The new normal

I love Jo's face here.
I think we've found our groove. It's been an adjustment to our schedules, mind frames, friendships, and goals. For one, we continue to be less social than we were before. Before you feel worried, I assure you that we were abnormally social before, and that cutting back to a more reasonable amount does not put us anywhere near "antisocial" (a fear a few have expressed to us when lovingly talking about homeschooling). 

When I was a new stay at home mom with a sixteen month old and a newborn, the thought of being home alone with nobody to talk to and many physical needs to fill completely overwhelmed me. I learned to fill up part of each day with some kind of social event, anything to keep me from going crazy. We met with other friends, went grocery shopping, went to the bank, visited parks, and joined a moms group. It soon became the "norm" for us and the kids adjusted and did well with out daily outings. I give a lot of credit to how well the girls do in public to that time I powered through with them being so little. They learned how to obey me even with an audience and temptations all around. They learned to be patient if we couldn't leave right away or do what they wanted. They learned how to interact with strangers. They learned to enjoy the little things, like the sun shining or running into a friend while running errands.

Then the girls got older. They started talking a lot. They could hold decent conversations and could do much more for themselves physically. My days shifted, even with another baby to take care of, and I found myself not needing to talk to others out of desperation. Of course I still appreciated time with friends and other people, but it wasn't as needed.

Then we reached school age. We started homeschooling. Suddenly, our schedules and routines had to shift to fit in this new stage. I feared that we'd go crazy and drive each other up the wall. Instead, the girls are closer than ever. They can play together with minimal arguing for hours on end. They happily (most of the time) sit at the table to do their lessons. We read a lot, sing a lot, and discuss what is happening around us all the time. They are learning. It's working. 

You can imagine my relief. I had no idea if I could really do this. I've read and heard from many how it's different for everyone and that you just have to find your rhythm. Yet I've also heard so many tell me that they could never do it, that teaching their own child would never work. I understand this, and it definitely stuck around in the back of my mind. 

I'm thankful for the few months we've had at home. I continue to pray that the year goes well and that I can keep my endurance up along with us all keeping positive attitudes. I also pray that our social interactions can be intentional with good conversations and opportunities to grow and learn how to be kind friends with those that may be different than us.

Amelia has adapted to our  new normal pretty well. She has  her little activities she finds to do while we sit at the table. She loves when we read and sing, and she joins in happily to any new activity we start.

Audrey's school is very much led by her. If she wants to work on a workbook, I help her with it. If she wants to do a puzzle instead, that's just fine. I'm happy to have her sit by me at the table, but she doesn't have any required school to do.

We try to do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. They take it seriously and it's hard not to laugh at these three little ladies acting so stoic.


A glimpse at our days

We've quietly started our school year with the girls still at home with me. There are not requirements for children under the age of seven, so we are taking it slow and doing what we feel is right for us right now. So far, this includes reading good quality fiction books (I say good quality because so far I've been fairly successful at keeping the junky books out of our library bags. I know I can't control it forever, but it's nice to enjoy reading the books that the kids enjoy hearing!). We are doing a math curriculum (Math-U-See) which is a tad bit simple for Josie. We've skipped ahead a few times and still haven't found the spot she should be at, but I'm thankful she isn't struggling with it. We practice handwriting and spend a lot of time working side by side. We have an art book that guides us with projects when I draw a blank. That's about it... I really believe that younger kids need a lot of time to grow their imaginations. It's a skill, not something that necessarily comes naturally to them, and I want them to develop it fully before moving on to school that requires much more time, taking away from that part of their play. 

The girls have been building their own worlds all over our house. At any given day, there are two or three different scenes set for different games that cannot be cleaned up because they will come back to it. Amazingly, they actually do come back to it, playing for hours at a time. This is a huge change for our family. Sometimes, I find myself missing the girls when they've been in the same house as me all day long. Isn't that a little crazy? I can see a bit more why mothers of older children stress setting aside intentional time for their kids even if they are around each other quite a bit. 

That said, it's made for easier routines around here. Since school doesn't take a lot of structured time, we fit it in where it needs to be throughout the day, leaving plenty of time for meal prep, cleaning (because there is a lot of it when we are all home all day), and book reading (the kids, but also for myself). We don't do nearly as much outside of our home as we used to. I used to make a point to leave the house every single day. Now, I try to only have activities two days a week. With our weekly commitments on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday afternoons and evenings, that is plenty. Surprisingly, this has been more than enough and none of us seem to be feeling cooped up or stuck at home. Ask me again in February if we still feel this way.

The biggest challenge we've faced with our little home school is entertaining Amelia. She is 19 months old, old enough to want to play actively but not by herself. She was making it a habit to climb up on the table to get some attention, but thankfully we've figured out a few tricks to keep her from seeking us out like that. She sometimes seems content sitting on my lap watching, and when that isn't enough, I give her colored pencils and paper and let her color as much as she wants. It doesn't always work, but school really doesn't last that long. My hope is that Amelia and Audrey can play together while Josie and I finish up her school work. So far, Audrey is not interested in that. She would rather sit at the table with us like a big kid. We shall see if she continues with this as the year goes on. Her school is very simple. If she wants to write letters, I help her with that. If she wants to color, she is welcome to that. I will reinforce letter and number work with blocks sometimes. She has mastered spelling her name (first and last), knows my phone number, and can count to about 20, but that is about it, and there is no rush for a three year old to do more than that right now. 

I'm so thankful that the girls are willing and happy to learn. Next year will look quite different as we add more formal schooling, but this routine we have right now is working out great.


Summer activities (our favorites)

One of our favorite past times this summer has been going to the Prairie Preschool Class at Buffalo River State Park. We follow it with a picnic and a beach day every Thursday. We missed a few in the beginning and weren't able to go this week due to rain, but we don't miss it if we can help it. This summer, we were able to go fishing (using pop cans, string, and hot dogs for bait, not necessarily successful or interesting to the girls who have fished with daddy the "real" way) and make homemade kites. We also got to walk out to the "buffalo rock" and learn about different kinds of bugs that live on top of the water. they read books about trees, flowers, leaves, and animals. They have show and tell and get to do crafts. It's just great.

I'm well aware that the girls will need other adults and influences in their lives who they can look up to and learn different perspectives. While I want them to love being outside, they won't necessarily develop a true love of it themselves without some outside help. This class has been so perfect in this regard. It's not long, so right when their attention starts to wander, we switch activities. Picnics are always fun. Water is fun. Sand is fun. Being outside, learning what is seasonally appropriate and enjoyable, and adapting to your surroundings help them to appreciate it in many different aspects. 

I've gotten to talk to the park ranger who teaches the class. She's kind and encouraging. The girls, Josie in particular, adore her. I hope we can continue to strengthen our relationships with her. We will be going back every summer until the girls are too old. 

With Josie finally overcoming her fear of swimming while not touching the bottom (we all celebrated that one, it's never fun to panic or watch someone else panic) we have been able to utilize my sister's condo community pool. The girls wear their puddle jumpers and swim around like little fish. Amelia is happy to hang out with whoever is currently not in the water. Otherwise, she wants to be held (not in a floatie device though) and is not too crazy. It makes it easier. She is not afraid of the water, though. I can see her learning to swim much younger than her sisters since she's not afraid like they were and she wants to keep up. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Water activity season is coming to an end. This year's summer season ended up being a pleasant surprise. I had mentally prepared myself for a tough time with Amelia, being that age where she wants to do all the big kid things but isn't able to or old enough. Instead, she participated when it was doable and happily stayed near me when it was not. She's always been well behaved and easily entertained when we get out of the house. Something about outside distractions and people to observe just keeps her focus and energy. She hasn't really held us back from many activities. What a blessing, right? I'm thankful for that.

The older girls mostly do well when we are not at home. I can usually count on an outing to brighten moods or at least provide a good distraction. I've noticed that their play is now different at parks. While they do still enjoy them, they are not necessarily entertained or enjoying them like they used to. They are ready to leave sooner and don't always jump right in with excitement. Actually, bringing them somewhere without obvious playground equipment can be more fun. Last summer, we visited parks and playgrounds in town at least twice a week. This summer, once every week or even every other week is enough.

Josie is riding her bike without training wheels as of late June. I knew she could do it with a little push from me (pun unintended) and as per her usual, she got it after a little frustration (tears, screaming, etc) and plenty of stubborn moments. Once she got it, she was off and riding without looking back. I shot myself in the foot a little, teaching her so young, because now she's always going at her one speed - fast - leaving us behind. It's hard for me to walk with the stroller if she's riding bike now because she's at the end of the block before I've left the driveway. She goes at a great speed if I am also riding bike, but we don't always do that. We certainly do it more, but not all the time. 

Walking can also be frustrating because Miss Audrey wants to ride her "Honkah bike" (balance bike) instead of riding in the stroller. She is doing great on this bike, enough so that I am fairly confident she'll also be training-wheels-free next summer. The problem is that the bike is tiny and just can't go super fast. There is no way I could jog behind her, so we have a bit of a time butting heads about the speed we should go.

We enjoyed Summer as much as we could. No regrets here. :)


Chatty little ladies

Josie often says "No thanks!" when she is asked to do something she doesn't want to do. While I appreciate her manners, she often doesn't have a choice in the matter and her assertiveness with it has me hiding a smile behind my hands while I insist that she does what she is asked to do. Also, it sometimes sounds more like, "No sanks!" which is just a tiny glimpse at the toddler/preschooler she is no longer. That part isn't so funny...why do they grow up so fast? She also says "No thanks!" when someone else is doing something she doesn't like. If a friend or sister is trying to take something from her or wants her to play a game she doesn't like, she looks around desperately while yelling ever so politely, "No thanks! NO THANKS!" Again, while the manners are appreciated, the tone is not the most pleasant. We are working on that part.

Josie can be very expressive with what is around her. She exclaims how beautiful the view is or pretty the sky looks. She is quick to tell me that the garbage smells disgusting. Everything is silly or crazy. It's neither a compliment or an insult, just an extreme. She is an excellent complimenter. She tells women that they are beautiful and men that they are handsome. She only sometimes adds the disclaimer that all men are handsome and all women are beautiful. She hasn't quite figured out that she is lessening her compliment when she adds that at the end. It does make for many smiles followed with many laughs.

Audrey still hardly uses the "sss" sound. Many words come out leaving everyone puzzled, silently adding an "s" to words to figure out what she is saying. She will say that something is 'parkly, that she doesn't want a 'pankin when we tease her about it, that she loves to 'twim, and that her favorite meal is 'paghetti. When we ask her say the words again, you can tell she knows why we are asking because she often takes the time to slowly say the "s" before each word. She is capable of it, but for whatever reason chooses not to. It creates many a head 'cratch in confusion.

Many statements made by Audrey start and end with an affirmation. "Yep, I like this food, mm hmm." "Dad did you know that my hair is in an Elsa braid? Yep!" "Mom, this meal is so good for me. Yes!" It's like she is answering for you, even when it doesn't call for an answer. Or maybe she is reassuring herself that what she is saying is true. Either way, I often have to stifle a laugh or smile since she can be more sensitive to being teased.

Both Audrey and Josie often will say the word "even" instead of "too or also" Audrey will say, "I want to go to the park even!" or "I like ice cream even!" I don't correct it because I know how fast they learn and grow. It's so sweet with it's innocence. Both girls love to say one thing and then correct it by using the word "actually." "I want to empty the dishwasher! Actually, Josie can." "I want to go outside! Actually, I don't want to. I want to stay inside." (Most of the time, it's because they agree to something before actually processing it. Once they realize it's not the most fun option, they change their minds.) The other day, they sat at the table saying, "I am literally eating this bread. I am literally drinking this milk. I am literally using my fork." through the whole meal. What could I say? While kind of annoying, they were using it correctly.

The girls can't be bothered with details such as names while playing. The roles are often just "mother" and "kid" and that is how they refer to each other. I hear it constantly, "Kid! Come over here and eat your supper." "Mother, I don't want to go to sleep!" At least it makes it easy to tell when they are imagining and playing, because they never call me "Mother" and I never call them "Kid" in real life. 

Audrey calls Josie "Jojo" when she's excited about something or when they are sharing a story or thought. Both girls alternate between Mimi and Millie for Amelia. Josie doesn't call Audrey "Audge Podge" anymore, though. Audrey is always just Audrey when they talk to each other. They don't seem to notice that she doesn't have a nickname. In fact, when asked what her name is, she insists that it is just "Audrey." Maybe she likes that she's the only one without one.

Amelia went from showing no interest in words and talking to trying to say everything. She succeeds at a handful: mama, mimi, da for dad, papa, nah for Hannah, mo for more, moo, neigh, meow, woo for woof, highn for hi, bye, wa for water. Then there are the words that only she knows. All day, she points and says words that we are not understanding. We look around and ask her millions of questions, and when we finally figure it out, she beams at us with satisfaction. She watches our lips very closely to try to understand how we make these crazy sounds. If I break words up into one syllable at a time, she copies me more and more accurately, and slowly some of them are coming together. Our absolute favorite right now is when she joins in with her sisters in excitement. I will ask, "Who wants to eat lunch?" and she'll raise her hand and shout "Me me me me!" when she sees the older two do it. There's nothing sweeter than an 18 month old trying to talk like her big sisters. We do it over and over and none of us have tired of it.

Kids are fun.