Sunday, May 24, 2015

10 Ideas to Promote Daily Learning (And Stop Summer Learning Loss!)

Summer is upon us. School is ending and it's time to have fun and play and not even think about school, right?

Of course!

Then in three months we can all return to school with two months worth of learning loss!

Wait, what?

Yep, summer can be a real brain drain, but it doesn't have to be. And you don't have to turn your house into a summer camp or a temporary homeschool to stem the leak. The secret is in creating routines and a family culture that support everyday learning opportunities. As I've traversed this last year of homeschooling, I've realized that certain parts of my rhythm/routine do half the work of homeschooling for me. They're not hard, and I think they can work for you too. So without further ado.

10 Things You Can Do to Promote Daily Learning

1. Turn off the TV. You don't have to go screen free (though if you do, that's awesome) but try to limit this to no more than 1-2 hours per day. TV especially relieves our minds of actually thinking, increases risks of ADD in children, delays language development, and stunts creativity. Plus, it kind of just makes you feel blah and puts kids into a TV coma. Find something else to do during TV time. Here we've learned how to knit and played with lots of playdough to replace that hour of quiet time TV we used to have every day.

2. Make a weekly schedule of consistent activities. These do not have to be huge and they don't have to take up that much of your day. Actually, you'll really only stick to this if they're small. For us, Monday is painting, Tuesday is games, Wednesday is baking, and Friday is park day. I'm thinkng of making Thursday night music night and Sundays, "puzzle day." Other great ideas could be library day, playdough day, swimming day, golf day, biking day, somewhere new day, family history day, garden day. Really, the possibilities are endless. What you have to do is decide what you want to do and plan on it.

3. Plant a garden. I can't tell you how many learning opportunities have come from our little garden. The kids have learned all about bees and pollinating. They have watched it take place and witnessed the transfer of pollin. They've helped manually pollinate flowers, learned to identify male and female flowers, found ladybugs, seen aphids, understood the relationship, cheered on the arrival of butterflies, measured, harvested, tasted. It's one thing to learn about these things in a classroom, it's another to watch it actually happening.

4. Join or Create a summer reading program. Most libraries have a summer reading program. I remember doing one every summer back in Wyoming, even into high school my mom would take us into the library and make us create a really challenging reading goal. When I was younger it was 100 books in a summer. As I got older and was readingjust by myself, it was 25 novels. 25 novels in a summer is quite a bit of reading! And reading, for most people, is the very root of education and learning. A person who enjoys reading will always be learning something.

5. Have a real family devotional. Our family devotional has really become an important part of our homeschooling. Not just because the kids are learning scripture stories. We also learn a song each week and the sign language to go along with it. This only adds 1-2 minutes onto this nightly ritual, but what a learning experience it creates! If you have older kids you can really discuss and study scriptures together. Plus, devotional is just one more chance for kids to practice reading skills.

6. Play board games. A good board game will keep those math facts oiled and ready to go. There are all sorts of games and all sorts of different kinds of math to be learned from them. Starting with just counting, to using money, to multipliers, and lessons in calculating averages and chance.

7. Sing lots of songs. This is something I've started trying to do recently. We are inheritors of such huge collection of traditional songs. It's a shame that we don't pass more of these beautiful words and melodies along to our children. You can choose what sorts of songs to sing, but maybe before turning on Pandora you can all spend a few minutes in the morning singing a few rousing renditions of some of your favorites. Our favorite morning songs here are "Here Comes the Sun," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Shanendoah," "Danny Boy," "Scarborough Fair," and last week I added, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

8.  Get outside. A lot! Send your kids outside for at least an hour a day, but preferrably more. During the hottest months of summer we actually do school so we can take a break in September. It's just too hot to spend much time out there. But we still try in the early morning and late evenings or with a constand stream of water running. One thing Jane and I have enjoyed doing outside is nature journaling. This improves art and writing skills, but it also just helps you slow down and admire the beauty all around you. There's so much to see and learn about outside, and just do with your body. Learning the limits of what your body can do is important to education and more and more research links learning and certain physical capabilities.

9. Have a reading time. Like I said before, I think reading is the most essential ingredient to learning, and I think it needs to happen every day. I also think the number one thing to get your kids reading is to not only read to them but to model reading for enjoyment. You want your kids to pick up a book? You better be picking up a book every day too! I find it easiest to do this with a set reading time. I always try to read as the kids play outside. Between eating lunch and naptime we have family read aloud time. Just having a set time makes it so it actually happens every day.

10. Talk with each other. Take the time to connect. You have all day together now! Your child's greatest teacher and influence truly can be you if you take the time to listen and respond.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our Waldorf Week of May 18

I actually made this felt crown several years ago and didn't think it would last a month. It's still going strong and one of the most used parts of our dress up box! I made it stiff by using cardstock as the liner.

I'm really enjoying the rainbow tulle over our nature table this month. I made the flower baby last week, and the flowers are leftovers from my Mother's Day bouquet.

It's a big week for Toby in our Super Sam stories this week. He finds his family! Of course, I had to illustrate it on the chalkboard. The kids were so excited for Toby to finally get his happy ending. They've been anxiously waiting for it for a while.

Here is Max's painting from Monday. He has become very adept at mixing colors and not just getting a brown sludge. I'm impressed and kind of jealous. I don't think I could do this if I tried. 

The Music of the Gospel Chalkboard Drawing

I summarized the conference talk, "The Music of the Gospel" in Sunday School this week. Here is the chalkboard I drew to accompany. And here is the talk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Making It

Tonight I was getting dinner on the table and Max and Tommy were sitting in their chairs making silly faces. Max had his tongue out and was making Tommy laugh. His eyes sparkled with genuine delight. He was happy and full of light and spreading it to those around him. And I had to pause for a moment and relish in my realization.

We were making it.

Maybe that seems like a silly thing to realize, but things with Max haven't always been easy.

You see, Max is extremely passionate. When he feels things he feels them deeply. It's great when he's happy and playful, but when he would get angry, or sad (which turned quickly into anger), he was a force to be reckoned with. For two years now we've dealt with, fought, talked through, cried about, and hugged out, the hitting, punching, pushing, pinching, screaming, absolute meltdowns.

Last year he sent a cousin to the Emergency Room for stitches. He was tired, he got angry, there was no adult supervision, and he just happened to be carrying a golf club.

It could have been a lot worse.

After that came the guilt and the worry. We were told there was something wrong with him. We were asked not to leave him. I watched people online say they would never let their kids play with a child like mine. Some insinuated behavior like this was indicative of domestic violence.

It was isolating. I couldn't take him to the park and talk with the moms. I had to monitor every move, every possible trigger.

It was exhausting. Day after day I would draw suns and butterflies and flowers on his hands and remind him to have gentle hands.

It was humbling. I crashed to my lowest when it would drive me to yell and scream or to smack his hand back. In one episode he began kicking the door at our in-laws so hard I thought he would break it. I was so embarrassed I threw the door open to tell him to stop, and in my anger not realizing exactly where he was standing, the doorknob hit him right in the eye.

I was a terrible, terrible mother. I felt hopeless and helpless.

But I could also see this amazingly giving, thoughtful, kind and loving little boy. He has this goodness within him that is unparalleled by his other siblings. His lows are so low but his highs are so incredibly high.

But I felt nobody would be able to see that beyond the violence and the anger.

I tried everything. Gentle parenting, time outs, consequences, positive attention, empathy. They all worked and didn't work, or required me to always be on my game and sometimes I just wasn't. In the last year we've moved twice, been denied a home loan two days before closing, dealt with the grief of losing Steve. I wasn't always on my game. I didn't always give him the best of me.

But somehow...he's getting better. I'm not saying we're out of the woods yet. We still have an occasional problem. But they are fewer and farther between and usually brought on by extreme situations where everything is thrown off, hunger, exhaustion, etc. I've found if I can guard against those things, we do much better.

In the last two years I've found a recipe for mostly success.

1. Rhythm and routine.
2. Plenty of sleep.
3. Whole foods.
4. Very limited screen time.
5. Hours of outside play every day.

But I don't feel like I can credit all those things with the change. I think a lot of it is just growing up and maturing. And so today, when I had that realization that we were on the downhill slope. That things were getting better, easier, that he wasn't this angry little boy anymore, it felt like breathing fresh, mountain air after a long time in the city.

I know I'm not the only Mama who has a passionate, energetic, and sometimes aggressive little boy. I know the pain and the worry. And all I can say is Mama, don't give up. It will get better. He will grow up. Keep setting him up for success. It will not always be like this. That child has the qualities of a great leader. And right now you may be the only person who sees the goodness deep within him. Hold the image of him in your heart. It. Will. Save. Him.

He will be okay. You will be okay.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Real Life Waldorf: Getting Back on Track

I got off track within the last month. Not too terribly, but at the end of last week I looked around and thought, this is not how I run my house and homeschool. The kids were watching television every day for at least an hour, usually two. We weren't doing circle time or story, or math. We were still practicing reading and plowing through our chapter book. But that was it.

Granted, in the past month I've taught two week-long classes for the educational enrichment center in town. It's fun to do, but it uses up my entire morning and then I'm beat and need a nap in the afternoon, so the TV goes on. And then what about dinner?

Lots and lots of processed or fast food.

And the weather has been so nice that the kids just want to play and play and play, and so I've let chores and school slide. Granted, it's kindergarten and we go year round, so I don't think that is the biggest deal right now. But our rhythm was off, and at the end of last week I could feel it and I knew my kids could too.

I was harried, and my heart wasn't anchored in slow and peaceful, mindful and intentional, like I wanted to be.

It was time to get back on track. We had a busy weekend and by the end of it, I was itching to slide back into our rhythm.

I think that's the nice thing about having a good rhythm. Once it's really extablished, even if life gets crazy and you get off of it for a week, or two, or six, once you decide to go back to it, it's right there just waiting for you. It's comfortable and goes on easy...with a little help.

Yes, getting back to your old rhythm is kind of like riding a bike, but there are a few things you need to do to grease the gears.

1 - Get Your Husband On Board. Rob has a rotating schedule. When he's on early shift, things run smoothly. But when he's on late shift...things seem to deteriorate. We sleep in, take longer to do chores, don't play outside. It just throws things off. So Sunday night I sat down with him and said, "I can't have this happen every two weeks. I need your help to stay on rhythm."

Rob, bless his heart, has seen the difference it makes in our kids and in me, too. So he said, "What can I do?" I then wrote out a list. I wrote our morning rhythm, I wrote each of the kids chores, I wrote the chores I try to do every morning, and then I wrote out additional activities that might not be a daily thing, but would be helpful. That list has been a wonderful visual for Rob to see how he can help. I don't know what your husband is like, but I have a husband who wants to help, but doesn't always have the clearest vision of how to do so. Now he can automatically see what I need. This has helped this week run much more smoothly.

2 - Go Screen-Free. Has your rhythm gotten off? Have you fallen off that free-play, Waldorf wagon? The next best thing you can do to climb back on is to turn off the TV, and really cut back on your own phone time. It may be hard at first, with some whining. But I let my kids know all weekend that there would be no TV this week, and they've done well. Jane actually said, "Oh, good," when I told her, which I found enlightening. I think TV is easy, but not always enjoyable. You know how after watching too much of it, you feel 'blah?' I think it was doing the same thing to my sweet girl. With all that extra time you can read, play outside, attend to lessons, craft, bake bread, etc.

3 - Get outside. Getting outside is definitely the next biggest thing to getting back on track. It helps work off excess energy, makes you feel happier, gets the kids playing, and it keeps your house cleaner because...they're outside! Take a nature journal out and count it as school. Read outside. Do circle time outside. It's May. Everyone wants to be outside right now. Go with that flow. That's part of the natural rhythm of the year. Your expanding out with the seasons. Your kids feel it. You can do this and keep your rhythm, just move your rhythm outside. It's far better than fighting the crankies inside. Today, Jane ran in and said, "Mom I saw a bird and a butterfly and now I know what I want to do. I just want to watch the bugs and birds."

4 - Cut yourself (and your kids) some slack. But not too much. We've been getting back on track but that doesn't mean it has all been smooth sailing. Jane cried for quite a while today when I said she had to play outside for an hour. Tommy broke one of the wheels on the brand new wooden cars I got to replace the old metal ones, making me second guess if I'd made a wise decision. There were plenty of squabbles. Tommy is in a growth spurt and extra tired and all he wants to do is read the same book (sometimes just one page) over and over and over and over. Does this throw off my rhythm? Only if I let it. I can cuddle with Tom and still eventually get done what I need to. Remember, a rhythm is not a regimen. Don't fret over the tears, or the detox, or the roadblocks. Just reach into that peace surrounding your heart and push through. You know what your family needs to thrive, don't let it get pushed aside out of fear or disappointment that not everything is perfect. But also don't rationalize yourself out of doing what you need to do to feel good about your work.

5 - Wake up Early - This is probably actually the number one thing, but oh well. The most important thing to getting back on track with your rhythm, your home, your homeschool, is taking control of where your heart is. It's the anchor of your home and family. Wake up early and get yourself into a place that is good with God and the world. Do what you need to feel connected, at peace, and alive. You can not be a good Mom if you don't feel like a good/real person. For me, I've been reading my scriptures AND Anne of Green Gables (gosh I love Anne.)

You CAN  do it. Forgive yourself and get back on that wagon, Mama!

Monday, May 11, 2015