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