Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pause for Prayer: Our Emergency Vehicles Prayer

 On Friday, I posted about free concerts in our Sensory Diet for Summer Series.  In the post, I suggested that you look around the concert venue to see what things in the vicinity might encourage further sensory-motor exploration.

Well, at a recent concert we attended, we did not have to look far for something that the kids could climb onto, jump off of and get some great heavy work with.  For steps away from the stage area, a shiny fire truck invited children to explore. 

Needless to say, 
even our youngest was eager to wield his muscles to climb aboard:

while big sister and brother role played inside.

Soon, the concert was nearly forgotten
as the kids immersed themselves in all things firefighter.

From gearing up…

to donning masks…

to smiling in arms of safety.

And it is that last thought that brings me to our pause for prayer.

For years now, whenever we hear a siren or see an emergency vehicle whizzing down the road, I have encouraged the kids to pause whatever we are doing to join me in a prayer for whoever is injured, ill or in danger and for the workers that help them.  Our simple prayer usually goes somewhat like this:

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Dear God, please help whoever is ill, injured or in need and please help the workers helping them.  Thank you for all your blessings.  Amen.

Nina, in particular, loves our Emergency Vehicles Prayer and has a keen ear for hearing sirens before any of the rest of us do.  In fact, yesterday, when we were driving to a Family Day adventure, she informed us all that she heard a siren, and, before I could even verbalize a prayer, I looked back into the rear view mirror to see her hands folded, head bowed and lips moving in silent petition.  I had no camera handy to memorialize the moment.  And, if I did, I likely would not have wanted to disturb her prayer with a photo anyway.

Instead, as I begin my Sabbath today, I reflect upon my four-year old intently praying for the needs of those she does not know – a picture I will hold in my heart forever.  And, I as I do, I praise God.  It encourages me and makes me feel increasingly blessed in my call as a mother.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Summer Sensory Diet Series: Musical Interludes for Sensory Summer Fun

So far in our Summer Sensory Diet Series, we have shared:
Today, I want to spotlight a fun frugal (read: free) activity that we enjoy out in the community:  time at summer concert series for Auditory, Fine Motor, Gustatory, Gross Motor, Motor Planning, Proprioceptive and Vestibular fun:
Musical Interludes

Got a blanket? How about a picnic bag, a basket or a cooler to pack some chewy or crunchy tidbits into? Then, you are all set for some family fun at your local free summer concert series. 
Okay, you might need to pack a few more things, of course – bug spray, sun lotion, extra clothing, even ear plugs if your child has sensitive hearing – but the bare minimum is the blanket and the food, in my opinion.

Now, it’s not rocket science how this input for great summer sensory input goes. – pack the picnic, go to the venue, spread out your blanket, eat, listen to the music and enjoy.
Through Your SPD Lenses
The difference in just attending a free concert and in attending one as a sensory experience, is all in the details.
Pack your picnic, keeping crunchy, chewy, salty, sweet, tangy and/or spicy foods in mind for the greatest oral-motor and gustatory stimulation.  If possible, have your child help you prepare and pack whatever items you choose.  It’s a perfect natural activity for encouraging strong motor planning and fine motor skill use and gets tactile stimulation in.  Slicing fruits and vegetables.  Putting lids onto food containers.  Doling crunchy or salty snacks into personal portions, placing them in bags and pressing to seal the bags. All these things provide ample opportunity for working fine motor muscles.
Once packed, when you get to the concert venue park a little ways away (but not so far you’ll tire your child out just by getting to the stage area.).  Have your child help you carry the blanket, food and other thing you’ve packed in order to get some heavy work in.
Then, depending on how your child does with loud sounds and crowds, spread your blanket down in a spot you feel will work.  In other words, choose one in the thick of things or on the outskirts, depending on your child’s auditory comfort level.
Spot picked, it’s time to enjoy the picnic and music.  Drumming fingers and hands on food containers to the beat.  Dancing to it.  Jumping to it.  Rocking to it.  Spinning to it.  All these things provide opportunities for proprioceptive and vestibular input.  Just be sure to gauge your child.  Know when to encourage more movement and when it might be time for a calming, deep-pressure cuddle.
(1) Look around at the venue you are in.  What natural elements are there for input for the large muscle and small muscle groups?  Are there boulders for climbing up on and jumping off of?  Hills to climb up and roll down?  Water to toss rocks into?  At each concert venue we attend, we always find such elements that become “traditional” spots for the kids to have fun and for us to know we are sneaking in more nourishment for their sensory diets.

(2) Might you pack any little extras to encourage further vestibular or proprioceptive input?  At one venue we attend, the organizers provide hula hoops, bubbles and jump ropes for the children to play with.  Brilliant!  Most of the children love to play with these as they listen to the music.  Other children ask to take the equipment a bit further from the music area so they can tune out for a bit while concentrating on something else.
(3) Might you add a bit of visual tracking into the experience?  At some concerts, we’ve taken to bringing a small soft rubbery ball with us.  Then, our son can get visual tracking and motor planning practice by playing a game of traditional catch or by tossing it up into the air or against a tree or wall, following its course in order to catch it.
(4) What kinds of instruments can you make with the objects you have in your packed bags or ones found on the site?  Rocks in a plastic food container make a great shaker.  Almost anything can be a drum.  An elastic around and open container can become a stringed instrument for plucking.  (Think pincer skills with that one!)

(5) After attending a concert, let your children plan and set up their own, in your house or outside.  Setting it up makes for great heavy work.  Performing allows for creativity and more sensory input.
How do you slip sensory experiences into your child’s summer through musical interludes?  What do you do to tailor the activities to your child's needs?  Do you have further ideas for weaving fun and input into such experiences.  Do share!
And, check back soon for the next part of our Summer Sensory Diet Series to join us at the water’s edge.
This post is being shared at Life as Mom's Frugal Fridays.

A Summer Sensory Diet Series: Tiny Treasure Egg Carton Walks for Sensory Summer Fun

Today, I want to spotlight an activity we enjoy when summer days are not too hot:  time out on the trails for Tactile Olfactory, Proprioception, Gross Motor and Fine Motor fun.
Tiny Treasures Egg Carton Walks 
Grab some egg cartons and go! What could be simpler than that?

Head to your back woods, seaside trail or any nearby green space or beach and enjoy a family nature walk. The more hills or dunes the better – since walking up and down them works muscles! Fallen trees for balancing, large rocks for lifting and looking under, boulders for climbing up and jumping off, plus varied trail floors (think sand, packed dirt, gravel, etc.) are all extra bonuses. Not only do they add to the adventure, but they help feed the senses a richer diet!

Once on the trail, challenge every hiker with you to fill each section of an egg carton with a different tiny treasure.
For younger children who tire of carrying things quickly, or for any child who needs both hands for balance, consider, bringing along a back pack to hold the egg carton, or simply use a plastic shopping bag with one hole over each of the child’s shoulders, as a make shift back pack.
When you finish your hike, explore each collected item, talking about its texture, trying to identify its name, even sketching things if you like.  Or, like we did recently, add an extra element of tactile input in by capping things off with a sink or float experiment.

Looking through your SPD Lenses

This activity feeds the tactile sense due to the textures of objects found as well as those brushed against while hiking. Plus, if you have tough feet and are in a safe place, the trail floor can give a little extra sensation – nothing wrong with going barefoot!

Trails are full of different scents. Breathe deeply and take them all in for some olfactory sense stimulation!

Climbing hills, moving up and down along trails and lifting logs, rocks and debris to search for tiny treasures are all effective proproceptive activities.

The trunk, leg and arm muscles are employed to navigate the trails, providing gross motor activity, while using the pincer grasp to pick up objects and place them in the egg carton sections provides fine motor focus.
(1) Before heading out to the trails, print pictures of, or sketch, 12 small objects. Tape these to the top of your egg cartons and challenge everyone to scavenge for similar items to fill their egg cartons with.

(2) At the trailhead, brainstorm 12 or more small objects that you might find which would fit in the carton’s sections. Race to find them and fill your egg carton.

(3) Have a contest to see who can find the most unique items. The most items of a specific color in varying shades (think browns, greens, grays –and visual discrimination, too!); the most variation in textures (prickly, sandy, smooth, rough, hard, etc.); the most examples of any one kind of thing (seeds, rocks, leaves, etc.) or the most differently scented items (think pine, blooms, hummus, etc.)

(4) Tie the walk to themes of interest or study – rocks and minerals, identifying tree types by examining leaves and bark, finding plant parts, using one side of the carton for living and one side for non-living things, etc.

(5) Enjoy some fine motor artistry by breaking out pens, pencils, paint or other art mediums after hiking, to create pictures based on objects found. Or, grab glue and paper and make a collage.
For additional egg carton walk ideas, see 7 Egg Carton Nature Walks at Squidoo.  It’s not a well-developed page, but it offers some further ideas.
Or, try a color walk.  No egg carton needed, but a camera is handy!
Also, if you haven’t had a chance to read a Bucket List of Ideas for Summer Sensory Fun , click on over for 15 more ways you can feed your child's need for sensory experiences in the coming weeks.
Finally, be sure to share your favorite ideas for nature walks and summer sensory experiences below and be sure to stop back soon for a sensory-based musical interlude.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Summer Sensory Diet Series: A Bucket List of Ideas for Sensory Summer Fun

A while ago, Mom Guide commented on our Media and Our Boy’s Mind post:

 "We are trying to plan a sensory fun summer minus a lot of TV and screen related games. Do you have any recommendations for a fun sensory summer?"

Silly me commented back that I would get some ideas up within a week.  Sorry, Mom Guide!  Make that within two months.  Life (kids, homeschooling) is what happens when you’re making other plans, folks say.  And, for me, blogging is what happens when those plans allow, it seems.

Anyway, without further ado, as we head into the next month of summertime, let me make it up to Mom Guide – and share with all – a multi-part series to highlight some of our favorite tried-and-true Sensory Summer Fun for the Sun (or Shade) ideas, as well as some we have on our list to try out.

Now, as I think “lists”, I have decided to start out with a brief Bucket List for Summer Sensory Fun. (I wrote about making a more general Summer Bucket List at Signature Moms and shared our own list, which included many sensory-friendly ideas here, if you are interested.)   

Here 15 quick ideas that get kids away from screen time and into sensory summer fun, giving them back a bit more of the traditional (and not-so-traditional) summer fun that I think all kids should experience: 

  1. Play in the sand.  At the beach, in sandboxes or in the dirt patch in front of our home, our kids often self-regulate through sand play.  Building with sand, walking in sand, digging tunnels in sand, burying feet and running along a shore line are all great for sensory input.  Just be cognoscente of tactile defensiveness.  For some children, offering an extra set of clothes, a change of shoes, digging tools or a large towel or blanket to sit on can keep “fun” sand from becoming “irritating” sand.
  2. Check out a new playground.   As a confirmed Playground Junkie, I always have a list of playgrounds in my mind to offer opportunities for my children to enjoy working on balance, coordination, bilateral skills and social skills, while getting great sensory input through climbing, sliding, swinging, hanging, balancing and crawling on equipment.
  3. Get in the water.  When my children are antsy or argumentative, I find our local wading pool, beach or splash pad provides a great panacea.  Splashing, swimming and playing in the water focus and calm them (this year.  Last year, our SPD kid still struggled with water at times.)  And, water can be an excellent environment for vestibular and proprioceptive input.  Army crawling or walking on hands in shallow water can provide arm and core strengthening benefits.  Swimming provides tactile input, while working strength and endurance.  Pulling or pushing others on rafts is good heavy work.  Riding or spinning on a boat or raft provides vestibular input, core strengthening and balance.  With all these things, though, be sensitive to what your child might be defensive with – certain swimwear fabrics, levels of chlorine, loud echoes at indoor pools, water that is too warm or too cold, etc.  – and stay alert for signs of over-stimulation.
  4. Make an outdoor sensory box.  For us, two green plastic sandboxes are our giant outdoor sensory boxes.  They get filled with sand, mud, water, ice, shaving cream, grass clippings...  You name it.  We’ve even used them to hold "paint" in order to paint a concrete wall.  If you don’t have a big green sandbox, an underbed container, large dishpan, blow up pool or similar can do the trick.  Also, if you'd like some further specific ideas for outdoor Sensory Sandboxes, please pop over to see my previous post at OJTA.)
  5. Jump on a trampoline.  We like to drag our mini-tramp outside in the summer.  This, alone, provides heavy work.  Then, proprioceptive and vestibular work get added as we use the trampoline as part of an obstacle course or just as an activity on its own.  Anytime you use a trampoline, keep safety in mind first.
  6. Enjoy messy art outdoors.  Chalk, shaving cream, paint, goop, pud – any "messy" art media – can be moved outside and then “cleaned” or “erased” with squirt guns, sprinklers or a hose.  Lots of tactile work and pressure-grading are used by doing this.  Also, scavenged natural items can substitute for traditional ones.  Pine needles, weeds or sticks can be paint brushes.  Rocks, sidewalks and driftwood can be paper.  Sand or gravel can be added to media for a new texture.  The more you trade traditional items for natural ones, the more tactile input and motor skill use you'll encourage.  Truly, great sensory-sound art is waiting just outside the front door. 
  7. Blow bubbles.  It’s a classic oral-motor activity with applications for all the senses, as described in my Seven Sense-ational Way to Use Bubbles post at OJTA.  Good thing our Nina always asks for them for her birthday, because we go through them quickly and appreciate stocking up on them through gifts.  We like reading about them, too.  You can see our Book Nook: Bubbles! Bubbles post for some good literacy connections.
  8.  Go hiking, geocaching or letterboxing.  We enjoy hiking when it is not too hot.  It provides sensory input while building stamina.  And, if your state has anything like MA’s Passport Program, you can win prizes, too, which can serve as a motivating factor for "tired" kids.  Just pick your trails with your own child's needs and abilities in mind.  Challenging ones?  Yes.  Too much challenge?  No.  It can lead to unpleasant, defeating experiences.
  9. Play with pool noodles – even on the land.  We love ours and find many uses for them from hockey to obstacles courses to Seven All-Season Reasons for Pool Noodles.  Pool noodles not only seem to stir up creativity in our home, but ensure great heavy work and movement.
  10. Find a hill.  Grass sled.  Roll down the hill.  Run up it.  Play King or Queen of the Mountain.  Thesre will be lots of vestibular and proprioceptive input involved, as well as some tactile (with the rolling in the grass and maybe some barefoot play, too.)
  11. Have a motor/riding toy parade.  Pogo sticks, bouncy hop balls, tricycles, bicycles, plasma cars, scooters, wagons.  You name it.  If it’s got wheels or you can ride on it somehow, make it part of a parade.  Use creativity and fine motor skills to decorate the toys and then get large motor sensory input while using them.  Provide extra heavy work by having your child push or pull another child on a toy.  Give extra sensory input by having your child ride backwards in a pulled toy.
  12. Make obstacle courses and/or run relays.  These are fantastic not only as heavy work, but to encourage creative planning, balance and plain old fun!  Including some water elements can keep you cool.  Incorporating wheelbarrow races, crab walking, bear walking and army crawling can work toward core strengthening.
  13. Pick up a sheet or parachute and invite some friends to play on the lawn.  Lift it.  Dip it.  Walk around it. Bounce balls or balloons on it.  Run under it.  Pop cotton ball popcorn atop it.  Make waves with it.  Hide under it.  Provide fun and sensory input at many levels, while working social skills, teamwork and the ability to follow directions.
  14. Gaze at the sky.  For visual tracking, lay on your back and watch airplanes or birds fly across the sky or bubbles and dandelion seeds float away.  While you’re at it, key into auditory input by being quiet for a few minutes and seeing how many natural and manmade sounds you can hear.
  15. Cool off through straws.  Lemonade, shakes and smoothies seem synonymous with summertime.  Suck them through a variety of straws – twisty ones, fat ones, coffee stirrers, etc. – for increased oral motor input.
  16. Make work into play.  Have fun doing chores such as gardening, washing the car or washing windows and siding.  These make great family projects that can lead to water fights and laughter, while also encouraging teamwork, follow-through, heavy work and tactile input.

These ideas, of course, are suggested with children who have sensory integration issues in mind, but they are equally beneficial for any child.  Sensory fun is for everyone, including parents, who will share more summer smiles when sensory diets keep all their kids regulated and entertained.

For more ideas for the seven senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, hearing, vestibular and proprioception), keep dropping by this week and next.  As our own summer fun (and appointments) allow, I will be adding parts to this series that spotlight particular ideas.  And, of course, if you have your own summer sensory ideas or want to offer new twists on ones I have already shared, I would welcome your input in a comment!

Have a sense-ational remainder to your summer.  Stop by soon to read about how we integrate fun and learning out on the trails.

I am linking this post to Give Back Thursday, as I think that offering our time to ensure our kids get all the sensory experiences they need is a vital part of parenting!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Montessori Opportunities

I just wanted to share about two fantastic giveaways going on right now:

At Raccoon School, my bloggie friend Rebecca is giving away a seat in Karen Tyler's next online Montessori class -- a fantastic course I have had the pleasure to have taken.  Odds of winning are very good, and, even if you don't win, I highly doubt you'll be disappointed from having clicked on over to Raccoon School, where you'll find some DYI Montessori materials write ups, such as the fab felt continent map puzzle Rebecca just made.

And, at the excellent site Montessori Print Shop, where you;ll find a helpful blog plus oodles of helpful, inexpensive, but just-what-you-might-need Montessori materials, they are giving away an incredible set of 100 Nomenclature cards geared toward 4-9 year olds.  I so hope to win this giveaway myself, but would be remiss not to share the opportunity so others can have a go at winning.  I encourage you to check the giveaway out -- and even if for some odd reason you don't want to enter yourself, enter for my kids!  If you win and don't really want the CD, it would make a prized gift and resource here!

Good luck with both giveaways!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Our Summer Bucket List – 94 Activities to Enjoy This Summer

Ninety-four days.

Did you know that’s how long summer is this year?  

Go to a concert at the Pine Hills -- Check!
It most certainly is – from the Summer Solstice to the Autumn Equinox.  And guess what?  We still have about 2/3’s of summer left to enjoy full days, free days, days that we race through and those that we laze through.  Every day this summer can become that much more pleasing by spending time dipping into a Summer Bucket List.  And, I am so thankful for that!

Ride a boat -- Check!
Now, as we reach the third-of-the-way-through-summer mark, I think it is fortuitous that I rediscovered the Summer Bucket List that Luke, Nina and I created last month in a notebook while sitting under the shade of a tree in our front yard.  Looking at our list makes me realize that, just by having written our ideas down, we became more likely to actually experience them.  For, indeed, we have already enjoyed over half the items we had listed, and I know we’ll have opportunities to enjoy a plenty more:

Party before the bonfires -- check!
Our Summer Bucket “Done” List

1.      Giggle at the Splash Pad at Nelson Park in Plymouth (Nina, Luke and Mom)
2.      Go to the beach.  (Nina)
3.      Run at Grammy and Grampy’s.  (Nina)
4.      Jump in puddles. (Nina)
5.      Run around on the beach. (Nina)
6.      Put water in cracks. (Nina)
7.      Go for a bike (trike) ride. (Nina)
8.      Splash at the Wading Pool at the Freetown State Forest. (Luke and Nina)
9.      Go to a concert. (Nina)
10.  Make sandcastles. (Nina)
11.  Climb rocks at the beach. (Nina)
12.  Go to Auntie's house. (Luke)
13.  Have Jack’s birthday party. (Luke)
14.  Go on a trip with Grampy and Daddy (Luke)
15.  Learn about outer space. (Luke)
16.  Make tunnels at the beach. (Luke)
17.  Look for shells. (Luke)
18.  Go to Luke’s first movie for the first time at a movie theater. (Luke)
19.  Go to a concert at the Pine Hills. (Luke)
20.  Go to a waterfront concert. (Luke)
21.  Explore the jungle or the woods or the Blue Hills because they are just better. (Luke)
22.  Catch bugs. (Luke)
23.  Jump on Auntie’s trampoline. (Luke and Nina)
24.  Go to the pool at Daddy’s work. (Luke)
25.  Ride a boat. (Luke)
26.  Watch the leaves dance above our heads in the wind. (Mom)
27.  Listen to the birds singing. (Mom)
28.  Lay and look at the clouds rolling by. (Mom)
29.  Spot airplanes in the sky and track them with our eyes. (Mom)
30.  Inspect flowers in our yard. (Mom)
31.  Eat berries off the bushes in our yard. (Mom)
32.  Picnic for dinner at a playground. (Mom)
33.  Go to White Horse Beach. (Mom)
34.  Watch a thunder and lightening storm. (Mom)
35.  Swim in the rain. (Mom)
36.  Do a Passport Hike. (Mom)
37.  Have a picnic at the Fish Hatchery in Sandwich. (Mom)
38.  Use a library pass for parking so we could enjoy a day at Scussett Beach. (Mom)
39.  Enjoy our front yard during Stay Days. (Mom)
40.  Make a “bucket elevator” over a tree branch. (Mom)
41.  Host a family party. (Mom)
42.  Enjoy a dinner picnic in our front yard. (Mom)
43.  Eat meals on the back deck. (Mom)
44.  Go on a family walk to a playground after dinner. (Mom)
45.  Make juice wigglers. (Luke and Mom)
46.  Meet old friends at the beach over the July 4th weekend. (Mom)
47.  Party with our extended family at the annual family cook out and auntie’s birthday party over Independence Day Weekend (Mom, Luke and Nina)
48.  Watch the flames dance in a bonfire at the boat ramp on the 3rd. (Mom)
49.  Participate in a bit of Americana by attending the North Middleboro Fourth of July Parade. (Mom, Luke and Nina.)
50.  Ooo and aaah at the fireworks at the Plymouth Waterfront. (Mom, Luke and Nina)
51.  Read lots of books as we participate in the library’s summer reading program. (Mom)
52.  Follow bunnies, turkeys and other creatures through our yard. (Mom)
53.  Go for a boat ride. (Mom)
54.  Let the kids get up on Seaweed Rock. (Mom)
55.  Look for crabs. (Mom)
56.  Play in our sensory sandbox. (Mom)
57.  Spend a TH night at the Farmer’s Market in Plymouth, enjoying a beach picnic and time at the playground. (Mom)
58.  Go to Organization Day at Daddy’s work. (Mom)
59.  Spend time in water as much as possible. (Mom)

Look for crabs -- Check!
Our Summer Bucket “Opportunities” List

60.  Go to Grammy and Grampy’s for family time. (Nina)
61.  Make cookies (Nina)
62.  Camp.  (Nina)
63.  Make popsicles. (Nina)
64.  Go to a park we have never been to before. (Nina)
65.  Check out a new splash pad. (Nina)
66.  Have a party at Grammy’s. (Luke)
67.  Make a tree house. (Luke)
68.  Do worksheets on rainy days. (Luke)
69.  Eat a crab. (Luke)
70.  Go see Winnie the Pooh at the movies. (Luke)
71.  Learn to swim. (Luke)
72.  Go to the big kid skating park to ride our bikes and trikes. (Luke)
73.  See a dog at a pet store. (Luke)
74.  See a kitty at Uncle and Auntie's house. (Luke)
75.  Sit around a fire in our fire pit. (Mom)
76.  Wash the minivan together. (Mom)
77.  Go berry picking. (Mom)
78.  Ride bikes and trikes at the Cape Cod Canal. (Mom)
79.  Sketch blooms in the yard. (Mom)
80.  Collect starfish and shells at Scusset Beach. (Mom)
81.  Explore Ellisville Harbor. (Mom)
82.  Sing in the rain. (Mom)
83.  Send homemade boats down rain rivulets. (Mom)
84.  Paint with rain.
85.  Attend Elephant Day at Buttonwood Zoo. (Mom)
86.  Explore Center Hill Preserve. (Mom)
87.  Eat popcorn at a concert. (Luke)
88.  Stroll along the Water Fires in Providence. (Mom)
89.  Use our Buttonwood Pass to enjoy reciprocal locations, such as Science Museum. (Mom)
90.  Spend a day at Capron Zoo. (Mom)
91.  Enjoy play dates with friends we have not seen in a while. (Mom)
92.  Picnic for dinner on the town hall lawn on a free concert night. (Mom)
93.  Go whale watching. (Mommy)
94.  Lie on a blanket at night and gaze at the universe. (Mom)

Picnic after the Farmer's Market -- Check!
 (For the record, Daddy was consulted about this list and added that he just wanted to have as much time outside and at the beach as possible.  We’ve been doing the former weeknights and the latter mostly on our Sabbath Days!)

Enjoy the front yard during Stay Days -- Check!
 Perhaps some of our ideas will inspire you to enjoy intentional, mostly free fun over the 60+ days that are still left to Summer 2011.  Or, maybe you’d like to write your own list.  It’s not too late to do so.  You can even click on over to my How-To Make a Summer Bucket List post at Signature Moms for some easy pointers.

Make a bucket elevator -- Check!
Whatever you choose to do this summer, enjoy!  I know we have been appreciating Stay Days, taking breaks between appointments and savoring Sabbath Days with our list.  We’d also love to hear some of your ideas for summer fun.

Since I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to slip fun, intentional living in between appointments, home upkeep and the other more mundane parts of life, I am sharing this post at Thankful Thursday.  Please browse the links there to be inspired by what others are grateful for today. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stay Days and Jack's First Slide in Our Sensory Sandbox

Chillin' at Home
This summer, I have recommitted the kids and myself to Stay Days.  At least once a week, we do what seems rare in our modern day world where appointments, errands, play dates and other "needs" keep families constantly in and out of the car – we stay home.

Mind you, we don’t always do this.  Like so many, we have periods when we get caught up in the “normal” routine of buckling into a vehicle to run from one thing to another.  Then, an epiphany moment hits:  We’ve been on the go too much.  We need some "breathing out" time between busier days.  We need to schedule time to simply be present with one another, doing what was once commonplace for many in our society -- working and playing at home.

Stay Days Are In Order
I Get to Stay Here
For me, that epiphany came one day not too long ago when my daughter woke up and the first words out of her mouth were, "Where are we going today?”, only to have my son in with, "Who are we going to see?"  I wanted to answer, “nowhere and each other,” but the calendar told me otherwise.  Commitments were penned into block after block.

Ugh!  We had been (and would be) spending far too much time in our minivan.   

All Smiles and Shaving Cream
Despite choosing to live a life that seems to some to be outside the boundaries of "normal" –homeschooling, maintaining no satellite or cable connection for out TV, working to live instead of living to work, etc., we somehow had been swept up in a very typical tide of "to do's" that were requiring us to be buckled in for a fair portion of our daily lives.  And, the kids queries evidenced that our young children were becoming more accustomed to days punctuated by an errand here, an appointment there, an event over there than ones appreciated simply at home.

So, I decided to revert to a rhythm of life that includes Stay Days.  (I had done this once before for a practical reason – gas prices!, but had slipped away from the commitment somehow.)  And, now, instead of speeding about in our minivan every day of the week, we sometimes simply smile at home!

Planning Our Stay Days
How do I do it?  It’s simple.

Each week, I take a look at our calendar each week to see if there is a day without a health/therapy appointment or prior commitment and set that day aside as our weekly Stay Day.  If there is not a day like that, I see if any of the pre-scheduled things can be moved.  I also think ahead when scheduling things for future dates – grouping errands and appointment and ensuring there are “blank spots” on the calendar for breathing out.

Once I have selected which day will be vehicle-free for us, I think of a an extra home-chore that has been being pushed aside and at least one or two "special" at-home activities for the kids and I to enjoy.  With these as touch points, I just let the day unfold...

Sensory Sandbox -- Jack's First Slide
Central to some of the activities that we’ve enjoyed during our Stay Days over the past few weeks has been one of our best freecycle scores ever: two ubiquitous green plastic sand – or for us, sensory—boxes.

Water.  Boats.  Ice.  Sand.  Mud.  Beach toys.  Shaving cream.  Soap suds.  You name it, we explore it in our outdoor sensory boxes.  And, I do mean “we”.  Jack even gets into the fray, albeit sometimes with a face more pensive than pleased, as was the case with his first shaving cream experience.

Hmm... Do I Like This?

 Yep, our youngest child was not quite sure how he felt about slipping and sliding in shaving cream with his siblings. Undoubtedly, he'll enjoy it more over time.  For all things take getting used to – even the idea of staying home.  

Stay Days can be so much fun!
Get Your Hands In!

I'm Skating!

I'll Help You, Jack

Together, But Into Our Own Explorations

Onto the Next Thing...
Do you enjoy regular time at home together?  What activities do you enjoy?  Have you got any great ideas for our sensory sandboxes?  Do share in a comment.

And, if you’re looking for some ideas yourself, please hop on over to my post at OJTA to read a handful of great ways to enjoy sensory summer fun in a sand-turned-sensory box.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sleep Interview with 5 ½ Year-Old Luke Who Can’t Shut Off His Brain

On a hot summer night...
The kids stripped not only themselves, but one of their pillows, down, before finally crashing in Luke's bunk.
“Just like sea otters, children love to play all day…   
God knows that all animals and people need rest.   
He wants us to get sleep so we can be healthy and happy.   
When we sleep, our bodies grow and get stronger.   
Playing and resting are both important.”

Five-Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God's World as a FamilyThe other morning when the kids and I read this portion of the “Playful Sea Otters” devotional in our Five-Minute Devotions for Children, Celebrating God’s Word as a Family book, I was reminded of the S-O-S Best of the Best topic for this month:  Sleep and Children with Invisible Disabilities.

This topic resonates with me since I have been living with interrupted sleep– and sometimes outright lack of it – myself for the past five years due to the usual mama stuff of nursing babies and attending to the night wakings of three young children, compounded by the challenges of having a child with an “invisible disability” whose sleep is definitely affected by his uniquely wired brain.

A  5 1/2 Year Old Explains Sleep

Truly, Luke’s take on sleep is a bit different than most kid’s.  Here it is, in his own words, with Mom commentary in italics.

Mom:  What is sleep?

Luke:  Awake time. 

Luke has gone through periods where he has outright fought going to bed and other periods where he got up and up and up and up.  He is currently able to rest in bed, but will often not fall asleep for hours, calling out to us randomly when we think he must already be asleep.

Mom:  What do you mean by that?

Luke:  I mean I stay awake every night.

Mom:  Why do you stay awake every night?

Luke:  Because I can’t shut off my brain.

When Luke was quite young, we thought it was light that prevented him from sleeping.  Once he became verbal, we realized his trouble sleeping had a lot to do with his mind.  He continued to have trouble calming down to sleep, and, also, began to pop up with the most thought-provoking, is-he-really-thinking-about-that-at-his-age questions and comments after we thought he was sound asleep. 

In recent times, we have been able to help Luke calm his body and mind a bit by:
  • using our 5 T’s routine
  • allowing him to sleep with others
  • giving him things to focus on – such as a space mobile of late since he loves space
  • listening to stories and music on CD’s
    Essential Sound Series - CALM A current favorite bedtime CD of his is Essential Sound, Calm, Music for Healing and Wellness, which we were lucky enough to win from Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips some time ago.  As Dr. Zachry suggested in her giveaway post, the soothing classical music on the CD seems to “naturally slow down the heart rate and relax the mind through simple harmonies and slowing tempos.”  It has not proved a full-proof panacea for Luke's ever-active brain syndrome, but it sure seems to help!  Thank you, Dr. Zachry.

    Mom:  Why?

    Luke:  I just can’t.

    Thankfully, although he thinks he can't, he eventually does.

    Mom:  Do you ever sleep?

    Luke: Ah.  Never.

    Mom:  Truthfully?

    Luke:  Never.

    Mom:  So, when it looks like you’re sleeping, what are you doing?

    Luke:  I am pretending.

    We believe that Luke knows that he actually sleeps, but he has insisted for years that he does not.  Even when we have showed him pictures of himself sleeping, he has claimed – sometime playfully, at other times, quite willfully – that he was just pretending or that he was simply resting.  We know his claims actually are true at times, because there have been times when we have thought he was definitely asleep, only to discover he was not.  But, we also know that he does, in fact sleep, of course.  The  floppy arm test, moving him, etc. prove it. 

    Truth aside, we have discovered that if we persist in trying to prove that Luke does, in fact, sleep, as opposed to just resting or pretending to sleep, he  tends to get so wound up that he takes longer to get to sleep.  So, we play along with his declared “I am pretending” perception for now...

    Mom:  Do you feel better after you pretend to sleep for a long time?

    Luke:  Yes.

    Mom:  Why do you think you feel better?

    Luke:  Because I shut my eyes.

    Mom:  What does it do when you shut your eyes?

    Luke:  Helps me.

    Mom:  How?

    Luke:  It makes them not watery.

    Just recently, Luke has begun to notice his body’s tired cues.  When he complains of different physical feelings at night, we explain that these are ways his body is telling him it needs to rest.  Understanding “sleepy cues” is something we are working on making Luke more cognoscente of.

    Mom:  When you get up in the morning, do you feel better than the night before?

    Luke:  Yes.

    Mom:  Why?

    Luke:  Because I pretended to sleep and I started to, but I didn’t really. 

    Again, for some reason, Luke prefers to believe that he doesn’t actually sleep.  We can deal with this as long as he is, in fact, sleeping better.

    Mom:  Is sleep important?

    Luke:  Mm hmmm.

    Mom:  Why is it important to sleep?

    Luke:  It helps you grow…  That’s all I know.  Please stop.  I’m tired.

    Hoorah!  It has taken years to get Luke to recognize that sleep is important.  But, as his answer hints, he does not like admitting it. 

    Mom:  If you’re tired, why don’t you go to sleep?

    Luke:  Because I don’t like to.

    Honesty is a good thing.  Finding ways to make going to sleep something Luke likes to do would be even better!  We’re open to all tips.

    Mom:  What are some things that help you rest at night?

    Luke:  Thinking about outer space…  The 5 T’s…Telling stories…

    Luke often latches onto a specific theme or topic for months or even years.  His current passion is space, so we encourage him to think about it when he is in bed as a way to relax or at least keep relatively still,  Thus, we sometimes hear him telling stories about the space drawings he has decorated his bedside wall with or find him looking at or reaching up toward the planet mobile we hung near his bed.

    The 5 T’s is our bedtime routine, which both Luke and Nina follow.  We posted about it with a printable here

    Admittedly, we have periods where we get lax with our 5 T’s – especially when Daddy is in charge of bedtime and the kids manage to get him to lay in bed with them for the “talk” portion.  That's when the "telling stories" comes in, too.  The 5 T's get elongated into a Luke-can-outlast-Daddy fest.  Daddy enjoys talking with the kids about their days.  They beg him to teach them some German and to tell them made up stories.  Then, after Nina drifts off, Luke cons Daddy into staying longer, chatting about all manner of things until Luke outlasts Daddy in staying awake...

    Luckily, the 5 T's seems to be the easy enough for us to get back into.   In fact, of all the things we have tried to make bedtime more peaceful for us all – and we have tried MANY – our 5 T’s for Bedtime seem to work best as a wind-down cue for our children.

    Mom:   Is sleep a good thing or a bad thing?

    Luke:  Good.

    And, with that, I will close.   

    Sleep is a good thing, and, if nothing else, we consider it a victory that Luke knows that it is.  We all seek what is good!

    How has sleep been at your home lately?  Do you have a child or know a child that is sleep-challenged?  

    “Invisible Disabilities” or not, learning effective sleep hygiene is important for all children.  What routines and resources have you find most helpful for this?

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Timberdoodle and An Evan-Moor Beginning Geography Rich Resource Review

    Summer may have just begun, but as I think ahead to fall, I cannot help but to salivate over my Timberdoodle Co. 2011 Homeschool Resource Catalog.  (Get one for yourself here.)  If money were no object, I think I would not only purchase the Baby, Toddler and Kindergarten Core Curriculums (because I simply love the way they combine hands-n learning and literacy), but I would also be stocking up on:

    -          a Peanut Ball, or Tandem Space Hopper, and a Gibbon Funline Slackline for sensory break time and plain old fun
    -          Once a Pawn A Time for Daddy and Luke to enjoy some special thinking skill/bonding time together
    -          Lego Duplo Tech Machines for my construction-loving kids (and possible a pre-engineering class at co-op!)
    -          Space Exploration for our space nut Luke (and Daddy, too!)
    -          And Imaginets for convenient imaginative and thinking skills fun during roadtrips to Nana and Papa’s.

    Indeed, the more I read through the Timberdoodle catalogue, the more I want.  (Yes, I actually read the Timberdoodle catalogue.  The descriptions in it are that good, with personal opinions intertwined with facts and regular PR and a selection of products, which provides a fantastic balance between core learning materials, educational “toys” and items that can fit wonderfully into home OT) 

    Alas, our family budget belts are cinched very tightly right now.  So, I guess I will have to wait until the holidays before indulging in any of the great products that Timberdoodle hand selects for homeschooling families like mine.  (Hint to any family reading:  Think Timberdoodle Gift Certificates, not the usual Toys R Us or Borders gift cards for upcoming birthdays and holidays.  Thanks.)

    But, one thing I won’t have to wait for is enjoying Evan Moor’s Beginning Geography with the kids.  In fact, Luke and I have already begun using these great resource that Timberdoodle was kind enough to send us for review.  (I also reviewed Daily Word Problems 6+ here.)

    A Review of Evan-Moor's Beginning Geography

    Beginning Geography, Grades K-2 (Beginning Geography (Evan-Moor))
    * * * * *
    Beginning Geography is one of those resources you can take off the shelf and begin using ASAP.  It is split into four easy-to-navigate sections:
    1. Map Skills
    2. Landforms and Bodies of Water
    3. Continents and Oceans
    4. Around the World with Animals
    The first three sections each begin with a page that highlights connections to the National Geography Standards and offers notes on reproducible practice pages as well as assessments.  Each of these sections also contains an at-a-glance contents page, which allows you to quickly ascertain which activities teach which concepts, making it easy to match the book to other studies your children might be involved in. The final section contains reproducible maps of each continent, including animals on the continent.
    There are also two full-color fold-out maps (one for Landforms and Bodies of water and one for Continents and Oceans.)

    Whether you intend to use Beginning Geography as a core part of your K-2 curriculum or as a supplement, it is formatted in a way that makes it easy to access.

    A * for RELEVANCE:
    I don’t know about your children, but mine love learning about the world around them – from their neighborhood to the entire Earth and beyond.  Well, Beginning Geography keys into this, teaching the concepts below through child-friendly activities that stand on their own or can be expanded through the use of manipulative, games, etc. (as my family tends to do.)

    -          What Is a Map
    -          Positional Words
    -          Cardinal Directions
    -          Compass
    -          Map Symbols
    -          Map Keys
    -          Distances on Maps
    -          Borders on a Map
    -          Map Grids
    -          Hills and Mountains
    -          Islands and Volcanoes
    -          Deserts and Plains
    -          Canyons and Valleys’
    -          Oceans, Lakes and Rivers
    -          Landforms and Bodies of Water
    -          The Seven Continents
    -          The Four Oceas
    -          What is a Globe
    -          North America
    -          South America
    -          Africa
    -          Europe
    -          Asia’
    -          Australia
    -          Antarctica
    -          Your World Address

    As an example, when I realized recently that Luke does not have good command of Left and Right, I pulled out Beginning Geography to help him while capitalizing on his desire to do some coloring and studying one night.  He eagerly completed several pages (with my help as “reader”) and, then, we extended the impromptu lesson into a guessing game with some figurines, where we used “left” and “right” clues to try to guess which figurine the other person was thinking of.

    Finally, regarding relevance from a child's perspective, the directions for activities within the book are clear and concise and the topics are interesting.  My kids loved that some of the map pages had to with zoos and with treasure hunting!

    In fact, Luke drew his ideal treasure after doing one of the pages.

    Yep!  That says a rocket.  I definitely need to add Space Exploration to his birthday wish list come December.

    I love a resource that makes teaching easy.  And, I have to say that is exactly what Beginning Geography does. 

    With both activities intended to help you teach specific geography concepts to children as well as ones designed for review and assessment, the book is very homeschool-teacher friendly.  In my opinion, the skills and concepts included in Beginning Geography are broad enough that they would suffice as a stand-alone geography curriculum, providing a solid foundation for geography literacy.
    But, that is not my style.  I prefer a more eclectic approach – following my children and weaving together curriculum based on their interests and needs and my own proclivity toward embracing such philosophies and approaches as Montessori, Reggio, Classical and Charlotte Mason.  Beginning Geography works for that, too.  It seems like

    -          a perfect fit for the Montessori continent boxes I have on my homeschool prep task-list.
    -          a worthwhile supplement/research resource for child-led projects inspired by Reggio (even if a bit too “workbooky” for real Reggio).
    -          a good tie-in/supplement for teaching geography through literature with a Classical Approach.
    -          an easy way to reinforce short, Charlotte-Mason style lessons, especially with the map work

     Not only that, but because the pages are reproducible (and perforated for ease of use), the book will fit nicely into daily workboxing, should I ever get things together for that.

    And, our recent life proves that it can be a Godsend during “difficult times”, like we faced in the late spring, when Mama Homeschooler does not have the energy or impetus to get on the computer to research, plan and implement creative, project-based lessons.  In fact, I found having Beginning Geography on hand helped me get snippets of “studies” in a playful way.  The kids enjoyed working through parts of the map section, working not only on their geography skills, but also on their ability to follow direction, some early reading skills and fine motor skills (through coloring, cutting and pasting.) 

    Without hesitation then, I offer that Beginning Geography is quite practical with a breadth of topics touched upon in its 93 reproducible activity pages.  The book can tie in easily to project work, unit studies, etc., or stand on its own.

    A  * for LONGEVITY
    Beginning Geography is aimed at students in grades K-2, but has some pages simple enough for even younger children (like my pre-K Nina) to enjoy with help.  Plus, it is reproducible for one classroom (or family)’s use.  So, I know it can be a staple in our home for years yet to come.

    From maps and directions to coming to animals around the world, Beginning Geogaphy has already begun to help teach my young ones about the physical and cultural world around them and I know it will continue to.

    A * for VALUE
    At the economical price of $10.75 on the Timberdoodle website - and $9.75 this week only as part of Timberdoodle's great online convention -- Beginning Geography definitely earns a star for value.  It offers three years of geography foundation that includes:
    -          93 reproducible pages to engage students in skills and concepts aligned to the National Geography Standards
    -          2 full-color fold-out map posters to hold students attention
    -          Geography content vocabulary easily woven into lessons
    -          Cumulative review pages that can work as formal assessments
    -          Activities that can complement any social studies curriculum

    And, it does this in a reusable/reproducible format so it can be passed from one family member to a younger one or used with different age levels (with older students working independently while younger ones get help.)  A resource geared to K-2 students, that is inherently multi-level, making it effective for families with more than one child in the early learning grades?  That’s quite a bargain in my opinion.
    Want a taste of the book yourself?   Click to flip through the first 24 pages of Beginning Geography and, then, if you like it, head on over to Timberdoodle to order.

    NOTE: Please see my initial Rich Resource Review post to read more about my rating criteria.

    DISCLAIMER: As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team, I received a free copy of Evan Moor Beginning Geography in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.  Though I have been compensated by the free product, I received no cash for my review.  The opinions I offer are mine alone and are not influenced by Timberdoodle nor the receipt of a complimentary resource.


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