I’m thrilled to introduce you to my new friend, Jennifer Janes. She offers a perspective on an important homeschooling issue that I am often asked about. If you enjoy her guest post (and I know you will!), I hope you will visit her blog.
Some parents know they’re starting the homeschooling journey with a child with special needs. They can prepare themselves for the journey ahead. But what about those who think everything is fine, then find out otherwise?
I knew my daughter had special needs early on. What I didn’t realize as we started her kindergarten year is that she has learning disabilities too, making her special needs even more challenging. It took me until October, when we were on our fourth reading curriculum, to admit that there was a problem. This smart, bubbly little girl was really struggling with academics. I wasn’t prepared for that. I started to panic.
If you find yourself in the same situation I did, there’s hope.
When you realize you’re homeschooling a child with special needs, there are things you can do to take control of the situation.
- Take some deep breaths. The situation isn’t as hopeless as it seems. There are a lot of families homeschooling a child with special needs successfully. You can do it too.
- Figure out the problem. You have to know what you’re dealing with before you can create a plan. Whether it’s ordering some books from Amazon or seeking a professional evaluation, you need to take steps to identify your child’s specific challenge.
- Gather resources. If you haven’t already joined HSLDA, I highly recommend that you do. The legal representatives can help you with the legalities of homeschooling in your state, connect you with special needs consultants who can guide you through finding a curriculum to use with your child, and provide you with regular newsletters to address different aspects of special needs homeschooling.
- Find your tribe. There are other families out there who are on a similar path. It helps if you can find some to collaborate with. They can share their research into different resources and teaching strategies and may even have some items you can borrow (to see if they work for your child) before you invest in them. If you don’t know anyone in your community, there are groups for special needs homeschooling online on various forums and social media sites.
- Be willing to try something different. Your child may not (probably doesn’t) learn with the same learning style that’s comfortable for you. Learn about different teaching methods and use them with your child until you find what works best.
- Relax. Your child will learn, and you will navigate through the issues that seem so daunting now. Give your child permission to learn at a comfortable pace and learn to mark progress, not completion of curriculum at a certain grade-level.
What are your best tips for navigating those first days of homeschooling a child with special needs?
What is it about the holidays that makes us want to be close to family? Close enough to beat them over the head with a turkey drumstick anyway.
I would argue it’s the food.
The Food Fight History is a Long One
All our problems began with food.
We were cursed after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, yes. But more salient to this discussion, the first marital spat then ensued over who caused whom to blow their specific-fruit-free diet.
One brother stabbed the other in the back when the Father liked the food he brought to the table better.
The Israelites complained about nothing more than the lack of food variety in the desert.
And early Christians bickered over what foods were okay with God to eat.
The Food Fights Continue
Today, everyone seems to have their own diet: organic, vegan, raw, allergy-free, clean, low-carb, low fat, sugar-free, two-year-old (only what you don’t want me to eat) and my dad’s favorite–seefood (you eat only what you can see).
While it can be annoying to accommodate all these preferences and necessary restrictions, the friction we have about food in our families isn’t really about the food.
But you just said it WAS about the food.
I know. Irritating. If I were your family member, I’d give you plenty of reasons to come after me with that drumstick.
It’s NOT about the food, but we act as though it is. Why?
- It’s easier to gossip about Aunt Ginny bringing one can of corn to the feast than it is to admit she’s disconnected from the family, much less to wonder why.
- It’s easier for your sister-in-law to complain about your cooking than it is to admit she’s incredibly jealous of you.
- It’s easier to complain about the food being cold than it is to talk to your brother about showing up late for every gathering.
Food becomes a displacement for hurts and hostilities that are too threatening to admit or deal with. Remember that next time someone asks you to stab them a potato.
Stuffing: the Ultimate Food Fight
There may be no food more subject to personal preference than stuffing. You love it, you hate it. You make it from a box or from scratch. You have regular, cornbread, or gluten-free. You put in giblets, sausage, cranberries, or none of the above. You drench it in gravy or you don’t.
And most people think their stuffing (even if that’s NO stuffing) is the best stuffing. Why?
Because stuffing represents the holidays and holidays represent family and deep down we’re all still little kids who believe my-dad-is-bigger-than-your-dad and my-mom-cooks-better-than-your-mom and we’re willing to get a black eye to prove it.
Don’t believe me?
How do you feel if I tell you that my mother’s stuffing recipe is hand’s down the BEST stuffing ever? As you scan down to check out the recipe, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that YOUR (family’s) recipe is better or that I’m stupid to even eat stuffing. Am I right?? Am I, huh?
My Mom’s Best Ever Stuffing
1 Box Turkey flavor Stove Stop Stuffing Mix
1 package hot dog buns, torn into 1/2 finger-length pieces and left out overnight
1/2 loaf of bread, torn into 1/2 finger-length pieces and left out overnight
4 stalks celery chopped fine
1/2 medium onion chopped fine
1 stick butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp sage
1 32-oz box chicken broth plus 2 14-oz cans chicken broth
Tear up bread and leave out overnight to dry. The next day, preheat oven to 350F. Grease or spray one oven-proof, deep casserole dish if you plan to stuff your turkey or two dishes if you don’t. Saute celery and onions in butter until almost transparent. Meanwhile, put Stove Top stuffing, sage, and eggs on top of stale bread. Add sauted onion and celery. Warm 32-oz chicken broth on medium heat and pour on top of bread and mix well. Add additional chicken broth until it’s soupy. You’ll think it’s too watery, but if you bake it without enough liquid, your stuffing will be dry. If you plan to stuff your turkey, first make sure the stuffing and turkey are the same temperature (both warm or both chilled). Bake stuffing for one hour, covering with foil the last 20 minutes.
Beyond Stuffing It: How to Avoid the Family Food Fights This Year
You can’t control whether a family member forgets the rolls, whether Uncle Dave has a few too many, or even if your mother-in-law makes a nasty face when she bites into your dish. But you can control YOU and that’s a lot.
- Don’t Confront at the Holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are a little like weddings. Most people wouldn’t think of starting something with the bride before she walks down the aisle. Why? Because all her hopes and dreams are pinned on that day that she will remember forever. Your family has high hopes for happy holidays, too, and they are remembered like no ordinary days. Do you want everyone to remember the Christmas of 2012 as the one where you finally lost it and told the big mouth off and sent her running in tears to her car after having too much to drink in a snow storm… You get the idea. Save any necessary confrontations for a less emotional time.
- Keep Your Expectations Under Control. We’d be better off watching the beginning of A Christmas Carol than the end before a family holiday. Unfortunately, people aren’t on their best behavior at this time of year; they’re usually at their worst. They’re tired, stressed, strapped for cash, bombarded with the temptations of food and alcohol, and feeling pressured to eat someone else’s substandard stuffing (i.e., yours). Instead of envisioning a scene of peace and joy, imagine you’re walking into a room of toddlers who’ve gone without a nap. If you get out of there without raising your voice or hitting someone, you’re doing well.
- Avoid Resentment. 1 Corinthians 13 says that our good deeds are worthless without love. If you’re going to be bitter about hosting the holiday ONE MORE TIME or if it makes you crazy that your lovely homemade gifts aren’t appreciated, don’t do it. Avoid doing or giving anything that will make you resentful. Romans 12:18 says as much as possible, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with everyone. Sometimes that requires avoiding someone. Keeping suggestion #1 in mind, either avoid seeing someone if it won’t create undue conflict or spend the majority of your time talking with people who don’t push your buttons.
- Create Your Own Holiday. Even if you’re single, you can plan a celebration to include the food, decorations, and mood of your choosing. Don’t limit yourself to a certain day either. Would you like to have a peaceful Thanksgiving meal with friends or with just your immediate family? Plan it for another time so you won’t mind as much if the family holiday itself isn’t all you hoped.
- Invite a Loving Family Member. Cain took it personally that God didn’t approve of his offering, but deep down Cain knew it was because he hadn’t brought what God asked. God absolutely loves your stuffing, even if that’s no stuffing at all. Invite Him to your holiday celebrations this year and you won’t even notice all the racket the relatives are raising. Spend extra time in prayer and worship, asking God to help you be on your best behavior. I know He will.
I plan to take my own advice this year, but I want to hear from you. What do you do to make family holidays less stressful? Please share in the comments.
Trouble with TV
A decade ago, I was addicted to television. I didn’t watch it; my kids did. I used children’s programming and videos as a babysitter. Then I read The Plug-In Drug and was convicted that I needed to make a change. With minimal protest, I was able to limit my kids’ screen time.
Grief Over Games
When my boys were little, and given my experience with TV, I had no intention of ever getting a game system. I caved under the pressure of other parents, however, who told me I really should have one. It wasn’t long before video and computer games had become every bit the nanny that television had been. My husband and I put the games away and told the kids they could only play on their birthdays. Birthdays then became the obsession. I was asked every day how long it would be until the next birthday. It was as though the games had become even more desirable!
More boys joined our family and they developed more friendships with game-playing boys. When the Nintendo Wii became popular, my fitness-loving husband and I decided that an active game system was okay. Before long, however, non-fitness games were added to our collection as was another game system. The kids found free games on the Internet and began playing with their homeschool friends online.
My husband and I tried numerous approaches to containing the time. Kids were only allowed to play after school and before dinner. Often my husband proclaimed game-free weeks or simply insisted they stop playing to go outside. But the problem seemed more complex than our rules.
For instance, we noticed that the kids had very little interest in doing much of anything else but games. Board games and other toys stayed on the shelves. When shooed outside, they counted the minutes until they could come back inside. Creative play had diminished.
The other problem was enforcing limits. As soon as we would declare a gaming hiatus, a neighbor boy would come over with his new game and his puppy dog eyes. When time was up, there was just one more level to complete. Or worse, one or more of the kids would claim they hadn’t gotten to play “at all.” There would be tears and frustration all around.
Having read PlayStation Nation, I recognized these signs of gaming addiction and they worried me. I sat with one of my Homeschool Homies this summer to discuss the problem. As a mother of four boys, she shared my concern.
I began researching devices to control game time for both our families’ benefit. Before I determined that these devices would not work for our situation (we have too many devices, for one thing!), I was shocked by the behavior of children of reviewers of these products. Parents recounted that their kids had learned to drop the timer device to reset it. Others had disconnected or even cut the cables! You can read the reviews of two of these game timers here and here.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that the kids tampering with video game timers have more troubles than just a gaming addiction. My friend and I agreed that our kids would obey whatever approach we used, but we had to determine what that would be. My friend had successfully limited gaming time to weekends in the past, but had found (as I did) that gaming became an obsession when it was allowed.
A New Approach
On the way home from my talk with my friend, I had yet another discussion about gaming with the kids. They already knew why my husband and I were concerned. We shared with them that gaming could become so addictive that young men would forego employment and even marriage because they would rather play. They knew how gaming could keep them from learning and building relationships with one another. I discussed the timing devices I had looked at with them and they agreed with me that they wouldn’t work.
After much discussion, the kids proposed the plan that we have been using and LOVING. Before I tell you what they came up with, let me tell you the results of limiting screen time in our home (I say screen time, because my daughter prefers to watch television):
- Listening to audio books again (in the middle of the day!)
- More creative play (the dress up closet is getting a workout)
- More physical activity (the kids are swimming and jumping and working out more)
- More time playing board games
- My daughter isn’t watching television at all
- More time spent with guests doing just about anything BUT games
- More arguing (yep, you read that right. This is the next problem to address!)
Here is the kids’ taming screen time plan and why I think it works:
- Free screen time on Thursday evenings
(when Mom and Dad have activities outside the home; everyone can play for an extended period and they look forward to a “free night.”
- Two hours of screen time per week
The kids put two circles representing two hours on our dry erase board in the kitchen. The circles are divided in halves, representing 30 minutes each. This is the part of the system I am most excited about. The kids have time to play during the week, but they are in control of it. When our children leave home, they will have to discipline themselves this way. This approach is the best training for adult life. The kids time themselves, mark the time themselves, and even police themselves. I’m still amazed.
- Before using time, the majority must agree to use the time and how they will use it
Our oldest isn’t into gaming, so if three of the five of the kids want to use some of their time, they can play. They must also agree before starting who is going to play what and for how long. Otherwise, you end up with the, “I didn’t get to play” situation. The kids choose how to spend time, knowing they must be prepared for any guests during the week as well. Their typical approach lately is to play an hour on Tuesday and an hour on Saturday. Had I dictated to them when they could play, I doubt the plan would have worked as well.
- The plan is communicated to friends
Most of their game-playing friends have been told about the new system and some of them have adopted a similar approach, which is great! Because I can’t control what happens in others’ houses, however, I don’t try to control game time elsewhere. It’s not a significant problem currently.
I know families who allow gaming only in the winter, only ten minutes a day (which makes it not fun), and families who don’t allow games at all. As a family who has them, we are thrilled with this approach that allows our kids to develop self-control.
What, if any, approach do you use to control screen time in your home?
Memory skills are both biological and experiential. In other words, you can be born with good or poor memory skills, but you can also learn to use them to their maximum.
Memory skills are very important to your child’s future academic success, so spend time helping them improve them. Here’s how:
Memorize with your child
Few things are as boring as memorizing alone. That’s why, even though I have strong memorization skills, I studied anatomy and physiology with friends in college.
Learn memory tactics
The book, How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week: 52 Proven Ways to Enhance Your Memory Skills, teaches multiple approaches to memorizing, one of which is sure to appeal to your child.
Harness the power of competition
The popular Bible Bee succeeds in getting children to memorize large portions of Scripture because of the competitive aspect of the activity. When the kids and I worked through the activities in How to Develop a Brilliant Memory, comparisons were naturally made, though I didn’t encourage them. While it resulted in some tears, it also motivated my kids to improve their skills. If competition doesn’t work for your family, offer a reward. That’s why competition works anyway; the reward is the placing and admiration you receive. My son memorized all the countries in Europe alphabetically to get a sweet treat and to get the appreciation of his peers.
Put it all together
Here is how we memorize in our family. We review together thoroughly and then give individuals who want one an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. The kids honestly “fight” for the right to do this. We memorize Bible books and Word Roots (using English from the Roots Up Flashcards, Vol. 1) this way and we plan to memorize many facts together next fall using Classical Conversations.
What has helped your children commit things to memory?
Before I even know what I’m doing, when I’m asked what I’ve been up to lately, out pops the token response:
Busy has become the new “fine.” In essence, it’s meaningless.
Because I pride myself on being creative with words, I’ve come up with new, unique responses to this standard question.
Before trying them, I want to make sure you understand that I am not liable for any damages that result.
I’ve been overeating, sleeping in ’til noon, and indulging my Internet addiction.
After all, the ‘busy’ response suggests you have a problem with over-commitment. Why not admit to other ways you’re overdoing it?
Haven’t you been keeping up with me on Facebook, Instagram, or my blog?
I mean really. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to let people know how you are, the least these people can do is read it.
I’m not sure.
You’re not, are you? How many of us are entirely certain of how we are emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. Best not to say with any confidence.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Save this one for the people you really don’t like. They will make a hasty retreat.
How have YOU been?
While I offer the above suggestions with tongue in cheek, I’m serious about this last response. We can cut through the meaningless social niceties to inquire how the people we greet REALLY ARE. When I have taken the time to inquire as to how someone is really getting along, I have been surprised to have people give me more than the ‘busy’ answer. After all, the reason people see psychologists is that they want someone to really listen to them. You can save someone a lot of shrink money.
So how have you been, really?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
I’ve spoken of my fondness for TaskCurrent before, but now you might say we’re in a relationship.
I’m one of their featured authors currently providing streams on homeschooling, fitness motivation, and dealing with difficult people.
TaskCurrent allows you to sign up for streams–a topic-focused series of mini blog posts with associated to-do’s. These are like little shots of wisdom and advice that take no time to read.
Here’s what LifeHacker had to say about TaskCurrent. I like that the developers want family-friendly content and they’ve been really wonderful to work with.
I’ve created one stream for new homeschoolers and those who love them.
If you’re brand new to homeschooling, you will love my How to Homeschool stream as it makes the process very simple, with the best resources to get you started. But if you’re a veteran, you’ll love my stream, too. It’s the perfect thing to recommend to people who ask you how to get started homeschooling. Have I mentioned that it’s free? You’ll find it in the education category.
I’ve also created two streams for motivating you in fitness and relationships.
The first is 15 Days of Fitness Inspiration. I’ve collected 15 videos, articles, and blog posts that will help you finally get fit. It’s like 5-hour Energy for fitness, without the shakes and insomnia. You’ll find it in the Health & Fitness Category.
The second stream I authored that may be of interest is a series on dealing with difficult people. I combined a number of blog posts I’ve written on the topic into a series of advice. Unfortunately, this has been a really popular topic for me! You’ll find it in the Relationships Category.
I will have more streams available in the future, but for now:
- please download the free app
- subscribe to one or more of my streams
- and spread the word!
- If you like my streams, please rate them. (If you don’t like them, I don’t mind if you’re too busy to rate.)
When you share this on your favorite social media, you will help people find my streams (and other helpful streams) on TaskCurrent and God willing, help change people’s lives. Thanks in advance for helping me help others!