Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reading For Fun: Reading Center

One year at a homeschool convention I heard a speaker talk about how important it is to teach reading for pleasure. One recommendation he had for this was to always keep a basket of books around. This must be easily accessible and visible and should be in a spot that is comfortable and inviting for them to go to. The other thing he said you must do is fill it up with books that are 1 to 2 levels below your child's current reading skills. Think about it for a minute. When we want to unwind and relax, even as adults, we tend to choose items that are below our reading level and potential. This is the whole concept behind the magazine. Short stories and articles are easier to take in then an entire book. We tend to grab those when we just want to relax. So while we may be reading on a college level, that does not mean we want to read a college text book every time we sit down to read. Instead we read novels that are generally below our actual reading level. It's the same thing with kids. While they can and should read books that are on their level, when they want to read for fun, they should be able to grab something that doesn't require them to work too hard, but instead allows them to enjoy the time reading.

Up until now I had not really implemented the idea because we always had a bag of library books in reach but the way my house is now, that seems to get pushed aside and forgotten anymore. She also has a bookshelf in her room but it is too full and has so many selections she seldom goes through it anymore. So this month we started our formal "Reading Center" and even put up a sign to encourage Gess to use it. Right now we actually have a time set aside in the afternoon where she will spend a certain amount of time in the reading center. I usually only ask her to spend about 10 minutes there but most of the time she ends up being there a lot longer than that. We recycle the books that are in there every week or two. I can't wait to hit garage sales this summer and get her an even greater selection.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and today we want to recognize the great work that this man did. People are treated equally under the law (just as they should be) because this brave man, among many other people, stood up for what was right. He did it peacefully and worked through the system to bring about justice. Below are some of the activities I used to try to teach this important lesson to my daughter. The toughest part for me was that I do not think Gess has a true understanding of prejudice because she does not have a true understanding of hate or even dislike. I do not think she can even fathom not liking someone, let alone disliking people for stupid reasons such as the color of their skin. However, since there are many prejudices against person's with special needs, it is a concept I want her to understand. Not to understand so she can feel it, but to understand it enough to fight it.


From our library we checked out the book Free At Last The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. This is a Kindersley reader and is made for children on a level 4 reading skill. It was the easiest book I found however, so I got it and read it to my daughter.

It covered quite a bit of detail about his history and was very enjoyable for us to read. It did take more than one sitting however, but we spent all last week learning about Martin Luther King Jr..


Brainpop is an excellent site for children but it is very expensive. However, they always offer a small set of free videos and usually have any relevant holiday ones free to view around that time. The Martin Luther King Jr. one was (or may still be available) right now. If not, look for it next year on or around his holiday. Gess really loves the Brainpop movies.

Since this wasn't yet available when we began our lessons I looked for other videos. I found this one which is a good summary of his life and significant events. It isn't as child friendly as Brainpop but it was free and pretty well done. Check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Videography at 5min Life Videopedia. It looks like they have lots of educational vidoes and I may check them out more myself when I have time.

We also checked out the movie Ruby Bridges from our local library, but it did not seem to hold Gesserine's interest. I will try again next year, as she probably just needs to be older. This is a Disney movie and I believe it was really well done. It helps children see the events that took place to help integrate the schools today. It's a nice way for children to get a feel for the topic of prejudice without seeing the violence and gore that typical movies show. I know it's a reality, but small children do not need the visual. This does a great job sharing the story of one families fight for civil rights.


We did not do too many activities for Martin Luther King Jr. Day but I found some coloring pages that were really nice at This one below is my favorite because it gives a small summary with the image. Gess really liked coloring it too. This site also offers a variety of coloring pages for this holiday among many other topics.

So these are some of the things we did to learn why we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is sad that a peaceful man lost his life to the violence and hatred he battled, but he had a dream and it came true. We honor his memory whenever we look at another human being, whether black or white, or with Down Syndrome or not, and see them not as different but as a fellow human being who is our equal. Let us hope the dream of equality stays alive.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Socialization and Inclusion at Church

We really enjoy homeschooling and would not change it for anything, but my daughter is also very social and loves being around other children, so we are always looking for opportunities to work on social skills. While homeschoolers of typical children have tons of options, there are some set backs for those of us with children with special needs. While our kids are often welcome in local sports, dance and Sunday School classes, the volunteers that run them are often not educated on how to deal with our children. They want our children to come, but they are not sure what to do with them when they do. I have found the best way to handle that is to be proactive in encouraging them and when necessary, training, those who will be leading the activity.

Church activities are some of the greatest opportunities for socialization and interaction with their peers. However, Sunday School can be quite the challenge for children with special needs who are not used to the structured setting it provides. Many homeschooled children with special needs not only need to learn the rules of classroom behavior but they will also have the added challenge of adapting their particular needs in that environment as well. Some of our children simply are not comfortable staying involved for that length of time while others have trouble concentrating because of the added noise. The challenges range from mild (like being sensitive to the sound) to something more severe (like not being able to communicate at all). How does a parent know that her child can cope and that the Sunday School class is ready to take on the extra challenge of adding their child to the classroom? Well, I found a great tool that can help. It's a book called Let All the Children Come to Me and it is directed towards Church volunteers and helps them not only understand the challenges our kids will face but gives them real and practical tools to use to make their inclusion beneficial for the entire classroom. This book is not geared toward any denomination and will help in any church setting.

While this book is a good tool to share with teachers, there is much you can do to help your child succeed in these environments. Here are some things that I did to help my daughter's teachers adapt to her needs.

Gess used sign language for the first couple of years of her life. Her speech was really delayed and while she could understand what you said, she could not respond verbally. She was able to respond with sign language though and so that is what we used. However, the nursery workers had no clue as to what the signs meant. Therefore, I copied the pictures of her most frequently used signs from my sign language book, laminated them and put them in her diaper bag. I then showed them to the teacher. The most important ones were of course drink and eat, but I also shared some church related ones that was familiar with, such as "church," "Jesus," etc.

Once my daughter started speaking more I had to be sure to communicate her verbal skills to the teacher. I let them know if that she could understand what they said, even if they could not understand her and that she could also answer yes or no questions, so when in doubt they could ask her those.

My daughter was still often shy about staying, so they allowed me to stay with her a few times. That not only helped my daughter, but it also helped the teachers because they were able to see me interact with her and got some ideas on what she could or could not do.

As she advanced up to classes outside of the nursery, it was a little more challenging because my daughter still is not good about staying in one place. If a door is open (or is able to be opened) she has this desire to go through it, especially once she gets bored in a certain setting. So I did the only thing I knew to do and I just let my daughter leave early. At reading time at the library when I could tell she was fidgety, we would leave. In Sunday School and AWANA I would have them send her to me when she seemed to be "done" or I would go get her after a short period of time. It worked really well and by the end the of the year she was actually able to stay for the entire class, and enjoys doing so. It just takes a bit of patience and time.

I also found that AWANA has some helps for special needs students. One is handbook for leaders of TNT called Awana For Me! A Guide to Working with Children with Special Needs which, like the book above, gives teachers ideas on how to make inclusion successful. They also have helps for the younger kids which shortens the memory verses they are required to memorize. My daughter is following that plan and is doing a great job so far this year (sometimes she even learns the verse without helps too!). You can find these helps at their website

These are just some of the things we do at church so that while my daughter is there learning about Jesus and important theological issues, she is also picking up essential social skills along the way!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More Calendar Activities

The start of the new year is a good time to really start focusing on learning more about the calendar, days, dates and their relevance to our everyday life. At the end of last year I shared my desire to really enhance these topics for Gess this year and shared some of the activities I am doing there. This is simply to follow up on that blog (Season, Holidays and Calendar Activities) and share a few more ideas that I have added to it.

To begin with I wanted to share how I implemented the thoughts I had on how I might have each month highlighting the season, holidays and other important information. Well, here is the template I made and how it turned out. I first found a blank calendar at and used it to start my template. At the top of the page I have a line to write what month it is. Under that we look at what order that month is (January is the 1st, February the 2nd, etc) and how many days are in it. We then glue on pictures to represent the seasons and holidays. (I just grabbed random clip-art online for those.) Here is my finished template. Feel free to use it if you like the idea.

Here is how our January one turned out.

Each day we go over the items of significance and will keep it on the wall all year adding each month as they come along. I think drilling this almost daily will be really helpful.

This is in addition to the calendar activities we already do each day. Every morning Gess does two things to start our day. I tell her what today is, "Today is Thursday, January 7" and I give her a sticker to put on the calendar for that day. I found a good calendar for this as at a Wal-Greens last summer. It is a bit larger and makes the days really stand out well.

The other thing she does it check the weather and mark it on our weather board. This leads really well into our Calendar book that not only keeps track of the days, but has you mark certain elements of the weather each day and graphs those results at the end of each month. The calendar book is also great because at the beginning there a section called "About Me" where you answer lots of questions about yourself. How many hands do you have, how many eyes, how many fingers, when is your birthday, how old are you? This really does help enhance how the calendar impacts your personal life.

I found one more thing that I thought helped tie that together perfectly. I found this idea at one of my favorite craft blogs, No Time For Flash Cards. It is called DIY New Year Photo Book and is a great way to visually show your child how they got bigger with each year. By allowing them to help make the craft it really gives it that hands on aspect that my daughter loves so much. I am even letting her cut out the pictures that we chose so she can get in even more motor skill work. (I'm always looking for things where she uses cutting and gluing.) We haven't finished ours yet but I encourage you to go to the No Time For Flash Cards site to see how to make them and look at the one they made. I will end by showing you how big Gess was the start of the New Year. I hope this will be a great year of learning for us all.


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