Monday, September 28, 2015

This Week in Homeschooling: Week 3: Police Officers

So despite some hiccups related to health problems I'm having, this week actually went by relatively easily. Elanor loved the theme, and now she will talk your face off about p-ees ocifers every chance she gets. :)


This week we moved on to G, H, and I. 

G was my favorite because it was so complex. She cut out the "seaweed" at the bottom herself and had a great time with the sparkly gold paint. 

This is probably the most plain one we've done so far, but Elanor generally loves painting so she was still super into it. We also practiced drawing H's in spilled splenda. 

Oh wait, maybe this one was my favorite. As you can see, I had cut out that fabric to be a scarf for the I, but Elanor decided it was a dress instead. Also she accidentally spilled a bunch of glue on the bottom of the picture so we decided to add cotton balls like it was a snow bank. Yay, creativity!

We also did some more rhyming games this week, and this time they did not involve the cards. Early in the week I thought she might actually be getting it but it was clear to me by the third lesson than she was not. She is just not capable of coming up with her own novel rhyme. Luckily rhyming lessons seem to continue for some time, and if she doesn't get it we can keep trying those lessons long after they are no longer part of the daily curriculum. 


Apparently this page with a color and shape theme will never ever end. That's all we had this week and that's all we'll have next week. Since I have the ultimate power as a homeschooler I could just stop doing them, but I kind of appreciate the monotony this week. Like most autistic kids Elanor enjoys a routine, and I do too, so we'll keep doing it for a while. 


We finished United 1 this week, which was all about sorting and finding the differences between things. I'm kind of sad that it's over because Elanor was so incredibly successful at it and it took almost no time every day, but I know that we need to move on to more challenging things. Next week is more about actually counting up and down from 1 to 5 and back. 

Theme: Police Officers

This was a part of a greater job theme idea that I had. Basically I will have several different times this year where we learn about a type of job that people can have. This week specifically has an added safety benefit. I want Elanor to not only learn that she can be a police officer, but that police officers can help her when she is in trouble. 


We liked this book because it talked a lot about different ways that police can help their community. Best of all, it rhymed! We must have read this 6 or 7 times this week. 


This is a random movie made by a little kid with horrible production value but Elanor LOOOOVED it. We watched it about ten times then she went on to talk for hours about how police can save us from robbers and don't let us drive fast. So, mission accomplished. 


I broke down and used Pinterest. I hate Pinterest, but this is the kind of thing that it is actually for. I don't really know anything about Pinterest. Once I figure out how to link my page I will because I have some apraxia resources and some theme craft resources on there. 

Look at how good it is!!! She colored and glued it all by herself with only minimal help with the cutting! I was beyond impressed with it. 

So next week's theme was supposed to be mail carriers but for some reason I couldn't find a mail book at the library so I ordered one for next week. I did find a book about ants though so guess what, next week's theme is now ants! Flexibility!

Monday, September 21, 2015

This Week In Homeschooling: Week 2: Rosh Hashanah

Last week was our second week of K4. It was a bit tougher than our first one because the new school year sheen was gone and neither one of us was as excited. We still powered through it though and we are settling into our new routine. We managed to complete 3 lessons each of reading, handwriting, and math and we completed all of this week's theme which was Rosh Hashanah.


We moved right along this week, learning about D, E, and F. Once again there were cute little ideas about how to do each of the craft sheets.

For D we were to cut out a little fabric dress for the dog.

For E we used Elanor's fingerprints to make peanuts.

 For F we used her fingerprints to make a fish. 

We also played rhyming games involving cards provided for each lesson. This was actually kind of cool. When I first got the All About Reading Kit I had a ton of little cards to break apart and then place into this little box with dividers. Now, once I get to a specific lesson all the cards for that lesson are waiting for me.

I really value the organization!

Elanor really likes this game called "Get Out of the Wagon!" where you place three words, two rhyming one not, in this drawing of a wagon. You have to determine which word doesn't rhyme and then you can yell "Get out of the wagon!" at it. I think the yelling part is her favorite. We also played a couple of memory games involving Ziggy the puppet, and of course she loooves him.

Elanor seems to be doing slightly better at rhyming this week. Next week there will be some new rhyming games not involving the cards, so we'll see how that goes.


For some reason Handwriting is the hardest thing to get Elanor to do, especially because this week we finished the point and scribble phase and moved onto the coloring phase. Elanor is not a fan of coloring. I'm not sure if it is because it's hard for her or just because it's boring. I'm not really a big fan of coloring myself, so I understand. We try to do it first thing in the morning, when she is at her best, and if she needs to stop and take a break, we do.

Here she is taking a break from coloring her reading papers to arrange marker tops. 

As I said, we moved from point and scribble to coloring this week. One of the pages even involved drawing lines. The first page we did was coloring in some little bugs. 

Then the line drawing.  

I thought she did a pretty good job. I know for a fact this is something they work on in occupational therapy.

The last page was all coloring, with emphasis on colors. Elanor has known her colors for a while now, even before they worked on them extensively in the Calvert Pre-K curriculum, so I didn't really talk about that too much. 

The next few pages are all very similar to this one, but with different colors. I'm not really looking forward to it, but I do think it's good for her to practice trying to stay in the lines, and it's generally good for her hand strength.


This week we continued to work on section 1, which is about sorting. Each section has 9 parts and a review, and this week we did parts 1.5, 1,6, and 1.7. Elanor did great and she really enjoyed it! She's always asking me to "do math."

This coming week we will be finishing up this section and completing the review. The next week's section is on numbers 1-5, so that should be a little more challenging.

Theme: Rosh Hashanah

When I was first starting to map out the weekly themes I printed out a calendar of religious holidays so I could pick a few to do besides the standard Halloween, Christmas, etc. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was already on my radar though, because my family is Jewish. We ended up doing the whole thing in one day, the day that actually was Rosh Hashanah, and it worked out well. 


All the Rosh Hashanah crafts seemed to be apple related, due to the fact that on Rosh Hashanah Jewish people eat apples and honey for a sweet new year. Elanor can't actually eat apples because of her dysphagia, but that doesn't prevent her from using them for art. We decided to go really simple and old school and use apples as stamps. 

She did a few more, but this was the one I liked the best. It was a great sensory activity because she got to get paint all over her, which she loves. 


I found Happy New Year, Beni by Jane Breskin Zalben by searching for "Rosh Hashanah" in the library catalog. I wasn't disappointed. It gave a quick synopsis of what Rosh Hashanah is, and some of the cultural traditions that surround it. It even had a nice little moral at the end about forgiveness. Definitely everything I was looking for this week. 


Our video this week is from Shalom Sesame, an English version of the Israeli Sesame Street, Rechov Sumsum. I found quite a few cute videos from Shalom Sesame, including a play on Hannah Montana called Rosh Hashanah Hannah. In the end I decided on this one, which touches on the whole apples and honey thing, but also talks about the shofar which is another important aspect of Rosh Hashanah. A shofar is a ram's horn that is blown to usher in the new year. The video I used is called "The Sticky Shofar." 

There are three parts but it is really easy to find all three on Youtube. Elanor really liked the puppets and she recognized some of her friends from Sesame Street, so it was a hit. Maybe she even learned something.

Next week's theme: police. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

How We Picked Our Schedule

So I've gotten some questions about how we figured out what our schedule would be, and I figured that kind of needs a blog post all it's own. So here it is.

There were a few factors I took into consideration when I decided how many lessons I was shooting for in a week.

1. How much time during the week do we have for lessons?

Like many special needs families, we have an extensive therapy and activity schedule to work around. We also deal with the fact that because of low tone and attention issues (not to mention her age), Elanor gets tired and distracted easily and needs a lot of breaks. She is not at a place where she can work for more than 30 minutes at a time, and when she does she needs at least a 30 minute break. This means that we really aren't able to complete 5 lessons in a week the way one might at a typical preschool or with a typical preschooler, so we have to adjust our schedule accordingly. 

2. How many lessons are there to complete?

If you use a boxed all-in-one curriculum like Calvert or Sonlight then it probably has a set number of lessons. You complete all of those and then you're done. So for instance Calvert had 160 lessons. That schedule was easy to set up because I just had to divide 160 by the number of lessons a week to come up with how many weeks it might take. Our schedule this year is a little trickier because curriculum we bought has a different number of lessons.

The All About Reading Pre-Reading Program has 78 lessons. Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book has slightly fewer than 90 pages. Singapore Math Kindergarten has by far the most lessons, at around 150. I had to consider this when setting up the schedule, because I wanted to

3. What kind of schedule will we keep throughout the year?

Some people like to keep with the public school schedule and take a long break in the summer. I can absolutely see why you would want to do that, but I'm just not into it. My kid thrives on routine and I don't think it makes sense to create a new one for two or three months of every year. Plus, kids can forget a lot during the summer break, and if I school year round I don't have to pack as much into every week. Schooling year round also allows us to take random shorter breaks (like for a week or two) rather than just one longer one.

4. How many weeks do we want the year to take?

So because we aren't taking off for the summer, I'm okay with the our curriculum taking a bit longer than the usual school year of 36 weeks. I also am a homeschooler, so I don't actually need everything to fit perfectly into one year. We are free from grade and age restrictions and I could choose to school very fluidly if I want. Basically, I would like it to take a reasonable amount of time but I don't have strict ideas about how long it needs to be.

So what did we decide?

Taking into account these various factors, we decided to do 3 lessons a week for math, handwriting, and reading. This means that we will probably finish handwriting and reading earlier than math (after less than 30 weeks of instruction), but this is okay with me because the math curriculum is kindergarten level, so if it hangs over into the next year it's not a big deal. We could also just go right on and purchase the next levels of reading and handwriting, with no strict demarcation between one year/grade and the next. 

The cool thing about homeschooling is that there are no hard and fast rules. I can change our schedule at any time and for any reason. Maybe I'll find that this schedule is too tough, or that we can handle more. Bam, I can change it. But I think having a plan in the beginning is good, and this is ours. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

This Week In Homeschooling: Week 1: All About Me

So this was our very first week of K4 and altogether I would say it went pretty easily. I decided that our goal is to get through 3 lessons a week, since with our therapy and activity schedule it's hard for us to do every subject every day.  We did manage to do that this week (4 lessons for math!) in addition to completing the theme of the week which for the first week was All About Me.


We started the All About Reading Pre-reading Program this week. The first part of the program just goes through letters one by one. Each day you start by singing the alphabet song and then finding the letter of the day on the big chart that came in our kit.
Then you read a (very short) poem about the letter, do some kind of cute craft with it, and then do a lesson. Finally you're supposed to read anything for 20 minutes but you can do that anytime of the day. I assume most people do this at bedtime. 

This week we did A, B, and C. 

I was really into the craft portion of it because they give you little ideas for each letter. Like for A they said to put googly eyes on the alligator, and for B and C they told you to add blueberries and chocolate chips. It's cute and Elanor is into it. Plus, it forces me to be sort of crafty, which is always good because I'm not at all crafty. 

I got over my fear of the nefarious provided puppet, Ziggy the Zebra, just enough to use him to play some of the required rhyming games. This was a good thing because Elanor loooves Ziggy. She was way more willing to try out rhyming with him than she ever is with me. Still, this part of the curriculum was really hard on both of us because Elanor really has no understanding of rhyme. Her developmental pediatrician once mused that "maybe the way she processes language doesn't include rhyme," which is totally a cool idea/interesting idea, but has also been the source of a lot of lost sleep/panic attacks. One day at a time though. Maybe she's just a late rhyme-bloomer. Anyway, handwriting. 


Handwriting is pretty chill now. We did the first three pages of the Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book and these pages were all still in the "point and scribble" phase of the book. So, no big deal. She pointed. She scribbled. The first few weeks will probably all be pretty easy. 


Right now the math is just about finding pictures that are the same and pictures that are different. This is something Elanor did a lot in the Calvert Preschool curriculum, so she is very confident at it. I think that's a good way to begin things. We actually managed to get through four lessons this week which is good because our math curriculum (Singapore Math Earlybirds) has 150 lessons, way more than either handwriting or reading. I expect it to get markedly harder in a couple of weeks. 

Theme: All About Me

I wanted a really simple theme for the first week, so I settled on All About Me/Back to School. 

For every weekly theme I am trying to have a book, a video, and a craft. 


Ten Things I Love About You by Daniel Kirk
I figured this book was good because it talked a lot about attributes, which is a sort of a part of the All About Me theme. I tried to steer clear of Back to School books because I don't actually want Elanor to start wanting to ride a bus or go to kindergarten or any of that stuff. Anyway, this little rabbit loves this pig and stuff, writes a list. It was fine. It was cute. 


Daniel Tiger Season 3 Episode 1 "You Are Special/Daniel is Special"
We watched this on Amazon Prime. I love this show and the little songs that go with it. We sing the song from Season 1 Episode 1 all the time, "if you have to go potty stop and do it right away!"Very helpful. 

Anyway this one followed the theme because it talked about attributes, and specifically why you can be special for different reasons. I especially enjoyed it because we got to watch something other than Octonauts for once. Yay. 


So I bought this week's craft-thing off of this awesome site called Teachers Pay Teachers. It is a whole Back to School workbook that includes a few different interesting things. Mostly I was into the fact that there was a place for a beginning of the year self-portrait and an end of the year self-portrait. You definitely don't need to buy the set for a preschooler. Just have them do a self-portrait. We also had Elanor fill out a list of questions intended to do with a partner, just because I thought it would be interesting to revisit them at the end of the year.

Next week's theme: Rosh Hashana!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What We're Doing This Year for K4: Curriculum

We actually decided to homeschool Elanor before she was ever born. We didn't know about her special needs, so that was never actually a consideration.  But now that I see so many other special needs parents dejectedly turning to homeschooling after problems with public school I guess I'm glad we already had this decision made.

We started sort-of homeschooling last year, in what I would call K3. We used Calvert's Pre-Kindergarten, which is an all-in-one program that everyone I ever talked to said I would hate but I was determined to try anyway. Well, I tried it, and, I hated it. So you were right, everyone.

Calvert's Pre-K was just sooooo antiquated. All the stories were old and weird and most were even hard for me to follow. I specifically recall one that was about 10 pages long and then at the end you found out it was all a dream. Seriously? She's a preschooler. If I can't sit through your crap she definitely can't. It was also really uneven. Some concepts were introduced that I thought were too advanced for Elanor. Meanwhile, they never introduced any letters and numbers at all except as a crazy afterthought in the last two months. It was definitely not for us, and it's probably not for anyone. Thanks but no thanks, Calvert.

So, this year we're putting together our own little pre-kindergarten curriculum that I am referring to as K4. It consists of:

All About Reading Pre-Reading Program

I have literally never read a bad review of this program. In fact, I once saw a thread on Facebook where someone came right out and asked for a bad review and no one had one to give. This is supposed to be the reading program of your dreams. 

It certainly does seem kind of cool. Very multisensory. Every day a new letter or sound is introduced, you read a poem, do some kind of craft project, do a game involving rhyming or phonics, and then end with reading anything for 20 minutes. I'm definitely into the routine. I'm glad that there is rhyming practice because Elanor has a lot of trouble with rhyming. I'm also not looking forward to rhyming practice because Elanor has a lot of trouble with rhyming. Regardless, I'm excited to do this reading curriculum for a while. If it goes well we will move on to Level 1 next year. 

Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book

Elanor's occupational therapist from Early Intervention suggested this program when she was only 2 years old. HWOT is supposed to be especially good for children with fine motor or motor planning issues. This book is for their preschool "Get Set For School" program, and we also got some of their other stuff like a little slate chalk board and some wooden pieces that show you how to make capital letters. They call this a "crayon-only" book, and it's just supposed to get you used to the idea of writing letters. There is also this additional "Mat-Man" program that helps to teach your kid to draw stick figures, which seems cool. 

I'm not head over heels for this like I am for All About Reading but it seems good, sort of fun maybe. If we like it we will do the Letters and Numbers for Me book next year. We might also subscribe to Keyboarding Without Tears, which doesn't start until kindergarten. 

Singapore Math Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics

I'm in love with Singapore Math. I want to marry it and have half-human, half-math babies. The Singapore method uses tens as a base and is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as "common core math." This is the way that I have always done math in my head without realizing it, and once I did realize it and watched a video about how to do it better I was amazed at how my math skills improved. I am so excited for Elanor to have always learned to do math this way. 

Watch this! Learn it! Do it! Change your life!

The Singapore Math books actually haven't come in the mail yet, but I know other families that have used these books as a part of preschool and it seems to have gone pretty well. At this level it's  not much different than any other very early math books. You learn to count. You learn to draw numbers. You learn to add and subtract some small numbers, etc. I think it's going to be fun. 


So I'm just totally winging this part of the curriculum. We are doing theme weeks, which is something we sort of just fell into doing last year. For every week there will be a theme, and for every theme there will be a video, a book, and a craft. Part of the point of this is to force me to do crafts, because I'm not a crafty person and I don't think Elanor should suffer as a result. 

This week's theme is All About Me. Next week's theme is Rosh Hashanah. I'll let you know how they go from week to week. I'm trying to keep it very low maintenance because otherwise I won't keep up with it. 

Anyway, that's what we're doing from a curriculum perspective this year. Maybe I'll love it all and keep doing it next year. Maybe I'll hate everything and start all over. Maybe I'll give up and send her to kindergarten at the elementary school. I guess only time will tell. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

And then she could talk.

It happened just like that Fault in Our Stars quote my family loves to make fun of. Very slowly, and then all at once. 

I can't remember what she said first. I guess that sets me apart from other moms; I don't remember my child's first word. What I do remember is practice and practice and practice. Taking her to speech four or five times a week where she sat at a table way too big for her, where they said, "repeat after me," and at two years old, she did her best. 

Forcing myself to model her talker 15 minutes at a time. Typing out everything I could think of. TODAY-IS-TUESDAY. I-AM-WEAR-ING-PANTS. WE-GO-TO-TARGET.

I remember lining up her speech cards so she could jump over them, her making attempts at each one in a bouncing squeal. "Boo!" "Pie!" "Neigh!" I don't remember when, but one day the attempts were less like attempts and more like words. 

She would bring her talker to us and say I-WANT-BLUE and then point at the tv and say, say "Joe." 

And then words became longer words, became phrases. She had new speech cards. "Paddle boat!" "Apple pie!" 

Words became sentences. Her own sentences. 

"Where is Joe, Daddy?"

And then sentences were the norm. At some point her talker stopped being a talker and started being the little iPad. 

And now. "No, Daddy, it's not a tiger shark, it's a whale shark." 

"Mommy, can you move your soda so I can lay with you?"

Now she can talk, as if she always could, as if none of this ever happened. But of course all of it did. Months and years of work and worry led us to this place where she can turn to me and say, "I think we should have ice cream for dinner." 

She is an amazing intellect, a profoundly hard worker, and an unbelievable success story.

But right now she is just a 3-year-old who is up a little too late past her bedtime.