My AAC Immersion Homeschool Kindergarten: Week 1
I just completed the first week of my twenty-five year homeschooling. That is a sentence I didn't expect to ever write. Our seventh child, Josiah, graduated high school in the spring of 2016, and I anticipated for over a decade that his graduation would end my homeschool teaching. Decisions about our son Nathaniel's education have been a long (mostly kept private) wrestle over the last few years. Perhaps in time I will share more about the small decisions that landed us at last Monday - Nathaniel's first day of Kindergarten in our homeschool. But for today, I just want to share about our first week.
A short history if you are new to my blog - I am Kim, wife of Rich and mother of eight children age five to thirty-five years old. I am mother-in-law to three (soon to be four) and a grandmother. Ona is my name to that generation. In 2013, our family accepted the foster placement of a medical complex infant with a tracheostomy and g-tube dependency. We finalized his adoption when he was fifteen months old; his story has dominated this blog ever since. :) I also write about Nathaniel at a public Facebook page, Hold My Words. Nathaniel has multiple disabilities. Perhaps most obvious at first meeting is that he is non-verbal. He communicates in multiple modalities including signs and a voice generating communication device.
Nathaniel's communication needs are one of the factors propelling us to teach him at home. Researchers have noted that beginning augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users are significantly influenced by environmental barriers including policy, practice, attitude, knowledge and skill. For us at this time, a home based education for Nathaniel eliminates many of these. I have the unique opportunity to create an AAC immersion educational experience based solely on Nathaniel's needs, communication device, and symbol set. It's a challenge worthy of setting aside my expected homeschool teaching retirement.
My desire for Nathaniel is summed up in my friend Cheryl Swope's phrase, "a beautiful education." She writes, "with the materials available today, no educable child need to be taught only functional daily living skills, behavior training, or deficit remediation. His humanity commends him to a dignified, inspiring, and elevating pursuit." So in addition to striving for AAC immersion, I hope to offer Nathaniel a feast of opportunities that nurture a love of learning. Enough explanation. Some highlights of our week...
We had two themes this week: Listening and All About Me. Our children's literature selections were Listen and Learn, All About You by Catherine and Laurence Anholt (I believe this is out of print), and The Listening Walk.
I selected Jolly Phonics materials as the foundation for our phonics learning for a number of reasons, but one thing I like for Nathaniel specifically is that the curriculum includes a hand motion for each sound. We did some additional phonic activities including using alternative pencils of letter stamps and keyboard to write S. I am very happy with the picture dictionary I selected for this year - it has more than nouns! We read the pages for Ss and then spent a long time looking for the Ss words listed in the dictionary on Nathaniel's communication device.
We started writing an All About Me book. Nathaniel currently writes his name by matching magnet letters to a pre-written template. He chose his age from a field of three foam numbers. Everyone in the family wrote sentences on the theme what we love to eat. This activity reinforced two of our AAC core words for the month: LOVE, AND. Nathaniel helped me print the symbols for his favorite foods from the computer. Searching for ice cream sandwich allowed him to use his new skill of locating S on a keyboard.
Nathaniel's fine motor delay does not permit him to write his name yet, so we worked on name recognition and spelling with the magnet letters, cutting the letters apart and gluing them back together, and some homemade Hot Dots flashcards. I could have asked Nathaniel to just point to the written name for each photo, but the Hot Dots feature makes it a little more rewarding.
We will be using Saxon Math, but the curriculum is very calendar driven and the first lessons are oriented to September. We spent this week reviewing some math concepts that we worked on last year. Nathaniel is very successful identifying the hand positions for numbers 1-5 and matching a small velcro card to each drawing. We worked with BambinoLUK learning activities, reviewed colors and shapes with a memory match game, and spent time working with quantities 1-5. All these activities gave a lot of opportunity to model the core words FIND and COLOR.
I am using PrACCtical AAC list of Core Words for July as the foundation of our daily AAC enrichment. This week we worked on FIND, AND, LOVE, and COLOR. This post is getting long, so I have written another just about our AAC work this week. You can find it here. The photo above were my manipulatives for an outside water play activity themed off Eric Carle's book 10 Little Rubber Ducks.
Nathaniel had OT and Speech this week; we missed PT due to the holiday. I'm a proactive type A mom. The type that either drives a therapist mad because they can't keep up, or they love me because they can get away with not setting up a home program assuming I am doing stuff anyway. Nathaniel's OT and I have a wonderful arrangement - she suggests one hand strengthening activity a week and a couple other skills like turn taking and waiting as homework. This keeps the program in her court and sets limits on how many things I'm trying to focus on. Type A moms need that help! This week Nathaniel worked with a strainer, pipe cleaners, and straws. He told me it looked like a UFO after he was done constructing on Monday. (UFO? Yes, he said that using his communication device. He absolutely needs all those AAC words all the time!) We continue to work with the Handwriting Without Tears Pre-K program. This week we worked mostly with the wet-dry-try activity for letters L, T, H, E, and F. I noted that Nathaniel chose Do-a-Dot Markers when given the choice to color something, likely because crayons tax his hand strength. I hope to see that improve this year.
We listened and watched Beethoven's 6th Symphony, and I read a little about why the musical piece was written to Nathaniel. We talked about how the flutes sound like little birds. Our art appreciation this week was Daniel Chester French's sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. I displayed a picture of it through the week and we talked about it being made of stone. We watched this brief video about marble carving. As with most things relating to tools, Nathaniel was memorized. I had planned to let him play carve with a bar of soap and his play dough tools, but we didn't get it done yet. Maybe this weekend. These are elements of that "beautiful education" that is so important to me for Nathaniel. It is noteworthy that when his grandparents visited for dinner Friday evening, the school work he ran to get and show them was the photo of Lincoln's statue.
Despite the heat, we spent a couple hours (broken into short periods) outside each school day. My July start of school is because the heat and humidity is hard on Nathaniel's secretion level, and because I believe shorter two to three week breaks spread through out the year are better for learning. When my kids are young and not involved with camps and other seasonal activities - I have the liberty to set the school calendar to our suiting. I believe in real work and the outdoors as the best sensory input tools. Nathaniel helped weed flower beds and watered our plants. He enjoyed swinging, running barefoot, and a Listening Walk with his Dad. We did a plant - animal picture sort to continue our work on categorizing. Core words: FIND, AND, LOOK, NOT were helpful for this activity.
Other books we enjoyed this week just for fun:
Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell. This was great for practicing where animal sounds are on Nathaniel's device.
Alphabet Boats by Samantha Varmos. Good rhyming. Cute pictures with the alphabet letters in each scene. Fun to search for them using the core word FIND.
Bear's Loose Tooth by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. More rhyming; prepping for Nathaniel's first loose tooth experience.
Waiting Is Not Easy by Mo Willems. Nathaniel's OT asked that we work on waiting and this book has been a great introduction to the idea. Offers a lot of opportunity for core word work including NOT, I, WHAT and YES
Thank you for sharing our week.