Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's Personal: Burn Out

The boys were invited to go bowling with a friend Tuesday night.  This was after a very hectic day for everyone in the household.  I was so excited to sit down and enjoy the time I had with the boys, their friend, and their friend's mother.  She is a fabulous person and someone I adore.  Her day time job is such that she understands the needs of my children, the demands of me as a parent, and just how chaotic and crazy our life is at times.  This is such a blessing.

As we were talking and updating each other about life, with a feeling of genuine love and concern, she expressed how she worried about me burning out.  With a smile on my face, I was ecstatic to share that we're doing better than ever.  I feel like I've finally figured out how to do all of this!  That's not to say things might change in the future, but for now, I'm feeling fabulous.

Burn out is not just something parents of special needs kiddos experience.  It can happen to any parent.  One can think they're doing everything right, doing what parents "should" do, and it can still happen.  Sometimes that's how it does happen.  Those "shoulds" can drive a parent crazy.  How does one avoid burn out?  Or can they?

If my friend would have expressed her concerns a year ago, I would have most likely admitted, I was almost there.  Life was insanely crazy.  I was trying so hard to do what I thought I "should" do as a parent.  I lost track of what my kiddos really needed, and what I needed.  Over the past year I have worked extremely hard to make sure I never am in that place again.  Thus far I have succeeded.  As everyone is different, there's not just one way to avoid burn out.  I've read several articles about it, and frankly, the "how to" steps usually don't work for me.  As you read this, what worked for me, may be the opposite of what works for you. Still, I thought it important to share what I've learned.  I must warn you, the process is not a one time deal.  I've had to go through it with each kiddo separately.  I'm almost completely through the process with my youngest, but know I'm not completely there yet.

How do I avoid burn out?

1.  Proper Education-When I was a parent of one, I read every parenting book and magazine I could find.  After child number two, I threw them all away.  Every time I read them, I cried.  My second child wasn't meeting his milestones. No disciplinary advice worked.  With child number three, parenting was like nothing I'd ever experienced before.  To say it was hard is an understatement.  In between child number three and child number four, we fostered over 20 children, several of them infants.  Every kiddo was different.  I learned that it wasn't education about parenting I needed, but education about my child's specific needs that was crucial.  With the help of doctors and a few specialists, paired with observations, therapy, and the practice of trial and error my husband and I learned what was going on with each kiddo.  Once we understood this, we were able to participate in training specific to their individual needs, if it was necessary. For two of my four special needs kiddos, training has definitely been necessary.  Training has also come in the form of books appropriate to what we were experiencing.

2.  Acceptance-It's one thing to become educated about the needs of your child, but another to accept those needs, whatever they are.  Again, this process is not just specific to parents of special needs kiddos.  Too often we want to change our children, and mold them into what we think they should become, or what society teaches us they "should" become.  When I was able to accept and embrace my kiddos for who they are, loving their strengths and weaknesses equally, I found my job as their parent to be so much easier.

I've also had to accept my own limitations as a parent.  As much as I'd like to accomplish more than I do, I can't.  I need sleep just as much as everyone else.  There are responsibilities that I have,related to my special needs kiddos, that make doing other things very difficult.  At first, this was very hard to accept.  Now I just remember there is a time and a season for all things. Right now, my main priority is my kiddos. That won't be the case forever. 

3.  Ask for Help-Pride is so difficult to overcome.  In my case it was because I didn't want others to see how much I was struggling.  We all need help from time to time.  It's important to learn to ask for it.  If you can't ask for it, then start by accepting it when it's offered.  I have found it helpful to keep a "How Can I Help?" list on hand for when people ask what they can do for my family.  Only things I feel comfortable with anyone doing, are included on the list.  If a person chooses not to help out, after they hear what they can do, that's okay.  I try to make sure there are 10 items on my list, but at times, there are less.  

4.  Priorities-I'm a firm believer that my daily life should reflect my priorities.  When it doesn't, I know my daily routines need to change.  During the day, while my kiddos are awake, their care is my number one priority.  If they are playing well together and I have a chance to tackle some house work or work on a post for my blog, I do it. But if they need me, I'm there for them.  If there are chores that need to be done during the day, we do them together.  When my kiddos are asleep, I work and take time for myself.

I believe prioritizing also applies to my children.  My kiddos' priorities are simple.  They need to sleep well, eat healthy, be active, grow, receive an education (both spiritually and academically), and learn how to develop positive relationships with others.  Every kiddo is different and develop at their own pace.  Many things I thought were "necessary" in their development process, or specific to certain ages, turned out to be only desires I had for my kiddos, which may or may not have been realistic.  In other situations it came down to deciding what was "best," not just "better" or "good" for them. 

5.  Simplify-This was a hard one for me and took a very long time.  I find it a continuing process.  Simplify schedules and routines.  In our home, our kiddos traded extra curricular activities for family fun nights and vacations.  We eliminated many therapies.  If one of the kiddos wasn't progressing, we decided it wasn't the right fit.  When therapies weren't focusing on the things that the kiddos really needed, we decided to go a different route, working on things at home.  I'll always remember the occupational therapist that told me my oldest didn't need therapy because I was already doing what they would do, in my home, on a daily basis, using the Montessori Practical Life and pre-writing activities.  School outside of the home was the cause of many extreme behaviors in our kiddos.  We made the decision to homeschool.  Our family qualifies for all sorts of aid and respite services, but I've found the more people we involve with the care of our children, the worse their behaviors are.  Obviously, these were personal choices that work for us.  What works for another may be the exact opposite.  Our kiddos are at their best when they are with us.  When they're at their best, I'm at my best.

Simplify your home.  Say goodbye to anything you don't need.  You'll be amazed at how easy it is to stay on top of housework and pick up.  I've found when there is less mess and clutter, my kiddos function better.  The same goes for my husband and myself.

Simplify your holidays, traditions, etc.  It's amazing how much stress comes to us as parents because we want everything just right for those special days.  In my case, my kiddos can't handle much "special."  They thrive on routine, and when that changes, the meltdowns are endless.  This may mean creating new and more simple traditions, not traveling or joining large family gatherings.  I never feel more close to burn out than when trying to plan or prepare for a large event where my children are involved.

6. Joy in the Journey-I love spending time with my kiddos.  It may not be the case for everyone, or even most, but for me, I find the more time I spend with my kiddos, the less I need a break from them.  During the day, I become the most overwhelmed when I'm trying to get things done for myself, rather than taking care of my kiddos.  Finding joy in the journey has made all the difference. When they're awake, it's their time.  This isn't to say I don't have days where I cry... a lot.  Or have nights when I tell my husband I just need to get out of the house.  It just means that I truly find joy in my journey as a parent and wouldn't trade that for the world. 

7. Confidence-My kiddos are my kiddos for a reason.  I have been given the qualities and abilities to raise them.  Experiences in my past have prepared me to do just that.  No one knows my kiddos better than I do.  Sometimes doctors, therapists, and specialists have tried to tell me what I "should" do, and I've disagreed.  That's okay.  It took me a long time to feel confident in my role as a mother to my kiddos, and realize that doctors and therapists don't know everything.  I make mistakes too.  I am not perfect.  But, I can do this!  Knowing that helps me each and every day.

Being a parent is hard work.  It is the most difficult job I've ever had.  Finding my place in this role, and preventing burn out has been crucial to the success and progression of my children, along with the emotional and physical health of myself.  I challenge you to take a look at different aspects of your life and figure out how you can avoid burnout.  Your solution may be the complete opposite of mine, but if it works for you, that doesn't matter.  I'd love to know how you do it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Auditory Stimuli in the Classroom

I am a classically trained musician.  Countless hours of my life have been spent in practice labs, rehearsals, and performances.  My voice is my instrument.  Vocal exercises are my friend.  I have a passion for choral conducting and love the natural high it brings me.  Music is always in my head.  If I had a choice between a silent room or one filled with multiple instruments playing completely different tunes, I'd choose the room with multiple instruments.  If the choice were up to me, music would be playing around the clock in my home.  I would be singing along with it, starting my day with multiple vocal exercises.

However, that's not the case.  I have not performed since shortly after the birth of Bulldozer, almost 6 years ago.  My conducting days ended just about the same time.  Vocal exercises and even personal piano practice sessions have ceased in my home.  I had to tell Princess that Mommy used to be a singer recently, as I was singing "Let It Go" with her the other day. Her eyes had become wide as she listened to the operatic vibrato in my voice.  It may have been the first time she'd ever heard me really sing.

Why have things changed so much?  I live in a home full of people with hyper sensitivities to auditory stimuli.  Dinomite is the most sensitive to sounds.  In fact, auditory issues in the classroom were the number one reason he did not do well in a school environment outside of the home.  Loud noises scare Dinomite.  He needs complete silence to do his school work (which I admit is at times impossible to provide). Noises are also very distracting to Dinomite. When he becomes overwhelmed by auditory stimuli around him, he reacts in a very physical way, lashing out at others around him or curling up into a ball, kicking and screaming.  It breaks my heart.  Dinomite can not handle Mommy singing or playing the piano in the home.  We listen to classical music in small increments, with the volume very low, but that's about as much as he can handle.

Dinomite has significant struggles when placed in indoor environments with loud noises.  He wasn't able to function to be part of an indoor soccer league with other kiddos, because of the noises in the gym and the whistle being used.  It's taken a very long time for him to be able to watch a movie in a theater, and even now he puts his hands over his ears most of the time.  Instead of attending performances, shows, etc., we usually try to find DVDs to bring home to him to watch, so he can control the volume.  Otherwise the event is unsuccessful.

Bulldozer is also hypersensitive to sound.  When very little he used to scream and cry every time he heard the sound of an airplane in the sky. To this day he's petrified of public restrooms because of the sound of the flushing toilets and air dryers.  Bulldozer is also extremely distracted by sound.  When he was attending a special needs preschool, it was noted often, how he wasn't able to focus on or complete tasks because he was so distracted by every noise he heard outside the classroom, especially trucks going by.

Bulldozer appears to suffer from an auditory processing disorder.  I say "appears" because we can't prove it until he's older and can actually take the tests required to diagnose it.  However, his doctors are pretty certain it's there.  When speaking to Bulldozer, we've had to learn to use as few words as possible when relaying information or asking a question. We wait at least 10 seconds after asking a question, before asking him again or rephrasing the question.  It takes him that long to process the words we're saying.  Even then he may not process it correctly.  Bulldozer always does best with visuals or hand held manipulatives to help him understand material and instructions.  Without those visuals, he's unable to process information correctly.  Sound alone, is not enough, as he lacks so many skills in this area.  Listening to lectures and/or books being read aloud is extremely difficult for Bulldozer.

Despite these challenges, Bulldozer is actually my musical child.  He enjoys the sounds of classical music, and works best with continuous sound in the background.  I'll always remember the month we studied Bach.  We'd listen to his music as we did our morning work. Bulldozer never worked so well.  He enjoys playing his own melodies on the piano.  Out of all of my kiddos, he's the only one who can carry a tune.  Yet, because of the sensory processing issues, you'll rarely find him singing along with music being played, or others singing.  He can't process the words at the same speed as others, and is always behind.  This is very frustrating for him.  Bulldozer does best without musical accompaniment, singing solo.

Princess doesn't necessarily have hypersensitivities to sound, however, they tend to overwhelm her and trigger her anxieties.  I'm still trying to figure out Sunshine's auditory sensory needs.  When she was an infant, there were several concerns about her hearing due to Mild Cranial Facial Microsomia.  We started teaching her sign language because we were worried she wasn't hearing us correctly.  She would become extremely frustrated while attempting to communicate.  Sign language helped her a lot.  Fortunately, now she's doing fabulous with no hearing issues.

How can you meet the auditory needs of the child in your classroom?

1.  Volume-Does your child enjoy loud noises or need them in order to hear your correctly?  Would your child prefer you to speak with a loud voice?  Is your child extremely sensitive to noise and need you to speak softly?

2.  Distraction/Environment-Are there auditory factors distracting your child's learning process?  Can you eliminate the distractions, or would it be best if you change your learning environment, or time of learning, so that it doesn't coincide with auditory distractions?  Does your child need a quiet working environment?  Perhaps your child needs noise to help them stay focused?  Is your child able to hear correctly in their learning environment?

3.  Auditory Processing-Does your child respond quickly and accurately to directions and questions?  If not, does your child need extra time to process what you're saying?  Try counting to 10 in your head before repeating a question or expecting your child to respond.  Does this make a difference?  If not, is your child hearing correctly?  How does your child respond to lessons without visuals and manipulatives?  Can your child repeat what you're teaching them?  Are visuals and manipulatives needed to help your child process information?

4.  Anxiety/Behavior-Does your child become anxious or act out during overwhelming auditory experiences?  If so, how can you help them?  Are there PTSD triggers associated with specific sounds and noises?  Can you identify them and avoid them?

What resources are there for children who struggle with auditory stimuli in the classroom?

1.  Teach them to cover their ears.  This has been crucial for our boys, especially in public places.

2.  Use noise reducing headphones in places and situations where needed.

3.  Provide white noise for your child.  Fans work well, or you can try a white noise machine.

4.  Use music that does not distract, but helps a child focus in their learning environment.  If you have multiple students, give the child head phones with desired music playing, so they won't distract others.

5.  Avoid situations where children will become overstimulated.  Instead of performances and other events, introduce recorded versions.  If you're in a place where you can't do this (like church), go to a quiet room, where you can still hear what's being said, but it's not as loud, or provide ear plugs/noise reducing headphones for your child during these experiences.

6.  Provide visuals and manipulatives paired with instruction and questions.

7. Develop patience and tolerance for those who just may not be able to hear and/ or process information as quickly.

Remember, every child is different. What may work for one child, may do the opposite for the other.  Changing auditory stimuli to meet the needs of your child can literally transform the learning process and your child.

What resources have helped your child with auditory stimuli in the classroom?

For more information about sensory needs in the classroom, please check out my other posts:

If you haven't already, I'd love for you to start following the blog, like our Facebook page, and/or follow me on Pinterest.  I hope you have a fabulous day!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bird Unit 2 w/ Free Printables

Finally the new bird unit is ready!  Thank you stomach bug for finally saying goodbye to my family, just in time for Easter weekend.  It took two weeks for it to go through everyone.  Yuck!  On to better things... Here is our unit!
Though this unit took a very long time to put together (mostly because of sickness etc.), I'm very pleased with how it turned out. There are so many free printables! If you haven't started following us on the blog, please do.  For those who haven't joined us on Facebook, please like us.  We're also on Pinterest, if you'd like to visit us there.

The Bird's Bath Poem
 The kiddos will read and analyze the poem, using the objects provided.

 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Language Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Preposition Opposite Match Up
 The kiddos can play memory or just simply match up the birds, identifying the opposite prepositions.
 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Language Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Bird Unit Spelling Activity
The kiddos will spell the words provided, using play dough and alphabet letter cookie cutters.

 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Language Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Birds Hatching Sequence
 The kiddos will sequence the cards, placing them in order from the beginning of hatching to the end.  (Thank you to Wikipedia Commons for such great pictures!)

 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Math Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

How Many Eggs Hatched Graph
 The kiddos will roll the die to determine how many eggs hatched for each type of bird.  They will then place markers on the graph to chart their data.

 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Math Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Counting Bird Egg Addition
 The kiddos will add using the candy eggs as counters and glass beads as markers for answers on each card.
 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Math Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Feeding Baby Birds Subtraction
The kiddos will subtract using gummy worms as counters and glass beads as markers for answers on each card.

Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Math Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Male & Female Bird Differences
 The kiddos will match up male and female birds, discussing similarities and differences.
Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Science & Culture Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

50 Birds Around the World
The kiddos will look through the cards, sorting them as they wish, learning the names of different birds in the process.

 Source: I created this printable as part of my Birds Unit Science & Culture Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Bird Beak & Bird Feet Identification
The kiddos will identify what kind of beak and feet each bird has.  Picture cards with names are provided for each bird figure. The birds used in this activity come from our Bird Safari Toob.

 Source: I created the bird picture cards as part of my Birds Unit Science & Culture Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.  The bird beak chart can be found HERE.  The bird feet chart can be found at Science Buddies.  This activity was inspired by activities I saw and loved at The Pinay Homeschooler.

Building a Bird House
 This week, the kiddos made bird houses using kits I found on sale at the local craft store.  It was quite a project, but they loved it.
Painting a Bird House
When finished the kiddos painted their houses.  It was definitely a favorite project.

During the week, we've also done a lot of bird watching, especially those who are enjoying our new bird feeder outside.

Visual Arts:
How to Draw Birds
The kiddos will practice drawing birds this week, choosing from the options provided in this activity.

Source: The step by step drawing cards for this activity came from How to Draw Animals.  I love this site and the easy step-by-step instructions for kiddos.

The kiddos will learn a new song this week.  They'll also continue with their piano lessons.

Physical Education:
We'll continue with our family fitness activities.

Practical Life/Sensorial:
Bird Tanograms
 Technically this activity counts as a math activity, but it's on our "fun" shelves this week, so I put it here.  Hopefully the kiddos will enjoy it. The cards and shapes are part of a kit we have.

Bird Sensory Bin
 The kiddos will enjoying playing in our bird sensory bin full of sunflower seeds, nests, plastic eggs, birds, and feathers.

Catching Worms
 I saw this activity in a few places, so am unsure who to give credit to.  The kiddos will pick up the "worms" using the clothes pin and place them in the nest for the baby birds.

Transferring Eggs
 The kiddos will transfer eggs from one tray to the other, placing them correctly.

Bird Invitation to Play
 Who wants to make birds?  The kiddos will make their own birds using the objects provided. I can't wait to see their creations!

Cheerio Bird Feeder
Once again, I saw this activity on several different sites. The kiddos will string Cheerios on to pipe cleaners, shape them into circles and hang them on tree branches for the birds.

Dinomite is super excited about this unit and has already taken it upon himself to do some of the activities on the shelves. We've also found some fabulous apps to help him identify birds he sees in our backyard and to learn more about birds he doesn't know.

For those interested in the free printables, click on the links below:

If you notice any mistakes in any of the printable activities, please let me know so I can correct them.  Thank you!  I hope everyone has a fabulous Easter weekend.  I can't believe May is just around the corner. 

For those who are interested in bird activities for younger kiddos, check out our bird unit from last year!
Stay tuned for our Rocks and Minerals Unit coming next week!

Comments and questions are always welcome!