sensory for rainy days

Whatever the weather we need regular sensory rich input in this family, especially when things are busy or there have been some particularly stressful events. Tonight on my way home from Rainbows with T it became very clear that more was needed – a 15 min walk took 30, it was raining and the feel of the water, the way you could collect water drops off the ends of umbrella spokes, the splash of puddles became utterly engrossing… it would have taken more like an hour if I hadn’t been nagging all the way home! It reminded me of B at a similar age, walks home from school on wet days were epic, and she would be so wet by the end we would need to wring her out! Wet through every layer of clothes, wellington boots full.

There isn’t always time for being out on rainy days, and sometimes it is too cold for it to be ok for them to get that wet outside. Here are some of my favourite sensory rich rainy day activities:

  • cornflour slime – so simple, and absolutely always a winner. Put cornflour into a bowl (fun in large or small) and add just enough water for it to be quite hard to get a spoon through, but gooey enough for it to slowly drip off the spoon when you hold it above the bowl. Apron on if there’s time, then simply give to the child… can provide food colouring to mix in – the mixing takes a lot of effort and so is remarkably calming, can provide extra bowls or plates, plastic spoons, knives & forks. Can add scent from food flavourings. Expect some mess, but leave it to dry afterwards and then it can easily be swept up. Don’t try to put it down the drain afterwards, again let it sit & dry out a little, then it can go into the bin

     

  • Painting not for the fainthearted but utterly brilliant! Most importantly choose a place which is easy enough to clean afterwards – if this is to be of use as a sensory input activity it has to be hands on & that is messy. Also have paper supplies at hand – as soon as one is finished I want to have a clean sheet seamlessly put in front of them, or the ‘in full flow’ painting just happens onto something else! When they 025_01were very small I laid paper on the kitchen floor on top of a large messy mat or newspaper and put ice-cream tub size pots with some (not a lot) paint in there on the floor too. Strip the child down to the nappy, place in the centre, and enjoy! The only job to do is to be ready to keep steering them back onto the paper, and to judge that perfect moment to end the activity. Andrew & I had a routine for the ending of this particular activity – it was warranted, it is very messy – he would run a bath when I placed B on the paper, and have it ready so I could pick her up and go straight there with her when we finished (at arms length if possible!).
  • Daytime baths are contained (on the whole), and easy to organise. We have a whole box of toys suitable to go in the bath but mine are equally happy with measuring spoons, plastic jugs, whisks, empty bottles and will pour, empty and fill for some time. Bubbles in the bath are a change – though with eczema aren’t helpful, we have also used blowing bubbles while in the bath which has worked but was tricky in that it was very exciting and so it was difficult to keep them sitting safely in the bath. Many dolls can be washed in the bath, barbies can go swimming, lego boats & houses on stilts are fun, and plastic toy animals are great too.
  • Cooking either real baking (which has the advantage of being edible, lick-out-able) or the indoor equivalent of potion making or mud pies with a few rationed basic ingredients like flour, semolina, rice etc. and some cake cases in a tin – to be honest it’s been a while since we encouraged that, T is very happy with the tub of baking beans and cake cases which is far less mess & waste.
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early baking with Nanny

  • sensory tray – an idea that came out of desperation I think, but we have a fairly deep sided large-ish wooden tray, and when B was little couscous rice, and lentils would get poured into it. sometimes she sat in it and enjoyed the feel of it on bare feet and hands. Other times I put cars or plastic animals in, or big spoons for scooping, or plastic garden tools which made good patterns and noises against the grains as well as scooping.
  • playdough goes without saying, it is great for calming, ordering, creative play. When you make your own playdough you can colour as you want, or can add scent, or even glitter. I use the cooked playdough method mostly (which is incidently good stress relief for me too, requiring plenty of hard going stirring as it heats), and when it has cooled enough the kids love kneading it till it’s glossy – it’s cosy warm and pliable.
  • 2015-12-07 23.04.49making sensory jars to use in a calming down space or that will fit into a handbag to come out & about with us is a lovely activity in itself. The treasure hunting for things to hide in it, the funnel and pouring of sand and glitter and the designing of the labels and ‘I Spy’ tag.
  • washing up – only carefully selected items not the whole family’s dishes after a meal, and with eczema not very often either! But it is well loved, and has a social element which many of the others don’t need to. This does need someone involved to dry up and keep the supply of safe items to wash.
  • marbles another quite by accident discovery when B was small, we found that marbles spin gently around a large wooden plate we have, making a beautiful noise, and satisfyingly gradually making their way to the centre. We have a marble run too, which is much noisier (a much more rattling noise) but sometimes that is just the thing.

What else do you find yourself reaching for? What do yours find calming & enriching?

 

THE goodnight prayer!

We have always tried to pray with our 3 before bed, right from the beginning, and have gradually encouraged them to join in and pray out loud too. Quite early on we discovered the need for a definite ending prayer that would unequivocally signal the end of prayer and the need to settle down to sleep. And so it came about that THE goodnight prayer came into being, a rather jumbled paraphrase of the blessing in Numbers… the first time we used it was from memory and from then on it has had to be the same!

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

(Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

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“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you His peace” – our rather imperfect version!

We found that when she was young B developed an elaborate set way of praying which did not change in structure, though over the years new names have been added in. It ended in her own unique way ‘… look after the whole world, the whole universe and you God. Amen. Now the goodnight prayer Mummy/Daddy…’

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Similarly with A prayer took on a structured pattern early on. The pattern has changed, and has been shaped by trying new ways of praying, and new questions to ask as we pray together. Most recently it has been influenced by the Ignation Examen idea of reflecting on the blessings of the day and recognizing God’s presence throughout the day.

With T we have she hasn’t easily adopted the goodnight prayer we use with the other 2. In fact on the whole she is rather resistant to praying before sleep! There are plenty of other times in the day when this isn’t the case so it’s not felt like a panic, but there is something significant, important about praying over them just before sleep, handing them over to God’s care while they rest. Also bedtime is the time for anxieties and stresses to get in the way of rest – prayer is vital, and I would love it if we found a way to help her to join in.

‘I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.’

(Psalm 4:8 CEV)

We had a difficult time getting T to sleep again last night. There were real and paralyzing worries about dying and never seeing Panda & Pandy again, or me dying or of me left behind if she dies. We needed to pray out loud together and find the peace and reassurance God can give. And it suddenly came to me (I’m sure because we had spent the weekend with my Mum, and it had stirred in my subconscious) that she would relate to the goodnight prayer of my childhood, that my Mum or Dad would sing to me, or with me before sleep. She loves songs – it’s how she naturally talks to God such a lot of the time. So I asked if I could sing the goodnight prayer I always had at bedtime when I was little, when I was upset or scared. She agreed! So then I had to sing – it came flooding back as clear as if I was a child again, as I held her and prayed over her for God’s peace and protection. She liked it so much I think I sang it through about ten times! We may have found her goodnight prayer!

Lord keep me safe this night,

secure from all my fears.

May angels guard me as I sleep

till morning light appears.

How do you pray at bedtime? Is there a special goodnight prayer you use?

it’s not fair

One of our chickens died on Palm Sunday. Milky Way was friendly, came to see us whenever we went out in the garden. She let us stroke her, and didn’t even mind being picked up. The other chickens don’t seem to be concerned at all, but we miss her, T especially.

‘why did she have to die Mummy?’ ‘why did her body stop working properly?’ ‘why did she die?’ ‘why couldn’t we make her better?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why did it have to be Milky Way, she’s the friendly one?’ ‘why did it happen?’ ‘it’s made me too sad’ ‘why can’t I stop crying?’ ‘why did she die now Mummy?’ ‘will I ever stop crying?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why couldn’t you stop it?’ ‘why did she die?’…

The sobbing and questions have been intense, and for the first couple of days nearly relentless. All I could do was hold her and reassure her that sadness and crying are one of the normal human ways of reacting when a person or a pet dies. We talked together about how happy and content she had been in the last few days, how she had been safe and had everything she needed; how she had just peacefully rested, and had died while she was asleep. I reassured her over and over that she wouldn’t cry forever, she would probably also remember good happy memories of her playing with Milky Way that would make her smile while she remembered them and that would be okay too.

‘Why did God think it was the right time for her to die?’ ‘why did God think she needed a really long rest?’ ‘did God forget that she was my friendly chicken?’

sparrow

I agreed: ‘it doesn’t feel fair does it, but I know God loves everything he’s made. He knows and loves Milky Way and because he loves her he will have done what she needed the most, what is best even if that doesn’t feel fair to us.’

This week we are travelling to my Mum’s for my Granny’s funeral. She died peacefully before Easter. I am fully expecting some of the same questions, though at the moment it is a very matter of fact response. But we didn’t see Great Granny B everyday, it may well be that at the times when we all get together as extended family it will hit us hard when she is not there too.

I have put together a social story about the funeral. If it’s useful please download here. I am going to cut each strip out, and put the story in order with T which will give us a chance to read the story and talk about each part. We can then glue it onto coloured paper, hole punch and tie with a ribbon and she can bring it with her. We have also found pictures of the church online and looked at where it is, and what it will look like. I have the basic order of service and know which songs we are singing and who is doing which parts. My Mum has asked the children to draw a picture of Great Granny B to bring with them, which has made us talk about lovely memories of time together with her. And of course we have planned what they will all feel comfortable wearing.

As usual I will have a ‘bag of tricks’ with me. Plenty of fiddle toys, calming sensory toys, and some small play sets (I have two boxes of little toys & small sized books that are really only played with when we are away from the house. It really helps that they are ‘new’ when I bring them out!) a cuddly, and one of the really familiar favourites. Snacks and drinks can come along too.

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The lovely Great Granny B 1921 – 2017

 

 

circus skills

Well it’s been quite a week. School holidays have fallen before Easter week so we have been juggling, simultaneously trying to help everyone get some ‘rest’, finish the preparation for the Easter events at church (Andrew has still been at work this week), get the house ready enough for visitors and gently tackle the inevitable mound of homework and negotiating all this around the general life of the vicarage.

Rest

Rest has looked like less pressured mornings, some TV & breakfasts in bed quickly organised and fetched for others (which has meant a bit longer dozing for me), less rushing and urging to get dressed by a certain time; the usual bedtime routines but actually as we’ve got nearer the end of the week we have even had a couple of nights where everyone has been asleep between 1 & 6am!!

20170403_161544Extended imaginary play , left out to come back to again and again, spilling out of bedrooms downstairs & out into the garden.

A family outing with picnic, and ice-creams! (and spotting deer!)

The garden – a new flower bed is underway and I have had a little more time than usual… and of course have also had ‘little helpers’!

Time to get lost in Sims, Minecraft, the latest TV shows of choice, some good books, music.

Facilitating rest for everyone has also meant feeling like a Ringmaster holding back lions in one hand and horse whispering with the other whilst cheering on the clowns and keeping a keen eye on tightrope walkers.

Preparation & work

This has been a balancing act as always.

It has meant sometimes trying to mute the noisy play or lead it out into the garden whilst meetings happen – inevitably it seems to be the one moment no-one wants to watch something, or run madly in the garden, or bounce on the trampoline. And I end up feeling like a Band master with a very unruly set of musicians each with their own music and very prone to falling out with each other and with me – loudly!

It has also looked like sitting in the sunny kitchen with a cuppa making salt dough crosses with T (a horse whispering move and also a job on my to do list) and breathing, and chatting with neighbours who popped over and joined in.

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It has looked like laughing with B as we found space to paint some over sized palm leaves that Andrew needs for the Palm Sunday service tomorrow – and relief that we got them done in time between us.

It has meant typing away late at night, sitting in the dark waiting for B to get to sleep. trying to piece together the thoughts and plans that have come to me or been consolidated in my mind during the day in the bustle and noise.

It has also looked like this plaintive note that I found on my desk this morning after I had tried to grab some work time while everyone seemed settled for a minute:

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So it also looked like slightly reluctant, anxious about my prep, guilt ridden playing with the sand pit this afternoon, and finding lots of amazing creepy crawlies to observe, including massive worms, and a beetle stuck on its back, and things with so many legs (and so fast) we couldn’t count them all.

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House & Homework 

Some of this is easy enough, and my shadows this week have been happy and able to help with some. Washing has been tackled, and in some ways is easier with good weather – hanging out on the line is something T loves to help with at the moment.

Cleaning bathrooms though has been interesting. Standing on a chair cleaning around the blind explaining over and over to a more and more frustrated T why the chemical cleaners I’m using to prevent mold are things she can’t use, which means she can’t help, and how she couldn’t reach where it needs to go. Conversations like that quickly become 2016-05-04 09.32.38an intense cycle that it is very hard to get out of without meltdown, she gets locked in, focused on the one thing she is desperate to do. So it became a bit like practicing difficult acrobatics whilst being a lawyer defending myself, and at the same time being thrown at, pulled at, tugged at and poked.

Tidying T’s bedroom enough to be safe has had to be stealthily and silently attempted once she’s been asleep, little by little, carefully choosing which items I suspect ‘can’t be touched’ or moved that are still placed in the game, and those that appear to have been dropped or thrown out to find the next precious thing to be placed in the game – those I can put away! The silent mime artist.

Some homework has been done. Still more to go, and I’m on the wire keeping the balance between the desperate need for rest and the anxiety avalanche that will come if it all needs tackling under time pressure nearer the end of the holiday.

It feels as though I didn’t succeed in much today, other than being the grumpy stressed out baddie in the panto (will have to change the metaphor here, I don’t know who would have that role in the circus ring!). Despite the week’s restful opportunities it’s been so tiring and full on, and I have found it difficult to find that today was another day of clingy-ness and angst when it really did also need to be a day to tick some things off the to-do list…

However, T’s maths challenge for the hols (an Easter code cracking hunt) was craftily supported seamlessly as I moved around the house cleaning out guinea pigs, getting them out for some fresh air, and getting them back in to a freshly cleaned hutch… I don’t think T even noticed me achieving both – the illusionist! – so maybe it wasn’t all bad today, maybe when I’ve had some space to slow the pace and process all of the day I’ll see more was done than it feels like. And perhaps the things that didn’t get done that were on my list weren’t as important as the things we did instead? which leaves me (at ten to midnight, having just said goodnight, finally, to B) also wondering what God may have been nudging me to notice or learn about today that my frustrations and anxieties were getting in the way of.

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lost in the garden

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‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have no emotions or conflict,’ said Freud

Spring is definitely here! I am back out in the garden, finally. Any chance I get!

I love the escape of the garden, the straight forwardness of it’s demands and needs – at the moment, the weeds! I love the creativity of arranging (and rearranging) and the satisfaction of watching things grow and flower.

I got into gardening as a self found therapy. The year we got married I was recovering fairly slowly from glandular fever which had knocked me for six, and left me with clinical depression (there isn’t another kind, but many use the word to mean feeling low, and it wasn’t that). The house we moved into after the wedding was a new house to the landlord, a pretty Victorian terrace house opening straight onto the street, and the long thin garden at the back was ‘full of potential’ with a beautiful large tree and hidden under weeds and brambles there were (I was later to discover) some flower beds.

While Andrew was at college, I got out there whenever I could as soon as I was physically up to it… short visits at first, then gradually I found myself getting lost out there working methodically, very slowly but surely clearing and planting, clearing and planting.

‘Perhaps the most unexpected potential benefit of getting your hands dirty, however, comes from researchers at the University of Bristol, who reported that bacteria commonly found living in soil may have a positive effect on our mood’. James Wong.

I have found many articles and essays on the benefits of gardening for mental health, for stress relief, and for physical recovery. One I read recently suggested 10 benefits:

  • sense of responsibility
  • reminds us we are nurturers
  • connects us to living things
  • helps us relax
  • releases happy chemicals
  • reminds us to be present in the moment
  • immerses us in the cycle of life, helping us to work through anxieties about death
  • plenty of room for venting anger and stress
  • gardening is easy

(from an article for Psychology Today, by Sarah Rayner)

I have not read much in these articles about drawing close to God, or being reminded of the beauty of creation or of the care he takes over the smallest of parts of his creation. But I find it fairly impossible to ignore! And the very action of gardening; tending, nurturing, freeing the swamped or vulnerable, feeding, watering, hoping, both rejoicing and bearing disappointments – all of these aspects of gardening are parts of God’s heart and actions towards his creation. Gardening doesn’t just cultivate the plants it probably cultivates the gardener too, as we learn and practice these attitudes and as we participate in the care of God’s world.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Mt 6:26 NIV)

One part of the garden here that I have been working on is a hidden away patch that I discovered whilst clearing brambles last year. I have cleared a path to this little clearing between the shrubs and trees and arranged the stumps and logs we unearthed there under the ivy. It is becoming our ‘fairy garden’ – a hidden play space just big enough for a couple of littlies. I am still clearing the hard to get rid of weeds; the docks, brambles & ivy – and a few of the shrubs and wild roses that seem to be of the belief that it’s their space!

But this year we have already done a bit more planting, and some fairy houses have moved in – and (when there aren’t too many bees buzzing near by) it is becoming that play space I hope it can be as the houses and bits & bobs that I am making get rearranged and fairies are imagined there. Shells and nuts, twigs and feathers are being collected and transformed into plates, chairs, canopies…