Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hot Ham & Cheese for Homeschoolers

As we approach Lent my mind starts thinking about the Corporal Works of Mercy.

feed the hungry
shelter the homeless
clothe the naked
visit the sick and imprisoned
bury the dead
give alms to the poor

That top one, feed the hungry, is pretty simple to accept and follow.  A CRS rice bowl in the center of the table is a great reminder to the whole family that there are starving people all around the world and we are called to give so they may eat.

Putting coins in a cardboard box is easy, but you know what's hard?  Actually feeding the hungry.  The hungry mouths that are around me all day.  11:25 a.m. rolls around and one by one my kids start asking the dreaded question.  The question I wish I had an answer to everyday, but I don't.


What's for lunch?  How am I supposed to know?  Probably leftovers - whatever you can find in the fridge.  The little ones can have bread and butter and an apple.  That's what's for lunch!

Preparing lunch is just not my thing.  It's such a disruption in our productivity.  Just when our homeschooling day is on a roll, it's lunch time.

Feeding the hungry lunch is truly a corporal work of mercy for me.  That's why the #1 measure of a good week to come is a week long lunch plan.  #2 is stocking the pantry with ingredients.

Here's a recipe (if you can call it that) for a lunch my kids go crazy for.  With easy to find ingredients, these sandwiches are inexpensive and simple.  They're not just for homeschoolers; they're for anyone looking to put a hot meal in front of their family in a snap.

Hot Ham & Cheese
hamburger buns
sliced ham
sliced cheese

There's not much to it.  Easy enough for even a 10 year old.  In case it's not self explanatory, here's the method.

Place split buns on cookie sheet.
Top bottom half with ham and cheese.
Butter top half of bun.
Sprinkle lightly with sandwich sprinkle or roasted garlic sprinkle.
Broil until top bun is toasted and cheese is melty.

This can hardly be considered a recipe, but toasting the ham sandwich does make an ordinarily boring, cold sandwich extra special.
I'm always on the lookout for simple lunch ideas, do you have any that can feed a crowd?  Please share in the comments or on FB.  Thanks.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Calming Clipper Review

We're in the bedroom.  Joseph is struggling to get free; I'm laying on him, holding his arms to his side.  Warren's armed with the hair cutting scissors.  Joe's screaming, I'm sweating, Warren's frustrated.  Cutting Joseph's hair is akin to bathing a cat.  Catch my drift?  It's not something you want to get involved with.  This stellar parenting moment happened about 3 years ago.  

He's calmed down a bit.  No more full contact on the bed haircuts.  In the summer we set him on the 4-wheeler and nearly grizz him bald.  One haircut = One entire summer season.  It's not easy - there's a lot of yelling and crying and flailing of arms, but we get it done.  For the rest of year, we're in the kitchen on a stool toggling between the clipper and shears, singing, dancing, promising treats, anything to get him to sit still and accept the haircut.  It's been a difficult road to say the least.  He hates the buzz of the clipper and moves so much that it's nearly impossible to use scissors without at least one nick.

Getting a haircut can be a traumatic experience for children.  And children with special needs often have sensory sensitivities making it even more traumatic.

I first saw Calming Clipper on Facebook.  They graciously offered to send me my very own set in exchange for an honest review.  I've actually had the Calming Clipper since last June and have used it many times.  I finally took the time to take pictures.


Quality of Product is excellent.  The scissors are super sharp with a rounded tip and the finger grips can be removed for larger fingers.  Changing out the length guards is super simple and quick.  

These scissors are like the clippers for those off the grid - no electricity required.  Hence, they are quiet and do not vibrate.  That's what makes them calming.

I use the longest guard to remove the bulk.  Just cut, cut away.

I like to give Joe lots of praise.  This is amazing - if I were using a traditional clipper, he'd be screaming and I'd be stifling my screams.  Even so, I still take short breaks and wipe his face with a cool washcloth to remove bothersome, little hairs.

Slipping in a shorter guard, I work up the back removing more bulk, working towards my desired length.

That smile.  He actually seems to be enjoying this or maybe it's the camera.  He loves mugging for the camera.

Just being silly!

Now, I've moved to the shortest guard.  I make quick snips, checking both sides for evenness.  I'm no pro, it takes me plenty of time, but Joe's remaining calm.

See the red marks on Joe's neck?  He has such sensitive skin; the electric clipper does a real number on his skin, but the Calming Clipper is gentle, leaving only small, light red marks.
 My handsome young man - all clipped up and very calm.

Thank you Calming Clipper for providing me with a simple solution to calming our nightmare haircuts.

Note:  This was my 6th or 7th time using the Calming Clipper.  My first haircuts didn't turn out this nice; it definitely takes practice.  With each haircut my confidence increases and the time decreases.

More tips for working with your special needs child at home.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day Plans

Valentine's Day is right around the corner, literally in just a couple of hours it'll be time to celebrate all those we love and cherish.  We're always a little late in decorating - like today we threw open the windows, let in all the fresh air we could handle, and cleaned like crazy until all the flat surfaces were dust free and begging for red and pink and glitter.

We even unearthed these artistic beauties.  Inspired by a similar project at Art Projects for Kids, Peter and I glued popsicle sticks together, Maria and Peter painted them and then they got buried under piles of stuff.  Today they were found and proudly displayed for Valentine's Day.

We have a number of activities that'll take us away from home, but we'll still celebrate love.

Books we'll read

It's actually the day after St. Valentine's Day.  The house is still mostly clean from our Monday crazy cleaning.  Bellies are full of Tootsie Pops.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney Princesses valentines are strewn about.  The Valentine m&m cookies are gone.  Love was indeed in the air.

I'm wishing you all a beautiful week of love.💗

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Weekly Wrap-Up {the one that started with pie and ended with cranberries}

We've added another child to the adult population this week.  Nick turned 18.  How can that be?  Seems he was just a 6 pound 9 ounce baby (our littlest).  It's cliche, but true - they grow up so fast.

Pumpkin pie, always pumpkin pie.
Have you heard of the game Speak Out?
It's crazy.  First you'll want to brush your teeth, then you form a team, then you put in a lip spreading contraption and try to talk clear enough so your team members can guess what you're saying.  

Warren is doing the talking right now.  Sorry no picture.  Nick's trying to guess the phrase.

It's a really fun game, but the lip spreader contraption kind of hurts.

Joe's making great progress with his reading lessons.  In case you missed it, I wrote a long post about tools I use to teach him to read.

I'm pretty excited about this.  We actually completed an entire science curriculum in less than 2 years.  Actually, it took only 5 months.  That is unprecedented.  Unchartered waters.  Never been done before.  It was a thorough chemistry program with labs.

Amber fills in her lab workbook after extracting DNA from her own saliva.

Nick shows the DNA he extracted from dried peas.  The white thread-like material is the DNA.
I don't remember ever doing this lab.  It was quite thrilling, especially for Amber.  Holding out a stick with her DNA, she said, "this is me on a stick."  In case you'd like to conduct your own DNA extraction, here are the directions she followed.

WRPS Virtual Learning "Star Student"

On the food front, I used Honestly Cranberry cranberries in my chicken salad.  If you're looking to ramp up the flavor in your favorite salads, these dried cranberries are just the thing.  Cranberries are the only thing in the bag.  No sweeteners, just cranberries.  It was so good, I ate it for breakfast.

And that's it for my Weekly Wrap-Up.  Are you interested in other homeschooling families' weeks?  Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers has it covered with her Weekly Wrap-Up Linkup.

Have a great weekend.  And don't be shy, leave a comment.  Thanks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tools I Use to Teach My Child With Down Syndrome to Read

I love sharing what I've learned (and am still learning) about homeschooling, especially homeschooling a special needs child.  I am a huge advocate for homeschooling children with special needs.  I truly believe that a parent's love for their child will guide them to find the best possible curriculum to meet their child's needs.  I'll do anything to help Joe succeed.

Research reading programs - ✔

Find musical DVDs to help him learn math facts, states, etc. - ✔

Sit with him for endless hours in the bathroom while working on potty training. - ✔

Teach him how to butter his own bread. - ✔

You'd do these for any of your kids right?  The difference when dealing with a special needs child is that often times the first thing tried doesn't work.  Or the second.  Or the third.  Usually around the 4th or 5th try is when I finally find something that works.  I hope my trial and error process provides you with more insight to help you know where to start.

For any homeschooling parent, especially if you are starting from the beginning, teaching your child to read is the skill that requires the most of your time.  

Over the years I've used many different reading programs.  I've purchased ready to go curriculum.  I've printed and printed and printed phonics worksheets and mini books.  I've spent my Dollar Tree budget on workbooks worth exactly what I paid.  I've bought my share of early readers.  Oh, how I despise most early readers.  Some have worked, others not so much.  I'll share two of my favorite series later in this post.

Here's what I'm using to teach Joseph (with Down syndrome) to read today.  I say today, because I do change things up a bit through the school year depending on what's working and whether I find something new I'd like to try.  However, I have no plans on changing because the following two reading tactics are working quite well for us.


All About Reading Student Packet

This is the phonics component to Joe's reading program.  It's really the spine, the meat, the backbone to how I'm teaching Joe to read.  Phonics play an important part in reading, even for kiddos with special needs.  I've read in numerous places how kids with Down syndrome can only learn to read through sight reading.  That's false and short sighted because really, are you going to make flashcards for every word in the dictionary?  Because that's what sight reading means - memorizing and learning to recognize words immediately.

Phonics is a tool for readers.  A tool to help them sound out a word using very specific rules relating to letter combinations.  And I love All About Reading!

It takes you through step by step using a sequence that makes sense.  Each step is scripted, which at first (if you haven't used a scripted curriculum) feels fake and slow. But once you pick up on the flow and script style, it's really easy to be natural and still follow the script.

Now that I'm very comfortable with All About Reading Level 1, I put my own spin on it.  Here's how:

Letter sounds come easy to Joe, but the blending of letters together to read a word is a slow process.  He definitely gets the process.  It's just his lips don't always want to move into the letter sound shapes quickly.  Say the word fun.  Look at yourself in the mirror as you say it slowly.  Your lips have to make 3 different shapes.  Then in order to say the word fast you have to be able to move your lips and tongue quickly.  That's where people with Down syndrome often struggle.  The brain power is there!  The necessary facial control is sometimes difficult.

All About Reading lessons include a section called Fluency Practice.  It's usually 1-3 pages of words, phrases, and sentences for your child to read to increase their reading speed.  Speed is important for reading comprehension.  As we've progressed through the lessons the Fluency pages are our least favorite part because they take a long, loooong, looooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnng time to get through.  Like Lesson 10 took over a month.

Looking at a whole page of sentences was overwhelming even if I covered up everything except what he was reading.  He just knew it was never ending.  So I grabbed a yellow legal pad, turned it sideways and started writing out the sentences word by word for Joe to read, and we haven't turned back.  It's working just as I had hoped.

The key to this style of fluency practice is to write one word at a time.

The 2nd key is to adjust the sentences so there's lots of repetition.  See my samples below.  In the first example the sentences are the same length; I just changed up a word or two in each sentence.  Reading the same words over and over again helps with instant recognition.

Lesson 10 Sentences

Lesson 12 Sentences - definitely harder than lesson 10.

Once the full sentence is written I let Joe read it again pointing on his own.  Then a smiley face and I start writing the next sentence having him read each word as I write it.  Once the page is full, we're done for the day.

----------------------------------Edited 4-13-18------------------------------------
Since this blog post I started a YouTube channel.  For a look at All About Reading Level 1 and how I customize it to make it work best for Joseph check out the video.

Like I said earlier, I've bought my fair share of early readers.  We've stuffed our library bag, too.  I'm hard to please when it comes to those early readers.  Some readers have advanced words.  We checked out one Level Pre-Primer from the library with the words tornado and lightning.  Clearly, those are not pre-primer words.  Some are simply stupid.

Thankfully, I ran across Margaret Hillert's "Beginning to Read" books.  Most of the books are familiar stories, simplified to only include words off the Dolch word list.  The Dolch word list includes 220 of the most often used words in books, textbooks, newspapers, etc.  Hillert's books are repetitive throughout and list the words used in the back of the book.  Her simplest books use just over 30 different words.

Original copyright hardcovers

New updated versions.  These include excellent additional literacy activities.  The rhyming activity is really helping Joe with his rhyming.

Books we've read according to number of words

34 - The Three Little Pigs
36 - The Three Goats
43 - The Yellow Boat
44 - Cinderella at the Ball
45 - The Three Bears
49 - A House For Little Red
58 - The Purple Pussycat
61 - Four Good Friends
61 - Dear Dragon Goes to the Library
67 - It's St. Patrick's Day, Dear Dragon
69 - Little Red Riding Hood
72 - Pinocchio

This is just a handful of her books.  Amazon has many, many more, but they are pricey.  Buying used is probably a good option.  Here's another option for purchasing used copies.

Here's how we use the Beginning to Read books.

Day 1.  I read aloud the story a couple of times during Morning Time or whenever time permits.

Day 2.  I read the title, then have Joe read the title from the title page.  I read the first few pages, then have him read a sentence or two.  I read a few more pages, then have him read a sentence or two.  This continues till the end.

Day 3.  I point, he reads.  If he gets stuck on a non-phonetic word (true sight word) I simply tell him the word and he keeps reading.  If he gets stuck on a phonetic word, I have him sound it out and go on.

Day 4.  Repeat of Day 3.

Day 5.  I quiz him on the words using homemade flashcards.  I write each word on a card, then set out 12 in front of him.  I say a word, he finds it and holds it.  Each time he finds a word, I replace it with another card so there are always 12 cards in front of him.  Once all cards have been picked up he gets a reward, usually a hug, high 5 or animal cracker.

Day 6.  Same as Day 5, except I put out 16-20 cards at a time.

Day 7.  Joe holds the pile, reads a card, then hands it to me.  Once I have all the cards (which I've done nothing to earn them) he congratulates me.  He's so funny.

Writing out the flashcards doesn't take much time because the words are used in multiple stories so I just reuse them over and over.

He also reads the book to himself during afternoon quiet time.  At this time, I don't correct him if I hear a wrong word.  I let him read it any way he chooses as long as he's reading quietly.  I want him to simply enjoy books.

Thanks for reading; that was a lot of information.  Do you have other questions about teaching reading to beginners?  I'd love to help.  Please leave a comment here at the blog or at the Camp Homeschool Facebook page.

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