Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Not All Roses but It's Not All Thorns Either

With all the negative stereotypes around about persons with special needs and in particular Down syndrome I was very surprised when most of the negative responses to some of my posts have been from parents who have a child with Down syndrome.  They seem to think that only posting positive aspects of what my daughter does gives a false impression about what life with DS is really like.  It also seems to make them feel bad if their child is not able to do what my daughter can do.

Let me assure you that it was never my intent to make another parent feel bad.  What my intent was, and continues to be, is to encourage parents to try new things and ways of teaching their child and to show that people with Down syndrome can, and do, great things.  I am aware that not all children with DS will be able to do what my daughter does but I am also aware that my daughter will not be able to do everything that other kids with or without DS can do.  It is not about who is better, or who can do more, its about challenging them to try!

I strive to find that balance each and every day.  I wrote an article for the Schoolhouse Review Crew website titled Balancing Goals With Outcomes.  It is difficult to make sure your goals are both attainable and challenging enough for a child with special needs.  I do realize that all of our dreams and desires for her may not come true, but that doesn't mean we can't try.

There is no doubt about the fact that parenting a child who has special needs is a hard job.  It is way more then most parents bargained for and it is not what one generally wants, seeks, or asks for out of life.  When we are expecting a child we pray that they are "healthy" and well.  Sometimes that prayer is not answered in accordance to our own personal wishes and desires and parents are often left asking the question of why.  I have asked this question myself.

While there are bad days that make me ponder these things, I am also a person of faith.  In the end I realize that I don't need all my questions answered.  I believe God in His sovereignty knows best.  I have learned over the course of the years that sometimes what we consider bad, can actually be good.  At least it can work toward our good.  Without these constant trials we would never grow in our faith, in our maturity or in our character.


So, is everything perfect in our home?  Of course not!  We are human and Gess does have special needs.  She also happens to be going through puberty right now which is a trying stage for any pre-teen girl.  When you add special needs into the mix you get some great challenges.  However, it is simply not in my character to focus on those issues other than to try to figure out how to solve them.

Being a person of faith generally drives me to become a person of action. When I come across a challenge or some sort of road block, I do not give in or give up.  My first instinct is to figure out how to get around it.  It was researching some of those very stumbling blocks that made me start this blog in the first place.  The answers to those questions were sometimes difficult for me to find, so when I found them I thought it would be nice to share them with everyone else.

That is the only reason I blog.  To make it easier for you to find resources.  If you want to find helps and try new things with your child, please read what we have done.  We know they may not work for your child, as everything we have tried has not worked for us.  If you have ideas and solutions I have not tried, please share them.  I am always looking for new things to try.  I love teaching but I also love learning.

What you won't find here is me sharing our failures or complaining about how I wish Gess could do better or more.  I am not going to compare her to others.  I started off that way and all it brought was discouragement and despair.  Instead I am going to allow Gess to be Gess.  I will accept what she can't do, but only once she has proven that it is because she can't, not because we haven't tried.  There are many things she can't do that I see other kids with DS doing all the time.  She can't ride a bike or swim very well and we have a boy in our support group who excels at both and he is way younger than she is.  I am excited for him, not disappointed in Gess! 

There is enough negativity on the web.  I can't tell you how many people on my Facebook page are constantly complaining about one thing or another, and most of these are people who don't face the challenges of raising a child with special needs.  Yes, we have our bad days and we have our disappointing moments, but I share those moments with God, not man.  I feel it is my job to encourage and uplift others.  I don't feel that I need to share the negative aspects of my journey to do that.  When I do, you will hear about it.  In the mean time I hope you will join us in celebrating our accomplishments however little or small those may be!

Raising a child with special needs is not all roses, but you know what?  It's not all thorns either!  I am here to share the blossom of the flower, not the thorns on the stem.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Science4Us.com

My daughter Gess was thrilled when I announced that our first Schoolhouse Crew Review this year was from Science4Us.com.  Science happens to be her favorite subject and this review actually allowed her to study it more independently.  Since Gesserine has special needs she often needs a lot of teacher interaction and instruction during text book reading and of course experiments generally need to be supervised as well.  However, the Science4Us.com Online Subscription was a mixture of classroom instruction, hands on experiments and interactive video lessons which allowed Gess to work more independently.

Science4Us.com offers interactive, standards based, online science instruction for K-2nd grade and also works as great review for grades 3-5. They have over 350 online lessons through which you can explore earth and space, physical science, inquiry, and life science.  They base their material on the 5 E Instruction model: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Teachers are given many helps and instructions to get started.  They can manage their students assignments, reports and view their online notebooks through their dashboard.  They offer teaching strategies and a lesson guide for every unit.  Each unit is divided into about daily segments and there is offline materials to go with each section.  They offer clear instructions for the teacher to follow. 

While the teacher dashboard was beneficial I found it difficult to navigate the student reports at first.  You just have to remember to first choose the unit you are looking for and then the report will show up.  It was helpful to see what Gess did after she worked independently but since very few were scored I was not always certain how well she actually did.  The stars mean she completed the unit and the books let you look at what they wrote or drew in their notebook.  If you click on the score you can see each question on the test, which were correct or incorrect, the final score as well as have an option to print the page.


Gess had just been studying about states of matter so we began there.  I assigned her the first video to watch as an introduction and by the time I came back to check on her she was on the sixth one!   I think that says a lot about how enjoyable she found them.  I didn't let her move along quite that fast, so the next day she began repeating them at the pace the lesson planned called for. I was just pleased that she liked it so much.  Here is her student dashboard below. 


I love how it has My Assignments with large appealing icons.  Gess knows to just click on the first one and go.  If you haven't assigned anything it will show recent activity in that box.  They can also click on any of the books and explore where they want to on their own.  I am not sure I like having that feature available when there are assignments that need to be completed but it is nice when they have free time.  There is also a music player where they can listen to songs from the lessons but again, while its a nice touch you have to get to the assignment at some point so those things can be a distraction.

Once they are in the assignment they have fun interactive instructions to introduce the lesson.  Here they had to determine whether these items were a solid, liquid or gas.


They also had us do some hands on exploration to show how liquids can take the shape of their container but a solid cannot.


Then they added in some language and literacy skills as I believe is in keeping with current common core standards.  With Gess' speech issues we found the Silly Bulls who helped to teach about Syllables a great exercise.   Here she had to break her science vocabulary words up by syllables.


Most activities worked fine but we had a few that would never let us complete them.  This one you had to fill the container with the right amount of liquid.  We had all the containers filled but this one.  No matter how hard we tried it wouldn't let us put this one away.


We had one other activity that just never ended.  However, we have since completed another unit and had no issues with the videos there.

My favorite video was the "experiment" to see which solids moved quicker.  I loved it because you had the fun of the experiment, without the mess!  It was completely interactive.  It would have been messy to spill several liquids three times each.  I know kids love mess, but sometimes as the teacher I just don't have the time or ability to do them.  Gess completed this one several times, choosing different liquids to experiment with.  I was glad she had the freedom to do as many as she wanted.  It also meant that there was no extra cost or waste.


The offline worksheets and activities were really helpful as well.  Gess knew all of her vocabulary words and was able to map out each type of matter successfully.


At the end of this unit she received an 83% on her evaluation.  In Location and Perspective she received a 100%.   I think the activities in both units were very beneficial.  Perspective is a hard concept to grasp and the demonstrations there were really quite impressive.

I do want to emphasize that this a secular program and they do teach from an evolutionist point of view.  The section on earth and space starts with the children being read a book that teaches them they evolved over billions of years.  As a Christian who believes in a creationist view of earth's history we just avoided these sections of the unit.  I have not seen any evidence of this teaching in the other units so far.  The most I noticed was the statement that a fossil was very old.  That we can agree with since old can be a relative term.

Overall I found that the program was really well done.  Other than the few quirks I mentioned above it ran smoothly and guided both the teacher and the student with ease.  I think it is a really great way to get young children interested in science and ready to explore by the time they reach upper elementary school. It is also great for students like my Gess who have special needs.  The educational, yet fun, interactive lessons really make it interesting and easy to engage the student.  Remember, Gess often did more units than she was required to do.   I will definitely continue to use the sections of Science4Us.com that do not cover the earth's history and age.  For observational science it is a great tool to have.

The Science4Us.com Online Subscription for homeschool is $7.95 per month for each student which is really reasonable for all you have access to.  It certainly is worth it considering all the work is pretty much done for you.  If you would like to learn more about Science4Us.com visit their website or you can see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rate Of Speech Impedes Intelligibility

Our speech therapist has shared with us that Gess' rate of speech will be her worst enemy.  This child has a wonderful vocabulary and can read at her current grade level.  What she really struggles with is speech intelligibility and most of that is due to the fact that she just talks too fast.  Of course there are other factors that makes it hard for her to understand, but the number one factor is the rate of her speech.

In order to fix this I found out that I needed to work on my own rate of speech as well hers.  Apparently, do what I say (speak slowly) not as I do (speak quickly) doesn't work very well.  While we don't consider our speech fast, to a child with special needs, it really is.  They have trouble discerning every sound we make when we talk at our normal rate and when they try to mimic our rate they can't properly express the sound properly.

Now before working with Gess I need to start working on myself.  Speaking slowly and softly to your child will do a couple of things.  First it imitates what we want from them; slow, consistent, and intelligible words.  Secondly it sets the mood for a calm conversation.  The slow, smooth tone of your voice will calm the child to make it easier for them to slow down. While I used to do this when reading a book with Gess, I never thought about doing it with every day conversations.  I am doing it now, or at least trying to.  It actually is very awkward to slow down and properly pronounce every single sound, each s, t, n, etc gets emphasis.  Nothing is left out.

Now that Gess hears it better she is working to towards saying it better.  I have already seen her use the cues in therapy in regular conversation.  When she stumbles on a word sort of stuttering to get it out she gestures as a conductor leading an orchestra to remind her to smoothly let the word out.  It usually works fairly well.  We also emphasize the vowel in a word.  By holding out the vowel it makes the consonant transitions smoother and intelligibility easier.  Clock is Clooock.  Twist is Twiiiist, all the while waving your hand in a wave to remind you to smooth it all together.  We also remind her to let out a short puff of air while doing it.  Those constant transitions are tricky.

Now when we talk to Gess things are becoming slower. It's hard for me to do this during school.  It takes a long time to read three pages of text at this slower rate, but I keep reminding myself that the rate is the most important part for her to get.  Without intelligibility her reading won't help her independence.  Without intelligibility her math won't help her make a transaction on her own.  Intelligibility is key, so slowing down is essential.

The younger you start working on the rate of speech, the better.  The hardest part for us is that Gess has about 12 years of habits to overcome, but she is trying.  She can do it but it will take a lot of work and effort on our part. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Achieving A Better Life Experience

Our congresswoman is good about having listening sessions throughout her entire district so she ends up in our town at least a couple of times a year.  We do our best to make it to those sessions if we are able to.   Usually we just listen and take the opportunity to introduce ourselves.  It is educational for Gess and helps keep me aware of what our representative is up to.  This time, however, I had an issue I wanted to address on Gess's behalf. 

The ABLE Act (HR 647) which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, is a bill that would ammend the IRS tax code so that persons with disabilities could save for "qualified disability expenses" to pay for things such as housing, health and wellness, higher education, obtaining and maintaining employment and other important expenses without that money counting against their assets and causing them to lose their much needed medical and essential services. 

This is not a bill that costs tax payers any money.  We are not asking others to pay for these services, we are simply saying if people with disabilities want to work and go to school and live independently, let them.  As it stands now, if a person makes too much money or has an account such as this, they would lose all their medical benefits and services.  That is a choice people like my daughter can't afford to make.  Right now she doesn't have the choice of  real employment or saving for these expenses.  She has a congenital heart defect among other issues that make these services essential to her very life.  The problem is she wants to work!  She wants to go to college!  She doesn't want others to pay for it, she just doesn't want to have to choose between being productive and being alive!

The thing is, this bill has huge bi-partisan support.  Out of 331 co-sponsors it is almost evenly distributed among democrats and republicans 171-160.   My question was why, if this bill costs nothing and has this type of bi-partisan support, doesn't it get anywhere?   Why does it sit and never get voted on and moved forward?

Hopefully asking these questions to all of our representatives around the country will finally get the ball rolling.  Another thing you can do is sign the Pass the ABLE Act petition at change.org.

My daughter also wrote our congresswoman a letter that she presented to her after the meeting.  Here is the letter she wrote.  (Remember she is only 12)


Then we paused for a photo op!


I want to thank Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins for hearing our concerns.  It sounds as if we may have her support and be able to get her on board to help us not only sponsor this bill, but move it forward.

I am proud of Gess for how she sat silently through that one hour meeting and then very graciously asked the congresswoman to take her letter.  It certainly was made easier when Representative Jenkins went around and personally served us all cookies!  Gess felt very comfortable and welcome after that, especially since she let her have two.

Gess has many hopes and dreams and I want to see those dreams come true. I don't want to see her grow up and have to tell her that having a job will be counterproductive to her health and well being.  Please hep us so that everyone can truly have the potential to achieve a better life experience.

Monday, February 17, 2014

No Allowance

Life skills are an essential part of homeschooling when you have a child with special needs, but they are really something everyone needs.  I fear that while kids today are learning to read and write there are still some skills that they are lacking, particularly those relating to housework.   I think part of that reason may be the fact that we pay our children for any work they do. While I think finding a way for young people to make money is a good idea, I believe that paying them for work that has to be done sends the wrong message.  Kids today grow up believing that they shouldn't have to do any work at all unless they are rewarded in some tangible way.

Too often then not, when children grow up and stop getting paid for doing their daily chores they often stop doing them.  When they move out on their own their house becomes a disaster.  Even those who manage to keep their house tidy seem to do so with a resentful and despondent attitude.  I know that I do, or at least I did until just about 10 years ago.  Back then I hated and despised housework! 

Since I have grown in my faith I now realize that there are some things just worth doing.  They don't have to be fun or compensated for to make them joyful.  Instead of whining and complaining about what we must do, we should thankful!  A lady at church told me about her grandmother who had such a great attitude about doing dishes.  When she asked her about it she said that she looked at each dish as a blessing.  The fact that she had the opportunity to feed and spend time with the person who ate the food was something to be thankful for.  You know, many people don't have dishes, or even food.  Our complaining is simply so selfish. 

To try and pass this attitude on to Gess we do not offer her any compensation for helping with the daily chores.  When Gess becomes independent she won't have the incentive of extra cash for doing things that need to be done anyway, so why start doing it now?  There are other ways for kids to make money.  I shared before about our recycling efforts and that is still her primary source of income.  Of course if there are things she wants and can't afford we sometimes buy them for her and that is OK.  Kids don't have to "earn" everything.  They are kids!  There will be time for lessons later about earning and saving up for each and every thing you own.  Besides, it is so much fun and rewarding to buy things for children who are helpful around the house!

Of course there are some tasks I will pay my daughter for.  If she cleans out or washes my car I will pay her because it is my car and my responsibility.  If my child got their own car I certainly wouldn't pay them to clean it, but I will pay them to clean mine.  When I have the grandkids over and Gess helps pick up their mess when they are gone, I will pay her then as well or give her money for "helping" me babysit them.  But dishes, laundry, sweeping, and dusting are things that everyone must help to do and for that she receives no compensation. 

I find that Gess enjoys doing chores, or at least never complains about having to do it.  There may be times she doesn't particularly want to stop something to do chores but because it is a part of every day, is something that is expected and the responsibility is shared by everyone in the house, Gess never complains.  Occassionaly I will give her a gem as a reward if she is particularly helpful or does things without my requesting it but otherwise, living in a clean and comfortable home should be enough reward in itself.



Friday, February 14, 2014

5 Week Reading Eggs FREE Trial

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Reading Eggs, a fun educational website that teaches your child to read.  While we loved the program, Gess has basically outgrown it.  She is an excellent reader.  However, if you have children from ages 3 to 13 this may be just perfect for you.  It has worked well for us with our special needs, but it is great for any child.

Right now they are offering a special.  You can try Reading Eggs FREE for 5 weeks!  What an excellent way to see if it will work for you.  This offer expires February 28 so be sure to take advantage of it soon!  Visit the Reading Eggs website to learn more!




Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Presenting at the 321 Down Syndrome eConference!

I have some really exciting news!  I will be presenting a session at the upcoming 321 Down Syndrome eConference!  The 321 eConference is scheduled for March 21, 22, & 23 to help families connect for World Down Syndrome Day!  There will be some great workshops covering a variety of topics.  The exciting news for me is that this year there will be a session specifically for parents who homeschool! 

I will be the one presenting the session, 'Homeschooling Helps' on Friday March 21 at 3:00pm EST but I am more excited that the topic is even available.  I enjoy going to conventions and learning about how to help my daughter who has Down syndrome but I often find that many of the workshops are not as relevant if your child is privately schooled.  While I understand the importance of IEP meeting workshops it will be fun to have a workshop where we can discuss issues specific to our form of education as well.

I hope some of you will be able to join us that day!  I was so grateful that the conference added us that I have yet to let it sink it that I will be presenting.  I am nervous because I have never presented at a conference before and doing it online is even more scary as so many technical things can go wrong.  Still, I am not new to speaking publicly and usually do well if it is a topic I am researched in and passionate about.  Homeschooling my daughter is definitely one of those things! Below is the information about my workshop. To see what other workshops will be available visit the Presentation Page.

Homeschooling Helps​
Lori Sevedge​, author of Special Connection Homeschool BlogMeet with other parents who are homeschooling their child with Down syndrome. Come find out what curriculum, materials, and helps parents are finding successful for reading, math, language, speech, life skills, and more. This a place to ask questions, find helpful tips, resources, and encouragement.

The price is very reasonable and I love that you can pay for just the days you can attend.  The prices are below.  Isn't it cool how they tie into the 3/21 theme?

3 days (March 21, 22 and 23)
21 hours of learning
21 sessions a day
Only $21 per day. 

To learn more about the 321 eConference and to register visit their website by clicking on the image below.


I would be thrilled to finally "meet" some of you there!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for snow cream!  Well, when we are supposed to get pounded with 6 to 8 inches of snow you have to think of something to do with it all!  Fortunately we only got about 4 inches in the end, but still, it was a great time to try our first attempt at snow cream.

We found a recipe online that called for

4 cups of snow
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla

To get our snow we just set our measuring cup outside and let the snow fall.


It was this full in about one hour!


Then we brought it inside. You just mix and serve so that was easy enough for any kid to do.


We ate some right away and froze some.  It was the best consistency after about 1 hour in the freezer.  It was a little too soupy when fresh made and way to solid after several hours.  Still, it was delicious each and every time.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Would You Have Me Do?

As I sit here today I find myself pulled in so many different directions.  I have a desire to be used by God in a way that matters and a huge burden for the lost and hurting.  I have many responsibilities and mission opportunities through our church so I am very active in the "work of the Lord."  In spite of all the work I do, I often feel as if I don't really do anything that makes a difference.  In my devotions this week I was reminded that my focus should be on Christ and his redemption, not on the effects of it.  It was a wonderful reminder to me and as I spent time in prayer yesterday this was the verse that came to my mind.


This is what I must set out to do.  This is that thing that matters.  Whether it is in my church service, my home, my neighbor's house or at the store I must act justly, show mercy and be humble.  It certainly sounds simple enough but it goes against our very nature so it is a goal that takes constant effort, prayer and diligence.

As fallen humans we tend to seek justice when we are the offended party and desire mercy when we are the offender.  We need to seek it in all things and in all ways.  It goes against our fleshly nature to desire these things and a humble spirit to let the Lord lead and guide us. 

As I set forth through this week it is my prayer that I may do just that. That I not think about what I can do for God but just live my life in a manner that reveals His character, not my own.  God how can you use me?  What is the better thing that I should do for you?  The answer will come when I do these things.  As I walk humbly with my God I think I will find myself doing so in the path of His service.  The cool part is, I may not even realize it when I do.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Free Friday: TOS Valentines Day Bouquet

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine loves their fans and so they are offering this Valentines Day Bouquet as a special FREE gift for you!  


Each Valentines Day Bouquet consists of lapbooks, audio presentations, money saving tips, helps for a great marriage and more.  There is something here for every homeschooling mom and all of it is yours to keep!  This offer is good until February 15, 2014.  Enjoy your Valentine's Day Bouquet from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!  They are a definitely a company that loves to share the love! 



Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Markers

Gess got a Crayola Marker Maker for Christmas.  It was something she kept asking for.  She must have seen an add for them on the computer because I wasn't even aware that such a thing existed.  We were excited to find that they did and got them in time for Christmas.


Gess really did love making her own markers.  It was sort of difficult but with careful instruction she got it down.  Daddy helped her with her color combinations and together they chose what colors to make her markers.  Here she is putting in some of the color.


Then you had to insert the inside of the marker so it would absorb the color.


It was fun watching it do that.


Then you had to place that inside the marker case.


The hard part was snapping it into place.  You used the yellow lever and had to press really hard.


After labeling the marker you were done.  The label was important because the inside didn't always look like the color. Orange, for instance, would look red.


They also give you a case to put the markers in.  You can decorate it and personalize it.



Then it is time to use them and have fun. 


The kit came with enough to make 2 boxes of markers.  We are saving the other one to make after these markers wear out.  I thought I might get some refill kits and have Gess make some kits for Christmas next year.  Her nieces and cousins would love a set  I bet!

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