Monday, September 26, 2011

Clothespin Learning

Most of you know that working with clothespins is a good way to work on fine motor skills. Well, while I was surfing I found a great idea from the TeachMama blog which had article on a Clothespin and Letter Match-up Game. It's really a simple, and easy game that takes the therapy aspect of clothespin and makes an educational game out of it. You can see on her site that they write the letter or number on a clothespin and then clip it to the corresponding letter or number on the card. If your child is at that level then I recommend you hop on over and see how to make this game!

Gess, however is way past recognition, but still in need of fine motor work, so I just made a game that is more on her level. That's what so great about the idea, it's adaptable in so many ways! Since Gess is working on money recognition we made a game to help her identify coins and bills.

First I copied some play money, cut it out and glued it to the card. Then I made 2 sets of clothespins, one that had the name of the coins and the other that had the amount of money each was worth. Then I had her match the clothespin to the appropriate coin or bill.

I also have an Exact Change game that has realistic looking coins in it. So sometimes I have her just identify the coins by clipping the clothespin directly to them.

Gess finds it fun and engaging and it is sure better than doing a worksheet. As we are entering parts of speech I think I may try to find a way to adapt a game to that as well. As I said before, the options for game themes are limitless! What game would you play? Feel free to share your ideas!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spelling Activities

Recently I shared with you a great FREE program I was able to review called BigIQkids. Not yet having my own spelling program, I was excited to have found something to use. I am really loving it and found it to be an excellent resource. You can see some of the activities it offers in my TOS Review: BigIQkids post. Gess has really found it fun and helpful.

Now I wanted to share with you some other activities we use to supplement what we do on BigIQkids. We basically do spelling twice a day. We typically do our BigIQkids spelling on the computer in the morning and in the afternoon we do other hands on activities with those same spelling words. Here is how a week would look for us.

Day 1
In the morning we will do the introduction to spelling activity on BigIQkids. This gives her not only the word and how to spell it, but the definition, how it is used in a sentence, and also shares the synonyms and antonyms of those words.

In the afternoon she copies the words in her spelling notebook. I took a spiral notebook and each week I simply write the spelling list for that week and have her copy the words on the same page.

Day 2
In the morning she will do another activity from BigIQkids. Hangbot is a good one for the second day as it allows her to guess the letters in the word without them having to actually be in order.

In the afternoon we will use the words in a sentence. I write the word on the board and ask her to use it in a sentence, then I write her sentence down. This is a good way to see if she knows what the word means. You have to be careful and make sure that they don't just spew out the sentence that BigIQkids uses. If I hear the exact same sentence, I try to have her make another one to make sure she understands the meaning of the word.

Day 3
In the morning we do more activities on BigIQkids. The word scramble is another favorite one of ours.

In the afternoon we will look up the spelling words in our dictionary. I bought these dictionaries years ago from someone selling them door to door. They are called My Fun With Words and are really visually appealing. Now you will not be able to find every spelling word in this dictionary, but that's alright as only choosing about 5 is better for my daughter's attention span anyway. This not only enforces the spelling word and it's meaning but teaches the child how to use a dictionary. This is Gess' first year doing this, and it's going rather well. Sometimes I find her just reading through the dictionary which is really cool.

Day 4
In the morning when she logs onto BigIQkids I have Gess take the spelling test, but I am sure to explain to her that this one is a practice test. I want to see which words she is still struggling with.

In the afternoon I will take the words she has gotten wrong and have her spell them using her magnets. (Again it becomes too tedious doing every word so I limit it to only the words she is struggling with.) I showed you how we used letter magnets back when Gess was first learning to spell. Well, they still come in handy. I think putting her hands physically on the letters is helpful.

Before I have her spell the words though, I take the words she spelled incorrectly and explain to her why she got them wrong. I then write a sentence enforcing the correct way to spell the word, have her read the sentence and then write the word the correct way. For instance in the word chain she forgot the letter i or wrote it in the wrong place. I wrote, "the word chain has an i after the a" and then she would write the word chain. Below is a sheet we did one week. You can some of the examples there.

Once we finish this worksheet we are ready to spell the words with magnets. I am careful to have the tiles already lined up alphabetically so it was easier for her to stay on task. If they have to spend too much time finding a letter they might get distracted and that could cause them to make a mistake they might not otherwise make. As our speech therapist says, "set them up to succeed."

Day 5
In the morning she takes the spelling test on BigIQkids, however, if she gets a perfect score on her practice test we will not do this one today.

In the afternoon I give her a written spelling test and have her write the words on paper as I say them and use them in a sentence. I find it really good to give both the test on the computer and on paper because it helps me to see how consistently she misses a word. Sometimes you will find it correct on one test and wrong on another. That tells me that she may know the answer in her head but she may be losing it as she has to "think" about how to write and/or type it. Maybe she meant to type or write the letter i, but just forgot too. That sort of thing.

After all these activities Gess usually does a pretty good job on her spelling tests.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TOS Review: Before Five in a Row

Let me tell you about a really neat resource I had the opportunity to review this past month. Before Five in a Row is a unit study curriculum for preschoolers ages 2 to 4 based off the Five in a Row curriculum which is for children ages 4 to 8. While Before Five in a Row is less involved, and not quite as structured, both materials use children's literature as a basis for each unit in which you explore the Bible, science, language arts, math, and art through various hands on activities.

While this is geared toward preschoolers, I offered to review it since there are often benefits for kids with special needs beyond the preschool years. I did find that by age 9 Gess was too advanced for most of the activities, but I certainly thought it would have been an incredible resource to have when she was younger. I can see having done some of these up until she was about 6. What's so beautiful about this concept is that it takes reading a book, which is a strength and joy for most children with Down Syndrome, and adds hands on activities to it. What could be more fun than reading a book with mom and making it come alive with action and play?

Each unit is based upon some of the most beloved children's storybooks of all time, most of which can be found at your local library. From Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, The Carrot Seed, Corduroy and 20 other treasures, Before Five in a Row guides you through the book in new and exciting ways. Let me share an example by showing you how Gess and I followed the guide for Blueberries for Sal. There are 9 suggested areas of study for this one book. Below you will see us doing the one on math.

Here we are enjoying the Book Blueberries for Sal. Of course you will be reading it to your 2 to 4 year old, but in our case Gess read it to me.

In the book little Sal is following mommy while she picks blueberries. Sal is given her own tin pail. In the book we find that it sometimes tells us how many berries she ate and how many she put in her pail. She also eats some of out mommy's pail too. So for math, we are going to work on counting and introduce subtraction. (For Gess we focused on subtraction since we are doing that in school.)

So, the child is given a bucket and picks some berries, or whatever you would like them to pick. In our case it was grapes. When we first put the grapes in the bucket we listen carefully for the sound because in the story it makes the sound kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk when they drop in an empty bucket, but they note that you don't hear that sound when the bucket is full. I wonder if we will notice a difference?

We did notice a difference! When the bucket was close to empty it would make a sound, but once it was full of grapes you didn't hear the sound anymore. That was fun. Now it is time to eat some berries, or I guess I should say grapes.

Gess has 10 grapes. What happens if mommy takes 3?

Gess has 10 grapes and decided to eat one, how many does she have now?

Now what happens if she eats a few more?

And mommy eats some too?

How many are left now?

We had a lot of fun with subtracting and eating grapes! As I mentioned there are many other activities to do using this one book. In Science it has you begin to classify animals. This one is really neat because it's a project that continues through every book you read. Each time you come to a new animal you make a card for it and classify it. In Blueberries for Sal you are introduced to a bear, a partridge and a crow. We classify the birds and the mammal and learn a little bit about each one. Then lets say the next time you read a book it has a cat and a mouse. You learn a fact or two about those animals and classify them too. By the end of the year you should have a fairly large knowledge of animals and a pretty good idea about how to classify them!

While this is indeed a great treasure for preschool children I think it is even more valuable to children with special needs who need that extra help and guidance. And there is even more to what Before Five in a Row has to offer. While part one of the book is all about learning from literature, part two offers many other fun and exciting ways to teach young children the important development skills they need. There are suggested activities for reading readiness, coordination, large motor skills, small motor skills, as well as activities to do in the kitchen, during bath time, at the store and ways to explore the arts through play. Your young child, with or without special needs, will be learning many new things, and they won't even know they are learning. They will think they are simply having fun, but you will know that you are teaching them valuable life skills and lessons while creating some memorable moments along the way.

So if you have kids who are not quite ready for school and would like to teach them in a way that keeps learning playful and fun, you should try Before Five in a Row. You may purchase Before Five in a Row for $35.00. To learn more about it you may visit the Five in a Row website or see what other crew members had to say by visiting the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a free copy of the book "Before Five in a Row" for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Friday, September 9, 2011

TOS Review: BigIQkids

I was so excited when I got my homeschool materials this year. I was like a kid at Christmas opening a present! I just love going through all my new materials and was having a good time until I realized that I had nothing for spelling. Last year my curriculum included it, this year it didn't. I was bummed and was trying to figure out what I would use when I got some good news. I was chosen to review BigIQkids for the TOS Homeschool Crew.

BigIQkids is a unique online educational program for grades K-8 that is designed to help students reach their full potential by offering exercises for them to do in math, spelling and geography. Now I was not only excited about the spelling, I was eager to see how friendly the math section would be to my special little student, who happens to have Down Syndrome.

Once I managed the online registration process and really began looking at the program, I was quite pleased with what it had to offer. Each lesson is accompanied by it's own "tutor" which is an animated character that guides you through the lesson. While it did take some getting used to, we actually found that having audio instruction presented visually was quite helpful for Gess. I was also really pleased with how clean, pleasant, and inviting each lesson was. It was colorful and engaging without being distracting.

At first I was disappointed that it was not set up in a way that would allow a child to simply "play" for awhile on the website. You do earn a coin for each lesson that you can spend on the games page, but you are really not encouraged to just plow through lesson after lesson in order to get the coins. They recommend spending only 20 to 40 minutes per day, and say that students who do that usually find improvement in their regular studies. I found this to be the case for us as well.

While I started telling you how glad I was that I now had something for spelling, I want to show you the math section first, because this too was a thrill for me to find! (It's the kid in the candy store effect, I get excited, what can I say?)

I had been looking for quite some time for an online math program or game that would be good for Gess. Unfortunately every one I found was either too complicated, too advanced or they timed the lesson. I was thrilled to see that BigIQkids Math was none of those things. Actually it can be any of those things, but that's the cool part about it! In the BigIQkids Math program, the parent or teacher gets to set up how many problems a child does each day, how difficult the problems are and whether or not they are timed. I set Gess to drilling 10 problems a day in basic single digit addition. Look how appealing and easy this screen is to read.

The child can then type or click on the appropriate answer. If you click the help button you are presented with an actual example on the screen to help you literally count it out. It also has a notepad and pencil so you can do your work on the side.

I actually discouraged Gess from using the helps though as I was having her use her count on skills to work any problems she did not already know (she has her 0, 1, and doubles facts memorized). Here she is working out a problem by placing her fingers on the desk to represent the second digit. She then said the first digit and "counted on" using her fingers to find the answer. She is getting really good at this.

I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have found a fun and easy way to drill math skills for Gess. This program is exactly what I was looking for! In fact, if you read my blog where I posted our schedule over the desk you will see that BigIQkids is now a part of our daily routine, in all the subjects that they offer.

So, back to the spelling that I was cheering about before. The BigIQkids Spelling + Vocabulary is a great program that you can use whether or not you have your own spelling curriculum. It allows you to add your own list or you may use ones they have already set up.

Whether you choose to use your own or theirs you may customize and change your list at any time. I was pleased to find that their 3rd grade spelling list was right on Gess' level, so we began using it right away.

The BigIQkids spelling program is great. It begins by introducing the words to you by saying the word and showing it on the screen, using it in a sentence, giving you the definition followed by the synonyms and antonyms. Then it has you type each word. It's not actually spelling yet, as the word is there for you to look at it. It basically has you copy it this first time. Later that afternoon I will have Gess copy each word on paper too.

It then takes you through various activities to help you practice the words. There is word scramble, a spelling bee, word search and Gess' favorite, hangbot. Here you get to spell your words with a robot instead of a hangman. He's a bit more encouraging too!

There are also several vocabulary activities. After all is said and done your child is ready for the test. The test is given orally by the animated instructor and used in a sentence. There is also the definition and a sentence with a blank where the word would go on the screen. Here is Gess taking the test and finding her results. Today she got a perfect score!

And let's not forget the States program that helps a child to learn the geography of the US. Gess really loved going to this one too. It also gives you the ability to set the skill level and how many problems are quizzed each day and that made it very friendly for us. Gess loves learning the facts about each state.

I will have to admit that the registration process was kind of frustrating. As I mentioned before, the animated instructors took some getting used to. Well, they guide you every step of the way through registration. Every time I clicked on a page it seemed someone was talking to me, even when I didn't want them to. Finding information was sometimes a struggle too and it seems like there is not an easy way to jump from one subject to another. The site could definitely be a bit more intuitive and easy to navigate. However, I assure you this program is worth any little irritation that you may find at the start and once you become familiar with the program it goes more smoothly. In fact, Gess can navigate it all on her own.

One of the greatest parts about BigIQkids is that some of it is available for FREE! In fact, their Spelling + Vocabulary Program is free for everyone! There are also free versions of their Math and States programs too. However, if you subscribe you get some great benefits like no ads, more flexibility, access to more reports and more games. You can see the comparison of Free Vs Premium on their website. So what does BigIQkids cost? Well, right now they are offering a back to school special which allows you to purchase the membership bundle package, which includes everything for just $89.99 for the entire year! That's less than $7.50 per month! You may also pay by the month or subscribe to each program individually. Their pricing page will give you more information about that. Remember there are free versions of everything! You really can not go wrong trying this product. As I mentioned before, I absolutely love it and have made it a regular part of each homeschool day. This is something we will continue to use for a very long time!

To learn more visit the BigIQkids website or read what others thought about it at the TOS Homeschool Crew blog site.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received an annual membership of the bundle package from BigIQkids for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TOS Review: Time4Learning

"Hi! I'm Ed Mouse, the educational mouse. Guess what? It's time for learning...and fun!" That my friends, is the friendly greeting from Ed Mouse, of Time4Learning, a product that I had the opportunity to review this month for the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Time4Learning is a K-8 grade online home education program which offers fun educational games and interactive videos. It is designed in a way that allows you to use it as an entire homeschool curriculum or as a supplement to your current school program giving it the flexibility to meet your family's personal needs.

Since I already have a homeschool curriculum we planned on using it as a supplement. I was eager to see how well it would work with Gess, since she has Down Syndrome and therefore has some special needs and struggles. The registration process was fairly intuitive and it was not long before Gess was introduced to Ed Mouse, and began exploring Time4Learning. Now, you do not actually have to watch the Ed Mouse intro each day, you may simply click to enter, but Gess really enjoyed watching the computer mouse transform into an actual mouse and welcome her to her lessons. He always gave her a chuckle and as you can see, he is kind of charming!

Now, after you have been completely entertained by Mr. Ed Mouse, you move on into your first session. Your sessions are personalized and parents have the ability to set the amount of time your child must work and the amount of time they may play on the playground. That's right, your child is rewarded for their efforts by giving them a safe and friendly way to play some online games, but only for the amount of time you allow and only after they complete their work session. So before play, we must first get to our lessons. As you can see, you can choose from language arts, extended language arts, math, science and social studies.

One of the aspects that was really great about this site is that you get to choose your child's grade level for each individual subject. Not only that, but you can also access the grade below and above your current grade from the main menu. That is really a helpful tool for kids with special needs. In math most of the kindergarten videos were too easy but there were a few that were helpful for Gess and yet there were many that were too tough in 1st grade. We also alternated grade levels for science and social studies, depending on what Gess was learning about that day.

Language arts was the subject that Gess enjoyed the most, probably because it's her best subject. We were able to actually go through the language arts lessons in order and do daily work there on a regular basis. While I was using this as a supplement, there were a few days where this was the only work we would do in language arts for the day. This was also the only subject that I found that I could let Gess work independently because of her special needs. I was impressed at how thorough the lessons were. As an example I will show you one section of the 2nd grade language arts session on phonics. Each phonics unit has 7 sessions. The one on fluency was Gess' favorite. She loves reading stories and having them read to her. This allowed her to do both, but it also taught her "how" to read it correctly.

It began here. You would read the story on your own. You clicked the start sign when you began and another sign when you were finished and it timed how long it took you to read it.

The goal is to read 90 words per minute. I always considered Gess a slow reader so I was a amazed to see her do really well at this activity. She read 91 words per minute!

Now it takes you through a few more activities to learn how to read more fluently. It shows you how to pause for periods and commas, how to use proper intonation and other helpful hints for reading fluently, all while reading the same story. Then you get to choose to read along with them either quickly or slowly allowing you to work at your own pace.

Then after you have done all the activities you read it and time yourself again. Gess read a little faster this time, which wasn't the goal of the activity, but it was still fairly close to the target.

Now that you are finished with fluency it is time to check your comprehension. I really love that this quiz comes after reading it several times. Because of Gess' special needs I never ask for comprehension on her first reading of a story. I always make sure she has read something at least twice (sometimes more) before testing comprehension. By the time she had completed all the other activities, she usually did really well on the interactive quiz.

This was only one section of one subject. Time4Learning really is a comprehensive program with over 1,000 animated lessons. You can subscribe to Time4Learning by visiting their website. It costs $19.95 per month for the first child and each additional child is $14.95.

So what did I like most about Time4Learning? Well, Gess found the videos enjoyable and engaging so she was willing and sometimes eager to do her lessons. It gives children some independent study time and has tools for parents to keep track of their child's performance. It also does the lesson preparation for you, saving you the time and hassle of doing it yourself.

Was there anything I did not like? I love that they let you repeat lessons but since the lessons are animated you always get the same exact questions in the same order. Because of that the child might end up learning the expected result rather than the concept. I guess I just wish the lessons, or at the least the quiz afterward, was more random. The other problem is the cost. While I do believe that this product is worth a monthly fee, I know that it will be something that many homeschool families will not be able to afford, especially large ones.

For those considering giving it at try, they do offer a 2 week money back guarantee. You can learn more by visiting the Time4Learning website or see what other crew mates thought by visiting the TOS Homeschool Crew blog.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a month free subscription to Time4Learning for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in this review.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ways to Avoid "Are We Done Yet?"

Gess actually likes school and does not generally complain about doing it, but when we would end one subject she would think that meant we were done with school. So last year I began keeping a schedule on the wall so that Gess could see just how many more subjects we had to do before we were done. This way she can look up at her desk and see which subjects are left without having to ask or wonder. Her current schedule looks like this. (Note that I have it divided into 2 sections which is basically before and after lunch.)

Of course this may cause some children to insist that the subjects must be done in order, but I would rather Gess demand a set schedule and be willing to learn rather than to have to continually fight to get her back on task. While I know that some homeschooling methods do not follow close schedules, I am learning that Gess does much better when we follow one - so we do. Besides, once she gets used to the routine, she rarely checks out the list anymore and doesn't seem to notice if I do something out of order.

Another thing I have implemented this year is using alarms. As our schedule has grown, so has our need for breaks. However, once Gess is allowed some play time, she is not always as eager to go back to school (depending on what she is doing). Well, I have discovered that if I tell her how long her break is and set an alarm for that set amount of time, when the alarm goes off Gess immediately stops what she is doing and runs back to the school room! I never thought would work that good! It's like our own school bell!

I generally set 3 alarms a day. One to start school in the morning, once to start after lunch and one for our mid-morning break. Here she is with my cell phone which is the alarm clock that I use. She is sure to bring it with her so I can shut it off. I mean, she loves the reminder, but the noise is another thing!

Gess really does love school. It's amazing how little tricks like this can make the entire day go more smoothly. Now when break time is over Gess is once again ready to focus on school.


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