A Parent’s Guide to Screen-Free Activities

It seems as if our kids were born with the ability to work a tablet, computer and/or phone.

Or is it just my kids?

It’s a well-known fact that most kids are very attached to anything with a screen and a keyboard, so I’ll spare all of us the research. The question is, how do we get our kids AWAY from the screen?




There’s Fun Beyond The Screen

I promise there is.

Our kids might not see this, especially if they’re teens and love Netflix, but there’s really a whole world out there. I have a kid on the autism spectrum, so this is double the fun.

Tips for getting your child off the screen:

  • Have another, more fun, activity lined up. This one is pretty obvious. It’s a clear winner at my house. Know your kid- what do they like? What is something you know will interest them for a couple hours (or however long) to keep them off the screen and engaged? Try something new, you never know what might get their minds going. At my house, this includes nerf guns, parks, walks and simply telling Julian to ride his bike.
  • Find apps with built-in timers. Some apps have these and automatically shut off after a certain amount of time and then the fun part- making sure your kid doesn’t go straight into another app.
  • Find a stopping point. This works wonderfully with kids who do not do well with interruptions or transitions. If you can have them stop at a certain episode, level or other points, it may be easier for them to stop. It can be super frustrating to have to stop in the middle of something.
  • Discuss consequences and follow through. Every parent knows that kids need consequences. If your child doesn’t follow through with your rules on not stopping, limits, etc., then it is time for a consequence.
  • Try limiting your own screen time. Look at how much time you spend on your phone/tablet.
  • Ban electronics at mealtimes. Some families allow electronics at the dinner table, which limits conversation at the main time of the day that everyone is together.

A note for parents of kids with autism: This can be a special kind of challenge because some kids use iPads to communicate, some behaviors can be stopped (short-term) by handing the child a device, and it can also be used as a reinforcer for good behavior.

Also, some kids with autism are great with computers. You may have to get outside assistance to modify the behaviors your child has, depending on the severity. This information is from Psych Central

Alternatives to The Screen

This is where the fun comes in- what can kids do besides play or watch things on a screen?

Plenty. Here are some ideas.

  • Read a book
  • Draw/color (there are SO MANY awesome coloring books out there)
  • Painting rocks (check out Pinterest)
  • Go through old clothes/toys to donate
  • Take a walk, go for a run, ride a bike
  • Picking apples, other fruits
  • Plant a garden
  • Birdwatching
  • Learn a new skill/hobby
  • Watch the clouds

It can be hard to put down the screen at first, but the memories you make as a family are definitely worth it.

Do you have any activities to add? List them in the comments!

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Back To School

I’m THRILLED to be writing my back-to-school post. It’s been a great summer (see The Summer Vacation Recap) but it’s time for these kids to go back to school.

Lily is going into the fifth grade at the elementary school all three kids attended. When we went in for registration, we found her name on the wall and she was delighted to find she got the teacher she wanted. They hugged and I laughingly said, “I give you the last of my kids,”- she had Julian two years ago and loved him. I’m just happy that paperwork took less than a half hour because I am currently in an RA flare and my exhaustion is real.

We missed the boys’ registration due to our Daytona Beach trip. Cameron is going into 8th grade and Julian is going into 7th. Luckily, a friend of mine went with her sons and messaged me the important info. Everyone has all their clothes, supplies and other things ready. School bedtimes are in effect. I’m happy about this, but none of the kids are.

What am I worried about?

  1. Julian. He’s always at the top of this list. He had a rough adjustment to 6th grade, but I am hoping that doesn’t happen this year. We’ve talked about asking for breaks, help and other things, so I’m hoping it sticks. Plus he hates reading and that’s a whole different topic. This may require meeting with his teacher.
  2. Cameron. He’s a bit of a slacker, and obviously this won’t be a great thing in high school and beyond. We have to work more this year on not slacking so much. #NoSlackersHere
  3. Lily. I’m still worried about her development. I feel as if she is functioning a bit behind her peers and I’m not sure where this leads us.

Bullying is always a cause for concern, no matter where you are. Please see my post Bullying: A Closer Look if you need information. This is a topic that all parents need to be aware of.

We did it, fellow parents! Most of us are escaping what I call #thehostagesituation. Another school year is upon us and that means lots of comedy, stress, and fun moments. Me? I’m just happy to get back to writing in a quiet house with the cats.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

The Sanders Family Goes South

Five people.

One car.

Thirteen hours. (over two days, because kids and other factors)

Five days.

We finally went to Daytona Beach. The last time we went, Cameron was 18 months old, Julian was a month old and Lily had not crossed our minds yet. Thanks to five years of college, financial issues and a slew of other things, it took us 12 years to get back.

Tails and Miss Purr were left in the very capable hands of Ashley, otherwise known as the animal whisperer. We left plenty of food, water and toys. I’m sure plenty of playtime and cuddles occurred.

My mission? To relax, have fun and not end up in a flare. If you aren’t familiar with rheumatoid arthritis, flares can be brought on by a lot of things but lots of activity like walking can do it. Flares, to me, is pretty much like having the flu without the stomach part.

My mission was partially accomplished. After the lighthouse trip late in the week, I was exhausted and achy. The drive home was hard on me. This post was written in the beginning of a flare. I’m just glad we got home before it hit.

Getting there was an adventure- we broke up the trip over two days. We stayed overnight in a cheap hotel and… a small thing happened.

Yes, Matthew is holding the door handle to our room. He was able to put it back on and everyone was safe afterwards. It was probably one of the funniest moments of the trip. Everyone except Lily laughed.

We got to Florida, stopped for orange juice at the welcome center and continued our journey. The kids were happy to be in Daytona until… “Mom, it stinks.” Of course, Julian thought the ocean air was gross. He’s sensitive to smells and all of us are used to it.

Over the next few days, we went to the beach, spent a lot of time in the hotel pool and we may have learned a few things.

Julian and Lily collected seashells, but Cameron wasn’t into it. All of the kids were into the idea of burying me in the sand. I found sand in my ears for two days after but it was fun. (I found the hat on Amazon- photosensitivity is no fun but my meds are working so the tradeoff isn’t that bad.)

We spent part of an afternoon at the Daytona Beach Pier and Boardwalk, which was great. It’s super pretty there. Lily hates walking, but she didn’t mind the view.

Kids at the Pier

Lily shooting hoops at the Fun Center

Julian didn’t want to do anything educational but went along with a tour to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. There’s 203 steps, which destroyed my joints, but it was still pretty cool. The view was beautiful. Lily did not like this, partially because of the steps and because she hates heights. We weren’t up at the top long. Warning: if you’re not a fan of Dutch staircases, I’d skip this. I thought I was going to fall more than once.

The Marine Science Center was a bit better. Unfortunately, the touching pool was closed the day we went but we were still able to see everything else. Plus we got in for the cheapest price, $2/each. There’s five of us and anything cheap is good, right?

This center houses sea turtles that need medical help and that’s neat. They are in tanks and you can see them as they are being treated. There’s also birds and exotic fish.

I’m a chocolate lover, which is partially why I’m a bit chunky. I found a chocolate factory that gives free tours so we went for a bit of adventure.

I think the boys enjoyed the serpentarium the best. It was okay but then I’m not a fan. We watched snake handlers extract serum in order to make anti serum. I’m pretty sure I’ll never, ever want to make this part of my career. They also got to hold a couple of very calm snakes. I cringed and took pics.

The funnier part is that the main guy said that he had been bitten 11 times, the last time being in 2006. He listed the snakes that bit him like it was nothing and I was like, “nope”. I’ll spare you the extraction pics. It was a bit wild.

Cameron saying hi to an iguana

There were many fun moments and a few sibling fights. I’d say it was a great trip. I’m glad to be back. If you get a chance to go to Daytona Beach, I highly recommend it. There’s a lot to do- or maybe not do.

All pics are my own.

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The Summer Vacation Recap

It’s been an interesting summer so far at the Sanders house. Sleep has become Cameron’s favorite activity and Lily can finally see her bedroom floor. Julian turned 12 on July 18. I don’t have any pics from the party because it was probably one of the worst ones we’ve ever had.

Staying Home for the First Time

I’ve never been home full time for a summer with the kids. I’ve always worked. This is a whole new adventure for me. Before school let out in May, I started a list of ideas to keep the kids busy. I knew this wouldn’t be an easy task with three kids who have various interests.

It’s a Big City Out There

Louisville is big, and there’s a bunch of suburbs, and that’s where we are. There’s a lot to do, but it can get expensive.

Enter the Cultural Pass. This is offered through our local library and it’s free, so I snatched three of them. Each kid requires one, and I get in free to each place because I’m Mom. Yay. We went to the Louisville Zoo (minus Cameron, because he had a migraine), the Louisville Water Company, and the Louisville Science Museum. We took a cousin and met Sara there with her husband and daughter, Bella. (She and Lily are besties.)

We also went to Henry’s Ark, a free petting zoo about a half hour from home. We love this place. It’s small so it’s not overwhelming. There’s even a few cats. Once we were here and I was horrified at hearing a peacock make noise. This time the peacock was quiet. There were baby ducks everywhere and everyone loved them.

Lily is the last kid in elementary school. The school has a sensory garden and every summer, families help take care of it. This is the last year that we get to help out and it makes my heart a little sad. There’s lots of water and some weeding involved. It rained a lot during our week, so we only got to the garden a couple of days.

We have also been seeing some free movies during the summer like:

  • “Angry Birds”
  • “The Star”
  • “The Emoji Movie”
  • “Boss Baby”
  • “Despicable Me 3”

We also saw “Uncle Drew” for Julian’s birthday.

What’s Next?

School starts in just over three weeks and that makes my mom heart very happy. In fact, we are going school supply shopping later this week. School starts August 15.

What’s next is our long awaited trip to Daytona Beach, Florida. We leave August 4 and will be there for a week. Is Daytona Beach ready for us?

Healing Through Creativity: Art and Hippo Therapy

Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some truly awesome people. I’ve worked with teachers, nurses, psychiatrists, and more. I’ve seen some of my mental health worker friends go on to do some great things. Some have become nurses, teachers, and one has become a psychologist (he started out as a program specialist). I wanted to examine “unconventional” types of therapy, meaning those that you wouldn’t usually see in an office setting.

Today’s post features two of my former co-workers from the same facility. Brenda was a special education teacher who retired in 2017. She was one of the best teachers I’ve ever met and also has been a great friend- during my bad times, I would sit in her classroom and cry. She’s given me lots of pointers in life and is so much fun to talk to. She also has a great passion for horses, which led me to talk to her about hippotherapy.

Ashley was a mental health worker and she shared the same passion that I did for the kids we worked with. I wasn’t able to work with her very long because I left the facility. She’s a very sweet woman, and I was delighted to hear of her becoming an art therapist. I’m always happy to hear when people reach their dreams and move on to better things. When I came up with the idea for this post, I knew she would be the best person to ask.

Thank you, Ashley and Brenda. It means a lot that the two of you took the time to talk to me.


Art Therapy is More Than Just Drawing

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about art therapy. I didn’t even know what kind of degree is needed to be an art therapist. I know that it is done mostly in groups, but can be done individually. It can also be done in hospitals or in other settings. Luckily, Ashley knows a lot more. I was able to contact Ashley via email due to her busy work schedule. She works at a juvenile correctional facility in Louisville, KY as a Mental Health Professional.

Ashley graduated in 2016 from the University of Louisville with a Master of Education in Counseling and Personnel Services degree with a specialty in Art Therapy. She has become a Licensed Art Therapy Associate (LPATA), Registered Art Therapist (ATR), and Licensed Practicing Counselor Associate (LPCA). She is scheduled to take her exam to become a board certified Art Therapist in September. She has been working in this area since September 2016.

I asked what inspired her to go into art therapy and she stated this (directly from her email):

I graduated from Georgetown College in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I specialized in studio art throughout my undergraduate studies. The therapeutic relationship with my artwork is what really sparked my belief in the healing components of art making. I was able to use my artwork as a way to express myself freely and honestly. Having an uncensored outlet allowed me to confront grudges of a traumatic childhood and process through mental health issues that stemmed from it.

Artwork was the one thing that challenged me to face my fears and empowered me to overcome them. After doing some research, I was thrilled to learn that art therapy existed AND that there was a licensed profession to boot! There was no question that this was my calling. Here I am, 8 years later, assisting others in finding their own strength and paving their way to freedom.

I thought this was an amazing response, which is why it is directly quoted. Once you find your passion, I’m a firm believer in doing it. Ashley is one of the lucky ones. I have also been lucky enough to live mine, in some way or another. Mine was to help people- over the past decade, I have been able to do that. Some people never find their passion, and that is a very troubling thing.

Art therapists work in a variety of populations and locations. They also work in different art mediums. Ashley works with a really interesting population- incarcerated adolescents. I’ve worked with kids similar to this, and it can be very challenging. She says:

I provide individual and group psychotherapy that incorporates art therapy assessment and intervention. Art therapy assessments are used to gather information, assess their mental state, and determine their mental health needs. Art therapy interventions are used to help clients express themselves and explore aspects of their life that they may have suppressed or struggle to confront. Both art therapy assessments and interventions utilize art media to include 2D and 3D materials. Art media is determined upon client’s presenting mental state and concerns that are being addressed. Art media can range from drawing with a pencil on white paper to constructing large sculptures with found objects.

There are misconceptions about art therapy, and I asked Ashley to address those. Her response was:

The misconception I run into most is that art therapy is viewed as a leisure activity and often discredited. I wish I had a dollar for every time art therapy has been referred to as “art class” or “play time”. Art therapy is one of the most effective forms of mental health treatment because it allows access to suppressed memories, thoughts, and feelings that many cannot or will not express on their own. I’ve had many clients’ artwork that “accidentally” shares aspects of themselves and their lives that they had no intention of disclosing. Often times, these “accidents” expose the true, underlying issues of mental health concern. Art therapy has the potential to break down the walls that reveal that not-so-perfect road that people have detoured. It just so happens that this journey down that not-so-perfect road comes exclusively with color, creativity, and a chance to step out of your comfort zone!


Hippotherapy Isn’t About Hippos

Brenda has a deep love for horses, and she even had one named Billie Jean, after the Michael Jackson song. He was her favorite singer. I had no idea that horses needed a test to be able to be considered for hippotherapy until we discussed the questions for this post. (Brenda and I had a wonderful lunch.)

Temperament Is Important

Horses have personalities just like we do. Some are calmer than others, some listen to commands well and some don’t. However, some horses just know to be gentle with people. A hippotherapist is usually a Physical or Occupational Therapist, and they have assistance from others to encourage both the horse and rider. These therapists have studied anatomy and other areas to know what will be therapeutic for the rider. Riders can go with or without a saddle pad. Sometimes a Speech Therapist is needed to help the rider with speech issues, for example, the child can try to give small commands to the horse as a part of therapy.


Connections Are Made

Brenda has been a side and lead person in hippotherapy sessions, mainly due to her experience as a special education teacher. This means she has led horses and been on the side to assist children and adults as they ride. She currently works with adults with disabilities with tasks such as giving horses baths and grooming. This is done at her barn.

Brenda told me a story about a child that she once saw. *Laura was a child with autism and was non-verbal. She had limited social skills but loved horses. Her mother took her to the country a lot just to look at them. She also spent a lot of time drawing and looking at books about horses. Her mother, however, was terrified of horses. An older horse, about 25 years old, was found for Laura, and she was allowed to ride. After three sessions, she was more confident. She wanted the reigns, was all smiles and seemed more independent. After eight sessions, she got off the horse, hugged her and said, “I love you, Betsy”. Three days later, she told her mother “I love you, Mom.”

When a non-verbal child speaks, it’s a big thing. It’s even bigger when they say “I love you” to a parent.

That shows the power of a horse.

Misconceptions of hippotherapy

Brenda stated that the main thing that she has seen is that people don’t know enough about the healing power of the horse. This is true because I don’t know anything. Most people I know don’t. Special needs children have a hard time expressing themselves, so it is hard to explain it to others. This is very understandable. It definitely deserves more research and understanding.


Would you consider unconventional therapy? What do you think of art, hippo, music or other therapies?

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