Heads Up Now! Blog page 4

5 Ways to Teach Your Child to Pay Attention

When a child has a short attention span, it affects many areas of learning.  Children are often easily distracted and inattentive, so as teachers we find ourselves having to repeat instructions and redirect our student’s attention to the task at hand.  At times, pursuing those tangents our kids lead us on can actually be both fun and educational.  For those times when you really need to get something specific accomplished, those “rabbit trails” can be a source of frustration.
My dog, Daisy, has demonstrated to me in a very visual way just how many twists and turns a rabbit trail can take.  With her nose to the ground, she tracks the path the neighborhood cottontail has taken through our backyard.  Every little bit Daisy suddenly changes direction in seemingly random moves, sniffing away, moving rapidly but ultimately going nowhere.  This paints a mental picture of how it has been on those days when I’m trying to teach my distractible kids.  I exert a lot of energy, but getting pulled off course in so many directions leaves me feeling like I’m getting nowhere just like Daisy as she dashes around my back yard following the rabbit’s scent but never catching up to it.
I’d like to share with you some practical ways to stretch your child’s attention span using materials and daily activities that are already part of your routine.  Remember, children with attention challenges like novelty, interaction, and brevity.  It is counter-productive to plan a lengthy activity to work on attention span development.  Instead, try activities like these:
1. Do the unexpected.  When a child’s mind starts to wander, pull their attention back by introducing something unanticipated.  Try changing up a familiar story to catch your child off guard.  For example, when telling the story of the three bears discovering Goldilocks in Baby Bear’s bed, instead of having her run off, have Goldilocks say, “I’m going to turn you all into bear rugs!”  When your startled child reacts and tells you that’s not how the story goes, have him tell you the proper version.  Now you’ve got your child’s attention, he is engaging in on-task behavior, and developing his language skills and attention to details.
2. Take “one more turn”.  When a child tires of playing a game or reading a book have her remain with the activity for one more turn or one more page than she would choose.  In this way, you are gradually stretching her attention span with a little bit of a challenge but not to the point of absolute frustration.
3. Use humor.  Humor is memorable, and can help a child maintain interest when he begins to feel restless.  Break up those longer sessions by sharing a good joke or telling an amusing anecdote related to the lesson.   Just make sure the joke is not at anyone’s expense, or the attention span may last longer but shift to the subject of the joke instead of your teaching topic.
4. Tap in to your child’s imagination.  Many of our children who struggle to pay attention have an amazing capacity for creative endeavors.  My highly inattentive son could recall minute details about inventions he wanted to create or stories he planned to write.  Ask your child to picture what you are talking about.  The more details they can envision, the better they will be able to recall the information later.  Giving a child the task of imagining what something looks, sounds, smells, feels, or tastes like keeps him actively engaged in the learning process and helps him attend for longer periods of time.  I would prompt my son to “make a movie in your head” when giving him a multi-step direction.  If he got upstairs and forgot all or part of what I had asked him to do, he knew to watch that movie in his head to help him remember the tasks.  This is also a helpful strategy to increase reading comprehension and recall of auditory information.  Picture it!
5. Stay active and interactive.  If you have a child with a short attention span, be aware that this child needs time to mature and will not do well when required to sit passively for long periods of time.  Incorporate movement when you can, because a child in motion is more alert and some kids need an outlet for excess energy.  Involve your child in the lesson as frequently as you can, making it interactive even if you are just having her answer a question or retell something in her own words.  My children could pay attention for longer periods of time when I had them write or draw on a white board with dry erase markers.  When the lesson itself is not really conducive to physical activity or interaction, you may be surprised at how much longer your child can attend if you provide small and quiet fidget toys.
With maturity, attention spans lengthen.  Some children take longer than others to develop but most improve their ability to pay attention dramatically over time.  If your child is not there yet, try the ideas above.  You cannot force physical maturity, but you can incorporate these strategies to nudge and stretch the attention span to lengthen it just a little bit more.  Gradually, you will see your child attending for longer and longer periods of time.  As with so many things, you will have helped them on their way to growing up.

Motivation, Reluctance, and the Circus

Motivation is such a wonderful thing. It gives us energy to pursue our goals. Motivation can urge us onward toward of a myriad of accomplishments. It makes us excited to achieve and keeps us on track and purposeful in our actions. When one is motivated, there is less need for external prompting because there is an inward drive and desire that needs no supplementation. If only we could bottle it up and pull out motivation to dole out as needed!

Homeschooling a motivated student is exciting and rewarding, providing a sense of the joy of teaching and affirming our efforts to help our children learn. If homeschooling is supposed to be a wonderful experience, why are so many of us lamenting the fact that our students not only do not eagerly pursue learning opportunities but appear downright unmotivated and reluctant to learn?

If a motivated student reassures us that we are successful teachers, then the converse is also true. A reluctant, unmotivated student can cause us to question our ability to teach our children well. This doubt can lead our thoughts down other paths, where we wonder if we are up to the calling of homeschooling and if we will somehow be holding our children back if we continue. Before you go too far in questioning your ability to homeschool, please allow me to share some of my experiences as a homeschooling mother of a very reluctant, unmotivated student.

I am not a high-energy, easily-excited mom. Nevertheless I worked hard to be enthusiastic when I presented lessons and I tried to make the work engaging and interesting for my children. Imagine my dismay when day after day I called my children to the table to begin our school work and without fail the first words out of my son’s mouth were, “How long is this going to take?”

He asked me that question no matter what the subject matter was, and in fact without even knowing which subject I was about to introduce. In response, I would plaster a smile on my face and try to exude exhilaration for the lesson. I tried to be funny. I worked at being more animated in my presentations. I used up a lot of energy, as if I were auditioning for the role of inspiring homeschool mom. Inwardly, I berated myself for my inability to stimulate a love of learning in my children.

I have always loved learning new things, and I had carefully selected my curriculum. Night after night I strained my brain to come up with something I could do or change that would eliminate the reluctance my son felt toward schoolwork. I was beginning to despair. I had a heart to homeschool my children, but I questioned whether I had the energy and ability to do the job for the long haul.

Then, one day, the circus came to town. Yes, I thought about running off to join it, but once again I didn’t seem to have the right skill set! I was already abysmal as a performer, judging by my child’s desire to get schoolwork over with as quickly and painlessly as possible despite my antics. So I took the children to see the circus, hoping that at last my son would be adequately engaged and intrigued by the novelty of the acts.

My son watched the tigers with great interest. He was so intent while watching the trapeze artists that I’m not sure he even blinked during their entire act. Just as clowns appeared in one circus ring and horses began trotting around a second ring, my son turned to me and said something that changed me forever.

“Mom,” he asked, “When can we go home? I’m bored.”

Of course he had told me on many prior occasions that he was bored. All this time I thought it was my fault for being inadequate as his teacher. Hearing him say he was bored at the circus astonished me and gave me a valuable insight that helped me realize more than ever that homeschooling was the best option for my family. When my child informed me that he was bored at a three-ring circus, at first I was just plain shocked. Once the shock wore off, a sense of great relief came over me because I realized that even if I chose to wear feathers and swing from a trapeze while teaching, this child would become bored within about 15 minutes!

The difficulty my son had with school was not because of any lack on my part as a homeschooler. Rather, it was the way he was wired that led him to be easily bored and inattentive. Once I realized that the attention and motivation challenges were essentially stemming from inside my son and were not due to my ineptness as his teacher, I was freed up to concentrate on ways to help him learn to motivate himself and deal with his frequent feelings of boredom. I began to focus less on critiquing myself and instead became more observant of my son.

I noticed that there were certain times of the day when my son was more alert, and that it did not always coincide with my own states of alertness. I observed that when he was physically active for a short burst of time he was then able to attend to his lessons for longer periods. My son showed me that when he was emotionally upset or over-excited about something that we tended to have less productive days and my attempts to push him usually backfired. As my self-doubt regarding my ability to teach my child receded, I was able to direct that mental energy into finding out what my son truly needed.

In addition to my great revelation at the circus, over time I became more and more convinced that homeschooling was ideal for a learner like my son. I could accommodate his needs and give him the attention he needed to stay on track and learn. Each year of homeschooling I was better equipped because of the previous year’s experiences. My son came to understand that even when I didn’t understand some of his challenges I would steadfastly believe he was capable of learning, and I would never give up.

There will always be people with more impressive credentials, but we do not need to compete with them. As homeschooling parents, we are more invested in our children than anyone else. We have the motivation to help our kids, year after year, to teach them and show them love. Homeschooling can be challenging, but it can instruct the teacher as well as the students as situations arise. In my case, I always tell people that with all the learning and motivation challenges I faced, my children made me be a better teacher than I wanted to have to be. In the end, though, I am a better teacher and mom because of the things I learned while homeschooling my children.

Joshua Fought the Battle of…the Flannelboard!

Do you have a child who can always pay attention, sit still, and comply with directions and requests? If so, you may not be able to identify strongly with this post. On the other hand, you may have other children someday or know of some who are similar to my son, Joshua. My son has always been an “outside the box” kind of thinker. He is so far outside the box that he doesn’t know the box exists. He thinks in terms of what is possible, rather than being limited to pre-existing established patterns. To say that Josh is a non-conformist would be a gross understatement. This kid doesn’t just march to the beat of his own drum; he marches to the beat of his own oboe or something. His creative thinking made his behavior unpredictable at times, which in turn made parenting him very challenging. Can you relate?

I am a pretty linear thinker, and although I’d like to think that my box is large I am definitely an “inside the box” kind of thinker. This was one of the challenges I faced in parenting Josh, because my own responses to situations were logical and predictable to anyone who knew me. Even though I tried I just could not anticipate how Josh would respond in many situations. Novel experiences were the most unpredictable, and I’m sure that even Josh did not know what he was going to say or do in advance much of the time.

For example, our local library had weekly story times for preschoolers, and Josh looked forward to attending each program. Josh tended to observe rather than take part with most of the activities, though. He sat on my lap and watched the other children sing songs and do the motions to finger plays. When the librarian read books, Josh would push forward to get a better view of the pictures, but he usually sat on his knees so he wasn’t blocking others’ views. For Josh, the true highlight of each week was the flannel board story.

The librarian would tell a familiar story, using the flannel board and various flannel pieces. Even though this was his favorite part of the 30 minute program, Josh could barely contain himself and wiggled and hopped around while the story was being told. With frequent reminders and prompts to sit down so that others could see, Josh waited for what he really liked best about the flannel board.

Each story seemed to spark ideas for a hundred others in Josh’s imagination, and our librarian was kind enough to give Josh free reign with the flannel board following the official story time. With or without participation by others, Josh would tell his original stories or take the existing story and give it multiple alternative plots and conclusions. Inevitably, Josh’s stories would include a battle of some sort. He could take the most peaceful setting and turn it into an epic battlefield.

Since Josh like flannel board stories so much, I bought him a huge set of Bible flannel board pieces. I thought it would be a great way for Josh to learn some Bible stories. He loved it! As my oldest child, I thought he might like to teach some of these stories to his younger sisters and it would be good practice for his oral language skills, too. Josh dutifully repeated the story I taught him, and then devoted his energy to expressing his creativity and imagination.

Another flannel board battle ensued each time the carefully organized Bible set was brought out for a new story. I am a Mom who likes things to be in their proper place, and the flannel board set had outlines of the pieces on each storage board which greatly appealed to my desire to have things organized. Josh, however, liked to select pieces for his stories willy-nilly and (gasp) even took pieces from different boards and stories that were not grouped to together. He even mixed up the Old and New Testament pieces. It was horrible! Okay, it is probably not that big a deal to most people, but it was a battle for me to give up my neatly arranged flannel board pieces so that Josh could express his God-given creativity.

Josh is now a young adult, but he still remembers the flannel board stories with great fondness. He remembers making up many adventurous tales and having a lot of flannel pieces to work with from our large Bible flannel set. His favorite, he recalls, was the time he put the kneeling Jesus figure behind a large clay jar on a table turned on its side to provide cover. From that position, Jesus proceeded to shoot stars at his disciples across the room. And so it went in the imagination of a young boy, who believed that Jesus could do anything including spraying stars wherever He wanted them to go.

Whereas some people lament their lack of creativity, Josh and other outside the box type of thinkers find they have to stifle their creative urges many times throughout the day. It was always a challenge for me to find good boundaries that allowed Josh to follow his many ideas that led him in a myriad of directions while redirecting him to get his school work completed. Getting the academic work done did take us longer on some days when Josh pursued some of his imaginative ideas, but I wouldn’t squelch the creativity of my son for anything.

What’s in Your Wallet?

There is a commercial advertising a credit card company that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” While this is an interesting question, at my house I am more likely to hear, “Where is my wallet?”

Life with the distractible and disorganized can be discombobulating. I live with three family members who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and due to challenges with inattention and forgetfulness often items get lost or misplaced. Sometimes my kids will ask me if I’ve seen something that’s gone missing. Since I like things to be organized and put away in a logical place, there are times when I can locate the missing object because I put it away instead of leaving it out where it was dropped.

I have systems for cleaning and organizing. The problem is with implementation and cooperation from the rest of my family. I have a strong need for things to be put away where they belong so I can find them when I go looking for them. Just last night I pulled out all the ingredients to make a delicious smoothie, but when I went to get my smoothie maker only part of it was in the cupboard where I keep it. I had a blender base with the pitcher and a lid, but the ball on a stick part used to help move the mixture around in the pitcher was missing. I looked in all the places I could think of putting it, but only one place really made sense to me and that was to store all the smoothie maker parts in the same location. My husband came into the kitchen and joined me in the search for the missing part.

After looking in the same places I had looked, and striking out just as I had, my husband began looking in places that made no sense to me but just might contain the lost tool so they warranted a look. Even then we could not locate our smoothie tool, so we…looked in all the same places again! I’m not sure why we do this, as if the missing item that wasn’t there previously will somehow show up if we look again in the exact same place. This strategy was also unsuccessful, so we moved on to asking our children if they knew where the missing piece was hiding.

This is not generally a good strategy, either, because we are talking about distractible people who misplace things all the time and absentmindedly leave things in odd places. But it was worth a shot, since we had nothing else to go on at that point. Both children stated where they might have placed it, but neither actually remembered doing so and the item wasn’t where they suggested. This time, my husband decided to try substituting a silicon spatula in place of the missing tool, with the result that we had delicious smoothies with bits of a chopped spatula mixed in. I think I swallowed a piece.

Those types of lost items are frustrating and inconvenient, but not nearly as alarming as missing driver’s licenses, phones, or my personal nemesis the missing wallet. Not my wallet. Remember, I have a “wallet place” where my wallet lives and is predictably located when I need it. My daughter and husband have misplaced their wallets multiple times, though, and it sends me into a far greater panic than they experience. While my mind is racing with all the possibilities and security risks, they are unsystematically roaming the house looking in odd places for their wallets. Sometimes they leave the house for a minute and I realize they are checking the car to see if it’s there. Or maybe on the sidewalk, or in the grass, or…well, you get the idea.

My daughter will, at times like these, casually ask me if I’ve seen her wallet. She acts like it’s not really a big deal because it’s bound to turn up sooner or later, and she really believes that! Hunting for her wallet is like a treasure hunt and is only mildly irritating if she doesn’t find the wallet. I, on the hand, begin mentally listing all the items that will need to be replaced or cancelled.

My husband is more subtle about searching for his missing wallet or other items, and rarely asks me to help him look anymore. The reason he doesn’t bother seeking my assistance is because I’m not much help at finding whatever he has lost. I look in logical (to me) places where I would leave my wallet, for instance, and since I have a “wallet spot” I don’t have too many places to look.

Even when my husband doesn’t come out and say that he’s misplaced something of importance, I can recognize the signs. He enters a room scanning it like a secret service agent taking everything in at a glance. Then he moves around the room, picking up papers and small portable items while surreptitiously looking under and around them. He never panics, and never tells himself not to bother looking in strange places because he knows the missing item could be anywhere. While I fret about possible identity theft, my husband remains unruffled as he continues his quest for the missing wallet.

I no longer reach the panic stage as quickly as I used to, because more often than not my husband and daughter do find their missing wallets. Rather than berate themselves for having lost them, they congratulate themselves on another successful recovery. I would like to avoid the stress of “Where is my wallet?” but I do admire the resiliency of my family members who just don’t sweat it when these events happen. They take it in stride as casually as a driver stopping for a red light, doing what the situation calls for and moving on.

Speaking of moving on, I just heard my husband in the next room quietly asking himself, “Now where did I put my keys?”

I am quite confident that he will find his keys, no matter how strange a hiding spot they are in, because his experience and resiliency will win out. Keys, your time on the loose is limited. Give yourselves up! You will be found.


Yesterday, my lovely wife was serving in the children’s ministry at church;  as the administrative “rover” she was filling in for someone in the nursery area.  When she observed two toddlers in the plastic ball pit, who were not playing nice, she rushed over to separate them.  As she bent over and reached for one of the ruffians, she felt a twinge in her lower back, and the pain of a strained muscle immediately became apparent.

When we got home, she consulted her new authority on all things – Pinterest – and found that the proper treatment was to apply cold compress for the first 24 hours.  The suggestion was a slushy pack (1/4 part rubbing alcohol + 3/4 parts water frozen in a ziplock bag).  Until the slushy pack was properly frozen, a bag of frozen vegetables could be substituted.

As I presented her with the frozen veggies, she commented:  “This means that I’m in a vegetative state, right?”

Nothing can keep my girl down for long!


The Real Social Security

It’s hard to avoid, especially when you are a child. You read about it, hear others talk about theirs, and are prompted to write, talk and answer questions about it. What is the subject of this insidious obsession? A best friend. Doesn’t everyone have one? Don’t get me wrong, I think best friends are wonderful. What I have difficulty with is the emphasis expressed to children about the need for one. The question, “Who is your best friend?” assumes that the child has one very special friend. Writing about what you like to do with your best friend is easy – if you actually have one. If you don’t, then the perception can be that something is lacking and you should try to obtain a best friend as soon as possible.

There are many wonderful children’s books describing the shared adventures of best friends. As a child I had the impression that everyone was supposed to have a best friend and if you didn’t, something was wrong with you. I felt the pressure to latch on to somebody so that I could have a ready answer when asked who my best friend was. Having a “best friend” was my goal, and I wasn’t particularly discerning in my selections.

In kindergarten, my best friend was Mike because he and I shared the same birthday and he gave me some pennies one time. In first grade, my best friend was Darryl, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy who held my hand under the table during music class and showed me how his eyes crossed when he took his glasses off. I thought that was so cool! After first grade Darryl’s family moved away so I had to find a new best friend and some other lucky person got to see Darryl’s crossed eyes.

There was an unspoken pressure to find a best friend replacement whenever the previous relationship cooled for any reason. By late elementary school, everyone understood that if you had a best friend you would have a seat saved for you even if you and your best buddy weren’t next to each other in line. There would be a spot reserved for you as your best friend placed a hand on the chair beside her and informed any would-be interlopers that the seat was saved. Before the teacher finished saying “Find a partner” for an activity, you and your best friend already knew you would pair up together. No one else even bothered asking you to be a partner since everyone understood that you would be with your best friend. You and your number one pal never had to wonder who you would eat lunch with or talk to at recess. Having a best friend was a relational social security that offered the assurance you would always have someone around.

For a child who struggles socially, making any friends let alone a best friend can be difficult. It’s complicated, because most of us have no idea how to teach our kids social skills that come naturally for most people. When you see your child try unsuccessfully to join a group or make a new friend, it is heartbreaking. How much should you try and intervene? You can’t make friends for your child, but sometimes your child doesn’t seem to be able to make a new friend by herself. Unless you’ve held a lonely child in your arms, knowing how badly he wants to have a friend but isn’t experiencing successful relationships it is hard to understand just how devastating it can be for that child and his parent. I’m afraid that some of that need for social security through having a best friend can follow us into adulthood. For example, my daughter got to know a girl in our homeschool support group and the two of them really hit it off. They had a lot in common and enjoyed being with each other. The new friend’s mother had been college roommates with another homeschool mom in the group, and those two mothers had already decided that their daughters would be best friends. My daughter watched as the other two girls were shuttled to each other’s houses for play dates and signed up for classes together at the local parks and recreation programs without a backward glance. These moms were not being deliberately unkind or exclusive. They were trying to give their daughters the kind of social security they had valued when they were growing up. There were quite a few moms in my homeschool support group who would not sign their children up for sports or other group activities unless their child’s best friend would be in the same group. The child with a best friend does not have to make an effort to include another child, because socially they are set. The child without a buddy in the group is more motivated to find another child who is at loose ends socially.

I tried to teach my children to look around and notice who might need a friend, and make an effort to include them. I was no doubt more sensitive to this than most, because I was a mother of one of the socially isolated children. Can you imagine the depth of sadness a parent feels when they are the only friend their child has? Truly, a good friend is an incredible blessing.

I get to know quite a few moms during my speaking engagements and my speech therapy practice. I’ve met some incredible women who agonize over their children’s lack of good relationships. Some children act in atypical ways because of their challenges such as autism or attention deficit disorder. Their moms work hard to teach them social skills, but their children continue to struggle and after awhile they are no longer invited to group social events because they are “different” and their behaviors make others uncomfortable. Now, in addition to isolated children there are increasingly isolated mothers.

As much as I’d like to believe it is the rare exception when an adult loses friendships because of her child, I know from personal experience that it happens frequently. Moms of special needs children need extra support, but often end up with less support because of their child’s differences that set him apart in a negative way. It’s a cycle that deserves to be interrupted.

This whole “best friend” situation can perpetuate the exclusion of those without one particular best friend. Maybe we could teach our children that even if they have a best friend they can still be friends with others and include them. Adults, even if your social needs are adequately met, I can guarantee you that there is someone in your life who longs to experience even a little of the camaraderie you share with your best friends. You and your child may not feel the need to add another friend to your life, but please look around anyway because someone undoubtedly needs your friendship. Can you share your social security with someone in need? If so, you just might change their lives – and teach your child how to love like Christ does along the way.

The Hyperactive Slug

Here is a phenomenon that I think I understand until it happens in front of my eyes again and I find myself baffled anew despite what I know. Two of my children have ADHD and the hyperactivity component is strong. My son, Josh, is a fidgeter and a tapper. When he was younger the phrase “ants in his pants” seemed pretty accurate. By the way, if your child is a literal thinker like Josh was, do NOT tell him he has ants in his pants unless you want said pants removed in a panic while the child hops around screaming “Get the ants off! Get the ants off!” Same thing for telling a child that he needs to get his head on straight. I’ll never forget the look of confusion and dismay on Josh’s face as he slowly reached up to his head to see just how crookedly it was placed on his little shoulders.

My ADHD daughter likes to run across the room and then slide as far as her momentum carries her on my hardwood floors. This is a fun pastime for her and one of the ways she expends excess energy. This behavior has been going on for years, and since she is now legally an adult I’m thinking she may not outgrow this hyperactivity. I can picture her in advanced years, gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, attaching waxed wheels onto her walker and scooting across the nursing home floor. Over and over.

So, okay, as someone who struggles with fatigue problems I admit to being envious of the energy that hyperactive people seem to have in spades. But here is the baffling part – my hyperactive children can go from full-speed to sloth-speed just like that. During our homeschool day, Josh would wiggle and squirm until we took a break. Then he’d run around like a cyclone until I called him back to the table for our next school subject. After reluctantly returning to his chair, Josh would go from full-on energy to extreme lethargy in a matter of seconds. He would slouch and prop his head on his hand as if it took too much effort to hold his head up without support. Often, this child who needed way less sleep than I did would begin to yawn. He appeared to be anything but hyperactive. What’s going on?

I’ve also observed that despite obvious hyperactivity much of the time, when I actually need Josh to move quickly he seems incapable of doing so. In fact, the more Josh is urged to hurry up, the pokier he becomes. Despite encouragement (and some yelling and begging) with increasingly desperate exhortations that we need to leave right away or we will be late, Josh doggedly has one speed, and that speed is slow. Slow, methodical, and plodding are not my idea of hyperactive. The more pressured and hurried Josh feels, the slower he seems to move. Even telling him to “Run!” doesn’t work. He might trot a few steps at most and then return to his set pace. It’s aggravating, but Josh isn’t being deliberately obstinate or difficult. Again, what’s going on?

Josh, like many children with learning challenges, had difficulty regulating his state of alertness. He tended to manifest extremes – high energy or slug-level energy, with not much in between. Josh couldn’t explain what was happening, because it was all he ever knew so it was his “normal”. I tried dietary interventions, thinking he was experiencing some kind of physical crash. Except it was only happening when Josh was asked to engage in tasks that demanded sustained attention and a relatively still body. My dietary interventions had no effect with Josh. I tried having him sit on a hard wooden (uncomfortable) chair so he couldn’t get overly relaxed. This, too, had no effect. I offered ice water for him to sip, an inflatable cushion disk or therapy ball to sit on, fidget toys, and other sensory strategies, and over time we were able to find some things that helped some of the time. I’m still looking for anything that actually helps all of the time. It is my dream and quest.

For parents and teachers, it may be helpful to take a look at the “Take Five” Alert Program. It will help with identifying states of alertness and ways to promote regulation of the attention state. In addition it is a useful tool in helping your students understand themselves and how they can make adjustments to meet the needs for both calming and increasing alertness.

God bless our amazing children, who force us to become better teachers than we ever wanted to have to be! But we are better teachers now, because these struggling learners have stretched us far beyond what we thought we knew. We are so much richer because of them.

10 ways to recycle your old tablecloth

I love the look of wood floors. I also have a dust allergy and since rugs and carpets tend to retain dust the wood laminates and flooring seem to help. I use a central vacuum system so the dust is not recycled back into the air, leaving me a sneezy mess for hours after I’ve finished cleaning the floors. After vacuuming, I whip out my Swiffer to finish up the cleaning. It looks great until it rains. Let me explain.

My 95 pound goldendoodle doggy, Slapshot, is active and playful and his big paws get very dirty. I keep old towels and rags by the back door to wipe his paws when he comes in from my backyard. Neither of us is very proficient at getting the dog to stand on 3 legs while the fourth gets wiped off. At the first opportunity, the dog trots off and inevitably I’ve missed some of the mud on his paws and it gets distributed on the floors.

Then we added another goldendoodle doggy, Daisy Mae, to the family and the dust and mud seemed to increase exponentially. With two dogs, they tend to wrestle and chase each other around the back yard. My back yard is fenced in, but it’s not nearly large enough for these dogs to run freely. They have a kind of running circuit they’ve developed, which has resulted in paths that have worn the grass away leaving only dirt.

Every time it rains, the dog-worn dirt paths turn into mud. This was messy enough when I had just one dog, but with the two of them they have expanded their dirt paths into mud pits. They romp around and cover themselves and each other with mud as they play. When they come back into the house, they smell like swamp things. Since the paw wiping attempts can’t eliminate all the dirt the floors tend to get filthy and the dust increases.

In my dream house I now include a shower stall in my laundry room so I can spray the dogs and wash them off every single time they come in. Maybe, since it’s my dream house, I can rig something up kind of car wash style so the dogs have to pass through that and the bathing occurs automatically when they reenter the house. I definitely want to include those swishing cloths at the end and the blow drying, so by the time the dogs emerge they are both clean and dry.

Since my dream house doesn’t exist, and I like to recycle and save money, I was pretty happy with myself when I thought of putting an old vinyl tablecloth just inside the back door. Those flannel-backed tablecloths are easy to clean but not especially long lasting. A few mishaps with the scissors while working on a homeschool project can leave holes pretty easily. A cat jumping onto the table can leave claw perforations and sooner or later the table cloth needs replaced. It seemed such a waste to just throw it out. When we had a rainy spell, the inspiration to use it as a floor mat hit me like a mud pie in flight.

It didn’t eliminate the mud that the dogs tracked in, but it contained some of it and I could just toss the tablecloth into the washer as needed. It worked better than my previous attempt to contain the mud by layering newspapers across the laundry room floor. The dogs tore the paper up, and then the cat peed on them. Enough said about that.

Then my inspiration kicked up a notch and I realized that the tablecloth would actually absorb some of the wet mess if I put it on the floor upside down so the flannel back was facing up. Please don’t ask why I didn’t think of this until several days into my tablecloth floor mat idea, because I don’t have a good answer. It seems so logical in retrospect.

Now when I let my muddy dogs in from the mud pit known as my back yard, I keep them standing on the flannel for a few minutes. It seems to help wick away some of the moisture on their paws so there’s not as much to try and wipe away. It doesn’t get rid of all the mess, but it does lessen it considerably. That got me thinking about other uses for my tablecloth, and you can add your own ideas to mine. Here’s what I came up with:

If you have an old flannel back table cloth, you could cut it into large pieces and use them for:

  1. changing pads
  2. art smocks
  3. under messy painting and art projects
  4. muddy boots and shoes parking mat
  5. car floor mats
  6. camping mats to keep your seat dry
  7. drying pad for hand-washed items
  8. under pet food and water dishes
  9. seat protectors in your car when kids and pets are wet or muddy
  10. under bowls when cooking with children (anti-slip and drip catching)

By the time my old flannel-backed tablecloth is worn out, I’ll have another one with holes and rips ready to replace it.

“I Need Eleven!”

Have you ever been baffled or surprised by something your child says? You may be certain that you heard the words correctly, but they don’t make sense. Having children with learning struggles, I often found that I needed to clarify both what I said to my children and what they were communicating to me. With a combination of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and auditory processing difficulties, communication was often a challenge. First, I had to obtain and keep my child’s attention long enough to convey a message. Then I had to determine if the message had been accurately received. If distractibility and impulsivity didn’t interfere, we could have a good conversation.

Children with learning disabilities often have unusual ways of expressing themselves. My son Josh had some word finding difficulties, so he would refer to the ankle as “that wrist part of your leg”. Likewise, the elbow might be “the knee of your arm.” Once when Josh wasn’t feeling well I asked him to describe his symptoms. He often used vague and nebulous words to tell me what he felt. I felt like a detective who needed to ask just the right questions to get my suspect to tell me what I needed to know.

One time, though, Josh told me his throat was sore and described what he was feeling in this way, “I feel as if my uvula has been acided off”. (I like the “uvula” part – true son of a speech therapist!) This description, although no doubt atypical for most children, painted a clear picture of the location and degree of Josh’s discomfort and indeed it turned out that Josh had strep throat. “Acided” may not be a real word, but it sure got the point across. Josh usually sailed through illnesses with little response to pain, so when he complained I knew it was serious.

When children are infants, we fret because they are not able to tell us what is wrong or where they hurt. We think how nice it will be when they are able to talk and tell us more exactly what they feel. If a child is a late talker, nonverbal, or has difficulty with expressive language we have to continue interpreting possible meanings to whatever communication attempts our child is able to produce.

My daughter Beckie was a big talker, and it was easy to tell that when she wanted “lunch fries” she meant “french fries” and that her “Valentime” was a “Valentine”. Since she had auditory processing issues, she said things the way she heard them and I continued in my role as communication detective to determine what Beckie was trying to convey. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that Beckie chattered a lot and was not always looking for a response but rather was processing her experiences by speaking out loud.

When she was a preschooler I noticed a frequently occurring phrase, “I need eleven!” Eleven what? I tried to figure out if she was trying to practice her counting skills, trying to collect something, or was just repeating something she had heard. But where had she heard it? Beckie was always a cuddle bunny, and was frequently snuggled up in my lap while we read books or talked. I tried to become aware of the context when she “needed eleven”, but couldn’t narrow it down. She said it contentedly when she was climbing onto my lap or getting a hug. She said it when she was physically hurt and when her feelings were hurt. When I asked her if she wanted to count to eleven together, she happily replied in the negative and wrapped her arms around me for a tight squeeze.

One day Beckie had been visiting one of her best friends for a play date, and I went to pick her up. She and her friend were sad to have to part ways, and the other child’s mother offered comfort by asking her son if he needed a lovin. I realized that “Do you need a lovin?” was a common phrase in that household, and in Beckie’s young mind had been translated into “Do you need eleven?” It had nothing to do with numbers, but had a strong connotation to comfort and the expression of affection. Since I had responded in ways she needed despite my lack of understanding about what she was saying, Beckie was inadvertently effective in her communication with me.

This is just one more reminder that love can make up for so many things. We all make mistakes with our children. We realize after the fact that we erred in our approach to teaching some students. We feel the pressures to convey the right amount of information at the right times while helping our struggling students develop skills to help them be successful. Our curriculum isn’t always a match for what we need. Our children may not be progressing at the rate we desire. We lose it. We yell, we apologize, and then catch ourselves being impatient again. We feel inadequate to meet all the needs we face on a daily basis. The stakes are so high.

You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating. What our children will remember the most is the relationship we have with them, not the specific things we deliberately taught or the strategies we used to help them learn. I blew it with my kids sometimes, and I knew it. I truly believe that my relationship with them is more important than any school subject and thus needed remediation before we could proceed with our official homeschooling. I find it very humbling, yet restorative, to apologize to my children when I have wronged them. They have always been very forgiving and amazingly resilient, a picture of God’s grace to me.

Showing grace and respect runs both ways in a relationship. It builds character and will outlast the school years as a child grows into an adult. Have you been focusing so much on getting the school work done that you’ve lost sight of the importance of relationship? Don’t let standards and benchmarks keep you from seeing the individual child who is right in front of you. Teaching a child is a great aspiration, and teaching in the context of a relationship is powerful. Children may not remember everything you’ve taught them, but they will remember you. Do you have the kind of relationship you want to become part of their lifelong memories? Let’s give our children lots of “elevens” and protect our relationships as they grow.

Calling All Homeschoolers! Buy Yourselves Some Flowers! (Encore post)

It’s time for an exhortation, my friends! This is a call for all homeschoolers. If you are starting a new school year, on your first day back to school go buy yourself some flowers. I started this tradition for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting out right each new school year by buying some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or you are an “empty desker” with grown-up homeschooled children. All are welcome!

I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a son and daughter who struggled with numerous learning challenges, school was never an easy time for us. I have friends whose children basically taught themselves to read. That sure never happened in our home school. As the “Back to School” specials and commercials increased in frequency during August and school supply sales had started as early as July, I found I had to take deep breaths and tell myself, “It’s going to be all right, Melinda. You’ve made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it. One day at a time. One lesson at a time.”

While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started again and were making plans to meet for coffee the first morning school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point and I would not be included in the neighborhood back to school social gatherings. In my community, very few people choose to homeschool. In fact, in all the years I have been homeschooling there have only been a handful of other homeschooling families in our area. I made up for this by talking to myself while drinking my coffee as we started our homeschool day. You can call it a parent-teacher conference if it makes you feel better!

I actually homeschool year round, but we have a much lighter schedule during the summer months. The onset of a new school year meant getting back up to a full schedule, and I admit if I thought about it too much it was more overwhelming than exciting to think what the next year would bring. It didn’t seem right to begin the homeschool year feeling a bit sorry for myself, so I made myself coffee and decided to celebrate the new school year with my own homeschool style kickoff.

I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. If you have a struggling learner or family challenges and you homeschool long enough, you come to realize that not only will you have “on” days and “off” days, you sometimes have “off” years. During one particularly hard year, my son hit a growth spurt and grew two inches in about six months. Unfortunately, it seemed like that was all he did, because the physical changes affected him so greatly that as far as we could tell all we had to show for our time was his big feet and dangly arms but not much had happened in the academic realm.

The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so when I picked out my flowers I selected a “With Deepest Sympathy” card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn’t until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the “With Deepest Sympathy” part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of “Mo-om!” and we all had a good laugh together. I think it’s o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. It’s absolutely worth it, but we do make sacrifices and face challenges at times.

One year my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children mature and decide to buy you flowers! In the meantime, please join me in buying yourself fresh flowers and having your children sign the card for you. Be sure to share this idea with your homeschooling friends as we embark on another school year. I’d love to hear about your “Back to School” flowers.