Four Things I Need To Parent Well

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Lately parenting has been a bit rough around here. I’ve been homesick and needed some time out to get my perspective back. I was reflecting on all of this and realized that there are four things that I need as a person in order to be a good parent.

Daily Spiritual Practices: This is kind of a “duh!” for me because not only have I been taught that time with God is important all my life, but I know this is true from personal experience! What I’m realizing though is that some time spent in devotions in the morning is not enough. I need to somehow structure our day so that we (and I) are constantly recentering ourselves on our faith and the ways in which is informs how we live.

Continuing Education: Not only do I need to review and replenish my own knowledge of the subjects the children are learning in school but I also need to be studying those things that will make me a better parent and teacher. I need to be reading and evaluating parenting books, reading articles on changes in understanding of how children learn and at least looking at pictures of ways to structure our household to facilitate exploration and curiosity.

In addition I need to study the children: who are they? why do they react the way they do? what’s hard for them? what’s easy? and what do we do about it all? I need to log these things and review them in order to teach and guide them well.

Creative Expression: Not just writing and blogging but also using my creative gifts to make the atmosphere that we desire in the home. How do I use my gifts to beautify our home, express emotions, or bring calm to areas of chaos? These things effect my mood and my mood sets the tone for the family.

Time for Integration: Finally, I need time to integrate the three areas above. To evaluate and analyze what we are doing and how it’s working, to figure out how to incorporate new ideas and to give old patterns that are working well enough energy to be continued.

Right now our common life as a family doesn’t allow for some of these things to happen regularly and where I do have time to do some of them I find it hard to apply that time to these four needs.

There is always the “tyranny of the (apparently) urgent”, the daily stuff that must be done if we are to function, but I am beginning to wonder if I haven’t got things backwards. Sure, there is always housework that could profitably done, and I tend to put off other things in favor of the housework or become so discouraged by it all that I sit on the internet or with a book and am neither creative nor productive!

Does it have to be an either/or thing? What if a sane, happy mama, led to a peaceful household where the members loved to serve each other and so the necessary work got done and not at the expense of the creative? Is that even possible?

I don’t know…but I intend to find out!

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Homesick in Holy Week

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This is a hard week and it hit me unexpectedly. Three months after moving here (which I’m generally happy about) all I want to do is go home.

I know a big piece of it is that this church community still feels strange and my old one fit me like a second skin. There I “knew and was known” and here I talk to people every week with whom I’ve spoken before but whose names I cannot remember.

Holy Week is always a bit hard anyway. It’s supposed to be and because of its place in my personal history it is doubly so for me. Several years ago it was during Lent that I returned to the Lord and to the church after nearly a decade in the wilderness and it was during the Great Vigil that is the culmination of Holy Week that I publicly bore witness to that return by reaffirming my baptismal and confirmation vows. Every year that history plays in the back of my mind as we go through the liturgy together and I am strengthened. I miss that.

Since we’ve been married we’ve developed a tradition of having a feast on Easter Day. We invite all kinds of people- not just churchgoers, but family, neighbors and friends and celebrate together. We’ll be doing that here too, and the people we’ve invited have the potential to become friends but we don’t yet have a level of heart sharing with them. It will be fun- a party usually is- but that aspect of togetherness will be missing.

I could spiritualize these feelings and think about how as believers we are homesick for heaven (and those kinds of thoughts have crossed my mind) but that would be to deny the very human reality of my homesickness.

I’m not longing for heaven. I’m missing very real people with whom I have relationships.

Pearly gates aren’t in my mind’s eye- I want the faded brasses and tobacco leaf carved pews of my church.

I want the slightly uncomfortable feeling of being hugged by the huggers and the little dramas that we all partake in and that are part of our common life.

I want to gather with my mom friends while the children dig in the sand in the park, and try to figure out what we’re all doing here!

I expect some of those things will come up here in time- the Lord knows I need them- but I’m lonely and homesick and struggle today and someday seems a long time off.

Pray for me, won’t you? It’s hard to parent with grace when I’m feeling empty…

I’ll walk this Holy Week one day at a time, snuggle Jack frequently and cry if I need to…it’s OK

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Busy, Busy …..

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The past couple of weeks have been a little nuts! Last week we had something going on 5 out of 7 nights and this week we had something two nights plus the children’s gym class started up again and Bull finally started back of with speech therapy!

Also there is a new craze among the children for making tents and playing Indians, which is an extremely untidy game requiring extra time for clean-up which is hard to find when we need to leave for some activity!

Some things have just had to slide and now I need to get them back in shape again!

Today will be a school day- we have managed to consistently have school through this time and are currently only behind on science which we should make up this week and next!!!I’m so happy about this as my tendency when we get busy is to find all kinds of excuses to curl up with a book or the web instead of doing whatever the next thing in the schedule is. Grace is so wonderful.

After school I’ll set my timer for twenty minutes and work on a section of the house. Mostly things need to be carried back to their proper homes and I need to vacuum and deal with some baking pans. Oh, and clean the glass out of the oven from the pie plate I broke Tuesday night. Putting an empty pie plate in the oven, preheating the oven, and then pouring water into the pie plate to steam your bread has a rather spectacular result!

Twenty minutes of general tidying with the children running things back to the right rooms/places, twenty minutes of folding and putting away laundry, and twenty minutes on the kitchen should make a big difference.

And those twenty minute stints should mean that tomorrow I’ll actually have the brain space to write the posts in my head!

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The Past Influences The Future: Individualized Assessment and Goals

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The first thing that need to be done when writing an Individualized Assessment (IA) and setting goals for our children is to write a brief history of their lives to date. This doesn’t need to be a biography but a record of whether or not they hit appropriate developmental milestones within the target time and any significant events that may have effected them or that have a lasting influence.

For example: Since Bull was hospitalized as an infant he has some developmental milestones that he reached later than is typical,which is to be expected. He crawled later than most children, walked later than most children and so on. All of his delays are physical and can be directly related to having major stomach surgery at 3 months old.

Mouse was just turned two at the time of Bull’s hospitalization and essentially lost her parents for five weeks because of it. Buggle was with her as he has been for her whole life and as a result a great deal of her emotional security depends on that relationship.

When I write her history I include this information because it effects the kinds of things she is willing to do, how well she does in situations where she is separated from her brother, and her relationship with her parents.

It’s hard. Putting these kinds of things down on paper and noting the consequences in the lives of our children of circumstances and our own choices can be heart wrenching. We need to do it though as understanding the things that have shaped our children helps us to parent them better.

It might mean selecting gym classes for Bull that are designed to improve coordination and core strength. It might mean selecting activities for Mouse that Buggle is not involved in, but she finds interesting enough to feel like she can do them without him.

Sometimes that history effects curriculum choices, sometimes it effects the shape of the school day or what chores and when we ask them to do them. Writing down the history and where I see its effects helps me to determine the needs of each child.

I’ve created a Individualized Assessment Form with some of the questions that I ask when I write a child’s history. Please feel free to use it as a guide to your own Individualized Assessments of your children.

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Read Around Here: January/ February 2014

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This post contains affiliate links. Your purchases help feed our book habit! Thank you.

 

 

The librarians at our local system are highly amused by how often we visit and how many books we take home. My card pretty much stays maxed out at 50 books as I check out books for the little boys and books for our current unit study so I got each of the big children their own cards as well! We bring a couple of bags and a milk crate to the library and we fill them all yet I constantly hear “I don’t have anything to read!”

 

Jack: Currently loves any book with trucks, fire engines, snow plows or buses. OK he loves any book with any kind of vehicle and will find a vehicle to tell you about even if the book is about  counting book structured around a family’s vacation trip to Maine! He loves to sit on the couch with any of his siblings and look at his books while they read and is quite good at getting Mouse or Buggle to read to him. He is starting to like simple stories and got quite excited over Jan Brett’s Hedgie’s Surprise as he has a stuffed hedgehog that looks like the one in the book and is named Hedgie!

 

Bull: Lots of picture books dealing with trucks, construction, and transportation. If a book has plumbing in it that is a wonderful book and he will request it over and over.  Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry get read over and over and he will look at them and study the details in the pictures for a long time. He’s supposed to have a reading time with me after lunch while the big two clean up. It’s a little hit-or-miss since we sometimes need to go straight to a nap, but I’ve gotten a couple of Carolyn Haywood books to read to him so we’ll see how having chapter books read to him goes.

Mouse: In the past couple of months she has reread all of the “Little House” books, plus a number of the books about Caroline’s growing up years. She has started showing an interest in doing some of the things that they do in those books like sewing and wearing aprons. She also enjoys mysteries and has been reading Trixie Beldon, Bobbsey Twins and The Boxcar Children.

Buggle: reads the books I find the most interesting right now. He loves stories that either did really happen or could have and those that involve animals and survival are particularly favored.

For Christmas we gave him Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons

which he has read several times since then and declared it “the best book ever!” until he read My Side Of The Mountain and its two sequels. The rest of his list for the past months looks something like this:


The Mysterious Benedict Society (read twice and the occasion of much laughter. It’s the story of four children and their benefactor who must solve a mystery to save the world. There is a great deal of word play and the reader is encouraged to pay attention to the details in order to get the jokes.)


My Friend Flicka (read once)


The Black Stallion (read several times)


My Side Of The Mountain and its sequels (multiple readings)


Hatchet (read twice, he was very worried on the first reading whether the protagonist would survive (It’s about a boy who is the sole survivor of a private plane crash in the middle of nowhere) until I pointed out that if he was only halfway through the book and the guy died what would the other pages be about?)

Everything Mouse read at least once.


Shiloh (twice that I know of)

Poppy (Tales from Dimwood Forest) (twice)


Hoot (twice (the story of a trio of preteens who band together to prevent a developer from building a pancake house in the middle of a desert owl nesting ground. There are some tricky family dynamics as two of the three are step-siblings and don’t get along well with the mother, while the father is not very present. I thought it was a reasonable portrayal of a family with serious issues and that the normal family of the main protagonist was portrayed as being much better with parents and child having a good relationship and trusting one another. Buggle already knows that some families are not happy and I was happy for him to read this. )


The Penderwicks (A book that I had apparently read as a child but don’t remember at all except for the title and I just found out is a trilogy written by a local author! He’s reading the sequels now and I’ll read them when he’s done.)


Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Usually when I go into the playroom after our quiet period in the afternoon, there are half a dozen books in various stages of being read on the floor. He goes from one to the other as the mood strikes and generally has at least three books going at once just like his parents!

 

Now that we’ve finally finished up our unit on Explorers of the New World (seriously I think it holds the record for most interrupted unit study ever!) we are moving on to the first three settlements in what would become the thirteen colonies (Roanoke, Jamestown and Plymouth) and I am going to be giving him some serious biographies to read and report on as part of his contribution to the study. I’ve got a bunch of books on hold and am working on skimming through the books I have and writing notes for discussion for them, who knows maybe I’ll actually have the time to pull them into an ebook someday!

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Smiles and Frowns

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One of my goals as a parent is to help the children learn to regulate and control their own behavior. As they grow older and become more mature, I want them to grasp the concept that their behavior may have longer term consequences than my immediate response and I want them to begin to think about good and bad consequences of their actions before they act!

In teaching these concepts I found that we commonly ran into two difficulties: I forgot to be consistent in application of consequences or forgot to impose them, and they lost track of how their day had been going, felt like they were failing all the time and became discouraged.

We needed some kind of easy to use and easy to see method of keeping track of our day and behaviors and consequences that shape it.

When we moved to this house I added a large (the biggest one I could by off the shelf) whiteboard to the kitchen to use for grocery lists etc.

After some thought I added a space for “smiles” and “frowns” to the edge of it for each child. I color code a lot of things around here so it was easy to simply write the parts of our day in each of the big three’s colors with a space for drawing faces.

 

wpid-20140211_144353.jpg   As we go through the day I mark off the day parts with smiles if they have done well and frowns if they are needed. Any child who succeeds in having a smiley face for every day part is allowed to stay up an extra fifteen minutes after their regular bedtime. “Staying up late” is a much sought after privilege and they check the board frequently throughout the day and ask me to update it as necessary.

Some weeks we concentrate on a particular behavior that needs to change while other days they receive a smile just for contributing to the peace of the household by being cheerful, willing and kind. This enables me to work on particular issues with particular children, and to encourage in them in their general outlook as well.

I did have some concerns about whether or not frowny faces in the early part of the day would discourage them from trying for the rest of the day but this has not been a problem. We talk about how a day can start to go badly but be redeemed to the point where it will still be a good day if not a perfect one.

The visual aid of the smiles and frowns has been especially good for Bull (4). I do give him warnings (“You have all smiley faces, but continuing to ___ will get you a frown.) which is often enough to help him control himself to stop whining or pestering his siblings. I try hard not to give more than one warning in order to keep the marking system effective.

Often with the older two I focus on something that has become a habit (this week it will be huffing and sighing for Buggle and looking for something to complain about for Mouse) as charting habits helps them to see just how often they do something and to learn to replace a bad habit with a good one.

I try to review with them each week the kinds of things that will earn smiles and frowns and be as clear as possible in my descriptions. That clarity means that they generally accept a frown without argument and can readily tell us why they aren’t staying up on a certain night.

Having the day divided into parts means that they have much shorter term and more concrete goals to strive for and means that they can differentiate between what they need to do doing morning chores and what they need to do during free time. This encourages them to self-regulate their desire to yell and run around by giving them a time to do so and a set time when doing so wouldn’t be appropriate.

We have run into a few instances of “I have all smiles and so-and-so has TWO frowns” but so far have been able to deal with that by pointing out that it is not kind to gloat or brag and having the offender apologize.

 

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Handwork: A Is For Apple

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The toy carrots were so popular that I thought we’d continue with a food theme as Bull learns the letters of the alphabet.  Since we’re learning the vowels before the consonants the next fruit to make was obviously an apple!

 

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This was another super easy project.

Supplies:

Red or green felt

A small bowl

Thread

Needle

Pins

Scissors

Stuffing

Marker (either permanent or ordinary)

 

1. On the felt trace the small bowl. You will need two circles for each apple. I also drew a small slightly pointed oval for the leaf. Cut out the pieces.

2. Put one circle on top of the other and slip the “leaf” in between them. One end of the leaf should be caught in the edges of the circles but the majority of the piece will be pointed towards the cent or the circle. That way when the pieces are stitched, turned right side out and stuffed the leaf will be sticking up from the apple.

3. Thread a needle, double the thread over and knot it. For small children I like to wax the thread by pulling it across a candle stub or a piece of beeswax a couple of times. This stiffens the thread slightly and makes if less likely to tangle.

4. Stitch the pieces together about 1/4 inch from the edge. You make want to draw a line for children to stitch on. Use a back-stitch to make a continuous seam. Sew all the way around leaving a small hole (about an inch and a half long) where you can turn the piece right side out. Knot the thread.

5. Turn the apple right side out. Felt stretches pretty nicely so it probably doesn’t need to be snipped but if it does pucker turn it wrong side out again and snip to make it a bit more stretchable.

6. Stuff then sew the opening closed again using a back-stitch.

I took a permanent marker and wrote an uppercase A on one side and a lowercase one on the other side but that is completely optional.

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Place in the toy kitchen or shop and have fun!

Note: This is also an easy method for making small soft balls for indoor play.

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These Four Walls

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I laid out a maze all over the floor and set tasks for the children. Here Mouse and Buggle are racing to pick up pom-poms with salad tongs, without getting out of the lines!

I laid out a maze all over the floor and set tasks for the children. Here Mouse and Buggle are racing to pick up pom-poms with salad tongs, without getting out of the lines!

It is said that a change is as good as a rest! I’m starting to see the truth in that after spending so much time within these walls this winter!

The new house is bigger than the old house and we have more space for play and for being alone to read or reflect but restless energy that can fill this house at times is amazing!

I tend towards restlessness anyway but I know it’s time for a change when the children are continually running the loop from the dining room through the living room, across the foot of the stairs, through the kitchen and back to the dining room!

I used to think that there was something really wrong with how unsettled we all could get if we stayed home too much, but I’m learning that a change of scene can be a gift and desiring such a change doesn’t necessarily mean that we are falling into discontent.

I find if my attitude is one of finding us something to do that expends energy, and refreshes us for home life, that going out somewhere can be a real encouragement to finish the schoolwork for the day. It’s when I’m feeling tired of my life and use going out as an excuse to escape my life for a few hours that leaving the house fails to encourage and intensifies my discontent.

Like so many other things in life it is the attitude of the heart that makes the difference. The children pick up on my attitude and make their own attitude choices and these four walls can feel cramped and confining or be a good base from which to set out into the world.

So in this winter of 2014 when it seems like winter has been going on forever, here are a few things we do to revitalize our life together:

  • Sing! Sometimes church music, sometimes children’s songs, sometimes random, funny songs we make up as we go. Listen to music too, but sing even if you feel you are making more of a “joyful noise” than a tune. Singing engages the mind and heart in a way that listening cannot.
  • Dance or at least march around the house! Do this with the children, it will be good for your mood too and when you do it with them there will be far fewer quarrels. We like dancing to the playlists on Youtube of Sousa marches, Irish jigs, and polkas
  • Visit the library. We go for books but also take in special programs and events. Each reader in the family has their own card and we often check out the maximum number of books on several cards.
  • Go for a walk even when the weather is nasty. Obviously you’ll want to use common sense here but it is possible to bundle everyone up and go out for ten minutes of vigorous exercise then come back in. Yes, you’ll probably spend more time getting people in and out of coats and boots than you actually spend outside but everyone will benefit from the fresh air!
  • Engage in sensory play. There are numerous recipes and ideas on Pinterest for different kinds of doughs (the little boys love cloud dough in a tray with their construction vehicles) and other sensory items and most of them clean up with a wet rag or a vacuum.  A little more work for you (although young children frequently love to run the vacuum and that can be part of the sensory experience) but it can be a change of pace that helps break up the days

These are just a few of the things we can do to re-energize and encourage ourselves and our children. What are some of your ways of breaking up the winter weeks?

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Why Our Children Need Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

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IMG_0764But those are for kids with learning problems.

Yup! That is the place that one is most likely to find an IEP.

All children need them though, they just don’t necessarily need them for school. We can call them something else if you’d like. How about Individualized Assessment and Goals?

Oh, you have goals for your children?

Great! Let me see them.

Oh, they’re not written down. Well, tell me what are your goals for your three-year old?

You want him to grow up to be a kind, capable, productive, happy man. Great goals, but how are you going to get from his current self-obssessed, whiny self to that adult?

This is where an Individualized Assessment comes in.

You see the first step in figuring out how to get our children to where we want them (that’s another post) is figuring out where they are. In order to do that we need to methodically and honestly evaluate them, because academics, family dynamics, physical capabilities and emotional maturity are all factors in who they currently are and who they will eventually become.

 

Individualized Assessments help us to remember that each of our children is different, with their own strengths and weaknesses.

They help us to identify those strengths and weaknesses and develop ways of measuring growth.

They keep us honest by reminding us that our children often struggle with the same things we do.

They give us a record of our children and our vision from year to year.

They keep us from being overwhelmed by all of the possibilities for curriculum by reminding us of how our children have learned in the past.

They give us reminders of what to pray for each of our children.

They keep us from thinking that things are better or worse than they really are!

In the coming months I’ll be talking about each  of these points as well as writing a  sample Individualized Assessment. I really do find the exercise of thinking about each of my children and making out a list of goals and gifts, then using that list to guide their schooling to be extremely helpful. I want to know my children so that I can help them to know themselves and grow into maturity.

 

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A Word of Encouragement

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standandstare

Recently I had the opportunity to attend and participate in a “How To Get Started Homeschooling” workshop organized by my local support group. I was there to learn and make some connections but ended up being asked to sit on the panel as they needed someone who could answer special needs questions. Kind of intimidating as all of the other panelists has more children and way more experience than I!

Anyway at one point the moderator asked if we would each share something that we had been told when starting our homeschool journey that we found to be a continuing help and encouragement. Here’s what I would say:

RELAX

That’s it. Just take a deep breath, make a cup of tea and sit on the couch. Don’t start making lesson plans, don’t pick up a project, don’t start reading aloud to the toddler. RELAX

You were created to need rest and relaxation.

RELAX

Yes, there’s something you could be doing some of which you might even find relaxing (knitting anyone?) but the truth is that sometimes you need to just sit and be.

This homeschooling-raising-kids-being-a-good-wife-and-neighbor thing’s success isn’t up to us anyway! Most of the things you and I are worrying about are beyond our control anyway, let them rest in the hand of the Father, take a deep breath and sit still.

Now relaxing can slide into laziness quite quickly, there’s no doubt! The solution for that is not no relaxation! The solution is reaching out for grace. Grace to work and teach, organize and disciple, and grace to sit still and let it all wait.

Seasons aren’t just the changes between having mostly littles and starting to have bigs, they are also the times of busy and the times of rest from busy.

RELAX my friends and teach your children to RELAX. REST and teach your children to REST (not just nap although I LOVE naptime!).

You don’t have a complete handle on everything, and you can’t make up for a broken world by refusing to rest. Lean on the Father and be still and RELAX in the knowledge that it is all in his hands!

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