Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Preschool - getting started

Last fall I started a little preschool group with some of the moms and kids in our neighborhood. We meet twice a week for about an hour (often longer so the kids can play and we can visit). We spent the fall learning the alphabet - more on that coming soon! - and since then we've done shapes, our bodies, seasons, and more. It's a lot of fun, and we keep it pretty low key. The idea is to help the kids learn routines, structure, and social skills, and to learn through play. We do lots of hands-on activities and games, and just like to have fun.

Here is the basic schedule we follow every day:

Welcome Song
Story Time
Play Time
Clean Up

I bought one of those hanging pocket things at the Dollar Spot at Target (love that place! that's where I got a lot of our preschool stuff) and it fits perfectly - just the right size and right number of pockets! We just have a little star that we move down the chart as we get to each activity.

Here's a link to print your own!

Let me outline what a typical preschool day looks like, to show you how simple it is!

We have the kids each sit on a carpet square (you can get them for like $1 at a carpet store), then start with a welcome song to (hopefully) get the kids' attention and signal that we're ready to start.

For calendar, we have the kids repeat the day/date with us, and put stickers on the calendar for that day.

We have a little weather chart, and have the kids point to what the weather's like and talk about it. (We just printed and laminated the one I linked to, but there are tons of cute ideas for making your own if you're feeling more crafty/ambitious!)

Story time is reading a book that introduces and teaches or goes with the topic we're learning about that day. We will usually tell them a little about our topic before reading. (e.g. Today we're learning about the letter A. Apple starts with A [point to the A], and this book is all about apples!)

Activity should really be labeled "Activities" because we often have more than one. We almost always do some sort of art/craft activity - coloring, gluing, tracing, etc. something that teaches more about the topic we're learning. And we also often do some type of more interactive activity or game - a matching game, Simon Says, a science experiment, sorting things, sensory activities, etc.

(Just a few of the arts/crafts activities we've done)

Play time is just that! By the time we finish our activities, most of them are a little restless to just do their own thing (even when the activities are more active) so we let them just get out the toys and play for a bit, or go outside if the weather's nice.

Sometimes for snacks we do something that goes with the theme or topic of the day (when we're feeling ambitious or it lends itself more easily to that, like apple slices for the letter A), but often we don't. The kids don't really seem to care either way!

One of my more "ambitious" snacks - we had learned about healthy bodies that day, so I made a face out of healthy snacks 

It really can be so simple! The kids enjoy it, and are learning from it, and we don't have too much stress in planning and executing the lessons. I've outlined all our units so far, and will be posting those soon!

So if you're thinking of doing preschool at home with your little one, my suggestion is to keep it simple and keep it fun. Don't stress too much about having a perfect "pinterest worthy" lesson every day. The kids enjoy it even if their art projects don't turn out as perfectly as you'd hoped or the game you planned devolves into chaos (or the cute picture you tried to take turned out blurry cuz your kid won't hold still - see below!) The most important thing is that you're engaged and investing in their learning process, and showing them that learning is important and fun!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to be a good mom

The internet is flooded with blog posts, parenting articles, pictures, lists, etc on what it means to be a good mom and how to be a good mom. Now, if you're anything like me (and most moms I know) you'll have many moments, or days, or months, where you don't really feel like a good mom. And reading these things leads to simultaneously feeling encouraged and discouraged. (I know, women are weird, right?) I'm waffling between thinking, "yeah, I can do this mom thing!" and criticizing myself for not already doing all those things.

Lately I've been much more on the feeling-like-a-failure side of this fence. My quite energetic, tantrum-prone, strong-willed child was going through a difficult phase, and I was having a rather hard time dealing with it. After lots of introspection, prayer, reading parenting books/articles, talking to my husband and my mom, I'm feeling a bit better. Why? Because after all of this I've come up with a fabulous list for you that is a "sure-fire guaranteed way to be a good mom."

Ready for it? Here's my list:

1. Love your kids and let them know you love them.

Seriously, that's what it all boils down to. Sure, there are tons of different ways to do this. And I certainly haven't perfected it yet. But at the end of the day (or at the end of many years when your child is all grown up) what they're going to remember is that you loved them.

Here is my mom with her kids, all grown up. We love each other :) And can be a bit ridiculous at times, like ambushing her when we're supposed to be taking family photos. My mom will be the first to tell you that she wasn't a "perfect" mom. But I never doubted that she loved me. And we all turned out ok. I think. :)

I remember so vividly when my babies were born, and holding them for the first time, and being filled with more love than I ever imagined. And it's that powerful, eternal love that I try to hold onto, to bring back to the surface, in the moments that are a bit more challenging.

Somehow in the chaotic monotony of everyday life, we still know that we love our children - that never changes - but sometimes it takes a backseat to dealing with life. Yet I've discovered that if I actually let that love take the steering wheel, the road gets so much smoother.

I usually don't get particularly religious on this blog, but I don't feel I can talk about this subject any other way. But I think the ideas and principles can apply to everyone.
I was reading in Corinthians recently, the chapter on charity, and some things struck me a bit differently than usual.  The beginning of the chapter lists all sorts of wonderful attributes and acts, but then says if you have all these attributes, do all these wonderful things, but don't have charity, it's worth nothing.
So we can be the best mom in the world based on how clean our house is, how smart our kids are, how picture-perfect everything is, but if we don't love our kids, and show them that love, none of it matters.

Lest anyone thinks I'm claiming to have all this parenting stuff perfected, here's a classic example of how not "picture perfect" my life is… :) Most of our pictures are blurry because the kids won't hold still, they aren't looking, or are crying, or are being crazy. Pretty sure I'm not wearing any makeup. And yes, I think my baby is trying to eat his brother. You know how it is.

The next thing that struck me from this chapter was the oft-quoted line: "Charity never faileth." Now I know it means here that charity is dependable, can be counted on to not vanish, cease, etc. as the verse goes on to say. But it struck me that it can be applied here in another way:

If we have charity, we cannot fail. If we show love toward our children, we cannot fail.

Will this automatically make everything in life perfect? No, of course not. There are still the daily challenges of life, the frustrations, the sleeplessness, the piles of laundry and dishes, the tantrums (from you or your kids - I won't judge), and all that comes with just being human. But if we're trying to act from a place of love and charity, it gets a lot easier. When I find myself acting out of frustration, anger, fear, or any of the other negative emotions that take hold, I try to take a step back, take a deep breath (or 20), and come back to the situation from a place of love.

I recently read a parenting book that I actually recommend: Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. She breaks parenting down into "The 7 Powers of Self-Control" which coincide with "7 Discipline Skills", which lead to "7 Values for Living."

As I was reading, especially the 7 Values for Living, I couldn't help but think that these were basically characteristics of Christ. She doesn't connect it to religion or religious beliefs in her book, but how could I not see the attributes of Christ in such ideas as compassion, integrity, empathy, and allowing our children to exercise free will, but teaching them to act responsibly?

So this brings me back to 1 Corinthians 13, and how the attributes of charity are the attributes of Christ, and therefore  the attributes of a good parent.

Charity suffereth long - be patient with yourself, and with your children, and with the never-ending cleaning, diaper changing, midnight-feedings, laundry, "why mom?"s, homework help, and everything else that comes with being a mom.

and is kind -  show them love and kindness in your words and actions

charity envieth not -  this one's a bit different in a parenting approach. To me, it means to not compare to those other moms out there who seem to have it all together. We all have good times and bad times, and not everyone sees the bad times. Just keep keep having charity!

charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up - be humble, willing to learn from your mistakes, and apologize. Sometimes it's hard for me to apologize to my kids; I somehow got it in my head that they should think I'm perfect and know everything. But I'm not, and I don't, and I need to set that example for them of humility and teachability.

Doth not behave itself unseemly - apply this one how you will. Maybe try to keep your tantrums to screaming in your pillow in private :)

seeketh not her own - put the needs of your family and children first. Yes, there are times where you absolutely need to take care of yourself to be capable of taking care of your family. But (at least for me) there are other times where I'm just being lazy/selfish and would rather do what I want than what my children need. 

is not easily provoked - hmm, that temper of my son's? He gets it from me. This is where the taking a calm breath(s) comes in, or sometimes a time out for both of us! That way, when I/we have regained composure, we can better deal with the problem in love not anger.

thinketh no evil - I'm gonna take a little liberty on this one from what perhaps the actual Biblical meaning is, and apply one of the ideas from the book mentioned above. We need to assume positive intent in our children's behavior, rather than "thinking evil" of them or their behavior. If we assume negative motives when they misbehave, it leads to more conflict. But if we ask their intent, or assume positive intent (e.g. "you hit your brother because he took your toy and that upset you" rather than "you hit your brother because you're mean and horrible") then we can work together to solve problems instead of working against each other.

rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth - find joy in the beauty of parenting, the little moments of sweet, pure love; another scripture says "truth is knowledge of things as they are" - find joy in the now. Find something every day to rejoice in. Even if it's just one thing. Even if it's just that you made it through another day!

beareth all things - this one goes nicely with "suffereth long" for me. There will be tough days. But keep charity in your heart, and it becomes so much easier to bear!

believeth all things, hopeth all things - Have faith! In yourself, and in Christ. Over these past few months, I've come to know that I can't handle being a mom on my own strengths, knowledge, or abilities. But I don't have to. I already have the perfect example, and I just need to have the faith to follow Him.
endureth all things - I don't think I need to say much more on this one, other than you can do it! Refer back to "suffereth long" and "beareth all things."

Charity never faileth - Like I said before, if we have love, we cannot fail.

Being a good mom (or dad, or person) is less about the things you do, and more about the person you're trying to be.