Summer Days

It’s July 16th.

The summer is already a quarter spent!

Here today, gone tomorrow.

By this week I feel like we’re finally hitting the summer groove around here.  It always takes much longer than expected to adjust to a whole new schedule and routine.  We’ve had some busy weekends with late nights that kept us struggling to play catch up on sleep, laundry and other necessities, but this week…ah…we are finally feeling it 🙂

I have been looking forward to this summer so much.  It is wonderful to have hit the official one year mark with our girls.  We are into our second year, creating traditions, reliving memories and basking in the comfortable feeling those things bring.

It was time for a break from school and I am delighted to once again be the centre of my daughters’ world.  Since I’m at stay at home mom and the girls aren’t in any type of extracurricular programs, the three of us spend every day all day together.  Granted, that gets a bit stifling at times, but I truly do love us seeing the world together and knowing the seconds and minutes of their days, something I never got to experience with them as infants and toddlers.  I love knowing every little thing about them and why exactly they are tired, grumpy, happy, sad, overwhelmed or silly at the end of the day.  There is so much intimacy in that knowing.

I also spent some time thinking about the summer before it actually came, so I was prepared for the longer days and lack of routine and personal space.  I decided I would build those elements into our days and so far it has worked really well!  I knew I wanted to enjoy the freedom of summer with them, but I also knew that my pregnant body would need rest each day and my daughters and I would all benefit from some personal space!  So every afternoon we spend at least 30-60 minutes having Quiet Time.  It’s not always at the same time, as our days vary in schedule and activities, but we try to make it happen every day, even if it has to be right before dinner.  To prepare for this, I created our ‘Quiet Time Box’ which is filled with activities that only get used at Quiet Time; puzzles, games, notebooks, magnetic dolls, simple and no-mess crafts.  Nothing messy, nothing complicated and nothing electronic is the rule.  They each pick one thing from the Quiet Time Box each day, as well as some books to read.  Then we each disappear to our own little corner of the house for that time.  There are only 2 rules for Quiet Time.

1) Be quiet.

2) Stay in your spot.

Usually my littlest A, who loves to talk and hates to be alone, falls asleep because she is bored and gets in a nap, which is a bonus and extends my quiet time quite substantially!  I sometimes take a nap or just sit down and read a book, spend time with Jesus or do nothing at all.  Today I’m blogging 🙂  Occasionally I’m busy preparing dinner or doing laundry in that time but it’s still great to have some time where nobody is calling for Mommy or squabbling or just making noise!  Thinking space, I call it.

Another way we’ve built in routine is that we’ve continued with our morning jobs routine that helped us during the school year.  Once we’re all up and we’ve eaten breakfast, the next step is to get ready for the day.

Wash your face.

Brush your teeth.

Get dressed.

Make your bed (This one’s only for the kids…I know, I know I should really do this too! 🙂

Pick up your dirty laundry.

Brush your hair.

After all that is done, you’re ready to go play! 🙂

If you’re thinking…”Wow, my kids would never remember all that or stay on task!”…know that this has been a work in progress for the past year.  My girls each have visual charts to help them remember to do each job, and my younger daughter who can focus for about 3 seconds max on her own has hers divided into 3 categories and has to report to me with her chart after she’s finished each category.  Now that we’ve been doing the exact same thing the exact same way for over 6 months (it took awhile to find a method that worked) they are finally moving through the routine pretty smoothly and with very minimal assistance.  It’s awesome!  I really love having the same start to our day, weekend or weekday, and knowing they can do it without me nagging them.  It also pushes me to get out of my bathrobe just a little sooner and we all feel better by 9:00 am than we would without the schedule!

Another thing we do every day is some work in our Gr. 1 and 2 Curriculum Workbooks.  They each do three pages a day, one from each category; Reading, Writing, Math.  If you’ve never seen these books at Wal-Mart and you have kids that need some extra academic practise through the summer, check these out!  They are designed based on the Canadian curriculum.  Everything should be review if you use the book for the grade your child has just completed.  It’s a great way to review concepts, identify strengths and weaknesses, fill in gaps and keep your child’s brain in tune academically.  Just a note, I understand some kids do not need this kind of maintenance over the summer and that is super!  Others, however, really benefit from this kind of review so that when September comes they do not have to spend the first two months trying to retrain their brain.  I also find it helpful to stay familiar with my children’s academic ability and behaviours related to school work.  The first rule of being an advocate for your child with a learning disability or behaviour problem is to know what their capabilities are so you can give insight and advocate for your child’s potential.  Be the expert on your child!

Besides the Quiet Time, workbooks and morning jobs we try to get out and do something active together at least once a day.  A bike ride, a walk or a swim.  They love it and it’s very healthy for me and baby who, by the way, we are all getting pretty anxious to meet!  Three more months to go! 🙂

We frequent the library down the street about twice a week, go grocery shopping and go do our ‘dog job.’  I found a family needing some extra exercise for their 3 ginormous Great Danes!  We go over twice a week and let them out to play in the yard for about an hour while all their family members are away.  It’s been a fun way for the girls to earn a bit of their own money, feel like they have a summer job and get some healthy exposure to some big dogs!  A great opportunity to practise responsibility and perseverence!

All the little pieces add up to days that fill amazingly quickly!

Overall, I feel blessed.

I love my girls so much and I feel so blessed to be able to stay at home with them full time.

I adore my husband, who works so hard to provide for us and truly is the best Dad I can imagine for our daughters.

My life feels full and rich and vibrant.  We have many friends and aquaintances we bump into around our small town each day which keeps life interesting.

We love camping in the summer and hope to get out quite a few times to do that.

As for the girls’ adoption, we are still waiting for the final documents needed to officially become a family.  We’ve run into delay after delay and I’m anxious to have our day in court, sign the papers and celebrate!  But in the meantime it really doesn’t change our lives all that much 🙂

So that’s our little world which continues to spin 🙂  Hope you are enjoying the summer as much as we are!

Cheers!

AF

Easing Transitions

         Hey there 🙂

I thought I would reappear for a second here and share a few little charts with you that we’ve been using around here. I’m assuming that we are not the only ones who struggle to keep transition times positive. When there’s a list of things you want your kids to do and you’re racing against a clock only you seem to be aware of, it’s hard to keep things cheerful and stress free. Whether it’s lost shoes, forgotten homework, library books, messy faces or backwards tights all it can take in those stressful moments is one little straw to bring the whole thing crashing to the floor! Let’s face it…it doesn’t exactly make you feel like Supermom when you show up for school 5-10 minutes late five days in a row. (I should know!) If your kids are already struggling emotionally, all it can take is a grumpy Mama breathing down their necks to shove them onto the fast track to a very bad day for all of the above!

So…how do you somehow get all those things accomplished without nagging at them and at the same time teach responsibility?

My answer is VISUALS.

After living with a child diagnosed with Autism for almost 10 months, I fell in love with all things PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System.) During that time I bought myself a cheap little laminator at Walmart ($60 will get you a laminator, pouches and little velcro stickers). I have been using that thing for everything I can get my hands on ever since! I LOVE to laminate things. It makes them durable, clean and it’s just so much fun! 🙂

Anyway, while we were fostering this child, I made hundreds and hundreds of little pictures for us to be able to communicate and understand each other. We had pictures of foods for mealtime and grocery shopping. We had pictures of jobs that needed to be done, down to specific steps for things like going to the bathroom and getting dressed. We had pictures of emotions to communicate how we were feeling. We had pictures of social rules, consequences and even a little square for hugs, kisses and I LOVE YOU. For little R, it meant for the first time he had a voice to be able to communicate what was going through his mind, even if his physical voice would not cooperate in the way he wanted.

There are thousands of websites that can give you ideas for creating visuals for your child. For R it was a way to communicate in every part of his life but even if your child has a perfectly functional voice (like both of mine do), visuals are still a great way to reinforce expectations and teach new skills!

For my girls, being able to see pictures of the jobs that need to be done have made our morning routine so much smoother. Now I don’t need to keep track of every move they’re making in that hour before leaving the house. They each have a list of what needs to be done and know that until their boxes are all checked off, they are not allowed to move on to playtime. If they do happen to skip one, they know that Mommy will catch it as she breezes through the house making that final sweep and they will not be able to blame anyone else for not doing it because it was on their list! It makes them feel great when they do all their jobs and don’t have to be reminded ten times to hurry up, go back and get socks or stop playing and get ready! The other great thing about visuals is that you can easily tailor it to match your child’s ability and comprehension. My daughters’ charts don’t look the same. At first I just made them each a checklist like this:

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However, my littlest A did not do so well with this method. It was too big of a stretch for her to see words and pictures and try to comprehend what she needed to do on her own. So I made this one for her instead:

DSC05466

Now she has a list of only pictures, and instead of running around armed with an erasable marker (which is an accident waiting to happen) all she has to do is move her picture from the TO DO column on the left to the ALL DONE column on the right. The physical motion of having to move each sticker helps her keep track of what she’s done and makes it harder for her to accidentally check off a task she has not actually completed.

Are our mornings perfect?

No.

Kids will always be kids. They still fool around, get their tights on backwards, brush their teeth in 5 seconds and miss the peanut butter around their mouths when washing faces. They move at the speed of a snail some days and we are still late for school sometimes.  I have to call them back to remake sloppy beds, wash properly or focus on their tasks.

But…

It helps us stay on track and makes the morning much less stressful for me when I can make the list be the boss instead of a harried Mom being the boss. Now, instead of it being Mom vs. Kids it feels a bit more like we’re a team all working toward the same goal.

A few other visuals we use sometimes are:

Dressing Prompts for all those tricky winter layers like snow pants and boots

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and an after school jobs list to get the lunch bag and agenda up to Mommy’s counter to be signed.

There are a thousand more visual projects I’d love to do and a few more we enjoy that I don’t have pictures of. One of my favourites is making grocery lists for kids when you’re going to the store so they can help shop too! For little ones, you can use pictures. For older kids you can make them their own list and even send them to another area of the store to get a few items if they’re responsible enough. Teaching little ones to dress is always a challenge and visuals are great for that too. Posting step by step instructions you can help them refer to makes them feel like they’ve done it all on their own. We had a step by step guide for using the bathroom posted for months to help make sure hands were washed, toilet was flushed, etc. Organizing your child’s toys and clothes is another great way to use visuals so they can start taking responsibility for where their things belong.  If you have children that struggle to understand social situations or are anxious in new environments, social stories can be a great visual tool to help them understand and  prepare for situations they’ll be facing.  You can use visuals as a teaching tool for those precocious toddlers who need more to keep their brains busy, too! 🙂  McDonald’s ordering booklets are fun and easy.  Let  your child choose what he/she would like next time and use her voice and pictures to tell the person at the cashier.  I’m guessing when you do a quick search online you’ll soon have lots of ideas too! So buy that laminator! 🙂

As for the actual pictures, you can use a variety of tools.

  1. Your camera. Real pictures taken of individual items.

  2. Free clipart online

  3. Websites that offer clipart, PECS or ready made charts.

    Once you have the pictures, all you do is load them onto your computer, paste them into a program like Microsoft Word or Office, shrink them down to the dimensions you’d like (1 or 2 inches usually), print them off, cut them out and then zip them through your laminator. Once they’ve been laminated you cut them out and stick a little square of velcro on the back.

    Voila!

    Have fun 🙂

    AF