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?

 

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…

 

 

best laid plans

I had high hopes for yesterday – knowing our need for structure I try to have a list of things to work through. Here’s how that list looked in reality yesterday:

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  • Have a relaxed get up & breakfast

Now this does take some planning, for a while we were in the habit of having breakfast-on-the-go choices & cartons of juice on a tray in the hall for people to come and fetch when they woke up and take back to their own bedrooms. Since T’s arrival that has petered out, and it’s too complicated expecting all three to be content & safe in their own rooms at the same time for even a few minutes. Needless to say one of us now gets up and takes T down for breakfast! Andrew is great at being first up with her on Saturdays, so I got a lie-in and got up at 8am.

Into the mix yesterday A had made croissants from scratch the night before, and they were out of the freezer and rising, ready to be in the oven at 9:30am. By the time they were heading into the oven I was up to my elbows cleaning out guinea-pigs and supervising T holding Bourbon. So the following 20 mins were a little complicated juggling between finishing that job and helping A get hot croissants on the table with steaming cups of hot choc for everyone!! We managed, with a fair amount of hand-washing and constant checking up the stairs when down, and down when up! Sitting down with hot choc and homemade croissants was lovely (that moment ticked the first thing on my list for the day) – as soon as I had put B’s back in the oven to ‘make sure they’re cooked’ (always essential if you are B), got them back out & cooled!

  • Get dressed

Now this is always an achievement! Actually we got dressed more smoothly than I expected, and without meltdown which doesn’t always happen at the weekends when there’s no uniform. There are times when supporting this activity will be all we get done in a morning. Those days it can be such an exhausting activity for all of us that we also need a quiet afternoon with few demands just to recover.

  • Hair brushed, teeth brushed

The least said about this part of my list the better I think…

  • Take T to the library, if time pop in to the Minster to see the Roman mosaics we were talking about this week

This shouldn’t really be just one entry on a to-do list, it’s like facing a mountain climb! First step shoes & coat for T & for me; T refuses to let me help her get her coat down off the peg. Fishing it down through jumping at it with an umbrella took a while, so I hovered nearby to keep an eye on her at the same time as trying to negotiate with A & B whether they were joining us or staying at home. B decided to join us if we could go into a couple of shops too, but wasn’t dressed yet. Next, negotiate with T about waiting for B to come down – gave us time to agree on shoes, and have another attempt at hair & teeth. A decided to stay & finish homework/read in peace…

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B still not downstairs so I persuade T to check that the library books are in their bag – a job done the day before but an instant time filler. She gets busy with the books quickly, counts them a number of times in and out of the bag, then we agree they’re there safe & sound.

B is down, putting shoes on. Then I do hair, and we are ready to go… a quick check in on A & we set off. It’s only a short-ish walk but is long for T. Even at the end of our little road she is in need of distraction. We have a number of go-to distractions at the moment for when we are walking; ‘I spy’ (colours or letters or sounds like); ‘First to spot…’ (if you’re first to spot you get to choose the next thing); counting colours; going on a bear hunt; pretending we’re mountain climbers; finding one…then 2 of something different, then a group of three somethings etc up to ten. T wanted ‘first to spot’, “first to spot the library!” she says …  it felt like a walk that lasted forever!

Library books were chosen and exchanged, two shops were looked in and whinged through, and then to the Minster to see the mosaic tiles. We didn’t stay long. We’re here on a mission, and once we’ve seen them we’re done.

Time to walk the long walk home.

  • lunch 

Everyone wants something different so in the end B takes over, taking orders, putting orders together on trays and delivering trays to ‘hotel rooms’. In the meantime I make a start on the mountain range of washing and some gets hung out, more goes into the machine. Quick check with social media. Lunch over.

  • Tidy the stair baskets/play/homework/plant the next lot of veg seeds

Now I’m not expecting these to be done in order, but they are my hopes for the afternoon, and I have already shared the news with them at breakfast.

As I take lunch trays to the kitchen I remind them each about needing to take their basket upstairs and put things away, T is already lost planning  a wedding with her dolls, A is reading – will do it later, B says homework. Fair enough.

20170311_154937I take a moment to fetch seeds to be planted and get out in the garden to plant. Kale & lettuces in. T calls me in, toilet. Boots & gloves back on. Weeding the next bed ready for carrots & cabbages. T calls me in, wedding invites MUST be written NOW. In again, fetch pens she can’t find. Help with spellings, and tying knots around each scroll like invite. T helps me with the string to mend the trellis for the peas that I brought in & got started with while helping with spelling. Quickly out to do carrots & cabbages while T takes invites to B & A.

“you are welcome to come if you want, you are welcome to not come if you don’t want – yes or no”

20170313_090516T calls me to fetch my invite. B has said no, A will come but only for a bit. We put the pea trellis back in, plant 5 pea seeds. Time for the wedding… I’m in charge of music, A has the ring… painstakingly perfected scenario done and we can go while T gets her babies ready for bed.

  • Tea

Andrew rings, he’s on his way home from a church alpha day. “Can you have B ready when I get in, I spoke to her this morning, we’re taking the trousers back.” B needs walking trousers for Duke of Edinburgh silver award, these are attempt 2, but aren’t right so need to go back. Shop is quite a drive away. This is obviously on Andrew’s to-do-list. I go up to remind, I ask about homework… of course it’s been far too smooth an afternoon for homework to have been a part of it! I wasn’t surprised, but am now mentally calculating how much there still is for us to pack into the evening.

Meat goes in the oven. T needs help doing buttons on babies clothes, and finding the one thing she’s set her heart on one of them wearing but can’t find. Her room is more of a tumble than usual! It takes a huge amount of energy and wisdom to help her describe the dress she ‘needs’ for Annie, and then to help her think about where she had it last. Eventually after lots of distress it is found in the dolls house. Potatoes need peeling, veg out of the freezer.20170301_085411

Washing is ready to be sorted, some in, some out… T is by me, the babies need a babysitter: “Ring the bell, they NEED you NOW, upstairs, I’ve made tea, Annie needs you to put her into bed, Lucy needs to be rocked to sleep. I have chosen stories. Mummy NOW” – “please?” I join them for ‘tea’, and help settle them into bed.

Check in on the potatoes & veg. Cauliflower cheese to the microwave. The phone rings, Andrew & B will be 15 mins. Is tea ready? B is hungry. A comes to see when tea will be, “not too long now”.

Once everyone is back, downstairs & willing to negotiate what they will eat and off what plate, in what chair, with what channel on TV we eat ‘together’.

  • bedtimes/homework

Dishwasher loaded, whilst distract-dancing with T – she is harassing siblings. Then T upstairs, the usual struggles with teeth, toilet, hair – and also tonight the clean pj’s are not right – so that takes us a while. We read stories from the library book bag, and then begin the settling down.

But there’s a spider on B’s sofa!!

Everything becomes ‘spider’ for the next couple of hours. Fear-filled meltdowns, Andrew on the phone unable to come and help; hand held hoover it up, remove from the room; A in with T for comfort; spider crawls out of hoover (aghhh!!!), B beside herself but has to look; spider back in hoover, tissue paper stuff the end – it is a big spider, how can it have survived being hoovered up twice?? – T too upset to settle, comes to join us, wants me but I’m guarding the hoover (needed for B) & she won’t come near; notes are written to Daddy to come quickly & take the hoover outside. Eventually he comes off the phone, and the hoover goes away. But T is nowhere near sleep, A is shattered, B still has homework to finish and needs support to get back into her room to fetch it…..

I could go on! The best laid plans! On paper the day was a simple one, but as usual I head to bed after midnight rather dazed to get as much sleep as I can before I’m called again!

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A change is as good as a rest?

Holiday time!

We have visited family on the south coast, not far from Torquay. It’s been our first visit here… (the thought of which, I must admit, made me feel very anxious and tired in advance of going!)

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Travelling

It was a long journey, we prepared a large bag of snacks, drinks, and each had a bag of distractions. So thankful for an Andrew who willingly drives (I haven’t been able to drive for quite a few years but that’s another story for another blog!), for music, our ancient in-car DVD player; for princesses, cartoons, and colouring; for books and imagination. Also very thankful for baby wipes, child locks for the back doors, for seatbelts, & calmingly snuggly soft toys…

Needless to say, despite all of the above we were relieved to get there! (frustrations and near-meltdowns are very loud and intense in a car) There was a wonderful welcome & cup of tea (the joys of visiting family), swiftly followed by a very very bracing walk along the beach front before supper – much needed!

Activities & outings

We were only a couple of minutes away from the beach so we had a number of walks there, shell collecting, a visit to the pier, and the play-park.

Before we went we had looked at what places we might visit & had planned and prepared for a visit to the zoo (carefully looking at the website, all the animals’ pictures, the map, the type of food available etc) so that was a whole day – quite an achievement for us – so often a day out is only sustainable for a couple of hours.

There was an afternoon visit to the nearby model village, which I remember visiting as a child. There was a trail to follow with particular characters to find on the way round which helped a great deal (apart from the difficulty of some of them not being in the same place as they were in the photo, or the one not quite matching the colours of the printing… distract, distract, distract!!)

We spent another afternoon exploring Torquay just a little; a girls outing choosing & trying on clothes (only possible because of Aunty M… don’t think I’ve ever managed that!), and a boys adventure in a big book shop and meeting up for coffee.

Food

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I always feel guilty staying with people, even relatives who I’m sure love us & accept us – we’re just not at all straight forward or easy around food! I always worry about offending our hosts when food is refused, or pushed around the plate. And it’s impossible not to feel stressed out by the stressy behaviour we routinely have around the meal table, watching it being endured by others!! But that said, the food was amazing as always, and apart from the above hiccups I think our hosts will recover given a rest! (…and hopefully we’ll be allowed back again! It’s simply an amazing gift to us that we are cooked for & tidied up after – it means we can both get a bit of a breather from the norm.)

It was just warm enough for picnics (all layered up and in hats) on our days out. Never easy but marginally easier than finding nothing that can be eaten happily in a restaurant/cafe or worse, finding that the food that’s usually acceptable is imperceptibly but very definitely different (meaning wrong). We coped ok at the model village despite a dog at the next picnic table, but the zoo visit was a tricky one – understandably really once a seagull had landed on my head (thank you God; don’t think we’d have coped if it had been anyone elses!) & stolen my sandwich!!  Let’s just say anxieties were running extremely high, for a while we tried Andrew standing guard but in the end we had to pack up & go and find an indoor spot (difficult in other ways, noisy and a funny smell – but the reminder of seagulls kept us there long enough to eat just enough – and we got a hot drink into the bargain!).

Sleep

…there’s really nothing to say… holidays don’t come with sleep in our family… there is always far less than usual… we had T in our room (that should say bed really) with us, the other 2 in their own spaces. But with a different routine, in a different place, with different smells and sounds sleep doesn’t come easily (even with melatonin, there’s just too much adrenaline) and when it does it’s always much more restless whenever we are away.

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So, now we are home again… the washing machine is on permanently, collected shells are drying (outside, they smell more of the beach than a walk on the beach does!) and being back in routine is just within sight… can’t wait, I’m shattered!