Sunday, November 22, 2009

Something To Do

I finally got my copy of the Charlotte Mason Companion from the library yesterday. Charlotte Mason is one of those methods I've heard about but have never really studied. I sat down to start reading today and was impressed by her idea that everyday we need to do 3 things for our children.

1. Give them something or someone to love.

2. Give them something to do.

3. Give them something to think about.

All those things seem fairly obvious but I was having trouble contemplating the idea because my kids' music was blaring and the boys were wrestle all over the room. Then it clicked and I realized that maybe if I gave them something "to do" they would stop making me crazy. I started by asking the older boys to design homemade Christmas gift tags. I cut up some card stock for them and then let them go to town creating their own designs. I cut some construction paper into different shapes and let the younger two do some free style modern art by gluing the shapes all over their paper. Everyone sat working industriously (and independently) until dinner time. It's always a hard balance, giving kids unstructured time to follow their own ideas and planning activities for them, but today was a good reminder that sometimes just giving them materials and an idea can help cut down on the chaos.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Two Hours With Sponge

A few weeks ago when we changed over to daylight savings, our regular nap schedule got off track. Because of this I was able to spend about two hours alone with Sponge, while Scientist was sleeping.

Sponge has mastered crawling. He even managed to pull himself up onto our toy basket in order to get something in there that caught his fancy. He’s getting so big so fast. As I watched him play on the living room floor, going back and forth from one toy to the next, I began to think about all the things he is learning and doing, how different he is from Scientist. My thought process continued along the lines of all the things I want Sponge to know, and how I would teach it to him. Eventually, it occurred to me that I have probably only really taught him one thing in his eight months of life so far. And that thing is trust.

Aaron and I have created an environment for our children where they feel safe and loved, and because of that they have trust. They trust that their needs will be met, that people are kind, and that life is good. I can pretty confidently say we have taught them this. I am starting to think this might be the only thing they learn that I have control over.

Have you ever tried to teach a baby to roll over? You can encourage, and coax, and exemplify all you want, but the baby won’t roll over until the baby is ready. The same goes for walking, talking, eating solid foods, and I assume potty training (I’ll let you know when we venture into that realm with Scientist). Maybe the same is also true for other types of learning.

I feel like it is still my job to create a learning environment, to encourage learning, to be an example of learning, and to provide opportunities for Scientist and Sponge to learn. But at the same time I need to be very conscientious that they will learn when they are ready, that they will learn differently from one another and from other kids, and that they are on their own timetable. This is going to be a challenge, but hopefully, it’s also what makes it fun.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Cheers for the library!

The computers at the library were offline today, so my poor children had to actually look for books at the library! Usually they throw me a token book or two on their way to the bank of computers but today they brought me book after book. We also stocked up on DVDs and books-on-tape for our Thanksgiving road trip to Arizona. I'm not sure there are enough books-on-tape in the world to make that 20 hour drive bearable, but we did our best! I love being at the library but my favorite part is actually when we get home with our stack of books. I've learned that if I want my children to read their literary finds I have to give them at least an hour of down time when we get home. They spread the books all over the place and dig through them hunting for treasure. Sometimes I let the pile sit for a day or two because as soon as I put it away they seem to forget that they have library books.

Princess talked Engineer into reading to her (aren't they adorable!) and Thinker and Puzzler dove into a new origami book. I love the quiet hum of anxiously engaged kids!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Theme Day: C is for Cookie

For those of you who are not my friend on Facebook, I just recently posted my status explaining how I save paper bags at the grocery store, NOT because it's more environmentally friendly (although that is a nice plus), but because I have visions in my head of all the cool art projects Scientist and I could do together using paper bags. How many projects have I done since I started collecting? ZERO. Well, here's proof that Facebook is useful. Haha. At least, after I posted that, I came up with a way to do a project out of paper grocery bags. So now my number can say ONE instead of ZERO.

It was my turn for C today. I decided that in honor of Cookie Monster, C ought to be for cookie. A quick youtube search got me what I was looking for. The video of Cookie Monster singing "C is for Cookie", and I used that to introduce the letter C and the theme of the day, which was cooking. I told the boys that we were going to be chefs, but before we could be chefs we needed to dress like them. We made aprons out of paper grocery bags, and used yarn to have a tie behind the neck and around the waste. We let the boys glue different colored shapes cut out of construction paper onto their aprons to personalize them, and to go over the shapes and colors. Sly, hu? They didn't suspect a thing. Plus, somewhere I heard that letting kids use glue sticks is good for their small motor skills....I could be wrong, but they loved it regardless. I had also pre-made them (because I thought it was above their skill level and attention span) chefs' hats out of posterboard paper.

Then the cooking began! Chocolate Chip Cookies was the objective. It is an interesting thing to cook with two two-year-olds, but they did really well, and cooperated nicely. I had them take turns measuring the ingredients, dumping them into the bowl, and turning on the mixer. All the while making sure to point out that cup, chocolate, chip, cookie, etc. Started with C. Then they each got to scoop dough out onto their own cookie sheet, and then let Mommy put them in the oven to bake. I think they had fun, and the cookies actually turned out too!

One Small Step For Mom...

Like many young families in our area, we attend story time at the library about once a week. Both Scientist and Sponge seem to enjoy it, and if nothing else it gets us out of the house for about an hour. One thing I enjoy about story time is watching the various ways parents interact with their children.

I’ve noticed at story time, and in other play group settings we’ve been involved in, that some parents choose to try and force their kids to participate in the activities, sing the songs, or do the hand motions, etc. that are a part of the story time entertainment. Phrases like, “We’re here for you, if you don’t want to participate then we’re going home.” or, “They put a lot of time into preparing this, now you need to sit here and sing along.” are the kinds of things I’ve heard.

I decided early on, that I was not going to require Scientist (or Sponge after he came along) to do anything at story time but be nice to the other kids. If he wanted to participate, great; if he wanted to just sit there and watch, great. I also decided that I would participate (sing the songs, clap my hands, and so on) and be excited about story time, to see if my enthusiasm would rub off.

Scientist, although pretty outgoing, gets really shy at the library. He mainly chooses to sit there, and I choose to let him. Then, yesterday for the very first time, without my doing anything differently, Scientist stood up when they started to sing the songs. He clapped his hands, stomped his feet, jumped up and down, at the right times. He went down and sat on the magic story blanket for the story. And he watched the puppet show all the way through. It occurred to me that sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, the things we help our kids learn will be through the example we set, and not what we nag, push, and prod them to do against their will. And also that kids have their own timetable for things and they’ll do them when they're ready.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I made an important discovery this summer about robbing children of their learning opportunities. In June we moved into a house that sits on the edge of the woods. I mentioned in passing that it would be cool to know what plants were in our backyard. Soon plant identification was a bit of an obsession. I bought several identification books to support their interest and before long the boys knew the difference between a lady fern, a maiden fern and a sword fern. They knew which berries were edible and exactly what a stinging nettle looked like. I frequently saw them coming out of the woods munching on “apple leaves,” an edible clover. (We have a strict rule about not eating anything until mom confirms your identification).

When we went camping or hiking there were actual fights about who got to collect which plants. There wasn’t enough room to press all the specimens in the guide books so we bought a small flower press. I was blown away by the extent of their interest and budding knowledge. Then September came and with it my stress about school and documentation of the learning process. So I decided to turn their interest in plants into a school “project.” I had this great idea to make a chart of all the different plants and their properties and to make photo albums of the different species. The only problem was, as soon as I took ownership of their interest, it was mine and not theirs.

Almost instantly the guides were shelved, and they couldn’t care less about the plants surrounding them. I realized very quickly what I had done but it’s very hard to give ownership back after you’ve so rudely taken it. So I’m leaving the books on the shelf and hoping maybe with time they’ll come back to it. In the meantime I’m encouraged by their new interest in wild mushrooms!