5 Easy Steps to Socializing Your Home School Kid

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“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”

“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”

“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”

Sound familiar? 

This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool.  It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.

When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well.  This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.

The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family.  I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools.  There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies).  There was no talking on the bus to and from school.  So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days.  I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace.  All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.

From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.

Then I considered WHO he was socializing with.  Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides).  Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart. 

The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best.  Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.”  The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.

Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.

So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity?  How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.

Our son winning the Gold at Florida State Championship

1.       Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon.  Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun.  Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field.  He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun!  He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos. 

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2.       Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult).  The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with.  Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date.  Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.

Community Serve Day making cards for senior citizens

3.       Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service.  A lot of schools now require this to graduate.  But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children?  Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults.  Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers.  We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting!  Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities.  I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity.  See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.

Exploring the Florida Cavarns

4.       Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year.  Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing.  People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom.  Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside).  There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups.  For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida.  There are so many possibilities!  Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures.  These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.

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5.    Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars.  Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar.  These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places.  Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.

It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child.  I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school.  As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character.  Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.  

Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.

Starting Home School? Here Are 10 Great Curriculums

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This week I have had a significant amount of requests to discuss homeschool.  Questions like “How do you homeschool while working?  What curriculum do you use? How do you socialize your child?” and so many more have poured int.  I will not answer all of them here (in August I will be focusing on the daily tricks for homeschoolers).  Today I will focus on curriculums.

With changes in education due to COVID-19, a lot of parents are really considering homeschool.    It is not an easy choice (even without the pandemic).  If you are anything like me, you wonder if you will be a good enough teacher?  Will your child fall behind in academics, social skills, and emotional development?

The good news is there is so much good news! 

Homeschooling is not new to the world.  In fact, for most of human history, parents taught children or tutors came to houses (if you could afford it).  You know your child better than anyone, so you know where they struggle the most and where they can just breeze through.  You can essentially create your own IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for each of your children.  As my mom used to say, we have “different children with different needs.”

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  SOCIALIZATION

The first major concern is socialization.  I get that.  It was a big one for me.  I will talk more about that next month.  For those who have worked with me in editing or social media marketing, you know how much I value data.  I have even used data in helping with behavior challenges with my own kid

As any good data analysis would do, the first thing I did in answering that question was to track how much socialization my child actually got in school (note, this was done when my son was in elementary school).  My son left the house at 7:30 on a bus and came back at 3:00.  When I learned he was not allowed to talk on the bus, I removed any transportation time from the social component.  Lunch was 20 minutes and the recess was 15.  There was no talking allowed in hallways.  And interactive work with children in the classroom had significantly declined – other than 1 class project a week, my son was learning next to and not with his peers.  Taking all that into consideration, as well as really speaking with his teachers, my son was really only allowed to socialized 30 to 45 minutes a day.  With home school, that increases so much with play dates, co-ops, small groups, sports, and so much more. 

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 CURRICULUMS

There are so many curriculums out there.  And the best part of home school, is you do not have to pick and choose.  If your child is a verbal learner, there are curriculums for that.  A visual learner?  There are curriculums for that.  Learns kinesthetically?  There are curriculums for that.  There are so many, we actually mix and match for our son.

As a researcher at heart, I spent six months reviewing and researching curriculums prior to starting homeschool.  Here are some we use, why we use them, and some we don’t but think are pretty great.  Many of the below have Facebook groups, local co-ops, and more for additional help and socialization for the kids.

1.       Time4Learning***: They are relatively inexpensive with a monthly fee of $25.00 and a military discount.  They also use a refer a friend program that helps decrease expenses.  This is a DOD approved national standard-based curriculum.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs.

This is our foundational curriculum.  This is great for military families that move a lot because it is national standards and teaches to that.  They have 4 foundational courses (math, science, social science, and language arts). Their curriculum is interactive, game, and video-based teaching a variety of methods to problem-solving.  They also have built-in Time4Fun (recess of fun games) and the app is mobile so it can be done anywhere.

As I work from home, and reports are due to the school district, I particularly like the freedom this curriculum gives me to work.  It has so many tools for reports (attendance, duration in class, scores, etc.)  It allows me to input the amount of time a week, length of the school year, and pick and choose what I think is appropriate for the mental development of my child.  It then plans the school year for me allowing to change the plan at any time to add in breaks, modify curriculum, and more.

This curriculum also allows my son to have a bit more control of his learning by giving weekly or daily assignments and checklists.

2.       Easy Peasy: This is a completely FREE (yes, FREE) curriculum.  They recommend a once-yearly $15.00 donation, but even without the donation, you can still use the curriculum.  This is a Christian based curriculum. This has all basic subjects as well as Bible, computer, PE, music, Art, Critical Thinking and so much more.  They offer Spanish as a language for middle school.  (Time4Learning does offer Rosetta stone at any level, but it costs a bit more). This is our supplemental program. 

This curriculum also has cash prize contests for writing and science.  For those who want to simulate science fairs and excellent writing, this is a great way to help develop those skills with a great incentive!

3.       Adventure Academy:  This is a fun exploration web-based learning curriculum.  They allow the learner to take some control of their learning process.  I have not used this curriculum, but I like what is offered.  This allows for a more social learning environment by allowing the learner to create their own aviator and work with other online learners.  They are currently having a sale of 49% off the subscription – which drops this curriculum down to approximately $10.00 a month.  It is super fun!  This is interactive and has a lot of visual components. 

4.       Abeka: Based out of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL, this Christian based curriculum is used throughout the country and states both in homeschool and private schools.  This curriculum has all basic foundation classes, reading, and Bible.  They offer video lessons and standardized testing!  Depending on your state requirements, that can be an essential factor.  This one is more expensive ($100s to over a grand a year and increases with each grade).  HOWEVER, they offer flexible pricing, accredited contents, and for those in high school, a DIPLOMA.  That diploma will essential for those military families using the GI bill for their kids. 

5.       Classical Conversations: The basis of this Christian based curriculum based out of Southern Pines, NC is trifold: Classical, Christian, Community.  The community that comes along with this curriculum is great for those worried about socialization. As you move to high school, the success on the SAT and ACT for those who use this curriculum is high.  For middle school and high school, they offer trained tutors once a week.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs! This curriculum grows both the social community and the independent investment for kids.  If you are a working parent, the requirement for in-person get-togethers may be a challenge, but definitely worth looking at.  If you cannot due the community part, you can still access their bookstore with great resources!

6.       Liberty University Online Academy: This Christian based curriculum is fantastic.  This one is pricey, but offers family discounts, military discounts, and payment plans.  They offer structured and customizable learning plans, around the clock access to the curriculum and certified teachers.  This curriculum does offer dual enrollment for up to 60 college credits.  This is something to consider if your state does not offer this.  Dual enrollment has the ability to let your child graduate high school with an associate degree as well!  This curriculum also allows your student to graduate with a diploma recognized nationwide!

7.       Duoling: This is not a curriculum, but a FREE learning resource.  This teaches almost any language with an interactive online environment.  Learning a language at a young age can help with communication, critical thinking, and socialization.  This free program sends weekly progress reports and daily reminders to practice.  With built in incentives of rewards and trophies (much like a video game), this allows your child to move at their own pace.  We do use this, but we do not grade our son on this.   

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8.       Supplemental Learning: I am an avid reader and believe, like Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, that learning is done through reading. For those of you who follow my son’s amazing history, you know reading taught him to speak.  In addition to the above, we incorporate state level reading into our year.  This is approximately ten books a year.  The book is read, a paper is written and a project is done.  Projects have included everything from building Lego diagrams and book reports to writing a play.  This is usually a month-long process, so my son learns how to executive plan at the same time.  

9.       Unschooling: This is a relatively new idea.  This allows teaching children based on their interests and not following a curriculum.  This is often termed “natural learning” or “independent learning.”  This is not a curriculum, not a method, but a way of looking at children and life.  A great example of this is the movie Captain Fantastic about a family that homeschooled their children in the wood.  (Do not watch this with your young kids; this is rated R and has adult themes).  This type of “curriculum” is an opportunity for you as a parent to educate your child in the way you think is best. 

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10.   Tutors: Yes, tutors still exist. They are also great resources throughout the education of your child. A quick google search will generate thousands of results for tutors near you.  A lot of homeschool curriculums offer tutors, but if you choose one without that and need one for your child, this is a great resource to consider.  Prices will range with each depending on course work, grade level, frequency and more. This is a great resource to have in your back pocket as your children get older as well.

The best part about homeschooling is that it is fluid.  What works for one child might not work for another.  What worked one year might not work the next.  There are so many options out there.  You do not need to feel stuck in one curriculum ever.  Do what works for your family.

Know too, that this is a change for your family.  Anticipate growing pains for everyone.  Give yourself GRACE.  No one expects you to be perfect.  We don’t expect teachers who go to school for years of getting trained to do this to be perfect.  Teaching your kids will be hard (teaching anyone is).  I have a teacher friend who once told me, “I love teaching, but there is NO WAY I could teach my own kids.”  That is a teacher.  Teaching your children is not without challenges.  But, picking a curriculum should not be one of them.

 Go forth in decision knowing you are not alone.  There are tons of communities out there to help.  Reach out to me anytime.  I would love to know how I can be of better service.

*****As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be More Independent

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COVID-19 has brought parents and children of all ages closer together than ever before.  Working from home while being parent, teacher, entertainment, psychologist, and a doctor can be overwhelming and exhausting. 

Parents are tired. Parents are short-tempered.  Parents are at the end of their rope.

How do we move from exhausted to active parents?  We teach #independence.

According to a Psychology Today article, the difference between independent children and contingent children is simple. Contingent children are dependent on others for how they feel and think.  Independent children believe themselves to be capable and competent themselves. 

How do we set our children up for this success?

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1.       Evaluate: Take stock of your situation.  How old is your child?  What environment are they in (sibling versus only child)? What age grouping is in the house? What abilities do they have?  What are the limitations?  How much time do you have to spend on a task?  Are you doing more as a parent than is needed?  Take honesty inventory of where you are as a family. Make sure all parents are on board.  This will fail if one or the other does not support the new plan.

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2.       Target Priorities: If this is a new change for you, it would be really easy to give all the tasks over to the child right away.  I caution you away from this.  This will fail.  Target your priorities focusing on one thing at a time.  A younger child should focus on things like getting dressed on their own (yes, let them pick their own clothes and dress themselves) and brush their teeth.  Young elementary should focus on things like cleaning their room and cleaning up their messes. Older children can learn how to do laundry, do the dishes, sweep and mop.  (Later this month we will talk more about chores).

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3.       Forget perfection: You will always do the chores in your house better than your child.  You have had years more practice.  This is not the time to point out all the flaws and imperfections.  Use this as teachable moments.  If milk spills, teach how to clean up and remind the child it happens to everyone.  They put the dish in the wrong place, remind them where it goes without criticism.  The time for constructive criticism is when they have been working on the task and “mastered” it; not while they learn it.

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4.       Praise Something – but not everything: Teaching responsibility is hard.  It is even harder on the child who thinks all a parent does is point out the failings. Praise goes a long way.  Authentic appreciation goes a long way. Americans, in particular, believe that we get praised for everything. A trophy for participation.  An “A” for effort.  But this leads to self-entitlement and arrogance.  When we praise everything, praise means less.  Praise success.  Praise hard work.  Those things will get repeated.  This positive re-enforcement will help with accountability, responsibility, and follow through as you increase the workload or the difficulty of the task.

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5.       Circumstance Matters: Sick, tired, stressed affect adults’ quality and production. Expected this from our children too.  Let them take a day off if they need it.  Help out with a task if they need it.  Don’t rush to solve minor problems.  Let them problem solve.  Give them a chance to figure out a solution.  This shows them you have faith in their ability. 

Independence is essential to becoming a productive adult.  Our job as parents is to raise kids into quality members of society.  We will not always be there for our kids.  Let’s use this time to teach them they are capable of. Let’s teach them they are confident.  Let’s teach them it’s ok to fail, but not quit.  Let’s teach them perfection is not the goal – success is the goal.

Sensory Survival to Independence Day

Fireworks.  Cotton candy.  Music to pull on the heartstrings.  Smiles. Parades. 

This is the time of year, in America, we celebrate #freedom, #independence, and #liberty. For most, this is a time of celebration and joy. Independence Day is the very core of what it means to be American.  It means freedom.  It means prevailing over adversity.  It’s a celebration of the rights we have today because men and women decided the prevailing government systems of the world were incomplete and inadequate.  We celebrate the recognition of human rights for the first time in history.  We celebrate a government by the people, for the people. 

On the other hand…

Crowds. Loud noises.  Booms so big you feel them rattle your bones.  This holiday is full of intense sensory overload children (and some adults) have a tough time navigating around.

It is hard to enjoy a celebration that is designed with everything that makes one feel out of place. 

We want to ensure our family experiences all the same things as any other child.  But we want it to be enjoyable – for everyone.  My family believes the world will not bend to the needs of our family, so we must find a way to adapt.

So how do we get through this wonderful holiday in one piece? 

I asked my son this very question and here are his tips and tricks to succeed.

1.       Bring Headphones: One of the most valuable tools in our toolbox for this holiday is headphones.  We keep extra earplugs in our cars for those who need them and forget about them.  Headphones help dampen the noise-making this more enjoyable for our son.  We bring these with us to theme parks, movie theatres, parades and the like.  There are tons to choose from.  We have found, that as our son grows, his preference and needs change.  So here is a list of the 10 top headphones for travel that I think you will find useful.

2.       Snacks:  But sensory is often processed through taste.  Snacks are essential to enjoying any celebration.  Food brings people together and encourages fellowship.  It often allows for the processing of sensory throughout the body.  We like mints throughout regular days.  But, for events like this, snacks with a crunch are great.  We usually bring some form of water (we like to flavor it with either lemon or Axio – which helps with focus), some vegetable chips or caramel-covered apples, and maybe a nice fruit dessert to cool down during the hot humid night.

Enjoying the show from afar

3.       Watch in your car: We have celebrated Independence Day in large and small cities across the country.  We have usually found a great way to limit crowds and sensory overload is watching the show in your car.  We have a hatchback that allows us to lift up the back and watch in the comfort of our trunk.  This keeps the loud noises, massive booms, and crowds at a minimum.  We enjoy the show and have the ability to leave before the masses exit (I hate traffic) and avoid the crowds.  With an increase in #COVID-19 cases across the south, this little tip is one of my favorites for health and wellness.

4.       Blankets and masks: If you cannot watch the show from the safety of your car, bring a large blanket for the picnic and remember your mask.  The blanket will act as a natural barrier from other groups.  The masks will be added needed protection against the virus.  Of course, you can always stay home and enjoy the show from your home (if you are close enough) or watch a broadcast of the show on television. 

5.       Stay with your group: This is smart advice regardless of the event or the current pandemic. Watch your young children who might wander off.  Events of this proportion are notorious for nefarious characters.  This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about “stranger danger” and work on social interactions with community workers like police and firefighters. We like to have a 2:1 ratio of adults to young children. When this cannot be done, you can always go old school with hug-and-tugs or backpacks with wrist connections.  This will give deep pressure (when full of snacks) and help keep kids near. 

With a nation in unrest due to the current pandemic and questions of how to process rights or man and rule of law, this holiday is even more important than ever. 

I hope this Independence Day is safe and fun for everyone – no matter how you celebrate it.  I would love to hear how you help your little ones get through events like this.  Send in your tips.   And let this be a year we truly appreciate the long history of freedom, liberty, and bravery Independence Day honors.  Thank you to all the servicemen and women who make it possible for us to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the numerous other freedoms our country allows for all its citizens.

Celebrate the Extraordinary: Moving into a New Normal

Neon Sign - Think About Things Differently
Neon Sign – Think About Things Differently

The phrase “Getting back to normal,” has been used a lot lately as we start to look forward to the end of #quaratine and #socialdistancing.  We can’t wait to sit next to that annoying coworker, drive a car, get coffee with a friend. 

As a parent in the special needs community, I hear a lot of people wishing for their child to be “normal.”  If only they could play ball with their boy or go to a dance recital with their little girl.  So many times, they start sentences with “If only…” or “I wish…”

We live in a generation where everything is instant.  We compare ourselves, our children, and our lives to the fake world broadcast on social media.  We use social media as a tool to measure “normal.” 

But we do a disservice to ourselves, our children, our communities when we use this measurement.  No one is normal.

I’ll say it again – NO ONE IS NORMAL.

Your spouse is not normal.  Your child is not normal.  You are not normal. 

Those who think you are normal – HAVE NOT MET YOU.

What #socialdistancing is teaching us is patience.  Patience with our family.  Patience with our community.  Patience with our governments.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us the value of time.  Time with family.  Time for self-growth.  Time for laughter.  Time for love.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us who we are – at our core when no one else is watching.  We are learning who we are without the world telling us who we should be.

So, instead of wishing for normal, why don’t we celebrate the EXTRAORDINARY and look forward to what can be an amazing new normal.

The four youngest in the family: May look the same, but very different personalities.

1.       Different Children with Different Needs: I have said it before, and will say it again.  Our children are different from any other child – even siblings.  What makes this world so special is the differences.  Different, by definition, means NOT normal.  Let’s celebrate these differences and not a world of cookie-cutter sameness. That world lacks depth, color, and beauty. That world will also never truly come to pass.  It is about time we realized and embraced that. 

Spencer overcomes his fear of heights!

2.       Overcoming challenges: We all have challenges in life. Every one of us has overcome something – sickness, depression, addiction, self-esteem.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.  We should celebrate that not dwell on the past of “normal” where we lived in those things.  Every kid has challenges – whether they are on the spectrum, have a special need, or are labeled “normal” or “neuro-typical” by the world.  Every kid is beautiful.   We should celebrate the bravery of facing those challenges.  Celebrate the hard work that goes into overcoming challenges.  Celebrate the stronger, more compassionate, more confident individual who comes out on the other side of those challenges.

Daddy son time - investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.
Daddy son time – investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.

3.       Craft a new normal: As the discussion of how to “return to normal” after #socialdistancing and #quarantine start, I encourage you to stop.  Stop thinking about returning.  Start thinking about the future.  Why would we want to return to world measured in likes, memes, and insincerity?  We have been offered an amazing opportunity to do radical change in our personal lives, our community, and the world.  Let us craft a new normal.  A normal of Love.  A normal of Compassion.  A normal of Encouragement.  Let us stop measuring normal and start celebrating the uniqueness, bravery and beautiful creature that is the individual in the mirror, sitting next to us, across from us, or passing by.

I know it is easy to crave “normal.”  We want to have a routine, to have a semblance of balance, to want what we know.  But humans have NEVER been called to accept the status quo.  We have never been called to be complacent.  We are mechanisms of change. 

Family of four walk the street
Family of four walk the street

We have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate incredible change for good. It is our responsibility to let go of the “old normal” and embrace the “new normal.”  Let us re-prioritize our life to honor this opportunity.  Celebrate the gift that has been so lavishly poured out upon us – time with family, getting back to basics, being real with each other and ourselves.  As we move forward to “new normal,”” I pray we keep this in mind and look forward to the incredible change for good in how we treat each other and ourselves.

Re-set During #Socialdistancing

Man laying down on steps of building during daylight hours
Man laying down on steps of building

Before #socialdistancing exercise, eating right, and balance seemed much easier.  Motivation was easy – people see you.  Who wants to look like a louse in public? 

But as #socialdistancing extends, the leggings, carbs and time in front of the TV are preferable to almost anything else.  No one wants to look at the scale.

For kids with sensory needs, this is even more important as the sensory input of a workout resets the chemistry in the brain.  This helps with focus, self-control, and skill development.

Countless studies show exercise is critical to health.  But there is a developing field of study in how exercise actually helps impact the neuron pathways in the brain.  ABA, Occupational Therapists, even parents, can attest to the importance of a regular sensory workout program (SWP) in helping children with special needs, indeed all children, with coping, focus, and development.

How does one do this in the home?  When we can’t leave?

Here are some things that work for us.

Hanging out in the sensory room playing on the ropes, rock wall and rings.
Hanging out in the sensory room

Sensory Room

A sensory room is designed to help someone regulate their brain using external sensory input.  That is technical speak for “help re-center yourself.”  Sensory rooms have been shown to have calming effects, help improve focus, increase socialization, and help with all sorts of development (both neurological and physical.

We discovered this importance when our son was about five.  He needed a place to get all his wiggles out, calm down, and enjoy himself. 

Our room is the garage.  In this room, we have an art table, a basketball hoop, rock wall, ropes, and a punching bag. 

This room is a place where we presently do out occupational therapy, but when it is not used for therapy, it is also a “fort” (which every kid needs).  A sensory room grows with the child.  This room is the “hang out” place for playdates, it is the escape from parents when angry place, and a place for a great work out for parents place as well.

Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program
Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program

Sensory Workout

No one likes working out.  Even those who say they do – don’t.  They like the after-effects. 

That is true for our kiddos too.  Working out is hard.  But a necessity of life.

A sensory work out is not that different than a regular work out. I do recommend getting with your occupational therapist before starting one, as each work out is different depending on the person.

Usually, a workout will consist of some combination of proprioceptive (deep pressure to joints and calming/organizing), vestibular (excites, usually circulatory and rhythmic), touch, smell, breathing, and auditory input.  It does not usually go longer than 30 minutes and can be done easily at home or at school.

We have been known to do wall push-ups and squats in grocery stores, joint pressure at restaurants and them parks, and always have some sort of audio and smell for calming wherever we go.  We like citrus oils for focus before school ad lavender oils for calming after.

Sensory Tent
Sensory Tent

Sensory rest

Just as every fitness instructor will say a warm-up and cool down are important for every workout, sensory rest is just as essential for every person.

A 2018 study showed an average adult (18+ years old) spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen.  That is 45.83% of the 24-hour day.  If you a lot for 8 hours of sleep (which we don’t usually get), that is 68.75% of our day in front of a screen!   Is it any wonder we need a reset?

In our house, we each have space and activity that works for us.

My husband goes on long runs and he and I will do a kickboxing or boxing workout on the punching bag at least once a week (sometimes more).

My son and I like to do yoga together.  The meditation and combination of proprioceptive and vestibular input are super calming.  I prefer something like YogaShred where he prefers the stories of Cosmic Kids Yoga.

We also both love heavy blankets! 

My son also has a tent in his room he often withdraws to where he reads, draws, plays with Lego. 

Workout gear

I know it is hard to feel settled during #socialdistancing.  It is hard during regularly scheduled programming as well.  Try and find some ways this week to help re-set.  Re-center. Refresh.  Let me know what  works for you and your kiddos or if you want some more ideas on how to use what you already have in your home to make a sensory diet.

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. 

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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.

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