Monthly Archives: January 2014

When Vexillology Takes Center Stage

It is not often that A’s obsessive interests and fascination with minutiae become germane enough to share even with his brothers.  The upcoming Olympics provides him with a wonderful opportunity not only to display his flag collection in his room, but also to pass on this great love to his youngest brother.

Here is a sampling of some of A’s flags which he has displayed using a variety of mason jars and plastic containers on his bookshelf.

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Supposedly, vexillology, the study of flags and their symbolic meanings, can be a popular hobby with people on the autism spectrum.  Perhaps this is due to repetitive patterns and the need (or ability) to pay close attention to details.  A is astonishingly adept at quickly differentiating  France’s flag from Russia’s, and Indonesia’s from Poland’s.  Or even trickier, the flag of Chad from the flag of Romania.  Look them up.  They are maddeningly similar.  Yet, A instantaneously recognizes the country.  He seems to be passing this love and talent on to my very neuro-typical G.  Yesterday, while looking at some random photos from London’s 2012 flag ceremony, G instantly exclaims, pointing to a partially furled flag, “Look!  There’s Brazil’s flag, and there’s Syria’s!”  We have not made any kind of systematic study of flags.  I suspect he has been under the tutelage of his oldest brother more than I even expected.

Although this was not in connection with the Olympics, last year A and S created flags for our new home school.  Each reflects their own personality and interests.  This is is the NASA-inspired one S painted.  We named our school SAG House.

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A was still influenced by his love for Taiwan as the underdog.  He complains every Olympics that they are not permitted to carry their own flag.  And very quietly I type and admit he dressed up as Taiwan last year for Halloween.  (No political comments, please.)

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My attempts to get G to participate in flag creation were somewhat succesful.  That kid is just not a crafter.  I found this cute and very simple Olympic flag craft on East Coast Creative blog.  Click here to see how her son’s project turned out.  G spent all of five minutes on his, but he did enjoy it, moderately.

For those who might be more enthusiastic, it was a great way to talk about circles, continents (namely, the five involved in the Olympic games), and even a refresher on how to mix primary colors to create green, purple, orange, etc.

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After watching the flag ceremony clips and creating our own flags, we had to host a ceremony ourselves.  After all, an outdoor mini-Olympics may not really happen with all these Arctic temperatures in the Mid West this year.  Our wide staircase provided the perfect indoor venue for showcasing their spectacular colors.

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Of course, we will all be fixed to the television set on Febraury 6th for the 2014 Opening Ceremony in Sochi, Russia.  Unless, it is on too late in the evening, then we will just escort G on up to bed.

One more thing: A has asked me to include a flag quiz.

1.  Whose flag is NOT rectangular?

2.  Which national flag is the most ornate?

3.  Which country readopted their five-cross flag back in 2004?

4.  Which country’s flag previously featured a large ‘R’ in the center?

Are there any budding vexillologists out there?  May you enjoy the time as your passion takes center stage.

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Of Octopuses and Other Invertebrates

A painting by S of a giant squid from just a few months ago.

S was not quite four when he became deeply enamored with octopuses and squids, but especially octopuses.  Especially the Giant Pacific and the Blue-ringed octopuses.  I remember this now, because G is almost exactly the same age.  I learned things about these invertebrates I never expected to learn in my entire life, much less from my stilll three-year-old son.  Like that they had beaks made from keratin.  That there were approximately 250 species of octopus in the oceans.  Even things concerning life span and fertilization.  One day when picking S up from preschool I met a mom leaving as I was coming in the door.

-You are S’s mom?

-Yes, that’s right.

She then proceeded to tell me how much she had enjoyed his show and tell.  At first I wondered why, because he had just brought in a plastic bath toy of….you guessed it….an octopus.  She then told me he had stood up and began talking (in what I am quite sure was a heavily lispy voice).  “The Blue-ringed octopus lives off the coasts of Australia and Indonesia…”  I am quite certain his classmates were not as interested, but I was proud of him.  He has always loved to share (i.e. show off ) information.

Four years before I had an idea that I would one day be educating S and his brothers at home, I was inspired by his and A’s enthusiasm.  They came home from school each day ready to play and to learn.  That summer after S turned four we did a full study (well, at least what our library afforded us) of octopuses.  We read about them, acted out octopus dramas in the living room and at bathtime, created arms showing hundreds of suckers represented by Cheerios, and even visited one at a nearby aquarium.

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2014-winter 002 Eventually, we created our own Blue-ringed with a paper bag and some poster paint.  Click here for a photo of an actual Blue-ringed octopus.

I feel quite nostalgic for those days.  My boys were preschoolers back then.  The world was exciting, and we were wrapped intrinsically in each other’s worlds.  I love S at ten, as well, but it is a different time, with different joys.  He still reads about octopuses and other invertebrates, but not with the same frenetic pace.  It is an occasional reading.  He has other interests.

I need to learn to appreciate this ten-year-old S.  It seems this will be who he is forever, but now I appreciate how Laura Ingalls Wilder ended Little House in the Big Woods.

“They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago.”

And yet, as if she has siphoned herself mysteriously away, the Blue-ringed octopus already seems to be fading into the recent past.

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For the little paleontologist

If you are a parent, chances are you have gone through, or are going through, or will be going through the “age of the dinosaurs.”  While G’s level of interest has not reached the great heights A’s and S’s did at his age, he still enjoys a good dinosaur story now and then.   I remember the pleasure in being able to recognize and rattle off their prehistoric and substantial names when I was young.  I see that same joy for large, multi-syllabic words in my boys as well.  They love being experts in their chosen field.

Below are a few of our favorite dinosaur books over the years.  I have limited these to a.)  the ones my own paleontologists genuinely loved, and b.) books which have increased our knowledge of the dinosaur world, whether the books were fiction or non-fiction.  In other words, I have not included any of the multitude of whimsical dinosaur stories out on the market.

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The Children’s Dinosaur Encyclopedia has amazing artwork, detailed descriptions of each dinosaur family, as well as information on where the dinos were originally discovered.  My two oldest have literally memorized this entire volume.

T is for Terrible by Peter McCarty was an absolute favorite of S back in the preschool/kindergarten era. S checked this out of the library so many times I thought we actually owned a copy.   We still deeply love Peter McCarty for his gentle illustrations and sense of humor.  Although this is not an informative book, it helps us think about what it may feel like to be a dinosaur, and possibly understand our own feelings, too.

Sammy and the Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow, as the cover shows, is about a little boy who carries his bucket full of dinosaurs with him wherever he goes.  Sammy loves to repeat the names of all his dinosaur friends.  Stegosaurus. Triceratops.  Apatosaurus.  And, of course, we do, too.

In Barnum Brown: Dinosaur Hunter by David Sheldon we learn some of  the tools of the trade, a little  history of paleontology, and about an amazing man who could “smell” dinosaur bones.  The unusual Barnum Brown discovered the now popular “tyrant lizard king,” Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George and the Dinosaur Discovery is a fun way to introduce your little paleontologist to the tools of the trade.  George learns how to use a pick, a brush, a wheelbarrow, and also learns that patience is an important guide for a geologist and dino digger.

The very prolific Aliki provides us with one of the most informative books for 3-8 year olds on what it means to be a paleontologist.  From discovering a dig site, to carefully sifting through layers of rock and dirt, to hand wrapping each piece and reassembling it in museums, she gives little ones a taste of what really goes on.  Your reader will know how geologists, paleontologists, photographers and museum workers all work together to get the job done.

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After all that reading I wanted G to get some hands-on experience and playtime.  We do have a purchased dinosaur excavation kit that he sometimes chips away at, but the real fun was when we made our own dinsoaur dig sensory bin.

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Coffee makes wonderful dirt if you buy an inexpensive brand, and don’t mind the additional mess.  Children love the gritty texture.   We always have rocks about the house.  I threw in a few wooden beads and, of course, plastic dinosaurs from a dollar store.  Notice the dinosaur skeleton?

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G has had a great time digging and sifting and brushing, re-discovering his dinosaurs.

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S was even tempted to join him for a bit.  Of course, by this time, it was all about digging their hands in the coffee.

My hope is they never outgrow playing together.

Days of the Blackbird

Frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall have ensured much of America has spent a great deal of  time indoors since the New Year.  In between board games, baking cookies and muffins, and eating soups, chilis and stews, G and I  have been snuggling up with a good book.  This time of year I like to reach for Tomie dePaola.  Though they may not always admit it, A and S have not fully outgrown the Italian-Irish American author and his picture books.  G will always happily sit for a Tomie dePaola story.  He has many wonderful Christmas-time tales like Tony’s Bread, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and The Night of Las Posadas.  Yet now that the holidays have passed us by, and we are simply left with the icy winds, salty, slushy stains in our entry way, and mittens thrown here and there, I take comfort in The Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy.

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According to dePaola, northern Italy refers to the final three days of January as the days of the blackbird.  The author spins a sweet story of kindness, love and miraculous hope.  In the northern mountains of Italy, possibly in the late Middle Ages, the Duca Gennaro falls ill and daughter Gemma desperately struggles to nurse him back to health.  The Duke’s sole comforts are his daughter and the beautiful song of the birds in his courtyard, particularly that of La Colomba, the all-white dove.  Gemma sets out plates of seed and suet for her bird friends.  She creates baskets for them stuffed with wool in hopes of persuading them to stay through the winter.  Gemma believes her father will recover with bird song and the arrival of spring.  The miracle of the story is when La Colomba (the white dove) remains all winter, finding warmth on the coldest final days in January at the top of the duke’s chimney.  She is transformed by the soot into La Merla (a blackbird).  Of course, the Duke is restored to health, and the birds return in the spring.  La Merla is forever black, and Duca Gennaro honors her by naming the last three days in January as the days of the blackbird.

Our first activity with this book was basic geography.  We looked at many maps and talked about Italy.  This is not an unknown country to G.  We have read many stories which take place in Italy, and his father spent several of his growing-up years there.  We learned the basics: Italy is in Europe, mostly surrounded by water, and is shaped like a boot.  Northern Italy is in the mountains and can get cold in the winter.  Fortunately, dePaola sprinkles his book with Italian vocabulary and expressions.  Not only does this give a more authentic feel to the tale, but has given G the opportunity to take ownership of the story.  He knows the white bird, for example, is La Colomba.  He is also excited when Natale arrives, because the villagers get to eat panettone.

Our next activity drew our attention to the birds.  G realized we had not filled up the bird feeder in awhile, so we trudged out in the deep, crispy snow to do that.  This book focuses on kindness – the kindness of the duke to the villagers, and then Gemma modeling this kindness to the birds and the children.

We peeked in our family room fireplace to talk about ashes and soot.  La Colomba was miraculously transformed into La Merla after sitting at the top of the chimney.  I printed out a basic bird color page.  I lit a couple of matches and let G hold his hand a good distance above the flame to feel the warmth.  After blowing out the match, I showed him how to use the burnt end as a “crayon,” and we colored or painted the bird a sooty black.  PLEASE be careful when doing this activity with little ones.  Obviously, you want to make sure they are supervised at all times.  In fact, S warned me when we started that he thought this was NOT a good idea.  He is always the concerned brother.

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After a couple of days we made a warm basket for our bird, just like Gemma did with   a couple of handfuls of cotton balls stuffed into a basket I had on hand. Secretly, I think G was a little disappointed.  I think he thought we were going to make a basket for the real birds.

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2014-winter 100For those of you in wintry climes, may you stay warm with great bowls of soup.  May you ALL enjoy health and the warmth of family.  Curl up with a good story; hug your children; plan some kindness.  May you find and create beauty in these days of the blackbird, the coldest days of the year.

 

 

 

Autism AMA: Headphones

Several years ago when my husband and I decided to move to the Indianapolis area we began to pray for God to prepare us to meet the people here, and, in kind, to prepare people here for us to meet. I have felt for many years that Robert and his family are one such answer to our prayers. We have relied heavily on him as a first-hand source of information on autism. He has provided us with an unspeakable amount of comfort and hope as we parent A. Until recently he has taught music education at a local elementary school. The following is a post on the subject of sensory sensitivities that many on the spectrum deal with.

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Back in April, I offered to participate in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) for my fellow teachers, and I responded to their questions as time allowed. Over the next few days, I’d like to share some of those questions and answers with you.

Meghan asks:

I have had many autistic students who wear headphones because loud sounds bother them. Is this an issue for you? If so, how do you deal with it since you are around musical instruments all day? How does that affect you?

Oh, headphones. Have you seen much success with headphones? See here’s my beef with headphones – They’re touching my head. Geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff! And then, they don’t actually eliminate any of the noise in the classroom; they just make things sound muddled. Softer sure, but harder to process. To recap: touching my head AND making the world even harder to understand…

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