative. (There are people who will disagree with me on this, by the way. But this is where I'm coming from.)

Which is why I sought out a holistic homeschooling curriculum. The idea behind a holistic curriculum is to guide a child to a balanced educational approach (which was my attraction to unschooling in the first place). I landed on Enki Education as the right approach for my family. Used in full, the Enki curriculum provides a balanced, holistic approach to all the subject matters and skills that every child needs. But the thing that attracted me to the philosophy is the base understanding that every family and every child is different, and at the root of it all, there needs to be the acceptance that you need to do what is best for your family and that particular child.

So my approach has always varied a bit from what might be considered the "Enki norm". I haven't concentrated much on the areas my children are really strong in already. Science is a bit of an afterthought in regards to planning out our days, because it's such a strong interest for my kids, they are already educating themselves on it with no effort from me -- better to spend my efforts elsewhere. I tend to do a lot more story drawings than otherwise required of the curriculum, because story comprehension is a big issue for J, and the drawing itself is a big challenge for Zoo Boy, so I can work on both of their challenges at the same time. (I love efficiency!) We do a little bit of writing work every day because otherwise Zoo Boy begins reversing his letters and numbers, and the toning of the muscles he needs for handwriting falls off. And yes, I think that's a big deal for an 8 year old, especially since it's a tone problem to begin with. (And muscle tone just won't get better unless the muscles are used, that's basic physiology.) I do absolutely no purposeful music work at all (well, J's piano and guitar lessons certainly fall into that category now, but that's very recent), because they are both very musical and, like science, are learning on their own anyway. And I don't do a few components of the curriculum because J would perseverate on them (form drawing being one) which would be counterproductive to his over all well being.

But back to Zoo Boy: Resistance is met (in general) when a child finds something either uninteresting, difficult to understand, or difficult to perform. (Or, important in my kids' cases, leaves them feeling bad from a sensory perspective -- but I guess that falls under difficult to perform.) For Zoo Boy, it's a combination of all of the above in regards to drawing, writing, and exercising in general. So it's up to me to modify what I'm doing so that he can successfully accomplish the things he finds challenging.

Here's a list of what needs modifying and how I am either going about it now, or ideas that I'm going to try to see if they work. Some of these are big points of compromise with my ideals, but I feel as though I need to let some of my ideals go in order to benefit him. I'm willing to make that sacrifice.

1. Large motor work/exercise: It's SO much easier in the nicer season to accomplish this, because we get into the routine of walking every morning, and along with routine rides less resistance. But for now we're stuck indoors, so I'm having Zoo Boy bounce on his "moon bounce" (ride-on bouncy ball) up and down the halls while J and I are doing our cultural dance (Zoo Boy won't dance, but at least this way he's being active and is hearing the cultural music, so the cultural mood is intact and he's "awakening breath and body".) We do a spin and fold sequence every single day, and since it's routine, he does not object, so he's getting work on his large sensory systems as well.

In addition, he is walking with me at the sports center while J is playing sports once a week. In fact, recently that has turned to running. He runs 1/4 mile for every mile I walk, so he's running a mile once a week. Why is he running? To get back to use his friend's DS system. My kids don't have access to video games, so this is a really exciting, special treat for him. And you know what? This is one of those compromises I was talking about. If playing a few video games gets him running a mile, I can live with that.

2. Handwriting: I have to accept that this is something he needs to work on, and that we have to make sure it's done every day, and that it has to be just a small amount for him to be successful and build up those pencil-grip muscles. Again, routine is important. But I've also been on the look-out for motivating factors. The DS comes in again with this -- his favorite game to play on his friend's DS is called "Scribblenauts" -- you have to tell the game what to arm the guy with. And there's a letter recognition option. So as he plays this game, he is working on handwriting and spelling.

And here's where the major compromise/sacrifice comes in. He spends SO much down time while J is dancing, he COULD be working on these important things if he was properly motivated. And the DS will provide that motivation. So you can guess what he's getting for his birthday. It's going to come with a strict set of rules for use -- he can only use it when J is otherwise occupied and when we give it to him, he's not going to be able to just help himself to it whenever he wants. This will prevent him from sitting around playing video games when he could be spending time in play or other activities.

3. Drawing: I think this one just has to be dealt with via consistency and routine. He got much less resistant over the course of the past 2 weeks, I think it was just the holiday break that did us in. I need to keep that in mind -- although a "vacation" from school work sounds like a good idea (and it's certainly helpful for me personally!), I don't think that's the best thing for the Boy. So if I can manage to fit in just a little bit of the things he's resistant to a few times a week, even during a "break," I think he'll feel better overall about his ability to do those things he finds the most challenging.

4. Crafting: Still working on this one. I think it's just a matter of keeping the craft simple enough/doable enough for him. I tend to lose him if it involves more than just a couple of steps, or if the small motor skills required are too great. I think just getting him happy and comfortable with crafting is more important than working on more isolated skills at this point.

OK, so hopefully some of that made some sense. I've got my fingers crossed about the whole video game thing, I'm just hoping it's not something I'm going to regret.


Cathy said...

My son sounds very much like Zoo Boy, and I agree that if we were unschooling he would just spend his days building Lego and avoiding writing and drawing and exercise!

We follow a Waldorf curriculum, and I have found that, whilst my son is resistant to writing he does actually seem more motivated to do form drawing. This is using/exercising the same muscles and is therapeutic for these "issues", but is different to practicing letters and perhaps does not have quite the same pressures. I think it can also be quite meditative (I like it myself :o)!)

I know you mentioned that you did not want to do form drawing with J, but could you do it with Zoo Boy whilst J does something else? It could be your "Special" thing that you do together......

Thanks for posting about this.


Harvest Moon Farm said...

Cathy, thanks for putting form drawing back on my radar. I have been planning on doing that with him during the summer when J is involved in whatever dance camp/intensive he decides to do.
But maybe I should take a look at that now. I've also considered that J might not have as much a problem with that now as he would have previously, so I think it's worth a shot to pursue that at this point. Thanks again!

Karen said...

What sorts of crafting are you looking for? Would engineering type projects accomplish the same goals for you but with interest and engagement from ZB? I think Laurel still has one of my Team Challenges books - I'll try to remember to have her show it to you. There are projects that involve finding solutions to a problem by building out of common materials. If that would be a tack to try, the Kid Can Press books like Bridges and Skyscrapers might be good too. I'd guess from other reading that you'd like the crafts to go along with the other work you're doing, but if he has enough interest to sustain the small motor work in another area, it might be worth the compromise.

Kokoa's Mom said...

Loved this post! I always love insight into your thoughts - thanks so much for sharing!

My younger son is very drawn to electronics as well, and while we have a few gaming systems he is very seldom allowed to play them. He has a DS with a few games we have approved, and he is allowed to have it only at the tennis club when both his father and I are playing at the same time. We know most of the people at this Club so if someone says hello to him or otherwise tries to engage him and he ignores them because of his gaming system, he loses that privilege for a while. It works well for him - I'm sure you will find a way to make it work well for Zoo Boy as well!

I have also found, like you, that my son does best without extended breaks. He went to school for a few years and his brother is in public school, so my son is very familiar with the concepts of "Christmas Break" and "Summer Vacation." I don't want him to feel that he's missing out on these treats, and actually we do only about an hour a day during those breaks, so I just call it "tutoring." You could call it something else, but I've found that "tutoring" during breaks is perfectly acceptable to him, but "school work" is not.

Thanks again for your insights!

Harvest Moon Farm said...

Karen, I don't think he'd be interested in that sort of thing, but thanks for the idea. He actually is usually interested in any cultural craft I come up with, but he'll only stick with it if it's short and simple. It's when I try something too involved or intricate that he starts to balk. And since I have tried a few more involved things, he's wary when I mention a craft or project. Interestingly, he loves weaving, which is both small motor intensive and time intensive. Go figure!

Lisa said...

I admire the consistent time and effot you have given to BOTH your boys. I have 3 children with various issues---my son is a Pumpkin Patch kid. Sean has always (from early on) had significant sesnory issues, and has been dx as pdd-nos as well as anxiety. He attends school and does well, but we expeience the behaviors and emotional meltdowns at home.... My 8 year old has a genetic condition Ehlers-Danlos which impacts fine and gross motor skills. He receives OT and PT as well as academic sevices in 3rd grade. It's been a triage situation, but things are going okay. I'm grateful for the therapists and teachers who have helped me better help my children & other young children (I work with the EI and CPSE population.)
Take care and best of luck with you boys!
Lisa C.

Harvest Moon Farm said...

Lisa! So nice to hear from you! I haven't heard of Ehlers-Danlos, I'll have to go read up on it, I'm interested in anything that has to do with the sensory systems! Like Sean, J had a similar experience with school the 1 1/2 years we sent him -- he held it together really well there, but fell apart when he got home. So although he was only physically gone for the half the day, it took hours for him to recover from having to keep it together in school, so really I was losing an entire day of work with him -- very frustrating!

Thanks for writing, and the best of luck with all three of your kids!