Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lost in Space

A few weeks ago I saw a baby blue jay attempt and miss landing on a small branch. Fortunately the little fledgling didn't hurt himself; and after a few minutes on the ground, with a lot of encouragement from his parents, managed to fly up to another limb. We probably don't give birds enough credit for their spatial awareness. They manage to figure out where they are in space, where their landing spot is, and do it all in the wind. Of course, as the fledgling demonstrated -- it is a learning process. Compare an infant to a 9-year-old child and one can see that, even for humans, learning where one is in space is a process.  

"When conditions are good, babies learn spatial awareness with no special assistance." But even with good conditions some children have difficulty with spatial awareness. I knew that one of my 4th graders might have a spatial issue when at least one of these problems showed up:

  • A child would often head the wrong way out of the classroom to go to PE and lunch, even after several months of school.
  • A child might not know how many stories we had in our two-story school. One child guessed that there were five floors since "We go upstairs all the time." He appeared unaware of the times the class went down the stairs.
  • A child would have difficulty finding pages in a book. A request to turn to page 58 would have him slowly starting at page 60 page and moving forward turning pages. When asked "Is 58 less than 60?" the child could state that it was, but continue to go forward.
  • A child's handwriting was cramped and intermittently floated below and above the line.
  • A child might consistently have the correct letters in a word but write them in incorrect order. For example: a child who only had dyslexia might write sed for said. A child with a spatial problem might write asid or esd for the word said.
When these problems showed up I would refer the student to an Occupational Therapist (OT) for evaluation(including a visual perception test) and  therapy if needed. I wonder how much easier school would have been for these children if their spatial awareness problems had been discovered earlier than fourth grade.

Spatial problems can affect many areas in a child's academic life. A child with spatial problems may have:
  • Difficulty following directions - especially those involving words such as beneath, behind, right, left, etc.
  • Difficulty with handwriting - holding a pencil too tightly, constantly pushing too hard and breaking the point, writing above or below the line, or incorrectly spacing letters and words.
  • Difficulty reading and spelling - a child with dyslexia has problems with sound symbol recognition. Add a spatial problem and that child may have additional problems with order of letters or remembering to read left to right.
  • Difficulty in math - keeping numbers lined up, remembering to work right to left on addition and subtraction, understanding area, perimeter, or other geometric terms
  • Difficulty with other children - always stepping on heels in a line, forgetting which way to run in a game, difficulty with directions when playing a new group game
Some things to remember about spatial problems:
Most of us know adults who frequently get lost, can't follow directions, or are poor judges of distances when driving. Occupational therapists can screen your child for these types of  problems and, if needed, help your child understand and overcome these difficulties.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Parent Groups

If your child is struggling with school due to a physical, emotional, or learning problem, one source for help is a parent group. There are groups for parents of children with all types of challenges: autism, dyslexia, attention deficit, Downs Syndrome, emotional problems, physical problems - you name it and there is probably a group aimed at giving you some help.

How does a group help? At the international or national level these groups or associations are a one-stop place for research, legal help, and government requirements and timetables for public education. Most of these groups have conferences that update their members on research, teaching methods, and legislation concerning their children. These groups usually have contact numbers for state and local groups.

Local groups are a place to turn for more individualized needs. They may provide mentors (people who help parents navigate the labyrinth of special education in the U.S. public schools), lists of local resources including respite care, and support group activities. These groups often help educate the community, as well as parents and teachers. If your community does not have a local group (and you don't want to organize one) you may find a group of listeners on the Internet. 

How do you find these groups? Every state has a Parent Information Center which helps with "disability related, early intervention, special education or transition questions." Obviously the Internet is a great resource. Many schools can give you the names of local or national groups. Parents, teachers and social workers may also be a source for information. Another parent may guide you to a group or just become a friend who listens.

I think many people will find a support group beneficial. But before you join, remember:
  • Every child is different. In a small group you have to deal with others concerns and attitudes which may be different than yours.
  • You may meet people who swear by a product or method which is not backed by research. You may meet people who swear by research that may not prove effective with your child, or research that will be updated in the near future.
  • The assertive, outgoing parent may dominate a group, but the quiet or shy person may have the excellent information you really need.
  • You are joining a group to help you help your child. Don't force yourself to give the group more time than you have. Some people need to hear the worst to deal with it. Others become overwhelmed and stressed just talking about what may happen. You may outgrow a group.  You may decide to start a new group. Take what you need from a group, give what you can, and stay as long as you perceive it as a help.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hints or is it Hint's?


I recently had a student stop reading and in absolute confusion ask, "Why do they have that s there?" It took me a second to understand what she was talking about, until I realized she was looking at a possessive noun. I pointed out the apostrophe and she said, "Oh, I didn't look up there."  Apostrophes can be confusing for some children, especially children with dyslexia. So although children are taught when to use an apostrophe in school here are some rules for reinforcement at home.

Apostrophes are used in possessives and contractions. They are not used when making a word plural. 
Possessives refer to possessions or what you own.  I use to do the first lesson on possessives asking children what they owned and putting their name with their possessions: i.e. Kim's bike, or Mike's dog.  Later on, I would remind a child with the question,"What do you own?"  and they would quickly add an apostrophe saying "Oh possessive."  

A child must be able to identify singular and plural nouns before they can apply the apostrophe rules for possessives.

To make a singular noun possessive you add  's  regardless of the last letter of the noun. 
  •  Examples: cat - cat's toy
    • bus - bus's wheels
    • Jess - Jess's dog
To make a plural noun possessive you add an 's  if the noun does NOT end in s
  • Example: Children - Children's playground
    • mice - mice's home
If the plural ends with the letter  s  you just add an apostrophe
  • Example:  dogs' park
Remind a child this is only for nouns - not possessive pronouns.  There is not an apostrophe used in the words his, hers, ours, or its.  This is important because many people confuse the possessive its with the contraction it's (it is)! Two other words that get often get confused are who's (Who is) and whose (Whose sweater is this?)


Contractions are often on spelling word lists and we all know spelling words aren't always carried over to composition skills.  The problem with contractions is that many children aren't sure where to put the apostrophe. 

I use to teach the definition of contraction by having children stand up and expand - stretching arms out as far as possible and then contract - making themselves as small as possible while standing.  Then we would do  Simon Says expand, contract, expand, contract, giving the children a fun physical reinforcement of the vocabulary. I would then explain and show that a contraction combines two words making a smaller word. This is done by having the apostrophe replace the letter you take out.  Examples:

  •  Do not - don't  (replaces the o)
  • Is not - isn't
Many children learn contractions before they are developmentally ready to consistently apply the rules, so give them gentle reminders and time. There are a few exceptions to the rule. The contraction  'would not' (won't) doesn't follow the rule of putting the apostrophe where you have left out the letters. Fortunately won't rhymes with don't which makes it easy to learn. 

I introduced this post with a problem a child had reading a contraction. Some children have difficulty with interpreting an apostrophe. One example is could've, would've and should've. These are contractions in which the second word is have. Unfortunately, because of the way they are pronounced many children end up interpreting it as could of.  Another common problem is when a contraction includes a noun, such as the woman's angry. We know it means the woman is angry, but we teach that a noun with an apostrophe is possessive.  Most children understand that the woman was angry, but if your child asks, just say that you have to read the entire sentence to understand some contractions. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Babies, and Children, and Puppies, Oh My!

"Good grief, I can't believe a dog would
bite a child!"
In the middle of Houston's hot, humid summer a visit to the dog show always makes me smile. Just seeing a dog on the street makes me smile. So, you can see I like dogs. Dogs and children seem to be a winning combination but . . . "Dog bite injuries are the second most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms of nine activities common among children."

Although my own dogs have never even snapped at me, most U.S. children who are bitten by dogs were bitten by the family pet. Severe injuries from dog bites is most frequent in children age 5-9. Although we read horror stories about small children getting killed by a pit bull, even small breeds have caused fatalities in babies and toddlers. Fatalities, however, are rare, about 10-15 a year in a population of over 65 million dogs.  Janis Bradley writes,  "A child has a greater chance of being killed by a marble or balloon than a dog."

So, dogs and children are a winning combination when you add awareness and responsibility. Parents be aware that:
  • Most children who are bitten are bitten on the face. Many dogs don't really like someone's face close to theirs. Keep your child's face away from a dog's face. Keep small children from running up to a dog's face.
  • We keep dogs for protection. This is great when they are protecting our sheep, our house, or our child. Dogs protect territory and resources. A dog sees his resources as his food, toys, and bones. Children should be taught to never bother a dog who is eating, or to try to take away a toy or bone. 
  • Many bites occur at a friend's or relative's house. Just because Grandma adores her grandchildren doesn't mean her dog feels the same way. Children move and act differently than adults. Dogs like familiarity. Small children should never be left alone with a dog. Older children should be taught not to bother a friend's dog.
  • Toddlers and babies should always be supervised around a dog, even the family dog. They should not be allowed to pull or play with a dog's face, pound on his body, or fall on it. 
  • Older children should be taught to:
    • never tease a dog
    • never approach a strange dog
    • never go over a fence or into a yard to approach a neighbor's dog (Remember, the dog sees what is inside the fence as his territory - this is also true of invisible fences.)
    • never take away food, bones, or toys from a dog.
    • never approach an injured or trapped dog. Get an adult for help.
    • never try to physically break up a dog fight. Get an adult for help. 
  • We all know what stress is. When children get stressed they may throw a tantrum, cry, or whine. When dogs get stressed they may whine or bite. Good dogs want to behave, but sometimes owners put them in stressful situations. Summer festivals, farmers markets, musical and fireworks displays are not places for dogs. Yes, some dogs seem to enjoy the activity but it is very stressful for many dogs. This is not a place for children to be interacting with dogs.
  • Dog parks are not a place for children. Lots of dogs, lots of activity, and lots of ways a child might get bitten. Some dogs find themselves bullied at a dog park. Some dogs get into fights. Some owners ignore their dogs. Take your child with you when you walk your dog, but not to a dog park.
  • Hurt dogs, sick dogs, aching dogs are more likely to snap at a child. Be aware of the health and age of your dog. Be careful if you are in a veterinarian's office. Concern over your dog may make you less aware that your child is approaching someone's else's sick dog.
Yes, children and dogs are great. I am glad I had a dog as a child and glad my son had dogs. Most dogs don't bite and most children are safe around most dogs. Whether you own dogs or not, you and your children need to know how to be safe around them. One great resource is the Facebook page: Reisner Vet Behavior. 

Finally, don't get a dog unless you are able to care for it throughout its lifespan. I have always said, "Find a person who had a dog from puppyhood to old age. Someone who laughs at a puppy's mistakes and realizes a pair of shoes isn't as important as a living creature. Someone who trained a dog to be a great companion. Someone who loved a dog when it was sick, smelly, and old. Someone who cried at the end of their dog's life. That person has a head start on being a great parent. "

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summertime Blues

Summer vacation brings Vacation Bible School, various camps, museum workshops, and other child centered enterprises. This is the time a child is supposed to enjoy and experience successes that they may not have had at school. Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo. Some children with learning differences(LDs) end up in activities that only exacerbate their failures in reading or following complicated directions.  

There are a few realities about summer activities. Many of them are run by volunteers who may have no experience with children, or with a specific age group. Even non-volunteers may have no teaching experience or experience with children who learn differently. Sometimes a statement such as, "Oh come on, you are old enough to know how to do that." takes all the fun away from a child who isn't sure what to do and now thinks she must be dumb. How can a parent help?

  • If you know your child has spatial problems or difficulty following verbal instructions you need to give them a hint of what is expected. Go over with your child the rules of any sport before you send them out to join a team.  This may include taking her to a baseball field and showing her which way to run or practice catching a ball.  This is especially true for an older child (7-10) who has never played that specific sport. 
  • Ask if activities will require reading or math. Your child may enjoy a hands-on science workshop but not enjoy filling out a worksheet. Let your child know that it isn't school and that not being able to do a written activity doesn't mean he can't enjoy the rest of the class.
  • Find out how many adults and children will be in the activity. Remember, summer activities often are noisier than school and that makes it difficult to hear the instructor.
  • Ask you child what was the best part and the worst part of the day's activity. 
  • Talk to the people running the program. Don't be mad or sarcastic, but tell them how much you want your child to learn the skill or information, but in a different way than they do at school. Explain how they can make it easier for all the children to have a good time. 
  • Volunteer to help.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Busy Books for Travel and Beyond Usborne Great Searches

From The Great Animal Search
Many children enjoy the "Where's Waldo" books, but if you want to move to a higher level of picture puzzle books consider the  Usborne Great Searches books. (Usborne books are available at on-line and storefront book stores. Many older editions can be found in used book stores.) These books are composed of picture puzzles surrounded by various animals or objects for the reader to find. The individual object picture includes some information about that object, as well as how many will be found in the larger picture.  In The Great Animal Search various ecosystems form the puzzles in which the animals can be located.

It is a lot of information and entertainment in one place. This book series covers topics from castles to bugs. Children can search under the sea or in a floating market in Thailand. They can wander through the desert or through time. Although the pictures are very detailed, some very young children will enjoy the search. Older children can tally how many animals they find and figure out a strategy to organize their search.  

These are great books to take on road trips, to read when it is too hot to play outside, or to peruse when one is too sick to go to school. This series is an easy way to keep a child occupied while practicing figure ground skills, learning new information, using math (How many more to I have to find?), paying attention to details, learning new vocabulary and general knowledge, and perhaps opening the door of curiosity to learning more.  Oh, yes, and the answers are in the back if one gets too discouraged when unable to find the second quoll.