Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When you are raising a worrier

My oldest, David, is a worrier. He worries about the strangest things, and his worries manifest most strongly at bedtime. Lots of kids worry about monsters under the bed (and we've had that one here too). But David manages to take things to a totally different level. Over the last few years, we've dealt with worries like:

Fear that he has touched two separate substances with his hands that, when combined, form some sort of poison that has infected him through later touching his food.

Fear that Mom has been abducted by aliens and replaced with a robot Mom that looks and acts exactly like the real Mom; and is, of course, lying when she insists she is the real Mom.

Fear that bad guys will climb through his second story window, in the front of the house, using a ladder, to go downstairs and steal things, hauling them back upstairs, through his second story window, and down the ladder again, waking him in the process.

Fear that he only maintains breathing, and therefore life, by sheer force of will and when he falls asleep his body will forget to breathe and he'll suffocate.

I could go on and on. It is really rather heartbreaking, and simultaneously maddening to deal with. The thing about a kid with anxiety, no matter what you tell them, they don't feel better. You can't "talk away" their worries, or tell them to "just calm down." They probably want to calm down, and really wish they could, but they are completely terrified and don't know what to do about it.

After struggling with this off and on for the last several years, I did what I tend to do when faced with a perplexing problem. I bought a book. I found What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. The reviews were good, so I figured we'd give it a shot.

If you have a child struggling with anxiety, I definitely recommend "What to Do When You Worry Too Much". It is an interactive workbook that you read and work through with your child. Right off the bat, David felt so much better when he realized, "I'm not the only kid who worries too much!" I assured him there are kids who face far bigger, and more frequent worries than he does. He was even amazed to learn that his Daddy used to be a big worrier as a child too. There's certainly something about realizing you have a shared experience that makes a challenge feel a lot less daunting.

Some of our big take-aways from working through this book:

Talking endlessly about worries makes them worse
Talking about the worries and answering the endless string of what we started to call "worry questions" doesn't help - it does the opposite. I couldn't figure out why he wanted to ask me, every single night, if monsters are real, if he's been poisoned, if he's going to stop breathing, etc. The answers didn't seem to do any good, because he'd continue worrying about the same things, no matter how much we reassured him. Talking about the worries and answering all his questions was like feeding them, making them grow in his mind. That was an eye opener for him as well, and has proven to be quite true. When we don't spend time talking about his worries (at bedtime), we don't feed them and make them worse.

"Scheduled" time to talk them over can be helpful
Giving the child a time to talk about their worries when they aren't in the grips of anxiety is helpful, as long as you don't allow worry questions at any other time. We had to go cold turkey with the worry questions at night, but after the first night passed and nothing terrible happened, he started to realize that his worries were more pronounced at bedtime, and talking about them during the day made them seem silly.

Use logic
Kids can understand logic. One of the first things you learn to do in the book is "use logic." I find myself repeating that to David quite often. He'll ask about something that scared him, or some other elaborate scenario he's concocted, and I respond with, "What do you think? Use logic." He'll think it through, and realize that yes, every night he does continue breathing, therefore he has every reason to believe tonight will be no different (or whatever the case may be). It doesn't always work, but often logic is a good first line of defense when the irrational worries start to grow.

Kick out the worry bully
The book also likens worries to bullies that are mean and lie to make you scared. You can kick the worry bully out, stomp on it and make it leave. We've practiced talking back to the worry bully ("Be quiet! You're lying! I won't listen to you!"). We've pretended to flick it off his shoulder and stomp on it. There's something about making the worries something that is outside the child that can be kicked out that seems to be empowering.

The book goes into more detail, and has a lot more suggestions and techniques. It has taken some work, but David's bedtime worries have definitely begun to improve. If you have a child who worries a lot, something like this might be really helpful.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Preschool planning, and considering your needs

Looking to the year ahead with the littlest of my learners, I have been stuck in a quandary. On a philosophical level, I subscribe to the notion that you don't need a preschool curriculum to successfully "do preschool" at home with your 3 or 4 year old. When I think of purchasing a preschool curriculum, the first thing that springs to mind is a package designed to push academics too early on a little child (although of course they aren't all like that). I want preschool to be full of fun, and reading great books, and doing crafts and messy art projects. I think to myself, "I can pull that together on my own. I don't need a curriculum to follow!"

So I've labored under that premise - that preschool should be simple and fun, and I don't need a curriculum to accomplish that.

Ask me how that's been working for me.

The problem here, is that I have two other kids and I tend to make a lot of modifications to their work. I don't follow a program to the T (except for math), and that requires a lot of preparation. What am I not good at? Preparation. I've said before, I'm great at big picture planning, and rather lousy at short term preparation.

My vision for preschool requires a LOT of preparation. What it winds up looking like, in practice, is something like this.

Ella: "Mommy, I want to do school wiv you!"

Me: "Um... ok honey," as I begin shuffling through some papers, wondering if I have anything ready to go. I laugh out loud, because the idea that I'm prepared is THAT hilarious. "Just a second, let me see what we can do today..." and I trail off as I wrack my brain to think of something that might work. I know I had some ideas... where's that Pinterest board...

So while I am perfectly capable of coming up with fun preschool-ish ideas to work on with her, with everything else I have to plan, prep and execute, I could use a little help.

In my internal insistence that I don't need a preschool curriculum, I was forgetting a key principle in homeschool planning - considering our actual needs, in this moment. It is fine and dandy to feel that preschool doesn't need to be formal and have a desire to emphasize fun over pushing academics. But what does our family need this coming year? I have two older kids working at different levels, and a little girl who very much wants to be like her big brothers and do schoolwork with Mommy. Looking at the books and resources I'd gathered to use with her, I realized that being prepared for the coming school year (something I am working hard on improving) was going to take a tremendous amount of work. While other moms I know are great at this stuff, the idea of getting a box in the mail with a manual and supplies sent shivers of relief up my spine.

I doubt I'll use a preschool curriculum completely as written, but imagine - a book that will tell me, "Here, do this," and a materials package that gives me the alphabet cards and stencils and stickers and worksheets, all ready to go. Could I make a set of alphabet and number cards for her to use? Sure, I could. But if I don't have to? I feel the stress melting away already.

That was the final bit that made me realize a preschool curriculum was the way to go. As I looked over what is included, I felt far more relaxed and confident of my ability to pull off this school year. Anything that actually lowers my stress level is worth it's weight in... well, in chocolate at least.

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The truth about curriculum planning

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is research and planning. I know, I know, I'm supposed to say it's all the quality time with my kids or watching their eyes light up with wonder as we discover new things. Sure, those are great and all, but give me something to research and I'm a happy camper. It's a bit of a disease.

No, really. It's like crack to me.

In the beginning, the choices are overwhelming. You start searching and come to realize that there is no one way to do this homeschooling thing. There are about a billion. Or so. There are full package curriculums that include everything for an entire grade level. There are subject-specific choices. There are methods and styles that differ. And there are more reviews, recommendations, books, blog posts and articles than you could possibly read in a lifetime.

Believe me, I have tried.

Eventually you start to narrow it down. You're attracted to a particular style, or perhaps a melding of two or three styles of homeschooling. You can eliminate certain options based on your goals, your teaching style, your kids' personalities and learning styles. Some choices begin to stand out and your list shortens.

And then, just when you think you're getting somewhere, someone on your homeschooling Facebook page posts about a new book they found, or asks for reviews of curriculum you haven't seen yet. Cue what I have dubbed "HPIADD" - Homeschool Planning Induced Attention Deficit Disorder.

Oooh, shiny!

You absolutely MUST research this new option. After all, it might very well be the perfect fit! This could be the curriculum you've been waiting for! The book that will meet your every need and ensure massive amounts of delighted learning on the parts of your children, while you flit from child to child, looking stunning in your tea length circle skirt and kitten heels with the smell of from-scratch brownies wafting in from your sparkling clean kitchen.

You will love my brownies, OR ELSE.

Alas, you discover that your latest rabbit trail has led to naught, and in your fervor to uncover the Greatest Curriculum Ever, you are still wearing pajama pants and a tank top, the kids may or may not have eaten lunch, there is a  pile of dishes in the sink, and your kitchen mocks you with it's lack of sparkle and shocking lack of brownies.

Not that I would know.

I am guilty of chasing the shiny new curriculum all too often. I am getting better as I gain more experience, but I still have an irresistible urge to research and read far too much. As I work on plans for our upcoming year, I'm having to restrain myself and remember that finding a groove for US is what is important. Our homeschool isn't going to look like someone else's and just because everyone is raving about a particular curriculum, doesn't necessarily mean it is something I must spend money on. We can ease into our year, work with the plans I have made, and make adjustments from there.

Until one of my friends posts about something they are using, and I'm all... SQUIRREL!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In David's words: How I ate a Scorpion

We went to a museum and at the start, there were these suckers that had bugs in them. For example, scorpions and cockroaches and grasshoppers, and they were edible, like the carcass. After the trip to the museum, my mom let me buy a scorpion in a sucker.

At first, I was going to just lick it and keep the carcass for myself. But it started to break. So, I ate it.

It didn't taste like much. But what I did know - it was crunchy.

That is how I ate a scorpion.

By, David

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Super Sweet Blogging Award

Aw, the sweetness! I've been awarded a sweet 'lil blogger award - can you believe it? And then I went and took forever to post about it, but ah well, such is life. The very funny All Day Mom was kind enough to pass the sweetness on to me - THANK YOU! This one is a fun way to spread the bloggy love. I haven't followed the trail to discover where this one begins, but someone started by passing out the Super Sweet Blogging Award, attaching a questionnaire to it (wait for it - crazy seriousness and lots of self reflection ahead), and then winners of the award spread the sweetness by choosing 13 blogs to award it to. See how quickly that can add up? This is all exponential and stuff. Sweet.

(And yes, I'm using various forms of the word "sweet" over and over on purpose... in case that wasn't obvious).

Without further ado, my very first ever and no kidding kind of made my day, Super Sweet Blogging Award!

As these things go, there are rules attached, to keep the fun going.

1. Thank the Blogger who nominated you (yep)

2. Answer the 5 Super Sweet Questions (coming next)

3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging Award in your post (there it is)

4. Nominate a baker's dozen (13) other deserving bloggers (coming up)

5. Notify your Super Sweet nominees on their blog.

(Is this too much like a chain letter? Or one of those, "Repost if you love Jesus" things you see on Facebook all the time? I hope not.... Nah, nothing like that.)

Five Super Sweet Questions

1. Cookies or cake? Both?
I have never met a cookie or cake I didn't like. Except maybe those store bought ginger snaps - you know, those crunchy ones that make your tongue tingle? Not a huge fan. But otherwise, I gotta go with both.

2. Chocolate or vanilla?
I'm sorry, is that a serious question? Chocolate. Always chocolate.

Poor taste? Perhaps. But you know you laughed.

3. Favorite sweet treat?
Do I have to pick one? Depending on my mood... sea salt caramels, homemade chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate ice cream with caramel in it are all favorites. When I'm being less naughty, I love strawberries with fresh whipped cream.

Aaaaand, now I'm hungry.

4. When do you crave sweet things the most?
Probably when I'm tired and stressed. Or when I'm posting about sweet treats and searching for sea salt caramel pictures.

5. Sweet nickname?
My husband calls me "Girl." I know, it sound super boring, not super sweet. But it started when we were teenagers and he'd jokingly say things like, "Gee golly, Girl," in his best imitation of a preppy 1950s boy scout. Eventually, it got shortened to just "Girl."

So the last part of this here award, is to pass it on to a baker's dozen other blogs. This part was harder for me than I thought, and truthfully the real reason I have had this post sitting as a draft for so long. It isn't that I didn't have ideas for Super Sweet blogs to pass it on to - I just started overthinking what the bloggers would think when I posted my little "nomination" to their blogs. A lot of the blogs I read regularly are "Big, Important Blogs" that have huge readerships, and I balked at sending them a message from little old me. And I'm not a frequent commenter on other people's blogs these days, so I felt a bit awkward at sending messages to 13 other bloggers, who basically don't know me at all, and telling them I nominated them for this award, and if they could just follow the instructions and keep it going, that'd be greaaaat... yeah....

But I decided to stop being silly, not worry about it, and just put it out there. So if I nominated you, and you found this post, and you're like, "What the heck!?!" Sorry. But, if you're like me and you thought, "Cute and fun!" well, then you're welcome. So here we go, in no particular order, a baker's dozen of Super Sweet blogs, deserving of pink swirly cupcakes:

1. This Ain't the Lyceum
2. Amongst Lovely Things
3. Garden Tenders
4. House Unseen, Life Unscripted
5. My4kiddos
6. Toasty Marshmallows
7. Zing Day
8. Messy Wife, Blessed Life
9. Barefoot and Pregnant
10. Rebecca Frech
11. Clan Donaldson
12. Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
13. Martin Family Moments

Monday, July 15, 2013

The end of an era

Nine years ago, David was commuting an hour to work each day, I was pregnant with our first baby, and we had officially decided I would not be returning to work after the baby was born. Despite how much we loved our little house, and our location, it made sense for us to move to be closer to David's job. We wound up fulfilling a long-held dream, building a brand new home right next door to our best friends, just minutes from David's office.

Standing on the site of our future home.

This wasn't a location we would have chosen without the added factor of his job being here, and it took the first few years of living here to feel like this community was "home." But over the last 8+ years, we have built a support system, a community of friends and loved ones, and put down roots in ways I never expected. We made new friends, came home to our Church, coached sports and invested our time in this community. We have created a support system of friends, a homeschool group, my Crossfit gym, our Church, not to mention our trusted doctors, babysitters and other important people in the life of our family.

We brought our babies home to this house. We walked these hallways at night as they fussed, tucked them in at night in these bedrooms. We watched them grow and play and learn here. This is the only home they have ever known.

The boys with Ella on the day we brought her home.

David and I are no strangers to moving. He moved often as a child, and although I don't have as many moves under my belt, growing up we never lived anywhere longer than four years or so. We've more than doubled that here.

Not to mention, the last time we moved, we had one very young baby (who didn't require much in the way of stuff); and our last house was less than half the size of this one. Two more children, and a mountain of stuff later, this move is going to be something completely different.

Photo by little David. I seriously don't know how they have amassed this much stuff.

When we moved here, we didn't know what to expect. This isn't a city with a lot of IT jobs, so we knew that when David felt it was time to move on to another job, chances are, it was going to mean moving. And when he took his current job a year and a half ago, we knew that was the beginning of the end of our time here.

It isn't going to be easy to leave. We love our home. We love living next to our best friends. There's nothing like knowing you can run next door if you need anything - from the proverbial (or even literal) cup of sugar, to some laundry soap because you just ran out, to help with your children because you have to rush one of them to the ER with a broken arm. Before we lived here, we used to dream out loud with them of how great it would be if we could be neighbors. Then we did it, and it was better than we'd hoped. And now we're moving away.

Sparkler swords with friends at our annual 4th of July extravaganza, in our shared backyard

It is with mixed emotions that we prepare for the next chapter in our lives. We will miss this house, this neighborhood, this place. We will miss the people we've met and the connections we have made. We have to pull ourselves up by the roots and replant ourselves somewhere new. It isn't all bad, not by any stretch. Living within 15 minutes of David's office is going to feel like a miracle, after the last year and a half of commuting an hour and a half (or more). Having Daddy home at dinner time, every single day, will be heavenly. The strain of his drive to work has been hard, and it is hard on me and the kids as well, having him gone for 12-13 hours so often. Plus, we'll be closer to a lot of our family, which will be wonderful as well.

It is the end of an era. An era of our lives that saw our family grow, saw us through changes and challenges. This place has been good to us; we've grown tremendously in our faith, made and nurtured lifelong friendships and been touched by so many incredible people. I will always look back on this time with fondness. There is so much I'm going to miss.

We look ahead with optimism and hope. It will take time to feel at home there; to build up a community around us once again. Moving with children will be different than the days when it was just David and I, but as we keep reminding each other when we're stressed, home is where we are. Being together as a family is the most important consideration, and this move will give us so much more of that. I am seriously giddy at the thought of knowing that as dinner time approaches, I can look forward to the sound of his truck in the driveway and watch the kids race to the living room window to see Daddy come home.

This is what it's all about.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sea Critters!

One of our favorite field trips last year was our trip to Titlow Beach, out in Tacoma. It is a rocky, muddy beach full of old pilings and lots of barnacles. But when the tide goes out, it is a treasure trove of sea life. We headed out to Titlow during one of the year's lowest tides and hunted for sea critters.

David was on the lookout for an octopus, since we saw one there last year. We didn't see an octopus, but we did find tons of sea stars, big and small.

A pretty purple one

More sea stars

David found some teeny-tiny baby brittle stars. You can see it just to the palm-side of his middle finger.

Grayson found a dead crab. There were lots of small shore crabs, and some larger ones as well. Grayson got his finger pinched by a mean old crab - poor buddy. Thankfully it wasn't this size.

A lot of the tide pools had gunnel fish. They look like an eel (in fact, last year that's what we thought they were). Squirmy little suckers!

Trying to catch a gunnel fish

It is a great beach for tide pool discovery! A little muddy, but nothing some rainboots can't handle. We had a good time, even if we didn't find an octopus this year.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

School planning for child #2

When we first started homeschooling, David was a first grader, Grayson was still attending preschool, and Ella was only two. My planning and prep efforts revolved largely around David. I had some things for the littles to do to keep them busy while I worked with David, but I wasn't planning a curriculum for the other two.

In our second year, I needed to do more to weave our younger two into our days. Grayson's kindergarten year was simple - reading, handwriting, math made up his main school work. Now that I am planning a school year with a first grader and third grader (and a preschooler!), I'm realizing that I can't just fall back on David's first grade school work for Grayson and call it a day. Planning for Grayson's first grade year is proving to be a lot different than planning first grade was the first time around.

Rather than seeing Grayson's school work as being a completely separate thing, I'm trying to weave him into the mix and combine things when possible. Instead of planning a third grade curriculum and a first grade curriculum, I'm finding it helpful to plan a Frank Family Curriculum for the year. This shift in my perspective is helping me to put things together that will help our days flow more smoothly and efficiently than if I were planning as if I had two classrooms to teach.

Sometimes reading practice is more fun with someone to read to

Granted, Grayson will have some things that will be different, and his alone. He'll do his own math, and his own reading practice. And the work we do together as a family will have to be modified for each of them, so they're getting what they need out of it at their level.

The trick too, is not to simply plan for my third grader and throw Grayson in and assume he can just tag along for the ride. I want to be mindful of his interests and the things I want to cover in his first grade year, so he doesn't get pushed to the side in favor of his older brother in the planning process.

I have important things to say too!

I'm finding it helpful to shed some traditional-school thinking and remember that I'm not planning for a third grade year, a first grade year and a preschool year. I'm planning for David, Grayson and Ella. Functioning smoothly as a family, even during our school time, requires a bit of creativity, but each year I learn a little more about how to accomplish that. I think focusing on working together, instead of having completely separate school times for each child, is going to go a long way to helping our days flow more smoothly and keep me from going completely crazy trying to keep up with the needs of three kids at three different levels.

Of course, these things always sound so good in the planning phase. We'll see how it all rolls out in implementation!