Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homeschooling preschoolers-age 6

I don't really talk about our schooling situation much, because as a second generation home schooling mom, I don't really have a big internal drive to proselytize. It's simply part of our life. Learning style is a part of who we are and what we do, but I'm not any more vocal about it than say, what brand of yogurt we like.

The Dread Pirate Grace and her ship

Sometimes, though, curious moms will ask me about how we "do" things, wanting more info for their own decisions. I'm not sure I'm qualified to offer advice exactly, but I'll take an official whack at it here.

I'd suggest first starting out by reading Families Where Grace is In Place, because if you're endeavoring to teach your child anything in value in life with an adversarial attitude, you're doomed from the beginning. Maddening experiences will be had by all.

Secondly, I'd promote reading Nurture by Nature, which introduces the idea that each child's individual personality effects the way they relate to others and take in information.  If you expect your child to be your learning clone, then both you and he/she will end up incredibly frustrated, feeling fairly bad about your basic selves. If you've ever printed some adorable project off Pinterest and had experience end up an epic horror show, and if you've stood there blinking, wondering why your tot didn't enjoy it...this book is worthy of your time and attention. It's an easy, painless read, and it's relatively easy to identify your child's basic style pretty quickly.

For the last reading suggestion, I'll recommend Last Child in the Woods, which addresses the unfortunate habit our culture has developed of placing small children indoors in a chair, expecting them to do written work about the world before they've had a chance to actually go out and OBSERVE the world around them in context. Excellent read, even if you just skim.

Now. I don't know if this qualifies as wisdom, but it's certainly a heartfelt opinion based on things I've observed in my own family, which you may take with a grain of salt or the whole margarita.

Read to your small children. Pick classic books or thoughtful fiction or stories, filled with beautiful descriptive language. Randomly stop at words and sound out the letters when you're reading together (no need to make them do it, just do it in front of them.) It'll become apparent what your child is interested in and what they aren't. Listen to books on tape in the car. Talk to them. Make up stories together. Converse with them as if they're intelligent (they are), explaining the meaning of words at random if they look confused. Describe what you're doing as you cook, fish, garden, sew, shop, dance or whatever it is that you fill your days doing. Enjoy yourself, and don't be so serious!

Put them in the way of fascinating things, and let them do what comes naturally to children! Place them in environments where their natural gifts come alive.

Teach them to pay for things. Let them cook things. Let them build fires outside, climb trees, play in streams, lick rocks and catch enormous bugs. Talk about those things with them. Let them have their own conversations in public. Let them order their food at restaurants, if they're ready and able to do it well. Have them ask for directions for things they need in the store. Teach them to ask intelligent questions. Involve them in conversations with interesting people. Teach them how to put on their own bandages, clean their own wounds, scrub their own nails, pour their own drinks, and recognize their own need for rest.

For the love of pete, don't ever let your own pride and desperate need for recognition from some critical friend or family member tempt you to reduce your preschooler or toddler into a trick-doing parrot trained to impress others with long lists of memorized facts. (Such people are life-sucking vortices of doom, and you can almost never satisfy them. It's better to grow thicker skin, or, better yet, grow happily and purposefully oblivious to their tongue clucking over your 3yo who can't say her ABCs yet.)

Small children are naturally driven by curiosity and a love for discovering things, but this can be overridden by an even stronger basic animal need if it's withheld like a dangled carrot: the need for love and approval from a parent. Some will defy you (and rightly so), but some will dutifully jump through your silly hoops just to see you beam at them. The cost of turning your wee one into a performing monkey can come back to bite you in the ass, though, in the form of loss of creativity and free thinking (and sometimes, honest relationship free from need of approval). And you force your very small children to perform "learned" facts for the standards of other people, you will have turned them into yourself; unable to cope without the approval and recognition of opinionated others.

Let them get lost in hours of pretend. Toss out the toys that leave no room for any imagination. Let them dump endless buckets of water into trenches they dig in the back yard and watch how the water takes the path of least resistance. Notice with them how ants walk in a long line, and how they carry things bigger than their own bodies. Feed birds in the winter and go hunting for squirrel nests when all the leaves are gone. Pretend to be hibernating bears under couch cushion forts.

In other words...don't make them "do school". Let them be humans. Incorporate words and counting and letters as they naturally occur throughout the day, without sweating "how much" they retain as evidenced through constant quizzing. They have plenty of time for all that later. Teach them how to learn about things with their own minds and hands and observations, and they'll learn the facts of the world...and later, you come back and give what they've already observed names. It's easier to learn once you have a solid grasp on your own physical abilities and what things look/smell/taste/sound/act/behave/sound like. :)


Friday, August 17, 2012

Lots of positive notes together make a happy tune...

This week, my older girls have been sick, which means lots of potion-pushing for me and lots of couch-surfing for them. We've had some bright spots, though. You know those where you realize that all your efforts mean something in parenting (or, perhaps, your children are growing up nifty despite you)? Those make me grin. They're worth sharing when they happen, if for no other reason than to be able and come back and remind myself on the hard days that growth is there. Slow sometimes, perhaps, but steady. That's what we're shooting for.

I don't kid myself into thinking that my kids grow because of me or anything I do...I think my main goal is to simply not obstruct growth and give them everything they need to thrive!

Happy thing #1

Mirth has days when she goes WAY over and beyond normal patience levels to help Grace be successful. This is no small feat, considering the fact that Grace is currently three years old all. day. long. She's a lovely, smart, strong, lovely person who will probably feel more at home in her brain and skin when she's about, oh, 30. I can relate. She was born an old soul, and the indignity of potty training and not knowing everything and not being able to get things to work the way she'd like gets to her.

Enter Mirth. For whatever reason, she has a way about her that really speaks to younger kids, and she treats them with cheerful good-natured respect, and gets a real kick out of seeing them gain independence and skills. (Quite possibly because she remembers when she was three and her quest for world dominion was thwarted by rules, small stature and insufficient arm span.) If there's merit to the karma theory, she's working herself out of debt quickly with her fantastic patience with her sister and quick-witted charm. Rock on Mirth.

Happy thing #2:

Also, she made me a spa. Candles and all after I'd gotten done cleaning up dinner. Who cares if there were duplos and my little ponies and toy dump trucks? There were sandalwood and cedar bath salts.  Can't beat that.
Happy thing #3:
My girl brings me flowers every time she goes out. {sniff sniff} Thank you, Grace. Such a sweetie pie.

Happy thing #4: 

Lark is my little lactavist. She's very dedicated to the idea that all babies, even the mermaid ones, should have "boobie" for as long as they want. Amen. (And let us all breathe a prayer of thanks that she is no longer shrieking "Booooooohoooooobieeeeee!" every time she's sad in the grocery store anymore.) 

That's a lot of happy. It makes me feel lucky to get to be a part of it all. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bright, Magical, Loquacious Duplos

Today, we learned about sentence structure and adjectives with Duplo blocks!

We taped washi tape (what we had on hand, but you could use masking tape as well, since it comes off easily without sticky residue) and wrote a word on each block: a mixture of nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions we could think of. We left the adjectives in blue, since that's the part of speech we were focusing on! :O)

Then, we built! The girls put together some fun very short stories, and had a good bit of fun for about forty minutes....then we saved them in a basket for a review next week to keep things interesting!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Examining Electra's Placenta (video)

This is for the birth junkies out there...if you winced at just reading the word placenta, be reasonable and don't watch. ;oP Otherwise, it's supah-nifty. {grin}

Here are some non-graphic photos of our placenta print! {hearts}

 Thanks to the big girls for helping, and thanks, placenta, for growing such an amazing little human. :O) 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Cautionary Tale: the importance of living in your "sweet spot"

A few years ago, I went through a phase (some of y'all will recall this with giggles) when I decided I needed to have a farm. And a recycling center. And knit/weave/sew all our own clothing. And church butter, make cheese and go ALL little house on the prairie on my own suburban ass. There was a point at which my idealist self and my actual tolerance for noise/clutter/strict routine/manual labor were at all out war with one another, and mostly, everyone involved was losing. I remember distinctly one day in the early summer trying to herd a loose chicken back into it's cage while dragging a water hose up to the rabbit hutches with a then-baby Grace on my back, squinting up at the dozen of cloth diapers flapping in the breeze on the porch and groaning internally as I remembered I still needed to water the zucchini, potatoes and herbs....and longing to be inside with a book. One of the older girls yelled from the house, "Lark flooded the toilet again and I don't have any clean underwear!!"  I literally started sobbing right then and there.

^reality collides with vision.^
My ideals were choking the ever-loving life out of me. I think what had been envisioned was completely fulfilled living, with my conscious completely at ease and my life full of the "wholesome" wonders of outdoor working, animals and hard earned produce. It would be our own crunchy utopia/nirvana. These romanticized ideas of what it might be like to redeem my humanity through creating my own little eco-bubble were grossly mismatched to reality, however. (My close friends, Barefoot and I still laugh hysterically sometimes until I snort gin and tonic out my nose over "the summer when we all tried to be farmers".) It was, in a word,  horrible.

I tried to grin and muscle through the awkwardness, but it couldn't be helped; I hated "homesteading". So many little baby chicks died under my care, despite my earnest efforts, I don't even like to recall the trauma of it. I hated the heat, weeds, chicken-chasing, the fact that I had no time for my children (or myself, for that matter) and constant stream of poop. Oh, the blasted, ubiquitous SHIT.  In the diapers, under my nails, in bags, in the vegetable beds, in my shovel, in the chicken house, under the rabbit cage, in the kitty litter box, on my shoes and even occasionally on the floor. None of it was even mine. My mind SCREAMED for stimulation beyond constant poo exposure, or, pooxposure, if you will. I saw it when I closed my eyes in bed at night, no lie. Visions of shit danced in my head.

My happiest and best contribution to the whole fiasco was painting happy, giant sunflowers onto the beautiful chicken house Barefoot Man built me. That should have tipped me off to the fact that my skills were best elsewhere employed. 

I just stood there aghast at the fact that my own reality completely betrayed the ideals in my head. Self, meet the unbalanced, perseverating combination of extroverted-sensing driven by immature introverted intuition. 

Eventually, our neighbors complained about the smell and noise of the animals, and we gave them all to smiling farmers who were happy to take them. We were so depressed over it (so we thought) that we took off on a trip to the Grand Canyon, letting everything just go to seed, and had a wonderful time. It was a relief to not be tied down to the schedule of anything other than our own sweet selves. I felt a sickening thrill when I walked through the weedy backyard to see that everything in the garden was dead, and it was too late to plant again that year. Sheer bliss.

There's a point to all this, I swear, and here it comes:

In contrast to my abject failure at self-sustaining living, my friend Jennifer enjoys everything about gardening. She runs a project for a community garden and enjoys teaching children about growing things. Everything she touches flourishes, and she wears a broad, deeply tanned earthy smile whenever she talks about it. When we make it to the farmer's market, I enjoy buying produce from her stand and she enjoys providing it. If I had to venture a guess as to why, I'd say she draws such life from gardening because it's her gift. She's in her place of effortless life-flow when she's caring for growing plants, and it doesn't seem to spark any amount of resentment or desperation in her at all. What's more the end product is amazing. The strawberries that come out of her garden or beyond compare. They're juicy sunshine and sweetness in a bite, almost sinful. She makes playing in shit look good. Sexy, even.

Which brings me to the thought: the gift we have to offer the world already lies within us. We're likely already doing some form of it, because it comes naturally to us and brings us such unadulterated joy. I enjoy seeing children's faces light up as I give them the opportunity to discover things on their own, providing comfort to those in pain and making others smile with my thoughts. This isn't difficult for me; in fact, I think if I'm honest, it's laughably effortless! I've had to learn skills to support the expressions of these gifts, but my mind is already so drawn to them, it's not a difficult stretch. I can "run" fast and far in these areas for a long time without getting tired. Work, yes; torturous, no.

This is the point at which my intuition and global-minded tenancies go a few rounds before coming to an understanding. I (like many other bleeding hearts) have the penchant for looking at the world as a whole and identifying the areas of social structure that are causing pain and suffering or destruction, and then imagining theories of what should be done about it. Which is all well and good. The trouble, for me, comes when I confuse my "gift" to the world (understanding the problem) with the fixing of the problem, and try to offer myself up as the remedy. Negative outcomes usually ensue when I embrace this confusion, especially if that prescribed remedy is raising chickens. You have the rough equivalent of a blind prophet predicting a war, and then saddling a horse and trying to spear the enemy. Bad idea. In this scenario, usually the neighbor's cow ends up impaled.

That doesn't mean I don't do practical things about fixing The Issues. I recycle. (hooray me!) I buy a lot of clothing secondhand, for both economical and earth-related reasons. I encourage mothers while learning to breastfeed, and try to promote education of healthy attachment. I support local farmers by often buying their delicious food. I use biodegradable household products. The earth and it's inhabitants are important to me, and, as far as I can without hurting anyone, including myself, I look after it. Most importantly, probably, I try to encourage and enable  those who were born with that green thumb and pioneer moxie to do what it is they do best, and cheer them on wholeheartedly. (All this while backing slowly away from the chicken wire and power saw.)

That is, after all, my sweet spot. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

National Breastfeeding Week!

There's always so much dust stirred up in the mama world around the breastfeeding issue, probably because it's very important and also very personal.

In our house, though, it's simply breakfast, lunch and dinner! Over the past 8 years, I've breastfed about 7 of those years, and it's a decision I'd make all over again in a heartbeat. I've also tandem nursed (nursed two babes at once), and extended breastfed my older three. They weaned at ages 3, 4 and 3. Electra, of course, is currently nursing. While some might call that freakish, we simply call it "life". Thanks to my sweet four girlies for being such precious babies, to my husband for being so supportive and nurturing of his kids and to my own mom for breastfeeding me when I was small. I'm also grateful to my veteran mamas friends and my midwife for being my "tribe" and helping me understand that I could trust my own instincts.

My first week of breastfeeding was hell on a stick, I won't lie. I didn't understand the mechanics, I tried to "schedule" my baby (the foolishness and folly of that still make me chuckle) and, well, I was a young'un myself, practically. However, I discovered there was a learning curve, and after that, I appreciated all the many benefits that came from sticking with it. (By the time my 2nd daughter was born, it was a cakewalk. They handed me baby, baby latched easily and mama was blissed out while eating steak with one hand and texting loved ones birth stats in the other. Gotta love an experienced mind and body. XoD)

Even if you chose not to breastfeed, or are a guy and can't XoP, the next time you see a tired looking mama giving nurture and life to her wee one (especially if she's parenting others simultaneously), instead of looking down your nose at the face of life in motion, applaud her and thank her for making the world a better place. :O)

In the words of John C.S. Abbott, "Mothers have as powerful an influence over the welfare of future generations as all other earthly causes combined". 

What could be sweeter and more powerful than supporting and approving of a mother who is performing the quiet act of simply nourishing her child's body and heart? If you're looking for a leverage point in society to bring about positive change in the world, you've found it! Healthy bonds, secure children, strong bodies, strong hearts. Viva la Vida!!