28 September 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (37)

Linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday. 

Today's Quick Takes is Clear Out the Blog Draft Folder Day. For some reason, I keep fooling myself into thinking that I'm going to write more posts more frequently than humanly possible while keeping up with the Agents solo.

1. I'm having an existential I'm no good at writing I have nothing to say I have too much to say maybe I should be more snarky less snarky controversial not controversial never write again write every day give it all up really put more energy into blogging do I really even care yes of course I care kind of moment. Also known as my Semi-Annual Blog Freak Out. For those of you who are new here, about once every six months Something Happens that makes me re-evaluate my little corner of the writing world. It usually involves a rewrite of my "about me" info, changing some links in my "favorites" column, and tweaking the blog design. Often I will convince myself that I really need to go self-hosted, or at the very least switch to WordPress. This typically lasts a day at most. Occasionally I will do something very Not Me like publish a few super crabby posts, share articles on topics I wouldn't normally share,  or start asking questions I don't want answers to. I usually eat chocolate until it passes.

Hard at work
2. I follow a military officer spouse group on Facebook, and (as expected) the subject of moving to a new area comes up a lot. The number one topic seems to be some variation of: What are the schools like? Is it a good school district? I have a [insert random age or school grade] child, and we want to live near XYZ school. I find that a lot of folks who don't even have school age children want to know about preschools and pre-K programs. And I just can't help but wonder what answers folks look for when they ask about "good" schools. Teacher to student ratios? Ratings on a site like Great Schools? Extracurricular activities? Test scores? Personal opinion of a few random people on a message board? Or do we just ask this question because it sounds like the responsible thing to do?

3. Yesterday we did a play room overall. Every once in a while we move things around and organize them a bit differently, usually finding some toys that have been "misplaced" for a while (e.g., the rest of the tea set, the missing block, a book that fell behind the toy box). It's a mess already, but at least the floor is mopped.

4. We have not attended church regularly for almost three years now. I've looked at various options here, including different denominations than what we previously would have considered, and everything from mega-churches (seems to be an abundance of those here) to tiny churches around the corner. I think I want to go back, but then again I don't really miss it. The real issue for me is I wish we had a church family with a Sunday school program the Agents felt comfortable with. Because even though helping them learn about math, reading, and science doesn't intimidate me, being responsible for teaching them about Jesus completely scares the crap out of me. 

We're having fun
5. Loving the Agents renewed interest in the back yard. We went through a few weeks where no one wanted to go outside: it's raining, it's too hot, it's too buggy, I don't feel like it, I don't want to get dirty. Now that we've moved dinner to a little earlier, they have plenty of time to play between dinner and bath time. We have a sandbox, and some chalk, but mostly they just chase each other around and collect rocks and sticks. (Bonus: The early evening hour of playtime is making bedtime a lot smoother as well.)

6. The more time we spend on our homeschooling journey, the more I appreciate the freedom of this lifestyle. Freedom to move run and play whenever we need a break. Freedom to choose whatever curriculum suits us. Freedom to use no "curriculum" at all. Freedom to change our minds about what we want to study mid-semester.

7. Agent A is at that stage where I understand much of what he says, although it might not be clear to someone not with him 24/7. Every once in a while, a word he has never said before will just roll off his tongue clear as day. Earlier, in the middle of nursing, he popped off, looked at me, and said, "tiptoe." Then went back to nursing.

24 September 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Pressing Questions About Children's Television

I have at least half a dozen quasi-serious posts drafted out right now, but I just can't concentrate enough to finish even one. So instead, I'm sharing some random thoughts that run through my head when I'm watching TV with the Agents. If you are in the season of parenthood when this list makes perfect sense to you, let me know I'm not alone and comment with your favorite. If you think I've officially lost it, feel free to stop by in a few days when I promise to have something more blogworthy to say.

1. If the conductor is so darn smart, why doesn't he know immediately that Buddy is a T Rex?

2. Why don't Doc McStuffins' parents ever tell her to close the door when she goes outside?

3. Where in squirrels heaven are Max and Ruby's parents?
Post-bath fruit bowl and Doc McStuffins
4. What is the deal with Gaspard and Lisa? Are they dogs?

5. When is the rest of the jungle going to organize an intervention for Bungo?

6. In what universe was it decided that Goofy and Clarabelle Cow would make a nice couple?

7. Who explained to Wyatt what constitutes "a super big problem"? 

8. What on earth is a Vegimal anyway? Seriously, WTH.

9. How does Paw Pilot get time to stand still when she's counting?

10. Why are all the adults on Word Girl so incredibly stupid?

Happy Top Ten {Tuesday} . . . be sure to stop by Many Little Blessings and say hello to our host.

23 September 2012

Reflections On Our School Year So Far

Linking this up with the Weekly Wrap Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. Yes, it's a Friday link up. Yes, I know it's Sunday. But given that my last one was in January I'd say 48 hours late is not so bad.

We "officially" ventured into year-round homeschooling in early July, per Agent E's request. We did make a minor adjustment to our curriculum a few weeks later, but mostly we've been humming along for nearly three months now. Following is a bit about what we've been learning.

I shared a little about our average day in a previous post. For the the most, this is still what our days look like. We don't really "do" school only Monday through Friday, so our days pretty much look the same even on the weekends. I am still trying to wrap my brain around afternoons being when most of our "work" takes place. I was completely convinced we would be get-it-done-in-the-mornings-and-have-afternoons-free kind of people. Our routine just didn't work out that way.

For the next few months (until around Christmas) we are focusing on states, ocean life, and Spanish. We incorporate these three main focus areas into our reading, writing, math, science, and social studies work.

Sometimes Elmo joins reading time
I already outlined some of the terrific resources we've found for our study of the 50 states. This week after reading a book about Pennsylvania Agent E added "visit Chocolate World" to her must do list.

For our study of the oceans, we've been reading a lot of books from the library, including some of the ones on this list. And those darn Octonauts keep filling her head with sea creature facts. She will love our December trip.

Our Spanish studies, however, have mostly included me re-learning some basic vocabulary and pronunciation (I studied it years ago) so that I can better instruct the Agents. We labeled items around the house with the English and Spanish words, and added a few printouts in strategic locations. For example, on the girls' bedroom door is a list of Spanish terms for bed, dresser, window, blanket, closet, etc. I've also made little reminder sheets of how to say the basics: My name is . . . I like . . . How are you? . . . please/thank you. Honestly, I've found that in spite of my best attempts they haven't really shown overwhelming interest. This may be one of those times we just kind of float along and pick it up again next semester or even next year.

One thing I am trying to make a conscious effort to do is read more about homeschooling and about education in general. For the first time in a long while I've started taking books out of the library for Momma. Six of the 28 books we have out right now are actually from the grown up section :-) I admit I don't always finish them . . . sometimes after I read a few chapters I realize it doesn't apply to our situation or it's a method I just can't get on board with . . . but I have read some interesting things I otherwise would have not known about.

As far as our overall style, I tend to waffle between wanting to give the Agents more freedom in what and how they learn and wanting to do something more concrete. I'm somewhat neurotic and a confirmed list-maker. Hard habits to break. I know that they are learning, even when I feel like I haven't accomplished much. Still, sometimes I struggle with this whole homeschooling lifestyle. (Boy, this freedom in learning thing is harder than it looks.)

How is your school year going so far?

20 September 2012

Saying Yes: A Quick Photo Post

Some days you just have to put the errands on hold and do this instead. Yes, it made a huge mess. Yes, we had to take baths (me included) at 1:30 in the afternoon. Yes, it created an extra load of laundry. But it sure was fun.

Whose Stuff Is It, Anyway?

I haven't used my crockpot in probably two years. I don't know why; I just kind of got out of the habit and it sat in the pantry a long while. This week, I decided to make stew. The Agents love it and it's easy and it makes me think of fall even though the weather here isn't exactly cooperating.

But when I went to find the crockpot, I couldn't. I thought and thought about where it could possibly be: Did I box it back up? Did I move it to another shelf? Did it get lost in the move? 

When I talked to Hubby later that evening (after preparing something else for dinner) I told him all about my missing kitchen tool dilemma. And luckily he knew exactly where my crockpot was!

He noticed I hadn't used it in a while, and really wanted that space in the pantry for something else. So, he took it to Goodwill and dropped it off. 

He figured I wouldn't even miss it, so he didn't bother to tell me. Besides, I haven't earned a paycheck since December 2007, so technically I didn't "buy" it, so it really wasn't mine to begin with. 

Plus, we have been on this mission to declutter the house, and really this was just being helpful, right? Now I would learn to live with less and be content with what I have! 

And maybe next time I'd think twice about wanting to purchase yet another kitchen appliance when I already have a fully functional stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. I even own a coffeepot and a waffle maker. Surely, a crockpot is just overkill.

Any of this sound completely ridiculous to you?

It should. It's complete fiction and would never happen at our house. My husband would never assume he could decide what to do with something that is mine (or ours jointly) without talking to me first.

And we wouldn't do this to our kids either. It is not okay to take our children's belongings. They have as much right to hold onto their crockpot (or legos, or dolls, or books) as I do.

From what I've been reading lately, this does not appear to be a very popular stance. 

I saw a blog post recently about a mother who took away all of her children's toys and previously allowed screen time and replaced it with a pocket playground. (Yeah; I had no idea what it was either.) There was really no logical reason to why she did this other than she wanted to see what happened. Her kids were understandably devastated and confused, but because they eventually learned to adapt (kids are resilient like that) she considered it a "success."

Another story I read just this week was about a parent who cleared out everything from her daughters' room after spending hours cleaning it and coming to the conclusion that they didn't appreciate their stuff and therefore didn't deserve it. (Why she spent four hours cleaning her children's room without enlisting their help or communicating about what she was doing, I have no idea. Probably a whole other post though.) She "allowed" them to "earn" back a few treasured possessions, all the while patting herself on the back for being so clever.

And remember that chore bin photo that circulated a while back? Where if a child left something out the parent held it ransom until the child paid some penance to get it back? Because we all know that adults never leave their keys in random locations, or lose their cell phones, or forget to put away something they finished using.

Conventional parenting wisdom (and most mainstream parenting advice forums) would have us believe that this is completely okay. That it is our job as parents to [teach our kids a lesson, make sure they know they can't have/do everything they want, show them there are consequences for XYZ]. That out of sight means out of mind and if they don't ask for it back it's okay to ditch it. That it's really our stuff anyway, because children don't actually have the right to "own" anything.

I personally don't follow this "logic" at all, and here are some reasons why:

1. Assuming your child is old enough to engage in meaningful back and forth conversation, he or she should be involved. Contrary to what some may believe, children are people and have feelings about their possessions. Even ones they haven't looked at in a while.

2. It won't teach them to take responsibility for their things. It might, however, teach them that sooner or later mom (or dad, but face it, probably mom) will get fed up and do it for them.

3. If the item in question was a gift, and you are swiping it back, it teaches them that gifts are given conditionally, not freely.

4. It's doubtful (at best) that having a few possessions snatched at random will teach them to appreciate their belongings more or to be content with less.

5. If we are still tempted to do one of the above, we probably need a good long look in the mirror first.

Wait wait wait . . . hold on a second. I know what you're thinking: It's not the same because you are an adult and your children are, well, children. Adults can and should make their own decisions when it comes to these things, and children . . . Can't? Shouldn't? Don't deserve the same respect?

Or maybe you agree with me, but are thinking: Okay, that's all fine and dandy, but seriously . . . what am I supposed to do with all this stuff?

Some possible solutions:

1. Limit what comes in. Less stuff, less clutter, less of an issue. Don't worry about what you should have done to prevent it in the first place, move forward.

2. If you already have too much, start by setting an example with your own things. Talk to your children about what you are doing and why. Involve them in both donations and purchases big and small.

3. Give some things away to charity if that's a mutual decision, but have a conversation about it first. 

4. Rotate toys by putting some in a storage bin (or a cardboard box) in the attic, garage, guest room, hall closet, tool shed, wherever you have space. Put away some newer art supplies until they've used up what's out. Tell them what you are doing and why, and be sure they know the items are not going away forever. 

5. Organize what you have with a better system. This doesn't have to be expensive or catalog worthy. Get your children's input; they'll be more willing to keep up with the organizing if they helped with it from the beginning.

6. Make reasonable requests. A two-year-old will never understand the command to "clean up your room" . . . heck, my very sharp six-year-old can get overwhelmed by a statement like that. Stick with short, specific goals. And be prepared to participate while your children are young. I'll straighten out the pillows and blankets on the bed while you put all the books back on the bookshelf. Put all the stuffed animals back in the toy box while I find a basket for these blocks. 

But what if it "works"? What if they do become more content with less, don't notice, don't care, and/or truly appreciate it?

This is definitely a possibility. And the truth is, I really don't know how to answer that one. However, in general I don't believe the end (however positive) justifies the means.

What is your take on kids and clutter? How do you handle this at your house?

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

18 September 2012

Life, Learning, and How It All Ties Together

Back in January when we were still living in Italy, which seems like a lifetime ago now, we made plans to take a family vacation this December. We booked a cruise (yes, nearly 12 months in advance) and now that it's finally getting closer (relatively speaking) we're all pretty excited about it. No new countries this time, but we will be visiting three places we've never seen before.

This past July, keeping with our child-led approach to homeschooling, Agent E and I brainstormed what we would concentrate on this semester. Together we chose to focus on the United States, ocean life, and Spanish. So far she is really enjoying it, and we've managed to incorporate each of these subjects into the reading, writing, math, play, and conversations that comprise our days.

Senior Agents ready to cruise
What do these two things have in common?

Well, even though we did not set out to do this purposely, our chosen course of study for the last few months of 2012 and our big end of the year trip really dovetail quite nicely.

We will be visiting a few U.S. territories . . . and we will address in our studies how those differ from the 50 states.

Aside from the obvious that we will be traveling on the ocean, we also have plans to take a semi-submarine ocean tour and make a stop at a very "hands on" aquarium. 

One stop will be at a location where Spanish is the official language . . . and while most people we interact with will likely also speak English, we will be able to use some of the basic language skills we've acquired.

I know it may sound crazy to some, but I just think it's so neat how it all worked out like that without even trying. One of the many reasons I love educating the Agents at home.

14 September 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (36)

Happy Friday! Today our usual Quick Takes host Jen at Conversion Diary has passed the link up to Camp Patton. Stop over and check it out.

1. I'm composing this post on Friday morning (usually I write them in advance) because for the first time in a long while I'm awake before any of the Agents. Of course this is probably not a good thing, as I went to sleep rather late last night and I'll likely be exhausted long before they are tonight. When you wake up early, do you try to go back to sleep or just get out of bed? Personally I would rather just get up and make coffee and get moving.

2. I seem to be going through another round of what I would consider writer's block. I keep thinking of these wonderful things I can blog about, but when I have time to sit down at the keyboard, nothing comes out. I don't know why. Right now I have at least a dozen potential posts on my idea list, and yet I cannot seem to make my brain and my typing fingers connect. 

3. Do you ever check Snopes.com when shared "warning" messages come through your Facebook feed? Tip: If your friends are posting a message that sounds a little crazy and requesting that you share share share, you may want to check Snopes first.

A little outside messy time before bath is always fun
4. This week we moved dinner time so we're eating half an hour earlier. The Agents are always starving by dinner, even with an afternoon snack (or three). Plus, we're trying to take advantage of some after-dinner outside play time while it's still light enough to do so. Also, it started to feel rushed between dinner and bath time. Now instead of 30 minutes we have closer to an hour. I use this time to clean up the kitchen, get the house in "night time mode" (pulling blinds, turning on a few low lights, etc.)  and relax a bit while the kiddos read or play (inside or out) and make sure their room is ready for bedtime. (And by "ready" I mean make sure there is space on the bed for people amid all the stuffed animals and that the floor is not a tripping hazard if someone wakes up in the middle of the night.)

5. Do you work out on a regular basis? Do you belong to a gym or exercise at home? The Agents are loving their time at the YMCA child care (free!) a few mornings a week while Momma exercises. Although I use the term "exercise" loosely. Sometimes I just ride a stationary bike at a slow to moderate pace so I can read more of my current book. Or walk at a not-exactly-race-walker pace on the treadmill while spacing out with the TV in front of me. Honestly, it's more for me to recharge mentally than physically at this point, and I'm okay with that. Granted, technically it is still physical exercise, but I'm not quite pushing myself. (Of course, I've already established why I won't be running a marathon any time soon.) 

6. Any fellow bloggers using Google Analytics? I set it up this week but I'm still not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing with this new information.

7. This may come as a surprise, given how much we love books around here but it's only been in the last few weeks that we've developed a reading at bedtime routine. Oh, we read tons during the day, and Agent E reads to her siblings a lot, but somehow the act of reading a few books just before lights out never really caught on in our house. Now, however, Agents E and J both like to pick out 2-3 books a night for me to read. I'm thinking of adding in a more advanced chapter book (something E would have difficulty reading on her own, but would enjoy listening to).

07 September 2012

Am I Really a Natural Parent?

Welcome to the second edition of the "I'm a Natural Parent - BUT..." Carnival This post was written for inclusion in the carnival hosted by The Artful Mama and our feminist {play}school. During this carnival our participants have focused on how mainstream society has affected their natural parenting and how they have come to peace with this.

For the first "I'm a Natural Parent, But . . ." carnival I shared what I thought was a pretty exhaustive list. Here's a link to the entire post. To summarize my non-crunchiness: I had a planned induction with an epidural (and liked it), we vaccinate (on schedule), we don't wear our babies (and use a stroller), and we love television and computer games (and don't stress about it).

Today's post outlines several other things we do that would be considered slightly more mainstream. (Okay, we may actually be swimming in that stream.)

This is one half of our play room (with a slightly dazed Agent A)
We have a play room full of toys, and not the natural, wooden, sensory, battery-free kind. I mean toys . . . plastic, loud, musical, TV- and movie-based, made in China, toys. We also have bookshelves overflowing with stories and two giant bins of dress up clothes, along with a play kitchen, a child-sized table, a rocking horse, a whole village of stuffed animals and baby dolls, and enough art supplies to fill ten preschools. Thank goodness we have the space to devote an entire room to this stuff, because that's what it takes. 

We recently ditched cloth in favor of disposable diapers. We used cloth diapers (the same set) for all three Agents. Once we got to our last baby they started to literally fall apart in the wash. We were down to maybe eight in decent condition. Then we moved and switched over to disposables while they were in shipment. By the time they arrived, I realized I just didn't care anymore. Agent A will be in sposies till he learns the potty. And he's not even two yet, so this could be a while.

We do all sorts of other random not-very-natural-parenting stuff every. single. day. I forget the @#$% ^& reusable grocery bags about 75% of the time. I prefer the cheap, plastic disposable razors you can buy for like $2.00 a dozen. We buy fruit at the grocery store without caring if it's organic and often we don't even wash it before we eat it. Sometimes I grab a paper towel even if the reusable clean-up cloths are sitting right there next to them. We eat all sorts of non-wholesome store-bought snacks. Goldfish crackers? We buy the biggest box they sell. Graham crackers? Check. Frozen fruit bars (aka, glorified popsicles)? Sign me up. 

And let's not forget the huge list of things I do that might kill me.

I mentioned at the end of the last carnival on this topic that I hesitate to even refer to myself as a natural parent because sometimes that label feels, well, unnatural. To me it conjures up an image that I just don't fit. 

Now I can't help but wonder: What exactly makes a parent, a natural parent? And is it possible that I've just been kidding myself and maybe I'm . . . not?

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure anymore. 

I'm a Natural Parent — But … Blog CarnivalThis carnival was created by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. We recognize that "natural parenting" means different things to different families, and we are dedicated to providing a safe place for all families, regardless of where they are in their parenting journeys. Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

04 September 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Studying the 50 States

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings
We started first grade with Agent E and part of our agenda for this semester is studying the 50 states. (You can read a little update following our first month of school here.)

Today I'm sharing ten state resources we have found useful in our homemade curriculum. I'm linking this post at Many Little Blessings for Top Ten {Tuesday}.

Silly dress up time (and a glimpse of #9 on this list)
1. 50states.com
This link is a wealth of all sorts of interesting information, including state maps, state songs, state trees, and a separate section of study tools.

These five websites are a great place to start if you're looking for some fun state facts and basic printables adaptable for different age ranges.

Tip: Look for these in the dollar section of Target . . . that's where we found ours!

300 very odd shaped pieces . . . harder than it looks
8. U.S. map puzzle in a puzzle
This puzzle of the 50 states (see photo of Agent E) is a cool concept, although difficult to put together. Once you've completed the puzzle as seen, you can flip 50 of the pieces over to form a new puzzle.

This huge (just over 2.5 feet by 4 feet) colorful map is a hit with all three Agents.

10. States and Their Symbols book series.
We've been taking these out one at a time from our local library.

Have you studied the United States with your homeschooler? What resources would you recommend?