Friday, September 26, 2008

Mixing colors

One of the things Joey finds comforting is color. When he first started talking and we were teaching him to answer questions, when in doubt, he named a color. It was safe, and he could show he knew something. Blue's Clues has an episode on color where they mix colors together to make other colors. It is Joey's favorite episode, bar none.

Joey has been a little depressed lately. Not his energetic, giggly self; a little more languid, a little tired, a little sad. The beginning of school is something he looks forward to, but it entails a lot of changes and new challenges. We also have a teacher than is less than stellar (or has been so far), and some separation anxiety from last year's teacher, who was way beyond stellar.

Consequently, color has been a huge theme of motor-mouthing here.

I set the boys up to paint today after school. I thought with the renewed comfort of color, it was just a good idea. (And I couldn't find my iron to do fuse beads. How does one lose an iron?) This is actually the first step of making stick puppets. We're making turkeys and ghosts this round. I set them up, and we were off to the races!

I crept out of the room, partly to get the camera, partly to give them some moments to just do their thing. I came back to Joey proudly displaying hands covered in paint and his puppets, as well as a paper he had gotten from the art supply shelf.

"Purple and red make magenta!" he said proudly, grinning from ear to ear. Sure enough, he had made magenta.

"Green and yellow make chartreuse!" he pointed proudly to his patch of chartreuse. We also did marigold, violet (blue-purple), and aquamarine. (He had his hands washed before I recovered, so sorry, no pic).

Happiest boy on earth. Score: Mom, one. Depression, zero.

On another grand development, Joey wanted a soda while we waited for the paint to dry. To do this, he had to:

1. Go to the kitchen.
2. Open the fridge.
3. Open the bottom drawer of the fridge.
4. Get his soda.
5. Close the drawer.
6. Close the fridge.

I told him these steps very carefully. It took two tries, but he managed to do it- all by himself. I guess grape soda is more motivating than I imagined.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reading teacher: check.

Since we're non-plussed with Joey's self-contained class, we met with Joey's inclusion teacher today. We had a really nice short chat with Joey's autism resource teacher, then headed over to the inclusion room for another lovely chat.

In case you are keeping count, Joey has three classrooms, plus "specials." He starts off in the autism resource room with Mrs. Huff and Ms. Macy. Mrs. Huff is his "official" teacher (case manager). Then he spends time in the self-contained room with Mrs. A, doing things like math and Fast Forward and computer skills and some language arts and other standards-of-learning kinds of stuff. Then he spends time in an inclusion setting with Mrs. R for social studies and science. It was Mrs. R we met today. He also has library, art, music, and PE.

Mrs. R is also his reading teacher, and they started reading groups this week. She's a bit concerned that he is basically the top reader in the class. She doesn't have a lot of experience with autistic kids, and the special needs kids she had before were not her top-tier readers, but she was really ready to listen to us and discuss Joey's strengths and weaknesses and strategies to support him. She's going to some training in December with Mrs. Huff about inclusion and methods for supporting special needs kids in inclusion settings, and she seems very excited about it. Her concern with Joey being the top reader is that she is afraid he won't progress more in reading, that he needs more challenge than she can offer because there is only one other kid who is reading at his level, and she can separate them into their own little reading group. The next set of kids are substantially lower on the reading scale. No, this didn't bother us that much because we are basically using his strength (reading) to get him familiar and comfortable and help him work on weakness (social interaction in a small group). But she's a reading teacher, so she worries about the reading piece. I think there is going to be some discussion between her and Mrs. Huff about "what to do." I'll keep you posted.

We really couldn't ask for anyone with a better attitude. She's perfectly willing to dive in and rise to the challenge of being an inclusion room, and supporting her students. She noticed Joey liked to draw, so she sent home a book about drawing with us, partly to help us get him to focus on books better- maybe catch his interest.

So this lady seems like a solid link in the chain.

I have a meeting with the weak link on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

Really Full

Just a vignette from the day:

We were heading home from our meeting with Joey's teacher, and the boys took up the regularly scheduled "I'm hungry" chorus.

"I'm hungry," Joey began the festivities. He has a renewed interest in goldfish crackers, so this was followed up with, "Goldfish, please."

"I'm hungry, too," Andy chimed in. "I want food!"

"We'll have dinner in a little bit," I assured them as I stopped for a red light.

"I want lots of food," Andy explained. "My tummy gets all full. My tummy gets big. My tummy go 'Pop!' "

It was a good thing the light was red.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: A Day at the Fair

(For Myrtle May)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baby Signing Time

I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking me to review and endorse products here at Life With Joey. Is it so common for folks to endorse products on their blogs? I generally ignore these emails. If I want to talk about a product or service, I talk about it: TV shows we like, toys we think are helpful or fun, services that have helped Joey and Andy grow and develop. I share these with you.

So you all know we love Signing Time. If you don’t, check out some of my previous posts about our experience of Signing Time and Joey’s improved communication! I was honored and flattered to be contacted by Signing Time and asked if I would like to review Baby Signing Time 3 and 4, which will be released this October.

Why do we love Signing Time? Because it is a well-made series focused not really on signing, but on communicating. Signs are introduced to a multi-sensory approach: there is a picture of the word, the word spelled out, the sign (explained by Rachel so that the sign actually makes sense and connects to the word it represents), and then age-appropriate models using the signs with music. Not only is this a great way to teach hearing kids to sign, but it gives multiple avenues of access for different learning styles to learn words. Signing Time selects vocabulary that is also age-appropriate and pragmatic: words that kids will know and use. The episodes then group these signs so that they connect together and help kids remember them. The episodes provide plenty of signs, so even a single episode can get you moving on your way to communication.

The screening DVD included Episode 3 (A New Day) and Episode 4 (Let’s Be Friends.) It also included an interview about a child who learned to read as a baby, emphasizing the multi-faceted approach to the signs mentioned above. I wasn't much into the interview, it was kind of preaching to the choir, and though it mentioned not all babies will learn to read with Signing Time, just having the interview included implied this. It needed to be presented differently so it looked less like an ad, and more like a "wow, isn't this a really awesome child!" Maybe label it something about "Meet the kids of Signing Time!" or "Welcome to our community!" or something like that.

Although I know and love the regular Signing Time series, this was my first experience with Baby Signing Time.

Baby Signing Time is geared to infants and young toddlers, through about age two. If you have a three-year-old, then you might want to just jump right into the first episodes of the first Signing Time Series. If you have a child in elementary school, add Series Two as well. For middle schoolers, I’d start right in on Series Two, which is a little more connected and progressive than Series One.

Episode 3 (A New Day) was mostly introducing signs connected with the outdoors: weather, things you would see outside, bugs, useful signs for outside like stop, go, wait, and again, and night sky words.

The songs were simple, age-appropriate, and most importantly, not irritating to me as an adult. This is also part of the charm of the series- it includes music you can use to practice signs and play in your car without going nuts, because the songs don’t talk down to the children. The songs and modeling of the signs made the signs relevant to young children, which will hold their interest. Seeing Rachel in bug headgear is worth the price of admission. At the end, parents get a treat with the song Little Hands.

Episode 4 (Let’s Be Friends) provides a wide range of general-communication signs, relevant to young children at play: signs about friends, opposites, feelings, toys, and foods.

The episode is upbeat and stresses positives, even when introducing signs such as “sad” and “cry” (the song talks about the fact that feelings aren’t good or bad; they are just how you feel!) Again, the episode is a string of simple, listenable songs geared to very young children. The parent treat song at the end is Show Me A Sign.

The episodes use a few strategies that worked with my kids when they were very young to hold interest and keep the boys focused. First, Rachel exaggerates her facial expressions more than in the regular Signing Time videos. For young children learning to read other people’s emotions, this is really helpful. Another good technical point as the use of bright, bold backgrounds behind the models before switching to natural settings. These bright backgrounds attracted my kids when they were very little, and I think it makes the models and signs easier for young children to see. Another really great thing al the Signing Time videos do is to use age-appropriate models, but also some models slightly older than the target audience. Baby Signing Time uses infants, toddlers, and preschoolers of diverse backgrounds and abilities to show the signs in action. Disabled children are included. Perfect signing isn’t the point; showing a variety of children signing gives young children confidence in using their hands to communicate (even when their motor skills might be sketchy).

Do I think Signing Time and Baby Signing Time are good investments? Let’s just say, I’m saving up my money to get Series Two for my guys for Christmas, and I'll be getting Baby Signing Time for several families with new additions.

Getting children access to communication early, especially if there appears to be communications issues, is something I think vital to early intervention programs, and Baby Signing Time is an excellent tool for teaching communication skills to young children. Allowing a child to communicate can make a huge difference in their ability to function without frustration. Do we believe in using sign? Yes, we do. For Joey, it has made all the difference in the world.

Visit the folks at Signing Time:

The websites a worth a look: message boards, Rachel’s blog, and of course, products to help your child learn to communicate!

Finding One's Calling

So we were sitting around the kitchen table, having dinner, and taking advantage of a sudden increase in words from both little guys. They wanted to chatter, so we set to modeling dinner-table conversation with questions and answers. What did you do in school today? Did you start your reading group? What did you make today?

We rounded out to more abstract questions, like, "what would you like to do tomorrow?" and "why do you like the color blue?" We finally came to that ever-popular, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

We explained that Mommy is a teacher, and Daddy is a businessman, and then put it to the boys: what do you want to do when you get older? When you are grown-up like Mommy and Daddy?

Joey wanted to be a teacher. We then asked about some other jobs- did he want to be a chef? Cook for people? No. Perhaps a doctor and help sick people? Or a veterinarian and work with animals? No. A teacher.

Then Andy piped up, "I want to be a dinosaur!"

Well, that child knows his calling.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Day at The Fair

We had a lovely day at the fair. Last year this week, we had been sick as the proverbial dogs after our beach vacation*; but this year, despite my own headcold, we were determined. Joey went to his swimming lesson (he just loves them!) and then we were off to St. Mary’s.

The main attraction for the guys this year was the pigs, followed closely by the sheep. They could have looked at pigs and sheep all afternoon. We also looked at the chickens, the turkeys (the boys still don’t like turkeys), the rabbits (fuzzy!), the goats, the Clydesdales, and the alpacas. We zipped through the 4-H building looking at the veggies, but the boys weren’t really into that this year. I think if we had taken them through the ag building with the pumpkins, we would have had better luck. Anyway, we had some lunch, then off to the rides (light lunch- didn’t know what was ahead of us.)

They had some pretty new rides this year, which was nice. One of them was a dragon roller-coaster that the boys hopped on and were very, very happy “driving the dragon.” Then it was time for Joey to pick a big-boy ride.

He picked the Hurricane.

Note to self: before putting your six-year-old on a big ride, watch the ride in its entirety.

It started fine, going around in a circle. Then it sped up and the cars started to lift, and Joey wasn’t happy about that.

Then it did its thing. Oh. My. God. The arms went up and down while you were in the car sideways, and spinning around. He actually liked that part, but then it slowed down to ta spin and down again, and I think his tummy was a bit off. Talking later to other folks with kids on the ride, apparently a lot of crummies in tummies from that ride. Yikers.

We went on a few more, slower rides, and the dragon again, and then did some moon bouncing. By the time they got out of the moonbounce, they were both ready to fall over. That’s a good day.

So we ran through one of the commercial buildings looking for pens from our presidential candidates- and they weren’t giving out pens. In fact, only one place in the whole building had pens. That sucks. But we got our one pen and let the tummies calm down, got some ice cream, and headed home.

I won’t say there were no rocky moments in our trip, but what trip with kids has no rocky moments? They were few, brief, and the boys had a fabulous time. It’s nice to have an A+ trip now and again.

Happy Autumn Equinox!

*There was a LOT going on this week last year. But the reason we skipped the fair was we all had colds.