Tuesday, May 10, 2016

credit where credit is due

Some of my past posts have been a little bit of a downer and critical of some of my tendencies that I am not so proud of. Things that make me human.
Humans are flawed, we all have things we wish we could do better but I am taking today to stop looking back at the things I have done wrong in my almost seven years as a mother and before I do another thing, I must praise Jesus for seeing me through. Even when I did not seek Him, He was there. In the times when I have reached the ends of myself and when I recall the worst points of motherhood, each time He brought me to repentance and humility and showed me what it truly means to grieve my sin and how only He can fix what I have broken. It is because of Him that my children love me, because I have shown them how unlovable and unloving I am on my own.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. - Romans 8:28

Even when my eyes are clouded by frustration, annoyance, selfishness, and despair (all temporary, earthly distractions), Jesus is there, working it all for good and for His glory. And I'm so thankful, because you know what? My kids are pretty great. When I look at a group of kids on the playground or when I peek through the windows at Sunday school or even just as we're shopping at Target, I am (99.9% of the time) so happy that Leila and Cameron are the ones I get to call mine. My children make me laugh and stump me with hard questions every day and they are turning into really neat little people. I am looking forward with so much joy to homeschooling Leila and Cameron because I want to spend time with them, want to see who they are becoming, and want to have not just a front-row seat, as many supportive parents do, but an active role in the next thirteen years of our lives together, and I want them to have an active role in mine. Being a human is hard. We are sinful, selfish, and struggling. I want to figure out how to live this life well and I want to figure it out along side of my three most favorite people in the whole world.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Confession: Mommy School

B is for Bubbles
Leila showing off her bubbles (2013)
I have a confession to make: I've homeschooled before. When our daughter was three, Wes and I decided not to shell out the thousands of dollars for preschool but instead I created "mommy school" and we did homeschool preschool. It helped that my own mother was a preschool teacher before becoming a mommy and she shared with me all kinds of great resources to teach colors and numbers that she had saved. It also helped that preschool is awesome and lesson plans were easy by just going through the alphabet, one letter a week. I found free worksheets online (yay pinterest!) and had Leila practice tracing and writing the upper case and lower case letters and the rest of the time we just did activities that started with the letter of the week: B is for bubbles, C is for Candy Land, G is for (mini-)golf, etc. We had a great time mostly just playing together. However, Mommy school also happened to be during my "angry mama" phase I mentioned, so things weren't always as cute and smiley as they are in the picture and I didn't follow through very well once I ran out of ideas and steam. We still read lots of books together and visited the library weekly, something we continue to do now, but there was also a lot of television time instead of hands-on activities and days we just stayed home instead of pursuing adventure or a new experience because I couldn't handle the thought of dealing with both kids outside of the house. Now, of course, I'm wistful about the easy (curriculum-wise) mommy school days and sorrowful that I was angry so much of the time.
When the time came to enroll Leila in kindergarten, Wes and I briefly considered continuing to homeschool, but at the same time we were looking forward to our first foster placement and the thought of sending at least one kid out of the house for part of the day was very appealing to me. I've said before that Leila loved kindergarten and so I don't regret sending her, and it maybe extended my sanity in the fostering months to have that break. In any event, I have sought forgiveness from God and from my children for my anger and I look ahead with joy and anticipation of the blessings to come. I know homeschooling my now elementary-age children won't be all giggles and games, but I'm confident that my heart is in the right place (thank you Jesus) and I'm eager for the opportunity to do better this time around.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

on schedules and routines

this is a unique position to be in - looking forward to homeschool but currently having my daughter attend public school. I don't know what the statistics are on families who make the decision to homeschool and then immediately pull their kids out of public school, but anecdotally, just in blogs and other stories I have heard, it seems to happen more frequently than making the decision and then finishing out the school year. Although, knowing that Leila will be staying home in the fall, I reluctantly send her off each morning (and Cameron's been begging to stay home from his two-day-a-week preschool ever since we told him he would be homeschooled for kindergarten), I am thankful for this time of preparation.
In addition to continually examining and softening my heart (God has done a miracle in me; my prayer now is that I don't get in His way and squander this incredible blessing), there are lots of external projects and things to consider. Our homeschool room is almost finished. Leila has been enjoying doing her homework there in the afternoons and as you saw, Cameron and I spent time in there on the days he is home. To be honest, it's currently the cleanest, most organized room in my house, so I find myself gravitating to the uncluttered white table and bright sunshiny window when I need to get some work done too, even though I have my own desk under the stairs.
I'm also trying to be mindful of routines and using this time of preparation to create good habits, both for myself (do the dishes immediately after every meal ... ugh), and for my children with chores and also general getting ready tasks that they are capable, at five and almost seven years old, of doing themselves but often get done for them in the morning rush.
Oh, the morning rush. I wonder if knowing that this won't be an issue in six weeks makes it such an issue now. Probably not, I know mornings are hard for most families, but my goodness. Leila and Cameron must be growing because my normally early-risers have been sleeeeeeeping in lately, which is nice for me and my quiet morning time, but not so nice for creating a relaxing and joyful sendoff for the day. Instead of blessing Leila with a kiss and a hug before school, I am barking at her to hurry-up-and-get-your-shoes-on-and-stop-messing-around-with-your-water-bottle-and-no-Cameron-I-can't-get-you-a-drink-of-water-your-sister-is-late-for-school-and-I-already-heard-the-first-bell-ring-hurry-up!! as I practically shove her out the front door. No wonder kids seek refuge with their friends and are adversarial to their parents at such young ages when mornings are so continually fraught with tension.
As I look forward to the fall, I am crafting a routine instead of a schedule. To me, a schedule says we will all wake up at 7am on the dot with breakfast on the table by 7:30 then family devotionals with an eye on the clock to be in the classroom at 8am to spend exactly 45 minutes on each subject, moving seamlessly from math, to writing, to history, or so help me and everyone smiling and compliant and joyful all the live long day.
Instead of rigidity, our routine will be an order of events, but not require us to adhere to specific times. If, like this week, everyone's a little tired, we may not roll out of bed and eat breakfast until 8, and then proceed with our day, and if everyone's up by 630, we'll start early and have time for a picnic or an extra-long hike after lunch. This flexibility allows for us to spend additional time on academic subjects that need more attention or are just really enjoyable! There is also freedom to read a little longer, to take time out for heart-reaching correction instead of demanding a quick behavior change, and to get up and try again when we make mistakes. This allows for grace and is a gift that we can give each other every day. I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Octonauts for Pre-K

pretty much the second we decided to have Cameron be homeschooled for kindergarten, I turned to pinterest to look up fine motor skills activities, math games, and other fun learning activities we can use next year along with reading, reading, and more reading together. In the process, I came across some things that are perfect for his stage and interest level now and since he is still home with me three days a week while his sister is in school, I printed off some activities to help us get into the groove of school at home together. These (free printable!) Octonauts activities from royalbaloo.com have been a huge hit! We love Octonauts in our house, despite my initial reservation that they were too babyish for my kids. Cameron (and even Leila) will watch with great interest and the ocean facts learned on the show have sparked discussions and motivated further fact-finding missions for both my kids.
To start off our Octonauts activities, first, I let him watch an episode of Octonauts while I took my shower, since it didn't happen in the morning rush, and Wes was asleep upstairs, having just come off the night shift. I promised him some one-on-one time after I was cleaned up and he was so excited to sit down with me and do "homework."

Once the show was over and I was halfway put together, we did some pre-writing with dry-erase markers (I put the printed sheet into a sleeve protector). Cameron is most happy with a blank sheet of paper (rather, a whole blank pad!) and a marker and will sit contentedly for hours drawing robots, sea creatures, Star Wars scenes, and people, but I wanted to see how he would follow directions and tracing. Looks like he did pretty well! He even asked to do this again later in the day.
While Cameron was working on tracing, I was folding up a dice featuring the Octonauts characters for our next activity - graphing! At first I said to roll the dice ten times and we'd see who had the most rolls, but Cameron was way into it, so I changed it to, "Let's have a race and see who gets five rolls first!" Cameron responded so positively to the idea of a race, and we played this game over and over again (Shellington won three races in a row, hence the next picture!), and even played it again in the afternoon while we waited for Leila to get home from school. Again, I used a sleeve protector and dry erase marker to be able to play this game multiple times without wasting paper. 
The activity pack features tons of other games and practices, and I didn't print everything off, but there are a few other things I've saved to pull out another day. For now, Cameron is super excited about having mommy be his teacher and asks me, "how many more days until I'm homeschooled? how many more days until kindergarten?" When Wes told him it was close to 100, he was a little discouraged, but we'll keep having fun with these pre-k activities in the meantime and look forward to September together!  
Also, looking at these pictures makes me realize that we really need a curtain or shade in this room that is slowly turning into our homeschool room if we're going to be productive morning workers in a few months! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

next steps

continuing the story from Friday's post:
so after Wes unhesitatingly agreed that Cameron should be homeschooled starting right away in kindergarten, the next step was to enroll him in Leila's new school (I'm not sure what the official homeschooly word for this is, but I call it our umbrella school because we are under their umbrella of legal protection and also their umbrella of support and community). I wasn't sure if it would be possible as the enrollment time had technically ended - I made the phone call to try and add him on the paperwork deadline - but I was met with such enthusiasm and joy from the enrollment coordinator. She was thrilled to welcome our ENTIRE family to the school and mentioned that they had been hoping for this outcome since our initial face-to-face interview back in March. Praise the Lord!

A couple of months ago, some relatives from the midwest come to stay with us. The timing coincided with the decision-making process of our first initial, tentative, toe-dipping into the homeschool world. I voiced my concerns and wishy-washy attitude to this second-or-third cousin and she advised me, ever so wisely and matter-of-factly, to just make a decision one way or the other and see what happens. At the time, we made the decision to go for it with Leila and not with Cameron, but the best choice was made so obvious once we moved forward. I have had repeated confirmations (both internally in my spirit and externally through circumstances and conversations) that this is the right choice for our family and having now acted on the Spirit's leading to bring Cameron home as well, I have such a peace about all this that I didn't know was possible and wouldn't have believed was possible. All that has transpired can only be from the Lord and I am just in awe.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Carole and Cameron

Last Saturday was just the best.
My mom (who just happens to be in town this week!) and I got up early and drove south to see Carole Joy Seid speak! I was so excited!! After reading some of her archived newsletters and hearing her speak on video, I was already pretty confident that I wanted to use her methods (based heavily on the Charlotte Mason model) to homeschool, and hearing her speak in person confirmed it. And I was so thrilled to share the day with my fellow-book-loving mom, who confessed at dinner on the way home from the session that she still thinks I'm a little crazy for choosing bring my kids home and have them with me all the live-long day, but understands much more after listening to Carole Joy Seid's engaging, confident, and thought-provoking points of view about literature-based education. I left the venue feeling encouraged, positive, and excited - bolstered by not only the main speaker, but also by a panel of veteran homeschoolers who have been applying these methods for years and seen amazing results.
I also left with a strong feeling about Cameron. Up until now on this journey to homeschooling, the plan has been to send Cameron to kindergarten at our neighborhood public school while Leila and I work out the kinks in this first year at home together, and then, Lord-willing, depending on how that goes, bring Cameron home the following year.
Since we made the decision, there have been small nudges about having Cameron home for kindergarten: anecdotes from friends about how it's easier to have two at home than one because they can entertain each other; gentle warnings from our school about not keeping the family together; and, as I go about finding books and doing some early planning, being wistful about Cameron missing out on the fun Leila and I are going to have at home! But ultimately, on this issue, I chose to defer to my husband's opinion that it would be better for everyone to have Cameron at school and Leila at home this year (and based on previous experiences, most notably during our time of fostering, I have come to trust my husband's assessment, especially when it comes to knowing my limits, which he is more lovingly realistic about than I am in my egoism and pridefulness), though we have agreed that if things don't go well in kindergarten, we are open to bringing him home at Christmas break.
But as Carole Joy Sied began her presentation, Cameron's name kept popping up into my head as she spoke about: specific challenges second-born boys have in traditional school environments; the extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses of young children (Wes and I also make the comment that Cameron seems "manic" with his rapid changes from one emotion to the next);  kinesthetic learners; and immature nervous systems and the "acting out" that can actually indicate a breakdown, not just a naughty kid.
At the first break I texted Wes, "I think I want Cameron at home with me," followed by the big-eyed emoticon that I call the "oh crap" face (it's the same emoticon I probably would have used to accompany the news of my second pregnancy that was totally unplanned and supposedly prevented and resulted in the arrival of our exuberant son, if I was to share that kind of news via text).
During lunch I confessed to Mom: it is hard for me to discern between my own feelings and the Holy Spirit leading. Despite everything I had just heard that morning, should we continue to follow through on our current trajectory of sending Cameron to public school (his enrollment papers have already been turned in!) and then wait to see how the first semester goes and hope for the best? Or do I trust that the still, small voice that all morning was bringing Cameron to the forefront of my mind is the Spirit, and that we should just take the plunge with both kids at the same time.
We returned for the afternoon session and I was again overwhelmed with thoughts of Cameron as we heard research and anecdotes about power of being in nature: the ability to manage stress improves with the removal of electronics which equals less meltdowns in kids; being in nature can improve cognitive function, immune functions, and has been shown to reduce concentrations of adrenaline and cortisol for up to a week. I've already seen first-hand the differences in attitude and cheerfulness that my son has after a hike, despite being dog-dead tired, compared to the same level of tiredness after doing pretty much anything else, and this session was more than convincing and encouraging to me.
As the afternoon went on, Mom and I frequently looked toward each other and mouthed "Cameron" as Carole Joy Seid and the speakers panel continued to share. And we headed north for dinner and home with some impending changes to what I had thought would happen (this seems to be a theme for me lately!). We got home late, shared some cupcakes we'd picked up on the way with Dad and Wes and shared a few brief stories from the day, but it wasn't until Mom and Dad had left, teeth were brushed, and just before lights out that I said to Wes, in person this time, "I think I want to have Cameron at home and not go to kindergarten." And he said, without pause, "ok."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spring Break

this past week was Spring Break and our family headed up the coast to the Pismo Beach area to "camp" in a trailer and enjoy the beauty of God's creation in this part of our state where we have never really had the opportunity to visit. I'm wishing now that I took more pictures and though I did take a couple, we were mostly too busy enjoying ourselves:
exploring the Oceano Sand Dunes
we did it all: hiking, beach combing, geocaching, and tide pooling
at Montana de Oro State Park
The weather was less than ideal most of the week (though the day we spent hiking at Montana de Oro was perfect for those few hours), and we spent a lot more time than we'd anticipated hanging out in our rented trailer, playing games and reading. The kids had a little room to themselves at one end of the trailer with bunkbeds and a tiny table and bench seats where they were happy to draw and read and make up silly games with their stuffed animals together while Wes and I got a lot of reading done! While I love the exploring-a-new-area part of vacation, I'm really just super happy with a new book and some quiet hours to read in a space that isn't my never-ending-chore-filled house. Wes powered through his first-ever reading of To Kill A Mockingbird and loved it (I love that
book cover image from
he loved it!) while I was scouring the pages of my own copy of Educating the WholeHearted Child. After skimming my borrowed copy (thanks Lynz!) last week, I knew I would like the Clarkson's framework for homeschool, but once I had the chance to really get into the nitty gritty, I am even more confident and excited! The concept of WholeHearted means not just book learning, but also building family relationships and seeking Christ throughout the years spent together at home. I am glad we have these months to prepare our house and our hearts to home educate and we aren't jumping frantically into this transition because there are several areas of foundation that will be nice to have in place before "teacher" is officially added to the list of ways my children know me. One area in particular that will take some getting used to on my part is relating to my children in sympathy instead of strictness. I am not now, nor have I never been a super compassionate person and even in my current, thank you Jesus, not-so-angry state of mind, I am probably still shorter with my kids than they would prefer from their mama. I am thankful for the conviction I felt when reading this chapter and my prayer is that God will continue to soften my heart toward Leila and Cameron, to remind me to stop what I am doing and meet them where they are, and humble my spirit to respond to their many demands and interruptions, and how to ask engaging (not accusing) questions that will, in love, draw us closer together and closer to Him.