Practice

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prac·tice
Verb – perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

Have you ever caught yourself telling your child that practice makes perfect? I have been guilty of this a time or two. Recently, I was running a parent teacher conference; the child’s parent mentioned the phrase “practice makes better”. It started a chain of thoughts running through my head for days.

I realized that as parents, we take our children to multiple practices weekly and some of you multiple practices daily. Parents ensure their child practices baseball, soccer, football, dance, and even academic work like spelling words or multiplication facts. Growing up is full of practice. Sometimes, we require our child to continue practicing even if he or she would like to quit. Because our parents taught us never to be a quitter, right?

Conversely, as we become adults, the idea of practice seems to drift from our minds. We have jobs to do, money to make, and if we have not learned a skill by now, then we assume that we never will. I think we need to grasp on to the “practice makes better” concept and live out what we preach.

Parenting is hard. We are not guaranteed our child will mind, listen when we speak, stay out of trouble, be an A+ student, or be able to grow into an independent adult. Parenting also includes the ability to repeatedly interact and improve our child’s life. Their childhood is a gift of time. It is a set parameter of years that we need to use as our practice.

When our daughter, Piper, first started therapy at the Foundation for Blind Children, we were told to be patient. They explained that due to her lack of vision and poor muscle tone, it could take her 1,000 to 10,000 times to learn a skill that typical kids could learn in about 20 practices. Her response times were delayed severely. I would ask her to pick up a toy from my hand, and when she did not respond, it became frustrating. It was easy to pull my hand away, a minute after asking her to pick it up, and assume she did not want the toy. However, being patient revealed that it took her about 2 minutes to process the command, tell her hand to move where it needed to, and keep her body from falling over. If I had not continued this practice, she would have given up and assumed she would fail.

As parents, we need to practice daily. We need to practice patience, practice listening to our child, practice having hope in their future. Please do not pull your hand or heart away when your child does not respond. It may take your child multiple practices to become the better that they can be in this life. None of us are perfect, but those that practice compassion, empathy, and hope seem to have a better ability to handle life.

Keep practicing!

Saving Our Turtles (Children)

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I have loved turtles since I was a young girl. In the humid summers at my grandparent’s lake cottage in Indiana, I would spend hours each day catching and releasing turtles. In my mid-twenties, I paid to be part of an Earthwatch Expedition in St. Croix  to help “Save the Leatherback Sea Turtles”. Something about turtles intrigues me. They have a hard tough carapace, top shell, that looks indestructible, but can be injured. Cartoons depict turtles withdrawing into their shells in times of surprise or fear. Actually, the box turtle is the only turtle that can truly pull itself all the way into the shell for protection.

Did you know that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survives to adulthood? There are predators, obstacles, and genetic mutations that can cause their demise. Our daughter is diagnosed with cerebral palsy but most likely has an unidentified genetic disorder. We knew about this from birth. Our family refers to her as our “turtle” because she is on her own time line, moving and developing slowly, but we pray she will finish the race strong. She reminds us of the childhood story “The Tortoise and the Hare”. But, I am not going to talk about her today. I want to talk about your turtles. Your children that learn a bit differently. School is hard for them. They want to retreat into their shell, but we can not let them.

Almost daily, a parent reaches out to me in tears or throwing their hands up in surrender. They do not know how to get their child to care about school, work smarter not harder, study, and/or remember to turn  completed homework in to the teacher. This one cracks me up. We all agree that if a person does the work, they should want to get credit for it. Am I right? Your turtle does not think this clearly.

Our children that learn differently need to be explicitly taught to head for the water.
Turtle hatchlings will follow any light, assuming it is the moon, because God instinctively wired this into them to help them get to the ocean after hatching. Often, the lights from resorts or volleyball courts lead them astray. The hatchlings use all their energy to flop toward the wrong light. Our children know they are supposed to turn in completed assignments, do their homework, and study, but the distractions are too great. That light pulling them to what they are good at or what is more fun, is stronger than their instinctive desire to obey their parents and follow teacher directions.

What is a parent to do? Lead your child to the water. Take all of those thoughts that you hear from society about letting your child fail to become a better learner and bury them. You, or a teacher,  have to teach your child, step by step, how to be a learner. Children do not always instinctively know how to get there. We need to coach them through the school journey, but not take out all of their obstacles. Your child needs to learn how to avoid predators and move around driftwood dead ends. The goal is to get your kid  (turtle) to the water. Once he or she is there, I believe they will swim and eventually beat that hare (smarty pants kid that gets straight A’s without trying). Sorry, I am sure these kids are just as dear and loved, but sometimes I get tired of having their accomplishments shoved in my face on social media. No one posts about the time they cried with joy because their fifth grader finally passed a multiplication timed test. I  do not post when my fourteen year old actually  holds a spoon on her own and feeds herself yogurt. We may not post these victories on line, but we should praise our child as if they made the honor role. Each step, each hurdle is significant.

Children with learning differences, ADHD, on the spectrum, executive functioning challenges, and other diagnoses may not be able to find the water on their own. God picked you to be their parent. He knew your child would have trials, tears, anxiety, feelings of not being good enough, or disappointing you. It is okay. Your baby turtle is going to make it to the water, but you need to patient.

As parents and teachers, we need to help our turtles see success as attainable. They are not stupid or lazy. Our kids just see things differently. This is what will make them great swimmers in the future. They will not ride the same current as the masses. It will be their beautiful minds creating intricate swimming patterns that will make all your struggles worth while. Hang in there mamas and papas because your journey will be the memories in your child’s future.

 

This Little Light

candle

I grew up singing the gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine.” I knew all the verses, motions, and even sang it to my children. There are verses telling children to let their light shine all over the world, not to hide it under a bushel, and definitely not to let Satan blow it out! However, I just realized that I have not been living the way this gospel advises.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone…” Matthew 5:13-16

It seemed like I let my light shine while teaching and living as a Christian. But if I dig deep, I know that I am not shining as bright as I could. I have always disliked change, because I want to know what could happen if I make the wrong decision. My only true career has been teaching. I have been shining that light for 21 years. However, I keep praying for a person to come along, like Helen Keller’s teacher, and miraculously shine their light on my daughter, Piper. She has been blessed with Christian teachers that care and help her grow in her life skills. But, I want her to have a teacher that will devote all her attention to teaching Piper to communicate and become as independent as possible. In all honesty, I know this is quite a lofty hope.

As I reflect on the fact that Piper has one more year before high school, I am seeking answers and guidance for her future. God gave this beautiful girl to us to raise and love. We do not know what she can learn to do or become in her lifetime. She has grown over the years, but doctors are unable to measure her knowledge or intelligence, because she is nonverbal. It breaks my heart that I am not able to tap into her knowledge and know what she thinks. My excuse to shine my light is that I spend most of my days teaching other people’s children. I am tired when I get home and not desiring to be a tough teacher or therapist.

In a yoga class a few weeks ago, the teacher spoke about dark rooms and light. She told us that it was time for us to stop peering into dark rooms of future and opportunity while waiting for someone to turn on the light. We need to enter those dark rooms and BE THE LIGHT. This blew my mind! I have been waiting for God to shine His light and show me what decisions to make. I wanted him to show me the whole layout of the room before I entered. I needed to know the bumps in the rug to not trip on, if there were broken windows that would let in a chill, or if the flowers were growing or dying. Honestly, I wanted to know God’s plan so I could change it. I wanted to decide if the risk was worth it.

That is not my role. God has continued to spark my light so it can shine and not be blown out. God wants me to trust him. He will be holding my hand when I enter dark rooms. I am trusting he will be with me when I leave the comfort of the only job I have really known. I will shine my light when the winds of fear set in that financially we will not make it, no one wants to hear encouragement from me, or that I will not succeed helping my own child to learn.

Dear Lord, please make me brave enough to go into dark rooms and shine my light in this world. Help me to be confident in the light you have given me. I trust that you will let no one blow it out. I am sorry when I do not trust you and try to tell you how my life should unfold. Thank you for giving me light. Amen.

 

Labels

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la·bel
1. a small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object and giving information about it.

Many parents fear the “label”. They do not want their child to be seen as a word on paper like dyslexic, specific learning disabled, ADHD, executive function disordered, autistic, bipolar…. This label is embarrassing to some, heartbreaking to others, and creates stabs of guilt that it is probably your fault. Guess what??? THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

This is about your child. It is giving information about how they learn, how they thrive, how they make sense of school, and what makes their learning different. As a society, we spend so much time honoring the differences in people’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Yet, some parents try to hide the very differences that make their child special and unique.

As an educator and parent of two amazingly special children, I am here to tell you to get over yourself. You created this wonderful human being, unlike any other, and you want to hide their differences. The answer to your fears and struggles is simple. It’s car keys.

What? Yes, car keys. Think of your darling child as a car. A hybrid made from your very own DNA. They are unlike any other. There is one key that starts their car. One key that ignites their desire and ability to learn. One key that allows their engine to fire. Why would you not give their teacher the key to start your child’s car? If  you hide your child’s difference or refuse to seek an evaluation to figure out why they are struggling, you are hiding that key. You are wasting a year of learning that could be taking place. You are basically handing the teacher a key ring full of keys and saying, “Good luck. Hope you find the right one!”

Teachers love their students. Okay, maybe not all teachers, but I do and my friends do too! We want to help your child. We want to help them see success as attainable. We do NOT want to tear them down and make them feel like failures. So, when a teacher suggests that there is something concerning or confusing about they way your child is developing, listen to them. Please do not take it as a finger pointing that you have not done your job. Teachers are not neuropsychologists able to see into your sweet child’s brain and pinpoint why they are not focused, able to decode a word, or remember the three little things she/he asked them to do.

They are actually just as worried as you parents. They worry they let you down by not figuring out how to help your child learn. This is one hard part of my job as the coordinator of a resource program in a private school. I need the teachers to be honest with you. They are often afraid to burst your bubble of pride by saying your child is struggling. It is truly important to find the learning differences and remediate as soon as possible. Your child’s mental cement is still wet in their early years. It can be molded and supported in the manner they need. Do not wait to help mold them because feeling like a failure and dumb is one of the hardest mindsets to overcome.

Please consider finding the key to start your child’s car and giving that key to their teacher. Do not waste another year making the teacher figure out how your child learns. Start your child’s engine and watch them speed along the road of learning. There will still be speed bumps and traffic, but you will have given your child the chance to navigate their learning. Actually, they will be learning to navigate the rest of their life.