Monthly Archives: August 2016

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.

 

Bread for Berrik….

 

When I first started making bread for my grain free, sugar free boy, I found an almond flour and flax recipe that was absolutely delicious and made a perfect breakfast toast… it was so good that I was eating it too – my favorite was with an egg, tomato and avocado on top.  Berrik stuck to the more traditional peanut butter.  In the beginning, before I discovered that I was overdosing Berrik on almonds via almond flour bread, muffins, and actual plain old almonds, I used this recipe weekly: Paleo Bread – Elana’s Pantry .  At the start of this food adventure I was trying new recipes all the time, and attempting to adapt them to meet Berrik’s specific needs.  There were many epic failures.  If you’re looking to avoid failure as you experiment with gluten free or paleo baking, I highly recommend you start with Elana’s Pantry.  She has a TON of recipes that are FREE (she also has some cookbooks for purchase that are well worth the price), and the beauty of Elana’s recipes is that they NEVER fail, AND she keeps them as simple as possible.  You won’t find a recipe with 17 ingredients on her website.  No crazy out of this world ingredients.  You can find all her ingredients at Safeway.  But I digress….

Once we realized that Berrik needed to significantly reduce his almond flour consumption, I decided to try out another Elana’s Pantry recipe Rochel’s Cashew Bread.  I have never actually made this with cashew butter, but instead have tried it with both Sunflower Seed Butter and Nut & Seed Butter I found at Costco.  I think you can probably use any nut or seed butter and have success.  This is a high protein (lots of eggs) high fat bread, which was perfect for my growing boy.  It’s SO simple to make with only 5 ingredients.  I double the recipe and add about 15 mins to the baking time to make a taller loaf.  I highly recommend using stoneware loaf pans.  I have had ZERO bread failures since ditching my aluminum pans and splurging on a Le Creuset loaf pan.

Language & Literacy

When I decided to take time off work, I knew I needed some kind of plan…some way to figure out how to help Berrik learn to read, improve his language skills, figure out what type of learning works best for him, and on and on….  It was a tall order and I wasn’t really clear on how to go about it.  There are so many ‘programs’ and theories about how best to teach a kid with learning disabilities, but since the strengths and weaknesses of every child are so unique, I found myself going in circles trying to figure out what to do or where to start.   I researched obsessively, I attended some info sessions – and as an aside, I was shocked by some programs that made incredible claims of success, but required HUGE payments up front…like thousands of dollars – and at the end of the day, it all came down to a somewhat random conversation with a friend who I consider to be the most disciplined, and thorough person I know. I don’t see her often and I was telling her about what was going on with Berrik and my plans to take some time off work.  She mentioned, in an offhand way, that her children attended a program called Sound Connections, and were experiencing incredible success.  Like goosebumps on your arms, life-altering successes.  Little did I know that one conversation would lead us down the path we are now on!

I looked up the website for  Sound Connections and thought it sounded good.  The website was less impressive looking than some of the other program websites I had seen, (which is maybe very telling – not so much money and time spent on website and over the top marketing and more time on actually helping kids?) I trust that friend of mine implicitly so I gave Sound Connections a call.  Annette Rogers, the creator of the program, called me back and we spoke for the better part of an hour.  It was a very ‘eureka’ hour for me, as Annette clearly knew about what I was experiencing with Berrik, and said some key things that really resonated.  Things like, labels don’t matter – she was not concerned with IQ, attention issues, dyslexia…etc.  She said that her program will work for any kid… for all kids…regardless.  She didn’t say, Berrik will learn to read in 3 months and will never have issues again…but she did say, that he will be literate, and it may happen quickly and it may happen slowly, but over time he will be literate.  Realistic.  But confident.  For a natural cynic, it was interesting how quickly I trusted Annette.  Added bonus, she is a speech and language pathologist, and Berrik has had expressive and receptive language delays since he was a young toddler…  Annette understood what that means, how it impacts literacy and performance in school, and her program helps with that too.  SIGN US UP.

We started Sound Connections in early June – literally the Monday after I finished work.  We now attend 3 days per week for 45 minute sessions, one on one, and do the rest of the work at home.  In another post I will describe what these sessions are like, and what it’s like to implement it at home…and I’ll tell you about how Berrik is doing!

Foreshadowing here….  I’m discovering that teaching Berrik at home, throughout the day, integrated into our day to day lives, in a way that works for him, is so much more effective and efficient than a classroom environment….  Stay tuned for more information about that!

In the mean time, if you have a kid who is struggling with language and literacy, call Sound Connections.  Don’t wait for your kid to lose all confidence or fall years behind.  And if you’re already there, years behind, frustrated, and feeling overwhelmed, then DEFINITELY call Sound Connections.  I cannot say enough about this program.  You pay as you go (a month ahead), and it is WORTH EVERY PENNY.

Taking time off work…

I’m finding it challenging to put all of the pieces together for this blog, so that it makes sense or so that there is some sense of events leading to other events.  But as everyone has experienced, life happens so quickly and there are so many events occurring on a daily basis that lead to other events and impact the roads we travel.  If it seems like we have jumped from one decision or path to another quickly and without much thought, it is not the case.  I would need a 750 page book to even begin to scratch the surface, and like my good friend Jan says no book that long is worth reading.

In the world of talking about learning disabilities and ADHD, a common language includes the world neurotypical.  I like this word because it gives me something closer to the reality to use when comparing Berrik to other kids without using the word ‘normal’ which would imply that Berrik is somehow abnormal.  For example – Berrik has average cognitive abilities according to assessments (which then add the caveat that the assessments may be an under representation of his overall intelligence due to inattention and speech delay – as an aside, I wonder how useful these assessments actually are), however he learns in a significantly different way than neurotypical kids.  To me, neurotypical means only that you ‘fit the mold’ of the school system and our educational culture.  You can sit in a desk and learn in a mainly auditory fashion.  Both our girls ‘fit the mold’ and therefore find school relatively easy.  Berrik is wired differently.  He has just as much capacity to learn, but the learning has to happen in a significantly different way.  He has had the benefit of great teachers and one less great teacher, but regardless of the skill of the teacher, he is one kid in a large class, and not the only kid who is ‘wired differently.’  The beauty (and frustration) of being wired differently, is that (just like neurotypical kids) each kid is so very different, and has completely unique strengths and weaknesses.  I cannot imagine how daunting this is for teachers with 27 kids staring up at them each day.  I knew that for Berrik, the only way his learning needs could be met is if I took some time off work to focus on learning how he learns and supporting him to reach his potential.  Lucky for me, my boss is the kind of person who understands how important this is for us, and was instantly and completely supportive.

I came across  TiLT Parenting in my constant and never ending research, and subscribed to the incredibly informative podcasts.  Last night I received an email from the creator of TiLT, with a link to the TiLT manifesto.  It describes my thought processes so well that I read it feeling like she was inside my head.   She talks about letting go and stopping trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  This is exactly what I made the intentional decision to do very recently (more about that in a future blog).  Have a read if you would like to understand what has been going on in my head (don’t worry, it’s G rated…it won’t give you access to my entire thoughts! ;-)).  Her story is different than mine, but the feelings are so shockingly similar.

TiLT Manifesto