Discussing Urchins

As a parent, I appreciate more than anything, that not one size fits all. What may work for your child and family, may not work for mine and vice versa. And, you know what – that’s okay! I’ve also learned that no decision of ours needs to be set in stone…if something is not working so well, try something else. Being relaxed enough to be flexible in the decisions that we make for our children, is key to enjoying this journey.

In the beginning of our journey, we opted for oral communication with our girls. In my blog “wet shoes,” I mention how this really wasn’t working for us and that on identifying Eden’s hearing loss, we decided to embrace a total communication approach which includes South African Sign Language.

SASL has been a wonderful tool in language acquisition and development with my girls. Initially, overwhelmed by a brand new language, we took one step at a time in trying learn it as a family. Each step… holding fear in one hand, and hope in the other; fear fueled by the opinions of those against visual communication, and hope that just perhaps, it would open the door to communication. It didn’t take long before hope won that battle, as we started to communicate as a family.

During a recent beach holiday, this new language, gave me renewed insight and appreciation of how a visual means of communication can be very liberating. We were away for nearly a week and spent several hours a day on the warm sand. Had we been a family reliant exclusively on sound to communicate, I’m pretty sure that I’d be watching my clock, feeling more and more guilty as time went on, possibly thinking that I was depriving my child of “language time”.  I know myself well, and in this culture of achievement-driven motivation, I would have felt guilty. Without our hearing aids on the beach, we may have had moments of extreme frustration, as simple issues needing communication, such as the need for a toilet break, may have become misunderstandings. Instead, thanks to SASL, we had a blissful guilt-free week maximizing every moment on our proudly South African beaches under the glowing African sun.

Besides the minor details, such as accurately being able to discuss exactly which ice-cream each of them wanted when the faithful ice-cream man strolled along the water’s edge, to informing us about their need for the loo, our ability to communicate in the local thriving rock pool was truly an experience that I will always treasure. This was the first time our girls had tried snorkeling. It took a few minutes of spluttering, to learn that the snorkel should not be submerged into the water, and after one day’s practice, they had gotten the hang of things, and REALLY loved it.  This experience opened up a whole new world to them. With the use of sign language, and gesture and often made up signs when our vocab reached its limit, we were able to discuss the crabs and the urchins, and their various details colored with interesting adjectives and facts. The topic of anemones was wonderful, as we discussed why they are important to the sea, and then we could appreciate and converse about the variety of fish life that would swarm around us at times. At the end of a session the girls could tell us that they were cold or feeling thirsty and wanted a break. Not for one minute did we feel like a family with special needs. Just a regular family with regular kids, embracing the very best that nature has to offer. One thing we didn’t do which I’ll definitely try out next time, is linking literacy to the experience…either through creating an experience page where the girls can draw what they saw or enjoyed the most, and then we will embellish that with words and short phrases that they can see, or even just through writing words like “urchin” or “fish” in the sand and giving them opportunities to spell them out and practice their writing.

Salty skins and slightly bleached hair from all the wonderful time in the sun, were some of the little reminders of the fun that was had. The girls are already asking for the next trip to the sea, although our little nervous Eden needs continuous reassurance, that we will never let her swim in that rock pool if by any remote chance, a shark has managed to sneak in…even if it is just a baby shark!

Every child is different, every family, unique. I do hope that in the future I will remain flexible enough to allow my girls to guide me in further decisions that cross our path. Discussing urchins … 18 months ago, I never would have thought that possible!

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