Thursday, September 30, 2010

Art Ideas

Since Dh has gone back to work, we have gotten ourselves into a semblance of a routine and I am so enjoying it! First of all, we have a weekly routine:
Monday - Pk to daycare, Baby Bean and I visit, either at our place or we go to see a friend
Pk's highland dance class
Tuesday - Pk at home, we do longer visits to my family in the city or we stay home and have a family day
Pk's Music for Young Children Class
Wednesday - Pk at daycare, Baby Bean and I go to Mother Goose at the library
Thursday - Pk home, Pk's Storytime at the library
Pk's swim lesson
Friday - Family Drop In at our church
Parenting Small Group at the Church
Saturday - Family Day
Sunday - Church and Family Day

I am finding that we have enough to do to keep from being bored but not so much that we feel overwhelmed. I also feel like I am comfortable that Pk is getting the equivalent of a nursery school programme so I don't feel concerned at all that she isn't attending a nursery school programme (which is "the done thing" around here, not that I see any significant differences between the nursery school kids, the Montessori kids and the kids who just come from homes who go out of their way to stimulate their kids). Life is good right now and I am really enjoying being home.

One of my favourite times of day right now happens during Baby Bean's nap, usually between 9 and 10, for an exactly 40 minute stretch (yes, I know, one baby sleep cycle, he doesn't seem to be able to stay awake past that during the day). That's my special time with Pk and we have been finding lots of fun things to do. That's when we do our "homeschooling time" - our activities from Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready, our learning games, our Bible time and, most especially, our art time. The art has been so much fun! I have found quite a few blogs with some fantastic suggestions. As you can see from the pics below, I usually leave Pk in her jammies until after art time (if she is going to make a mess of something, I'd rather it was her p.j.s and smocks only offer so much protection).

These two pics are from today's activity - we used food colouring to dye bags of salt different colours and then we poured glue on the paper and sprinkled the salt. The effect was pretty and in the places where she used copious amounts of glue the salt dissolved and the food colouring spread - very pretty!
Dh had the brilliant idea of hanging two clotheslines on the wall in Pk's room so that we could display some of our art products. I love being able to see what we are doing and to celebrate her creativity.
I have found some terrific resources online for art activities that I wanted to share. Here are a few of our current favourites:
The Crafty Crow - a super blog with links to fantastic children's art activities
The Artful Parent - I have gotten some wonderful inspiration here
Teach Preschool - art is only one aspect of her blog, all kinds of home/institutional learning ideas
Teach Mama - again, art is only one aspect but full of great learning ideas
One Pretty Thing - if you are at all crafty, this is a place to find ideas galore, with daily blog posts featuring links to all kinds of craft ideas gathered on different themes from all over the web
The Mother Huddle - food, craft and home ideas
Almost Unschoolers - all kinds of fun activities to do to teach children at home
Frugal Family Fun - inexpensive ideas for fun

What are some of your favourite places to find art activities?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Parenting Dilemma

I need help.

Baby Bean is gradually getting better in his daytime sleeping (night continues in the same pattern, two or three brief feeds a night - I don't think he is hungry, I think he loves to nurse, but I am a breastfeeding mom so I need to honour his hunger cues). He takes a nap in the morning for about 45 minutes at roughly the same time each day and then sleeps a couple of hours in the swing in the afternoon.

I have been reading "The No Cry Nap Solution", which I find to be a very helpful book and one of the ideas is that you watch for the sleep signs and at the first sign the baby is tired, you put the baby down and the baby will magically fall asleep. This is beginning to work for us, not always and not without some help but after what we went through with Pk and sleep, I will do ANYTHING to make things better. On the other hand, getting Baby Bean down for the night has to be done by daddy. He is like an addict - if he smells milk, he is not going to sleep. I can get him down in the day but at night, it never works. Dh rocks him down for me, we put him in the swing to get him into a deeper sleep and then he is ready for bed.

Here's the problem. Pk seems to be determined to wake him up. This morning, when I was trying to get him down, she came into the room at least six times and tried everything to get my attention - bringing noisy toys, yelling, jumping on the bed. I was ready to kill her. On Tuesday nights, dh has a meeting. Normally, I just rock the screaming boy until he either gives up and dozes off or until dh gets home. It's not my favourite evening of the week. Tonight, dh managed to get him down just before he left and we put Baby Bean into the swing, which is right by the computer. Pk was watching her evening t.v. show and I thought I would take a few minutes to read my favourite blogs. She came running over, yelling at the top of her lungs and, of course, woke him up. It was one of those "stop and pray before I commit murder" moments.

So, here's the question. Is it unrealistic for me to expect her to follow my directions when I ask her to be quieter when I am trying to get him down? Before you suggest it, let me say that we have tried tying doing fun stuff with mom to Baby Bean going down. This morning, she had been asking persistently to be allowed to paint and do glitter and we had agreed that once the baby was down, I would devote myself to her and we would paint. She is getting quite a bit of one-on-one mommy time, this isn't that she is being neglected. I am having trouble deciding what would be appropriate here - I am angry, really angry, and she digs in so I don't know what to think. I have tried to discuss it with her (she changes the subject), I tried to role play it with her tonight but she just kept insisting that the toy in the swing that was supposed to be Baby Bean was hers and she wanted to take it out, and I haven't had the heart to impose a strict punishment since I wasn't entirely convinced that my expectations are reasonable. I want to lower the boom (actually, I want to run screaming into her room when she is sleeping a few times to help her to experience it from the other side but since I would then have to deal with a hysterical child, I don't imagine that I would get much payoff).

So, am I being unrealistic? She is three (just turned) and she is part of this family and from where I see it, much of what goes on here revolves around her and she needs to learn that sometimes, consideration for others will crimp her plans a bit. Tonight, I refused to read to her - I explained that daddy was out and that, when mummy is alone, if Baby Bean is awake and upset, I don't have time to read. Is that harsh or am I being too easy on her? Opinions would be very welcome.

Read This!

If you have had children or, even more so, if you know someone who is pregnant or has just had a new baby, you NEED to read this post. Missy does a fantastic job capturing the fear and stress of the first few weeks with a new baby and how we, as women, can support each other through that time. Thanks, Missy! This was a brilliant read!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Loving That Baby!

Things I Love About Baby Bean:

1. The wonderful, fresh-from-the-bathtub baby smell.

2. The feeling of having my arms full with a limp, warm, sleeping baby.

3. Making eye contact and watching his smile light up his entire face.

4. Our little jokes (he loves "The Moon is as Round...")

5. Wearing him in the sleepywrap.

6. The way he "talks" to me in his gentle, cooing voice.

7. His big belly.

8. The way he giggles when I tickle him under the chin.

9. The way he looks with adoration at his big sister.

10. The little denim overalls!

I am just so grateful that I am getting to enjoy him so much! I don't know why it is so different this time. Some would be to do with the fact that he does not have colic the way that Pk did and the fact that while he does wake up to feed, he is a pretty big fan of sleep and I don't spend hours pleading to get him down at night. I suspect that some is that he is just much more easy-going than she was. The fact that I am on great vitamins this time helps and that my mom is retired and we are so busy with visits and programmes, I don't feel like I lack adult contact. I think the biggest part is that having two makes me feel so complete... with Pk, I always knew that it was really important to me that she have a brother or sister (I have nothing against other people having "onlies", I just knew that it wasn't for me). Two children feels more like a complete family to me and it's something that makes me feel so grateful each and every day.

Life is good (despite the bags under my eyes, the fact that I have no clothing that fits and that I feel like I am going in twelve directions at once).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Weekly Check In

Here's a new Monday feature (and one that will hopefully keep me posting). I want to check in with what is going on in my life but in the short version (something I don't do well).
Here's my week:

1. What I am reading - just finished "The Double Comfort Safari Club" by Alexander McCall Smith ( I LOVE his books) and just started Beverly Lewis "The Reckoning" (her books have become a real guilty pleasure)

2. A new recipe - pumpkin bread - a must at this time of year and the recipe was really good (from Jonni McCoy's cookbook that I reviewed here a while ago)

3. What's new - Pk started highland dance class tonight and I think it was a success!

4. What we've been up to - just got back from a visit to Dh's parents

5. A job that needs doing - writing a letter to the nursery parents at church, since it seems like I have kind of become coordinator

6. Something I'm watching - not big on t.v. but I have gotten hooked into Oprah's last season (something to watch while I am on the ski machine in the morning) - don't think it will last long, I can only take so much of Oprah

7. Something on my mind - getting a bit of weight off before we have family pics done in October

8. How the kids are doing - both have a raging cold, Pk is in the throws of the "tempestuous threes" (going back and forth between being wonderfully sweet and a holy terror), Baby Bean is grouchy because of the cold but very smiley and cuddly generally

9. Current crafting project - working very slowly on a bamboo yarn sweater for Pk that looks like it might end up being quite pretty

10. Goal for the week - get the maternity clothing I borrowed from J packed up and returned

Have a wonderful week!

1000 Gifts

I have written gratitude posts before but they tend to be long and right now, I don't have time for long and, as fall approaches, I tend to notice many things for which I am grateful and they don't each warrant a post. I love the online gratitude community at A Holy Experience, Ann Voskamps gorgeous blog, so it's time for me to join.

1. The fire of red leaves in the fall.
2. The crisp smell in the air
3. being home with my children
4. quilts and cosy down duvets
5. apple cider
6. browsing through catalogues
7. coming back home after being away
8. the smiles of my children
9. visits with old friends
10. a purring cat
11. seeing God through the eyes of my children
12. visits home to family
13. recipes that have emotional attachment
14. my daughter in her dance outfit
15. a cup of tea and a good read
16. my husband doing daddy duty so that I can blog

enter>holy experience

Monday, September 13, 2010

Parenting Advice

I read a blog starter today that made me want to write - the best parenting advice you ever received. As you may have noticed if you have been around here for a bit, parenting advice isn't always something that I treasure - so often, it comes with the teeniest bit of implied criticism. It isn't all bad, though, and I was given a couple of real treasures along the way so I thought I would share (and Gin, so you know it isn't all bad!)

When I was pregnant with Pk, the parents of the kids in my class threw me a shower. I am not generally a bit "shower" kind of girl - I don't like being the centre of attention and the silly games that often go along with these things are NOT my cup of tea. This one was wonderful, though. They had gotten permission from my principal to use the school library and at lunchtime, I was paged to the library and when I got there, a full meal and all the kids in my class and most of their mothers were there. The gifts were very thoughtful and the kids were beside themselves with excitement, which was so much fun. The best part for me, though, was the talk time I got with the moms. After the kids went outside to play (part of our school lunch routine), the moms and I sat around talking. They regaled me with stories of deliveries and life with babies and there was a bit of advice thrown in. I found myself treasuring the advice of V.H., a mom of three who seemed to have it all together. Her son, her firstborn, was a challenging baby - he cried all the time and nothing would console him other than nursing. She said that she got so bogged down in advice that her head was spinning - "don't bring the baby into your bed," "don't use a soother," "don't let him suck his thumb," "don't let him take a bottle until he has been breastfeeding for six weeks," etc., etc., etc. She said that he lacked the ability to self-soothe and that she was so worried about all the don'ts that she didn't have any tools left to help him to cope. He cried for the first year of his life and didn't sleep until he was two. She said that when her second came along, she decided to ignore all the advice and help her child to do what she needed to do. Her daughter used a soother until she was 3 and slept in their bed but she was happy and they had things to help her stop crying. V.H.'s advice to me wasn't so much about the things to do but she just kept saying, "Get to know your baby and do what feels right - it takes real strength to ignore all the advice but really, you are the baby's mother and your choices will be the best for him or her." When P.k. was a baby and I was struggling and feeling like I was giving in on all the don'ts, I just kept remembering what V.H. has to say and how wonderfully her kids were turning out. ( I also got a kick of the K telling me that every mother feels totally inept at first - she didn't change her baby in the first 14 hours in the hospital because she didn't know how to change a diaper and was too embarrassed to ask for help).

The second bit of parenting advice, which was less advice really and more just permission to do things my way, came from Kittenpie. Pk had been a terrible sleeper for four months at this point and I was going insane. I was tired beyond belief and from the in-laws, I was getting a lot of feedback that implied (or outright stated) that I was being manipulated and that I needed to take a stand. I had a friend from church who really pushed a sleep training manual on me and kept telling me that everyone she knew who was struggling with sleep had gone that route and all had been solved. I bought the book, read it and, despite the fact that it all felt wrong, set a date to begin the sleep training. Kittenpie and I had a conversation in which she very gently reminded me that Pk was very young and that, while she was not telling me what to do and respected any choice I made, that sleep training was one approach but not the only approach. It was enough to get me to really think about what I believed and what would work for me and I felt like she was giving me permission to do what felt right and not what someone else felt I should do. That may not sound like much but I am enough of a people-pleaser and am so concerned about "doing it right" that having her give me that permission really helped me to come up for air.

Thanks V.H. and Kittenpie, for the great advice. What was the best parenting advice that you received?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day of Rest

Baby Bean gave me the nicest gift today. Since he was about 4 weeks old, he stopped being willing to nap with me during the day. He would sleep on me or near me but the moment my head hit the pillow during the day, he was wide away and ready to go. I was very sad to give up my daily nap (which, at the end of my pregnancy, was what got me through the day).

Well, this afternoon, Pk was down, Dh was doing jobs and my eyes were getting really heavy. I nursed Baby Bean and he fell asleep on my lap. Dh suggested trying to get him to nap with me and I though, what the heck (earlier, I wouldn't even try since there is nothing worse that just getting settled and being wakened up, then, I would be tired and bitter). We slowly walked to the bedroom, he opened his eyes and I did a little sigh. No nap today, I guess. I decided to chance it anyway. I tightly wrapped him in my arms and we lay down. He looked in my eyes, gave me a gentle smile and drifted off. We slept for almost two hours. I actually woke up every half hour or so to check that he was still breathing, it was so out of character.

What a beautiful gift!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lessons from 3

Pk has been three for a week now. Already, I have learned some rather painful lessons. My friends had all warned me that three is much harder than two and that has certainly been what we have seen so far. Here's my ten lessons from the week.

1. Three year olds are trying to assert their independence. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "You can't do that" this week when I told her that a consequence was going to be imposed.

2. A mind can be changed 8 times in less than one minute. Keep with the programme, mommy!

3. Defiance can take so many forms. If I wasn't at the receiving end, I would admire the creativity.

4. The worst behaviour is always reserved for the person who does the most to take care of the three year old and the more you try, the worse it gets.

5. Moving on and totally ignoring the whining and crying from the back seat of the vehicle is the best strategy when driving.

6. Other people will think your child is being cute.

7. If you want it to happen, don't ask. Just start doing it yourself and act like you don't care and that YOU want to do it.

8. A child who was previously good at sharing can become an absolute tyrant.

9. The worse you are feeling, the worse the behaviour will be.

10. The most important lesson - I now understand so much better why God is shown as a parent.

God's grace never really meant anything to me until I had a child. Thursday was the worst day this week and right in the middle of the nasty, defiant and aggravating behaviour, it came to me - this is what God feels like. I don't think that I had much left - I felt like I wanted nothing more than to give her a good smack and to lock her in her room for the entire day and just totally ignore her and in truth, I had the power to do it, too. Despite that, I didn't hurt her or wound her the way she was wounding me. Instead, I took a deep breath, prayed a bit, walked away and loved her as fiercely as ever. It saddened me and frustrated me but it did nothing to diminish my love for her. I would still die for her if it came to that.

Thank you God for loving me when I am acting like a three year old.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Musings on Homeschooling

This is going to be a rambling post so forgive me. My thoughts aren't entirely organized on this topic and I am thinking I would like to just do a "stream of consciousness" kind of post.

Homeschooling has been on my mind for a while. I am not considering it for us - my income is too important so it isn't even something for consideration. Actually, what I should say is that exclusively homeschooling is not for us. I take learning very seriously and I love exploring new skills and ideas with Pk (and, down the road, with Iain, I hope). I plan several learning activities a week for Pk and will continue to do that when she is at school. Even the best teacher will not teach a child everything and we, as teachers, all have our weaknesses and can use extra help. I want Pk to have a thirst for knowledge and an understanding that learning doesn't have to be confined to a classroom.

Homeschooling wasn't something on my radar until the last couple of years. I grew up in a big city and I don't tend to think of homeschooling as a "big city" kind of thing. Frankly, in the past, I always associated it with people from the religious fringe or members of militias who were waiting for the government to invade. "Normal" people didn't do it and I didn't consider it to be a Canadian thing, at all. I wasn't even sure it was legal.

Since I have entered the blogging world, I have stumbled across blog after blog written by homeschoolers. Granted, I tend towards attachment parenting and Christian motherhood blogs, both being groups who often choose to withdraw from institutional society. Then, I met several rational and sane homeschoolers at our local organic food place and finally, a good friend from church has made the decision to homeschool. I see that it is rapidly growing in popularity.

As a teacher, I have to say that while I would love the chance to spend my days designing quality learning experiences for my daughter, I can't help but have some concerns about homeschooling. For some children, especially those of parents with a very controlling approach to parenting, getting away to school is their only chance at any freedom. Sadly, there are parents out there whose methods are NOT what is healthy for children (whether we are talking about learning or whether we are talking about punishment and school is a good place for bruises to be noticed and reported). As a teacher, I have concerns about curriculum-in-a-box and I tend to think that many of the programmes are heavily weighted to rote learning and worksheets or the computer equivalent (although I have seen a few programmes that look really exciting and innovative and on the flip side, there are school classrooms that are too programme-based as well). Like many educators, I have concerns about socialization and whether many of these homeschooled children are receiving adequate preparation to live in the real world (although, again, I have been amazed at some of the wonderful social environments created by many homeschooling groups). My biggest concern, though, is that in homeschooling situations, there are parents who have little experience with learning and age and who most likely wouldn't recognize that their child was behind or struggling beyond what is normal. In the case of my friend, that is my biggest worry - I am certain that her daughter has significant learning delays that should be addressed though some kind of special education programme with a highly trained teacher but I very much doubt that this friend would be able to see that herself (and that may be why she is leaning towards a homeschooling programme).

One other major concern I have is that I think that there is a great deal of marketing that is being done to parents that is definitely slanted to a particular position. This friend went to a workshop, not long ago, on homeschooling. She came back totally thrilled because they had been told that homeschooled children score better on standardized tests than public school students. She swore that they were referring to the grade 3, 6 and 10 tests that are given in Ontario but when she asked me the letters for the name of the tests, when I told her it was E.Q.A.O., she insisted that I was wrong (hello, I have only taught in Ontario for 12 years...) and that they were three letters, something like s... I am guessing that they were presented with American data and possibly American data that doesn't relate to elementary learning. I also tend to think that standardized test data is minimally relevant - while those trying to push various educational agendas on the world put great value on these tests, it is my opinion (after 12 years of teaching in wildly diverse schools and school boards) that the tests say much more about the home life of the children in question than about the quality of teaching they receive. I have taught in areas where the teacher could sit at the front of the room and read the newspaper all year and the students would be successful because of parental involvement and early learning opportunities and I have taught in places where we could have worked with the students 24/7 and they still would have failed. That presents a solid reason why homeschooled kids would be successful - they have parents who involve themselves in and facilitate their children's learning.

As an educator in the public school system, I have a hard time not feeling the teeniest bit offended at all these parents who think they can do it better than I can, despite my degrees and skills and experience. I think what we as educators need to take from this rise in homeschool is that our education system is broken. Parents aren't happy, teachers aren't happy, universities getting our graduates aren't happy and, most significantly, there are are growing number of students who are being left behind. Instead of complaining about and criticizing these parents who try another route, we need to really break open our faulty education system and begin to explore how we can change it. What is is about homeschooling that works for so many children? Is it the flexibility to learning at an individual's own rate? Is it the ability to plan the day around natural rhythms and temperaments? Is it the ability to explore areas of interest to greater depths regardless of what the curriculum says? Is it that in a homeschooling environment, people feel that their beliefs are valued and respected in ways that they are not in public schools (this is a big one for me, I don't see why we can't coexist together in a public school environment without making people's individual beliefs totally unwelcome when they are uncomfortable or go against the status quo)? Is it that parents want to be involved in what their children are learning and feel left out in the traditional education system? Is it that children in homeschooling situations are exempted from the bullying and having the emotional problems of other children imposed upon them (since "integration" is the name of the game these days, many classes are held hostage by children with significant emotional/behavioural problems)?

It's time that our society stops pretending that education is working and instead of spending millions on more tests that tell us nothing, we need to begin have frank and open discussions about the systemic flaws and how we might change things so that more of these families feel that a public education wouldn't be something that was inferior. If, after that, people continue to feel the need to opt out, fine, but at least we could truly say that we were offering education to all.