Monday, August 31, 2015

Our Homeschool Preschool

Today we begin our preschool at home.

While I'm not taking S's education too seriously at the tender age of four, she has shown interest in learning to read. Also, I know that if I intend to homeschool seriously in the future, some early practice in consistency and daily discipline before the State requires me to register with them could do this mama good.

Our plan is super super simple.

Each morning after breakfast we will have "circle time." W at only two is able to join us for this {we began over the summer}. We sing a hymn {I pick one for us to learn each week}, work on the catechism, and read a few books together. Then we usually have some crafting time or play a game.

From there I will work with S on her lessons for the day, while W plays with toys set aside specially for "school" time.

Reading. We will be spending ten minutes working through Jesse Wise's The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. It's a phonetic system that seems perfect for where S is at. I also read an alphabet book a day to both kids, and I've been collecting letter games on Pinterest to play with them both as a part of circle time.

Math. I'm collecting fun number games on Pinterest too to play with the kids at circle time. While S is a fairly good counter, we could use some work on counting past 10 and recognizing numerals. And W is at a ripe age for picking up these skills.

Writing.  My goal is for S to be able to write her name, and I loved the idea from this article to write it in highlighter and have her practice tracing over it. We'll also practice writing out our letters and numbers each day.

For science, art, and history, I simply intend to check out lots of titles on these topics from our local library, and to include them in our daily afternoon and circle time readings. We'll also read books that focus on character development {such as The Children's Book of Virtues}.

We will be memorizing a catechism question and hymn each week, something that we rehearse each night in family worship and review in circle time. For music, we'll be listening to a wide variety of styles and types.

I just want the kids to get their feet wet and be exposed to lots of good books and beautiful works of art. At two and four, learning should be fun and feel more like play. The habit of daily going through these motions is more for my benefit than theirs- I sometimes wonder how difficult it will be to homeschool in earnest when they are grade school age, with more babies and housework making life even busier than it already is.

I'm sure I will be updating you all here on our progress. What do you do for preschool? A full curriculum? Nothing at all? I'd love to know what works well in your family.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Power of Schedule

I've recently covered the powerful and life-enhancing strategies of accountability and routine- today I want to take a look at another productivity powerhouse I've only recently discovered. That is, the power of schedule.

As a stay-at-home-mom, I have no boss. No one tells me what to do or when to do it. I keep a running task list of course, but when the day looms large ahead of me it is easy to putz around for much longer than I'd like. Without accountability or deadlines, I waste way too much time.

I know what needs to be done, but when and how to go about doing it?

Revolutionary idea: make a schedule!

Of course, there are some unalterable activities that happen at the same time each day- meals, naps, and bedtime. But for me, every day brings variety- pre-scheduled events that I didn't set the time for {doctors appointments, story hours, etc.} and random tasks make it impossible to set a timed schedule that can apply Monday-Friday, every week.

So most nights {for the last couple of weeks} I'm attempting to sit down and think through the day ahead. On the left hand side of my notebook I write the hours of the day I plan to be awake {6 a.m.-10 p.m, as a rule} in one hour blocks.

Then I take my calendar and to do list and schedule each item into the empty time slots. Instead of vaguely realizing I need to call the vacuum company about a broken part I need replaced, I know that I will be calling them at 9:30 sharp. Then I will make a few more important phone calls, and wrap them up to start my list of housework at 10. Or whatever. If it needs to happen, it is assigned a specific time.

No day works out perfectly, but when I know that as soon as I get dressed I'm supposed to start on a particular project, I get to work immediately with a lot less putzing- checking my phone, getting distracted by something shiny, biting my lip and trying to decide what To Do I'm going to tackle first.

If I get out of bed late, I just ignore the times {except for set in stone appointments} and start at the top of the list, working my way down.

Scheduling is also helping me to cut out procrastination. Some tasks are a lot less pleasant than others- I schedule them first thing, and just dive in at their scheduled time, without thinking about how unpleasant they are. It feels so good to check those nagging tasks off!

Oftentimes tasks take a lot less time than I allow for them in the schedule- this is a beautiful thing! It gives me more down time with the kids and allows me to accomplish even more than I'd hoped in the day. So much better than dawdling around and wondering where my day went.

A schedule is a sort of commitment, and I am more likely to follow through on something when I am committed.

What do you think- could a schedule work for you? Or have you already been employing this fantastic tool for awhile? I'd love to hear about your results!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Favorite Bedtime Books

Nothing says "good night" quite like snuggling up with your little one and a good bedtime book. If you've spent much time around here, you know we are avid readers. Here are our family favorites, a few I'm sure you're familiar with, as well as several more obscure titles.

William and the Night Train by Mij Kelly and Allison Jay. The soothing, rhythmic words simply roll off your tongue as you read. No one wants to climb aboard the train to tomorrow as desperately as "wide awake William." Kids will relate to the eager anticipation for tomorrow, so non-conducive to sleep.

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski. The illustrations in this Caldecott winning title are superb. The princess isn't tired- but that's okay, her parents assure her. She just has to brush her teeth, and wash her face, and change into pajamas...

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems. Anything by Mo Willems is golden, of course... but this particular Pigeon book is a stand-out. Very funny, and very fun for parents and kids.

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. The sweet classic in which a way-too-sleepy zookeeper locks up the zoo for the night... rather sloppily.

Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton. This is my just-turned-two year old son's personal favorite. He quotes lines frequently, much to our amusement. And I can't blame him- it has quite a catchy beat to it! Snuggle Puppy is another Sandra Boynton title that, although not specifically designed for bedtime, is sweet to snuggle up with at the end of a long day. Again pretty much anything by this author is a gold mine.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. What bedtime book list would be complete without Goodnight Moon? Probably the first board book my daughter memorized, it will always hold a special place in this mama's heart. No American childhood is complete without it.

What bedtime books do your kiddos adore? 

The links above are affiliate links- which means that if you make a purchase through them, I receive a small profit at no extra charge to you. But you should know that I am an avid believer in reading for free through your library. Thanks for supporting The Purposeful Wife!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Power of Routine

It all started with Money Saving Mom's Makeover Your Mornings course. No, I am not an affiliate. Yes, I am super cheap- I snagged the course in the wee hours of the release morning for $5. Let me tell you, it was a $5 well spent.

In the first portion of the course, Crystal talks about the importance of routines- first developing an evening routine, then a morning routine. While I have a general plan of action for how my mornings run, my nights were seriously deficient in the order department.

Once I put the kids to bed I would often just collapse on the sofa. "I'll just put my feet up and check my phone for a few minutes..." I would think. "Then on to something productive." Or at least a more conscientious and wholesome method of relaxation. I think we all know how that goes. Or doesn't. Most nights I would stay up too late, feel more drained, and wonder what on earth I did with my time.

Crystal has you think about your mornings when planning your evening routine. What things make your morning the most stressful or unpleasant? How could you proactively combat those factors the night before? Looking at it from this new {to me} perspective, I was able to come up with a plan that has seriously improved my life.

Now every night, as soon as my kids are in bed, I automatically grab headphones, put on a podcast, and clean my kitchen. The podcast is my little treat to trick myself into still working- it's something that I enjoy, feels like "me" time, and isn't something I ordinarily do with kids around.

If I end up sitting on the couch and checking my phone or watching Netflix with my husband after the kitchen is clean, I still feel good about what I already accomplished. There is a sense of productivity that eliminates guilt. But often cleaning the kitchen gives me a second wind that I'm able to use on other projects or to dos.

My mornings are so much nicer. I love waking up to a clean kitchen! Now I put away the dishes in the drying rack each morning while I make breakfast as a part of my official morning routine. I find that not playing catch up from the day before means I have so much more time and accomplish so much more with my days. My house stays much cleaner over all, I have more freedom to play and interact with my kids in a meaningful way, and my To Do list gets more items ticked off of it.

Developing a structure and order to your day in the form of small, sustainable routines is powerful.

Are you lacking structure? Interested in trying to implement a routine or routines of some kind?

Here's what I think makes my new evening routine successful.

1. Treating myself. Yes, as soon as my kids are down for the night, I long for that highly-craved, largely anticipated grown-up time. I'm tired, and feel like a good day's work deserves a little break. Making dishes time my podcast or audiobook time has made it a much easier pill to swallow. It's a slight luxury in my life, and I can choose to focus on the enjoyment of that aspect, rather than my achy feet and total disinterest in housework.

2. Tying it into a permanent, immovable life structure. When it comes to developing a habit, experts say that piggy backing your new habit onto something you already do as a trigger is a highly effective way to keep it. Every single night my children go to bed {hallelujah!}. So every single night I can set myself on autopilot and walk straight into the kitchen to grab a dish towel as soon as I finish the last tuck in. I don't have to think about cleaning the kitchen anymore, or debate if I will or won't do it. I just walk right over and get started.

3. It's easier to play keep up than catch up. If I do my dishes {important note: I do not have a dishwasher}each night, I start with a clean slate the next morning. After breakfast I've implemented another mini kitchen clean-up session into my mighty and much loved routine. Usually before cooking dinner I do another quick clean-up. Which means that when I go to clean my kitchen at night, it might potentially take me only 15 minutes. This becomes a very sustainable habit- because I'm keeping up, there isn't that much to do, and the task doesn't seem as overwhelming when I'm feeling exhausted.

So when attempting to adopt a new routine, ask yourself: what wholesome "treat" can I tie in with the activity? Is there a natural part of my already existing routine that I can attach it to? And then enjoy the benefits that come once you get the ball rolling.

What super nifty routines have made a difference in your life?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How to be a Fun Mom

Being a mom is for sure not all fun and games. Kids have to know mom means business when she is disciplining, instructing, and otherwise keeping the order. Let's be real- the chaos of a home full of small children can seriously undermine a mom's fun factor... so I think its worth trying to be extra fun and silly whenever we as moms can be. It makes life just a little more pleasant for everyone.

Here are a few ways I try to incorporate fun into our everyday lives:

1. Let them get messy! Seriously, I know how not fun trying to get extra stains out of laundry is... but also, part of childhood is jumping in mud puddles, getting grass stains, and really embracing that melting ice cream cone. Try to take a deep breath and just let them get filthy. It won't kill you, but I'll bet your kids will have a really good time, and lots of precious memories to look back on someday.

2. Fun lunches. Serve it up outside, in a muffin tin, or an ice cube tray. Use cookie cutters to shape bread, lunch meat, and cheese. Eat in a novel place or way.

3. Silly faces at the gas station. Every time I fill the tank, I play peekaboo and make ridiculous faces at my kids in their car seats. It kills the time, entertains them, and probably amuses other patrons. I never thought about where I got this from until I saw my own Dad do the same for our kids on our last visit to them. Let me tell you- I had a fun Dad.

4. Learn to let a lot of things go. I can't tell you how often I tell my kids "no" or "stop"- for no really good reason other than it annoys me or just isn't my preference. I'm trying to think this through more, and only shut down an activity if I can come up with a compelling reason {safety, health, morality,etc.}.

5. Get outside every day. I have 8 million things to do inside my house. Unfortunately we don't have the kind of yard situation that allows me to send my kids outside on their own- they need supervision. I have to determine each day that the kids getting fresh air and running their energy out is more important than me completing my To Do list.

6. Play with them. I'm a total advocate of teaching children to entertain themselves, and my kids do play independently and happily most of the day. But mom sitting down to color with them, play a game for a few minutes, or getting dressed up together really makes their day.

7. Take advantage of free events. In the last year our local library has hosted Easter egg hunts, magic shows, Batman, Spiderman, the Cat in the Hat, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. While putting these events on the calendar and hauling everyone there does require my effort and coordination, it is so worth it to my kids. We also try to hit up at least one story hour each week.

8. Let them in the kitchen. I am much more tidy and efficient working solo in my kitchen. But my kids really really want to be involved in whatever it is I'm doing in there... I figure better some fun with an extra mess now than being alone and efficient and tidy forever. Someday they are going to be rock star helpers, and all the messes will pay off!

9. Have tea parties. Fill the tea pot with hot chocolate if your kids don't like tea. Drink out of fancy cups and saucers, dress up in hats and gloves, put cutesy little snacks on a tray, read a story together while sipping drinks.

10. Don't overlook plain old water's fun potential. Let kids play in the bath tub, splash in the kitchen sink, fill a baby bath tub and take it outside, let them pour and dump with pots, pans and measuring cups. Squirt bottles make great water guns. If your kitchen floor gets soaked in the process, mop it with a towel and consider it cleaned for the week ;).

11. Clean to loud music. And have dance parties. Modeling work as something fun to embrace will {hopefully} help them not to shirk from it as they grow up.

12. Giggle together. A lot. Tickle, peekaboo, snuggle, make jokes and goofy faces. Making little moments sweet and special is our unspeakable privilege as mothers.

13. Make picking-up a game. We "feed" hungry toy boxes, pretend we are Cinderella and her helper mice, "shoot hoops" while tossing toys in containers, and race to beat the timer.

14. Celebrate the seasons. This summer I made a bucket list for the season, and it has been fun to check off items with the kids.

15. Run around like a crazy person {for at least a few seconds everyday}. If everyone is a little stir crazy, and I feel my stress level rising... I just start running and making loud noises around the kiddos. They think it is hilarious and start running around wild too. Usually I can quit after about a minute, but they are happily occupied in a new game and don't notice me slipping out.

16. Read theatrically. Different characters in stories require different voices. Read with excitement, enthusiasm, and variations in tone. Story books will become all the more engaging.

17. Be spontaneous occasionally. Every once in awhile it is okay to drop your plan for the day and go to the park or get ice creams. Fun surprises can really turn around a day for the better!

18. Exercise together. Nothing quite so silly as having your toddler joining you when you pop in your pilates video :). Sure, you might get stepped on or trip over one another, but it can bring a lot of laughter. Belly laughs are good exercise too!

My kind of fun might not be your kind of fun, and what amuses my kids might or might not amuse yours. So just remember: