How to teach your kid to form letters, post-surgery version

My child has trouble seeing and we want to teach him how to form letters. This is kind of a life lesson for us too.

Parenting note: It’s my goal to keep the ratio of parenting posts fairly low on the blog overall. but the next few weeks may be an exception as I’m home with Noah (9) and Liam (4). 

Liam’s still recovering from cataract surgery, but try telling him that. As far as he’s concerned any attempts to keep him from injuring his eye (he had a lens implanted) are just crazy grown-up talk. It’s also been a rough road to diagnosis for my little crazy-active guy; part of us coming to terms with how poor his vision has been (and may stay, if his brain doesn’t re-adjust) has been to realize that when he says he hates writing or hates drawing, or simply gets up and runs around, he’s frustrated by real things.

I would have thought that after a lifetime of working to take my own experience seriously I would have remembered a little better that in children particularly, behaviour is often its own language. Liam of course has no idea how other people see, and wouldn’t know how to express it if he did, and so for him letters and numbers have been dancing around helter-skelter and he just thought that’s how it is.

Here’s the activity that brought it home; he asked me to write the first row and then went to continue the set. I’m pretty sure this is how he sees. I have gently tested him since and it looks like he knows how to write his numbers and letters, as long as you do not care whether they are oriented in space in any way – he reverses, flips upside down, misses big chunks or writes over prior letters:

Numbers as written by a young kid with cataracts

While we’re home I’m trying to boost his confidence a bit. I’d also like him to learn how to read and write, you know, in his life, and since I have this gift of time I figured why not haul out some of the strategies I learned way back when I was an ed assistant for the TDSB way back when.

How to teach letters using a sugar tray

By the time I was working with kids in elementary school with this kind of trouble, they were usually pretty wriggly and oppositional when it came to writing their letters, which makes me wish I’d spotted the same in my kid (although a lot of 4 year olds just are.)

IMG_3797

This exercise combines the sugar drug with removing some of the barriers to forming letters (how kids hold the pen, the drag of pencil or crayon on paper) and also allows for quick erasure of any mistakes with a shake. In my completely unscientific and untrained observation, making sure the child or student isn’t staring at his or her own mistakes for too long is important, because it reinforces the reversal in their minds. Also, it’s discouraging.

The other bonus: The more times you write a letter the more times you get to lick your finger in between. Strong incentive to keep going, at least if you have my kid.

With Liam, I get him to point his pointer finger (although he prefers using his thumb) and we do the letter from the top together, to help him develop the arm feel/muscle memory for the movements. Then he writes that letter on his own. He’s into it.

Materials:

Cake pan
Sugar

Caution: Yes, it’s awful to use sugar to teach your children. I used to be very anti-bribery too. You can totally use sand, just don’t lick.

There’s lots of parenting stuff here but I am reminded too that often we attribute success or failure to attitude rather than to actual systemic issues, especially when it comes to kids and teens. 

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Getting to okay: The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground

In March 2004, I went into labour after a very healthy, textbook pregnancy. 89 hours after her birth, my daughter Emily passed away due to damage to her body because of a lack of oxygen during delivery.
Bridge with water and trees Scarborough ON
That experience cast a oversized shadow. We live in an era of antibiotics and ultrasound. Carseats save lives. The kids, generally, are okay. But I have a hard-coded understanding that really bad things do not just happen to other children, out there. They actually can happen to mine.

One of the questions I’ve gotten from women who have experienced similar losses, especially when it’s new and fresh and raw and awful, is how will I ever be okay again?

When my eldest son came home from the hospital I was so completely freaked out that he was alive, because I had to keep him that way. I sat on the floor with him in my arms, receiving blankets stacked in the underneath of the change table, cold air from the air conditioning on my thigh, feeling him breathe. Please breathe, please breathe, please breathe is a tough postpartum mantra. But we made it. We were okay, enough anyway. Okay had moved. Two years earlier, okay would have been counting diapers. That year, it was getting up off the floor.

Point awarded: Life.
Butterfly at Colonel Danforth Park
On Monday, my youngest, Liam, age four, is having eye surgery at Sick Kids to remove a cataract. It’s a day surgery and as far as surgeries go, not a big deal. But he will have general anesthetic. It would be nice if he had a good shot at seeing things afterwards. And now I have to make that leap of faith over the gorge that was losing Emily that I can trust the medical team to look after him properly, because the last thing he needs is a parent who is a mess.

And it’s been all right. I have not asked the pre-anesthesia screening nurse to let the surgical team know I have filled my quota of coping with medical nastiness, so please would they keep in mind that the balance of good and evil for the entire universe depends on whether they do their jobs correctly. I haven’t even spent more than…well too many hours on Google.

But then this morning.

Grief rarely drops you a line saying Tuesday at camp drop off, you are going to watch your child launch himself at the stairs and then The Fear will arrive. That’s how I think of it, The Fear. There’s normal parenting fear. There’s the fear you feel the moment before the test results come back negative. And then there’s The Fear felt in that eternal second spent realizing the med tech was looking at your baby’s brain activity, and wiping a tear from his eye at the same time.
Bridge freezes sign at Colonel Danforth Park
Once it knows your address, The Fear can be an over-persistent caller. It lodges in the reptilian brain: Fire is hot, don’t put your toes over the edge of the cliff, your child might die. Might die this week. 

The Fear can be held at the threshold by logic, but logic won’t get it off the porch. It will wreck sleep, and concentration, and relationships. And I think, when people want to know if they will be okay, that’s one big part of it. How do we get The Fear to move on?

Here’s today’s answer out of a million possibilities.

photo 2 (1)I didn’t try to argue myself out my feelings. I didn’t head to emerg for a heart workup. I didn’t make a mimosa. Instead, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk, because it seemed like a better idea than even that protestant work ethic standard, Being Productive. And as I took the time to look at what was right there in front of me, everything behind me slowly shifted back into a manageable size. It was okay.

The pictures in this post are from that walk.