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The Gift of Giving

It’s the season of giving, but unfortunately, many children (and adults too) think of the holidays as the season of getting. It’s important to teach gratitude and instill a spirit of giving in your child – a lesson you hope to convey the whole year through. At the holidays, it’s especially important to find ways to balance all that getting with ways to give back.

The thing about helping others is it helps us too. For children with complex learning differences who struggle with low self-esteem, giving back to others is a way they can feel good about themselves. Instead of always being the ones who need help, they can use their talents and time to assist in the community or provide clothing or toys to families who don’t have as much. It’s also a way for children to engage in the world, think of themselves as a good citizen, and realize they can make a difference.

You can begin with a few simple activities, and then integrate more involved traditions into the holiday season. Here are a few examples:

  • Your child can make homemade cards or crafts for teachers, your postal worker, babysitters and relatives.
  • Start a holiday good deed jar. Put a quarter or a dime in the jar when anyone does something nice for someone else. Then after a few weeks, deliver the money to a local food bank or shelter.
  • Choose a child’s name off of a Giving Tree. Let your child purchase an item with his/her own allowance or birthday money and let them wrap the gift. Local hospitals, retailers and family shelters will accept gifts for the children they serve.
  • Help your child research charities and then request that one gift they receive this year is a donation to that charity. A “certificate” or card describing the donation can be wrapped for the child to open with the other gifts.
  • Volunteer as a family at a local nursing home, animal shelter or other organization.
  • Adopt a family through a children’s organization and have everyone in your family contribute to making your adopted family have the best holiday ever.

What are your favorite ways of teaching your child gratitude and giving back during the holidays?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Sugar Plum Scaries

It’s everywhere. School parties, friends’ houses, gifts from neighbors, special displays in all the stores. It’s there before, during and after the holidays. It makes you feel wonderful and then terrible. It’s your holiday frenemy.

Sweets.

During the holidays, you come into contact with more sugary goodies than any other time of year. Cookies, candies and special desserts go with the territory, and you may find yourself and your whole family indulging in ways you don’t normally do. So, what does this mean for my Complex Learner? Will he/she become more hyperactive, anxious, distracted, overwhelmed?

There is conflicting research on how sugar effects behavior, but for most kids, and especially Complex Learners, judging for themselves when they’ve had enough sweets is difficult. When overloaded with holiday treats children may be too full to eat healthy foods, experience stomach aches, have blood sugar surges and crashes, and find themselves craving other sugary foods. These things in turn have the potential to make kids feel tired and cranky.

You more than anyone sees how your child reacts to sugar, so given the abundance and indulgence at this time of year, take some time to think about how you want to manage all the sweets. It helps to have lots of healthy snacks and foods easily available. And talk to your child ahead of time about limits that they agree on as well.

What do you do to help your child handle all the treats available at this time of year?

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Food Glorious Food

One of the most enjoyable parts of the holidays for many is the family dinner. Special foods, recipes handed down for generations, a beautiful table setting and a gigantic feast of food for the eyes, nose and stomach.

Lovely!

Unless your child is a picky eater. Or can’t sit still at the table. Or says “yuck” when Aunt Sally’s special Jell-O salad makes its way toward him/her.

As with many situations in the life of a Complex Learner, preparation is key. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Bring something you know your child likes and will eat – either a dish everyone can share, or if need be, the standard chicken nugget fare.
  • Let your child eat appetizers for dinner as a special holiday treat.
  • When the wiggles hit, your child can walk around the table passing rolls or taking dessert orders.
  • Teach your child polite ways to refuse food.
  • Agree on an amount of time your child needs to sit at the table and then let him/her get up and have some quiet time or watch a movie.
  • Don’t worry if you get a few raised eyebrows from grandparents or relatives you rarely see. You know your child best and need to choose your food struggles wisely – holidays are probably not the best time.

I’m sure you have a few stories from the holiday table! Feel free to share below or give us your tips for making the holiday meal enjoyable for all.

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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Meltdowns at the Mall

On a recent trip to the mall I noticed quite a few crying, yelling, upset children. I think we can predict this upswing in tantrums and behavioral problems during the holiday season, given all the high expectations, lack of sleep and sugar our children experience.

But for Complex Learners, these behaviors can be triggered by other factors and quickly go from a run-of-the-mill tantrum to a full-blown meltdown. During a tantrum, a child has trouble managing their emotions, usually because they want something. The outburst may be minor and may stop if the request is fulfilled. A meltdown is when the child feels overwhelmed and has so little control that the behavior doesn’t stop until he/she is completely worn out or sometimes, when the triggers are removed.

For children with sensory and social difficulties, the mall is a land mine, especially at this time of year. The number of shoppers practically quadruples, lights, decorations and music are on steroids and even the packed parking lot creates added time and frustration to the trip.

Here’s a few ideas for managing the madness:

  • Have a specific reason for going to the mall. Write a list of who you are shopping for and what stores you want to go into.
  • Get to know your child’s triggers. Keep him/her away from certain stores or areas with too many lights and sounds or the food court or the huge Santa Claus lines.
  • Decide together with your child on a code word that means things are getting overwhelming and too difficult to manage. Decide on a strategy for this, like finding a quiet space or even leaving.
  • If shopping takes longer than expected, take breaks to give your child time to get away from the noise and people.
  • Try shopping at off times, maybe first thing in the morning or evenings, instead of heading to the mall on busy weekends.
  • If it’s really too much, keep your child home if you can. Or if he/she really wants to shop, find small local stores or places that are generally low key.
  • Why not try online shopping to make the process even easier? Amazon Smile will even donate to The Wolf School with every gift you purchase!

Do you have other strategies that help with seasonal shopping?

 
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Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Try This at Home

There’s a long vacation coming! Here’s a great book to break the boredom that also offers cool things kids can make that are yucky, touchy, artsy, and more! The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions has everything from Applesauce Cinnamon Dough to Jiggle Finger Paints to Jewel & Gem Goop. Some are very easy and tame and others take the courage to face a bit of a mess!

 

Here’s a super sensory favorite:

MAGIC MUCK

This mysterious concoction turns from a liquid to a solid and back again. Crazy!

 

YOU WILL NEED:

¾ cup cornstartch

1/3 cup water

5-7 drops food coloring

 

HOW TO CONCOCT IT:

  1. Mix water and food coloring together in a small bowl
  2. Slowly add cornstarch to water and food coloring mixture. Do not stir!
  3. Let the mixture stand for 2-3 minutes
  4. Pick up a handful of Magic Muck and squeeze it until it forms a hard ball. Open your hand and the magic muck will turn from a solid ball back to a liquid.

 

Do you have any favorite concoctions you pull out of your hat on a rainy/snowy day?

Link for book title:

https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Book-Kid-Concoctions-Wacky/dp/0966108809

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Photo Bomb

There is a lot of pressure during this time of year to produce perfect family photos. Whether for holiday cards you hope to get out before the snow melts, at family gatherings or school events, or just trying to record the fun moments of the season – there are a lot of cameras clicking.

Not everyone loves to be photographed (myself included!), but for children with complex learning differences, this can be a major issue. Complex Learners have social and sensory interferences that make picture taking awkward, uncomfortable, and even scary. Standing close to people in a group might create anxiety. Having to pose or transition from what was happening feels unexpected and not part of the routine. Smiling may not come easily or may look stiff. And just feeling like people are noticing and looking at you can feel strange and invasive.

So, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Whenever possible, prepare your child for photos and explain what is happening and when.
  • If your child is the only one in the photo not smiling, try to take it in stride. Often we feel this is a reflection of us, more than of our child. Try not to fall into this way of thinking and remember the child inside. No smiling is ok!
  • Respect your child’s wishes not to be photographed. Struggling about this can make the situation worse. Over time you can offer strategies and supports to make the photo shoot easier and he/she may come around. If appropriate, let your child take photos. Maybe if they take pictures of others they will get more comfortable with the idea of getting their picture taken.
  • Your child might respond to some people better than others when getting his/her picture taken. See if things change when someone else is behind the lens.
  • The more we have fun taking photos and having ourselves photographed, the more our children will follow suit. This may take a while, and even then, your child may never completely warm up to the camera. So try to enjoy the moment and not worry about those photo bombs!

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Toy Story II

Yes, the toys are coming, but not all toys are created equal. Here are a few links that offer ideas for Complex Learners, taking into account sensory and learning needs. Please share your links or ideas in the comments section below and let the games begin!

 

Educational Toys That Build ADHD Brains

http://www.additudemag.com/slideshow/144/slide-1.html

 

Sensory Seekers Gift List

http://mamaot.com/ultimate-gift-list-for-sensory-seekers/

 

Best Video Games and Apps for Learning Challenged Kids

http://learningworksforkids.com/playbooks/

 

Holiday Gifts for Kids with Neurobehavioral Disorders: A Pinterest Board

https://www.pinterest.com/brainbalance/holiday-gifts-for-kids-with-neurobehavioral-disord/

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Toy Story I

What kid doesn’t love to get toys? They’re colorful and fun. They’re better than socks and mittens. They’re stuff to play with!

But toys have their drawbacks. They pile up and take over entire rooms. They become a way of comparing who has more. They trigger fights between siblings and friends. And let’s face it, the holiday toy extravaganza can strain the bank account.

In addition to all this, toys can be overwhelming for Complex Learners. Too many options bring on anxiety. And toys don’t solve boredom. How many times have you heard, there’s nothing to do, despite the mountains of toys and games to the contrary. More toys aren’t the solution, but helping kids work through the boredom and figure out ways to engage in creative play and entertain themselves helps build skills for the future.

Of course, toys are inevitable at this time of year, but here’s three suggestions for the coming onslaught:

• For every new toy, ask your child to find an old one in good condition that can be donated. Be sure to talk about this beforehand to set the stage for a positive experience.
• Ask well-meaning relatives to get only one gift per child, or better yet, one family gift that everyone will enjoy.
• Give gifts of experiences – like memberships to a favorite museum or the zoo, or tickets to a sporting event or show. These don’t take up much space and will give you time together doing favorite things.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Sensational Activities!

There’s so many things going on during this time of year and you want your child to share in the fun. But children with sensory processing issues often react with challenging behaviors on every day outings, let alone at special activities where there’s sure to be new sights and sounds to absorb.

Planning and preparation are key to going places with Complex Learners and there are multiple strategies parents use. But in addition to the work you do to organize, schedule and preview with your child, an increasing number of community establishments are offering sensory friendly events and shows.

Trinity Rep in Providence holds a sensory-friendly performance of A Christmas Carol every year (this year’s performance was held in November). Here are a few other options and I’m sure you know of more. Let’s build a list of these and then you can find one or two that work for your family that become a holiday tradition.

 

Sensory Santa – December 4

Various Locations

http://www.spedchildmass.com/event/caring-santa-special-needs/,

 

The Nutcracker – December 9

Commonwealth Ballet, Weston, MA

http://commonwealthballet.org/nutcracker

 

Honk – The Musical – December 10

Emerson College, Boston

http://www.spedchildmass.com/event/honk-musical-sensory-friendly-performance/?instance_id=4227

 

AMC Theaters, Sensory Friendly Films

Various Locations

https://www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

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Great Expectations

Do you feel like you have to create the most amazing, festive, magazine-cover-story-worthy holiday ever? Do you promise yourself every year that things will be different, only to turn into a Martha Stewart monster decorating gingerbread houses for all your neighbors or cooking 10,000 latkes for your family or staying up late to make a paper mache yule log for your daughter’s class, even though you have no idea what a yule log is?

Give yourself permission to lower the bar on perfection and focus on what really matters to you. Maybe it’s a holiday movie at home and hot chocolate with the kids. Maybe it’s a walk on a hiking trail nearby or taking the dog to the beach with your family. Maybe it’s sleeping late and making pancakes for lunch.

Because the expectations you have of how perfect things should be are soaked up by your Complex Learner and not handled well if things change, come out differently, or disappoint.

Set the tone for the holidays – relax, do less, and enjoy more!

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-55-14-amAnna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University, and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.