Posted on

Looking Back, Moving Forward

severely premature newborn
Previously I wrote on two topics that touch all of us – how our lives can change forever in a heartbeat and how staying calm empowers us to carry on. Lest we forget, the universe sends reminders from time to time.
The World Turned Upside Down
At birth, every child transforms the lives of its family. Daily living will never be as it was. That’s a given. When a child arrives at 25 weeks, two days gestation weighing 1 1/2 pounds, the world turns upside down. Obviously unexpected and clearly life-threatening, the situation requires everyone to remain calm, despite intense emotions. Keeping calm makes carrying on possible and insures the best possible outcome.
Entering A Parallel Universe
Most families never experience such an event. Those who have known how terrifying it is, even when the birth occurs in a hospital with top tier neonatal facilities. Such Neonatal Intensive Care Units are marvels of technology staffed with specially trained doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Each infant is cared for by her own highly skilled nurse. To enter such a unit is to enter a parallel universe. Going there for the first time took my breath away.
My daughter-in-law recalls being in shock and feeling queasy on her first visit. Overwhelmed by monitors displaying information she didn’t yet know how to interpret and afraid to look at her daughter, she remembers the compassion of the nurse as she gently encouraged her to stop looking at the monitors and look at her baby, saying “I’ll look at the monitors. That’s my job. You look at your baby.”
I recall feeling apprehensive about being there and about what lay ahead for our only grandchild. Astonished by her delicate beauty, thick hair, and skin so thin I could see her heart beating. And dismayed by the enormity of the challenges she faced.
Acknowledging Feelings
That’s an invitation, however ill-timed, to acknowledge all the feelings that come with this experience. Doing so is essential self-care – imperative for keeping calm and carrying on. This journey is the ultimate rollercoaster ride. I’ve never relished the ups and downs, twists and turns of a rollercoaster, and even those who do can appreciate the difference between living on a roller coaster and a thrilling ride at an amusement park.
Counting Blessings
Our family has been blessed by what hasn’t happened as well as by what has. That’s life in NICU. The range of challenges is staggering. Every situation is unique yet shares common threads. When schedules overlap, parents become acquainted, exchange information, and offer encouragement.
 Although we do not know the parents and other grands, we appreciate their plight and exchange greetings in passing. Carrying on takes on new meaning when everyone is literally in “the same boat.” The journey is long and exhausting. A nod or a smile brings comfort and encouragement. Small gestures make a big difference.
Bundle of Joy
Ciera and her parents began enjoying skin time when she was four weeks old. She contentedly snuggled. My best Christmas gift ever was being able to hold her on Christmas Eve, the day she turned seven weeks old. By 36 weeks gestation, she had shed many tubes, lines, and leads.
Celebrating Milestones
After a nurse moved the feeding tube from her mouth to her nose, she became giddy with joy. She delighted in being free from that nuisance. This is not our imagination. She smiled more than ever and took joy in testing how far she could stick out her tongue and how wide she could open her mouth.
Discovering Likes and Dislikes
Ciera likes the sound of words beginning with “p” and “s”, an observation her mother tested out after I reported her delight in the word “purple.” She smiles every time she hears the word. She also likes the sound of peaches, pears, and plums, but not of broccoli.
Settling In 
She left the NICU at three months old, only to be readmitted six days later. After 12 days, she was once again in her own bassinet, adjusting to life on the outside. And so the journey continues. We’re all acutely aware that we’re still on that roller coaster, subject to unexpected, high speed twists and turns, and yes, that’s scary. But as her mother says, “we’ve got this.”
We celebrate each milestone and those professionals who worked tirelessly and compassionately to insure Ciera not only survived severe prematurity but thrives. Our favorite neonatologist reminds us to think of her age in terms of her due date, not her birth date. Wise counsel. That’s where she is. So newborn, first time parents, and never-expected-yet-delighted-to-be grandparents are all adjusting to our new reality, grateful for the opportunity to grow together.
Learning New Tricks
The first time she came to spend an afternoon with us, all went well, despite the learning curve that comes when the time between becoming parents and grandparents is 40 years. We laughed when our son called to express his gratitude for the free time and said, “Mom, did you realize you’d put her diaper on backwards?” “Son,” I replied, “do you think I’d have done that if I’d known front from back?” Four decades ago his diapers were cotton, secured with pins, and worn under plastic pants. Current diapering practices are but one of the new tricks we old dogs have learned.
We focus on how “baby girl” lights up our world and delight in holding her, sharing family stories, reading snippets of Dr. Seuss, and singing the purple people eater song, a fave for the girl who likes the sound of the letter p.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Hats Off to Child Life Professionals Worldwide

baby resting on father

March is Child Life Month, a time for raising awareness of the psycho-social needs of pediatric patients and their families and celebrating the child life professionals who support those needs. Illnesses and injuries are always frightening. Diagnostic testing and treatments are too. That’s when the presence of a child life professional makes all the difference.

Educated in child development and how illness and injury impact children, child life specialists offer evidence-based, developmentally appropriate support. By providing information, procedural preparation, distraction, and therapeutic play, child life specialists help children cope with the uncertainties and fear that accompany being in hospital. Children experience less distress and are better able to manage their feelings as a result.

Child life specialists advocate practices that minimize distress. They encourage parental presence with guidance, comfort positions, and distraction during procedures. Comfort positions provide both physical and emotional comfort. Remaining calm is easier when a child is physically comfortable and emotionally supported. Procedures go more smoothly, children experience less pain, and what began as a frightening experience becomes easier for everyone to deal with.

Recently our micro-premie granddaughter benefitted from a medical staff aware of comfort positions. Experiencing a problem requiring readmission to NICU, she entered through the emergency department. During admission, she lay contently against her father’s chest. Once in an exam room, staff suggested he lie down on the bed with her on his chest – the perfect comfort position for her exam and initial treatment. Transport maintained that position on the trip to NICU. Parents and child alike were comforted by the compassionate care provided. An unexpected, frightening experience became manageable.   

Our family salutes child life professionals worldwide. Your efforts have transformed attitudes and practices for the benefit of children and their families, and we’re grateful.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Read Across America

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! Your books have had quite an impact these past 80 years. Your wonderfully whimsical words and drawings continue to delight and inspire the young and the young at heart. You encourage us to “think and wonder, wonder and think.” We’re better off when we do.
Your message is clear, “the more that you read, the more things you will know.”
So when the National Education Association wanted to create excitement about reading, they choose your birthday for an annual event called Read Across America. Designed to motivate kids to read more, the first celebration occurred on March 2, 1998. Now, all across America, schools hold assemblies and guests visit classrooms to read aloud to the students. I’ve even heard that some principals have dyed their hair green. I’m wondering if any cafeterias serve green eggs and ham. Now that would be a scream!

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Name This Famous Person

Name an author/illustrator born on 2 March 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts .

Need a clue or two?

1. Wrote and illustrated books for adults and children, and holds the rare distinction of having been number one on The New York Times Best-Sellers List for both nonfiction and fiction.

2. First children’s book, To Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers before being published by Vanguard Press in 1937.

Still don’t know? 

Of course you do. 

It’s Dr. Seuss, of course.

 On the big day, eat green eggs and ham for breakfast. Unless! You can say aloud, “I do not like them Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham.” Eat whatever you like I say. Just be sure today you choose a favorite Dr. Seuss book to READ ALOUD to someone special to you.

What better way to get ready for his birthday than by recalling important lessons he taught us in his wonderfully whimsical way?

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

 

To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.

 

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

 

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?

 

              Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter,

and those who matter don’t mind.

 

Stand tall and speak up.

 

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

 

Think and wonder, wonder and think.

 

Think left and think right and think low and think high.

Oh, the things you can think if only you try!

 

It is better to know how to learn than to know.

 

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.

 

Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!

 

The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

 

You have BRAINS in your HEAD.

You have FEET in your SHOES.

YOU can STEER yourself any DIRECTION you CHOOSE.

 

You’re on your own.

And you know what you know,

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

How Do We Decide What’s Best for Our Child?

children playing with bubbles

We all strive to do what’s best for our children. Question is, what does ‘best” mean? Does one size fit all?  Should we consider each child and choose options that best fit what we know about that individual and how she learns? Or go with the flow?

Once we decide what’s best, how do we evaluate the “rightness” of our decision over time? After all, nurturing children isn’t a “set it and forget it “ proposition. It’s one that requires vigilance and willingness to re-evaluate. What we thought the best choice could turn out not to be or to be for less time than we thought.

Beyond that is a plethora of information and opinions. Consider currently prevailing pressure for more academic learning at ever earlier ages.  What’s to be gained? What’s being lost? What are the consequences, both short-term and long? These are issues we need to confront as we weigh what’s best for our children.

Someone who has, both as parent and professional, is Angela Hansom. As a pediatric occupational therapist she focuses on activities of daily living. For a child that includes play. But what happens when children as early as preschool find themselves trading play for a more structured, academic approach to learning?

As a guest blogger for Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet in The Washington Post, Hansom shares her experiences. “The decline of play in preschoolers-and the rise in sensory issues” outlines what she sees as the consequences of society’s push towards structured enrichment activities and academic achievement as early as preschool over early childhood as a time for child directed, open-ended play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Rain, Rain Come Our Way

girl with rain boots jumping in puddle

After years of drought, we experienced the wettest January in more than a decade, and I celebrated every drop. Granted inclement weather poses challenges, from rain slick streets and highways to mud flows and flooding. Yet week after week of sunny skies during the winter creates severe water storages. Rainfall is absolutely essential.

Shelter In Place

People tend to stay indoors when anything wet begins falling from the sky. I readily admit to  savoring every opportunity to curl up with an engaging book and read and nap the day away. Some people watch favorite movies or channel surf until something interesting catches their eye. Others take pleasure in assembling pots of delicious homemade soup or baking favorite treats. Those passionate about a craft likely lose themselves in their latest project. Sooner than later, however, almost everyone comes down with cabin fever, feeling cooped up and restless.

Head for the Door

Who says we have to stay indoors? In fact, getting outside does wonders for what ails us. All we need is proper clothing for the conditions and a spirit of adventure. Dress yourself and the kids in waterproof boots, pants, and jackets, pull on gloves and a hat, and head out the door.

Splash in  Puddles

Walking in rain or snow is invigorating. Decades ago when our son Edward was four years old, we had 10 consecutive days of rain. And everyday we’d don our wet weather gear and take a walk. Always in search of puddles, he happily splashed his way around the neighborhood. Watching him delighted me.

Engage Your Senses

Engage your senses and experience the world around you. Breathe in the fresh, cold air. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and taste what’s falling. Feel it fall against your face. Watch as puddles form or powder covers the ground. The world looks altogether different with rain dripping off leaves and running in gutters or blanketed by fresh snow. Listen to the sound of rain falling and the silence of falling snow. Splash around in puddles. Make angels in the snow.

Savor Your Experiences

When you’ve had enough, go inside, shed your outer wear, and head to the kitchen for a steaming bowl of soup or cup of cocoa. Expand the rainy/snowy day experience. Talk about your exploits. What did each person enjoy most? What was the least fun? Write stories, draw pictures of what you saw and all you did. Savor the memories.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Children Learn While Playing

Girl with green hoodie and bubbles

Play is essential. Children learn while playing, and we adults do irreparable damage to children when we ignore this truth. By play, I mean self-directed, open-ended exploration and discovery. When playing, children use of what’s available, decide what they want to do, and put their energy into doing it. When a challenge arises, they assess the situation, re-think possibilities, and go from there. During play they develop creativity, problem solving, and executive planning skills. Playing with others, they learn vital social skills: how to articulate their ideas, to listen to others, cooperate, compromise, respect.

PlayopolisToys has pinned article after article to our Pinterest board Children Learn While Playing offering research demonstrating the value of play and lamenting its decline. Among these pins is a reprint of a speech by child development specialist Nancy Carlson-Paige, the author of Taking Back Childhood. An educator with 30 + years experience teaching teachers, she sums up her dismay over current practices that leave children little time to experience the benefits of unstructured, “free play”  by saying, “…never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.” Yet we do.

In “How “twisted” early childhood education has become – from a child development expert,” Valerie Strauss, writing in The Washington Post, reprints the speech Carlson-Paige gave when accepting the prestigious Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. Read what she had to say. If you’re a proponent, your passion for play will be validated.  If you’ve never given much thought to the issue, you’ll find plenty to think about.

Then settle in and find out what children learn from traditional open-ended play with blocks and bubbles, puzzles and play dough, and so much more.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

How to Choose The Best Toy

Looking for the Best Toy?

 Customers sometimes ask me to recommend the best toy for their child or grandchild, particularly if the child has a special need. Many begin the conversation by sharing a diagnosis. While valuable, this information only addresses one aspect of who the child is. To answer the question, we need to think beyond gender, age, development, or disability. That’s because we all have preferences, and those make all the difference.

We Buy What Appeals to Us

 Just think about ourselves. When we’re shopping, we bring our preferences with us. Think about a sweater. I might find one that seems perfect in every way, except one. The fiber, style, and fit are exquisite. The price, the lowest it’s ever been. The only drawback is the color. It’s a lovely color and the height of fashion, but it isn’t one that makes me look my best. Perhaps I could convince myself it’s not all that bad. In fact, it has much to offer, considering the price. Who doesn’t appreciate a bargain?  And it will keep me warm. That’s the main reason for buying a sweater, right? Yes, but… And here’s the reality in that three letter word. I’d end up not wearing that sweater, except if I was freezing and had absolutely nothing else to keep me warm. What we buy has to appeal to us if we’re to use and enjoy our purchase.

Kids Choose Toys That Appeal to Their Sense of Play

 Children are the same. A toy has to appeal to a kid before she’ll give it her attention. Something about the toy has to invite play, and once the child begins playing, the toy has to prove its worth. The child decides if it merits her time, if the toy offers enough value to hold her interest. Young children like repetition. That’s how they develop skills. Their toys need to be safe, well constructed, and durable, able to stand up to persistent play. Being easy to clean counts too.

Kids Learn Through Play        Array of flannel covered crinkle paper for babies

 Kids also like to explore and discover. Through play, infants begin to understand cause and effect and learn about their environment. Small enough for tiny fingers to grasp, Baby Paper is made of soft flannel with an inner layer of crinkle fabric that makes the sound of paper being crumpled when touched. Babies typically find that appealing and repeat the action that produced the original sound, learning through repetition about cause and effect, about their ability to make something happen.

Observe Kids at Play Before Shopping For Toys

 We make our best decisions when we’ve observed the recipient at play and know her preferences. When choosing toys, select from those you think will appeal most to the child and mesh best with her current abilities, emerging skills, and developmental goals. This is true for all children, with or without special needs. Toys are tools for play. When a child finds a toy intriguing and engages in play, learning occurs naturally and joyfully.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Flourishing During the Holidays

Holiday coffee and dessert

Whether your family celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas or both, this year finds the celebrations coinciding. With its eight days, Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 24 and culminates on the evening of January 1. The traditional Christian celebration of Christmas begins with Advent, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and extending 12 days, ending with Epiphany on January 6. Despite the ever earlier onslaught of commercial messages extolling us to shop-until-we-drop, our cultural Christmas season seems to reach its peak on Christmas Eve and end with the arrival of the new year.

What’s makes these holidays special? What fond memories do we cherish? What makes us cringe? The answers vary, but family seems universal. Yep, God love ‘em, some of our relatives make us cringe. Are our feelings obvious? Are they mutual? In the spirit of the holidays, finding ways to manage our feelings and be inclusive are important. Family does count, and as I recall hearing children say, “you can pick your nose, and you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” Depend on early school aged kids to “tell it like it is.”

Best way to handle such relatives is beforehand. Think about why you feel the way you do. What might you do or say to lay the foundation for a more amicable encounter. How might you graciously and firmly avoid traps? Rehearsing scenarios in our minds can be useful, not a guarantee of success, but better than being caught off guard.

Living, as we do, in a polarized society, we’re wise to avoid hot button issues in holiday conversations. If one comes up, speak up immediately, reminding everyone of the purpose of the gathering – to celebrate the season, share fond memories and make new ones. Most people will take the hint. Others will keep hammering away. That’s the time to be polite as you firmly refuse to take the bait. Take a walk instead.

Surround yourself with joy. Celebrate the season with a simple afternoon tea with those near and dear to you.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

Posted on

Distracted? Distracting? What’s Distraction?

What’s A Distraction?

When hearing the word distraction, what comes to mind? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, distraction has three distinct meanings. The most common refers to anything that keeps us from giving our full attention to something else. Often we view that “something else” as more important than whatever or whoever is interrupting us. Sometimes it is. Others absolutely not. The definition is ambivalent. The situation determines what’s a bane and what’s a blessing.

If I’m concentrating on writing a blog post and constantly being interrupted, the interruptions are keeping me from focusing my full attention on my writing. That’s a hindrance. On the other hand, child life specialists use distraction toys and techniques to divert a child’s attention away from a frightening or painful scenario. Such distractions reduce stress and increase the child’s ability to cope. Similarly, distractions help prevent or minimize emotional meltdowns in children.

Recreation or Agitation?

Additional definitions, “diversion or recreation” and “extreme agitation of the mind or emotions,” reflect the same polarities as the primary meaning. Perhaps if we embrace this duality of meaning, we can avoid extreme agitation by allowing ourselves a brief diversion. Breathe deeply. Find a quiet place – preferably outdoors – and simply sit. Take a walk. Balance is crucial to our well-being.

C. S. Lewis wrote “Children are NOT a distraction from more important work. They are THE MOST important work.” Most parents would agree, at least in principle. Our most important work is rearing our children. Doing so is our privilege and our responsibility, and we take that seriously.

Being responsible parents means providing for our children: clothing, food, shelter, health care, and education. To accomplish this, we engage in other important work – that of earning a living. If we’re not mindful, our jobs can drive us to distraction. We’re called upon to create boundaries and establish equilibrium among myriad important tasks including our most important one.

Create A Diversion

Interrupt the cycle by creating a diversion. Spend time in a leisure pursuit with your children. Switch off electronic devices and play. What play means to you and your children will depend on ages, stages, interests, and available resources.

With holidays approaching, consider baking, making cards, or decorating butcher or craft paper for one-of-a-kind gift wrap. Explore service opportunities in your community and choose one to brighten the holidays for others. Perhaps read aloud a favorite holiday story or sing familiar songs at a retirement home. What’s important is being together, sharing experiences, making memories. Creating positive experiences for others shows our children the importance of kindness. They learn such lessons best from watching us. Whatever words we use, our actions speak louder.

Now back to the word of the day – distraction. Be mindful of interruptions to your most important work and use recreation and leisure pursuits to avoid being driven to a state of mental distress. Breathe deeply, slow the pace, and savor the moment.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play