Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A Matter of Perspective

Image: Sign with two placards, "Impossible" and "Possible" on a blue sky background

I still remember the moment I realised my son was Autistic. We were walking down a leafy, tree-lined street and my son asked me,

"Mummy, how can you tell what people are feeling?"

As I explained how I knew based on how people's faces and bodies moved, I watched my son's expression - it was shocked surprise. The idea that most people could just tell by looking at each other came as utterly mind-bending. It was like Valentine Michael Smith from 'Stranger in a Strange Land' learning about the alien customs of Earthlings that he resembled, but did not grok.

That conversation changed everything.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Our Crazy Normal of Twice-Exceptionality

Outliers. Sometimes, I forget that may kids are way out there at the margins.

It's so easy for me to forget what 'normal' looks like, or to forget the assumptions usually made about the innate range of abilities of most children.

In my friend-circles, I clap, cheer and cry when other families have their child engaging in conversation for the first time after months of therapy, or get excited when another family talk about the crazy conversation they had with their primary-schooler on infinity and prime numbers.

My crazy-normal has become very . . . skewed.

For instance, I have always thought that both my kids were very good at maths. That's not a brag - that's a cry in the dark. I'm good at maths - and I unfortunately have the medal to prove it when I'm worrying late at night, as I do, about whether I will be able to keep up. Sometimes it's easy to soothe myself. Mostly, I stare into the abyss of self-doubt. (And thank goodness for Mr. Gelston, who keeps us all grounded and helps my son learn how to show what he knows.)

My boy is already pushing the boundaries of my own knowledge, at least in a few areas -  he has become obsessed with the one area of maths that I never studied beyond the basics, but I had been telling myself that my daughter was just like me - only a little advanced.

Do you hear that laughter? That's the laugh of silly expectations. Just like I used to figure it would be years before I had to worry about keeping up with my boy.

You see, I made the mistake of looking up what was on the local school curriculum, and that brought me thumping back to reality. No, I couldn't put my well-she's-only-a-little-advanced girl in school 'for a break', as according to their metrics, she's already radically accelerated. Hell, she only officially started homeschooling a few months ago.

Just reading through it, and realising that both my kids are in multiple crazy different age levels based not just on subject, but sub-sets of each subject is officially my wake-up call. And just for the 'what does crazy-different' mean record? We're talking a tertiary to primary-school spread for my son. And my 'she's-not-that-advanced' daughter? Preschool to grade three minimum - with some subsets going much higher. 

It is, in good measure both amazing and terrifying. I am both the mum wondering if my children will ever be able to tie their own shoes, and the mum worrying about how the heck am I going to navigate chaperoning kids through tertiary education. 

I am ecstatic when my kids remember to use their hard-earned conversation skills, or look before racing onto incoming traffic, and I am in awe when my little girl shows me how she now intuitively understands that 281 is "Only 19 away from 300!", or seems to have leaped from multi-digit addition to just intuitively understanding multiplication. But I'm still struggling with teaching her how to read (something I have never had to do before - osmosis seemed how it worked for my son).

It's all steam-ahead on the crazy homeschool boat, because this bugger has no reverse gear. Our normal is a backwards, crazy world where pedagogy took a good look and then turned and dived off a cliff. 

I am once again homeschooling into the unknown, and I'm hoping I'm moving it all in the right direction. 


This post is part of the GHF Blog Hop - Gifted and Twice-Exceptional: Revisiting 2E Issues. Go check out the posts on the crazy-normal experiences of gifted and 2E families.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Homeschooling Through Long-Term Illness

Teddy with scarf and thermometer

When trying to figure out what my kids can do for their homeschooling, it can be very easy for me to get carried away - grand plans, high expectations and all that, and when the unexpected happens, like a sudden illness, it can feel like everything is falling apart. Finding both the energy to keep going as well as the inspiration to keep planning when I'm house-bound has been a challenge, but there are things I have learned about how to manage and still make homeschooling a wonderful experience for everyone.

Here are some of the things I have done:

Put in simple plans for day to day activities

With two children who struggle with executive planning, one of the things that can tire me out quickly when I'm not well is simply refocusing and reminding the kids of the tasks they are meant to be doing - whether it's maths or brushing their teeth. Having a basic plan in place for day to day tasks, such as when lunch/morning tea/ no TV time occurs helps the kids to self-regulate. What also helps is to have basic expectations for what the kids need to do each day - whether academic or personal.

Find activities that inspire the kids that also cover academic areas.
This includes finding games and apps that the kids love to play (like Dragon Box Big Numbers for my daughter), as well as books that they love to read (like Andy Griffiths' 'Just Macbeth' for my son).

Cut down on expectations

It can be very tempting, given all the wonderful options available in a big metropolis to go to all the things. When your body has different ideas, that can be very down heartening. A few of the things that helped me were to:

  • Refocus on where activities could be done. If I couldn't go to homeschool meetups, I could still invite families around here instead. This actually removed one of the greatest stresses for us with any activity - simply getting out the door (which can take hours).
  • Look for local alternatives. When I was very sick - this might just include our little garden for outdoor time, or a local park. But it also included looking for organised activities that were extremely local (i.e. just down the street). As my health improved, it expanded out to include local suburbs, but this local focus did allow me to rethink exactly how far we were willing to travel to do an activity. If the travel time (one way) was longer than the activity, it did cause us to question whether its was really to best way to spend our time, or ask whether there was something more local that might also work.
  • Make sure there were regular breaks between any activity. Knowing that even if I felt good one day, I might not the next meant that even when I started to improve I did not immediately ramp up our activities. Even now, I try very hard to never have two major activities in a day, and rarely on consecutive days. When I didn't and don't follow this rule, inevitably the whole family suffers - both from relapses, as well as missing out of home-based destressing (which is essential for my two SPD kids). 

Cut down on organizing and stream-line record keeping

Streamlining how I kept record-keeping tasks to a simpler process really did help with feeling like I was still on top of things. This was already fairly streamlined, i.e. using a simple Pinterest pin button to record websites the kids visited online, but I extended the simplicity to our day-to-day activities as well.  I now use just my camera to record activities around the home, whether that's reading or game-play, computer games or crafting. A quick photo on record helps me to remember what they have done at a later date, as well as give me many photos I could potentially use to show examples of learning. It's also very easy to do, which is good when there is little energy spare.

On organizing things, I have put a lot of effort into minimizing our things around the home - the less stuff we have, the less clutter exists, and the easier it is to keep the house functional. It also made it a lot easier for my hubbie, who had to take on a large burden of around the house tasks just to to keep everything ticking over. It also caused me to ask hard questions about why we were keeping certain toys - if it was a toy that caused a lot of mess, was it one the kids enjoyed playing with regularly, or was it one that would just be spread out and forgotten. Also, getting rid of old toys that weren't played with freed up space on shelves for all the toys that seemed to live more on the floor than anywhere else. Less stuff also made it easier for the kids to put away their things - it was slightly less daunting.

Encouraging self-care

When you're a special-needs parent, it can be very easy to just take over tasks that need to get done. It's quicker, it's easy to do and it can be a lot less stressful than patiently walking the kids through the same activities. But really, for daily care activities, this is not necessarily the wisest thing to do long-term. Just being sick enough that doing it myself was much more difficult, meant that I had to step back from taking over tasks. And the kids got the opportunity - with guidance - to really work out how they would do things like put on their shoes, or prepare basic snacks. This also has helped enormously with their own self-esteem as they now know they can do these tasks themselves.

Even though I am now out the other side of my illness, I find that the experiences I have had have changed the way I homeschool and parent. I am now more mindful that adding anything can also take away from other things, which though they might not tick any 'must-do' boxes have become an essential part of keeping everyone functioning and happy.

This posts is part of the GHF Blog Hop, "When Homeschooling Your Gifted Child Becomes a Drag My Best Tips". Check out the other posts!

Monday, 30 January 2017

What's it Like to Be On ADHD Medication?

Image: Three open bottles and a small pile of pills on a leaf

"What is it like to be on ADHD Medication?", a friend asked me the day I started.

For me? It was a huge mental difference. Not a 'high', but a zen calm. It's the feeling you would get after sitting down after a long hike up a mountain to visit a sub-tropical rainforest spring.

But that's only part of it. Because it's hard to describe without also understanding what living without medication is like. Until I started, I had no idea either. I mean, I had read about the external symptoms and I'd ticked enough boxes to get myself to a specialist. But I didn't really understand.

In fact, when I asked the specialist, in my usual worried way, "How will I know if it's working?", he'd smiled at me and said, "You will know." I swear, I heard a Yoda-like cadence there, too. 

This was not reassuring at the time. But of course he was right. You damn-well know. 

What does it feel like to be on ADHD medication? It feels like being a person without ADHD. I get up and I can do things. 

The visual buzz quietens - I can actually focus on things without needing to deploy visualisation minimisation strategies, such as looking down when I walk, or finding material to occupy my mind, like reading. I can walk without a hat and look up instead of at my feet and still be able to do things like cross a street safely. Because the visual noise is . . . gone.

I have a lot of strategies I've developed over the years to get things done. Hell, most days I look and act functional. I thought this was what people did, but I was in awe of people who could remember other people's names, or be able to go to an appointment and get there on time without multiple loud buzzers as reminders. I didn't understand how someone could always remember to bring essential stuff - like wallets and handbags without carefully planned and practised mindfulness techniques. If you've ever seen me worriedly scanning a seat after I get up, or doing a quick once-over of a room before I leave it then that's why. But if the routine is interrupted? Boom. Lost stuff. Forgetting glasses, or expensive musical instruments. Yes, that happened. Twice. Thank goodness for honest people. Actually that could be my mantra - thank goodness for honest people, as I have left many important things over the years. In fact, despite all my careful ground-work, it still happens at least once a month.

I also have zero organisational capacity. Something I mention to people when I meet them. Usually it's met with, "Oh yes, I'm terrible at that too."

But they don't really understand. I'm not going to pick up a phone and organise a meetup. That's two steps. I can't do that without a lot of mental gymnastics. And the more stuff I have to organise? The worse it all gets. I was pretty functional before I had two kids who also have the organisational ability of goldfish. Now, I can get us to medical appointments mostly on-time, and with most of the stuff we need. Going beyond that? Flying pigs all the way. 

Blue elephant holding a "Don't Forget" sign on a blue background

When I was nine, my brother dubbed me the absent-minded professor. It was his nickname for me for years. If you've ever read Tintin, you'll remember Professor Calculus, who shows up and talks high-level physics and maths before accidentally eating his shoe. Well, image Professor Calculus is a she, and she settled down and had two mini-Calculus's, who might also accidentally eat their own shoes, but are probably going to wander up to mummy's chalk-board and correct her maths.

I can't pay bills. I can't use the phone to organise stuff if I have to look up a number and dial first. (And yes, my DH has on occasion looked up the number, dialled it then handed me the phone.) I'm probably going to forget organised meetups, or get the date wrong if I don't write it down and set an alarm straight away. And I mean straight away. A minute later? It's gone.

Also, that worry-face? Had that since before puberty. I've had permanent worry-lines since then as well. My wonderful DH finds it amusing when when I tell him bemused stories about random strangers asking me if I need help or directions almost every time I go out. I've even been asked at my local train station,  when I was travelling through there 4-5 times a week. By the staff.

In my life, there was a background borderline panic that was so familiar it was just background noise. On medication? That voice just stopped.

It's like living with Mr Chatterbox for so long you don't realise they are there. And then suddenly . . . silence.

My brain had to scream over that noise to be heard. Now, I don't have to do the internal yell at myself to change task - and that yelling basically is about kicking in the adrenaline so I go into a mini-panic to break my concentration.

On medication, my brain doesn't need to recreate every horror imaginable in order to get my butt into gear, from dying in a ditch of starvation through to the sacrifice of my first-born to the god of the Israelite's. And that's just to get breakfast.  

Suddenly, there's enough quiet to be able to say, "Hey, you're bit hungry. Maybe you should get breakfast now." And then my brain goes, "Yeah, OK let's do that." So I get up, and have breakfast.

That's a bloody miracle. All praise the medical science gods. Really. 

It kind of makes me a bit weepy - but thankfully only a bit (and that's the medication too BTW). I don't need to keep going over, and over and over the same scenario in my head. I practised for years to redirect my mind, and find ways to break out of those cycles. It. Took. Years. And I reached the point where I would only have to mull on things a few dozen times a day. Even though I knew it was pointless. Even on really trivial stuff.

I built mental muscles to heave that darn boulder up the hill. I got used to the weight of fighting my own brain. In fact, I've always had to do this - I didn't know other people don't do this every day. I got used to the weight of that thing.

And then it was gone.

That first day? You couldn't wipe the smile off my face. 

It felt like a holiday. It feels like freedom.

Girl on pier with arms outstretched at sunset

Monday, 16 January 2017

Homeschooling Maths Resources

Picture: Centre of Daisy, metallic 3-D fractal

One of the great joys about homeschooling is the ability to pull in different resources and the freedom to explore all the different rabbit holes of knowledge. For us, maths is not limited to what is prescribed in text-books, but is a fundamental way of seeing the world around us (hello two maths majors in the family - my kids don't stand a chance).

Here are some of our favourite maths resources - that both teach and inspire kids to learn and understand maths.

For Younger Kids

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzenburger

This is a fantastic chapter book about a boy who doesn't like maths until a little number devil takes him on a tour of numbers. It is an amazing introduction to some of the great ideas in mathematics with cute drawings along the way and puzzles to keep you thinking. Think Klein bottles and Fibonacci.

The Boy who Loved Maths: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, by Deborah Helligman

This is an adorable little book about Paul Erdos, one of the great mathematicians of the 20th Century. He was also a homeschooling 2e kid, so great for showing that being unconventional doesn't need to stop you following your dream. Also, each page has a different maths idea embedded in each page (with a handy key at the back to help you understand what is going on). It is beautifully illustrated as well. A real treat.

Picture: Pentagonal 3-D Shapes

Dragon Box Elements

This is a great way to introduce geometry proofs to even the youngest child. Really! It works - my 5 year old adores creating little triangle warriors to 'fight' the evil tentacle monster. It's intuitive and your little ones don't need to know how to read to play - it's all done visually.

Cuisenaire Rods

These are so old-fashioned, but I adore them. Yes, I am the kind of homeschool mum who buys Cuisenaire Blocks for Christmas presents! Let your kids explore with them and they will find new ways of using them and learning number sense along the way. My two spontaneously decided to sort them into small groups after a mini-lesson on division, and then they had so much fun discovering how many different coloured blocks they could match together. They've also loved building houses and pools out of them as well.

Kahn Academy

Kahn Academy can be hard to use for little ones who are not yet reading, but they have recently expanded so there are more options for younger children. You may have to sit and supervise / read the questions for your pre-readers. My son loves reading questions out for my daughter, which is adorable.

Singapore Maths

If you really must do work-sheet type maths, Singapore Maths is pretty decent. It has lovely illustrations and breaks down the maths into digestible bite-sized portions. It also uses a mastery-based approach, rather than a spiral, so it teaches maths in a different order from typical school books. There are also editions for American and International maths - very useful for the currency sections (Singapore currency is very similar to Australia in denomination so it works well.) Be warned though- they are very expensive! And if you have a voracious maths kid they may power through them a little fast. My son did 5 years worth of their books in 3 months. That's when I called it quits on buying books by grade level!

Picture: Repeating rotating and shrinking cubes

For Older Kids

Kahn Academy

Kahn Academy is really quite excellent for older kids. They have also added in mastery challenges, which means kids can pre-test on different areas. This is great for kids and particularly for parents who may not know exactly where their child is mathematically, and saves on endless repetition. Kahn Academy also has some great back-end resources for parents and tutors so you can craft the direction you want your kids to work towards.

Dragon Box Algebra

This is a great resource introduced to us by our wonderful maths tutor (see below) that turns algebra into a visual learning experience. The goal is to solve mini-problems by feeding your dragon. It's a drag and drop game that slowly builds up algebraic knowledge step by step, and only towards the end does it introduce standard notation. Once you have finished the whole game, there is also the option to redo the whole thing using standard algebraic notation. This is a really excellent resource and helped by son get over his road-block on algebra by turning it into something he could visualise. It's also a lot of fun.


This is our go-to resource for cool new videos on maths ideas. It's a YouTube channel run by Brady Haran from Nottingham University, where mathematicians in Britain get to talk about wonderful puzzles and conundrums in mathematics - all in easily accessible form and designed for lay audiences. You won't find a better introduction to the world of maths possibilities than here.

Picture: Fractal repeating pattern on brassica


. . . Except for maybe Vi-Hart. Vi-Hart's clever videos on visual maths are something we come back to again and again. From fractals to Fibonacci through to hexaflexagons, there is going to be something here that will both entertain and enlighten. Also, we were swamped with hexaflexagons for weeks once we watched her video as the kids loved making their own over and over again.

Mr Gelston's One Room Schoolhouse

Mr Gelston is my son's maths tutor - yes, with two mathematicians in the house we also use a maths tutor! Sometimes, it's just as important to get different perspectives on maths as it is to read different types of literature. The wider the exposure, the more nuance that your kids can understand about the wonders of mathematics. This is something that Mr Gelston does masterfully. He is also a whizz at understanding how to teach 2e kids who may jump from detailed explanations of the infinite prime number conjecture, or algebra from first principles to answering only in beeps.

Adam Spencer's Number Books

Adam Spencer is a mathematician in Australia who is both knowledgeable and funny. His books are fun and pitched to a lay audience, but they don't skimp on maths detail. They are a visual feast and his books have been my son's go-to bed time reading for many many months now.

His books include: Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers, Adam Spencer's World of Numbers, Adam Spencer's Enormous Book of Numbers, and Adam Spencer's Time Machine. Yes, they are different books.

Underside leaf texture showing self-similar fractal patterns

Other Resources

We have used other resources over the years, and one that is still a favourite is Cool Maths Games. This is actually more logic puzzles than strictly obviously maths learning, but it is a great supplementary resource for learning about numbers.

Minecraft is also been a boon for introducing Boolean Algebra in a more game-friendly form as well as helping my daughter understand multiples of two!

I hope some of these resources are useful for your homeschool - and help to give a glimpse at the vast possibilities that are available for homeschooling mathematics. Happy Mathing!

Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 in Review

text - "2016 In Review" surrounded by 8 images. Crayons, poppy, lego, people with maths, surprised girl, writing with crayons, clock, girl looking away

Here we are, 2017. I'm not sure I'm ready for it, and I'm very sure I'll still be signing 2016 on everything for the next few months. I just got the hang of writing 2016, darn it!

So in memoriam to 2016, here are the most popular posts of the year:

Gifted/2e Issues

Image of a Red Poppy

"I’ve done lots of reading, I’ve looked at the standard definitions, I listened to the niggles and ‘problems’ that different people  - my GP, a friend, my child’s teacher etc. have mentioned. I know my child’s quirky . . . But, is my gifted child autistic?

It’s a question almost every parent of gifted kids I have ever talked to has brought up at one time or another (particularly the parents of highly to profoundly gifted children). And though it seems there should be an easy answer to this question – a quick test, a definitive way of putting a yes or no to this question, the answer is actually much, much more complicated."

"When, all those years ago, we decided that homeschooling was the right choice for our deeply asynchronous children, I kind of hoped that this would mean an escape from age-based norms and expectations. We would be free to craft the curriculum and activities that 'fit' our kids without the limitations that came with the age-grade lockstep that is the traditional way schools organise learning.

Gosh was I naive."

"Now, I could write about why dismissing the idea of giftedness is harmful. And I have previously here.
And this isn't the first or the last ignorant piece written by well-meaning but poorly informed people who think they're doing everyone a favour by dissing on gifted people. You can read my previous responses here and here and here.

Instead I want to talk about why the idea that difference 'doesn't matter' is harmful. I see it all the time - "Everyone is different", "Let you're unique self shine!". They're lovely memes. Lots of fist-pumps and "Yeah! That's awesome!"

But it's a rare person that actually means it. Instead, a more honest meme might be:
"Think Different! But Not Too Different.
"Be Different! But Don't Make Me Feel Uncomfortable."

"I have a child who uses a completely different set of body language to me. Which I often get wrong. And that was and is, eye-opening. But realising that I understood things about neurodiversity and difference in my head - but not in my heart, or in the way I acted, has helped.

Just because my kids didn't look engaged, didn't make it true. My kids love to dive around while they think, jump on trampolines, wander off, wander back, or half listen while watching something completely different. But their recall is razor-sharp, and both, in their own way, show how well they understand. From their body language, it was easy for me to assume they weren't taking in anything. But I was wrong."

"The boy is so excited - it's his first time in a canoe in years. But the paddles - which he held so easily on the shore are hard to handle in the water. And the canoe is so big - he's never had to control something this large before. He splashes about in the water, going in circles. He's still strong, but he pushes the paddles so hard against the shore he tips the canoe over and it fills with water.

A few of the other parents laugh at the boy, "All those years in canoe school and he can't hold a paddle! We always knew the strong ones were lazy - they never make it to the other shore."

The boy is devastated. He's never had to handle so many new things at once before. Escaping the crowds, he leaps out of his canoe and runs home."


Image of Child drawing with crayons. Crayons in a jar

"Adapting our homeschooling environment to support our kids needs has been a work in progress that has taken years of trial and error. I personally love the idea of self-directed learning and unschooling, but I have had to adapt it to fit the needs of my children.

As much as I would love to be able to say 'you can do whatever you want' and let it happen (with me strewing and facilitating, but having the kids in charge), it hasn't happened. Instead, we have taken a lot of slow, small steps in that direction, and have had to treat it as more of an end goal than a blueprint."

"It can be hard to figure out how to fit all the bits and bobs into a small apartment when the house is full of makers. We do lots of drawing, and crafting, painting, sewing, woodwork, game creation and science experiments in our homeschool. And before we know it, it can quickly descend into chaos - it's beads everywhere, with the pencils and the card games scattered and the floor can regularly disappear. . . but I have learned a few tips and tricks to keep things roughly in order."

"What do you do when you realise you need to make your learning spaces ADHD friendly?

Well, if you're me, you go on a cleaning and reorganising binge. Here are some of the things we've been  doing that seem to help."


And that's a wrap. A big thank you for all my readers, and I hope you all have a fabulous 2017 . . . even if everything is accidentally dated 2016 for the next few months!

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