A Photo Essay of Spring

As a parent, I have snapped thousands of photos of my children, mostly for the sake of superficially capturing memories of the things we did – we came, we saw, we did this. But sometimes, it goes deeper than that. Sometimes, a photo becomes more than just a reminder that you were there and did this, instead, it captures the emotions of the moment, and you find yourself truly able to feel and live the experience with the subject.

I love to write, and yet, sometimes words fail to adequately express the emotion of a moment.  How to begin to describe a child’s face, when the expression thereupon is one of sheer joy and excitement and freedom? What words does one use to accurately paint the image in one’s mind of the exhilaration a child experiences when jumping into a puddle?

And so, I am going to let the pictures do the talking; I will let them tell you the story of a boy and a girl outside on a warm, sunny, April afternoon.

DSC_0254bDSC_0255 copyDSC_0263bDSC_0264bDSC_0266b

DSC_0347bDSC_0279DSC_0285DSC_0309bDSC_0311 copyDSC_0315bDSC_0322DSC_0325DSC_0327DSC_0329DSC_0331bDSC_0337DSC_0350DSC_0348bDSC_0353

Save

Advertisements

A Simple Picture

20160518_102153

Typically when you look at a story, be it in a newspaper, a magazine or online, the first thing that catches your eye is the photo. If it’s engaging we will slowly look, examine the photo, mentally storing it in our mind. However, if it’s dull, we might just give it a mere glance. I wonder what your reaction was when you saw the photo that was attached to this blog post? Was it so obscure and unusual that it drew you in and made you curious? Or was it so uninteresting that you just skipped over it and started reading? My guess is the latter.

The picture is pretty unassuming – nothing all that interesting in content, no intriguing composition, poor exposure and no artistic editing. Just a “snap” of two rocks and a dandelion. But to me, the one who took it, it represents my son’s heart.

The picture shows a peace offering given to me by my son. I really don’t know how it all started, which I guess is probably true of most conflicts between children and siblings and/or parents. Something happened, I intervened in a way which my son obviously thought was stupid, and I was then rewarded with sulking and the bad attitude of an almost nine year old. Now, since this happened during lesson time, this sulking turned into uncooperative behavior. Like most foolish parents when their child is in a snit, I did try to reason with him. But since my son’s reasoning skills had seemingly flown the coop (as all children’s do during a snit) that didn’t work very well.

I then followed the traditional path of doling out a punishment, “That’s fine. You’ve just lost your xBox time for three days.” Well, we all know how well that went over, and of course it really only worsened the already poor attitude which I was trying to change. My own frustration was starting to get my temper simmering a bit. He sat there glaring at me, I sat there glaring at him. In an effort to take a second to cool myself, I looked out the window: I saw the blue sky, the green trees and grass, the stream glistening in the sun, the garden… to which I immediately remembered, “Oh yes, I need to start picking those rocks today.” And then suddenly pure, unadulterated parental evil genius struck!

I looked at my son, and said, “Okay. You obviously need some time to calm down, so why don’t you go put on your rain boots and head outside and enjoy the sun?” He looked at me for a second, still glaring, and then jumped up and ran for the door. As he opened the door to head outside, I dropped the bomb: “While you are outside enjoying the sun, you will pick the rocks out of the garden. You will continue picking the rocks until you feel that you can return to this house with a good attitude.” He mumbled something which I’m sure it’s best I didn’t hear, slammed the door and headed outside.

Knowing my son’s dislike of manual labor, I knew it wouldn’t take very long for a change of heart. I watched through the kitchen window as he stomped out into the garden, his face blacker than a thundercloud. A snail could have picked rocks faster than he did. But he did pick them, and he did eventually pick up the pace. And I could slowly see the change of attitude come over him. That built in curiosity that all boys have started getting the better of him, and he started examining the rocks he was picking. He picked a little faster, anxious to find some gems. I knew it wouldn’t be long now, and I turned away from the window, carrying on with my daughter’s lessons.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the back door. There stood my freckle-faced son holding out his hands which held two rocks and a dandelion. “Look what I found for you Mommy!” He showed me the first rock, a piece of shale, “I found this for you. Look, it looks like the Rocky Mountains, and you love mountains!” He then showed me the second rock, a sparkly white one, half covered in dirt, “I chose this one for you because it sparkles and it looks pretty, like you.” And then finally, the dandelion, “I know you love flowers. I’m sorry Mommy.”

Words can’t express the love that you feel for your child at a simple moment like that.  I knew that the rock would eventually break, the dandelion would die, and probably some day the memory would fade. So, I took a picture. A simple, unassuming picture that means so much.

The Power of Independence

Our son is less than three months from turning eight. He is reaching that age where he is really leaving the “little boy” stage behind and moving towards that stage of being an older child, desiring independence and freedom. My attempts to help him are often met with, “I can do it, Mommy!” Though more and more frequently “Mommy” is being dropped for “Mom”.

It happens to all children – they grow up and become more independent, and deep down I know this is a good thing. One of my goals for both of our children is that we will raise them to be confident and independent – not afraid of hard work, and not relying on others to do for them, what they themselves are capable of doing. I can see this goal of mine being shaped slowly month by month, year by year, right before my eyes. It comes with a somewhat bittersweet feeling that is of course pride, but also that tug of the heart that comes with knowing that your child needs you a little bit less with each passing year.

We have noticed a large increase in our son’s confidence and independence this past year, but especially within the last few months. He often turns down my offers of getting his breakfast, drinks or snacks, instead desiring to do it himself. Granted, sometimes it’s because he wants to choose a snack of chips and chocolate instead of my healthier alternative! But, overall, it’s just because he can, and wants, to do it himself.

Not only does he want to do things for himself, but I find he is taking on more responsibility within the home as well. He is doing more chores, with a more willing attitude. And he increasingly wants to help others. For example, a few weeks ago I took our son for one final day of snowboarding this season. It happened to be my birthday as well. We had lunch at the cafeteria and as we waited in line for our food, he suddenly directed me, “Mom, go find us a seat. I’ll bring the food over. It’s your surprise for your birthday!” I admit that visions of our lunch being splattered across the floor flashed through my mind. But I was so touched at the offer that I complied, and not only did he handle the tray filled with food like a champion, but he went to the cashier and paid for the meal all by himself (with a gift card I had given him to use).

When we are driving home from running errands, our son will often ask me to stop the car as soon as the house is in view and let him walk the rest of the way – he likes the feeling of walking home by himself. To his still-seven year old mind, it’s a huge adventure walking down the street by himself. I know that the day will soon come when he starts taking off on his bike for solo adventures, much as I did as a child. And I know I will feel like most parents do – anxious for his safe return, wondering did I make the right decision, allowing him to go alone? But I will let him go.

Despite the fact that general crime and child-related crime rates (including abductions) are the lowest they have been since the 1970s, we are living in an age of fear-based parenting. While I certainly don’t believe in the “helicopter parenting” attitude that seems to be the norm today, the flip side of that is, sometimes I am left wondering, “What do people think? Do they think I’m a bad mother just because I let him walk two blocks by himself?” When I was his age I walked to and from school, or friend’s houses, by myself all the time – and they were all several blocks away. When I grew up, crime rates were statistically higher, but children had far more freedom.

Our son is getting to that age where he is no longer comfortable going into the woman’s washroom with me. As a parent, I feel I need to respect that. And so, while I admit I wait outside the door – I have started letting him go to the men’s room alone. Yet, just a few weeks ago at our local McDonald’s, I had a complete stranger question my decision. I was flabbergasted as this person asked me, “Well what if someone is in there and hurts him?” I had no answer.

As parents, we wish that we could protect our children from everything, that we could raise our children in a certain world, but we can’t. And this isn’t anything new – every generation of parents before us have faced cultural/social turmoil and uncertainty. Every generation of parents have felt fear for the world their children are growing up in. However, we seem to be the most fearful generation of them all, despite some of the lowest statistical rates of risk. I blame it largely on the media – thanks to the huge prevalence of television, radio and social media in our lives today, we are bombarded daily by parenting horror stories in a way that our predecessors never were. These stories only increase our feelings of fear.

I find this fearful mentality only hinders children – we hold them back from doing what they are truly ready and capable of doing, because of our own anxieties, or sometimes even from the fear of judgement from others. Children then pick up on this fear, and become more afraid to do things on their own. This leads to feelings of incapability and dependence.  Studies have long shown that children learn best through doing – and while those studies were mostly conducted in the context of school academics, I think that philosophy applies to life experiences as well. The best way to teach children independence and responsibility is through giving them the freedom to try.

In so doing we will both gain two very valuable things – confidence and pride, as we realize their ability.

Our Life Curriculum

I popped onto a homeschool forum I’m a member of, and came across a post from a fellow homeschool mom. She said she was soul-searching, wondering what some of the “not-to-be-missed” topics and experiences are in life. What are some things that we feel are so important to see, do and teach in our journey as a homeschooling parent? What are the things that when they are an adult, will truly matter – rather than spitting out memorized facts that have no meaning or application in their lives (my words, not hers)? What will help shape them as individuals, what will bring the family together as they grow and learn?

I sat down to share my thoughts, and as so often happens, my short answer turned into, well… this. A lengthy post thousands of words long. Consider it an occupational hazard of being a writer – even the short thoughts can turn into lengthy epistles. I realized that my answer was going to be far too long for the thread, so I came here. Double benefit – I could share the link to this blog post on the forum for anyone there that was interested, but also share it here. I’m sure the author of the question is far from the only person who has ever felt like this. I know I have.

I think in a way, her question was a two-part question, pondering about academics, but also life. But while the two are often considered separate in the mainstream world, a homeschooler knows that the two  can not be separated, for academics and learning are our a foundation of our life.

For starters, I would say to this mother, “Hang in there Momma, you’re not alone.” In fact, I would bet all homeschool mothers, and probably most mothers that don’t homeschool, have felt a version of this at one time or a dozen.In fact, I posed a very similar question not too long ago on another board I’m on. It must be the season – spring, a time of rebirth, new life, second chances.

My struggles and soul-searching have been largely focused on the academic, wondering where I want to go in our education journey, wondering what I want to teach my children, how I want to teach my children, what curriculum I want to use. Wondering, when this homeschool journey is over and the children are on their own, in university or in their adult lives – what is it I want to have instilled in them? Taught them? It’s not a small subject and it can easily become overwhelming, scary and stressful. When you choose to homeschool – you are responsible for these decisions in a way that other parents are not. When you send your child to public school, really, in the grand scheme of things, you have little to no say over their education. The government or school board decides what your child will learn. They decide what knowledge your child will graduate with, and rest assured, their decisions, shape your child.

When you homeschool – you are solely responsible. We have an amazing freedom, a power even, that other parents and children do not –  we can customize the education our child gets to one that suits our child the best, that truly nourishes not just their mind, but their soul. But, to (perhaps cornily) quote Spiderman “With great power, comes great responsibility.” In exchange for this freedom and power, we also have a huge responsibility that other parents do not. When your child goes to public school and fails, it’s not normally seen as the parent’s fault. It gets blamed on the teacher, the system etc… But when you homeschool, it’s ALL. ON. YOU. It can be scary when you sit and think about it. And trust me, every homeschool parent thinks about it. We all feel the pressure at one time or another.

At one point or another, we all think about what we want our children to learn –  not just academia, but skills and personal development as well. Everyone’s list of things that are “must-learns and must-dos”, and everyone’s goals for their child’s personal development are going to look different. To me, I always start by thinking about my own upbringing and education, and what truly stood out to me, both positive and negative. I think about what things I experienced that I want my children to be able to, and what things I wish for them to avoid. I look at things through overall goals, and then set the “musts” as ways to achieve those. And so, I bring to you, what I envision as our “Life” curriculum, a list of ten goals, the things that  I want for my children, and how I hope to achieve those goals.

1. First and foremost, I want my children to love the Lord. I want to instill in them faith and trust that He is in control and  through all things in life, that He will be there to guide them. We start our day with the daily gospel reading (we follow Living with Christ). We then pray over the Gospel we read. We do our hymn sing and read a Bible story. My children are still young, so for now, I’m focusing on teaching the children to pray and immerse themselves in the Bible stories. As they get older, I want to do an in-depth study of Biblical history, as well as scripture memorization. (Proverbs 7:3).

But I also feel that we will  achieve this goal outside of  “sit down and study” time. I think this goal is achieved every time we go to Mass, when the children go to Faith Formation, when we receive communion, when we pray as a family before bed or before meals, when my husband reads them a bedtime devotional. I teach my children to pray at any time – at only 7 & 5, my children will see an ambulance or a fire truck go by, stop what they’re doing and pray. I love that. And that is one of my goals: to have prayerful children. Children who pray at all times, for all reasons, and not just for their needs, but to be aware of and pray for the needs of others around them. Last night their father wasn’t feeling good, and when he went to say goodnight, they prayed for him, asking God that He would make Daddy feel better.  More than any Bible study or Bible curriculum, I think a love of the Lord is taught through LIFE. Through seeing Mom & Dad living their faith. Actions will always speak louder than any words.

2. Stemming from the first, I want my children to grow up to have an appreciation of the natural beauty God has surrounded us with. To respect nature, to appreciate nature, to protect nature, to be able to seek out nature, that beauty – anywhere, be it in a forest, a meadow, a backyard, or a city block.

And so, I think nature study is so important. And I struggle with it at times, but I think it’s because I tend to, and we all can, tend to make nature study more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t think nature study needs to be scheduled in on the lesson plan book. Nature study can be, is, as simple as sitting outside while the kids play and pointing out the song of the birds. It’s hanging a bird feeder in a tree and watching the birds that come to feed. It’s going for a bike ride and stopping to look at the small brook babbling through the trees. It’s walking down the city street and seeing how a dandelion will grow through the concrete, or seeing the Robin hopping along the sidewalk. It’s watching how a gull swoops down to grab dropped food. It’s watching the river rise and swell with spring flooding, seeing the power of the water. It’s planting a garden or a flower and watching it grow, seeing the drops of dew on a spiderweb in the morning. More than anything nature study is just learning to notice what is around you always, the wonder of God’s creation.

It is making a point to go to places like streams, ponds, lakes, forest whenever possible. I make it a point to go to nature preserves and nature trails for walks whenever possible. My goal is to find someplace new, each year. Nature study is letting your children haul home leaves,weeds, rocks, twigs and other paraphernalia in their pocket, encouraging their observation skills and their interest in those objects.

Also under this goal of mine, is the desire to teach conservation. I think conservation needs to be taught. God gave us this earth – we need to protect it, not destroy it. I think this can be nothing more than simple, basic things when they’re younger about not littering, recycling, not wasting water. In later grades, I think a strong conversation science program is in order, and Winter Promise actually publishes one that I plan on doing with my children when they’re older. I think learning about natural energy sources – wind power, solar power etc… And not just how our world can use it, but even how we can use it ourselves, personally.

3. I want my children to grow up to be self-sufficient. I do not want them to have to depend on others for their livelihood, to take care of them. So, I think skills training is very important. I think that everyone (boys and girls alike) should know basic things like how to check major fluids on your car, know how to change your oil, change a tire, how to use basic hand and power tools, how to do basic home repairs. I think everyone should know how to cook, to at the very least mend a seam, should know how to maintain a budget and should know how to start a fire without matches.

I think homesteading should be a major part of education – learning how to grow your own garden so you can feed your family, how to preserve food, how to make soap, clothes, cleaning products (green ones, tying into my #2), learn how to raise and care for an animal that is a producer (chicken, cow, pig etc…), learn a handicraft that they enjoy/are good at, that also some day could be a potential source of income.  I want the children to know how/experience how to sell something at the market (preserved food, fresh food, handicrafts etc). I want them to learn how to be resourceful, economical, how to “make do” by reusing, buying used etc…

Maybe they will be blessed financially and never need these skills to provide for themselves, but maybe they will need them, as we have had to in the past. Maybe they’ll just enjoy these skills and want to use them regardless of need.  I think everyone should know how to be self-sufficient and provide as much for themselves as possible, regardless of how much or how little income they have. I think that homesteading is also part of conservation. The beauty of this is, these skills are life skills that can be taught slowly, over the years. They are not things that should be taught via a textbook – they need to be taught side by side with their parents, through seeing and doing. To me, these lessons go far beyond learning a skill, but will also become treasured memories of time spent with you.

4.I want my children to appreciate the arts – and this could mean many different things. I don’t necessarily mean they have to be an art critic but I do want to expose them to a wide variety of art, create in them an awareness of the different styles of art, I want them to understand the history behind the eras, how social issues and culture impacted the major artists. But more than that, I want them to learn to see art anywhere – the repetitive lines in the steel legs of a holding tank, the iridescent colors of oil mixed with water on a pier,  the way the light and shadows play across a wall or a floor, the simple beauty of symmetry in a Georgian facade, or the beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright’s asymmetry. I want my children to be aware, to observe, to see. Again, this isn’t something that can be taught in a textbook. Instead, this is taught through taking them to art galleries, through looking at books of pictures, of pointing out details while we walk down a street. It is something I hope to teach them as I hand them my camera, allowing them to express that urge to capture that which they notice.

I want them to create art, as well. Through whatever medium may interest them – lead, charcoal, ink, paint or construction paper and glitter glue. Perhaps it will be through a camera or through wood or metal. I don’t care how, just that they do.

I want them to experience music. Even at a young age my children love music. Our daughter seems to have been born to shake her booty to the beat of a song, and my son has a very nice singing voice. Of course those who know me, or my family, knows that the music gene is strong! My mother has recorded professionally in Nashville, and makes her living via music. She is a self-taught musician who plays guitar, harmonica, drums, keyboard and sings. Oh yeah, and writes her own stuff! My father used to play guitar and also sings. My step-mother is a music teacher, who sings, plays piano, flute and bagpipes (she’s in touch with her Scottish heritage!). I sing and play piano, and long to learn to play the saxophone. So I confess, that I really hope to encourage musical ability and appreciation in my children. Music is always playing in our home – on the tv, the radio, in the car. We sing daily – anything and everything. We have a piano, and a nice selection of percussion instruments. The kids love starting their day with Circle Time and singing and playing. Eventually when an area of strength starts to show itself, we will pursue that with formal music lessons.

I think an appreciation of the arts is a gift that parents should give to their children. Not every child will have it, I know. But the thing about the arts is – they are so personal and emotional. With art, be it a song you hear or a piece of artwork you look at – you make it your own. It becomes yours in a way that few other things can. We often see in a piece of art that which reflects our pain or our joy. We seek out music that reflects our feelings. Art can be therapeutic. Being able to create art takes it that much farther. Instead of just seeing the reflection of ourselves, we are then able to express ourselves in a way that words often fail us.

5. I want my children to have an appreciation of history. More than anything though, I want to make history come alive to them. To me, history is a subject that is so important – we need to be aware of the mistakes of the past, so we can understand how it has shaped the events of today, so maybe someday we’ll learn to not repeat our mistakes. And yet, I confess that in school, I despised history class.

I think children need far more education on ancient history than they receive – I think they need to understand the history of Greece and it’s Gods, the Roman empires, Ancient Egypt. The stories of Troy, William Wallace and other leaders like them. The stories of queens and kings. The stories of explorers, navigators, scientists, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr.,  – people  who changed history. The stories of the major wars. But more than anything, history should be about the people that shaped it.

I also think that for everyone, there is an era of history that interests them more than another. For myself, this would be the pioneer/Loyalist era. However, I don’t think that memorizing the dates is important, I don’t think that memorizing all the worlds countries and capitals is important. I think it is most important to know the overall stories. Then, when a particular era stands out to the child – be it the days of Laura Ingalls, Troy or Imhotep, the child can immerse themselves in learning everything and anything about that time.  In history, more than anything, your child will only remember what interested them.

So with that said, to me, there is nothing worse than sitting and reading a textbook full of dry details and dates. To me, history is something that should come alive, through reading good books and stories, watching shows and movies, going to historical re-enactment shows, sites or better yet – seeing the sites firsthand. Be that driving to Gettysburg, or flying to Rome (oh what I would give for an unlimited travel budget!), seeing history is what makes it come alive. Every year my husband and I take the children to a historical settlement, the same one, because every time there is something else to discover. That is what I love about history – it is something that can be explored as a family.

6. History sort of leads to my next goal – and that is to travel. We love to travel as a family. Now, we normally do not have much of a budget for travel, so typically we do long weekends, sometimes 4 or 5 nights away someplace that we can drive to in a day. I think traveling together as a family is one of the best things you can do. For starters, you will  create memories that will last a life time – some great ones, some okay ones, and some bad ones. But even those bad ones will normally end up becoming a good memory that you laugh at – like the time we got lost because Dad missed the exit because he was too busy drooling over the Lamborghini that was zooming by us.

Traveling together leads to such great learning opportunities – there are so many amazing zoos, aquariums, museums, galleries, historical sites, nature preserves and state/provincial parks etc… that will bring learning to life. When traveling, you have the opportunity to experience all areas of learning – maths, language, science, history, art, nature, and I can guarantee you can find great opportunities within a day’s radius. And the best way to experience these chances isn’t by over-analyzing, but by just doing, just being there, seeing it and talking about it. Take a guided tour. That is enough. Follow up on anything that really piques interest by reading about it when you get home.

While we typically plan our travel for entertainment/relaxation purposes – the learning is always there, and some of our best memories are at places/times when we are learning as a family.

7.   Then there’s science. Honestly, I don’t really have much of a “goal” when it comes to this. I am by nature a person that leans more towards the arts than science. That’s likely part of it. I feel though that science, like history, is something that a child will only remember that which they are interested in. And so my goal for the early years is to cultivate an interest in the crucial scientific skill of observation. And I think that so many of the other areas I’ve touched on, are key to this – for observation skills aren’t just a “science” skill. They’re a life skill that will guide you in nature study, in history, in art, in noticing patterns in mathematics, in your every day relationships as you learn to observe and read people.  Spend the early years developing this skill, and I think you will have accomplished one of the most important things you can teach your child. For us, science in the early years is purely interest-driven. Let them read about what they are interested in and talk about it. Let them draw pictures of the animals and planets. Let them watch videos and go to museums and aquariums. Let them do experiments. Let them explore. I think this will create the perfect foundation upon which to build the skills for physics, chemistry and biology, later.

8. Then there’s the big two – math and language arts. My goals are simple – I want to produce literate children who enjoy quality literature. I want their childhood to be full of quality books and ideas, not twaddle.  I want them exposed to the classics and poetry. That said, I want reading to be fun, and I will not deny them their “fun” books, either. As they get older, I want them to recognize literature as another form of art and expression. I want them to to seek recognition of self, to see how others express themselves through written word, and I hope they will learn to express themselves through writing as well.  I want them to have neat penmanship – and yes, we are teaching cursive! I want them to learn proper grammar.

We love books here and read all the time. Every day my children are either reading, or being read to. As I have said before – actions speak louder than words, and I think that if children grow up seeing their parents reading and enjoying quality literature, it will rub off on them. We also keep the books accessible. That means a huge bookshelf in the hallway on the main floor. Books are not meant to be shut away in an attic or a closet. In the early years, we do not do comprehension. Simply reading a book together and talking about it is enough. Nor do we dissect poems. There are plenty of years ahead to get into the dissecting of a poem or story, digging for the hidden truth and meaning. For now, cultivating a love of reading is enough. And a love of reading is also what I consider a foundational skill – teach a child to read, to enjoy it, and the whole world of knowledge will be at their fingertips.

I want them to grow to be capable of doing the math that they will need for their every day, adult life. I confess that we will put far more emphasis on business and trades math, than say calculus. And make no mistake, my children will know their math fats. I think one of the biggest mistakes in modern education today is the lack of focus on having children memorize their addition and multiplication facts. The very foundation of all other mathematics is those four basic operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And too often today, not enough time is being dedicated to those in the early years. Drill, drill, drill those four operations in the early years – then when they are older, the more complicated processes will come easier.

We also seek out math in every day situations – making change at the grocery store, learning fractions while cooking or playing with Legos, multiplication while figuring out how many forks we need for the table based on how many people will be there, seeing symmetry and patterns in the world around us.

9. I want the children exposed to languages, but not necessarily mastered. I live in the only officially bilingual province in Canada. The pressure is intense to have the children go into French Immersion. As a homeschooler, we’ve had more than one comment along the lines of, “What are you going to do about French? They’ll never get a job in this province without French.”  Well, for starters, quite frankly, that’s a crock. Oh certainly, there are certain jobs in the province that will require them to have French (government jobs). But, there are many, many jobs to be had that do not require a person to be fluent in French. I am also not under any illusions that my children will choose to stay in this province. Would I prefer it if they stay close to home? Sure. But the world is theirs to be had.

Instead, I would rather my children be exposed to several languages, especially Latin.  Once upon a time a child was not considered educated if they did not learn Latin. However, soon into the 20th century, this was dropped, and then modern languages became the norm. Another crime of modern education. Latin is as prevalent today as it ever was, in fact, Latin is the very foundation of our language (English)! One can not truly understand or grasp the basics of grammar and spelling, at least not in anything more than a superficial sense, without understanding Latin. Latin is alive in Christianity and in common speech as we use Latin expressions such as “Carpe Diem!” It is found in fields such as law, medicine and pharmacology. Want to be a pharmacy technician or a medical office assistant or transcriptionist? You’ll use Latin every day. In fact, Latin is used in almost every scientific field. Latin is found in music. Latin is everywhere. So, if there is one language I want them to master – it is Latin. The others will fall into place, and will likely come easier with a foundation of Latin.

10. Lastly, I want to teach my children how to learn. I want to mold in my children the habit of learning. I want the desire to learn to be a part of them, as much as the air they breathe. I want to instill in them the joy of learning and discovery. I want them to know that the best education they will ever receive – is through life itself. I want them to know that they will learn more through living life, exploring, making discoveries, reading and doing, than they will ever learn from a textbook or institution. The textbooks and workbooks are merely to reinforce what life is teaching them, what God has surrounded us with. If I can do this – if I can teach them to love to learn, if I can teach them to be open and aware, to observe, to see the joy in discovering and learning something new, then all my other goals will fall into place. And I will have two children with a fine education, and what’s more, fine memories of a family that learned together.

1 in 68

It seems today’s society thrives on labeling things and categorizing them into neat little statistics. Millions upon millions (probably into the billions) of dollars are spent every year completing surveys on just about everything under the sun – from how many people prefer summer to winter. How many people eat fast food compared to who are vegan. From how many families are now divorced to how many couples skip marriage completely. And of course there are statistics on every disorder and medical condition under the sun.

My children are part of the statistics world. Both of them have disorders that have been studied for prevalence. My son is 1 in 20. He has Sensory Processing Disorder, which it is estimated that 1 in 20 children have, to varying degrees. But what does that really tell you? It tells you nothing about my son, or his struggles, or his triumphs.

For example, 1 in 20 does not tell you that he loves birds, drawing, that he loves to read, that he sings while he’s using the bathroom, or that he thinks farts are one of the most hilarious things on earth. It does not tell you that one of my son’s struggles is with balance. Granted, this is far from his most significant struggle, but this issue with balance has in turn has made things like learning to skate, to ride a bike, and to swim, very difficult for him. Things that almost all his other friends have no problem doing.

Thomas has been in private swim-therapy lessons for two and a half years now. When he first started at five, he could only wade a little way into the water, could not put his face in, get his hair wet, or stand even the smallest of splashing. Last summer, even at seven years old – when all his friends were jumping in the pool, swimming, splashing and having fun, he was struggling to walk in water that went further up than his waist. He would not even let me carry him around the shallow end of the pool with a life-jacket on. Pushing the issue would result in screaming, tears and sheer panic. And so, last week during his swimming lessons when he swam the entire length of the pool with a life-jacket on, clear out into the deep end – I was jumping up and down, cheering him on, with tears of pride in my eyes. For 1 in 20 does not begin to tell you what a huge accomplishment that was for him.

Our daughter Ashley is technically two statistics. She is 1 in 100 – the number of children that will be born with a heart defect. But that doesn’t tell you that her favorite colors are pink and purple, or that she loves painting fingernails – not just hers, but anyone that she can round up. That tells you nothing about what her struggles were like that first year. What it was like to have a child on a feeding tube, what it was like to have to take your baby for blood work every single week, to be preparing yourself mentally for handing your child over for a surgery that would stop their heart. It doesn’t tell you what it means to us every time we look at her today, the picture of health, running strong and hard, scar-free.

And then there is her other statistic – 1 in 68. The number of children today that are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. But that doesn’t tell you that Ashley loves Barbies, gymnastics and dance, keeps begging us for a pet dog, or that despite her tiny size she has a roar like a lion! And it certainly tells you nothing about what her life with Autism is like.

1 in 68 doesn’t tell you that she is just shy of five yet still in Pull-Ups. That statistic doesn’t tell you that 90% of children with Autism have bowel issues, including chronic constipation. It doesn’t tell you that she is on medication that leaves her soiling herself. It doesn’t tell you that this chronic constipation also leaves her with urinary incontinence. Or how badly she hates having to be in a Pull-Up.

1 in 68 doesn’t tell you that despite having an excellent vocabulary and expressive language, she cannot carry a conversation with peers. She will often ignore what someone has said, or will reply with something completely off-topic. She does not understand the give and take in conversations, the pragmatics of speech, and she does not understand figurative language at all. Anything you say to Ashley is taken completely literally. This often has her getting upset at something that was meant to be funny.

It doesn’t tell you how I sometimes dread play dates. She struggles playing with children her own age. She will stay with them for a few minutes, but then often just wanders off, leaving them completely on their own. How my heart aches when that child comes downstairs saying, “Why won’t Ashley play with me?” It doesn’t tell you how I worry about her social skills and what they will be like as she gets older.

1 in 68 doesn’t tell you about her intense need for control. What others see likely as “bratty” behavior, is her struggling to have some sense of control over a world that is completely out of her control. It doesn’t tell about her extreme independence, how she struggles asking for help, how she prefers to do things for herself – even sometimes at the risk of hurting herself or getting into trouble with us. It doesn’t tell how when life just gets too overwhelming, too stimulating, too tiring – she melts down. How she will scream, lash out and stomp up the stairs, slam doors, perhaps throw things across her room, and often cry herself to sleep.

And we let her – for when she has reached this point, no amount of talking, reasoning or discipline is going to make it better. She needs to release her own overwhelming feelings, and as long as she is not hurting anyone, we let her work it out. For when she reaches this point – our own attempts at comfort, often make it worse. 1 in 68 doesn’t tell you how it feels to be unable to comfort your child.

It doesn’t tell you of her sensory issues – how this same child that has an extremely high pain tolerance, can scream and cry when I try and brush her hair. It doesn’t tell how she struggles with transitions and fixations. She likes to know what is going to happen and when – and heaven help you if that changes. Once she has something in her mind, that’s it. She will repeat it over and over again until it happens. If something happens once – such as getting a Slushie after swimming lessons, she automatically thinks that means it will happen every time, and then gets upset when it doesn’t. It doesn’t tell how she gets overwhelmed in public spaces, and this results in a need to run or move almost non-stop. Or that I know we’re getting judgmental looks for our “undisciplined” child, from those who don’t know her or her struggles and needs.

1 in 68 doesn’t tell you how hard we work on all these issues. For at the end of the day, we will not allow her diagnosis to be an excuse for doing whatever she wants, when she wants. Negative actions have consequences, though they are generally dealt with later, once the storm has passed. And they often need to be worked on in ways other than what most parents would use. Sadly, Autism is often misunderstood by others because it is an invisible disorder – all people see are the behaviors, and not the disorder behind them.

There’s so much that 1 in 68 will not tell you. It will never begin to touch on the struggles of Autism. Nor, it’s joys. And don’t be fooled – there are so many joys hidden in Autism. For, as much as Ashley struggles with peers, she plays well with older children and adults. Even with peers, she is capable of joining in on group games like tag, chase – games where you do not need a lot of one-on-one communication. She loves to run around and play with children, and her laughter will sound across the yard. And when she laughs, she laughs with her whole body – it is vibrant and infectious. You cannot be around Ashley when she is laughing, and not smile or laugh, too.

Some of the things that are frustrating for us – like her determination to get into everything, are also some of the same things that bring us much laughter and even pride. For example, she would not stay out of the pantry. She would constantly go in and steal snacks no matter what the consequence. So we installed a chain latch up high. So, she figured out how to grab a broom and use that to pop the chain out. We then locked the broom in the pantry. She then went to the basement, got the mop and used the mop to pop the chain. As frustrating at that was – it only goes to show her excellent problem solving abilities, and the humor of the situation was not lost on us!

Every day Ashley leaves her mark on the house – and I don’t just mean through messes. She likes to arrange things, and while to us there is no rhyme or reason to what she does, I know somewhere in her mind, it makes sense. Like leaving a hat hanging off a wall light switch. Or, using my seamstress tape to tie the light-switch to the doorknob. Or arranging a toy to sit just so on the entertainment center. These little quirks always bring a smile to our face, as we marvel at her creativity, or laugh as we ponder, “What was she thinking?”

As a toddler, Ashley was very much content to be in her own world, alone. She did not often seek out our engagement. Recently Ashley took to grabbing our chin and pulling our face around to look at something. It was her way of getting us to look at what she was looking at, her way of reaching out to us saying, “This is something I find interesting, share this with me.” Though we have since taught her to ask, I admit, I did, and still take, pleasure in the feel of her hand on my face. It’s the feeling of connection, something I have learned not to take for-granted.

The thing about statistics is that life is so much more than a number. And it’s all these things that the number will never tell, that make life what it is – perhaps full of struggles, yes, but also full of learning and triumphs. For this statistical life teaches you to learn to appreciate the small moments, the simple triumphs, to celebrate the minute moments. What’s more, you realize that it’s all these small moments that most take for granted, that are really the big moments that you’ll remember forever.

Less is More

I was reading through the Oak Meadow Kindergarten syllabus tonight, preparing myself for the week ahead, when I came to a section on Creative Play. I loved what I read there. It summarizes so well Waldorf beliefs. But more than that, it summarizes what many parents around the globe have known, what “experts” are now realizing, and what I wish the billion dollar marketing agencies would realize – that modern toys are hurting our children. They are over-stimulating in negative ways, often bombarding our children with harsh sounds and visuals (not to mention being made out of cheap, chemical-filled, petroleum-based plastic), and yet under-stimulating in the sense that they do not require any real imagination.

I wanted to share an excerpt from what I read: “The traditional outlet for such imaginative play was [traditionally] through wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes, or handmade dolls with yarn hair and button noses. By the use of such toys, a child could create the characters and scenery for an endless variety of imaginative dramas. In recent years, however, the old wooden blocks and handmade dolls have been replaced by a bewildering variety of toys designed to fill children’s fantasies.

Although these toys are very alluring and fascinating at first, children soon discover that the possibilities in such toys are limited because of the detailed nature of their design. Thus, once the possibilities of such a form are exhausted, the child is left with a crystallized form and abandons it to the toy box. He then asks Mom or Dad for another toy that will do something that the [other toy] couldn’t do. The result of such detailed, crystallized toys is inevitably an insatiable craving for more and more toys, and less and less fulfillment with any of them.

A wise person said, “If we fail to give our children playthings that they can creatively manipulate, they will grow up to be passive consumers of prepackaged entertainments.”

When a child’s play centers around simple toys such as blocks, boxes, wooden spools, handmade dolls that don’t cry and wet and talk and walk, etc… her imaginative faculties are continually being strengthened and refined, for she must supply the details of her adventure from within, rather than having them supplied from without. A child who grows in such an environment develops the ability to see the possibilities inherent in simple things, which has far-reaching effects in her life.

I have long seen the truth in this. I can see the difference between when I grew up and children today. And I had a lot of toys! But for the most part, they were dolls and Barbies, cars, instruments, Lego, kitchens etc… I may have had a toy phone – but it didn’t require a battery. I had to use my imagination for any sounds it might produce. And I certainly didn’t have hand held electronics! How far we have come in a quarter of a century – and not in a good way.

I can see the change in my own children. They are no exception to wanting more, more, more. And trust me, they have been given more, more, more. With a total of 9 grandparents who buy for them, not to mention ourselves, extended family etc… in the run of a year, they are given an overwhelming amount of toys. We have seen for ourselves, the more a toy does, the less it tends to get played with. Oh they love it for the short term, but then, just as this article states, they’re moving on to the next thing – because those toys have limits on the creativity they allow.

Our son especially, far prefers toys that give him creative control. He is a creative soul by nature with a phenomenal imagination. He likes to create – no matter what the medium. He prefers to use basic toys that allow him to act out whatever his heart desires. His favorites? Basic Lego blocks, cars, and toy animals. Things he has asked for: wooden peg dolls that he can paint into whatever characters he wants, and plain wooden building blocks.

Our daughter on the other hand would willingly lose herself in electronics. Imagination does not come naturally to her, and while she has a good one today – it has been taught and learned through copying. It has come about because we have refused to allow her to lose herself in mindless toys and electronics, and instead have pushed her to learn to play using basic toys.

And so, this article really hit home, and quite frankly, really validated some of the decisions we have made to reduce the plastic, battery-chugging toys the children own, as well as the amount of toys they own. And it works – a great example is just yesterday. The children entertained themselves with pine cones, rocks and chunks of wood (along with a few animals). And they had a blast building, creating and pretending. With toys, less really is more.

 

DSC_0031

 

 

 

DSC_0032

Top: My son’s “Emerald Forest” – where predators and nice animals play

Botton: My daughter’s horse corral

Playdates

When you have a child on the spectrum, playdates can be hard. Yes, even for us high-functioning parents. Playdates are necessary – every time you participate in one, you are giving your child a social learning experience. And yet… sometimes for the ASD parent, they’re an in-the-face reminder of where your child is not, developmentally. Oh, I’ve long given up on the checklists – all children develop at different rates. But let’s face it, at the end of the day, there really are some general developmental milestones that children have mastered by certain ages.

Honestly, it can be easy at times,  for a parent (and the family) of a high-functioning autistic child to forget that there’s anything wrong, because they can seem so normal at times. In fact, new studies show that females are often harder to diagnose, because they frequently present with different symptoms than males (and the screening questionnaires are all based on the stereotypical male autism traits). For one, most studies show that females with HFA/Asperger’s syndrome, are far more likely to play with toys appropriately and have imaginary play skills, than males. Females tend to be more socially interested. Females also are far quicker to pick up skills through mimicking, than boys, and studies show that females often are able to hide their symptoms through learning to compensate in other ways.  All of these are ways that can make it far harder not just for family and friends to recognize autism in a female child, but even professionals.

For our daughter, we’ve learned that over time she gets into comfort zones. And when within those zones, honestly, she truly can look and often act like a perfectly neurotypical child (I prefer to say neurotypical than normal, because, to quote Whoopi Goldberg, “Normal ain’t nothing but a setting on a washing machine!”). For our daughter, that “zone” means inside our home, as well as a couple other familiar homes, and/or when with familiar people. There are  some public places she’s grown very comfortable in as well – the swimming pool where we go for weekly lessons, and the dance studio.

To see our daughter in our home, honestly, it’s often hard to think of her as autistic. Especially for an outsider, or someone who is not with us frequently. She’s affectionate, speaks well, and is engaging us, and others, more all the time. Granted, we (those of us with her every day) still know the “quirks”, such as  her finger stim that comes out when she’s excited or stressed or struggling with receptive speech. There’s her sensory issues that we’re working on, and of course her controlling, rigidity issues. And while to an outsider, while in her comfort zone, it may look like she has phenomenal verbal abilities/imagination during play, we know that much of it is scripted/mimicked, picked up from tv shows, movies and her big brother (that said, thanks to ABA therapy, her own imagination is improving by leaps and bounds all the time).

All of this to say… we had a play date with a friend of mine today, and her two children. Her son is only a year or so younger than my son, and their daughter is roughly a  year and a half younger than our daughter. It was so great to get together, and have adult conversation – I even got to drink an entire cup of coffee before it got cold! Our sons had a blast playing together. Our daughters had fun playing as well. However, as I was there… I could see the difference. Her daughter, at two, spoke more than my daughter, at almost four.  Her daughter displayed better imaginary play skills. Outside her comfort zone, and without her big brother there to glean ideas and phrases from, our daughter roamed from toy to toy, stopping to use one for a few minutes, and while using them appropriately – used them silently, without any noises or imagination. Ashley rarely attempted to engage my friend or I, while my friend’s daughter certainly did so. While Ashley would chase the boys upstairs to the bedroom to play, her silence came through loud and clear on the baby monitor – letting me know she was self-absorbed in something, instead of trying to join in the play.

As my friend was sharing some of her daughter’s two-year-old antics, common escapades that any child that age would do, I would comment how our daughter would do the same thing! While there I witnessed my friend’s daughter’s cognitive skills as she was going over the letters she’s learning, and I thought again – Oh! Ashley’s learning her letters, too! I thought it cute they had so much in common. Though, later as I thought on this,  there was that moment of feeling like, “Y’know, is it actually cute that my almost four year old, still has that much in common with a two year old? That she’s still trying to learn skills that most have mastered by now?”

I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t make my heart twinge a bit at times, but honestly? I’m okay with it.  Ashley is being who she was meant to be.  She has had a lot to overcome in her short life – and I think she’s doing an incredibly amazing job of it. Yes, the play date in a sense was a reminder that she is definitely behind her peers socially, but it was also a reminder of all the way’s she’s improved, too. And she has come so far in the year since her diagnosis, especially when out of her comfort zone. For one, her eye contact has greatly improved with unfamiliar people. While she may not engage us as much as a “typical” child – she is still very content to be perfectly all alone, she is seeking us out in play far more than she used to. She is  also learning to seek out our help, which is huge! She is also engaging her peers more, too.  And thanks to therapy, her expressive vocabulary is phenomenal, I’d even dare say advanced for her age, which is clearly evident when she’s trying to tell us off!

And so, instead of feeling sad that she’s not at the same peer-level, we’ll learn from today, and all the other future playdates. We’ll use them as a way to help us work on those areas she still needs some help. And we’ll continue to proud of all her achievements.