Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Teaching Compassion & Service August 30, 2011

Filed under: Lower Elementary,Preschool Learning,Toddler learning — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 1:36 pm
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Finally, my last post for the day…I had quite a few to catch up on!  Thanks for bearing with me while I was trying to play catch-up.  It seems like all of our busy times and field trips have happened during the weekend or very beginning of the week, throwing off my posting schedule. 🙂

One of the things we try to instill in the children is the value of helping others.  With two children on the autism spectrum, it’s sometimes a very difficult task to get them to think outside of themselves, and imagine how another might be feeling.  However, as parents, we want our children to understand how incredibly fortunate we are to have a beautiful house in a safe neighborhood, plenty of food on the table, and good health to enjoy.  We want them to understand that it is not the case for everyone.  This is especially important for us, as we have seen firsthand the effects of crushing poverty.  Monkey was born in a very poor area of northern Vietnam, where some families live in cardboard shacks on top of garbage dumps, and some women are forced to give up the children they love simply because there is no way to afford to care for them.  An area with poverty that is so great that human trafficking is a thriving industry because those in poverty are tricked into selling their daughters.  Monkey spent her early months in a tiny little orphanage with no glass on the windows, and no access to life saving medical care.  That lack of access nearly cost Monkey her life…over something that is easily treated in the United States–severe dehydration caused by reflux due to a milk allergy.

It’s hard to imagine how crushing poverty can be, especially in countries without a welfare system or the ability to provide medical care to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it.  It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for a woman to give up her very own baby because she can’t afford to feed her.  Or what it must be like to have to make the choice to sell your child to human traffickers because you were tricked into thinking she would receive a better life.

These are the types of topics that are so very difficult for even adults to understand, let alone a child!  However, we try to find ways for our children to serve, in ways that even the youngest can understand.

One of the ways we have chosen to do this is by sponsoring an orphaned child.  Through the adoption agency Holt International, our family chose to sponsor an infant girl living in an orphanage in Hanoi, Vietnam.  This sweet little girl has been living in the orphanage since she was a newborn.  Every couple months, we receive new pictures and an update on our sponsored child.  One month, we received word that our little one was sick with dysentery (yes, for you Oregon Trails fans, this disease is still around, and still devastating).  Fortunately, she was able to receive the medical care she needed to save her life.  Jedi was especially happy to hear this, and said “Wow!  We helped her get medicine, and we could do that all the way across the world!”

This little one is very special to us for two reasons…first, of course, she shares the country of birth with Monkey.  That instantly helped the kids feel connected to her, even though we’ve never met her.  Second, she was born on the same day our deceased son would have turned 5 years old.  What a miracle to be matched with her!

The kids wanted to send a birthday gift to her because of her birthday coming up next week.  As Jedi said, we may not be able to have a party for our own son who has passed away, but we can help celebrate a little girl who has no one else to celebrate with.

The kids with their birthday package for Ngoc...a bib, a new dress, and a birthday letter that we wrote in English and Vietnamese. They are also looking at the pictures we have received of Ngoc.


We are so grateful to have the opportunity to help change the lives of a little girl halfway across the world.  We will continue to sponsor her until the wonderful day comes where she finds her forever family!  It’s such a simple thing to be involved in, but the kids absolutely love reading the updates we receive and seeing her new pictures.  The children can also choose to send pictures and letters to our sponsored child as well!


Field Trip: Franklin Park Conservatory–Butterflies & Blooms

This week, we took a field trip to the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio.  During the summer, the conservatory has a program called “Butterflies and Blooms” where they released newly emerged butterflies into the gardens.  The tropical/non-native species are released to an indoor garden and the native species are released outside to the pollinator gardens.  Since we raise butterflies to release in early September every year, it was the perfect opportunity for the kids to see the life cycle happen on a larger scale…with hundreds of chrysalids!

The Franklin Park Conservatory has a permanent Chihuly collection, and so Chihuly's works were incorporated into every exhibit.


I loved this was a glass ceiling with this Chihuly work sitting on top of it.


Some cacti in the desert room.


Some smaller cacti


Blown glass pumpkins in a pumpkin patch


Blown glass pears under a pear tree


We all sat in on a lecture on glass blowing


Some Chihuly pieces floating in a koi pond


Jedi watching the fish


Cute little Bug


Beautiful flower in the Tropical Rainforest indoor butterfly exhibit


This blue butterfly was huge! It's hard to see from this picture, but he was easily the size of my hand.


Bug and her daddy


Monkey & Jedi


As she was releasing the butterflies, she gave a talk on the different types she had in her container. We also went to the release of the native butterflies later that afternoon, where she gave a lecture on the lifecycle and migratory patterns of monarch butterflies.


Bamboo garden


Some glass winged butterflies emerging


Walking to the outdoor gardens


It was well past naptime for Bug


Some flowers in the Pollinator Garden


Some pitcher plants


Another pitcher plant


Sunflowers on a gorgeous day


A huge bee doing his job in the Pollinator Garden




Around the World: Australia Week 1

Filed under: Geography & Culture,Lower Elementary,Preschool Learning,Toddler learning — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 3:02 am


This week, we began our 2 week unit on Australia.  For every country, we spend 2 weeks learning about the culture and geography of that country.  The first week is typically the “academic” week…I put out the new culture shelf and the kids can explore the items from that country.  We also learn about the animals, map, flag, & lifestyle in that country.  Finally, we listen to music from the country.  Week two is usually a week of experiencing the culture…crafts & projects, as well as a meal of traditional foods from the country.

The culture shelf set up for Australia. It has the greeting card in the native language, books, photos, some replicas of animals, a boomerang, an aborigine kangaroo magnet, and some Australian currency.


A closeup of the magnet and currency


Some photos from Australia (the one of the blue water was from our Little Passports kit from several months ago)


Some animals from Australia


And as usual, Bug *loves* playing with the tiny animals!


Jedi trying to learn how to throw a boomerang


Jedi had to do a big more than simply exploring the shelf.  He learned the names and a fact about 7 different Australian animals, and then had to choose one to do a brief report on.  He chose the Clownfish.  He also read from the book Children Just Like Me to learn what life is like for children in Australia.  He colored the Australian map and mapped out the capital of Australia & the Great Barrier Reef.  Finally, all of the children listened to, danced to, and learned the words to the Kookaburra song.


Montessori Monday

Bitty Bug is 2 years 7 months old.  Monkey is 4 years 6 months old.

When we were at the art museum a few weeks back, we saw an exhibit by Alexander Calder. It was an interactive exhibit where the children could build their own mobile sculpture out of shapes. At home, Monkey & Bug did a similar activity using foam shapes and pipe cleaners stuck into a foam block.


Sorting some foam shapes that we found in T@rget's Dollar Spot.


We decided that since Monkey was having so much trouble learning her letters and sounds, we are stepping back from the Montessori sandpaper letters & early literacy lessons and instead going with Letter of the Week. We are using Confession of a Homeschooler's Letter of the Week curriculum. Here is the letter A for pin punching.


Cutting practice with a paper apple.


A letter 'A' matching game... On the tree, there are lowercase A's and uppercase A's. In each apple, there are the same. Monkey put the apples on top of the letter to match them.


Monkey decided that she wanted to draw one of the feathers on the "please touch" table.


Using the dot markers to paint letter A's.


Monkey pin punching the letter A


Matching textures on the texture board.


Matching sandpaper grades


Jedi working with Monkey on "heavy & light"


Monkey adding the letter of the week to the coconut tree (modeled after Chicka Chicka Boom Boom)


Capital & Lowercase A on the Coconut Tree


2nd Grade Week in Review

Life Science: This week in life science, we began our unit on animal classification.  For the first lesson, he worked on classifying fictional creatures (called Blobonians in the REAL Science Odyssey curriculum).  First he classified them based on his own ideas of which creatures belonged together, and then he classified them according to the provided classification chart.  The goal was to find the male and female of each ‘species’.

Working through the classification chart in order to pair the animals.


Chemistry: In Chemistry, we worked on the parts of an atom.  He learned about protons, electrons, and neutrons, as well as the nucleus and the space between the electrons and the nucleus.

Coloring his "Parts of an Atom" poster.


Math: In Math, we continued our work on multiples of 5.  We played a game called “Go to the Dump”, which is Rightstart Math’s version of Go Fish.  A match consisted of 2 cards where the values added up to 10.  We also began work on the addition board, completing the math facts from 1-10 of +1, +2, +5, and then all facts that add up to 10.

Working on his addition board.


Playing Go To The Dump


English/Spelling/Phonics : This week, Jedi continued working on beginning & ending blends in words 4-5 letters long.  He also worked on adding suffixes to the ends of words (ed, ing, er).  Jedi’s having a lot of trouble remembering the rules for adding suffixes, so we are taking extra time working on this.

Geography : This week in Geography, we began our unit on Australia.  Jedi learned about what it’s life as a child in Australia, and also learned about the flag and geography of Australia.  Finally, Jedi attempted to learn how to throw a boomerang…that is a lesson we’re still trying to figure out! 😉

Doing a lesson in the net swing

History–In history, Jedi continued to learn about ancient Egypt.  This week, we focused on the process of mummification and pyramids.  Jedi *loved* learning about mummification (sounds about right…this kid loves things like mummies!).  At the end of the week, Jedi sculpted a body out of clay and then dressed it in white cloth, King Tut’s mask, and then created a burial box, filled with “gold” treasures.  Jedi really got into that (the project was supposed to just be the mummy, but he decided to go all out and create a box filled with treasures. 🙂 )

Jedi wrapping his clay body.


The mummy


Filling the box with treasures


Art: In the first art lesson of the week, Jedi worked with water color crayons in order to create a picture using red, yellow, and brown.  The goal was to make new colors by blending.  In the second lesson, Jedi started his unit on places art can be found.  This week’s lesson was on cave painting.  First, we took a virtual tour of the Lascaux cave (  Then, Jedi created his own cave painting out of brown paper and black/red/brown/yellow soft pastels.

Making his cave painting


Jedi working on his color blending, with Bug wanting to color along with him.

Misc.: Jedi finally completed his puppet show writing project and performed it for the family this week!

Performing his puppet show, Silly St@r W@rs.


Homeschooling & Autism August 24, 2011

I’m so excited to finally be able to get this post out.  The primary reason we have decided to homeschool is because Jedi & Monkey both have significant special needs.  Jedi has autism and sensory processing disorder, and Monkey has other special needs that will likely be reassessed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum in the next couple weeks.  However, when we started our homeschooling journey, we made the mistake of setting up the room like we would for any typical child–tables & chairs, assignments that I knew were going on but that Jedi had no way to know what was coming up, lots of things that required handwriting, etc.  Needless to say, Jedi was having a very difficult time concentrating and being able to make it through an entire school day without becoming overstimulated.  So, with the help of Jedi’s occupational therapist and primary psychologist, we’ve come up some accommodations to hopefully help to make things a bit easier for Jedi.

One of the things we did right was make sure that every piece of curriculum was as hands on as possible.  Jedi is neither an auditory learner nor a learner who can comprehend just from reading.  However, if he can create something with his hands, or manipulate objects in a meaningful way during the lesson, he can usually remember and process the lesson.  Some of our curriculum choices are:

Math: Rightstart, level C

Spelling: All About Spelling

Science: REAL Science Odyssey (Life, Earth, & Chemistry)

History: History Odyssey & Hands on History

Geography: Expedition Earth

Art: Artistic Pursuits

Handwriting: We use Handwriting Without Tears.  We also use the book “730 Journal Prompts” for daily journaling, and the book “Veggie Soup: I’m a Writer and Didn’t Even Know It” for random handwriting.

Typing: Typing Instructor for Kids

For Monkey, we also stray slightly from Montessori for things she has more difficulty in.  Right now, for letters, we are using Confession of a Homeschooler’s “Letter of the Week”, and also using a workbook that has a different mini-book for each letter of the alphabet.

Because both of the kids need a lot of gross motor sensory input, we have transformed our entire finished basement into a 1000 sq ft learning space–a quarter of it is our main classroom, with another quarter being the office (with the computer).  The other half is split between a small art room, and a large indoor gymnastics area with a balance beam, mini trampoline, thick mats, and  a gymnastics bar.  Not only does it help get some gross motor “wiggle breaks” in, but gymnastics has been a form of therapy for Monkey since she was 11 months old.  It is her out, and when things aren’t going well for her, all it takes is some time on the mats to turn things around.  We also use FitDeck exercise cards randomly throughout the day to give the kids a brief wiggle break.  Frequent breaks for exercise often help to calm, focus, and ground the kids.

One of the things I've frequently posted about was Jedi's extreme difficulty with handwriting and spelling. One of the things that helps a lot with that is allowing Jedi to type all assignments that are more than a couple sentences in length. It makes it much easier for him to concentrate on the actual subject matter. It also makes it much easier for him to correct his spelling. With his auditory processing issues, he hears words differently than most people, and as such, phonetic spelling is extremely difficult for him. Without a way of even knowing what sounds are in the word, looking things up in the dictionary is impossible. But, when typing into a word processor, the program will notice misspelled words and give options for correct spellings--Jedi can, with 100% accuracy, pick out the correct word that he intended. We are currently working on fixing my old laptop for Jedi to use, but in the meantime, Jedi is doing his typing lessons and typing work on the family desktop computer.


We also noticed that Jedi always had to have something in his hands, especially during verbal lessons, or he just couldn't concentrate. So now, on the corner of his work table is a basket of various fidgets that he can keep in his hands. We made sure that each fidget had a different texture and size so that he can choose exactly what he needs at the time. We've also put pencil grips on all of his pencils to increase the sensory input he receives while writing.


We've noticed that Jedi has a *lot* of trouble sitting at chairs. His core muscle weakness makes it very difficult for him to maintain the upright position for long periods of time (if you've noticed, he's almost always holding his head while writing). I've noticed that instead of concentrating on the lesson, he's concentrating on his posture. So, we bought a huge beanbag, and filled it up 3/4 of the way with the foam beads. Not filling it up all the way makes him sink into it some, which gives him more sensory input. The beanbag can be used for any seated work he chooses, with the exception of art (since he should be seated at a table for painting, clay work, scissors, etc.)


Jedi also has the choice to use the indoor swing for working as well. We have the Rainy Day Indoor Playground. It has a sling swing, net swing, platform swing, and rope ladder. Jedi is allowed to use the net swing or platform swing for seated work (again, not the art stuff. LOL!)


We have started using a Workbox System as well. This helps Jedi know exactly what is coming up so that he does not have to spend energy and time worrying about how much left he has to do, or what subjects he will be doing for the day. For a normal day, we have 12 workboxes. For a half day (due to therapies), he has 6 workboxes.


One of the other things we’re working on is getting Ipod Touches for both Jedi & Monkey.  This should help a lot with social, behavior, emotional regulation, and academic subjects that they might be having more difficulty in.  Hopefully soon, we’ll have the money saved up for them and I can post my review of some autism-friendly apps. 🙂

For those of you homeschooling special needs kids, what things have you personally found helpful in your homeschooling journey?  As we know, it’s often different than the experience of homeschooling typical kids–not only are your work days often interrupted by daily therapy sessions, but there are often accommodations that need to be made to help learning be effective.


Field Trip: Camping August 23, 2011

The reason most of my weekly posts have been late this week is that we spent the weekend camping at a local lake.  Since most of our local school districts went back to school this week, it was our “Not Going Back To School” celebration.   (I do have to say, after 3 years of actually sending Jedi off to school, it was also very strange to *not* send him off to school this year.  But Jedi said he does not miss all of the hoopla that goes along with the first day of school.  I think he does miss the part about seeing some of your friends for the first time in 3 months, but I can’t even be so sure about that.  He recently saw a friend from his former school–they both were at the same store at the same time.  He was all excited to see the child, but then didn’t say a word to them when they saw each other.  It was more along the lines of “yay, he still exists even though I don’t go to school with him anymore”.  Aaaah, such is autism.)

Anyhow, the camping trip….  It started off a bit rough, as the first several hours were filled with a string of thunderstorms and drenching rains.  That was enough to clear out the lake and cause everyone who wanted to camp to give up and go home.  After they left, and the lake closed for the day, we had the entire campground to ourselves!  It was really fun to have the entire place to ourselves to run around, be loud, swim, fish, play games, hike, and explore.  The kids and I also had a project where we tried to find items in nature that were shaped like letters.  We managed to find every single letter!  Here’s a preview letter…I’ll have to put something together on the blog to show off the entire project once the photos are edited (I want to turn them into black & whites).


Jedi's big find! We were having trouble finding the letter N, and suddenly, he noticed these 3 trees!


Bug peeking out of the tent


We were at a lake. Yet the kids decided that this mud puddles was more fun. 😉



Jedi making waves


Monkey playing frisbee


Jedi kicking the soccer ball. Nice kick!

Not so nice kick. He kind of got in trouble for this a few seconds later...thankfully it missed Bug's head.

The kids and their daddy playing volleyball

Bug after a swim

A beautiful little flowerbud

Jedi trying to catch minnows

Bug and Jedi looking for minnows

Jedi's "big" catch!

Monkey fishing

Jedi fishing

Beautiful peaceful lake

Perfect day for camping!

My baby and me...

Bug looking at a flower

Then she found and orange one to go with her pink one

She's tearing the petals off now.

Monkey and her caterpillar she found


Toddler Tuesday

Bitty Bug is 2 years 7 months old

I think this might be my last Toddler Tuesday post.  Right now, Bug has decided to join Monkey for almost every work that’s out, so it’s getting rather difficult to try to separate Toddler from Preschool. 🙂  I think starting next week, Montessori Monday will feature both Bug & Monkey.  Bug thinks she’s a big kid preschooler anyhow. 😉

Since we've had a zoo theme going on for the past few weeks, I wanted to see how Bug would do matching animal models to pictures of real animals. Apparently, this was way too easy for Bug, as she did this work once, and in under 30 seconds. Ooops! Apparently this work would have been better done a year before. 😉

She spent the majority of time wondering why I brought her animals downstairs to the school room. 😉

Bug working with the African animals


Bug really loved working with the tray of circles. When she was done, she said "mama! That hard work. I did it!" What a sweet girl!

Bug working with the sea sponge to transfer water from one dish to the other.

Bug's favorite work in the room is still this magnetic fishing game. I'm pretty sure we've had this out for over a year, and she still works with it every single day!

Bug really enjoyed stealing my stapler though. She kept trying to staple every piece of paper she could find (and a couple crayons...I had to put a stop to that one. 😉 ) I'm not sure there are too many things that make Bug more happy than to let her use something that she knows is not a "children's item". She kept trying to staple the paper, then she'd look at the stapler and try to figure out where the staple came from, and then she'd tinker with it trying to figure out how it came out. It was really kind of amazing that a 2 year old can sit there exploring something so simple for so long!


Montessori Monday

Monkey is 4 years 6 months old

One of the new things we had in the schoolroom this week, was a "please touch" table for objects found in nature. This week, I put out a bird theme--an owl pellet, some feathers, a replica of a barn owl skull, and some nests (one random one we found in a tree that had been abandoned, and the robin's nest that was featured a couple months back. We had to have the fence painted, so once the hatchlings left the nest, we had to remove it from the fenceline). I put some tweezers, a hand lens, and some other magnifiers in a bowl for the girls to use.


The nest and observation equipment


Owl pellet, replica of a bird egg, and feathers


The craft project this week was using tempura paint thickened with cornstarch. The kids then used popsicle sticks to swirl the paint. The paint is thick and doesn't dry flat to the paper, so it was nice and textured. The paint colors also didn't blend very easily, so there was a nice marbling effect.


Closeup of the final products


Scooping seashells from one bowl to the other


Using a sea sponge to transfer water from the round bowl to the square bowl


Dry pouring using seashells


Monkey transferring water using the sponge


Using the hand lens to observe the robin's nest


Working on her Letter A book

Using the parts of an elephant cards

Matching adult animals with their young


Bug & Monkey working together to make their own orange juice


2nd Grade Week in Review

We were camping this weekend, so I have a lot of posts to catch up on.  The first post is Jedi’s week in review for last week.


Art–In art last week, we built upon the lesson on shapes & forms, and began sketching without looking at the paper (and instead, looking at the object you are sketching).  This was a good exercise for Jedi…he is usually very perfectionist with his artwork, and this was a good exercise in letting go of that and just following what your eyes see.

Jedi trying to determine his sketching strategy

Life Sciencein life science, we talked about genes.  The first lesson of the week was on dominant & recessive traits, and which traits he got from each of his parents.  Jedi learned that even though he looks like his daddy, he actually shares a lot of the individual traits with me!  In the second lesson, he learned that everyone has different fingerprints.  He played forensic detective and investigated fingerprints of family members to see who had the “mystery fingerprint” that was printed on his science paper.


Working on his genetics assignment--trying to figure out what genes he shares with each parent


Using the hand lens to classify each of his fingerprints

Chemistryin Chemistry, we continued our work with atoms, this time determining whether temperature influences the speed an atom will move.  We dropped food coloring in each of three dishes of water (1 boiling hot, 1 room temperature, and 1 ice cold).  Jedi learned that food coloring atoms travel much faster through boiling hot water, dispersing evenly in under 2 minutes.


Watching the food coloring disperse throughout the water

Math–in math, we continued our work on multiples of 5, 10, and 15.  This week, we used coins to see how many ways we could make 10 cents, 15 cents, and 20 cents.  We finished the Rightstart transition book (that transitions between 1st grade and 2nd grade), and now we are beginning our actual year’s lessons.

Counting the coins, and trying to enter the same amount onto the abacus


Spelling/English/Handwriting–in Spelling, Jedi finished all of his short vowel sounds and CVC words, and began working in initial and final blends.  This was where Jedi finally started having some pretty big difficulties, as he has trouble hearing blends in words.  He did just fine with most of the CVC words, but beyond that, he is still having a lot of problems.  So, at least now, we know where to start with him (we know he’s at least a year behind in spelling…now we know where the dividing line was between what he knew and what he had fallen behind in).  Jedi also continued his journaling every day.  In English, he worked a lot on reading comprehension.  We’ve learned that he can read very very well, but he often loses the comprehension aspect.  He does seem to comprehend fiction far more than non-fiction.  Giving him the list of questions ahead of his reading the paragraph seemed to help a lot since it gave him something to focus on.


Typing–This is one of Jedi’s favorite activities.  He has now learned all of the asdf row, and is working on the row of letters right above it.  Almost all week, Jedi asked for extra typing time because he really enjoys the program he’s using!

Jedi, typing his writing assignment into the computer to edit


History–In Ancient History, we continued our work on Ancient Egypt.  Jedi learned about pharaohs and mummies, and began learning about Egyptian Mythology.  He really enjoyed the myth on why the Nile River floods yearly!  He also mapped Ancient Egypt, including the Nile River, Nile River Delta, & Upper/Lower Egypt.


Completing his map of ancient Egypt

Ohio History–This week’s Ohio History lesson was more like “Ohio Geography”.  Since the other neighboring midwest states play a big role in Ohio’s history, Jedi worked on  mapping all of the midwest states.

Mapping the midwestern states

Geography –In Geography, we completed our unit on South Africa.  Jedi learned to play mancala, a game played almost everywhere in Africa.  He also learned about South African animals.  At the end of the week, all of the kids helped to prepare a South African meal for dinner–bobotie, yellow rice, & mealiebrood!


Setting up the mancala game

Cutting the apples for the bobotie


Pouring the milk on the bread for the bobotie


All of the kids helping to make the meal


Bobotie, fresh from the oven


Yellow rice, bobotie, and mealiebrood


Doing a little extra work this week... He was practicing his woodworking skills to build a car.