Monday, May 14, 2018

When your Child Struggles with Handwriting and Fine Motor Activities

One of the reasons we homeschool for Caleb is we often have to do things differently.  His brain is wired different by his Autism so he has to learn in different ways.  Homeschool gives us the flexibility to be the different he needs. When we began to introduce school time to him we hit some roadblocks and learned exactly how differently we would need to do things for him to progress.   

Many skills came easy and one of the professionals who saw him even called him gifted.  There were still areas that he struggled with.  There was no tricking him into writing.  We had to be creative!  How do you complete a handwriting workbook when he won't pick up a pencil?  I gave up even trying for the first half of his kindergarten year. we put his workbook away because it led to tears.  I knew he knew how to form letters but doing it on paper was a struggle.  He wasn't ready for it yet so we waited and did other activities instead we read books, we did cut and paste, we did math work books.  First and foremost I wanted him to love learning, tears had no place in our classroom.  It meant we needed a new way to teach it, and I didn't know what that was.  

One day quite by accident we happened upon a new idea. He was copying his sisters drawing on the chalkboard of an octopus.   drawing lines off a circle and calling them tentacles.  And since all works of art have titles, I asked him to label his drawing, and that was when the magic happened!  

Me: Caleb that's a great drawing, what is it?
Caleb: ITs an octopus.
Me: that's great, lets label it.  (I had no idea if he would take the bait.)
Caleb: Ok how do you spell Octopus, i know it starts with an O?
Me: O-C-T-O-P-U-S, to which he dutifully wrote each letter in a mostly straight line!
To say we celebrated was an understatement.

Around the same time, a friend who also has a struggling writer told me about a workshop she had attended.  She explained to me that writing vertically, like on a blackboard, is a building block to writing on paper. (More information from an Occupational Therapist HERE)  It was all the confirmation I needed to embrace our new writing method!  A few times a week he would pick out an animal and I would tell him the shapes to draw and add to his picture and we would label it. IFten this was followed by a picture text to daddy or (out of state) grandma to share our accomplishment.  We didn't touch a handwriting book that year but we did go through most of the animals in our Step by Step Drawing Book

By the end of the year his animals and his handwriting was more legible and his confidence had improved.  He was able to create and express himself.  He really could write after all, and he was ready to write on paper without any tears.  He completed his Handwriting book with no tears, in record time during the last month of the year.  



Sometimes our differently wired kids remind us that the skills they need are there all along we just have to work with them to find the way to release the skill and talent.  This was 2 years ago, and he has slowly but surely showed me that he wants to write but he is doing it in his own time and his own methods.  A generic sentences aren't worth being copied in the book but give him a story about Star Wars and he will copy the whole page.  Its taken 2 more years but he is finally writing in a journal and picking up a pencil to draw his own pictures.  It takes time, Mama, It takes time.  


Monday, May 7, 2018

Curriculum Review 2017-2018 What are we still using and what did we throw out

I love planning our school year.  Its fun to me to make spreadsheets and find good deals on the things I want to use.  I have also learned in our last 4 years of homeschool to keep it simple.  My goal this past year was to focus on the basics as we settled in to a new house in a new town.  While I am planning for next year I thought it would be fun to look at what I was thinking a year ago and how that actually worked for us.  So check out last year's curriculum picks and how that worked for us. We tried a new system of having "Couchtime" for subjects we could do together and "Tabletime" for each child's independent work.  I'm planning more of this style for us next year because it worked!


2017-2018
Everyone Together Subjects:
History/Literature: Sonlight Core A
Art: Usborne Art Activity Book
Science: no formal curriculum but exploring the 4 seasons as we experience them the first time as a family.

Andrew - Pre-K
Reading: All About Reading level 1
Writing: Handwriting Without Tears Get Set for School My First School Book
Math: Usborne Sticker Books, left over worksheets.

Caleb - 2nd
Reading: Sonlight Readers 3rd Grade
Writing Handwriting Without Tears 1st Grade (My Printing Book)
Spelling: All About Spelling Level 1, Level 2
Math: Mammoth Math

Lydia - 3rd Grade
Reading: Apologia Readers in Residence
Writing: Apologia Writers in Residence
Math: Mammoth Math
Spelling: All About Spelling Level 2


What we LOVED
I loved having a portion of our school day together.  It took us half the year to learn to do it first instead of pulling everyone back after other work was done but it was amazing to have that time together and have everyone learning the same thing.  Being on the same page led to other discussions and connections throughout the day as well.  We did History, Poetry Literature from Sonlight along with Art and Science together as a family in the morning.  And we gave Daddy the rest of the Sonlight Literature books to read at at the end of the day for bedtime stories.  Shortening our morning load and helping Daddy with coming up with books every night was a win for everyone!

What DIDN'T Work
ANDREW- I have a pattern of purchasing curriculum above their current level.  And this year I did it for Andrew.  I purchased All About Reading Level 1 and he just wasn't ready to sound out simple words even though he knew all his letters and sounds.  I pulled out something I had collected and never used for Lydia and it was perfect.  We used I Can Read Word Families from Carisa Hinson at 1+1+1=1 was the missing link.  We did a Word Family a week and he got the hang of putting letter sounds together to make the words.  He was ready to move on before we finished all the word families but that was OK by me, in March we jumped back to All About Reading and started from the beginning and he is ready to read.

CALEB:  Being wired different I never know how things will work for him.  Mammoth Math was going well but it was easy to see that the density of the text on each page was overwhelming to him.  We switched to Khan Academy because I had heard good things about differently wired kids doing well with online learning.  It worked for awhile but it was missing the writing component which Caleb needed.  On a "Hail Mary" we borrowed a DVD and tried Math U See when we hit a roadblock on a specific concept and Caleb loves it.  Its methodical and easy to understand.  Also Math U See is a mastery based program so the whole book covers less topics more in depth instead of switching each chapter like Mammoth Math. 

LYDIA: She loves to write and I knew it was time to start helping her grow as a writer.  I was excited by the Apologia Writer in Residence and Readers in Residence programs when i saw them last year at a convention.  They look great and I feel like they bring up a lot of the softer LA topics we hadn't specifically covered yet.  The work-textbook  themselves were overwhelming at 2 inches thick each!  We gave up on them pretty quickly because of the size and amount of text to read. We also had the opportunity to meet an IEW teacher in person and Lydia joined an online class for writing.  Being able to delegate her writing to another teacher was a great benefit to her.  The structure taught in IEW has been great for her despite my initial reservations about their emphasis on formal writing over narrative writing.  We replaced Readers in Residence with the 4/5 grade Sonlight Readers to give her variety in her daily reading.


Final Thoughts: Because I only planned the basics as the year went on and we got comfortable we added in other things like field trips with our co-op, additional reading, and a science unit on simple machines.  We also were able to participate in Swim Lessons Soccer, and 3 plays this year for Lydia.  The simple structure also helped the kids take control as they had an idea most days of what they needed to do independently and would get started on their own.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Vacation School in Cincinnati and Dayton Ohio

Recent travels brought us to Cincinnati and Dayton Ohio.  We love to learn and explore and as always we are collecting all the National Park Service Passport Stamps we can.  We are proud to report we earned 4 Junior Ranger Badges and a Teddy Bear during our 6 days in Ohio!



Our first stop was in Cincinnati,  William Taft's childhood home is there.  He is one of 5 presidents from the state of Ohio.  Lydia was pleasantly surprised to see Cherry Blossom Trees in the neighborhood as approached the house.  We learned that it was First Lady Nellie Taft who was responsible for planting the Cherry Blossoms Lydia fell in love with in Washington DC and then a few near their home in Cincinnati. We learned of 2 tips from the Park Ranger we met there.
  1. The Gift Shops at the National Parks have a educator discount for homeschoolers, usually 10% sometimes more.  
  2. When we got to Dayton OH we should look at the Aviation Trail and consider earning a FREE Willbear Wright Teddy Bears for visiting the sites.  
Lydia and her Cherry Blossoms
We had to time our visit to Dayton just right. As some of the sites have restricted hours and are only open a few days of the week.  We arrived on Sunday and made the Dunbar House our first stop.  When we visited it was only open Friday-Sundays.  Paul Dunbar was successful African American author and poet and a contemporary to the Wright brothers.  He purchased this him and lived here with his mother until his early death at age 33.  He was best known for his Dialect poetry.  Our Junior Rangers received a patch for completing the work book here and we got our first stamp on the Aviation Trail.
Paul Dunbar's Writing room
Our next stop was "the Bike Shop".  The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and Aviation Trail Visitor Center is a multi-level visitor center with information about the Wright Brothers, Paul Dunbar and other innovations that have come from the Dayton area.   The building also houses the Parachute Museum on the second floor.  Our Junior Rangers earned the traditional Junior Ranger Badge and received 1 more stamp on the Aviation Trail.

We made a few more stops on the Aviation Trail for our stamps.  We visited the Library at Wright State University Special Collections, where many artifacts from Dunbar and the Wrights were kept.  We got more than we bargained for during our visit as we participated in a fire drill and had to evacuate the building.  We also visited the grave sites for both the Wright family and Dunbars in Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum.  We are not ones to visit famous cemeteries but it presented some great conversations with our kids, without the emotions of a loved one dying.

Wright State University Library Special Collections
A highlight for my husband was introducing our boys to Aviation and Warplane History at the
National Museum of the United States Air Force.  Another stop on the Aviation Trail and not one that was on our original plan but truly memorable.  This free museum houses planes from the entire history of military aviation in 4 attached Hangers.  The National Aviation Hall of Fame is inside as well.  We collected 2 more Aviation Trail stamps here and a new found love for the B-2 stealth jet.

Dad pointing our planes to Caleb
We planned for Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center to be our final stop on the Aviation Trail because we were told they are only site that has Willbears on site, typically we would need to  mail in your stamps and wait for your bear in the mail.  This interpretive center focuses on the Wrights continued development of planes after their initial flight and the training of other pilots.  We had the joy of meeting the same Park Ranger who had given us the tour the day before at the Bike Shop.  Our Junior Rangers earned their flying wings here as well as collected their Willbears.  

Introducing our Willbear Wright bears!
We had a great time visiting the history of Dayton and Cincinnati and there was much we didn't see.  Our goal was to earn the 4 Junior Ranger badges and we did that and so much more.  I know we will return some day to see the rest of the Air Force Museum and perhaps visit Carillon Historical Park.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

Autism at our house (2018 edition)

TIE fighter, our VIP & Blankie
We are well in to April which is Autism month.  The saying goes when you have met one child with autism you have met one child with autism.  So here is peak into our complicated world recently.

Last weekend we came thisclose to withdrawing him from a 2 day kids program at a family conference we were attending.  The sign up emphasized the loud environment and large groups the kids would be in and that special accommodations would be difficult for kids with special needs.  All things that we foresaw being barriers to him having an positive experience.

A few months ago he attended a Kids Night Out at the church we were attending, he had talked about it all week long and was super excited to play laser tag, a brand new experience for him.  It was in a space that was familiar and the staff was aware of his needs, (or so we thought).  After a successful drop off for him and his sister, I headed to the store, I hadn't gotten 10 minutes down the road when the phone rang.  He had had his first meltdown of the night.  Yes, I said first.  I returned to the event and helped him gather himself.  The painful part for me as mom was that he desperately wanted to stay and and play, but it was a stressful environment for him with chaos and crowds.  We calmed down and made a plan.  I left him and went home for dinner to be interrupted again and forced to stay with him so we could do what he wanted to do, since there was no one else to support him and look out for him in the crowds of kids. 

So with that recent experience we didn't expect the conference program to go well.  When we toured the program the day before they started he saw the bounce house. He wanted to do it.  And since only kids who attend the program get to use it he thought he would try it out.  He successfully attended all 4 sessions and had a great time.  We were so proud of him.  He used his backpack full of tools to help himself when he needed it.

Later this week we found ourselves at his first Soccer Practice.  He decided to play soccer on his own with his Physical Therapist and we signed him up.  I thought the cleats and shinguards would throw off his sensory systems but they didn't.  Shoes can be an issue.  We got the field, he asked me where the hot dog stand was, I didn't know one was required.  We met his inclusion aide and started practice with the team.  All was going OK until he was asked to repeat a drill.  He hit his breaking point, he asked,
"If everyone has a good working memory bank and I already learned this, 
why do i have to waste time doing it again?"  
I tried to reason with him, I reminded him he repeatedly does math problems, to which he reminded me I don't make him do the exact same ones again.

I didn't have an answer for him.  This set off a meltdown which included screaming and refusal to participate.  He shut down, over repeating an activity, I didn't see it coming, did you?  He sat safe in my lap the rest of practice watching his team scrimmage and we left early.

Did he have trouble because we spent most of the day away from home?  Was he still tired from our recent vacation?  Its tough trying to prepare a child to be in just the right mood for a given activity, to arrange the rest of your week around it so that he can do what others take for granted.

Our life is never boring and always changing.  I never know what might be a trigger.  We go with the flow and work towards the goal.  This is autism at our house.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Top 10 Tips for Visiting DC with your family


As I planned my trip and shared with friends that we were going, someone (Christie) asked me to compile my research so they can use it when they visit in the next year.   How did she know I research everything? 😋 Confession I didn't research a ton for this trip but we learned a lot as we went.  I didn't get a single guide book from the library until a week before we left! I knew what Lydia wanted to see, I knew what history she had studied in school.  And we used that for the framework of our trip.  We didn't try to see Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, while they are awesome places to go, she wan't mature enough or have the context to visit such places.  Seeing the names on the Vietnam Memorial and the Gold Stars on the WWII memorial was enough for her to process about the sacrifices made for our free nation.

1. Contact your US Representative/Senator:  
If you want to tour the Government Buildings including the White House, Capitol, Pentagon, State Department, Supreme Court, or FBI the best way arrange those tours is through your US Representative or Senator.  White House tours book 6 months or more ahead of time from what I heard and can still be hit or miss.  Our Representative even sent us a Visitor's Guide to the area.  Check their official website for the best way to contact them.  Mine had a web form for scheduling tours.  Ours also arranged our tour of the Library of Congress. 

Library of Congress Reading Room
2. Be prepared for Security. In this world we live in, Security is a given.  Most buildings we went in beside the Ford Theater had security similar to airports.  Most we could bring in water bottles, one we could not even bring in packaged snacks.  So check the rules where you will be visiting and be prepared.  We traveled light with just one large purse.  I discovered at the airport when we left the buckles on my cute boots were metal.  It was inconvenient the day I wore them to have to be wanded at each building we entered so think ahead at what you pack.

3. Use the Metro:  
I was surprised how little I remembered as a teenager when I first went to DC but I did remember how much we didn't drive our rental car and how convenient the Metro was.  This visit we bought 1 week unlimited riding passes and booked a hotel near a metro stop and rode like a local all week.  We also discovered some of the buses will also take the Metro card as well making it even easier to get around.


4. Plan to do LOTS of Walking.  Without a car we knew we would be walking everywhere, we just didn't expect exactly what that would mean.  Our first day we walked 5.5 miles and we didn't get to DC until after lunch!  We brought reasonable cute shoes and walking shoes by the end of day 2 we gave up on the reasonable cute shoes and we were ALL about comfort!

5. National Park Junior Ranger Program: This program is not specific to DC but available across the country at any National Park Service area and is suggested for kids ages 5-13 although anyone can participate.  These are workbooks kids can complete for a given location and turn in for Badges and sometime Patches.  It makes a great FREE souvenir and guide for exploring the park area.  And as a homeschooler its a great record of the trip and learning for their portfolios. 

National Mall & Monument Jr. Ranger Book
6. Passport Books: While the kids collect their Junior Ranger badges, I enjoy collecting cancellations stamps in my Passport Book.  Each park area has dated stamps that you can use to remember the trip.  Its also a great way to plan a family vacation and see what sites may be on your way to a given destination and make a side trip.  You can purchase Passport books online or at any National Park in the gift shop.  

7. Choose the theme of your visit. There is so many exciting things to see and do in DC that you could never do it all in one visit.  Choose a theme to your visit and focus on places related to that, knowing anything else you get to see and do is extra.  For us it was the monuments. They are what Lydia kept talking about seeing and we made them a priority, exploring them on foot as well as a moonlight bus tour. We had planned to visit the National Cathedral before we left but changed our plans so we could spend more time on the mall and more fully enjoy all the monuments.  Guess we have to come back for the Cathedral!
"Mom, I can't believe I'm really here!"
8. Plan ahead for special hours and closings: As we were reminded as we visited the Government Buildings.  Regular Business is occurring in many of the building we visited and toured. And like local government offices they close at 5 each day and are only open 5 days a week.  Some of the  museums and attractions are open later.  The Monuments are lit 24/7 and have Park Rangers available until 8 at night.   Also many the National Park Service Areas close for routine maintenance seasonally.

9. See the Monuments at night. The one special thing I wanted to see was the Monuments after dark.  There are Park Rangers on site until 8 pm which makes them safer and the shorter days of winter made this realistic.  They are magnificent with the dramatic lighting and there extra things you can see at night.  On our Bus tour our guide pointed out Kennedy's Eternal flame and the Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery that we could see from the Lincoln Memorial in the darkness.  


10. Eating near the National Mall/Capitol: I expected to be able to find bistros and delis for lunches while we were out exploring.  While those are available further out from the Capitol and Mall the closest places are cafeterias in the Smithsonian and Government Office Buildings.  While I was disappointed to not be able to have quite the culinary adventure, it was good to have options and know where to go once we figured it out.  

Hopefully learning from our trip can make your next trip to DC one full of memories.  Check out the details our trip starting HERE. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Day 5 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5


FACT:  over 15,000 books have been written about America's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, which when stacked is 4 stories tall! He has the second most biography written about him, second only to Jesus.


Its our last day in the Nation's Capitol and we are going to make it count!  Today's plan is seeing the Ford's Theater and learning about Lincoln's final chapter of his life and career.  Being from the Midwest, where he started he career as a lawyer and politician it was neat to see the other part of his career.  The Ford Theater has been restored to close to its grandeur of the 1860s, and is a active theater with live performances in the evenings.  

It is also a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service which means one more Junior Ranger badge for Lydia! At any National Park or Historic site you can ask a Ranger for a book to complete.  Ford Theater had a double tiered Junior Ranger program, do a minimum amount of activities for a badge and certificate, and an additional number for an additional patch.  Lydia did enough activities for the patch and badge.   Did I mention they do a swearing in ceremony when a child earns the Badge? 

There are multiple parts to the Ford Theater attraction and when you book tickets online you can see the options.  There are timed entrances to the museum under the theater that details Lincoln's last term of his presidency and also the conspiracy Booth tried to create in his assassination plot.  There are walkthroughs of the theater including the recreated booth he was shot,  if you are lucky enough like we were you can look in the door to the Presidential booth and look over Lincoln's chair to the stage.  You can also tour the Peterson House across the street where Lincoln took his final breaths as well as additional exhibits of the aftermath of his assassination and Lincoln's lasting legacy for our nation. 

Presidential Box in Ford's Theater
The Ford's Theater gave Lydia her 3rd Junior Ranger Badge for the trip, not bad for a 5 day adventure.  We left the theater in search of a few more Stamps for mom's Passport Book and some lunch.  Some Passport Stamps can be tricky to find, but there is an app available to help you find them.  We found the Historic Pennsylvania Avenue Stamp in the Old Post Office now the Trump hotel.  The lower level has a historical display including old vault doors and historical photographs.  

We found some lunch and a surprise at the Reagan International Trade building.  We visited the food court another night over the weekend and found it open but deserted.  it was a very different experience on Monday when it was bustling with government workers.  Tucked in one corner of the building we found a portion of the Berlin wall and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Memorial Exhibit.  Might as well learn about one more President before we leave town. 😋

Reagan International Trade Building
A certain girl was starting to yearn for home so we headed to our hotel to pick up our luggage and then on to the airport where another adventure awaited us.  While we were seeing the city one last time our plane home was already being delayed.  It was already delayed enough to cause us to miss our connecting flight and we had to look into alternate options to get home in a timely manner.  The best option was to hire a shuttle and drive to the Baltimore Airport and take a direct flight home.  We arrived home at the same time as our original flight with out having to do a layover!  And that first flight that was delayed 40 minutes when we changed plans, ended up being delayed 4 hours!  We were glad we made other plans!  


She has the traveling bug and is already thinking up our next #mommyandme adventure.  On our quest for National Park Passports and Junior Ranger Badges the Nation is our classroom.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Day 4 Mommy and Me in DC

Where do you go when you have a plane voucher to use by the end of the year, you refuse to fly by yourself because of airport anxiety, and your daughter has been asking to visit the Capitol for a year?  You take a mommy and me trip to DC!  
Day 1, Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5


After walking 12,000+ steps for 3 days in a row, and walking more than the day before each day, our goal for Sunday was to not break the step record while visiting the Tidal Basin Monuments and whatever else we wanted.  

First we had to stop at the Washington Monument building to get stamps for our Passport Book that we had missed the day before the snow and the dark.  Then we caught our first Lyft ride across the to Jefferson Monument so we could explore there and walked around the basin to the FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr.  Monuments.  My favorite was the FDR monument in which you journey through his 4 term presidency with open air rooms of sculptures and quotes that defined that decade of our nation's history.  


It also warmed up nicely and all the snow we had enjoyed the day before was melted.  So in our short visit we got to see a wintery capitol and snow covered monuments and also a spring season as well with no snow in sight and green grass on the Mall. 


We discovered our Metro cards also worked on one of the buses so we caught a bus back to the Smithsonian and had lunch at the Museum of Natural History.  It can be hard to find  local places to eat near the Mall and Capitol area.  What we discovered is most of the Smithsonians and Capitol office buildings have cafeterias on the lower levels with plenty of choices. 

After lunch we stayed at the Natural History Museum and explored the Rocks and Minerals and Gems Exhibit.  Lydia learned all about Volcanoes, Earthquakes and mining.  She was in awe of the wide range of precious stones on display, especially enjoying the sparkle of the Hope Diamond.  We made it a short day before heading home to pack for the journey home tomorrow.    

Before dinner, we watched most of the Santa Clause on TV.  It was the first time Lydia had seen it.  She was amused that the boy's haircut was much like her brother's.  I'm not sure if that is a good thing since the movie is over 20 years old!







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