September 1, 2009

Why Homeschool a Special Needs Child?

Over the years, I have witnessed an exodus of sorts when it comes to the education of friends' children. More and more parents of children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome are choosing to homeschool. We are the well-kept dirty little secret that your school district doesn't want you to know: often our children can be better served at home than in the school system.

I would have never said such six years ago. I was a died-in-the-wool PTA, room mom, get into the system and change it, agent. But one horrific year with my son's classroom (through no fault of the teacher) and I became a true believer. I figured I couldn't do a worse job than the school, and I might even be an improvement. Besides, my son hated school, to the point I was literally dragging him there. Something had to give.

And now? I homeschool all three of my children, and this is our 5th year. Two have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, they are 7 and 10 respectively. My oldest is going on 15, and though she has never been diagnosed, she has many of the deficits of Asperger's, and is also academically gifted. Her father is a computer engineer, and is most likely also on the Spectrum. (he was never tested, but off the record, our psychologist said so) So, you do the math...

In any case, bringing my children home has worked out wonderfully for us. Homeschooling has allowed me to tailor each program according to what works for each child. My 14 yr old, who went to school for 6 years benefits from a very academic program. She enjoys the structure and it works. My middle guy, at 10, is the one I walk the line with. He isn't unschooled, but his academic structure would, at first glance, seem more relaxed. It is still very scheduled, however. But we benefit from frequent breaks, sensory diet and multisensory approaches. I can choose activities that he enjoys, and we keep work periods short and focused. He can take a break for pogo stick or OT work, as needed. My littlest one, at 7, is the one that learns best through games and Mom Time. She needs one-on-one (as does my son) that she wouldn't get in a classroom. She often has to be taught a concept repeatedly before she gets it.

My middle guy is also dyslexic, which makes it interesting, and I am thinking my littlest may be, as well.

As for socialization...which is a joke anyway... but still. We have found with regular play dates, activities and park outings, my children do just fine. There is more time for preferred subjects (my 14 year old taught herself to both play the piano and knit, because she had more time than if she was traditionally schooled.) We have more time (and funds) for field trips and activities. While other kids are sitting in a classroom, mine are out learning in the world.

There is a park day we attend and have for years. The attendance is large, with many different ages and multiple abilities. There are several kids from all ages that are on the spectrum in varying degrees. It is a very welcoming group. Truly, it was the best decision we ever made for our family.

When my son ended 1st grade, he barely read, was behind in math, his writing was still reversals (though he is left handed, so that made it worse). I would literally dress him like a doll and drag him, kicking, to the public school. He would sit under the teacher's desk, or make games. His aide was useless, only serving to keep him from eloping from the classroom. His work was all sent home. I was already homeschooling, and my son was in the school system!

He is now in the 5th grade, and reads at grade level. His math is also at grade level, or just below. He is above in Science, History, Geography. His writing and penmanship has improved 10 fold. and most importantly, he loves to learn. I have found that learning is a broad term for what we do every day. Mythbusters is learning and exploring Science. Going to the Arboretum is a chance to discuss the environment and botany, as well as the food chain. In fact, every activity has inherent learning in just have to find it.

The most important thing to remember about homeschooling? It isn't something you do. It's something you live. And there really is no wrong way to do it. You can, and your child can... and if it doesn't work, keep tweaking. Also, what your state standards may find important, you may find doesn't mesh with your family. That's ok. I have found that as we go, my kids pick up information I didn't formally teach. And the one thing I want to equip my children with? The ability to find information.

The freedom I have found, as well as the free time away from IEPs, discipline meetings and just general headache is now energy I can pour into helping my son love learning. Less time is spent arguing over what the schools think he needs and more time is given to what he actually needs. We have personalized his goals, and we make sure he reaches them. There is no fighting with autism experts who insist my son is meeting goals that are either too broad, too easy or just plain wrong. I am in control. And my children are the better for it.

That, to me, is success.

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June 12, 2009

Need yet another reason to homeschool? Apparently it's ok to discriminate if the child is 5

Sorry, I am crossposting this on all of my sites. I simply feel the issue is too important to ignore. Thanks!

You might remember earlier this year about the teacher from Port St. Lucie, FL who had her class vote on whether Alex Barton, a child with autism, could remain in her Kindergarten class. He was voted out, traumatized and refused to return to school. There was a great uproar and teacher Wendy Portillo was suspended without pay for a year with her tenure revoked.

The school board quietly reversed its decision this week the rest here, and you do need to read it if you care about special needs kids and/or education.


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June 2, 2009

How To Teach Your Child To Think Logically

Darling daughter's classes are over for the year (yes, homeschooled kids get out sooner, one of the perks...though these classes are taught in an actual classroom, by an actual sort-of teacher.) She did quite well, and her new-found love is Logic. (wait, where are you going??) It's not scary, not really. AND you can start children easy, and they never know they are being herded lead into a life of logical thought. How? Glad you asked!

Start with patterning, at an early age. Counting bears, beans, rocks, whatever is a different color. Play Concentration, Seek & Find, What Comes Next. Get that little mind thinking logically. They will think they are playing games, only you will know the truth.

Once you have them in your grips interested, proceed to mazes, Sudoku and logic puzzles. Logic puzzles can work for even the youngest gradeschooler.

Have lots of conversations about life. Debate and discuss, what are the reasons for their views? Teach your child not what to think (the public schools do that!) but teach them how to think. Make them explain their position.

Practice teaching thorough Socratic Method. No, it's not hard! You are simply asking questions, leading them to their own answers. It's a beautiful thing. When they are ready, steer them towards formal logic, which will help them understand the way arguments are constructed.

*Warning! We here at Sweet Schoolin' will not be responsible for the fact that you will start to lose arguments with your child! Yes, they may soon out-argue you... but they will be thinking, so there's that.

p.s, about the title? All bets are off with teenagers about thinking logically. however they will still be able to out-argue you. Trust me on this...

photo copyright C.A. Mullhaupt, flickr. Used under creative commons

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May 18, 2009

Want to Improve Your Child's Math Skills? Make Math a Way of Life!

Interesting news about how to get kids more fluent in mathematics.. (fluent works because math is said to be a language). According to the The Scotsman, it is possible to foster math ability with children.

And we here at Sweet Schoolin' say that homeschooling fits this mission beautifully. Schools are doing a lousy job at this... don't compartmentalize math. Talk about math with your kids. Did you know the nautilus image at left is a perfect start for discussing the Golden Spiral. Try it! (with search engines, you have no excuse, learn along with the kids!)

Some things to try:

  • teach your children to see themselves as problem solvers. Use math language and make it part of your life

  • make sure your children are doing math puzzles, Sudoku, mazes, logic puzzles. You can start mazes early on

  • discuss math with your children, how to solve puzzles, word problems.

  • encourage a flexible view of numbers... break up the numbers to make operations easier. 2 x 98 is the same as 2 x 100, -4, which is easier for many people.

  • point out the logic in even wrong answers when your child is working on a math problem, rather than just saying, "No, that's wrong."

  • take a "real life" approach to math. USE it. Talk about it, find the beauty in it.

  • Read the whole article here.

    Living Math
    Mathematical Magic
    The Golden Mean
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May 7, 2009

Radio show on homeschooling special needs kids

Today I was on BlogTalk radio, talking about homeschooling special needs kids. We discuss resources, how you homeschool a child with autism and the S Word...socialization. What is it like to homeschool three children with high-functioning autism? How does one maintain sanity in the face of it? Find out!

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April 27, 2009

Science Projects Are Not Just For Public Schoolers: Resources to get you started on cell models

Here at Sweet Schoolin' we have a fondness for Science. Especially the oldest, who has a penchant for Biology, that has been mentioned before.

She takes a Sophomore Biology class and had to write a paper on a type of cell. She also had to create a model of said cell. The paper, with the help of Google and some books, was a resounding success. The cell model was fun to do, and allowed her to show her creativity.

And you can, too.

Cell model project ideas
Science online cells (great, K-6 ideas!)
Science Faire Projects
Kids Love Kits (for purchase)
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April 9, 2009

Teach With Your Child's Learning Style

Homeschooling allows the educating of a child in the way that works best for the child. As many kids as there are, that's how many different approaches available for learning.

There are times that my daughter really needs me to be next to her in order to concentrate and work through her school work. I suppose this can be frustrating, but the reason for homeschooling in this house is the freedom to provide what the children need.

Some children cannot sit still at all, some love to sit for long periods of time. Books work for some children and others go into conniptions at the mere thought. Don't be afraid to shake things up, step out of the frame of reference that you think might work, redefine the box and you may find a breakthrough.

One of the best examples of this is when my son was having a horrible time learning addition facts. I am not a drill and kill person, but I knew he needed some help. I took him outside, used sidewalk chalk and wrote numbers on the driveway. Then I called out sums to him and he ran to the right answer. This was such a success he did this for over an hour, and begged for more. We could have sat inside and drilled flashcards or textbooks as he became more and more uncooperative. Instead, I chose to follow his bent. And... he found the joy.

We at Sweet Schoolin' want to encourage you to follow your child's lead, and not worry about where the child learns. Some children want to sit on the floor, some outside, some in the middle of their bed. It doesn't matter. My son likes to read while hanging upside down on the couch. The goal isn't where the child learns, it's that he does, indeed learn.

Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences TEST

Why Are Learning Styles Important?

Early Years Child's Learning Assets

How Can I Find My Child's Learning Style

Learning Styles and Hemispheric Dominance - Is Your Learning Style at Odds with That of Your Child's?

Left vs. Right: Which Side Are You On?

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March 31, 2009

Social Skills for Autism CAN Be Taught At Home

For parents of kids with special needs, especially Pervasive Developmental Disorders like Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, part of homeschooling is finding a good way to teach a child social skills.

Many neurotypical children learn social skills as they go along, but children with autism do not have this ability. Most of the time, the hidden social curriculum of life must be spelled out to them.

Homeschooling is a 24/7 activity here at Sweet Schoolin'... as such we use every opportunity to teach. Never assume a child "gets it." Wait for evidence. Many will say you cannot teach a child social skills without the help of a professional, or a school district program. We here at Sweet Schoolin' kindly disagree.

Some good social skills resources:

Social Stories by Carol Gray
Social Skills by Jed Baker
The RDI Book
My Turn, Your Turn
Social Thinking (Michelle Garcia Winners)
Gaining Face, face recognition software (free demo)
photo of children, oh that rachel, used under cc
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March 23, 2009

Want to Improve Your Teen's Essay Writing Skills?

Probably one of the greatest fears if you polled high school students is taking the SAT. It has made many a blood run cold. And the worst part seems to be the SAT essay portion. One topic, 25 minutes: Go. Write a well-organized, critically-thought-out essay with examples. At 8 a.m. Ack!

Fortunately, there are options. This Saturday, we spent the day at a High School Essay Intensive course, designed specifically for the SAT and college entrance essays. It was lead by Andrew Pudewa, the founder of the program. The experience that we have had with Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has been very favorable, so I decided to give the workshop a try.

When my daughter was in the 7th grade, I purchased the DVD program Student Writing Intensive, a complete program for teaching writing. There are three levels, A, B and C, depending upon age and experience with writing. I purchased the B program, figuring I could both gear it to a higher level or bring it down to the lower level for my son when it was his turn. To be honest, my daughter didn't love it. She prefers more freedom when writing. I however, found it a great program, and Andrew Pudewa was entertaining on the discs. And her writing did improve.

my daughter is camera-shy

The High School Essay Intensive program gave my daughter the building blocks she needed for writing an effective essay. The approach was systematic and strong.

By providing a Discussion of Criteria, word lists, writing diagrams and outlines and exercises, the material proved to be invaluable. Though my daughter had some hesitations, she went with me. She found it was excellent seminar, and she has new-found confidence in essay writing. She left prepared and able to write a good all-around essay.

It was inexpensive for the value and I highly recommend the series, which is also available on DVD, in case Andrew doesn't come to your area any time soon. And at the end, my daughter thanked me for taking her to the workshop, though she was reluctant at first to attend. I don't think there could be a higher recommendation than that.

IEW offers many products for writing and improving communication, as well as an email loop, chat and teaching support. Andrew's email is available to anyone who buys the program, a touch that I believe few programs provide. He really does want to know what you think.

*this is an uncompensated and unsolicited review, because I really believe in the product.

Download the catalog

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March 20, 2009

Homeschooling: Allowing Children the Time to Explore

HOME DImage by foreversouls via Flickr

The greatest thing in our opinion about homeschooling is tailoring your program to meet your child's needs. And, if they are old enough, letting them tailor their own program. Because the children don't spend hours in instruction, they are able to get work done more quickly. This leaves time for extra-curricular activities.

My oldest daughter spends time teaching herself to play the piano. I have never pushed her; I have never had to. In fact, instead, I often have to remind her to get back to her Logic or Biology instead of spending hours practicing piano. She also has time to be involved in our local homeschool intermediate band. She has an affinity for tech, and can use just about anything out there, or she will teach herself to do so. Again, if she was in high school somewhere, she would come home with hours and hours of homework, with no time for anything else.

My son is learning to play the drums, and is keen on computers. His newest interest is stop-motion animation and we are researching programs to allow him to do this. We need a video camera, which is also on the list. If my son was in school, he wouldn't have time to spend exploring these interests, he would be too busy getting required homework done.

The youngest child is currently enamoured with the Photo Booth program that is on our Mac. She will spend hours posing, taking pictures, adding effects. Why do I let her do this? She is becoming familiar with technology! As she gets older, we will get her a digital camera, and she can transfer those skills. to photography. And her sister today started teaching her to use Photoshop Elements. How many 7 year olds do you know who can use photo-editing software? Mine has time to explore these interests.

Trust your children, and give them time to follow their interests. They are all valuable. You never know where they will lead.

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School and Get an Education
How to Make Chores Fun
Make Your Activities Count
College Activities for Your Homeschooled Teen
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March 17, 2009

How To Help Your Child Want To Read

Child_with_red_hair_readingImage via Wikipedia

I am a firm believer in not pushing children to do things before they are ready to do so. And I try to balance that with the worry I sometimes feel when my children aren't progressing as quickly as I would like. So I don't shove reading down my childrens' throats. I don't force them to read; that's the fastest way to make a kid hate reading.

With my oldest daughter, she taught herself to read, at three and a half. She has never stopped. My son took longer, he started reading well at around eight. It isn't his favorite pastime, but he reads well enough. My youngest daughter goes back and forth. She will sit and watch Word World, with her red spiral notebook and pause the tv to write the words down. She is teaching herself. We also do Click and Read with her, and Rocket Phonics. I let her go at her own pace, but I always offer to work with her every day.

Most importantly, we do a lot of reading books aloud. I love to read aloud, and the kids love to listen. Also, when I can't do it, older sister jumps in and does it. She read the kids all of the Peter and the Starcatchers series, and also the City of Ember. She is dedicated, and they love it.

Some of the things I do to foster reading:

  • I let the kids read whenever they want.
  • We read aloud
  • regular trips to the library; ours knows us on a first name basis
  • my son reads video games, it improved his reading ten-fold
  • find a subject the kids want to know about, then "strew" books around. They will find them. And read them.
  • let the kids see you reading
  • make books a priority in your home.
    "When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”
    Desiderius Erasmus

We here at Sweet Schoolin' believe that fostering a love of reading is one of the most important things you can do for a child. Strong reading skills will be with them forever. And if they have a book, they are never alone.

Click and Read
Rocket Phonics
Starfall (a website for beginning readers)
Study Dog
Bob books
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March 11, 2009

The Write Stuff: Help For Kids Who Struggle With Writing

two pencils grade hb

My son hates writing. I am not just talking about the creative kind, I mean the "put the pencil to the paper old-fashioned penmanship" kind. I wish I could say I have some tried and true solutions for this, but the truth is, along with his autism, and his dyslexia, he also seems to have some dysgraphia as well. I personally don't like to look for a demon under every rock, but we need to call it what it is. This makes things harder than they could be.

Dysgraphia is difficulty writing. It doesn't occur due to cognitive deficit, it just is. It is often characterized by other lack of motor skills. Some kids might have trouble tying shoes or controlling scissors. There are actually three kinds of dysgraphia: dyslexic, motor and spatial. All cause difficult to read handwriting.

With my son, it isn't that his writing is that messy...he works at it very hard, even though he hates it. That is probably one of the biggest frustrations for him. He did well when he was younger, but as he is trying to learn penmanship, he has struggled. I chose not to teach him standard cursive, and instead went with Italics. This has eased his frustrations a bit, but he still "draws" his letters more often than not. His writing is labored, and slow.

I have worked on introduction of typing instead, because, face it, how often do we write? I am concerned about the hand-written portion of the SAT, not because I am that worried about him taking it (he is, after all, only 10) but because I want him to have the option open to him.

For now, though, I am trying a few things:

  • have him work on writing less, and drawing more.
  • giving him opportunity to write for real life reasons: lists, messages and such
  • allowing him to use the writing implements of his choice
  • making sure that graph paper is available for math...this was a huge step for progress in neatness!
  • It is my hope that his writing will be like his reading...he will show the want and need for it, and when he does, you can bet I will be there to provide materials for him.

    Some resources that have worked well for us and those we know:

    Handwriting Without Tears
    Getty & Dubay Italics
    Draw Write Now
    Ed Emberly drawing books
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    March 6, 2009

    Wait? Did He Just Call Me a Fool??

    The little foolery that wise men have makes a great show. JBug has been reading Shakespeare lately (what? YES, on her own! That's called homeschooling..I rarely force her to do any school work) ahem. Ok. She started with As You Like It and the book I have is about 300 years old (1937) and the type is this big. Also, there are two characters with the same name, but both are abbreviated: Orl: makes it impossible to figure out the cast. So I found the time for a trip to the bookstore. First I found this one: But my concern is that with the modern english translation right there on the opposite page it would make it too easy to ignore the beautiful prose that is Shakespeare. So, I compromised, found this series, instead. It has definitions of antiquated words at the end of the chapter, so it makes it a bit easier to understand, but doesn't do all the work for her. I want her to find the fun in The Bard. Because, when she breaks the rules, and I say to her, "Get thee to a nunnery!" I want her to understand the reference.

    For more on Shakespeare:

    Shakespearean Insult Generator
    Folger Shakespearean Library
    Bacon and Shakespeare??
    Alphabetical List of Foods in Shakespeare's Plays
    T, who continues the campaign to geekify her

    February 28, 2009

    Fun With Genetics

    JBug is very into Biology and genetics. So she has been asking us some random questions regarding traits that are passed down:

    *attached vs. detached earlobes (mine are attached, hers are detached, like her father)
    *can you roll your tongue, like a taco? (we all can, though the littles haven't learned to, yet)
    *hitchhiker's thumb, meaning, can you bend your thumb backwards, at a 45 degree angle? When the thumb is fully extended, is it straight up, or further back? (we all bend at a 45 degree angle, except my son, who can bend his almost 90 degrees!)
    *widow's peek...a semi-v-shaped point at the top your forehead where the hair grows (we don't have this at all)
    *cleft chin (nope all smooth here)
    *extra teeth (none here)
    *dimples (nope, none here)
    *vision anomalies (nearsighted, me...JBug)
    *freckles (only JBean, only in the summer)
    *polydactly (typing this with only 4 fingers and a thumb, same for all of us Just seeing if you are reading closely)

    For more information on genetic traits:

    Attached vs. Free Earlobes
    Introduction to Genetics
    Human Genetics: Suite 101
    Interactive Textbook: An Introduction to Genetics

    February 26, 2009

    The Geeks Shall Inherit...

    One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that it lends itself to a lifestyle of learning.

    On Saturday, JBug attended Scale with her dad. He was there to exhibit for Inkscape, something he does in his spare time. (see that cake? He made that in the likeness of Tux, the mascot for Linux). He has manned the booth for Inkscape for a few years, and is on the Board of Directors. He decided to bring JBug, in his continuing endeavor to corrupt her with open source and geekiness. It worked. Here she is designing her own Tux the Penguin using Inkscape.

    He introduced her to some women in tech, so she could get an idea that there are real women in tech, and they are empowered, and amazing. She even attended a couple of seminars on Linux For New Users. And then came home and put Ubuntu on her Mac. She now has a dual-boot system* and is really excited about it.

    On Sunday, I brought the kids up there after church, and showed them around. The kids really enjoyed it. Hard to believe that just a few years ago, my first computer was an Apple IIc. Now my kids are more computer-literate than I ever was.

    *for those who don't speak geek, that means she divided her hard drive and installed Linux, while keeping her Mac OS X as well.

    T, who was a geek, but less technical than they are

    February 21, 2009

    Open Source Education Software

    Yesterday, I spent the day at the Southern California Linux Expo. I know, right? But they were having a track with Open Source in Education and I thought it might be helpful to my homeschooling. It was, somewhat. I have some good suggestions for obtaining open source software when you are homeschooling. As you know, part of the expense of homeschooling when you are going it on your own is curriculum. Try this list of sites to find it:
    Freesmug (Mac Users)
    Open Source as Alternative
    Wiki on Open Source Software in Education (tons of really good stuff here, everything you can imagine)
    Sugar on a Stick
    Moodle (open source course management system and virtual learning environments)
  • T, who figures that should get you started...

    February 19, 2009

    Suggestion to Increase Reading Comprehension

    One of the neatest things about homeschooling is accompanying my children on their journey of self-discovery. Today, JBug found a solution and I am proud of her. She loves to read. In fact, more often than not, you will find her with a book in her hand. But she reads very fast, and sometimes will miss details. She will end up rereading to catch what she missed the first time. Up until now, this has been a problem. But she discovered finger knitting. And now, she can read and finger knit at the same time. This slows her reading substantially, and her comprehension has really increased.

    I love that she figured this out all on her own. Hope it helps someone else. I certainly wouldn't have thought of it! (And added is good motor practice and easy enough for my 7 year old to do, with a bit of practice.)

    T, who used to read really fast, but slowed down over the years, because reading is relaxing