Wednesday, April 20, 2011

College Bound

Our homeschool support group had a great meeting a few Monday nights ago.  We invited an admissions officer from the local state university to talk to us about high school transcripts.  Although Ben is only in sixth grade, I'm acutely aware that:

1.  time flies and high school will be here in, like, 4 days; and
2.  too much information too soon is not a problem when it comes to planning for high school and The Great Beyond.

So, as we continue to work through middle school material, I wanted to know ahead of time how to prepare for college.

In our homeschool, the ultimate educational goal is to have equipped our children for whatever God may call them to do after they finish here, be that college, a gap year, work, military, missions/ministry.  Attending college has always seemed the most reliant on documentation, so I've figured that if our ducks are in a row for college applications (in terms of transcripts, testing, letters of recommendation), then we'll likely have the supporting requirements for any other option.

What a blessing that the university our speaker represented uses The Common Application, as do 400 other institutions in the US (including both dh's and my undergraduate alma maters)!

Here's some points that I came away with:
  • Applicants from both public and private high schools have transcripts that run the gamut in levels of clarity.  Admission officers (AO) have to look at each transcript individually to sort out how the school awards credit and determines GPAs.  Our guest mentioned that some schools award 5 credits per class, whereas others award 1 credit per class (a full year class would get .5 credit per semester).  Apparently, high school transcripts come with information detailing that schools stats, which include how credit is awarded.  Like a high school transcript, a homeschool transcript will also need to define how credit is awarded at their "institution."  For example, the AO said some homeschool applicants have no grades reported, however the transcript will define that credit is given only for coursework completed with an A/B average.  
  • I believe most of us left with the feeling that AOs at this particular institution have had good experiences with homeschoolers and there is a level of trust that parents are reporting the truth and not inflating performance.  Homeschoolers have been successful at this particular institution in the past, so this trust has been earned over the years...
  • ....Which makes me grateful to those who've come before me on this homeschool journey.
  • ACT vs. SAT -- take your pick.  Not a biggie.  The ACT is more subject-based, the SAT is designed to assess thinking skills.  As the woman on this video says,  pick the one that makes your child look like a genius:
  • Along with the standardized testing issue, this particular institution (and so it appears, the others who use The Common Application) uses a technique some institutions call "super score."  if you take a standardized test multiple times, you will report your highest subtest score.  In this way, they are looking at your best performance across all attempts. 
  • APs and CLEPs can be valuable to verify a child' transcript.  For example, if you are reported a 3.6 GPA, but the ACT/SAT scores don't corroborate this level of accomplishment, good performance on APs and CLEPs may help.  But, if you are look to gain credit for work completed before high school, do your research ahead of time, as each institution deals with these differently.

I would say I walked away from the evening feeling much more comfortable with the idea of creating a transcript for each of my children when the time comes. My biggest question -- figuring credit -- was easily answered and isn't as scary as I first thought.  The whole transcript process is not rocket science and since I've applied to college twice as has my husband, I think we can figure this out when the time comes. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Historic Field Trips in New England

It's spring, most of the snow has melted, and I beginning to think: "FIELD TRIPS!"

One of the best things about homeschooling in New England is that there are GOBS (yes, such an exact word) of places to visit to learn about the colonization of America and the formation of our country.

So here's some places on our agenda for the spring and summer:

I know there are others that I cannot think of right now.  When we made our list last summer, we had at least 12 -- one for every week of the summer!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

90 Days in The Word

It was a sprint to the finish, but I did it, praise God! I was able to finish on time over the weekend.

I've learned much in the last 90 days:
  1. It really does not take that long to read through the Bible, especially when I consider how I've wasted hours and hours of my life on less worthy pursuits.  Most days I could finish the readings in about 30 minutes.
  2. I am still able to accomplish goals in my life. It has been a while since I set a non-homeschooling goal.  And, I think this is the first, ever, New Year's resolution I've ever met.
  3. Time slows down when I read The Word, as though God is slowing down time to help me not only read the Bible, but have time to do my other jobs, chores and activities during the day.
  4. The minor prophets are worth another read through. And, I'd like to move more slowly and deliberately through Psalms and Proverbs again.
  5. I really like the YouVersion app. I have the iphone one, and it provides a huge number of translations from the Bible (some to download, some only when wirelessly connected) and it has a huge number of Bible reading plans. It isn't perfect (especially in terms of formatting), but it is very, very  convenient. I used different translations during my 90 days -- NIV, NASB, NLT and The Message.
Now, about The Lord, I've also learned a lot:
  1. Reading through the Bible at this breakneck speed helps me to see the whole picture of the Bible.  God loves us.  He has done, is doing, and will continue doing everything to show he love to us.
  2. At the same time, there is no ounce or fraction of an ounce of sin that he can tolerate.
  3. I can truly see that there is absolutely NOTHING that we has humans can do by ourselves to be able to stand in God's presence.
  4. Jesus really is all about love and humility....put others first.
Have you read through the Bible?  What did you learn about yourself and God in the process?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review Crew: Go Go Kabongo!

Last week I mentioned that the older boys had come across their most favorite review this year:  Big IQ Kid.  This week, I have the pleasure of reviewing Go Go Kabongo, my 5-year-old's favorite review product of the year.

Dr. Martin Fletcher (a cognitive psychologist, dad and gamer) and the people at Kabongo take a cognitive approach to reading;  that is, the cognitive psychologists have identified key thinking skills necessary to make successful readers:

  • Attention and focus
  • Working memory
  • Successive processing
  • Simultaneous processing
  • Visualization
  • Planning
  • Comprehension
 [You can see the chart  at the Kabongo website here.]

Unlike a lot of computer games, Kabongo will not give your child a "score" nor will it tell you if your child is doing the game "right" or "wrong."  The developers are clear that their goal is to "guide children toward better thinking by using an exciting, engaging game design. Children use a wide variety of critical-thinking and problem-solving strategies to play and progress..."  Their efforts to create something different has not gone unrecognized.  Dr. Toy listed Kabongo on her list of 100 Best Products in October, 2010. You can see their other awards, too!

Joining Kabongo is easy and practically free.  The Laughter Lake habitat is free, while Galaxy Gardens is free for a limited time.  The third habitat, Twister Top, is a reasonable $4.95.  This is not  a monthly free, this is forever.

[I will mention that the banner says "beta," so it is still a work in progress.  We had a couple times when the game stopped responding or we would get funky images and lines at the treehouse/ home.  Sometimes all the post-game rewards are not available. When this happened, we just refreshed the screen and moved on. This might bug some kids, but amazingly enough, it didn't stop Levi from enjoying his KaBongo time.]

After first logging into the treehouse, your child can create their own avatar by mixing and matching heads, bodies and legs.  You can be a different avatar as often as you want. Afterward, s/he could click on the habitat map to play games, or cruise over to the skate park or comic book maker to redeem prizes for playing games.

Our Experience.  Overall, this product was a joy to test.  Levi loved doing his "computer school" and I loved knowing that he was working on something that was providing cognitive value dressed up to be perfectly silly and fun for his age.

I have just two minor complaints:  (1) I want more information in the emailed parent reports. Over the course of the nearly two months he's been playing the games, I've received several email progress reports.  These have told me which games he's been playing and what his level of progress is (there are 6 levels).  The site says that reports are sent weekly, but my experience and emails with a Kabongo contact say otherwise.  Apparently, their system is set up to kick out a progress report only when your child makes progress in a game.  My wish is that they fix this bug sometime soon and send out more frequent reports. addendum: Thanks, Debra and Tess, for pointing me to a page (under Parents) on the website that I'd never seen before! It's entitiled "Your Child's Progress" and it provides a bit more information that I had been receiving via email.  It shows my son's progress level on each of the nine games available - not just the games he has recently played.  I think this is the improvement that the Kabongo customer service tech told me was coming in an email exchange I had with her. 

(2)I also have found that the audio is not very distinct in audio-dependent games (like Desert Dash), but maybe that's because I'm old and my hearing isn't as good as it used to be!  In this game, particularly, the volume of the phonomes (like a short 'u' or 'a' sound) really needs to be as loud as the rest of the music and sound effects audio -- it is too muffled.

Neither one of these issues is a deal breaker, and they both probably reflect more of my control-freak personality than issues with the game, but I thought I mentioned it just in case someone else is as freaky as me!

Thank so much to the Kabongo people for free access to their site in exchange for an honest review.  If you'd like to read what others say about Kabongo, please head over to the TOS Review Crew site!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Correcting Articulation at Home - Step 1: Does My Child Have a Problem?

In the realm of speech and language issues with children, one of the most common questions home educating moms ask at online forums and message boards is, "What do I do to help my child pronounce words correctly?" Occasionally I'll pipe up and offer my 2 cents because I was a speech language pathologist (speech therapist) before retiring to stay at home and educate my boys.  I have seen it all from a speech, language and cognitive perspective.

Now, after a year of false starts and deleted posts, I'm finally ready to tackle these questions on my blog -- a sort of resource for home educators (or not -- the information applies to all). 

And, instead of re-writing what is readily available on the internet, I decided to peruse the web and find what I think are the best sites to answer questions that parents might have about articulation problems. Now, there is a LOT on information on the web about these issues, but I am taking a slightly different viewpoint than many of my colleagues. First, here's what I believe:

  • Mama (and Daddy) knows best.  You know your child, personality, development, and how s/he interacts with the world.  Moms (and Dads) need to be listened to throughout the process.  If you are concerned, be your child's advocate and work to get answers. Listen to your intuition. 
  • Therapy is not rocket science for basic articulation disorders such as a child is saying "w" and not "l" or "r." Or perhaps you here "d" instead of "th" sounds.  I totally believe that parents can be trained to offer exercises and engage in activities with their child to help their child make positive changes in their speech (and language, too, but I'm just focusing on speech right now). 

I need to offer a caveat to my definition of "basic."  When I say basic articulation disorders, I mean  that a doctor, audiologist, and/ or speech-language pathologist has looked at your child and ruled out neurological problems, hearing problems, developmental, and physical problems.  Motor-planning problems (apraxia of speech) also can cause significant speech and language delays.  Adding any of these issues is not "basic." If you are dealing with any of these sorts of complications (and other categories I could be forgetting), I still believe parents can play a huge role in the therapy component, yet they might need additional guidance, planning and strategizing from a professional therapist.
  • Therapy is best when it is more than a couple times a week.  This is where you, as parents, play a huge role. I've worked with children who received therapy in public school as well as outpatient.  Without a doubt a child makes more progress when the parent continues activities at home as well as practicing skills within natural family conversations.  Without. a. doubt.  My most successful patient was a 4-year-old who saw me once every week or two.  I gave her mother an extensive home-program to work on specific articulation errors.  When I saw the child, I added or changed the program as necessary.  We had a fantastic working relationship that was successful, economical, and efficacious.

OK, so now that I've told you where I am coming from, here are some fantastic links to resources to help parents understand speech development (and I totally apologize for making the preceding explanation horribly long).

1. What is Speech?  What is Language?  Sometimes people use these terms incorrectly. It's important to start on a level playing field so we are all talking the same language.

2. And, along these lines, lets define an articulation disorder and compare it to a phonological process disorder.  I'm still not in love with how ASHA defines phonological processes so I'll take a stab at it:
When children are young (toddlers) and just beginning to learn to talk, they may have a lot more words and sentences to say than correct sounds to use to say them.  Their ability to shape their tongue, lips, and mouth to correctly produce the sounds of English may be less mature than their vocabulary.  So, kids do the next best thing:  they make do.  They substitute easier sounds for harder ones.  For example, "k" and "g" sounds are a lot harder to say than "m, d, p, t and ing" sounds. So, kids will say "mee-maw" for "grand-ma" or "tih-tee" for "kitty."  When kids use the substitutions consistently across lots of words and sounds, we call these patterns "phonological processes."  They are totally normal.  Then, as a child ages and gets more adept at shaping new sounds, the stop using these patterns and begin to articulate words as expected:  grand-ma, kitty, go (not "dough" anymore).  However, sometimes these patterns become ingrained habits that make communicating hard-- thus the need for therapy.
If you are interested in learning more about these sound substitution patterns, you can view a great chart here:  Phonological  Processes After looking over that chart, if you are interested in the general, typical age ranges that children stop using these patterns, you can view this chart called Elimination of Phonological Procceses.
3.  What is normal?
Let me explain what it means. The left side of each pink or blue bar shows when 50% of children at that age have mastered the sound.  The right side indicates when 90% of children at that age have mastered the sound.  For example, at age 2, 50% of boys and girls can articulate k, g, d, t, and "ing" sounds (adding to the p, m, h, w and b sounds they are developing). Of course, the bars are not rock solid and should not be interpreted to mean that a child doesn't begin to use the sound before the lowest age range.  The chart is a good guide to help you see what is typical and what is not.
Another thing to consider is the Overall Measure of Intelligibility (or clarity) -- how well your child can be understood in a conversation. I've worked with plenty of kids who could say a majority of their sounds correctly one word at a time, however when they were trying to tell me something, I could barely understand them!  Take a look at this general guideline:

It's important to remember that close family and caretakers (and brothers and sisters) generally have a better perception of a child's intelligible speech than strangers or others who don't spend lots of time with your child.  I've worked with families that have absolutely no trouble understand and decoding their child's speech, but I can only understand their child a tiny bit.
Alright, I'm just going to post this now so I can move on to my next post in this series:  How to Do Therapy at Home.  If something I've written here is totally unclear or confusing, please let me know!  I really want this to be helpful!  And, please let me know what you'd like me to write about in this series!