My name is Nikki and I am living in India and serving at Sarah's Covenant Homes, an organization that cares for abandoned children with physical and developmental disabilities. I am a foster mama to 13 sweet children with special needs and they light up my life!

*blog names (not their real names) are used online for the kids to protect their privacy

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Louise, March Update

I post updates on Louise fairly regularly, but it seems like they get outdated so quickly because this kid just blows us away with how much she changes and learns and grows. I look back on my old posts about her and I smile, thinking about what she used to be like. She is growing into such a funny little lady!

Louise is doing really well with her hearing and speech. Her communication has improved by leaps and bounds and she understands so much more than she used to. Gone are the days when she would pitch fits out of frustration. She still has delayed speech for sure, but she is now talking and imitating sounds and understanding what we are saying. I think these next 6 months are going to be huge for her speech. She said her first word, “bye”, during a therapy session in December. Now she says hi and bye all the time! She says “good job” in the cutest little voice. During school time, when she gets something right, I say “good job!” and she imitates it in this little squeaky voice and does the super sign. Her therapy at Apollo is going well. She likes her teacher and is starting to really open up there. Her teacher has her saying “give” to request any toy, which she is saying really clearly. She is counting numbers clearly as well and starting to really grow her vocabulary understanding. The “sss” sound is still not coming consistently, but it is so cute to watch her try!

Louise successfully completed her first year of preschool and she really thrived there. Her academics are coming along nicely. Every afternoon I sit with Louise and Theo and we do school. We are focusing on our ABCs. When she first came to us, it took Louise a long time to grasp concepts. But now she is picking things up way more quickly. We have only worked our way through A-G so far. I want to really cement those before moving on. If I put letters down in front of her and ask her to hand me a C, for example, she is getting it correct fairly frequently. She can open a book and point to the letter I am asking for, scanning the words to find it. She is doing great with writing letters as well and is starting to match upper and lower case. She is such a funny little nut. Someone described her as ‘animated’, and that is a great word for her!

Ramana also loves helping with Louise’s school. She was so excited to have taught Louise how to type the alphabet without the help of Tori or I. She did this when I was away in Canada in January and one of the first things she told me when I got back was how well Louise was doing with matching letters and typing. It is so nice having ayahs who genuinely love our kids and want to play a role in giving them a bright future.

Louise loves going to Gymboree class every Saturday. Theo continues to be her best friend. She likes Pooja, our nurse, a lot. Recently some of our kids had skin infections. Every night Pooja would put gloves on and apply skin cream. Louise would put her neon green socks over her hands and “help”! Ramana continues to be her favourite caregiver and they have a really sweet relationship. Recently we have seen huge progress in her ability to attach. She is starting to seek us out for affection, which she never did before. When she was feeling sick, she let me hold her and rock her for a long time and showed me that she was comforted by that.

Louise is fully potty trained now, even at night. Every morning when I wake her up for school she groggily rolls over and gives me the super sign, indicating that she is dry and wants me to clap for her! I was watching a TV show where the character was talking about how her daughter would make the whole family clap for her every time she tied her shoes. That is Louse!!! This girl does not mind being the center of attention and she likes us ALL to be watching her and cheering her on with every move she makes! She is becoming quite the little boss too. Well, she has always been bossy, but now that we have more small kids in the house, she considers herself the mother! She is quick to scold them when they are naughty and tell them what to do.

Louise is a funny, sassy 3 year old and I could sit and watch her all day long with her funny little antics! Recently I was reading old blog posts and looking at old photos from when she first came to us, and I was getting teary. She has changed so much and is so much happier now than she was then. I am so proud of her and the little girl she is becoming. I pray that God will bless her life in more ways than I can imagine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Preschool At Home: Shapes Theme

This week we learned about shapes!

We have hired our first staff member to help in the preschool! Her name is Nimitha. She is currently studying at night and her mother is an ayah in one of the other homes, so she was eager to work with us part-time. We are really excited to have her and happy with the way she interacts with the kids. She has been doing a lot of observing and training. She spent time reading through some material I gave her as well on educating blind children. If all works out, we would love for her to graduate school but then stay with us and continue on when we open the actual preschool, acting as a teacher’s aide in one of the classrooms.

Favourite activity of the week: On Friday we combined the PT/exercise portion and our academic craft to make a fort with stars hanging from the ceiling. We took cardboard cut outs of stars. On one side, the kids coloured with markers and stuck down star stickers. On the other side, we spread glue and sprinkled glitter. Then we punched a hole and attached a string to it, and taped it to the underside of our kitchen table. We gave each of the kids a job to do to help get the materials we needed to make a fort. They all pushed chairs and went up and down stairs to get blankets. When the fort was made, we sat under the table and had the kids reach up and touch the stars and we talked about how stars are in the night sky.

Milestones of the week: When asked “Charlotte, where are your ears?”, Charlotte pointed to her ears for the first time. Eden sat up independently for about 5 seconds before toppling over- this was the best she has done yet and she is starting to use her arms to hold herself in place.

Not as much progress this Food Friday as last week, but still good considering the food was oranges! That is a texture that the kids are not used to. Selah and Charlotte did great. Cedar and Jasmine ate oranges mixed with Cerelac (baby cereal) but wouldn’t eat them plain. Chloe and Dinah wouldn’t eat it at all. Eden and Brianna both had banana baby food and they liked it.

Our 9th student, Katherine, has been very sick this week and now is in the hospital. Please keep her in your prayers!

This week we met with Sarah, the SCH manager, and the ICM finance man to talk about preparing our budget for the school and working on logistics. We came up with a good plan, got answers to some of our questions, and took away a lot of things to do, research, and work on. Our first project was deciding on a name for the school. I am pleased to announce that we have chosen our school’s name…

Anjali School for the Blind (ASB)!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Perkins Panda & Other New Supplies

Recently the Perkins Panda arrived at our door here in India, and I was so excited it did! It cost me a LOT of money (I was not expecting all those customs charges) but I am trying to forget that as I focus on how awesome it is!

Perkins Panda is a kit created by the organization Perkins, geared towards blind children aged 0-8 to assist in their literacy skills. It consists of a big stuffed panda, which is perfect for my blind kids as it is so intricately made. Each of its body parts has a different texture to make it interesting for the children as they explore and play with it. According to the website, "the kit includes three packets with interrelated storybooks produced in uncontracted (beginning-stage) braille, large print and high-contrast illustrations; activity guides and cassettes; a story box; a stuffed panda from Gund® with a backpack to hold a tape player and a guide to additional resources."

This video does a really good job of explaining all the parts that are included in the kit.


I have really enjoyed exploring this kit with my kids. I have used the book in Package 1 while sitting 1:1 with them and we have also used it in preschool, as it goes perfectly with the animal theme we recently worked through. There is so much to the kit that I still have a lot to explore, which is great as it will last us a long time! I also enjoy reading through the activity guide for new ideas on things to do with the kids. The books that come in the kit are so beautiful though. The textures are great and the concepts are age-appropriate and things that we are working on with our kids (like body parts). This kit is awesome! We used this as our story book in preschool 2 days in a row. The first day we passed Panda around as we read and found the body parts on Panda as we got to that part in the book. The second day we passed the book around and felt the textures and then had the kids find the body parts on themselves.

The only downsides are a) the songs/audio is on tape, and not CD, which is strange. Who has a tape player these days?! Not us, so we can't access it. b) the cost. Most of our Braille equipment is able to be shipped free through Free Matter For The Blind, but this wasn't and it cost me a LOT of money.

I'm working on body parts with most of the kids right now, so the Panda has been great in helping with that, especially as each body part has a different texture. Even our sighted kids love it! Louise decided to brush Panda's teeth after we she was finished brushing her own!

We also recently received a package from Seedlings with some awesome stuff inside. We got some books in Braille which have been great. We also received Print & Braille Alphabet Flash Cards and the Chunky Shapes Puzzle with Braille. The puzzle is great. I have done it recently with several of the kids and I really like it. We are doing a unit on shapes in preschool soon and that will be a great tool. The flash cards are amazing though.

Charlotte learned how to say "apple" on our "A" day with the flash cards! We spent time with the card, smelling it (it was a scratch and sniff- and she understood that and would inhale through her nose when I put it close to her), touching the Braille, and then holding the apple. We practiced saying "apple" and then I used her hand and let her help me cut the apple so she would understand that that is how we eat it. Charlotte has some struggles when it comes to foods, and I was sure she would scream and refuse to taste it. I didn't have her headphones, which I usually need to put on her to calm her enough to eat something new. She surprised me though... the girl loves apples!! I peeled the skin off and cut them into small pieces and we fed them to her and she kept on eating! I said "apple" every time I fed her a bit, so I am hoping she will start to connect the word to the fruit!

Just today we received an amazing package in the mail. Inside, someone sent us so many beautiful Braille books for Charlotte for her birthday. We were so touched when we opened it, and so surprised! I received it in the afternoon and already have started using the books with the kids. We plan on using one (Elmo Says) in preschool tomorrow with the kids. I am so excited to have some new books to read with Charlotte! We have no idea who sent this amazing gift. If you are reading and you are the person who sent us this, THANK YOU!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Blog is Moving to Email!

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your continued support of me and my family in India. We are having to follow new government regulations about our children, and so I am moving my updates to email in order to protect their privacy online. If you would like to continue hearing stories about my kids here in India, please sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter!

I will still be blogging here, but will be more limited in what I share. Thank you!

Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bgYswD

Friday, March 13, 2015

Preschool At Home: Animal Theme

We had our first full week of preschool and we had a blast! We have tweaked our schedule a bit and probably will continue to do so, to try to stay within our 2 hour time frame. Before, we were under, so we have added some new activities!

1) Circle Time- circle time song, hi/intros, read a book, count 1-10, body parts, songs
2) Skills: We have chosen a goal for each of the kids that we will work on during this time. Selah, Charlotte, Dinah, and Chloe will be potty training (and getting up onto the potty by themselves), Jasmine and Cedar are working on dressing and undressing themselves, Eden and Brianna are working on bearing weight while holding on to the crib and Katherine is working on bearing weight while leaning on her forearms on the sofa.
3) Academics: related to the theme of the week. This week, animals. Next week, shapes.
4) PT/exercise: Something to get the kids up and moving.
5) Fun activity: A sensory experience, music, dancing, Food Fridays, etc.

I am also very excited to announce that on top of our 7 children in the class, we have invited Eden over from Rescue Home to join! Eden has anophthalmia and is completely blind. She is 8 months old, and if you follow my facebook, you may remember me posting about her when she joined SCH as Tori and I contemplated whether we could have her join our home. We have decided to hold off a bit (although we hope she will join us eventually), but for now, we are excited to spend the mornings with her! She is adorable! She is not yet sitting up and spent a lot of the first class sleeping, but we are working on adjusting her sleep schedule and getting her to engage in the activities. She hates tummy time but we hope it will help her get stronger. She loves music!

A few days later, Katherine also joined our group! Katherine is brand new to SCH and also lives in Rescue Home. She hasn't gone in for testing yet to confirm her diagnoses, but Cassie expects that she is blind and has profound hearing loss. She also appears to have cerebral palsy. I have such compassion for this girl. I want to see her smile more often. I want to see her find pleasure in life. She is not yet sitting independently and we are working on her head strength. We are also doing lots of research on how to teach and engage deaf blind children.

Favourite activity of the week: We did 2 puffy paint crafts! A lot of our blind kids aren't exposed to crafts regularly, so I had a lot of fun doing these with them and finding ways that they can enjoy art (there are lots of great ways!) Our volunteers used paint to outline the shapes of 2 animals; rabbits and sheep. On the first day, we took tissue paper and had the kids rip it and scrunch it up (fine motor). The kids felt the puffy paint (now dry) to follow the raised lines and understand where the glue needed to go, then they pasted the tissue paper inside the animal! Two days later, we used the puffy paint sheep and the kids did a similar activity with cotton. We had them feel the soft cotton and then spread it out and smooth it inside the puffy paint sheep to feel like its wool. We also had the kids practice sound imitation by saying "baaaa!" like a sheep!

Milestone of the week: We did 2 sessions of Food Fridays, with oatmeal and then mushed up bananas. We have the hardest time getting our kids to eat food that isn't rice. I was so happy that they ALL ate oatmeal! It has a texture similar to upma, a breakfast food here, which helped a lot, but we were still surprised! Bananas went over well too. We were able to get a few bites into Brianna. We were surprised that Cedar ate with no problems! Katherine and Eden also enjoyed it. Chloe and Jasmine waited about 20 minutes, lifting it to their mouth, touching it gently with their tongue, and then putting it back in the bowl. Finally, both ate it! And they ate their whole bowl (1/2 a large banana mushed up)! Dinah was the only one who wouldn't eat (surprise, surprise, our pickiest eater!)





This is a group picture taken on Monday. Aside from Tori and I and the 8 kids, we are grateful to have 3 World Race volunteers helping us for a month. Thank you Margot, Kat, and Kendra! Later in the week, the squad leader Beth began helping out as well! We need lots of hands as many of our kids are 1:1, so this has been so great.
 
During "Food Friday" Selah learned how to feed herself oatmeal using a spoon! Her fine motor skills are really poor, so this is going to be a great way to increase her hand strength. She was very proud as we cheered her up and she didn't spill... too much!!

On "Music Mondays" we gave each of the kids an instrument. As the music played, they played their instrument, when the music stopped, we froze! And then passed the instrument around the circle so each child could have a turn exploring all of the different sounds.

One day we had 5 sensory stations that the kids enjoyed. They were playdough, pipe cleaners, beans, shaving cream, and bubble bath. Chloe was in an awful mood and was screaming and crying, until volunteer Kaitlin started lightly letting the beans drop on her head. Chloe loved this! She was immediately calmed down and started really engaging with the activity. You can also see Jasmine beside her, in the white dress. Jasmine decided to do all of the activities with her feet! Particularly with the beans and the shaving cream, she let them scrunch up in between her toes!


The babies were not a huge fan of the shaving cream, but neither was Charlotte the first time she tried it and now she does such a good job of exploring the texture with her hands!

To get the kids up and moving, we split into teams and did a relay race! Most kids walked (either independently or with their guide cane) but Katherine and Eden aren't at that stage yet. Instead, they used the scooters and we practiced stretching out their arms and pulling themselves forward. This was the first time I got a little smile out of Katherine. I think the stretch felt nice! She also did a really great job of lifting her head up.

As we were reading tactile animal books, we had the kids working on imitating animal sounds. Here is a video of Chloe learning how to "quack" like a duck!