Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Apps for Mild/Moderate Special Needs March 28, 2012

Filed under: Lower Elementary — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 12:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

The kids took most of last week off to enjoy the beautiful 80 degree weather we were having in Central Ohio, so I don’t have a real Montessori Monday post. ¬†We’re back in the schoolroom this week (hey, it’s back in the 40’s and 50’s…time for school. ūüėČ before taking next week off for spring break. ¬†So, instead of the usual posts, I want to publish a few of the non-Montessori posts I’ve had swirling around in my head.

As I promised last week, I want to do two separate technology related posts–one for apps that are useful for homeschooling in general, and one about apps I’ve found useful for Jedi. ¬†So, first up is my post on apps for mild/moderate special needs.

Most people in the autism field know about the go-to apps. ¬†There has been a lot written about using iPads as communication devices and the fantastic apps that are allowing non-verbal children to speak. ¬†Jedi doesn’t need a verbal communication device and he no longer uses apps for social stories, etc. ¬†However, there are several fantastic apps that we do use every day to help him. ¬†Many of these apps would be great for children with Asperger’s, Dyslexia, or other mild/moderate special needs. ¬†Of course, children without diagnosed special needs may find some of these helpful as well. ūüôā


All of these are available in the iTunes market and may or may not be available in the Android Market. ¬†I have not been paid to review any of these apps–these are simply just apps I’ve found to be useful and I wanted to pass the information on. ¬†As always, talk to your child’s service providers if you have questions about whether these would be appropriate choices for your child.

Behavior & IEP Apps

Behavior Tracker Pro¬†–$29.99 . ¬†This app is great for parents who are trained in behavior analysis or who are needing data on behaviors to provide to service providers or an IEP team. ¬†This program can record the duration and frequency of behaviors, record video of the behavior, and chart behaviors.


iReward¬†–$4.99 . ¬†iReward is one of my favorite behavior modification tools. ¬†You can set up various behaviors that you want to see happen (for example, having a clean room, using the restroom unassisted, or tasting a vegetable). ¬†You can use your device’s camera to take a picture that acts as a visual prompt for the behavior. ¬†Then, you input how many times the behavior needs to occur in order to receive a reward. ¬†Each behavior can be linked to a separate reward (which you can also have a picture of). ¬†Using the clean room example, the child can see that he needs to have a clean room for 5 nights before earning a popcorn and movie night. ¬†Each night, the parent and child check the room and if it’s clean, they tap a star (or smiley face or check mark) in the “clean room” goal page. ¬†The child can see how many positive marks he has and how many he needs to gain in order to earn the reward. ¬†This app is fabulous for teaching independence in goal setting as well!

Behavior Status¬†–$0.99. ¬†Most children who have gone to school are aware of a behavior modification method that involves a traffic light–green light means the behavior is good, yellow is “caution, behavior is getting out of control”, and red means the behavior is flat out unacceptable. ¬†Behavior Status is a similar concept and really resonates with Jedi. ¬†When his light is green, he knows that his behavior is under control, but when I turn his light to yellow or red (or ask him to for additional impact), it gives him a visual reminder that he needs to gain control of his body, his words, or his emotions. ¬†Sometimes, being told to calm down doesn’t resonate–but a visual aid like a traffic light seems to work really well for him!


Time Timer¬†–$1.99. ¬†One of the tools we’ve used for Jedi since he was first diagnosed with autism at age 2 was a Visual Timer¬†. ¬†It allowed Jedi to have a big red visual aid to show him how long he had until we could switch tasks or until he could get something he wanted. ¬†After several years of very hard use, the timer broke. ¬†As Jedi gets older, it’s also just not practical to have the timer carried around with us everywhere he needs it to be. ¬†So, having the exact same timer on his iPad is fantastic because it allows him to really see how long he has to go before something happens. ¬†This helps him a lot with transitions (we’ve also been using it for the girls too, because they really love the red timer! ūüôā ¬†) ¬† This is a great tool for simple things like letting the kids know how long they have left to work on a subject or how long they have before lunch!


Written Communication/Spelling/Dyslexia

Dragon Dictation¬†–FREE . ¬†This app is fantastic for those children who, like Jedi, have spelling and handwriting difficulties that make it difficult to complete creative writing or essay assignments. ¬†With Dragon Dictation, Jedi can just speak to his iPad and it changes his verbal speech to written text. ¬†It is not 100% accurate, but it definitely gives us a good place to start.


Pages¬†–$9.99 . ¬†Pages is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word. ¬†It can read and write Word documents, so it works really well when Jedi and I pass documents back and forth. ¬†Obviously, this app is designed for productivity and not special needs. ¬†I included it in my list because this is actually *the* most used app on Jedi’s iPad. ¬†Because of his dyslexia, he needs to type most of his written work. ¬†Pages includes a spell check, which helps Jedi self-correct without a lot of extra frustration.


iFontMaker¬†–$6.99 . ¬†iFontMaker is a pretty unique addition to Jedi’s therapeutic aids. ¬†As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of Jedi’s dyslexia symptoms involves the inability to do handwriting, or at least the inability to do it at any level that is appropriate for his age. ¬†He has been working very hard in occupational therapy for several years, and still has a lot of difficulty with it. ¬†However, sometimes, there is just an extra bit of pride that comes from seeing something in your own handwriting. ¬†iFontMaker allows Jedi to write each letter as best as he can one time, and the program turns it into a font. ¬†That way, Jedi can use his own handwriting, while typing! ¬†Obviously, this is not a “need”, but it is a really nice thing to have in order for him to be able to have work that looks like it was written in his own writing, while allowing him to use his typing¬†accommodations.


I have a lot of other apps to share too, but many of them fall really nicely into the homeschooling category, so I’ll just include them with my next post.


Technology and Special Needs–"Isn't that keeping him from learning to do it himself?" March 21, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 2:23 am
Tags: , ,

Jedi recently received an iPad and wireless keyboard to help him with handwriting and spelling issues. ¬†Because of his asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia, he is several years behind in handwriting and spelling, to the point where being behind is actually causing a lot of problems. ¬†Cognitively, he is way ahead of his writing and spelling skills. ¬†So, this splintering of skills has made it very difficult for him.


Some of the questions we get about this (and the answers…. ūüôā ) are:


  • Don’t you think that’s spoiling him?¬†

This question always cracks me up. ¬†He didn’t get an iPad to keep up with the jones’ or to be the “cool kid in school” or “because everyone else has one”. ¬†He got it simply because it provides him with a way to compensate for a disability. ¬†We actually were going to get him a laptop, but he’s a whopping 47 pounds…a laptop is quite cumbersome for him in size and weight. ¬†An ipad is fairly light and very portable. ¬†He can easily bring it to co-op, therapies, and field trips without straining himself. ¬†It’s also lighter than most netbooks on the market.


  • Isn’t it keeping him from learning to do it by himself?

If a child had a broken leg, you’d get him some crutches or a wheelchair. A child who is blind learns braille. ¬†Jedi has had YEARS of therapy focused on handwriting and he still can’t progress well enough to keep up with the requirements of 2nd grade. ¬†So, we are teaching him to type (his IEP actually calls for a scribe…or someone to do it for him. ¬†We think it’s more important for him to learn how to ¬†compensate for his deficits in a socially acceptable way. ¬†He is still doing handwriting and spelling practice without the use of technology, but he is also learning to type and use a spell check so that he can keep up with assignments.


One thing we notice about Jedi, and I believe this is also really common with other children with communication delays, is that requiring him to write an essay using good handwriting and good spelling is a recipe for disaster. ¬†This child can churn out a multi-chapter book (a 2nd grade version of authoring a multi-chapter book of course!) in a couple hours when we don’t tell him to use good handwriting and fix his spelling. ¬†But the second we put those two requirements on it, he’s so focused on it that it can take him over an hour to write one sentence. ¬†So, we have to split what many children can do without thinking. ¬†He has to separate spelling, handwriting, and composition into different lessons in order to allow him to focus on the particular skill being taught. ¬†Most of school involves composition–creative writing or answering questions, so giving him a tool to alleviate the spelling and handwriting anxiety allows his brain to focus on the other tasks at hand. ¬†Jedi even has apps that will dictate based on his own speech (so he can say his essay and the program will write what he says).


Will he continue to practice handwriting and spelling? ¬†Absolutely. ¬†Do we ever expect him to be proficient in it? ¬†At this point, we don’t know if he will be able to catch up. ¬†We certainly hope he will, but we also know that in 10-20 years, most people will be doing everything on their smart phones, tablets, computers, or whatever version of these exists. ¬†We hope he will be able to write a shopping list or jot a note down ¬†and we will continue to work with him to practice those skills.


  • Ok, so it helps him with typing and dictation…what else can it do for kids with special needs?
Lots! ¬†The calendar app allows Jedi to know what’s coming each day. ¬†He does a lot better if he knows what therapies or activities he’s going to so he can plan his time. ¬†A common feature of autism spectrum disorders is lacking the ability to plan ahead, as well as an overwhelming anxiety when the child does not know what is coming that day. ¬†Jedi’s calendar helps alleviate some of that.
Jedi also has multiple checklists set up. ¬†While most kids would automatically know what steps to take to leave the house (get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, put your shoes on, grab your bag), Jedi has some difficulties with that. ¬†He’s attempted to leave the house without shoes on several times simply because he forgot to put them on. ¬†Having checklists set up for him lets him see what he needs to do each day, and allows him to do it independently, without being nagged at.
  • Isn’t the use of technology just making him dependent on technology?
Hey, I don’t think he’d be the only one! ¬†I’m not sure what I’d do without my laptop, smartphone, and tablet. I use it from everything from blogging to socialization to keeping a shopping list to having my calendar beep and remind me where to go and when, to even having books on it to read. I’d wager that many Americans rely on technology.
Children with special needs often require several¬†accommodations¬†in order to function well. ¬†The best part of having a tablet or laptop or ipod for children with special needs is that it allows them to complete tasks independently. ¬†Instead of me having to walk Jedi through the process of getting ready to leave the house every day (at 8 1/2 years old), he can go down his checklist and get ready independently. ¬†Instead of having a scribe write for him, he’s able to type his answers. ¬†Monkey actually has an iPod that has a picture communication program on it, and when she is in public, she is able to utilize it to speak for her (she is selectively mute in public, although she has made huge strides and now participates in her co-op class without using a communication device!)
In the past, children with autism have had to rely on clunky electronic communication devices or cumbersome velcro and picture communication books. ¬†The use of modern technology has streamlined these¬†accommodations, and have even accomplished this in a socially acceptable way. ¬†Many people wouldn’t even think twice about an older child carrying around a tablet or an iPod because it’s a “cool” thing to have. ¬†It doesn’t single the child out or scream “disability”. ¬†In fact, I’ve noticed that instead of kids asking questions about Jedi’s iPad, they’re drawn to it (it doesn’t help that he has some cool science apps on it…and of course, Angry Birds. ūüėČ )

2nd grade week in review

The past several days have been standardized testing days around here. ¬†Most homeschoolers around us seem to choose the portfolio review option (Ohio gives three options for homeschoolers: A nationally normed standardized test, a portfolio review by a certified teacher, or another assessment agreed upon by the school district and parents). ¬†Because Jedi has a form of autism and is on an IEP, I wanted some solid data about what he has learned and what he still needs to learn, so we chose to do the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. ¬†We get our results in 2 weeks or so, and I’m looking forward to seeing where his strengths are (I’m already going to guess science and social studies are going to be strengths) and where he might need additional help (I’m guessing spelling, listening, and math since those things are all affected by his dyslexia and auditory processing issues). ¬†Not only will the tests give me a starting point for next year, but it gives us some solid data for his IEP team.

Now most everyone who knows me might be very surprised–I am fairly anti-standardized testing…or rather, against how standardized testing is usually done. ¬†I don’t believe that teaching to the test and using test scores for school funding are good uses of the test. ¬†But, to get data on how to help a child or to tailor their education to accentuate strengths and intervene with weaknesses seems to be a good way to use the test. ¬†We did not teach to the test this year and Jedi didn’t even take a practice test or any “test prep” materials. ¬†Jedi didn’t even know he was taking the test until a couple days before.

He took the test by himself, allowing him to concentrate on his test instead of having to face anxiety about the proctor going too fast for him or not understanding something. ¬†His IEP has several other¬†accommodations¬†for ¬†testing that he didn’t even have to make use of. ¬†I’m really proud of how well Jedi seemed to do and how seriously he took the test. ¬†And it didn’t hurt that he got to go outside and play after each sub-test. ūüôā ¬†It was pretty laid back and relaxed–20 minutes of testing, then an hour of playing outside to refocus him. ūüėÄ


Here are some pictures of Jedi’s week before he started the tests…


Jedi, working on his new ipad. He now uses an ipad and wireless computer for worksheets (using an app designed for writing on PDFs) and all writing assignments. This helps Jedi a lot because he has so much trouble with handwriting and spelling. (Stay tuned for a post in a few days about educational apps for the ipad, as well as apps for special needs students!)


Jedi doing a painting about light and dark contrast. He put down some masking tape and then painted over the whole paper. Then after it was dry, he pulled up the tape to reveal the light spaces.

Working on his Ancient Greece history pocket. He did a lot of learning about ancient Greece, the Trojan War, and Greek Mythology.

In science, Jedi worked on observing seeds. He dissected a dicot (bean seed) and labeled the parts, and then labeled the parts on a monocot (corn seed).


Coloring some pages on the Trojan War


Learning about minerals and crystal formation. He is looking at dry epsom salt here. After this, he mixed it with water and then poured the mixture onto a cookie sheet with some black construction paper. We put it under a desk lamp for a couple days to dry.


After it dried, it formed a crystal that looked like etched glass.


Jedi also did an art project where he made a stamp out of cardboard and foam.


Using his handmade ink stamp.




Montessori Monday March 19, 2012

Montessori Monday


First off, thank you to all who replied last week. ¬†You gave me some good things to think about. ¬†As a result, I have some new blog post ideas swirling around in my head. ūüôā ¬†Look for them actually in print on here soon. ūüėČ

Bug and Monkey have been really busy busy this past week, both in the school room and outside. ¬†The weather in central Ohio has been absolutely gorgeous lately, so I’ve been able to just keep the back door open and let the kids go outside any time they want. ¬†Bug is already starting to get a little tan from being outside so much! ¬†You really can’t beat mid to high 70’s, sunny, with a light breeze…before the first day of spring! ¬†There have been a lot of bubbles blown, mud pies made, and puddles hopped in. ūüôā

Here are some pictures of some of the other things the girls have been working on.

Bug and Monkey using little plastic animals to make footprints in the flour.


Animal tracks crayon rubbings


The kids traced an outline of a bat with white pencil. Then they used the pin punch to punch holes in the outline.


The kids also learned about beavers and beaver dams. Here, Monkey is looking at a picture of a beaver dam and making her own out of brown paper strips and glue.


The final product!


Matching rubber animal track replicas to the picture. We also named all of the animals. Because we always look for tracks in our neighborhood when we're walking, the kids could easily name some of the birds, the deer, and the coyote. ūüôā


Learning about what seeds need to grow. Here, Monkey and Bug were working on sprouting bean sprout seeds.


Working on rhyming words.


Monkey has been *begging* to start having circle time (I think she learned about it from Blue's Clues. LOL!) So, I picked up this really awesome pocket chart from Lakeshore Learning. The kids especially love finding the appropriate clothing for the weather and doing math problems with the gumballs. Bug works on counting and sorting, Monkey works on addition, and Jedi works on multiplication.


Putting pipe cleaner shamrocks into a spice jar.


Learning the colors of the rainbow.


And stacking the rainbow into a tower!


Stringing colored beads onto the rainbow pipe cleaners


Sorting using the leaves of a shamrock


Hole punching with the shamrock


I put some yellow and blue food coloring in some shaving cream to work on color matching. They also used the shaving cream to paint shamrocks.


Monkey has some touch aversions, so she started by putting her hand in a bag to mix the shaving cream.


She took her hand out of the bag to paint with the shaving cream, but she wasn't exactly thrilled about it.





Thinking of taking the blog in a new direction… March 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 2:43 am

Well, sort of. ¬†I still want to post pictures of the kids’ week in review…eventually. ¬†The whole getting it off the camera, choosing ones to post, uploading them, and then publishing the post thing takes up a lot of time that just doesn’t seem to be there lately. ¬†Then I feel like I’m always behind. ¬†When I started this blog 2 1/2 years ago, I didn’t really want it to become a burden.

However, I also feel like there needs to be more going on in here. ¬†I’m not even sure if anyone still reads it. ¬†So, help me out…if you’re reading along, I want to know…what topics would YOU like to see covered, either as weekly features or just stand-alone posts. ¬†Let me know you’re reading along and what you’d like to see!

In addition to our weekly 2nd grade and preschool posts, things we have experience in here:

-International adoption (along with racism, special needs adoption, multicultural families, helping a child deal with the loss of birth parents, etc.)

-Special needs…autism, immune deficiencies, and food allergies.

-Specific school subjects…nature, geography, field trips.

-General tips for homeschooling/what our day looks like

-Curriculum reviews


So, everyone out there…what would you like to see more of?


2nd grade week in review March 5, 2012

In addition to Monkey’s busy week in sports, Jedi had a big week too! ¬†We traveled to the World Tang Soo Do Association’s Region 22 Championships in Dubois,¬†Pennsylvania recently with our Tang Soo Do school. ¬†Jedi and I both competed. ¬†Jedi won the silver medal for his age/rank division in open handed forms, and the bronze medal in sparring!

Jedi & I at the competition


Our medals and belts with the official championship shirt.


Jedi was also having a rough week and we’re still not quite sure what went on. ¬†During his co-op, he had a major meltdown, resulting in him running away from the class and having a meltdown in a closet. ¬†During the Tang Soo Do competition, he also had another meltdown. ¬†And then in his religious education class, he had to leave after having another meltdown. ¬†It’s been a really long time since Jedi’s had such a high intensity level of difficulty due to his autism within such a short period of time. ¬†He seems to have shaken whatever it was and had a really good week after it. ¬†But it’s always a reminder that no matter how much progress he seems to be making, there are still those days, weeks, or months where we can’t figure out what we need to do to get him on the right path.

Right now, spelling is one of his major sources of difficulty. ¬†He seemed to be doing ok with All About Spelling, and each lesson, he gets almost all of the words right. ¬†But we noticed that after that lesson was over, he retained under 10% of what he was taught. ¬†His spelling is still on the level of a kindergartner, even after all of the work we’ve done. ¬†He’s in the process of officially having a dyslexia diagnosis tacked on to his autism diagnosis (they tend to go hand-in-hand). ¬†While he is an excellent reader, he has a lot of trouble with handwriting and spelling, and tends to reverse numbers in math. ¬†We do have several things coming up that should be helpful–we are in the process of securing a tutor that specializes in these issues with special needs child. ¬†He is also in the process of getting funding for an ipad 3 and wireless keyboard that will allow him to type everything and use a spell check/word processor to reduce his anxiety and frustration with writing assignments. ¬†He will, of course, continue to have to write and to practice his areas of deficit, but he also needs to be able to move on to his level in the other subjects, and the spelling/handwriting issues tend to hold him back.

Anyhow… ¬†Here are some pictures from Jedi’s last two weeks in the schoolroom. ¬†He’s done much more than this, but I don’t often have the camera with me. ūüôā

Last Monday, we celebrated John Glenn's orbit around the earth. We watched the live twitter feed that Ohio State University was hosting. This allowed Jedi to see the timing of each part of the orbit. OSU provided audio, video, pictures, and news articles in the feed! We also watched When We Left Earth, which is a wonderful documentary on the history of space travel.


Some of the audio recordings we listened to.


Jedi using the ink and brayer on foam to create a space-themed print. After spreading ink on the foam, he put a piece of paper on it to transfer the image.


The final product!


Reading about the Persians


Making a print with tempura paint and vegetables


His vegetable painting!


Learning the parts of a flower


Dissecting a flower


We found these wonderful dry erase books. Jedi wanted to learn cursive writing (it seems somewhat easier than printing for him) and loves working with these books!


Finally getting to use a calculator--he's wanted to learn how to use one all year! After we practiced making change, he got to use a calculator to check his work.


Watching animated videos on how to type knots. One of his assignments this past week in his co-op nature survival class is knot tying.


Jedi has a really really really hard time with watercolor painting. If the colors blend, he melts down about it (food can not blend, paint can not's just the way he thinks). So, we got him to try it again this week, and that took a lot of effort for him. He was practicing a cloud-making technique where you painted the blue, and then blotted it with a dry paper towel to make clouds.


Working on his subtraction table.


Doing some simple subtraction facts.


In science, Jedi learned how to float an egg using a whole lot of salt in some water. This also lead to a discussion about the Dead Sea. Jedi now wants to take a field trip there...not sure that's in the lesson plans. ūüėČ





Montessori Monday

Montessori Monday

Apparently I’m a week behind. ūüôā ¬†It¬†occurred¬†to me on Friday that I never published my posts from last week. ¬†So, I’ll just combine them this week.

Monkey had a really busy week last week…in addition to schoolwork, she also switched to a new gym for gymnastics and had to to try-outs to find out what class she will be in. ¬†She also tested for her next Tang Soo Do belt! ¬†Monkey did very well at both–she’s such an athlete!

Monkey practicing at home for her tryouts.


Doing some bar work during her tryouts


Monkey at her Tang Soo Do belt test.


Here are some pictures of Bug and Monkey’s time in the school room the past few weeks!

For Mardi Gras, we brought out all the mess and dazzle we could. ūüôā The girls making purple, yellow, and green collages with glitter, feathers, and confetti.


Bug's collage


Monkey's collage


Monkey so happy to get to play with the glitter!


The kids also observed the first week of Lent. Here, Bug's looking at a picture from the Children's Catholic Bible about Jesus and the crown of thorns. Then, using some clay and toothpicks, she's making a replica of the crown of thorns.


We also started Operation Rice Bowl with the kids. Last week was Madagascar.


On Friday, we make a meal from the country we learned about. This is Vary amin'anana --a dish native to Madagascar.


Everyone in the family also wrote out their Lenten promises.


We also started the pre-k level of All About Reading. Here, the girls are making letter A's with wiki sticks.


Bug chatting with the zebra from the All About Reading kit


Painting blueberries on the letter B beehive.


Bug practicing her beading.


Using vegetables and tempura paint to stamp pictures and shapes.


Monkey also wanted to learn how to load the dishwasher. She decided she really likes this job!


Bug also decided she wanted to work with duplos this week (all the kids did a lot of work with legos after their schoolwork was done.) This is her first creation--an airplane!


Bug watercolor painting.