Tag Archives: military kids

Therapy Dogs and Military Kids Make the World a Better Place!

“Be nice to everyone, even if they are different. If they are different, they may have special qualities that you may really like.” -Awesome MilKid, Operation Purple Camp 2015

Have you thought about this recently? Sometimes, the people who are different from you may actually be some of the most important people you meet or interact with in your life.

At our Operation Purple® Camp in North East, Maryland, that’s one of the messages shared by a young and kind military kid, as she stood up in front of the group and told us what she had learned so far at camp. This was on Military Day, where the kids had a special treat of active duty service members to talk to, military trucks to check out, and a field day just for them.

military-kids-therapy-dogs

Another special treat was the appearance of therapy dogs. I met four very special dogs who, with their owners, spend their time helping to make others feel a whole lot better.

The Team Leader for the HOPE, Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, who attended the North Bay Adventure Camp Military Day said one of the biggest benefits of bringing therapy dogs to a camp where kids have faced stress that many of us have never felt or understand, is it creates a ‘bridge’ for them. He said it helps them be able to talk out their feelings, just because of the excitement or distraction of playing with a loving therapy dog.

Military kids sometimes feel different from their peers–like no one understands. But being in a setting where they’re surrounded by other military kids, and exposed to the amazing feeling of being around a therapy dog – it’s just a match made in heaven!

Below are the four amazing dogs I met. These therapy dogs want to make a difference. If you, or someone you know, is in need, please reach out to HOPE, Pet Partners, or the American Humane Association.

PUCK
Puck is a 4-year-old English Springer Spaniel, who has been a therapy dog for two years. This is Puck’s first year being with the HOPE team, and his first time at an Operation Purple Camp. When Puck isn’t hanging out with awesome military kids, you can find him making his weekly rounds at the Caroll Hospital Center, or on-call at the State Attorney’s Office for kids who are being asked to testify in court and need someone to help them feel more calm.

puck

PEPPE
Peppe is a 9 ½-year-old Italian Grey Hound, who’s been a therapy dog for eight years, and has been with Pet Partners for two and a half years. This is Peppe’s third Operation Purple Camp! When Peppe isn’t making military kids smile, he is working as service animal for those who need to monitor their blood sugar levels. Pictured here, Peppe is hanging out with the kids while one military kid reads to him.

peppe

THE BEAR + EMMA (left to right)
The Bear and Emma have been therapy dogs for three years, and have been with HOPE for two years. This is their third year at Operation Purple Camp and love that some of the kids remember them when they return! The Bear and Emma are very busy dogs spending time at the NIH Medical Center, Yellow Ribbon events, with TAPS, and have even shared their love and care after tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting and Hurricane Sandy.

the bear and emma

You never know who you’ll meet in life, but I know these military kids met some new furry friends, who, despite being completely different from them, had some awesome qualities that made their lives a better place.

Do you have a pet that’s helped you through difficult times? Tell us about them!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

 

Will Our MilKids Find Their Place in This World?

As a military spouse I can tell you first-hand that military life is unpredictable. You are always wondering when the next shoe will drop. Will we move this year? Where? Are we going to be closer to all the family or farther away? Is the next deployment right around the corner?

When you have kids those questions become even more daunting. Because my husband and I signed up for this life, and although we were young when we started this journey, we were adults who had coping skills and the ability to adapt. This is not the case for our military kids. These little people are living this life because of who their parents are, not because of a choice they made themselves. And they have to learn on the fly – at a very young age – many of the things that it takes the rest of us a lifetime to learn. They have to learn to make friends quickly, but be strong enough to tell those friends goodbye when the time comes. They have to be able to pick up their entire life and move somewhere new and see how they fit into the new place, and make it their own. I worry about my kids every day and how their life as part of a military family will impact the person they become. Mostly, I worry that they will feel alone or out of place.

MilitaryKids Find Their Place

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of our Operation Purple Camps in NorthBay, Maryland. I was fortunate enough to witness something at camp that made me worry just a little bit less.  I arrived at NorthBay on the third day of camp. I was just in time to join a group of campers who were heading out on a hike. They were all about 10-13 years old with the exception of one 8 year old boy. As I walked behind the group I noticed that one of the boys seemed to be hanging back and wandering off a bit. I was constantly having to encourage him to stay up with the group. He didn’t speak much and didn’t seem to want to participate in the scavenger hunt or even really the hike itself. As soon as I had a chance, I asked the counselor about him. She told me his name was Treyvon and the 8 year old with the group was his little brother, who was with the older kids to make Treyvon more comfortable. Throughout the rest of the hike I was mostly with Treyvon. I spoke with him a little bit about what he liked about camp and what kind of stuff they had been doing. He was a very reserved kid, and often didn’t want to speak, but it was clear that the group activities made him uncomfortable. He didn’t like hiking and whenever we stopped with the group he would start to wander off. This continued throughout the morning with the other activities. Treyvon did not really want to participate. I left the group shortly before lunch time, but Treyvon was weighing heavily on my mind, I was really hoping he was finding his place in his camp activities.

The afternoon at camp was designated “Military Day.” Some soldiers from Aberdeen Proving Ground had come to the camp and brought vehicles for the kids to climb in, body armor to try on, and a rock wall to climb.

I was concluding my time at camp by taking some pictures of the kids enjoying Military Day. I tried to capture as many kids as I could and the fun they were having. As I was looking through some of the photos I had just taken of the rock wall I saw a boy who just leapt off the top – after climbing all the way up – and was laughing with complete joy. As I looked closer I realized that this boy was Treyvon. He had found his happy place at camp – at the top of the rock wall. In that moment I realized that my own military kids are going to be ok, there may be times when they hold back. Times when they feel like wandering off or not participating, but they will find their place. And it may just be at the top of the rock wall at an Operation Purple Camp.

mandy-culverPosted by Mandy Culver, Executive Administrative Assistant

How to PCS with an Infant: 4 Tips You Need to Know!

pcs-with-an-infant-baby-military

It goes without saying that having an infant makes life exciting, yet chaotic. This statement is also true when taking on a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). But the fun really begins when you have a newborn AND you PCS.

A few tips and tricks from our family, to yours:

Request medical records as soon as possible. This was certainly a lesson learned the hard way. When you need to request medical records, they tell you this process takes the military treatment facility at least 30 days. I didn’t believe them because, hey, my daughter was just five months old and couldn’t possibly have that much in her file. I was wrong and was scrambling a day before her six month appointment to piece together her records. So, what I know now is to fill out the request form as soon as you have a new address and keep your own set of records just in case something happens before they arrive.

Stay away on move-in day. This was the best decision we made during our PCS. My husband met the truck with our household goods, while the baby and I bunked with family for an extra day. When your stuff is being unloaded, it’s a hectic, noisy situation not conducive for a baby. If you’re able to stay away and let someone else direct the movers, do it! By the time we arrived the next day, the house was partially unpacked and it was much easier to care for our daughter while settling in.

pcs-with-an-infant-baby-military-pinterestPack the essentials. When you PCS, you know it is going to be at least a week before your washer and dryer are set up, and your family is eating meals at the dining room table. I always pack an “immediate needs” box with essentials that we will need either in a hotel room, or in our empty house. The box includes paper plates, plastic utensils, paper towels, trash bags, etc…you know the drill. Since we were PCSing with an infant, I packed enough diapers and wipes for a week, most of her clothes and blankets, a portable bed, and all her feeding supplies. I purposefully chose things we needed, versus what would be nice to have. For example, I didn’t pack the infant bathtub, but did pack every sleeper she had so I didn’t have to worry about laundry for a few days.

Get local. As soon as we found out our new duty location, I immediately started researching the area. PCSing to a new place is an adventure and I wanted to get started. In addition to finding a new doctor, veterinarian, and hairstylist, I also wanted to know how to entertain and establish my family in our new home. I read local blogs, followed local businesses, and studied a map to know my way around before we even arrived. I also planned some fun excursions as a way to conclude our move.

Moving in the military can be challenging, but add in an infant, and you’ve got a little bit of extra planning to do! Our family managed to pull this off with, surprisingly, very few issues or tears. It was a tremendous learning experience for this military family, and I hope these tips can help your next move!

What would you add to the list? Comment below and tell us!

tomi-schwandt-headshotPosted by Tomi Schwandt, Active Duty Reserve Spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Calling All Bloggers! Share Your Story on Branching Out!

share-your-story-with-nmfa-blog

It’s no secret—military families have collected their fair share of stories, experiences, and traditions throughout their military journeys. We know you’ve got plenty of tips, tricks, pictures, and laughable moments up your sleeve. That’s why we want you to be a guest blogger!

Our blog covers all areas of military life, including PCS moves, raising military kids, spouse employment, military marriage, and the tough stuff—like transition, being a caregiver, and even divorce.

Think you’ve got awesome blogging skills and want to share your journey with other military families? We’d love to hear from you!

What works:
Inspirational stories – we want readers to jump out of their seats because they were moved by your journey. Sharing personal stories, hardships, or humor can be just what someone needs to relate to you. Don’t be afraid to amaze and inspire!
Original content – We will not publish content that has already been published elsewhere on the web. We aim for authentic and unique content!
Well-written content –Your writing should reflect your individual voice! So if you feel excited, let us know! Had a hard time with a recent PCS? Express that in your writing. Great blog posts will grab the reader and keep their attention through awesome details!
Topics about military families or military life – We are 100% military family focused, so make sure your submission is, too! Are you a company looking to share a resource? Great! Use your original content to tie back to the military community, and keep in mind: our subject matter experts will review any resource prior to posting.
Sending your own photos – Pictures are the best! And we want to share yours! Make sure images are appropriate, clear, and don’t violate OPSEC or PERSEC.

What doesn’t work:
Incomplete, unedited articles – Always be sure to proof read your work before submitting it. If you’re unsure if something is well-written, have a friend or family member read over it and give their thoughts!
Inappropriate content – No profanity, graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments will be accepted. Make sure you aren’t oversharing, or violating OPSEC or PERSEC! If you’re submitting photos, please be sure they are tasteful.
Advertisements – We don’t promote any business or organization we are not in direct partnership with, and we do not offer advertisements on our blog; however, we do have advertising opportunities through our mobile app, MyMilitaryLife. Please email App [at] MyMilitaryLife [dot] org. Please keep external links to a maximum 3 links.

How to Submit:
Email your completed article to Blog [at] MilitaryFamily [dot] org. Because Branching Out is 100% military family focused, we will review each submission to ensure it aligns with our content strategy. If it does, you’ll receive an email from us to let you know your article will be published. Please allow us some time to respond – our little fingers type as fast as possible!

Blog submissions must include:
First and last name
Contact email
Service affiliation and location
250-700 words per post
Headshot or clear photo of yourself

The Fine Print:
Sharing is caring – We want your original content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the link on your own website after we’ve published your submission! Share like crazy!
Editing and adapting – We reserve the right to edit and adapt your guest blog content as we see fit.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Summertime Backyard Fun for Your MilFam (with tutorials!)

smores-backyard

Camp season is officially here!

This week, I boarded a plane to Calfornia, eager to head off to Operation Purple® Camp in Angelus Oaks. I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years, and spent the last three of them in Germany teaching art to military kids on base. I just love how MilKids are so creative, friendly, and fun-loving. Heading to camp with them is something I’ve been looking forward to for months.

To make it even more special, California is “home” for me. Germany was just too far, and my family was too big, so we weren’t able to afford the trip back during our European tour. I’ve been away from home four long years now, and boy, has the California landscape changed. The first thing I noticed when the plane touched down was how brown California has turned since I left!

Unfortunately a brown, dry landscape doesn’t make for a calm fire season. A fire has broken out in the San Bernardino mountains, right outside of the Operation Purple Camp in Angelus Oaks. The roads to camp are closed, and the air conditions are not healthy for kids… which means NMFA had to make the hard decision to postpone camp.

We’re all pretty heartbroken about it. This is something we haven’t had to do in the past, but at this point, the most important thing is making sure our camp kids are safe.

Camp will be held for these kids in a couple weeks, instead. If I’m this disappointed, I can’t imagine how bummed all our MilKids were when they heard camp was going to be postponed.

In the meantime, we don’t want the fires to hold you back from having a little summer fun. We’ve put together a whole list of fun activities (with linked tutorials on our Pinterest Board) for you to try with the kids while you wait for the air to clear up at camp:

1. Pitch a tent in the backyard
2. Make foil packet dinners
3. Eat Smores
4. Learn how to tie knots
5. Make a miniature bow and arrow
6. Make a marshmallow popper
7. Play with giant bubbles
8. Make a dreamcatcher
9. Learn to identify trees from their leaves
10. Learn about bugs
11. Start a nature journal
12. Go on a geocache
13. Learn the constellations
14. Lay down and look at the clouds
15. Have a picnic

Keep busy, have some “camp at home” fun, and hopefully, we’ll see you soon at Operation Purple Camp!

What are some of your family’s favorite summertime activities?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Beat the PCS Summer Time Blues: Keep Your MilKids Connected

keep-military-kids-busy-during-summer

PCS season during the summer months is a blessing and a curse. For military families with school-age kids, moving during the summer break means your kids will be able to finish the school year and say goodbye to friends. Yet, at the same time, it may be difficult for your kids to make new friends at your new duty location during the summer months when school is out.

So how do you keep your military kids connected and engaged during the summer months and help them make friends before the school year starts?

Here are 5 tips that have helped my kids make new friends during the summer months:

Parks: We have made it a mission to visit a new park each Friday afternoon. We have several parks in our new community, and my children love to play on the play equipment and meet new kids. Visit your community’s park and recreation division for a list of neighborhood parks.

Swim lessons: It’s hot during the summer months and swim lessons are a low-cost way to keep cool, learn or practice skills, and meet new friends. My kids have taken lessons at pools on base and in the community. Check with your installation aquatics department, local YMCA, or city’s aquatics program for swim lesson opportunities.

Grab a book: Local libraries and the Department of Defense (DoD) and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) both offer summer reading opportunities and hands-on activities to keep your kids engaged. Read to Rhythm is the 2015 DoD-MWR summer reading program theme.

Pinterest: I’m not a crafty mom, but Pinterest has great tips for keeping kids busy during the summer. To find local activities, try combining the following search terms “your location” + “kids” + “activities.” If a local mom’s group has a Pinterest page, you should be able to find it here.

Follow event calendars: Whether you live on a military installation, or in a civilian community, local summer events are bound to be nearby. Find local event calendars and look for activities to entertain your family. Free summer concerts, movies in the park, or annual rummage sales may be the perfect opportunity to engage in your new community.

How do you help your military kids meet friends and stay busy during the summer months? Share your tips in the comments section!

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com