Zeke's Favorites - Our Tool Kit for Sensory Processing and Anxiety

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Hi there! In case you’re new to our blog, let me introduce myself! I’m Laurie Geary, owner and director of Yellow Wood Tutoring. I have three amazing kiddos, ages 5, 3, and 1! My oldest, Zeke, has some unique challenges that go along with a diagnosis of Cerebellar Ataxia. In case you don’t know what that is, in a nutshell he has damage to his cerebellum, which can impact balance, coordination, vision, and speech. This is his overarching diagnosis, but he also struggles with severe expressive speech delay, sensory processing disorder, and anxiety.

As Zeke has grown and matured, he has made lots of strides in his physical skills - gross motor, fine motor, etc. However, his sensory processing difficulties and anxiety have become a larger hindrance to learning and interacting. He struggles with large crowds, but our day to day transitioning is hardest. Transitioning into his classroom at school, into his therapy appointments, or just transitioning to a new place are tricky and anxiety inducing!

Recently we created a “tool kit” for Zeke that we take with us, everywhere (or at least as often as we can remember!). We’ve seen some big improvements thanks to his tool kit, and I’m excited to share with you what has worked for us! This is definitely a work in progress, so we’d love to hear from YOU if you have any ideas to add!

  1. chews and fidgets

Zeke is not a huge “chewer”, but he does need something to chew on if he is in full meltdown mode. We chose this chewy necklace because it has double use - a chewy and a fidget. he loves playing with this necklace, and he doesn’t feel weird about it because its not “just” a chewy. This necklace is a great preventative tool when we go somewhere new or when he’s nervous.


2. Weighted Toys

Zeke does really well with deep compression and weight. It helps calm him almost immediately. Weighted stuffed animals have been a big hit with him. Two we keep with us are his Snap-able Star Fish (the two star fish snap together), and his sequin hedgehog. Both double as a fidget (the snaps and sequins) as well as providing the weighted deep pressure. Win win!

3. Noise Reducing Headphones

Like many kids with sensory issues, Zeke hates loud noises. Fireworks? Traumatizing. Big, noisy, echoing crowds? Awful. So, we’ve learned to prepare him for the noise by telling him it may be loud and offering noise reducing headphones. Sometimes he declines the offer, but usually once we are in the loud area, he will ask for them. The trick is letting him know that they are available if he needs them! These headphones were a lifesaver for us at Disney World last year.

4. Magnet Blocks (or other “Took Kit Only” toys)

We also keep a couple toys that are only “tool kit toys” - meaning, he cannot play with these toys except when he needs a minute to calm down, or is waiting in a waiting room. Magnet blocks are my go to, but we’ve also done something as simple as matchbox cars.

We have some other odds and ends in our tool kit, but keeping it simple and predictable has been very helpful for Zeke! He knows what is in the bag, and knows that I switch out the toys, so he likes that small element of surprise.

What works for you? What do you take with you to help keep meltdowns at bay?

Best Montessori Resources for Your Homeschool

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*This post may contain affiliate links. I only share what I love and think my readers would appreciate most*

Do you LOVE the idea of Montessori learning in your home, but aren’t sure where to start? That’s how I’ve felt too! This year I set out to find some resources that would be easy to implement in my home, high quality, and not require a lot of extra work on my part, because we all know how busy we are! In our schoolhouse program at Yellow Wood, we wanted a hands on approach to math that would teach all concepts, including money, time, measuring, and math basics that was easily individualized. After some digging we found a couple great programs that I’m excited to share about!

Young Kids

If you have kids 3 or 4 and younger, you’ve got to check out Monti Kids. This program is like a box subscription, but for high quality Montessori toys. Their website markets it for infant to 3 years, though I know my 3.5 and 5.5 year olds would also love the toys in the older boxes. They way it works is every 3 months, you get a new box of Montessori toys! How cool! This will be my 1.5 year old and 3.5 year olds’ Christmas toys this year! The best part is you can cancel anytime so you don’t HAVE to get toys every 3 months. If you’re thinking about ordering a box from Monti Kids, use coupon code YELLOWWOOD to get $30 off!! Shop Now!

So there are some great toys for ages 4 and under! This is my favorite way of learning before 5! Lots of play and lots of movement will help prepare your toddlers and preschoolers for school!

PreK-8th Grades

Now, when we were looking for some new math resources at Yellow Wood, we found a fantastic program called Shiller! This curriculum has Montessori math and language arts programs for ages Pre-K through 8th grade! The best part is they created this curriculum specifically with homeschoolers in mind, so it’s super easy to implement. The books are multi-grade level, so you can easily go back and review any missed skills, or jump ahead if you’re ready. It is an open and go curriculum that provides Montessori quality hands on experiences! Shop Shiller Math and Shiller Language Arts. You can also see all the options at shillermath.com (I am not compensated in any way by sending you to Shiller’s website. I just love this high quality program and want to share it with you!)

When getting started with the Montessori method, I’ve found it’s best to implement one aspect at a time! I am not a hard and fast Montessori schooler by any means, but I see huge benefits to the method, so we add it where it works best for us! Do you do Montessori at home? Share about it in the comments! We’d love to hear YOUR favorite resources!

GUEST BLOG: Brain Boosting Preschool Gift Guide

I recently had the opportunity to guest blog for a great fellow homeschool blogger - Sicily’s Heart and Home! I had a lot of fun writing this post and thinking about some great gift ideas for my own preschoolers!

*This post contain affiliate links*

Hi, I’m Laurie Geary with Yellow Wood Success Academy, and mom of 3 kids under 5!  At Yellow Wood we specialize in using games and movement to build brain skills. At home, I am a special needs mom and love finding ways to help my kids thrive! I can’t wait to share our favorite preschool games and toys with you! These products are perfect for Christmas gifts, as they’ll keep your kiddo entertained AND provide beneficial input.

When choosing gifts for my own preschoolers, there are a few specific things I consider:

  1. What aspect of brain development does this toy provide? Sensory? Vestibular? Cognitive skills? I love to focus on non-academic skills in the beginning. It’s SO important to make sure the brain has had a chance to develop in all areas before starting academics!

  2. Will this product be child-led, or parent-led? I believe there is a place for both, but it is important to have a healthy mix of both at our house!

Your go-to list for games that will boost brain skills in your preschooler!

Keep reading….

Brain Based Learning Summit

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FEBRUARY 26TH-28TH

Join us for an ONLINE summit, all about brain-based methods for homeschooling unique learners!

Have you heard about the Brain Based Learning Summit? We are SUPER excited to be hosting this ONLINE event in February 2019! Wondering what exactly this event will entail? Keep reading!

For years we’ve dreamed of bringing together the best and brightest experts in homeschooling who have our same goal in mind - to reach students where they are and guide them toward success! Whether your student has a learning challenge, special needs, or is gifted, you’ll find inspiration and actionable tools from some fantastic people!

This summit will be like a homeschool convention, but better! Since it’s online, you won’t have to leave your couch, AND with VIP tickets you’ll have lifetime access to the lectures and handouts. You’ll be able to work through the material at your own pace and really dig deep into new ideas! Also, since this summit is specific to unique learning needs, you’ll have specific workshops just for your UNIQUE needs!

Each day of the summit you’ll have access to:

  • New online workshops each day

  • Lecture notes, resources, and activities provided by the speakers so you’ll have a solid action plan for utilizing new ideas in your homeschool!

Learn more and purchase your tickets!

Essential Oils and the Sensitive Child

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I am a firm believer that essential oils can have amazing health and wellness benefits! We use oils EVERY DAY in our home. One of my children, 5 years old, has some sensory processing difficulties, and so using essential oils can be a challenge. How does Zeke react to essential oils, you ask? If I put it directly on him where he can smell it, then it’s a no go. Sometimes he gets agitated immediately, and other times it takes a few minutes and he’ll go craaaaazy. So, we had to get creative on how to use these for his benefit! Through some trial and error, we have found some blends and uses that don’t bother him AND help him feel calm and stay healthy.


  1. Health in our home

We LOVE Thieves essential oil! It keeps us healthy through the winter months especially. If anyone starts to get a runny nose or sore throat, I pull out the thieves! The strong smell can bother Zeke, so we use it on his feet. It’s great for keeping his feet smelling great too! ;)

We also put thieves in our homemade cleaning spray, so everything from floors to counters to beds get sprayed with thieves weekly. This keeps the germs at bay and we truly don’t deal with much sickness anymore!

2. Calming Anxiety

Zeke deals with some anxiety, and so does our Zoey. We’ve found that lavender bothers our kids, so we went on the hunt for another oil that would help calm them. My favorite right now is Frankincense! It’s a great oil that helps you feel grounded and calm. I use it myself on my chest, but on the kids we put it in the diffuser, or on their neck or feet. I’ve seen some great results!


3. Tummy Aches

We have a lot of food sensitivities in our house, so tummy aches happen on the regular. Our FAVORITE oil is digize! IT has fennel and other goodness that helps tummies feel better! The kids don’t mind the smell if its just a tiny bit on their bellies, but if Zeke is feeling extra sensitive we will put it on his feet instead.

So, our favorite tricks are:

  • Diffuser (with non strong scents! This is too much for Zeke if its a harsh smell)

  • Oils on the feet! This is a great way to get the benefit of oils without overwhelming smell. We put socks on immediately so they don’t smell it at all.

  • Finding the best oils for US! There are so many essential oils that provide similar benefits. We’ve tried out all sorts over the years and these are the ones we use consistently. There’s no right or wrong answer though - find what works for your family!


You can look into some essential oils at the link below!

If you’re interested in using essential oils, but unsure HOW to get started, then you’ve got to check out this Essential Oils and Herbs Bundle! It is chock full of amazing tips and recipes for health, cleaning, cooking and more! You’ll get science-based approaches to using essential oils and rest easy that you’re using them in the best ways possible!

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Planned for Success

 
 

Here it is, another day, and you and your child are staring each other down.  You are asking for a few seemingly simple assignments to get done, but this small person is intent that the wood grain on the table, or the weave of the fabric in the pants they are wearing is the most interesting thing they have seen since they were born!  You have tried cajoling, reasoning, punishment, but this child is like a brick wall and oblivious to all forms of parental guidance at this point. Have you ever been here? Have you ever found yourself staring down this very scenario? I have...more than I would ever care to admit!  Those days were the hardest days! Hold onto hope! If you have never experienced any of the above, but you really just want a way to organize your day and give your homeschool a power lift, keep reading!

A few key buzzwords floating around right now are growth mindset and intentionality.  I found that when I started with both of these things in mind the night before, I was able to gain ground, and our homeschool day was by far and large more likely to to be “incident” free.  On those days, I would look at, and study the plan for the next day (this does not take hours, but some days it would take about one hour), outlining for my children the tasks that needed to be completed, and I had a plan of encouragement to help them.  I also had a checks and balance system ready to go. Does that sound dreamy?

Well, hold onto that dream!  Yellow Wood Success took all of the above and more and wrapped it into a really cute little package for you!  We have designed a planner to help guide the student through the work you need/want them to do (with a priority marking), the materials they will potentially need, and a discreet section where your child can ask for and track their need for help, and how much time they spend on the assignment.  To help with that feeling of accomplishment, there is a place to check tihings done, and a place for you to show your child how they did there work! This gives both of you a concrete way to reflect on growth in the area of studying, follow through to the finish, and speed and accuracy (just record their grades on here along the way).  

The reflection part of this process is really important for myself.  I find that my children learn a great deal from reflecting on their own learning.  In this learning, they are able to better self-correct and make choices that reflect what they have learned.  The simpleness of this planner, combined with a quick daily, monthly, and semester reflection on how things have progressed, can really provide peace, calm and a new way for both yourself and your child to approach the homeschool day!  

If you are interested in getting this planner, please follow this link to our store!

Silly Ways to Stop the Bickering

 
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Onalee again, ready to share how I use humor to put a stop to the endless bickering during our homeschool day! It’s not perfect, but it sure beats anger!

Are you in a low, or a tough spot in your homeschooling world? Do you find yourself asking your child the same mundane questions over and over again without any results?  Are you listening to an argument over who looked at whom, or something similarly small and asking why are we arguing over this again? Do you wonder if there could be a way out of this conversational rut?  Everyone gets here at one time or another. It is natural, and there is a way out! Read on for a few quick ideas!

When we (yes, sometimes I engage) get into an argument that makes me go “really?” I find that a quick bit of random can really break things up and change the mood for ALL age groups.  Here is how I do it, but please feel free to add your own twist. As soon as I recognize that we are in a “really?” kind of argument anywhere in the house, I will move close to the offenders, wait for a quick pause and yell something really random like “Look!  Purple elephant!” while pointing in a random direction. Then, I quietly wait. The more confused they look, the better. The confusion means their brain just broke out of the current thought path, and is trying hard to process and jump to where you just took them.  Sometimes, if they try to move back into that path of comfort (aka the argument), I will repeat the process with an awesome Scottish accent and a new phrase. The accented phrase will usually break their brains away from the argument, and into my new world of imagination fun!  Pretty soon, we are all imagining wildly colored animals around us.

Some days, and you will intuitively know this too, I know random will not work with my kids.  They are in it to win it. They can be in the grumpy, or argumentative mindset, and it is not looking like we are going to break free any time soon.  This is when I pull out a random accent and begin speaking in that accent. I try to make it my worst accent to add a little humor to the situation. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, you can try a new game we discovered called Utter Nonsense.  The premise is you say a random phrase in a silly accent. This is a great way to bring about humor and break up the mood.

In the moment, if my children are arguing and there is no end to the madness, I will provide them with a warning.  Please be careful with your words, or I will be going to opera mode. Just saying this will elicit a complete mindset and mood change, like a magic pill!  It has taken years of practice and consistent implementation, though. I give three warnings. Period. Then I sing, as if I am the star of an opera, that I am now in opera mode, and I need them to stop arguing with me to make it stop.  I pour on the dramatic too, because - opera! I once spent two hours in this mode - once. Most of the time, this ends with the desired result quickly, as I sing everything and about everything until they have met the requirements of my stopping.  WARNING: This is a technique I reserve for when my children are engaged in an endless argument with myself or each other and my feathers are beginning to ruffle. This will prevent me from lashing out, and it helps them to see that sometimes humor is better than arguing or endless grumping.

I firmly believe that laughter is the best medicine.  If we can apply it as much as possible to our day, especially when things do not look like they could or should be funny, our days will be lighter, and the tasks at hand much more manageable.  Also, when we are laughing, we are creating a strong emotional tie to the knowledge we are gaining. In these moments of giggles and mindset shifts, we can gift coping skills that will help our children become very successful in any world they go on to conquer!

5 Ways to Implement a Sensory Diet

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Like a hunter in the wild, you can sense this coming.  Your momtuition (yes, I made that word up just for this occasion) is on full alert.  You see the change in stance, you see the mood shift, or the eyes change ever so slightly and you brace yourself.  Your child is going into a homeschool meltdown! Things are about to go awry if you don’t act fast! So, you quickly grab a sensory event to stem the tide and turn things around so the day can go on to a successful ending!  What are these sensory things you can grab in the moment? Let’s investigate!

  1. Spelling obstacle courses are amazing!  

    Spelling always raised the roof on our sensory events, so I worked hard to get creative on this subject.  I would have everyone stand somewhere random, and if they spelled their word correctly, I would have an activity for them to do like spin for ten seconds, do five jumping jacks, stand on your head, do a forward roll, etc.  This should be customized to your child so that they are stimulated in a way that relaxes their senses.

  2. Bouncing is a fantastic and easy activity to incorporate into your day.  

    We find a yoga ball, or playground ball to bounce on while reading, or doing math. The motion seems to work to keep things moving with less prompting from myself (which I love)!

  3. Weigh them down!  

    If your child is on the ceiling, weigh them down with a weighted lap pad, or blanket.  You can also have them carry a stack of books, or a bag of flour from one place to the next.  Sometimes, I send someone to the pantry with an empty backpack to count cans (up to a certain amount) into the backpack.  They bring that back to me (I have moved to as far away as possible at this time), and we count the out of the backpack and back into the backpack.  Then they go put everything away. These are some easy ways to incorporate a little counting fun into a sensory event.

  4. Go all fine motor on them!  Legos are amazing for the senses and mind!  These bricks work the fine motor skills while the bumps create a great sensory experience!  Legos lend themselves to model building for a historical battle or a scientific concept. They also create a great visual experience for math!  So, I say, get your build on!

  5. Texture Bins!

    Rice is for more than just eating!  

    We have rice bins for each person. You can color the rice if you want, but we just chose different colored bins.  The bin size is up to you, but you really do not need much for this event to be successful. Sifting rice is relaxing.  If you have a raised-edge cookie sheet, you can practice letter or number formation (draw/use rice to create a letter/number that matches the one on a flash card), build a model (2D style), and write spelling words in the rice.  These activities get the work done while satisfying the sensory needs, and creating a relaxing environment.

    Orbeez are so not over rated!  

    Orbeez are the new rice, except they incorporate a wet experience!  That means twice the sensory satisfaction! You can mix a bunch of different colored orbeez into a bin, and have your student sort into bowls by color.  You can have them line them up to represent a math problem they are working on (instead of linking cubes, use orbeez), they can use these to “draw” letters or spelling words too!  The possibilities are colorfully, squishily endless!

    Shaving cream boards!  

    This is an oldie, but a goodie!  You can have your student do almost any type of work on a cookie sheet with shaving cream.  They fill the sheet so it is like a blank, white paper, and begin to write. To erase, they just smooth everything out so it looks like a blank, white paper again.