Monday, December 31, 2007

Cookie Cutter Crazy

Pamela and I made GF/CF Gingerbread Cookies before Christmas, but she was still getting over a cold and was not really "up" for the activity. We ended up refrigerating the leftover dough and made another batch of cookies tody. We still have plenty of dough left for another batch, which I froze. My very first tip for this recipe is to cut it in half because I did not have any bowls large enough to handle the dough!

We made only one major tweak to the recipe because I could not find any amaranth flour at the health food store. We ended up replacing it with sorghum flour. The hint in the recipe about making your own insulated pans worked well and added opportunities for Pamela to reference to resolve uncertainty. She had never used a full-blown rolling pin nor cookie cutters, so baking these cookies was a great opportunity to learn new skills. My big tip for this recipe is to avoid over-baking because the recipe produces a very stiff dough.

You could say that Pamela went cookie cutter crazy. First, she tried out three-sizes of gingerbread men. Then, she tested out two kinds of stars, apples, and shamrocks. She enjoyed trying different kinds of shapes.

One mother recently asked me to recommend recipes with less than five or less ingredients to do some beginner's baking. That is hard to do when baking GF/CF food because, to get the right consistency, you must blend different kinds of flour. I think you could scaffold this by putting together all the dry ingredients in advance and then start the child off by focusing on the liquids individually and mixing them with the dry ingredients when ready. With beginners, you can scaffold by having all the utensils and ingredients out, oiling pans and preheating in advance, etc.

To work on referencing skills, you can leave the recipe out of the child's sight. This means the child will have to pay attention to you to figure out how to put the ingredients together.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Four Levels of Joy

I wanted to share some insight about how far Pamela has come in her ability to enjoy a full-blown large-family Christmas celebration without going into meltdown. Much of the credit goes to the Glasers and the Kings, who are the most supportive group of people anyone could desire.

First, you will notice as you watch and hear the clips that Pamela is surrounded by noise: seventeen people sometimes all talking at once in three languages (English, German, and Spanish), several speaking to Pamela at one time, plus the music in the background.

Second, you need to know that Pamela stayed through the entire celebration from beginning to end: she sat through the Christmas readings, listened to the Christmas carols (she was too hoarse to sing), and even contributed by signing "Silent Night" for everyone--can you say tissue moment? Then, she had no problems waiting patiently as each one of us opened presents, one by one, individually to allow us all to share in one another's joy.

Finally, you must know that Pamela could not have managed this with so much ease and enjoyment in her early childhood. From 1991 through 1994, Pamela coped with very large family gatherings by spending time in her escape hatch. At Great-Grandma's house, she played with the dolls under the bed in the guest room. At Tia Janet's, she studied the videos stored in Alyson's room. At Grandma's house, she sat on the bed in the master bedroom and watched television. She spent most of the time flitting around the room with her ears plugged and bolting to her escape hatch for peace and quiet. She had the occasional meltdown when we were too much for her. That last large family Christmas gathering was 1999 and she still needed lots of downtime.

Second of Twelve Gifts: Happy, But Not Joy
In this clip, Pamela received a Sweet Slumbers Bedtime Set. She is happy but does not rock in joy as you will see in later clips. Pamela briefly shows the gift to her grandmother on the left.

Eleventh of Twelve Gifts: Obviously Joyful
Pamela had asked for some kind of Moon Sand kit and was very delighted with the Moon Sand Pet Shop kit, selected due to her love of all things animals. Pamela smiles brightly and responds very nicely to a request to see her present. Then, she rocks to express her joy more completely.

First of Twelve Gifts: Surprised and Joyful
Pamela references beautifully in this gift from her Oma and Opa. The stuffed animal is contained in a plastic bag, and Pamela is unsure of how to open it. She thinks she can rip into the bag, but she turns to me and her Oma for reassurance. Once she realizes it is a huge Winnie-the-Pooh, she turns back to us again to share her joy with us, hugs her bear, and rocks in excitement.

Last of Twelve Gifts: Extreme Joy
Pamela waited patiently all night for Baby Alive, which we saved until the end. Pamela tells us that she plans to watch PBS Kids (which she does every weekday at noon) with her new baby. She was so excited that she carefully stood up and had to release her joy in a "victory lap." Many people with autism find ways to express joy physically like a football player does an end zone dance.

As promised, Pamela sits down every weekday at noon with her baby to watch PBS Kids for an hour. She has informed me that we now have FIVE members of our family, where there were previously four. She plans to celebrate New Year's Eve and Leap Day with her baby. When pressed for a name, she says, "No name" or "Baby Alive!"

Tomorrow, I plan to cover what tips have helped Pamela learn to enjoy herself, even in large gatherings. I will close with the gift that gave ME great joy: Jane Austen the Illustrated Library. This nine-pound book contains all six books with sketches and color plates and large enough print for Steve to read.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Saved by CBD Books!

I have company visiting and little time to blog. Last Saturday night, I was frantic! All month long I had been practicing Bethlehem Morning, which I was supposed to sing at church last Sunday. Well, apparently, I had rehearsed this piece one too many times because the tape broke the night before I was supposed to sing!


Fortunately, I looked online and found the song was not only available at CBD Books, but that I could download the vocal track for ONLY 99 cents and burn a CD from the download!


The double miracle in this is that Pamela started getting a cold on December 15 and I thought I would catch her cold, just in time for my solo. Again, fortunately--or was that God's perfect timing--my sore throat started on Christmas Eve after all of my singing obligations were finished!

The other blessing was that the You-Tube clip I accessed to figure out how the song was originally sung came from a Christmas in Washington special. This video launched me on a trip down memory lane for I was on this show in Christmas of 1983 and 1984 as a member of the United States Naval Academy Glee Club. If you want a good laugh, check out the Skiv's Skating Rink in the Sky (one of my all time favorites) or our alma mater Navy Blue and Gold or the sea chanty Boston Harbor or the hilarious medley of political slogans (too bad they left out the ending--it was FABULOUS).

I found an article on Dr. Talley who helped me find my voice. What they do not mention his great ragtime versions of the Navy Hymn and the Doxology. I had never soloed, much less sung much, until Dr. Talley accepted me into the choir and glee club. He even selected me to do the alto solo from the Easter Messiah and hired Jeanne Kelly to be the voice teacher for all of the soloists. She was fantastic, and I still remember many tips and tricks she taught me about singing.

I was not surprised that no clips of Christmas in Washington exist on You-Tube from the two years I was on the show. So, I googled it. I was flabbergasted to find a DVD of the 1983 show hosted by Andy Williams up for sale on eBay! Even more so, I WON THE BID. So, now Steve and the kids have seen a very young and thin version of me singing for President Reagan on national television.

I also found some pictures at the Osmond family website from the 1984 show, which I will be happy to share here. You can see larger shots by clicking each image.

I have a copy of this same program displayed at the Osmond website in my memorabilia from my days at the boat school. Again, you can see larger shots by clicking each image. And, that is enough sea stories for one evening . . . (Jamberry, don't you love it?)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

GF/CF Praline Pumpkin Dessert & Cranberry Conserve

I adapted the following Praline Pumpkin Dessert recipe to be free of gluten and casein.
  • I opened a 14-ounce can of coconut milk and skimmed off two ounces of the cream. I replaced the evaporated milk with the remaining twelve ounces of coconut milk.
  • I did not have the buttery sticks that might have worked, and the nearest decent health food store is 75 miles away. Instead of 3/4 cup of butter, I tried the remaining two ounces of coconut cream and four ounces of vegetable shortening.
  • I found the recipe too sweet the first time I made it, so I cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup.
  • I did not have any yellow cake mix handy, so I substituted it with muffin mix.
My sister Pam has cut milk from her diet, and she tried the pecan praline dessert and raved at the taste. My daughter Pamela loved it, too. I found it equal in taste to the original, but the GF/CF version does not brown as nicely. Unfortunately, I took no pictures . . . maybe next time! By the way, everyone loved the gluten and casein packed version, too, and the only modification I made to that was lowering the sugar to 3/4 cups.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you I am not a great cook. I am a terrible cook as Pamela has attested. EVERYONE loved the Cranberry Conserve, which is GF/CF without any modifications! I did make the following changes:
  • I was feeding a huge crowd of seventeen (that is huge for me). I tripled the recipe.
  • Instead of using 4.5 cups of sugar (3 times 1.5 cups), I cut it back to 3 cups (which would be 1 cup per batch).
  • Pamela used up all of my lemon juice, so I used 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar instead of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
This conserve tastes wonderful on turkey as well as pork chops.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Most of my family (my parents and five of seven siblings and family ) celebrated a German Christmas together for the first time in twenty-three years. Steve's parents and a nephew also joined us for the festivities. First, we lit a white candle to honor loved ones who have died and spent one minute in silence, followed by lighting a red candle to remember those serving in our military. Then, we took turns picking Christmas carols from the very same song sheets we used as children--well, copies of them. We alternated songs with Gospel readings from the Time-Life Book of Christmas published and purchased the year I was born. Finally, each child stood next to the Christmas tree with a gift for the Christ child. Pamela signed Silent Night while I sang it, and David read A Nativity by Rudyard Kipling.

When it comes to Christmas, the Germans are smart. We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve so that children and adults could get a good night's sleep. Because we had some pretty lean years, someone played Santa by passing out presents, one by one, allowing time for all to see. We did not think it necessary for each adult to buy the other adult a Christmas present, so we held a white elephant gift exchange, minus the white elephants. I was sneaky enough to slip in gag gifts with mine: (1) I re-gifted a can of creamed possum with a nice gift card plus and pretty Amazing Grace go-cup and (2) I hid the movie Amazing Grace in a box of microwave popcorn. The gift exchange generated many laughs, especially the You Might Be a Redneck If game.

Because Pamela left me no doubt about what she wanted for Christmas, she was excited about all of her presents. My parents gave her a huge stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh, and Steve's parents gave her a cute Panda Face puzzle--Pamela loves animals! One aunt gave her Barbie Jumping Tawny, while her cousins gave her a Moustrap game (which I suggested because I think it will be fun to play a la RDI). She also received Moon Sand Pet Shop, a dolphin puzzle, a red plush robe with red slippers, a journal, an ergonomic pen with a refill pack, a Fancy Horse suncatcher, a Christmasy sweatshirt. However, the piece de la resistance was the gift from Santa--Baby Alive and a Sweet Slumbers Bedtime Set.

The first thing Pamela did this morning was pull her baby out of the box. She gave her some juice and changed her diaper. I would have filmed her but was busy chopping up pecans for my cranberry conserve for Christmas dinner. I did snap these photos of her putting on her baby's slippers. At noon, Pamela dashed across the street with her baby to watch television at my parents' house.

I am too tired to edit much video and will post clips tomorrow!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pamela's Marvelous Memory

Pamela did not always remember events by date. Prior to 2004 when she started a journal that she kept for about two years, she remembered events by location. Like me (a navy brat), we moved often enough for this system to be helpful as you can see in these pictures. The animals represent the Chinese zodiac.

Her memory of events and dates emerged in the Spring of 2004. The first dated entry in her autobiography, which she wrote without consulting her journal, is from March of that year. It ties into her intense fascination with broken things, too:
I didn't go to mass at March 28,2004. David broke a tape. David listen on another tape. Tammy, David, and I go to a library. We didn't have co-op at 3/30/04. We have haircut in a mall. David visited Merlin. They dropped off Merlin. David broke an arm. David went to the doctor.

I decided to go on a fact-finding mission to see how accurate her memory is. While I knew David broke his arm in 2004, I could only narrow it down to a season: either spring or fall because David missed out on some of the YMCA program which takes a break in the summer and people do not roller-blade during a Minnesota winter. I went to David's journal and confirmed three things Pamela covered. First, we did go to the library on March 29. Second, David did invite his friend Merlin over for a sleepover on April 2. Third, he did break his arm on April 3. (Why do emergency room visits always happen on a Saturday?)

This feat may not be all that amazing. After all, Pamela kept a journal during this time period and one of her favorite activities is to relive the past by pouring through pictures, home videos, homeschooling paperwork, and journals. She stopped keeping a formal journal when we moved to Carolina, which would be July 2005 (my memory system is based on the house in which we lived).

What impresses me is that she must keep a journal in her head. I went back through her autobiography and journal-in-a-box and made some astounding discoveries. I am at a disadvantage because my memories of events are not connected to dates, but I have a little helper . . . the Internet! She remembers these post-journal dates in her head, while I have to look them up online.

Perfect Recall
* October 2005 - Saw The Hobbit in Charleston, SC

* April 16, 2006 - Spent Easter with the Grandparents in Asheville, NC

* Wednesday, May 31, 2006 - Stayed with Oma and Opa while I went to the Charlotte Mason Conference in Boiling Springs, NC

* June 11, 2006 - Performed Celebrate Life performance (confirmed by the handout)

* July 7, 2006 - Stayed with Oma for while I attended a relative's funeral

* December 17, 2006 - Performed City on a Hill performance

* December 23, 2006 - Met relatives who attended a great-great aunt's funeral

* December 26-27, 2006 - Went to Universal Studios (Post I and Post II)

* January 5, 2007 - Saw Eragon (I could not remember the name of the movie, which Pamela did not record, but she knew it when I asked)

* Tuesday, February 13, 2007 - Spent two days in Wilmington, NC for a homeschool meeting (confirmed by email archives)

* Monday, February 26, 2007 - Saw Amazing Grace (I remember it being on the Monday after it opened)

* Friday, March 30, 2007 - Picked up relative from the airport (confirmed by email archives)

* Thursday, April 5, 2007 - Cleaned house before an Easter weekend visit from the grandparents

* Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - Dropped off relative from the airport (confirmed by email archives)

* Tuesday, June 5, 2007 - Stayed with Oma and Opa while I went to the Charlotte Mason Conference

Pamela's journal-in-a-box is complete through the end of June 2007. I have searched high and low for any errors, and I found only one! She wrote that David went to a concert on September 22, 2006, but the Casting Crowns concert he attended was really on November 10, 2006. Wow! Only ONE mistake! If I did not have this blog, I would be lucky to get the year right!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Really Shouldn't Complain, But . . .

I know I shouldn't complain about this because I have it made. Some parents deal with children who perseverate over potty humor or impress people with burping the ABCs. Others leave visitors with a lasting impression of themselves clothed in socks--only socks! Pamela's headache-inducing interest revolves around broken video tapes.

It all started on that unknown, but fateful day, back in 1996 in which Pamela broke The Honey Tree as recorded in her auto-biography. Later that year, the beloved MGVT 1 and 2 broke, a tragedy in the annals of Glaser history. A quibbler might note that The Honey Tree was released in VHS form on October 1, 1997. I might point out that some people have too much time on their hands and I believe her dating system at that time was based upon where we lived, meaning anything that happened in Pennsylvania occurred anywhere from the summer of 1996 to the Spring of 2000. Her calendar skills kicked in anywhere from the summer of 2001 to the summer of 2003 because we lived in Alaska.

Pamela wove into her auto-biography entries about every video tape or VCR she broke. For example, in September of 2002, she recalled, "A video cleaner is stucked in a VCR. Its acting up. I cut a VCR. The VCR broke." She even set aside a special page for tracking important video events: picking her favorite videos, breaking them, or buying them on eBay. Her biggest eBay haul was eighteen videos in one auction as a present for Christmas 2003, while her most important one was winning a new copy of the coveted MGVT 1 and 2 in February 2004.

But, I digress. Pamela discovered You-Tube this year. She started researching broken video tapes to which I refuse to provide links for obvious reasons. She found a couple of annoying ones in which mindless teens break video tapes over their head and some even chew the tape. Echolalia from these video clips can appear at anytime as you can see in this clip!

Fortunately, Pamela is too smart to try this at home. Unfortunately, she found a safe way to imitate this silliness that is non-toxic and non-scarring. I know I should be thankful for this! She makes paper videos and presses hard with a pen to semi-perforate them to make them easier to rip. To the right are sample paper videos. Here is an example of Pamela in all her glory.

You might smile and say "Awwww . . . how cute!" Check out pictures of my desk drawers which I clean out daily. These pesky paper videos multiply like tribbles. They must go through some weird life cycle change because sometimes they appear as tiny wads of paper. Occasionally, I even come across them soaking wet, probably from a very recent metamorphic transformation. I refuse to hear any of your speculation about alternatives because life cycle changes sound more hygenic!

I really should not complain. After all, this broken videotape craze has replaced the Hooper-Bloob Highway monologues. Occasionally, broken videotapes slip into conversations quite appropriately, and I go with it!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Journal in a Box

Pamela started exploring calendars in 2002. All on her own, she figured out how to look up calendars in Wikipedia and Google and learned about the fourteen kinds of calendars: seven leap years and seven common years. One of many things she does in her free time is to write different ways to analyze calendars. Not only that, she remembers the exact date of events that have occurred since she developed this skill. In fact, if you tell her your date of birth, she can tell you the day of the week on which you were born. This is a great way to break the ice with acquaintances! She knows what years go with what calendar type. Then, in her mind, she visually looks up the date just like we would look up the same information visually by going to a website.Years Cheat Sheet

As part of a writing co-op class, Pamela kept a journal for two years from September 2003 to July 2005. Back in September of 2007, she wrote her auto-biography in a spiral notebook but ended it on December 31, 2006. I wondered if she would ever write up 2007, and she has launched her account of this year in a very unique way: a journal in a box! She found some untouched, little tablets in my desk and started filling them out page by page. Methodically, she ripped off each completed page and placed them neatly in a plastic, food container.

So far, she has recorded daily entries for the first two months of 2007. Some entries look very similar, and it is amazing how accurately she remembers events by date, such as a trip we took to Wilmington, NC around Valentine's Day. She wrote that we saw a movie on Monday, February 26, 2007. (If you double click, the picture you can read that entry.) The movie was Amazing Grace, which was released on February 23, 2007. I remember seeing it on a Monday because Steve was hoping to take the afternoon off and meet us at the movie theater. She even writes down what days we homeschooled and did not homeschool. I wish I were as accurate in remembering dates at the end of the school year when I write up my homeschooling reports! In fact, I think I better just use her journal as a guide come August of next year . . .

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Slow . . . Quiet . . . Sharing

In Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds, Laura Berk points out that another ingredient of working in the zone of proximal development is the power of conversation:
When people converse with one another, they engage in a form of dialogue called narrative--a storylike mode of communicating, composed of a sequence of events with people as main characters. In the narrative, which may be real or imaginary, characters' roles and mental states--feelings, intentions, beliefs, opinions, and knowledge--are revealed (page 52).
Charlotte Mason believed that the narrative style came easily to younger children once they had words:
Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between 'Duke' and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigour in the true epic vein; but so ingrained is our contempt for children that we see nothing in this but Bobbie's foolish childish way! Whereas here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education. Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything (page 231).
For narrative to extend the zone of proximal development, it helps to establish a shared understanding with the help of scaffolding. The other day, we had some great interactions that illustrate this. Pamela and I made an elfball. (A quick aside for those of you looking for non-toxic toys for Christmas gifts, the toymaker sells her own book.) Pamela cut the entire thing all by herself, and I cleaned up three corners for her. Before taking the next step, I wanted to establish an understanding about how the flap folds need to be made along the lines. She tends to fold without looking!

Pamela could see the need to fold the flaps but did not see the inner lines that form the ball. I talked about what needed to happen next, and I thought she understood. When Pamela said, "I did it," I realized we had a disconnect. She needed more scaffolding to get to my level of understanding, so I demonstrated the next step and she caught on immediately.

I hoped Pamela might figure out what to do next. We needed to tape the flaps to the ball, so I tried to make the point non-verbally. An interesting thing happened. When I was going to turn my gaze to the drawer with the tape, Pamela spaced out (it started when she tapped her face). The brisk, "get on with it" Tammy would have snapped her fingers impatiently and said, "Get the tape." I am working on my personal goal to slow down. This time, I waited and moved my head in odd angles. I realized she was not paying attention, so I waited about fifteen seconds until she referenced me to tell me I could continue. One crucial element of scaffolding for most autistic children is to SLOW DOWN and give them the chance to process and think.

Another element of scaffolding for an autistic child is to communicate non-verbally. Because I have emphasized language and speech for so long, I have neglected body language. Part of the problem was I had read so much research stating that reading facial expressions was too difficult for people with autism. I did not even bother to try. However, since 70% of all communication is non-verbal, I now think it is important to make the attempt. Pamela and I are both way past the neural plasticity limit (that magical age of six) and, yet, we are both learning new ways to communicate! In this case, Pamela got stuck ripping the tape. In the past, she would persist in pulling up, instead of down along the jagged edge. So, I took the tape and demonstrated what to do. She grabbed the scissors, and I shook my head. She reached up to hold the tape, so I guided it into the position. Then, she had no problems with ripping the tape. This entire twenty-five second interaction is completely non-verbal.

I strung together a few examples of declarative language, the last element of scaffolding I will show today. I needed to cut off excess tape, and the imperative Tammy would have said, "Get me the scissors." The declarative Tammy asked, "What do we do about this?" Later, a piece Pamela cut needed to be cut in half. In the old days, I would have said, "Cut this." Instead, I observed, "I think this is too long." By making comments like that, I get to see how Pamela solves problems.

The main difference between being imperative and declarative is not necessarily words, but intent. If grabbing the scissors is the only "correct" response, then I am being imperative. Waiting to see how this interaction will unfold is more declarative. She might have disagreed and come back with, "It's okay." Or, she might have gotten a knife instead of scissors. On the other hand, she might have given me a blank stare. I learn more about how she thinks when I allow her to be an active participant.

At the end of the clip, the phone rang and I told her, "I'm ignoring the phone. The last time they hung up." Pamela stood up to get it, so I told her, "That's okay. Last time, nobody was on the phone. I'm not going to answer it." I had hoped she would ignore the ringing phone because I knew David would get it. I told her what I was thinking, and she decided to sit down and ignore it, too! However, if she had opted to pick it up and hand it to me, I would have answered it. The old imperative Tammy would have said, "Sit down. I'm ignoring the phone." Period. End of story.

These three elements of scaffolding are what I was missing before I started reading about RDI. I already knew about elements of teaching problem solving like breaking things down into manageable steps, including visual cues, demonstrating what to do, give feedback, only helping when stuck, being warm and encouraging, etc. What is new for me are thinks like slowing down, relying on body language rather than my mouth, and sharing rather than demanding. My focal points when interacting with Pamela are Slow . . . Quiet . . . Sharing.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fun with Sequencing Cards

Pamela already knows how to put pictures in sequence, but we are having fun with a twist to this idea. I cut up cards in a sequence and put them in order. I present them one at a time in order. Pamela tells me what the characters are doing (practicing present progressive tense) on the card being shown. To add an element of having to read my face for information, she has to guess what will happen next. Then, I use mainly non-verbal communication to help her figure it out. With the climax of the story, I try to do a little bit of anticipation like counting before I show the card, starting and stopping, pausing, acting very dramatic, etc.

So far, she likes the nursery rhymes at Enchanted Learning. I do not tell her the title of the rhyme so part of the fun is guessing it. They are a bit drab, so I use our trusty, old, reliable, lovable 1995 version of MGI Photosuite to add some color.

These stick-figure story sequences look dull, but nearly all of them have a funny twist that Pamela makes Pamela giggle. For example, she expected the one with a fireman carrying a hose to be about a house on fire. Imagine trying to give her non-verbal clues for birthday cake! I ended up humming the birthday song. The thought of someone putting out a cake with a firehose tickled her fancy.

From time to time, Hearing Journey posts wordless books for the weekly preschool activities. Pamela loved this week's story which was about a pig and sheep riding a sled and crashing into a snowman. It reminded her of the beloved story Pa told Laura "The Pig and the Sled." If you think this week's story is cute, be sure to download the pdf file because it turns into a pumpkin on Friday!

Once I run out of entertaining story sequencing cards (none of that dull life skills stuff that bores us to tears), I plan to print out and cut up online comics.

Today's version of Foxtrot is a perfect example of something tailor-made for this activity. It will probablt change by tomorrow, so I will briefly narrate. Foxtrot is busy working at a computer. His mother is asking him about his progress on taking out her wrinkles in the family Christmas picture. He shows her the family on the bridge of the Death Star (Pamela is a fan of Star Wars), riding the back of a T. Rex ala Jurassic Park, waving at a Balrog (we read the books and have the Special Extended Editions of all three movies and even the cheesy cartoon version from the 1970s) and navigating the first level of Super Mario Brothers (the only game she will play on her Game Boy). The beauty of this comic is that I can have her guess each new scene and think of clues to help her think of each scene. I am already having fun just anticipating doing this one with her!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

First Christmas

I have a feeling my blogging will be more sparse because 'tis the season to be singing--fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la! Let me see . . . choir rehearsal Wednesday night (1 hour), youth band Thursday night (2 hours), youth band Saturday night (3 hours), multiple singing venues Sunday (3.5 hours). . . The kids and I are in a cantata on December 9 (Emmanuel: Celebrating Heaven's Child) and a youth/youngish adult musical on December 19 (City on a Hill) in addition to the ordinary choir and youth band stuff. On December 23, I will sing Bethlehem Morning and will spend the month finding my way up to that dreaded A flat! All those hours I spent rehearsing this week (which does NOT include the extra bits I do at home to get prepared for a solo) explain why no stockings are hung by the chimney with care . . . yet.

Pamela is already in the Christmas spirit. She has only one two more cards left in her Best Thoughts folder she has been making all last month. She told me she was going to write a Christmas poem and this is EXACTLY what she wrote. I resisted the urge to make little changes because I wanted to preserve her words as she wrote them. This sort of thing was impossible for her to compose from straight from her head three years ago!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Scaffolding and the Cutting Edge

In Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds, Laura Berk discusses scaffolding as a way to help children in mastering new areas of competence. Today, we had a great example of how this works. Pamela finds cutting anything short or curved a challenge. We have been making toys from The Toymaker to practice cutting (among other things). Today, we cut out the Christmas angel box. When we started RDI, Pamela could handle simple cutting tasks that were straight and long. She was not very good at corners, short snips, and curves. She tried to cut curves with shorter straight cuts. She cut this piece all by herself today, a task she can do independently because it had all straight lines and right-angle corners. I assisted by cleaning up a couple of corners--the last skill she needs to learn for cutting corners.

When it comes to cutting, we have a shared understanding that Pamela will cut as much as she can by herself and I will cut the tricky parts. She got this far when she recognized the short, tight cuts in the roof were too hard. She told me, "Help me with this." I cut only the parts that were challenging and encouraged her to keep cutting.

She reached another tight, tricky corner near the floor of the house. I left one little triangle for her to snip and asked her if she could do it. She said she could and finished cutting the rest all on her own.

As you can see she had a couple of snags that were minor, so I cleaned it up for her. Her cutting has improved over the past couple of months, and I did not think it was worth drawing her attention to it since I had bigger plans in mind.

She did not know where to begin with the angel and handed me the entire piece, uncut. I decided to cut the inner part of the wings and section between the head and wings. I thought she could do the stand all by herself, and I would use the long curve edge of the wings to demonstrate how to cut curves. I filmed us cutting the angel: first, I told her I thought she could do the straight edges and she agreed. Then, we talked about how you cut with the cutting hand and you turn with the turning hand (she is left handed, so I wanted to avoid left versus right).

The first clip shows the straight cuts.

The second clip shows the curved cuts. This is the first time Pamela has ever successfully turned a paper while cutting a curve! You can see how pleased I am by the smile on my face!

The first technique of scaffolding I used was joint problem solving aimed at keeping Pamela in the zone of proximal development. I broke down the task into three parts: the interior, which I would cut; the straight stand, which Pamela would cut; and the long curves, which I would show Pamela how to cut. I provided very little direction in the straight cuts because she has mastered that skill. I provided detailed direction on the long curve because had never been able to do it before unless I held the paper and turned it for her. Since I knew cutting curves was at the edge of the zone, I moved in closer to narrow the zone of connection between us. I had to give her a little "tu" sound to help her think of the word, turning, which I was trying to spotlight. I also repositioned the paper to maximize success for her.

The second technique of scaffolding I used was self-regulation, or "the capacity to use thought to guide behavior" (page 49). Pamela and I talked about what my cutting hand was doing versus what my holding hand was doing. You can tell she put this new way of thinking about cutting curves into action. She made three of four curved cuts by turning the paper today. In my opinion, this is the major difference between behavioral techniques and RDI. The former focuses on changing the environment or finding ways to shape behavior; the latter focuses on thinking in new ways so that the person makes better informed behavioral choices:
In scaffolding, the adult encourages the child to grapple with questions and problems, and, thereby, to contribute significantly to the dialogue. . . The parent or teacher intervenes only when the child is truly stuck, granting the child as much opportunity to master his or her own behavior as possible. . . When adults ask children questions and make suggestions that permit them to participate in the discovery of solutions, then transfer of useful strategies to the child is maximized. by introducing language as a mediator of the child's activity, the adult's questions and prompts prevent the child from responding impulsively. They encourage the child to step back from the immediate situation and consider alternatives--in essence, to think (pages 49-50).
The third technique of scaffolding is what I covered in another blog post: warm parenting.

Of course, I cannot help but close with some Charlotte Mason musings. I think she instinctively understood the idea of scaffolding. For example, when teaching children under six outdoor geography, she encouraged parents to break it down into many little steps and to engage children in conversations about what they observe and concepts of geography. Children could learn to think of a duck-pond as an island sea, a hill as a mountain, and a brook as a mighty river. To prepare them for map reading when older, she broke down directions and distances: talk about observing the sun's movement and time, observing the sun and compass directions, paces and distance, time of a walk and distance, direction different windows in the house and other buildings face, the connection between wind direction and weather, the compass and directions, measuring boundaries (property boundaries, building dimensions) by pacing, making their own plans of their house, their property, the block in which they live, the neighborhood, etc. You can read her ideas on outdoor geography here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Creating the Zone

I have not blogged on Awakening Children's Minds in awhile. Chapter 2 contains so much great material that I am lingering.

When I think about Pamela's abilities, I can rattle off things she can do completely independently: zipping her pants, using the microwave to reheat food, adding and subtracting fractions with the same denominator, turning a whole into a fraction and vice versa, writing ten sentences with the syntax she has mastered, etc. Pamela can do even more with a little guidance from me: zipping a jacket once I get it started, baking simple recipes when I help her with measuring correctly, converting mixed fractions to improper fractions (and vice versus) when she sees she is stuck ad asks for help, writing an organized paragraph when I set up sentence strips based on her oral narration, etc. Some things are completely beyond Pamela's reach right now, even with help: flossing her teeth, making a recipe GF/CF, multiplying fractions, writing a research paper with at least 1,000 words, etc.

The tasks I put in red represent Pamela's actual development. The tasks I put in purple and blue are her potential development, or things she should be able to do independently in the future. The ones in purple are in the zone of proximal development, meaning tasks she can do with my guidance in helping her to solve problems. To help her master these future skills, Laura Berk suggests,
Rather than transmitting ready-made knowledge to a passive child or giving a child tasks for which he or she already has the requisite skills, the adult's role is to engage in dialogue with the child--by observing, conversing, questioning, assisting, and encouraging. During that dialogue, the adult continually assesses the child's progress and creates the "zone" by keeping the task "proximal"--slightly above the child's level of independent functioning (page 41).

Adults can create this zone in several ways. First, they can use shared understanding. Second, they can build a support system through a variety of techniques: scaffolding (joint problem solving, self-regulation, and warmth and encouragement) and conversation (narrative and theory of mind). Instead of writing a lengthy blog, I will cover these ideas in later posts.

I will conclude with another parallel to Charlotte Mason who had a grasp of proximal development. She knew that some children were ready for skills like learning the alphabet on their own schedule and recommended waiting until a child showed an interest. She understood that interaction between adult and child worked well when the child actively pursues learning the alphabet with the adult there to answer questions, make observations, assist in letter formation and information, etc. Although the zone was not part of her vocabulary, she discouraged adults from rushing children into something outside of the zone of proximal development.

The Alphabet.––As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. He has his box of ivory letters and picks out p for pudding, b for blackbird, h for horse, big and little, and knows them both. But the learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observation: he should be made to see what he looks at. Make big B in the air, and let him name it; then let him make round O, and crooked S, and T for Tommy, and you name the letters as the little finger forms them with unsteady strokes in the air. To make the small letters thus from memory is a work of more art, and requires more careful observation on the child's part. A tray of sand is useful at this stage. The child draws his finger boldly through the sand, and then puts a back to his D; and behold, his first essay in making a straight line and a curve. But the devices for making the learning of the 'A B C' interesting are endless. There is no occasion to hurry the child: let him learn one form at a time, and know it so well that he can pick out the d's, say, big and little, in a page of large print. Let him say d for duck, dog, doll, thus: d-uck, d-og, prolonging the sound of the initial consonant, and at last sounding d alone, not dee, but d', the mere sound of the consonant separated as far as possible from the following vowel.

Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated. When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play (pages 201 to 202).

My neurotypical son learned his alphabet before we realized what he was doing. We gave him an alphabet wooden puzzle for Christmas when he was two years old. While I was running around the house doing chores or working with Pamela, he would ask, "Wha' dis?" and I would distractedly answer him. He knew his alphabet by the time he turned three. And, as he was a strong-willed, contrary little thing, I just know had I introduced the idea of learning his alphabet, he would have turned ten years old before learning it. I am so thankful that being swamped with Pamela's needs prevented me from ruining a good thing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Tam-Pam-Tallman-Jamberry-J-man-Sly Show

One reason why I love the Internet is the opportunity to meet kindred spirits. When you live in a town with a population just over 4,000, you find it hard to meet homeschoolers doing RDI, the association method, and living books with an autistic child, much less one who graduated from the boat school and married a naval officer. Today, the kids (Pam and Tallman) and I had the pleasure of meeting Jamberry and her crew (J-man and Sly). We met them at Swan Lake and spent a leisurely lunch at Burger King. As I have not clue if my camera has a timer, much less how to use it, I took a short video clip of the crew.

The map of the lake covered in rainwater fascinated Pamela. She kept running her finger through it and talking about floods. Sly discovered where the muscovy ducks hide from the tourists (under a very ancient magnolia tree). We also laughed at the disco duck, shaking his bootie for the camera.

We all had a great time. In typical fashion, Pamela and J-man quietly did their own thing. Jamberry and I talked non-stop when we weren't redirecting kids! Sly who has no older brother to rough house and Tallman who has always wanted a younger brother packed in male bonding in a few hours. I enjoyed being with someone who can order a gf/cf meal!

J-man fascinated me because he reminded me of Pamela at that age! Many times, when I meet children in the spectrum, they are very different from Pamela. J-man had that very sweet, gentle spirit--quiet, yet alert and watchful to everything happening around him. He flashed that warm-hearted smile several times and had a couple of giggle fests (Pamela giggled too when she was thinking of her favorite You-Tube videos). I did see one major difference: he communicated with his face, which Jamberry attributed to RDI (I believe her based upon our lone-ranger RDI experience). Many times, I could get an idea of his thoughts based upon his facial expressions.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Seven Bloggers and It!

That is the afghan I am crocheting for Steve. Eighteen skeins down and fourteen to go! The blanket should measure 75 inches by 90 inches when complete, and I have the scars to prove it (I keep my yarn tension tight). By the way, the afghan represents It for all you Five Children and It fans.

Rats! Mady tagged me because she tagged the first seven people to comment on her blog after she had decided to choose those unwilling and unknowing victims. I thought commenting was good netiquette . . . Here is my mission should I choose to accept it:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Seven Facts You Don't Already Know about Me
1. I was born on an island (Japan) and have lived fourteen years of my life on islands in the Pacific and Atlantic. Maybe that is why I enjoy books like The Brendan Voyage and Kon-Tiki.

2. I am a Navy brat and former naval officer. The last time I counted I have moved at least thirty-three times.

3. I was THE top twenty-five percent of my graduating class (we had four seniors that year). We were the last senior class ever to graduate from that school.

4. I was the only person in my family to start and end my education at the same school: A. L. Bristol School at Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada. I attended Kindergarten for three months and promptly dropped out because of a move. I graduated in 1980.

5. Speaking of seven . . . my parents had seven children, a yours-mine-and-ours family. It was my flesh and blood sister who dumped a bowl of oatmeal on my head, not my step brothers.

6. Seven historical incidents I would have like to have seen in action: (1) a meeting of the Inklings, (2) a lesson for Helen Keller by Annie Sullivan, (3) Charlotte Mason delivering her homeschooling lectures, (4) Theodore Roosevelt romping with his kids in the White House, (5) William Wilberforce and William Pitt discussing politics, (6) Pa Ingalls telling the story of the pig and the sled, and (7) the performance of Handel's Messiah in which the King stood (just so I could find out why and preserve that tidbit for history).

7. Seven is an important number spiritually speaking. I am a spiritual mutt: my great, great grandparents were booted from a Holiness Pentecostal church for growing tobacco and taking their children to the county fair. My dad grew up Methodist; my mom, Lutheran (Missouri Synod). I was baptized by water immersion in a Baptist church, confirmed in the Lutheran church, and am married to a Roman Catholic. The bottom line for me is that I have accepted Jesus as my personal savior and He guides my life (when I let go of the reins).

My victims are fellow bloggers, both cloaked and uncloaked, who have helped me figure out RDI for Pamela. See what happens when you are nice to someone: Mary, Sonya, Nifferco, Queen Mum, Chef Penny, and my three cloaked amigas Poohder, Jamberry, and Kathy.

Yes, I can count! I tagged eight people because I could not in good conscience leave one of them out! So, what are you going to do, force me to live on an isolated island in the Aleutians? Too late! I've already been there, done that--TWICE!

Friday, November 23, 2007

An Engineer's Take on Shakespeare

My dear husband, an engineer who never read Shakespeare in high school because he grew up in Central America, finally watched his first Shakespeare movie. It has taken me years to get him interested in English living books that he missed because he read Don Quixote and other Spanish classics. Last night, we sat down and watched The Merchant of Venice (Warning: the movie is rated R because ladies of the night flaunt their "goods" in some crowd scenes and two merchants talk business at a brothel where they handle some "merchandise"--nothing beyond handling, however).

Me: "Honey, you might like the story and Al Pacino plays one of the leading role." Like many men, my dear husband has a weakness for gangster movies.

He: "It's not on a stage, is it?"

Me: "No, it's set in Venice. It is like real movie, only with dialogue by Shakespeare."

He: "Well, turn on the subtitles."

Me: "Uh, I tried that. They're in French. Closed caption doesn't work either. But, I'll explain any confusing parts."

He reluctantly agreed to watch. The first hurdle was the caskets of gold, silver, and lead. I explained how Portia's deceased father set up a lottery in which she would marry the man who picked the casket with her picture after reading the poem assigned to each. His engineering mind began to whirl, "But, wait a minute! By the third guy, everyone will know."

I tried explaining that only one suitor could be in the room at a time, but it took seeing how the suitor scenes played out for him to get it. When the Prince of Morocco came with his men, my dh says, "So, that's like his posse, huh?" Yeah, sure, whatever. He did get it when Portia insulted the Prince with what appeared to be compliment in Act II, Scene I ("Yourself, renowned prince, then stood as fair as any comer I have look’d on yet for my affection"). In that same scene, Steve perked up when he heard, "All that glitters is not gold," and remarked with surprise, "That came from Shakespeare?"

Of course, he got wrapped around the axle when Bassiano was deciding which casket to choose.

He: "Oh, come on! She knows which casket has her picture. All Bassiano has to do is watch her reaction."

Me: "Yeah, but look he's not watching her. He is thinking about the meaning of gold, silver, and lead and the poems in making his choice."

He: "Yes, but she's so obvious. All he has to do is look at her."

Me: "But, he's not!"

Shakespeare's plot drew him into the movie. He had to find out if Shylock would really demand a pound of flesh. And, in the court scene, he grabbed the book to compare how faithful the movie was to the original text, remarking "I'm impressedeth." He could not imagine how Portia would be able to save Antonio from his fate, and I was surprised he resisted the temptation to scan the text and figure out her strategy. (With the Bleak House DVD, he could not wait for the third disc from Netflix and looked up a synopsis of the book online.)

Just to give you an idea of how an engineering mind processes Shakespeare, we had to pause the court scene and rewind it several times to calculate the number of ducats Shylock meant when he said, "What judgment shall I dread, doing were in six parts and every part a ducat I would not draw them; I would have my bond."

We heard the word pots, not parts. When I pulled out my hard copy of the play, Steve said, "Parts? Oh, well then, that's easy. It's 36,000 ducats."

As they bind Antonio's limbs to the arms and legs of the chair and tighten the belt tying his chest to the chair, he eyes the straps skeptically, "Do you think those straps are strong enough to hold him?" Then, as Shylock places the point of his blade on Antonio's chest, he comments, "Hey, why didn't Antonio fatten himself up? He could have taken estrogen shots or something . . ."

Then, the whole ring prank with Portia and Nerissa got him going, "Why those ______!" I will leave you to fill in the blank so that my blog may remain chaste.

In the end, my dear husband enjoyed his first Shakespearean movie. In sooth, my lord demandeth of me that he shall heareth nought but the Shakespearean tongue part from my lips from this day forth. So fare thee well since I needs be gone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thankful for the Association Method!

I have some BIG NEWS to share about speech therapy ala the association method. But, first, I will share a quick recap!

A few weeks ago, we reviewed 131 irregular verbs for simple past tense and mastered simple past tense questions containing the word did. She knows 79 irregular verbs for simple past tense. Of the ones she missed, she knows seven by sound but spelled them incorrectly. That means we can slowly work through the 52 remaining verbs at our leisure because she knows enough to move onto present progressive tense. My idea is to start with the seven misspelled verbs and lump them in with ones she can spell. For example, she wrote layd but wrote said and paid. That will be an easy fix. When I write up the next batch of studied dictation, I plan to find quotations using irregular verbs she misspelled.

As outlined in my plan for speech therapy, we did present progressive tense sentences last week and are doing the questions that go with them this week. The focus for these two weeks was to contrast present progressive tense with simple past tense for the same situation, describing it during and after the action. For example, "The boy is fixing the skateboard with his tools" goes with a picture of a boy fixing a skateboard, while "The boy fixed the skateboard with his tools" goes with a picture of him skateboarding.

Guess what! After years and years of failure, Pamela has caught onto present progressive tense with ease! Back in 1994, I bought Laureate's all seven Micro-LADS and Early Emerging Rules. In 1996, I started drilling her with a hand-me-down program from Pamela's last teacher (Vocabulary, Articulation, and Syntax Training Program cards), a visual way to practice sentences with varying syntax, including verb endings. In 1998, I made color-coded charts for the different verb endings that go with tense and started drilling sentence patterns ala Teach Me Language.

We did a combination of all of these things off and on with very little measurable improvement for about eight years until we came across the answer to our prayers. Yes, I can safely say that the association method is THE ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS when it comes to syntax. Why? I can remember working with Pamela's present progressive tense during her elementary homeschool years. All of the drilling and diligent practice never amounted to much and no matter how hard we worked she would still say things like "dog is run" or "dog running" as a complete sentence. She continued to do this until we started focusing upon simple present tense back in May.

About three years ago, we started doing the association method. One thing I knew is that, if Pamela could finally get present progressive tense straight, then I would know without a doubt that it was working! It has taken three years of working through the varies levels of syntax and stories (see page 9) to reach this goal. But, in two weeks of teaching, she has finally nailed it!

Each of ten reading primers from the syntax-controlled Reading Milestones program has six stories. I always have Pamela narrate in writing her favorite story. We just finished Level 02 Reader 05. This time she chose a story about Dee and Boo, two-costumed characters that appear in some of the stories. She wrote this story without any help or correction from me. Look at her beautiful use of present progressive tense! In days long gone, she would not have been this accurate even with an example in front of her because she just could not process language in this way!

The true test is for syntax to generalize into every day conversation. Present progressive tense is already emerging with accuracy!!!!!!

Yesterday, for both RDI and generalization of speech therapy, I got out twelve pictures card for the three little bears story that I found at Hearing Journey. (It was a weekly activity that is no longer available.) She put them in order, and then we took turns retelling the story. The video clip is six minutes long and, in those six minutes, I only needed to remind her to use full sentences four times. The following is a transcript of all of the sentences she used!

She had NO slip-ups the two times when she used present progressive tense. I know she jumps around from one tense to another but look how well she puts words together! This was NOT possible before the association method and would have only happened in one sentence by sheer luck, much less nineteen sentences. I also love how she added little touches when I asked her questions, adding "I said" for emphasis or responding with "That's right." And, at the very end of her retelling, Pamela gives my hope for the future by saying "The goldilocks will run" for I have not formally taught future tense!

Some bears are eating some breakfast.
The family goes to the woods.
The girl goes to a house.
The girls go inside, see some breakfast.
It’s cold porridge; eat cold porridge.
She sat on the hard chair.
She sat on the soft chair.
She sat on the old chair.
She said, "Too hard! Too little! The bed is great!"
Goldilocks slept in the bed.
The porridge is gone.
Baby Bear feels sad because the porridge is gone.
I saw a broken chair.
A baby bear cries because the chair is broken.
Goldilocks is sleeping.
Baby bear is angry, "Get out of here!"
The girl felt scared.
She is frightened.
The goldilocks will run away.

In case you are really bored and are not in the midst of baking turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, etc., this video clip is one reason why I am so very thankful this year: