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 11 sweet children with special needs and they light up my life!

If you feel led, please go HERE and donate to help cover my expenses and keep me here in India with my babies! And don't forget to check out our family video (filmed Sept 2014) HERE!

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Selah, One Month In

Selah is doing marvellously and it feels like she has been with us for so much longer than one month. We expected her to have a rough transition, but it has been one of the smoothest we have seen in our kids. The Selah we knew at the old orphanage was fearful, withdrawn, and shy. The child we are getting to know is social, funny, and enjoys trying new things. I admit, many times I look at her and feel very emotional about it all. The period between when I knew she was our kid until she came home was a period of maybe 2 or 2.5 months. I can't remember exactly now, but in the grand scheme of things, especially when compared to an adoption timeline, it wasn't long. But I worried about her so much and having her with us is a weight off my chest that I can't describe. She is safe and happy and so very loved. And just as each of our kids have a unique story about how they came to us, hers is special and God spoke to me very clearly about our sweet Selah.

The week after she arrived we took her, along with Theo and Louise, to the park for a picnic lunch. We sat on a blanket in a circle and ate PB&J sandwiches, apples, orange slices, chips, hardboiled eggs, and cookies. She ate well, and kept tapping at us as we ate and pointing to the grassy area. We couldn't figure out exactly what she was trying to show us, and then we put the pieces together and realized she has probably never seen grass before! She has been at the orphanage all her life and those kids don't get out to go to the park or to go on field trips. As Louise and Theo went to run and play and roll down the hill, she sat timidly, watching. She would start to go, and then stop herself nervously. She wouldn't put her hand in the grass. She kept lifting her arms up, asking us to carry her down. We tried to coax her into it and I managed to get her to touch the grass a little bit, but she wouldn't scoot on it, so I carried her down the hill to play with the kids. She just kept tapping us and pointing over and over again, almost in awe of the grass, trees, and flowers. It was pretty cool watching her see nature for the first time. I know that as we expose her to it more, one day she will be rolling down the hill with her brother and sister!

During the first week we had her, she still had a timidity to her. The first 2 days she just sat wherever we put her and watched the other kids, refusing to move or play with them. Similarly to at the park, where she was nervous to go play and join Theo and Louise, she cried the first time I put her on the little tricycle we have, and she cried the first time we brought out a bucket of water for the kids to play in. For awhile, every time we were in an auto, in the 0.5 seconds it took for us to climb out and reach back in to pick her up, she would burst into tears. For the most part, those behaviours are largely gone and she is much more confident now. She loves playing in the water and is now saying "up!", when prompted, to ask help to get on the trike.

We have signed her up for weekly Gymboree classes, and she is doing great. She goes on Saturday afternoons with Theo and Louise. It is a drop-off class and we thought this would be a good introduction to school for her. She is happy and doing well there, and it is great exposure socially and academically. She has no academic basics, and we are starting from scratch. Although her cerebral palsy doesn't affect her arms or hands, her fine motor skills are very poor from lack of exposure. Right now Tori and I both work with her daily and each follow a 3 day rotation; day 1 for me is academics (right now, colour sorting, pre-writing skills, puzzles, exposure to ABCs/123s), day 2 is play skills and communication (playing games and trying to encourage her to use her voice), and day 3 is physiotherapy (4-point crawling, standing, and walking). At home, she would scream when we tried to get her to crawl, rather than scoot, across the room to get to a toy. But check out this video. We were playing at Gymboree a few days ago and I was throwing balls and she was racing to bring them back to me. I put her into a 4-point crawl position, and she took off! She has been crawling ever since.

She definitely has a sassy, stubborn side that we didn't expect. We are working on teaching her to walk and potty train her, and that has led to some interesting moments. Like when she held her pee all morning and then smiled and peed all over our physiotherapist when she brought her over to start a session. Or when our other physio was having her walk and she screamed, in Telugu "my Mom will be angry!!" Speaking of which, we thought she was non-verbal! Or at least very low verbal. We knew she had the potential to speak, but as we get to know her better, we realize that she  has a TON of potential to speak but she just won't. Whether it is fear or stubbornness, we aren't really sure. She was playing on the trike and wanted to get down. She says both "akka" (big sister) and "amma" (mother) frequently and clearly to get our attention. We told her that if she wanted help, instead of crying she needed to use her words and call to us, and we would help her down. We said it in English and had it translated to Telugu, and even acted it out. She very clearly understood, and very stubbornly stuck  her lip out and refused. She spent her entire morning that day sitting on the trike!

Some cute things about Selah... she is very feminine. She badly wants her hair to grow out so she can have ponytails and clips. She can most often be found with a baby doll and baby carrier, which she slings around her shoulder daily. The girl has a great appetite and will eat anything. She feeds herself. In the morning, after the kids come out of the bath and before we start our day, she frequently scoots into our bedroom, yells "HEY", smiles and waves, and then scoots back out. I showed her this photo of her holding the baby doll and she covered her mouth, gasped loudly and genuinely and said "abho!" (wow)!

I still see a layer of fear in her eyes, but God is breaking down walls and I am so grateful for that. She is transforming into a new child and starting to let us in. Pray that she will feel safe. Pray that she will start seeking out affection from Tori and I in healthy ways. Pray that we will find effective and creative ways to teach her and encourage her to speak.

Brianna definitely mourned the loss of her former life, as not-so-great as it was. This is natural. We are trying to attach Brianna to one caregiver. Just as we did with Charlotte and me, we are trying to create a bond between Tori and Brianna. Especially being blind, we want her to know the sound and touch of one caregiver before we introduce the rest of us to her in bigger ways. Because of this, I haven't developed a strong relationship with her yet, but I know that once she is more comfortable and more securely attached, then there will be the time for the rest of us to get to know her better. I can't wait for that, and to share with you more about our littlest baby! But in the meantime, she has the silliest little smile, she is soothed by music, and she "dances" by swaying her head back and forth while she sits in her Bumbo chair. Since coming to us she has learned how to sit independently! Please pray that Brianna will eat and put weight on, and will come to know Tori as her mummy and feel safe and secure here.
Both Selah and Brianna still need sponsors! Help us spread the word! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Activity: Story Boxes

I'm using this new series of posts to share about some of the activities that we do with our kids! We spend a ton of time researching online for new and creative ideas, and coming up with a few ideas of our own. I hope that this series will be a help to other people in coming up with creative ways to teach their kids!

Activity: Story Boxes

Skills: Increasing vocabulary, attaching meaning to words, promoting excitement about reading

A story box is a way for a child to understand what the words in a book mean. This activity was originally meant for our blind children. We choose a story (such as Goodnight Moon) and then fill a box with all the items in that story (telephone, red balloon, 3 little bear, comb, bowl, socks, etc). You sit with your child and read the book, and as you get to that word, you let them feel the real-life object. It's a way to engage them in the story, as blind children can't see the illustrations, and to teach them the meanings of the words in the book. We found it is actually good for all of our children. Our kids have limited life experiences and none are fluent in English (or any language, for that matter) so it's great for their vocabulary... and it's fun! We have tried this with many of our kids and they all love it! Dinah has trouble focusing her eyes on the book pages, due to her nystagmus, so she liked having larger real-life objects to touch as I read.

We started with Goodnight Moon. I collected the following items: a bowl, a red balloon, 3 little bears, a telephone, socks, a comb, and a star (in the video, I forgot to do the star). In the beginning I used a big ziplock bag, but that was tight so eventually we got bigger storage bins. We are stacking them up and plan on creating a Story Box Library.

Here is a video of Charlotte and I the first time I tried doing this activity. That face she has on is the face she uses when she is paying attention. I know she was listening and taking in what I was saying. Since the video was on, I went a bit fast, but typically I take it slower and let her play with the objects a little bit more before moving on. I have read this book with her more times now, and she loves the part when the mouse comes and I have now started running my fingers over her arms and legs and saying "squeak squeak!".  She always giggles. Now, when I say "the old lady whispering hush", Charlotte also says "hush!" Another change I have made since that first time is that instead of using a balloon that is already blown up, I use a deflated one and she likes feeling it as I blow it up and then let the air loose.

That same day I tried the activity for the first time with Selah, Nolan, and Louise. All three of them loved it. Nolan cried when it was finished and time to pack it all away! I later ordered larger boxes, as the Ziplock bag was too small to hold everything. On the box, I labelled the story in print and in Braille. I also went out and got the supplies needed for Three Little Pigs, so now our little library is growing with 2 story boxes!

I would like to continue getting more so the kids have a selection. If you are interested in helping with this, let me know! I have selected our next book, and put the objects we need on our Amazon Wishlist. It will be "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and all the items total to be 1000 rupees which will be under $20. If anyone wants to buy these for us, please let me know! Our story boxes are currently being kept in our sensory room where we also keep all the materials we use for therapy with our blind kids; our Braille and textured books, puzzles, musical instruments, etc.

Story Boxes: A Hands-On Literacy Experience
Storybox Ideas

Monday, February 16, 2015

Activity: ASL Photo Scavenger Hunt

I'm using this new series of posts to share about some of the activities that we do with our kids! We spend a ton of time researching online for new and creative ideas, and coming up with a few ideas of our own. I hope that this series will be a help to other people in coming up with creative ways to teach their kids!

Activity: ASL Photo Scavenger Hunt

Skills: Increasing sign vocabulary , following multiple step directions, fine motor skills (cutting, gluing)

Tori and I are tag-teaming Nolan's school right now, with me doing a session in the morning and her doing a session in the afternoon. We realized that he is desperate to learn more sign to be able to communicate, and that he will never be able to read until he has a form of functional communication. We are choosing 5-6 signs per week and just doing activities with him (all play based) that incorporate using these signs. On this particular week, the signs were: Nikki mummy, Tori mummy, dog, iPad, loud, and quiet. We also wanted to review other signs that we previously taught him to see if he remembered them: shoes, bike, book, baby, ball. The following week, when we did Part 2 of the activity (making the book, below) we were focusing on the name signs for the other kids.

Nolan and I sat with the iPad and I signed to him "I am taking a photo of Nolan with the iPad". He knew all these signs (photo, Nolan, iPad) and posed for a photo.

Next I told him that I want to take a photo of a ball with the iPad, and asked him to bring me a ball. He understood all of this and was very excited to race into the other room to search for the ball. He successfully brought me back a ball, and I helped him hold the iPad steady to take a photo with it.

We continued along in this way. I would sign an object or person to him, and he would have to go around the house and bring me back that object or person, and then we would take a photo of it. At the end, we reviewed all our photos and their corresponding signs.

Nolan loved this activity. He was proud when he understood exactly what I was asking him. When I signed to him that the game was finished, he started crying!

He successfully retrieved nearly all of the items/people that I asked him to search for in our scavenger hunt. He didn't remember "bike". He looked at me quizzically, and then pointed to his feet, asking whether I meant "shoes", as the signs are similar. I pointed to the direction of the bike and then he remembered. We introduced 1 new word, "puzzle", and the others were all review.

Nolan is a helper and he loves when we give him jobs, so this activity was right up his alley as he felt important when I asked him to do something and he understood and was able to follow the instruction. He typically doesn't do well with 'testing', so this was a good way to be able to test his knowledge without him knowing that that was what I was doing. We will continue doing this activity and adding new objects as we increase his sign vocabulary.

For fun, the following week I printed out all the photos that he took so we could make a craft with them! He had to cut out all his photos and then glue them to paper and we made an ASL Photo Scavenger Book with all his photos. I wrote the word under the photo, and as we flipped through the book, he did the sign for the object. He did so well and it was a great way to review the signs he knows. I learned that he knows the objects very well (the toys he plays with) but was mixing up some of our name signs. He was happy to show it off the book to Tori when she got home!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Day In The Life

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is what life is like here. It is hard to explain that in a few words, and it has been awhile (a year or so?) since I did a Day In The Life post. Life has certainly changed since those early days of living in Ongole with only (ONLY!) 7 kids! So, here it is. This particular day was Tuesday February 10th.

6am: Charlotte wakes up beside me, early for her. I wake up to the familiar sound of her rubbing the back of her head against the mattress and her poking her neck, her two stims. Few things drive me as crazy as when my kids stim. I pull her close to me and try to rock her back to sleep. I can't remember if she falls back asleep, but she is still, and so I head back to sleep for a little while until my alarm goes off at 6:30. The house is quiet for a half hour and I go out to the living room and do my Bible study and pray. I found that fitting prayer time in the middle of my day wasn't consistent as the day gets so crazy, so I have enjoyed waking up early and having this time while everyone is still asleep.

7-10am: Tori, the ayahs and I get the kids up and into the school room to eat breakfast. It is upma, but the kind that looks like baby food, darn! I eat a plate anyways and then Skype my parents for a half hour as the kids eat, have a bath and get dressed. I kiss the school kids as they head out to catch the bus, and then I go downstairs with a large bucket of dirty huggies to be washed. Yes, my day is super glamorous. I spend the next 30 minutes washing poop off of cloth diapers (with gloves on!) and then putting them in the washing machine to be cleaned. Not the most fun job in the world, but it saves us $350/month which is huge for us, so it's worth it. I go back upstairs, lay the diapers out on the balcony to dry in the sun, shower, and have some time to lie in bed on my computer before it's time to start the day.

10am-1pm: Therapy time! I genuinely love, love, love this time of day. I love getting to spend 1:1 time with the kids and watching them learn new things, and I love the creativity involved in trying to come up with new activities to engage them in. This morning I have Jasmine, Dinah, Charlotte, and Nolan. Charlotte and I read a Story Box for the first time (more on that in a future post). We also read her Braille books, do a shapes puzzle with Braille text on all the shape pieces, and then work on her walking. I pull out a bucket of shaving cream for her to play in, which she loves. Jasmine is in such a happy mood today, and her joy is contagious. For the first time ever, she uses her guide cane to walk from the living room to the balcony all by herself without needing me to prompt her! Dinah and I read a Jillian Jiggs books, work on receptive language as we point to body parts, and practice getting on the trike all by herself. For the first time ever, she does it without assistance! I have been working on this with her for months but she has never been strong enough to get her leg over without falling down, so she was quite pleased with herself! When Nolan gets home from school, Tori, Nolan, Theo, Louise, and I all sit in the school room and we teach the kids how to play Uno. As we play, we practice using the kids' name signs to show that it is their turn, so they can learn to recognize everyone's name signs. Theo seems to catch on to how to play the game. Louise does a little bit. Nolan isn't paying a bit of attention to the rules, as he is too busy being excited about the fact that we are playing a new game!

1-3pm: I eat lunch and get a bit of down time before the auto comes. Louise and Theo go to auditory verbal therapy at the hospital three times a week and we rotate who takes them. Tuesdays are my day! As the rest of the house naps, I bring Theo and Louise to AVT. Louise cracks me up in class, trying to make the "s" sound! We stop at the toy store to pick up some toy pigs I need for an activity with Charlotte, and then at the grocery store to pick up fruit for the family.

3-6pm: More therapy! Louise and Theo and I do class together, and we review the letter "B" that we had been working on the week before. We read a book and search the text for the letter "B", and then practice writing it. We finish up with a Sesame Street episode all about B, which the kids watch happily as I call Selah in for class. She struggles with fine motor skills, not because of her cerebral palsy, as it doesn't affect her arms or hands, but just because of lack of exposure. After we read some books together, we do puzzles and iPad apps and do some colour sorting, which she is getting better at. I do puffy paint colouring with Charlotte until Lily gets home from school, and then she and I cuddle on the beanbag chair and read a few chapters of Charlotte's Web. Before dinner time, Ramana and I sit down together for her daily English class. She is learning so much!

6pm-11pm: On most nights, Tori and I get some downtime from 6-8pm as the kids eat dinner, get baths, and play. We might go out for dinner, visit with other foster moms, or just use this time to lie in bed and read a book or get computer work done. Today is the 10th though, which is SCH's monthly prayer day. We head over to Rescue Home to meet up with the other foster moms and volunteers. We chat and catch up for a bit, and then spend the evening in prayer, working our way through a long list of the organization's prayer request. We are sad to miss bedtime with the kids, but it is nice to pray together and we share a lot of laughs after we finish up and hang around for a bit. We head home just after 10:00 and I go straight to our ayahs' bedroom as Ramana told me she would put Charlotte in her bed until I got home. They are cuddled up and she tells me that Charlotte was up giggling and had just fallen asleep. I pick her up and melt as I love her snuggles so much. The kids wake up as we go into the bedroom, and Lily and Molly squeal with excitement that we are back. They all want hugs and kisses. We put Louise on the toilet as we are just starting to train her to stay in underwear overnight, and the previous 2 nights she had woken up covered in pee (not this night though- she will wake up dry for the first time- woot!). We turn the lights back out and I cuddle Charlotte until she is back asleep. I check in online and then fall asleep by 11pm!

So, that's it! That is a fairly typical day in my life. Not glamorous, that's for sure, and sometimes so busy I can't keep track of it all, but I love it and wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Braille Part 2

Well, it happened. I am obsessed with Braille right now. The more I learn about it, the more fascinated I become. And the more excited I am about teaching Charlotte and opening these doors of literacy for her.

Charlotte's 2nd birthday is coming up on April 9th, and I will love to give her a collection of Braille books and activities for her birthday. Charlotte LOVES when we read Braille books together. Even when she is at her grumpiest, as soon as I sit her in my lap and run her finger over the print, she stops crying and pays close attention to every word I say and every raised bump she feels.

I have created a wish list off the website Seedlings. Please leave a comment and let me know if you would like to purchase any of these items for Charlotte. You can send it to me via paypal and I will place one large order. They are going to ship everything for free! It may take 4-6 weeks to get here though, so let's get on this early! Please msg me if you want to purchase Charlotte one of these birthday gifts!

Charlotte's birthday wish list:
Chunky shapes puzzle with Braille ($9) SPONSORED!
Hooray for Braille kit ($25) SPONSORED!
Elmo Says ($5)
The Alphabet Picture Book ($12)
Clifford's Animal Sounds ($4) SPONSORED!
Humpty Dumpty ($6)

The Hadley course we are taking, Braille and Your Blind Baby or Toddler, is amazing. We are learning all about the importance of literacy right now, and how to promote early literacy in your blind children. We are also studying Braille ourselves as children whose parents understand Braille are more likely to be more successful with it.

I'm learning that at this stage, Charlotte doesn't need to understand the Braille letters yet, but I DO want to instill a love of reading in her! And since she can't see the pictures, giving her something to feel, like Braille text, texture, or objects representing characters in the story, will help engage her in reading. It's also important to be animated with my voice to keep her interested, and to involve her in the reading by asking her to turn the page! So right now, the focus is on her language development, her interest in reading, and her learning how to use her hands to explore things, on top of just exposing her to Braille so that when she gets older, she will already have that foundation.

In my last Braille post I listed some of the books that I had purchased in Braille. Lately, we have been taking other books and toys and adapting them to meet Charlotte's needs and make them more interesting to her. I ordered The Black Book of Colours, which is in Braille and all the illustrations are used with raised lines so blind readers can see the pictures with their fingers! I am excited for this to arrive. We have a few numbers books, and I went through with my Braille labeler and added the Braille numbers to each page so Charlotte can touch them as we count. I also took our shapes puzzle and added the Braille word (square, circle, etc) to the shape so we can read it and learn the names of shapes as we do the puzzle!

What is most challenging right now, for Charlotte and especially Brianna, is that both are resistant to touching things with their hands. We are trying to incorporate touch into their lives by doing activities which involve touching objects of different textures, and just being sure that whatever we do with them, we use their hands very purposefully to feel everything around them (not just during school time, but throughout the day). Right now Brianna screams and cries if we have her touch anything. Many of the activities we do with Charlotte, we do with Brianna as well, but only for very short periods of time as right now, our only focus for her is helping her overcome her sensory challenges. When she is more comfortable with touching things with her hands, then we will be able to really spend more time with these activities. Charlotte isn't as resistant, but she prefers to pick up an object and toss it across the floor. She very rarely will sit and just feel anything (musical toys, Braille books, sensory toys, etc) unless I sit with her and hand-over-hand encourage her to do it. Right now I am putting Charlotte in the Bumbo chair for a little bit of time every day, when I am occupied with the other kids, and putting toys or books on the tray to give her the opportunity to have those objects close by so she can explore them. Usually she just throws them off the tray, but I hope she will start exploring more often!

Eight tips to introduce reading to your young child who is blind
Braille for my baby
Braille Literacy (CNIB)
CELL Practice Guides with Adaptations
Eleanor's In-sight: Early Literacy for the visually impaired