Sunday, September 24, 2017

Why sensory processing disorder makes everything so hard and a phrase that will make things easier

I have a memory of my son when he was two years old that has stuck with me over the years. He was doing one of his favorite things - pushing a dump truck at top speed back and forth in our cul-de-sac. He had figured out a way to balance perfectly with his hands resting on the bed in a way that did not let the bed flip up while he ran behind it. (A feat that other children did not recognize until they tried to race their dump trucks, too.)

What he had not figured out was how to keep an eye out for the terrain in front of him. The front wheels caught on a crack in the pavement and my son went silently end over end. He stood up, grabbed his truck, and started pushing again. 

"Whoa!" said a neighbor child. "He's tough."

I didn't realize how tough he was until he came racing by me and I saw blood dripping down his legs and arms. When he had landed, the asphalt had taken a good deal of skin off his knees and elbows...and he didn't seem to notice.

So I corralled him to clean his wounds quickly but carefully before unleashing him back into the street to play.


That is what it was like for me to parent a young child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I am constantly trying to figure out what his needs are because it doesn't seem like he knows them himself. He is undersensitive, or a "seeker," constantly seeking more information by touching things, mouthing them, moving his body, overstuffing his mouth, etc.

He is undersensitive so he has trouble not anticipating sneezing, bowel movements, or vomit. He doesn't feel pain until it is a broken bone. Nor does he feel hunger until he is h-angry.


At home, it is easy to stick to our routines. For years, I anticipated food needs and prepared snacks that were ready to eat whether we were approaching snack time at home or at a playground.

However, when we travel, routines with food are not as easy to maintain. Combine that with the frazzle of travel logistics and I am often faced with h-angry children.

It was when Tigger was six years old and we were on a family vacation that we were able to turn a corner with regard to self-regulation and food.

My son came to me screaming that he was hungry. He was upset and stressed. Old enough to understand that I am separate from him, he was finally able to understand that I did not know that his body needed food. I said, "I did not know you were hungry."

"Well, you should have known," he replied.

"You're used to me anticipating your hunger and having things ready."


"But I didn't this time. In the future, will you please come to me and say, 'Mama, I'm hungry. Let's make a healthy snack together.'"

"OK!" he smiled. Then together we fetched a plate from my sister's cabinet and prepared a healthy snack.


From that day forward I felt like I had found a new nugget of gold to keep close at hand as a parent:

"Let's do it together."

It seems so simple to say but it isn't. 

The best time I've used this phrase is when something is challenging one of my children (which usually coincides when I'm also running out of patience): I have asked ten times for someone to put on his or her shoes, or pick up some toys, or clear the table, or get dressed, or do the copywork, or fill the water bottles, or ..., or..., or...

When one of my children is dragging their heels, the BEST thing I can do is to help. I take a deep breath, count to ten, tie on my cape, and say, "Let's do it together." 

As soon as I offer help, the task is monumentally easier and everyone wins. The job gets done, and I show my children that I am there to help them when they need help...especially when they don't even know to ask for help.


Asking for help falls under Executive Function. A child will have to have Working Memory to recognize that they are struggling with something; he or she will have to have enough Mental Flexibility to imagine that someone else might be able to help, and then enough Self-Control to pause what they are doing, find someone how might help, and ask.

That seems like a tall order for a young child, made even taller by SPD. If their brains are not processing physical stimuli, then how can they properly assess the situation and their needs, let alone Working Memory, Mental Flexibility and Self-Control?

And as we all know, if someone's needs are not being met, then everything else falls apart. 

The tough thing for a child with SPD or Autism is that they might not know that their needs are not met! That means that when parenting a child with SPD and Autism, one has unique responsibilities. A child with SPD does not have normal signals from his or her body, nor does he or she learn through imitation. Teaching self-care (like cleaning a cut, nourishing tummies, taking a rest) requires special attention, deliberate instruction, and 

"Let's do it together."

 is a simple phrase that helps everyone slow down and work together to do something difficult. 

By working together on the hard stuff, I am able to point out what is hard and bring my son's attention to it, thus teaching him how to identify when he is injured, hungry, tired, or needs to otherwise take care of his physical needs. 

By working together, it makes those difficult situations less so...for everyone. 

And slowly but surely we (yes we) create and maintain a supportive, reliable relationship. 
Photo by Rhendi Rukmana on Unsplash

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Invitation to Learn Pirates

A Learning Lifestyle

My preschoolers are officially not preschoolers any more. As we step into Kindergarten and 2nd grade, and as a family new to "officially" homeschooling, I recently bought writing curriculum from BraveWriter and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The guidance offered essentially advocates for 1) focusing on creating an environment filled with books, music, and experiences; and, 2) a language-rich lifestyle - one where you listen to your child, respond thoughtfully, and pursue ideas together. (This builds on what we know about how preschoolers learn, too. ) She, of course, weaves writing lessons into the day and provides structure so parents don't have to come up with everything on their own. (Whew!) 

Books, Music, and Experiences

Despite being regulars at the library, I often find myself scouring the catalog and shelves for books that might work to answer my child's question or delve deeper into the subject du jour. It is no wonder why lists are some of the most popular blogs in the world. You know the ones: "101 Books to Read Before Kindergarten," "10+ Children's Books to Inspire Kindness," and my own  "24 Books for Preschool Engineers."

A Smaller, More Approachable List

The problem is that sometimes we want a smaller, more approachable list. One with fewer books that includes other things. I just want a few good books, a CD, and a video, perhaps a toy. Something like a thoughtful little themed basket.

Invitation to Learn

It is in the spirit of having a small sampling of one topic that I am writing Invitations to Learn. Each invitation grows from our homeschool life and is a pint-sized unit of study for the DIY crowd. With this list, I am inviting you to learn alongside your child and giving you a small amount of guidance for creating a rich learning environment in your home or school.

Read a book one day; listen to an audiobook another day; watch a movie a different day; go on a field trip a different day. By offering one great thing at a time, you are inviting your child to learn with you and enjoy learning with you! Over time you and your child will consider the topic in several different ways, using different materials, have different but related conversations about it, and you will grow your knowledge in wonderfully robust ways.


It is "Talk Like a Pirate Day" so I've collected treasure from the far reaches of the high seas (the internet). If you accept this Invitation to Learn about Pirates then grab your 'scopes (paper towel rolls) and set off to learn about lenses, map-making, and adventures on the high seas.

I have found some of these at the library or for free online. For your convenience, I will also include affiliate links when available.


I always love to start with a book (or two or three). 

Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate by Kim Kennedy  (Author), Doug Kennedy (Illustrator)
  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Lexile Measure: AD790L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
Popular Pete is Perfect for Talk Like a Pirate Day!  

Following the success of Pirate Pete and Pirate Pete’s Giant Adventure comes a new book by the celebrated brother-and-sister team of Doug and Kim Kennedy. In this new adventure, Pete has a wonderful new ship, but no crew. But not just any crew will do. As Pete explains:  
“Ye gots to be stubborn and mighty cranky, Ye gots to be dirty and awfully stanky!Ye gots to load a cannon and know how to fire it,But most of all, ye gots to talklike a pirate!”  
One by one Pete interviews his potential crew, and one by one they get the boot! Whoever will he find to help him sail the high seas? A hilarious and fun-to-read-aloud book that will have every child talking like a pirate. 

We're also HUGE fans of the VNHLP (Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates). You can get started today with the audiobook version of the first book in the series titled "Magic Marks the Spot"!

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 900 (What's this?)
Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson's hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is a seafaring romp like no other. The paperback features an Extras section containing an interview with the gargoyle, Hilary's application to the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, and a sneak peek at the second book in the series, The Terror of the Southlands.

Then you might want to give yourself a pirate name. 

Go to the Quiz, which will give you your name and a horoscope-type description of your swash-buckling ways. Or just make one following these simple instructions:

Pirate Activity Books 

There is a big selection of pirate-themed books published by Usborne Books and More. I'm a HUGE fan of their activity books like Build Your Own Pirate Ships (building with stickers), Pirate Maze Book, and the Wipe-Clean Pirate Activity Book

Make a Telescope

You will likely need a 'scope of some sort before you head out on an adventure. So surf over to National Geographic for how to use these items to make a 'scope:

  • Two paper towel tubes
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Paint (any color you like)
  • 2 convex lenses (you can get these from a pair of magnifying glasses or order them online)
(Of course, just a paper towel roll to peer through could be enough for preschoolers.)

And for a little extra check out this video by Mr. Wizard!

Mapmaking with Preschoolers

Go into the backyard and count your paces between objects (door to the sandbox, from one side to the other, etc.). Use blocks to model the couch and TV in the living room. Or color a picture of your child's bedroom. The possibilities for rich discussions that touch on STEAM are endless. And if you talk like a pirate then it is even more fun! 

For more ideas go to EcoBabySteps...

"Sobel shows in Mapmaking for Children that developmentally appropriate mapmaking for children progresses through scope (home > neighborhood > community > nation) as well as through methods of representation (models > pictures > panoramas > contour and aerial maps). The more open you make your request, the more naturally your child can move through the stages of thinking about and representing the world."

...or check out a picture book that can help it come alive.

Maps are about far more than getting from a to b. Maps can help children understand and explore both their everyday environment and faraway places. With an appealing search-and-find technique, Follow That Map! is an interactive picture book that explains and demonstrates key mapping concepts. Kids will enjoy following Sally and her friends as they search for Max and Ollie, a mischievous dog and cat on the lam from the backyard. Sally and friends take an imaginative trip through the neighborhood, city and country, around the world and beyond. Kids can join in the search for Max and Ollie, who are hiding somewhere in every map. An activity at the end of the book shows children how to make a map of their bedroom.

Time to Burst Your Bubble

In an article from National Geographic, historians shed some light on the truth about pirates.
"Brace yourself for a barrage of "salty dogs," "scallywags," and "swabbies." Tuesday is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a parody holiday and general nerdfest ginned up on an Oregon racquetball court in 1995 to honor buccaneer speech of the 17th and 18th centuries. 
But did pirates really "arr" and "avast" all the time? Probably not, experts say, though it's tough to say exactly how most so-called Golden Age pirates really talked. 
"There isn't much in the way of scientific evidence in regards to pirate speech," said historian Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates:Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down."

Monday, September 18, 2017

There is No Such Thing as a Reluctant Learner

No Such Thing

There is no such thing as a reluctant learner. There are, however, reluctant students.

Wait a minute! You are probably here to read "Tips for Teaching Reluctant Learners" but before you leave, let me explain how the distinction between "learner" and "student" helps me define my role as a homeschool mom and how it informs my "Tips."

Learners v. Students

For me...

Knowledge grows from within a learner; whereas,
knowledge is given from a teacher to a student.

learner chooses the subject of study; but
a teacher chooses the subject for his or her students.

The duration and location(s) of study is determined by the interest and sensibilities of a learner, exploring for longer, deeper and in many ways if possible; however,
students learn for a set amount of time and in a fixed location as dictated by the teacher.

It is OK for a learner to decide when he or she is finished studying the subject at hand; in contrast,
the teacher decides when the student is done learning.

learner is capable of discovering important topics and pursuing education;
student is unqualified to self-direct his or her education.

The relationship of a learner to his or her teacher is based on democracy, kindness, and learning together.
The relationship of a student to his or her teacher is based on power.

An Exceptional Learner, a Terrible Student

Case in point: my son. He is twice exceptional: his social skills and restrictive repetitive behavior place him in the bottom 2% of children his age, which is labeled Autism; his IQ places him in the top 2%, which is labeled Gifted. His unique set of strengths and weaknesses make him an ideal learner but an infuriating student.

He can spend an inordinate amount of time immersed in something he finds interesting. As a baby, he would lay on the floor and watch the wheels of his car or truck move while he gently rolled it back and forth. His belly time was spent flipping his thumb across the pages of my Joy of Cooking and watching the pages fall. Last week, as a seven year old, he sat with a LEGO set and assembled over 1000 pieces in one day.

But when he was a toddler and I invited him to color with me, I got a look from him that spoke volumes. "Are you delusional? Why would I do that?" it said. (He was nonverbal until he was 2.5 years old.) Nor would he imitate me and do the work of life (toilet train, get dressed, brush teeth, etc.). If it wasn't interesting to him, he wouldn't do it and he couldn't be convinced to do it either. No bribe was worth enough; no consequence compelling enough.

It was all fine and good when he was little. Young children are given a LOT of leeway. They develop at their own pace, asynchrony is expected. But now he is nearly eight years old and his quirky tendencies are more obvious and more problematic in mainstream schooling.

That is why we are homeschooling (again, I suppose) - because he is an exceptional learner but a terrible student...

An Exceptional Facilitator, a Terrible Teacher

...and I'm an exceptional facilitator but a terrible teacher (to him - I was actually a great teacher to community college students).

My strengths lie in learning with him. I am good at paying attention to his interests and finding ways to learn more together. What is more, I enjoy doing it.

On the flip side, I am terrible at helping him with his weaknesses. It isn't for lack of trying. When he is disinterested in something it is impossible to convince him to do it. Think the popular quotation by Katrina Gutleben (with a pinch of Autism-Stubborn-Doggedness):
"Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he's not interested, it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating."
Pleading doesn't work. Reasoning doesn't work. The only thing that works is coercion.

Cost-Benefit Analysis (i.e., Things to Consider Before Coercing Students) 

Coercion, bribery, bargaining. Whatever you want to call it, it is ubiquitous in education.

It starts with children earning stickers for toilet training (which, by the way, never worked for my children) and it continues with paying for chores and then manipulating their emotional well-being in schools. Essentially, the adult offers something valuable to the child iff he or she does what the adult wants them to do.

When to Use Coercion

There are two things that inform when I use coercion:

1. When I am not willing to compromise my expectations.
Through our exploration of the world, reading, and volunteerism, we have discussed subjects of science, art, history, citizenry, politics, maths, and the human condition. We've discussed ethics of how the fire began in Oregon, reasonable consequences, responsibility, and prevention. We have discussed humanitarianism because of the hurricane. We know about history from the Magic Treehouse stories of Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci. We've learned climate change (and other science) from Jeff and Paige and music theory from Mr. Hoffman
What has not come up organically is writing down his ideas about this myriad of topics. (My daughter is a different story....she writes and writes and writes.) My expectations for my seven year old second grader is that he will become a fluent writer. 
I need this for two reasons - for evidence of his learning, and to feel satisfied with the work I do as a homeschooling parent. However, while I believe that it will probably happen naturally by the time he is 14 years old, I am not willing to wait. 
So I use coercion to entice him to sit with me daily to work on spelling, phonics, reading via The Bravewriter's Wand curriculum. He earns screentime.

2. When I am not willing to trust that it will happen naturally, organically, and in due time.
My son is Autistic; his brain is different. So different that his life skills prevent him from participating in life like everyone else. He needs therapy to bring some of his skills up to par. The way his mind and body develop is too far delayed and out-of-sync for me to stand by and watch.
For example, his eyes could not track left to right or forward and backward and needed vision therapy. Simultaneously, he needed to do a speech therapy "homework" at home as well as occupational therapy. However, none of this was easy for him. He would absolutely not do it without coercion. 
So I bribed him. I paid him $1 per day for sitting with me and doing the work with good manners.
In each of these situations, my son is decidedly a student and I am the teacher.

Methods of Coercion

I refuse to use guilt trips or emotional coercion with my children. So that leaves me with finding things that will work as bribes. In my family, stickers, candy, and high fives are not enticing enough compensation for what I want them to do. The two most sought-after commodities are money and screentime.

Screentime because we are learning our limits with screens; money because, despite our policy on allowance, they always want more.

What it really comes down to is cost-benefit analysis. How important is it? And what is it worth? ("It" being some educational goal.)

Coercion-Free Life and Learning

For most of our homeschooling life we are coercion-free. That is the power and the glory of self-directed, interest-based learning. 

Together we explore places like science centers, art museums, national and state parks, and libraries. We host parties and play games.  We attend community volunteer work days and neighborhood parties. 

We read. We laugh. We enjoy learning. 

It is so easy and so fun that you wouldn't even know we're learning.

On Trust and Mindfulness

The extent to which you trust that your child will learn to be a competent, kind, and productive member of society will dictate how much coercion you need in your life.

My recommendation to you is to be mindful of coercion.

Pay attention to the situation and ask yourself: "is this something that is so important that I need to coerce my child? Or can I let it go?"

Only you know your child, his or her needs, and your needs. We all have different non-negotiables. We all have different methods of coercion. But we should all recognize when and why coercion is the force by which our child performs as a student compared to when and why our child shows us that he or she is a learner.

GHF Changing How the World Views Education

This was written as part of the GHF Blog Hop. For more surf over here...