Friday, July 25, 2014

My (Unschooling) Kindergarten Plans

Benjamin starts kindergarten this year.  I've been nervous about it, partly because I'm not sure I can add "one more thing" to my plate, but also because I'm not ready to give up the freedom I have with just preschoolers.  Then I start thinking years down the road and I really get overwhelmed.  I have to stop and remind myself to just focus on now, this year.  I remind myself that I don't have to do what other people are doing; that's the beauty of homeschooling.  I remember what my philosophy and my goals are.   I remind myself of the main purpose of school, which, I think, is not to teach my kids everything they need to know, but instead to teach them to love learning, and to teach them how to learn.  When I think of myself as a "teacher" I get overwhelmed and feel inadequate.  But helping my kids learn, and learning beside them?  I can do that.

And really, I don't think "kindergarten" is essential.  A lot of other countries don't start formal schooling at age 5, and personally I think that's a good idea.  Kids have so many years of school ahead of them, why not let them just be kids as long as possible?

Mostly, as we enter the "school" years, we'll just keep doing what we're doing.  Everyday Benjamin learns letters, science, math and reading skills, and it's not by sitting down and doing "school".  It's by asking questions, looking at books, talking about things, living life.  And that's the way I like it.  The kids love to ask "what letter does _____ start with?", and we figure out the answer together.  Benjamin knows tons of numbers, and he's constantly learning more.  Just the other day he had a tape measure out, and he was pointing out numbers he knew and asking me about ones he didn't.  He's great at doing simple addition and subtraction, just from me doing word problems with him at dinner (they're usually related to something we're talking about).  He has been really into whales and other sea creatures for a while now, so we check out books from the library and he pours over them.  He can identify numerous whales, sharks, and other creatures and can tell facts about them, such as what they eat, where they live, and how big they are (besides knowing how many "feet" they are, we've also been measuring things in "Daddies" - as in, a blue whale is about 90 feet long, which is 15 "Daddies" (who is 6 feet).  He knows so much more than I do about sea creatures!  And it's not because I sat down and taught him; it's because he wanted to know and he found out.  Books are very important in our house, and we read together every day.  Lately, I've been reading from a chapter book at lunch time, then each of the kids gets to pick a picture book to read at bedtime.  We've recently started doing some memorization as well.  The kids just learned the Lord's Prayer, by saying it together at bedtime.  I'm planning on having them memorize Psalm 1 next.  There is so much learning going on at our house, and I absolutely love that it doesn't involve sitting down and reading a boring book, or doing worksheets, or taking tests.  Not that there is never a place for those things (well, maybe that's true for the boring books!), but I believe learning is so much more meaningful and memorable for kids when it comes from their interests and doing what they want and love to do.

The one formal thing I will be doing with Benjamin is teaching him to read.  I think he's ready to learn, and because reading is such a key foundation, I think it's a good starting place for us.  And, since it's the only thing we're doing formally, I think we'll be able to really focus on reading and do it well.  I plan to spend 15-20 minutes a day working through Alpha-phonics with Benjamin, probably in the afternoons, which feels weird to me, because I feel like I "should" be doing school stuff in the morning.  But I try to get most of my housework done in the morning, and it's hard for me to focus on other things when the house is a mess and I have chores hanging over my head.  Afternoons at our house are much more open and laid back, so for me it is the ideal time to sit down and work on reading.  I'm open to change if necessary, but for now that's the plan.

I feel so much more comfortable and relaxed now that I have my plans figured out.  This feels like a very gentle and doable transition into our schooling years, and I'm confident we'll have a great year!  In fact, I'm getting kind of excited about it, as long as I don't think too hard about the 20 or so years of school we have ahead of us!  =)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Fun

We've been enjoying a simple, relaxed summer.  We're getting a few house things done here and there (including that chicken fence!), having quiet days at home, and getting out and about to take advantage of summer's pleasures.  The best of everything!  =)

We've been eating lots of yummy summer food, playing in the sprinkler, going to the beach, and the three older kids participated in Vacation Bible School this week.  Fun is being had by all!  We've had a couple of weeks of hot weather, but now we're looking at a few cooler days, which is welcome!

Summer is going by quickly, but we still have lots of summer and fun left!  In the next month we're planning to go to the fair and going camping, both of which we're really looking forward to.  And I'm sure there will be lots more sprinkler and popsicle days in there, too!

A couple of our favorite things this summer:  
We are loving these kids' memory verse songs.  They've been playing non-stop in the car.  They're cute and catchy, but we haven't gotten sick of them yet!  And nothing beats the kids going around the house singing Bible verses!

Tiny House Nation is a new TV show that just started, and Seth and I can't get enough!  We are obsessed with tiny houses, and this show is inspiring and fascinating.  It's like Extreme Makeover for tiny homes.  It airs on TV on Wednesday nights, and so far the shows have been available to watch online on Thursdays.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On the Urban Homestead

Everything's growing around here!

The chickens are huge!  I'm guessing they're probably full-grown by now, although they won't be laying eggs for a couple more months.  Finishing up their run is on the list for the next couple of weeks; hopefully that will happen!

The garden is growing and we've started harvesting rhubarb, peas and lettuce.

Our blueberry bushes are doing well, and there are a fair amount of blueberries on the plants this year.  We can't wait until they're ripe!

And new this year - raspberries!  I found some inexpensive bushes at a plant sale, so I got them and then had to come home and find a place for them.  Then I received another bush for a gift, so we have a nice row now.  The plants have already grown bigger, and we'll even get a few berries this year!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ezra is 3!!!

Ezra turned 3 a couple of weeks ago.  We enjoyed a simple, fun day.  Presents in the morning: a "metal" sword, gummy bears, and a mommy-made quilt.  

We went to the kids' museum in the afternoon, then back home for a picnic and movie in the living room.

Happy birthday to my sweet little man!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Chicken Coop

We've dedicated one of our side yards to the chickens.  It's not really very usable for us, and it's not a huge area, only about six feet wide at the widest point, but it's plenty big enough to be a great run for a few chickens.  My original plan was to just fence this area off, and build a small coop for the birds for night, and I think that plan would have been totally fine.  But after thinking about it, I decided that it would be a good idea to have a "run within the run".  I decided that I wanted something with a bit more security for them should we ever be gone all day, or for the times when we get home late at night and aren't there to close the coop.  I don't think our suburban neighborhood has too many threatening chicken predators, but I did want to make sure they were safe.  So we designed and built a coop with an attached enclosed run.  It was definitely more expensive to build (and more than I had anticipated, as building projects always are), but I think the benefits are worth it.  We haven't finished fencing off the side yard, so they are in here full time right now, but even when we finish the bigger run, this will still provide a dry area when it is raining, as well as a dry place to keep their food, and as I said, it will provide more protection for the times we're not around, particularly at night.

We designed this based off some pictures we had seen, and then Seth and I (mostly Seth) built it.  I am so thankful Seth was willing to do this for me -  it was quite a big project, especially when you're not really into that sort of thing, and he really did a great job.  I am so happy with how it turned out.  We still have a few little things to finish up, like hanging the main door and burying the bottom of the fencing, but it's usable and the chickens are in there, which is the important part!  =)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Having Four Kids Is Easier Than You Think

I've been thinking about this off and on for the past couple of weeks, ever since a neighbor asked me how I do it with four kids (he and his wife had their first baby about six months ago).  Put on the spot, I laughingly said we take it one day at a time.  Which is true, but having mulled over it a bit more, I would answer differently next time.  I think most people think that having four kids is four times the work of one, which makes it seem absolutely overwhelming.  And that's just not true.

I understand this feeling, because I had those same thoughts when I had my first baby.  Benjamin took up all my time, and I honestly wondered how on earth people took care of a toddler and a baby when just a baby took all my time.  But then I had a toddler and a baby, and while it was a bit of a learning curve, I adjusted and it all worked out.

Me with baby Benjamin

I will say that, at least in my experience, the transition from 0 to 1, and then from 1 to 2 kids are the hardest transitions.  With the first baby, everything's new, you don't know what you're doing, and your life has changed.  It can be a big adjustment.  Then when you have another baby, you're a little more comfortable with taking care of a baby, but figuring out how to juggle the needs of two children can be really challenging, and all of a sudden everything seems so much harder than it did when you had just one.  And it is.  But then, once you have those two things down, adding another baby is not nearly as big of an adjustment.  Not that you don't have to adjust at all, but it just seems so much easier.  In my opinion, I think this could be one reason people often don't have more than two kids.  They think having another will be even harder than the first two, and I just don't think that's often the case.  In fact, I think many people miss out on the pleasure of having a baby without some of the stress the first two can bring!

Our family of four

Overall, I really don't think having four kids is any harder than having one.  If you think about it, most of the things you would do with four kids you already do with one - make meals, do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean the house.  Now, I might make more food and do more laundry, but since I'm already doing those things, it's just a bit more work, not four times more work.

And babies grow up.  I'm not taking care of four babies, I'm taking care of one baby, plus three older kids who can do a lot of things for themselves.  The three older kids can (mostly) dress and feed themselves and (usually) take care of their bathroom needs.

Three kids under three

Then there's the entertainment factor.  Benjamin wasn't an only child for very long, but while he was, it was ALL ME.  If he was bored, it was up to me to entertain him, or at least find him something to do.  With four kids, they entertain each other.  There's always someone to play with, someone to think of something to do - for good or bad!  =)  If Toby cries, there's not just one, but many people to bring him toys, make him laugh, etc.

And, as they say, "many hands make light work."  I don't have to do everything.  My kids might still be young, but they are old enough now to be genuinely helpful.  They clean up their toys, take care of their clean and dirty laundry, empty the dishwasher, set the table, and help me with other things as I need it.  Just the other day, when we were out and about,  Toby was fussy in the car because he was getting hungry.  If he had been my only child, I couldn't have done anything about it.  But I was able to hand Benjamin a bag of Cheerios (actually, Joe's Os!), who gave them to Toby one at a time, which was enough to pacify him until we could get home.  Not only did that make Toby happy, but it was also less stressful for me, since I didn't have to drive home with a crying baby in the backseat.

FOUR kids!  =)

My answer to my neighbor's question was true - we do take it one day at a time.  We have good days and bad days.  Sometimes all four children need something at the very same time and it can be overwhelming.  Sometimes there is bickering and bad attitudes and whining and I want to send everyone to bed at 11:00 in the morning.  Sometimes (okay, always!) it takes us FOREVER to get ready to go somewhere.  But then there are the small arms clasped tightly around my neck and the story time snuggles and the toothless baby grins.  There are the bible stories at dinner and the requests to pray at bedtime.  There is the endless excitement over chickens and ferry rides and playing in the backyard.  There is the talking and laughter at dinner and the full minivan and the family walks in the evening.  There is the stampede and chorus of "Good morning, Mom!" when their clock turns yellow in the morning.  There is the curiosity and the imagination.  There is the love.

I'll be honest and say that having four children can be challenging.  But I don't think it's the having four part that is challenging, it's the having children part that's challenging.  And that's the same whether it's one, four, or twenty.  And while it may be work; exhausting, stressful, difficult work at times, the fun and the joy and the love I receive in return make it so, so worth it.