September 30, 2008


We have been working on vocabulary with Hannah. We always have tried not to simplify vocabulary with our kids, but sometimes some words are just plain difficult to pronounce! Hannah has always given an exceptional effort to learn new words and rarely gets exasperated when we correct her grammar or pronunciation.

When Hannah was young, she had trouble saying "Clifford" (as in the Big Red Dog). She always said, "Kiff-lerd". We spent some time trying to correct her pronunciation. She was sure she was saying it correctly--it sounded right to her--but it always came out "Kiff-Lerd". One day she was tired of me correcting with "Clifford". So I turned the tables and said "Kiff-lerd" instead. She corrected me vehemently! "No Mom! It's not Kiff-lerd, it's 'KIFF-LERD'!!!!". We all just cracked up. Clearly she could hear the difference, but she just couldn't say it!

Does that make any sense? It's probably one of those "you had to be there" things.

Now that she can read well, we can always write out a difficult word so she can see the letters and sounds.

Here is another vocabulary story. Hannah was in a speech clinic at a local university (relatively poor quality SLP grad school). Her graduate student therapist was diligent, but really hadn't learned much about how to keep a kid on task. Hannah was about 6 or 7 years old. She was not yet at ease with the therapist, but was in a honeymoon period where she was quiet and polite. It was boring for her.

This particular day, Hannah was distracted due to hiccups. The therapist hadn't noticed yet. She had asked Hannah to repeat something. Hannah responded with an unexpected loud weird hiccup! The therapist cheerfully said, "What was that?" Hannah quietly replied, "Oh, excuse me, that was just my trachea."

Now she doesn't always speak so clearly. Some of our favorite jumbled pronunciations are:
sausages= sost-jeh-jez
Roosevelt= Rosabell

The weird thing is that usually her mixed up pronunciations are usually more difficult to say than the actual word!

Sometimes though, she surprises us.

Yesterday she got in trouble with me because she was moving so slowly, not wanting to do what I told her to do. (Why does she go even slower when I tell her to hurry up? It torments me!!) Today, while getting schoolwork ready on the table, she volunteered, "It's okay, Mom. I won't loiter today."

I know where she learned the word "loiter", and it wasn't from one of us! It's from "Suessical the Musical"--at the end of the show, Horton is arrested for loitering on an egg. We saw a summer production of the show, and later downloaded the Broadway soundtrack. She's addicted to it and has it nearly memorized. I am glad that she's learning something useful from the repeated listenings!

September 28, 2008

Virginia Peninsula Buddy Walk


Hannah and I went back to our old stomping grounds to participate in the First Annual DSAVP Buddy Walk. For a small group (about 12 active families), they did en excellent job. I think there were over 250 people there--new families, community volunteers (always warms the heart to have 50 high schoolers get up early on a Saturday morning to help!), and just people who happened upon the Buddy Walk.

We drove down on Friday to help with preparations. Fortunately I arrived late enough that they had already finished most of the work! We did have to blow up a few balloons...thank you Robbie for the air compressor!

The weather on Saturday, which was expected to be iffy, decided to cooperate. I tell ya, every Buddy Walk I've been to has been HOT HOT HOT. Again, what was expected to be a cool, rainy day, turned into a sunny 87 degree sauna, just what we're used to in Virginia (if you don't like in the south, you really don't know humidity). Much better than rain on our parade!

One of the first people Hannah saw was her friend Dieona.

They are a pair of characters.

Well, I guess these are a pair of Characters.

Here are some of the Buddy Volunteers with Hannah. They were great! You can see how tall Hannah really is, at age 10, standing with the High Schoolers!

Hannah tends to melt in the heat and sun (unless there is a lake or pool). So I brought her giant stroller along in case she was worn out by the walk. Good thing too--she needed it. We usually use it just on big trips (airports, Disney World, NYC, etc), but it's handy for events like this.

Here we are crossing the finish line!

Thanks to everyone who supported Hannah in this Buddy Walk!

Now we have two weeks to countdown to the next Buddy Walk in Richmond...I think we'll be recovered and ready for more fun!

September 25, 2008

I'm all for breastfeeding....but this???

This does not sound appealing at all!


Hannah has a difficult time with spelling. Over the years, I have used many of the more common techniques with her--having her copy them, write them 5 times, recite them, etc. I tried various spelling lists, Dolch words, word families, and high interest words. We were both frustrated. Then one day I overheard a neurodevelopmentalist describe how her son learned spelling words. It's a simple technique that Hannah enjoys and that doesn't irritate me (VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR--keep Mommy happy. Sometimes Many times I am too impatient).

I already knew that I needed to use words that matched her short-term memory capability (also known as Digit Span). Hannah's current digit span is not quite a solid 5. That means she can only reliably keep four bits of information in her head at a time. She can hold five bits, but not on a consistent basis. Most typically developing kids her age have a digit span of 7 (so does the average American citizen--hence the seven digit phone number). So her spelling words are primarily 4-letter words, with a few "challenge words" with five or six letters.

I make flashcards on index cards (clearly written in Sharpie marker--red works best for younger kids; Hannah uses black now). I hold up the card, say the word, then spell it (visual and auditory input). She then says it and spells it while looking at it. I quickly flip it down, and she repeats the spelling. She usually can repeat without much trouble. Occasionally she needs to repeat the word on the first day or two. We do the cards for 4 days or so (twice a day would be twice as fast, but that just isn't going to happen in our house). On the day before I test her, I will have her practice writing the words once, immediately after she repeats the spelling. Sometimes I will let her spell the words with letter tiles (like Scrabble) as well, to keep it interesting.

The last day is her test. I say the word (no visual this time). She usually repeats the word, spells it out loud, and then writes it. This way I can tell if she's having trouble with penmanship, or if she actually has difficulty with the spelling.

If she misses any words, that card stays in the next week's pile. We do 10 cards a week. Hannah is getting good at "clumping", to bridge her digit span to 5 and 6. Usually these words have repeated letters, like "school". Or, I'll use a word like "chair", and really, that ends up being a two-digit word, since she already knows how to spell "air" (it's part of her long-term memory now), and she knows the "ch" digraph. We also use clapping to make a rhythm for the longer words, and also finger spelling (sign language) as another method to get the spelling ingrained in her brain.

Now, all this would be great if we actually did schoolwork every day. But, being relaxed, eclectic, barely-a-step-beyond-unschoolers, we feel so very accomplished when we get three days of school work in per week. Our schedule this year is not as interrupted as some years, so we can even get four days a week if we are energetic. It's not that we don't learn things on the other days, we just don't do formal sit-down work at the table.

September 23, 2008

This I Believe, on NPR

My new online acquaintance, Nicole, has this link on her blog. It is a rather sweet story from a Dad. Though we didn't have a prenatal diagnosis, we went through the same uncertainties. Hannah was about 8 hours old when the pediatrician came and told me that he suspected Down syndrome. Receiving an unexpected diagnosis is difficult, but we soon had to put it aside, since Hannah developed oxygenation problems within a couple hours. She became critically ill with pulmonary hypertension; Down syndrome was the least of our worries for her. We moved past the developmental concerns very quickly, and focused on getting her to LIVE. She fought hard, and with many prayers, she survived. We finally got to bring her home after nearly a month.

Five days old

Certainly any doubts we had about raising Hannah are long gone--it's not always easy, but there is an unexpected joy that comes with the challenges.

It's literally been a roller coaster, but it's fun, even when it's a little bit scary.

September 22, 2008

Catching my breath

Well, I survived the little girls, and they survived me! We did have a good time together. They apparently have forgiven their parents. We dropped off the girls at their house--their older sister was there, along with a couple of her teen-aged friends. When we drove away Hannah murmured, "I just love that girl." Thinking that she was speaking of one of the teenagers, I asked "Which girl?". She sighed, "Carley."

Today Hannah had art class and ballet at our local Homeschool Enrichment Center. It's a cool little place that offers all kinds of classes very inexpensively. In the past she has taken American Girl History, The Human Body, and Map Skills. This art class is all about making things from nature. Today they made snakes from sticks (painted them, and added pipe cleaner tongues and googly eyes). It's a nice class of children ages 6-10. I assist the teacher (stop laughing Roxanne--not everyone knows that I am NOT creative--I have zero artistic ability). This mostly means that I make sure there are enough paper towels and paint dishes, and write the kids' names on the their projects. Hannah definitely doesn't need me in there, so I steer clear of her for the most part.

The Ballet class is just a beginner class, supposedly for ages 6-9. This is a great age group for Hannah, because even though she's ten, she really fits in well developmentally with kids in this age range. However, all the other ballerinas are tiny 6 year olds. Hannah is quite tall for her age, especially compared to her agemates who have Down syndrome. She seems like a giant in the Ballet class. Last week she somehow got her feelings hurt--she felt that the girls were laughing at her. It took me until yesterday to find out that they were laughing at Hannah's invisible dog that she "brought" into class. I suggested that maybe her "dog" didn't belong in ballet--that he was disruptive and should not be allowed in class. I think things went better today, without the dog there. I was busy helping in the hand sewing class (again, stop the laughing! I'll sic my invisible dog on you!) during ballet, so I don't really know.

Oh I almost forgot! Running errands today at Home Depot, the male cashier complemented me on my glasses, saying they looked like Sarah Palin's. I said, "Thanks (I think he meant it as a compliment), I've had them for a while. And I've had my kid with Down syndrome longer than she's had hers too. I think she's trying to copy me."

Sorry no visuals to go with today's adventures, so I'll put in some more of Hannah's photography. I kinda like the laundry room still-life series. I think the trees are pretty cool too--that one was from a trip to Flat Rock, NC this summer (Hi Chuck and Janet!).

September 18, 2008

General lack of knowledge....

Well, I don't want to appear to be an education snob, but there are some things that I thought were generally well known. Sort of, well, like, y'know....I'm not expecting any American to have substantial geographical knowledge. Nor am I expecting Americans to really throughly follow foreign affairs beyond current critical issues. Yes, there are some who would decry my lack of insight into economic policy or my minimal interest in C-SPAN. I certainly don't know it all, and really, I don't want to know it all. I like living in my little bubble. But it sort of scares me when I realize that so many people know even less than I do

Chris has a new T-shirt:

He's worn it a few times and so far nobody has had any comment. We were discussing this a few nights ago. I thought maybe that people hadn't read the entire shirt, so maybe they thought he was a thoughtful supporter of Tibet (which, he actually might be). But he also has quite a sense of humor.

He came home from school today (he has been attending the community college for a few years now, waiting to be old enough to be released from this prison we call "childhood"). He told me that he found out why nobody ever laughed at his T-shirt. Two people asked him what a "Tibet" was.



Let's see...3 x 47 totals 141 chromosomes

Guess who came to dinner? And breakfast and lunch? And then get to do it all over again for several days?

I might as well tell you, since you probably won't recognize them from their own blog which is generally woefully out of date (mild harassment)...It's Macey and Carley!

While Mom and Dad are away, the kids will play!

We've been having a good time together! Playing, and playing and making noise (just one child knows how to do that really well). Since our family moved away from the girls about 9 months ago, I only get to see them every once in a while. So having all this time with them gives me a chance to learn again how amazing they are. I have to brag on Macey's emerging language--she is doing so well! And she is so strong--she was the only one of the three girls who could make it to the top of the rock climbing wall on the playground today. When she got to the top she did a little happy dance and said victoriously, "Igodit!"

Macey has a strong will (as I've often said, I'm sure scientists will some day verify that cuteness and stubbornness are on the 21st chromosome--our kids with three 21's could be exhibit A). But, she is definitely learning to listen and consider someone else's opinion, especially if the someone else doesn't try to force it on her. She is also quite kind and shares easily (at least, at my house!).

Carley challenged herself to climb the rope ladder. She encouraged herself by saying, "It's only a little bit wobbley. Really. Just a little wobbley."

Carley is THE MOST verbal child with Down syndrome I have ever met. It's just amazing to listen to her talk. She has really good articulation. I am sad that she has lost some of her baby talk though. A few months ago she got the words "restaurant" and "astronaut" mixed up. She kept asking if we were going to a "restronaut"! I love it when kids do those kinds of thing.

Hannah has been playing the role of Big Sister. And, honestly, she's doing a pretty good job, considering every corner of her room has been taken over by preschoolers. And Wendy, I'm not even bribing her! Yet.

September 15, 2008

Wii all lose to Hannah

James received a Wii for his birthday this summer. It's our very first gaming system (just in time for the older kids to leave home for college!). So far, Hannah is the toughest competitor. She is outrageously successful at Wii bowling, and puts on a good show with golf. Baseball and tennis are a little trickier, but she's getting better at them. She plays about two or three times a month, so it's not as if she's getting lots of practice! We're talking luck skill here. Natural talent baby, there's no other Wii-sonable explanation.

Today our neighbor boys came over to visit. Wii is a good way to even the playing field for Hannah. She doesn't have to run fast, or figure out invented rules to backyard games. It's active, but it's not exhausting for her. And, of course, she frequently wins.

I guess that's not exactly leveling the playing field. But she does play fair and square!

September 13, 2008

More butterflies

They are hatching quickly these days! We've had nine already.

September 11, 2008

Can't believe she's 20!

Today my first baby turns TWENTY! That is just outrageous. How do things like this happen???

We love you Kate!

September 10, 2008


Hannah really likes to take pictures. Thank goodness for digital cameras! She does a pretty good job (just look at my Mudder picture to the right....lovely). No, really, she does a very good job.

At least when someone is watching her. When she takes the camera off to another room, she chooses less common subjects.....

And then there are the self-portraits....

I just love those toes peeking out from under her arm. Got to love that flexibility!

September 8, 2008


First we had these little guys:

(click on picture to see it enlarged)

Then we had this storm (remnants of Fay):

So we had to rescue them. They ate furiously. We had to go buy more parsley. One became a chrysalid the next day. The rest followed in the next few days.

And today we had metamorphosis:

Two down, 11 to go!

First Day of School

Tuesday was the Doctor, then Wednesday we went to the Not Back to School Picnic. Really! There was one at a local park (40 minute drive). The turnout was huge! I don't think I've ever seen a playground so packed with kids. So our first day of 4th grade was Thursday.

Forgive me. This will be WAY too much detail for most of you. I promised several people that I'd write about homeschooling a child with Down syndrome, so I sorta hafta 'splain some things thoroughly. I'll try to spread it out, maybe just tackling one subject per post, and throw in some regular Bananigan posts along the way.

This year we are trying something new. In the past I have tortured Hannah by keeping her on task to finish a lesson, so by the time she finished her language arts lesson we both were exhausted and grumpy. Slogging through the rest of the subjects was excruciating. Many days we would just never finish our work. (I was the quitter, not she!) So this year I have made time-out cards for each subject.

She gets to pick which card she'd like to work on first (I have other cards for other subjects, this was just what we did on Day 1). She sets the timer, and we begin. When the timer goes off, she finishes the immediate item on which she is working, and down goes the pencil. Then she picks a sticker to go on the back of the card showing that she's completed that work for the day. Normally I would never do the "sticker" thing but I found some around the house, so we're using them. At least until they are gone. No guarantees that I'll get more.

I already know that I have to adjust the times on some of the subjects--those were just guesses. And yes, the cards add up to 2 hours and 15 minutes. Each day will be different, depending on what we have on the curricular menu. But I'm aiming for a little over 2 hours. Since I'm trying to get piano practice in during the day, instead of after dinner, that's building in more time.

This is how Hannah learns her US geography. Fortunately, we had a neighbor in Newport News who used thousands of homemade flash cards with her son (a la Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential...can you believe she did it 8 hours a day for 15 years??? What a labor of love. ). She gave me as many as I wanted. I should probably go back and snatch some more. They range from simple colors all the way through breeds of dogs. Hannah knows more states than her brother and sister combined. She also likes learning to read maps and figure out spatial problems.

We are reviewing penmanship (always, forever, it seems):

We use Handwriting Without Tears. I am not going to teach Hannah cursive until her printing is completely solid. She has relatively good printing, but we are working on getting down to regular notebook-sized lines. Part of the problem is her farsightedness. That also interferes with her ability to read compact text in chapter books. At least, that's my theory.

Hannah used to detest scissors. Occupational therapists would see The Dark Side of Hannah.

But she likes them now, if she has a genuine reason to use them. Once I found the Kumon books for cutting and pasting, she will happily use scissors. It takes quite a bit of fine grading of those finger muscles to coordinate cutting on lines. It is not one of Hannah's strengths, but at least she doesn't fight about it anymore.

We made it through Friday as well, but don't have school at home until Tuesday, since Hannah has her enrichment classes on Monday mornings for the next 8 weeks. She's taking Art in Nature and Beginner Ballet. Quite pleased with herself in both classes. Artistic, yes. Graceful, not. But excellent effort.

I finally got a call from the school system today (Monday). I submitted all the relevant information about 3 weeks ago. They want to meet in two weeks to discuss speech services. We'll see what happens!