Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Organizing Spontaneity

I feel like I'm always talking about organizing, but if I haven't said this before, it's not because I'm actually good at organizing.. it's because I'm terrible at it that I keep trying to get better at it.  That's why I write about this subject, not because I have it figured out, but because I'm trying to figure it out.  For those of you that are great at organizing and need to lighten up perhaps this will help you too?  I have no idea if it will help you, but you never know.  I'm trying to organize just enough so our days aren't just totally out there, so this post will probably help people more like me who want more structure, but are those "odd" homeschooling mother's that do NOT like to schedule their school.  I've seen so many blog posts where Mom's are totally into the scheduling side of things and planning the school and all that and I think that is GREAT.. it's just definitely not me.

Right, so, there was a post in the past where I think I said how I'd taken pictures of most of our school stuff (manipulatives or art things or puzzles and games, etc.) well, the little album worked well to show to the girls when they didn't know what to do, but recently I bought a book all about "workboxes" about how to organize homeschooling.  It's really quite a good book, but as all advice is -- it's not a one size fits all.  It might fit YOUR schooling perfectly!  Which would be great, but what with my style of almost unschooling with the "learn all the time whenever you want" thing, it was a little too ridged... combine that with the artistic (very involved) teacher doing group times, the independence of the system wasn't a perfect fit, BUT I really wanted just a little order in part of our school.  Lets walk through the pictures because I need pictures to explain anything.

I took sticky notes to the album that I already made to mark all the stuff we already have that I COULD put in work boxes for independent work.  Basically, our house is too little for me to have a room with everything visible for them to pick and choose at their own convenience-- enter the album.. yet they still don't necessarily "feel" like doing the things in there.. and being the thrifty Mom that I am, I really don't want to buy more stuff when we have stuff already!  So, how do we start using what we already have.  I realized we have a LOT of stuff to use for our school right now.  That doesn't even count all the free pinterest ideas that I've already pinned.  So, filling workboxes isn't a problem.  We needed a way to plug in what we already had in a manageable way.

I know she says that the best plan is to use shoe box size clear containers on a shoe rack.  And yes that's a great idea if you have the space. It really is better because you don't have to worry about the books or whatever fitting into a drawer like I have to deal with, but what with how I already have a space for each girl for their own art work and projects following the ideas of "fostering the independent learner"I really couldn't (truly) find room for an entire shelf with 12 shoe box size boxes all filled with only one thing each... for even just my older two.  The lady that wrote the book on Workboxes is pretty adamant  about how important the boxes are and seeing them LEAVE the shelf.  Which totally makes sense if you are exclusively using it.  (Note: I have the book to borrow if anyone is interested.)  But I'm not exclusively doing her system, so I had to figure out what would help us and what wouldn't.  The picture above is what I came up with to use drawers that show when they are finished.  Instead of taking the drawer out, I had the girls stick on the colored strips of paper (they all already had velcro dots on them) and it sort of looks like a stop sign with green at the bottom for "go play."  But doing all 12 drawers in one day didn't work for us.

This was our trial day this Monday, and I quickly realized that while I COULD have them do the system just like the book described -- emphasizing independence and being quiet and serious during school time-- I really don't want that as our motto.   I changed the "quiet" tabs on their school folders to "Listen, Laugh, Learn" the next day because that's what I want our school to be!  I don't want perfect silence and totally independence.  I want them to come to me when they need help instead of doing something wrong and getting frustrated.  It was great to work through though because it helped me pin down what I really wanted our school to be and what I didn't want it to be.

The 5 year old was the most excited about the new school.  Motivations of finishing things and getting to that carrot work REALLY well for this one.  My oldest is more interested in the process though instead of "getting it done" and wasn't quite as excited about doing things this way (Though, interestingly, the oldest actually likes to have a schedule more than the middle one because she wants to know what is next and what to do.)

The first day with the 2 year old trying to do this system.  It worked okay for her, though it was really too many boxes for her (or me) to handle.  I'm not sure how anyone plans that far in advance and keeps their sanity.  You know.. the little one can be really "into" something for a long time, but depending on her mood she can switch from one activity to another much too quickly for me to keep up trying to use a set plan.  I needed a way to use this plan WITH flexibility because I need the workboxes for independence while I read to or help the older ones... which I guess is turning them more into "busy boxes" but- whatever.. I'm going with what works.

Enter the second day we tested this new plan out.  I decided instead of doing 12 drawers a day we'd do 12 a week.  So, only three a day four days a week.  Honestly this will work much better for us because I have a bunch of books to read to all of them each day (as a group) language arts is going to be with the older two together, and a few other things that I need to do WITH them together apart from the workboxes.  BUT I do like the workboxes for review pages and practicing their penmenship and for some math manipulatives or puzzles and so on that we have, but forget to use.

This is how the 5 year old's desk area looks after her school is done for the day.

This is where she hangs her schedule and keeps track of things. 

This schedule is just like the book showed and I got the printable from her website.  Each box (or drawer in our case) gets a number.

Each number on the schedule matches the number on the drawer and a Velcro dot is already stuck to the numbers.

So, she takes the first number off her schedule strip and velcros it to the corresponding numbered drawer.  Then she takes the drawer out of the shelf and takes everything out of it and DOES everything that is in it.  *note, you are supposed to have all the supplies they need for that, so pencils or rulers or whatever need to be all in there.  I quickly realized I didn't have enough pencils to have a pencil for every time they needed one.  Sort of overheated my pencil sharpener, but it's all good.

After they do everything in the "workbox" the original system has them put everything back in the box and put the box to the side (so that the shelves look emptier and emptier as the child works = great motivation to finish!) I needed a way to "block out" the drawer so it felt done.  I didn't want to take it out and leave it on the floor as she indicated though partly because I'm trying to teach them to put stuff AWAY when they are done with them.  SO, they get to put a strip of paper over the front of the drawer (that was in the drawer with the rest of the stuff) to indicate that they are now *done* with that drawer.  It's a good way to remind me as well.  I thought of using just black or something to "block it out" but this works for now.

And again, the next thing she does is look at her schedule strip and go to the next number and match it up like before and do everything in the drawer and put it all back and cover it with the paper.

I forgot to put the paper over drawer two when I took this picture, but you get the idea.. the number 3 box has a picture of me with her to show her that this is a drawer that she does with me instead of all by herself.  We are only doing three a day and each day both girls will have something to do with me.  Sometimes it's a work book type thing like this "early learner" book in my 5 year old's drawer, or it could be doing origami or even a brownie mix to do together!  Really, it can be super fun and feel "spontaneous" even though it's organized.

End of one day it looks like this, plus I forgot to say how I deal with things that don't fit in the drawers.  You don't have this issue if you use the boxes and shoe rack like the original system uses.  I used dry erase paper stuck to the box on top of the stack of drawers to hold things that don't fit in the drawers and wrote the number of the box.  This time there was just something for drawer #2.  Easy to pull one thing out to use with that drawer and put it all back when you are done.  Not a problem.

You can also put things on their schedule that isn't a number for their "workboxes" the book has some great ideas, but I wanted to add my own as well.  I already got some leapster explorer games (that are fun and education - especial for the right brain dominant learners) but noticed that the girls had stopped playing them since they weren't "new" anymore... enter the Leapster card onto the schedule strip.  I don't have a time limit for them to use it, you might want to do that if you think they spend too much time on it.

Right, so where do you put the card that doesn't go on the box?  This wasn't really talked about in the book, so I made up my own thing of where to put it and put it on their school desk folders.

This wasn't talked about really in the book either.. where to put the schedule when they aren't holding it?  I got hooks from the dollar store to attache to their school folders.  This is what it looks like when she's done for this day.  Notice that the next day up has three drawers again and then she gets to do Wii fit!  I wanted to encourage more of that.

The "check in" and "check out" pocket thing was from the original book and I printed them out from her website.  Here's how Renna would "check out" of school for the day.

My biggest problem that first day was not being able to re-fill the workboxes easily because our school stuff was upstairs in their room or here or there and I needed a better place to house their stuff.  Also, I didn't have a place to keep puzzles out as we work on them (it's nice to have something for my very active 7 year old to do when I'm reading outloud to everyone.  So, that's why I moved this folding table out of the dinning room.

And these built in shelves with the useless space under them is now super useful!  I'm still planning on hanging some fabric in front of this because I don't want the 2 year old to  get in there and pick whatever she feels like.  Sometimes I'm okay with her picking play dough or  a messy rice box, but at other times I really don't have time to clean up after a mess like that and having it hidden so that I pick out what she can do is probably a better idea.

She now has 6 workboxes instead of 12.  I also put a dry erase paper square on each one under the velcro dot so that I can fill the boxes and then when the time comes to use them I can easily write whatever number I want and set out 3 or 4 at a time for her to go through in order.  More then that was just too much for her or me to handle at one time.  I have things in there like color sorter ideas (with all different things, like poof balls or buttons) and other education toys or games or just fun stuff.
This was another printable from the website ( So that you can write what is in the workboxes.  I can't seem to decide BEFORE I put stuff in what is in there, but I wanted to keep a record of what I'd done, so after I fill the drawers I write them all down in this list.  It's nice to know what we've done and also nice to have ideas for future reference.  Notice my planning is looking more professional though I'm still using crayons for their names.  It's now not ALL in crayon.  ;]  I'm actually to a point where I might even write out other things that we are going to do... or at least write it out AFTER we do it.  :]

My seven year old got to do Wii fit as her fourth thing for today which is really GREAT for her because she's enjoying it and learning to balance and use up her energy in a great way.  This particular one that she's doing she has to time her movements just right which is something she's needed to learn (as all kids do) and balance and rhythm is important in the Waldorf philosophy, though I'm sure they weren't think of Wii fit, but hey... we are using what we have in the culture we live in.  My husband couldn't do without video games of some kind, so it's nice to have some that are useful.

This is my 7 year old's school folder.  The "check in" pocket is on the left and the "check out" pocket is on the right.  I found some pictures just doing a search on line for the alphabet and the number chart and the multiplication chart.  She has a little calender above the hundreds chart.  Above her schedule strip she has some "help me" cards velcroed to her folder so that she can ask for help when she needs to with her workboxes.  The original system was trying to keep the kids from asking for help too much, but I want to encourage them to ask for help when they need it.

And this is how the drawers look when the 7 year old is done with her workboxes for the day (Note; this is a small part of their school as I'll be doing at least three other group things with them separately from this.)

Half of our dinning room now looks like this.  School and projects are totally taking over.

When I started this blog post they were all playing play dough.  As I'm finishing the blog post they are watching a "Wild Krats" show about kangaroos.  While ideally I'd rather send them outside to play in the dirt or something I've got to work with what I have and they can't play much outside without me and I need a break on occasion, and so I'm going to go with shows like this that teach them something in a great right-brain dominant way. 
 Confession-  first day we tried this system as a test day was REALLY stressful for me!  The book makes it sound pretty easy and quick to set up, but it took several late nights to get all the parts put together, the numbers here, the velcro there, the plan of what to put in them and so on..... it just took some time and I was really really tired from doing it.  It wasn't "hard" necessarily and would probably be much easier for someone who is already doing a basic school schedule each day, but as we weren't doing a schedule at all it was forcing me to really look at what I wanted to do and how to do it.  Which was good, but that first day felt a little like trial by fire for me.  The girls didn't notice how tired I was, but my husband did when he got home.  By the time he came home though I'd pulled out practically all of our school stuff and had it spread out all over our house as I worked on figuring out where in the world to put it all to make this system work better.

As we do more school I might find that I want to add more work into their drawers or even do more drawers a week, but right now I wanted to make sure that I didn't get bogged down with this bit of it (which for us is more "extra" than the main part of school.)  My husband is excited about this as well since it adds a bit more structure to our extra stuff (so we don't forget to use them.)  He likes to come home and ask "what did you do in school today?" which always frustrated the kids and me because our "school" is going on all the time and often they couldn't distinguish  their living and learning.   Sure, I could tell him what they learned and what we did, but a better question is "what did you do today" and then they'd talk all about going to the zoo and seeing the elephants who like apples as a special treat or building a 750 piece puzzle or whatever.

I feel a little silly to be the one that needs this organizing system more than the kids.  I'm a right-brain-dominant visual person that is scared of lists and schedules.  I was so stressed out as I was trying to set all this up and it didn't quite make sense about why I was so stressed about it, but I just have issues with pinning things down.  I like to be spontaneous when we learn because when the girls actually ask about something it means they are ready to learn about it.  They are listening and it's an opportunity that can be missed if I'm too caught up in teaching something else when they aren't ready to learn it.  But on the other hand it's stressful to have three kids all wanting to learn all at the same time.  I'm pulled in too many directions to keep my sanity at times.

In conclusion:  My thoughts on the workbox system are favorable.  For us (with some tweaking) they are a great place to start adding more organization.  It's forcing me to plan out some of their school each week and keeping up with some basic review of skills.  While I don't want to do textbooks and tons of book work with them I do see the value in a few pages of penmenship practice and so on each week along with our read alouds and games and so on.  I can't seem to organize by writing out what we should do and then doing it, but I can come at it from the other way of planning all the physical stuff (in this great way by putting it into their workboxes) and then writing down what is there.  It's nice to have it planned out farther than in just the moment of doing school (which is what I'd been doing) because now I can make it more balanced by just opening each drawer and looking at what they have next up.  Is there a good balance going on?  Is there something else they might want to learn about that I can print out and have for next time?

It's helping with all of that and that's great!  I'm official an "eclectic homeschooler" by now for sure. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

dealing with change

 This is one of the books that I bought this year to use with the girls.  I've only read a few to them so far, but yesterday I decided to look for one that I needed.  And here it is--

Stream, Desert, Wind

A stream was born high on a mountain.  It rushed around stones, over waterfalls, across fields, and through forests and valleys.  finally it reached a great desert and pushed its water against the sand.  Then the water disappeared.  The stream, that was feeling so confident with its life up to this point, could not believe what was happening.  'My water is disappearing - how can I cross this desert?'
Then the stream heard a whispering.  It seemed to be coming from the sand itself, 'Ask the wind - it knows a way to cross the desert.'
The Wind can fly,' thought the stream.  'All I can do is disappear into the sand.  I can't cross this desert.'
'Allow the wind to carry you,' the voice whispered. 'But then I will have to change.  I don't want to change, I want to stay as I am.'
'If you continue to flow into the desert, you are changing - you are either going to disappear altogether or you will become a swamp.'
'But I want to stay myself,' said the stream. 'How can I get to the other side and still be myself?'
'If you remember your true self you will know this can never change,' whispered the voice.
The stream then remembered a long forgotten dream about being carried in the arms of the wind.  It let go of the earth below and allowed itself to rise up in a vapor.  The wind flew with it far across the desert, all the way to the mountains on the other side.  Finally it was released as soft rain high on the top of the mountain.
With this the stream was born anew.  It rushed around stones, over waterfalls, across fields, and through forests and valleys.  And as it rushed along, it had watery memories of its true and essential self.

Everyone gets to some sort of desert, right?  Often the hardest things to deal with are the every day drudgery things.  When something "big" happens, some difficulty that I have no choice but to trust God in and there seems to be an end to  it even though it's too hard it's easier with Him and the people that come around me  Easier than the every day troubles that never end.  Those things that people don't consider important because they aren't "big" and that I forget to trust God through.  The ones that never seem to end.  Living in TX is my desert.  The place where I have to learn to transcend and cross or I'll disappear into the sand or become a swamp.

Tomorrow I'm going to wean Grace.  My little baby that was born here, and it's partly hard because she doesn't want to wean and it's mostly hard because I don't really want to wean her, but I feel like I need to.  It's become a power struggle at times and she's still so clingy that I'm hoping some of that will start to get better after we go through the days of hell when she's not getting to nurse.  It's partly sad because she's probably my last baby.  I can't imagine going through what I did with her if we have another one here, plus my husband doesn't want more.  I'm reminded of when she was a baby and how much it hurt to not be near my family to experience her growing with me... no one to ooh over pictures and say "do you remember holding her when she was only this big?" No, no one here then to truly care, and we can never get that time back with her being a little baby.  It's gone and if it was missed it's missed for good, but continuing to nurse her won't keep her a baby (at least not in the right way) so I decided while my husband is on a business trip I'd bite the bullet and make it happen, and I'm crying.  Crying for the lonely baby-hood that was and for a future baby that probably won't exist, for living in this crowded noisy city that assaults all of my senses with overwhelming.

So, the desert.  How do I change and yet remember who I am?  It's so hard to keep our lives simple and quiet.  The values of the rat race around us are so foreign to everything I love.  I feel the pressure even from my husband to give up what's left of my dreams.  "Homeschooling too hard?  We can always put them in a public school."  How do I fight for what I want our family to be?  How do I keep from sinking into the desert?  I long for a quieter place and simpler joys.  The more we seem to get in a material sense the less I feel like we have.

How do we fly with the wind over the desert?  I'm in the process of reading "One Thousand Gifts" and I feel like I'm being reminded of something I already know, though I would have expressed it differently.  Being thankful for what we have and keeping track of that.  Praising God through anything.  Learning to be content in all circumstances.  The next few days I will be singing Laura Story's "Blessings" song while the 2 year old cries and doesn't sleep and the older two watch too much TV and don't get Mommy time.


We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Don't forget the middle child

 If you've been reading previous posts you will have seen how I created a art space/table for my oldest (7.5) and then my littlest (2.5) but a few days after the littlest one had her area and was enjoying it so much I noticed a change in my middle child.  She seemed irritable and more sensitive than usual (which I suppose is pretty amazing in itself!)  But as I thought about it more and observed her and began to think about what she needed.  I asked her that night about if she would like her own area.  I described a little bit about how it might look.   She already had a craft area and didn't seem to need that and she did like to play in her room.  No, THIS kid needed an "Imagination house" -- and that's what she calls it!
She loves to dress up and unlike her older sister (who is more interested in comfortable clothes) will be worried if she thinks her clothes don't "match" or will look "stupid" and definitely has an opinion about her fashion sense.
SO, I stayed up late one night and created this space for her underneath the built in shelves in our little apartment.  The frame of the "imagination house" was from a play house the girls have (back from when the oldest was 2) and I just unzipped the walls and stored that and laid curtains over it and pinned them together.  "Bob the beanbag" chair got a make-over and became ruffly rainbowy.
One of the first things she wanted to do after getting her house was to write a book!   She's so like her daddy in this way.  :]   First she drew all the pictures and then dictated the whole thing to me so I could write it down (and YES it had a great story arc!  There was a problem and then a climax and a rescue and a happy ending.  It was simple but really great to see it ALL come from her!)  I know Waldorf doesn't teach kids to read till they are 7, but this kid really does NOT want to wait that long.  I think some of her frustrations will be relieved when she learns to read this coming year.  She already knows all the letter sounds and creates her own spelling to words... and.. frankly, when I read a LOT of different posts about readiness she seemed to fit all of that.  Her older sister didn't, but this one.. yes.  I don't think I'd want to start the 1st grade stories  this year and all that with her if I was doing the full Waldorf stuff, but learning to read along with her older sister will be just right I think.

Notice the "water fall" on the right?  It's just some draped fabric safety-pinned in place.

At first she had a few more toys and things in it, but then decided it was too "cluttery for her imagination" so took many of the stuffed toys out and back into their bedroom.  It doesn't have that green pillow in it anymore either.  The yellow curtain looks like it was made for this, but it was actually just left over from a set of two.  I only needed one for my room, but needed it longer so used the second to add length to the first and I am SO glad this leftover one fit so well!

The little round table used to be black to match my other furniture, but for her "Imagination house" I painted it blue and pink.  She squealed when she saw it in the morning after I painted it and set up her house (that was a late night, but worth it!)

Looking through the top.  This fabric was just a leftover curtain that I wasn't using.

She has just enough supplies for her table and a little box for some treasures (a favorite shell and rock are on the table.)  The final piece to this special area is a couple little felt boards that I let her pick to add to her imagination and story telling abilities.   Two dolls with clothes to mix and match and one cute chubby panda felt also with clothes were her choices for felt pieces.  I'm hoping it will be a fun way for her to spend her time in there before she can read and turn it into a real "reading nook."  :]
It was wonderful the first day especially to see her so excited and inviting her sisters into her space and playing so well with the other two.  I think they all just needed their own space that they could "own" and go to and be responsible for. 

We live in a small town-home apartment (1,040 sq ft.. which feels smaller considering that we only use the upstairs to sleep in and do most of the living downstairs.) but creating a space for each girl has made such a difference in their attitudes and moods!

creating spaces

For a while now, I've been noticing that the 2.5 year old was seeming frustrated.  She isn't old enough to tell me what she needs, but as I was reading more articles about Waldorf and playing and so on I was beginning to wonder if she might like a little pretend kitchen.  She likes to be in the kitchen with me doing stuff so maybe she'd appreciate her own space?  Well, I'd given a play stove to a friend a few years ago that the older girls never played with and asked if we could borrow it back just to see if Grace would enjoy it before buying her own.

She LOVES it!  The first night she wouldn't stop playing with it to go to sleep and then kept asking about it (You can play with your kitchen in the morning.)  She pretended to put ingredients in over and over and made meals for her baby dolls (which she always liked before, but didn't really know how to play with.)  Best part is that she has her own area.  If the older girls try to move in on her space and play with her stuff she knows that she can ask them to leave (they can tend to play differently than she wants to play with it.  The oldest would rather slide the baby dolls all over the floor than pretend to feed them.)

I had fun going to the dollar store for some things that would work in her kitchen.  This little thing of candy is fun for her to open, but I put hot glue inside of it so that it will still rattle, but NOT come out! 

Notice the little condiments on the shelf?  I cut out the top of a salt container because she always liked to open and close it for me when I was cooking.  Now it's the right size for a little glass jar that I had.  I filled a little bag with salt and then glued it into the bottom of the jar (so it wouldn't fall out, but still had a salty sound when you shake it) Then hot glued the top on that I'd already cut to the right shape.  She said it was sugar so I labeled it accordingly (it sometimes is salt and sometimes is sugar depending on what she's pretending to make.)

And here she is with her big sister!  The 5.5 and 2.5 year olds like to play in the kitchen the most with the little one being the official cook.  She really likes it when I play with her the most though because I'll play however she wants to and the other kids try to make up other games that throws off her pretending.  Oh, notice the little trash can to the right of the stove?  Another little dollar store purchase that is GREAT for pretending and keeps her kitchen all tidy.  After we "squeeze the lemons" to make juice we can throw them away in the pretend garbage and get them out later.

Once I make sure we have enough savings to get her her own stove I'm planning on buying the Melissa and Doug one that is wooden and pretty affordable as stoves go.  I think the wood one will last longer and be sturdier.  She is actually very careful with the plastic one though!  There's a trick to closing the door and when you bump it things will fall over, but she just puts everything back with a "whoops" while the other two got frustrated with things falling and having to be careful with this one (back when they had it.)  It is SO nice to see my little girl playing and imagining.  I'm thinking she's ready to have her baby toys be passed on to someone else.  Next post is about how the middle one gets her own space.