Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Permissions

I don't know about you, but we're five days into December and I already feel like Christmas is a bust. I had all these great plans. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day, learn about Hannukah, make home made gifts, lots of service projects and cookies and caroling. All those things that Christmas is supposed to have, right?

Well, life happened. We came home from Thanksgiving with terrible head colds/sinus infections. Rob puked for two days straight, we spent eight hours in two different ER's, the closing date on our house got pushed back to the 20th, we haven't packed a single box, my baby is in the "Christmas trees are toys" stage, etc, etc.

Sound familiar? Last year it was a new baby and a tonsillectomy. For you it may be financial strain, a family crisis, whatever it is you still want Christmas to be that wonderful magical season, but how are you going to pull that off? And more importantly, how will you avoid that feel of guilt or shame for not doing/being/baking enough?

Well, I'll tell you. No, no, I'll give you permission.

I give you permissions to take care of gift purchases online. Forget shopping local. Amazon is your friend.

I give you permission to buy one or two presents for your kids. I also give you permission to buy low-quality, non-eco-friendly, will probably break next week presents.

I give you permission to write a thank you note to someone and call it your Christmas service/Charity.

I give you permission to sing Christmas songs wherever you are and call it caroling.

I give you permission to NOT DO neighbor gifts.

I give you permission to NOT GO to that party.

I give you permission snuggle on the couch and watch Christmas movies all day without worrying about screen time.

I give you permission to bake cookies with the kids. Using premade, store bought dough.

I give you permission to have pleasant family meals, courtesy of the freezer section.

I give you permission to make your house feel Christmasy...with a cheap, vinyl tablecloth, a fake tree, and a few strands of lights. No ornament making, no stomping around the wilderness and cutting your own tree, no clearing off every shelf of your house to make room for the myriads of Christmas decorations. Put on a Pandora station. It's beginning to look a lot Christmas in here.

Just remember. You don't HAVE TO go. You don't HAVE TO buy. You don't HAVE TO make. You don't HAVE TO do anything that will make you feel more stressed, more strung out, more cranky, frustrated, anxious.

And most importantly, you don't have to feel guilty about it, either.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Adding reverence to your day

Reverence isn't exactly at the top of the list of things we feel like we can bring to our young children. Usually, between all the fighting, whining, spilling, crying, boo-boos, falls, and everything, reverence is the farthest thing from our minds.

But it doesn't mean we don't crave it. And as I've learned recently, those loud, energetic munchkins appreciate it too. In small doses of course. I've made a few changes to our rhythm lately to increase opportunities for reverence and have been amazed at the results.

1. Wake up early. I'm not a morning person. I'd much rather stay up late, so this has been a sacrifice for me. But having my own, personal time of reverence in the morning makes me much more able to bring that calm spirit to my children during the day. You can not give water from a dry well.

2. Light a candle. I know some families who light a candle for morning circle. Others at mealtime. We just began last week lighting one at bedtime. We sing a short song, light the candle and then I sit outside the bedrooms to watch as the kids listen to an audio story and blow the candle out when they're ready.

I can't even begin to tell you how my children have taken to this new tradition. The very first night I lit the candle, Jane stood in front of it and sang improvised songs. Without me telling her the candle was of any spiritual significance (I just thought it would be calming) she just started pouring out her heart in beautiful songs of faith.

The candle is a tradition that won't be going away soon.

3. Mark routine moments of your day with a song or verse. We already sing working songs when we do morning chores, and circle songs. Now we have a night time songs. These are fabulous for transitions and they really work to calm my kids. But I decided to add a new song to a special time today. When Max joins me in the early morning and we watch the sunrise together. We've been doing this for a couple weeks now. Usually I just comment on the colors or thank Max for waking up the sun. But today I held him on my lap and sang, "Here Comes the Sun," just as those rays of light really came into view.

Not necessarily a song you might pair with the idea of reverence. And really, just a small thing. I didn't even know if Max cared that much that I tried to add that special moment with him. But tonight as he said his prayers he thanked Heavenly Father for "the wonderful sunrise."

Mamas. Life can get hectic and busy. But reverence, I'm learning, is found in the moments. With only a few small tweaks here and there, I hope
you can find some places for it in your life as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What We've Been Up To: Homeschool Edition

Oh my. We have been busy. Between getting into Pitch Wars and finishing final edits on my novel. And teaching a dissection class (did I mention being a chemist? EEK!) and looking for a house, and school and life in general. We've just been busy.

But for the most part, life at home keeps it's same, slow feel. Which I love.

I thought I'd just share what our days look like and give a brief view of our schooling. It's changed over the last month or so, since realizing I'd strayed from my own philosophy and vision to try and fit a more traditional structure.

These days I wake up early. Between 6 and 6:20 most days. It's rough, but it's worth it to get my day started right. I read scriptures, pray, check e-mail, read lesson plans.

And then Max joins me. He has to wake up the sun, you know.

Then it's breakfast, a walk, and morning work. Play outside, and at 10 we do circle time.

Circle time consists of seasonal songs and verses, a possible extra song or verse on a topic of my choosing, calendar time, and sign language time. All in all, less than ten minutes.

Then it's snack time and I tell the story for the week. After that we do our activity for the day.

Monday: paint
Tuesday: games
Wednesday: bake
Thursday: n/a
Friday: beeswax modeling

Twice a week I throw in a drawing lesson and a math lesson. Then we play until lunch. Read stories, and have quiet time. Quiet time is occasionally a movie. But it's usually handwork while listening to audio stories. (Jane is working on her alphabet quilt squares and Max is sanding wood blocks. He'll make his quilt next year.)  Sometimes ABCmouse comes next. Then play until dinner. Clean up. Bath. And bed by 7.

Before going to sleep, the kids get to listen to another audio story. These have been a huge hit! The kids love the stories, and because all stories boost literacy, not just the kind with a book in front of you, especially for children this age, it basically adds an additional 40 minutes of reading time to our day. As the children age we'll transition to audio books.

Thursdays are our busy days. I teach my dissection class and Jane goes to a leadership class and a science class. Friday is PE. Jane and Max play sports for an hour and then at the park with other homeschool families. Every other week is legos in the evening.

Here's the materials we use.

Curriculum for circle time and weekly story and recipes/activities: Waldorf Essentials.
Audio stories: Sparkle Stories.
Drawing Lessons: Draw. Write. Now.
Math: Right Start Math (manipulatives and hands on abacus math)

Life is good!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

For the Pain

In the last year I've witnessed more pain and heartache than the 26 years before it combined. At least, I've become much more aware of it. Much more a witness to other people's pain, including the grief in my own immediate family.

I've watched dear friends and family lose precious babies.
I've experienced sudden loss and watched my husband and his family work through their grief.
I've witnessed loneliness, sickness, mental illness, troubled children, loss of faith.

It seems like too much. Too much hurt and loss. Too much betrayal.

Last year I found myself silently berating God. "How could YOU do this? How could YOU take away this sweet child? How could YOU allow them to suffer like this?"

And then, dear friends, a voice whispered in my heart. Not my own voice, it was almost as if I could hear it. It felt so real and so outside of myself.

Maybe you're looking at it wrong.

And that's when I changed.

Don't misunderstand me. Pain still hurts. It still feels unbearable. My heart still is weighed down by the heartache of my loved ones, and those that I don't even know personally. There still are and will be tears, a feeling of emptiness, a hurt that never fully goes away.

But for me, it's not for nothing anymore. I've realized more clearly in the last year that pain and loss is universal to the human experience. Nobody gets out of this life without it. Some people seem to get more than their fair share. Others put up a picture of perfection. But it's there. Underneath it all, we will all experience loneliness, betrayal, loss, a broken heart. We will all have to say goodbye before we're ready.

And it's awful. But it connects us. I've never experienced more love than after my father-in-law passed away in May. The loss brought us all together. Our hearts were broken, but they were knit together in common grief. And when those around us hurt, don't we all instinctively reach out? Try to lift that burden? Even if all we can do is say, "I'm so sorry."

This pain can tear us apart, but it can also bring us closer together. Shared heartache, collective mourning, united healing.

Back in Omaha I visited with a frail, old woman who told me of a book she read in which a person had a near-death experience/vision. In this vision, the person was shown a homeless drunk passed out in the street and was asked, "What do you see?"

She replied, "I see a homeless drunk."

The angel told her that this person agreed to come to earth and go through this so that the people around him would have the opportunity to serve and learn compassion.

A much younger me thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard.

And now...I don't know. Without suffering, how would we learn compassion? How would we know the thrill of love without the pain of loss?

I have not lost a child, but I mourn with my loved ones who have. I cry today for two beautiful baby girls gone much too soon. But through the tears, I feel my heart opening. A string, a connection to their mothers is welded. I can not take away the pain. But I can remember with them. I can hold my own children closer today and love them too much. I can let my love and grief overflow in good deeds for others.

It doesn't make it better, but at least it doesn't seem in vain.

So to my friends and family who are grieving, you all know who you are, I see you. I remember. I love you. I hurt with you. And though I wish it hadn't happened, I am trying to allow it to change me and improve me. Unite us and bind us.

We are all fellow travelers along this road.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Written By Mom

    Today I opened my mailbox and found two contributor copies of next month's Highlight's Magazine for Children. The article I put so much time and work into two years ago is finally in print. I brought it inside and told the kids what it was. Jane wanted me to read it to her. So I did. Then, of course, I took some pictures to commemorate the occasion and put them up on facebook. It's not real until then, right?

    I got lots of great responses, congratulations, I'm so proud of you, that's so cool. And my favorite from my grandma, "I am so proud to be the grandmother of a published author."

    Published Author. Those words feel really good. They sound really good. You know what? They sound impressive. Published Author. Say it with a british accent. It's even better.

   But you know what? After a few minutes of celebration, I fed my children lunch. And at the table, Jane and Max were full of questions about suns, stars, and planets. So we retreated to the computer to look at pictures of Outer Space. We talked about the Milky Way. And which stars are bigger than our sun? Can we see them at night time? When will our sun run out? Will it get big and red? Why on earth did they name a star Betelgeuse? What's a black hole? Could one suck up our sun? How do stars die? Do they kill each other?

   And in that moment, I did something even more important than getting published. I was a mother. I was a teacher. I loved someone with every fiber of my being and held them close and shared with them a passion. I took a question and replaced it with wonder and awe and understanding. I helped little human beings grow just a little closer to being adults with reverence and knowledge.

  The truth is, a lot of people will see my name by that article. Very few people will know about what I did after writing it, before writing it, inbetween revisions, on the way to the post office to mail it, during the long months of waiting.

   I was a mother. I am a mother.

   Today I felt successful. And it felt good. It always feels good to put your heart into something and have someone tell you it is good. Heck, to pay you for it!

   The world puts little real stock in motherhood and what I do day in and day out. But I want you to know that I know it's important. It's most important. I love what I do. I chose it over many other good options. I was "successful" before today because I have invested in the people around me, friends and family. I put my heart out there every day. I strive to make my home an emotional safe haven. I love my children, and worry about them, and care for them, and teach them. I work and improve and evaluate and try again. I forgive and offer grace to myself and to others.

    And that alone makes me successful.

   I don't need a tag line for that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Verses for chores and transitions

I've been having a bit of a hard time getting Max to follow instruction the last week. However, I dove back in to some of the Waldorf parenting and education stuff that I love so much and refreshed my memory on some good techniques. One of these is easing transition times through song. A lot of what I saw as failing to follow instructions was partially just not wanting to transition from playing to whatever else. But in the last two days when I've begun transitions with singing, things have been so much smoother. Max stops what he's doing and comes out smiling and knows what is coming. Sometimes he still takes a bit of prodding, but it is much more peaceful than before. The singing probably helps me be more patient as well.

I think the other secret to this change in our household dynamics is that I've made sure to do everything with him. Instead of just telling him to clean up the toys, I sing the verse and begin to do it and have him help me. This is much better than telling him and telling him and then finally shouting "PICK UP YOUR TOYS!" He's still only four after all. This also applies to transitioning to outside playtime. The kids are much easier to get out the door when I'm heading that way too. I've been reminded how important modeling is with young children, and let's be honest, it's hard to get angry at someone singing and smiling and inviting you to join them.

So here are some verses I've made up and started using for different parts of our day. You can make up your own tune. I have mine that I use (although some I'm still toying with). If you're really stuck on tunes, let me know, and I'll post a video.

For making beds
(I've found that somewhere around 4-5 children are able to start making their bed themselves. It isn't super pretty, but it's made. Until that age, make it with them. Right now I'm able to make my bed and Jane and Max each make their bed.)

To keep a tidy house,
We all must make our beds.
So smooth the covers out.
Tonight we'll rest our heads

For putting laundry in the hamper

Toss in the shirts.
Toss in the skirts.
Toss in the dirty pants.
Get them off the floor
So we can wash
And wear once more.

For setting the table
(You get the kids knowing this one well enough and you can sing Do you smell the food? and they'll reply Mmm, it smells so good! It's like instant  compliments whenever you want!)

Do you smell the food?
Mmm, it smells so good!
Let's get the table set,
and we'll be eating yet!

To Go Outside
This one can be easily revised to reflect the weather. Don't be afraid to do so. (Or to go outside in all kinds of weather!)

The sun is shining,
Grass is green,
So come outside with me.

Bathtime To the tune of "Let's Go Fly a Kite"

Let's go take a bath,
Oh how we'll splish and splash
Let's go take a bath,
And then start snoring.
Up where the water's clear,
We know that bedtime's here.
Oh, let's go take a bath!

Post-Bath baby Song 
Okay, I don't know how well this will work for anyone else. You can try it with your baby's name. My baby is so wiggly now that singing a song and playing games are the only way to keep him still enough for diaper and dressing.

Oh my baby, Tommy-tum,
Let's put a diaper on your bum,
Then we'll give you pj's too,
And say goodnight to you!

Monday, July 14, 2014

G week

G week was super fun! Even though, I probably won't have much to put here.

We learned our g signs, and continued memorizing our poem. We located Greenland on a map. We made geoboards and the kids played with them for hours every day. Jane finished her letter g quilt square. I need to come up with a new stitich for her to master. I think this week I'm going to show her how to do a lazy daisy.

We studied "Boy with a House of Cards." Practiced writing the letter g. Had a drawing and writing lesson everyday. Did 2-5 pages of math every day. We continued to learn about flowers and gardens. We tried to have garden olympics, but my plaster of paris didn't work out. We'll try again this upcoming week, but maybe with a different event not involving plaster of paris.

We've stopped planting flowers for each letter until the fall. There's no good place in our new house to really grow them. They get enough sun to sprout, but not enough to get strong and grow leaves. But when we move them outside, they burn up. So we need a little bit more forgiving temperatures first.

Jane added another page to her alphabet book. The letter b. She drew a book, banana, etc.

We made clay G's and baked them.

Other than that, we really just did a lot of reading. Jane is starting to really enjoy longer books and stories.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

F Week

F was for France, folding, fables, and flowers

F week was super fun and productive. Like always, we had circle time every day.

Scripture Story: Lehi's Family
Picture Study: Roman Girl at a Fountain
Poem: Farewell by Charles Kingsley first verse
Country: France
Song: You're a Grand Old Flag
F Signs

We did math in our workbooks every day. Jane worked on her quilt square.
She also started making her own alphabet book. Her page this week was the letter A.
We made modeling clay and formed upper and lower case letters A-F and baked them. We'll paint them this next week and add G.
We played "Roll a Flower" and talked about the different parts of a flower and what they do, including pollinators.
We read Madeline several times and matched the illustrations of the sites in France to pictures of the real thing and learned their names.
We learned how to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in french.
We learned origami (folding). Origami whale and crown.
Handwriting practice
We learned about fables and read 3 or 4. It was fun to talk about the "lesson" afterward and hear what the kids thought the lesson was.
Finished reading Magic Tree House #4

Signs for G Week

garbage can
get dressed
get up

Monday, June 30, 2014

Modeling Lifelong Learning

The credit union we use has a really neat statue in the entrance. I wish I had a picture of it. It's a mother and her two children all holding hands and wearing caps and gowns like they are all graduating. I love it. It seems to sum up so much of how I feel right now as I embark on this homeschooling journey.

As I teach my children, I learn so much myself. Not just facts that I pass on to the kids, but about child development, learning styles, educational philosophies, etc. It's wonderful to be a budding scholar alongside my children. It has reminded me of the important habit of modeling.

We all want to pass certain things on to our children. We talk about instilling a passion for reading, a lifelong love of learning, healthy habits, creativity, imagination, etc. We discuss endlessly how best to do it, but frankly, the best way to raise happy, healthy, creative, thriving adults is to be one yourself.

Children will desire and do what they see their parents doing. That's why there is study after study about how children need to see their parents (both parents!) reading for enjoyment in order for them to more readily do the same. A recent study basically said that boys don't read because they don't see their dads reading.

I want children who are knowledgable in their head, heart, and hands. But am I modeling that for them? Do I create throughout my day? Do I read and learn more every day? Do I actively try to listen and empathize with those around me? These are all things we can do more of each day. A fulfilling life does not stagnate. A whole-hearted person continues to learn and grow and try new things. You've never "done it all."

Maybe it's time to start learning again. College may be over, but you can still be a scholar! Here's some ideas to get you started.

Read, read, read (obviously)
Decide to learn something, anything and then do it. Really dive in. Maybe it's photography, politics, soccer, etc. If you let passion drive you, you won't get bored.
Learn a new language! I've been using duolingo. It's a website and an app. I love it! I do a little bit every day and I'm definitely learning spanish! If we're facebook friends, you should join and add me for some healthy competition!

Maybe you need to improve in the heart category. For this one I can't recommend Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly" enough. But here are some other ideas.

Get outside and enjoy the perfection and beauty of it.
Get into a spiritual groove. Even if you don't have a specified religion. Find faith in something and nurture it.
Set out on a journey to discover your purpose and follow it.
Unplug and talk with the people in your life.
Serve your fellow men.

What about your hands? Are you learning to create with them? This encompasses so much. Cooking, gardening, music, art, crafts, dance, building, repairing, the list could go on and on. Working with your hands nourishes the soul. Don't stop at what you already know how to do, try something else. The internet is abounding with tutorials, you can literally learn how to do anything you want (although mastering it is never a guarantee.) Let your kids see you develop talents old and new. Try and fail and try again. And you will fail. Make no doubt about it. But don't let that scare you!

My tips for this are start small. So you want to get better at photography? Don't go out and buy a huge expensive camera just yet. Learn all you can with what you have or the cheaper options and then move up when you've reached your limitations. The same goes for most endeavors. Learning to sew? Start on a basic machine. Garden? A small plot or a few pots will keep you plenty busy.

Be artistic even if you aren't "good." There is something healing in art, whether it's music, writing, painting, dancing. Whatever it is that fills your soul, do it, and then try something new. You may surprise yourself!

To me, living a "wholehearted" or soul-filling life requires a constant desire and effort to progress in all three of these areas. What have you done today? Did it fill your soul? Did you learn something new? What are your actions communicating to your children about what it means to be an adult?

I know I wrote this blog post like I was telling you to get to work, but really this is for me. These are the thoughts in my head. The things I keep reminding myself. Head, heart, hands. Head, heart, hands.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

D and E Weeks

After finishing up the last two weeks, I've decided to spend one more week with D and E. Not because we're struggling with them, but because I want to dive a little bit more into a couple subjects. So this next week we'll be learning a fun summer song, a nursery rhyme, and fairy tale story in circle time. We'll also review our D and E signs, and probably learn a few more.

Homeschooling gives me the flexibility to linger, and I think we'd be better served by diving in a little more and then getting to F is for Fireworks the week of July 4th. So this upcoming week we'll learn more about ducks and eggs and do a couple electricity experiments and drawing lessons. We're also going to set up a number line on the wall. Should be fun!

D Week: *video of signs coming soon*

We learned a lot about dirt this week. We read a book about dirt. Got a cup of dirt and "dissected" it to see what was in the soil in our back yard. (A lot of pieces of wood and clay). We also did this experiment where we let our soil separate in water to see the different layers. We learned our soil is mostly sand, with a tiny layer of silt, and a good portion of flecks of clay, and quite a bit of humus. We talked a lot about decomposition to make dirt. That weekend we went on a five mile hike and pointed out all the examples of decomposition we could find.

We planted Daisies.
And beans.
We talked about weeds and what they are, where they come from, and went into the garden to pull some.
We read a bit about ducks, but not as much as I'd like, thus our upcoming extra week.
We studies Degas' "Ballet Rehearsal On Stage" and painted our own pictures inspired by his work.
Handwriting practice.
Letter D quilt square using a basic runner stitch.
4 pages of math in our workbook.
Lots of picture books (on log)
Wet on wet watercolor painting mixing blue and yellow.

E Week  *video of signs coming soon*

E is for Egypt. We read the third Magic Tree House. Mummies in the Morning. Then we watched a couple short vidos on how mummies were made, who was mummified, and where they were buried. After that we got to become mummies by getting wrapped in toilet paper. Jane thought it was interesting that the way mummies were wrapped, they wouldn't actually be able to walk around. They'd have to hop. I think she found it comforting in a way.

Planted echinacea.
Located Egypt on a map. (We now know Egypt,

California, Russia, China, Iceland, and Spain)
Learned about the equator as well as the direction "East." Lots of map time this week.
8 pages in our math workbook.
Learned the chain stitch and used it for E quilt square.
Picture books on log.
Handwriting practice.
Studied Brian Connelly's "Brown and White Eggs." Will do artwork based on it this upcoming week.
Wet on wet watercolor painting mixing red and yellow.
Practiced telling "O'clock" times.
Learned how to make deviled eggs. Will add it to Jane's cookbook this week.

That's all I can remember at the moment. Our days feel very rich, and yet unrushed. We are learning so, so much. Jane is sounding out words and writing her own birthday cards. Right now she's writing a book for Max ("With seven pages!" she'll say.) She sounds out and writes as much as she can until she gets tired and then I do the rest. We're still working on getting all her letters facing the right way. It'll come.

She is always creating something, growing something, singing something. It's wonderful. We also started taking them to do some swimming lessons 3-4 times per week. Jane can now doggie paddle enough to get to the side of the pool which is such a relief for me.

My goal of 2 hours outside playtime has been reached every single day the past two weeks, especially with the pool time. It's effect on Max's behavior is amazing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Interior Design for Moms

I love the idea of setting my house up Montessori style. I'm no expert, but I've read a few articles with ideas and decided to take it on. The basic idea is to make your home child friendly.

Think about your house. Where is the clock?

At adult eye-level probably.

Where are the towel hooks?

At adult arm's reach probably.

Where are the plates and cups and bowls?

Out of reach of children.

Just like the snacks and drinks.

What does this mean for kids and moms? Well, it means kids don't get the opportunity to walk past a clock and really look at it. Watch the hands move. Ask what it means, and get interested in telling time.

It means that instead of the kids putting away their own towel, or cup, or snacks, that mom has to do it. It's totally anti-independence! *As a note, if you have a snacker, like me, I totally understand having to be very intentional about what you keep low where kids can find it.**

But, it was with these thoughts in mind that I began unpacking in our new house.

I had the world map in our last my eye level. I bought it for the kids, right? So why did I have it up where only I could study it?

I put the wall clock low. Right where the kids can see it. Tommy loves banging on the map, by the way. It's definitely making him a genius. I know it.

I also put all the small plates, cups, and bowls in a low cupboard. I always tell the kids to set the table, but then I have to pull out all the dishes. It's little help to me if I have to do half the work. This way, the kids can do it all, including the counting, by themselves. They can also retrieve their own glass of water. Can I tell you how nice it is to not have to be constantly getting someone water? It's amazing!!!!!

So, if you want to foster independence, spark curiosity, or just plan, flat make your life easier. Consider this, put things on your kid's level.

(I kept the calendar high, because otherwise the kids throw the pieces all over. But I put our bird poster low in case we see any in our backyard. We don't have a cat anymore so maybe they'll come back.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gentle Kindergarten - The first few weeks

Well, Kindergarten definitely didn't start off the way I'd planned. Between finding out we had to move at the end of the month and our family crisis, I'm amazed we did any school at all. But we did, and even though we missed a few weeks, and we're splitting up one week into two, things have been going really well.

I guess I should begin be explaining a few things. Yes, we are starting Kindergarten now and going through the summer. We're doing this for a few reasons.

1. While there is a bit more formal structure to our "school days," we try to live in a relaxed, unschooling fashion all the time. This means that we read every day, we have a map on our walls where we're always finding different countries and states that we talk about. We go outside, identify things in nature, do lots of art, and follow our children's questions wherever they lead us. This alone covers a lot of information if Rob and I are tuned in and willing to make the most of our time with the kids instead of just plopping in front of a screen. So really, we're always homeschooling, summer or no.

2. Summers here in Central CA are boiling hot! Unless you're in a pool you can't go outside between 10 and 5. It gets well into the high 90's and low 100's. The rest of the year is beautiful and we WANT to be outside. But not really during the summer. So might as well do school now when we're hanging out in the AC.

3. Rob's schedule gives him a four day weekend every month. If we do school through the summer, we can take fun vacation time in September and February when everything is less crowded. The more I do now, the more we can slow down and enjoy Christmas, last-minute vacations, or those weeks when life gets unexpectedly crazy.

So anyways, there's my thought process with starting school in the summer.

We're doing a really gentle Kindergarten. I'm not pushing reading at all. When Jane is a full six we'll focus on it more, but I'm a firm believer in more delayed academics instead of banging my head against the wall before a child is ready.

Instead of formal reading instruction, Jane does 20 minutes a day of a computer program called "Earobics." It was created for children with auditory processing disorders (which Jane has very mildly) but is now also used for kids who need help with reading. I think it's a great introduction to training a child's brain to listen to the breakdown of words in such a way that lays a great foundation for reading.

I'm basing the rest of our Kindergarten loosely off of the plans found here. I say loosely, because the fairy story isn't really my style, and I've added in my own things. Like this lesson plan, each week we focus on a letter. We use her book suggestions and go over the scripture story and piece of art she includes for each. Jane also handsews that weeks letter into a square of fabric to make into a quilt later.

We do circle time every day. During circle time we take a look at the work of art and talk about it. We listen to/read/retell the scripture story. We also recite our poem for the month. The poem I chose for the first four weeks is Longfellow's "Arrow and the Song," which the kids are really close to having memorized. We'll also sing any songs that seem fun. For B week we learned "America the Beautiful."

I print off and hang up the Vocab words for each letter from here. We're learning the signs for the words, and Jane is really picking up on that. She loves to "speak" sign language.

Other things we try to do every week.

Decorate a pot and plant a flower that begins with the week's letter.

Practice writing the letter with a couple worksheets.

Read lots of picture books, some with that week's letter in the title, others around the science theme for the week. We also read in our chapter book. Right now it's "The House at Pooh Corner," although we just finished the second "Magic Treehouse" book.

Read a story or poem from "The Children's Book of America" and either talk about it all week or sing/say it all week.

Measure the bean plants in our garden and write down how tall they are.

Draw/paint a picture similar to the one we're studying.

Tuesday "tea time." We eat a snack that begins with our letter, practice our manners, and play chess.

Do other little crafts of activities either suggested or that I come up with myself. Jane is in the process of tying a babydoll quilt (so hard but so good for her finger dexterity). We've tried to birdwatch by putting out seed, but I think word of our cat has got around because none have come by, so that was a bust.

Learn a new, easy recipe and have Jane add it to her cook book. She writes out the ingredient and decorates the page, then dictates to me the instructions.

Some ABCmouse time if desired.

We've really been shooting for 2 hours of outside playtime, which we were doing well with before we hit crisis-mode. Now it's patchy, but after the move we'll get back on track with that. It'll just have to be in early morning or late afternoon.

That's really it. It usually takes up maybe 1- 2 hours of our day. The rest of the day Jane can play, do all the art projects she wants, etc. Even without pushing reading, she's started sounding out and spelling easy CVC words. It's so fun to see her learn and enjoy learning. Can't wait to share more of our progress in a few weeks. I've included the video "evidence" of the signs she's learned so I can show this to my ES for the charter school we're working through.

**If you're wondering about math, I'm waiting until September to start with it. Real life and calendar time offers all we need right now. But in September I plan on purchasing "Right Start Math," through the charter school, and beginning more formal math instruction then. I'll also be adding in more formal Social Studies then, too, through a sort of co-op I have planned.**

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Top Ten Best Things About Camping in Grandma's Back Yard

10.  The entrance fee is very reasonable.

9. You can make last-minute reservations...even on Memorial Day Weekend.

8.  There's always lots of help setting up camp.

7.   The wildlife is very friendly.

6.  Nicest camping bathroom ever.

5.  Great amenities.

4. You can still order pizza.

3.  Nice, soft terrain.

2.   The only rain you REALLY worry about are the sprinklers.

1.  You don't have to miss the Giant's game.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Signs for C Week

Candy Cane

Preschool/Kindergarten Music Appreciation: D is for Decrescendo

Sing Your Gathering Song

Introduce the New Word: The new words for today are Decrescendo and Crescendo. These words have to do with the volume, or dynamics, of a piece of music. 

Crescendo - Gradually get louder
Decrescendo - Gradually get softer

Here are the flash cards.

Activity: Make "rolling thunder." Sit on hard tile, or put a book or other hard object in front of the children (this works best with a few kids and adults.) Have everyone start slapping the floor with their palms, not in unison, just quickly. Shout "Crescendo!" and have everyone get louder and louder. Once you hit the peak, immediately yell "Decrescendo!" and have everyone get softer and softer. Do this over and over to create the illusion of rolling thunder.

Learn the New Song: There are two choices for the song this week. The first is Danny Boy. This beautiful Irish tune (Londonderry Air) is often thought to be a father singing to his son going of to war in the Irish Diaspora. Listen to it here.

Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side,
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow,
And I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy, I love you so!
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
Ye'll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me;
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!

The other option is "Drunken Sailor." This song was sung by members of the royal navy while doing their chores. Verses were added until the work was through. Early is pronounced, "ear-lie." Listen to it here.
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
Early in the morning

Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Early in the morning

Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Early in the morning

Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Early in the morning

Put him in the brig untill he's sober
Put him in the brig untill he's sober
Put him in the brig untill he's sober
Early in the morning

Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Early in the morning

Sing the song through a couple times, being sure to incorporate crescendos and decrescendos!

Introduce the Composer: Claude Debussy was a french composer and one of the most prominent figures of Impressionist music. Probably his most famous piece is "Clair de Lune," which is french for moonlight. 

Have the children listen to this beautiful song, it is only five minutes. Tell them it is about moonlight. When do we see the moon? Have them act out the sort of things we do or the sort of animals awake when the moon is shining.

Sing Requests

*Note* I'm sorry I'm so late getting this one up. This month has been hard and crazy. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thoughts from the last week

Grieving as a family is hard. Everyone is on their own timetable in the process. Someone has hit anger, others are at numbness and exhaustion, some depression. Sometimes you really get lucky and everyone hits anger together (not great). Some people want to separate, others always someone around. Some want to "do something" and others want to melt into the couch. You all want talk about it, you don't want to talk about it. One wants the visitors to leave, one wants them to keep coming.

Grieving without family is harder. Nobody else understands the way they do. They understand the jokes, the memories, they're okay talk about it over and over. You're all crazy together, and sad together, and hopeful together.

People are wonderful. They want to help. We have had more evidence of this in the last ten days than I've ever seen. I can't tell you how touching it was to see a line of cars pull up outside my mother-in-law's house and so many people unload with lawn mowers, rakes, shovels, mulch, etc.

People are callous. Most people when they found out were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate us. But our landlords decided to visit us the day of the graveside unannounced, inform us that they are hiking the rent and have a friend willing to pay and want to know if we'll renew the contract at the new rent. Our request for 48 hours to consider was flatly denied, even with our circumstances.

Our life the last ten days has been a roller coaster. We bought into the practice, Rob's dad died, we felt the love of so many, we found out we have to move at the end of the month, Rob's birthday, Mother's Day, family, friends, love, and heartache.

So much of life in such a short amount of time.

We're exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. I just want to shut off my mind and have time stop.

We're energized. Life is short, and it's precious. It's too short for anger and grudges. For time wasted doing stupid stuff on the internet of watching TV shows you don't really care about. We're reminded of what matters and what doesn't

Because time doesn't stop. Life does go on. Everything is different now and yet the world is still the same.

Signs for B Week


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Eternal Beginnings

Death doesn't wait. It doesn't wait for you to have the laundry folded, or the kids well-rested. It doesn't wait for you to say good-bye. It doesn't wait for all the weddings or until the grandkids are grown.

It comes anyway.

People descend upon death like...something. My writing mind can't think of at the moment. But regardless of what of the metaphor is, they come. Dropping everything and coming right away. They bring food to feed an army and rags and brooms. Because what else can they do when there's nothing you can do.

And in that moment, even when nobody thinks they'll ever eat again, is the first gentle reminder that life goes on.

They each come and hug you and ask "Are you okay?"

As my brother-in-law said yesterday, "No. I am not okay." We are NOT OKAY.

But as my mother-in-law later said, "But we will be."

I woke up at 5:30 this morning with a phrase from Elder Uchtdorf running through my head.

 How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings.

That gratitude, even through all the sorrow ran throughout the evening yesterday. How grateful we are for the priesthood blessings, for the unexpectedness of moving out here and unknowingly getting one last year to really spend time with Steve, the blessing that Mike is not on his mission yet, but Steve got to know that his papers were in.

We are grateful for the knowledge that families are eternal. But that doesn't make it hurt any less. It doesn't end the shock.

But, somehow, through it all there has been peace. The cousins all played wonderfully together. A beautiful reminder of the legacy of a great man.

Please pray for us. Please pray for my sweet husband and his family.

We are not okay.

But we will be.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Six Things to Let Go to Encourage Creativity

Maybe it's the thought of beginning Jane's Kindergarten next week and all my hopes and dreams for her education. Or, maybe it's FROZEN and being unable to escape the soundtrack. But I've been thinking lately about creativity and what nurturing it in our children requires. I've decided it mostly requires us to let go of a few things.

1. LET GO OF FINISHED PRODUCTS. If you are giving your child an art project that is supposed to have a specific finished product at the end, it is not an art project, it is a craft. Don't get me wrong, crafts are fun and they're good for teaching children to follow instructions and build fine motor skills and they're good for creativity. But it's like the debate between organized sports and free play. Anything that flows straight from the child is better for creativity. You can still do crafts and specific art projects with your children, but make sure you also allow them the freedom to create their own art. The division should be at least 50/50, if not higher in free-art's favor.

This pillow was so good for Jane. It was creative. But she needs opportunities to create without me giving all the instructions.

2. LET GO OF PERFECTLY CLEAN. Face it. Creativity is messy. You've got to pull out the materials and work with them and mix them. Leave it out. Come back to it. Expect your children to help clean up their mess, but don't flit around them trying to clean up as they go. Your nervousness will rub off and take all the fun away. I can't tell you how many times my table has gone a whole day covered in crayons and paint and paper scraps, to be cleaned that night, and messed up again the next day. Give your kids a creative space and be okay with the mess there.

3. LET GO OF DISORDERED MATERIALS. I know, I know. This seems like a contradiction of number two, but it's not. I've noticed that when the art supply cabinet gets messy and disordered, with everything thrown in haphazardly, the creativity in my house goes way down. Why? Because nobody can find what they need! And if it is too hard to pull out the materials, creativity won't happen. Which leads me to...

4. LET GO OF BEING THE SOLE ARBITER OF CREATIVE SUPPLIES. Sure, one of your kids thinks he's Michaelangelo. I get it. I've got one of those and I can't tell you how much crayon I've scrubbed off the walls. And when this habit is in it's beginning 24/7 stage, maybe put the crayons on the fridge. But allowing your children to pull out their own supplies whenever the need hits them not only allows creativity to blossom, but independence as well. It also gives you one less thing to "find" for someone. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. We don't want that with creativity!

5. LET GO OF A SET IDEA OF WHAT CREATIVITY LOOKS LIKE. Creativity is not always busy. It's not always taken up in art or music. There are many pursuits that are creative, even though we don't usually view them as such. Building with legos, making up songs or games, creating a business, teaching. These are all extremely creative. Reading is a creative process, as is being in nature. Appreciate all of creativities forms in your children and in yourself.

6. LET GO OF BEING TOO BUSY. This last piece of wisdom had been sprouting in my heart for a few days when Jane really brought it to fruition. One night before bed, I asked her why she hadn't been doing as much art lately. She replied, "There's just been so much other stuff to do. Fun stuff. I don't get to think about the art in my head."

I was floored. So much wisdom.

People, a jam-packed busy schedule does not allow creativity to bloom. Creativity takes place in the quiet spaces and margins of our day. It's that idea you get on a walk, or the picture in your head that you see between awake and asleep. It takes down time to look at something from every angle and then put it on paper.

Your children need some time in their day to reflect and then create from that reflection. You do, too. Give it to them.

Friday, April 18, 2014

12 Bunny-Free Easter Ideas

We don't do the Easter Bunny over here. Or Easter baskets. Very little chocolate. Definitely no fake grass, spring chicks, etc. We do dye Easter eggs (I can't be a total grinch). I love to focus on the REASON for Easter, but I find the bunny silly and creepy (although I love Santa, go figure.) And the rest of it just seems like second Christmas.

However, we've been having a very nice Easter week over here, and you can too! I've gathered my favorite ideas. Some of these we've done, others we plan on doing, either this year or in the future.

So here you go, Ways to Celebrate Easter without the Bunny

1. Easter in Eggs - This set of 12 eggs tells the story of Easter. Its very easy to put together and kids love to do it over and over again.

2. Learn about Passover and make Matzoh bread. My kids enjoyed pretending we were the Israelites as we made the breat and then Moses came to tell us to leave Egypt and we had to run around the backyard, and through the pool. I hope that's not sacreligious, because my kids now know all about Passover and Moses and keep talking about it.

3.Talk about Christ in the Garden and then plant your own garden. You can even make this a faith garden and talk about how we get our faith to grow.

4.Learn about the Last Supper by washing each other's feet at dinner. Then go out and do service for someone.

5. Dye eggs with natural materials. Carrots, beets, spinach, etc.

6. Make this three crosses artwork.
Easter crosses at Golgotha

7. Make these palm Sunday crafts and talk about the Triumphal entry.

8. Go on this Good Friday nature walk.

9. Make Resurrection Cookies.
Easter Story Cookies Recipe

10. Make Resurrection Rolls.

11. Do these Seven Days of Easter Devotionals

12. Watch this video. Or this. Or this. Or this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make your own fairy garden - A gift for kids, by kids!

I'm always on the lookout for gifts and toys that really bring out a child's creativity.

When I found this idea today, I knew I had found something wonderful! Not only that, this gift is eco-friendly, budget-friendly, and imagination-friendly!

Make Your Own Fairy Garden Kit

For us, this gift is two parts. The first half is a homemade flower pot. We took a bulk-size cottage cheese container and decorated it with construction paper, stickers and mod-podge. My daughter loved decorating this special flower pot for her cousin. She will also give her a couple packets of wild flower seeds to plant.

The second part of the gift is the fairy house kit. I put this kit in those fancy-looking spaghetti sauce jars. Here are a few ideas of how to make your own fairy house. Using these ideas, I filled the jar with "supplies." Here's my list:

Bundles of short twigs
Cotton Balls
Paper Clips
Small wood letters

You can add anything small and pretty from nature, or old toys, craft odds and ends, etc. I also suggest printing off an idea or two from the internet just to get them started. Also...maybe lots of glue.

The idea is to fill the "flower pot" with dirt, make a fairy house, put it in the dirt, plant the flowers around it, and Ta-Da! Fairy garden.

Also, here is a little poem to put on the card...if you feel so inclined.

Everybody needs a fairy,
To help their flowers bloom.
So build a tiny, cozy house,
And one will move in soon!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Preschool/Kindergarten Music Appreciation: C is for Conduct

Sing Your Gathering Song

Introduce the New Word: Conduct

Coducting is harder than it looks! At its most basic, conducting is keeping the beat so that everyone in the band or choir stays together. Conductors do this by waving their hand, or a stick, in the air along to a beat. There are a few easy, beginning conducting patterns. These are the ones we’re going to learn today.

The first conducting pattern simply has the hand/stick hit “bottom” with every beat. If there were something for the stick to click against, it would sound like a metronome.
The second conducting pattern is in an up/down fashion, with each beat on the highest and lowest points. Kind of
like the leader of a marching band with their baton. I demonstrate both below.

Now that you know how to help your orchestra keep the beat, what else do conductors do? They also let the orchestra know when to get loud, or when to get quiet. When to speed up or slow down. How would you direct to make an orchestra louder or quieter?

Here’s your conduct card.

Activity: Conduct your children in singing a song they know well. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star works well because every word takes place on a beat. Show them how when you conduct faster, they sing faster, and the same with slower conducting. Then let each of them try.
My kids love conducting, although when they want us to go fast they just wave their hands in crazy circles. That means sing as fast as humanly possible. But now, my daughter has realized that the real control comes with slow conducting. So be ready!

Learn the Song: Camptown Races

This is not the whole song. It’s quite long. But this should be enough for your little ones.
The Campptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack's five miles long
Oh, de doo-da day

Goin' to run all night
Goin' to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the gray

As I was looking up information about this song, I learned that originally started out as a song making fun of black people and was written in a form of southern dialect. The song has been scrubbed clean of its racial overtones and we still sing it, but it definitely has a not-so-nice history. This isn’t something you really need to bring up with your young ones, but it is a nice rabbit trail for your older children to learn more about if they want!
Have your kids direct the new song, being sure to add in louds, softs, accelerandos and ritardandos.

Introduce the Composer: The composer for this week is Aaron Copland, one of the most beloved American composers. You’ll recognize his music instantly! Copland deliberately wrote music that would be accessible. The style was called populist. The harmonies in his music are what everyone automatically consider “American” music.
His most famous pieces are Fanfare for the Common Man, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring. Pick one of the songs below. Have your children close their eyes. First talk about what the music makes you picture. Than have your children do the same. Once that has run it’s course, turn on Rodeo (below). Tell your children the name of the song (and explain a rodeo if you need to) then have your children act it out along to the music!

Sing any Requests

Pull out your flashcards and make sure everyone follows the instructions!