Thursday, September 25, 2008

Feeding the Ducks

School has been going well, not much new to tell. The weather has been really great though! My son and his girlfriend came over on Tuesday and wanted to take my daughter to feed the ducks, so we grabbed some left-over hamburger buns and off we went. My daughter, like most any other child, has always loved feeding the ducks (see how much our kids are just like yours!). What you might not know about my daughter is that duck became one of my daughter's first words (which was significant since she spoke very few of them for the first few years of her life). She could say, mom, dad, Jesus and then "duck." Why duck? Because of moments just like this! Every time we passed this park my daughter would use her very limited vocabulary to tell us she wanted yet another experience to interact with her beloved feathered friends. (This was also my first clue into realizing just how much of a "hands on" learner my daughter was.) I just thought I would share one of our funner moments of the week. I credit my son Timothy with taking the pictures. He loves photography and did a good job at getting some really nice shots!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So Far So Good

I know we are only four weeks into school but so far this year I am really pleased with all the curriculum and products I have purchased for school. Gess seems to be adapting to them well and they are offering lots of opportunities for her to do some things hands on.

Her Beginning Steps to Reading Program is really great although at this point it has been all review. We haven't gotten into word blends yet, we are just learning the sounds letters make. While Gess is reading extremely well, she mostly reads by sight. She knows her phonetic sounds and she has successfully sounded out some words and makes some good tries with others. Still we haven't quite gotten into blending sounds very much and she can't do that in any consistent way, but we are getting there! So far we have just gone over her short vowel sounds (which we knew from last year) but this time she really seems to be getting the differences between them. She always could tell A from the others, but lets face it people, it isn't that easy to tell the difference between a short I or a short E sound in the middle of word, especially when you have slight hearing loss in one ear, but she is starting to get it. She can definitely tell you what sound each letter makes or what sound you are making if that is all you are doing, its putting it into practice at the start of a word that is more difficult, but she can do it fairly well! This is the part of the day where she has the most seat work but she likes it. Its still pretty interactive where she will have to listen for answers and then write the correct letter or match objects and such. They also have some worksheets that require cutting and gluing to help reinforce the concept and she loves those.

I am just introducing the concept of spelling by having her play Boggle Jr. While we are learning that letters make sounds and will soon be doing blends, since she has learned most of her words by sight I am just now starting to show her how those words are spelled, emphasizing the need to break it down to sound it out. Yes, we are doing this backwards from the way most people approach reading but it is working for us and that is all that matters.

We are loving Math U See as well. She has her green unit blocks and can build any numbers 0 - 9. She could probably build them larger, but that is all we have done so far. Their method is to have the child build it, write it, and then say it. So for example, she will have 10 squares and a number beside it and have to put that many blocks there. After she puts the correct number of blocks in the spaces she removes them and colors in the corresponding squares. It really is helpful for her to use her hands to build it first, she loves that part. Then she traces the number and says it. There are some that just have pictures that she has to count and it will have the choice of two answers. She traces the correct one and crosses out the other and we say this is "seven" it is not "six." Now this too is all review, she can recognize and build up to almost 20 but we are starting from a 0-9 number system instead of a 1-10 which will be a bit different but does make a lot of sense. Here is one of her finished pages.

I got her Bible, Science, and Social Studies workbooks from Christian Light Education and they are pretty basic. For Bible it just has the story with a coloring or activity sheet for her to do. That is simple enough and is followed with prayer. That is how we start each day. We have started in Genesis and so far have learned about the creation, Adam, Eve, the garden, and Cain and Abel.

I alternate Science and Social Studies each day. These books have some fill in the blanks and I usually do that writing for her or let her answer with a letter instead of a word. For instance to answer which picture is big or little she wrote in L or B. She doesn't always write the letter well but its good practice. When they ask her questions where they want her to draw an answer I usually have her go and actually find something instead. For instance they wanted her to draw something that had each shape it in. That meant she was supposed to draw four pictures one for a circle, square, triangle and rectangle. Well her writing skills won't handle that so instead she went and found me things with those shapes and I just wrote down what she brought me. This makes it a more hands on experience and lets her move around a bit. It also makes it a lot more fun. We do that sort of thing so much that she now stands up when I get the book out because she knows its a time when she gets to move around. So even when we are just reading from the books sometimes she does that standing up. There is nothing wrong with doing a lesson on your feet instead of in your chair! So far in Science we have learned about how colors, shapes and sizes help us to sort and learn about objects. For instance they used a banana to tell how its different colors let us know if it is good to eat (green is not ripe, yellow is good, brown is rotten). In Social Studies we are learning about our families and different ways in which we communicate.

We are also using Handwriting Without Tears but I did not get this years curriculum because I did not think she was ready for it yet. She was still struggling with last years. Well, she sure has matured a bit over the summer and our activities seem to be strengthening her motor skills because she is doing a pretty good job of keeping the letters in the lines. So the other day I went ahead and ordered the latest books and we will start fresh with them when they come in. In the meantime she is getting some practice while doing her other workbooks and we are using her blocks to make the letters we study each day in her reading program. She then writes it on the chalkboard. I am anxious to get the new materials in though!

We also go the library every Monday and of course there is Ballet on Tuesday. I also have a ladies bible study that I attend each week so that gets her a couple hours of playtime with other kids (some ladies have kids under 5 and some also homeschool and have kids her age and older). We try to get the park as often as we can (I am so glad it finally stopped raining so that we can) and Grandma babysits her on Friday afternoons while I do some volunteer work at an afterschool youth center in town. I hope to one day eventually bring her there with me.

I plan to enroll her in AWANA at church but she has such a hard time waiting for her turn during game time and stuff that I am waiting until things calm down a bit. The first few weeks are pretty hectic. I know she will do good with the memorizing, I just want to make sure they have enough hands to handle her (she has a tendency to wander off). They of course encourage me to bring her on in, I just want to make her transition in as smooth as possible. For those who do not know much about AWANA it stands for Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed or something like that and it is a Bible club that encourages bible memorization. They earn awards every time they get so far in their books and they have uniform vests that they wear and such. I got really excited when I found out that they offered help for children with special needs! For the younger kids they have all the verses shortened to make it easier for them to memorize. They have it so you can get some labels and print the shorter verses up and just place them over the original verses inside the book. Once I saw that I knew that Gess could not only attend and have fun, but be able to do the work too! For the older kids they have a leaders guide that helps the leader find ways to make their inclusion a success.

I tried to get her into Brownies but apparently no one else in our town with kids her age are interested. There is no Brownie troop at this time. I even offered to lead if they found others to join but I guess they had no luck. Maybe when she gets older she can start up in Girl Scouts.

So that's where we are at after one month of school. I am having a blast preparing my lessons each week and teaching them each day. Gess is just a sponge, she loves to learn when you offer the information in a fun and interactive way. Once she puts her hands to something it generally sticks with her!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Must See CBS News Story on Down Syndrome

Below is the transcript from the news story that was done on CBS about Prenatal Testing for Down Syndrome. You can watch the video at the link below


Down Syndrome Parents: Palin Is Role Model

(CBS) .. --> sphereit start -->When Sarah Palin was four months pregnant with her fifth child, she received life-changing news: her baby had Down Syndrome. Today, five-month-old Trig is one of 400,000 Americans living with Down Syndrome. And the Palins' decision to have the baby has made her a role model to the parents of some 5,000 children born with the genetic disorder each year.

While most Americans hadn't heard of Sarah Palin before she became John McCain's running mate, she was well known to many parents of children with Down Syndrome, CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.

"Gov. Palin went through the same thing we did," said parent Sharon Vopal. "Same prenatal testing; same screening."

Advances in prenatal testing mean more and more expectant parents are finding out earlier. And for some, the reality is too grim to bear.

"Forty percent of babies with Down Syndrome are going to be born with congenital heart disease," said geneticist Robert Marion. "Every baby with Down Syndrome has developed mental disability. A small minority grow up to be independent."

Marion says the vast majority of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis terminate their pregnancies.

"That is such a personal decision and it shouldn't be colored by anything that the doctor says to them about the diagnosis," Marion said.

But that isn't always the case, according to Vopal, who lives in Basking Ridge, N.J.

"I knew right away when she [the doctor] walked in," Vopal said.

Sharon and her husband Jim were expecting twins when tests revealed that one of them has Down Syndrome.

"What did she recommend? Did she say what your options were?" Couric asked.

"She said, 'You're early enough along in your pregnancy that you can terminate,' and in our case, since it's twins, the term she used was 'selective reduction,'" Vopal said.

But Jim is Catholic, and while Sharon is not, they're opposed to abortion - just like Gov. Palin.

"After telling her that we would not terminate, nothing else was discussed," Vopal said. "No information. No resources. No help. No advice. They gave Jim a business card for us to call a genetic counselor, if we chose to. And they led us to a side door."

Katie Couric's Notebook: Down Syndrome

The Vopals' experience is a common occurrence, says Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.

"What we have found historically is that physicians are giving biased information when they're presenting prenatal diagnosis," Allison said.

According to a 2005 survey of nearly 1,300 parents of children with Down Syndrom, a majority reported that the doctors "did not tell them about the positive potential of people with Down Syndrome."

So advocacy groups like Allison's have embarked on a campaign to educate physicians and, in turn, expectant parents about the genetic disorder.

Through a program called "Changing Lives," parents of children with Down Syndrome go directly to doctors and present their version of Down Syndrome 101, giving advice on how to break the news.

"Families can walk out their doors feeling isolated and alone, or they can walk out feeling like they've got a support system," Allison said.

And often, the supporting cast steals the show.

One Down Syndrome teen, Jack Murphy, said: "I want people to know about me - that I'm outstanding, outrageous, smart and intelligent and I know I'm good looking."

The Vopals have now had their twins, and they hope - as the rest of the country learns more about Sarah Palin - Americans also learn more about Down Syndrome.

"She made her choice and we made our choice and other people will make decisions that are best for them," Jim Vopal said... --> sphereit end -->

Monday, September 8, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes!

It is just so great to see how much a child has advanced from one year to the next. This time last year my daughter was starting Kindergarten. Some of our major goals were not just important educational wise, but for everyday living. One thing I wanted my daughter to do was to learn her address and phone number. With the learning struggles we faced, we were not only working on "memorizing" the information but understanding what it was for. It took a couple of months or longer but by the end the of the first semester my daughter could answer the questions "Where do you live?" and "What's your address?" The rest of the year was spent reviewing that information and adding her phone number into the mix. It took time and patience, but she got it! We also worked on memorizing small Bible verses (or small parts of a passage) throughout the year. So she was introduced into memorization but we always made sure to make it fun and encourage success, it wasn't drilled until it hurt!

Well, now that she has those basic life skills I decided to introduce the Pledge of Allegiance into our class day. So, when we started school this year we started the pledge. I wrote it out on poster board (my daughter definitely does better if she sees the words) and I would put it where she could see it. We would first stand and say the pledge together not really pointing to the poster but looking at the flag. The first week she would repeat after me but by week two she was starting to say it with me. After we said the pledge together I would have her stand at attention and do it herself, this time I was pointing to each individual word as she said it. By week two she was reading it by herself without me pointing to the words. Well, now she can say it all by herself without the help of me or the poster (with just a couple of helps)! I felt that after two weeks that was pretty amazing considering how long it took her to memorize smaller things than that last year. It just goes to show you what a difference a year can make!

So lesson learned is this: We must be patient and realize that if our children do not have a skill yet, that doesn't mean they will never get it. While we know that our kids can do whatever they set their minds to do, it is our duty to encourage and lead them into setting their minds on new challenges!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Simple Motor Skill Activity

Writing skills are very important and rely on more than just our cognitive skills to develop them properly. Thanks to the blocks that come with our Handwriting Without Tears curriculum Gess has been able to prove she knows how a letter is made, because she can make every capital letter with blocks. What she lacks is the ability is to properly and consistently write the letter. Therefore she needs to strengthen the muscles in her hand to improve her motor skills. Below is a simple activity that will do just that. (This was shown to me by our speech therapist.)

All you need for this exercise is some clothespins and something for the child to clip them to. My therapist takes several of those plastic travel soap containers and fills them with clothespins and gives them to the child. They then clip each clothespin around the edges of the container and then takes them off and do it again. I didn't have a soap dish so I used a plastic basket.

Since my daughter is older and doing math, we made a game out of it and we would decide how many clothespins to put on each side of the basket. She would then proceed to pin them on. With each one she is strengthening the muscles in her fingers.

Once we have all the sides full, we count how many total there are. (Note that one side does not have any clothespins on it, that's because she decided to put zero clothespins there.)

Now all that is left to do is to take them back off again. This too will help strengthen those finger muscles that are all so important for writing!

There are so many ways you can make this fun. I am considering letting her paint them various colors and then having her make patterns with them. The key is, this exercise is simple, its easy, its enjoyable and it works!


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