Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Week 3

This week, I've perhaps deviated a bit from my original purpose just a bit.... I started thinking a little bigger than just how well she performs on an IQ test, although unfortunately this is my only measure of how effective all of this work was!

We still did a lot of school work, but I also incorporated things that I know will never be tested, but I think are important skills nonetheless.

I decided that the core purpose that I'm staying true to is being very intentional with my teaching skills to her.  The other two absorb so much from incidental learning. K has just never been that way, she requires much more concentrated teaching to learn a concept, while D and C will watch me measuring out ingredients and have a pretty solid understanding of how it all works! I figure that most intense reading/writing/math workshops only meet a few days a week anyways, so I don't feel that I'm shortchanging her in the experiment!

Day 1:
I did three reading lessons using the Edmark reading system. She just loves picking up new words so much that this is by far the most enjoyable part of our week.

Day 2:

This was a math game that I used from my Numicon Math Kit. You start by placing different tiles out, each that has a different number of holes. The one you see in this picture is obviously the number three tile, and each number has a different color tile. Then K uses pegs and places the same number of pegs on the pegboard. This was a pretty frustrating one. The idea is that she also matches the pattern shape (which is a conceptual and problem solving skill) and it is really tough for her. We lasted about 20 minutes before I thought she was going to throw a peg at me.

Day 3:

Color mixing science experiment!  This is one of the days that I feel I deviated from school-based learning.  Although this is actually a skill that we teach in preschool, it forced me to really examine whether I believe it has any value at all, other than fun (which IS a good skill!!) I decided that it does.  K is not one to experiment.  If she doesn't know the answer, she doesn't often investigate the possibilities to figure out the answer on her own.  We did a lot of chatting about "What will make the color orange?" (she'd say, I don't know) and so we'd try out some different combinations to figure it out together.

Day 4:

We focused on doing her reading lesson, but instead of just reading them, she would have to write the word out after reading it.

Day 5:

These are just wiki sticks that we use for all sorts of fun stuff. I would ask K to place five lines on the bumblebee.  Then I would ask her, how many more do we need to make the bumblebee have six lines?  The addition is still a really really tricky one. Frustrating for both of us.  I'd love suggestions on how to make addition easier!!

Day 6:

I had Gibbs do two math worksheets with K.  I know worksheets are totally boring, but she actually *LOVES* worksheets!  Weird, I know.  I thought having dad do it would make the "math" more fun.  

Day 7:

Another deviation, we did a Young Athletes program that was being held by the local Special Olympics program.  There were so many opportunities for developing listening skills, gross motor skills, social skills.  All so valuable in life.

This last picture has nothing to do with anything.  I thought I'd just share it anyways.  I came upstairs to find K doing her dolls hair :-)  So girly!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Week 2. Math and Reading and a fun trip to the museum!

This week my resolve was *slightly* weakened due to an exhausting busy schedule, and it is very clear to me why most parents are willing to pay $150/hour for specialized tutoring rather than doing it themselves... it's really not because the work is SO difficult... or that they don't have the time to do it, it's just that it is a lot of work, and requires a LOT of patience, and repetition!

So on to our week 2 activities!

Day 1 of week 2:
We played a VERY simple new game that I learned at an early childhood class I took last week. I spy with letters. We had a free printable "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" Tree, a toilet paper tube that was decorated with construction paper and letter stickers, and a marker.  In school, K is working on using the correct sentence structure "I (want/like/have)..." instead of saying "Me (want/like/have/see/hear/etc)..."  so we played "I Spy the Letter __"  then once she found the letter, she would color it and tell me a few words that begin with that sound.  She LOVED this game.  Like I've said before, she enjoys phonics, so maybe kids who are reading-averse wouldn't have so much fun with it.

Day 2:
Due to the success of the tree idea, I painted a tree on an old cookie dough tray and used our letter magnets.  I made up a little rhyme that went like this:  "Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom, Uh oh! There is not enough room!  Letter ___ wants off the tree, Where can the letter ___ Be?"

Even the boys were fighting to get in on this game with her!!  After we were done with all of the letters, she begged to begin again... and in addition to working on the sounds of the letters, she was actually reciting the rhyme by herself by the third letter, so she's working on rhyming literacy skills as well as speech & communication.

Day 3: I didn't take a picture of this one because it wasn't all that interesting!  I just found some easy to read beginner books that you could print online.  I printed one called The Snowman. K practiced reading it and then we colored it together.

Day 4: Although technically we didn't do "table" work on this day, we went to the Minnesota Children's Museum in St Paul, and it was AMAZING!  They had a special Dora and Diego exhibit and the kids *LOVED* it.  We had so much fun, and learned SO much.  There were tons of counting opportunities, reading opportunities, social interaction opportunities, science discovery areas.  But K's favorite was an interactive Animal Rescue Center.

Could she be any cuter?  This was set up as sort of a vet clinic.  But each animal had a tag in it, you place it under a scanner, and the computer would actually scan it, tell you which animal it was, where it's habitat was, what sound it makes, and what was wrong with the animal.  It varied from broken limbs, sore toes, an infection that needed a shot, the animal was just dirty and needed a bath, etc.  There were several "vet" kits to fix the animals.  A "bathing" area for the animals, complete with automatic dryers.  It was amazing.

Days 5 & 6 we focused on math.  She had a really rough time with math at school this week, and actually missed two recesses because of her refusal to go into the math classroom.  Really not fun :(

So Day 5:

All we used were magnets and dice.  She would roll the die, see how many she rolled, then choose that many magnets.  She could then use the magnets to create something.  There are magnet sticks and magnet balls in our little play kit. We then counted how many she had collected in total.

Day 6:
You probably can't see this picture Too clearly. But I just have a piece of paper that says: ____ +___=____
I probably wouldn't even be working on addition with her, except that she's working on addition in school and I know that it's a source of frustration for her, so I wanted to see if I could help with it at all.  We used pegs, which I LOVE.   Then, I cut out numbers 1-10, and switched them out to create easy math problems for her.  I'm hoping that the concrete objects will help solidify the concept of addition for her.  A lot of special education math programs use manipulatives to teach math concepts instead of using just worksheets.

Day 7:
This was more of a problem solving game.  I used the little song I learned from Elmo (not kidding)  Two of these things belong together, two of these things are kind of the same, but one of these things just doesn't belong here, now we're going to play our game.... She thought it was hilarious.  So I just found random things around our toy room.  I'd set out three things, two of which were similar, one didn't belong.  The picture above is an apple, orange, ice cream cone. This one was pretty easy for her, but some were really tricky.  I used a lot of language to try to make her connect concepts.  For one I had two items from our doctor kit: a syringe and a stethoscope and the third object was a spoon from the kitchen.  She chose the syringe and spoon to go together, and it took a lot of communication to finally realize she was saying they were "kind of the same size"  so it was definitely an interesting process!!

Bring on this week!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Week 1 Activities

In case you are at all interested in checking out some of the stuff we are doing, feel free to browse through, post comments, questions or new ideas!  Actually, I'd REALLY love it if you posted or emailed me with other fun game ideas to incorporate into our routine!

Otherwise, these next 8 or so posts will mainly be a platform for my documentation of our activities to look back and reflect on after our 60 days are completed.

K's special education teacher was very supportive and excited about the project, and is actually coming to our house after school tomorrow to teach me how to use the literacy program that they use at school (her idea!!) How fun!

I am also keeping track of our activities in a spreadsheet along with time notations.  I've found that K's threshold seems to be about 20-30 minutes of engaged learning time, so I've adjusted my time expectations accordingly!

We have been focusing a lot on math.  Since reading is her natural strength, she chooses to read and write above every other activity.  Most behavior issues at school arise when it's time to transition to math and she refuses to go... So we have started at the beginning (one to one correspondence! at least my preschool training is still being used!)  K seems to have an easy time memorizing, but actually understanding concrete math concepts is really tricky for her.  She is great at counting, but it's fairly memorization based and not a true understanding of the numbers.  Here we just are practicing putting one peg in each circle.  She decided to categorize them by color on her own  :-)

Because she is so tactile-oriented, I found these really fun ideas at for learning play doh mats.  We also used these a lot in preschool. I just drew pictures on plain computer paper and laminated them, along with numbers 1-25.  One is a cake (although K called it her hamburger... a little embarrassed to be showcasing my artwork here...) and she makes play doh candles to correspond to different number tiles.  The other is a tree that she makes apples to put on top of.
*We also have a bumblebee that she has to make stripes for
*A Ladybug, and she makes the play doh spots
*And a cat food bowl, and she makes pieces of cat food (she loves cats!)

This was another play doh math activity. It's very simple and self explanatory I think. She did very well with this one, and I noticed that she created her play doh balls in a pattern that looked just like the pattern on dice! Funny. I assume she plays a lot of dice games at school!

Another thing that they had suggested at school was continuing to strengthen her fine motor skills, which contributes to handwriting technique, and in turn affects literacy (it's funny how so many academic skills are based on things like cutting, coloring, painting, just playing really...) So this activity was her cutting out triangles (another good opportunity for building math concepts) and then counting how many triangles she had cut out and gluing them onto paper.

The reading that we are working on is mainly phonics based reading, because she is getting a LOT of sight word practice at school.  I know sight words are the way of the future, and building a huge memory bank of thousands of memorized words now comes before reading phonetically, but I still want K to be able to sound out unfamiliar words.  Especially simple 3-4 letter common words. Now, I realize that this could backfire.  I myself often say things out loud phonetically... like the time I asked my husband if he had ever read Don Quicks-Oat (Quixote... who knew...) Or told my best friend that God was Omny-Potent..

but that's neither here nor there.  Here's the system we've been using.  It's a program I purchased awhile ago, Intensive Phonics.

It's practicing sounding out words using large letters so she really can isolate the letter sounds slowly. A lot of the words are nonsense and she laughs out loud. But it is a totally different process watching her sound out words without picture cues.  Often she sees the pictures and guesses the word based on the first letter (an example: she'll see a picture of a woman at a grocery store with round produce in a basket.  The sentence will say, She will eat oranges with dinner.  And K will say "She will eat onions with dinner".... she saw round produce and the letter "O" and just makes an educated guess)

Like I said before, if you made it all the way to the bottom of this very long posting, I'd love to hear any other ideas for problem solving, math and literacy games and activities!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Informal Experiment. Starting over

So much has happened during the last several years. Some warm joyful moments are etched into memories, some have been documented, and some gracefully forgiven and forgotten.

I could write a 10,000 word blog just on the changes that have taken place during the last four months, but I won't :)  Instead, I am going to focus this writing on one small area that I'm working on now, and try to document what comes of it.

Last week, we had K's IEP meeting where they presented the results of her IQ testing. They used two different tests, one that is a standard measure of IQ, and another that is developed specifically for children who are non-verbal compared to their typically developing peers.

The results, though not unexpectedly low, still sadden me. I know it's just a number, and certainly a number is incapable of limiting my daughter, but I can't help but wonder what her number would be if I were able to spend more time teaching her myself.  If we could afford better therapies, better educational tutoring classes for her. If we had access to private schools.

Refrain from quickly punching out a comment that is encouraging ("You're doing wonderful!" "You work with her a lot!" "Her IQ test doesn't mean anything!") until you finish reading this posting.

A month or so ago, I started researching a grant opportunity for a non profit that I work with. In the grant, I wanted to show concrete research and statistics that could prove how math and literacy programs increased reading and math aptitude for children with Down syndrome.  Surprisingly, after **HOURS** of obsessive research, emails to special education teachers, coordinators, directors of disability advocate groups, and reading, I found very little hard data addressing this.

And grants that provide funding for programs for people with Down syndrome to increase their learning abilities require proof of these programs working.  And to get hard data on whether programs work, you need grants that provide research dollars. And to get those research grants, you need preliminary research and data that show that its possible that it could be a good use of time and money spent researching it. It's quite an endless circle of information.

My point in this rambling is... why not just do it myself?  I'm such a thinker. I often think and think some more, until I've exhausted all of my energy thinking, and have very little left to actually "do" it. Never mind that during my thinking process, I usually talk myself out of doing it.

Now I know that this research won't be done with proper scientific methodology.

But my research hypothesis is this: If I, just a layperson with access to good quality reading, math, and problem solving games, spent 30 minutes a day one on one with K, I could increase her reading and math levels, thus raising her IQ by some measurable degree in 60 days.

To control for "teaching for the test"  I was careful to explain to her IEP team that I did not want to know how they conducted either IQ test (which questions are asked, how they measure IQ, which 'games' are played, etc) I had them send me the IEP materials that include the IQ test results through the mail, and won't open it for 60 days, when she'll be re-tested by the same person.

I won't be doing intense therapies, because part of my hypothesis is that XYZ reading program, or ABC math program isn't really the point.  It's one on one teaching, using fun and positive reinforcement to achieve education related goals.

I will document which activities I do with her each day for the next 60 days.  I'll also include information from her teachers on her amount of growth from mid October-mid December when she was in school without any  one on one work at home, although I won't have specific assessment tests to document that progress.

My hope is that if I see substantial growth with K, that I can encourage more parents to do this with their children. Possibly that a university will see value in doing a controlled research study on this, and that more grants will be made available for people with disabilities to have access to better learning therapy programs at an affordable rate.

Or maybe it will just be a fun way for me to bond with my daughter :-)  I think it's a win-win experiment.