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Whether your children attend school or learn at home, studying geography and trivia can be a fun part of your daily outings.  I don’t recall being particularly enthralled with U.S. geography as a student.  We learned the about the 50 states, their capitals, and memorized a United States map.  In music class, we learned to sing the states in alphabetical order- a catchy little tune that’s stayed with me all of these years later.  I never forgot what I’d learned, but that was the extent of my passion for U.S. geography.

Now that I have my own children, these topics have never seemed more exciting.  I’ve made it my life’s mission for them to embrace U.S. geography.  To give our pursuit some structure, I purchased Road Trip (http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com/u-s-geography), an inexpensive guide that teaches facts, trivia, and geography for the United States.  We listened to many versions of the 50 states song, settled on our favorite, and singing it became the opener to our geography lessons.  Then, we began the license plate game.  Whenever we’re out and about, we keep our eyes peeled for out-of-state plates, keep track of what states we see (and their capitals), and discuss the relative distance the car owner traveled to get to wherever we are.

As an unexpected surprise, we came across Tour the States, an amazing music video that we have not stopped singing.  Or learning from.  The geniuses who made this masterpiece (Marbles, The Brain Store) created another music video featuring the entire world (WHUT?) but we haven’t gotten there, yet.  File away for future use.

Finally, the fun parts.  I invested in a map of the United States that is actually a giant wall decal, with stickers to put on for each of the states.  As we learn about each state, we stick its decal on the map.  Every once in a while, I print off blank US map and have my kids fill it in.  Recently, I gave them a list of the 50 state capitals and had them fill in the corresponding states.  I was surprised at how exciting this was for them, especially given how many capitals they’ve learned.  Each time we study a state, we go on a “virtual” road trip.  We watch tourism videos about the state, look up the “Top 10 places to visit in…” and also look for clips of locals talking about and giving tours of their area.  After we’ve watched people drive around town, studied the architecture, and compared capital buildings from one state to another, we feel like we’ve actually experienced their unique culture.

Part educational and part fun, learning geography with your kids spices up daily errands and even road trips.  Find different ways to sprinkle this into your family life, and share your ideas with our readers.

Many of the things I want my kids to learn don’t come from a textbook.  In fact, some of them don’t even have anything to do with school.  Throughout the homeschool day we spend plenty of time learning academic subjects.  I hope they’ll retain it, but odds are, much will be forgotten until they learn it again in the future.  Meanwhile, I focus on life skills which I hope will stay with them and allow them to function as confident, responsible, competent adults one day.  These random life lessons are not all-inclusive, but here are a bunch that come up often.

Using the Library

Finding desired materials online, looking them up and ordering them through the library system’s website, and even calling the library to request materials.

Shopping/Making a Purchase

Knowing how to find items in the store, politely asking for help when needed, how to compare prices including an understanding of unit prices, estimating a purchase price, presenting the proper amount of cash, counting change received, and interacting with the cashier.

Finances

How to count money, safely store it, open a bank account, understand interest, deposit/withdraw money, and how credit cards and loans work.

Answering the Phone/Making Calls

Politely answering the phone, knowing how to make a call to a business and ask for help/make arrangements, request assistance, make appointments, and develop an overall confidence with speaking on the telephone.

Respect for the Elderly

Spending time in a nursing home/assisted living, developing a comfort with individuals in various states of the aging process, learning how to interact with and value the elderly, and how to help take care of older relatives or neighbors.

Meal Preparation

How to plan, shop for, and prepare a healthy meal, including reading labels and recipes, kitchen safety, and use of kitchen appliances.

Cleaning/House Maintenance

How to treat a space respectfully, clean up after oneself, wipe up spills, sweep, change batteries in household devices, use a washer and dryer, be a conscious consumer of water and energy resources, and use household tools such as a hammer/screwdriver/drill.

Animal Care

Respectful care of pets, and how to feed, water, and properly clean up after them.

The ability to help shape our children into functional adults rates high on the list of privileges and responsibilities as parents.  I’m sure I’m forgotten a few, so feel free to share what skills and lessons are important in your family!

Homeschooling has grown dramatically in recent years.  Reasons to homeschool vary as widely as the families themselves.  The Hudson Valley features families homeschooling for so many fascinating reasons, worthy of sharing.  To the mainstream public school community, the secret life of homeschoolers may seem mysterious, but there’s no reason not to learn more.  I’ve been chatting up local homeschooling families willing to share their experiences with our readers.

Homeschooling Outside of the Norm

This week’s spotlight is on an Orthodox Jewish family with four children ages two through nine, originally from Brooklyn.  Mom shared, “We keep strictly kosher, [and observe] Shabbat, all holidays.  It was hard to make the decision [to homeschool]!”  Orthodox Jewish families traditionally send their children to religious private schools, so homeschooling can be stigmatized in their culture.  They feel the decision has not been accepted by their community, and have had to distance themselves from unsupportive friends and family.  Mom identified a turning point when her parents remarked, “Wow, I didn’t think this was a good idea, but your kids are so much more well-adjusted than our other grandchildren.”

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Although they live in the Hudson Valley, they travel to Long Island to find like-minded Jewish homeschool families.  They appreciate this opportunity, but are hopeful they will develop a network of local homeschoolers, regardless of religion.  They began homeschooling thinking it may be temporary, but now feel “it has been the best decision ever.”  Without the financial burden of sending their children to expensive private school, they were able to buy a home, adopt a dog, and travel, with funds leftover for field trips and activities in the community.  Their schooling is described as “part time structured learning, two to three days a week, the other days are more of an unschooling way of thinking. Trips to zoos, walk in the park, taking the pets to the vet, etc.”  They utilize www.time4learning.com and Melamed Academy (a Judaic curriculum) for their academics.   Mom likes to turn to outside sources for academic learning “so that the kids see me as their mother and guidance rather than the teacher.”

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A family willing to step outside of the traditionally accepted educational standard for their culture demonstrates the power and benefits of homeschooling.  For them, homeschooling offers peace of mind.  “We know where and how our children get their knowledge, and we get to be involved and watch them grow up.” They are certainly not the traditional homeschooling family, yet they have found a way to incorporate their faith into their ideal educational environment for their children. Their photos show engaged, active children who enjoy varied learning both at home and in the community.  The combination of homeschooling with Orthodox Judiasm results in an unusual blend that works well for this local family, and offers inspiration to others wanting to give this a try.  Mom sums up, “We are a religious Jewish family living in a religious area, but living outside the box of ‘normal.’” Much appreciation to Mom for her candor in sharing her family’s experiences with Hudson Valley Parent. Please join us over the next few weeks as we continue to learn about unique and exciting families who engage in everything from Shakespeare to BMX biking to fulfill their children’s dreams and academic potential.

A day of homeschooling is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re gonna get.  Not only do our activities vary from day to day and week to week, but the children offer more surprises than the schedule.  As their personalities develop and knowledge broadens, we engage in on-going discussions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I kept track of a recent Monday, marveling at the variety of moments that made up a “typical” day.

Late Wake-Ups

After a busy weekend, my sleepyheads slept later than usual.  My younger daughter woke up around 8, grabbed the laptop, and began her math.  (Math done willingly and independently, you ask?  Follow the link, you’ll understand).  My older daughter woke up an hour later, which meant she needed to get straight to work since we had a class in the afternoon.  Even though my kids are no longer little, I still maintain “never wake a sleeping baby.”  My older daughter began her math test, and the morning was underway.

The Sewing Box

I’m not sure how working on vocabulary in the dining room led to my little one finding herself in the closet downstairs, but suddenly, there she was.  She came upstairs with my grandmother’s sewing case, and sat on the floor to comb through it.  My grandma passed away a few months ago at age 94, and embodied values and skills that are no longer the norm.  Her sewing box was a perfect example of this- full of zippers, claps, snaps, antique buttons, and all kinds of sundries used for making one’s own clothing.  Even though the sewing box distracted us from school, what a neat historical lesson on then vs. now resulted.  We all agreed that Great-Grandma lived in the “Olden Days,” and I was relieved when my kids generously decided that my age qualified me as “from now.”

Lunch

Meal prep frequently serves as an educational activity.  Today’s lunch was brown rice wraps filled with rice, beans, and cheese, steamed mixed vegetables, and clementines.  As a quick interlude to seat work, my kids took turns heating their wraps on the stove, shredding cheese, and spooning the rice and beans onto their plates.  We discussed nutrition and the importance of including protein, fruits, and vegetables in our meal.  Then they cleaned up after themselves and emptied the dishwasher.  Life skills, hooray!

Science

We’re in the middle of a lesson on plant reproduction and life cycle.  Did you know that on a rainy day, the sperm cells of a fern plant swim down the stem to the egg?  I didn’t either, and frankly, would not have believed this if I had not read it with my own two eyes.  A few days ago a cable guy was repairing wires at our house while we were discussing how the sperm and egg of plants work similarly to humans.  I can only imagine what this poor guy must’ve been thinking as he overheard my kids asking questions about this process.

Stereotypes and the Portrayal of Women in the Media

What?  Yes, this came up today.  Over the weekend, my girls and their friend watched Clueless, the 1995 coming-of-age film about California-bred Cher and her gal pals.  After watching the movie, the girls had a realization- girls and boys are often portrayed in stereotypical ways.  In a nutshell, they wondered why girls are shown with messy hair and sweatpants, sadly eating ice cream out of the carton just because “a boy broke up with them.”  They couldn’t figure out– why don’t girls in media utilize social support?  Why should a girl feel devastated just because a boy broke up with her, and why can’t the girl be the one who ends things?  Why wouldn’t girls derive their worth from other aspects of their life?  They also noticed the girl trifecta- the smart girl, the pretty-but-dumb friend, and the follower.  They wondered why the athletic boys always coveted the “popular” girl, but that in the end, the shy, geeky guy often won her over.  Every time we watch a movie, I capitalize on the themes present, jumping on teachable moments.  Imagine my surprise when this time it was my kids initiating the discussion.

The Afternoon

After lunch, we attended a STEAM class at a local library.  In the car on the way there, my girls read geography lessons aloud, then we listened to a book on CD.  At the library, they built marble runs and interacted with other kids.  Back at home, they finished up school (practicing piano, working on a project due for a homeschool class on Wednesday, reviewed spelling words) then did their chores and helped me start dinner.  All in all, a successful day.

I receive the gamut of responses when sharing that I homeschool my kids.  Everything from, “Wow, that’s amazing, I could never do that,” to “My kids would never listen to me, yours must be saints,” to “You think you’re better than the teachers?  Do you even have a teaching degree?”  Many people ask questions, which I think is great, but others seem to think I’m either judging them for not homeschooling, or they judge me for whatever kind of freak I must be.

We’ve been homeschooling for almost five years, and you know what, perhaps I am a freak.  Day after day I’m living a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience.  Some days represent our ideal learning—peaceful, passionate, excited, efficient.  Other days end in a chaotic jumble of disorganization and frustration.  I view homeschooling as an extension of parenting.  It has always been my mission to choose the best foods,  activities, and experiences for my kids, and as a homeschooler, their education falls under this umbrella as well.

As for the “I could never do it” response I often hear, the truth is, you don’t know until you’ve tried.  Homeschooling is not for everyone, and I’m not implying otherwise.  Many parents find themselves successful despite initial doubts and insecurities.  I look at the ability to homeschool as a muscle.  At first, it’s weak.  It’s easy to doubt yourself, and hard to believe you will do a good job.  As the homeschooling journey begins, there are lots of opportunities to practice and strengthen this “muscle.”  Eventually, you become a homeschooling athlete, completing a triathlon with confidence and skill.

So who is the homeschooling mom?  She’s kind of like the mom of little kids, but years later.  Moms of infants and toddlers rarely get a break- the intensity and needs of young children tend not to let up.  Homeschooling shares similarities.  While the children mature and their needs change, at the end of the day, you’re still meeting needs all day long. Homeschooling and parenting become blurred.  Sometimes mom serves as the teacher and other times, the teacher also has to be the mom.

The homeschooling mom cannot imagine what parents whose kids go to school do all.day.long.  (I know, you guys are busy, just a different kind of busy).  When she enrolls her kids in a two hour class, she fantasizes about the many, many things she will do in that time.  Grocery shopping!  Clean the house!  Nap!  Read!  Exercise!  Catch up on emails, phone calls, and paperwork!  Coffee with a friend!  Lunch date with the husband! Somehow, though, those two hours fly by and it ends up not being enough time. Exercising will have to wait for later (um, tomorrow), texting can suffice instead of calls, and we’ll see the husband during dinner, which will be made from what was already in the house, thank you very much.  The homeschooling mom won’t have her hair or nails done, because, when? She’ll be wearing yoga pants or jeans, because, why not?  She may stay in her pajamas on the rare day when no one has anywhere to be, and she’ll probably consent to reading and snuggles on the couch on a rainy afternoon.  She’ll have the kids cook lunch and count it as “culinary arts,” and realize that playing outside can count toward P.E.  She doesn’t get snow days, or sick days, or days off, but she also doesn’t have to say goodbye every morning, or make her hair presentable for afternoon pick-up.  She forgets to start dinner, leaves the laundry in the dryer (whoops), and brings the kids rollerblading at 10 am for “recess” because everyone needs a break.

In other words, she’s a mom.  Whether homeschooling or not, she parents the best that she can, makes mistakes, tries harder, reaches out for support, and hugs her babies tight. She may look a little more harried since she’s with the kids from morning to bedtime, but we’re all working in one way or another, whether we get paid or not.  No, homeschooling parents don’t have teaching degrees, but may have teaching backgrounds.  Their kids are not saints, but they know how to make all kinds of learning work.  They might just be amazing, but aren’t all moms?

When I was a mom of just one, I devoted tons of energy to fun projects.  I kept a water table in the kitchen, and filled it with rice, oats, shaving cream, or soapy water and toys. We did crafts with feathers and toilet paper tubes, walked through paint to create footprints on paper tapped to the floor, and made sparkly Gak.  After the birth of my second child, I kept this up for another few years.  I look back at pictures of my girls with paint in their hair, and who can forget the crunchy feeling of rice beneath our feet on the kitchen floor (ouch). What happened to that mom? The one who had the time to sit down and play, who didn’t mind a little extra mess, and possessed the energy find innovative ways to keep little hands happily occupied?

My food blog also documents a time that looks too good to be true.  I was cooking, from scratch, all the time.  Bread, yogurt, granola, muffins, trays of pureed vegetables, even bagels.  I still cook often, but rather than three times a day, I’m making batches of foods that can be stretched for a few meals, and loosely defining breakfast and lunch (sure, a cheese stick, an orange, and a muffin on our way out the door count!)  My love of cooking hasn’t changed, but my availability has, and also my willingness to dedicate so much time to the prep, cooking, and clean-up.

I worked full-time until my older daughter was two.  I nursed her all the way through that time, carrying a pump until she was… I’m not even sure how old. More than twelve months. She was tiny and didn’t eat much, and refused solid foods any time she had a cold, so nursing was essential.  When I look back at that time, my primary memories are of my husband, daughter, and I being silly and carefree.  Dancing around the living room in the evening, cuddles in bed, chasing one another around our tiny apartment.  I decided to stay home full time because I wanted to be the primary parent.  I had June Cleaver visions of perfectly running our lives with ease.  The house would be organized and spotless, every meal would be hot and organic, and there would be leisure time left over for playing, resting, and socialization.

I’m pretty sure if I came upon my former self, the young(er) and energetic version, I wouldn’t recognize her one bit.  I know now that June Cleaver moments only exist on television. I’m still running things as smoothly as possible- cooking, cleaning, laundry, homeschooling, errands, extracurricular activities, and socialization.  The main difference is that while my memories of the earlier days of motherhood felt leisurely, now time is flying by.  Sure, the baby days were challenging.  I had Post-Partum Anxiety, and was in the haze of sleepless nights and days filled with La Leche League meetings and changing one diaper after another.  Yet, I remember the toddler days as… relaxing? Have I edited my memories to only remember the best parts?  Does nature allow us to block out the darker times so that we continue to populate the planet?  Or, have I changed?  What has changed, exactly?  One child to two children.  A mom who is twelve years older, and approaching 40 instead of being in her late 20s.  A mom who has given her all, every moment of every day, and forgets to recharge. A mom who homeschools, and parents, and lives at her job 24-7 (and yet doesn’t get paid for any of it).  A mom who juggles life… and everything that goes with it.

I’m not alone.  We’re all the mom who gives her all.  Or the dad who gives his all.  The single parent, the widowed parent, the aunt/uncle or grandparent raising little ones. We’re all trying our best, but tired, and yet we keep going. We have to. Sometimes, looking ahead feels overwhelming, especially knowing the teen years are rapidly approaching.  We feel burnt out, stretched too thin, and just plain tired.  Yet other times, we can look back fondly on those energetic, young-parent moments.  We flip through photo albums, watch home movies, and feel that surge.  Of love, of peace, of being so very thankful.  So when we’re tired, a bone-weary, I-just-don’t-want-to tired, we can tap into those cherished memories as an elixir to get through another dreary January day.  We can allow ourselves to feel energized by the knowledge that we were young, energetic, and creative, and maybe, just maybe, there’s more of that energy left than we realized.  Tomorrow, I’ll get out the paint, unroll the paper across the kitchen floor, and we’ll leave behind our footprints. We’ll do a goofy dance around to the living room.  We’ll snuggle on the couch with a book.  The younger me didn’t care if things got a little messy, or if every chore wasn’t done, and somewhere deep down, she’s still there.  In me, and in you. So join me, tired mom, dad, or grandparent, and let’s find our old selves together.  Share your successes, challenges, and memories with our readers, below.

Pre-kids, I was fairly laid-back.  It was easy to be carefree and fun-loving when my job was pretty much to worry only about me, myself, and I.  Fast forward twelve years, and my responsibilities have broadened to include caring for my two girls, three pets, a husband, and sometimes extended family, all who have varied needs.  I’m now the serious one, and I suppose I’ve embraced that, because I keep things running smoothly with my lists, planning, and schedules.

Sometimes, though, being the grown-up is a drag, and kids learn to tune their parents out. There are times when I can’t repeat myself one.more.time.  No one is listening, or my kids are squabbling, or I find myself caught in “mommy mode.”  I can’t remember exactly how she came about, but one day, I invented a fun-loving alter-ego, Lady Leaf Lover.  She speaks in a British accent and offers only compliments and encouragement.  Lady Leaf Lover doesn’t appear too often, but when she does, my girls greet her with hugs and enthusiasm. Sometimes she invites her husband, Lord Leaf Lover, to make a cameo, and he’s an even bigger goofball. The whole process gets everyone in hysterics, and whatever scuffle the Leaf Lovers interrupted is long gone.  Should you introduce a Lady Leaf Lover to your parenting repertoire, and if so, how?

Pick a true alter-ego

If you’re the serious one, your alter-ego should be funny.  If you’re the goofy parent, let your new character be as serious as a General.  No matter who you choose, you want to both shock and crack-up your brood.

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Go with a wacky name

Who IS Lady Leaf Lover, and where on Earth did she get her name?  I really don’t know, but my girls googled her and couldn’t find any evidence that she’d ever posed for a photograph.  Regardless, every time she surprises the girls by popping in, her trills of “Darlings!  I’ve missed you!” pause any conflicts, and their attention is immediately riveted.  Mrs. Smith might be funny if she tried hard enough, but an absurd name really lightens the mood.

Be positive

Parents are great at giving orders and doling out consequences, but what kid is excited for that?  Your alter-ego, however, offers nothing but love.  When the kids are overwhelmed by a task, Lady Leaf Lover swoops in with encouragement and fun ways to get the job done.  She’s patient, she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and help out a little, she doesn’t get cross, and no one gets mad at her.

Use a funny voice and/or accent

When Lady Leaf Lover first came to visit, she spoke with a British accent.  That fact is both comical and unfortunate.  Comical, because I am terrible at accents, and often waver into Scottish, Jamaican, even Western; unfortunate for the same reason.  Her voice is high, squeaky, and silly.  “Get ready for bed!” sounds much funnier when Lady Leaf Lover says it, and for some reason, my kids are more willing to listen.

Lighten the mood

Your alter-ego is your tool for when the daily parenting tricks are not working, and everyone needs a change of pace.  There are times when we’re all frustrated and I know the situation could go downhill fast.  At that moment, I’ll take a deep breath, quietly exit the room, and find some strength from deep within.  I return with a, “Helloooo!” and everyone brightens.  It’s a signal that we’ve shifted gears and turned a tense situation around.  It might sound silly, but there’s a lesson there.  When things are getting out of hand, it’s better to take a step back and find a positive way to deal with things rather than to let it escalate.  Humor isn’t always appropriate, and there are plenty of times when I’m not in the mood.  Alter-egos are like a secret weapon to be enacted only when the time is right.

Parenting is hard work.  There are tantrums, disagreements, homework, and bedtime. There are times when being a parent feels easy and can be done with grace, and other times when every morsel of energy doesn’t feel like enough.  There’s a time and a place for all kinds of parenting, and it helps to turn to humor when it’d be just as easy to turn to anger.  Channel your inner Lady Leaf Lover, and share your experiences with our readers, below.  Tootles, Darlings!

Throughout a typical stretch of homeschooling, we have productive days yet plenty of cringe-worthy moments.  Homeschooling is as much about the journey as it is the destination. It’s not just about what the kids learn, but how they learn it.  Ideally, with some passion, excitement, freedom, creativity, and self-led interest.  As my kids mature and their learning needs change, I sometimes feel like we’re reinventing the wheel.  When I really think about it, though, it’s more like fine-tuning, and I’m good with that.  I want our homeschooling experience to be ever-changing, and evolving to meet all of our needs. Yet at the core, I’ve hit upon certain nuances that help the process feel more fluid, less overwhelming, and minimize chaos.

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Organization

Organization serves as the backbone of how I make things work.  Like all parents, I’m wearing many hats, and plenty often, I’m overwhelmed.  A few subtle tricks have helped make life easier.  Just as I did when I was a student, I keep a detailed planner of assignments and projects.   Seeing what needs to get done in writing provides a visual that takes the burden off of one’s memory and allows for a concrete tracking of progress.  And who is a stranger to the delight of crossing something off of a to-do list?  Not only do I plan out what we hope to cover each week, but I break it down by day and subject.  It’s all written in pencil, because, you know, Life.  I took this a step further and we put a label on the front of each of the kids’ books, notebooks, and folders, marking not just the subject but the days of the week on which it is used.  Finally, each day when they are putting away their completed work, they prep the next day’s work and leave it piled on a shelf or chair. It allows them to begin their work after breakfast with minimal prep and fumbling.  We have a homeschooling bookshelf- top shelf for supplies and reference books, they each have a shelf of their own, and the bottom shelf is for joint subjects and manuals.

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The Library

The library serves as a the homeschooler’s hub for resources and community connections. Not only do we save an inordinate amount of money by utilizing books and online resources such as a foreign language program, but the library graciously allows us to meet there for homeschooling purposes whenever we’re working with other families.   Not to mention, there are always enrichment opportunities such as science club or art classes throughout the library system. Having this support has greatly enhanced our homeschool experience.

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The Internet

Once upon a time, I felt like I needed to physically obtain materials to supplement our curricula.  Little by little, I’ve discovered so many online resources that allow us to access what we want, when we need it.  Whether it be an animated video to demonstrate mitosis, sound clips of a composer’s work, or passages from a poet, we have found so very many fascinating items on the internet.  Equally as important, we’ve made great friends through online homeschooling groups, purchased materials at a significant discount by joining forces with other homeschoolers, and participated in awesome field trips that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Chores

Giving my kids some daily responsibilities around the house allows me just enough breathing room to focus on their schooling or gasp, myself (rarely).  The way I think about it, I give the bulk of my daytime hours to their schooling, and in return, they give back some of that time by doing chores.  When they grow up, they’ll know how to cook for themselves, keep things clean, and do laundry.  In the meantime, it helps our house run more smoothly.

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Color Coded by Child

Flexibility

If I had things my way, we’d keep to a schedule that would make the military proud.  Any parent knows that while goals are nice, kids have other plans.  Any homeschooling parent multiplies this by ten.  So while I have my daily expectations, I have learned to be flexible. Sometimes we need to get outside and run around.  Sometimes an important appointment or errand interrupts the school day, and our morning work becomes evening “homework.” Sometimes, things take too long, no one gets it, and we’re running behind.  And once in a while, we speed through everything and are done early.  I’ve learned to fit bits of work into whatever opportunity presents itself.  On weekend trips to visit friends and family, my husband drives so that I can read a chapter aloud.  A writing lesson might get done on Saturday morning.  Books on CD have turned our driving-to-and-fro-activities time into quiet, peaceful car trips while enjoying literature.  As much as I wish life would fit into clean, neat boxes on the calendar, I’ve learned not to stress (as much) and let things happen at their own true pace. This doesn’t come naturally, but after all, the process is about learning, not just checking off a to-do list, and I want my kids’ experience to reflect that.

Moms and dads, post in the comments below and share your tips and tricks with our HVP readers.  Whatever helps make your home run more smoothly and your school day a success, we want to hear about it.  Happy December!

Welcome Back

We’re an Elf family.  Our little sprites (Johnifer and Glinda) come to visit us sometime after Thanksgiving, and stay until Christmas Eve.  Even though they add one more task to an already busy season, I believe it’s worth it.  The innocent excitement that comes along with the daily hunt for the elves is a tradition that will be gone too soon, and one I’ll cherish forever.

We do elves a little differently in our house.  They don’t serve as, “Better behave, the elves are watching,” because that just doesn’t feel right for us.  Our elves are visitors.  They spend each day with us to bring some holiday cheer and excitement, not to tattle on bad behavior.  My girls prepare snacks for the elves, leaving tidbits nearby and checking hopefully for signs of missing bites. They write notes of love and appreciation, which I secretly save for them to read when they’re older.  My little one makes clothes for the elves, using scraps of fabric, ribbons, and construction paper, and delights in seeing the elves enjoy her creations.

Snowman Elf

The elves are part of a daily hide-and-go-seek game (how did they get on the ceiling fan?) but they also encourage goodness.  Every few days, the elves bring a note suggesting a selfless task for a friend in need, or a brownie mix to make for a neighbor, or encouragement to donate toys and clothes to someone who has less.

I admit, I’m somewhat of a Grinch.  I don’t look forward to the holiday season, or enjoy the disruption in routine, pressure to shop and spend, and letdown that follows on January 1st. Yet somehow, the arrival of our two little elves kick-starts my excitement every year.  Something magical happens as my husband and I plan the next hiding spot, bit of mischief, or random act of kindness the elves will inspire.  They’ve even become a part of our Christmas Eve tradition.  We order Chinese food, watch “Elf” with the elves, and the girls give the elves a goodbye hug before bed.

Elves and Nutcracker

If your home has an adopted elf or two, you understand the bittersweet goodbye each year, as well as the relief that you won’t forget to hide the elf until next December.  Share your stories, memories, and ideas with our readers, below.  Happy December!

Throughout the election season, I was careful to shield myself (and my family) from sensationalized, mainstream media and heated discussions.  Instead, we tried to gleam information from various sources and sides, so that we could make up our own minds.  At home, we talked as a family about the issues, the candidates, the rumors, and the truths. My goal was for my kids to be knowledgeable and informed, to form opinions as they saw fit, but never to feel fear or panic.

Despite my best intentions, there were times when I felt the emotional overload that comes from too much stress.  I know I’m not alone.  I also heard many discussing how distressed their children were.  So if you or your family are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, sad, mad, or any kind of negativity, I find the best thing to do is to get distance from the cause of your troubles.  Some ideas?

Shut Off Electronics

Put down the smartphone, laptop, tablet, and remote.  Disconnect from social media, news media, and anywhere else you’ll get exposure to current events.  Even as you’re feeling better, be mindful to limit exposure so as not to reintroduce the upsetting issues to your psyche.

Get Outside

Whenever a mental reset is needed, surround yourself with nature.  Take a walk, go to a favorite spot, or gaze out at a body of water.  Stare at natural beauty and ponder the bigger picture.  I’ve gone on meditation hikes led by a local Rabbi, and allowing ourselves to consider the universe and how we’re little more than a blip in history can help alleviate feelings of immediate stress.

Retreat

Sometimes, being alone can help.  Sleep, read, watch tv, laugh, cry, and do whatever you feel you need to help process how you’re feeling.  It can be hard to move on from your feelings until you’ve allowed yourself to flesh them out and come to peace with whatever is on your mind.

Connect

When you’re done being alone, spend time with friends and family.  Steer clear of politics, but share in something you enjoy, whether it be a meal, physical activity, or downtime. Recharging through a social connection is a powerful coping mechanism.  For those who are religious, spending time with fellow congregants or at a place of worship can be healing.

Keep Entertained

At times of true emotional burnout, I find that only a distraction will keep anxiety at bay.  This election season has elicited higher levels of fear, anxiety, and emotionally-charged battles than I can recall seeing in a long time.  I’ve learned that sometimes the only technique I can use to keep calm is to immerse myself in a pleasurable distraction.  I turn to a favorite tv show or movie, something I can easily follow without too much thought.  It’s therapeutic to allow oneself to be entertained and get a break from heavy thoughts.  Other times, music works wonders, and can be calming or uplifting.

Accept Help

When all else fails, reach out for help.  If you feel yourself suffering without relief, or those around you are expressing concern, don’t be ashamed to talk to a mental health professional.  You might wonder, “What can a counselor do that I can’t do for myself?” but a therapist trained in resolving grief and anxiety can get you back on a healthier path.

It can be difficult to pull oneself out of a dark place, and recent events have certainly offered plenty of crevices within which to get stuck.  As parents, we can’t let ourselves fall too deeply into those depths, as we need to be there for our loved ones.  We try to model healthy coping, respect, love, and kindness.  We want to show our kids how to persevere and take care of themselves even when it feels impossible to do so.  During this emotionally charged time, I wish everyone the strength to keep going.  Ask for help when needed, and surround yourself with people, places, and things that encourage feelings of happiness, hopefulness, and determination.  Feel free to share your experiences and ideas with our readers, below.

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