Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mom-Tips from A to Z

Following my completion of all the alphabetical chalk boards, how about some tips from Amazing to Zany for Moms (and homeschoolers especially)! And there are links to all those A-to-Z chalkboard posts at the end of this.

Also, a free sample "Mom's book" of 100 pages from The Thinking Tree!  A great thing to print out in the summer and start working through to help you relax while prepping for next year.  :)

Advice from Amazing to Zany!

A -  Admire.  I have heard it said that what our kids need from us the most is to simply admire what they do.  Appreciate them as people and what they are accomplishing.

B - Baby steps.  Too often, I am so close to my kids as their mom AND teacher that I don't see progress like someone who doesn't see them at every moment.  Embracing baby steps in what I teach them and in how they grow and for myself as I build good habits is crucial for me.  I am too often discouraged if I don't remember this important bit of advice.

C -  Curiosity.  Being curious about things myself has often been the best moments of learning.  Even if my girls aren't curious about what I'm interested in, they see me learning, and I can see that inspires them, and it helps them want to follow their own curiosity.
It's been hard for my oldest (now 10) what with the orthodontic issues she's had (the problem with the first guy for two years and now the right guy, but still more work on her jaw and such!) and now going through vision therapy.  I admire her sweetness even in the midst of these things when she feels like she's the only one with the problems.  She is a pleasure to be around.
 D - Design.   As moms, sometimes we forget that we can design the atmosphere in our homes that we want.  Yes, we have to take into account obligations and needs of the family and school for our kids (for any type of school we choose for them), but it is too easy to get caught up in all the needs and rush and get swept away and forget that we are the ones that get to design the atmosphere in our homes and schedules we CAN say "no" to those things that cause stress or don't work for our family.
Of course that doesn't mean everything is perfect!  I randomly found an old toilet paper roll put on my nice decoration.  Why, I ask you?  Also, why did I just leave it there for several days?  Designing the atmosphere in our homes and schedules isn't about perfection, and you've just got to laugh at what kids do sometimes!

E - Energize.  What do you need to do to recharge?  Most moms (all?) are low on energy and finding time alone or doing other things we need to recharge is difficult, but not impossible! If we aren't taking care of ourselves, we can't take care of the people around us.  The dust and dirty floor aren't a priority over your own physical and mental health!
The cat demonstrating the correct way to relax in a busy household.
F - Freedom.  The thing that I valued most about being homeschooled and what I still value for my own kids is having the freedom in our days to follow our own routines and interests and to be spontaneous. People who start out homeschooling (me included) can get caught up in "what is this supposed to look like" rather than focusing on the needs of our family and kids and feeling that freedom to do what WE need rather than what other people think is important that doesn't end up working for us.

G - Grace.  Grace means undeserved favor.  How often do we need someone to love us or care about us when we are NOT lovable at the moment?  As home educators and moms, we especially need to remember this as we teach our children.  Kids can begin to feel that they have to have everything perfect for us to be happy with them (in their school or in chores) and remembering to actively show them that they are loved and appreciated by us, no matter what, is possibly the most important thing we can do for our kids.

H - Hungry.  Almost always when the kids (or me) are cranky or unable to focus, it's a sign that food needs to happen.  Kids can ask for food when they are bored as well, but for the most part, it is amazing to see how a meal or snack can make an otherwise boring or tedious assignment more enjoyable.  Our best times of learning seem to be right after a meal or when baking is involved.

Gluten-free donuts that we made the other day brought a smile to everyone's face.

 I - Interest.  Following an interest is the best way to learn something!  This is true for children and adults.  If we are interested in something, then we can learn about it!  Our minds want to soak it in, and remember when our curiosity is sparked and an interest grows.  Kids don't always know what they are interested in when you ask them (or they don't think what they are interested in would be approved of so they won't say) so it's our job to observe and not criticize the things they are interested in!
An example is my 5-year-old's interest in the Lorax movie.  I find the movie annoying, and she wanted to watch it a lot!  Rather than discourage her in this interest we got the Lorax book, which I enjoy much more! And we saw this plant that she said looked like tiny Truffula trees so got this as well.  Supporting and directing children in their interests to expand farther can be so helpful!  This could lead to an interest in other Dr. Seuss books or other flowers or drawing and coloring like the pictures in the books (or silly songs similar to the ones in the movie.)  Expanding on interests is always the best!
 J - Juggle.  Being a mother, whether you stay home, work, homeschool, take your kids to a school or whatever you do, seem to inevitably turn into a giant juggling act.  Do you know that when you juggle for real you don't look at each ball as they move?  You actually can't.  You have to focus on the point in space where the highest arc is in their path.  Yes, we might need to make meals and clean and run a home business and teach our kids and be a good friend and be a part of our community, etc, but stop for a minute and think about what you value.  What is truly important to you?  Focus on that point as what you juggle goes up and down.  We can't do it all, every day, all at once.  All the balls can't be in the air all at the same time and we shouldn't expect that.
Some days, the clean laundry will get thrown all over the floor as we choose to focus on another parts of our lives instead.  Knowing that it's all a juggling act and all the things I juggle aren't supposed to be in the air all at once helps me accept what I can't get to in each and every day.  The laundry will be put away eventually.
K- Kindness.  People don't seem to value being kind to one another in our culture, but when you are with your kids 24/7, you really notice when kindness goes out the window and fighting starts. Model kindness to your children, and respect their possessions. Watch how you talk to them or about other people, and hopefully the atmosphere in your home will be more enjoyable for everyone.
This was a little double selfie I discovered on my camera along with a lot of silly faces as well.

L - Lemons.  If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have noticed how much happier and healthier we are when I make fresh lemonade sweetened with Stevia.  Winter sicknesses were reduced when I kept this up!  The way I make it is by using a citrus juicer to squeeze 8 lemons (cut in halves) for every gallon of water.  The juicer was from Target, and the strainer was a plastic dollar store purchase, and I choose stevia that doesn't have tons of fillers in it.  Sweeten to your own taste and drink with a straw to protect your teeth.  It takes 15 minutes or less, and the kids like helping!

M - Memories.  Taking pictures or scrapbooking or writing funny quotes by your kids can start to feel like just something else on the already huge list to-do, but however you choose to record your memories, it's really important to do so!  As mothers often are told, "They grow up so fast."  And they do.  Capture the memories of those special little everyday things, and it will not only help you appreciate the moment and focus on why we do what we do, but give you something to look back on as well.
Speaking of capturing memories! My littlest, the 5-year-old wanted a haircut the other day.  It was kind of spontaneous, and I just did it on the spot!  She told me exactly how long she wanted it.

Her blond hair is less and less blond as she grows older, and all those light ends are now off!  I think she might be like her Daddy who had blond hair like hers until he was about 13 when it turned as dark as mine!
She is loving her new style, and it fits her active personality so well!

N - Notice.  When I start feeling stressed or can't see the forest for the trees, it helps me when I slow down, unplug, and notice what is around me.  Notice the small things that I can appreciate or that make me happy.  Notice my beautiful girls and take the time to actually look at them and enjoy the moment rather than rushing or being distracted.
I'm afraid that I need this reminder a bit too much.  
O - Organize.  I've talked a lot about organizing on my blog in the past because I'm so often trying to get better at this part of my life.  It is important and is something we can always get better at, but organizing and schedules can turn into an idol for moms especially. We can have this illusion that if we just could be more organized or reach this ideological ideal, then our lives would be easier. There can even be the underlying thought that if I could reach this certain ideal, then my kids will turn out well.  The truth is that we cannot replace Jesus and God's grace in our lives with our own works.  Yes, strive to be more organized and value those ideals that you have, but don't expect them to save you - or your children.

The organizing is simply a tool that can make cleaning up and looking for things quicker.  When I took this picture, I was so tired of picking up books, but as I look back at this, I can only think about how much we enjoyed reading those books together!  
 P - Peaches.  Because.. well, peaches.  They are just good and tasty and can turn into an adventure to take the kids to a farm to buy or pick.  Really, whatever is in season and what you enjoy is the point. Going to a blueberry farm or growing your own veggies or buying that fruit that you've never tried and YouTubing how to prepare it can be such a fun memorable time for everyone!

Peaches.  I rest my case.

 Q - Quit.  Don't quit what's good but DO quit the bad!  Seriously, if it's not working, if that book is torture, if that scheduled activity or class is stressing everyone out, just quit!  There is too much that we could do that would work great to spend time on the stuff that we hate.
See, I quit doing dishes.  ;)
No, I didn't.  This is actually just one day's worth of dishes, and we even use paper plates.  Yes, for my own sanity I opt to use paper plates.  Since we make everything from scratch because of food allergies, our food doesn't usually come in packaging. So using paper plates does not make me feel guilty at all.  In case you were wondering. ;)

R - Read aloud.  I've heard so often about how important reading to your kids is and to not stop reading to them even when they can read on their own! But my advice doesn't come from the science of it or the impersonal recommendations, but from my own memories. Hearing my Mom read was by far the most influential part of my school.  I wanted to read aloud as well as she did!  I wasn't great at it either, and as a teen, I practiced reading aloud on my own because I wanted to be as skilled at it as my mom was.  Plan silly putty or drawing for your kids while you read aloud so the wiggly ones don't drive you crazy.  If you really don't like reading aloud, then you can all listen to books on CD together!
Reading aloud can also be a restful time for moms.  It doesn't have to be "another thing to do," but a time to rest and recharge.  Reading that same picture book for the 100th time might be a blessing in disguise for the tired mom. 

S - Surprise.  Often, our goal is to create a school and home routine that works smoothly and is predictable, which is really helpful, but kids love an element of surprise.  A normal school day can be transformed when we announce it's time for school and hear the groans (yes, this happens) and then say that for math we are going to make shapes with marshmallows and toothpicks.  Or perhaps we clear out the back of the car and do our school in there (with the cat.)  Or build a fort with blankets and read in the fort instead of at the table or couch.  Maybe sitting in the tree house for our math or doing a poetry tea time is that element of surprise that can brighten everyone's day!  Usually,the little surprises are remembered the fondest of all.
I didn't have a picture of the most recent time we did this, but about 3 times a year, we end up having fun with marshmallows and toothpicks!  It is always well received.

 T - Time.  Best advice I've heard for the homeschooling Mom is that we have time.  Is your child a late reader?  It's okay, they will learn eventually.  You have time.  Just because they don't know something right at this moment doesn't mean they can't learn it later.  Even by the time they graduate, it's NOT possible for them to know everything!  They still have time to learn more when they are adults as well.  The advice I hear the most often is how quickly the time goes (which is true in one sense) but rather than helping us savor the moments, I think it just causes us to stress and rush and end up feeling like if we miss an opportunity right now, it will forever be missed.  That's not true.  They have time for all they truly need to do and learn.

U - Unlearn.  Homeschooling is not like school.  Even if your homeschool is really structured and traditional, it's not going to look exactly like a classroom, and it shouldn't.  Classrooms are designed the way they are to accommodate one teacher with how to manage dozens of children.  My Mom (who homeschooled me and was a teacher before having kids) always said that in college when you study to become a teacher, they don't teach you HOW to teach -- you learn crowd management.  Now unless you have 20 children all the same age at home, you aren't going to use the same skills as a homeschooler that teachers in a classroom need to use.  Most people who begin to homeschool have to unlearn what school looks like as they try things in their own homes with their own kids and see what books and methods work the best.

V - Vacations and Visits.  I used to feel guilty for the time off from our regular school that we would take.  Even though we schooled year-round and took time off at holidays and birthdays instead of the summer, I couldn't seem to relax fully to enjoy the vacation times that we did take.  My advice is to create those times of rest and field trips and visits so that you can get a break and NOT feel guilty about it!  Children are learning all the time and visiting museums and extended family and road tripping and so on aren't things that you should feel guilty over.  Spend the time modeling your own curiosity and following your own interests!  Let the kids be bored and have to get creative on their own!  Just don't worry about the school you aren't doing when you are taking a vacation.

W - Wonder.  This goes along with being curious but is slightly different because it doesn't necessarily have a conclusion.  I think it's important for our kids to know that we know we don't know everything!  I can wonder about something aloud and that can spark a conversation or interest or curiosity or exploration. I can wonder what a word means or wonder at the beauty of the moonlight reflecting off a pool as we go on a walk before bed.  I don't want to create a culture in our home of memorizing and knowing all the facts -- but rather a culture of wondering about the questions.

X - Exceed expectations.   When our kids hug us, hug them more back.  When they express their love respond with a greater amount.  However that works well between you and your children and their distinct love languages, teaching our children without a strong healthy connection is going to break down at some point if they feel that it's more on their end than ours.  They need to know we love them no matter what. And our world these days, with so many distractions and so much selfishness being prized, it's a hard place to move away from and into truly paying attention to the people we are closest to and exceeding their expectations with our attention.

Y - Yellow.  I didn't used to like that color as much as some of the other colors, but I've come to realize how happy and bright it is.  I could give advice about not yelling, or remembering what it's like to be young, but I'm just thinking about the color yellow. I'm sitting by some yellow curtains that I have in my dining room that make the room feel brighter and sunnier.  Sunshine helps my mood, and it's important to know what can brighten our days even if it's as simple as yellow curtains. Recognizing what brightens the day of our children is important as well. I will hear the middle one say she is having the worst day ever, and often just a little time with me (and possibly some chocolate together) will brighten her up again. I can give her a hug and fill her love tank back up again, and she's ready to run off and play some more.

Or yellow yarn all over the little ones head!  This picture can brighten anyone's day.  ;)
Z - Zany and Zigzags.   Zany because being goofy with my kids can be the best thing in their day! Playing games with them, telling knock-knock jokes or talking in duck voices can be a great way to connect to our kids. Too often our lives are filled with business and "get your shoes on" and "clean your room" and "take your dishes to the sink" and so on, and we forget what it's like to be a kid and be silly.  Also, Zigzag because learning doesn't happen in a straight line, and even if one interest doesn't seem like it will be helpful for them later in life, you never know how that skill will turn another way into the next learning experience.

Our dining room in the middle of the day on a typical school day.  Crafts, cold coffee, leftover breakfast, dirty fish tank - it's hard to see the beauty and order and peace in the actual moments like this, but looking back, I can see them.  The real beauty is not the "picture perfect" look of a person or of a home. It's in the reality -- the crazy, imperfect, broken vessels that we are.

Being a Mom and homeschooler for me is living life in front of and with my kids.  It's being real and imperfect and forgiving and asking for forgiveness and helping them grow into their full selves of who God created them to be as individuals.  It's a journey without a solid destination yet, like a guide helping an explorer discover where he wants to go, but the destination for the guide is less important than the experience of the journey and the feeling at the end of it.


For a look back at the alphabet chalkboard-themed school, follow the links below.

A starts with A
B is for Butterfly
C is for Cookie
D is for Dragon
Effervecent E
Fun F
Gregarious G
Happy H
Imaginative I
Jaunty J
Kingly K
Lovely L
Marvelous M
N for Noel
Oh for O
Popular P
Quick Q
Rosy R
Special S
Alphabet review and summer fun and learning
Terrific T
Unusual U
Valuable V
Wonderful W
Excellent X
Y and Why

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Z week" is finally here!

Obviously my plan of the alphabet of the week wasn't just one week for each letter.  We did other things in between, and the past 2 years of going through the alphabet like this has been more of a way to find a theme and a resting point between each section (sort of like a unit study) and the blogging about it reminds me of what we have done instead of just getting caught up in the mundane every day stuff.

 Here is the design for this theme.  Zig-Zag race at the ZOO - Pizza Prize. ;)  We went to the zoo a lot (before it got too hot here!) and before that we went to the arboretum to find Zinnias.  We also planted some zinnias in our little potted garden outside our apartment.
 The top one is by the 10 year old the left is by the 8 year old and the right chalk board is by the 5 year old (Which is a z that she colored and then she put a pizza over it. :)
 My 8 year old also decided to make this picture with Zimbabwe and Zambia.  She said she got the flag designs off of a leapster game.
 I had been saving "Zebra Diva" for Z week and the girls also wore them too! (Though I missed out taking a picture apparently.)  I'm also wearing a butterfly Jamberry wrap as well which totally goes with all the butterfly things we've been doing as well.

 Zebra Diva on my toes as well, back when it was cool enough for jeans outside (barely!) the girls would play and chalk while I sat and read.

 The big deal for the 8 year old was getting to go to an Asian Festival in Dallas.  She loves all things China and is very interested in cultures from that part of the world.  So was very excited to see everything!
 The 5 year old playing with her new fan.
 Random Anime booth that was the perfect photo opportunity with the Daddy.
 It wasn't too busy there compared to some, but we didn't stay too long after our little picnic lunch.
 We headed to the near by butterfly house and butterfly garden.  Everyone loved this but the 5 year old especially.

 Great idea for a chalk board design!  This was at the zoo on one of our zoo trips.

Some book ideas for z week.  Not the easiest letter to work with, but doing a zoo theme gets in all the animals really.
 The 5 year old took this picture and I happened to find it on the camera and it goes with the theme!
 A big part of the last few months was the caterpillars that the littlest found and took care of.  We got to see at least 4 turn into their cocoons and fly away as little brown moths!
 Suddenly this book is a favorite.  I loved how often she sat out by her kitchen watching and holding her caterpillars.  It's a bit too hot now to be out for long just sitting.
 Little chubby cute fuzzy brown moth that we got to release.
 The entrance to the zoo here with a giant giraffe.  The girls always keep a look out for it when we are driving there.
 At the nature exchange getting a lesson about stuff they'd brought in to trade.  The guy wasn't super impressed with what they found and that was sad to see them discouraged, but I thought they did a good job looking and finding things on our walk around the apartment complex.  They were interested in these things and have learned a lot.
 The littlest really wanted that tiny scorpion and I'm kind of glad she didn't have enough points to get it!
 The middle one who loves bunnies was ecstatic to see the bunny in the barn.
 Ice cream for lunch by the lions is about as awesome as you can get right?

Another time they got to feed some birds which is always exciting.  I really don't like birds, but ignore that so I can take them in.

 She didn't want it to sit on her arm so is feeding it this way.

 Of course every trip includes some rounds on the carousel.
 Petting a giraffe?  Yep, they did that!

 Another time we got to see the baby penguin (it's not quite fully grown as the feathers are still grey.)
 It was really friendly!
 Another favorite thing to do is climbing on the elephant statues.  This day wasn't very busy, but usually these are a bit more crowded.
 Hey, see those zebras back there?
 Our most recent trip finally afforded us a better view of the zebras!  Every other time they were a bit too far away to see well.
 Of course we had pizza a lot all through the "Z theme" time.  For gluten free pizza I use "Pamela's Bread Mix" in case you were wondering. :)
 A new thing that I started after learning more about "Brave Writer" ideas and how to create an environment that nurtures writing was to pull out my old red typewriter!  I thought it was just the best thing ever when I was about eleven and bought it at a garage sale for $5.  It's been in the closet for a while.  I'm so glad I never got rid of it!
 The middle one especially enjoys randomly typing on it.  Sometimes to get my attention or to leave notes for someone or in the case of the picture above, to copy the entire book only instead of puppy it was wanting a bunny (because she wants a bunny so so so much.)
 That's a lot of typing!

And what is this?  Well, I found so many selfies with these too and all of them were silly, so this is Z for Zany.   Very zany kids.
On our last day of school this year!  The little one (who isn't really starting till fall, but just staying busy) was using clay to make her name.  And the other two were doing some "Life of Fred" math practice.
 Penguins are helpful with math apparently.
And as a final special thing to our Z theme and celebrating the last day of school this year the girls got to watch "Zootopia"!  Which of course was quite exciting.

They did ask if they could still do poetry tea times even though school is over and the middle one still wanted to do her Thinking tree journal a bit, but I've been enjoying the time off to focus on appointments for a while.  My back was messed up and I've had to go to the chiropractor a lot recently and the oldest is doing vision therapy which takes quite a bit of time.  

What is going to be the themes for next year?  I'm not quite sure, but the girls talk about "next time we do that letter" as if rotating the alphabet yearly is a perfect idea.  So maybe I'll keep it up only change it somehow.