Category Archives: Parenting

Five Baby Steps To Getting The Family Outdoors

We all know by now how important time spent in nature is for our health, and especially the health of our growing children. Not only is fresh air and exercise essential for healthy bodies, more and more studies are linking time in nature with mental and emotional health.

Unfortunately getting out is one of those things we often strongly believe in, and yet don’t quite manage to do. I know. The commute is killing your evenings, and soccer is eating up your Saturdays. You don‘t know where to go, and when you get there the kids melt down. Then there’s the mess when you get home.

I had all those same issues keeping us from getting out as often as we knew we should. Finally I had to decide that getting outside was as essential as food and water and build bridges over the hurdles keeping us from making it happen.

1. Clear Time

We are in a over-scheduled season at the moment and it is making outdoor time harder to accomplish. For future planning purposes I intend to keep each kid to one activity at a time, and be very selective about my volunteer time. But for now one thing I’ve done to get us out is to make a morning walk part of our homeschool checklist. That way even if we can’t clear time later in the day, we’ve had some fresh air and a bit of nature first thing after morning chores. It’s not quite enough time for my taste, but it’s better than an hour in front of a screen any day.

2. Gear Up

As the old saying goes, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Last winter I gave up trying to squeeze into my old snow gear and finally bought the right size. Suddenly taking the kids out sledding didn’t seem like such a chore. Having the right gear for whatever Mother Nature throws at you will keep you comfortable and enjoying your outdoor time much longer. At a minimum you’ll want to dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and a carry a backpack for snacks, water and a first aid kit.

When it comes to sporting goods, I’d recommend renting gear for your first season so that you can decide whether the new activity is going to stick before you shell out your hard-earned money.

3. Pair Up

If you don’t live in an area with easily accessible open spaces it may be that you are uncomfortable getting out because you are unsure where to go, and when you do get out you are on unfamiliar turf. It can be helpful to find an outdoorsy friend to show you the ropes until you get your legs under you. Another option is to join a nature study group or an outdoor education club such as Scouts or Camp Fire. If there is cell coverage where you venture, bringing a phone can also give you a sense of security.

4. Start Small

If you’re new to getting outdoors with the family you won’t want to jump right in with a full-on hike in the woods. Instead find an out-of-the-way corner in a nearby park, and ease into the dirt, bugs, and weather with short initial visits. As you get more comfortable being outdoors you can try a short jaunt to a good picnic spot, and then a day hike before taking on longer treks, or over-nighters.

5. Just Be

When you’re decompressing from a hyper-scheduled lifestyle it can feel like you should be doing something at all times. For that reason it may be good to have a scavenger hunt or a nature journal with you for your first few visits to the woods, especially if you are bringing children who are accustomed to fully regimented days. But part of nature’s wonder is the peace it can bring when you are able to let go and just be. Eventually you’ll find yourself ditching the crutches and letting your senses fully engage with the sights, smells and sounds surrounding you, while the kids get engrossed in watching bugs or clouds.

Getting out isn’t always easy, but I’m more and more convinced its absolutely essential. Taking these baby-steps will get you on the path to more time outdoors and all the good it can do for your mind, body and spirit.

For those who already regularly get out, what baby steps would you add?

The Prayer That Changed My Life

When each of my first two babies (not babies anymore, but my babies still) was new, in those sleepless, bleary-eyed first months I would lay awake at night, listening to my husband snore, and eyeing the baby monitor, suspicious of it’s silence.  Exhausted, barely managing to breastfeed, self-feed, and generally function as a human, I would lay awake and pray the same prayer every night, over and over and over.  Read More at Her View From Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #5

Finding Time

How about writing the final post in my Mother Culture Monday Series a week late at 7:40 pm?  Sounds like someone has her act together, huh?

Honestly, that is exactly the point.  It’s EASY to let little demands and big demands, (even joyful demands on time are demands) get in the way of taking time to grow our own bodies, minds, and souls.  As I’m writing this, I’ve already stopped twice to read to my two year old.  If we are deliberate about taking time when we can, all the little times we can’t take a break won’t stack up and weigh us down.

I know there are a LOT of those little things waiting in line, and it can be hard to put them on the back burner, indeed some things simply CAN’T be set aside for later.  (insert 20 minute break to put the kiddos to bed) 

Here are a few suggestions for finding time to read, think, pray, exercise or whatever it is you need to be your healthiest, and incidentally most effective, self:

CAUTION: You will be tempted to use the time you carve out to catch up on chores.  Unless the chores being undone causes you physical distress, DO NOT use this time for laundry, dishes, or cleaning out the closets, or at least do so extremely sparingly, and only in preparation for actually being able to relax next time.  

  • Set a bedtime for your kiddos.  Make it one to two hours before you are ready to drop dead, and guard it fiercely.
  • Enforce a daily quiet hour/nap.  (My big kids read, sleep, daydream, or pray, the baby naps)
  • Instead of raptly watching your little athlete at practice, either take a walk, a class of your own, or just read in the waiting room.  (Honestly I’d feel bad about this one except that the waiting area in my kid’s gym has a terrible view of the gym floor, so even if I watched I’d only be catching glimpses of my budding gymnast.)
  • Swap half an hour a day (or two hours a week—whatever you can manage) with a neighbor mom.
  • Send big kids out to play.  My Bigs were shocked last summer when I told them to explore the neighborhood for half an hour while the baby napped.
  • Send the kiddos out for a walk with Dad.
  • Take Grandma up on the offer of an afternoon off.
  • Set up a safe play area where you can let the kids play while you are nearby, but not necessarily “watching”.
  • Hire a teenage Mother’s Helper to entertain the kids for an hour while you read or soak in a bubble bath (or both!)
  • Get your family on a routine, so that they aren’t shocked by your daily “Mother Culture Minute”, but stay flexible and willing to snatch a minute when the opportunity arises.

Thanks for taking time to read and ponder Mother Culture with me.  I hope this series has got you on the path to taking better care of yourself, as a soul, as a human, as a woman, and as a mother.

What would you add?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or catch up with me on Facebook.

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #3

Welcome to Mother Culture Monday #3

How did you do carving out a few minutes for yourself this past week?

I did some time wasting, but for future reference, I’d like to be more intentional about my “Mother Culture Minute” and do something that really feeds me. The goal here is to do something to grow on, not just to take a break and space out, or worse yet, put energy into something that isn’t a benefit to some aspect of your being. (ahem…I will be the first to admit I have a little Facebook problem, which does have some benefits, but is mostly just a drain on time and energy)

Let’s take a peek at Merriam-Webster’s third and fourth definitions of “Culture”.

3. expert care and training (beauty culture)

4. enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training :  acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills (a person of culture)

The word “training” comes up more than once.  I take that to mean that culture can refer to education.  In this case it can be self-education via reading, listening to lectures, practicing new skills, or for those of us who are really good at carving out time, taking a class.

What specifically should we be reading, listening to and practicing?  Well that depends on your lifestyle, and values, but here are some thoughts.

“The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations. ”  Charlotte Mason

The above quote is in reference to Nature Studies, (which I highly recommend even if you are not pursuing a strictly CM education for your children) but I think it can be applied across the spectrum of your family’s interests.  To paraphrase Miss Mason, your children will adore you for knowing what they want to know.

“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.”     The Parents Review Vol, 3 no. 2

I think it’s important to not only read and practice things that fill our “Mothering Toolbox”, but also things that fill our own cups.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Read scripture
  • Read inspirational fiction
  • Read inspirational non-fiction or biographies
  • Take up a handicraft in which you make something beautiful
  • Write in a journal
  • Write REAL letters to friends
  • Garden
  • Exercise
  • Prayer and meditation

As to reading, one note for myself is that I want to lean back toward hard copies rather than Kindle versions.  The feel and smell of a real book adds to the experience for me, aside from the dubious effect of too much screen time.

What will you do to fill your cup this week?

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday

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So, today I was feeding my sourdough starter, and I made a seriously Charlotte Mason quality connection.

Mother Culture;  you have to feed it, or you run out.

If you’re not a hardcore CMer you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about and how it applies to you.

What the heck is “Mother Culture”?

First let’s talk about what it is NOT. It is not a formula to be the perfect mom. It’s not even a clear path, or a collection of tips to being a good mom. The “perfect mom” doesn’t exist, and there are many, many excellent moms who never gave Mother Culture a second thought.

Here’s one of the many things Charlotte Mason had to say about Mother Culture:

“There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing”.

Essentially it’s caring for ourselves as well as we care for our families, intellectually, spiritually and physically, so that we have something left at the end of the day, to come back on tomorrow.  (Just like we feed our sourdough starter–which is literally a mother culture–MIND BLOWN–so that we always have some for the next baking.)

Simple, right?

Uh…hello?  Still with me?

Look, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about here.  I have a LOT to learn, and I’m sooooo tired!

I suspect that’s the whole point!

So I’m inviting you to join me as I study up on what this whole “Mother Culture” thing means for our lives, our families and our communities.

For the next few Mondays I’ll share something CM said, or a link, and chat about how it shakes out in my life.

Who’s in??

Schooling Outside The Box

Homeschooling has been such a blessing this year.  I love being with the kids (most of the time 😉  ) and I love watching their wheels turn, while they make new connections, and discoveries.  And while I’m sure I still have TONS to learn, I feel pretty confident sharing our successes and tricks.

A topic that has come up more than once when I’m over-zealously sharing our experience with public school moms is “I’d be scared I’d miss something”.  That is a valid concern, particularly for someone such as myself, who didn’t want to use a “box curriculum”.  Not only do we not have the budget for a complete “open and go” curriculum, but I fear I’d get bored and toss it anyway, or dislike parts of it and just not use those parts, which would lead to–you guessed it–those pesky gaps in learning.  Depending on your philosophy, and your state’s law, that could be a problem down the line.  I happen to believe there will always be gaps, whichever education you pursue for your child, so philosophically, gaps weren’t a huge concern for me.  But there is a certain continuity needed for skill building–I’m thinking math and language arts here– and it’s important to comply with your state’s laws.  (More on my opinion about gaps here)

One tool I’ve used to be sure we’re meeting our state’s requirements is a Course Of Study. Simply put this is a one page outline covering what we plan to do for each subject for the year. It may sound overwhelming, but if you’re at the point where you’re researching homeschool, chances are you’ve already started this process mentally.

The first step is to find out which subjects are required by your state.  If your state doesn’t set requirements for homeschool, you’ll need to decide which subjects are important to you.  Some considerations are future college goals, necessary life skills, and any obstacles you anticipate for your student.  We live in a state that requires 11 subjects, but doesn’t specify when, how, or at what level each subject is to be covered.  For my Course of Study/outline each subject is a heading.

Now that I have my headings, I just plug in what materials or resources I plan to use for each subject.  Some activities, and resources may cover more than one subject, and that is okay.  I simply list them separately for each subject.  For instance I have Garden listed under Occupational Ed. and Health.

If you’re not sure what to use for a particular subject, a simple google search will provide an overwhelming number of options.  I’d recommend you start by asking homeschool families in your area what they are using, and if they would consider letting your observe a school day, or subject period.

Here’s my Course Of Study for 2016/17

Half Acre Cottage School
2016-2017
Course of Study
Required subjects: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation.

Reading

  1. Araya will read independently and narrate back to me from her choice of level appropriate books.
  2. Montana will read with me using Mc Guffey Readers, word building with scrabble tiles, Moby Max
  3. Whenever possible the other subjects will be literature based (ie living books for history, natural science etc.)
  4. Weekly library visits

Math

  1. Math Mammoth (workbook)
  2. Xtramath/ Moby Max

Science

  1. Nature notebooks (observations lead to questions/research)
  2. Weekly nature hike
  3. Burgess Bird Book For Children
  4. Museum and Dam Field Trips

Language arts (language/writing/spelling/grammar)

  1. Reading (living books for history, science, literature, and free reads)
  2. Copy work from the Bible, literary classics, (and Mc Guffey Readers for Montana )
  3. Daily journal prompt
  4. Vocabulary and spelling taken from reading selections
  5. Araya will compose written narrations for some readings.
  6. A Child’s Garden Of Verses

History/Social Studies

  1. An Island Story
  2. Fifty Famous Stories Retold (emphasize that some stories are based on real people/events but heavily fictionalized)
  3. Viking Tales
  4. Biogrophies: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Buffalo Bill

Health

  1. Daily life-conversations with mom, meal planning
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Weekly nature walks/hikes
  4. Garden

Occupational Education

  1. Life– chores, daily responsibilities
  2. Volunteering/ Camp Fire
  3. Garden
  4. Handicrafts (sewing and cooking at present)

Art and Music Appreciation

  1. Artist Studies
  2. Nature Journal
  3. Composer and Folk Song Studies
  4. Handicrafts

Remember, while we do have laws we need to follow, many of us choose to homeschool so that we can give our children a customized education.  Hopefully this helps you get an idea how to put together your course of study in such a way that you don’t forget any required topics.  Feel free to comment with questions on how to actually use any of the resources I’ve listed.

 

 

 

Why You Need a Routine

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Have you ever noticed how exhausting a week off is? Needed a vacation to recover from your vacation? I know I have.  We have this week off of school, and I tell you I’m beat!

It’s from all the fun activities and extra projects, right?

NOPE.  Haven’t done a single honey-do, catch up or special treat.  We’ve been surfin’ the ‘net, watching too much tv, eating at weird times and flopping around the house.

It’s been the perfect week for an epiphany, because somewhere in all the hours of “free” time, I read about something called Decision Fatigue. And so much of what I’ve always believed about the power of a routine clicked on an even deeper level.

You see, whenever my kids lose their minds, or are just generally turds, I can almost always trace it to a deviation from the routine.  You’ve seen it.  The first week of summer break, Christmas, a new sport, whatever it is, it exhausts your kids and they turn into beasts, until you return to your regular routine or the new norm is established.  But I never extended that to myself.  I’ve been impatient, cranky and exhausted this week, even though I’m not “doing” anything extra.  Or am I?

Here’s the deal.  When you stick to a routine, you get into habits.  The joy/curse of a habit is it is effortless. When I let my good habits (in this case it’s following the school routine -with built in household chores) run my day,  the decision is already made.  I don’t have to think about every little thing.  I’m going to get up, space out and drink two cups of coffee, then the screens go off and the music comes on. Breakfast then chores then math, copy work, circle time, literature and lunch.  I don’t even have to think about it.  I get no push-back from the kids.  It’s EASY!  

Here’s what some smarter-than-me folks have said on the topic.

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”  – Samuel Johnson

“We are all mere creatures of habit.  We think our accustomed thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through the trivial round, the common task, without any self-determining effort of will at all.  If it were not so– if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath, or the table–life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out.” – Charlotte Mason

“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.”
–Charlotte Mason

I know you’re wondering what my point is and it’s this:  If you’re exhausted for “no reason”, and you’ve ruled out health/sleep issues, it may be Decision Fatigue.

Here’s what you can do :

  • Set up a routine to follow until you don’t have to think about every little thing all day.  (I know, setting up the routine initially requires some decision making, but it will lighten the future load on your decision making muscle, so it’s going to pay off!)
  • Use a checklist for your new routine until you no longer need it.
  • Make your decisions ahead of time, or early in the day if you know you’ll be going off your regular routine.
  • If you don’t like the idea of living by a timer, at least decide what you’ll do first, next, then, last.  (Notice my list earlier in the post didn’t say “8-8:32, drink coffee, 8:32-8:45, chores” etc.  It’s just knowing what to do next)

As for me, I’m planning now for the rest of my “days off”, and looking to Monday with eager anticipation.

And that is something I never thought I’d say!

 

Teaching Multiple Ages, One Room Schoolhouse Style

One thing that initially drew me to homeschooling, and especially the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education was the idea that “school time” should not take all day. I love the idea of being done with our sit down work by noon, freeing up afternoons for “a scamper on the lawn”, nature walks, and handicrafts (translation: afternoons are mostly free time, with occasional input from me).  Learn more about Miss Mason’s Methods here.

But I have three kids. The Baby is very busy, and requires a lot of attention to keep her out of trouble. The middle girl is a struggling reader (we’re pursuing the possibility of dyslexia) and will need me to read everything except her reading practice to her. Finally my oldest is a voracious reader, holds her own in math and is a self-professed nerd. But she is also a video game addict who tends to think she already knows everything, so I have to watch her to make sure she isn’t rushing or skating.

If I were to work with each of the school aged girls separately while also attempting to juggle the toddler we’d be at it all day.

My solution is to combine as many subjects as possible and have my oldest read for the younger two as necessary.

In practice that means we combine everything except math and language arts (reading practice for the 7yo, spelling/vocab for the 9yo).

Since we follow a literature and narration based curriculum rather than a traditional textbook/fill in the blanks type curriculum found in most public schools it hasn’t been a problem starting them at the same level.  Levels in this system don’t necessarily correspond to traditional “grade level”, and students generally graduate somewhere between level 9 and 11, with a few outliers finishing up in level 8 and some moving onto level 12.  Parents who have used this program and sent kids on to college have reported that level 8 is approximately equivalent to grade 12.

We read great literature, live with art and music, and observe nature. Each student makes her own connections and takes from the material at her own level.  Again we are doing math and language arts separately, so they are getting skills practice at their appropriate “grade level”.  (As a side note I’m finding that my 7yo struggling reader is able to retain and narrate at a deeper level than my 9yo voracious reader.  Both comprehend well enough, but I suspect that the 9 year old is deeper ingrained in the fill-in-the-blanks mentality.  It is hard for me to resist asking pointed questions rather than let her struggle to retell the selection in her own words.)

How does it work out on the daily?

Monday – Thursday

Each kid has a spiral notebook with the day’s work laid out for them.  It’s really just a checklist. If they are up early enough to finish #1 before I’m coffeed up they may have some electronics time.

Next comes Bible and Breakfast. (Reading, Music and History, for the record)  While I’m making breakfast I play either hymns or Seeds.  We eat breakfast together and then my older girl reads the day’s bible story.  I’m not following the AO Bible rotation this year.  Instead we are reading together from The Story For Children.

Next is Morning chores. (This is Occupational Ed, for the record) They get dressed, make their beds and feed and water the animals.  We try to keep it to 20 minutes, but sometimes I have to crack the whip to get them back inside after they feed and water.

After Morning Chores comes math.  (You guessed it…this is math) We haven’t settled on our Math curriculum yet, so for the time being the younger one is practicing 2nd grade math using worksheets printed from the internet, and the older one is doing Khan Academy.  I try to keep Math to about 15 minutes.

Now it’s almost 9:00 and up next is Copy Work.  (penmanship, grammar, spelling) This looks different depending on the age of the child, youngest students start with letter formation, then move onto short words etc.  Right now both of my school girls are working on developing the habit of always making their best effort.  I require either five minutes of perfect effort,  or perfect execution, whichever comes first.  Right now they are using printed handwriting worksheets with short phrases, but will move on to copying selections from their reading freehand when they consistently produce nice work.

“A Child should Execute Perfectly. No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course…Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on to-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself–let everything he does be well done… Closely connected with this habit of ‘perfect work’ is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished.” – Charlotte Mason

After Copywork comes our daily “circle time”. (Music)  We stretch, wiggle, and listen to/sing a folk song (usually a new one each week) to break the tedium of seat work. I also give each kid a chance to share something.  I usually ask a leading question such as “what was your favorite part of…”? We finish up Circle Time with a poem.  This week we are working on memorizing “Foreign Lands” from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Up next we move onto our literature selections for the day. (The Literature selections cover History, Geography, Natural History/Science, Social Studies and of course Reading, but not necessarily all every day) We are following Ambleside Online Year One, with a few modifications for books we happen to have already read, or that I’ve chosen to substitute something else for. We are skipping Aesop, because we had already heard most of them, and Trial and Triumph because I didn’t manage to get it purchased and also because some other mothers on the AO forum thought it was boring and skippable. (how’s that for honest?) I’ve also added some independent reading for my older girl.  More about that later. The folks at Ambleside have been kind enough to lay the readings out in a 36 week schedule and allow each family to break the weekly readings up in whichever way works best for them.  I find that it works out to about two literature selections per day.   I try to pair a shorter reading such as one of Fifty Famous Stories Retold, with a slightly longer one such as a Parable from Nature, so that I don’t end up reading for ten minutes one day and 40 another.  This way it works out to about 30 minutes of reading and narrating each day.  Some readings have to be broken up over multiple days.  For short stories, I read the whole selection and then listen to narrations. For longer ones I’ll find a natural stopping point and have them narrate before reading more and having them narrate again.

Next is language arts.   I work directly with my middle girl on reading practice, while my oldest reads independently.  Reading practice with the middle girl is phonics flashcards, word building puzzles, and her reading aloud from beginning readers.  The older girl is reading from Lamb’s Shakespeare.  (Two Gentlemen of Verona, at present) Each day she narrates to me what has happened so far in the story and looks up the definition for one word that I have selected from the passage.

We finish up before lunch (around 11:00) and after lunch we have a mandatory Quiet Time/Reading Hour.  I put the baby down for a nap, put on some spa music, and the older two take books to upstairs for an hour.  I hope they read, but honestly as long as they don’t bother me, wake the baby, or burn the house down I don’t care if they doodle, daydream, gossip or sleep.  (Translation: Mama either gets to take a nap or get some writing done)

After quiet time they have free time – I strongly prefer and urge that they play outside in the mud, trees or water- (Nature Study) until 3:30 when we listen to classical music while doing afternoon chores. (More Music and Oc Ed) Afternoon chores typically include a quick clean up of any dishes, toys and books that are lying out, then sweeping and vacuuming while I tidy the kitchen (read: scrape off the top layer of mess) and start dinner.  At 4:00 they are given a snack to take outside so that Daddy doesn’t come home to a messy house full of loud children.  In September Gymnastics will start again, so whichever afternoon that ends up being on will also end up being our library/town/errand day, in which case we’ll head for town right after Quiet Hour.

Friday is reserved for making up anything we missed during the week (we haven’t had to do any catch up yet–there seems to be plenty of time M-TH), Nature walks/Nature Journaling, Art Study (Science, Art, and PE, for those keeping track of subjects), visiting friends, and planning for next week.  More about Friday later.

So far keeping the kids on the same AO year has worked well even given their different reading levels.  I love the simplicity of the approach, and the flexibility of being able to add, sub, or skip where needed.  Most of all I love being “done” by lunch and the structure that having a daily checklist has added to our home.

All that said, we’re a whole 4 weeks in here…give me some grace if I have to change things up later 😉

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Sensory Toybox

Lately I’ve been noticing a trend in parenting.

We’re convinced that our children aren’t getting enough “sensory play”, so we manufacture opportunities to feel a new texture, hear a new sound or absorb a new odor–yeah, I said absorb a new odor.

You know you’ve made the essential oil play dough.

Me too.

With Sparkles.

We’ve all seen the Pinterest boards. We’ve all made the busy bags, paint squishy thingy-dealys, and pop bottles full of beans. The’re fun. And they’re super handy for the plane ride, or for seriously inclement weather, or for preschool rooms where a dozen sets of fingers must be kept out of mischief.  They have serious applications in occupational therapy.

While they definitely have their places, and may be very important for kiddos who struggle with various sensory disorders, it’s been slowly dawning on me that for most kids these things are almost completely unnecessary (I say almost because there will always be waiting rooms and airplane rides).

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But how will you make sure your child is adequately stimulated, you ask?

Friends, I’m here to tell you, there’s something better out there.

You know, OUT THERE.

Where there is no electrical outlet for your glue gun.

If we all just let (or even force) our children outside in good weather, AND in bad weather, with and without shoes, coats, hats and toys, EVERY SINGLE DAY, I promise they will get all the sensory stimulus they need.  They will even learn some stuff.  They will learn how much water makes a mud which will squish sloppily through the fingers. Maple leaves smash into a delightful green slime.  Water from a hose laying in the sun is HOT!  Falling on the rocks can hurt.  Balancing on a slippery log, or steep porch rail requires concentration.  Twigs from the cherry tree are bitter.

Who needs a playhouse?

When they are new at playing in the actual world, it may take practice and getting used to, but before long the little tykes run, jump, climb, squish, smash, sniff, and build until their little sensory banks are full.

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Then they come in the house (hosing them off before you let them in is optional) and probably take a nap.  Do you know what that means?

YOU can take a nap too!  

You don’t have to seize the opportunity to bedazzle a rain stick for them, because they went out and heard, felt, tasted the actual rain.

Am I saying you should toss your busy bags?

NO!  Like I said before, they have their place.

But let’s also not attempt to do the job of nature with any number of clever doodads.

It’s just too sad.

Getting Out Of The River

Hold on, it’s a wordy one!

One of the things I mentioned in my last post about letting go of things that are no longer working for us, was bringing our girls home for the upcoming school year.

My long-time readers , all three of you, (Hey Paul, Lisa, Denise, how are you? ) already know that Homeschooling has been on my heart for about a million years. Honestly, before we even had our first kid, I was trying to dream up a way to convince Nate that it was a good way to go.

He had some reservations, because he’s a good Dad, and naturally didn’t want anyone turning his kids into “those weird homeschoolers”.  Also he knows me, and if we’re honest I will have be very diligent against laziness. You know the stereotype where homeschoolers wear pajamas all day? That’s a thing because of people like me.

Then there was the argument that we both attended public schools and turned out fine. Which is true, and our kids would probably turn out fine if we left them in school, too. In fact, our school is a very good one, as public schools go. The kids even like it, so why rock the boat?

For me, the ultimate reason is that I want to raise my own children, and from day one, sending them to school felt like shared custody.

I want to let them sleep in because we stayed up to see the Aurora Borealis, but they’re not ill, and we didn’t plan ahead, so that’s an unexcused absence.

I want them to learn at their own pace, but that’s disruptive to their class.

I want them to have mental energy for gardening, nature walks, Bible study, and really great literature.  As things stand now, they just don’t have much left at the end of the day.  I know how I felt after a long day in the classroom, and it’s not hard to understand why they want to stare mindlessly at screens when they get home.   Of course there are great days when the sun shines down from heaven, and angels sing, and we all still have something left after homework, so we go for a walk or visit neighbors, but more often than not, we just lump.  I have nothing against a relaxed evening mind you, in fact, I prefer them.  I just wish there were time for all the things.

As it turns out there is; it’s between eight and three.

When I was working in the school one thing that bothered me was the amount of what I called shuffle time.  Time students spent  being shuffled from one place to the next,  one activity to the next, inside, outside, lunch, gym, music.  All noble and necessary, but so inefficient.  They did the best they could, of course, everything just takes so much longer with thirty kids.  It drove me crazy, and added up to a lot of time when kids are at school, but not actually in the classroom.  Not that every moment has to be spent at a desk to be useful, I’m a firm believer that not all learning takes place in the classroom.  I’d also argue, however, that anything they need to learn from standing in a line, silently walking from place to place, can be accomplished by the end of kindergarten.

The point is; we can get our “sit down” work done in a fraction of the time they’d be away at school, and have the rest of the day for the rest of the things.  Does anyone else hear that Chorus of Angels?

And then there was the lice. . .

And the common core. . .

And the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  .  .

And a couple hundred conversations where my husband said, “They just need to. . .”

And I replied, “Yes.  But they aren’t going to.  This is the way it is.”

And the stark realization that we were swimming against the current, when what we needed to do was get out of the river.

So that’s what we’re doing.