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I thought our summer would slow down after the 4th but we’ve immersed ourselves in summer as if we need to take in all the swimming, wading, and mudding we can get.  We’ve been ridiculously busy but in a wonderful way.  I’d planned to continue with schoolwork through the summer but other than a few weeks of messy science experiments, some fun math topics on weeks when M doesn’t have camps or scheduled activities and plenty of reading, we’ve ended up dropping all formal work. That’s not to say we aren’t learning but I’ve realized we really need a break, a time away, an old-fashioned summer.

Perhaps it comes from re-reading so many books that touch on the old-fashioned spirit of summer vacation – Half Magic, Magic By The Lake, and The Time Garden by Edward Eager, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes, Canadian Summer by Hilda Van Stockum and probably more I’ve forgotten.

Our last five weeks have included a trip to the beach which including two stops at Riverbanks Zoo, visits to the Museum of the Coastal Carolinas and Ingram Planetarium, trips to the pool, two sleepovers, trips to a fantastic park with a creek and woods to explore, exploring a butterfly tent, catching fireflies, eating milkshakes and root beer floats, a family day at Brent’s work, playing in babypools, M perfecting her scootering technique, the start of M’s Eco-Dectectives camp at the NC Arboretum, and five birthday parties. No wonder I haven’t had much time for blogging. I forgot my camera (sometimes intentionally so I could just participate) for many of these events but here are some pictorial highlights:

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On a recent library trip, one of the girls pulled Caroline Arnold’s African Animals off the shelf and, charmed by the elephant family on the front, wanted to take it home.  Both girls enjoyed the lovely pictures of animals as well as the fun facts they learned.  I particularly like the format of the book.  Caroline Arnold divides her discussion of animals by habitat: grasslands, forest, desert. Each animal she discusses gets a large picture and a paragraph or two of text.  The final pages discuss the need for conservation of African animals’ habitats. There are enough interesting facts to engage an older child, but the descriptions are brief enough to hold the attention of a younger child.  Even 3yo C was willing to listen rather than simply look.

This week’s Non-Fiction Monday Round-Up is at Charlotte’s Library.

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A Homeschooling Day

Today was the kind of day where none of us felt much like doing work when we got up.  C is just getting better after being sick for most of the last 2.5 weeks.  I have a cold, and M is still catching up on sleep after a very active weekend (a 2 night snowed-in sleepover followed by a Valentine’s Day hot dog party at home with friends). I messed up the biscuits I was making for breakfast, and we were all griping at each other before we even sat down to eat. I thought this would turn out to be a day where I felt like we didn’t accomplish much but we ended up doing lots and having a lot of fun too.  I have many things to add to my list of things done.

At breakfast, C asked if she could watch a Diego episode and even though I wanted us to get moving on schoolwork, I said yes, knowing M would want to watch too.  One episode turned into 3 episodes, and I was feeling guilty about all the things we weren’t doing even though the girls were snuggled up together and happy.

Once I forced myself to turn off the TV, we played a few rounds of Cretaceous Seas Bingo, and I promised we’d watch National Geographic Sea Monsters, the video the game is based on, later in the week.  Next, M and I played math tic tac toe to help learn the 2′s and 3′s times tables and she did a few math workbook pages.  Much to my amazement C played quietly with our big bin of fabric scraps and some “jewels” that I think are meant to be used for floral arranging.

A Magical Land of fabric scraps

After M finished her handwriting assignment, she took some time to bounce around the house on her hop ball, and the girls played together until lunch.

Once C was in bed for her nap, M did an end-of-sentence punctuation worksheet, and we did the her next spelling lesson together.  Then she asked for a writing game. I feel so indebeted to Peggy Kaye for increasing M’s confidence with writing. We played another game from Kaye’s wonderful Games for Writing. M rolled a di and then I started a sentence. She had to add as many words to the sentence as her roll indicated.  Then it was my turn and she started a sentence for me. After our game, we read silently together and started a fun new book, Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky.

Books we used/read this morning.

M having some quiet time in her room before our outing with friends to see The Princess and the Frog at the local second run movie theater/pizza place.

When she woke up from her nap, C was very happy to see all the toys her sister had spread out in their room.

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Our Daily Routine

Earlier this week, Maria of Dirt Under My Nails, wrote about the daily rhythms her family has developed and asked how other homeschoolers structure their day.  Like her family, we don’t keep a strict schedule but we do have a routine to fall back on.  More often than not, something gets out of order or an out of the house activity changes what we are doing, but I like to have a plan to work from and it helps the girls know what to expect.

- breakfast around 7 after waving good-bye to Brent as he heads to work

- picture book read aloud time either while the girls finish eating or cuddled on the couch

- math for M and an activity for C to do at the table if she’s willing

- get dressed for the day and do chores

- break for something active – a walk or dancing or playing in the yard

- language arts for M and another seated activity for C

- hands on science and/or an art project

- run a quick errand or two or have playtime at home

- lunch

- nap for C, M reads to me and then plays in her room

- playtime in the later afternoon, maybe meet a friend, go to the park, etc.

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In a comment on this post, Nina asked about our read-aloud routine. I realized the answer was complex enough to warrant a post of it’s own. Read-alouds are the most consistent part of our day.  They are the one thing M and C can count on doing every day, typically at the same time. I make room for reading aloud on even the most crazily scheduled days. Sometimes this means we have to eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner because I don’t have time to make anything else (not that the girls mind that).

Read-alouds are the one thing I almost never say no to.  M regularly uses reading time to wrangle a few more minutes before bedtime. When we travel, we often lug along a laughably enormous bag of books so we’re sure to have plenty to read while we’re away.

Most days, I read picture books to C before her nap. Then I read a chapter book to M once I put C down.  We do the same thing at night.  Brent or I read picture books to C and the other one reads a chapter book to M.  We generally read with M for 20-30 minutes both of those times.  We shorten reading time on busy days, and occasionally we miss the afternoon session because we are gone on an excursion. We also occasionally fit in read-aloud sessions during lunch or after breakfast, and more rarely, we do some reading in the afternoon before dinner.  If one of the girls asks to be read to and I can spare the time, I’ll read.

C occasionally listens in to chapter books, but typically, I read chapter books when she’s in bed, playing with her dad, or well-occupied with toys.  I have read with her climbing me and trying to grab the book from my hand or with her wailing because M got to pick the book that time.  M and I have gotten rather adept at focusing on the story despite her antics. More often than not, C will eventually settle down to listen or go get her own book and “read” it to herself.  Lunchtime reading sessions tend to go well because she is occupied with eating playing with her food.

Nina also mentioned that her daughter asks lots of questions during reading sessions so they don’t get very far with their books.  This is something I have struggled with at times, more earlier on in our foray into chapter book reading.  I want to encourage M to ask questions, to be engaged with the story, but I also don’t want to stop so much that we lose continuity.  I have at times asked that she wait until I finished a 2 page spread before I stop for questions.  If we are close to the end of a chapter or if the chapter is short, I will ask that we finish a chapter first and then go back and talk about it.

Sometimes now I read for so long without any questions or comments from M that I worry she’s stopped listening so I’ll ask her a few questions to see if she’s comprehending the story.  Usually she is, I’m amazed how well she can listen while dancing around or building a pillow fort or ignoring her sister’s loud singing.

And as C gets older, I’m sure we’ll do a regular morning reading session where I read a chapter book to both girls.  Our reading will change in other ways too.  Soon I hope to add a time of silent family reading where M reads a book on her own and C has a stack to look through, but I intend to keep reading aloud daily even when both girls can read on their own.

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Comfortable at Home

This past weekend, several people asked me this question or one similar to it: “Aren’t you soooo glad that school will start back next week?” The implication being that having both girls home for two weeks must have me ready to pull my hair out. I was surprised both my friends and myself when I answered “not really”.

In years past, I would have been chomping at the bit to get M back to school, but not this year. I thought about why and realized I’m much more comfortable hanging out at home with my girls that I’ve ever been. When M was a toddler, I would do anything to avoid an entire morning or afternoon with just the two of us at home. I needed to get out and do something or have someone over for a playdate. I was amazed by friends who could stay home with kids all day and not go nuts.

After C was born, I knew I was teetering on the edge of a post-partum depression diagnosis, and I sought out all the opportunities for socialization that I could get since being around other moms helped a lot. But last summer, I decided not to sign M up for the summer session of preschool nor did I engage a sitter for a morning or two a week as I’d thought I might. We did a few weeks of camp at her new school and took a few trips, but, for the most part, all of us were home.

I was nervous that I would have a hard time finding enough activities for us with lots of M’s friends spending many weeks out of town or in camp. So I decided to make up a homeschooly schedule for our mornings, and use it several days/week. We’d chosen a three day/week option for M for kindergarten, and I knew I wanted to do school work with her on the two mornings she was home so I thought getting into that routine in the summer was a good idea.

I was nervous, about our unscheduled summer and my ability to work with M as a teacher, but things went better than I’d imagined. There were days when M was too grumpy to focus on work and days when C was too fussy for us work over her crying, but in general things worked surprisingly well. And slowly, without my even realizing it had happened, as we’ve tried out homeschooling in this part-time way I grew more comfortable just being at home with my girls, doing crafts, cooking, playing, building, and reading, lots of reading.

I remember having read an article about homeschooling which addressed the question of “will I go crazy being home with my kids every day.” The article (I’ve sadly forgotten it’s title and author) said that as you began homeschooling, everyone in the family would grow used to being with each other and learn how to co-exist at home, that in fact, that was the most important thing you would do in your first year of homeschooling.

We’ve enjoyed having both school and homeschool days, and we are planning for M to go to school three days/week again next year (I can’t believe it’s already time for school re-enrollment). But I’m so thankful we’ve had a chance to grow more comfortable with each other and to know that homeschooling full time is a viable choice for us.

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For the last few years, I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in several categories: health, family, personal goals. I’ve sent myself reminders every month to check in with my goals which I’ve written down in an outline-style list (as if resolutions would be any fun without a nice list to check off). I’ve not kept all my resolutions or met all my goals for the year, but I have accomplished enough to make them feel worth while. I try to list concrete small goals under each general resolution.

I’ve yet finish my list for 2009, but I already know that my most important resolution is to create a more peaceful environment in our home. Back in March I was inspired by Melissa Wiley to begin pondering a more patient and respectful form of parenting. I’ve read and pondered and experimented, but I’ve yet to find what I need to fully make the shift in parenting that I want to make. I’ve changed things in fits and starts but always reverted back to yelling too much and losing my temper too swiftly. As I said earIier in the year, there are no easy solutions, no one-size-fits-all perfect system to make me the parent I want to be. Our family has many happy, wonderful moments like those I described recently, but I want to find ways to correct behavior and guide my girls without getting as angry as I do. I need to make a fundamental shift in the language I use to correct them as well as my personal reactions to misbehavior. Changing such deep-seated ways is very, very hard.

Even if no books have the perfect answer, that’s where I naturally turn for answers so I’m going to read more books that might guide me in my quest. I’ve got Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline on request from the library and Peaceful Parents Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew is shipping from Amazon. I discovered both at Soulemama’s bookshop. I have been reading her book, The Creative Family, and it’s inspiring me even more to create the sense of peace I want our household to have.

I enjoyed the recent post at Handmade Homeschool about having a Word of the Year and I gave some thought to that idea today. I’m not sure I’ll be able to narrow myself to just one word but peace is certainly one of them along with change and surrender (showing my need to learn to give up control).

I’d originally intended this to be a single post with a follow up book review or two but I quickly realized that I had more than one post’s worth to say on the subjects of parenting and resolutions so I’ll do a follow up when I can.

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