Monday, August 31, 2009

First lesson on the new skates and a real skating dress!

I love to watch my children doing what they love!

Maverick Books - a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I am always thrilled when I find products that give us opportunities to experience imaginative play. Children on the autism spectrum pretty much always need experience in imaginitive play. Our family, like many families who include a child on the autism spectrum, need fun resources that we can do together. Maverick Books offers products the whole family can enjoy together.

Maverick Books is one of those companies that is new to me. Maverick Books offers books, music, storytelling CDs, games, posters, and t-shirts based upon the characters created by author John Ericson. Ericson created the character, Hank, the cowdog, "the famed head of ranch security" and he's written a series of books about Hank's mystery adventures, in addition to producing audio CDs that sound like old-time radio shows with sound effects and sometimes comical voices for each of the characters. Maverick Books has created some games to fit the Hank theme as well.

Maverick Books sent us book #25, The Case of the One Eyed Killer Stud Horse ($4.24/paperback); a board game called Hank's Tornado Game ($12.99); and the audio CD, Tales and Tunes, ($3.00) .

My 12 year old and 10 year old typically developing children think Hank is a bit too young for them based on the cover (arg) and my 10 year old on the autism spectrum is not quite ready for the stories, yet. I am a 40-something mom who thinks The Case of the One Eyed Killer Stud Horse is hilarious!

I predict that Hank's stories will be a wonderful resource for individuals with autism because of the level of perspective taking that is involved in understanding the tales. Hank's stories are told through his eyes, and Hank, remember, is a dog. He misunderstands the words and actions of other characters in the stories, and they misunderstand his words and actions, sometimes. Hank often reminds me of Deputy Barney Fife! The stories are quite entertaining, and I laughed out loud several times while reading the book and when listening to the Tales and Tunes CD while running errands by myself. Ericson has a fun sense of humor and he is incredibly talented at telling tales using a different voice for each character.

I tried to use the Tales and Tunes CD on one of our long car trips, but my younger princess would not tolerate it. She does not process auditory information fast enough to grasp even excerpts of stories on CD, and a CD like this one frustrates her. The CD is more tales than tunes.

I would rather try a read aloud when she is ready for some more involved perspective taking from a dog's point of view, and Maverick Books offers a huge series for us when we are ready. The stories are just plain fun -- and the opportunities for predicting what might happen next, and for self-to-text and text-to-self comparisons as part of literacy development and development of self are big. These stories are meant to be ENJOYED and not picked apart for perspective taking and literacy comparisons, and (note to self) I will need to self-monitor when we use them so that I don't ruin the enjoyment factor while trying to get some prediction and some perspective taking value from them.

Our favorite item is the game. (!!!!!!) We have all thumbs up from sibs and a BFF for Hank's Tornado Game.

The girls (my daughter and her bff) wrote some notes for me to include in my review, explaining that the game is easy to assemble and put away. All of the pieces fit inside the folding frame of the game. The girls said that getting tornadoes is fun and that the rules are easy to remember and follow, and that this is a good game for a combination of older kids and younger ones to play together, because it's exciting for all of them while not being too challenging for the younger ones. The girls told me the dog characters are cute! ;) They told me that they don't spin the spinner too hard because it takes too long for it to stop, and that they think the sound of the spinner spinning is a little annoying. I didn't think the sound is annoying....

A heads up: Hank uses some words that we avoided when our children were smaller. When my children were little, they thought that the "s" word was "stupid" and the "d" word was "dumb". We tried very hard to avoid using those words (and a few others), and as the children have grown older and understand appropriateness more, we have relaxed a little. The stories are fun, and if you have a problem with "dadgum" and "stupid", you may choose to use the books for your read-alouds so that you can choose to skip the words, or explain them to your listeners.

Overall, Hank the Cowdog is a lot of fun!

For reviews of these products by my Crewmates, click HERE.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Barnum Software / The Quarter Mile Math: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

The teachers of one of my children keep telling us that this child needs more practice in multiplication facts. Knowing multiplication facts is important for completing higher level work quickly (and accurately). That child hates to sit down for a drill with mom or dad, too. Barnum Software has developed The Quarter Mile Math to help families with the issue of practicing math.

The Quarter Mile Math is math practice software that covers kindergarten through ninth grade (pre-algebra) in a format that sets up the student as either a race car on a race course or a riderless horse in a meadow, where the student races himself to try to improve his own time and beat himself as he plays the software again and again.

We received the Deluxe Levels 1, 2 and 3 Bundle on CD, and it was a quick and easy download. In just a few clicks, I had one student on the track in a race car.

I sat my princess who has developmental delays down in front of the computer to see what she and I could do with The Quarter Mile Math. Her skills are so skattered, I was not sure if we could even begin. Thumbs up! The software has a starting point of simply entering the characters that pop up on the screen, and moves up from there.

The Quarter Mile Math's Christopher Wright explains that "While we have two racing options—cars and horses—we know that some families are sensitive to the issue of horse racing. This might be because of the association with gambling. Because of this, horses in the Quarter Mile Math don’t have jockeys and they race on a grassy meadow. (Of course, the likelihood of getting wild horses to run in a straight line in a meadow is very low, but you get the idea!) We refer to them as “riderless horses” and avoid using phrases like 'horse race' or 'race horse.'"

Our family members are all at different math levels, so a tournament is a little out of our league at the moment. However, for families or groups with members who are ready and interested, Wright also let the Crew know that "it’s easy to do tournaments using the Deluxe version. But users of the Standard version can do tournaments, too. They can either take turns racing on a single computer and compare their rankings based on top-five average scores, or they can compete on different computers and simply compare scores."

Spend some time on The Quarter Mile Math web site. Read about the research and successes. A free demo is available there. If you're concerned about state standards, the company offers a link to them here, alongside corresponding levels of the software program.

A subscription is just $2.95 per family per month or $19.95 per family per year, or $34.95 per family for two years. The Quarter Mile Math has a one-time CD purchase option, too, with comparison information here.

The Quarter Mile Math sends e-newsletters to subscribers and purchasers, offering tips and info that are quite helpful. I can tell you that I made the mistake of pushing children to stay and race too long at one sitting -- shorter sessions more frequently are better. And I'll tell you that two of my children, one more than the other, do NOT like the pressure to race themselves, and we will have to work to ignore the race in order to go for accurate answers. They need to learn that the race part of the program is simply to track progress over time, and that will come with experience.

I look forward to my children using The Quarter Mile Math more often now that our summer camps and traveling is over.

SAVE FIVE DOLLARS: Use the referral Code 7J7Y7 for $5 off any product--Standard or Deluxe. There is a place to input this code on the order forms. This Referral Code is good until September 30.

For the reviews of my Crewmates about The Quarter Mile Math, go HERE.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Web Design For Kids! ...And Curious Grown Ups! : A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Today, I have a guest blogger, who happens to be my beautiful 12-year-old daughter! She watched the Web Design For Kids (And Curious Grown Ups) DVD and created her own web page. (My homeschooled child who happens to be on the autism spectrum is not yet ready to design her own web page. )

She used a laptop computer, watching the DVD and going through the steps to design a web page all in one place. I enjoyed hearing her talk to herself as she experimented, saying, "THAT IS SO COOL!" several times while she was working. She had a lot of fun experimenting with different colors on her page. :)

Here's the review that my 12-year-old daughter wrote:

This DVD was very helpful. It provided information in an easy to understand step by step format. I especially liked how the DVD went over every possible problem that could result from doing things wrong. The host, along with his two helpers were doing everything right in front of you. This makes it so there are minimal mistakes on your part. At one point, I couldn't get a background to work, and a quick pause of the video fixed everything.The host often messed things up on purpose, demonstrating what might happen of things went wrong. Also, there were many tips in the video, such as "Do one thing at a time. Change one thing, save, and refresh. Change another thing, save refresh. This way, you will know what caused a problem if there ever is one." There were many shortcuts in the video as well, one of them being "press F5 and it will refresh your page." There were many ways shown to do one thing, so you could pick the one that was easiest for you. Overall, I liked this DVD. The only thing negative about it is that you need to be prepared to pause. They move fast, and twice I had to pause and rewind because I couldn't understand what they were saying. This is a very easy way to learn how to design a website.

I like Web Designs for Kids because it gives my children experience at the computer with basic HTML in a fun way, teaching and guiding them in a way that includes mistakes as part of the learning process. They get hands on experience at the keyboard that they can use there at other times. (And so do I.)Rather than repeat information that is on the company web site, I'll direct you there. WDFK answers frequently asked questions HERE.

The DVD is originally priced at $40, with a summer half-price special set at $19.99 + $3.99 shipping and handling.

For other reviews of this product by my Crewmates, go HERE.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Every time I return home, more of the hometown that I remember has disappeared.
The east side of the court square is gone, completely razed, in order to erect a drug-store chain.

Another reminder that I'm growing older, that things change, and I have to work to preserve the pieces that I want to keep the same.

A Great-Grandmother's Wisdom

My grandfather died when my children were too little to remember him. And my wise grandmother wants to make sure her great-grandchildren know about their great-grandfather.

He had a little workshop and tool shed in the back yard where he made the most marvelous things, and he could fix (repair) anything!

While we're on our "field trip", she asked us to come over so that my children could choose something from that shed to keep.

So, we headed over there on a sweltering August afternoon and she spent a good hour in that shed with two of my kids. The third wouldn't go in -- too cramped, hot and crowded, I suppose, very overwhelming. (I didn't want to go in, either, after we opened a door and discovered a snake skin right at the threshold!).

There are lots of nails, screws, nuts, and thingamajigs that hold stuff together in there. I enjoyed watching all of them search the shed and make discoveries. My grandmother told them about a lot of the items the kids picked up to examine, sharing memories of my grandfather with my children. She gave them more than a tool. She gave them a precious gift of memories, a piece of their great-grandfather. The sibs chose a tool for the princess who refused to enter the shed so that she would have something.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chicken Catcher Fan Club Member

Kevin Skinner is becoming a household name, and not just in western Kentucky. The excitement is HUGE when a hometown boy makes it big on a TV show like "America's Got Talent". A Google search of his name yields lots of hits of video clips of Skinner singing.

Local businesses all over Skinner's home county have messages of encouragement to Skinner on their marquees.

Hawkins Screen Printing in Mayfield, Kentucky, hometown of the "Chicken Catcher" Kevin Skinner from "America's Got Talent" has printed three shirt designs for folks to support the hometown singer. You can order one HERE. Yes, I bought one (and I called in quite a few times to vote for Skinner, too). My mother bought shirts for my kids, too. :)

Meeting Superman in Metropolis

Yes, there is a REAL Metropolis, home of Superman! (The kids and I are on a long distance field trip -- can you tell? *grin*)

The Superman statue gave us a free show -- seems an officer from the sheriff's department was returning four yellow-clad prisoners to jail as we were at the courthouse for our photo-op with the big guy.

My TOS tote bag, Toteianna, really wanted her picture made w/ the Superwoman cutout. I need to learn to squat so that my head rests on the neck of the cutout! lol

The younger princess could not stand behind the cutouts for a photo op because the sun was too bright there, and because the sun was too bright there, she refused stand with the statue across the street for a photo, too. Late last night, when we were looking at the photos I uploaded to the computer, she told me the sun hurt her eyes as we were taking those pictures.
Metropolis is home to more than one super statue:
Big John stands in front of his supermarket

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fort Massac

The kids and I visited historic Fort Massac in southern Illinois. I figured we'd walk to it, take a snapshot or two, and leave, but this place is set up for kids (and grown ups) who like to explore. We spent a long time there on a hot August day.

We had a scary an interesting moment inside one of the buildings. My girls scampered up a ladder to the second floor of one of the buildings before I could stop them, and my younger princess, the one diagnosed with autism just after her second birthday, could not get down the ladder.

She peered at me from the square opening in the ceiling of the first floor, trying to walk down that ladder facing forwards, as if she were descending a flight of stairs. She was terrified to turn around and come down facing the ladder.

At one point, she asked me if she could jump. *GASP*

I understood her fear. She uses her VISION to tell her where she is in space. In order to descend a ladder, you need to know where your feet and legs are in space, and be able to lower yourself, in part, at least, without looking at your feet or looking at where you're headed.

She is using her proprioception a lot more since she began figure skating, but I suspect that she doesn't realize it.

We coaxed her into turning toward the ladder and I held her foot in order to guide it to the first rung. Once she started down, she didn't need me any more. (!!!)

I handed the camera to my daughter so she could snap a few pictures while I stayed in the position of spotter as she lowered herself.

She made a discovery: "I'M DOING IT! I'M DOING IT!" she exclaimed as she made her way down.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Nikalas Catlow's "Do you doodle?" -- at Costco

I found "Do you doodle?" from Nikalas Catlow at Costco over the weekend, for about eight bucks. There are similarities to Taro Gomi's "Doodles" and "Squiggles", where children of ANY age do more than just color.

I love the addition of thinking and perspective taking -- they're especially useful with children on the autism spectrum.

Nikalas Catlow has a web site with samples that allow you to peek inside the book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grilled chicken breasts

From the recipe box

I used a variation of this recipe this week. This one is so old, I can't remember where I got it. Probably Bon Appetit magazine in the early '90's. Here is the recipe, exactly as it is written (I would not use the marinade to baste twice during grilling.) We have used different spices -- rosemary is good, too.

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried whole oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf, crushed
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned

Combine first 7 ingredients in a zip-top heavy duty plastic bag. Add chicken, and marinate for 20 minutes; remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Grill chicken, covered, over medium coals 8-10 minutes on each side, basting twice w/ marinade. Yield: 4 servings

PS from Penny: Baste w/ that marinade at your own risk, particulary toward the end of the grilling time.

It's a 10

For those of you with daughters who

a) hate to brush their hair because it is painful


b) have LOTS of tangles,

let me tell you about a product that the sweet friend who does our hair introduced me to. It's called IT'S A 10 MIRACLE LEAVE IN PRODUCT, and it WORKS ON TANGLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I bought this at the salon, but a google search indicates that it is available via the internet, too. I gasped at the price, but Jeri promised that it works miracles, so I plunked down the money. And yes, she's right. It WORKS. Amazing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New skates

With the help of our wonderful coach and an expert fitter at a super skate store, we found new skates tonight. They offer the flexibility and support the skating princess needs at her level, and they are a lot like sneakers on blades. ;)

Grapevine Studies: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I am homeschooling a child who does not learn like the "norm" on the bell curve of learners. My learning style is different from my child. Teaching a child whose learning style is different from my own is a learning experience for me. I find myself slipping back into the mode where I am trying to present information in *my* learning style, and when I forget my daughter's style, I set us both up for frustration and failure. We are learning how to learn together, and I am very much a work in progress.

I have known for years that movement is importing in learning, particularly for a wiggly child on the autism spectrum. Finding resources that incorporate movement are a special kind of prize for me, and
Grapevine Studies is one of those prizes.

The company web site explains that "Grapevine Studies provides an easy to teach and effective Bible study curriculum to disciple students ages five to adult." There's a drawing component that brings the movement piece to the learning piece that makes this study a prize in my eyes. The company slogan is "Stick Figuring Through The Bible".

Yes, you read that right. "Stick Figuring Through The Bible." I didn't know what to think when I read that the first time. Stick figuring? In a BIBLE study? Yes indeedie. And it is fun and it works.

Sign up for the Grapevine Studies
e-newsletter to see for yourself -- Dianne Wiebe sends free eLessons to newsletter subscribers.

The first lesson of every study is an overview that uses a timeline, providing a "big picture". Lessons go in chronological order through that timeline. Most lessons are short enough to not be overwhelming while delivering just enough information, and the lessons are easy to split up over more than one day if you need to do that for a student. Story parts are meant to be drawn during the lesson, stick figure style. The teacher's guide contains drawings to go by if you need some hints.

My first impression was "adorable" and I quickly realized that "adorable" is not a good word choice. Adorable implies, at some level, "fluff" or "cute", and these studies are not "fluff". They are solid.

When my children saw me looking at the Grapevine Studies web site, each one mentioned a different study they'd like. So, we received in e-book format, the student guides and teacher books for
Biblical Feasts and Holy Days, Esther, and The Birth of Jesus.

The Esther student e-book (30 pages) and teacher e-book (66 pages) are sold individually and both are priced at $9.95. The study contains nine lessons and is a multilevel study designed for students age seven and up.

The Birth of Jesus student e-book (44 pages) and teacher e-book (64 pages) are sold individually and both are priced at $7.95. The study is five lessons long and is designed for multiple age/developmental levels.

Biblical Feasts and Holy Days is priced at $14.95 (each) for the student e-book (50 pages) and $14.95 for the teacher e-book (82 pages). It is a teen through adult study with 13 lessons.

The teacher's book contains stick figure drawings (as suggestions, not as absolutes) and an answer key to the review questions. There is a review at the end of each lesson and a final review at the end of the study. (In Biblical Feasts and Holy Days, there are short reviews at the end of each lesson, plus two lessons inserted between lessons about feasts that are reviews, plus the final review.)

A page at the back of the multi-level studies outlines how to customize the study for different ages and developmental stages.

I took the Esther and Birth of Jesus studies to an office supply store and had them printed in black and white and the two student books bound for approximately $25. Binding adds a lot to the cost of printing. (Note to self: Stock up on inexpensive 3-ring binders during back-to-school sales in August.)

There are other expenses involved. You'll need pencils or markers and paper for drawing. If you choose the e-book format, there are costs associated with printing and binding, although there are ways to minimize them. Get a discount or club card at your local office supply store and watch the ads for sales or coupons. If you want to save money, you can print fewer pages or none at all, we discovered, and use paper for drawing while using the e-book at the computer. (Note to self: watch for those printing sales and coupons!)

Some Grapevine Studies studies are multi-level, meaning you can use them with a kindergartner and a high schooler, which saves the family money. Teaching one subject to everyone at once is a time saver.

I was glad my children were interested in different topics. Summer is a great time to do a study with each of them, one-on-one. As we got into the lessons, I changed my mind. Having them on the same study would have been less work for me. As the teacher, I need to familiarize myself with the lesson, the scripture passage it comes from, and look over the vignettes to draw.

Sitting down with the daughter on the autism spectrum for this study was intimidating for me. I should not have started with this child, because I wasn't familiar w/ the layout of the lessons by beginning with with her. And she had been moody that entire week, which adds to the challenge. I guess I wanted to get the beginning out of the way. It worked, actually, but looking back, I wouldn't have begun with her.

She chose Esther. We began the first lesson, the timeline, sitting on the floor in front of our white board. I gave her several choices. She could draw with me on the big white board, or she could draw on a small white board (8 x 10 from a dept store), or she could draw in her student book, or she could draw on the back of paper from our recycle bin, or she could sit and watch and choose not to draw. I had pens and markers and colored pencils and crayons within reach.

Her anxiety grows with anything that looks like "school" to her. Her anxiety grows with anything that looks like it has only one "right" way. And it grows when she senses I'm trying to force her to do something. So, I gave her a whoooooole bunch of choices. I did not care WHAT she DID, really, so long as she stayed with me and engaged.

And she did stay with me. I did not know if she understood the concept of a timeline. So, I began not with Esther's timeline, but with HER timeline, the year she was born through 2009, and we put some big events on her timeline between then and now, with little girl stick figures to represent my daughter. Then, we began Esther's timeline and began stick figuring, with me drawing on the white board and she drawing in her student book. At first, she drew ghosts instead of people, and then turtles instead of people, which are symptoms of anxiety. She wanted to test me, to feel me out and see how much I wanted to "get" from her. Unknown expectations can send her anxiety soaring. So, I ignored the ghost king with a crown on top of his head, and the turtle with a crown, and soon, she was drawing stick figure PEOPLE with me, and occasionally writing a key word. I let her do what she wanted. I didn't want pretty pictures. I wanted her to join me (engagement) and I wanted some of the material to stick.

She stayed engaged, listening, and asking and answering questions.

This is the child whose reading comprehension is delayed. She has auditory processing problems that can make an auditory lesson seem like a foreign language. She's got performance anxiety -- what will her mother expect of her? Sitting to learn using my way of teaching and learning is a challenge for this kid -- and I'll say it again -- we are learning how to learn together. Seems like the material was made for a parent/daughter team like us.

Fast forward several nights, she and I went to get hair cuts, and I told our magician at the salon, Jeri, about stick figuring through the Bible, and Jeri asked my daughter about Esther. And yes, my girl had indeed been engaged -- she told Miss Jeri that Esther was beautiful and she was a queen. (she's very literal, too, can you tell?)

I was SO proud of her! :)

My biggest challenge for the child with autism is staying within the zone where she is able to feel competent with both the interaction with ME and with the details of the story. With her, I try to avoid quizzing her, because the anxiety of answering questions is aversive. I have to remember that for her, less is more.

HINTS: If you have a child with fine motor or visual challenges, you can draw the stick figures ahead of time and have your child finger trace them. You can outline the figures in school glue, let the glue dry, and your child will have a raised surface to trace with his/her finger or to use for a rubbing. For a gross motor component, you could make the figures ahead of time on butcher paper and hang the paper on the wall or on an easel, for finger tracing or as a model for air writing.

MORE HINTS: I would suggest inserting a colored page (perhaps a piece of construction paper) after the last page in the current lesson as a visual end point for your student. They can see that this lesson is not going to go on and on and on -- it has an end point and it is only a few pages long. I also wish I had chosen pale blue paper for her study. When we use colored overlays for reading, my daughter (on the autism spectrum) always leans toward a pale blue. The e-book format allows parents to print the studies on any color paper they can find, which is a plus for children with visual processing problems.

My eldest child had gone to visit grandparents 600+ miles away, for several weeks, so I sent her the Biblical Feasts and Holy Days study via e-mail. Nice advantage of the e-book, for sure! :) She began the study by working independently at my mom and dad's house, stick figuring on paper while doing the study at their computer. Not exactly how the study is intended, but for the short term, it worked. She excitedly told me all about Purim over the phone. Since she's been home, (which has not been long, because she went to fine arts camp right after going to her grandparents'), she has told me about Passover, First Fruits, Sabbath, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. She told me the review lessons are really helpful, too. When we quit traveling, I want to do some lessons with her at the white board. Now that I understand the framework of the lessons, I can use the teacher's guide on the laptop and print the current student lesson for my daughter to use. Do I recommend a self guided study for a middle schooler? No. But it can work in a situation like we've had this summer with the happy summertime interruptions of vacation time, grandparent time, and fine arts camp.

My son chose Birth of Jesus and his reaction to the first lesson left me with a smile. He thought it was going to be dry and boring. And it wasn't. His comments and questions made this lesson much longer than I think it was supposed to be, and we actually went more in depth on that timeline than was intended (because he had so many questions), and he was hooked. He loves to draw, too. I gave him the same paper/whiteboard/crayon/marker/pencil options I gave his sister -- he doesn't need all of those options, but I wanted to see what he'd choose. We studied the map together and I was able to introduce a Bible dictionary and a concordance (mostly the dictionary for vocabulary words) to him during our time, and he got to practice finding books of the Bible as he looked up verses.

I suspect that the studies would be a really good option for churches who are working to be inclusive for children with special needs, because the format of each lesson stays the same and provides a structure, the stick figuring adds a kinesthetic piece, and the lessons can be tailored to different attention and learning levels. For churches who find success in separating special learners from the regular classes, Grapevine Studies would be an option, also. Some of the studies are longer than others, and a church could choose a longer study and stay with it an entire year.

Grapevine Studies id offering you a 30% discount on all our books from April 19th to September 15th, 2009. To take advantage of this offer, use the coupon code crews.

A little bird told me that Grapevine Studies will have a study of the book of Ruth available in the fall of 2009. I'm looking forward to that one!

For reviews of this product by my Crewmates, click

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