Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jar Jack-O-Lanterns

I recently saw an activity in Family Fun magazine that I thought would be a lot of fun for my kids. Basically, you take clean, empty jars and paint them orange. Before painting, however, you put masking tape in the shape of a Jack-O-Lantern's face on the jar. When dry, you take off the tape, revealing the face. Then, light a candle inside or use a flameless candle and VOILA!  Jar Jack-O-Lanterns. This activity is fun, inexpensive, and easy. I decided to do it on a day that I watch a fourth child as a pre-Halloween activity.

The kids really enjoyed covering the jars in orange paint. I made the faces ahead of time with the tape and just had them pick out which jar that they wanted. This was just to save time. If I do it again, I would let them do the faces and would make the openings bigger. I also would use acrylic instead of tempera. That was actually my original plan because acrylic tends to cover better, but I didn't have any orange acrylic paint and had a whole bottle of the tempera. 

It DID however, look like a pumpkin massacre all over the art table when they finished. Maybe I should just display the art table on Halloween....

Once they finished drying, I was eager to see the final results. Here they are! They will definitely be out front on Halloween... imperfections and all.

The jars after drying before candles.

The jars all lit up... the faces are a little hard to see.

The winner of the easiest to see face is Kate's.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Watercolor Art

The kids are still working on making and collecting their very own Artist Trading Cards. I feel that it is still best to let the kids experiment with the given supplies without too much direction. I decided to go ahead and give watercolors a try this week. The only directions were to color in the card as much as they could with the watercolors. I really like the way that Kate experimented to blend the colors together and how Benjamin used black in the center of the cards after using the lighter colors.

Benjamin and Kate liked the watercolors so much that they wanted to paint on bigger sheets of paper. Kate loves to cover the entire sheet of paper in colors right now and does so with anything she uses. Benjamin wanted to try and make some cool designs. I also had them name their paintings for the first time ever. I think I am going to continue having them do that in the future. Kate named her large painting (bottom) "Christmas Decorations." Benjamin named his (top), "Roller Coaster." The trading cards will go into their collections.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Retell Shmetell

One thing that both of my boys are HORRIBLE at is retell. I am not sure if it is because of their speech delays or attention... who knows?!??!? They have a hard time with reading retell, but they also have a really difficult time with daily retell in general. I really have to prompt them to get them to tell me all about their day and they often go off into tangents or sometimes completely lose focus and start telling me about their favorite toys. In fact, Andrew's reading retell is the poorest part of his academic performance at school right now. So, now I need to come up with ways to help them learn how to retell. I am also doing this with Kate for preschool, but she already seems to be a natural at retelling everything and finds this very easy.

Fairy Tale Retell
Don't you just love when you come up with a name to an activity and it just fits well and maybe even rhymes a little.

  1. First, I read a fairy tale from a fairy tale book that I have. The hope is that these stories are already familiar enough that the kids kind of know what is going to happen.
  2. I sit the kids down on the rug and have them look at the pictures that go along with the fairy tale. That way, they are able to remember what happened during the story.
  3. I then have them tell me step by step what happened in the story. I prompt them at the moment by writing numbers on the white board and asking them, "What happened first?" "What happened next?" The goal is to have this be the only prompting and to occasionally remove all prompts.
  4. I then have them re-read what I wrote on the whiteboard for them. This is so they can get practice retelling without me having to ask questions. I am hoping the process will be more ingrained in their brains by doing it this way.
The white board as Ben retold me the story of Godilocks.

Eventually, THEY will read the stories. I just want them to start out by having me read them to them to practice the narrating and retelling. Once that skill seems to be under control, we will move to them reading it and then retelling it. We are still practicing this skill with all books that we read, trying with and without prompts. This is just a time a couple of times a week that is set aside specifically to work on it.

Modified Readers' Theater
Benjamin is a very kinesthetic learner. So, I decided that a good way for Ben to really understand what he is reading is by having him act it out. I have been having him do this with stories that have a clear storyline. In general, this activity doesn't work well with phonics readers.

  1. I take a story that has recently been read by either Ben or by me to the kids. I take the most popular characters and assign those parts to one of the kids to act out the part.
  2. I then re-read the story (editing out unimportant details) aloud while the kids act out what I am reading. 
We do this activity both with puppets and with the kids as the actors. They LOVE to pretend to be the villains or the heroes and do a great job creating voices and movements to be the characters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What can't be taught...

This is a video of Ben telling me the exact notes that I am playing on the piano without looking. This is NOT something that he has been taught. This IS something that he has been doing since he was 4 years old. I have video of it somewhere from when he was little, but I am not quite sure where that footage is at the moment... probably on my old dinosaur of a computer that is being stored in our computer graveyard in the basement. I just thought that I would post the amazing skill that he has. He continually missed one note in this video (F# when in the higher key), but I really wonder if it is more because my piano needs to be tuned... who knows!? I can't even come close to doing what he can, so I have no idea if that is what an F# is supposed to sound like. All that I did was show him what the names of the keys were when he was about 3 years old. This is a skill that I believe cannot be taught... or at least one that I didn't teach him.

Number Line

We are still working on using the number line for addition and subtraction.  One of the activities we do every day is using a laminated number line and have him complete math problems. He uses a game piece as his marker to help him keep his place. I have found that the larger number line is easier for him to use than the small one in the book. By laminating it, I can write the math problem that we are working on in dry erase marker and then erase it once we figure out the answer.

Ben doing an entire page of math using the number line.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What special need does he have?

Today, a little girl asked me that question. She wanted to know what special need Benjamin had.  We get questions all of the time from kids, but what I think is most important to realize is that they aren't being malicious, they truly are curious about what they see.

I explained to the little girl that Benjamin has something called Cerebral Palsy. It means that he doesn't move as easily as she does, talks a little slower, and sometimes has a difficult time making friends. I told her that he loves to play with other kids, but sometimes doesn't know how and that it really helps him when other children show him. She's very sweet and caring and immediately said, "I'll be his friend!" (she had already played with him on a playground for a half an hour and had been holding his hand as they walk, so I had a feeling that would be her response).  I then told her about all of the things that Ben likes to do. I told her that he loves to read, play on a playground, be silly, and that he plays baseball. I have found that is important for other kids to realize that even though they may act a little different, my boys are a lot more like them than they aren't.

Kids commonly ask questions about Andrew's wheelchair. I have found that teaching Andrew to answer these questions has been very effective. I have actually heard Andrew say, "It's how I get around. You walk and I need a wheelchair." In fact, very recently I heard him having a discussion with another 7-year old who said that he wanted to ask Santa for a wheelchair for Christmas. Andrew looks at him matter of factly and says, "Why do you want a wheelchair? You can walk already!" There was another time at the park that Andrew was talking with a little boy who then offered to switch him.... Andrew's wheelchair for his scooter. Andrew said yes....I had to intervene...

I have found that if Andrew opens the conversation with other kids, then they are more likely to accept him. We have actually had more issues with parents than we have with kids. Parents don't really know how to respond to the kid in the wheelchair. They don't want their kids to say anything that could be offensive and often tell their kids, "Don't look at him," or "Don't talk to him."I get not wanting your kid to be offensive, but it is more offensive when Andrew hears the adult telling the kid to ignore him. So, when Andrew was old enough to understand (around age 4), I began to teach him to say hi to kids that we pass, especially kids who were looking at him. This opened the lines of communication and usually, the parents would see that it was ok for their kid to talk to Andrew and that Andrew wasn't offended by the normal, "Why do you have a wheelchair?" Also, the wheelchair has light up wheels on the front. I have found that this alone is a great conversation starter for kids. They see them and then say, "WOW! His wheels light up! That's so cool!"

This is all working for now. We luckily live in a community that is very accepting of my boys and their disabilities. The teachers and parents at our school have as a whole been awesome with talking to the kids about differences in people and including the boys in anything that they can. We haven't had to deal much with bullying or negativity (a couple of isolated incidents). I know as they get older, the boys will probably have to learn new strategies to cope. For now, we are all fine answering the questions as they come.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Baseball Time!

Ben and Andrew
My boys both play buddy baseball. It is a special needs team where the kids are teamed up with typical children (usually middle or high school aged kids) and play a game. There is absolutely no score keeping. In fact, most kids hit a "home run" every time they hit the ball and run all around all of the bases. The plays that the kids make in the field are getting the ball and then throwing it either to first base or home. Nobody is ever out. This makes it a great experience for the special needs kids who would otherwise not be able to participate on a baseball team.
Ben's first attempt at hitting without a tee.

I am very proud to say that at baseball this week, both of my boys attempted to hit the ball without a tee! The coach pitched to them. Benjamin tried his hardest to hit the ball and did with some help from a buddy! Andrew, amazingly, hit the ball on the first try without any help! It was the very first time that he had ever even attempted to hit the ball without a tee. Everyone was so excited!

This year is the first year that my boys have had any interest in fielding at all. Ben did so great this week chasing after all of the balls in the field. I have never seen him run around the field so much during a game. 
Andrew in the field.

This is their 5th season playing baseball, including Fall and Spring seasons. It is amazing to see how much they have progressed in this time and how their confidence has increased.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Art for the Fine Motor Haters

Ben freaks when I tell him it is art time. It's a frustrating prospect for him. He has trouble with his fine motor skills and can't make things look the way he wants them to. In preschool and before, he loved to play with the materials to create. Once the expectations increased and his projects needed to resemble something, he simply gave up. I decided that for art this year, we are going to go back to just enjoying the process.

Benjamin's Trading Card Folder
I knew the folder had to be fun.

I recently came upon an article about art trading cards. Evidently, it's a trend that is becoming huge, even in the professional artist world. The way it works is that each artist has a binder with trading card sleeves in it. Then, you make cards out of cardstock that are trading card size (2.5x3.5). The artist creates on these cards using whatever techniques or materials they want. You can collect them, trade them, etc. This sounded perfect for Ben. It was low stress (it's a lot less stressful for him to fill up a small card than an entire sheet of paper) and I figured I could start with simple experimenting with materials and eventually move up to more directed art lessons.

Ben experimenting with colors on his trading card.
The first morning, I announced that we were going to do an art project. Ben, of course, started to freak out. His anxiety went way up and he told me that he wasn't going to do it. I got him to sit at the art table and then showed him the folder.... it was a Cars 2 themed one that I got at Target on clearance. That caught his attention. Then, I showed him the small card and told him that all that he had to do was paint the small card... any way that he wanted with any colors that he wanted. The anxiety disappeared. He started choosing his colors to put on his paper plate (his palette), chose his paint brushes and began mixing and painting. He actually enjoyed the process!

Ben experimenting with spin art.
The second art day came and I decided to pull out the Spin Art machine that I once again got at Target on clearance. I already knew that he LOVED this spinner. I decided that instead of just squeezing the paint on and watching it spin, he needed to use items to "scratch" the surface while it was spinning to see the types of patterns he could make. We used a paintbrush and a straightened paper clip. He was excited to do it and was really surprised when he figured out that he could make a hole in the center of the card if he held the paintbrush down long enough while it was spinning.

Ben's trading cards after 2 art sessions.

My favorite thing about these art projects is that I can see how my kids' art progresses throughout the year in a completely organized fashion. I put their names and the date on the back of each one and pop them in their own folders. My kids also love being able to show off their folders to family and friends. For now, I am not going to allow them to "trade" the cards, but that might be something we do in the future.

Art time with Ben and Kate.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


When I was a kid, I had an allowance.... of course it was only $1 a week and was often spent on video games at the pizza parlor we frequented on Sunday afternoons. Since the boys are now 7, we decided that it was time for them to understand the concept of working for and saving their money to buy the things they want... in their case, trucks (we already have what seems like hundreds, but the toy company just keep making more of the darn things).

At first, only Ben was on board. He wanted to clean up and understood that somehow doing his chores meant that he could buy something he wanted. He didn't understand, however, that he was only getting $2 a week and that it would take 3 whole weeks to be able to get a truck. Andrew wanted nothing to do with it. He actually said to me, "I don't need allowance... I'll just wait for Christmas to come and then ask for the trucks I want." Alas, he missed out on the first 3 weeks of his allowance for his comments and attitude.

Ben was very very impatient for the first 3 weeks, but still saved up his money. Here is when the real world math came in. In all honesty, my boys know very little about money... one of my main motivators for giving them an allowance. I started by having Ben count his money. He already knows the value of the coins, so with a little help and prodding, he was able to come up with a total. He had 6 dollars and 50 cents (after getting a bonus for doing Andrew's chores when Andrew failed to do them). We went to the store and compared how much he had to the price of the things he wanted. He had to tell me whether or not he had enough money.  Once the truck was chosen, I had him work on the real life skill of talking to the checkout person, paying the money, waiting for the change, and using his manners. Social situations are incredibly difficult for Ben and his speech is slower than average. Luckily, the checker knew who Ben was and was very patient and caring toward him. I had to talk him through the conversation some, but he remembered to say thank-you at the end and was all around charming. He soon left with his change in his pocket, his purchase in a bag in his hand, and a huge smile on his face. Of course, I allowed quite a bit of flaunting of his new truck in front of Andrew.

Andrew's attitude has changed since seeing the prize that Ben got for doing his chores. All of a sudden, Andrew is the one asking to clean the playroom and is facilitating some of the cleaning. This is the week that HE will finally have saved up his $6. He can't stop talking about being able to pick out a toy of his choice and keeps a countdown of how many days until he gets his allowance.

So far, so good. It is 7:45 at night and my boys' room is clean, the playroom is spotless, and I really didn't have to do much at all. I think I'm liking it's a lot cheaper than a maid... just sayin'.


Last night, I had a mom's night out with a group of friends. All of us have children who have CP.  I have no way of expressing just how valuable having friends who "get it" is. We were able to discuss lots of different aspects of raising kids with CP.... our frustrations, successes, doctor experiences, etc.. For me, it is also a reprieve from the constant demands of my two special needs boys. I love them to death and do anything I can possibly do for them, but every parent needs a break sometimes. Until recently, I had met very very few other moms who had children with CP and often felt completely isolated. I am so very lucky to have met these other moms.

Jumping Math!!

For math, we are learning about using a number line to add and subtract. Ben is great at memorizing math facts and great at using manipulatives, but he has had a really tough time grasping the number line concept. We have done lots of different things with the number line, but he found the activities either uninteresting or frustrating. It is just easier for him to regurgitate the answer, so he doesn't want to do the work. 

One really nice Fall morning, I decided that we were going to do as much schoolwork as possible outside. I decided to draw a number line on the ground using sidewalk chalk and have Benjamin work on his addition and subtraction by jumping from square to square. He LOVES jumping now. I would show him a math problem flash card and then have him stand on the top number. Then, he had to decide if he had to jump forward or backward on the number line and also how many spaces. Suddenly, the concept clicked.  I have a feeling we will be playing "math hopscotch" a lot more often. Here's a picture of him doing some problems. I wish I did math this way when I was a kid :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

He can gain weight!

My sons have been small since birth. They were born weighing just 1 lb. 15 oz. and 2 lbs. They have been on high calorie diets since birth. I literally had to put oil in their baby formula and butter in their babyfood. However, despite all of this work, my boys are 7 years old and weigh just 30 and 31 lbs. They have to wear slim size pants with adjustable waistbands taken most of the way in, and the pants STILL fall down. 

After visiting their neurologist recently, I was convinced that I needed to once again step up my attempts at getting extra calories into their diets. I have a lot of great recipe ideas for those in a similar situation and will be posting some of those ideas soon.  

I am happy to say that after 3 months of adding the extra calories into their diets, Benjamin has gained 3 lbs. YAY!!! Benjamin has actually weighed 31 lbs. for the last 2 years, even after growing 6 inches. Today's weight: 34 lbs!! I would say that a 10% increase in weight over the last 3 months is a great success! I have actually been able to let out some of the adjustable waists on his pants, although he is still quite a ways away from being able to wear non-slim pants or pants that don't have an adjustable band.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chicken Soup

One of my fondest memories of Kindergarten was reading and memorizing Maurice Sendak's book of poems called, Chicken Soup with Rice. At the beginning of every month, my Kindergarten teacher would put the poem of the month up on the bulletin board. We would recite it as a class every morning during that month during calendar time. At the end of the month, we had to recite it from memory.

As I was going through my huge collection of children's books at the beginning of the school year, I came across a copy of this book. I was so excited. I immediately posted a copy of the "August" poem on our bulletin board and used it during our calendar time. Benjamin loved the silliness. He read it over and over during that month. I am excited to see that he likes it as much as I do!

Here are the videos of the August and the September poems. It has easily become one of the favorite activities of the morning.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Our School Room

We were lucky enough to have a mudroom on the first floor that is really too big and in the wrong place for a mudroom. However, it is too small and in the wrong place for anything else too useful. My husband has often commented that it is pretty much a waste of space. It has been in the past a small playroom, a craft room and a "I don't know where this goes, so it should just go in here" room. All three of these rooms were a complete waste of space and the room was never really used. Enter stage left: my decision to homeschool Ben. Suddenly, that waste of space has a lot more potential. We didn't really have all that much money to spend on recreating this room, so I had to be creative in my designing. Overall, I think it works great for what we need.

The view from the door. Ben's desk is that small one by the window...I bought it at a consignment sale for $3. On the wall: the kids' artwork from when they were really young and their handprints. I framed them in inexpensive frames to make them look like important works of art. On the right of the window is our small bulletin board that holds Kate's memory verses and weekly lessons. It also has Benjamin's spelling words for the week. We also have a corner set bookcase (that I got from a neighbor for free) that has all of Kate's preschool workbooks and thousands of coloring books. On top of that bookcase is a basket with stuff that I want daily access to including library books for our weekly lessons and the items we need for our morning calendar routines and reading time. 

My organization. These are just the inexpensive units from Target, but boy do they do the trick. The nice thing about these modular units is that they all fit together and that I can add to them as I need more space (which of course I already do). We have very tall ceiling on our first floor, so I will vertically add to them as time goes on.

Our bulletin board wall. I think it is important for my homeschooled kids to experience some of the fun aspects of a traditional school. One of my favorites: the fun bulletin boards. Basically, it was cheaper to buy 4 large bulletin boards and install them like this than it was to buy a GIGANTIC bulletin board of the same size. On it and surrounding it are the calendar, alphabet and number line that I picked up from Dollar Tree and Target.

I repurposed this desk that was up in my boys' room. I moved it downstairs and made it another workspace for Andrew to do his homework and for Kate to work at. On the ground, you can see the rug that I also repurposed from the boys' room (I had it in my pile of stuff to donate). It works perfectly in here for a lot of activities that the kids prefer to do on the floor instead of at their desks. 

This corner is a small bookcase that was mine from when I was a kid. This is where I store Ben and Katie's daily work folders and finished work trays. It is also where I store the manipulatives and activities that don't really fit anywhere else. This wall also has my dry erase board. 

That's the room! It will continue to be a work in progress. We spend a lot of time in here, but also a lot of time outside and all around my house. When doing larger art projects, I have a fold up, child-sized table and chairs set that I pull out.

He can't write... so what!!!!

My son, Ben, has a very difficult time writing. He can only write some letters and they are very large... not at all what is necessary for many of the 1st grade workbooks out there. He also panics when I suggest writing. I am constantly trying to come up with activities to help him show me what he actually knows without making him overly anxious about the writing. I also want him to be able to do some of his work independently. I don't have the patience to dictate EVERYTHING for him, so I needed a way for him to do it by himself. Here are some ideas that have worked so far:

Ben might not be able to write, but he CAN glue. I look for worksheets that have categorizing or gluing activities to check for comprehension of whatever lesson we are working on. The picture above is categorizing living and non-living things. The look on his face is pride that he was able to do this on his own.

On worksheets that don't have cut/paste options but have a list of things to choose from, I write them on paper and cut them out for him. Then, he can paste them in the correct place independently. Prep time: about 2 minutes. Benefit: watching my little boy who has been frustrated by having to always have help for everything become excited when he can do it by himself.

Not your average 1st grader's workbox. Most 1st graders will have a pencil, eraser, scissors, crayons, etc. Benjamin has a giant glue stick, stamps for letters and numbers, ink pads, and a tiny marker to help with his fine motor skills. I like to think of this as his "independence box."

Completed math work... it's amazing what he can do on his own with the correct tools.

Spelling words: magnets and a magnet board. This was day one of spelling for this list, so he was copying the words that I wrote for him as extra, hands-on practice.

Busy at work doing his spelling...

Do you have any other independence building ideas for non-writers? I would love to know!