Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Memory Problems? Make A Movie In Your Mind

Do you have a child who can tell you (in great detail) about a movie he saw months ago, but can't remember what it was that you sent him to get from his room? Can your child quote lines from a movie she's seen one time, but can't recall what you just told her to do? Hmmm... I don't think I'm the only one with kids like this! For whatever reason, my struggling learners are wired to remember what they see in movies but struggle to retain auditory information long enough to act on it before it evaporates. And that's assuming they were actually listening in the first place. So, I suggest taking advantage of this stronger visual recall by pairing visual cues with auditory cues when giving directions. For example, if you send your child to get a pair of scissors, make cutting motions with your fingers as you tell them to go get the scissors. Okay, that may not be the best example since with our kids we also have to bombard them with various safety reminders and we certainly don't want to act out what might happen if one runs with scissors. But you get the idea. Another technique that is especially effective with our creative and drama-loving children is to teach them to "Make a movie in your mind". Tell your child to picture himself doing what you have asked, and encourage him to make his mental movie in color and with details. The more detailed the movie, the better the chances of recall. I'd tell my children that I was going to give them some instructions, and to make a movie to visualize themselves doing the tasks. Usually if I told my kids three things to do they would not remember all three things. Besides the working memory issues, they would get distracted along the way and lessen the likelihood of recall even more. With the movie technique, they could stop and mentally "watch" the movie again to remember what they had been assigned and picture themselves performing the tasks. In the movie, they could see themselves doing what they needed to and could check to see if they were missing anything. It took some practice, but this strategy made a huge difference for my kids. They went from being able to follow one simple direction at a time to being able to follow multi-step instructions. Just as athletes can improve their performances by visualizing themselves doing things correctly, our struggling students can improve their recall by taking advantage of their visual and creativity strengths.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jesus and My Parenting Skills

Yesterday was one of those gray, rainy days. As Beckie and I were finishing up our schoolwork for the day, the phone rang. We typically don't answer the phone during school time, so Beckie checked the answering machine when she went downstairs a few minutes later. There was a message that her usual ride to her part-time job at the martial arts school was unavailable, so Beckie needed to make other arrangements. It had stopped raining by then, but was still very wet and it looked like the rain could start up again at any time. Beckie called out to me, "I need a ride to work." Since it wasn't a direct request to me, I playfully called back, "I hope you find one." Here's how it went from there:
Beckie: "Mom!"
Mom: "I hope you find a ride with a really safe driver."
Beckie: "M0-0m!" (Pretty sure there was an eye roll here, but couldn't see her from where I was)
Mom: "It stopped raining. You could probably walk."
Beckie: "Mom. There's no one else here to get a ride from."
Mom: (speaking with benevolent wisdom) "If Jesus were here on earth right now and had a car, I'm sure He would give you a ride."
Beckie: (Seeing her opportunity, with a huge grin and without a moment's hesitation) "If Jesus were here right now, He would be disappointed in your parenting skills for not giving your daughter a ride when she needs one!"
Geesh! I certainly don't want Jesus disappointed in my parenting skills! Although I know there are far worse things He could be disappointed about, here at least was something preventable. Beckie knew I would be giving her a ride, and that I was playing with her, but it made me wonder how many times she has thought the same thing but didn't mention it to me. I bet she's even prayed to complain about me a time or two! Next time you are giving your children a ride somewhere and you're tired and busy and have a lot on your mind, you can comfort yourself with the thought that at least in this Jesus won't be disappointed in your parenting skills!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do Your Kids Hate Tests?

Some students hear the word "test" and have an immediate negative reaction. They may feel physical symptoms including headaches, stomachaches, general tension, and more. Many students undergo a change resulting in irritability, angry outbursts, and surly speech that is not (hopefully) typical behavior for them. Many of us who are adults now can recall similar reactions we had in childhood when we learned there would be a test. As one who prayed during every quiz and exam I had since the time I became a Christian in college, I understand the anxiety that even the thought of a test can evoke. Since I homeschooled my children, I didn't think they would experience test anxiety. Somehow, possibly through hearing other children's experiences with testing, they began to view evaluations as a negative factor in their schooling. Timed speed tests can cause a different type of reaction than competency tests, so I'll save that for another day's post. I set out to help my kids recognize testing as a part of the educational experience. I wanted them to recognize that testing was unavoidable to some degree, but I didn't want them to be intimidated or fearful about it. Basically, I wanted to help them make a mental paradigm shift in their thinking about testing. The first change I made was to use the words "test", "quiz", and "exam" frequently throughout the school day. Used often and for small tests as well as lengthier ones, the words helped desensitize the students' reactions and become common occurrences. I didn't save tests until Friday, but rather offered them on different days so there would be no conditioning to dread a certain day because it meant there would be a test then. I also concluded some of our informal question and answer sessions by telling the kids they had just completed an oral examination. I explained that I viewed tests as one of many ways they could show me what they had learned. I shared my belief that the exams helped me determine what I needed to review or emphasize more, and it was a reflection not just of their learning but of my success in teaching them. I also told them that the nature of a test is to sample learning, but it cannot possibly reveal all that a student does or does not know. It is a tool to help measure knowledge, but it can only offer a glimpse of information about the student as a person. I told my kids stories of people who are very bright but don't do well taking tests. We read biographies of incredible adults who had not done well in traditional school settings. For the first few years of homeschooling, I had a certified teacher do a portfolio review to assess my children's work. By the time my Josh and Beth were in third grade, I thought they were ready to take a standardized test. Still, I wasn't sure how distracting a large group setting would be, and since I wanted accurate results I hired a teacher to come to my home and administer the test. I had talked to my kids about the test, and they were a bit nervous but felt prepared. After only the second or third subtest, things started to unravel. The teacher had forgotten to bring answer sheets so she had given the kids lined notebook paper to write their answers on. Using a testing strategy I had taught her, Beth had skipped a difficult math problem with the intention of returning to it if she had time left after answering the remaining questions. Unfortunately, being a new test taker and not having the regular answer sheet with the "fill-in-the-bubble" option we had practiced, Beth had not skipped a line on her notebook paper responses. She didn't realize that nearly all of her answers were on the wrong line until she had finished the section and wanted to go back to the problem she skipped. By then, time was almost up and she realized she could not correct everything in time. She cried with frustration and despair because she thought that all her hard work was for nothing and now she would not pass third grade and would have to do it all again the next year. Josh became quite upset seeing his sister so distressed, and I came in to try and calm them down and reassure them that we would figure out which line should have been skipped and grade accordingly. The teacher I had hired offered to quit the testing right then. She suggested that another year of portfolio reviews might be in order. I knew, though, that it was critical that my kids finish that test. Not because of the test itself, but because this was their first experience with a standardized test administered by someone other than myself. If we had stopped at that point, I am positive they would have believed they had failed and were not capable of doing well on a test. I couldn't let that happen! If I had stopped at that point, they would have been extremely resistant to any testing in the future. That one experience was all they had, and I determined that they would not end it at such a disheartening point. So we took a snack break and I persuaded my children (and the teacher I had hired) that we were going to finish the test and that I believed everyone could do it. After about 20 minutes (which is what the brain needs to reabsorb all the chemicals released in a meltdown, by the way) the kids settled down to the next subtest. They were able to finish the test, and my children and the teacher all appeared relieved but significantly more relaxed. When the results came back a few weeks later, they had done just fine. I think this was a key experience that could have greatly increased the natural aversion to testing, but we didn't allow that to happen. We have to do what we can to keep the dread of tests from looming over our kids while allowing them to provide us with some information about our students. If we keep our perspective about testing in balance, we can help our children to do the same.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Today I was driving home from church with my two AD/HD offspring, Josh and Beckie. Sometimes we think of them as twins who happen to be five years apart in age, because they are so similar in so many ways. There's no missing the physical resemblance, but at times it seems like they have some sort of brain connection that only the two of them share. With Josh riding in the back seat and Beckie riding shotgun next to me, we were enjoying some mild spring weather and long-awaited sunshine. As I pulled to a stop for a red light, suddenly and in unison at the top of their voices Josh and Beckie yelled "Geese!" At first I thought this must be an inside joke from a movie or video game, to yell "Geese!" at a traffic light or something. Beckie was looking out her window, and I saw a pair of geese in the grass nearby. Josh was looking in the opposite direction, where another set of geese waddled through the grass. I asked them why they yelled "Geese!", wanting to be in on the joke. But that, I guess, was another joke on me because there was no story behind this particular choral outburst. Although they weren't looking in the same direction, they both saw geese at the same time and were calling out to inform the other. Since it's not typical to see geese within our city limits it's kind of the city kid version of a wildlife spotting. For some reason known only to their brains, it made more sense to yell out the single word than to make a comment in the form of a full sentence such as, "There are some geese in the grass over here." When further conversation helped me realize that this was not related to any previously shared experience, but that both of their brains had them shout "Geese" at exactly the same time, Josh and Beckie just laughed and couldn't really explain it. Fortunately, with each other, they don't have to explain.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Show That Can Opener Who's Boss!

I think it's important to teach my kids life skills in addition to academics. I have taught them how to do laundry and iron their clothes. They have basic cleaning skills, although admittedly they don't apply them nearly often enough. They know how to cook and have learned the basics of measuring, mixing, reading directions, and using the stove or oven. Each of my three children has a recipe box. The box contains recipes they know how to make or hope to learn how to prepare. Over time, the number of recipes increases. My plan is to have a recipe box with many of their favorite meal items written on recipe cards for them to take with them when they live on their own. I'm sure they will still call me with questions from time to time, but that's fine. I just want them to have the basics mastered and they can expand their cooking skills from there. When I have my kids make a recipe for the first time, I coach them through it. I'll do portions of the preparation to demonstrate certain aspects and have them do part of the preparation so we can work closely together. The next time we make that recipe, I have them do all the preparation while I stand nearby to provide clarification or reminders. The third time they prepare the recipe, I take a more passive role and may even go to an adjoining room. I'm still within earshot but they are learning to prepare the item independently. Once, while working with Beckie, we needed to open a can. Our can opener can be touchy, and sometimes I have to manually wiggle the sharp blade into place. It works, but the can has to be aligned just so. Since I gave the manual can opener to my daughter to use at college, the electric one is our only option. I made sure the can opener blade was in position and handed Beckie the can to open. She had trouble getting it to line up, and the can opener made a few whirring sounds without coming into contact with the lid. I encouraged Beckie to keep making adjustments until the position worked, but she quickly became frustrated and wanted me to do it for her. I knew she could do it with a bit of practicing to learn our can opener's idiosyncrasies, so I told her she shouldn't give up so easily. "You just have to show that can opener who the boss is, Beckie! Don't let it win!" Beckie answered immediately with, "I tried that already, Mom. I told the can opener I was the boss and it had to do what I said. But it said, 'Then I quit! So you're not the boss of me anymore!' so I can't make it do what I want." Well. What is one to do with such a recalcitrant can opener? I decided a compromise was appropriate under the circumstances, so I got the opening started and had Beckie hold the can and finish opening it. You have to show the can opener who's boss, even if it takes two of you to do it! Also, I think they can smell fear, just like copy machines that are prone to paper jams, so try to stay calm and present a brave face.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hey! That's MY Underwear!

There are some things you just don't want to hear your kids say, especially in the presence of relatives who are seen infrequently. As graduation parties are already being planned, it brought back a memory of my niece's graduation from high school. My sister and sister-in-law are both teachers in public schools, so it would be nice if my home-schooled sweeties made a good impression when they see their Aunts and other kin. My niece's graduation party included grandparents, cousins, relatives and friends, and we drove to their hometown to be a part of the festivities. My kids were thrilled to discover that in addition to massive quantities of food there was also a trampoline set up in the backyard. It wasn't long before all three of my kids were headed for some jumping fun. They had a blast! I took pictures, and got some nice action shots. They thought of different jump moves to try and wanted me to capture every single moment with my camera. I should probably mention that I had the kids dressed up a bit for the occasion. Beckie was in a dress and Beth was in a skirt. They were jumping artfully while maintaining their modesty, and everything seemed fine until they both jumped at the same time and bonked their heads together. They both fell backwards while holding their heads, and Beckie's dress got flipped up a bit when she flopped onto her back. Beth, recovering first from the head bump, suddenly forgot about her injury when she made her discovery and subsequent announcement of, "Hey! That's MY underwear!" Beckie, quickly feigning underwear amnesia, weakly asked, "It is?" with such an air of innocence that most people would have found her believable. Big sister Beth is not most people, however, and she wasn't buying it. After a few increasingly heated accusations and denials culminating in an apology from Beckie, I jumped in with "Don't take it off! Beth, she's just going to have to wear them until we get back home." While Josh and I were recovering from laughing so hard at Beth's first declaration of underwear ownership, I suddenly had the horrifying thought that Beth just might demand that Beckie return the underwear immediately, and the more horrifying thought that Beckie would actually do it to keep the peace with Beth. Wow! Now wouldn't that impress all the relatives? I can almost hear the chatter in the background... Isn't it quaint how the homeschooled children negotiate with each other? Do you think all homeschoolers share underwear with their siblings? I wonder if they'll get a special pair if they go to a prom? Probably they make their own underwear anyway...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Writing It Down Would Work Better

Today's blog is a message of hope for all of you with distractible, inattentive, and forgetful children. It may also, in a way, be making a case for attempted brain washing used totally in the sense of "for the greater good." I'll let you decide. Yesterday my daughter Beckie and I were talking about things that needed to be done. Beckie has ongoing issues with managing her schedule and her possessions. She usually gets places on time, but often leaves out food that needs refrigerated and leaves other unfinished tasks that are sacrificed in order for her to get where she needs to be at the right time. She always thinks that she'll have enough time, or can get "one more thing" done before she has to go. Like many distractible individuals, she loses track of time and rushes out the door at the last minute leaving a trail of partially completed chores in her wake. Yesterday, I was reminding her of something she needed to do, and she was reminding me that she never remembers it at the right time when she could actually do it. I had just been working with her on history, having her visualize events so that she could recall them later. So I said, "Put it in your brain," meaning that she should visualize herself doing the job. Beckie's immediate response was, "Writing it down would work better." Whoa! Isn't that exactly what I'd been telling her for years? Just for kicks, I asked her to repeat what she'd said. She repeated her statement about writing it down, which thrilled me and gave me hope. I've probably told her that thousands of times over the years, but this is honestly the first time I've heard it come back from her own lips. Maybe, just maybe, all the things we say to our kids sink in. It's possible that with enough repetition, our oft-repeated bits of wisdom gradually ease their way into our children's long-term memory where it serves them when we are not physically there to prompt and remind. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that this will probably not become a habit for some time. I've found that my non-AD/HD child can learn a new rule or skill in about a third of the time it takes my AD/HD children. The AD/HD kids need a lot more repetition and practice, along with more direct supervision and support along the way. But we can't let that minimize the successes we do see, even if they are longer in coming. As I've mentioned, I have been nagging (I mean "coaching") Beckie to write things down on the calendar when she has something planned. When she mentions an event to me, I prompt her to write it on the calendar so she won't forget and we can all see what is planned on any given day. I also have a dry-erase board by the phone, and about 40% of the time she remembers to write down when someone has called for me. This may not seem impressive, but we are up from 0% of the time so it is an improvement. She also writes things down on the calendar, but again we are not up to 100%. Not yet. But we are making progress, and sometimes the natural consequences of not writing things down increases the incentive to remember to do so in the future. For example, last weekend Beckie had remembered to write down her evening babysitting job. Then in the afternoon she got a phone call from a friend about a birthday party they were going to that night. Oops! Since it was not on the calendar and all the planning had been done between Beckie and her friends, I knew nothing about it. What followed was much scrambling around to get a gift, card, arrange transportation with her Dad and to let her friend know they would have to leave the party early to get back for Beckie's babysitting job. In Beckie's unreliable memory, the party was the following weekend. This made the case for writing things down on the calendar better than any of my theoretical examples could. So when I heard those sweet words, "Writing it down would work better", I felt like perhaps I can help my child develop strategies that will serve her throughout her life. For her sake, I hope so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Only One Shoe

Think for a minute about taking your shoes off. Some of us remove our foot attire as soon as we enter our homes. Others may leave them on all day until bedtime. But as you picture yourself taking your shoes off, I'd like you to think about whether you take one off followed by the other in quick succession, or just kick off one shoe and walk around with the other for awhile and then slip off the remaining shoe. Although I've never seen anyone have a significant time lag between removing the left and right shoes, that's the only explanation I can come up with for why my children can only find one shoe. Personally, I always remove my shoes together and almost always put them - together - in the same place. I can usually find my shoes, but if I've misplaced them I've always lost both shoes not just one. My children have repeatedly been able to find only one shoe, usually when we are in a hurry to get out the door to an appointment. We have a designated spot for shoes when they are not being worn, and usually ONE shoe would be there. When the dog was a puppy, I thought maybe he was running off with them. But after his puppy year he really wasn't interested in shoes anymore and stuck to his own toys for the most part. I can imagine my children beginning to take off their shoes but then getting distracted after the first one and bounding off until it registers that they still have a shoe on, so they remove it wherever they happen to be. The children are usually baffled as well. Josh, who is my only son, would stand with one shoe in his hand and announce that "Someone took my other shoe." Since his shoes did not fit any other family member, it did not make sense that any of us took his shoe. Is it possible to go sleep walking and hide shoes ( or should I say "shoe") while being totally unaware of doing so? That seems about as feasible as taking off each shoe at a different time and location. Perhaps that's just another reason that the sports my kids were involved with were a good match for them. Swimming and martial arts are done barefoot!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Ask First - Purr, Ya Varmint!

Children with AD/HD are often impulsive. Sometimes, this adds to their charm as they blurt out amusing observations and thoughts. Other times, it gets them in trouble as they...blurt out their observations and thoughts! One positive aspect of impulsivity is that I rarely have to wonder how my daughter feels or what she really thinks about things. Especially when she was in the preschool and elementary years, I rarely had to ask for her opinion because she made it readily apparent. Actually, I do want to know what my children think and how they are feeling but with Beckie I didn't usually have enough time to ask before she was announcing her thoughts to all within earshot. Some of the "This could get you in trouble" (and hopefully also teachable) moments happened with regularity. Beckie was an avid reader and a very verbal child, and frequently she would use words she'd heard or read without knowing what they meant. Sometimes I could tell when she was trying out a word she'd read by the way she pronounced it such as when she used the phonetic pronunciation of the word "ballet". Other times, she just picked up words from various sources and tried them out. When we got our kitten, Wesley, she was eager to hear him purr. Beckie held him in her arms, stroking his fur and crooning to him, "Purr, ya varmint!" This was immediately followed by, "What's a varmint?" My refrain became, "Ask first, then try out the word if it's appropriate for what you're trying to say." Then I would tell her what the word meant. Beckie has gotten better at suppressing her impulsive tendency to say whatever she is thinking, though it still happens sometimes. In a way, I miss hearing her developing her vocabulary by trying out new words on me.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Listening Skills

Two of my children have difficulties with auditory processing, attention, and working memory. I have been working on their listening skills for most of their lives. I officially started "speech therapy" activities with Josh when he was 2 years old, although as a speech/language pathologist I was basically using communication strategies with him since birth. (Ah, the joys of being the firstborn, right?) By the time Beckie came along five years later I was basically incorporating therapy techniques throughout our daily activities. Whereas my daughter Beth would listen and respond the first time I said something, the other two often seemed to tune out or mis-hear what I'd said. (This happens with my husband as well, but I never approached him about working on it!) We did many activities together over the years to address the auditory processing difficulties, but one of our favorites was to read a familiar story together but alter it as we went along. I would begin the story, but change a key feature to see if the children were listening and paying attention. For example, I'd start out reading the traditional story of the Three Little Pigs, but when the wolf came to the door I'd have him huff and puff and threaten to take all their macaroni and cheese. The children would giggle and tell me that wasn't what happened, and then we worked on oral language expression as they told me how the story should go. We did similar activities with flannel board stories, and I would deliberately change the story and put the flannel pieces on out of order to see if the children noticed. Sometimes the changes to the story were subtle, and other times illogical to help the children develop their ability to sequence events and make logical predictions. Another favorite activity was to listen to recorded stories. The children liked following along with the audio books and turning the page when they heard the beep, but I also had them listen to stories that did not have books accompanying them. That way, they had to just tune in to the auditory piece and visualize what they were hearing without visual cues to rely on. The ability to visualize is important to reading comprehension and was a fun way to work on auditory skills. Just be sure to listen to the recording yourself, first, to make sure the narrator is animated and interesting to listen to or your child may become bored and tune it out. I enjoy listening to audio books as I do various tasks, and I know firsthand that having a good narrator is key to enjoyment and the ability to attend to what's being said. For young children or those with a short attention span, a collection of short stories might be best. Older students, even those who can read by themselves, may enjoy an entire audio book. To check comprehension, stop the recording periodically and ask a few questions. I always asked my kids how they pictured different characters and what they might look like. The more details that children visualize, the better the chances that they will remember what they've heard.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Of Ferrets and Men

Back when Josh was in high school, we studied Steinbeck's novelOf Mice and Men. It was a bittersweet portrayal of the friendship between two men named George and Lennie. Lennie is a large man with a mental disability who is very devoted to George and dependent on him for guidance. Although others consider Lennie to be limited in most capacities, he proves himself to be a strong and tireless worker for even the hardest of manual labor jobs. Lennie likes to touch things, and has a love for petting small, furry animals. He dreams of one day living in a house with George and tending rabbits. Lennie is a big guy with a soft spot for little animals, who is only appreciated by those around him for his ability to utilize his size and strength as he works alongside George. After Josh and his sister, Beth, finished the book we discussed the plot and concluded that literature unit. It was a month or so after that when Josh told me he identified with Lennie. My son is a big guy, 6'3" now and was probably over 6' at the time. His shoulders are broad and with his AD/HD he has always had more energy than most. His learning disabilities have caused some people to conclude that he just isn't that bright though he comes in handy for reaching things up high and for carrying heavy loads. As Beth pointed out, Josh is really smart but he just doesn't have the kind of smart that shows up very well. In any case, it saddened me to see the similarities that Josh recognized between Lennie and himself. Josh also works a job that requires a lot of manual labor, and, like Lennie, he loves animals. We have three pets that he dutifully helps tend to, and he volunteers with the cats at our local humane society. He adopted an abandoned ferret from the humane society, and with all the animals he has been gentle and attentive. His ferret, Tabitha, had been abandoned in an apartment closet when the previous owners moved out. When Josh got her, she was an adult of undetermined age and he had gone out and bought all the supplies needed to care for her. He had sole responsibility for his pet, so when she got sick we found a vet who treated small pets. Josh found out that Tabitha was having seizures, and he had to give her medicine twice a day. The medicine needed refrigeration, so Josh bought a small refrigerator to keep in his room near her cage. Tabitha quickly learned to turn her head away from the medicine syringe and to clamp her furry ferret lips closed, but Josh never grew impatient with her. He talked to her and persisted until he got the medicine she needed into her. Despite this care, Tabitha developed new health problems, and Josh made several more trips to the vet. Tabitha was losing fur, was having seizures, needed medicines to counteract the side effects of the other medicines, and was often up during the night disturbing Josh's sleep. Through all of this, Josh never complained, but continued to buy the medicines and special food the vet recommended. He crooned to Tabitha and held her, telling her she was still cute despite having lost most of her fur. Last week, Tabitha was in obvious pain and returned to the vet to see if she could be helped but to no avail. She died on Sunday, and Josh was not surprised but was saddened to lose his Tabitha. We don't know how old she was, but Josh had been her owner for the last couple years. He brought her home to bury her, and I watched out the window as my big, strong son carefully tended to his ferret for the last time.