Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not raising helpless monkeys - hopefully

I have really good intentions when it comes to teaching my kids to help around the house. I want them to grow up to be self-sufficient humans whose future spouses won't curse my name for doing everything for them and never teaching them to take care of themselves. When I read blog posts or articles about why kids should help around the house, I totally agree with everything they say!

But I'm not very good at making it happen in my home.

The root of the problem is me. I'm lazy and rather adept at procrastination. These are not my best qualities and certainly something I need to work on, for the sake of my own sanity as well as the upbringing of my children and comfort of my family. But there it is. I'm not great at keeping the house cleaned, being organized and minimizing clutter. I have the best of intentions, but without some action, intentions aren't worth much.

I decided a while back that the best thing to do is start small. I instituted "morning chores" for my boys (they are now 5 and 7). I'm sure they are capable of doing more than this, and I'm equally sure I could find some supermama of 10 kids who has them all folding their own laundry at 3. Looking at it that way always made me feel overwhelmed and quit before I even started. So babysteps. They each have one "morning chore" - putting away silverware for my oldest, and putting away the "kid" cups and bowls for my younger son. They're expected to do this each morning and for the most part, we've actually done it. It even gets me in gear and the majority of the time I empty the rest of the dishwasher and put away the breakfast dishes, which gives me a nice jump start to the day.

My other goal was to make picking up toys a regular part of the nighttime routine. I've had less success there, and again, it is all ME. Granted, it is like pulling teeth to get my five year old to clean up toys. He will go from happily playing transformers to writhing on the floor because he's "just too tired" to do anything so strenuous as pick up a lego. It isn't always pleasant and like many things with that particular child, I know the payoff will be worth it in the long run, but the process is rather painful. Plus, I tend to look around and think, "Well, it isn't even that bad. We'll just leave it." But if we didn't "just leave it" and picked up the small messes every day, we'd never get to the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad messes that make my boys groan as soon as I say, "We need to clean up!" The concept of picking up daily instead of waiting for it to really tick me off is something I clearly agree with in my head, and have an unreasonable amount of trouble implementing. Those darn good intentions again.

At this point, I feel like I need to add something more to the mix. I'm awfully tired of the caked toothpaste all over the bathroom and it occurred to me, I ought to make them responsible for cleaning it up. What a concept, right? I know, I'm a little slow. So my next order of business is to come up with a weekly chore list - items that could be done once a week and they could do one thing each day. One of them could be wiping down the bathroom sink and counter. Not so hard. I haven't come up with the entire list yet, but I'm sure I could come up with a few things the boys could do each week that would actually make a bit of a difference in the cleanliness level of our house - dusting, wiping down baseboards, cleaning the sliding glass door. Pretty much anything that involves a spray bottle is a huge hit with them, so as long as I remember to remind them to get their chores done, it should work fairly well. It's just that me-being-lazy thing that gets in the way and conspires to undermine my carefully laid plans.

As for my daughter, well, she's 2. Her time is coming. Just you wait, sister. By the time you're old enough to genuinely help, I'll have this stuff in the bag!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Reflections on our first homeschooling year

Today was our last "official" day of school for the year. Truthfully, this week was rather light on schoolwork. We'd finished most of the really school-y things in the previous couple of weeks and this week there wasn't much left that needed to be done. We finished the last science lesson (magnets!), played some math games, read each day and did a few other odds and ends.

Today actually felt a little anticlimactic. I'm not sure what I expected for a last day in a homeschool. It isn't as if they were saying goodbye for the summer to all their friends and hugging their teacher. Well, I did get plenty of hugs, but it certainly wasn't the same. We went out for pizza at lunchtime, with Daddy no less, so that was a treat. We made them little certificates for completing preschool and first grade; baby sister got a "Sweet Princess Award" so she wouldn't feel left out :). It was a nice day, but we didn't really end with a bang like I sort of hoped.

However, this year has been pretty amazing. We've had our ups and downs, but I'm happy to say far more ups. My son really enjoyed doing school at home and I don't think he has any desire to go back to regular school. My younger son is excited to be a kindergartener now and is already asking me to do "kindergarten work." That's a good sign, considering a few months ago he was insistent that he would not be homeschooling and must go to "real school" like his brother had for kindergarten.

I've spent a lot of time reading and researching and trying new things and I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't in our little school. I bumped up against our limit for the amount of work we can accomplish and I learned a lot about how my kids learn and interact and what sorts of things spark their interest and what things fall flat - and I wouldn't have always been able to predict the outcomes.

I had many days when I beamed with pride at an accomplishment, and many times when my heart felt full to bursting with joy at the sight of their enjoyment of learning. Just this week we explored a beach at low tide which sparked a flurry of art projects and drawings and a stack of books about tide pools, octopuses and other sea creatures from the library - and none of it but the field trip were on the lesson plan. I absolutely delight in their love of learning, and I am learning how to factor that into our experience so that school becomes life and life becomes school. We will still have our lesson time because I do feel there is value in that, but throughout this year the lines between what is school, what is learning, what is fun and what is play have blurred. And that is exactly what I was hoping for.

I still have worries over whether they will have enough chances to make friends, worries about what extracurricular activities are worth the time and energy and what to do with my middle son who has such a tough time with organized, group activities. I worry about little things, details. But already I am casting off the big worries about whether I should be doing this and is this the right decision for our family. I'm sure those doubts will creep up on me at various times, but overall this year of homeschooling has been a wonderful experience and I am beyond glad that we decided to give it a shot. My husband has said he thinks we will look back on this decision as one of the best things we've done as parents. I very much agree with him.

We'll be taking some time off, but still doing some casual learning - reading time, math games, trips to the library, art projects and various field trips are planned for summer. It will be nice to have a more relaxed pace and not have to worry about planning lessons and activities. My plan at this point is to start up again in August, giving us a lot of leeway and ability to take time off next year. We'll see how ready we all feel to jump back in at that point. I'm very much looking forward to next year and excited to see what God and life have in store for us on this journey.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Awesome homeschooling day - low tide exploration

Today was one of those awesome homeschooling days that reminds me why I'm doing this.

We went on a field trip to our homeschool group to a beach on Puget Sound for some low tide exploration. The beach was pretty packed (there were several buses full of kids there too!) but I can't say that I blame them. It was a particularly low tide and the weather turned out to be perfect. The forecast said rain (bleh), but the sun came out for us! It was beautiful.

My kids found sea cucumbers, seastars, tons of crabs, both small and large, as well as these slippery little eel things (not positive what they actually were), and even a tiny octopus! My 7-year old is still exclaiming about how "freaked out" he is (in a good way, by the enthusiasm) that he held a real octopus. Tiny as it was, it was actually a little tricky to get it to let go of his fingers.

After our beach exploration, we joined the other homeschool families at the adjacent park for lunch and playtime. My boys spent a rowdy 2 hours prowling "the woods" (which was a 15-foot-ish wide section of trees next to the fence), playing something my oldest called "fort" with a group of other kids. The kids were all having so much fun, the only reason I was able to tear them away was because we waited until most of the other families had left. Their game had died down enough that they reluctantly followed me back to the car.

Their enthusiasm and excitement was so strong as we picked our way among the muddy rocks of the beach, discovering treasures and sea life. And not that everything has to turn into a "lesson", but my oldest came home and wanted to look up everything we could find on the octopus; I finally put on a ocean nature documentary for him, just so I could make dinner :).

All in all, it was a great day.