Time for YOU!

It’s time for our Wolf Wednesday blog post and the final Holiday Tip! This is the one that everybody tells you about, and you read about in all the magazine and blogs, and you know you should do it, but somehow it always falls to the bottom of your list.

But you have to do this!!

That’s right. Find time to do something for yourself. Something that makes you feel renewed, calm, energized, or even excited. It could be anything – but it has to be just for you. A mud bath, grooving with a Tibetan Singing Bowl, binge watching The Sopranos, cucumbers on your eyelids, a kickboxing class, the New York Time’s crossword puzzle, making pickles, mystery novels, decoupage, knitting, ice fishing, meditation, bowling with friends…who cares?!

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as 1) there’s no kids, and 2) you feel better afterwards.

As a parent of a Complex Learner your job is rewarding and amazing but also pretty taxing. You know the drill, put the oxygen mask on yourself first! If you are less stressed your kids are less stressed.

It really is true. So, give a little time to yourself during this busy season – and see the benefits pass on to your Complex Learners as well!

Happy 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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Move It!

If the temperatures continue to make outdoor play difficult, you need to keep things moving inside! As you know, movement is important for all kids, but it’s even more critical for Complex Learners, helping with sensory regulation, mood, focus and organization. During the break from school and the regular routine, you’ll need to schedule more movement in during the day to meet your child’s needs.

Here’s a list of activities you can use to keep things moving:

  • Dance party! Crank up the tunes and get off the couch.
  • Find a yoga CD or program for stretching, strengthening and serenity.
  • Use tape to create hopscotch on a hard floor.
  • Play games using your body: leapfrog, wheelbarrow races, crab walks and donkey walks.
  • Consider getting a mini trampoline for indoor use.
  • Tickle fights, wrestling matches and tug of war will get things moving
  • Clean out the basement and have your child carry things up and down the stairs (put the music on and keep it fun!).
  • Have a pillow fight.
  • Play Twister.
  • Put on an old aerobic CD and feel the burn.
  • Create an indoor obstacle course or scavenger hunt.
  • Use an exercise ball to move all around, especially hanging over it upside down.

You must have others! Let us know how you get things moving when it’s cold outside!

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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.

On the Road, Again

It wouldn’t be the holidays without visiting family. And for some of us, the visits can be lengthy. From a half-hour ride and an all-day visit, to a six-hour car ride staying several days, to plane travel with a week in-between, travel is inevitable.

Most children love the idea of travel, but in reality, the patience and flexibility required can be extremely challenging, particularly at the holidays when emotions are heightened, and resources like sleep and healthy eating can be low. And if your child is a Complex Learner who already struggles with changes in plans, long waits, and managing new environments, taking a trip to visit family can present a multitude of problems.

But don’t despair! Here’s a few ideas for making holiday travel less about the stress and more about the enjoyable memories you hope to create:

  • Break down the trip into increments that will make sense to your child to provide him/her with structure. These steps can be written out or drawn. You can also use a Social Story™ that provides expectations, social skills and behavioral standards about any part of the trip. Here’s a link to a Social Story™ about taking a road trip.
  • Power up before you leave. Go to a park or engage in physical play inside before you get in the car. If it’s been a long trip, Google playgrounds in the area as you get close and schedule in some exercise before you descend on Grandma’s.
  • Put a special travel bag or box together before you go. Do this with your child so they’ll get excited and be sure to include favorite comfort items (a blanket or stuffed animal), fidgets and other sensory supports, toys and games that can be played in the car, and healthy snacks for the trip.
  • Dress comfortably in soft clothes and bring ear plugs, headphones, sunglasses and anything else that will prevent problems related to sensory issues.

Any seasoned travelers out there? What are your tips for traveling with Complex Learners 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.

Screen Time

During the holidays, we can pretty much count on the fact that our kids will want to spend more time in front of the screen. Whether it’s TV or an iPad, Xbox or a computer, kids are drawn to the screen for entertainment, information and to just “veg out.”

But trying to understand how much screen time is okay for our children is like trying to understand what foods are beneficial or harmful. Coffee, olive oil, avocados, wine, corn, sugar, red meat, soy – will it kill you or cure you? It seems to change all the time.

There are innumerable articles blaming the overuse of screen time for everything from anxiety to childhood obesity. But there are just as many that indicate things aren’t really that bad, and screen time actually has benefits for learning and building skills.  As usual, the opinions (and evidence) get murkier when it comes to Complex Learners. Trying to discern the right amount of time or the approach to take is difficult and right now there aren’t definitive answers.

My advice – don’t look to the scientists right now – put on your parent hat and go with what you know about your child. What happens after a movie marathon? Do video games get your child revved up or relaxed? Are there behavioral differences after an hour on the iPad? You are the primary observer and have the knowledge. Set boundaries accordingly and explain to your child why they make sense.

And here are a few things folks seem to be in agreement about that might help:

  • No screen time in bed, and cut off screen time about half an hour before bedtime, depending on your child’s needs.
  • Kids will learn more about social skills face-to-face than on videos or movies so make sure you make time for playdates, outings and family time.
  • Exercise is a must for Complex Learners so don’t add screen time at the sacrifice of movement.
  • Get involved! Watch a movie together. Ask about their video game or play it if you dare! Use this time as a way to be together when you can, but also as a way to see what your child is doing and interested in.

What do you think about screen time 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.

Gift Giving 101

As the saying goes, it’s better to give than receive. But not all kids would agree! Just as you want to instill a sense of giving back at this time of year, it’s also important to teach your children how to give to those close to them.

This helps your child understand that they have a role in the family. It helps build more independence and responsibility over time. And your child practices perspective taking, trying to understand what someone else would like and what is important to others.

There are many ways to get your child involved. Here’s a few:

  • Have kids help wrap or decorate gift tags. But don’t expect perfection! Let their creative side reign. Who cares if the bow doesn’t match or the card is shedding glitter! Enjoy it and they will too.
  • Have kids make homemade cards and gifts. Use easy crafts and keep the list manageable.
  • Create a checklist of people your child wants to give gifts to (and maybe encourage one or two that were forgotten!). Go to a dollar store and let your child pick out the gift for each person and then check them off the list. If they can help wrap the gifts, great, but if not, let them write their name or decorate the gift tag so they know who gets each present.
  • As your child gets older, have them use their own money (allowance or birthday money) to buy for some people on their list. This gives them a sense of responsibility and pride.
  • Remind your child of some of the rules of gift giving – don’t tell the recipients what the gift is before they open it, don’t announce what the gift costs, say “you’re welcome” or talk about why the gift was chosen for this person, and don’t expect a gift in return – giving is a selfless act and it’s ok to give without getting something back.
  • If your child has spent time, creative energy and possibly his/her own money on a gift, make sure there is time for recipients to give enough attention to opening the gift. Their attention, praise and gratitude will go a long way in reinforcing that it truly is better to give than receive!

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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.

Gift Getting 101

We’ve all gotten those gifts. The turkey salt shakers, the book you already read, the sweater circa 1970, the slippers that look like farm animals, the bright blue cordial glasses you’ll never use, the mini-donut maker when you’ve given up sugar.

The thing about getting a gift is that it’s not as straightforward as it seems. At times, we need to demonstrate excitement when we aren’t that excited in order not to hurt someone’s feelings. There’s other skills involved as well, like taking turns, saying thank you, paying attention to one gift before ripping into the next, watching other people open their gifts, not saying things like, “I really don’t need more dish towels.”

Imagine how hard all this is for a child who has trouble with attention, reading social cues, perspective taking and impulse control. Opening holiday gifts will go more smoothly if you put a few strategies in place and teach your Complex Learner some of the unspoken rules.

  • Explain to your child that everyone gets gifts they may not like but it’s important not to hurt the “givers” feelings. Role play what to do and say when your child gets a gift they either don’t care about, or don’t like very much.
  • If you can, arrange the order of presents from less interesting to most interesting so your child doesn’t open the first gift and get so involved with it he/she doesn’t want to open anything else.
  • Teach your child the way your family open gifts at different gatherings or times. Does everyone take turns at Grandmas, do kids go first all at once at your house, or is someone in charge of handing gifts out? Letting your child in on the “structure” of gift giving will help them understand what happens when and how he/she should behave.
  • If your child gets restless while other people open gifts give them a job like gathering all the wrapping paper in a trash bag or finding a present for the next person.
  • If opening gifts is a noisy affair at your house, you may want to let your child open a gift or two and then go to a quieter space to play or watch a movie.

Watch from year to year how your child manages getting gifts as his/her abilities and focus may change. You will learn where there’s potential for problems and what works well and be able to apply what you’ve learned the next time.

What have you learned that might work for other kids?

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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.

 

Sweet Dreams

You have heard this before. From doctors and therapists and articles in waiting room magazines. From mattress salesmen and your mother. It’s the cure all and the game changer.

That’s right – sleep!

And everything you’ve heard goes double for children with learning and attention issues. Sleep effects mood, organization, memory and attention – areas that Complex Learners already find challenging.

Therefore, it’s worth repeating at the holidays – sleep is key. Of course, there will be parties and activities that push bedtime back for the night, but as much as possible, try to stay with your regular sleep schedule. This is important for Complex Learners who will be facing increased sensory stimulation, excitement and changes in routines. If children are rested they have more resiliency to handle disappointments or situations that don’t go as planned. And with all the change in routine, having a bedtime schedule stay the same will actually feel comforting and safe to your child (despite the protests!).

Here’s a few general strategies you probably know, but keep them in mind during this busy time of year:

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! Yes, you want to wear kids out so they will sleep – but more than that, children with sensory issues need that “heavy work” of movement to get their nervous systems regulated. If you see your child is restless at certain times of day, that may be a good time to introduce movement.
  • Unplug before bedtime. No screen time, watching television or even reading in bed. All these things may cause arousal, not sleep.
  • Use soothing sounds, music, and light. Experiment with different calming supports until you find ones that work for your child.
  • Weighted blankets can be helpful for some children. Lighter or warmer pajamas, different pillows and room temperature can make a difference as well.

And don’t forget about you! There’s a lot you are juggling, a million things to get done, and you’re going to need rest as much as anyone! So, my advice this holiday season? Get your sleep!

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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.

The Gift of Reading

Yes, the toys and video games and electronics are cool, but why not take advantage of the holidays and give your child a book? You could suggest a book you know your child will like to your relatives that ask every year what to get. Or create a tradition – perhaps giving your child a special hardcover book or a new book series every year. You can also give your child a book you’ll read to him/her – you’d be surprised how much even older kids like to be read to.

By combining that special feeling of holiday giving with books, you’re encouraging and supporting reading for your child. But of course, you don’t want it to feel like getting socks or underwear. You probably have a sense of what your child enjoys reading and learning about and may have some ideas in mind. There’s also a lot of “Best Of” lists at this time of year where you might find something new. Here’s a few to get you started:

 

Kirkus Review Best Middle Grade Books of 2016 by Category (ages 8-13)

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2016/section/middle-grade/lists/

 

Kirkus Review Best Picture Books of 2016 by Category (ages 2-8)

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2016/section/picture-books/lists/

 

GeekWrapped 100 Best Science Books for Kids

https://www.geekwrapped.com/science-books-for-kids

 

NPR’s Book Concierge Guide to 2016’s Great Reads for Kids

http://apps.npr.org/best-books-2016/#/tag/kids-books

 

New York Time’s Notable Children’s Books of 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/books/review/notable-childrens-books-of-2016.html

 

New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/books/review/best-illustrated-books-of-2016.html

 

Publishers Weekly Holiday Gift Guide 2016: Don’t Forget the Kids

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/childrens-announcements/article/71643-holiday-gift-guide-2016-don-t-forget-the-kids.html

 

Entertainment Weekly’s 12 Best Children’s Books for the Holidays

http://www.ew.com/article/2016/12/07/best-childrens-books-christmas-hanukkah-kwanzaa

 

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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.

 

Give Me a Break!

What’s better than a week or two off from school in the middle of the winter?!

Nothing! If you’re a kid. Maybe oral surgery if you’re a parent.

Because as excited as your child is to have time away from school, the magic of structure disappears. After a few days without it, any kid starts to get fidgety and bored, but for children with sensory and learning issues, the stakes are higher. Behavioral problems, anxiety, inattentiveness and frustration can resurface and/or intensify. Suddenly, what’s meant to be a relaxing time away from the routine becomes a lot of long and difficult days.

You want your child to have fun. You want a stress-free, memorable holiday vacation. So, how do you make sure your winter break doesn’t bring everyone to the breaking point?

The best way to deal with your child’s loss of structure during time off is to create a new one. Proactively plan the rhythms and routines that help support their needs. Lise Faulise, OT extraordinaire and Director of Research and Clinical Programs at The Wolf School, has the following tips:

  • Create some simple activities and structure your day with them. Keep daily routines as close to your child’s regular schedule as possible. Let your child know when activities will happen and for how long.
  • Include about an hour of time daily for activities that are interactive, not just passive. Watching a movie is passive. Doing puzzles, playing with modeling clay, role playing, finding objects in hidden picture books, are all interactive. This supports cognitive endurance. It doesn’t need to be school work, but it should require some kind of brain work to keep your child thinking and/or problem solving.
  • Create a safe play space for indoor active play that can meet sensory needs like jumping or climbing. Structure this into the day when your child needs to reenergize and focus.
  • Include time to wind down or put a pause on the day. Yoga, breathing exercises, mindful minutes, are all good options. Look for apps and YouTube videos for help.
  • Get outside! Nature is one of the best ways children (and adults!) can recharge and improve emotional and physical health. Even if your child resists, you can create a successful experience by dressing warmly, making the outing short and incorporating something motivating (seeing a cool bird or going with a friend).
  • Space out more social/stimulating activities such as family gathering, parties or playdates, across the week with home time for recharging in-between. Recognize the signs of overload and adjust the schedule accordingly!
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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.

The 3 P’s

Get out your calendar, the holiday parties are coming. Office parties, family parties, neighborhood parties, school parties, friends from college parties, Boy Scout parties, Dance Class parties, and the list goes on.

Most people enjoy these gatherings, or even if they dread going they often have fun once they get there. One reason for this (besides the people and food and the adult beverages!) is that they actually know what to do. They understand and can follow through on the basic social experience of a party.

Imagine if you had to go to all these parties and you didn’t know how to behave? Children who have challenges with social skills may not understand what’s expected of them, or may not have the ability to engage in ways most of us take for granted. Something as simple as saying hello to the host or knowing how to answer a question can make parties difficult and create anxiety. Here’s where the 3 P’s can help:

  • Preview: Let your child know what to expect. Who will be at the party? What happens first? Will there be a meal? A kid’s table he/she will sit at? Is there a place kids will be able to go to play or a movie they will be watching? Is the party an hour long or 3 hours long? What happens when it’s time to go? The more your child has a sense of what will happen and when, the better prepared they will be to manage the situation.
  • Practice: Review with your child how to say hello and how to say thank you when leaving. Role play what to say if an adult asks “How’s school?” or “What have you been up to?” Talk about how to join the group of kids and see if your child will need your help. Practice what to say at the dinner table – maybe a few ways to start a conversation or how to say no to food he/she doesn’t like without offending the host.
  • Patience: There are a lot of social rules at parties your child has to negotiate. In addition, parties can be loud and overstimulating. Learning what to do and having the strategies to manage socially will take time. Check-in throughout the party to see if your child needs help and find him/her a quiet place they can use if it gets too overwhelming. Compliment what’s done well to help your child feel good about the experience and to reinforce what to do the next time.

How do you help your child at a holiday party?

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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.