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Monday, August 9, 2010

More than Scribbles

Have you ever scrolled down the side bar on this blog to see the "random" art by Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso?  Every time you visit, the art changes.  Have you ever wondered why I put it there?  The explanation is simple:  Art matters!  It's such an integral part of our daily lives that we take it for granted, rarely noting how important it is to the human mind and spirit, to industry and icons, and to children.  A music professor at the college I went to once asked everybody to try to remain "music and rhythm free" for one full day.  No finger tapping, no songs or jingles singing in your thoughts, nothing.  Nobody was, or ever has been, able to accomplish the task.  Even our heartbeat (hopefully) keeps a rhythm.  You might say that our music is an extension of our hearts' rhythm.  You might also say that fine art is an expression of our thoughts and feelings.  A painting, sculpture, or digital art piece can speak differently to different people, regardless of language or culture, and gives the artist a way to express him or herself.  Imagine a world without artists.  Everything on T.V. is written, every movie is written, every advertisement, every magazine, every industry relies on art.  Our children, too, rely on art.  Art gives children a way to speak to us without words.  Young children have smaller vocabularies than adults; therefore, creating images can give them a form of communication that doesn't need words, but can say a lot!  The next time your child is bored, give her some paints or crayons.  Look at her picture and ask questions like, "Tell me more about this part."  Look for expression of emotion through the use of color.  Light colors don't mean that the child is happy, and dark doesn't mean he's sad or angry.  It may be a picture of the night.  Asking questions will help you to determine why the child used certain colors and whether or not those colors were used to express emotion.  "I see a lot of yellow and purple in this picture.  What do those colors feel like to you?"  Scroll down the side bar, when you get a chance, and look at the art.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to provide the materials for artistic expression to your children.  Their work is more than just scribbles; they are pieces of thoughts, feelings, and lessons they've learned expressed in lines, forms, and color.  Now, as the music professor asked, try to live a day without art - graphic art, written art, any art, then remember that ART MATTERS! 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Exhaustion!

Long nights, early mornings, deep seated concerns and honest hopes all make parenting exhausting.  Some people can leave their work at work, but caring parents can't leave their kids at home.  We carry more than just pictures in our pockets.  We carry all the hopes and dreams, hilarity and tears, fears, frustrations and fascination within every living cell of our body.  Even when we have to leave our children to work, or play, our children never leave us.  This constant caring, infinite vigilance, and unending attachment can sometimes feel like the combined weight of multiple worlds weighs us down, but we can't stop.  These are the best times to stop.  Stop and take inventory of what is really important.  These worlds, with all of their weighty importance, will not fall apart if we stop for five minutes every stressful day and look at the world outside of ourselves.  If we pull over at the park we pass everyday and just look at the slowly growing trees, find a smiling face, watch the birds and squirrels truly fight for survival, then we may be able to appreciate the cars we drive, the comforts we have, the smallest luxury (like running water) and know that exhaustion is not so bad when it means that we're providing important things for our children.  We're working to keep the lights on and food flowing, to keep school supplies in backpacks and entertainment on weekends.  Taking a few deep breaths in the middle of a work day will help us to remember that people have never changed, only technology changes.  We have the same basic instincts and emotions that we've always had, joy and pleasure being two of them that, in our hectic lives, often get pushed aside or contorted into things that can only be felt without our children present.  The opposite is true.  Joy is felt when we tickle our kids and chase them around like "monsters".  Pleasure is felt when we cuddle up at night and our three year old daughters, or five year old boys say, "I love you, Mommy."  These moments are precious and fleeting.  Accept the exhaustion for what it is - a sign of a hard working, loving and caring parent, then reward yourself with daily five minute eternities watching the world run around outside of yourself to remind you that the feeling of being overloaded comes from within.  The trees still grow at the same rate, regardless of how people feel.  The squirrel still seeks food, regardless of what we need.  The grass reaches toward the sun and survives under hundreds of pounding feet, even when we feel trampled.  Exhaustion is the reward for hard work.  It helps us to sleep at night and to remain calm throughout hectic days.  Energy returns, in brief bursts, to help us get through the most important events in our lives, but exhaustion is what we notice the most.  Noticing how it all ties together to make one beautiful life is the greatest reward that we can give ourselves!

Friday, July 16, 2010

IEP Overview

IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are very important for students with special needs.  It took many invisible warrior-parents countless hours to get the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed.  If you have a child with special needs, or a friend or relative has a child with special needs, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that the child's needs are being met.  First, if the educators are using "education jargon", speaking quickly, and pushing for the parent to just sign the papers and end the IEP meeting, then red flags should be going up everywhere!  Ideal IEP meetings have atmospheres of "inclusion", meaning that the parent/guardian is included in the IEP process and their ideas and knowledge are asked for during the meeting.  If the IEP meeting is not "inclusive" then find a family advocate, like myself, who understands the process and bring them along.  Parents have the right to bring an advocate to IEP meetings.  If the IEP team doesn't seem comfortable with the parent having an advocate, that's another red flag!  Next, be sure to keep the lines of communication open.  Teachers are often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes even unsure of what they're doing (like all human beings), so be sure that the child's needs are being met by keeping in constant contact with the teacher, asking about specific parts of the IEP and how they're being addressed.  For example, let's say a Parent named Lisa has a twelve year old special needs child named George.  Lisa can make an appointment with George's teacher every Friday to discuss how the week went and keep it focused on what George did well, what he accomplished.  Lisa can also prepare for each meeting by noting the goals of the IEP - let's say that one of George's IEP goals is to learn the multiplication tables.  Lisa can ask the teacher how George is progressing on that, can inform her of what she and George are doing at home to work on multiplication tables, and can then ask what the teacher plans to do over the next week.  Advocacy is a simply complex struggle for individual rights, but can mean the difference between success and failure on many levels in school, at home and later in life.  I will post more about this process and what parents can do, if anybody is interested.  The link to the IDEA website is: http://idea.ed.gov/