Moving Beyond the Page: I have stopped doing it how it was designed and use it as a resouce for unit study type things now. It has an abundance of great ideas, but wasn’t working for us in the form it was intended because of his splintered skills. (his math is way above their math, but some of the ideas were too abstract for him to really get…he is a very literal thinker) I still love this series.
Miquon Math: a manipulative-based math using mostly Cuisinarre Rods (I add in some other manipulatives also). Develops mathematical thinking and relies heavily on patterns to understand concepts.
Singapore Math: a traditional math program, used in schools too. More “kill and drill” than Miquon, but it helps me to know he isn’t missing anything and helps him learn how to manage more formal problem solving (so he isn’t lost if presented a more traditional style test)
Visualizing and Verbalizing: A Lindamood-Bell curriculum. I think it was developed for dyslexia originally, but is also great for language delayed kids. Sets him up to be able to organize his memory, describe things, and looks to be a program that will set him up to understand how to develop writing (as in language arts/English classes) by helping him learn to manage the “wh” questions. (this is the project with the pieces of felt and color coded words I was working on)
Handwriting Without Tears: the gold standard for handwriting programs for kids with motor planning difficulities or who need a multi-sensory approach. Used in a lot of schools.
Stepping Stones: Critical Thinking puzzles. Most of these are way too abstract for him, so it isn’t going to be used much at this point. Not worth getting at this point, but I already own it.
Critical Thinking Skills: A lot more fun and useful than the Stepping Stones one for Zane. Lots of pattern work.
Free Online Resources
Centre for Innovations in Mathematical Thinking: Gold mine. It’s a math program, but I use it as a supplement for following directions or thinking puzzles. The only down side for those of us in the US is that it uses terms from the UK…like “lorry” for “truck” and spelling “color” like “colour”, but if you are familiar with the terms, no biggie. (I have watched enough Monty Python, Faulty Towers and Are You Being Served to not have any problems with it.)
Color Keys: using color to play piano. They have the first book downloadable for free and it looks really good. I will be starting this in a week or two with Zane (when the little keys to put on the piano arrive…it was cheaper to order them than to make my own). The thing I like about it is that it has great illustrations to explain things and should be able to transition easily into regular music once he gets the concepts down. If I like the first book, there are two more in the series.
Google “Unit Study”: There are innumerable online resources for specific subjects. Put in a subject or book title and “unit study” and you can almost always get some useful information. There are a number of teacher-oriented paid sites too, and some of them have fairly low yearly subscription prices. If I decide to try one, I will write a review for it, but right now I am just going with “free” as much as possible.
Paid Online Resources
Brainpop and Brainpop jr: Used by schools. Has cool little movies and covers a lot of subject matter. We did a free trial, but I would recommend looking online for codes that give you a longer free trial (the normal one is only 5 days didn’t really give me time to get a good enough look at it, but Zane liked it) It looks good, but I am debating whether or not it is worth the pricetag. They do have a few free programs/videos that I liked (in fact I used one this week on snow).
Headsprout: Love it. Phonics program online. Zane is almost done with it (after a long break). Can often find half price coupon codes online. One of the good things about it is that it tends to reward right answers more than wrong answers (logical, but a lot of educational stuff has a dramatic buzzer or funny sound if it’s wrong and a little, non-dramatic “ding” for right answers, which has Zane attempting to get the more dramatic, wrong answer). It also adjusts to add more repetition if the student appears to be struggling. This is good when they are actually struggling, but really bad if your child starts picking wrong answers in an attempt at humor because he is getting bored. When that happens the program just gets dragged out longer and longer until you want to throw things at the computer. There were certain sections of repetition that Zane just refused to do because it was so freakin’ boring to him. I finally worked out a deal with him that if he got the first repetition (got 10 answers correct in a certain amount of time), then I would do the next two levels, but he had to watch me do them. That helped us get back on track and he had fun standing behind me yelling the answers as I clicked. (so he was still participating, just not the way I would have liked). We will be finishing up the last 18 lessons this semester.
Other Books on Homeschooling
Home schooling children with special needs by Sharon C Hensley, M.A.: I am still reading it and, so far, it is really really good. If you are not Christian, a lot of the Intro and a bit of the first section are probably going to bug you, but I found it really good (but I am Christian, so take that with a grain of salt). The rest of the book does not seem to have as many Christian references, but is just well written and reasonable. I wish I would have found this book a year or two ago. It would probably be a good book even if your child doesn’t have special needs. The author has an autistic daughter and intimately understands the incredible challenges that come along with being a homeschooling parent of child with such all encompassing and diverse special needs. I have a library copy right now, but it will probably make it’s way into the permanent collection.
The ultimate guide to homeschooling: I got an older edition of this from the library (and sincerely hope the technology section was updated because it was really outdated, but hilarious). Really glad I didn’t buy this one. There was something about the tone that seemed very condescending and presumptive and I was unable to find much, if any, useful information. The worst part is that she advocates that if your child has any problems learning it is because they are sinful. Oh, and she makes puke-worthy statements about it being necessary to hit your kids if they don’t tow the line. I can’t understand how in the world it got such good reviews on Amazon. Horrific. Ugh.
What Your First Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good First-Grade Education (The Core Knowledge Series): Good book. Would be worth purchasing if my child wasn’t such a visual learner. The collection is good, but I need to find picture book versions of the stories (or make sequencing pictures to go along with the story), which makes purchasing it sort of pointless since there are almost no illustrations that explain things. I did use a lot of information in the book. (copied the index page so I have the list of stories and concepts and have referred to it as I put together lesson plans). The only criticism I have of the book, that has nothing to do with our particular situation, is that it is definitely written from the perspective of an older white guy who clearly doesn’t realize he is biased. He tries to be culturally sensitive, but misses the boat in several of his narratives about history. When I read a section to Zach’s best friend (Cherokee Tribe), he was not surprised, but was irritated at how it was presented and immediately agreed with my objections to it.
Other Books on Enrichment Activities (arts & crafts, science)
I can make that! : fantastic crafts for kids: firmly in the “rent it from the library” category. It does have a few ideas I might be able to use, but mostly a bust. The pluses: great photography, does use some “around the house” stuff, great for older kids who are into fantasy play or parents who have a lot of time and crafty skill, has nature crafts that my Waldorf schooled friends would like. The minuses: Would basically be me doing a craft with the kids watching if there was any chance of it looking remotely like the picture. The materials pictured are all new and perfect, and Zane could not cope with my frugal replacements because it wouldn’t look right. Would only be worth it if you have kids who play gently with things, because there is no way they would hold up to my kid’s playing style at this point.
Science in Seconds for Kids: Another “rent it” book at this stage, but might be good in a few years. It would be good if he were older or had more abstract reasoning, but a lot of the explanations would just go over his head at this point, so it would just be “goofing around” and fun, but he wouldn’t be able to understand the explanations as given. The pictures just compliment the activitity, but don’t give direction on what you are supposed to do in the process.
Mudworks: I have owned it for a while. Good book, but if I could have a do-over, I would just rent it and write down the recipes. (in fact I might do that and sell the book) Lots of neat ideas in it that give you a lot of sensory experiences beyond the standard play-doh.
Science play! : beginning discoveries for 2- to 6-year-olds: this one is good. It also has more useful illustrations and better explanations for Zane’s abilities. A lot of the things are easily managed with Zora too, so that is a bonus. Plus, it has easy ideas that use stuff from around the house. The few things I will have to purchase aren’t big things: eye dropper, Borax, coffee filters (which I might be able to find a sub for instead of purchasing), and film canisters…and that is for the whole book. It makes me want to look at the whole series.
Skills for Success for your First Grader: decent. I did find some useful stuff in it, but nothing to rave about. Worth buying if you find one at a good price.
Usborne Book of Science Activities, Vol. 1: Great book. I own it and use it a lot. Great illustrations, good activities. I will probably get the other volumes in the series too.
Usborne Starting Point Science, volume 1: Another great title from Usborne. I use this one too, and hope to get other volumes for other concepts. The illustrations are informative, the information presented is good.
Another interesting source of information: English as a second language books. My library had some downloadable ESL workbooks, and I went through and printed off a bunch of stuff to use for vocabulary and grammar practice. As Zane gets older, I can see myself migrating towards these a lot because the language level ranges from typical preschool through adult language terms, but has pictures that support the higher level terms also. Obviously, not everything works, but it is a rich resource that had never occurred to me before. A lot of the stuff I found was also on themed worksheets, so it helps him connect and categorize language a little more. There is just an incredible amount of crossover of information between ESL and language delayed activities.
A few of the Autism Specific Books that I have on my shelf and use as references/inspiration:
Engaging Autism by Greenspan: Floortime (this and RDI are the core of my library)
Relationship Development Intervention of Young Children: RDI, obviously. lol
A Work in Progress: Behavioral Management
Self Help Skills for People with Autism
Teaching At Home: A New Approach To Tutoring Children With Autism And Asperger Syndrome
We also had to replace our printer recently when the cost of ink started outpacing the cost of a new printer and the old one was getting cranky. We got an HP Photosmart C4440 All-in-one and I adore it. It has a copy machine top which is just so handy for homeschooling because I can photcopy pages here and there in a book, which saves me hours of note-taking or juggling components to get my scanner on and working (I had to use photoshop, then save it, then print it…and it wasn’t actually hooked up to my computer because I didn’t have enough space for it, so I had to unplug something to use the scanner before). Now, if I want to scan something and save it I can with no problem, but if I just need a copy of something I can do that too. The ink is less than half the price it was on our old scanner and I am trying to find an ink refill kit that will cut the cost down even more. It seems to print photos nicely too, but we haven’t really done that much.
I have been busy getting everything together for a new school year. What we were doing wasn’t really working well and then with the death last fall we really got totally off track. I have done a lot of problem solving to figure out a system that will be more successful, and proceeded to make lesson plans for the next few weeks (it needs to be a few weeks out so I can get the library books in time), and then a skeleton of what “themes” I will use each week through the rest of the year (in December, not typical “school year” year). There are a few blank spots, but we will need some breaks here and there anyway. I did notice that almost all of the major holidays seem to land on Saturday this year.
I have been burried in library books, with stacks of things teetering on my computer desk, across the loveseat, and on two kitchen chairs and the floor surrounding me. I also spent a lot of time pouring over the state’s dept. of education stuff to see what their requirements are for first graders to make sure I was either meeting them, or building skills to aim him that direction in areas he can’t manage yet. Some of the language arts recommendations are way beyond him because he isn’t at a high enough level of language acquisition to even begin the process of writing/journalling. He is hyperlexic…he can read several years above his grade level, but his comprehension is at, or just below, grade level. Language acquisition also interferes with some of the social sciences, but some of that can be mitigated with a lot of visual scaffolding. (although it will probably be a while before he can verbally express whether or not he understands concepts)
One of the main challenges was that he had begun to really hate math. He used to love it and is very good at it, so I was really at a loss trying to figure out what happened. It occurred to me that writing the answers is what he complains about the most and what precipitated the meltdowns, so I decided I would try and scribe all of his math (actually, scribe just about everything that is writing intensive).
After a few days back to school, I can already see him starting to get that light in his eyes again instead of being resistent when we start working on math. I can’t believe what a difference it makes to take the writing aspect out of the math for him. Suddenly he is able to give me answers to multiplication problems and shows me that he is understanding it at a much higher level than I was expecting. I realized I probably need to get him to do a typing program once the Headsprout stuff is complete so that he can write without working so hard on the physical aspects of it (which are so frustrating and exhausting to him).
I was resistant to scribing for him and refused to do it for much longer than my stubborn self should have because I mistakenly thought that it would help him learn to do it. I was wrong. It was taking away his love for learning and so not worth the price. He still doesn’t love doing the Handwriting Without Tears workbook, but it is, actually “without tears” now, although I insist on him doing it carefully, I also don’t try to do more than a page each day. (if he can’t seem to write the letter correctly, we take a step back and do it with the letter forms, chalkboard, and play-doh before returning to the paper). We will keep working on the motor skill aspect of handwriting. I think once the motor planning aspect of writing is in place and fairly well developed, I can start having him take over a lot of the writing. For the time being, it really isn’t fair to expect him to combine his two most challenging things (language + motor planning) and then get frustrated with him because he can’t pay attention to another thing on top of that.
What I have decided to do is this:
In the morning, before Speech Therapy, we will do enrichment activities and naturally weave in self-care skills and practice speech therapy stuff just in the process of living. I hope to hit each enrichment area at least once a week: Art, Science, Music, Something on the computer (Brainpop, Brainpopjr and Educational games), and Social Sciences. We will also read something every day. These things will be more free-flowing and likely fit into the “theme of the week”.
In the afternoon, after Speech Therapy, and hopefully during Zora’s nap (or after Zach gets home from work as a last ditch attempt), I will have “School” downstairs in the schoolroom to hit the skill based subjects: math, handwriting, and speech therapy (“Reading” and “Headsprout” are on his task board to do when he wants to). I have two maths I will use through the year (Miquon and Singapore, 1-2 pages a day) and Handwriting without Tears (page a day…we are still in the Kindy book). Under the umbrella of ‘Speech Therapy’ I have “Visualizing & Verbalizing” curriculum, “Social Skills” (social stories, RDI, floortime), “Words and Sentences” (vocabulary to help him with word retrieval, useful scripts, grammar, eventually things like idioms), a “Thinking Puzzle” (either a logic problem or a direction following activity). The catch-all for other stuff will be “Mystery Project” (because advertising is everything to a kid) I will only do one math at a time, and I don’t expect to hit every “Speech Therapy” thing each day, but always do at least one each day, and hit every aspect each week.
Trying to figure out what will work well is challenging when I have a boy who thrives on structure, and a mom who rebels against structure. I had to find a balance that would be enough to reduce his anxiety, but not make me feel like I was in prison. He also needs to have some say in how he spends his day, which is why I made the task board. I give him the tasks he needs to do, in a form that is easy for him to understand and manage, but he has some leeway as to when he chooses to do it. When we go to the schoolroom (non-negotiable), I made the plans short enough to hopefully accomplish them before Zora wakes up (it disturbs his brain when she is there and slows him down), but I let him chose the order we do it in (why I went back to individual cards instead of a concrete schedule). I think I have addressed all of stumbling blocks and so far, it is working fairly well. (you know, unless I sit here and blog too long…I need to go do stuff now)
Later, I will put a post together with all of the resources I used for other homeschoolers looking for what is working for us. (because lists like that have helped me a lot too)
#28 “Car Shaped Snow” The sun came out and melted off the snow, but the shadows were still cool enough to slow down the melt.
#27 “This is a little more like it” It snowed, not a lot, but enough to get some really nice flakes. YEAH!
#26 “Investigating Snow” Our school theme this week was “Snow”, but the forecasted snow was more like snow dandruff on Monday. You could kind of see the flakes on the BBQ grill cover, but they were small, broken up flakes.
#25 “The project: Finished.” A giant task board thingy. Each of the little key tags has a single task on it, and when you complete it, you flip it over to show a happy face sticker. For the kids, it includes a lot of self-care things and the beginnings of chores (some are “cook/laundry/cleaning helper”, some are really simple jobs) and the “enrichment” things for homeschool, like “Science Experiment” or “Art Project” or “Music”, depending on what we are doing that day…and “School” for when we go downstairs and hit the skill based things that the visual schedule is used for.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. —
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