Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Splish: And Then Mama Said, It Takes Time To Learn To Read

"And Then Mama Said...

...It Takes Time To Learn To Read"
This 23- page, $9.95 softbound book or CD or $5.00 e-book written by Gina Suarez and illustrated by Kevin Collier tells the story of Splish's journey to becoming a reader, and is targeted to children who are pre-readers, new/early readers or struggling readers. Even secure readers will identify with Splish's frustration as he notices everyone but him seems to be a reader.

Mama Frog's approach is a gentle one, giving the time he needs to grasp pre-reading concepts, and she keeps him interested and challenged. Splish's resiliency grows as he experiences little successes while Mama Frog continues to remind him that learning to read takes time, practice and patience.

The story and illustrations are adorable and the message is an important one for the target audience! Families can choose to read it all in one sitting, or take a page at a time, reading it together more like a mini-chapter book, reading one page of text alongside one illustration as a "chapter". We have been slowly making our way through the e-book, "chapter book" style, using a viewer that allows my children to see one page of text side-by-side with the corresponding illustration.

My daughter (w/ asd) can understand most of the story, but I don't think SHE believes SHE CAN. There is a great deal of fear in autism (many adults on the autism spectrum write and talk about fear), and my daughter's anxiety can be an obstacle to seeing her own competency sometimes. There's an anxiety for her that the story, the book itself, is just TOO LONG for her attention, and reading the e-book version on the computer means that she can't flip through the physical, tangible pages and see where the story ends. I can show her on the computer, but that is less concrete, and less concrete can sometimes mean increased anxiety. Additionally, I can TELL her that she can do something, but until she makes that discovery for herself, she's not going to fully believe me.

So, Splish has become a friend who is helping us create opportunities for discoveries, discoveries about reading, about resiliency, about patience, about understanding that we can enjoy a story, that we can indeed perservere to the end of a longer book with more text. ;)

We like Splish--we think you will, too!

Sharing some inspiration: Break Those Chains

Tammy Vice is a talented country music singer/songwriter who happens to have a daughter on the autism spectrum. I own one of her CD's. I identify with a lot of her music, especially to THIS song.

Peterson Directed Handwriting, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Two products that I've been given to use and review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew of reviewers have an extra special place in my heart and on my bookshelves. I wrote about one of the earlier this week. Peterson Directed Handwriting is the other of the two. Peterson has given me a sense of empowerment as we work on the "mechanics" of cursive handwriting! It's one of the many resources introduced to us with perfect timing.

I probably don't need to remind you that I'm a relatively new homeschooler to a 9-year-old who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum just after her second birthday. She and I are fast approaching our first anniversary homeschooling.

One of the challenges we often see in individuals on the autism spectrum is in the area of fine motor development. Holding a writing instrument properly, holding your paper at the right angle, forming shapes into letters and words are all challenges to students w/ developmental delays in areas of fine motor skills, and are challenges to those parents and professionals teaching those students.

Additionally, children on the autism spectrum have visual motor challenges, as well. Our developmental optometrist has identfied that our daughter is having some issues tracking with her eyes. The optometrist explained to me that the tracking problems can affect copywork, copying from board to paper on the desk, for example.

Another challenge with children on the autism spectrum, even ADD and ADHD, is attention span. PDH was attractive to me because the lessons were advertised as being short. ;) And they are!

Peterson Directed Handwriting is designed with the fine motor system, the gross motor system, and the visual processing system in mind. And, for RDIers, it's set up so that the parent/teacher is the guide and the student/child is the apprentice.

After being chosen for this review, I spent some time in e-mail conversations and on the telephone with Rand Nelson, VP, Director of Research and Development at Peterson Directed Handwriting, and we decided that in our case, we'd skip printing and move to cursive. We were given a 3rd grade cursive kit ($15.05) to use and to review.

The program, interestingly, does not come with a bunch of worksheets and copywork. In fact, putting pencil to paper is the LAST step--a student does not write on paper until gross motor, fine motor, visual motor systems have been utilized to get the motions into muscle memory. Peterson Directed Handwriting doesn't want a student to have "drawing practice"; instead, Peterson Directed Handwriting wants a student to use rhythm to get foundations of letter shapes into the muscle memory of the child toward creating letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, etc etc etc. PDH promotes the idea that "Fluent, rhythmic movement remains a consistent goal and is key to developing control for fluent legibility."

The Peterson Directed Handwriting web site is filled with helpful resources--be sure to spend some time there. Don't miss this 20-minute presentation that describes the program.

The gross motor component of getting the shape into muscle memory has been a challenge for us, and I discovered that sitting in a way that my daughter could sit close to me, where she could put her hand UNDER mine as we would "air write" together, she could actively feel the motor movement in a way she could NOT if I had used "hand over hand". I taped butcher paper to the wall and drew some shapes that we used for air writing and for finger tracing, too. That has been effective as we practice together.

At one point in our journey with cursive, I joined Rand on the internet for some q & a. There's a link on the main page of the web site where you can join someone live. PDH's customer service has been an impressive support to me as I've learned more about how to guide my daughter.

We are working on the concept of experience sharing alongside this PDH cursive program. Right now, our emphasis is more on experience sharing, aloud, than composing on paper. Developmentally, I realized, we are not ready to compose on paper--we need more experience sharing between people as a foundation. (Thanks to PDH, I've become aware of times when my daughter is "drawing" letters and times when she is beginning to write more "automatically".) In the meantime, we continue to work on proper angle of paper or materials when we are drawing and coloring, and we continue to work on the Peterson shapes when scribbling. (Click here for more info.) We're using Peterson Directed Handwriting basics to move us forward, and yes, I am seeing progress. My daughter's first "sharp top's" looked like A-frame roof tops when we began our first lesson; by the time the lesson was finished, she was making "sharp tops". I am confident that we will get there, experience sharing + a way to get experiences on paper, with the help of Peterson Directed Handwriting.

Interested in the opinions of others who reviewed this product? Read the reviews of my Crewmates here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sharing a resource: "lost at school" by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. (Don't Blame The Parents!)

I've been reading a new book by another psychologist who really "gets it" and does a fabulous job explaining "it" to parents and professionals of challenging children. (The book is not about autism--it is helpful resource to a parent or professional dealing with challenging children or students.) I thought you might want to know about it as you are getting ready to spend Christmas money or gift cards. *grin*

Homeschoolers, do NOT let the title turn you off. You'll like this book, too, if you have a challenging child.

Chapter 2 of "lost at school, Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them," by Ross W Greene, Ph.D. is titled, "Kids Do Well If They Can".

On page 10, the opening page of Chapter 2, Green explains that, "When the 'kids do well if they want to' philosophy is applied to a child who is not doing well, then we believe that the reason he's not doing well is because he doesn't want to."

A paragraph later, Dr. Green continues, "By contrast, the 'kids do well if they can' philosophy carries the assumption that if a kid could do well he would do well. If he's not doing well, he must be lacking the skills needed to respond to life's challenges in an adaptive way. ..."

What are those skills? Interestingly, they are pretty much the same concepts, described in new ways, as the skills we are working on in RDI(r) as we work to remediate the core deficits of autism, skills like attention shifting and attention sharing, in what we sometimes refer to as "social skills", and in flexibility and creative problem solving. That's just a short list.

Dr. Green has created a checklist of lagging skills he calls the ALSUP, or Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) . During a November presentation, he told those of us in attendance that this document is a work in process, and that he will update it periodically, and he told us that it is available on the book web site. The "lost at school" web site is here. Click here for the ALSUP in PDF.

Dr. Green walks a parent and/or professional through the process of gaining the trust of the student, and he teaches you about CPS, or Collaborative Problem Solving, a process that gives the student an opportunity to practice and grow the very skills that are lagging in a way that the child is a very active part of the process.

RDIers will like this book--the ideas fit nicely with what we're doing in "guided participation" applied to autism. I see a lot of similarity with Feuerstein's "MLE" (mediated learning experience), too. I like the way Dr. Greene writes -- the book is filled with anecdotes to illustrate his points.

Those of you who know me know that I am a huge fan of our public library and the service our libraries offer called interlibrary loan. I often borrow a book in order to preview it, to decide if I like it enough to buy it. This one, I bought sight unseen, on a recommendation from another parent, and I'm glad I did, and this time, I am going to suggest you buy this one, because you're going to want to read it with a pencil or highlighter in one hand. ;) And if you get an opportunity to hear Dr. Greene in person, GO! He is a fantastic speaker!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All About Spelling, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

As an alternate on the TOS Homeschool Crew of reviewers, I knew that I would not have an opportunity to review many of the products in this year of reviews. And, originally, I was not supposed to receive All About Spelling. Talk about mixed feelings--I was both relieved and disappointed that I would not be reviewing it.

Next thing I knew, three alternates were chosen, and MY name was on the list! (A "God-incidence" for sure!)

More mixed feelings surfaced--excitement and self-doubt.

There are two products that I have reviewed during this season that have an extra extra special place in my heart and among my homeschool resources, and All About Spelling is one of them. I am really excited about this one! :)

All About Spelling is a multi-sensory spelling program based upon the techniques of the Orton-Gillingham approach used successfully in dyslexia. It is developmental in nature, building foundations and then growing them.

From the AAS web site:

"All About Spelling is a comprehensive spelling program based on proven strategies to teach spelling using the best and easiest method possible. It gives parents, homeschoolers, and teachers strategies that work, including:

Lessons with crucial concepts explained in easy-to-understand language

Multisensory methods for different learning opportunities

Effective techniques to teach both beginner and remedial spelling"

The box of materials arrived and I spent about a week cutting apart with *scissors* all the pieces that I would need in order to begin. A paper cutter would have made this part so much easier and faster! In 2009, All About Spelling will begin to offer perforated cards, beginning with Level One, to reduce prep time. AAS's Marie Rippel made the change to perforated cards when several of the review crew members (including me) commented on the amount of cutting we had to do before we began.

The laminated letter tiles are an additional purchase ($9.95) that you use with the program can be used "as is" on a table or desk, or they can be attached to magnets ($5.95) and used on a magnetic board. I opted to purchase a magnetic white board from a local discount store at a cost of about $15. You'll need an index card file box or recipe card box, too. I bought one from a discount store for $1.44.

Working with a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as homeschoolers has been a growing experience for both the teacher and the student. I'd been borrowing from this workbook and that curriculum here and there, but had not yet attempted using an entire curriculum the way it was intended. I wasn't sure we could do this. Additionally, we are approaching autism from a relationship perspective, using the concept of "guided participation" (a Barbara Rogoff term), where the adult is a trusted guide and the student is an apprentice. We've been working hard on that guide/apprentice relationship, and anything I choose needs to fit into that idea. I took a deep breath and dove in.

An aside: One of my very personal challenges has been keeping lessons short enough that they are not overwhelming, but long enough that I feel like we had a lesson. I am a work in progress as I figure out where that "line" is, and when I push my daughter too far, I lose her trust in me. I become, for her, the one who pushes her too far. And that is NOT the experience, the memory I want to give her.

So, I dove in at the beginning. Level One. The teacher's guide is well written with instructions that are easy for me to follow. I did not have to spend hours figuring out my role, how I would use myself, in this program. My part of the program is spelled out nicely. (pun intended) I am so pleased with the length of the lessons in the teacher's guide that All About Spelling provides in the set along with the student material packet. They are short, which means we can stop at just one, or complete several in one sitting. The lessons provide a valuable framework for ME to know when enough is enough.

The flash cards included in the student material packet keep us very organized. In addition to the flash cards, AAS provides file dividers for Review Cards, Cards Mastered, Cards Future Lessons in the categories of phonograms, sounds, key cards and word cards.

When we began, I realized very quickly that All About Spelling is so much more than a spelling program. It is a boost to a beginning or struggling reader. Because it is multi-sensory in it's approach, there is an auditory component that gives us practice that we need at our home in auditory discrimination. I realized right off the bat that my daughter wasn't always discriminating between a short "e" sound and a short "a" sound in the middle of a word.

Ah, All About Spelling spotlighted an important distinction for me. Auditory processing issues are different from, separate from autism. And AAS gave me a framework to use to give us practice and experience at discriminating sounds.

I am so tickled that this is a "between you and me" program--one that sometimes becomes a background activity for "guided participation"!

We sit in front of the white board with the letter tiles before us, with our index box of cards at hand, and work through a lesson. I am often surprised by what my daughter knows that I didn't realize she knows, and by what I thought she understood that she does not. When we come to a concept that she seems to not have mastered, we practice it briefly there at the white board w/ the letter tiles, and then we stop the "formal" lesson, and I use that as my springboard for the next few days, looking for ways to practice that during our chores and play. The time at the white board is for ME, not for my daughter, to help ME grasp the concept that the two of us need to work on away from the white board. We deliberately avoid that white board while we are building upon a new concept. We are taking the program slowly, and I see progress. ;) (YEAH!)

The All About Spelling web site is easy to navigate and the descriptions of the products are accurate and thorough. AAS provides a link to the scope and sequence of each level, there, so that you can see how the developmental approach plays out. There are sample lessons available for you to evaulate, and there are numerous articles for you as you research.

Levels do not correspond with grade levels, and Marie Rippel suggests that every student begin at Level One to insure no foundations are skipped. Level One and Level Two sets are priced at $29.99. Level Three and Level Four sets are priced at $39.99. They include a teacher's guide and one student material packet. Additional student packets are available for a separate purchase. The letter tiles are priced at $9.95 and the optional magnets are priced at $5.95. A phonogram CD is available for $14.95. You will need an index card box to hold the flash cards, and if you choose to use magnets, you'll need a magnetic board to stick them on. Level Five will be available in 2009 and a Level Six is in the works.

No, my daughter does not always like "school", and at this point, All About Spelling hasn't turned her into a child who begs to sit down for some academics. ;) But it HAS created a place where we can be competent together in short lessons at the white board while giving me the knowledge to carry the lessons to places in our day, and the program is touching not just spelling, but reading and listening as well. And for those reasons, AAS has a special place in my heart. I've recommended this program to friends who were looking for a spelling program, on yahoo groups when a question about spelling was posed, to a total stranger I met at jury duty, and I recommend it to you, too.

Other Crew reviews are available to you here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cookies for Santa - the gluten free, casein free, soy free kind

Today, I tried a new-to-me cookie recipe from a favorite gluten-free blog. I used a rice milk instead of cow's milk and the shorting I used is palm oil. And I managed to decorate mine. :) Now we have cookies for Santa Claus!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Puppetools dot com, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

One of the characteristics that defines what we call "autism" is a developmental delay in the area of imaginative play. I am always looking for new ideas to support me at home in the area of imaginative play with my daughter, ideas that can take the two of us away from scripted play where we act out familiar stories from books or videos, and into the kind of play we make up together as we go along.

I "google" all sorts of stuff, looking for information and ideas, but, I would have never thought to "google" puppet making on the internet.

And then, I was introduced to Puppettools via the TOS Homeschool Crew.


Nestled inside this web site are the directions to making a puppet hinge out of construction paper, along with dozens of pages of properly sized/formatted animal shapes that you can print and color and attach to your hinges to create your own families, towns and villages of puppets at home.

If you have a child with developmental delays in fine motor skills, folding the actual hinge makes for a GREAT fine motor activity!

Jeff Peyton has packed the web site with information and videos. If you are interested in the "why bother" of using puppets and imaginary play, it's there! You'll find a wealth of information about development here.

If you are like me and feel like you need a push getting the imaginary play going, there are all kinds of videos here from real folks showing how they've used Puppetools.

I thought the web site was a little difficult to navigate. The site is packed with information and videos. I have studied the importance of play and understand how puppets can be an important part of child development. I wanted to get to the actual hinge and pages to print, and I soon did, but I wish there'd been a quick-link of some sort to get me there right away.

I think Puppetools would be a super combined with story builders--and after the busy-ness of the holidays has passed, want to create a story and then find the characters on Puppetools to color/decorate and build so that we can act out the story in puppets.

A 60-day trial subscription for a family is just $20, and a year-long group subscription for a class room or co-op is $99.
Interested in the opinions of others who reviewed this product? Read the reviews of my Crewmates here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whiter than snow

Psalm 51:7

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

The Psalmist writes about being washed whiter than snow. After seeing so much snow the past few days, I have to admit, imagining anything whiter is a challenge. Nice to know God can! ;)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Opportunities to learn

"Blending skill is one of those things you cannot hurry in children. You can't sternly shake your finger at Johnny or promise him cake if he gets it right. All you can do is give him opportunities to learn it, and one day you will see he is beginning to catch on. That's a great day. The major hurdle to reading is about to be crossed. Nurture his beginning skill. Help it grow."

Dr. Ruth Beechick, from her book, "The Three R's"

Choosing curricula, products, resources for a child with unique learning needs is not something I take lightly, and over the years, I have gained much experience about how to determine a next step in a given area of development. (I am thankful to have a consultant who provides strong support to me in my decision making, as well.)

Sometimes, you have seen me write in a review that my daughter might be able, at some level, to use a resource, but I prefer to wait for a later time to fully introduce that resource to her in order to give us time to finish foundation work. I think Dr. Beechick's quote does a good job of describing what I mean when I say I choose to wait.

In the early days of an autism diagnosis, I relied heavily on professionals who guided me to push cognitive learning and academics via a behaviorist route to my then barely-two-year-old, while ignoring social learning. That was a mistake. Finding a developmental approach to remediating the developmental delays commonly seen with autism has given me insight that those professionals from early in our journey never offered.

Explaining what I mean about "developmental" and "timing" to another parent is sometimes challenging. How do I sum up something so big into a few sentences? Recently, the excerpt at the top of this blog entry jumped out at me from the book I was reading, and I saw that, even though Dr Beechick is referring to a skill associated with learning to read, she is describing quite beautifully a developmental approach to all kinds of learning, both social and cognitive: offer lots of opportunities, wait for a discovery to happen, and then move forward to the next step of offering new opportunities. Build foundations and grow them--for lots of "great days". ;)

Friday, December 19, 2008

MOTHERBOARD BOOKS, Let's Make a Web Page, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Creating a web page of my own seemed like a daunting idea, and is something that I have never tried. So, when the TOS Homeschool Crew members were given "Let's Make A Web Page," an e-book byPhyllis Wheeler at MotherboardBooks.com, I wondered if the instructions would be too technical. And *then* I realized that this e-book is designed for 8-12 year old children, and I predicted that it would be something I could handle. ;) Wheeler recommends that children have some familiarity with typing and word processing before using this product. In terms of children with developmental delays, please know that in addition to perspective taking (choosing to focus on a web page that would please the user or one that would please a reader), a good deal of reading is involved, with shifting attention required, a back and forth between the e-book and the web-page-in-process, too.

I downloaded the 60 page e-book and handed it off to my 11 year old daughter, and in about an hour, she had designed her first web page!

The first section walks the pupil through the process of an interview to help the child decide what the page will be about. Next, a software download is required for web page editor software, and Coffee Cup is recommended. (Coffee Cup offers a 30-day free trial period for new users.)

Wheeler walks the reader/web page creator through the process of creating a folder for the working document, and how to add background, text color, text, everything. The book is 60 pages long because it is full of illustrations that show the user *exactly* what the computer screen will look like, and which tab to open, which item to check, and how to change fonts. There is no guesswork -- the instructions are clear and simple! Wheeler explains how to add tables and photos and includes some troubleshooting in case a photo lands in the middle of your text. She guides the user through adding clip art, aligning the elements of the page, adding sound and hyperlinks. She walks the user through what NOT to do, also.

I asked my 11-year-old daughter to tell me what she liked and didn't like. She really enjoyed learning to make a web page! She told me that liked the fact that "everything was explained clearly" for her; the book contains pictures of the little pop-up boxes that she would see on the screen; and the book provided web sites that she could go to for clip art and animations. She said that she didn't like the fact that "at times, there were several outcomes of one click with different servers", and she "was confused trying to find the correct outcome a time or two". At one point, she accidentally closed an important window and lost some work that had to be redone. In the end, that mix-up taught her what NOT to do. I don't think she'll make that mistake again!

Her web page is beautiful, featuring some of her favorites in terms of hobbies and talents, and her friendships. "Let's Make A Web Page," guides a child to do exactly that!! ;)

I see a lot of value in using this product with a child on the autism spectrum when used in a developmentally appropriate way. Most individuals on the autism spectrum enjoy computer related activities. Children with autism, particularly those with Asperger's Syndrome, tend to have special interests. I am of the opinion that often, children on the autism spectrum do not NEED more time being reinforced for spending energy on a special interest for the sake of feeding a special interest--they NEED experience interacting with other people, and they NEED experience in perspective taking. I get a little bit excited when I think about the possibility of guiding a child through creating and comparing a web page composed of items HE/SHE likes to a web page he/she has created for someone else's interests! The "Let's Make a Web Page" could become a background activity that provides opportunity and experience in interviewing and perspective taking with others and self.

I have chosen to delay introducing my 9-year-old (w/ ASD) to "Let's Make A Web Page" at this time. I do believe she could make a web page with my assistance; however, I do not believe she is developmentally ready for the task. In the past, we gave her some "splinter skills" that need foundations behind them, and right now, we are working on those foundations. She needs time to make a few more discoveries about herself and about others before I introduce web page creations to her. I am so looking forward in the not-so-far-off future to bringing "Let's Make A Web Page" into our day. ;)

The price for Let's Make a Web Page is $29.99. Currently this is discounted as an introductory special to $19.99.

More TOS Homeschool Crew reviews are available here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

View from my kitchen window aka Do You See What I See?

Every time I walk past my kitchen window at night lately , I do a double take, because I think...

my neighbor's decorations look like "PooP" to me.
The photo is a good example of how obstacles can interfere with meaning and create breakdowns in communication. The trees that are between me and that neighbor block enough of the light display to change "NOEL" with two wreaths on top, to something that resembles the word "PooP" to me. It's no wonder that a child with autism misinterprets intent and communication when those around him create obstacles by talking too fast, saying too much, not allowing response time. When you figure out what the obstacles are for your child, you can begin to move them out of the way, and allow her to communicate. ;) Food for thought.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems, Education through Imagination: a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

The folks at Trigger Memory Systems sent crew members several fun products!

Parents and professionals use a LOT of visuals when working with individuals on the autism spectrum. Because language processing issues are often seen with autism, displaying information visually can be more successful than speaking that same information to individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Entire systems and software are available for families and professionals (PECs, Boardmaker come to mind), some too expensive or bigger than what we need.

If I had a nickel for every time I've seen a post on an autism-related internet chat group asking for "how-to" visual charts for laundry and cleaning, I could pay for some autism therapy! ;)

And when I stumbled across the Trigger Memory products back in the spring, after subscribing The Homeschool Minute e-newsletter, I posted information about them in quite a few places where parents of children with autism hang out on the internet. I think it's interesting that Trigger Memory Systems' developed these for homeschoolers--I think parents and professionals who work with individuals w/ autism will like them, too!

WOW--I just love these flip charts! A set of all three is priced at $29.95. The bedroom and zone cleaning flip charts are sturdy, laminated flip charts that come with a write-and-wipe pen, so you can see what task to complete first, check it off the list, and move to the next item on the list. The text and pictures are simple and straightforward. For a younger child, or for a child with special needs, you can do the tasks together. For an older child, you can hand them the flip chart and let them "go to town" with it! ;) My eldest says, "Those flip charts actually make sense. Makes it seem like you have little to do, even with a huge room!"


I am disappointed that the laundry flip chart is not laminated. I assumed it was after looking at the other two charts, and I left them with my daughter to look at while I began dinner. She colored in the laundry flip chart -- which, I learned too late, is not laminated like the other two. It IS sturdy, though, and matter of fact, with simple, straightforward pictures and text. At $7.95, the price reflects the fact that it is not laminated.

Times Tales, priced at $29.99, is another one of those products I learned about by hanging around other homeschooling moms and eavesdropping on conversations. :) This product was recommended from one mom to another with great enthusiasm.

Times Tales are cute, clever stories, that are very short, but memorable, that contain within them, those pesky times tables that, for some of us, are difficult to memorize. There is a story example on this page.

We did a year of vision therapy with our daughter, and this mneumonic-based program reminds me of some of the techniques used there. (The Times Tales product is much less expensive than the then-$95/hour vision therapy.)

Unfortunately, we have not been able to try Times Tales the way it is meant to be used, because my children already know their times tables. My children enjoyed reading the stories and making the connections between each story and the multiplication fact it represents!

SPECIAL PRICING OFFER: Trigger Memory Systems has a buy-one-get-one-free offer at this time. If you order EITHER a TimesTales Deluxe OR a Zone Cleaning for Kids, and put FREEFLIP in the *comments* section, you'll get a Bedroom Cleaning for Kids, FREE. (In the comments section, not the coupon section.)

As always, TOS Homeschool Crew Member Reviews are available here.

Rime To Read, A TOS Homeschool Review

RimeToRead is a program for a very specific target audience: beginning readers. RimeToRead is color coded, and based on rimes, or word families. The creators are experts, both hold PhD's, and their areas of expertise include reading and special education.

I want to point out that my daughter might not be considered a "beginning" reader. She's 9 years old and we're working to remediate developmental delays in areas of language processing. She has a HUGE sight word vocabulary and can read early readers. Her comprehension is lagging, and we have looked for ideas to help us as we work to give her meaning when she reads.

One of the first things I noticed when she and I began to read RimeToRead together is the confidence she had when she saw the simple text. There was some anxiety on her part because she could not see the length of the book when we read it straight from the computer. She likes to know when the end is getting close. But the story was simple enough, the pictures also simple and appropriate with the text, and the words within her grasp, and she settled down and read, and enjoyed it. And she likes to join me when we return to it, too.

Over the course of the 20 books, the number of words on the pages increases, and the creators of RimeToRead use many word families in each story, and I had an "ah-ha" moment (something that went along with the spelling program we're reviewing and the internet curriculum that has a big language arts emphasis): my daughter isn't always discriminating certain sounds, particularly short vowels that are in the middle of words. The RimeTo Read stories have been wonderful assets for us as we sit down together and really read the text. She has to pay attention--oh, it's been such GOOD practice! ;)

When you make a purchase, on the "My Books" page of the web site, you receive a tip of the week from the educators who created the program. There's an option to print the books if you like. (We haven't printed any, yet, but we may print some if we plan to travel.) Here's another internet based program that has been *PERFECT* for us right now, another one that I am enthusiastic about, and one that I will happily recommend!

Customers can buy a vowel set of 4 books for $9.99, or, the entire 20 book set for $44.99. Customers may print books only once, however, computer based access is not time-limited.

Additional Crew member reviews are available to you here.

ALEKS, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I first heard about ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) at a night out for moms who homeschool, when I was listening in on a conversation, as one parent asked about help teaching math. A veteran homeschooling mom recommended ALEKS. She said that when one of her children is struggling with math, she signs them up for a month of ALEKS, for just under $20, and she is able to pay month-to-month as needed. ALEKS allows the child to work at his or her own pace, the mom explained, and she liked the fact that during times when a child might be frustrated with a parent as teacher, that some time on a web based product takes the parent temporarily out of the "equation" and allows the child to practice independently.

What is ALEKS? I'll borrow from the ALEKS web site for a one-sentence description: "ALEKS is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system." It's on "on-line math tutorial program".

The set up required that I download some software, and I had some problems using the program after I had done everything the site told me to do, and after I checked and rechecked it. I gave ALEKS a call and reached Pedro, who walked me through some troubleshooting and had us up and running rather quickly. Their customer service gets an A+ from me!

For homeschoolers, the programs range from 3rd grade math through 12th grade, and while I was pretty sure my 9 year old isn't ready for 3rd grade math, I sat her down at the computer for the assessment. My daughter is on the autism spectrum, and we are working on developmental delays in information processing that interfere with understanding academics. Because ALEKS requires that a child be able to read and comprehend instructions and word problems, my daughter is not ready to use ALEKS.

So, I signed up her siblings in order to get a "real life" look at the product, and interestingly, one child really enjoys ALEKS and the other one does not. ;) Go figure.

The child who enjoys ALEKS is ahead of peers in academics and is very self motivated, and saw filling in the "pie" of skills mastered and skills to be mastered as a challenge.

The child who wasn't as thrilled with ALEKS isn't as self motivated and doesn't tackle academic challenges in the same way, although this child was quite capable with it, and would sit down and practice when asked.

I continue to find new-to-me homeschooling products that I will purchase, and that I would enthusiastically recommend to others, and ALEKS is one of those. When my daughter w/ autism is ready for what ALEKS has to offer, we will utilize this program to help me supplement what we are doing at home. I'll sign up a sibling if we hit a stumbling block in math. It's cheaper than human tutoring and with ALEKS, the student gets unlimited access to the program during the subscription period.

In addition to $19.95 per month, ALEKS offers 6-month and 1-year packages, and they also offer family discounts for multiple children.

They believe in their product so strongly, that they generously offer one-month free trials for new users. Check it out! I think you'll be impressed! Get your one-month free trial here.

And, as always, additional review from my fellow Crew members are available to you here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Time4Learning, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Time4Learning is an internet-based interactive curriculum for pre-schoolers through eighth graders, covering reading/language arts, math, science and social studies.

As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum who understands how computer time can be an obstacle to the social and relationship experience my child needs, I was unsure about an internet based curriculum. Would it be something that my daughter would use to stim and perseverate? (I don't want that!) Would she be able to do the work or would the program be too "wordy" and frustrate her?

The sign-up process was simple, and I answered some questions that told Time4Learning at what levels to begin for my child. I saw information that let me know I could change her levels at any time.

Interestingly, we'd just begun using a developmental spelling program at home when we received complimentary access to the Time4Learning site in order to use it and review it. All of my concerns were eased when I saw that the activities were working on *exactly* the same concepts as the developmental spelling program we are using. I love the idea of reinforcing concepts that we've worked on throughout the day via Time4Learning!

One of my concerns was that my daughter would be overwhelmed and frustrated by the material on T4L. She needs longer to process events and activities than my other children, and if she feels frustrated she sometimes gives up. Jennifer Eaton from Time4Learning explained that T4L "provides a feature that allows students to navigate the grade level above for enrichment, as well as the level below for review, depending on the grade level. If at any point the work in a given level seems too challenging or not challenging enough, we can easily make adjustments to a more comfortable level for your child."

The web site is quite comprehensive. I like the "lesson plan" links on the Time4Learning web site. When my daughter was a public-schooled student, I familiarized myself with the grade level content standards set by my state's DOE, and being able to see for myself what each T4L lesson teaches is important to me. There are links to articles about using T4L with students with special learning needs:

Special Needs Learning
Autism and Education
Your Right-Brained Visual Learner
Dyslexia - My Homeschooling Story
Is your child gifted?

The site contains a blog and a parent forum, and the T4L staff created a place for Christian discussions when the suggestion was made by the TOS Homeschool Crew. There are free newsletters, and they provide internet and telephone support.

Time4Learning's web site gave me the definition for "accidental homeschooler", and I learned that I am one! ;)

A quick way to peek at everything on the web site is to look at the site map.

Time4Learning is priced at $19.95 a month for one child, and $14.95 a month for each additional child on a month-to-month payment basis, and discounts for subscribers who sign up for several months at one time. T4L offers a 14-day money-back guarantee. Children need to be able to operate a mouse.

I can vouch for the pre-school and early elementary sections--we LIKE them! After my daughter's first sesson with the science program, she could tell me the difference between plant and animal and why. If you're looking for an internet based interactive curriculum for your young student, consider Time4Learning! (If you want to read the experiences of families with older children, please check out the crew blog, where many more reviews are available to you.)

Why I decided to homeschool

A year ago this week, I was struggling with a several-year-long decision to homeschool a child who happens to be diagnosed with autism. We'd been using Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) with our child since she began kindergarten, and I had learned quite a bit about how communication plays out in development, with non-verbal, pre-speech foundations in place first. I was "thisclose" to finally making that homeschooling decision when I accompanied my child's public school autism program to a nearby museum. Watching the staff members gripping the wrists of students who are "flight risks" and dragging them around the museum more than bothered me. But it was an experience on the bus ride to the museum that was THE catalyst for my decision to give homeschooling a try, so that we, at home, could focus on a neurodevelopmental approach to teaching a child on the autism spectrum, where we could concentrate on social learning as a priority, with cognitive learning as a second step, as it happens in development.

by Penny Ray

We were on a school bus, traveling to an area museum, the last day of school before the holiday break. I accompanied my child and her ASD program on a field trip. I noticed when one of the teachers removed a couple of baby wipes from a package and tried to hand them to the student sitting directly across the aisle of the school bus from her. He was looking out the window and didn't notice. She put them in his hand. I imagine he felt the cold wetness in his hand, because he looked toward her, accepted the wipes, as the teacher tried to motion for him to wipe his chin. I saw what was in her mind when I noticed he had dirt (maybe it was food) around his mouth. The teacher's actions were full of meaning, but the boy did not share her attention or focus, did not share what might be in her mind, did not understand that if she is giving him a wipe and modeling chin-wiping, that he must have something on his chin. The teacher managed to get the boy to copy her actions and I saw what I interpreted as a wave of recognition across the boy's face. He wiped his chin, exactly once, with a baby wipe, dropped the hand that held the baby wipe, and resumed looking out the window. The teacher was still motioning for him to wipe, but his task, the gross motor imitation, was complete, his attention to her, gone. The dirt was still there. The student, while proficient in a very literal gross motor imitation, could not reference for meaning. In this case, he couldn't reference her non-verbal meaning that he must have something on his face, he could not focus his attention on what her attention was focused on and reference her for feedback that he had wiped enough to get all of it off. He didn't know that there was something (his dirty chin) in her mind that was not yet in his mind, and that it that related to him.

What happened between the student and his teacher? The meaning between them broke down. The meaning did not work well. And one of the two people involved had no clue that a breakdown occurred.

Interestingly our own Michigan Department of Education would interpret that as an inability to communicate. Allow me to spotlight a couple of quotes:

The essence of the English language arts is communication—exchanging and exploring information and insights. We are meaning-makers who strive to make sense of our world. We use the English language arts in every area of our lives, not just the classroom. They help us deal with other people in the world around us. Listening, speaking, viewing, reading, and writing are naturally integrated in our attempts to communicate. We continually improve our understanding by using our past experiences, the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and what we are hearing, reading, or viewing. Only when we understand or when we are understood are we communicating—only then are we using the English language arts.

Standard 7. Skills and Processes

All students will demonstrate, analyze, and reflect upon the skills and processes used to communicate through listening, speaking, viewing, reading, and writing. Effective communication depends upon our ability to recognize, when attempts to construct and convey meaning, work well and when they have broken down. We must monitor, reflect, and adjust our communication processes for clarity, correctness, purpose, and audience. We need to learn multiple strategies for constructing and conveying meaning in written, spoken, and visual texts. Our literacy development depends upon on-going, personal, self-regulated assessment.

In recent years, several educators who work with students with autism have admitted to me that we are not giving graduates the skills they need to be successful after high school. They've admitted that the missing piece, the piece that school is doing poorly, is the "people" piece and that we (parents and educators) need to work the relationship piece into the school day in a practical way. Social skills groups are not the answer, I hear over and over.

According to RDI(r)'s Dr Gutstein, 70% of our communication is NON-VERBAL.

When professionals refer to people on the autism spectrum, we often say that their developmental delay in perspective taking (which is non-verbal) is a lack of "theory of mind". Psychologists often use a test that is referred to as the "Sally – Anne" test to determine if children have developed "theory of mind". In a nutshell, children are introduced to a "play", using two dolls, Sally and Anne, where Sally puts a marble in a basket while Anne is watching. Anne goes for a walk and Sally moves the marble to a new location. When Anne returns, the children are asked where Anne thinks the marble is. Children on the autism spectrum most often identify the new location of the marble, indicating to evaluators that they are unable to perspective-take from Anne's point of view.

In order to remediate deficits in the relationship piece or "theory of mind" (also known as dynamic information processing), we must approach the deficits in developmental order, and in order to do that, parents and educators must KNOW and UNDERSTAND that developmental "ladder".

Let's think about the boy with the dirty chin. The dirty chin is an object, or referent, that is not in the boy's mind. The dirty chin is in the teacher's mind. The dirty chin is in only one of the two minds.

Hold that thought. I'll bring you back to it in a few moments.

An early step in the developmental "ladder" of "meaning making" between people is focusing solely on one another, where the shared attention is on what we are making together (think: peek-a-boo).

As a student becomes experienced in sharing attention between you and me, adults begin to increase the complexity by including in an object that is present. I'll use the example of a picture book. We can both focus our attention on that object, the book, and shift attention back to one another again, observing one another's reactions to that very visible object. The acknowledgement and enjoyment of one another's reactions is more important than the content of the book at this point.

An even more complex type of attention sharing begins to grow from that "rung" on the developmental "ladder", and that is one where the object (or referent) is that is not present, not visible, but is one we both share. Let's use as an example the memory we shared of reading that silly picture book together. Days, even weeks later, we can laugh together at the memory of the fun we had, because we both hold that shared memory in our minds.

Let's take another step up that developmental "ladder", and get to the dirty chin. An object that is in only one of the two minds, (a dirty chin) is a more complex step of attention sharing, and requires a more experienced communicator to recognize when meaning is working well and when meaning is breaking down. In autism, we tend to skip the developmental foundations of meaning making as it is defined by the Michigan Department of Education and go straight to compensations, like teaching gross motor imitation without meaning and context and by teaching and reinforcing absolute rules. I believe that these compensations that work around deficits instead-of-remediation-of-deficits are what educators are referring to when they tell me "off the record" that we are missing components in educating students with asd.

The developmental foundations of what the Michigan Department of Education describes as "skills and processes", teaching students about PEOPLE, need to be understood by parents and educators, so that we can give our children and students experience and practice with "how people are" (others and self) in the correct developmental order. Foundations of attention sharing, perspective taking, gaze shifting, referencing for meaning all need to be targeted so that both parent and educator can see milestones like a child being able to check with the adult for the cue that he's gotten all the filth from his face.

We parents are often encouraged to look far ahead at what we want for our children with ASD, and then to work backwards to figure out what today's goals should be. Okay, let's look forward: The same functions of non-verbal communication are foundations to the skills needed to hang out at the mall with friends or to drive a car on our dynamic roads and highways. Two of the purposes of special education law include independent living and employment. Driving a car is important in independence (especially in a city like Detroit known for needing improvement in public transportation) and practice and experience in collaboration and socializing at the mall are foundations for collaborating on the job after high school.

Recognizing the importance of relationships, writing goals on the IEP that involve non-verbal communication is a step in the right direction, but both concepts fall short if educators can't evaluate a child for where he/she IS, and when they don't know where they want to go, and they don't know how to get there from here. If you're going to write a goal into an IEP, show me the developmental reasoning behind it, show me that you can target it for my child, show me evidence that it is emerging, and then move up the "ladder" to the next objective, and do it all again. I am still perplexed as to why an educator would acknowledge and even promote the development of IEP goals focused on non-verbal communication, and then work on aspects of non-verbal communication outside of developmental sequence?

There are academic and educational consequences to consider, as well, when our educational system ignores the relationship piece.

Here's one example of many: A student must be able to first recognize when meaning breaks down between people before he/she can recognize a break down as they read text. Part of guided reading involves making sure the student can self correct when a student mispronounces a word. That means the student recognizes when reading text that meaning is works well or that meaning breaks down.

One area the we (general ed staff and myself) failed to recognize the importance of this factor for my child was in the choice of leveled readers. Guided Reading books are categorized by level, not only by difficulty of text, but by difficulty of shared attention. No matter how simple the text, some fiction uses concepts on higher "rungs" of the developmental "ladder" than the student with autism is capable of comprehending. We make mistakes when we offer fiction to students with asd that falls within their capacity to decode text, but it falls outside their "theory of mind", experience and comprehension. The student experiences "meaning breaking down" from the get-go, never has a chance to have "meaning work well" if he/she is given a book that is outside of his or her "zone of proximal development".

Decoding text is a small part of what makes a reader. As a compensation for my daughter's inability to comprehend text in fiction, the school concentrated on the static facts of non-fiction, which did nothing to boost her understanding of people. Instead, it gave her more facts to regurgitate in inappropriate ways.

The idea isn't to get schools to change their entire programs. The idea is to get educators to change how they use themselves within what already exists. The shift is in focus and attitude, not in the daily schedule or activities. It's about where the child IS, developmentally, and how to use the opportunity of his dirty chin to give him an opportunity to experience a "just right" moment "between people", an opportunity that leads to his making discoveries about himself and about others.

Understanding the developmental progression in relationships (dynamic information processing) via "guided participation" is extremely important, and I have not yet met a school employee who has expertise in this area in terms of autism remediation. Schools need to do more than acknowledge the missing relationship piece, more than throw some non-verbal communication goals on an IEP. They must become active participants in the process. Once we know where to begin on the developmental "ladder", both parents and teachers must learn to successfully target, spotlight, and amplify each objective in developmental sequence, while de-emphasizing everything else in that moment for that student. Educators need to become flexible so that they are able to adapt frameworks (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) as the students' objectives progress up the "rungs" of the developmental "ladder".

If educators do not understand development of how relationships grow, and are working without the direction of a professional who does understand development at this level, they are "working without a net". And, even with hearts of gold and the best of intentions, when educators are unable to recognize that they are working on the wrong "rung" on the developmental "ladder", they are not unlike the child who cannot recognize by the teacher's actions that he has something on his chin.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let's Be Scientists: The Schoolhouse Planner December e-Module

I've just gotten a peek at the December module of The Schoolhouse Planner and I am excited about it! It's a 54 page module that is a unit study called, "Let's Be Scientists" and it is priced at $7.95 in The Old Schoolhouse store on-line. (Click HERE to view a sample of this item.)

Weather, astronomy, recycling, gooey experiments and gross stuff, recipes--it's all there!

The module includes a section on the human body with lots of hyperlinks to fun, kid friendly information. I've not ever seen before tonight the experiment the module introduces that allows you to see your pulse, and it is one of several in the module that I'm running through my head in terms of how I will use this one to work on a relationship objective one-on-one with my child w/ autism, and some that we can do as a family. There are so many possibilities here! ;)

There's a quiz, a word search, a chart to fill in, some coloring pages (including one that contains a "no nose picking" message--I'll probably print that first) and pages of copywork (all of the copywork in this module comes from the book of Genesis). There are three pages of resource links at the end of the module, followed by answer keys to the quizzes, word search and chart.

We're a family who must consider ingredients and materials lists carefully because of food allergies, and I'm pleased to see that we are going to be able to use several of the experiments with no modifications! (Gotta love that!) The recipes all contain wheat or milk products or both, though, and appear to be difficult for me to modify for us (we'll just skip the recipes at our house).

If you're looking for a unit study that is science related, this one's got a little bit of everything, and I like (a lot) what I am seeing!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Write Shop / Story Builders

Earlier this year, I signed up for an e-newsletter from Write Shop and a few days ago, they sent all their e-newsletter subscribers a free mini-story builder. I received this one , with a link to a discount for friends, if you are interested. You might want to sign up for their newsletter.
Here's Write Shop's description of a Story Builder from their own blog:

"StoryBuilders are printable card decks that arm your kids with the basic elements of a story—character, character trait, setting, and plot. For children of all ages, these fun writing prompts provide students with all the elements they need to create realistic stories or funny, far-fetched tales."

The Story Builder that I downloaded from that newsletter contains some ideas for ways to use the cards in different ways/games and ideas for just one student or for several at once. For a child with language processing concerns or one who needs some support to move away from memorized scripts toward new stories, new creations, these Story Builders appear to be a great tool!

Hope this helps someone,


FYI: This is not part of the TOS Homeschool Crew review YET. I learned after I wrote the post that the Crew will review two full-size Story Builders from Write Shop. Please stay tuned!

Reflections on an American version of a Lucia celebration

Basement, warming up before first breakfast
(first breakfast began at 7:20 ish am)
Mother/Daughter photo
Pre-first-breakfast chorus warm up
I shot this video as the first of four breakfasts opened early yesterday morning. I stopped recording just before "Lucia" and her court began reciting different scriptures that refer to the Light. (I was afraid it would be too long to use here if I continued recording.)

This view is from my position behind the handbell tables:

Behind the scenes of a Swedish Christmas celebration

The sanctuary and the fellowship hall both were put back together when we arrived at church this morning, after having been COMPLETELY rearranged for the big Lucia day yesterday. I heard today that they began returning pews to the sanctuary around 4 pm yesterday, which means they tore down all those tables in an hour and a half. WOW.

A few pictures from Saturday:

Fellowship hall
Coffee, tea, water set up before first breakfast
Stirring the fruit soup (a Swedish tradition)
Table decorations waiting in the hall.
When the first breakfast is finished, these will go to the table for the second breakfast.
Doors that lead to the gym (gift shop)
gift shop
Here's a complete table setting, just before the first breakfast.
The bell tables:

The place in the fellowship hall set up to hold the dirty dishes:

Trays of cookies waiting for the first breakfast
Trays of glasses which will hold fruit soup, waiting for the first breakfast

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bringing LIGHT to a dark world

Our church's annual St Lucia celebration is tomorrow. The decorations to accompany the breakfast table settings are adorable, and meaningful, too. In the photo below, the decorations are lined up and waiting for the tables to be set so they have a place to rest, tomorrow. Lucia wore a crown of light on her head so that her hands were free to carry food to folks in the dark, to glorify her heavenly Father. In more ways than one, she brought LIGHT to a dark world. Matthew 5: 16

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