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!