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One of the cool things about homeschooling is the ability to take advantage of some activities that occur during the day, which we may otherwise miss.  This week, those non-traditional activities were carnivorous plants, and acting. One thing always leads to another, and we end up down a rabbit hole reading, watching videos, and writing about our new endeavors.

Thanks to my husband, this weekend we adopted two Venus Flytrap plants, later named Clyde and Liza, who were received with mixed reviews.  There was morbid curiosity (they eat WHAT?) followed by disgust (Daddy, we are not feeding living bugs to plants, GET RID OF THEM!)  This of course led to watching videos of Venus Flytraps, reading about them, making plans to watch, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and some silly renditions of “Feed Me, Seymour!”  Last spring, I’d planted a vegetable garden with my kids and we spent the summer caring for and learning about it, but I would never have thought to bring home a Venus Flytrap.  I guess that’s the benefit of having a wacky Dad who delights in finding slugs and watching the plant’s “arms” swallow them whole.  We decided to do a unit study on the plants, incorporating them into our science studies and branching out to examine different plants with unusual features.

Man Eating Plant

After my kids spent their mornings looking for recently-deceased insects to feed to Clyde and Liza, they spent their afternoons rehearsing for a play that is being performed at a play festival in Westchester this weekend.  This has entailed reading lines, memorizing them, and lots of practicing and practicing again.  My eight-year-old got to be the director, and had the opportunity to give her input on blocking and delivering lines.  She got a little drunk with power if you ask me, but it was a neat experience regardless.  They’ve been on stage before, but this time was much more in-depth.  It was neat to see their confidence develop as they memorized their lines and successfully navigated the rehearsal process.

I don’t expect they’ll pursue a career in botany or theater simply because of these experiences, but do like that we have the flexibility in our lifestyle to expose them to new and interesting things.  While any of these endeavors could be fit in after school or on weekends if they were truly of interest to a child, I find that homeschooling gives us the additional wiggle room to take on extra activities, or delve into them further than we’d otherwise have time.

What activities has your child discovered in his free time, or would she like to pursue if given the opportunity?  Share your experiences and ideas with our readers, below.

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The fall weather seems to have arrived in one fell swoop over the weekend! It was super-hot one day and the next, just as cool and crisp as a freshly fallen apple. I admit I was lured outside by the bright blue sky, the calming breeze and sunlight. There were so many different ways to spend our Saturday, but my husband and I decided to split up with the twins and go our separate ways to give each kid their own date day. My date and I started our day at the local farmer’s market where they have a sweet art corner.

Every week there is a new, free art project to create. One week we colored and cut out bugs and glued them to a cut out paper jar. It was simple, it was easy and the kids really enjoyed it. Now they look forward to stopping by the tent every time we make a trip to our home town farmer’s market. This week was no exception. Well, except I only had one kid to help make a project with.

This week we learned to make paper hand puppets. I can’t get over how easy these are to make and there are no limits to what your imagination can bring to life. My girl decided she wanted to make a red horse, named Ham. Oh five year olds. Once we returned home she was excited to share with her sister how to make her own little puppets.

So here is how you can make your own:

Materials:

8×10 sheet of paper

Glue stick

Extra scrap paper in a variety of colors

Crayons/Markers/Pens (which ever you have on hand)

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First fold the 8×10 paper, length wise, equally into thirds.

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Next, glue the long edge against the opposite long edge s to create a seam.

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With the seam side facing toward you fold the paper in half.

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Then fold the short edge toward the short edge on both sides.

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This is the base of your puppet, or its body.

Now you are ready to embellish and get creative! You can use the remaining scrap pieces of paper to make eyes, hair, ears, a tongue, a nose and anything else you can think of! Or just use a pen, marker or crayon to draw on details. Let your kids imaginations run wild!

This is such a quick and easy project your kids can easily make an entire cast of characters for a small puppet show. It is a great activity to bring out for kid parties, rainy days or even a sick day. Or simply because it’s Tuesday and you need something fun to do with the kids. Enjoy!

Does your farmer’s market have an art tent for kids to enjoy?

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The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

gift-553146_640When you grow up with a mom who has a shopping addiction and a mild case of hoarding you develop a skewed perception of stuff. My mom was one of the most generous people I knew. She definitely spoiled us, but at the same time, stuff started to take over our lives.

The Problem With Stuff

As a mom myself now, I want to get my children things they want, but at the same time I don’t want a massive amount of toys cluttering up the house. I’ve found that experience gifts are a perfect solution.

A Gift Worth Waiting For

My daughter has been asking to attend gymnastics classes for the last two years, but it just hasn’t been in our budget. So for her birthday I prepaid for six weeks of classes and presented her with a card explaining her gift. I also got her a leotard.

At first it felt weird not wrapping up a bunch of presents, but I knew I was getting her something that she really wanted. I had to focus on the quality of my gift rather than the quantity (or lack thereof). Just as I predicted, she was overjoyed. She had her first class last week and she kept telling me, “Mom, I love it!”

It also stirred up some nostalgia for me to see her up on that balance beam. That was my favorite when I was a gymnast. Watching her felt like I was passing my legacy on to her.

If you want an alternative to traditional gifts like toys, clothes, or books, here are five great reasons to give kids experience gifts.

1. Something To Look Forward To – After all the other gifts have been opened, played with a handful of times and pushed aside, an experience gift is still there, promising something fun and exciting is still waiting for them.

One of my favorite gifts my mother gave me when I was in high school was tickets to see Les Miserables in New York City. I had been listening to the soundtrack CD for months and when I finally got to see the play, it was amazing! I didn’t mind that I had to wait a few weeks for the play. If anything it felt like it extended my birthday.

2. Less Clutter – As I mentioned before, I really don’t like too many toys hanging around, especially when they aren’t being played with very often. Experience gifts like a special trip, art, dance or gymnastics classes won’t contribute to the clutter in your house.

3. Give Something That You Normally Couldn’t Afford– So many extracurricular activities are expensive. They certainly don’t fit into our tight budget, so we’ve had to be very selective about which activities my kids do. Since I would normally spend money on birthday presents, I was able to use that money to give my daughter something I normally couldn’t afford.

4. More Memories – How many of your toys do you really remember from your childhood? Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. No matter how much our children beg us for toys, they typically don’t occupy our children for long. Giving an experience gift gives children memories that will last them a lifetime.

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5. Quality Time – Experience gifts usually give parents or other family members quality time with the children. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, an art class you take together or just watching them twirl around the floor at their dance class, what the giver receives is time. Time to watch your child really enjoying something, seeing them light up with excitement. Sure, maybe it’s hard to run them to classes on a weekly basis or to and from their favorite sport, but it’s also time that you get to spend with them.

Years from now, they’ll remember that you were there with them. Even if you were just in the background watching from the bleachers or sitting silently in the corner of the room, you’ll become part of those happy memories.

I can’t for the life of me tell you what badges I earned when I was in Girl Scouts, but I’ll never forget that my mom volunteered to be my troop leader. While it wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift, her willingness to give me and the other girls her time every week is something I still think about proudly.

I would love to ditch a lot of my kids’ physical presents in favor of experience gifts. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get my husband on board for Christmas, but at least for birthdays it’s become a great alternative.

What experience gifts have you given your kids that they loved?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

My daughter Jenny loves whipped cream, but when we made the decision to eat cleaner, store-bought whipped topping made with polysorbate 60 and sorbitan monostearate had to go. Then I discovered how easy it is to make our own whipped cream, and it became a staple, something she & I like to make together. Here’s how simple it is to make:

  1. Place a metal bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  2. In this bowl, whip together 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes (these peaks will stand up without folding over).
  3. Spoon over fresh berries or your favorite dessert.

Jenny loves this so much, she wants to bring it to school for her birthday.  Please enjoy!

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Just as I was sending my kids off to Kindergarten some seasoned friends told me about the after school meltdown. I didn’t think it would be an issue since my kids already spent 5 half days a week in pre-K. They also meltdown about so many things how would I know it was just an end of the day meltdown? Well, turns out after school meltdown is a very real thing.

It takes a lot of energy for kids to process all the busy work expected of their little minds and bodies. On top of academic expectations, there is a lot of emotional interaction and learning that can be exhausting. To help my girls cope we created a calm down basket to help each of them transition from school to home routines.

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Each basket includes basic art supplies of markers and paper. The girls both picked out a spiral bound note book they can use to draw, doodle, or scribble in.

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We also included some soothing things like a squishy ball and a “magic” glitter wand. Each night I set the baskets out on the kitchen table so they can use after school. It turns out they enjoy using them before school too. My girls find coloring and doodling soothing, and it brings a nice quiet to our morning.

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Here are some other ways you can use art to avoid the after school meltdown:

  1. Provide your kids with a sketch book or journal. It becomes a safe space for them to dump their emotions and stress from the school day. There are no rules for this book and it isn’t something they need to show off for critique or feedback. It’s just their own.
  2. Put out some play dough for little hands. This helps kids let go of stress and switch gears. It has the same effect as a stress ball and warms up little fingers for writing and drawing.
  3. Leave art supplies out within reach for a self-guided experience. Whether your child enjoys painting, drawing, sculpting, etc., make sure all their tools are in a place where they can access without help. Using water based and washable supplies will make this a lot less worrisome for parents.
  4. Turn on soothing music to help set the tone for relaxation. It triggers the mind that something different is happening.Maybe bring out some musical instruments and allow for some unstructured play time.
  5. Art isn’t just with paint and paper. Help your kids make a healthy snack to refuel after a demanding day. Make funny faces with cheese and crackers, or craft ants on a log. Follow your kids lead in what they enjoy.

Engaging in something less restrictive and creative allows kids to feel like they have some control in their day. They get to follow the demands of their imagination for awhile before having to plug into the demands of chores, homework and the evening routine. So far my girls really like this part of our day. After a short walk back from the bus, we enjoy a simple snack and get to the work of relaxing.

How do you help your kids wind down after a full day of school?

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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I knew from the time my son started preschool that doing homework with him wasn’t going to be easy. He didn’t want to sit still and he didn’t seem to want to learn anything from me. So I had to take a step back and let his teachers do the heavy lifting, but that doesn’t mean the homework hassles went away or that I didn’t bear the brunt of many meltdowns.

Jayden is quick to get frustrated. Sometimes he gets so upset that he completely shuts down. He just stops listening to my advice, making it hard to help him.

Even though there is no perfect formula to get through homework without any meltdowns here’s what I’m learning through trial and error and also from other moms. Here are six ways to tackle homework battles.

1. Snack Is Critical – Kids are at school for almost seven hours and they are starving when they get home. I always give my kids snack before they have to start their homework. I know they can’t focus if their bellies are growling.

2. Eliminate Distractions – There’s no TV on, no toys on the table and I try my best to keep my toddler from distracting my older two while they’re doing their homework. My son is so easily distracted by anything and it takes him a while to refocus once he is.

3. Be Flexible On Homework Times – I was always insistent with both my children that they had to do their homework right after their afternoon snack. While that has always worked well for my daughter, I’m starting to see that this doesn’t work as well for my son. He really needs to run around and play for a little while before he gets started on his homework.

Other moms in my moms’ group on Facebook also choose different homework times that suit their children best. Some moms find it’s easier for their early rising children to do it in the morning before school. Some moms sit down and help their children after dinner. I’m learning that what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another.

4. Set Limits – Several times last year, after my son’s homework meltdown was carrying on for a long time I would insist that he just stop working on it. I offer to write his teacher a note explaining how he was struggling with it. After all, we’re supposed to be supporting each other and if there is something about the lesson he doesn’t understand his teacher needs to know that.

Typically just giving him an out, would give us both time to cool off and he would come to me later insisting he finish the work. The “homework timeout” gave him enough time to calm down so he could listen as I tried to help him or gave him the patience to reread the instructions without his default attitude being, “I can’t do this!” It’s like hitting a reset button.

Other moms set timers and let their kids have a break when it goes off or split it up so they do half their work before dinner, and half after. Sometimes it’s just easier for some kids to do one or two assignments at a time so they don’t get overwhelmed when they have a lot of work.

5. Talk to Your Child’s Teacher – A strong line of communication between you and your child’s teacher is absolutely key to their success when they have trouble with homework. Last year when he was in first grade, my son had too much work in my opinion. There were always five assignments on the list every night and it would take sometimes 45 minutes to an hour for him to get through all of it, and he never made it through without constant prompting to get him to focus.

At our first part/teacher conference, I explained my concerns to his teacher and I was amazed at how understanding she was. I learned right away that I was misreading her homework chart and he was doing one assignment every day that only needed to be completed once a week. She also explained that she didn’t want her homework to take that long and if it took him longer than twenty or thirty minutes to complete then I should let her know. Some kids like my daughter power through homework quickly and others like my son need longer.

6. Give Problem Solving Strategies Instead of Answers – A lot of times when my kids are having trouble with a problem it’s because they misread the directions. If they make a mistake I usually ask them to look at the answer again and reread the question so that they find the mistake themselves. Sometimes having them reread the directions themselves allows them to hear what they missed before.

I also have them reread paragraphs to find the answer or look at similar math problems that they got right to see where they went wrong on a particular question. Even though I know it would be quicker and less frustrating if I just told them the answer, when they get to middle and high school I know there will be times I don’t know the answer. It’s my hope that giving them strategies to help themselves will serve them well, even if it means more of a hassle right now. Plus, they are proud of themselves when they do finally get it.

I’m still learning about the unique learning styles of my kids and I’m trying to be more flexible. I’m hoping to make this year’s homework battles easier to overcome.

How do you help your children when they’re struggling with their homework?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

We often have the best intentions of exercising during the day, but after working, cooking, driving kids to activities and cleaning, sometimes all we want to do is sink into the couch afterward. Fortunately, we can sneak in a few effective core moves in the car while we’re waiting for a latte at the drive-thru or parked outside school picking up the kids. These three Pilates moves have far-reaching benefits:

  • develop core strength
  • improve posture
  • deepen breathing patterns
  • cultivate postural awareness
  • encourage healthy spinal alignment

Even a few minutes a day will benefit you. Give it a try!

The month of September is designated as Pediatric Cancer Awareness month which is a cause very near and dear to my heart. My niece is a 14 year cancer survivor and I saw first hand just how deeply this disease effected her and my entire family. To honor her and the many thousands of children fighting today we #gogold every September.

We also pick a childhood cancer charity to support and raise funds for. This will be our third year supporting the Miles for Mac Charity 5K Run/Walk. The event takes place in Dutchess County, and is scheduled for Saturday, October 8th – 10AM Mill Road Elementary School Red Hook, NY.

Besides the 5K portion of the day, families can expect to find food trucks, raffles and fun photo ops. Since it takes place at an elementary school there are several playgrounds for kids to enjoy. Everyone is encouraged to participate in their favorite Halloween costume in honor of Mac. In fact, there are awards given for best costume! With a touch-a-truck, DJ, face painting and games there is a little something for everyone.

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Even though we participate in the many fun things offered at this event, the reason behind it is heartbreaking. For the last two years teams have gathered to run or walk the event in honor of a little boy named MacAlister, also known as “Mac” to family and friends. Mac was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma (an aggressive cancer) at age 16 months after his parents noticed some unusual patterns in his sleep and moods. At a very tender age he endured several surgeries, 14 rounds of chemo, radiation, and clinical drug trials. This beautiful little boy named Mac battled for eight months before he passed away at age two.

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His mothers Emily and Lyndsey, along with their community, honor Mac’s short life each year at this Run/Walk and family fun day. They also work hard to raise awareness about Neuroblastoma and much needed funds for Neuroblastoma research. In just two years, Mac’s family and friends have donated over $30,000 to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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Pediatric cancer research receives less than 4% of the billions of dollars dedicated to cancer research each year. The chemo therapies used are not designed for small children and are at least thirty years old. There are long term effects such as learning disabilities, infertility, weakened immune systems, heart defects, and skeletal defects- these only top the list. So if a child survives cancer there is no guarantee they won’t relapse, or face permanent health issues for life. Research teams need funding to develop less invasive drug treatments and therapies, to discover ways to increase quality of life after treatment and obviously, a cure.

You can register your family to participate in the 5K event, or make a donation directly online. You don’t need to do the run/walk portion of the event. You can make a donation online before you arrive and enjoy the family friendly festivities. There will be a chance to purchase raffle tickets for items provided by local merchants. Every dollar taken in through this event is sent directly to research. There is no overhead or salaries taken from the money raised by this event. Donations are tax deductible and you can request a letter to document your donation.

Donating locally ensures you are helping local families. Donating to cancer research ensures you are helping find a cure for everyone. Get all the updates about the event and find a listing of raffle items by following along on the events Facebook page.

You can register for the event but clicking here.

To learn more about Neuroblastoma click here.

To learn how you can be a voice for pediatric cancer, watch this video and sign the petition at the end:

 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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The first time I read “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch to my children I burst into tears. For those of you that don’t know the story, it starts with a new mother who rocks her baby to sleep singing, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” She continues to sneak into her son’s room every night, even after he’s an adult living in his own house. For some it seems a little creepy, but for me it knocked the wind out of me.

The Story Behind The Story

That was even before I heard the sad story behind that famous line which repeats throughout the book. Maybe before I knew, my heart just connected to the profound gratitude and love you feel as a mother. When I found out that the author wrote the line, which started in his head as lyrics to a sad kind of lullaby to his two stillborn children, it hit my heart even harder.

When my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I knew I’d never stumble carefree into Motherhood. I knew it was going to be more like forcing myself to jump a gorge. I wanted desperately to be on the other side, in parenthood, but I knew it was going to require blind faith to overcome my fear.

Forever Babies

I was reminded of the story when I ran into an elderly man at my doctor’s office the other day. He asked me how old my baby was. I answered, “She’s two.” Then he smiled and said, “My babies are grown and retired now.” Then he told me a little about their lives. He was in his 90s and he still referred to his children as his babies. Then I flashed on that famous line and it stirred that familiar pull in my heart.

I was also reminded of my father-in-law who passed away right after my oldest daughter turned one. To his very last day, he carried my husband’s tiny hospital bracelet in his wallet. I also flashed to my grandmother crying at my father’s wake. As much pain as I felt at that moment, I knew her pain was greater. I lost a father, but she lost a son.

It wasn’t till years later, that I would understand that losing a child is probably the worst pain you can go through. “I Love You Forever,” was born from that same pain.

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The Anniversary of 9-11

I’m not sure what stirred all of this in me lately, but all of these feelings came to a head on the fifteenth anniversary of September 11th. Every person lost in the attacks was someone’s baby.

I’ll always remember 9-11 as the day we, as a nation, lost our innocence. We could no longer take our safety and our lives for guaranteed. We all lost a piece of ourselves that day.

I was talking to friends the other day and it’s amazing how we all remember exactly where we were when we heard the terrible news. To all those who lost loved ones on that terrible day we grieve with you. Each and every one of the nearly 3,000 men and women whose lives were cut short were someone’s babies.

For all the moms and dads who lost their children in the attacks on September 11, 2001, we’ll remember them with you and we’ll hold our own children a little bit tighter. As long as we’re living, our babies they’ll be.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

 

In a society where so much is striving for our attention-music, television, video games, text messages–it’s challenging for any of us to stay focused, especially children who may have difficulty paying attention and completing tasks. Yoga helps us focus our attention in many ways:

  • Mindfulness: Paying attention to each movement as we do it keeps us focused in the present moment. Time seems to slow down, and our bodies and breathing patterns soften and relax.
  • Focus: In balancing poses, our minds center on maintaining balance and flow of breath. If the mind wanders, we will quickly fall out of the pose.
  • Attention to Breath: Each pose requires slow, steady breath. Our bodies move slightly in response to the breath, so rather than holding the pose like statues, we stay centered by feeling and responding to the inhalation and exhalation throughout the body.

Take a few minutes out of your day for these three yoga poses that will relieve stress, declutter your mind, help you focus and foster parent/child bonding.

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