Monday, September 23, 2013

Fostering Independence: Dental Hygiene and Special Needs

We took Gess to the dentist the other day and she had a very good report: still no cavities!  Gess actually takes very good care of her teeth.  We go for regular check ups twice a year and I worked hard to instill good habits in her.  As I was talking with the hygienist, who also has a child with Down syndrome, I realized it might be helpful to share some of the things we have done.

When Gess was younger she made quite the mess using toothpaste.  It's hard to know just how much toothpaste to squeeze out of a tube and sometimes our kids lack the motor skills to squeeze it at all.  I found that the pumps were much easier and neater for Gess to use.  You can find them in many different brands for adults as well as children.

One thing Gess always got from the dentist besides a toothbrush was a sand timer.  It's a good visual way for children to see how long they should be brushing their teeth.  We don't use them anymore now that Gess is 11, but this was very helpful when she was younger.

At first Gess was a little uneasy about going to the dentist but after several fun visits with no pain she soon began to enjoy it.  Now she absolutely loves to go!  She was still shy about the equipment that made noise when she got her teeth cleaned and suctioned so for awhile we went to the electric toothbrush.

This was helpful for two things.  When she was younger it helped to cover for her lack of motor skills and assured that her teeth received a good cleaning.  It also got her used to different sounds and feelings in her mouth preparing her for what they might do at the dentist.  She wouldn't let them use anything that made noise on one of her earliest visits and they were good to not force it.  After that I got the electric tooth brush and by her next six month appointment she let them do whatever they needed to!  She was still shy and a little nervous about it, but she allowed it which is the important part.

Now a few years ago I did tell you about the cute Crawford the Cat health videos.  They do have one on brushing your teeth and she watched it a lot too.  They even have a coloring book to go with the videos.  This is great for young kids.

Making oral hygiene a part of a child's daily routine is important.  Every night for years it was "go potty and brush and your teeth" before bed.  We still say this a lot.  We have a morning routine as well.  Now brushing teeth is just something you do every day without any questions asked or arguments.  We started young and were consistent at demanding it.  There were times she would try to say she had brushed her teeth and we knew she didn't so we would smell her breath to be sure.  That became a routine for awhile too.  We always had to smell her breath when she was done, whether we believed her or not!  Oh well, better that routine, than rotten teeth!  Gess has a beautiful smile to prove it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Presidential Game

Recently I shared with you how much Gess has been enjoying board games and today I get to tell you about a new one we have been playing.  The Presidential Game is a neat way to not only have some family fun, it's a way to learn about how our election process works. 

The Presidential Game is a strategy game where you play in teams of two.  You have Repulicans which are the red team and Democrats which are the blue team.  The object of the game is to win the election by securing 270 electoral votes.  Before the game begins you agree on how many weeks are left before election day.  There can be as many as 30 weeks which means each team gets 30 turns.  They say this takes about an hour of game time.  We usually went with half that choosing 15 weeks. 

During each turn the team decides if they want to go campaigning or fundraising.  The amount of votes they receive in each state from those efforts is determined by the roll of the dice.  If you go fundraising instead of campaigning you only get to roll two dice instead of three, but you also get a politics card which can gain you a few votes as well, but it could cost you some too, so this could be a risk.

There are two ways to keep track of the score.  The game comes with score cards that you can use to tabulate the score after each week.  There is a + and - column in which you add what changes were made and then write the total out to the side.

The other method is the one we chose to use.  I think the best way to keep score is using their online web map.  This is great because it shows visually where each party stands at the end of the turn.  Here it is before any turns begin. 

This is what it might look after week one.

And here was the end of one of our games.  It is really funny to see these when you know in real life there is no way some of those states would ever be that color . We particularly liked the red California and blue Texas.

It is a fun game to play, especially if you like politics like I do.  We follow every election closely and on election night we are watching our own maps as the results come in.  Here was Gess during our last presidential election checking out the map.  She loved that the map in our game worked pretty much the same!

Because Gess has special needs it was really great that she was on a team.  She would just randomly choose states to campaign in.  She always wanted to have her home state of Kansas and other states she was familiar with.  Any lonely state left untouched, she was willing to go to, even if it didn't help out her team's total score.  We used that teach her about how the process does seem to leave some states out.  It's sad, but it's pretty accurate.

I think the game does a good job at pointing out how frustrating this system can be.  Just when you think you can hit states you haven't been to yet, your opponent takes over, or at least causes you to lose some ground and you end up having to spend time in a place that should already be considered yours anyway. We constantly battle over Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Georgia.

The politics cards are interesting and I know at least some of them are based off of actual events that have swayed votes in the past.  Some are just things that could happen in any campaign.  Either way they are fun and some have the potential to really change up the map.

The game play was fairly easy though the instructions that came in the box were a little unclear.  We didn't realize at first that you could only use two dice while fundraising.  After our first game we thought, why in the world would anyone campaign?  Then we found the FAQ online that clarified that point.  Be sure to read it before beginning!

We haven't had the opportunity to play with more than just our small family yet, but I am waiting for my son to come home from college.  I think he would enjoy this game as well.  Those independently minded in our family get frustrated that there are only two teams, but such is the way it works in real elections.  While we might sometimes like more choices, the likely hood of having them are slim to none.  Of course they do have a politics card that throws that into the mix as well and ends up costing both teams a few votes but in the end one party will win, like it or not.  Will it be yours?  Play and find out!

The Presidential Game is for ages 11 and up and is both fun and educational.  The game costs $35.00 and can purchased online.  To learn more about the game visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Incredible Gymnast

I have mentioned Gess' famous gymnastics coach before.  Well Casey has been in the spotlight again.  He was a first timer on the American Ninja Warrior show and made it to stage 3!  He also had the fastest time in stage 2.  He is really incredible!  He is also amazing with the kids.  Gess absolutely loves going to Casey's gym.  He is completely involved with each student and does an amazing job teaching them.  His patience is remarkable and he has certainly helped Gess through some great struggles and fears.  She looks forward to each and every class and now has a dream of being an American Ninja Warrior when she grows up too.

Here is a glimpse of the gym Gess gets to go to but more importantly you will see Casey's son who has apparently inherited that jumping gene that Casey has.  Look for Max in future Olympic and sporting events.  This kid has talent!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Seed Sowers Book

Sometimes being on the Schoolhouse Review Crew affords me to the opportunity to review something that benefits me as well as Gess.  As the women's missionary leader in my church I find stories about the adventures missionaries endure truly inspirational.  The book Seed Sowers - Gospel-Planting Adventures by Gwen Toliver arrived at such a perfect time in my life that it became an encouragement and motivation that helped get me through some trials of my own.

My mom was recently hospitalized with heart failure and I had this book I needed to read and review.  My intent was to do it more of a read along with Gess and use it some in our studies.  We have managed to do that with one story so far, but due to the family crisis that is about all we have done together.  I, however, have read the book myself while mom was in the hospital and it was absolutely a God send!  Reading about the trials and tribulations these people faced and the miraculous means in which God intervened in their lives left me thankful in the midst of my mother's hospital stays, tests and procedures.  I went from being anxious to realizing that we were truly blessed.  Here we had all the luxuries of modern medicines, were in a sterile environment and had plenty of food to eat while one missionary almost died from a rare form of malaria without any help immediately available.  There was no calling an ambulance there, instead they had to beg help of people who weren't especially eager to give it.  Can you imagine how frightening that would be?  But God is there for you, even in the jungle.  He was certainly with Lynn Landweer who had two types of malaria at once.  In spite of it all she completely recovered and returned to her missionary work!  God is so incredible!

The book Seed Sowers has 21 chapters and in each of them is a short story about a trial or accomplishment that a missionary or missionary couple faced in order to get the Word of God into the hands of remote people groups.  The missionaries in this book are not your standard missionaries.  They were bible translators whose job was not only to share the gospel but to learn the language of the tribes they were sent to so they could write the bible in their heart language.  Many times these are groups of people that had never been contacted by outsiders before.  This mission was dangerous, treacherous and very time consuming and yet the results were absolutely remarkable.

The work they did was more than remarkable, it was down right miraculous and there is no way of denying that it was the very hand of God who was at work in the getting the written Word of God into the hands of these people.  We live and serve a God who is living and active in our lives and with Him all things are possible.  He certainly worked in a way in which there was no question about the fact that it was God Himself who was at work.  Each missionary humbly followed God and they give all the credit to Him for the work that they have done.

As I mentioned before, the job of a bible translator was time consuming.  Some of these missionaries worked their entire lives and some are still active today.  It took years to go from making the first contact with people groups to actually learning their language in such as a way as to translate it into text. Consider this.  The Machiguenga New Testament was completed in 1976 by the Snells.  Years later their 17 year old son helps Harriet fields and Hattie Kneeland make the first contact with the Matses.  Harriet and Hattie continued to live among the Matses in Peru for several years.   Their New Testament was not complete until 1994!  Here is a picture of Harriet and Hattie with some of the Matses of Peru.  I will be sharing their entire story with my ladies mission group this week.  I know it will really move them to get more involved in supporting bible translation efforts.

Many of these people had unusual languages.  Some were tonal which meant the tones of their speech could change the meaning of a word.  Some had as many as 4 tones to learn, or at least they thought.  One missionary stumbled upon a group that had more!

George and Florence Cowan had one such language to decipher. They found out through a very comical story that the tone of the Oaxaca was so important it could be whistled instead of spoken and still completely understood!  This story inspired me because there was a girl who so wanted to learn about the bible that she willingly suffered beating after beating from her mother in order to hear the stories from the Bible.  After being saved she movingly displays what it means to live out the words of Job 23:12 "I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food."  You can visit the Seed Sowers the Book website and actually hear the whistling man whistle some phrases for you in this language.

I really appreciated how the author was careful to put the proper pronunciation in for each tribe.  With names like Ashaninca, Caquinte, and Machiguenga it is good to know how to properly say the name.  While learning about the missionaries and their stories you also learn about the people, cultures and places.  This makes it a great tool to use with your homeschool family.  You can learn about what missionaries do as well as learning about different cultures and regions around the globe.  Until reading the book I had no idea what a tapir was but it is described in the book as "a cross between a cow and a pig with an elephant trunk."  Apparently it was good to eat too.  Here is Gess checking out some images online to see what they look like.  They really are peculiar!

In each chapter there is one special story or event that the missionary shares.  These special moments give us a small glimpse into what life must be like as a bible translator to unreached people groups.  At the end of each chapter there is a paragraph or two that updates us about how that story ended.  They give the year that the translation was finally completed and whether or not some work is still in progress.  They also tell whether the missionary is still living and if so what they are doing today.

There is so much that goes into translating God's Word into a people groups heart language.  Your heart language is the language you were born and raised using.  It's what you fall back on when in trouble, it's what you use when conversing with your children and during intimate family conversations.  I can't imagine having to try to read God's Word through the scope of second language.  I know that it's true meaning is evident to me because I can read it in my own heart language.  I am thankful for the people who strive so diligently to make sure that others have that opportunity as well.  I encourage you to pick up this book to not only learn about some inspiring missionaries who have given up everything to help get the Word of God into the hands of unreached people groups, but to remind you that there are many left who still have not heard the good news.  This book is definitely high on my "must read" list.

The Seed Sowers book by Gwen Toliver will be enjoyed by most any member of your family, young or old.  It can be purchased through Grace and Truth Books for $12.50.  You can also purchase an ebook version by visiting Seed Sowers the Book website which has more information about the book, some photos and an excerpt of the book for you to read.  There is also an interview with the author that explains a little bit about her work, what is in the book and why she wrote it.  You can read the other reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew by clicking on the banner below.


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Friday, September 13, 2013

Free Friday: Down Syndrome Awareness Resources

The National Down Syndrome Society is announcing it's new awareness campaign Get to Know Me which comes with a FREE poster and lesson plan for school age kids.  This is perfect not only for school rooms, but church and religious organizations, community centers and more.  To learn more and get your FREE resources click on the image below.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shopping is Learning Too

You have finished your schooling and all of your chores and now you have to run to the store to do some shopping.  You are in a hurry but you notice your child is dragging behind.  They keep stopping to look at everything!  It's so frustrating because you are tired and just want to get home so you can finally relax, or worse yet start dinner and do more work for the day.  What do you do?

Typically we hurry the child along and scold them for continually stopping.  The problem is that we are missing some valuable opportunities for learning.  The hardest thing for me to do as a homeschool teacher was to stop thinking that my school had to look, act and function like a brick and mortar school.  The fact that you school at home does not mean that once the clock hits a certain time or when the lessons are complete that school is over.  Homeschooling means that the child is constantly in a state of learning.

Being the parent of a child with special needs the shopping was even more stressful because it took a long time for Gess to acquire the appropriate social skills to know how to stay close and be safe in the store.  This video about Safety in the Mall from Do2Learn was a helpful tool, but it still took awhile before Gess knew how to stay close.

As she got older I refused to make her ride in the cart or stroller while we were shopping.  She was too big and needed to learn even if it was a hard lesson to teach.  That's when it hit me.  All of her wondering off was not a matter of discipline but rather it was a desire to explore.  Do we really want to stop kids when they want to learn?  No.

Therefore what I did was make sure that at least once a week, whenever we stopped at the store I afforded Gess the opportunity to explore the store around her.  I would let her lead and I would be the one to follow. If she grabbed something we would discuss what it was.  Of course I directed her away from things she could break or that would harm her, but she simply wanted to see the stuff, and it was not even toys.  She was grabbing everything.

We went to the produce section and started talking about the different fruits and vegetables.  Gess has a real texture problem and foods need to be introduced slowly but by exploring the foods herself she began to try new things.  Each week we brought home something new, or at least something she picked out.  That's when we realized she is nuts over Kiwi.  It was here she learned the difference between a fruit and a vegetable.  We talked about their colors and sizes.  There is so much to learn there.

You can do this at any part of the store.  She loves looking at the pictures on T-shirts, which you have to be careful of these days.  She also likes looking at the books and posters.  She even loves grabbing canned goods so we started exploring what kinds of foods they were and eventually learned about nutritional labels.  Now she asks me all the time how many calories are in something.

When it was time to get to the actual shopping that I had to do I found that if I kept Gess active and engaged in the shopping process she was less likely to try to run off in a different direction.  Anytime she could grab a can off the shelf and put it in the cart I let her.  I had her look for stuff, or if I was more in a hurry I would grab it and hand it to her so she could place it in the cart.  Just feeling like she was shopping like mommy made her willing to stay close.  However we had to keep moving.  If I ever ran into a friend and tried to stop and talk Gess would start to wonder off or grab me.  We had to keep her pace for sure.

One thing you don't want to do is reward the learning by buying them something each time.  This is not about exploring so they can get a toy.  It's about exploring to learn.  Part of frugal shopping is taking the time to look at all the products and be aware of their value and worth in the first place.  Looking doesn't mean you have to purchase.  I think it has helped Gess tremendously because while she loves to browse, she hardly ever asks to actually get something when we go.  She might ask for a specific food item she knows we keep around the house, but she isn't trying to get toys or anything like that.  That is another reason why it is important to explore areas other than the toy section.  Believe me, the kids know what is in there already!

So the next time your kid is driving you nuts in the store think about ways you can channel that energy into something productive.  Do you have the time to spend an extra 15 minutes wandering around exploring?  If not can you leave early the next time so that you can?  You might find it will make all the difference in the world and your child might discover something new along the way.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Logic of English

I am so excited I finally get to tell you about the latest product I had the pleasure of reviewing!  Logic of English offers a different approach to teach reading, spelling and writing.  I was truly astounded at how well this system really seems to work, especially for my daughter who has Down syndrome.

For the purpose of my review I was given the Logic of English Essentials - A systematic approach to reading, spelling and writing.  I received the Teacher's Manual, Student Workbook, Basic Phonogram Flashcards, Spelling Rule Flash Cards, Phonogram Game Cards and the Phonogram and Spelling Game Book.

I have to admit when the package arrived I was a bit overwhelmed!  There is so much to this program and the approach is not like anything I have tried before.  I have done both phonics and a blend of phonics and sight reading, but this is different. There is a lot of information to take in and the size of the books are proof of that. Look at the size of the workbook alone, I have never seen one so large.

While there was a lot to learn and go through the Teacher's Manual did have everything I needed to know.  The introduction section is 69 pages long and I encourage you to read each and every page as it has invaluable information about the program.  It explains the phonemic approach and how to actually teach it with sections on sounds, grammar, spelling, dictation, cursive writing, sample schedules, and more.  There are also useful tips such as how to organize the supplemental materials which I personally found to be extremely beneficial.

The Logic of English Essentials stresses the importance of phonemic awareness which is the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds that are glued together to make a word.  There are 45 phonemes of the English language and by the time the student is able to read they need to be aware of at least most of them.

Unlike phonics where one sound is taught at a time they introduce all the sounds of a phonogram at the same time.  Here is a sample of the a card.  The front side just has the letter or letters of the phonogram and the back has the sounds.

The Logic of English Essentials is for ages 7 all the way up to adult as it is used to help both new and struggling readers.  While Essentials can be used with younger students they do have a Foundations unit that is geared towards 4 to 7 years old that would probably be more suitable for that age group.  They also recommend starting with cursive writing rather than printing and have a section of the book that explains that approach.  However, they offer workbooks and phonogram game cards in both cursive and print so you can choose your own preference.

In the introduction you will find beginner to adult sample schedules that range from teaching a lesson every one to two days to teaching a lesson every one to two weeks.  Because Gess has special needs I chose to use the six to seven year old guideline of one lesson per week.  Even though she is a great reader and knows what the words are, her speech is lacking and she has really missed some of the sounds.  It also gives her more time to make sure she grasps the lessons completely.

Each lesson is divided into three parts:

Part 1 - Phonograms, Exploring Sounds, and Spelling Rules

Part 2 - Introduction of the words through spelling dictation and analysis

Part 3 - Grammar, Dictation, Composition and Vocabulary development.

At first I tried to follow their sample lesson plan but it didn't really flow or work for me.  I wasn't sure when to do each worksheet and it seemed like we were not getting everything done that way.  I also have been using this as part of our speech therapy so I divided part 1 into two sections for each day and made my own schedule.

What I do is take each part and divide it into 4 daily lessons with the last day being a day for review, quizzes or tests.  I also took the Exploring sounds and divided it into 4 days worth of work.  Some of the "work" was using games for review so it wasn't as work heavy as it sounds.  It just took me a couple of weeks to figure out how to best get it all in.  Doing it my own way does mean that I spend an hour or so planning out my week, but it is well worth the time. The material is so great that I just don't want to miss any of it!

The actual work itself is explained in detail in the Teacher's Manual.  It tells you basically word for word how to present the material and there are areas where all the phonograms and spelling lists can be looked at quickly as well.  They have about an 8 minute video that explains exactly how it works.  I highly recommend you watch it. 

I believe the supplements they provided are essential to this curriculum as they are a huge part of what makes this so great.  The flash cards are nice of course as the child needs that visual to see what they are learning.  The Phonogram Game Cards and the Phonogram and Spelling Game Book are spectacular.  My daughter has really been on a game kick and wants to play board games or cards all the time.  The fact that she was perfectly happy to substitute these games for  your standard family board game speaks volumes to me.  She certainly thought they were fun!  In fact, we had to spend a few days at the hospital when my mom was ill and playing a phonogram card game or two not only helped pass the time but helped Gess review at the same time!  Here we are playing a game called Last One during school.

They also had games that did not require cards.  Some used templates they offered in the back of the book, some were active and didn't require anything and some would have been more fun with more kids.  Here we are playing Phonogram Bingo.

Another great thing about the games is how they incorporate them into the lessons. While the game book will have boards for the games that incorporate all the phonograms they also have blank ones that let you write in only those you have used.  They also have some in the workbook to use with specific lessons and phonograms.  There are just tons of options and I love that they have same games incorporated into your lessons but also allow you to choose your own too.  

The main reason Logic of English is so exciting to me is because of the fact that Gess has made tremendous strides in her speech since we started it.  Since Gess has Down syndrome she has really struggled with speech intelligibility.  We always incorporate speech therapy activities into our day but there have always been sounds she has struggled with.  Since doing this I have found that there are other sounds she has been missing as well. Because of their approach I have heard Gess finally get some of these sounds for the very first time! 

The directions have you teach the kids the sound as well what part of your mouth to use and how to feel and check for it.  It seems that Gess does better when she knows why she is doing it.  I discovered that Gess was pronouncing V with the F sound but now she not only says it right, she holds her throat to make sure she can feel it!  She does the same thing with the Z sound.  Now she buzzes instead of faking an S sound.

Here she is feeling for the puff of air when she says the p sound.

It has been absolutely amazing watching her make such tremendous progress with her speech because she knows exactly what she should do!  The best part is she carries this over into the rest of her day.  It is not uncommon to see her make these gestures while reading a book or having a conversation as she checks herself for the proper sound.  I love it!

Gess is also able to break down words into syllables now too.  That has always been a struggle for her. She can read a word fine, but breaking it down into syllables was hard.  The whole clapping thing never worked.  She would just randomly clap as she spoke.  Now that Logic of English has explained how to do it, she is much better at it!

One day as we were talking I asked Gess what her favorite part of the school day was.  She said, "making the sounds."  I think that pretty much says it all. They make learning the phonograms fun.  She doesn't feel like that part is learning and it is not only helping her speech, its helping her reading, spelling and grammar too.

In the lessons they make sure that each spelling list, spelling rule, grammar rule and new phonogram work well together.  I no longer have to find some unrelated random spelling list to go with my curriculum. Every word has phonograms that are relevant to the lesson and we learn the rules about why they are spelled that way!  Last week we had AY and AI.  They make the same sound but one is used at the end of the word and one is used in the middle of the word but at the end of the syllable.  Within her spelling list there are words that use those rules: plain, paint, day, gray and train.  Now Gess knows why she spells them that way and she can pronounce them all correctly.

The worksheets were pretty easy to follow.  Some items were dictated and they had to write it down.  The spelling list was also given through dictation with the part of speech and plural forms of the word added in during the course of the week.

Besides the amount of time it took to plan each week the most difficult part of using it was keeping all the cards organized for each lesson.   They have a section in the book that gives some tips on how to do this but even then, if you want to incorporate card games they all end up mixed up.  I have all my stuff in a small crate which helps a lot but by the end of the week there is a pile of cards that need to be sorted through again by the next lesson.  Learning to make sure they were ready before class was key!

As a teacher I think it is important that we always remain willing to learn something new.  The thought of trying a new approach when I thought what we were doing was "working" was a difficult choice to make but I am certainly glad that I did.  Do not let the fact that this does things a bit differently keep you from trying it out.  To me this was absolutely worth the effort, price and time. Seeing the results that I have had with my daughter just amazes me.  I only wish I had Foundations to try with her when she was younger!  I am certainly eager to read some of the reviews about that.

I think the greatest part of the program is seeing Gess put it into practice outside of the school room, especially in regards to her speech.  To watch her hold her throat when she says a v or z sound and concentrating on the exact sound in her casual conversation means the world to me.  There is something about the way that this is presented that just makes sense to her.  My husband agrees.  We have talked about how our language often doesn't make sense, at least how it is usually taught presenting rules with lots of exceptions.  Here it all makes sense.  Yes, there is logic to the English language!

Logic of English Essentials allows you to purchase each item separately.  They have a handy cart that lets you check which items in the package you want to include.  Again I recommend each item I was given.  The total of everything I received was $188.00.  It is well worth price, especially if you have more than one student in that age range.  You can use this with all your kids and simply purchase additional workbooks.  Here are the prices and links for each item I received.  I found them all beneficial and I would not leave anything out.  There are also products I did not receive, so be sure to check out all the options.

Logic of Essentials Teacher's Manual - $95.00
Logic of Essentials Workbook - $25.00 
Basic Phonogram Flash Cards - $18.00
Spelling Rule Flash Cards - $15.00
Phonogram and Spelling Game Book - $15.00
Phonogram Game Cards - $10.00 (You need at least two sets to play the card games.)

If you want to learn more about Logic of English check out their website.  They also have the Foundations curriculum for younger students, a handwriting course for both manuscript and cursive and a Logic of English App.  Members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew got to try out different items so be sure to check out their reviews to learn more about Essentials and the other great products that they offer. 


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Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Argument Against Homeschooling or Not

In my conversations with non-homeschooling families I often get comments that while I am doing a great job teaching Gess some parents are just not smart enough, or educated enough to teach their own children at home.  I remember one conversation in particular where they were saying a specific mom was just not intelligent enough to homeschool her kids.  In fact, she wasn't very bright at all and therefore should not be allowed to homeschool.  My response was, "Oh I didn't know she was homeschooled."  With a confused look they responded "The mom?  Oh no she wasn't homeschooled.  She went to public school." To which I replied, "Well it doesn't look like that worked out very well for her then, does it?" 

I believe that doubting the ability of a person to be able to teach a child is not an argument against homeschool but rather one against the value of the school that person attended, which generally turns out to be public school.  If the schools are graduating students that can't teach basic reading and math skills to their own children, then is the public school system actually doing it's job?  Why are we upset when one homeschool child struggles but look the other way when scores of public school children don't know how to spell, use proper grammar or do basic math? 

If a parent graduates from a public school that failed them so miserably why must they then be forced to subject their child to the same fate?  The argument that public schools did not do an adequate job educating you so therefore your kid must attend the same failing school system is an odd argument to me.

Yes, I realize that a high school graduate has not been to college to learn how to be a teacher but the majority of the time spent getting a degree focuses on how to teach in a classroom setting, not what to teach.  The time spent learning basic English, math, social studies, science, etc is not anything you can't acquire from your own home.  The fact that homeschool students score better than public school students on just about every level is proof enough that homeschooling works, whether or not the parent has been certified to teach.  In fact  there have been many studies that prove that teacher certification has little if no effect on the students ability to learn. 

So the next time you see a parent that you think isn't qualified to teach her children at home and you feel like you want to interfere or get involved, stop for just one second.  Then go down to your local public school and ask what you can do to help some of the failing children there.  Maybe you can help those who aren't reading at their current grade level.  I used to go do that at a local middle school.  Find an after school program that works with struggling learners as well.  I have done that too.  Help the kids whose parents want nothing to do with them or help the students stuck in a classroom where the teacher has given up on them.  For the child who has a mother who spends her entire day and life trying to give her child the education she didn't receive, know that the child will at least fare better than that mother did.   If you want to help, help the system that is failing not the one with the proven track record. Oh, and the next time you try to make an argument against something, think about the implications of your statement.  You may find out you just made one of the best arguments for it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Time4Learning

As Gess has gotten older I have found that computer based lessons are a great way to give her some independent learning experience.  I hear many parents who have children with Down syndrome say they love using Time4Learning so I thought I might try it again and see if it worked better for Gess now that she was older.

Time4Learning is a homeschool, after school or summer online study program for preschool through high school covering math, language arts, science and social studies.  It can be used as an entire curriculum or an addition to your current program. 

One of the nice things about it is that your child not only has access to their grade level but they can also access one level above and below it.  This enables you to modify learning according your child's personal skill level.  They even let you choose different levels for each subject which was really nice since Gess' skills vary greatly between language arts and math. I had Gess in 1st grade for math so she could access the two levels around it and I had her in 3rd grade reading so she could access 4th grade which is closer to her current reading level but also 2nd grade for some review and items she may have missed.

When you click to start your learning portal opens where you can see all the subjects available to you.  As you click on each subject you are guided by an arrow which keeps track of where you are and what lessons you have completed.  If, however, you do subjects out of order the arrow will remain where the program expects you to be.

The lower level classes are taught through animated videos that explain the content and then allow you to practice.

 There are 5 question review quizzes as the end of some lessons and a special quiz at the end of each section as well as a test at the end of each unit. 

All of the grades are stored in the students records through the Parent Administration section.  I liked the fact that all activity was immediately viewable in the Student Records as soon as it was completed.  Gess would be doing a lesson in the classroom and I was able to check it and see if she did the right lesson, completed the lesson and if it was a graded activity, what score she got.  That was very handy! 

The activities are also repeatable so if they do not do well on the lesson they can try it again later.  It appears that the questions they ask are the same but they do appear to randomize the order.  Here is a look at Gess' daily work report. You can see where she repeated some lessons that she struggled with and showed great improvement.  There were also some she repeated for review and didn't always do as good the second time.  That is why the review is really nice!  Here is a section of her weekly work record.

Here is a report of just her scores.

The animated lessons did a good job at explaining the topic and Gess seemed to learn well from them.  They had characters that first explained the topic then they would lead you through some practice.  Here is one of her language arts lessons.  These ladies are explaining what synonyms are.

I thought it was a great idea to be able to choose an option that said you didn't understand the topic.  Even when you did understand they always explained it further for you.

In math Gess was working on counting money and I was really pleased with the graphics on their animations.  It made it very clear what each coin was.  Gess can often confuse nickels and quarters when they are written on paper but does pretty well with the actual coins. These were very easy to discern. 

The quizzes didn't have the same high quality animation and often they asked questions without showing the coins on the screen for you to count.  During those times I let Gess use her own coins so she could actually count them out to get the answer.

While we really found the lower level animation videos helpful as the child gets older and is expected to be able read more the lessons stop being animated.  Instead the units have about 8 pages for you to read.  There are some questions along the way.  I didn't really care for how those worked because you have to check each individual answer yourself instead of answering them all and then checking whether you got them right or not.  It will also let you mark the lesson complete even if you didn't answer any questions so there is no way for the parent to know if they actually did the activity or not. 

I sat with Gess and did these lessons with her.  Some of them had you keep track of information in a notebook or do other activities.  For social studies we learned about communities and Gess had to make a poster about rules in her own community.  Here is the poster she made which had to do with traffic and litter laws.

What I liked about Time4Learning was that is had a great reporting system.  My daughter could work on lessons independently and as a parent I could know immediately how she did, or if she did it at all.  There were times I caught her leaving her lesson before it was complete or choosing to do a different lesson. It was great!

While there is no assignment option for homeschool I would just write down the subject, level and topic (if it was different from where the arrow pointed) down on the board and she could find it easily enough on her own that way.  For example her assignment might look like this and she knew just what to do: 

T4L Language Arts Level 3 Vocabulary Skills
T4L LA Extensions Level 2
T4L Math Level 2 Money

I also liked the fact that they called them levels instead of grades.  Gess knows what grade she is supposed to be in and she would not like doing work from lower grades, but the word level never seemed to phase her!

Gess also found the lessons entertaining.  The game shows like Word Herd were her favorite.  The animations really made learning fun and are helpful for students with special needs.  I love that Gess can have some independent learning with these.

There are also worksheets with many of the lessons that you can print off and other great resources like a parents forum online.

There is also a playground section that the child can play in after so much time spent doing work.  Gess really liked that at first and wanted to play the games.  After awhile the novelty wore off but she was still eager to do her lessons.  I was pleased with how the parents were the ones who controlled both how much time the child spent doing activities to earn the playground and how much time they were allowed to play once on it.

What I didn't like about Time4Learning was the fact that while the videos were entertaining they were awfully busy, flashy and noisy.  Entertaining a student is a good thing but sometimes the entertainment can distract from the point of the lesson.  For instance, in trying to describe a summary they used an example of a message a college student gets from her roommate.  She talks about a cute boy she ran into and how their party has changed dates and themes.  First of all, I would prefer it if they did not encourage third graders to be acting like college students and be worried about cute boys and parties.  I think the topics should be more suitable for children.  Secondly I do not think you should have people speaking in slang when the purpose of the video is to teach proper language.  I understand wanting to make the video relevant to the student but you can do that without being ridiculous.  As I mentioned Gess enjoyed the videos and most of them were OK but I do not think they are always great examples, even when they get the point of the lesson across.  It seemed like the videos from 2nd grade to 3 grade were vastly different as I felt the 2nd grade ones were much more age appropriate. 

Time4Learning is a secular program so you might keep that in mind.  Part of the problem with the above example is that my world view believes differently about how children should be behave. I am sure many parents would have no problem at all with that particular video.  The science and social studies had some views that differed from my belief system as well.  It wasn't enough to make me not want to use the program all together.  It makes it a nice supplement but it would not be my core material.  It is just something my readers may want to know.

I was somewhat disappointed with the science and social studies lessons.  The animated ones didn't seem as interesting nor did they hold Gess' interest near as much as the other subjects.  Gess usually loves science but they don't offer much at the early levels until the lessons stop being animated.

During 3rd and especially once in 4th grade the videos stop being interactive and more reading is expected.  That is probably a good thing for typical students but for Gess it provides a problem, especially since you don't really have to do the lesson or even attempt to answer the questions to get it marked complete.  Since Gess doesn't grasp the material as easily just reading it I have to start sitting with her and explain it to her which defeats the purpose of helping her become independent. Since I have no way of knowing if she really read the material or just clicked the arrows it really isn't helpful. I wish it was a mixture of both animation and reading and had graded quizzes at the end of each lesson so a parent could know if they grasped the concept or not.  I think that would make a huge difference.

We also felt that the non-animated lessons were not very interesting to read or interact with. It was just a dry reading of the facts with very little to peek your interest.  There were a few activities that were suggested and we did them, but Gess did it because she had to, she didn't really seem to enjoy them very much.

Overall Gess did enjoy the interactive videos and willingly did her lessons.  She really enjoyed answering the game show questions and has done well counting her money.  I love that she can review those things on her own.  I also love that the program offers a variety of subjects and has an excellent reporting program.  I will continue to use it this year as a supplement to my current curriculum.  I am just uncertain how long it will be beneficial for us since many of her lessons will not be animated as she moves up.

Time4Learning is $19.95 per month for grades PreK-8th grade and it costs $14.95 for each additional student.  Their High School program is $30.00 per month and they all come with a 14 day money back guarantee.  If you would like to learn more visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review thought about it by clicking on the banner below.  There you will not only get to read other opinions but you can see what some of the other grade levels were like.


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