Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fun Activities=PE

One area of homeschooling that I feel I have really dropped the ball on is Physical Education. I have really overbooked my schedule this year, but unfortunately, I will have to stay with it at least until the end of the school year. Benjamin has a couple opportunities during the week to get outside and play, but not nearly enough physical activity for what he needs. One of my main motivators for homeschooling was to help him get the PT and OT that he needs on a more regular basis. I feel like I have succeeded in a lot of the OT aspects, but failed miserably in the PT aspects.

For the last 6 months or so, Benjamin has been asking to do gymnastics. I just couldn't see how I was going to possibly fit one more activity into my time (or financial) budget. However, after sneaking a peek at the gymnastics class during his sister's dance class at the local Y last Friday, I decided that I need to make it a priority for him to get into gymnastics.

My fear with Benjamin being in gymnastics was that his gross motor skills are much lower than a typical grade-schooler, but because he is 7, they won't let him be in a preschool class. Plus, I don't really need him socializing with kids 3-4 years younger than him. He already gets that at home with Kate. I don't want him to get hurt during a grade school class where the teachers assume that he will be able to do things that he simply cannot do. I took gymnastics as a kid at a big gym. There were lots of different classes going on at one time and only one instructor per group of about 10 kids. If you couldn't do a skill by yourself, they kind of just passed you on and that was that. The Y seems to have the perfect solution for us. This Y has a "Kids Fitness" class that incorporates gross motor, gymnastics, stretching, strengthening, and cardio skills into one class. Because it covers a variety of areas, the age group is ages 5-8. This means that Ben would be in a class with kids that are closer to his gross motor and social skills, but still be able to be around kids his own age. In a class of 11 kids, there are two teachers, meaning more eyes and hands. Plus, they are very willing to have Ben in the class and for him to work at the level that he feels comfortable with. The gym is also fairly small and there is only one class at a time. This means that Ben won't go wandering off  or get distracted during class like he might in a big gym.  For safety reasons, I am going to be shadowing and helping Ben for the time being. I am hoping that by the end of this session that he will be able to do most of the skills independently or just with the instructor's help, but he needs to build up some more strength and gross motor skills before I feel he will get the most out of the class without another adult to assist him. What I like is that this class is separate from their kids' gymnastics class for the same age group. It seems like this class requires a lower level of gymnastics skills than the gymnastics class. That makes it a better fit for a kid who has a lot of problems with gross motor skills.

The good news: Ben LOVED it, tried everything, and was super excited and motivated to be there. The kids and instructors were all wonderful and accepting. One little boy also decided to help Ben do the activities by demonstrating them for him. Ben loved that and wanted to try and do what the other boy was doing. And, I finally feel like he is getting enough physical activity in this class. T-ball starts up again in a few weeks, so that will be 2 days of planned physical activity. I don't feel that is good enough, honestly, but at least it is a start. My goal is to be more conscious of how much time he has to ACTIVELY play outside. He is great about going outside and doing non-active things like playing in the sandbox or sidewalk chalk, but it is important to me that he gets the physical in as well.

That smile tells it all. Somebody is in his element.

Other things that I want to try to fit in more physical activity:
  • Kids Wii Fit. We got the game for Christmas and have used it once or twice, but I need to have him do it a lot more.
  • Regular walks to the park on non-rainy days. We started out the school year doing this 3-4 times a week and now we only get it in every once in a great while. 
  • Getting the bounce house up! We used to have our bounce house up and in use every afternoon for at least 30 minutes to an hour. It fit perfectly in our basement and was a fun and easy gross motor activity for the kids. Our basement is now in use and since August, the bounce house has been sitting in our garage on a shelf. I think it is time that I figure out how and where we can use it on a regular basis... maybe in the garage if I pull my car out?
  • 15 minutes of PT a day. I would love for me to be able to have an entire hour set aside to do PT with my boys, but really that is just plain not going to be possible at this time. 
  • 30 minutes in the pool at the Y a week... maybe twice a week. Benjamin LOVES the water and can swim independently with a swim vest on. It is great physical activity for him and I only have lame excuses (like I am EXHAUSTED and want a nap!) that I don't do it more often. I think that I need to schedule it in...maybe it can be a reward on certain days for finishing his academic work quickly...maybe a fun family activity on the weekends?
  • A different Y has a free kids' fitness class in the afternoons.  They play group games and work on different skills. I have gotten permission to take Ben and help him if he needs it, but I haven't been able to schedule it in as of yet.
Does anyone else have problems fitting in regular physical activity? I know that it is a really common occurrence for kids with CP, but I am wondering if it occurs fairly often with homeschooled kids as well. Any other ideas?


We started a dinosaur unit to go along with our science study of animals. Ben is getting frustrated and a little bored with math, so I decided that it would be a fun twist to incorporate dinosaurs into as many areas of study as possible. That was the number one way that we were taught to teach kids in "teacher school"... through thematic units. Now that I am more comfortable with homeschooling, I have decided to try and move more toward thematic units and away from the pre-scripted curriculum. I will still be covering everything that they are "supposed" to learn, but will hopefully be able to present it in a more meaningful and fun way. Check out our math activities so far!

Dinosaur Footprints!

  • Skill: measuring with standard and non-standard units of measurement; graphing data; using data to make observations; sizing from smallest to largest.
  • I printed a "dinosaur" footprint out and used the scale feature on my printer to make different sizes of the same footprint. This is not a life-sized footprint, but rather just looks like a dinosaur footprint. You could do the same activity with a life-sized footprint, but we are still working with small numbers and using 100+ Duplos just wasn't going to work for us.
  • Benjamin used Duplo Legos to measure out the height of the various footprints. This combines math with another one of his favorite activities: Legos. 
  • He then used a chart to graph the amount of Duplos it took to measure the height of each footprint. 
  • After recording the data, he answered the questions that I created to go with the assignment. In these questions, I also had him measure each footprint in inches to see the correlation. 

Dinosaur Math!
Andrew has had a particularly difficult time mastering this concept in school. He likes to guess when he doesn't know how to get an answer quickly, and by doing so, will always get the wrong answer. He had a day off from school last Monday, so I decided it was time for Ben and Andrew to both learn how to do these math problems. Kate also had a blast with this activity. For the first time ever, this concept of early multiplication made sense for Andrew. Here's hoping that he can take this new knowledge and use it in the classroom as well. BTW: the picture below is of Andrew, not Benjamin. They are identical...
  • Skill: Pre-multiplication using manipulatives (plastic dinos); skip counting.
  • I created a list of questions regarding the body parts of dinosaurs and figuring out how many of each body part was on 1, 2 or 3 dinosaurs. I then gave them plastic dinosaurs to figure out the answers to all of the questions, except the last one. On the last question, they were required to either use an equation or a drawing to figure out the answer.
  • On the back of the paper, I verbally gave problems just like these ones and they were required to draw pictures to figure out the answers. I was hoping to move them away from the concrete and move to the semi-abstract.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Writing and MORE Writing

I am so excited about Ben's progress with writing! He likes to do writing activities now and has even graduated to using a pencil. I also added a pencil grip to his pencils so that he has to hold it a certain way. Because of his sensory issues, he doesn't like the way the grip feels on his hand when he tries to hold it incorrectly. The grip isn't perfect, but it is much improved from even a week ago.

I was a little worried in December that he wouldn't be ready for the Kindergarten Handwriting Without Tears workbook. He had finished the preschool book at the beginning of December, but that book is pretty much just tracing fairly large letters and numbers. I figured that I might as well try the Kindergarten book and then decide if it is too difficult for him. I am sooooo glad that I decided to try it. Benjamin is now drawing smaller letters without the help of lines to trace. I am going much slower through this workbook than I was through the preschool workbook and am really focusing on teaching him correct letter formation, correct grip, and correct pencil pressure. The results are amazing!!

For those of you unfamiliar with Handwriting Without Tears, the program has shape blocks that when you put together make letters. They also have a small magnetic board (like a Magnadoodle) that has the same shapes with magnetics on the back. You "stamp" the shapes on the board as shown above and then trace them. Ben really likes that activity, mostly because if he makes a mistake it is easy for him to erase and start over. He really is a perfectionist when it comes to his work, which is one of the main reasons we had so much pushback during writing. He couldn't make the letters and numbers he was writing look the way he knew they should, so instead of trying, he just gave up. I really backed off on my expectations and tried to make it as fun as possible, and we are now seeing the progress.

You'll notice in the picture that there is one letter "D" circled. I have Ben always circle the one that he thinks is the best. 

Kate also began her preschool Handwriting Without Tears book this week. She has really good fine motor skills, but has had very very little interest in writing letters and learning letter formation. I made a big deal out of her starting her very own book, and this was enough incentive to get her to start to learn. She also LOVES the magnetic board and uses it a lot. Here's one of her first pages.

If you notice, Kate has circled ALL of her letters because she says that they are all the best. We obviously don't have confidence issues there...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leappad Review

We are now the proud owners of not 1, but 3 Leappad Explorers. Santa graciously got one for each child to minimize the arguing. I have to tell you that they are really worth the money. My kids love them and have been playing with them non-stop. With that being said, I thought I would post a list of pros and cons after having had them here a couple of weeks.


  • Apps means that there are no lost cartridges. You connect the Leappads to your computer via USB and then download the apps that the kids want. I was able to find the app cards buy 2 get 1 free right before Christmas, so I was able to get $60 of apps for $40. What that is equivalent to is 2 interactive books and 2 games.
  • Apps work on up to 2 Leappads! That's great if you have more than one. Let me tell you, though... if you have 3, you might just have to go and buy some apps a second time or else your kids will draw blood.
  • All Explorer cartridges work on them. I know some people who upgraded their Leapster Explorers to Leappads and are happy that they can use the same cartridges. Us, not so much, but it still is great that the systems that people bought a year ago don't go completely to waste. Plus, the games I got on clearance work on the Leappads.
  • There is a built in video and still camera. Katie likes this especially. She has taken soooo many pictures of things. I actually think it is funny to see what she has taken a picture of. There are parts of her day that I didn't even know happened and now I have a pictorial memory of it. For instance, Kate was supposed to be taking a nap, but instead she took pictures of her feet, her room, her toys, and the tea party she was pretending to have....
  • They come with a few built-in apps and then one of your choice. However, the one you choose has to come off of a short list and can only be put on that one Leappad. There were still some really fun options though, so it didn't really matter.
  • Batteries are very easy to replace compared to the older model Leapsters. You just use the stylus to pop off the cover and then pop out the batteries. Super easy... you don't even need to carry a screwdriver. That's going to be really nice for our upcoming plane trip in the summer.
  • There is a built in headphone jack!!! YAY!!!! No more needed to be said...
  • They run through batteries like CRAZY!!! Recently, I was sick and really not feeling well enough to do much of anything. My kids had a lazy day and spent the day playing computer games, watching TV, and playing their Leappads. By the end of the day, I had to replace the batteries twice in Katie's and once in the boys. We have decided that we are going to get the power cord so that if the kids are just sitting and playing, they can be plugged in instead of wasting the batteries. We are also looking into rechargeable batteries since that is what Leapfrog recommends.
  • We had communication issues between the third Leappad and the computer at first. We tried everything in the help files and then sent an email... they responded telling me to try the help files, even though I specified that I had already done that. I was able to figure it out eventually after trying to connect it to my Mac instead of the kids' computer. The Mac mentioned something about it having an IP address. Evidently, each one of these devices has a "fake" IP address that has to be specific to that Leappad. I went in and manually changed it (thanks to a help file on Leapfrog about IP addresses, which they did not tell me to check) and voila! got it connected. It was really irritating at first, but now it isn't an issue at all. I have a feeling that it wouldn't be an issue unless you owned more than one Leappad, but I don't know if I would have been able to figure it out unless my Mac gave me that random error.
  • The apps are expensive.... but I guess that they aren't as expensive as the cartridges. Just don't expect them to be as inexpensive as cell phone and tablet apps. The cheapest ones are $7.50 and are usually for games. The interactive books (which are really cool and VERY useful for us for reading comprehension), are a full $20. 
Overall, I highly recommend them. I also recommend getting the cases for them. The cases store the cartridges, an extra stylus (which comes with it), and offer padded protection for trips.  We are trying to teach our kids to be very responsible for them. In fact, the reason that we decided to get our boys these for Christmas instead of DSes is because they are horrible with their old Leapsters. They would often leave them in the car in extreme temperatures, drop them or throw them, step on them when they are on the floor and leave them around for little kids to destroy. We are trying to be strict with making sure that they put them away (and the cartridges) when they are done with them and to never ever put them on the floor. Since they each have their own, it is very easy to see whose is whose and who is not taking care of theirs. So far, so good. 

Animal Classification

We are starting to learn about animals this month. One of the topics presented in his science curriculum was categorizing animals. Once again, I scored at the Target dollar section! At the beginning of the school year, I picked up a bunch of card sorts that I thought looked interesting and like a lot of fun. We have used them for lots of different activities. I just happened to have a pack called, "Animal Card Sorts" and in it they had all of the categories that I was looking for. Ben and I have been talking a lot about the different categories, so I thought this would be a great hands-on way to check his comprehension. He loved it! He also had very little trouble figuring out which category each animal went into. Of course, the difficult ones were the mammals that swim in the ocean (he thought they were fish) and the amphibians that look a lot like reptiles. But, really, I don't blame him. So, anyway, here he is sorting his cards!

The finished sort.
As part of our study on animals, we will be studying dinosaurs and sea animals. We have already begun our unit on dinosaurs and I am having a blast learning right along with him. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Gaining confidence!

I pulled out the language book this morning and reviewed nouns and started working with verbs. I am loving the new grammar book that we are using. It is really set up for Ben in a way that makes it easy for him to understand. What's awesome is that HE wanted to do the writing today. I was SHOCKED. He usually avoids attempting to write at all costs. But, I think that the confidence that he has gained with writing since I started homeschooling him has paid off. He wanted to write and for the first time ever, completed the assignment without having to glue, stamp, etc. He wrote the words... and also learned to copy them letter for letter so that they were spelled correctly. This was HUGE for him. I honestly can't even believe that he wanted to do it. I have gotten so used to him fighting anything that had anything to do with writing and him panicking when I even suggested that he write the answers to his assignments.

Yes, he needs to work on his grip. I corrected it a few times while he was writing, but it was more important to me that he felt successful. For the most part, I let it go. 

All of the writing was done completely independently! What a difference a few months can make!