Homeschool Flashback #3 Writing Skills

Take a look at this paper. What kind of information does it tell you? Right off the bat you can see that this child, my son Josh, has difficulty with writing tasks. His letters stay on the lines pretty well and he is doing a good job of leaving spaces between words. Margins are still a bit challenging. He remembers to capitalize the first letter at the beginning of a sentence. His spelling needs to develop. But look how hard he is working just to get the ideas out of his head, through his hand and onto his paper. Some of the letters are darker from the force of his pencil on the paper. Others are lighter, indicating an inconsistency in his ability to grade the force of pressure he uses when putting pencil to paper. Sometimes the letters or entire words have been traced multiple times. Why would he trace some letters several times but not others? Could this be indicative of a neurological issue? Is he even aware that he is perseverating on some of the letters? If you could observe him during the process of writing you would see that he does not form the letters consistently from one word to the next. Sometimes his “i” starts at the top and is drawn in a downward motion. Other times he starts on the line and writes with an upward motion. When he is in tracing mode, he might write it both ways several times. Imagine if you were writing and had to stop and think how to form the letters because you didn’t have an established pattern. Josh was dealing with multiple challenges just to get a few of his thoughts down on paper. Here’s how I tried to help him. I did some of the Brain Gym activities to help information flow more easily between his right and left brain hemispheres. I had him use mechanical pencils, which kept the degree of sharpness more stable than other types of pencils. He tried different pencil grips to see if they would help his hand to relax so the writing could flow more easily. I made sure Josh had adequate arm support and was using his non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper. He tried writing with a slant board. I wondered if his letter and number tracing could be due to anxiety or OCD, but that was ruled out. Eventually, Josh was able to tell me that he was processing and trying to internally organize himself as he traced. I stopped trying so hard to get him to write in cursive, and decided to be satisfied if he was able to sign his name easily and could write in cursive if it became necessary. I also wrote him occasional notes in cursive writing to be sure he was able to read them. For the most part, though, we concentrated on printing. With all of these interventions, I did see improvement in his writing. It became more fluid and automatic, but if he concentrated too much on making his printing very neat his writing became laboriously slow. When I introduced keyboarding, he greatly preferred it to paper and pencil writing. Although I tried multiple typing programs to help Josh learn touch typing, he resisted them all and has his own method of typing. It works for him, and today as a young adult he is a prolific writer. He is planning to start a blog, and I hope to be able to share that with you soon so that you can be encouraged by the growth of this previously-struggling writer.

Homeschool Flashback #2

The assignment was to write a story, using the words listed in the box. My children always preferred to come up with their own topics to write about, and being given a list of words was too limiting for them. My daughter clearly was not excited about this particular writing task. As do many students with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), she wanted to complete the assignment quickly so she could move on to more engaging tasks. She fit as many of the words as she could into the fewest sentences possible. She didn’t find a spot for one of the words in the box, but that didn’t bother her since she wasn’t interested in writing about those words in the first place. For the record, I am not the woman who was “scared of mice.” In fact, over the years we have had a number of rodent pets including hamsters and mice. I have presided over a number of shoebox burials befitting a rodent. One time I couldn’t come up with anything nice to say about Tommy, the misanthropic finger biter, who latched on to any hand with an evil mousy grimace. We had to wear thick gloves just to feed him and then we had to shake him off our hands when we were done. He leered menacingly all the time until I finally told the children to try to avoid looking him in the eye so he wouldn’t give them nightmares. The other mice and hamsters were decent pets, and were eulogized appropriately. As for the rest of the story above, I do live with my husband and children. At the time of this brief essay, my children were still young enough to be losing baby teeth and it was an event to be celebrated when another tooth became loose and fell out. Last week, I had part of a lower molar break off. Loosing a tooth at this age is no longer exciting. In fact, it’s downright disconcerting. I called my dentist at 8:00 a.m. the morning of Christmas Eve., since I was trying to be thoughtful and not disturb him when it happened the night before. I think I woke him up. I told him what had happened, and he didn’t seem to think it was an emergency. I wasn’t convinced, since it has been many years since I last lost a tooth and I didn’t anticipate losing any more as an adult. I’ve had what’s left of the tooth repaired, and was reassured that “sometimes with age these things happen.” Sigh. This homeschool flashback could have an interesting twist if it were written today – the children and the Mom could each lose a tooth!

10 Ideas for Teaching with Gift Wrap

Need some fresh ideas to use with your students? Don’t throw those wrapping paper scraps away, and hold on to that used gift wrap for a little while longer. Here are some ideas for using wrapping paper as a teaching tool, and it won’t hurt your budget a bit.
1. Use leftover pieces of gift wrap to practice scissor skills. Include some narrow strips of paper so that beginners can feel the success of cutting through the strip. Snip, snip!
2. Cut out images from the wrapping paper to play a matching game. Want something that will last? Glue one set of pictures on the inside of a file folder, and glue the matching pictures onto index cards or card stock paper. A little packing tape will work about as well as lamination to keep the pictures preserved for multiple uses.
3. Work on handwriting skills by having your child circle images on the gift wrap. If that’s a bit too challenging for your student, help them just draw lines connecting the pictures on the wrapping paper. Washable markers may show up better than pencil, especially if the paper has an intricate design.
4. Use both hands together as you tear wrapping paper into pieces. Glue the pieces onto the back (blank) side of another piece of gift wrap. For a greater challenge, try shaping the pieces into seasonal shapes such as a snowman or Christmas tree.
5. Develop hand strength by balling up the paper and squeezing it.
6. Practice following directions and visual discrimination by pointing to named pictures on the wrapping paper.
7. Work on listening skills by covering your eyes and trying to identify the location of a crinkling paper.
8. Teach about recycling by crumpling up old wrapping paper to use for packing material when preparing packages to be mailed. For added fun try throwing the wadded up paper into the box from various locations near the “target”.
9. Work on expressive language skills by naming or describing pictures on the paper.
10. Provide sensory input by putting scotch tape on paper. Try to offer a variety of thin, heavy, slippery and shiny paper to experience the different qualities of each.
Don’t you just love inexpensive materials that you can make yourself? I sure do, and I feel so frugal and creative when the activities are also fun for my kids.

That’s a Wrap!

This is a busy time of year and there are many activities I greatly enjoy. Some of my holiday preparations are harder to fit into my schedule. Wrapping gifts is the one thing that I tend to put off. There are a couple of reasons for my gift wrapping procrastination. First of all, I need a cleared surface to work on in order to adequately wrap presents. I need to be able to spread out a bit so I can access and measure the paper, get to the scissors, and use the tape. Individuals with ADHD tend to see all flat, empty surface space as a good spot to dump their possessions. Finding an unoccupied area to use for wrapping is not likely to happen on the first perusal of my home. Then, once I manage to get a nice area cleared off it’s a race to see if I can use it before my husband, son, or daughter spot the flat, empty surface and cover it again. Another reason I put off wrapping gifts until I can’t avoid it any longer is the tendency of my inattentive family members to somehow notice what I don’t want them to see. How is it that they can step over a laundry basket that needs taken upstairs and not even notice it, but if I inadvertently leave something unhidden they spot it immediately? It’s one of those mysteries of life. I’ve made a great discovery, though, and it will work for birthdays and any other gift wrapping occasion. If I put a movie on for them to watch, I can wrap all the gifts while my family members are mere feet away! Amazing. Those who cannot sit still and pay attention during our homeschool day can actually hyper-focus on a movie. They become so engrossed in what they are watching that I think I could wear a tutu and stand on my head and they wouldn’t notice. As long as I am the least bit surreptitious I can position myself behind my kids and get all my gifts wrapped while we watch a movie together. This strategy would probably work with a good t.v. show, too. I’ve found that many individuals with ADHD become as engrossed in the commercials as the show itself, so you can continue wrapping away until you are finished. I tend to wrap a lot of gifts at one sitting, because once I have a work space and my children are occupied I take advantage of it. Now if only they needed as much sleep as I do, I’d be all set to tackle whatever comes my way!

Homeschool Flashback #1

This was an assignment Josh did for a homeschool writing class. In addition to the ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing issues, Josh struggled with social nuances. Some of Josh’s struggles he understood and could identify. Other symptoms left all of us baffled, even Josh. I’m glad that even at this young age Josh knew he was smart and strong, so some of my truth messages were getting through to him in the midst of his challenges. It’s interesting to me that “I know karate” made the positives and the negatives list. Knowing karate was good for Josh, in that it provided an outlet for his excess energy and helped him develop coordination and self defense skills. It also allowed him to be part of a group sport, but one that was individualized so he could progress at his own pace. Knowing karate was a negative for Josh, because as soon as other kids found out he was training in martial arts they asked if he was a black belt and then wanted to take him on. Josh was never aggressive, so demonstrating his karate skills outside of class was not appealing to him. One of the first things most boys do in social settings is talk about their favorite sports teams and the sports they participate in. Josh was more interested in drawing and creating things than in sports, so he didn’t have much to talk about other than that he knew karate. This led to the inevitable challenges to prove his skills, which Josh did only when he absolutely had to for self defense. Even then, he ended the confrontation as soon as he could. This homeschool flashback provides a snapshot of a young boy’s emerging self perception. Teaching him at home gave me the opportunity to help him develop a balanced view of himself, which is revealed by this writing assignment as he recognizes some of his strengths despite huge challenges. By the time Josh reached adulthood, he had a mental list of positive and negative things about himself that was accurate and realistic.

Nature Books and The Leaf Blower Noise

At this time of year in Ohio we are seeing the leaves change color and fall to the ground. Our outdoor walks provide us with crunchy leaf textures to trample and there is a different “fall” smell in the air around us. A leisurely stroll down the block will show us fallen acorns, black walnuts, and other tree products eagerly gathered by squirrels as they dart to and fro on the ground and along tree branches. We have a squirrel living in the ornamental pear tree in our front yard, and I like to pick up loose acorns and other such treats when I take the dog for a walk and then place the nuts in the nooks and along branches for “our” squirrel to enjoy. When my children were younger we took lots of nature walks, and I gave each of them a bag for collecting pretty leaves from different trees. We used tree identification books to figure out the names of the trees we saw, and we preserved a leaf from each different tree in a nature notebook. After pressing the leaves in a book, we glued them to a page where we listed all the information about what kind of tree it came from, where we found it, and the date we collected it. It was fun to read the book throughout the year and review if the leaf was simple or compound, when we had collected it, and more. Over the years, our collection increased and it was a challenge to see if we could find a new specimen that wasn’t yet represented in our nature book.
Those times spent in nature are some of my favorite homeschooling memories for this time of year. My son, Josh, gave me another fall memory that is equally imprinted in my mind. With his AD/HD, auditory processing, and sensory issues, Josh often said or did unexpected things. His impulsivity gave him a tendency to do whatever came into his head, with the result that I often found myself trying to figure out what was going on with Josh based on what I was seeing and hearing. Our special needs children do what comes naturally to them, and often don’t realize that not everyone experiences things the way they do. In this instance, Josh starting making weird vocal sounds as he played. I went into my analysis mode as I observed him. Is he stimming? Has he developed a vocal tic? Is he trying to calm and organize? Alert himself? Keep others at bay? Provide sound effects for what he is playing with? Can he stop making the sound if I ask him to? The speech therapist in me tuned in to see if the sounds Josh was making could be considered vocal abuse and could physically harm his voice. As I observed Josh, he seemed content. He could stop on request, but returned to making the sounds a minute later. It was not vocally abusive and his pitch and volume were within acceptable ranges for his “normal” voice. In the back of my mind, I recognized something vaguely familiar about the sounds Josh was producing. Then it hit me and seemed so obvious that I almost laughed at not recognizing it sooner. Josh was reproducing the noise of a leaf blower! Once I realized it, I became aware that somewhere in the neighborhood a leaf blower was in use. It was faint and distant and I had not even registered it. But Josh had an uncanny ability to imitate noises and he heard things that most people don’t notice. He did a pretty accurate leaf blower noise. He also made airplane and vacuum cleaner noises, but I recognized them right off the bat. The leaf blower noise took me awhile, but whenever I hear one in use I still smile and think of little Josh’s noise imitation talent.

A Child’s Description of AD/HD

This is a page out of Josh’s journal. It’s a concise entry. He was in middle school at the time, and was taking a composition class with our homeschool support group. The assignment was to tell a little about himself. Except for the final four words, his entire description relates to his AD/HD. Even his initial description of himself as a smart kid is immediately followed by “but”… and goes on to describe some of his ongoing struggles. Josh knew he was smart. He also knew that he was easily distracted and had a hard time completing his work. Even this brief journal entry took him a long time to write due to his distractibility and difficulty with paper and pencil tasks. The handwriting and spelling are not great. But look beyond that for a minute and see the hope peeking through. Josh started by acknowledging his awareness that he is smart, despite his many challenges. He mentions the difficulties matter of factly since they are part of his experience, but they do not entirely define him. It encouraged me to see that Josh realized that I was trying to help him, not “fix” him or change him, but truly help him. With that insight Josh could listen to my suggested strategies knowing that I didn’t view him as defective but rather as clearly in need of help. Finally, Josh ended with another positive comment. The exclamation point says a lot. It’s not just that he is in karate classes, but he is enthusiastic about karate. So although at first glance this journal entry might appear discouraging, a closer look at the content reveals a healthy balance. Josh knew he had struggles just as he knew he had strengths. This promotes a healthy view of himself, acknowledging his AD/HD while refusing to be defined by it.
It is so important to build up our children in truth, recognizing and pointing out their gifts and strengths. Kids with AD/HD get corrected and directed a lot. They may be very aware of their differences. Others seem oblivious but still need to develop an accurate perception of who they are. Until our children have achieved a realistic perspective of themselves, we need to take advantage of opportunities to help those with learning challenges see the contributions they make in our lives. We need to direct their attention to all the things they do well, even as we are teaching them and redirecting them in their areas of struggle. This developing sense of identity is what you can see emerging when you read Josh’s journal entry.

Greek Mythology – or is it “miss-ology”?

A few years ago I did a unit on mythology as part of our homeschool curriculum. We learned about Greek mythology as well as mythology that originated in various other parts of the world. Although I found some of the stories to be kind of creepy at times, there’s no question that it held the interest of my children. Still, when you have struggling learners even interesting materials tend to be remembered more in general terms than with specific details. My daughter, Beckie, who has AD/HD also has working memory challenges. Allowing her to draw some of the mythological characters helped her to keep them all straight in her mind. She’s very creative and artistic, so drawing appealed to her and was a good challenge as she attempted to sketch some very unique creatures. Children with learning differences often struggle to generalize information they have learned. Admittedly, there’s not a high need for generalizing information gleaned from Greek mythology so I didn’t worry about it too much. I just wanted my children to have a basic understanding and a frame of reference when mythological characters were mentioned in literature and other media. I also taught my children about foreshadowing in literature, so one day when I was reading aloud to Beckie from a non-mythology book I paused and asked her a question about what was read. She made a good prediction about what might happen later on in the story, and I asked her how she figured that out in hopes that she would respond that she recognized the foreshadowing that had just occurred. Instead, Beckie proudly announced, “I’m Cyclops!” I was baffled for a minute, and sat there in stunned silence trying to figure out where that answer came from. Since she does not have one eye in the middle of her forehead and is actually quite lovely, to describe her as “Cyclops” clearly didn’t fit. I could not recall that Cyclops were known for recognizing foreshadowing, either. As I rolled possibilities around in my head, an idea struck me and I asked Beckie, “Do you maybe mean ‘psychic’?” and she laughed and said that was it. She couldn’t recall the term “foreshadowing”, so pulled up a word that sort of fit. I love my Beckie for not being afraid to give things her best shot. She’s confident and can laugh at herself, even as she boldly attempts to answer questions that she does not have a precise answer for. Let’s hear it for all the children like Beckie who try and try again, and who don’t let mistakes prevent them from offering their answers and making contributions.

Speaking Opportunities

I have been speaking at conferences for over 10 years. I’ve had the opportunity to speak in multiple states to groups consisting of a couple dozen people up to a couple hundred people, and I love doing it. I’ve talked to many people who say public speaking, even just the thought of being up in front of a crowd, intimidates them and they will avoid it if at all possible. When I walk into a room to give a presentation and see the podium, microphone, and usually a white tablecloth on a nearby table with a pitcher of water, I slide into the zone. I feel relaxed and at home. I think it helps that I know people aren’t really coming to see me personally, but to hear the information I have to offer. I feel honored that God has chosen to use me to share what I have learned to help other people. It’s not my great successes that draw people, either. Folks can relate to my struggles, failures, mistakes, and determination to keep trying until I find something that works. I’ve been at this long enough now that I meet people who heard me speak years ago and they seek me out to tell me that they’ve applied what they learned from me and it changed the way they related with their child. As they approached homeschooling in a different way the changes improved not just their school experience but their relationship with their child as well. When people hear my workshops and see me with my grown son, they realize that despite extreme challenges we have survived. Not only that, we are extremely close and enjoy spending time together. That gives people hope. I recently had one mom watch my family for a few minutes and then in an awed voice she said, “You seem happy. After everything you’ve been through, too.” I could tell she was in the trenches of homeschooling a challenging child, and seeing a “veteran” homeschooler gave her hope that she could make it, too. I want to let you in on a secret. I am not a natural optimist, nor am I naturally encouraging. No one has ever described me as “perky”. I have natural gifts, but I have prayed to have the gift of encouragement. God allows me to encourage, but I have to work at keeping my thoughts right. I’m actually pretty pessimistic when left on my own, and I can see the cloud for every silver lining. Big sigh. Can you imagine Eeyore giving workshops? Anyway, I have trained myself and disciplined myself to work at being encouraging. I have had a measure of success in doing so. When I speak to others, I can see when something makes sense to them. I love to see people looking around when I describe a challenge I’ve faced, because so many of us with struggling learners feel isolated and our friends can’t relate to the challenges we face. Then we meet each other and with great relief realize we are not alone and many others are dealing with issues similar to our own. It’s nice to be with people who understand and can relate to our feelings and experiences. Tonight I will be speaking to a home school group for their kick off meeting. As far as I know, I will not know anyone there. There will be a mix of new homeschoolers and those who have been at it for several years. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to encourage and inspire those who, like me, have decided that homeschooling is the best fit for meeting their child’s educational needs. Next Monday, I will be doing a workshop on Adapting Curriculum for Struggling Learners with Heart of the Matter (HOTM) during their online conference. I was thrilled when they asked me to do this. I have presented the workshop many times before, but never just online. I am actually feeling nervous, because I am not strong with the technical aspects of presenting. It didn’t help that during our first practice run my microphone didn’t work, which is the stuff of nightmares for me. The second practice run went o.k. after about five minutes of me freaking out because the microphone was not functioning properly. A substitute microphone seemed to work, but I still feel nervous. It’s weird I know, but I would be completely relaxed speaking to a stadium full of people yet speaking online throws me for a loop. Once I learn how to do this and have some experience, I’ll be thrilled to know how and expand my skill set. My husband, who is naturally optimistic, assures me that “It will be all right.” I’m almost finished putting together a new workshop titled, “So You Think You Can Homeschool?” I can’t wait to share it somewhere, anywhere!

Homeschoolers Meeting People

As homeschoolers, it’s important to make a good impression so people can see how wonderful we homeschoolers are. Homeschoolers have long been the subject of speculation about their social skills, a concern that I personally believe is unwarranted. After all, we meet people all the time. Sometimes we even make a very positive impression.
I’m one of those moms who believes in teaching children how to think and make choices for themselves from a young age. My goal is to train them up into independent adults, capable of critical thinking and able to explain their convictions and not just parrot my beliefs. To work toward this goal you have to start small, by allowing children to make decisions in non-essential areas while the stakes are low. One such area for me was to allow my children to choose their own outfits for the day. My daughters carefully made their selections and chose outfits that generally matched. My son, who is both extremely artistic and colorblind, chose outfits that would look right at home if he were a very young circus clown performing in the center ring. When we ventured out into the community, we appeared, if not fun, at least interesting enough to chat with and get to know a little. When some people found out we were homeschoolers I could see the “Aha!” moment as if that explained the wild outfits. For others, the fact that my children didn’t feel pressured to conform to others’ ideas about what to wear seemed cool and made them a little envious of our freedom. Either way, it was a good conversation starter.
Here is another guaranteed way for you homeschool moms to either meet new people or run into people you haven’t seen for awhile. Trust me, this works for me every time. First of all, tell yourself that you will get up extra early and run to the store to get a few items before the store is crowded. Assure yourself that since no one else will be there, and you are only ducking in and out quickly, you really don’t need to take your shower before you go. In fact, since you will be showering after you get back from the store, it doesn’t make sense to put on makeup because you will just have to reapply it later and that wouldn’t be using your time effectively. After all, you are going early to be strategic like the efficiency machine that you are. So just run a hairbrush through your hair and throw on your sweatpants and an old shirt, and go conquer the first task on your list for the day. Isn’t it great to be getting a head start on your day? Avoid looking in the rear view mirror as you remind yourself that there is NO WAY you will be seeing anyone you know this early. It helps to repeat this to yourself several times. Who else would be crazy enough to go to the store at this hour? No doubt the store will be practically deserted. Whenever you try this strategy, you will either meet someone who sees in you a kind person willing to help them, someone who assumes you are a morning person looking for someone like-minded to chat with, or (best of all?) someone you have not seen for months. This last person is usually someone who seems a bit skeptical of the whole homeschooling thing, and no matter if you see him or her first and try to hide behind a display, you will be spotted. It’s like a law or something. When you have run out of excuses to babble in a vain attempt to explain away your unusual appearance, you can catch up with your acquaintance. Just remember to emphasize that this is your unusual appearance and not at all what your typical daily self looks like. Use words like “exception”, and “atypical”.
Another option is to adopt my other strategy and just relax. In my case, I am now middle-aged and peoples’ expectations for my appearance no longer pressure me. I wasn’t a beauty when I was younger and I’m certainly not getting better with age. When I have these unexpected meetings I try to relax and enjoy the moment. God forbid that I should miss the opportunity to talk to another person because I am worried about being perceived as a weird homeschooler. Someone may still draw that conclusion after talking with me, but it won’t be because I held back.