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Our Kindergarten Rhythm August 20, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years),Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:52 pm
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It’s the first day of school for many children, but not in our house.  Our first day of school was earlier this August, because mama couldn’t wait to get started!  We’re finishing up our 3rd week of Kindergarten.  Now that I’m a veteran homeschooler (HA!), I thought I’d share our school rhythm with you.

kidsMy kindergartner, Aria, is almost 5.  Because of her birthdate, she’ll do 2 years of Kindergarten before starting first grade, in order to stay on tract with her public school counterparts.  I also have a 2 1/2 year old, Liam, in the mix.  For us, Kindergarten means adding a focus story to our week, and allowing that story to play out as it may in our weekly painting and coloring times.  It also means a new weekly beeswax modeling session and a weekly poem or memory verse, usually pulled from the story itself.  Lastly, we added a handicraft day to Aria’s week, which creates a time for learning to tie, braid, sew, etc.

It wasn’t to hard to work these elements into our lives, since we already had a solid rhythm that’s been supporting us for over half a year.   Since I work part-time, I had a meeting with my other caregivers (2 grandmas) to share my plans for Aria’s Kindergarten year and ask for their participation.  One grandma took over the weekly beeswax modeling session, while the other does the handiwork project.   Coloring and painting fall on my days at home.  At the beginning of the month, I gave each grandmother a one-page summary showing the weekly story and memory verse for each week, plus ideas for handiwork and modeling.  As each week arrives, I pass along a copy of the focus story in advance, so Grandma can read ahead and have it on hand during the week. 

Here’s our weekly rhythm:

  • Monday:  New Story – No expansion
  • Tuesday: Beeswax Modeling
  • Wednesday: Repeat Story, Give Memory Verse & Coloring
  • Thursday:  Handicraft
  • Friday:  Repeat Story, Say Memory Verse & Painting

And our daily rhythm, at least on my days at home:

  • 7:00 – Wake & Dress
  • 7:30 – Breakfast
  • 8:00 – Complete dressing routines & Early Morning Bible Study w/Memory Verse Time
  • 9:00 – Get moving via Outdoor Play (with a Playdate on Fridays)
  • 10:00 – Snack
  • 11:00 – Free Play
  • 12:00 – Lunch
  • 12:30 – Rest Time
  • 1:30 – Aria’s Storytime, then free play or right into Art Time, if it feels right
  • 3:00 – Snack
  • 3:30 – Art Time: Coloring/Painting if not done earlier
  • 4:30 – Dinner Prep
  • 5:30 – Dinner
  • 6:00 – Family Time/Baths
  • 6:45 – Bed Prep and Bedtime Stories
  • 7:00 – To Bed

As far as “school” time goes (and I use that term loosely, since we’re learning all the time), it works well for us to have split our day into two mini sessions.  Right after we’ve finished getting ready for the day, we have a little Bible time at the table, prayer to set the tone for our day, and then we practice our memory verse.  If I can, I teach Aria how to act out the poem or Bible verse to help her remember, and then she’s off to play.  This session takes about 10 minutes!

The next session is placed after her rest time, when she’s eager to reconnect with me.  I read her the focus story of the week, and sometimes go on to read some stories of Liam’s choosing afterwards.  More often they’re ready to play.  This week, our story was a Russian fairytale “Masha and the Bear”.  Aria just LOVED it!  So, after storytime she enlisted Liam and I to help her reenact the storyline for as long as we were willing.  This kind of play with the story is really the most ideal way for her to work through its meaning and value.  While she played, I set up our coloring supplies so we could move into coloring session whenever the time was right.  This school session takes more like 30 minutes, including the art time.  Afterwards, I change my focus to housework and dinner.

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SouleMama’s “Handmade Home” August 17, 2009

Filed under: Eco-Friendly Living,Family Culture — Rachel @ 7:09 pm
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On Saturday I found a very special package awaiting me at the mailbox – my pre-ordered copy of Amanda Blake Soule’s “Handmade Home:  Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures” plus “Bend-the-Rules Sewing” by Amy Karol.  Both are gorgeous, inspiring books written by popular bloggers.  I’ve just began to sew, having only accomplished: 1 flat valence curtain, 1 crayon roll, and 1 blanket repair!  Of all of the sewing how-to and household project books I checked out from the library, “Bend-the Rules Sewing” was my favorite.  It has a concise, illustrated guide to basic and somewhat advanced sewing a techniques (from sewing a seam to sewing a buttonhole), plus a large selection of adorable, unique projects that are very up-to-date.  I liked the book and projects so much, I decided it was worth owning.  And, what better way to treat myself than to purchase “Bend-the-Rules” along with the soon-to-be-released “Handmade Home”. 

For weeks I’ve waiting, and now that Amanda’s “Handmade Home” finally hear, I cannot be more pleased.  I bought the book on faith, seeing as how there are no Amazon reviews.  My faith was based on my love of her first book “The Creative Family:  How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections.”  That magical book is responsible for beginning my adventure into all things Waldorf!  It is “family culture” at it’s finest and an excellent gift for any mother of little ones.      

I wasn’t sure what I’d get in “Handmade Home”, but now I can tell you!  The first part of the book is a primer on the eco-friendly art of reusing old materials.  It’s filled with tips for getting the best finds at thrift stores, garage sales, etc.  She shares what to look for, even with reminders to leave behind those great deals that one doesn’t need for the next thrifter – it’s “thrifting karma” says Amanda.  Excellent advice!  There’s also brief ideas for setting up a sewing space in a small area.

The second part is a large collection of 30+ projects organized by categories: Nourish (as in kitchen items), Nurture (as in wellness), Play, Seek (as in adventure) and Retreat (as in decor).  The categories are loose, but they do give you a peak into the scope of the projects.  And they are not “the usual” projects.  No patchwork quilts or aprons here.  Those are useful patterns (and can be found in “Bend-the-Rules Sewing”) that anyone might want, but not what you’ll find in Handmade Home.  Amanda Soule’s book brings many ideas that incorporate childrens’ art – “Portrait Bookmarks” – or make use of fabric scraps – “One-Word Banner”.  She includes several non-sewing projects, often using decoupage.  There are useful, but “alternative” patterns for items like cloth diapers, rag bags and women’s cloth.  And then, there are memory-preserving projects like the “Memory Tree Quilt Art.”  Everything is beautiful!  And, just as with her blog SouleMama, everything is presented along with inspiring photography.  Along the way she shares “crafty tips” and “earthy tips” – both of which share ways to craft smart, making safe, eco-friendly choices. 

I have only begun to absorb the goodness to be found in this little volume.  But, just this weekend, I have finished an embellished bath mat and have begun a “One-Word Banner” for my son’s room, using my husband’s discarded wool sweater and fabric scraps from my son’s crib bedding and nursery items.  I think that “Handmade Home” will enrich the life of many a “Green Mama” interested in creating and reusing.  Enjoy!

 

Nature Play & Nature Study with Young Children August 8, 2009

naturesplaygroundSince I posted Getting Outside in Hot Weather, I’ve been enjoying this focus on outdoor play and casual nature study with my little ones.  We LOVED “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors”, which I found at our library!  The book has so many gorgeous and inspiring pictures of children having fun outside:  climbing tress, hiking, playing in the mud, catching bugs, building natural forts, lying in tall grass.  The pictures alone launched my 4 1/2-year-old on a verbal monologue about the grand hiking trip she will do someday.  Since then, she and daddy have visited a local forest for her first hike. 

Besides pictures, the book has a ton of ideas for neat ways to play outside with nature.  We took a jaunt down to our almost-dry pond bed to wade through the mud (I really just watched that part).  We’ve caught more bugs, frogs, and spiders than ever before.  Most of the activity ideas are really ideal for the 6+ crowd.  I plan on holding off on purchasing the book for a few years, for that reason. 

Besides enjoying “Nature’s Playground”, I’ve found a few more ways to enjoy the outdoors with my kids.  I purchased a spiral bound, blank notebook for our “nature journal.”  Last week we visited the botanical gardens armed with a few ink pads and our journal.  Aria and Liam both enjoyed stamping various leafs and blossoms to our pages.  I wrote the common species name under each print.  Now that’s one way I can actually learnmushrooms plants – just 6 or so at a time.  We left with inky hands, as I’m sure you guessed.  I plan to add pressed flowers to our book soon, and to let it continue to evolve, adding whatever nature-oriented observations or mediums seem right.

Since my children are young, the idea is not to cram their heads full of information, but to nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about nature.  To that effect, we aren’t running around reading lots of children’s non-fiction for our homeschooling “science”.  Instead, we have a Waldorf-inspired nature story as my daughter’s focus story every few weeks, we play creatively outside and – hopefully – I share my genuine interest and knowledge about nature in ways that are spontaneous and real. 

Trouble is, I’m not all that knowledgeable about nature.  In fact, I’m probably more interested in nature study now than I have ever been before. To equip myself, I’ve purchased a series of pocket field guides for familiar trees, wildflowers, insects, butterflies, etc.  I discovered a great series published by Audubon that’s geared towards children.  frogsThat’s just what I need!  (I checked out many complete field guides from the library on wildflowers and felt like I was reading a foreign language).  On Amazon, many of these guides are available used for pennies, plus shipping.  Here’s the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians, as an example.  Every spread has a full, page-sized picture and a simple description with all the key details that you’d actually want to know.  My whole family (even dad) has enjoyed paging through these!  Just this weekend, we discovered a Red Velvet Ant, Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Northern Tooth Musrhoom and Wolf Spider.  Good times!

 

Public School: Have you Considered the Implications? June 30, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 2:36 pm
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The words of John Taylor Gatto, former New York State & New York City Teacher of the Year:

You aren’t compelled to loan your car to anyone who wants it, but you are compelled to surrender your school-age child to strangers who process children for a livelihood, even though one in every nine schoolchildren is terrified of physical harm happening to them at school, terrified with good cause; about thirty-three are murdered there every year.  Your great-great-grandmother didn’t have to surrender her children.  What happened?

If I demanded you give up your television to an anonymous, itinerant repairman who needed work you’d think I was crazy; if I came with a policeman who forced you to pay that repairman even after he broke your set, you would be outraged.  Why are you so docile when you give up your child to a government agent called a schoolteacher?

I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting.  You have no say at all in choosing your teachers.  You know nothing about their backgrounds or families.  And the state knows little more than you do.  This is a radical piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive.  What does it mean?

One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams.  In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don’t have opportunity to know those things.  How did this happen?

Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans showing what the finished structure was going to look like.  Building a child’s mind and character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family and neighborhood learning.  Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can?  There isn’t any.

The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year 2000 is $200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated.  That capital sum invested in the child’s name over the past twelve years would have delivered a million dollars to each kid as a nest egg to compensate for having no school.  The original $200,000 is more than the average home in New York costs.   You wouldn’t build a home without some idea what it would look like when finished, but you are compelled to let a corps of perfect strangers tinker with your child’s mind and personality without the foggiest idea what they want to do with it.

Law courts and legislatures have totally absolved school people from liability.  You can sue a doctor for malpractice, not a schoolteacher.  Every homebuilder is accountable to customers years after the home is built; not schoolteachers, though.  You can’t sue a priest, minister, or rabbi either; that should be a clue.

If you can’t be guaranteed even minimal results by these institutions, not even physical safety; if you can’t be guaranteed anything except that you’ll be arrested if you fail to surrender your kid, just what does the “public” in public schools mean?

An excerpt from the prologue of his book, “The Underground History of American Education:  An Intimate Investigation into the Prison of Modern Schooling.” 

Mr. Gatto is a well-respected public speaker and writer who shocks the world with his candid criticism of the modern schooling movement.  His book “Dumbing us Down” is a short collection of thought-provoking essays that will get any parent thinking in new ways about what’s wrong or right about our education system.  Although the average person may not agree with all of Mr. Gatto’s opinions, the average parent can definitely benefit from being exposed to his unique perspective on the public schooling tradition.

 

Getting Outside in Hot Weather June 23, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:27 pm
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_MG_5808Ever since the first day of June, it’s been near and above 90 degrees, hereabout, and humid too.  The warm summer weather came as a bit of a shock to us, driving us inside. 

I think it’s important that children play outside everyday.  We get outside throughout the day on Wednesday, when I’m hanging laundry, and every Friday morning, when our friends come over for playgroup.  (On other weekdays, my children are with grandma, while I work).  So, it’s not that we’re not getting outside… it’s the quality and duration of our outside play that is lacking.  A quick jaunt on the playground, a half-hearted bike ride, maybe a tad of tree-climbing when friends are over, and that’s it.  Where is the exploration?  Who’s pretending?  Is anyone noticing the flowers, bugs, clouds, birds? 

I’m sure they’re noticing, even when I’m not noticing that they’re noticing (and that’s a lot of noticing).  But, I think there’s a lot more there for us to see.  We live far-off the road and surrounded by forest, so it’s a pretty safe and exciting environment.   The trick is, they really desire mom to adventure alongside them.  And, at 2 and 4.5, I suppose that’s pretty reasonable.  How to reconnect with my inner child and inspire them to go beyond the playground and bike path to the natural world beyond? 

After browsing through some blogs, I landed on a book at Amazon, “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors.”  I hope it has some activities that will inspire me to lead some adventures.  It definitely has some beautiful pictures of children playing in nature that I hope may give my oldest some new ideas.  Fortunately, it’s available at my library.  I’ve requested it, and I’ll report back with a review. 

 

Potty Training a Boy IS Different May 29, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 4:56 pm
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Fast forward a few years and my second child, my son, is nearing his 2nd birthday.  We unearthed the requisit potty chair and crossed our fingers.  At first he LOVED the potty.  He’d easily potty while on the toilet while his sister cheered for him.  We thought, hmm… could we get lucky this time with an easy boy!?!

Moving to a new home prevented us from potty training right then and there.  But, just as he turned two years old we decided to make the big switch.  Starting on a Friday I put my son in underwear and gave him the potty-training talk.  I dutifully brought him to the toilet every 30 minutes… and he went every time.  It was easy for him to potty on the toilet, the problem was he only went a little bit.  And, he was still managing to have accidents even just 15 minutes after he’d peed on the potty.  As for going #2, no luck there – it was always in the underwear.  Grrr. 

My son also started resisting these frequent potty trips right from Day 1 of potty training.  Occasionally, he’d say he didn’t want to go, but I’d insist.  He was in underwear, after all.  By Day 2 and 3, he was all out against potty training.  He did NOT want to enter the bathroom, even to the point of tears.   On Day 3, when he had an accident just 15 minutes after going on the potty for the second time, we decided to call it quits.  1 unwilling toddler + 1 unready bladder = time to back off.  We felt a little like failures.  But, moreso, realized that we had given it a try and he was so clearly not ready.  No need for guilt there.

About 4 months later, my son seems to have forgotten potty training attempt #1.  I began to take him to the potty, at first 1-2 times a day and then 3-4 times a day since he wasn’t resisting.  Why this pleasant agreeableness?  I tricked him, of course.  I decided to sing a very short song each time I picked him up to bring him to the potty.  Since it was spring, I chose:

Little Johnny Jump-up said, “Now it must be spring!

I just saw a ladybug and heard a robin sing.”

This upbeat little number distracted him, set a positive emotional tone, and signaled to him what we were going to do without actually giving him a choice to reject.  No mention of pottying in this song – just a mood, a tone, something to say as I was carrying him to the bathroom.  We practiced this routine for 2-3 weeks and then…

Potty Training attempt #2.  Last Friday we pulled out the underwear again.  I brought him to the toilet avery 30 mintues amist continual song.  And he went.  And he didn’t complain.  And he didn’t have many accidents!  So, that’s how we spent the holiday weekend – potty training.  Now his scheduled potty trip is every 45 minutes.  Within the next week or so, we hope to get it to every hour and then onwards and upwards from there.

Potty training my son was different than potty training my daughter.  He was not physically ready until about 6 months later than she.  And, he was more defiant and resistant despite the fact that he had an older sister as a cheerleader and example.  On the other hand, he is having less accidents than she did at this point in the potty training sequence.  This may be simple because he is 6 months older than she was.  At any rate, we were very glad that we cloth diapered him, so waiting an extra 6 months to start potty training didn’t cost us a penny!

 

Potty Training: How I Did it the “Hard” Way May 28, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 3:55 pm
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Potty Training is one of those unexpected, HUGE parenting challenges.  How do you know when to start?  Grandma says you were potty trained by 2 years old, but today’s average child potty trains at 3 1/2!  What approach  do you use?  Do you base it off of your child’s interest in pottying on the toilet or on your desire to be diaper-free? 

I started to potty train my first child, a girl, when she was 22 months.  Sure, she was showing some “signs’ of being ready, but really we started potty training because we knew another child her age that had just gone diaper-free.  Isn’t there a good bit of peer-pressure when it comes to potty training?  What parent doesn’t wish to ditch the diaper, saving money, the environment and avoiding the YUCK factor all at once?

Months before I had casually introducing my daughter to her potty chair.  After occasionally having some pottying success, I targeted a specific weekend for the big switch.  I put her in underwear that day and explained my hopes and expectations.  We also used a potty doll that my daughter would “train” – the idea being that she would enjoy teaching the doll, while learning herself.  I had done some reading on various potty training approaches.  Here was my plan:  be positive,  reward a successful potty with one M & M,  expect accidents and respond by coaching her to practice running from the location of the accident to the potty several times for a positive, yet practical learning experience.  We also sat down on the potty just to “try” throughout the day, every few hours or so.  Sounds good on paper, right?

Well, it didn’t go so well.  After the first few accidents (which were constant) my daughter and I were both hating the experience.  It’s hard to be upbeat while cleaning up repeated messes.  It’s hard for such a little child to continue seeing the run-to-the-potty learning experience as a positive learning game.  It got old and we both got frustrated – fast!  At the beginning of the day, my daughter felt positive and excited about potty training, but by the day’s end she was hiding under the table to pee-pee.  Learning from having accidents sounds logical, but for her it was just discouraging. 

On Day 2 I took a completely different approach, which I call “Learning by Succcess.”  You may call it parent-training, rather than potty training… but it worked for us.  I took her to the potty every 30 minutes like clockwork.  As you would expect, she began to have very few accidents and pottying success after success, each celebrated with the an M&M in the color of her choice.  Granted, I was a little exhausted.   I felt chained to the toilet or timer… but it was working.  Over the week, I stretched her scheduled potty time to every 45 minutes and then to every hour.  Every hour was MUCH more doable, but still kept us watching the clock.  2-3 weeks into it, I was taking her every 2 hours, with few if any accidents. 

Sounds like a lot of work?  Honestly, it was!  I believe that the “easier” route would have been to wait another 9-12 months to start at all.  However, one has to decide if it’s easier to remember to sit your child on the potty every few hours, or to change a diaper every few hours.  I decided for the potty.  After a little over a month of potty training in this way, my daughter began to initiate – to say she had to go potty.  At about 2.5 months, she was initiating, so that I no longer watched the clock at all, and counted on her to take care of her needs.  It was a long 2.5 months, but going diaper free at 2 years, instead of at 3 years, was worth it for us.  And, when my second child was born, I was even MORE happy to have potty trained my first child the “hard” way.