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Let’s Make This Easier

It’s a well known technique for getting things done: break a large, unmanageable job into smaller parts.

Bea was consistently struggling to care for her hair on her own, despite regular encouragement, advice and support from me. It was time to make the job easier. I cut 5 inches off the bottom and now it is a job she can manage on her own. She is elated with her new hair, brushes it without being asked (!), and everyone is happier.

Claire is never expected to learn an entire song at once on her violin. She learns one chunk at a time – clapping the rhythm, one small phrase of notes – and slowly puts them together. Only after a significant amount of practice does it come together as an entire song.

autumn leaves

I know this. And yet, when it comes to my own struggles, emotional ones especially, I persist in trying to tackle the whole enchilada at once. All I see is a tangle of yarn, and the emotional response to that prevents me from taking a deep breath and slowly, painstakingly unwinding all the different threads. Freaking out only tugs all those knots tighter.

How can I break this huge job into smaller parts? How can we make this easier?

Full Disclosure: This is one of those posts where I am writing to figure something out for myself, not decreeing from on high. I do not do any of this perfectly. Your mileage may vary. You may have another technique. It may even involve wine and chocolate cake. That’s fine. I am not jealous. Ok, I am. But wine and chocolate cake are out of my toolkit for the moment and I’ve got to figure something else out.

Take Time / Have an Adult Time Out

Emotional distress is so easy to sweep under the rug. Unless it’s bubbling over and spitting out like a pot of burning oatmeal, ordinary simmering distress can be somewhat ignored. It’s not that fun to deal with and there are many, many other things on the to-do list. So it gets ignored until the simmering turns into burning and spitting.

Calming down our alarmed amygdalas and identifying triggered implicit memories takes time. Lots of time. Time spent either with a patient, warm and loving Compassionate Self-Witness or an Empathy Buddy. There is no quick fix. Time is part of the process.

autumn light

Identify Feelings

Pare off the excess by focusing your attention on the present moment. With eyes closed, scan your awareness over your entire body. What do you notice? Any areas of particular tightness or pain? Can you name those sensations as accurately as possible? Is it a dark, prickly pain or a hot, dull one? What colour is that sensation? Does it have an emotional quality attached to it? I do this as an activity with my kids sometimes and they draw pictures of their feelings, giving them names and pets and favourite sunglasses and everything. They usually find that by the time they have finished their drawing they are feeling much, much better.

Sometimes naming alone brings a tangled mess of a feeling into focus enough so that we can see what needs to be done next. I’ve even had naming bring a huge sigh of relief and a shift in emotional state from agitation to calmness. Name it to tame it.

tree swing

What Do You Need?

Unmet needs are behind every kind of distress – from a toddler’s tantrum to a protracted international conflict. But the tricky thing about needs is that they are universal, and not bound to any one particular outcome. Here’s an example: I have a need for peace and harmony. My preferred strategy for meeting that need is for everyone else to do what I want (Ha!). But I can also get my need for peace and harmony met by going for a walk by myself in the forest, slowly teaching my children how to resolve conflicts and appreciating the peaceful, harmonious interactions I do have with other people, even a conflict still exists with someone else. Looking for the unmet needs is truly the key that unlocks conflict and transforms it from blame and anger to compassion, although it takes time and honest reflection to come to understand what the real, deep needs are for yourself and others.

slug cuddles

 

Make a Request

I’ve left this one for last because it usually doesn’t work well unless you’ve gone through the rest of the process and spent some time identifying your feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of the other people involved. But once you know what feelings and needs are alive in a certain situation, you might see a solution that will help get those particular needs met. In this case, you can make a request. Ask for something specific, something that can actually be done. “I want you to be less annoying” does not count. “Can we meet at 10am and make a list of the things that need to be done today?” does.

rope swing

What did I figure out by writing this post? I wrote down every tool I could think of and then realized that I ended up with the basic framework of Non-Violent Communication: Observation (time out), Feelings, Needs, Request. Taken together, it can seem like an overwhelming process, almost as difficult to manage as the original distress. But taken separately, each step is one manageable chunk. And they will work independently, for the most part. There is value in each step, each piece of a jigsaw puzzle clicked into place, each small tangle of yarn undone. Even if the rest of the yarn is a hopeless snarl, we can use these techniques to untwist one small part at a time.

 

 

 

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Kindergarten Homeschool Resources

When it comes to homeschooling for kindergarten, most parents are far more excited or anxious about the transition than the children are. As far as a kindergarten age child is concerned, they may be aware that some of their friends now go to school and they don’t, but they are most likely not going to wake up on the first day of school expecting a math curriculum workbook on the table. Full disclosure: I bought a math curriculum for my eldest when she was five and tried to make her work through it. So I’m speaking from experience here. My youngest daughter is now just starting kindergarten, but with far less fanfare and anxiety than the first time around.

What kind of resources do you need to homeschool a child through kindergarten?

  • What is useful and good to have around?
  • What is a waste of money, or more trouble than it’s worth?
  • What’s age appropriate, what’s too advanced or too babyish?

The answers to these questions depend entirely on your individual child, of course. But there are some common traits and developmental stages that most five year old children share. Here is a list of the resources I found most helpful when I homeschooled for kindergarten the first time around:

Pattern Blocks

pattern blocks

These blocks are great for the entire kindergarten math curriculum objectives – you can count them, arrange them in patterns, make observations about how you can arrange them and make the same shapes with different combinations of blocks, stack them, make chickens or foxes or rockets or anything else you can think of by arranging them in different ways. They are fun, simple, and open-ended. Open ended Legos are also a great resource, with similar mathematical potential.

Bob Books

We have brought out the Bob books for each girl as she reaches the stage of being curious about letters and their sounds – once Claire could identify all the letters and knew that they represented sounds, I brought out the first box of Bob books and showed her how sounds go together to make words. We’re very relaxed about this – now that I have seen Bea go through her own process of learning to read, I am better able to trust that it will happen in its own good time. Bob books are just a good tool to use to make those early steps because they are small and completely phonics based. They don’t contain many sight words, unlike many early readers I see on the library shelves.

Dress up clothes

dressing up clothes

Young children learn a tremendous amount through play, especially representational, imaginary play. Dress up clothes are a wonderful addition to make this kind of play really come alive. They don’t have to be fancy, but a few simple scarves and leftover halloween costumes (pirate hats! tiger suit! fancy lady dresses!) go a long way.

Art and craft supplies

painting cardboard boxes

Paper, scissors, crayons, glue. Old magazines to cut up and collage. Bits of yarn and elastic, plastic straws and paper plates. Cardboard boxes. Tempera paints, watercolour paints, maybe even acrylic paints if you’re willing to keep a very close eye on the paints and how they are being used. Sticks, leaves, acorns, sand, rocks, seashells, wool. The clean contents of your recycling bin. Pretty much anything can be incorporated into a creative project!

Weather-appropriate outdoor clothes

Little kids (Ok, all of us) need to get moving every day, and when you’re homeschooling the best and easiest place to move is outside. For us, we have full body waterproof layers for every member of our family – we can go out for a walk in the forest in a torrential downpour if we want to (and we often do!). The specific gear you will need will depend on your local climate, but it’s worth the investment to have decent quality outdoor gear for your most inclement weather.

Cooperative board games and jigsaw puzzles

cooperative board games

We have been moving more towards conventional (ie: competitive) board games as my eldest grows older, but for the first several years we almost exclusively played cooperative board games like Round Up and Harvest Time. Taking competition out of the equation resulted in a better experience for everyone, especially with a kindergarten age child. We also like playing Go Fish, Uno and Dominoes.

A writing station

girls with their writing station

Inspired by Reggio Emilia and other emergent curriculum pedagogies, I set up a writing station for my eldest when she was kindergarten age. It was simple – just a kid size table with a few jars of pencils, erasers and mailing labels in a set of little wooden drawers, and some paper and envelopes nearby. My daughter loved the idea that she could write letters to people whenever she wanted, and our friends and family got more mail than usual for a while. Now our entire dining room is basically our writing station. Supplies are all within easy reach, are straightforward to put away, and are free for everyone to use. A very select group of tools require adult assistance and are not stored within reach, but everything else is. This means that when inspiration strikes, the tools for making it happen are ready and waiting, whether you are 5 or 105.

A library card

Ok, this may be the most obvious homeschool resource for any age, but it has to go on the list because I love my library that much. Show your kids how to request books, how to look them up in the catalogue, how to find specific books on the shelf, and how to look for books on a particular topic. This is called information studies, and in the information age it’s a valuable skill.

Media and Computer Games

For a 5 year old, we try to limit screen based media and electronic games, but we make exceptions for nature documentaries (we love the Planet Earth, The Private Life of Plants and Walking With Dinosaurs series) and a few online games like Starfall.com. Audiobooks are also a huge hit with the kindergarten crowd – they allow kids to listen to books that are at their interest level, not their reading level. A very popular activity around here is colouring while listening to audiobooks (Lego and audiobooks work equally well). You may also want to invest in a kid-friendly pair of headphones, or be zen about listening to a favourite book 100 times!

Social Time and Family Time

family time

5 year olds don’t need a ton of time to socialize with their peers, but they do benefit from some. We like to have one or two regular playdates or scheduled activities for each child in our week – this leaves plenty of time for diving deep into play and learning at home while making time to build connections with our friends or take a class in the community. Family time is really the foundation of learning at the kindergarten age. In Leadership Education (aka Thomas Jefferson Education), age 5 is at the Core stage – when kids are learning how to contribute and be in a group, what the boundaries of good behaviour are and forming the bedrock of strong attachment to their parents that will allow them to stretch and reach in their learning as they get older. When my eldest was 5 I thought that 8 was far too long to wait, but now that my eldest has turned 8 I can see just how much she has changed in those three years, and she is far more interested in formal academics than she was before. If I could turn back the clock I’d reassure myself that Core stage work (how to get along with others, how to help out around the house, how to get empathy, how to listen and communicate) is critically important and more than enough to focus on for age 5.

What are your favourite kindergarten homeschool resources? Anything you’d add to the list? 

 

 

 

 

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That Back to Homeschool Feeling

This year, the most notable thing about our schooling is not that we are NOT back in school, but that we have actually returned to a routine that prioritises dedicated time for learning and projects. Kids in our province are still at home, teachers are on the picket line, and us homeschoolers are continuing on our merry way, mostly unaffected by the drama.

It is a relief, actually. As I focus more intentionally on my children and their goals, interests and challenges, I find myself focusing better on my own goals, interests and challenges. I’m focusing better elsewhere too – staying on top of the dishes more often than not, dealing with the giant pile of things that needed to be dealt with, approaching things with clarity and a systematic approach.

canning jam

As I bustled around the house today, sorting and cleaning and organizing on my mama-day Saturday, I thought back to the intention I set at the start of the year: Harvest. We’re in the thick of the harvest this year – the zuchinni and tomatoes are still coming in strong, and the solitary pumpkin is ripening on the vine. But I can feel that laziness there too – the laziness that resulted in mushy pumpkins rotting on the porch early last winter, and a few mushy apples on the counter just last week.

The thing about the harvest is that it comes at the end of the season. By the time the harvest rolls around, I’m kind of bored with the garden. I’m ready for knitting by the fire and making stews on cold, rainy days. But keeping up with the harvest requires diligence, perseverance, and plain old hard work.

processing the harvest

As I think about all the ways this attitude of rushing through the final stages of something or leaving the last two bites on my plate might affect my life, I think again about homeschooling and how important it is for me to demonstrate the ability to stick something through to the end, even when it gets boring and difficult. How I want to only take on work that I know I can see through properly – not bringing home several boxes of produce to process when I’ve already got mounds of something else that I haven’t dealt with here. I guess this is called being a responsible adult.

Thankfully, it’s a work in progress. Every day I get to make choices about how I do things – either distracted and lazy or focused and energized. And if this article is right (and I suspect it is), my approach to those zuchinni waiting to be shredded and and frozen could be an indicator of my approach to everything else in life. Tackle the zuchinni today, tomorrow: the world!

 

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Exhale. Inhale.

 

 

 

lichen

 

catbus_flowers

 

 

river_driftwood

 

 

bea_picking_peaches

 

 

 

ripe_peach

 

upick_peaches

 

 

 

bowfest_parade_2014

 

 

 

laundry

 

 

 

Today I heard my writing voice inside my head for the first time in a long time. And I remembered that I exist, separate from my children, the housework, the food I eat and whatever is on my calendar.

We humans dilate in and out, like the iris of our eyes. We contract to protect ourselves from too much intensity, or dilate in the comfort of the dark or the excitement of attraction.

 

Inhale. Exhale.

I exist.

You exist.

 

Such things as soft, ripe peaches growing on trees exist. And village parades, and light shining through the laundry, and children who will earnestly and happily collect candy to give to their sister, without eating a single piece.

How is it even possible to forget? Why do we need to go away to come home and see what has been there all along?

It is the season to read Rumi again.

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GAPS or Autoimmune Paleo?

I named this blog The Parent Vortex after the all-encompassing whirlpool nature of parenting, especially those early days when your life is totally and completely turned upside down, with a laser focus on everything to do with your child. It’s hard to see past your own immediate experience in those days, and every little decision looms large.

I’ve been living in The Food Vortex the past few weeks. We started a trial of the GAPS intro diet mid-July. My days have been filled with food prep, meal planning, cooking for multiple dietary requirements and seeking out affordable options for new foods that our family hasn’t been eating in the past, such as grass-fed beef. After about 10 days on GAPS I realized that many of the foods that we had re-introduced were causing reactions – wonderfully nourishing, GAPS-safe foods like eggs and nuts and tomatoes. And then I discovered The Paleo Mom and everything she’s written online about Autoimmune Paleo. Our “failed” attempt at GAPS intro turned into a lightbulb “Ah-ha!” moment: We are dealing with early-stage autoimmune symptoms. 

The joint pain, restless legs, brain fog, headaches – all related to autoimmunity.

The behavioural issues, anxiety, moodiness – maybe we’ve got some GAPS going on too.

Maybe it’s just two sides to the same coin? At least the healing protocols are basically the same: remove all foods that are irritating and damaging the gut, introduce foods that heal and seal the gut, continue for a few months and then slowly and carefully reintroduce foods one at a time to check for tolerance. The only difference is in the precise lists of foods which are considered safe or unsafe.

So that’s where we’re at. It’s been overwhelming at times, to be sure. But we’re hanging in there. And even managing to eat dinner on the beach and go swimming before bed sometimes, eking out a bit of enjoyment from this otherwise extremely distracted summer.

m_cape_roger_curtis

 

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