homeschooling

7 ways to strengthen your relationship with your child despite sibling rivalry

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There are always good moments. Moments when they are cuddled up together reading a book, times when they are helping and encouraging each other, coming up with some funny game, or giggling about an inside joke.

Then there are the other times.


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You know, sibling jealousy stuff. Little behavioral outcries for connection. Totally understandable, right? I mean, could you imagine having to share your partner, your one-and-only, with two other people who are angling for his/her affection? And can I just bemoan, for a bit, the lamentable fact that there are only TWO SIDES of my body while sitting on a couch reading a book, and TWO HANDS available while out on a hike? I know. I wish that, with the birth of my third child, I also acquired a third arm. Octopus appendages preferable.

When I consider the long view of parenting, what seems to be the most important factor (and ultimately, the only one I can control) is my individual relationship with each of my three children. As adults, they may end up good friends, they may end up living far from each other and seeing each other only occasionally, or they may be so different that they don't find much common ground. Of course, I hope that I'm building a strong sibling connection through homeschooling, family adventures, and traditions, but in the end, their relationships with each other are theirs alone. But my relationship with each of them is totally in my hands, and I strive to connect deeply with each of them.

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Going through a phase where my kids are bickering more often that usual means that I need step back and observe if  there are any needs that aren't being adequately met - unmet needs which might correlate with the uptick of feelings of jealousy.

For us, that generally means that there has been a dearth of time alone with me. Time when I can focus on each child without distractions. Totally impractical, yet totally necessary for my kids' emotional health. Some days I struggle to get food made, shuttle kids to a lesson here, write a blog post there ... let alone make time for my own self-care. But here are some ways to connect with each child individually that have worked for me in the past. Starting today, I'm going to take my own advice and implement as many of the following strategies as possible. I should note that, for my kids, stealthy "special time" is better for sibling harmony than announcing to everyone that "Mama is going to spend 15 minutes playing with Lachlan. You other two do your thing, then it will be your turn!" That only rubs vinegar in their wounds.

Here are some ways that I can sneak in moments of connectedness with each child even amidst a full day:

1.) Steal little moments: Out of eyeshot of siblings, whisper sweet words of love and appreciation into each child's ear. Look at that child with a twinkle in your eyes. If you find it helpful, keep a little tally sheet for your own use, showing the number of whispered love messages/hugs each child has received that day.

2.) Take advantage of quiet moments to have a big, juicy conversation: When the other kids are engaged in their own activities/play, sit beside the free child and start a conversation about what he/she is doing. Follow conversational tangents, be curious about what that child is thinking. Express sincere interest in his/her interest(s).

3.)Little love notes: A simple note of appreciation or something that you noticed about the child's experience that day, left under a pillow, in a lunch box, or in a book that you pick to read together.

4.) Whisper to a child who needs some extra lovin' that you'd like to share some special time with her, and ask if it's ok if you invite her siblings to listen to an audiobook together while you play/chat together. I find having a multi-headphone splitter a great tool for this. The kids are able to hear more clearly, and thus focus more easily, on their story. Each of my kids has a different version of these animal headphones.

5.) Schedule dates with each child: We are lucky in my family - we have three children, one set of grandparents who live in town, and two parents. This means that we have the freedom to set aside a morning or afternoon where each child receives some special attention - one with me, one with Patrick, and one with my parents. Ideally, we do this every few weeks, rotating kids.

6.) Focus on the positive interactions: Write down the good moments. Do a little mental tally of those moments of kindness and mention your gratitude for such moments to your child before he or she falls asleep.

7.) Every week, have a meeting with each child: Ask what their priorities are for the week - what do they want to play? Who do they want to see? What are they curious to learn? Write them down, and discuss how you might be able to fit their interests into the family calendar.

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And don't forget to take lots of pictures and videos of them having fun together. My husband thought that he and his siblings constantly fought, but was surprised to see some long-lost family videos that indicated that his memory was slightly skewed. They were all being so darling and sweet to each other! For your kids' sake, make sure they remember the positive interactions that they shared. Tell stories about those funny and kind sibling moments, watch the fun videos, and pull out the photo books often.

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Encourage Your Kids to Hike and Give Them a Lifelong Gift of Joyful Movement

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In the past year, we've slowly emerged from a period of time during which I couldn't take my three kids out to hike by myself. When Sadie was born, Lachlan still very much needed to be carried after a short period of walking. He can tire easily (he only has half a heart!), but sometimes he just didn't feel like walking – something he shares with most kids of preschool age, I imagine. And when a preschooler doesn't feel like walking, well … you shift your ideal to accommodate your reality.

 

My ideal is being able to enjoy multi-day backpacking trips with my kids. I grew up next to the Tahoe National Forest, and my dad and I would often head to the trail for the weekend. My dad is not an effusive guy, but during those hikes, camped beside isolated Sierra Nevada lakes, we connected. We didn't talk each other's ears off, but we did hard things together, and shared many funny moments. I want to experience that same distraction-free connection with my kids. Also, my dad's implicit confidence in my resilience as a backpacker framed so much of my self-conception as a woman today – no less capable of doing hard, adventurous, physically and mentally demanding things than my three older brothers. This is an image he cultivated in me from the time I was four, when he and I summited Mt. Lassen. Throughout my life, he told that story proudly. How the rest of the our friends' kids grumbled their way up the trail, and I kept on truckin' and singing, all the way to the top. He and I did a goofy dance in the summer snow patch at the summit. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories.

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My little guy with a congenital heart defect would not have been able to summit Mt. Lassen at age four . Instead, I adjusted my ideal and we picked hike-free natural places to explore while he grew in physical and mental resilience. We would (and still do) bring a picnic, art supplies, nets, magnifying glasses, field guides and set about exploring and simply enjoying the nature right around us. Sometimes we would go for very short hikes, but we tended to stick nearby. I wanted to cultivate positive vibes about nature. Check.

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And yet … I didn't want our experience of nature to remain sedentary. I am very aware of the benefits of moderate physical exercise for heart kids. Lachlan's heart function depends on a lifestyle of movement. His little heart is a muscle, and the more regularly he works it out, the better and longer it will serve him. He won't be able to play competitive soccer, basketball, or any organized sport like that. But as a family, we can provide him the knowledge of a physical activity that he can continue to enjoy well past the time that most adults stop participating in organized sports and start sitting in front of a computer screen for work. Hiking. Outdoor adventuring in general. A joyful gift of lifelong movement and health.

Here are the things that I'm currently doing to pass along a love of movement in nature, with a goal of going on our first family backpacking trip within the year.

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Scavenger hunt hikes

Sometimes the excitement of a scavenger hunt will get them out of the house in a jiffy. These can be “collecting” scavenger hunts, where they look for bits of nature to bring home for the nature table, but sensory scavenger hunts are my favorite. They have a list of things to see, smell, touch, or hear. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

 

Snack bags

Have snack, will walk. It's really amazing to me how far my youngest two can go when they have bags of crackers or popcorn to dip into. While I try to keep cracker-face-stuffing to a minimum at home, on the trail they are a much-anticipated treat.

 

Gear Up the Kids 

Sometimes the gift of a special hiking backpack, hydration system, hiking boots, or trekking poles will inspire them to make some forward momentum on the trail. Lachlan is a big fan of “gear”. (Finn would go naked and barefoot into the woods, and Sadie of course prefers wearing her Halloween-princess-costume-turned-hiking-dress, but Lachlan is motivated by his backpack!)

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Gear Up the Mama

Two items have changed my ability to hike solo with my little family: my backpack with a comfortable hip belt and my ultra light-weight Boba Air baby carrier, which folds itself into a tiny zip bag when not in use. I'll start with the Boba carrier – I always stow it in my backpack. In case Lachlan or Sadie get tired, I can pop them in the carrier. In case both of them get tired at the same time, I can (as a last resort) put one in the carrier and the other on my shoulders and view it as an excellent work out! (I always anticipate this, and consider it a gift of a great work out rather than a situation to be feared and avoided at all costs.)

 

My backpack is filled with crackers, extra clothes, and water, mostly. It also provides me with the ability to facilitate a sweet little rest time, if needed. I love to pack a nature-themed story book like The Burgess Bird Book for Children, as well as some simple nature journal supplies (The boys tend to carry their own sketch books and water in their trail packs now, but I started out carrying everyone's supplies so as not to weight them down before they were ready.)

 

Sometimes a Curriculum is Helpful

I have loved some of the suggestions in Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool curriculum. While we are radical unschoolers and don't follow curricula, I use this as a learning resource for myself, so I can be informed about seasonal details in nature. The book's suggestions are great, as are the themed nature walks. There are even some crafting ideas thrown in there! Highly recommended.

 

We've also participated in and enjoyed the Wild Explorers Club. The kids get weekly “assignments,” which vary from week to week. Some of our favorites have been making your own special walking stick and creating a map of a hike or natural area. When they complete a level (about 4 assignments), you can order them a special badge. We put our membership on hold this fall, but the boys have been asking to start up again. I should get on that.

 

Find a Hiking Community

It's no surprise that kids move more quickly, and with more gusto, when they are doing it with friends. So much more running happens on the trail when we hike with other kids! We are fortunate to have outdoor-loving friends. If you're still searching for your tribe, see if Hike It Baby or Adventure Mamas has an active community in your area.

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Go Slowly, Go Quickly

Be prepared to stop and play in water. Be prepared to marvel at small things. Be prepared to notice the feeling on dirt as it sifts from one hand to the other. Children move slowly, and we should follow their lead. Conversely, be prepared to play a game of tag. Be prepared to race to a tree. Be prepared to be playful. Children can move quickly, and we should follow that cue, as well. Nurturing a balance between fast and slow will keep everyone in balance as you hike.

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Talk it Up, Build Their Identities as Hikers

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Just like my dad did for me, talk about what amazing hikers your kids have become. Be in awe of their small triumphs, their resilience, their ability to do hard things. After a hike, talk up all of the neat things you saw, all of the fun you had. Plan hikes together - start a Pinterest board together of nearby trails you'd like to get to know. Teach them navigation skills, give them a camera to help document your nature discoveries. Let little ones take turns leading, and thank them for their help afterwards. Tell bedtime stories about them as explorers. Brag about their hiking to their grandparents in the same way you would mention how well they are learning to read.  Essentially, communicate that joyful movement in nature is an esteemed family value. In time, your children will come to self-identify as capable outdoor adventurers.

 


stress-free holiday magic with kids

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Not until I had slightly older children did I come to understand the amount of effort and love my own parents put into making the holidays sparkly and memory-worthy. There were pies. Special outfits. All the books. Crafts. Choral concerts. Epic skiing adventures. Hot chocolate. Tree cutting and decking the halls. Gingerbread houses.

I just got tired writing that.

I'm sure it helped that, by the time I was in elementary school and solidifying memories of my family's traditions, I was the only child still living at home. My brothers are older and had all gone off to college or other adventures, so my parents had but one Christmas-loving kid to fill up with holiday magic.

But I have three little ones, and organizing crafts and holiday experiences for them can be a bit of ... work. There's a fine line between finding joy in dedicating some of my time to creating memorable traditions for my young family and spending too much time, taking my attention away from their day-to-day need for connection and everything else.

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This year, I chose to focus on some super simple activities with my little wolf cubs. Activities that didn't require planning, reservations, or expenditures. I could have them on hand and do them when the moment seemed ripe.  

1.Dehydrating oranges and hanging them from the window.

I sliced the oranges while they ate some and placed some on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Set the oven to its lowest temperature and bake them for most of the day. Once dry, string them with white thread.

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While Finn was busy hanging the oranges from the window, Lachlan was busy learning how to tie a knot. The sewing thread proved to be too much of a challenge, but this thick thread provided him with nearly 30 minutes of concentration and a great sense of accomplishment!

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2.We made some orange (clementine) pomanders.

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 It was a bit challenging for Sadie, but she stuck with it and must have given her little pincer grip an amazing workout.

3.Have an all-out, holiday drawing binge at Art for Kids Hub.

Art for Kids Hub is a new discovery for us. My boys have been doing this literally for days. Especially Finn. Put on your favorite holiday tunes, make some hot cider, and peruse the "Winter" section. Follow along as a super fun dad draws alongside one of his four kids. The style is a bit like Ed Emberley - the dad draws a line or two, then the child draws a line or two. It's really heightened Finn's eye for scale and line shape, and his mind has been blown by the possibilities of oil pastels and using shading and perspective to add dimension to his drawings. He woke up this morning and told me "Mama! I dreamed about drawing last night!" He's back at it as I write this. And the best part? It's totally free. They do have some premium content, but most of the lessons are available for free on YouTube.

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4.Make some salt dough ornaments

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So easy. And apparently a healthy outlet for frustration, if you try rolling out the dough Lachlan-style! A quick google search will come up with the simple recipe using only flour, salt, and water. This year, we collected a few "nature stamps" while on a recent hike - twigs, winter greens, and acorns. If you press them into the dough, a subtle impression is left, which you can leave as-is, or embellish with paint after the ornament is baked.

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I have a request to make more salt dough ornaments today. I'm thinking we'll go with inspiration from The Artful Parent.

So far, so good this year. By keeping our holiday magic simple, I've managed to avoid overwhelm, and we've kept the usual space in our days for plentiful reading and nature exploration. I'm cool with leaving the more time-consuming traditions, like gingerbread houses, to my mom!


Finding Mental Space in the Morning When You Are a Co-Sleeping, Breastfeeding Mama

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    Perusing the Internet, particularly in the wellness community, you will bump into oodles of declarations about the importance of getting enough sleep. You'll also find a wealth of articles shouting out the amazing benefits of getting up early, particularly for mothers: Set your alarm, they say, for well before your children wake. Enjoy the gentle music of the birds as you sip on your cup of tea. Center your thoughts and fortify your emotional response with 20 minutes of seated meditation. Then take time for your intellectual and creative pursuits – write, draw, sew, or get some much-needed work done. Once the children wake, you will be ready to greet them with the renewed energy and satisfaction of a mother whose own cup has been lovingly and luxuriously filled!

    Then, suddenly, the chorus of soaring violins gives way to the scratching of the record, punctuated by a yearning call, “Mamaaaaa!” from down the hall. It's 5:30 AM, and the hot water you put on for your tea hasn't even started boiling yet. The resentment builds as your internal record player cues U2's “Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Self-care thwarted. Again.

     I remember happening upon a month-long program to encourage mothers commit to getting up early, helping them design a nourishing morning routine. I'm soooo in, I thought. This is what I need! Surely there will be tips in this program to find that much-coveted mental renewal! As I got to the bottom of the page describing the benefits of the program, and just as I was ready to type in my email address to sign up, I saw a disclaimer. **This program is not for mothers who are still breastfeeding. ** Oh. Duh. But please do tell, how am I supposed to survive and thrive as a mother if I have to put off self-care for the next, say, eight years?

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    I have always had early-to-rise children; children who either start nursing in their sleep at 5:30 a.m., or who, after weaning, leap out of bed at 6 a.m. and sprint to wherever I may be (if I had managed to wiggle out of my nursing toddler's super-glued morning latch.) Despite my nearly eight-year reality of co-sleeping with nursing babies and early risers, I have managed to come up with a few ways to fulfill my morning requirement for mental space. And yes, this is a morning requirement. I just can't put off my self-care until after my kids go to bed. (Most nights I fall asleep when they do, if I'm being honest.) As a highly sensitive introvert, I am left with few emotional resources for the day if I don't fill my cup properly in the morning. If you're like me, and need some alone time to be your most refreshed, present mama-self, here are a few tips:

    If you're nursing a little one or co-sleeping with a child who has a built-in body heat detector that sets off an alarm as soon as you (oh so gingerly) disentangle yourself from child limbs and creep out of bed, embrace your spot in that bed. Who says you have to get out of bed to have some quality time with yourself? I sleep within arm's reach of my charged phone, already attached to a pair of ear buds, and as soon as I begin to stir, I reach for it. Here's the catch – if end up checking my email or looking at social media, I don't feel refreshed. I feel like I've wasted my time. I might even end up feeling like my life is a dull gray facsimile of the vibrant, trouble-free images I see there.

    So here's what I do – the night before, I make sure I've downloaded a guided meditation or inspirational podcast (I love Squam's Morning on the Dock. I also really enjoy The Homeschool Sisters or listening to anything from Julie, my homeschooling guru.

    My morning go-to is a lovingkindness meditation that I recorded for mothers, which I've made available in my side bar. I think of it like breakfast in bed. Sure, breakfast at a table is swell, but it feels downright luxurious in bed. Same goes with meditation or alone time. Who says you have to sit with your spine perfectly aligned to experience the calming benefits of a meditation  practice? Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. I'm going to meditate while lying down as long as I can!

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Make a small play space near where you would like to have your self-care time. I work out in my bedroom (which is minimally decorated and tends to stay cleaner than the rest of the house.) We have a small house, but our bedroom had an uncharacteristically large walk-in closet (um, I've owned the same two pairs of boots for the past 15 years …). I didn't need a walk-in closet. But I did need an area where my little ones could play while I worked out in my bedroom upstairs! So I took out the IKEA shelving, attached it to a free wall in my bedroom, and set up a small play area near the dormer window. 31626922206_c3d03d3d54_z
This is where we keep all of the kids' toys. Downstairs, where we spend most of our time during the day, they have access to books, musical instruments, and all the art/tinkering supplies their little hearts could desire. So this time spent upstairs keeps their toys “fresh.” 31547900041_ff3eca7478_z

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 They don't have many toys, and our house doesn't have any storage space for toy rotation, but here's what keeps my 2, 5, and 7 year-olds happily engaged in play: Magnatiles (Best. Purchase. Ever.), a handy swoop bag filled with Lego, dolls and dollhouse, little figures, trains, cars, blocks and a marble run. **

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  • Use the morning activity trick, if you don't have the space for a small play area. If I feel on top of my game the night before (never a guarantee!) I will set up a parent-free activity on the art table. This is what they call a “provocation” in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Think loose parts, open-ended art invitations, and natural materials. I compiled a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board. Some of these kinds of activities have kept my kids busy for a loooong time. Others fall short. But it's worth a try, knowing that you might be gifted a few un-needed morning moments in which to gather your thoughts. Alternatively, you could keep most of the toys in a closet and just bring out one or two at a time, again, to keep it interesting and fresh.

  • Lean on your partner. I'm pretty lucky in this respect. Patrick starts work at 9 AM and has a zero minute commute. I know. Decadent. I cringe when I hear about significant others who have to leave for work before the kids even get up. I just … gosh. Let me give you a hug. (( )) OK. For those of you who are lucky like me, PLEASE, don't assume you need to be available whenever the kids are awake. Even though things may be a smidge chaotic with Mama out of commission, don't let the quest for the perfect morning experience for your kids get in the way of a better morning routine for Mama. At least in my house, if I'm not on top of my game, things fall apart pretty much instantly. So let them falter. Your partner needs alone time with the kids, too. I tell myself that I can't meddle in their relationship. It's theirs to grow.

     For a good long time now, I have been saying good morning to my little loves, chatting with them while doing the laundry for about ten minutes or until Daddy wakes, then changing into my workout clothes and doing a workout video (I love Barre3). It only takes me 30-40 minutes, and sometimes I end up breastfeeding a toddler while doing core work or having three short-lived workout buddies, but most of the time they either play quietly in their upstairs play space or forget I'm upstairs and go about their morning with Daddy. When I fit in a workout first thing, I'm doing three things:

•    I'm modeling healthy living and self-love to my children.

•    I'm getting some healthy momentum going first thing – not surprisingly, when I work out, I'm much more likely to drink a big glass of water and fix myself a nutritious smoothie for breakfast than eat something heavy like pancakes or french toast. I feel better about my choices and choices I make give me more energy. Win-win.

•    I'm releasing stress and increasing oxygenation which will leave my body energized and my mind clear. I'm much more emotionally and physically equipped to handles the everyday rigors of parenting.

Do you have any other tips for carving out mental space for yourself in the morning? Please leave a comment so others can find strategies that work best for their families!

**This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting my writing and our family! Also, the photos are from a lovely family photo session with my friend Jessi!

 


poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

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Sadie took me for a walk the other day.  Fortunately, we didn't have a disagreement about the destination - a newly-opened donut shop. Before we left, we picked out poetry books for our weekly Poetry Tea Donut Time and packed them in the stroller. I must have a good excuse to head to a donut shop. This one was mildly homeschoolish. The smaller crew gathered up all of the Shel Silverstein they could find, while I brought my favorite

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I didn't need to provide directions. Sadie and her brothers knew just how to get there. They have hound's noses for donuts, my kids. Which is good, because it freed me up to take pictures of this dang cute blouse. 

It's the Class Picnic Blouse from Oliver and S that I made for Sadie about six months ago. I loved this one so much that I cut out three more. I should know myself better. Whenever I cut out several garments at once, the first one is a delight to sew. The subsequent projects start to feel like an obligation, which drains the joy out of sewing for me. I granted myself permission to relegate the un-sewn pieces to the scrap collection, a decision helped along by a growing toddler, who was quickly sizing out of the original cuts.  Ahhhh. Creative freedom! 

You've seen the fabric before, both on the Clara Dress pattern front, me, and - if you have visited my home - on a handful of curtains. I purchased an entire bolt of this Nani Iro double gauze a handful of years ago. (The crazy things you get to do when you're a sewing pattern designer!)

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Sadie is pushing along her galimoto. The galimoto is imbued with a kind of magic that can make a toddler walk for miles without complaint.  Twelve dollars well-spent, plus it's lasted through all three of my kids. 

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Destination reached. Poetry was read, and pages were made sticky with donut detritus. Bodies were moved, urban wildlife was noticed, and real-life math discussions were had. I'd call that a successful day of homeschooling.

Below is what happens when you ask her to smile! Spunky, this one. Super spunky. 

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the evolution of a space

trying it on

our new studio

Here's our studio, as we call it, just after we moved in. It was one of the first spaces that I put together, knowing that Finn needed a space for independent play amidst the chaos of moving boxes and complete disaster in the rest of the house.

our new studio

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It's an odd room, this studio of ours, as it also serves as our primary entry/exit door. The room is essentially cut in two by an invisible hallway leading from our exterior door to the kitchen, the area with the bookshelves having a tile floor and the rest of the room being painted plywood (until we can afford the hardwood floor.)

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It has always housed books and art supplies (both the boys and mine), as well as the occasional basket of blocks and random stuff that seems to settle in this room we use so much.

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writing letters

writing center times two

This little table that I originally brought in to house my own art supplies was quickly comandeered by Finn, and I made it into his letter writing station.

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We've tried our cozy reading spot in various locations - looking for the best light, the best use of space.

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And here it is today. I moved in the big table from my sewing room to better serve my two artists (as well as myself.) Added the shelves, which house many art supplies that are now freely accessible to Finn. These include acrylic paints, scissors, oil pastels, various crayons, sequins, beads, saved bottle caps and juice tops, googly eyes, glitter glue, watercolor, papers of various sizes, paint brushes and containers, a low-heat hot glue gun, as well as a bunch of recycled materials that I keep in the wire basket under the table. All of his letter writing materials are accessible, too. Lachlan can access the paper, crayons and some washable markers - the rest are (intentionally) too high for him to reach just yet.

Yes, we do have a computer in the space - Finn, at almost four, does 30 minutes of Reading Eggs a day, does the occasional yoga video, and occasionally watches Mathtacular or a science video. If you're conflicted about screen time, I found this post written by Jaime Martin of Steady Mom very helpful in providing me the necessary prospective. Allowing Finn a bit of time on the computer during the weekdays allows me to spend some precious moments focused on Lachlan exclusively - something that's so rare! 

The big, braided rug (an ebay find) really improved the space - now they have a large area for play. I gathered baskets for housing dress up clothes, blocks, car tracks, and puppets. Those small bolga baskets that are hanging from tree branch hooks are homes for our legos, story stones, finger puppets, and felt animal masks. Smaller baskets on the shelf include various toob animals (these are great if you can't afford the more expensive wooden animals - they inspire play just as much!) and a basket for small cars. We also have a bigger basket on the floor for larger cars, as well as a piece of wood that they use to race the smaller cars.

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Finally, our snuggly reading nook is just where it needs to be - right by the bookshelves and the cozy bird watching window seat. 

This room is how I keep my two boys, now 2 and nearly 4, busily playing, both independently and together. I'm sure it won't stay this way forever, but it feels like a very sustainable set-up, able to accommodate children of various ages and interests. Right now it feels perfect for us.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!


projects in progress

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:: Second Milo on the needles :: Snow Pixie hats on the cutting table ::

:: Other project-themed books ::

These handful of days have been off-kilter. Following an unprecedented string of good days, in which everything seemed to flow, the boys (and myself, no doubt) trudged through the last two days with low energy, sapped patience, and a general grumpy malaise. 

This time, though, I have a peace about it. I've come to expect these days, just as I expect the perfect ones. It even feels, dare I say ... comforting. I feel grateful to pass through very human situations together as a family; grateful to learn about each other and let each other experience a full spectrum of feelings. 

It also feels good to hop into a project in the creative space that opens up after a patch of ho-humness. There's plenty to do in the studio between now and Christmas, and the gift-making is kicking into gear. I'm also really liking my circular saw, and have my eyes on some of the projects in this book once the chicken coop is done.

And - I can't recommend highly enough Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert. It speaks to me right where I am as parent just starting off on the homeshooling journey, which can be totally daunting if you see all the ideas that can be done out there on the internet and all of the facts that can be passed on to a child. Here's an exceprt:

"Try to avoid pulling attention away from your child's project (his deepest interest) with random, one-off activities. Save casual field trips and similar activities for times between projects. The less you distract your child with random activities and interruptions, the more engaged and focused he'll be. You're giving him the opportunity to stay longer with what he cares about most; you're giving him the chance to build something really meaningful." 

Love.

Back to my projects. Have a wonderful weekend!


Art Co-Op

Guest blogger Charlotte, here again!  I'm constantly inspired by Meg's beautiful art ideas for children, so today I thought I'd show you what my kids have been working on with their friends.

This girl isn't mine! It's our friend, Neela.

Two or three times a month, my kids plus three other families get together and do art projects.  There are thirteen children altogether and they begin participating around age 3.  Our oldest is 10.  They are all engaged with the work, though the younger kids skip the more formal lesson portion and join in during the messy parts. This week we did print making while studying the Impressionists, as shown above.  It was also a Gallery Day, where we display their work from the month.

The materials for this week's project weren't cheap, but since there were four families and not any more ink or brayers needed than for just one child, it ended up being fairly reasonable.  We typically trade off teaching and bringing materials, and it all seems to even out in the end.  We are using the Joyce Raimondo series of books, which have great projects that are grouped by type of art, such as Impressionism, Pop Art, and Surrealism.  Each week we do just one artist and two or three projects.  We typically supplement with a few library books about the artist as well, but the planning itself is not difficult.  

Although we use these books in a group setting, they are great for family projects at home too.  Some of them only require paper and crayons or materials from the recycle bin.  

What art books for children do you enjoy most?


Friendship

Hi, I'm Charlotte and I'm guest blogging in this space for Meg while she prepares for Quilt Market this month.  I feel honored to be writing here on this very page where our special friendship began.  I started reading Meg's blog before Finn was even born and sometime during his early months I realized that Meg and I lived in the same town, with boys just a few months apart.  So I wrote to her, and it felt something like writing to Punky Brewster when I was seven years old, only instead of a junky fan club postcard and Punky headshot, I got a playdate with Meg, the crafting and parenting rockstar. (Guess what?  Despite being starstruck in the beginning, she's just like you and me!) We found some common ground.  We got to know one another.  Then we got pregnant at the same time again, this time with Lachlan and my little girl, Kenzie.  We rode that rollercoaster together, and our bond strengthened.

Meg is one of my best friends, and when I thought of what I could say during my time in this space, I kept coming back to Meg herself.  I hope to share the things I love about Meg with you, and give you a more intimate look at the woman behind the blog.

This week we headed to our favorite river spot together, me with my four kids and Meg with her two. We hope to make this a weekly adventure through the seasons and this week's visit didn't disappoint, with clouds and rain and sun all in the same visit!  The rain didn't dampen our spirits and even made the views more beautiful.

I suppose to an untrained eye, nothing remarkable was happening.  Kids played.  Kids got wet.  Boots got muddy.  Insects and snails were captured.  There were smiles (a lot) and tears (a few) and lots and lots of snacks for our busy adventurers.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  We could spend that extra half hour cleaning house or doing one more work task or simply  choose to stay inside on a slightly damp day to avoid the mess and fuss.  But we wouldn't want that, now would we, Lachlan?

No.  Because the outdoors has lessons to teach us.  My own over-active brain slows down and breathes deeply.  Questions bubble forth from my older ones with regularity - do trees have DNA?  How do the leaves in the river affect the ecosystem?  Did the rocks erode from rain or from the river when it was higher?  They relax and open themselves fully to the experience, with creativity and problem solving blending into one seamless experience.  And Kenzie?  Well, she's been hesitant around steps lately.  My house has six sets of steps inside (yes, six!  they vary from 1-3 steps all the way to a full flight) and she was refusing to go up or down them, protesting to be helped each time, even transitioning from room to room.  But outside?

Despite their size and irregularity, she conquered that fear.  Thank you, nature!  And thank you, Meg, for bringing this city-girl out into the wild every week and reminding me that we have so much to learn just by being present.


rah-rah storytelling

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Show Me a Story, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ... did you recognize the stones in my calendar? Just a small tribute to what I believe to be an absolutely magnificent new book.

As a blogger, I receive the occasional catalogue of soon-to-be-published titles, and this one immediately caught my eye and I requested a review copy. That was six months ago or so, and I've been eager to have it in my hands the whole time.

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We love a good story. From the time Finn was a wee one, we would tell him stories about his day - mundane stories that he would listen to with as much rapt attention as an eighteen month-old could muster. Lachlan, though prone to more movement than his brother was at that age, now requests a Sparkle Story when we're in the car.

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Patrick is a self-made storyteller, having a wide array of humorous, real-life tales that he conjures up in social situations - from living with two elderly, Irish uncles who wandered his suburban neighborhood looking for a pint to sleeping on the edge of a cliff in an indigenous community in rural Mexico.

My storytelling is self-conscious. Hesitant. But for my boys? For my boys I can tell a story. And that's what I love about Show Me a Story . Like a puppet show, it adds a visual dimension to storytelling that takes the focus off of the teller and gives hesitant tale-crafters - either a parents or young children - something visually concrete - a hook, of sorts - on which to hang their stories.

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The book is filled with craft ideas to inspire and expand a child's (or family's) storytelling passion. The story rocks are just the beginning, and most of the projects require little by way of specific crafting skills (i.e. sewing or knitting - although some of the ideas do involve fabric and simple sewing.) I found many of the projects to be appropriate for Finn to use, if not make. Each project does have a suggested age range for use as well as an age range for making the material.

I think storytelling as an art is woefully overlooked in most curricula. The ability to "hold" an audience, to think on one's feet, to craft a compelling narrative - fiction or non-fiction - often gets lost. It gets lost in our emphasis on being consumers of stories rather than makers of stories. Of course, reading and writing skills - from listening comprehension to communicating via the written word - are key skills that play a huge role in the potential formation of the person as "storyteller," and certainly enrich our lives in their own right. But we often stop there and never explore our full potential as storytellers. For many of us, (myself included) we're just beginning to tap into storytelling as creative expression now that we have a doting and forgiving audience in our young children.

When I was living in Mexico, I had the pleasure of getting to know a wandering Italian puppeteer, a lanky fellow who sewed his own felt vests and made bread from a culture he carried around with him in the pocket of his baggy pants. His Spanish was more Italian than not, but the children loved his stories. Not all of us are destined to be nomadic story minstrels, but anyone can be a storyteller, in any profession. Patrick is one. I think his ability to tell a good story has helped him both professionally and personally. If you're interested in exploring your own inner storyteller, or if you'd love to encourage your children tap into their storytelling spirit, please grab a copy of Show Me a Story . You'll love it, I know.

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How can you not love a book that ends like this?