Friday, August 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes: The First 7 Things I Loved About Homeschooling

So, we officially began homeschooling with SuperSam this week. We have been easing into it for a couple of weeks, and our generally curious lifestyle (frequent google searches and trips to the library for information he HAS to have on a given day) set us up well to be successful as a homeschooling family, I think.

The first week has gone really well. I didn't expect things to feel quite as different as they do now that we are officially "in school." I think we are both liking the change. SuperSam is excited and proudly tells people that he is in Kindergarten but doing school at home.

Although I also didn't expect to feel so tired at the end of the day (and to fall so behind on housework!), it has been a good week.  We haven't changed much about what we are actually doing, but something about the intention of it (thinking of it as school and loosely keeping track of what we're reading and studying) has taken more energy than it did before. I know I'll figure out the balance and that the good will keep on outweighing the bad. I just can't believe I never folded the three loads of laundry that are still stacked in my bedroom.


Here are the first seven things I have loved about homeschooling this week:

SuperSam's quote of the week: "The best thing about homeschooling is that I can still go outside as much as I want, even after school starts."

Our classroom has been outdoors this week more often than it has been indoors. Walking on the Greenway, observing butterflies in the backyard, watching the groundhog that has made a burrow under our neighbor's shed, sketching a praying mantis on our back deck, studying earthworms, and counting dead monarch caterpillars on a walk have all been opportunities for learning. We have freedom to study whatever is interesting where we are, and we have the flexibility to pursue those interests wherever they lead, no matter how long it takes.

We love that.

Staying home for school means that most days, we have no rush to be on time. On days when we have to be someplace at a certain time (like Sundays!), the extra stress of getting everyone out the door makes me tense and more likely to yell. When we can start the day in a leisurely way, I don't have to worry about how long it is taking SuperSam to get ready, and I can relax and enjoy his company. He's an awesome kid to hang out with...just don't ask him to put on his shoes quickly.

We have been reading and reading and reading. SuperSam loves to read on his own, but he has been reading a lot to the Sisters this week, too. He and I have been working our way through The Hobbit a bit at a time. I've even been reading my own books while he reads (either the Magic Treehouse series or nonfiction books about sea creatures and ocean life) in the afternoons after his nap time while the Sisters are still sleeping. I love that reading with and to him is such a big part of our day...and since I don't have to teach him to read, some of the pressure is off for me for this year.

Surprisingly, one of my favorite things so far is doing Bible stories with the kids. Of course, we have always told them Bible stories and read to them from Bible story books. Since we've decided to make it part of our curriculum, though, SuperSam and I have read or retold the same story of Jesus calling Simon Peter every day this week. On the second day, I remembered a little song about it from my childhood Sunday School days, so I taught it to them. They've been singing it every day since. Our story even inspired a science activity (I'll get to that in a minute).

It's easy to forget as an adult that the stories of Jesus' life are exciting and kind of magical. They're fun to tell and fun to act out and fun to draw. We grownups get hung up on what Big Spiritual Benefit we are supposed to be getting from them. "What does this mean in my life?" we ask. To our kids, though, they are just some really cool stories. As SuperSam said, "Jesus was, like, totally awesome."

(And Lucy responded, "Baby Jeezus tode-ly ah-suhm.")

Kitchen sink science has got to be one of the coolest things about homeschooling. We're thinking about Simon Peter's fishing boat? Let's make a boat and see if it floats. What can we use? Oh, aluminum foil, ok. How should we design it? Hey, let's make three different designs and see which one works best. Now let's pretend these pennies are fish and count how many fish each boat can hold before it sinks. Let's draw a chart and fill in the data. Wow, these pennies look dirty. Let's wash them with soap. That didn't help? Let's try vinegar and salt and see what happens...and on and on it goes.

I love watching SuperSam's brain work, figuring out what questions it wants to ask and how to answer them. Mostly, I just say, "Oh, okay, what do you think you need?" or "How could you fix that?" and see what he comes up with. It's never dull.

The Sisters want to do school, too. I didn't expect this. I love that they want to be in on what SuperSam is doing every...single...minute...but it is making me a little crazy. Trying to come up with ways to keep them engaged and occupied is going to be the hardest part about this whole thing. It doesn't help that they are in a stage of constant competition with one another.

Our best successes this week happened when I moved things outside. Taking the easel outside and letting the Sisters draw while SuperSam works in his playhouse has been a great way for him to get some space to himself.

So this one isn't so much MY love, but SuperSam's: my kid loves math. Really, really loves math. I don't know where that came from, but it is my duty not to squash it or to in any way suggest that he should not love math. I take this responsibility seriously, even if I wonder whose genetic material caused this strange love of numbers. He certainly didn't inherit it from either of his parents.

Much to my surprise, he has been grasping math concepts quickly and naturally and asking for more every day. I wasn't even going to really do a formal math curriculum with him, since we do so much "real life" math with cooking, measuring, telling time, counting money, playing with shapes, etc. Now I'm wondering if I should let him go ahead since he's so interested.

That's the first week for you- so far, so good. It's not going to be easy, but there is a lot to love about homeschooling here with my family, and I'm certain that it's the right decision for us at this time.

If you don't think so, please don't tell me this week. :-) I'm very tired now and I don't have the energy to defend our position with a smile on my face. Wait a while until I've gotten my homeschooling bearings...then I can take you on properly.

Oh, and lest you fear for his social development, SuperSam will be on a soccer field for the first time tomorrow morning (in the cutest little cleats and shin guards I have ever, ever seen.) We'll let you know how it goes.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 7: baby doll bath time

My kids, like most other young children, are happy when they are wet. Water draws them like no other activity. 


What better way to cool off and fight the grumpies than splashing in a tub of water with some baby dolls on a hot afternoon?

We put a tub of water with a squirt of baby soap on the front porch. I added some baby dolls and a few cups for pouring, and we had an instant baby bathtub.

Nora always drinks the bathwater, even when it isn't her own. She will reach into the tub when SuperSam is bathing and try to get water to drink. When she and Lucy bathe together, she drinks the water the whole time and sucks it out of the wet washcloths floating around her. I've almost given up trying to prevent this, despite the implications. (Two toddlers in a bathtub means there is almost a 100 percent chance that she is drinking pee, right?) 
Since there were only imaginary babies (and therefore imaginary pee) in the bath this time, I didn't even bother asking her not to drink the water.

It's tough to find an activity that can peacefully involve and occupy all three of my children at this stage. This one worked nicely for everyone. I'm planning to try this indoors with the girls one morning while SuperSam is working on some of his projects. So far, the most challenging thing about homeschooling is finding things to keep The Sisters occupied during "school time."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Balloon Car Failure

In project-based learning, as in life, sometimes things don't go as expected.

And sometimes, things just fall apart.

This is the story of one of those times.

SuperSam recently received a set of children's encyclopedia-type books with answers to all kinds of interesting questions. One of the books had an activity outline for making a balloon car, and he really wanted to try it. He asked for several days in a row if we could do it. Finally, one morning when The Sisters took an extra nap, he got his wish.

In the book, the instructions seemed simple. Make a rectangle from construction paper. Tape sections of a plastic drinking straw under the card. Cut circle wheels from cardboard. Put a toothpick through the center of each wheel. Put the toothpick "axles" into the open ends of the drinking straw to attach wheels to the car. Tape a balloon on the back of the car. Inflate the balloon, let it go, and watch the car roll away on its wheels.

It didn't quite go like that.

We modified the materials up front. Even SuperSam knew that construction paper wasn't stiff enough to support two drinking straws, four toothpicks and four circles of cardboard. (Maybe that should have been our first clue that something was awry with these instructions.)

We substituted an index card.  
The wheels all fell off. There was too much space inside the straw to hold the toothpicks straight. 

Car, nicely decorated, on wheels that fell off. Repeatedly.
SuperSam covered the ends of the straws with masking tape and tried again. His fix held until we attached the balloon.

Wheels fell off again when the balloon was inflated.

Persistent boy with car that was constantly falling apart.

We made a series of videos to record our process for posterity. Watched one after the other, they give an idea of the kind of persistence my son has...and they remind me of the utter frustration of trying a project that just seemed doomed.

By my usual definition of success, this was a total bust. We never even got it to do anything but spin in a circle! I was annoyed both at our lack of success and at the stupid book, which led me to believe this would be an easy activity with predictable results. Did the book people ever even try it? Did they just take carefully arranged photos that made it look like it worked? Or did they have special drinking straws and construction paper and balloons that we in the non-book world cannot access? 

To me, this was a complete balloon car fail.

SuperSam didn't see it that way. He wanted to try it over and over and over again. "Don't give up, Mama!" was his refrain. He got to mess around with the design of the car quite a bit. He got to spend time one-on-one with me. He got to be on video, which he loves. And he got to crack up laughing every time the wheels fell off or the car spun out.

That's better than getting frustrated.
I should probably keep hanging out with him and hope he rubs off on me.

If we believe that learning happens in the process of making/doing/watching/trying things, then we have to acknowledge these sorts of projects-gone-wrong as times when great learning could be taking place. What could be better for learning than having to repeat something, trial after trial, continually reevaluating and making changes as we go? This is science, engineering, and Real Life all rolled into one terribly-thought-out activity. As frustrating as it was, I know SuperSam learned some things from tinkering with the car. At the very least, he learned to keep on trying in the face of adversity.

I just wish (still) that we had gotten one successful result from all our work. I like things to work out in the end.

Ever had a project go totally wrong with your kids? How did you handle it? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Small

I'm linking up with Five-Minute Friday today because I've gotten out of the habit of writing without knowing what is going to happen. Lisa Jo Baker started this weekly writing prompt because she "had been thinking about how perfectionism gets in the way of our words." Writing for just five minutes without editing or backtracking reminds us that this is fun, that we can play with language the way we used to play with finger paint. What comes out might not always be profound, but it's always real...and that's why I do it.

It started because I’d been thinking about writing and how often our perfectionism gets in the way of our words. And I figured, why not take 5 minutes and see what comes out: not a perfect post, not a profound post, just five minutes of focused writing. - See more at:
It started because I’d been thinking about writing and how often our perfectionism gets in the way of our words. And I figured, why not take 5 minutes and see what comes out: not a perfect post, not a profound post, just five minutes of focused writing. - See more at:
It started because I’d been thinking about writing and how often our perfectionism gets in the way of our words. And I figured, why not take 5 minutes and see what comes out: not a perfect post, not a profound post, just five minutes of focused writing. - See more at:


It's the third one he's found, stiff and straight on the blacktop of the trail we've been wandering, the third in a group of what will eventually be six dead monarch caterpillars. He's examining each one carefully, poking with fingers that are still chubby even though they belong to an almost-official Kindergartner. He murmurs over their bodies, wondering how they died, why they're on the pavement instead of in the flower bed, if they will still turn into butterflies.

The questions and observations aren't as insignificant as they seem, and neither is he. 

The smallness of the world directly in front of him is enough to fuel his curiosity for an afternoon, but the places it takes him are as vast as the universe he loves to talk about so much. The demise of the unfortunate caterpillars leads to discussions about decomposition and ecology and soil and pollution and runoff from lawns to gutters to creeks and rivers and oceans. The stillness of what once wiggled confuses him...he wants to know if caterpillars go to heaven.

I can't answer him except to say that God sees the Small Things, all of them...the caterpillars, the feathers, the blades of grass, the ants and spiders and puddles and even the butterfly that got caught in our windshield wiper last week. God sees them. My son sees them, too, and thinks they are Very Important, and so we stop again (for the fourteenth time in ten minutes) to check out what he thinks might be an earthworm in a patch of grassless ground.

Who am I to hurry him past the small things, the ones I wouldn't even see if he hadn't stopped me to look at them? God's eye may be on the sparrow, but Sam's is on the ground in front of him, and what he sees there never fails to fascinate him. I focus my eyes on what might be the earthworm's head and remember out loud that it can't see anything.

Sam replies with conviction, "I sure am glad I can see stuff."

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa-Jo at the link below.

Five Minute Friday

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

TwinsDay Wednesday: They're tag-teaming me. Already.

I went in to rescue Lucy's blanket and her Baby Jesus. She had thrown them onto the floor and immediately regretted it.

"Maaaaa-maaa! Ah needa Baby Jeezus! Ah needa blankeeeeeey! Maaaaaaa-maaaaaa!"

As soon as I stepped into the room, I smelled it. Someone had a seriously poopy diaper. So I asked them, because it's just like that now: "Who has poopy pants?"

They responded in unison without missing a beat: "Nora does."

I retrieved the blanket and Baby Jesus from the floor, handed them to Lucy and lifted Nora from her crib. "You have poopies?" I said, rubbing her silky hair with my nose.

"Uh-huh. Nora poopies. I got poopies," she said, proudly.

"You need a diaper change. Then sleep," I informed her.

"I needa diaper den sleep more," she said.

I laid her down to change her diaper. As I pulled off her pajama bottoms and unfastened the diaper, she giggled. And then I saw it...a perfectly clean, perfectly dry diaper.

No poop. Nothing. Clean and dry.

"Nora!" I said, "you don't have any poops. Your diaper is clean and dry."

She cracked up, crinkling her eyes at me. stereo. I looked up to see Lucy standing in her crib, purple pacifier dangling from her mouth, also laughing.

They were having fun at my expense.

A brief investigation uncovered the poop in Lucy's diaper, which I quickly changed. As I deposited her back into her crib, I kissed her curly head and told them, "No more sillies, girls. Good night."

As I left their room, closing the door behind me, I heard the unmistakable sounds of mattress springs squeaking as they began bouncing up and down in their beds...giggling.

I'm afraid this is the beginning, y'all...twelve years from now, they'll be covering for each other and finding ways to outsmart me. What am I going to do? Have another child so they will have a younger sibling to tattle on them?

Monday, August 12, 2013

On marrying young...

I was 22 when we got married.

Too young? Younger than average, certainly...slightly younger than my mom was when she married my dad. I finished my last two semesters of college as a married woman, which was definitely not the norm.

There has been a lot of conversation lately about marrying young- is it a good idea? Should people wait until they are older to get married? Are people who get married young more likely to end up divorced? 

Mandi at Messy Wife, Blessed Life has a series on marriage at her blog, and I'm delighted to be sharing my thoughts On Marrying Young there today. Here's a sneak peek:

At 22, when I still thought I knew almost everything, I thought I was ready. I thought I understood marriage. I expected it to be predictable, expected that when we said, “I do,” we would stroll through a pair of grand double doors and enter a story that was waiting for us to take our place as its central characters. I didn't realize that before we could occupy our story, we had to write it from the beginning. 

Why do weddings so often happen at the end of the book? Marriage is hardly the ending of anything…marriage isn't really anything at all when it starts. It's an idea we have, maybe, a set of expectations. A half-empty page on which we are about to start writing...

To find out what happened to those characters once the story really got started (and to get my perspective on getting married young), check out the rest of the post on Messy Wife, Blessed Life

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Theme Thursday: Statues

Sooo, after a small hiatus from this lovely photo linkup, I got inspired today. I considered taking some pictures of our cool Jesus statue that George got in Puerto Rico, but I never got around to it. Then, while I was outside assembling an IKEA stool on the front porch while my children were staging elaborate car crashes with their ride-on toys, I saw this guy, and he beckoned.

Come on, he's awesome, right? His name is Merle, and I received him as a Mother's Day gift from my son (because he broke the garden gnome I used to have, felt guilty about it, and wanted to replace it). He's spunky and jaunty and blue and not at all Smurf-like, which is good, because the Smurfs are apparently cool again. He kind of reminds me of the Travelocity gnome, except he never goes anywhere.

After seeing the other pictures on this week's linkup, it occurs to me that we could make a faith statement by installing Mary or Jesus or someone in this spot instead of Blue Merle. If we did that, though, I would feel guilty about how many weeds there are. There are so many weeds.

For more (real, lovely, serious) pictures of statues, check out Clan Donaldson.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TwinsDay Wednesday: The Big Girl edition

This week, in line at Wal-mart:
One has curly hair and one has straight hair.

Yes, you're very observant.

I bet they got different personalities, too. Usually with twins, one's real talkative and one's not.


How old are they?

They'll be two years old next month. (Two years old! How did that happen?)

Two? Wow, they're really small.

They're not small. They're just right.

Well, were they small when they were born?

No, not really.

How much did they weigh?

How much did you weigh when you were born? Better yet, how much do you weigh NOW? I think that's a more pertinent question. Have you considered Weight Watchers? I know a lot of people who really love it!

(Perhaps I don't have the nerve to have this last part of the conversation in real life, but just keep pushing me, Wal-Mart cashiers and hostesses at Cracker Barrel. One of these days, one of you is going to get lucky and find out how I really feel.)

No-frills potties- no lights or music. Kind of hard to find, actually.
Anyway, despite their (apparently) incredibly small stature, our girls are growing up. Last weekend, we bought two new potties. Nora has been trying for a week to climb up onto the toilet to use the bathroom, so I figured we needed to do something.

Because I belong to the Lazy School of Potty Training, I do not start the process until children are begging me to do it. It's kind of the opposite of Elimination Communication. Instead of trying to read my children's bathroom signals and get them to the potty before they go, I wait until they are pulling at my leg and saying, "Mama, I feel kind of uncomfortable using the bathroom in a diaper these days- would it be okay if I started using the potty instead?"

Waiting has advantages. The process moves quickly, and I don't have to ask them fourteen times every hour if they have to go potty. The Potty Process went very smoothly with SuperSam, but I've been dreading it with the girls. Potty learning for two people at the same time seems like an insurmountable challenge.

We may just stop leaving the house until they have it figured out.

Since we brought home the potties, Nora has been sitting on hers completely naked with a book in hand a few times each day. For her part, Lucy will only sit on the potty with all her clothes and her diaper on. I do not ask her to sit on it. I don't even mention it to her, as that would be breaking the cardinal rule of the Lazy School of Potty Training. The only reason there is any interest in potties on Lucy's part is because Nora is sitting on one. (Or possibly because Curious George has been doing it so often lately?) Even though we got two potties at the same time, I am guessing they will probably still find a way to fight over them.

Along with the potties, we got two car seats. The girls had finally outgrown their infant seats and needed upgrades. Lucy got a new Big Girl Seat, and Nora got SuperSam's hand-me-down. (He graduated to a larger seat that will convert to a booster later.)

Once upon a time, there was extra space in those car seats.
Nora is in love with her Big Girl Seat, (which she calls Sammy Old Car Seat) and insists on climbing up from the ground into the seat herself and trying to buckle her own seat belt. Woe to anyone who tries to help her before she is ready for help. You will be met with rage and tears and repeated screams of, "I DO SELF!"

In the final installment of "oh, wow, they're getting so big," George lowered the girls' cribs to the final notch this evening after Nora crawled over the crib rail (and fell onto the floor) at nap time today. This provided a great opportunity for some mattress bouncing. Glee ensued.

It's hard to believe that just two years ago, we were trying to keep them from being born to give them the best possible chance at being strong and healthy. Now they are climbing out of cribs and jumping on mattresses and generally acting like Big Girls.

They're doing matter what the Wal-Mart cashier thinks.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Science Rocks! Baking soda and vinegar activity

SuperSam has been all about doing experiments lately. He likes to wake up early from afternoon nap (before The Sisters are up) and use the time to do "Science Stuff." It's nice for us to be able to spend some time one-on-one, and it gives him a chance to feel like he is doing Big Kid Things. Usually, he spends at least part of the time talking about how this activity (whatever it is) "wouldn't be appropriate for The Sisters."
He loves that word, appropriate.
I am probably to blame for that.

Anyway. I set up a baking dish for him with cups of vinegar (one with blue and one with yellow food coloring added), an eyedropper and a dish of baking soda. I didn't give him any further instructions.

He started out slowly.


With the first fizzy reaction, he got really excited and fell off his stool. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt and went right back to work.

Soon, the eyedropper wasn't making things happen fast enough for him. I gave him a syringe. Then things got wild. He started making sound effects as he squirted the vinegar.

An unsuspecting Tyrannosaurus who happened to be hanging out nearby was pulled into the action.

Finally, SuperSam abandoned the syringe completely, dumped everything in together, and turned it into a sensory activity with a side of process art.

This activity is easy to set up, easy to clean up, and lots of fun to watch. I'm definitely adding this to our official List of Things to Do When We Need SuperSam to Stay Busily Occupied for about 20 Minutes Or So.

Have you done this activity? How did it go? I'd love to know if you try it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

7 Quick Takes: The Ta-Da! List edition

This post is truly only going to make sense to a certain type of person in a certain life stage. 
If that's not you, please don't give up and go away. I promise there will be something for you again, okay? 

Today, though, I'm talking to YOU...overwhelmed mama with too many things to do and not enough time to do them. Your heart is organized, but your house is a mess, and it drives you crazy. You always lived life by your to-do list before. Now, with one or more babies to care for (or multiple babies at once, in some cases!), you don't even have time to write your list down, much less do anything on it. Some days, you despair that anything will ever be clean or organized again...especially when you can't even go to the bathroom by yourself. How are you supposed to find time to clean it?

Well, take heart, mama. The ladies at Rookie Moms have you in mind today in a timely post about making a list of what you already DID and then crossing things off. It's amazing. Write down what you did today. You already did it, so you won't have to find time to do it. Then put a nice, fat line through every item. Done, done, and done. Changed diapers? Done. Dunked diaper in the toilet and stuck in in the pail? Done. Opened a new gallon of milk? Done. Nursed for fourteen hours? Done.

See how much better that is? For years now, I've been adding items to my to-do list that I had already finished, just so I could cross them off...but it didn't occur to me to leave off the "to-do's" completely and just make a "did do" list.

The best part, though, is that one brilliant commenter coined the perfect term for just this type of thing: the "Ta-Da List". 

Ta-Da! (If you listen hard, you can hear the trumpet fanfare with that.)

So there you have it, mamas. You have worked hard. You have a Ta-Da List as evidence. Go forth and enjoy your weekend.

And, because it's been that kind of week for me, here's my own Ta-Da list for today. Hold onto your socks lest I knock them straight off, y'all.

Paint with budding artists. 
Mixes up names of colors. Screams if given the wrong one.

Move the diapers from the washer to the dryer and press "start."

(I was going to take them out of the dryer, but they weren't quite dry, so instead of hanging them up, I just pressed "start" again.)

Unload the dishwasher. Put the clean dishes away, and start filling it up again with dirty dishes.

Top rack: always prematurely full of plastic cups with lids.

Paint little wooden dinosaurs for SuperSam's chore chart. (More on that later.) Better yet, get SuperSam to paint them himself while you work on a blog post about it. Everyone wins.

Give SuperSam a haircut. Bribe him with Sesame Street on the iPad so he'll sit still.

Getting good at this- used scissors AND clippers this time. Woot.

Break the lid on the trash can. Get a new trash can. (oh, that's from yesterday.)

Take the new trash can out of the car (where it has been sitting since you bought it yesterday). While you're out there, rescue Baby Jesus from the top of Lucy's car seat (since she can't sleep without him and is screaming about it). Bring Baby Jesus and the trash can into the house.

Think of the most amazing Christmas present EVER for these people. (No, not all of them...just the guy with the harmonica and the woman with the upright bass.) It might be one of the best ideas I've ever had. Well, besides writing this list, that is.

Thanks to the Rookie Moms for the inspiration and to you for playing along (and, as always, to Jen for hosting). Make your own list...I promise you'll feel better.

Happy Friday!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!