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Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I Want to be Homeschooled by Caroline Trotter

Caroline was home sick last Friday.  Ever since she has been begging me to homeschool her.  As a way to defer these irritating pleas, I told her to write me an essay detailing why she wanted to be homeschooled. I told her it was due by the end of the week and that we were not to speak about it again until then. She gave it to Paul and I last night.  I asked her if I could share it with you all because I think it offers an honest look at a traditional school environment from a 4th graders perspective.  It does not compel me to homeschool her at this point, but it does give me insight into the type of education she craves and makes me ask myself if I could provide that for her someday.

I think I should be homeschooled for many reasons, but I'm going to limit it to only four.


If you homeschool me, I wouldn't be late to school everyday.  We wouldn't need to rush to school, giving me three pieces of cereal for breakfast.  I could actually take my time, eat a healthy breakfast and be ready to start learning.


Another reason you should homeschool me is because I would get more work done.  In public schools, the teacher needs to wait on her or his other students if they don't understand something.  Since it would only be me (doing the work I am doing), we could spend only a few days or weeks on a topic and I could keep moving forward in school.  


A good thing about homeschooling is you don't need to deal with drama.  Drama as in, "she said I was stupid!" or even worse, "did you know he likes you?"  It is so annoying, to the point where people start crying.  I've heard so many problems from other people that it seems like they're more focused on their problems than school work.  It's really irritating and can hurt other people's feelings.


Finally, my last reason is I would be more free.  Every 10 year old kid can't stand being trapped in a room except for specials, recess and lunch.  It is boring and makes you want to just hate school just because the environment you're in.  I personally don't like being yelled at either.  It makes me feel stupid.  I also don't like sitting at hard, old, wooden desks that have been used for years.  They're uncomfortable and can be distracting.  At least at home I would be comfortable and happy in my bed or anywhere in the house.


I think it would be cool to be homeschooled and see Jackson all the time.  There are plenty more advantages at home than at school.  For example, I could do Bible study or do 6th grade math.  Think about it...it could be a cool experience!  




All she is really saying is that she wants to be able to work hard and play hard in a respectful and harmonious environment.  She observed that last Friday with Jackson and I, but obviously does not feel that way during her school day.  So will I homeschool her next year?  I doubt it...but I will remain open to the Lord's will and pray for her education everyday in the meantime.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get on Twitter, People!

Unless you are a teenage girl, Twitter is not the mindless social media wasteland that many have come to believe.  As a 37 year-old wife and mother of two, you might not think I'd be a big fan of consolidating my random thoughts into 140 characters and sharing them with the world multiple times a day...and you'd be right. Because that is not why I use Twitter.  I use it to listen, not to be heard.  


Everyone is passionate about something.  Whether it is photography, cooking, finance, cancer awareness, global politics, travel, tech, writing, baseball, film, music, or design, you can create a whole feed of information dedicated to that area.  I am on Twitter to learn from people who are passionate about educating special needs children in a way that has never been done before.

I am a Twitter novice.  I've only been on there since November.  But in that time, I have found some amazing people all over the world that are homeschooling special needs children with tremendous success.  Their ideas and encouragement are priceless to me as I am just beginning this journey.  I have found more than just educational resources, I have found people who can answer quick questions or concerns within minutes.  I have found links to articles, research, and events by industry experts that I never knew existed.  The scope of Twitter is staggering, yet it is easy to navigate and manage.

I am not going to pretend to understand it all.  I am just learning how to use hashtags (#) and ow.ly and I am still not exactly sure why people feel the need to track their stats or use specific software to follow/unfollow/message people automatically...and I probably never will.  I also know that there are a ton of people and organizations on there just to promote or market something.  But the beauty of how Twitter is organized is that you choose to follow who you want, no one has to "accept" your request (unless they are a locked account) and you can unfollow as easily if someone tweets stuff you don't care about.

I've heard people describe Twitter as Facebook if you had cool friends.  For me, it is like a Facebook page full of really smart and compassionate people fighting for the same things I am.  For Paul, it is like a Facebook page full of people as insanely into basketball as he is.  He follows his favorite coaches, teams, players and sports journalists. That is the beauty of Twitter, it is what you make of it.  It allows you the control to filter out all the nonsense and garbage you often have to sift through on other sites to get to the handful of valuable information you crave.

So what is keeping you off of Twitter?  See it as a pointless waste of time?  Don't know who you'd follow? Don't think you have anything valuable to offer the world in return? Whatever your reason, just ask yourself one question...What are you passionate about? Figure it out and then jump on Twitter and see if there are others who you can learn from or even encourage others with your wisdom and experience.  The more of you on there, the better for me since I find value in what you have to say.

Check out my Twitter page:  https://twitter.com/#!/hometeachautism


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

iPad App Review of Shake-A-Phrase

As many of you know, I am in love with using the iPad with Jackson. We have found so many brilliant apps that have worked seamlessly with our homeschooling programs.  I typically use the iPad to reinforce concepts because a big part of Jackson's learning style is massive repetition!  He simply needs time to go over and over and over and over a single bit of information to absorb and process it successfully.

That is why I was thrown a bit the app Shake-A-Phrase.  I was searching for good language arts apps that did more than ABC's, phonics and early reading.  Jackson is a good reader but lacks chunks of basic language arts understanding, which makes his comprehension terrible.  I was introduced to Shake-A-Phrase and was immediately intrigued by the iTunes description:


Shake-a-Phrase is a fun language app that teaches vocabulary and parts of speech for ages 8+.


The addictive language fun in Shake-a-Phrase will encourage children to:
• Read the silly, entertaining sentences
• Discover the meanings of unfamiliar words
• Create their own writing projects
• Test their knowledge of verbs, adjectives and nouns
• Share language arts fun with friends and family



How this app works is fairly straight forward.  You simply open it to find 3 choices: Shake It!, Quiz Me!, and Story Starter.  Each is a variant on learning basic sentence structure with a focus in nouns, verbs and adjectives.  It allows you to teach, quiz, and create for yourself silly sentences about animals, fairytales, monsters or sports.  


All of this sounded perfect!  I had high hopes for this app, but as soon as I downloaded it, I was immediately nervous and doubtful that Jackson would be able to play with it at all.  The vocabulary was way over his head.  There is no way he would be able to pronounce or understand half of the words on there.  I knew he'd go crazy for the shaking feature...it feeds into his love of all things that move around and wiggle, but other than that, I assumed this app would be a dud:(  


Boy, was I wrong!  Don't misunderstand me, just as I expected, the vocabulary was way too hard for him and he could barley pronounce most of the words...but in true Jackson fashion, he took the intended purpose of an item and recreated it to suit his needs.  He used the app to teach himself sentence structure by repetition.  He went to the Shake It! part first and just tapped on each word over and over until he decoded the way nouns, verbs and adjectives intermingled in a sentence.  He quickly figured out that that even though he had no idea what jubilant meant, he knew adjectives always came before nouns, and he knows enough nouns to make those kinds of leaps.  And similarly, he couldn't pronounce admired, but knew verbs always followed nouns.  From there he went on the the QuizMe! section and breezed through all the levels.  He was not interested in the Story Starter part at all which didn't surprise me because he struggles with comprehension so he didn't know how to elaborate on a given thought.  


Jackson's mind is so fascinating that I constantly underestimate what he is capable of learning.  I love to just sit back and watch him deconstruct something, tilt his head to the side and then rebuild it so it makes sense to him and him alone! So what if the app was full of difficult words he had never seen before, that was not going to stop him from earning those trophies for passing the quizzes!  That boy is committed to winning prizes and not much can stop him when he is on a mission.


I've included a video of Jackson trying, failing and ultimately succeeding in using Shake-A-Phrase




I am excited to introduce this app to Caroline as well, since she has a passion for creative writing and is addicted to her thesaurus these days.  I think this app will provide her with some fun and unique vocabulary to incorporate into her next great story.  

My only recommendation to improve the app would be to add a lower level vocabulary option as "training" so kids don't get discouraged right off the bat because they don't know what anything means.   Build some confidence and excitement so they will want to move onto the apps real brilliance which is its fun use of diverse and high level vocabulary that stimulates their young, eager minds! 

In my opinion, this is a great language arts app for older kids with special needs who learn primarily through decoding and repetition with a healthy does of fun! 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Public School PTSD

Oh My Gosh!!!!  I usually spend hours thinking about and writing my blogs but I had to get this down ASAP, so forgive the brevity and poor composition!

I just got back from Glasgow Middle School (J's new home-base school) to sign a form giving them consent to do an OT evaluation on Jackson.  Even though he is homeschooled, J still has access to any services that are in his current IEP and/or any services that are recommended by a teacher.  Before leaving the autism program in October at Poe Middle School, he was referred for OT because his handwriting was poor...not because he has massive sensory issue...which is a whole other blog...

Anyway, so I brought J with me for what was supposed to be a quick trip in and out.  The minute he set foot into that building he lost his mind.  It was like watching Jekyll turn into Hyde right before my eyes as he passed through the doors.  You could see all his senses spike and his anxiety soar!  He whipped his head around like a caged animal and even crawled down the hallway on all fours barking - I am NOT KIDDING!

We made it into the woman's office after this bizarre episode and he immediately began spinning around wildly saying, "no detention, no follow your rules, no bad day, no Mr. Beret, etc..."  It was heartbreaking to watch.  I could barely comprehend what I was seeing.  He started kicking the desk and refused to even sit down in the chair.  We eventually made our way out and the second he passed back through those doors into the fresh air, he smiled and said to me, "Phew, that was close."

I began to cry in the car as I felt so guilty for not realizing sooner how bad the public middle school program was for him.  How could I not know and let him stay there for so long - 8 weeks of that is enough to create a powerful anxiety disorder for him that might last years.  We couldn't get him within 100 feet of a dentist for 5 years after they strapped him to a board when he was only 4 to do a routine cleaning.  This kid never forgets and harbors anxiety on a deep level that I never understood until today.

I promise not to expose him to that again until he has recovered from his experiences at Poe Middle School...it might be awhile and I am OK with that!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making 2012 as Awesome as 2011

Halloween: J as Harry Potter and C as a USA Soccer Player
Out of the 365 days of 2011, 330 of them were awesome!  Let's be honest, October was terrible. We watched Jackson regress academically and behaviorally in a way that was heartbreaking to everyone who cared about him. But, if we could erase that whole month, except for Paul's amazing Halloween Extravaganza, 2011 was our best year as a family ever!

We are committed to making 2012 as awesome!  Paul and I thought up some cool stuff to do this year as a family and I have also brainstormed some ideas for J's homeschooling that I am excited about.  So in the spirit of sharing, I wanted write down some thoughts that might seem a bit unconventional, but I think the best way to teach Jackson is to throw out the special education rule book and let him lead me into 2012! 

1.  New Understanding:

The first thing I asked myself was, "What does Jackson like?" The answer to that was simple - to make people laugh.  So then I asked myself, "Why does he thrive on that?" Over the break, I read a hilarious book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, by Mindy Kaling, one of the writer's of The Office.  She articulated the answer perfectly for me...it is just who he is and he can't change that, EVER!  Comedy is just a part of some people like athleticism or musicality.  Humor is more than just a way to "cut-up" or amuse other people to get attention (as some teachers like to think), it is a form of expression that is critical to their development as a whole person. 

This realization has helped drive all of my plans for this year.  I want to let in as much of J's humor and personality into our homeschooling as possible.  A quick way to do that is to switch our out-loud reading from standard fictional chapter books, to more fun and quirky books like Shel Silverstein or even Ronald Dahl.  It makes perfect sense now that for the first 10 years of his life, all he wanted to read was Dr. Seuss! He understood and identified with his humorous stories in a way we only saw as mildly entertaining and a bit annoying!

With this new perspective on Jackson always at the forefront of my mind, I plan to make a few other changes to his homeschooling which I hope will help make 2012 as awesome as 2011.

2.  New Schedule

Our current schedule looks similar to the one that I posted back in Novemeber when we began homeschooling.  Since Jackson is quickly coming up on 13yr old (yikes!), I want his daily school schedule to begin to look more like what his life schedule will look like as he becomes an adult.  So I created a few blocks of time and instruction between 8 - 10am that are a stretched out version of what an adult would do before beginning their workday.

8:00-8:30     Watch News and Eat Breakfast
8:30-9:00     Take a Shower, Get Dressed, Take Vitamins, Brush Teeth 
9:00-10:00   Yoga, Devotional, Reading

I want him to get in the habit of doing his devotional and reading time on the couch or in a comfy chair instead of at his "school desk" because I'd love to see him independently incorporate those activities into his adult life someday.  I see all of the above items as life skills not as academic skills, and with autism, these things need to be intentionally taught and practiced over and over. But in the spirit of my new understanding of his personality, they will all be done with much laughter!!

In addition to our new and improved morning routine, I plan to add a whole block of time at the end of our school day that is dedicated to playing board games as well as a dedicated block for the Wii Fit.  Both of these activities incorporate his need for fun and humor but help teach valuable skills such as following specific, and often restrictive directions which can be a challenge for him.  The Wii Fit has some wonderful games that require body control and calm movements which help him slow his mind down and focus for long periods of time. And while board games have always been a favorite of his, he  has never been interested in actually playing by the established rules.  A goal of mine is to get him to read and actually follow the stated rules...I'm not confident this is going to go well, but I am certainly going to try!!


3.  New Apps/iPad Use

Since my last post on The Awesome iPad, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons.  The most important one is to change to placement of his iPad use on the schedule.  I had it at the end of each instructional block - for example:

1:00-2:00  Math

  1. Morning and Homework: 2 worksheets
  2. Review 3 Digit Addition and Subtraction: 2 worksheets
  3. Lesson on Fractions and Decimals: 2 worksheets and Pizza Game
  4. Evaluation on Multiplication 1-6: 50 question speed test
  5. iPad: Baseball Multiplication, iFractions, Sticker Sudoku

What I found was that over time he discovered that if he rushed through all his work he could get the iPad during any extra time left over before our 2:00 block finished.  He would get short tempered if I asked him to redo something or do try another problem, because in his mind it only ate into his iPad time.  I switched up his schedule during the week before break and it made a huge difference. Now we begin each block with 15 min of iPad activities and leave the remaining 45 min for his lessons. Not surprisingly, he is much more amicable to my instruction because he has no ulterior motives to rushing through.  

I also am excited to try a whole new crop of iPad apps in 2012. I have found that there is a weird gap in apps for his age and developmental disability.   There are tons of cool options for younger kids with autism and tons of great options for neurotypical adolescents, but for a 12yr old with his unique strengths and weaknesses, I am having a hard time finding apps that fit his needs.  I have been asked to review a promising app about sentence structure this week, so hopefully I can add that to his list soon! Here is a list of a few I have tried and liked recently:


Language Arts:

Anaolgies 4 Kids
Bluster
Reading Monster 1-4
Frankenstein Matchmaker
Big Nate Comix



Math:

Baseball Multiplication 1-12
Sticker Sudoku
iMazing
Fractions
iGraphs



Social Studies:

Stack the Countries
Presidents vs. Aliens
Spell USA States
TapQuiz Maps


4.  New Behavioral Approach 

I recently tweeted my 2012 Motto: "Behavior is Communication and I Promise to Listen" to much retweeting excitement!  Apparently this is a well-understood mantra by parents of special needs kids, but not very well understood by special needs professionals.  I included this amazing blog post entitled, Quiet Hands, by an adult woman with autism that was eye-opening (and heart breaking) to me and it also struck a Twitter nerve. I took every word of it to heart and have decided to be 100% committed to listening to Jackson's behavior as much as I would my daughter's words as his primary form of communication.  While Jackson is predominately verbal, his words don't always connect into clear thoughts and ideas. He uses chunks of language he has memorized and he does not always use them correctly, so trusting his words to accurately express his feelings is not ideal.  I need to watch and listen to his behavior for clues to his true thoughts and concerns.  


So as we head into 2012, we have a lot to be thankful for from 2011, and a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year.  My hope is that we can all agree that homeschooling autism has been a blessing to our whole family and that God has been good to the Trotters!  

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