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Archive for March, 2012

This past week, I received the catalog for My Father’s World curriculum. As I looked through the catalog, I found myself getting excited. At last! I have found another resource for Pookie’s TEACCH task trays.

In the catalog, they start out with a page of activities for Toddlers as young as 2 years old. The toddler package sells for $56, but you can also buy it’s contents individually. I was happy to see that I already have several of the items. The package consists of a Shape & Color Sorter, Tall Stacker Pegs & Pegboard, Toddler Tote (containing large and small puzzles, 7 pegs, 2 mini peg boards, and 3 animal puzzles), Number Express number puzzle with pegs, and finally a “Wee Sing Bible Songs” CD with lyrics book. The package introduces numbers 1-5, teaches sorting skills, helps to develop motor skills as well as visual discrimination.

The Preschool Package for 3-5 year old children retails for $109. It contains activity cards of suggested activities for the package contents. It contains Number Puzzle Boards & Pegs set (numbers 1-10), Kids Puzzle, Lace & Link Lowercase Letters, Lacing & Tracing Shapes, Fit-a-Space Puzzle Set of 16 puzzles, an 8″ Pegboard to use with the pegs from the Number Puzzle Boards, and a 2-CD set of Bible verses set to music called, “Hide ’em in Your Heart”.

Both of the packages contain wonderful materials that easily can be used in a TEACCH Task session. For Pookie, or any child just learning to use the task boxes, you can start by placing 1 of the small puzzles in a tray or bin. I start with only 2 trays for Pookie per session. This teaches him the foundations of using the workbox system. As he masters going from 1 activity to the other, I can add a 3rd tray to the session. Each TEACCH session averages 20 minutes to complete.

The activities are a precursor to the lessons later on as he is homeschooling. By the time he is ready to do a homeschool curriculum, he will have already learned the habits of going to the task trays and completing the task inside. Kindergarten activities will begin to replace the Preschool tasks. It will be a gentle transition from one to the other.

I registered for the Homeschool Convention in Tulsa today. It is being held in early May. My Father’s World will be there exhibiting in the sales hall. I am already saving up and making my shopping list. With Little Miss doing the Kindergarten now, we will be buying the 1st grade curriculum to be ready for autumn. I am so excited about the convention. I haven’t been to one before so this will be something new for me. I can’t wait to meet more homeschooling families and attend a few workshops.

I especially am looking forward to finding more ideas for Pookie to use in his TEACCH task trays. I see the My Father’s World materials as a great start.

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There was a very well written blog/article written on the Huffington Post, “Maria Lin: 7 Things You Don’t Know About a Special Needs Parent.” In the article, she wrote from the heart about her list of things that people don’t generally know about her life as a parent to a special needs child. It was a very inspiring and insightful view of what life can be like. Her article inspired me to write my own list.

There are always assumed ideas that people have of what it is like to raise an autistic child. I don’t speak for ALL parents of autistic children. I can only write from my own experiences. As the saying goes, if you have met 1 person with autism then you have met only 1 autistic person. The same can be said of the family members who care for and live with that autistic person. We are all individuals and have varied perspectives on what this journey called autism is like. It affects each person and family differently. This is my perspective.

1. I am a Momma. I am not just the caretaker of the special needs child. He is my son. He is a child that I love deeply. I feel all of the typical emotions that a mother has for her child. I have hopes and dreams for him just as any mother has for her children. When you make comments about the lack of future my son may have, it hurts me deeply.

2. Don’t assume he is undisciplined. If Pookie is in a situation that causes him extreme stress, he reacts to it. This may or may not include: stimming (repetitive movements that are a self-calming action that helps him cope), screaming/crying, biting himself, hitting himself in the head, or showing signs of absolute terror. This is NOT a child having a tantrum but a child having a very frightening overload of stimuli. Each and every time he goes to a new place or is forced into places that have stimuli overload “triggers” he will react to it. Some of Pookie’s triggers are: an echo, blinking fluorescent lights, crowds, PA systems in a building, and loud noises. There are many triggers, but those are the ones that nearly always cause a reaction. One note about fluorescent lights: some children with autism or other neurological problems can even have a severe seizure just from being in that type of lighting. Autism is a neurological disorder within the brain. It is not something that a parent can make go away through discipline.

3. My son has emotions. He is filled with joy. Little Man, who I call “Pookie”, laughs often. He loves to play and giggle. Just because he has the more severe form of autism called Autism Disorder (aka Classic Autism or Kanner’s Syndrome) doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel or show emotions. He is not a robot without feelings. He often will react to the stimuli of the emotions around him. In example, he laughs when others laugh or will get weepy if someone else is upset. He is very empathic in that sense.

4. My son has intelligence. Just because he is non-verbal does not mean that he is lacking intelligence. When he finds ways to communicate, he shows the level of his intelligence. Being non-verbal and not having a broad vocabulary in the use of sign language or PECS communication system yet (he is 4 yrs old), he often is viewed as being of low intelligence. Don’t call him “retarded”. Even a genius like Albert Einstein would have looked less than intelligent if he had to speak to people who did not understand the language he spoke. Pookie has ways of communicating, but his ways are not ones that are generally understood by those who are not around him often. He is learning to communicate, but it takes time. Picture this – you speak can only English and are trying to speak to someone who only speaks Italian without the benefit of an interpreter. In a effort to communicate, you try to speak through sign language which the other person is trying to teach to you without the benefit of a common base for understanding. Get the idea? How intelligent would YOU appear in that situation?

5. I’m exhausted. I am a SAHM with 2 young children. We homeschool and live in a rural area. I also am working with Pookie on occupational therapy and teaching him to communicate in addition to preschooling him. I am not complaining. I love our lifestyle and being with the kids. The tired feeling comes from the emotional ups and downs that is common in families of special needs children. Pookie can be feeling fine and suddenly a stimuli will set off a meltdown. You simply learn to adjust to it and ease him through the situation in an effort to teach him self-calming skills.

6. He has a sister. Pookie is not the only young child in the home. While I welcome questions about Pookie, I often wonder if Little Miss sometimes feels ignored or left out by others’ attention. She needs attention also. At 6 yrs old, she doesn’t have the full understanding to know why people ask about her little brother but not her. We have our special times just her and I. We make a point of it. Whether it is working on her Little Keepers program, sharing an Afternoon Tea, or just having some girlie time painting her nails for her, I try to have time that is just for her alone. When others do talk to me about Pookie, I am always thrilled when Little Miss is brought into the discussion and made to feel special also. Not just for being a good big sister to her brother, but for her own individual personality & interests that have nothing to do with being a big sister to an autistic brother.

7. I get lonely. Having a special needs child can be one of the most isolating things a person can experience. It is isolating enough just living in a rural area. When you have a child with special needs, play dates at a park where Moms get together while their kids play just doesn’t happen very often. I have never gone out for a cup of coffee with a friend. To do so requires a babysitter. The times that I do have someone watching the younger kids, I am out having to run errands. My husband is a truck driver and away from home most of the time. We talk often but it isn’t the same as having time to sit, relax, and talk with someone. My eldest daughter’s family lives here, but it isn’t the same as having friends to talk to. Sometimes, you wish for a phone call. One of the things that helps is that I have a couple of people who I write letters back and forth with. All the same, there are times that I really wish I had a friend that I could talk to who really understood what autism is about and could relate to what it is like to have a child with autism.

8. I get discouraged at times. I am not always strong. I become very discouraged at the total lack of understanding even within the autism community. Nearly every time I hear people on autism support websites or in groups talk about their autistic kids, they are talking about Aspergers or PDD-NOS which are on the autism spectrum, but are NOT the same thing as the more severe Autism Disorder that Pookie has. I get sick and tired of having people tell me that change of diet or using supplements will cure him. While a good diet benefits anyone, it cannot change a neurological disorder in the brain. To say that changing his diet will make him become “less autistic” is not a truth. Some people would argue the point, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I know my son. I know what we have tried. I know what works for him. If a change in diet makes a miraculous change in your child – God bless ya! But don’t get on a rant and tell me that I am a bad mother for not “curing” my son’s autism through diet & supplements.

9. I am a woman. I am more than a mother to an autistic child. I can talk about subjects other than just the autism. I homeschool Little Miss, I am a voracious reader when given a chance, I enjoy gardening, quilting, crocheting, and scrapbooking. I love doing photography. I have been known to play a guitar, organ, and drums as well as have written songs and poetry. I spent 26 years researching genealogies, teaching others how as well as researching others’ genealogies as an income resource. I love the outdoors and being around water but the thought of being in a boat terrifies me. I was a truck driver. When my husband and I first got together, we drove as a team for a trucking company up until I was about 6 months pregnant with Little Miss. I grew up a trucker’s kid and went to it as a job after my 1st marriage ended. I loved the job and having that time with my husband. I miss it still at times, but am happy to be home with the kids now.

10. I am a woman of faith. I converted and was baptized into a Christian faith 5 years ago after a time as a pagan. Even before the baptism, I always had faith in a Higher Power. I knew that there was more to life than what we see on the surface. I saw the majesty of the Lord’s creation and His hand in what goes on around us long before my conversion. Now, I find peace in my faith. I see Pookie’s autism as a perceived weakness (in the world’s view) that can be turned into a strength that the Lord can use to show His grace and blessing. I know that the Lord has a purpose for Pookie as he is. The Lord may not of caused Pookie’s autism, but the Lord is powerful enough to use it as a testimony of what a person can do in spite of being autistic with the Lord’s blessing. The Lord can use any negative and turn in into a positive. I already am seeing in through Pookie. I see glimpses of the Lord’s blessing in his life. Those precious moments when Pookie suddenly makes progress in his development. Yes, we go through the 3 steps forward, 1 step back routine in his development. Each time however, the progress made is more than before. Slow and steady, he is progressing. This doesn’t mean that I am always strong and never have times of discouragement. I believe there is a reason why people have always attended their church. It is to fellowship and uplift each other. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a church locally where I can take Pookie. Either the acoustics cause meltdowns or they don’t know how to manage an autistic child. The church we attend when we are able to is a 90-mile drive (one way) from our home. With fuel costs, that is not something we can do very much.

Much of the above are things I would not normally blog about. That article inspired me however. It made me stop and think about the many misconceptions that people can have about the parent of a special needs child. We are more than the caretaker. We are individuals with hopes and dreams. We have many facets to our lives. Sadly, many only see the caretaker. We are so much more than that.

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After last night’s thunderstorms, it was drizzling today. My son-in-law found a large crayfish in the irrigation ditch and caught it. We have a large clear plastic “bug jar” that has a magnifying lid. We put the crayfish in the jar so the kids could look at it. Little Man especially loved watching it crawl around in the jar. After they all had a chance to observe it for a few minutes, we let it go. I love watching Little Man’s interest in whatever we put into that jar. Nature fascinates him. We have caught praying mantis, various bugs, and even have put a dead scorpion that we found into the jar so the kids could look at them.

I am enjoying working with the kids using the new curriculum. They are enjoying it also. The kids are working on the phonics very well. Grandson has a hearing problem and recently got tubes in his ears. Now he is able to hear better what the sounds actually are. It is wonderful watching him learn. Little Miss is reviewing the letter sounds. Both of them are doing well with it. One of the best parts of teaching them together is that they are also helping each other. Each child encourages the other in their learning. They are both happier now that they are doing the same lessons.

Adding the lapbook has turned out to be a great idea. All 3 kids are going to have one. I have helped Little Man with his, but the older 2 are doing their own. Most of what Little Man is doing will be the coloring. He is not able to cut with scissors yet. One of the downsides to his sensory issues is that we are having to ease him into the idea of letting things touch his hands. It is strange. He will touch certain textures of food and specific toys, but he refuses to touch anything that is not essential to him. I am gradually getting him to do it though.

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Now that we are using the My Father’s World Kindergarten curricula, I have revamped (slightly) the file box that we use as a workbox. Here is what was changed.

Instead of having a file for each week of schooling, I now have one for each thematic unit that we will be working on. With the exception of the Introductory unit on Creation that is a 10-day unit, all of the remaining 26 units are 6 days long. I only need 27 hanging files total per child. The extra files are now going to be used for Little Man, who will be doing the curricula also. For him, it will be repeated a couple of times to make sure he understand, but for now it is a case of allowing him to join in and learn/experience what he can.

Worksheets for each unit are placed in a manila file folder which is then placed into that hanging file for that unit. When we go to do the worksheets, I just grab the file and remove what is needed.

The children enjoy doing lapbooks, so I am finding free & purchased lapbooks to match the various unit themes for the year. I have 3-prong pocket portfolios that I am using for the lapbooks. In simplest terms, you open up the pocket portfolio and use rubber cement to glue the back of the lapbook to the inside of the front or back cover of the portfolio. This leaves you with 1 remaining pocket and the prong section. In the remaining pocket, the worksheets will be stored once completed. In the center, I will add sheet protectors for scrapbook pages of the kids doing the hands-on projects and any extra items that don’t fit in the portfolio pocket or lapbook.

To organize the lapbooks for each theme, I am assembling the empty portfolio lapbooks for each unit. In the pocket, I place the lapbook materials such as mini books, games, and charts. This keeps it all together so that the children only need the tools (pencils, scissors, etc) to complete the lapbook components. Larger lapbook components, such as sheets of construction paper, are stored in a bin near the hanging file crate.

This system is making it easy to organize and prepare ahead. Each time I go to the library, I can download and print out more lapbooks for upcoming units. When I get home, these are placed into the portfolios for each child. Everything is ready to go ahead of time. It sure makes for a much less stressful time preparing lessons!

I am loving using this filing system as our workboxes. For now, we distribute their materials each day, but as they are more able to do so, the children will be able to get their files and portfolios on their own later on. In future years, when they are working more independently, I will be able to set the system up once and then simply oversee their work to insure they are doing it all. Of course, I will always be working with them enough to see that they understand the lessons and are doing their work, but a day will come when they can be fully independent in their learning.

The best part of this is that if we have a busy weekend I will not be stressed for time to get the next day’s/week’s lessons ready for them. Once set up, the entire year of work is fully organized and ready to go. If we want to go to a park and homeschool away from the house one day, we just have to grab a file and a binder pouch with basic school supplies in it. That, by the way, is my next little project. I am going to be putting together a binder with only the clear front pouches in it. The pouches will contain the basic school supplies so that they are not so easily misplaced. One pouch for colored pencils, one for crayons, one for pencils & eraser, and a third for scissors and a small pencil sharpener. Next time we want to homeschool away from home, it will take only a quick 2 minutes to put the binder or pouches and the current unit’s folder into a backpack. I LOVE it!

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It Arrived!

This morning, we were treated to the arrival of a certain little brown delivery truck pulling into our driveway. Our young and grandson were very eager to get at that box that was delivered. After satisfying their curiosity, they went off to play while my eldest daughter and I looked through the contents.

At first glance, I thought of how much fun the kids are going to have with the My Father’s World Kindergarten program. On the surface, the lessons seem to be a bit too easy. I had to stop myself though. I was comparing it to the R&S curriculum with all the workbooks and texts. That approach didn’t fare well, especially since R&S doesn’t have a Kindergarten program but jumps from preschool to 1st grade. It was due to that lack of kindergarten that we were led to take the step back and try something else. I realized that this new curriculum is what we should have been doing all along with our daughter.

After reading the author’s notes in the teacher’s manual, I took to one idea right away. My eldest daughter and I both sorted our little ones’ student packs into file folders. I love it. Each week, there in only one folder to work with. By organizing each week’s unit into it’s own folder, I have basically organized the curriculum for the entire program. The extras, like the flash cards and such that are included in the basic curriculum are also in folders.

When I am able to go to Mardel’s Christian book store again, I plan to laminate the flash cards and other items that will be used repeatedly through the curriculum. I love laminating at the book store. They have a heat laminating machine that can do poster sized items. The cost is only 25 cents per foot! I should be able to laminate everything for less than $4.00.

Something that our youngest daughter enjoys is lapbooking. With each unit being a week-long thematic unit, I am going to incorporate lapbooking into the curriculum. I have plenty of resources available to allow me to come up with a lapbook for each unit. Live & Learn Press has a pdf instruction for adding a basic lapbook to the inside of a pocket portfolio. I am thinking that this technique will be perfect for the MFW Kindergarten units. The worksheets for that unit can be placed in one pocket of the portfolio, while the lapbook can contain pictures, mini books, reading lists, and other items.

I recall finding a Creation lapbook and will be saving it to my netbook in the morning and printing it out. These pages will add to the unit. Over the past couple of years, I have been collecting resource books in anticipation of homeschooling the children. I am thrilled that several that I have are going to be used with this curriculum. One book, which is all about life cycles, will be a nice addition to the lapbooks for the units on frogs & butterflies.

A couple of things that I plan on doing Friday while running errands is to make a copy of the book lists for the various units. I am going to place the copy in a binder that I can take to the library or book stores. A master list of the themes is now written in my little notebook that I carry in my purse. If I am out shopping and see something that fits one of the upcoming units, I can pick it up. I can also start downloading lapbooks for the various units so that I will already have them ready to print out.

Overall, I am thrilled with the layout of the curriculum. It is more thorough that expected at first glance. When I first looked over the list of unit themes, I thought them to be too easy or simplistic. Upon reading more thoroughly, much to my delight, I realized that the themes meet the criteria of several areas of science. The children will be introduced briefly to astronomy, with more units on the topics of earth sciences and life science. The understated approach seems a more “natural” way to learn. By using the unit study method, the children will be able to see how things connect. We can tie math into a science topic in a way that it makes sense. Reading stories that are as fun as they are informative will be an added bonus.

Seeing the sparkle in the kids’ eyes as the truck brought the delivery said it all. They are excited to start learning in a new way. This should be a time for them to find out just how much fun learning can be. If we can instill in them a taste for reading and gaining knowledge, then there are no boundaries to stop them from gaining an education.

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On Tuesday, the kids and I started a “He is Risen” garden. This is based on an idea that I saw on a facebook homeschool group. The project is a simple one but will be pretty at Easter. I also love that the kids will be able to watch as the seeds sprout and grow. If you would like to make one for Easter season with your little ones, start soon as it takes about 10-14 days for grass to grow from seed.

Pic that was shared on the message board of a finished garden.

For the garden, you need a large saucer like those used for potted plants, a small flower pot, soil, grass seed, small twigs, dental floss or thread, large flat rock, and a spray bottle of water. We used soil from our yard for this project so that we could better form the shape of the garden landscape.

To begin, place a small layer of soil in the saucer. Lay the Small flower pot on it’s side. Finish filling the saucer with soil, mounting it over the flower pot to form a hill. Be sure to keep the inside of the flower pot empty. After the kids formed the landscape, they next will spray the soil with water to make it easier for the grass seed to stick to it. Scatter the grass seed over the soil. The kids went a bit nuts in this and left no soil showing! LOL After scattering the seeds, mist again with water to dampen the seeds. Place in a sunny location. Have the little ones spray the garden with water several times a day to keep seeds moist.

Do you think the kids scattered enough grass seed on the garden? LOL

 

Over the next couple of weeks we will be adding the rock in front of the tomb (empty flower pot) and making 3 crosses from the twigs and thread. We are going to be working on a devotional about the Easter story. The kids will be placing the 3 crosses on the hill behind the tomb. It will make a nice visual of the garden scene.

On a science note: the kids will be able to watch the growth of the grass from seed. Every couple of days, as they take turn watering the seeds, they can observe the changes. If I were to do this project again, I might consider using an old spice bottle with shaker lid to sprinkle on the grass seed. It would be less messy and the kids would use far less seeds.

After the garden was set in the sun, the kids had fun scattering the leftover grass seed over the thin spots in their play yard. They have looked forward to this project and getting to toss seeds across the yard was an extra bit of fun for them.

 

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Curriculum Changes

We have been using Rod & Staff curriculum with Little Miss and their preschool materials with Little Dude this school year. I have mixed feelings about it. It is definitely a Christian-based curriculum, as you would expect from Mennonite publishers. Unfortunately, the material wasn’t a good fit for our family. The curriculum moves too quickly on the basics, such as phonics. It was disheartening to realize that half way through the school year, our daughter was able to read because she had memorized the words, not because she could sound them out. We ended up having to stop using the Rod & Staff materials and instead use the free phonics program at Starfall.com and other inexpensive workbooks to bring her up to speed with the R&S materials.

One method of learning that always worked well with me as a kid was hands-on thematic units. It just seemed to make more sense to me. I didn’t have to abstractly see how one thing related to another. The unit study showed me in a way that was easier to grasp. When I look back at the preschooling I did with Little Miss, the things she learned best were the thematic units that we made into lapbooks. Daddy would come home and she could go through a lapbook and explain what she had learned. I have to ask myself, why did I ever consider getting away from that? The only answer that I have is that I was thinking that now that she is old enough to attend public school, I had to teach her in a more “school-like” fashion. I forgot one of the fundamental aspects of homeschooling. We have the choice in how our children are to be educated. We can tailor their education to fit their learning style. Unlike the school classrooms, we have the freedom to work outside the text books.

I began looking at alternatives. Admittedly, the driving force in this has been our son. In the autumn, he would be expected to attend a public school’s Pre-K program if he were to be public schooled. This has me wondering how best to approach homeschooling him. On a couple of Yahoo groups that I participate in, the curriculum by My Father’s World kept being mentioned. It is based on 2 factors that I felt worth looking into. It is a thematic unit based curriculum and it is in alignment with the methods of teaching used by Charlotte Mason. Ms Mason believed in children learning through living books and the study of nature, among other things. She felt that if you provide children with quality books that teach as well as entertain, the children will gain a love of reading that will serve them well in the years to come. Spending ample time outdoors and observing the nature around them is a part of a child’s natural curiosity. In her teaching, she encouraged children to keep a nature journal. They would find something of interest, a plant, animal, tree, spider web, etc., and draw a picture of it. They would make notes about where they found it, what it is, and any other information that they could learn about their find. This brings about an attention to detail that can inspire the child to pay attention to details in other areas of their life. By teaching in thematic units, children can see how the subjects can all be tied together. This helps them to understand why they need to learn certain topics. The topics blend together to form a rich tapestry that may be easily missed otherwise.

When I homeschooled my now adult sons, I used the trivium method of teaching by time period. When they studied the Roman age, they also learned what scientific discoveries happened at that time. It made history make more sense. They kept a timeline, in a binder to add entries about famous people, events, and discoveries. This helped to bring it all into focus for them. I have to wonder why I didn’t think about this method with Little Miss.

I have been participating recently on networking groups for the My Father’s World curriculum. It is great to have other parents, including those with children who have learning difficulties due to special needs, to connect with. I am becoming more convinced that my instincts about this curriculum will be right. I am really looking forward to the Tulsa Homeschool Convention in May.

Now, I am looking at other websites such as Ambleside Online to print out book lists to compare with the suggested reading lists for My Father’s World. Ambleside Online is a free Charlotte Mason based curriculum website. I have used in the past to get book suggestions for the kids. By having a secondary list of books, I will have options in case our library cannot get some of the books I am looking for from My Father’s World’s reading list.

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