Students on Zoom

A Look Back at Spring 2020 – Thinking Outside the Zoom Box!

When we think of Zoom, our minds immediately see those now-famous rectangles, with each person who is participating placed into a neat little box. But as the pandemic took hold, it wasn’t just students who were placed into boxes. In many cases, their quality of education became stuck in a box as well.

When ECLC of New Jersey’s Ho-Ho-Kus campus switched to virtual learning, however, we did not just think outside the box, we did everything out of the box. The pandemic may have closed down our school and turned the entire world on its axis, but we successfully met the challenges of continuing to provide both quality educational and recreational activities for our students. Although we may have been separated by computer screens and able to see each other only in small boxes, ECLC took the ultimate social distancing of virtual learning and used it to bring staff, students, and families together in unique and innovative ways. 

Essential in the mission of ECLC is to provide an appropriate educational program for our special needs students who are ages 5-21. Meeting their unique instructional needs, learning differences, and behaviors is a challenge for our teachers and staff on a “normal” day. In a pandemic with school closed and everyone shifting to a virtual mode, it became especially daunting.

When the pandemic hit in the Spring of 2020, our staff rose to the task and committed to maintaining quality instruction and support in all academic, therapeutic, and recreational areas.  

There was a brief period of adjustment, while staff and families figured out the Zoom program and learned new student schedules and log-in codes for class and therapy sessions. It was clear that the students wanted to be engaged in lessons and stay connected to their friends in the classroom. Teachers planned lessons, collected materials, and mailed instructional packets home on a regular basis. ECLC provided laptops, iPads, and other technology to families who lacked those resources. Parents who had difficulty logging on each day were given individual coaching to resolve the issues.

In a relatively short period of time, teachers were finding various instructional supports such as literacy rich Websites, e-books, interactive math lessons, virtual community trips, and science experiments that easily could be done at home. They shared these resources and supported each other through this strange retraining period. Classes shared planned activities as well. Two of our Work Experience classes get together periodically to play virtual Jeopardy. Our middle Core classes found virtual pen pals at our sister school in Chatham. Our Lower school classes shared a series of virtual community visits and interviews with local Community Helpers.

As part of the commitment to maintain our educational program, we carried on with scheduled annual events such as our Art Show in May. The usual gallery type of display became a virtual art show that was recorded and sent out to families to view and enjoy.  Not to be outdone, our physical education classes took part in a Virtual Field Day with adapted indoor activities for students to enjoy. Awards and medals were sent home for all participants. In the fall, we held a Virtual Science Fair.

During our summer Extended School Year (ESY) Program, our instructional theme was “Zooming Around New Jersey.” Every class went on weekly virtual field trips around the State of New Jersey, from High Point to Cape May. These remote trips included videos, textbooks, and other print materials, as well as cross-curricular activities to reinforce concepts and facts. We also used the “class trip” model to introduce and reinforce the concept of wearing masks when students would go outside of their homes.  Staff and students put their masks on for each virtual trip.  

In addition to offering enriched daily instructional and therapeutic activities for our students, ECLC recognized the need to provide virtual extracurricular activities as well. In a non-pandemic year, students would participate in school spirit days, assemblies, dances, and holiday events.

With a shortened day and in a remote program, however, there would not be time to provide all of the enrichment activities we would be doing in our regular school schedule. Once again, ECLC thought outside the box and began planning a multitude of virtual events.

After-school remote events have included student dances for spring, graduation, fall harvest, holiday, and friendship days. The music teacher is our virtual DJ and selects student favorites to which students can dance and sing along.  In addition, there are regularly scheduled Karaoke meetings. In January, we celebrated National Kazoo Day, sending kazoos home for every student and having a “Kazoom” Party after school!

Our social workers have sessions for individual student counseling, as well as Boys and Girls group meetings throughout the year. There are virtual Parent Support Group meetings and Parent workshops offered in partnership with our sister school.  

Our 2020 school year ended with virtual graduation, complete with speeches, diplomas, and even surprise celebrity shout-outs. Families were able to celebrate this milestone with as much pride and excitement as if we had been in person.

Perhaps one of the most creative and unique after-school programs ECLC offered was Evening Bedtime Stories for students in our four Lower classes. At the suggestion of a teacher, this was another effort to keep a connection between ECLC and our families during this unusual time. Staff members signed up to read aloud or record a children’s book for a bedtime story. Each evening at 7 p.m., staff and families logged on to Zoom, and our students with their parents and sometimes siblings gathered to listen to a story, some familiar, some new. We determined that from the shut down through our Extended School Year summer program, our students listened to almost 100 great stories with no repeats!

The pandemic was a challenge for all schools, but with ECLC’s dedication to innovative strategies, we were able to remain a vital part of our students’ lives both during the school day and beyond despite being virtual. By continuing to provide quality academics paired with after-school activities that were both enriching and fun, ECLC students continued to thrive.

ECLC may have been tested during the pandemic, as all schools were, but our commitment to maintaining normalcy for our students became stronger than ever! With innovative ideas and creative thinking that went beyond the box, the rectangles keeping us apart began to blur and then disappear completely, keeping together our strong and vibrant ECLC family, Zooming through and beyond the pandemic together.

By Peggy Walsh, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, & Heidi Ritzel, Art Teacher

ECLC of New Jersey Successfully Offers In-Person Education for Students with Special Needs

Children with disabilities, such as Down syndrome, are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, yet since September classrooms have been open at ECLC of New Jersey’s schools for students with special needs.

The schools located in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus reopened in the Fall and have remained open nearly every day for in-person education. 

Of course, it wasn’t easy returning 250 students, who live in towns all across New Jersey, to the classroom. Strict protocols had to be established, and the administration had to reconfigure classrooms to reduce risks. 

Each day, students are temperature-checked before they can enter the building, and parents must complete a COVID-19 Risk Assessment questionnaire, either on a phone app or paper. Students and staff are masked up. Plexiglass shields are installed on  desks to enhance safety.

The school day looks different, too. The schedule has been shortened to four hours daily, and students mostly stay within their assigned classroom, except for gym class, sensory breaks, speech therapy or other specialized services. Art and music are taught virtually by teachers brought into the classroom through Zoom video.

In addition to creating a safe, in-person learning environment, ECLC has worked creatively to continue its work-readiness program. ECLC students graduate at age 21 and spend their final years preparing for life as adults. Usually, older students travel into the community for job sampling and to take tours of work sites. 

During the pandemic that’s impossible, so teachers have brought small jobs into the classroom to continue developing work skills. Students have completed a variety of projects, from stuffing calendars into plastic bags for the Borough of Chatham to customizing shopping bags for a florist shop. 

The schools have used Zoom to continue activities across classrooms and to include remote learners. Girl Scouts, clubs and after-school social events, such as dance parties and singalongs, help boost school spirit.

This inclusionary environment is important because about one-third of students are continuing with remote learning. They learn through a live video feed of the classroom teacher and on Zoom for related-services therapy sessions.

“In this hybrid model, we are proud to provide in-person instruction and related services to the maximum extent possible, while continuing remote learning at the highest quality for those students who cannot join us in school,” said Chatham School Principal Jason Killian. 

Given the choice of going back to school or remote learning, an overwhelming number of families sent their students back to the classroom. Killian was not surprised. “In-person instruction is critical to our students with special needs who thrive on routine, structure and direct access with teachers and therapists,” he said. 

Beth Freeman, whose daughter, Micayla, 10, has Down syndrome, agrees. “It has had an enormously positive impact for Micayla to go back to school,” she said. “Our kids with Down syndrome need in-person therapy, and they thrive on schedules. I was starting to see behavior changes and regression. Since going back, it’s been like night and day.”

Freeman has been impressed with how ECLC has handled the pandemic. Micayla transferred to the ECLC Chatham school last year, just four weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown. “Last March, they did a great job of pivoting from in-person to live Zoom classes and sending home packets,” she said. “They were really prepared.” 

Another parent, Eldy Pavon, understands the concerns of families who are keeping their children at home. Initially, she kept her son, Nico, out of school because she was worried about the risks of exposure. For the past year, they have done everything possible to keep the family safe, especially Nico, who is immunocompromised. “We basically don’t leave the house,” she said. “We don’t see anyone or have anyone over.”

So, when the Chatham school re-opened in September, she chose remote learning for Nico. “I wanted to see how things went,” she said. “And, they did a great job. By November, I felt comfortable sending him back to the school.” As an extra precaution, either she or her husband drive Nico from Westfield to the Chatham school.

Like many parents of children with special needs, she had noticed regression with Nico when he was out of school and those have disappeared. “Getting back to school is about more than academics. It’s really key to his emotional and social growth,” she said. “I am so grateful that he can see his friends again. Other districts should look at ECLC and follow in their footsteps — it’s been life changing for us!”

Nico is back in the classroom and loving it. “He’s like a totally different child. He’s very routine-oriented, and this puts him back into a routine,” said Pavon. “Plus, it gives us separation between family members. His younger sister is at home two days a week for her schooling; my husband is working from home. We were all on top of each other. This has relieved a lot of stress.”

The same is true for the Freeman family. When Micayla was learning remotely, there were challenges for her parents. “Her dad or I would need to monitor Micalaya during class and then work at night to make up for the lost time,” said Freeman. 

That’s no longer necessary with Micayla back at school. “She loves her teacher and comes home from school happy,” said Freeman. “When your child comes home laughing and smiling, it makes all the difference in the world. It makes you feel good.”  

About ECLC

In 2020, ECLC celebrated 50 years of offering “Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” to children and adults with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and multiple disabilities.

The nonprofit was founded in 1970 as the Early Childhood Learning Centers of New Jersey to provide early-intervention services to a handful of pre-school children. 

Today, ECLC is an accredited, nonprofit with schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus, educating about 250 students, and additional programs serving more than 500 adult clients and ECLC school alumni.

ECLC offers transition and employment services through its affiliate, Community Personnel Services (CPS). CPS helps adults with disabilities find jobs in their communities and provides ongoing support and advocacy in the workplace.

Graduates who are not ready for the workplace can enter the PRIDE Adult Program, with centers in Florham Park and Paramus. More than 170 adults are enrolled in PRIDE, which is exclusively for ECLC alumni. Adults in PRIDE spend meaningful days in activities, volunteering in the community and continuing to learn and grow throughout adulthood. Learn more about ECLC.

COVID Can’t Cancel Work Skills Program

Usually, ECLC of New Jersey‘s students with special needs get hands-on work experience before graduating by job “sampling” in the community.

This school year, the pandemic brought on-site, job training to a halt, so, the Chatham school built an entirely new program to make sure Upper School students could continue developing their work skills.

“We are doing everything possible, within the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Teachers have to be creative!,” said the Chatham School’s Work Skills Program Coordinator, Stacie Webber.

Webber is bringing work projects into the classroom for students to safely complete. They recently sorted pasta for the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, which is playing an important role in supporting families and individuals facing food insecurity during this difficult time. They stuffed 2021 municipal calendars into plastic bags for the Borough of Chatham to deliver to residents. They completed a packaging job for the Veterans Hospital in Basking Ridge. And, they customized small shopping bags for Sunnywoods Florist! The school also hosts Zoom meetings with business owners as a guest speakers.

“They work on other jobs, too, such as making copies, taking virtual field trips to potential job sites, in-house shredding or more,” said Webber. “They came up with a mask-selling project for school families and staff. Students took charge of the entire sales and fulfillment process, from collecting orders and counting money to sorting orders and distributing them to each classroom.” 

Students learn job skills to help prepare them for life after graduation as part of what’s called the SKIL (Seeking Knowledge for Independent Living) Program.

Students customized paper bags for Sunnywoods Florist in Chatham Borough!

In pre-COVID days, Upper School students, ages 18-21, would take walking trips into downtown and ride the bus for field trips and work opportunities. However, this school year, they cannot go on any community outings because of the risks. Many of these students are especially vulnerable.

“SKIL is critical to the success of ECLC’s students, preparing them for life as adults and working in jobs, as they are able,” said Chatham School Principal Jason Killian. “We are grateful to business owners and other community members who have supported us in this difficult year by sending in work projects. Our students learn new skills and enjoy the wonderful feeling of success and pride in completing a work project!”

If you have a work opportunity for our students or want to participate as a guest speaker, please contact Principal Jason Killian by sending an e-mail to jkillian@eclcofnj.org or calling 973-601-5410. Learn more about ECLC!

Tips for Celebrating a Safe Halloween

Don’t be scared to celebrate Halloween. As with most events taking place in 2020, Halloween can happen in-person or in a more virtual setting.

How you choose to celebrate likely depends on your individual circumstances, your town’s regulations and your overall comfort level.

Here are a few suggestions to help make it a more enjoyable experience!

In-Person Trick-or-Treating Tips: 

  • Wear a mask, if you are venturing out.
  • Plan ahead, and travel the routes or houses you plan to visit ahead of time.
  • Make a simple “map” of your route to help serve as a visual reminder and set expectations.
  • Be mindful of Halloween decorations that make noises or have visuals effects that may be triggering to your child’s sensory issues.
  • Highlight the importance of continuing to keep hands clean and maintain social distance from others when out in the neighborhood.

Virtual Celebration Ideas:

  • Hold a virtual Halloween party with a family and friends with everyone in costumes.
  • Go “trick-or-treating” in your own house; move from room to room with candy and treats at each doorway.
  • Plan to watch Halloween movies, and let each family member pick a favorite film. 
  • Pile into the car, and go for a tour of nearby homes that are decorated for Halloween.

Ho-Ho-Kus School Social Worker Cynthia Chaanine & Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)  Matthew Kuzdral

Learn more at www.eclcofnj.org.

Keeping Active in the August Break

Our school’s Extended School Year (ESY) is over, and keeping children busy during the month of August is no easy task. But, add in a pandemic, and we have even fewer ways to keep children entertained. 

Below are some fun and safe ways to keep children active, during these difficult times:

  • Online fitness for families and a list of sports programs. 
  • Kids entering pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade can explore animals, science and nature through the online Bronx Zoo Wildlife Camp 
  • Camp Sunshine is a structured program developed for young people between the ages of six to 21, with moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder or other special needs. Their multidisciplinary team of professionals oversees a creative and fun boy-843484_1920camp program designed to help each child reach his or her highest potential. 
  • Visit a petting farm from the comfort of your car or walk through it at Brookhollow’s Barnyard in Boonton. 
  • It is important to continue reading books for pleasure; visit Scholastic for ideas.
  • Epic offers access to hundreds of free books.
  • The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Daytime Emmy®-nominated and award-winning children’s literacy website, Storyline Online®, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Kristen Bell, Rita Moreno, Viola Davis, Jaime Camil, Kevin Costner, Lily Tomlin, Sarah Silverman, Betty White, Wanda Sykes and dozens more.
  • Pinterest offers a ton of fun arts and crafts activities.

Getting Ahead of Back-to-School 

Lastly, try to spend a little time preparing your child for a return to school in September. Whether attending in-person or virtually, a review of expectations and changes will help them feel more at ease with the transition.

Practice and highlight the importance of wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance from their friends and teachers and washing their hands consistently.

Stay safe and healthy from the ECLC of New Jersey Ho-Ho-Kus school Staff!

By Cynthia Chaanine, LCSW, & Matthew Kuzdral, M.S., BCBA

 

Giving Our Parents Extra Support During the Pandemic

Help with Staying at Home

For many years, our Ho-Ho-Kus school has hosted monthly, in-person Parent Support Group meetings. They have been very successful in drawing a small, intimate group of parents to meet for learning, sharing information and support.

But, in the past six weeks, we felt it was more important than ever to offer our families support and an opportunity to meet with each other. The interest level has been so high, we now meet every week with our incredible families! Sometimes, the meetings are so helpful, our parents don’t want it to end. 

Parent Support Group Facebook (1)

Here is a brief overview of some of the topics and strategies we have discussed:

Self-Care for Parents and Creating a Routine (3/26/20)

  • Make sure you have accurate information and set limits.
  • Reach out to others and support people around you.
  • Talking to your children about COVID-19 and the changes that are occurring.
  • Create a routine using school as the framework.

Creating Consistency at Home (4/2/20)

  • Incorporate visual schedules to stay on-track with the day’s activities.
  • Stick to normal wake-up, grooming, eating and bed-time schedules.
  • Clearly outline and reinforce expected behaviors.
  • Build in regular sensory and movement breaks.

Helping Your Children Deal with Disappointments (4/9/20)

  • Celebrating holidays virtually.
  • Starting new traditions.
  • How to help others in the community.
  • Make a “Some Day Soon” jar.

Making the Most of Downtime (4/16/20)

  • Continue use of schedules, even on days without virtual learning.
  • Plan virtual “trips” to museums, zoo’s, concerts and parks.
  • Take advantage of time outside: Set-up a simple obstacle course in the yard or do a “scavenger hunt,” while walking through the neighborhood.
  • Promote independent leisure skills; extra electronics time is okay.

Supporting Your Child through Virtual Learning with Peggy Walsh, Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant (4/30/20)

  • Prepare ahead of time: Have a designated learning space with all daily materials ready.
  • Provide less verbal and more non-verbal prompts during instruction times (pointing, gesturing, modeling).
  • Give your child adequate time to process and respond to questions.
  • Sit to the side and slightly behind your child to help ensure their focus is on the teacher.

We will be continuing these Parent Support Group meetings throughout the school year to provide ongoing support and advice to our parents. Upcoming meetings will feature other staff members as “guest speakers,” highlighting relevant topics.

Stay safe and healthy!

By Cynthia Chaanine, LCSW, and Matthew Kuzdral M.S., BCBA

How to Successfully Cope in Our New Virtual World

Greetings from our new virtual world! Hi, everyone, wherever you may be during the COVID-19 outbreak. This is an important time for us to stay in touch and connected. It’s a time for social distancing, not social isolation.

All of us feel the stress of change and anxieties about the unknown –- and the known! We are all going through the same trying situation, and doing the best we can. Let’s not judge ourselves too harshly or create unrealistic goals for ourselves.

It may feel like we are on the deck of the Titanic sometimes, but, instead, let’s imagine we are all in lifeboats and heading together for a safer harbor. And, waving from six feet away!

There are a number of worries we could discuss, but let’s focus on one at a time, which is a good coping strategy.   

children-593313_1920

Distance Learning

Our ECLC  students are not in the school building for now, and we are all coming together to keep our classes and student contacts as consistent and normal as possible. We all miss one another. But, it has been great to sign on to “Zoom” and see our students!

I have heard some students are shy or uncomfortable using Zoom or being seen on camera.  Don’t force them! Have them listen and answer questions a little off camera for the time being. Practice using Zoom or FaceTime, etc., with friends and family to increase comfort.

Talking About Government Stay-at-Home Orders

  • In general, the (modified) truth is best. They will not be able to take in all that we are hearing. It is anxiety-provoking for us to hear! Plain, short, calm explanations are best, focusing on why we need to stay safe. It is okay to let them know that the situation worries you, too, but set limits on how much frightening information you share.
  • Limit news viewing (for all of us, really!). 
  • Assure them that you have a plan; that you will stick together and deal with it as a family.
  • Explain that everyone is going through this, and that it is very new and uncomfortable and will come to end.
  • A very good explanation of the coronavirus situation is: A Curious Guide for Courageous Kids developed by the Children’s Museum in Verona, Italy. Download the English version. 

Ideas for Staying Happy at Home

Hold a Family Meeting – Have a family meeting, and decide what works for the family. Don’t forget what you and other adults need during the day. Everyone’s situation is different, but it is important to try to preserve time for you and something that makes you feel relaxed or happy. This can be reading time, fitness time, connecting with your friends/family, or simply rest time.

Routines and Schedule – Using an erasable board or a daily calendar is helpful. If your child has a daily schedule of wash, breakfast, school, you should keep to it. Don’t worry if you have to flex the times; it’s staying with a schedule that’s helpful. Do what works for you! 

Stay Active – Make time for activities, such as fitness, crafts or games, outside time, media/TV, study, etc., into the day. This will help prevent the easy slide into sleeping away the day or unlimited social media time. It takes time for our students to get into a positive school-readiness routine –- we don’t want to lose that now. Keeping to a regular bedtime is also helpful.

Telecommuting – If you are working from home, set boundaries about when you are available, and when there is a break time. Create a “chill out” space, with a few floor pillows or a chair, headphones/games/books, in a quiet area, where anyone can go who needs a quiet break.

Social Media – In the past, we been concerned about social media and the online world, but it is a mainstay right now.  And, thankfully we have those means! Keep in touch with friends and supports. For family activities, there are many free resources available. You can tour a museum, play interactive games, watch wildlife cams or do yoga or fitness classes. Teens can connect on FaceTime or Zoom, play interactive games or just chat. (As before, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what is being done or watched online). It is now our way to “see” one another and keep our social communities strong. 

Health Plans – We’ve all heard the basic requirements about keeping safe during  the coronavirus (hand washing,  social distancing, etc.). Follow them all, and be a good role model for others. Build physical activity into your family’s plans — go to the park or work on the yard. Try some relaxation videos, yoga classes or meditation. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, if things are getting you down. We at ECLC are also available daily through e-mail.

Articles and Resources:

Take care, everyone!

Allison Weideman,

ECLC of New Jersey Chatham School Psychologist

Eagle Scout Project Helps Students with Special Needs Learn Social Skills

Making connections with the community is an important component of our schools and adult programs. One of our longest running connections is with local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They are known for being helpful, and for many years, they have been generous and supportive to ECLC of New Jersey!

Scouts have volunteered at our annual walkathons and other events and completed projects at our schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus for students with special needs, as part of working toward Gold Awards and Eagle Scout.

Jackson Koury of Troop 121 in Chatham is the latest Scout to lend us a helping hand and build bridges to connect with our students.

Koury built a mobile Lego Therapy station as his Eagle Scout project, which will help our students improve their communication, creativity, collaboration and social skills.

Lego Therapy is a lot more than just playtime. It was developed by a clinical neuro-psychologist and used in classrooms, in Occupational Therapy and in social skills groups at our Chatham school, which enrolls about 170 students with special needs, ages 5 -21.

Eagle Scout.jpgStudents select a kit and take on one of three roles: supplier, builder or engineer. After choosing a kit, the supplier finds the Lego pieces. The builder puts it together, and the engineer makes sure everything is correct. The small groups and clearly defined roles, help students with special needs work as a team, collaborate and talk. It has been a big hit with students and teachers.

“The Lego cart is always moving from room to room. It is constantly in use. Our students really love it, and we can see how it helps develop their social skills,” said Assistant Principal Allison Clemens. “We are very thankful to Jackson for his work!”

Koury decided to complete his Eagle Scout project at ECLC after joining the Play Unified Club at Chatham High School. In Play Unified, several hundred students from both schools enjoy social, academic and athletic activities in the evening at the ECLC school.

He has been a Scout for 10 years, starting as a Cub Scout at age 6. “My favorite thing about scouting is the personal development and growth that comes from camping and hiking,” said Koury, who is a sophomore at Chatham High School.

While student enjoy the Legos, Koury is busy finalizing his Eagle requirements in anticipation of a Court of Honor sometime next year. We are grateful to Scouts like Koury for building connections with our students.

How to Get Outside for Spring!

We have all been looking forward to warmer weather and getting outside more. Here are some easy, fun and free things to do in the Spring!Flowers

Take a Hike! – There are many parks and trails throughout New Jersey, with trails suitable for families or beginners.  Check out a listing of New Jersey parks.

Free Concerts – Many communities,  county parks  and libraries offer free concerts in the warmer months.  Review a listing of free events throughout New Jersey.

Museums – There are a variety of museums to be visited, whether they are all about art, history, or science.

Garden – Don’t have space for your own plot? Some towns have community gardens where you can plant and harvest your own! It’s always so rewarding to grow and then eat vegetables or admire flowers that you grow yourself. Gardening is also a great way to teach children about nutrition. Greenhouses and garden centers are fun to explore, too.

Visit a New Place – Take a ride to Frenchtown or other towns along the Delaware River. Take a drive to the Jersey Shore before the summer frenzy starts or explore northern areas, such as the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands.

Farms & Petting Zoos – If your family is comfortable with animals (and not allergic!),  farms are fabulous place to visit, pet small animals and check out Spring crops. Get some ideas at Mommy Poppins and Fun New Jersey.

Outdoor Craft Shows & Flea Markets – These  are plentiful in the Spring and Summer and fun to explore. Look for local listings or social media posts to find out where they are happening.

How About Traveling? – As always in travel,  preparation is the key. These days, many of us bring tablets,  phones and music to fill time and energy on the road. Train Travel

Doing research and preparation about your destination, before you hop into the car or catch a flight with your child, will help make or break a trip. 

If you are going to a city or a beach,  know what the sites are and plan an agenda in advance. Help your child learn organizational and research skills, by sharing this advance planning with them.

Likewise, if you are going to visit family,  planning activities that you would like to do with them is also a good preparation. Of course, agendas are not always fulfilled, but it helps to set expectations for the trip and may ease anxiety about traveling away from home and breaking up daily routines.

Here are suggestions for making the travel time fly by:

  • Audiobooks
  • Downloaded guided meditation (assists with entertainment, relaxation and sleeping)
  • Coloring books, clipboards, pencils and travel-ready art supplies
  • Travel journal to write, draw or paste in photos or other items of interest from places are seeing
  • Get ideas for how to keep children occupied while traveling. 

Have a Happy Spring!!

by Allison Weideman, PsyD, Chatham School Psychologist

 

Feeling Gratitude during the Hectic Holidays

The holidays are upon us! We  look forward to the extended time off,  busy holidays, and being thankful for time with family and friends – or most of it anyway.  

Shopping,  cooking,  company,  family, and more! The holidays present activities and expectations that can create stress or even guilt. We are not all going to have a Hallmark Moment Holiday!  

How can we find ways to have  quiet time and gratitude  for all  we do have? christmas-cookies-2918172_1920

Gratitude is a deliberate and active practice for any time, but especially when times are busy and stressful due to family/personal difficulties,  hectic  holidays,   or troubling world news.   It is easy to feel overwhelmed and forget the good things that will endure. 

I only have to view a news program to remind myself to be grateful for a place to live, food to eat,  and people to be with,  because so many people are tragically going without those basic comforts.  We can’t control all that is chaotic in the world, but we can take steps to make our worlds a little calmer and more appreciated.

Some positive activities and thoughts for  the holidays:

  • As a family,  donate some items that you no longer use.  Organizations are always looking for clothes, household items, etc.  This also helps children understand what to be grateful for that others are not always as fortunate as we are.   Charitable organizations  are always grateful for donations of time or food  if you are able.
  • Remember those who are alone for the holiday. Send a card to someone you miss.  Call family who are far away.  Bring dessert to a neighbor.
  • Take a break. Go outside and play football with the family or take a walk.   You will all remember playing and looking at nature as much as the wonderful meals.
  • Count your blessings — and not just the big ones! Make this a practice for every day.  Oprah Winfrey often suggested thinking of three things a day to be grateful for.  Some people like to write them down.  Being able to get out of bed, walk, speak, and eat are things we take for granted most of the time. Be mindful of them during these distracting times. Name the people who care about you.  Don’t forget small things like getting a hug, making someone smile, walking your dog, accomplishing a routine task.
  • What about big, family dinners? Take charge of things you worry will be problematic.  Plan ahead for seating.  Decide who will do best sitting with whom.  Have children make place cards for guests.  Find ways for children to be included – then set them free.  Holiday meals can be a long stretch for kids.  Plan something fun for them to do when the adults are lingering at the table, after the meal.   Have a simple craft project set up or a familiar movie for them to watch.  Ask willing teens or adults to take a turn supervising or playing with the younger ones.  Sharing the load is something to be grateful for, too!
  • Have a guest who likes to be a food critic? Ask them to bring a special dish to share. Too busy or tired to bake? Take a breath and pick up some prepared desserts.  Everyone will be just as happy. Guide the conversation topics, and steer away from hot topics like politics. Turn off the world and the television.   Have everyone name something they are grateful for.  Although it may seem corny, it is interesting and uplifting to hear what others name, and it reminds us what to add to our own list.

Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude in daily life contributes to a more positive mood and a greater sense of emotional contentment.  If it can help us in daily life, imagine the benefits for busy holiday times!

By Allison Weideman, Chatham school psychologist