Friday, October 22, 2010

Anger Therapy

Little Bean had his first anger skills class yesterday (if you remember, after seeing a therapist about some of his difficulties, she suggested both testing for Asperger's Syndrome and anger therapy). There were 5 kids total, along with their parents meeting with the psychologist for an hour long session.

I'll admit, and maybe my expectations were too high, but we did not learn anything in this session (about controlling angry behavior anyway) that we hadn't already tried. Basically, she talked about how angry feelings don't have to translate into angry behavior, and she gave us some tips to calm down (breathing, counting, taking a walk or giving yourself a time out to relax). I don't know, but really? It seemed a little basic to me.

What I did learn, however, was that Little Bean's "anger" isn't really manifested in a typical way, at least compared to the other children there. The other parents were all talking about how their kids get angry when they are asked to do something they don't want to do and throw fits. Little Bean of course, like any child has some of that, but most of his fits come from frustration. He doesn't like anything that confuses him, and unfortunately many things confuse him, which causes frustration, which causes meltdown. I'm not sure breathing is going to help him lower the frustration level from being confused. And unfortunately, some confusion is a necessary part of life--like during school time or piano, when he is learning a new song. Some of his confusion is from social situations too--he misunderstands the intentions of others and that leads him to be angry and meltdown. Or his routine is unexpectedly changed which leads to anxiety and confusion about what comes next, which in turn leads to meltdown. His "tantrums" are much less of a manipulation thing and much more of a response to confusion. So, I'm not sure how much this class is going to help him, but I'll hold back on further judgement until we've gone a few more times.

Another thing that was really hard for me to see what how difficult it was for him to interact with the other people in the class. He was very open and friendly (smiling, and being attentive), but every time he was required to respond, he got very anxious and came close to tears. The thing with Little Bean is that he has a really slow processing time when being asked questions that he can't anticipate ahead of time. He has always been this way, and unfortunately in our culture if you ask a question and don't get a response within 5 seconds, you assume the other person is not listening and repeat your question. Little Bean needs a much longer time frame to come up with an answer--even to something as simple as what's your favorite icecream flavor or what is your name. So when you're talking to him, there is always the compulsion to keep rephrasing your questions, which actually makes him more confused and makes it take longer for him to come up with an answer. I can tell he knows that he should be able to respond a little quicker because he gets very nervous with all eyes on him waiting for the response. It was really heartbreaking for me to see how every time a question was directed at him he became so flustered. The psychologist eventually realized that he needed more time, and would start on the opposite side of the table so that he would have more time to prepare (she was asking everyone the same questions), but even then there still wasn't enough time because he was so engaged in what the others were saying he didn't plan out what he was going to say.

He seemed to like going, so that at least is a plus. And since these are all kids who struggle with somewhat similar issues, who knows, maybe we can make a friend for him!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Customizable Worksheet Website

Have you heard of Twisty Noodle? I don't know how I've gone this long without hearing of this website! Twisty Noodle is a free website where you can customize your own handwriting worksheets--both printing and cursive--that go along with a picture for the kids to color. I just made three separate worksheets for my kids, all with the same picture but different words--copywork sentences for my oldest, a single word for my youngest, and simply copying a single letter multiple times for the little guy that I watch. Be sure to check this excellent resource out for yourself!

Review: Talking Fingers

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I recently had the privilege of reviewing a typing program for kids called Talking Fingers, Read, Write and Type. I received a trial online subscription to be used with one student, and tried it out with Little Bean. I'll start this review just by saying that we absolutely loved this program, and plan to purchase it in the future for our typing program! How's that for an endorsement?!

According to their website, Read, Write and Type is a learning software that "includes phonics, spelling, keyboarding and word processing." Geared toward the K through 3 set, this program features a pesky little green alien who tries to prevent the player from writing his stories. As the child progresses through the game, new stations open up for play--the email station, the movie theater, the video store, Vexor's spaceship, and the water fountain. Children not only practice learning to type, they also practice recognizing letter sounds at the beginning, middle and end of words, as well as spelling and punctuation. There are seven levels to pass through, taking the child from learning the sounds of the letters all the way through writing their own stories.

You can purchase a five-year license to the online version for only $35 dollars. Once one child has passed through all the levels and learned to type, you can archive that child and use it on another as long as it's within that 5 year span. Or, you can purchase the CD-ROM package for $79 dollars and receive some bonus materials to use with your student--a laminated keyboard, stickers, 18 leveled readers and an activity book. The advantage to the CD-ROM version is that you can use it with multiple children simultaneously, and your license does not expire.

Things we liked about the program:

--It is offered either as an online program, or as a CD-ROM.

--The price

--The graphics are really well done, the characters friendly and engaging, and the games were a lot of fun!

--There is a parent section where you can login and track your child's progress as well as set the difficulty level of the games.

--There is enough variation in the games that it keeps things interesting, but not so much variation that the child feels they are always learning a new game. This is a pro for my son because he is easily anxious and when we first started playing, just learning the games made him feel very nervous. Once he was familiar with the games, he really started doing well with the typing aspect.

--It uses several learning styles to help students who learn in different ways. When a new sound is introduced, the animated hands both say the sound, show the letter(s) that represent the sound, and show the child how to find the letter on the keyboard. Each letter has an associated character to aid in memorizing the letter sound and placement on the keyboard. It got to where I could just tell my son how to spell something by using the the characters names--'sit' would be Sass, Issa, Tut; this really helped him remember where the different letters were on the keyboard.

Things that we didn't like so much:

--For my sensory sensitive son, some of the graphics were a little too bright for him and he complained that it hurt his eyes.

--In my opinion, this is not really a complete phonics/reading program. My son already knows how to read, so this wasn't an issue for him, but I would caution people not to think that their child will learn to read or spell from this program. Yes, it can reinforce reading and spelling already learned, but the program does not offer much in the way of actually teaching phonics or spelling rules.

Overall, we really loved this program, and I certainly think the price is right for our budget. I plan to purchase this to teach both Little Bean and Miss O to type in the future. If you are interested in this product, do take the time to visit their website, learn more and check out some of their other products.

Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. All opinions in this review are mine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Digital Frog Digital Field Trips

Digifrog Field Trip Series dvd

As part of The Old School House Crew, I received a CD-ROM from Digital Frog to review with the kids. According to their website, Digital Frog is a software company that is dedicated to "creating high-quality, educational, multi-media CD-ROMS with an ecological focus". We certainly found this to be true when we explored their digital field trip series, which included field trips on the wetlands, the rainforest, and the desert. While these field trips are not intended for only one age group, I think they are best for upper elementary on through high school. My kids are still quite young and had to do the field trip with the help of a parent, but even still they thoroughly enjoyed learning about the wetlands and even asked on more than one occasion if they could learn some more about the wetlands.

Digifrog Wetlands

Each field trip is packed full of information, videos, images, and activities to engage the student and aid in their learning. I would even venture to say that one field trip by itself could be used as a unit study and comprise enough learning for a quarter or a semester, depending on how many field trips you wanted to purchase. Each field trip is $60.00 dollars for a home-use edition, or you can purchase all three field trips (wetlands, desert and rainforest) for $125.00.

Things we liked about the program:

--it was very well-rounded, packed with information, and presented the information various ways

--it included a built-in glossary, so that at any time during the field trip, the user can click a word and get a definition or more information about that word. This feature would be really helpful for an older child who was moving through the program independently, but was also useful in our situation as my husband worked through the field trip with the kids and came upon terms that he wasn't familiar with.

--our kids espescially enjoyed the video clips, special activities, and interactive graphics that supplimented the learning. For instance, when we were learning about how a bog was formed, we watched a short video showing the progression of the formation of a bog. If the kids wanted to return to a different part of the video and see it again, they could simply click and drag the bar at the bottom and re-watch that portion of the video.

Things that could be improved:

--The field trips, while quite interactive, are not very linear. You can move from screen to screen clicking topics of interest and going on little rabbit trails, which makes it difficult to know when you've covered all the imformation that is available on a topic. The navigation of the program could be improved so that it's a little more clear how the program was intended to be moved through.

If you are interested in this product, you should definitely visit their website and check out some of the free demos to determine if this program would fit into your homeschool curriculum!

Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. No money was exchanged and the opinions in this review are my own.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Haven't Seen His Face In Weeks!


Just kidding, but really, his nose is constantly in a book these days. He wakes up in the morning and runs to the book box and starts reading. Or, I'll find him in his room before breakfast reading. He spends all his free time reading and refuses to put his books down unless he is at a good stopping point.

Specifically, all he wants to read is Magic Tree House. A month ago he was mastering Henry and Mudge and other Cynthia Rylant books and then one day he found a Magic Tree House book in the back of my husband's car from the previous owner and read it on the way home. After that, he was comepletely hooked! We've had to make multiple trips to the library to get new books as he reads them very quickly.

He's gotten 8 or 10 of his own MTH books from the thrift store and stores them in numerical order in his trusty backpack that never leaves his side! I'm so glad he loves to read, even if it's only this one series that he is into, but at the same time, it can be frustrating to try and tear him away from his books to join the rest of the world!
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