Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"You've got your hands full!"

I know that I've mentioned in previous posts that when I take the kids out on errands places, someone somewhere always seems to say "you've got your hands full!" I usually respond with something like, "Yes, I do." Frequently, my husband or someone at church will see me piling on various bags and grabbing the baby carrier and say "let me carry some of that". This usually surprises me since I am used to doing it all myself, plus herding a four year old and a two year old. Add to this a class at church that has the purpose of causing self-examination to result in being a better servant of God (which requires change). Then I have just finished reading a book entitled "Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life," by Keri Wyatt Kent. All of these things have got me thinking a lot about how I do my life.

As a mother of three young children, life is going to be a little crazy right now just because of that. But, I've struggled with the idea that I'm not doing things that I used to do. I have also noticed that there are not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done (at least not without sacrificing sleep and sanity). In my class at church, we have talked about looking at one's life to see what God is already doing and join him in that work. In my life, the only thing I see God doing or desiring me to do right now is to raise my children as he would have me do. Now, that is a plenty big job. However, in realizing this it has allowed me to take a deep breath and relax and let go of those feelings of discontent about letting go of past responsibilities. It also frees me from pursuing too many discontented ideas about what I want my future to look like. I can live in the present and deal with my life as I have it now.

While reading the book, I feel like I have seen clues to what my life needs. Slowing down as much as I can to enjoy each day and my time with my family is not only a desire of mine, but would be good for me. I have to watch the temptation to over schedule my time or my kids' time. Working in rest in my days and weeks is important. Keeping a close eye on priorities and how everyday choices are affected by them or drift away from them is crucial. I also need to allow myself to have time for me without guilt.

It wasn't until tonight though, that I realized that the comments people have been telling me everywhere I go may be God trying to point something out to me. I need to realize that I have a really big job being a mother to these three kids. I already knew this of course, but I was in denial in the sense that I thought that if I was good enough and learned enough tricks, I could shrink it to a more manageable size. No, being a parent is a God-sized job and I need his help to do it. I also realized that I try to do too much myself. Oh, I can do it (like carrying all the bags and herding the kids at the same time), but it would be better for me to get other people to help me when I need help, more than I currently do.

All this tells me that some things need to change in my life, and they need to be serious, major changes and well as small everyday ones. I'm not sure yet, what they all will be yet. I have some ideas floating around in my head. But slowing down is not something you do in a hurry. And, simplifying life is complex, because life and the world we live in are complex.

One thing that will continue is homeschooling. There are many valid reasons to put children in public or private schools, but for us, with our feelings of conviction about what we need to do to raise our kids, homeschooling is it. The Bible plainly teaches that the parents are responsible to God for their children's education. For us, we feel that we can best fulfill that responsibility by teaching our own kids. In fact, we started homeschooling with merely academic ideas in mind. Now, we are seeing more evidence that their spiritual education is equally important. I think we all know that children learn best by watching how the people around them live. If we live out our faith as we teach it to our children all day and every day, it will be much more effective than teaching them "knowledge" about our faith and then send them out to spend most of the day around people who do not share this faith and/or are actively trying to undermine it. Does this fit into a scenario of slowing down and simplifying? Absolutely! Each child can be taught in a tailor-made fashion exactly what they need at a pace that fits them. And we don't have to undo the problems that arise from our kids learning either the wrong things from a teacher hostile to our world-view or innappropriate things from other kids. Teaching a child (especially one that wants to learn) is actually easier than most people think (I think teaching kids in groups of 20-30 is the hard part).

Another thing that will continue is the basic church activities that we already do. Not only does our church have a good children's program and we like what we hear our children learning from the various classes they are in, it is good for them to be around kids who are different (you know... not raised by the same parents as our kids are). My husband and I also find our usual church activities rejuvenating. It also provides most of our social life.

What about the housework, remodeling, relandscaping, recreation, finances, etc.? There are things in our life that we put there because we wanted them rather than needed them. We can do some pruning out of some of the blatantly unhelpful. However, I still think that most of these other things in our lives are helpful and important. We need to learn to balance them out better. Since I have mentioned my desire for simplifying to my husband, I suspect that he fears that I'm going to go on a rampage and start tossing out everything and make drastic changes. That type of reaction is tempting to me (a friend once said that I should have been Amish because of my love of simplicity), but I know it wouldn't work any better than a crash diet works for someone who wants to lose weight and keep it off.

As I figure out what I'm doing and changing to make life more focused and simple and fulfilling, I'll keep sharing my progress.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Parents as mystery sleuths

It stuck me today that parents have to act as mystery sleuths to figure out what child is doing what when your back is turned. It reminded me of the game "Clue." It was the case of the 4 year-old in the hall bath with the soap bottle and the 2 year-old in the master bath with the toilet paper.

Child number one is using the hall bathroom for a potty time, so I take child number two to the master bathroom to use the potty. I forgot to get a diaper for her so I go to the hall bathroom to retrieve one. Child number one had closed the door and didn't want to open it for me (warning sign). When I open the door to get the diaper, I discover that child number one has been playing with the liquid soap pump bottle and there is goopy soap on countertops, and doorknobs. After correcting this young miscreant, I return to the other bathroom with the needed diaper. Child number two had spent her time happily by unwinding the toilet paper into the trash can. Fortunately, this happened after Daddy had come home. He was outside doing yardwork, so I sent the girls out to spend time with Daddy. Mommy stayed inside and burned off the anger by practicing piano until my brain was tired. By the time they all came back in, I was no longer so mad and could be a sane Mommy again. Of course I caught them in the act so it wasn't as much a mystery.

Today a wet spot showed up on the dining room table. This was a mystery. It didn't look like a puddle like someone spilt water from a cup. It was evenly distributed and yet splotchy. And which child is the most likely culprit? In a quick process of elimination, we determined that it was the 4 year-old, in the dining room with a spray bottle. She tried to act innocent, but couldn't keep up the pretense.

The 2 year-old isn't mysterious in the same way. Her actions are pretty blatant. But her reasoning is mysterious. Like why she kept trying to take her shoes and socks off outside in the tall, brown, prickly grass that she didn't like stepping on. Then she would lose one of her socks over the side of the play gym in said prickly grass, and need someone to retrieve it for her.

Our 3 month-old hasn't done much mysterious yet. Though we occasionally come back to find him turned 180 degrees from his last known position. It's just a matter of time....

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Promised homeschool post

I am finishing up my first year of homeschooling. It has been a challenge homeschooling a four-year old. I originally had visions of a more structured schedule of schooling during the day. My daughter's changeable tastes and my lack of energy, since I was pregnant for most of the year, required some changes to that original vision. At the beginning of the year she was starting to read and needed help sounding words out. She could count but I didn't notice any mathmatical skills beyond that. She was pretty good at coloring for her age. Of the items on my list titled "Kindergarten Curriculum Overview" she had mastered about a quarter of them right off.

During the course of the last year she has mastered about half of the items on the list and moved past to the first grade list. The remaining items on the kindergarten list are things (mostly social studies) that she has been exposed to, but her understanding has been a little fuzzy. I plan to work on them more in the coming months now that she is four and a half, and acting a little older. She is now reading most things quite well, needing occasional help with unfamiliar words. She can add and subtract smaller numbers and understands that different number combinations result in the same answer (ie.: 5+5, 6+4, 7+3, 8+2, and 9+1 all result in 10). She has learned a little about telling time and money. She has improved her drawing and coloring abilities and has been experimenting with perspective. Using paper, tape and scissors, she has been experimenting with 3 dimensional objects. She has enjoyed helping to put together recipes for various foods and seeing how things are made. She has helped plant seeds and seen the resulting plants come up from the ground. She has mastered potty training (finally! though we had some regression this week). She has taken a few dance lessons and seemed to improve her ability to listen to the teacher and improve her behavior (both as a student and as a dancer). I consider the year to be a success.

It was a combination Preschool/Kindergarten year for her based on what she has been learning. I don't like the idea of testing a kid at this age, because the results are hard to determine accurately and you have to train them to take tests instead of learn. However, we have some educational computer games that she likes and they have the nice feature of keeping track of the child's ability level and can serve as a test substitute. On both the Preschool level and the Kindergarten level she is getting percentages in the mid-90s to 100s in all subject areas except one. That one was "pre-reading" which, from watching her play, resulted in a lower score because she didn't play it enough to advance to the higher levels of skill. It was a case of boredom with it, not inability.

I have also considered myself as homeschooling my younger daughter (2 year old) as well. There is almost no structure at all for her. I read to her. We talk about numbers and the alphabet. We sing songs. We work on puzzles. She colors too. She is learning to use a toddler computer game. We listen to music and play toy instruments. She is making progress, too. But right now her business is play and learning about her world that way.

Now that I've got a year's experience in, I can look back and see the successes and failures. Trying to do the same thing every day is a failure. Doing something every day works. Workbooks need to be used sparingly (she gets workbook burnout before she finishes the workbook). Reading is good. Writing is being resisted, so I need to find a way to make it attractive. Active or experiential methods of learning are highly appreciated. Art is almost essential to our daughter. Music is important in our family and the kids love it. The younger girl is starting to want to do everything her sister does. So how is this going to color the way we do homeschooling next year?

I will use only one workbook in the coming year (math) which is a very good curriculum that uses methods that seem to work with our older daughter. The younger daughter can start simple skills workbooks in the coming year (she keeps begging me for workbooks). We are going to do a lot more reading. In fact it is time that we get a library card and start visiting the local library. I'll see if I can work in the library's story time into our schedule once a week. I have a lesson book that covers simple science lessons about the human body in activities that the child participates in. It is appropriate for young kids and can be done about once a week. I have a lesson book on combining drawing and writing. Basically, in each lesson it teaches how to draw an object using simple shapes and building and refining the final picture from that, then the child is to write a sentence or two to go with the picture. My daughter would be very tempted by this. She is fascinated by art and takes every opportunity of learning more about it. She also likes to make books using pictures she draws and writing what she likes to go with them. The local parks and recreation group has lots of classes that are appealing to kids (swimming, sports, martial arts, art, music, etc.). And, we have just bought a piano for future musical endeavors (Mommy may want to take lessons, too).

I will consider myself as homeschooling all three kids. So one day will be library day. One day will be science lesson day. One day may have dance class or some other active class. We may start piano lessons this year. Math and Reading will be every day. Drawing with the writing to go with it will probably be every day, but I will base it more on demand since her love of art is the lure. Our second daughter will be learning what she can based on her ability level. Her interest in what her sister does suggests workbook work, being read to, art time, etc. Anything that will help her feel like she is doing what her sister does, but helps her learn at her level will be appropriate. As for the baby, that's easy. His job is play, learning to build his muscles and become mobile. I think that I'll teach all of the kids baby sign language. They will find it interesting and it will help their brother learn it and communicate. He will get read to and sung to as well. His sisters find him interesting, so they can help me teach him things.

Do I think that this is workable or am I being too ambitious? I might be too ambitious. I tend to overestimate my ability to do what I plan. However, I think this is more workable than my original plans which were based on very little more than idealism. It allows for variety and allows for some structure (the structure is more for me, but the kids need to learn to deal with structure, too.) It covers many of the major areas of study that they need to learn. I fully expect our oldest child to have a combination Kindergarten/First Grade year this year. Our two year-old will probably be at beginning Preschool level (she seems to be following a typical learning pattern). Will I make adjustments as needed as we go along? Of course. That is the nice thing about homeschooling. You can tailor it to what you need it to be, rather than a national average or even a classroom average. I also think I'm going to add a few things not on the typical school curriculum. Getting the kids to share with Mommy the joys(?) of housework. Hey, you can make anything a game if you have the right attitude.