The Road to Failure and My Misguided Intentions

homeschoolI suppose that I should start out by explaining why my husband and I chose to homeschool in the first place. We have decided that the public school system is going downhill quickly. Over where we are, it’s not uncommon to have 35-40 kids in a single class, the ridiculousness of Common Core is beginning, and teachers have been brainwashed by union heads into thinking they are underappreciated and underpaid. We simply believe that homeschooling our four-year-old twin girls, Allie and Kristy, is now a no-brainer. This was a decision that we made because we think that allowing a child to flourish and blossom at their own pace is important and can be hindered in the normal school setting, especially with the ever increasing class sizes.

The first year of homeschooling, I started preparing months in advance. I arranged for there to be a dedicated room in the house for the schooling and installed every item I could imagine would be in a classroom. I created detailed schedule plans for the school year and researched forms of curriculum. I visited every homeschool support forum available at the time and by August, I was all nerves. The strict schedule and responsibility of what I would have to do for the next 12 years was already taking its toll on me. When the alarm went off at six on the first scheduled day of school, I jumped out of bed like someone had shot at me.

Allie and Kristy were little troopers in spite of their crazy mommy. I followed my plans to the letter and they did their best to see me as their teacher instead of just Mommy. We followed the same routine for a couple of weeks and from the outside looking in, I was the perfect homeschooling mom who had it all together. On the inside, however, I was a wreck. The grueling routine and schedule that I had created was getting to me, my husband, my children, and even my home that had been terribly neglected. In a few weeks, I had transformed from the fun loving wife and mother to a generic person who just filled a spot at the dinner table.

graduateIt wasn’t until mid September that my husband saved me from my own self-propelled madness. As I sat in my pajamas at the edge of the bed, crying because I thought I was going to have to give up homeschooling, he said, “Tammy, how is what you are doing any different than what the girls would have in real school?”. It was then that it hit me. The whole time I’d been going about this wrong. I mimicked everything I thought school should be and had abandoned the idea that school could be different, which was our point in the beginning. Homeschool was a way for us to allow our girls to have a choice my strict planning and routine was leaving no space for freedom.  From that point, everything changed. I relaxed my rules, my schedule, and integrated schooling as part of the daily activities in the house, instead of only focusing on education.

Allie and Kristy now love their school at home. Allie is creative and spends more time on her artwork, but Kristy loves to read and is allowed to spend as much time as she wants reading new stories. Homeschooling is not about a strict routine, but about happy children who get the chance to find out who they are and what they want to learn. If this is your first year of homeschooling, be sure to use my experience to remind you of this fact and you will find that this task is actually no task at all, but only part of being a good parent.

Mission Impossible: Eating Healthy Foods

healthier-eatingAs a busy mom of young twin girls, I struggle (as we all do) with getting my kids to eat healthier foods. Allie and Kristy are typical four year olds with demanding personalities and picky eating habits.

Allie only wants to eat white foods: breads, pastas, and cheeses (not yellow cheese, don’t you dare offer her yellow cheese). Anything that might be meat is grounds for immediate regurgitation, and fruits and veggies must be bananas, prunes (of all things), or snap peas only. Kristy will eat meat provided that it’s meatballs or ham, no substitutions (FYI meatloaf is unacceptable, don’t bother explaining that it’s just a big meatball shaped like a football), and will eat carrots when pressed but only if they’ve been buried under ranch dressing or ketchup.

Desperate to get something nutritious in their bellies, and frustrated beyond belief, I instituted two rules for mealtime which my friend runs the Nutritionist Advisor suggested.

Rule #1

First, you must take a “no, thank you” bite. One bite. That’s all I’m asking. Take one bite, then if you don’t like it, I won’t make you eat anymore. If you like it, I will do a happy mommy dance all over the kitchen. It is worth noting that after months of this rule, not one food has gotten a second taste from either one of them. I can’t decide if that’s win or lose. Win: they are trying new foods. Lose: they haven’t actually enjoyed any of them. I guess it’s a wash.

Rule #2

The second rule is “never yuck someone else’s yum.” That means they aren’t allowed to say something tastes terrible, or is yucky or anything negative because it makes the other people at the table who enjoy the food (and possibly slaved over a hot stove to prepare it) feel bad. If you don’t like your “no, thank you” bite, say “no, thank you” and that’s it. It hasn’t been a big drama when they don’t like something, no faces or hysterics, just “no, thank you” and then we move on.

The Results

oscarSo mealtime improved, simply because the girls aren’t putting on Oscar-worthy performances every night, but their actual food intake was the same. The next step was radical snack policy modification. I confess, I am sometimes too permissive with snacks, especially if I’m trying to buy time because dinner is late or some other life obstacle is competing with a proper eating habits. So I put a strict snack schedule into effect and refused to let them snack off-schedule which helped them to be hungry at meal time, but still, I couldn’t get more than the smallest sampling of veggies into their mouths.

Then, while trying to get dinner on the table (late, of course) the girls were complaining that they were hungry. My husband, who was busy making salad (for us, obviously, the kids weren’t going to eat it), threw a pile of green pepper strips, and celery and carrot sticks on a plate with some hummus and said they could eat that or wait until dinner… and they did. It was like bird-watching. My husband and I were afraid to move or draw attention for fear we might spook them and never duplicate this experiment again.

Allie ate carrots and celery (no hummus, but still totally a win) and Kristy had a bit of everything including finger-fulls of straight hummus. We’ll work on the “no double dipping” rule another time. Whether it was the lack of other options that day or the phase of the moon, I don’t know, but for a moment, there was progress. I don’t plan on quitting my day job to get into pediatric nutrition or anything, but I have to say, I was a bit proud of myself tackling this issue head-on and the results that followed.

 

Camping in the Backyard

backyard-campingFamily camping is a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful too. One way to keep things under control is to set up a backyard camping night that you and the kids can enjoy. In order to make the most of the time, it’s important to consider factors like the setup of the camp, the food that everyone will enjoy, and even putting together some games and activities that the whole family can participate in.

Setting Up the Campsite

To make the event as much fun as possible, choose a portion of the backyard that will serve as the campsite. Use the same basic approach that you would use for setting up at a campground. In other words, you would choose to place the tent under a shaded area so it would have a little extra protection from the rain. That shade would also help to keep the temperature inside the tent more pleasant during the heat of the day.

You can even set up a fire pit that will be used for cooking. If you don’t want to dig a hole or ruin the grass, you can always have the kids collect some rocks to make a foundation for a Hibachi grill or some similar device. The kids will enjoy helping to get ready to roast wieners or cook other foods on an open fire. We generally have our first “camp-out” after a little spring cleaning in the garage. This year, my husband (the researcher that he is), poured over countless pressure washer reviews on Consumer Reports and other sites and bought himself a new Generac. We most likely had the cleanest back patio in the state after his day of experimenting with it.

Since you probably don’t have a creek or lake to use for swimming, there is always the option of setting up a wading pool as part of the campsite. Place some comfortable lounges or chairs on the site as well. That will allow the kids to splash away to their heart’s content, then dry out in the sun.

Packing the Food

The backyard camping expedition should not make it necessary to keep running in and out of the house. This means packing food and drink for the evening. Prepare an ice chest and make sure it has plenty of ice to keep the sodas and bottles of water cold. For the food, make trail mix, take along some popcorn, and simple things that you can use to make sandwiches. Don’t forget the hot dogs and the buns for the main meal. Round out the list with some potato chips and maybe something sweet.

Games

boccePart of camping is getting away from it all. Since you and your kids are so used to electronic devices, decide to do without them for the evening. That means no cell phones and no electronic games. To keep everyone occupied, haul out some board games and keep a few decks of cards on hand. If anyone in the home happens to be musical, a guitar or similar instrument should also be part of the backyard camping scene. Even if no one in the family is that great of a singer, you can have a lot of fun learning some traditional songs and spending time together. We’re particularly fond of bocce ball. The rules are pretty simple and it’s a ton of fun.

Sitting Around the Campfire

While we already have a nice little fire pit, it’s not necessary. You can create a campfire by using two or three flashlights that you stand upright in the stones collected earlier. For more of a fire effect, gather some branches and place them around the flashlights. You won’t have to worry about anyone getting burned or having to have a good fire extinguisher around.

Lights Out

At bedtime, everyone gets to make one run into the house for bathroom time and brushing their teeth. After that, it’s back to the tent site and into the sleeping bags. Expect the kids to spend a little time talking and laughing before they finally settle down to sleep. Make sure to turn out the flashlights before you call it a night.

Space Issue Debunked (or Bunked)

bunksWhen my twin girls were four, my husband and I purchased our first house.  We moved in two weeks after our five year anniversary and it was such a  wonderful change from the apartment.  This new place had more bedrooms, allowing our daughters to each have their own space in time, and the ability for us to begin trying for another baby in the near future.  The twins certainly are not ready to sleep alone yet and have never spent the night apart since conception.   The one bedroom they wanted to share was a decent size, but really seemed suited to one bed not two.   The girls were in their cozy Merino sleep sacks which we splurged on from the Sleep Sack Store and still in toddler beds for the first month after we settled in, and the two toddler beds side by side were okay, with just a little bit of space for a night table in between, but it did not allow for much morning play space or wind down room at night.   I recall when I was young that I had a twin bed against the wall, looking across at the  corner with my  very own bookshelf  and a nice comfy bean bag set in the nook and I really wanted that for Allie and Kristy.

Jim, my husband, stepped in and came up with the solution before I did, but I admit I was nervous about it.  He suggested that we purchase bunk beds that would allow the space to be opened up.  He works all day and gets to see the sleepy side of the girls at night when I’ve been home all day listening to their bickering as little girls will do, they complain about sharing, they complain about who can have which dress on in the morning and I don’t even understand that one, I dress them identical!  Either way, I knew there would be a battle for top bunk and I was a little nervous about whether or not one of them would fall out from the top bunk having never been up that high before.

We’re huge fans of Ikea as half of our furnishings are from there but when we went to the store, nothing really stood out as far as bunk beds. Looking into our options online, we did manage to find one that was perfect, and the height was adjustable with growth.  They did fight over who was going to get the top bunk at first, but it was actually easily solved when Kristy won for top bunk and then found out that she was too scared to even sleep up there.  She opted for the bottom from then on out.   I got to create a nice little reading corner for the girls and a cute hammock over the top that houses their favorite stuffed animals.

Allie’s Guardian Angel – A trip to the ER

Emergency Room SignWhat an awful experience!  Scariest weekend  Jim and I ever had to encounter since the twins were born four years ago.  I remember Jim wanting boys when we first found out we were pregnant with multiples but secretly I was glad they were girls because I knew that they would be easier and gentler when playing.  Turns out I was wrong though, as Allie and Kristy are both showing tomboy tendencies and Allie is definitely the more adventurous leader.  She climbs on furniture and jumps off, giving me a heart attack a couple times a day. Strong discipline had been implemented with both of them and it seemed to be working as she was getting better  until yesterday.

Allie and Kristy know they are not allowed into our bedroom to play but when I was pouring coffee yesterday morning I heard the absolute worst crash and ran to find Allie screaming and blood on the side of her shirt.  My tall dresser was tipped on the floor at an angle and a bottle of perfume was spilled on the floor.   Kristy was crying in the doorway.    I scooped up Allie and noticed a huge gash behind her left ear and I was in shock as I saw her white skull exposed.   Jim was working so I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and applied pressure with one hand while calling 911 with the other hand.  Rushed to the hospital after an ambulance ride I hardly remember with Kristy in my lap and Allie on the gurney.

After a quick cat scan, it was apparent that the corner of the dresser had just scraped her head and there was no internal injury.  They took her back to the OR and put her to sleep to stitch her head up with  12 stitches.  The realization hit me hard then that my twins would forever be distinguishable if you knew where to look.  Thankfully, her hair will cover the stitch location in time but all I can say right now is that she surely had a guardian angel looking out for her because it could have been a lot worse for her.   We stayed overnight but all is going to be okay.  First trip in four years to the E.R. and I hope we do not have to go again any time soon.

The best toys are for outdoor use

toy-tractorKids really need more exercise these days. You will discover way too many obese children around which can affect their health and well being. So, just how can we get little ones to get away from the video games and TVs and go and play out of the house in the sun. The answer is to have a few fun outdoor toys they can enjoy.

How It Was

Growing up, I remember all the fun times I had playing with several of my most loved toys. We had an inflatable swimming pool in the back yard and we enjoyed splashing around in the summer. Too bad we couldn’t use our small air compressor back then to quickly inflate it. Even in the chilly weather we were outside having fun with our action toys including He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers as well as others. We used to pretend to have war games and have them in the sandpit. My brother and I in addition enjoyed playing on our swing set. Those days, we were rarely indoors.

How It Is

The fact is right now, video games have taken over from the good old-fashioned fun many of us used to have. I was constantly shooing my seven year old son outside to have fun, but I knew he actually would prefer to be indoors having fun with his latest electronic gadget. That’s why I became so delighted after my nephew became really interested in this new Razor 360 three wheeler tricycle. So when he asked for a bike for his birthday, I took advantage of the opportunity. This fast little bike has changed his playing behavior instantly. I’m hearing that these days it is hard to get him inside at all!

One of our twins is somewhat more of a creative person. Much like I experiment with ingredients to attempt to make the world’s best tasting protein shake, she likes to try to make jewelry out of all sorts of different string and beads. Her latest passion is referred to as the Klutz Mini Capsters Jewelry kit and she makes some truly pretty necklaces and rings with it. Still, even she can be tempted outside on a sunny day for a ride on her bike.

Important note about safety:  While it may seem like most accidents involving children happen outside the home, some of the most tragic occur indoors. In the news lately have been more and more instances of kids getting their hands on firearms due to irresponsible gun owners not keeping them properly secured. It’s crucial to always keep guns locked up and away from the curiosity and/or boredom of children. Make sure you get the best gun safe you are able to afford. My husband is a hunter and a safety nut so he probably went a bit overboard with his but that’s ok.

It is necessary for kids to have some balance within their lives. Possessing a good mix of indoor and outdoor toys means that they will obtain the exercise they need and also the mental stimulation required to learn and grow. You can find new toys being released regularly and it is often confusing to know the ones that are best for your son or daughter. I’ve found it is best to purchase my kid’s toys online since I can read through reviews that some other moms and dads have written so as to make a much more informed choice. It normally ends up costing less as well.

Composting 101

compostI’ve always heard about how great it is to start your own compost pile. My husband and I decided that it would actually be a great learning experience for the whole family. The kids really loved getting involved in this one. Again, one of the many benefits of homeschooling.

What is Compost?

Compost is an organic matter, usually garden debris, that has been allowed or encouraged to decay. To be a successful organic gardener, you will want to take advantage of the benefit of using a compost. It is useful in improving fertility and texture of planting beds and is an important constituent of greenhouse and potting soils. Its nutritive qualities depend on the fertilizers and other nutrient-containing materials added to the compost pile as it decomposes. Continue reading