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.

Keeping Boredom at Bay

It’s been snowing for three days straight, and our forecast calls for snow for the next four days as well! I’m a person who loves the snow, and this recent streak of snow upon snow upon snow (I mean, for Pete’s sake! It’s snowing right now even though the sun’s out!) has been so fun to see. Every time I look out, it’s snowing! Jonathan and I have been talking about someday relocating to New England so we can get EVEN MORE snow. But for now, I think we’re good.

Thing is, when it snows, the kids get a bit… stir crazy. I’m not a wimp about getting them all gussied up in their finest snow attire- layers upon layers of fleece and mittens and ski goggles and thermal underwear and socks- but there’s really a limit to the amount of time they can spend outdoors with their faces planted in the snow (they graze on it like horses put out to pasture) in freezing cold temperatures. That limit is around 10 minutes for Little Man and 30 for Hula Girl. We repeat the ritual of dressing up, trekking outdoors, and peeling off the snow-covered garments at least twice daily. Fortunately we have a separate entrance to the garage from the backyard so the kids can drop all the snow in there rather than in my kitchen. But seriously. 15 minutes to dress them, 10 minutes (or less!) outside, 5 minutes of them whining and crying while undressing them, and WHEW, I am wiped out. And then they want hot chocolate.

Speaking of hot chocolate, I can’t have any right now. And that’s okay. Jonathan and I are doing the Daniel Fast for Lent and it’s amazing to see how quickly our bodies have broken the habit of eating sugar and other non-fruit, non-veggie, non-whole grain foods. The first week was pretty hard, and cravings were abundant. I would have paid $20 for a Twix, and I don’t even eat Twix normally. My current craving is for anything coconut, which I can actually eat a lot of in the form of unsweetened dried coconut and coconut oil. So that’s perfectly fine with me! The Daniel Fast isn’t too much of a departure from our typical whole-foods, plant-based, organic diet. The only differences for us are the inability to eat anything with sweeteners like sugar, honey (which is technically not vegan but we eat it anyway), maple syrup, xylitol, etc.; and the inability to drink anything besides water. I’d sure like a coffee or hot cocoa. I think I’ll have hot cocoa in my coffee on Easter morning.

Easter morning is going to be very exciting for our entire family. Not only will Jonathan and I get to (slowly and carefully) reintegrate foods we’re not eating right now, but we will be getting some little chicks for the kiddos. We’re planning to get chickens that will lay blue/green eggs and chickens that will lay chocolate brown eggs. Of course, we know we won’t have eggs for several months after we get our little chickies, but it will still be fun to care for our little flock in the meantime. Hula Girl is so excited to be able to be the one who feeds and waters the chickens, and Little Man can hardly wait to check for eggs.

Jonathan and I have a lot of work to do between now and May in order to prepare for our new little pets. We plan to keep 8-10 chickens, so we’ll need to build a sizable coop and run. We do intend to let the chickens roam freely in the backyard when we’re home, but we want their run to be large enough that they don’t NEED to be let out to roam daily in case we can’t spend time outside for any reason. We have a ton of scrap wood kindly donated by our neighbor, who works at the steel mill. The folks who manufacture steel goods there lay the products on top of 2x4s, 4x4s, railroad ties, etc., to let them cool. So all the wood has scorch marks on it, but for a chicken coop, it’s great! We have to paint the wood and seal it anyway; we may as well get it for free!

We’re also planning to use some of that wood to expand our garden (again) for this summer. Last year’s garden wasn’t nearly as productive and exciting for us as our gardens have been in the past. We really didn’t have time to work with it and we didn’t grow much food. This year we are planning to grow pretty much every veggie we eat, and lots of each kind, so we can store up food for next winter. It has been getting pretty expensive to feed our family lately, and any little dent we can make in our grocery budget through canning and freezing next fall will be very helpful. I have gotten several books on “homesteading” and food preservation, so I guess I’d better get started on my reading!

Some other things I’m learning about these days include sewing, piano, and calculus. It’s been a rough go for me the past few months as I’ve found myself absolutely bored out of my mind. I’m the type of person who likes to be engaged in learning all the time. When that’s not happening, I get crabby. Like, I want to drive to Mexico JUST BECAUSE I CAN kind of crabby. It’s really not pretty and it makes me feel STUCK. So I’m working to improve my sewing skillz (which is pretty easy to do as I’m just terrible to begin with!), learning to play piano (I can play a scale! yay me!), and learning calculus through a free online class. I guess I just don’t understand it when people say they don’t think they can do something. Like, “Wow, I could never learn XYZ!” I always think, “Why not?” I hope to instill this value in my kids, as it really does leave every opportunity open.

I will tell you my ONE limitation, in case you think I’m just pig-headed and boastful: I will never succeed at anything requiring me to physically look good. Like, I’ll never be a model (I’m 5’3″). I’ll never proudly show off my Jamberry nail wraps (my fingers are cracked and dry from doing housework and even the best lotion just doesn’t heal them completely). I’ll never post an instagram shot of my feet in flip-flops overlooking the ocean (my feet look like hairless hobbit feet; my toes are short and curl over weirdly and my feet are wide and high-arched- a very unattractive combination). Plus, I’m kind of a klutz. Sure, I will dance, but not well. So now you know my limitations, lest you think I’m arrogant.

But seriously, why can’t I learn calculus? Why not?

Also, to keep boredom at bay, I’m gonna blog again. 🙂

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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