Tuesday, August 18, 2009

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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