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Updated: Jan 3, 2022

You may have noticed that I have been away for a while. Life has been busy. My schedule has been packed with classes, my husband's new job position and the kid's schedules at school and daycare. It isn't easy managing a household of five! But, unfortunately, that isn't the reason that I've been away. You see, some things are just hard to write.

If you are a reader of my blog, then you know all about our kids, especially our eldest, Roman. Roman is a curious, energetic and passionate child with a love of STEM. If you've visited here before, you known that Roman was diagnosed with moderate ADHD a couple of years ago. Roman's diagnosis really helped us to understand why he has so much energy to spare and why he is so easily distracted. It also helped my husband and me get to know each other more.

But still, despite the diagnosis, we struggled. I sensed something was wrong so I used all of my arsenal to get to the bottom of the problem. I applied my background in psychology, my knowledge of the elementary school curriculum and of child development, I even challenged myself by going back to school. We tried strategies. Those strategies failed. Roman's behaviour became even harder to manage and, dare I say, out of control. Our love for him never changed, but my husband and I were worried.

I finally reached out to Crossroads Children's Mental Health Centre here in Ottawa. I told them everything; every symptom, every behaviour, every strategy. They referred me to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario over the summer and I remember having my first parent referral appointment over the phone while at the cottage. As I looked out at the water, my heart sank a little when we were told that they were going to rush our request to a specialist.

Two months went by (a blink of an eye in terms of waitlist times) and we were speaking with Dr. Julia Ryan, a school psychologist and Olympic weight lifter. After checking out her website and speaking with her over Zoom (hello, pandemic!), we knew we had our advocate. She agreed to come over to our house for a play-based assessment of our little boy. Within half an hour of a three hour appointment, we had an informal diagnosis: Roman had autism. He was textbook.

I can't say that the news surprised me. I am Roman's mother, after all. Since day one, raising Roman has been a difficult journey. It isn't difficult to love him. He is amazing. But he has been difficult to manage. Traditional methods of parenting do not work with Roman, he has sensory issues, his emotions are extreme and his energy knows no bounds. Oftentimes, when a friend or family member stays at our house for more than an hour, it is usually remarked that Nic and I have nerves of steal. Maybe we do, or maybe we just love him that much.

So now we really are at a crossroads. We know now from the experts that Roman is neurodivergent and that he will need some supports in place in order to flourish both academically and socially. We understand that the idiosyncrasies and behaviours that some children are "disciplined out of" or even "mature out of" will not be the case for Roman. We understand that the human brain does not fit neatly into a box (even if it is shoved) and that the autism spectrum really is just that; a spectrum of diverse individuals with, get this, individual characteristics.

Since his diagnosis, my husband and I have been championing Roman. As parents, our duty is to never give up on our child, no matter how difficult the road. Believe me, I thank my lucky stars every single day that my background just happens to be in psychology and education, however, it has been a learning curve for our friends and family. For us, the news has been emotional. It is hard to grieve when you have three small children to care for. And yet, the show must go on.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on what the word "space" means to Roman. As someone who is so intense, and usually very much in other people's personal space, it is hard to understand why he needs it sometimes or even how to give it to him. But now that my head has been filled with worry, with stress and with obligations, and with emotions that I am struggling to define, I am starting to understand, at least a little. Sometimes we need space from the noise and chaos of our lives, from the lights and from the sounds, from the chatter and even from our own swirling thoughts. Sometimes we just need space. Nothingness. A chance to reboot. So, as our family learns to live with this new label, I ask you for space. For time. For understanding as our family processes our present reality and makes new plans for the future. We need this in order to come up with the best plan of action to support our son and the rest of our family.

Roman, Aurora and Elliana, we love you so much.

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Have you ever done something so big that it almost seems surreal? That is exactly how I feel right now. After five (and a half, I am counting ALL of the time I put in) years of being a Stay at Home Parent, I've made a promise. No, this promise isn't to my husband, or my kids, hell, it isn't even for my dog. It is for me. Allow me to explain.

This blog changed everything. Almost a year and a half ago, I sat at my kitchen peninsula thoroughly lost. It was the beginning of the pandemic, I was newly pregnant (though I hadn't discovered that yet) and I was homeschooling a kindergartener and juggling an enthusiastic toddler. Life was busy, it was hectic, and it was stressful. I had a full-time job and that was looking after my children while trying to keep our family life from imploding due to my husband's demanding work schedule. Add on top of that a new diagnosis of severe ADHD for both my husband and my son and, well, you can imagine how peaceful our home life was.

I was busy, and yet, there was a deep hole that existed inside of me that was longing to be filled. It was a desire to create change, to be change. It was a yearning for a chance to apply my skillsets, a chance to do something more. For years, I spent hours upon hours of my time researching, writing, presenting and teaching. My brain, fully decorated with cobwebs by now, still loved to read about my favourite topics of psychology, gender studies and childhood development. I found myself applying my knowledge to my own children (and, my own husband). Still, I wanted to cast a wider net.

So I took a huge risk. I opened up my heart and started to write. I wrote about life, about my kids, about activities that helped us navigate our son's diagnosis. I put everything I knew out into the universe. I talked about my passions, about Forest School and about inclusive education. In response, I received so many wonderful messages from friends, family and even strangers who wanted to hear more. For once in my life, somebody wanted to listen to what I had to say. Me. A Stay At Home Parent. It astounded me and humbled me. I got a taste of having the old Anastasia back.

Soon after, I found myself working for myself as a tutor and had the privilege of teaching at-risk children for one of our local women's shelters. After that, I began to be inundated with requests for online tutoring and was even asked to open my own preschool program. Thanks, pandemic! I began to teach children from the ages of four to fifteen and I LOVED it. Each child came with her own set of intelligences, her own set of struggles and that was such a challenge. But I found myself wanting more.

So here I am, thirty-five (ugh) years old, botox-free (sadly) and living my best life alongside the younger generation as I navigate a new chapter. For thirty-four weeks, I will be studying to obtain my Early Childhood Education designation. My dream? Oh, I have so many; to become a Preschool Teacher, to become a centre Director and then, just maybe, open up my own Preschool for children just like my son. That would be the dream. Do I feel "mom guilt"? Immensely, but I tell myself every day (okay, every ten minutes) that I am setting and example for my children about what it looks like to chase after your dreams, to not give up and to listen to your heart. And so, today, I say "goodbye" to a huge chapter of my life and hello to a new beginning. This is the year of Anastasia.

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My son loves to climb. Seriously. He climbs the lattice in our living room, the door jams, our daughter's crib rail and trees are his favourite hang-out spot. He is a proficient and confident climber and likes to challenge himself to new and exciting heights.

When we are out and about, I often get comments such as "Are you OK with him climbing that tree?" or "He is up really high..." and sometimes "That kid is giving me a heart attack!". I usually tell them that my son climbs higher at home and that he is actually being conservative! People mean well but I often find myself wondering when risky play became a thing of the past.

Risky play is an essential part of child development, and especially that of an active child's development. Risky play is defined as experimental play that tests limits within reason. It is play that can be described as thrilling and exciting! The benefits of risky play are immense as it helps to shape children's knowledge and awareness of their environments and helps to instill children's confidence in their bodies and in themselves.

I had a conversation with a fellow caregiver the other day regarding new stipulations surrounding daycare and elementary school openings in September. This provider told me of all of the new regulations that she, as a home daycare provider, have to now follow in order to get the green light to reopen to her families. As it stands, she has had to nix her wading pool, her sand box and her outdoor climber. She has had to invest in a new deck for her backyard because it was deemed too high off the ground and she had to install a soft, padded area to her back lawn as grass was deemed "too rough" for children to play on. Now that she is planning on reopening after the pandemic has slowed, she will have to implement new sanitation methods, edit down her playroom toys and she will have to discourage the sharing of particular toys in favour of turn-taking with periodic disinfecting.

My teacher friends have communicated similar changes to their programming. Come the fall, they have been told that class sizes will be reduced (not a bad thing), desks will be spaced further apart to encourage social distancing, there will be a "no touch" policy and recess time will be staggered and limited in order to decrease the number of children in the yard at one time. Teachers of young children, especially those in a play-based, kindergarten room setting are no doubt wondering how on earth they are going to implement these measures while still adhering to curriculum.

As a big proponent of risky play and the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning which touts the benefits of learning from the natural environment as a "third teacher", all of these new regulations worry me. I always believed that our educational system was lacking more outdoor learning opportunities for children as well as flexible learning environments for children within the classroom. The reality of an international pandemic has only worsened these regulations.

Though I do believe that we all need to be cautious and safe in order to preserve our own health and the health of others, I also believe that fear and fear of liability are now dictating the course of our children's access to education. And I'm absolutely not okay with that.

Preserving our children's right to risky play is a central tenant of this website. Children with exceptionalities and those who are extremely active require risk to their play in order to test their limits (within healthy boundaries) and in order to release latent anxiety, anger and tension. Natural, risky play, play that allows children to climb trees, get messy and, sometimes, get a bruise or a scrape, is paramount to our development as human beings. I would argue that it is exactly what makes us human and not sterile robots!

So what can we do in a world that has been immeasurably impacted by the Coronavirus? How can we preserve our children's right to risky play while also providing them with the education that they deserve?

For those of us who are privileged enough to choose homeschooling or a private provider, this may be the answer. Small class sizes mitigate risk and a home school environment or private institution may provide a similar, or oftentimes better, curriculum than what you could find at a public school. However, many of us simply do not have the option but to send our children to public school whether it be due to work, finances or logistics.

To those parents who find themselves grappling with a "new normal" and a new face to our children's education, I advise the encouragement of risky play in and around the household.

Does your property have a tree that would make a great climbing apparatus? Does your playroom wall have enough space to add a few climbing rocks? Can you create a makeshift balance beam for your child's room or invest in a pikler triangle? All of these examples are great ways to encourage your child to use her or his body to move, climb and experiment with risk.

Psychologically, caregivers can also encourage risky play during everyday activities by way of their own attitudes and reactions. Oftentimes, as caregivers, we find ourselves anticipating the worst possible outcomes in order to preserve our child's safety and, sometimes, this can actually be at a detriment to the child. Have you ever found yourself reacting more to your child's scraped knee than your child? By self-regulating our own reactions to life's bumps and bruises we are showing our children that it is okay to push limits and that natural consequences are oftentimes survivable! This breeds confidence instead of anxiety and resilience instead of weakness.

Risky play, play that encourages curiosity and limit pushing, is what makes life worth living and exploring. As an advocate of accessibility to education for active littles, I truly hope that the COVID pandemic hasn't put an end to risky play for our children. Perhaps when we realize that life itself is game of risk versus reward, of taking chances, making mistakes and learning from them and of and getting messy, we will realize the importance of risky play in our children's social, emotional and physical development and work to preserve it.

Because all children deserve to engage in risky play.

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