planning for holidays

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The summer holidays are nearly here!!!

(I say, half excited half terrified!)

It’s altogether a little bit overwhelming at the moment for the Porter family. The heat has been incredibly intense for us – keeping cool in hot weather brings with it particular sensory challenges. Noisy fans, different from usual clothes, sun cream, extreme brightness, open windows (noise we don’t usually hear in the house, insects coming in)… Of course it also gives us sensory opportunities to enjoy – I have written before about some of our favourite hot weather sensory activities – and we also discovered ‘skidding ice cubes with kittens’ this week too.

We are also near the end of term so there are lots of extras going on, each an exciting new challenge which is tiring for all of us. And there are more in the next week too – services, concerts, parties and BBQ’s.

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Do you like to plan ahead for school holidays, or do you prefer the freedom to be spontaneous? I am so looking forward to the pressure of the school mornings being lifted, but I do not like the thought of no routine at all – if I feel we need a day without any structure at all it has to be planned ahead for! And we call it a pj day – then it has expectations and routines all of its own! The first three weeks we have planned for us: the church holiday club (all of us involved either as leaders, young leaders or part of a group), then straight to New Wine summer conference followed by holiday in our usual campsite. Each of those weeks has their own order and lists, usual things to pack, play and do.

When we get back we have some time based at home, Andrew will be back at work and I will be balancing our need for ‘down time’ – lots of time for special interests; family together time – maybe a familiar outing or two; get together with friends; and getting us prepared for a new term – lots of questions, worries, fact finding and getting used to new uniform (not to mention the dreaded shoe shopping!).

I usually find it helpful to have ‘ready to go’ crafts, and games all to hand before the lack of routine (and anxiety) makes it almost impossible to plan and prepare anything.

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Here are some of my favourite go-to sites:

I love the ideas and printables on RedTedArt – great ideas for activities and crafts with everyday things, bookmarks and models to print and make.

A lovely list of (mostly) no prep outdoor ideas with notimeforflashcards

Always lots of new fun meaningful ideas with flamecreativekids

I will be busy collecting ideas I find on one of my pinterest boards

 

 

 

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counting chickenpox

Ah well, what would a half term holiday be without chickenpox! I don’t know what we would have done without the constant need to count spots (‘pox’ as T prefers to call them), the application of creams and lotions, the extra bath times to try and keep the itching manageable – not to mention the all night itching entertainment!

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When A had chickenpox for the second time he was in reception class, and we made a chart and recorded the number of spots everyday and how many of those were new. Then his class teacher would get a phone call with the new numbers each day – a whole class project! Somehow the counting made us feel a little more in control.

 

T had heard this tale told many times so of course a chart had to be drawn up. She went the extra mile and wanted different parts of the body counted separately and recorded to see the spread. Interestingly she saw that it seemed to spread down one whole side of her body and then concentrate on the other side. We have seen how the number of new spots was really big for the first three days and has then (thankfully) subsided getting fewer every day since. Yesterday we ‘let her out’ for the first time since getting to the holiday apartment we are staying in, and we had some fresh air and a short walk to the shop for some more distractions.

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Being kept inside, and not at home with all the usual toys and ‘things to do’ has involved quite a bit of energy and resourcefulness. Baking, drawing, jigsaws, magazines, minecraft, sims, making paper dolls and playing hide and seek with them; making a plastic drink bottle doll using colourful plastic shopping bags to cut clothes out of. People watching from the window, bird counting in the trees near the window. We have made pulley systems to move small vets and their animals up the mountain (stairs) and back… and up and back… We have crocheted little jackets and scarfs for the little family of rabbits she brought with her, and read (and bought more supplies) lots of fairy books. We have taught T how to play happy families, and have had a go at a game we picked up here called ‘WoBally’ which has proved very funny.

Last night as T was yet again very distressed getting off to sleep she was saying in desperation she didn’t even know a big enough number to be able to count her ‘horrible pox’. Swiftly followed by ‘What is the biggest number Mummy?’, so we had a discussion about how no matter what new name for huge numbers we could ever come up with we could always then add 1 more! In our reading last night we were allowed to explore how huge numbers can be and how we cannot even begin to feel in charge when it comes to knowing the grains of sand, or the number of stars in the universe – but that God does! And what’s even more amazing is that the number of times he thinks of us in love and kindness is an even greater number!! What an encouragement..

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Pleased to say she’s on the mend… though she is tired out and the spots are determined to stay itchy as they scab over and heal. So for the last couple of days we are hoping to all get out together to explore, walk by the river, visit a museum and have a film night before we head back home.

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welcome the new year

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Apparently it’s 2018!

Happy New Year!!

Today has been filled with precious last conversations and laughter with family who have been staying, before we all get back to our work & school routines. Followed by hoovering and getting our three back and settled in their own rooms again after a full house and camping beds in every possible place you could imagine.

We all went to church together yesterday in the morning, crammed into 2 rows (there were 15 of us at that point). T was particularly restless, so excited to have all her cousins with her. So one by one all the fidget toys came out of my bag, and the usual pen & paper. I was a little discouraged – the service was of course being led brilliantly by two of our team. It was interactive, accessible, fun – there was nothing T couldn’t join in with, on paper – I find it hard some weeks when she appears to be so distracted. She did enjoy the singing though & it’s always a delight to worship alongside her in song.

A new year seems incredibly daunting don’t you think. All the unknowns and some known challenges on the horizon; GCSE exams at school for B, music grades for A, post 16 choices for B, move up to juniors for T…  Somehow sitting being reminded of trusting God and listening for his voice in every challenge ahead – with a restless, squirming T on & off (& on & off!) on my knee I was deeply aware of just how uphill a year can feel.

But I just wanted to share with you what wriggly T drew in the notebook during the service, because it encouraged me to trust:

She was taking it all in. She was listening for God’s voice in the midst of the busy wriggling, the excitement, the joy, and the frustrations of that service.

We learnt a very apt memory verse during the service, and T jotted down the prompts on the next page of the notebook:

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No! I won’t go!

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No doubt about it, our life is muddly, messy, noisy, untidy, often draining, and requires a heap of hard work! Last week we had a week away together in York. We have stayed in the same holiday rent for a few visits now – things are so much easier when the basics are familiar and we can ‘quickly’ (for us) get into holiday-in-York routines.

Of course, even the best plans aren’t fool proof though, and of course there were hiccups – like forgetting to put T’s camp bed into the car and having to find a new one there. New may look exactly the same but feel completely different, and there was something about this camp bed that meant T fell out of it more than she managed to stay in! Ah well, our double seemed large enough to tuck her into every night.

 

Maybe in part because of the new bed the night before T woke on the Sunday adamant that she could not, would not go to church. We had talked about the church we always go to when we are there, we had remembered together what it looked like, what the services were like, and that last time I had gone out to a group with T so she hadn’t had to be on her own. But despite our best efforts she would not budge.

So everyone else got ready, and went off with Andrew and I stayed with T. Even as they were putting shoes on and chatting about what they might say if someone asked them if they wanted to go out to a youth group T was loudly determined, and anxious. So as the door shut I was clung to – needed for full on reassurance.

After tight squeezy cuddles to bring some calm and a renewed sense of safety we opted for colouring and a cuppa. I had packed the colouring book edition of the Mick Inkpen Bible stories so we got it out and read and chatted as we coloured in together. T was thrilled to be allowed to use my special pens, but I suspect even more thrilled to have my full attention.

What had begun as a challenging and quite frustrating morning – it’s not all that often I get to sit in church with Andrew, and I had been looking forward to it to be honest – began to feel like a very tiny oasis after the busyness of packing and getting away. In that short lived calm and conversation, pondering a Bible story together, I was gently reminded yet again of the truth of ‘God with us’ – in the muddle and the frustration. The true constant in life.

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The calm faded quicker than it had come and we negotiated to a different activity and eventually to a favourite film so I could finally get to the bathroom – after which of course B & A came back with Andrew and it was definitely that ‘lead up to lunchtime’ type of family time!

It was a needed reminder of God’s faithful presence, always ready- no matter what is going on. A family week away is definitely a chance to practice the habit of remembering and turning my attention to God’s presence in the muddle of everyday (and every night!)…

 

admin

 

So, we’ve been back from our camping just over a week now and the dining room is now about a third full of stuff rather than so full you couldn’t get in like it was a week ago. Feels frustratingly slow progress though.

Trouble is I clean, sort, tidy away and then turn around to find other explosions of stuff happening everywhere else! (just this morning A ran over a new bottle of shower gel on the stairs, so I need to add ‘vax the carpet’ to the long to-do-list) Not to mention the explosions of emotion – sibling negotiating, stress from the change in routine, overtired but fighting it, meltdowns and the odd paddy (often ask myself why on earth we need those – this family are just so very talented at full on meltdowns, you know, the ones which are non verbal, aggressive, out of control, last hours, exhausting!).

So with the constant spiraling housework situation, and the constant emotional/behavioral trouble shooting, not so good sleep and a whole church service to prep thrown in it’s been a long week. We also tried a new discipline – a Sabbath time together – last Friday eve through to Saturday lunch. When we have fallen into a pattern I’ll let you know how it’s going.

I’ve also been aware of all the admin that goes with our family life. This week has been particularly busy with it and it brings a very particular tiredness with it.

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There are the forms to fill in for big organisations – for health professionals or DWP which inevitably mean going through a process of putting down in words the hardest bits of our family life – the unseen bits. The negatives, the ‘deficiencies’ (I’d like to see them as differences but to live in the culture we are in these are things that become obstacles in an inflexible system). These forms are asking for evidence, they feel cold, I fill them in feeling I’m having to put my children into a box just as I’m struggling to fit adequate explanations into little boxes on paper. These neat little boxes are an isolated snap shot of a bigger, vibrant picture, but this is not the place for the strengths. It is an emotionally draining process, but the support and opportunities we hope for as we fill them in make it a necessary one.

 

There is research to do – to prepare and resource myself for the academic term ahead. This week I have spent some time reading up anything I can about how to teach exam techniques – is this seemingly instinctive skill (as we seamlessly transfer knowledge we have often learnt from inference over many years of education from the lesson context into the exam room) something that can be broken down into steps or rules that can be taught? What are the ‘rules’ that unlock the meaning of an essay question? How can I teach how to find the question in amongst all the words? Do these questions have a knock on effect on how I need to be supporting the process of learning how to read for meaning while T is still an early reader? I also need to find out how to explain what ‘revision’ might actually look like in practice. How do others do it? What might work for us? Can we find ways we are comfortable with if we really think outside the box. How does B learn best, remember things best? How can I best help her to find a pattern that will be manageable, and how can I best prompt and support her getting into the rhythm of it. And yes, I am aware that my research as I sit waiting for people to settle to sleep is one thing, that hard bit will be sharing what I find out!

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There’s also ongoing admin that gets revisited in the breaks. The visual timetables, the looking for the right visual timetable app (still haven’t found one we’re happy with), the updating of the behaviour agreements which get carefully discussed with each separately and agreed on (including appropriate consequences if we go beyond 3), signed and displayed. We use the 1,2,3 magic style agreements to work on 3 behaviours only at any given time. All other difficult behaviours we try to distract away from and prevent, but the 3 we agree to work on together we try to consistently work on in a ‘zero tolerance’ way till they improve. Really good to see improvements in the ones we had been working on last term… we no longer need ‘hiding the hairbrush’ on the agreement! We also have agreed parental controls limiting the time spent on computers in term time, but these will be looked over nearer the end of the holidays.

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I also want to think about what pattern or book we are going to use next for regular Bible reading and reflection with each of them this coming term and get into a pattern with them. I quite enjoy the way we often need to be creative to make this manageable but the process of choosing the right thing together and enthusing takes time and is a bit fraught at times so I need to begin…

Anyway – it all has to be done… but right now, I’ve been ‘called away’ ( ie: pulled from my chair and demanded) to be the teacher again for T’s dolls Annie and Lucy who happen to be dairy and gluten intolerant, struggle with being left and come with a whole heap of admin of their own!! But it’s ok, I’m meticulously told the script and stage directions as we go so at least I know what I’m doing – it also helps that we’re now a few days into the game so I’m getting the hang of it – and finding I’m having to be corrected slightly less often!!