follow the child

  • American History

    Horse Boy Learning revolves around the principle of follow the child. You have to be flexible in your agenda, allow the student the freedom to find their own learning opportunities, and keep your eyes open for ones you see that they might have missed. Fynn is a mover, most of his "ah ha" moments come while running or riding his bike, it used to be swinging and bouncing. We drop bits of information all over the place. If he takes an interest we pick it up together and move on to the do it phase. If not we leave it alone and keep going. Our homeschooling styles have evolved over the seven years we've been at it, and this is where we are at now. It works for us. As Fynn grows and changes i'm sure we and our homeschool methods will too, but the basic principles of "drop it do it confirm it" and Follow the child work in any situation. Here's a typical day. 
     
    "Fynn, what do you want to do today?" 
    This is how most of our days start. But he'd been planning this one for a while now. 
    "I want to make a planet model all the way to Sedna."
     
    So we said OK and geared up to go with him to Sedna, the furthest known dwarf planet, at the edge of the Kuiper belt. He'd only recently started riding a bike, and he's still using training wheels, but we've been riding farther and farther, and i had a hunch he could make this trip, though it would take us most of a day. He's seven and rarely runs out of energy. We packed some snacks and Rowan helped air up the tires and off we went.
     
    Sedna is far away. Like, really far. If you made a scale model where one foot equals a million miles in space, Sedna would be about sixteen miles from the sun, which would be the size of a bowling ball. We didn't go that far, but we did go a long way, about ten miles in all- Fynn's longest bike ride yet.
     
    We all had a great time riding and then stopping at every planet so Fynn could get off his bike and draw them on the ground with chalk.  
     
    A Praying Mantis caught Beth, and didn't want to let her go. Which was really cool because we've been watching Kung Fu Panda a lot lately. Fynn started eating soup, his most detested food, because of Kung Fu Panda. Never underestimate the power of television. We Stopped at a park for snacks, and basically just rode and rode and rode. Fynn did really well at staying on the right side of the bike trail, which took some effort and focus for him. He can concentrate when he's moving, and we can have conversations. Most of our conversations are him asking me questions he already knows the answer to, or him telling me to watch what he's doing. But when we're riding, or running, or bouncing or swinging, we talk about all kinds of things. I'll ride to Sedna and back for that.
     
     
    After riding for a while we found a Silver Buffalo Berry Bush. (Sheperdia Canadensis) We were all hot and tired and this was a welcome treat. A wild berry that can't be bought in stores, you only have two weeks a year to harvest and eat them, so we took the chance to stop and enjoy this delicacy. As we were picking the kids asked why they were called buffalo berries. They asked if buffalo eat them. Curiosity is the beginning of knowledge. I said we'll have to look that up when we get home. We filled up on berries and then continued on our way.
     
    After crossing a few streets and riding through vast open spaces we made it to Sedna. We all felt a sense of accomplishment at having come this far. And since the river was right there we went for a swim to cool off and relax a bit. We played in the sand. Skipped rocks. Looked at fish and crawfish.
     
    On the way home we saw a beautiful bull snake. We shooed it off the trail so it wouldn't get run over. Fynn told some people who'd stopped to watch everything he knew about snakes. We stopped for lunch at Wendy's, and rode home through down town. Down town is not exactly a kid friendly place to ride, and we're really proud of how well Fynn did getting through there. We all got sunburnt and exhausted. We drank a lot of tea. We did a lot of math. We talked about bugs and snakes and floods and buffalo. The kids ate buffalo berries for the rest of the day and then Fynn got on his computer and typed in "how fast can buffalo run".  Apparently they can run forty miles an hour. We watched a few videos of buffalo running and then the kids turned into buffalo and ran around the yard until it was dark. It was a good day.
     
    We've always been interested in Native America. My dad, Fynn's grandpa, is Native American, though Fynn's never met him and I haven't seen him since I was two. Fynn and Rowan have not yet shown much interest though. But now, because of these berries, they've become fascinated with the buffalo, and that can only lead to Native America.
     
    The next morning we watched videos of buffalo on youtube and talked about how the buffalo used to cover this area. About how a lady who lived here a hundred years ago said it took a herd eight hours to pass her house, and how some of the settlers killed almost all of them to starve out the indians. About how the indians that lived around here lived with and loved the buffalo, and how they took care of each other. We talked about all this while eating buffalo berries.

    We make planet models everyday, sometimes big sometimes small, some going here some going there. Fynn knows planets so well now that they've simply become a vehicle for other knowledge. In this case we learned about buffalo and Native America- ie, American history. What's that old saying about doing the same thing and expecting different results? We must be crazy.
     
     
     
  • Exhaust th' Passion!

      Th' great thing about homeschooling, and follow th' child learning is that you get to take your kids' interests to the extreme. If they are passionate about something, your challenge is to use that passion for all it's worth. You take an interest and see how it applies to to all subjects, all areas of life. Th' kid decides th' subject, such as snakes, or trains, or whatever, and you get to apply it at th' kids level all across th' board. this way th' learning takes place in an exciting way, using th' childs interests, and he'll take in as much as possible. It's the opposite of institutional learning, where you learn individual subjects such as math, spelling, science, etc, one at a time, and rarely overlap them. It's a challenge i personally find very exciting. I'm constantly learning from my kids, and learning is exciting, keeps your heart and mind young. So, to follow up with Fynn's new found interest in spelling. Grandma and Grandpa found a box of wooden letters at a garage sale and bought it for him. Him and Rowan were both very excited about the letters when they first saw them, they were big, and painted pretty colors, and they both lined them up like a train.   But there were some letters missing, and few doubles, so spelling was limited to a few words. But that's easy to remedy. We found a piece of wood, drew letters on it, and cut them out. After we cut them out we had to paint them. Which of course was a blast in itself. We used milkpaint, which we mixed up together, laid out all our colors and got messy. At the end we had a nice collage of letters, and Fynn was involved in every process of making his own letters from start to finish. Once they dried we were really able to spell some words, though i can see that we're gonna have to make more of these, and some numbers too.      
     We talked a little about vowels and consonants, and of course Fynn spelled silly words that i had to read. But that's ok too, because even then he's getting familiar with th' sounds of th' letters.
     Can you read this?
     We've had a lot of fun with these, and spent some precious moments together, just sitting around in th' grass, in th' sunshine, making good memories.
     
    (Big Fever is th' name of Fynn's pet toad)
    And Old Ro managed to spell a word too. Qonkur. Since he does everything Fynn does he is by no means missing out on his spelling lessons.
     
    Until next time, follow your passions, follow th' child.
  • Fall HorseBoy Learning Update

     

    Well fall is here, and for us that means that we get to have our "classroom" to ourselves again. Our classroom is a five acre field with a bike trail going through it. It's where we make model solar systems, hunt for insects, go swimming in summer, and mostly, pretend it's the African savannah and play games where our wagons are gazelles and cheetahs are out to get them. Summer time is great, but there's lots of other people out there, with their dogs, and, well, it's just nice to be able to concentrate on our lesson without th' distraction of explaining what we're doing. Fynn must be constantly moving if he wants to pay attention to anything, and of course he looks like he's not paying attention to anything at all.I tell people we're in school, learning about this or that. They see us playing chase with a wagon and a cheetah suit on. You see our dilemma here. 

     

     But now th' kids are all back in school, and th' field is our own. We come here twice a day, once in th' morning and once again in the evening. This year me and Beth both felt like Fynn needs to practice his reading and writng. We've come up with a few good ideas to help him, but he gets bored of most of them pretty quickly, and needs something new to keep him interested. We talked with him about improving his reading, and together came up with a plan. We are going to teach Bezzas (bee-zus, his wagon/gazelle) how to read. 

     

    So now, when we get to th' gazelle field, th' first thing we do is teach Bezzas a new word. Either me, Fynn, Rowan or Bezzas picks th' new word, and Fynn writes it with chalk on th' bike trail, then helps Bezzas read it. Bezzas reads th' word, usually wrong, and Fynn corrects him and tells him what it really says. It's a brilliant concept that i'm not sure that i would've come up with on my own. Once again, I wonder who is th' teacher here. In this picture Fynn is teaching Bezzas how to spell halloween. (Rowan wrote the O2, he is learning about oxygen.)

     

     

     The other surprising lesson we've started learning about is degrees and angles. Fynn's favorite thing to do these days is ride his bike up and down hills. Any hill. Every hill. He names each one and we talk about how steep it is. He draws pictures of them.He gets on google earth and finds them and measures them. So we pulled out his old protractor. We got this for him years ago because he's always loved numbers and shapes. He's used it for all kinds of things, but never what it was made for. 

     

    Yet, all we had to do was give it to him again and tell him that he could measure the steepness of his hills with it, and he was hooked. Since then we've been riding around measuring the angle of every hill in town, as well as the distance from trough to crest, and what's th' safest speed you can possibly go down it on a bicycle. It's like hanging out on th' job with a surveyor. 

     

    I always wonder what are we going to discover next, and there is always something new.

    Happy Learning!

     

  • Ru's weekly (THANKSGIVING) autism tip: Let’s give thanks for autism.

    There is so much to give thanks for. Speaking personally as a father, autism taught me to listen, to avoid falling into the 'do it because I say so' school of parenting which drives wedges into families and breeds distrust. Autism taught me that nature and movement are where all humans are happiest, and to no longer waste my life sitting in boxes looking at boxes (though game of thrones and a glass of wine don’t count). Autism taught me to extend my family, to live tribally as our forefathers did, and rediscover a human happiness that I realize is all of our natural birthright. Autism brought me much deeper into horses - my first love - giving me a reason to truly explore the art in a way I had only skimmed the surface of before. Similarly autism taught me to hone my writing to a point where it could sustain me - a dream since my earliest childhood. Autism taught me to surrender, to not be so (bleep) obsessed with the illusion of control. Autism taught me to follow, not to always try and lead (see 'listen' above). Autism taught me the power of communication in all its forms. Autism taught me that love is all that matters. To my son rowan, and all the mentors (aka children) I have had the honor of working with at new trails and beyond, to the incredible people of horse boy, to incredible horses and animals that work side by side with us, to god, who is love, I give thanks. Now, pass me that mimosa....
  • Ru's weekly autism tip it's all in the application - or rather, the ethics are as important as the steps...

    What do I mean by this? Horse Boy Method and learning are not just methodologies. Ok we now know, after 10 years of doing it and with two educational psychologists and a neuro-scientist now full time on the HB staff, that there is a basic science behind it all. the rhythms of the movements we create with horse and/or play equipment calm the over-active amygdala, replace the stress hormone cortisol with the communication and happiness hormone oxytocin and also stimulate the cerebellum (balance and precision) which in turn activates the pre-frontal cortex (reasoning and emotional regulation). Ok. But for this methodology to work it has to be tempered with certain ethics, to make sure the application of the methodology is sound. With these kinds of ethics most methodologies, not just horse boy, are sound but without them a methodology merely becomes a set of commands against which any child, autistic or not, will naturally rebel, if only inwardly. So what are these ethics? The first has to be self-compassion - we are going to make mistakes. We have to forgive ourselves. And guess what - it doesn’t matter as long as, crucially, we apologize to the child. That REALLY gets their attention. An adult apologizes and admits they're wrong? Really? How many people reading this ever experienced an adult apologizing to them even once as a child, let alone as a way of being brought up? But an adult that apologizes to a child shows to the child that his or her judgment is clear, and that therefore the child is in safe hands. And it takes pressure off the adult - because rather than thinking 'I must make no mistakes' and then falling to pieces when we inevitably make them, we know we can grow and recover and move on together. Phew. Then there is following the child. Especially nonverbal kids can only show with their bodies what they want to do - kinesthetically. So see where they go, what they do with their hands, where they run to, and follow that. Stimming can then be turned into skill sets. Start where the child is, because that's where they are. We have to go fully into their world before they will trust us enough to put a toe into ours. Then there is no pressure - what do we mean by that? We will ask a question and immediately model the correct answer a thousand times because frequently on the thousand and first time the child will spontaneously offer the right answer and then take the concept on from there. And if we always demand eye contact, the obvious giving of attention that many teachers and therapists demand, we shut the kid down. We can have faith: even with their back turned they are listening. Even when you know they know the answer to the question you've asked you can still give it to them - later they will confirm they know it through a treasure hunt or in conversation and then you can take the concept to its next stage. But when they know you won’t demand obvious attention all the time and won’t put them on the spot they will reward you with listening and the learning actually accelerates. And then there is humor - at ourselves primarily. Shedding the need to be regarded as somehow dignified, an authority figure. That also breeds trust because all kids secretly know that adults who demand this kind of ritualized respect aren’t really sure of themselves. Add to that a sprinkling of wonder, exploration and do the whole thing in movement - on the trampoline, walking in the forest, playing in mud - until the child decides to be still...all these complete the picture of how to apply our methodologies. It’s taken us ages to get this. In the early years I did the opposite of all these ethics and it got me precisely nowhere. And the little gains I thought I was making turned out to be empty and unconfirmed. Thankfully, however, gradually rowan and the other children trained us in the 'how' (ethics and application) as well as the 'what' (methodology). And with that training they gave we adults a great gift: happiness.
  • Ru's weekly autism tip: Let autism give you your own childhood back

    Many of us spent our more or less neuro-typical childhoods somewhat sad and depressed. It’s a sad fact that this is true for many of not most kids. school for me meant bullying and being bullied, intense sarcasm from the 'masters' as we had to call our teachers, actual bodily harm and even death (one boy was killed on the compulsory rugby pitch in my year, another in our cadet maneuvers - we were all compulsory cadets - occasional beatings from the masters, and varying degrees of sexual abuse from older boys and others. on top of this I fought my way into school every day on a packed commuter train and regularly fist fought on the way home from school (as well as at school) because my school made us wear a striped blazer which other neighborhood kids thought was effeminate. This was pretty normal for the late 1970s and early to mid-80s. every one of my contemporaries had the same experience. we simply accepted it. It didn’t stop us having fun sometimes. but only sometimes. the school also had very high academic standards so we worked hard. And add the training from the regular army to that and you didn’t have much free time. The school wasn’t cheap - I went in there weak at math and science and came out weak at math and science. I wouldn’t say any of the masters of those subjects felt much of a vocational calling to help me understand, despite being paid quite well. Humiliation was the norm. Ok as we know, most of us adults in our 40s or so have a similar story to tell. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not the world I want for my kid. but it’s the path I was heading down all the same - automatically putting my kid into the school district - albeit special ed - as soon as I could, looking forward to the school bus picking him up and dropping him off so I could have time to work, catch up, breathe. I never considered home schooling. It’s not in my family culture and I always pictured it as a parent and a child locked in a room together each going nuts and hating it. Only when the whole school thing imploded for us did I realize we were going to home school. It terrified me. I had no answers to how to do this. So in the absence of answers I realized I must have questions. And the main question was - if I had my own schooling, my own childhood over again, what would that look like? The answer was immediate - the sword in the stone of course! The wizard Merlin comes to the castle and educates you by turning you into animals and sending you off to adventures in fairy land. Ok that’s a fantasy. But was there anything I could think of in reality that approximated to that? There was! The book by English author Gerald Durrell - my family and other animals. In that book, Durrell recounts how he and his family decamped from rainy England to the sunny island of Corfu for health reasons. There was no school. He had a boat, some dogs, and a mentor - a Greek professor of biology. He and the professor sailed all over the coast with test tubes and microscope. All the natural sciences came that way. And math through navigation. All done in Greek of course... What the two stories had in common were one to one mentoring outside in nature with a constant sense of adventure, wonder and play. Now that, I thought, I could do... And it’s what we’ve been doing ever since. Those of you who follow or have done out horse boy learning trainings know this approach works for the child. But it also works for us, the parents, allowing us to reclaim some of the lost happiness that was our birthright but which our town childhood was so short of. Thank you autism. www.horseboylearning.com
  • Ru's weekly autism tip: the science of horse boy, the science of joy

     

    Sorry it’s been more than a week chaps - we were in Yellowstone tracking wolves with Scub, pix to come soon.

    so as many of you know we had a resident neuro-scientist with us here at new trails during the past two years, and she, plus several other brain specialists and educational psychologists have outlined for us what seems to be going on with horse boy approaches and why the results of reasoning and emotional regulation, as well as lessened anxiety appear so consistent.

    neuroscience

    It seems that what is going on is as follows:

  • Skunk movies

    or,

     How Fynn taught me to teach him how to read

    A few years ago grandpa gave Fynn an old drum machine. It has 100 preset beats on it. Fynn also has a skunk puppet that he's loved for years. Fynn likes to turn on a beat, and dance around real silly like with th' skunk- he was totally stimming out, laughing hysterically th' whole time. Then he decided i needed to put on th' skunk puppet while he flopped around up in his bunk bed laughing hysterically. He calls it th' Skunk Movies. Often i thought, i'm encouraging his stimming. But it seemed to be harmless, and truth be told it was fun. Gave me a reason to dance around and be silly without feeling self-conscious about it. Like something you'd do when you're in th' house all by yourself and you know no one is looking. But that isn't all, part of what i had to do was make up a story for th' skunk to tell, and i had to rap it in time with th' beat. We did this every night for i don't know how long. Then one night fynn surprised me.

    We've been homeschooling fynn since he was born. (What parent hasn't been?) For th' past few years fynn has been really into numbers. Numbers were his friends. He found a large 5 at hobby lobby one time and bought it with his allowance. That five became his friend. He played with it like other kids played with stuffed animals or dolls. He'd have conversations with 5, he'd go to 5's house. 5 would talk to his other friends, and to us. Anyway, he's always been comfortable with math, and numbers, but he's always been resistant to reading. We've really been feeling like it's time for him to learn how to read lately, and have been talking to him about all th' wonderful things he can do when he knows how to read, but we've sorta been at a loss as to how to actually go about teaching him how to read. But then two things came to us, one was our idea, and one was his.

    Our idea: he watches videos on youtube. So we had him start typing in th' names of th' shows he wants to watch, or th' keywords of shows he wants to look up. We tell him how to spell them, all he does is type them in. Often times he remembers and types them in without our help. Sometimes he won't type them, so we just do it for him. No big deal, he's learning with every word he types, and we really want to go at his own pace. But his idea was a lot more fun.

    So one night we get all set up for a skunk movie, lights turned off (because skunks are nocturnal), beat goin, me tryin to get into th' groove of th' beat, when fynn says, "ok skunk, teach me somethin new!" Yes! i think to myself. Ok, th' skunk says to fynn, S-K-U-N-K skunk, S-K-U-N-K skunk, repeat after me,... and he does, thinking it is so funny of course. That night we kept it real simple, spelling skunk, stunk, trunk, junk, and kerplunk, which he thought was th' funniest of all. And of course we still had to make up a story- I am a skunk and i really stunk, i live in a hollow trunk and i don't collect junk, when i jump into th' water i go kerplunk!

    Th' next night we learned th' word movie. S-K-U-N-K skunk, M-O-V-I-E movie. Then we changed th' U to I on a few words. Skink, Stink, drink, think. Fynn asked me if skink was a real word. I told him yes, it's a type of lizard. So th' next day we got on the internet and looked up skinks, and learned a bit about them. Fynn really likes reptiles, amphibians, and nocturnal creatures, so that was of great interest to him.

    We've been doing this for a while now, just taking it slow, keeping it silly and fun. And i want to tell you, it's not a miraculous leap in learning, just one step at a time, at his own pace. But he likes it, and it was his decision to learn. The other day, he got on th' computer and typed a paragraph about snakes. All by himself.

    So, while other six year olds are already reading, i'm not worried about fynn, he's learning, and i know he's brilliant and will get there when he's ready. Besides, he's really good at other things high schoolers can't even do, and why do we all have to learn th' same things at th' same time anyway?

    And one other thing this showed me clearly. When you join in your autistic loved ones stims, amazing things can happen. Just try it and see.

The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.

 

longridehome 4

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