Sunday, January 28, 2018

lessons with Kate

I have been re-working my planning sessions for this new term to make them more simplified and take less time so that I can actually write down a plan for the coming week for each of our three children. My previous teaching planner(which I used as a classroom teacher and a homeschooling mom) caused too many inefficiencies which made me run out of mental energy long before I felt I was truly prepared.
So far, my new planning strategies have worked well the last three weeks and I'm no longer stressing on the weekends about getting enough time to sit and plan.
The following is what I have been able to pull together to work with Kate for this winter term. It is a work-in-progress. Some days we roll easily from one activity to the next, other days seem like we hardly get anything worthwhile done.
She has shown much progress in understanding letter sounds and formation, so with this encouragement, I have gained inspiration and insight into what skills she needs to work on and what she has already mastered to build further upon.
My biggest issue so far in her daily lessons is fitting in time to make it happen without losing too much momentum with Laura's work. Thankfully Laura has shown a lot of progress in her reading since September and in her ability to work independently on a list of tasks. So with that as my goal, I made up a list of activities that Laura could work on without needing my undivided attention so that I could work with Kate yet still be available to watch over Laura's work and answer questions.
And of course, I still have Seth's Year 9 studies to oversee just in case I get bored.

I worked with some books I have for children with Down Syndrome and also some ideas from her therapists and also one I follow on Pinterest to give me some practical ideas to work on.  The books have helpful worksheets in the Appendix to use for practice strokes.
But some of the ideas we are working on are abstract, like finding the 'middle' and required some thinking as to how to implement them. Others are more concrete like strengthening hands and fingers for writing by scissor cutting and stringing items on laces or dowel rods. (In the following photos you may notice that her nose has incision marks covered with ointment and that's because she underwent more tear duct surgery the second week of January. She has had a great recovery and we are still working on healing the marks.)

One of the ideas I saw on the Pinterest therapist's boards was controlling coloring by creating a physical barrier to the area being colored. The barrier was made with Wikki Stix. While I was looking for them in various local stores, her amazing OT therapist pulled some out during a therapy session. It worked quite well for Kate so I came home and added them to my Amazon order being shipped to my parents' over Christmas. They are coated with wax so they stick to the page, but can easily be shaped and removed at any point. When they eventually lose their tackiness, you can just use another one. As you can see from the pictures below, it helps Kate to concentrate on the targeted area for her coloring and keeps her from scribbling in random places like she often does. This is her best coloring work yet.

I have used these books with all my kids and they are perfect for early motor skills.

Later in the day, we took those segments of straw she had cut and she strung them on two pieces of Wikki Sticks bonded together. You can buy it in long pieces suitable for this type of activity, but I bought a small container of the shorter pieces so I make do.  Because it is more stiff than our other lacing, but not as rigid as the dowels we use, it is more relaxing for her, yet still requires good eye attention. Kate likes to look away and still continue to try to complete a task, so having to sit and focus with her eyes is good practice for her.

Her letter recognition skills are gaining so quickly. I thought we would be laboring on one letter for weeks, but no, she catches on very quickly and we are working on associating the sounds with the various letters that she could already make. But the letter that we began forming first was F and I thought since the name of our kitty starts with F we could work at learning to say /f/. Well it took a little over a week of practicing holding the bottom lip with our teeth and controlling the blowing, but by adding a definite head bob when she exaled, she got the correct /f/ sound. So now she routinely  pronounces an emphatic /f/ with a full head-bob and downward pull of her chin when she wants to talk about Flossy the kitty and her incessantly messy food dish.
I felt so confident in our unexpected success that I started in on /sh/ by getting her to clench her teeth, perhaps a little too tricky because it seemed to require something for her to clench her teeth on. So now we sit around together each with a clean half of an ear swab in between our closed teeth saying /sh/. She is just starting to consistently get the air to blow out through her closed teeth. I have no photos of us doing that so you are spared the ridiculousness of that scene.
So back to practicing recognizing letters.
I am working on her knowing F, D, and L so I took the juice can lids I have used for other games and attached two of each of those three letters and then added a couple more(B, T, and M) to keep the matching game challenging.  We use our magnet wands just for fun although it does distract her sometimes to find the correcting matching letters. She is signing the word 'same' for some matches she has made.
She is able to make all six of these letter sounds and we have word associations for all of them, so I think she likely already knows them. What she is unable to do is blend two sounds smoothly and consecutively to form a complete word. So while she can make all the sounds for a word like APPLE, she cannot yet say the /a/-/p/-/l/ sounds fast enough to make it understood as the word APPLE.

As I mentioned earlier one of the more abstract ideas I wanted to impress upon her for letter formation was the concept of 'middle'. When you form certain letters, you need to be able to find the middle in order to correctly write the letter. While she may have had some understanding of this idea, I came up with some activities for us to do to reinforce the concept of 'bottom', 'top' and 'middle'.
Enter the Cheerios.
By placing three Cheerios on the table and identifying them as BOTTOM, TOP and finally MIDDLE, I asked her to eat the MIDDLE one. She caught on quickly and consistently picked the MIDDLE one after it was replaced. And like she usually does, she attempted to change the rules of the game very quickly, so we finished that part of the activity and lined up the three Cheerios next to her magnetic writing tablet from Handwriting/Learning Without Tears to reinforce where the proper lines start for the letter F since she often wants to make it into an E. We did this about three times pointing to the various position of the lined up Cheerios and then cleaned everything up.

The next attempt to work on the concept of 'middle' was to build a block tower using a blue block to show the 'middle' of the tower. Of course for Kate, the most fun was knocking down the tower thinking she was ruining the game. But she willing rebuilt it while I emphasized the position of the blocks as BOTTOM, MIDDLE, and TOP. 
Then as you can see in the photos below, we lined those blocks up in the same way we had done with the Cheerios next to the magnetic writing tablet to identify the placement of the strokes for F.

These activities do not take much time nor are they all done everyday. We work on different things depending on both of our moods and schedule. A big key to what we do together is help her to take something she already knows and add something new to that in order to gain progress in that new skill or concept. Because she is non-verbal, I rely on her communicative abilities in other ways to make sure I know what she is saying. We spend 24/7 together and know the same routines so our ability to communicate is relatively unhindered by her lack of speech.
While we were with Kate in the Recovery area of the Surgical Day Unit waiting for her be discharged from the children's hospital, the attending nurse was handing off her patients to a colleague while she had her lunch break. The incoming nurse was listening and reading over Kate's chart at the foot of her bed. The out-going nurse was giving her a summary of Kate's recovery and while I was leaning over Kate helping her drink water, I heard the nurse say to her colleague that while Kate is nonverbal, "Mom is able to understand her needs and care for her quite well". Of course, that made my heart glow, but I was surprised by the astuteness of the busy nurse and heartened that while we certainly hope for Kate to progress in her speech, her life is filled with kind people who care for her and meet her where she is at.

Year 9, Term 2

I posted a version of this photo on Instagram and Facebook, so it you already saw it, please excuse the repeated posting.
This list of books is compiled following closely Ambleside Online's schedule and book list for Year 9. It is daunting to prepare work for our first high school student, mostly because he is studying books and topics that I did not study as a student myself. So to counter this deficiency, I try to pre-read some of the more difficult or more important material so that I can be able to discuss his narrations and ideas intelligently. I get behind often, but even a skimming-read is better than not opening the book at all.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Books read in 2017

This is what my desk area looked like after my husband painted this corner of our bedroom and I put everything back together and before I sorted and moved those book stacks. That sounds confusing. I just mean that the stacks of books have been reduced and rearranged a bit since I took this photo.  And while I know it's weird to see bricks and old boards stacked on a desk, that set-up currently works for me. I hauled those boards and bricks out of my parents tree-line last summer and brought them back here(complete with the clinging moss) to make something that was functional, reminiscent of home, and full of natural beauty, (at least to me, for now). I added two pieces of felt to the bottom two bricks to keep them from scratching the desk, but left the moss. Yes, it gets a bit messy, but nothing a quick dusting on occasion doesn't take care of.
Here are some of the books I read this past year, some borrowed from the library, the rest are my own, some purchased brand new, others found second-hand. I loosely grouped them together by genre or author.

Picture Books
A clever and delightful idea of thinking about seed dispersal, Miss Maple's Seeds is a lovely book. I think I might have enjoyed it more than my eight year old. Not surprising since I love soft, yet detailed illustrations with carefully chosen text, all of which describes this picture book.

Miss Read
I have been reading Miss Read's books for almost fifteen years after I found one in the main library in downtown Fredericton, NB and read every title I could find. I now own close to ten titles myself and am still finding ones I haven't read yet. I love her books and the illustrations are vintage gold.

Jan Karon
Like many others, I love Jan Karon's Mitford novels which I think I began reading when I worked at Barnes & Noble back in my university years.  My friend, Katie loaned me her copy of To Be Where You Are and I admit I gobbled it up in only a few days.

In my very limited experience, it doesn't get better than Helen Hanff. I do have a friend whose emails imitate HH in almost every way and I don't even think she knows it.  And I'm quite sure that my reading (or maybe even re-reading, who can remember!) of 84, Charing Cross Road was enhanced because of our email exchanges. (And yes, I have seen the movie, years ago.) Her follow-up book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street was enjoyable in its own right, but missed some of the snappiness of the first one. My local library system has her other titles so I will give them a go and in the meantime, perhaps send a HH note to someone.
Jean Fritz is a popular children's author who turns her pen to own life on occasion for writing material. Homesick: My Own Story was an interesting read of a bit of her 'coming of age' years in China. There is a follow-up called China Homecoming which may be more appealing to adults.

Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams is the second book in her trilogy telling the story of her own life history. And like the other two, she shares it in her unique style: part scrap-book, part diary-like with her own very recognizeable handwriting and illustrations. I have read the trilogy in a dizzying order, mostly because they all have been library requests and her books have long queue lines which means my requests have come in all at different times. I intend to buy my own hardcover copies, perhaps a birthday present to myself in March. Her cookbooks and home decorating books have been around for decades, so you likely have seen her artwork, even if you didn't know who she was.

Fiction- Children's
The Year of Jubilo was on my ebay search list for a long time before an inexpensive copy showed up. It is the sequel to Roller Skates and I enjoyed it very much, more than I remembered liking Roller Skates. I think the setting being in a small town in Maine in the sequel was more inviting to me than the city setting of the first book.
I think I remember that my now teenaged son did not really enjoy his reading of Roller Skates, but I feel confident he will enjoy The Year of Jubilo because it features the whole family including three young men.
The Chestry Oak is the third book I have read by Kate Seredy. I bought it because it was republished in paperback after being out-of-print and very expensive secondhand. I found the first half of the book very slow-going for me, reading it off-and-on for months before finally hitting what I would call the 'action' of the story and then I finished it in a few days at the end of December. The main character is a young Hungarian prince, Michael and I found his thought life and interchanges with his Nurse to be tedious and baby-ish at times at the beginning of the book. But the first half of the book sets up the heart-warming story of courage and kindness in an indispensable way to form an endearing tale. I still have another unread Kate Seredy book on my shelf,  The White Stag a very short book, perhaps a quick read for this afternoon.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
I think I can say that I truly liked this book, which is the first in the series which currently numbers two books.  I think on occasion, I felt that the inner thought life of the main character, a young girl named Calpurnia Tate, seemed too advanced for her supposed age. Her level of observation in the natural world seems normal , but her ability to reason and arrive at scientifically correct conclusions often seems a bit over-the-top, but that doesn't detract from the story which I think is original and captivating. This was a library read for me and I'm waiting for the second book in the series, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate to come in from my library request list.

Nonfiction- Education/Parenting
Our Charlotte Mason Study Group read through For the Children's Sake while using Brandy Vencel's Start Here Study Guide. This is my second read-through this book, but the first was a long time ago before I actually started home educating. Our study group loved this book and it is often the first book people read when being introduced to Charlotte Mason and her methods.

I frequently come across books on homesteading and gardening that I borrow from our local library to peruse for new ideas and inspiration. I rarely can take the time to read these books from cover to cover, instead I dip into them as the topics interest me. Permaculture and its related ideas have become trending topics in the world of gardening, farming and homesteading. It interests me because of the way you make use of your land and care for it.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening is by an Austrian farmer who has been championing these methods for decades. While much of what he shares is beyond the scope of my own small gardening dreams, there are many practical considerations such as prevention of soil erosion, companion planting, and soil care to name a few.

Books that I have dipped into this year and will continue to read in small bites.

Friday, January 05, 2018

the rest of December

While we were visiting my family, I decided to take the scenic route on the way home from the post office and hardware store. I drove down some back roads into steep valleys and climbed around winding twisting unpaved roads thinking I could snap a few pics from my driver's seat undisturbed.
But in fact, I met more cars on those rural roads than I did on the paved road back to my parents' driveway. Ha! So much for the quiet countryside. Anyways, I did pull over for a few shots at the top of a very steep hill that I always dare my husband to not use the the brakes on. Being a wise and prudent man, he never listens. Since I was armed with my camera, I also braked carefully down it as I was looking for good spots to stop and take photos. I found a few before reaching the bottom of the hill and the road which then winds its way back up to the hill my parents live on. That's Pennsylvania for you, hills and valleys with creeks and trees all over the place.
On our last evening there, my brother and family, hosted all of us for dinner where he kept his wood fire burning brightly. With two full bookcases flanking the fireplace and soft comfortable chairs on the carpeted living room, I was almost ready to move in. I did sneak one picture of just him in his kitchen checking on the Italian meatballs he was preparing for dinner. But between meal prep and log burning, we chatted about books and I pulled various ones off to peruse that caught my eye. I found that fantastic bird book and then a book on the writings of John Muir by Edwin Teale. Both have been added to my substantial book wishlist.  I took blurry pictures of the part where Muir is discussing Solomon's attention to nature to defend his own lifelong pursuit of nature study.
So good.
So very Charlotte Mason.
And, having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such a flower. 'We should find wild thyme here!' 'Oh, this is the very spot for marsh marigolds; we must come here in the spring.'
'Home Education'