Learning A-Z

There are a few curriculum-related items that I have been wanting to write about, but I have not had much time and I wanted to be sure to do them justice because they are really great products.  The first of these is Learning A-Z (learninga-z.com).  I was introduced to this site by P’s kindergarten teacher, who used the online books for him.  Basically, there are several different subscription-based products and while I liked them when I first took a look at the site, I was not sure that it was worth the very high (almost $100) price.  After using it for most of this year, I can say that it certainly has been worth the price for us and my only regret is not using it sooner.

Learning A-Z is made up of the following:

  • Reading A-Z – Printable leveled books, from pre-readers through fifth grade, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Raz-Kids – online leveled books
  • Vocabulary A-Z- printable vocabulary activities that correspond to the books (or words can be chosen on your own)
  • Writing A-Z – leveled writing resources for K through 6th grade
  • Science A-Z – leveled science resources for K through 6th grade
  • Headsprout – one decoding program for K through 2nd grade and another comprehension for 2nd grade and up

My experience has only included Reading A-Z and Vocabulary A-Z.  Since my budget is limited, I only planned on getting Reading A-Z and that was because it was on sale (10% off the $99.95 original price).  Even with the discount, I decided and undecided over and over again until the last minute.  When I purchased the Reading A-Z subscription, it offered an extra 5% off my order and any of the other products (plus the 10% off from the original sale price), so I decided to get Vocabulary A-Z, because I know that vocabulary is a weak area for both D and P, and it ended up costing me something like $25 extra for the one year subscription.

Some of the books we have used this year

Some of the books we have used this year for D and P

Reading A-Z: Why We Love It:

The best thing about Reading A-Z is the fact that they have so much variety!  I have probably used 100 books or more from this site this year, and I didn’t start using it until late fall.  When I signed up, I thought that I would just use whatever books they had on the two boys’ reading levels for reading comprehension, but I have actually used it more as a supplement for just about everything we have studied this year, especially in social studies and sometimes in science.  I type in a subject and the options will appear.  The results can be filtered by reading level or other criteria like fiction or non-fiction or you can search by the skill you want to work on (i.e. author’s purpose, cause and effect, etc.).  Each book comes with several comprehension activities and a quiz.
Here are a few other features:

  • – Books that focus on specific higher order thinking skills (books with lesson plans that focus on these things)
  • – Book “pairs,” which will give you two related books along with a guide for comparing and contrasting the two books
  • – Literature circle activities
  • – Practice with graphic organizers
  • – Comic/humor books
  • – Serial Books with characters that appear is a series of books
  • – Poetry – everything from a nursery rhymes for little ones to more sophisticated collections of poems for older students
  • – Books about current (or fairly current) events like Hurricane Sandy, the 2014 Olympics or recent oil spills
  • – Some classics like Frog and Toad, The Snowy Day, Little Bear and others
  • – Many come with complete lesson plans that emphasize reading strategies like visualization or summarizing
Foreign Language Learning

We also use Reading A-Z for our Spanish learning.  Many of the books have translations available in other languages, like Spanish or French and they also have some blank books, that only have pictures, no words.  I choose a book around first grade level in Spanish and we read it and make note cards for new words.  On another day I may give him a blank book and he can use his note cards to write his own sentences in Spanish on each page.

Multi-Level Learners

I know that many families teach their kids social studies and science together and just modify the activities for the level of each child.  I think that Reading A-Z would be especially useful for these families.  If, for example, you were studying Abe Lincoln, you could find books on several different reading levels about him.  Some books are even “multi-level” books, which have the same content on three different reading levels, so that three children could be reading the same book, but with vocabulary that is appropriate for that particular student.

Really, my only complaints about Reading A-Z are:

  1. It only goes up to a fifth grade level.
  2. I wish that all of the books had Spanish translations, not just some of them.
  3. It uses a lot of paper and ink because books are printed out.  You can save some by using the “pocketbook” versions, which are just smaller versions of the same thing, but on the longer books for older kids the font gets very small because there is a lot of text on each page.  You could also use the online program Raz-Kids, which are done totally online, but I like being able to write on the books and I do not want to pay almost $100 more for the Raz-Kids subscription.

Vocabulary A-Z

Vocabulary A-Z is primarily companion vocabulary program to Reading A-Z.  If a book is assigned in Reading A-Z, there is usually a vocabulary list to go along with it and activities can be printed out for the words on your list including definitions, example sentences, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, cloze sentences, some games and a quiz.  You can click the link and get a whole set of activities for your words.  I also discovered that you can make your own lists and if the word that you want is not in their huge database, you can add it in pretty quickly.

I rotate vocabulary words, so that one week we may work on the words that are found in our social studies reading, while the next week we may work on the words in the novel we are discussing and the week after may be the vocabulary words from our writing program.  I have found that doing the activity packet (which is usually one or two pages of work per day) helps D really grasp the new vocabulary in a way that study cards or just writing out definitions do not.  Another important tip for new words is one that I learned from Lindamood Bell, and that is have your student make a clear mental image for each word.  If you can’t picture it, you can’t understand it.  Between visualizing and using the Vocabulary A-Z program, we are finally making good progress in vocabulary after trying many different methods with little success in previous years.

If you decide to try it out, they do have a free two week trial subscription, but the number of books you can download in that time is limited (so that you don’t just download 100 books to use throughout the year and then not subscribe).  I had done a trial several months before I subscribed, but I really didn’t understand how great it was until I had the full subscription.  Also, I found out about the sale by following them on facebook, so you may want to give that a try.

Tragedies and Blessings

Something happened several times last year and now again this year that hit me so hard that I almost didn’t have words to express my grief.  Not one, but several Autistic children and young adults were killed, not by a crazed stranger, but by  their own parent.  One of them was not too far from us in another suburb of Chicago.  Others were in various places around the country, but each one of them had their life taken by the one person who should have protected them.  Reactions were strong on both sides.  Some people saw the parent as a victim; others viewed them as a monster.  I guess victims sometimes become monsters.

Certainly the government and society as a whole may have failed both parents and children.  The government has failed my own child when it blocks access to needed therapies.  Society fails him when they fail to believe in his capabilities or he is excluded from certain activities.  Government fails him when they fail to provide a free and appropriate public education or refuse to help keep him safe.  Society fails him when they don’t care.  Both society and government have failed parents as well.  Respite care and mental health services are often not available to parents when they need them.  Parents feel like they are fighting an uphill battle every day and become weary.

Sadly, some organizations have painted Autistic children (and adults) as a burden in their efforts to raise funds – a burden on their parents and a burden on society.  That view has been adopted by the people that look at us with pity and say that they could “never handle” having an Autistic child.  Yes, yes, I know that they are trying to be sympathetic to what they see as a difficult situation.  Their intentions are good and for that reason I truly do not judge them, but it makes me sad that they cannot understand the tremendous blessings that come with having P as my son.  At one time I would have said that I love P, but don’t love Autism because it makes his life hard, but I have come to realize that am just not sure who he would be without Autism.  Being Autistic is part of his identity and although I will help him to achieve his goals and have as many options as possible, he is not, we are not, victims of Autism.

In certain situations it is not an advantage, for example, that my husband was not born and raised in this country.  People can make unfair judgments based on his accent or based on the fact that he looks differently than they do.  Likewise, when I was overseas it was sometimes not an advantage to be from the USA because of some people’s thoughts about what “Americans” were like.  Still, it is not a tragedy that I am from this country.  It can make things hard in some situations, but it would be wrong for me to be ashamed of my country or for another to be ashamed of their own ethnic background.  In the same way, Autism should not be heartbreaking.

What is heartbreaking is the refusal of many to allow Autistics to communicate in their own way or to calm their anxiety in ways that seem “inappropriate,” like flapping arms or spinning or whatever is helpful to that individual.  What is tragic is when schools do not seek out new methods of teaching when the old ones are not appropriate for the learner.  What is sad is when people assume that not being able to communicate verbally equals no intelligent thought.  What is truly devastating is when a parent feels that their child’s life is so worthless that they would be better off dead.  The thought of it brings up the familiar sadness that I feel when I hear that it was probably a “good thing” that so-and-so had a miscarriage because the child would have most likely been disabled.  Again, I have no judgment here, truly, because I know the intent is to see the “positive” in a very difficult situation, but in my heart it hurts because it says that this person believes that the life of a disabled person is worth less than a person who is not disabled and I know that they just don’t know the truth – that the joy of loving a child with a disability is the same joy that every parent feels.  It is not, in any way, diminished by a diagnosis or atypical behaviors.

So then, why would a parent kill their own child?  Maybe it was frustration and exhaustion because they couldn’t make their child “normal”?  Why was that even the goal?  I really can’t understand it and it can never be excused or justified.  I know, I really do know, the frustrations of raising a child that is greatly affected by Autism.  My son is basically non-verbal.  He has never once answered back to a, “How are you?”.  He has gotten out of the house and just keeping him safe is a constant challenge.  We have been through periods of potty training issues and feces smearing and all of the challenges that go with Autism, but I can say with 100% sincerity that he is a joy.  His life is a blessing beyond what I could ever measure and I love seeing his beautiful face every single day.  His life is just as valuable as yours or mine.

Pablo on my lap at PC


Homeschool Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

I have read many homeschool curriculum reviews and while it is nice to hear that people like or don’t like a certain program, I need to know WHY because my kids are probably different than your kids.  After all, that is one of the reasons most of us homeschool, right?

One of the most debated curriculum choices is Math-U-See.  People either love it or hate it or only love it for certain grades.  The people that don’t love it usually fell that way because they believe that it is not rigorous enough and to be honest, I felt that may be true in the past (although not anymore).

The first thing you must know about Math U See, is that it teaches in a linear way and concepts are taught to mastery.  Many math programs are a mile wide and an inch deep.  In first grade they touch on rote counting, counting objects, more than/less than, place value, adding, subtracting, time, measurement, fractions, skip counting, writing numbers, shapes, 2D and 3D, and other concepts.  Because there is so much ground to cover, the curriculum skips around a lot.  Two weeks on one subject and then two weeks on something unrelated, which really does not help the student retain the information.

Math U See’s Alpha book (usually done in first grade) focuses on single digit addition and subtraction.  Period.  Now, in truth, it does teach many of the subjects mentioned above, but it is all within the context of single digit addition and subtraction.  So, skip counting is covered, but might be approached as 5+5+5 when first introduced.  The concepts build on one another and follow a logical order.  When D was younger, I worried about this because I thought that he may have difficulty if he returned to public school because Math U See may not cover some of those things until later (when they fall logically).  However, I came to realize that because math curriculum in schools tended to skip around so much, most of the information had to be covered again the next year and maybe a third year after that before the students actually mastered it!  If he had to take a standardized test, he would have probably missed a few, but who cares?  I have no absolutely desire to teach to a test.  By the time he takes the SAT or ACT, it will be covered!

 Here are the “primary” levels available:
Primer – This is an optional kindergarten level math.  It is the least “linear” of all the levels and introduces a variety of subjects.  This is the only level where you are “allowed” to move on even if your student does not totally “get” the concept.
Alpha – Single-digit addition and subtraction
Beta – Multi-digit addition and subtraction
Gamma – Single and multiple digit multiplication
Delta – Single and multiple digit division
Epsilon – Fractions
Zeta – Decimals
These are considered “secondary math”:
Algebra 1
Algebra 2

There is also a consumer math class called “Stewardship.”

If you are wondering where they introduce time or square roots or some other subject, you can take a look at the scope and sequence at the mathusee.com site.  It is all in there, but it is taught where it should be taught logically, not just to check a box for some state standards checklist.  For example, D is finishing up Epsilon right now.  The area of a circle is taught with Pi as 22/7 because Epsilon is all about fractions.  They also teach prime numbers here because you need to find factors for fractions.

How it works:

Each lesson (30 lessons per book) has a DVD of Steve Demme (creator of MUS) teaching the lesson.  He is teaching kids, so they have some of the same (right and wrong) responses that your kids may have.  He explains the concept and shows it visually with the blocks and usually gives several examples.  The parent should watch the DVD lesson and LATER either watch it with their child, so that they can do the block activities along with them and check for comprehension or the parent can just teach it to the student.  To be honest, I just let D watch it now that he is older and then I watch it over his shoulder so that I can help him.  For P, I watch but don’t show him the video.  I teach it to him all myself.

Some good things:

  • Concepts are taught in logical order.  Retention is better because lesson build on one anther
  • It is multi-sensory.  It is especially visual, which works really well for my boys and for many kids on the spectrum (and others who are not).
  • You know what to expect.  Each lesson has six pages and a test.  The first three are “Lesson Practice,” which focus on the concept just taught.  The last three are “Systematic Review,” which starts with problems from the current lesson and then gives many review problems.  Because you know what is coming, you can tailor it to your student.  If D gets every problem correct on page one, he can skip one of the lesson review pages.  If he gets 100% correct on the first Systematic Review page, he can skip to the test.  This keeps you from wasting time.
  •  Steve Demme is a very good teacher!  I actually like math, but I am not very good at teaching it.  Usually it just kind of makes sense to me, so it can be hard for me to explain it.  Even though I do enjoy math, I have understood it better after watching the videos.  (Isn’t that true for most homeschool subjects though?)
  •  The program is thorough.  In the beginning I had my doubts, but I have now heard from many, many parents that used MUS all the way through Calculus that did very well (often better than their peers) when they got to the college level.
  •  It seems easy!  I think  this is one of the reasons that some people doubt that it is rigorous enough.  Concepts are added slowly, one at a time, so that it seems very easy.  Many of us think, “I don’t remember math being this simple!”
  •  There are many used copies for sale (especially of the DVDs, Teacher’s Manuals and the Test Booklets).  There are the Spiral Bound versions, the 2004 versions, the 2009 versions and the new 2012 versions.  However, they all work together!  The old DVD with the new workbook is fine.  They don’t change the lessons.  This has been great because I usually buy everything used easily except the student workbook, which I buy almost always have to buy new (comes with the test booklet).

Some possible drawbacks:

  • It CAN be hard to switch to MUS if you have already done a few years in another curriculum.
    One reason for that is that MUS expects you to MASTER the skill taught that year.  After Gamma, the student should be able to do, for example, 8,758 x 6,241.  Some curriculums may not go that far.  They may teach only to the hundreds or thousands times tens.  MUS advises you to go back and fill in the gaps because math should be sequential and you should not move on until one skill is mastered.  I started doing the Beta book with D in second grade.  By the end of October I decided that homeschooling was not a good idea for that year and ended up sending him to public school.  At the end of the year, I decided to homeschool again, so I thought we would do a quick review of Beta over the summer.  Well, it turned out that although he did well in school, he did not know everything in the Beta book, so we just started where we left off and ended up finishing Beta about half way through third grade.  Then we moved on to Gamma.  I hated the idea of being “behind,” but I knew that it was better for him to really know the material.  Now we are ahead because working through the summer worked so well, that we have kept it up every year.  We move less quickly in the summer – usually just one page a day, one unit every two weeks, but we never totally stop. 
  •  It can be expensive.  Once you get the Teacher’s Pack (Teacher’s Manual and DVD) and the Student Pack (Workbook and Test Booklet), if you buy it new every year it is expensive.  You also have to buy the blocks, but that is pretty much it for the manipulative until you reach Gamma, so they will last you several years.
  •  Some things are not done the way you remember them (the way we used to do them in school), so you do need to watch the videos, even if you are good at math.
  •  Some people find it the predictability monotonous.

Personally, I HIGHLY recommend MUS, especially for learners that are not primarily auditory learners.  After using Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, I think I have a pretty good picture of the program.  It is worth the money for us (even on our limited budget) and I can’t imagine ever switching to another curriculum for math.

Here are some MUS-related links to help you make your decision:
www.Mathusee.com (official website)
Math U See’s YouTube channel (a great resource for FAQ and demos!)
Math U See’s Facebook page https://facebook.com/mathusee
Math U See related yahoo groups (not officially sponsored by MUS):
http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/MUSSwap/info (for people wanting to buy or sell used MUS materials)

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits for Children

I was so saddened earlier this year to hear an NPR story on the rise in Disability benefits for children.  I won’t go into the details, but, among other things, it claimed that parents of children receiving Disability benefits do not help their children progress because they want to continue to receive SSI benefits for their children as a child with a disability.

How could you do this to me, NPR, when I love you so?

In NPR’s defense, it was an opinion piece, but it was just so misleading!  See here for a thoughtful response to all of the errors in the piece.

After much persistence, we are currently receiving SSI benefits for P.  Some months we do not qualify because we go over the income limit (and it is not much), but when we do qualify we will receive a small deposit to help offset some of the huge expenses we have as a result of having a child with a disability.

The SSI Disability is a program that provides financial help for low income families that have children with a disability resulting in severe limitations in daily functioning.  If you know anyone that has a disabled child, you know that the expenses facing families dealing with a disability are mind-boggling.  In our case, we have had to purchase separate insurance for P, which cost us several thousand dollars in a period of less than a year.  We have bought him his own iPad and a special communication app (about $700) because he absolutely needed it, we have bought educational products that work for him, things to address major sensory issues and many other things that P needs, just to give him a chance to succeed.  There are many other things that he needs right now, like intensive speech therapy, that we just cannot afford to give him, no matter how frugal we are.  While other families are deciding whether to pay for baseball teams or piano lessons, our children have to forgo all of that so that we can give P half a chance to learn to speak.  To be clear, this is not a complaint. I am harbor no bitterness toward others who can give their child piano lessons because we cannot do those things; I just want to let anyone who thinks we and other families dealing with disability are living comfortably off the government know that they are mistaken.

SSI is a program that helps low-income families to pay for some of the things that their child needs.  If there has been a rise in people participating in the program it is because many people are currently in need.  Unemployment is high, wages are low, and many earn much less than they used to earn. I am sure that there are abusers of the program as there are for EVERY public or private assistance program, but I can assure you that it is not easy to qualify.  There is no evidence of widespread abuse.  Even a serious diagnosis, such as Autism, will not get you approved.  The child must have severe limitations to qualify and the parents must be low income.

After our nightmare with applying for SSI, I promised myself that I would do a blog post in hopes that it might help another family.  For a long time I did not even apply because I had a hard time figuring out if we were eligible.  Information about SSI for children can be complicated and it most of what you find on the internet is for adults that are disabled (SSDI), which is not the same.  I hope to answer some questions that others may have below.

Q: Do we qualify for SSI?

– To receive SSI for your child, your child must have a severe disability that will last for at least 12 months.

– You must have limited resources.  All of your assets cannot be over $3,000 for the parents and $1,500 for the child.  There are certain things that qualify as assets and will be counted, and others that are “exempt” and are not counted.  For example, the family can have one car that does not count towards your assets, but if you have another car, they will look up the value (usually lower than actual value) and tell you that it counts as $___ towards your assets.  Your house is usually exempt and a tax refund is also not counted in your assets, for a certain period of months, so if you got a big refund and have not spent it all, make sure to bring evidence of that and point it out at the interview.  If you cross the limit, between money in the bank and other assets, you are disqualified.

– Your income must be less than then a certain amount monthly.  Assuming the child does not yet work and does not receive child support, the amount is determined by several factors:

– How much of your income is earned (from a job) and how much (if any) is unearned (given to you by someone else, like a government agency)?
– How many parents in the home (one or two)?
– How many of your children are disabled?

For example, in 2013, if you have two parents in the home, only one child is disabled, and the only money you receive is from your employer(s), these are the maximum amounts you could make per month and still be eligible for something from SSI:

One child (disabled)    $3,677
Two children (one disabled)    $4,033
Three children (one disabled)    $4,389
Four children (one disabled)    $4,745
Five children (one disabled)    $5,101
To see the limits for other family situations click here.

Q: What are the steps to apply for SSI?

1.  Call the national 800 number.  Tell them that you want to apply for SSI for your disabled child and they will set up an appointment in person or over the phone with your local office.  Their number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and they are available between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Expect a long wait.  You can apply for benefits for adults online, but that is not yet available for children.  Our office was about an hour away, so “local” may not be all that local.  When I called the operator told me that we did not qualify, but that I could apply anyway if I wanted to.  I had done quite a bit of research and I thought she was mistaken, so I just said, “Yes, I do want to apply anyway.”  As it turned out, she was incorrect.  She was thinking of income limits for adults, not children.

2.  At the initial appointment, bring:

Documentation of your child’s disability**:

-The Child Disability Report filled out (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/i3820/main.html)

-All the most recent (preferably within 12 months) reports from doctors, therapist, specialists, etc. that demonstrate your child’s disability.  If you haven’t had a recent visit, it would be helpful to visit the specialist that addresses you child’s disability.  In the case of Autism, a developmental pediatrician, neuropsychologist, etc.

-Your child’s IEP if they are in school, IFSP if they are in Early Intervention.

(They will tell you that you don’t have to bring the reports, but it will help you because once the case reaches the person that is looking at the medical aspect, they want they information immediately or they will close your case, so if they already have it, you do  not have to worry about the doctors/therapists/teachers not sending in reports.  It is already in their hands.)

Documentation of your assets:

Car title, Bank account statements, life insurance, etc.

Documentation of your income:

All checks received for the last 30-60 days.  Income and expenses if you are self-employed.
Lease or mortgage statement (because if you do not pay rent or mortgage, they will count that as income because someone is paying it for you).

Documentation of any other assistance received by anyone in the household:

Food Stamps, anyone else on SSI or SSDI, pension, etc.
At your appointment, you should receive a confirmation number to check on the status of your case.  A “normal” wait time is three to six months.  For us, it took a little over two months for them to even start looking into whether he was disabled or not medically.  The examiner called me to clarify some things on the report and I was able to fax her the additional information she needed.  I would call to check on your case after six to eight weeks if you have not heard anything yet.**

3.  An examiner will determine if your child is disabled.

Just because your child has a diagnosis of autism or some other serious disorder does not mean that you will be approved.  The question is how much it affects his/her daily functioning.  Accommodations in your child’s IEP can show this.  Level of functioning documented by your child’s doctor or therapists are also helpful.***   See http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/112.00-MentalDisorders-Childhood.htm#112_10 for details on who qualifies under Autism/PDD.  There are other rules for other categories.  Be realistic about your child’s challenges.  We all believe in our children and see all of their wonderful positive qualities, but this is the time to emphasize the negative :-).  What are the challenges that your child faces in daily life?

4.  The case is sent back to the local office for them to determine whether your income and assets are still low enough to qualify.

This is where our case went wrong.  For some reason, they counted one of our bank accounts twice.  Also, we received a tax refund that they counted, but should have been exempt.

5.  You will receive a letter (and a deposit if you are approved) that will tell you how much you will receive.  If your income varies at all, you must report it monthly.

Q: Should I hire a lawyer?

Maybe.  There are some attorneys that don’t take your case until you have applied and been denied.  They will help you with the appeal.  Usually, you will not pay anything up front for an attorney to represent you.  If they think you can win, they will take your case and then they will later receive a percentage of the back pay.  I, personally, did not feel that an attorney was necessary for our initial application, but thought that I would use one if we needed to appeal.  Later, when they made an error in calculating our assets and send us a denial, I wished I had an attorney because it took another four months to get it straightened out.  An attorney can also help point out things that may be exempt in counting your assets.

Q: Should I call to check on my case?

Yes!  After months had passed I checked on my case and found that they “thought” they sent me a letter that they never did send me, telling me to bring in my financial statements again after being approved (see step four above).  Every step has deadlines. (There are deadlines for you; they have no deadlines at all).  Things have to be completed (by the applicant) within a certain number of days or you will end up being denied.  There is no harm in checking on your case and you will probably have to be persistent.

Q: What is back-pay?

The day that you apply is when the benefits start, but while it is going through the approval process you have to wait for the check(s).  If you are eventually approved, they will pay you starting from the date that you applied, assuming your were eligible all those months.  If you were eligible (based on the financial records you bring) for a partial payment, they will pay you a partial payment for that month.  It is very important to keep all of you financial records, every paycheck, etc. since the day that you apply (and they will ask you for a month or two before that at the initial interview).  You may get back pay in one payment if it does not surpass a certain amount, or you may get it in several payments that have certain limitations on how you can spend them.

Q: Are the people at SSI evil?

It depends when you ask me this!  Just kidding.  I suppose that they are not evil and are not trying to make your life miserable, but they are really overwhelmed with cases.  If you don’t call them, you may never get an answer.  I had to call at least ten times and leave messages for the person assigned to my case to just get a call back.  Sometimes not even that worked.  That was when I wished I had an attorney.

I am not an attorney nor am I any kind of expert in applying for SSI, but if you are considering applying or are in the process and you have a question, I would be happy to try to help based on my own experiences and research.  You can send me a message under the “About Me” tab at the top of this page.


** Make a copy of everything you give them because things get lost!  I asked doctors and therapists to send them to me, so that I had a copy and then I send them to SS.

***SS will expect you to get everything they ask of you immediately, but they are in no hurry to get back to you.

Language-Expanding Exercise for my Hyperlexic Boy

We have been busily preparing for our new school year, and I have not had much time for blog posts, but I want to post something that may help others of you that have hyperlexic (or even not reading yet if you just do this exercise out loud) children that need to expand their language.

You can’t really say that P is non-verbal.  He can definitely talk.  If he thinks you may have a cookie hidden somewhere, he will break out in one of his most common lines: “[Mom], Can I have a ____ (fill in sugary snack here), please.”  That is not a problem.  He can also read anything you put in front of him (although you may not understand well because of his articulation issues and he may not understand the meaning of all the words).  What I am trying to help him do, is to EXPAND his communication.

Lindamood-Bell uses the Talkies program for just this purpose, but he is really still at the very beginning levels because of some receptive language issues, so we needed something to help him understand how to describe what he sees (concrete and then later images brought to mind).  They use a modified version of the “structure words” in Visualizing and Verbalizing.

In V/V, the structure words are: What, Size, Color, Number, Shape, Where, Movement, Mood, Background, Perspective, When, and Sound.  Talkies simplifies it to: What, Color, Number, Shape, Size, Where, Movement.  I also have cards that I got here, that give a visual cue when needed. We use the nice, simple pictures in the “Picture to Picture Book,” to describe images, but I have also been using videos that P loves and making questions that get at those same ideas in the Talkies structure words.  We have a subscription to Amazon Prime and we use videos that are free with Prime, but you could use whatever videos you have.

Here is an example of one that we used this week:

Super Why: The Gingerbread Boy
Minute 0:00 through 2:05

0:08 What is the boy’s name?
The boy’s name is _____________________.
0:10 What size is the boy?
The boy is _____________________.
1:00 How many Super Readers are there?
  There are _______________________Super Readers.
1:10 What are the Super Readers doing?
They are _________________________.
1:41 Where are the children?
The children are at the ___________________________.
1:54 What color is the question mark?
The question mark is ____________________________.
2:05 What is the weather in Storybook Village?
The weather is ____________________________________.

We read the questions together and he fills in the answer.  If he is unsure what a question is asking, we looks at our structure word cards for a clue.  We started this last year, about mid-year and he had a tough time with most of the questions and needed lots of help.  Now he almost never needs help and I have seen him watching the video more closely, instead of passively.  He is excited to fill in the correct answers and I have made them just a little more difficult, but he has kept up.  I usually make one sheet of questions for each day of the week (from just one episode per week), so that one episode will have about 30 questions.

I have been so excited about this exercise and wanted to share it because it uses something he is interested in, helps him observe and describe (rather than using language for requesting all the time), increases his attention, and models proper questions and sentence structure.  I am hoping to soon be able to leave more blanks for him to form the sentence more independently.

If you would like to see the whole week’s questions, I am including it here: Super why gingerbread boy season 3 episode 5.
Feel free to try it yourself or modify it for your own lessons.  Sorry for any typos!  These are usually done at 11 or 12 at night!

Should I pursue Early Intervention for my child?


When D was one year old and not speaking, I called Early Intervention myself.  My only concern was his (lack of) speech and I just wanted someone to evaluate him and tell me that he was fine (which he was – a perfectly fine autistic child).  His regular pediatrician thought that he was “fine,” but speaking late because of his exposure to two languages.  Part of me wanted to leave it at that, but there was this nagging part of me that was still worried and needed more confirmation, so I made the call and our lives were never the same.

In general, when children are small, mothers worry.  They worry when they are older too, but there is something particularly worrisome about the development of a young child because they have so many milestones to reach still and often do not communicate well with us yet, and we want to believe that everything will be perfect.  We may not say the word, “perfect,” but we have our dreams and expectations and we would feel some disappointment if we knew that our child would not achieve them.  (Not only children with developmental delays, but “normal” children that choose things that we do not consider good for them.)  This is especially true for our first child.  We know that they will have bumps in the road, but we cannot imagine where those bumps will be, so we do not envision them for our child and they take us by surprise when they come and can even be painful.

In time we realize that our child is their own person.  The sports fanatic dad accepts that their child does not enjoy sports.  The bookworm realizes that little Johnny doesn’t like to read.  These things are part of life and growth and happen to all parents at some time.  Even if you are a person that enjoys diversity and just wants to support your children in their own dreams, we all have expectations without even realizing that they were there.

If your son doesn’t like baseball or your daughter won’t wear a dress, you will probably, at some point, realize that those things are trivial and embrace your child’s own interests.  If they cannot speak, you will have to confront a whole new set of fears and unknown possibilities.  It is that fear that keeps us from making that call, keeps us from scheduling evaluations, keeps us from hearing others’ concerns about our child.  Working in Early Intervention, I see a lot of concerned mommies, especially when they first begin therapy.  Last week they had a “normal” child that had a happy, carefree childhood and a bright future.  Now, they have a problem to fix.  They may feel that their child is suddenly “broken” and facing an unknown future.  Will they ever speak?  Will they have to attend Special Education?  Will they able to go to college?  Get married?  Be happy?  Fulfilled?

What I would like to tell these worried mommies, is that their child is not suddenly “broken.”  The only children in the world are imperfect ones and if your child’s struggles can be addressed in a way they will enjoy, then they are very fortunate!  The vast majority of kids in Early Intervention will actually be very successful academically because the fact that they are in E.I. is proof that  they have a parent or caregiver who cares, wants to help them succeed and will seek help, in spite of their fears. **

Here are some other common questions I have received:

I think he/she will outgrow these delays.  Shouldn’t I wait?

Why wait?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you wait, the delays may get worse.

Will participation in Early Intervention services go on my child’s “permanent record” or put them automatically in Special Education?

There really is no “permanent record,” and if there were, participation in E.I. would just mean “concerned and involved parent,” not that there is something “wrong” with this child.  There are MANY laws to protect your child’s privacy.  Most parents do tell their child’s school about services received in E.I., but that is up to you and school placement is based on your child’s ability at the time.  Most kids in E.I. will not go through school in Special Education.  They may be eligible for an Early Childhood (preschool) program to supports development, but the majority will be doing great in regular classrooms in elementary school.

I don’t want to turn my child into a “patient” with therapies, when he seems to be “fine.”

Most Early Intervention providers are very good and treating the child as an individual.  The therapies are play-based and the child usually has a great time!  You are getting someone to come and play with your child in a way that will encourage their development.  You get a private “teacher” for your child who comes to you!

I don’t want that many people in my house on a regular basis.

First of all, if you are worried about a messy house or out of control siblings, most likely the therapist has seen much, much worse.  Having the therapy at home is ideal because the therapist sees the child in his/her natural environment.  They are teaching your child, but most importantly they are teaching the parent, which brings me to…

I don’t want a stranger coming in telling me how to raise my child.

They really do not expect you to follow every suggestion, but they will try to give you ideas that you can incorporate into your daily life.  They may tell you to encourage your child to make the sign “more” at meal time when they want more food.  They may show you positions that your child can use to sit that will strengthen their muscles.  Most of the ideas are simple, but a person who is not a therapist may not think of them.

What if I don’t like the therapist?

You can request a new therapist at any time!  Maybe you just don’t like their treatment style or maybe they cancel too often, you can request a different therapist through E.I.

What if I don’t agree with their recommendations for amount/type of therapies?

You are still the parent and you make the decisions about your child.  After the evaluation(s), you will discuss the results with the team and recommendations will be made, but if you feel that any or all therapies are not appropriate, you can decline them (and no, they will not think you are a bad parent!).  You can also decline a service and change your mind later.  You are in no way handing control of your child over to someone else.  You are getting a expert helpers that have a great deal to offer.

**Please note that I am not an official representative for Early Intervention and I do not speak for them.  I am a mom that has had children in Early Intervention and I have worked as an independent contractor for Early Intervention and I speak only about what I have seen and experienced myself.

On to Fifth Grade

A few weeks ago I shared what we did for D’s fourth grade year and mentioned some of what we were doing next year, but here is our actual “official” fifth grade plan including our goals.  Is is basically just Language Arts, Math, Spanish and Typing, but as you can see, it is still a lot because included in Language Arts are: Spelling, Vocabulary, Literature, Writing, Grammar and Punctuation. D will be in public school for Science, Social Studies and “specials.”

Charts often do not do well on the web.  If the chart does not look right on your PC, click on the link to the pdf, directly above the chart.

Diego 5th Grade Plan and Goals

Subject Area

Learning Goals:



Decode unfamiliar multi-syllable wordsRecognize misspelled words and correct in writing Spelling Box (box with index cards of words spelled incorrectly)Seeing Stars WorkbookSeeing Stars Flashcards (I make these)


Identify unknown words in readingFind meaning of unknown words through context/word roots and affixes Vocabulary BoxVocabulary Exercises in Novel Discussion GuidesRed Hot Root Words Workbook


Engage with text through visualizingIdentify literary elements: plot, subplot, characters, setting, themeIdentify rising action and falling action/resolutionIdentify point of view in narrative (e.g. first person)Understand figurative languageIdentify types/purpose: fiction/nonfiction narrative, persuasive, expositoryPoetry: identify types of poems and their meaning Visualizing and Verbalizing Workbook7 Novels (below) with vocabulary and comprehension guidesSpectrum Reading Workbook10 Poems


Organize and write independently:Persuasive: Five Paragraph EssayResponse to literature (paragraph and essay)Narrative (Fiction/Non-Fiction)Edit own writing for better style, punctuation, grammar, spellingWrite research report in steps with guidance SWI-A (Finish)Medieval History Writing Lessons

Language Arts

Review Parts of Speech/Grammar- identify incorrect and correct in writingReview punctuation rules (esp. comma use, quotation marks, capitalization) and correct in writing Spectrum Language Arts Workbook Daily Paragraph Corrections


Review previous learned skillsFractionsDecimals Finish Math U See EpsilonDo Math U See Zeta


Learn correct conjugation of ser, estar, ir, and regular -ar verbsIncrease dialog in SpanishIncrease vocabulary in Spanish Weekly paragraph assignmentsDaily dialog practiceSpanish Workbook


Place hands correctly on the keyboardBecome more familiar with the location of the keys on the keyboard Dance Mat TypingOther keyboarding games

Novels for 5th Grade








Double Fudge







A Wrinkle in Time







The Outsiders







Johnny Tremain







Esperanza Rising







Island of the Blue Dolphins






Tuck Everlasting







Weekly Schedule D 5th Grade (For those of you who think we are crazy, we do what works for us.  Fifteen minutes every day is usually more effective FOR US than 40 minutes twice a week.  That is just what we have found for our particular situation.)







DVD/Page A Page B/C Page D/E Page F Unit Test

Language Arts

Daily Paragraph
2 pgs Workbook
Daily Paragraph Daily Paragraph
2 pgs Workbook
Daily Paragraph Daily Paragraph


Spelling Box
Spelling Box
1 pg Seeing Stars
Spelling Box
1 pg Seeing Stars
Spelling Box
Spelling Box
1 pg Seeing Stars


Spanish Box
Verb Practice
Spanish Box
2 pgs Workbook
Spanish Box
Spanish Box
Verb Practice
Spanish Box
2 pgs Workbook


IEW assignment IEW assignment IEW assignment IEW assignment IEW assignment


V/V Workbook Literature Cycle Literature Cycle Literature Cycle Literature Cycle


Vocabulary Box Vocabulary Box
Vocabulary Box Vocabulary BoxWorkbook Vocabulary Box

36 Weeks

Writing (IEW assignments):Aug through Nov: SWI-ADay 1: DVD (if needed) and KW OutlineDay 2: DraftDay 3: FinalDec through June:Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons(22 lessons, one per week) Literature Cycle (Tues through Fri):Week 1&2: Novel with activitiesWeek 3&4: 2 short story passages/dayWeek 5: Other assignments (poetry, short books, others)