Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.

Reference: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/an-unfinished-quest-in-education/486074/

Maturing the Parent, Teaching the Child

Here we are at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. Our oldest is starting kindergarten. We have a lot of ideas about homeschooling, what we want our children to experience during this journey, and how we will get there. However, to borrow from Stephen Covey, we are going to “begin with the end in mind.”

Our curriculum for this year is Destinations. My husband and I went through the process of identifying our goals for educating our children. We identified 28 goals that are important to us, and seven overall goals that will be the focus of the work we do. The other 21 goals will secondary, or tertiary, and we will document on them when we notice them, but they aren’t the priority goals. I look at our goals, and think this will be harder than I thought. We aren’t simply focusing on the tasks of learning, like reading, mathematics, and writing. We want our children to live these goals, with our ultimate success knowing that our children have a personal walk with God.  As parents we also have to learn how to model the actions we want our children to imitate, because they do imitate us already.

When it comes to being parent-teachers, we get to work together on the expectations we have, our parents have, and others in our support system might have for the education experience of our children. The education process has reinforced the notion of teamwork. At the same time, my husband taking a primary role in educating our children challenges societal norms. Sometimes these challenges are easily overcome. Other times the challenges take some time to work through. Educating a child becomes as much about the maturing of the parent, refining routines, learning or relearning skills, and being or becoming the type of person we want our children to imitate…as it is about teaching a child. Having education goals keeps us from being pulled in too many directions, and allows us as parents to intentionally model what we want our children to imitate — even as they imitate many other actions that we aren’t intending to model.

For educational learning specifically, we follow a Montessori approach right now, a hands-on method where the children are able to interact with their environment without specific direction. We provide different opportunities for learning. We know which learning tasks that are necessary such as reading, writing, and mathematics. How a child accomplishes the learning tasks will likely vary. A Montessori approach gives us the opportunity to observe our children, notice learning preferences, and let our children teach us about their own interests. The children create, problem solve, and share with us their experiences and successes. We are able to develop a relationship with our children, without focusing specifically on behavior management like sitting still, focusing, and staying on a task for a predetermined amount of time. While important skills, we can get to them at a later time. For now, it’s about modeling, observing and enjoying each other.

References:

Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. London: Simon & Schuster.

Dickerson, E. (n.d.). Check These Out:. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://showcase.netins.net/web/nurture/

Charlotte Mason Preschool

Charlotte Mason was a huge supporter for starting formal academics later. She spoke about the benefits of short lessons, rich living books, and lots of time spent outside. I love how her method of teaching supports early childhood development. It is my goal that my early learner is in love with learning! Currently I am working with my three-year-old, and want to share what a Charlotte Mason preschool looks like in our home.

After we have morning time with my middle schoolers, I send them off to their individual studies and work with my three-year-old. We read a short Bible lesson and then do her calendar board. Some days she will play with felts or do other hands-on activities during morning time. After her Bible and calendar time, we move to her “core” work.

I found a wonderful Charlotte Mason based preschool curriculum called The Peaceful Preschool. It is a literature and project based curriculum that is letter themed. I love the rich book suggestions and gentle hands-on projects for each letter of the alphabet. These activities include read alouds, phonics, counting skills, fine and large motor skills, practical life skills, and art skills. There are 26 weeks or 52 weeks of lessons depending on how much time you want to spend on each letter.  All of the lessons are pre-planned and include a weekly grid, book, activity, and field trip suggestions. It makes it really simple and restful for me as a teacher and offers flexibility for my child’s interests.

I chose to spend two weeks per letter so that we could move slowly through her learning. I love that I can add in my own manipulatives, activities, and books as we go along, depending on her interests.

Along with her letter themed activities, we are also learning about nature study. The Charlotte Mason method of education has a strong focus on time spent outside and in nature study. We love to go on walks; play in the dirt; and spot birds, flowers, and plants, and then learn about them. These nature activities can also be tied into the letter themes to round out their learning.

One thing to remember about early learning is that it doesn’t have to be fast-paced with lots of formal learning. Children learn through play, enriching books, simple activities, and lots of nature time. Keep it simple, let them grow within their developmental abilities, and provide a loving environment.

Connecting Emotionally

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This last week has been an extremely challenging week. My son and I tend to have good days and bad days, but for some reason we have been having several bad days in a row. If you want in on the secret of why, I’m glad to tell you. Someone had sent me some links for a seminar done by Cinda Osterman. I have been struggling for quite some time trying to figure out how to be a parent that truly reflects Christ to my children, while at the same time being a firm and loving mom, and being in charge of my home. My son really struggles with needing to be in control of my home. Even though he is five, he is very determined to control the house and to parent us.

A few weeks ago after watching Cinda’s series on Vimeo, my husband and I decided to rededicate our lives and family to Christ. I decided to start getting up at 5 a.m. and doing my worship in spite of the obstacles to do so. Of course, the devil didn’t want to lose us so easily, so he is fighting us in any way that he can. My son and I are the biggest area he can attack in my life. At first he tried the kids waking up at 5 a.m. Seeing me persisting in my worship, he wasn’t happy with that and stepped it up a notch. The following Sabbath there was an announcement at church that the pastor was holding a class that was meant to improve your intimacy with God. I was not prepared to stay, but I decided to stay anyway, as I needed to take the class.

During the class I tried hard to listen and keep under control my two very energetic kids. But, I ended up leaving halfway through as it just wasn’t working. (Of course the devil wanted me to be discouraged.) I asked God what He wanted me to do, and after talking to Pastor, he said that he would find a way to make it work because he knows how much I not only want the class but need the class. (Of course the devil wasn’t happy once again.) I was learning to persist… The following Thursday my daughter got “the runs.” Not only did she get them, but it was dripping out of the side of the diaper and going through three pairs of pants from diaper leaks in two hours! I cancelled everything on my plate and gave lots of baths that day. Friday, it was just as bad. To be honest, I have no idea where it all kept coming from as she wasn’t really eating.

Sabbath morning I woke up and was planning on not going to church. As I was doing my worship (the kids were finally sleeping through my morning worship), the Cradle Roll teacher texted and asked if I was going to be there. I texted her back and said that I was thinking I didn’t want to go because of the issues with Abby for the two days before. As I wrote the text, I don’t know how to describe it — God spoke to me.

“Bitsy, You believe that I am God, right?” I was kind of surprised by the question.

“Uh, yes, Lord!”

He replied, “So you believe that I can do anything, right?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Well you say you believe it, but you won’t act on your faith.”

I was a little confused for a minute. “But Lord, I can’t go to church; there is no shower there, and what if it’s contagious?” (Half of our congregation is older; they don’t recover so well from things like this.) “And, how am I going to sanitize a mess that is dripping down her legs and running onto the carpet, especially in the middle of church.”

So he responds. “Bitsy, you need to make a decision. You either believe I am God, and I can handle this, not to mention do anything you need — and you go to church; or, you don’t believe Me, and you sit there all day and miss out on Me showing you my power. Not to mention not allowing Me to build your faith in Me, which you are always asking me to do. So, what are you going to do?”

Talk about a slap in my face! But, He made it clear the way that I have always wanted Him to. So, I decided to go. When I did, Abby woke up and came out. “Mommy, I’m poopy!” I, in my still lacking faith, looked in her diaper. He had already answered my request! So, we went to church.

It’s hard to be like a little child, but each day I am reminded of the trust that we are supposed to have in our relationships with Christ. The trust that my children model to me helps me to understand more of what I am supposed to be like toward Christ. The issue I see is that I need to be emotionally connected to Christ in order for my children to be emotionally connected to me. How do we achieve that? I am still learning that myself. However, here are a few tips that I have found, both for becoming emotionally connected to my children and to my Heavenly Father.

1. Take time… Take time to pray, even if it doesn’t feel like it works. Believe it will. Take time to have devotions and to have quiet time focusing on God. This is totally exhausting to do as a mom of little ones, but it is a huge blessing in dealing not only with life but with marriage and parenting as well. Try to cut out the nonessentials. Make your number one priority your children. Then, pray for the strength to keep it that way. God has really impressed upon me that their relationship with us and theirs with Christ are the only things we get to take to Heaven with us. We have a huge role to play in the bringing up of our children, and if we ask, He will provide the strength to fulfill that promise.

It is so hard to reprioritize, but over the last several months God has helped me to see the most important priority is my children, and to be quite honest, I have had to pray that He will change my heart and help me to enjoy being with my children. (They have been so challenging that I am ashamed to admit I have wanted to be done with parenting.) As I have prayed daily for the last three weeks, and have been focusing on Him, He is giving me His grace to change; and I, in spite of our challenges, am starting to enjoy the precious moments with my kids. In fact I am taking time daily to spend time with them and emotionally connect. As I spend this time emotionally connecting with them, I am also finding that the problems we are having are getting easier. He truly fixes all things if we are patient and willing to submit to Him.

2. Pray over each of your children… If Daddy can also do this, it is a special blessing. Pray to claim promises for them. Every night before they go to sleep, I go in to tuck the kids into bed. I am so tired when it comes to bedtime, that we do worship and they get into bed. I put my hand on my child, and I pray individually with them. I claim Jer. 29:11, and if there is something they are particularly strugging with, I claim promises that help with that. Since I started that three weeks ago, the kids will not go to sleep without it, and they both have a hard time being patient and waiting their turn. There is comfort in knowing someone is praying for you.

3. Focus on little things… Focus on the little things that are done right, that the kids need encouragement in, or that they might need a little extra help in. There is a reason that God says the little things are important. This is because the big things are built up of little things. Notice the little things that your kids do to try to please you. Take the time to teach them the little things that are so often overlooked. When they see that you are happy with the little things they do, then they will realize that in their work and their play, their desire will be to help us and please us.

4. Be thankful... We have started a blessing book, and each morning and evening with worship we all say three things we’re thankful for. It’s amazing the happiness that it has brought into our house. I read a quote and I wish I had written it down, but I didn’t. Anyway, it says by counting the blessings the Lord has bestowed on us, we are building faith in Him. I want my children to have a firm foundation of faith in the Lord.

5. Take His word at face value and believe what He says… Sometimes it seems so challenging yet way too simple. Being children of God is a real challenge. Each day we have to wake up and truly believe that He has our back. Because of how things may look or how badly things go that day, it’s often hard to understand how He has our back. However, He promises that He does, and we must trust Him in spite of our feelings. If we ask He will show us what we need to learn from each situation, and sometimes He even tells us about the prevention of things we may not have been aware of.

6. Be vulnerable… This is the hardest part for us as humans, each day struggling to go through without having to be vulnerable…without having to reveal the challenges, struggles, and pain we are experiencing…without showing our children what our hearts are actually dealing with and the fact that most of the time we are feeling the same way they are, but we just won’t admit it. As I have started to show them how I handle the struggles I am dealing with, they are learning and open and asking about the struggles they are having. They are asking me how to handle things, and are interested in being led by me. They are beginning to understand that on the outside we look like adults, but sometimes on the inside we really feel the same way we did as little kids. It helps them to see we really do care. Remembering that we are all in this battle together helps a lot. And, I am starting to allow my children to respectfully say, “Mommy, do you need to have some time with Jesus?” That helps me to know that I am not being Christlike and I need to surrender to Him.

As we press forward this next few weeks, my prayer is that God will open our eyes and help us to see the things we need to cut out and the things we need to add, and help us to see things we can implement in faith to connect more emotionally to our Lord and Savior and to our families and all of our relationships.

Early Childhood Stages of Development – Trust Vs. Mistrust

What is attachment and how important is it to the developmental stages of early childhood? Attachment is a lasting emotional relationship that begins with infants and ties the infant to one or more persons in their lives. Attachment is important to social development and the relationships a child forms in their early years.

Erik Erikson’s theory of attachment began in his first stage of development, called psychosocial theory — the stage of attachment he labeled as Trust versus Mistrust. This stage of development not only is linked to the child’s heart, but also other processes including the engagement of the brain. A healthy attachment early on in a child’s life will provide a good foundation for intelligence later on in their development.  Positive attachment experiences give an infant a sense of well-being and security.

Research has shown that signs of infancy attachment exist from birth, though babies take longer to show their attachment then adults do. Some signs of attachment may be that a baby will recognize their mother’s smell and voice. When they are going through the attachment phase they may be less fussy, more interested, and alert. Some babies will go through a stage where they show distress with someone they don’t know. Usually, babies who don’t show stranger anxiety have had a secure and trusting attachment with multiple caregivers. Another milestone babies may experience is separation anxiety at being separated from their primary caregiver.

Some issues or challenges that may arise with attachment may be temperament. When a parent and child have a good match in temperament, it promotes a closer attachment. When there is a mismatch in temperament, it can hinder the attachment. Counseling the adult to adjust to the baby may help them in their attachment. Some examples of attachment mismatch include an active parent with a calm baby or the opposite. A serious mismatch occurs when the parent keeps pushing the baby to respond to them when the child truly is not interested or comfortable. Parents have to adjust their expectations of the baby when their temperaments to match. Caregivers can help parents understand that there is nothing wrong, and that it’s the parents’ job to understand the baby and respond accordingly rather than trying to make the baby change.

Another mismatch may be when a baby is born with a developmental issue.  Some of these issues don’t foster attachment, like when a baby has a neurological issue that makes them not want to cuddle, have pain when being touched or held, or be unable to control their facial muscles to smile. In these cases it’s important for a parent to be understanding and find other behaviors that signal attachment.

Parents who encourage independence or individualism will teach their children early self-help skills. They teach their babies to sleep alone in their cribs or to feed themselves. Their goals are self-assertion and self-expression, with the end result being self-esteem. Parents who are more focused on collectivism or interdependence will encourage their children to have stronger connections or mutual dependence. They are not as concerned with independent skills. They may hold off on teaching skills like self feeding or sleeping on their own to foster the attachment and closeness of doing it for them.

I personally am a parent who focuses more on independence, but with a loving and nurturing attitude. I love to cuddle and love on my babies, but I’m not about to coddle them. With all of my children, I had them helping with chores at an early age. I was flexible with their abilities and development when teaching these things. I am of the mindset that I’m not about to cater to everything the child wants when they want it. While I understand that is not necessarily what the other side is thinking, I am just more of that mindset.

How does this all play into your interactions with your children? I believe it is important to connect to our children’s hearts, not just when they are little, but all throughout their lives!