Monday, September 29, 2008
I'm not going to debate the importance of Latin in a child's education, because it is well-covered in other venues. If you are reading this post, you most likely have decided to teach Latin (or you just have a lot of time on your hands to be reading irrelevant blog posts!). The Well Trained Mind recommends a child start Latin instruction in the 3rd grade. Anna was half-way through her 3rd grade year when we started homeschooling, and despite my best intentions Latin was put on hold until she started 4th grade. Okay, she was already a few months into 4th grade as well before we started blowing the dust off the LFC Primer A materials. But we did finally get consistent with it, and she is finishing the last chapter this week.
Let me also say for the record that I am no expert on Latin curricula. I took two years of Latin in high school, but it was considered a blow-off class. We learned some vocabulary, flubbed our way through some grammar instruction, and spent the rest of the time immersing ourselves in Roman culture by watching movies like Ben Hur. Within one lesson of LFC Primer A, I picked up a couple of things that escaped me during those two years of high school Latin.
Before we made the decision to go with LFC, I had read several reviews -- most of them glowing. There were a few complaints about errors in the texts and answer keys. But after seeing a corrections link on their website, I felt I could live with the errors. I was attracted to the program because it sounded like a solid but fun way to learn Latin, and because the lessons are all taught on DVD.
As early as the first lesson we knew we had a winner. The DVD started with a homeschool dad (Dr. Christopher Perrin) teaching his two daughters at the kitchen table. We learned to sing John 1:1 in Latin (In principio erat Verbum). Weeks later I walked through the grocery store with Gracie, who would often hang around while the older kids did their school work, and she turned a few heads by singing the verse in Latin as we walked the aisles. We also learned to sing amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant (verb forms of "to love") to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance. Anna proclaimed that Latin was her new favorite subject.
I like Dr. Perrin's teaching style. He gives clear explanations, and he's a likable instructor. The lessons are set up well with a consistent format. Each chapter starts with a Chapter Maxim to memorize. The first week it was the John 1:1 verse, but all the others are quotes from Vergil, Seneca, and such. I personally appreciate the Biblical references, but there are not many; so someone looking for a secular program would still find LFC to be a good choice. Next is the New Chant. This is where we learn the verb and noun endings, often using The Mexican Hat Dance tune. I was a little disappointed at first that the same tune was used so often, but it really is effective. Given the amount of information that was learned throughout the year, it might have been confusing to have a different tune for everything. Finally there is a vocabulary section which is presented in chant form. The Chapter Maxim, New Chant, and Vocabulary are expected to be memorized by the end of the week.
On Mondays we typically just watch the DVD together and practice the pronunciations a bit. Tuesdays Anna starts by practicing the memory, listening to the CD about three times. She then reads the Grammar Page, which is review from the DVD, and then completes the accompanying worksheet. Wednesdays she listens to the CD again and does a page or two from the Activity Book. Thursdays, if needed, she listens to the CD again and completes the Chapter Quiz. I then quiz her on her memory work. On Fridays I will often have her practice her vocabulary with the online drill at the LFC website. As you can see, I have very little to do in the process. I do pay close attention to the DVDs, and I read the text every week so I can help her when needed. I do not have all the vocabulary memorized, but I have learned all the noun and verb endings just by being in the same room when she's practicing. The best part is if I do have trouble understanding something (parsing got a little confusing at first), the website has an excellent discussion forum where you can ask all your questions. Each time I've posted a question I promptly received a response from one of the staff members. So, yes, even a Latin illiterate mom like me can feel like she's not an idiot with this program.
Those who know Latin often commend LFC for having the children learn all the principal parts of verbs, which I guess is not common in other programs. But what Anna really loves about LFC is the short, silly skits that come at the end of about every other lesson. Using what look like fast food meal figures, they put together a western themed storyline with the occasional vocabulary word thrown in. It is so goofy you can't help but laugh. Logic has now replaced Latin as Anna's favorite subject, but she does love the fun approach LFC takes.
I would like to mention that in hindsight I am very glad we waited until 4th grade to start LFC. I think the grammar is a little advanced for some 3rd graders, depending on what grammar program you are using. LFC is compatible with Shurley Grammar, which I think introduces some concepts earlier than other programs. Anna has been using Rod & Staff for grammar, and I think LFC would have been a little tougher for her if we started in 3rd grade. We were very fortunate to have several of the concepts line up together nicely this year. For example, we learned about predicate nouns in both the Latin text and the Grammar text the same week. I love it when that happens! We were also studying the Ancients in history last year, which is the theme used in Primer A. Primer B's theme is the Middle Ages, which will tie in nicely with our history this year.
The program does have a few flaws, depending on what version you get. The DVDs have been revised, and in the new version Dr. Perrin no longer sits at the kitchen table with his daughters. Instead the oldest daughter leads the memory section and it's often hard to understand her. I would be tempted to look for the older version at a used curriculum sale. But even then there is a trade off. The CD that comes with the DVD set is much better now that it too has been revised -- before the chanting was much too fast. In my opinion the CD is a crucial part of the program, so it's best to have the revised edition. The new DVDs are still very good, but I miss the kitchen scenes. Also, there are many errors in the Answer Key and many of them are not listed in the corrections found on the website. The majority of the errors are vocabulary related though, so they are usually pretty easy to catch. I'm sure it is not easy to write a Latin text, but I can't help but wonder how all these errors were missed in the proofreading process.
Nevertheless, I would not switch to another program, even if they paid me. LFC Primer B is waiting for us on the shelf, and Ryne and Grace have recently started Song School Latin, a recently released gentle introduction to the LFC Primers. They both love the program so far. I'm not in a hurry to get Ryne started on Latin, since we need to focus on meaningful communication in English first, but it is certainly doing him no harm to sing Salve! (hello) and Vale! (good-bye) with his little sister. It's a fun activity for them to do together.
Perhaps the greatest proof that LFC was the right Latin program for us was a recent conversation I had with Anna. She was telling me about her swim practice she had earlier that day. Swimmers spend a lot of time, well, swimming. So I asked her what she thinks about as she swims lap after lap. She replied, "I chant my Latin vocabulary."
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Writing about slowing down and taking time for mom got me thinking about something that has made a huge difference in the success of Blue House Academy, our school year calendar. One of the smartest decisions I've made in homeschooling is developing a calendar that reflects our family's needs and limitations. It is well-documented that children forget a lot over a long summer break, and I can especially see this with Ryne. He also really needs the structure homeschooling provides our days. But even more important than these needs, my personal limitations greatly affect our schedule. For years I have dealt with undiagnosed fatigue issues and occasionally some odd stress-related symptoms, so I can only go so long before I just hit a wall. And let's face it -- homeschooling is hard work. By the end of the day I'm exhausted. Shorter and more frequent breaks enable me to run this marathon called life.
So I was intrigued when I read the scheduling suggestions in The Well Trained Mind. The authors give three options for stretching the school year out. The main difference between the three plans is how the breaks are distributed.
School - September, October, November
Break - December
School - January, February, March
Break - April
School - May, June, July
Break - August
School for three weeks and break for one week, year round.
Adjust breaks around holidays and times when everyone is growing tired of school (the authors include a detailed sample schedule of how this option might work).
I decided against Option 1 almost as soon as I read it. There is just no way I could go 3 months straight. What I ended up with was a modified Option 2 that takes some ideas from Option 3. If one were to strictly follow Option 2, the school year would be 39 weeks long. I decided to go with the more traditional 36 weeks, adding those extra 3 weeks to the Christmas break and summer vacation.
Last year was our first year to use this schedule, and it worked great! The breaks came just when we were starting to get burned out, but they weren't so long that we settled into a life of laziness. On the contrary, I use the breaks to get caught up on all the planning/record keeping homeschooling tasks as well as home projects. Not completely caught up, of course. I thought I'd be able to use one of my weeks off to paint the living room, but now I'm starting to think that will just have to wait until Grace leaves for college.
This year the calendar was a little more difficult to plan. The 3 weeks on/1 week off schedule wasn't lining up as nicely with the holidays as it had last year, so I reluctantly decided on a mostly 4 week schedule. Here is our 2008-2009 School Year Calendar:
The weeks highlighted in peach are the weeks we "do" school (because homeschooling really happens every day, right?). Fridays are a lighter shade of peach because I only plan for a half day, which includes art, music, and/or field trips, or for just catching up on work not completed earlier in the week. I can also easily move this half day around within the week, in case we have a dentist appointment, food co-op delivery date, or something else that interrupts our week.
I love our calendar, but we are certainly not married to it. Flexibility is one of the great things about homeschooling. In fact, this year we had to "tweak" our calendar the first week of school! When I set up the calendar I didn't realize that Anna would have her final two championship swim meets the week we were scheduled to start school. So we pushed our start date back a week and took out our August break. Seven straight weeks of school just about killed me, but I'm glad we did it. I now have confirmation that frequent breaks are good -- for me and for the kids. Our calendar has helped us greatly in our goal to slow down, and it has been crucial in taking care of mom.
To download a copy of our calendar, click here.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
She's also well-known for her many books Biblical womanhood, which was the focus of our retreat. The ladies in my church used this book in a Bible study a few years ago:
And this is the book I picked up at the retreat this weekend. She does a marvelous job of explaining how Old Testament passages point to Christ, so I'm excited to use this book with my kids:
Something I'm keenly aware of is that not every mom can take the time to go off on a retreat for 24 hours. For some it might be because of work schedules or financial reasons. But for some it's because of the special needs of their kids. Many kids with autism are much more severely affected than Ryne, making it difficult to find babysitters that can be depended upon if the child has a tantrum or other serious problem. I subscribe to a local email group that includes a whole range of special needs families. In reading their stories, especially the ones who have children with severe physical hardships and medical conditions, I often wonder how they ever get out of the house.
Nevertheless, I believe it can be done. Moms can escape every once in a while. Parents can go out on a date. It is possible through prayer, and I have a personal story to illustrate. A couple of years after Marc and I were married I started attending Bible Study Fellowship, a weekly interdenominational Bible study that has classes for both women and men. BSF became a very important part of my life, especially once I became a leader. But once I started having children it became a challenge to keep attending BSF because they offer no child care for children under two years old. Sadly, many women drop out for this reason. I couldn't stand the thought of not being part of BSF, so Marc and I committed the issue to prayer. And it wasn't just us praying -- for almost 7 years BSF ladies prayed for my child care issues. It was especially difficult finding sitters while we lived in Chicago because we had no friends or family nearby. I needed childcare twice a week for Grace (once for my leader's meeting and once for the class day). On class days a former BSF leader came to my home to watch her (for free), but for leaders meetings I was often working week to week in finding someone. The week Grace turned 2 and was finally old enough to attend BSF, I made a list of all the sitters we used from the time Anna was born until that week. I can no longer find that list (this is one of those times when I really regret that I did not keep a journal), but I'm pretty sure the total number was in the 30's and may have even been in the 40's. The majority of the women I knew to be Christians, and they were all wonderful sitters. Not once in all that time did I have to miss because I couldn't find childcare. I was just floored at the extent of God's provision. It was a reminder that no problem is too big for God, and that He cares about the details of our lives.
If it seems impossible to take some time for yourself, commit it to prayer (I'd be happy to pray for your needs as well). And look to other Christians for help. Talk to your church leaders. In most cases they would love to help, but they are not aware of the need. Many churches are starting to reach out to special needs families, but they need to hear from us to know how to really help. I don't think it's selfish to take care of ourselves -- it's crucial for us to be effective mothers, wives, and daughters of God.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
For us, homeschooling was that better way. I immediately gained over an hour just by eliminating the driving time to and from school. I gained at least 15 more minutes by no longer having to pack lunches (Yes, they still eat, but everything doesn't have to be packed "just so," and I don't have to clean spilled tomato soup out of the lunch bag). I gained another 15 minutes that would have been spent ironing clothes that fit the school dress code. That adds up to an hour and a half of extra time each day. But I also gained countless hours that before would have been spent in meetings with teachers and administrators about how to deal with Ryne's autism. And best of all, no more hours spent fundraising for the school. Of course, I'm not the only one who has gained time. Homework is now replaced by work at home, so the kids now have real free time in the afternoon.
How did I replace those hours? Well for starters, for the first time in my life I've been able to keep a fairly regular schedule of reading my Bible in the morning. What a difference that has made in my life! Second, I have been able to spend time with the kids in a relaxed atmosphere. Our school room is also our guest room, so we have a queen size bed set up in the corner of the room -- perfect for curling up with the kids during our reading time.
Slowing down sounds like a goal we should all have, but what exactly does it have to do with building relationships in children with autism? Why does RDI place such an emphasis on slowing down? To answer this it is important to first explain that RDI is a developmentally based intervention. RDI maintains that children with autism are either stuck in their developmental process or have gaps compared to their neurotypical peers. This results in the child having certain core deficits which we collectively call autism. I will talk about these core deficits another time. What RDI does is attempt to tackle these core deficits by giving the child a "developmental do-over." The RDI model is broken down into 12 stages, and every stage contains individual objectives (the full program contains over a thousand objectives). Each stage roughly corresponds to a typical child's development (e.g., a child working on Stage 1 objectives will be working on things a child would learn in the first year of life). The parents then are trained to guide their child through the developmental steps they missed the first time.
With this in mind, one can see how important it is to slow down. Think about how a mother talks to her infant. The speech is slow, exaggerated, and interactive. A mother wouldn't talk over her shoulder while folding laundry, saying, "I'll feed you in a minute, dear!" More appropriately she would be within close proximity to the baby and say with great expression, "Are you hungry? Is it time for some yummies?" Everything about her interaction is purposely slow. This communication has very little to do with the actual words being spoken, but has everything to do with building their relationship. Pretty soon the baby will start picking up on all of mom's gestures and expressions and realize that they are just as important (if not more so) than the words themselves.
For a child with autism it is crucial to slow down. We need to slow down our interaction with them so they can learn the basics. In an earlier post I explained that Ryne didn't understand we could communicate with him by just nodding our head in a certain direction. Once we took the time to slow down and work just on that one thing, he picked it up pretty quickly.
We also need to slow down in our expectations. We can not expect them to "act their age" if that is not where they are at developmentally. This has really helped me in regards to homeschooling. It's so easy to have expectations of what a child should be capable of learning, but when you consider it from a developmental perspective it suddenly doesn't seem so important if your child is not working at grade level (regardless of whether the child has autism!).
One of the biggest obstacles to slowing down is simply having too much going on. We all know how activities can take over our lives. Sports. Church events. Scouts. Therapies. Doctor appointments. Multiply that by the number of kids you have. Yikes! Individually they all seem wonderful or just plain necessary, but collectively they can mean less relationship-building opportunities with your child. Less time for that "do-over" in development. What is truly important for your child in the long-term?
With RDI I've learned that I need to be selective about what we do and don't do. The good news is that so many activities can be adapted to be RDI-friendly. This is where it is helpful to participate in a RDI community. You learn from more experienced parents how to turn your everyday activities into activities that will further your child's development. Grocery shopping, working on Cub Scout requirements, making the bed, swimming lessons -- these activities can all be modified to fit in with your RDI objectives.
It is so neat to look back on our personal experience and see that God was preparing us for RDI a full year before we even started the program. He caused us to see that our lifestyle was not beneficial for any of us, but especially not for Ryne. Through homeschooling we took a big step in slowing down, and I believe just that one step helped Ryne tremendously.
I do not, however, want to paint this idyllic picture that our life is chaos-free. If you've read any of my past posts, you have seen that slowing down is something with which we still struggle. Some people seem to be more naturally RDI-inclined. Marc and I are not really in that group. Usually as I think about the day, I realize we missed several opportunities to be more relational. Nevertheless, we have made great improvement, and we will continue to work on
s l o w i n g
d o w n.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
But for one of the most amazing happy endings ever, you simply must read this story. I'm still tearing up just thinking about it. Praise God!
Apparently Buzz is motivating to a lot of kids with autism!
Monday, September 8, 2008
In the afternoon we were able to take a quick break to watch some of the world's best cycling teams race near our neighborhood. It started raining while we waited in the car, so the kids prayed for God to hold the back the rain. I started explaining that God might have a reason for the rain, so don't be dissappointed if it doesn't stop, but before I could finish my sentence the rain stopped. Oh, what little faith I have! We listened to a section of Story of the World on CD until the police officer told us the cyclists were coming. I know next to nothing about cycling, but it was fun to watch. It literally takes seconds for them to pass. There were a few in the leaders pack and then the rest followed a minute or so later. After watching the video I realized the kids kept calling them bikers instead of cyclists! Maybe we should find a library book on cycling. : )
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I typically refer to RDI, short for Relationship Development Intervention, as "the new therapy we're doing with Ryne," but that explanation is really inadequate. Yet it's such a daunting task to explain RDI, that it's easier to just put it in terms of where we've been. ABA was the old therapy, and RDI is the new. There is lots of information at the Connections Center website, but even that really only seems to touch the surface of what RDI entails. So let me start by just sharing a few observations about our beginning experience with RDI.
We knew absolutely zilch about RDI when we started. On a trip to Chicago last year, we made a visit to the folks that used to work with Ryne when we lived there. One of the directors mentioned that they were now incorporating RDI principals into their school , and she wished they had been able to use these techniques with Ryne. She mentioned in a non-pressuring manner that the other director was a newly certified RDI consultant, and that since RDI is implemented by the parents, we could do it long distance. This sat in the back of my mind for a several months, while we continued on with homeschooling and biomedical treatments.
But during that course of time, Marc and I grew very concerned about Ryne. We were really struggling in our relationship with him. He still had some bitterness about homeschooling, and I believe he was taking it out on us to some extent. He was also really struggling with OCD-type behaviors, making it very hard for him to connect with other people. I was finally starting to feel comfortable with the homeschooling process and realized that it was time to add in something that would help Ryne in these problem areas. He had come so far through ABA, but there just seemed to be some holes to fill. Mostly holes in his social development. I tried finding a social skills group for Ryne to join, but kept running into roadblocks and had a nagging feeling that that wasn't really the solution anyway. And then on what I can only call a complete whim, I made a call to our friends in Chicago. I explained we were going to be in town in a couple of weeks for a doctor appointment, and asked if we could stop in to get some help with Ryne.
Sure, they said. What can we help you with?
Oh, how about we try out that RDI thing?
And that's how it started. We had no idea what we were getting into. And we didn't care that we had no idea. We were just glad to be getting into something.
In our first meeting with our new RDI consultant, my head was spinning as she started to explain RDI to us. Core deficits of autism. Declarative language versus imperative language. Referencing. She always does a great job of explaining, but I think my brain starts remembering that I was a political science major who didn't do too well in psychology class, and this is starting to sound a lot like psychology, so I can actually feel my brain starting ... to ... shut ... down. (Good thing she didn't mention Vygotsky in that intro meeting!) But then when she put the power point presentation aside and started working with Ryne, it slowly started to click in my brain what she was talking about.
In one activity she placed, I think, three bowls on the ground, with an object under one of the bowls. She had Ryne guess which bowl the object was under. What was interesting was that if Ryne was told, "It's under that bowl," while the person pointed to the bowl, he had no problem finding the object. Yet if the person said, "It's under that bowl," merely nodding their head in the direction of the bowl, he was clueless. He wasn't noticing the nonverbal cue, so he'd just ask, "Where?!" The consultant then explained that this was a gap or hole in his developmental process.
Turns out Ryne is, developmentally speaking, full of holes. The RDI program consists of stages, and each stage roughly coordinates with a year of typical development in a child. The stages consist of lots of individual development milestones broken down into workable objectives. They say that nearly every child will start at Stage 1, and sure enough Ryne had a few objectives in Stage 1 that he needed to master. Things a typically developing child would learn in infancy. That was a little discouraging. But our consultant also explained that Ryne would just be filling in some small gaps in the first couple of stages. In fact, within 15 minutes of them working on the bowl exercise, he was tracking the non-verbal cues pretty easily and it's now a regular part of his communication with us.
Next, our consultant got us hooked up on the OS. The Operating System is where you find the nuts and bolts of RDI. You can only access the OS if you are working with a consultant, and you have to pay a subscription to use it. But in return you get basically a step-by-step curriculum in the developmental process, a place to upload all your videos for your consultant to comment on, and LOTS of educational resources. E-Learning presentations of Dr. Gutstein introducing RDI. Videos of other families doing RDI. Opportunities to participate in live webinars with a variety of RDI consultants on a variety of RDI topics. There is so much information on the OS that nine months later I'm still discovering new stuff. When we joined RDI, the OS was brand new, and lots of RDI veterans were frustrated at having to learn a whole new system (plus the stages had all been changed), but since we were brand new too, I think our learning curve was a bit easier. Nevertheless, it still took me around 10 hours to figure out how to upload my first video.
The week before we had our first meeting in Chicago, I also met a local mom who had been doing RDI with her son for a couple of years. Our sons and families had quite a bit in common, even though her son is younger than Ryne. She invited me over and helped me with the OS a bit and answered at least a hundred questions about RDI. She was also very generous in letting us borrow her RDI DVD.
Marc and I then spent the next few months immersing ourselves in RDI. We'd try to pick one night a week for us to sit in front of the computer either watching one of the E-Learning Modules or the DVD. We should probably get some sort of RDI Super Parents Award because we even spent the evening of our 15th wedding anniversary sipping sparkling wine and listening to Dr. G talk about guided participation! (Don't worry, we had gone out to celebrate the night before!) On nights Marc and I didn't learn about RDI together, I was busy reading through this RDI blog, or poring through the archived messages of the the HS-RDI yahoo group. The local mom's consultant also came to town to give a presentation on RDI, which reinforced what I had already been learning. I've come to discover that I need to hear all these RDI principles repeatedly and from different sources before they finally start to sink in.
So, yes, I know a thing or two about autism. But there is still so much to learn. We are approaching our 1 year anniversary in RDI, and I still feel new. But it's not a discouraging type of newness. I'm confident we are on the right path, despite hitting a few bumps. You can spend so much time learning that you forget about the doing, plus we fell out of the habit of our weekly RDI night once the weather turned warm and things got busy. But I'm also aware that this is going to be a gradual process, and we're committed to getting going again. I'm ready to learn another thing or two and continue on in this autism adventure.
Argsmommy and her family went out of town for 3 days. What is the actual length of the trip in days when including recovery time?
3 x 2 = ___
Now add 2 1/2 more days for time spent suffering from a head cold.
___ + 2.5 = ___
So, was it foolish of argsmommy to promise a RDI blog-a-thon as soon as she returned? (Circle one)
Being new to the whole blogging thing, I'm finally starting to realize that it's best to skip the predictions and just blog when I can. I admire those of you who make the time to blog frequently!