By Mary Winfield

In this series on teaching your child to write we have covered pre-writing pointers, forming letters, putting letters together, and getting thoughts down on paper. In this final installment in the series, we will look at research paper writing in older students.

Writing a research paper can seem overwhelming to both the student and the teacher! Luckily, once you know the process, it is made much easier. Here is the easy way to write a research paper.


Research

In order to write a paper, you have to know about the subject matter. Help your child find reputable sources in books and magazines to help them learn about the subject matter. If you go to scholar.google.com or do an internet search to find peer-reviewed articles instead of general websites.

As your child researches, have him or her keep track of what they are reading, where they found it, and what they learned. Your child can even copy and paste into a research document rather than writing everything out. Generally, your child should pull from at least 5 different sources when writing a paper (more if it is a longer paper), which means your child should plan on reading from more than five sources.


Organize

As your child reads, discuss his or her thoughts about different aspects of the material. What does your child agree with or disagree with? Why? These are important parts of forming the thesis or basic premise of the paper.

Once your student has a good idea of what his or her topic is, have your child write down a one-sentence summary of the premise and why he or she thinks that way. This will be the thesis. The next step is to break down the paper into points that back up the thesis. Let me give you a basic example.

Let’s say I am writing a paper on how to classify cows in the animal kingdom. My thesis would be something like, “Based on the presence of hair growth, birth of live offspring, and the production of milk to feed infants, cows should be classified as mammals.”

I would take the points that support my thesis (in this case, hair growth, birth of live offspring, and production of milk) and make them each paragraphs in my paper. Your student should start organizing their notes into sections (or put them on index cards or post-it notes if you want a very visual way of organizing it all).


Write

Once you are organized, then writing should be easy. Introduction paragraph has a short overview of the paper and the thesis. Body paragraphs each have a point that supports the thesis along with resources to back up the claim. Then the conclusion states the thesis in a different way and makes any other conclusions.

You will also have to worry about citing sources and the list of sources at the end of the paper. The way that you do this will depend on which format you use (MLA and APA being the two most often used formats). You can, of course, buy manuals and resource guides, but my favorite resource is the Purdue Online Writing Lab which is free and will give you more in-depth help with all of these areas of writing a paper.

Writing a paper doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With the right process and the right resources, you can break it down into manageable tasks that don’t seem as hard.

 

 

 


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By Mary Winfield

Once you have worked on  sizing, alignment, and spacing, it is time to help your child put their thoughts together into sentences and paragraphs. For me, this is the exciting part! Teaching a child that they can use their imagination, think of anything they want, and then communicate that to others is almost magical. There are a couple different ways to help them do this.


Journaling

Journaling is a great way to start. Having a notebook that they write in a few times a week is a low stress way to start learning to write longer concepts. When your children begin journaling, they can write just a single sentence about something they have done, something they have learned, something they want to do, or a place they have visited. You can even have them answer a question about themselves every day if they need somewhere to start.

We often learn best by doing, so journaling is also a great way to work on spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. You can also have writing prompts that focus on spelling or vocabulary words you are currently working on. Learning concepts as they write will help them to be able to do it in the future.

Letters
Having a pen pal or writing a cousin or grandmother is a great way to work on their writing. Your child will have to write legibly so that the other person can read it without assistance. Your child also has to be able to group thoughts together. Writing letters is also great way to work on social interaction in a way that takes the pressure off of your child. Since there is no physical interaction, a child can learn concepts like responding to the stories of others, answering questions, and practicing empathy. Learning these skills through letters is a great way to solidify concepts that can then be used later in person.

Storytelling
Storytelling is another great way to teach writing, allowing your child to explore his or her imagination and think outside the box. Later, storytelling can also help with problem solving and understanding different points of view. If your child needs some encouragement to write stories, here are some ways that you can help:

  • Print some pictures and have your child write a story that includes them all.
  • Have a character jar, action jar, or first line jar that your child can choose from and then include in a story.
  • Have a story notebook that gets passed around the family. Each person contributes a little bit to the story, and then the next person picks up where the last person left off.
  • Read several similar books (ex: the classic story of The 3 Little Pigs,  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig). Then either have your child write another version of the story, or use one of the parodies as a template to write a different version of another fairy tale.
  • Most importantly, have fun with it! Have everyone write a story to share with the family one night or have them share it with a friend.

 

If you missed the earlier posts in this series, you can find them here:
Pre-writing Pointers
The 3 Steps of Forming Letters
Spacing, Sizing, and Alignment

For more writing ideas, visit our Writing Resources Pinterest board

 


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By Mary Winfield

Now that your learner has worked through fine motor skill problems and can write letters, it is time to put it all together!

Usually when a child starts to learn to write, the letters are big and sloppy. That is totally normal! Once your child becomes more familiar with writing and has more control, then it is time to work on sizing, alignment, and spacing.

Sizing:
Sizing refers to how big the letters are by themselves and in relation to the page. A lot of kids start by making their letters as big as they possibly can on a given sheet of paper. Teaching them to write smaller yet big enough to be legible can sometimes be a challenge. But there are creative ways to encourage proper sizing.

First, take a partial sheet of paper and cut out a box that is roughly the size you want their letters to be. Then, place that on top of the paper they are writing on. The guide will help them to properly size their letters until they can do it on their own. You can also draw boxes directly on the paper for them to write inside. Special handwriting paper with raised lines can give them tactile input for the limits they should stay within, or you can also create these lines with puffy paint or wikki stix.

Alignment:
Alignment refers to how the letters are positioned on the paper in relation to the letters around them. Basically, is your child writing on a straight line, or is that sentence wiggling all over the paper?

Different letters have different positions. For instance, the letter “t” is a tall letter, letter “a” is a middle letter, and letter “p” is a bottom letter. This can be a difficult concept to grasp. To help your child understand, you can play a game. Hold up a letter on a flashcard (or just say it if they don’t need the visual prompt) and have them either raise their hands above their heads, cross their arms, or bend down to touch their toes depending on the alignment of the letter.

To help them when they are writing, kids need to be aware of where the baseline is for the words. We write on lined paper, which helps us keep our words straight, but your learner may need more help. You can emphasize that baseline with a highlighter or colored marker to help it stand out. You can also provide a tactile cue by raising the baseline with puffy paint or a wikki stix so they are aware when they are dipping below it or not. Though this can make writing “bottom” letters more difficult, it can help at the beginning when establishing what a baseline is.

Spacing:
Finally, spacing refers to how far apart the letters are in a word, and how far apart the words are in a sentence.

One helpful metaphor that I was taught, was “Spaghetti and Meatballs.” Letters should have a small space between them (like an uncooked spaghetti noodle), and words should have a bigger space between them (like a meatball). You can actually draw these lines and circles to reinforce the concept, but kids generally catch on pretty quickly.

There are many other visual cues you can use to help them with their spacing. Using things like a popsicle stick, stickers, manipulatives, or even their own fingers, can help them keep their spacing consistent. Decorating their popsicle sticks in a way that is appealing to them can also help keep kids engaged in the task.

To add an auditory cue, read their writing out loud to them to help them recognize the purpose of spacing. If words are squished together, then read them really fast and jumbled up. By pausing at the spaces and jumbling the words when spaces are missing, you can help your child to hear the importance of spacing in their writing.

For more ideas, here are some Pinterest boards to help you!
SPED Homeschool Handwriting Board
Growing as They Grow Pinterest Board

If you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts in this series on teaching your child to write:
Pre-Writing Pointers
3 Stages of Forming Letters

 

 


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By Mary Winfield


When teaching your child to form letters, it is important to use a variety of different methods and to keep their personal interests and sensory profile in mind. There are endless ways to teach letters, but here are some good ways to get you started.

Step 1: Building Letters
Before your child starts writing, it might be helpful to learn to build the letters. This helps a child to learn what the letters are and how to form shapes without the pressure of actually writing. This step is also great for kids who struggle with the fine motor skills needed to write. You can build letters in many different ways.

One way is to cut straight and curved foam pieces to be used to form letters. We have also just used building blocks and strips of paper too. But, be aware when using blocks the formed letters look a little crooked sometimes!

Another way you can build letters is to do polka dot painting. You can use the polka dot markers or you can just use a clothespin, pom pom, and paint. Sometimes “writing” the letters this way is also more fun since your child doesn’t have to have completely steady hands. Polka dot painting can also be used to fill in an outline of a letter as a way for your child to become more familiar with letter shapes. You can also use small stickers to do the same thing.

One more way to build letters is to use playdoh. Have your child roll the playdough out and then use the snake-like roll to form a letter. Wikki sticks or pipe cleaners are more great options for building letters this way.

All of these t activities will help your child learn how to form letters and develop fine motor skills more independently.

Step 2: Tracing Letters
Once your child grasps how to build letters, it is time to start practice in writing them. Most kids will still need some prompts to form letters at this stage, yet they are still ready to move beyond building them. This is where tracing comes into play. And once again, if you get creative, there are many ways to practice writing through tracing.

One tip I picked up working in schools was teaching children to write using a yellow highlighter and then having them trace over it with a pencil. The highlighter is visible enough to have them trace, but not bold enough that it gets in the way. It is also wide enough for them to follow without getting frustrated. Teachers love this method also because copies of the highlighted writing come out a light grey, which is also good for tracing.

Another fun way to trace is to write the letters on a chalkboard, and then have a child “erase” the letters with a wet Q-tip. This gives the illusion of writing while erasing since the letter will then be darker on the chalkboard than the surrounding areas. Bonus points for this activity is that it is easy to clean up!

Step 3: Writing Letters
Once a child has learned the shape of letters and has the fine motor skills, it is time to start writing! I have found the best way to keep a child interested in the task of writing is to decrease boredom by writing in as many creative ways as possible.

Sensory writing is my favorite! Writing letters in sand, dirt, pudding, shaving cream, whipped cream, or anything else you can find is awesome for grabbing attention! A Ziploc bag of paint (Pro tip: don’t forget to tape the bag shut!) will allow them to do this over and over again with a minimal mess.

Use a variety of writing tools and surfaces. Use markers, paint, chalk, pens, and pencils! Write outside on the sidewalk or on a wooden fence. Write on paper taped to the wall. Tape paper under a table so they can write laying down. Write on colored paper, dry erase boards or a blank journal that is all their own. Use dry erase markers to write on windows or mirrors. Write on fogged up windows in the car. Write everywhere!

Writing allows us to leave our mark on the world. It is how we pass down knowledge and ideas. It is how we communicate with others (especially if the social aspect of communicating is hard for us). I mean, when someone finds wet cement or a dirty car, what do they do? They have to write in it! Don’t give up teaching your child to write because in the end it has the ability to open up a whole new world of communication.

An all-inclusive guide to writing is Handwriting Without Tears that many families find helpful. The app  Letter School is also great. You can download free printables for a Hands-on Handwriting Binder that walks a child who is learning to write through building letters, tracing letters, and writing independently here. You can also check out our Handwriting board on Pinterest for more ideas.

Learn some pre-writing pointers from the first installment of this series  in this post.

 

 


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By Mary Winfield


You have heard about Temple Grandin, right? If not, study up! She is amazing. During a time where children with autism were institutionalized, her mother refused to give up on her even when doctors told her Temple would never speak or function independently.

Because of her mother’s persistence, Temple now has her Ph.D in Animal Sciences and works world-wide doing autism advocacy. If you want to learn more about her life, HBO did an excellent movie (it is also free to watch on Amazon Prime). She has written several books, but the one I read most recently is called The Loving Push with Debra Moore as her co-author.

This entire book is dedicated to helping parents help their children with high functioning autism learn to become independent and successful adults. There is so much good information in this book, I highly encourage parents of teens or pre-teens to read it. It discusses dealing with depression in teens with autism and dealing with video game addictions. It also talks about preparing teenagers to drive. It follows several different families with their experiences and lessons.

The part of the book that I want to focus on in this article is preparing teenagers for their post high school lives. In, The Loving Push, they interviewed a college professor who had worked with many different students on the spectrum, and he gave 4 areas where he sees the most struggle when students come to his college: household and personal care, using independent organizational aids, asking for help, and keeping a stable mood.

Household and Personal Care
The professor reference in the book The Loving Push said that most of these teens do fine with household chores and personal care when they are at home because their parent reminds them. Their parent will tell them it is time to shower, but then doesn’t teach them how often they need to shower or teach them to look for signs of dirty/sweaty skin, greasy hair, or body odor as indicators that they need to shower. Teaching them how often to shower (and giving them examples of when to shower more frequently ex: if you are involved in sports or physical exercise) will help them be able to duplicate it on their own. 

The same goes for household chores. They may not notice when something needs to be done, but explaining things to look for or even telling them how often chores are typically done will give them concrete guidelines to follow on their own.

Independent Organizational Aids
Sometimes we try to teach too many things at once. Stepping back and thinking about a lesson’s goal and focusing on the goal instead of trying to group multiple skills will help a child learn quicker. Sometimes we may just need to focus on making a list of things to do and how to decide what to do next.

Talk about deadlines and consequences for not meeting deadlines. The ability to prioritize oftentimes is more important than what is actually on the list. Learning to prioritize and complete tasks is something parents often do for children with autism in setting schedules and routines. Helping them to master this skill for themselves is a necessary skill if they are going to be successful on their own. We can do this by having them help us create their homeschool curriculum and plan out the day and week. Talk with them about making a goal and then setting up steps to reach that goal. These are life skills that will follow them forever.

Asking for Help
The college professor they interviewed also said he saw so many students who could have done the assignments if they had asked for a little help, but they didn’t think to reach out and ask. Instead, they would try to accomplish the task on their own, and when they hit a roadblock, their conclusion reached was they just couldn’t do it. They opted to leave the assignment undone because asking for help wasn’t something they were used to doing.

Parents of autistic children often offer our help their child when he/she is struggling instead of teaching the process of asking for help. Another way to work on this skill is to enlist the help of a mentor for your child. This person becomes someone they learn to reach out to for help and guidance that isn’t constantly around them. This will further help them to practice the skill of asking for help instead of giving up on something.

Stable Mood
Having a positive mindset and reacting proportionately to situations can sometimes be a struggle for our children. One tip discussed in the book is to help them know how to duplicate good behavior and a positive mindset by giving specific and positive feedback. Temple says saying things like, “You are so kind” won’t hold very much meaning for teens on the spectrum. Saying, “Helping me with the dishes was so kind. It made me feel happy and proud of you” instead will help them to know what constitutes being kind, how it makes someone else feel, and incentive to repeat the behavior.

Furthermore, helping a child with autism remember that one failure or setback isn’t permanent and doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in the future is important. Reminding them of past successes when they suffer a setback and talking about solutions to their current problem will help them learn to persist through a struggle. If they struggle in one area, showing them their whole life is not a failure by reminding them of the areas they accel is also important. Be sure to show them strengths and weaknesses in other people as well.

“The Loving Push”
The title of the book explains to us how we need to approach preparing teenagers to be adults. Our kids are more likely to just want to stay in their routines and scripts instead of venturing out and trying new things. That means that we have to be the ones who give them a push out of their comfort zone and make them try new things. Giving them these pushes in a loving way so they know they have a safe place with lots of support will help give them the confidence to try new things in the future and transition into adulthood successfully.

 


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communication stages blog logo


By Mary Winfield

In my last post, I covered the basics of the DIR Method and why I think it is important for homeschoolers. One of the parts of DIR is to understand the developmental level of your child and how to use that knowledge to set attainable goals. So, in this post, we are going to dive a little deeper into this specific area of the DIR method.

The Nine Developmental Levels of Communication
When I worked in a private school for children with special needs, I was placed in the classroom that specifically focused on helping children with communication problems. We were taught nine different developmental stages for communication because communication is the basis for all learning. Here are those levels.

1 – Self-regulation and Attention
Typically reached between 0-3 months, this child can use their senses to stay calm, focus for short periods of time on one particular activity, and interact with another person.

2- Social Engagement and Relating
Typically reached between 2-7 months, this child can develop a relationship and attachment and interact with affection with another person.

3- Reciprocal Interaction
Typically reached between 3-10 months, this child can open and close circles of communication and express intentions, interests, and needs

4- Purposeful Problem-Solving Communication
Typically reached between 9-18 months, this child can use more complex circles of communication by combining gestures, actions, and words to gain a sense of self and problem solve.

5 – Creating and Elaborating Ideas
Typically reached between 24-30 months, this child can create ideas, pretend play, and convey emotional intention through play.

6- Emotional Thinking
Typically reached between 36-48 months, this child can make bridges between different emotional ideas.

7 – Triangular Thinking
Typically reached between 5-7 years, this child can start to process the idea of multiple causes for emotions or events.

8 – Gray Area Thinking
Typically reached between 7-10 years, this child can understand that emotions can be felt in varying degrees.

9 – Self-Reflection
Typically reached between puberty and early adolescence, this child starts to define who they are and to have an internal standard to relate back to their experiences.

Keep in mind, the given age markers are when typically developing children are likely to reach these milestones. So, in working with a child who has special needs and developmental delays you should not hold them to these standards; it is only a marker for your reference. Even typically developing children don’t reach all these markers by these indicated age ranges.


But now, what do you do with this knowledge?

Have you ever seen anyone pull taffy before? It is pretty mesmerizing to watch. When it is done by hand, a hook is attached to a wall. Then the candy maker takes a big ball of taffy and hooks part of it to the wall and stretches it. Then he puts it all back together in order to hook it in a different spot and stretch it again. It is a constant routine of stretching, relaxing back to normal, and then stretching again.

That is how you should think of these milestones. Your student will have a developmental step that they are comfortable staying within. That is a good baseline. You should then try to expand and stretch their capacities to the next step while still allowing your student to come back to what is comfortable before things get too frustrating. To read a more in-depth post about how to effectively teach using this combination of stretching and resting, visit this post.

 
One Day at a Time
It is also important to keep in mind that some days are going to fall below what is normally comfortable for your student. That is okay! We all have bad days or days when we don’t feel like ourselves, and your child will have those too. Work where they are and expand as much as they can take. The taffy puller doesn’t break the taffy, only stretches it. You want to do the same for your child. Stretch them, but don’t cause them to break with frustration. Knowing where your child is, what the next step is, and how you can work with them to reach that next step will allow you to help your child reach new goals in their communication.

 

 


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