That All May Read…

First of all, an update:  The fleas have been banished from Topsy-Techieland, and all has returned to “normal.”  No, I still didn’t get to see ‘Quantum of Solace’, but we went shopping and I’m pretty sure hubby and the boys covertly got me some birthday stuff, so all is good.

Reading and writing is my life.  No, seriously.  I live in a world of words.  My entertainment, my job, and my thoughts are all based on words.  So words are a VERY big deal to me.

When I find out that someone is functionally illiterate it brings tears to my eyes.  I just feel like they are missing out on this whole segment of life.  Granted, many people throughout the ages made it through life just fine without reading a single word.  But in today’s society, we are connected by the written word.  The internet is still primarily a written medium.  There is a lot more visual and audial content on there than there used to be, but we still spend over 95% of our time on the web getting our info from written sources.

In a culture where we would rather text than talk, the written word doesn’t seem to be going out of style anytime soon. 

Library for the Blind adn Handicapped NJSo…for this reason, I am a HUGE fan of the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. As we head into Thanksgiving, I think this is one organization that I feel especially thankful for.  If you don’t know much about the NLBPH, here is a quick rundown of the services they provide:

  • Full length books in both braille, large print, and recorded format free to members
  • Magazines (more than 70!)  in both braille, large print, and recorded format free to members
  • Playback equipment for all recorded material free to members
  • Braille books, magazines, and materials available on the web via web-braille
  • Assistive devices such as remote controls, breath switches, extension levers, and amplifiers available to those with special needs or requirements
  • Eligibility open to all who cannot use regular printed materials because of visual or physical impairment

Thanks to the NLBPH and your tax dollars, my son with dyslexia can take part in life to the fullest.  He can read anything and everything that he wants.  He is currently devouring Eragon, a book that would normally have sat on our bookshelf unopened because it was too “difficult” for him. 

Not now.  Now the world of words is completely free and available to him.  I couldn’t be more thankful. 

If you would like to find out more about the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, go to their website. Or even better, volunteer with your state branch of the National Library.  Why?  So that ALL may read…

Remember – – every comment on a Topsy-Techie blog post this month earns you one entry into my November giveaway.  So comment away!

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God Bless Assistive Technology

Ever since my boys started school I have been interested in assistive  technology.  Our oldest son, lovingly named on T-T as Uber-Techie, contracted rheumatic fever of the brain right before starting kindergarten, and he suddenly had trouble walking, talking, eating, etc.  It was a traumatic time to say the least, and he spent the better part of the next two years in physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  It was during that time that we discovered some really great assistive tools to help him accomplish certain things that he was struggling with.

When Hyper-Techie came along, he brought with him a whole different set of unique challenges.  He was a late talker, had sensory issues, and had an auditory processing disorder, so he was in occupational and speech therapy also, for a time.  Then, when he began kindergarten, his teachers quickly tuned in to some learning differences he had.  When I began homeschooling him the next year, I picked up on it as well, and eventually we discovered that H-T had dyslexia.

Before long, the Techie home became central testing ground for scads and scads of different assistive technologies.  We’ve tried AT for reading, AT for typing, AT for writing, and AT for math.  I listed some of my all-time favorite techie tools for kids with learning disabilities in a past Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints post.  Many of these products not only made schoolwork easier for my boys, but truly changed their lives for the better!

I’ve taken both offline and online coursework in assistive technology, and have written about it extensively on the web.  But I recently discovered a website that I want to share with you…

It is called TechMatrix, and it is a comprehensive resource on assistive technology.  It allows you to search for products and resources by subject, by learning support, by product, or even by product features.  OH, how I wish this had been around years ago when I was having to do hours upon hours of internet searching to find the products that would be most beneficial to my boys. 

If you have a child, or know of a child with any type of disability or learning difference, I beg you to send them a link to this website.  It might just change their life like it did ours…

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Learning Disabilities

Yes, the above title is a lie… I had to work a lot on Friday (you know that thing we do to support our blogging addiction), and wasn’t able to spend quality time with my laptop.  So I missed my Friday “deadline.”  But you will forgive me this one time, right?  I promise that Saturday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints will be just as good…so here goes our weekly trip into the techie toolbox. 

tn_Education00003 This week’s focus is tools to help homeschoolers with learning disabilities.  Because of H-T’s dyslexia, I feel that I have done enough research to write three doctoral theses on special education for homeschoolers.  I have certainly written my share of articles on the subject (check out my writing website if you’d like to check some of them out).  And along the way, I have found some incredible tools to aid those who learn “outside of the box.”  Some are extremely pricey, some are completely free, and some are right in the middle, but if you are homeschooling a child with LD, you will probably find something that makes you say “Wow, I wish I had found out about this sooner!”

  • Time4Learning – I have a whole page dedicated to this one, so you can go there if you want to see my take on this incredible curriculum.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that Time4Learning is probably the reason why someone hasn’t found me hanging from a bedsheet in the front closet.  A lifesaver for homeschoolers with LD.
  • Right Start Mathematics – – this was the math curriculum we used for H-T’s first three years of school, and it was perfect for a right-brained visual learner.  Simple. Sequential. Visual.  An altogether great tool for kids who learn math differently.
  • Read, Write, & Type – blends phonics, sight reading, and the hands-on learning of keyboarding to aim at all sides of the brain to teach reading.  A beautifully thought out program for beginning readers/typists ages 6-9.
  • AVKO – This company is putting out more and more materials, and I don’t have experience with all of them, but their Sequential Spelling program is terrific for students who (like H-T) really struggle with spelling
  • TextAloud – Text to speech program for turning any file/text on the computer into natural voice speech.  Very helpful for struggling readers who need to do web research.
  • PixWriter – Helping beginning writers with LD to not get discouraged with their efforts.  Allows them to pick and choose pictures to create sentences.  Also helpful for creating visual instructions for non-readers, such as chore lists, schedules, reminders, etc.
  • Werdz – phonetic spell checker – – a must-have for those with learning disabilities.  Kids with LD often spell words the way they sound (pickcher for picture, for example). Phonetic spell checkers find even those type of errors and help correct them.
  • Graphic Organizers – set of free tools for students to help them take ideas, concepts, and plans and present and organize them in a visual way
  • Co-Writer – one of my all-time faves.  This is a word prediction program that will work with any writing application.  Type in the first couple of letters of the word, and a list of options of words you might be looking for comes up.  You choose the word, and it is automatically entered (correctly spelled, no less) into your writing. This is a godsend program for struggling writers. (for a  free version with less bells and whistles: LetMeType)
  • National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – If you have a documented learning disability, such as dyslexia, you can qualify for this wonderful service which provides free audiobooks through a mail lending library.  My son has been able to read all his favorite books thanks to this wonderful project.
  • Ms. Reminder Time Manager – kids with learning difficulties are often organizationally challenged.  This reminder service can be tailored to suit your child in the form of voice memos, text memos, or email reminders, so that they can keep track of their time and their tasks. 
  • Talking Calculator – because sometimes hearing it out loud just helps it make sense! (free web tool)
  • Google Notebook – make web research easy by clipping, organizing, and saving text as you surf the web.  Accessible from any computer, too, so you can do research at the library computer, and access it at home!

There Are Two ‘T’s in Clutter

The first hour of homeschool this morning threatened to be a disaster.  Hyper-Techie was in his usual morning funk and morning prayer was interrupted twice as neighborhood sirens sent our dogs into two choruses of painful yowls (I try to empathize – – I guess it must be like getting the radio stuck on an Alanis Morissette song.  At least I have opposable thumbs to stick in my ears).  Worst of all, though, we couldn’t find The Writer.  It wasn’t in any of its normal spots-underneath the computer chair, dropped into the hamper, between the cushions of the dog bed—I mean how was I supposed to find it if it obviously wasn’t where it was supposed to be??  

But my search got me thinking about how dependent our homeschool has become on our assistive technology.  The Writer is a portable keyboard that we use for daily journaling and keyboard practice.  It includes built-in word prediction software, so when H-T (who has dyslexia) is journaling, and can’t remember how to spell o-v-e-r-b-e-a-r-i-n-g   m-o-t-h-e-r, all he has to do is type in the first couple of letters of the word he’s looking for, and word options will come up for him to choose from. 

We’ve acquired a good bit of assistive technology over the years.  Some of our favorites have included:

  • As-U-Type – – a computer spellchecker that tracks all your misspellings so you can know what words you need the most work on (and, as a perk, lets you know when hubby has been looking at things he shouldn’t – – honey, voluptuous is spelled with one ‘p’)
  • Audio Books from the Library of the Blind and Physically Handicapped – – people with dyslexia qualify to receive these audio books, which are ordered online and come through the mail.  H-T reads along in the actual book as the cassettes (soon to be digital files) are read aloud by wonderful dramatic voice artists.  The upside of this technology is that I get to catch up on some terrific books as I am busy “lesson planning” on the couch while H-T reads
  • MathPad – – electronic worksheets that help kids line up and solve math problems on a computer screen – – if you have ever tried to do long division or multiplication on scratch paper, you will recognize how invaluable something like this can be…no more forgetting to drop down your zero or writing your number in the wrong column.  For me, it means no more shots of tequila before lunchtime because H-T’s math didn’t come out right, and he wants to know, for the thousandth time, just when he will actually USE this stuff in his lifetime??
  • Inspiration (and Kidspiration for the younger set) – – a graphic organizer software that lets you create reports, projects, and papers the visual way, with diagrams, pictures, and notes.  Perfect for visual learners, and those who like to “see” things before they put them to paper. 
  • Post It Digital Notes – – God’s representatives on earth to help keep a highly distractible family from falling to ruin.  They are little digital versions of the popular stick on reminders that sit on your computer screen and remind you when to take a quiz, when to upload your assignments, and when to tell Mom it’s time for Regis and Kelly.  Well, I mean, sometimes in the business of homeschooling, you can forget the important stuff.

Homeschool got better by mid-morning, by the way.  We finally found The Writer. Someone had the bright idea to put it back up on the school supply shelf.  If people keep putting things back in their proper place around here, I’m never going to be able to find anything.  My house is, and I’m afraid, always will be – – Topsy Techie.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem to make assistive technology for that.  

Can’t Find Moby Dick? Just Follow The Smell…

When I describe our style of homeschooling to people, I often get that “oh, yes, you are a Moonie, how wonderful for you” look.  I think it’s actually a pretty accurate comparison, though.  In general, people know little to nothing about the beliefs, practices, and mission of the Unification Church, and so they associate it with the few stereotypical images they have filed away in their psyche.  Trying to get someone to understand what it means to be a techie homeschooling family is actually not so dissimilar.  Who knows…perhaps pictures of kids wired together in front of a mainframe in someone’s bomb shelter first come to mind???

Anyway, for us, being a technology-friendly homeschool entails lots of electricity, lots of hand-eye coordination, and usually lots of fun.  Both Uber-Techie and Hyper-Techie take most of their classes online.  Uber, an eighth grader,  is involved in a 3-D Virtual School called 3-D Learn, where his personal avatar represents him in classes, and interacts with his other schoolmates’ avatars.  (Who says homeschoolers aren’t socialized??)  His assignments are completed and uploaded to his school daily, and many projects are done using 3-D building techniques.  It’s sorta like high school drafting class, minus the T-squares and protractors, oh, and maybe the smell of that kid’s tuna fish ripening in his backpack…yep, there are some things about high school you just never quite get over.

H-T, in sixth grade, also takes both math and language arts online, through Time4Learning.  H-T has dyslexia, and T4L is designed in such a way that the lessons can be read aloud to you if you want them to be.  H-T generally does NOT want them to be, but I like the idea that the option is there if he so chooses.  In my day, having my school lessons read to me would have been comparable to sitting next to the classroom radiator with Yanni blaring through the PA system, so I sort of get how he could balk at the thought. 

In addition to taking classes online, we integrate technology into many other parts of our homeschool day.  We use a portable keyboard called The Writer for keyboarding lessons, and daily journaling.  I also supplement most of H-T’s science and geography lessons with online educational videos from United Streaming.  We Tivo CNN student news each day, as well as other educational programs that we use as springboards for discussions.  We have an Interactive Globe that downloads world facts and news, and plugs in the facts into a fun geography game format.  We use spelling, geography, math, and even handwriting software at various points in our day, as well. 

The only non-techie thing in our homeschool?  Books.  I know…I know.  Nowadays books can be downloaded, added into portable readers, and accessed in virtual libraries.  Reading an actual spine-bound manuscript is somewhat traditional and conventional.  Olde worlde…right up there with the thee’s and thou’s.  Passe.  Archaic. Out-dated.  Moth-eaten.  Last season’s Top Model.  I know!  But have you ever just put your nose right in the open fold between the freshly published leaves of a good book?  There is absolutely NOTHING like it.  No sensory experience can equal it. Not even that nice dinging sound my Tivo makes when I obey it. 

So sue us.  The Topsy Turf will always have a book or two lying around.  Usually under the portable DVD player.