Friday, May 27, 2011

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free for Autism

Guess what we are trying at our house? Yup, gluten-free, casein-free. Gluten is a protein found in many grain products--barley, wheat, oats, etc. Casein is a milk protein. We have long known that Little Bean can't handle milk products, so the casein part is already partly taken care of. He hasn't had cheese, milk, yogurt, or ice cream in ages. Now we are going a step further to remove casein from all products that he eats, including cooked dairy in things like cheese crackers, and also butter, which we had never removed. And then we will tackle gluten. It's in a lot of the food and sauces he eats now, so that will be harder.

Why? Well, some people have found that a gluten-free, casein-free diet helps individuals with Autism. I know removing milk (quite out of necessity) helped Little Bean's behavior a lot too. So I'm hoping going even further with removing both milk products and gluten will help even more.
I am a total newbie when it comes to this, so I will let you know what I'm learning as I go. Hopefully what I'm learning will help others too. And if you know a lot about gluten-free, casein-free eating, please pipe up and share with me. I'm all ears!

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Last Review for a while

Wednesday I posted my last review for a while. So for those who are ready for some non-review posts, be happy! I'm glad for the break too, even though I like getting products for the kids and I to try.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What we've been doing for science and what we will do

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A while back I was researching curriculum for next year and I really could not decide on a science that I liked. One of them I liked, but it was not Christian-based and had some mentions of evolution, another I liked but it was pricey. Eventually I just stopped looking. Then a package came in the mail for review: it was the Eagle's Wings Considering God's Creation student book and teacher's manual (with CD). I was glad to try it because I thought perhaps it would be a good fit for our family for science next year.

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Upon opening the student book, I was immediately impressed. The work pages are all very unique and interactive, with lots of information and things to cut, paste and flip open and closed. The workbook itself looked great, so I anticipated that the teacher's guide would be the same. The teacher's guide has alot of information, there's no denying that. The authors took time to go into a lot of detail on each unit (including units like weather, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, animal anatomy and physiology, and man). Because Considering God's Creation is a multi-level curriculum that is made for children in 2nd through 7th, the teacher's manual breaks information down in ways that are simple all the way to more complex and detailed explanations for older students. It's a curriculum meant to be enjoyed at home across the grade levels. There is also an accompanying CD with songs that are menat to support the learning. I'll be honest, the CD is not well done. We didn't use it at all once we listened to it at first. But the curriculum is fine without it.

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We decided to do the unit on man, even though that is the last unit in the book, it doesn't matter because the information can be done out of order. We used pages from the workbook to make a 3 foot high skeleton, and then learned the names of many bones. We then did some work with the digestive system, again using pages from the workbook to glue to our skeleton, as well as other pages that aided the kids in learning the basics of what happens in digestion.

The kids really love anything hands-on related to science, and they loved these lessons. I like them because they are pretty open and go, except for a bit of cutting that I had to do ahead of time. I also like that I can do most of the activities without purchasing all kinds of special science products. We combined these books with our Magic School Bus science kit on the human body and they complimented each other nicely, but this could be a stand alone curriculum as well. This curriculum is only $29.95, and is well worth it.

If you are interested in Considering God's Creation, check out their sample pages here. See what my crewmates are saying here.

Note: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Homeschool Reading Program for 2nd grade

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A while back on the Homeschool Crew, we had the option of showing interest in a number of curriculum choices from Pearson Education. I chose to ask for their 2nd grade language arts curriculum because Little Bean was finished with phonics and close to starting 2nd grade. Happily, I was chosen to receive their reading program, called Reading Street, and Little Bean has been enjoying it immensely.
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If you've spent any time in the public elementary school classroom, you will be familiar with the layout of these books. I received two hard back volumes, put out by Scott Foresman, a leading name in the public school system. These volumes consist mainly of living books republished in an anthology form. The stories are broken up into units, each with a theme. Before and after each age-appropriate story are questions and information relating to language arts, such as predicting, talking about genre, story sequencing and comprehension questions. These can be discussed with the child, and then usually there is some light grammar and a writing assignment included. The copies I received were the student copies.
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Pearson Education offers teacher's manuals to go along with these books, but really the books are fine to use without. There is a teacher's manual for every unit, and they are quite pricey, so unless absolutely needed, I wouldn't recommend purchasing them for home use. In the classroom, they may provide a little more structure for the teacher and help to extend the learning, but at home, they are not needed in my opinion.

What I like about these books is that they contain a lot of great children's literature, all in one small volume. Rather than collecting a lot of different books, this takes the guesswork out for you. The books also connect to other subject areas when applicable like science or social studies. And, there is a wide variety of genres, from poetry, to fiction, to non-fiction pieces.

Each volume is 43.87, and I believe that both volumes are meant to be done in one year's time. We only do Reading Street once a week, and the kids like to look at it on their own as well, so likely it will last longer for us. The upside is that even when you are done doing the activities, you still have an anthology of great literature to go back to whenever you like. See what my crewmates think by clicking here.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Good Grief!

If it's not one thing, it's another, it seems. We are still tied to California, and I don't mean in a good way. Here's my story, if you have advice, please give it, because I am fresh out of ideas.

Before we moved, my mom signed over the title of her car (which my dh had been driving) to us. Well, we mailed in the paperwork and the person assisting us apparently wrote the address down wrong because we never received the new title. We NEED the title to register our vehicle in Oklahoma. We called the DMV and confirmed, yes, they have mailed it to the wrong address, and now we must fill out a form requesting a duplicate title in order to get a new one.

Well, there is a fee for a duplicate title. We call again saying that we don't think we should have to pay since it is a DMV error. They say mail in a Statement of Facts along with the request for a duplicate title and they will send a new title out. Weeks go by. We cannot register our car in Oklahoma without the title, so my husband is driving around with CA plates.

Not so bad until--what do you know? Two months later no title has arrived. But a noticed of suspension of our registration from CA HAS arrived. No we didn't re-register there. Why would we? We moved to OK in February and intended to register before our CA registration ran out in April. But we couldn't do that--why? No title!! So now, dh is driving around with expired CA plates.

And they still won't send the title. We called again to find out what to do. They said the system shows that something is supposed to be coming in the mail for us, probably the title. Guess what it was?! Nope, not the title. A duplicate registration card that we never requested, which states that our registration is suspended. Wow. We know that. Where's the title though? Can't register without one, you know!

Ehh. Can you tell how over-the-top annoyed I am with this? Ideas, anyone??

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Spelling Help

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Several months back I had the privelege of reviewing Talking Fingers Read, Write, Type program, which Little Bean completed, and which Miss O is in the process now of completing. Talking Finger's offers another program called Wordy Qwerty, which is primarily a spelling program. Recently I was given the chance to review Wordy Qwerty as well, and Little Bean really enjoys it.

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Wordy Qwerty is a computer program that is played online. There is the option to buy a CD Rom version, which may be advisable for those with slow internet speeds. The online home version is $35 and that is for a 5 year subscription.

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Wordy Qwerty takes the player through several different activities for different spelling rules, such as the silent e, when to use /wh/ and when to use /w/, etc. The child plays the games as well as learns jingles related to the rule. The program is geared toward 7 to 9 year olds, or those who have completed Read, Write, Type.

Little Bean really liked this program, and in fact he asked to play it all the time in the beginning. The thing I didn't like about it was that there didn't seem to be enough correcting going on. I noticed quite a few times that he would spell things wrong and would still move on to the next level. And while it was fun and educational for him, I'm not sure he actually learned any new spelling rules from it. That being said, we already do a formal spelling curriculum at home, and he is on the third level of that already. So because of that, much of this program was a review for him. This would be nice for a child who likes computers, but I'm not sure it would suffice as a sole spelling curriculum, at least not for Little Bean. See what my crewmates are saying by clicking the banner.

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Please note: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tell me something that you ARE good at

Being a mom isn't easy. Being a mom in a state so far from home isn't easy. Being a mom to a child with special needs isn't easy. And so often I feel like I don't measure up. I can easily recount all the ways that I feel like I've failed as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, and just as a person. It's so easy to recognize and point out my flaws, but how often do I do the opposite? How often to I recognize the things I am good at? How often do you?

I've noticed that so many moms, wives, and women in general are down on themselves. They don't have a low self esteem really, but they are quick to point out their faults. Let's be different today. It's okay. Really, it is.

Let's tell about something we ARE good at. Or a few things.

Here's my list:
--I'm a good cook. I really am. So often I am afraid of what others outside our family will think of my cooking, but I'll tell you the truth--I've discovered that I'm actually pretty good at it.

--I'm a good teacher. I'm good at explaining things and using the resources that I have to make learning happen.

--I'm a good mom, I really do believe that. I think I was made to have a child with special needs. Most of the time I feel equipped. I'm intuitive and I'm more understanding than some would be in my situation.

So what about you? What are you good at?

Leave me a comment and tell me about it. And try not to tell me what you're not good at while you're telling me what you are good at! Easier said than done, I know!

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Being in nature is theraputic

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Most of you know my son has Autism. We have done alot of different traditional therapies with him--ABA based social skills classes, anger classes, 1:1 therapy, occupational therapy, etc. But one of the most theraputic things for him isn't found in a therapy setting at all. It's found out of doors.

Little Bean loves wide open spaces. At the park, he doesn't gravitate to the swings and slides like most kids. He moves to the perimeter of the playground and he discovers and explores and he collects. He could spend hours and hours and hours doing that just at the local park. And it is therapy to him.

He becomes this different person, who is free from anxiety, who is brave and unfettered, who is kind and social, and relaxed.

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So on the morning of his sixth birthday, we took a road trip. It was a three hour trip up from Oklahoma City to a wonderful animal reserve called Wichita Mountains. Wichita Mountains is a nearly 60 acre piece of land that is a refuge for large native grazing animals such as the American bison, rocky mountain Elk, deer, and Texas long horn cattle. There are also plenty of birds, lizards and prairie dogs there.

We started out in the amazing nature center, which had tons of displays and a short film on why a refuge was needed for the buffalo and the Texas long horn. We learned that when a buffalo is injured, (say by gunfire), all the others in the herd gather round him. This made buffalos an easy target, and hunters would kill them one right after the other in this way until they were virtually extinct.

The kids were able to learn about the different species who were introduced to the refuge, and which ones failed to thrive there.

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Then we set off to explore the refuge ourselves. You can go through in the car or by foot, or even both, and either way you do it, you will see free range cattle and buffalo grazing sometimes as close as 3 or 4 feet from you. It's seemed the cattle were a little less shy. We got very close to those, but only saw bufalo from a distance.

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We saw many tracks, giant lizards, turkey vultures in the trees, and lots of prarie dogs. It was an amazing day for us all, but we especially enjoyed watching Little Bean as he enjoyed himself in his element. There's nothing like the unrestrained joy of a child that you love.

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ipad app for your 50 states study

Several months ago I read about this ipad app for learning facts about the 50 states over at this blog. I didn't check it out because we had lots of materials already and I felt we didn't need anything else. Then one day I was browsing at the app store just for fun and came across this same app--called Stack the States (just do an search at the app store). There is a free version which is pretty good, so I downloaded it and tried it out with the kids. We all had a lot of fun, and I was convinced about purchasing the full app. It's only 99 cents, and is so worth it. For a very visual learner like Little Bean this app is amazing and he is retaining alot from it! If you have an ipad and are studying the 50 states be sure to check out Stack the States! If you're studying the countries, they also make Stack the Countries.

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The games starts by asking you trivia questions about the different states. It asks about things like capitals, landmarks, cities, and also does shape recognition. The questions are multiple choice, and if you choose the correct state, you get to move the state on top of a pedestal at the bottom of the screen. The goal, as you collect more states, is to stack them on top of eachother in such a way that they go over the finish line and don't fall off the pedestal. Once you have stacked the to the finish line, you earn a state.

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The states you earn are stored on a blank U.S. map. You can go and look at them whenever you like. As you move through the game, other mini-games are unlocked. My player has unlocked 2 of the 3 games already. One is a timed game that focuses on state recognition. Several states are stacked up and it tells you which one to touch. As you touch and eliminate states, more states are filling up the area above. The goal is to get rid of all of them!

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Another game is a puzzle game where they give you several states that are just floating around on the screen. You have to try to put them together according to how they are on the map. Each game has easy, medium and hard levels.

I'll admit, even I am learning alot from this game. I have never memorized the states, and this is a very addicting way to do it. My dh and I played it for about an hour one night after the kids were in bed, lol! Both kids love it too. Miss O has earned 2 states and Little Bean has earned 6 so far.

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Memorizing Math Facts

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One of the critical things Little Bean had to master this year as a first grader is memorizing his math facts. Our math program gave him plenty of creative ways to solve 1 digit math problems like 5 plus 8, but in the end, he needed to have them memorized. Leading into the last part of our first grade year, Little Bean was introduced to mental double digit addition (and eventually paper and pencil 4 digit addition!), and at that time it was critical that he know his math facts by heart. Actually he did struggle at first with mental 2 digit addition because he didn't quite know all his math facts.

As a part of the Homeschool Crew this year, I have had the privilege of reviewing so many products, and among them was a computer software program that teaches math facts. The program is called Mad Dog Math, and I was given a 12 week subscription to try out with Little Bean.

Mad Dog Math is a simple drill computer program that has some cute graphics, but is otherwise pretty no-frill. The child is moved through the math facts in an orderly fashion, and the computer will keep track of his or her progress. The tests can be timed, but whether or not to time and how long to give is controlled by the parent. There is a series of awards that the child "wins" when completing a section of math facts. Math Facts now is a subscription-based purchase, so it's $19.99 for one year, 29.99 for two years or for a perpetual license, it's $39.99.
Math Facts now drills all four operations, but Little Bean was only working on addition. It appears that it starts out with addition and subtraction drills together and the child must do both to get the awards. Therefore Little Bean did not get an awards because he was only doing the addition drills. That was okay because for one, he had no idea that he was missing anything, and for another, since our math program doesn't follow the typical school schedule for what they are learning in first grade, he wasn't ready for the subtraction portion anyway. I was glad that he could still utilize the drills without doing the full program.

Little Bean could take or leave this program. A plus was that I really only made him do a few drills daily, which is what was recommended to us by the company, so even though he wasn't super excited about it, he could deal with doing a few drills a day. Also, doing a few drills on the computer was infinitely better to him that doing a few drills orally with me, which is what we had been doing prior to receiving this program.

Would I extend my subscription or buy this again? No, probably not, but not because it's a bad program. It's a perfectly good program, and for a child who is really struggling with math facts and who likes computer time, this would be a great program to try. But for us, I have to prioritize my homeschooling purchases, and because this can be done for *free*, I really can't justify purchasing it. Mad Dog does offer a free trial version, so if you are interested, give that a try! It can't hurt, right?!

Additionally, Mad Dog offers supplemental products on their website like flashcards and award certificates and a math timer for oral drills. The software is available for home or school use. Read more on their website here. Click the banner below to see what other crew members thought.
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Please note, I received Mad Dog Math for free in exchange for my honest review.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Online fitness program for kids!



One of the most unique products I was able to review this year was a subscription to Go Trybe. Go Trybe is a website that provides information on nutrition, exercise and wellness, along with customizable exercise videos for kids and teens as well as some light social networking (for instance, creating an avatar and username and collecting friends to "chat" with. Each time you use the website, depending on what you do, points are awarded to you. You can use the points to "purchase" more gear for your character. A subscription to Go Trybe is free for a trial period, or $19.95 for a YEAR using the promo code GETFIT. If you ask me, 20 bucks a year for that kind of variety of workouts is a pretty lucrative offer.

Now on to the details. Let me start by saying that I didn't do the social networking stuff AT ALL. And I think that's okay. My kids are 6 and 4, and were given a subscription to the ZooDoos Trybe (K through 5th). They are too young to even "get" social networking anyway. There are trybes for kids in middle school as well as high school, and the workouts feature children and an adult instructor in that age bracket.

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The fun part was choosing workouts for them. They are pretty customizable. You can choose a warm up or two, some core workouts and cool downs. You can name your workouts and save them. There are also nutrition videos, videos featuring athletes to give kids role models to look up to and information and quizzes on nutrition--all with reward points for watching.

The one thing I noticed with the workouts was one time my computer seemed to freeze and would not buffer, and so when I backed up, I realized that I could not start my kids back in the middle of a workout. They had to start at the beginning again. So if your Internet connection goes in and out at times, this could be an annoyance. But overall, the quality of the videos is good, and the variety is nice. I like that most of it can be done in a small space and with little to no props. This would be great for schools that don't have the budget for P.E. Or if as a homeschooler you are required to do actual P.E. hours, this may be an inexpensive option. The workouts do make you work, lol, I was sore after doing a few of them with the kids.

I will say that my natural inclination at the ages my kids are at is to let them play and run around outside and do nature walks and not worry about a structured fitness program. But if you have a child who is in need of some motivation to exercise or who needs to exercise due to health reasons, or for an older child who isn't really very active, this is a great program.

Why? Well, I like that the role models in the videos are other kids. And I like that the content is safe for their age. I can't speak for the older groups, but in the K to 5 videos there is no inappropriate dance moves, music or language, which you do take the chance of having in regular adult workout videos. It's a safe option, at least for the K to 5 set.

If you are interested in this program, do take advantage of their free trial and check out their facts page.

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Note: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Finding Appropriate Chapter Books for Emerging Readers

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I was so excited when Little Bean ventured into the world of reading chapter books. He was still only 5 though, so finding appropriate materials was a challenge for sure. He became exclusively interested in one particular series, and pretty much ignored all other chapter books. But the series that he chose, he read constantly, and his love for reading blossomed.

It was at this time that I received a copy of Andi's Indian Summer, one in a series of chapter books for young readers (ages 6 to 8). I thought of just leaving the book out and hoping Little Bean would pick it up and read it, but knowing his faithfulness to his other series, I highly doubted he would read the new book on his own. So, I decided to incorporate the book into our regular school time.

Each day for a week or so we would sit down and I would have him read me a chapter from Andi's Indian Summer. Then, we would discuss the chapter, making predictions, going over unfamiliar language or words, and enjoying the illustrations (which are quite well done). Well, guess what? To my surprise, Little Bean took right to this book, begging to read more each day than just one chapter. We finish the book in a matter of days, and he enjoyed every minute. I asked him if he would read more books in the Circle C series, and he gave an emphatic "yes!".

As a mother, I really liked this book, and if it is indicative of the rest of the series, I would be interested in collecting them for Little Bean to read (or Miss O when she starts reading chapter books, since the main character is a girl). The main thing I liked was that the books are completely innocent, and without the distasteful attitudes and ideas that are so prominent in today's early chapter books. The series is set in the 1800's on a rural farm near an Indian reservation. So there is some historical background that is introduced in a really gentle, fun way, and because it is set in a historical time period, the thoughts and values of the characters are more traditional, which appeals to me, especially having such a young child who is ready for more challenging material.
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Another plus is that Kregel offers activity and coloring pages for free. We didn't utilize these, only because I totally forgot about their availability when I was going through the book with Little Bean. But, I'm sure we'll read it again, and I will be sure to use the activity pages with him. Miss O will love the coloring pages too.

Each book in the Circle C Beginnings series is $4.99 at the Kregel website. Kregel also offers additional books for children and tweens, so be sure to check their website out.
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Note: I received a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sound Jars--Did I ever post about these?

I made these sound jars ages ago, in fact, we don't even have them anymore. But I was looking through my old pics of when the kiddos were preschool-aged, and this one caught my eye.

To make these, I got some old 35mm film canisters. I just posted on Craigslist in the free section and a lady contacted me with an offer of several jars. On the bottom I put star stickers, two of each color, for matching purposes. Then I filled the canisters with different things--beads, rice, a button or coin, etc. There was a match for each thing. The kids could shake them and then turn them over to see if the stickers matched. If the stickers matched, the item inside matched. I stored them in a egg carton.

You may want to duct tape around the lid if your child tends to take the lids off. Mine didn't, but it's something to think about. :)

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Yesterday's Classics

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Yesterday's Classics is a company that republishes classic children's literature from the era of the late 1800's and early 1900's. In addition, they make this literature available to you in several electronic formats. The books are formatted beautifully, and if they have illustrations, those are included as well. Books are offered individually in print or digital format or in a digital bundle.

As a part of the Homeschool Crew, I was given the opportunity to review their Kindle version of 225 classic children's books, including books in 22 different genres. Yesterday's Classics offers this bundle in both a Kindle version (which, if you don't have the Kindle, you can read on your computer with the free Kindle for PC app) as well as an EPUB version, which I know works on the ipad, Nook, Sony reader, iphone or any smart phone, or any kind of e-reader besides the Kindle. This package of 225 e-books is $99.95. Still need convincing? Go here to hear more about this product.

What we thought:

I really liked this product. There is something really enticing about introducing the kids to classic children's literature, but it can be daunting and time consuming searching the Internet for books and knowing which ones to choose. With this product, the work is done for me--Yesterday's Classics has collected 225 books in 22 genres all in one place. At first, I thought the price was a bit steep, but if you do the math, it really isn't all that expensive per book. Also, many homeschool curriculums use books that are included in this product (Heart of Dakota and Tapestry of Grace to name a couple).

The kids seemed to really enjoy the stories too. Many of the fables and fairy tales and little stories were fun for them to read. There are Christmas stories, children's poems, even early readers. Although the language was a little different than they were used to, I think it's good for them to become accustomed to different writing styles, and this is one way to do that. There are also a lot of books for older students on subjects like American History, Ancient Greece, Renaissance and the Middle Ages. So it's a pretty broad spectrum of books, and I anticipate it being a resource we can come back to for years and years.

Note: I received this product free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Theraputic Riding

Since moving to Oklahoma and researching the different therapies available for Little Bean (diagnosed with Autism), we have had to get a little creative. There are a ton of really nice therapy places that offer social skills therapy, ABA, occupational therapy, but unfortunately, they are all WAY on the other side of town. Well, technically, the town over from the other side of town. ;) We kind of live on the older side of town, so I'm guessing it's just not the place for young families to be, which is where the therapy would be too. :(

While therapy is important to Little Bean's progress, I have to also be realistic about our lifestyle and how far I am willing to travel for therapy. Of course cost is a factor as well, and so we really can't make too many decisions until our permanent insurance kicks in this summer. This move has been good in that it has forced me to research ALL the different therapies available because there was no one like a therapist or social worker to give me recommendations. We are putting together a plan that I think will be great for all involved. So we are just starting out in our path to find the right therapy for him, that both is beneficial and allows us to maintain our peaceful (aka not hectic) lifestyle.
To start, Little Bean will be going to a therapeutic riding class--yes, horseback riding! Therapeutic horseback riding is great for children, teens and adults with all different kinds of problems, from Down Syndrome and Autism to Cerebral Palsy. The center we are going to serves over 180 children in the OKC area a semester! The only sad part is that because Little Bean is "so high-functioning" he is not able to have a regular slot in the class--he is an alternate that only gets to go when the regular kids are absent. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he is "high-functioning"and am thankful for him being at least an alternate, but I think there is the mistaken notion that just because a child is mobile and verbal that they don't have as many "problems" or struggles as other children who are non-verbal. Being able to get along socially, control your emotions, control your impulses and make friends is just as important in my mind as learning to talk. I mean no disrespect to families who have a child who is non-verbal or has a physical disability, but I do feel sad that it seems to be the case that because Little Bean is so intelligent that his problems get underplayed and he then becomes less able to receive therapy that he NEEDS. We ran into the same thing with our last insurance company when it came to occupational therapy. Because sensory issues aren't "medical", he doesn't qualify for occupational therapy because only "medically necessary" OT is allowable. So he was only allowed 5 sessions of OT. Not much, and certainly not enough to help him overcome his sensory issues. I feel the same way about that; sensory issues are just as big a deal as being able to write legibly or throw a ball. At least with the therapeutic riding, he is getting some practice with occupational skills and with social skills, even if it isn't regular at this point.

We can hope and pray that this center will have a regular opening for him in the summer, or that another center that offers the same service will pull his name off the wait list. Until then, we can only be thankful for what is offered to him.

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