Thursday, March 27, 2014

Doin' The DORA!

Mercifully, this has nothing to do with "vamanos!" or "Swiper, no swiping!" This week will be Exam Week in Mooselandia, including here at our little school.  Our "regular" school activities will be cancelled, and Mad Natter will be working on taking the DORA from Let's Go Learn, as well as the Chapter 1 test for Math Mammoth.  I'm certain the maths test will be no big deal, but I'm taking a few minutes to review The Younger Mrs Warde's notes on giving the DORA to younger children.  Mad Natter has taken the DORA before, somewhere back in August-ish, but I'm not sure he did exactly... well... with it.  Not that he's supposed to make a grade or something, but I suspect he was a little confused with exactly what he was supposed to be doing, so his results didn't match very well with what I was seeing him do.  Knowing what I learned, and what Mrs Warde has learned?  I suspect that will make a huge difference.

For reference, Mad Natter's currently most-used word is "although," he is reading Magic School Bus books aloud to me, and has finished the learn-to-read segment of Reading Eggs with no desire to continue into the proficiency aspect. So, I have at least a vague minimum of how this testing should turn out.

We hadn't taken the DORA, like I said, since August, so while I was fully intending to set Mad Natter through two sections today and call it done, he wound up going through the entire assessment.  Twice.  I was thinking there was a break of some sort between subtests, something to let you know you were moving from one subtest to the next.  NOPE. The safe bet is to assume when the animation changes, so has the subtest.  So, Mad Natter ran through the test like the whole thing was timed, and needless to say, did... Well, for himself, he did poorly.  He tested out as an average kindergartener, with a low fourth grade vocabulary.  So, since eight months ago, he tested out as an average kindergartener with a high second grade vocabulary (with the exception of the vocabulary his assessment scores were identical!), I obviously didn't believe it one bit.  No progress since August?  Uh huh.  Anyway.

I went back to Homeschool Buyers Co-op and bought another test.  Thank goodness I was spending points on this and not dollars, or I'd be *pissed.*  Like, royally.  Anyhow, I got another test, and we settled in.  He did the first two subtests on his own - as in, he controlled the mouse, he answered as he liked.  Then I realized he was literally clicking the blue hat every time, except for words like me, my, and the. Those, he'd pick the appropriate hats for.  So after that subtest I took control of the mouse, and he sat on my lap.  The program would ask a question, and I would direct the mouse over the options, and wait for him to tell me to click - but I refused to click (even if the answer was correct) until we'd looked at all the options.  Then we'd go through again, and he'd tell me to click. Essentially, I had to force him to sit and think about his answers. Once that was done... Well, he took a break to run around.

We literally played the Lone Ranger Theme Song in this little segment, and he spent ten solid minutes running through the house... and wanted to press on with the assessment, so we dove back in.

Once again, I held the mouse, and the fact that he couldn't just click anything, but had to look at all the answers meant that he didn't just click on something close.  His scores jumped noticeably at that point.  The same applied for the vocabulary - given the word "candidate" I held the mouse over each picture in turn, and he had to look at them before deciding which one was correct for the word.  If I can slow him down, he does extremely well - but he HAS to slow down!

This time around, he got the spelling and comprehension subtests, which we hadn't seen before.  He loved the heck out of the spelling test, it meant he could use the keyboard! While spelling was his weakest area on the entire test (save the first two subtests where he wasn't actually paying attention!), I credit our love for All About Spelling for the fact that it was well above grade level.  The comprehension subtest honestly astounded me. I didn't realize he retained as much as he did about what he read.

All in all, for a squirrelly 2E boy, I would say that the DORA is significantly more parent-intensive than it was intended to be, but overall a decent measure - as long as you can get in there and keep them focused right from the start.  It's given me some things to think about, and an idea on direction versus where/when I can introduce new ideas or programs. So it's helpful, although not entirely as helpful as you might think. It will tell you, versus average, where your child stands in terms of standard public school grade levels. It will not, for example, tell you their Lexile Measure, their Guided Reading Level, or anything else to further assist your choosing specific tools.  However, it provides a spectacular overhead view of where your child is currently performing, and allows you to look back and see how they are doing versus where they were.  I like it, and while I wish it did just a little more, it's not enough that I won't continue using the measure.

Oi, this post contains affiliate links.  I promise, it doesn't change my thoughts on things - rather my thoughts drive my willingness to sign up as an affiliate!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sensory Smart Bedroom!

For those of you who don't know, we're a cosleeping family.  This means that in my bedroom, I have a queen sized bed butted up to a twin, and Skeeve, Mad Natter, and I all share one sleeping space.  Now, however, Mad Natter is on his way to six years old, and he really needs his own room.  He's had one, but it's been with the toddler bed conversion from our crib in there, and it hasn't really been "his" so much as it's been a kids' room.  So, when the tax return came in, Skeeve and I set off to IKEA.

Mad Natter's room is small.  It has room for a twin bed, and about two feet of space at the foot of that bed.  And it's square.  No matter what you do, this room will not hold everything you want it to.  So, we went with a loft bed, hoping to make the most of being able to put things UNDER the bed, opening up the whole room for use, rather than immediately eliminating a twin-sized-portion of it.  It's still not big enough, but we were able to make it work for our needs.  So far, anyhow.

See, I have many things that Mad Natter's room needs. It needs to hold his toys and his bed. It needs to hold his trampoline ('cause that bad boy ain't goin' in the living room, thank you!), and I wanted it to hold a sensory escape as well, because we all need that sometimes.  So, in his room, he has his bed - complete with Avengers sheets - as well as play space.... and now more.

First, we have the bed. It is, obviously, a loft bed. The window is locked up tight and barred from the inside, lest someone small get any ideas that they haven't thought all the way through. The loft itself is a good thing. Mad Natter likes the idea that his bed is so tall, and that he can touch the ceiling with his head.  It's almost too tall, truth be told, but that's pretty okay, as it means he'll wake himself bonking his head before he flops out of the bed to the floor.  Anyhow! I hung some really sheer curtains from the bottom of the bed, both on the side you can see, and at the foot of the bed. This allowed me to put together a small "storage" space at the foot of the bed for his drawers, as well as an under-the-bed play area.  The bonus to that one?  You can't see through it to well.

Next, we have the sensory zone.  First, we have the trampoline.  I love this little thing. I wish I could find a place for it that didn't sound like it was going to crash through the ceiling, but hey. We take what we can get. In the meantime, this serves its purpose, and does it well.  Every day, Mad Natter goes up to jump for either songs or numbers on the trampoline. There is a sensor under it that counts how many jumps, and he can either listen to the trampoline call a number, and jump that many times (times how many numbers he was told to jump for), or he can push a button and it will play a song that he'll jump to. Sadly, this is an activity that is best enjoyed with an audience, and my knees are bad enough that the stairs (13 of them!) give me trouble sometimes. But he still jumps, and it's still a huge help.

Our sensory tent...  Mad Natter got this tent from Hammie and Buppa two Christmases ago, and he loved it. Then we had to put it away due to space issues. It's back!  This is his sensory retreat. Inside the tent is currently a cuddly bear and a beanbag chair (I don't know why the bed rail is in there for the photo - I'm chalking it up to 5yo boy). Once I'm able to get my sewing on, it will also have a weighted blanket, and probably some books as well.  It's a place for him to go that's away from everyone, without actually having to be out of my realm of hearing and seeing.  He doesn't often use the tent, but I suspect as time goes on, it's going to be more and more important.

 And the fun stuff, too!  Can't forget the fun stuff!  First, Mad Natter's kitchen.  He has a stove, a fridge and freezer / pantry, and a washer/dryer, all of which are plunked into the corner of the hiding space created by the curtains. I may hang the whiteboard, or I may move his chalkboard panels in there... or even both.  Not sure yet.  Anyway, this little kitchen often brings us a whole lot of interesting meals, snacks, and drinks, and is usually quite a fun place for Mad Natter to play.  He really does enjoy 'cooking' for us, and that makes all of us pretty happy.

Naturally, what kid's room is complete without a toy-dump? The sheer volume of toys this child has is making me think of asking for experiences for his next birthday instead of toys.  There are SO MANY.  And, as is unsurprising for anyone else raising a gifted little one, the toys are all across the board.  I'm not sure if you can see them, but there are Curious George phonetic readers, a couple Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day style picture books, and several Magic School Bus chapter books in the top shelf, the middle contains toy animals and stencils, the third is trains and Angry Birds, the bottom is puzzles, games, and lacing cards... And the prominent toys there are his Minecraft iron sword and pickaxe. He always brings one or the other with him. Even if we're just walking down the block. It's an interesting thing.

All in all, it seems to be working out well for us.  It's not an idyllic wonderland now that all the components are in place, but... it's helping.  I'm hopeful it will help things chill out a little, but we'll have to see how it all holds up, and keeps together.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's not all sunshine and roses, no matter what you think.

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones. You read an incredible book... and half the internet seems to loathe it. You advocate researching decisions before you make them... and are told you're a public health risk. You spend every day wondering if today is the day you're going to crack and spend the afternoon crying under your desk because your kiddo is so outside the norm... and someone trots out the "All children are gifted" spiel.

That's today. I've spent today embroiled in a battle of overexcitabilities and asynchrony, dealing with lashing out over video games, and simultaneous desire to explain, in detail, the clinical process of human reproduction. With correct terminology. Oh, and a lot of brushing, trampoline jumping, and running full-tilt through the house at ridiculous road-runner-looking speed, and screeching. Can't forget the screeching. I've been moody, at best, because while it's finallystarting to warm up... it's also gloomy and rainy outside. This means my day has been riding that knife's edge between coping and sobbing pretty hard - all day long.

And then, Momastery comes out with her post for today, declaring: "Every child is gifted and talentedEvery single one. Everything I’ve ever written about on this blog has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true." And, because one bad thing alone can't ever be the case, when Momastery came out noticing that the parents of gifted children all over were pretty hardcore objecting to this, many of her supporters decided that those objections were worthless, belonging to people who needed to "unclench." I've tried to just back away from the internet for a while. Let others, with better blog presence and more succinct style tackle the issue. But then I ran into it in another group, too. And another. I finally decided it was a sign. Or something. And here I am.

My immediate comment on the issue was "We all get the spirit of her post. The problem is that she said flat out that ALL children are gifted. Not that all children have gifts. One of these statements is a myth that actively damages the community of gifted people, particularly the vulnerable children, who are *diagnosed* as gifted. The other is a universal truth. We can all rally behind "All children have gifts." Do not expect me to rally behind a statement that actively harms my child because I should just calm the heck down and stop reading what she's writing, but read what we can infer she MEANT to write. No. All children have gifts equates to all children have height. All children are gifted would equate to all children are tall. In conflating the terminology, she is contributing to a massive problem for clinically gifted children, and if people don't step up and say something, the problem will only get worse."

Given that I've spent the last ten hours vacillating between laughing and sobbing, working on buying curricula for a child who plowed through a full year of spelling in thirteen weeks, who is reading The Magic School Bus: Butterfly Battle for his reading practice, trying to head off meltdowns over WiiU time limits, keep the running from devolving into injury.... I felt it a rather measured response. I only have one child. And he is very classically twice-exceptional. However, we don't live in a bubble. I've met other children his age, both at hockey, at the park, in his cousins... No. All children? They very much do NOT possess the wiring that this child does. That Skeeve does. That I do. There is no comparison between these children.

This is not to say that one child is better than the other. Not at all. But these children are very different. One group of them functions on grade level, fits the developmental profile given in "Your X Year Old" or other parenting books, and while each individual child varies wildly, and has individual gifts and talents, they can, as a whole, be referred to in the general. The other group is... an entirely different beast. They do not fit on 'grade level' at all - they are well above in some subjects, well below in others. They are not found in any parenting books, no matter how many you buy and read (ask me how I know. Come on. Ask.), each child varies extremely wildly, and they don't at all fit in the generalization of their age. More often than not, they belong in the classification for their age - sometimes. They also belong in the classification a few years younger... and simultaneously several years older.

Not all children fit that second group. In fact, not even 'a bunch' of children fit that group. While there may be issues with terminology (believe me, that's a whole other post!), the fact remains that the second group is clinically diagnosed with the neuroatypical wiring known as "giftedness." This does not mean that other children don't have gifts, it means simply that like children with learning disabilities, the wiring of these children vastly changes their needs, both in school and at home. My preference is for "asynchronous learner" or simply "asynchrony" and rolling both the gifted and the learning disabled into one spectrum-style diagnosis, but that doesn't change the fact that if the term we were looking at was no longer "gifted" but was instead was "disabled," the outcry would be deafening. But, because this is the gifted population.... it's mostly crickets. Except for those of us who stand up and say "NO." And we're told to "unclench" and "take it in the spirit..."

Letting these things stand unchallenged does a tremendous disservice to the gifted children, as well as their parents. It feeds into the notion that gifted children will do "just fine" in public schools with no accommodations, that gifted programs are elitist, that these children, with this unique wiring, are just hothoused, flash-carded, victims of their completely crazy parents who want nothing more than accolades... when the truth of the matter is that these children are extremely vulnerable, and their parents are often clinging by their fingernails to keep up with them, and the radical changes in each day that could give anyone whiplash. And that's not fair to these wonderful, special, caring children... or their wonderful, special, caring age-mates. You don't have to be clinically gifted to have gifts.

This post is one of many rapid response blogs on the topic of "Are all children gifted?" hosted by Gifted Homeschoolers' Forum. Feel free to see what others have had to say!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Continuing on a Theme

This week, I had the wonderful experience of writing a guest post for my lovely friend Mrs Warde at Sceleratus Classical Academy. It's been a busy week here in Mooselandia, as our tax refund has finally arrived! What this means for our house is, of course, curricula buying, but also a Wii U for the family, and new computers all around (my compy was over eight years old, and had the video card held in by a 3.5" floppy disk, Skeeve upgraded his compy, and is passing his down to Mad Natter, who will now have a compy for things like Skype chat with Hammie and Buppa and Stellar Mama and Girl Friday, his Reading Eggs, his PBS Kids games... All that fun stuff). It's also meant a new bedroom setup for Mad Natter, which seems to be working out well for everyone thus far - I'll comment on that once I've gotten the room emptied of boxes and can share photos.

 The other new thing in just the last few days is the arrival of our visual scheduling cards. I'm really excited about this, almost ridiculously so. But, then again, anything that makes life easier is really worth getting excited over. This brings me to the workbox system we're using. I have no idea if we're using the same as the actual marketed Sue Patrick's Workbox System, largely because I'm not in a position to pay for the book and pieces if I can create something similar without it. Given the prolific amount of bloggers who are using this system, it's very easy to get a basic grip on the system to implement without having to invest in the book itself. Will I buy the book? Probably. Will I buy the book before I try the ideas to see if they'll even help us? Nope. As a result, I have a cobbled together version of the system, and we're getting set to start using it. 

We've been using it partially for the last two weeks, which has been wonderful. We've been in the midst of another break this week, both because I'm feeling a bit under the weather and because asking a boy with a new video game system to work on schoolwork seems a little like asking for trouble.

The gist of the system is simple. We have our ten drawer cart, which is labeled by subject and number. This way, Mad Natter knows what subjects are on the docket for the day, and which ones are due in which order. The numbers are his main manipulatives. As he finishes each subject, he takes the number off the drawer and puts it on the Master Chart.
 Our days usually start with Magic School Bus, followed by math. Once we're done math, we have a break for some activity, and this is represented on our master chart. This lets Mad Natter see what's coming, what's done, and what's left, and shows him visually, which seems to be exactly what he needs.
We also have cards for things like bathroom routines, morning and bedtime routines, and also for our 'during the day.' It seems to help - a lot - with transitions, which is huge for us. Add in the Walk With Me program, where we carry a double sided, laminated card that has a stop sign on one side and a green go circle on the other to help Mad Natter stay with us when we're out and about, and things have suddenly gotten a good deal easier. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this all plays out, and how our lives will continue from here. This is also the point where I just shake my head, and try not to cry, however. All these issues that we're solving - the excess energy, the running off in public spaces, the inability to stay to a schedule... all these things that the developmental pediatrician was insistent were related to my anxiety... They are all being addressed by Occupational Therapy - because they are not issues of my anxiety or lack thereof, they are sensory issues. Once again, a smart child with additional issues slips completely through the cracks in favor of telling his mother she's too worried and homeschooling is not right - he'll be "just fine" in public school... And we all know how 'just fine' gifted children are in regular public schools with no accommodations - especially 2E children.