Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
I had read encouraging feedback in some yahoo groups about the Watch Me Learn Series and decided to check out their site to find a suitable DVD to view with my son Matthew while on the three-week holiday break from school.
This is how I decided on School Days, since I figured it would reinforce what was being taught in school while reminding Matthew that he would be returning shortly to school.
Both the website - www.watchmelearn.com and the DVD have a seal of approval from the National Autism Association. The phrase, "Stimulating Developing Minds" is the motto of the series.
School Days runs for 53 minutes with the cost at $29.95, plus $2.00 postage with New York residents needing to add sales tax to their purchases. The focus is children learn from watching other children while teaching skills. The Watch Me Learn videos were developed in conjunction with NYS certified teachers and incorporate accepted scientific approach to learning that relies on methodocial Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior.
This information is printed on the back of the DVD box and not on the website -that I could tell from visiting at time of purchase and again today. Since I have no experience with either ABA or Verbal Behavior I am not sure if this would have swayed me one way or the other towards the purchase if it was explained like this on the website.
The School Days DVD arrived quickly, as I placed my order on 12-9-05 with the delivery via regular mail on 12-14-05. I would like to reiterate that I have two sons on the Autism Spectrum on opposite sides. Matthew is nonverbal in an autism class at a public school, age 9. Nicholas is higher functioning, almost 11 in a regular fourth grade class with no support. He was held back in the first grade.
It was apparent almost immediately that School Days is not similar to either of my son's school environment. Nicholas mentioned it reminded him of the summer autism camp, which I agreed with. Although the date they mention in School Days during morning activities is a Monday, September 10th. Most of the kids were dressed in shorts and summer attire.
I am on a dial-up connection so I did not preview the video at their site like you can for the whole Watch Me Learn series of videos. School Days starts off at home with Grace who is told by her Mother that it is time to get ready for school. The time on the clock shows 8:30. Here in Los Angeles school starts a lot earlier - 7:50 and 8:10 for my children.
Grace has a PECS schedule that she follows with her backpack, notebook, lunch and notes. The words are visually on the screen as well showing her doing these steps. Then there is a lesson from a femal voice for How to tie shoes showing the sneakers only. Next Grace zips up her jacket, but is wearing shorts.
We see Grace and other children playing on grass extremely close to a street when a boy yells out the Bus. There are no adults present or fence along the divider of street and grass. The viewer has no idea where this is taking place. It looked like nine kids getting on the bus leaving a few basketballs on the grass area.
There is a song Buckle Up on the bus that is sung by three girls. These kids are also wearing flip flops to school. Sandals and flip flops are not allowed at the schools in our county since these are dangerous for playing on the apparatus on the playground. The bus states it is Carousel Day School, Hicksville, NY. The bus shows it can seat 20.
The kids are dropped off at a grass section with no adults present to meet them, and nothing resembling a school yard or playground. The next scene shows the kids walking into a class with some shaking hands with a male teacher who asks how their weekend was.
At this point my impression is that School Days is cheesy and too rigid, not a typical school environment I have ever seen. There is a cubby hole with visuals showing where to put your backpack, notes and lunch. A female voice states to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The class consisted of boys and girls in a variety of age groups, which looked to be about 6 or 7 through 13 with more girls. The class was sitting on the floor for the job chart and calendar. The teacher read off the chart and held up a pecs card for quiet and hands down, although the viewer never sees what this is in response to.
One of the students goes up to the calendar and counts off the days until he gets to the 10th and states today is September 10th. Then they go on to sing the days of the week song and weather time where they look out the window to decide what the weather is. One of the girls moves the pointer on the weather chart to sunny and gets praised for doing a good job with the teacher saying he is proud of her.
They sure seemed to be praised constantly for all menial tasks they did. This to me does not seem to imitate life in the real world with these children being told great job for moving a pointer!
Attendance time was handled with one female student calling out the names of the students. The teacher told her to give the sheet to another person, but not really sure why or what was done with it. The teacher mentioned that there was a schedule change with no spelling but a show and tell. My kids have not had show and tell for years!
The students were then told it was time for gym and were lining up in the classroom on colored feet stickers. Inside the gym another class was there that had kids again of all ages with some looking to be about 5 or 6 and more boys than girls. You never saw another class besides these and the school was never showed, nor was there a blacktop playground or halls where people were walking to other destinations.
At gym they did some stretching before doing an obstacle course that had went over a mat, through a tunnel and around a cone. These key words were visuals on the screen with the gym teacher interacting with the kids asking them if they went over or around an item.
Then kids were doing a variety of activities in the classroom - some were counting money, some were doing a graph with coloring while others played with blocks. A few kids were called to go to speech. The room had a table with the three kids of varying ages telling the speech teacher what they did the previous night and ate for breakfast.
The boy read the schedule for the session, which was a thinking game activity. At the end of the session everyone gets a sticker and it is a big deal on where they will put it on their clothing. The speech teacher exclaimed that they were scratch and sniff stickers. She also said next time they could play Go Fish.
These kids proceeded to show off their stickers to the classmates and then a Mother brought in a stuffed fish for a student for show and tell. This all seemed like activities that are done in preschool and Kindergarten. I could not keep Nicholas interested to even view the full DVD, which was hard to sit through myself due to the childish nature of the content.
The kids went on asking the girl about the stuffed fish before it was announced lunch time. It looked like they were in another room, but nothing resembling a cafeteria atmosphere since all these kids ate their lunch at one table with a lot of talking going on.
At the school Nicholas attends the children have to be quiet and eat lunch before leaving and heading onto the playground. They sit at long tables with lunch aids present and only a handful of students bringing lunch as most get the school lunch.
In School Days it was not shown if the school even had a lunch for children to obtain. Most of the kids had bottled water with their lunches. They even did some knock knock jokes. These kids might be surprised as they get to high school since this is not really a typical lunch room atmosphere.
Recess was on the gras outside playing kick ball with no apparatus or blacktop playground in sight or adults supervising students. At the art room these students made a sunflower. This is an activity that I would consider for Kindergarten students and not the age range presented in the video.
When I viewed School Days a second time to make sure this was not suitable for our situation I asked Nicholas to come in and watch. He got up and left as the kids were doing the sunflower activity saying it was childish and he had better things to do. My sentiments exactly!
The best part of the entire School Days VDV was the next segment where a student was doing her matching with a handmade PECS book in a notebook style. She did one matching money and then one on hygiene. This gave me a good idea for something I could do for Matthew.
The two older girls were listening to MP3 players while looking at what appeared to be little kids books. This is not something a student would have access to at any public school in Los Angeles and not part of any school day.
It was announced by the teacher that it was 2:30 with free play. The kids checked their stickers to see what activity they could do. Some were listening to music, building blocks and dominoes. I noticed some kids were wearing blue wristbands. A few children were playing restaurant. The teacher had some buzzer on his desk that went off and he said it was time to clean up and bus would be there soon.
The kids went to the cubby holes and got their belongings. The bus dropped Grace off at home, her Mother was at the driveway and they entered the house. Grace and her Mother sat at the dining room table where Grace opened up her backpack to show her Mother the sunflower, who in turn made a big deal about it and wanting to put it on the refrigerator. Then she got out a black composition book to start her homework. The mother was right there saying how proud she was of Grace. To the viewer it was not noted what the homework was, and it seemed like nothing was really taught at school to warrant homework.
I do not know what type of school or class has children in these age groups doing such tasks as part of their school day, but this did not reinforce anything relating to school for either of my children. There was not even a school shown to make reference to where they were. I am not certain if those were really teachers and therapists or people playing the parts since they seemed to be very rigid and methodical in their movements.
All the children are verbal, none seemed to have any behavior issues and it was not explained why these children were in the same class, sharing the same table at many of their therapies or why the range of ages for class and therapy was so wide. I could not tell why the students were receiving speech or why they played with blocks in the classroom and never did any reading of chapter books or something on grade level.
The school day started late, there were no aides on the bus and no adults present to meet the students. I do not see how this could help any child on the Autism Spectrum compare their day to this dramatization. It was unrealistic, there were no emotions present with the whole day too simplistic and not rewarding in learning anything relating to actual subjects within a school setting.
The behavior was methodical, the whole video was cheesy and over compensated in the praise department to the children who are rewarded for little work and will expect this in the real world where nothing is this easy.
These are not school activities that I have witnessed over the last seven years since my children have been enrolled in public schools. When I looked over the website for Watch Me Learn the praises for this series is from those who have and teach children within the 2-3 age range. I am not sure the School Days is geared to this age group when they showcase children that are much older and seem capabale of so much more, but are busy playing games, getting stickers and doing show and tell.
If these are activities and images of the type of school day your child may have, than this is suitable for your family, otherwise I would pass on spending thirty dollars to show your child how to play. The emphasis was not on reading, writing, arithmetic, science, spelling and interacting with the general population or even seeing a school and what really goes on inside. This is a false realization of a typical school day. A child on the Autism Spectrum can achieve much more than building blocks and playing Go Fish.
My DVD will be going on sale soon at Ebay!
Choosing a Camp
An Impression of autism from a kid on the Spectrum
Flash! Teaching Pix
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.