My newest post can be found at Bee Line Consulting.  I was given the wonderful privilege and opportunity to write a guest post there.  If you're looking for new ways to engage your child with Practical Life activities, you don't want to miss this post filled with a ton of great ideas.  Click on the link below.  Enjoy!

Meeting Special Needs in a Montessori Classroom

This month I had the privilege of writing a guest post for Montessori Nature.  I am so thrilled with how it turned out.  If you have not read it yet, you are missing out.  This post is for any who are using Montessori with special needs children, or who may be considering the possibility of doing so.  Not only does the post give great tips but also shares some of our own personal experiences with Montessori and our own special needs kiddos.  Click the link below to read. Enjoy!

12 Months of Family Service Projects

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This school year, our family has set a goal to do one service project a month.  Since we homeschool year round, this means 12 projects.  Most planning, preparation, and execution will take place during Family Home Evenings.  Since Family Home Evenings are on Sunday nights this year, due to activities, we may need to purchase materials and supplies on Saturdays while running errands, but I'm hoping it will all work out.  When service projects require delivering items to destinations in our neighborhood, we'll set aside a special time to make that happen.

I am so excited about this new family goal.  Service is such a great way to stop thinking about one's self, circumstances, and challenges.  It's a great way to develop gratitude.  When children participate in service projects they start to become more aware of the needs of those around them.  They learn more about loving others and the importance of kindness.  For my special needs kiddos, it's a great way to help them get out of their own heads and spaces to socialize with others in positive ways. It's my hope that if I can teach them to serve others, they're more apt to be aware of the needs of others around them when they're older.  It will be just something we do, without effort.

Choosing service projects that would work for our family was quite a challenge. I enlisted the help of my fellow bloggers to come up with the perfect list.  Let me just say, it's fantastic!  We will be helping so many others this year in so many different ways.  Some of the projects will require us to enlist the help of friends, neighbors, and extended family, which I'm thrilled about.  I'm hoping others will be excited to join us in our effort to really make a difference.

Here's what we're going to attempt!
September

Our family will hand out flyers as we go for one of our afternoon walks.  Then on the selected date, we'll collect nonperishable goods.  I'm a little nervous about how many neighbors will participate, but I'm hoping our efforts will be successful.  We'll then deliver the food to a local food pantry.

October
Survival Kit for Police from Gifts You Can Make

Police officers are not looked upon in the most loving ways right now.  I thought it would be great for our family to show those who serve and protect us, just how grateful we are.  This is such a simple and adorable idea.  All of the items are candy, so what's not to like?

November
3.  Kids' Letters to Troops from Cutting Tiny Bites

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought we'd write letters to soldiers.  I'm a bit nervous about this activity just because I know how much the kiddos dislike writing.  Hopefully they'll go along with it if presented well, especially if they can draw and color pictures.

December

This is not a new service project for us.  It's one we do every year.  The kiddos LOVE spending a week baking and then delivering yummy treats to all the neighbors and select community helpers.

January
5.  Birthday Boxes from I Can Teach My Child

The idea of birthday boxes is so brilliant and kid friendly.  I know my kiddos will LOVE putting the boxes together, personalizing each one.  It's the perfect project for the start of a new year.  We may invite others to participate in this project with us.

February

We may not use the exact smiley face figures used in this post, but the idea will be the same.  This project will work perfect around Valentine's Day, especially for those who are feeling a little unloved.

March

My kiddos love meal planning, grocery shopping, and anything that has to do with desserts.  Why not share their favorite things with others who need them?  I'm not sure how many dinner baskets we'll make, but no matter how many, it will still be a ton of fun!

April

Each day one of the kiddos has the chore of picking up litter in our front yard.  I'm always amazed by how much litter is out there.  In April, in honor of Earth Day, we'll expand beyond our front yard and see just how beautiful we can help our neighborhood become.

May

I LOVE the book Miss Rumphius!  When I saw this idea, I just knew we had to do it.  Who doesn't like to be surprised by a flower gently placed somewhere they're sure to see?  Though we won't see the smiles of those who find the flowers, I know that the service project will be successful.

June
Project Night Night

When I read about this service opportunity, I cried.  Tears would not stop streaming down my cheeks.  As a family who did foster care and respite for 4 years, we know first hand what those first nights away from home are like for little ones in care.  The same is true of those in shelters.

This project is a BIG undertaking.  We will most definitely be asking others to help, so that we can create as many bags as possible.  Even though it may cost a little more than other service projects we've selected, I know the kiddos will have so much fun putting the bags together, picking out books, blankets, and stuffed animals.  It's as kid friendly as it gets!
  
July

A year's worth of service projects wouldn't be complete without including service for animals.  We always seem to have an abundance of stained clothes that are too small. Why not recycle them and turn them into the perfect toy for dogs in local shelters?  I'm excited to teach the kiddos how to braid in the process.

August
12.  Give Back to the Neighbors with a Coke Stand in the Yard from Raising Lifelong Learners

This week has been EXTREMELY hot.  There have been so many times when an ice cold drink would be the perfect remedy.  We probably won't be handing out Coca Cola, but cans of ice cold lemonade will be perfect!  This service project is so simple, yet such a great idea in the summer heat!

I can't wait to get started on all of our service plans for the year!  It should be an amazing experience for our entire family that will be with us for years to come.  If it's as successful as I think it will be, I'm guessing we'll be doing this for years to come.

For more fabulous family service ideas, be sure to visit my Family Service Projects Pinterest Board!

 Service is a subject that is so near and dear to my heart!  I would love to hear about other ways your family has served others around you!

Schedules & Routines for 2015-1016 School Year (Learn & Play Link Up)

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Our plan was to start our new school year July 1st, 2015.  We did start for a week or two, and then we took another break.  Summer has been so much fun this year with the kiddos being old enough to enjoy so many different activities.  I didn't want them to miss out on anything, so that meant streamlining our summer learning time plans.  The kiddos did follow a basic morning routine, ate breakfast and did their morning work.  They took science classes at the library.  Princes, Sunshine, and Bulldozer took gymnastics all summer. Dinomite took swimming and horseback riding lessons.  We swam at least once a week.  We went to the drive-in, water park, and so many other places as a family.  It was wonderful.  And now our summer must officially come to an end.  We can delay our school year no longer.

Jason and I have been discussing our school year routine for months.  You'll definitely note a few changes from last year.  And for those already wondering, our wake up time is not one of the changes.  We've enjoyed late nights and sleeping in with the kiddos this summer, but have found it IMPOSSIBLE to get anything done around here.  Plus, we REALLY like our alone time without kiddos in the morning.  It might be different if they'd go to bed on their own, but they won't.  So, both of us (Jason and I) are elated to get back to our early morning routine!

Some changes you WILL see:

1.  Each kiddo is participating in two weekly extra curricular activities during the school year.  (I don't count piano lessons because I teach them at home.)  Dinomite is continuing swimming lessons.  His horseback riding lessons end October 1st.  At that point he'll choose another activity.  Bulldozer is continuing with gymnastics and taking tennis lessons.  Princess is starting Kung Fu and will continue with gymnastics.  Sunshine will also participate in gymnastics.  When we feel she's ready to add a second extra curricular activity we'll do so.

2.  We've added nightly family centered evening activities to our schedule.  Family Home Evening, will now be held on Sunday nights, due to Princess' gymnastics on Monday.  Tuesday will be our Family Bowling Night.  A local bowling alley hosts a $2 Tuesday deal ($1 per game and $1 for shoes), which makes this quite affordable.  Bulldozer really wanted to be sure to continue bowling.  This option was cheaper than signing him up for a league.  Wednesday nights will be our library night.  The kiddos love checking out new books and movies.  Thursday is our Family Game Night.  I'm so excited the kiddos are finally getting into board games.  Friday night is our Family Movie Night.  It seems to be the best night to catch movies that are already playing on TV. If we don't see something we'll like, then we're sure to pick up a new movie at the library or movie rental store.  If other plans come up on a Friday night, we just move our movie night to Saturday and it's no big deal.

3.  The kiddos have daily chores!  We started this at the beginning of the summer and it's gone so well.  First I gave each of them just one, then we progressed to two.  I'm almost ready to add a third chore.  The chores rotate weekly.  The pairings go as follows:  bring down dirty laundry and fold napkins, sort recyclables into their bins and pick up yard, put DVDs away and sort clean laundry, and last, sort shoes into their bins and sort and match up socks.  I wanted to be sure that even Sunshine could accomplish each task with minimal assistance.

As far as religious activities go, the kiddos gather in our room each morning and evening for family prayer.  Scriptures are read during dinner, so the kiddos are more apt to pay attention.  Family Home Evening is now on Sunday nights, which works out better, because Sunday tends to be my baking day.  The kiddos LOVE this.

The only time I use to work on learning time printables and blogging is first thing in the morning and during the kiddos' media time.  I can not wait to get back to this schedule.  It's amazing what one can accomplish in the quiet hours of the morning with no distractions.

As I've said in the past, our weekly schedule is always the goal.  Sometimes we're behind. Sometimes we're ahead.  It depends on so many factors.  I don't own a watch.  Checking the clock is something I do very rarely.  When it comes to choosing work over 8 hours of sleep, 99% of the time I choose sleep!
(click HERE to view PDF version)

Breaking down our daily routine, I thought I'd go into a little more detail about our learning time routines.  At this point, the kiddos do an amazing job working independently.  They may need some assistance, but have come so far compared to where they were when we started our homeschool journey.  When the kiddos are finished with their morning chores, they immediately go into the learning time room and start an activity on the shelves or their morning work.  They continue to do this until about 11:30 AM when we put our work away and gather together for instruction time, songs, and calendar.  With so many activities on our shelves now, it's impossible to give instructions on all of them one day a week, like we'd been doing in the past.  Instead we divide instructions into four parts:  core subjects, the arts, therapy activities, and tot school activities for Sunshine.  Core subjects are introduced on Mondays and put on the shelves for Tuesdays.  Art and music activities are presented on Tuesdays and placed on the shelves for Wednesdays.  Therapy activities are presented on Wednesdays and placed on the shelves for work on Thursdays.  Sunshine's activities are presented on Thursdays for work on Fridays.

I decided to design our calendar around our monthly themes this year.  Be sure to check back each month for a new printable!  This month's FREE Universe Calendar Printable is available below.  All months are included in the printable, so you can use the universe theme any time of year you'd like.  After instruction, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, go over the date, talk about upcoming events, and recite a scripture or Article of Faith.  From there we head to the table for prayer, lunch and read aloud time.

Source:  For your free copy of the Universe Calendar Printable, click HERE.  

I'm so excited about this year, especially with my husband home to help out.  Things should run so much smoother.  If you're following this year's syllabus, you'll notice we're quite behind with our extra summer break.  Be rest assured, we'll still be covering everything there.  Weekly themes related to Disney World will be done in the form of busy bags for our trip as well as in the form of visual schedules etc.  The monthly unit, "I Can Stay Safe in My Community" will be presented over the course of a few weeks during Family Home Evenings.  I'll be sure to share all the printables and activities I create!  

For more details about our family's routines and schedules, you can check out last year's post!  

If you're online at 4:30 AM, be sure to look for me starting next week!

I'm super excited to feature a few other posts about routines and schedules, for those who are looking for ideas.  Every home and family in these features is very different.  You're missing out if you don't visit them all. 
Calendar Time:  Back to School Set Up from Tiny Tots Adventures

A Week in the Life of Unschoolers from Unschooling Blog


Learn & Play Link Up Every Thursday


Now it’s time for this week’s link party! This new link up is for all blog posts that include learn and play activities and hands-on education for kids. We are excited to read your blog posts and to see what you have to share! Please link up below and grab our button to display on your blog.
If you are a blogger, share your family friendly posts here. We are looking for things which include:
  • Montessori Education
  • Homeschool
  • Sensory Play
  • Tot and Preschool Trays
  • Fine and Gross Motor Activities
  • Kids in the Kitchen
  • Healthy Recipes for Kids
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Natural Living
  • Free Educational Printables
  • Family-Oriented Activities
  • Healthy Living
Your post will be shown on each host’s blog where we will individually pick features every other week. That means there is more of a chance that you will be featured!
Everyone, please meet our link party hosts:
learn and play party hostesses
Guidelines for Linking:
  • Please link up 1-3 posts
  • Follow each of the hosts on social media
  • When you link up, please add our button and place it at the bottom of your shared posts or link back with text link.
  • By entering a link, you’re giving us permission to feature an image on our blogs. Proper credit & links will ALWAYS be given.
  • Please visit a couple of shared posts and leave a comment for them
  • Remember that you must link back in order to be featured
Christian Montessori Network


Our Montessori Classroom

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I have waited three years to give our learning time room a makeover. Originally, the room was my music studio.  It was painted a deep red to invoke emotion and passion while playing the piano, singing, and teaching.  I accented with black, beige, and just a hint of brown.  It was the perfect music studio.  Then...

We made the decision to homeschool.  You can read all about that HERE.  We tried having our classroom in one area of the living room.  It worked well, until we decided to go the Montessori route.  Then, it didn't work at all.  I moved our classroom to the dining room.  This worked okay, but I quickly started running out of room.  All of my materials were being stored upstairs.  This was such a pain when I was putting units together, or trying to put things away.  I ended up making more messes than anything else.

Eventually, I decided to surrender my music studio for our learning time room.  The piano now sits in our dining room.  All of my music books are packed in our attic.  My black music book shelf became one of our Montessori shelves, and now stores photo albums and Jason's and my book collection.  We moved all of our learning time materials, shelves, table and chairs into the deep red room.   There, we've remained with the best of intentions to paint, fix things up, etc.  

When I was invited to participate in the 12 Months of Montessori Learning Series back in December, I was thrilled about August's theme.  It was great incentive to finally create a learning time space that actually encouraged the learning process.  The best part was that my husband was completely supportive and on board with the project.  I think he had heard me complain about the learning time room one too many times.  Lol.  In May we began the process.

I knew that in order to create a successful learning environment I would need to involve the three older kiddos in every aspect of the planning, preparation, and action.  This would ensure a positive transition experience and an environment that would be pleasing to everyone's senses.

I presented the kiddos with three color scheme choices, using Pottery Barn magazines.  (I LOVE Pottery Barn!)

Choice 1:  Gray or cream walls with red, orange and black accents.  

Choice 2:  Cream or light yellow walls with navy blue, white & yellow accents.

Choice 3:  Light teal walls with accents of white, navy blue and a darker teal.
After much debate and discussion of wall colors the kiddos decided they liked Choice #3 the best.  I just may use Choice #1 when I redo our kitchen and Choice #2 when I give our living room a needed makeover.

The next step was moving EVERYTHING out of the learning time room to prepare for painting.  I was thrilled to find a teal paint that would look great against the blue walls in our living room, which is the room adjacent.  Then, we went to work!

I wanted to make sure that all of the kiddos could help paint.  Our local paint store had Dynamic Enviro Rollers HM005822 Mini Roller with Handle, 4-Inch, which were the perfect size for little hands.  This was the ultimate practical life activity!  The kiddos were given a lesson in painting, and then given a wall to paint.  They started in the closet, which had never been painted in the 8 years we've lived in this home.  Jason and I supervised.  In the end, the kiddos painted the entire closet and one wall of the actual room.  I know they'll be helping us paint many more rooms in the future.

Next came the sorting process.  There was so much STUFF in our learning time room closet.  Some of it we use all the time.  Other materials I'd only used once.  It took two weeks to sort through and organize everything, but it was so worth it in the end.  My goal was NOT to buy any new storage items, but to make use of the space we already have.  Where there wasn't enough room, I needed to downsize.  Materials that go along with holiday units I put in our decoration bins in the attic.  Other materials that are specific to our body, sports, ocean, astronomy units, etc. I organized in shoe boxes, and placed in a bin in the attic.  I'll be able to access the materials when I need them, but when I don't, they won't be taking up space. 
Then came organizing the materials we use on a weekly basis.  Starting with the picture in the top left corner, moving clockwise in the collage above, here's what I did.  There are two sets of shelves in our dining room.  These shelves are home to puzzles, games, play dough with accessories, etc.  All of these activities usually take place in the dining room at the table.  The upper shelves were used for storage of photo albums and books that belonged to Jason and I.  Books and photo albums were moved upstairs and the top shelves have become home to everyday learning materials.  Large bins store our non animal Safari Toob collections, musical instruments, colored sand, and misc. materials.  Other containers are home to glass beads divided by color, clothespins, feathers, cotton balls, colored pencils, and cotton balls.

The white book shelf is the only storage left in our learning time room.  It is home to all of our Montessori materials, Bob Books, pony beads sorted by color, etc.  This book shelf of materials is located in the closet.

In our living room we have the small storage system from Pottery Barn Kids.  Some of Princess' learning activities are stored in the cubbies.  Above the cubbies, behind closed doors, is my laminator, paper supply and all glassware used for activities.  In the drawer beneath the cubbies, I store all of our learning time trays, baskets. etc.  (I neglected to take a picture of this.)

Also in our living room is an old baby dresser.  As long as I remove the knobs, Sunshine can't get into it.  It provides great storage for everything else!  In the large compartment I store everything from tacks, paper clips and sequins to rubber bands, scissors, and glitter.  Basically, anything I don't want kiddos getting into.  Lol.  Next to the large compartment, three drawers are used for markers, stamps with ink, and paint supplies.

I was so excited to find a place for everything without having to buy new storage units!  It was a HUGE accomplishment.  Everything is downstairs for easy access except very specific items stored in the attic, which I can plan ahead to retrieve.  The only thing I have left to do is transfer all of my printables from two storage bins to a filing cabinet I have yet to purchase.

Once all of the materials were organized, I could FINALLY start working on our classroom!  I can't decide who was more excited about it, the kiddos or myself.
The only thing missing from the room is an area specific to art.  I'm hoping to use the top of one of the bookshelves for all of those materials eventually.  Speaking of shelves, here's what ours look like!
In our classroom, we have only 3 sets of bookshelves, due to space limitations.  Each shelf is used for a different subject:  language, math, culture & geography, science, art, music, practical life, sensorial, & other.  Our "other" shelf is being transformed into a grace and courtesy shelf later this month!  I'm SO excited about that!  Activities on the shelves are changed out weekly.  This occurs because of space limitations, but also as a result of the kiddos' rigid ritualistic and stimming behaviors.  For more information about specific accommodations we make for our special needs kiddos, you'll want to be sure to read Meeting Special Needs in a Montessori Classroom.

On the top of our bookshelves I make available the sandpaper letter cards for the letters we're working on during the week, a globe for exploration when studying geography and culture, a plant, and our morning work materials.

Morning worksheets are not a part of the Montessori curriculum. However, for my kiddos, it's extremely important.  If I did not require this work on a daily basis, Dinomite and Bulldozer would never write.  Writing is very difficult for them, and something they strongly dislike.  I keep this work separate from our activities so as not to interrupt their learning process of other important material.  When I eliminate writing in our activities on the shelves, they excel beyond belief!

Morning work consists of completing 2 workbook pages of choice, one relating to language skills, and the other a math page.  The kiddos LOVE choosing their own workbook pages.  It takes a lot of pressure off them and encourages independence, while promoting a child led experience.  I consider workbook pages practical life activities.  In the course of their lives, the kiddos will be required to fill out endless stacks of paperwork.  It is important for them to learn how to follow written directions on a page, write answers in the correct spaces, and complete paperwork in it's entirety.  These are life skills that the kids struggle with, especially Bulldozer.  Morning work also includes the kiddos writing in their journals.  I write a new question for them to answer daily.  Each child writes 1 or 2 sentences, depending on their abilities, and assistance they may require.  The kiddos also have individual dry erase lapboards.  Their writing task for the day is based on the weekly theme or anything else  we're working on.   Last year they practiced writing cursive letters.  This year they'll be writing sight words in cursive and print.  Finally, the kiddos finish by reading a BOB book.  The kiddos start at the beginning of the series and progress through all 5 sets.  They read the same book each day, until they can read it with no mistakes, while holding the book, and turning pages themselves.

Once the kiddos finish their morning work, they can take a break before they start Montessori learning time activities.  Most often, whoever is finished first, heads to our reading corner!
Our reading corner is simple, just a bookshelf and bean bag, but it works perfectly in our small space.  Since we don't have room for our own personal library, I borrow 12-18 books from our local library each week that relate to our theme.  The kiddos look forward to the new books weekly.  I love the variety our local library provides.

If the kiddos aren't reading during their break, I can usually find one in our peace corner.  This was a priority in our new classroom.
Our peace corner is very specific to the needs of our special needs kiddos.  They needed a private space to regulate, calm themselves, and take a break when frustrated, upset, or overstimulated.  To ensure the space would work, the kiddos selected the mat, pillows, and blankets used in our peace corner.  They also selected a bin to house their anxiety kit and fidget toys, to use when needed.  I can not tell you how much this peace corner has helped the kiddos.  Every classroom should have one!
Adding finishing touches to our classroom, has made all the difference in how it functions.  The kiddos are taking piano lessons this year.  Their music books and practice sheets are stored in an adorable wire rack next to the window.  Our new calendar was created using a simple bulletin board.  I wanted to make sure I could change it each month according to our theme. This month we're studying the universe.  I created number cards with planets on them, and then included a calendar of the moon's cycle this month to follow.  We're also working on memorizing scriptures and Articles of Faith, so I've included that.  The other bulletin board in our classroom is used as our prayer wall.  For more information about the prayer wall idea, be sure to visit The Chaos and the Clutter, the first place I read about it.

I LOVE our prayer wall.  Not only is it helping our kiddos when saying prayers, but it's a very unique display of what matters most to them.  They love their family, both immediate and extended.  Prayers are said daily on behalf of family members.  We have friends who are experiencing medical challenges right now.  The kiddos really do care and pray for them every day.  Dinomite took it upon himself to make sure that we were praying for our local church leader and his family, as well as our beloved prophet.  He also was insistent that we pray for President Obama, as he is required to make extremely difficult decisions on a daily basis.  At the beginning of July we started watching the evening news together as a family every night.  Since that time the flags of Libya and Syria have been added to our wall, to represent the people suffering in those countries.  All of the kiddos requested that we start praying for the fire fighters in the west, who are battling crazy wild fires right now.  They also wanted us to pray that the fires will be put out quickly.  The kiddos have been learning so much about terrorist groups lately, and wanted to be sure we put a picture of a soldier fighting on our board so they could remember to pray for those fighting terrorist groups.  More than anything, I love that the kiddos are learning that they can always pray,when they can do nothing else to help,  and it will make a difference.

Our final touch was our Montessori mats and curtains!  Each kiddo picked out their own mat and cast a vote for curtains.  They've used them constantly.  One might not think they're important, but I assure you, they are.
This picture was taken our first week in the "new" learning time room, before a couple finishing touches had been added.  I LOVE this picture because it shows just how well the room works and meets the needs of the kiddos.  We couldn't be happier!  It's amazing how much the environment influences the learning process.

If you're interested in other ways we've created Montessori spaces in our home, be sure to check out these posts!



For more fabulous Montessori space ideas, be sure to check out all of the other posts in the 12 Months of Montessori Learning Series this month!

Renae Today: The Dog Days of Summer

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There are some weeks that we wish would never end. The kiddos are well behaved.  We aren't having to manage behaviors in relation to RAD and/or PTSD, etc.  Everyone is healthy.  The weather is perfect.  This was NOT one of those weeks.  Still we made the most of it.

Ever since the night of Princess' birthday, she has REALLY been struggling.  Usually I can help her work through whatever is bothering her, but this week, nothing seemed to work.  As behaviors continued to escalate all week long, I was emotionally drained and absolutely exhausted.  Jason and I worked hard to make sure the other kiddos' schedules and routines weren't affected by what was going on with Princess.  He was SUCH a huge help.  It's weeks like this one that I'm so thankful he's able to remain at home with me.

On Monday we had appointments for Princess and Sunshine with their developmental pediatrician.  The trip one way is almost 90 minutes.  Add 30 minutes of waiting in construction each way and the appointments make for a very long day.  Though we left early, we were still 20 minutes late to our first appointment.  Thankfully the doctor was able to make up the time in between other patients.  We were able to obtain all the documentation we needed to counteract the report written by the anti-homeschooling psychologist.  This was a huge relief.  Sunshine's medication dosage was adjusted again, as we're still dealing with extreme behaviors on a daily basis.  In the words of our developmental pediatrician, 

"She's a mess!"

One of Princess' medication dosages was also adjusted.  She was given a new diagnosis to add to Reactive Attachment Disorder, PTSD, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome of Affect.  Princess has an anxiety disorder, completely separate from everything else.  She has quite the obsession with numbers and has to count things everywhere we go.  Her sleeping habits have deteriorated.  We have also seen an increase in self injurious behaviors.

So yeah, that was Monday.  Though I felt better after leaving the appointment, just preparing, going, and thinking about the appointment after it's finished is so emotionally and mentally exhausting.

Tuesday, as promised, we took the kiddos to a local park they've been wanting to visit.  It's a beautiful park, but not one I'd recommend in the summer heat.  Most of the play equipment is metal and burns.  Thankfully this week was quite cool, making it possible for the kiddos to thoroughly enjoy themselves.
The twisty slide below is their FAVORITE slide.  It's the largest playground slide they know of.
While at the park, there were a few other groups of kiddos playing, mostly staying to themselves.  Dinomite, Princess, and Bulldozer desperately wanted to play with them.  Dinomite asked us if he could. We told him he needed to ask the kiddos if it was alright. Sadly, Dinomite couldn't build up the courage to ask.  Instead, he just stared from a distance.  When Princess asked Jason and I the same question, we gave her the same answer.  She couldn't muster the courage to ask either.  Instead, she just played on playground equipment closest to where the other kiddos were playing and observed.  Bulldozer was the last to ask us if he could play with the other kiddos.  We answered him the same way we did Dinomite and Princess.  Without hesitation he marched over to a group of boys and asked if he could play with them.  They said yes, and there he remained until we had to go home.  I was so proud of him!  He didn't necessarily play the game the boys were playing, but he stayed with them, spoke to them, and appeared to be having a very enjoyable time.  Way to go Bulldozer!  I didn't take a picture to share, because of copyright issues, and not obtaining permission to share pictures on the blog.

After the playground and a little rain, it was time for Dinomite's first horseback riding lesson!  We weren't sure if it was going to happen because of the weather, but thankfully it did!  He's been waiting all summer for everything to be in order so he could start.  Though nervous, he didn't let on, and did an amazing job being brave.
The lessons are occupational therapy based and paid for by services he receives through the state.  I couldn't have been more impressed with the OT and her support staff.  They were wonderful with Dinomite and the horses.
Once on the horse, Dinomite sat for a minute before telling his new friend to "Ride On!"
Then he went around the ring a few times.  Dinomite LOVED it.  He had never realized that horses have personalities just like people.  Skippy, his horse, was full of fun surprises.  Lol.  Dinomite commented on the feeling of riding bareback.  He said he could feel the horse's movements, muscles, and bones.  When we left the lesson and went into the car, the first words out of his mouth were,

"That was AMAZING!"  Way to go Dinomite!

Sadly, by the time Dinomite came home, it was made clear he had caught his brother's cold from the week before.  He spent the rest of the night resting, hoping to feel better.

On Wednesday, Princess and Sunshine had gymnastics classes.  I tried taking pictures of Sunshine, but they turned out very dark and blurry.  The lighting in the room is awful.  Hopefully I can get more of both of them next week.  Dinomite went to swimming lessons, although he regretted it afterward, as he still had quite a cold.  Just to make the day more fun, our computer decided to crash twice as well.

Thursday it was Bulldozer's turned for his combined gymnastics/tennis time.  His one-to-one created quite the obstacle course for him, per Bulldozer's request.
After going through it a couple of times, bouncing on the trampolines, and playing in the bouncy house, the two headed to the tennis courts.  Bulldozer starts tennis lessons in the fall.  We've been trying to make sure he gets some practice in beforehand, since it's been a while.  This was Bulldozer this week!  For a 6 year old, we think he's quite amazing.  If you can hear him talking in the video, he's quite hilarious too.  (I am not a professional at filming, so please don't judge!)
We were going to head to our friend's home to swim Thursday evening, but Thursday during the day, ALL FOUR kiddos were having a rough day for one reason or another.  Bulldozer was doing best, but he still wasn't quite himself.  There were many reasons and triggers, but Jason and I didn't think it wise to try swimming with so many behaviors and with Dinomite still sick.  And, by the end of the day, our computer had crashed twice again and died.

Friday, three out of four of the kiddos were doing better, thank goodness!  Dinomite still didn't quite feel himself yet, but his behaviors were better.  Princess on the other hand, was still having a really hard time.  Originally we had planned to have a play date with some friends Friday afternoon, but we didn't want to share germs so we cancelled.  The family has plans to go camping next week.  Camping and colds don't really mix well together.  Friday we also learned that Sunshine officially qualifies for OPWDD services!  We're so excited and have already started the ball rolling to give her much needed supports and services.  Hooray!

Friday night, I was able to go out with a friend to get some fresh air and a much needed break!  Sadly, when I returned home, just 3 hours later, I realized that our washing machine had stopped working.  It was stuck mid cycle and had been running since I had left.  The entire washer was hot.  Cold water inside had also turned hot.  I'm so grateful that I came home when I did, because had the washer continued to over heat, it could have easily caused a fire.  After Monday's appointments, Thursday's horrible day, Princess' extremely difficult behaviors all week, the computer crashing and breaking, and now the washer going up...  I was not in a good place.

The next morning things became worse as Jason and I learned that the washer didn't break on it's own.  While I was out the night before, Princess decided to put several pages of card stock paper in the washing machine.  There was so much and it was so thick, that it broke it.  The discovery of all the paper in the washer was not a pleasant moment for me.  Princess was quick to accept responsibility.  I on the other hand did the only thing I could think of at the moment.  As I ran up the stairs, I grabbed the phone and called a grandparent.  Princess and I needed a break from each other.  I had tried everything I could possibly think of to get through to her this week and crack her newest code.  Nothing had worked.  We are so blessed to have a set of grandparents close by who not only are willing to help us in any situation, but have a lifetime of experience with special needs children, including those with RAD.  They were here to pick her up in about an hour and didn't bring her back until dinner time.  The break did wonders for both of us.  When she returned, she was finally ready to work through things.  That night before bed, I was finally able to crack the code!  She will be paying restitution for the broken washer, in a way that is appropriate for her age.  We have an appointment scheduled to meet with her therapist from years past, to do some work.  It appears Princess has hit a new developmental milestone that's wreaking havoc on her brain.  She's also becoming more and more anxious about our vacation to Disney World, with only 66 days left until we go.

While Princess was gone Saturday, Jason worked the entire day with DELL on the phone to get the computer fixed.  I figured out that if I wash clothes on a different cycle, the washing machine will still work (for now).  In the late afternoon, we took the kiddos to the car show downtown.  We have done this annually, ever since Dinomite was little.  I'm not sure if he enjoys it more now, or then, but all three kiddos had a fabulous time.

Bulldozer is obsessed with the color purple.  He always has been.  While at the car show, he wanted to make sure I took a picture of him with every purple car he found.  To my surprise there were actually four purple cars there!  He was so excited.  Now, if only he were that excited about smiling and looking at me while I took the picture he requested.  Lol.  In his defense, he really did try.
Sunshine was super cute, when she discovered a pink car.  She HAD to have her picture taken in front of it.  Her facial is expression is what she looks like when she tries to smile and say, 

"Cheeeeeeeze."
Dinomite felt like he was in heaven, as we walked past all of the different cars.  On the way he had asked if I had brought my camera, so I could take pictures of him in front of the cars he liked.  He was so excited when I said yes.  Dinomite liked A LOT of cars.  Lol.
Bulldozer decided to join Dinomite in some of the pictures. If he joined, then Sunshine definitely felt the need to join.  Here are some of their favorite cars!
Some of the owners of the cars at the car show are very particular about people looking at their vehicles.  Many don't want you to touch anything at all.  However, as we were going down our very last row of cars, Dinomite asked an elderly man who appeared to be packing up, if he could take a picture in front of his car.  The man didn't hear him correctly.  Instead, he stepped to the side, opened the door, and led Dinomite INTO his car.  He also let Bulldozer and Sunshine take turns after.  That elderly man made the kiddos' day.  I love the smile on Bulldozer's face as he grabbed hold of the steering wheel.  It was quite a nice car!
Today, it's apparent that the kiddos have shared their germs with Mommy.  Princess caught the cold right before her birthday.  Bulldozer came down with it last week and accidentally sneezed all over my arm and face.  Dinomite is better.  Today was my day to rest!  It was so needed, on so many levels.

That's Renae today!

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