Success vs Productivity

Our table time routine is never the same. Some days we sit down and do some activities right after breakfast. Other days we do one or two throughout the day. Some days we do our games on the rug. We are flexible.

So when I have been asked about our productivity, I have mixed responses: some days we get a lot done, but I don’t feel she fully grasps the concepts, other days we do one activity but she masters it shortly after. Which days are productive then?

Because she is only five (almost 6), I don’t feel like I need to push her academically as hard as schools push. I believe in play, and movement which is how she thrives. But, I do still need to prove she is learning, which she is and is right where she needs to be. So the days we do the one activity, I do not rank productive or not productive. I rate it as a success or not successful.

Let me explain.

Productive: we got a lot done! Yay!

Success: she sat still, listened, asked for help, understood concepts, had fun, had no meltdowns, asked for a break. If one or a few of these happen, I count it as a success. We may only get through one or two activities, but if any of these happen, it is a huge step.

See, two years ago, she Would. NOT. sit still for more than a minute, 30 seconds was about average. One year ago, she started reading with me but would only sit through one very short book. Six months ago she started wanting to read stacks of books with me, and now she will sit and read with me for over an hour. She will sit at the table or the rug (with some tools like fidgets or a different chair etc) for 20-50 minutes! Depending on the day.

So I would much rather have a successful table time experience than a productive one. Not that you couldn’t have both. But I am not measuring her knowledge by how many worksheets can get through, I am measuring so much more than knowledge when we do table time. I want her to feel successful which means taking things slow, helping her, taking breaks (see my post about support at table time here).

I hope I have differentiated between success and productivity here.

What do you think, Is it better to be productive or successful?

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Finding A School That Works For You

As this school year comes to an end, I am reminded of last year at this time. We had decided that homeschooling was what we were going to do, no matter how many people thought we would never socialize again.

Before that final decision, however, I decided that I was in charge of finding the perfect situation for our daughter and I set out on a four month stressful, sad journey.

Now, before I start, I want to clarify that homeschooling is not for everyone. Public/private school is not for everyone. Strawberry ice cream is not for everyone. No matter what or how you decide, make the decision because it is best for your kiddo, best for your family, and best for everyone’s sanity.

Before we decided on any schools, I wrote up a list of all schools with a kindergarten class in a 40 mile radius of our house (23 in total), and called them all over the next few days. Some had waiting lists that I requested to be placed on, some were lottery schools I requested to be placed in. But I scheduled observations at every single school. Did you know you could do that? Yeah, I didn’t either.

So the next month and a half I toured schools and classrooms to see how things were layed out, how many visual supports were available, how much time teachers had to spend with students individually, and so many more things. I believe that if the schools/state are going to be placing high expectations on our kids, I needed to have a high expectation of how our kids were being treated and how they were learning. I still have maybe too-high of expectations about classrooms, and the schools, but I digress.

I spent between 10 and 30 minutes in each classroom I observed. I had a tour guide in a few schools, usually the principal or the teacher’s aid, but in others I was told where the classroom was when I checked in and was not able to ask many, if any questions because of course the teacher was busy.

In one school I was told I would need to meet with the principal before the tour, and when I explained my situation, that I was looking at schools in the area for my daughter who is on the autism spectrum, who would be entering kindergarten in the fall, The principal almost shut down. She didn’t seem to like that I was touring other schools trying to find the best fit. She asked questions like “So you probably won’t be enrolling with us then.” and “Where is you home district, can’t you find a class you like there?”. Wow. I followed through with the tour the principal’s assistant took me on. The assistant couldn’t answer some of my questions because she “wasn’t sure” or “I don’t know if we do that here”, but when I asked her how long she had held her position (as the principal’s assistant) she said four years. These were not difficult questions, questions I would have hoped someone who worked at the school for four years would be able to answer. I called my husband after and told him we are never sending our daughter to that school. And since then, all I have heard are terrible, unfair stories of that place. That is not fair to our kids.

They weren’t all that bad though. That was my horror story. But that was one school of 23, I was sure I would be able to find a good match in 23 school options! Well, we found one that was almost perfect. It was a Montessori school, with bathrooms in the classrooms, lunchtime in the classroom, 16 kids per class with a full time aid, a fenced play area and lots of field trips. The downside? Lottery school. And we weren’t invited to attend the following year. Bummer.

No matter what school I went to, I came with my notebook ready to take notes and one page full of questions to ask. Here are the list of questions I felt it important to ask about…did I miss anything? What would you ask?:

-Are teachers trained to handle and/or teach ASD?

-How do you handle an outburst or an over-stimulated behavior?

-Have you had many kids on the spectrum?

-Are there services in place for help if needed? (aid/para/SCIA, SDC, resource room, SLP)

-How do you handle discipline?

-How do you handle a specific diet/dietary restrictions?

-Have you had any experience with a communication system or use of extra visuals?

-How do you handle potty time/potty accidents?

-What are the expectations for entering kindergarten?

-If there is no 1:1/paraprofessional/SCIA available, how would you handle a distracted or distracting child?

-Is it possible to put her in a TK class even though her birthday doesn’t fall within the TK limit?

-Do you have a second language class in kindergarten?

-How many and how long are your breaks/recess/PE?

-Does the teacher have an aid in class? How long are they in the class?

-Are there parent volunteers? What are their responsibilities? Are they made aware of any behaviors?

-What are your school hours?

-Do you do many field trips? What are the safety measures when going out?

-What is the homework for kindergarten?

-How is lunch time handled?

-What are the expectations in the classroom at the beginning of the year? Sitting still, working in pairs, working independently, etc.

Some schools couldn’t answer some of these, they didn’t have policies in place for if a child had a meltdown, or what to do about a kiddo with food issues at lunchtime. I found out, in my excessive questioning, that schools in our area would report a parent to child services if their lunch was unhealthy. That was a very touchy subject for us seeing as how some schools saw beans and a tortilla unhealthy, and some were peanut free; but chips filled with chemicals and pizza was available as school lunches. For a kiddo with feeding issues, a lot or supports and safeguards to protect her and us as parents would have been needed. It didn’t feel comfortable or safe for me.

We finally found the perfect solution, an independent study charter. This particular charter has onsite classes available, SLP, OT, and a resource teacher on staff, we were able to choose her curriculum (if we chose one at all), and we were able to put in her IEP all the safety procedures needed for any situation where we would not be with her, which was rare.

So far this school year, we have seen huge progress in every aspect of Bug’s life. More words and talking, less behaviors, being able to add numbers 1-10, counting higher than was expected, sitting at table time for longer periods of time (see my post about supporting table time here). All around it has been a very positive experience for all of us. We have the flexibility to do official schooling, like table time, whenever works best for us, we can go for a hike and picnic on a Tuesday all day without having to worry about it being an excused absence.

There are so many benefits to homeschooling, as well as many benefits to public/private schools. We chose the path that hoped would work for us, knowing that if it wasn’t working, we could lower our standards a bit and send her to a local public school. We, thankfully, haven’t needed to consider that because we have only seen progress with her. So yes, I am a firm supporter of homeschooling, yes I will suggest that if you ask if it’s worth it, and yes I will continue to share our homeschooling struggles and breakthroughs. Not everyday is perfect, but we are a flexible bunch so we will keep doing what works.

Why We Homeschool

She won’t get enough socialization. You will have no time to yourself. Won’t she get confused having you as a teacher and a parent? She will lose all her skills in a non-typical classroom environment. Seriously, she will not know how to socialize. Do you just stay home all day? What do you do all day? All the homeschoolers I know are weird.

These are all statements and questions that I have been asked or told since even considering homeschooling. I am genuinely concerned at what people think homeschooling actually is. I can guarantee I don’t just plop them in front of the TV and leave them alone all day. They are not any more socially awkward than any other 5 and 3 year old, neurotypical or neurodiverse. They are well behaved and polite little girls who know to say please and thank you and to ask permission when they want to do something. They are both horribly smart…the kind of smart that makes me worry I will go into their room to find them working on a rocket chair or find them trying to use a power saw to fix something. But we are trying to channel that into safer projects.

One year ago we were looking at schools, trying to find something that fit our standards and expectations. Coming from a very small Special Day Class of 7-8 kiddos to one teacher and two aids, we have very high expectations of the supports teachers had and were very much let down at every turn.

There were so many reasons to say no to all of these public schools, when we found this independent study charter, we thought we had found the perfect situation…and turns out we chose well! It turns out that this route was very successful for Bug, and I hope it continues to be. But I wanted to share the many pros that led us to homeschool.

-We would be supervised and supported by a teacher.

-The charter has an SLP, OT and resource teacher on site.

-Guaranteed 1:1 instruction.

-Tailored curriculum.

-Enrichment classes, field trips.

-More time tailored to unique learning needs.

-Support of behavioral problems .

-More/easier sensory and space/breaks throughout the day.

-Flexible schedule.

-Able to minimize unnecessary distractions, or over-stimulating situations.

-Positive, non-stressful or over-stimulating socialization.

-More easily able to monitor dietary restrictions.

-We would be able to know firsthand where she is academically.

-Play based learning is important but not used in schools.

-Better character development.

-We know her best; we are trained specifically for Bug

We have found so many more pros in the handful of so-called cons. Like sleeping in. Yea, we are snuggling in our bed till 8 most mornings. And impromptu movie dates, having the freedom to go on a trip (almost) whenever we decide to, not doing anything but snuggle and watch Looney Toons all day with hot cocoa and “marshmaymos” and popcorn in a fort, hunting for snails after breakfast and not rushing to get everyone dressed and out the door.

There are so many good things that come from homeschooling. So many. Bug learned how to count to 130 in two days because I supported her in her personal academic timeline. She is not coming home crying and stressed because mean litle kids are picking on her or she just doesn’t get the math they are doing. I was that little girl, it was no fun and I want Bug to find success in any way she can. So if that means we are weird, unsocialized homeschoolers, so be it; because weird is good.

Why fit in when you were born to stand out! -Dr. Seuss

Our Summer Bucket List

Our girls will be turning four and six in July. Yup both July babies. I still cannot believe that the hospital sent us home with Bug. We were so young and had no clue how to keep a baby alive! But she has survived and Six has survived Bug.

For the past few summers it has been extremely difficult and stressful for me to take Bug anywhere by myself, let alone the both of them! But we have worked so so hard over the past year to get us all prepared for anything. We have worked on holding hands, then holding a lanyard attached to my belt, and now she knows when she needs to hold hands, when she can walk by herself but stay near mom, and knows that when I say she needs to hold my hand, she holds my hand.

We have worked so hard with our skills guides and behavior consultants to get to a point where I no longer have to physically remove her from a situation; she will still protest, but she leaves (95% of the time at least) by her own power. Which is good because she isn’t even six yet and she is four-foot tall and 55 pounds!

So in the past few weeks, when we have gone out to do little adventures, I have felt so much less stress about if she was going to run off, or have a meltdown and I have to carry her back the mile and a half to the car. I am able to talk her through most of her melting points instead of arguing with her when she can’t hear anything. I am now confident that both my girls will listen to me if I say STOP, and stay with me when I tell them to, that I have created a visual bucket list for our 2017 summer.

I got out my special mommy-only permanent markers and a big 12″x18″ sheet of paper (I actually needed one and a half sheets of this), and got to writing.

Bowling, mini golf, hikes, picnics, botanical garden, butterfly house, a possible first time ever one night camping trip. We have close to 50 activities that we want to do, all written down on this giant piece of paper. I want to be able to put a picture of us at the activity next to it on the list with the date we did it so we can look back at how much fun we had. Who knows, we might even frame it when we are done!

I also have learning activities to go along with most of our planned activities, as well as having them draw a picture during or after.

What would be on your summer fun bucket list?

Hey You. You Are Not A Bad Parent.

You. Yes you, worrying about your impending diagnosis of your wonderful kiddo. You did not fail. Their diagnosis, whatever it may be, does not make them any less amazing. You are amazing.

Hey you, stressing about therapies and appointments. You are not a terrible parent. You are getting help for your kiddo, which is what their diagnosis is for. You are putting out the effort to worry about these things. You are awesome!

You over here worrying about what your kiddo is eating. Are you trying? Are you doing everything you can think of? Still isn’t working? You. Are. Wonderful.

So many things come with a diagnosis, with a kiddo with different abilities, but doubting yourself shouldn’t be one of them.

I have had those moments, and I probably will again. But I realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere to worry if I was being a terrible parent or not. Good parents worry if they aren’t good enough, if they can do more, if they are screwing up. You are a good parent.

Ask questions, google, BELIEVE that you can do it, BELIEVE that your kiddo can do anything. Acknowledge that there is a long journey ahead, but celebrate how far you have come. Progress is progress no matter how slow.

You are not a terrible parent, you are not letting your kiddo down. You are trying. You are doing your best. You know that there is more that can be done and will stop at nothing to get to that goal. If you are trying, you are smashing it! Keep going.

It can be hard. There have been, and will be, many tears throughout this journey. There will be times where you have no idea what to do. There will be times where a regression will make you wonder if it will get better. There will be times that a meltdown in the grocery store will make it seem like you don’t have stuff together. BUT there will be those times where your hard work and determination will result in your kiddo asking to leave the store before an outburst ensues. Where your kiddo will try a piece of cauliflower mostly willingly. When your kiddo yells at you that they love you. And so. many. more.

The journey is long. Days can creep by. The progress seems insignificant at times. Stalled some days. And sometimes it just isn’t working.

Keep moving forward. Ask your team, they are there to help. If they aren’t helping, if they are doubting you or your kiddo, they need to go. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are a good parent. Keep moving forward.

You. Yes you. You. Are. A. Good. Parent.

Believe

Tell me I can’t do something and I will do it twice and take pictures.

One of our many quotes that fits Bug to a T. She is quite head-strong and will not let a little thing like someone saying she can’t do something stop her from doing it. I should know, I have told her you can’t climb the cupboards and jump down. But she didn’t listen and she climbed up to the top where I hid the jelly beans and jumped down to the floor. After that I reworded my approach to “that is not available” or “no, not safe”. I think she took the “you can’t” as a challenge.

I have never listened to anyone when they told me I couldn’t do something. I have never listened to anyone when they told me Bug couldn’t do something. And I hope I support her enough to make sure she knows she can do anything.

I believe in Bug. I believe she can and will do anything she wants to.

We as parents need to believe in our kiddos before they can believe in themselves. They need to know the support is there for them to accomplish anything. Nothing should be off limits to any kiddo, different ability or not. No one should tell you that your kiddo can’t do something. It isn’t their place to say. It is yours; if you believe they can’t do something then you won’t be trying to help them to that goal.

They don’t have to overcome their challenges to be successful, they need appropriate support for those difficulties and belief that they can conquer the world if they want to.

Pursue their strengths, support their challenges, believe that they can so they can believe. Because no matter how many therapies or classes they go to, if the people they trust most don’t believe they can do something, do you think they will believe in themselves so easily?

Believe in yourself, you can do this. Believe in your kiddo, they can do anything.

 

 

We Trusted Them With Hammers: A Science Experiment

Homeschooling can be stressful at times, but mot of the time it is relaxing and fun! Today was a mixture of fun and stressful, but I am happy to say that everyone made it out with all their fingers intact and no boo-boo-bandaids were needed!

Let’s rewind to how this experiment came about.

I visited my sister who is the Lab Manager and Timekeeping Supervisor at a University. She was able to give us a few samples of rocks: Halite, Pyrite and Graphite. We also found a shop that sold geodes near her house. She suggested I do something with “the Jellybeans” (her nickname for my girls) and the rocks. She gave me some suggestions as to what I could do that is more age appropriate than what she sets up for the “kids” at the University.

Those rocks have been sitting in our science drawer for almost 2 months. I had been waiting for better weather since I knew we would be doing this outside, then I was waiting for a bout of sadness and sensitivity to wear off of Bug, then I forgot about them.

I was looking for all the stuff we would need to do a magnet tray, when I stumbled upon my bag of rocks. Today was the day! We were going to do it!

So I prepped: I made each of my girls a diagram they could draw their predictions and observations on. Then we touched and held each rock and they told me how it felt, if it was heavy or light, what it smelled like (they threw in that question), and what color it was. I wrote down what they said about each rock.

Then I filled up a container with water and we headed outside.

First, I had them look at one of the rocks, and draw where in the container they thought it would go: would it stay at the top and float? or would it go all the way to the bottom and sink? They drew where they thought the rock would go in one color, then one of them got to put the rock into the water. Wow! Where did it go? What happened to the rock? Look at where you thought it was going to go, is that what happened? Then I had them draw in a separate color where it actually went.

On to the next rock! We did that method for each of the four rocks, having them take turns being the one to put a rock into the water.

Then the stressful (for me) part. We talked about if we smashed the rock, what would happen to it? Would it crumble? Would it break into pieces? Would it break at all? I forgot to have them draw their predictions for this one (oops), but they each got one of the types of rocks (I had two of each type for each of them) and a hammer. I gave a 3 and 5 year old a hammer. But they didn’t try to fix our car or house, they just smashed the rocks! No fingers or toes were smashed! Yay!

Smashing Halite
Smashing Halite

When we were done, we talked about their favorite rock, both chose the Pyrite because it looked like it was glitter. It built my confidence that they were actually listening to my directions on where to draw, and they were following my instructions on what to do with each rock.

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Predictions, observations and outcomes.

It may seem like a little thing, but for this family, little steps like this is what keeps us going. Bug didn’t try to run off, she was participating, she had opinions! Progress is progress no matter how slow!

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Geodes

Support At Table Time

We are new to homeschooling. I don’t pretend to be an expert on homeschooling, curriculum, scheduling or teaching. But I am an expert on my kiddo.

We have a very relaxed approach to homeschool, at least for now. We play a lot, we watch videos (and I will explain why I feel this is fine in a coming post), we take a lot of field trips, but we also have classes we have to go to on campus and behavior therapy sessions. All combined, there is really not enough hours in a day to do formal homeschooling every day for as long as others are able to. But she is five (almost six), she shouldn’t be sitting all day.

The typical public school setting left a lot to be desired when I knew kids benefited from play and unstructured time. However, having a kiddo on the spectrum I recognize that she needs structure but she doesn’t need every single thing planned for her. This is one big reason we did choose to homeschool. I know our daughter the best and I don’t think teachers understood that she is never sitting still; she needs to move. That is what her body needs. But in a public school she would be expected to sit for 45 minutes and do an activity, get up and move to another station, sit for 45 minutes and do another activity. This may not be how all schools roll, but the 23 elementary schools in our area that I toured or talked to before making my decision were run this way.

So it was no shock to me that when we do table time my Bug was having trouble. I mentioned in a previous blog post that she has a lot of issues with writing and that was our main problem. She would try to distract me with something so she wouldn’t have to do what I was asking, or ask for help when I know she could do it.

Months this went on, not much writing work being done, my sanity beginning to strain. I was at a loss. Our wonderful ABA team offered suggestions, I googled, nothing was working. Until I went to a seminar with Dr. Jed Baker as the speaker. almost 6 hours I listened intently and I had the fortune of being able to speak with him and talk to him about my table time troubles. Light bulb moment.

The next day we did table time and I was determined to make it work. And it did. Thirty minutes longer than we usually take for table time, for a total of 50 minutes. There were no outbursts, there were no distractions, there was successful activities, there was candy. We did it! and we have done it five more times! Five more successful table times with my Bug. We are doing it!

So what did I do differently?

Before: I wouldn’t help Bug write the letter/number I was asking for because I knew she could do it and I thought she was trying to get out of it. But instead she would scribble a line or draw a dot and say okay done. Frustrated mommy.

After: Help her, be excited to help her. I barely put any pressure on her hand but I do hand-over-hand and she is more confident. She is still doing it 100% on her own, but my hand there is giving her the support she needs to be successful. We want her to feel successful so she feels she can do more in the future.

Before: Because we didn’t do table time activities for very long, I wasn’t giving breaks. She used her bike pedal under the table so I thought her fidget was being taken care of.

After: If we are doing dice math, I set a timer for 2-4 minutes and will explain that when the timer goes off she can take a break or keep going. So she knows that this activity will not last forever, the visual timer shows her there is an ending. If she chooses to take a break, she goes under the table to her cozy corner and plays with a fidget toy or looks at a book for one minute then we go again.

Before: I wasn’t giving rewards because I didn’t want her to become dependent on getting a treat for doing work.

After: this is just like with our potty training journey, at first we had to give treats for going into the bathroom, then for sitting on the potty, then for going. A year later she doesn’t need treats. The rewards were motivation to want to go. Now she understands that it is just what we need to do. With table time now she gets rewards (a marshmallow, jelly bean, mint candy, small things) for her attempt. It doesn’t matter if she wrote the number 4 upside down. Did she ask for help? Did she make an honest attempt? She gets a reward. One day I know she won’t need these, but we are setting her up for success. She needs to believe she can do it and that she is doing a good job for trying. She is five, there is plenty of time.

Fruitominoes Math
Fruitominoes Math

Table time has since been very successful and she no longer tries to avoid it and neither do I. Progress is progress, no matter how slow.

M

What A Day Of Homeschooling Looks Like For Us

My girls can be early risers. I am a night owl. Not the best of combinations. Most mornings they end up in bed with us around 5:45am and look at their highlights magazines or play with their dolls together until I am more conscious. Some days I get up at 6:30, others we all snuggle till 8 or even 8:30! It is very nice to not have to leap out of bed and rush off. I do not miss that schedule from our days in the SDC classes.

Then it is breakfast. My girls are very independent when it comes to breakfast. we have cereal dispensers and they know how many turns of the wheel they get. We have small glasses of milk that they are able to pour by themselves, and they can pop in their own waffles. My youngest, Six, still needs help if she wants oatmeal for breakfast like mommy, and Bug still needs help getting the waffles out of the toaster. Breakfast usually takes about a half hour.

Snail hunting or reading a huge stack of books is next most days. Not every day is the same, but on the days we have no classes or appointments, this is the norm. Snail hunting is our favorite, but we do live in an area with a lot of rain and storms so reading is for those days and snail hunting is for not those type of days.

Snails
Snail Hunting

Then we head for table time, or a hike, or to the park, or maybe shopping. For table time, Six sometimes joins us, and sometimes she gets to hang out with daddy and practice writing her letters. If we go on a hike, we always say hi to gwampa because our favorite hiking spot is just near one of his stops. If we go to the park we pack a snack because we will be there a while and they get hungry!

table time
An example of our ever-changing daily table time activities

After table time, we like to watch something and have a snack. I swear I am raising hobbits. We have many shows we frequent, and I may just add them to my post about screen time and why I don’t see a problem in how we deal with screen time. We always try to watch something that is educational in some way. And if we went on a hike, when we get home we like to draw the bugs we found. This is working on recalling, which has been a long term goal for Bug.

Free play or outside play is next while I do some cleaning, laundry and make lunch.

lunch
A fairly typical lunch. Bug’s is on the left, Six’s on the right.

Lunch time then time for more reading. We love getting a bunch of books then snuggling on the couch and reading them all, or reading a chapter of a book. Right now we are reading The BFG by Roald Dahl for the fourth time this school year. My girls think the silly words are so funny! The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and The Patchwork Girl Of Oz by John R. Neill are some of our favorites (but there are just so many favorites! We are book people).

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Pick a book…Any 25 books 😉

Afternoons are mostly play. Mornings are our most productive times, mainly because Bug is much better emotionally in the mornings. I have a feeling it is because she gets tired but powers through that feeling and gets crabby in the afternoon. So we play. Blocks, tea parties, I will kick them outside to play with the neighbor kiddos, mud pies in the back yard or a bubble bath.

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Mud is the best sensory bin

Then for dinner, while I make or prep dinner, they play with playdoh and we talk while I cook. They love to help too!

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We love skeddy 🙂

After dinner we brush teeth and all that jazz, then they play in their room for about an hour before we start bedtime stories. Then, around 7:30 pm, Six has fallen asleep and Bug is playing with her doll…she will be asleep before 8. Then it is my time to get things done, and I end up staying up till 11, which makes it very difficult to get up in the morning and it starts all over again!

M