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.

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