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How to Write IEP Goals and Objectives

By Amy Vickrey, MSE

The first post in this series on writing an IEP covered the things you should do before you start. Once you have followed the four steps she outlines, you are ready to consider what goals and objectives you want to focus on for your child. For some children, these goals will be the main focus of an entire subject or area of weakness with other topics in that area playing a more minor role. For others, these goals will be the whole focus for that entire year. 

Let’s start by looking deeper into what the difference is between a goal and an objective.

A goal is the intended outcome of what you want to achieve for each area of weakness. Ideally, you want 3-5 goals focusing on the most important areas or the areas of greatest need. The best goals follow the SMART goal formula:

SMART IEP goals are
Use Action words


Objectives are the steps you take to reach your goal. They take the big goal and break it down by time or by skill.

Let’s look at an example:

Handwriting goal: John will write his name, with correctly formed letters, in the correct order, 3 times over a week.

Objective 1: John will use playdoh, art materials, and manipulatives to create the individual letters to spell his name, using a visual prompt, 3 times over a week.

Objective 2: John will write the individual letters, J, O, H, and N using correct form, 3 times over the week.

Objective 3: John will use playdoh, art materials, and manipulatives to create the letters to spell his name correctly, using a visual prompt, 3 times over a week.
You can see how these objectives build on each other, so that by the time John completes the last objective, he is ready for the final goal of writing his name correctly.

Objectives or Not?
Whether to include objectives is really dependent on personal preference and the individual goal. It can help provide focus and direction on the steps and skills leading up to a goal. Goals can be used for any academic or life skill area (like learning a math or toilet training). 

Now that you know how to write goals, you should be able to have a more focused and purposeful school day. The next article in this series will focus on helping you track progress so you know when to change the goal or make a new one. 

More Resources
Check out our IEP Pinterest board or these links for more ideas:

Setting Annual IEP Goals:  What You Need to Know
IEP Goal and Objective Bank
IEP Goals and Objectives - 1000s to Choose From
Creating SMART IEP Goals and Objectives

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Teaching Your Child to Write: Putting Letters and Words Together

By Mary Winfield

Now that your learner has worked through fine motor skill problems and can write letters, it is time to put it all together!

Usually when a child starts to learn to write, the letters are big and sloppy. That is totally normal! Once your child becomes more familiar with writing and has more control, then it is time to work on sizing, alignment, and spacing.

Sizing refers to how big the letters are by themselves and in relation to the page. A lot of kids start by making their letters as big as they possibly can on a given sheet of paper. Teaching them to write smaller yet big enough to be legible can sometimes be a challenge. But there are creative ways to encourage proper sizing.

First, take a partial sheet of paper and cut out a box that is roughly the size you want their letters to be. Then, place that on top of the paper they are writing on. The guide will help them to properly size their letters until they can do it on their own. You can also draw boxes directly on the paper for them to write inside. Special handwriting paper with raised lines can give them tactile input for the limits they should stay within, or you can also create these lines with puffy paint or wikki stix.

Alignment refers to how the letters are positioned on the paper in relation to the letters around them. Basically, is your child writing on a straight line, or is that sentence wiggling all over the paper?

Different letters have different positions. For instance, the letter “t” is a tall letter, letter “a” is a middle letter, and letter “p” is a bottom letter. This can be a difficult concept to grasp. To help your child understand, you can play a game. Hold up a letter on a flashcard (or just say it if they don’t need the visual prompt) and have them either raise their hands above their heads, cross their arms, or bend down to touch their toes depending on the alignment of the letter.

To help them when they are writing, kids need to be aware of where the baseline is for the words. We write on lined paper, which helps us keep our words straight, but your learner may need more help. You can emphasize that baseline with a highlighter or colored marker to help it stand out. You can also provide a tactile cue by raising the baseline with puffy paint or a wikki stix so they are aware when they are dipping below it or not. Though this can make writing “bottom” letters more difficult, it can help at the beginning when establishing what a baseline is.

Finally, spacing refers to how far apart the letters are in a word, and how far apart the words are in a sentence.

One helpful metaphor that I was taught, was “Spaghetti and Meatballs.” Letters should have a small space between them (like an uncooked spaghetti noodle), and words should have a bigger space between them (like a meatball). You can actually draw these lines and circles to reinforce the concept, but kids generally catch on pretty quickly.

There are many other visual cues you can use to help them with their spacing. Using things like a popsicle stick, stickers, manipulatives, or even their own fingers, can help them keep their spacing consistent. Decorating their popsicle sticks in a way that is appealing to them can also help keep kids engaged in the task.

To add an auditory cue, read their writing out loud to them to help them recognize the purpose of spacing. If words are squished together, then read them really fast and jumbled up. By pausing at the spaces and jumbling the words when spaces are missing, you can help your child to hear the importance of spacing in their writing.

For more ideas, here are some Pinterest boards to help you!
SPED Homeschool
Growing as They Grow

If you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts in this series on teaching your child to write:
Pre-Writing Pointers
3 Stages of Forming Letters

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The Benefits of Using Teaching as a Learning Tool

By Jennifer Duncan

Raising and teaching gifted children is an amazingly fun challenge, but it is a challenge. Something that I have learned over the past few decades is that often, the best way to teach a gifted child is to allow them to teach you.

That may sound counterintuitive – aren’t we supposed to be the teachers? Yes, but allowing your child to teach you, and allowing yourself to learn from them, can actually have a lot of benefits.

There are several ways in which your child can teach you. Here are the two that I have found work well!

Teaching as a Learning Tool
One of the hardest things about teaching a gifted child is that they tend to learn extremely quickly, and they like to dig deep. This can get exhausting, but it can also stump the most dedicated teacher. How do you teach a ten-year-old who has already surpassed you in some subjects?

This question comes from personal experience.

My son surpassed me in math and science when he was ten, and in other subjects a few years after that. At that point, I had two choices. I could either give up on teaching him and turn him over to someone else, or I could get creative and create an environment in which he could learn.

I chose the latter.

Because I could no longer be the instructor for those subjects, I decided to be transparent with my son. I told him that if he would be open and honest with me about what and how he wanted to learn, I would keep him supplied with resources. Instead of being his instructor, I would be his fellow student – I would learn along with him.

Instead of evaluating him through tests, I studied along with him and allowed him to teach me what he learned. If he could explain it in ways that made perfect sense to me, I knew that he had a good understanding of the material.

Ten years later, we still work with this system, which brings me to the next benefit.

Teaching Your Gifted Child to Understand Others
Most gifted children are aware that they think, perceive, and learn in ways that are completely different from what is considered “standard” or “normal.” They may not be aware of what the “standard” or “normal” ways of learning actually are, but they know that they think differently.

As they get older though, this can present quite a challenge. If they think, process, and communicate in completely different ways from those around them, how will other people be able to understand them?

This is a real issue that many gifted children face. Often, the best way to help them overcome it is to be an open and honest (but compassionate) sounding board.

My son, who is profoundly gifted and twice exceptional, realized around age 8 or 9 that many people did not understand him. Kids his age did not understand why he wasn’t interested in the games or shows that they were. Instructors and leaders had a hard time with the fact that he often knew more about their subject matter than they did.

Many gifted children respond to this by simply hiding behind a “standard” mask, refusing to let people hear their ideas or see their creativity. Sadly, this is difficult to fully prevent, but it can be mitigated.

When your child knows that you really see them, even when they are awkward or speak like someone far older than they are, they will be more willing to open up. It may take quite a bit of practice before they are willing to do so to the world at large, but allowing them to be real, open, and excited with you can solve a number of problems.

First, it allows them to honestly gauge how effectively they are communicating with others (i.e., with you). Often, when my son is working on a paper, a devotion, or something else he wants to teach, he will talk it through with me. He knows that if I’m lost, there is no chance that other people will understand. If I track with him all the way, however, he knows that it’s good to go.

Second, being an honest sounding board for your child allows them to try new things and present new ideas in a safe way. Because they don’t have to worry that you will reject them if you don’t understand their idea, they have the freedom to dig in and work through it. Once they do, they will often have the confidence to then offer that idea to others.

Allowing Your Child to Teach and Grow
When your child thinks and learns in nonstandard ways, it can be difficult to find opportunities for them to learn and grow. Allowing them to teach you and allowing yourself to learn from them can bring many of these opportunities to light!

As they grow, they will find many ways in which to share their gifts, their creativity, and their abilities with others. Simply giving them the tools, confidence, and support they need can make all the difference!

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Rewards vs. Bribes: A Case for Using External Motivators

By Jill Camacho

Have you tried absolutely everything to motivate your child to get their school work done? Are you using incentives and worried about bribing? Are you unsure if rewards are a great idea in the first place?

I get where you're coming from. Read on and learn from my own experiences with using external motivators and be prepared for an unlikely surprise!

Aren't bribes and rewards the same thing?

You read that right. External motivators (aka incentives or rewards) are not bribes. I used to be under the same impression! Constantly, I found myself confused by conflicting advice. There are parenting books saying, "Don't bribe," but then reward charts are used in ABA therapy. What's a parent actually to do!?

I finally learned the difference when I confessed to our ABA provider that I was bribing my son for good behavior that day.

Then she set me free...

There's a small, but a key difference
I think the best way to explain it is through example, but basically, it matters when and how you're employing the external motivator.

Let's say your child loves playing Minecraft, but hates doing math. I'm going to use this hypothetical to demonstrate both a bribe and an incentive.

Bribe: Your child is crying, arguing about math, and basically falling apart. You say, "If you finish 4 more questions, you can play Minecraft!"

Incentive: You start an ongoing policy that no Minecraft will be played before math is complete, or perhaps that after every page of math completed, they can have a 15 minute Minecraft break.

See how the bribe happens after the undesirable behavior? Your child can employ the behavior to get the reward. In the case of the incentive, there is a hard and fast set of rules and expectations. They are established before any "negative" behaviors begin. The child lives up to their end of things before getting the reward.

So, in adult terms, it’s the same as working hard for a raise or promotion as opposed to getting a raise because you are threatening to move jobs. In that last case, you have the power and the boss is bribing you to stay.

Now that we're clear on that...
I think it's important to discuss the pros, cons, and other things to consider when using external motivators in your homeschool. Nothing in life is super easy, right? Here is what I have learned putting these ideas into practice...

Using food or electronics
Be careful about how you're using food or electronics in terms of motivation. I'm not saying don't ever do it, but be thoughtful in how you are doing it. Think about the long-term consequences and how to mitigate any problems it may cause.

Be aware that constantly using food or sugary treats to motivate can be a slippery slope into bad eating habits and eating issues down the road. Our brains already light up on MRIs with sugar consumption. Now imagine when it's consistently given as a reward for doing something undesirable? That same principle applies to electronics.

Intrinsic motivation
Make sure you're not building a reward monster who will only do things for clear, external rewards. Build in ways to practice being intrinsically motivated and flexible. While we generally all work for a paycheck (external motivator), we need to do other things like eating healthily or cleaning the house because we are intrinsically motivated.

Our goal isn't leaning so heavily on rewards that they grow to expect them for any and every little thing. We try to reserve them for the "big things." However, if you need to start with the small things too, just keep re-evaluating how and when to phase them out.

Stick to your guns
If you told your child the rules for the incentive... those are the rules. You can adjust them as needed, but do so carefully. If they are having a meltdown moment over the undesirable activity, don't adjust it right then. Adjust your expectations the next day or after taking a break to soothe.

Don't cave into giving them their Minecraft time (or whatever the reward) for less than the agreed amount of work because they are having a hard moment. That's how you slip back into bribing. Just adjust the agreement in the right timing if truly necessary. The magic of incentives lies in the follow through!

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4 Things to Prepare Before Writing Your Child's IEP

By Dawn Spence

A common abbreviation that is used in special education is an IEP. It stands for your child’s individualized education plan, and it defines your child’s academic and behavioral goals. Your child’s IEP will be unique and is based on their abilities. This can help guide you in reaching their learning goals.

Before you get started writing your child’s IEP, you will need to gather the necessary information to form appropriate goals and objectives.

1. List Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses
You should start with a list of what your child is doing well and the areas that need growth. When you are listing the strengths and weaknesses, you are defining their present levels of performance (PLOPS). I found a form for $1.00 that is a great checklist to start with. You can find that form here. I found others when I searched “present levels” in the search engine on Teachers Pay Teachers: some were even subject based (i.e. math, English, etc.). You may also search the acronym “PLOPS” and different forms will appear and many are free. 

This is one of the most important documents for writing your IEP. This information builds the foundation of what you want your child to learn and what you want your child to achieve. Their strengths and weaknesses should be written for both academic and behavioral areas.

2. Gather Former Testing or Observations
This can comprise of any testing that has been performed by a school district, home testing, or tutoring. Most testing always has a section that lists areas to work on and may even list some goals.

3. Collaborate with Therapists
If your child receives therapy, their therapists are a great resource. Therapists have checklists that they use to make their therapy goals. My daughter’s therapists and I work together so that we cover as many goals as possible. Therapists can also see different strengths and weaknesses that you can not always see.

4. Compile Work Samples from Current Curriculum
For example, if you are working on math and your child can add but not subtract that would help you develop a goal. Also, many curriculums have placement tests that you can use to find where your child is currently working and where their progression should lead. These placements are available on many websites and most times are free.

Now that you have gathered all your resources and information you will be ready to start writing your IEP. Later this month, Amy Vickrey will be writing a post that will address the next step of writing an IEP.

In the meantime make sure to check out the IEP resources we have on our IEP Tool Pinterest board.

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Free or Inexpensive Outdoor Learning Activities

By Amy Vickrey, MSE

With summer comes thoughts of outdoor activities and fun. For those that live in states where there is snow and ice for many months out of the year, it is a time that allows for nature and exploring that is otherwise unavailable. For those in the south, some of these activities could be enjoyed year round. Whatever your timeframe or location, here are some activities to consider as you start planning out your summer.

  • Stargazing - This can either be done as part of a unit study or as just a night or two to lay under the stars and look at the sky.
  • Camping - This may go along with stargazing or just on its own. There are a lot of life skills, science, and history lessons that can go with camping.
  • Fishing - Learn about the types of fish that live in your area, catch and release, or learn to cook and clean as part of life skills!
  • Nature walks - There are an abundance of local, state, and national parks in many areas that allow for nature walks and exploring. Some offer campsites and other amenities.
  • Play hide-and-go-seek - Do this either during the day and at night!! Talk about how different animals use different techniques to “hide.”
  • Watermelon seed spitting contest - (Okay, this may not be totally educational, but you can measure the distance!!)
  • Feed the ducks at the local pond.
  • Fly kites - There are several different online tutorials if you decide to make one instead of buy one.
  • Write or stage your own play.
  • Create your own “movie” - There are lots of editing software out there for free or that are inexpensive.
  • Bicycle ride - Whether you go around the neighborhood or at a local park this can be a lot of fun.
  • Plant things - Grow a garden (you can use various containers), plant trees, flowers, etc.
  • Study different birds, butterflies, etc. for your area - You can even plant specific plants to attract them!
  • Camp inside (the cousins do this at our house regularly) - Put out the sleeping bags, make some snacks, and watch some movies!!
  • Eat popsicles outside! Talk about why they melt so quickly (if they don’t eat them first).
  • Sidewalk chalk to draw, do math, write spelling words, etc.
  • Have a picnic at the local park or in your yard.
  • Play sports and simple games outside.
  • Pick summer wildflowers, press them, and make art with them (make sure they are not protected - in Texas it is illegal to pick bluebonnets, for example).
  • Create (you can even have the kids design it on graph paper) an obstacle course or mini golf course.
  • Listen to a book on tape or have a read-aloud outdoors.
  • Visit the farmers market in your area.
  • Take writing outside! Use a notebook or clipboard for convenience.

Enjoy the time outside this summer! Taking the learning outside creates a wonderful, fresh approach to the many skills we work on year round! Enjoy the warm weather!

For more activities check out our Pinterest board or the following links:

Summer Fun Ideas for Kids and Parents
Cheap Kids Summer Activities
Summer Activities for Kids

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A Case for Embracing Silliness in Your Homeschool

By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

Far and few, far and few
Are the lands where the Jumblies live.
— Edward Lear

Amidst all the academic rigor, children need a little nonsense. Not only do we love to hear our children giggle, nonsense stretches a child’s mind. A little silliness can take them to unexpected, liberating places.

Moving the Ordinary into the Extraordinary
We can research scientific strategies to help children prone to cognitive rigidity, but we already have one remedy readily available to us: Silliness! Silliness ameliorates the overly literal mind. Absurdity promotes wonder.

Consider the ridiculously tall tree grown from a single small seed. To a child, this is almost absurdly marvelous. G. K. Chesterton writes, “So long as we regard a tree as an obvious thing, naturally and seasonably created for a giraffe to eat, we cannot properly wonder at it. It is when we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats….”

Using Song and Rhyme to Stretch Thinking
Perhaps even more directly than the wonders of nature, nonsensical rhymes and silly songs can help suspend a rigid child’s over-reliance on the logical. Consider this:

Hey Diddle Diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed,
To see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The lilting joy of language, the simplicity of rhyme, and the delight of predictable repetition inherent in silly songs and poems appeal to children’s ears:

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,
When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen:
Who told you so, dilly dilly, who told you so?
'Twas mine own heart, dilly dilly, that told me so.
Call up your men, dilly dilly, set them to work,
Some with a rake, dilly dilly, some with a fork;
Some to make hay, dilly dilly, some to thresh corn,
Whilst you and I, dilly dilly, keep ourselves warm.
When sown as occasionally bright wildflowers into the cultivated soil of a full garden, the child may explore the lively, the implausible, and the unexpected. 

Opening Doors for Spiritual Truth
Over time, this may serve to assist the child’s apprehension of spiritual truths. Chesterton explains, “Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.” We read stories from Holy Scripture so that children may become captivated by One greater than our own understanding.

Wonder welcomes us.

We hear the invitation, “Come unto me,” from the very God who became Man. The mystery of the Trinity, the miracle of the incarnation, the depth of the crucifixion, and the transcendent marvel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for us -- all of this is beyond our reason, yet within our grasp by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Developing Hearts and Minds for Wonder
Perhaps we never realized our role in cultivating wonder in our children! As we teach silliness, we accomplish much. This is why we include silly stories, poems, and nursery rhymes in our Simply Classical Curriculum. Not only do we allow our children to improve phonological awareness, but we also let him laugh! More than this, we begin to invite our child to be embraced by that which is greater than his own mind.

Wonder broadens the mind. Specifically, when we teach the marvelousness of God’s Holy Word, we lead our children to be embraced eternally by the One who is truly Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6). “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” (Psalm 40:5)

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.
— Psalm 139:17-18

Originally published in The Classical Teacher Winter 2015-16 edition. Edited and reprinted with author's permission.

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