Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ready for summer!

Summer time is finally here and we have not done any school all week! (We will, however, have one day of school each week over the summer so we can complete the amount of required days for our state...we are currently 8 days short).

Other than the one day a week of review for 8 weeks we do not plan on doing any real "school" stuff, but we will be really busy. We have lots of activities planned, but they are things she wants to do, not has to do. We are not looking for structure, just good old fashioned fun, like heading to the lake to see some friends and staying in a hotel while visiting her aunt.

She also will be in the library's summer reading program. She has done that every year since about age 2 and she just loves it. Whenever she is done with her book she can't wait to "put it on the list." Last year she read all the books by herself and will be doing the same this year, though we are getting harder books this time. She did a great job on her first book last night! They also have other fun stuff like tea parties and special story times that we will take part in.

We also signed up for gymnastics and she is really excited about that. We plan on enrolling in swimming lessons too, if I can ever get a hold of the person in charge! She will go to our church day camp which will only last one day and of course there is one week of Vacation Bible School, which she also loves.

Then we just plan on going the park, seeing friends, experiencing the joys of summer. Normal summer stuff. I think the break will do her good. Math is the only subject I worry about her retaining over the break so we will focus on it pretty good during our weekly school days. With all the reading she will do for the library, that will only flourish.

I will still be blogging about school stuff over the summer as I have had some things I have wanted to blog about but have not had the time. I will also throw in some fun summer activity stuff too. Just whatever is on our mind and whatever we discover! I hope you all enjoy your summer, we certainly plan on enjoying ours!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Introducing Reading With Sight Words

I have been wanting to blog about the great phonics reading curriculum we are using called Beginning Steps to Reading from Eastern Mennonite Publications (they do not have website). I did not even realize it until today but this material is even recommended on NATHHAN (Nathional Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) under resources for Down Syndrome which says it has been used by several families that have taught their child with Down Syndrome to read phonetically. Well, it certainly is working with my daughter and I will be telling you more about it soon. For now though, I wanted to share what we did the last few years that enabled my daughter to be ready for this step.

Several years ago, when my daughter was around 3 years old, I was really trying to find some ways to work on her speech. One thing I found in my research was that reading was able to enhance speech and they recommended teaching reading by using sight words. I am always willing to try a new approach and I was amazed at how well this really worked! We borrowed the book Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome from our DS Support group and it had some excellent ideas on how to start learning sight words. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a child with Down Syndrome!

When I first learned of this book I thought it would be something I would not need until my daughter was school age and ready to learn reading. That is not true! In the book the author talks about teaching people with Down Syndrome to read starting at age 3 or 4 up to adults. Anyone person with DS can learn to read using these helps. In the book she does bring up how there are varying degrees of severity with DS and says that some people who have DS will never be able to grasp phonics. This is by all means, not the general rule but there is a possibility that some children will not be able to grasp the concept. She gave one example of a girl named Mary could not read her name. All she saw were the letters and could not blend them. She would always say them separately M -A - R - Y. But, once she was taught the word by sight, she could finally read it. From children to adults, new worlds were opened up to them when they were finally able to learn to read and express themselves through the world of print. Whether by sight or phonics, or a combination of both, reading is possible and can be mastered!

Anyway, we had tried some phonics with my daughter and could tell she just was not getting it. So we started teaching her to read by sight. In the book they have some really fun games to teach reading this way. They start with a game called "lotto" and it is really simple (the outline and complete instructions are in the book). You have a paper that has six circles and you make cards to go in them. The first "lotto" game we played was "Family Lotto." We printed up pictures of each member of our family and made just as many corresponding cards with our names written on them. We then had her match the name to each picture. Once she finished it, she would throw up her hands and yell "lotto!" She loved the game and it was not long before she could read them all. We moved from family to some of her favorite foods. She soon learned to read hamburger, chicken, taco, spaghettio's and pizza. Now when we went out to eat I could ask her what she wanted to eat and write down the words for her to choose from. For the first time she was able to communicate exactly what she wanted. This was such an amazing milestone for us!

We continued to learn sight words by just letting her read and teaching her words she did not know. I found the Sight Word Readers by Scholastic which were really great for this. It was so exciting to see her read her first book all by herself, even if it had just a few words!

We also continued to study her letters but did not focus on the phonetic sounds since she was struggling with that. In the meantime her reading skills really took off and she was reading all sorts of easy readers with us just helping her with words she did not know. Her speech also began to improve rapidly. Seeing the words in print seemed to help her vocalize it better and reading sentences helped her learn to talk in them. Even now, her speech is most intelligible when she is reading.

Then one day something amazing happened. As she was reading by sight, Gess started trying to attempt words she did not know. Her attempts were not just random though. If a word had the letter F in it her attempt would have the "f" sound. She started doing that with letters that had really distinct sounds. That's when I realized she was now finally ready for phonics! We then started teaching her letter sounds, but not really having her blend them together to make words yet. We waited until this last year to start blending and she is just great at it (I will share more about that soon). So now she can read not only by sight, but also phonetically! And boy can she read well! She has always loved books and there is nothing more rewarding then seeing your child sit down and read a book all by herself.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

With All My Heart

I had no idea that Gess had Down syndrome when she was born and I was rather shocked when I got the news. It was not actually the words Down syndrome that had me distressed though. I did not know anyone personally affected by DS, but I was the tolerant type and I absolutely loved the television show Life Goes On back in the 80s so I knew that wasn't "all" bad. I was just too distracted to care when I found out there was an additional diagnosis that went with it. What I was not aware of at the time was that there are several serious medical conditions that are common in people who have DS, including various heart conditions. So, while they are explaining to me that they think my daughter has Down syndrome they are also telling me that her heart is defective and it will have to be surgically repaired.

That is when and why I cried. The emotional roller-coaster I went through in the early days of her diagnosis can not really be put into to words, but I can try to share some context. Gesserine was born on October 25, 2001. That certainly was a frightening time in life. Here I am almost 8 months pregnant and America suffers the worst attack on her own soil in recent history. But it was almost two months later and America was coping and at the time they were actually in unison bound to defend and protect our country together, as one nation united, as it should be. But that is another story.

Shortly before the attack of September 11, my father had open heart surgery and he did not handle it very well. It was hard on me because I was far away and not able to be there for him. He lived in Florida, I lived in Kansas. I was very pregnant and not able to travel. It was tough on both him and my mother. But after the surgery my father told me he would never go back to the hospital again. My father was a very strong man and this laid him out like nothing had ever done to him before.

So here I was heading to the hospital not having a clue that anything was wrong and the next thing I know they are taking my baby away. They bring her back, tell me to feed her, she doesn't eat, they take her away again. Soon she is on oxygen and the next day she is on a plane to a hospital more equipped to handle her care. I hop in a car and arrive a few hours later. (We ended up staying there for the next 5 1/2 weeks.) That is when I got the news. Your daughter may have Down syndrome and she has a congenital heart defect that will require surgery. All I could think of was my dad, a very strong and stubborn man, that just suffered through that and now they have to do that to my baby??? Yeah, at this point I could care less about the whole Down syndrome thing!

In that 5 1/2 weeks I learned a lot about Down syndrome and have, of course, continued to do so. I also learned about my daughter's heart, what was wrong and what needed fixed. (I actually wrote a blog last October about Gesserine's Heart Surgery that you can read if you want the details. In it I share a newspaper article from the Kansas City Star in which Gesserine's surgery was covered.) We spent the next month or so getting her strong and ready for surgery and in January of 2002 she had the procedure done.

The Lord really worked on me through all that time and I must say he gave me a peace like you can not believe. I went from a crying mess after she was born to a calm, quiet and peaceful soul on the day she had her operation. We sat with our family and I read the Bible and felt more at peace that day then I think I had ever before. Everything went exceptionally well and her heart was repaired.

I can not praise Gesserine's surgeon enough, or the excellent staff at Children's Mercy Hospital that have helped oversee all of my daughter's medical needs. Gesserine had an appointment with her Cardiologist Dr. Rajan today (yeah that's short for his name but its what we call him). He has been her cardiologist since the surgery and has seen her through post-op all the way to now. Our last appointment was two years ago and Dr. Rajan was explaining to Gess how he had known her since she was just a little baby. She didn't like being called a baby so he had to assure her that he knew she was a big girl now.

I had prepared her for the visit today because last time getting the EKG and sonogram done were quite the task. In fact they gave up on the sono last time. This time however things went much better. At first I thought we were going to have the same trouble because they had to call in help to finish the EKG. She had no problem putting stickers on her chest, but attaching wires to it seemed a bit too much! However, when she finally found out it didn't hurt she laid still and they completed the test easily. We had similar protests during the sonogram, but again, once she realized it was painless she laid fairly still for 20 minutes watching TV while they did their thing.

And what an awesome report we got. Her heart is almost perfect! He said that there is usually some residual leakage in the valve after the surgery but hers was so minuscule that he could hardly hear the murmur. There also tends to be some wear on the valve but that too was not a problem in her case, at least not at this time. As far as her heart is concerned we can treat her like any "normal" child. We have no special directives for any other procedures, activities or anything! Because things went so well we do not need to see him again for 3 years!!

I did not mean to get long winded, I actually logged on expecting to simply share the report and a photo and call it good. Then I remembered another photo. The photo of the day before her heart surgery. I thought I would share that too, but what is a photo with no context? So here it is. A little girl with a bad heart, one that was so weak she didn't have the strength to eat on her own or even cry. Yep that is right, my daughter didn't cry for the first few months of her life. Not when hungry, wet, tired or even sick. The tube on her face was to feed her because even though she did take a bottle back then, she never ate enough to gain weight and grow. We had to feed her through a tube.

But do not let that story make you sad. Here is Gess at her checkup today.

With the advances made in modern medicine I now have a little girl with a heart that works "normally!" So normal my daughter takes ballet, loves to "swim in the pool" and will be taking Gymnastics this summer. She can cry, eat, yell, laugh, smile, hug and love you like no other. As the lady at Children's Mercy told her when she looked at her heart on the screen, "That's your heart, its where you keep all your love." It certainly does a great job of that too!

So with that I want to say: Thank you Dr. Lofland, Thank you Dr. Rajan, Thank you nurses, staff and support. Without them I can't imagine where we would be today! But most of all, Thank you Lord for giving these men and women the wisdom, patience and know how to make my daughter well!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

She's Writing On Her Own!

Don't you just love those moments when you see that everything you have worked so hard for all year has made an impact on your child's life? Well last night as she was sitting with a pad of construction paper, crayons and markers Gess got very creative and showed us this!

Now I know you all realized she could spell it after my Ebay blog a couple of weeks ago. Yes, she has typed Jump Start into the browser dozens of times, if not more. However, this is the first time that she has written it on her own. Not only that, it is the first time ever she has written anything on her own!! We made my son and hubby birthday cards last month, but even then I wrote the word and she copied it. As you can see she did a pretty good job.

But she wrote Jump Start completely and utterly on her own, with no help or assistance from us. She finally wanted to write!! Then today when she had to write the answer to her Bible story for reading she wrote God on the paper without me having to show her first how to do it. I always showed her on the board how to write the answer and she would copy it, but not today! She wrote God and me all by herself today. I probably wouldn't have had her try if she had not written Jump Start last night. I am so excited to see it all falling into place. I can certainly say that Handwriting Without Tears really works. It's moments like these that make all the work that goes into homeschooling worthwhile.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Computer Time: Crawford The Cat

While surfing through some of the blogs I follow I found a great post one day by the Junior Crew 2009. The article was about Online Books and Videos for Kids. In that blog was a link to Junior Crew Book Shelf which had tons of great website resources for kids. One that we have recently gotten the most use out of was Crawford the Cat.

Crawford the Cat is a great site that promotes some basic hygiene, health and social skills. They offer 5 minute videos on various topics like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, table manners, and exercise. There are 13 different videos in all as well as some games, books and coloring pages to print so you can reinforce the theme of each video. This is an excellent resource to teach young kids some very basic, yet essential skills.

Last month we spent lots of time watching the Crawford Brushes His Teeth video since my daughter had her 6 month check up at the dentist.

We watched this video as we prepared for the visit so that we could reinforce what she already knew and get excited about seeing the dentist again. In homeschooling we often treat these types of checkups as field trips and surround the appointment with information about the importance of health. It's all a part of the educational process!

Her checkup went pretty good but she was not very enthused about them cleaning her teeth with the instrument that "buzzed and whirred" so we were not able to complete that part of the treatment. Still, she had a fairly good checkup and everything looks as it should. I am hoping that the next appointment will go better. To try and see if I could help her overcome some of the fear I went and purchased a Crest SpinBrush for Kids that Gess seems to really love. I am hoping that maybe having a noisy and fun toothbrush might help make the dentist tool a little less scary next time. Even if it does not help for that it will help her scrub her teeth a little better on her own therefore giving her teeth a little more shine while giving her a little more independence.

Anyway, now that Gess has watched Crawford's video she loves referring to him as she brushes her teeth. She had lost her timer a long time ago but now that Crawford has one we made sure we got another one from the dentist. These videos are simply a great way to not only learn how to do these things but it makes actually doing them a lot more fun. If you want to reinforce some great health, hygiene and social skills like picking up your toys or covering your nose when you sneeze, visit Crawford the Cat.

Be sure to also check out the Junior Crew Bookshelf for other great sites for kids and remember to see other sites that Gess loves, visit her favorites page at Sqworl.


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