Saturday, January 24, 2009

Comment Troubles

I have had people say that they have trouble commenting on my blog. The first time I figured out that I had my settings to only allow comments from certain users, and after I changed that they were later able to comment. But I found out that others are still having trouble commenting and I verified that it is still checked to allow comments from anyone. If anyone knows what else might be wrong, please let me know. If you continue to have trouble contacting me try leaving me a comment on one of my other blogs or on my Myspace profile to let me know so that I can continue to try to fix the problem.

I look forward to hopefully getting this fixed so I can hear from you soon!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sorting Activity: Why Is It Different?

Here is another great activity that was suggested to us by our Speech Therapist. This activity is designed to help speech specifically by teaching the child how to speak in the negative. Here we are focusing on the word "not." It also helps a child learn to sort as well as to understand "why" something is different rather than just recognizing that it is.

All you need for this activity are some index cards, sticky notes, baskets (or other objects for setting the activity up) and various items from around the house; 3 that are the same and 1 that is different. For these activities I use a large variety of items such as 3 square blocks and 1 round one, 3 girl dolls and 1 boy, 3 hats and 1 dress, 3 forks and 1 spoon, and 3 crayons and 1 pencil, etc. Just digging in your child's toy box will usually give you plenty of ideas for where to start.

First we need to set the activity up. As always, my speech therapist has emphasized how important it is to set it up in a manner in which promotes success. This is why we need the baskets or other items to show the child what they need to do. I found one large basket and three small ones. I place the large basket nearest to my daughter and the three smaller ones above that. That is how she will sort. It looks something like this.

I then place the four objects I want sorted in the large basket in front of her. She then begins to sort them by placing the three items that are the same in the smaller baskets. For this activity I have given her three coins and a dollar bill.

When she is finished the the basket in front of her has only one object left, which is the one that is different.

Then we ask her why that object is different. I will mention how the objects in the smaller baskets are the same and the one in the large basket is different. I then say, "why is it different?" To answer she looks on the index card which we have on the desk next to the baskets. She then reads the answer "It is different because it is not _________________." (In the space where there line is I place a sticky note with the correct answer for that object) In this instance I added the words "a coin" and she responded by saying "It is different because it is not a coin."

Of course it is best to start out with really easy objects at first. The first time we did this activity I had a difficult concept and she did not do very well, so for the next one I used totally unrelated objects; three clothespins and a toy. Of course that made it really easy for her to figure out which one was different. It was not until she mastered the activity that we began getting more difficult concepts such as having all coins with 1 nickel and 3 quarters, etc.

The most important thing is to keep it fun and encourage success. My daughter loves it when we tell her what a good job she does. She gets excited and is eager to do it right. Nothing is more rewarding then seeing your child excited about a job well done.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Computer Software

You might notice that in my list of resources I have a section about Free Open Source Computer Software in which I share some links of some really great stuff that we use. I realize these programs are not homeschool specific, but there are benefits that homeschoolers can gain from using them. So, just what is Open Source Software anyway?

Open Source software is free software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. Yes, it is not only free financially, but it gives you the user freedom to use that software however you want. Those who know how to program are free to change it in anyway they want as long as they make their changes available for free as well. For those who are not programmers, such as myself, we get the use of their products at no charge and can offer feedback on how it performs.

Now lets look at a couple of the benefits for homeschoolers who use Open Source Software.

Financial Benefits: Since Open Source Software is available at no cost, it is perfect for homeschooling families who are generally on a budget. I am sure I do not have to remind you fellow homeschoolers about the sacrifices we make living on a single income and how much we spend on the curriculum and supplies we use in school to begin with. Having access to great programs at no cost is a very strong motivator to give these programs a try. Why pay $100 for MSOffice when you can get the Open Office Productivity Suite absolutely free? There are free Open Source programs for just about anything you could want or need for your home, or school. The financial savings alone can be a great motivator to give some of these programs a try.

Educational Benefits: There are a variety of educational benefits to using Open Source Software as well. The most obvious, of course, is the ability to understand and learn computer programming. The fact that the source code for each program is available for the public to view and modify gives every person the opportunity to see how it works if they are interested in learning about it. There are even Open Source games that teach children programming by giving them commands that actually move around the character on their screen.

If your child is learning how to use these programs and begins to show an interest in them, they will also learn the art of research. I have recently discovered this myself! My Open Source Blog is a testiment to my ability to research, run and report on my experiences with this software. But it does not always have to be that complicated to get some educational benefits from it.

The programs themselves, are often geared toward learning. If you run an Open Source Operating System you have access to a large variety of free educational programs. EdUbuntu is a distribution of linux geared towards schools and has a variety of educational games and tools that come with it. To read about some of the awesome resources you can have at your fingertips check out the link below.

Edubuntu The Applications

These are just a few of the apps you will find there, if you actually visit the link you can read more about each one of these programs plus the other ones that are available with this distribution.

Atomix puzzle game for building molecules out of isolated atoms
Dia Diagram editor
GCompris Educational games for small children
Inkscape vector-based drawing program
kalgebra algebraic graphing calculator for KDE 4
Kalzium periodic table and chemistry tools for KDE 4
Kbruch fraction learning aid
kstars desktop planetarium for KDE 4

You have to admit, these are some great resources for homeschooling. So what programs can you use, even in Windows, and where should you begin? Well, here is a list of programs that I have personally used and highly recommend. Remember, this is only a small sampling of what is available out there.

There is another program that I just have to tell you about as well. It is Blender, a 3D creation suite. You can actually make 3D models using this program and it comes with user manuals and tons of support right there at their website. That all sounds great but what does that mean? Well, take a look. This animated short was made entirely using Blender, a free Open Source program! Think of how much your kids can learn while having fun playing around with this product!

From graphic and 3D modeling programs to money software, educational tools, and games there is an Open Source product to meet your needs. Why not save your school some money and give your children the upper edge by giving them access to all of these great resources?

To read more about my experience and recommendations for Open Source Software visit my new blog Opening Eyes to the World of Open Source Software. I welcome you to share your comments and ask lots of questions because my goal there really is to help others better understand the Open Source movement and the benefits it has offer.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Spelling is another area that I was not sure we would be able to do yet since my daughter does not write very well. However, when I was doing my homeschool shopping last summer, I found this great magnet set at Mardel which turned out to be perfect for our needs. It comes with a magnet board (though you can use any magnetic surface) and several tiles of each letter including both capital and lower case. We now use this to teach spelling.

In preparing the lesson, I took some tips I learned from our speech therapist and tried to present the lesson in a manner in which it was easiest for her to succeed. So, instead of making every letter available I found just a handful of relevant letters and placed them at the bottom of the board. I have also separated the vowels and put them at the top of the board. In the middle I write a line for each letter in the word. So far we have only worked on three letter, short vowel words (though there have been a few four letter ones). Next I say the word I want her to spell. I am sure to use that word in a sentence and then I repeat the word again. The longer she takes to complete the word the more I repeat it to be sure that she hasn't forgotten the sounds. I try not to over emphasize any sound unless I see her really struggling with that part of the word. It works like this.

"Spell the word bed. The little girl went to bed. bed"

This has worked really well. I have noticed that my daughter does not always spell in order. Sometimes she grabs the end sound and sometimes the she grabs the vowel first. One of the things I love watching her do is reach for the wrong letter and stop herself saying "no, not that one." You can tell she is really thinking about what she is doing. That is why it is so important to present the activity in a manner in which promotes success. It takes extra effort to figure out where to put the letters if there are no lines drawn, and even more effort if she has to search through too many letters. Presenting the lesson in this manner allows her to only focus on how the word is spelled.

We also do not do more than five or six words in a lesson. She works really hard to spell and I think it is more important that she learns how to spell correctly, not how many times she can do it. Getting the concept is our biggest concern. While most children learn well by repeating things over and over, that tends to frustrate many children with special needs. That is the thing with children with Down syndrome. They can do most anything, but often they have to work tens times harder to do it. Whether it is walking, talking or spelling, they are giving it their all. Therefore I tend to cut some of her practice lessons in half and am careful to watch for clues as to when she is getting tired of a lesson.

Another thing I did to help with spelling and for her independence is get a large print keyboard. My daughter loves the computer but has a hard time finding keys on a normal keyboard. While she has glasses that help her see, she still seems to struggle focusing on smaller letters, even in books. She reads much more smoothly in books where the print is larger, I guess because her brain does not have to work as hard on seeing the letters and can instead focus on what the words actually are. It seems like we multi-task in so many ways that we do not realize we are doing it. Children with special needs have a harder time in multi-task situations and therefore anything we can do to assist her to focus on one thing seems to really help. Anyway, here is the keyboard we purchased, its called Keys U See. They run about $40 but I waited until I found a deal on Ebay and I managed to get mine for $18. They also come in three colors, we got this one, the yellow on black, but they also have black on white and white on black.


We have tried spelling with it, but it does not work for her yet because she is still not spelling the word in order. When she grabs the ending sound first she can't just throw it in place when she types, she has to delete or backspace and all that is too complicated for her right now. She can spell her name on it though. When she plays a game and gets the high score she types in "gess" lightening fast! (We will teach her about the caps key one of these days) She has tried a typing game but since she can't find the letters fast enough yet, she gets bored with it pretty quick. She is really finding her way around they keyboard though and she can find letters when you call them out at random. I think it has really enhanced her computer time since she doesn't have to search for keys as hard as she used to.

Before we used either of these things we first introduced the concept of spelling by playing the game Boggle Jr (which I also got cheap off of Ebay). Since my daughter first learned reading by sight this was a great tool to show her that the word was actually broken down into letters. In the game you have 3 and 4 letter word cards with the word actually spelled out on it. You have the ability to either cover up the words or show them and let the child just copy it. Then you have dice with letters on them and they have to find the letters and place it in front of the card. Just matching the letters and emphasizing how it was spelled helped Gess really get the "concept" of spelling.

With all of these activities she definitely knows what spelling is and is learning how to spell herself. She reads signs, menus, shirts, anything with words and she will often say each letter individually before saying the word. More importantly she is putting this into practice by reading everything around her and is able to communicate and experience life in a better capacity. Watching her explore the world around her because she has the ability to read and spell and understand it has meaning for her is an amazing thing. Nothing can put your smile on your face like having your daughter discover there is "no smoking" at your table. We took her to the Chinese food buffet the other night and they had a sign saying "No Smoking" on the wall in our booth. She read it and made this noise, like Oh no! We informed her it was alright because none of us were smoking. Still, she kept telling us "no smoking." I think she just enjoyed being able to tell us "no" for a change!

This what we do with all lessons, we find what my daughter needs to learn, identify the obstacles caused by her DS and search for ways around those barriers. These have all been very successful in helping my daughter to spell.


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