Saturday, March 26

What do You do for You?

"What do I ever do that's just for me?" This is a question that most moms wrestle with from time to time. And once we've asked the question, we begin to wrestle with the validity of the question.  "Is it okay to even think about what I need to do for me?"  We have to be able to answer, "yes" to the second question, before we can even be real with the first one.

I have a few patterns that I repeat frequently:

Go to the gym three times a week.  I am a creative person not an athletic one.  In fact, the history of my intentional physical exertion prior to now could be bullet pointed like this...
  • 20+ years ago: marching band for three years of high school.
  • 17 years ago: weight training for a semester in college with a goal of fitting into my wedding dress.
  • 9 years ago: walking the neighborhood with the toddler in the stroller and the baby strapped to my back to sweat off some baby weight.  

I did seek out a gym membership in college once after my grandmother died of heart disease.  But you can correctly guess that fear of a cholesterol-laden death was not quite the motivator I needed ... and I was already in the best shape of my life.  But, as is true for everyone with age,  I recently began to see negative physical changes.  Couple that with a downturn in my emotional well-being and I had the means and motivation I needed to make room for purposeful, challenging, regular exercise.  The emotional and spiritual effects of working out have been amazing.   And so I will press on.

Volunteer in my church within my giftings and never outside of them.  This is a life-giving activity for me.  My husband gets paid to work for the church.  I don't.  But the fact that I still do it outside of a paycheck is a good clue that this is the work that excites me.  If you ask me to plan an event, I'll likely say no.  If you ask me to organize volunteers, I'll likely say no.  If you ask me to work in the children's ministry, I'll for certain say, "no." But, if I get to do what I feel passionate about doing -- which, as of lately, is leading book groups, connecting moms, exploring scripture together, mentoring, extending justice, and supporting marriages -- I'll be there with the energy of a thousand burning suns.  

Accomplish school planning and prep in the morning and not at night.  Why?  Nighttime is when I recharge.  I put the boys to bed and then I read and journal.  Oh man, I look forward to this time all day sometimes.  If I spend all the quiet hours of the evening reviewing curriculum and cutting out letters for my preschooler I. will. burn. out.  I am not so new to home education that I don't have a large "tool box" to pull from.  And so, I fine-tune my sketched-out lesson plans in the a.m., collect some online resources and we're off and running.  

In addition, there are a few things I do for myself occasionally:

Take two or three days a year to spend in silence and solitude.  This one is new in the past two years and my introverted self rejoices whenever I get to type one of these days into my calendar.  I take an inspiring book -- maybe one with probing questions at the chapter ends --The Message, my journal, a writing notebook, some notecards, a pen and my lunch and I go off to a retreat center to rest, pray, seek, walk, chew, and write.  The day is completely unplugged, quiet, and wrapped in nature and mystery.  I have one coming up in June...

Take Mother's Day off from mothering.  I imagine this might send shocks rippling through you, but I actually leave my family on Mother's Day.  Way back when my very young Active Alert / Inflexible /ADHD/Explosive/ODD son had the hardest time with special days, I set myself up for disappointment thinking he could treat Mother's Day with a sense of specialness.  After a couple heartbreaking years, I gave myself permission to let those expectations go.  My understanding husband then began to take my children to worship without me on Mother's Day and I would go for a walk through the fields near our house, work on photo albums, or take a nap and before they came home I'd leave the house and treat myself to lunch, shopping, writing in a sunny spot or maybe a movie.  I come back a refreshed mother... one who was so appreciated as to be given the day off.  

Have coffee with friends.  I sometimes get this mixed up with ministry, but I try not to.  There are coffee dates that are really counseling dates in disguise.  And then there are coffee dates with friends who genuinely want to catch up with you.  You can tell these because they ask me very little to do with homeschooling methods and they aren't probing to find out the backstory of stuff going on in the church.  I'm talking about coffee with friends who can offer true give and take.  I seek these out at least monthly if not more often.   

Attend a conference that has nothing to do with homeschooling.  I attend an annual home educator's conference as well but I view that weekend as more of a "teacher inservice" time that's attached to my work. This year I'm looking into attending a conference on life-mapping, another on spiritual formation and I'm actually signed up for one regarding mentoring.  I look forward to finding new avenues that help me become the me I'm intended to be.

Your habits may look very different from mine, but you may want to explore the idea of repeating something daily/weekly or with more regularity as well as incorporating activities that only happen seasonally or annually.    Just having coffee with friends once in a while isn't enough for me.  So, I've found a way to balance the schooling, family, ministry and friends that helps me recharge with a mind toward wholeness.  

I'd be interested in finding out what other things you do just for you.

Saturday, March 19

Cookie Unit for Preschool

Cookies are a ton of fun.  And in December we seem to make a different kind every week.  This is a great unit to get your kiddo into the kitchen with you.  It's only fitting that the activities in this unit require the consumption of lots and lots of cookies, but you can use whatever you like when an activity calls for a reward.

Cookie Unit for Preschool

 Psalm 119:103  "How sweet are your words to my taste.  Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." Create hand motions for the keywords:  Sweet=use your pointer fingers to draw your mouth smiling a big, sweet smile.  Words =Shape your hand like it's operating a puppet and make it talk. Taste = Stick your tongue out and point to it while you say the word.  This makes them laugh every time.  Yes, sweeter = Nod and then do the motion for "sweet" again. Honey = use your pointer fingers and buzz them around like bees in front of you.  Mouth = close your mouth and point to it.

Letters: C (cookie) +  O (oatmeal) + Z(zoo) + J (Jesus)
Use 9x15 construction paper.  Cut out a large chunky letter.  Your child will be decorating each letter with things that start with it.  After he does this, I attach it to a different colored full size sheet of construction paper, and write the capital letter, the small letter and the word underneath it.
C = Cut out cookie pictures from magazines and glue them on.
O = Use white glue to cover the letter O and let your child sprinkle on some oats.
Z = Animal cookies work great for this activity.  Glue them on a big letter zoo with white glue.
J = We glued on candy canes, turned upside down to represent Jesus (and read the Legend of the Candy Cane). But you could use nativity stickers or a rubber stamp creche image if you have them. 

Books and Activities:
1.  Cookie Trail.  Use anything to create a trail through your house to find a cookie at the end.  I have a whole hoard of miniature erasers, but you can use beans or Legos or whatever you want.  Just wind the "crumb" trail around the furniture, under a table, or up and down stairs to make it fun. Have them collect all the crumbs as they go and let them have the cookie at the end.

2.  Sniff Around.  Hide a real or a fake cookie from your child.  Have him try to find it by asking you as many as twenty questions requiring "yes" or "no" answers.  

3.  Make the Big Letter C.

4. '10 Little Cookies' Flannel Board Song.  Cut out 10 brown flannel circles.  As you sing the song, you can let your child either put them on the flannel board, or put them on ahead of time and let your child pull them off.  
(To the tune of 10 Little Indians)  
1 little, 2 little, 3 little cookies. 
4 little, 5 little, 6 little cookies. 
7 little, 8 little, 9 little cookies.  
10 little cookies with milk (and pretend to glug down a glass of milk).

Similarly, if you use glue to make your flannel cookies sparkly you can do this rhyme:
Ten little cookies in a bakery shop,
Shining bring with the sugar on top.
Along come (Name) w/ a nickel to pay,
He buys a cookie and takes it away.
Nine little cookies...

5.  Cookie Mobile.  Cut out a big cookie shape out of brown construction paper.  Provide tiny black triangle shapes for your child to glue onto their "chocolate chip cookie."  OR let them use a hole puncher all over the cookie to let the light through.  Write their memory verse on the back of the cookie and hang it by a length of string from the ceiling.  

6.  Ding Dong! Game.  You'll need to make some playing cards by drawing six cookie shapes so that you fill a piece of white cardstock.  Do it again on another piece of cardstock.  Now, you'll draw a chocolate chip on one cookie.   Draw two chocolate chips on the next cookie.  Keep adding a chocolate chip to each cookie as you draw until you have a cookie with 10 chocolate chips on it.  Leave one cookie blank and on the last cookie write DING DONG!  You'll need two sets of these cards, so make a copy of what you've just made and cut them all out.  You can discard on of the Ding Dong cards as you only need one.

Play the game like you'd play Old Maid.  Deal out all the cards.  Lay down any matched pairs you have.  In turn, each player draws a card from any opponent, trying to avoid the "Ding Dong" cookie.  If you draw a card that matches on of yours, lay down the matched cards.  Then, the turn passes to the next player.  Play continues until a player gets rid of all of his cards.  

7.  Cookie Division.  You can use the cookie cards from Ding Dong! to practice division.  Use a dozen cookies and figure out how many different ways you can evenly divide them.  Add more cookies and figure out how many ways you can evenly divide two dozen.  

8.  Make the Big Letter O.

9.  Cookie Gifts.  It was nice of the Grandmother to bring over a gift of cookies in this story.  Collect a couple empty Pringles cans and clean them out.  Cover the outside of the can with white or colored paper and let your child decorate it.  Then, help your child make a batch of cookies, sizing them to fit in the canisters.  Stack the cooled cookies in the canisters and give them as gifts.   

10.  Story Sequencing.  Make up some sequence cards that go with this book.  On blank 3x5 card draw draw one of each item:  a cookie, a glass of milk, a straw, a napkin, a mirror, a story book, a pen, a piece of notebook paper, crayon, scissors, broom, matchbox bed, and scotch tape.  Use clip art or let your child help with the drawings.  Then have your child retell the story by only looking at the cards.  Similarly, you can mix the cards up and let them put them back in the order of the story.

11.  Bake Cookies.  If you haven't baked cookies yet, don't wait any longer.  Get in the kitchen and let your child help you measure and mix.

12.  What's Next?  Practice sequencing in real life.  Give your child an instruction.  Let them follow it.  Then give them the same instruction and add on one more.  Do it again.  Generally, this age can follow up to four instructions fairly well.  Make it as difficult as you think your child can manage without frustrating them.  Make the instructions fun, physical acts and this should be a favorite skill building game.

13.  Cookie Cutter Matchup.  Trace 6-8 Christmas shaped cookie cutters and cut them out.  Lay the cut outs on a cookie sheet and set the cookie cutters nearby.  Let your child match up the cookie cutters to their correct shape.  You can also do this activity by cutting out play dough shapes with the cookie cutters instead of using paper cut outs.    

14.  Stuffed Gingerbread Man.  Find a clip art outline of a gingerbread man to use as a pattern.  You'll want your pattern to fill an entire sheet of brown construction paper.  Copy the pattern onto two piece of brown construction paper and cut them out.  Stack them  and use a hole puncher to make holes all the way around the Gingerbread man about an inch apart.  You'll also need a shoelace, some tissues and some construction paper scraps.  Let your child decorate the gingerbread man with the construction paper scraps. When dry, let them wad up the tissues and sew them inside using a simple stitch with the shoelace.  

15.  Gingerbread Man Chase.  Set up an obstacle course for your child.  This works best outdoors.  Prepare about five stations where your child is across, crawling under, skating over, running through, or hopping between something.  Have him start out by saying, "Run, run run as fast as you can!  You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"  Then let him take off and say outloud what he's doing as he goes.  "I jumped across the sidewalk, I crawled under the swing, I skated over the driveway, I ran through the garden, I hopped between the trees and I can run from YOU I can, I can!"  Then it's your turn!  (or another sibling).

16.  Make the Big Letter Z.  You could connect it with the animals in the story of the Gingerbread Man if you want to.  My boys were just excited to work with animal cookies.  

17.  Compare and Contrast.    The Gingerbread Man and the Gingerbread Boy are two very similar stories.  I used this opportunity to put them side by side and let my sons tell me what was similar and what was different about the two stories.  Then I let them make up their own version with different characters by asking,  "Who would your gingerbread man run away from?"

18.  Recycled Paper Ornaments.  Using your Christmas-shaped cookie cutters and an old phone book you can make some cute little homemade gifts for Grandparents.  Let your child rip pages out of the phone book.  (Ripping is a great skill they need to practice).  Then let them put the pages in a bowl of water, one at a time.  Squeeze them out and start wadding them up together.  Stuff them inside of a cookie cutter being sure to push the paper all the way to the edges.  Once these dry in a day or so, you can push the paper out in one solid shape, thread a needle with some pretty thread and push it through the top of the ornament, looping it around to make a hanger. 

19.   'Christmas Cookies' Flannel Board Song.  Make 10 cookies out of felt:  Green, red, yellow, round, square, white, striped, big, small and the last one a creation of your choice.  As you recite the poem, let your child remove the cookies from the flannel board.  

Ten Christmas cookies
All in a line.
(Name) ate the green one,
Then there were nine.

Nine Christmas cookies
Cooling by the gate.
(Name) ate the red one, 
Then there were eight.

Eight Christmas cookies
There never were eleven.
(Name) ate the yellow one,
Then there were seven.

Seven Christmas cookies
That were really fun to mix.
(Name) ate the round one,
Then there were six.

Six Christmas cookies
Guess who should arrive.
(Name) ate the square one,
Then there were five.  

Five Christmas cookies
Who could ask for more?
(Name) ate the white one,
Then there were four.

Four Christmas cookies
Smell good as can be.
(Name) ate the striped one,
Then there were three.

Three Christmas cookies
There are just a few.
(Name) ate the big one,
Then there were two.

Two Christmas cookies
Now we're almost done.
(Name) ate the small one,
Now there's only one.

One Christmas cookie
As yummy as can be.
(Name) at the last one,
Now there's none left for me.
-- Natalie Hill

20.  Gingerbread Man Chain.  You'll need a gingerbread man pattern to trace around.  Accordian ford long strips of construction paper to fit the size of your pattern.   Draw the pattern so that the arms go off the folded sides of the paper, so that when you cut the pattern out and unfold the paper, all the men are attached at the arms.   You can make your chain as long as you like.  On the gingerbread men you can write out the days of the week, months of the year, ordinal numbers, or just use it to countdown to Christmas.  

I'm sure you can find so many more activities to go along with these books by searching the web.  I bet this doesn't even scratch the surface.  Remember, too, that baking cookies with your child can help them practice all kinds of necessary skills and you can even practice the letter sounds with your child by baking letter-shaped sugar cookies.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 15

How We Saved our Homeschool Week

It's normally dh's job to take J to his charter school every morning.  I get to pick him up every day.  But every Tuesday morning it's my turn to take him..  This allows dh to get to work to prep for the day (TNL meets for worship in Tuesday nights rather than Sunday morning).  This means I get the other two boys up early so they can come along on our drive to J's school.

It's been my habit to just wake them 5 minutes before time to leave, grab their blankets and let them ride along in their pajamas. Breakfast came after we returned home -- when they were a little more awake.

Last week I had them get dressed because I knew we'd need to stop for milk on the way home so they could eat breakfast.  And then it hit me.

We should do some of our schoolwork at the coffee shop.  

What a fabulous idea it was.  After saying good-bye to J we arrived at our local haunt at 8:00 and ordered hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles.  By 10:30 we were done and an amazing sense of freedom ensued.

What's wonderful about doing school at the coffee shop?

1.  The boys aren't making a mess in our house.
2.  All of my supplies have to be in my bag which means I'm little more prepared.
3.  I am not distracted by email or dishes or laundry or the general mess that is our house = They have my full attention.
4.  They are excited to get up early!
5.  They have a comfy couch with a family bathroom in a direct line of sight (meaning S can go on his own).
6.  There are games that S can peruse when he's tired of the activities I brought for him.
7.  We all take a game break together.
8.  We're done before lunchtime.
9.  We're already up and dressed so running an errand or two is completely possible.
10.  I have at least two hours in the afternoon to get other things done and to give S a nap.

We can't do it everyday.  What we can accomplish there is a little limited -- we leave home projects with many parts, book research, internet activities, etc.  But we can bring markers and colored pencils, math, our read aloud book (have to wonder who else is listening in from afar), and most other things.

I think we may have just saved our homeschool week from end-of-the-year doldrums.

Wednesday, March 9

Forty Days of Praying

Let Nothing Disturb You (30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher)
Last year, I tried a Lenten practice for the very first time... I took up writing for forty minutes every day.  I know most of you might think of Lent as a time to give something up for forty days, but I wasn't so moved.  And it was good.

This year -- and as it turns out, in congruence with my desire to grow into a more helpful person -- I'm taking up 40 days of praying.  For you.

Well, maybe ;-)

This little book above is a month of guided prayers for morning, throughout the day and then in the evening.  My practice is simple:  Read the morning prayer and listen.  Then read it again and identify a friend to bring before the Father and who I can share the prayer with.  And continue throughout the day and into the evening.

So, if you get an email from me with a snippet from St. Teresa's thoughts, you were the one God brought to mind that day.

And it was good.