Back to school shopping is a little different for us homeschoolers, but not that much different. Here are my must buys at this year's back to school sales.
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Besides buying packs of cheap Crayolas, packs of paper, and pens, some of the things I always get at back to school sales are:
Mechanical Pencils--I used to hate mechanical pencils, but we recently tried out these Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencils and converted from our beloved Ticonderoga Pencils. The leads are sturdy and hard to break. With an always-sharp-point, my dysgraphic son's handwriting is a bit easier to read. And I'm less likely to have to clean up pencil shavings when someone drops the sharpener on the floor.
Graph Paper Notebooks--These are for my oldest son. Read why they are a must for his handwriting issues here and here. He currently uses one for math and one for science. I am adding one for his history narrations this year, too. These notebooks are pricey and don't go on sale outside of back to school season.
Composition Notebooks--The bindings never come apart, they are super portable, the smaller page size not intimidating at all, and some even have a sturdy cover. I get this one with room to draw for my first grader's journal. I get stacks of the plain college rule ones for myself and wide rule ones for my oldest son who likes to compose stories in his. I prefer the Mead 100 page composition books and will pay an extra quarter for them over the off brands any day of the week.
Permanent Glue Sticks--If you don't want anything your kids glued into their notebooks to fall out after a few weeks, get the permanent glue sticks. These are my favorite. Oh and be sure to put them away, unless you want a permanent collage on your daughter's door. Ahem.
Back to School clothes shopping is a lot more relaxed for us homeschoolers because we don't need quite as much to start the school year. It's easier on my budget to spread out clothes shopping throughout the year. That doesn't mean that I don't take advantage of the sales. A few things that I always buy at the back to school sales are:
Jean Sales--Jeans never go cheaper than at back to school time and my kids manage to get holes in the knees of their jeans before they outgrow them, so I stock up.
BOGO Shoe Sales--Usually the sales are buy one get one half off. I always try to hold out for BOGO shoe sales.
Packages of Socks--The only clothing item to get holes quicker than jeans. I stock up on the cute packs for kids when they go on sale at Costco.
A Few Fresh New Shirts and a Couple Pairs of Shorts--Where I live, we have HOT weather through October. I don't even look at jackets and sweatshirts until they move to clearance.
How About You?
What are your must buys for this year's back to school sales? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear how you approach back to school shopping!
More to Read
Homeschooling (and parenting) a dysgraphic well means using all of the resources at your disposal to help your child succeed. Eventually, my son will rely on typing to communicate through writing (thank you God for technology!) but my goal is to help him to someday be able to write legibly when he absolutely needs to.
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The World's Coolest Offshoot of Silly Putty
Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty is a lot like Silly Putty, except for it is a little stiffer and the colors are amazing. We have Thinking Putty in the small sizes and in the larger sizes. The large size is a handful of putty, so the entire hand gets a workout, not just the finger muscles. Thinking Putty is great for hand strengthening and working out stiffness in hands after writing.
I used to walk my son to the park daily, just so I could get him on the monkey bars. Monkey bars are great for strengthening hands, arms, and shoulders, which are key areas to focus on in dealing with dysgraphia. Unfortunately, with his last growth spurt, my son it too tall for all of the parks with monkey bars near our house, so now we get in a monkey bar workout maybe once or twice a month.
We don't just use binders for organization, we also use them as slanted surface to write on. It's hard for my son to "hook" his wrist on a slant while he's writing like some dysgraphics do.
Graph paper is the best tool I've used for spatial dysgraphia. On regular, lined paper my sons handwriting looks like this:
Please note, he is trying to write legibly and he is not hurrying. Also, the generous spacing between the lines means that this handwriting sample is better than normal.
Simply adding graph paper later in the day and instructing him to put one letter per box resulted in this:
I just created some graph paper notebooking pages for younger elementary students with a 1 centimeter grid. They are available at Teachers Pay Teachers. I also have a set of notebooking pages for Upper elementary and middle school dysgraphic students also.
(I wrote more about how I use graph paper for dysgraphia inthis post)
My son is resistant to using highlighters, but they work. Whenever he does need to fill out a worksheet or use lined paper, if I highlight along the line, he has a visual guide on where to line up his letters. Unfortunately, he resists this modification so I use it a little as possible. Occasionally, I highlight
That's it. My favorite low tech tools to help with dysgraphia. If you teach a student with dysgraphia, what tools do you use?
There's nothing like dealing with a learning disability to to make you fine tune your educational focus. My son's dysgraphia has taught me more about education than any other course, book, or experience I've had.
Choose Quality Over Quantity
I could have told you this before, but I wasn't practicing it. Our first month homeschooling, I assigned everything, because everything was good and useful. It turned out that too much work was too much work, whether it was high quality or not. Since I was conditioned to written output, I required my son to write, too.
I soon had a frustrated student and soon I was frustrated, too.
Only a drastic change would work, so I eliminated all writing that wasn't essential. Everything else was taught through reading, discussion, and hands on activities. By the end of the elimination process, the only pencil to paper work I assigned was in math and composition.
Even math still required a lot of paring down to get to what truly mattered. The math program we had required a lot of work on my son's behalf even if I just assigned the even or odd problems, because in that program, mastery was achieved through repetitively practicing concepts. In order to keep my son's math time at a reasonable about of time, I had to selectively choose the best quality problems every. single. day.
When I finally found the perfect math program for us, the job of choosing quality over quantity was already done for me. I had just the right amount of problems in the text to teach a concept and the workbook had just the right amount of problems to practice a concept. It also included hands on and visual problems that helped concepts stick in a different way than our prior program's daily review.
Worksheets Aren't All That
"Everything I know, I learned from a worksheet," said no one ever. Cutting back on worksheets threw the teaching ball back to my court and also made learning more authentic.
Sometimes the concepts worksheets are created for are ridiculous. You don't need a dictionary skills worksheet to teach a child to use a dictionary...You need a dictionary and an unfamiliar word. Reading comprehension can be determined better and more deeply by a simple conversation over answering a few questions on a worksheet. (Complete sentences, of course!) Working with a handful of change or math manipulatives before putting a pencil to paper to practice math, builds concrete math understanding along with the pencil and paper skills.
It is interesting to note, that every time I cut out a worksheet, I had to put something better in its place. Pulling an oak sapling out of the ground to observe a seed sprouting into a plant and then comparing that to a diagram in a real book is more instructive than a label the parts worksheet about the same concept. A Charlotte-Mason-style oral narration gives me far more insight to what my kids understand from a reading than a set of review questions ever could.
Sometimes the Roundabout Way is the Most Direct Route
Some things just defy "common sense." When it comes to poor handwriting, common sense says "slow down and try harder," but that strategy doesn't work when dysgraphia is a part of the equation.
Trust me. My son got that advice daily in his second and third grade classrooms from well meaning adult helpers and aids. He tried to slow down, but he was already writing slowly. His handwriting got worse despite following the advice he heard from every corner, so he started to dodge any assignment that he suspected someone else would give him feedback on.
What works for his type of dysgraphia and his personality involves a variety of tools not usually associated with a focused effort to improve handwriting: monkey bars, daily art, graph paper, a crazy figure eight exercise, highlighters, and time to write freely, without being judged for his handwriting. When every growth spurt sets him ten steps back with his handwriting and the fruit of his labors may not be evident until well into adulthood, we need patience and faith in the process. We also need hope that everything we do will eventually bear fruit.
Just Because Something is Hard Doesn't Mean There Can't be Joy
Handwriting is my son's greatest challenge. Writing is hard and for him can be physically painful.
But he writes his own adventure novels for fun. He fills composition book after composition book with stories and drawings from his own imagination, and he takes joy in the process. It amazes me daily that his biggest challenge is also his creative outlet.
As I've mentioned before, a learning disability has made me fine tune my approach to education. I can't just toss my son something educational and call it a day, I have to know my goals and my philosophy and carefully choose what I ask him to do for school in light of those goals.
I wrote another article about dysgraphia. To read it follow this link the one below.
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One of the reasons I began homeschooling my oldest son was that, despite being a bright kid, he was shutting down in school due to his struggles with severe dysgraphia. This post highlights just a little of what I have done to help him learn with dysgraphia.
One of the biggest challenges with helping a dysgraphic student is getting him to the point where he can write legibly and independently.
While my dysgraphic son will happily write stories and comics for fun (he wants to be an author someday), it is difficult for anyone to read what he has written.
While typing is the best option for accommodating dysgphia, I consider being able to write with a pencil or pen an essential skill for learning and communicating. Keeping a notebook of research and ideas is such an effective tool for lifelong learning. No computer program or phone/tablet app comes close to the creative power of a pen and pencil.
So I am on a journey to help my son be able to write legibly enough to be able to read his own writing. The biggest success I have had helping my son write legibly was the day I handed him a graph paper notebook and instructed him to put one letter inside of each square.
In the same day his handwriting went from this journal entry on presidents day:
To this science notebook entry later in the day:
You can see that the top example is a jumbled mess of letters. His dysgraphia makes it hard for him to stay on the lines and space his letters. The second example, while he still couldn't stay on the lines, he could more or less stay in the box. The spacing took care of itself. I was ecstatic that he could write a short narration that was also readable, that I did a happy mom dance. Since then, graph paper has been a life saver for us. We use graph paper for math and his science notebook (pictured above) and a few other things. (I have found 4 squares per inch graph paper to be the best to help with handwriting.)
We have recently added a commonplace book to my son's set of learning tools, mainly because it was a part of Writing and Rhetoric Book 6. Otherwise, I would have put it off a couple of years since legible handwriting would seem to be a prerequisite to that type of book.
For his commonplace book, I decided to simultaneously work on writing on lined paper with him. Thankfully, I have figured out a way for him to keep a legible commonplace book without making him feel like I'm helping him too much.
I very lightly write out my son's commonplace passage for him in pencil and he traces it with pencil. This becomes his handwriting practice since he still has issues forming some letters and with placing words on regular, lined paper. I'm hoping this practice will help him get a feel for writing on lined paper and spacing correctly between letters and words. You can see the difference between what he traces and what he writes on his own below.
I leave a space after each entry so he can either rewrite the passage in his own words, comment on the passage, or interpret the passage however he chooses.
As you can see, he always chooses to write a short comic illustrating the truth of the passage.
This is just a little of what I do to help my son learn well with dysgraphia. I hope to write more about dysgraphia and homeschooling in the near future.
If you are interested in notebooking with a dysgraphic student, I have a set of 1 centimeter square notebook pages available at teachers pay teachers for young elementary students. I also have a set for upper elementary and middle school students with a smaller grid.
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