Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Unsung Heroes: Everyday Parents

I recently watched a mother who had entered a contest for a project she had worked on.  She was disheartened that her work wasn't recognized, perhaps wasn't even good-- if it had not been honored by someone else.  

But what I saw was beauty in her work, in her offering, in the authenticity and courage of her sharing with others.  I have also watched from day to day, all the unsung things she does in her household.  I am amazed when I see her commit to blessing her children when they haven't "earned it." I am amazed when I hear her say she would "love to listen" to her child play the flute while she is cooking dinner.  I am amazed at the homemade artwork and the new recipes and the flower beds near the door---the commitment to beauty, and honor, and blessing in her home.  I know that doesn't just happen; it is based in commitment and courage and deep-felt beliefs.

I remember talking to a young father of two whom I had first met before parenthood.  Picture him--He is that father who is committed to balancing all the important things in life, not taking things for granted, and spending time with family when it counts and when it doesn't.  But he was able to share an honest human emotion as well; he said, "I remember going outside to take a walk alone in the early dark one night...a walk alone, to clear my head.  I realized that I could understand why parents might leave."  He added, "I never would" (and by the way he never has, even 15 years later), "but I am not sure I can judge people so much.  No one should leave--ever--but the sheer level of commitment is something that is hard to explain."  

Maybe the most wonderful courage, the most wonderful commitment, is when parents stick it out when kids kiss them on the cheek---and when they melt down for the umpteenth time in the middle of the shopping mall.  That day to day commitment, to be there physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I see that in my friend.  I honor her, I bless her.  She is important.  She was created to change the world for good, and she is doing just that, in her home every day---award or no award, children kisses or meltdowns, no matter what...she is a blessing.

Isaiah 40: 31 (The Voice Translation)
But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.
    They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

As you read this verse, consider this--Maybe the walking is the most glorious miracle of all!  The day to day walking, no matter what. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Thomas and the Dragon Queen: Book Review

My son and I were looking for the sequel to How to Grow up and Rule the World at the library (see previous book reviews) when we stumbled across this delightful adventure. My son is 7 and not reading chapter books yet, but he is a bit old for the more simplistic picture books and loves a good adventure.  So we have been reading some short picture books with chapters and also one lengthier chapter book with about 200 or so pages.  I do most of the reading, but I know he reads along because he corrects my mistakes!   

Here is the story synopsis:
A kingdom is at war.
A princess has been kidnapped by a dragon queen.
A brave squire volunteers to set out on a quest to rescue her.
But there's just one small problem. He's Thomas, the shortest of all the squires. With little more than a donkey, a vest, and a sword, Thomas will have to use all of his courage and determination to battle a beast with many heads, reach a forbidden island, and rescue the princess from a most fearsome dragon-and an even more fearsome fate!
Part thrilling adventure and part enchanting fantasy, sprinkled with charming black-and-white illustrations, Thomas and the Dragon Queen will delight young readers from start to finish

My son insisted on getting a book with at least some pictures, and this book fits the bill. The illustrations are black and white sketches and he loves to look those over.  The book was published in 2010 by Shutta Crum .  It is described as being geared for ages 7-10 or grades 2-4.  Good Reads website documents an average of 3.73 stars out of 86 ratings.  Some of the lower ratings did not have an actual review attached, but those that did seemed to feel it was somewhat simplistic and best for younger readers just starting out in fantasy fiction.  My son is 7, so he seems to fit the bill. 

For us the story is moving along at a nice pace, and at the end of each chapter you want to read the next.  We both love stories with an unlikely hero on a quest to rescue someone!  Those stories are timeless and Thomas is one unlikely hero, whereas adults may seek out The Hobbit or Captain America!  

For us, with me reading much of it, it is a good supplement to our nighttime reading, as it makes him want to continue reading.  If we can pick a great adventure book, that is fun and entertaining, then we look for more!  Looking through the library shelves together is how we found this one.  We are glad we did!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How the Brain Impacts Behavior: What All Parents Should Know About Their Kids With Brains

I am a Neuropsychologist, which means I have a PhD specializing in how brain function impacts thinking skills, behavior, emotions, and personality.  My job in a medical center includes advising medical staff on how conditions involving the brain will likely impact the behavior of their patients. I also have a 7 year old son in the autistic spectrum.  

Although the brain does not control behavior, the substrate of the brain and how it is wired does influence behavior and the range of behaviors people are capable of.  This is important for parents to know, as their kids are likely each different with regard to their gifts, challenges, and what they are capable of at different ages and in different settings. 

These are 5 things about the brain every parent should know:
1. All Behavior is Communication
All behavior communicates something.  If you see your child melting down, what is that behavior communicating?  What about when your child is a picky eater? What does it mean when your child's behavior changes from day to day?  
2. Many Behaviors Are Influenced by Brain Function
Whether your child has developmental delays, is right on time, or is gifted, some of the behaviors you see are likely to have some basis in how their brain is wired.  
3. Discipline Alone is Not Likely to Produce the Most Success
Discipline is asking your child to self-regulate, that is to control their own behavior, using their cortical function (their thoughts and will).  The reason the success of discipline is limited, is that it assumes that the child can control the behavior in question, and that the reason for the problematic behavior is a decision on the part of the child not to behave.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for discipline, but only in combination with identifying why the behavior occurs, and then teaching the child how to meet their needs without harming others or while remaining safe. 
4. Make Sure Your Expectations For That Child Are Reasonable
There is nothing that creates a recipe for failure and frustration more than asking someone to do something they are not capable of.  For example, if I sit my 2 year old down and try to teach him nuclear physics, he will be overwhelmed and unable to achieve the goal, and I will be frustrated that he isn't doing what I ask him to do!
5. Behaviors That Stem From Brain Function Will Be Inconsistent
Many people make the mistake of saying, "If they want to they can do it" because the person's behavior is inconsistent.  In actuality, if the brain is involved, there will be inconsistency in behavior at different times and across different settings.  If there is inconsistency, we should start to wonder if the brain is involved in any way.  

So, with that in mind, let's take meltdowns as an example.  Meltdowns may communicate that a child is overwhelmed, overtired, or unable to communicate with words.  A lot of times, people who are feeling a strong emotion, become "at a loss for words."  They actually can't activate the language centers enough to put their emotions and thoughts into words.  Maybe your child is feeling frustrated or upset and doesn't know how to manage that emotion.  Your child may be overstimulated (too much chaos, sensory input) in a crowded place like a store or a school.  After figuring out what the behavior is communicating, you have a great opportunity to help your child by taking them to a quieter place, teaching your child ways to calm down, and see if language returns better as your child calms down.  Discipline alone, which would require that your child regulate their own behavior even when they don't know how or feel overwhelmed, will be less effective. 

Let's take the preschool child who is banging his/her legs against the chair while waiting for lunch at preschool or daycare.  Let's say they have been waiting for 20 minutes and the meal is running late.  The teacher tells them to stop banging their legs because it is impolite; the teacher explains the disciplinary consequence if they continue to be rude at the table.  But, remember, all behavior is communication.  Can we expect this preschool child to sit quietly at a table for 20 minutes?  What the teacher doesn't realize is that banging his/her legs against the chair is giving the child proprioceptive input into the ankle joints.  Guess what proprioceptive input does?  It helps with self-regulation...calming a person who is hyperactive and antsy, while alerting a person who is falling asleep or losing focus.  So the child is actually trying to self-regulate by banging his/her legs; they are unable to regulate from top-down (from cortex thinking brain centers to lower centers) so they use a bottom-up brain strategy (sensory input comes from a lower part of the brain and helps regulate behavior when thoughts cannot).  

There are so many more examples.  See my other posts about kids, anxiety, autistic spectrum, and sensory symptoms for more.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Skinny on Coconuts: Water, Milk, Oil, and Flour

There's a lot of buzz these days about the health benefits of coconut products.  If you are like me, you might have trouble keeping up with the terms and advice.  Here is a summary of what I have found--

1. Coconut Water
Coconut water is the liquid inside a coconut and is harvested from young green coconuts 5-7 months of age.  The water is fairly clear and health benefits include electrolytes, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients.  Coconut water is a good thing to drink if a person is battling stomach flu or diarrhea, because the presence of electrolytes and minerals help replenish the system more than pure water.  It is also a good thing to drink if you are working outside gardening or mowing the lawn because of its hydration and restorative properties.  Some sources report that coconut water may help if you're prone to bladder or kidney infections; the water seems to lend detoxifying properties to the urinary system.   Coconut water contains the same lauric acid as mother's milk, and therefore adds a boost to your immune system (lauric acid has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties). 

Some sources I found point out that any coconut product is best if purchased organic and raw.  The product is not raw if it has been pasturized; if pasturized (common in packaged coconut water), the amount of beneficial ingredients such as enzymes are much lower than in the raw product.

Personally, I find coconut water difficult to drink because of the texture.  I do, however, like it in smoothies with fruit.  You might want to check out this smoothie recipe on +Food Network's website.

Coconut Water Smoothie

2. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is produced when water and coconut "meat" are mixed together and then pressed so the milk is harvested.  Some sources I read said the water used is coconut water and others just said "water." Coconut milk contains medium chain fatty acids, the fatty acid type most easily recognized and used by your body.  Because coconut milk is not a cow's milk product, it is free of lactose and the large milk proteins that can be associated with intolerances and allergies.  It is also vegan.  It is versatile and can be used in smoothies, rice dishes, soups,and curries.  Coconut milk is found in cans, sometimes in the international food section of your grocery store.  

3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is extracted from the mature coconut meat.  Coconut oil is now recognized as one of the healthiest oils and includes medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil, like coconut water and milk, contains lauric acid, with its protective immune properties.  The oil helps you absorb minerals more effectively from food.  Many use it as a beauty product for their skin or hair.  Extra Virgin coconut oil is unrefined and has a flash point of 350 degrees F.  

4. Coconut flour
Coconut flour is grain free (and therefore often used in grain free and paleo cooking) and made from the coconut meat.  It is high in fiber; sources report it has as much protein as wheat flour but without the gluten (gluten is a large protein in wheat that causes health problems for many people with sensitivities or Celiac disease).  Coconut flour has only 3g of net carbs, and coconut has a low glycemic index (45).  Therefore, the flour is appropriate for low carb and low glycemic diets such as South Beach, Atkins, and the Zone.  This is in contrast to wheat/white flour which has a high glycemic index (I typically found numbers of about 74-75).  

Check out the recipes at FreeCoconutRecipes.com

Maybe you want to try out the Mexican Hot Cocoa Squares?  They look yummy.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Son's Great Idea is Changing Our Home: Using Closed Captions to Teach Language Skills in Kids

The other day we stumbled on the closed caption button on our television service (check out the menu items on your cable remote, look for icons on computer links, or contact your television service company to find out how to enable).  Now my 7 year old constantly wants the words on the TV program as we are watching. He has always struggled more with language than spatial skills, and he is still working on basic reading abilities.  He also is in the autistic spectrum, and when he has had interventions for that, they have worked on the "hidden meanings" behind our actual words (e.g., sarcasm, idioms, emotions behind words). I thought WOW, I can so understand why he wants to see the words with the visual (e.g., facial expressions, other people's reactions etc) and auditory input (e.g., hearing the words pronounced and combining that with the visual letters of the words on screen).  

In our house, this was my son's great idea.  However, perhaps all great ideas have been had before!  In searching for more resources on using closed captioning in education I found these ideas.  

An article listed under teacher resources at this link: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
How can you take best advantage of closed captioning in your classroom? Here is our Top Ten list:

  1. Improve reading vocabulary for early and struggling readers who have a larger speaking than reading vocabulary. Mute the volume and enable closed captioning.
  2. Enable closed captioning on a content video. Have students write down key vocabulary words and then discuss their definitions. Develop a Video Vocabulary Notebook for each content area.
  3. Mute the volume and challenge all readers to improve their speed and fluency by reading the captions. Then, assess students’ content comprehension.
  4. Select a segment from a content-rich program that fits a current area of study. Mute the volume and ask students to write captions describing the action taking place in the program. Enable closed captioning, then replay the segment and have students compare their captions with the closed captions.
  5. If your video source includes foreign language closed captions, use them to help students read along in the foreign language while listening in English.
  6. Select a foreign language content video with foreign language captioning to help students connect the spoken language with the written words.
  7. For ESL students, enable the English closed captioning so students can connect the written form of the language with the verbal form to promote expression, verbal phrasing, and pronunciation.
  8. Select a film based on a piece of children’s literature (e.g. Castles by David Macaulay, The Snowy Dayby Ezra Jack Keats, or Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson) and have students compare the printed text with the closed captioning, note how the language was modified to fit the medium, and assess its effectiveness.
  9. Select a content video and have students list the important parts of speech that influence the story. For example, making a list of adjectives that describe the main character, or looking for connections to character and plot development.
  10. Select a short video and have students enhance their listening skills by write real-time closed captions. Provide assistance as needed by using the “pause” control on your VCR.

I love how they reference "VCR"--the article must be a little old.  The way we use closed captions in our house is to leave the sound and the captions on.  That way, there is a connection between the spoken words and the written word.  Sometimes, my son will say, "Oh, that's how you spell..." and he is starting to put together auditory and graphic information.  He is also seeing how the written words are "played out" in the scene complete with emotions, sarcasm, "sayings" and other "meanings" not in the actual text.  

How do you like to teach language arts to your kids?  In your classroom?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Using Homemade Simple Syrups in Refreshing Summertime Drinks

In my house, we love plain sparkling water.  Every now and then we also have the taste for more flavoring in the sparkling water, or even a sweet treat for a celebration or occasion.  

Using simple syrups can be a great tool in your cooking and add something special to a refreshing sparkling drink or iced beverage.  What is a simple syrup?  It is when you boil sugar in water at a certain ratio to make a syrup. It can be more appetizing than putting actual granulated sugar in a drink because you don't have to stir and hope the sugar dissolves.  There is no grainy pile of sugar at the bottom of the drink, and you have equivalent sweetness throughout the whole drink. 

A general simple syrup is made with the following ratios:

Thin simple syrup - A ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part sugar - used to glaze cakes and cookies.

Medium simple syrup - A ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar - used to make sweeten beverages and iced tea.

Thick simple syrup (basic simple syrup) - A ratio of 1 part water to 1 part sugar - This is used as the basis for cold fruit drinks and cocktails. Also used to make candied fruits. 

As you can see, you can adjust the ratios to make the syrup more rich or thick.  Put cold water and the sugar portion into a pan and cook on medium heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 3-5 minutes.  The longer you cook, the thicker the mixture will be.  Cool, put in a container, and store in the refrigerator. 

Simple syrups can be brushed over cakes and cookies to add moisture and sweetness.  They are also added to beverages.  One of the nice things about adding them to beverages is that you control the sweetness of your drink.  When we add a simple syrup to our sparkling water, we can get just a hint of sweetness, or can make more of a drink akin to a soda pop. 

Another great variation is to infuse flavor into the simple syrup.  You can add a cinnamon stick during the cooking process to make a cinnamon infused simple syrup.  We also add sliced fresh ginger and then strain the pieces after the cooking process.  What flavor would you like to infuse?  Be creative and have fun.  It is an easy, healthy,and economical way to enjoy a refreshing summer drink.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Parenting Hangout video interview with Theresa Regan: Parenting Young Children

I had the opportunity to speak with Tom Batkin of NewParentingHangout.com recently.  We spoke about parenting young children.  Tom is gathering interview responses across a variety of topics from individuals across the world as part of his journey to becoming a new parent.  He and his partner Cate are expecting their first little one in June, 2013.  Look for our next video in a few weeks when we speak about sensory symptoms in young ones: how to recognize them and how to improve functioning in your house (e.g., picky eaters, poor sleepers, won't wear certain clothes, crash and bump into other children, spinning, etc).

YouTube video link to parenting interview 4/18/13

Monday, April 22, 2013

Glimpses: Excerpt from Soul Cries devotional (1 Chronicles 17:16-17)

 Excerpt from Soul Cries devotional (copyright Regan 2012)

1 Chronicles 17:16-17 (The Message)

King David went in, took his place before God, and prayed: Who am I, my Master God, and what is my family, that you have brought me to this place in life? But that's nothing compared to what's coming, for you've also spoken of my family far into the future, given me a glimpse into tomorrow and looked on me, Master God, as a Somebody.

This passage makes me smile. How human David’s heart is as he shares his awe of God. He stands in awe of a God who is personal, intimate, and works for the good of His people. This God calls us into life with purpose and destiny. His words and plans propel us into the future. His gaze is on us; He sees us and knows us like no other. How incredible that we have a God who speaks over our families far into the future. Not only does God propel us forward with good purpose, but He also gives us glimpses into tomorrow. He looks on us and tells us who we are.

I pray over you right now, reader. I pray that you will have glimpses into the tomorrow of God. I pray that you will hear what He speaks over you, your children, and your family. I pray that His words over your future will fill you with faith, confidence, and awe. May you know who you are, truly, deeply, and eternally.

1. Have you heard God’s heartbeat over your family? Pray that God will speak to you about His heart for your household. Pray that you will hear and see His words of purpose concerning the future of your family.

2. Journal about a time when you heard God speak of your present or future. Did you see a glimpse of His plan? How did your feelings relate to David’s feelings of awe?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great Mother's Day Gift Idea: Tagxedo.com

I am very excited about finding Tagxedo.com. This is a free site, although I believe you can pay for a more premiere membership with additional fonts, etc.  At the site, you can create your own graphic with a certain shape (as above), font, and color scheme.  You type in all the words you want to be included in the graphic, and the program does the rest.  You can then save your graphic file.  You could use it as your profile picture on a social media site.  On the Tagxedo.com site, you can also connect to see what gift items you can buy with your graphic on it. 

For mother's day, I am making a unique graphic for each grandma, saving the file, and creating gift items.  You can go to a variety of sites to use your graphic, but I ultimately chose VistaPrint and created  personalized note cards to order, so that the grandma's can use them as stationary, thank you cards etc. You can also put the graphic onto mouse pads, t-shirts, aprons, carrying bags, ornaments etc.  What a great way to honor the women in your life this Mother's Day!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Is High Functioning About Autism?


What is High Functioning about Autism?  
(above see Temple Grandin and Steven Wiltshire--Each with autism and great giftings)

You may hear the description "high functioning" connected to the word autism.  What does that mean? Does it mean the person is high functioning with relationships, work, play, mood?  Does it mean there are no struggles or challenges?  Are these individual higher functioning than others outside the spectrum?  Great questions!

High functioning only refers to an individual's cognitive function.  There is a misperception that most individuals in the autistic spectrum are low functioning cognitively.  In fact, when I was in graduate school, we learned that 2/3 of individuals in the spectrum are intellectually handicapped and measure in what we call the Mentally Retarded range.  Turns out, that was a huge error! While it is difficult to measure exactly  how many people are in the autistic spectrum from different ranges of "intellect"--it is clear that autism does not discriminate on the basis of intellect. In fact,it is becoming clear that many people who are in the gifted range of intellect are within the spectrum.  They may be described as having high functioning autism or Asperger's Disorder.  Some argue there is a difference between the two and others argue they are the same.  For the sake of this discussion, we don't need to solve that question! 

But let's get back to the original question.  Does that mean the individual is "high functioning" in life?  No.  These individuals may be high functioning and accomplished in life, but many have significant struggles in certain areas, or at least need some accommodations or help to maintain their really functional life.  Why?  Consider this--
     1. Although I said high functioning refers to cognition, I should say it refers to intellect.  There is a cognitive domain called executive function that is very problematic in the autistic spectrum.  It involves things like multi-tasking, initiating a task, time management, flexible thinking, quick attention, thinking outside the box, sequencing through a task with multiple steps, etc.  (See my other posts on executive function by clicking on the tags/labels on the right hand column). 
     2. In addition to significant problems with executive function, individuals in the spectrum also tend to have difficulty with social communication, facial recognition, and imaginative play with others.  Therefore, relationships can be problematic and difficult to maintain well. 
     3. Individuals in the spectrum often have significant sensory symptoms (see sensory tag). This can mean that they feel drained in their environment, well before others would.  They may need things "just so" to get through the day well (e.g., wearing a certain type of clothes, eating certain foods, dimmer lights etc). 
     4. Anxiety is very prevalent in the spectrum.  Anxiety and executive function problems may cause rigidity in day to day functioning.  Also, anxiety is more difficult to treat with medications in the spectrum than outside (although can certainly be helped with medication).  Counseling may be difficult because it can rely on thinking abstractly in an interpersonal setting.  E.g. "What are you feeling?"  Counselors who specialize in treating individuals in the spectrum may use an approach based on problem solving, teaching self-monitoring, and learning social skills. 
      5. Sleep disturbance is often present.  This can be very disruptive if the individual is unable to initiate sleep, maintain sleep, and have good functioning during the day when they need to be at work, engaging with family, etc.  
      6. Individuals in the spectrum may have special interests that consume all their time. They may have collections that turn into hoarding.  They may spend so much time playing video games, organizing baseball cards, and building lego sets, that they don't maintain other aspects of their life well.

So beware--- If you see a child or adult struggling, consider whether they may have spectrum symptoms.  Being "high functioning" with intellect does not rule out a neurologic problem causing pain and impairment. I once heard a preschool teacher refer to a young boy in her class by saying "I don't know what's wrong with him! He's not stupid!"  As a culture, we are not good at recognizing high functioning autism, as this boy clearly had.  She was right--he wasn't stupid.  He was a gifted artist and a bright boy.  But, he was struggling, as were his parents, and they were unable to get help and assistance because autism was the furthest from their mind.  Why?--because he wasn't stupid.  

Let's increase our understanding of autism, both "high functioning" and for individuals with less language and problem solving.  Let's focus on recognizing the symptoms in the young and old.  We will improve our schools, homes, and communities. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Does An Increase In Struggle Mean God is Absent?

Sometimes an outward intensification of struggle can happen right after we started praying into a certain area of life, or right after we hear an encouraging word from God!  Then we think...are my prayers making things worse!  Are they ineffective?  Did I hear God wrong?!

I was just reading through the story of Moses today.  Remember the story?  Moses has this life changing, miraculous experience with hearing God's voice at the burning bush.  What a deep spiritual experience.  How could you ever be the same?! God told him to tell Pharoah to release God's people from slavery.  Moses told God he didn't think that would work because he didn't feel like he was a good speaker.  He didn't feel up to the job.  God said, "I will be with you." 

So Moses goes back to Egypt and connects with his brother Aaron.  They go tell Pharoah what God said.  Pharoah's response?  Even though God was with Moses and Aaron, and they spoke His words to Pharoah, Pharoah's response was "I do not know any god by that name, and furthermore I do not intend to release Israel."  Not only did their message seem to fall to the ground, Pharoah turned around and ordered that the Israelites' work be made much harder, and the Israelite supervisors were beaten. 

The Israelite supervisors came to Moses and Aaron; They yelled at the two of them for making things worse!  "May the Eternal see and judge what you have done. Now because of you Pharaoh and all who serve him look on us as if we were some kind of disgusting odor. You might as well have put the sword in their hands they will use to kill us."

Moses likely thought something like this, "What on earth just happened?  I heard from God.  I was afraid this wouldn't work...wouldn't be a good idea.  God said, 'I will be with you' and now this!"  Scripture records Moses' words at the end of Exodus chapter 6: "And why have You sent me here? Ever since I approached Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done more harm to them than ever before."

Sometimes prayers and actions are so effective, that huge environments begin to shift.  Miracles begin to take form.  Oppression that has been in place for 430 years begins to crack.  And life looks harder.  But then...after the struggle...freedom.  Sometimes the increase in hardship as you pray means you are praying into the right things...oppressions that have been long established and refuse to leave.  Sometimes the increase in struggle is a sign of how powerful your prayers are and how much Pharoah resists the proclamation of freedom, a sign of how miraculous the final freedom will be!  When struggle comes, don't stop praying.  Freedom is coming.  You will know wide open spaces.  God is with you...

(All scripture is taken from The Voice translation: Exodus Chapter 6)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Scavenger Hunts with Kids at Varying Ages: In the Car and On Foot

Here's an idea for a kid friendly activity you can perform even when it is raining!  I remember when my son was about 3, and we just wanted to get out of the house, however that looked, but it was cold and a little on the drizzly side.  I got out a paper and drew 10 things in marker that we were going to look for on a local drive.  Then we planned that if we found the things (I tried to choose things that would give us a fair drive around but also be achieveable on our hunt!), I had a little prize at the end.

Those ended up being fun rides because he would sit in his car seat with a marker and cross through things once we saw them.  I would drive around to where I thought we could get some hits, and after about an hour we were home.  I would draw things like an American flag, a dog or cat, a bicycle, a red car, the letter A, the number 2, etc.  In those days it was a fun way to have some time out of the house even when the whether wasn't ideal!

Last week, we had a nice spring day.  Probably our first hint of spring weather!  I got out a sheet of paper and listed (now my son is practicing his reading) 15 items I thought he and the baby sitter could find on a walk around our local neighborhoods. 

out of state license plate
small garden statue
chalk drawing on sidewalk/driveway

I told them that if they found 12 of the 15 items, they could walk to the dollar store and my son could pick out a prize.  My son also got a kick out of it because he took an old digital camera we have (maybe 9 years old?) and I asked him to take a picture of each item they found.  He got to show me all the pictures when they returned home!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Triumphs and Tragedies: What Is The Meditation of Your Heart?

There are often tragedies around us, perhaps on the news, in our neighborhood, in our households.  Why is it so easy to meditate on these things, to sit in front of the television and stare for hours at destruction?  Why is it so easy to keep talking to friends about the sadness that occured, about the struggles and difficulties of our friends?  Do we also talk for hours about the wonderful things, the triumphs, the breakthroughs, the unexpected blessings? 

I am not suggesting we turn a blind eye to what is happening, good or bad.  Do you have a health symptoms?--get it checked out.  Are there people grieving in your neighborhood?--comfort them.  I am speaking here about the meditation of our heart.  What do we meditate on for hours.  What do we let live and grow in our spirit?  Where is our attention and focus?  We give power to whatever we are giving our focus to...We should chose wisely.

Consider Matt Redman's song 10,000 reasons--

I love the clip of lyrics here: "Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me, Let me be singing when the evening comes"

Let's choose to focus on goodness.  There are 10,000 reasons to sing...  Join me in the song.

10,000 Reasons Sung by Kim Walker-Smith

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sensory Strategies to Help Infants and Children Calm

Everyone uses sensory strategies to feel better, whether they realize it or not.  What is a sensory strategy?  How about when we use lavender or vanilla scents in soaps or lotions and take a deep breath...ahhh, that feels good.  Consider your morning routine-- maybe you take a hot shower and the heat feels good.  Maybe you make hot coffee and eggs for breakfast, and the heat and smell of the meal is filling as much as the calories themselves.  Maybe a massage feels great, or cuddling up in a chair with a blanket.  Maybe being "tucked in" tight in the covers at night or sleeping among multiple pillows feels wonderful.  

Those are all sensations that help our body feel calm and relaxed and wonderful.  Children respond to sensory strategies too, they just may not notice what feels good.  Some kids have "normative" sensory experiences and may regulate themselves fairly well during the day but enjoy some calming sensory inputs here and there.  Other children may have sensory processing disorder or be within the autistic spectrum.  These kids may need more calming input than other children because of the way their nervous system is wired. Some calming strategies may include deep pressure and/or gentle movement (vestibular input).

Here are some ideas for calming sensory inputs--
1. swaddling blankets or slings for infants
This deep pressure feels wonderful and cuddly to infants.  The one thing I wished I had purchased before bringing my son home as an infant was a swaddling blanket that was actually created for that purpose.  These baby slings are the same concept.  Not only does the infant experience deep touch, which is calming, but they are close to their parent, warm, and comforted. Also, if the parent is bouncing them or swaying back and forth, they are receiving gentle vestibular input (movement) and this also feels calming.
2. For bigger kids, consider different techniques to give them deep touch, pressure, and vestibular input for comfort.
.........a.  Bean bag chairs
You can use simple ones that you pick up at a store or can use more specialized ones as below; these can be found through sensory catalogues and internet sites with products for sensory dysfunction or autistic spectrum.

 ........b. Hammocks or hammock swings
Think about how a hammock envelopes you and even gives you a gentle swaying feeling that is comforting and calming.  The hammock swings below are a bit more specialized and can be found in sensory catalogues. 

.......c. You can also wrap your child with gentle but firm pressure in something like a yoga mat.  Play a game and tell them you are making an "Thomas" taco for example. 
Or you could make a "Thomas" sandwich using pillows in which the child is laying on a large pillow and has a pillow on top.  You can apply gentle pressure on the top pillow pretending you are assembling the sandwich. Encourage the child to tell you what feels good, when to keep going, and when to stop.  
.......d. Use a heavy blanket over your child.  There are even specialized weighted blankets that are heavier than the norm and are used for calming kids with anxiety, sensory needs, autistic spectrum, and more.  Many sites on the internet sell weighted blankets and I have a previous post on just that subject (Information on Weighted Blankets).  The picture below shows a child in a cute little "envelope" in which the top portion is weighted.

Whatever is calming for you or your child, use it.  Our brain responds well to sensory input that helps us regulate our nervous system.  Play detective to see what types of input, when and how much feel good to you or your kids.  If you would like more professional input in this area for your child, an Occupational Therapist can help.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Drought is Over: A Heavy Rain is Coming. Can You Hear It?

I was just thinking today of a documentary I watched years ago when I was home sick, lying on the couch.  It wasn't my usual TV fare, but it was on and I couldn't find the energy or motivation to turn the channel.  And today, I remembered...

It was about animals in desert country.  I believe it was somewhere in Africa. The man's voice was quiet and serious as he spoke over the images of animals before the drought.  The speaker knew that the rainy season was over, and the animals were preparing as best they could for going without...trying to survive until the next change of season.  

As the documentary continued, the land became more and more dry, cracked, dusty. At first, the animals were active, trying to find water in out of the way places.  They were fairly successful...for a time.  They began to dig for water and to drink from plants.  Then the animals were slower...they were walking around a bit aimlessly, wondering...if there was any other place to look.  The speaker explained that this happened every year...until the waters came.  

Eventually, the animals were completely still, laying on the land, in the dust.  Things were so dire...were they even still alive?  It was hard to tell.  

I wish I could find video of what happened next.  In this area, it wasn't rain that came.  It was a flood coming down from a higher area.  A flood, rushing.  Deep water, rolling with force and sound.  I will never forget how the animals ears perked.  But wait, the speaker said the floods would come, but I didn't hear anything yet.  How did the animals know?  Did they hear the vibration of moving water in their dry bodies as they lay in the dust?  Ears raised, eyes began to blink!  

Ironically, they would have to move or be drown by the flood of water coming!  But then, oh then...  They drank, played in the water, chased each other.  Could they actually be frolicking--the animals that just moments before appeared dead in the dust?

It reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 18

Listen with me to the tale (The Voice Translation)

1 Kings 18

The Voice (VOICE)
Elijah (to Ahab): 41 You should go fill your belly with food and water. I hear a heavy rain coming.
42 Ahab did as Elijah instructed and went to eat and drink. Elijah journeyed to the peak of Mount Carmel. There he bowed down on the ground and placed his head between his knees.
Elijah (to his servant): 43 Go now, and look in the direction of the sea.
Servant (returning to Elijah): I did as you asked, and there is nothing in the direction of the sea.
Elijah gave him the same instruction seven times, “Go back,and look in the direction of the sea.” 44 The servant did as Elijah requested each time; and on the seventh time, he told Elijah, “A minuscule cloud, as tiny as the hand of a man, is ascending from the sea.”
Elijah: Go quickly, and give a message to Ahab for me: “Prepare your chariot, and leave quickly before the rain gets torrential and keeps you from traveling.”
45 The sky became filled with dark monstrous clouds, the wind grew wild, the heavy rain fell, and Ahab traveled quickly in his chariot to Jezreel. 46 The strength of the Eternal filled Elijah. The prophet pulled up his garment around his thighs and sprinted ahead of Ahab the entire way to Jezreel.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nothing is Wasted in God's Hands

Isaiah 49:4 New Living Translation (NLT)

I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.  Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”

There have been times that I have efforted for something, worked so hard toward a goal.  Perhaps I achieved the goal, but it didn't feel worth it, or I didn't get to use it.  For example, I remember talking to a friend once while I was in graduate school.  I said," 'What if'... I spend all these years in graduate school and never use my degree?  Maybe I will be a stay at home mom, or work at a bookstore...or 'what if' I can't find a job in my field.  I don't want to think I went to all this effort for 'nothing.'"  My friend looked at me and said, "Education and experiences are never wasted."

Years later, another friend said to me, "I feel like I've wasted so much of my life.  I grieve certain things that I wish had been different.  I feel like I'm in a good place now...but what a waste that time was.  I wish I was in this place back then..."  I heard myself saying, "Experiences are never wasted."

That's why I love to pray through Isaiah 49:4.  That's why I am touched by Jason Gray's song "Nothing is Wasted." 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Options for Capturing Your Child's Thoughts and Words

I have a niece that is smart, funny, and precocious.  I love to talk to her on the phone, and believe me, she could talk forever.  I decided to get a book for her and my sister called Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal available at +Amazon.com.  It really could be used with kids at a variety of ages, although perhaps about 4-10 may work best.  The parent can fill in the writing, or the child could write their own answers. 

One nice thing about this way of capturing your child's thoughts and comments, is that this book offers the prompts of specific questions.  This may generate even more interesting answers.  Of course, it does not chronicle the more spontaneous gems we all love.  Each day has 3 spots on the page to answer the same question.  Theoretically, the same child, will answer the same question across 3 years and see how the answers differ.  

I also wonder if it would be fun to chronicle a different child in those spots.  For example, my other sister has 3 children, and she might enjoy comparing the oldest boy's answers with the youngest for example.  They all 3 have such unique personalities, that I think that would be interesting.  Examples of questions include: "What is the best thing about your life right now?", "What is the last thing you built/made?", "The best thing about being a grown up is...."

Another thing to consider are apps for this purpose.  One app someone recently recommended to me is the Posterity app for capturing family quotes.  It currently costs $1.99 and has gotten good reviews so far.  Parents seem to enjoy the photo option that joins with the quotes.  Many say they are wanting a video option to put capture their child's thoughts as well.

Another way to chronicle your child is to take videos of him or her in action and upload the videos as private +YouTube entries; these can then be shared with a few special family members and kept in your YouTube account for long term keeping.

And finally, there is the photo book option.  Many internet sites offer photo books for you to create and order (e.g., +Walmart+Shutterfly, and Michaels are just a few options).  If you include your wonderful quotes, along with pictures, this would make not only a great memory book (imagine giving a copy of the books to your kids at their graduation, wedding, etc), but also a great gift for grandparents and other family members.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eat Nourishing Recipe Site

I recently discovered eatnourishing.com.  Eat Nourishing was created in 2011 by husband-wife team, Anthony and Jami Delgado.  It is a recipe sharing site with recipes based on whole, unrefined ingredients.  There are many grain free and paleo recipes which I am interested in these days.  My son follows a gluten-free, dairy free diet and there are many compatible ideas on this site. 

You may be able to see from this screen shot that there are icons above each recipe that tell you what is true about the ingredients.  There are icons for vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free, grain free, paleo,etc.

I ordered some almond flour and coconut flour to get started with some of the recipes.  I would like to try this one called :  Paleo Almond Flour Crepes

Which one looks good to you?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Helping Kids with Intepersonal Transitions: Hello and Goodbye

Some children, particularly in preschool years or younger elementary grades, have difficulty with interpersonal transitions.  They may have a hard time adjusting to the arrival of the babysitter or saying goodbye to visiting relatives.  They may have trouble saying goodbye to a teacher at the end of the year or to a parent leaving them at school/daycare. 

One of the things that helps my son with those transitions is to add some structure, so he knows what to expect.  This structure ends up being kind of a routine, something he can "count on" even though his interpersonal moment is in flux.  He knows his role in this scenario, and he is reassured that he can anticipate what is coming.  

When my son was two and three, he had difficulty when the babysitter arrived even though he knew her well.  We developed a short routine where he would always pick something ahead of time to "show her" when she came.  This way, he knew his role at the time of the greeting and could count on there being something "expected."  He felt more in control as well, as if to say "Hi.  This is my space and I'm letting you come in.  I'm showing you something I like.  I'm choosing to invite you in."

We have developed another tradition for when his Nana and Papa are leaving to go back to their home in Michigan after a several day visit.  

My parents draw him a picture reminding him of what they did together, that they love him and will be driving home, and that they will see him next time.  After we say good bye at the door and talk about when we will see them next, Joshua runs through the house to find the picture which is accompanied by a small gift.  This time, he received a Star Wars toothbrush that lights up like a light saber.

What kinds of traditions and routines help your youngster deal with interpersonal transitions?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Family Puzzle Projects

When I was in graduate school, my roommate and I were so busy that we felt like we were always coming and going to a class, job, or meeting.  At one point, we started putting crossword puzzles out on the main table.  We would try to fill in a few items as we were "coming and going."  It was simple, and fun, and we connected a bit even when we weren't in the same place. 

One of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving celebrations at my house growing up is time with a big jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table in the family room.  Again, people were coming and going, cooking and cleaning, watching football, visiting...and in the midst, there was this core activity that we all worked on in between and during our other connecting.  By the time the Thanksgiving weekend was over...the puzzle was complete!

And last but not least...the LEGO assembly! When you have an avid LEGO enthusiast in your house, you spend a lot of time hunching over piles of LEGO pieces trying to put together complex structures for a birthday present, Christmas, and what not...

After our recent birthday party for Joshua, we had a few weeks of illness and busyness.  I find that we have a 7 year old asking when we can help him put together the LEGOs he received for his birthday.  I have an idea!  I am going to put them out on the table with the instruction booklets.  Then we can assemble as we come and go, everyone contributing, as we see it taking form.  We don't have to wait until we have 3 hours!  We can use our "in between time" to create something wonderful...together.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Speaking Life Into Your Child's Life

Recently, my son asked me what I like about him.  What a great opportunity to list his strengths and the ways he blesses me.  I began...I like how you joke with me.  I like how you play and make friends.  Then, I began writing a list.  I chose a large blank paper and wrote a list of how I see Joshua.

Joshua is brave. 

Joshua is a good friend.

Joshua is funny. 

Joshua is loved.

Joshua is a good listener.


I continued to fill the page with about 30 sentences.  Then I taped the large paper on the wall at the head of his bed.  Joshua is practicing his reading these days.  So, before we turn out the light, I say...why don't you read 3 from the list out loud.  And he does. 

Then Joshua hears himself saying "Joshua is loved.  Joshua is a good friend."  He knows I speak honor over his life and call out his gifts.  He knows he is important, loved, valued.  He gains confidence in his ability to be brave and a good friend and a good listener.  Life spoken into his life.

How do you speak life into your children?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

God's Leadership and Right Order: Isaiah 9:7

My prayer for you today is that you will experience your life coming into alignment with God's Kingdom plans and purpose for you. You will not feel off-track, chaotic, or confused. The right order of God's Kingdom will shine from your life as you live out His goodness. I pray that you will see confusion leave your household as you cling to God and His goodness. May you know God's purpose for you and see it fulfilled, day after day, gift after gift, glory to glory.

Pray with me today...

Isaiah 9:7 (The Voice)
His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—sustainable peace for all time. This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us, to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.  He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always. The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will carry this to completion.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Vordak the Incomprehensible: Book Review

My son just turned 7, and he is beginning to read simple story books on his own.  This is a book that I have been reading to him, because it is geared for 4-8th graders.  The subject matter, though, is right up our alley.

The premise is that the evil super-villan Vordak has written a book to help his snivelling readers aspire to greatness as evil rulers of the world.  Each chapter helps the reader understand the importance of selecting a dastardly name, choosing minions and henchmen, building a secret evil lair...well, you get the picture. 

There are a total of 3 books in this series including Rule the School and Double Trouble

The writing is very funny, and we are enjoying it.  There are many "big words" in this book like "villany" and "incomprehensible" and "dastardly." That is why it is for older readers, but we are doing fine with me reading it to him and then explaining some of the words. 

You can even check out the the Vordak website which includes Vordak's blog, information about books, and activities/games.