Thursday, September 30, 2010

Turning the Ropes

When I use myself differently in order to give Little Bit opportunities to physically coordinate herself with me, I am so much in the present, in the moment, that I am not looking ahead at how these skills and functions will be helpful later.

There are times when we must coordinate ourself with another person in a parallel way. Sometimes, we're a mirror image. Sometimes, we're doing something completely different while together. And usually, that coordination is something we are so practiced at that we simply do it, without thinking about it.

Jump rope class is an illustration of the coordination that we had to intentionally create opportunities for. We didn't use jump rope as one of our opportunites, yet, the experence she got allows her to take a jump rope class. Being the jumper is one role, coordinating your movements between two turners. Being a turner is yet another role, with attention in two places, on the other turner, and on the jumper.

Giving your children w/ asd lots of opportunities to coordinate, physically, with you, at non-verbal levels, is so important! Giving opportunties required that I be intentional, to look for opportunities, and it required that I learn to shut up and be quiet and slow down. Not easy for me.

I am beginning to see how the opportunities we have been working so hard to give her are opening the door to new opportunites for her. A jump rope class is one of those new opportunities.

At this week's class, the students ended with a turn to turn two ropes, Double Dutch style. Here's Little Bit's turn. She was turning them too big at first, and Coach intervened with a close-up demonstration. (Do you realize just how much processing that requires?) She got it - look at the last photo.

Don't get me wrong; I know we still have a way to go. Her motor planning gets in the way. She's got to make some discoveries about the benefits of practice between classes. I could write a list. I'd rather focus on the growth I'm seeing and the fact that we're on our way!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vocabulary Cartoons, a TOS Crew Review

Homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum seems to always be a trip. She takes me to new places, that's for sure! Little Bit has a huge vocabulary, but I realize again and again that while she is competent using words and phrases in context, sometimes she knows what they mean but she is unable to define them, and sometimes she uses words and phrases in context without knowing their meanings.
The concept of using a word and KNOWING its meaning while being UNABLE to define or describe the word is one thing. She needs experience defining words and phrases that she uses and knows what they mean.

The concept of using a word WITHOUT understanding its meaning is another. She needs strategies to decode meaning of words and phrases.

And learning NEW vocabulary words is yet another.

I wasn't sure how I'd use Vocabulary Cartoons from New Monic Books, Inc., when the book arrived. Vocabulary Cartoons uses, obviously, cartoons and clever captions, to define, to give meaning, to vocabulary words. Each of 210 words is presented in black-and-white cartoon style with a definition alongside a very short “story” to further illustrate the definition. A pronunciation cue is given for every word using a rhyming word association. Each page has a simple, visually uncluttered layout, allowing students to absorb information quickly. “Story” illustration examples makes sense, bring context to new words, and are often fun and quirky, which add fun and engagement to learning new vocabulary words.

My child, like many on the autism spectrum, is very literal. Vocabulary Cartoons sometimes requires letting go of all things literal and jumping into stretching the imagination a little and using humor.

Parents and teachers rave about how much students love these. Some students are learning many new words in a short period of time (a word a minute, according to the book cover), because the mnemonic device used creates a brilliant word picture that is etched into the students' memories.

As usual, using the book and really learning from it has been a little different at my house. Little Bit doesn't learn words by memorizing them from vocabulary lists. The cartoons and word illustrations and definitions and rhyming words are a LOT to take in for a child with developmental delays and learning challenges.

I settled my sights on two words a week. That turned out to be "good enough". Actually, focusing on one word a week from the book is "good enough" with a child with language delays.

Instead of going through the book in order, from front to back, I chose to hand-pick new words. I chose words based upon what I thought would be my ability to use those words in context during the week. And sometimes, I chose words that my daughter already uses often - that turned out to be interesting - because I see again where she uses words appropriately but is unable to tell me what, exactly they mean. "Fetch" is one example. She'll ask me to fetch her some juice or fetch her a snack. I don't know where she gets that from! I don't think I use "fetch" much. Vocabulary Cartoons adds an alternate definition to this word, which, I think is confusing as I help her to define "fetch" as "bring me". (The alternate definition has to do with what price an item for sale might bring.)

I also hand-pick words based on pronunciation. "Futile", for example, is described in Vocabulary Cartoons as sounding like "flute", and I think that's a stretch for even a non-literal person.

Once, when I needed her to keep herself busy while I spoke with an autism professional during an appointment, I offered her the book and asked her to pick one word to learn. (I won't do that again.) She chose "outfox". That one's a challenge to work into conversation, in context, during the week. (Thank goodness Patrick tried to outfox Spongebob on a cartoon while we were watching! That gave me my best opportunity so far to use that vocabulary word!)

Does Vocabulary Cartoons work with students who are not "typical"? A definite "yes". Maybe not a word a minute. You may have to go more slowly than with a "typical" child; you may have to pick specific words instead of starting with the first word in the book and going to the end. I suggest beginning with words the child already uses. Make sure the child can define those words before you begin with new vocab.

There are fill-in-the-blank reviews/quizzes at the ends of sections.

My Vocabulary Cartoons request (f they're reading our reviews) is a VC-style book to define and describe emotions.

Vocabulary Cartoons is priced at $12.95. The complete word list is here. Ten cartoon samples are available here.

Read the Vocabulary Cartoons reviews of my Crewmates here.

As part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received Vocabulary Cartoons at no cost to me so that I could review them here, on my blog. I received no money for this review and am not obligated to write a positive review.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thank You, Secret Angel

I opened the door for an autism therapist and something fell out of my front door with a big clunk. A package:
Yesterday was a really down day for me. Today is rainy and blah. What a pick-me-up I got when I opened the door! (I've been looking all over the place for a cornbread stick pan for GFCF cornbread...)

A Must Read: Education Nation

Most of the time, I know what review items are coming to my mailbox. Occasionally, though, Wiley, and its Imprint, Jossey-Bass, will send me a surprise. Education Nation is one of the surprises.

With education reform in the news this week, Education Nation, is certainly topical in light of current events.

A couple of things grabbed me from the get-go. First, George Lucas wrote the forward of the book. American Graffiti,-Star Wars-Indiana Jones-George Lucas? Yes, that George Lucas. The next thing that caught my attention is Milton Chen's background. "Big Bird Goes To China" - does that ring any bells for you? I must have watched that movie a hundred times with my kids. Chen was a production assistant in that movie. I had to wonder, how did George Lucas and staff from Sesame Street come together and what does this book have to do with it?

Wiley and its Imprint, Jossey-Bass, continue to publish books about education that come from a perspective that differs from the "gotta teach to the test" mentality. Again and again, they send me books that describe and richly illustrate the value, the why-bother, the how-to teach our children in ways that allow the students to be engaged, active participants. This is another of those books - and while other books I've been given had more specific audiences, Education Nation, in my opinion, is a must read for everyone.

Author Milton Chen gives us a big picture view and a zoomed in look at what creates learning. He takes the reader through what works and he provides many anecdotes that illustrate little pockets of success across the nation. As a homeschooler of a child on the autism spectrum, I know that homeschoolers are already using many of the strategies and approaches that Chen suggests, because we chose to homeschool in order to approach learning differently from the public school setting. Chen gives me ideas to use at home with my girl, ideas that are proven to work, ideas that I had not thought of. (Note to self: get the girl an iPod w/ a microphone.)

Some key words and phrases that get me excited: project based learning. social/emotional learning, active participation.

Chen describes guided participation in an education setting and does an incredible job explaining why it's important, how to implement, that it works. He explains new ways to meaningfully asses students once we move way from a "teachers deliver content" and "teach to the test" approach, and toward a "teacher as facilitator of student discoveries" perspective.

Technology and media play a huge role in our society, and Chen thoughtfully describes the benefits of getting more technology and media into the hands of students, sooner, integrating technology and media into learning.

My opinion is that every parent, every teacher, every taxpayer should read this book. Whether you're a homeschooler, a public schooler, a private schooler, you need to read this book. Chen argues that the United States has fallen behind other countries in terms of educating our children, and the current state of education has school staff teaching to the test, which does not translate into the kind of learning and education that keeps the U.S. up to speed with other nations.

Even homeschoolers and taxpayers who aren't parents have a stake in how students in our public schools are taught. These students will be our future leaders. We need to make our voices known to our state and especially our federal lawmakers as federal education policy is being shaped. National standards, teaching to the test of standards, may not be the way to educational success for the United States.

I think that many homeschoolers will read this and think, "WE are already doing a lot of that! That's one of the reasons we chose to homeschool."

You can read the first chapter online, here. The table of contents is here.

The book will likely lead you to the internet to There are almost endless resources there for teachers. Yes, intended for school-building school teachers, but useful for homeschoolers and homeschool co-ops as well. Edutopia has a page about Education Nation, too:

There are freebies available to anyone. For example, Chen describes using movies in the learning process. He takes us to, which takes us to The Film Foundation and study guides like this one, available (free) to any teacher.

Jossey-Bass sent me a media copy of "Education Nation" at no charge. I am not financially compensated for reviews and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Imaginary Play

Even after I asked Little Bit multiple times to quit opening tampons when she's in the bathroom, I keep finding opened tampons in the trash, with the tampon removed from the applicator.

Last night, I found another opened tampon in the bathroom trash can, and again I asked her not to open the tampons. This time, I asked her a question, "What are you doing with the tampons?"

She is pretending that the tampons are dolls in a play.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Hunting and Gathering

Going to one grocery store for all of our groceries is a thing of the past. Finding food for a child with a special diet can take a chunk of time. Thank goodness we live in the suburbs of a big city and have access to many options for a special diet. When I visit Mom and Dad in Podunk where gluten free +++ items are few and far between, I realize that there are many people who do not have the options that I have, who would love to be able to go hunting and gathering on a Saturday.

Seems silly to go to six stores to accomplish all of my grocery shopping, but that's what I do. There are enough Costco-only items; Sam's Club-only items; Trader Joe's-only items; Whole Foods-only items; and two locally owned stores with unique items that I have to do this round robin of hunting and gathering to get everything I need.

Thursday night, I made a Costco run. Costco irritates me, because as soon as my kids really like an item, they quit carrying it. There are two different brands of frozen pizza and a brand of battered cod that my kids like that were not on the shelves. They were out of frozen whole fruit bars, too. *sigh* Costco has the soy-free, sunflower free tortilla chips. (Kroger also carries one, but the big Costco bag is cheaper per ounce.)

Today, I did almost everything else. I hit Trader Joe's, primarily for the organic juice that Little Bit drinks, although I managed to spend a lot of money there. (How does that happen?) Trader Joe's used to carry a gluten-free chicken breakfast sausage that the kids liked, I haven't seen them there in ages. I looked for them again today. No chicken sausages. Trader Joe's was frustrating today, because the store is being rearranged. Ugh. And they were out of (again) the Himalayan pink salt in the grinder for $1.99. I did find a box of battered cod. Now I need some Ian's brand for the GFCFSF girl so that we can all eat fish for supper one night (except TJ's does not sell Ian's products).

Then, I headed to Sam's Club. (Yes, I belong to two warehouse clubs. I deliberately joined them six months apart so that the membership fees aren't due at the same time.) They have a sunflower-free, soy-free potato chip in bulk that Costco does not carry. Sometimes, they have fresh organic fruit. Not today.

Next, Whole Foods Market. I went in with a list in my head. That's always a risk. I stopped at the butcher counter and picked out a small roast and some chicken breasts (they were both on sale), and while I was waiting for my chicken to be wrapped, I scanned the items in the refrigerator case in front of the fresh meat counter, and guess what I spotted??? The very chicken sausages that Trader Joe's used to carry, the ones the kids have been asking for, the ones I haven't been able to find, maybe for a couple of years. I tried to find them online so that I could show you - no luck. They're Junction City Brand, the package says "exclusive to Whole Foods" and they're gluten free, nitrate and nitrite free, pork free. I am more than a little bit excited to have scored this find. Little Bit still asks about them. I debate whether to buy one or several packages (they're more expensive at Whole Foods than they were at TJ's) and I put one package in my cart, just in case I get home with them and the kids don't want them any more.

In the bread aisle, a WF employee asked if he could help me find something - I wanted to price their Udi's muffins (which I ultimately failed to do). While the Udi's sandwich bread is in the bread aisle, the muffins are frozen. He showed me where they were in the freezer aisle and there, I asked about Amy's GFCFSF mac and cheese. He showed me where that is. I put two in my cart. (A mom at skating this morning has a child on the GFCF diet and she says that this mac and cheese is amazing.) By this point, a second WF employee wandered over and I asked about Amy's GFCFSF pizza - we could not find that one. Still in the freezer section, I remembered that we need some Ian's products. I'm a lot like the mouse in "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie", because I went to the Ian's section for some GFCFSF fish sticks and chicken nuggets and completely forgot about the Udi's muffins. Sometimes, the smallest things get me really excited. Guess what I saw??!!! IAN'S HAS A FAMILY PACK OF GFCFSF CHICKEN NUGGETS!!!!!!! Twenty ounces of chicken nuggets for $9.99. (An 8 oz pkg is $5.99.) They had two boxes; I put both of them into my cart. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot! :)

At that point, I thought I had everything I'd gone in for. Should have had a written list, not one in my head. Thank goodness for divine intervention. Just listen to what happened! (I am still chuckling to myself about it.) Checked out, took my bags to the car, backed out of my parking space, was heading toward the exit, and heard a voice on the radio mention "tater tots" not once but a couple of times, and I knew what I had forgotten. I parked again, when back into the store, and bought tater tots. Whole Foods is the only store with soy-free tater tots. Whew!

There are two locally owned markets that I skipped today - sometimes, I go to one or both of them, too, in one of my hunting and gathering trips. I headed home and hoped my finds would fit into my freezers. In addition to the one above our refrigerator, we have a little deep freeze. (I wish I'd bought a bigger little deep freeze when I made that purchase a few years ago.)

Back to the chicken sausage from Whole Foods: The twins saw them when I unpacked my groceries and begged me for them. I warmed them on the stovetop and they split the package. They're gone. Maybe the girls and I will head back to Whole Foods tonight for a couple more packages to have for during the week. Breakfast for supper is really good!

Hubby and the twins helped me unpack the car and begin to put grocery items away. The freezer items fit - barely. I still need to go to at least one of the other markets for deli-meat. Whole Foods doesn't carry what I need. Hopefully, I am set for a while! (I need a nap.)

The Abacus

You may have read in an earlier post this week that introduced an abacus to her this week, after it came in the mail, Wednesday. I won the abacus from RightStartMath from Bugs, Knights, and Turkeys in the Yard.

If you pay attention to my side bar on the right of blogs that I follow, I have Maria Miller's blog there. She's Math Mammoth. Check out her Friday blog entry:

How perfect is that??!!!

I'm going to revisit Math Mammoth. I have several books in the light blue series. I'm always impressed with it - Little Bit simply was not ready.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Middle Zoo is In The House!

We've had an exciting week.
Tonight, our 8th graders played at the high school football game with the high school marching band.

Week In Review - Sept 20-24

We had a slow start to the week after Little Bit was sick all weekend. Something kept her trotting to the bathroom for 24+ hours, even in the middle of the night. Bless her heart. We saw our alternative medicine practitioner, Monday.

We have had a week of unschooling, of chasing her interests, of learning in context, without a lot of "formal" "schoolwork".

We took more than one leisurely visit with the animals at the farm park. One day we focused on the ducks, chicken, geese. Another day, we concentrated on the goats. She's so curious. And she wants to give them all a name.

I took her to open skate when the music therapist called in sick. Her new skates have been rubbing her ankles, and, Saturday, I took them to be "punched out". She wasn't with me (she was home, sick and trotting). At the school where we sometimes go for open skate, we see only young men in dress shirts and ties. They come into the building to eat and socialize. Little Bit asked me this week where all the girls are?

We added a karate class with a homeschool group. She had art therapy and jump rope class. The rec therapist was absent this week.

We are looking for opportunities to use real life math. She really wants to see the "America's Got Talent" tour when it comes to a city near us. She wanted me to look up ticket prices - while she did something else. Nope. Not happening. So, she joined me, and we decided what words to search in order to find ticket prices. (Are you sitting down?) Prices start at *gasp* $110 each. (Is there a scholarship?) She wanted me to call her dad at work and ask him if he has $110. I told her we'd need more money than that. One of us would need to take her (she can't go alone), and that would be another $110. So we added. She, on her own, in her head calculated the total for all of us to go. And she suggested that maybe I could win tickets in a contest or on a game show. (That's creative problem solving-love it!) After having a couple more hours to process and think about it, she suggested we have a garage sale, that we can sell everything but our Wii and Wii games.

She wants a specific Wii game. We looked it up together on the internet to double check the price. We're talking about how she could earn money to buy it. She's very worried about how she'll ever earn $35. Lots of opportunities for discoveries there.

We got mail ready for the mailbox and took it to the mailbox together. She ordered for herself in a restaurant this week. We did laundry. I'm still amazed by all the learning opportunities with laundry. We went grocery shopping. Lots of opportunities there, too.

She completed a little bit of independent reading and some drawing/artwork alone.

We worked on two new vocabulary words with Vocabulary Cartoons.

I introduced an abacus to her this week, after it came in the mail, Wednesday. I won the abacus from RightStartMath from Bugs, Knights, and Turkeys in the Yard.

We looked at Charlie ad Trike in the Grand Canyon Adventure and read one page of it. Little Bit does better listening to books and reading with me at night, and I messed up by pulling this one out during the day. Thanks to Heidi for the book.

Seems like we spend a lot of time in the car, and while I tried to plan activities that give us chunks of time alone together at home, I realize I need to plan better for those times. Laundry need to be washed, meals must be cooked, shopping must be completed, and events pop up that interrupt us. Events at night can throw us off. While I want to remain relaxed and in a position to follow interests in an unschooling, eclectic sort of way, (I see her really learning that way), I do want to start and complete some structured unit studies and lessons of my choosing as part of the mix.

I realized a little after the fact that I have a neat opportunity with the Udi's items that I got to review. I am going to create a form so that Little Bit can have each family member try the three muffin flavors and record which flavor each like best.

Unexpected Joys of An Autistic Child

FYI: Focus on the Family featured a two-part series about autism this week. The series, Unexpected Joys of An Autistic Child, features Emily Colson and her dad, Chuck Colson, talking about Emily's 19-year-old son, Max.

Part One is HERE. Part Two is HERE.

Emily Colson's web site is HERE. I knew that Chuck Colson has a grandson on the autism spectrum; I've heard him mention it on the radio. I didn't know that Emily blogs and has written a book.

Thank, you Amy, from Growing Fruit, for calling to tell me about it, and for finding the Emily Colson web site and sharing it with me.

Schleich, a TOS Crew Review

I am always excited when I see my name on a list to review a product. I watch for the US Mail, UPS, and Fed Ex almost obsessively when I know something is coming. My children are not always excited. Product reviews usually mean "work" to them. Being on a toy list is a completely different animal. Toys (and games) mean play, not work.

We love little play animals at our house. We own more than I care to admit (too many). Getting a box in the mail with even more animals is very exciting here. (We reviewed some Schleich animals a year-and-a-half ago.) We own the Schleich nursery, a Christmas gift from a sweet Nana and Poppa, and we have purchased and played with these animals for years.

Schleich sent us a new selection of animals. These little toys are sturdy and ours have weathered some misuse. My daughter drew all over the nursery and quite a few of her animals with a permanent marker, and I was able to remove the marker with alcohol without disturbing the coloring on the animals.

The animals have lifelike features in miniature. They are adorable, which is why we like them so much.

Schleich also sent us the little catalog of toys, and we spend a lot of time looking through the little catalog. It's a wish list for us. (Schleich even makes smurfs!)

I have two "issues" with them. One is the fact that they're made in China. Another is the fact that the toy animals are not proportional in relation to one another, a task which may be too difficult to complete in the manufacturing process.

Here's what we received:

an Asian elephant calf
a Przewalski's Horse
a Dartmoor Pony
a Swabian-Hall piglet, eating
a donkey
an okapi
a gnu
a gnu calf

I've purchased these little toys at Tractor Supply, at Target, at Really Great Toys dot com, and once, I happened on boxes of them at a yard sale for not very much money. They're durable little toys. Prices for new animals range from under $2 to around $7 for animals, depending on the size of the animal.

We use them for dramatic, imaginative play. I may look for an animal unit study or mini-study to chase an interest (we've made quite a few trips to the farm to see the animals since school began) and I'll use these as part of the studies.

My first Schleich review is here.

There are more Schleich reviews here.

As part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received a selection of Schleich animals at no cost to me so that I could review them here, on my blog. I received no money for this review and am not obligated to write a positive review.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


When she was little, we went to the zoo, and she didn't see a single animal. She saw the pebbles and rocks on the ground, instead. She was not able to follow my gaze and look at what I saw. Early levels of joint attention were gone when she regressed.

Her lack of joint attention required that I hold on to tightly her by the wrist, so she wouldn't bolt away from me.

She didn't know how to follow the teacher in kindergarten, first, and second grade (before I withdrew her from school). She could not follow her classmates. She couldn't follow long directions. She didn't understand the "why bother" of it all.

We held on to her, we directed and prompted her around to compensate for what she was unable to do for herself.

She couldn't coordinate her actions with the actions of her peers and teacher. She couldn't shift attention among several areas of focus, both verbal and non-verbal. She was placed in an autism room until I said, "no more".

A developmental approach has made an incredible difference. Going back and re-doing the parts she lost in the regression, building a foundation and moving forward from there, has made a huge difference. I lost count of the developmental milestones she crossed because we left the behavioral stuff and switched to a developmental approach. Some of the milestones, I didn't even notice - until this week.

This week, she took her first ever martial arts class, with neurotypical peers, in a homeschool co-op setting. Without an aide. With no more support than other children in the same class.

Earlier in the day, she talked about karate, emphasizing it with a "Hah-YAH" kind of sound effect and a karate chop motion. I told her that karate class may not be like that. Would she enter the class and want to do little but her own karate chops? Or would she realize that what was in the sensei's mind was different from what was in hers, and would she join him?

I told her that the class would be "serious". She asked me what that meant, "difficult?" she wanted to know. I tried to explain that it would mean being quiet, not talking to other students, following directions, trying hard.

She coordinated herself between two students and among the entire class. A child who long ago didn't know where to look was able to focus attention where it should have been focused. She watched thoughtfully and tried to imitate her sensei.

The child who would screech and scream in protest when asked to do something a second or third time because, "I already did that!" performed multiple attempts at a move today, sometimes 30 or more attempts with no screeching.

The child who is known for asking too many times, "Can I be done now?" didn't ask it once. She not only focused, but she concentrated. Fist, fingers up, or fingers down - it makes a difference, and she figured it out, made herself put her fingers in the correct direction. The motor planning and visualization involved in this class is *huge*. The concept that Dr. Gutstein sums up as she must "feel herself taking an action" stands out here.

The child who is frustrated by too many instructions, who screeches in protest to her definition of too many instructions, attempted some difficult-for-a-child-with-motor-planning-challenges three, four, maybe five step instructions, again and again, with no screeching.

She persevered. For a solid hour. At something brand new to her.

In her group figure skating class, we deliberately put her in a class where she is familiar with all the moves and skills.

This week in karate, every move, every skill, was brand new. She seemed to welcome the uncertainty. She began to make new discoveries.

I know that future classes may feel more difficult and she may resist or protest. But this week, she didn't. And that's a sign of progress.

She worked hard. She liked it. In the car on the way home, she told me she can't wait until next week.

(I'm not sure she'll be allowed to stay. We're there on a trial basis. Her desire and willingness is there. Her body awareness and motor planning and the attention she needs to approach this discpline may not be enough to keep her there.)

Her moves are not correct. She's got a way to go. She doesn't know where her body is in space. Her sense of proprioception is still weak. So is her vestibular system. But, I was able to see in a big way just how far we have come since the regression after her first birthday. I blinked back tears twice and managed to get control of myself and snap some pics and get a little bit of video, evidence of lots of little miracles, along the way.

Udi's Gluten Free Muffins (review)

Udi's Gluten Free Foods sent me three packages of muffins to tell you about. I tried the blueberry muffins in July when we traveled across the state to pick up a child from camp. I needed breakfast food for my girl and me at a hotel that served no gluten free breakfast items. I purchased them from the refrigerator section of a locally owned grocery store - they're expensive for just four muffins, and are quite tasty. We liked the blueberry ones!

The rep from Udi's sent me a four-pack of three flavors. My girl wanted to try the double chocolate first. OH MY. They are *wonderful*! Moist and chocolately, they don't have a hint of that awful gluten-free feel in my mouth. They're just the right kind of dense for a chocolate muffin, something between brownie and cake.

I made a discovery - I like them better having not been frozen or refrigerated. The blueberry muffins I purchased in July were really good - good enough to buy again (for a special occasion - they're pricier than I want to buy for every day), lighter than the chocolate, with the right amount of blueberries. (Too many blueberries and my kids won't eat them.) The never-refrigerated muffins were even better than the ones I purchasd that had been refrigerated. Again, I don't think the average person would be able to tell these are gluten-free.

The lemon struesel flavor was the one we liked the least. There is a denseness and texture that I associate with "bad" gluten-free, and my daughter spit out the tiny bite I gave her, and I could not eat a whole muffin (I could eat all four of the chocolate muffins in one sitting). My daughter does not care for citrus, and the lemon flavoring was too strong for her. (That's my interpretation of what she said; she spit it out while telling me it tasted like orange juice.) They're not totally horrible - but when you've had really good gluten-free baked goods, you don't want to eat anything less than terrific.

Little Bit requested a blueberry muffin to eat on the way to our homeschool co-op class. The muffins are very convenient for snacks and breakfast.

The muffins are also dairy free, soy free, and nut free. I'll definitely buy the double chocolate and the blueberry muffins again. You can order them from Udi's online for $6 a four-pack.

A representative from Udi's contacted me through my blog and offered to send me a selection of muffins to review at no charge to me. I was not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Double Dutch

Coach told us today about an October class for adults, so that we can twirl ropes for our kids and jump with them, help them. As out of shape as I am, I am still considering registering for that class...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Academics and Developmental Delays

I am still learning to trust development in terms of what we think of as "school" and "education". I still resist the strong urge to feed facts to my homeschooler, who happens to be a child on the autism spectrum with a number of developmental delays.

I sometimes wonder, "How will she catch up to her same-age peers?" I have a clear window into same-age peers and what they're learning because she's a twin. Her twin, and her older sibling, have studied so much more, memorized and been tested on so much more, from an academic standpoint. Will she ever catch up?

Lately, my thoughts have changed from "Will she catch up to her peers?" to "Why did I think that catching up, academically, even matters?"

Allow me to give you just one example that is reshaping my view.

All of my children are brilliant. ;) Eldest has always loved learning (well, except for one grade in elementary school when the teacher was a problem and I saw my child's love for learning in question), she's always gotten good grades, she's always done more than expected, academically, and she has really high state test scores.

In 5th grade, her class had a unit on weather. When she was in the study, I remembered learning about weather, too. She learned an incredible amount of information about clouds, and she often told us what kind of cloud was in the sky and what that cloud meant. She could tell us how that type of cloud indicated this or that. When I was doing a unit on weather, I could do that, too, as a child. (I see a lot of me in my daughter.)

I wondered how long that information would stick with her. I'm not sure how long it stuck with me - probably months, that's all. My daughter surprised me - she retained the information for well over a year.

Now, 2½ years have passed. We were in the car the other day and the sky was an incredible shade of blue, the clouds were spectacular; I commented on them. I figured she might give us some cloud facts. She did, but not as thorough as she would have two years ago, and she even said aloud that she'd forgotten a lot of what she'd learned. Eldest can remember bits and pieces from her weather unit, some facts about clouds, but she's forgotten chunks of information.

The information in the weather unit was interesting to her, interesting enough that she retained it long after the A+ on the test. But she didn't use that information daily, and she lost it.

That's typical.

I attended curriculum night at the middle school this week. Geometry, science, social studies - all familiar topics to me from my school days, all mostly forgotten. The 8th graders are revisiting information from elementary school in some situations, with a more in-depth look this time around. A student who came from another district with no background from elementary school will still be able to study and participate without the background. An a-ha moment: My homeschooler doesn't need to match her same-age peers lesson for lesson right now. Keeping learning developmenally appropriate is important right now.

More thoughts about curriculum night: I don't need to have all the facts about the periodic chart in my head all the time, every day. I used to know a lot about the periodic chart; the bulk of that info is long gone. Today, I know enough about the chart, about chemistry, to give me some understanding in presentations at biomedical conferences on treating autism (although, I have to admit, I wish I remembered more about the Kreb Cycle). During the entire night of going to each of my eldest's classrooms and listening to each teacher, I realized, even more than ever, that being able to interact and communicate is what is most important, and, interaction and communication is emphasized in every class. More than I ever have, I realized that the academics are a background piece to practicing teamwork, interaction, communication, critical thinking.

As I watch her and her younger brother study for tests, I think back to my junior high school days. I learned all that stuff, too. And so SO much of it is forgotten. They'll forget it, too.

In junior high, the kids begin taking different paths with electives. In high school, they'll have more opportunities to differentiate, based on electives. They won't all take the same math classes to meet the math requirement. What they know when they graduate will vary widely from student to student. This is true for every student, even NT school-building-schoolers.

There is no need to memorize reams of material and thousands of facts in order to retain it forever. My children and I both know how to find information, where to look, if we need it.

Academics? Yes, definitely. But not the priority that I once thought.

Interaction. Communication. Critical thinking. Developmentally appropriate. Those are priorities, even for typically developing school-building schoolers. No need to fret about academic delays.

Trust development.
(easier said than done)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Attention, Joint Attention, and the Farm Park

I remember a long-ago trip to the zoo with several moms from my neighborhood. I had three toddlers. I took the double stroller and a harness. Eldest was big enough to walk independently. She stayed with us without a harness. One twin would stay in the stroller. But the other twin would not. I didn't know about the possibility of autism. I just knew she could escape from any seat belt and she would refuse to sit in the stroller and there was nothing I could do to make her. (Talk about making me feel like a bad mom - I could not control this child.)

And we left the zoo that day with me wondering if she had seen a single animal. Eldest saw them all. So did twin brother.

How can you stand in front of gi-normous elephants right in front of us and not SEE them? I held her in my arms, turned her body so her face would be looking toward the elephants. Not only would she not follow my gaze or point, she never saw the elephants, or any animal that day. She saw every rock on the pavement, even the teeniest pebbles.

I was tired (not sleeping much at that time), exhausted from wrestling with her all day, and very concerned, although the "a" word had not entered my mind at that point. I'm not sure why I even bothered to meet the other moms at the zoo - it was more work than it was worth - but I was so hungry for adult contact that I did the work, packed all the diaper bags, and went along.

Somewhere along the way of our journey, she did begin to see the animals, but not share them with me. She would take a peek at each animal, maybe name it, and be done. It was a task to be completed. Nothing more. A behavioral intervention got us that far.

Fast forward to the past few weeks. That child who did not see the elephants keeps asking to go to the "farm park". (The "farm park" is a lovely property that houses a huge barrier-free playground and a small working farm.) We've been three times since school began, at her request.

What a difference a developmental, relationship intervention has made! Instead of briskly walking through the farm to merely identify the animals, she wants to stand and watch them, to take it all in, to ask questions, to show me what she sees, to see what I see.

Yesterday, she spotted something unusual and showed it to me. Do you see what she saw?
She and I marvelled at the different kinds of ducks at the farm. Who knew there were so many? Some are skinny. Some are fat. Some have hilarious hair-do's. The male mallard is so beautifully colored. He has a patch of color on his side that varies from a deep navy to a brilliant turquoise to a brilliant purple depending on how the sun hits it. We watched one stick it's tail in the air again and again as it fished in the pond for something.

Watching the animals is fascinating. Watching them with my girl is a joy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"You're Going to Love This Kid!" second edition, by Paula Kluth

One of my absolute favorite people in the autism world of professionals is Paula Kluth. I purchased the first edition of "You're Going to Love This Kid! Teaching Students With Autism in the Inclusive Classroom" when my daughter was first included in a kindergarten classroom, loaned the book to the teacher, and never got it back. ;)

Kluth is one of a few angels who can convince me that, yes, I can, teach my daughter who happens to be on the autism spectrum, and Kluth has the creativity and experience to show me many different ways to think about working with a child on the autism spectrum (or other developmental challenge) and she gives me ideas and strategies that don't require an advanced degree, don't require a lot of expensive equipment, and that I am able to accomplish.

I got a surprise in the mail : it's the SECOND edition of "You're Going to Love This Kid!"! ($29.95) This book came from Kluth's intimidting (and ultimately successful) introduction to autism and a student on the autism spectrum early in her teaching career. Of course the only other thing I remember about the first edition that I never got back was that it was smaller. The second edition is bigger in size, which makes it easier to photocopy the charts inside.

Kluth's books are the ones we parents buy in bulk to hand out to Sunday School teachers, community ed teachers, co-op leaders, school-building-school staff members, and anyone involved in teaching or coaching our children who happen to be on the autism spectrum.

The subtitle bugs me - like so many wonderful books about teaching children with learning challenges, the title suggests the information is for school-building classrooms. Nothing could be further from the truth. I tend to find that a lot of homeschoolers of special needs learners don't even know about Paula Kluth. What a shame, because Kluth's wisdom works for the homeschool setting, too. I hope the subtitle doesn't discourage homeschoolers from checking out this book.

"You're Going to Love This Kid!" is packed to overflowing with tested and proven wisdom, insight, perspective, tips, hints, how-to; it is a must-have for every parent, teacher, Sunday School teacher, homeschool co-op leader. If you've ever interacted with child with autism in a learning environment, you'll relate to Kluth's experience, and you'll put some new tools and strategies in your toolbox.

Brookes Publishing sent me a review copy of "You're Going To Love This Kid" at no charge. I received no monetary compensation for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week in Review; Sept 13-17, 2010

We added a private skating lesson and private art therapy to the schedule this week. (Saturday, both of my girls took their first-ever group figure skating class.)

Music therapy was on. The rec therapist was sick and jump rope class was rained out. (Note to self: Have some rainy day activities planned for those times...)

I don't know if we did a lot less this week or if I can't remember a lot of what we did! Seems like we did more life skills this week as I look back on it.

We read, "Astro the Steller Sea Lion", together.

I printed some calendar pages from the 2010 Schoolhouse Planner and my homeschooler and I did a little planning. (Life skills)

I found and printed a list of chores and electronic-free activities to do when the child say, "I'm bored" or "I have nothing to do" from an e-book. My homeschooler still relies heavily on my finding something for her to do during "down time", and she often rejects my ideas in protest. This list is meant to be cut apart, with the pieces being stored in a jar, so the child can draw one from the jar during down time. We began to talk about the items on the list, to spotlight things she can do during down time. This concept may take some time and practice - I'm glad I found the list and began reading it with my girl to allow her some processing and thinking time.

We grocery shopped and started supper together.

Because the rec therapist called in sick, we had more time one day to run errands and get stuff done. We ran errands, including returning some too-small mail-order leggings to the mall. We began looking at gift ideas for people for Christmas. (perspective taking)

We learned a new vocabulary word in Vocabulary Cartoons. I'd like to aim at one or two new words a week. I prefer to hand pick the words instead of using the pages of the book in order; I look for words we can sneak into conversation and use in context during the week.

We took another field trip to the park/farm. The park is good for getting wiggles out and providing gross motor input and experience. Our time spent with the animals is much longer than in the past, where we're watching the animals more, observing them in a new way, a way that is much deeper than simply walking through and seeing the animal long enough to identify it.

We took a day trip across the state to see our "autism" consultant for an update and planning. One of my assignments was to take all of my current homeschool materials with me so that the consultant could guide me in "good enough" (as opposed to "not enough" or "too much") in terms of quantity and developmental appropriateness. I have a good start, I think.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Open Letters...

Dear Boar's Head,

When your company has a representative at the grocery store offering free samples, don't serve meat, cheese, and condiment samples on round wheat crackers beside the sign that says all of Boar's Head products are gluten free.

Dear Amanda Bennett,

I went to the library to gather books so my homeschooler and I can dig into "Autumn Treasures". I have a special request: In future unit studies, please choose books that are on the top shelves at my library and not the bottom two. *wink*

Between my full belly and reflux on one hand and the fact that my knees have been bothering me on the other, both bending over and squatting to see the lower shelves was out of the question. Additionally, the low rise jeans that are in fashion reveal a butt crack in either of the above attempts to retrieve a book from the lower shelves, as does actually sitting on the floor to search a lower shelf. Good thing I was wearing a long shirt.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

gluten-free girl and the chef

I often say that being SIMPLY gluten free would be so easy. My child and I have a long list of food sensitivities that can make meal planning and cooking feel like a chore.

As I read gluten-free girl and the chef, a love story with 100 tempting recipes, I realize that being SIMPLY gluten-free would be fun, too. The Aherns remind me that food is supposed to be fun, something to enjoy, not a chore to dread. Shauna and Daniel Ahern are an inspiration.

gluten-free girl and the chef, a love story with 100 tempting recipes is, as the title reveals, part cookbook, part love story, and Shauna Ahern tells us that it is meant to be read cover-to-cover, from beginning to end. It's more than a cookbook and a love story; it's an education, too, with real how-to tips and instructions about cooking basics.

I read it cover to cover yesterday and today. What a fun book!

I first "met" Shauna at the library, when her book, gluten-free girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back...And How You Can Too caught my eye. I brought it home and read it cover to cover. Shauna James Ahern weaves a wonderful story. I found Shauna's blog. I anticipated the new cookbook would be wonderful. (I think it is!)

Back to gluten-free girl and the chef: Their story, their love story, is hard to put down. Shauna and Daniel's closeness is something I envy. I enjoy the glimpse inside a restaurant kitchen, the peek into how a chef thinks. The images they describe, and some of the language, is quite colorful. (They occasionally use words and phrases that I don't use; particularly in descriptions of conversations in restaurant kitchens. There was a comment about the colorful language on an Amazon review; while I don't use language like that, it wouldn't stop me from buying a cookbook.) Their descriptions make me want to visit the Pacific Northwest again. I visited Seattle a couple of times (years ago); I've been inside some of the very places described vividly in the book; the authors' detail helps me picture them in my mind.

(I think Food Network should create a reality-tv show that chronicles the days of this family. I'd tune in.)

The Aherns, apparently, think about food the way I think about autism, all the time, or a majority of the time. And they cook and write about it, deliciously. (I can't believe they don't each weigh 400 pounds. They must have some big self-control when it comes to portion sizes.)

They inspire me, revitalize my desire to try to find new recipes, new foods, that fit our food sensitivities, that we can enjoy together. They remind me what food and cooking are all about. They remind me to eat as locally as possible and cook seasonally, which is healthier and supports local farmers. I have the urge to get to the farmers market more often.

This cookbook is beautiful. The photos make my mouth water. I'm all over the place. One minute, I am intimidated by some of the recipes. Next, I want to make several of them right now. Flatbread crackers (and that pizza on the cover). Asian pear tart. Waffles. Crusty Bread That Even Those Who Eat Gluten Might Like. Halibut with Millet, Carrot-Fennel Salad, and Golden Raisin Sauce. And, the Bacon-Wrapped Pork Belly (probably the most unhealthy thing in the world, but oooooooooh, it sounds so good!). And I want to have a bacon party. The Aherns have a long list of recipes on the blog if you'd like to peek at some of the recipes they make at home. This video and this one demonstrate a couple of the recipes in the book. (Chef makes everything look easy.)

To my readers who, like me, are more than simply gluten free: gluten-free girl and the chef is a gluten-free cookbook. Not allergen free. I use gluten free cookbooks as a starting point and improvise from there, based on our sensitivities. They sometimes use foods I can't use (cheese, milk, cream, milk powder, eggs, almond flour, nuts, shellfish, and no, we cannot simply substitute goat's milk for the cow's milk), some I rotate in our weeks. Some of the ingredients that are off limits at my house, I can omit or substitute; some I cannot. Still, there are quite a few recipes I can try, as is. And they give me a baking tip that is new to me: When I substitute a gf flour for a gf flour in a recipe, I need to match the weight in ounces, not the amount by cup or fraction of a cup. What an a-ha moment for me. They include weights in the ingredient lists of recipes in this cookbook.

There's a good mix of recipes in the cookbook. It's not just a baking cookbook or just entrees or just desserts. gluten-free girl and the chef includes a little bit of everything. Some of the recipes I think are too fancy for everyday (I suspect the authors would disagree with me). Maybe that's because I feel intimidated by the techniques and length of the ingredient lists on the ones that I consider "fancy". Whether you're cooking for a dinner party, for a pot luck, or for the family at home, the Aherns have something for you.

They have me wishing for some cooking classes and a new (gourmet) kitchen. One reason I'm reluctant to broaden my horizons in the kitchen is because prep and clean-up seem to take forever, and I have a small counter space on which to work. I am not experienced at searing and braising. If I were more practiced at chopping and didn't have to stop to read how-to directions when using a new technique, if I could just go into the kitchen and cook and not think about it, I'd do it more. There's only one fix for that: get in the kitchen and practice more.

One of the first things I did when I received my review copy was look for the pizza recipe inside. Pizza is pictured on the book jacket, but I couldn't locate the recipe inside. I headed over to Gluten-free Girl's facebook page to ask about it, and found I was not the first to ask that question. I'm told that FRIDAY, the gluten-free girl and the chef will do a blog post and video about making the pizza from the flatbread cracker recipe in the cookbook.

(I'm confused by information about making waffles.
According to the side bar on page 86, variations:"Play with other whole grain flours for this mix...""...but keep the potato starch and the sweet rice flour so the mix will be light."... I don't see potato starch or sweet rice flour in the original recipe list of ingredients. Is there supposed to be potato starch and sweet rice flour in the original recipe? I'm not sure. Waffle recipe is HERE.)

For those of you who are like me and often start at the back of the book, the index is available online, along with the TOC. The table of contents is here and the index is here. And a video featuring the authors is here.

Thank you, Shauna and Daniel Ahern, for reviving my desire to bring the family together with food as the glue, for encouraging me to keep trying new things, looking for new recipes that fit our situation! The cookbook is a jewel and I treasure it.
Wiley sent me a complimentary copy of this cookbook so that I could review it on my blog. I am not financially compensated for reviews and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

PyraMath™, a TOS Crew Review


Who knew that a $6.95 card game could be so addicting?

PyraMath™, from ISeeCards, is a card game that uses and reinforces basic mathematics facts. The 54-card deck holds numerals 0-9, which players use to create a mathematical pyramid in a sort of Solitaire fashion (if Solitaire were a pyramid). The PyraMath™ deck is not four of each numeral, like a "regular" deck of cards; there are more of some numerals than others. And each card features the numeral in "English, Spanish, Chinese, Roman, French and Arabic translations and symbols on the front".

Deal five or seven cards in a row and begin adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing! The remaining cards go into a face-down pile. Deal three cards from that pile. Try to play the top card. Look at all the side-by-side pairs. Can you add, subtract, multiply, or divide them to get the number of your top face-up card? On a 9 and a 3, for example, you can play a 3 (9 divided by 3); a 7 (9 times 3, using the "7 in "27); a 6 (9 minus 3); or a 2 (9 plus 3, using the "2" in 12).

Play a 5-or-7-card game online, free. The five-card game is HERE.

Why would you want to buy the cards if you can play online for free? You can do a lot more with the deck of cards. The cards are excellent travelers; the cards fit into my purse or a backpack for waiting rooms or hotel rooms.

For the littles, you can use the deck to introduce numerals, placing numerals in numerical order. You can create a row of numerals where you leave one or two out and the child must place the missing numbers in the empty spaces. You can pull out the higher numbers and work on ONLY *adding* lower numbers. There are lots of ways to use the cards to create a simple game for younger learners.

For my homeschooler, who memorized her multiplication tables from Schoolhouse Rock and is still learning to add and subtract (we haven't gotten to division yet), and whose anxiety shoots sky high when we do anything that looks to her like academics, *I* held the cards, placed the cards, played the game and asked her the math facts that are within her developmental range. "3 and2 , 3 and 2, what could I play on 3 and 2? " And I'd ask aloud, "3 + 2 = ?" One day, soon, she'll join me at the table or on the floor when I play, but for now, she's on the periphery, watching, figuring it all out.

You can take turns creating puzzles for players to solve. Here's a puzzle created by the PyraMath™ folks that my eldest and I worked:

Thee's a two-player version of PyraMath™ that is somewhat similar to Double Solitaire. PyraMath™ cards can be used in a PyraMath™ version of "War" or Snap". There are lots of variations. Educators share PyraMath™ ideas here.

Creator Professor Eaglin's blog is here (not updated in a while); and the PyraMath™ facebook page is here, where fans can chat and where the company offers giveaways and contests with prizes and news of upcoming games.

I really enjoy PyraMath™. Late at night, I can get stuck on the online version for too long. It's a fun way to practice math facts that is waaaaaay outside drills and rote memorization.

If you'd like to see what others think about PyraMath™, go HERE.

I was given a complimentary PyraMath™ game through my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew of reviewers. I am not otherwise compensated for reviews (I don't consider a free product a form of compensation when I must have the product in order to use it and review it) and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

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