This Thing We Call Miscarriage

RaynePaverSteve and I were expecting our second child and my sister-in-law Shari was expecting her first. We had just spent a Sunday afternoon together shopping for our babies – two pregnant women joined in sweet expectation of being pregnant with children who would soon grow up as cousins, getting into mischief and creating wonderful mayhem. I was in the final stretch of the first trimester and Shari was in the final stretch of the third, and we were both giddy with pregnancy happiness.

Our beautiful day came to a close and Shari and I embraced, her swelling belly reaching out to touch me first, and we laughed that the cousins were hugging good-bye, too. Little did we know just how accurate this sentiment was. We had no idea of the kinds of goodbyes we would have to say in the days that followed.

Later that same night, after starting to spot and cramp, I ended up in the hospital, and the next day learned that my baby died. I wanted to jump out of my body that had betrayed me. Or had I betrayed my baby? I wanted to run away from myself, to leave behind the anguish that was prickling me all over.

I failed my baby. I failed my husband. I failed my daughter. I failed my family. I failed my friends. I failed myself. These thoughts consumed me.

Had I failed God? Was this a punishment? Was this a test?

Or, had God failed me? Writing that now is painful, for I have come to deeper and stronger understandings and beliefs, but I cannot hide the fact that I questioned God. I questioned why a loving God would allow mothers and families this type of pain.

I just wanted to be back in that space and time when Shari and I were shopping for baby supplies together. I felt an envy creeping in like a dark fog that settles heavily and makes it difficult to see clearly. I grew even angrier with God and more envious of Shari every second. Even though I was seething with an anger that I directed to the Heavens, I asked – or perhaps demanded – of Him to take those next few weeks before Shari gives birth and find some way to heal my heart so that when I looked into the eyes of my niece or nephew I would feel joy, and not sad longing. It was almost as if I was challenging God, giving him a time limit to heal my pain. I told Him it was the least he could do for me after he let my child die.

For two days my world was the anguishing pain of this thing we call miscarriage. That word just doesn’t describe this process, this pain, this occasion.  And then on the third day the pain became so strong and severe I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the bathroom. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the door to call for Steve. Like a wave crashing on the ocean, blood burst forth from me with such intensity that it felt like my heart was going to be sucked out, too.

In that moment, I realized it. This was me saying goodbye. I rocked back and forth and apologized to my child.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do it right. I’m so sorry I let you down as your mom. I’m so sorry. I love you. I miss you. Please don’t go!”

As those words poured out of me, so did the remains of my child. No tiny toes or whispers of fine dark hair, but my child’s broken remains. I wanted to gather those pools of blood in my hands and never let them go.

I felt that once again I was failing. I felt as if I wasn’t even mother enough to gather and piece back together my own child in that pool of blood that was growing. And so I cried and waited for the waves of blood to subside. In retrospect, I should have gone back to the clinic as the bleeding was extremely heavy and I remained physically weak for several days, but in that moment I could not think past my own pain.

That night after dinner I told Steve that I needed to call Shari – I wanted to connect with her. Steve looked at me with pained eyes. Then he told me that her water broke the day before. She was in the hospital and they were going to be starting labor soon. They had been giving her some steroids to build up the baby’s lungs because she was still about a month early, but they weren’t too concerned at this point.

What? Where was my God? Where were his comforting ways on my heart? Is this some other kind of test? Is this some kind of twisting punishment, causing pain for the envy I had as retribution? As a reminder that envy is not full of grace?

My miscarriage isn’t even complete and now I must go and celebrate the birth of my niece or nephew. I don’t know if I can do this.

I walked into my bedroom and quietly shut the door. I was embarrassed to allow Steve to see my envy and anger spill forth in a new wave. I sat on my bed and then slid to the floor, crying out into a pillow, “It’s not fair! Why is this happening? I needed more time! This is more than I can handle! It’s not fair! Why didn’t God let me have time to heal before Shari delivers?”

Steve and I waited for the phone call to tell us if we had a niece or nephew, and all of those wonderful statistics about length, weight, and hair color. When the phone call came the look on Steve’s face told me something was not right.

What could have happened? Was Shari OK? The baby? He quietly put the phone on the table.

Shari gave birth to a boy – Colton Ray. He lived for only minutes because of diaphragmatic hernias which were not identified before birth and did not allow his lungs to develop.

In a week that seemed destined to fill my head with questions that had no answers, I fell into a fog of disbelief. They were in one of the most advanced hospitals in the world! Babies almost half his gestational age survive early birth every day!

How did a baby who by all accounts should have been healthy enough to survive at this point in pregnancy only live for minutes?

Is God punishing me for my envy by taking Shari’s child?

How is Shari surviving this unimaginable heartache?

How is Shari?

In just days we made our way to the farm in sad anticipation of the funeral for Colton. Within minutes of arriving I was shown pictures of sweet Colton. He was beautiful. His tiny frame seemed like he possessed the strength to cry, to cry out at any moment. Yet we knew that was not the truth. We knew that he had not the strength nor the physical capacity to breathe in the life that he seemed so perfectly created to live. A teddy bear was nestled in his arms. The tears crashed down my face and my shoulders shuttered. This horrendous mix that was churning inside of me again made me want to run away from my own body.

I cried for my nephew, dressed in a soft baby gown, who lay lifeless in the wicker cradle.

I cried for Shari who I knew was next door in tremendous pain because she had to leave his body at the hospital.

I cried for myself. I wanted a picture of my baby. I wanted something to remember him or her by – something that would tell the world he or she existed.

I stared at those pictures, one of tiny toes that had black ink on them from taking the footprints. That made me sob even more – because I knew that those feet would never grow, and because I wanted my own set of footprints. The mixing of emotions made me nauseated until I had to break away from it all.

What kind of person envies a tiny casket of an infant? I began to despise myself. In that instant I fell into a deep and dark hole where I was buried in my own grief and I also buried myself for being envious. I recognized in my own pain an envy that shamed me.

I envied the life of Colton that was recognized.

I yearned for a process to follow. There is a body, there is a funeral, there is a process for mourning. I had no process – and I felt extremely alone in my journey.

I left with my envious thoughts and went to the bathroom. I yearned for a picture of my child who died. It is such a morbid thought but I craved seeing the face of my child, even in death. I didn’t have an ultrasound picture, or a picture taken after death with a teddy bear nestled in his or her arms. I had another trip to the bathroom to wipe away traces of blood – of my baby.

And then I looked around and noticed with an ironic twinge of pain that even the bathroom couldn’t decide – for it was both baby boy blue and soft cherub girl pink. And there I sat on my throne of shame. I did not want to leave, although I was growing to hate the very colors of the room.

Why are you doing this to me, God?

Why didn’t I receive time to grieve?

Why did you have to take Colton, too?

What did Shari and I do to deserve this?

What did our babies do to deserve this?

I summoned every ounce of energy in my body to leave that bathroom. I could hear life moving on around me, but I did not want to be a willing participant.

When I saw Shari for the first time our eyes locked and it was just one singular, long, connected avenue of pain. We sat in silence for far too long. We couldn’t even find the words that were jumping around in our heads. Neither one of us could utter complete sentences.

We had just seen each other days before – hours before. We were so incredibly overflowing with a shared joy the last time we exchanged words and hugged good-bye. Now we were both so filled with weariness and our emotions were sucking us down that we could barely function. Our aching bodies and hearts filled that room and squeezed out any space.

At the funeral home we walked down the hallway to the room that held the tiny casket and Colton’s body. At the door there was a sign: Colton Ray.

I almost collapsed right there and had to pause and stare at the floor in order to regain my balance. The reality of seeing Colton’s name on the entryway of the funeral home receiving room made this moment even more surreal. My nephew’s name should have been emblazoned across birth announcements, not imprinted on memorial cards. And then a dark sadness crept into me and I swear I could actually feel it burning through me. My child has no name. The thought kept digging deeper into my soul.

As I lifted my eyes I saw the casket. I saw Shari sitting nearby, tissues in her hand to wipe the tears, and family and friends surrounding her. Her husband stood by the casket, as if keeping guard over his infant son. Steve approached his brother and the two embraced with such strong intensity that it took my breath away.

Together Steve and I went forward to the casket and I looked upon my nephew’s beautiful face. His body appeared to be perfect and he held so many of his mother’s gentle features. Dressed in a soft, cotton sleeper, he looked as if he had just been placed there for a nap.

I prayed to a God I no longer trusted with all of my heart. I questioned why he would deprive this gorgeous baby boy of the lungs he needed to live. I then whispered to Colton, “Play with your cousin. Take care of your cousin. I will see you both again someday.”

I retreated to a corner of the room to absently stare at the carpet patterns. Steve moved on to speak with relatives and friends and I longed to become invisible.

One woman I vaguely recognized as either a friend or relative of my mother-in-law approached me and patted me on the back. I looked to her face and expected a word of comfort. What I received, however, still shocks me to my core.

“I am so surprised you came today.” This is the part where I thought I would receive an endearing offer of support for a grieving aunt or even as a grieving mother. I searched her face for more.

“Miscarriages are so…gross. I wouldn’t want to be standing here having a miscarriage with everyone around. “

My eyes remained open but my mind began to shut down in an effort of self-preservation. I could not speak. I could not look at her face any longer. So I managed to tilt my head so she knew I heard her, yet move my eyes and body so she knew I had nothing to say. Eventually she left my side and I let out a slow exhale as the tears started to run from my open eyes.

Standing there I had the panicky feeling that everyone could suddenly see the bloody pad in my underwear. They knew I was still bleeding from my loss. I begged silently for a hole to open up and suck me away from this moment in time.

Is that what everyone thinks of me? That I should have stayed at home? That I should not be here?

A few relatives approached me throughout the evening, offering a hug or whispering, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was difficult to know whether or not they were speaking of my own loss of a child or of my loss of my nephew. Both were tragedies, but both were not openly spoken of that day. It started to make me feel as though my very presence was making people feel uncomfortable.

The funeral service at the church was numbing. I still had not contacted my own church because I honestly did not know if that is what women did. I have never heard of any services for women who experience pregnancy loss. So these prayers said for the loss of a child were the first real and tangible parts of a process that I didn’t know I longed for so much. The pastor kept using Colton’s name during the prayers, adding even more value to this fleeting life. In those moments I realized again that I had no name for my child. I wanted to say these prayers for both Colton and my own baby, so in my mind I repeated them twice – once for him and once for my child. It made me ache that I didn’t have a name for these prayers. I kept repeating “My Baby” but it seemed so cold, distant, and impersonal.

The day at the cemetery turned drizzly and the rain slid across the windows of the truck as we made our way home, running in sad, downward spirals, until they jumped off the edge. The grey sky seemed to press upon us, the weight was almost palpable to me. And then the name that I had prayed for, had wanted so that I could feel that I could pray, entered my heart, and it has always remained. Rayne. Ray is the family name – the same one that Colton just took as his middle name to his eternal resting place. Rain like the tears from Heaven sent to nourish the ground.

Rayne.

I needed a name for you. I needed to be able to call to you. I needed to be able to direct my prayers. Perhaps I need for you to have a name, because I could not give anything else to you. I could not give you the kind of life that seems noticed by the world. But you were noticed. You were cherished. You were loved. You were wanted. You were a part of my very heartbeat and now a part of my tears. You are like the rain that pours down from the dark sky. You are momentary, necessary, wanted.

I don’t know if you are a boy or a girl, but I know you as my child. I know you as the anticipation, the wonder, the extraordinary love that a mother feels for her child. You are my child. You are Rayne.

Though it has taken many years, I have been able to find the gifts hidden in the loss. While my faith was challenged, it was ultimately strengthened. And in efforts to help the next generation (and past generations) of grieving mothers, I’ve been able to work with Wings of Hope – where an engraved stone with the name Rayne now reminds me of what was lost, but that there is also deep and rich hope in that loss.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all. ~ Emily Dickinson

Sliding on the Mom Rainbow

I’ve been sliding on the Mom Rainbow for quite some time now, and I just didn’t know it.

rainYou see, in the beginning, at the very start of the rainbow, the colors catch your attention and you see the upward climb. Your babes are so – present. They are everything beautiful – colorful. They need your eye. They rely on your nourishment. They react to your every pulse. And you to them. Then you climb that rainbow. It seems like at every step you are craving the independence your little one might give so that you might see the growth, the development, the milestones. You can’t wait for them to achieve. To Be. You relish in every moment.

Ahh. That smile. It wasn’t gas. It was genuine. He loves my voice.

And then the realizations of the colors become truer. There is a reality in the climb.

Oh, please. Just keep your eyes closed for ten seconds. Ten seconds. That is all I ask. Don’t make eye contact. Do NOT, by any means, hear me breathe…

I admit I begged this of more than one infant-turned-semi-pro-toddler. I wanted sleep – no I craved sleep – like a drug.

And then they are toddlers, inching their way up the rainbow, sometimes sleeping, sometimes cooperating when you try to wash the sand from their hair, sometimes breathing one final deep sigh before drifting to dreams in your arms.

Shoot! I don’t think I got out all the sand. I’ll try to gently rub away the day’s play.

Shhh. Stay sleeping. Your body is tired, and so is my mommy brain.

Boom. They are reading, writing, and having opinions. They know what they want for lunch, how they want their dolly put to bed, just right, and how you have to sing that last song one more time. The colors of the Mom Rainbow are so bright – everything is alive and active and – well, purely exhausting.

Read this book, Mommy. Do the voice.

I want a bunny. I promise I’ll take care of the bunny. I am getting SO big.

Can we make muffins tomorrow?

How old are you?

I like stickers.

You are my best friend. Well, besides Eric.

Did you notice? Your voice is now their voice. They are participating in the rainbow climb. It is almost like listening to a record (remember those archaic devices?) on skip. The thoughts are chaotic and beautiful. The colors of the Mom Rainbow keep glistening. This is glorious. There are so many things happening. Soccer practice. Church choir. Volunteering together at the soup kitchen. Reading at the library. Days with friends at the park. Living the mommy dream.

And just at the top of the rainbow. The tip-top of the Mom Rainbow, you feel the lurch in your stomach. It is just like what you feel at the precipice of the roller coaster ride. You know the plunge is coming but you deny it. You don’t want it to be so. They are tweenagers, perhaps teenagers, and they are plunging. With or without you. Buckle up, Mom. This part of the rainbow can be a bit steep.

I thought she was my real friend.

Drop me off around the corner so they don’t see you, Mom.

Mom!!! Will you help me with this?!

Mom – relax. This is how all the kids wear it.

Mom…. Where are you?

You are on the mom-yo-yo at this point. They love you. They love you knot. Tied in deep knots of denial, need, fear, and strives for independence. You keep sliding down the rainbow and you have no brakes. You just pray for a smooth landing.

Mom, I have decided on a college! (survive on just breathing)

Oh, Mom. You don’t understand.

I can’t believe this is the last time we will spend Super Bowl Sunday together! Next year I’ll be in my dorm at this time! (insert fake smile to hide the pain)

Mom!?!? Where are you? I need you to fill out this form, wash my uniform, and make sure I’m up on time for class.

Mom?!?! Today was SOOOO long. Can we talk?

And suddenly, as those colors of the Mom Rainbow all start to merge, and you think – OH CRAP – MY KID IS GROWING UP! – you realize this is just the pot of gold. You did it. Way back when you wished for quiet nights. Now you will have them. You will also have a child who grew in your love and learned how to show his or her colors to the world. And what a glorious sight that is. To travel the Mom Rainbow, getting a few splinters along the way – and see your child plunge into his fortunate future.

Sign me up for the next ride, please. Just don’t spoil the ending. This part has been way too good.

 

7 Family Activities for Fall

scarecrow (2)Fall is a busy time of year with back to school schedules, Friday night football games, and evenings that offer less sunlight. However, families can take advantage of these changes in the season with a few easy, inexpensive fall activities.

1. Add a Family Member (or at least a Homemade Scarecrow)

Build a scarecrow to stand and welcome your friends and family to your garden or yard, and make sure you get your kids in on the action. Years ago I gathered the kids with my limited construction ability and we built a lovable scarecrow who visits our garden every fall.

Materials

  • 2 sections of narrow – at least 2” inch wide – wood (1 for the arms and 1 for the body). You can even use scrap sections of baseboard trim or curtain rods you find at the local lumber yard. The length of the wood can be determined by the shirt and pants you plan to dress on your scarecrow.
  • Screws and drill or nails and hammer
  • Circle of wood or other material for the head. My husband cut the head for me out of scrap plywood, but you can also use the bottom tray from a plastic flower pot, a circular picture frame, or the plastic lid to a 5 gallon pail.
  • Spare clothing – pants, shirt, garden or canvas gloves, an old floppy hat, scarf, or anything else you can rummage from the back of the closet or the sale at the thrift store.

Let the kids paint the face or you can even use some sharpies on the plastic lid. Assemble as a family and don’t forget to give your new scarecrow friend a name!

2. Apple prints

Take flour sack dish towels or plain cotton napkins (you can even make your own square napkins from a yard of white or off-white cotton cloth), then take an apple that has been cut in half. Pat dry the juice from the inside meat part and have the kids paint the cut side in red, orange, or yellow fabric paint, then press the apple onto the corner or along the edge of the cloth. Let the print dry and present these as a special Thanksgiving or Christmas gift.

3. Painted Gourds

Give the kids gourds or miniature pumpkins they can decorate. Let them use markers, googly-eyes, glitter glue, or even foam stickers to decorate unique fall decorations. You can even tie colorful ribbons to the stems and create a trail of Gourd Friends.

4. Make a Mummy for Mom

This one is especially for dads… help your kids plant a mum plant in a plastic pot for Mom. The catch is that the kids first decorate the pot with a face, either painting it or adding it with markers. The mum flowers (think yellow, deep golden red/brown) become the hair and you’ve got your own little mini mummy for Mom to thank her for all of her hard work – and it’s not even Mother’s Day!

5. Caramel Apples with a Twist

Prepare caramel apples with a caramel wrap or coating, but before the caramel sets have the kids roll the caramel apple in a saucer filled with their choice of “extra” topping: chopped nuts, raisins, cookie sprinkles, chocolate chips, broken bits of candy corn, etc.

6. Sock Seed Exploration

Take a pair of old socks – the fuzzier the better – and have your kids put them on their feet and pull them up as high as they can. Then hike (without shoes) through the yard and woods. Carefully remove the socks, keeping the outside on the outside. Place the sock in a shallow plastic or aluminum dish (old pie tins work well), and have your kids sprinkle them with water and put the kids in charge of keeping the socks moist every morning with a watering can. Place the dish in the sunlight and watch for the next few weeks as your old socks start to sprout tiny plants from the fallen fall seeds that were collected – a great conversation starter for the topic of the plant life cycle!

7. Pressed Leaf Bookmarks

Have the kids fill a bag with colorful fall leaves, then take those and press them between the pages of large books (use waxed paper to protect the pages). After a few weeks, remove the pressed leaves and have the kids either glue them onto tag-board to make bookmarks, or send the leaves through a laminator to create unique 2-sided bookmarks. Hole punch the tops and have the kids tie ribbon through them or create special name tags. These make great Christmas gifts from the kids, and you’re months ahead of schedule!

Don’t forget to make homemade pumpkin pies (and stick them in the freezer for the holidays), apple cider, and stock up on cocoa for these cool weeks ahead. When you take a few minutes each week to create special memories with your kids, you are building the platforms for their identities, dreams, and hopes for the future. I hope this fall is kind and full of warm family fun for all of you!

Breaking the Silence of Miscarriage

footprintLast weekend I stood up before hundreds at my church and said these words:

You, my church family, might know some of my children. My daughter Alex and my sons Connor, Aidan, and Ethan. But my husband and I have other children who we lost in miscarriage. Their names are not on birth or death certificates because they died before 20 weeks gestation. It has sometimes felt over the years as if these children existed only to me.

This world of being alone in my remembrance of my children – and alone in my grief – is what propelled me to start first a ministry at my church and now an outreach program in our community. The culminating point is Wings of Hope – our pregnancy loss memorial and common burial site for remains of children lost before 20 weeks gestation.

But the Wings of Hope memorial site reminds me that God knows all of my children by name – and my children I lost in miscarriage will finally have a place in our community where the world may also know their names.

After speaking these words I left the alter and met my 12 year old son in the back of church where he was waiting by our informational table. He had tears in his eyes. He touched my arm and said, “Mom, you’re shaking.” Yes – my hands were still trembling. It took all of my reserve to say those words in front of hundreds when it has taken me more than a decade to say those words even aloud among friends.

But what I learned is that when we break the silence that surrounds miscarriage, we open ourselves and those around us to healing. Let’s keep breaking the silence.

wingsofhopemankato@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/wingsofhope

LEGO Chompy from Skylanders – Directions for Kids (written by a kid)

019If you have young boys in your home like I do, then chances are that at least a few LEGOs are strewn somewhere. And if your kids also like Skylanders, then you probably have an idea of what my house looks like. LEGOs, action figures, Skylanders… all creeping out from under the beds and waiting like ninja knives for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

This time around, instead of me sharing my own ideas about ways to engage kids with creative learning, my LEGO loving son is taking a turn and he is sharing his own directions for making a LEGO Chompy character from Skylanders.

After all, if we’re going to lose our toes in the middle of the night because of these razor-like toys, we might as well make sure the kids are at least learning from and enjoying them during the daylight hours!

So, from Ethan’s inspiration – share with your own LEGO and Skylander fans the legochompy (he even took pictures to help).

Get Your Kids Some Funeral Pants

Teaching Children the Art of Death

child and griefPregnant with my first son, sitting at the bedside of my terminally ill uncle, I felt sad irony pulling at me. There were jubilant kicks within my womb, sequences of rhythmic hiccups from my unborn son, and a wrenching, labored breathing from the bed. Impending birth sat side by side with impending death. I was the keeper and the witness.

I held the hand of my uncle as he quietly ended his journey on earth. There is nothing to ever compare to a moment like that. But there are things we can do to prepare ourselves and our children for the darkness of dying. We can bring light to this season. There is an art to death, shown in the stories of our history. It is in our customs and rituals, and in how we teach our children to embrace the inevitable.

How we respond to death is the art. It is the church ladies and their decadent desserts, served to the mourners. It is in the classic “hot-dish” that my dad’s hometown church served after every funeral. It is in the tables of keepsakes we arrange, filled with photographic montages of the lives of the ones we just lost. The art is how we carefully select flowers, hymns, and prayers. This art is not for adults only. Children need to be present in mourning so that the realities of death do not frighten them – the art of death becomes a comfort to them.

Do not fear funerals. So often I hear parents say they don’t want to bring their children to funerals because their kids are too young, will be too sad, or will perhaps not behave in a mourning-acceptable way. Stop keeping them from funerals. Help them navigate these rituals. Not only have my children attended these events with me, but as teenagers they now volunteer at church to help during funerals – often not knowing who has died, but knowing that a family is grieving and their small service can help the process.

Be real. Avoid terms like sleeping, going away, and other terms that can confuse young children. Children can be frightened of sleeping or of others leaving when death is compared to these events. Be real with your faith, too. I firmly believe that the reality of death is not as frightening for my children because they have faith – that real and honest belief that this life is not all. It is not the end.

Treat the ill as the living – not the dying. My dear children have lost more loved ones than sometimes seems fair. But when the opportunity has been present – during times of illness or late in life – we seize the moments to share time, emotions, and laughter with those loved ones. We let our kids know the reality of the situation, but we help them focus on the living.

Be OK with tears and confusion. Cry in front of and with your children. Let them cry, ask questions, or even seem unaffected. They process in their own time and in their own way – but only if you’re honest with them and let them move through it. You don’t have to have all of the answers.

Have funeral pants. When my oldest was about 13 she was cleaning her closet as fall ended and the start of school neared. I called to her from the hallway – Be sure to let me know if there is anything in particular you need before we go shopping! Her relaxed reply met me at the corner – Well, I have enough funeral pants but I need a new coat.

Just like the changing seasons from summer to fall, and from carefree play to school studies, our wardrobes reflect the seasons of life. We have those date-night dresses, interview jackets, lazy Saturday yoga pants, and backyard BBQ capris. And we have funeral pants. Our go-to outfits for saying fare-thee-well and I’m going to miss her, too. For all the living we do, death is inevitably a part of our living. Get your kids some funeral pants.

Tools for Visual & Linguistic Learners

Tools for Visual & Linguistic LearnersHelp Your Child’s Learning Style Come Alive

The world must be a uniquely beautiful view for one of my kids. He sees things many just walk right past, hears things in a different way, and finds the humorous, perplexing, and inspiring in what we might consider the mundane. His learning styles are unique to him, but I consider it my job to help find tools that will enhance his learning. If you’re the parent or teacher of a child who thrives on visual or linguistic learning strategies, you know that his or her view on the world is intriguing, and that it is not always easy to use typical teaching tools.

Linguistic learners have skills for reading, writing, speaking – those tasks that revolve around words and communicating ideas through them.

Visual learners thrive on seeing things in action, through demonstrations, charts, graphs, pictures, and any other way they can visually connect with an idea.

You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way. ~Marvin Minsky

I treasure that quote by Minsky. It reminds me that just because things have been taught in certain ways for so long, it doesn’t mean those are the only effective ways to learn. Visual and linguistic learners often have similar traits – they enjoy stories. The following learning tools incorporate both of these in unconventional, yet successful ways.

Language Arts Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Idioms

We use idioms often without thinking too much about them. They are a natural part of the English language. Some people, however, struggle to decipher idioms, usually taking them literally (which would be a very confusing way to spend the day). One of the markers of kids on the Autism spectrum is an inability to comprehend idioms. The phrase, “I’ve got a frog in my throat” takes on a whole other meaning for these kids.

Teach your kids about idioms using books like my son’s favorite, Horsing Around – Making Sense of Everyday Idioms, by Katherine Scraper. In the book there are 50 common idioms, each illustrated with funny interpretations and a story passage using the idiom in a dialogue situation (a few short paragraphs). This book appeals to both visual and linguistic learners. The pages also each give space for kids to write their own interpretations of the idioms.

Understanding idioms improves language by

  • Helping with oral language development, especially in the early preschool and elementary years
  • Building reading skills
  • Developing creative writing skills
  • Improving speech for ESL students (English as a Second Language)

Mathematics Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Math doesn’t have to be just rote calculations. Perhaps it is my love of the written word that draws me to these next two math tools, but I’ve also seen my kids relate to numbers and mathematical theories in a different way since adding these resources to our bookshelves.

Life of Fred

  • The Life of Fred books are a series of “story” books, ranging from elementary all the way through high school, that are designed to get students thinking about math. The unconventional approach uses humorous or just plain wacky stories to teach kids how to apply mathematical concepts.

Charlesbridge Math Adventures

  • This series of math adventures, perfect for early elementary students (even my older kids love to listen to these, too), is an engaging way to introduce and reinforce math concepts. Colorful and wonderfully illustrated tales have characters experiencing adventures that are all intertwined with mathematics. Some of our favorite titles include:
    • Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter (a tale that teaches kids how to calculate things such as the area of a circle)
    • Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (yep – a story about calculating with pi)
    • Alice in Pastaland (an adventure centered around problem solving skills)
    • Cut Down to Size at High Noon (ratios and proportions set in a western story)

Social Studies Learning Tools for Visual and Linguistic Learners

Do you remember memorizing the list of presidents when you were in elementary school, the names and locations of countries, or the capitals of states? If you were like me, it was simply based on rote memorization, grouped by perhaps 10 names at a time. And the memorization lasted long enough to pass the test – and it was usually not an entertaining experience. If you’re looking for a new way to help your kids memorize these basic (and sometimes boring) facts, try some of these books.

Yo, Millard Fillmore!

  • This fun and engaging book helped all of my kids not only learn the names of the US presidents, but their memory of these facts is long lasting, and they really enjoyed the illustrative approach. Each president has a picture and short description as to how the picture fits with that name. Then, each picture (president) is somehow linked to the following one, helping to reinforce the order of presidency.

Yo, Sacramento!

  • Just like Yo, Millard Fillmore!, this book engages readers through humorous illustrations that teach kids how to relate the capital names to the state names.

The Scrambled States of America

  • You might be familiar with this title of the book that teaches about the US states. I also use the board game (by the same name) to reinforce the illustrative concepts presented in the book.

Visualize World Geography

  • I admit that when I first saw this book I raised an eyebrow. The graphics are – unique – and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get past their uniqueness in order to actually learn from the materials. But then my kids and I started using it and we realized that these mental maps that the book creates really do work. There are short bits that go with each graphic to help tie the mental map together, appealing to both my visual and linguistic learners.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a homeschool parent is that learning styles not only influence academics, but they transcend our personalities. It is more than learning about reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is about learning what makes each one of us tick – what gets us excited to try new things, and helps us overcome failures. When we tune into our kids’ learning styles, we give them tools that go far beyond their report cards.