Sunday, August 8, 2010

Field Trip and Play Date

Last Thursday we went to the Oklahoma Aquarium with Carrie, Mollie and Henry. We explored and looked at lots of fish and the girls got to touch a few things (a star fish and shrimp). It was a little difficult to participate in everything, as the hands on things aren't wheel chair friendly. It was neat point out to them all the big, small, typical and exotic creatures. I think the one-on-one time with Mollie was just as beneficial as the activities we did. The girls spent so much time giggling in the back seat on the way there and back.
We had a play date at our house on Friday morning. Lisa and the kids came over and everybody pilfered through the piles and piles of toys. They drew on the playroom walls with chalk and even had a few arguments over toys. Ahh, how wonderful it is to have friends you can fight with like sisters. What a blessing.
This weekend has been great family time, taking it easy and just hanging out together.
Starting tomorrow, we are back on a good schedule with therapy. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday... 2:15-4:15. That is a great schedule for the girls and puts them at getting a good balance of speech, physical and occupational therapies again. Oh, and it gives me 2 hours, 3 days a week all to myself! I can be a better mommy and teacher with a little bit of time to myself now and then.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Art & Sight words

Yesterday we sat in the floor and colored on coffee filters with markers. No rules, just being creative and watching how the marker ink soaks into the filters. Taking off and putting on the marker lids is also good fine motor practice (as well as writing and drawing), though it is a difficult task as Emma's tremors progress and Alex's hands and fingers draw up more and more.

As I was helping Alex put a lid back on a marker, Emma took it upon herself to paint her fingernails with her marker.

Here were our finished products.

We also spent some time yesterday making flash cards. Instead of taking the typical approach to sight words (learning basics like 'it' 'the' etc), I decided that familiar objects would be more functional knowledge for them. As I said before, they can identify 'Alex', 'Emma', 'Mommy', 'Daddy', 'Harris'. So, we made cards with the names of family and a few basic things they like.
We were supposed to have a play date this morning, but had to reschedule for Friday, so instead we did more school work. I used the chalkboard on the playroom wall to display the names and we cut out pictures of (almost) everybody and put them above each card. That way they can see the object or person and the word together. We will just keep going over these things dad after day in the hopes that some of them will stick. As I have learned (and the developmental psychologist confirmed last year), repetition is the key for our girls. She explained that due to the nature of things we may go over and over something and one of three things will happen... one, they will get it and keep it... two, they will get it and lose it... three, they will never really get it. Because learning is so difficult, it is important for us to focus on things that will be most useful and functional for the girls, now and in the future.

One last thing. Yesterday I went to speech therapy with Alex and we met with a therapist that specializes in augmentative devices. That is, devices that will speak for her when she is no longer able (or even now when it isn't always clear what she is saying). After trying several things, we settled on a device that looks something like a cross between an iPad and a laptop. It has a touch screen and can be programmed (and reprogrammed) to the needs of the child... however basic or advanced is needed/desired. The possibilities with this device are really unlimited and it should last as long as the girls need it, since we can modify as needed. We will get a special attachment for the wheel chair so that Alex can easily access it, but it can be removed and held in her lap or on a table if so needed. She just touches the emblem she desires and the computer will say it for her. Really, very cool.
In all of this work (that they have been doing all summer) we have also decided to go ahead with the process for Emma also. She seems to be running only about 6 months behind Alex in the progression of many things, so we want to be prepared. It is a lot like the process of getting a wheel chair, with lots of paper work and red tape for insurance to approve it, all before it can be ordered. We expect they will get them around Christmas time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


It's August and that means that school starts soon. We have never really stopped learning, but we are about to jump back in a little bit. I have posted our goals to the right. They are reasonable and necessary goals. The biggest push for us is the goal of learning more sight words. I'm not sure we have the ability to grasp phonics (thought that doesn't mean we don't work on it often), so we are going to focus on sight words. Both girls can identify their own names and a few other words (Poppy, Nonnie, Mommy, Daddy, Harris). They seem to identify words by the first letter. Alex and Emma both know their letters quite well. The last few days they have rediscovered their Fun2Learn laptops. Instead of just pushing letters and saying them, Drew taught them to play a game on it. It shows a letter on the screen and they have to find it and push it on the keyboard. Alex got to level 5 the other day! Emma's biggest deal seems to be disinterest. She will ask me "What's this?" when she obviously knows the answer. I think she just craves the interaction with me, and there is the fact that her attention span is very short. That just means that while I encourage her to do it on her own, I also make time to participate with her.
They are still getting physical and speech therapy twice a week (for one hour each session) and Friendship has now hired an occupational therapy assistant that will be seeing the girls. I'm glad to have them back in OT and working on fine motor skills and planning. Also, having a new therapist provides the opportunity for fresh activities and exercises. In speech, Alex is working with a therapist that is trying out augmentative devices. This will definitely be needed and beneficial in the near and long term future. Whatever device we decide on should help her (and eventually Emma also) to communicate when her words are no longer understandable.

I will continue to make a point of involving the girls in household responsibilities (picking up toys, putting away clothes, etc.) While getting out and about is more difficult than it was a year ago, we will not stay cooped up in the house all the time. Shopping, visiting and caring for friends & family, and letting others help us is/will be priority. We will get back into the routine (after a crazy summer) of at least a weekly play date and attending Sunday school. I also make a point (and will continue) to involve the girls in their own personal care. Sometimes it is easier to just do things for them (and I am guilty of that), but I want to encourage their sense of self by allowing (and encouraging) them to do/assist with their feedings, clothing & pull up changes, bathing, etc. Also, things as simple as choosing their own clothing, activities, etc. seems to give them more feeling of control and stability. Striking the balance is sometimes difficult. Too much freedom or responsibility makes them feel overwhelmed and frustrated (to the point of melting down or getting weepy), while no choices or control can produce the same things. Balance. Oh, and I can't forget play. I believe that play is very important and Drew & I will continue to encourage it. Playing outside, playing inside, playing with others, playing alone, playing with mom & dad, playing with the dogs, playing games, etc. Alex & Emma LOVE playing games and I often use games to teach. They think we are playing, I know we are also learning.

So, there it is. Our approach to teaching and helping the girls develop to their fullest.
Pictures of recent art work.
Alex spent hours drawing in her new journal (one of Daddy's presents from California) the other day. Her focus... pictures of family. She works so hard and is always so happy to share her work, sometimes asking me to label things (or people) for her.

Emma's drawing/writing is still pretty scratchy. She can draw circles and scribble, but nothing very legible. Her tremors are much worse than Alex's, so that is a big factor.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"we do homework"

This afternoon I watched as the girls went through flash cards together. Alex looked up at me and said, "We do homework!" Emma would hold up a card and ask Alex "What this?" Then whey would practice saying the word as clearly as possible. I love that they are 'teaching' each other.
Yesterday during children's church Alex drew a picture of our family. I was so proud! For the record, mommy was the tallest, but daddy was drawn in a different color than us girls :) She even drew a sunshine in the top corner of the picture. For any whp don't know, laving the fine motor control to draw 4 stick figures and a sunshine is a big deal for Alex. Yay Alex!
Last week we continued practicing the use of pronouns... he, she, they,etc. I point them out in normal conversation, but also to specific activities such as asking questions about a book we are reading and encouraging their response in sentence form (as opposed to one word answers). Example...
"What is the boy holding?"
"He is holding a book."
We are still spending lots of time outside. That play time seems to encourage their imaginations. Examples... Emma was using sidewalk chalk to 'paint' Alex's fingernails today. Only moments later Emma was using that chalk as a tool to work under the hood of Alex's Mustang. They play shopping by exchanging grass and rocks as items and money. Alex places and 'order', Emma delivers a rock and says "Here! Give me money!" and then Alex pays her in grass. I love it!
Alex also showed off at therapy last week by writing her own name on her paper during speech.
I almost forgot... field trip to the county fair with Nonnie and Uncle Pat. We walked through the buildings and looked at all the plants, crafts, and animals. My girls are no strangers to farm animals, but having the opportunity to see so many animals and how they are the same and different is wonderful. Although Alex now thinks we need a rabbit and Emma was a bit disappointed that there were no monkeys :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

play play play

We have been doing LOTS of playing lately... it is just too pretty to sit inside all day, so we have been spending lots of time in the yard. Not all is lost though... their bodies and imaginations get a work out when we are outside. We find bugs, we pick flowers, we play with the dogs. Alex loves driving her mustang and Emma pushes her little cozy coupe. For some reason they are both loving picking grass and loading up their cars. Sometimes they are just playing, sometimes they pretend that the grass is something specific (things they went shopping for). For example, they love to get in their cars and tell me "Bye Bye, see you later!" and then head off. When I ask where they are going the answers range from: to therapy, shopping, to church, to Poppy's house, to Nonnie's house, to Ms. Lisa's house, etc. Today I think they were playing drive through because Alex was 'ordering' cookies and ice cream from Emma. They must have learned this at the park last week while playing with a few other little kids on the playground. So, while these things show some creativity, I am still trying to encourage their little minds as much as possible. I ask them where they are going shopping, what they are shopping for, if they will get me certain things, etc. In addition to all of these great things about playing outside, Alex can sit in her car and play for hours without ever having to fall down.
We still read at least a book or two every night before bed. The Three Little Pigs seems to be a great book to read slowly and ask lots of questions, so we keep reading that one on a regular basis. Alex pays close enough attention and is now able to answer simple questions about what will or what already happened in the story. Ms. Heidi has been reading her Goldilocks and the Three Bears in therapy and last night I was asking Alex about the story. I asked her what it was about and she was able to tell me the main characters. When I asked what happened she said "it broke", and after some more prodding from me (like I didn't know what happened) she giggled and told me Goldilocks broke the chair. I'm so happy she is making this progress. Emma is mainly concerned with getting to turn the page when we read, but at least now she is willing to wait until I read one page before she turns it. In the not so distant past we would have tiffs over her wanting to turn the pages at her whim. Progress!
Oh, labeling ordinary objects around the house doesn't seem to have helped with word recognition in any way. It does, however, make people think I'm crazy when they come over and see what I've done! So, the labels are coming down and we will just continue our repetition and working on Alex's prereading skills. She is having a full neuro-development evaluation on September 22-23 at Children's Mercy Hospital. Once that eval is complete the doctor may be able to give me some insight on the most important things to work on and any specific approaches that may be most helpful to Alex (and to Emma)... based on her developmental level (which we already know is quite delayed) and what will be the most important to learn before she loses the ability to gain skills, as well as what will help her the most once she begins losing abilities in the future.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Starting Line

The official home school forms are submitted and the school year has officially begun. In the last week we have spent some time with the workbook, trying to become more aware of letter sounds at the beginning of words. We say the word, emphasize the sounds, and identify the letter that starts the word. Alex has been practicing writing her name a lot and doing great. Emma can't write her full name but writes the 'E' (usually upside down) and is so proud of herself. We have played Candyland and I was suprised at how upset Alex got when she didn't win... No big deal though, I'm happy to foster competition... I just want to teach them both to be good sports. The only way to do that is to lose now and then. We have played the Memory game also. Yesterday we also pulled out the play dough.
Last Saturday we spent the day working on the yard. The girls helped me pull weeds and plant new flowers. Drew found a little frog in the grass and we all took turns holding him and checking him out. One day we were headed to my grandpa's and saw a big turtle making his way across the parking lot. I stopped and opened the van doors so the girls could see and we sat and watched as he made it into the grass. Sometimes the best learning opportunities come unexpected. We have also had several play dates and played outside a lot. The weather has been so beautiful! I also value the time the girls have playing with Lorelai and Mollie on Wednesdays. It is a safe and intimate setting for them to play with friends, without me.
I am infinitely blessed to be home with my girls and so thankful for the opportunity to be mommy and teacher.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Great Stuff

Since returning from our vacation (which included the girls' first trip to the beach, educational in itself) we have done lots of fun stuff. Last week we spent a day at the Tulsa Zoo. The girls were so excited to see the animals! Each time we go it is a new experience, there is so much to see and learn about there. The girls rode a camel and there are pictures... but Christin refuses to turn those pictures because she too is riding that camel :) The days before and after our zoo trip we read animal books and it has turned into something of a unit study because on Monday we went to the safari in Gentry with the Hardins. A fun field trip with our very own preschool teacher! The safari is great in a different way because there is so much hands on. We saw kangaroos with joeys in their pouches (and got to pet them), petted the goats and pot bellied pigs, loved on baby monkeys and geunie pigs, and even got to pet a lion cub! Alex was having SO much fun that I'm sure she would have stayed all day had I been willing. This weekend we are going to Ft. Sill to be with Drew and plan to make a trip to the Wildlife Refuge to visit the prairie dog town in particular. Just another piece of this unit study that seems to have found us.
On a more academic note, we have been drawing (got to work those fine motor skills) and spending time on pre-reading skills. I decided to take a cue from ESL and label things around the house. I have labeled the door, wall, chair, table, etc so that the girls can become familiar with the words in direct relation to the object. Emma has rediscovered the magna doodle, so we have done a lot of our alphabet work there. They ask me to draw a certain picture, I do, and then we write and sound out the word.
More developmental stuff... above/below, inside/outside, thick/thin, etc.
Both girls, Emma especially, are making great strides in language therapy. Emma is frequently saying the 's' on the end of plural and possesive words. She is also using pronouns much better... "her", "his", etc. Using the gender correct pronoun is something they have really been working on and I try to encourage regularly.
Our vacation has also provided a great opportunity to encourage their story telling ability. I am trying to ask open ended questions and encourage them to tell me about things. Emma seems to want to give the answer she thinks I'm looking for (usually "Mickey Mouse" regardless of the question) and I'm really trying to get her to elaborate and give her recollection or opinion. That is getting better. Alex is doing great with that. I'm having a great time listening to Alex and enjoying my conversations with her over this and other subjects.