Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Not So Easy Problem to Solve

Last year my son's teacher sent a packet of homework to be completed over the summer. The packet was meant to keep him busy and working. It was to be returned because he'd have a different teacher in the fall. I tried without success to get him to do the math sheets. Math is the area in which my son with autism is making the slowest progress, so I was hoping to figure out a way to motivate him.

Part of the problem was my youngest son. Like so many other little brothers he's always there by our sides whenever I'm trying to help the nine year old work on something. They are four and a half years apart so developmentally it's a challenge. I needed to figure out how to keep the four year old happy while motivating the older child.

Another part of the problem was older guy's need for manipulatives. For some reason the skill of counting one's fingers to solve easy math eludes him. Back in the summer, my solution to both aspects of my problem in getting math homework completed was to make two cardboard strip with numbers. Then we'd use that as a reference point for math. Well, both the nine year and the four year old enthusiastically made the strips. However, they were a big fat failure in terms of getting the math sheets done. Maybe the idea was too sophisticated. Who knows? Anyway, after that failure, I just gave up. After all it was summer and there were a lot of distractions.

We received another packet from his new teacher to do over Christmas. It was full of handouts and completion was optional. The little guy got a hold of the packet, colored some of the papers and scattered them around the house. I did manage to salvage the math sheet. The sheet had about 10 little birds on it. Each bird had an addition or subtraction problem. Each problem had an answer of four, six or eight. After the respective problem was completed, the birds were to be colored yellow, orange or red in accordance to the answer key.

We were pretty busy for most of winter break, but I was determined to get my guy to do his math sheet. It came down to the last night, the night before school started back up. In an unrelated act, my husband bought the boys a Staples Easy Button days earlier. They went to Staples for something else and the boys convinced him to buy one. At $4.98, it wasn't an overwhelming expense.

Anyway, The Easy Button is red with white letters spelling out the word easy. A man's voice says "That was Easy" when the button is pressed. The boys love it and as you can imagine we have to put it up most of the time because they would drive us nuts. The older one, especially, would be prone to pressing it over and over.

Yesterday I started thinking about how we'd get that math sheet done. The first thing I did was make a copy of the sheet so the little guy could have one to "work" on too. In terms of manipulatives, I decided that I'd use the two containers of red and green mini M&M's my guys received from Grandpa and Grandma. They both could help me count them out.

A lot of space was needed so we turned off the TV and settled down on the middle of the living room floor. This way both boys could be as close to me as possible without worrying about clunky chairs. We started by counting out the number of candies in accordance to what the first number of the problem. We took them out of a bowl and counted them out onto a plate. Then we took away or added candies as directed by the second number. My oldest son's job was to count the remaining M&M's and then write them on the sheet. I wrote the number on his brother's copy.

After the number was written down, they both were allowed to hit the easy button. After all the problems were solved and colored correctly (the four year old could do this part on his own), I divided up the candies for the boys to eat and let them hit the button one last time. It took forever to finish (my eldest is particular about his coloring), but the math sheet was completed and put in the backpack for his teacher to see.

Mrs. C had type written a note that said she would give a prize to those who completed the work. I did not tell my guy about the prize which is good because we only had one sheet to send back. Nonetheless, I am proud of getting my son to complete just that one assignment. After all, it only took me six or more months to work out all the underlying problems involved in getting math homework done. That was not so easy.


Casdok said...

But you got there in the end!!
Well done!
Hope you got some M&Ms!

J said...

Thanks. I did get a few M&M's, but had to be careful because I already had a great deal of chocolate by that time. Being a known chocoholic, I received a lot of (thousands of calories worth) chocolate in the form of Christmas presents. I ended up freezing some of it to keep it out of my sight. By the way, I did like your blogpost with humorous phrases about eating too much in general. There was a lot of truth in those sayings!