Friday, October 14, 2011

REACH is a Verb

The dictionary defines reach as "to stretch out or put forth, to touch or grasp, to succeed in getting in contact with or communicating with".  It is a verb - an action. I started researching this because I am blessed to be a part of a group called Reach Them to Teach Them.  In a nutshell, our mission is to remind those who play a role in the lives of children of the tremendous influence that they have and of the amazing privilege they have to affect the lives of those children.  In this day and age of standardized test scores and social challenges, we work to help motivate and keep the spark alive in educators and others who work with children by providing motivational events and materials.  As I was thinking about this concept of "reaching" our children, I was reminded that to reach something we must take action - make a move. 

Let's take this as an example (mostly because I haven't had breakfast yet and we seem to all be able to relate to food analogies!).  I can walk through the grocery store, look at the bananas, smile and think about how they would make a delicious banana pudding.  But unless I actually reach out and pick them up, put them in my cart, buy them, take them home and put some time into making the pudding, it will never happen.  It's the same with our children.  Unless we actually make a conscious effort to see our children, reach out and connect with them, invest our time and heart into creating something wonderful, we might as well just be passing by.  Think about those children in your life. It may be your own children, it may be your students, it may be your Sunday school class - whatever opportunities you have throughout your day to connect with kids. Are you really making an effort to reach them?  Are you taking action to move toward connecting and communicating with them so that they can truly feel that you care about them and who they are becoming?  Reaching our kids is critical and the payoff is priceless!  Take time today to think about how you can reach those children in your life.  Take action!  Invest some time and heart and create something wonderful!

PS:  You can visit our website at   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

S.L.O.W. Down!

I'll admit it.  I'm a busy girl.  I like having something to do and rarely sit still.  I have lovely furniture that I only sit on when my in-laws visit and closets and drawers that inevitably need to be cleaned out.  Our family is in constant motion like little gyroscopes rotating around each other, sometimes together sometimes separately, but always moving.  That's why today I turned around and it's already mid-October.  I haven't touched this blog (which is one of the things I really enjoy) since school started and they've already started putting out the Christmas trees at Target. And I don't even want to think about the amount of fast food that my family has consumed since August.  Sound familiar?  I'm sure that my crazy life is not so different from yours.  That's why I’m sending out a desperate plea for us all - SLOW DOWN! 

This morning while on Fall Break with my family in one of my favorite locations on the planet, I found myself in a rare, but wonderful position. It was a beautiful morning and we were sitting around the table eating breakfast on the porch while everyone chatted and planned the day.  I was enjoying my third cup of coffee (not in a 'to go' cup) and taking time to literally drink in the moment.  I noticed that my fifteen year old needs to shave and that my thirteen year old’s voice is starting to change.  As I listened to them talking and laughing with their friends, I realized that life is zooming by and that I so rarely stop to enjoy the moment.  I need to SLOW DOWN -and not just on school holidays or when I think I have time, but every day.  What kind of example am I setting for my children?  That it's ok to live life based on a day planner?

Realistically, I know myself and know that in order to do this I am going to need some reminders.  Maybe a picture of a turtle on the fridge or more likely a programmed text alert that arrives at a specific time each day.  Whatever it takes, I will slow down. I have to. In fact, let's ALL slow down.  Let's send a message to our kids that says that stopping every once in a while is just fine; in fact it's a really good idea!  We'll call it "S.L.O.W. - Stopping to LIVE in Our World".  Are you in?  Let's commit today to slow down and enjoy the things around us - our families, our friends, our surroundings, our creative thoughts.  Whatever brings joy to your life - SLOW DOWN and enjoy it today. I'll bet that you, and those around you, will be glad you did!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sharing Their Interest

Last night I sat around with other "speech nerds" and talked for hours about any and everything related to speech pathology.  Any one else around would have been bored to tears, but we had a ball!  Why?  Because we had a shared interest, our conversation went on well into the night.  Consider this scenario.  You walk into a party where you know no one.  One group is talking about the history of world religion in the 1900s and another group is talking about which singer they liked best on last night's reality television show.  Which one are you going to feel most comfortable to approach?  Unless you are up on your history, I'm pretty sure you're heading to the group where you might have something to contribute.  Our quality of interaction and conversation is better when we share interest with others.  We would all feel more a part of the party if we were able to interact on a level we were comfortable with.  Now let's think of this in the context of our children.  Do your children jump right into a conversation about your love of broccoli or, even better, the school summer reading list?  I'm guessing probably not.  But what if you went over while they're playing "Zombie Aliens" and asked them about the game?  You're probably going to get more interaction there!  Take some time today to watch and see what your children are interested in ~ what they are choosing to do for fun.  Then share that interest for a few minutes and see what happens.  What you should see is a longer interaction with your child. Even if your child doesn't yet have words, just showing that you are interested in something they are lends value to the quality of the interaction.  Commit some time today to share some interests with your child.  Remember, everyone wants to be part of the party!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Practice Persistent Listening

Last night as I was finally heading to bed, my sweet little four-legged friend, Gladys, had another idea. Apparently she had no idea how tired I was!  As I began to turn off lights she followed my every move staring up at me until I stopped to figure out what she needed.  Going through the list of usual needs in my head, I worked through each one until I figured out what she needed.  I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep until I figured it out.  She was so persistent in communicating to me that she needed something, that I began to think about how this relates to our children.  When they are babies and don't have the ability to "tell" us with words what they need, we are so persistent in trying to figure it out.  There's no stopping a mom until she figures out what will make that little one happy again!  But I started to wonder at what point we stop being so persistent in trying to understand what our children are really saying to us?  Kids have a lot to say and they are pretty persistent with us in trying to get their point across.  Sometimes they use words, sometimes they use behaviors, sometimes their mood, sometimes by their lack of communication ~ but always the communication intent is there.  A statistic I love is that over 70% of behaviors we see in children are rooted in communication.  They're talking, but are we listening to understand?  To encourage our kids, no matter what age or ability, to keep communicating with us, we have to maintain that persistence that we had with them as babies.  We must be persistent in trying to understand what they are saying to us.  Try today to REALLY listen and understand what your child is saying to you ~ whether it's with words or actions. Gladys taught me a great lesson last night about that.  I hope you can learn from it too!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take a Virtual Vacation ~ It's Free!

Are you watching the neighbors load the car and secretly wishing you were the ones going on vacation?  Are the kids bored with the usual summer activities and ready to do something new?  Well, take a Virtual Vacation!  You can leave tomorrow!  One of the wonderful advantages of the Internet is the connection it gives us to people and places all over the world within seconds.  So sit down with your family and take a trip.  I've given you a link to your travel documents, so you're ready to go.  Just pick your location, how you will get there, where you will stay, where you'll eat, what you'll do, etc. etc. etc.  You are only limited by your own imaginations!  You can go wherever you like and stay as long as you want.  Your kids won't even know that they are using sequencing, organization and problem-solving skills or that they are using that dreaded "math" to figure out a budget for the trip.  This vacation is fun and free and you don't have to board the dog or have your neighbor get your mail.  And best of all ~ you can go again and again and again .....

Please share where your family went on your Virtual Vacation.  Bon voyage!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is "Normal" Anyway?

Websters defines "normal" as 'the usual, average. or typical'.  Personally, I don't think I could or would even try to label anyone or anything as "normal" in today's world.  And quite frankly, isn't "normal" a little boring anyway?  Recently, I had a wonderful experience that challenged my view of "normal" and should yours too. On one of the first weekends of the summer, my boys and I headed to the mountains as counselors and mentors for a camp for middle and high school students with autism. The camp serves to provide these students with a typical camp experience with activities such as horseback riding, hiking, archery, rock climbing, swimming and canoeing.  As an educator who has worked with children on the autism spectrum for over 20 years, there are some facts I felt I knew well.  Such as ~ students with autism may have challenges with communication and social skills; they may have difficulty handling sensory stimulation and they really like routines.   Pair that with a weekend in the mountains with over 60 children, 90 degree temperatures, bunk beds in a cabin, a shared bathroom, a varied daily routine, all kinds of flying things buzzing around, different foods in a noisy mess hall, wearing a name tag, and exposure to LOTS of new expectations.  A recipe for meltdown for sure!  Right?  Let's just say I had my doubts about how this was going to go and had prepared myself for whatever I might have to handle as a counselor.  But guess what?  I didn't witness one major or minor "meltdown" the entire weekend!  What I saw instead were kids singing karaoke, kids having a water balloon fight, kids putting on a harness and climbing a rock wall, kids canoeing around a lake, kids making s'mores around a campfire, kids laughing and running and trying new things just like "normal" campers would.  All of these children handling all kinds of sensory input, navigating social challenges with peer mentors, and 'going with the flow' of a new routine.  I don't think I stopped smiling or laughing all weekend, and my boys made comments like "I wish John went to my school.  We would be good friends." or "Did you see Sarah climb that wall?  She was amazing!".  As I began to reflect on the weekend, I started wondering what was different?  What made this weekend, which should have been immensely challenging for these kids, so "normal" for them?  My conclusion is that they were all allowed to be the unique individuals that they are and were embraced for the little "quirks" that they had.  For that weekend, it didn't matter if a child carried around an elephant or if another child had to have his salad in a green bowl.  Everyone was given permission to be themselves and it worked!  This camp was one of the most "normal" experiences I've had in a long time.  I think there's a lesson in there for all of us, don't you?  So, what is "normal" anyway?  Personally, I'm not really looking for it!  I think that normal is way overrated and much less exciting.  Who's with me? :-)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Notable Actions

At this point in the summer, a couple of things begin to happen at our house.  First, we are all getting very accustomed to sleeping in a little later and moving a little less.  Secondly, I am beginning to get that feeling that I need to be doing more to keep the kids stimulated academically during this break ~ where is that summer reading list anyway?  If you are feeling like me, here's a fun idea to get the kids moving and encourage language development as well.  Tomorrow morning when the kids get up and come to breakfast, be ready with a big notepad. Then let them in on the plan.  For the day  you will all work together to keep a list of all of the "actions" you do during the day (they are actually "verbs" but you don't have to divulge that info - sounds a little too much like school).  You can start with "eating" and "chewing"; hopefully "laughing" and maybe even a little  "eye-rolling".  As they begin to get the idea, encourage them to add to the list all day and let them know you will do a final tally at dinner.  You might be amazed how active the kids become trying to add to the list throughout the day!  You can then take the language stimulation a step further by letting each child pick their favorite activity and draw a picture and write and story or sentence about it.  Or if you are the "techy" type, you can snap photos during the day and then play them back having the kids make sentences about their activities such as "I had fun climbing the tree in the park" or "It was funny when mom was dancing".  Have fun with it, let your imagination soar and know that you are back on track!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Materials in your Mailbox

Did you know that some of the most wonderful pictures for stimulating language in children come free right to your home in your mailbox?  Next time you open your box and find it overflowing with children's catalogs, resist that urge to go directly to the recycling bin.  Instead, take a minute to flip through the pictures inside.  These catalogs are typically full of brightly colored photos of kids doing an array of fun activities.  You can use these by either asking you child to "tell me about this picture" or you could cut them out, paste on a sheet of paper and let your child tell or write a story about it.  Encourage them to name the children and to include where the children are, what activities they are doing, what they will do next, etc.  You can ask them what the kids in the picture are feeling or what they might be saying.  You can even take it a step further by talking about a time you and your children might have done the same activity or by actually jumping in and doing the activity right then.  Without realizing it, you have just taken your junk mail and turned it into a rich language interaction with your child.  Before you know it you'll actually be going online to request those catalogs.  Go ahead ~ the mailbox is the limit! 

Please share any ways that you use these activities with your child.  I'm sure others would love to hear - I know I would!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Face to Face Challenge

The past several years I have been fortunate to be able to teach Hanen parent education courses to families as part of my job.  One of those programs focuses on increasing communication and interaction with children with special communication challenges.  A key strategy of that program that I share with parents is to encourage them to get "on their child's level" ... literally!  The idea is to get face to face with your child in order to meet several goals.  One is that by getting on your child's level, you are automatically demonstrating that their communication attempts are important to you.  Also, by being eye to eye, you are able to read and to demonstrate for your child facial expressions and other body language that are so key in understanding communication between two people.  Great strategy right?  Here's the kicker!  As I was thinking about getting ready to teach this session the next night, the realization hit me that I was currently loading the dishwasher while talking to my teenager about his day.  I immediately stopped and turned around to be face to face with him and guess what?  Our conversation lasted longer and had more meaning that the quick exchange it would normally have been there in the kitchen!  To continue to test my hypothesis that young children were not the only ones to benefit from this strategy, I tried it out in several more interactions throughout the week.  Interactions with my husband, my colleagues at work, my friends, and definitely my children were all improved when I stopped to get "on their level".  So here's the challenge.  For the next week, make a conscious effort to get face to face with those around you.  I'll bet that you see improved interactions and conversations as a result.  Good luck and let me know what you find.  I'd love to hear!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Let's Get Positive!

Welcome to my first ever blog post!  I am excited to take a step a little out of my comfort zone in order to share some ideas and thoughts on communication with children.  I have to admit that I am a huge "speech nerd".  I love my job as a Speech/Language Pathologist and am one of those people who can't believe that they actually pay me to get to interact with children every day.  Of course, occasionally the mounds of paperwork bring me back to reality.  However, the little moments that make me smile each day are worth every minute. 

My hope with this blog is to share ideas and activities to enrich the interactions between parents and children and teachers and students.  I will share favorite books that provide rich language for children and those that are resources for parents and educators.  I plan to provide activites that promote fun and easy ways to connect with the kids around you.  I will also warn you now that I am a true fanatic when it comes to quotes so I'll share a few of those favorites as well.  As this blog grows, I would love to hear from you about the type of information that might be helpful to you personally in improving the positive communication interactions with the children in your life. 

And we're off . . . .  :-)