Teaching Conversation Skills

Today’s guest post is from Karen Michelle Graham. I met her at a writer’s conference and when she told me about this technique from her book (about healing her son from autism) I asked her to write a guest post about it.

There are two kinds of children who I think could benefit from this technique: 

  • children in the autism spectrum, especially those with Asperger’s 
  • any child who has a hard time making conversation (one of my sons struggles with this)

We played this “conversation game” with our kids during the holidays and it actually helped them be much more polite in talking with Grandma, getting them to think about asking questions and interacting better.

Here is Karen’s technique, which we called ”The Conversation Game.”

One of the keys to a successful program for my son was teaching him the power of reciprocating language…the give and take of conversation that we take for granted. We started with small manageable units. Here are just a few of the basic steps out of many.

Step 1. We taught our son to answer simple social questions.
(Some prerequisites were taught before this step such as following simple commands, receptively label body parts (head, nose feet, tummy eyes, legs), action verb commands, matching, verbal imitation … to name a few. He progressed to more complicated questions and situations.)

For example:

  • What is your name?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • What is your dad’s name?
  • What is your mom’s name?
  • What is your address?
  • What is your phone number?

Add you own questions. Come up with at least fifteen.

We prompted my son for the answer. (Fade the prompts as soon as possible.) We taught him in his room, and then had other people ask the same question. Then we made sure he generalized the knowledge by asking the question in diverse locations by various people.

When we taught, “Who loves you?”, we taught him to respond, “Mommy and Daddy.” When he generalized this question, he answered with a long list of people he believed loved him like his sister and therapists. I think this is so sweet.

Come up with rewards when a correct answer is given.
For example: verbal praise, hugs, tickles, balloons, and noisemaker. Be sure to adjust the reward to what means something to your child. When you give verbal praise, be as specific as possible.

Charity’s Note: For our game, because we were eating dinner at the time, we started with the question, “Do you like chicken?” The kids had to make eye contact (instead of the usual mumbling into their laps) and respond politely. (I think we had them say, “Yes, I do,” or “it’s not my favorite.” Something other than, “No, I hate it.”)

Step 2: Simple Statement
We taught my son to respond to a statement with a simple statement of his own.
Therapist: I like Spiderman.
Child: I like Superman.

Charity’s Note: We practiced like this:
Mom: I like chicken.
Child: I like carrots. (or whatever else was on the table they liked.)

Step 3. Statement/Statement/Question

This taught my son to ask a question back to the other person. Here is an example of how this works:
Therapist: I like Spiderman.
Child: I like Superman. Do you like Superman?
(The therapist answers spontaneously. Usually, “yes, he is cool,” Or something equally encouraging.)

When we taught the question piece of the drill, we modeled it. Though some children do not respond to modeling, many will, and it is a good technique.

Charity’s Note: Here’s what we did:
Grandma: Do you like chicken?
Child: Yes, I like chicken. Do you like chicken?
Then they looked at Grandma and waited for the answer.
Next, we modeled a polite answer to an open-ended question and asking a reciprocal question. I think my mom and I did it to each other to show them the example. Then they had a turn.
Grandma: How was your day?
Child: (Gave polite answer, making eye contact.) How was your day?
So many good manners flying about. I think Emily Post would be proud. :)

The above programs are just small examples of the many things we taught our son…it had a powerful effect in jumpstarting his language and propelling him toward more complex conversation skills.
Teaching my son was like building a house… this is just one of the key pieces I loved watching him bloom and grow with.

Karen Michelle Graham is the author of A Life to Rescue: The True Story of a Child Freed from the Bonds of Autism. To order the book or read more (such as Autism, Guilt, & Blame—Autism & Tantrums—Autism & Stress) visit her blog at  www.aLifetoRescue.com.

Do your children struggle with social skills or polite conversation? What did you do to help them learn these skills?

For those who are using this technique for autism therapy, Karen included this example chart to show how to document progress.

Date Teacher
Question / Statement Prompt? Results
11/12 Mom What is your name? w/ prompt 4/5
11/13 Dad What is your name? w/out prompt 5/5

Priorities (and What I Need to Cut Out)

I love to set goals for the new year. This year as I was thinking about goals though, I had to think first about what my priorities were going to be.

Here are the areas I want to be HIGHER priorities for 2013

1. Health – healthier food, slower pace, more sleep, a bit more exercise for Mom. The big one here is healthy dinners though. I’ve made some progress in this during the fall (like, actually cooking dinner) and the kids have been helping as Dinner Buddies (huge help!) but I want to do better about planning a menu and cooking each day. (Which results in less fast food and less money spent as a bonus.)

2. Spiritual Disciplines- I have been reading my Bible some mornings, but I want to be more consistent in this, pray with my kids each night before bed, and work on teaching them how to read their Bibles and actually get something out of it. I also want to work on memorizing a verse for myself each week or so and reviewing old ones somehow.

3. School- It’s time to raise expectations. I’d like to have the kids know what they need to get done each day and, with help when needed, be responsible to complete that work before playing. I’d also like to read more with them in the afternoons.

4. (Also, being nice to my family. No yelling. No annoyed voice. But this is more a matter of the heart than time.)

Here’s the hard part: I have to cut some things out to make room for the kind of life I want.

Activities that need to be LOWER priorities:

1. Computer time – I sit down to “check Facebook” and end up an hour later wondering where the time went . The computer is like a black hole that sucks my time right away.

Many times I’m not goofing off; I’m actually doing profitable things related to the book, blog, or Facebook. The problem is, I’m allowing the computer to distract me from what’s most important.

2. Reading – I love to read, especially researching recent Christian fiction, or interesting writing books, or non-fiction books on whatever topic I’m obsessed with that day. The problem is I can get swept up in a book (or pile of books) and not emerge for hours.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with what I’m reading, it’s that it can take away time from my other priorities, especially time with my husband because I have my nose buried in a book. I am going try to keep a Books to Read list that I can dive into during the summer. Also, I’m going to try to get audio books so I can listen while I’m working in the kitchen.

3. Writing-This was a tough one, but I’ve decided many times over the last six months that writing really isn’t one of my top priorities right now. I hope to write more, but it’s going to be a while. Last year writing was higher on the list, but it’s time for it to move back down.

In order to keep those lower priority items in their place, I have found I have to

Give Myself Boundaries

Computer stays off until 2 o’clock. This assures that I’ll focus on school and home before I let the computer monster get its claws into me. (I don’t know about you, but once I turn it on and start checking, my mind just keeps going back throughout the day, even when there’s no reason to. Do other people have this problem? I think the technical name would be “technology addiction” or something.)

I did find during December though, that if I went a day or so without even turning the computer on, it seemed to lose its hold over me. I sort of forgot about whatever was going on online and got plugged back in to my life. So that’s good.

• Writing confined to 2 hours on Monday nights. Whatever writing/blogging I can get done during that time is what gets done that week.

Listen to audio books in the kitchen. I realized during December that one reason I get on the computer is I’m kinda bored and wanting adult interaction. But listening to the radio or an audio book feeds my brain and makes me happy. I’m quite content to empty the dishes or get dinner started if my brain has something interesting to think about. (I also want to work more on my verse memory during that time.)

Not read too much about writing. I’m trying to cut back on reading blogs about writing because that just sends me straight to plotting a novel, and I don’t have time for that right now!

So far, though I’ve only been working on these things for a few weeks (I sort of started in December), I do have to say life is much more relaxing. I know I’m doing the most important things, and I’m not getting hundreds of ideas online for things I’ll never have time to do anyway!

How about you? What is one thing you want to CUT OUT (or cut back on) in 2013 to make room for the things that are really important to you?

Rhythm of a Year: Holidays

Holidays = Practical life/Service

I almost don’t remember last Christmas because I was so busy editing the book (and getting really, really irritated at all those commas).

This year, I’m trying to focus on my family. I’m hoping to leave the computer off most of the time in December. I might check in on Facebook every now and then, but I don’t expect to post anything else here until January. (Except maybe a pretty picture.)

I feel sure that the world will go on.

Have a wonderful, blessed celebration of our Savior this year. Enjoy your sweet children and families.

See you in 2013!

Here’s a bit on what our “school” looks like in December.

During the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s) we are doing some school trying to keep up with lesson plans. But here’s my secret—I schedule in three or four “holiday” weeks into my calendar at the beginning.  I still count those weeks as school because we are learning, but I don’t schedule regular math/grammar/spelling lessons those weeks. Basically the kids help me with the holidays. Here are some things they
might do.  (We don’t do ALL of these every year. )

Practical Life

  • Plan a meal, help make grocery list, find recipes
  • Help cook one to three dishes
  • Help set the table and make decorations
  • Invite friends who might not have anywhere else
    to go for the holiday over
  • Help clean the house


  • Help pack a box to send with Operation Christmas Child
  • Help pack a box to send to missionaries
  • Shop/wrap presents for less fortunate children
  • Shop/wrap presents for friends/family
  • Make cookies/thank yous for awana leaders


  • Often make crafts of some kind for gifts
  • Wrap presents
  • Decorate tree, make ornaments
  • Sometimes do gingerbread house or other projects with grandparents

Reading/ Math

  • Often read lots of Thanksgiving/Christmas books with family
  • Checkers, chess, chinese checkers, Risk, Candy Land, dominoes, cards are all great for math/logic skills.
  • Scrabble is great for spelling/reading/language skills.
  • Puzzles – a big jigsaw puzzle can be out on the table for a few days with the whole family helping-spatial/math skills.

So, that’s why I have no problem counting those weeks as school. The kids aren’t doing the normal weeks of lessons, but they are learning all those practical lessons that will help them in their homes later.

Also, just a side note, after the holidays when all the new gifts are lying piled about, I get stressed out about all the stuff everywhere. I REALLY like to have a visiting grandparent occupy the kids for a few hours (or a day) while I clean and declutter and get everything all organized again. Then I feel like I can breathe and am ready to start the new year.

Have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones.

My grandpa is the one in the picture playing Chinese checkers with my daughter last year. He lived with us for two months last fall and passed away in the summer. It was a hard, busy time, but I’m so thankful for those two precious extra months with him.


After the holidays are over, I tend to feel the urge to rest.
I like to just cuddle up on the couch with my kids in front of a fire, and read, and if it has snowed, make snow ice cream. My favorite winter was when we kept getting snowed in and everything was cancelled. Lovely.

What we do:

  • Get back into our routine
  • Work on staying up with our weekly lesson plans
  • Readjust if needed, if something’s not working
  • Lots of reading and indoor projects. (ex. History/Science hands-on projects are great now.)
  • My husband’s busy season is Jan-April, so it’s always crazy. I like to try to keep things clean and do Saturday chores so we can focus on school during the week. This year, I plan to cut out a few more things (friend birthday parties, other Saturday activities) because last year was just too busy.

What we don’t do:

  • Go anywhere, other than the YMCA for my sanity (at least once a week)
  • I cut myself some slack on dinner. Things are more relaxed because it’s just me and the kids. We have some nights of pizza in front of the TV on a blanket. I get tired.

This is the season of surviving until Spring. If you’re struggling in January, congratulations! You’re normal.


Peaceful Christmas Gift Pack

This giveaway is now closed.

The winner is Tessa Smith (comment on November 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm). Tessa, congratulations! Email me at Charity@TheHomeschoolExperiment.com with your mailing address please. Thank you all for entering and for the wonderful ideas. May you all have a wonderful and peaceful celebration of Christ’s birth.


I wanted to celebrate God’s goodness to me this year in so many ways–healthy self and children, dear friends, husband who is nice to me even when I don’t deserve it, and this crazy thing of having a book published that people have actually read! And liked! Truly amazing.

When I asked my Facebook friends what I should give away, Liz had the idea of a trip to the Bahamas, and I considered it, but then you’d have to pack and go buy sunscreen and find someone to pick up your mail while you were gone, and it just sounded like such an awful lot of work.

I thought what sounded much more relaxing was a few quiet hours to yourself to drink coffee and eat chocolate and read. And I was pretty sure you were all sick of hearing about the book, but Tasha requested it. So I threw one of those in there as well.

I included a $20 gift card to Target so you can go buy yourself a sweater or a magazine or whatever you want, and also an ornament that says, “Peace,” because that is my prayer for all of us this Christmas–peace in our hearts and homes. (Sorry, I know this is early, but I need to get it sent out to you!)

Just leave a comment to enter. If you want to, leave a comment telling an idea to focus your and your family’s hearts on Christ at Christmas.

Here’s what it will look like assembled.

If you want to knock out some Christmas shopping, just let me know and I’ll send the whole thing to the sister/daughter/friend of your choice.

She’ll be thrilled and you’ll have one less thing to do!  (If you do give it away as a gift, I’ll send you a $20 Target card too, just for being so thoughtful.)

If you want to retweet, or pin, or any other means of spreading the word, enter an extra comment for each thing you do.


GIVEAWAY open to residents of the U.S. ages 18 and older. Ends at midnight Tuesday, November 13th, 2012. Winner chosen at random.

Just leave a comment to enter. If you want, What is one thing you do to help focus your family’s hearts on Christ at Christmas?

{ rest }

Once a month or so, I want to simply share a beautiful picture and words of truth. It is a reminder to all of us to take time and space in this frantic world to take a breath,
drink deeply of God’s goodness, and just rest. It’s okay.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.

Psalm 100: 4-5

Our Favorite Poetry Books

I had a guest post today over at I Can Teach My Child about memorizing poetry with young children, and Lori asked a great question:

Besides the poems you listed above, do you recommend a certain book of poems or resource to find good ones for kids to read?

Lori, my first recommendation would be to go to that shelf of children’s poetry at your library (ask the librarian where it is, or look up Shel Silverstein, that should be the right section). Just browse around and check out the ones that look best to you. After trying 5-10 books, you and your children might have a favorite you want to buy.

Here are the favorites at our house:

1. Treasury of Poetry and Rhymes, Paragon Publishing. I love this one because it works from babies up to, I don’t know, age ten? A long time. It has everything from “Hey Diddle, Diddle” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”  to “The Owl and The Pussycat” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” It’s also cheap.  ($3 at Amazon, probably under $5 at a local bookstore if they have it.)

2. A Child’s First Book of Poems, pictures by Cyndy Szekeres.  This has beautiful illustrations and classic children’s poems like “The Puffin” and “Who Has Seen the Wind?” Amazon has inexpensive used copies, but it’s probably not more than $10 at a bookstore.

3. A Child’s Garden of Verses, compiled by Cooper Edens – This edition has gorgeous vintage illustrations that I LOVE. My kids like it okay, but only sit well for a couple of poems at a time. They tend to like the short humorous poems of the above book better. (They are ages 6 and 8. Maybe they’ll like it better as they get older?) I have used a few of his shorter poems for memorizing, like “The Swing,” “Rain,” and “The Cow.” This is a lovely book, but if money is tight, probably not the one to start with. (Hardcover on Amazon was about $15.)

4. One Hundred Best Poems, compiled by Marjorie Barrows. This  has wonderful, fanciful poems, but is an antique book, so it’s expensive. (Right now, there’s one copy on Amazon for $10, which is a steal, but if that one disappears, the next is over $30.)  Or keep your eyes out at used book stores. Our favorites are “A Fairy Went a-Marketing” and “Norse Lullaby.”  It makes you think of how childhood used to be. Lovely.

I like sometimes to read a poem at a meal so we can talk about it, especially a poem that fits the day, like one about Jack Frost on a frosty day, or one about mist on a foggy afternoon. So cozy!

Enjoy exploring these delightful poems with your children!

P.S. There is one other resource I want to mention–Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization by The Institute For Excellence in Writing. (Yes, what a mouthful!) The book is expensive ($65) and I haven’t personally used it, but I LOVE Andrew Pudewa’s talk on this topic. I’m mentioning it because if you have a chance to enter a giveaway for this book, DO IT. Andrew Pudewa often speaks at homeschool conventions, so if you have the chance to hear him speak on this topic or buy a CD of his talk (probably about $6), it will get you excited about why and how to memorize poetry with young children.

5 Simple Ways to Teach Children About Government on Election Day

Tuesday is election day, of course, and we’ll probably all be heading out to the polls with children in tow, to stand in long lines with whiny kids and try not to be jealous of all the other moms whose kids are in school and who get to stand in line all by their own selves.

But wait! This is actually a fabulous opportunity to teach our kids about government.

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Let our children feel the excitement. The whole nation is buzzing with anticipation—yard signs, bumper stickers, endless news coverage. My son is really into the election due to his co-op government class, so he’s always on the lookout for bumper stickers. We can point those out and ask them who they think will win.
  2. Answer their questions. Lack of questions is rarely a problem at our house. Friday mornings I usually go on an early morning run to McDonald’s before we head off to co-op, and this week I let my eight-year-old son come with me against my better judgment, only after he promised to be very quiet because Mommy just woke up and she really wanted some quiet alone time.
    “Promise?” I asked him.
    “Oh, yes! I’ll be super quiet!”
    We got in the car. I turned on the radio. It was a piece about Romney giving a campaign speech. Approximately three seconds in…
    “What’s Medicare?”
    I tried to explain in one sentence. Three second pause.
    “What’s health insurance?”
    I tried to explain briefly.
    I turned the radio back up. Three second pause.
    “What’s Obamacare?”
    I sighed, gave up, and turned the radio off. We had a nice fifteen-minute discussion about health insurance and government regulation.How do we help the poor and weak like Jesus commanded, and what is government’s role and what is personal responsibility?Not really what I was hoping for on that drive, but I realized it was that teachable moment. That’s when my son was listening.This is real life. This isn’t government in a textbook—it’s real, messy, interesting and our kids want to understand.My six-year-old daughter is asking much more basic questions, but I still try to take her questions seriously and help her understand the vocabulary she can at this age.
  3. Lay out the bait. If your kids don’t ask such copious questions, here’s one way to get them to ask more (but be careful what you wish for).

    Just use some word in a sentence, like they already know what it is. Mine almost always take the bait.

    I’ll say to my six-year-old daughter, “We need to get in the car to go to the polling place.” She’ll put on her shoes, mulling this over in her head for a while, then within a minute usually asks, “What’s a polling place?” (See some of the vocabulary in my top graphic for ideas on words to explain.)

  4. Color a map. I printed out this CNN map this weekend and we discussed it. Actually, I had my son look at it while my husband and I tried to guess the swing states at dinner (my husband won), and then which of them had the most electoral votes (he won again). My whole point was to have fun, let the kids see us discussing the election, and understand that this is important. They did actually learn something though.

    I printed out this plain map for the kids to color in as we watch the election results.Both of those maps help explain the number of electoral votes in each state.I’m planning to make popcorn and let them watch the election results for a while, though we might have to go to bed before it’s all over, so we will probably have to finish in the morning.

  5. Keep the right attitude. They learn more from what we say than what we do.
    • Pray – God is in control of the whole thing. He guides leader’s hearts as he guides a river. He is sovereign. We can pray for our nation, our leaders, wisdom and grace.
    • Serve others – we can go to the long lines at the polling place looking for ways to serve and be a blessing. I’ll probably pack a backpack with books, flag coloring page, and snacks just in case. I’ll try to remind the kids in the car and pray with them about how to act—being quiet and thoughtful of others, kind and respectful. I’ll try to encourage them to hold doors, pick up things people might drop, smile and answer grown-ups nicely and politely. Not that that will all happen, but we’ll do our best.
    • Be thankful. I will try my best to be careful not to grumble, but remind my kids what a privilege it is to vote and how thankful we are to live in a free country. When the winner is declared, even if it’s not my choice, I can rest knowing God is in control and I can pray for that man.
    • Celebrate afterwards. I saw a sign that our McDonald’s is giving out free coffee and pie on election day. Woohoo! In 2008 Starbucks gave out free coffee. There’s bound to be something fun going on in your neck of the woods. After you all survive voting, you can sit around and have some good old apple pie (and for us gluten-free people, we can have some yummy apples) and talk about America.

These are the moments our children are learning from our lives. These are the real issues. And it’s so much more interesting to learn about our government this way than to just read about it.

Remember, if your children were in school they wouldn’t be with you on Tuesday. They wouldn’t be seeing this with their own eyes. (But if your kids are in school and you’re reading this, you could always go after school is out.)

What a privilege!

Tina at Being Made New has a review and giveaway of my book this week – you can enter to win (and give it away as a Christmas gift if you’ve already read it!).   Enter the Giveaway  >


Quiet Places

Do your children have trouble focusing? Sometimes my kids will get distracted by conversations in the other room.

One very effective strategy we’ve found is to simply find a quiet place for them. When we’re upstairs in the schoolroom, my son will often go to the guest bedroom upstairs and work there. If he’s still getting distracted by us, we’ll shut the doors to both rooms. (And to be fair to him, it’s hard not to be distracted when your little brother is running across the room and doing flips into a beanbag chair.)

My daughter will sometimes go out into the hall into a little green chair to study her Awana verses away from us.

Things that typically make a good quiet place:

Nearby me, but in another room. This way I can check on progress every fifteen minutes or so.

Away from any toys. For this reason, sending my kids to their rooms would not work.


Away from distractions (like windows). If we are in the kitchen and I have my son go to the dining room, I face him away from the window. Fewer squirrels to watch.

I heard of a kid that did some schoolwork in the bathroom—very few distractions! My kids will sometimes work in the hallway outside the bathroom while I give my toddler a bath.

Other ideas we have not done, but could be used to minimize distractions:

  • White noise machine (or fan) to block out sounds
  • Ear plugs or headphones to block out sounds
  • Tri-fold posterboard thing like you’d use for a science project to put around their work area to cut down on visual distractions
  • Sticky notes over the other areas on the page they haven’t gotten to yet (to help them focus on the problems they are on)

Other great ideas for highly distractible children can be found at: http://www.westfieldacademy.org/adhd/ (This is Carol Barnier’s SizzleBop information.)

What quiet places work well for your kids? Or can they actually concentrate with everyone in the same room together?

Family Song: Ten Commandments Song

Many days our house rings with laughter. Other days it is filled with tears. Some days are crazy busy, and some are spent cozily at home. But almost every night before bed, we all gather in my daughter’s room and sing Family Song.

Some nights my husband and I have to interrupt the singing to tell someone to stop jumping off the bunk bed ladder (again). We usually have to tell someone to put away the LEGOs (again). It’s unbelieveable how often we have to make people stop glaring at each other.

You’d think we would have this figured out by now. You’d think the kids would sit down, sweetly hold hands and obediently sing the song. Usually it’s not quite that neat and tidy.

Nevertheless, we do it. Every night. When my husband is out of town traveling, we call him for Family Song. If I am sick, they all come pile (gently) into bed with me. We’ve missed maybe a handful of times over the past three years.

I love this simple tradition. My parents divorced when I was in junior high (remember, the book is fiction, and the parents in the book were made up), so we had very few (pleasant) family traditions.

This simple act is important to me. We are a family.

Every night, no matter who yelled at whom that day, no matter who cried, no matter what has happened, before bed we come together and sing as a family.

If my children remember nothing else from their childhoods, I want them to know that through all the storms of life there are some contstants. Every night the sun sets. And every night, we gather together as a family and sing praise to our God for that day.

Usually we do hymns, and it’s about time we change to one, but for the last three months or so this has been our Family Song.

The Ten Commandments Song
(I can’t seem to find a decent version of the tune online–we learned it from the Classical Conversations CDs.)

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Not make unto thee any graven image.
Not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,
Honor thy Father and Mother that thy days may be long upon the land the Lord Thy God giveth thee.

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.
Thou shalt not kill.
Not commit adultery.
Not steal.
Not bear false witness, against thy neighbor.
Not covet.

These are the words of my God. These are the words of my God.


Of course we all are familiar with the ten commandments, but I find that those basic commands have really reminded my heart of God’s standards. Am I setting God’s day apart and keeping it holy? Am I honoring God first in my heart? Am I being thankful for my blessings or coveting the lives other mothers have?

What simple family traditions do you have?