Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Friendship Square Park At Twilight

We took advantage of the last warm day before the weather is supposed to turn very cold. After dinner, we headed downtown (Bean chose the park) and played until bedtime. We love our beautiful little town :)


Snapshot: Pumpkins 2013



Friday, October 25, 2013

Climbing

At the neighbor's house this afternoon, Bean climbed onto the play house. So, Abi did too. No biggie.



Then, she climbed down again.

Snapshot: Abi Selfie


I think I'm gonna die from the cute.

Another Dream

Read this blog post outlining the problems with unsolicited help given by sighted people, and this blog post responding to it. 

Another friend on Facebook wrote that she is tired of being called "amazing" because it separates her when all she wants to do is live a "normal" life and she does what she needs to do in order to accomplish that. 

This made me think, wouldn't it be cool if one day we (people with disabilities, my daughter, myself) could be accepted as equals instead of being separated and segregated by ignorance and awkwardness?

I feel like getting out MLK's "I have a dream" speech and rewriting to say, "I have a dream that some day little blind girls and little autistic boys will be allowed to play with their friends without all the adults hovering around saying, 'be careful!' I have a dream that we will be invited to help clean the church kitchens with everybody else. I have a dream that eventually all of the buildings and busses and web sites and books will be just as accessible to us as they are to the rest of the world. I have a dream that employers would look at character and education and work ethic rather than pre-judging based on perceived lack of ability. I have a dream that people will recognize our individuality and will quit assuming that because they knew a blind girl back in high school, that I am exactly like her. Some day we will be free. Free to go where we wish, learn what we wish, work at what we wish and stop spending precious energy battling prejudice, indifference, constantly educating and being the bigger person by looking the other way in the face of condescension, fear and hatred. We will be free of constantly being objectified as the personification of others' fears. Someday, the laws enacted for our education and well-being will mean more than mere words on paper. When that day comes, we will finally be people, instead of canes or wheelchairs. Our differences will finally be allowed to enrich humanity, and our unique views and perspectives will no longer need to be suppressed under a mask of normalcy."

As King said to the Negroes in 1963, we must not lose faith, because that day will come.



 


Monday, October 21, 2013

Seven Seths

Because Seth is seven!








We went to the Pantry for our special dinner. He had a corn dog and some pancakes. I got a very ill-timed nosebleed, and once I got the blood stopped, we chatted with some friendly guys from Ghana, and a very unfriendly American octogenarian. At home, we ate red velvet cake made by Natta, and had a glow-stick, glow balloon party. 

And that's how Seth turns seven!

He got what he wanted most for his birthday: a real model train. Grandma brought Daddy's model train from when he was young. I think possibly Seth glowed brighter than the glow sticks when he saw it. :)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Good Saturday

I had a really, really great day today. First one in several months that didn't have something super stressful in it! 

Which is weird, because we played music in a wedding; the kids played, and we all have colds, and I lost my voice, so it had the potential to be so stressful, but it wasn't! It was so much fun!

We dressed the kids in the cute dresses I sewed, and Cody got to be the ring bearer. I found boots for everyone. The kids all played their song so beautifully... we did an arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon as the bride came down the aisle that started with Natalie on solo violin. Then, thanks to a cough drop, I had just enough voice to sing when the time came, so Matt and I got our best country style out and did Randy Travis's "Forever and Ever, Amen". We also did some flute/guitar hymns here and there as filler. It was such a kick: our first family "gig."

Alyssa was a beautiful, radiant bride. The wedding was one of those really special ones where everyone is so focused on the love between the bride and groom that none of the technical stuff matters, so of course it all goes perfectly. 

And the Old Blaine Schoolhouse in October looked breathtaking, with all of her shabby chic decorations and the vivid trees in the sunshine. I can't wait to share pics.

I feel so content right now. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Braille Good And Bad


Abi loves Teacher Daniel, the itinerant Braille teacher who comes twice a week. He teaches in a patient, relaxed style that makes learning easy. He makes up little stories and poems to entice her to read. 

Following his lead, I made her a little poem that she could read all by herself. 

"Abi can go to the park
Abi can go like a shark
Abi can go with a lark
Abi can not go in the dark"

***

The problem comes when the stuff she is given to read comes out of the computer making no sense. As I posted today on Facebook:

Maybe this is why Braille is hard for kids to read. 

This is one of Abi's school worksheets. The Braille says:

"Color each shape" 

"rer" "yellow" "gre:" "blue"

Tell me, if your kid's worksheet came home from school with the directions printed this weird, would you be okay with it?



 


 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Little Bird, Little Bird

Curly was singing this while the kids played outside. Love.

The Game

See this giant old willow tree in our back yard? Well, the crotch in the center has a lovely spot for sitting, or for pretending you live in a tree house.


This fall, the kids have been playing Swiss Family Robinson during their lunch recess. You guessed it, we're reading that book right now in school.


Today, they got out the archery stuff* from Robin Hood and decided that the target represented different animals that the Swiss Family might hunt. So, they "live" in the tree and go out every day to explore and hunt, just like the brothers in the book.


Isn't being a kid fun?

Not to mention, what better way to build reading comprehension than when a third grader is hanging upon every word in your book so they can glean details for their games? I love it. :)

(* Note: I've been really proud at how well they follow the safety rules. Even the little ones know how to be careful with the archery equipment.)

While Mom's Busy Sewing

Wonderful Daddy played with the kids. They goofed around at home, went to a park, and bought a whole bunch of pumpkins, ready for carving faces next week.

Hubby, while not the prolific shutter bug that I am, nevertheless had a few pictures on his phone, which he sent to me this morning.



We've been teaching Abi social niceties like eye contact and smiles. I think she is doing great, don't you?


After a week of "being good" while we homeschool, Bean needed some roughhousing with Daddy. His giggles filled the house all weekend!


Hubby's artsy self-portraits always make me smile. I love that man. :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pins and Needles

I spent the weekend sewing, an activity that I love, but which also ends up being super exhausting. Maybe it's the creative output of making my project from scratch without a pattern; maybe it's the low vision/back pain stuff; maybe it's the fact that I sew standing up to try to avoid the back pain thing; maybe it's fighting with my broken sewing machine... whatever it is, after making two dresses for the girls, I feel both accomplished and totally worn out.



We're getting ready for Alyssa's wedding, so today also involved some shopping for just the right shirts for the boys, practicing music, and making sure Abi's hair looks beautiful. Country cowboy theme is a bit of a stretch for this town family, so I've been asking friends for boots to borrow and so forth.


The wedding is next weekend, and since we get to play music, I'm super excited! It's been fun to put together outfits, arrange music and have something to anticipate. Plus we love Alyssa to pieces, and the happiness just radiates from her as she counts down the minutes to her big day. :)

Full


 As opposed to empty. :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Empty


Our fridge is empty, empty, empty. 

So, I used the opportunity to CLEAN!!

And tonight, we'll head to the grocery store. I'm thankful for payday and an opportunity to feed my family well. We are so very blessed. :)


 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can You Find The Faces?

A fellow mom-blogger posted that her daughter had begun to draw faces, and this thrilled her to pieces. 

It occurred to me that as a VI mom, faces are just not that important to me. Voices, yes. People, definitely. But faces? Meh. 

Abi started drawing faces recently and I hardly noticed. I wonder if caring a lot about faces or eye contact is a sighted thing or if it was just my personality to not be too impressed?

Anyway, can you find the faces? 


I was startled when my friend posted that picture on her blog and the little faces look so alike to the faces that Abi draws. Are these what faces look like to them? I doubt it in Abi's case. I think someone (Curly) taught her to draw two eyes, a nose and a line for a mouth, and this is what results when you can't really see what you're drawing. But, I could be wrong! Maybe they can see enough to appreciate the features of someone's face and represent it in a drawing. 


 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Schooly Resources

For my third graders, I've put together a schedule that tries to include all the "extras" that the school doesn't give us, like Bible and typing.

Base Curriculum

For starters, we're using the K12 curriculum. Well, mostly.


I really like the Math Plus; and the spelling and vocab lessons are great. The writing skills lessons aren't outstanding, but they will do, and the history, science and art lessons are plodding but adequate.

Their literature and reading lessons are, in my humble opinion, terrible. The selections don't capture my kids' attention at all, which makes reading a drudge instead of a joy. For this reason, I've scrapped their reading selctions, book report and comprehension questions and chosen books that the kids love. In my experience, when kids like what they are reading, they will naturally discuss it, comprehend it and remember it.


For reading aloud, we've picked an adaptation of The Swiss Family Robinson, and for literature, we're reading Dandelion Fire, which we're all enjoying. I find I teach better if I enjoy the material too!

Typing

In this day and age, being able to interact with technology is essential. Part of that skill involves an ability to type well.


We're using a free website provided by the BBC called Dance Mat typing. Sometimes I go find typing games online for variety and practice.

Languages

It's important to our family to study Amharic since we would like to visit Ethiopia again.


I found an online site that offers basic Amharic vocabulary for a small subscription fee called Amharic Teacher. Because it uses pictures and recordings of a native speaker, it appeals to both my visual learner and my aural learner.

Bible

Every day at the start of school, we do a little competition called a "sword drill" in which we compete to look up a verse quickly. This encourages knowledge of the books of the Bible, as well as being a lot of fun.

Then, we listen to a little lesson from Keys for Kids and do a memory verse.


At night, Daddy does some music practice with each kid, and that wraps up a full, fun day of learning.








Monday, October 7, 2013

Nerd, as if you did not know


I used to watch shows or read books about blind people to get ideas. Not that fiction is always very accurate... Still, I loved stories about blind people who lived full lives and did interesting things.

I still do. :)

Imagine my delight when I discovered that someone had taped all the Longstreet episodes off of Canadian Mystery TV a few years ago and were offering the DVDs online for a modest price. Hooray!

Now, in my (rare) spare time, I have these episodes to watch, enjoy the mystery plots and laugh at the old 1970's hairstyles. I do feel a bit of nostalgia for the rotary phones, though.

I also discovered that a few the books from the 1940's called Duncan Maclain that Longstreet is based upon are available too. Although they are just dime novels about a blind detective, they are still interesting, to a nerd.

If anyone else is interested, here is where these treasures can be found for now:


Magical Book


For school, the kids and I are listening to the audio version of "Dandelion Fire," which is my favorite book in the 100 Cupboards series. I love the crazy adventure story, and the premise of ND Wilson that the ordinary world is as full of magic as the fantasy worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth.


My goal is to awaken a love of reading in my students, a desire to enter the magical worlds that books can offer. Only a love of reading will motivate the hours of practice it takes to become an excellent reader.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why, God?

Why?

Why does life hurt sometimes?

I'll draw your attention to Hubby's blog post today. Abi asked him why God made bees. Ever since her brother was stung this summer, reacted, and ended up in the hospital, she has had a pronounced fear of bees. 

I found it fascinating that in her five-year-old brain, bees were the Ultimate Bad Thing. It's like Harry Potter, when faced with the boggart. It becomes only a dementor, much to his teacher's surprise. Lupin figured it would become Lord Voldemort. 

When Abi needed to ask Daddy about the problem of evil in the world, she asked about bees. Not "Why was I abandoned, starving, as an eight-month-old baby?" Or "Why did I have to lose my eyesight, be flung halfway around the world, learn a whole different language, and grow up in a totally different family than the one where I was born?"

I don't have anything particularly profound to comment on this. I just found it interesting. 



 

Friday, October 4, 2013

When Common Sense Leaves

I have a story for you, and a fiercely opinionated rant. Read at your own risk. Please feel free to comment.



My homeschooled kids had to take a reading test a few weeks ago. (These tests themselves deserve another ranty post, but this is not the subject today. I'm NOT a fan of these silly tests, but I am a fan of equality, and that IS the subject of today's post.)

One of my homeschooled kids is a braille reader.

(I bet you parents of blind children can guess what happened...)

First of all, let me remind everyone that the LAW states that Abi is entitled to an accessible test equivalent to what her sighted peers take. The school promised to provide a test in Braille. So far, so good, right?

The Braille test was sent to the test proctor who panicked and sent it back.

Then, the test was sent to Abi's braille teacher who was off work for [totally legit] personal reasons. Bad timing. Not his fault.

When he got back, he still hadn't received the darn thing, even though the rest of us had long ago taken the test.

He finally got it and administered it to Abi, but the Braille test was created by a computer translator in "correct" grade 2 Braille and presumable prepared by someone who either doesn't read Braille or doesn't teach Braille to Kindergartners. The Braille teacher has seen this before, and warned me that Abi would certainly fail the test completely, and that is exactly what happened, even though she is on grade level in her reading ability.

So, of course, because of that, she was identified as needing remedial reading help, which would take place on the computer she can't see using the screen reader we don't have yet, with words that fit the sighted kids' curriculum, but not the Braille one.

I wrote a frustrated email:

Dear Team: 
I got a Kmail identifying Abi as below grade level and needing remedial reading help. I wanted to reiterate what [her braille teacher] said in her IEP meeting that she is actually ON grade level in her braille reading skill and the test was not adequate to measure her reading ability. Let me demonstrate. (I read Braille, and I saw the test.)

A sighted kindergartner might see this on the test:

G  A  F  O  R  B  D

Unfortunately, the braille that the computer translator spits out looks sort of like this: 
ߥG  ߥA  ߥF  ߥO  ߥR  ߥB  ߥD

There are special symbols in front of each letter that a beginning reader could not be expected to figure out!

Not only that, but Tier 2 is geared toward sighted readers and is not aligned with the Braille teaching curriculum, so it would be more confusing than helpful.

Very much hoping this can be sorted out quickly so the Tier 2 people don't bug us for weeks, as has happened with another of my students who was not supposed to be in Tier 2 but was somehow entered into the system as such.

The teachers nicely replied back that it would be taken care of. They would ignore her test. Throw it out.

Great. What message does this send to my daughter?

Okay, can I rant for a minute?

I realize that reality is one thing. BUT good grief! This is far, far more ridiculous that I had realized it would be. The lack of anyone checking anything, of just allowing computers to spit out information and never looking at it, the unwillingness to do anything beyond the exact instruction or training....

In spite of the law clearly stating that a blind learner can and should be expected to take an accommodated test, the reality is that we're back to the same old attitudes of "You don't really matter. Sit in the back of the classroom and be quiet, while the kids who really do matter get on with the business of learning. You are not worth taking the effort to get this right."

Also, on a slightly similar topic, would people PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE quit telling Abi that Braille is hard and that it's okay if she can't read it very well!!!! You know what? Reading all that squiggly print is hard too, but EVERY SINGLE child is expected to be able to do it. And they do. The ones who struggle get extra work, but they don't get excused and allowed to be illiterate! Reading Braille takes work, yes. So does all education. But it is NOT HARD! I should know. I taught myself how to do it. It doesn't take extra special sensitive fingers. It is not way, way harder.

The Braille teacher says that every blind kid he's taught reads less well than their sighted peers. Well, with him and their parents and teachers (who all DON'T read Braille by touch, by the way) telling them it's hard, guess what? They will believe it! And they'll be lazy and learn less because they can. They are expected and allowed to learn less.

I suppose if I did NOT read Arabic (which I don't) but I was supposed to teach a bunch of little kids how to read Arabic anyway using a cheat sheet card, I'd probably do okay. I'd also probably instill in them the notion that reading is really hard, so hard that I myself have never bothered to learn to do it.

I'm not bashing Abi's Braille teacher. He is wonderful, and does a fabulous job with her EXCEPT when he tells her that feeling the Braille letters is hard to do and that she is okay if she can't do it. Rubbish. She can do it just fine.

Back to the test.

In an ideal world, Abi would have a test with just the letters on it, like she learned. She would get to take it in a quiet, proctored room like the other kids did, instead of in our house with whatever distractions our five homeschoolers, four pets and the phone can offer. She would have a chance to show, just like the other kids, that she can read and learn and is smart. She would be sent the message that her scores matter too. She would be taught that the fact that she is learning to read is important.

Instead, she gets sabotaged at every turn, and everyone looks the other way, because after all, blindness is a disability and of course disabled kids can't be expected to learn anywhere near as well as non-disabled kids can learn. The same old low expectations, both of Abi and of her teachers and staff. (I don't really blame her teachers. They are lovely, and nice, and they try hard, but in the end they are totally misinformed. It's how they were trained. And they are doing their best in a pretty weird system. I blame society and the system, and people who don't challenge it.)

Once again, society's attitudes, and social barriers are the only disabling condition. Blindness is a nuisance, but society's expectations are a disability. Blindness can't be changed, but society's expectations CAN and SHOULD be changed.

Snapshot: Cyber Stacking Club



 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

BARD


The Powers That Be (aka the Idaho Commission for the Blind) have finally decided that I qualify for the National Library Service for the Blind. I've wanted something like this for so long, it seemed almost anti-climactic when it actually happened. 

I finished my second book using their new iPhone app. The book was a dud, disappointingly, but I love having access to a library full of books after so many years of going into a "real" library with a feeling of disappointment, like a kid standing outside a glass shop window looking in at all the wonderful treats inside. 


 

Science Field Trip


What's better for learning, a book about the evergreen forest, or actually going there? How about both!


Soldier's dad, Uriah, volunteered to be our driver for the day. I think he enjoyed it as much as anyone!



While we're at it, why not bring the archery stuff and have a lesson?



Also, what's a trip to the woods without a campfire and roasted marshmallows after lunch?


On the way home, we held three rounds of a quick-answer math facts competition. Drilling multiplication tables can even be fun. :)