From Back-to-School

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

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Life has gotten so much busier since Jack started half-day school, 5 days a week. I truly thought life would breathe a little easier once the school year began. Although I laugh every day at my naiveté, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to send him to our small, heartfelt Montessori school. He runs right into class every day.  It makes me so proud to see him loving this new part of his life but I have to admit that I’ve felt a wave of emotions these last several weeks. My little boy is in school! Our long days together have come to an end. Sniff. Sniff. Etc. Etc.

Need a pick me up? Check out these ideas for appreciating the moment.

In times of big change and big emotions I like to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look around at all the little things that make my day brighter. The following is a list (with helpful links) of my ten favorite things of the moment.

  1. I purchased this bento box from Zulily.com nearly two years ago in anticipation of making school lunches. Am I the only one who can’t pass on a good deal?  I thought it would be a great way to eliminate Ziploc bags and even more fun to get creative with food. Boy, was that an understatement.  I’ve had a total blast (most mornings) making food fun for little dude. Sliced cheddar in the shape of tiny teddy bears was a big hit.
    bentolove
  2. If you want to give yourself a kick in the pants, GET A FIT BIT. The holidays are coming up. Make sure to get your letter to Santa in the mail now.
  3. After Pops gets Jack to school in the morning, it’s an absolute treat when his sister graces me with an extra hour of slumber because that means I can have my favorite breakfast-of-the-moment in solitude. There is no better start to the day than with a bowl of blueberry oatmeal and a piping hot cup of coffee.
    heartcoffee
  4. On the days that I’m thrown in the driver seat full throttle I turn to my new friend The Complete Cookie. These little vegan, kosher nutritional gems are conveniently perforated into two servings. For a full cookie it’s 16 g protein and 6 g of fiber. They have many delicious flavors but at this moment peanut butter cookie is my favorite.
  5. Two books that I would highly recommend…
    books
    Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book. This is one of those grab in a fire things for me. It is so wonderful to look back on my babies’ lives and see what they were doing each day and how they’ve changed. This is a wonderful gift you could give to new parents. There have been many days when Albert has picked up the pen and taken over too. I love that this book is chocked full of love and so much pride. What a treasure!
  6.  Small Victories (Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace) by Anne Lamott. She is such a breath of fresh air. I laugh, cry, and ponder when I read her books.
  7. Tortilla wraps have become a bit of an obsession for me. I’m especially fond of the big spinach ones by Mission that only set me back 210 calories. The following is a quick list of what I’ve put in wraps lately; Spring mix, spinach, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, smoked Gouda cheese spread, black beans, crab cake, tuna salad, Trader Joe’s roasted eggplant dip (2 tbsp 30 calories), hummus, peppers, cucumbers, pasta salad, cannellini beans, edamame, etc. The list goes on and on. The key to a healthy, happy wrap is portion control with a variety of fillings. So yummy and for someone who gets in a rut with meals, perfect.
  8.  When I saw these Saucony tennies (found here on Amazon) on the sale rack at Nordstrom ($25!!!) I knew they were coming home with me.  My Emmaline has a teeny tiny fondness for all things shoes. I blame it on her Nana and her turquoise sequined house shoes that E has been after since birth. My Mom informed me recently that those slippers have been bequeathed to my sweet daughter. For now, she will have to slum it in these wee things.
    shoes
  9. IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer & Hello Light Liquid Brightener. These early mornings aren’t doing my under eye area any favors. I picked this up at Ulta for half off during their recent 21 days of beauty. A Beauty Blender sponge works really great with this product.
  10. Radio Flyer Ultimate Wagon. This contraption was a well thought out purchase for us. Sadly we have not taken it to an amusement park or major outdoor excursion yet, but those times they are a coming. We have been enjoying this as a way to wind down our evening taking a nice stroll after dinner and before we settle in to the night time routine. It’s easy enough for big boy to pull when he feels inclined and handles like a dream. Cup holders and a pouch that fits a good sized picnic are also a plus.

I would love to hear about all the little happy things that bring joy to your lives, especially on those slumpy days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first steps into homeschooling

Homeschool: Into The Great Wide Open

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What is the ideal learning environment for your kids?

Is it the best public school tax dollars can buy? Is it a private school that keeps you broke but your kids engaged? What about a puddle of mud, 4 sticks, and no worries of how dirty you child will get?

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If you’re a parent, then chances are, you’ve stressed about your child’s education. What teacher will my kid get? Will there be a behavior chart? What in the world will I have to deal with to pick up my kids everyday?

We all have our different take on school, that’s why there are so many options, because, let’s face it, kids learn in different ways, so experiences can be quite different, even for 2 kids at the same school.

My wife and I want our kids to have access to nature and lots of it. We want them to have a sense of wonderment attached to their learning, and we want the kids (especially my son) to be encouraged to move and play to learn, and not sit in a chair. And we wanted to see it all from our backyard. So, our answer became clear, we could homeschool, or as my wife prefers to call it: “home based learning and exploration.”

Now, I was homeschooled in high school, and I just needed to finish my reading assignment before an upcoming rerun of Chips, or complete my ethics workbook in time to watch Maury Povich (you laugh, but it’s true). So – not exactly a challenging, or inspiring atmosphere, so you can understand my slight hesitation when my wife proposed the idea of homeschool to me (“What? Why? Are you crazy?”)

But there’s nothing like coming home from work to my kids like this:

 

I am now a believer, seeing how homeschool can look.

We are only providing instruction to our kids based on their interests, so they are always enthused about learning, and any and all learning opportunities are child led. We are constantly challenging ourselves to encourage our kids to extend an idea, or use something in a different way.

As my wife and I are both educators, we understand that teaching children is never a one-size-fits-all situation, and our kids are vastly different and we try to honor that by presenting them each with provocations that learn toward their individual strengths.

For example, our son NEEDS rich sensory experiences like a duck needs water. So in our environment, we provide him with meaningful sensory experiences. Practicing scooping and measuring flour, whisking bubbles, pouring water into different containers, drawing with chalk pastels, painting, manipulating clay all meet his need for in depth tactile experiences while providing practical life applications and creative expression and problem solving. (pictures)

If you are interested in homeschooling, here are some tips:

  1. Designate an area in your home for learning (we renovated our backyard patio into a classroom, but it could be as simple as designating a corner of a dining room – a clearly defined space relaxes the children by letting them know they have a space of their own, where they can have freedom within limits.)
  2. Develop and (continue to) hone your patience. You will need it. Lots of it. Truckloads. I firmly believe that no child will test your patience like your own child; and your kids definitely know this.
  3. Refrain from answering their questions with answers. Answer questions with more questions. Shoot for open-ended questions to bring out their own ideas and their train of thought. There are no wrong answers. Google is here to stay. We are no longer teaching facts and figures to our children, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves.
  4. Plan daily instead of long term, using your observations of what they are into, and let their questions guide where you go next.
  5. Observe, observe, observe. Take notes. Look deeper. Keep asking questions of yourself and how you can better facilitate your child’s experience. This is so, so, so important and should serve as your very own individualized pedagogy for your own children’s education.
  6. Give your child lots of social opportunities. sports, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding!, ice skating!, art classes, these are very important things. Giving your children experiences of their own is important for their confidence and development. Homeschooling takes much less time of the day than traditional school giving plenty of time for unstructured play AND extracurriculars. Win!
  7. Find or create a community of likeminded parents that you can draw upon and share with. Don’t go it alone.
  8. Find experts within the community that can teach classes (authentic art classes, Spanish, etc.)
  9. Be flexible. It may not be for your kid every year. Follow their lead. I do plan on taking my son to my wonderful Pre-K school next year, if I can.  I feel like the whole child philosophy at my school and nature/nurture components are just perfectly in line with our own philosophy, so yes, I do hope to take him to my school next year, provided that is still a good fit for him.
  10. Give up the TV during school time.  Facebook too. And screens, as much as you can. Just be present for your kids.
  11. Extended recess everyday. There’s no such thing as too much outdoor time. Ever.

 

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

Another First Day of School

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The memories are still clear in my mind. Fondly, I can see my boys racing through empty school hallways, hear their footfalls on the squeaky clean floor as yet uncluttered by the year to come. Their gleaming eyes dart from side to side in search of the familiar faces of friends not seen since the previous June. I remember sharing their excitement as we found and set up their desks, serious work intermittently interrupted by explosions of chatter at the entrance of a new friend to class.

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

The start of school used to be very exciting for our family. My boys were anxious to see their friends and meet their teachers. I would look forward to the seven-hour daily respite that school provided me. The summer months required a lot of work, shuttling the boys to and from activities or trying to fill their home hours with something other than television. The structure that school provided helped me as much as them.

There has been a polar-shift, however. My children are literally too-cool-for-school. They are supremely unenthused by the prospect of school restarting.   The old spark is missing. It makes sense. They have experienced multiple first days of school. This will be my oldest son’s ninth first day (K-8); it will be my youngest boy’s eight first day of school (PS-5). The thrill is gone for them. The spark of excitement that I used to feel at my boys’ returning to school has dimmed as well. My boys are greatly self-sufficient and quite easy to monitor. Their going back to school won’t make my life easier- just more quiet.

Perhaps a wiser parent than I would simply accept the changing times yet I continue a pointless quest to make the start of school exciting.   I ask my boys pointed questions regarding friends whom they have not seen in a while or about changes in their classes. “Will the school feel different without R there?” I ask them open questions: “what do you think it will be like having Mr. D as your teacher this year?” My queries, which would have begun animated conversations a few short years ago, are now met with unintelligible grunts.   Still, I try – without success- to drum up some enthusiasm for the coming school year.

The start of school, though less necessary for my sanity, still seems exciting to me. I dropped off some vaccine forms there this morning and was delighted to see many teachers and parents whom I’ve not seen in months. This is cool, I thought, a whole new year of school. Then my thoughts shift to my boys. Perhaps I could impart some enthusiasm with…. But I stop myself in mid-thought. My boys’ reactions to the start of the school year are completely normal. The lack of excitement is not satisfying, but it makes sense developmentally. My trying to inject enthusiasm into their systems vis-à-vis school’s starting seems futile.   I need to accept the changing times. I’ll always have the memories.

Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

School Drop-offs: Easy Peasy or Dreaded Disaster?

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Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

Transitions are hard for us.

For the past year or two, my now nearly six year old son had a hard time separating from me.  It didn’t matter if I was dropping him off with a friend or even leaving him with his dad while I went for an evening out.  There was nearly always a few minutes before I left in which he was uber clingy, whiney, and teary-eyed.  The worst, however, was when I dropped him off at school.

School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.
School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.

On good days last year, everything was fine leaving the house, on the drive in, and going into school. The closer we got to his classroom though, the slower his steps got. He got clingy and the whining started. On bad days, it started at home, with passionate pleas on how much he didn’t want to go to school. It continued on the drive in. The actual drop off was devoid of actual complaining, but instead had an onslaught of body clinging that would put an octopus to shame.  (One morning involved a full-on, writhing-on-the floor tantrum.  That was fun.  Nothing like putting your parenting skills on full display to start your day.)

I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.
I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.

Importantly, there was nothing wrong at school. His PK class was a tight knit group of friends, having been with each other since they were babies or toddlers. His teachers (and all the teachers in the school) are world class and he’s known them since he was a baby. And once he’s there (2 seconds after I leave), he has a great time. So much fun that pickup at the end of the day can be another challenge.

We had dealt with separation anxiety before — when he was much younger.  When it cropped up again, I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  Initially, we had to brute force it, with a teacher holding him while I left. No amount of distraction by other kids or activities — strategies that used to work — would make for a pleasant experience. We tried all of the usual strategies (like those found here and here).  Simply saying goodbye with a kiss & promise to see him that evening would not make things easier.  Letting him keep his taggy (or other beloved item) was a must, but not sufficient for an easy drop off. Quickly, however, we developed a goodbye ritual that almost always allowed him to separate easily.  A conveniently placed window and access to a small outside play area from his classroom allowed us to wave and blow kisses to each other after I left the building. When the weather was nice, he was allowed outside for a “fence kiss”.  To get him to the window/fence after saying goodbye, we always had a race to determine whose shoes were faster: his sneakers or my pumps/boots/flats.  (A couple of times, he let me win.)  The final piece to our drop-off puzzle was a reward.  My son earns stars for making good choices about his behavior, so easy-peasy drop-offs earned him more stars.  A quick race, a kiss through the fence, and some earned stars got us through 95% of the clingy drop-offs.

How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.
How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.

With the end of the school year and the beginning of summer camp, I was worried about changing up our process.  Rather than dropping off at his daycare, he took a bus to summer camp each day.  Transitioning each morning was still a bit of a challenge, but we established a few rituals to make it easier.  Quickly getting on the bus, waving through the window after he was on the bus, and blowing kisses as it pulled out of the parking lot was our summer ritual.  We’re making progress.

Kindergarten starts in a few weeks.  I have no idea what drop-off will entail or what rituals we will come up with.  He and I have starting talking about it a bit, prepping ourselves for the change.  I’m not so naive as to think it will be easy-peasy from the get-go.  But we’ve learned and grown a lot this past year (both of us!).  I’m optimistic that Kindergarten drop-offs will continue to get easier and easier.  When drop-offs are always easy-peasy, I know I’ll miss these days of him needing me constantly.  However, my pride at his independence and confidence will overshadow my nostalgia.

The Procrastinator's Guide to the End of the Summer

The Procrastinator’s Guide to the End of Summer

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When school ended and summer stretched out endlessly before me, I had a vision of how my family would wind down our summer.

The Procrastinator's Guide to the End of the Summer

Two weeks before we started school, we would strictly adhere to my boys’ 8 o’clock bedtime. A week before starting classes, we would resume our 6 a.m. wake-up schedule. I even considered instituting a 15 minute “homework” time in the early afternoon, so that the transition between complete freedom and structure wouldn’t be so jarring. Then, August came a little sooner than I expected.
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We decided to spend our last days of summer in the Canyonlands of northwest Texas. For the past 20 years, the area has experienced intermittent drought. With only 7 inches of rain, 2011 was the driest year in recorded history. A local friend told me they were only 20 years into a 40 year dry cycle. Others began to talk about the desertification of the southwest. The dependable creek, where I spent my youth fishing, went dry–a cracked and hollow ghost of its former self. This year, however, El Niño brought spring and summer rains. The yellowed grass ran green against the pink canyon walls. Sunflowers, blue spiderwort, yellow evening-primrose, canyon tea, buffalo grass, Russian thistles, and yucca filled the canyon floor. The area teemed with wildlife. We saw mule deer, frogs, grasshoppers, cottontail rabbits, and evidence of raccoons, pack rats, and skunks. There were even reported sightings of beavers in the creek. My kids fished, swam and wandered into the “wilderness” alone, a luxury they do not have in the city. We had campfires and s’mores and dinner parties with friends. My children made homes for grasshoppers and minnows. They collected sherds of Native American pottery and flint from a dirt road leading up to the rim of the canyon.
Deer - Summer time

In this unpredictable space, we don’t know many things. On our walks, we don’t know if we’ll see deer, lightning bugs, rabbits, or a snake. The children peeking under rocks could find a toad, a black widow, a lizard or a centipede. Next year could bring rain with full creeks and springs, but it could also bring more drought, more dryness, yellowed land, and parched earth. The only certainty we have is how beautiful our surroundings are now. While we know that school will begin in one week, the need to plan, to worry, and to prepare becomes eclipsed by our desire to appreciate nature. We watch the green herons skim across the creek to catch perch or catfish. The Mississippi Kites circle high above the canyon without any indication of their future migration to South America. We also swim, canoe, catch minnows and bugs, savoring our last few days in the canyon without a hint of our own trajectory south, or the world that we ordinarily inhabit with bedtimes and order, traffic and schedules, and our own carefully constructed routine.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Reluctant or Rejoicing: A New School Year Begins

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As the new school year approaches, there are a myriad of feeling swirling about for both parents and kids. Many kids are thrilled to back to school shop, break out the new backpack and head off for a grand new adventure in their new grade. On the flip side, some students are anxious about their upcoming school year. These kids might have anxiety, or be at a new school, or just struggling this year.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Here are some tips to help start the school year off right no matter how your child is feeling.

Rejoicing Students:

1. Help them start off organized with folders, and new supplies.

2. Talk with them about what they are most excited about as school approaches.

3. Talk with them about what they can do if their feelings change. (Like when they learn their best friend is in a different class, or they did not get the teacher they wanted, etc…)

4. Celebrate the beginning of the school year with a fun breakfast!

5. After the first day have them share out what they liked best! Some kids might like to draw or write about their day as well. A new journal might be just the ticket!

Reluctant Students:

1. Talk about the things that are making them worry. Are their things that can be done to minimize these feelings? Talking to the new teacher? Touching base with the school counselor? A good friend?

2. Go through the morning routines before school starts. Practice what the morning will look like and what the kid will need to do so there are fewer surprises. For some students, a picture schedule may help.

3. Celebrate the new school year with a special breakfast. For some students their favorite or “regular” breakfast will be a source of comfort.

4. Help the student know what each item of school supplies are used for. Sometimes they will need practice putting items in folders, using parts of backpacks etc. Model with items at home so they have a better idea how to stay organized. For those student that struggle with executive function, or focus, this will be an ongoing lesson.

5. Talk about the positive things that will be happening at school. This could be a good friend to play with, a familiar routine, teachers they know, or fun events that happen at school.

Back-To-School

The most difficult part may be to gauge what category your child falls into because it may change day to day or minute to minute. Talking to the teacher or school staff if your child is really reluctant may help so they can have a heads up and try to quickly get your student involved as they enter the building. If you have more than one child the struggle may be to keep the rejoicing student from overwhelming the reluctant student OR it may be keeping the reluctant student from stealing the joy from the rejoicing student.

Good Luck on a brand new school year! Celebrate each small joy, small victory and focus on the positive. This will help all of the students in your life!

Back-To-School Crafting Roundup title

Back-to-School Crafting Roundup

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Back-to-School: whether it makes you want to shout, “Hooray!” or plug your ears in denial (sorry, teachers!) the beginning of the school year is just around the corner.

Back-To-School Crafting Roundup title

If you love to craft or want to make a little something special to celebrate the season, here are some ideas to inspire your Back-to-School Crafting:

Book Bags and Pencil Cases

Gifts for Teachers

  • What teacher wouldn’t love these notebook paper-style tote bags?
  • The technique for these Sharpie tie-dye book marks also works on fabric (t-shirts, tote bags, etc.)
  • I love the idea of this Teacher Emergency Kit! For those of us who don’t have vinyl stencil cutting machines, a red cross made out of washi tape or a decoupaged laser printer image with modge podge would work great.
  • This Apple Jar will never go bad, and you can fill with your favorite treat for your teacher.

Tech-related Makes

Simple Accessories

  • Infinity scarves are still trendy. This is a simple tutorial from Martha Stewart on making your own Infinity Scarf.
  • How about making a bunch of friendship bracelets to give to friends? This post has links for 15 Friendship Bracelet tutorials.
  • Make your own Lunch Bag (or 2 or 3 extras!)
  • Check out these 17 New Ways to Cover Your Books – not your typical tacky book covers!
  • These cute Monster Bookmarks are a great way to mark your place (and maybe help cure the corner-turning habit)!
  • Is your young person interested in learning to knit? These knitting instructions are kid-friendly and knitting is a great meditative and relaxing activity – a perfect way to take a break from studying.

Home Study & Organization DIY

  • If you have access to a staple gun, you can make a cute, fabric covered Lap Desk, no sewing required!
  • Back to school schedules can sometimes be hard to organize, this Magnetic Calendar DIY allows you to customize your family’s calendar in way that’s neat and organized.
  • Let your little person choose their perfect study are with this Portable Desk.
  • Does packing school lunches drive you crazy? Use this How To Pack Your Lunch printable to help foster your children’s independence and get them packing their own lunches.

See anything that inspires you? Have any favorite Back-To-School DIYs that we didn’t include? Please share them with us!