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Archive for March, 2013

Audio Books for Kids

We are a family of readers.  I read to the children each day, both for homeschool and bedtime stories.  Little Miss is reading on her own now and Pookie loves to look through books.  While on the truck, my husband has been known to take audio books with him.  Needless to say, books are enjoyed by us all in one form or another.

Each day, the children have an hour of quiet time after lunch.  We awaken early each day and that midday rest period really makes a difference.  I have been thinking about the idea of allowing the children to listen to audio books during that time.

Here are some links to a few of the free audio book downloads that I have found.

Storynory

Kids Audio Books

Kids LearnItOutLoud

Books Should Be Free

Light Up Your Brain

62 Places for Free Audio Books for Children (Links Page)

While I was searching, I also found some sites with free downloads of Bible Stories for children.

Christian Communicators Worldwide

Little Lambs Ministry

Bible Stories My Kids Love

Free Kids Bible Stories

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Ever since our son’s diagnosis 3 years ago, Autism Awareness  has taken on a whole new dimension.  It isn’t that I were not already well aware of autism.  A dear friend has a daughter on the spectrum.  For me, personally, the focus on autism is more bitter than sweet.  I am speaking from our family’s experience.  Most people will not have had the same type of experience, thankfully, but it happens. 

When most people think of an autistic child, they think of the socially awkward kids who have a very high IQ.  Most people of my generation knew kids in school that were called nerds.  These same kids today would likely have been on the spectrum as Aspergers.  Not all, of course, but a good number of them.  The fact is, about 80% of all cases of autism spectrum that are diagnosed today are “spectrum” diagnosis (Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, etc).  The number of people diagnosed as Classic Autism (aka Infantile Autism, Autism Disorder, and Kanner’s Syndrome) only make up about 20% of the cases. 

It makes sense that the focus on research and treatment will be towards the larger number in the equation.  Most therapies that we have experienced with our son were geared more towards a moderate to high functioning child than to a child as low functioning as our son.  The therapists failed in their efforts because they were ill-equipped to work with him.  I have heard from others that in their locations, this isn’t the case.  I am glad to know that.  It is good to know that thre are low functioning kids being given whatever help they may need that the family cannot provide themselves.

There are nationally known organizations who have made their names on the autism awareness and research ideals.  We all can think of some.  During the month of April, they have fund raisers and there is a huge media presence.  The sad part is, true “autism awareness” is still far from the goal.  There is a growing awareness for Asperger’s and PDD-NOS.  I don’t begrudge the families that.  They need it.  The daily challenges of Asperger’s and PDD-NOS are just as real and tough for the families as our family faces.

What I would love to see one day is a true Autism Awareness.  Classic Autism, on which the spectrum is connected, is a completely separate disorder.  It cannot be cured through diet, supplements, or any of the other therapies out there.  It simply is what it is.  Yes, a healthy diet benefits us all.  If your child has a sensitivity to certain foods, then you should help them to avoid those foods.  That is common sense.  To berate a parent because they haven’t taken their child to every snake oil sam out there to search for a cure is hateful.  Each family has to do what they feel is in the best interest of their own child.  I know many will argue that their Aspie child is autistic.  Have you ever paid attention to the actual criteria that separates the two?  The panel of specialists who diagnosed our son were very clear with us and further research on our part backed it up.  The child with classic autism disorder is developmentally delayed to a degree past what an Aspie may be.  In our son’s case, there were markers that they used which were very telling.  To today, he still is markedly delayed in his development.  He doesn’t speak beyond the babble that a 6-8 month old may do.  He is unable to feed or dress himself.  He is unable to use a toilet, though we are working on that one.  He often needs to be comforted as you would a young toddler, needing rocked or cuddled to be comforted in a situation that overwhelms him.  In many ways, where his physical development is concerned, he is more like a young toddler than a child 5 years old. 

The prognosis for our son is that he will always be behind his peers in development.  Nearly 80% of kids with Classic Autism never develop an ability to communicate through speech.  They may have a few choice words or phrases, but they cannot effectively communicate through verbal means.  Most who have Classic Autism spend their entire life having to live with a relative or in some other situation where they can be given the aid that they need.  The chance of him being able to live on his own as an adult and support himself is no where near as good as it is for an Aspie or PDD-NOS diagnosis.  There is always a chance that he will, but the reality is that he will always need some degree of assistance.

These are the cases of Autism that people rarely, if ever, hear about.  The Autism Awareness that is so well known would be better named if it were called “Asperger’s Awareness” or “PDD-NOS Awareness” instead. 

Our family doesn’t support any of the Autism Awareness organizations.  Nor do we encourage anyone else to.  I refuse to support an organization who told me on the phone that the best thing we could do for our son it to place him in a facility and walk away.  (Yes! I was told that within a month of our son’s diagnosis)

What we do encourage is to have people become educated on what Autism and the Autism Spectrum diagnosis criteria are.  Learn what you can about it so that you can understand should you meet someone on the spectrum.  Learn what supports the family needs.  As a parent of an autistic child, something as simple as a stranger being understanding when my son is crying in terror in a busy store or not pull their child from my son’s vicinity when he starts flapping his hands.  Education can breed compassion & understanding.  Above all, that is what we all need.

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We’ve are more than halfway through the school term and I am busy getting plans made for next year.  The current term has been very enlightening.  I love discovering the children’s potential and seeing what they are able to accomplish.  Both children has exceeded the expectation.  Little Miss finds a certain amount of excitement when challenged with her studies.    With that in mind, I am changing things up slightly for her.  Pookie has been the biggest surprise.  He is constantly proving that even though he is completely nonverbal, he is very bright.  He is slightly behind his typical peers in his studies, but not nearly as far behind as what people may expect.  he grasps new information rather quickly, but does need much practice to retain the things he learns.  It is truly a case of “if you don’t use it, you will lose it” where he is concerned.

We are continuing with Heart of Dakota curriculum for both children next term.  It has worked out very well for them and keeps their interest.  I love the format on how it is planned out.  There is much reading involved, which is something we enjoy as a family.  I also love the fact that you can purchase their very basic curriculum and add in the math and other programs that you choose.  This allows you to truly customize the curriculum to fit your child’s needs.

For Little Miss, she will be using the Bigger Heart for His Glory curriculum for 2nd & 3rd graders.  This will cover her studies for Bible, Art, History, Geography, and Science.

For Language Arts, we will be using the McGuffey Curriculum sold by Keepers of the Faith.  The Reading Series covers Phonics, Spelling, along with Reading Comprehension.  The Writing Series will cover Phonetics, Spelling, and Grammar.  As a part of the McGuffey Curriculum, we are including Spencerian Penmanship as her cursive writing course.  This is a beautiful script that is very easy to learn.  Seeing just how “girlie” our daughter is, she is loving the idea of learning to write using letters that are so elegant.  I am looking forward to it also.  I used to love doing calligraphy, so this is very similar.

Pookie’s will be using the Little Hearts for His Glory curriculum.  For a Math curriculum, we will be using Singapore Essentials Math for Kindergarten.  I still have a teacher’s manual for a Penmanship course from Rod & Staff that I had used with Little Miss 2 years ago.  I will be using it for Pookie’s writing practice.  I also still have the entire set of Rod & Staff’s preschool workbooks that Pookie is currently using to give him much needed writing and coloring practice.  We will be adding a page or two from those into his workboxes for additional practice as needed.

Both children are going to be continuing their work on the Keepers of the Faith programs.  Little Miss has graduated up to the Keepers at Home program.  Pookie is still working at the Little Contenders of the Faith program.  We do the Biblical character trait lessons together with both kids taking part.  At this point, Pookie simply listens to the lessons and Little Miss answers the questions.  He is still taking part and listening, obsorbing te information as we go along.

We will be doing a lot of notebooking activities for both of the children next term.  Once we got the hang of it, we have really enjoyed putting those pages together.  It is always fun to watch them sit with Daddy when he is home and show him their school notebooks.  Little Miss especially takes a lot of pride in sharing her notebook.

I have some fun trips to the zoo planned.  I found some great worksheets for the Zoo which the kids will be putting together into a notebook after our next visit.  We are blessed that the Oklahoma City Zoo has a family pass we can afford.  This will allow us to take unlimited numbers of trips to the zoo over the upcoming year.  (Note:  I will be posting the Zoo printables link list in a post tomorrow)

I hope that this overview gives you a good idea of what we are planning thus far.  I still have some adjusting to do on the actual lesson planning part of it but that will come once I have the books all in hand.

 

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A common question among homeschoolers, especially those new to it, regards the idea of breaks from the schooling.  Some families follow a schedule similar to that of a public school.  Others follow a  schedule that is year-round with small breaks taken every month or so.  Whatever the schedule, the only thing the families have to be concerned about is that their homeschooling meets their state’s minimum requirement for days of schooling.  In our state, that means we homeschool 180 days per school year.

The idea of taking a break is appealing.  Kids enjoy the time away from studies and the parents enjoy a break from all the work involved in educating their children.  There is a hazard in the path however.  Will your children truly benefit from a break or not?

Now, before people start thinking that I don’t believe in taking a break, let me assure you that I do give the kids ample breaks throughout the year.  We homeschool year round.  The longest break that we take at one time however, is about 4 weeks in the hottest part of summer.  Most breaks however are only a week or two.

This decision came after really observing our children’s learning styles.  I noticed that if a break is too long, we end up having to review before we can move on.  This is especially true of Pookie.  Children with classic autism require much repetition to learn and absorb the new information.  To take a month long break would cause him to lose ground.

During the summer break, we spend a lot of time doing activities outdoors.  We go swimming at the lake or visit museums.  We find ways to stay active while staying cool.  We take part in the summer reading program each year at the library.  That is a favorite of the kids.  They both love having stories read to them and Little Miss is finding joy in reading them herself.  File folder games are a fun educational activity that helps to keep skills honed.  There is so much that can be done that while educational, are a break from the typical studies.

For our family, the short breaks throughout the year seems to work best.  It matches the kids’ learning styles.  We all get to take a breather from studies, yet don’t have to review afterwords.  One of the best parts of short breaks has been that the kids do not lose the habit of homeschooling.  When we resume after a break, they fall right back into routine without a problem.

The routine is probably the most difficult part of taking a break for Pookie.  He craves routine and thrives on it.  A break from homeschooling is a disruption to his day.  So, the file folder games are important to him.  If he is used to doing some form of TEACCH task each day, the file folder games fills in that gap for him.  It is a little thing that makes his day go easier for him.

Planning next school term is nearly accomplished for us.  We will be starting  at the beginning of September when summer’s heat is beginning to cool. I am planning a cycle of 4 weeks of schooling with 1 week break throughout the school term.  As mentioned, the week we take a break will consist of educational games and activities to keep their minds sharp.  Maybe go to a museum, local festivals, zoo, or some other activity while we are at it.

The goal for me is to provide the children with educational opportunities as often as possible.  By having shorter breaks, we can utilize those times for field trips or other activities that enrich their education experiences.  The children are not on break long enough to get bored.

So far this year, as we have taken short breaks periodically, Little Miss has enjoyed the school term far more.  She is becoming more focused when she is doing her schoolwork.  Pookie is more settled and calm in the routine.  Overall, it has been a great decision for us as a family.

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I am so amazed with my kids.  Little Miss is loving her school work now that we have tweaked the system in how she accomplishes it.  The child who did not like to write is enjoying notebooking.  The big draw for her is that she loves showing Daddy what she has done each week while he was away on the truck.  She actually gets excited about doing History, Geography, and Science.  Math doesn’t give her the same thrill, but she is content to do it.  Overall, she has come a long way since September.

Each day, we begin with a Keepers of the Faith character trait study. Currently we are working on the trait of Charity.  We are using this part as a devotional.  Pookie listens in to the lesson & discussion as well.  Her listening skills are improving not only in her studies, but I have been seeing a more focused child when I talk to her about other things throughout the day.  She has also come away from it with a more gentle outlook towards others.

Pookie is coming along in his studies also.  Today, for example, he completed 6 workboxes.  For him, that was a great acheivement.  He is writing a bit better now that he is becoming accustomed to the Twist & Write pencil we bought earlier in the year.  Today, he practiced the letter A again as a review.  He is working on his colors also.  I was so happy to see him complete a worksheet that asked for him to look at a row of items and pick out the one that doesn’t match.  He didn’t “X” them out as directed but did mark off the ones that were different in each row.

I realized today that he doesn’t like his desk.  Up until now, he has fussed abit when doing his schoolwork.  Today, we used the coffee table and he worked without any fuss at all.  I am going to continue working at the coffee table to see how he responds to that.

 

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Well, homeschool convention season is about to begin.  Each year, at this time, I have been looking at ways to make the educating of my children more efficient and effective.  I take note throughout the year of what works and what doesn’t.  This is what I have learned this year.

1.  Both of the kids have very similar learning styles.  While Little Miss is able to work on her written assignments much easier on her own, Pookie needs assistance.  Other than that one major difference, they both thrive on hands-on projects and enjoy reading or being read to.

2.  Both kids are working much better when the workboxes are in use.  Anytime we step away from using a variation of the workbox system, both kids seem to flounder and have trouble staying on task.

3. Pocket chart style visual schedules for each child is critical.  I had tried the hook & loop schedule cards and strip but that was a problem  Little Miss didn’t like it as well and Pookie wouldn’t stop playing with his.  He is compulsive about textures and would peel the cards off just to touch the hook & loop tape.  It became too much of a distraction.

4. Frequent breaks are a blessing.  Each child receives a 15 minute break after completing 1/3 of their work.  Another words, Little Miss gets a break after every 4 workboxes since she does 12 workboxes a day.  Pookie is doing 9 per day, so has a break after every set of 3 workboxes.

5. I am designing a new lesson planner.  I love all of the wonderful ideas available online, but I am finding that I need to fine tune my planner to match our specific needs.  I am putting together a 2-page spread weekly planner sheet.  It will have space to record the subjects that the kids do separately with another section for the subjects that they do together.  This will cut the size of my binder in half.  I am also designing a form that will allow me to better record Pookie’s TEACCH tasks. The 3rd form that I am adding to the binder is a progress sheet for the Keepers of the Faith programs that the children are both doing.

Our curriculum choice for next year is to continue with Heart of Dakota, with the addition of a couple of subjects from Keepers of the Faith.  We have been very happy with Heart of Dakota, so want to continue with it.  I will write more about their curriculum in a future post.

Overall, the school year has gone very well.  It just needs a bit of tweaking here and there.  I am loving this journey.  Watching the kids as they learn new skills and information is a delight.  Going to a Charlotte Mason style of teaching was the best decision that we could have made for our children.  They are thriving in it and finding excitement in the act of learning.

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With spring in the air, it is only natural here on the homestead to start thinking about gardening.  Being homeschoolers, this is also the perfect time to start a unit study about plants.  The unit study is mainly covering science only, with a bit of art and reading thrown in.  I have added this onto our current Heart of Dakota curriculum.

The main resources that we are using are:

Ecology for Every Kid by Jan Van Cleave

Organic Gardening for Kids by Elizabeth Scholl

Sprouting Seed Science Projects by Ann Benbow & Colin Mably

Kids Pumpkin Projects by Deanna F. Cook

Discovering Science Plants workbook by Franklin Schaffer Publications

 

Our first project is to soak about 4 seeds each from 4 vegetable varieties.  We chose pumpkin, sugar peas, corn, and green beans.  The seeds are soaking overnight so that tomorrow Little Miss can dissect a seed from each variety to compare them.  Some seeds are monocot, meaning that they have 1 first leaf.  Others are dicot, meaning that there are 2 first leaves.  She will be charting which seeds are monocot and which are dicot.  Her are project will be to draw the cross-section of a seed showing it’s various parts.  Pookie is also doing the project but will be coloring a picture of a sprouting seed that I drew for him today.

Jan Van Cleave’s book has activities that demonstrate the connection between animals and plant life through habitats.  She also has a section on the definition of a weed and what use they are in nature.

Organic Gardening for Kids teaches children about composting and basic garden skills.  There are many terms that the children will learn as well as how organic gardening benefits us.

Sprouting Seed Science Projects contains 10 chapters that go through the entire process of how seeds are scattered, growing conditions, and the process of how they sprout & grow.  Each chapter has it’s own science experiment to go along with it.  All look fun and very educational.

Discovering Science Plants workbook is an actual unit study complete with the worksheets to go along with the lessons.  I happened upon this gem at a used book store.  The front of the book has the lessons, which are all very short, with the worksheets following.  It is rated for Primary Grades.

Kids Pumpkin Projects is the book I was so excited about last year.  We found it at the library, but sadly it was too late in the growing season to reap the most benefit from the book.  It starts out in spring with kids planning out their pumpkin patch and goes through the growing season from the planning stages through harvest.  Throughout the book, there are recipes and activities that are both educational and fun for the kids and mom!  Little Miss is wanting to grow her own patch of pumpkins to sell next autumn.  This is the perfect book to help turn her “cash crop” into a homeschool project.

Little Miss is especially excited about this unit.  She is still doing the science lessons in her Heart of Dakota curriculum, but wanted to do this additional one.  Her proud moment today was learning about monocots & dicots.  She is making a poster using plant pictures to classify them as a monocot or dicot.

On a side note, Little Miss is also using this time to work on her plant color wheel that she wanted to do earlier.  The color wheel is based upon the various color families that vegetables & fruits belong to.  Each color family provides specific nutrients to our diet.  She is making a wheel that shows which family each of the fruits & vegetables we eat belong to and what nutrients they provide.

This is one of the reasons why we love homeschooling.  While she is getting a sound education through her curriculum, we also have the freedom to pursue these other areas that interest her the most.  By giving her that ability, we are able to teach her far more than if we made her “stick to the program” and not allow her to reach out to other things.

 

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