Category: Education

Tips for Successfully Homeschooling Special Needs

Learning about the letter “M”

Deciding to homeschool a special needs child can be challenging and rewarding. My granddaughter, Maggie, has severe cerebral palsy. Some of Maggie’s CP symptoms include – she can’t verbally speak, use her arms and hands well, walk, move on her own, or express herself in words. That can be challenging when it comes to homeschooling her along with her siblings. Despite the challenges, when Maggie was 5, her mother decided to teach her at home.

Maggie’s now 12 and attends a regular middle school. She still has all of the same physical difficulties that she had when she was five, however, schooling at home for a number of years was one of the reasons that Maggie was able to transition so well into public classes.

During those homeschooling years we learned some things that made our efforts more successful:

• Be patient
• Let them do everything they can even if the results don’t meet your expectations
• Help as much as they need, they will still feel accomplished. Sometimes, Maggie needs a lot of help. However, at the end of any project, even if she has needed a great deal of help, Maggie smiles as if she did it all by herself.
• If your child is non-verbal develop a system so they can answer questions. (Maggie can point to one of two or three fingers to answer yes or no questions and even more detailed questions. For example: Do you want to color the shirt in red, blue or something else?)
• Remember, they are just like any child in their need to do and learn.
• They are interested in the same things as other children their age.
• Don’t be afraid to let them try. They aren’t afraid to try!
• If possible, find others who can help you a day or two a week.

Here is an example in one of those early at home, school days with Maggie

One of the things that increased the success level for Maggie was finding her a special friend who would come and help one day a week. This gave Jodie a break or allowed her to work with the other children. Cindi Walker was a neighbor and went to church with Jodie and her family. She became a good friend and then transitioned to being a very special friend to Maggie.

The photos and example below occurred when Maggie was six, her brother Jack was four and her sister Mary was 2.

A homeschool day for Cindy and Maggie

When Cindy came she had learning activities that she could help Maggie do despite her physical limitations. She included Jack and Mary if they were interested. Sometimes they were but Maggie was 6 and so many of her activities just didn’t hold their attention.

On this day Maggie was learning about the letter “M”. Her lips do not close like most children’s so it was an

Making an “M” collage

extraordinary challenge for Maggie. We hoped she would eventually be able to say this important letter. (Maggie is still non-verbal but the effort to teach her to speak was fun for both her and those of us who worked with her. She does say the letter I perfectly.)

In order to practice using the ‘m’ sound Cindy helped Maggie make a collage of many different pictures all starting with M. Cindy had pre-cut the pictures but helped Maggie use the glue stick and stick them on the paper. When the collage was finished Cindi would say the M word and then Maggie would give it a try.

Discussing what to write in Maggie’s journal.

Next, they read a darling picture story about “Mary, the Mouse with Measles” which Cindi had written. Maggie loved reading the story and so did her siblings, Jack and Mary.

Cindy and Maggie were putting a “Learning Journal” together. Cindy would help Maggie hold a pencil and write. On this day they wrote about the trip that they all had taken to the Utah School for the Deaf when Maggie’s had her ears tested. Here is what they wrote together: “Jack and I had our hearing tested. We can hear.” (Cindy asked Maggie, “Do we need a period or an exclamation mark?”) Then they practiced saying “We can hear” with emphasis!

While Maggie was busy learning Jack was all over the table and chairs

“Luke I am your father!” Yes, Jack does say that with just the right amount of breathiness. : )

blowing his train whistle, eating cookies and making comments. He also turned the popcorn popper lid into a Darth Vader mask. Cindy is VERY patient with Maggie and all her siblings.

Maggie drew some “M” pictures with special crayons. She loved and still does, working at holding on to things with her hands and seeing the result.

Of course, they ended their “m” session by eating marshmallows. Maggie enjoyed that the most!

To finish off the day Cindy read to the children from the classic “The Secret Garden”. This book did NOT appeal to Jack or Mary but Cindi remained patient with their wiggles and giggles.

Homeschooling a special needs child can be a successful adventure. It is worth giving it a try. If your child comes to a point where they need more than you can give them at home, their time at home will be a great foundation.

How do you make homeschool work for your special needs child?


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Teach, Practice, Be Present

Ben, the new music reader

You know, it’s so easy to teach things to children. Every day there are ordinary opportunities to teach. This last Sunday, Ben, who is six, picked up the hymn book and was trying to sing. He’s in kindergarten and is a fabulous reader. But he couldn’t figure out how to follow the words. So I took my finger and I began pointing to each word. I watched him read and sing. It was thrilling for him because he loves to read, likes music and was fascinated by how the sentences move from line to line, each verse underneath the one before. It was the world of music that he got to step into on Sunday and he was so happy about it.

I was reminded how wonderful it is to learn something new, to have the fogginess of not knowing lifted. That’s especially poignant for me right now because I am working on learning some new things – what a hashtag is and how to use one, how Instagram works and what can be done on the phone besides make a call. : )

Getting on the other side of something that you don’t know how to do is a wonderful process and when you help someone else do it, it’s rewarding.

Roxy, Danni, Gabby and Victoria

Many Sundays ago I had the same wonderful experience I had with Ben with four other young children. I took these neighborhood children to church with me each week – Gaby, 6, Roxy, 5, Danni, 2 and Kyle, 4.

They, like Ben, wanted to understand how to read the music and sing along. I showed them where the hymn numbers for the day were posted. Then each Sunday one of them would ask just as we sat down in the pew, “So the first hymn is 1-2-6?” “Yes, and that is said page one hundred and twenty-six.”

Next, I showed them how to find a page higher than 30 when that was as high as they knew how to count. “First find a page with a 1 as the first number. Good. Now you need to find a page with a one and a two at the beginning. See this page has a one and a three. Oops, you have gone too far. Go back some pages. Look this page has a 1 and a 2 and an 8. You’re almost there. Good job!” Isn’t it wonderful all of the learning that was going on – naming numbers, counting, sequencing, patterns, as well as learning something spiritual as we sang together?

For the next 100+ Sundays, I would go through this ritual three times each Sunday morning – opening song, rest song, and closing song. That gave us a lot of time to practice learning the names of larger numbers, remembering what they look like and how to find a hymn in the hymnal.

Gabby, Roxy, Kyle

By the time Gabby was 8, she could find any hymn in the book and could say the number correctly. Roxy at seven could find any hymn in the book given enough time and she could say most of the numbers correctly. Kyle at 6 was just starting to find the numbers, that is when he was motivated to do so. : ) Danny at four was beginning to notice that everyone else seemed to know something she didn’t. She had begun to pick up a hymnal and ask for help. By this time I didn’t really need to help her because the bigs were capable of doing it. I watched them help her find the page and then point out where on the page we were singing.

This wasn’t just a valuable exercise in learning how to find a page and sing a song. Gabby had to work extra hard with reading and it was challenging to get her to read at home. However, on Sunday she would move her finger along with each word, staying right where she should be for the most part. I could see her lips moving as she tried to read the words. She missed many because music moves quickly but she got more of them each Sunday. There are a lot of strategies to teach reading but making it part of life was working for Gabby.

For Roxy reading came more easily and she missed only the really big words. However, I noticed that although she was singing all the words she couldn’t stay with the music. She was singing each line as you would read a sentence so she was always ahead.

“Roxy, do you see that little black dot? It means the word is sung for a short time. Do you see that little white circle? Well, that means you sing the word for a longer time. I demonstrated what I meant. Love vs. loooove. As we sang I pointed to each word or syllable and said long, short, short, short, short, long, and so forth.

Those 100+ Sunday singing, reading, and pre-math lessons were fun for me and the kids. This last Sunday it was fun watching Ben go through the same process.

Every day we do many ordinary things but they are opportunities to teach children what they may find difficult to learn in more formal settings – reading labels at the store and looking for pricing, buying gas and counting as the meter turns, counting out tithing for Sunday, reading a newspaper headline along with dad.

But this isn’t just about teaching kids important skills such as counting, reading or singing. It’s about parents practicing being Present. All those Sundays I had to be Present during singing time. I had to see what was happening. Who was lost, who didn’t understand, who was successful? I had to pay attention. Using ordinary moments of daily living to teach is valuable practice for us as we learn to be more Present parents.

As you pay attention to teaching your children in the everyday moments you will begin to learn how to be a more Present Parent despite the busy-ness of life. The fogginess will lift and you will experience more and more success. And that extra practice will pay huge dividends in your relationship with your kids. It’s wonderful to learn something new, to have the fogginess of not knowing lifted.

What have you been able to begin teaching your children in this new year?


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A Book Review to Celebrate National Non-Fiction Month

November was National Non-fiction month. As an author of a non-fiction book, I decided to celebrate by reading and reviewing Cherri Brooks Teaching Children About Sex.

Last week I gave a presentation to a group of mothers called BEING ALL IN. I shared ways that help parents be ‘all in’ despite the difficulty of the job of parenting. The number one tip was to parent with intention. I know that when we have a concrete plan for what we want our families to feel like and the values we want to instill we get better results.

Cherri Brooks book can help you teach your children about sex with greater intention. When it comes to teaching about sex I know from experience and talking with others that we usually fly by the seat of our pants. Not a very comfortable way to navigate a difficult subject. Usually, we have the ‘big talk’ breathe a sigh of relief and think we are done. But if that is our approach then the results for our children might not be as successful as we hope.

Brooks has written her book from a Latter Day Saint (LDS) perspective. She has shared how looking at the LDS temple as a sacred house of worship and then comparing that to our bodies can give us some wonderful guidelines as we teach our children about the sacred nature of their bodies and sexuality.

Many of my readers are of the Latter Day Saint faith and many more are not. However, the bulk of my readership has a faith they participate in and many, if not all, revere a temple or other place of worship. I am sure that anyone of faith can and will relate to Cherri’s ideas, despite any doctrinal differences (they will be few) and that making the effort can really help you become more intentional as you teach your children about this important and beautiful part of human relationships.

The focus of the book is to teach appropriate sexual behavior with the correct attitude. Brooks reminds us that sexual behavior is personal conduct and that sexuality is an attitude. This little book will help you study the topic of sexuality so that when your child has a question or you need to address the topic, you will have the knowledge you need to answer in the best way possible for you and your child.

Section 1 covers building a sexual educational foundation at home. Many parents leave that to the public school system but most would do more at home if they knew how. We are, after all, the voice that we hope our children will hear and follow. In section 1 Brooks reminds us that our bodies and those of our children are temples and deserve the same respect and care. She discusses how our attitudes can color how our children feel about sexuality despite the words that we say. Many times children see and feel more than hear what we tell them. Finally, she gives some compelling reasons to begin teaching our children about sexuality early and how this can pay dividends as our children enter puberty. She gives clear directions for preparing ahead and planning effectively.

Section 2 concerns age-by-age sexual education. It is broken into 3 phases:
Phase 1 – Curious Learners (0-5)
Phase 2 – Concrete Learners (Ages 6-8 and 9-11)
Phase 3 – Conduct Learners (Ages 12+ and Premarital)

This section, besides great information on each age group and their needs, contains sample questions and answers that would be age appropriate, as well as value statements for each question. They may not reflect your personal values but will help you identify and then teach yours. There is also a list of conversation starters that are age appropriate. A real help for parents!

Section 3 covers special topics that children are hearing about as they navigate their world and which parents may not know how to effectively address:
Sexual Abuse

What I really liked about this book was that it was easy to read and understand. It was simple in its approach. It was written in a manner that was clear and easy to follow. The information about children and how to approach conversations about sex at each age level was so helpful! Brooks has wonderful real-life examples that most of us will relate to.

Cherri Brooks has done her homework and her book will help you do yours.


Cherri is giving away 5 copies of her book this month. Be sure and enter because you could be a winner.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Teaching Children About Sex by Cherri Brooks

Teaching Children About Sex

by Cherri Brooks

Giveaway ends December 21, 2017

Enter Giveaway

You can read some thoughtful and informative articles on teaching your children about sexuality and sex on her blog.

You can connect with Cherri Brooks on her Facebook page.

Why not check out her author’s page on Amazon where you can purchase her book in both paperback and Kindle.

Cherri Brooks grew up with an aspiration to be an author. As a child, she practiced typing on an old, clunky DOS computer. She found her passion for parenting and healthy sexuality through her education at Utah State University, where she earned her BS and MS in Family and Human Development. She also taught courses at South Dakota State University in Marriage and Family Relations and Parenting. She loves talking with parents about raising sexually healthy children. She currently lives in Clarksville, Tennessee with her husband and three children.

Another way that I am celebrating National Non-Fiction Month (November) is to give away five copies of my own book. You still have plenty of time to enter and win. The drawing happens on December 21st. No strings. No list. Just the chance to win and become a more Present parent.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming a Present Parent by Mary Ann Johnson

Becoming a Present Parent

by Mary Ann Johnson

Giveaway ends December 21, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway



I learned two new words that relate to online schools, asynchronous and synchronous.

Asynchronous classes allow students to work without a live instructor via materials, lectures, tests, and assignments that have been provided. Synchronous online classes are when students and instructors are working together live.

The topic came up during a conversation I had with Adam Hailstone, CMO and Director of Leadership at Williamsburg (  I was asking him about the school because online schools are such a hot topic right now and I wanted to know more about how they work, the value to students and about Williamsburg in particular. I learned a lot!

I loved the fact that at Williamsburg  they have mentors rather than teachers; the fact that students and mentors see each other and interact during class via a chat option; that they use a ‘smart whiteboard’ (this is sooo cool); they have students from all over the country and mentors from all over the world.

If you have been considering an online school for your middle school or high school age youth let me share what I learned About Williamsburg and it might help you make your decision.

Mentors rather than teachers

At Williamsburg, teachers are called ‘mentors’, because they do more than just dispense knowledge––they inspire, challenge, listen to and guide students as they learn how to learn. They help youth learn how to lead themselves and others.

Mentors spend a lot of in-class time with the youth. Students have access to mentors live in office hours, via email as well as in live classes. They can receive live feedback on assignments.

What intrigued me was that mentors, because they teach in a virtual classroom come from all over the world. Mentors at Williamsburg (  live in the USA, Europe, and many other countries. Last year they had a mentor from Nepal. How cool is that!

This idea of worldwide teachers is certainly 21st-century style learning. Because teachers are not locked into a geographical area the school can vet or head hunt from anywhere in the world. This makes it possible to have world-class mentors.

One last bit of information that I gleaned about mentors at Williamsburg, they are able to give students more one on one time than they might get in a brick and mortar building. That can mean the difference between doing OK and thriving for some youth.

What and How Youth Learn

Williamsburg (  focuses on teaching youth how to think not what to think. It is a liberal arts program coupled with a leadership program. The culture is not just academic but is larger in scope and includes helping young people determine how to live a meaningful life and how to reach their full potential.

One of the things that I considered a perk at Williamsburg was that kids can do most of what gets done in a brick and mortar school. They can talk live with their mentors and with the others in their class. They can get almost instant feedback.

Mentors create breakout rooms during live classes so that students can collaborate in small groups. They participate in group projects, peer presentations, student government, simulations, engaging videos and readings, challenging projects and assignments, and oral, written, and project-based assessments.

Williamsburg  works to create a culture of thinking and problem solving through the wise use of mentors, dynamic classes, and in person social engagements which are designed to lead to a meaningful purpose.

Classes run 50 minutes but not all learning time is screen time. There are plenty of reading projects and all sorts of assignments to help kids learn to think and to accomplish.

There is a lot going on inside every virtual Williamsburg class and just in case your family has to be away every class is recorded. This gives individual families the flexibility they need.

What About The Social?

We all know that kids want to be with their peers so how does that work at Williamsburg? (  Socialization is part of a larger learning culture with punctuated social experiences rather than day to day socialization. They have what they call ‘in person’ social engagements.

A few times a year students gather live to learn, work, and interact with each other. This can be in the form of summer camp, conferences, travel adventures, etc. Recently students went to Germany to learn about WWII. This summer students will be going to Guatemala and this fall to Nepal. What a way to spend time with your peers!

The need for social interaction with peers is also satisfied as students work in teams and classes on projects on-line each year.

I was amazed to learn about a recent project that a group of 6th graders completed. They had heard of a charity that wanted to provide a school for a village in Bolivia.  However, after some research, they realized that without a water pipeline kids wouldn’t be able to go to school. This was because children spent much of each day carrying water from a lake to their homes. There was no time for school.

The pipeline was going to cost $11,000. The sixth graders decided to raise $4000 of that cost. So they came up with a plan and put it into motion. They used what they were learning at school – creating a website, writing, e-commerce skills, working as a team, leading, reaching out for donations using rhetorical skills, and so forth.

When the project was finished they had raised $19,000 which paid for the pipeline and part of the school. These were sixth graders!

These kids really got to know each other. They spent real time and virtual time together. They learned that even young people can do powerful things across the world.







Top 10 Educational Apps for Kids

Summer is almost here and that means lots of kids with lots of time on their hands. For the most part, we want our kids outside playing and having fun but there’s no getting around the fact that they will spend time on their digital devices. Here are some great apps that are safe, fun and can be educational.

Tons of educational apps are now available for download but this doesn’t mean that all of them are good for your kids. Bad educational apps can provide distractions instead of learning, and if you aren’t careful, there are even apps that shouldn’t be on your kid’s phone.

As a parent, you want to ensure your kids are learning from good sources and here are 10 of the best educational apps for your kids:

1. Kids ABC Letters Lite

This app will help your child become familiar with his ABCs. It includes fun games, such as creating letters through colorful puzzle pieces. This version, however, isn’t complete. As it’s a lite version, you may have to pay to get the complete app.

2. Marble Math Junior

Marble Math Junior mixes marble maze games with math problems. It’s best for children who are still learning to read as it includes a voice that reads the problems to your child.

3. Endless Alphabet

This is a monster-themed app that teaches kids how to spell. It doesn’t have a time limit and it doesn’t even keep scores. This helps assure that your child can work on spelling skills without feeling pressured or stressed out.

4. Superhero Comic Book Maker

If you want to enhance your child’s creativity, then this app is a must. It lets children write their own stories, just like a comic book. There are different scenes your child can choose from, and there’s also the option to move the character the way they want.

5. WriteReader Pro

WriterReader Pro is suitable for children age 5 and up. It allows kids to write their own stories while making sure their parents are able to monitor their progress.

6. Read Me Stories

Reading stories to your children is one of the precious moments you share with them. You can download this app which enables you to read a new book to your child every day or let them read a new story by themselves. It’s a good app for practicing, whether at the park or school.

7. Barefoot World Atlas

This app will familiarize your child with animals, people and everything about the world. It has a 3D rendition of the globe and children can zoom in or rotate the viewing angle to get a closer look at the descriptions and photos. It also has BBC presenter Nick Carter to guide your child. What’s great about the app is that it shows your child landmarks and distinct natural features from the comfort of their bedroom.

8. Poptropica

Poptropica is a role-playing app that adds a fun twist to mystery solving. It’s particularly geared towards children ages 6 to 15. In this app, kids create their own avatars which are used to conquer quests. They can change not only the avatars’ facial features but their attributes as well. The game can be saved for future gaming sessions.

9. The Robot Factory

The Robot Factory is created for school age children. It encourages kids to explore, design and create robots. After designing the robot, children can test their creation and then redesign the robot.

10. Duolingo

If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn more than one language, then Duolingo is one of the best educational language apps you can find. It’s great for visual learners and kids can earn badges every time they are successful with a new level.

Author Bio:

Rose Cabrera is the lead content writer for Top Security Review. She’s passionate about sharing security tips and tricks to help keep the whole family safe.