By Melissa Smith

The Hurricane brought some strange weather to Texas this year. We’ve had ice storms (yes, plural) and unending gray and rainy days. While I am very thankful for the cooler air, the dullness of the days is beginning to wear on my heart. Where is the sun?

Along with the weather, the midyear school blues have also crept in at our house. I am rethinking all our curriculum and therapy choices, the kids are getting restless and dragging, and we have months left to go. Help!

In light of the Rainy Day Blues setting in, we’ve had to get creative and remember to savor the moments at home. Here are some fun ways to redeem these gray days and have fun as a family to break up the winter doldrums.

1. Read Alouds
We love books in our house! From picture books and classics, to a great fantasy novel or mystery, we enjoy getting lost in faraway places and learning about interesting and inspiring people. Somewhere along the way, we lost this wonderful practice in our home, but we have reinstated it this winter. Our children will set their tablets and schoolwork aside to ask for a chapter or two of the book we’re reading. Nothing breaks the monotony like a great book!

We put on our comfy clothes, grab blankets, and curl up on the couch together. For my wiggly young one who has a short attention span, we bring Thinking Putty for him to play with or a pile of paper with markers for him to draw on while he listens.

If you need a place to start, I recommend a wonderful book called Honey for a Child’s Heart and Honey for a Teen’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. The author has compiled lists of books by genre and age group with short summaries. We have found many excellent gems in this book for both read alouds and independent reading.

Still need an idea of where to start? Look at historical figures or missionaries that you would like your family to learn about. If you are anything like me and your voice gets tired of reading out loud after a short time, we’ve also had a lot of success with audio books through Hoopla. It is a service that links your library card to the account. You can then checkout audiobooks to listen to on your phone or tablet for free.

2. Game Day
As a box-checking mama, I have a hard time setting aside my schedule for the day. However, I’ve found that my children often learn better and have more success in school when we take a day off to play together. Their love tanks get filled, and all of our minds and hearts are refreshed! Since we have a variety of abilities and preferences in our house, we play games Round Robin style. Everyone picks three games they love. Then the youngest child picks first from someone else’s pile of games. We have a blast, and everyone gets at least one of their favorites picked.

3. Puzzles & Playdough
This one is an old friend in our house. My mother gave me her homemade playdough recipe when I had children, and we have used it ever since. The warmth of the playdough, the fabulous smell (we add mint), and the glorious colors (we also add food coloring), give us hours of fun. Pull out your cookie cutters and rolling pin and see what you can create! My older children will even enjoy this for a while before wandering off to pursue other things – like puzzles.

Puzzles are not just for little kids! When we are able, we will set up a card table in a corner and pull out a puzzle to work on. It will take us weeks, but it’s a nice brain break from Algebra or the laundry. We have found some wonderful puzzles at garage sales (they even had ALL the pieces!), or we pick them up at Hobby Lobby when they are on sale.

Homemade Playdough
Double as needed, but prepare to stir!

  • In a saucepan, stir together the following:  1 cup flour 2 tsp cream of tartar 1/3 cup salt

Next, add the following:

  • 1 cup of water 1 tbs of vegetable oil
  • Heat on medium-low and stir, stir, stir!
  • Add a drop or two of your favorite scent – vanilla, mint, or essential oil
  • When it has reached a playdough texture, turn it out onto wax paper and press it out.

Divide it up between your children and help them make a ball. Press it down in the middle and add a drop or two of food color. Enjoy pressing and squeezing it until the color mixes!

4. Craft & Hobby Time
When my children were younger, nothing made them happier than lots of glue, paper, scissors, craft sticks, and the freedom to create anything their hearts desired. A quick trip to the library will help those that need more structure. You can pick up a rainy day craft book full of ideas and inspiration.

My older children now have hobbies and ideas of their own and desire time to pursue them. When I give them permission to set school aside to read up on their hobbies or take time to enjoy them, their minds and hearts fill with dreams and creativity. I love watching them grow! In fact, my teenage son always works harder at school the next day when I’ve given him time to dive into his passions for an afternoon.

5. Cook Together
Yep, it’s going to get messy! All of my children love to get in the kitchen with me and create. I am no great cook, but the time spent mixing, pouring, and laughing together always creates great memories. They learn to work together and follow a recipe, and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Our favorite tradition is Friday night Pizza Night with Dad. My husband helps the children make homemade dough. While it rises, we all play games together. Later, each person “decorates” their personalized pizza with their favorite toppings, and we cook them up! Voila!

If you decide to turn on some music and dance around the kitchen while you create, I encourage you to grab a spatula as a microphone and sing to your heart’s content! My little one always joins in and my teenagers feign embarrassment, but I know they all love seeing their mom have fun.
 

6. Clean Out a Closet
Okay, this one is not really for the kids. But hey, while your kids are happily crafting and playing, pick a cabinet or closet and go to town! Organize that plastic storage drawer, sort out the bins of school supplies, or dig around in the kids’ closet for stained and outgrown clothes. I often co-opt my children to help me with this and we make piles: throw away, give away, sell. It’s a great way to institute some order in one corner of the house and help teach your children good stewardship.

A Final Thought
Savor the moments, friends. Spring is on its way along with beautiful days outdoors. Until then, grab your children and tell them how much you love them. Then don’t be afraid to set aside the schoolwork and the schedule to relax and laugh with them. It might get messy, but it is worth it. What are your favorite ways to find joy with your family?

 

 


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By Melissa Smith

I’m brand spanking new to Special Needs – sort of. For over a decade I’ve raised my children with friends who have Special Needs, loved Special Needs families, walked with friends through challenges with their children, and developed a heart of compassion and love for these wonderful families. 

 

However, I didn’t know I had a Special Needs child in my home until now. His delightful brand of different brings our family joy every day and a lot challenges. Somehow in all the busyness of life, we didn’t recognize his uniqueness as “Special” until we hit roadblocks in educating him at home. My child, who is almost eight, hasn’t changed, but my understanding of who he is and how he operates has dramatically changed.

This brand new understanding brings a whole world to my door that I have only been an observer to for the past decade. Now I am wading into terminology, therapists, doctor appointments, schedule reroutes, curriculum questions, doubts, and fears that leave my head and my heart spinning. Many of you have already walked this road; others, like me, are just beginning the journey.



SUPPORT & MENTORING FROM EXPERIENCE

So, what does a family need as they begin walking forward with a Special Needs child? Those of you who have experience with this can be a comfort, encouragement, and source of strength to families who are new to this wonderful, special world.


Here are some questions I have for you:

  1. What helped your family mentally and emotionally adjust to the demands on your time, relationships, and emotions?
  2. When you discussed your child with doctors, therapists, family, and friends, what attitudes and information from them most encouraged you and set you on the right track?
  3. How did you talk about the challenges of Special Needs to the other members of your family?
  4. What information would have been most helpful for you to have as you made choices about homeschooling and Special Needs?
  5. How did you find the support you and your family needed to navigate the Special Needs in your home?




MY JOURNEY

We are still in the beginning stages of meeting with a Developmental Pediatrician, navigating a diagnosis, and talking to therapists. Already, I’ve learned so much. Here are a couple nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained over the past few months about beginning the journey of educating a Special Needs child.


Information Without Pressure
For every diagnosis, there are a thousand ways that it manifests in each unique child. The lists of therapies, curriculum, methods of instruction, and schools of thought on medicine vs. natural treatment seem infinite. 

 

The people who have been the most helpful to us have provided explanations and facts along with the possibilities of how different solutions would benefit our child. They do this with grace, patience, and understanding without pressuring us to choose a particular path. What a relief! Armed with information, we can pray and think through the best path for our family.

This is not always the case, though, and we can walk away from these meetings overwhelmed by the decisions facing us and weighed down with shame, guilt, fear, or loneliness. This led me to our next need!


Community
One of the benefits of being connected to a support group like SPED Homeschool is the rich community of people who can provide counsel, wisdom, encouragement, fresh perspective, and a sounding board of ideas.

 

When I posted a question on the Facebook group, one mom reached out to me privately and offered to meet up at a park. One of her children faces similar challenges to my youngest child. It was such an encouragement to hear her story and be reminded that there are so many other beautiful families in the trenches together. 

 

Whether you are in the early stages in your journey or a seasoned Special Needs mom, your story matters. When you share what God has taught you and where you have walked, it offers comfort and courage to others. Be bold, friends, and reach out to someone who needs some encouragement!


A Road Map
“Wouldn’t it be nice if our children came with an Instruction Manual?” I’ve heard this laughingly asked many times by many people over the years. And just in case you weren’t sure – No! There is no manual. However, by God’s grace, we are given the wisdom we need to parent our children.

Navigating the Special Needs world, however, is challenging. A road map would be helpful. From terms like IEP to ARD meetings, the difference between OT and PT, or where to seek a qualified diagnostician, we need help!

Thankfully, many of these questions can be asked and answered through the SPED Homeschool Support group on Facebook. There are many resources on the website for those just beginning the homeschooling journey, and team members more experienced than I am who are at the ready to answer your questions.


Grace
Finally, my greatest need as a mom rerouting into educating a Special Needs child is grace. This is going to take time, prayer, patience, and a lot of love. Some days I just don’t know what in the world to do because I’m too exhausted and frustrated to try anything else. Other days I ready to take on the world for the sake of my son but don’t know where to start. So, I need to give myself some grace to accept that I don’t have all the answers, but God has gifted this wonderful child to me for a time to love and disciple. 

 

There are plenty of people who don’t understand our decisions or my son, and I need to give them grace too. Every step of the way, every day, God is providing for us and leading us in the paths we should walk. I am so thankful for this adventure!

What do you need today as you begin your Special Needs journey?  Join our support group and let us know.

 

 


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By Melissa Smith

May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13


At Christmas we see the words “joy” and “peace” on cards and gift bags, written in lights in people’s yards, and sung in the holiday hymns we all know and love. But at this time of year, and particularly this year, what captures my heart most about the season is hope. Hope is so beautiful and powerful when anchored well. It gives courage to wavering souls, lights the way in the midst of dark paths, and lends strength to us when we are set on an arduous journey.

This holiday season has been a different one for our family as we are still rebuilding from Harvey flooding our home. We have been learning to do everything differently from laundry to spending money. And then, set on top of that, as I’ve labored in educating our youngest child, it has become evident that the challenges we’ve faced have nothing to do with the curriculum I’ve chosen or the inadequacies of my teaching abilities, or his strong will. He has ADHD and likely, dyslexia. There, too, I am learning to do things differently. The energy expended – mentally, emotionally, and physically – has required me to reroute my life and live differently. I find myself in great need of hope.

So, as Christmas approaches and my family prepares to celebrate Christ coming as our Savior, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to put my hope in Christ and how that looks on the ground in my everyday life. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way and the gifts Christ has given when we cling to hope.

The Gift of Strength: I’ll Never Be Enough
Whether it is a flooded house, a child with special needs, difficult family relationships, or any number of other situations, we recognize our inability to control the situation and our weakness in it. And that is a really wonderful place to be. From there we can humble ourselves before God and allow Him to be strong in us and for us. 

He understands weakness: He came as a baby. He understands temptation: He overcame it. He understands grief and sorrow: He endured it. He understands death: He conquered it. Dwelling on the truths of who Christ is, why He came, and what He desires to accomplish in our lives, gives me hope. This life, today, has purpose, and I don’t have to be strong enough to weather the storms that come with it because “my life is hidden with Christ in God” who is strong. What a relief! That, my friends, is where we find rest.

The Gift of Joy: Savoring Christ
Nothing crushes joy like losing hope. However, just a tiny bit of hope is like a flickering light in the darkness. It illuminates our perspective and allows us to see beyond the challenges of the moment to the joy we have in Christ.

God promised His people He would come and send a triumphant Savior, and His people waited and hoped. The Old Testament is a story of deferred hope, but the New Testament continues the story and brings a promise fulfilled – Christ is born! Today, for us, that joy is that we have Christ with us as we walk in this life and as we wait in hope for His return. He is with us. My flooded home. My child with special needs. My dreams for the future. All of this, infused with the love of Christ and a promise that He is at work, brings me joy. And so I can wait with hope. And you can too.

As we wait, we can savor Christ and the simple moments of joy. My moments have looked like this: my amazing new laundry door being installed, a sweet moment snuggling one of my children, working together as a family to rebuild, a simpler Christmas, a few minutes to read my Bible…alone, a word of encouragement from a friend. What are your moments of joy?
 

The Gift of Love: Hope Anchored
Ultimately, the story of Christmas is a tale of God’s incomprehensible, unshakable, life-giving love for His people. There is no faith, hope, joy, or peace without God. Our stories would all end in despair without God’s plan of Redemption and His power to complete it. Jesus Christ in a manger tells us that we have hope because God’s love pierces eternity to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.

We live in a broken world where homes flood, relationships get broken, death is inevitable, the unexpected rocks us on our heels, and we struggle. Over all of that, though, the knowledge of God’s great love for us and His plan to redeem us reach out past eternity to remind us that Christmas is more than a season, it’s a promise and an anchor for our hope: Christ.

 

 


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