November 18, 2017

Cultivating Compassion in Our Families


                   
Thanksgiving approaches:  As we focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy, I am challenged to examine how we express thankfulness in our family. One key expression of gratitude is compassion for others.


As much as special-needs parents understand caring for others, cultivating compassion in our children can be difficult. Sometimes, conditions like autism or mental illness make compassion challenging to develop. Other times, children can become self-centered and focused as they grapple with the pain of their struggles.


Here are some practical strategies to develop this vital characteristic in our families:


1. Intentionally point out and discuss the needs of others
Young people may require direct teaching in this area.  When my sons were toddlers, we had a poster with kids displaying various facial expressions.  Each expression had an emotion attached to it.  We rehearsed this almost daily to help them interpret non-verbal cues, but also to cultivate empathy.


When they were a bit older, we began coaching them in social interactions by telling them how their behavior was impacting their friends or likely perceived in the community.  This direct teaching was used for both positive and negative interactions.  In many ways, I acted as a narrator for their lives during this stage; explaining the world around them and how they were operating within it.


As they have grown, we discuss news events, life events in the people around us and their own experiences in ways that point to not only facts but likely emotional responses that co-occur.  This practice has challenged us to perceive likely needs and emotions that we can respond to as we engage with these situations.


2. Travel, Serving, and Giving
Despite the limitations our families experience, there are ways we can help our children see beyond our walls.  Even trips to the library or stores provide a myriad of ways to really see those around us.  If you are able to travel more broadly, cross-cultural experiences will greatly hone your family’s compassion as you experience being “the others” while being immersed in the struggles of other cultures.


Serving others is possible for almost every child.  Finding ways to do this as a family cultivates compassion in each member.  Food banks, Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and volunteering in our neighborhoods provide ample service opportunities.  Prayer for others’ needs is always possible even when we are homebound.


Our family’s favorite service place, besides church, has been a local ministry to the homeless called the Mercy Tree.  This wonderful ministry provides lunch in a local church, devotions, laundry service, showers and transportation to those without homes.  As we cook for our friends and eat together, we understand more of a world we have never experienced and our ability to love in those places broadens.



3. Share great stories!
Powerful stories that transcend their time always include adversity that their characters overcome.  We can link the characters’ struggles to relevant experiences in our lives or those of others.  This helps us not only understand pain, but what is required to face and overcome the type of struggle depicted.  These stories are blueprints to guide us in helping others.


4. Practice gratitude and compassion at home
  • Tell your spouse frequently what you love and appreciate about him/her in front of your children
  • Around the dinner table, have each family member share thankfulness about the person next to them
  • Keep a thankfulness list in a central location and encourage everyone to contribute
  • Each month, assign one family member to select a person or family to serve in some way
  • Invite others into your home
  • Love each other well
  • Find penpals from other countries and exchange letters


I hope that some of these strategies encouraged you to find new ways to encourage compassion in your family.  Besides the joy it will bring your children, fostering compassion expands their relationships and equips them to better relate to their communities.  


Happy Thanksgiving!


This article was reposted from www.amblinggrace.com with permission from the author.


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November 17, 2017

Identifying and Correcting Blocked Learning Gates




Are you working with a bright, hard working child or teenager who has to work too hard to learn?  This is the child who does not respond to other curriculum or materials and teaching strategies that have worked so well with your other children. In fact, you may be on your fourth reading/phonics program, your third math program, and your fourth spelling program.  


If it is your first child or student who is struggling, you may now have a younger sibling or other students who are yelling out the words from the corner of the room. That’s when you decide, “Something isn’t right” with this child.  You wonder if this child has a processing problem, a learning disability, or Dyslexia.   You are puzzled because orally, he/she is so good in many things, and loves to listen to stories.  What is going on?   


According to Dr. Mel Levine, MD, in his book, One Mind at a Time, all learning requires energy. He refers to it as “battery energy.”  I like this term.  It clearly describes what we see happening with the struggling learner. This child is using way too much battery energy to write or remember sight words or phonics for reading.  We see the battery drain happen before our eyes.  Our question is, why does this child have to work so hard at things that should not take so much energy to learn or remember?  


This energy drain is generally because this child has one or more of the Four Learning Gates blocked.  We think of these learning gates as information pathways.  Children who learn easily seem “smart” because they don’t have any major blocks in their information pathways.  Our struggling learner may have many blocks.  When we speak of a blocked learning gate, we mean that the processing skill has not transferred into the Automatic Brain Hemisphere. The child continues to need to concentrate on the processing task because of this lack of transfer.


Exploring the Four Learning Gates
As you look at the list of characteristics of a struggling learner, it is important to remember that many children have one characteristic, but aren’t struggling.  Conversely, a child does not need all of the characteristics to be struggling.  It is also common to find that a child has all four learning gates blocked.


1. Visual Processing Gate
The act of moving the eyes over a page from left to right is not a naturally developed trait.  For example, in Israel they read right to left, and in Japan they read in a column.  We teach this process when a child is first learning to read, by having him track with his finger across the page to train his eyes to move in this fashion.  After some practice, this should transfer to the child’s automatic hemisphere.  


How do we know if this process has not transferred and is taking too much energy?  


These are some of the characteristics this child will exhibit:
  • Reading reversals (on=no; was=saw…after age seven)
  • Skipping of little words, but can read longer word
  • Reading begins smooth, but soon becomes labored
  • Older children who can read, but tire easily…yawning shortly after beginning reading.


2. Writing Processing Gate
When the child’s visual/spatial skills, or the act of writing, haven’t transferred into the automatic hemisphere, he often looks like he’s “sloppy, lazy or unmotivated.”  His papers are poorly spaced, or he refuses to write much of anything for the parent or teacher. This is the most common learning gate that is blocked in gifted children.  It seems like they are “allergic to a pencil.”  Transferring his thoughts into writing, or just copying something, takes a huge amount of battery energy for this child.  


Characteristics of this gate being blocked include:
  • Frequent or occasional reversals in letters after age seven (even if only “once in awhile”)
  • Copying is laborious
  • Poor spacing in math papers
  • Great stories orally, but writes very little
  • Does mental math to avoid writing


3. Auditory Processing Gate
A common myth about Auditory Processing is,  “My child has an auditory processing problem because he can’t remember three directions at once.”  This is likely more of a focusing/attention issue.  For example, if we would ask him to ”Go into the kitchen and get a candy bar, a glass of chocolate milk, and a dish of ice cream for you,” the child would likely remember these directions.


A child, who is suffering with an Auditory Processing Problem, generally has trouble with reading.


Common characteristics of this gate being blocked are:
  • Phonics sounds don’t stick; no matter how many games you have played.
  • Sight words are hard to memorize…even learning alphabet letter names can be hard
  • Sounds out same word over and over in a story
  • Can’t easily sequence sounds…like months of the year or skip counting
  • Is a “Word Guesser”
  • No phonetic pattern to spelling...doesn’t hear consonants.  “Thursday is Tuesday”


4. Focus/Attention Gate
This can be the most puzzling blocked learning gate to identify. A child may look like he has no memory, or a true learning disability, when what is really going on is that this child has to use too much battery energy to remain focused during the instruction, or completing the lesson.  The child may look like he is “paying attention” to your lesson by giving you good eye contact.  However, in his head, he is “two doors down playing with his friend, or in the dinosaur village.”   


Here are some characteristics of a child who has to use too much battery energy to remain focused:
  • Inconsistency in performance from one day to another
  • Needs to have someone sit with him to finish work
  • Forgets previously learned work much of the time…seems to have a “memory” problem
  • Can have impulsive behavior…easily getting upset when things go wrong.
  • Sensory Processing problems (little things bother him a lot, like tags on shirts, loud noises, transitions, foods, etc.)
Be assured, you do not need to be an “expert, or professional” to make learning easier for your child or student.  In the many articles I have on my website, I discuss each learning gate individually, and show you the corrections that I developed when I taught these wonderful children in my special education classes.  


You will see that it is not hard to do.  It just requires some tools, strategies and techniques that you may not be familiar with right now.  

Bottom line:  Learning does not have to be so hard for your child.



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November 15, 2017

10 Holiday Homeschool Field Trips for Kids who Hate Crowds or Have Seneory Issues




When my kids were younger, I was not the type to be cooped up inside, especially during the holiday season when there was so much going on.  But, even though I loved getting out and enjoying the holiday sights, my oldest on the Autism Spectrum was a bit of a scrooge about it all. 

Instead of allowing my son’s bah-humbug holiday attitude to keep us all home, I decided to create sensory-friendly field trips that would limit crowds, lights, and noise.  So, if you are looking for ways to get everyone out the house this holiday season, here are my top 10 holiday homeschool field trip suggestions.

#1 - Historic Sites
Visiting a historic home, fort, or site is a great holiday outing, especially on a weekday. Many of these sites go all out with decorating for the holidays, and although they are very busy on weekends, they still maintain hours during the less busy weekdays.  To find the historical society in your area, and the local sites they maintain, you can search the Preservation Directory by state and region.

#2 – Hiking and Geocaching
Geocaching is an awesome family activity, and one that can not only become a new holiday tradition, but a fun family pastime.  Hiking alone makes for a wonderful field trip, but when you turn the hike into a treasure hunt, it becomes an over-the-top adventure. 
Caches on or near hiking trails are very common, so plan a holiday hike near a cache or plan to hide a new one on the trail.  The largest website devoted to this pastime is geocaching.com.  On this site you will find everything you need to know about finding and hiding caches.

#3 – Christmas Tree Farm
Cutting your own Christmas tree is a lot of fun, and a very festive activity. And although tree farms can be rather busy during the holiday season, they do maintain less busy hours amidst the holiday tree-buying frenzy.  The key is finding less busy times, and it usually just takes a quick phone call.  Most of these farms are family-owned and more than happy to help you make your visit enjoyable and accommodating to your family’s needs.

#4 – Ceramic Shop
During the holiday season, local ceramic shops are usually equipped for kids’ groups to come and paint ornaments, nativity sets, and even items kids can personalize to give as gifts.  A quick search on Google will give you a list of your local ceramic shops and their hours of operation. 

#5 – Library
Your local library is likely to have at least a few holiday events; some of them during  daytime hours or as ongoing holiday season activities.  Check with your librarian, or on your local library website, to find out if your library is offering any sensory-friendly or quieter daytime activities your family could participate in.

#6 – Parks and Painted Rocks
Painting rocks and leaving them for others to find is a trend cropping up all over the United States.  No matter how artistic you are, or how capable your kids are at painting in general, this activity can easily become a new family holiday tradition.  To find out more about how to paint and leave rocks for others to find, you can visit The Kindness Rocks Project website.

#7 – Winter Sports
If you have an active family and live up north, winter sporting options abound. For those who like going fast, skiing and snowboarding are great options. Most ski resorts offer homeschool days when you can rent equipment and get lift tickets at a reduced rate during the less busy weekdays. Plus, many ski resorts also have equipment to accommodate children and adults with disabilities.

If you like to go at a slower place, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing may be 
better options.  Local park and recreation departments often have trails and rentable equipment for both of these winter sports. Local parks are also a great place to go sledding, and their sledding hills are guaranteed to be empty almost days when public school is in session.

And, whether you live up north or not, there is still one winter sport almost anyone can enjoy during the holidays: ice skating.  Temporary ice skating rinks in the north can be found outside most of the winter, and during the holiday season many southern cities also set up temporary ice rinks indoors, fully stocked with rentable skates.

#8 – Holiday Daytime Performances
School groups as well as homeschool families can access daytime holiday performances.  Most children’s theaters, ballet companies, and orchestras offer discounted tickets for these performances which are geared to the younger audience.  If your child has specific needs for accessibility during the performance, make sure to call the theater directly to book your tickets so they can arrange for seats that meet those needs.  Bringing earmuffs to muffle noises can also help children who are easily distracted or who may be anxious about loud noises during the performance.

#9 – Nursing Home Visit
Local nursing homes love to have kids visit. Plus, what kid doesn’t like having a few extra grandparents?  If your family has never considered visiting your local nursing home, the holiday season is a perfect time to start because there are always so many activities planned throughout December.

Most nursing homes have a volunteer coordinator you can call to find out how your family can get involved. By letting the coordinator know the specific needs of your kids, they will be able to determine which activities would be the best suit your family’s involvement.

#10 – Tourist Attractions
Many tourist attractions decorate, or have special exhibits, for the holidays.  And, while these places may be busy on evenings and weekends, they also have lower peak times you can take advantage of with your homeschooling schedule.  Museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums, and tours (caves, factories, etc.) are great places to check out.

Call ahead of time to find out when the attraction expects visits to be lower in volume, when there will be less groups visiting, and if any of the special exhibits have hours that differ from the general admission times.

General Homeschool Field Trip Advice
You might be a pro at homeschool field trips, but if not, this video will help you think through the most important things you will need to consider when taking your special needs child on a field trip.


Have a great time making memories with your kids this holiday season!  I look forward to hearing how your adventures went in the comments below.


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November 11, 2017

Homeschooling In Today's Time




Homeschooling parents face the challenges of juggling teaching, cleaning, cooking, nurturing, finding needed personal time, and being a good spouse every day. How do we do it all? How can you do it all?


The truth is, we can do it all. We just need lessons on balance.  So, we do the important things first. We have to budget our time like we budget our money. This is very important. Here are some tips on time management and scheduling that have worked for me.




Manage Your Time
We need to make a plan so we’ll feel more in control and less overwhelmed, but they must be flexible enough to modify as needed. Also, make sure the goals you set are reasonable; otherwise, you’re setting ourselves up for failure. Be realistic with time, don’t guess, find out how long specific tasks take. And don’t beat yourself up if you did not complete something. Everyone’s life is different, and it takes practice to master time management. Thank God for each and everyday. The reality is everyday is a gift to do more.


Fill in the time it takes for each task. In the example below, there’s a lot left out that you’ll need to add.  But it’s a good place to start:


Making and eating meals: __________
Daily chores: ______________________
Daily hygiene: _____________________
Kids’ hygiene:______________________
Kids’ extracurricular activities:________
Work: ______ hrs/day (if you freelance or work part-time or full-time)
Homeschooling:  ______




Homeschooling
We need to use a planner or calendar of some type for daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities. My calendar is booked 3 months at a time, so I can plan what I need to get done. I use both paper and electronic planners. Students need to use planners as well.  Picture schedules work well for little kids and a modern student planner can be used for middle school and high school age children. The bottom line is that everyone in the home should use a calendar, this cuts down on confusion.  


Steps to Developing a Good Scheduling:


1. Observation
Observe your children for a week to note the length of time they need to finish a math assignment,complete a worksheet, or read a chapter of a textbook. In addition, pad the time allotment for time-between each day's list of school tasks. Plan for between-class breaks like meals, playtime or recess.


2.  Work Backwards:  Year to Week
Prevent over-scheduling by starting at the year mark and work down to the week.
List all classes, coursework, books, examinations, and activities needed to complete the year.
  • List monthly goals for each task.   
  • How many books,  worksheet pages, and Math, English, History lessons need to be included. You can schedule the lessons once you have drafted the large view of the month..  
  • Space each category by week, and review each week's goals with your student.


3. Get Specific:  Weekly to Daily
From the weekly goal comes the daily schedule. It’s not just younger children that need routine; everyone needs to know the plan for the day.
  • Be flexible. Listen to our children’s feedback. Give your children a chance to resolve scheduling issues themselves. This will help them later in life.  You might be surprised at the solutions they come up with for time management snags and snafus. For example, your child might be too sleepy in the morning to do well at math, so you might move that class to the afternoon.
  • Outings take a big chunk of time out of your day. Consider staying home during the week as much as possible. If you have small children, going lots of places can upset their routine. It’s also hard to fit in schooling or housework when you’re only home for a few hours.


Extra Scheduling Considerations:
Homeschooling parents are often too busy to fit in all the projects they’d like to do, especially when they have younger children in the household. Detailed unit studies and interesting hands-on projects are special but you might have to limit them. I found doing homeschool 365 days a year works for me and my family, everyday is learning in our home. Everyone is different and you have to find what works for you.


For many families, finding the time to schedule field trips during homeschooling months can be difficult. You might try planning some of them in the summer when things are less hectic. Think of what has long-term importance and what doesn’t. Learn to establish priorities, find creative ways to do the necessary things, and put everything else on hold or let it go.




Chores
Chores are good for kids. Families should share responsibilities. It’s important for children to understand that the whole family must work together to make a homeschool and a household run smoothly. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry are group events.

Work on children’s attitudes and training. Summer is a good time to encourage and train your children on helping out with household chores and cooking. There are lots of learning opportunities for your children in these activities as well. Both cleaning and cooking contain some elements of math and science.

Get the older kids to help the younger ones pick up their toys or clean their room. Big kids teaching little kids, sisters and brothers working together. Don’t you love it?
Making a house rule that children who don’t follow instructions when asked or don’t do their chores are given added jobs or responsibilities works well.




Housework
Realize when it comes to a clean house you may need to settle for less than perfection.  If you have a hard time letting go of that ideal, here are some ways to lower your expectations to the realistic goal of having an imperfect house amidst raising and homeschooling your kids.
  • Simplify your life. Develop a system for keeping your house as neat as possible, at least in the important areas.
  • Declutter your home to avoid frustration.
  • Organize a specific place for all homeschooling materials, like pencils, papers, books, scissors, and so on.
  • In addition to getting the kids to pitch in, we sometimes hire a neighbor’s teenager to help when needed, to clean or babysit a few hours to give us time for other things we have to do.




Cooking
Simplify your meals. Some of the healthiest dishes are the simplest. Get the kids to help you prepare dinner. Have the older children make their own lunches. Use paper plates for quick clean ups. If there are kids eat free nights, family specials, two large pizzas for $10 nights, or anything like that at a restaurant you like, feel free to do that. I prepare fresh meals daily for my family, but I get all the pre-work done on Sunday evenings.  Do what works for you.




Personal Time
When you create your weekly schedule, don’t forget to put aside time for yourself. Make yourself a priority. If you aren’t meeting your most basic needs, you’re not going to be effective in anything else.  Always wake up before everyone and have 30 mins of coffee and devotion time. If you don’t rest, your brain will turn to mush and you won’t have enough energy to get through the day.


If you don’t set aside time for you and your spouse, you won’t get the love and care you need to love and care for those around you.


Time is very valuable for homeschooling parents so budget yours wisely. 


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