Tag Archives: strategy

Kids will do well…

“Kids will do well, if they can.”  This is a quote from Dr. Ross Greene, an American psychologist.  He believes that “Kids will do well if they want to” is a philosophy that is held by many, but he says it is wrong.  Dead wrong.  Think about it.  He’s right.  It makes so much sense.   He talks about rewarding kids for desired behaviour, and punishing undesired behaviour and how that method is based on the assumption that kids don’t want to do well, so therefore we need to make them want to by motivating them with positive and negative reinforcements.  When you consider that kids do well if they can, you then realize you need only to figure out what is getting in their way and work to remove those ba.

Obviously it’s not simple.  But it IS sensible.  At least from my perspective.  And we are living it.  Berrik struggled in a system that seems to be set up with the philosophy that kids will do well if they want to.  He was absolutely rewarded for desired behaviour (the very few times he exhibited the desired behaviour) and was regularly punished for undesirable behaviour.  There was many a conversation between myself and his teachers about medication – because medication would help him fit the system, ultimately.  (EDIT: Please note that I am not anti-medication to treat symptoms of ADHD (or anything else for that matter).  In our situation at that time, I didn’t feel like it was the best solution for Berrik and I was concerned that it was viewed as the ‘only solution’.  We each are living our experiences and those who have used medication as one of the strategies to help their child do well are doing what we are all doing – trying to allow our children to do well.) There were just as many conversations about reward systems, and removing of privileges. And I say this with no negative feelings towards the teachers. With the exception of one, Berrik’s teachers truly seemed to want to help Berrik achieve success. But with many many kids per class and extremely limited resources, it seemed the only way was to make the kids fit the system rather than have the system fit the kids.

Enter private school designed for kids who do not fit the system.  A school designed to allow the system to fit the kids.  A school where every single person from the Board to the school admin believe that the system should fit the kid, and that kids will do well if they can.  In Berrik’s case, he needs a little extra support to keep him on task.  He was speech delayed as a toddler and this still impacts him as well.  His developmental coordination disorder makes things like writing more challenging.  So, he works with the speech language pathologist weekly.  He works with the OT twice per week.  And his teachers are making accommodations that make it easier for him to do well.  Not surprisingly he is doing exceptionally well.  Because kids will do well if they can.

 

I was at the school’s annual AGM listening to one of the OTs and the family counsellor present about a new program that is being piloted this year.  They referenced Dr. Greene’s quote.  And they talked about developmental age vs. chronological age.  It really resonated with me and if I needed one more reason to know that I have my boy in the correct school for him, this was it.  Think about it.  Chronological age is a pretty arbitrary thing to use to determine things like school grade, ability to drive, ability to drink or smoke marijuana, etc. etc.   Think about the kids you know and all the different phases and stages of development.  Even amoung my own three kids, their developmental ages vs. chronological ages have varied by quite a bit.  My kids’ friends vary dramatically as well.  Take any handful of 12 year olds (or 15 year olds, or 3 year olds) and compare their developmental age.  Some are incredibly mature in some areas of their lives, and some are developmentally younger. McKenna didn’t walk until 19 months.  She never crawled. Her physical development was on the edge of what would be considered ‘normal’ and she was way behind her peers.  Wasn’t much we could do about it, so we just let it be. She’s a strong runner and a competitive dancer now.  Development happens when it happens and while it should progress, the rate at which it progresses varies and shouldn’t be labelled or used as a predictor of future ability.  What is important to note as well, is that kids may be developmentally more mature in one area of development and not in others.  Dr. Greene talks about this as well. If we pay attention to developmental age and give kids what they can handle based where they are developmentally, they will do well.  It’s not unlike giving a first year resident surgeon an incredibly complex surgery on her first case.  The outcome likely won’t be all that good.  Why are we surprised when we ask kids to perform tasks beyond their developmental ability and it doesn’t go well?  It often results in behaviors that we see as negative.  But actually it’s quite normal and the kid is not the problem.

So the next time you see a kid (or your own kid) behaving in a way that isn’t meeting your expectations, think about your expectations. Are they developmentally appropriate?  Stop comparing your kids to their peers.  Its not helpful or useful.  Meet kids where they are at, and they will do well. Because kids will do well if they can.

Summer Camp Decisions…

summer campI think regardless of whether your kid is neurotypical or not, the decision to send him or her to summer camp can be a big one.  Particularly when it comes to an overnight camp. Ironically, both my girls, neurotypical and well skilled in self-advocacy, making friends, and taking care of themselves were older than 8 when they first went to overnight summer camp.  Yet this winter when camp registrations were opening, I found myself wondering if Berrik could go, should go, or even would go.

I lost a bit of sleep over it while I weighed all the benefits and risks.  So many more things to consider for a kid his age, and especially because he isn’t wired the same as neurotypical 8 year old boys.  Let me tell you a little about my thought process:

  1. It will have to be a camp that meets specific requirements (as determined by me!).  One of them was that the camp counsellors would need to be adults – teenagers dealing with a bunch of 8 year old boys makes me nervous.  Not that a 17 year old and a 20 year old are likely all the much different, but that was one of my requirements.  The ratios of adults to kids had to be what I would consider reasonable for kids this young (no more than 5 kids per adult).  They would have to be willing and able to keep Berrik on his diet for the most part, even if I have to send all his ‘treats’.  And perhaps most importantly for me, I wanted to know that the Camp Director and staff knew what ADHD was, and had some experience with kids who have it.  (Not surprisingly, most camps I called were very familiar… it’s a pretty pervasive diagnosis amoung young boys these days, so I think every camp would have to know how to manage).
  2. So.  Assuming I could find a camp that would meet my specific requirements, I next moved on to what I felt the benefits would be.  Berrik has now been homeschooled for one year.  He has friends with whom we have regular playdates, he attends Cub Scouts, and karate weekly, is attending a spring sports camp each week, and also is playing soccer.  So he has social opportunities.  I actually don’t worry much about his ‘socialization’ per se.  He’s social.  He makes friends easily.  Not a big concern. What I like about camp is the requirements to work together with cabin mates, compete together, do chores together, win challenges together and lose together too.  The ability to cooperate with a group of people all day long for a week is a great introduction to an important life skill.
  3. This year, because we have been home together, Berrik has grown considerably in his ability to care for himself (despite how counterintuitive that sounds).  I have had time to teach him how to make his bed properly, hang up his clothes, empty the dishwasher, set the table, make simple food for himself, take care of the dog, take care of personal hygiene.  When I looked into both my daughters’ rooms this morning, it’s very clear that I DID NOT spend enough time with them on these skills (I really need to get Berrik to teach them).  While he is very self sufficient, it is not the same as being away from home and having to do chores in a different environment, take care of his belongings, keep his stuff tidy, respect others’ stuff etc. etc.  I think this next step towards independence is an important one, and I also think he’s totally ready.
  4. Berrik has been refined sugar and wheat free for 1.5 years.  He is very good at advocating for himself with family and friends with regard to what he can and cannot eat.  Taking it a step further and advocating for himself in a new environment will be great for him.  I’ll make sure the camp knows what he can and cannot have.  There are plenty of gluten free options already for the kids with celiac, so that makes it easy.  The dessert and other treats can be fruit and baking sent from home.  Not a big deal for him, and hopefully nfireot too much of a PIA for the camp.
  5. This time last year, Berrik had no confidence.  He thought he was stupid.  He thought kids didn’t like him because he wasn’t smart enough.  He was teased.  He felt like he didn’t belong.  Fast forward to now, and the difference is mind blowing.  I see it in everything he does now.  As he told me this morning, “You just need to believe in yourself Mom.  If you believe in yourself and work hard, you’ll be able to do it.”  Granted, he was encouraging me as I was complaining about folding laundry, but at least he knows the right messages!  Because he is confident, and he does believe in himself, I am excited for him to attend camp and prove to himself how self-sufficient and independent he is.
  6. Berrik loves video games.  We try to keep his screen time to a minimum.  He also loves to be outdoors.  Camp will be a wonderful opportunity to be screen-free for a whole week, along with nearly unlimited time outdoors exploring and running and playing.  This is a huge sell for me.  Thanks to homeschooling, we go outside a lot. No need to wait for a 15 minute recess!  But it’s not the same as doing camp activities with a bunch of peers, all day, every day, with zero screen time.  Both Berrik and I will love this.
  7. I asked Berrik if he wanted to go to sleepaway camp for 6 whole nights without Mom and he said “YES!!!  That would be so fun!!”  At the end of the day, that was the decision maker.  I also texted my mom and asked if she thought Berrik was ready for sleepover camp.  She said, “Oh yes, for sure!  He’d love it.”  And then a few weeks later I mentioned that it was 6 nights and she said, “Six nights!?!?  OMG.”  She thought I meant ONE NIGHT.  LOL.  Oops.  By then I had already registered him and paid.
  8. Now lets talk risks.  There are many potentials.  But I think they are all mitigateable (I know, I know, not a word.)  He could get hurt.  He could eat a bunch of crap that will make his brain feel crazy.  He could feel homesick or lonely.  But these are all the same risks that all kids are exposed to at summer camp.  I’m doing everything I can to mitigate any risks that I can think of, and have come to the personal conclusion that I can only do so much to protect him, and that overprotecting him will be more harmful than helpful.  Kids don’t die of homesickness.  They learn to be resilient.  Berrik is no stranger to bumps, bruises and scrapes.  And our family is no stranger to broken bones (thank you Avi) so while I hope he doesn’t get broken, if he does, the world won’t end.  If he gets hopped up on sugar and acts a bit crazy, then the counselor will understand why I’m so weird about sugar (and likely won’t give him any the next day! hahaha).  The benefits for this specific kid outweigh the risks.  Perhaps not so for other kids, but for Berrik, it is the case.  So off to camp he will go.

We are preparing and have been for weeks.  We talk about things he might do there, what the expectations will be, how he will make lots of friends, and what the most polite way to decline food might be.  He has identified what treats he wants me to send that he says will be better than marshmallows. He knows which stuffy will come.  We will decide on clothing choices for the week when we pack.  I think he’s going to love it.  I think I’m going to cry all the way home from dropping him off.  I may not sleep.  But in my gut I know he’s ready and I know he’ll have the time of his life.  For us, this is the right decision.

Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us

MK_TOMBRDG1_20170216_7950165136

These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.

img_8166

This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.

49a521a1-5c17-49f2-9684-d181acc6c82f

Travelling with teens. Enough said.

 

  1. We rented a condo through VRBO.com with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.
    img_8374

    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.

    img_8178

    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.
    img_8219

    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.
    img_8345

    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.

    img_8298

    #sisters

    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.

img_8293

Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free)


Berrik was having his two best buddies over for a sleepover and I was going to be spending the day at dance dress rehearsal where one of my dance mom friends cannot eat gluten.  So before we headed off to the rehearsal hall, I whipped up a batch of these gluten-free and refined sugar-free cookies.  I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Monique at AmbitiousKitchen.com.  You can find the original recipe here.   I haven’t made it as it is written, but based on all other recipes I’ve tried from this blog, I am positive it will be delicious as is.  img_8523

The only changes I made was to use Nut and Seed Butter from Costco in place of almond butter, Nuts4Nat_NutSeedButter_1-595x595raw local honey in place of the coconut sugar, and I used stevia sweetened chocolate chips.  Monique at Ambitious Kitchen made her cookies in a food processor, but I was too lazy and rushed to even grab mine out of the cupboard, so I hand stirred and it worked just fine.

I doubled this recipe, and used a bit less than half a cup of honey. Truth be told, I didn’t measure the chocolate chips.  I just dumped some in until it seemed like enough.  If you aren’t sure if it’s sweet enough, just give the batter a taste. If the batter tastes sweet enough, then the cookie will too.  If not, add a bit more

Berrik hasn’t had sweets/refined sugar for 14 months, so even a slightly sweet cookie tastes sweet to him.  But I handed them out to the dance moms at rehearsal and they liked them….and my girls really liked them too.  They are a bit cakey in texture. Next time I might add coconut and/or crushed nuts for some more crunch and texture, not to mention flavor, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  Dried fruits would also work well.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Nut and Seed Butter
  • 1/2 cup raw local honey
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • 2/3 cup Stevia sweetened chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl put in nut and seed butter, honey and coconut oil; hand mix until combined. Add in eggs and stir again.
  3. Next, add in coconut flour, baking soda and salt; stir again until a dough forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Use a cookie scoop to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. You can flatten dough with the palm of your hand or you can leave the dough as is and cookies will be a bit puffier.  I left them as is.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Allow them to cool on cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes around 36 cookies.

 

Teach for Mastery, Not Test Scores

I will admit that I am a bit of a Ted Talk junkie.  Add to that a healthy respect for and frequent use of the Khan Academy learning materials and you’ll understand why I LOVE this particular Ted Talk by Sal Khan:

I recommend watching the Ted Talk – it’s 10 minutes of simple brilliance.  But the general overview is that our current education system that teaches for test scores rather than mastery is causing a multitude of issues that could be overcome with a shift in mindset.  My favourite analogy in the talk is about Math.  Kids learn math concepts from an early age.  They are tested.  Let’s say they get 75%.  That’s a good grade.  They move on.  After a few years of 75% mastery, you can imagine that the 25% gaps in knowledge will create some critical issues.  Without mastery of earlier concepts, at some point, more complex concepts will become extremely difficult, and you will start to hear kids say, “I’m just not good at math.”  You can apply this to many subjects.  If kids were expected to achieve mastery before moving on (by using technology and any number of free and easily accessible resources – thank you, world wide web!), then nearly 100% of the population would be able to read, do calculus, organic chemistry etc.  He goes on to talk also about the benefits of kids learning to seek the information they need, the perseverance, taking agency over their own learning, as critical life skills.

As a homeschooling mom of a kid who has had significant challenges learning to read, and as a result also struggled in math, I fully subscribe to this philosophy of mastery over test scores.  My first introduction to this concept, or at least the first time it was articulated to me in a way that really hit home, was in Sound Connections.  Berrik does not move on to a more complex concept until he has mastered the concept he is currently working on.  And we constantly review earlier concepts as full mastery and ability to quickly access those concepts results in faster and more successful mastery of more complex concepts.

Imagine a kid who has trouble learning to read due to a learning disability that is diagnosed in grade 3.  In a typical classroom, that kid who may now have accommodations or therapies is just starting to learn to read.  What are the chances that anyone at school will go right back to the beginning…the early reading skills that kids are exposed to in preschool, kindergarten and grade 1?  Slim.  There just isn’t time. So unless he’s in a program like Sound Connections, there are going to be some gaps that will make things more challenging down the road.

img_8508

If only all kids were given the opportunity to master all pre-reading concepts and then early reading concepts and so on and so on!  Watching my kid go from low self confidence and feeling as though he was ‘stupid’ to successfully reading, and learning to decode words, and understanding advanced sound rules (and learning that the rules are all made to be broken in the English language), and learning to spell and write stories has been an incredible journey.  Yes, I homeschool so I have time.  But it’s not the time so much as the access to resources and guidance that have allowed us to efficiently work on mastering concepts. We are playing catch up.  But if these resources and methods were implemented in all kindergartens and grade 1 classes, the foundations would be strong for all kids.

Knowing that mastery is the key has changed the way we approach everything.  This is the true beauty of homeschooling for me.  We do NOT move on until a concept is mastered.  And there is no one telling me I have to.  And not surprisingly, ensuring mastery along the way has resulted in Berrik moving more quickly (especially in math) even as concepts get more complex.  We are still unravelling the puzzle pieces of why Berrik struggles so much with reading and writing – more on vision therapy and other things later.  However, in Math, we started in September doing Grade 1 Math.  We are now working on Grade 2 Math and I expect Berrik to be ready for Grade 3 Math in September when he enters Grade 3.

img_8485

My two older daughters both do well in school.  Even so, Khan’s example rang true for both of them with regard to Math.  Lack of mastery of some concepts (like memorizing timestables, for example) took 3-4 years before it truly came back to bite them. Suddenly more advanced math concepts that require an ability to recall single digit multiplication became onerous and challenging.  I remember McKenna at one point, maybe in grade 7, realizing that knowing multiplication tables like the back of her hand was a critical skill, so she took the time (on her own time, because that is a grade 3 concept!) to memorize them.  This year in Grade 8, Math is one of her strongest subjects.

It is so very simple, and it is now scalable in the classroom like it never has been in history.  It simply requires a shift in thinking.  An example Khan talks about is hearing from teachers who started assigning the Khan Academy math videos as homework and then doing the practice in class time, instead of the typical method of lecturing and teaching concepts in class and sending kids home to practice on their own with their busy and bewildered parents.  It’s no surprise that this resulted in significantly higher success rates.  And as a parent who has spent many an hour at the table doing math with kids (in spanish no less), I would be over the moon if our homework was to watch the video instead of do the practice.  For the record, many times I had to Google translate the instructions to english and then watch a Khan Academy video to teach myself what my daughters were supposed to be practicing, and then try to help them! PAINFUL.

I think a lot of homeschoolers choose homeschooling for this ability to allow kids to learn at their own pace, and achieve mastery before moving on.  It has been life changing for us this year.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 1.22.50 PM

I am going to throw in a final plug for the Khan Academy.  This website/app is FREE, and you can learn just about anything.  We are using it for math and it’s pretty fantastic.  Sal has created videos about concepts which you can watch as many times as you need to. Then you practice.  A specific number of correct answers identifies mastery.  If you struggle, there are links back to the videos right in the questions, and there are also hints to help you. If you have an account, your data is tracked and you can access and analyze your child’s (or your own) progress.  Even better, the site has been gameified which I know from my L&D world is excellent for motivation and engagement.

My engineer husband who works in the construction industry would never consider building a skyscraper on a foundation that is 80% complete, so why are we building the minds of our children on these faulty, incomplete foundations?

Let’s KISS

Keep it simple, stupid.  Having had a child who felt he was ‘stupid’ based on his school experience, I tend to dislike the word.  I still feel an emotional response to hearing it, because it takes me back to 8 months ago when Berrik told me he was too stupid for school and that the kids didn’t like him because he was stupid.  I worry that the word will always be a trigger for him, like it now is for me.  In spite of that, I have always loved the KISS principle.  I like the simplicity of the statement and how much applicability it has to pretty much everything.

KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960.[1][2] The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

That said, I am pretty darned terrible about applying it.  In fact, I would say I have a tendency to overcomplicate most things in my life.  This past year with Berrik’s diet changes, supplements, and schoolwork, I have ventured down the path of overcomplication a few times, but I am happy to say that I am slowly getting better at keeping it simple.  It is my tendency to start out with a simple plan, and then I will find myself complicating the situation, and then I pull back and reset.  Again.  I suspect I will do this over and over for the rest of my life.  The key for me is recognizing it sooner and resetting more quickly.

Some key areas where I (attempt to) apply the KISS principle in our family life are as follows:

fruit-1095331__340

  1. Food.  While Berrik’s diet may sound complicated, it’s actually incredibly simple.  Is it real food in it’s original form?  Great, he can eat it.  It’s really that simple.  In pretty much every restaurant (less so in fast food, but we avoid those place for many reasons and always have) will have the option to order a protein and vegetables.  It won’t likely be on the menu, but ask for a grilled chicken breast and some steamed or raw veggies, and almost everyone will accommodate, no questions asked.  When I do this, I usually get a chef or manager coming out to ask about allergies.  I confess that I don’t outright lie, but I do let assumptions work in my favor.  “Exposure to gluten or refined sugar will make him very unwell.”  This is 100% truth, however, the assumption is often that these things would be life threatening or that he has Celiac disease.  I feel ok with that if it means that Berrik can have a regular piece of meat without any breading or unknown additions.  More importantly, at home, this way of eating is very, very simple.  Once you get into the swing of things, you start to change your ideas about what convenience food is as well.  For me, convenience food is making enough dinner to have a day or two of leftovers in the fridge for lunches so I’m not scrambling or feeling like I have to resort to something processed because there is nothing else and I don’t have time to prepare real food.  Having a lot of fresh produce in the house at all times requires a bit of planning, but is also very convenient.  As are nuts and seeds.  We use SPUD.ca for produce delivery every week, so I know that even if I can’t get out to the store, we will still have produce (as well as many other items from SPUD.ca). I know not everyone is into baking like I am, but I find it convenient to make a large volume of ‘treats’ like coconut balls or ‘fat bombs’, and keeping them in the freezer.  Last minute play date where the kids are having cookies?  No problem.  I pull out a couple frozen treats and send them with Berrik.  It can be quite simple.  It should be simple.  All kids are better off with this simplicity in my opinion.  Not to say there should be no ‘treats’ ever, but I do think we can redefine what ‘treat’ means, and I feel like many of us misuse or misunderstand the term moderation.  Everything in moderation is a common adage these days.  The problem is that most of us take every category of ‘treat’ and have a moderate amount of each of those treats regularly.  Moderate consumption of each of bagged snack food (chips), fast food, processed foods, and sugar on a regular basis is no longer moderation.  Let’s say we have 3-4 things from each of the above mentioned categories on a weekly basis (and I would venture to guess that most of us eat more than that), we are eating up to 16 servings of ‘treats’ each week. The reality is, in my opinion, that we need to combine all ‘treats’ into one category and choose 3-4 per week.  Would it take some planning and a major lifestyle change?  Of course.  Would it be just too expensive?  Nope…it’s actually not that expensive to eat only real food.  Processed foods and eating out are more expensive in the long run.  We would all feel better and many of the diet related issues that plague North Americans would be minimized.pexels-photo-199093
  2. Schedule.  Oh how I struggle keeping a simple schedule.  Our family calendar is a gong show.  But where I implement ‘simple’ is we use one digital iCal. Anyone with iCloud can access it.  This means everyone in the family has access to it.  Kevin isn’t an apple user, but he can log into the calendar through iCloud in his browser, and see exactly who is doing what, where and when.  He and I both add all of our activities in it as well, so when we are planning something, we can instantly see what is happening on that date and decide if we can add another item or not.  This keeps things relatively simple, and we rarely forget to take ourselves or one of the kids to where they need to go.  Our day to day lives are not simple.  McKenna dances pretty much every day.  Avi has choir, basketball and sewing club every week.  Berrik has Cub Scouts, karate and of course his school activities every week, plus skiing and skating when there is time. Super complicated.  However, it is all in the calendar so we have a relatively simple system that works for us.  We carpool where we can which further simplifies life.   Simple doesn’t always have to mean doing less.  In this context, simple is just finding the most efficient way to manage our crazy lives, simplifying wherever we possibly can.image
  3. School.  Homeschooling is simple.  Or it can be.  I have overcomplicated it a few times in our short homeschooling career, but I know that we both fare significantly better if we KISS school.  We have developed a routine and a rhythm that works for both of us and is proving to be highly effective.  The three R’s of my childhood (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic – Um, who determined this was the three R’s???) make the foundation of what we do on a daily basis.  While the details of each may seem complicated, they really aren’t as they all are areas of learning that have a foundation from which you continually build in increments.  Quite simple once you wrap your head around it.  Science, social studies, art, phys.ed, music, all can stem from the three R’s.  Reading and writing about social studies topics, music is very mathematical, art and science can include all sorts of information about scale, measurements, estimation, and pretty much every other foundational math skill that exists. I have learned that it is not necessary to do a separate ‘class’ for each subject.  We integrate the three R’s into all subjects and so everything we do has some math, some writing and some reading.  We learn about scientific process, making inferences, geography, community, culture, art, physical activity, music etc., throughout our days in different ways, using those basic skills.  The huge benefit of homeschool is the ability to make it simple in the way that works best for Berrik.  He needs considerably more time spent on reading and writing than on math, so we integrate that into more of our activities on a daily basis.  It works for us and he is thriving.image
  4. Family time.  This is also simple.  It did not used to be, but because we decided it was a priority, it has become more simple.  We eat together almost every day at dinnertime.  No technology is allowed and we catch up with everyone about their day. All other family time is scheduled in a different way – daddy time with Berrik or the girls or just one of the girls whenever there is a window of opportunity.  Bedtime chats with the girls most nights (individually), so they can tell me about what is going on in their heads, in their relationships, in their lives.  It’s such a short amount of time.  Sometimes only 5 minutes.  But it’s frequent and almost always available to them, so it works. Trying to schedule whole family outings is nearly impossible. So I stopped trying to do it beyond our dinnertime.  No need to complicate it.  And as we see that one or more of the kids (or Kevin and I) need more time together, we find the time in the schedule and we do it.  I will say that being home this year has facilitated this, but even if I was working, it’s more the commitment to it and doing it no matter what that keeps it simple.  “Can I go to a friends after school?”  “Not tonight honey, I want you home for dinner.”  It’s really that simple.  I hoard and protect that time because it’s my only guaranteed time.image
  5. Relationships.  I am fortunate to have a pretty large circle of pretty cool friends.  Some I see regularly thanks to dance or other kids activities that we both have kids involved in.  Some I see regularly because of a shared activity that we (the adults) participate in.  Some I see only once or twice a year, and a few even less than that.  The beauty is that all of my friends seem to look at our relationship in a similar way.  We don’t complain or berate each other when we haven’t seen each other for  weeks or months. We just take our opportunities where we can, and enjoy the time we have when we have it.  Not to say we passively await a perfect storm of opportunity, we sometimes make considerable effort to find a time that works, commit to it, and make it happen.  But on the same token, I never feel pressure.  I know we would all like more time together, but we are each prioritizing our lives in a way that makes sense for our families or ourselves, and I rarely feel that anyone is frustrated or upset about time span between visits.  I guess the KISS principle application is that you need to surround with friends who share your outlook, who love you no matter how much they see you (and vice versa), who are there when you need them (and vice versa), and who can pick up where you left off no matter if it’s been 2 days or 2 years. Make a simple list of the most important qualities you want in a friend, and if anyone doesn’t meet the criteria, (hint: if they don’t meet yours, you likely don’t meet theirs either) then keep them at acquaintance level and move on.

Every time I write a blog post like this one, I read and reread, and often feel like whatever I’m writing about sounds way easier than it is.  This post is no exception. My philosophy is really that everything is a journey and that we can only do what we can do.  Some people are the masters of simplification, right down to having only a handful of outfits and just rotating through them…or like Mr. Facebook himself, wearing the same thing every single day to remove the need to make a fashion decision on a daily basis. Or having limited ‘stuff’ in their house, or even limiting activities or friends!  Simple is relative.  Simplify where you can, in baby steps. And because you’re human, things will likely get complicated, so when they do, step back and figure out where you can simplify again.  Keeping it simple is anything but simple.  Ironically, it can start out quite complicated!  Do what makes sense for you and forget the rest.  It’s that simple ;-).

And for all my friends who I haven’t seen in awhile (assuming any of you actually read my blog!), I can’t wait to see you again.  Call me, or I’ll call you.  Soon.  (TG, stay by your phone.  We are due).

Executive Function – It’s not a VP luncheon!

The first time I heard the term Executive Function, I immediately envisioned the executive team where I worked attending a luncheon. Which didn’t make much sense considering I was in a conversation about Berrik.

Executive function (and self-regulation) is defined by the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard as:

…the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

This requires three key components:

  1. Working Memory
  2. Mental Flexibility
  3. Self Control

Children are not born with these skills.  They are learned, and continue to develop into early adulthood.  Many kids will pick these up through lived experiences combined with direct instruction that they will be exposed to as part of playing, school, interactions with family and friends, and just about all life experiences.  For many kids, it is relatively seamless over the developmental years.  Three and four year olds learn about turn taking and are able to grasp and apply the concept, either through learning at preschool, interactions (read: squabbles) with friends at play dates or with siblings.  As kids’ brains develop, their working memory, mental flexibility and self control, typically develop as well.  For some kids, the development of executive function isn’t quite so seamless, for a variety of different reasons.

We are working on executive function skills with Berrik all the time.  Some of the potential reasons why he hasn’t had a seamless development of these skills is likely due at least in part to receptive and expressive speech delay.  When you don’t totally understand what is being said, and you aren’t able to express yourself in those early developmental years, it’s easy to understand why a kid may not ‘intuitively’ develop these skills from play and life experiences.  It’s difficult to relate outcomes to what is going on, when  you aren’t quite sure what just happened or why.  For this reason, Berrik and I work on building his capacity with these skills.  The wonderful thing about brains and neuroplasticity is that it is possible to improve capacity in these areas, and I see the evidence in Berrik consistently.  Because of the challenges he faces with receptive and expressive speech, I assume that he will always require strategies to support his executive functioning skills.  (If I’m wrong and he catches up to his peers, then all the better, but in the mean time, he needs strategies now, so that is what we work on).

Working Memory – Berrik can be challenged to keep information in his head long enough to manipulate that information.  As a result, we work on building his capacity to do so through practice using a variety of different games and activities, as well as through modelling and practicing strategies to support this.  Things like visualization, repeating things back, taking notes or drawing pictures are all helpful.  This is something that we practice as part of all subjects (and all parts of life, actually).  It’s pretty easy to incorporate.  There is always something to ‘remember’ as we do schoolwork, so I will often help him use his strategies to keep the information in his head, and then ask questions or ask him to do something that requires him to manipulate the information in some way.  For example, if we are doing a science experiment, we will go through a few steps that we will  need to take to complete the experiment (or a portion of it).  Then I may ask him to skip a step and come back to it.  Initially we will do this using visuals, so he can physically move the skipped step and put it in the new order.  Depending on the topic (it’s easier when the material is familiar), I will have him do this only in his head, using visualization, and repeating.  As he gets good at doing this, I up the ante and add more steps, or make the manipulation more challenging.  I see this as a two-fold exercise.  First, I am helping him work his brain and develop new neural pathways.  You can read about Neuroplasticity here.  Second, I am helping him develop strategies that he can use throughout his life in the likely case that this is always a challenge for him.

Another great game for working memory is the game of ‘Memory’  (Go figure). The game is also called ‘Concentration.’   We use it with sight words (thank you Sound Connections for that idea!), and also with facts in science, social studies and we are just starting to use it in math.  In science we recently did a unit on the Earth’s water cycle.  In the Memory game, I created cards for different parts of the cycle – words on one card, pictures on the other set – and Berrik had to not only match them up, but remember where each card was as we flipped them over.  We started first with matching only, with all cards visible.  Then we moved to the actual Memory game, where all cards are face down, you flip two and find the matches.  Memory, reading practice, and learning about science all in one activity. In Math, I will use two different depictions of the same numbers (as we work with base 10 blocks), and Berrik has to identify which ones represent the same number and then match them.  I am currently building a game where the cards are addition and subtraction problems and he has to find the two that have the same answer.  The key is to make sure he is pretty strong on all the cards first, and then use them in the Memory game.  It then doubles as a working memory exercise and a review of whatever subject we are working on.  It’s quite effective, and it can be used for pretty much anything.

Mental Flexibility – This comes into play when something unpredictable or unexpected happens and Berrik needs to be able to adapt and adjust to the new situation and respond appropriately.  This is fun to work on, as it’s almost like you can see the wheels turning inside Berrik’s head as he tries to figure out how to apply old rules to new situations.  We play games and then I will switch up the rules.  This helps with working memory as well, as he now has to remember the new rules as well as apply them.  Starting simple and then scaffolding is the key.  Build on skills rather than trying to jump ahead.  For a kid who had a rough grade 1 year, confidence is something that is coming along, but still needs work.  When you develop the base skills and then build on those, you are setting up for success.  Success means confidence.  Confidence means willingness to take some risks.  Taking risks means increased learning opportunities.  It’s a process.   And when he takes some risks, we really celebrate the effort as opposed to the outcome.  Outcomes will vary throughout life – for all of us – but those of us who aren’t afraid to make the effort and take a chance will see more success in life, in my opinion.  I know this from my experience in both learning, and in people management.  It rings true over and over.

Some examples of ways to do this:  In the Snakes and Ladders game, play it the normal way and then play it where you must go up the slides and down the ladders.  Play basketball, and instead of dribbling the ball, you have to toss it up and down in the air instead (this is great for all kinds of brain and coordination work).  Or if you have enough people, only allow passing, no dribbling.  Or only shoot backwards.  Anything that changes the rules, will work.  Simon Says is another good game to play for mental flexibility, working memory AND self control.  It’s also easily adaptable for kids Berrik’s age depending on interest.  When we play, Simon will often say “kick like a ninja” or “turn into the blue power ranger” etc., as that is what Berrik is interested in.  The sillier ‘Simon’ is, the more fun Berrik has with it.  I also let him be ‘Simon’ as this is great for his planning and language skills.

Self Control – In terms of impulsiveness, Berrik is fine.  The ability to set priorities is likely behind what most 8 year olds are able to do.  We work on this every single day as we plan our days.  We will talk about what is important to get done, what we would prefer to do, and how we should set up our day to get these things accomplished.  We look at the week ahead, and the months ahead as well.  Even on individual tasks we will set priorities.  What I have found is that sometimes Berrik’s priorities will be ‘out of order’ but when I ask him to explain his rationale, he has a very rational reason (rational reason for an 8 year old!).  It occurred to me after one of his explanations that if I asked my neurotypical daughters to prioritize their day for me, I suspect theirs would be ‘out of order’ as well! Sometimes I need to be reminded that it is completely typical for kids’ priorities to not match parents.  Duh.

In the photo below, Berrik and I created this camel by looking at a photo and building it, step by step.  So much planning and prioritizing with these types of activities. And if you get it wrong, it just doesn’t work.  Berrik is actually very strong in this type of planning.  If he loses patience with the activity, I’ll just do the building and have him correct me.  I will do something wrong to let him catch me. (Full disclosure, I only ‘accidentally’ mix it up some of the time.  Often I mess it up without realizing.  This type of detailed planning is not my strength.)  Variations on the game Red Light Green Light are great for self control as well.  When we play this, I usually do bear crawls or crab walks or hopping/jumping.  When physical exertion is part of the game, it requires more concentration to listen and stay focused.

image

As you can tell, we do things here with as much efficiency as possible, with the most possible gain.  It would be overwhelming if I tried to individually teach or facilitate each area that Berrik needs to work on.  Combining activities and outcomes is not only more efficient, it’s actually more effective as it almost certain to require a multisensory approach.  Additionally, it’s more similar to real life in that you don’t ever just get to use one skill in whatever tasks you’re working on from day to day.  You need to be able to access it all, at the same time, in varying levels.  What is exciting, is that I can consistently see progress in all areas, and even though I may have been focusing more on one area than another, I will see the benefit show up in unexpected places.  That application of knowledge and skills in different contexts is really the key outcome for me.  It tells me that what we are doing is working.

If you’re looking for more information on executive function, or on child development in general, the Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard site is excellent.