How to Actually Help Children With Autism

Autism Awareness Month is in full swing. I am starting to see several friends on Facebook with blue frames around their profile pic. Other SLP bloggers I follow are talking about it.

And that is all great. Really, I think awareness is awesome.

But today, I want to discuss three easy ways to actually help children with autism. After all, that is the end goal, right?

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1. Teach your child(ren) how to interact with children with autism
Children are great at including others in their play. But when it comes to a child with autism, sometimes neither of them have the social skills to make the play actually happen.

The good news is you can teach your child some basic skills that will make play easier.

a) Explain the play/game before it actually happens. Children with autism often need concrete expectations and rules. Teach your child to say, ” We are playing ____________, do you want to play?” and then, “This is how we are playing it.” Yes, I know that sounds bossy, but children with autism may need that structure.

b) Teach your child to be good conversationalists. Children with autism may perseverate on one or two topics, and may not notice that their conversational partner isn’t interested. Teach your child to be a good listener, and then move into teaching them how to guide a conversation.

I know, I know. Easier said than done. And since I remember less-than-fondly textbooks with vague concepts with no examples, here’s how I would approach this:

  • Play turn-taking games with rapid turnover. Go Fish, Candyland and Sorry all come to mind. These lay the foundation for the concept of taking turns, including transition phrases like, “Now it’s my turn.” This easily translates into a guiding a conversation.
  • Play games like “Telephone” and “Simon Says” to encourage a child to listen more carefully.
  • Talk about how some kids LOVE to talk about one or two things. Maybe teach your child to learn 2 new facts about a topic when talking to another child. Then they could suggest a different topic. I would role-play to practice this.

c) Teach your kids about “cool-offs.” Children with autism tend to get overwhelmed easier, and they may manifest it in different ways. Some will shut down, some will cry, and some will hit or push. Teach your child that when they see these “signs” to let their friend “cool-off.” They aren’t in trouble, but they need some time alone to have feelings and calm down. What’s important here is that your child doesn’t forget about the other child; give them 5 minutes and then check in to see if they want to play or need more cool-off time.

See, not so hard, right? I mean, these are basically teaching your child how to be a good person. They’re just tailored a bit to children with autism.

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2. Offer Mom and Dad some down time.
I have such respect for parents of children with autism and other developmental delays. Day in and day out they handle the struggles of daily living, putting out one fire as two more start. They just want the best for their child.

If you personally know a child with autism, offer to watch them for a few hours. Don’t give the quintessential, “If you need me to watch him/her, give me a call.” Say, “I want to watch your child to give you a bit of free time or even (gasp) a date. What day works this week?”

If you don’t personally know a child with autism, look into respite care. Where I live, there is a great resource called Kids on the Move. One of the great things they do is offer childcare at their center for parents of special needs children. You can volunteer for two hours a month, once a week, whatever fits your schedule. It gives the parents a few hours to focus on their relationship or attend one of their classes.

We all know the rule: You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. This gives parents an opportunity to do so.

3. Change the conversation. 

As an SLP I am used to speaking the professional lingo and using/avoiding specific terms. While this is starting to become mainstream, I thought I would mention it here.

  • Most parents won’t object to “autistic child,” but the term “child with autism” is a little more appropriate. Autism doesn’t define a child; it’s only part of who they are.
  • I can’t believe I even have to say this in 2017, but words like “retarded” are beyond hurtful and not even accurate. The only appropriate use of “retarded” is when talking about flame retardant clothing.
  • Focus on the positives. Parents of children with special needs sit through endless IEPs, doctor’s appointments, and specialist evaluations outlining their child’s struggles. Try to mention positive things about their child or comment on their progress (if you have known them for a while).
  • Try to avoid using absolutes when talking about a child. Things like “never” and “always” can be discouraging. Instead, use phrases like “not yet” or “starting to” or “learning to.”

Well there you have it! Three ways to make a difference in the lives of children and parents dealing with autism.

 

Painting Pinecones Language Therapy

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So I don’t know the weather where you guys live, but where I live the forecast is snow, then cold, then rain, then snow again.

While I am more than happy to bundle up my kids and send them outside to play in said snow, the reality is we spend 30 minutes getting all their winter clothes on and about 20 minutes actually outside in the snow.

That means we need to find things to do inside. Because even though I don’t think TV is wholly evil and brain-draining, I don’t want my children watching it for hours on end.

A few weeks ago, pre-snow, the kids and I (asked) and gathered pinecones from a neighbor. We washed and dried them, and I displayed them in a funky vintage bowl I have with a pumpkin candle in the middle.

(In the immortal words of A Goofy Movie: saaaaaaaaaaaa-wanky).

But as Thanksgiving passed and the snow started to fall, I decided it would be fun to bleach the pinecones and let my kids paint them with glitter paint.

It would also justify my buying a cinnamon-y holiday candle. A big one.

As my kids and I were cleaning up, I thought of three ways you can utilize this activity to not only have fun inside on a cold day, but also sneak in some language therapy.

Now a few words to the wise: pinecones do not bleach quickly. I don’t recommend doing it. Also, unless you absolutely drench the pinecones in glitter paint, it is a subtle effect (as you can see in the top photo). If you want more wow factor, I would spray paint them white before painting them.

So, without further ado, here are my three language activities for use with Painting Pinecones:


A “P” Party

Just, for heaven’s sake, don’t call it that in front of your kids.

  • As you are setting up and gathering your supplies, emphasize the “P” sound. The Paint, the Pinecones, the Paintbrushes, the Paper (to Protect your table).
  • Have your kid(s) repeat the sound. You can put it to a little tune and say “P makes the ‘P’ sound.” You could also put it to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb- ” The letter P says Puh-Puh-Puh…”
  • As you are painting, brainstorm with your kids about other words that start with “P.”
  • Once you are done painting the pinecones, give your child a crayon and have them look for the letter “P” in the sale ads you used to protect your table.
  • If your kid(s) are old enough, have them write the letter “P” on the sale ads. If they are very young, write a letter “P” with a highlighter and have them trace it.

Following Directions

Part of language development is learning how to follow directions. If your child(ren) are younger, give them opportunities to follow one-and two-step directions. These include:

  • Washing the pinecones (put the water in, add the soap/vinegar, add the pinecones, rinse them, etc.)
  • Setting up the art table (laying down sale ads, putting glitter paint on a plate, etc.)
  • Cleaning up (set pinecones out to dry, wash out the paintbrushes, throw away the sale ads)

If your child(ren) are older, talk about what might happen if you did the steps out of order. For instance, what if you painted the pinecones before laying down the paper? Or just put vinegar in the sink with no water?  This helps teach them to think about sequencing, which is moving towards high-level, abstract language skills.

Sensory

No matter where your child’s abilities fall, all kids need sensory exposure as well as the language to go along with it. This activity lends itself to a lot of sensory experiences and opportunities to teach your child sensory words.

  • Gathering the pinecones- words like bumpy, rough, fat, or sticky (if there’s pitch on them).
  • Washing the pinecones- words like cold and wet. Also, as the pitch comes off, the water color will change- so sneak in color word like clear, blue, and brown.
  • Painting the pinecones- if you’re brave, let your child paint them with their fingers. Practice words like sparkly, squishy, bright, etc.

Part of sensory language is being able to compare and contrast things. Don’t forget to talk about the opposites of the above words. For instance, you can compare the fat, round pinecones to the thin, long pine needles.


Well I hope this gives you a fun idea for ways to incorporate language activities into your child’s (cold) day. I would love to hear more ideas from you guys!

A Hilarious Halloween Book

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So…by show of hands…who grew up with Goodnight Moon?

I guess a better question is who didn’t grow up with Goodnight Moon?

One of the best parts of becoming a parent is reading the same books to your kids that you remember from your childhood.

Well, I’ve got a Halloween surprise for you:

Someone (Michael Rex) has written a Halloween version of Goodnight Moon. 

It’s called Goodnight Goon and it’s done exactly in the writing and illustration style of Goodnight Moon. 

I think I have read this book every day this week with my kids.

It is hilarious and charming and not too scary.

This book would be a great one to add to your holiday book collection.

You can purchase it on Amazon or check it out from your local library.

What I love about this book is it gives parents and educators a great way to practice compare and contrast while still feeling festive.

Can you imagine- comparing the original book and Goodnight Goon for similarities and differences?

You would win Halloween. Hands down.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween!

I Taught My Daughter to Fear

I taught my daughter to fear

Grasshoppers.

I. hate. grasshoppers.

They have those big, bulgy eyes and they always wait until the last millisecond to hop away from you and…just…ugh.

Spiders? Unless they’re huge or venomous, not a big deal.

Snakes? Meh. (see the note on spiders).

But grasshoppers? They send me running back inside. Or at least give me an excuse to avoid yard work.

However, my daughter spent all summer catching them out in the woodpile, much to my chagrin.

Until last week.

I was fiddling around in the garage, and suddenly I heard this unearthly scream. Followed by, “Mama! Mama!”

And then, the words that made my heart drop.

” A GRASSHOPPER!!!”

I turned the corner and Chicka Chicka was frozen, with her bare foot at a funny angle.

My first horrible, terrible thought was ” She has stepped on a grasshopper with bare feet.”

Then I saw her shorts.

Apparently a grasshopper had hopped itself right onto her shorts and she panicked. Which, I can’t say I blame her.

I helped her brush it off (ew) and we went on with our day.

But something struck me.

I had taught my daughter to fear grasshoppers. 

I had never told her to be afraid of grasshoppers, and yet she went from delight in catching them to being terrified when one jumped on her.

What had changed?

She saw my fear. She saw the way my nose wrinkled every time I had to walk through the unmowed back lawn. She heard every time I said, “O I hate grasshoppers.”

Until she feared them herself. 


Now, here’s the point I’m trying to make: I accidentally taught my daughter to fear something. Granted, something kind of silly that hopefully will fade, or maybe just be a quirky thing about her.

But imagine what else I might be accidentally teaching her.

What about every time I sigh a little when I look in the mirror, or when I try to explain why I wear makeup? 

What about when I am having a bad day, and grab a huge Dr. Pepper because “Momma needs it?”

What about when I shy away from doing certain things or reaching my goals because it might be too hard or uncomfortable? 

What is she learning then?


I certainly don’t want to pass on my insecurities to my children. I want them to know that they have so many positive attributes and great capacity to make this world a better place (as I hope most parents desire as well).

But to do that, I think we all need to reflect on if what we want our children to learn aligns with what we are passively teaching them.

We can’t act one way and expect them to learn the opposite. 

Luckily, there are so many opportunities to influence our children. Much in the same way I accidentally taught Chicka Chicka to fear grasshoppers, I can also teach her things like:

  • We are a family and we work together to run the house.
  • We need to speak kind words, even when we disagree.
  • Always do your best.

But this time, it won’t be on accident.

Teaching When You’re Not a Teacher: Meltdowns

Teaching Special Needs Meltdowns

Does this post need more of a title?

Children can have irrational reactions to just about anything.

I think I’d be getting your hopes up if I said that I could teach you how to keep kids from having meltdowns.

I’m not some mystical child-whisperer. 

However, I can teach you some strategies for working through meltdowns when you a) don’t know the child super well, and/or b)you are in a small group setting and can’t devote 20 minutes to working through emotions.


Know the Child

This is where you have to do some leg work by talking to the child’s parents and, possibly, some trial-and-error.

  1. Does the child crave contact (cuddles, sitting on lap, etc.), or do they want to be left alone when they are upset?

It’s fascinating to me that children that have the same autism diagnosis can respond to touch in completely different ways. Some seek it, some abhore it, and others try to push you away but they actually do want physical contact.

*I think it goes without saying that if a particular child does respond well to physical contact, you need to talk to the parents and find out what they do and what they are comfortable with. *

2) Is the child able to be distracted from big feelings? If so, what does the trick?

This may be a phrase, it may be an activity (like coloring), or it may be something sensory like a squishy ball, a beloved stuffed animal, etc.

Just keep this info in your back pocket. You never know when you might need it.

3) Are there any triggers to avoid and/or things I need to know?

Some children may have fears or anxieties about everyday things and events we don’t even think about. Think bees (every time they are in grass), or electricity, or plumbing. Or there may be stressors at home such as divorce or a new sibling that can most definitely affect their behavior.

Taking a few minutes to talk to a child’s parents can make a world of difference and avoid unnecessary, unpleasant situations. Plus, it shows the parents that you care. 

Give Choices

When a child is melting down and you really don’t have the time or space to let them cry, or talk about it, etc., you can give a child choices.

I recommend only two choices, since his/her decision-making skills will undoubtedly diminish during these big feelings.

The choices need to encourage positive behavior without rewarding negative behavior.

Let me say that again: The choices need to encourage positive behavior without rewarding negative behavior. 

Rather than offer bribes of treats or special privileges if they calm down, offer them choices for how they calm down.

For the youngest kids, I use the “power of 5” strategies.

Yes, I made that up all by myself. So don’t google it, it’ll just lead you right back here. 

The “power of 5” strategies are:

  1. take 5 big breaths
  2. Take a 5-minute cool-off (basically a time-out but it’s not a punishment, it’s an opportunity)
  3. Count to 5 (or 10 or 15, depending on the child’s abilities)

Obviously, you can adjust these as necessary.

But the point is you are offering choices that allow them to calm down and re-enter the situation/group without rewarding the meltdown.

Be Gentle but Firm

It is completely acceptable to validate a child’s feelings, even mid-meltdown.

Technically, it goes beyond acceptable and I fully encourage it. 

I think it can even be harmful to dismiss a child’s emotions, however irrational they may appear to you.

When a child is having a meltdown, squat/sit down so you are eye-level with them, and say:

“I can tell you are mad (or sad, or frustrated, etc.). It is no fun to be mad. Let’s choose a way to feel happy again. You can choose _____ or _______.”

Personally, when in a small group situation, or one where time is limited, I do not acknowledge why they are feeling so upset. That often causes a resurgence of crying and sobbing- not exactly what you want. If you feel a discussion is in order, you can mention it to the parents or talk about it with the child at a later time (when they are calm).

Being gentle but firm is a good balance. You are not a pushover, but you also are not “laying down the law.” You show you understand why a child is upset, but offer healthy ways to deal with those emotions.


So there you have it! I hope this series has encouraged those of you who find yourselves teaching or interacting with children.

Final note: If you would like more posts about dealing with emotions, check them out here and here and here.

Do you have any questions or comments for dealing with meltdowns? I would love to hear them!

 

 

Teaching When You’re Not a Teacher: Promoting Engagement

Teaching SN part two

Hello again! Let’s jump right into part two of my series on effectively teaching special needs children.

So earlier this week we talked about how to set expectations with a child(ren).

I see that as the foundation of effective teaching.

Today we will build the walls.

That’s right- I’m talking about how to keep special needs children engaged.


I will start off by saying that it can be so tricky. 

Sometimes what works one day won’t work another day.

That’s why I like offering several suggestions-a toolbox, if you will- of ways to set up your interactions for success.

Give Him/Her a Job

My daughter Chicka Chicka has good days and bad days when it comes to listening and following directions.

But she takes the recycling out like a pro. 

And as I learned last week, she also excels at Magic Eraser-ing all the grubby doors.

Surprisingly, all the grubbiness is right at kid-level. Hmmmmmmm……

Kids love to be given jobs and it sets them up to receive praise. It doesn’t even have to be a crucial or involved job.

My favorite jobs when working with kids were ones that could also be used as leverage to encourage good behavior throughout the day/lesson.

Image result for pirates of the caribbean leverage

comerecommended.com

O, like you didn’t think of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Say you give a child the job of “light switch helper.” They get to turn on the lights when he/she/the group enters the room, and also turn it off when the room is vacated. You can remind them that they need to do xyz in order to be able to complete their job.

If it’s the right motivator, hopefully it will entice them to make a comment, or keep eyes on the teacher, or whatever you expect/want them to do (age- and ability-appropriate, of course).

Some other jobs include:

  • picture/book/”thing” holder
  • paper/crayon/scissor-passer-outer
  • line leader/caboose
  • prayer-sayer (if using this method in a religious setting)
  • teacher-bag-holder (assuming it doesn’t weigh 4.2 thousand pounds like my bag does)

Now, if you have other children in your home/group that will find it quite unfair that one child gets a job and they don’t, thank-you-very-much, I would randomly assign jobs to all the children. I think this is beneficial in that everyone gets a job, but it also teaches that not everyone gets the job they want every time.

Coping skills, people.

Reflective Listening

This is something I learned in college, and I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurv it.

That r was in there on purpose. 

In your life, have you ever been listening to a teacher, worked up the courage to make a comment, and they just said, “Thank you,” and kept right on going with their lecture?

Did it make you feel good? Did it really encourage you to continue to make comments in future lessons? Did it lead to a good discussion?

Or did it mostly feel like you were in Professor Binns’ History of Magic class? 

Image result for harry potter fandom
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When you use reflective listening, you validate a child’s comment, and then you integrate their comment into your next sentence. See here:

Child: I don’t think it’s okay to steal things. One time I saw someone steal a candy bar.

Adult: You are right. It is not okay to steal things. Now, if you did steal a candy bar, like Joey saw someone do, how would you fix the problem?

Obviously, not every comment a child makes is going to segway nicely into the message you are trying to get across. I can’t tell you how many random stories I have heard from children that were only slightly related to what we were talking about.

But do your best. At least validate their comment. After all, for some kids it takes a lot of courage to even say anything. It will also encourage them to keep making comments, thus keeping them engaged in the lesson.

Give the Answer in Your Question

As we’ve talked about quite a bit in this post, the key to promoting engagement in children (especially special needs children) is positive reinforcement and helping them feel successful.

This last idea is awesome for this because you give the answer to your question in your question. 

I know, I know, then what is the point in asking the question?

*allow me to stand on my soapbox*

Sometimes I feel we focus too much on cramming information into children’s heads. We focus on trying to teach them everything we know and want them to know.

But, more important than that, I think there needs to be a focus on learning how to learn. This is especially true for children with developmental delays/differences such as autism.

Now, I’m not talking about how to teach kids to score well on standardized tests.

Children need to learn how to think for themselves, how to be confident in academic and social settings, and how to handle the problems that will come in life.

But for all of that to happen, they need to have confidence in the little things.

*tuck soapbox into the closet for another day*

So how does this look? Here’s an example.

(adult is holding up a picture of a child crying over a broken toy.)

Adult: This child is crying. Her toy broke. Why is the child crying?

Child: Her toy broke.

Yes, it really is that easy.

And when a child gives you the right answer, give praise and encouragement to keep giving answers. See here for my post on giving effective praise.

Brain Break

This one is sort of a bonus tip, so I’ll just touch on it.

A brain break is exactly that- a set time or activity where a child/children disengage and do something completely different for a few minutes.

This especially helps children with attention span difficulties and sensory children who have trouble sitting still for long periods of time.

With younger children, this can be something as simple and silly as a 1-minute wiggle-fest or singing a “moving” song- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, If You’re Happy and You Know It, etc.

With older children it may be playing a quick game. I will be doing a post soon on the “Stick Game” in all its simple, beautiful glory. The Hungry, Hungry Hippos app is free and also works as a great “brain break.” There are also several group games that are fast that we all remember from childhood- Miss Mary Mack, the Cup Game, Ink-a-Bink-a-Bottle-of-Ink, etc.

It is important to use brain breaks when you first see signs of fatigue and fidgety-ness. It is much better to take 2 minutes and play a silly game than take 10 minutes trying to deal with a meltdown.


 

So there you have it. Four ideas that you can use to help keep children of all abilities engaged. I wanted to offer up these ideas as opposed to a token system (let’s call it what it is, bribery), because I feel that while that can be a good place to start, we ultimately want a child to feel intrinsically motivated to participate and pay attention in class.

Please email or comment with questions you may have. I want to be as helpful as possible!
Now, brace yourselves: Friday I will be talking about methods to deal with meltdowns. You know they will happen.

The Funniest Book You’ve Never Heard Of….

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So guys…I have GOT to tell you about this book.

I grabbed it completely at random at the library.

We had gone to the library for storytime, and the librarians’ “tip of the day” was to use books-on-tape paired with the book because they engage both visual and auditory input.

Once storytime was over, me and my littles went over to the book-on-tape section. I found that most of the them seemed too advanced (after all, Chicka Chicka is only 4), but then I saw this one.

i want my hat back

I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen.

Well, we’ll give it a go, I thought.

After all, it had a Theodor Seuss Geisel (re: Dr. Seuss) Honor sticker on it.

A few days passed, and on Saturday, while we were eating breakfast, my husband asked me, “Hey, so have you read that book?”

Uuuuuuuuuh………no.

He started laughing and handed me the book.

And guys, this book is seriously so funny.

Not in the usual, only-makes-kids-laugh kind of humor.

It’s subtle- so subtle that my daughter didn’t get it until we explained it to her.

It’s like those gems of kid’s TV shows where there is humor for adults (not adult humor!), if you listen carefully.

So go check this book out! If your children are older than mine (probably 6 and up), it would be a great book for practicing inference.

And if your children are younger, read it to them anyways, and throw your head back and laugh while your children stare at you.

 

Traveling to National Parks with Small Kids: A Guide

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Over the last ten days, my family had the awesome opportunity to travel to three of Utah’s National Parks. This was the first family vacation we have taken, ever.

It would be an understatement to say that it was a great trip. It was…life-changing. I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug, and we made so many great memories.

As I was laying in bed one of the last nights of our vacation, I thought about what I would want to tell other parents who are thinking of taking small children on vacation. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What surprised us?

So here it is. A brief guide for those braving travel with small children.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT:
1) Be flexible. I planned one activity/hike before lunch and one activity/hike in the afternoon each day. Even then, we moved slowly, constantly stopping to get water, reapply sunscreen, check out a cool rock, put a bandaid on an owie, etc. Most of the hikes we did were a mile or less. I also sacrificed a couple of hikes because the kids were just tired, or we got caught up looking at tadpoles.

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The kids at the Lower Emerald Pool, Zion NP

2) Have a down day. After three days in Zion National Park, we got a hotel in a nearby city and stayed the night there. The next day we did a restocking trip, and played at a great reservoir until the kids were tired. We didn’t really have any plans for that day, but we all needed a down day. It turned out to almost be necessary, since the towns next to the following national parks were TINY (no Walmarts or even standalone grocery stores for the next 5 days!)

3) Take time to explain and encourage. Chicka Chicka had SO many questions. We did our best to answer her questions at an age-appropriate level. She also had a lot of fears, especially when we were hiking in the river at the Narrows (don’t worry, it didn’t go past her shins). We would work through her fears, talk about what we were going to do, and reassure her that she could do it. Both instances were great bonding experiences, and I felt so close to her while on our vacation.

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Hiking the Narrows

4) Turn off devices. I didn’t even bring the iPads or my computer. Heck, I barely had my phone charged. Hubby’s phone was the official camera, but that was the only technology we had. People, I think this was the most life-changing part of the trip. My kids didn’t ask for the iPad the entire trip. It taught me that I am relying on the iPad too often, and that my kids are capable of self-entertainment.

WHAT WE DID WRONG:

1)Don’t overpack. The back of our van was completely packed. Since we were hiking, staying in three different venues (hotel/camping/cabin), and swimming, I tried to bring everything possible. The glow sticks that every blog said I had to have? Still in the wrapper. The thermals I brought because it might be cold at night? Just about the only thing I didn’t have to wash. I won’t even mention the food that is still sealed in the boxes.

If I could pack again, I would pack less clothes and less food. We ended up bringing the same snacks every day, and kept a pretty simple meal plan for breakfast and dinner. We also had access to laundry everywhere we stayed, so we didn’t need as many clothes as I brought.

2) Accept that things will go wrong. I felt like I had worked so hard to plan this vacation. I had been so diligent in packing and making itineraries that when something went wrong, I became a little storm cloud. Luckily, I have a very patient husband who knows how to diffuse my emotions.

One example: I had bought sunscreen on Amazon because a friend recommended it to me. Hubby’s skin is also sensitive to certain sunscreens, so that fact that he had used it as well with success sealed the deal. Well, the morning of our first day in Zion, I couldn’t find it. At all. I knew I had packed it. It was the last straw, since our backpack strap broke and our water reservoir started leaking that morning. Hubby talked me down, and we realized that since we had to go the store anyways, we would just grab some sunscreen too.

I won’t add that I found it. That evening. So not only was I not crazy, but we also had a ton of sunscreen.

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Chicka Chicka finding her “oooooooommmmm”

3) Always, always, always refill your water. At Bryce Canyon National Park, we were going to do a .8 mile hike into the hoodoos. But as we went down, we realized it would be really, really awful to hike back up it. In full sun. With two kids 4 and under. This particular trail hooked up onto a trail that would take us back up, with an additional 1.6 mile hike. This loop would take us through the hoodoos more, and surely the hike up HAD to be better. So we decided to do it.

It wasn’t a terrible decision, but we did start to worry about our water supply. There wasn’t a refill station on the trail, like there was in Zion. We certainly learned our lesson!

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The selfies needed to receive the “Hike the Hoodoos” medallion

WHAT SURPRISED US:

  • We didn’t realize that Utah’s National Parks were international travel destinations. There were several people from European countries (a lot of German and Dutch, which we weren’t expecting), and a lot of tour buses. Of course, our kids are too small to really be aware of the different cultures, but it was good for our kids to see diversity and hear different languages.
  • One of the best things I bought was $1 cake covers from the Dollar Store. I used them while camping/cabin-ing to keep food hot and bug-free.
  • The Junior Ranger programs are INCREDIBLE! The requirements vary by age, but Chicka Chicka was excited to complete the packet and earn a badge! They also “swear” in Junior Rangers, all very official-like.

    blog junior ranger
    Chicka Chicka being sworn in as a Junior Ranger, Bryce National Park

In conclusion, traveling with small kids was stressful at times, but overall it was a great trip. I encourage everyone with small kids to take the plunge and start traveling and exploring. And I don’t mean Disneyland! While amusement parks certainly have their place, there is plenty of adventure to be had outdoors, in nature, with no sense of urgency to see and do everything.

You can do it! What are your tips for traveling/vacationing with small children?

How Parenting is Like Baseball

parenting and baseball final

So I have to apologize for my absence- I spent the last few weeks in California for my best friend’s wedding! Needless to say, I was constantly fluctuating between go-go-go and doing absolutely nothing.

But I’m back and ready to jump back into blogging!

While I was in California, I watched a lot of baseball (Go Giants!!) and the Women’s College Softball World Series. Since we don’t have cable back home, this was a real treat for me.

I love baseball and softball. I played softball through high school, and still love going to the college games here. I take it upon myself to channel my high school softball coach and say things like, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and again,” and “Two hands! You catch with two hands!!”

Some things just never fade into memory.

As I watched my beloved Giants, I thought about batting averages and the salary of these players. In the major league, if you bat .300, you get paid mucho-bucks and you are considered one of the better hitters on the team.

But that means you don’t get on base 70% of the time.

Now think about that in terms of parenting.

What if we chose to measure our success instead of how many times we fail?

As parents, we fail. A lot. Daily.

I think, though, that we owe it to ourselves to focus on our successes.

Even if they only happen 30% of the time. 

Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to brave the murky waters of parenthood. We definitely should, for both our benefit and our children’s.

Because every once in a while, you hit a home run.

Sometimes They Just Want to Play With You

play final

So Monday was Laundry Day.

I have to thank Nony at A Slob Comes Clean for showing me the light.

It works so much better than my do-a-load-whenever-I-have-to mentality.

Read the post HERE.

Anyways, Chicka Chicka was at preschool, and I just had Boom Boom meandering while I gathered, sorted, and made important laundry decisions.

And he was so fussy.

He was not letting me get my super important laundry done.

Kid, don’t you get it?

If I don’t sort and wash and dry and fold and put away right now, these soon-to-be-clean piles will sit on the couch for days.

Because apparently I don’t have the attention span to return to a housekeeping project after I’m distracted.

But then he brought me these:

play blocks

And my heart just melted.

I put the round block in the middle, and then I pushed it out, making a dramatic “oopsie!” face as it fell.

And Boom Boom just laughed that laugh. 

That laugh of pure joy.

That laugh that makes you laugh.

That laugh of a kid enjoying time with his mom.

And that’s what kids really want, don’t they?

I know I am totally guilty of getting caught up in the I-have-tos. Those pesky, everyday things that take up way too much of my time.

I know I am also totally guilty of getting caught up in the I-deserve-tos. As in, I deserve to spend a half-hour bingeing on Pinterest while my kids watch a television show.

Okay, you caught me.

Maybe an hour.

But, when your kids are fussing and you know all their biological needs have been met, they most likely just want you. 

Even if it’s just for ten minutes.

Now, I am not trying to guilt you into playing with your kids. Sometimes you literally can’t, and sometimes it seems like one more thing you have to do.

But I want to gently remind you that your kids love you. They want to spend time with you.

They love those little moments.

Even if they can’t express it.

My encouragement for today is to look for those little moments in the helter-skelter of your day.

Don’t worry about language development, or cognitive skills, or that new bill sitting unopened on the coffee table.

Just do your best to hear that laugh.

And for the record, only one pile of clean laundry is still sitting on my couch.

Small victories, right?