Archive for November, 2014

I wanted to touch on an idea that I am using with my family. Those of us with a special needs child knows that there are often items that our children need that are out of the ordinary. Maybe it is a therapy related item or a toy that can help with building a skill that your child is needing to be improved upon. Let me share with you an idea that I have been using with our kids.

Amazon has a great wish list feature that you can customize. You can create as many wish lists as you want, each having it’s own privacy setting. You can make the lists private for your viewing only, public, or view-able only by those whom you give the direct link to.

This year, I set up a wish list for each of our children. Pookie’s wish list contains toys that are not only ones that interest him, but also are skill building. These are often based upon the activities that he does with his therapists are the therapy center. Often, a family member may not know what to get your special needs child. Toys and such that are the typical age appropriate choice for a child without a disability are not always the right choice for a child with special needs or developmental delays. That is where the wish lists come in handy. Once set up, you can share the link with family members who ask for gift ideas. Then, they can either make note of the items listed, or they can make the purchase through Amazon.

This idea isn’t only beneficial for special needs children. Little Miss has her own wish list as well. Her list contains the things that she is interested in. Like with Pookie, the link to her list can be shared with family who are looking for ideas.

These wish lists are also a help for me. Once the lists are created, I am able to go to the lists and choose items as we have money for them. I don’t have to use the search feature to find the gift ideas. They are already organized and ready for me.

If you homeschool, you can set up a list for homeschool related items that your children need as well. There are no limits to how you can use the wish lists. For family who live a distance away, the lists can be especially helpful.

It is an idea that works for us. Maybe it can help others as well.

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Teaching Generosity

The crazy season is upon us. That is what I call it anyways. That season of time when people are becoming almost neurotic over holiday preparations, gift shopping, and attending every holiday event possible. The stress can be high for even the most calm souls. In that time of controlled chaos, what message are we sending to our children? Knowing that they learn from example, are they seeing only the hectic and harried side of the holiday? Or are they being shown the side that promotes charity and compassion?

In our home, we make as many of the gifts by hand as possible. We want the children to learn the value of giving of their time and talents. We have done it this way for the past couple of years since we began keeping the Christmas holiday. In the middle of this, a wonderful thing has happened. Little Miss is learning generosity.
It is too soon to know how much Pookie is learning. But, being that he has no real emotional attachment to most things, he does give to others easily. It is only a matter of knowing how aware he is of what he is doing when he gives things he makes to those around him.

One of the benefits of teaching the children to make their gifts is that they have to use their own time and talents. This has several benefits. Using Little Miss as an example, let me share some of the benefits. First, she has to hone her skills to do her best work on a gift. She always wants her gift to be the best that she can make. So, she spends a lot of time practicing how to do new crafts and use new to her art techniques. Once she chooses a gift to make, she plans it out and works on it to the best of her ability. She takes great care in it. One day, this same trait will serve her well in her chosen career path. Secondly, by putting so much work into her gift, she has developed an appreciation for the gifts that she receives from others. Especially anything handmade. She knows from experience just how much time and work goes into making gifts. That experience has taught her to value the fact that others’ have done the same for what they give her. This carries over to store bought as well. She understands that the person has taken time to plan out what they bought and has matched the gift to what they think she will enjoy the most. This is very true of gifts made or given by someone that she knows has little themselves. Some families that we know are really struggling to make ends meet each month. Little Miss highly values time spent with them and is deeply appreciative of anything they do for her. Another benefit is that the kids are learning to value the time and talents of others more than the price tag of the gift they receive. If it takes Little Miss a few days to make a set of potholders for a gift to a neighbor, then she can appreciate the gift’s value that doesn’t come from a store tag. She knows how much hard work and time went into making a gift. She knows first hand that to spend time and talent making something has a value that you cannot put a price tag on.

Our way of celebrating may not be what everyone would choose. We chose this way as our way of honoring the meaning behind the season. Christ gave of Himself to all mankind. By making our gifts, we are giving of ourselves to others. We are sharing in our time and talents. If we have opportunity to serve with a charity, then that too becomes a way to be the hands and feet of the Lord in the holiday season. My husband was against the celebrating of Christmas when we first got together. He disagreed with the commercialism of the holiday which took away focus to why we celebrate Christmas. Once he learned of what the church taught on this topic, we came to a compromise. We celebrate the birth of our Lord at Christmas. We make sure the children know that this is the reason behind the celebration. We also don’t go into debt with credit cards or small loans to buy gifts. Instead, we give of ourselves through the making of as many of the gifts as possible.

The results have been a blessing to our family. We see a maturity in Little Miss where generosity is concerned. She has things which she values, but is always willing to give it to someone else if they need it more than she does. That has become a blessing of the season that was a precious gift to see as a parent. I love how the Lord has shown us how to use the celebration of Christ’s birth as an opportunity to teach our children selflessness towards others.

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Recently, I was asked why we use the workbox system for our homeschool. It is a question that I have been asked often enough that I feel the need to blog about this.

When I first was introduced to the workbox system, it was through Robin’s blog on Heart of Wisdom’s website. Being that I prefer things to be very organized, I gravitated to the various blogs on Robin’s links page. I was surprised to see just how varied the families chose to implement the system in their homes. Little Miss was a preschooler at the time. Even at that age, she was very self-driven. If I had all her activities laid out for her, she would go through them independently. The thought of organizing them onto a bookcase appealed to me. We were given a couple of old school desks for the kids by a neighbor. I set one up next to a bookcase and loaded it up with the shoe box bins as suggested in the book, Sue Patrick’s Workbox System: A User’s Guide.

For Little Miss, this worked out great. For me, not so much. I love books and I tend to get a bit cranky when I find damaged ones. Seeing the workbooks develop a curl in them from being in the shoe box started to grate on my nerves a bit. I ended up tearing the pages out of her workbooks, which wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the workbooks were not all curled up. Using the system with Little Miss was a great learning curve for me. I will always be grateful that I learned about the system long before I began homeschooling Pookie.

With Pookie, the system has been a life saver. Autistic children tend to crave a strict routine in order to function well. This is especially true when it comes to educating them. In order for Pookie to be able to focus on his homeschooling, he needs the routine to be a constant that he can count on. If I decide to mix it up a bit, he doesn’t always respond well. This does not mean that he has to do all activities in a specific order. It only refers to the idea of using the workboxes only part of the time. If I have him using the workboxes and suddenly stop using them for a few days, he doesn’t tolerate it as well. He finds it harder to focus on the activities he is doing. I believe that he needs the consistency of using the workboxes to stay on track. While the activities in each workbox may change from day to day, there is a consistency in the fact that his work is always stored in the workboxes. As he works through his visual schedule and completes the activities as outlined on that schedule, he is able to manage ti without a meltdown.

Many families without an autistic child use the system successfully with their children. It provides a means to teach kids how to manage their time and have self-discipline. On the various blogs out there, you can often find cute printable workbox number tags and cards for the visual schedule that you can print for free. These are really cute and you can make them in any theme you want. You can print out themed tags and cards that appeal to each of your children. This can make workboxes fun for little ones.

For Pookie, I found that the cute factor doesn’t help him any. He can become distracted by the pictures on the tags and schedule cards. His cards are pretty generic. The workbox tags are plain numbers with no pictures. Where we do use graphics is in the visual schedule. Intermingled with his number cards, he has little cards with pictures of his various therapy toys and manipulatives. For example, I made cards with pictures of his pattern blocks, sort & stack set, lacing beads, and puzzles. The number cards on his schedule are a duplicate set that match his workbox tags.

There are several aspects of the system that I especially see as being beneficial to Pookie. First is the visual schedule. The schedule is one of the foundational elements for Pookie. It allows him to not only know what is coming up, but he can have a certain level of independence. He takes each activity in sequence and is able to move through his daily assignments. All the while, he is able to visually see that there is a stopping point. Adding the check in/check out card also gives that sense of knowing when his school time starts and stops.

Next, I look at the “work with Mom” cards. These little gems are a great way to let the kids know when they need to come to me for further instruction or aid in an assignment. At this point, most of Pookie’s workboxes are requiring my help. Gradually, the level of assistance has been dropping. I help him set up the activity and get started, With certain activities, he has been doing them long enough that I am able to step back and he will continue on his own to complete it. With Little Miss, these cards let her know when I am needing to give her more information or discuss a new concept. Once the instruction is done, she works on her own to complete the assignment.

The “Help” cards that I give to Little Miss are a great motivator in teaching independence. These cards are used for those times when your child is capable of doing the assignments on their own, but they want you to help them instead of figuring things out for themselves. One good example of this is a behavior that Little Miss had a couple of years ago. She was capable to doing her worksheet on her own. The instructions on the worksheet were very clearly written at her level of understanding. She kept coming up to me to ask what to do each step along the way. When I would ask her what the instructions said, she could tell me clearly what she was to do. She just wanted me to tell her instead of her reading the instructions for herself. In situations like this, the Help cards are terrific. Given 4 of the cards at the beginning of the school day, she learned quickly to do as much work on her own as possible. Each time that she comes to me for help (excluding when there is a Work with Mom card along with her assignment), she has to give me one of her Help cards. When she runs out of Help cards, she can no longer ask me for help. She quickly learned to save those cards for when she truly needed the assistance.

One of the ideas in the system that Pookie’s Occupational Therapist, loves is the extra cards for the child’s desk. Having an “I’m ready to work” and “Quiet” card in a little stand on the desk are valuable tools. They are visual reminders to the child of what they should be doing. It is also good non-verbal way to address the issue of a child non focusing on their work. The example in the book mentioned that if a child zones out, you can tap or draw attention to the “I’m ready to work” card and help them to refocus without having to give verbal instruction. In a classroom setting where there are other children present, this can be very important. In the homeschool setting, if you have one child who is distracted when you are speaking to another child, the non-verbal approach is also a benefit.

So, how does all of this translate into our homeschooling? I made for each of the kids a picture card. It is an index card with their photo on it. After breakfast, they take their card and place it into a “School’s In” pocket I have set up for them on a wall chart. They then go to their work stations and begin going through their visual schedules. On the schedules, there are workbox number cards as well as a few activity cards that are ones done away from the desk. I also have 2 snacks and a lunch card on their schedules as well. They work through their schedules until all of their homeschool assignments are finished. Lastly, they take their picture card and move it to the “School’s Out” pocket. One new card that I am making for each of the kids is a “clean work station” card to have as their last item on their visual schedule. This reminder will help to ensure that the area is cleaned and ready for the next day before they go off to play.

Having the set routine, Little Miss is able to complete her work in a more timely manner. It wasn’t always the case, but as she learned to manage her time, she has improved on this considerably. A very helpful item for her has been the use of a kitchen timer. I am looking into buying a visual timer for them to use instead. There are some really nice ones that are like a traffic light. It starts with green, then as the time is nearly up, the yellow light comes on. When time is up, the red light comes on. This one is going to be a better option for Pookie as it is very visual and he will learn time management best with it. I know that many homeschool families are against the idea of using timers, but it is a personal choice. You have to look at what is best for your children. Ours happen to do better if they know that they have a time limit.

Since using the workbox system, the school days have gone more smoothly for Little Miss. She gets more done each day and is now learning time management to the point that she can finish her school day earlier than she used to. For Pookie, the routine is calming to him. He is able to predict what comes next. This alone has been a way to reduce frustration and meltdowns. His focus on his activities and assignments is much better than before. With the increased focus, he is able to learn in a much more efficient way.

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The past few weeks have been a blast. I have been doing a more relaxed homeschooling with the kids and they are thriving on it. I haven’t written too much about it due to not knowing if I would continue with this method. To my surprise and enjoyment, both kids are having fun and learning much.

We are still following the curriculum that we chose earlier, but are more informal is how we use it. For example, the math curriculum that we initially chose turns out to not be a very good fit. While I am sure that many love the Singapore math, I find that after a year of using it, Little Miss’ lessons still are not covering topics that we feel she should have done. We do a lot of hands-on math and she loves it. Having had a break from the workbooks, she goes to them eagerly now when we do a lesson from them. In between, I am teaching her other math topics that I feel the curriculum passed over too quickly. A couple of examples being skip counting and multiplication tables. Halfway through her 2nd year in Singapore and they still haven’t tackled those topics yet. Definitely will be choosing a different curriculum for math soon.

We focus more on Little Miss’ lesson plans and bring Pookie into it. He has his own workbox activities, but the topics of his lessons run along the lines of Little Miss’ daily work. It has been a much more effective way to go. He sits and listens to the daily reading assignments as well as sitting in as Little Miss and I discuss what was read. We include him in any projects that we do and he seems to enjoy that. I know that he is absorbing the information presented at least in part.

After Little Miss’ lessons are done, we all play with Pookie and work together to help him with his workboxes. One task that he likes to do is the pattern block pictures. He sits and does his puzzle while Little Miss sits beside him playing with her own pattern block puzzles. Art projects, science experiments and other activities are also done with Pookie taking part in what Little Miss is doing.

While Little Miss is doing the curriculum at her level, Pookie is getting the exposure to it at a level that matches his abilities. I am so excited. It is a much more peaceful way to learn for all involved. I can’t wait to see just how this works in the long term.

Some of the long term projects that the kids are doing include Flat Travelers.  I mentioned these in a previous post.  The kids made their travelers using the free paper dolls available at the Making Friends website.  Along with little journals, these travelers have been mailed out to other states and even countries.  Each new destination becomes a geography lesson for Little Miss.  She is keeping a binder of her traveler’s adventures and for Pookie, I am putting together a scrapbook as well.  He loves to look through the pictures and items that they receive with their travelers. In some cases, the items received can be added to a sensory bin for him.  One good example was a sweet friend of our went on vacation to a beach and brought back shells, sand, dried sea weed, and other items that she found at the beach.  Pookie loves to pick up the shells and star fish to look at them and feel their textures.  What a great learning experience for him!  For Little Miss, she enjoys the items but also loves reading the journal entries about the travelers’ adventures.

It is so rewarding to see the excitement that the kids have towards learning.  Little Miss is now learning to use our old Netbook to type up emails to friends and family.  This gives her keyboarding practice as well.  Soon, we will be adding some educational software to the Netbook so that the kids can play the games.

The workboxes are still a major part of our homeschooling.  We use them for keeping lessons organized as well as to store materials for each day’s projects.  I love the convenience of being able to load the workboxes in the evening and have them ready for the next day.  It makes for a much more efficient and productive experience as well.

Little Miss has been enjoying the more laid back approach.  She gets far more accomplished this way.  Pookie is still much more structured in how we approach his schooling.  Being autistic, he needs the routine far more than a typical child.  In fact, we have noticed lately that he is requiring even more structure than a year ago.  It works out well.  In between lessons that he can take part in, I have him doing other Montessori style activities to build on his fine motor development.

With the upcoming holiday season upon us, we will be incorporating the history of the holidays into our lessons.  Already, I am planning out the holiday themed art projects that the kids will be doing.  Handmade gifts and ornaments are among the activities.  As we work on the various projects, we talk about the lessons of the day.  An example of this is the first Thanksgiving story.  We are learning about how it was celebrated.  What foods did they eat?  If possible, we will be trying out some of those foods as a part of our own celebration.

There are many ways to homeschool.  We have only begun to learn the possibilities of how we can make learning an exciting adventure for our whole family.


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