Setting Reasonable Limits for Screen Time

I’ve seen many articles that talk about the dangers of screen time and heard many parents complain about children being exposed to too much technology. While tablets are a fairly new technology, guiding children towards spending their days in a productive way is not. The research actually shows that children who were exposed to educational technology early on performed better in school when they were older. Trying to ban screen time for children under 2 isn’t as effective as setting up rules and routines and teaching children how technology can be a healthy part of their lives.

Set a Good Example

When my husband and I think about our own screen time usage, we are constantly checking ourselves to ensure that there is a healthy balance. Sometimes, we have to stop for a minute and say,

“Okay, we are just looking at our phones too much.”

And then we put them aside, out of reach, and make an effort to connect with each other more. I think it’s important for kids to see us struggle, and to talk to them about it. Sometimes, I find myself caught up in the world of my computer, and when I pull myself out of it, I’ll apologize and say,

“I’m sorry I got so caught up in my computer. You guys are way more important to me than any technology.”

When kids see how we struggle and how we overcome it, it provides them with a model worth following.

Guided Use

Just as we reflect on what is appropriate and what is not for ourselves, children need the opportunity to reflect on this as well. If we don’t show our children how to find educational and stimulating programs and games and instead leave it up to them to find and use whatever they want, is it any surprise that they may choose “Candy Crush” and violent video games?

How are they going to know the good that is out there (and there is good out there, just as there is bad) if we don’t guide them? I know it can be hard to stay one step ahead of kids, especially as they get older and more “technologically savvy”, but it’s our JOB to stay one step ahead of them, and it’s our JOB to guide them.

We like to spend time WITH our children as they navigate technology. We research apps, games, and programs. We test them out, look at reviews, and watch what’s out there before we bring it to them. Then we sit beside them to play these educational games and watch these educational programs with them. In doing so, we figure out what they like and what they don’t like, and it helps us to figure out what to do next.

Using Screen Time As a Babysitter?

As a busy mother of five, yes there are times when I use screen time as a babysitter, and I think this is perfectly okay! I always strive to create a stimulating environment that encourages independence, creativity, and learning, and I try to involve the kids as much as I can when I cook and  do chores, but yes, there are times when I need them to park it, not make any more messes, and let me get caught up.

For me, it’s important to be able to prepare healthy food, keep the house clean, and find a little time for me to blog or whatever. Doing these things makes me happy…and this makes me a good mom. Some people talk about how messes don’t matter and how the most important thing is quality time, and I’m sorry, but if my house is a disaster, it makes me feel overwhelmed and out of control. I don’t need every thing to be spic and span, but a clean and organized home makes me feel in harmony. If allowing my children to watch some educational programs, play some educational games, or have some choice time to watch or play what they want (with things that we approve of), then I say it is very well worth it.

Rules About Appropriate Content

YouTube is a great portal for tons of videos, but it can be very easy for children to stumble across inappropriate content. At the very least, you can scroll down to the bottom of the YouTube screen (on a computer) and where it says “Restricted Mode” select “on”. This will make any content flagged as inappropriate off limits. When kids use YouTube on tablets, we only let them download YouTube kids. There are several options with this where you can tailor it to the specific ages of your children and choose whether or not to let them use the search bar.

Allowing for Choice

Some day, our children will be on their own. I know it seems like they will be under our thumb forever, but the reality  is that someday they will have freedom, they will make choices on their own, and they will pay the full price for those choices without us there to help them pay the price. What will they do with their freedom? Will we condition them to always do what we say just because we say it, or will they buy into the reasoning behind our choices?

I like seeing what our children gravitate towards during their “choice time”. When I was a kid, we got to watch one show and play one video game per day. My brother always chose Heman, I chose My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite, and we both loved playing our Atari 1200, especially Super Breakout, Joust, and Dig Dug! Now, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. We like to introduce our children to what’s available and then let them discover what they like.

We recently bought a Wiiu, and Elliot LOVES Mario Maker! Ruby and Elliot both love Super Mario 3D World and Kirby because they can explore and play together. On computers and ipads, they also both really love watching toy reviews, game reviews, and video game walk throughs, and people making really fancy cakes on YouTube, and they have each had their passing phases with shows they’ve liked on Netflix like Zig and Sharko and Digimon. On their ipads, Elliot really likes playing Goblin Sword, Robot Gets Kitty, and Ruby really likes things like Monster Shave and Alice in Wonderland.

We also like to teach our children about educational choices (like my favorite teaching apps for preschoolers), and often times these are so fun that they choose them even during choice time!

Why We Don’t Set Time Limits

When I was a teacher, I learned not to set too many specific rules because it would just encourage kids to try to find the exception for breaking them. Instead of saying, “no throwing things, no blurting out, no running, no gum chewing”, and on and on, I said, “The number one rule is to show respect,” then we talked about what that would look like and what that wouldn’t look like. We even acted out scenarios.

If I set time limits on the technology, then the time is the enforcer, not me. I might need them to be occupied for 3o minutes or for two hours depending on what I need to get done. If I say, “Only one hour of technology a day,” then I have to stick with that. Consistency is so important and time limits do not help with this, in my opinion.

Setting Limits with Rules and Routines

With these rules and routines, I try to go through each day using as little screen time as possible and only use it when it’s really necessary. Mornings are when our brains are the most active, and so I like to limit screen time (sometimes we watch something while we eat breakfast) as much as possible. With my littler ones, I usually don’t bring out my educational YouTube playlists until they have had a full morning full of cuddles and activities and are getting a bit fussy while I need to get a few things done. It makes me happy to know that they are learning something valuable at this time. With my older ones, I have found that it’s really helpful when we stick to the following routine.

1. Morning Routine: We eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get dressed, and make our beds. 

If we’re not going anywhere or having anyone over, I don’t mind if kids stay in their pajamas for awhile. With the little ones still in diapers, they don’t really have pajamas, just comfy clothes that they can wear day and night. Sometimes we watch shows while we eat breakfast.

2. Do Something Creative: They can build with blocks, draw, make a craft, play an imagination game, or something else creative.

I like to make a charts of all of the different creative things to do in case they need some ideas. Sometimes, I have to really play with the kids to encourage them to extend their activities. I think that teaching kids how to play is very important.

3. Reading Time: They can read to themselves, to someone, or have someone read to them.

I like having baskets of books tucked pretty much everywhere around the house. I make sure to keep the books organized and rotate them so they stay new and interesting. I don’t ever say that they need to read for a certain time or anything.

4. Play Outside: We all have to go play outside together for an extended period of time.

I’ve found that if I let kids have their outside time one at a time, it’s usually pretty short. So I make it a point to get everyone out at the same time. Once this happens, they get so busy playing with each other that we can easily spend a long time outside.

5. One Chore: Do one chore before having a choice

I just added this recently, and it’s brilliant! Basically, I have them help me with whatever I need to get done: dishes, laundry, pick up rooms, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, sweeping, etc. Knowing that they have to do a chore before choice time is a GREAT way to make them extend their activity time! (Why didn’t I think of this before???)

6. Choice Time: This might be short or long depending on how the day is going.

I usually try to make the choice time of the older ones coincide with either the nap time or educational video time for the little ones. This is when I like to prepare or clean up lunch, get dinner ready, make kombucha or sourdough muffins, clean up, call a friend, take a shower, blog, or whatever!

7. Repeat as Needed: This routine allows for a lot of flexibility.

Based on how our day is going, I can repeat this routine as needed. So if, for example, we go through all of our activities really quickly and have choice time early in the day, I may say that we need to go through all of the activities again before having more choice time.

*Rules and Routines Over Breaks: Be clear about expectations

Read my blog about how we set up a summer routine here. When all the kids are home for the summer, I like to have things a bit more structured than I do over winter or spring break. I call it “homeschool summer school”, and everyone has goals that they’re working on and certain activities to keep them occupied.

What Happens When You Stray From Your Rules and Routines?

It is inevitable that you are going to stray from your rules and routines from time to time. Routines work best when there is a tremendous amount of consistency,  but once they are established, you can stray a bit and still get things back on track. The important thing is to explain why things were different.

There was a time when both Julian and Ophelia were getting their molars, for example, requiring me to spend copious amounts of time soothing them, and so I let Elliot (who was 4 at the time) have more choice time than I would have liked. It happened gradually, and then one day, I was like, “Uh-oh, I have let things go too far.” After that, I just explained to Elliot that I had needed to spend more time with Julian and Ophelia and had as a result let him have more choice time, but now that they weren’t teething anymore, we would be going back to normal.

There have also been times when we have needed to give all technology a complete break in order to reset expectations. Read about a time that happened here.

Taking Away Screen Time as Consequence

Screen time, and especially choice time, is what we like to categorize as a privilege. We talk to our kids about how they have certain rights such as food, clothes, shelter, etc. which we will always make sure they have, but that screen time is not necessary for survival and so it is a privilege. Therefore, if they are not behaving appropriately, it is a privilege that they can lose.

In Conclusion

When we spend time with our children monitoring what they watch, use, and do, I don’t really see why “screen time” should be any cause for concern. I think that the reality is that it’s not so much about screen time as it is about being able to set rules and boundaries with your children. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks for eliciting positive behaviors with your children based on what I learned both during my teaching and parenting experiences, check out my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors. If you’re convinced to start incorporating some educational choice time into your day with your little ones, check out these blogs:

Reflections on a Homeschool Journey from 1987

I was homeschooled with my four younger siblings growing up, and now as a mother of five myself, I am contemplating homeschooling once again (as I do every year before sending the older ones off to school). My mom found her journal from when she was weighing out the pros and cons trying to decide whether or not to homeschool and typed it out for me. It is amazing for me to see that she was struggling with many of the same things that I am now. In the following guest post, I have added all italicized content and the rest is as my mom originally wrote it some 30 years ago.

By Guest Blogger Diane Napierkowski

Author Bio: Diane is a mother of five who home schooled her children and is passionate about learning, teaching, seeking the truth, living a healthy lifestyle, and spending time with her family. When not working as a Quality Engineer, she can be found supporting her husband in their family run fundraising business at Great Lakes Promotions.

Written December 1987

*My mom hand wrote the original list and then her and my dad went through it together starring the the most important points.

Family Photo 1987

Family Photo 1987

Homeschooling Pros

  • No peer pressure (parent pressure instead)
  • Able to get along with all ages
  • **More of our values
  • Already I feel ostracized at Bushnell
  • *Very much a family
  • Enjoying these years instead of enduring these years
  • *New nicer friends, friends who respect religious conviction
  • Easier vacations
  • More respect from kids
  • *Kids get to be kids
  • No Christmas compromise
  • *No Rock ‘n Roll on the bus
  • Less busy work
  • Less sickness
  • *Sickness won’t interfere with school
  • *Twins won’t miss the big kids
  • Won’t feel that someone else has control of our children
  • Less $ spent on clothes
  • Lots of fun!
  • *Field trips
  • **More excitement about parenting
  • Next kids esp.

Cons of Homeschooling

  • **Can I do it
  • **Can I do it well
  • *Less kids to play with
  • Ostracized by teachers if they return
  • Expensive
  • *No free time
  • *Hassles with family and friends
  • *Maybe new friends won’t like our religion
  • *Lunch-time and $
  • *Learning well already
  • Court case
  • Brethren reject
  • Less stylish clothes
  • Dad added: ***Is it the best use of our time, that is using the government (?) for the good it does and then adding our own good
  • May fear telling world about our religion

    pros and cons

    Homeschooling Pros and Cons Original List

The Decision to Homeschool

When I was in the middle of 2nd grade and Jarrod was in the middle of 1st, they pulled us out of public school to homeschool us. I ended up going back to public school in the 8th grade, my brother Jarrod went back in the 11th grade, and my three younger siblings, Andrea, Lisa, and David were homeschooled K-12.

More than anything, being homeschooled allowed us to follow our own passions. Sure we did our workbooks and mastered the necessary skills, but the majority of our days were spent engaged in creative and imaginative play, exploring nature, and pursuing our own interests. 

First Day of Homeschool: Jan 4, 1988

Wow! Was it scary! “Is the school going to call? What will the neighbors say? Russ? Mom? Can I do it? Do I want to?” I needed encouragement today. But Barb Welch is in California for the refresher. Rich calmed me down markedly yesterday afternoon. “Remember why we decided on this, Di? It was for good, sound reasons, well thought out. We have legal protection, etc.” I needed to be reminded of all of that. We worked hard and long. Flash cards, work books, 2 pages each book minimum. School zone book 1 pg. Jarrod. Stacey and Jarrod spelling words.

First Day of Homeschool

First Day of Homeschool

Family Photo 1988

Family Photo 1988

First Year of Homeschool: June, 1989

What about the cons? Yes, I can do it and do it very well! There are fewer children to play with, but it’s really special when they do come over. No problem with being ostracized if they return. The money is well spent and fun to spend! I have plenty of free time – they help out with the baby, twins, etc. Good kids. No hassles from family and friends. Very minor occasionally, but it doesn’t bother me. Money and time spent on lunch is no big deal. TV is no problem. Just hard, fast rules with few exceptions on TV and Atari. They are learning well now. Brethren don’t reject much. The kids do wear less stylish clothes. It is definitely the best use of our time. Our short comings surpass their strong points. Our religion just is. It’s not like we’re so different anymore.

What about the pros? 75% peer pressure gone. Definitely can blend in with all ages well. More of our values. No tug of war with school over whose kids they are (values, etc.) It is fun! We are very much a family. We are definitely enjoying these years. Jennifer Metskar – new good friend. Not many more. Kids are more respectful, polite. They are socializing and want to be cool still. Holidays don’t phase us at all. No bus ride. No busy work. Still get sick. Twins love them. No fear AT ALL that someone’s taking my kids away. LESS $ spent on clothes. Lots of fun. We need more field trips – Lansing, etc. Parenting is natural, what it was meant to be.

Family Photo 1989

Family Photo 1989

Homeschooling Goals for 1989-1991

  • Play the piano
  • Speak Spanish
  • Know all the countries, US States, capitals
  • Know the presidents
  • Do real well in math and enjoy it
  • Read avidly
  • Be into Church literature – studies, etc.
  • Be able to write stories (interesting), reports, letters
  • Get exercise, ride unicycle, water ski, snow ski
  • Be interested and self-motivated in science
  • Be very comfortable on computers
  • Type
Family Photo 1990

Family Photo 1990

Family Photo 1991

Family Photo 1991

Stacey Wants to Go Back to Public School (8th Grade): July 31, 1993

Pros of Going Back to Public School:

  • She wants to
  • More variety of involvement and education (pottery, woodshop, reports, sports, etc.)
  • Makes high school easier
  • More people
  • Easier to learn
  • Have a change to excel

Cons of Going Back to Public School:

  • Fear that she’ll go over the deep end (common sense, though, says she won’t)
  • Less free time
  • Mandatory learning
  • Not home until after 3
  • No sleeping in or up late
  • No after school sports
  • There are gangs
  • Lots of hallway kissing
  • Age in which most girls have sex
Family Photo 1993

Family Photo 1993

Update: Jan 25, 1995

Stacey’s in school – She has gotten into a “cool” attitude – disrespectful.

Family Photo 1995

Family Photo 1995

Update: Jan. 20, 2015

Stacey is considering homeschooling! I’m typing this up for her!! She’s a precious friend who uplifts me.

In Conclusion

So many of my young friends are asking me about my homeschool journey. It is so wonderful to see another generation of homeschool parents who are asking the same questions that I did. As time goes by, I feel even more happy about our decision to homeschool. A few doubts such as my inability to teach footnotes used to make me feel like a loser. Now I see that the greatest gift I could give my kids was to remove obstacles from them finding their own true norths. I think they each have.

*Read about my homeschooling pro and con list here.

Should We Homeschool Our Children? A List of Pros and Cons

When you have a lot of kids close in age, it can seem like the most natural thing in the world to homeschool them…especially if you are already a stay at home mom and a former teacher. Every year before school starts, I contemplate homeschooling my children, and this year is no different.

I’ve published this blog before, but I edit it every year and republish it to go over my list of pros and cons once again. This year is no exception. I currently have five children. Ruby will be going into 3rd grade (the grade I taught) and Elliot will be going into 1st grade. At home I have Ophelia, who is 4 years old, Julian, who is 2 years old, and Jack, who is 5 months old. This summer has been VERY busy with everyone home and a new baby, so I’m leaning towards sending the older ones to school so that I can focus on the younger ones who have had a hard time sharing attention with a new baby, but it’s still a good thought experiment to conduct nonetheless.

Pros of Homeschooling:

1. I would get to be with all of my kids as much as possible. They grow up so fast, and I want to be there for as many of the moments as I can.

2. I would know exactly how they spend their days. Whenever I ask Ruby and Elliot about their days at school, it’s like pulling teeth. I have to go through each subject and each time of day just to try to elicit the smallest response.

3. I am totally qualified to do this! Not only did I teach for 8 years and get my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis on Linguistics, but I loved it as well! In my heart and soul, I am a teacher. Who better to teach than my own children?

4. I could make sure they learn everything right the first time. When Ruby was in 1st grade, I noticed that she made a few of her letters in a really backwards and random fashion, and I was sad that I wasn’t the one to teach her how to write her letters. With Elliot, I did a more structured “homeschool preschool” approach and was able to work with him side by side every day to write his letters. If I were to homeschool, I would be by their side for everything they learn.

5. They could work at their own pace without competing with others. Ruby really struggles with timed math facts tests. The concept of a timed test caused her a lot of anxiety, and she freezes up when looking at the sea of numbers. At home, we work on the concept of addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. and find patterns in the numbers instead of just drilling random facts. If she were at home, I would be able to work with her as long as she needed in the areas where she struggles, and zoom through the areas she’s good in.

6. I could differentiate every subject as needed. Ruby is a very advanced reader, but she still spends just as much time as all of the other kids learning about phonics. Sure, she may have chapter books for homework, but there is a lot of wasted time in her day where she is “learning” things that are way too easy. At home, I could make sure that all subjects were in the zone of proximal development for all of my children.

7. I could choose my own resources. I would be able to pick and choose whichever resources seem exciting to me, and whatever I thought would meet the specific needs of each of my children. I could also tailor instruction to meet whatever passions each of my children expressed.

8. They would maintain their innocence. Teachers can only see and control so much. There are lots of things that happen in the classroom and on the playground where children are exposed to things like bullying, inappropriate language, boyfriend/girlfriend drama and so much more. They will experience it all eventually, but helping them to maintain their innocence at a young age is a precious thing.

9. They wouldn’t feel as much pressure to conform. School is meant to create cookie cutter kids. They set the bar at average and help all children to comply. Having children ONLY interact with children of their exact age is not reminiscent of the real world, and school creates this feeling that anyone who is different stands out and can be potentially ostracized.

10. We could accomplish way more in a day than is possible at school. With 28 kids in a classroom of varying abilities, transition times, lunch time, two recesses, busy work, behavior management, and so on, how much actual learning takes place? I know from experience (both being homeschooled and being a teacher) that the amount of actual learning in a 7 hour school day could easily be done in 2 hours at home. That would allow me to get through all of the standards and skills with plenty of time for free exploration, imagination games, outside time, crafts, field trips, and more!

11. Their tanks would be full of love. When Ruby and Elliot home from school, decompress, do their homework, play with her siblings, and have some choice time, there is very little time that we actually get to spend with them. What would life be like with all five kids are in school? How would we ever be able to fill all of their tanks with love? If they were at home with me all day, however, I could parcel out special one on one time for each child throughout the day.

12. They would learn from each other. Yes, there are varying abilities in any classroom, but in a homeschool environment with siblings ranging in age, the younger ones can learn from the older ones and the older ones can learn from teaching the younger ones.

13. They would learn more about life. In a big family, children can learn how to take care of babies, cook meals, keep the house clean, and work together. They could see how I manage the house on a daily basis, and I could teach them valuable life skills that would serve them when they are independent and on their own.

14. I’m here anyways! I am going to be home anyways with Jack for the next five years, so why not throw a few more kids into the mix while I can!

15. We could stay up late and sleep in. Even during the summer, we try to keep the same bedtime because the little ones need it, but there are occasions where we want to stay up late. Letting the kids sleep in until they naturally awake is a precious thing to make sure they are getting all of the sleep they can without any alarms.

16. We could take vacations whenever we wanted. Instead of worrying about the school schedule, we would be able to make vacation time happen whenever we wanted.

17. My heart always tells me to homeschool. In my heart of hearts, I keep feeling like it is what I should do, but then the cons start percolating in my mind, and I just can’t seem to make that decision.

Cons of Homeschooling:

1. Public school provides a big social scene. Ruby and Elliot love recess most of all because of the huge social aspect. When at school, they get to be a part of a big group with PE, music, concerts, group activities, field trips, and more. Sure we could find homeschool groups to join, but most of them are based in religion, and that is not what we are looking for.

2. School has introduced new things. In kindergarten, Ruby really took off with writing more than I was ever able to do with her at home. In 1st grade, she learned about Pixie 4 in her computer class, started reading chapter books, and got excited about taking care of the Earth or whatever else they were learning about. Elliot struggled socially at the beginning of kindergarten (he has TONS of energy and very little impulse control), but made nice growth in his behavior by the end of the year among other things.

3. Getting to school is a huge motivation to kick off the day. During the summer, it’s a struggle to even convince the kids to get dressed (Are we going anywhere? Is anyone coming over?), but when we have to be out the door at a certain time for school, they get dressed, eat breakfast, and brush their teeth and hair in record time.

4. Would I have enough time for everyone? Ruby likes to do a lot of intricate projects that require a lot of help from me. In doing these projects with her, I’m not able to spend as much time with the younger kids who need me too. I’m just worried that if I were to homeschool, there just wouldn’t be enough of me to go around.

5. One day our kids will be out in the world, shouldn’t we prepare them for it? Being independent, being autonomous, being on their own, learning how the world works…these are all things that public schools help to teach our children. How young do children need to learn this, however, and/or do they?

6. What about the long winters? In Michigan, the winters are looooooooong. It starts getting cold in October and doesn’t really warm up until June, so for 9 months out of the year, the weather is inclement and it takes great effort to go outside. Often times, we long for a mall or children’s museum on the weekends just to let the kids stretch their legs. Going to school allows for some activity to break up the monotony of winter.

7. It would cost money that we don’t have. We are already pretty strapped financially with five kids and a single income. How would we be able to provide all of the necessary materials to teach them properly? I’ve always dreamed that the $4,500 that is allocated for each of my children to attend public school could be rerouted to me, and then OH MAN could I ever do things right…but in reality, the best things in life are free, and with the Internet, library, and my imagination, I could probably conjure up just about everything I need.

8. When I was homeschooled, I missed the social interaction and wanted to go back to public school. When I was a child, I was homeschooled starting in the middle of 2nd grade. I was bored at school and loved the idea of staying home every day. But then, starting in 6th grade, I started to get bored at home and longed for something more. My mom finally let me go back when I was in 8th grade, but let me tell you, 8th grade is no walk in the park. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves and experienced a lot of bullying, peer pressure, and very little academic growth. Would I have done better if I had been in the system all along or would it have been better for me to never go back? That is the question that I always have when I reflect on my childhood, and it makes me think that it has to be all or nothing.

9. What if they complain? What if I work really hard to get materials, books, and supplies, set up a routine, and get everything all into place only to have them whine and complain about it? I imagine that I would just keep going back to the drawing board until I got it right, but it could be frustrating.

10. What if they spend too much time in front of a screen? I would have a pretty set routine that wouldn’t allow for too much screen time (like we do over the summer), but what if I’m up late in the night with little ones, or feeling sick, or have too many things piling up?

11. The kids don’t want to be homeschooled. Elliot is my sweet loving guy who cries sometimes when he has to go to school because he’ll miss me, but when I talk to him about homeschool, he says that he would rather go to public school. He LOVES being around all of the kids and so does Ruby. They love belonging to a community and being a part of something structured.

In Conclusion

I keep coming back to the idea of homeschooling because it seems like something I should want to do. But every year when I reflect on the idea, the cons seem to outweigh the pros. It’s probably because I always have a baby in my lap and so many little ones in diapers, and it makes me think that as they grow older and more independent, it could be the other way around.

We have actually decided to allow our children to go back to our local school (where they can ride the bus and thus save a 20 minute drive each way for drop off and pick up). We decided to switch schools originally (mid-year when Ruby was in kindergarten) because of test scores, resources, and community, but now that we’ve experienced both, we can see that there’s really not much of a difference.

In the end, I feel like I homeschool all of the time whether or not I actually do. Our home is full of learning stations and bright minds that inquire, create, discover, and explore over the summer, on weekends, after school, and on breaks from school. In this house, learning is something that we do all of the time and school can provide a break that will at the very least engage them in social norms and allow me the time to engage someone that I have to keep content more than anyone else…myself.

15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

These are the ways that we have transformed our backyard into a super fun and engaging backyard haven for our five young children. We have about an acre of fenced in land behind our house, and with everything we have created, built, and purchased, we are very content to just stay home and enjoy ourselves. This works out especially well right now seeing as how we have a newborn this summer!

I believe that children should be free and have autonomy to choose their own activities and be independently entertained. I also believe in giving kids as many natural settings and experiences as I can to help them develop their creative and imaginative minds. By incorporating these things into our yard over the past three years, I think we have done just that.

Here’s a video of our yard as we gear up for summer.

1. Sandbox

When we moved into our house three years ago, building a sandbox was the first thing we did, and our children LOVE it! They play in it every single time we are outside.

Our Sandbox

Our Sandbox

2. Stock Tank Swimming Pool

We wanted a durable swimming pool that all of us could fit in that wouldn’t break the bank, and this stock tank swimming pool has been perfect! Learn how we made stock tank pool here.

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

3. Garden

Our kids love every aspect of gardening from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to harvesting the garden. It’s a lot of work to put it in, but I love maintaining it and reaping the benefits. Read about the benefits of gardening with kids as well as to see the gardening tips and tricks I have here.

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

4. Obstacle Course

Our kids love challenging themselves with this simple obstacle course put together with nothing more than some old tires, boards, and a few screws.

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

5. Teepee

I got the idea for this teepee from the one my mom made in their field and from the one at Blanford Nature Center in their natural play area. Every year we add more sticks, stalks, old vines, etc. to it, and the kids love using it for imaginative play.

Our Backyard Teepee

Our Backyard Teepee

6. Stepping Stumps

This was another idea I got from Blanford Nature Center. Whenever we see someone chopping down a tree, my husband races over with his pick up truck to collect the stumps. The kids love walking back and forth on them and jumping into the sand that is piled below.

How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

7. Hills

The first hill we made was unplanned. As we were digging up the sod for our sandbox, we decided to pile it up making a little hill. We were surprised at how much our little ones loved running up and down it, so we got some dirt and added a few more. This slide has also been a really fun touch.

Our Big Hill

Our Big Hill

8. Tent

I love setting up an outdoor tent in the spring, summer, and fall as both a holding tank for blankets, toys, and books, as well as a retreat for anyone wanting to duck away from the wind, cold, sun, or people.

Our Backyard Tent

Our Backyard Tent

9. Sports Equipment

I love having a basket with a variety of sports equipment that the kids can use freely. We have soccer balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, frisbees, baseball bats and balls, rubber kick balls, and more.

Sports Equipment

Sports Equipment

10. Swing Set

We initially got a swing set like this at our local shopping market, but we always wanted a big wooden structure like this. As luck would have it, we knew someone getting rid of one for free! It took three guys seven hours to take apart and put back together, but it has been perfect for our older children.

Swing Set

Swing Set


Wooden Play Structure

Wooden Play Structure

11. Electric Cars

For a brief time in my childhood I remember having electric cars, and my brother and I LOVED them! We now have an electric dune buggy, jeep, and mini four wheeler for our kids, and they get used every time we go outside. This is the 3rd summer we’ve had them, and with the exception of some new rechargeable batteries, they have held up very well.

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

12. Water Pouring Station

In the winter, I have been brave enough to bring this inside, but in the summer, it is so nice to have the mess outside! My little ones play with this water table every day. I like having some kind of table (like this tool bench) nearby to hold the cups, teapots, buckets, and other pouring supplies. I also love having it near the sandbox so they can incorporate sand into their water play.

Water Pouring Station

Water Pouring Station

13. Playhouse

Having a playhouse encourages all kinds of imaginative play. The kids love this one especially because of the little seats, windows that open and shut, and small door. We usually pick a spot for the house to stay for the season because it kills the grass underneath, but you could always move it around.

Playhouse

Playhouse

14. Mini Kitchen

With the mini kitchen, we also have a kids sized picnic table, mini grill, and baskets of play food and plastic dishes. The kids love preparing pretend meals and feeding us hungry adults.

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

15. Basketball Hoop

Our daughter Ophelia has particularly enjoyed this basketball hoop. She stands on a little stepping stool and the balls are collected in this little wagon. And of course we have an adult sized hoop as well. We debated laying some concrete, but have enjoyed simply having the ability to shoot baskets.

Basketball Hoops

Basketball Hoops

In Conclusion

Occasionally, we do like to go places, but mostly we just enjoy staying home. Between the 26 learning stations we have inside and the fun we’ve created outside, our kids are never bored and neither are we.

Here’s a video of us getting our yard ready for summer last year. You can really see how much things have changed!

Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary 

Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies.

In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.

Materials Needed

  • Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
  • Padding – Some foam padding like this 1-inch king size mattress topper (or this 4-inch mattress topper) will turn your tent into one big comfy bed!
  • Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
  • Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
  • Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
  • Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
  • BasketsWicker baskets like these are really nice for holding books and a shallow basket like this is really nice for holding toys.
  • Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
  • Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
  • Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
  • Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
  • Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use

Outdoor Tent in Use

Directions

  1. Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
  2. Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
  3. Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
  4. Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
  5. Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
  6. Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
  7. Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.

In Conclusion

We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.

*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!

Our New and Improved Tent

Our New and Improved Tent

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

If you’re in the market for a new laptop or home computer, check out these recommendations from our resident computer guy!

By: Guest Blogger Scott Maaser

scott

Scott “The Computer Guy”

Bio: Not only does my husband fix computers for a living by day, but he writes code for desktop apps in a few different programming languages by night. He is also the resident computer guy in both of our families and circle of friends. He pretty much lives, eats, and breathes computers, and so when I saw this website recommending “great deals on computers for homeschool families”, I naturally showed him wondering if it really was a good deal. He laughed, and explained how buying a new computer these days shouldn’t be an expensive ordeal, and how “deals” like these aren’t really deals at all . I asked him to write me a post explaining his answer in more more detail, and here it is, from our resident computer guy!

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

School is back in session, and that means back to school shopping. Pens, notebooks, backpacks – everyone knows how to shop for those items, but when it comes to computers, sometimes the amount of options and features can be overwhelming. Where do people go to get recommendations for computers? Most people I know go into a big-box store like Best Buy, but stores like that have to cover a lot of overhead and aren’t really looking out for your best interests.

Who Am I?

I’d like to take a quick break here and talk a little about myself and my experience. I’ve worked at Best Buy in the past, and I’m currently working as a Client Technology Technician, which is just a fancy way of saying I just fix computers at a large company. I’m fixing laptops day in and day out – both in the workplace and with my co-worker’s computers. I’ve been doing work like this on and off for the last 20 years.

What They’re Really Selling You

My wife just sent me a link to this website which advertises discounted laptops for homeschoolers. I looked through what they offered, and I noticed a couple of things. First of all, I saw a few models of the laptops they offered as ones I had worked on 4-5 years ago. Looking at their pricing, I didn’t really see how their price points offered any kind of noticeable discount. I know they do include a 4 year warranty, laptop bag, and 8GB flash drive, but not everyone wants to purchase all those add-ons. They also offer a slight discount on Microsoft Office at $118 (more on this later).

If you take a look at their Lenovo T400 at $250, for example, I noticed that it came out in 2010 and really does not have the specs to compete with modern processors and memory technology. In fact, Amazon currently has T400s selling for less than that.

So look, all this aside, I know there are some really good laptops (and desktop computers) out these days that come with a manufacturer’s 1-year warranty, have modern technology, and cost significantly less than the computers you can get from big-box stores and most online retailers.

My Laptop Recommendation

Lenovo 100s with Windows 10  – I have been using Lenovo laptops and ThinkPad laptops for over a decade. They hold up the best over time and have had the least number of issues during normal wear and tear. This version of the 100s has double the standard storage space with 64GB of solid-state storage. This model also comes with a full version of Windows 10 which means it’s ready to handle pretty much any kind of educational software and web browsing you can find to supplement education.

My Desktop Recommendation

Azulle Mini Desktop PC with Windows 10 (or bundled with keyboard and camera) – With 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a modern Intel Atom processor, it will handle any basic task you throw at it. You will be able to hook this up to your TV and watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or anything else. It also has VGA video output, so you can connect it to most computer monitors.

If you are looking for a monitor, this ViewSonic 22 inch monitor can really bring your computing experience into vivid existence. ViewSonic has been in the monitor business for decades, and this display really showcases some of their best efforts. It comes with DVI and VGA ports, which allows it to not only connect to most computers, but also can scale up to Full HD 1080p resolution. It even has built in speakers so you can experience stereo sound right on your desktop without purchasing additional speakers.

The Azul Mini Desktop Computer can stand alone as it’s own system and will allow you to install Microsoft Office or any other variant of free Office alternatives. As a teacher or student (yes, even homeschool), you can get Microsoft Office for FREE (along with 1 TB of online storage). If you don’t want to go that route, here are your other purchasing options: purchase it for a one time fee of $149 (1 installation), pay $9.99/mo. (or $99/yr.) for up to 5 installations or $6.99/mo. (or $69.99/yr.) for 1 installation.

It also has 3 USB ports, which means it will not only handle a standard set of USB keyboard and mouse, but it also has one more port in case you want to hook up a USB external Hard Drive for extra storage.

Other Extras

Flash DriveThis device holds 32 GB, which is enough to move anything you need to move from one device to another. Speaking of devices, this has connections for both full sized USB, like on your computers, as well as micro USB, to connect to Android and Windows smartphones. This allows you to copy things to and from your phone or tablet to your computer – super handy. 

Keyboard/Mouse: This wireless keyboard and mouse combo is a great buy. It’s made by Logitech, which is the industry leader in keyboards and mice. Plus, it’s wireless so installation is simple. Wireless peripherals have come a long way in terms of battery life. I use a wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse at work, and I usually need to change out the single AA battery in the mouse and the 2 AA batteries in the keyboard about once a year. Plus, the wireless feature means less wires coming in and out of your computer.

Printer: We have gone through many many printers, and finally settled on the Epson WorkForce Pro because it was reviewed to be the best quality and most cost effective printer for a small business, and with the amount of printing that we do, this has provided both quality and quantity, but not without hassles. It can’t handle thick card stock, we have dealt with many paper jams, and the ink is pricy, but overall, we have been quite happy. If we had to purchase a new printer today, however, we might take a look at some of these models.

In Conclusion

All in all, getting a new computer that can help you move your home computing experience into some newer, faster technology shouldn’t break the bank. Feel free to leave a comment (or send an email) if you have any questions about anything, and I will be happy to answer them!

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.

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 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. 

How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

Making stepping stumps is a fun and easy project that will provide a fun and natural play area for your children (and a fun little place to sit and rest as well).

Children love things that are just challenging enough with an appropriate amount of risk and danger. They also need to be able to play unsupervised and interact with nature. These stepping stumps may become an ongoing yard project that you continuously add to (like it has for us). We are always on the lookout for more stumps. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt while we’re driving! 🙂

Materials

  • Stumps: When I was driving my husband’s pick up truck out on some country roads, I found several stumps of varying height that had been nicely cut from a fallen tree. Then, when we were coming home from Ruby’s spring concert, we spotted a few more, loaded them in the back of our van, and brought them home!
  • Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
  • Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!

Directions

  1. Make a Plan: Try to envision the full potential of your stump arrangement. If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave room to keep adding on as you find more. I am hoping to copy Blandford’s meandering circular pattern that starts with shorter stumps and works up to taller stumps, but there are many other things you could do like placing the stumps haphazardly in one big configuration or making a straight path that’s very symmetrical. You might even make them almost flush with the ground and use them as a pathway from one place to the next. I encourage you to type “stepping stumps” or even “stepping stones” into Pinterest for some more ideas.

    Blandford Nature Center's Stepping Stumps

    Blandford Nature Center’s Stepping Stumps

  2. Dig a Circle: You’ll want to dig a circle larger than each stump. If you leave the sod intact, you can use it for another project like making a hill or making little grass stepping circles. After taking out the sod, dig down enough to bury about one-fifth of the stump. Make sure the dirt underneath is nice and soft to level out the stump.
  3. Level the Stump: After placing the stump onto the loose dirt in the hole, wiggle it around until the top is level. Then sit or step on it to help it settle in.
  4. Fill in the Dirt: Pack the extra dirt around the sides of the stump and step on it to really pack it in.

In Conclusion

Having stepping stumps is just one part of creating a backyard full of natural and fun ways to play. Once you see how your kids interact with the stumps, it might give you more ideas for extensions in the future. I hope to gather some shorter stumps so that it extends much further and begins and ends with descending stumps like a staircase.

Our Stepping Stumps One Year Later

Our Stepping Stumps One Year Later

Check out some of our other backyard projects: