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SPED Homeschool Team

 

The special demands that naturally occur during this time of year can make celebrating the holidays with special needs children difficult. From food to family, each event can be a minefield of potential reactions, meltdowns, and misadventures. Or, with the right perspective and a few adjustments, the holidays can be as meaningful as they are meant to be. Hear from our SPED Homeschool Team Members as they share their tips for celebrating the holidays with their special needs children.

 

 

Dawn Spence

Family and holidays can be a complicated adventure. From medical needs and allergy needs, I used to find myself apologizing for needing things a certain way. Fast forward 8 years and I realized that no apologies are needed, and I meet our family’s needs without skipping a beat. I had to allow myself to be okay with the way things were before I could expect anyone else too. I know when my daughter has had too much, and we leave guilt-free. We bring foods that meet our allergy needs and even make extra for everyone else to enjoy. Being with family can be stressful, but at the same time, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the life you have been given.

 

Although we are very busy this time of year with all the parties and so forth, we handle it by guarding Friday night as “Family Night.”

 

 

Cammie Arn

The holidays in our home aren’t typical. We don’t have large extended families to travel to or to visit due to either distance or death. Instead, we have created new family traditions such as making a birthday cake (both regular and gluten-free) for Jesus at Christmas or homemade Belgian waffles with homemade fruit syrup.

 

We participate in a “feast of nations” at church the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Some dress in modern-day clothing representing their home country and bring a dish to share. Having an international church does help with this for sure. There have been times when this was thanksgiving for us.

 

One really neat idea is to do Christmas around the world in December. You can learn about a different country every day, study how they celebrate Christmas, and possibly try a special Christmas treat from that country. End your study by praying for that country.

 

How do we handle the food for all this fun? We find out what food is being served and modify from there. At potlucks, I always bring food tailored to our family’s needs to eliminate reactions. So far so good.

 

Holiday chaos? Not us. Although we are very busy this time of year with all the parties and so forth, we handle it by guarding Friday night as “Family Night.” We watch a movie at home and have pizza. Pretty much no exception. We also have a “no work” rule on Sunday that helps our family decompress and prep for the next week.

 

 

Peggy Ployhar

Our family dynamics are a bit different than most, and because I am the oldest of 14 with 10 adopted siblings, we don’t often have to explain anything to our family about how to deal with atypical behaviors of our children. Recently, we spent a few days with extended family at an indoor waterpark resort in the Wisconsin Dells and at one point my youngest sister went missing. Immediately our family flew into action with various members each immediately stepping in to stake out the campus, contact security, and canvas the facility. It didn’t seem out of place at all to switch from “vacation mode” to “search and rescue” mode, and once the call came in that my sister had been found and was being returned to her room by a helpful Good Samaritan, my husband stated nonchalantly to me, “Just another vacation with the Prenosil family.”

 

I don’t share this story to make it seem like this episode wasn’t a critical undertaking for everyone involved, but over the past 30 years, our family has developed a culture of caring for one another where no one asks why we just respond in love and concern. We are all in this together, whether it is caring for our adopted siblings or for each other’s children who also struggle with extreme food allergies and difficult to handle diagnoses. If you are just getting started on this special needs journey I want to encourage you that over time you can develop the support team you need just like our family has, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Little by little your immediate and extended family will learn the most by following your lead, so gently show them the way. Pray for their hearts to be softened towards the circumstances that surround the needs of your child and what you feel convicted to do as their parent and teacher for the best possible outcomes for their future. In turn, they will follow, but do understand it may take many years for them to come around and be the supportive family you desire for them to be for you right now.

 

 

Celebrating the holidays with your special needs children does not have to take the magic out of the season. Careful planning, simple celebrations, and supportive family can make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

 


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SPED Homeschool Team

During the homeschool struggle with special needs, it’s not uncommon to feel like you are treading water or getting nowhere. Standard educational and developmental goals are out of reach and overwhelming, but we all inherently know our kids can and do make progress. Our children can achieve realistic goals. Sometimes it just takes thinking outside of the box. Our SPEDHomeschool team members shared their creative methods for helping their children achieve goals.

 

Dawn Spence:

Goals for our children as they learn is a wonderful way to look at their progress. As I set goals for my children, I first look at their individual talents and their interests. 

My son needs an outside motivator. He needs to see at the end there is going to be something that he works toward. Reading the Narnia books with the goal of getting to watch the movie, for instance, helps him to complete his reading. It can be something simple, but it has to be something that interests him. 

My next daughter, who flourishes in art and has dyslexia, needs a creative way to express herself. Allowing her to use her art to draw out her math problems or illustrate her vocabulary words motivates her to work toward achieving her goals. Combining educational goals with her creativity helps her to be successful and enjoy the learning process even when lessons are tough. 

My last daughter has multiple learning issues, and I find myself creating hands-on activities to meet her goals. I have learned through her that the world is more abstract than I realize. I need to make it more concrete and tangible for her. I find new ways to use play-doh, games, and puzzles. Meeting her where she is and using manipulatives helps her meet her goals. Also, breaking down a goal into smaller goals has helped my daughter.

 

Cammie Arn:

I’ve learned I have to think outside the box.

  • Reading a description at a museum is reading (and history, and sometimes science as well.) 
  • Growing food in a garden teaches not just science but also problem-solving skills. Go a step further and prepare a meal with that food, and you have Home Ec. 
  • If our goal is to read a novel. I let them pick the book. If they are interested in the topic, they are more likely to glean more information. If the skill is reading, then it truly doesn’t matter what they are reading just that they read it. If the skill is to learn the content, we often use audio and videos. 
  • Use a museum as a scavenger hunt and take advantage of the free resources that they provide for teachers. Many military bases have museums for a nominal fee that cover WWI & WWII battles, aircraft, ground vehicles weaponry. I’m seeing museums offer Sensory Friendly rooms or sensory sensitive exhibit times as well. Download our free museum guide and checklist to help your next museum visit go smoothly.
  • Take advantage of the Parks and Wildlife Agency in your area. Many offer free materials to do unit studies on things like plant identification, water conservation, taking care of our environment, and more. 
  • Use your library. Mine has computer classes open to the public and offers gardening classes for all ages.

 

Amy Vickrey:  

My children are younger (7 and 3). My 7-year-old has autism, and my 3-year-old has some developmental delays, too. Some days, trying to get everything done can be a real challenge! One of my big goals this year was to help my children be more independent. To do this, I have had to get a little creative and flexible. I have to discern when to stick with our plan and when to give a little. This “dance” takes time and energy to maintain, but when you see it through, you can accomplish your goals and so much more. Here are some of the ways I help my kids be independent

 

  • Use visuals such as checklists, schedules, reminders to knock, and labeling drawers and bins.
  • Enlist their help and praise what they do right. If something needs to be fixed, it is done with little fuss. The focus stays on the positive (most of the time). 
  • Give some freedom to make decisions. My 7-year-old son can choose where he keeps his markers as long as they are put up. He sorted and organized the cup cabinet himself. This “buy-in” gives him ownership and he’s more likely to maintain the system. 
  • Rewards are great motivation. I always start out with a bigger reward for smaller tasks and then start decreasing the reward and increasing the expectation. By the time it becomes a habit, the reward is intrinsic!
  • Sometimes money talks. When I was having some extremely challenging behaviors like talking back and leaving dirty socks on furniture (yuck!), I created a money system to let him earn money for positive behaviors and lose it (or get charged) for the negative. He figured it out really fast, and the negative behaviors disappeared (or greatly diminished). By the time he made his goal (he wanted to buy a movie), behaviors were manageable without continuing the system. Now all I have to say is, “Do I get a dollar or are you going to _______?” 

 

Peggy Ployhar:  

For each of my children, I have had to be creative in different ways to help each with various goals. Below are some ways I have helped all three of my children over the years work in accomplishing a goal or set of goals we set for them.

For my oldest, his biggest struggle was reading and writing. We took the slow-and-steady approach to help him get better at these skills while at the same time not making learning so difficult that he would shut down on me. I wrote about this process in a previous article called Slow and Steady: The Key to Homeschooling Success which includes a link to my interview with Andrew Pudewa and how I used his curriculum IEW to help my son eventually reach the goal of learning to write. We took one little step at a time and trusted the curriculum would help my son learn all the basics he needed.  

For my middle son, one subject he struggled with consistently was math. Not so much the concrete computations, but the theoretical aspect of the subject. I learned very quickly I had to make sure math was presented to him in a language he would understand, which meant I often had to change the subjects in a word problem from something he didn’t relate to (like a piece of produce) to something he was used to thinking and talking about (like superheroes). As he got older this became more difficult and after doing a year of Geometry using a hands-on approach with the Patty Paper curriculum we moved to less theoretical math and dove into a course on stewardship and then the following year we moved onto  advanced logic in place of upper-level algebra and trigonometry/pre-calculus.

With my youngest, I had a different issue in achieving a goal, and that was teaching her art without actually teaching her. I had been advised by a variety of professional artists that she should take some time to develop her skills using the basics she already knew and therefore create her own style. Therefore, to help my daughter have content to draw and a regular schedule for her to use her artistic skills we used a curriculum that led her through the process of writing a magazine over a year for her language arts credit and then she created the art for her magazine to keep working on her art style. In the end, she finished a well-written and well-illustrated magazine at the end of the year.

 

Tracy Glockle:  

Last summer, I was really struggling with motivating one of my children who struggles with learning anxieties. She quickly gets overwhelmed by anything that takes effort and then shuts down. From there, every subject seems like a fight. I read a book that was extremely helpful: Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker.

The book helped me to see how allowing my daughter to have more control over her school and schedule (even when she didn’t appear ready for that control) could help with stress. I allowed her to set some learning goals and tell me what she wanted my help with. I set a few guidelines for her to work within and then respected the schedule she created for herself, even when her schedule took longer to accomplish the work than I thought she needed. The results were amazing!

Writing is a specific subject area that creates a great deal of stress for my daughter. So using this idea of letting her have more control over the areas where she is overwhelmed, I allowed her to create display boards of topics that interested her rather than writing papers. The result was that she wrote several strong paragraphs for each display board willingly and with no anxiety. She actually wrote more than I would have required if she’d been assigned to write a paper on the topic!

 

Our kids with wide ranges of academic and developmental abilities have just as wide a range of goals to achieve and unique gifts to share with the world. Sometimes, it just takes a few creative methods to help them achieve those goals and find success.

 

 

 

 

 


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