Tag Archives: New Jersey

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

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

Pets & Children with Special Needs

Thinking about a pet for your family?  Pets can be a wonderful addition to a family for many reasons and have a positive benefit, especially for children with special needs. 

Girl with dogResearch involving children with autism has found that having a family pet from a young age tended to improve social behaviors, such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to people’s questions.

The fact that animals are non-verbal can be a positive and soothing factor for children with sensory or communication issues As we pet owners know, there are many lessons a child can learn through pet ownership and care. 

The benefits of pets include:

  • Relief from anxiety and stress.
  • Learning about compassion and emotions.
  • Greater emotional knowledge about companionship, building a bond and making a friend.
  • Encouraging socialization and development of related social skills.
  • Understanding rules and chores in a concrete way.

Before you jump into adopting a pet, recognize that owning a pet is a lifetime commitment. Like any long-term decision, advance thought and preparation is key!

Also, consider adopting a rescue animal, but carefully evaluate if this choice is  suitable for your child. There are many wonderful dogs and cats patiently waiting for a “forever” home at your local animal shelter or pet adoption agency. 

Choosing the Right Pet

Dogs and cats are popular pets for good reason. Dogs come in all sizes and personalities. They provide unconditional love and acceptance; enjoy being touched; can play with the family, and can go places with you.

Dogs do require a high level of care, such as regular walking, brushing, and training. It is important to research breeds that are child-friendly and suitable for your home and lifestyle. Consider whether barking or dog play behavior might frighten your child.

You may be surprised to learn that there are more pet cats than dogs across the county. Cats are the top choice in part because they require much less daily care and are less expensive to own than dogs. They also live longer, on average, because they are smaller than most dogs. 

CatIf you are considering a cat, just as with dogs, it is important to find the right match. Cats tend to have distinct personalities and don’t exhibit the same type of behavior as dogs. As cat lovers know, cats are affectionate, friendly and will bond with you. They enjoy closeness and petting and play.

However, cats do not roughhouse like dogs. Cats tend to be more quiet and sensitive than canine companions. For those reason, cats can be a good choice for a sensory -sensitive child who might be frightened by loud barking, jumping and lively dog behavior.

Not all children, or adults, are comfortable with animals. This can create a very stressful situation for both people and pets! If you are in doubt about your child’s comfort level with any animal, it is not the time to bring home a pet.

If you would like to have some type of pet experience in your home, fish may be the answer. Fish are low maintenance pets, and watching water movements has been found to be soothing. No guessing why they are the No. 1 pet in America!

fish-bowl-846060_1920Fish, require maintenance and good, consistent care. Learning responsibility is important, but as the parent, you will always need to monitor and supervise the care and ensure the safety of both your child and your pet. Small, furry pets such as guinea pigs and hamsters are often appealing. However, they have to be handled very gently and care must be taken to have their cages always locked, so escape or unwanted attention from other pets does not occur.

No matter what you decide, a good suggestion is to expose your child to the pets you are considering before you bring one home. Here are some ways to check out pets:

  • Spend some time with friends who have pets, visit a rescue group or foster a dog before adopting.
  • Prepare your child by reading some books about pets together.
  • Create a checklist, social story, or visual images of what to expect and how to behave with your pet.

Additional articles on this topic:

By Allison Weideman, ECLC Chatham School Psychologist

Let’s Plant a Sensory Garden!

Garden

What is a Sensory Garden? A sensory garden is meant to appeal to ALL the senses, not only our visual sense. They are often utilized with special needs populations and are found to have therapeutic value for many individuals.

We are most familiar with the sights of a garden. Enhance the visual appeal with plants of varying flower colors, including red, soft grey and mixed color foliage. Consider plants with different textures and shapes and some (like grasses and tall plants) that will sway with the breeze.

The sense of sound will be enhanced with features, such as wind chimes,  grasses that rustle and textured paths that make sounds as you walk on them. Having a birdbath will add bird calls and visual interest. If you have a pathway, incorporate  gravel or stones that produce sound when walking.

For the sense of touch, include plants that can tolerate some touch and “petting.” Hosta, coneflowers and yarrow are all quite tolerant of touching. Vary the textures of plants, so that you have some smooth leaves and flowers and some larger or fuzzy textures (purple sage). Some plants are just fun to touch, such as lamb’s ears, astilbe (with its fern-life foliage) and sunflower heads.

For the sense of smell, choose plants with appealing scents, such as roses, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and the annual nicotinia, which produces a scent at night. Grow some annual herbs, such as mint, thyme or rosemary. Pick them for a salad or crush the leaves in your hands to experience the scent.

What are native plants and why should I have them? Native plants and trees grow naturally in a geographic area, and provide food and sustenance to birds and butterflies.  Many of the plants and trees we see in garden centers are lovely, but they are not native to the United States. They don’t provide the needed support for our native wildlife and are not as hardy.

Consider plants, such as coneflowers, sunflowers, yarrow, hosta, beebalm, coreopsis, veronica and native blueberry shrubs. Any variety of milkweed is an important food plant for monarch butterflies. These are all perennials, so they return each year.

How to get started! Planting and tending a garden is a wonderful child and family-friendly activity,  and a fantastic way to welcome Spring! And, of course, when your plants and flowers come into bloom, you can enjoy them all season. Whether you want flowers or food,  there are easy growers to get start started on this Spring.

A garden can be a large plot of ground, or as simple as a container or a flower pot.  It can be fancy or as simple as three ingredients (pot, soil and seeds).

There are many seeds that will grow well  when planted directly in the garden. Some easy and hardy annual  flower seeds are zinnias,  sunflowers, marigolds, cleome and alyssum. Seeds are available at garden centers,  home stores and even some supermarkets.

It’s fun to look through the seed packages together and decide what to grow. Easy, high-producing vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini, which are easily planted from small containers. If you are adventurous, hot pepper varieties are pretty. Luckily, all seed packets have instructions! Watering and weeding your garden are two activities everyone can do together. And, then, pick some flowers for your table, or make a salad, and enjoy what you have created!

 

Pretty Plans

Among many flowering native shrubs you can consider planting is this gorgeous Hydrangea quercifolia plant!

For further information:

10 Steps to Building a Garden.

Top 10 Native Plants for the Northeast.

10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard.

Why Native Plants Matter 

Sensory Nature Adventures and Play – for families of children with disabilities.  

Gardens for the Senses. 

Written by Allison Weideman, Chatham School Psychologist

 

 

How to Increase Your Child’s Attention and Focus

Staying focused can be challenging for any child but particularly those with special needs. But there are tools and techniques to help keep your child happy and on task!

Find a tool or technique from the list below. Then, start your child with a task they enjoy for up to 20 minutes. Take a break, using one of the techniques, whether it’s a time clock, weighted blanket or music. If it works, have your child try a task they perceive as more difficult for 5 to 10 minutes, followed again by or using one of these techniques.  Repeat this strategy until you see that your child is able to show improved attention. Gradually increase the time on task.

Here are tools and techniques to try at home:

Visualize Time — A timer can reduce stress for your child, as they see how long they have until a task is over. You can go low-tech or high. Time Timer makes a clock as well as software for the computer, which shows a child how much time he/she has left — or how much has passed — via a diminishing red disc. Search for “visual timer” apps on your iPhone, iPAD or Android device. Or, an old-fashioned sand timer does the trick too.

Play Memory Games — Memory isn’t a muscle, but it can be exercised to improve focus. Memory games are fun and do not have to be complicated. Games, such as memory matching cards or Concentration, can be played as a board game or on an iPad/iPhone or Android device. Even a simple game of red-light, green-light, I-Spy or Simon Says forces a child to concentrate.

Puzzles — There are many types of puzzles that can help boost your child’s awareness, while building fine motor skills. But keep in mind that puzzles don’t always have to be something you touch. For example, word searches, crossword puzzles, tic tac toe and logic puzzles, use the power of deduction to help your child discover answers, by relying on the mind, not just eyes and hands.

Movement and Breaks — Give your child opportunities to move around. Schedule regular breaks and change work sites. For example, a child can work several minutes at the kitchen table and several minutes at the dining room table. Each time the location is changed, the student may experience a burst of mental energy. A 10- to 15-minute break for light to heavy physical activity can also help increase concentration.  Examples of activities include walking on a treadmill, wall push-ups or a brief walk. Learn about relaxation through breathing techniques at “Go Zen Mindfulness and Breathing.”  Additionally, it may help for children to do something with their hands, while seated. They might doodle, roll a piece of clay or play with thinking putty.

Deep Pressure — A weighted blanket/pillow used for 10 to 20 minutes, while working can provide deep pressure and increase attention.  Additionally, compression tops, like those worn by athletes underneath their shirts, may work similar to a weighted blanket/pillow. Have your child wear the shirt for 10 to 20 minutes.

Tuning In — Taking a 10-minute break to listen to quiet classical or calming music can help a child refocus to a task that may be difficult or monotonous but necessary to complete.

In addition to these techniques and tools, setting up a regular routine and work area is important.

Plan It — A child should use a structured daily planner to help them organize activities. A planner that is broken down by days of the week or days of the month and has sufficient room to write all the information needed or to place stickers in the date box is preferred. Using a calendar or a calendar app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device is also a good life skill.

Child’s Home Office — Help your child set up a well-organized “office.” Parents should schedule a weekly time that their child/adolescent will dedicate to straightening up the office and making sure all office supplies are well-stocked (e.g., Post-Its, pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, paper clips, etc). The child should find their best time(s) for studying (most alert times of day), and post these times as their “Office Hours.” This may also be a good time to experiment with different kinds of background noise levels that work best for doing homework. Some children/adolescents concentrate better in a noisy environment or while listening to music, while others may need to use ear plugs or sound blockers.

Results will not be immediate, but with practice and consistency, your child’s attention and focus should increase over time!

By Cindy Collins, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, ECLC Chatham Schoolread-316507_1280