Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Plans for a Simple Saint Brigid Feast Day

Luke asked me what we will be doing tomorrow to celebrate St. Brigid's Feast Day, and, I had to honestly answer: not much.

After a night of having the belly bug run through our entire family, the idea of cooking up special St. Brigid Day foods as we did in the past is enough to send me diving for the toilet bowl again.  (sorry for the graphic.  It was truly a rough night.) Now, this is not to say the feast day foods we made before aren't great ones.  It is just our stomachs just need time to settle more.

Additionally, we won't be home for the feast day, and I forgot to pre-order our  Brigid's Cloak from the library.  So, our traditional read-aloud is out, too. No special tea, read-aloud or liturgical table, then.... Hmmm. What can we include as an observance tomorrow?

The way I see it, we choose one to three simple, yet meaningful ideas to celebrate the day.  These ideas can be chosen, of course, based on how we are all feeling and where the children's hearts and interests lead us.  A quick selection of thoughts on choices might be:

Dramatic Play: Nana just gave Nina a cute little red-headed dollie, so maybe we could do some dramatic play as we did when making our St. Brigid Liturgical Table a couple year's back.

Drawing and Coloring:  We don't have access to a working printer right now, but we could model some drawings off of the wonderful St. Brigid coloring printable someone sent me a direct link to online.  (If anyone knows the blog it originated on, please share so I can give credit where credit is due.) 

Prayer: We could offer the House Blessing that I stumbled upon at The Daily Weaving a couple years ago.

Nature:  We could go on a nature walk to chat with and feed the animals based on the idea that “St. Brigid loved to wander the woods befriending the animals” (as per Saint Brigid Catholic Church’s website.

Charity:  We could think of something to offer others as St, Brigid "was renowned for her generosity, giving much of her father's wealth away to the poor”,

Crafts and Handiwork:  If we feel well enough to be in the car and in a store, I could go get some pipe cleaners and follow Lacy from Catholic Icing's tutorial for making St. Brigid Crosses.

Poetry:  We could read The Giveaway (below) and see what conversation and activities it inspires.

The Giveaway
from The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley

Saint Brigid was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Brigid drove
The family mad.
For here's the fault in Brigid lay:
She WOULD give everything away.
To any soul
Whose luck was out
She'd give her bowl
Of stirabout;
She'd give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She'd borrow from a relative.
Her father's gold,
Her grandsire's dinner,
She'd hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister's and her mother's.

She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The silverware,
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little
niece's christening mug,
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.
An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
The countryside
Put on her name,
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Brigid.
Well, one must love her.
In thinking of her
There's no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
Unto her kin.
The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
WHO had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Brigid? Or her near and dear?

Whatever we do, we will surely remember this child-friendly saint who not only represents a part of our family heritage (as I am 50% Irish), but also is a strong model of loving habits and compassionate character.  

I'd love to hear what you will be doing to honor the day - and also to have you elave comments with links, book titles, recipes and other resources for future St. Brigid Feast Day fun.  Thank you!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mass with My Boy: A Reason for Prayer, Trust and Reaching Out

The other day a piece called “Four Tips for Surviving (and enjoying!) Church Services with Your Children” caught my attention.   To be honest, any tips others are willing to share about how to make church a more prayerful and reverent experience even with young children in the pew are of high interest to me.  When such strategies include ideas for helping unique kids make it through Mass with greater ease, they become doubly attention-grabbing.  Thus, I dove into the article and its comments.

I Am Not Alone
One comment, in particular, moved me It was from a man named Brian who explained that “my wife and I face the unpalatable scenario of worshiping separately alternative weeks. I have pondered quitting church altogether but I love the Lord. I’m lost and hurting and the trouble is that (our son with autism) is more than I can handle most days and I have endured a river of stress and sorrow.”   As I read his comment, my heart both sang and cried.  It sang because I could sense the Holy Spirit working in this man even through his struggles.  It cried because I empathized with his pain and share some of it.
I have mentioned here, but have not fully shared before, how difficult Mass can be with my children.  My eldest son has been reasonable at Mass for the past few weeks, but let’s just say many folks that don’t know my husband and my name know our son's name.  Indeed, over the years, our oldest boy has been known to call out, to put his fingers over his ears and to complain loudly at the “alleluia” chorus, to escape our pew, to run up to the altar and even to run a lap around the inside of the church with an usher and parent trying to head him off, as he goes for the door. 

Challenging can be an understatement when it comes to our family making it through Mass with peace and prayer.  Yet, we persist in going every week, and, in doing so, I remain confident that we are all receiving grace as I trust that God will draw straight even with the crooked lines our boy runs through the church with at times.
It Isn't Always Easy, But It IS Always Blessed

Trust me, even with great faith in God's grace, participating in Mass through the years has been arduous at times and we have tried many strategies to make Mass more meaningful, or at least more tolerable, with our eldest child (and his siblings, who are more reasonable, but sometimes tempted to follow Brother's suit).  Nibbles of food, coloring, small toys and fidgets, books, hugs and squeezes, using a Time Timer, taking children to the back, taking them outdoors, ignoring our eldest, allowing him to see me cry…  Some of these strategies have “worked” for a minute, an hour, a few weeks.  Others have not worked at all.  Nothing to date has completely and consistently quelled our seemingly Mass-adverse boy.
Thus, there have times when I have wanted to give up.  There have been those when Mass has been more frustrating and divisive for my husband and I than it has been prayerful.  And, occasionally – very occasionally – there have been weeks when I have gone to Mass alone or taken only my younger children.  But, that never lasts more than a week or so.
Why? Because I whole-heartedly believe that my oldest son needs to be at Mass, even if it appears that he does not get anything out of it and that he "takes away" from others around us being able to participate fully.  For, when push comes to shove (sometimes literally), the Lord never fails lets me know my choice is on target.  He gives me just the right fortification I need to keep and to practice faith.  

Through the smile and support of a family member, friend or stranger, through conversations overheard between my son and daughter, through a week of respite when my son actually stays calm… the Lord helps me to remain strong in my commitment to grow in faith with my children
My Hope in Sharing
Part of that commitment, as I see it for myself, is to testify – to share parts our story in order to inform, encourage and, perhaps, inspire others. So, today, I take a leap of faith by explaining this all here, and, as I do, I hope that:
  • local parishioners and clergy who have helped and encourage my family during our tougher weeks at Mass will understand how much their smiles, comments and even quick-catches-of-my-son are appreciated.
  • those who are inclined to offer only judgmental looks or well-intentioned, but not helpful advice, will chew on some food for thought:  Sometimes a “poorly disciplined” child at Mass is actually one who is coming to terms with the unique neurological profile that God created him or her with and the child’s parents are trying to do the same.  Be gentle.
  • clergy and lay people at every church may be convicted to provide extra support and encouragement for families with uniquely-wired kids and “invisible” disabilities.   Welcome such families; encourage them to keep coming back; even offer accommodations as needed when possible.
  • others parents challenged by less-than-quietly reverent children will know that you are not alone.  You may feel you are, but you are not.  There are others, like us, who understand your challenges.  Plus, there God, who gifted you with your child and also offers you the grace to best parent him or her, is always present.

Be Encouraged
I wish I could close here by offering some concrete tips for parents like Brian and me, but I have yet to hit upon a mix of strategies that consistently works.  Thus, in closing, I would simply like to suggest three things that keep me going:
Prayer, trust and reaching out.
I encourage everyone to keep doing all three. 
God will send His ears, eyes, hands and thoughts through the Spirit working in you and others as you need them (even if not with the speed you might desire them).  Trust your faith and trust the fact that your child is exactly the gift God meant for him or her to be.  He will grant you the grace to best keep opening that gift to the world and to Him.  You are sanctified even as you struggle.
Know that I am praying with you and alongside you and that I lift up each of us – parents, siblings, fellow parishioners, clergy and the special children who struggle to worship as we do – in prayer. May a series of Spirit-led moments bring each us greater peace.


 If a child in your life seems Mass-averse, how do you handle it? 

Please feel free to share your challenges, successes, frustrations and joys regarding special needs children and Mass participation. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jack on Track

While Luke and Nina were doing this one recent evening after dinner:

Jack decided to do this:

As I observed him, I thought, “Oh, he’s clever!”  He’d noticed the train motif on the ABC puzzle his sibling were playing with and had, thus, gone to fetch one of our toy trains from the other room.  He, then, proceeded to drive that train down the puzzle as if the puzzle were tracks.

Our youngest boy has yet to speak words at nearly 19-months old, but his actions speak volumes.  I just love the way he observes, reacts and communicates! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stir Fry -- A Satisfying Taste of Victory

The other day, I began sharing a celebration about Luke makinghis first dinner meal for our familyThe fact that our six-year-old asked to make our dinner and stayed safely on-task throughout the process of doing so is noteworthy.  That our boy then ate the very stir fry he had prepared without whining or complaining is even more remarkable.  

I know that it might not seem like an extraordinary thing for a six-year-old to eat a stir-fry, but for our six-year-old  to do so is a major breakthrough!

For years, the textures and aromas of many foods were just too much for Luke and getting him to eat healthy portions of proteins, starches and, especially, produce became increasingly challenging.  Sensory issues took hold and, instead of Luke’s diet expanding with time, it became altogether too limited. 

Enter Cheryl – the wonderful feeding and nutrition specialist that we have been working with for several months now.  At our first meeting, she noticed a slight oral-motor coordination issue in Luke and offered us strategies to help him quickly overcome it.  She also helped us tease out how much of Luke’s limited diet was based on “sensory issues” as opposed to “behavior” and “rigid thinking”

Before long, we realized that our efforts prior to seeing Cheryl, coupled with follow-through on strategies she offered us, had taken food-related tactile defensiveness off the table for Luke.  Sensory aversions were no longer at the root of Luke’s “problem”.  Habit was!  For while Luke’s mouth and brain no longer told him that certain textures and aromas made entire categories of foods a “no go”, his will did.  Rigid, ritualized thinking had set in and it was frustrating to fight.

Despite our best efforts to only introduce (or re-introduce) "new" or "unfamiliar" foods outside of actual meal times in order to better facilitate keeping family meals a pleasant experience for all, dinner often became a debacle.  Luke regularly balked and complained loudly at items on our menu, even if he had helped prepare them.  Tantrums and meltdowns seemed to come out of nowhere, lasting the better part of an hour (or more!) at times over the most minute details of food presentation and choices.  Something as simple as favorite familiar foods touching one another was enough to set our boy off.  

Needless to say, the almost-daily food dance was disheartening and exhausting.  Yet, it was not without hope.  We all know that habits are challenging to change, and, I will be the first to attest that habits borne initially from sensory aversions seem doubly difficult to adjust.  There’s just something about the body-brain-sensory-muscle memory connection that makes amending such patterns tricky.   But, tricky is not impossible

We continued to trust the process.  Patience and persistence paid off.  Our boy, who at one point was completely averse to most meat textures and extraordinarily volatile about vegetables not only ate both the other night, but ate them cooked together.   A stir-fry meal that contained rice, meat and two vegetables all cooked together with eggs on the side (because he just wasn’t ready to tolerate the eggs in the mix as well) – it is an enormous and long-awaited victory in our household!

Let's hope the trend continues!.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Luke's First Dinner Chef Experience -- A Success!

“Don’t blink,” folks say. These years pass quickly.

Indeed, they do!

In 5 ½ years, Luke has moved from this:

to this:

Now, going from slurping up first “solids” to popping a bite of stir fry with a side of eggs into one’s mouth may not seem that momentous, but, for us, it is noteworthy.


Well, for one, guess who made dinner last night?

You got it! After an afternoon of sledding, it seems that Luke had worked up not only an appetite, but also a cooperative, independent spirit.

All the turn-taking had had done throughout the afternoon with his siblings on our single unbroken sled seemed to have put Luke in an accommodating frame of mind. Much to my pleasure, upon getting home, he did not immediately shed his sledding gear and beg for food. Instead, he seemed regulated by the heavy work of whizzing down a big hill and pulling a sled back up it countless times throughout the afternoon and was willing to wait until dinner before eating. Better still, when he saw me take carrots and asparagus out of the fridge in order to prepare part of dinner, he did not balk.

In the past, carrots alone have been known to trigger long tantrums with Luke, and adding asparagus into our mealtime mix is something that Luke has only recently accepted with extreme reluctance. So, the fact that Luke did not complain about what was “on the menu” for dinner was surprising. More unexpected was Luke’s request to make our family’s dinner on his own.

Now, Luke has helped me to cook and bake many a times before and has even gotten a breakfast or snack together for us, but, until last night, he had never been the main dinner chef.  Thus, when he asked me if he could make our meal "without your help, Mommy", I was pleasantly taken aback. I guessed that our afternoon of letting Luke loose to slide down a snowy hill as many times as he requested to do so without anyone else on his sled had built his confidence and that he wanted to prove his capabilities still further by preparing dinner.

I quickly reflected that it was not long ago that our boy was afraid of the sensation of sledding down hills and still needed the comfort of someone aboard the sled with him more often than not.  Yet, he had spent the greater portion of the afternoon's sledding runs going solo-by-request with us simply looking on.   Maybe it was time to let him do the same in the kitchen.

So it was that Luke sliced carrots

and scissored asparagus.

Then, stirred them with steak bits in a pan,

before mixing in leftover rice and cooking it all over low heat.

He, then, cracked eggs (with just a little requested help from sous chef Mom) and cooked them up (again asking Mom to help for a moment, but only "to watch the pan while I go potty.")

Finally, Luke set the table and proudly presented a simple stir-fry and eggs to our family.

Before we all dug in, while the children offered thanks for our day and meal aloud, I silently offered even greater thanks for the way the meal had been prepared, with concentration, determination and independence by our not-so-little-anymore boy.

I also gave thanks for the second reason the occasion seemed so momentous, which I will share more about in my next post.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"God Is I Love You Every Single Day of Your Lives"

Nina:  God is a nice man. 

Luke:  He’s better than nice…better than better.  He’s I love you every single day of your lives and every single minute. 

Nina:  God is the awesome of the heavens. 

Luke:  God is bigger than the heavens.  He’s bigger than all of us, His kids.

My children chatted at the table while I did our lunchtime dishes.  Unbeknownst to them, I paused my chore in order to capture a snippet of their dialogue on a nearby scrap of paper.  As I did so, I smiled both at my children’s desire to chat on and on about Our Father and also at the profundity of their thoughts as they did so.

It struck me that our day had provided one thing that I feel is vital to guiding young children in their faith formation:  time.

Time to wonder.

Time to think.

Time to notice.

Time to converse.

Time together sharing just what God intended for us to do:  love.

Indeed, sometimes the best thing we can do to guide our young children in their faith formation is simply to offer them time and space to let the Spirit speak within them and through them.  When we do, amazing things unfold.
In what ways have the young children in your loves demonstrated their love and understanding of God lately?  Have you noticed the Spirit working within them in the lulls of a day?  Do share about it!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Our Family Mission Statement Makes Me S.M.I.L.E.

With the New Year underway, my mind has been predictably reverting to that of the Organizing-Me. I’ve been thinking goals, goals, goals:

Has our family met ones we set before? What are our current goals? What is our game plan for reaching them? Do we have a MISSION? A PURPOSE? A TRUE NORTH? Might we finally come up with a concise statement to check in with when making choices? Something to guide us in big decisions and small. A statement that encapsulates what we value and how we aim to prioritize our principles.

Good news for me! After years of waffling, I don’t need to wait any longer for such a touchstone to materialize:

These words will soon appear in our living room, both textually and as a vision board of sorts, as a constant reminder of our family's purpose.

I could not be more excited.

Now, I know it may seem silly that I am bursting with pleasure over such a simple statement. Indulge me, though.  I like words. I like direction. I like having a summit in sight and a plan for reaching it. Plus, I love living on purpose. Our family’s S.M.I.L.E statement not only provides all this, but it also symbolizes something our family has sought after: Unity!

For years now, my husband and I have hashed over a family mission statement. Sometimes, we talked about it. (Okay, even bickered.) At other times, we quizzed each other with questions, which we found online and in print about living purpose-driven lives. (Okay, I usually badgered Mike with these.) Periodically, we tried encapsulate our big ideas in a concise statement. (Am I ever concise?) Occasionally, we even included the kids in our efforts.  And this year, we did it! We synthesized words to describe our mutual purpose as a family.

We penned a purpose statement that speaks to us and about us one that defines our principles and pursuits. It is broad enough for flexibility, but specific enough to offer direction and accountability. Moreover, if makes me SMILE!

Big thanks to my husband for indulging me through completing this seemingly simple, but years-in-the-making task.  Now that the to-do of writing it is done, the satisfaction of consciously living it has begun.

Do you have a family mission or purpose statement?  What process did you use for creating it?  How has it helped center your family?  How do you display it and check-in with it?  Do share!

If you don't have a purpose statement, but would like to  get started on one, here are some resources that have inspired us in the process at one point or another:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Last-Minute Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Lesson Plans

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!  I certainly hope it was a peaceful and enriching one for you.  For us, it was a feast of last-minute lessons.

This morning, as I was making baked oatmeal and banana-nut muffins, I glanced at the calendar and realized that it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Again?  I thought.  Another holiday I am unprepared for.  I am not sure why it is, but back when I was classroom teacher, I almost never missed tying official state holidays into lesson plans and often found fodder for classroom projects and fillers in more obscure every-day’s-a-holiday sort of observances, but, now, as a homeschool mom, such holidays creep up on me.  I find myself with nothing special planned for special days.

Enter, the Internet, a quick rummage through our home library and some quick-thinking and – ta da! – a satisfying smorgasbord of holiday-related learning activities was tossed together:

Language and Social Concepts

We began by trying to read the “puzzle word” peace.  Then, we chatted about what the word means by having Luke and Nina offer suggestions about what peace looks and sounds like, places we feel peaceful and how we demonstrate a feeling of peacefulness. 

Some of the ideas we listed were that:

  • The beach is a peaceful place.
  • Hiking can be peaceful.
  • Peace does not sound like yelling, whining or hurting others.
  • Playing with toys and drawing can be peaceful.
  • Loving one another is peaceful
  • God is peaceful.

With thoughts about how we can create more peace in our home, we read and discussed the rather didactic, but still enjoyable book A Children's Book About Whining (Help Me Be Good)

As I read the book, I could not help but to think of it as a social story written before Carol Gray fine-tuned the concept of them and, as Luke and Nina eagerly connected not only with the examples in the book about why children whine, but also expanded on ideas of what to do instead of whining, I thought, “I really need to get the rest of this series and to begin using more social stories.”  For, yes, while the Charlotte-Mason inspired part of me balks that such stories are not “living” enough, the practical Mama-dealing-with-special-and-typical-youngster-needs side of me finds them a great fit for daily living in our home. 

When we finished reading A Children’s Book About Whining, we decided to put one idea suggested in it into immediate practice:  For the remainder of the day, whenever anyone whined, we simply stated, “You are whining.”  Then, if the person did not stop, we coached them to by asking them to share their problem or concern instead of whining about it.  Oh, how I love proactive strategies the kids buy into.   This one did not stop peace-deterring whining completely, but it did help redirect it more quickly, focusing the kids on solving their own problems and recognizing one another’s needs.

We, then, transitioned from what not to do to keep our home peaceful to what we could do to promote peace at home and beyond with our second read-aloud of the morning Because Brian Hugged His Mother.  This is a book I purchased after seeing it in a Michael Olaf catalog (which is a rich resource for Montessorians).  I’ve had it tucked away, waiting for just the right moment to share its message about how one single act of kindness can reach further than you think

Luke and Nina remained enraptured as they learned how Brian hugged his Mom one morning for no special reason and how that hug set in motion a series of unselfish acts that reached more people­—and animals—than he could have imagined.  Then, right afterwards, Luke gave me the most enormous hug and the kids called Daddy to share their love with him in a phone message, which they imagined would travel from Daddy to his colleagues to…  Thus commenced a fun imaginative time, thinking about ways we could share simple acts of peace, love and kindness and how these might affect the world. 

Later in the day, we snuggled on the couch to read Peace Begins With You, which opened up wonderful age-appropriate discussions on differing definitions of peace, personal needs vs. wants, how to avoid or settle conflict, etc.  In that, the book was a rich read.  However, I mixed feelings about the book.

You see, I initially received the book in a box of hand-me-downs, glanced at the beautiful and gentle illustration on its front cover, quickly read the summary and accolades on the back cover and set it aside as a future read.  Then, this morning, when I spied it, I thought, “Perfect!” only to change my mind once the children and I began turning its pages.  That is when I realized that although the text of the book tackles the concept of peace in a way children can understand, moving from personal needs and wants to national and international issues, the book includes a few images that I find too unsettling for my young ones.  For example, Luke and Nina keyed right into the illustration in the latter part of the book of a boy throwing a Molotov cocktail and Nina was particularly disturbed by the image of a starving child and infant.  (Luckily there was an illustration of a happy, healthy baby and mother on the following page, which she decided was the children’s Mommy, with the baby “all better”.)

Now, I am not saying that we need to shield our children from realities of the world. I just think that we need to be sensitive about when and how to introduce and discuss certain ones with them.  There is so much rich beauty that is real in the world that I would rather fortify my children with it before subjecting them to equally real ugliness.  Thus, had I previewed this book more carefully, I might have presented only selections of it or waited to share it at a later time.  Oops!


An image I did not mind sharing with my children was a line-drawing portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. from DLTK, which we colored after talking about who MLK, Jr. was and how he impacted the world as a peacemaker.  We also watched his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube.


We also watched and listened to “Let There Be Peace on Earth” on YouTube and discussed further how we can be peaceful and share peace with others.  Plus, we prayed for friends and family using our B.L.E.S.S. flip cards, of course, asking for peace for all.

Our Martin Luther King, Jr. Day buffet was not fancy, nor fully-balanced with complete theme-related servings of our Daily Seven and Core Four Plus, but it did include plenty of discussion and learning and we filled in movement, math and other activities elsewhere in the day.

How about you?  Did you observe the holiday today?  What are some of your favorite go-to sites or last-minute activities for when you realize you’ve neglected to plan for a significant day?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Image of Perfection: A Simple Step Towards Faith Formation in Young Children

The other night, my little girl and I were cuddled in bed for some Mommy-and-me time before she drifted off to sleep.  After a moment of quiet, she tilted her head toward me, smiled and asked, “Mommy, when I get my own room, can I put up pictures of Mary, Jesus and Joseph in it?” 

“Of course,” I replied.  And, then she proceeded to describe the vision she was formulating of her one-day room.  She talked about a picture of “Mary with Baby Jesus”, one of “grown up Jesus”, and one of… 

As my daughter told me about each of the images she wanted to place in her room, I said a silent prayer of thanks.  I had not brought up the idea of her room nor of how she might decorate it.  She simply had been thinking about it and had opted to share what was on her mind with me.  In doing so, she offered me an affirmation I sorely needed that day: I am parenting her the way I feel called to do so – with love, openness, communication and faith.  As my daughter continued on, she filled our minds with the most perfect images of all – those of our Lord and Our Mother.  With these pictures in mind, we both fell into a peaceful slumber.

As I look back on this heartwarming bedtime, I think about how powerful images can be and how the ones we choose to surround ourselves with not only speak about us but also to us.  Every day, as we glance at a painting, a photograph, a sculpture or a poster, part of it seems to be written in both our minds and in our hearts.  

Bearing this in mind, I would like to suggest an easy step any of us can take in guiding young children in their faith formation:   

Be vigilant about the images we choose to allow into our homes

We can ask ourselves if all of the images that adorn our abodes are pure, lovely, excellent and worthy of praise.  If the answer is no, we can edit those images right out the front door.  Likewise, we can make a conscious effort seek out child-friendly images of Jesus, Mary, the Saints and honorable Bible figures to put up in our children’s rooms.  Since my children’s births, I have been doing this on a somewhat consistent basis.  Now, after my daughter’s bedtime conversation with me, I am inspired to do so with even more dedication. 

How about you?  Have you and your children selected some inspiring images to beautify their bedroom with?  Is there balance between these and whatever other images hang in your home?  What do the images around your home say about your family?  More importantly, how do they speak to your children’s hearts?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Clean Mush “Snow” -- A How-To for Sensory Diet Play

What do you do when there is no snow left outside and your children still want to play in some white, wet stuff in celebration of the snow-theme you've been focusing on?

Try out:

Clean Mush
a sensory experience for all ages 
  • a shower curtain, tablecloth or other floor protector (to minimize the mess that is sure to overflow)
  • an old cheese grater
  • 1 bar of Ivory soap
  • a cutting board or plate (optional for grating soap upon, but a great idea for adding additional tactile opportunities into the activity since the grated soap will then need to be transferred from cutting board to bin)
  • a good-sized bin (We discovered our first bin was not large enough and had to transfer our materials to a large dish tub, which worked perfectly; a lidded storage bin would also work nicely since you could then just cover the mixture for later use.)
  • 2-3 rolls of toilet paper
  • 1/3 cup of Borax
  • warm water in a pitcher
  • optional figurines, spoons, scoops, etc. for playing with
  • lidded plastic containers (for packing the mixture into in order to save it for play another day)

1.  Depending on the age and ability of your children, grate the Ivory soap or have your children do it.

 2.  Enjoy smelling the grated soap together for extra olfactory input.

3.  Offer plenty of time for children to discover the tactile properties of the grated soap:  It can be squished together to form little snow balls.

4.  Transfer the soap into plastic bin.

5.  Enjoy the fun of unraveling tolls of toilet paper.   

 Encourage tearing off of sheets and balling some up...

...unrolling it from different heights or rolling it out along a hallway and chasing after it, etc. 

The more levels your child gets at while unrolling the better.  While your child is having fun, some balance and heavy work can naturally occur.

6.  Pile the paper into the bin.

7.  Measure out and add 1/3 cup of Borax.

8.  Pour in enough warm water to saturate the soap-toilet paper-Borax mixture.

9.  Dig in with your bare hands to mix, mash...

 ...and moosh to your heart’s content.

10.  Then, play away with your bare hands...

...or with figurines, perhaps making snow forts by pushing the mush to the walls of the bin and hollowing out a space for figurines to shelter themselves.

Sensory and Skill Highlights

Teamwork transferring bins...
  • Motor Coordination/Planning
  • Olfactory Input
  • Tactile Input
  • Measuring
  • Practical Life: Grating
  • Creative/Imaginative Play
  • Cooperation

Quick Tips/Extensions

  • The name “Clean Mush” seems to come from the soapy ingredients used.  We found it had little to do with how our floors ended up even though we had put an old shower curtain beneath our sensory experience space.  Be prepared to find bits of white stuff around even after cleaning and sweeping up.
    • For sensory defensive children, tools such as wooden spoons, scoops, etc. – or even a plastic bag over the hand – can encourage more enjoyable play.  Putting favorite figurines into the mix for children to dig out can also help.  Just be prepared to use a toothbrush to clean them up afterward, as the mush does not come off nooks and crannies with water alone.

    • Alternately, if a child is reluctant to touch the mush after getting some stuck to finger, as happened with our Jack, simply let the child observe you having fun playing with it.  Take up a small piece of mush, roll it in your hands, pat it into a pancake, roll it in a ball, clap it together.  Offer a small piece to your child to brush, pat or clap off your hands.
    •  For ease of sculpting fun with the mush, go easy on the amount of warm water you add.  We did and were able to make snowballs, snow forts, etc.
    • Or, simply squeeze as much water as you can out of a handful of mush before sculpting with it.
    • When playing with children of different age levels, divide the mush so small hands can explore it while big hands make their own creations. 
    • Don't be afraid to get feet into it, too!
    • Easily transform this activity into a color mixing one, by separating the dry mixture into three bins and adding red, yellow or blue water to each.  Then, mix the different colored mush together to see what happens. 
    • To add a sense of scientific discovery to the experience, before making the mush, ask children about the nature of each of the ingredients (hard, soft, powdery, wet, etc.).  Then, ask them to predict how mixing them together will affect them.  In each step of the process, note changes in the property of each ingredient, as well as when you can no longer separate the ingredients.  Alternately, experiment with what happens to Clean Mush left out in a flattened patty, a small ball and a big clump as opposed to the same types of mush shapes left in covered containers.  Try freezing some, too. 
    • To add an element of following directions, or to provide a social story for your child, feel free to print this post out, cut it up and paste it into a picture-based direction menu/social story.  (I really wanted to make one here today, but just do not have time to create a new document, get it into a pdf, etc.  But, I did want to throw the idea out there.)

      What other “snowy” sensory experiences do you enjoy inside?  Any favorite variations or extensions for using Clean Mush?  Do share in a comment.  Thanks!


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