Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Movie Review - Race to Nowhere

It's past my bedtime, and I haven't finished reading the book that I wanted to review next. So...I thought I would re-post a review from way back when not so many people (well even fewer than now) were reading Simple Life. My first review ever is posted below. Since writing this the film has been released and is now called Race to Nowhere. I have not seen the final version yet. You can look for a screening near you here. I would love to hear comments from anyone who has seen the movie. With all the debate about education these days, this movie takes a different tack...

I attended an advance screening of a film this evening hosted by our local library and learning center, and the film's producer (Reel Link Films). The film's maker, Vicki Abeles, lives in our area and has travelled across the country to gather interviews for the film. The film is called "Slipping Behind" and it is about the pressures on youth, particularly high school students, but also as young as 3rd grade, to excel at school, in sports, in the arts, and in other extracurricular activities. Among the shocking content I heard tonight:
  • Applause for a 15 hour/week limit on high school sports commitment (n.b. this is still more than 2 hours/day on top of school work)
  • Success is currently thought of as constant work, and being good at everything.
  • In the 1940s high school students did 3-4 hours/week of homework; now it is more like 3-4 hours/day.
  • 80% of students admit to cheating in some form because they don't feel they can do all of the work on their own. This is often viewed as "borrowing" someone's work.
  • Adolescents need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Many high school students are getting only 4-5 hours of sleep each night.
  • What might be an escape from the stress of school - sports, music, theater, etc. often turns into a new form of stress as the competition levels increase or when the student feels they cannot do something they love because they don't have time for it.
What drove me to attend this meeting is the nagging feeling that it spells disaster for children with special needs and those at risk if even the brightest and best are overwhelmed by the current atmosphere of pressure-cooker achievement. In the end the film questions whether we're even teaching youth the right skills when in the work force they will succeed most by being flexible, optimistic, enjoying their work, and being able to work on a team. We are failing ourselves and our children by putting pressure on GPAs and test scores because the best conceptual learning does not occur under pressure. It happens with real world applications and time for exploration. If students who learn things readily and need only a modicum of discipline to focus on required tasks are struggling to succeed, how will the child who struggles to read or write or whose attention drifts easily be able to even subsist?

I'll plan to write a response to these questions from a Biblical perspective in my next post. It would be easy to get wrapped up in fear with these ideas floating in my mind, but I will trust instead that God has the answer.

Part two Achievement
Part three Achievement
Part four Achievement

Friday, December 24, 2010

A New Christmas Story

The other day my daughter came and asked me if she could do "stickers on my computer." By this she means she wants to use the clip art in Word. As I was setting her up she said she wanted to use Jesus stickers because it is Christmas. So I typed "Jesus" in the clip art search box and left her to do her thing. She is getting pretty good with Word. She picked out four clip art pictures:

After picking them she needed a little help making them larger and then she wanted to print them out in color. Then she wanted to "read" the story to us, first Daddy, then me. Daddy came away from the story with a grin, so I knew this was going to be good. After she told me the story I asked her if we could write it down so I would be able to remember it. She wasn't too keen on this, but she did write down the first line herself and then dictated the others to me. So here for your reading pleasure is my daughter's Christmas story:
one Day There wus in egg in Jesus crADL.
(One day there was an egg in Jesus' cradle.)
The house was very dark.
All the animals came to sleep with Jesus.
The plus (the star) glowed in the dark; every night it did.
Jesus was fast asleep. He made those four lines. (by snoring)

There is so much about this story that I love, but I'll focus in on three of them.
  • It shows me how much she relies on visual cues to understand and therefore sometimes misinterprets what is going on. I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be baby Jesus' head in the manger, not an egg. She's right, though, it does look like an egg, and why shouldn't there be an egg in a stable manger? I suppose there were chickens around...I don't know.
  • I love the very real sense of personhood that she envisions for Jesus. No halos and meek and mild baby here. He's fast asleep and snoring away. Did you ever imagine Jesus snoring? I wonder if he did...
  • It's another misinterpretation, but very special in its own way. That's a crucifix, not the Christmas star (or a plus, for that matter), but we do often show the Christmas star in a cross shape, and why is that? Have you ever seen a star with a cross shape? I'm not too much of a star gazer, but I have never seen anything but brilliant points of light, twinkling to be sure, but pretty much circular if anything. Meanwhile, isn't it good to remember Easter even as we celebrate Christmas? His birthday wouldn't be so special if the whole purpose of His coming wasn't what it was. He came with the express purpose of paying the penalty of our sins by dying on a cross. He not only died but He also conquered death by coming back to life on Easter morning. How fabulous to be reminded even as He lays in a manger (cuddling His egg and snoring?) that He came to fill us with abundant life.
This story, by the way, is now wrapped and sitting next to Santa's cookies and milk. Yes, she made a story about Jesus to give to Santa. I love it.

Merry Christmas to you and all of those you love.
May you be blessed with His peace and goodwill this season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shopping with Kids

I don't know about you, but my list of errands about doubled this week. Extra shopping for gifts, special meals, parties, and trips to the post office mean more times out and about with kids in tow. I am fortunate that my husband works from home a couple of days a week, so if I time things properly I can run my errands while the little ones are having their afternoon nap, but there are days like today when I have several errands to run and I need to bring all of the kids with me. Over the last couple of years I've developed a method for keeping the chaos of these trips to a bearable level. I thought I'd share them here today just in time for the last minute holiday madness.

First, I think the most important thing is to know your kids' limits. I did three errands today, but two of them were short and within walking distance of each other. This minimized the number of trips in and out of the car and also provided some opportunity for linear movement (walking with a purpose). The other errand was a little on the long side, so I pulled out some extra ammunition (see below). I know which shopping cart my kids prefer, who likes to sit where, etc. Knowing all of these details helps me plan the trip and keep things positive, which is the overarching goal.

Second, you must be calm and organized. This is not the time to wander through the store tossing things into your basket randomly or pausing for several minutes to decide which pasta sauce you want this week. Make a list. Check it twice. Moving quickly but efficiently will help your kids stay nice. I actually have a road map that I follow through the store - starting at the produce, working my way through the middle aisles, stopping at the meat counter, then hitting the dairy and bread aisle before check out. My kids know this pattern, so they know when we get to the dairy aisle that we're almost done. The routine keeps us all on task. I even mark the items on my list according to which section they're in so before I leave each section I'm sure I've gotten everything from there.

Third, expect it to take longer and expect your children to get bored. When I am able to shop solo I can get in and out of the store with a whole week's worth of groceries in less than 45 minutes (if I have to) but that same list takes me well over an hour with the kids in tow. The cart we use is bigger and harder to steer. There are pauses to visit the bathroom or to issue reminders. It is just slower, and I think that is fine in some ways. The slow but steady pace can keep everyone more regulated. However, it's good to plan some distractions along the way to make the time pass. I bring a little snack from home for everyone. Everyone can choose a small toy to bring along. Our grocery store has "kiddie carts" with a car at the front that two kids can sit in - each with their OWN steering wheel. We rearrange seating sometimes so all three kids can have a turn "driving". I offer my older daughter the opportunity to help by choosing fruits or vegetables, crossing things off the list, putting produce in bags, or doing some heavy work by putting jugs of milk or juice in the cart. This all keeps her engaged, busy, and regulated.

Fourth, I am not above a PROPERLY executed bribe. I know if my grocery list has more than 30 items on it that it's going to be challenging to keep the kids all behaving well the whole time without some reward in sight. So, before we leave the house I choose a small treat (today it was one chocolate kiss per child) and hide it in my purse. Then I prime the kids: "We need to go to the meat market, the post office, and the grocery store. It might be a long trip. If you can follow our rules the whole time that we are gone I have a little treat for you." It's important that the expectations are made clear when the reward is offered...this is TOTALLY different than offering a kid a treat in the middle of a meltdown to try to get them back on track. Using treats to re-regulate from the middle of a tantrum just reinforces negative behavior. Using treats to reward good behavior when that is what has been promised builds trust, keeps positive behavior as the goal, and rewards children for reaching our expectations. I also reserve this tool for those particularly challenging errands like today when my grocery list was almost half again its usual length.

I'd love to hear any additional ideas you use when shopping with your kids. I still have several shopping trips to go this week...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All I Want for Christmas...

Today, I thought I'd join the Special Needs Blog Hop. This blog carnival happens most Thursdays, though this is the last one for 2010. Hopefully I'm linking up correctly. Seems like each of these works a little differently, and I'm still learning!

Anyway, the theme for this week is "What I Want For Christmas." I won't try to get around it, there's a long wish list in my head. Free babysitting for a year comes to mind...or housecleaning...either way I'd be happy. We could use a new car, a new T.V, new shoes, and new bikes for everyone. There's no way most of that's going to happen. The new shoes we might be able to take a swing at. This year has been tighter than ever money-wise, and I've been calling it a "skinny" Christmas - just in my own head until writing it down here. Bearing in mind the circumstances of the majority of the world we are still in the lap of luxury, but for us it is on the modest side.

However, my daughter is becoming more and more generous. I have written before about how she loves to give gifts. It is really a true mark of her personality. She simply enjoys giving to other people. The gifts are sometimes a little odd, but they come from a generous spirit. Today I told her that I was packing up some gifts for her cousins for Christmas and she immediately wanted to give them something, too. Unprompted she said she would think about what she could give them. I thought she would make something since she doesn't really have any money and we weren't going shopping again anyway. She found some gifts (don't want to ruin the surprise) and then insisted on wrapping them herself.

What I really want for Christmas is to stir up this same generous spirit in myself. I don't want our skinny wallets to steal the joy of giving from me. I don't want to hold onto things with grasping fearful fingers. Instead I want to give freely knowing that it is just one more way I can be more as God intended me to be. He gave us this example:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?.. Romans 8:32a (NIV)
So for Christmas I don't so much want to receive as to truly give.

What do you want for Christmas?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Digest 26

We've had busy days over here for several days in a row. I have a feeling that will continue through the next few weeks as the holidays continue to roll through us...take a minute to get inspired along the way.

1) My fellow 5 Minutes for Special Needs contributor, Lee, posted this piece about parent advocacy that pretty much summarizes my own philosophy on the subject. It takes a special amount of effort to work with schools and other agencies that provide services. You have to stand up, and get busy, without being combative. It's a fine line to walk.

2) Every Mom needs to hear thank you...without prompting...but we don't always get it from our kids. When you need to hear it, read this. Your kids would say this...really!

3) One of my favorite new blogs to follow is Autism and Oughtisms. This mom had a great voice, and is particularly good at clearing up some common misconceptions about autism. This piece addresses the misconception that individuals with autism always have above average intelligence. Like many pieces of autism, intelligence ranges over a full spectrum.

4) Living in California, it's not often too cold to swing, but it is sometimes too I'll be trying out this move with my daughter soon, I'm sure. Thanks for the tip, Our Journey Thru Autism.

5) During days like I've had for the last week, it is hard to slow down and catch every opportunity. This post from InCourage is a good reminder that we need to be present in everything that we are doing. I have a feeling I'll need the reminder for some weeks to come.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


As a follow up to my earlier post on dyslexia, I thought I would let you all know about it's lesser known cousin, dyscalculia. As dyslexia is to written words, letters, and reading; dyscalculia is to numbers, both for arithmetic and sequences like phone numbers and other codes. The textbook definition of dyscalculia covers any number of learning disabilities related to recognizing, writing, and manipulating numbers in mathematical functions. For a more personal perspective, check out this post.

If this sounds like a simple math problem, dyscalculia can be related to language disorders and visual spatial processing. The problems can stem from early childhood with difficulties in sorting, recognizing numerals, matching numbers with amounts, and comparing objects in terms of size or length. Older children may be challenged by learning math functions and remembering what various symbols mean or copying from textbooks to their own paper. If basic math functions cause difficulty, older students may be challenged by advanced mathematics involving several steps and more abstract concepts. Math-related activities such as remembering the sequences of numbers (codes, phone numbers, addresses, etc,) understanding time flow and schedules, organization skills, games of strategy, and  sense of direction may also be challenging.

Due to the wide variety of learning disabilities described by this term, a full set of mathematical assessments should be used to determine each individual's ability, level of understanding, strengths and weaknesses. Specific strategies can then be used to help the individual learn each skill more effectively.

To learn more about dyscalculia, check out LD Online or The Dyscalculia Forum.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review - Santa's Favorite Story

Santa's Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First ChristmasI know some families don't like to mix Santa with their Christmas celebrations. Some parents only want to focus their kids' short attention spans on the true story of Christmas, and the real reason that we celebrate, the birth of Jesus.

I grew up in a family that was able to have a lot of fun with Santa, while still always keeping Jesus' birth at the primary focus of our celebrations. We sat on Santa's lap (at an embarrassingly old age, even, for me). I remember driving around on Christmas Eve and teasing each other that the red warning lights on the radio towers  were really Rudolph's nose. I also remember every year for quite a while trying to devise plans to catch my parents in the act of playing Santa...and never succeeding because my brother would always take the first watch. With all of this fun, my favorite parts of Christmas were attending the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church, singing Christmas carols about Jesus' birth, and setting up our nativity scene. There was never any doubt about what Christmas was all about. I am striving to have this same focus and fun with my kids as they grow. Last year we made a cake for Jesus' Birthday. This year we've started making advent paper chains with lines from this poem on each link. I read these lines:

It isn't the tinsel,
The wrapping or things,
That make me feel happy and
Make my heart sing.
The reason is simple...

to my daughter and asked her what the reason is and she said, "Because it is Jesus' Birthday!" She knows...but she is still excited to sit on Santa's lap again this year.

I guess all of this is just introduction to say how much I like the idea of Santa's Favorite Story. It tells the story of some woodland animals who find Santa taking a cat nap one snowy afternoon before Christmas Eve. They are worried that his fatigue will spell the end of Christmas, and Santa assures them that Christmas is not really about him. Then he tells them the "real story" of Christmas, how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, where some shepherds found Him and came to worship. The animals all learn that Jesus gave us the greatest gift by coming as a baby that first Christmas night, and Santa gains fresh energy to carry out his duties on Christmas Eve, reminded of the true spirit of Christmas himself. I love the story line and the artwork in the book. I think the message is simple and that any child will understand that Christmas is all about Jesus' birth.

My one frustration is that the story of Jesus' birth as related in Santa's Favorite Story isn't quite aligned with the accounts in the Gospels (especially Luke 2). The shepherds hear "a voice" and follow a star to Bethlehem rather than seeing a choir of angels who instruct them to go there and find Jesus in a manger. Maybe Santa's sleepy state makes him roll the shepherds and wise men into one? I don't just seems to me that if Santa is going to tell the animals the true story of Christmas it might as well be the True Story. Nonetheless it is a fun take on blending the fun of Santa with the true reasons we celebrate Christmas.
What do you think? How does your family handle this aspect of Christmas?

Friday, December 3, 2010


Motivation is such an interesting force in our lives. What gets us moving? What helps us get through the hard things we really don't want to do? I have been noticing this week some very odd things that will get my daughter motivated to work through transitions, in particular.

Getting into the car is tough, for some reason especially if we're going to church, regardless of the reason for the trip. Maybe, like me, she dreads the traffic jam that we often encounter on the way. I don't think it's anything against church specifically. She will be "all ready" to go to Sunday School, except for putting on her shoes and getting in the van. We even make the order of these two steps up to her, but she suddenly hits a snag and won't  want to go. I've started asking her before she gets her shoes on, and before she starts to protest if she wants a piece of gum. Of course she does. "Go get in the van, and I'll bring you one." Off she runs to get her shoes and get in the van. I don't even have to actually connect the reward to the behavior. (Gum, by the way, counts as oral-motor input, OT bonus!)

The other day we had a similar challenge right before school. She suddenly did not want to go. I found this a little odd (and worrisome) since usually she is perfectly happy to go to school. Luckily the day before she had been quite excited to show me the new classroom job chart. It is very similar to what she had in Kindergarten, and what we use from time to time at home. Her teacher had given her the job of feeding the fish in the class aquarium. So when she balked at going to school and asked why she needed to go, I said, "So you can feed the fish, remember?" Suddenly she was more than happy to go to school again.

Dinner time has been a challenge lately, too, for some reason. She'll seem excited about what we're having for dinner, but when it comes time to sit at the table, no dice. The other night when she was saying she wasn't ever going to eat dinner I took a moment to ponder. Having observed these earlier incidents I tried to think of something that would motivate her to get to the table. We were having stew, and I had put the kids' bowls on the table already. Knowing one of these bowls, the bright pink one, is her favorite, I said, "Well, I guess if you're not eating dinner I can give the pink bowl to your sister, then..." Wow, did that get her to the table!

Gum, fish food, the pink bowl...

I have been pondering what this means for me, too. What gets me moving? What helps me get through the hard things? I'm afraid for myself I often put out the stick rather than the carrot. "If I don't get this done then tomorrow will be a disaster"-kind of thinking rather than "Won't it be nice to do a good job and finish this while I have time." I'm going to try to look for the rewards a little more. I know they're out there, though they may be not so obvious.

What gets you moving?


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