This has been a roller coaster school year with Beth starting in public K in September and then the pull-out to homeschool again in December, but I think we are finally settling in for the year. It is time to write things down to clear my own mind, to get others up to speed, and to answer some questions from my blog followers and friends.
Are You Repeating K at Home? What Curriculum are You Using?
Beth is now almost 7 and from 5-6 years old I tried Waldorf at home for K (see our Waldorf adventures here: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Tj and http://wp.me/p2OomI-Ue). I immediately altered the Waldorf curriculum due to kiddo’s strength in reading (letter and phonics decoding) and her disinterest in fairy tales. Then, because we decided to put Beth in public K the following year, I felt pressured to do “what was expected” in terms of getting her ready. So I added activities for patterning, number recognition up to 50, etc., and I ended up with a mixed bag with everything from Waldorf to standard K in our curriculum. There is a terrific downside to bending to the expectations of others while homeschooling and I have some regrets, but as it turns out, trying out some of the “common core” ideas and “typical expectations” has led us to a stronger curriculum this time around for Beth. I think it is actually a great idea to repeat K more in-depth, so I would say that by our local “public school” standards, Beth is in a form of typical K and I am fine with that. I will now attempt to describe our curriculum in detail below, which has every thing from Montessori to standard K curriculum elements.
Our Current Curriculum (Subject to Change at Any Minute!)
1. Independent Work and Hand Use with Montessori.
Why can’t she work independently and why is her hand use so slow to develop? After careful observation and opening my mind to possibilities, I believe it comes down to old issues: an inability to work on the floor causing negative associations with getting her to play/work when she was really young (low tone? sensory issues? difficulty navigating the floor in general? no therapist seems to be able to tell me), lack of focus due to the autism diverting her attention, sound sensitivities with certain toys and manipulatives (she hates crashing towers, the ball pounding toys, the sound of plastic hitting plastic, certain textures, etc.), her inability to process noisy play (which most of us think is “fun”), all of which led to frustration and confidence issues. What program focuses on independence, hand use, uses low-distraction toys, natural products like wood and cloth, and is very quiet? — Montessori.
After doing some research, I ran across an article on special needs kids, which said they may have to start the Montessori process much later than the typical infant-6. I bought a few products and I had some other Montessori-like “errorless” toys, and I tried the Montessori approach of not correcting and just demonstrating (all the demos are on you tube). Beth did well if I really lowered the developmental level and provided encouragement to keep trying. I am currently on a Montessori kick and we spend our mornings with me setting up hand-use tasks and biting my tongue, and kiddo working hard on her hand use and independence. Beth mostly works on Montessori while standing at the kitchen table, but I bought a foam gym mat and we are transferring some work to the floor (she has a history of hating to work on the floor, but I tried yesterday and she seems willing to do tasks she masters at the kitchen table on the foam mat).
Beth, All Smiles Doing Puzzles (!)
2. Independent Work and Hand Use via Chores and Cooking. We do chores and cooking every day as part of Beth’s curriculum. I give her tasks or parts of chores to complete by herself and I help her by modeling and encouraging her to keep going.
Cutting open the toilet paper to put it away (scissor skills!)
Helping unload the dishwasher
3. Math: Go Math for Now…
The local school district uses Go Math, so I tried that curriculum after buying the workbooks on ebay. After just a few weeks homeschooling, we are almost up to typical K with minor alterations and accommodations. What I learned by working with Go Math is: a. Ten frames are good for Beth-she loves putting things in distinct boxes while counting and it is an easy visual way to understand amounts, b. She loves to circle items while counting on worksheets and then noting the number, she is a natural at identifying “greater than” or “less than” number, and c. we just started addition and she was all smiles (and is showing some innate ability). Who knew? Not the public school she attended. They were still working on identifying and counting to 1 and 2 when I pulled her out. Eventually we may need a new program (it gets very verbal later from what I understand), but for now the K level of Go Math is going fine. Samples of Beth’s work and accommodations:
Go Math Workseet (erasable pen to help with her light writing, slant board to help her visually attend, regular blocks instead of Unifix click blocks to reduce fine motor demand, sticky Wikki Stix used to keep blocks from sliding).
She circles items on a page to count them
Greater than less than page (I read the instructions and choices, first three were find the greater number, last three were find the lesser number)
4. Language Arts: Harcourt Trophies (http://www.amazon.com/Harcourt-Trophies-Kindergarten-Teachers-Edition/dp/0153397322)
Harcourt Trophies is the program used for the typical kids in K at Beth’s previous public school. Her reading (decoding) is above the “at level” readers in the system, so we supplement with Lakeshore readers (see footnotes below-already done with level one sight readers). The Lakeshore non-fiction sight word books are excellent because they include basic geography, social studies, and science ideas. She reads best if I hold the book in front of her her in bed or she uses her book holder on the table (she needs everything elevated and she uses her finger to guide her eyes while reading due to oculomotor coordination issues and an occasional difficultly finding left to start reading).
In terms of comprehension, she has far exceeded my expectations. A lot of the activities have the students phonetically write answers and draw pictures. With very little coaching, Beth was able to do the work. Not only that, the suggested activities and library books (where I read to her and ask questions) in the teacher’s manual relate to real life and align with her intraverbal goals we identified in the VB-Mapp. I make some substitutions and simplifications with the books I have to read to her, but I think it is so wonderful she is being exposed to new ideas in the context of literature. So, for now, this program has worked out extremely well for Beth. We are still catching up, because very little of the literature program was covered in public school and I had to start over from the beginning. Here are some samples of Beth’s drawings in answer questions as part of the Trophies Harcourt program (phonetic writing samples are in the handwriting section below):
Me: “What did you do with your friend today? Look around the room and tell me. ” Beth: “Played Guitar” Me: “Okay, draw a guitar…great…now do you want to add a neck and strings?”
Beth, Self-Portrait. I asked if she wanted to add hair and ears. Her ears hang low…ha ha.
Beth in the swimming pool…she is sideways with legs on the left, both arms up, head on the right (I added the goggle straps later for fun).
Beth recognizes all letters, understands the strokes, and yet her handwriting is sloppy and she is very frustrated by attempts to improve her handwriting. We did Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) several times, but her handwriting did not improve much and she ended up getting stuck in whatever number/letter set was being practiced in HWTs. My solution was to provide a mixed program of practice and the school’s solution was to try HWT yet again. Of course she got stuck on the letters they were working on to the detriment of other letters and she lost the ability to write whole words. So, with the return to homeschooling I decided to back off on handwriting entirely and see what she did with just encouraging her to write her thoughts, numbers, words, etc in whatever way she wanted. I would only have her “try again” if I could not read it at all. Eventually in Trophies assignments, she started doing a mixture of print and cursive, which is an attempt to reduce the number of strokes and picking up the pencil. In fact, according to my research, a solution often used for kids who have significant dysgraphia is to teach them to write in cursive. Here are some samples of her phonetic writing in Trophies (the teacher’s manual says at this point the child should just be writing phonetically and to not correct the spelling on these assignments, note that I clarified what she wrote in parentheses and quotes):
The assignment was to name her favorite color and then write things that were blue. Yes, she used to eat blue ice cream at local farm, so I accepted that!
So, now what? Do I give up on print and go to cursive? I researched cursive writing with young children and again was led to Montessori. There is a type of print that is pre-cursive and some of the letters look similar to how Beth is trying to write. So, our path forward is to do the Montessori Method using the pre-cursive D’Nealian print, starting from the beginning activities mentioned in this video to improve her control. Note they use two fingers to trace. I am praying that will help her with her control, as she can get her pointer out no problem, but two fingers out is hard. I also love the little tails on letters (will help her know where to stop, a huge problem right now is she keeps going down), the slanted middle part of the lower case “e” instead of horizontal (she naturally slants it), the two-stroke little “k” instead of 3, the curvy lower case “y” and “w” (which Beth naturally prefers). This may be a total fail, but at least it is a new idea based on intrinsic information (the way she is writing naturally). The sand tray, sandpaper cards, and other materials are on their way as I write this post…pray for us!
6. Social Studies
I picked up this social studies book at the Lakeshore store near me (http://www.amazon.com/Me-My-World-Tracy-Edmunds/dp/1420692690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422635939&sr=8-1&keywords=me+and+my+world). It covers health, safety, all about me, body parts, five senses, and all the typical K social studies concepts that need reinforcement for Beth.
7. Play & Social
We have had many successful play dates with 1 other child at a time in homes or at indoor play places when it is not busy, and we are working at her play level and with her interests (play-doh, painting, ball play, jumping). At the same time, I am going back to basics to expand her interests. I set up the play area shown below that is easy for her to motor plan during play (everything elevated so she doesn’t have to transition from standing to floor a lot, which always seems to turn her off to play). I also have chosen the dollhouse pieces carefully…not too stimmy, sturdy pieces that are easy to use. So, we will try this set up over the next several weeks in a very slow, non-pressured way.
In addition to individual play dates, Beth loves the group classes she attends and asks to “see the other kids” at “music” or “gym” classes. We also hang out with other groups of homeschoolers at houses, gyms and libraries for various meet-ups/playgroups. We have no shortage of social opportunities!
8. Music, Gym, Art, Science, and Geography
Music: We do a weekly group music class for older special needs kids and incorporate music into assignments because it is engaging for her.
Gym: We have 3 group gym classes a week: 2 special needs and one typical class (typical 3-5 year olds, Beth has dyspraxia, so she is still working at a younger level in gym classes). She also swims at least once a week at the YMCA.
Art: Beth does art with other children at play dates. As I just finally got Beth to stop sampling art supplies by chewing gum (she has developmental pica), being able to actually work with art materials and not just try to eat them is a huge step forward!
Science: Science terminology is incorporated into the literature curriculum, and we plan to do butterfly cycles and planting flowers in the spring.
Geography: I am currently researching the Montessori geography lessons and materials.
If you are reading this, thank you for making it through such a long post! I will try to write some shorter posts on specific topics within our curriculum as time allows. If there are major changes to the curriculum I will do another update post. Please comment with any thoughts on Montessori and our new handwriting strategy.