Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Library Love

Saturday is our Library Day.

We go every week when possible. Everybody loves it.

We have two bags now that we take with us. Returns. And Recheck.

Daddy goes down the list calling out titles, and little people scurry around the house digging books from under pillows and piles of paper, matching DVDs with the correct covers, and sweeping arms under the couch in search of strays.

Kit squeals with delight as she asks every person in the family if "you're coming too?" and we all say "YES!"

Even Grandpa is easy to get out the door on Library day.

Upon arrival, Daddy sees to the business of returning items, picking up orders that have arrived, and rechecking the ones we aren't quite finished with.

The rest of us fan out in search of this week's adventures.

The rule is the kids must select at least one item before getting on the computers. Really, this is mostly a rule for Grace. While not our biggest techie at home, she LOVES the computers at the Library. So after bringing her selections to the table, that is where she heads, usually with Kit close on her heals if not already trying to hack her way into one.

Zak on the other hand, spends a great deal of time browsing the shelves, turning pages, and often settling into a chair to dig into one of his selections before we even check out. He spends little if any time on the computers, which is funny considering he would eat sleep and breathe electronics at home if he were allowed.

I usually select several titles for Kit. I love that our Library allows us to check out board books! But I choose a few "real" books as well. Some we read together during the day, some she and Daddy read together at nap and bed time. We have found some real treasures and treats.

Because she loves all things ABC!
One of our new all time favorites!

Many times, the kids crack the spines as soon as seat belts buckle. We go and get a snack or lunch and head to a park or beach for some playtime before heading home.

It often looks like a media bomb went off in our kitchen after our Library trips, as books and movies are scattered across the floor in search of favorites and new ones.

And at the end of the day, everyone snuggles into bed with a new or beloved friend and reads until eyes are heavy.

And that, I do believe, 

Is what dreams are made of...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pizza Changes Everything

We had one of those days recently where we were just seriously getting on each others nerves. It had the makings of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

So instead of moping around and snipping at each other until Daddy came home, I decided we needed a change of view.

I gathered a few supplies and had the kids help haul them outside to the back yard. Which is where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

I ordered a pizza and we ate cross-legged and picnic style under the shade of our pecan trees.

We played games. The kids climbed up and down the slide, in and out of the sandbox, and when they got bored with those we pulled out the paint.

I don't remember the last time all three were that quiet at the same time without being asleep.

We go outside a lot. And we have fun. This day felt different though.  A few toys, some paint, and a pizza was all it took to turn it around into an extra special backyard play day.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gateway to History: An American Tail

A little over a month ago Victor cane home with a handful of discount DVDs. Many of these were movies we used to own on VHS, but got rid of after we no longer owned a VCR.

One of these movies was An American Tail. I grew up on this movie. I knew every word to Somewhere Out There.  And somewhere in there, I did kind of know that it was a story of immigration. But I don't recall that being of any great interest to me as a kid.

So imagine my surprise when during our most recent viewing, my kids were pelting me with questions relating to the plot line, but of course launched into the much larger and messier root discussion about immigration. 

There was a lot of pausing happening, and a lot of we'll look more up on this later.

Over the course of the next few weeks our discussions were amazing. We made a trip to the library, and nearly gave Daddy a hernia when he carried the bag loaded with books that a very nice young man at the research desk helped me track down. Most of these we just browsed through. But their questions and the answers I endeavored to supply them with were deep, developed, and honest.

We talked about many of the reasons people throughout history have chosen to immigrate, from religious persecution to famine to race. And we didn't just limit it to those that chose America as their new home, but that people immigrate all over the globe.

We looked at history, Abraham immigrated to what would later become known as the land of Canaan from his home of Ur, Jacob's family immigrated to Egypt, the nation of Israel immigrated back to the Promised Land. We looked forward at more modern day immigration and compared what is still similar challenges, and what are new ones.

We have an invaluable resource in Victor's own parents, who left Argentina and made the U.S. their permanent home. And so we thought it would be fun for the kids to "interview" Lela (short for Abuela) during one of her upcoming visits. We are still in the process of coming up with questions for her.

We watched the movie again, and then discussed the real life experiences that were portrayed, but softened for a young audience. Hardships such as losing their homes and livelihoods, life on the ship voyage, and poor living conditions upon arriving. Tragedies like leaving loved ones behind, sickness and death on the voyage, families being separated, children truly being orphaned, and forced labor that many had to endure. As well as the disillusionment most were slapped with upon arrival. That life was still racially and economically divided and riddled with strife and poverty.

And that though it's improved somewhat in more modern times, it's still a far cry from the dream that it is still believed to be. I invited them to really try to imagine leaving almost everything they know and have known behind. And what it might be like to be faced with an entirely different place, people, language, food, culture, home, entertainment, transportation, and technologies or lack thereof.  It was not an easy thing for them to envision.

We found several amazing books, out of many, that especially helped open our eyes wider. If you only read three, I recommend these. While designed for young readers, they retain the qualities of authenticity and honesty which makes them especially endearing and the best teachers.

The Matchbox Diary By Paul Fleischman

This beautifully illustrated book takes us through an young boy's journey to America. Since he cannot write, he saves memories in matchboxes, each representing a special moment in his life, some joyous, some sad, but each a contribution to his journey from boyhood and beyond. Written for younger readers, it still is a warm but honest documentation of the struggles faced by many families of that time. It was by far our favorite, each of us having favorite pages and parts.

Mexican Immigrants in America: An Interactive History Adventure  By Rachel Hanel

This was Zak's other favorite. It is a You Choose novel, so there are quite a few choices that you can make resulting in very different endings. Zak went through the book until he had chosen them all one way or another. His first several attempts actually got his character killed. I appreciated though that it didn't gloss over subjects such as boarder crossing, obtaining legal documents, seeking citizenship, and yes separating from family and even death. It doesn't approach it from a right or wrong view, but rather a matter of fact, exploration of choices that most of us are never really faced with. This is good for kids maybe fourth grade and up.

Inside Out & Back Again  By Thanhha Lai

This is our current read aloud. Somewhat written in a poetic style, this story is based on the author's real life experience of escaping her beloved home the night South Vietnam fell. It's not an exact accounting of her experience, but many of the things that Ha faces or feels in the book were real. Especially moving to me, is how frustrated Ha feels over feeling like her difficulty in learning English truly makes her feel like she is not as smart as she once was, and how it really sometimes is the little things in life that when they are gone we miss the most, or appreciate the most when others understand.

After we finish with our read aloud and our interview, we will wrap up our unit with a story. The kids will write their own story about immigrating to a foreign land, with a new language, customs, foods, and home. I want them to tell what they might feel about leaving, what they would find exciting, or scary, or sad. What would stay the same and what would change? And does it have a happy ending?

Doing this as a unit for school, or a family project over a school break, are ways to take a topic that is often boring and easily forgotten in school, and make history come alive. To better get a real sense of it and that the textbooks often get it wrong by glossing over the real life elements. But it was and is these elements that, when smelted and shaped through life's experiences, reveal the often amazing gifts and character of those who have carved a challenging path across daunting borders.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Simple Things

This has kept her busy playing by herself for close to twenty minutes now. I got to eat my meal in one sitting. Amazing!

Cars + Ladder on it's side = Awesome!

She's even making them have conversations! So so awesome!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Person of Interest: Erin Clemens

Erin Clemens is a remarkable young woman whom I've gotten to know a little bit through an Autism support network as well as her blog.

Erin found out she had Asperger's in her teenage years. According to her writing, she would have much preferred  to find out even younger. She had many of struggles growing up, but determination, learning to listen to her own body signals and feelings, and a supportive family have helped her find much success as well.

In her writings, and I'm sure in person as well, she is frank and open about how becoming familiar with her Asperger's has contributed to her struggles and her triumphs.

Erin is certainly a unique individual, but she is one of many who is leading a successful, fulfilling, though not quite challenge-free life as an adult on the Autism Spectrum. But then, do any of us really have a challenge-free life? 

One of her biggest passions is to help educate others about Autism, and supporting those on the spectrum. One of the ways she did so recently was by participating in a TEDx event:

I have appreciated getting to know Erin a bit through her blog especially. And I hope you enjoyed metting her as well!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Play Therapy Part 2

Welcome back for a few more tidbits about Play Therapy!

I love good ideas, and some of the best sources for good ideas come from other family's trial and errors. I can't even count how many inspirations I've gotten from reading blogs by other moms, from experiences of friends, and many other nifty suggestions from different ones. Often we tweak these and tailor them specifically to our own family's needs. Sometimes they work awesome, sometimes only so so, others not so well, or we put it on our maybe later list.

Below is an idea I got from another mom, whose daughter is autistic, from her post about using our kids stims to help them learn new skills. Kitty Bitty loves things that spin so I loved this idea as soon as I saw it. I liked the simplicity of this set, and figured it might be a good way to encourage her to let the big kids help, and eventually she might enjoy it more independently.

She has fun telling me which gears to add, though she adamantly refuses to use certain ones, still haven't figured out why.

But mostly she likes fitting the base squares together. Which is fine, especially if it keeps her content and occupied for a little while. She still needs help with putting them in the right direction at times, but she is only two and the age guide is for 3+ so I don't expect her to play with it fully independently yet.

Puzzles! These are great tools for making her interact with me. I keep the pieces as she removes them and she has to look at me and ask for them back. She has the tendency to remain absorbed in her activity and just hold out a hand point to what she wants. Now that her speech is well on it's way, she does use verbal requests, but she still doesn't tend to look at us as much unless it's something she really wants. So this is good practice to remind her to look in our direction when she wants our attention. I encourage eye contact and reward it with great enthusiasm, but that is not a requirement to get what she is requesting. When she is having a good day and is well organized in her body and brain, she makes lots of eye contact. If she's having a rough day, forcing eye contact only causes her more discomfort and further disrupts her process of trying to communicate. This is not a big deal for me, as even I am often overwhelmed by extensive or intense eye contact, so I have no desire to force it with her, especially if she clearly shows that she is otherwise communicating and engaging.  

Kitty fits perfectly in the basket, just like puzzle pieces together! And he seems to like it too!

The train set combines several aspects from above. It's pieces fit together in puzzle like ways, but are not in any set way, so she has plenty of freedom to experiment and lessens frustration. The trains motivate her by their linear movements along the track as well as their spinning wheels, but it has the added perk of helping reinforce the real life lesson that trains drive forward and back on tracks. This understanding helps her translate to other toys with less specific guides like toy cars, that they also can be used to "drive" like real cars, instead of just being lined up or sorted.

And sometimes she just likes to make the train go back and forth under the bridge over an over and over!

For a long time she was only interested in throwing sand, so I made up an hide and seek game with a little Dora character that had broken off the handle of Grace's umbrella. I would bury Dora in the sand while Kit watched, then I would ask, "Where's Dora?" The first several attempts at this game she just stood there looking at the spot that I had buried Dora, or at me like I was crazy. After a few seconds, I would move the sand off of Dora and pull her out, "here she is!" After a few such demonstrations, Kit would point at the spot where Dora was buried. Then with some more encouragement she would sweep some of the sand away. It wasn't very long before this was one of her favorite games, and in fact the only thing she would do in the sandbox, but I had to be right there, and I had to do it with her.

Gradually though, she started to bury Dora herself, ask "where's Dora?" and then dig her out, "there she is!" It is adorable! Now she even uses the shovels to did and bury Dora, and to dig her out, which has led to her using the shovels to fill the buckets and containers, carry sand to the water bucket to make "soup", and to carry water to the sandbox to watch the sand suck it up. Of course, she still loves to throw sand, and she has also discovered that the shovels make light work out of pouring sand all over one's own head. Oh joy.

Hiding surprises in her putty is a great sensory activity, sharpens fine motor skills, and is just plain fun as well! This batch held a couple of plastic bugs, a spinning top, and...CANDY!!

There are so many more activities the list could go on and on. I'll try to keep snapping pictures and will periodically try to post new activities that we have tried. I hope that they can maybe provide some ideas and insights for other families out there. The great thing about all of these also, is that they do great things for all kids, and most of us can always use a few more suggestions to keep our kiddos busy and happy!

Happy Playing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Wheels on the Bus!

Thanks to a sweet sweet friend who gave a little girl a big ride! She was so excited to bump along on the big kid bus! ((Big Hugs))

Beep! Beep! Beep!