Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Picture for the School Year

One reason why I have been quiet lately and sporadic at times in my blogging last year is some volunteer work I have been doing to help build a Charlotte Mason curriculum. While I cannot go into too many details, I thought I would blog some of what we are doing.

Although I'm an optimist, I tend to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Due to her autism and aphasia, Pamela is extremely scattered in her abilities. While the fifth grade of the pilot curriculum seems like a good fit, I will adjust up in grade level for her strengths (mathematics) and adjust down for her weaknesses (communication and dynamic thinking) .

As always, I wonder if my just-under-five-hour-a-day plan is too much. I will pay attention to how well Pamela processes what we are doing. If she seems overwhelmed, I will be taking three things into account (maybe more if a flash of inspiration hits me). Each day of the week has slightly different, so I created the graphics based upon a generic weekly schedule for the first three months of school to help me visualize what might be the issue. I am a visual, details thinker and making graphics helps me to grasp the big picture!

Day of the Week - Is she fresh on Monday and burnt out by Friday?

Subjects - Are some subjects out of proportion in the time spent on them?

Activities - Is the mix of reading versus paperwork versus doing right?

Monday, July 12, 2010

This and That in Pamela's Development

Sometimes, I just have to sit back and take stock of the little things we are seeing in Pamela's development.

Last Friday morning, I slept in longer than usual. Steve left for work Well before I slunk out of bed. Who knows how long the other early bird (Pamela) had been up? When she spotted me coming downstairs, Pamela quietly followed me to the computer and asked, "Is it dead?" The computer seemed to be sleeping in too. No pretty blue lights displayed the icons that decorate the laptop. No pleasant fan whirred in the background. A quick check revealed the problem. The computer had become unplugged the night before, and all power had ebbed out of the battery before dawn.

Then, I realized the little miracle. Pamela had not wailed loudly when she made the awful discovery on her own. She had not woken me up to fix it for her. She had stayed calm and regulated while I slept blissfully ignorant of the battery's demise. Her anxieties are clearly diminishing because last year I would have faced a rude awakening.

My parents drove to a peach orchard, so I feed and let out Miss Elvira, their white standard poodle. They paid me with fresh, juicy peaches. Since she didn't knew their destination, I told Pamela that Oma and Opa had brought back something from their trip. I raised my eyebrows and tried to exude an air of mystery. Pamela asked, "What?" I pretended to eat a fruit, making a crunchy sound while holding something ball-like in my hand, so she guessed apple. Then, I shook my head and wiggled my fingers down my chin to simulate dribbling juice. She guessed, "Oranges" and then "Peaches." Now, how cool is that? Autistic people aren't supposed to understand nonverbal communication and, thanks to RDI, Pamela can! This ability has definitely improved her quality of life because, when aphasia gums up her words and syntax, she can fall back on gestures and facial expressions.

Before I went to bed Saturday night, Pamela spoke to me in Spanish. Steve is a native speaker in both English and Spanish as is his entire family. Being comfortable with Spanish is important since we sometimes travel to Latin America. Pamela knows that "Steve es mi papa" means "Steve is my dad". Through clever word substitution, she said, "Tammy es mi mama," so I replied, "Pamela es mi hija" (Pamela is my daughter). Even if she is never fluent in Spanish, enjoying the language and being able to express herself even a little will help her feel more confident around her extended family.

During the church service the next day, I was sitting with the choir as usual. Pamela, Steve, and David were in the same pew. Pamela loves doing both children's bulletins (young kids and older kids). She got stuck on finding a five-letter word for the opposite of light. She quietly turned to Steve for help. He was stuck so he showed her the trick of guessing words in the sentence and working backwards to figure out that the first letter of the opposite word was h. The minute he wrote h she whispered, "Heavy." Steve's heart melted in this beautiful moment in which they were equal partners, working together to solve a problem. Pamela was being very quiet, not disturbing people around her. She enjoyed using her mind in a task that wasn't related to school. Too many people never want to see another book or use their brain after they leave school.

I have not blogged much on our latest RDI goal and plan to rectify that this week. We just wrapped up spotlighting Pamela's ability to recognize when someone is not available and resist the impulse to interrupt. This ability improves the quality of life of most parents. Think about how often we get interrupted while talking on the phone, taking a bath, using the toilet, etc. Because of Pamela's growing interest in eavesdropping and knowing who is on the phone, she plagued me with questions while I was trying to talk. Now, she looks at me and says, "Not available" and walks away. The minute I hang up she is back, asking me questions! Yesterday, she turned the tables on us. Her aunt calling from Louisiana wanted to talk to her on the phone. Pamela was using her iPod Touch and said to me, "I'm not available." I love how she used this new understanding for her own benefit. Smart girl!

Last night, I walked into the TV room. She was sitting on the couch, looking at a book, and listening to Bach, instead of being glued to the television or computer. I think it is wonderful that she lives in such a large room:
Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. "Thou hast set my feet in a large room," should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (School Education, pages 170 through 171)
And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room. Psalm 31:8

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Eggs, E-Double G-S, Eggs!

Day Six:
On this day, we headed outside on one of those rare tolerable days in the height of a Carolina summer. We were sitting outside watching the butterflies on the back porch, something no good Southern home can do without. I had a butterfly reference book and turned to the page which had about six different butterflies. At first, Pamela guessed the monarch but figured out she had painted ladies on her second attempt. We both watched them probing the flowers for nectar with very long, thin, whip-like tongues. I thought this would be another opportunity to spotlight a new word (proboscis) and enter it in her nature notebook.

Day Seven:
The night before, I noticed some strange blue-green spots on one of the flowers we had in the butterfly garden. My first reaction was disgust because it reminded me of mold. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were eggs! Hallelujah!

I decided not to tell Pamela what they were and simply talk about what they might be. She suggested flower seeds, but I pointed out that the seeds of this flower were yellow, not blue-green. I tried to guide her into the answer by pointing to something familiar, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, a book she has loved most of her life. Pamela became overstimulated and couldn't stand the thought of me getting the book, saying, "You're killing me!" I respected her request and grabbed a generic reference book about butterflies. When I turned the page to the life cycle, she immediately realized they were eggs. Later, when we were making notes in our nature journal, Pamela was really interested in talking about the future, which tells me her ideas of time and grammar tense are starting to clear up.

To celebrate our beautiful eggs, Pamela and I painted them in watercolors and they look so beautiful. She made her picture so small and, because she placed her egg illustration in just the right spot, I plan to turn it into her very own watercolor of the life cycle of a painted lady butterfly.

I am not sure the eggs will hatch. If they do, we can observe the larva from day one and see molting. After that, we may order silkworm eggs and follow guidelines for raising them. At that point, she can view the life cycle of these moths and compare it to that of butterflies from a same, but different point of view. With all that personal experience and background knowledge secure, we might try reading the four chapters on butterflies in The Story Book of Science by Jean Henri Fabre, which we can read online at Baldwin Stories: butterflies and their eggs, caterpillars, silk, and metamorphosis. Fabre, a naturalist with a flair for engaging non-scientific minds into nature study, writes so enchantingly that his books on insects remain classics over a century later.


Nature Journal Entries:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Little Butterfly That Could!

Last week, we started a short caterpillar study, short because they pupated faster than expected due to the heat. Before long, we had three beautiful chrysalises plus a deformed dud (or so I thought). Before the big day, we spent a few minutes talking about what the butterflies might need once they emerge. We talked about gathering flowers and making nectar like the kind we make for hummingbirds.

Day Five:
They started their metamorphosis last Wednesday (June 23), so I expected to see the butterflies no earlier than Wednesday (June 30). They were right on time! While Pamela, David, and I were busy delivering meals on wheels on their due date, two butterflies were busy emerging! We prepared some nectar and went outside to find a flower, which we sprinkled with sugar water. We missed seeing the third butterfly emerge, but I'm sure we will find more opportunities during the summer now that we are equipped.

Then, something terrible happened! I went to clean out the food container and a butterfly had emerged in that horrid little cup with slightly deformed wings. The chrysalis didn't look right, and the tail end of the caterpillar was sticking out. I assumed it would amount to nothing and left it in that nasty cup. I felt like a horrible mother, letting it emerge in such an awful place and, perhaps, in the real world, this butterfly would have ended up as some bird's lunch because of its challenges with flying. However, it is thriving in our little mesh cage.

Later that day, we studied the butterflies and made our journal entry. First, we sprinkled nectar on the flower. Then we talked about what we noticed about the butterfly's body. We became confused because we only saw four legs, and butterflies are supposed to have six. Apparently, painted ladies fold the front legs and tuck them into the thorax, deceiving the eye. Eventually, we got around to drawing our pictures, observing how our pictures were different, and discussing what we would write in our nature journal.

Journal Entry: