Neiva & Elderflowers

It’s hard to believe whilst I sit here typing, listening to the summer rain pattering against the window, just how gloriously beautiful the afternoon was picking elderflowers only a few days before.

If there is one scent that smells of an English summer its elderflowers. Tiny beautiful frothy fragrant white flowers made from tiny blossoms appear from May onwards, with the black purply berries taking over from August.

Whilst we love some of the organic shop varieties, I really wanted to have a go at making it myself. I also wanted Neiva to have the whole experience. From picking to steeping, straining then decanting to drinking the final product. 

Tips for picking Elderflower:

  • Pick the flowers preferably around midday when the suns heat is on them. The warmth of the sun enhances the beautiful perfume.
  • Make sure the flowers have plenty of blossom on them
  • Do not gather after a rainfall. It’s the pollen that gives the flower flavour and the rain will wash that away.
  • For the same reason as above, do not wash the flowers. Any insects or debris hiding amongst the tiny petals will be strained out later.

So after consulting my Hedgerow Handbook and with a beautiful sunny afternoon ahead of us, off we went to find our bounty. There were so many elderflowers to choose from we lost track of time and only when our basket was full to bursting did we venture back. 

Elderflower Cordial

For this recipe you will need: 

  • 1.5 sugar
  • 1.7 litres water
  • 2 unwaxed lemons (sliced)
  • Muslim cloth or jelly bag strainer

Method 

    1. Add the sugar and water to a pan and simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved. 
    2. Turn off the heat and add the elderflowers (flower heads down to submerge them completely) and the lemon slices, cover and leave to sit for 24 hours to infuse.
    3. Strain the liquid with a muslin cloth.
    4. Decant into a glass bottle and top with either water, soda water (for elderflower presse) or champagne/prosecco (for a grown up version!)

    This should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge although I doubt it will be there that long. I found the flavour is enhanced, very intense and extremely delicious in comparison to shop bought cordial. So sweet and so very fragrant.

    Making elderflower cordial certainly isn’t a quick process, however as well as being a fantastic sensory and learning experience, it also taught Neiva to learn patience in a beautiful and fun way. 

    Good things do come to those who wait…..

    Hyperlexia Awareness Day

    2 April 2017 is #worldautismday and over the past week I have seen and read some really heartwarming ‘victory over adversity’ stories and loved reading the wonderful work schools and charities are doing to raise awareness.

    What I haven’t read about is Hyperlexia and it’s not surprising. Hyperlexia research is conflicted. There is also an overlap in hyperlexia between autistic and gifted children which often results in a misdiagnosis in both areas.

    I want to use this platform and this special day to highlight the three types of hyperlexia and raise awareness generally.

    types of hyperlexia

    There are three specific types of Hyperlexia:

    Type I: Neurotypical child that is just an early reader.

    Type II: Children on the autism spectrum that demonstrate early reading as a splinter skill.

    Type III: Very early readers who are not on the autism spectrum though there are some “autistic-like” traits and behaviors which gradually fade as the child gets older.

    signs of hyperlexia

    • A precocious ability to read words far above what would be expected at a child’s age
    • Child may appear gifted in some areas and extremely deficient in others
    • Significant difficulty in understanding verbal language
    • Difficulty in socialising and interacting appropriately with people
    • Abnormal and awkward social skills
    • Specific or unusual fears
    • Fixation with letters or numbers
    • Echolalia (Repetition or echoing of a word or phrase just spoken by another person)
    • Memorisation of sentence structures without understanding the meaning
    • An intense need to keep routines, difficulty with transitions, ritualistic behavior

    Additional Symptoms:

    • Normal development until 18-24 months, then regression
    • Listens selectively / appears to be deaf
    • Strong auditory and visual memory
    • Self-stimulatory behavior (hand flapping, rocking, jumping up and down)
    • Think in concrete and literal terms, difficulty with abstract concepts
    • Auditory, olfactory and / or tactile sensitivity
    • Difficulty answering “Wh–” questions, such as “what,” “where,” “who,” and “why”

     

    my child may have hyperlexia what do I do?

    Firstly, read read and read some more! Gather as much information as you can find on the subject. Yes, you will realise very quickly that information on hyperlexia very sparse, so here are a list of books and web links that have helped me on our journey so far:

    Hyperlexia Overview: Judy & David http://judyanddavid.com/cha/strategies.pdf

    I would start with this one. This is where everything really clicked for us. The generic strategies we were then using for autism were very hit and miss. Some traits related to Neiva when others didn’t and it felt like we were looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The day we started these specific strategies for hyperlexia was the day we saw real results, right from the start.

    And Next Comes L: Dyan Robson www.andnextcomesl.com

    Dyan is a real trail blazer for hyperlexia. When her son received a hyperlexia and hypernumeracy diagnosis in 2014 she knew nothing of the subject and had to study and research everything herself. Her website has really been a lifesaver in terms of information, strategies and practical help to improve communication between parent and child. I visit her website almost daily and it has really been a source of real encouragement for me. Dyan also has a support group on Facebook which again has been a huge help and, despite the time difference between here in the U.K. and Dyan in Canada, she responds to any questions we may have.

    Books on Hyperlexia

    • Reading Too Soon – Susan M Miller
    • When Babies Read – Audra Jensen
    • The Anti Romantic Child – Priscilla Gilman
    • The Einstein Syndrome – Thomas Sowell


    Complete List of Online Reading/Groups


    Raise Your Concerns With Your GP: You may be one of the lucky ones that walks into the GP’s office and he is familiar with the term Hyperlexia. However, most likely, prepare for the realisation that the first time your GP hears the word will be from you. This is ok. It just means that you will have to ensure that you are well read up on the subject. If you can, take copies of the above strategies with you.  This applies to any health professional you are currently dealing with. It also applies to school teachers. The more informed care and health professionals are, the more they are able to help.

    view hyperlexia as the gift it is

    One of my favourite sayings is “when you look at a field of dandelions you either see a field of weeds or a field of wishes”.

    True, there are days when a one sided conversation takes its toll, there are days when I repeat myself over and over again only for her to do exactly what I asked her not to do 10 minutes later. There are days when I avoid social situations because I’m not strong enough to protect her from the frowns and looks. There are days where I question my ability to be her champion. There are days when I know I can’t reach her she’s away in her far away place and I have to wait for her to come back. There are days when my patience is tested to the absolute limit only to look into her confused eyes and realise she isn’t understanding my question. There are days when I just go to bed early exhausted from the day wishing it was over, wanting a next day to start a fresh. But….

    Then there are the days when I look at my beautiful girl when she gently talks to a ladybird or is beckoning a bee to be her friend. Then there are days when she does get that faraway look and we are suddenly transported away into space, under the ocean, jumping over clouds, on the most amazing train ride with Enid, singing round a campfire, her imagination knows no bounds. Then there are days when I hear her beautiful soft voice mimicking voices she’s heard somewhere only once and stored it away perfectly when she feels like a little humor. Then there are the days when she sings, oh my – her singing…. and my heart melts. Then there are the days when she needs just another story and gently holds my chin to get my attention. Then there are the days where she lets out a relieved sigh and gives me a huge smile when she is in nature, in her happy place away from the noise pollution that hurts her eyes and ears so much. Then there are the days when she reads a book for the first time like she’s read it a thousand.  Then there are the days when she recites her two times table with ease or sings the alphabet backwards because she’s bored of singing it forward.

    I love that she is gifted in areas far advanced then her peers;

    I love that she makes me forget to check my phone;

    I love that she counts the stars and instinctively knows where the moon is each night;

    I love that she treats everyone the same and has no concept of meanness in the playground;

    I love that she sees the beauty in nature, a caterpillar, a leaf, a cloud;

    I love that she has made me slow down and notice these things:

    I love everything she is and everything she will be. The world is a better place for her being in it.

    Neiva, we love you to your beloved moon and back.

    Family Forest Play

     

    Anyone who knows Neiva, knows just how much more relaxed she is when she is outside. She has such an affinity with nature and all its beautiful elements. It’s almost like she can breathe when she’s outside, you can physically see it. Like a release from a prison of air and noise pollution and into a pitch where sights and sounds are soothing and a comfort to her.

    More and more research is showing the health benefits of playing in nature. Of course it makes perfect sense when you sit down and think about it. For children with sensory issues modern day living is like you or I going around with an artificial strip light attached to our eyes all day. Contrast that with the serene tranquility of stepping into beautiful woodland. No honking horns, no petrol fumes, no wifi crackling above our heads, just open quiet space. Where all the colours of the forest are restful to the eyes, the sound of rustling trees and beautiful bird song are a delight to the ears and the woody scent of tree bark sail past the nose encouraging an involuntary deep breathe in. Complete relaxation.

    Nature’s Footprints Forest Play and Education are a Yorkshire based enterprise doing great work in the local community. We had the pleasure of meeting the very wonderful Jo who runs Natures Footprints. Her dedication passion and enthusiasm just shines though and her love of nature and the children she teaches is just infectious. A former teacher, she trained as a Forest School practitioner in 2007. Her belief in the values and significance of play, in “having the choice to follow your own ideas, be instrumental in assessing and managing your own risks and in understanding the importance of physical, mental and emotional well-being have taken her on a journey she could never have envisioned”. Today’s forest play session took place in the beautiful surroundings of Beaumont Park in Huddersfield.

    Firstly, we formed a circle and had a little introduction icebreaker.  The children were then allowed to roam and explore their surroundings almost immediately.

    I took a walk into the woods and came out taller than the trees – Henry David Thoreau

    The children then all ran off in different directions, running, jumping and even rolling down the hill, safely cushioned by a leaf carpet. Some older children started to make a den. Neiva did her usual thing and explored the perimeter. What I found lovely about the whole lesson was if the children wanted to take part in group activities they could, if the children wanted to explore on their own, that was encouraged too. No rigid rules, no “I talk, you listen”mentality. Complete freedom to roam and discover.

    We did all get called together for snack time. The children all sat around a camping stove on fallen logs. Neiva watched excitedly as the popcorn popped on the stove. It was lovely to all get together and hear what the children had foraged so far on their adventure. After snack time, our teacher for today, Lisa explained what we could expect from the next part of the session. Again, these activities were completely voluntary, if the children wanted to take part they could. The activities for this session included:

    • making various bird feeders
    • making a bird hide and observing
    • setting up hammocks between the trees
    • den building

    Time really does fly when your having fun because the morning went so quickly and we were sad for it to end. Neiva was too. All the way back to the car we had the song “were going on a bear hunt….a deep dark forest….thick oozy mud…” on repeat and through tears, she was very upset to leave.

    We will be back. We will be counting down the days until the next monthly family forest play. Jo believes every child from every background should be able to attend. The cost of Family Forest sessions is just £5 per child plus adult donations. Healthy snacks and drinks and all tools and materials are provided at no extra charge. Jo and her team really do this solely out of complete love of what they do and the children they teach.

    What To Bring

    • Waterproof coat and boots
    • A change of clothes
    • A small lunchtime snack (although snacks and drinks are provided)

    If you are interested in taking part in Family Forest Play or any of the other of the outdoor learning events and live in the Yorkshire area, please contact Jo or follow on facebook to keep up to date with the various upcoming events.

    Homemade Bird Feeders

    Despite living in a noisy little town, our house resides on a hill that backs on to a steep bank filled with trees, a haven for wildlife. It was the perfect setting to take part in the RSPB’s big garden bird watch over the weekend.

    I ordered our free pack some weeks back which, coupled with a few ideas from Pinterest, gave us all the ammunition we needed to get started.

    Bird Feeder #1
    For this we needed;

    • twine
    • cardboard toilet roll inner tube
    • peanut butter
    • wild bird seed


    METHOD:
    Using a butter knife we coated the tube with peanut butter until completely covered. Under close supervision from Enid, Neiva then rolled the tube in the wild bird seed. We then  threaded through the twine and hung outside.

    To make the second bird feeder below, we needed to first make the suet cakes which ideally need to be done the night before so they can set completely in the fridge. It really was so simple to make and the finished effect looked lovely.

    Suet (Lard) Cakes
    For this we needed;

    • a packet of lard
    • an old baking tray
    • wild bird seed
    • twine
    • cookie cutters (we used hearts and stars)


    METHOD:
    Melt a full packet of lard gently. Add enough bird seed to coat thoroughly. Thread through the twine and ensure the two ends meet at the top. Transfer to the cookie cutters packing them down nice and tight. Leave in the fridge overnight to set. In hindsight I would have not used stars as they were quite difficult to remove once set. I would have also laid them on grease proof paper as they did stick to the tray.

    Bird Food Garland
    This was a little bit more complex but Neiva did love making this. For this we needed:

    • a bamboo stick (or a dry twig)
    • twine
    • two apples
    • suet (lard) cakes
    • small heart cookie cutter


    METHOD:
    Slice the apples into thin slices and use the small heart cutter to cut a hole in the middle. Thread the twine through the hole (we did rows of three) Remove the suet cakes from the cutters and tie to the bamboo along with the apple slices.

    We did enjoy counting the different types of birds on the sheet and look forward to reporting our findings to the RSPB. Poor Enid not so much. Not only did she have the local squirrel to contend with, she had to deal with extra visitors to her garden this weekend.

    If you want more information on why the RSPB carry out an annual survey on local birdlife, please click here.

     

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