Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the journey of tiny changes

 When I started reading more and more about homeschooling and wondering how it would "look" in our family I always wanted to read blogs about what normal days look like.  You know what I usually found?  Lists of the time they woke up and what each subject was planned at each point in the day.  I know people can work well that way, but I just really canNOT.  And for the most part they would just discourage me because my personality is so completely on the other end of that style that I just feel like a failure when I tried to order my days that way.

  One big reason why I like homeschooling is the flexibility and that I don't HAVE to wake up super early (which is a great relief when one of the girls has woken me up several times in the middle of the night for whatever reason.)  I however don't think the highly scheduled way is better or worse in the long run than my loose "rhythm" type days.  I think we all need to find out what works for our family.  Not only what our kids style of learning is, but what our style of teaching is.  Then make those little changes to get it to all flow well together.

This blog post is all about the tiny choices that I've been consciously making these days as I try to lean in more and more to what I know my girls need and how I can be more myself and play to my strengths instead of trying to follow an "ideal" of what I should be.

 I've always hated the question, "What have you done today?"  Or even worse as a homeschooling Mom who often feels insecure about her teaching abilities, the question my husband used to ask the girls, "What did you learn today?"  The answer to the first question is usually "what I do every day." In the voice of Brain from "Pinky and the Brain." Because the futility of cleaning up and making food and so on (which fills at least 50% of what I do every day) is a bit depressing.  Then the question of "what did you learn?"  Hmm.. yeah, might be better put, "What did you try to teach them today?"  Because the above example of the clock is something she's learning yes, but not something she feels like she's "learned"... remember learning is like growing a plant.  You might not know what plant it is until it's gotten some more leaves on it or even some fruit.. and some grow under ground and aren't visible from the surface.

Anyway, all that to say, I've been taking a lot of pictures of our days recently because I wanted to document a few days just to see what it is we do!  I don't have a huge plan before hand usually, but I do a lot in the moment.

Here's a great example of providing something my oldest was interested in.  I'd bought this Malissa and Doug puzzle clock off of amazon last year and they used it a couple times and then it was put away for a while, but yesterday I decided to leave it out.  Just leave it out on the piano.  You never know right?  Well, this morning when I was still laying in bed and not really wanting to get up I heard my oldest starting to talk about what time it was.  She didn't say the time right, but her logic was evident in how she was trying to figure out what time it was.  I told her what time it was and what numbers to point the hands at and later she asked to wear my watch again.  I don't ever wear it anymore, so I let her have it.  Most of today she was pointing out the time (or I'd ask her what time it was) and we'd talk about how to read the clock.  We also have a clock in the dinning room (probably visible on some past pictures) above my desk and by the chalk board that she could compare her watch to.  At this point I should probably look up a clock craft on pinterest to do or make my own up with a paper plate and pipe cleaners.  Maybe we'll do that later this week.
Have you ever thought about forcing someone to learn something?  Can you really force someone to truly learn?  Schools prove that you can force enough "learning" to create the ability to pass a test - short term.  But can you really make someone learn or does it have to come from them?  Another question.  Can you force someone to go to sleep?  You could help someone fall asleep by providing a good environment to aid sleep and of course if they WANT to go to sleep their ability to fall asleep is usually greater, but what if they don't want to fall asleep?  What if their environment is not helpful for sleep at all?  This is more of the angle that I'm coming from when I think of what to teach my girls.  I want to teach them things that they are already interested in and I want to create an environment that encourages learning.  This doesn't mean I leave them alone by any means because I want to provide oportinities for them to grow curious about different subjects.  One reason why reading out loud to them is so foundational to what our school is right now.  I didn't take a picture of my little stack of books or the library bag that we filled up, and I don't read ALL of the books every day.  We always read one chapter before bed, but some days we read more books than other days and that works for us because my girls often want to hear "one more page" of something and for the most part I want to go with it.

An example of an "in the moment" moment was today when the little one wanted to watch a scholastic video from the library (they are a great way to get kids interested in books because they are more like books than cartoons, but have enough of a cartoon element in them to grab their attention.)  We happen to have a "Mike Mulligan" story book so the girls could watch the show and see the actual book as well.  Later today we read another story in that book too.  My oldest when she was  under 2 decided that she wanted to sit all the way through the reading of "The Grinch who stole Christmas" after she saw a tv version of that book being read like these scholastic videos. 
   I know that some parents kind of hold their noses at comic books or (even good) cartoons, but they can be useful.  The scholastic videos are a great way to help children get interested in books for instance, and "Wild Kratts" for example are a great way for them to learn about animals in a fun way.  Good comic books as well are a good bridge from picture books to chapter books for very visual learners.  While on the one hand I want my girls to spend less time watching shows, I've been trying to re-direct the time rather than just completely cuting it out.  I try to ask myself how I can tie one topic in with another or the same topic into a different medium.  Maybe we've read about a certain animal in an "Animal Antics A to Z" book and I can let them watch a "Wild Kratts" that talks about the same or a similar animal.  Besides.. I have to make time to do the dishes!
Speaking of little changes, I set up this "hair clip holder" that is just a crocheted chain hung on the wall with a hook in the bottom to hang the brush, and the girls are loving it!  The problem was how often I'd find hair things laying everywhere and how they drug their feet about brushing their hair in the morning.  I'm even surprised at how the little one is more interested in wanting a hair clip too after seeing her sister so excited about this.
 A little random you think?  Well parenting and homeschooling too have a lot of "real life" teaching as well, and keeping their own things in good order is something we've been working a lot on.  I had to confiscate a bunch of my middle child's toys after she was throwing them all over the room for no apparent reason too many days in a row.  After that little bit of a teaching moment she's now learned to set up her most favorite stuffies at the end of her bed and I've been so impressed at how well she's starting to take care of her areas!
Another little change-- my middle one especially was in the habit of looking for some clothes by throwing every piece of clothing out onto the floor.  Enter another set of drawers and labels for "tops" "pants" "shorts and skirts" etc. with a dirty clothes basket on the top of each and a hook on the side to hang their jammies or the clothes they want to wear again the next day.  Seriously, the amount of time I spend cleaning up after people I really needed to figure out some of these tiny helpful changes.  This hasn't been fool proof.  That is to say, I still need to remind them to hang up their jammies or put their clothes in the drawers, but now they know what to do because it's all right there. And they can do it!

Next "little change" will probably have to be going to sleep earlier so I can wake up earlier so that the girls don't get their own breakfast and leave lovely messes out for me to clean up when I come downstairs.  This was exceedingly mild compared to some.  I do like how independent they can be though, but I think it would be better to save these sorts of independent moments for my sick days instead of making it a regular habit.  Cereal on your butter anyone?

Another random moment today.  I was trying to do the dishes and the littlest one was freaking out and clinging to me and not wanting to be put down and all of a sudden she says, "A ladybug!"  What?  Oh, there's a lady bug on the ceiling?  They had fun holding it before we took it outside and put it on a bush.

It was a little nippy out today, but we went outside for a walk all the same.  Some day I'd like to live in a place that I could send them out by themselves so they could play even more (I used to love climbing trees and digging in the dirt!)  If you have a fenced yard or safe outdoor place for your kids to play with minimal supervision, please don't take that for granted.  Take advantage of it!

The problem?  The hand towels always ended up on the floor.  Drove me crazy!  The solution?  Ribbon loops and large buttons = towels that won't constantly fall off the towel rack as the children dry their hands through out the day.
 I used to feel like bigger changes would be more significant, and in one way that might be true, but for large changes to work well little changes need even more attention put toward them.... At least that's what I've discovered.
Reading an "Uncle Wiggly" story, then playing the "Uncle Wiggly game" which is a hundreds chart and (as many games do) utilize some basic math skills, which then moved to playing with their little "Woodzie animals" around the board.

The little one is going without naps these days and asks to watch more cartoons because she's tired (she also asks for more sugary things which drives me a little crazy - yes I know you are hungry and tired, but a lolly pop just isn't going to work in the long run kid), but I don't want the older two just to veg out on the couch so I've gotten into the habit of pulling out things like this.  They get going playing the lego while watching a show, but then the cartoon is forgotten when it's over and they are still having fun looking for pieces and building things.  
 I sat on the floor with the girls for about an hour building a house for them today.  It was a lego set from when I was a kid and I'd kept the directions.  They had so much fun building and helping me find pieces and again it was just fun to be together.  Yes, math was incorporated into this, but that wasn't the point.  We listened to some praise songs too and I sang with the songs so they could learn some music skills as well (As we played and sang I heard them even singing slightly better as they listened to me matching the notes) but again, was that the point of all that?  I was looking for teachable moments, but not the "teachable" kind that are for lectures.  We were just living and I was letting them observe and discover and we were interacting about the shapes and sizes of the pieces. 

I thought a lot today about what is important.  How often we feel like we need to hurry to get to the thing that is "more important" .. but I wonder what God would say about that.  Is it more important to stick to a schedule or our plan than pay attention to people?  Sometimes, but more often our plans or perfect ideas can turn into idols in our life.  A clean house could become more important than our loving God or loving our children.
Crazy laughing squeals of delight!
In between making pizza crusts and putting on the toppings for dinner, I played with my girls and heard lots of giggles as I picked them up and spun them around!

My hope for my friends reading this who homeschool or choose to public school - whether highly scheduled or not -- can have days that are more full of giggles and togetherness, chats and sweet moments, slow "take your time" with each other habits, than all the other stuff that tends to crowd our days.  In the end when our kids are grown up, what do you think we'll look back and regret?  Not reading some Facebook statuses? Getting the dishwasher emptied every morning?  Or missed moments listening to our sweet children wanting to talk to us instead of going to sleep.... My "tiny change" each day now has been to keep choosing them.

Our usual unusual days

This day the girls happened to watch a "Magic School bus" in the morning that mentioned dinosaurs and I took the opportunity to pull out our book about Dinosaurs and the Institute for Creation Research.  I read to them while they painted anything they wanted.  My oldest painted pictures of Dinosaurs.
 I always struggle with our "schedule" or how to plan things because our school (right now) has a lot of open activities.  They (or I) will pull out something that sparks their interest and that something can be short lived with a lot of clean up or it can go on and off all day.  This particular day my oldest (8) pulled out the Marble run set that I got them last year.  I had one as a kid and remember how good it was for me to figure out how to set up the pieces logically so that the marble would roll well.  They hadn't played with it in a while and since I've been trying to be more "there" for the girls instead of setting them up with something and letting them do whatever with it, I decided when my daughter asked for help building something that I'd sit and help her.  I didn't have a time frame and wasn't trying to hurry my own part.  I just sat and enjoyed building with them.  Enter the "peace" I talked about earlier.  The only hard thing when doing this is to be careful to not overtake the project.  Some times it's okay to have a plan and build it a certain way, but it's much more important to follow their lead if they want to change the plan or use a certain piece that I was going to use.  Also, if you are working with your kids and they are learning (this is important when doing puzzles together too) don't say, "No, not that piece." for instance.  Give them the opportunity to try and fail on their own and gently point them in the right direction, "Maybe if you turn it around it would fit?"  Basically if you talk to them respectfully like you would another adult or friend but add to that the guidance of a parent (for instance, give them the right piece to try and let them try on their own and turn it and move it and try to make it fit while you gently encourage) then you will really be doing well.

And, let me tell you.. I'm not naturally a patient person, but I'm encouraged to know that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit - "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  It's not something we make happen in ourselves, we have to get stuff out of the way so that God can grow that fruit in us.  But more on that later.
This was about the tidiest the house was all day.  Marbles and colored plastic was built and ruined about 4 times through out the day.

And this was the scene to the right of the last picture.  I sweep 2 to 3 times every day and the floor still always looks messy, but it's something that I just need to accept.  If you homeschool you will probably have to accept a certain amount of mess and clutter as "normal life" because there is always someone doing something, and that is totally what we are wanting!  Yes, celebrate the mess!  And when you can't.. leave the house.  ;)

The girls had fun laughing at how interested the cat was as the marbles went down the runs.
 I've been trying to practice being okay with dropping whatever I was trying to get done to sit with them in their project and really give them a bit of time.  The dishes can actually always wait, and I'll eventually get to folding the clothes (one of these days) but the moment when they ask me to help them build something or play with something or look at something they've just worked on is fleeting.  That moment cannot be "put off" like my own plans.  Even an hour or a day to a child is forever.  Do you remember that?  I remember that feeling of time being so totally different than it feels now.  Time moves so quickly (it feels) to me than how it must feel for them and I need to be sensitive to that.  Too often I'm not, and I tell them to wait.... and then sadly forget that I'd told them I'd be there in "just a minute." 
The tallest one yet with multiple starting points and only one ending point!  I was impressed to see today how the almost 6 year old (on the right) was starting to "get" how to put the pieces together on her own and create her own marble run for real this time.  Much improved from even 4 months ago.
A little bit of our "toddler school"
 You can see in the background of the above picture some shelves that are a bit empty, and I was working on loading them up with stacks of things for the little one to do with me.  I know they develop skills and that's all great and whatever, but I mainly just wanted some fun activities for her and I to do together so she has some good Mommy time since the older ones get to do school time with me at different points in the day.  My older girls thought this activity was pretty neat and tried it out later.
The almost 3 year old is using chopsticks (with a little helper rubber thing to hold them together, so they are like giant tweezers) and picking up pieces of necklaces that I'd cut up from the dollar store (so they are all different lengths) and she's sorting them into those little cups.

As we both worked on this (I had a regular pair of chopsticks) we talked about them and pretended they would zap us if they touched anything but the chopsticks and some were "nice ones" and some were "mean" and she talked to the little bead strings.  I think this activity lasted about 20 minutes or so?  Pretty long compared to a lot of things we try.
My advice with 4 and under "school" type activities or play time is to just go with the flow.  Don't have an agenda.  If they want to do something themselves then let them.  If they do it "wrong" then that's the way it is and you can adjust how the "game" works.  There were a LOT of the green bead strings so we kept adding more cups for them to go in.  Be aware of frustrations that your child my have.  Remember that it's okay for them to work through frustrations.  Everyone gets frustrated and encouraging them and helping them when they want it smooths those frustrations over.  Two of mine throw some pretty big fits when they are upset and the third child puts her fingers in her ears each time this happens.  We are definitely used to hearing some screaming in our house (I know it seems like my life is so simple and quiet and we just play all the time with twinkle lights glittering in our wake, but that's not the case.)  I needed to make those little adjustments and changes so that I could have the energy and patience to deal with the screaming and frustrations in a calm manner.  They learn by watching me the most, so I need to make sure I'm all here.

If your 4 or 5 year old is really interested in doing real "book work" type school a great place to go is with these early learner books  they aren't the typical reading readiness/learn your alphabet sort of books.  They actually help to develop the child's memory in a fun way and fine motor skills in other ways than copying letters and numbers and so forth (which is great because you can only work on that for so many years and it's better to do it when they are older and actually ready to learn to read for real!)  Anyway, that book was in her first work box
 I've talked about our workboxes before, but right now we haven't been doing them every day.  Some days we spend a lot of time building or making things like we did with the marble works, and some days I sit with the girls individually as they go through their workboxes.
To help me stay available for my child without getting impatient, I've started knitting again and can do this while reading to them or just to keep me busy and sane, but not too distracted.  Reading a book or being on a phone or texting or anything like that would be too distracting.  I might do some drawing later, but right now the knitting fits the bill

We can talk while she works.  She said, "oh a hen.  Or is it a rooster?"  Perfect opportunity to chat about hens and chickens and "Hens lay eggs and look, there's an egg under the chicken."  (Note:  I'm just talking about chatting with them, not lecturing.  How would you talk to someone you respect?)  A good tip here might be to remind people that our job as parents and teachers isn't to constantly quiz our kids.  She knew that hens laid eggs and roosters didn't, but probably forgot.  How dumb would she feel though if I turned our nice chat about the picture into a quiz about chickens?  -- yep.  That would make me feel dumb too.  No, part of teaching is to model conversation.  I feel like I'm pretty terrible at this skill in general with most people, but I work so hard at communicating well with my girls that hopefully when they are older we'll still be able to talk and laugh about everything.

Her third drawer (we only do three a day when we do it because I fill the rest of our time with projects or baking or lots of read aloud books) was doing a spiral doodle.  I held it down for her to do, but it was good practice for her to work through frustration and persevere and see how pretty the designs were at the end!

The cat wanted to join in with the knitting since I had so much fun yarn. ;)

Then it was my oldest daughter's turn.  Just a few pages of handwriting here.

Which led to talking about cursive and she expressed her interest in learning to write her name in cursive which led to this practice.  I love having less boxes to get through because of things like this.  I want them to truly soak things in and be interested in what they are learning rather than trying to just get it over with.
 The day of the marble works and after we'd done the workboxes we were outside for a while making a chalk design on the other side of our house.  We haven't gotten outside much lately with the colder weather and the sickness that we were fighting off, but this day we spent a long time outside and when I went back in to get the mail key or something I saw a good INCH of water all over our dinning room floor.  WHERE was it coming from?

The water heater was leaking!

Enter a frantic grab for towels and my running to the office to tell them what was going on.  The manager came and turned it off so it would stop leaking, but there was still tons of water all over the floor.  So, yeah, imagine that much water and every towel in our house soaked and dripping and still an inch of standing water and me trying to pick everything up off the floor (fortunately only one book needed to be blow-dried) and all the marble-work pieces all over the carpet and then I had to pull out all the christmas tubs from under the stairs where the water heater was.  I managed to save most of the carpet and the carpet guy was impressed with how proactive I was, but the already normally messy house turned into craziness from 5 till 7 that night.
The guy that came to replace our water heater and turned off the fuse for my dryer and stove too (I don't think he knew for sure which was for the water heater so he turned more than that off) but I just went with it and made sandwiches for the girls and put a sheet out in the living room for a picnic and a cartoon. 
My oldest was super helpful and mopped up a lot of the water, the middle one cracked me up by putting on her swim suit and "helping" to clean up in the dinning room, and the little one just acted like this was totally a normal thing to have happened for our typical atypical days.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Finding a Rythm and Discovering Peace

Making some masterpieces with my little artist.  I love how imaginative she is as we play with the paints.  I don't often try to paint anything "real" unless she asks me to.  For the most part we just play with the colors and the brushes and sometimes I sing while we paint.  She will be 3 in two months and often will say she's painting a "sdorm" at the end that is a lot of fierce scribbly smeary paints - and that's totally fine too!
 I've been thinking recently about how I've been trying to create a rhythm in our home and making tiny changes to feed peace rather than stress.  What I've noticed most is how much more at peace I am just in my own head.  Moving away from Facebook (as I mentioned in a previous post) is helpful to keep my mind on where I am and not being distracted from my lovely girls.  Teachable moments can present themselves at many an unexpected moment, but my motive isn't to try at milk those moments for all they're worth.  I'm simply wanting to soak up their sweetness and enjoy life with them.  The thing I remember the most about my childhood is just how much I got to play and imagine and play some more!  I see my girls get so inspired when they see me working on my own project or start something that they hadn't thought of.
Like when I started having fun with their chalk instead of just sitting while they did whatever.  They joined in and had a fun time adding to the loveliness of our walkway, but it wasn't something they had to do.  One or two of them would wander a bit and climb a tree or scribble somewhere else while I worked on this.  The oldest had the most fun helping me finish this.

We played a game at the end where I'd call out a color and they'd all jump onto that color. 
 It was just fun, but yes, the littlest got some "school" in as she's still learning her color names.  Really, though.. should that be my goal?  I know I homeschool them and yes they need to be learning and I need to be teaching them, but how should I teach them?  I don't think homeschooling has to (or even should) look like a classroom.  So much more is "caught" by them when I model behavior instead of trying to teach them something.  Working on something till it's complete and enjoying the fruits of your labors?  How much better in a lovely outdoor chalk design turned into a game at the end than working through a math work sheet (for instance) to earn some award or "prize" of some kind (like a grade) just to see the page completed.
I'm being a little cynical about traditional school, but I actually don't have a problem with it in general.  I think that homeschooling is such a great way to give a child the most play time and time to just "be a kid" that even if someone prefers the more traditional text book style (which we don't totally leave behind either!) is really great.  I really don't want any of my homeschooling friends to feel like how they've chosen to teach their kids is somehow a bad idea.  I DO want to encourage more play and natural learning and just enjoying life together!  My own homeschooling experience at my girls age was more of a classroom style and I don't look down on that experience at all.

The more I homeschool though, the more I feel like (personally) I just am not that kind of teacher.  I love to take them outside and read books out loud and come up with random games and projects like this.  In one way I wish I were better at just doing the text book thing and "getting school over with" each day because it can be a little tiring to be "on" all the time.  Sort of always trying to be prepared to encourage or use that teachable moment well.
 I'm seeing myself grow more peaceful though as we go farther in this journey of parenting and schooling.  Sort of like a farmer that plants seeds and waters them and waits and waters again.  You can't make plants grow faster by feeling anxious or impatient or by worrying about how their roots are doing.  What I'd tell my younger self about having kids 7 years old and under -- play with them and paint and make up games and read out loud.  Don't try to "teach" anything per-say, just live.  Also, I'd tell myself to focus more on developing my own hobbies and skills and read my own books.

I was sick Valentine's week so we did our gluten free heart cookies the week after Valentine's day.  It was a huge mess, but everything is these days.... and that's okay.   Messes just mean we are enjoying ourselves. 
 I suppose I should basically be giving that same advice to myself right now.  Even with the one child just turning 8 -- they are all going to pick up on my attitude more than what I teach and what I want them to see is a peaceful home.  I'm sure they'll probably remember the one or two times I yelled at them this week than all the hours that I patiently talked to them and waited and listened.  Sad but true, but "not yelling" isn't something you can really just stop.  You've got to get at the root of the stress and figure out how to turn that stress around.  We can't get rid of all stress because life is just hard, but little changes make such big differences.  I used to only think of the big changes that I could make to make bigger differences, but the little ones are just as important, if not more important, than the big ones.
Tonight when I was sitting with the girls to help calm them down for sleep we talked about what we will do tomorrow.  The list so far is to paint, make brownies, read a few (specific) books they were looking forward to, play a game, put a puzzle together.  Oh, and I said before we did anything fun we'd need to clean their room (which is really bad right now and no fun to be in.)  But even that doesn't seem like a very big deal anymore.  Yes, it will be cleaning it up AGAIN with everything dumped out, but what should I be teaching them?  That messes are annoying and bothersome and WORK, or is it just life and what we do?  Can we develop good habits and handle every day things like this or do they build up in our minds and turn into these "huge" struggles.

 I felt that way with emptying the dishwasher.  It shouldn't be such a big deal, but it was.  I'd think to myself every time that I had to do it, "I hate emptying the dishwasher *grr*" and grump in my head about it the whole time.  A few years ago though I decided to make it a habit and decided to put it out of the "I hate this" into accepting it.  I wonder how many stay at home Mom's could be encouraged to know that it all CAN get easier.  That is, it can feel easier even if what we do stays the same.  We don't need perfect homes (and shouldn't strive for that) but we do need to keep up with dishes and laundry and the basics and make little changes to help make our lives run smoothly.  One way to make this happen is to pick a habit you want to develop and learn to accept it and not make it such a big deal in your head.  It's amazing how little time it takes to do a little task (that seems so large in my head.)

My middle daughter was making a HUGE deal out of getting dressed.  Procrastinating about it like crazy and one day I got the idea that I'd help her get dressed while slowly counting.  I only counted to 20 and she was dressed.  We've been working on that some since and she's learning that it really doesn't take long to do.  It's just helping her take something that seems so big in her head and putting it in reality and making it quick and easy.

I make things so much bigger than they really should be too often.

Which brings me to another thought that maybe should be in another post, but I'll add it here.

I read an analogy recently about teaching a child to read before they are ready and how it could be likened to trying to teach a child to climb a tree before they are tall enough.  Being too short (unready) they fall and hurt their knee, but six months later when they are tall enough (ready) to climb the tree they only remember skinning their knee.  They only remember the pain and don't know that now it would be easy for them to do.  It's a big deal in their head because they weren't ready when they first tried and they only remember failing.

I used to hate hearing someone say "You could sell that" to something that I'd make.  Or make some other comment about how I could earn money by being all entrepreneurial with one of my talents.  After reading the analogy about the tree and not being ready I began to look back at my life and growing up and realized where that came from.  Very often my Dad would try to encourage me to make money (somehow) or think up a business plan for a skill that I *could* develop.   This was mostly around when I was 14 and up.  It was a LOT of pressure and if I decided that I really didn't want to do whatever we'd talked about (as a future career) I'd feel like a failure.  He got upset when I took off the business name that he'd had professionally embroider onto a music bag that he'd given me.. even though I'd decided that I didn't want to start that certain business.  Every time I saw the name embroidered on that bag I felt like a disappointment.  I felt that pain from the "skinned knee" so to speak.  Even when we are just trying to encourage our kids towards something it can have the opposite effect.  I know that people who say that I could make money off of something that I've made are trying to encourage me.  They are praising the work that I've done!  But all I can remember is how I felt when I was young and how unready I felt (back then) and unsure and how I had no knowledge of how to go about selling the things and how, when I'd try to, it would all fall flat.

The thing is though.  Now I'm "tall" enough.  I'm old enough to take a talent and use it for more than my own hobby.  It's hard though because I feel like I never got to enjoy it and get comfortable with my interests when I was young.  I'm just starting to get back into the things I used to love doing and I want to accept the fact that I CAN just enjoy it for myself and that will inspire my girls to want to try new things and that is perfectly enough for right now.  But I'm also seeing that I need to recognize that I'm 'tall enough' now and need to let go of the fears that I've held onto for too long.

Back to the farmer - you can't force growth in plants (or children) you can only provide them with the right environment to give them what they need to grow and flourish.

For me, this season of life is about developing patience and fostering peace and just learning to do what I love and be where I am.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thoughts on social media

This picture is from the plane trip to Washington at Christmas.  The littlest was watching a cartoon here, and this post isn't about children and media - it's about my own issues actually.  I just thought this picture was cute and sort of fit.

I've been sick this past week and haven't been able to do as much as usual, but I've had a lot of time to think.  For two days straight I couldn't do more than sit on the couch and whisper to my girls (lost my voice) if they needed something from me.  The great thing about homeschooling is that even though we didn't get as much done as usual my girls got to learn some independence and my oldest helped get food and other things for her littlest sister.  I want to talk about homeschooling and parenting in another post though.  Right now my thoughts are about Facebook.

I should start this out by saying that these are my own thoughts on how Facebook effects me and how I want to try to improve my use of it.  If none of this is an issue for you than don't worry about it.  I'm never out to try to force change on other people just because I need change in my own life.  We've all got something and I tend to share what my own issues are.  I know people like to appear to do that just so they can point out another persons flaws, but I don't do that intentionally.

My habit on Facebook has been to scroll through the news feed and open up stories in multiple tabs that could be news reports or blog posts or really anything that seems interesting from a friend or from a page that I've "liked" and read them whenever I get around to it.  When I was only able to sit on the couch for a couple days though I did a LOT of reading and some thoughts that I'd started to contemplate in the past began to percolate again.

Facebook used to be (at least when I joined in '08) a closer knit group of friends.  It seemed to be more about sharing about our lives rather than sharing everything else.  This is partly due to how Facebook has changed and what it is now designed to show in the newsfeed.  There are so many causes out there and so much information.  Not all of it is bad, but I've been feeling so "full" for so long with just too much information.  I don't watch the news and we don't have regular TV (just netflix) so I miss out on commercials and many "current" things, but I tend to know what is going around Facebook (at least with my own friends group which isn't super large compared to most.)

Recently I heard a radio program that was talking about relationships and this lady was saying how she was extroverted, but she was spending so much time keeping up with old friends (through Facebook and other places) and current friends that she had no space whatsoever to make new friends.  I've had a few people tell me that I should make more of an effort to make friends here.  We've lived in Dallas for 3.5 years so far and when I look back at what I've done and not done I can't say that I could have done more to try and build friendships (Note: someone with a different personality and energy level might have been able to do more.)  Some people that I started to be friends with decided they didn't want me for a friend and some people just never seemed to have time to get together.  It's admittedly really hard with kids and their sleep schedules and if you add any extra curricular activities that everyone in the big city seems to be swamped with and then add to that a bout of sickness or travel times the actual time available is so little it's difficult to get anything going enough to even know if you'd want to be friends.  And yes, partly my personality doesn't lend itself well to "getting out there" to make friends.  I physically can't handle more than what I'm doing and my goal in our family is so often to make our lives simpler and freer.  We could more easily adjust to get together with someone else if we were ever invited to do so, but doesn't that go back to the trend now?  The majority of people don't have time to make new friends because even if they are extroverted naturally, they are apparently getting everything they need.  Or at least they think so.

So, we all tend to turn to social media.  The wonderful land where no one can hear your voice and know your true meaning or humor.  The place where everyone can dump their interests and sound (whether they mean to or not) like they are bi-polar or unbending and dogmatic about everything they believe or are even vaguely interested in.  That place where your acquaintances think they've gotten to know you and decide they don't want to know you further because they've already grown tired of everything you might have to say.  The place where everyone learns to not agree about disagreeing (that one is perhaps the internet in general, but this is amongst our own "friends" so it's probably worse.)

But isn't it all just an illusion?  Unless you actually start a dialog with someone on some level, there is really no "relationship" or friendship at all, is there?  It's one thing to write back and forth in a private message, but far too often the only time I hear from certain people is only when they comment about something they disagree with about some random thing that I re-posted.  I've tried so many different tactics to make Facebook work better..  I've put my friends in different groups so that the majority of the people that see everything that I post are people that will be able to "agree to disagree" or who will actually be interested in what I might say instead of judging.  I've unfriended people that didn't know me (the ones that I met only once or twice in person for instance) or who I'd found out didn't like me (why would they want to be my friend on Facebook if they didn't care about having a real life friendship?) But so far, nothing that I've tried has helped much with my ultimate goal.  = I want to keep in touch with old friends and keep from getting distracted by all the "noise" that is on there.  It feels like Facebook is now set up to have "spam" almost.  Email was great until everyone started forwarding things and spammers took over, snail mail is fine too, but there's the junk mail to deal with.  There's just so so so much noise and commercials and information and voices pummeling us at every turn.  How can I focus on what's important?

Friendships on Facebook can easily become one sided or superficial and giving us all the illusion that we know each other when we really aren't making an effort to.  Can't interactions on-line turn into a "friendship" like you could have by listening to someone on the radio or watching someone on TV and you think you "know them" but in reality you don't, because you haven't talked to them.  Even if you read or hear everything they put out there you can't know someone unless there's a two way street. Someone reading this blog might think they know me really well since I share so freely, but you only know what you think I mean.  You can't know what I truly think and mean unless you share what you think I mean about something and then I can ask what you think and what you mean and we can then find common ground.  Of course, tone and expressions are lost through this medium as well.

I feel like I've lost the ability to communicate (if I ever had it) because communicating on Facebook is so often sharing information or ideas rather than actually getting to know a person.  And I do see that I might have more energy to put into new friendships if I didn't spend so much energy on Facebook friends... or I should say, on the "news feed" of it all, but more on that later.

BUT what I noticed for a few days this week (when I couldn't get off the couch for being sick) was that I felt so much more tired spending time on Facebook and reading articles and so on than if I'd spent the whole day watching "What not to Wear" (for instance) because I think there were only 2 articles that I'd read all day that were actually encouraging.  I feel like my attention span is growing as short as a child's the more I'm distracted by the "but there could be something great just a little ways down the news feed" feeling.  Everyone talks about "savoring the moment" or being "intentional" yet we have SO many distractions in our lives that I wonder just how that is possible?  There's so much "hurry hurry" out there that it's hard to breathe sometimes. 

With my own children, whenever they want to tell me something I try to help them say everything they want to say.  As in, even if I know what they might be trying to tell me, I wait for them to get it out (hopefully showing them more patience than I feel sometimes), but I don't see that in the world around me.  I don't see people encouraging children to be children.  When we go to the zoo I've even had a few kids latch onto my kids and me as their parent trails behind them talking on the phone.  What a great opportunity for me and my kids to make friends right?  Wrong.  It's really sad, I feel sorry for those kids who are obviously really craving interaction.

I feel stuck in a position where I need and want to make better friends, but I'm in a world that is too busy distracting themselves to be a friend.  So I have this illusion that I'm getting what I need through Facebook, and all it does is alienate some people and cause stress for me which then makes me be less present with the little people that are right around me. I don't think the answer is to delete my Facebook page (I have too many pictures saved on there to want to do that anyway), but the lure of the news feed with everyone's thoughts or causes or interests randomly flashing past me is overwhelming.  I can't give any one of my friends my full attention because there are too many.  Cutting back on who I see in my News feed hasn't helped either (already tried that).

I've been asking myself how I can make Facebook simpler and more personal like I'd like it to be.  I can't catch up with all my friends all at once every day of the week.  I just can't mentally stay in this place any longer, but I want to know what my friends are up to.  So, here's my idea  (Yes, I'm NOT just "nay saying" without any idea of how to improve this!)  I don't know how I want to "schedule" this since I really don't schedule things well, but *what if* instead of having everything on the news feed I simply went to someones profile page every so often to "catch up" with what they are doing and possibly private message them or write on their wall asking how they are or if we could get together or whatever?  What if THAT was the normal way (for me or any of us who are overwhelmed by Facebook) to make it work?  Maybe I shouldn't scroll through the News feed for the pages that I've liked for articles that they might have posted... maybe I should just go to their page when I feel like reading somethings on that subject. 

Some of you might already do this and it might seem like a "duh" moment for you, but hey, we all have our strengths and weaknesses and when I was nursing a baby I got into the habit of getting on a lot more often.  These days I need to change up how I do this so that I have the time I need with a very active 2 year old. 

And, besides those little changes I mentioned in a previous post about journaling and sitting at my desk instead of my computer and writing in a "one line a day" book I'll probably be blogging more often (though hopefully not as late into the night as tonight!) than posting on Facebook as well, but I do want to still keep up with my friends so I just need to adjust how I use it a bit.  I think this "uncluttered" way of going about it will work much better.

If anyone has other ideas of how they've made Facebook work better for them please let me know!  I'm always full of ideas but not in a way that excludes the input of others. :]

A lot to catch up

I usually post some Christmas thoughts and here I am all the way into February and I haven't even done a year end review like I usually do.  I felt more like just enjoying our Christmas this year and not trying to document too much.  It had been so long since I'd gotten to spend a Christmas with my family that I just wanted to soak it all in.  The snow was so much fun that I played in it until I hurt my knee and had to stop crawling around in the snow for a while.  We built a snow fort and made snow balls and "hung" them on the bare maple in my parents yard.  I loved walking up my old hill, and found myself smiling almost constantly (until it got close to when we had to leave again.)  It felt sort of weird to smile so much.  My littlest was a bit afraid of the trees and snow (because it was all different from what she's used to) but she warmed up when I showed her little details. How the snow melts and how it looks up close and how the layers are fun to break up and look through.  We explored and talked and enjoyed the sparkling stars in the chilly air.  I was probably the happiest cold person around those parts.
My little brother (who is now taller than me!) had a snowball maker that made the perfect snowballs.  They looked like Christmas ornaments, so we made a bunch of them and carefully set them on the branches of my Mom's maple.
 I could have reflected more when we got back in January, but it took us a full month to get used to just being home again.  We are living with one car for a while now too so that's a bit different.  My oldest was having such a hard time sleeping and missing family that I actually let her get her own cat.  It's been really fun having a cat that wants to run and play with the girls.  Our old cat (almost 14) hasn't handled the change so well (he's pretty blind now), but we have him in the master bedroom with all his stuff and he seems to be happy and healthy in there and it's working out okay.
Lily with "Fluffy" her new cat the night that we got her.

Simplicity parenting is all about making small changes that make big differences.  We are still making tiny changes and I'm still seeing things getting better, but I feel like there's so much left to change.  I'm not in a place with a back yard and lots of room for my kids to play.  Where we live makes a lot of what I'd like to do difficult, but little changes are possible.

At the moment we are still dealing with how often the kids want to snack and snack and snack. They aren't overeating or eating very unhealthfully, I'm just SO tired of preparing food and cleaning up.  I feel like that's all I ever really do.  As much as I really don't like or work well with schedules I've been trying to come up with a meal plan that works for everyone that will hopefully save us some money (because all the food will be planned well and all eaten and not wasted) and eventually the complaining about what we have to eat (hopefully) will lessen.
Of course it always helps to have the kids join in the meal prep.  Here the 2 year old is making lemonade while wearing her backpack and tutu.. because it's always smart to squeeze lemons when you are prepared for anything.
What people don't know about the harder parts of homeschooling is just how much more housework there is.  How much more cooking and laundry too when you are home so much (I could blame the cooking more on the gluten free issue though than homeschooling.) But I'm enjoying this reflecting time because the pictures that I take - while they might look like the majority of my day - are probably only about 20% of it.  The other 80% is spent cooking and cleaning up and cleaning up and cleaning up.  I'm not sure how I end up cleaning up so much without actually really "cleaning" things, but there you go.  Another small change that I've been trying to make a habit out of is just taking those few minutes to windex the mirror that I haven't cleaned in at least half a year (you think I'm joking, but I'm not!) because it really doesn't take that long!  I've just got to realize that I can't do a big "cleaning day"... it's got to come in tiny amounts... like those tiny bits of dark chocolate that I've been known to snag while I'm cooking dinner.  ;]   Often the small changes will make the biggest difference in the long run.

We've been working on the girls clothes and putting things away in their rooms and taking their dishes to the sink when they are done eating.  All the little things that kids really should learn, but are often not put on a very high priority list.
In January we were mainly just trying to get used to being here again (and adding all those tiny changes in here and there.)  For the first 3 week at least my oldest was waking us up every night with her sleep walking and crying because she was so sad about missing family in Washington.  I didn't do a regular school plan with the girls, but I'm always impressed with how much they are interested in doing when they just see me start something.  They want to join in too!
This day they saw me get excited about what I was knitting and said that they wanted to learn how.  I'd tried teaching them last year and they weren't interested, but this day?  BAM!  They now know how to knit.  :)
 It started because I wanted to get back into the habit of making stuff.  I just need to be creative to feel fulfilled and it's been hard down here to be inspired to do anything when I've so often been sad and lonely.  I decided to just do a garter stitch blanket with all the green yarn I could find in my stash (I did buy a couple balls of green though too) and it was basic enough that I could easily read to the girls while knitting it.  I'm missing it now that it's done and want to start another one with all the other yarn just hanging around our house. 
The new green blanket

 Part of the "little changes" is where I sit when I'm done making breakfast for the girls and cleaning up and I'm usually eating my breakfast at that point.  My habit has been to sit at the bar and read something on my computer which would usually lead me to check something on Facebook.  I like Facebook, but, for me it's just been such a huge distraction.  I think only 20% of what I read (links that people or pages have shared) are helpful or encouraging and the other 80% is just noise.  There's just so much noise in this world and my introverted self needs to find rest.  I have this illusion that I'm less lonely when I get on Facebook, but it's just an illusion and distracts me from the little people right in front of me.  I can imagine that the biggest thing my kids would complain about when they are older is how I was too distracted on my computer too often and how their Daddy was on his phone too much when they just wanted to talk or play with us or have our full attention even for a short time.  So, the "little change" in this area has been that I am trying to make the habit of sitting at my desk instead of at my computer.  Now I can drink my breakfast smoothie while looking at a "to do" list for the day or plans for school or reading an encouraging book.
The littlest one's new favorite past-time = painting with Mommy.  We don't really try to paint anything in particular.. we just fill the pages with color and splotches and shapes.  It's very restful.
 To help me get into the right frame of mind for the days I decided to make a wall hanging above my desk of these "Twelve things every Homeschool Mom needs to remember"  I have never read a list more exactly perfectly appropriate and helpful to right where I am right now than this.  I think I shared a few posts back how insecure I feel about teaching my girls and parenting in general (probably the feelings of a lot a parents), but this was wonderful.  I need to breathe these in every morning.
I haven't tested the limits on how long she will actually sit and paint with me, but we are up to probably 40 minutes of this focus together.  I wonder if she could ever get tired of it.  I will be really happy when she gets to a point were she asks me to read to her or paint with her instead of asking for a tic-tac or a candy of some kind.

End product = really random, but that's totally okay.

Desk area where I am now going to be sitting each morning to avoid the distractions of the internet/facebook news that derails my thought process and usually puts me in a bad mood.
 Another thing I started up again since getting back from Washington for Christmas (besides the knitting) was writing in my old journal again.  Yeah, actually writing by hand instead of typing.  I don't spell as well when I write by hand, but hey.. isn't it better to try and not do something perfectly then to never do something at all?  It feels quieter and reminds me of simpler (less technological times) of when I was younger and thought something "fun" to do was reading in bed with snacks on a tray.  (I was such a wild child.)  ;]

Another little tiny change is partly taking an idea from the "One Thousand Gifts" book, but I'm not counting blessings I'm just writing the best part of each day.  Sometimes the best thing I can say starts with "this day was horrible, but..." the one redeeming thing about it was how sweet my 2 year old was when she gave me lots of kisses, or how the sun shone in the clouds at sunset, or how sweet my husband was to me.  It's hard to remember to write in sometimes, but this will become a habit too.  Just tiny habits to help.  A new place to sit for breakfast and writing in this book and in my journal more often than on Facebook.
As hard as it's been this past year to step back a bit and do more "unschooling" and projects and some free style school, it's been a good thing.  Almost a full year ago my oldest was hating to read and struggling with it.  Each word was laborious for her to sound out.  This last month I started having her practice reading again the book that she read through last year and it was like something clicked in her brain (she's 8 now) and you know what?  Something probably DID click!  That whole right/left brain stuff that I was learning about last year just needed some time.  She was strongly right brain dominant and just needed extra time till she was old enough for the two sides of her brain to start working together.  I'm glad I didn't keep pushing last year and this year while I'm wanting to have her practice regularly reading out loud more, I'm going to play down the spelling and handwriting.  I know she CAN do those things, but I also learned that she needs to learn reading and spelling at separate times.  She needs a lot of the whole picture before we need to (or should) get to the little details of spelling and grammar and so on.
Playing with play dough is always fun
I'm not sure if I hit on everything to "catch up" the blog on, but to sum up this last year and my thoughts for the new one -- I feel like I'm focusing more on trying to make habits for myself instead of trying to change my girls or where we are.  I'm accepting my loneliness and instead of running away from it, I'm sitting here in it.  I'm looking at my girls and where we are and focusing on how I can be myself through all of this.

My "New year's motto" is Life is hard: Do what you truly want to do anyway.

Because it is hard... there's always going to be something that doesn't make everything work easily.  We could compare with each other as to who's life is harder, but that would totally NOT work because we all have different capacities and personalities that make each bit harder or easier for all of us, but the point is that everyone has something.  This isn't heaven, but what can we do?  What do you WANT to do... truly?  I want to draw for fun and play music just for fun and create whatever I feel like "just because I want to"... I want to play games with my girls and hug my littlest and pet my old cat.  I want to sing again and not worry about who can hear me.  I want to do our eclectic literary projecty school with my girls even when the house is a mess or the littlest is have behavioral issues.  I don't want the hard stuff to stop me anymore, it too often has. 

What do you truly want to do?  Your life is probably hard and it's probably not easy to make those things happen, but some how... some way, we've got to learn how to make those deep desires happen.