Monday, April 14, 2014

Join the Club!

Recently our family was invited to be among the first to view the Missouri History Museum's latest endeavor, History Clubhouse: Let's Build It.  The idea behind the FREE exhibit is to invite families with young children to visit this "gallery-in-the-making" between now and October, 6, 2014 to be a part of the process in developing a fun and engaging permanent children's gallery set to re-open in 2015. 

From the Missouri History Museum web: The Let’s Build It! gallery is open during regular Museum hours.  We expect high attendance during our Let’s Build the History Clubhouse weekends. To ensure that everyone has a quality experience, we are implementing a timed-entry system during those weekends. Upon arrival, families must get FREE tickets for a 45-minute session in History Clubhouse: Let’s Build It! Sessions will begin 15 minutes past each hour, and tickets will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis. On those weekends, members have a special opportunity to visit from 9 to 10 am on Saturdays prior to the Museum opening.    

Additionally, your family photos could be part of the History Clubhouse as the museum plans to feature five area places that families enjoy: Cahokia Mounds, The Mississippi River, Soulard Market, Forest Park and Downtown St. Louis.  If your family has visited any of these places—whether it was yesterday, last summer, or 30 years ago— bring in your photos to hang in the gallery. You may also email your photos to, and they will display them for you.

Finally, the museum is holding an art contest for kids. Ten winning masterpieces will be enlarged to gigantic proportions and hung on the Missouri History Museum building for all to see in 2015! Kids are asked to draw, color, or paint their favorite St. Louis places. Families must use the designated museum template and return entries to the museum before October 5. Templates are available at the information desks.

Dramatic play galore
Natalie's friend, Ava, plays a few Native American games.
The curtained area is a space for kids who may need a sensory break.

Puppet theatre - always a hit
Books, puzzles and more!

Voting Area
The Museum asks kids to vote on what they would like to see in the permanent exhibit.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Dog's Life

"Mom! I just saw a cake!" piped Natalie from the backseat.

"Should I turn around?" I asked.

"Yes!" she cried.

Two Sundays ago, Natalie and I took advantage of the warm temps and set out on an adventure to find more cakes.  Since Noah was at a friend's house, I was planning to surprise the girl who believes "my life would be perfect if I just had a dog," with a visit to the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog. Neither of us had been there before and I knew we'd find a cake.

The museum is located in Queeny Park in West County.  The 14,000 square foot facility boasts of having one of the finest collections of art devoted to the dog.  With more than 700 original paintings, drawings, sculptures and figurines housed in the historic Jarville House, which along with the surrounding Queeny Park was the estate of Edgar Monsanto Queeny, president of chemical giant Monsanto, Inc., from 1928-1960.  The museum also showcases the All-Star Dogs Hall of Fame which pays tribute to the success of K-9 units. There is also an exhibit on dogs of war comprised of historical photographs and limited edition prints as well as memorabilia on the famous WWII Yorkshire Terrier mascot Smoky.

Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a friendly lady working the front desk, she gave Natalie a "scavenger hunt for kids" worksheet to help make her visit more enjoyable.  She was charged with finding a "dog named Bob -- who does something you don't often see dogs do" The clue led her to finding an oil on canvas painting of Bob, a long-haired terrier smoking a pipe, by well-known artist, George Earl.

She had a good time, but a few minutes into our visit, she inquired, "Where are the gerbils?"


Then I realized, she had half-heard the museum attendant talking to me about the historic, Jarville House.'s always an adventure when they are around.
Natalie spotted this cake at The College School.
Though we live close by, I hadn't noticed it before.
The entrance to the AKC Museum of the Dog

"A pug! They are my favorite.  I just love their squishy faces and curly tails!"
She discovered the answer to another scavenger riddle...
What dog named Queen once could be seen going round and round?
"Mom, if we lived where it's cold could we have a husky to take us around.
Because I already know the word to make them go, MUSH!"

"If I were President, I'd put him in the Hall of Fame."

Natalie leans on the only piece the museum will allow visitors to touch.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Building a Community of Friends...One Brick at a Time

Do you remember your child's first day of kindergarten? that morning you entered into a sort of wrestling match as they fought you to get dressed.  How they begged to stay home and needed to be carried to the car --all the while kicking and screaming and undoing their seatbelt as fast as you could belt them back in? they held onto the back of the driver’s headrest with a death grip while you tried to yank them out of the car by their feet?

Remember doing that on the first day and the second day and the 30th day?


Wait…you don’t recall doing that?

Ah…probably not. 

But, for those of us raising a child on the Autism spectrum…it’s easy to remember.

Chances are good that when your child started school, it was YOU who was shedding tears as they stepped into a new developmental milestone without hardly a glance back. Unlike my son who has Autism, my neuro-typical daughter couldn’t wait to start kindergarten and barely let me stop the car before she was racing ahead through the school doors without me.

As a parent I can provide for my children’s basic needs – I can feed and clothe them.  I can give them a home…a safe haven, but when you have a child who lacks the skills or confidence with navigating social circles…who has trouble recognizing facial cues – such as noticing that when someone begins to look away while you are talking, it is a hint that they may not be interested in learning about the names and functions of all the droids featured in Star Wars the Clone Wars.
Engaging in reciprocal language…small talk – is no small feat.

Which makes it difficult to grow and reach the next level as shown in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: BELONGING.  It is an intrinsic desire and the heart of what makes us human.  Imagine if you had the desire, but lacked the skill to make it possible.
And on those days when my son, now almost 11 years old with normal intelligence and “high functioning autism” comes home and shares that he is “lonely”...that kids don’t “get him”…that he feels “stupid” – my heart sinks…

And while he receives language support from a licensed Speech & Language Therapist there is no substitute for the real world.  The challenge is finding an arena. Yet, I know we are not alone – there are many children who do not even have a diagnosis, but struggle with making friends.  Maybe they are shy.  Maybe they lack the coordination or desire to play team sports…which is tough when sports seems to be one of the most popular ways for children to strengthen social skills and solidify friendships. And, while there are many after school clubs available at the high school level...there are few options for elementary school children.
One solution to level the playing field…and get kids who struggle “in the game” is to capitalize on a love that children the world over share…


Who knew that something so simple could not only rein as a top toy for more than 50 years but offer dozens upon dozens of cooperative learning opportunities for children.
How popular?  Did you know?
·       The LEGO company estimates that some five billion hours a year are spent playing with them and believe that on average, every person on the earth owns 86 LEGO bricks!
·        In 2012, 45.7 billion LEGO bricks were produced at a rate of 5.2 million per hour.
·       Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in 2012 would stretch round the world more than 18 times.
·        The first mini-figure was produced in 1978. Since then more than 4 billion have been made – making it the world’s largest population group! 
·        LEGO bricks as we know them were first introduced in 1958 and the bricks made then will still interlock with the ones manufactured today.

A few weeks ago I became a finalist for a grant to fund a start-up LEGO Club at my children's school.  I didn't receive the grant, but haven't given up hope.  Please contact me at andrea at therapyonwry dot com if you know of another organization that may be interested in funding this sort of project. 

Proposed LEGO Club Model:
Monthly or twice monthly after-school meetings
Meetings lasting 60-75 minutes, that revolve around a theme
One facilitator, three parent volunteers per group of 15-20 students

Meeting components:
settling-in challenge – 10 minutes

circle talk - 15 minutes
building time – 30 minutes
student presentation – 15 minutes
clean-up – 5 minutes

Popularity would dictate whether more than one group is needed, if so groups would be divided by grades and would require more volunteers. The program would be billed as a creative social outlet for all students as a means to build confidence, team building and expand learning experiences. I would coordinate with a teacher and our school librarian to conduct LEGO Club and showcase creations in the library each month. In time, and as the group matures and develops - I would love to see the older groups create stop action animation PSAs using LEGO mini-figures to promote everything from healthy eating to anti-bullying. The sky is the limit.
Settling In LEGO Challenge Ideas:
1. Divide children into pairs. Provide them with two bags containing 10 identical bricks and two LEGO plates. Instruct them to sit back to back. One child builds bricks onto his LEGO plate and then communicates where he placed each brick and the type of brick used to his partner.  The goal is for the partners to end up with pieces that look identical to each other.

2. Have each child grab a handful of bricks.  Then go around the room and for every brick the child has chosen, he has to share something about themselves.  For example: their name, favorite food, favorite game to play, etc.

3. Have the kids try to move a LEGO mini-figure several floor tiles without touching the mini-figure. Provide some items for students to use such as: matchbox cars, sling shots, ramps and rubber bands.

4. Have each child grab a handful of bricks and see what their imagination builds – their design must include all bricks they grabbed.

5. Sort out an identical set of LEGO pieces for each student and watch how each one comes up with a unique creation.
6. See who can build the tallest tower in 5 minutes.

7. Take pictures of simple LEGO structures, and have the children try to duplicate it. You can also do it step-by-step. Or, do one as a race.

8. Students form a circle and are each given 5 LEGO pieces.  The first child has 10 seconds to build something with his 5 pieces and when the timer goes off, pass it to their right and the next child builds upon the first child's creation with their 5 pieces, until all children have added on their pieces.  
9. Give each child a LEGO base and ask them to try and create their name in LEGOS.

LEGO Club Circle Talk Ideas:
For students K-2, the circle talk portion could begin with reading a short story related to the theme as a means to extend learning and invite questions and sharing among students.

For students 3-5th, circle talk may involve inviting a parent or someone from the community who works in a related field, share about their occupation and answer questions from the group.  For example, if the club meeting theme is bridges -- invite an engineer to speak.

Additionally, circle talk could include a short slide show consisting of 10 or more images of LEGO creations that fit with a particular club meeting theme.

LEGO Club Themes/Book Ideas:
Transportation – planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, sailboats, submarines, ships
“Transportation inventions: from subways to submarines” by Sandra Will
From the Model T to hybrid cars: how transportation has changed” by Jennifer Boothroyd
“Transportation inventions: moving our world forward” by Robert Walker
“Terrific transportation inventions” by Laura Hamilton Waxman
“Transportation planner” by Nel Yomtov
“Green ways of getting around: careers in transportation” by Diane Dakers

– marine life, land animals, farm animals, wild versus domestic animals, service animals, therapy animals
“Service animals” by Julie Murray
“Therapy cats, dogs, and rabbits” by Jenny Fretland VanVoorst
“Winter's tail : how one little dolphin learned to swim again” by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff
“Farm animals” by Wade Cooper

Space – planets, aliens, space ships, rockets, astronauts, stars

“Space – A visual encyclopedia”
“Space” by Alan Dyer
“Astronauts” by Carmen Bredeson
“Alien worlds: your guide to extraterrestrial life” by David A. Aguilar

Buildings & Bridges– skyscrapers, homes, stores, monuments, castles, treehouses
Record breakers : the biggest” by Claire Llewellyn and Thea Feldman
“Iggy Peck, architect” by Andrea Beaty
“High-rise workers” by Tony Hyland
Food – fruits, vegetables, ethnic foods, farmer’s market
First Food fight this Fall and Other School Poems” by Marilyn Singer
“Fun Food Inventions” by Nadia Higgins
“Middle Eastern Food” by Wendy Blaxland
French Food” by Wendy Blaxland
“The food of Mexico” by Byron Augustin
Buddy and the bunnies in Don't play with your Food” by Bob Shea

Seasonal – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, Christmas tree, presents, snowman, penguin, flowers, jack ‘o lantern, witch, Frankenstein, hearts, apples, pumpkins, cornucopia
Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
Trick or treat, Marley!” by John Grogan
“Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat” by Eileen Christelow
The Legend of the Candy Cane : the inspirational story of our favorite Christmas candy” by Lori Walburg
“Olivia and the Christmas Present” by Farrah McDoogle
“Charlie and the Christmas Kitty” by Ree Drummond

“How do dinosaurs eat their food?” by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague
“If Dinosaurs Lived in My Town” by Marianne Plumridge
“Dinosaurs Roar, Butterflies Soar!” by Bob Barner
“Dinosaurs Galore!”
by Giles Andreae
“Edwina, the Dinosaur who didn't Know she was Extinct” by Mo Willems

Proposed Budget (to support 30-40 club members)
Two, LEGO Storage Towers                                                           $120        
20 LEGO Bases                                                                              $100 
Two, 1000 piece LEGO mix sets                                                     $400

30 assorted LEGO mini-figures                                                       $  90
Notebook/binder and color copies for documentation                     $  40

and use with club meetings                         

                                                                                               Total $750   

Clones and aliens mixing it up and cheering on the little boy trying to reach the next level.
Belonging: It takes a village



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring Break Wrap Up 2014

The weather was breezy but bearable on Friday as we kicked off our first day of Spring Break. We teamed up with a bunch of friends to enjoy the morning at one of our favorite local attractions - The St. Louis Zoo.  One of the really great things about our zoo is how many of the exhibits are indoors - making the weather no big whoop. 

Herding cats is actually easier than getting nearly a dozen kids to all look at the camera at once.

On Saturday the sun came out and the temperatures soared to 70 degrees, but Natalie and I spent most of the afternoon under black lights as she had been invited to a classmate's cosmic roller skating party.  She had a blast being with her friends while skating to her favorite tunes like "What does the Fox say?" and Fharrell Williams'  "I Feel Happy".
Natalie with her friend, Ella
On Sunday, St. Louis lived up to it's fickle weather reputation and temperatures dropped to 34, but with the wind it felt like 19 degrees.  By 10 a.m. it was sleeting and I was forced to cancel our Daisy troop's fieldtrip to World Bird Sanctuary for World Eagle Day.  Instead we headed to the movies to see The Lego Movie.  Noah had been watching the trailers for months and reminded me daily how much he wanted to see it with his rendition of "Everything is Awesome!"...Though now that he's actually seen the movie, we mostly just hear, "Honey, where are my paannnnnnnnts?"
Monday was gray and cold and I had a killer headache.  I mostly caught up on laundry. In the evening Steve and I went to our swing dance class.  We aren't the best, but I'm fairly certain we have the most fun of anyone in the group.  If there were a prize for laughing...we'd certainly come in 1st place.   That night we learned a new move called the American spin.
On Tuesday the sun came back out to play and we met up with friends at our neighborhood park.  Natalie was thrilled to see so many of her school friends. 
"How many girls does it take to hula hoop?
Natalie and her friend Genevieve taught the other girls how to play
a favorite Daisy game called "the knot"

Proving you don't have to be in a troop to enjoy a friendship squeeze.

Noah's friend Ross joined us for the day.
I wasn't close enough to hear, but I'm fairly certain their topic of conversation
revolved around light sabers and what they were going to have for lunch
 On Wednesday we scurried out the door by 8 a.m. but not before loading up our car with a myriad of "must haves" including two scooters, three light sabers, both kids' Nintendo DS systems, 5 books, a foot bath and a dozen or more bottles of nail polish.  I considered the kitchen sink, but then thought better of it.  We were headed south to my folks' house who live about 30 minutes from us in Oakville.  Noah spent the day dividing his time between x-box and Legos.  Natalie set up a spa shop in Grandma's kitchen and went to town giving me a manicure and pedicure.  It was a relaxing day, but windy and cool which kept us indoors all afternoon.  
Natalie created a list of services for her spa.  In case you aren't well versed in 1st grade writing...
foot bath, massage, paint nails, chocolate mask, refreshments and filing.
That evening Natalie spied the calendar and noticed Thursday was the first day of spring.  She then decided to organize a "happy spring" party for us.  First, she made a list. Next, she holed herself up in her room for more than an hour.  When she emerged she showed me the flower cut-outs she had created. On the backs of each one she wrote a category -- music, decorations, crafts, food and games.  Then she put each flower into a box and had us take turns pulling one out. I drew decorations.  Natalie was thrilled when she pulled games because she already knew what she wanted us to play.  Noah got food -- which he pretty much took to mean that I would make something sweet and chocolatey and he would take responsibility for eating it.  Steve got music which was good because he's not all that crafty.  In the end, Natalie decided we didn't need crafts. 

Natalie later admitted that she had felt around for this particular flower
because "I really wanted to be the one to do the games!"
Spring into Fun!

Natalie awoke Thursday morning to find my attempt at decorations for her "Happy Spring" party.
She didn't think my sign was big enough so she made another.
After making her list. She sketched out her vision for the party.
I love how she adds lines to express movement in her drawings. 

Natalie's party notes continued "Tret Time!" a.k.a. Treat Time

She was ready for our party.
Love those little bees.
With a party to plan, we got a later start than usual.  By the time we left the house it was 11:30 and the kids were hungry. Saves-a-lot-Noah wanted to treat us to McDonald's and we spent the first day of spring outside enjoying Happy Meals and exploring the grounds of Laumeier Sculpture Park.
This stl250 cake has so much stuff going on with it.  I think it's my favorite one so far.
Laumeier Sculpture Park.
A closer look
A new find for us. Laumier has many trails to explore and discover new installations.

A favorite attraction for both kids.

A set of sculptures meant to be enjoyed by dogs.

 After dinner, Natalie couldn't wait for us to get the party started.  Noah became a willing participant once he learned chocolate chip cookies were involved.

Noah takes a turn at Natalie's "Pin the Bee on the Flower" game.
Sometimes it takes so little to make 'em happy.
Steve won...but I'm pretty sure he cheated.
Natalie had envisioned flower cookies and I was happy to oblige, but simply ran out of time to make
any so it was Lubeley's Bakery to the rescue.  Through the week they remain open until 7 p.m. and allow
you to purchase as little as 2 oz. They offer a variety of miniature cookies - perfect for a little soiree.

On Friday Steve took the day off work and we headed to the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House at Faust Park for March Morpho Madness -- a time when they release 10 times the number of these bright blue beauties.  Open since 1998, the 8,000 square foot glass conservatory is home to more than 60 species -- in total between 1,800 - 2,000 butterflies at any one time.  During our visit we also watched a short, 17 minute movie called "The Butterfly Effect" which explains the life cycle of butterflies as well as their impact on our environment.  Later, Natalie and I spent some time in the Lopata Learning Center which features a cute book nook filled with dozens of books on butterflies and other insects along with several areas for working various kid-friendly puzzles.  Afterwards we grabbed a picnic table to enjoy lunch in the sunshine.  Since the park was extremely crowded, we headed back towards home, but not before making a couple of stops.  I made sure to leave room for dessert so that we could visit St. Louis' favorite frozen custard since 1930 -- Ted Drewes!  Each of us has our favorites.  For Steve, it's always the "All Shook Up", for me either the "Dottie" or "Terramizzou", while Noah is old school with a Reese's cup concrete, but Natalie always keeps us guessing.  This time she chose a mint Oreo concrete. But, no matter what you choose, you are guaranteed to leave happy.

Noah and Natalie
Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House

Getting up close and personal with some hissing cockroaches.  Feed them for $1
Natalie hanging out in the book nook.
The Blue Morphos move so quickly my camera could only capture flashes of blue in the photos.
Natalie takes the cake at Ted Drewes
Since the Shrewsbury Metrolink is less than a mile from our house - we decided to check another one off our list.
On Sunday "I can't believe Spring Break is over" day, we celebrated Natalie filling her sleep chart with a week's worth of sleeping through the night by taking the kids to see the movie, "Mr. Peabody and Sherman".  While we don't normally see movies more than a few times a year, I was happy to take prior to that week, I had racked up quite a sleep debt.  The movie was really sweet and of course Natalie who claims, "my life would be perfect if I just had a dog" loved the movie especially the theme that every dog needs a boy.  And, it wasn't just our kids who enjoyed it.  As the movie ended, many in the theatre began clapping.  It's been a long time since I've witnessed that kind reaction from a movie. 
All in all it was a great week.  The kids and I really enjoyed the time off from rigid schedules and homework.  But, the teasing spring temps have left me impatient for more outdoor adventures...more cakes to find and places to visit. Only 58 days left til summer vacation!