Thursday, December 13, 2018

Food for My Family

E made her own lunch today, and she was very pleased with her choices. Nutella sandwich, and a sweet in each category: chocolate and fruit flavor. I was pleased that I didn't have to make her lunch. Everybody was happy.

I know I've written about how my kids eat in the past. At least, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it. But it's been awhile, and some things have changed, so I'm going to mention it again. The way we approach our kids' food has been liberating both for them and for us, and it ranks high on the list of things that have made day to day parenting easier. We have very little conflict about food (except when someone eats the last cookie, and then I get annoyed).

I'm not saying that this is the way to approach food with kids, but I thought I'd share in case there's something we do that resonates with you as something that would be worth trying in your own family. We came to our current system by seeing what worked for others and trying some of it ourselves, so I'm just passing along what I've learned along the way.

Basically, here is our deal. We loosely follow Ellyn Satter's food responsibilities. As parents, we are in charge of deciding what is available to eat and drink and when it is available. Our kids are responsible for choosing what they will eat from the available choices and how much. We don't follow all the Satter directives in terms of timing, because that part doesn't work for us. It's too regimented. Our kids can eat whatever they'd like to have throughout the day from the foods that are available (usually leftovers, fruit, and treats in our treat basket), though I've requested that they not prepare themselves the equivalent of a full meal when it's just an hour before dinner time.

Somehow they started asking me if they could have certain sweets (probably because I kept getting annoyed when someone ate the last cookie), which is nice because I sometimes will recommend they have something in addition to those sweets if I know that they will be hungry later without something more filling. But I nearly always say yes to whatever they want to have, because the deal is that if we've made it available, they can have it. A lot of people feel that this type of practice puts children in the danger zone for the dreaded obesity epidemic, but we have not found that to be true. I think that the causes of what is being called the obesity epidemic are a lot more complicated than unfettered access to sweets and calories in/calories out. So I do not worry about this at all. Often my kids will prefer what they refer to as food food to sweets or other "junk" food.

We eat dinner together as a family most nights. I make one meal for all of us, and I try to make sure that there's something on the table that each person in the family likes. Sometimes this means that one of us will only eat one thing on the table. This includes J and me. In my case, having battled chronic heartburn and finally managed it in a way that makes my life feel mostly normal, I know that I need to listen to my body in terms of what I should eat. I want my children to do the same, and so far it seems that they do. E doesn't eat as much veg as I'd like, but I keep making it an option. Sometimes it takes awhile for a kid to feel comfortable trying something new. Z sometimes has very particular reasons for rejecting a food, and I do my best to respect those. My only quibble with my kids choosing not to eat something is if they insult the cook in the process of rejecting foods. And as they are normal kids, sometimes this happens.

I don't think this system is perfect, but it is working out well for us for now. I am hoping to figure out more veg that all of us like to eat and to prepare more of a variety of meals. (I'm in a bit of a meal planning rut.) I buy more processed things than I feel is ideal, but at this point in time I can't make my own bread or most breakfast foods that my kids and I like to eat. Sometimes we have homemade banana bread or muffins, but mostly we have been having Tesco doughnuts, crepes, and other pastries. Our kids are growing well and are generally healthy, just picking up the odd cold or tummy bug like most kids do, so I feel that their nutritional intake is working for them. As the meal planner and cook, I'm happy with the low stress level of this style of managing food for our family. It's ok. Not ideal, but that's not what I'm aiming for. This works, and we will keep doing it until it doesn't.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Where to Find Me for the Rest of 2018

Right here.

Ok, well, not all the time. But having gotten our last planned activity of the term done, I intend to spend more time under cats, in my bed, coffee in hand, than has been possible lately. This is always how I start my day, but there's not been much lingering here lately, and I do love to linger. Now I will have my chance. As we march steadily toward the solstice, the days get shorter, and it is time for a well earned rest. When the sun rises around 8am and sets before 4pm, it feels natural to spend a little less time doing things and a little more time getting cozy. I am ready for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Teaching My Children Through Literature (is Pure Joy)

After confessing yesterday that I pretty much hate teaching my children to read, I thought I should counter that with telling you about my favorite part of homeschooling. It is this, as pictured above - reading aloud to my children and discussing what we are reading. I love reading good books to my kids. I love exploring history and different perspectives and why people do what they do. All the other subjects come alive within the context of stories that expose the human condition. We read biographies and fiction and Shakespeare and myths of all sorts. Historical fiction is our current favorite; we can't get enough. When we have time, I read more than I had planned for the day. I pick up extra books which aren't part of the curriculum. Because we love it.

Right now we are reading The Book Thief and The Poisonwood Bible, neither of which are part of the Charlotte Mason curriculum that we use as the framework for our studies. These are primarily for Z, but E often listens in. I edit a bit as I read to omit things which are not age appropriate, but the stories and themes are things we can discuss. We ask each other questions. I tell them what I think is important, which is mostly that it's essential to do your best to find out what's really happening and why. Who do we want to be in our own stories? What can we learn from these people, both the ones who walked this earth and those who are fictional characters? How do our own experiences affect how we take in information? When we talk together, I feel like I am teaching my children the things that matter. 

I don't know how successful I am at this - results are not measurable, like math or spelling. And they don't have to receive or retain the lessons. But I hope they do. I hope that what they learn allows them to understand others and to be critical thinkers who can suss out the truth from all the information that will be handed to them. I am pouring my heart into this, hoping for the best. And I am loving it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Teaching My Children to Read (is Torture)

I started teaching Z to read much earlier than I intended to. We hadn't been homeschooling long when she announced that she needed to know how to read. She was younger than I thought she'd be when we commenced reading instruction, but she would not be deterred. She insisted, because she couldn't wait for us to read her stories every time she wanted one read. Sometimes we were too busy or too tired or one of the other reasons that adults have for not doing something that a child wants them to do, when the child wants them to do it. This has been her way with a lot of things; if we can't or won't do something, she will just take care of it herself. So she determined that she needed to learn to read, and she did, despite some difficulties in her way.

With E things have been different. She said she wanted to learn to read, and we began the same book I used to help Z learn (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and we installed two reading apps on the old iPhone she uses for this sort of thing, for independent study. But E wasn't as keen on continuing to learn after we got through about a third of the lessons in the book. At some point she decided the book was too boring and too hard, and she didn't want to do it anymore. As she was just on the cusp of turning six years old at the time, I set the book aside and encouraged her to use the apps when she wanted screen time. But I didn't push it.

In most cases, I would rather wait until my children are ready and willing to learn things before we make a herculean effort. To me, one of the greatest weaknesses of current education policy is the expectation for kids to learn things ever earlier. This is something that I feel that a lot of people don't understand about kids and academic pursuits - many kids can learn early, but it is a much bigger challenge than if you wait until their development advances a bit. And for those who simply are not ready to learn, it gives a sense of failure that is unfair to say the least. In our case, I knew E could learn to read if I pushed her. I absolutely could have forced her to do the lessons last winter and spring, but it would've been really difficult (for both of us!) and utterly unnecessary. I'm not into doing things that are difficult if they are utterly unnecessary. It seems...rather silly.

This term I realized that she was ready, but being willing is another thing altogether for E. With plenty of people around to read to her or tell her stories, which Z is keen to do frequently, she had no need to read things for herself most of the time. If she were going to learn at this point, she would have to be required to do the lessons. I wasn't opposed to waiting a bit longer, but there are a lot of things that she wants to do that she could do independently if she were able to read, and while she may say she doesn't want to read, she does want to do some of those things for herself. So I decided that, for her own sake, I would force her. We started the book over again. She flew through the first quarter of the lessons; we did two per day. Then she asked to do just one per day, and I agreed. We are on lesson forty now, and it is going well. I wouldn't say easily, as she would still rather not have to do it, but we manage. There are a few things that she wants to do each day which she cannot do until the reading lesson is done, and so she does it.

I have confidence that she will move through the remaining sixty lessons with relative ease. I've promised her that after she's done all the lessons and knows how reading works, she won't have to do any more required reading for me. This is what keeps her going without excessive whining - if she does the lessons daily, she will be done well before Easter. She looks forward to this, and I do, too.

When we set out to homeschool, I didn't really think about what the hardest parts would be. We were just trying to do what was right for Z, so we did it. But in hindsight, I see that my biggest challenge as a teacher has been reading instruction. There are other hurdles for sure, especially as we encounter more advanced material for Z, but something about the reading instruction process is difficult for me in a way that other things aren't. I am pleased as punch when my kids can read, but I do not get a warm, happy feeling from the learning process, as some fellow homeschooling parents have described. I'm white knuckling my way through it.

I get the sense that I'm not the only homeschooling parent who feels this way, which is why I am writing this today. It's okay if you don't love it. It's okay if you don't feel particularly nurturing while trying to get your child to say the sound for h when she wants to say Hamilton every time instead. (This was cute the first time. It got old fast.) We don't have to adore every aspect of home education. Sometimes, we just need to get the job done, and so we do it. There is nothing wrong with that. And as a bonus? For those of us who hate teaching reading the most, at least we're getting our biggest frustration out of the way early. After this, I'm pretty confident I can manage to teach my kids anything.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What Happens When It's Just Us

This week has found us mostly on our own. I think the last time it was just us for this long, we were in Nice (which is where the photo above is from). This week has been really good for all of us, in my opinion at least. When life is slower and we don't have a lot of outside input, we are all more relaxed. I get more done with less effort. We get through our school lessons in what feels like record time. My children get along better. That's the best part. It's not that they don't get along well most of the time, but when they are given a lot of time together, they fall into an easy rhythm, and they enjoy each other more. At the end of this week, I've found them in the same room with each other most of the time. They've got  a wide variety of things they are doing together, an endless array of ongoing activities to choose from. Their arguments are worked out within moments, and they continue with what they are doing. It's like a little bit of sister magic, all week long.

Obviously we can't have weeks like this all the time. But I hope that we continue to have them often enough that the relationship they have with one another continues to be well rooted in a sisterly bond, and to grow as they do. There will come a time when they will not have so much time to spend together. What we have now is an opportunity that will pass, and I am more aware than ever that the years that we can arrange our lives in this way are fleeting. I hope that we have enough weeks like this that the easy rhythm becomes well practiced, and they can fall into it whenever they are together, for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Motion of Life Slows

Tomorrow we have a full day at home. I can't remember when that last happened. We seem to always have somewhere to go, something to do, if not during the day, then in the evening. But tomorrow, there is nothing. On Monday, E had her last ballet class of the term. I have washed her uniform already, but I didn't need to rush it. I did it because I had time. That felt nice. I tucked it into her drawer today, knowing I wouldn't have to reach for it for a month.

On Tuesday, Z will have her last violin lesson of the term. We end the homeschool meet up term with a party on Wednesday. And then the hustle and bustle of term time life pauses altogether. I haven't made any decisions about when we will pause our usual lessons; we are enjoying them right now, so I see no need. It seems to be enough to have the space allowed by no extracurriculars to attend to. Even the Saturday classes are done. For the next month, we have a little breathing room.

Even the usual errands are tapering off, and this Saturday instead of scurrying from one shop to another as I normally do, I am taking the train to Windsor to take things slow. That is my intention for the entire Christmas season from here on out - take things slow. I am excited about this. It's going to be so good. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

More Than I Deserve

I was away at a parish council meeting for much of the evening, and I rode home partway with a fellow council member. We got to talking about holiday plans and where we come from and how we have decided to do what we are doing now, where we are doing it - both for the Christmas season and in life overall. We somehow got on the subject of homeschool, and as a person who has worked in education and who knows my kids, she had a lot of observations to share, and I walked away thinking about how lucky we are to have this option for our children. Sometimes I get to feeling overwhelmed with all that we need to do and all the decisions we need to make, but when it comes right down to it, the opportunity to do this is a gift. I'm sure I've said this before, but it bears repeating.

So much of what my life is filled with falls into this same category, of being a gift. I did not do anything to deserve this. I think that as human beings we like for things to make sense, and what would make sense is that if someone works hard and is kind, many good things will come to them. But I know lots of people who work hard and are kind who are struggling. I don't think that our own actions have as much to do with it as we'd like to think. Which is not to say that we shouldn't do the work which is set before us and be kind, but that we shouldn't be so eager to pat ourselves on the back. We shouldn't conjure up connections which don't actually exist.

I have been given so many things lately that I want. It boggles the mind, really. Here I sit in my warm house, with my family falling asleep down the hall. Soon I'll get into my own bed and read a book that I ordered because I wanted it, and another that was a gift from my godmother. I'll wake in the morning and shuffle into my kitchen, where there will I will pull my favorite coffee mug from the dishwasher and make myself coffee that I will drink in bed. I don't have to wash my own dishes, and I spend time just sitting in bed in the morning - if that's not luxury, I don't know what is.

When I was so busy last week, there wasn't much time to think. I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn't see what a privilege my entire life is right now. But as things have slowed, I see it. I know that I am blessed and lucky. I know that I have it easy in ways that many people do not. I am glad for this reminder of it, and I am grateful for this life.