Settling in: Rhythms and Resolutions

So we’re here. We’re home. We bought our house in October and moved from our temporary house in November. We still have boxes upon boxes to unpack and organize, but we will get there. No rush now. That’s a nice, but really strange, feeling. I tend to rush.

We pulled Hula Girl from public school at Thanksgiving break. School was a good experience for us overall. Hula Girl had a wonderful teacher who made her students’ lives at school fun. Even when the academics were way too easy for Hula Girl, she still wanted to go because she loved her teacher and she enjoyed her friends. My main comfort when deciding to put her in school to begin with was that I knew she wanted to socialize. She needed some practice speaking up for herself and being assertive. It took a couple months, but she got there. It was fun to see her develop confidence in situations where she needed to speak to other children and unfamiliar adults.

It was never our intention to use public schools for long. So when we moved to our permanent home, we gave it a few weeks and then kept Hula Girl home. We took the time between Thanksgiving and New Year to really focus on Christmas and all that season brings- TONS of activites, songs, crafts, reading together, and family time. We went light on the baking this year, mainly because our dishwasher broke in the beginning of December and doing all the regular dishes PLUS the baking dishes seemed like just a bit too much for me. Gotta know my limits.

For those of you who are wondering, Hula Girl is happy to be home. She really needed more challenging academics and she enjoys having ample time to read. She can knock out 50+ books in two weeks. She loves going to the library and impressing the librarians with her stacks of books. (I know some people who limit the number of books their children are allowed to check out. I limit my kids, too, to the number of books they can carry. Hula Girl has three library bags and she carries them all. Well, at least until we get to the door. Then I take pity on her and grab one and take it to the car for her. I’m a book softie.)

The socialization issue is really a non-issue for us. I feel like I need to address it, though, since many people somewhat close to me have questioned it. I think I’ve probably written about it before, and our views have not changed. As many homeschool families have already said, we would rather have our kids interacting with people of all ages in real-life situations than be stuck in rooms with twenty other people their age. Who will teach my kids better manners: the elderly neighbor who teaches Monkey Man how to paint and do papier mache; or a bunch of four-year-olds? Who will demonstrate careful attention to detail better: Hula Girl’s dance instructor; or her peers, who think that it’s an achievement to color mostly in the lines? And who will teach them to love Jesus best: her family, made up of two parents who put Jesus first and demonstrate the power of God’s grace and two siblings who give them ample opportunity to put that grace into practice; or the public school system, where Common Core determines all learning and all character education falls upon the shoulders of the school’s one guidance counselor, who presents boxed vague information about “getting along” and “bullying”?

Don’t worry. We’re not just keeping ourselves hidden away in our little hermitage here in the woods of Wisconsin. Hula Girl has many opportunities to interact with kids her own age. She has dance and Sunday School. We have neighbors right across the street with a little girl who is six also. The two of them get together and play and it’s like they’ve grown up together. They just have so much fun. Every afternoon, Hula Girl waits for C’s bus to drop her off, and then they go for walks or jump on the trampoline or go to C’s house and guzzle hot chocolate (C’s mom is much more liberal with the sweets than me!). We also have several other kiddos of roughly the same age in the neighborhood who will likely form a gang together this summer, with Hula Girl as their leader. And there are even kiddos Monkey Man’s age who will be junior members of the Summer Club. Winning!

So, for now, we have been working this week to establish our new homeschool/life routine. It looks like this most days, but some days the order of things gets thrown out of whack and we just adjust and go with it:

  • Sugar Plum gets up and nurses (yep, still going strong!)
  • Big Kids get up and we all have breakfast- Scripture memory, poetry, hymns, and folksongs happen during breakfast
  • Chore time- big kids do morning chores, I clean the kitchen, and Sugar Plum crawls around causing mischief (watch the cat food or she will eat half of it… ask me how I know)
  • Sugar Plum starts her nap and big kids start school
  • Monkey Man gets individual time with me while Hula Girl does independent school work
  • Switch
  • Free Play when independent work is completed
  • Sugar Plum wakes from nap, I nurse her, and all the kids have independent play time in their rooms or in the basement playroom while I make lunch
  • Lunch- I read chapter books to the kids while they eat (Chronicles of Narnia is our current series)
  • Free Play- the part of the day during which the three kids go nuts and look so darn cute while they do; the big kids engage with Sugar Plum and make her the Princess of the castle, take her on rocking horse rides through the “meadow,” and defend her from imagined dragons
  • Nap/Rest time- each kid goes to his/her room to sleep or rest; I only have one napper these days, but the other two are very good about resting quietly while they read or play with their toys
  • Snack- I usually have fresh-baked bread or cookies ready for this time of day, and we eat them with tea; snack time is wonderful
  • Varies- sometimes we have dance class, sometimes the kids play with neighbors, sometimes they do a table activity like play-dough, and so on
  • The Finish Line- Daddy walks in the door and is greeted with buoyant smiles and enthusiastically leaping monkeys

And my New Year’s Resolutions (which, by the way, I have actually kept this far! I think it’s a record for me.)

  • Whole foods, plant-based diet (except honey)
  • Drink 60+ oz of water per day- I hate water
  • Read the Bible every day
  • Pray specifically for each child and Jonathan every day
  • Exercise (That one is a bit vague on purpose. I don’t do anything specific to exercise while pregnant or breastfeeding. Never have. Probably should. Meh.)

And that’s the haps. I’ve completely disconnected from Facebook. I don’t miss it. I do miss some of you, though. Email me or text me and let me know how you’re doing.

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“Chickening”

If you visit my house while my children are around, you will almost certainly be introduced to our chickens. We have ten laying hens, three pullets (baby hens), and one cockerel (baby rooster). Chickens are awesome animals to keep in the backyard. So many people are jumping on the backyard chicken bandwagon these days; I’m glad we have done it, too!

The first thing Hula Girl does when she gets up for the day is run outside and check on the chicks. We had a gold-laced Wyandotte hatch out four babies this spring. Two are black copper Marans (one pullet, one cockerel), one is another gold-laced Wyandotte, and the last one is an Old English game bird mix of some sort. All the babies are bantams, and are even smaller than our Silkie hens. When Hula Girl checks on them, she goes out and catches them and snuggles with them. She often tries to smuggle a chicken into the house inside her shirt, but the loud chirping gives her away every time.

After she has checked the chicks, she looks for eggs. The ladies all lay; we find anywhere from 8-10 eggs every day. We don’t use all of them. Jonathan sells dozens of eggs at work, and we bring them to our friends, family, and neighbors frequently. The eggs we get are beautiful. We can tell which hen laid which egg, thanks to Hula Girl’s patient observation of which hen is in which nesting box singing her egg song before each new egg appears.

 

Eggs

Clockwise from top egg, center listed last: eggs from Babette, Arwen, Laura, Prim, Scout, Mary, Molly, and Snowy. There won’t be a pop quiz, so don’t worry if you can’t tell them apart!

 

After the chores have been completed, we generally leave the chickens alone to graze through the backyard all day. I love looking out the kitchen window and watching the baby chicks catching grasshoppers– it is so funny! They will hop all around and try to fly and it just makes me giggle. I also giggle when I see Bella, our curly-feathered Sizzle, waddling all around the yard. She looks just like a mop from Harry Potter.

Hula Girl, of course, spends a lot of her spare time with the chickens. She knows each one’s personality and egg song. She knows which hens are friendly and easy to pick up (here’s looking at you, Scout, Bella, and Snowy!). She can tell Helena and Prim apart, and can distinguish between the buff Orpingtons (quite the feat; I can’t tell them apart save for Babette’s extra-large comb and wattles). The hens all come running when Hula Girl opens the door; they know her presence usually means a treat is coming soon.

We call our interactions with the chickens “chickening” as if it’s a verb. It kind of is. And Hula Girl is great at chickening.

The Chicken Dance

Wednesdays are always hectic in the mornings. The kids get up at 7:30, and we have to leave by 8:20 in order to get to Hula Girl’s dance class on time. This 50-minute chunk of time seems adequate time for most people to eat, dress, brush teeth, and leave, but TODDLER TIME is sooooo sloooooow. Somehow I put breakfast on the table at 7:35 and the kids still aren’t even halfway done by 7:55. 20 minutes into breakfast, and they’ve eaten like half a bowl of oatmeal and a few strawberries. I find it’s best if I just give them a quick breakfast and then plan for a larger morning snack than usual on Wednesdays.

Regardless of the hectic nature of the morning, yesterday I made sure to review our memory verse, read our poem for the day (“At the Sea-Side”), and pray for our sponsor kids. The kids so enjoy these activities at breakfast time. Monkey Man enjoys the poetry, and Hula Girl likes talking about what kinds of things our sponsor kids are doing, how the weather is where our sponsor kids live, and how we can pray for them. And of course both kids love the chance to show off their memory skills.

A couple days ago, I posted that Monkey Man doesn’t really join in memory verse recitation with the rest of us. Well, two hours after I published that post, kid was spouting off the entire verse. I knew he was able to do it, but he just wasn’t yet. He has decided to jump on board with family memory verses. It’s so much fun to see the kids gobbling up God’s word and taking it to heart. I even got the chance to correct their behavior using scripture yesterday when they were bickering. l asked them to say Ephesians 4:32 with me (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you,”) and then I asked Hula Girl what she needed to do in order to obey. She stopped arguing, said, “I forgive you, Monkey Man,” and they hugged it out.

Another awesome part of doing family memory verses is being able to address deeper spiritual issues. The other day, Jonathan got the chance to explain God’s forgiveness through Christ. Hula Girl was asking, “What does it mean that God in Christ forgave us?” Jonathan explained that Christ died once for all, and that our sins are forgiven because of HIS sacrifice, not because of any good thing we’ve done. She liked that a lot.

Anyway. Dance was great. The recital is coming up in two weekends, so the girls are really just working on fine-tuning their performance right now. Their sweet teachers are great at what they do, but this time of year is just crazy with so much going on. We will all be glad when the recital comes and we take the summer off.

After dance, we went to Starbucks to get hot chocolate and then we went and picked up the dance teachers’ gifts and cards. Our final errand was to get Monkey Man’s hair cut. To say the hairdresser loved him would be a major understatement. She was amazed at his speech and how sure he was with himself. He wanted his hair to be short on the top so he could “put gel in it like Daddy.” He also asked her to blow dry his hair (SO funny to see a hair dresser blow-drying a tiny little boy’s inch-long hair strands!), and he asked her to put gel in it when she was done. She got a kick out of all his requests and so she indulged him. He was definitely spoiled.

When we got home from our errands, Hula Girl disappeared to her room to work on her projects (she loves to write notes to people and glue them to pictures she’s created) and Monkey Man laid down on the couch to listen to an audio book from the library. We had a hot lunch of soup and popcorn! Then it was rest time.

When the kids got up, we spent about 10 minutes on Hula Girl’s reading lesson, and then we read 20-something books from the library. It is so cozy to be snuggled on the couch with those two little people. Monkey Man leans his head on my shoulder while I read; Hula Girl holds the cat on her lap and drapes her legs over mine. We put a blanket over all of us (the cat included, we wouldn’t want to forget Riley), and we read until we’re out of books. It took an hour and a half yesterday.

Our final activity before Jonathan came home yesterday was letting our youngest baby chicks out of their brooder for a while. I tried to keep them contained to just a blanket on the floor, but they were WILD. We have five little chicks who are 5 weeks old; our “big girls” are 9 weeks old and out in the coop already. The “little girls” are not as tame as the “big girls” because they were older when we got them and hadn’t been handled as much as young chicks. They were literally flying all around the playroom, and three of them even climbed up on Hula Girl’s head. Monkey Man enjoyed fishing them out from under the train table and the futon, and I just walked around cleaning up any messes. Oy. After 20 minutes of that, we rounded them up and returned them to their brooder so we could all get some rest! Thankfully, Jonathan is in the process of moving them to their bigger brooder in the garage as I type this, so I won’t have any more chickens living in our guest room. Ever.

Wednesday was not very school-heavy, but it was certainly educational. Every day is educational, in one way or another. And who says academic lessons are the most important lessons?

Rainy Days

Yesterday and today have been cold, rainy days around here. What a nice change for us! We’re all glad the weather is finally cooling off! The kids and I have been soaking in the quiet togetherness that rainy days create.

Yesterday the kidlets played with Play-Doh after breakfast while I put dinner in the crock pot. Then we went for a walk in the drizzle. Our neighbor’s dog came with us and Hula Girl spent the entire walk throwing the dog’s ball. Gelato spent the entire walk alternating between crying because his hood was on and crying because his hood was off. 🙂 Afterward, we came home and the kiddos had some hot chocolate. In the afternoon we cleaned the house and baked biscuits, and then the kids played with shaving cream paint in the tub. They had an early dinner of chili and biscuits and then we welcomed our small group. The kids played quietly during the first few minutes of small group, and then it was time for Jonathan to put them to bed. Hula Girl, of course, did not fall asleep right away; she stood looking out her window to watch our guests leave, as she always does when we have company.

This morning, Hula Girl didn’t wake up until 8:00, so Gelato and I made breakfast together before we got her up. They had banana bread and milk for breakfast. While they ate, I read them the story of Noah’s Ark from Genesis. Hula Girl was surprised and said, “Mommy, I’m amazed that the story in the Bible is just like the story in our Jesus Storybook Bible! God is sure awesome! And he made rainbows to make a promise!”

Then we cleaned up and the kids stayed in their jammies while they played with the Lite Brite and Cootie. After we got that craziness cleaned up, we decided it was time to start making Christmas gifts and decorations. (Nay-Nay and Auntie Joanna, something’s coming your way soon!) Gelato surprised me with his dexterity! We were stringing Christmas beads (not pony beads- the star-shaped things that have small holes in the middle) on pipe cleaners to make “icicles” to hang in the tree. He could do it! I was amazed. Hula Girl has discovered a passion for stringing beads, and she will be making many many many more of these for friends and family alike. 🙂

Around 10:00, I got the kids bundled up in sweat pants, rain coats, and boots, and I sent them out in the backyard so I could read my Bible while watching them play. They got SOAKED. And they loved it. At 10:45, I called them back in and welcomed them with a hair dryer, big towels, and fleece footie jammies. Hula Girl thought it was great fun to have me blow dry her entire body; both of them loved it when I pulled their jammies out from their bodies and blew warm air down their backs. Ah, to be a preschooler again! Then we snuggled up on the couch and read several books under a cozy blanket.

After lunch, Gelato started his nap and Hula Girl and I finished Peter Pan. This is the fourth movie she’s ever seen. I am not a super big fan of it for her- there are lots of names called, Indians are portrayed in a terrible light, and there is just a lot of violence in general. I had to keep reminding her that it’s all a big game the Lost Boys play with the other inhabitants of Neverland, and that since it’s all pretend, none of these things actually happen. She is much more partial to Frozen. I have to agree with her! She has also seen Cinderella and The Aristocats. I like Frozen and Cinderella best.

When the kids wake up from naps, I plan to take them to Walmart, just to get out of the house for a while. We need to get a few pull-ups for Gelato (he sleeps in a pull-up but is potty-trained otherwise), and I believe they carry a non-GMO cornmeal there, which would be great for cornbread. (You’ll notice I said we baked biscuits to eat with our chili yesterday… yup, we are out of cornmeal.) I’m hoping Jonathan will light our fireplace after dinner so we can bring the kids down and read them a bedtime story in front of the fire tonight.

 

Venturing Out on her Own

I recently had a friend remind me that she sends her kids out every day to play alone in their backyard. I got to thinking about it, and I realized that I played out in my backyard alone while I was growing up. And so did pretty much everyone I know. I did a poll on Facebook and within the first few minutes, I had several responses; everyone said they let their kids (Hula Girl’s age and even younger) go out in the backyard alone to play. I got to thinking- why haven’t I done this!??!

I guess I’m some kind of crazy overprotective mom. I know I am, actually. I don’t let my kids watch TV (although that’s mainly because of all the research that says it’s bad for kids). I don’t let them do Halloween. I never used the word “scared” or “afraid” until Hula Girl needed that word to describe how she personally felt because I didn’t want to plant ideas in her head. I edit books as I read out loud so that the characters say much nicer things to each other than the author really intended. I keep my kids at home with me 99% of the time, because I am terribly distrustful of the big bad world and I want our schedule and routine to be carefully observed.

Don’t get me wrong- I have a pretty solid plan for how I’m going to loosen up and grant more freedoms and expose my children to the not-so-nice aspects of life. But for now, I have decided that coccooning them away and keeping things positive is the best I can do to give them a strong foundation of security, love, and self-confidence. They are free to have big emotions in their small challenges without a lot of influences from the world around them telling them they’re not good enough, smart enough, big enough, loved enough, or brave enough.

Back to the backyard. I have never let Hula Girl go outside alone. Ever. Any time she’s gone out, I have been there. Part of this is that we have lived in houses with no privacy fence. This especially bothered me at our old house, where the man who lived across the utility easement behind our house was on the registered sex offenders list. We have no registered folks around our new house, but we still have just a wire fence- our neighbors to the right and left and anyone passing on the street behind our house has a full view of everything that’s going on in our yard. On top of that, we live in rattlesnake, tarantula, scorpion, black widow, brown recluse, and wolf spider territory. Oh, and our area does not require dogs to be fenced- we have several neighbors whose dogs roam free. Can you see why I have been worried about sending her out there? That means she’s never gotten to explore completely on her own. She has never been able to just tune completely in to whatever drives her fancy because I have been there talking to her. And I have never been able to just get a bunch of housework done without a “helper.”

My friend Katie sends her kids outside in the backyard, alone, a couple of times each day. And do you know what?! I have always been amazed at Katie’s seemingly remarkable ability to balance so many aspects of her life without DYING of exhaustion. How does she do it!?!?! She sends her kids outside!

Now, you guys all know me, and you know I’m a huge fan of involving the kids in whatever I’m doing in order to instill a good work ethic and to teach them how to do stuff. But I can never find the time to REALLY clean the house or get all the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away. There are always a million other things to attend to, like helping a certain princess put on her costume or keeping a certain little wild man from destroying his sister’s block tower, all accompanied by higher-pitched-than-you’d-ever-imagined-possible shrieks and whines- some gleeful, others complaining, but always super loud and wow-that-popped-my-eardrums-high. So, I got brave.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I spent about 45 minutes walking the perimeter of the fence and canvassing the rest of the backyard looking for potential issues with snakes, dogs, or spiders. I kicked away spider webs, I got rid of the giant tumbleweeds in the play area, and I looked for holes in the ground (there were none, thankfully). I also looked for any other kinds of hazards and cleared out some sharp metal things (the people who lived here before us had two little boys who littered the ground with their broken, discarded Matchbox cars).

Then this morning I told Hula Girl that I was going to let her play outside all by herself like a big girl and that she had to stay out five minutes. I brought out her chalk, her shovels and pails, and her bike helmet. I told her she was allowed to do whatever she liked, as long as she stayed in the backyard (like she could even open the fences anyway, but you never know). I reminded her that if she needed me, she needed to come to the patio door and knock. I opened the kitchen window so I could hear her. I set a timer for five minutes.

I thought she’d whine and call for me and ask me to come out. She did. For about thirty seconds.

I thought she’d stay right on the patio and maybe pull out her chalk. She did. For about thirty seconds.

She PLAYED like I have never seen her play. I did dishes as I watched her explore, drag her toys around, bury things in the dirt, and fling rocks all around. When five minutes was up, I opened the door and asked her if she was ready to come in or if she wanted to stay out. She wanted to stay out. 10 minutes later, she wanted to stay out longer. 10 more minutes… 10 more minutes… 10 more minutes… She ended up staying out 45 minutes before I told her we needed to come in so I could read to her before room time. I ended up doing dishes, sweeping the kitchen, planning preschool for the week, calling a friend, and drinking a cup of coffee!

We are planning on putting up a privacy fence around about half of the backyard. We’ll dig it down about a foot so hopefully that will keep most snakes out. Until then, I won’t let Gelato out on his own (especially not with the giant playset he loves to climb) and will be super cautious about letting Hula Girl out. But I do think this will be a wonderful new addition to our daily routine.

Thank you Katie for helping me see the value of outside alone time! 🙂

 

 

Just Me and My Boy

Today has been a treat for me! Hula Girl took off after breakfast with Grampy. They were supposed to go camping this weekend, but given the low of 21 degrees and the 25+ mph wind speeds with snow flurries expected overnight, they decided to just set up camp at Grammy and Grampy’s house so they could go in if it gets too cold. I should say when. 🙂

Anyway, with Hula Girl gone, I have gotten to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my Little Man, and it’s been so very fun! We’ve spent a lot of time doing really low-key activities and taking it way slower than we normally do with a rambunctious preschooler around.

We started the day a touch later than his normal 6:45, at 6:55. I went in to get him up and nurse him, then he brought me a few books and asked me to read them: “Read-ee? Read-ee?” He is really into dogs and polar bears. When he sees a dog, he will put his little palm down on the page so I can’t turn it yet. Then he puts his other fist down with his pointer finger out and taps his finger on the picture a few times, looks up at me, and says, “Doggie. Woof, woof.” I always affirm him, “Yes, that’s a dog. You found a picture of a dog.” When he finds a polar bear (there are several great illustrations of polar bears in the “Baby Beluga” book), he points to it and says, “Doggie? No. Bay.” Then he taps it several times and says, “Bay. Bay. Bay.”

After reading, I showed him some options of clothes he could wear for the day- a pair of polar bear jammies or a union suit with dogs on it. He smiled really big at both choices, but in the end he settled on the union suit. We went downstairs where it was freezing because my husband is related to polar bears and keeps the windows open until it actually snows. Then Grampy came in and played with Gelato for a while. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, and Gelato asked for more by signing more and then saying, “Eep-meal? Eep-meal?” He also wanted milk and asked for “milt!” When Grampy had a cup of coffee, Gelato asked to “Mell coppee? Mell coppee?” and then wanted to taste it too. We didn’t allow that!

He went down for his nap just before Hula Girl left, so I had some time to catch up on blogging and Facebook. When he woke up, I nursed him; then he said, “Toys!” so I put him in his pack-n-play for roomtime. He played for a while and I got to take a shower. A nice, long, hot shower. Perfect for a windy cold day!

When I went to get him from roomtime, he saw my hair was wet and said, “Peel hay? Peel hay?” I let him feel my hair and told him, “My hair is cold and wet.” The he felt the other side and said, “Ood? Wet? Hay ood wet?”

I brought him down for lunch, which was pizza leftovers from last night. He said, “Peeta? Peeta? Eat! Eat! Hungee! Peeta!” (I wonder if he’ll like the Hunger Games books!) He ate two entire slices of pizza (same as I had). I gave him some pieces that were still quite hot. He felt them and said, “Arm! Bow, bow.” Then he blew on them. He also had a kiwi, which he still doesn’t like. He ate about two bites and then handed the rest to me. When he was all done with lunch, he said, “Down? Walk?” I told him he needed to tell me he was all done, so he did. He just has the sweetest little voice when he says, “All done!”

When I put him down he went and grabbed his shoes and said, “Oos! Out-ide! Walk!” So I bundled him up and took him outside. The first thing he said was, “Ood! Ood!” I told him yes, it was cold and windy. “Eendee,” he replied, as he nodded his head several times to show he understood. Then he walked all around and picked up rocks and sticks and followed the neighbor’s dog. Finally I was too cold, so I brought him back inside.

I decided to bust out the rainbow rice sensory bin, which hasn’t been used since Hula Girl was 2.5. He thought it was great fun to pluck out the kidney beans and place them in the scoop one at a time. Then he thought it was fun to pretend to eat them by putting it up to his mouth and saying, “Mmm, Mummy! Mmmm, Mummy bean!” And then he thought it was hilariously fun to place the scoop on the floor and then tell himself, “Oop on beket,” and then move the scoop back onto the blanket. He giggled at that one for sure.

When it was time to clean up the rainbow rice, I got out the broom, and Gelato insisted on sweeping for me. He did a terrible job, but for a not-even-14-month-old, it was awesome. I left it just the way he did it and cleaned up the rest (aka the bigger mess) when he went down for his nap. After he was done sweeping, it was nap time, so I asked him to go upstairs. He went to his room and pushed the button to turn on his heater, then walked over to the curtains and tried to pull them shut. I thanked him for his help and proceeded to put him down from there.

He really is one independent, helpful, communicative little guy. I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend time with just him this weekend. It really helps to slow down and be able to show him how much I enjoy him!  I can’t wait for this afternoon- we’re going swimming at the Y. I think it will be way more fun since I won’t have to keep an eye on Hula Girl, too. I can just let him walk in the toddler pool and climb all over the pirate ship- I’m sure he’ll want to do the slide, too. But I am not ready for that one yet… at all. No slide today. 🙂

Hula Girl’s Art Table

Hula Girl and I do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to “projects.” I tend to have a finished vision in mind and she couldn’t care less. She is much more interested in the process and discovery than the actual product. She LOVES to paint, color, tape, glue, and make a mess. A huge mess. There is some innate sense of hatred of paint that resides deep in my soul. Every time we pull out paints (water colors, tempera paints, finger paints, doesn’t matter), I end up a stressed-out ball of frayed angry nerves and I don’t tend to mother with very much gentleness or grace. I don’t know what it is about paint that does this to me.

And it’s not just paint. Hula Girl puts everything in her mouth. I mean, EVERYTHING. (I’m actually looking into this from a more medical/psychological point of view right now because I mean it when I say she puts everything in her mouth.) She knows that she’s not supposed to, but she does it. From the very first of our art endeavors, when I handed then-10-month-old Hula Girl some crayons and a piece of paper and proudly posted pictures of the scribbles all over Facebook, to our most recent watercolor masterpiece at the easel encounter, she has had her supplies taken from her for putting them in her mouth. I am not kidding. I have had to stop the activity or take supplies each and every time we have ever attempted art, because she is always tasting and sampling and chewing and licking and spitting. Drives.me.crazy. (My poor mother-in-law has had to hear all about this over and over. Sorry, Momma C.) Thank goodness kids’ art supplies are generally considered non-toxic (although you’d have to pay me a LOT of money before I’d admit that maybe the artificial dyes aren’t so bad after all…)

Anyway.

I have been wanting to test a theory. I have been pondering the idea that perhaps Hula Girl has been so obsessed with putting art supplies in her mouth partially because she knows it makes me so upset. What if I just gave her free access to them and didn’t care about what she actually does with them? What if I just let her go for it using whatever supplies she wanted to use to create anything she wanted to create? Would we still have the mouthing issue? I have been talking it over with Jonathan and he said we could create an art space for Hula Girl somewhere in the house.

Then, last Friday we were given a free “art table” for children. It looks like this. Some random neighbor we’ve never talked to before chased me down when I was out on a walk with the kids (actually, I was terrified about this random person running behind me!), and she offered the art desk to us since she doesn’t have any kids. I said we’d take a look at it, and once we did, we knew we had to have it.

Since it was used, Hula Girl and I spent some time on Saturday afternoon washing it and making it a bit more presentable (we removed the white board section before we soaped it up). It wasn’t in really bad shape, but it had some writing on the white board that was done in permanent marker, and it was a bit dusty. Hula Girl was a great help when we were washing it. I gave her a sponge and let her go for it. She ended up with mud all over her feet, a trend that continued throughout the weekend. (Mud messes I can handle; paint messes, not so much. Weird?)

I ran to Walmart (our favorite store, duh) and stocked up. Like, STOCKED UP. Hula Girl now has access to white board crayons, regular crayons, markers, watercolor paints, colored pencils, regular pencils, erasers, tape, glue, scissors, paper, and stickers. I am planning to add playdough (homemade), 3-D supplies (like egg cartons, etc.), and chalk. I will also add other supplies, and specialized supplies (like glitter crayons), as she gets older.

She has been busy. She has spent 2.5 hours total over the past three days just cutting. My floor is covered in little tiny scraps of paper. But she is busy and happy and she feels that the work she is doing is very important. She keeps putting stickers on paper and cutting them in half so that Jonathan and I can “learn what happens.” She has painted, colored, taped, and written the letter “N” over and over. Absolutely nothing I would have wanted to do in my supplies-hating heart.

And do you want to know something else? She has not put any of her supplies in her mouth, with one exception. She put the glue stick on her lips because it reminded her of chapstick. She hasn’t done that since. 🙂

 

The Beginning of Formal Learning Time

Learning Time is something that is promoted in the Toddlerwise and Preschoolwise books (I’m sure it’s in Childwise, too, but I haven’t gotten that far!). The authors make a valid point that it is part of our job to raise children who are able to focus, sit still, and be curious to learn, even if you’re planning to homeschool. However, I have been very hesitant to start any kind of formal learning time with my Hula Girl because I know that my propensity would be to overdo it and to get quite frustrated if she’s unable to sit long enough, do it the “right way”, or have any kind of fun. I feared that she might not enjoy learning time at all, and that she might be better off just playing her day away. I figured we could wait until she was at least three to start any kind of curriculum.

I still kind of agree with myself. But. My kid is so bright. I am not saying that to brag or to be all up-in-everyone’s-faces about how great she is. She just truly is a bright child who has a natural propensity for memorization (I think all toddlers do, to an extent), who enjoys spending one-on-one time with me, and who is able to apply things she’s learned to new situations quite frequently. I began to feel as if our daily chore time, free play time, and other scheduled activities were not really enough to keep her mind engaged. We were seeing quite a few disciplinary issues… and I realized it’s likely because she’s, well, bored.

I also noticed that we’ve finally hit a rhythm in our days that is more or less predictable. I can tell, within 5-10 minutes, what we will be doing at any point during the day, and so it is easy for me to determine when we will have large blocks of time sans Lil’ Bro.

So I decided it will be in our best interest to capitalize on her curiosity and energy. I haven’t quite put together a great “curriculum” but I am working on it. We started with something pretty simple, purely because I thought up our activities in the 30 minutes I had between nursing Gelato and getting Hula Girl out of bed. I do feel very fortunate that I have been a teacher before, so coming up with activities like this on the fly is not too difficult for me. Thank you, Dr. Cruso! (Anyone else miss her like crazy!? I loved her.)

We began on Thursday, and in an attempt to find a unifying theme, I decided we’d focus on the letter G. Lower-case g to be exact. (I am of the mind that she will need to be able to read lower-case letters more frequently than upper-case letters… and since she can already identify all twenty-six letters in either case anyway, I chose lower-case.) Anyway, I chose g because Thursday was Grammy’s birthday and today is Groundhog day. Score! Two very exciting things that have nothing to do with each other aside from proximity in the calendar and matching initial letters! And they are close enough together to warrant a theme! Yahoo! (This is not to imply that my mom reminds me of a groundhog. Or vice-versa.)

Okay, so my as-of-yet-very-scattered plans for now include:

1. Focus on skills over content. I am working with Hula Girl on sitting still, proper grip (pencils, crayons, scissors), proper technique (glue, cutting, holding the paper with the other hand while coloring and “writing”), keeping self-control by folding hands, etc.

2. Basics. Letters, numerals, colors, shapes, days, months, holidays, seasons. You know.

3. Variety of subjects. Science, math, language, history, etc.

 Our activities this week included a focus in these areas:

Skills: proper grip, gluing, guiding hand for coloring

Basics: letter g, birthdays, Groundhog Day, calendar

Subjects: science (shadows), history (Groundhog Day), language (shared writing)

Without further ado, here are our finished products:

"g" Pages for our Alphabet Book

“g” Pages for our Alphabet Book

I definitely helped a lot on these. We worked on proper gluing technique (you don’t need to COVER the back of the picture with glue!), phonemic awareness (we sang the song, “G says /g/, G says /g/, every letter makes a sound and G says /g/!”), and sound-symbol relationships (every time we said /g/, we wrote a g). I made sure to help with placement on the pages- we will be referencing her Alphabet Book several times over the next few years, and I want the pages to be clear and easy to access when she is older. We used these pages as a springboard for our next activity, our shared writing:

Shared Writing- "g" Sentences

Shared Writing- “g” Sentences

I asked Hula Girl to look at her alphabet pages and tell me a “story” which I wrote down. It is important for children to begin to understand that writing is actual communication- what they say can be saved for later! These are the sentences she said. I did have to guide her to make sure she included all the pictures, and I helped with the grammar a bit. (For instance, she said, “Gooses glue green paper.”) After we got all the sentences written (it took maybe 2 minutes, tops), I made a “window” out of two other pieces of paper so we were only looking at one line at a time. I asked her to find all the “g”s and I highlighted the ones she pointed out. You’ll notice she found the “g” in the middle of the word light. We said the word light over and over and tried to hear the /g/ but we couldn’t find it. (I mentioned that the “g” in light is part of “i-three-letter-i”, which she will learn about in a couple of years when we begin our formal language curriculum.)

Then we practiced writing the letter g at the bottom of the page. The focus here was not on the formation of the letter itself (that will come when we begin our curriculum), but rather on proper grip. I guided her hand on the g on the left and she did the g on the right by herself. We also focused on grip with the next project:

Groundhog Day- "g" for Groundhog!

Groundhog Day- “g” for Groundhog!

This is actually the second groundhog she colored. On the first one we focused on coloring neatly (just the ears, just the feet, etc.). On this one I let her color wherever she wanted, but made sure she maintained the proper grip and used her other hand to hold the paper. You’ll notice the heavier dark pink lines near the groundhog’s neck and arms- that’s where she changed her grip and tried to force the crayon through the table to China. 🙂

We connected this activity to science and history by discussing Groundhog Day, what it is, what it means, etc. We talked about shadows a lot and used the Socratic method (I asked her lots of questions to guide her reasoning) to discover that shadows are caused when light hits an object. We went outside and made all kinds of shapes with our own shadows, and this morning (I am typing this on Groundhog Day) she and Daddy took her groundhog outside to see if it saw its shadow. (It did. We are in for six more weeks of winter. Darn.)

I should also mention that we have started each morning with a review of our changeable calendar. We go over all the days of the week and the names of the months. Then we go through the whole “Today is…” rigamarole. I am going to be making her a pointer that she can use to help “read” the calendar each day. I’m thinking something with an interchangeable tip that can be switched out for the seasons, holidays, and such. I like details. 🙂

Something else we do to finish up our daily learning time is read a story, poem, or other article from her High Five Magazine (thank you, Ama and Papa, for the subscription! GREAT Christmas gift- or birthday, whatever- for any child under the age of 6!!!).

Coming Up Next Week:

We will be working with the letters D and V. First we will focus on letter D because next Sunday is Chinese New Year and we will want to make a dragon. Yes! V, of course, will be tied with Valentine’s Day. I’ll share some activities, products, and ideas after we’re done!

I also plan to start implementing a memory verse every week. She is awesome at memorizing poems, songs, and simple stories. So I figure it’s a great time to start planting the Word firmly in her heart and mind.

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