Everyday Life, Parenting

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Taking a break from writing about books and book culture in our homes to answer this frequently asked question:

How do you homeschool with little ones always around?

Wait, I should be the one asking this question, right? I’m the new homeschool mom with little kids!  This is our 5th year homeschooling and my brain is finally catching on: “Ohhh. I should know this now…” Up until this point, my answer has been so unhelpful. A shrug and a “some days are better than others!” is all I’ve mustered because (1) I hate to sound like I’ve got it all figured out and (2) I don’t have it all figured out! But I do know this: We want to instill in our children a love of learning, the ability to learn for themselves, and the strength of character that comes through hard work and good relationships. Our ideal for our homeschooling days may be full of warmth and beauty, but the chaos that comes with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers wages war on our ideal. How can this ever work?

This is about what our homeschool life looks like every day. There are crumbs on the floor, a babbling baby at the table, and a conglomeration of papers, pencils, and crayons scattered everywhere. We are all together the whole time, from youngest to oldest, either at the kitchen table or at desks in our schoolroom, like a crazy one-room schoolhouse in 1858. How in this madness do we (a) learn together and (b) still like each other?? How do you homeschool with littles in the mix? I’ve thought and thought about how to answer this question, and I keep coming back to one over-arching practice in our family. I wish it were a quick fix, a busy bag solution or a magic scheduling technique, but it’s nothing very pinnable like that. It’s totally uncool because the word “longsuffering” comes to mind. But let’s leave out “longsuffering” and use the word commitment.” My one answer to homeschooling with Littles is an everyday commitment to practicing togetherness.

So fun and snappy, I know. And what does it even mean? Well, after Day One of my homeschooling career, I realized my ideal of one child doing schoolwork with me while one child played quietly with toys and another napped was never going to happen. That just doesn’t fly in the world of kids under age 5 who have to be touching me/each other all day every day or spontaneously combust. Right away, I could see there would be no separating small children from our schooling. But if these tiny people expected to be included in the homeschooling fun (and they did), they would have to also expect to BEHAVE. No interrupting, no whining, no singing songs that sound strangely similar to Benny and the Jets out of tune incessantly under their breath. I guess the idea became if they wanted to be treated like students, they would have to behave like students. It’s crazy to expect this from a two or three-year-old, right? Maybe, but after weeks of consistent (and sometimes frustrated) training, an amazing thing happened – they behaved. They could sit and listen to our read aloud, they could color and be quiet during history, and a lot of times they could even answer many of the same questions about the lesson that their older sibling(s) could. I was floored.

I’m not really sure in those early days if I had an epiphany about setting schooltime behavior standards or if it just sort of happened out of necessity, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re plunging into homeschooling with little ones in your home, or you’re already wading through it, maybe practicing togetherness—welcoming the younger children into the experience along with setting standards of behavior—could change your days as much as it changed mine. Separating them from our homeschool life certainly didn’t work for me! To make our home the peaceful and loving place I envision it to, I have to keep practicing this togetherness of welcoming the small ones into our school environment.

Crazily enough, now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think having someone like my four-year-old involved actually enriches the experience. For one thing, she is hilarious, and laughing is good for our souls. But more importantly, our family culture being built on shared narratives and histories gives us a lot to talk about and imagine further as we learn it all together. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t set some expectations at the beginning!

So that’s my answer, my one big homeschooling with Littles discovery – if you expect great behavior from them and teach them how to do that…well, some day, it might just happen. =) I realize so much of it has to do with what personalities I’m dealing with and my own upbringing (I was the oldest in a homeschool family). But because it’s worked so great for me, I figured I would give sharing it a shot, and finally give a straight answer to that frequently asked question!

And now for some more fun and snappy side notes I’ve learned to stick with along the way ~

  1. Keep hands busy – drawing, playing with play-doh, building with blocks, or other quiet thing will stretch an attention span beyond your wildest imagination. In fact, some studies show that busy hands make brains learn more easily! My oldest now likes to stay focused while she’s listening to lessons by taking notes, but up until this year, she was sketching or molding dough along with the others.
  2. Take it outside – literally, take all of it outside any chance you get. Little people are happier out of doors. Fact.
  3. Snacks are golden learning opportunities – while many homeschool families do their ‘morning time’ or cultural studies first thing, I find that a 10:00 gather round the table with a snack works best for us. We have a snack, read some poetry or listen to a composer/hymn or study a piece of artwork, do some literature or geography, read a Bible passage, and the whole time the little people are (relatively) happy because they have their little hands busy and bellies full.
  4. When you have a breastfeeding baby, find a favorite educational show. I know, I know, TV is a crutch, but some babies don’t eat well when there’s a lot of action around them. A 20-minute Wild Kratts or Wishbone gives just the right window for giving the baby a good feeding in the mid-morning, hopefully followed by a nap, and that  100% makes the rest of the morning go better.
  5. Share some responsibility – There are some things we just can’t do all together. During these times, we trade responsibility. One child is responsible for keeping the baby happy, while the other student is taught by the parent, and then we trade off. This works best if I set an expectation for how long and why I need one of the kid’s help, so that they can understand the important role they’re playing in our family and so that they don’t get frustrated with being asked to help when they feel like they should be having a break.

Family dynamics are unique and ever changing, but I’m pulling for you as you figure out what works best for your amazing family in your homeschooling journey. And if you have any epiphanies about what works for you, please share!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Thoughts on Leaving the House in the Morning: A Meme Story

Made my first meme today. It’s brought to you by the moment when I leave the house in the morning. Pretty much every time I leave home, I look around at the utter chaos and disorder, and say to tell myself:

If I arrive somewhere looking like I just barely made it out alive? It’s because I did. It’s like a bank heist gone wrong, a calculated plan poorly executed that doesn’t have as much to do with not tripping sophisticated alarm systems but more with getting the dishes done and beds made before exiting the building. (Although, a one-year-old??? Talk about a sophisticated alarm system. Do NOT take that Tupperware lid away from her).  This is especially true when we’re going to be gone for most of the day and we’re packing picnics, leaving dishes strewn across the counter and drawers and cabinets open everywhere, forgetting to put away hairbrushes, toothbrushes, pretty much everything. Why not just stop to clean it up? We’d be a good hour late, maybe two, and I’d be hoarse from all the “come back and put away!”-ing.  Better to call it a morning and pick up the pieces of dismissed outfits and twelve water bottle lids when we get home. The silver lining? A wrecked house to clean up is a good excuse for making an afternoon cup pot of coffee.

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So, yes, we need some better leaving the house practices. It’s definitely a delegation issue at this point in my parenting. But for now, may the coffee be strong, the afternoon productive, and the evening full of something similar to if not necessarily Chick-fil-A.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Giant Balls of String – The Untidy Parenting Journey I’m On

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may remember that I write some posts about parenting now and then. You may have noticed that I write those posts far less often now than I used to. Something about having children older than, oh about three years old, can make a parent question why she ever thought she had much parenting wisdom. With my two older kids 9 and  almost 7, and my two younger ones throwing me for loops daily, I hardly ever find myself thinking, “Wow, I should share what I’m learning with the world at large.” For one thing, what I’m learning isn’t neat and Image result for balls of stringeasy to whip up into a tidy blog post. Parenting is beginning to seem like untangling a gigantic ball of string. You start at the beginning with varying emotions and you hit particularly tangled snags and you also go through some smoother parts. There was a clear beginning to this ball of string, but who knows where the end is or what it will look like, or even what kind of material we’re dealing with– I have wool and you have silk? Both? I don’t know. This analogy is getting weird. Either way, giant balls of tangled string don’t make for good blog posts with clear beginnings and neat conclusions. All I really know is as my kids get bigger, my wisdom gets smaller.

Most of us, when we find ourselves lacking wisdom, go looking for it. We skip out into the information age, sure we’ll find some ideas. A few minutes later, we run back and hide our heads under a pillow. So many opinions. So many serious, earnest voices. And so many do’s and don’ts.

“Make your bed everyday and you’ll be successful in life!”

“Don’t make your bed, that’s gross!”

“Throw everything out that doesn’t bring you joy and you’ll be freeeee!”

“Don’t throw that away! Repurpose it into an amazing entryway bench or life-changing crafting opportunity with your child!”

And whoever started the terribly trendy articles titled “5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse” or “The 10 Worst Things You Can Say To Your Teen” should be well, not shot, but maybe sentenced to Antarctica to shovel snow for life. You can find convincing arguments for all sides of both important and trivial issues in books, online, in conversations with friends, in forums (ugh…we should all agree to just skip the forums…). And then, to smooth it all over like peanut butter on very, very lumpy bread, we have the phrase, “You do you.” Thanks. That fixes everything. I mean, at this point I don’t have time to think about who am I, much less how to do me. I’m too busy sorting through mixed reviews on sippy cups. I thought I was just going to jump online and buy a sippy cup, but which one? There’s this one… some people say it will change your life and some people say that it’s so defective it will ruin the interior of your mini-van and you’ll have to buy a whole new van, or maybe it will give your kids cancer. Am I the kind of person who buys a stainless steel sippy cup, anyway? How can there be this many STRONG opinions about a sippy cup?

If we’re reading all these reviews and searching for the right information to help us raise our families, we probably are living life with laser focus on getting things right. That’s a good thing…parenting is important…until we wake up one day and wonder if something might be missing. Something important, like light-heartedness. Something like freedom…you know, the freedom to not feel bad for rewarding your children with popsicles after they clean out the back of the SUV on a hot day, even though you read that viral article on why you shouldn’t use food as a reward. Or something like fun…why do I feel bad when I say “yes” to UNO instead of forcing that phonics card game on my 6-year-old? Games are supposed to be fun! In the grand scheme of things, it’s this all-important Something, the cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, that I know without even having to hear it from someone on the internet is what I want my children to look back and see in their time with me before they become adults themselves. I don’t know about you, but in the past two or three years of my parenting life, I’ve noticed that Something is missing.

This gradual realization that I’m losing cheerfulness, freedom, and fun as a mom in my earnest pursuit of parenting perfection is what has kept me from posting anything about parenting here lately. I don’t want to be one more voice that comes across like I’m telling parents how to do every little thing the right way. I am sick of those voices myself. And, like I said earlier, my parenting wisdom just keeps on shrinking. So I kept quiet until I thought maybe I could be a different kind of voice. In the meantime, I read your messages about this blog. Some of you lovely readers asked me if I would be posting again on parenting or homeschooling again. Those messages and in-person conversations surprised me so much! I’m truly grateful for them. I doubt I’ll ever again think I have tons of good ideas to share about parenting like I must have had when I started this blog with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and no clue that I’d have two more children come along and ten thousand moments of doubtful parenting in my future. But if I can do one thing on this crazy internet, I would choose be a voice in a parenting movement of cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, in pursuit of connection and relationship with our children. I’ll get a million things wrong along the way, but I’m starting to understand that being okay with getting a few things wrong is the first step in parenting from a place of strength and lightheartedness, even as we parent with purpose.

And of course, there will be book reviews for you and your kids as a great season of summer reading approaches.

Thanks for reading!

 

Parenting, Picture Books, Reading

Jesse Bear – Our Favorite Books for Preschoolers

Things are pretty busy around here, and I have some great new releases to review for you soon, but I wanted to do a quick post about our current favorite books for the preschool picture book crowd. Check these out if you have little people in your life!

If Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the show parents want their preschoolers watching, the Jesse Bear books are the books all parents should want their preschoolers reading. I didn’t know about these books when my oldest two were ages 2-4, but my three-year-old and I have recently fallen in love with them. Each book in the series follows a lovable little bear who is experiencing life and the world around him with a cheerful expression and an enthusiastic eagerness to learn. There’s an enjoyment in every day, normal life that’s contagious in these books.

Our favorite is Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? Jesse gets up and dressed and ready for his day, with rhyming words and pleasant illustrations that take readers through a day with Jesse until it’s time to get back into his pajamas. A close second favorite is Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, which shows Jesse Bear bursting with longing to get wet as he goes through a summer day helping his mom and dad around the house until he finally gets to splash in his very own pool. In Guess Who’s Coming, Jesse Bear, the little bear learns to deal with an older cousin who he isn’t excited to spend time with at first, but soon learns big cousin Sarah isn’t so bad after all.

Every Jesse Bear book is perfectly illustrated by Bruce Degan (Jamberry) and will make you want to go hug a teddy bear and a toddler at the same time. There’s a Jesse Bear book about waiting for Christmas and one about counting, and several more we haven’t read it in this ten-book series.  I hope you and your little people enjoy the Jesse Bear books as much as we do! We’ll be grabbing a few more of these (and the new Fancy Nancy book!) the next time we go to the library.

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Kids (That They’ll Use All Year Long!)

In two days, Valentine’s Day will be here! Did it sneak up on you like it did me? I mean, wasn’t it just Christmas? I love this holiday, but it sort of presents a conundrum. It feels like we don’t need one solitary extra item around here, but the front shelves at every store are stuffed with giant pink unicorns and candy hearts as big as your kid’s head. Those sorts of gifts can absolutely say, “I love you!” loud and clear, but they can also give you a big headache…”Where are we going to put this thing?” or “how can I sneak away half of this candy without them knowing?” So! If you need some last minute ideas for what to give the kids in your life this Valentine’s Day, grab something both thrilling to kids and useful to them, too! (Yes, it is possible, trust me). Here are some ideas to replace all the stuffed minions and candy:

  1. Baking kits – Put together a little cookie dough and some fun cookie cutters and Voila, everyone is excited. Throw in an apron and it’s a gift that can be kept for years. Bonus: aprons are an easy way to use up bigger scraps of fabric if you happen to be a crafty person with remnants hanging around your crafting closet. (Props to Aunt Destiny for this classic at our house!)
  2. Card games – Old Maid,  Go Fish, or for older kids, a fun travel sized game could be a great gift. My oldest daughter (8) really loves the game Authors.
  3. A special mug that’s kid-sized and a packet of hot chocolate – Can anything say I love you every time you use it more than a mug picked especially for you? 
  4. Sticker books – For kids 3 or 4 and up, a sticker book can be hours of entertainment that’s screen free and no mess!
  5. Temporary tatoos – This is what my kids will be getting this Valentine’s Day from me! The metallic ones are especially fun, but be prepared to scrub them off with some coconut oil because they will stick around for weeks (ask me how I know…).
  6. Cups with lids and straws – We call these our smoothie cups. I grabbed them on whim for Valentine’s Day last year and the kids use them several times a week still!
  7. Play-doh or modelling clay
  8. Bubble bath
  9. Books – Obviously. Try your very best to pick something the child you love will actually enjoy reading…maybe not a gushy Valentine’s book? Not saying they’re bad! Just…you know…get something kids like to read, k? ; ) [Check out our favorites in this category here and here].
  10. Pajamas – Okay, okay, this has a reputation as being the classic underwhelming gift, but actually, my kids love receiving new pajamas.
  11. Rainy day gear – rain boots, umbrellas, a poncho – all great fun for rainy days of late winter and early spring!
  12. An invitation – Kids love time spent together more than anything else. Make an invitation for your kids to go get ice cream, go to a movie, or whatever fun thing would be special for you and them. Easy and maybe the best gift in this whole list.

Okay, now hurry, Valentine’s Day is in two days! I hope it’s full of warmth and joy for you and your children (and throw in a little candy, too…).

 

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