In the backyard…..
At the playground
In the garden
In the kitchen
At the beach
On the porch
With their father
While getting messy
Meeting baby brothers
While living life…………….learning happens.
Yes, I let him……
He was so focused.
There could have been a huge meltdown but if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s okay to just let go and just let them. If they are safe it is alright to let them explore and try things on their own. A permanent marker can be a huge mess in the wrong hands but Ruadhan was so focused on keeping the marker on the paper, drawing a line, looking up, adding some dots, stopping, looking. To step in and break his concentration in that moment would have been detrimental to him. While we might think using permanent marker is a bad idea, he didn’t know that, and to penalize him would be wrong. So quiet supervision was called for as wee baby had a chance to see what he could do. Three short minutes and the masterpiece was completed, the marker was put away and we proudly displayed his art on the fridge. No meltdowns, no tears, no feelings of having done something wrong.
We’ve learned to watch and listen and be still. There’s no rush for anything. These moments of intense concentration are the moments when our children are the most beautiful. It’s when who that are meant to be shines through. It’s okay for a child to be still, to watch, to listen…..don’t over stimulate, watch, learn from their cues and just be, alongside, your little one as they come into their own.
Well, I’ve decided to give shutting down facebook for lent a try. I’m not particularly religious and I’m not 100% sure that I really buy the theory that giving up something for lent is going to help bring my closer to God but I do know that I’ve been spending too much time on the computer and not enough time on things that are more important and now is as good of a time as any to give up an old habit. I do tend to run to facebook to post about things that are great in my life instead of running to my husband (who gets the “oh, I am so exhausted and the kid’s were crazy all day” stories) and I also turn to facebook when things aren’t going well for support in which instances I could probably look inside and towards God for answers as opposed to just hoping for “oh, I’ve been there” type replies from friends of facebook.
So there you have it. If you are looking for me, you can message me on facebook and I will reply (as I am TERRIBLE with e-mail) but besides that I won’t be keeping track of people, posting on walls, updating my status or posting pictures until Easter.
For a long time, I’ve struggle with simplifying my home. We have a lot of stuff- a lot of unnecessary stuff. I’m the Queen of Chaos. Unfortunately, I’m the Queen of Chaos because I can’t get a handle on my stuff, not because I function well in a state of chaos. I find stuff totally overwhelming and if I do as an adult, I figured that perhaps, just perhaps, my kids were overwhelmed with too much stuff too. This summer I blogged about how my children were spoiled and didn’t take care of their things and how I was keeping the things that they weren’t picking up. Well, I decided to take the purging up a notch and I’d like to share just a couple things we’ve done.
We love books. My kids have been surrounded by books since they’ve been born. People have been shocked to see me reading to my newborns and we were proud of the fact that “we were starting them young.” We’d often have 30 or 40 (sometimes more) books taken out from the library. Well, I’ve come to realize that even with books there can be too many. My son started racing through the Magic Tree House books just to get to the next one. Or reading 4 or 5 chapters books at a time. When asked about them he’d just mumble something like “oh, they’re alright.” He never had a favorite. He didn’t take the time to savour the book he was reading because he was in such a rush to start the next one because it was waiting right there on his desk.
The first thing we did was find all the library books and bring them back. I allowed Liam to keep one chapter book and one research book and Morgaine to keep one picture book. We didn’t keep any books for Ruadhán. He’s little and really doesn’t need to be read to. At least not all the time. That weekend we brought back 32 books to the library but that certainly wasn’t a record for us.
I also wanted to get rid of all the piles of books that somehow end up taking over their bedroom, the school room, and our living room. I packed up the vast majority of books that we’d displayed on bookshelves earlier in the summer. Most ended up in storage bins because they wouldn’t be looked at in years. Most of our homeschooling material also got set aside. I moved a nice selection of children chapter books to a shelf in my bedroom closet to be given to Liam one at a time and then. I did the same with Morgaine’s picture books and she was left with only 5 books to be switched out on occasion (I’m thinking every 2 or 3 months but we shall see). She’s been enjoying the 5 she was left with without complaint.
In the end, we were left with 2 books of poetry, 1 book of nursery rhymes, 4 research books on Liam’s topic of choice, 1 book for read aloud, 5 picture books and whatever small selection of books we have from the library. The children are both loving hearing the same poems over and over again and choosing their favorites. Liam is sharing much more about his books with us and is devouring his research books (and sneaking in some time with the our World Books as well, even though I’m trying to keep things simple and not so academic).
It was quite the adventure visiting the used book sale at the library (I would have boycotted it but Mike brought the kids in while I was nursing in the car). As a homeschooling mother, it is expected that I will be all over books and the librarian knows we homeschool and kept making lots of suggestions (good suggestions but, really, we just packed away a lot of books). I’m happy with the decision that we made about the number of books we have available to the children and I still LOVE books.
I had no trouble letting go of many of the children’s toys. Everything that I’d picked up and taken away because they were left out was tossed. Anything that was a noisey annoying toy was donated or posted on freecycle. I gave away two building sets that were very fixed in their use. They didn’t allow for much imagination as only one construction could be built with each set. They went from 9 bins of toys to 6 which I covered with flannel so that they wouldn’t be too distracting and so they’d be more likely to choose one bin to play with instead of dumping everything from all the bins.
This worked alright but after two weeks there were a few toys that hadn’t got touched at all so I changed things up again and put a few more things in storage. Removing the toy shelf from their room I moved the remainder of the toys downstairs to our newly emptied bookshelf.
In the main living room, they have their train tracks and blocks, animal puppets and figurines, and plastic play food (that will be switched out come Christmas as I am slowly working on making them felt food instead). They have a shelf for the materials we need for circle time (playsilks, bean bags, string) and homeschooling (some math material as we are doing a math block now and some water colour paper). We have a shelf of craft supplies and one of board games that we like. There are very few toys for the baby.
In their room they have a wicker basket of their most loved teddies. (sssshhhhh….there are two big bags of teddies in the storage area because I had no idea how to choose which ones to part with….maybe it is me who is attached!). They also have a box of receiving blankets and clothes pins as they were both THRILLED when I donated the blanket to them. I’ve made them a clothes like feature around the bunk bed (no worries, it is safe and they can’t get caught on it) so that they can drape blankets and make forts.
Liam was allowed to keep his Lego and K’Nex sets. They are open ended enough that he can build for hours without using plans and their enjoyment is not dependent on motors and parts that move. Morgaine also got to keep most of her Barbies but I am really, really hoping to phase them out soon. While I grew up with Barbie, I cannot help finding her inappropriate. I’m happy that Morgaine plays more with the playsilk doll that I knotted for her than she does with the Barbies so I’m hope the transition away from them will be easy.
The idea was to keep the things that allowed them to use their imagination. Get rid of the things that were gadgets meant to stimulate (lights, motion, NOISE), that were broken, or too fixed in their use. I think that we have done quite well! I do have one bin of toys to cycle in and out of their room/play areas but I’m thinking that since the majority was not missed (and I thought that some of it would be) we’ll have some things to be donated soon. Since we’ve set up the room the kids have been playing better together and things somewhat stay more organized so that it is easier to follow a proper routine as I don’t walk into the room to start something and then have to spend twenty minutes cleaning instead!
I realize that there is really NO WAY TO DO IT ALL! My three children are with me 24/7 there is no way that I’ll be able to attend to their educations, get them to their various activities and groups, have a perfectly clean house, keep up with my writing and courses, host get togethers and playdates and keep it all together. Not only do I realize that I can’t do it all, I ACCEPT it! I do the best that I can with my days and if my dishes aren’t done or the laundry isn’t put away at the end of the day then I don’t sweat it. There is always tomorrow.
That being said, there are times when things do accumulate and it gets to be a bit too much. Then I have no issues calling a mental health day. We put off any activities that take us out of the house, forget about homeschooling and stay in our pajamas ALL DAY. The kids tend to snuggle up with books and puzzles and an occasional movie on Netflix might be turned on and they get to relax while I get in control of the chaos by focusing on the chores that are causing me the most stress. Most often this includes a good scrubbing of the kitchen and an afternoon sorting through the homeschooling work that the children have accomplished over the last while (it tends to accumulate all over the house as my methods to contain it have yet to be effective). I have also scheduled my weekly chores so that things usually don’t accumulate too badly. On Monday mornings the kids and I do a good cleaning of the kitchen (which tends to explode over the weekend) and on Friday we give the house a relatively quick once over, including organizing toys and picking up things that may have strayed from their normal location over the course of the week.
Another key to our relatively relaxed homeschooling environment is that we homeschool year round so I don’t feel stressed about slower days (or sometimes weeks) during the traditional school year. I also trust that even when my children aren’t engaged in sit down school work that they are still learning valuable lessons. I trust that they will learn what they need to learn to be successful without hours and hours and hours of input on my part trying to teach them materials that they are not interested in, not ready for or that quite frankly is plain ol’ boring.
Finally, I have a couple close friends who also homeschool and can relate. One friend is local and we try to get together somewhat regularly and I can’t help but feeling refreshed and inspired after spending an hour with her. She always has wonderful ideas and it’s kind of nice to know that despite how together she looks (with 10 kids) that she has days where things don’t work out according to HER plan either. My other friend is now far away but always has a kind word and her own stories to share. I think it is key to know that you aren’t in it alone and that really no one has it as together as they sometimes make it look.
Remember be honest, don’t stress, and this too shall pass.
I’ve fallen a little behind on my series of simplifying parenting posts but I’m back now to share with you a couple little rituals that we’ve added to our day that have helped TREMENDOUSLY. Most often we think about rituals as being religious in nature but even if you aren’t religious there are certain patterns you can use to bring a sense of peace to the household. Here are a couple of our favorites.
At the end of the day we all come together for a few moments with a cup of tea. We light some candles and then one by one we share our favorite moments of the day. It causes us to slow down and take a few minutes to reflect and the candle light seems to draw our children in and bring them down, down, down into their bodies. This few minutes of quiet reflection each evening has virtually eliminated the regular nighttime stand off between the children and two tired parents. The ten minutes we take for this seems to be the transition that has been missing from a busy day to slowing down for sleep. We’ve always had a bedtime routine (milk, teeth, book, bed) but this seems to add something a big magical to the routine. Over the past two month I can count on one hand the number of times the kids have had trouble settling to sleep and that my friends, is a HUGE change.
Meal Time Blessing
Along with bedtime, mealtime was also an area where we were particular stressed. Liam could not sit still for the life of him and Morgaine just hated everything we offered her with a passion and had no trouble telling us about it. In an attempt to bring a little harmony to the dinner table we started to say a short little blessing before each meal giving thanks for the world around us and the food that we’ve been given. You wouldn’t think that something so simple would have profound effects but it has. While Liam still has trouble sitting still at the very end of meals it has gotten much better. Morgaine rarely complains about the food anymore and when she does it is more of a calm “I don’t like” that than an all out tantrum. They both also remind us to say the blessing if we are in a rush at meal times and let it slip our mind. I’ve also caught them saying blessing when they’ve prepared their own snack or breakfast as they sometimes do in the mornings if they are up very early. It’s a nice way again just to bring the family together.
Do you and your family have any rituals that you use to bring little moments of peace to your family?