TGIF FUN Friday and How It Changed Our Homeschool World

girl-playing-with-bubbles
girl-playing-with-bubbles

For those new to homeschooling, it can be very intimidating.  Do we know enough?  Can we have the patience?  How do I balance everything?

You have come to the right place.

The last elementary school our son went to in Maryland implemented a FUN Friday routine.  (Thank you, Tara, for all you do!) 

When we decided to home school and work from home, we chose to implement this same thing. Using this incentive routine has been so beneficial in helping our son take responsibility for his own learning – and chores – throughout the week.  For more on how to use incentives, check out this blog Let’s Make a Deal). Here is how it works:

happy-coffee
happy-coffee

1)      Monday Start: On Monday have a checklist created of the school tasks assigned for the week.  If you missed how to do this, check out last week’s blog Finding Balance: Telework and Homeschooling. Upfront, the student knows what is expected.  This helps them plan their own week (a key executive function).  It also reminds them their education is their own.  You cannot be there all the time.

2)      Four Day Week:  No one wants to work more than they need.  We spend two to three hours a day at school.  With great focus, this is all we need for the entire week.  The most we have ever needed was to spend four hours in one day. Whatever is not completed Thursday will roll over to Friday.

3)      On Friday:  Just because it is Friday does not mean our responsibilities cease.  In the “real world,” we would still have family obligations (sometimes work depending on the schedule), and regular household tasks.  The same is true for our son.  The following must be completed PRIOR to FUN Friday commencing:

a.       Chores complete: Who wants to play in a messy house?  No one.  All chores must be completed.

b.       Thirty minutes outside:  Sun is essential for healthy bodies.  Imaginative play is essential for healthy minds.  Time playing outside is a requirement.  Thirty minutes is our minimum.

c.       Read a book:  If you have younger kids, a single kid’s book is fine.  If you have older kids, depending on the book, at least one (sometimes two) chapters must be read. 

d.       Be Creative: Imaginative is play is important to development.  Art and play are vital to many engineering skills, communication skills, and sometimes give insight into emotional health for a parent. Our son must be creative.  Sometimes that is writing a comic book, building Lego, painting, or playing in clay. The options are limitless!

4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy
4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy

4)      FUN Friday is here: This part of the day consists of whatever the child wants (within reason).  Our son does not get a lot of screen time (see how we use it in this blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy).  He usually asks for a movie.  But sometimes, we use this time to go to a zoo, the aquarium, or another outing.  During #socialdistancing, we do games, movies with popcorn, build forts, and so much more.  The day is limited only by imagination. 

We discovered this small change to education, has increased focus during school, allowed us to start teaching a new language, build on social skills, and increased our family connection in a positive way. 

Now that homeschool is becoming a norm, I encourage you to try FUN Friday in your home.  See how it goes for a while.  Remember, you earn income, paid vacations, flex work hours for your hard work and focus at work.  Let’s extend that to our children who need incentives just as much.

Finding Balance: Telework and Home School

photo-of-women-using-laptops-
photo-of-women-using-laptops

In most American schools, and the average day at school is six hours.  Add in travel time, lunch, extracurriculars and this can easily become a ten-hour a day event.  This is a great balance for working parents.  Children are educated while parents bring home the bacon.

But this is no longer a reality.

With more people teleworking from home, and schools across the nation closed for the year, many are asking “How do I work full-time and teach my child?” 

As a two-income working house, and I work 40-60-hour weeks, I understand first hand the struggle of education and income.  We are a tenured homeschool family who has been schooling well before #Coronavirus or #COVID-19 were household words.  So, is it possible to do both?    

YES.  It is a combination of art and science, but completely doable.  Here is what has worked for us over the past year. 

1.       Meditation:  We are a praying house.  But not everyone is.  We have found when we start our day with prayer, mediation, and/or work out (I love Yogashred), our moods are elevated, our focus is keener and our bodies are in alignment.  The extra benefit is our health is taken care of prior to the health of our company.  Companies are only as good as the health of their talent.

grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field
grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field

2.       Start Work Early:  My work day starts well before most people are out of bed.  This allows me a solid 3 hours to get uninterrupted and focused work completed.  The earlier the start the more productive I am. 

3.       Have a set work time: Set hours of work where the school cannot interfere.  This might mean breaking your workday into 2 two-hour segments, or 4 two-hour segments.  The trick is to ensure when you focus on work, your attention is on work.  When you focus on school, your attention is at school. Closing your “office door” or taping a “Do Not Distrub” sign up can be visuals for your family to stay away while at work.

writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy
writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy

4.       Plan a Routine: We all know routine is healthy for our mentality.  That is true for children as well.  We give our son a weekly assignment list.  This includes all worksheets, lessons, quizzes, tests he will need to complete to stay on track.  This allows the kiddo to know what to expect and begin to take some independence and responsibility for their own education.

5.       Work First.  Play Later: When we present the weekly school task, we operate by a Fun Friday mentality (check out next week’s blog for more details).  If all school is completed prior to Friday, you get Friday off.  This is also beneficial for parents who work because that means Fridays your attention is not torn between work and school during “school hours.”  We operate under no games, screen time, etc. until schoolwork is complete.

woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing
woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing

6.       Turn on music:  There is tons of research on how music is both good for the soul and productivity.  We use classical music or whale sounds quietly in our home while we work.  This is an aural clue work is to be done. We leave the Anamainics and Lego Music for playtime.

Homeschooling is intimidating (we actually debated it for four years prior to taking the leap).  Homeschooling while working is even scarier.  This week, remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.  And it won’t be perfect. There will be adjustments.  There will be times of frustration. There will be times of feeling like a failure.

Find what works for you and go for it.  Be encouraged.  You are not in this alone. 

Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?

There is something special about cuddling on the couch, snacking on popcorn and watching a new release (or an old favorite).  Bonding over a laugh or squeezing tight during a scary scene.  Priceless. 

And yet, there seems to be a yin to the yang. 

Behavior changes when we sit in front of a screen too long.  Studies have shown too much screen time increases obesity, decreases the quality of sleep. My son seems to regress with each half-hour of TV.  His attitude reflects what he watches.  And, unfortunately, even educational shows like Wild Kratz displays negative behavior.

So, in a homeschool world, how do you balance the screen time? 

Here is the good and bad of screen time. 

animation-cartoon-cartoon-character-disney-mickey-mouse-piano-light

The Good

Children learn a lot from the screen.  There is a great documentary, Life Animated, which follows a child on the spectrum who learns to speak by watching Disney movies. (Our personal experience reflects this method works).

There are numerous benefits to screentime.  Children learn about social norms and cues.  Film and television provide authentic and varied language that many would not pick up in a peer relationship.  And most importantly, for children on the spectrum who think and see in pictures, television and film give a visual context.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are lots of negative results of screen time.  We copy what we see and hear.  Kids learn and pick up so many things from the screen about dating, relationships between boys and girls, how to speak to parents and when to exercise independence.  Often, this is done in a way causing harm to the cognition of the child.

Too often in American culture, we celebrate the celebrity and choice of stars and then complain about why our children act like them.  We relish the drama and excitement of the racy, poor decision filled scenes; discuss and glorify them when they are not on. We wonder why our ten-year-old girls want to wear short-shorts and our boys want to curse up a storm.

HELP

So how do we find balance in the crazy that is homeschool?  When our education is turning to the screen?  Our free time is playing on a screen?  Our family time is sitting in front of a screen?  Here are three steps we use in our home that seem to work for us:

  1. Use it as a reward. There is no reason a screen has to be on in every room for every person every day.  Ensure school work, chores, playing outside, and being creative are completed prior to any screen time. 
  2. Limitation.  Limit what they watch, when they watch, how long they watch.  Limitations are good in all aspects of life – from what we eat to what we watch.  We do not let any screens in our kiddos bedroom and use Google Chrome Cast which is mirrored from our phones to ensure we know what is watched and when it is over.
  3. Model.  Practice what you preach.  If your rule is to finish work, exercise, reading, and creativity first, but your child never sees you do that – you are asking for trouble.  What rules you put in place for the screen should be reflected in your own actions.  Other than numerous benefits of opening up time for productivity, this allows you to show your child there is so much more to this wonderful life than the big (or little handheld) screen in front of them. 

Screen time can be a wonderful tool and entertainment resource.  However, it can also be the bane of your existence.  May we all find balance in the world of homeschool and homework in this strange and ever-developing global situation.

child-hiking-black-jacket-with-hood

No Showers and Bad Dreams

There is a scene in Patch Adams when Robin Williams portraying Patch Adams character is helping an in-patient go to the bathroom.  The patient had an illogical fear of invisible squirrels that prevent the patient from leaving his bed to use the bathroom.  Adams plays into the fear and helps “fight off” the squirrels so his roommate can finally relieve himself.

This is an excellent example of life with children.

Our son has been bathing himself for years.  About age eight there was a time he would not go into the shower – hygiene been damned.  When he asked him why, he was adamant a shark was going to attack him.  

Continue reading “No Showers and Bad Dreams”

Life Is a Roller Coaster

“Mom, can we go on that roller coaster?” Our five-year-old son asked to ride his first big-boy roller coaster –the Super Duper Looper.  Having verified the height requirement (and that it was safe for a five-year-old), we all jumped in line.  Never did we think that the very first thing that would happen on this ride was to be flipped entirely upside down! I thought for sure our son would get off the ride and hate it.

I was wrong.

“Let’s do it again!” he screamed excitedly as he exited (to my utter dismay). 

But that ride taught me some very valuable lessons. 

There are ups and down

When we first found about Autism, we did not know much about it.  We are still learning about now.  But something I wish we were told at the onset was that life is a roller coaster.

Most people hear that and think of Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates and very rightly say, “Obviously.”  But what I am talking about goes further than the what nutty delicacy life dishes out. Life with Autism is taking two steps forward and one step back. It is a constant up and down.  It is fast paced and often takes your breath away.

When our kiddo was younger, he could not talk and potty training was difficult to say the least.  At four we would spend a week getting him potty trained and then send him to his other parent for the weekend.  Every time he came home not potty trained. 

Every time we would have him using a word to communicate (just one word) we would send him back to the other parent and he would come back mute…well, screaming like a banshee is probably more appropriate.  

But he is potty trained and he can carry on lengthy conversations…as long as they are on a topic he wants to discuss. 

But that process of two steps forward and one step back is exhausting.  It can be affected by the smallest changes in routine to the largest. Moves between homes. Moves across the country. Different teachers. Different subjects. Developing hormones.

It is really easy to see the negative in life circumstances and feel like you will never reach the goal.  Sometimes the low of the rollercoaster is really low.  Sometime your stomach lives in your brain. Sometimes it is easy to forget how high you fell from or how far the child has come.  It is easy to think your lives are the valleys when in reality there have been many mountains…and very close together.

You will reach your goals.  They will.  With solid routine, quality time, and people who will fight for them, each child with special needs can and do make and break through their goals. 

Expect greatness and you will get it…eventually

I have a neck injury and a weak stomach.  Going on a roller coaster I thought was great for a child of five, I was not anticipating breaking my neck and holding in my breakfast.  I very much disliked that ride.  I thought my son with sensory issues and an intense sensitivity to loud noises would hate that ride too.

But my son did not.  He absolutely loved it! 

I came to learn that the deep pressure provided on a roller coaster is really helpful to kids with neuro-sensitivity.  I learned that my son has a Big-Gulp need for motion…I, on the contrary need, a teacup and call it good.  I learned that my son has no fear (except one…but I am keeping that to our family for now). 

Not only did he love the ride, he wanted more of it.  He wanted to do every ride.  The bigger and faster the ride the better it was for our son.

By making the one decision to try something new, outside everyone’s comfort level, against what seemed to be logical given his diagnosis, we got something magical!

I got to experience his first roller coaster ride with him (which is awesome because every other ride he wants to go with his dad).  I got to see my son over come legitimate challenges to sound, delayed gratification waiting in line, dealing with enclosed spaces in the queue and many more.  My son taught me in that moment that he can do anything he puts his mind too – no matter the challenges he faces.

This too shall pass

When I was on that ride I just kept counting down the moment until it passed.  My stomach was in my head.  My neck was definitely in the wrong place.  I was strapped so tightly down I could not breathe. I could not wait for that ride to be over.

Sometimes, when dealing with special needs, it is easy to get stuck in that stomach-flipping moment.  It is easy to think, “We have come so far and he regressed so much” or “Why are we having the same argument with the school and the district” or “Why can’t he play like everyone else?”  It is easy to get stuck in the valleys and gorges and canyons. 

But I encourage you to look toward the mountains on either side.  The one they just came down (because that will show you what they are capable of) and the one they are about to start climbing (because that one will always be better than the last. 

There is an end in sight to every dark valley. 

For me it helps to remember things they have accomplished.  I often remind myself that my son is grade level, even though he misses a ton of school for doctors’ appointments.  I remind myself that at five my son was not talking and now I can’t get him to stop.  I remind myself that he went from not knowing how to make a friend to having many at his birthday party. 

Yes, even these dark gorges will pass.  And they will pass sooner than we think.  And we will be on to the next big and wonderful goal and accomplishment next week. 

Box of Chocolates

As this year begins, I encourage you to see the mountains for what they are – accomplishments.  Take the valleys for what they are – lessons to be learned.  And move forward with a purpose and vision of accomplishing more than you ever thought possible.  We did.  And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The Moment

When one pictures parenthood they see themselves as perfect parents with perfect kids. Children will be well behaved and, if all goes according to plan, will be captain of the football team or dance diva and go to the best colleges on a full ride. Parenthood is supposed to be filled with lots of girl scout cookies and football games. (Don’t believe me, just get a load of the Netflix show Yummy Mummies!)

No one expects news from the pediatrician, “Your child has some special needs.” Cancer. Downs Syndrom. Autism. Those scary words are not on the top 100 of what you want to hear from the doctor. I have heard it described as a feeling of being put in shackles.

Immediately upon hearing that your child will have more needs than a “streamlined” “average” “normal” child, your life changes. You enter the grieving period. You grieve the football star. You grieve the dance recital. You grieve the sleepovers and parties. You grieve a life you planned for your kid…and yourself.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are the five stages of grief. As a parent with special needs, you will (and we did) go through all of these stages…again and again. But, I would argue, every parent goes through these stages over something about their children.

I know parents who grieved because their child didn’t grow up to the NFL football star. I know parents who grieved because their child chose college instead of military service (and viseversa). I know parents who grieved the loss of children. With children (and here is the part they don’t tell you), you will grieve…at some point…over something. Anyone who says something different is selling something.

That can’t be right!

Denial

When my husband found out our little guy had Autism denial was the word of the day. He blamed our son’s behavior on teachers and babysitters. He blamed the delay on lack of routine due to deployments. Autism just could not be true; not for his son…not for our family. Surely the doctor was wrong…surely there was a need for a second opinion…surely this life long diagnosis was not meant for our family.

I came into the picture later in our son’s life. Children were never really a part of what I thought my family life would include. So, as marriage was a packaged deal, I skipped to step six. But many of my friends have told me story after story of denial. It is from their stories that I write today.

Frustration overload

Anger

Hubby never really got angry. He skipped the next two steps…once he came around.

Anger is something I can relate to. With Autism there is never a dull a moment. For every two steps forward, with every small change, one can “regress” four steps back. This gets old fast.

This stage of grief comes in waves for me.

When I see my son make so much progress and then we get orders to move and behaviors I thought we had overcome a long time ago come back; when hormones begin to hit and my son has more challenging behaviors; when no one comes to his birthday party because he is considered the “strange” kid; when no one wants to babysit because they do not understand the diagnosis I get angry. I get angry at the diagnosis. I get angry at life. I get angry at me for not knowing how to better understand or handle a situation. I even, yep, I get angry at God for allowing something like this.

Now, please don’t hear this as life is angry. It is in no way angry. These are just stages that we go through as life molds and changes with us. We have learned to celebrate life. But I would be lying if I said I never got angry over the reality of life with special needs.

What if…

Bargaining

For some of my friends the bargaining starts with God. “God, if you take this from me, I will go back to church” or “God, if you take this from me, I will volunteer more in my kid’s classroom and be a better parent.”

My husband and I both skipped this step. Perhaps because he is logical and just deals with life as it comes and I already believe God has the best plan for me to give me a hope and future. But this stage is often a long-lived stage.

Depression….took second place at State Champions

Depression

When I found out that my little guy had autism…well, I did not deny at first…I skipped to the sixth step. But when I realized his nieces and nephews of the same age were joining sports teams and having play dates and birthday parties, I jumped to depression.

The life of a parent with special needs is a lonely life. People, in general do not understand (or do not want to) the reality of life with special needs.

Many times, when I would reach out to family and good friends, I learned quickly that many challenges with special needs need to be faced alone within our immediate family. Instead of support, I learned we got pity, ignorance, and family and friends withdraw. You quickly learn who your true friends are…and they are few and far between.

For me, add in being a military wife and moving every few years, I have found finding friends and keeping them to be much harder.

A complete family

Acceptance

This is sort of where I came into the process. Because my husband and son are a packaged deal, I just came to terms with the fact that my life was forever changed by the sweetest and most challenging kid I could ever imagine.

It was at this stage I started researching.

I researched what caused Autism (spoiler alert – NO ONE KNOWS). I researched cures for Autism. Guess what? There is none. I researched what effects those with Autism and how to make life easier for them.

There is so much out there! From ABA therapy to diets to vitamins, this field is young but connected. I have learned so much!

One in fifty-nine children, according to the CDC, has Autism. Autism occurs in all races, ethnicities and socio-economic classes. It is the fastest growing diagnosis in America. But it is also the least studied. Yet, nowhere in the research did it say this was a life-ending diagnosis. Nowhere did the research say life stops because of this diagnosis. Nowhere in the research did it say this was the person.

With a variety of tactics and lifestyle changes, my family is more and more healthy because of this diagnosis. We eat better. We spend more time together. We even communicate better – believe it or not.

For those wanting to know right away what we did to get my son from not talking to talking or from not being able to hold a broom to hitting a tennis ball with a baseball bat, I promise to share.

The Moment

For those who just found out their child has a special need or life-threatening condition, it is a process. No one expects you to have all the answers. And the stages will come and go in waves…if you are anything like me.

But, you are NOT alone! No longer should we be a community that hides away. Reach out for help. If you’re angry, be angry. If you are scared and depressed, reach out! No one should have to walk through life alone.

Man is not an island. There are probably more people than you know in your life touched by this need or that need. Go for a cup of coffee and vent or watch a good documentary or enjoy listening to the problems of others (believe me, it really helps to know you are not the only one with problems!)

But, please, don’t let the circumstances of life dictate how you live it. You are the rudder of your ship. You get to choose which way you go.

Choose life. Choose hope. Choose joy.