It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

FB_IMG_1444002925287

It’s that time of year … our family’s favorite time of year! We love Christmas!! The whole month of December is special to our family, and filled with special family traditions. Family traditions are so important to children. Children thrive on routine and a sense of belonging. Having these special moments helps us slow down and reconnect. They give us a moment to reflect on times past and to look forward to the future. They create a special bond that is specific to our family, and our children look forward to them every year, no matter how old they get.

FB_IMG_1444002934054

Most of our holiday traditions include the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch all help create an inviting environment. Young children especially learn so much through their senses, and there are so many fun creative ways you can teach your children through the holidays. One tradition we have is to read a holiday/Bible story every day from December 1-24 when we ready Jesus birth from the Bible. Before December 1st I individually wrap 24 special holiday books in wrapping paper and put them in a basket. Then each night, starting December 1st, our children pick one book to unwrap and read that evening. They look forward to this every year and so do I. Along with special stories, we also play holiday music throughout the month.

FB_IMG_1444002780078FB_IMG_1444002860183FB_IMG_1444002687303

Another tradition includes going to the same Christmas Tree farm every year. We love exploring the farm, picking out the perfect tree, cutting it down, and then taking it home to decorate. The Tree Farm we go to also has an animal barn, hot cocoa, and a warm barn with a giant wood burning stove.  I love the smell of crisp fresh air and the sharp scent of a fresh cut evergreen. When we are through decorating our tree, we always lie beneath it and look up through the branches at the lights. It might seem silly but we used to do that when I was a kid, and my children enjoy it too.

FB_IMG_1444002749671

We love baking and decorating cookies as a family. We do this every year with all of my siblings, nieces, and nephews. Then we fill decorative bags and take them around to the neighbors! The kids love sharing the cookies they made and seeing the smiles on our neighbors’ faces. We bake all different kinds of cookies and have them at our family Christmas every year.

FB_IMG_1444003143752 FB_IMG_1444002813456

Along with family traditions, there are a ton of creative learning ideas that are holiday themed! I made Christmas-themed file folder games when my older children were little. They still love to do these simple matching games, and my toddler is now learning her colors and patterns while having fun. Sensory tubs are an excellent method of exploration for toddlers also. During the month of December, it is fun to put together winter-themed sensory tubs. Some ideas can include a tub with pinecones, evergreen branches, fresh cranberries, Christmas ornament balls, fake snow, etc. You can make homemade playdough scented with essential oils like cinnamon, clove, and Douglas fir. Pair this with elements from nature, and it creates a wonderful sensory experience for your children.

The holidays create a perfect time to focus on the birth of Jesus. This year my older children are working on memorizing the birth of Jesus from the book of Luke. Younger children can listen to or read stories of His birth. You can do a special Advent Calendar or Jesse Tree. We enjoy attending a live Nativity or a special holiday concert. Every year we also try to give to those who are in need. We love participating in Operation Christmas Child through Samaratin’s Purse: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/. My children love picking out special items for a child in need, wrapping the box up, and delivering it to the drop-off location. Then they get notifications by email as to where their boxes are being sent. We also try to volunteer in a soup kitchen or pick from a giving tree.

This is a wonderful time of year, and there are so many special things you can do as a family. What are some of your traditions?

Becoming Your Child’s Advocate (Life Skills for Homeschoolers Series)

You’ve admitted your child has some challenges and needs additional help. You’ve adapted your curriculum, and tried to remain flexible so your child can learn all s/he needs to learn. Now, you realize that you just might need some additional assistance in helping your child achieve their potential. How do you go about looking for that help?

Asking for outside help is often a two-edged sword. In order to get help from many ‘professionals,’ the child often needs diagnostic labels. Some parents do not like labeling their child. In fact, they will do everything they can in order to avoid an official label. In previous articles I have discussed the need for labels in order to access help. I’ve also shared that some parents will avoid professional labels, but end up giving their child labels such as “stupid,” “lazy,” and “can’t do anything right.” Please watch how you talk to your child. Labels like these will cripple a child for life in ways that could destroy their future.
cork-labels-collection_23-2147512524

“Labels” can be negative, but they can also assist in the educational process.

I cannot state often enough or strongly enough that labels do not need to box your child in. Instead, they often will give ideas for coping skills and teaching techniques. This past week I read a meme on Facebook about Edison’s mother. According to the meme, Edison brought a note home for his mother. She supposedly read it out loud, telling him that the teacher said he was too smart for her and needed to be kept home. Years later, Edison was to have found this note, which in reality said he was “retarded” and was not to return to school. As you know, Edison ended up being one of the world’s greatest inventors.

This carried a lot of meaning for me simply because, when my son was younger, I was told many negative things about his prognosis. I get teary-eyed at times when thinking about what I was told and what God ended up doing. I could not be prouder of how far this young man has come. The labels he was given gave me tools to work with. As I learned more about his diagnoses, I sought out professionals who could help me teach him more effectively. I also learned various facts on how diet affects behavior and the brain.

So, how do we become an advocate for our child?

After possible testing, a parent may need to access services such as play therapy (counseling) or PSR (psycho-social rehabilitation) services. Some states do not have PSR services. The child may need case management in order to facilitate services. Depending on the challenges, the child may need nutritional help. They may need some help as they get older in learning life skills. Vocational Rehab (VR) will offer services for high school students that have challenges of certain types. They can provide job training or even help find employment. VR can also pay for education if your child meets requirements for things like trade schools or even a regular degree. It depends on the person’s challenges and abilities.

If your child has reached high school and appears that s/he may need additional help to make the transition to adulthood, VR is a good place to start. Another good resource is the local Disability Action Center. Every state has one. They are usually in the larger population centers. They will be able to give a list of local resources for the parent. The state’s Parents Unlimited organization will help educate the parent in becoming the advocate for the child. Again, local resources will be given.

Becoming your child’s advocate is more than just accessing services. It’s standing up for their rights when professionals do things you do not personally feel are best for the child. Unfortunately, in today’s world, professionals will push medications for just about every “label.” This is the other side of the two-edged sword. Medication may be needed for some issues. Diet affects brain health and behavior in many ways. Do the research. There are some wonderful books that give detailed information on how to feed your child so they can be the best they can be. I’m not a medical doctor and am not giving medical advice. What I’m suggesting is that each parent educates themselves on other methods for healing the brain/body. I have seen this in my own home. A healthy diet, outside of the food package, is essential when dealing with a child with challenges.

The most important part of becoming an advocate for your child is teaching your child to become their own advocate as they grow and transition into adulthood. It is the most rewarding feeling to see this child, whom the professionals denied a future, become a young man of God, going forth to fulfill their potential.

Fighting Their Battles

 

As a parent, sometimes it’s hard to know when to step in and deal with a situation for our children versus letting them deal with it. We all parent the very best we can, but while certain things are pretty black and white, others are much more vague.

000000super-mom-35629Several months ago, Emme was having problems with a girl at church. Initially this little girl was someone Emme hung out with, sitting with her in church, etc. However, one Sabbath I observed Emme treating her with a distinctly cold shoulder. I was appalled! I’d raised my children better than this! Having been the victim of maltreatment as a kid, I’m pretty sensitive to it!

After church Emme and I talked, and it turned out that Heather (not her real name) had become something of a bully. She was irking several of the little girls at church, not just Emme. When they’d first started attending our church, she’d been sweet! But once she was friends with everyone, she started making snide comments and being just flat-out rude. Emme wanted nothing more to do with her and neither did Emme’s other friends, a set of triplets.

How do you handle this situation? Do you talk to the mom — a new member at church? Do you speak to the little girl directly? What to do … what to do?

Ethan decided to go to school this year. I’d had miserable experiences, especially in high school at the hands of peers and teachers, so was understandably concerned about how he would do.

Within the first two weeks, Ethan was having an ongoing run-in with an administrator who was “helping” a new teacher; she is the vice-principal. Ethan felt that this individual was being dismissive and disrespectful. Specifically, he loves mimicking accents; he does a really good job of it! Irish, Russian, East Indian and the like! That was one of the things that he used as a way to charm peers and teachers alike when he arrived on the scene! The vice-principal (acting in the capacity of a teacher) called him out for using them and, in front of the whole class, called them “ridiculous.”

Quelling the urge to tell him that I told him so, I felt uncertain as to how to address this whole thing. On one hand, he chose to go to school and put himself under their aKa-Powuthority! On the other, this charter school prides itself on the way it does school differently and welcomes the “freaks and geeks,” allowing individuality to shine through.

Someone really ought to tell this person, this vice principal, for the love of Pete!

As another similar situation was rearing its head in our new neighborhood, between Emme and one of the little girls (and the little girl’s mother), I began a conversation with Emme about the fact that the best person to handle this was NOT me … but her!

I shared with her my perspective and what an impact it would make with the parent of the child in question. I gave her examples of what I would say.

In this middle of my exhortation, she said, “Mom? It’s just like what we did with Heather.”

That stopped me in my tracks! But once she brought it up, it occurred to me that Heather had been back in the little circle of girls recently and just as sweet as ever!

“What happened with Heather?”

“Well, it’s like you said. We needed to talk to her, so the triplets and I got her in the Fellowship Hall and had a talk with her. I told her that it hurt my feeling when she [did thus and such], and frankly I didn’t want to play with her anymore.”

She went on, “And then Elli told her…”

It seems as though these four preteen girls took matters into their own hands, and rather than ostracize and shun this girl for her poor behavior, they talked to her about how it made them feel! They told her that it made them not want to play with her anymore, but that if they didn’t tell her then they would hurt her feelings as much as she’d hurt theirs!

I sat there stunned. Yes, I’d talked to Emme about doing just that. I’d shared how concerned I was that from Heather’s perspective it was them being the mean girls. But, that they acted on it?? WOW!

And, Heather stopped the offensive behavior and all was well in the universe for five little girls once again!

At the end of Ethan’s awful terrible week, he got in the car and announced, “Well, I organized a silent protest in Ms. Rogers’ class.”

Oh noooo!! What had he done? Am I going to get a call from the principal? Is his high school career going to be the shortest one on record??

As I listened to his narrative, I felt more and more hopeful as he described the willingness of other students to take the initiative to confront this adult with her behavior that they didn’t like. Rather than being disrespectful or unruly, they simply filed into class, sat in their seats, and calmly refused to speak. Unwilling to “play their little game” (her words stated to the class), said administrator/teacher walked over to the phone and communicated with the principal that she had a situation requiring assistance.

The principal walked into the room and said that she wanted the “instigators” in her office immediately. Twenty of the 25 students stood up.

The attitude demonstrated by the director shifted radically at that moment! She’d expected to intimidate the trouble makers into silence with her tone, but what do you do when everyone stands up? You invite them into the common area for a meeting, that’s what.

Ethan did that. By fighting his own battles.

Emme saved a friendship. By fighting her own battles.

All too often as parents we just take matters into our own hands. We talk directly to the parents or — sadly too often in the case of public schools — confront a teacher both barrels blazing. Expecting our children to take care of things is unrealistic, right? Who knows if they’ll say the right things or do the right things!

No, they won’t always do it right. I hate to make my kids sound like these perfect little communicating machines. They’re not! They make me crazy with all the drama and fighting with the neighbor kids … or each other! They are far from perfect, my brood!

0000red_star_clip_art_25498aBut, I guess the thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that sometimes the best thing we can do as parents is sit back and let them fight their own battles! We might be surprised to learn that they do a much better job that we would give them credit for. And even more importantly, they take the first few learning steps into dealing effectively with others.

Shaping Your Child’s World

Cucumbers grown in tubes to shape

Cucumbers grown in tubes to shape

When we began our hydroponic farm, a customer asked if we could grow vegetables in shapes like Disney does.  After a bit of thought and research, I realized that shaping vegetables is pretty simple; you put the young vegetable inside of whatever shape you desire and it literally grows to that shape. If you’d like a Mickey Mouse shaped pumpkin, you just need the right mold. Prefer a squash in the shape of a cat? Just find a mold to use! We’ve all seen bushes carefully trimmed into decorative shapes, but trees can also be trimmed to shape or even grown into the desired shape.

cooking with MomSimilarly, children are molded by their environment. Homeschooling offers us the opportunity to carefully craft our child’s mold, to enable him or her to grow to the greatest potential within that framework.

 
Ben Carson has spoken often of the mold his mother created for him and his brother. She made it clear to her young sons that there was nothing they could not do if they worked hard and pursued each goal with a wide open mindset. Reading was one of the major goals she set for them, and although they were probably not always enthused with their reading regimen that she set forth, they have long since reaped a multitude of benefits from her molding and trimming.

Learning History at Fort Christmas Museum & Park

Likewise, our children benefit from our molding and trimming. Trim away the influences of TV, harmful music, and even books with a worldly message. Mold their minds and bodies to create the strong men and women that God intends them to be.

Boating on the front pond

Boating on the front pond

We cannot micro manage their entire lives, of course, nor should we. But, monitoring what they read, watch, and listen to, while encouraging growth in positive areas, is much like creating a living sculpture within a large garden. Each will flourish in his own way, given proper nourishment.

 We need to use caution in our container size, however. It’s easy to stifle a beautiful tree by keeping its roots shallow and containing it within too tight a container. Just like a sapling does best in a small container until ready to transplant into a larger one, so do our children grow well when protected as young children and allowed to grow into larger environments as they mature into readiness.

Bowling Fun!

Bowling fun!

How to Cultivate a Love for Nature

Over the past few months we have been striving to focus on God in nature by spending more time outdoors, due to the convictions I shared in this post. It has taken some thought, planning, and much prayer as to how to develop a “curriculum” based on nature from a Biblical standpoint. The main thing we have been striving for is to instill a love for nature, and inherently, nature’s God. I believe the more we understand something, the more we can appreciate its beauty and character. Therefore, we try to make nature a big part of our learning in a living way. While not an all-inclusive list, these are a few ideas that have helped us connect with nature, have more compassion for all things living, pay closer attention to God in nature, and relish our time outdoors.

Read Nature Stories
The best and most meaningful stories have been those that talk about an individual creature rather than just facts about a species. Some of our favorites are the Living Forest series by Sam Campbell, Owen and Mzee, Winter’s Tail (the true story book), Herbert: The True Story of a Brave Sea Dog, Pale Male Citizen Hawk of New York City, Knut (the polar bear), Tara and Tiree, Fearless Friends, Balto … any true story about animals. We also love the nature stories from My Bible First. Really, it can be anything that awakens compassion about nature as being real and full of unique, individual creatures who think and feel, and who reflect the character of God in so many ways.

Nature Books
Name the Critters
We enjoy giving names to each of the birds that frequent our feeder, wild turkeys, deer, and whatever other animals pay us a visit. It helps us personally relate to each individual creature. A few of our feathered friends are Rhett and Scarlet (cardinals), Tootie and Hi (tufted titmice), Nutsy and Nutbird (white-breasted nuthatches), Woody (yes, the woodpecker), Downy (woodpecker), Big Hop and Big Terrible (bluejays). WWild Turkeyse also have a couple of flocks of wild turkeys. One group we call the Turks, the other the Nomads, which includes a stray peafowl hen whom we lovingly call Princess Pea. This fall there appears to be a new group of young ‘uns, whom we have thus far called the Whippersnappers. Remember, one of the first things God had Adam do in the Garden of Eden was to name the creatures. It really helps to foster a love and empathy for them. By simply naming them, we feel as if we know them better, like they are our personal friends, and that in turn helps us feel closer to our mutual Creator.

Peafowl
Give Them Ownership
Give the kids their own garden plot, a plant to take care of, pets to be responsible for. If they have something dependent on them, it really helps them step up to the task and take on a leadership role. My kids took it upon themselves to prepare their own garden plots for fall. They really worked hard to prepare the soil and plant their seeds. It’s a much different attitude than simply helping me with my tasks. They own their plots and are learning to tend them like a shepherd tends his flock, with care, protection, diligence, and patience.

Garden Plot

Create Service-oriented Goals
Everything is more meaningful if there is an end-goal. Here are a few ideas to give an others-oriented purpose to being outside: look for treasures to collect (rocks, feathers, leaves) to share with someone, look for alphabet letters shaped by nature objects and help a younger sibling find their letters, try to see how many squirrels you can count (and help someone else see the squirrel), walk across a fallen log (and help or encourage someone else walk across), walk to get the mail, pick up litter along the road, go foraging for wild edibles to share with our family or another family (as long as you know it really is safe to eat). Anything that creates a sense of purpose in helping someone, no matter how seemingly small, can keep us from becoming too self-focused and increase our family tie through camaraderie in nature. Not long ago, we laminated a few of our pressed leaf and flower treasures to make bookmarks. They turned out beautifully and are a fun way to share a little piece of nature with others as well.

“Seeking God” Game
God promises that “You will seek me and find Me if you search for Me with all your heart,” Jeremiah 29:13. I personally challenge myself to look for God in nature throughout the day (and at times share it on my Instagram page and Facebook page). That way I’m reminded of God’s character and can more readily see how He is constantly trying to reveal Himself to us and bless us. It helps me keep my focus on Him and be prepared to share object lessons from nature with my children. I like to hear their thoughts and see what they come up with as well. God speaks through nature.

Hymn Scavenger Hunt
Not long ago we were learning the verses of the hymn, “This is My Fathers World.” One day God inspired me to make a copy of the hymn, have my daughter circle all the nature objects in the hymn, and go on a hunt to find those things outside. It was quite challenging, but a lot of fun. The kids learned what a sphere was and we quickly discovered how difficult it was to find a perfect sphere in nature at the end of the summer where we live. A scavenger hunt could be done with any hymn that has nature in its subject. In the topical index of the hymnal, the topic, “God the Father: Power in Nature” is a good place to start.

Hymn Scavenger Hunt

Record Their Findings
This can be either on a camera or nature journaling/drawing. My kids are a bit young to enjoy the nature notebooking idea yet, but they do love to take a camera out and take pictures. It’s really fun to have a slideshow later (we project them on the wall), and have them show-and-tell what they captured.

Young Photographer

These are just a few things that have helped us enjoy being outside and learn to love God’s creation more. There are no bounds to the learning that can be had in nature, and I’m excited to continue delving into this world of rich and abundant treasure. I’d love to hear how others have developed young nature lovers as well. What are some ways you have encouraged your kids to enjoy being outside more or cultivated a love for the things of the nature?