Monthly Archives: July 2015

Preschool Playdate: Johnny Appleseed

We hosted a playdate in honor of Johnny Appleseed (née John Chapman) close to one of two “Johnny Appleseed Days” recognized in the calendar year.  One day is observed on his birthday (September 26, 1774), the other on the anniverary of his death (March 18, 1845).

How we start our playdates:
— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme
— Storytime
— Unsquiggle activity
— Poem/Song before we break for Centers

STORY TIME
We have a wonderful book about Johnny Appleseed from our Sonlight readers. Unfortunately, the text is too advanced for our preschools. So I improvised! I pulled together some highlights about Johnny Appleseed that went along with the beautiful two-page illustrations that are in this book. A toddler version of Johnny Appleseed’s life was born!  Puma helped by reading out the text while I turned to the marked pages.

Johnny Appleseed: The Story of a Legend; Written and Illustrated by Will Moses

Johnny Appleseed: The Story of a Legend; Written and Illustrated by Will Moses

LITERACY CENTER
This was another week where I came up with my own idea for our letter center. Since “apple” is a common vocabulary word, I decided to work in the word and the letters that comprise the word, in addition to working in the colors of the apples the children would be tasting at the Discovery Table.  This also had a tactile sensory component – the letters were different shapes, sizes and textures.  I purposely made the two vowels with a red background to set them apart from the consonants.  (Microsoft Word for Mac; Century Gothic Font; Outline option in the Font menu)

Level 1: Sorting and Sound Identification
If the child is still working on letter recognition, they can play at this center by sorting the letters into the correct bowl.  As the letters are sorted, parents can reinforce the sound that the letter makes: “A says aah”; “E says eeh”; etc.

Level 2: Identifying Uppercase and Lowercase
The next step in this center would be to add in the concept of “uppercase” and “lowercase”, and identify them as they are sorted into the bowls.

Level 3: Spelling
For our advanced toddlers and the older siblings: the third option was to find the letters and place them in order to spell the word “apple”.  The older siblings could look at the word for 30 seconds; then turn over the card; find the right letters and place them on the table; and then check their spelling by turning the card right side up for self-correction or confirmation that they spelled the word “apple” correctly.

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MATH CENTER
This center reinforced counting concepts in English and in Spanish.  The front of the card was printed with an apple.  On the back side, I wrote out the number and the word in Spanish. I made these with an apple image I found online; fit them onto a “table” in a Word document, and printed them on cardstock. Final step was to cover them with clear contact paper so they would be more durable.

Level 1: Counting
A parent could simply take as many apples as the child could count, maybe add one more; and place the apples out on the table as they counted. Aside from teaching the order of the numbers, it reinforces 1-to-1 correspondence (more about that HERE).

Level 2: Ordering
A parent could use the reverse side, scramble the order, and have the child place them in the correct order.  Younger toddlers might need the parent to call the number out for them; more advanced kiddos could order them independently.

Level 3: Memory Game
Using two sets of cards, parents could lay them out and play a memory game with their child.  You could use as many cards as your child can remember placements.  For a toddler just learning the concept of “Memory”, maybe you would play with six cards, finding the pairs for 1-3.  With an older child, you might use the whole set of 1-6 pairs; or anything in between according the child’s interest and attention span.

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DISCOVERY TABLE
This idea was pulled from The Toddler Calendar.  Their activity included tasting raw apples, and apples cooked with cinnamon and sugar.  Since we wanted to keep it simple and avoid any possible allergies, we stuck to raw and dehydrated apples.  We offered red, yellow, and green varieties.  There were not many pieces left on the plates at the end of our playdate; and I think we even refilled the yellow and the green!

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ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
I always enjoy using natural objects in art.  For today’s craft, I cut off the end of a carrot and pared opposite ends to form the shape of an apple.  Children could dip it in red paint or green ink to print apples on their paper.

The other neat thing to show the children was how the center of an apple has a star shape.  Some of the apples even had a six-point shape at the core! I learned something new, too!  Lastly, we pulled out the seeds, and the children had the option to glue the seeds to their art projects.

As we showd them the seeds, we talked about how those same seeds could be planted to grow into big trees, that in turn could grow more yummy apples for them to eat.

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Here is the letter on cardstock; children printed and pasted on the letter "A" to reinforce the beginning letter sound.

Here is the letter on cardstock; children printed and pasted on the letter “A” to reinforce the beginning letter sound.

We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.  Otherwise, the kiddos and parents that don’t have to leave stay and play until the music teacher for our older Sweet Peas arrives.

I hope you enjoyed our tour through our Johnny Appleseed Day! I think the most fun for me was watching the kiddos explore all the tastes of the different apples, and seeing them enjoy food they had never tried before.

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SPF BLOG Traveling+Going Image

Traveling This Path + Going The Distance

Even though I am going to preface this post with some opening statements, I apologize in advance if it rubs you the wrong way.  This post is written with love in my heart for all the parents that are choosing to stay home with their children, and maybe still miss working sometimes.

Who this IS NOT directed at:
1.) If you are working outside of the home and you are happy with that choice.
2.) If you are working outside of the home and you are not happy with that choice.
3.) If you have to work outside of the home and you want to stay home.
4.) If you do not have to and do not want to work outside of the home, and are perfectly content staying home.

If 1-4 above apply to you, then you are at a different place than I am.  I have actually invited our students who would describe themselves as fitting into one of those categories to share their perspective, and I will be posting their thoughts as I receive them.

If you do fit into categories 1-4…then today’s post was not written with you in mind.  I wrote this to encourage primary caregivers who are home after leaving the workplace.  If this isn’t you, treat this post as the dish on the buffet line that you *do not* want to try, and peacefully move on to other things on the Internet that appeal to you.  Consider that there is no need to leave a flaming comment because I already recognize that I am not speaking to you.  We are on different paths, and I honor your journey, as I hope you will honor mine.

Image source: http://no-shame-in-my-game.tumblr.com/page/2

Image source: http://no-shame-in-my-game.tumblr.com/page/2

This post is written with a heart to encourage those of us who intentionally transitioned from the workplace to be stay-at-home parents.  Although that was our choice and we are usually at peace with it, sometimes we have moments, maybe a whole day (or longer…no judgment!), where we might wish otherwise:

Do you ever have days when you miss your old workplace?  Can you believe that you “gave it all up” to be at home with little people?  Do you, like me, sometimes have twinges of envy when you see friends and classmates receiving accolades and making announcements about how their career is pregressing?

If you have felt any of these things, I want you to know that you are not alone.  Although you made the choice to stay home with your child(ren), know that it doesn’t take away from the person that you are, and the person who was capable, probably even excellent, in the role you were in before you made the decision to stay home.  That person is still alive and well inside you; breathe that in for a moment.

For me, there are times when being “mom” felt so stifling and unfulfilling, especially when I saw/see other people my age doing things I wish I were doing.  Even though I believe in my heart of hearts that parenting intentionally is the greatest work in the world, it doesn’t mean I am happy in this place all the time.  We all have our moments.  I think the key is to ackowledge the feeling, and then rise above it by reminding ourselves why we made this commitment to our children in the first place.  

Parenting intentionally means that we recognize our children as whole human beings, no matter what age and body size they happen to be wearing at the time.  It means that we believe that responding to their needs will encourage their self-worth; by meeting them where they are, we are building a parent-child relationship founded in trust.  Trust that when they have needs, we will answer them.  Trust that we will not abandon them.  Trust that even when they are at a loss, they are still loved and that we will show up for them.  By showing them they are worthy, they learn that they are valuable and lovable. I believe they start to build a self-confidence that will be harder to erode as they get older and exposed to ideas and people outside of the family.

When we parent intentionally and choose to stay at home, that is a huge commitment of our time, what some might consider an intersection with most productive years of our lives.  I can’t tell you how worthy the work you are doing is going to be in the long run.  It is something you will have to trust: Parenting intentionally and staying home with our children is Worthwhile.  It is a Work. It is a long-term investment that will pay dividends years from now.  

Find your places to breathe, know that you are also worthy.  “Fill your cup”, as the saying goes, so that you can be present and loving with your children.  Recognize that parenting intentionally is meaningful work, and just as you took time to recharge after a long day in your old workplace, you still need to do that to be able to keep giving as a parent.  

At the same time, I encourage you to create a reciprocal relationship with your child(ren).  Parenting intentionally does not mean to give selflessly or to become a second-class citizen as you meet the needs of your child(ren).  Model a healthy relationship with your co-parent.  Show your family love in your words and your actions.  It is okay to tell them that you do things because you love them and you treasure them, instead of giving them the impression that you are a slave to their demands.

What about the days when you have reached the end of your patience? Use your words, even if you are telling them you are angry and you need a time out because you love them so much you don’t want to hurt them in your anger.  Convey your words in an Opera Voice, so maybe you will all end up laughing.  Chant “OM” to demonstrate that you are trying to find another breath.  Change your space, go for a walk, play with or in water…model for them all the ways to channel extreme emotion so that they can learn how to express themselves when they are feeling big emotions.

We are in a place where the dividends are starting to show now that they are older. We are beginning to see the results of the time we put into the relationship with them.  We hear it from their babysitters and adult instructors that they truly are exceptional little people who are a delight to be around.

Now that I am experiencing the people they are growing into, I am grateful I opted to stay home with them instead of going back to work or spending more time on (insert technology of choice here). The face time and attention you are giving them now will yield amazing, thoughtful, kind, independent human beings who are the future of the change we want to see in the world.

If you are a working parent and you have read this far down…yes, I know you are capable of raising equally thoughtful, kind, independent human beings…we have taken different paths to the same end.  I honor you for your choices and applaud you for being able to work and parent intentionally with the same fervor I have for the path I am traveling.

I guess what I am trying to say is that you are doing a great job with your kiddos, and try not to feel like you are missing out.  Our time with them is fleeting.  In the grand scheme of things, they will probably live well into their 70s, if not 80s or 90s.  We get about 18 years of that lifespan – make the most of it.  You will not regret it. 

Image source: http://www.susoutter.com/2014/01/what-kids-want-most-part-2.html

Image source: http://www.susoutter.com/2014/01/what-kids-want-most-part-2.html

By the same token, if there is really something in your heart, go for it!  Sometimes we have an all or nothing approach to life.  I have always wanted to get my PhD.  Because I pretty much blew off my first three years of college, I really have to hit the reset button and start over.  If I waited until the Sweet Pea Kids were grown up to do that, I would have another 14 years of pining and letting that desire eat away at me…I don’t need more reasons to envy others.  Instead, I have decided that it is doable and that I am okay with taking it slowly.  If I do one class per semester, then 14 years from now, I can take that “empty nest” time to write my dissertation, instead of starting the whole process from scratch.  

Image source: http://lifehacker.com/never-give-up-on-a-dream-just-because-of-the-time-it-1495765921

Image source: http://lifehacker.com/never-give-up-on-a-dream-just-because-of-the-time-it-1495765921

That happens to be my dream.  Do you have one?  If you know it, what small step can you do in the next day-week-month to start moving in that direection?

If you do not know what is going to feed your soul after your children claim their amazing lives thanks to the confidence and independence you have instilled in them, take some time to reflect on what that is so you can start making plans now.  You will need something to fulfill you; and one could make the argument that making them the whole center of your life is not necessarily healthy now, or in the long run, for either of you (musings about that HERE).

When we follow our dreams, we also have the opportunity to teach our children the beauty of discovering their gifts, and using them to fulfill themselves and help others.  Circling back to where we started, having our own treasure, our own burning desire, will make it easier to get through those days when we wonder what we were thinking as we look at the small tornado that is our home life that day.  

So own it.  Be the stay-at-home parent you want to be, live here and now with your child(ren).  Find what feeds your soul so that you can show up as a whole person for your family.  Enjoy your Sweet Peas, drink them in, encapsulate all these little moments.  Some day we will have all the time we thought we wanted, and our homes will be quiet, and we may miss all the chaos.  I believe we will reap a second harvest when our children fill it again with the love and laughter of the next generation being raised in love.

 

Preschool Playdate: Truck Day

We have several little boys that attend our playdates.  I thought it would be fun to incorporate a theme that really spoke to them.  It was equal opportunity play: the little girls enjoyed this playdate as much as the boys!

Our day started as usual:

— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme
— Storytime
— Unsquiggle activity
— Poem/Song before we break for Centers

STORYTIME
TRUCKS by .The fact we have been collecting toys for ten years proved helpful in bringing this book to life.  For every vehicle pictured in the book, we had an example for the Sweet Peas to experience with their eyes and their hands.  Otter and Charger enjoyed taking turns passing them around to our guests.

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LITERACY
Inspired by an idea in The Mailbox SuperBook to use a plane and a cloud to talk about position words, I worked with an idea to make that activity fit Truck Day.  I found line drawings of a dump truck and boulders online, added eyes to the truck to animate it a little, and printed out a list of direction and position words for parents to use with their Sweet Peas as they did this activity.  You can read the instructions in the photo.  I added the section about switching roles with your Sweet Pea because I find that our own kiddos have so much fun being in the teacher role.  Added bonus: on top of their enjoyment, it reinforces the concept they just learned!

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MATH
This was an activity of my own creation.  I wanted to incorporate play with the trucks, so I came up with a shape sorting station.  I used Microsoft Word to create pages of shapes; then we laminated them and cut them out.

The Sweet Peas would take a handful of shapes out of the bucket, sort them with their parents, and then put them in the truck and deliver them to the right station.  Puma and I taped up extra shapes onto the front of our Name Ledge with the idea of making them look like buildings along a city skyline.  I don’t know if the Sweet Peas made that connection; whether they did or not, we had fun creating this math activity to fit our theme.

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DISCOVERY
A variation on the always popular Sink/Float activity.  This time, we used plastic boats and all manner of wheeled vehicles to see which ones would sink or float.

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ARTS&CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
This was an activity out of The Mailbox SuperBook that I have been wanting to do since Puma was a preschooler.  For whatever reason (mostly because I couldn’t justify the mess!) it took designating a Truck Day to make it happen.  The kiddos used different color paints and textures on the wheels to “drive” an artwork onto their paper.

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IMAGINATIVE PLAY
This play station incorporated lots of different ideas: literacy in sign identification, math in counting and sorting, and lots of play and imagination as the Sweet Peas laid out the road way, used the “car wash” and learned how to cooperate with their peers so that they could all play with the city scene together.  It was such a big hit that we kept bringing out the “City Box” in subsequent play dates.

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Tales from the Toddler Side: Tantrums

We have had a rough Spring as parents. Daddy Bruss and I have parented three children already; we’re thinking we have this parenting thing figured out…and along came Otter.  She is growing us again – literally since her Birth-Day we have had to be willing to learn other ways, because very little of what worked with our other children is working with her.

Her huge tantrums this Spring all started with a transition in our home.  We switched around the use of some rooms in our home, and she got her own room.  She was totally unsettled and she could not understand how she had her own room, and was still welcome in our room (we co-sleep). Moving her clothes out of our closet and into hers, and her toy box from our room to her room; those were especially challenging.

While transitioning, the hallways and the normally empty spaces are stacked high with boxes.  This was totally foreign to Otter – she is the type of kiddos that likes her structure.  This was a total mess within the walls of her safe place.

On top of that, there was a weekend when I was gone most of the day for a training workshop.  And if that wasn’t enough, her Daddy flew out and was gone for four days, one of which overlapped with the time I was gone.

Cue meltdown.  And another one. And another one after that.  At the height of tantrum season, she was having 2-4 meltdowns a day. We had a good six week stretch where we had some pretty long and interesting days.  “Struggle” is an understatement.  I felt like the worst mom in the world.  Almost everyday, I wondered how I going to keep it together when 25 pounds of toddler was breaking me down at every turn – nothing I did, or didn’t do, seemed to abate the tears and the tantrums.

It was pretty brutal.  She was hurting herself, and lashing out at me with pinching fingers and hitting hands.  The depth of our emotions surprised me.  I knew I loved my child, and then again, I felt such resentment for the places we were going emotionally.

I have worked so hard to find my Peaceful Mama and keep Crazy Mama at bay. It was **really** hard to take those deep breaths on the days when Crazy Toddler showed up instead of my sweet baby girl.

I struggled between giving in to her demands to stop the self-harm, and shutting myself down because I could not handle it anymore.  Truth be told, it was hard on all of us. There were days when the other Sweet Pea kids acted out because they saw that meltdowns got my attention and were a priority. It was akin to that metaphor of putting out fires and never getting ahead.

There was one particular moment that stands out in that whole stretch of time.  A little frame: at the same time that we are going through all this emotion as a family, I am also doing some work on identifying archetypal voices for a class I am taking. Out of the blue,during one of the interactions with Otter when she is hitting me, this message comes through to me loud and clear, “When you hit me, I feel like you don’t love me.”

BAM. Lightening moment. I fell to the floor in tears, realizing that my reaction to her hitting is coming from a deep place of feeling rejected and unloved as a child.

For the record, I was a child in an era when spanking was the accepted form of discipline, and I wasn’t abused.  It simply was the mainstream way to do things, and in all other ways I knew I was loved.  We always had a caring home environment, food, clothing, and lots of affection otherwise.

Recognizing what was being triggered inside of me as Otter was hitting me was a turning point. In my Adult, I can reason with the Child statement and write a new story: “My parents love me, they did the best with what they knew.  My child loves me, she is acting out of a place of feeling powerless-fear-hurt-anxiety-insert feeling here.”  Knowing and being able to inner-dialogue worked really well to shut down Crazy Mama when the hitting started, and bring in Peaceful Mama right from the start.

We are on the other side of this rough patch now, and that is such a relief.  We survived because first of all, Daddy Bruss came through in a big way and acted as the fire extinguisher when things got out of hand.  No matter the time of day, he would pop out of his home office and help bring the volume level down. We were also a united front – we both gave Otter the message that self-harm was not acceptable, and that we loved her too much to let her hurt herself.

I also got a much needed “day off” to reflect on what was happening, why it was happening, and what I could do as the mother, the nurturer, to help get our family through this season of tantrums.  Here are some of the things that came into focus that day:

  1. I took the time to think about each child’s love language, and wrote down ideas on how I could meet fill their love tank on a daily basis.
  2. I took to heart Dr. Laura’s advice that we are our child’s “North Star”.  When you have four children, finding time to interact with each one intentionally takes, well, intention. So I created a system to keep track of whose turn it is to get ‘private time” with Mommy and Daddy.  Then, actually using the system – that has been *huge*.
  3. I wrote down what I expected from myself as the mother, where I was conflicted, and some steps to bridge the gaps between wanting to be a guide for our children, and actually being the guide I know I can be for them.
  4. I committed to bringing back (for myself) more of the structure that I crave. If I start the day on my schedule, then I feel on top of my game, which in turn affects how I feel about my abilities, positively impacts my emotions, etc., and that facilitates a day with Peaceful Mama at the helm.
  5. I decided that we were only going to work together in our homeschool for 25 minute stretches at a time.  This gave all of us a break from each other, and we also found that there was more fun in each day.  It has worked so well, that this is going to be the standard for our homeschool days going forward.

The good news is that we are all still in one piece, and things are much better “for now”.  Here are some resources that helped me focus on what Otter needed from me as she was struggling through all the emotions she was feeling:

Dr. Harvey Karp
http://www.happiestbaby.com/learn-about-your-baby-toddler/faqs/#tht

Dr. Laura Markham
http://www.ahaparenting.com/blog/angry-child-triggers-parent-control-self
http://www.ahaparenting.com/ages-stages/toddlers/toddler-tantrums

MindBodyGreen
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18351/5-kid-friendly-yoga-poses-to-help-your-child-avoid-a-meltdown.html

Quote from Charlotte Mason
“Every day, children need something to love, something to do, and something to think about.”

How about you? Which ideas or words of wisdom have helped you survive a toddler tantrum?

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Preschool Playdate: Black History Month

This unit was a fun one to put together.  It came together with inspiration from Nick, Jr of all places.  They have a section on Black History Month with **lots** of printables.  Check out the links under each activity.

We started the same way:
— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme
— Storytime
— Unsquiggle activity
— Poem/Song before we break for Centers

Book for Black History theme: Our Children Can Soar by Michelle Cook
Collaborative illustration – each historical figure is presented by a different artist.
Beautiful illustrations and simple prose highlighted some standouts in US history – it is perfect for this age group.  It was literally the last book I picked up after almost an hour at the book store. I am so glad I am persistent!!  I hope there is a follow-up version in the works.  While there are many acheivers mentioned in this volume,  there are other African-American luminaries I would have like to have seen included.  Overall it is a beautiful book and served its purpose to raise awareness that people of color have contributed to US history, and have their own rich cultural heritage alongside the predominantly Anglo-European historical perspective.

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Poem for Black History theme from The Best of Mailbox Songs & Fingerplays Book

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LITERACY CENTER
I incorporated cards from the Nick, Jr. printable sets (ArtistsAthletes, Inventors) and had the Sweet Peas match the magnet letters to the first letters in the people’s names.  Parents could read the card to the Sweet Pea – if a little one had a longer attention span, they would listen to the all the text on all the cards.  If they had a shorter attention span, parents could give them the highlights.
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MATH CENTER
We brought the clothesline and clothespins back since we had a different set of Sweet Peas joining us, and this activity is usually a favorite when we finish up and share about our morning.
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ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
One of the featured inventors in the Nick, Jr. printable coloring pages invented the ice cream scoop! I printed out the coloring page, and then we punched out circles and cut out triangles so kiddos could create and paste their own ice cream creations on their coloring page.
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DISCOVERY TABLE
We incorporated Alfred Cralle and his invention of the ice cream scoop in our discovery activity.  We pulled out all our ice cream play sets and let the Sweet Peas explore textures; and also do some imaginative play as they made ice cream for the parents and for each other.

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Ice cream sets: Learning Resources Rainbow Color Cones, ice cream portion of IKEA DUKTIG 18-piece felt dessert set, Lego Duplo Ice Cream Playset

 

 

Other printable coloring pages we didn’t use – they will come in handy to inspire other activites as we do this theme again next year:
PEOPLE
WOMEN

We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what they enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.  Otherwise, the kiddos and parents that don’t have to leave stay and play until the music teacher for our older Sweet Peas arrives.

I hope you enjoyed the tour through our Black History Month theme.  This was a very emotional day for me.  Even though we are not African-American, my mom’s family has immigrant/Texan migrant worker roots, and stories of how people of color overcome adversity to succeed against all odds is near and dear to my heart.

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On Capturing Motherhood

Usually when I attend a conference, I write synopsis blog posts for my readers so that they can have an “on-the-scene” recap.  As I was reading over my notes to share the wonderful presentation by Jennifer McLellan of Plus Size Birth, I had the distinct impression that it would be very unfair to her to share my notes.  She is an accomplished writer and speaker…publishing my notes would be plagiarizing her work.

So instead, I am going to share how seeing her presentation changed my life.  It was one of those lightbulb moments that will forever stand out in my memory.  Today I can see a delineation in my motherhood journey between “before Jen” and “after Jen”.

Here is a little backstory, so you can get a picture of why seeing Jennifer speak has changed my life…

I have struggled with body image since I was about five.  I have a beautiful mother and I never felt like I lived up to her.  When I was little, I had foot problems so I had to wear ugly corrective shoes.  After I outgrew those, I had to wear glasses – and not just glasses – “coke bottles”. I have terrible eyesight.  Elementary school was no fun as far as looking like a “normal” kid.

On top of that, I was a late bloomer – very much an “ugly duckling”, in the story in my head, anyway.  Once I finally felt like I fit in, I gravitated towards jobs that were heavy on body image.  I worked in the retail clothing industry when I was in college, and I was a professional dancer once upon a time; so there was a whole slew of “not thin enough” messages from those industries.

I see pictures of me when I was dancing professionally and I cannot believe that I ever thought I was “too fat” – there is one in particular that haunts me: I was skin and bones.  (Those pictures are hard to look at, too.)  Then, my thyroid went out of control with my first pregnancy and my doctor didn’t catch it until I had gained 80 pounds – gar!!  I went on to gain another 20 pounds for a total of 100 pounds of weight gain that first pregnancy.  So I went from thinking I was too fat, to now actually having a fuller figure, and real weight to lose.

What has been constant throughout most of my life: Feeling betrayed by my body.  I hated myself and I could barely stand to look in the mirror.  Makeup is the mask I hid behind, because you know, if my face is fabulous, then the rest of me is too, right??

On the flip side, I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking, and the idea that our thoughts are things…so lots of internal conflict.  While I hated my shell, I knew I had to be positive to teach my children a healthy relationship with their body and with food.  How could I teach them to love life and believe in themselves when I could not live sincerely?

I was lucky enough to catch Jennifer speak at the 2nd Birth Without Fear Conference in Austin, TX in the fall of 2014.  I had seen some of the videos she shared in her presentation as they made their rounds on the internet (the ones I remember were from the Dove®  body image campaign; see videos HERE), and I have seen blog posts written by people encouraging people/women to stop feeling ashamed of their bodies and start embracing life…but none of them inspired me to take action. I still lived with hate in my heart towards this body that betrayed me on a daily basis.

There is something magical about Jennifer.  She started with humor, and then caught my heartstrings with her sincere message that we are enough, and that it is important to capture our motherhood.  Not just in words or pictures of our children.  

She challenged all of us to start being in images with our children.   One part of her presentation invited the audience to write a love note to themselves…that was a hard line for me to cross.  I hated my body. I knew that in the eyes of my children this body represents love, and they sincerely mean it when they say, “You are beautiful, Mommy”.  

I used to scream inside when they said that!   Learning to stop feeling betrayed by this flesh has been a slow process – one that started with biting my tongue the first time my daughter told me I was beautiful around eight years ago.  I knew that if I told her I was fat or pointed out the flaws I saw, that would be the message she would learn, too…a cycle I could not bear for her to learn.

Thanks to Jennifer’s challenge, I can put words to why I need to stop hating myself, and I have one very good reason to love myself. I keep that note I wrote in Austin at the front of my journal to inspire me to embrace my body as a partner instead of the enemy.  It is a reminder that my body is not something to hate or to be ashamed of, and instead, I am learning to treasure it as the vessel that grew and birthed four strong, relatively healthy children.

I used to enjoy scrapbooking.  Ideally, I want our children to have pictures of all of us embracing life together.  Then again, I kept seeing my body as a mismatch with what I felt like I should look like and I stopped stepping in front of the camera. Our pictures for the last ten years have been a lot of the Sweet Pea Kids out and about as we explore the world around us, and a once-a-year family shot for holiday cards where I hide behind them.

Thanks to Jennifer’s inspiring message, I have stopped waiting to reach my ideal body image before I can be in pictures again.  I am in front of the camera *now* because I do not want them to wonder where I was in their lives. I have started living it with them, front and center in front of the camera, just as I do when there is no lens there.

I have been pleasantly surprised to see those pictures – I no longer cringe when I see myself next to our children.  With a new gaze, I see the fun we are capturing and the memories we have made, and I am so grateful that Jennifer’s message was the catalyst to make me stop wishing and start doing. I truly cannot thank her enough for her presentation, and for the love note she made us write.  It’s the first positive thing I have said about my body in almost 20 years.  I can finally start to find some congruence and acceptance so that my message to our children is genuine instead of forced.

As to the more humorous side of her presentation, her 10 tips for taking better pictures really work, too!! HERE  is part of that presentation in her own words, published as a blog post on her own blog (see, it’s a good thing I listened to my instincts!!). So whether you take in the fun part, the inspirational part, or embrace the whole message of her “Capture Motherhood” challenge, you will be blessed.

Find Jen’s speaking calendar HERE Since I make every effort not to compromise our children’s privacy, I will share this picture I took with my DH.  This smile is so different than a picture I would have taken a year ago.

Why do I see such a difference? People who knew me in high school or college, or when I was dancing professionally, wouldn’t recognize the shape I carry around these days. That used to mortify me.  Since seeing Jennifer and writing that love note, I have come to accept that my heart that loves God and seeks to love others is the same, and that heart loves my children and pumped blood into them, and this body that grew to a tremendous size to grow them, are the reason why they are here today.
I will not apologize or be ashamed anymore. This vessel is the reason why four pieces of my heart walk around outside of my body, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work it has done.

Preschool Playdate: Chinese New Year

We used to host a great group called “Peas & Pods” that met every other week.  It was for parents (mostly moms) and Sweet Peas to get together, meet other families, and support each other on the parenting journey.  Then one of our alums started hosting a breastfeeding group at her home, and another alum started offering parenting classes…so our group seemed redundant.

After seeing Dr. Harvey Karp speak about the importance of toddlers being socially stimulated on a regular basis, I decided to offer an opportunity for our alums with toddlers to get together.  This was a need that wasn’t being met by the other groups, and after teaching childbirth classes for almost four years, there were toddlers amongst us (including our own!).

Thus, the weekly Preschool Play-date was born!  We started doing these in September 2014, but I didn’t think to start documenting with pictures until February 2015.  I am looking forward to sharing some of the themes we did last Spring with you.  My hope is that they will inspire you to get creative with your own Sweet Peas.

We started with Circle Time:
— Welcome Song where every child found their name and placed it on the Name Table
— Spanish Welcome Song that reinforced each child’s name so that the Sweet Peas could get to know each other.
— Story Time
— Squiggle Activity – something to get the wiggles out!

Every week, I planned at least four different centers:
— Letter/Writing/Literacy
— Math
— Arts & Crafts
— Discovery

Some weeks, we would have other activities as well – it would depend on how much I could find around the house to fit the theme.  I purchased very little outside of craft supplies and paper.  You can definitely do these themes on a shoe-string budget!

Story: “The Ivory Wand” from Stories From Around the World – Usborne Children’s Books

Circle Time: Talked about the Chinese Zodiac and shared that 2015 was the Year of the Sheep according to the Chinese calendar

Now for the center activities:

LETTER/LITERACY/WRITING ~ Make+Take:
One thing I remember from living in Taiwan is that people exchanged red envelopes on Chinese New Year.  I wanted to incoporate that idea with an activity that would allow children to recognize their name letters and organize them in order, because when you get an envelope, it ususally has your name on it!

So I used red card stock, and printed a good wish that I found HERE.  Then I programmed an index card with each child’s name, used punch out letters I picked up from the Tuesday Morning craft section, and put them in an envelope with the name clipped to the outside.

When the Sweet Pea participated in the center, first they had to find the right card with their name.  Then they pulled the letters out of the envelope, organized them in order, and glued them to their sentiment card.
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MATH CENTER:
This math center is one of my favorites.  The Sweet Peas get to use their motor skills as well as their ordering.  Each tee-shirt was programmed with a number and correspodinging dots.  The child could either hang them on a “laundry line” that we tied up between two chairs, or simply clip the clothepins to match the number on the shirt.

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ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make+Take:
This craft idea came from Enchanted Learning.  I used the red paper I had on hand, plus craft sticks and a print out of a dragon’s head and tail on card stock.  I took a line drawing found in the Internet, cut off the tail and head that I wanted, and then enlarged it so it would look somewhat balanced.

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DISCOVERY TABLE: Sounds
We filled old prescription bottles with five different fillers that made distinct sounds: dry rice, dry beans, seeds, bells, and beads  We covered them with contact paper, and also made them self-correcting so that a Mother-Toddler pair could move ahead without waiting for me to check their matching.

150219 PP04 150219 PP05Thanks for taking a peek into our “Chinese New Uear” theme! Until next week when we share what we did to celebrate Black History Month.

 

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How a Homeschool Day looks at our house

A recent question on social media made me think about how we run our homeschool day.  The question was akin to, “How do you homeschool your older child when there is a needy younger sibling running around?”

I will preface my answer with some transparency.  Homeschooling works well for us because I have been blessed with two amazing helpers.  We have sacrificed some budget items to finance this luxury; very worth to me it since it means that my sanity is intact.  One helper works M-W, and the other one works TH-F.  When our children were younger, my helpers were “nannies” in the traditional sense: when I wasn’t babywearing, they entertained the smaller children so I could homeschool the older children.  As our children grow, they all seem to want to be in the school room at the same time and/or they are old enough to entertain themselves.  Now the “nannies” have taken on housekeeping duties: laundry and meal preparation, interspersed with child care.

Before we had a nanny (2 children in the family at time), I would homeschool when the younger sibling was napping.  Which meant maybe 2-3 sessions scattered throughout the day.  As that sibling grew out of naps, then we would wait to homeschool until Daddy Bruss got home from work.  He would spend time with Night Owl while I “played school” with Puma.  It took me a couple of months to figure that one out.  It took a while for the idea to sink in that homeschooling didn’t have to happen during traditional school hours.  “Homeschool” just means allowing learning to happen at home – the bonus is that it can happen anytime that it is convenient as the day unfolds!

If I had to run the homeschool and take care of housekeeping with four children, our life would be much more chaotic.  I would probably make different choices about how to run our days.  For one, would be eating a lot of cereal and crock pot meals (which is what we did pre-nanny, and that was okay, too!).  Thanks to our helpers, we eat a lot of healthy, whole food prepared from scratch every day.  It is a blessing that I thank God for *every* day, especially during the summer when they get time off to recover from the Bowman clan!

So, having said that, what does a typical school day look like for us?  I will share the general outline, plus share ideas to entertain younger siblings while you are spending time with the older children.

Our homeschool day actually starts the night before.  We use the Sonlight curriculum for the older three, and we used Horizon for our preschooler.  Both curriculums include parent/teacher guides, so I lay out the materials they will need for the next day ahead of time.  It gives me the opportunity to glance at what the following day will entail and prepare any activities.  An added benefit of laying everything out the night before is that allows for any early risers to get a head start on their schoolwork that they can do without me: handwriting, math review worksheets, language arts review exercises, reading.  It motivates our kiddos – they enjoy being the first one to finish and have more playtime.  Works for me!!

Our school day ususally starts at 8:00 am with the younger two (Charger and Night Owl).  I set the timer for 25 minutes, and they get my undivided attention until the timer rings.  We will read their books, play games, sing songs, do their worksheets – basically work through our checklist until the timer rings.  Once the timer rings, it’s time to switch “teams”.

The cycle starts again as I work with our older set of children (Puma and Night Owl).  I set a 25 minute timer and focus my attention on them.  We usually start their day with the Sonlight “Read-Aloud” list so that they start the day with art or some other quiet activity (building, puzzles, play dough, etc.) as they listen and ease into the day.  When the timer rings, the older set get a break to play or help around the house, and the younger kiddos get my attention again. And so progresses our school day, in 25-minute segments.

We all take a break for snacks and meals.  We also do a “recess” after lunch. It’s usually around 25 miuntes while I check and answer pressing emails, or make phone calls. Once the breaks are over, the timer starts again.

So that is our day in a nutshell.  Although it is somewhat tedious to live by a timer, it works for our family.  The Sweet Pea Kids even ask if it has been set! We usually start “school” at 8 and finish by 1 or 2 pm.  This system takes longer than if I barreled through the day or worked in longer time blocks.   Why I stick with it: all the kiddos get my attention through the course of every hour, and their learning time is paired with playtime, which makes them happier scholars when it’s time to focus.

To add variety, sometimes we will homeschool in different settings.  On occation, I set up in the kitchen.  We have three outdoor areas at our home that are available when the weather is good.  Other days, we have gone to the library or a park with a segment of the day’s work for all of us to have a change of scenery.

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We also take the time to do activites outside of the home throughout the week or month.  Most Friday mornings are spent outdoors.  We take advantage of children’s programs at museums or the mall in our area.  There have been times when we participate in programs at the zoo.   A great benefit to homeschooling is the flexibilty to take a “field trip” on off-peak days.  This allows us to spend a whole day out with the kids enjoying an attraction with little to no lines.  I plan one “field trip” every month.

140122 wwSPF.4BLOG ww 1113 spf.4Another way to keep ourchildren motivated is to have what we call a “Reading Day” or a “Reading Week”.  Aside from the read-alouds, the older set have 7-8 subjects we work through every day; and the younger set have about 4-5*.  “Reading” means that all we do on those days are the read alouds; plus their own grade-level reading, math and logic. All Thursdays are “Reading Day” because that is the day we host preschool.  It lowers the stress level considerably by scheduling less. If we focus, we are finished before the parents and children arrive for the Preschool Playdate, then they have the rest of the day to play.  In addition, every six weeks I schedule a “Reading Week”.  All of us enjoy those!

Over the last year, the younger two have decided that maybe they want to stick around the school room even if it isn’t their turn with me.  I am a believer that the younger children learn by osmosis, so they are welcome to be around while I am teaching the older children as long as they are not distracting us. They can paint, use play dough, do puzzles, play quiet games (memory, dominoes), etc.  There is an expectation that they must play quietly so the older siblings can focus on their learning activities.

If the preschooler and the kindergartener do not want to play quietly, then they are asked to go play away from the school area, or to help the nanny who will put them to work. If they opt to help out, it is a passive opportunity to learn life skills.  By helping with laundry or with meal prep, they are learning skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.  In addition, as they help, they are still learning: sorting (math), recipes (reading), measuring (math), mixing (chemistry!), in addition to exercising their gross and fine motor skills…it’s all good.

Now you know what homeschooling looks like for our family.  If you homeschool, how does it work at your house?

Check out the Homechooling page under the RESOURCES tab for links to our favorite homeschooling websites.

*School Subjects
For Puma and Night Owl:  Science, Spelling, Reading, Language Arts, Handwriting, Creative Expression (writing), Math, Logic, Spanish, French
For Charger and Otter: Reading, Math, Logic, Handwriting, Spanish

Summer Reading List – Mama version

Surprisingly, I have actually managed to finish quite a few comedic and/or “chic lit” books so far this summer. TV shows being on hiatus combined with trying to rest more have been an awesome combination for extra reading.  But I have also pulled out some new and old parenting books that I plan to read or re-read this summer too, if any mamas are looking for some family related reading they are all below with a few thoughts!

paperbacks!

Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms
Anni Daulter

sacred pregnancy book
If you find yourself less inclined to stay up to date with the week-by-week pregnancy updates online or via a phone app during a subsequent pregnancy but feel like you don’t want to completely ignore the changes taking place in your body each week, this is a great alternative! The book is set up for a few pages each week talking about various things that may be happening with you or baby that week, way less clinical and more spiritual, and also gives a topic you can journal about that week and a small activity to honor yourself and/or the baby growing inside of you! I have this on Kindle version but so wish I would have ordered a physical copy as the illustrations look so beautiful and there is probably room to journal right inside the book which would make it such a special keepsake even once the pregnancy is over.

Parenting from the Inside Out
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Mary Hartzell, M.Ed.

parenting from the inside out book

I love everything about this book! It is NOT an easy read by any means and I have only made it about half way through but if I ever get some quality, uninterrupted time to read I like to pull this up on Kindle and am always highlighting passages and taking numerous notes. It is written by a psychiatrist and early childhood and parent educator and is very straightforward and scientific at times. It delves into how memory works, how certain parts of the brain develop and work, and is centered on emotional intelligence, self understanding and reflection. It also lays out very specific ways for us as parents to grow and understand ourselves and our children more. Everything is very practical and I learn a TON every time I pick it back up. Before the book begins it states “This book will encourage you to build an approach to parenting that is founded on basic principles of internal understanding and interpersonal connection. The anchor points for this approach to the parent-child relationship are mindfulness, lifelong learning, response flexibility, mind sight and joyful living.” These are all principles that were important to me and my husband long before having children, so this book really resonated with me on all levels. I would highly recommend if these are things that are important to you in your life as well!

How to Raise a Healthy Child… In Spite of Your Doctor
Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D.
I have had this book for awhile now and have never actually read it, I have just used it as a very useful reference guide. The index has everything you could possibly be wondering about and you can flip right to the appropriate page. I really want to sit down and take it in cover to cover though, I know I won’t remember everything but I think there is probably a lot of useful preventative information that would be nice to have in the back of your mind before you are in the thick of a OH MY GOODNESS MY BABY IS PEEING BLOOD AND HAS A FEVER OF 104!!!??? episode. It does a really great job of providing a balance between treating at home and when to seek care, most everything I have read doesn’t seem too liberal or too conservative, just logical paired with the author’s actual experience as a medical doctor.

kids are wroth it!
Barbara Coloroso
This book was recommended by my wonderful doula and mama to seven, Rose, so I knew it would be a good one. I have only got through seven of sixteen chapters but have really loved it so far. Chapter Two talks about “three kinds of families” and I found it to share a lot of similarities with Dr. Laura Markham’s (the next author on the list) four parenting styles. Some parts were a tad overwhelming to me as they address some very typical patterns and behaviors that we have fallen into with our toddler without even realizing and/or thinking about it. It definitely prompted me to want to make many positive changes in the behaviors we use to encourage him to change his behavior. There are also a lot of tools of self reflection in this one, ways in which to honor our own feelings as parents and how to work through them while still being our best selves for our children. One of the main themes throughout the entire book is how to empower children, something I really appreciate and try to keep at the top of my mind at all times, can’t wait to finish the rest!

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
Dr. Laura Markham

I have probably said this before, particularly when I reviewed seeing Dr. Laura speak earlier this year that while the book is very feel good and has many great messages, I find most of it very hard to apply to toddlers in particular, especially ones that are not yet verbal. There are only 17 pages specifically for the toddler ages, 13 months – 36 months, which is obviously what I am most interested in right now. I think there is a lot of “big picture” information too, showcasing what ideal circumstances will look like when you and your child are connected, instance, etc, but it was sometimes hard for me to find information helpful for specific circumstances we find ourselves in that are hard to deal with. Some of the techniques are helpful, like offering choices, making a game out of hard times like bath, brushing teeth, etc. but I also find us a lot of time going through all of those tools and still ending up in a tense place. I think there is a lot of great information for “preventative” work with our children though, and the overall theme does really seem to be self care and connection to help avoid as many negative situations between child and caregiver as possible. I am happy to keep this book around and think I will re-read it many times during the school age years!

The Discipline Book
William Sears, M.D. & Martha Sears, R.N.

I picked up this book when looking specifically how to handle discipline with my two year old. I found that during age 1 he was still learning and exploring and there was only keeping him safe and guiding him, no discipline. As we approached his second birthday it was clear that “discipline” was needed. Discipline has a very negative connotation but I am not referring to punishment, just a way to reinforce important rules to keep him safe, provide structure, and understand age appropriate behaviors along with what I could expect him to understand, etc. Because this is what I was looking for I only read Chapter 1 “Our Approach to Discipline” and Chapter 3 “Understanding Ones, Twos and Threes.” I really liked the information as it was easily presented, easily digested and practical. I did feel that some parts were focused on setting limits and providing structure around “age appropriate behaviors” but what exactly is age appropriate wasn’t defined, as it varies from child to child? That was a hard one for me because it was what I had struggled with before I even picked up the book, what is appropriate to expect from my 18 month old? What does he actually understand? What is he actually capable of? This has gotten easier as he has transitioned into two and now into two and a half. I have a better grasp on his understanding and capabilities even though he still doesn’t talk much, and revisiting this book as well as reading ahead will definitely be helpful!

What are your favorite mama or family focused reads? Is there anything you have heard of but just haven’t picked up? I know I have been meaning to find Raising Your Spirited Child as well as The Whole-Brain Child I just need to get through the rest of the above first!