Embracing Motherhood 9 Tips for Getting Over First Trimester Morning Sickness and Tiredness

10 Tips for Getting Over First Trimester Morning Sickness and Fatigue

First trimester morning sickness (which doesn’t just hit in the morning, ahem) and the overwhelming tiredness that the first trimester brings can bring a rough start to the beginning of a pregnancy.

As I embark on this pregnancy with our fifth child, I’ve been overwhelmed with the tiredness and nausea, which maaaaay be a sign of twins, but since I won’t be able to rule that out for quite a few more weeks, I’ll settle for reflecting on my past experiences and a dabble of research to see what I should do to combat this nasty business. (*Update: It wasn’t twins!)

Why Women Get Tired During the First Trimester

During the first trimester, our bodies do something so amazing that it rivals the fact that we’re actually growing a living human being. Our bodies are making an organ…the placenta to be exact. This organ will nourish our baby (or babies) with both oxygen and food throughout the entire pregnancy, and so yes, we’re going to be a little extra tired during this process.

On top of this, our metabolism kicks into high gear, our hormones are increasing like crazy, and our blood sugar and blood pressure both tend to be lower. All of these things working together create the perfect storm for fatigue, but don’t worry, I have some ways to beat this! (Source)

Why Nausea Hits So Hard During the First Trimester

Now, this is a little more elusive than the fatigue question, and “no one really knows” why women get “morning sickness”. (Yes, morning sickness is a stupid name because it doesn’t just happen in the morning and the “no one really knows” things just always bother me…)

Almost 75% of all pregnant women will experience some sort of nausea or vomiting which can begin as early as 4 weeks, peak at about 8-10 weeks, and then taper off by about 14 weeks when the second trimester begins. Although, for some women it will last longer, and for a very small percentage, it could be hyperemesis gravidarum which is extreme vomiting that never lets you keep anything down.

One theory is that it is triggered by the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone that rises rapidly during pregnancy, which is why women pregnant with twins typically experience more nausea since they have higher levels of hCG. Estrogen also rises rapidly (along with progesterone) and could be another trigger. The heightened sense of smell, a sensitive stomach, and stress could also contribute to this “morning sickness”. (Source)

Tips and Tricks for Getting Over Morning Sickness and Fatigue

Even though nausea and fatigue are technically two different things, I have found their cures to be inextricably linked. For me, it’s like they work in tandem. By adhering to the following tips and tricks, I have been able to stave away extreme fatigue and nausea in my first four pregnancies, but now with our fifth baby, I’m wondering why I am feeling so particularly tired and nauseous. Could it be multiples or do I just need to take better care of myself? By adhering to the following tips and tricks for the last few days, I am already feeling a million times better.

1. Stay Away from Sugar

When you’re pregnant, your body is more sensitive to sugar. (Read more about why this causes women to experience more yeast infections and get gestational diabetes here.) This sensitivity peaks at about week 23, but it begins the moment you conceive.

Basically, you’ve learned that you’re pregnant, and so now that you’re “eating for two” you want to pig out on ice cream, doughnuts, and cake. But what happens when you do this is that your blood sugar spikes and then totally crashes leaving you feeling extremely tired afterwards. If you were already a “sugar burner” before pregnancy, it’s only going to get worse now.

I have always danced around hypoglycemia (pre-pre-gestational diabetes) with each pregnancy, and my sensitivity to sugar has continuously increased. Now, in my 5th pregnancy, I am going to do my best to avoid it on a regular basis. (But hey, there’s always special occasions, right?)

2. Stay Away from Processed Food

This kind of goes along with the sugar thing, but the reality is that you’re going to be hungry…A LOT…during this pregnancy, and it’s best to start some healthy habits so that whenever you do feel those hunger pains, you’re not stopping at McDonalds or grabbing a bag of Doritos.

Because most fast food and cheap processed food is void of nutrients, you’re just getting empty calories when you eat processed food. This is not going to energize you and make you feel alive and vibrant! It’s going to make you feel tired and sick. Now, for some people, a treat now and then is okay, and for other people, this is just a gateway for more and they must adhere to complete abstinence.

3. Eat Nutrient Dense Food

Finally, something you can do! If you only have 9 months to grow a human life including it’s brain, organs, tissues, and skin, you want it to be constructed out of the very best parts, and this is where nutrient dense foods come in. Grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and eggs, raw milk, butter, cheese, organic fruits and vegetables, organic and properly prepared grains and nuts are all foods FULL of nutrients. Basically, you want to eat food in as close to its original state as possible. (For more information about nutrient dense food, I highly recommend reading Nourishing Traditions or checking out the Weston Price website.)

Now, maybe you can’t always afford organic produce or pastured meats, and that’s okay. Just do the best you can with what you have.

4. Eat Small Meals

I feel like during pregnancy, I go through this viscous cycle where I’m STARVING, which makes me feel nauseous, and so I’ll eat a HUGE meal, which makes me feel extremely tired, and so I completely crash, and then the cycle threatens to continuously repeat itself.

Throughout my first four pregnancies and now this fifth pregnancy, I feel like most of my symptoms associated with nausea are usually because I’m hungry. But if instead of eating a large meal (especially one full of sugar and processed foods), I eat just a small one full of nutrient dense food, it usually gets rid of the nausea and leaves me feeling energized. Basically, I try to eat when I’m hungry and stop BEFORE I’m feeling totally full. And by having the house stocked with healthy, nutrient dense food, it makes it that much easier to grab something that’s good for me.

If I’m starving, I find it’s best to have something high in fat and protein. These are my go to snacks:

  • A handful of almonds or pecans
  • A glass of raw milk
  • Some crackers and cheese
  • A baked potato with butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives
  • Greek yogurt
  • boiled egg with salt
  • An apple with peanut butter

If I’m looking more for a meal, I’ll have:

If I’m looking for a lighter meal or snack, I’ll have:

  • Carrots, peas, cucumbers, etc. and ranch (or plain)
  • Popcorn with coconut oil
  • A big salad
  • Tomato salad with mozzarella balls, herbs, and italian dressing
  • Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.

If I have a sweet tooth:

5. Get More Sleep

I know this kind of sounds like a no-brainer…if you’re tired, get more sleep, duh! But easier said than done! We are such creatures of our routines, and it can be hard to change. When I’m not pregnant, I can survive easily on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. But when I’m pregnant, especially in the first trimester, I need MUCH more! Lately, I’ve been getting 9-10 hours of sleep a night, and I feel pretty darn good about it!

Basically, you’ll need to experiment with sleep to find your sweet spot where you feel well rested, but know that 9 hours of sleep are recommended per night for pregnant women in their first trimester.

6. Take Naps

I’m not one of those people who take long 2-3 hour naps and feel rested. Usually sleeping for that long actually makes me feel even more tired, but taking quick little 5-20 minute cat naps leave me feeling quite refreshed. When I’m feeling super duper tired (even when I still have a million things to do), I just plop down on my bed (light pouring through the windows and everything), close my eyes, and get up as soon as I feel my eyes flutter back awake.

Here’s some of the science behind why taking cat naps are so good for you, and how they will boost your energy, cognition, and health way more than a cup of coffee could. (I am not totally against coffee by the way, but on a side note, teeccino is a good coffee substitute.)

7. Cuddle More

I have four kids between the ages of 18 months and 6 years, and they ALL love to cuddle. I always have so much to cook, clean, and prepare, that it can be hard to find time to just plop down and cuddle, but when I do, it is something we all enjoy. Sometimes I’ll grab a book and read to any/all of them, other times I’ll just lay on the floor and watch them play, and occasionally I’ll wrap one or two up in my arms as they watch one of their favorite shows.

8. Get Moving

I know that when you’re tired and/or nauseous, the last thing you want to do is think about moving your body, but if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, a little cat nap, some cuddles, and some nutrient dense food and you’re still feeling tired and/or nauseous, get your butt off the couch and go for a walk or a bike ride! Put the kids in the stroller or in the bike cart and just move it! When I force myself to do this, even when I feel like I should just plaster myself to the couch, I always feel better afterwards. Getting some fresh air, sunshine, and the blood flowing fills me with endorphins, and I feel totally energized.

9. Yoga

This is the one thing I try to start my mornings with, and it not only makes a tremendous difference with how I feel during pregnancy, it also strengthens me for labor. When I was pregnant for Ruby and on summer vacation, I had time for really long yoga sessions, but now as a busy mom of four, I’m lucky to get ten minutes a day for this! Here are the yoga videos I have enjoyed.

You could also just go to your local library and see what prenatal yoga videos they have or type in “prenatal yoga” into a YouTube search bar and find one that suits you.

10. Supplements

Eating well, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep can do wonders, but during pregnancy especially, I think it’s good to have some good supplements. Here are the things that I like to use.

 

The Basics:

For Nausea:

  • Ginger: Ginger is known for helping with a variety of digestion issues including nausea. You can get a good ginger tea like this, or you can make your own by grating up some ginger root and boiling it with lemon and raw honey.
  • Peppermint: Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. You can get a good peppermint tea like this that works great, or sometimes just the scent of peppermint oil on a cotton ball in an inhaler stick works too. I would not recommend ingesting any peppermint oil, however. Read more about safety with essentials oils here.

In Conclusion

I really needed to write this blog as reminder for myself that as I embark on yet another journey of pregnancy, that I have to take care of myself! When we really listen to our bodies and respond to their signals, we can overcome so much. As I have started to take my own advice (especially the parts about allowing myself to sleep, taking naps, and eating healthy snacks), I already feel tons better! So, if you’re in your first trimester and you’re feeling nauseous and/or tired, slow down, listen to your body, and take care of yourself. You will be so glad that you did!

Pregnant with Baby #5!

With four children between the ages of 18 months and 6 years…girl, boy, girl, boy…we were starting to feel like our family was complete, but nature had its own idea of what our family size should be!

Here’s the story of how we discovered we were pregnant…with baby #5. You’ll notice I’ve included the range of emotions which are truly the heart of this story.

June 8th, 2016

Every time I feel a bit fat, I take a pregnancy test thinking, “Of course that’s the reason why I can’t lose these few pounds!” So three days ago when my pants were feeling a little bit tight, I peed on a stick.

A little while later, Scott came home for lunch. After we had cuddled and talked a bit, I pulled out the pregnancy stick not yet having looked at it myself. “I’m sure it’s negative,” I explained, “I know we’ve been careful every single time.” It was the fancy kind of stick (with a cap for the pee end and everything), and neither of us were surprised to see that there was a big negative sign sticking out at us.

For some reason, I left the stick lying on our bathroom counter, and when I looked at it the next day with the sunlight pouring through the window, I noticed a faint hint of a line that would complete the plus sign. I was certain that it was just saturated or something since I had left it sitting out overnight, but nonetheless, I texted Scott saying,

“I have some crazy news!”

He called me right away, but thought that the fact that all of the kids were still sleeping at 8 a.m. to be more shocking than a faint line that probably didn’t mean anything anyways.  We talked instead about how he would help me load up the little ones in the van during his long lunch break as we went to pick up Ruby from her last day of 1st grade and celebrate with ice cream.

Before he got home, I peed on another stick…just because of mother’s intuition. This time, it was just one of the cheap pregnancy sticks that I buy in bulk and use every time I miss my period or if my pants are a little too tight. Within minutes, the second line (that indicates pregnancy) started to show up. This wasn’t a faint line that could be explained by faulty mechanisms. This was a real deal, in your face, pay attention to me, I am telling you something kind of line. I was shocked, I was giddy, and I stifled a giggle as my glee threatened to take over.

Just as Scott was trying to scarf down a few bites of lunch before we headed out the door, I told him about the second pregnancy test. His fork froze mid bite, the color drained out of his face, and he said,

“Well, I guess the next time we need to use protection, I’ll have to cut my balls off.”

So yes, definitely a strong first reaction, but wait for it…

When we got in the car, I was all ready to start talking about our birthing plan down to every last little detail, but he was still in shock, and I knew he needed some time to process this information before diving into the details. We talked nervously of other things but held hands and smiled sweetly at each other the entire drive.

We had a fine time greeting Ruby after her last day and enjoyed some cupcakes and ice cream to go since by the time we left Ruby’s school Ophelia started screaming, “I want to go to bed!” (Her modus operandi these days.) The rest of the afternoon was a blur as I stayed busy absent-mindedly putzing around.

When Scott came home from work, I could tell that the reality of the positive pregnancy test was hitting him because as soon as he saw me, he looked me in the eyes with excitement and glee and said,

“We’re going to have a baby!”

We hugged and giggled and talked about the absurdity of it all. I mean, we actually were thinking of trying in August so that the baby would be born at the end of the next school year, but as that date approached, we found ourselves talking more and more about how complete we felt with four and how full our lives were and so on.

It was like, even though we love our kids and love having kids, consciously choosing to have more felt like wielding too much power. The fact that it just happened without our planning truly makes this feel like a miracle baby because I don’t know if it would have happened otherwise.

Telling the Children

We waited until the next day to tell the children because there was just too much going on before that. We weren’t sure really how to do it, but I knew that I wanted to find just the right moment. So after dinner, we gathered Ruby (6) and Elliot (5) on a sheet outside while Ophelia (3) and Julian (1) played in the little swimming pool nearby. I told them that they would each get three guesses and that if anyone guessed right they would get ice cream.

“My guess is that we’re going to have another baby!” Ruby guessed first. (Wow! how perceptive!)

“Elliot, what do you think?” I asked.

“I think we’re going to have another baby,” he copied. (He knows when to listen to his sister!)

“Okay,” I said, trying not to give any indication that that was in fact the right answer, “Do you have any other guesses?”

Elliot proceed to guess that we would get a new towel or that he was going to grow another head. Ruby’s other two guesses were that something special was going to happen to either me or daddy.

“Well,” I said, “You guys were both right on your first guess; we’re going to have another baby!” Ruby squealed with delight, and Elliot followed suit. Everyone hugged and then Ruby started running around the yard chanting, “We’re going to have a baby! We’re going to have a baby!” Scott asked them each if they hoped it would be a boy or girl. Elliot expressed that he only wanted a boy, and Ruby said that she knew that it would be a girl because that was the pattern in our family.

When I tucked Ruby into bed tonight, we had the cutest conversation in the whole world which inspired me to write down this story in the first place. Usually, we read together while cuddled up in her bed, but tonight I said, “Let’s just talk.” As we chatted about the new baby, I was just blown away by her insight and by her desire to help. I told her how with four kids, I felt a little overwhelmed already, and that I would probably need a lot of help. She bolted up in bed, put her hands out in front of her for emphasis, and said,

“Don’t even worry about a thing mom, we’ve got you covered!”

She went on to explain how I needed to take advantage of her and Daddy over the summer to get everything prepared for the new baby and added (in all seriousness), “And I won’t even charge you any money!”

She absolutely beamed, and I saw a joy and pride sweep over her face like never before when I told her about all of her amazing qualities. “You are going to be such a big help to me,” I told her honestly, “You already help me out so much with the little ones. Why, just today, you made sure Julian didn’t go into the road while I got the mail, and you’ve taught Ophelia so much about reading. The little ones look up to everything that you and Elliot do. That’s why Julian is eating so good with a fork, I never taught him, he just watches you!”

We continued to chat, and Ruby, ever the planner (just like her mother), wanted to talk about all of the things we would need to do to get ready for the baby. We talked about baby clothes, bassinets, and how Ophelia would need to potty train so we wouldn’t have three in diapers and sleep in her Dora bed so we could use her crib. I felt like we could have chatted long in to the night, but my eyes were already starting to close, and I still wanted to write this…

“Do you want to leave your light on so you can read my dear?” I asked her. She thought about it for a moment and said,

“I’m going to turn it off because I think better in the dark, and right now, I have a lot to think about. There are so many things that we need to prepare. I am just so excited for this baby!”

When she said that, my heart melted into a gigantic puddle of goo. As I blew her a kiss, shut the door, and felt the butterflies dance in my stomach over the thought of this new little person growing in my belly, I knew that this was meant to be. It was all always meant to be Just. Like. This.

In Conclusion

Lately, with Julian weaning, and everyone needing me less and less, I’ve started to think about the future…what will I do with more free time, how can I start contributing more financially, and so on, but with the news of a new baby, it’s like I can breathe a great big sigh of relief and focus entirely on the one thing that I was meant to do, the one thing that I’m better at than anything else I’ve ever done, and the one thing that unites our marriage, causes us to fall even more in love with each other every day, and gives us a sense of peace and purpose more than any raise, promotion, or other accolade ever could…a baby…a tiny little baby to hold, to love, to nurture, and to complete us all.

I wanted to share this story first of all because it’s beautiful, but also to show our thought process and our range of emotions. At first, we thought we had our lives all planned and figured out. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. So many times I hear of families stopping at one or two, or not even trying at all, and while that is totally fine, and I completely understand that some people are very happy that way, I just want to say, don’t let fear be the reason to stop you from letting nature take its course.

Money has a way of being stretched, time has a way of making you let go of the little things to extend it, career goals shift and change when you put them on hold, siblings love having more siblings, you actually find MORE time to be intimate with your spouse, and there are no limits to how far your love can stretch.

Now, I’m not saying to go poke holes in your diaphragm or anything (and NO, I did NOT do that!), but sometimes men can be hard to convince when it comes to wanting any or more children. They don’t have the same hormones and yearnings that women do. Their love for children grows gradually and exponentially…more so with each child in fact. This is actually because of their hormones and how they change with each child. If you want more, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. Find a time when he’s happy, and if he says yes, even for a day…GO FOR IT!

Because in the end, having children hasn’t been something that we do, it becomes who we are. And when we’re two old farts sitting on a porch swing, reminiscing about the “good ole days”, we won’t be alone. We will be surrounded by an entire future generation that will bring us joy until our dying breaths, and that is something I don’t think we will ever regret in the slightest.

4 kids

Elliot (5), Julian (1), Ophelia (3), Ruby (6)

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Mudpit for Summer Fun

How to Make a Mud Pit for Summer Fun

“You want to make a mud pit…on purpose…in our yard?!?” I can imagine your spouse yelling as you try to present the idea of creating a mud pit in your backyard, but hear me out…

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

We kind of made our mud pit on accident when we were trying to cover a dirt hill with sod (which is a story for another blog post), and in the process, I noticed how much the kids absolutely loved playing on a hill of pure dirt. They would climb up it, roll down it, dig tunnels through it and holes in it, and basically get really, really muddy. We would have to strip them down before they entered the house, and it created a lot of messy laundry.

Well, the hill was eventually covered with sod, and the parts that weren’t covered sprung up with grass and other foliage, but the hole that we dug the sod out of still remained, ready to be used. We originally were going to make another sandbox on top to mimic the one we liked at Blandford Nature Center, but well, we kind of ran out of money and were looking for a cheaper alternative.

I had a bunch of leftover seeds and plants from planting our summer garden and the kids were still begging for another dirt hill, so I went to work digging and made a dirt hill surrounded by a moat, surrounded by a path, surrounded by some plants. We stretched three hoses connected together to allow water to flow to the furthest regions of our yard, and walla! Mud pit!

Materials

Directions

  1. Plan It. Find a space in your yard that will be just perfect for a mud pit…preferably away from any pools you have, not right near the front door, but close enough to a water source.
  2. Dig It. Using a pointy shovel, dig out small squares of sod. You can use them to build a small grassy hill if you’d like. Just place the sod pieces on top of each other. Eventually they will settle in and make a nice little hill. Our kids love playing on ours!
  3. Shape It. Try to give it your mud pit some character. Build it up high in some spaces, level it out in others, use your imagination, and try to visualize how your kids will use it. I really think having a moat type structure is a good idea because it traps the water in and makes it more usable.
  4. Use It. I highly encourage all play in the mud pit to be conducted with bathing suits on! This way, kids can be sprayed off with a hose, jump through a sprinkler, or jump into a kiddie pool to get clean afterwards! With a few shovels, buckets, and watering cans, this mud pit has entertained our kids and their friends for hours.
Playing in the Mud Pit

Playing in the Mud Pit

Conclusion

Yes, making a sandbox is probably an overall cleaner project, and one that our kids have enjoyed just as much, but there is just something so primal about a mud pit that I think all kids should have a chance to experience. Being able to interact with nature, feeling the cool mud with its abundance of free electrons boosting your immune system, getting completely filthy, and creating, digging, and exploring the properties of mud are all hallmarks of any good childhood.

10 Things You Need to Know About Natural and Induced Labor

By Guest Blogger: Regina Due

Author Bio: A parenting writer, Regina empowers women through her writing and parenting tips. If she’s not writing, you can catch her surfing the web for what’s new at Fertile Mind.

10 Things You Need to Know About Natural and Induced Labor

Every birthing experience is different. Not only from one woman to another but even from your first born to your second. While controlling every aspect of the labor process is out of the question, arming yourself with knowledge about what you can expect is something that you should work on, as much as you work on preparing all of the physical things for when your newborn arrives.

There are two ways labor can be initiated — naturally and through inducement and the following are ten things you need to know about these two processes so that you can feel more prepared.

Definition of the Two

Natural labor comes about organically with your body starting the process on its own while with induced labor, the pain in started artificially by medication in the cervix, through a drip or via other methods.

Choosing between the Two

There isn’t really an option to choosing between natural or induced labor. You have no control over natural labor and when it comes to induced labor, only certain factors will impel the medical team to start labor pains such as you being two weeks past your due date, having an infection in your uterus; having high blood pressure or diabetes are some of the most common reasons.

Encouraging Natural Labor

You may not have control over your body but you can stimulate it into going into labor naturally with a few things. Exercise is always a good option, especially in those last few weeks of your pregnancy. Sex is another good way of helping your body go into labor naturally. Other things like spicy food, acupressure and even a bumpy car ride have been pointed out as helping to encourage the body to start labor naturally.

Movement

With natural labor you are more likely to be able to move around in your hospital room, sit on the ball and try certain exercises or stretching but with induced labor you are more likely to be bed bound, attached to the drip and being monitored while you endure the labor pains.

Induction Risks

While there aren’t any risks other than the usual ones that come with child birth when it is a natural labor, with an induced labor there are some added risks such as that of having a higher chance of giving birth through a C-section, especially if your cervix is not ready for birth. Other risks like “fetal distress,” infections and umbilical cord problems could also be caused by induced labor.

Timespan

Induced labor means your body has been given the push it needs to set itself into labor mode but that doesn’t mean you will give birth more quickly than those with a natural labor. Regardless of how your labor starts, this process will last depending on other factors.

Different Labor Hormones

When you go into labor naturally it means your body is ready for it and there are the hormones geared to pulse their way with your every contraction. With induced labor, your body is not ready yet and so artificial hormones are used during the labor process.

Not Eating Much

Since induced labor comes with an increased risk of you giving birth via C-section, you won’t be allowed to eat as much as you feel like during labor because of this possible surgical procedure.

Different Contractions

While all women can vouch for the pain felt during labor, women who have gone through both natural and an induced labor have said that with the latter the contractions feel “more intense,” they last longer and “they’re harder because they aren’t as productive” as those from a natural labor where the body is naturally wanting to gear up for the baby.

Adapt to the Restrictions

With induced labor forcing you to stay in bed more than natural labor, preparing yourself mentally is key to not allowing the experience to stress you too much. Practicing mindfulness throughout your pregnancy, doing proper breathing exercises and most importantly meditation, are all things that will help you to overcome the pain and the frustration of being bed bound, so that even though the experience will be hard, you will have as much control over your state of mind as possible, and create a great environment to welcome your baby in.

Embracing Motherhood Teaching Children in Their Zone of Proximal Development

How to Set Learning Goals for Young Children

As a former teacher and now parent, would you expect anything less than me setting learning goals for my children? 🙂 But this isn’t about me trying to breed academically superior children (although they probably will be), it’s about me wanting to give my children the best childhood possible…and guess what? Children actually LOVE learning!

What Are Learning Goals?

As a teacher, my learning goals were tied into grade level expectations and state standards (Common Core), but now as a parent, I have the freedom to look at where my children are…not where they should be. By teaching my children in their zones of proximal development, I am able to create learning goals and activities to accompany them that match the exact strengths, interests, and developmental levels of each individual child.

Learning goals can pertain to a desired behavior, the next steps in an academic progression (reading, writing, math), an artistic or musical goal, a concept or idea, a new understanding, movement, or anything.

Setting and Using Learning Goals

Here are a series of steps that I follow to set and use learning goals for each of my children. If you would like to see examples of these learning goals check out my blog: Examples of Learning Goals That I Use with My Children.

1. Know Where They Are

Being a stay at home mom has truly been a blessing in my life. I love being home with my little ones and having the time to really get down on the floor with them and play. Sure I have my hands full with laundry and preparing healthy meals, but my favorite parts of the day are just spent immersed in whatever my children want to do.

On any given day, I can be found building Lego towers, tickling and wrestling, reading piles of books, playing catch outside, using our imaginations and dress up clothes to transport ourselves to new worlds, playing music on the keyboard, making Play-Doh creations, doing flashcard activities, playing Starfall, or any other number of things. I just love to let my children lead me to what they want to do and then get lost in their worlds with them.

When I get down on the floor and play with my children, it really helps me to know first hand what things they are good at, what things they enjoy doing, what they are curious about, where their passions lie, and what things they are struggling with.

For example, when I play imagination games with Elliot, I can see how crazy obsessed he is with getting into these imaginary worlds where good versus evil, and I think, “How can I bring this idea into reading? Could I make some favorite things books with his favorite characters and give them word bubbles? How can I help him to expand his imaginary world? Are there some new problems and solutions that I can show him that he can use in his made up world?”

2. Discuss It

It’s one thing to just think about it, but these thoughts can get lost in the daily minutia if we don’t express them somehow. I am constantly talking to my husband about each of our children. We love talking throughout the day and into the night after the kids are all in bed about all of the cute, funny, and amazing things they are doing. We also like to discuss the things they are struggling with along with possible solutions.

I also love keeping journals where I record the milestones and special moments of our daily lives, and sometimes I will even make charts with each child’s learning goals. Through thinking, writing, and/or communicating in some form about where my children are, it helps me to be able to visualize where to take them next.

3. Set Learning Goals

Each child is completely unique and different. I don’t think about what they need to learn before kindergarten, I don’t worry about what other kids their age are doing, and I don’t go to the Internet to look up “preschool activities” or something overly general of that nature. I just look at them, listen to them, observe them, think, get in their minds, and let my creative juices flow as I ponder,

“What would excite them? What would engage them? What would they love to do over and over and over?”

Sometimes, we have a technical goal to work on like correcting a backwards letter in writing or pronouncing a word correctly, but mostly, I like to set goals according to each child’s strengths and interests.

*To see examples of specific learning goals that I’ve set for each of my children and what I do to to help them achieve them, check out my blog here.

4. Share with the Children

Whenever I set a learning goal, I like to share it with each child. For the younger ones, I don’t explicitly say, “This is your learning goal”, but with my 2 year old, I might say something like,

“You’re reading all of the words on the whole page! I’m so proud of you for reading so well! You’re learning how to be a reader!”

With my older ones, I’ll either write down their learning goals or just talk to them about it. For Ruby (6 years old), I would say,

“I’ve noticed that you’re really interested in meiosis and mitosis. What would you like to know more about? Would you like to make a poster or a book to show what you are learning?”

Or with Elliot (4 years old) I would say,

“You are really good at addition and subtraction. I think you’re ready to start learning about multiplication! What do you think?”

When we praise children for vague and general behaviors simply giving the old standard, “Good job!” they lose sight of why they were doing a certain activity. “Is the ultimate goal to get praise?” they might wonder. But by praising them for specific actions, ideas, or behaviors, we are using praise to actually help their brains give a name to what they are learning, and this helps them to form their identities. (To read more about children and praise, check out my blog: When You Tell Children They are Smart It Actually Makes them Dumb.)

I like to encourage my older children to set their own goals too. Sometimes I’ll just say,

“What would you like to get better at?”

Or I might give them a little more guidance and say, “We’ve been learning a lot about the body and how it works, what would you like to learn about next?”

4. Find the Time to Teach

It can be hard finding specific teaching times, especially if you’re like me with a bunch of little ones, but instead of designating certain teaching times of the day (or year), I simply find ways to embed teachable moments throughout each day.

Many people have asked my why I don’t homeschool my children. Read my blog here if you want to read the long answer, but the short answer is that I’m doing homeschool all the time. From the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed, during summer break, winter break, spring break, and even on the weekends, I am always looking for teachable moments. My entire home is set up for learning, and I’m always looking for ways to make our environment conducive for learning in a fun and engaging way.

Throughout the day, I balance getting things done, dealing with basic needs, and finding time for teachable moments.

It’s like I have this little dial in my brain that keeps track of who had one on one time last, who needs it next, who seems to need more of it, who needs a little nudge, who is doing wonderfully on their own, and so on.

While I try to balance things out during the day, sometimes my balancing is a little more long term. For example, I might feel like there’s one particular child who needs my attention more than the others, and so I’ll really work to make that child the focus for an extended number of days.

5. Teaching

Teaching in my home as a parent looks very different from what teaching looked like in my classroom. As a teacher, I would see all 28 students like one gigantic mega blob student that I had to keep under control at all times. When I would get ready to teach a lesson, I would either gather everyone up to circle time or have them sit in their seats as I would begin with an anticipatory set to get their attention. I would then launch into a mini-lesson where I would make the learning goals very clear. Next, I would model what I expected, give students guided practice (working with me in a small group, working with others in small groups, working in pairs, working with an aide, etc.), and then give them a chance to practice what they learned independently.

Now, as a parent, all of these steps are intermingled and actually, most of the learning takes place with the two of us side by side going through things together. In this way, the learning always stays in their zone of proximal development, and I’m able to scaffold appropriately where needed.

As Elliot and I are sitting on the floor together playing with Legos for example, I’m modeling how to build a multi-dimensional tower as he works on his own. He might look over at mine and use some of my ideas, or he might continue on his own path. As we play, I encourage him to talk out loud about what he is doing, and I listen asking questions along the way. Every once in awhile, I might suggest something new, like I might take a toy figure and have him climb on Elliot’s tower saying, “Hey, what’s going on up here?”

The bottom line is that as a parent working one on one with my child, I’m able to make the learning outcomes open ended. As a teacher, it was very hard to design lessons and activities where the students could have the freedom to go in their own direction while trying to hold both them and myself accountable. I think that the learning is far more engaging when children can decide their own direction. It also takes a lot of the pressure off from me to try to guide them to just regurgitate the right answer.

I’ll share another example with Ruby and a writing project. I know that she’s really good writing single words and short phrases, but she hasn’t been able to write complete sentences or paragraphs independently very well. So the other day I suggested we do some writing about her favorite topic, Digimon. “Would you like to write a story or make a favorite things book?” I asked her. She chose to make a favorite things book and excitedly gathered all of her materials.

As she glued each of her favorite characters down and wrote about them, I actually didn’t really do or say anything to guide her along. I just listened. I was an audience. I asked her questions or talked about what was interesting and I helped her to spell a few words, but I wasn’t trying to force her to do something my way.

I knew that whatever she created would be amazing…and it was.

6. Independent Practice

Once I sit side by side with my children and help them navigate through a new activity, it then becomes something that they can do independently.

When I work with my children on new learning goals and new activities to support these learning goals, I like to think about guiding them towards activities that they can do independently for extended periods of time.

In this way, my “homeschool not homeschool” day usually functions with everyone working on independent centers which frees me up to work one on one with a child, with a few children, or to get caught up on some cooking, housework, or take care of the baby.

We don’t have just one playroom or one designated homeschool room where all of the learning takes place. Instead, I have little areas set up around the house where learning can take place, and let me tell you why. First of all, even though my four children do like to all play together sometimes, other times, they like to be alone. I often hear an older one scolding a younger one for taking his or her toys and I always have to remind them, “You used to be just the same way until _____ (us, older sibling) taught you how to play.” At any rate, it’s nice to have things spread out so that they can be spread out.

Another benefit for spreading things out is that I usually have work to do in just about every room (particularly the kitchen), and I like to have them nearby me so I can hear what’s going on. The final and most important reason I like things spread out is that I find that children seem to do more with less. They like little spaces with a minimal amount of toys where they can use everything. Sometimes a gigantic playroom with lots of toys can seem overwhelming. As an added bonus, as kids migrate from room to room, it’s easier to pick up after them.

In Conclusion

By setting individualized learning goals for our children, I can be ready to jump into teachable moments as they arise. When children are gently scaffolded in their zones of proximal development and given the freedom to learn in an open ended environment, I think they can make the most amount of growth in the areas that are of the most interest to them. The amazing thing about setting learning goals (like these) is that instead of performing “at grade level”, your children will blow all of your expectations out of the water and take you to places you would have never even dreamed possible.

Happy learning!

How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive

With school out and summer upon us, I find myself wondering how I can make the best use of time with all of my children. Yes, I want to sleep in late, be outside as much as possible, go to the beach, make forts, be silly, and have the freedom to do whatever we want at a moment’s notice, but by having routines in place, I can ensure that my children continue to learn and grow while we have fun together.

The Importance of Routines

I am a huge fan of routines, and as a teacher and now a parent, I have seen them work wonders in many situations.

When routines are in place, especially ones that allow for flexibility, kids feel safe and can run on autopilot without constant hovering and redirection.

After my daughter has been in kindergarten all year, and will now be spending her summer days with her three younger siblings, I knew that a routine for her and her four year old brother especially would be very beneficial to keep them productive, to minimize the fighting, and to minimize them wanting to just watch TV or play on their ipads all day.

Using Charts

I am also a big fan of making charts, and I love how making them with my children gets them to buy in to what I’m trying to teach them. I usually set up the structure for the charts on my own, then get their input as I begin to fill it out, fill in most of the rest of it on my own, and then get their final input. They especially like to get their help with the coloring!

Ruby Helping Me Color Our Charts

Ruby Helping Me Color Our Charts

For the purpose of this summer routine chart, I knew that I would need to provide my kids with routine, ideas, and flexibility, so I decided to include our daily routine, ideas for activities they could do, and a separate goal chart to remind all of us of what they needed to work on.

homeschool summer school and goal chart

Summer School and Goal Charts

Your charts have to work for you and your kiddos. They have to reflect both your needs and theirs. I have a lot of work to do around the house on a daily basis, and I need to spend a lot of time with the younger two, so my charts reflect this. I also want to be able to guide and scaffold my children during teachable moments, and these charts serve as a good reminder for how I can use my time wisely with them.

Setting Up a Learning Environment

I know that my teaching experience may make it easier for me to get into “teacher mode”, but the things that I do are so simple and easy that anyone could do them.

The number one thing that I do is create a stimulating learning environment.

I believe that children like to learn, they like to be challenged, and they like to stay busy. By setting up little learning stations all over the house, I can ensure that my children can do all of these things independently. This also allows me to jump in at opportune “teachable moments” to help scaffold them to the next level. (Check out how I set up a learning environment in my blog: How to Create an Environment that Encourages Independent Play and Learning.)

Activities

I am a big advocate of giving children choices, and the charts allow children to see what all of the possibilities are. Sometimes I like to make a big list of all possible activities so my kids know what all of these are and sometimes just need a reminder of all that is possible. When thinking about new activities for my children to do, I like to create learning goals to guide the activity choices. (To read about how I write learning goals, check out this article, and to read some examples of learning goals that I have created for my children, click here.)

Examples of Activities:

  • Imagination games
  • Dress up
  • Reading
  • Coloring
  • Write a story
  • Favorite things books
  • Play music
  • Build with Legos or blocks
  • Board games
  • Play outside
  • Rock garden

Usually, my children know how to use their imaginations to entertain themselves (because I’ve worked really hard on this with them), but if they ever falter, then I just drop what I’m doing and get down on the floor and play with them to help scaffold them to independence.

Daily Routine

After writing out a list of all of the activities, I created our daily routine.

I wanted to create a routine that would get them to use the best parts of their brain first thing in the morning.

I have found that we can all be most productive if we get up and get dressed right away. My oldest daughter is so used to this anyways from her school routine and both her and my four year old (who will be attending preschool next year) will need to do it again, so I think it’s best to leave it in place. I also needed something that would allow me to do some direct instruction, but also allow me some flexibility if I need to be with the younger two. You’ll need to tailor your daily routine to meet your specific needs, but here is what works for me.

  1. Get Dressed/Bathroom
  2. Eat Breakfast
  3. Brush Teeth
  4. 2 Workbook Pages – Handwriting, ABCs, basic math, cursive, mazes, etc.
  5. 1 Chore – Pick up, clean room, help with laundry, cooking, etc.
  6. 3 Activities – The workbook pages, chore, and activities can occur in any order.
  7. Lunch
  8. Choice Time (Rest Time) – When the little ones take a nap, the big kids can watch a movie (any length), watch one hour of an educational program, or play an educational game on the computer for one hour.
  9. More Activities
  10. Free Choice – If the big kids are good and do all of their workbooks, activities, and chores, then they can have 30 minutes to do whatever they’d like. (Lately it’s watching Digimon on Netflix or toy videos on YouTube)
  11. Daddy’s Home!

*I updated this routine June 2016 after we decided to take a break from ipads, touchscreens, and video games for a bit. (Find out why here.)

Goals

I like to tell my children specifically what they are good at (Check out by blog: When You Tell Your Children They Are Smart, It Actually Makes Them Dumb to see how I use specific praise.) and in addition to that, I like to talk to them about what they should be working on next. So with Ruby, for example, who at 5 is reading fluently at a 3rd grade level, we are going to start focusing more on writing. With Elliot (4), we will be working on reading skills and basic math, with Ophelia (2) we will be working on reading as well as language development, and Julian (1) is all about beginning reading and vocabulary development.

While it is helpful for the children to know what their goals are, it is even more helpful for me so that I can keep my mind aware of where each child is and what he/she is working on.

Then, I can design learning stations, create activities, and look for resources to support each of their goals. Click here to see my blog about learning goals that I set for my children.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • It will seem really hard at first, but it will get easier. The first day always seems impossible and like an incredible amount of work, but the longer you stick with it, the easier it will get. After about a week, they will get the “feel” for their new routine, and you will be surprised how well they do with it.
  • Find time to fill their tanks first. I love trying to find one on one time to play and cuddle with each child as soon after they wake up as possible. Once their tanks are full of love and cuddles, it’s much easier for them to play independently.
  • Create an independent environment. Make sure that there are games they can take out, toys they can play with, and activities they can be engaged in that don’t require your direct involvement or supervision.
  • Be consistent. Be really strict and consistent in the beginning, otherwise they will know that the routine is merely a suggestion instead of “just the way things are”. No matter how much you want to take a shower or get some free time, don’t turn on the TV no matter how much they beg! If you give in even once, it will set a prescience for future behavior.
  • Be patient, you’ll get some time for you…eventually. When the summer first comes, I initially say goodbye to any free time I ever had, but once we settle into our new routine, I start to find more pockets of time for myself.

When Things Aren’t Working

It’s inevitable that problems will arise even with the best laid plans.

One of the best lessons I ever learned as a teacher is that if you see a routine not working, don’t try to change it right away.

For example, one day in my 3rd grade classroom, I noticed that as we got lined up to go to lunch it was too chaotic, too noisy, and it was just not working. It was a gradual progression that all of a sudden came to a head, and I knew that something would have to be done.

Rather than talk to the students about the way they were lining up and how it was not okay in the moment, I bit my tongue and I waited. When they came back from lunch, I planted a seed by asking them how things went. Kids started sharing about how it was noisy, how it took a long time, and how we were late for lunch. I simply told them that we’d try to do better the next day.

The next day, I had a chart ready. I made the title “Lining Up” and then made two columns. One said, “Looks Like” and the other had the words “Doesn’t Look Like”. Then, long before we needed to line up for lunch, I had the kids act out what it would look like to do a really bad job of lining up. We wrote down on the chart paper all of the things they observed. Then, I had them act out what it should look like, and we wrote down on the chart what that looked like too.

When we lined up for lunch that day, it went so smoothly, I could hardly believe the difference. After lunch, we talked about how it went, and they were very pleased with themselves.

Every day for the next week, I reflected on the chart, and then after awhile, I didn’t need to anymore. Every once in awhile, they needed a reminder, but for the most part, things ran smoothly for the rest of the year.

We make a huge mistake when we simply bark orders at children to do better without really showing them what that looks like. If we can take the time to be very clear with our expectations and make sure that they understand what those expectations look like, then children will have a much easier time of doing what we expect them to do. This is why I think it’s very important to be clear about your summer routine and be consistent with your expectations.

How Our First Day Went

The biggest struggle we had was getting dressed. Whenever Ruby doesn’t have to go to school, she loves staying in her pajamas and will often want to stay in them all day. This is all well and good on the weekends, but during the week, I want to create a sense of formality and a sense of pride about our day that transcends pajamas. By getting dressed, brushing our teeth, and brushing our hair even if we won’t see anyone else, I feel that it instills a sense of pride and purpose. At any rate, it makes me feel better, and I like doing it, but try explaining this to a five year old! *Update: One year later, June 2016, Ruby and Elliot get dressed on their own without complaint every single morning. Yeah!

After that, the kids were really excited to all be together, and they loved the idea of “Homeschool Summer School”. They were very motivated to do their activities, and they worked very well independently. I think this was because this is so similar to what we do on a normal basis anyways. Because they are so used to independent play, they didn’t need much guidance from me. I would help them get started on new projects, scaffold them a bit, and when they were done, give them a reminder to clean up. It was a great day, and it’s going to be a great summer!

Elliot is Learning How to Write His Name

Elliot is Learning How to Write His Name


Ruby Coloring Her 1st Grade Writing Packet

Ruby Coloring Her 1st Grade Writing Packet


Ophelia Loves Learning Her ABCs using leapfrog abc games

Ophelia Loves Learning Her ABCs!


Julian Doing Tummy Time

Julian Doing Tummy Time


Elliot Reading a Star Wars Book

Elliot Reading a Star Wars Book


IMG_3394

Ruby Reading “A Book with No Pictures” by BJ Novak


Ophelia Loves Reading Dora Books

Ophelia Loves Reading Dora Books


Julian and I are Having a Conversation

Julian and I are Having a Conversation


Elliot Playing with His Mini Figures

Elliot Playing with His Mini Figures


Ruby Playing the Keyboard...and Feeling It!

Ruby Playing the Keyboard…and Feeling It!


Using Unifix Cubes During Imaginative Play

Elliot is Using Unifix Cubes During Imaginative Play


Ophelia is Mesmerized with Balls and Ramps

Ophelia is Mesmerized with Balls and Ramps


Making healthy oatmeal cookies with kids

Making Cookies!


Elliot Playing with Legos

Elliot Playing with Legos


Ruby Collecting Leaves

Ruby Collecting Leaves


Ruby, Elliot, and Ophelia Playing Together

Ruby, Elliot, and Ophelia Playing Together


Elliot is King of His Domain

Elliot is King of His Domain

In Conclusion

If you have children, summer is a fun time for them to take a break from school and enjoy playing outside in some much needed sunshine and fresh air. (Especially if you live in a place like Michigan where you are trapped inside by the weather for at least 9 months of the year.) But I believe that children need more than just undirected play all day. I feel like they thrive most when they are challenged and can see themselves grow. If you are fortunate enough to be able to stay home with your children over the summer, then I think that devoting a bit of time in the morning towards learning will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Happy learning, and here’s to a great summer!

Embracing Motherhood Setting and Achieving Learning Goals for Young Children

Examples of Learning Goals That I Use with My Children

I love setting learning goals with my children so that I can keep track of where they are and what I can do to help facilitate their growth to the next level. Teaching children in the zone of proximal development helps me to achieve this. By scaffolding their learning to where they are, not where they should be as deemed by grade level and age level expectations, I can help each child grow in a way that fits their specific needs.

Even though we are involved in public education, I still design a homeschool atmosphere for my younger ones who are home with me all the time and the older ones who are learning at home after school, on the weekends, during breaks, and over the summer. During the summer months, I am especially focused on their goals because it helps me to establish a successful and productive routine.

Examples of Learning Goals

How I set learning goals is just as important as what the learning goals are, but I thought it best to separate these topics into two separate posts. By seeing a brief description of each child along with their learning goals and how I can facilitate their learning, I hope to provide a clear picture of what it means to set learning goals.

These goals are always shifting and changing depending on their interests and moods, my interests and available time, the time of year, whether or not everyone is sick, how much sleep I got the night before, and so on. Sometimes I write them down, but usually I just tuck them away in the back of my mind. I don’t follow some strict daily schedule, but rather try to incorporate these learning goals into our daily routines and into the one on one time I spend with each of them throughout the day.

*Note: I wrote this article a year ago, and am finally publishing it now, so my current learning goals are different.

1. Julian (11 Months)

Julian is the happiest little baby you’ll ever meet. He gets to have his mom at home all the time and breastfeeds on demand. After he gets lots and lots of love and cuddles from me, he loves to crawl around like crazy and explore his world. He is very fascinated by whatever his siblings are doing, and he loves chasing around our cat! He also loves watching Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly aren’t available anymore so we are currently making our own videos) and cuddling up on my lap to read interactive books.

Julian’s Learning Goals

  • Learn about his environment
  • Crawl safely
  • Go up and down the stairs
  • Walk
  • Babble and talk
  • Learn how to make different sounds
  • Learn about the names of things that he interacts with in his environment
  • Say words
  • Turn the pages in a book
  • Interact with books
  • Grasp objects
  • Play with toys
  • Interact with others
  • Play independently

What I Can Do to Facilitate Julian’s Learning Goals

  • Babyproof the house so he can explore freely
  • Sit behind him as he learns about the stairs
  • Hold his hands to help him walk
  • Sit him on my lap and let him explore my mouth as I make exaggerated sounds
  • Have conversations with him where I speak, then pause waiting for him to speak, and so on
  • Say certain words over and over (His favorite words are clap, mouth, and daddy. I’ll say, “Clap. Clap. Can you clap your hands? Clap your hands like mommy. Good clapping Julian!” Or I’ll say, “Mouth. Mouth. Can you open your mouth? Mouth. I can open my mouth.”)
  • Talk to him about his environment, whatever we’re doing, and tell him the names of things (Check out my blog about oral language development for more tips and tricks for developing oral language.)
  • Repeat what he says
  • Watch Your Baby Can Read videos WITH him and talk to him about what is happening, use these words often when not watching the videos (Here’s a video we made to teach our children vocabulary.)
  • Sit him on my lap and read cloth books, board books, and any other kind of interactive book that he can touch and feel (Check out my blogs: How to Engage Your Baby with Reading and Best Books for Babies)
  • Help him to turn the pages of a book
  • Set up baskets of toys that he likes and can explore by himself
  • Set up furniture so it is easy for him to pull himself up to stand
  • Show him how certain toys work and play with him

2. Ophelia (2, Halfway to 3)

Ophelia needs to have her tank filled with lots of cuddles and love, but after this happens, she’s ready to be independent…extremely independent. She loves language like crazy and is already reading quite well. When she finds something that she likes to do, she will do it over and over and over again. She also loves putting things into things (like marbles into a metal tin), sorting objects, and stacking things.

Ophelia’s Learning Goals

  • Read words she knows automatically
  • Read words in sentences
  • Read words in books
  • Picture read books
  • Read flashcards independently
  • Review letter names and sounds
  • Sound out words
  • Learn new vocabulary words from her environment
  • Learn new vocabulary words that are abstract (in books, etc.)
  • Sing favorite songs and learn new songs
  • Expand her imaginative play
  • Learn Spanish words and phrases (and maybe other languages)
  • Count to 20, count higher
  • Demonstrate one to one counting principle
  • Say the names and descriptors of shapes (number of sides, etc.)
  • Do puzzles independently
  • Continue stacking and sorting
  • Color on paper with multiple colors

What I Can Do to Facilitate Ophelia’s Learning Goals

  • Make flashcard rings of words and phrases she knows
  • Make flashcard rings of words and phrases that she is learning
  • Set out her favorite books in easy to reach baskets
  • Read books with her, model picture reading, point to words as I’m reading, read simple level 1 books and point to words that she can read on her own, give wait time
  • Make mini-books with her favorite words and phrases
  • Make favorite things books with lots of pictures
  • Talk to her about her world as we play together
  • Sing songs together, teach her new songs that have hand motions
  • Model imaginative play, play with her
  • Find some intro to Spanish videos to watch
  • Make counting books, practice counting objects and pointing to them
  • Make shape books with descriptors
  • Set up an independent puzzle station
  • Set up stacking cups, add some small objects like golf balls that she can put into cups
  • Color together

3. Elliot (4, Almost 5)

Elliot marches to the beat of his own drum, literally. He absolutely loves rhythm, music, dancing, and any type of music. He is very empathetic with a big heart and desperately needs his daily dose of cuddles. He has an incredible imagination and loves making toy figures come to life during imaginative play. He also loves anything that has to do with building like Legos, blocks, and especially Minecraft.

Elliot’s Learning Goals

  • Play the keyboard
  • Play the drums
  • Play on the guitar
  • Dance to music
  • Learn how to dribble a soccer ball, and shoot a basket
  • Play different games that involve lots of running and motion independently
  • Build elaborate structures with a variety of materials
  • Pick out books that he would like to read together
  • Read his favorite things books independently (picture reading, basic words)
  • Read words that he knows when we read together
  • Read simple 3 and 4 letter word flashcards
  • Read all Your Baby Can Read words
  • Read all Dolch words
  • Read simple sentences
  • Draw pictures of his choosing
  • Learn about science topics he’s interested in: dinosaurs, weather, rocks and minerals, etc.
  • Do science experiments
  • Play imagination games with elaborate and complex themes
  • Play independently with activities of his choosing for extended periods of time
  • Learn about basic math functions: Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division as well as learn a variety of math vocabulary
  • Memorize basic math facts
  • Count as high as he can
  • Count by 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s, and 100s

What I Can Do to Facilitate Elliot’s Learning Goals

  • Teach him how to play simple songs on the keyboard
  • Teach him how to read music using a color coding system
  • Teach him how to play drum beats using both hands and a foot for the bass drum
  • Teach him how to make different guitar sounds
  • Set up music playlists that he likes to dance to, have dance parties
  • Do yoga, play basketball, play soccer, fly a kite, play tag, run races…anything to help him move
  • Show him how to use different building materials (Big Legos, small Legos, wooden blocks, small colored blocks, K’nex, etc.) to make new and elaborate structures
  • Make sure his favorite books are accessible in our book baskets
  • Set aside time to cuddle up and read his favorite books
  • Work on his favorite things book
  • Make flashcards with his favorite characters and add little phrases for each one that he can read
  • Cut up flashcards with pictures on one side and 3-4 letter words on the other, practice reading, play little games like flipping them over, putting them on my head, etc. (or something like this)
  • Quiz him on Your Baby Can Read words
  • Practice Dolch word flashcards
  • When reading together, pause and let him read the words he knows
  • Read Basher books together and make the characters talk to him
  • Encourage him to draw pictures using a variety of colors, draw together, print out and color his favorite things together
  • Play imagination games with him, introduce new problems and solutions, new characters, new settings, use props, etc.
  • Play board games together, let him make up whatever rules he wants
  • Do science experiments together, start with vinegar and baking soda ones and move on to others, find some online, Usborne Science Experiments book
  • Play Starfall math during breakfast time, let him choose whatever he wants to do and talk to him about what he is doing (Here’s a video of us doing Starfall Math together.)
  • Quiz him with math flashcards
  • Find times to count throughout the day

Ruby (Just Turned 6)

Like Ophelia, Ruby also started reading at a very young age, and now in 1st grade, she is reading at a 3rd grade level. Being able to read really helps her to do many different independent projects. She likes getting really deep into a certain show (right now it’s Digimon) and then printing out pictures, writing stories, and making drawings with that theme. She is very creative and crafty and she is always working on drawing, art projects, and a variety of crafts. She is also really fascinated by science. My mom talked to her about biology from a young age, and I have fed her curiosity ever since.

Ruby’s Learning Goals

  • Find and read beginning chapter books on her own
  • Comprehend longer texts
  • Write complete sentences
  • Write a paragraph
  • Make mini books
  • Make Digimon books
  • Create a variety of craft projects
  • Color using a variety of mediums and styles
  • Free draw using drawing templates
  • Complete needlepoint projects
  • Learn about meiosis and mitosis
  • Learn about biology, chemistry, and any science topic she is interested in

What I Can Do to Facilitate Ruby’s Learning Goals

  • Take her to the library and show her how to pick out beginning chapter books
  • Encourage independent reading during “rest time”
  • Read chapter books together and talk about the story
  • Sit with her while she’s writing to encourage her to write more about a single topic
  • Make more blank mini books and write stories together
  • Make Digimon favorite things books together
  • Find drawing videos and drawing templates for Digimon characters and draw with her
  • Teach her how to free draw by erasing and adding more
  • Sit with her while she does needlepoint so that she doesn’t get frustrated and give up
  • Make a new YouTube Channel for the science topics she wants to learn about
  • Make mini-books about the science topics she is interested in, print out pictures and leave room for her to write about what she is learning

In Conclusion

I know that children are children and should have the freedom to explore nature, use their imaginations, be wild and free, and to even yes…get bored. But their brains are growing at a rapid rate (especially until the age of 3), and by the time they enter school, the pathways of their brains are established and ready to be specialized. By constantly and consistently nurturing them with new learning opportunities from a young age that match their strengths, interests, and developmental levels, we can give them the best chance to reach their fullest potential in life.

And let me make it very clear that I am not suggesting learning goals as a way to make our children academically superior (although they probably will be), I am advocating for them because children actually LOVE to be challenged, they love to learn, and they love to be engaged, especially when it means that they get to spend more time with their favorite person in the world…you!

Embracing Motherhood Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

It started out with educational apps on ipads, playing Starfall and Pixie 4 on the computer, and watching educational programs mixed in with a moderate amount of choice, but then we got lax on the rules and noticed one day that technology had taken over our lives.

We debated a gradual reduction or a reinforcement of the original rules, but it was too late for that…

We had to quit technology cold turkey.

First, the iPads

One evening, during our nightly wrestling routine with daddy, our daughter Ruby (6) just wanted to watch Digimon (I don’t even know how we came to allow this in the first place). Usually, we can ask her to put her iPad away and she does so graciously, but this time, there was ATTITUDE! When daddy asked her to put the iPad down, she flat out said no, and then when daddy got more stern she said,

“What are you going to do if I don’t?”

Hubba wha?!?!?!? We both looked at each other in shock! Where did this mouthy little teenager come from all of a sudden?? And so daddy said what all parents of teenagers must say,

“Trust me, you don’t want to find out!”

Well needless to say, we knew something needed to change. That night, I took all of the iPads and our touch screen computer and hid them away. I also unplugged our WiiU, Playstation, and computer in the homeschool room.

The Aftermath

We weren’t really sure how to handle the explanation of the disappearance of the touchscreen devices, and when Elliot asked me the next morning where they were, I relied on a little white lie to get me through it.

“Someone stole our iPads!” I explained.

Phew, that was easy. 🙂 Elliot was quite upset, but still a pretty easy sell. He said, “God must be mad at us to let this happen.” Honestly, I don’t know where he gets these notions!

But when Ruby came home from school, she was a little more skeptical. First she wanted to know every detail of said robbery including why they miraculously didn’t take my laptop. Smart girl. Then, she wanted to conduct an investigation including knocking on the door of every neighbor and writing letters to all of her classmates. When she wouldn’t drop it, I said, “You’re right, it probably wasn’t a robbery. I’ll bet Julian just took them and hid them somewhere.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just do it mom,” she asked.

I explained that no, I didn’t do it, but even if we had our iPads, we were going to restrict their use anyways because we didn’t like how addicted everyone was getting to them and the attitudes that were emerging as a result.

To explain the unplugged video games and computers, we said that we couldn’t afford the electric bill, and so we couldn’t play them until our budget was caught up. We talk about money and finances a lot, so although they were a little upset, they really understood and accepted this explanation.

Technology Free Days

The first day without technology was TOUGH! No ABC videos to distract Julian while I was cooking, no TV during breakfast, and no choice time to entertain them while I stole some time to myself.

As they engaged in play, it was almost like they forgot how to entertain themselves. So I sat on the floor and played with them as they went from room to room trashing everything in sight. I felt like I was constantly cleaning and constantly on the move!

We spent the rest of the day engaged in play outside, and my the end of the night, they were exhausted. So was I!

By the second and third day, something beautiful started to happen. They asked about their missing iPads less and less, the negative attitude was disappearing, and we were having so much fun as a family! Whenever it would get really quiet for awhile, I would worry, “Oh no! They found them!” But then I would sneak into the room to see them engrossed with reading, playing quietly, or find that they let themselves outside to play. It was beautiful.

“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” we wondered.

Well, at least we’re doing it now…especially as these fleeting summer days beg to be enjoyed.

It’s Okay to Be Bored

Children don’t need to be constantly entertained, and neither do we. Boredom is actually a gift, a mind break that allows us to come up with new and creative ideas. The longer our children went without technology, the less they relied on us to entertain them, the fewer messes they made as they became engrossed in sustained imaginative play, the more they interacted with each other and nature, and the closer we became as a family.

As we settled into this new routine, I started finding pockets of time for myself again to work out, blog, and create. Something else pretty amazing started happening too. As the children settled into their boredom, they were more interested in what I was doing and wanted to help!

Who knew that helping me make cookies, fold the laundry, and sweep could be so much fun!

The older ones were also more willing to pitch in and do chores, and I really appreciated their help. Ruby decided she wanted her job to be laundry, and so one day she helped me put daddy’s bin of clothes into the washing machine and put away her and Elliot’s clothes. Elliot said he was really good at picking up, so he picked up the toys in one room…then he got distracted and started playing with the toys, but hey, it’s a start!

Finding a Balance

After about a week of nothing, we decided that they (we) could watch one movie during rest time. Previously, they were engrossed in their own little iPad worlds watching toy videos on YouTube and Digimon on Netflix, but with a movie, it was something we could all cuddle up and watch together. We love finding old classics like the Last Unicorn, Little Nemo, and Home Alone and watching them over and over.

When school is out and summer gets into full swing, we plan on implementing our summer routine where the older kids have to do four workbook pages (handwriting, math, cursive, etc.), three activities, and one chore to have an educational computer choice (Pixie 4, Storymaker, working on Favorite Things books, etc.) or watch a movie.

We also are going to let them have 3o minutes (from 4:00-4:30 when daddy gets home) to have a choice to watch whatever they want if they good and do all of their work, activities, and chores. Having this time gives us some leverage (i.e. by taking away a positive reinforcement it becomes a logical consequence for misbehaviors).

In Conclusion

During the long winter months, we may bring back the WiiU, Playstation, iPads, and touchscreen computer in limited and regulated amounts, but we definitely agree that taking a break over the summer is what is best for everyone. Technology can serve a valuable role in many educational opportunities, but it is just too easy to let it be a babysitter and let limits slide until the devices seem to take over. Going cold turkey and taking a break really worked for us and is something we will continue to implement as needed with all things in life. *As a side note, if we need to do this again, I will just tell them honestly why we are taking a break rather than trying to make another story out of it.