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Blessed and Blessing During Holidays

The holidays present families with many opportunities to share the love of Christ.  It’s a wonderful experience when a family can serve together, ministering to others in ways that are personal and meaningful.  Some families make arrangements to minister together and enjoy fellowship as they seek to bless others.  Having a child with special needs presents challenges for participation in some activities, but with a little advanced planning it can be done.

When a child has health issues, it may be difficult to commit to scheduled ministry opportunities.  It is not always advisable to go out in inclement weather, and a child with asthma may not do well in cold weather.  A child with a weak immune system may become ill too easily to risk exposure to many people.  Even the presence of a new baby can make the thought of packing everyone up to pursue a ministry opportunity a bit overwhelming.

If this has you nodding your head or mentally adding your own list of hurdles to the ones I have mentioned, let me get you thinking in another direction.  There are ways you can enjoy fellowship and bless others right from your own home.  During this holiday season, your family might be better suited to invite other families to your home to engage in a ministry activity.  One simple but much appreciated gift to others is to bless those in nursing homes, hospitals, or the military with notes and cards.  Provide a stack of cards and blank postcards along with crayons, markers, and colored pencils.  Adults and children can work on cards together, praying for the future recipients.  Children who are not able to write could draw pictures or use rubber stamps to decorate the cards and envelopes.  Some children could put the cards into envelopes and put postage stamps in place.  Sing a few carols together and you may have the start of a new holiday tradition for your family.

Children can bless their own families by writing the addresses on the Christmas card envelopes.  Besides helping to get the task done they will be practicing penmanship, learning how to address envelopes properly, and working on language arts as they apply rules for capital letters. Another child can apply the postage stamps, or sign the cards for the family.  And yes, I’d count that as “school”!

For those who are able to venture out, look for volunteer opportunities that will allow everyone in your family to actively participate.  My family has volunteered several times with the Salvation Army Operation Christmas Cheer.  Since this program has a variety of jobs we were able to match up our children with a task appropriate for their ages as well as their personalities and special needs.  My daughters each had a designated food item to hand to families as they passed by our line.  Both of them were busy but not so pressured that they couldn’t smile and say “Merry Christmas” to those they served.  They were right next to me so I could provide support as needed.

My son, Josh, loves to help others but has AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in addition to sensory processing challenges that made the noise level in the warehouse setting adverse for him after a few minutes.  He and his Dad took on the job of helping people by pushing carts or carrying boxes out and loading them into cars.  They could talk to and sometimes pray for the individuals they were assisting.  Josh’s hyperactivity and willingness to work were actually applauded and Josh felt affirmed as he served others.

If your child has a wheelchair or other equipment it can be tough to navigate in some settings. Visiting a hospital or nursing home to deliver cards or sing carols is a great way for a physically challenged child to minister along with his or her family.  Nursing home and hospital staff are used to medical equipment and these areas are disability accessible. When my family visited a nursing home, I saw tenderness revealed in Josh as he held an elderly man’s hand and helped him walk slowly back to his room.  My hyperactive son was patient and attentive in ways I hadn’t seen in other settings. The blessings flowed across generations in that situation.

It may take creative thinking and problem solving, but there are many that families with special needs children can bless others in special ways during the holidays.  Whether your family thrives on excitement or prefers to have a more low key atmosphere, you will be blessed as you allow the Lord to use you to bless others.

From Surviving to Thriving

From now until the end of the year, time seems to speed up for me.  There are fewer hours of daylight and it gets dark earlier and earlier as the trick or treaters photo: trick or treaters trickortreaters.jpgholidays approach.  I am very affected by the lack of sunlight and if you, too, experience the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder then you know what I’m going through every fall and winter in Ohio. I know, logically, that there is exactly the same number of hours in every day regardless of the amount of daylight.  Apparently there is a part of my brain that does not respond to logic, though, because after dark my body thinks it is night and therefore time to sleep.  Once the sunlight is gone, I have a very hard time leaving the house even if it’s only early evening.  I might make mental plans during the light of day, but once it looks like night it might as well be 3:00 in the morning as far as my body is concerned.  I feel sluggish and move in slow motion.  So while my schedule fills up with all the festivities of the season, I feel less capable of actually meeting any commitments.  At the same time, the calendar dates keep pushing me forward like I’m on a moving sidewalk, and ready or not I’m propelled ahead.   Have you ever felt this way?  It can rob you of the joy of celebrations anthanksgiving crowd photo: Thanksgiving 2010 DSC01947.jpgd leave you feeling overwhelmed.  If you can’t imagine how you will fit everything in and get everything done then you may feel more relief after an activity is over than genuine enjoyment during the activity.  I’d like to anticipate activities in a pleasant way and not let my mindset be one of just surviving the busy schedule.  I want to feel joy, not just obligation.  I want to be fully in the moment, not counting down the hours until I can mark another task off my checklist.  So how can we move past the legitimate demands of a busy schedule during the holidays and set the tone for creating good memories with our families?  I’ve found it helpful to recognize patterns in my family members and myself so that I can take these into account before committing to activities.  I know that one of my children is an introvert.  He likes people, but a little goes a long way for him and if he surrounded by people for hours on end it drains him and he needs some time alone to recharge.  Two of my children are definite extroverts who never tire of the party and are energized by being around other people.  Given these differences, I try to make allowances such as allowing my son to sit and quietly read a book during part of the event.  He’s not being disruptive and he’s less likely to feel agitated and over-reactchristmas gathering photo: Christmas Gathering Bryan010.jpg when he can have mini-breaks as needed.  One of my children needs more sleep than the others.  Knowing this, I try not to schedule her for events that will last too late into the evening or that occur on consecutive days.  I can’t always avoid having activities that occur at less than ideal times for my daughter, but I can limit the amount of time spent away from home even if it means we leave a little earlier than everyone else.  I try to be preemptive and prepare healthy, portable snacks so that even when we are on the go my children won’t become so hungry that they either become cranky or devour too many cookies and other sugary treats.  I actually keep snack-sized Ziploc bags full of healthy snacks in the console of my van, in case I forget to grab them before we head out the door.  Instead of trying to do everything myself, I have the children work alongside me.  They can fill snack bags with pretzels or carrot sticks.  They can help with wrapping gifts and putting stamps on envelopes.  If I didn’t have the children working with me I wouldn’t have nearly as much time with them and they would doubtless pick uptimes square new years eve photo: times square new years eve NewYears.jpg on my increasing level of stress.  Whether it’s baking or gathering needed supplies, I want my children to recognize that they make important contributions to the family. Planning ahead for my family also means taking into consideration the possibility of illness and how that could impact our ability to participate in all of the seasonal happenings.  I’d much rather add things in if we are able than fill up our calendar only to have disappointed children when they can’t participate in every possible activity because they are sick with a virus.  So I schedule the activities that are “musts” for my family, but try to leave our options more flexibly open for the possible addition of other events.  As for me and my struggles to do anything once it’s dark outside, I have a couple of strategies that I implement.   Whenever possible I try to have someone, preferably another adult, accompany me when I am going out at night.  Knowing that someone else is counting on me to do something with them helps me to force myself to take action despite my body’s reluctance to move.  Having the company of another adult distracts me from my feelings of utter lethargy so I can actually accomplish tasks.  I also know my tendencies well enough to recognize that it’s far better for me if I can schedule as much as possible during daytime hours.  I’m better rested and more alert when it’s light outside, so that’s the time when I can be most productive and enjoy what’s going on around me.  If the holiday season kicks you into survival mode, maybe it’s time to think about how you could move beyond just surviving to thriving.  Being able to say an enthusiastic “yes” to your family’s most valued traditions will take some forethought.  By considering your individual differences and the needs of your family members, you can strategically plan to fully enjoy the memory-making moments.

Merry Math with Robin Hood

Robin-hood-disneyscreencaps.com-5024            Do you remember learning about Robin Hood?  He stole from the rich to give to the poor.  In Robin Hood’s world the monarchy wanted more money and more treasure.   Prince John sent out the Sheriff of Nottingham and his lackeys to collect exorbitant taxes from the poor working folks.  Sometimes he asked the people for more than they had to give.  Robin Hood took to living in the forest with his band of merry men, and did what he could to help the poor people of Nottingham.  Whether you agree with his methods or not, the story can be a helpful learning tool for teaching math concepts.

Some children are naturally hands-on oriented in their learning.  For struggling learners, offering some tactile input can be a vital part of helping them understand the concepts being taught.  To promote generalization of newly acquired knowledge, children need to make connections between what they already know and the new material being presented.   Like links on a chain, their knowledge base grows as each new bit of information is connected to prior experience.

My children liked to watch the Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood.  So when they were having some difficulty with the math concept of “borrowing” along with place value, I had one of those inspired homeschool Mom moments.  I lined them up by age, so that my youngest child could represent the “ones”.  My middle child was assigned the “tens”, and my oldest child was to stand for the “hundreds”.  Then I got out the Cuisenaire blocks and gave some of the single blocks, 10 rods, and hundred blocks to each child according to their assigned place value.

My first two children were working on the math concepts, but even younger children could be included with a little extra support.  I didn’t expect my preschooler to understand the actual math concepts being taught to her older siblings, but she could work at her own level as she practiced counting the ones cubes.  She loved being a part of things and having a supportive role in her big brother and big sisters’ learning.  Because she was standing up, actively included, and moving around with manipulatives in her hands she remained engaged in the whole process.

I became the Sheriff of Nottingham complete with my assumed sheriff voice which made my kids laugh.  The children were the beleaguered citizens facing constant harassment from the greedy tax collectors.  I approached my youngest child and informed her I was there to collect her taxes and held out my hand to demand ten blocks.  She counted what I had given her and discovered that she had fewer than ten in her possession.  I told her that she would have to borrow from her “neighbor” in the tens column.

As she turned to her sister AKA the tens column, I explained that she would have to borrow ten at a time.  Now in addition to acting out the process of borrowing from her neighbor, I illustrated the math problem on a dry erase board.  I moved on in my role as the Nottingham sheriff and approached the child representing the tens.   When the “sheriff” demanded a hundred in taxes this child found that she, too, was short of the amount being required.  She had to borrow from her neighbor, the hundreds.

I used a different color of dry erase marker for each step, so the children could visualize each individual step while still seeing the whole picture.  After going through several examples with the Sheriff of Nottingham insisting on payment of taxes requiring them to borrow, the written problems seemed to make more sense to the kids.  At that point, I started to fade some of my cues and instead of talking them through each step I began to ask them what should happen next.  As they gained confidence, I had the children mix things up and change places so they could each have the experience of enacting the place value roles of the ones, tens, and hundreds.

Initially I was illustrating the math problems on the dry erase board, but as their understanding grew I had the children write down the section of the math problem that represented their roles with each child using a different color.  When they seemed to grasp the concept and were able to demonstrate it consistently, I ended the lesson by allowing each child to have a turn being the Sheriff of Nottingham.

My children loved the drama of acting out math problems in the roles of Robin Hood characters.  They had blocks in their hands, different colors in the written work, and the creativity of portraying characters from a movie they knew well.  It helped them to have that experience of acting out the math problem as characters from Robin Hood because they could think back to that activity to help them recall how to complete the math procedure.  Whoever would have guessed that learning math would be so memorable and fun simply by utilizing the merriness of Robin Hood?  I want to encourage all who read this to feel free to BORROW this idea to teach your own students the concept of borrowing in math!

The Smell of Victory

It’s funny what our kids remember about their childhoods.  Their memories are distinct and individualized, and some of their most significant memorable moments didn’t even register with me at the time.  As my children have gotten older they have revealed some past experiences with lasting memories that I wish I had known about sooner.  Have you ever asked your children what they remember most about their homeschooling times or other childhood events?

I was talking to my son, Josh, recently and he was reminiscing about his favorite childhood toys.  He spoke fondly of his Creepy Jake makes Creepy Crawlers Crawler machine, and I do remember him spending hours creating various colors and combinations of wiggly creatures.  I knew that Josh loved doing experiments and mixing colors, although since he was colorblind I’m not sure what the colors looked like to him.  I understood the thrill of potential danger as the light bulb heated up to cook the slimy liquid into a wiggly solid.  What always surprised me, though, was that my sensory-avoidant son actually liked working with slippery, gluey goop that had a strong odor that Josh described as akin to the smell of a rubber sole on a sneaker.  Since Josh invested a great deal of time and effort smelling various objects to see which ones were aversive to him and which were “safe”, I asked him how he could tolerate that Creepy Crawler smell.  With a grin, he told me “Because the smell of Creepy Crawlers was the smell of victory!”  It represented another successful experiment and allowed Josh to experience the satisfaction of creating a rubber creepy crawler of his own design.  Victory made tolerating the smell worthwhile.

One of my daughter Beth’s significant memories is coming up with hiding places for herself and her siblings in case of emergencies.  Following the tragic murder of the young man who grew up next door to us and the events of the terrorist attacks on 9-11, Beth coped by trying to plan for contingencies.  Not only did Beth work with her siblings to discuss various spots to hide in our house, she made sure they enacted multiple practice runs just in case.  She coached her little sister on the importance of staying silent in her hiding place (a huge challenge for her) and even thought through where the pets could go to be safe.  We had emergency supply boxes in the basement in case of natural disasters, and Beth revealed even at her young age that she had a strong desire to care for and protect those around her and would respond with courage instead of fear when faced with a threat.

One memory that surprised me to learn was when my daughter Beckie shared an experience she had at a local art program.  Beckie has always been creative and enjoyed a variety of art mediums, so every Saturday morning we would trek to a local art college that offered classes for school-aged children.  Beckie seemed to love the activities, and attended classes on Saturday mornings for many years.  Recently she disclosed an experience that happened during an art class years ago.  Unbeknownst to me, a teacher had held up Beckie’s paper as an example of what NOT to do and displayed it to the entire class while lecturing them about following directions and paying attention to the assignment.  Poor happy-go-lucky Beckie was crushed and humiliated.  Since she has ADHD, attention to details and oral instructions have never been strengths, but until then she felt like she could be creative and express her free-spirited artistic nature.  This experience gave her a strong message to try harder to conform or risk being embarrassed publically.  And I didn’t find out about this until years later!

There are also memories we all share, like the time Beckie plopped drips of vanilla ice cream on our black dog and then proudly announced she had transformed him into a Dalmatian. We had obviously not studied genetics at that point in our homeschooling.  The dog, Shadow, is tied in to many childhood memories during our school days, since he and the kids grew up together.  Being the pet in a family with distractibility challenges Shadow had to work hard to get attention.  I can still picture him walking around with his big metal food bowl in his mouth, trotting nonchalantly around the house letting us all know he needed to be fed.  If that didn’t get the desired result quickly enough, he would drop the bowl and start banging it around in food dish hockey style until he was impossible to ignore.  School would come to a noisy halt until Shadow’s needs were adequately met.  It was a pretty effective method for the dog that refused to be forgotten at meal time.

I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on shared memories.  Allow each family member to share a particularly meaningful or memorable event from the past year.  In addition to the memories you have deliberately made, will there be incidental memories that have impacted your children?  We all want to know what are children are thinking about and how they are feeling.  Sometimes, just asking a few questions and sharing our own memories can open up conversations that otherwise might never happen.  Lead the way, Moms and Dads, and then enjoy listening to your children as they share funny, serious, or significant events that will give you a deeper insight into those children you love.

To Boil, Just Add Ice

Have you ever wondered why your children do certain things?  Maybe you have asked them to explain but they aren’t even able to tell you.  If you are like me, it helps you to understand something when it makes sense to you.  But as in many situations in life, I think there are some things we will never comprehend or know for sure and our kids will continue to engage in behavior that baffles us at times.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Here’s one example.  I have taught my children the basics of kitchen safety and meal preparation.  I’ve shared a few tricks such as salting the water in a pot to bring it to a boil faster and cleaning up as you go instead of having to wash and put everything away all at once at the end.  So when my son, Josh, announced his intention to make some macaroni and cheese for himself I wasn’t surprised.  I had taught him how to make that easy meal years ago and he had done so many times.  As I was putting some clean dishes away, though, I glanced at the pot of water on the stove.  Josh had filled it to an appropriate level for cooking his noodles but there were ice cubes floating on the surface of the water.  Clearly I had missed something, because putting ice in water that needed to boil made no sense to me.

I’ve had similar moments of bewilderment during homeschooling moments.  I knew that my Josh and Beckie had some learning challenges.  They tended to want to cut corners when it came to school work and would be satisfied with doing the minimum amount of work possible.  They were reluctant to go back and correct their work when mistakes were made.  Yet when they did not know the answer to a question, instead of just leaving that space blank and continuing on they either drew a question mark where the answer should be or wrote “What?” to indicate their confusion.  This meant that once I went over that work with them they had to erase their question mark or “what” in order to write the answer.  Wait a minute!  These kids who are minimalists when it comes to writing answers are actually causing themselves more work because they have written responses that just have to be erased later.  Why on earth would they make the work harder than it has to be?

When I was directing the homeschool day, I made sure we hit the harder subject areas sometime in the middle of our school day so we could begin and end each day with non-frustrating work. As my children got older, I allowed them more freedom in selecting when they would work on their various subject assignments.  I think it’s important for children to begin to learn how to budget their time and manage their own schedules. My approach personally is to get the harder work done so it’s not hanging over me until I do.  My two struggling learners took the opposite approach, starting with the easiest task and working through the list until the hardest item was the only one remaining to be completed.  Why wouldn’t they just do it to get it over with?ice melting photo: Melting Ice Cubes Melting_icecubes.gif

Here’s what I learned about my children through these seemingly baffling actions.  My son who put the ice cubes in the water to be boiled?  It’s a little game he plays to watch the ice cubes as they melt and see which one “wins” by lasting the longest.  It has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with curiosity and making a mundane task more entertaining.  I’m too pragmatic to think of something like that, but it’s the way my son’s mind works and I think it’s actually pretty neat.

All right, so what about adding the extra work to a written assignment by writing “What?” or a question mark?  Interestingly, Josh and Beckie both did this but it occurred years apart and neither knew the other had done the exact same thing.  I’m not sure if it’s related to their ADHD or other learning challenge, but from what they were able to tell me they did it because it was an assignment that required a written response.  Thus, they felt it would be incorrect to leave it blank without writing anything and they didn’t want me to think that they had missed or forgotten that item.  The written question marks and “what?” responses were like place markers for them, ensuring that I knew they had made an attempt to respond even when they weren’t sure how to answer.

How about putting off the hardest subjects until last?  I think there are several aspects to this.  It is not unusual for individuals with ADHD to become overwhelmed if they think a task will take a long time.  My kids wanted to avoid having to work for a long period of time (which to them could mean anything longer than 15 minutes) and so they put it off hoping that something would come up to give them a reprieve or excuse not to do the work.  It’s also known that many procrastinators and individuals with ADHD work best under pressure.  Since they have often difficulty motivating themselves internally for less-interesting tasks, the external pressure of a deadline helps them kick it into gear and get the work done.  This has been the case with my three family members who have the ADHD diagnosis.

Mysteries and novelty keep life interesting.  When our children act in ways that do not make sense to us, it causes us to look a little deeper to try and understand them.  We may never know why our children do some of the puzzling or quirky things they do, but any insight we gain will help us to be better parents and teachers.  As you grow in your understanding it will help you teach your children in ways that are reflective of their unique personalities.

Be Original – Within Reason of Course!

A few years ago I saw a spoof of a motivational poster that said, “Remember, you are unique, just like everyone else.”  I had to laugh because it’s a human tendency to want to believe you are unique and special, which is actually a very common desire.  I wonder how many of us have ever had the thought that there is no one else in the world who can relate to how we think and feel.  Ironically, while we are longing to be unique we also want to be recognized and included as a valued member of a group.  We want to belong, but we want to belong on our own terms and be appreciated for the unique qualities that set us apart.

Our children look for groups with which they identify so they can have a sense of belonging.  It’s reassuring to know that no matter what, there is a place where you are accepted and where there are people who care about whatever is happening with you.  This desire begins in childhood but continues throughout our lifetimes.  Life is meant to be lived within the context of relationships, sharing commonalities as well as differences.  One of the challenges we face as parents and educators is to help our children forge their own identities without being unduly influenced by those around them.

As the mother of three children, I came to realize that my kids often responded in different ways even when they were in a shared situation.  My son, Josh, was usually pretty oblivious to the reactions of those around him.  My daughter, Beth, was so sensitive that she read meanings into situations and was easily offended or hurt.  My daughter, Beckie, was such an optimist that she made excuses for others even when their behavior was blatantly appalling.  In order to help my children learn how to be part of a group while developing their own sense of individuality, I had to recognize that just as each learned academic skills in their own way they developed their personalities differently, too.

Josh, who was diagnosed at a young age with severe attention deficit hyperactivity outside the box photo: Outside the box 100_3099.jpgdisorder (ADHD), has always been an “outside the box” kind of thinker.  So far outside, as a matter of fact, that I’m not convinced he ever truly realized there was a “box”.  His creativity has always amazed me, and I tried to encourage it because I perceived his unusual perspectives as a wonderful gift.  I can’t say I always understood his thought processes, and I certainly was never able to predict what he might say or do next.  Yet it gave me great pleasure to see glimpses into how his mind worked and to consider ideas that would never have occurred to me without Josh to introduce them.

path less traveled photo: The path less traveled Alpha037.jpg            Josh’s various ideas and experiments did stretch out our school days, because he never seemed interested or even able to take a direct approach to a task.  If there was a scenic route, Josh would take it.  If there wasn’t, Josh would forge one and leave the well-worn path to the less adventuresome.  He often struggled academically, but he could leave most people in the dust when it came to creativity.  As a thoroughly “inside-the-box-and-it’s-probably-taped-up” kind of thinker, I made a point to share with Josh my genuine admiration for his ability to come up with unusual solutions to problems.

I have to admit that I was disappointed when not everyone shared my enthusiasm for Josh’s quirky and unpredictable ideas.  Couldn’t they see how special he was?  Josh left many adults as well as other children baffled by his thought processes, and he was equally baffled by their lack of understanding as he expressed his ideas.  In what I considered a “genius-for-being-inside-the-box” idea, I enrolled Josh in art classes where I was sure his gifts would be recognized and appreciated by someone besides me, his mother.

Josh enjoyed exploring new art mediums. He had many ideas to express, but even in art class he tended to be non-conforming to others’ expectations.  When Josh saw how something was done, it seemed to trigger an onslaught of alternative possibilities in his mind.  Instead of being embraced, his creative drive in non-traditional directions was met with attempts to redirect him to more specific tasks.  As Josh grew older he informed me that, “People expect you to be original while following a strict set of rules.”   Apparently Josh was over the top even with other creative types.

If you’ve ever felt like you are just not as creative as a lot of people you know, try to remember that thinking inside the box is not all bad.  Creative people need help to make their visions become reality, and those of us who are generally logical and detail-oriented may have just the skill set they need to help those visions become realities.  For those of you who are naturally creative, thank you for sharing your unique ideas.  While it’s true that in some circles you will be asked  to tone it down and “be original while following a strict set of rules”, please know that there are those of us who will continue to admire and applaud you for your originality.

Are You Still Trying?

I’m nothing if not persistent.  When I set my mind to do something, I am tenacious about seeing it through from start to finish.  I love checklists because crossing completed items off my to-do list gives me a sense of accomplishment.  In fact, if I finish a task that was not on my list, sometimes I write it on after the fact just so I can check it off as completed.  Even when I don’t have a written list of what I hope to accomplish for the day, I usually have at least a mental checklist to refer to as I go about my daily activities.  When it came to homeschooling, my general approach was the same and I wanted to be able to check tasks off my list and see real evidence that I had been productive.  Can you relate?

The problem I ran into was that there are so many aspects of homeschooling that are hard to measure objectively.  How could I tell on a daily basis if I was effective in teaching my children in ways that they learned best?  It takes a lot of experience and trial and error to see what works with each individual child.  With the learning challenges my children dealt with, I couldn’t even guarantee that what they seemed to have mastered one day would still be mastered the next day or if I’d have to back up and re-teach material.  Sometimes it seemed like we were just marking time – one step forward, one step back.

My checklist and plans for academic accomplishments were only one aspect of my goals for homeschooling my children.  I wanted my children to grow in their love for each other and to develop a Christian worldview for themselves.  Ultimately, their character was far more important to me than any school subject and I prayed for my children daily.  Again my checklist mentality nagged at me.  How could I document that the children were growing in character as well as knowledge?  One minute I would be congratulating myself on my successful instruction as one child would show kindness toward the other, and the next minute I’m breaking up a fight between the formerly loving siblings.  I’d think we had made progress when a child tearfully confessed to an infraction, only to see the same child hours later protesting by sticking her tongue forward with her lips still closed so that technically she wasn’t sticking her tongue out which was against the rules.  So much for her having an attitude of respect, although her critical thinking skills appeared to be developing!

While I am persistent, I am not especially patient.  Homeschooling was harder than working other jobs had been for me, because there were so many intangibles that I often was unable to grab on to any specific accomplishment to help me feel successful.  Somehow, just surviving another day didn’t seem adequate.  I wondered if I was omitting something vital in the content of my instruction or perhaps missing an aspect of my children’s learning disabilities that could hold them back if left unidentified.  Having faith and trusting God are important to me, but certainly don’t come naturally.  Homeschooling was like planting seeds and pulling weeds around the tender young plants, but not knowing when or what the future harvest might be.

My children, bless them, are resilient in spite of their mother’s ways.  In one of my many attempts to figure out how best to help my son, Josh, I was explaining the latest theory I’d learned about and suggested that maybe it would help him if we tried it out.  By this point, we had been homeschooling for years and Josh had been through many of my well-intentioned experiments to find ways to alleviate some of his learning challenges.  Josh looked at me as I explained the latest and greatest educational approach and then slowly shook his head.

“Mom, are you still trying after all this time?  I think after all the things we’ve tried you should know that I’m just the way I am.  Regular stuff doesn’t work with me.”

Wow.  Josh knew I was trying to help him, but he also knew when to say “enough is enough” and to accept his strengths and limitations as the person he was intended to be.  It was tough for me, coming from my family of high academic achievers and my checklist mentality to realize that my son was on a different path.  It also tested my stated belief that character was truly more important than academics.  Our ultimate goal as homeschoolers is to raise our children to be the individuals God intended them to be, and sometimes that looks different than we may have imagined.

Today, as a young adult, my son’s character is evident and honestly he is farther along in that area than I was at his age.  I am proud of him and his accomplishments, and although I’m still persistent and will offer him suggestions if I think they will be helpful for him, I also can accept him just the way he is even if nothing about his approach to learning ever changes.  Am I still trying?  Yes, and I probably always will be, because that’s just the way I am.  Today, though, I am trying for greater acceptance, understanding, and appreciation of the unique contributions each of my children will make in their lives.

Praise God!!

From Melinda’s Facebook page

“I met you and Josh at the IAHE Convention in Indianapolis the end of May. I just wanted to THANK YOU for the break out sessions that you offered and for your book. My son has now officially been diagnosed with ADHD with Sensory Processing Disorder as I am reading your book I see so much of my son. Just change out the names and it’s like it’s his story. We are 10 days into homeschooling and we do have a lot to work through but I am praising God that out of 10 days, only 2 have been bad…the rest have all been good.”

Do You Need a Roll?

I love my child’s high energy, enthusiasm, and joyful spirit.  I don’t even mind that I will never have any family secrets, ever, because this innocent child will share our business with anyone within earshot and think nothing of it.  Her openness reflects her optimism and her tendency to believe the best about others.  This is another reason for clean living, because if you don’t have anything to hide then having a child spill the beans is no big deal.

My daughter’s activity level has often left me in open-mouthed amazement.  To burn off energy, she will run up and down the stairs multiple times.  She also likes to sprint around the block, and when we have inclement weather she will clear a pathway in the house so she can take off running and then slide across the floor in her socks.  Like many individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) she needs to find outlets for her strong need for physical activity.  Also true of many with ADHD, my daughter has had sleep difficulties and struggles to calm her body and mind so she can fall asleep.

Most of the time I not only accept my daughter’s differences, I delight in them.  Over time I discovered that not all adults shared my appreciation for my wonderfully-spirited child.  At homeschool group classes, I began to hear complaints about my daughter’s non-stop chattering and apparent inability to stop talking even when the teacher was attempting to give instructions.  She was not deliberately rude or disrespectful, just uninhibited in sharing her thoughts.  Every single one of them.  This continual verbal stream was one of the ways her hyperactivity manifested, as if the words just built up inside her and had to come out or she would pop.

My daughter was also wigglier than most children her age, something I could easily accommodate during our homeschool day.  It became problematic when we were out in public and she couldn’t sit still at a restaurant or stand quietly beside me during homeschool field trips.  I remember a very patient AWANA instructor chuckling as he described how my daughter would slide back and forth on a bench while reciting her memorized verses.  She moved around while she was learning the verses, and she moved around while recalling them.  She was consistent, and fortunately had a leader who was able to enjoy having her in his group.

My daughter’s sensory processing difficulties along with her ADHD impulsivity made it a struggle for her to regulate herself to maintain the calm yet alert state that is optimal for learning.  At one homeschool group gathering, I could see that she was talking continually and was starting to elicit clearly unappreciative glances from nearby adults.  Not wanting to squelch her ebullience, I sought a way to help her quickly and unobtrusively so she would not be embarrassed.  Scanning the table laden with potluck offerings, my gaze fell on a basket of dinner rolls.  I quickly snatched one up and extended it to my daughter, asking if she needed a roll.  I figured if she was chewing a roll it would give her a few seconds to take a break and maybe relax and slow down a little bit.  I think it would have worked if my daughter had gone along with my plan, but instead she blurted out, “Hey!  Are you just trying to get me to be quiet?”  So much for subtlety.

At home my daughter could wiggle away as long as she was getting her schoolwork done.  It’s distracting, though, when a child is in constant motion in a group setting.  Have you ever noticed how distractible children always seem to find each other in a crowd, and then escalate the other’s behaviors?  This happened often while we participated in homeschool group activities.  One strategy I used to help my girl was our “meatball hug”.  She would sit on my lap and pull her knees to her chin, and I would wrap my arms around her and gently squish her while rocking back and forth.  She loved this, and it didn’t draw negative attention to her.  Once she outgrew my lap, the meatball hug had to be more of a roll.  Her father or I would give her arms and legs little squeezes as if we were kneading dough, or capture her between us to roll back and forth like a squeeze machine.

The need to calm down was not always apparent to my daughter, but she recognized our family code, “Do you need a roll?” as a signal to try and tone things down.  Your family might find a different code and use other strategies to support your child.  I personally will never hear the question “Do you need a roll?” without thinking of my wonderfully vibrant daughter who did, in fact, need some rolls now and then.


Following the Rules

Some children consistently follow rules once they have been taught to them.  There are those, especially children on the autism spectrum, who can become quite rigid not only in their own adherence to the rules but with insistence that all others strictly comply.  These children are like Rule Police trying to enforce the law.  They are sincerely distressed by perceived infractions and often make statements such as “That’s against the rules!”   If other people continue to ignore what to the Rule Police is akin to a law that must be followed then the Rule Police may become very outraged and angry.

I guess I inadvertently taught my children to follow the rules without exception.  The problem is, life is not always neatly black and white and some rules have limitations and are not applicable in all situations.  For example, I taught my children not to talk to strangers.  I attempted to convey the potential seriousness of interacting with unknown individuals without totally freaking them out or making them anxious and suspicious.

foto of stranger approaching  - Illustration of a suspicious man approaching girls - JPG “Most strangers are not going to try and hurt you, but you can’t tell a good stranger from a bad one just by looking at them,” I explained.

I went on to describe some of the ruses used to entice children into cars, away from their homes, and so on.  I pointed out that some very nice-acting people can have bad intentions and others who look scary may in actuality be quite nice and harmless.

“If an adult needs directions or help finding a lost puppy, he or she should be asking an adult for help not a child.  If anyone approaches you, run home right away and tell me or another adult who is not a stranger.  You must always, always do this.”

It is hard to find the balance between developing a healthy fear of potential danger and a total nonchalance for risks in various situations.  I realized my children’s confusion when we were out walking in our neighborhood and I greeted a passerby.

“Mommy, did you know that person?” my son asked.

“No, son.  I was just being friendly,” I replied.

“You talked to a stranger?” said my son with an appalled expression on his face.

In my son’s eyes I had broken a rule that should always be obeyed.  Ah, those troublesome exceptions.  It did not make sense to my child that sometimes the rule didn’t apply in a given situation.  This incident led to more discussion and questions as I attempted to keep my children safe while they interacted with those around them.   foto of helpful clerk  - woman in a supermarket at the vegetable shelf shopping for groceries - JPG

I had a similar incident while shopping at Wal-Mart with my children.  I couldn’t find what I was looking for but I noticed someone nearby with the Wal-Mart vest displaying “How May I Help You?” written on the back.  I approached the employee, asked for assistance, and the helpful employee pointed me in the right direction.  I thanked her for her help and headed toward my goal item.

“Mommy, did you know that person?” queried my daughter.

That’s when I realized I had to explain another exception to the “Don’t talk to strangers” rule.  Other rules I had to discuss further with my children involved good citizenship and healthy behaviors.  I taught my children, for example, that littering was unacceptable.  I must have done a good job convincing the children that they should never litter, because they generalized this rule to all of humanity.  Not only were they serious about being the Litter Police, they reacted to every infraction with great umbrage and an attitude of being incensed at such unthinkable behavior.  If they’d had the power to arrest people they would have exercised that authority.

I also must have been a bit heavy-handed when I discussed the negative effects of smoking.  I remember pulling up next to cars while waiting for a traffic light to change and hearing one child announce with horror, “Mommy!  That person is SMOKING!”

This report of fellow travelers who were smokers was said with the same disbelief and repulsion as you might expect if someone decided to attach leeches to various body parts and then wave the leech-covered appendages about in a threatening manner.

After the initial shock that someone would actually choose to smoke a cigarette or cigar, the children decided that perhaps the offender did not realize the adverse effects that smoking can have on one’s health.

“Mommy!  We should go tell that person why they should stop smoking.  They will be healthier.  We should tell them to stop it right away!”

While it is true that cessation of smoking would lead to health benefits, the fact is that most smokers do realize the impact smoking can have on their bodies and those around them who inhale second-hand smoke.  Many would love to give up the habit. They do not need my children to point these things out to them, no matter how helpful they are trying to be.  As I explained to my children that most smokers already realize the potential harm, I reiterated that I hoped they would make good decisions for themselves and not start an unhealthy habit that would be hard to break.

Then I went on to tell them that even if they did make bad choices I would still love them and want the best for them.  Yes, even if they became prolific litters and smokers and went out of their way to talk to strangers.

We have all been rule breakers at times in our lives, and we actually need the most love and compassion when we deserve it the least.  Instead of training my children to be judgmental and rejecting of those who don’t follow the rules, I encouraged them to pray for themselves and others because doing what is right is often hard to do.  The challenge for us as parents is to teach our children right from wrong, but also help them experience grace and extend it to others when rules are broken.