If Rowan went to regular school he would now be in sixth grade. The first year of middle school! The year of equations, geometry and the scientific method.
We knew that the only way to even begin teaching him these complex, abstract topics was through his interests, passions and motivations. But how do you get from what a twelve year old boy with autism is into to cell structure and Newton’s laws of motion?
Luckily, as is so often the case, Rowan found the solution for us. Early on in the ‘semester’ we stopped by Rowan’s favorite river, The Brazos, to hunt for fossils and amongst other interesting things found a tooth. The next day we went to a museum he enjoys and found they had a new exhibit – all about teeth - and the day after we went to the book store and they had a display prominently featuring a book about teeth. Always an opportunistic teacher I had pointed all this teeth related information out to Rowan and at the book store he turned to me and said ‘wow it must be teeth week, what else can we learn about teeth?’
And thus the themed week was born!
Since then at the start of every week Rowan decides on what our theme will be. We have covered everything from global warming (during planet earth week) to cell structure and function (during microscope week).
Despite the fact that we always teach Rowan through his interests and passions we still try and make sure he covers everything he would be learning if he attended a regular school. But how do we do that if he is picking the theme for what we are learning each week?
Well at Horse Boy we believe that if you are a little creative and willing to think outside the box it is actually surprisingly easy to take a child’s obsessions and use them to teach everything from basic letter, numbers and colors to advanced topics such as the ones Rowan is now tackling. We call this ‘follow the child.’ Let me give you some examples.
During river week we learned about the relationship between speed, distance and time by calculating the flow of his favorite rivers. During wheelbarrow week we learned about Newton’s laws of motion and gravity by pulling his around in a wheelbarrow. And during zoo planning week we learned how to calculate area and volume by planning the relative sizes of his dream zoo’s animal enclosures.