Friday, August 24, 2012

Snap Out of It

It's hard to know how transparent to be on a blog.  I don't know who's reading and I can't control how they perceive what they're reading.  It's a careful balance to be honest about the challenges of having so many small children and not cross over into complaining about the chaos.

A friend just told me that she reminds herself often about 'that look' on the faces of women in older generations.  East Coast or West Coast, the grandmas at the grocery store are the same: they look fondly at me with my brood, and I can almost see the memories of dirty faces, mounds of laundry, screaming siblings, broken furniture, and sleepless nights flooding into their aging minds.  They remember 'the little years' affectionately?

I'll be honest though, as I just put two tired, wailing children down for the horrible, dreaded punishment - a nap, I don't think I'll remember these years fondly.  I don't see how feeling like I'm running after a train I have no hope of catching is something I'll remember with any joy.  I do, however, revel in the idea that they will all be well-adjusted, contributing members of society who vote for conservative political candidates and make a positive difference in the world.

Then deep inside, I ache because I know.  I know that my children feel my annoyance.  They sense my regular unhappiness.  They know that they play second fiddle to my priorities for the day, my desire for quiet, my ideas of order, my love of hot coffee, my abhorrence of vomit... 





I ache because it hurts their tender little hearts when I don't love them the way my Loving Heavenly Father patiently loves me.  I don't delight in them the way He delights in me.  I don't long for their company the way He longs for mine.  

I know people sometimes don't have children because their own childhood experiences were too hurtful and the thought of repeating it is too weighty.  Sometimes they volunteer: I'm too selfish. 

Aren't.  We.  All.

I know that I won't say in my old age, "I wish I had a cleaner house."  It's true that I'll say, "I wish I had spent more time with my children." 

I won't say, "I wish I had berated them more."  I'll say, "I hope they know how much I love them."

God help me, though, I have days when I cannot get it together: my nerves are frayed, I can't find a clean surface anywhere, and the idea of starting homeschool in 11 days makes me break out in hives.  It all seems so insurmountable, so I just get out my pity party hat and sit in the corner and cry. 

How I wish someone knew exactly when my party is starting so they could stop by, slap me across the face, and say: SNAP OUT OF IT! 

Unfortunately, we live in a world with privacy fences and fake smiles.  And I'm usually the one delivering the slapping to myself. 

Here's a few other things I'm doing these days...

Get help.  I just ordered a book called Rebuild from Depression because I suspect after 5 pregnancies in 6 years that I'm a little deficient in a lot of things.  I have also been scouring the author's blog because I can't wait the 5-8 days it takes to ship it to do what I can now to make myself feel better.

Exercise.  Exercise makes me feel better.  And as goofy as I look stepping up and down on the Wii balance board, as annoyed as I am that my children won't let me exercise without a cheering squad, as much as I'd rather have a conversation with my husband, I absolutely have to make 20 to 30 minutes of exercise 2 or 3 times a week a priority. 

Positive surroundings.  When I'm down, it's easier to get down-er.  If I'm around critical, negative people, I feel sapped.  Because I have 5 little sap suckers, I have had to back away from some of those less-than-stellar relationships.  I need all of my physical-emotional-spiritual "sap" for my children - my family is a higher priority than anyone in my life even if it means I cannot be a good friend to someone who needs it.  I know a good counselor... I'll refer them. 

Time out.  It is okay for me to re-discover myself by having a quiet bath after everyone is in bed (milk and honey is where it's at), a date with a good book at a nearby coffee establishment, a window shopping expedition at the mall, or a walk around the block (not a jump-in-the-car-and-speed-away-because-I've-had-it drive to the nearest bar).  And it's okay to spend some money on date night with my husband.

Fill up.  I have a favorite coupon blogger, and I have a favorite mommy blogger.  She has one post that God uses to speak to me every time I read it.   She also contributes regularly at this blog.  I also try to read daily devotions put out by Proverbs 31, and I listen to faith-filled music (I have 6 or 8 Pandora stations I love). When I am full, I can pour out.  When I am empty, not so much.

Main Entry:
fond [fond] Show IPA
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: have a liking or taste for
Synonyms: addicted, adoring, affectionate, amorous, attached, caring, devoted, doting, enamored, indulgent, keen on, lovesome, lovey-dovey, loving, mushy, partial, predisposed, responsive, romantic, sentimental, silly over, sympathetic, tender, warm  

Main Entry:
dearly [deer] Show IPA
Part of Speech: adverb
Definition: lovingly
Synonyms: affectionately, devotedly, fondly , tenderly, yearningly

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homeschooling with Young Children

A few weeks ago, Seth, was up and at 'em early... per usual.  He asked me about a pillow on my bed, but he pronounced it "padoh".  This is not strange, his pronunciation is often wrong, but it reminded me "Oh yeah, I'm his teacher, I should teach him his short 'i' sounds."   That led to a brief homeschool session.

It seems so natural to me to teach him things as we go and as he needs them rather than just going to the table at 9:30 am for some obligatory reading time.  I prefer to take advantage of those "ripe for the picking" moments when he wants to learn something.  Incidentally, he read the word "hit" that morning. 

I realized soon after that... it's August.  August comes before September.  With the arrival of September, my preference for schooling when he's ready and I'm willing has to come to an end.  We start kindergarten (again) in the Fall with Korynne too.


*deep breath*

Our first attempt at homeschooling was rough (read: disastrous) because I'm completely overwhelmed by all of it: a structured day, wrangling the other kids, lesson planning, and managing my home. I sometimes daydream about sending them to public school.  I can even see it in my mind's eye: it's sunny day that I would put the youngest one on the bus and I would - finally - have a quiet house and finish my coffee while it's hot, go grocery shopping alone, and even "do lunch" with other Moms of school-aged children. *sigh*  I digress^. 

And that's what brought me to this blog post.

One of my biggest challenges is the younger sibling(s).  I Googled "homeschooling with small children" and found a plethora of ideas in no time at all!  The Internet is a tremendous resource (how did our moms do this without the Internet!?!)!  And then I looked a little closer, I am too darn cheap to make Elaborate and Themed Sensory Boxes, I'm too stinkin' busy to make Eye Spy Books, and I'm too bloomin' distracted to manage Shaving Cream Art.

If that's your thing, the Interweb is full of expensive, time-consuming, messy ideas for people like you (I don't resent you, I just don't relate).  This post is for people who have not just one, but two or more YOUNG children to occupy while *attempting* to homeschool the older one(s).  You know who you are, and I hope, like me, you know your limits.

My Criteria: cheap (made of items you already have or can pick up at the grocery store), quick (5 minutes or less to prepare), hands-off (little to no "instruction" required) and not-too-dirty (doesn't make my eye twitch to imagine the mess).

This is what I came up with so far, and I hope it helps.  Maybe you don't, but I need all the help I can get... 

Moving objects with tongs.  Sometimes the simple things work best.  Find two wide-mouthed containers (like large mixing bowls) and fill one of them with smallish items from around the house or yard: rocks, blocks, foam letters, cotton balls (if you're willing to part with them - those actually cost money!) or WHATEVER YOU HAVE ON HAND.  Give your child a pair of tongs from the kitchen.  By moving items from one container to another, children are developing fine motor skills.  For added fun while the school kids are occupied, encourage them to sort or ask why they chose certain items first. 

Toddler Toothpicks Fine Motor
Photo Credit.
Toothpicks in Jars.  I suppose it could be just my quirky kids, but putting toothpicks in spice jars entertains my children for a chunk of time... seriously.  I love this.  Why didn't I think of it first?  I try not to throw anything away that might be useful, and I love re-purposing things.  For me, it seems only prudent to snip off the sharp ends of the tooth picks for obvious safety reasons and let them work on those fine motor skills.  Cut up pipe cleaners would also work if you have them. 

Photo Credit.
String Beads.  Stringing beads is a great activity for fine motor skills which help develop needed muscles for good handwriting skills.  Except, I don't want to buy beads I have to clean up for YEARS to come (I found one under an area rug just yesterday).  I cut up straws instead (I'll still have to clean them up, but I can make bigger "beads" and they don't bounce) so they can string straw beads.  I might even be willing to give up that 88 cent box of pasta I bought the other day for them to use.  I use yarn (tape up stringing the end) or twine or whatever I have that I reclaimed from a broken Sunday School craft so they can string beads to their hearts' content.  

Play dough.  I was really intimidated when I saw that you had to cook the play dough, but I tried it and it really wasn't as terrible as you would think.  It was easy and turned out GREAT!  My favorite part is that it's really really cheap and nice enough to give as a frugal birthday gift.

TV watching linked to waistlines in children, study finds
Photo Credit. 
Television.  I'm not ashamed.  I let my kids watch TV.  This can be problematic because the school-aged kids want to watch too, but I can reward the older kids for finishing their work with a little screen time.  Then, the younger kids can have my undivided attention for a little while. I usually opt for semi-educational stuff.  Leap Frog makes some great phonics stuff and it's available on Netflix Watch Instantly or at the library. 

Sensory Boxes.  Not all sensory boxes are messy or complicated or expensive.  I remember as a kid getting in trouble for putting my hands in the bins of pinto beans at the store.  Well, guess what... my kids love putting their hands in pinto beans, too.  I'm in favor of putting McDonald's toys in tubs of pinto beans and calling it a day.  I did dye pasta once.  Just once.  And in case you're wondering, I'm no fool - I'm not about to dye rice and give it to my 2 year old.  Instead of buying bins and having them on hand all the time.  At my house, space is an issue so I don't have room for multiple boxes just for play.  Instead, I fill hole-free plastic shopping bags with my sensory stuff (one for beans, one for popcorn, or whatever) and I fill one bin with the contents of one bag at a time.

Let them roam.  I am a little more hands-off than many parents.  It must drive my friends nuts when I encourage my kids to figure it out or when I actually let my baby cry for 5 seconds.  I think safe independence is a great chance for their imaginations to develop.  You probably have a playroom or a backyard far from your school room where the younger sibling(s) can play while you have lessons.  There are amazing technologies that make out-of-sight safe(r).  Web cams are cheap, and there's an app for that so you can look at the real-time feed from your webcams and keep a watchful eye on your kids from your smartphone while you're schooling the older kids. If you needed an excuse to get a smartphone, you're welcome.  I have more where that came from.


messy play sink
Photo Credit.
Sink cleaning.  I think this project involving frozen vinegar and baking soda can eek in as "not-too-dirty" because it can clean while they play.  As an added bonus, it can be a science lesson.  After the little ones play, the big kids can play and learn!  I'll be honest, I haven't tried this yet.  I feel like I have to clean off a counter in order to minimize the mess.  One of these days, I'll have a clean counter and a lesson planned so that my 2 and 3 year olds can hop up on a stool and play a bit.

Does that get your creative juices flowing?  I've started a Pinterest Board for reference.  If you have some tried and true methods of entertaining littles, please post them in the comments and I'll add them to my board. 

^My reasons for homeschooling are many.  It's a very personal decision and one of these days I may actually tell you all about it.

As promised...

I alluded to my "First Five" in a previous post*.  I said I would share them with you and that's exactly what I'm doing.

I must give credit to the gal at the homeschooling convention.  I don't remember her name, I'm not even sure I remember what else she said^, but this nugget was worth the price of admission which was $20!

She mentioned in passing that she instructs her children to do their First Five - get dressed, brush teeth, wash hands and face, make their bed, and eat breakfast.  And my brain started spinning... I can do a Final Five, a Potty Five...  Aaaaahhh! *squealing with delight*

You may not get as excited about an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper with Clip Art as I do.  But with 5 small children (4 of whom can do many of these tasks without assistance), I am so tired of repeating myself.  Instead of each item two times per child (5 phrases x 4 children x 2 times = 40 things to say).   It is so much easier to say each child twice "Do your First Five." (1 phrase x 4 children x 2 times = 8 things to say).  That gives me the opportunity to say 32 nice things to say that encourage instead of being a drill sergeant... and that's all before lunch!

My First Five

Imagine saying "Potty Five" instead of "Close the door."  "Wipe your bottom."  "Flush the potty."  "Wash your hands."  "Turn off the light."  Every time your potty trained ones do their business?????  In a word:  Freedom!!!
Potty Five

True story:  A few weeks ago, my husband and I saw the storm clouds rolling in, looked at the calendar full of evening activities, and realized that if we didn't mow right then and there, we would have to rent a goat.  If I mowed and he weed-eated (weed-ate sounds funny), we could knock out our homeowner responsibilities in 30 minutes or so.  But, it was bedtime and there were 4 munchkins (ages 6, 4, 3, and 2) in dirty play clothes.  We put toothpaste on their toothbrushes, dressed the two year old in PJs, and said, "Do your Final Five or else..."  We put the baby in the Johnny Jumper and went to it.  When we came back inside 30 minutes later, *silence*.  The only noise was a babbling, bouncing baby boy.
Final Five.

We were just as shocked as you are: It worked!

I usually give them ample time to do the tasks (20 to 30 minutes).  It gives them an opportunity to learn to manage their time.  So far, I have not regularly rewarded them except with a High 5. 

*The police incident was a one-time deal.  "First Five" has worked well at my house for 2 months (minus 1)!

^There was one other thing she said that was very profound, for me.  It was something I needed to hear and maybe you need to hear it, too:
No one else on earth loves my children and wants the best for them as much as I do. 
That fact makes me the best teacher they could ever have!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just Another Day at the Armory

Yesterday was one of those rare days I decided to take a shower.  The kids had eaten breakfast and were busy finishing their "First Five^" (eat breakfast, wash hands/face, brush teeth, get dressed, and make bed).  A friend was coming over and it had been 2 1/2 days since my last shower so it was a high priority.  

When I came out, I noticed that Seth's face was red and his eyes were puffy.  He said something about Korynne...  "Whatever.  You all need to finish your first 5," I said and carried on. 

I was mostly dressed when the doorbell rang.  "My 10:30 playdate is early," I thought.  But as I opened the door, it wasn't my friend.  It was someone in uniform.  A police uniform.  It wasn't just any officer.  It was the Chief of Police.

Hand hovering over side arm.  Ever ready, the Chief asked, "Is everything okay?"

"You mean other than the fact that I'm standing here with wet hair, wearing my nursing tank (before I've fed the baby this morning), and talking to you instead of finishing up guest preparations?"  I smiled tentatively, "Yes?"

"We received an anonymous call about a child being locked outside and screaming."

*lightbulb*  That's what Seth said.  He said Korynne locked him outside. 

With all four of them looking on - oh wait, the baby's crying.  I should get him.  With 4 of them looking on and one on my hip, I said, "Yeah, I took a shower."

I looked over at Korynne, and she was nervously grinning.  She confessed without even being interrogated, "I locked Seth outside."

The Chief nodded knowingly and stated the obvious, "You're a busy mom."

"Ya think?  I'm going to be even busier smackin' her bottom when you leave*," I screamed - in my head.  I said, "Do you have children?"

"Two - 9 and 5," she said, and then we talked for about 10 minutes.  

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just another day at the Armory. 

One of these days, the kids will be sitting around my kitchen table with my grandchildren on their knees sipping coffee and reminiscing, "Do you remember when Korynne locked Seth outside and the police came?"  *laughing uproariously* 

Oh, I do. It was the last time I took a shower! 

^We also use "Final 5" and "Potty 5".  We have visual aids!  I'll post those soon. 
*No children were punished as a result of yesterday's events.