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Monday Minute: Homeschooling Brilliance

One of the top reasons families give for turning to homeschool for their child’s education is the ability to tailor the education to their child’s needs, especially if they present with any exceptionalities. Parents of children with exceptional skills or above average ability in any task often find that, while parenting brilliance sounds to most like a dream, it also presents with its own set of challenges. Many find their brilliant child’s giftedness doesn’t look like what society expects as brilliance. This challenge mainly happens because children with exceptional abilities typically have areas in which they are delayed or average as well. We call this asynchronous development and it can be the absolute nemesis of parents raising brilliance. Examples of this may look like:

  • The seven year old with the academic vocabulary score of a high schooler, but a filter that is delayed because of ADHD wiring or other neurodiversity.
  • The child who hyperfocuses/ perseverates on their special abilities and ‘wows’ others by their ability, yet struggles in relating to their peers.
  • A neurodiverse teenager who has an ability in a specific area well-beyond their years, but cannot articulate emotions at a developmentally appropriate level.
  • A child who completes academic tasks such as reading and writing, at the level of a highschooler, yet is not able to organize or complete work at a developmentally appropriate rate.

All of these things can make schooling and socializing difficult. Finding “your people” who understand these challenges can be difficult, especially when giftedness is included in the mix because just sharing that your child is gifted is so often thought of as bragging. In fact there are most certainly challenges you need to have a chance to voice to an audience who understands. I get it. I’ve been there.

If you would like guidance in how to structure you homeschool for your gifted or twice-exceptional child, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com I would love to guide you on this journey of homeschooling!

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What to Do When Your Child Isn’t Finishing Their Work

For parents of homeschoolers or in-person schoolers who have difficulty completing their work, it can be a mystery that stumps the most cleverest amongst us and leaves us wondering how to get them back on track. We know they are capable, yet work remains done or temper tantrums and flat-out refusal may ensue. Such circumstances can directly impact the dynamics in the home and trickle down into other facets of homelife.

Here are some top tips for digging deep into such challenges and how to work with your child to get things going, even if they never really were!

  1. Talk with your child. Ask them what is hard about getting their work done. The answer may surprise you. It may have nothing to do with the type of work given at all. Find out from them some ideas of what they think might help to improve their work completion. These conversations can smooth out the rough edges and also teach your child important communication skills to resolve conflict and challenges.
  2. Consider setting a timer and giving a concrete amount of time to work. Sometimes the task may simply feel overwhelming and a child who does not developmentally have a sense of time or has neurodiversity may react by avoidance or outbursts. Setting a finite time with a definite beginning and end can help to scaffold this skill of work for them. If they can only work for one minute independently to begin with…go with it! Start with their success point and work your way up.
  3. Balance. Depending on what type of schooler you are or if this is a homework situation if your child is an in-person schooler, see what options you can offer your child for some child-led learning time. Perhaps it might look like asking them what they want to learn about and building lessons around that if you use unit studies or unschooling. For more traditional set-ups or homework situations, you may consider giving a when-then challenge that includes preferred activities. For example, you can say,”When you have X amount of this done, you may….(fill in the blank with whatever activity they like to do such as legos, etc.)
  4. When…then for technology. If technology is a part of the issue, use the above mentioned when/then technique with tech. That is the way we work it in our household and it works marvelously (for us). There are a million different ways you can vary it for your family. There isn’t one right way, so you may have to tweek it here and there before you find a program of sorts that works for your family.

If you would like more guidance on how to set your child up for homeschool or homework success, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. Also check out all of my homeschool and parenting coaching services at http://www.deannawestedt.com

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Top 3 Ways to Build Confident Writers in Your Homeschool Setting

Writing is amongst one of the subjects I receive the most questions. Parents often feel the abstractness of the writing task as overwhelming. And many times our own experiences of writing instruction that lacked clear guidance colors our feelings towards the writing task itself. But the great news is that there is a way to give our children a success-filled tool box for writing and that writing instruction has greatly improved over the last couple decades. Here are my top strategies for turning your child into a more confident writer:

  1. Allow for invented spelling. While going back and editing the piece together (try to use fun pen colors-not red ink- or Google Docs-for this task), when writing initially it is best not to get our child bogged down with the mechanics or conventional spelling.
  2. Work on transitional phrases. Filling your child writing repretoire with words such as “Additionally,…” or “For example,…” strengthen their writing and make it flow smoother.
  3. Teach your child a paragraph structure. Several formats exist and it is more about finding what works for you and sticking with it. I have lots of great resources for this and specialize in getting children to master this task to the point of 5-paragraph essays.

For more information, check out my writing coaching sessions or my online live sessions available at https://deannawestedt.com/parents/

Sign up and reserve your spot today!

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Post High School and Societal Expectations: My Child Doesn’t Want to Go to College Right After High School

Reaching the milestone of high school graduation is monumental, whether a homeschooler or otherwise. But for many the question of “What next?” looms large. It can feel like a societal microscope examining those post-high school career and educational choices and one that is used as a barometer of our parenting and educational success.

So, what next?

For far too many, the pressure of entering college right away dictates the decisions. While this may be the right choice for some young adults, it is important to be open to the different options available to our young people. Here are a few things to consider when weighing the choices:

  • Would my newly minted young adult benefit from some time to mature before taking on higher education?
  • Does my child desire to follow a career path that requires higher education?
  • Does higher education support my child’s goals in life?
  • Would my child’s career goals be benefited by a year of travel or other training before starting formal higher education?
  • Would my child benefit from first attending a junior college while they figure out their plan?

These questions should be used to help guide the conversations you have with your soon to be out in the world child. Formulating a plan based on their goals may seem scary if it doesn’t follow our societal expectations, but the most important thing to consider is the well-being of your child.

If you would like more guidance in formulating goals for your homeschooled child and want to know how to gear their learning for their strengths and goals, check out my coaching services on the For Parents tab or email me at deanna@deannawestedt.com

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How to Create a Love of Literacy: Creating a Print-Rich Environment for Your Young Child

Close up of two adorable little girls reading kids book with Grandpa. Granddaughters in Visit Grandfather. bedtime stories concept.

Here are my top five ways to build an environment that will foster a foundation for literacy in your home:

  1. Label the house! You can use post-it notes or little lined labels, but have fun labeling the house with your young child. Make a game of it by having them match the label to the house item. If you speak more than one language, you can label the items in both languages spoken in the house.
  2. Introduce them to lots of vocabulary. One of the best ways to do that is to READ! READ! READ! to your child. The more a child is read to, the more likely they are to grow a full and rich vocabulary. A fully developed vocabulary helps your child with comprehension and promotes the ability to discuss what they read. So, talk with them about the walk to the park, working in the garden or house, or anywhere you might visit.
  3. Create a writing center. Fill a spare box or bin with extra notepads, stickers, and various writing utensils. Allow your child to copy print from around the house. Encourage them to write “grocery lists” even if it is more scribbles than anything.
  4. Encourage your child’s use of “invented spelling.” A child’s ability to correctly spell a word and utilize phonetic knowledge to represent a word in written form develops over a span of time between kindergarten to grade three. While some move a bit faster and some a bit slower, the main point to remember is that children’s spelling develops over time from a blend of spelling instruction and exposure to correct spelling through reading. A first grader may be able to represent the consonant blend /bl/ at the beginning of the word but maybe isn’t hearing blends in the middle of a word yet.
  5. Let them see how you use reading and writing. Even if you are not a big reader, you can still share with them the importance it has in your day-to-day life. From typing an email, to checking out the coupon section, to reading a recipe, there are lots of ways to demonstrate to your child the place literacy has in your life, too!

If you would like more guidance in how to get your child ready for reading, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. Check out my website under the For Parents tab to see the services I offer and schedule your free introductory consult session.

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The High School Experience that Shaped My Teaching Philosophy

The experience that provided my foundational philosophy of education came from an event that happened well before my official decision to go into education. Despite the fact that as a six year old I was “teaching” my Cabbage Patch Dolls using extra worksheet pages from the ditto machine my first-grade teacher gracefully bestowed upon me, about four changes in my college major separated me from that foundational experience and the day I began my teaching career.

Although my elementary and jr. high years presented challenges for my twice-exceptional brain, by freshman year of high school I had hit my stride. My executive functioning was…well, functioning. By this time, due to maturation mixed with quite of bit of adapting, I “got” the whole school thing. My binders and locker remained decently organized (while my room at home quite a different story) and my school assignments were completed with ease and on time. I had mastered taking notes without distraction, could balance homework with extra-curriculars, and knew how to work with peers in a group. Further, my love of theatre, ballet, and tap brought me out of my shell. My love for writing did not fail me as I was an odd duck who looked forward to writing assignments. Everything else? Easy peasy with barely a cracked book. Honor Roll every semester. Things were looking good.

That all came to a screeching halt the day I met chemistry my senior year in high school. I heard the rumors about the class but could not actually believe that a teacher would honestly think that she had made a test too easy if most of her class got A’s. That seemed too incredulous to me at the time, because, as a teacher, wouldn’t students doing well be a sign that you were a successful teacher?

It wasn’t long before I was sinking in this class, and fast. And I wasn’t the only one. By the middle of the year, when mid-terms were posted most of the class had received less than a C. Those who were taking the class as a Junior did the only logical thing if they were in that boat and dropped the class. As a senior, I did not have that option. For the first time in my school career, I did not understand an academic subject. And I tried so very hard. I read the text diligently, studied for hours before a test, went to Saturday labs, and my parents hired the tutor recommended by the teacher, a pharmacist. In the end, no matter how I tried, it was not enough. I graduated but lost my lifetime membership to CSF. Even though I had all first six semesters of high school as an honor student, and lifetime membership only required four semesters, the rules stated one of those semesters had to be in my Senior year and chemistry alone disqualified me from that. It seems much less significant now, but I can tell you that the sting on graduation day was real when I didn’t get to wear that stole with my robe. Things like that matter when you’re a teenager.

Years later as I navigated teaching, I realized that I walked away with something much more important than that stole ever was: an understanding that successful teachers have successful students. And I took that lesson with me into my earliest days in the classroom. I made it my mission to meet every student where they were at, identify specific areas to be addressed which led to designing a model of flexible differentiation that became the foundation of my doctoral research design. That led to some pretty amazing results, too! As a kindergarten teacher, I always took pride in having all my students proficient by the end of the school year. When students came to me, it was truly important to me that every student be given the chance to master their challenges and shine in their strengths. Although painful at the time, without that experience, I may have not understood this idea on such a personal level. This realization alone makes it worth it: to know that so many students received something from me that they may not have if I had not gone through that difficult experience.

Successful teachers have successful students.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t have students who struggle; it means that we target our instruction diligently and systematically to help them get where they need to be. When we teach a new concept, we do a “quick check” to see who has gotten it, challenge the ones who did and reteach a different way to those who didn’t until they do. Yes, education is up against a lot these days. Yes, students come to us all over the map academically and with their own learning fingerprint, as unique as our thumbprints. Focus on what you can control. Make the most of those precious minutes, reflect on your teaching practice when you see students not getting the concept, shine a light on their strengths, and teach beyond a test and not to it!

If you would like some guidance in helping your child be successful, reach out to me at deanna@deannawestedt.com . I offer 1:1 academic coaching sessions to help you navigate your child’s education.

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Monday Minute: Growing Up Twice-Exceptional in the 1980’s

What does twice-exceptional look like?

As a young child, I was extremely quiet, could polish whole chapter books off in a day, and spent my young years compiling 20 journals in which I religiously recorded my thoughts and experiences. At the very mature age of 10, I would utilize post-it notes stuck to my desk lampshade in order to record all of the ideas that I would get, most often and inconveniently at bed-time, where I found it difficult to turn off my brain. These post it notes served as a holding bin and quite literally demonstrated the phrase ‘Stick a pin in it.’ I was “different’ than my peers, usually finding certain topics so interesting that I would become a little expert on them. By the age of eight, I adored my babysitter’s high school text books that she brought over to complete her homework. Time with adults was my safe space, as they never commented or made fun of my advanced vocabulary.

What many did not realize is that I also spent the better parts of second, third, and fourth grade unable to complete any of my school work. I have distinct memories for the duration of these years, of wondering why, yet again, I could not get my work done like the other kids who got to go out to recess. I, instead, would be spending another recess with my never-ending list of unfinished assignments. Although I have memories of making patterns out of the numbers on the paper or creating storylines for the pictures on the work page, I did not connect these things to not getting my work done. And for a long time, no one helped me connect those dots. I was left to wonder how the other kids did it, because I assumed they also made patterns and created storylines and managed to get their work done. It didn’t cross my mind that they simply focused. Some might say I was “bored.” Maybe, but that answer was too simple. In retrospect knowing what I know now, I realize that my brain was breaking up a task that felt tedious. In a way, by stopping throughout the worksheet to do something my brain enjoyed, I was breaking up the overwhelm and providing myself with a little “preferred activity” reward.

I so desperately wanted to know what the other kids got that I just didn’t. I could not, for the life of me, understand why I struggled to keep things organized, even with the best of intentions. I probably more resembled a charming, but unorganized professor, with my stack of books by my bed, some having been read multiple times. It wasn’t until the middle of my fourth grade year, that a teacher finally took action and informed my parents that I had a list of about 20 unfinished assignments. It was the first my parents had heard of it. I had always maintained A’s. I suppose I was graded on the fact that I could read many grade levels ahead of my age or that writing was something that I could almost feel. I loved writing so much and reveled in using newly noticed author’s craft from texts I had read. Playing with the syntax of a sentence was like a game for me and I loved to try a sentence several different ways just to see how it could change the impact of the words. Yes, at the age of nine. I also believe it was because I was quiet. At all costs, I avoided getting my name on the board. But finally, someone was willing to reflect these challenges in my grades. My parents worked with the teacher to immediately create a system, walked beside me as I completed unfinished work, and presented me with an incentive which forever helped to establish the habits that led to being a doctoral student with a 4.0. Most important, I don’t remember being in trouble. My parents did NOT let me know how disappointed they felt, even though I am sure they felt that and so much more… worry, confusion, frustration, upset they didn’t know earlier.

This was not the end of challenges for me. It created a platform and I grew. But I still struggled through my jr. high years to figure it out and many times learned the hard way. I had to become aware of the things that were difficult for me and I found ways to compensate.

Have compassion for our littles that are gifted and the unique challenges they face. The asynchronous development. The ones who simply don’t understand why their vocabulary of a 20-year-old does not fit inside the frontal filter of a seven-year old. They are our future thinkers, inventors, creators, yet they are one of our most underserved and misunderstood populations. They will not work for companies; they will create companies. They will not follow ideas; they will create ideas and advocate. It is not for us to decide a child’s future but to help them reach their potential. To walk alongside them and to help them connect the dots in the unique way that works for them. And by the way…these characteristics are now my superpowers. I still adore and swear by post-it notes and seek to advocate for our twice-exceptional youth!

If you would like some guidance for your twice-exceptional child, I would love to walk alongside you and bring my expertise to help! Check out my 1:1 coaching sessions where I customize strategies to help you meet the needs of your family at http://www.deannawestedt.com.

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Monday Minute: How do I help my young child be ready to read?

This is a question I hear so often, and while phonics play an important role in literacy development there is so much more to laying the foundation for children’s success on the path to reading.

Read on for ways to pave the path to literacy (no flashcards required!):

  1. Include some rhyming songs and games in your day: silly word play is not only fun, but it also builds important pre-literacy skills to prepare students to substitute and manipulate phonemes (sounds) in oral language which in turn prepares them to use word chunks and blending to read new text. Fun tunes like the Name Song (Billy Billy Bo Milly…) and reading nursery rhymes (bonus points for clapping every time you say a rhyming word!) are very impactful ways to build up students’ readiness for reading!
  2. Access to lots and lots of books! Although books can be expensive, you don’t have to spend a fortune (or anything at all, really!) to provide an array of texts for reading and enjoyment.  The public library is a great resource for accessing a variety of children’s literature and often, they have a little store where extra copies or donated books are sold at very low prices, sometimes as low as 25 cents a book. Libraries and bookstores often have reading incentive programs, too, where a free book is the prize. Also, consider partnering with other parents for a book exchange.
  3. Building your child’s vocabulary. Aside from reading aloud to your child, which has been shown to greatly increase a child’s vocabulary exponentially, providing experiences that promote new words and dialogue help, too! Baking, gardening, a visit to the park, or a walk in the neighborhood are all great opportunities to build your child’s vocabulary simply by talking about what is around you.

If you would like more information on early and pre-literacy strategies, schedule a customized 1:1 coaching session with me on my oncehub link, right here on my website or email me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. My coaching sessions utilize a proprietary blend of techniques and tools I have built over 21 years of experience and through teaching my own two boys. I would love to have the opportunity to share those with your family!

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Monday Minute: Collaborative Parenting for ADHD and Behavioral Challenges

The first time we ever used collaborative parenting strategies in our family, I was very literally near the end of my parenting rope! I had gone into parenting thinking I would have this parenting thing down ( I thought). As a teacher, I understood consistency, holding children accountable; I was the teacher they sent other teachers to in order to see how to manage a class. Surely if I could do that with more than 20 children, I could do that with 2 of my own! (LOL forever, my friend).

I will never forget the feeling of success it brought to sit down with my child and empathetically listen to his perspective and the resulting collaboration that resulted in less stress for the entire family.

Transitions were very difficult for my son, especially when it came to favorite activities. And, at the time, nothing was more of a favorite than legos. Anytime we had to transition from legos, the nightmare would ensue. I thought I knew what was going on… he loved legos, right? Of course he didn’t want to stop! I pulled out every parenting “strategy” in the book. But once I dove into that collaborative conversation with him, boy was I in for a surprise! It turns out that in his very complex mind in which he would become completely hyper-focused and absorbed, he was afraid that he might not remember where he left off! He might not remember where to start up again! Wow! I had never thought of it like that before! This insight guided our whole language we used to discuss this and eventually we came up with the agreement to have space and time to find a “stopping point.” It is a term that has served us well in many situations since, but had I not had that conversation with him, I would have probably stayed in the cycle of constant dread everytime we had to shift activities or leave the house!

Admittedly, within the world of nueroscience and education we are in the very earliest stages of truly understanding the human mind and how it develops. The more we learn about it, the more evidence there is to show that the commonly accepted reward/ consequence system does not always work, especially for brains that are differently wired.

The good news is that collaborative parenting is an approach that aligns with preparing children with behavioral challenges to learn skills for navigating adulthood. Here are some answers to commonly answered questions about the collaborative parenting approach:

Q: By using collaboration with my child, does it undermine my authority as a parent?

A: Absolutely not! In fact, there is evidence that using these strategies encourages children to listen and come to parents with their concerns when they know their parent will look through a collaborative lens. Also, there is never a question that in issues of safety and health concerns that you must act in a role of authority. If my boys find it difficult to accept and comply with a family rule put in place for their safety ( for instance with technology), we may have a discussion about why it is hard for them and get to the bottom of the unsolved problem, but that doesn’t mean we will change the rule entirely. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have to take a break from technology. Also, in the collaborative process, there is a step that involves sharing your concern with your child and why it is important to you. The modeling of communication here is extremely powerful and strengthens the relationship between parent and child.

Q: If I use collaborative structures, am I able to still provide accountability for my child?

A: Yes! Collaborative structures include reviewing the agreed upon solution to further problem solve and aligns with natural consequences of choices that children make. It overlaps with gentle parenting and viewing the child from a holistic perspective. As adults, we may have many assumptions of what is causing behavior, but once collaborative structures are used, most experience surprise that there was something else at the root of the problem from the perspective of the child. Most importantly, these structures teach important soft skills such as interpersonal relations, communication, problem solving, and reflexivity that are highly valued in both in relationships and in the work environment.

If you want more information on how to implement these parenting strategies with your child, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com or sign up for a consult at deannawestedt.com. You can schedule right on my oncehub link. I look forward to walking with you and your family through these impactful steps.

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Monday Minute: What’s Your Homeschool Style? Why not to stress what others may think!

Build a homeschool style for your family that’s as unique as your family is!

The community of homeschooling is as diverse in the way it looks as the reasons for which families choose to homeschool. But as I have immersed myself in the homeschool lifestyle, I have started to notice a trend in which the definition of homeschooling is taken apart and dissected to the point where it undermines the actual purpose of homeschool: freedom and choice to do what is best for your child and your family! According to The Best Schools, there are seven identifiable categories of homeschooling: Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Unschooling, School-at-Home, Unit Studies, and Eclectic.

We personally fall into the eclectic category. Based on my sons’ goals and interests we have forged and selected a trajectory for their homeschooling that works for us. We take some school at home classes for their core subjects to meet A-G requirements for high school level classes because they have both expressed a desire to follow career paths that may lead them to college. They are enrolled in college classes through dual enrollment. We incorporate classical subjects, including Bible, for which I have chosen the curriculum. Additionally, two days a week we have an unschooling format for at least a portion of the day for the boys to pursue their own projects. From Charlotte Mason, we include lots of nature, flexible learning environments, and short work windows. Our weeks include travel, outings, and exploring different activities and sports.This is what works for us and I would not ever expect any other family to follow exactly our blueprint. My boys, like every other individual, have a unique learning fingerprint, as unique as their thumb print. Between the two boys, we don’t even do things identical.

From my perspective, as long as your plan for your children leads to an emotionally healthy family life for everyone involved, then you are taking the right path…

Is your child working ahead or behind the conventional education system because that’s what they need? Fantastic! Welcome to homeschooling!

Do you use standards to help guide your learning? That’s fine too! You’re welcome in the homeschooling community, as well!

Do you find that incorporating co-op and other opportunities for your child gives a fullness to your day, even if nothing more than to get some time to think your thoughts? (Introverts, I know you understand!) Wonderful! You belong in the homeschool community, too!

Does your child have special needs for which you have chosen to bring in supports or extra help? Go on with your wonderful homeschooling self!

Does your child take school-at-home classes or attend a hybrid program? You fit in, too!

You see, you do not have to do it any other person’s way, because you are educating your children and you know them and your family situation best!

As homeschoolers, we face enough critiques from others. Isn’t it time to support each other in the homeschool world as we move along our personal journeys? Imagine what we could get accomplished if we collaborated, supported, and shared resources without fear that someone would come along and define homeschool for us.

If you want more guidance into how to assess your family’s needs to design a path of homeschooling as unique as your children, reach out to me at deanna@deannawestedt.com Whatever your family’s goals for homeschooling, I can help you meet them. You can also connect with me right here on my website by scheduling a free consult on my OnceHub link located on the parents tab.