Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Our Last Shall Be First At Times: Responding to the Need for Individual Attention for Jack

Jack's Two-Tooth Grin
How's our little one been feeling?

Dear me, I fear the answer is “ignored” at times.  Or, at least that’s what I surmised when Jack came low-crawling and fussing down the hallway to find Luke, Nina and me the other day, only to fall into a heap of sighing, exhausted sleep as soon as he reached the doorway to our play and learning space/office. 

Shame on me, I thought!  Jack is not a fussy child and is anything but a high maintenance baby (unlike his big brother at his age!)  In fact, Jack is endearing and almost always ready with a two-tooth smile.  He should be getting extra attention.  But, instead – yikes! – he is obviously receiving a lack of attention.

This is inexcusable.  As a youngest child myself, I should be conscientiously showering our happy little babe with huge portions of love and attention, not giving him the shaft.

Guilty Mama.  I am (self) charged.  And, I am going to make amends.

Henceforth, I am determined to ensure that Jack doesn’t experience life as a pie, where he gets the leftovers portions.  Instead, I aim to make certain that he discovers life as a spring, where the refreshing waters just keep flowing, pouring forth enough to share with everyone! 

Yes, I am now making a conscious effort to give the last of our children the first turn some days to drink the goodness of individual attention in!  And, no, I do not mean simply because he sleeps next to me and gets the earliest share in my attention each day.  I mean because I have begun to plan some mornings around Jack first – not the other kids.

What would Jack enjoy?  Which toys and experiences would satiate him with a full share of Mama love?  Those are the questions such mornings answer.   And, more importantly, they answer the question:  How can I demonstrate through actions and words just how grateful I am for the gift of my youngest?  For, indeed, he is so very precious.

I am so grateful for Jack being in our lives.  I am equally thankful that when Jack fell asleep after his long crawl down the hallway the other day, I woke up to the fact that he has not been getting enough attention at times of late.

How do you respond to the needs of all your children?   How do you offer each the individual attention they crave?  Please share your thoughts in a comment. And, please visit Heavenly Homemaker’s Gratituesday, where this post is being shared.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, A Rich Resource Review

When Luke and Nina were little, I borrowed a copy of Slow and Steady Get Me Ready: The How-To Book That Grows with Your Child by June R. Oberlander from our local library.  I liked it and intended to take it out more often, but neglected to do so.  So, when Jack came along, I used a Borders gift card to purchase the book.

Unfortunately, once the book came in, I set it aside “for now” and have just recently uncovered it.  I could kick myself for my disorganization and for not using it from the get-go with all my children and can say that I fully intend to start using it more regularly from now on.  It fits in nicely with the Montessori-inspired homeschool philosophy I increasingly want to employ at home and it also meshes well with Classical Education, which is another piece of our homeschool inspiration.
Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is a straightforward, easy-to-use resource and, perhaps, one of the least inexpensive guides out there for parents and grandparents that want to provide opportunities for their pre-k children’s learning and development at home. For more information about the book, read on.

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready
* * * *
Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is a very easy read, although it’s not really a book to read all at once due to its rather matter-of-fact and humorless (for lack of a better word) style. Instead, I recommend reading its introduction, browsing it, and, then, picking it up week-to-week, as needed, to glean easy-to-implement ideas that are within your child’s developmental stage.  In fact, that is exactly how the book is organized – with one activity per week for you and your child to explore from your child’s birth to his or her fifth birthday.

Also of note, while some might say that both the writing and illustrations in the book are too simplistic, even bordering on boring, I disagree.  As a busy, tired mom juggling homeschooling with working part-time with, well, you name it, I find the simple style just right.  When accessing Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, my sometimes overtaxed brain does not have to work to digest much.  I can simply read, prepare and go.

I have two children under five and one not yet six.  The book is targeted for children from birth to age five.  In doing so, it provides 260 quick ideas for enhancing young children’s learning and development as well as a series of quick-check pages for parents to use in assessing their child(ren)’s progress.  To me, that makes it relevant.

Plus, I like that each activity in the book is not only described in a straightforward manner, but also includes a bulleted list that highlights what the activity develops.  For example, awareness of the concepts of “in” and “out, tactile enhancement, skill in visual observation or matching one to one.  In doing so, the book not only provides a tested activity to develop specific skills (in very Montessori and Classic Education friendly way), but it also gives me food for thought about what skills and knowledge I might focus on when planning other activities – or even simply reflecting on free playtime – with my children.

That said, for me, the book has two possible drawbacks:

  1. The last year of activities in it is based on “number” and “letter of the week”.  While this is a popular model in homeschools and traditional schools, it is not one I subscribe to.  I prefer a different approach to literacy.  (Still, it never hurts to have some simple ideas to pull out as reinforcement at a moment’s notice.)
  2. If you know very little about child development and are a caretaker that is easily worried, this book could throw you off.  Since it is laid out with only one activity per week, each targeting a specific developmental milestone, it does not account well for the wide variation in children’s rates of development.  So, the uninformed reader might begin to believe, say, that an infant has a hearing problem if he is not responding to certain stimuli within activities by a certain week or that another child, who is not as verbal as others at a particular week, may have issues.  The flip side of this, however, is that within its seemingly inflexible framework, the book presents a worthwhile “measuring stick” for seeing where your child could be at a certain age.  (I tend to look at the book in terms of months or even quarter years, not weeks.)
So, despite the fact that I think Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is quite relevant to my children’s ages and stages, because of the fact that it doesn’t provide much beyond number- and letter-of-the-week for children ages 4 and up (of which I have one and will have another in a couple months), and because I can see how the structure of the book might mislead some readers, I am only giving it a half-star for Relevance.

While I have seen a few people complain that Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is unnecessary (because any creative parent can think of many of the activities in it – or equivalent ones – on their own) and insulting (because it does not account for the differences in children’s developments due to the supposed expectations laid out through the weekly nature of its organization), I find the book is quite a practical resource.  As a former educator, and one who worked in early education for a while even, much of what the book offers is not “brand new” to me.  However, it is helpful! 

You see, as a teacher, I had dedicated planning time.  As a parent, I seldom do and even more infrequently have time to reflect and make assessments.  With Slow and Steady Get Me Ready at hand, I don’t need to.  When I am feeling a bit worn, don’t have the wherewithal to plan an activity, but know that the kids need a little direction, all I need to do is open up to weeks close to the ones that match my children’s ages and easy-to-implement activities, that require little preparation, are laid out right there.   

Plus, when I start to wonder if my children are developmentally “on target” for their ages and stages, cannot remember what I learned in past classes and don’t feel like researching anything online, all I need to do is flip to the “Measurable Parameters to Profile Child Development” and “Measurable Parameters of Entrance into Kindergarten” lists at the back of the book, and, in simple one-page lists can “score” my children’s progress.

Additionally, when I crave a little “others are there, too” perspective, or need a few quick ideas about common infant, toddler and preschool “problem”  behavior, I simply need to flip to the end of the book, where there are brief but worthwhile “Tips for Solving Behavioral Dilemmas”.  Reading these, I often find my urge to begin bemoaning our family’s current challenges to a friend on the phone or to get caught up in long-winded online discussions dissipates.  The brief paragraphs on whatever the “dilemma” of our day is often provides just the feeling of affirmation or nugget wisdom I need to move on.

So, while I can see how some folks might balk that Slow and Steady Get Me Ready hardly “teaches” one how to interact with or educate their child(ren), I also realize that is not the book’s aim.  Instead, the book sets out to do exactly what it intends: It provides 260 easy-to-understand activities that use common household items and take only about ten minutes each to do (but, granted, sometimes a bit longer to construct the tools for) to guide caregivers in helping children to develop into kindergarten-ready youngsters.  To me, that’s pretty practical!

As with many books that target the younger years, Slow and Steady Get Me Ready can only earn a “longevity” star for those who buy it at the birth of a child and faithfully use it for the next five years, or for those working with young children regularly.  That said, because the book does not refer to popular videos, technology, characters, etc. and only requires the use of rather ubiquitous and/or recyclable goods to create any suggested tools for learning, it is pretty timeless

Timeless, that is, if you work with children who the types of activities in the book appeal to.  A bit Montessori-esque (which to some folks, like me, is a plus and to others a negative), Classical Education-friendly (in fact, the book is recommended in the popular Well Trained Mind) and very straight-forward, the activities presented in Slow and Steady Get Me Ready are good ones.  But, if you have children who are global learners, who love to pretend and who devour stories (like my eldest child), you may find the book lasts only as a supplementary one, not as a go-to one.  In all honesty, the activities may not sustain such children’s attention for long on a regular basis without additional input and ideas.

A * for VALUE
As I mentioned in my introduction, after previewing this book at the library and wishing I had it on hand more often, I purchased a copy.  At less than $20, with five years worth of ideas in it, I find it well worth its cost. 

Even if, like me, every idea in Slow and Steady Get Me Ready does not appeal to you, and if you know you can educate your child without it through simply talking with, playing with, reading to and answering your child’s curious questions in detail, the book is still a bargain at less than $4 a year.  As a handy source of supplementary ideas or a simple-curriculum base, it can work as a useful addition to your early childhood/parenting/grandparenting resource collection

Sure, you can find loads of free ideas online or purchase more creative and more “modern” curriculums and resources, but you cannot often find a relatively inexpensive all-in-one, hits-on-five-years-of-learning-and-developmental-goals in one easy-to-access volume resource that requires no bells, whistles, batteries or extraordinary effort.  Indeed, that is exactly what Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is -- worthwhile little volume that can be used even when the Internet is down, the bills are piling up, Mommy’s brain is overtaxed and kiddoes need some direction.

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready is a book I am glad I purchased.

(See my initial Rich Resource Review post to read more about my rating criteria.)

This review is being shared at  52 Books in 52 Weeks.  Please check out the links at each for further good reads and tips.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Routines and Rhythms: 5 T's for Bedtime Routine Printable

Yesterday, I talked about our 5 T’s for Bedtime, a simple strategy that helps us get our two older children to sleep a bit more peacefully than we used to.

Even though this system has been working fine for us with no visual needed beyond the kids' five fingers to count down on, we now have charts for it.

One with pictures and descriptions hung right next to Daddy's Free-Christmas Family Gift Exchange prayer near Luke's pillows.

And one without extra words, hung by Nina’s bed.

Why do we have these charts if we don't need them?

Well, primarily, because our visually-motivated Luke, who has been enjoying his Morning Lotto Chart since last week, woke up yesterday asking to make a new and different chart.  So, following his interests, we did.  (He "reminded me" what each of our 5 T's were and then picked out all the clip art.) 

Secondarily, because I am all for adding more literacy into daily life.  Luke is beginning to puzzle out words and by having descriptions on his chart, along with the pictures, he may acquire some further reading skills.  Meanwhile, Nina is still working on letters and sounds, so having big, bold  "T" words will highlight the "T" makes a /t/ sound for her as well as give her some other letters to identify and sound out.  Also, having pictures to the right of the words on Nina's chart might encourage her left-to-right pre-reading awareness further.  (Forever the cerebral, planning-teacher mom, I am, even if inconsistent with formal lessons right now.)

How about you? As a fellow literacy-loving parent, could you use a bedtime chart?  Or, as a parent seeking an aid to structure your own family's bedtime routine, would one help?  If so, and if you like ours, I thought I would share printable versions below.

Simply click on the graphics and they should pop up full-size, ready for printing.  If they don’t, feel free to leave a comment with your email address in it, and I will send them to you that way.

And, of course, if you want to share charts, printables or strategies you find helpful for peaceful bedtimes, please do!  I welcome such comments since I know that with parenting, as with life itself, the only thing you can count on is change.  While our 5 T’s for Bedtime are working well for us now, undoubtedly, we know we will eventually need to tweak our bedtime routine a bit.  Your ideas might help us.

Since getting enough sleep is vital to any child's successful learning experience and since literacy is such a large part of education, this post is being shared at Helpful Homeschool Hintsplease visit the links there to learn what has been successful for other homeschool families.  It is also being shared at Grace Alone's Thankful Thursday since I am so grateful that the kids are getting to bed more peacefully, even if not staying there all the time!  Enjoy counting blessings with others by clicking the links there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A More Peaceful Bedtime Routine: Our 5 T's for Bedtime

Bedtime has never been easy in our home.  We have always struggled with finding a routine that will help our children (particularly our eldest) wind down and fall asleep peacefully.

To that end, I’ve read many books, listened to a lot of other parents and tried numerous strategies in an attempt to find “the key” that would make bedtime more peaceful in our home.  The Nanny Jo approach. The No-Cry Sleep Solution. The Happiest Baby on the Block. Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child.  You name it.  I have considered it.  Some of the suggestions I have discovered proved fruitful – for a while – but little has ever “worked” for the long run. 

Enter the 5 T’s for Bedtime that we developed.  These have definitely been helping for a while now.  (Not every night, mind you, but many!)

What are the 5 T’s?   
They are 5 simple steps that our children have learned to countdown on their fingers before bedtime: toilet, teeth, tales, talk (to God and briefly to each other) and tunes.  When we as parents remember to attend to these 5 T’s consistently, and help our children recognize that we are doing so, bedtime works so much better!

  1. TOILET:  The kids go to the bathroom (and, with help and reminders, put their undies in the hamper and their clothes in the hamper or away in their rooms before changing into bedtime diapers and jammies.) 
  2. TEETH:  They brush their teeth (often with a demonstration or help from Mom or Dad while humming the tune to a tooth brushing song I know from childhood.)
  3. TALES:  They pick out one story or chapter to cuddle up and read together each (often begging for more, more, more, to which, we, as parents, have learned to respond, ‘Tomorrow.”)
  4. TALK:  They say their prayers, with our help, and chat with us a bit about what’s on their minds or ask us for a “made up story” once the lights our out.
  5. TUNES:  They fall asleep listening to lullabies, instrumental music or calming CD’s (on ideal nights.  On other nights, they fuss and cry, get out of bed, call out to us and require reminders about which of the 5 T’s we are on and that tunes require quiet listening, not talking and active bodies…)

In short, they prepare their little minds and bodies for sleep in an expected way.

The Truth of Our 5 T's 
Now, in all honesty, I probably should not have numbered the list above, because, to be truthful, we don’t always attend to the 5 T’s in order.  But, we have found that as long as we attend to all five and do a finger check with the kids about which we have done and which we still need to do, they “work” (or work better than any other strategy to date has.)

We have also found that five seems to be the “magic” number for our kids.  For, we have tried to add other things into the “T” mix, which we want our children to do before sleeping– for example, tidying their room or taking care of their bodies by stretching and exercising.  That didn’t seem to work.  It was simply too many T’s for their young selves to attend to. 

Likewise, we have made the mistake of failing to follow through on one or more of the  T’s on certain nights – say taking away stories as a consequence or spending too much time talking to the kids.  That doesn’t work out either.  If the kids don’t get their stories, they get so angst they cannot calm themselves for sleep and, if we drag out any portion of the 5 T’s, it’s almost as if it triggers something in the kids’ heads that says it’s not bedtime anymore.   The flow goes askew and we end up back at square one.  Yep.  We have found taking focused time to attend to each of the 5 T’s actually takes less time than dealing with the repercussions of skipping some of them!

Thus, through trial and error, we have recognized what works for our children at this stage in their development.  We have also learned to include other things we want to do with them in the evening to the time between dinner and bedtime.  That way, things such as clean up times, stretching and long chats about our days get attended to, but don’t complicate a simple routine that is working for us.

Now, if we could only find a way to KEEP the kids in bed in the middle of the night, so we don’t wake up to this some mornings:

Yep, that’s all three in our bed!

This post is being shared at We Are THAT Family’s Works for Me Wednesday. Please click on the links there to see what is working in other folks homes and lives.  Also, if you have tips for bedtime, or, better yet, back-to-bed-until-morning time, we’d love to hear them in a comment below.  And, if you like our  T's idea, stay tuned in the coming days.  Luke requested we make a 5 T printable and I will be posting it soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Please Help Japan -- My Other "Hometown" Shichigahama

In the past week and a half, I have not been posting much.  Part of the reason why is because I am trying to stay true to the Lenten fast commitment I made based on Luke’s suggestion (talked about here).  Another part is because when I have failed to keep my abstinence, I have often been online looking up things about Shichigahama instead of pursuing my usual interest in writing about home and schooling.

“Shichigahama?”  you might ask.  “What is that?”  In short, it is the place I called home from 1993-1996  – a small, coastal village in the northern Japan that holds a large piece of my heart; a town where folks welcomed me as an English teacher and community member; a place where “intercultural exchange” stopped being simply a term in a textbook for me and became an appreciated reality of life.  Shichigahama was – and always will be – a part of who I am.

Tragically, Shichigahama will never again look as it did when I last saw it.  Located about 30 miles Northeast of Sendai City, towards the epicenter of the March 11th 8.9 earthquake in Japan, the village sustained relatively little damage from the earthquake itself, but was torn asunder by tsunami that followed. Waves as high as 28 feet washed away complete areas of the town – homes I tutored at, beaches I frequented, roads I traveled along every day are now either completely gone or are buried under literal feet of buildings turned to rubble and vehicles tossed about like matchbox cars.  A good portion of the town is littered with “what was”.

Luckily, the entire town is fortified by what “is” and always has been a part of Shichigahama – community.  Even as heartbreaking stories of loss and destruction continue to unfold in layers of lives gone, property destroyed and resources becoming depleted, the people of Shichigahama remain steadfast in their commitment to support one another.  All town employees are living, 24-7, at their places of employment, taking turns to keep town leadership going.   Meanwhile, other folks in town are coming together to offer each other housing, supplies and aid.  

Indeed, even as tragic tales continue to be written, inspiring stories play out.  The same sense of unwavering strength, kinship and cooperation that I witnessed among the people of Shichigahama during better times in the 90’s is apparent in the reports I receive daily about the town now.  The people of Shichigahama remain together even as their hometown has been torn apart.

And, they are not alone.  

Shichigahama, my hometown of three unforgettable years, has long been “sister towns” with my childhood hometown of Plymouth, MA.  Since the tragedy struck, folks in Plymouth, as well the many English teachers and Coordinators of International Relations that have helped with the sister town exchange through the years, have come together online to exchange news about the Shichigahama residents we care about as well as to discuss how best to offer support to our friends across the globe.

Among all the threads of the discussion, a simple principle has been a unifying one:  Plymouth and Shichigahama have enjoyed a longstanding relationship as sister cities and, through it, hundreds of lives have been touched.  Friendships span across the globe.  Support does, too.

Part of that support is offered through ongoing prayers.  Another portion is extended through messages of caring sent via internet and phone lines.  Finally, a very tangible piece is coming together in the form of donations.

Tomorrow, the Rotary Club of Plymouth, which has had a longstanding and direct relationship with its sister Rotary club in Shichigahama, is sponsoring a fundraiser in conjunction with the Town of Plymouth and Plymouth Area Community Television.

 The PACTV site explains:

The Sister City Telethon can be viewed in Kingston and Plymouth, MA LIVE on the following channels; Comcast Channels 13 & 15 and Verizon Channels 43 & 47.  95.9FM WATD will also host their programming live at the PACTV studios during the event. The telethon will also be streamed LIVE on the PACTV website (www.pactv.org) and the Town of Plymouth's website (www.plymouth-ma.gov).

During the hours of the LIVE televised event, donors can call (774) 283-4477.  Donations can also be made by clicking on the paypal link above this message.  An account has been set up with Northeast Community Bank, donation checks can also be made out to "Plymouth Rotary Charitable Fund".  In the memo line write "Shichigahama Relief Fund" and send the checks to: Northeast Community Bank, 8 North Park Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360.

Businesses that make a donation of $1,000.00 or more will be invited to present their check LIVE on air at the telethon.  If your business is interested in doing this, please email Donna Rodriguez and she will schedule a time for you to appear on the telethon with your donation.

It also provides a link to donate via Paypal.

I can attest that I know some of the people involved in the making of this telethon and can vouch for their commitment and character.  I personally trust that the proceeds raised in the telethon will be delivered to the Rotary Club of Shichigahama to be used directly towards the stabilization and rebuilding of Shichigahama and surrounding villages.

Alternately, I also fully trust the town leadership in Shichigahama to do what is necessary for the town.  They have recently announced that funds can be donated directly to the town of Shichigahama through bank transfers to help folks start rebuilding as soon as possible.  The information for doing so is as follows:

Bank name: 77 Bank
Branch name: Shichigahama Branch
Account type: ordinary (savings)
Account number: 9000887
Account holder's name: Shichigahama Accounting Manager, Shinya Abe

Finally, I want to add that I have also experienced Japan through other programs, including as a student on Semester at Sea in 1992 and a participant of Ship for World Youth in 2001.  Through such exchange programs, I have experienced first-hand, over and over again, the value that Japan places on extending its own incredible sense of community to building a worldwide sense of unity, peace and harmony.  

Earthquakes and tsunamis damage things and affect people in unfathomable ways.  Prayer, caring and support can be equally impressive.  With this in mind, I urge you, even if you don’t feel a personal connection to Japan as I do, to be a part of a healing force.  Please, come together with me in whatever way you are able to – through spiritual sustenance or through offering time, talent or treasure – to wash over Japan with love.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Sensory-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day Story and Play Time

St. Patrick and the Three Brave MiceAs March hobbled in with continued cold, flues and pneumonia here at our home, I had hoped its winds would blow our health concerns away in time to allow us to host a St. Patrick’s Day play date.  No such luck.   Our St. Patty’s Day fun with friends, which we shared ideas for at 17 Ideas for Hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Play Date  at Catholic Mother’s Online, will have to wait for another year.

In the meantime, we are honoring St. Patrick by sprinkling activities in between appointments this week.  Yesterday, those activities took the form of a spontaneous Sensory-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day Story and Play Time outdoors. 

Want to enjoy such a time yourself?  It’s easy! 

-          a bell (or a drum, since some stories have St. Patrick scaring snakes away with a bell and others with a drum)
-          a copy of St. Patrick and the Three Brace Mice by Joyce A. Stengel (or an alternate story that includes St. Patrick driving snakes away
-          imagination

Sensory Input and Motor Control with Snake Freeze

One person plays St. Patrick and lies down next to a bell to “sleep”, making snoring sounds if possible (for that extra deep breathing, which can be so good!) 

The others are snakes.  They line up a ways away from St. Patrick and on their bellies or on their feet, move toward the sleeping St. Patrick, of course, being encouraged to make hissing sounds (for oral motor input) and waving slithery arms about (for some extra proprioceptive input). 

 When St. Patrick wishes, he reaches for the bell and rings it (auditory inut).  All snakes freeze.  (Motor control, here!)  They stay frozen for as long as St. Patrick rings the bell.  Then, St. Patrick goes back to sleep and snakes move forward again. 
Keep playing until a snake steals the bell or touches St. Patrick.  That person gets to be St. Patrick next.

Running with Delight with a Snake Drive
After playing Snake Freeze for a while, snakes practice darting their tongues in an out (for oral-motor input) and then gather near St. Patrick. St. Patrick clangs the the bell loudly.  The snakes run as fast and far as they can to get away from the bell.  (Pre-set boundaries, of course, so your kids don't try to run several houses down like mine did!)

Some Visual-Auditory Input with a Read-Aloud
St. Patrick and the Three Brave Mice
Read St. Patrick and the Three Brave Mice by Joyce A. Stengel aloud, really pausing to enjoy the pictures, retell parts of the story, make predictions about what will happen next, etc.

Creative Dramatics with the Three Blind Mice
Retell (or reread) St. Patrick and the Three Brave Mice having children act it out.  If outside, be sure “Snake” gathers grass for tactile input.  Also encourage variations in levels (when slithering, sneaking up on one another, jumping up), speed (moving slowly to sneak and quickly to run in fear), facial expressions and vocal tones (sneaky, worried, scared, angry, relieved, etc.)

Letting the Children Lead with Their Own Discoveries and Ideas at Times
For example, my chidlren tried to find some longer grass to braid rope to pull the bell as the mice do in the story – not necessarily the most successful venture, but fun tactile, fine motor fun.

And, my son spotted “baby shamrocks” growing among the dead, dry grass on our lawn.  We picked one to examine and to play St. Patrick teaching the Irish about the three parts of God.

Whatever you do, savor the sunshine and fresh air if you can (no one says story times have to be held inside!) and Go mbeannai Dia duit (May God Bless You).

This post is being shared at Childhood 101's We Play.  Please click on the links there to enjoy other playful ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Routine and Rhythms: Our New Morning Lotto Charts

Nature has rhythms.  Life does, too.  But, somehow, we keep getting off beat here at Jammies School. 

To help us get back in tempo, I was planning to simply resurrect our Wake-Up Time and Daily Rhythm Charts, which remained effective until cards began to go missing.  However, as I was about to click “print” in order to make replacement cards, Jack scooted across the floor.


“Ah!” I realized.  No need for our newly mobile Jack to be gnawing at cards that might get dropped on the floor.  Nope.  A revised system was in order!


Thus, the kids and I spent yesterday morning creating and giving a trial run to our new Morning Lotto Cards.  I made the main framework for each card and, then, Luke and Nina sat on my lap to select their own images from Microsoft Office clip art to personalize their own cards.  (They helped Mommy make one for herself and insisted on making one for Jack, too.)  


 We hung our Morning Lotto Cards in the hallway in page protectors and put them to inaugural use by “x”ing things we had already done that morning and “o”ing things we had yet to do with a dry erase marker.


You should have seen how motivated those x’s and o’s made the kids to complete their current morning routines.


My hope is that we will go for coverall Lotto every day until our early morning rhythm gets back on track.  Then, I am going to roll the Lotto cards into a larger plan I have incubating to capitalize on Luke’s desire to earn some money and mine to have a better ordered home and more consistent habits for all.


I can also seem them working into kiddo workboxes and Momma workboxing when we get that set up down the line.


If you’d like to borrow our Morning Lotto Charts, you can simply click on the photo of each one below and it should come up with one large enough for you to print.   You’d just need to tape your own names and photos over the appropriate parts at the tops.  

 If a full-sized version does not come up, or if you would like a Publisher copy to adapt for your own use, simply leave a comment with your email address and I will try to upload one to send you via email.


(And, if you can give a simple tutorial on how to upload documents like this in a free, easy way at one of the document sharing sites, please do.  I have yet to get that technically savvy!)




This post is being shared at 5 Minutes for Mom’s Tackle It Tuesday and We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday. Click on the links there to see other projects folks have been tackling and tips they've been sharing to make their homes and lives run more smoothly.  It is also being shared as a part of For Thy Sake: Teaching Children to Value Family Work.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Embracing Sensory Processing Disorder

Not too long ago, Danette over at SOS Research let me know that her next S-O-S- Best of Best would be on “family life as it relates to invisible special needs”.  I knew I wanted to write on the topic, but have since found myself waylaid by repercussions of living life alongside Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), or perhaps just managing life with children who have been sick and a Mama who tries to budget a seemingly infinite amount of things into an obviously finite amount of time.  That is, I have been facing severe scattered focus and a deficit in time management.

Today, at the 11th hour, I combat both focus and time issues in order to share a suggestion that our family has discovered as a response to the challenges of SPD:   

Embrace them! 

Yep, the good, the bad, the ugly and the immeasurably indispensable.  One and all.  Accept and, sometimes, even accentuate them.  When our family remembers to do so, life is so much better!


Well, take, for instance, the good:

When the extended family begins to “get it”, special moments happen, such as this sensory break story time with auntie, hiding under a table during a boisterous family party.

The bad:

When your child is sick, things are never easy.  A fever and vomiting in your average kid is trying.  With an SPD kid, the flu can be downright terrible.  One moment, a slight touch can be met with screams of, “Ow!  You are hurting me!” as feverish skin becomes extra sensitive.  The next moment, the umpteenth meltdown of the day can begin (as happened at our home today.)  On the flip side, though, sickness can offer moments of treasured calm and cuddles – often the first time in weeks your child remains still in your arms and your house’s appearance does not suffer from his constant “getting into things”.  We experienced such a sick-induced slow down several years ago on New Year's Eve and have been forewarned of colds and flues coming on by "the calm before the storm" a number of times since.

The ugly:

SPD-related melt downs rear their ugly heads out of nowhere, it often seems.  And, once in full swing, they can be so hard to tame.  But, as you try to organize your child, you can learn to do so with a sense of humor.  Not too long ago, we did this very thing as our son carried on, “I don’t like Mommy!  I don’t like Mommy” over and over even as he clung tightly to me during a prolonged tantrum.  Irony can be amusing!

And, the immeasurably indispensable:

Heavy work can be a key ingredient in a daily sensory diet.  A change of location (i.e. away from cabin fever) can be essential, too.  More than once, we have found ourselves feeding our son’s sensory needs by heading out as a family when we normally would not.  A recent walk in the woods on an nippy winter day was one of those times.  Patience had been wearing thin. Input was in order.  Desperation led us outdoors and delight awaited us there!  Brother got his heavy work.

Daddy got his exercise.

Sister got a fun ride.

And Mommy and Baby enjoyed the hike.

Now, I am not saying that times when relationships are strained, patience wanes or frustration waxes never happen in our family.  Most certainly, we experience moments of both literal and figurative heads beating against walls.  However, since committing ourselves to embracing, instead of “fixing”, our son’s unique mix of thinking, acting and being, we find that life has been more manageable.  As we continue to discern, diagnosis and deal with “it”, “it” has ceased to be a setback and begun to become an impetus for discovery. 

Yes, we still feel exasperated at times, but we also enjoy a new found sense of anticipation and appreciation. 

As my husband has often reminded me, imagine if Einstein, da Vinci, Beethoven, Newton or many other icons of eccentricity and possible special needs were medicated to “normalcy”.  What would science, art and history be like then?  Would today's families enjoy the conveniences and the culture that they do?

Most certainly, “normal”, “average” and “typical” have their places in this world – places where it is easy to fit pegs into holes.  I daresay “different”, “unique” and “marching to the beat of one’s own drummer” have places, too.  Places constructed of square pegs that can act as a firm foundation for all the incredible (and, incredulous) moments of life to be built upon.

Too often, when something is identified as “different”, folks classify it as “wrong”.  The tendency is to look for ways to “fix” things, instead of simply accepting them as they are and recognizing them as the new “right”.  As our family continues to navigate our SPD journey, we are embracing the “right”.  In fact, I think my recent mantra has become, “No fixing, please.  Just hold – to each other and until the next moment – and all will be as it should be.”

That mantra began to take shape one day as I drafted a poem as a part of Jennie Linthort’s wonderful LifeSpeaks workshop.  I share it below with the hopes that it might give a voice to the feelings of other families embracing invisible special needs.

No Fixing, Please

I see it in their eyes
I hear it in their voices
They cannot disguise
Their doubt

Sensory Processing Disorder?
What’s that?
The new ADD?

Hmm… perhaps not.
Perhaps it’s just you.

Your inadequate parenting.
You desire for an excuse.

There is nothing wrong with that child
That some good discipline could not fix.

Then, the others,
They project relief
Or some combination of both.

Ah, there is something there.
We were right.

We knew something was going on.

It’s got a name now.
So, how do we fix it?

Fix it?
Fix it!

My child is not a broken piece equipment.
He is not a busted toy.

He is a boy.
My boy.

A boy loved by many.
Understood by few.
Yet complete


Look at him.

Not it.

He is an individual
Who needs love –

Not your judgments.
Not your pity.
Not reactions.

He needs action.

What action?

How about embracing for a start?

May all families facing invisible special needs take a moment to embrace one another and their special child today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Earthquakes and Interrupted Sleep: A Reflection and Prayer

Another morning like this one...
As I write this, all three of my children are sleeping next to me.  One snoring, one sighing and one wheezing.  One has pneumonia.  One has a cold and fever.  One is teething with a cold.

Some might think I am complaining:  Three kids crowding my bed.  None 100% healthy.  All moving and making noises through the night so Mama could not sleep very well…

I am not.

I am happy.  I am grateful.  I am counting my blessings, bundled in the little sleeping bodies next to me:  one, two, three and on and on to infinity.

Jack, Nina and Luke are my incredible gifts.  They bring me some sleepless nights.  And, they create countless challenges, forcing me to change my ways, winnow my selfish tendencies and learn new things on a daily basis, whether I am in a learning mood nor not.  But, they also beget joy – immeasurable joy.

Even in the mundane parts of everyday life, my children elicit delight.  Doing dishes can become an adventure in bubble exploration.  Sorting cloth diapers evidences the pleasure of learning to read – “small” “petite” and “large”.  Tidy time – after some complaint – becomes a game punctuated by giggles.  Every day life transforms into something to appreciate moment by moment.  Life lived with amusement and discovery.  Life bubbling all about me.

So it is that this morning, as my three bundles of life breathe deeply in slumber beside me, I am ever so grateful.

Just a plane, train and bus ride away, in a place that I called home for several years, friends that I made and students that I taught are not slumbering in safety as my children are.  They are embroiled in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami. 

Many are without homes.  Many are without knowledge of where their children, moms, dads, relations and friends are.  Many would likely give anything to trade places with me right now, to experience a taste of the mundane parts of life rather than the unexpected – and devastating – exception they are facing

To them, my heart goes out.  My prayers pour forth.  My faith remains strong.

I trust God is with them.  I trust He has a plan, even if  I cannot fathom what it is. 

I know God makes all things right – even earthly tragedies.  I lean on hope through the heartbreak of hearing about the fact that many in Shichigahama and the greater Sendai area have died and that much of the place I once called home has literally been swept away.  I remain faith-filled. I am confident that God loves each of us through every earthly moment to when we join Him heaven whenever – and however – that times comes.

Many are questioning, “Why?” right now.  Their faith is tested.  Their trust diminishes. 

Mine increases. 

All the people praying throughout the world.  Many people in Japan reaching out to God for strength.  Numerous souls that have recently flown to Him.  Focusing on these, I embrace solace and share faith:  Each and every one of us is held in His hands from before we are born until we are united in heaven with Him after death.  Of course, we want our lives here on earth to be long and as trouble-free as possible.  We tend to thank God for the best of moments and cry out to Him in the worst.  In all moments, He is there.

He is there in Japan right now.  He is here in my bedroom, too.

And, thus it is, I pray for the comfort and faith of everyone touched by what it happening in Japan and I recommit myself to being the best steward that I can be of the three little people sleeping next to me.

I am honored to be entrusted with such an important responsibility; I gratefully accept it as the privilege that it is.  I pray that I train each of my children well in the way the way they should go – straight to Heaven whenever it is that their time comes.

Dear God, my human heart says, please do not that time any time soon and please, please, please, make strong the hearts of those in Japan that are having to relinquish their treasures right now.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, may God’s love remain increasingly evident in the earthquake aftermath.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Simple, Do-able Lenten Plan

Lenten Jars 2010
Lent, already? 

My heart so wanted to be prepared for it this year, but my head has persisted in being too crowded with other things.  So, I have yet to lay our plans out, organize our materials and prepare our home for this vital faith-filled season. 

Thankfully, our Lord is a forgiving and encouraging one who gives us new gifts each moment of every day.  One of these gifts is the gift of the precious present.  The moment of NOW that erases what we have failed to do up to this point and helps us look forward to, without worrying over, what has yet to come.  It is a gift of love – in us, through us and among us – that comes through His grace.

As I experience this gift and let it wash over me, guiding the moment I am now in, I breathe, think and feel the presence of God.  I sense He is telling me to SIMPLIFY.  Let go of the sundry wonderful, but not-for-us-this-year ideas about observing Lent that I have browsed online.  Avoid adding to any mental, physical or to-do list clutter that threatens to crowd out the essential truths of this liturgical season.  Instead, choose a few simple, do-able ideas to embrace.  Use these activities as instruments to train up our children and focus ourselves on the true meaning and purpose of the season.

I’ll be writing more about the ideas as the season progresses, but for tonight, I just wanted to share one:

 “Pray-Fast-Give” Jars
Last year, we made very simple jars for each of us to reflect upon and keep track of our efforts with prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the Lenten season.  (They are pictured above.)  Basically, we just made holes in the top of some jars and then created labels that said “pray”, “fast” and “give” along with our names.  We placed these on our Liturgical Table, and, nearby, we kept a jar of dry beans.  Nightly, we reflected on how we prayed, fasted or offered ourselves to other people, adding up to three beans to our jar in accordance with what we did.  Then, at Easter, the beans were "made new" by taking them away and replacing them with a sweet, long-lasting treat (lollipops, by the kids choice) to symbolize the enduring gift of Jesus. 

This simple daily activity really helped drive home the message to our children that Lent is a time to cleanse and prepare ourselves for experiencing the joy of Jesus' love through prayer, fasting and giving.  By Easter time lat year, both Nina and Luke understood, at their own developmental levels, the core ideas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  They also thoroughly enjoyed the object lesson about the joy and sweetness of Easter!

In fact, our Lenten Jars made such an impression on the children, they have asked to make them again this year – and so a tradition begins....

Tomorrow, we will make our second annual Lenten Jars.  Already, we have discussed part of what we will be holding ourselves accountable for with them.  

Our Commitments
Nina said she is going to try to fast from "hitting" and "taking stuff" that doesn’t belong to her in the house.  Instead, she wants to use her hands to give up some of her toys "to the Easter Bunny for him and for him to give to other children."  (Yes, I hear you:  What’s the Easter Bunny doing in there?  Well, she’s three and she connects Lent and Easter.  I figure, as long as she has the idea of fasting and giving, she’s doing just fine.  And – bonus – she also believes that the Easter Bunny comes to remind us of new life and the joy of Jesus.)

Luke said he is going to fast from" using up all the tape” and from "hitting".  Instead, he will use his hands to share one of his talents – "coloring pictures for everybody in our 'distended' family"  (um, I think that means extended”) and other people, too.  As he made these intentions known, I  was so pleased to realize that he is connecting the idea of using his own special time, talents and treasure to what he might give.

While Daddy paused to think about what he might fast from, Luke suggested that he should give up "the computer".  When I asked Luke what Daddy should do in the time he usually spends on his computer, he said, “Pray”.  Wise young man!  Daddy has agreed to try.

Likewise, Luke and Nina said Mommy should limit time on the computer, too.  And, what should Mommy do instead of being online?  “Spend time with her children doing anything her children want her to.”  Out of the mouths of babes.

And, that leaves Jack.  Nina and Luke could not think of anything their little bro should fast from, but they did think of something he can offer others:  “Smiles!”  They also offered to help him do so, by being good older siblings and by making him laugh. I just love it!

And, so it is that we begin the Lenten season tomorrow with personal commitments to improving ourselves and our walks with God through a simple activity that will help make the sometimes difficult concepts of prayer, fasting and giving concrete and real for the kids.

Simplicity can be grand!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond, A Rich Resource Review

Okay, so I broke the promise I made in my A Rich Review: Baby Sing & Sign post by not posting two more reviews on the 5th and then one every week after that. Forgive me. A host of appointments, illnesses, injuries and simply “life” waylaid my focus on reading and writing reviews for 52 Books in 52 Weeks, one book at a time as well as with posting anything at all!

So, before moving on with today’s review let me revise my promise: I am going to try to catch up on January, February and the beginning of March's reading and, then, read just one book at a time, posting about these once a week if life allows.  That means, in all actuality, I will most likely post reviews only about once a month or so.  Gotta go with the flow of life...

Okay, apologies made and – now – on with the review:

MegaSkills© for Babies, Toddlers, and Beyond: Building Your Child's Happiness and Success for Life 
* * * * 1/2 
(Read  my initial Rich Resource Review post to read more about my rating criteria.)

Some time ago, an upbeat, creative and talented mom from a homeschooling group I am a part of – and one who is a queen of finding free and low-cost quality materials – suggested I check out Megaskills: Building Our Children's Character and Achievement for School and Life by Dorothy Rich, EdD. I promptly reserved it at our library, browsed it and liked it.  Upon returning it, I put its name on a "get back to in a few years" list because it was aimed at chidlren four and up and mine were but toddlers at the time.

More recently, I discovered a companion edition to the book, Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond. Hoorah! Aimed at parents and educators of children ages four through six years old, this volume is ideal for my family right now.  It is a resource that is going to make my scattered efforts to center in on particular life skills and habits much more focused. It gets:

Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond is very easy to read and digest, even with a baby on your breast, a three year old singing songs and a five year old building a construction. Trust me, I know. I read it this way!

Beginning chapters are formatted in short, easy to read sections with large subtitles and a host of bulleted lists.   They deal with such topics as:
  • what Megaskills are
  • why Megaskills are important
  • how to get started with teaching Megaskills
Later chapters are well-organized with menus and clear, concise recipes for age-appropriate Megaskills activities.

There is also is a handy chapter on Tech Skills for young children and one on Measures to use to assess your child and yourself.

Finally, there are five Appendixes, including my favorite, Appendix C, which lists a number of popular early childhood books to go along with each Megaskill. This will help guide me in picking out titles for my kiddoes’ verocious appetite for picure books!

Okay, so I guess the aforementioned book list is not enough to earn Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond a full star for relevance. But the fact that it focuses activities on the following core skills certainly does:

  • Confidence - feeling able to do things
  • Motivation- wanting to do thing s
  • Effort - being willing to work hard
  • Responsibility - doing what’s right
  • Initiative -moving into action
  • Perseverance -completing what you start
  • Caring -showing concern for others
  • Teamwork -working with others
  • Common Sense -using good judgment
  • Problem Solving -putting what you know and what you can do into action
  • Focus -concentrating with a goal in mind
  • Respect -showing good behavior, courtesy, and appreciation
          (list from page 3 of book)

In fact, the book offers approximately 150 easy to understand and implement activities for building these skills across the continuum of early childhood development from age one through six.

Granted some of the suggested activities are common sense ones, such as:

“RESPECT: When Accidents Happen
Helping children know what to do
• Developmental Theme: Promote Good Daily Habits
When your preschooler spills milk on the floor, explain that you understand that accidents do happen. 
When she drops something she is carrying and it accidentally breaks, try not to get angry. Instead, ask your child to get a sponge or dishcloth and wipe up the spills or get a broom and dustpan and sweep the floor.
When there is a consistent response to accidents in your home, your child grows up knowing that she is responsible”
(from page 138 of the book)

That said, many suggested activities new or fun twists on “old” concepts, such as:

“PERSEVERANCE: Spaghetti Letters
Helping your child name and create the letters of the alphabet
• Developmental Theme: Create and Imagine
Cook and drain one cup of spaghetti that has been broken into two to three inchpieces. Place spaghetti in a bowl with cool water to keep it from sticking together.
Have a cookie sheet or other flat surface ready.
Make a list of alphabet letters on a piece of paper: Aa, Bb, Cc, etc. 
Name analphabet letter and have your child point to the letter that you name. 
Using a pieceof spaghetti, ask your child to form the letter you named.
Give help if needed. The spaghetti is wiggly so letters will not be perfect. 
Seehow many letters you can each make in ten minutes.”
(from page 126 of the book)

Such ideas ensure that there are plenty of "do now"s in the book, earning it a star!

Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond is extremely practical! It breaks big-picture ideas (the Megaskills) into simple, yet meaningful activities to build them. Also, it offers parents and educators easy ways to assess how their children are doing with each skill, how they, as parents, are doing with promoting Megaskills on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

I love the simple inventories/forms the book provides in Chapter 12 for evaluating and intend to copy them for some Assessment binders I am making for my children.  Very practical!

Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond will definitely be helpful for my family for the next five years or so since our youngest is less than a year old.  It would also help any family or educator working with young children on a consistent basis.

That said, in fairness to all reading this, I am only giving Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond a half star for longevity.  Why?  Well, depending on the age of the children you works with,  the book may not be personally useful for the long term. (However, it is a good enough resource that even if your children “aged out” of the activites the book includes, it would make a great pass-along or library donation!)

A * for VALUE
I have already borrowed Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond  from the library more than once and am putting it on my “purchase” list, since it is one that I would like to have handy as a reference for the next – oh – four to six years. For, even though some of the ideas in the book are common sense ones and many are not earth-shattering, I love that so many ideas are collected in one place and organized in an easy-access-way.  For this reason alone, the book can help me maintain focus not only on what my children are learning, but also on who they are becoming – successful, compassionate individuals with a wide range of skills that act as the foundation for character and achievement.

Megaskills for Toddlers, Babies and Beyond is a keeper in my opinion!

For more information on Megaskills, check out the Megaskills Online Education Center.

Also, check out the links at 52 Books in 52 Weeks, where this post is being shared.


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