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Let me give you some advice about achieving balance. Stop. Seriously, this is the best professional wisdom I can give you. It's free, no prep, and it will make your life so much better.

Around this time of year, back to school, I see a lot of posts on social media asking how to balance work and life. I don't see a lot of real answers. There are the usual eat right, exercise, meditate, self-care comments. Those people mean well. And those are good things to do in our lives.

Here's the real answer - stop searching for balance.

I'm not kidding.

I mean, I can barely physically balance my toppling paperwork pile, much less my life. Once I stopped trying to achieve balance, I focused on priorities and responsibilities. That sounds really boring. But it's why I get paid, and it's part of adulting. My days aren't balanced between work and family and healthy habits. They are organized by priority.

Here are 3 reasons to change your perspective about searching for balance.

1) Life happens

Carefully balancing a day doesn't allow for life, you know that unpredictable thing where safety drills interrupt therapy, my personal kids get sick, or my car breaks down on the way to work. I know. I used to craft my days minute by minute. Anything that threw off my carefully planned and balanced day threw me off. When a student bolted, when I got 5 referrals in one day, when my computer showed The Blue Screen of Death, that planned balance was gone. All I wanted to do was veg on the couch (does anyone say that anymore?) and stuff my face in a half-gallon of Blue Bell's chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream.

Now if I get thrown off, I can still hit the must-dos and priorities. I don't have to worry that my timeline for the day goes out the window. There are days when I spend longer than 8 hours working or when some of my personal ventures and hobbies don't get touched for weeks. It's okay. Remember, I'm not searching for balance. I'm getting what I have to do done, and I will get to what I want to do. Just maybe not today or this week or month.

2) The pressure of social media

I'm mostly an empty nester with a super supportive husband. I realize I may be in a different life stage than some of you. To those of you who have young kids now, you have it tougher than I did. Social media used to be fun. Pinterest didn't come around until my kids were in middle and high school.

The pressure has been upped.

The first time I saw a Pinterest picture about a mom who blocked her kids' doorways with balloons and streamers on their birthdays so that they could burst out in celebration made me want to crawl back in bed under the covers. Guess what? I've asked my grown kids, and they both said they feel loved and don't feel slighted that their birthdays didn't go viral.

Remember that what you see on social media is what the poster wants you to see. Maybe those streamers fell down three times before staying up for the picture, or maybe the tape used to attach them peeled off some paint.Maybe the post is sponsored by a party supplier. The social media world is not your real world.

3) You really don't want balance

Think back to summer - how many times did you see posts complaining about too much pool time or wondering about balance? Zero. Not once over summer break did I think, "I'm not working enough. How do I get back into balance? Maybe I should build some time into my summer schedule for work."

We think we want balance when we are doing things we don't like. For me, and probably for a lot of you, that's paperwork. That is not why I became an SLP. Staring the pile and lists only makes me anxious and turns me into an even bigger procrastinator than I usually am.  I break the pile down into - what do I have to do today? Crossing off the list or crumpling a sticky note with an accomplished task makes me giddy. So I focus on that feeling.

You know what balance is? Guilt. Straight-up pile-it-on-ourselves guilt that we aren't spending time with our families or that we drive through McDonald's instead of grilling chicken and steaming broccoli or that we played Uno in therapy instead of making that elaborate lesson our well-meaning non-SLP friend shared with us on social media. No one needs more guilt in their lives. Give yourself grace.

Stop trying to achieve balance. Do your job. Address your must-dos and priorities. At the end of the day, ask yourself, "Did I do the best today with what I know?" If it's yes, that's great. If it's no, decide what you want to change. Don't dwell. Move forward.

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SLPs often feel stressed, and searching for work life balance doesn't help. Here are three 3 reasons to stop trying to achieve balance and still get the job done!
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When people find out we went on the first teacher PD cruise, their eyes widen, and they ask, "Was it as fabulous as it sounds?" And yes, it was!
Teach Your Heart Out had the brilliant idea of putting professional learning on a cruise. Lisa (PK teacher) and I (Laura, SLP) attended. Disclaimer: TYHO paid for our cruise and registration. Opinions in the post are our own.
Laura and Lisa
From the night before we left, we were reconnecting and making new friends. It's so important to have good support in the educational field!
Laura, Stacy from Simpson's Superstars, Chad from Male Kindergarten Teacher, and Lisa

The PD day included fabulous sessions from Teaching with Mr. G, Brooke Brown, Lindsey Petlak, and more. Michelle Griffo from Apples and ABCs offered fantastic classroom management ideas and centers with a Target twist. Lindsey Petlak taught us about fabulous apps and ideas for classroom math blocks. Of course, we found some time to sneak to CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island!
Mr. G had great tips on using books. Brooke Brown's knowledge of STEM has prompted me to think of how to use those activities in speech therapy. Previously, I had thought of STEM as a totally separate field. Now, I'm thinking STEM activities will engage and promote language in my students!

The most meaningful part for me was the trip to the Bahamas. We got to go to a school. It's very much away from where tourists go. It was humbling to see the living conditions and inspiring to see the dedication the staff puts into their work. I learned that there is only one speech therapist there. She works in a government building, and the students are transported from their schools to therapy. The waiting list can be up to two years! So different.

We all donated school supplies. It was so moving, and the principal was so grateful. And to top it off, Gerry Brooks closed the PD with a reminder to laugh, enjoy the adventure, and Teach Your Heart Out!


The highlights: the people,
friends
the PD
the school visit
Gerry Brooks
the adult swimming deck
the food and our waiter
being "unplugged"
watching "Captain Marvel" in deck chairs with a nice breeze
karaoke 
watching a singing competition where the "loser" prize was a highlighter. The game show hostess was stumped when everyone wanted a highlighter. Apparently, it's a joke prize among regular cruisers but a hot commodity in the teacher cruiser world!

What to be aware of: While it was nice to not be chained to my phone, I would spring for the Internet package next time. Some of the sessions and locations were changed.

Interested? TYHO is already planning a cruise for 2021! Find out more here.



A big part of my church's special-needs ministry is playing. Playing may not sound like Sunday School, and it took a while for me to come around to the idea. I have 5 tips for playing while serving, plus a free game for you, so keep reading.


Kids with special needs have a lot of demands put on them. Many of our children go from working on IEP goals at school to learning chores at home to following directions in different therapies... you get the idea. Or maybe you live the life.

And boy, did I feel pressure when I started volunteering. Ever read James 3:1? "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Gulp. God is going to call me to this ministry - and judge me harder?

So I started thinking about what I knew and grew up with - song time, craft time, Bible story time, Bible verse memory time. And quite honestly, it overwhelmed me. Around that time, our church started a major remodel, and His Kids, our special-needs ministry, moved temporarily to a portable where those activities were not practical to carry out. God used that time to teach me new ways to minister through play.

Here are 5 things I've learned about playing:

#1 - Ministry is not therapy.

I work in the schools, and I run on IEPs and data collection and planning speech/language therapy activities. My counselor husband advised me to just enjoy the kids. How could I do that when I needed to get them to understand Bible truths? Luckily, my husband is a wonderful role model, and as I watched him and the other volunteers, I saw that...

#2 - Relationships are more important than knowing all the facts of Bible stories.

Somewhere, a few of my former Sunday School teachers just gasped. When you have volunteers living out God's Word, kids learn what love and kindness and patience are. The children are going to start recognizing the volunteers and wanting to see them. Then parents can head to worship knowing their child is happy and taken care of. 

#3 - Incorporate Bible stories into activities.

We don't skip Bible stories. There is a definite lesson time for about 10 minutes. For the rest of the time, we just present the stories differently. Our volunteers have used a child's interest in dinosaurs to act out the story of Daniel in the lions' den with plastic T-rexes, named train cars after the disciples, and built doll houses while naming the figures after characters from the story of the prodigal son.

One of our kids gets up on Sunday morning asking for his favorite cars in the His Kids room. We pull out those cars and name them "Ruth" and "Naomi" while pretending that the car track is the road that Ruth and Naomi traveled together. Pretending affords numerous opportunities to say, "Where you go, I will go" - just like Ruth said to Naomi in the Bible!

The best activities come from building and knocking down, whether it's Legos, blocks, or giant foam tower shapes. We have seen a lot of response to building Jericho, an ark, castles for kings, and many more. Tip: emphasize that God destroyed Jericho, not humans, but let the kids knock down the structure. Just trust me on that one.

Kinetic sand is another activity that leads to a lot of interaction. We can put Joseph in the well or Daniel in the lions' den or push the sand to the sides of the box to part the Red Sea.

#5 - Focus on Bible truths.

When I think of the story of Noah, I can make a lot of associations - Noah was a righteous man, there was a flood, the size of the ark is incomprehensible to me, when I see a rainbow, it's God's promise, and I could go on. 

When I say "Noah" in His Kids, I don't know what the children are thinking. What I want them to know is that Noah obeyed God and that we should obey God. 

Whatever you teach as the Bible truth for a lesson, repeat it to the children over and over and over. In fact, when you see your family and friends after serving in special-needs ministry and they say, "How are you?", you should respond with "Noah obeyed God and we should obey God" because you've said it so many times while serving. (I talk more about the importance of repetition in this post.)

Bonus

I have a free game for you that's been a hit with many of our children. It's called Bible Ball. We have a small basketball goal that attracts many of our boys. I got a colorful ball from Amazon (affiliate link). We toss the ball. When a child or adult catches the ball, they look at the color their thumb is on and answer the question with the same color to earn the corresponding points. Then, they get to shoot the ball into the basket.

You get to decide how to play. It could be that points are only earned if baskets are made, that points are earned for answers or efforts, that you play a toss-and-catch game instead of basketball... just do what suits the children in your ministry.

The only rule is - always let the children win! If you have more than one child, it can be one adult vs. the children. If an adult is way ahead in points, offer an amazing number of points, like 5,000, if the child can answer a question. Or take away points from the adult if the adult misses the basket. 

Be sure to check out our other posts about special-needs ministry:
4 Lessons I've Learned
Teaching the Story

And if you don't have time to download the game now, or you want to come back to this post, just pin this image for later!


I never get tired of reading the following Christmas books.    I shared new titles that I added to my library last.   But these titles are some of my favorites from Christmas past. And there is no such thing as too many Christmas books.   Since these books are not the newest titles, you can find most in your school and public libraries.

 
Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Christmas Story
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Chris K. Soentipiet

A Christmas train travels through the Appalachia Mountains each year on December 23.   A rich man tosses presents from the train to the children who wait for the train on the special day each year.    More than once, I have cried while reading this beautiful story.



Santa Calls by William Joyce

Since it is set in Abilene, Texas, this holiday book is a must read for all Texans.   But anyone who is a fan of Christmas adventures will love this book.  Children Art, Esther and Spaulding are invited to the North Pole by Santa himself because he needs their help.    This captivating story never ages.



Too Many Tamales 
by Gary Soto
illustrated by Ed Martinez

First off, who can possibly resist tamales at Christmas?   The strong traditions of Maria's family are front and center in this book.   All is going well, until Mama's beautiful diamond ring goes missing.   The solution of eating the tamales to find the missing ring sounds like a good idea at the time to Maria and the kids in her family.  Warning:  you may crave tamales after eating this book.


Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

The beauty that Say is able to create with his words and illustrations is flawless in this book.   No matter who I read the book to, their reaction is all the same.   Two thumbs-up from students on the story of a young Japanese boy who experiences unconditional love.   As a follow-up, students love learning to make their own origami paper cranes.



Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
by Robert L. May
illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo

The story of Rudolph is perfectly accompanied by Caparo's illustrations.    There is just something magical about a red-nosed reindeer coming to Santa's rescue and flying the skies on Christmas Eve.


How the Reindeer Got Their Antlers
by Gerald McCaughrean
illustrated by Heather Holland

Because the reindeer is ashamed of her "ugly crown" she retreats to the North for thousands of years. But the reindeer prove to be quite helpful to a man with a red suit and white beard.    


The Christmas Wish
by Lori Evert
photographs by Per Breiehagen

Little Anja's greatest wish was to be a Christmas elf.   Anja's journey is photographed for children to experience the magic of Christmas.



Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

It is my belief that Patricia Polacco simply cannot write a bad book.   Her rich background of storytelling is alive and well in this holiday title.    


Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea

When winter arrives, the animals begin looking for Bear Noel who always shows up in time for Christmas.   Animal fans will love the gorgeous illustrations of the woodland animals.

Hope you enjoyed this look at some wonderful Christmas books!


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