Monday, February 25, 2008

Homeschooling in Honduras...or...half a year of math in 4 days!

One lovely February day as I was walking back from the Pan American Health Service campus to the house where we were staying, I said to God, "I'm feeling useless in the Casita Feliz, like I don't belong there right now. Is there something else I should be doing?" And I got back such an immediate answer that it brought tears to my eyes, "Do school with Little Friend". Little Friend had started second grade in the US and then, at the beginning of November, her family moved to Honduras to help with PAHSmanagement. Little Friend had been working on her 2nd grade workbooks...when mission life didn't intervene...but the new school year in Honduras starts in February and Little Friend was going to be beginning 3rd grade in only 4 days!

I got the okay from her sweet mother and then set about that very afternoon finding out what Little Friend needed to master to make her new school year a success. Fortunately, Little Friend is a very good and eager reader so I soon realized that she'd be fine in reading, spelling, grammar and even writing. Whew!

That left math. Math, of course, is cumulative and leaving holes in understanding/knowledge can cause major problems later. Her US Math book was very thick, with 39 units, only 9 of which she'd completed. Four days for an 8yo to cover 3/4 year of math? Now there's a challenge!

Step one of any teaching program, of course, is to prioritize, so I looked through her math book to weed the wheat from the chaff, to the pluck the basics from the fluff, to identify the essential foundational building blocks for her future math study. Those turned out to be "telling time" "place value" "addition and subtraction with regrouping" and, if time allowed, an "introduction to the concept of multiplication".

Another vital part of teaching is to develop a relationship and then maintain attention. So we did lots of laughing and had lots of silly fun over the math concepts she was learning...and kept attracting curious adults who simply had to see what was so funny.

The goal wasn't to "finish pages" as much as "master concepts" so we skipped blithely ahead and around in the math workbook. We had to improvise manipulatives so we made a paper "clock" using a couple of colored pencils for the hands, devised our own numbers chart (for discovering patterns) and scrounged what we could find to use for counters and to represent ones, tens and hundreds places.

We took lots of move-the-muscles-and-wake-up-the-brain breaks for things like hopping down the hall and running around the house. We had "Snack School", "Tiny Toy Animal School", "Beanie Baby School" and even "Outdoor School". I think Snack School was her favorite--because snack school provides a tiny, tasty motivational snack as a reward for finishing a problem (the first day), row, or page (the last day). One of our new friends who was also staying in the house had brought a supply of granola bars which Little Friend discovered she loved so those were our snacks for Snack School:

I am happy to report that she did it! In four lively days Little Friend mastered telling time, place value, addition and subtraction to three places--with regrouping (borrowing and carrying) and checking for accuracy. I was very proud of her! And when she got her new 3rd grade math book, I was very relieved to see that those were just the skills she needed to have going into grade 3 in her new (bilingual) school in Honduras.

Yesterday we received an email from her mom that Little Friend is doing great in school and math is no problem! It is, indeed, a satisfying feeling to know you've made a real difference in someone's life.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Snow, snow, snow...and more snow!

This photo was taken 6 weeks ago--and we've had at least that much more snow since then. Folks are getting more than ready for spring here in snowy New England!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Let's talk about peanut butter, malnutrition and 'Plumpynut'

On the plane on the way to Honduras, I saw a 60 Minutes newsclip about Plumpynut -- a peanut butter, powdered milk, oil, confectioners sugar and vitamin/mineral mixture which is saving the lives of starving children in (mostly African) third world countries.

All those years when I was giving my children peanut butter and powdered milk balls I thought they were just eating a tasty treat, not a nutritional supplement! I began to wonder if perhaps we could mix up something similar to use with the nutrition hospital patients. When we got there, I did some online research to learn more about Plumpynut and set to work devising a recipe that could be duplicated after we were gone.

The children loved the stuff--even little Maria Suyapa (at least after the first few days when it was a struggle to get her starved little body to accept any formula that wasn't very diluted). The children are each given a small ball of it twice a day for a supplemental snack. They call it nutra manĂ­ which basically means "nourishing peanut".

Notice how much better Maria Suyapa looked already after a week or 10 days of formula supplemented with ever-larger tastes of nutra manĂ­. (The baby on the right is 18 months old and was a new admission to the nutrition hospital.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

THIS is why we go to Honduras

We go to help Pan American Health Service find and treat malnourished children like these:

Precious little Maria Suyapa is 15 months old yet weighed only 7 pounds upon admission to the nutrition rehabilitation hospital. Seven pounds is too small even for a 3 month old baby, let alone a 15 month old who should be an active toddler. After two weeks of treatment, she was beginning to have enough energy to move her little arms and legs around and to observe the other children at play. Her poor ignorant mother was feeding her on coffee and koolaid.

When 8 year old Wendy was first admitted she was too weak to do much more than rest in bed. Now she has strength enough to spend mornings attending school. Due to her malnutrition, her hair had turned blonde and broken off. Now, with treatment, her hair is starting to grow in again. Her edema was caused by protein deficiency and, with proper nutritional support, will eventually disappear.

Protein deficiency (Kwashiorkor) is shown by edema or puffiness, especially in the cheeks, as well as lightened hair. Marasmus is a wasting disease of starvation shown by painfully thin limbs. These precious little girls are being treated in the PAHS nutrition hospital.

It's lunchtime for the now healthy but abandoned children who are growing up on campus. Most meals are composed of rice, beans, corn tortillas and vegetables. Thanks to unselfish donors, these children now have hope and a future!