Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Power school

Now that my husband has completed power school, I have been wanting to write a blog post on the experience from my perspective. I have found that the blog "(Very) Unofficial Submarine Officer Pipeline Rundown" has been useful during our trek through the pipeline.

My husband went through power school and prototype when he first joined the Navy, before I met him. This was his second time going through power school, last time enlisted, this time officer. I think he had an idea of what to expect from power school, but I had no idea... The blog post "Navy Nuclear Power School Rundown" helped some and from conversations with my husband I knew there would be long hours studying. However, living something is very different than hearing about it.

So what can you expect from power school?

First of all, there are some long, long, long, long hours. Long hours with no cell phones since they cannot bring their cell phones into the school house. If you have to get a hold of him, you call the duty phone and, if it is after school hours, you better know where he studies or they may or may not find him for you in a timely manner.

The other hard thing is that the school hours are not actually very long. Some days start earlier, like the PT days, but for the most part the school hours were fairly reasonable, like 7 am to 3:30 pm/4:30 pm. What makes the day so long is all the study hours. Some guys are required to study a certain amount of hours each week; some have goals of where they want to rank in the class and so they study an insane amount of time to reach that goal; some study and study and study just so they feel comfortable with the material and confident for the next test; some put more time in on certain days so that they can put in less time on other days. All of this was hard for me because it took us awhile to figure out a schedule that worked for us. When my husband felt done studying, he wanted to leave school and come home to relax and take a break. He would come home unexpectedly, play outside with the kids, stay for dinner, and then want to leave when he was ready to head back-- except I was pregnant and the kids were all riled up from playing with Daddy, the kitchen was covered in dinner dishes, and bath time was still 2 hours away! I also really disliked when he would come home for a break, head back in for awhile, and then come home shortly after I put the kids to bed. I loved having some one on one time with him, but, man, the days were so long and I could really have used his help putting the boys down instead of him showing up half hour after they were sleeping! It took us awhile, but we eventually found a schedule that worked for us. I completely understood that sometimes he just needed a break from studying and he completely understood how frustrating it was for him to come home each night just after I had put all the kids to bed by myself. Since my husband is a more of a morning person, he started waking up early and studying before school when he was freshest, finishing his homework after school, and then coming home for the evening. On days when felt he needed to study more, he would bathe the kids and put them in pajamas while I cleaned up the kitchen. That way I just needed to read stories before putting the kids to bed. It was a routine that worked for us. There were also a lot of times that he needed to study on the weekends. Figuring out a time on the weekends took us awhile too. We thought we would like getting studying out of the way early in the day, but it ended up working out that I was waking up by myself with the kids 7 days a week and feeling burnt out. If he had a lot of studying he needed to do, he would wake up early and go in. If he just needed to study some, he would head in after breakfast so we could all eat together and have some face time with him. Going in for 4 hours on a weekend morning after breakfast worked better for us than going in for 4 hours before we woke up. It really did take us awhile to figure out what worked best for us.

The other thing that was different for us is that we were more of the exception at power school. A lot of people in his class were newly married or dating. There were a handful of people with kids and most of them had 1, maybe 2, kids. Often, if 2 kids, they were pregnant with the second. I was pregnant with our 4th child and my husband was STA-21. Sometimes I felt awkward making friends and getting together with other couples was a bit challenging at first. When we were invited to our first backyard barbecue with friends of ours that were newly married, we were so excited and nervous. We really wanted it to go well so we would be "accepted" by these couples-- amazingly enough, it went awesome! The kids were so well behaved. We hung out at their house until just after 9 pm-- big for our boys that fall asleep at 8 pm on the dot. My husband and I high fived each other as we walked home that night! Turns out we didn't have anything to worry about. Once the ice was broken, we easily made friends with other couples in the class. However, I have noticed that the other people in his class-- dating, newly married, single-- really have explored the area much more than we have. When he was gone in class all day long, my pregnant self was tired by the time he came home and really looking forward to a quiet, family dinner at home, not battling traffic to try a hole in the wall downtown. When he had time off on the weekends, we eventually took advantage of nearby beaches and found some family restaurants, but often he was catching up on time that he had missed during his busy week-- playing basketball with the boys, working on his woodworking projects, golfing with our oldest, movie nights with me, Costco trips... So, like the guy said in the (Very) Unofficial Submarine Officer Pipeline Rundown, "Being one of the few married guys in my particular class, I didn't get out much. But most of my fellow classmates went out quite a bit."

Since my husband was STA-21, we had just come from him going through college. I thought getting a mechanical engineering degree in 3 years with a family-- having twins during finals week to boot-- would help prepare us for power school. On some level, yes, it did. I know my husband's study style and I know that studying is important for him. However, it was nice when he was in college to have the option for him to study at home. There is no option for him to study at home in power school since all the materials are classified and must be locked up each night at the school house. Power school was very different than college. It was a fast, intense, whirlwind. I was immensely looking forward to his graduation and I know he was too. He was mentally exhausted by the time power school was over and I was well over the power school schedule.

Another question for me was the power school graduation. I didn't know how formal it would be, if I could bring the kids, yadda yadda. It turned out to be just the right degree of formal. I probably could have managed the toddlers there, but I was very grateful that we had a baby-sitter to watch them, especially since I was exceedingly pregnant by that point. We all got to dress nice. They made it very family friendly, inviting people to approach the stage when your sailor's class was called so you could take pictures. It was outdoors, so people were wandering the back with their children. They had restrooms and snacks. My husband insisted that he wanted me to go-- I was planning on staying home since I was so pregnant-- and I was glad I listened to him and went. I had worried I would be uncomfortable on the chairs for that long, but the ceremony clipped right along. I got some great pictures of him graduating. I had a snack. I could take our oldest to the restroom. If you are wondering what to wear to the graduation, think Easter Sunday without all the pastels. :)

All in all, I am glad power school is over. It was only 6 months, but the school was exhausting for my husband and for us. There were some bonuses, like if I gave him warning, he could plan on coming home early to watch the kids so I could make an appointment-- things like that.

Now that power school is over, we have prototype and SOBC to look forward to!

How was your experience going through power school as a Navy spouse?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Homeschooling 3 and 4 year old preschool

I've received several emails and Facebook comments lately regarding homeschooling preschool. I wrote a post called "Homeschooling 5-year old preschool." I feel 5-year old preschool was different from his previous years of preschool because he was technically old enough to be a kindergartner, but we decided against doing kindergarten that year. Instead we did another year of preschool with him, just with a more focused direction; he is a child that loves order, structure, and routine.

When considering preschool, there are many different schools of thought. Some really focus on early learning and some focus on play based learning and some on "unschooling." I don't like labels, so I will just describe our thinking when it comes to preschool. I think preschool should be fun. I think it should be play based learning. I think that preschool should focus on character building and how to interact with others. I think it should build a child's confidence and get them excited about learning. Preschool should incorporate the fundamentals of learning-- ABCs, 123s, shapes-- in a fun, play based environment. I referenced this article in my last post on kindergarten, Simple Homeschool's "The truth about preschool." That article entirely sums up my thoughts on preschool.

When our oldest was 4-years old we put him in a church preschool program. At that time, our twins were keeping me very busy and I felt like I needed him in something that helped him with his desire for a routine. The program was great. I was surprised, however, at how hard it was to find a preschool program that didn't have a curriculum or focus on subjects. One preschool even had math worksheets-- excessive! We eventually found a program that worked for us-- play based, focusing on character development, interacting with others, and fostering their independence. It was a great program for him and I got a lot of great ideas from it for how I want to homeschool. I really loved how the teachers merged play with learning. When we moved from North Carolina, I was sad to leave the school because I was planning on having him attend their 5-year old preschool program.

One thing that I do not miss about preschool is the preschool schedule. (Yes, I wrote a whole blog post on it, "Preschool schedule.") After we moved last year and were doing 5-year old preschool, we had a lot of hits to our daily routine and by the end of the year we didn't have too much of a daily routine. I had several things on our schedule each week, like a park playdate and storytime, but the middle of the day was often chaotic. Mealtimes slipped into snacktimes; naptimes became movie times on the coach while I napped. The joys of my husband's power school schedule and pregnancy! By the beginning of the summer I was ready to have my body back (being pregnant in the south in the summer is not ideal) and ready for a regular routine. I debated over the summer if I should try to sign the boys up for drop-off camps over the summer, but not knowing if my husband was going to start prototype early in the summer (he didn't) and the unknowns of our routine once baby #4 came prevented me from committing to any day camps. The memory of how inconvenient pick ups and drops were in our day for his 4-year old preschool year is still fresh in my mind. I've loved that homeschooling happens at our kitchen table, sometimes in pajamas and sometimes over pancakes-- no interruptions to our schedule!

So the big question: what are we doing for preschool this year? What materials are we using for preschool?

To answer the first question, we are doing what we normally do for preschool this year-- life as usual. I didn't have our oldest in a preschool program at 3-years old. I don't plan on putting our toddlers in a preschool program this year. Our big plan for preschool this year is to incorporate their learning in our daily life. I do involve them in some of our homeschool day. If you read the blog post, "Homeschooling kindergarten," I explain that I have all 3 boys say the Pledge of Allegiance, pray for our day, listen to our Bible story, read a poem together and act it out, and do the calendar each day. They are involved in that because that is what I'm doing with their older brother for kindergarten. To answer the second question, I have not bought them any special preschool materials and don't use any curriculum with them, not even the Saxon Math book that I used for 5-year old preschool and no special books.

This year with the toddlers we are really focusing on independence. If they want to wear socks, they must put them on. I will help them if they are truly stuck, but they must try first. We problem solve. "If your sock isn't going when you pull it on that way, why not try a different way?" We focus on cleaning up the mess they make. "That was really fun to play with the cars and trucks. Now we get to put them away! How about you start on the cars and then do the trucks?" I help them break down the mess in their mind so they are able to tackle it-- clean up the cars, then clean up the trucks. Once the big toys are put away, they are able to pick up all the smaller action figures quite easily. I involve them in making lunch and baked goods. We work on taking our time and doing things right, "Can you carefully pour the sugar in the mixing bowl?" We work on them following directions, even when it is hard, "Before you go outside, let's get the family room tidied up, please." A big one that has been challenging for all 3 of them is assisting others, which teaches sympathy. "Your brother is sad. Why don't you go ask him what is bothering him and see if you can help?" "I think your brother is having a hard time cleaning up his mess. Why don't you go see what you do can to help him?" Most of the time I hear, "But I didn't make that mess!" I'm really surprised at how they have responded to this last one. I'm hearing them more and more slow down to help each other out, "What's wrong, brother?" and I love their sense of pride and camaraderie once the job is done, "I helped him put away his blocks! We were a team!" "He helped me! Thank you, brother!" We put a lot of emphasis on waiting your turn. "Excuse me, your brother wasn't done telling his story. Let's let him finish and then I would love to hear what you have to say." I love Emma Jenner's book, Keep Calm and Parent On, for setting expectations on our kids.

The other things we are learning through our everyday life-- shapes, ABCs, and 123s. We read about them in our stories before nap and before bed. We talk about them as we do art, make cookies, go to the park. We talk about colors. We do puzzles. We do all this stuff for fun. We just play and I bring in the learning, drawing their attention to something they are naturally connecting. "My blanket is the same color as a fire truck." Well, what color is the fire truck?

I mentioned in my blog post "Homeschooling kindergarten" that later this year I will have them start memorizing memory verses. This is something that we have been doing with our oldest since he was 3-years old. We used the verses he was learning at AWANAS, which we have not been able to fit into our schedule last year or this year, and discussed them throughout the day. I love memorizing Bible verses with the kids because I feel that it teaches lots of things. We write the verse down and will point to it as we say it-- it teaches words have meaning. When they see the memory verse card, they often start recognizing letters, "That's an A, Momma!" They see the letters outside of their alphabet books and puzzles and start looking for them everywhere, "Momma, I see another A!" I also love that it helps them learn to retain things I teach them. The other thing about memory verses is that choosing key verses helps teach them things about their own behavior and God's character. We learn to forgive because God forgives. We learn to examine our own actions, was I being fair to my brother? We learn to say I'm sorry without prompting from a parent. Right now we talk about their older brother's memory verses and we use various phrases when dealing with conflict with each other, "Was that a kind thing to do to your brother? Do you think that made him feel happy or sad?" "How do you think we could show your dad we love him when he comes home?"

Next year our toddlers will do another year of preschool. They will be 4-years old at the beginning of the year and turn 5-years old during the year. I will probably start some of the methods that I used doing 5-year old preschool with their older brother. We will do letters of the week or colors of the week. Preschoolers love show and tell. During Red Week, I'll have them show and tell us about something red. During "A" week, I'll have them show and tell us about something that starts with an A. I'll probably use our Saxon Math K book again. I've liked Saxon Math because the scripts are there to help explain something if you want them. I also like that it completely explains a certain activity, like introducing them to money or manipulating linking cubes or using counting bears. I like the Math K book because it was a great resource for me to find ideas for an activity if I needed help coming up with some sort of lesson for the day. I could open up Saxon Math K, read a lesson that involved counting bears, pull out the counting bears and say, "Okay, let's play with these for awhile." Then I could guide the play in a way that taught the lesson. That is how I most often used the book-- getting ideas, reading the scripts, and then applying it in a way that fit our preschool technique.

I really like unit studies for preschool. One unit study we did last year was on water. We just talked a lot about water. What happens if we get water really hot? What happens if we get water really cold? What letters are in the word water? What makes letter makes a "whu-" sound? Where do we find water? What animals live in water? Let's read books that have water in them. What movies have water in it? What do we call water that comes from the sky? What is water good for? On and on and on... So many fun experiments and lessons you can do in a unit study. Library trips. Movies. Books. Unit studies are great too because it really lets the preschooler's imagination run wild and lets them ask questions and find answers. (Unit studies are also a great way to include kids of different ages!)

How do you keep preschool fun?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homeschooling kindergarten

We have started our oldest son's kindergarten year. I was a little nervous about starting kindergarten, not that I felt it would be hard, but that it is the first year that actually "counts." I put counts in quotations because there seems to be some debate in the South Carolina homeschool circles about whether or not you need to join an accountability group for kindergarten. I prefer to error on the side of caution, so I joined an accountability group for kindergarten. Thus, for us, this is the first year that counts. (Check out HSLDA for homeschooling laws: link to South Carolina homeschooling laws.)

I really like this post by Simple Homeschool called "The truth about preschool." The post is about homeschooling preschool and how most of preschool lessons are learned organically. I loved it and totally agree. I wrote a post awhile ago called "Homeschooling 5-year old preschool." I think it is really important at these ages for school to be fun. I view kindergarten as the beginning of a lifetime of schooling. My husband is in school right now with the Navy and, as he put it, training never ends for nukes. Why turn them off to school now? So we make it fun.

To make school fun, I really tried to focus on our son's style of learning and what he does well with. He loves structure, a regular routine (knowing what to expect), and a challenges in areas that he understands. He will avoid concepts that don't come naturally to him. He loves pleasing others and positive attention.

To make school easy for me, I wanted something flexible. I stay at home with our 4 children. My husband is going through the training pipeline and just started prototype, meaning long hours and rotating shiftwork. Since we plan on homeschooling for the next couple years (for now-- we are always open to what God planned for us), I want something that I can eventually use with our other children. I decided against a boxed curriculum and went with things that suited our oldest's learning style, my learning style, and would be flexible and inexpensive enough to use with our other children. I love this post by The Busy Mom on "Choosing Curriculum the Simple Way." In that post she has this picture:

Picture courtesy of The Busy Mom
I love that. It is a good reminder. As a side note, you really should be following The Busy Mom on Facebook. She is wonderful. :)

Last year for 5-year old preschool, I used Saxon Math K Home Study Teacher's Edition. My son and I really liked it. I really liked the lessons. I did not always follow the scripts, but felt the lessons gave us purpose and direction when sitting down together to work on math, even when I just used the book as a jumping off point. I also felt the lessons challenged him. I decided to continue with Saxon Math and bought Saxon Math 1 Home Study Teacher's Edition. I don't like to buy anything I don't need, so I didn't buy the work books or the meeting book when I bought the teacher's edition. Once I flipped through the book, I realized I would need the work books, so I bought them. When we actually sat down to do math I realized I needed the meeting book. I found all of them on Amazon after some searching. The work books were a little harder to find, but I did find them for a good price.

About a year ago I stumbled upon Sing, Spell, Write Level 1 for a great price at a homeschool consignment store. It was the entire kit so I bought it. I haven't used it yet for reading this year. I decided to wait on that until I had built up his confidence in reading. He enjoys the sense of accomplishment when he reads a book, but he really only looks forward to math! I bought the Bob Book Kindergarten series at Costco; I love them! They really help him build on words and sounds he knows. It may not be his favorite part of the day, but listening to him read is my favorite part of the day. I love sitting down with him and helping him through a Bob Book. The best part is that I don't really need to help him that much! He doesn't even realize how much knowledge he's drawing from as he's reading through them. We have the pre-readers that we used last year. I'm going to start doing some of those with our 3-year old toddlers. We are nearing the end of our kindergarten set so I'm going to order the Beginning Readers and 1st Grade sight words for him next. After he feels like he has a good handle on reading, I'm going to start Sing, Spell, Write. To help him with his phonics, we've been using the Star Wars Workbook Kindergarten Phonics and ABCs. When we were working through the Bob Books, he would get stuck on certain sounds-- like "ou" or "th." The Star Wars Phonics has helped him work on letter sounds even more in a way that he enjoys. Last year we took Ruth Beechick's approach to reading, which I liked; I just have been struggling with him and phonics. He didn't have much of an interest in reading until I combined it with Star Wars! ;)

For writing, we've been using a good old fashioned composition book. I've been combining social studies and writing a lot by having him write down his address, his full name, his parents' names and phone numbers, etc. Now we are working our way through the alphabet. We also do a lot of practical writing. He helps me write our shopping lists, notes to his dad, notes to our relatives, thank you cards, and the like. There is so much writing in day to day life. We write in his field trip notebook. He writes his name on top of his math worksheets. I've tried to make the writing in the composition notebook short. Each day he heads his paper with his name, the date, and the subject. Then we write our sentence. For the alphabet, we write the letter is for blank. I have him pick what each letter is for. "B is for basketball." "D is for dude." "G is for Gatorade." It gets him thinking about letter sounds as well. What starts with a "G" sound? G-g-g-Gatorade. G-g-g-good, girls, golf, Granny... He comes up with all sorts of words that start with the sound before he decides on the word he wants to write down.

Science and social studies are pretty easy for us right now. My husband is in the military so social studies is part of our every day life. When he started prototype we read about submarines for awhile and their job. We talk about what it means to be in the military all the time, about public servants and various types-- government workers, EMTs, firemen, police officers, etc. We recently visited a Fire Museum and worked on our fire plan at home. Our boys are very interested in these types of things right now so we have long conversations about them.  When we pull over on the side of the road to let an ambulance pass, they ask, "Why did we pull over for the ambulance, Momma?" Science also happens organically at our house. Bike riding, tractor driving, K'Nex roller coasters, Legos, Matchbox car tracks, water table, Slip'n'slide, Play Doh... on and on. "If I do this, this will happen... Why?" Their minds are naturally curious right now. We conduct experiments. I ask our kindergartner to help me solve a problem. "My cookbook won't stay open. Can you help me?" He figures out how to keep it propped open or builds me something with K'Nex to do the job or thinks of some other solution. Sometimes I present them with a problem. "I can't get the Play Doh out of the bottom of this tube. What should we do?" And they give me solutions. I love to have them help me cook. So many learning experiences happen in the kitchen. "This pot is hot. Do you know why?" "What does half of a cup mean?" "How do they make flour?"

Our entire homeschool day takes about 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish. With 4 kids, we like to do things that are fun for everyone. Right now, our 2 month old just wants to eat and sleep. We start off our homeschooling by saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the little flag we've attached to the top of our fruit stand. All 3 of our older boys participate in this. We then sit on the couch and someone says a prayer for the day, usually our kindergartner. The toddlers love crossing their little hands and bowing their heads. I think they feel like big kids, so they are usually content with that job and don't mind their older brother saying the prayer. I usually nurse our baby during this time. We then read a story from our One-Year Children's Bible. We talk about what happened in the story, briefly. We then do our boys' favorite part of the day which is reading a poem from Where the Sidewalk Ends. If it is a short poem with lots of imagery, I have them close their eyes and imagine the action of the poem. If it is longer with a picture (Shel Silverstein has awesome pictures), I hold the book so they can see the picture or let them discuss the picture before I start the poem. After I read the poem, I ask them what happened. For instance, we read a poem yesterday called, "It's Dark In Here." Basically a little boy gets swallowed by a lion and writes a poem from inside the lion. All he says in the poem is that it is dark in here and he stood too close to the lion's cage. Asking what happened in the poem gets them thinking about the meaning of what they heard, re-telling me the story in their own words after they have digested it on their own. "When he stood too close to the lion's cage, the lion grabbed him and ate him for lunch!" I love hearing how they interpret the action. The best part is that I then have them act it out. They love acting it out. Some of the poems lead in to other discussions, like, "If you were in this poem, how would you do it differently?" They love it. They love all getting a turn and hearing each other talk. They laugh a lot. I laugh a lot. It is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling, sitting with all our kids and laughing as they tell me stories and run wild with their imaginations. After we finish all this on the couch (and I feed the baby), we move on to the calendar and memory verse. I try to ask our oldest throughout the day what our memory verse is. Right now we are working on Psalm 91:14 and 15. I add pieces to it each week until he eventually learns the whole thing. We did this last year and he still has most of those verses memorized! I'll ask him his memory verse as we transition activities. About mid-way through this year, I'm going to start giving our toddlers memory verses as well. Right now our oldest works very hard to teach them his memory verses. For our pocket calendar, I give them each a job-- the calendar helper, the days of the week helper, and the weatherman. The days of the week helper gets the calendar pieces out. Then we all go to the calendar and sing the days of the week song. Then the calendar helper puts the numbers in the calendar; the days of the week helper moves around the days of the week; the weatherman tells us what today looks like and puts in the appropriate weather tiles. After we are finished I use the Saxon Math script to discuss what today is. Then the calendar helper puts away the calendar pieces.

After all of that, I do school just with our kindergartner and set our toddlers up with something fun for them to do. Often they sit at the table and do "school" too. They get out their backpacks and crayons and paper and color while we work. Sometimes they do puzzles in the family room. Whatever they do, the rule is they do it quietly. Most of the time one of our toddlers works diligently at the table and the other builds with Legos in the playroom. This is when I either put our baby in the Tula or swing, depending on his disposition.

I start off kindergarten with writing in the composition book just how I previously described. He does that as I prep math and reading. After he writes, he does his Star Wars Phonics workbook and then we read the Bob Book. I try to do these first when he is freshest and most focused because he likes doing the other subjects more. After we finish that, we start on math. The lessons don't take very long at all. Then we do the worksheet front and back. If our day went slower than usual or his attention is elsewhere, I sometimes just have him do one side of the worksheet and have him finish the other side later or the next day. I check all his work, the composition book, the Star Wars book, and the math worksheets right after he fills them out. I let him make the mistakes as he goes and do not interfere. He often catches his own errors. When he gives me his work to check, I have him fix his errors and then give the satisfactory work a sticker. He likes to put the stickers on the top of the sheet. Then we move on to the next thing. After we have done all his work, we clean up our school supplies. If we did school in the morning, I have him practice his piano after school. He practices his lesson book and presentation piece and does his flash cards. If we did school in the afternoon, I have him go play for a bit before sitting down at the piano, let him clear his mind some. We usually do the theory book before I start cooking dinner or he works on it while I prep dinner. For science and social studies, I let those organically happen in our day. I look for opportunities to bring them into our play and conversation.

If we went on a field trip, we pull out the field trip notebook. Some field trips aren't an entire days worth of school, like our nature bike ride at the park. We just drew pictures of what we saw in the field trip book. That trip is helping build the ground work for a unit study I am going to do on habitats with the all the boys. We are going to conclude our unit study with a trip to the zoo, but we have been talking about habitats without ever using the word or officially studying it since we started school August 4th. When we went to the Fire Museum, that was our whole day of school. We discussed dates and passing time (math), "Is this fire truck newer or older than that fire truck? How do you know?" I had him read the signs to me, read the pamphlet to me, all while making school fun. We came home and worked on our fire escape plan (social studies) and then wrote in our field trip notebook, drawing a picture of our favorite fire truck (science-- "How does that fire truck work?"). I love having them talk about what they liked best and hearing how they internalize books we read, stories they hear, or outings we take because I feel it helps them develop a love of books-- really feeling and connecting with stories.

I keep track of everything we do in the Homeschooler's Journal. I really like how it is laid out. It works well for me and is compact, which I like. I liked it for lesson planning last year with our preschool. I did a lot of unit studies last year. This year I plan on doing some. I like how unit studies are easy to involve both the age groups of our kids while still emphasizing with each child the concepts they need to learn, often in a hands on, natural way.

I also rely heavily on Smart Play by Barbara Sher. I stumbled upon this book in a used bookstore and bought it because it was cheap. I don't know why anyone would get rid of this book! It has the best ideas for fun, impromptu learning games with lots of kids. The other day we did our math lesson and then went outside for "Math Kung Fu." Hilarious! The boys were cracking up and counting karate kicks in the backyard. We have a lot of fun in this book.

A lot of our day is transitioning and waiting your turn. They are learning to listen to each other and respect what each of them has to say. They are learning to verbalize their thoughts and to speak up. It has been a lot of fun working with them on these concepts. Of course we carry this over into the non-schooling hours of our day, like when they help with chores and cooking. We have been putting a huge emphasis on cleaning up after ourselves. We've been handing over responsibility to them and they have been rising to the occasion. I recently read Emma Jenner's book Keep Calm and Parent On. This book is an amazing read for parents and especially homeschooling parents with more than one child. Your kids can and should help you! :) We've been giving them responsibilities and expectations and are floored at how they have met each challenge. It makes our day-- my day-- so much happier and smoother when they are assisting me in real, practical ways, plus I think they are happier because they have more freedom (and less time outs). If I were to write a parenting book, it would read much like Emma Jenner's philosophies. I wholly agree with her.

I hear a lot from people, "I can't believe you homeschool!" Homeschooling has been a blessing for our family. We didn't have an overly structured day last year when we homeschooled preschool, but it gave our play purpose. This year is much of the same. It has provided structure to our day. I burst into tears when we sat down on our first day of kindergarten this year and saw how our 6-year old had remembered all the letter sounds we've been working on and read-- actually read-- a book. It was amazing. I love those moments where I feel, "I taught him that?" I love when I see him applying things he learned from his dad. He changed the batteries in the swing by himself the other day as I made dinner. While he did that, he soothed the baby and then got the baby back to sleep once the batteries were changed. It's amazing to see our children behave like little people, little citizens finding their place in the world. I love that homeschooling allows us to play to our children's strengths and to take things at our own pace. I know many of his 6-year old friends are entering kindergarten and first grade this year. Many already know how to read, but last year I could tell I was forcing reading on him and he was rejecting it so we switched gears and focused on letter sounds. This year he is ready for reading and is easily applying the phonics we learned last year. I love that we are teaching it to him in a way that makes complete sense to him and is enjoyable, not just for him, but for all of us.

The other nice thing is that there is a chance we will be moving this year. We started the year early so we could get as many days in as possible before my husband started rotating shiftwork. We also want to be able to take as much time off as we want for moving while still getting in our 180 days of school. When we move, we will be able to start school back up right where we left off, plus, when my hubby is on rotating shiftwork, our kids will be home to see their dad as often as possible. I feel like homeschooling really goes well with my husband's Navy career.

So that's our kindergarten plan! School has just started, but we are looking forward to the rest of the year! :) How are you homeschooling this year?

Monday, August 18, 2014

All we are saying...

Motherhood is challenging to navigate. There is so much out there on, well, everything.
"You must buy this!"
"If you want your baby to grow up feeling loved, do this..."

"Remember to always speak this way."

"It's the little things that count."

Even on this blog I talk about how I do things and about the products that I have liked with our boys.

But that's what they are: things that I liked.

That doesn't mean that you will like them or that you should parent how I do. It doesn't even mean that you should do things how I do. I'm talking about things that work for me and my family.


Because I like reading about how other people do things. I like talking to other people and finding out about how they solve some of the more difficult challenges of motherhood, how they fix the small and big stuff. I like hearing other people's family schedules. I like knowing that I am not the only one trying to solve a certain problem-- why are shoes always missing when it is time to get in the car? Why do our toddlers throw a fit during mealtimes? Why are organic foods so dang expensive? How is potty training so hard this time around when it went so well the first time around? Am I the only one sick of hearing the same twin comments over and over again and does it really matter who is older?

There is so much mommy judging out there, real and perceived. Sometimes comments that aren't meant to be judgmental at all are taken that way.

For instance, we are a Navy family that has decided to go career. I hear from other military families, "We are finishing this tour and then he's getting out. We don't want to go career and put our kids through all that. It is too hard on them." Those people are not talking about my family. When I hear those comments, they aren't talking about how my husband is going career and looking forward to putting our kids through deployment. No, they are discussing with a fellow military wife their own choices for their own families.

I hear, "I would have waited to have another baby after having twins as well." But they don't know that I had a miscarriage and a molar pregnancy. I'm always surprised at how much this comment hurts. No, they do not know my history and they don't need to, but it always makes me want to share with the world about this baby that did exist, not for them, but for me. It was real and it happened.

Other comments are puzzling and hard to figure out their intended meaning.

"That's great you are breastfeeding. It is so good for the baby." What does this mean? Do I need to fill them in on my breastfeeding history with my three other children? Or the fact that while I believe in benefits of breastfeeding, I think it is ludicrous that you cannot discuss breastfeeding without saying, "Of course I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding!" or giving a reason why you are bottle feeding. Here's what I think, mommas, truly and really: feed your babies how you feel is best. It is no one else's business.

"I'm glad you aren't one of those homeschooling families. You are only homeschooling this year, right?" Hmm. By "those" homeschooling families, do you mean Weird and Unsocialized Homeschoolers? And we've loved homeschooling so far. Not sure how long we will homeschool, but it seems to fit in with my husband's Navy career well. The kids and I love doing it. I'm not sure what the future holds for us, but I'm open to wherever God leads us.

And another hot topic, working inside the home versus working outside the home: "I could never stay home all day. I need to engage my brain/stay busy/do something..." or "I stay home because I want to be there to watch my children grow up..." Sigh. Moms, don't tear each other down. Sometimes those comments are not made at all to be a dig towards anyone else or their choices, current or planned. Yes, I stay at home, and, yes, I have my reasons why I stay at home with my children, but the reasons why I stay at home may not be the reasons why you stay at home. And the reasons why you work outside the home may not be the reasons why other moms work outside the home.

We are all moms and we are all working hard, whether we are working in the home, working outside the home, homeschooling, or getting the kids ready for school outside the home each morning-- public or private. Breastfeeding is hard; pumping is hard; exclusively pumping blows my mind; and bottle feeding... bottle feeding is hard (and expensive and time consuming). Twins are hard. Singletons are hard. New babies are hard. Toddlers are hard. Kindergartners... easier and harder all at once. One child is hard. I've heard going from one to two children is way harder than going from two to three. Three children, hard. Four children, hard. Being a military wife-- hard. I know talking to my civilian friends that it's not easy on the other side of things either. You know, marriage is hard.

There are so many challenges in life. So many hard times that you are brought to your knees and crying out to God to hold you and carry you through. There are so many unexpected speed bumps.

We need to stop judging either. We need to be careful how we phrase things. Yes, it is wonderful I'm breastfeeding this baby; glad it worked out. Yes, the space between our twin toddlers and our newborn has been nice. Sometimes I'm glad they are over three; sometimes I think it would have been easier if they were under three, like the gap between our oldest and our twins. We need to make sure that we aren't wording the choices that work for our family in a way that sounds like we are judging other families. We also  need to make sure that we don't easily take offense. The best thing about life-- our freedom in Christ-- is that we are free to make the choices that God leads us to. We are free to go career Navy, free to get out, free to look at our children and say, "Okay, we need to switch gears. The path we are on is not working for us." We are free to homeschool using a boxed curriculum or piecing it all together. We are free to stay at home or free to work outside the home.

Be friends with who you connect with. Multiple mommas need singleton momma friends. Big families need small family friends. Working mommas need stay at home momma friends. Homeschooling mommas need public school momma friends. Mommas need friends without kids. Make friends with people older and younger than you, who have kids older or younger than yours. Be friends with positive people that lift you up and support you. The best friends you will make are the ones that pray for you and encourage you.

We are all in this together. Give peace a chance.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Baby Jogger City Select

Since we've brought our 4th child home, I've been wanting to write a blog post about our stroller. Recently I wrote a blog post called "Stroller shopping checklist" that helps you find the right stroller for your family. In it, I also give the reasons as to how we ended up investing in the Baby Jogger City Select with the second seat. I've already written several blog posts on our stroller, the first being "I love my stroller." This stroller has also made it on my must-have lists, the most in detail being "Can't buy me love" and "0-2 years old twin: must haves."

In the post "Stroller shopping checklist," I explain why I am so passionate about having a good stroller that fits our family's lifestyle:
I was so nervous about how I would manage a toddler and twins and having a stroller that suited our lifestyle helped make that much easier for me to handle on my own. I know that sounds really corny, but as a Navy family, it is difficult to live so far away from friends and family. When our twins were born, I did not have a large support network and was trying to figure out how I would manage everything on my own. I truly feel that for us, picking the right stroller made those first couple years with twins-- a busy time by all accounts-- easier.
Birth to the toddler years

When we found out I was pregnant with twins, our oldest had just turned 2 years old. I immediately started researching strollers knowing that I would be managing all 3 children by myself most of the time. One of the first things that I really liked about our stroller is that it works from birth to the toddler years. While there is an option for bassinets-- I have seen parents use the Baby Jogger City Select with two bassinets for their twins-- I decided to use the car seat adapters.

Car seat adapters

2 sets of 1 year old twins
2 years old
3 years old
Holds three children...
When our twins were born, our oldest was just over 2 and a half years old. I quickly taught him to sit on the glider board, making it a comfortable place for him to ride for longer distances. Now that we have four children, I've taught one of our toddlers to sit there so I can take all four of our boys out without have to wrangle them.



First outing by myself with four children

...or can hold one, two, or three children!
One of my favorite features about this stroller is that it can accommodate one to three children. I love that I have the option to make it a single stroller... or a double stroller... or add the glider board to hold three children! Part of what makes this stroller so versatile is that it really is easy to take off or put on accessories like the second seat or the car seat adapter. The glider board is also easy to attach to the stroller, but it also folds up nicely on the stroller if you want to leave it on and flip up or down when you decide to use it (or not). This stroller is full of options!
Grocery shopping with one of our twins
Dropped the shopping basket under my stroller for easy shopping!
Out on a walk with baby #4
Car seat adapter with baby #4
Versatile seats
I love all the different seat positions. It seems silly to have so many options, but there are times where the boys feel social and like facing each other to chat while I ran errands and times where it was better to have them facing different directions (so the one in back can't kick his brother's seat, for instance) and times when it was nice having them both face forward, such as to see an exhibit. I posted these photos on my blog post, "0-2 years old twin: must haves." I took these when our twins were 2 years old; these are the most common seat positions I used when our twins were toddlers, sometimes adding the glider board for our oldest. {Check out the cool video on Baby Jogger's website!}

When our twins were infants, I moved the seats around a lot more, mostly to make it easier to feed them or let them nap in the stroller. They also seemed to enjoy more interaction with each other while in the stroller as infants. Toddlers seem to enjoy much more conflict... :P
The glider board is attached to the stroller and folded up in this picture
The toddler in the lower seat is napping while the toddler in the upper seat is feeding
"The stroller that grows with your family"
We bought this stroller when we found out we were having twins. When our twins were born, our oldest was 2.5 years old. We have used this stroller with our twins from the time they were newborns to 3-years old. Now we have another baby and we are using it with our twins (3-years old) and a newborn! Our oldest (now 6 years old) walks next to us and holds on to the side of the stroller when I need him close (crossing the street, busy area, etc). Here are some pictures of us using the Baby Jogger City Select with baby #4:
Carrying our 3-year old twins and our newborn
In the basket: diaper bag, swim bag, cooler, leftovers wrapped up to-go from lunch, and shopping purchases
3-year old relaxing on our glider board
Pushing the stroller with just the car seat adapter for baby #4
Pushing the stroller with just a seat for baby #4
Since he is a newborn, I like to recline the seat for him. The seat is deep enough that it is almost like a bassinet.
Out on a walk with the toddlers holding on to the side of the stroller
We love our stroller!
Here are some pictures I took during our twins' first year (our oldest 2.5 years old to 3.5 years old during that time). This stroller has fit into our life seamlessly and made our outings so much easier! We really do love this stroller.
Feeding our twins baby food pouches while using the glider board to do our Target shopping!
Checking out the fish at PetsMart
Adjusting the hood for his brother
One of the perks of twins: you are often pulling a shopping cart while pushing a stroller
Put our City Select to use while doing some pre-move shopping (perk of Navy life: frequently moving)
Out shopping!

Being silly while we wait at the pediatrician's office
2 infants needing to eat at the same time means leaving the house with a Boppy pillow!
Loved how it fit under the stroller with everything else I brought with me

Road tripping pit stop
At the park-- it handles well on all sorts of terrain!

At the pumpkin patch
Kimber's Navy Family blog posts on the Baby Jogger City Select stroller with second seat:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Week 2 of cloth diapering a newborn

We are on our second week of cloth diapering baby #4 and it is going great! Seriously. I don't know how long we are going to cloth diaper-- we have gone into this with a very open mind-- but my husband and I both agree that if it continues to go as it has been, we are going to be cloth diapering for a long time!

I wrote a blog post a little while ago titled "Cloth diapering budget." That post added up the cost of cloth diapering versus disposable diapering. We've had a few expenses added to that list since then. We had not yet ordered a sprayer. We ordered a OsoCozy Cloth Diaper Sprayer from Amazon for $39.95. I also started having a hard time with baby #4 leaking through his diapers at night. He was going 4-5 hours between feedings and the hand-me-down Gerber prefolds weren't doing the trick. I bought new Gerber prefolds and had the same problem. I went back to my local baby store and explained my problem. She recommended that I buy Bummis Organic Prefold Diapers, the organic prefolds she sells in her store. She said the organic diapers are more absorbent and that many of her customers will come in and say their Gerber diapers are leaking. I was a little skeptical. How could the organic prefolds be that much better than the Gerber prefolds? I bought 5 at $2.50 a piece ($12.50 total) just to try out-- BIG DIFFERENCE! I tested the diaper out and he went 5-6 hours without leaking in the organic prefolds, without any extra lining. I went back to the baby store and bought 10 more organic prefolds ($25 for 10 + the $12.50 of the other 5 = $37.50 total for 15 organic prefold diapers).

My total cost in the "Cloth diapering budget" post was $290.54, adding in the 15 organic prefolds brings it up to $328.04, plus the diaper sprayer brings it to $367.99. (Worried that all my Gerber prefolds will go to waste? Nope-- we use these as burp cloths!)

Now that the numbers are out of the way, how have we been cloth diapering???

For the newborn stage, we have decided to use the organic prefold diapers and the Thirsties diaper covers. We have a diaper changing station all set up to make cloth diapering at home as easy as possible, plus an awesome well-stocked diaper bag which makes cloth diapering on the go so much easier.
Here is our diaper changing station:

And our diaper pail, which is just a Rubbermaid step trash can from Target, with a Planet Wise diaper pail liner:
After much consideration, we decided to use cloth wipes at home. Logistically, it just makes sense. When you are cloth diapering, you are already throwing cloth diapers into the diaper pail... Where would you throw the disposable wipes? So for now we are using cloth wipes. I had a big discussion with the gal at my local baby store and she stores her cloth wipes dry instead of mixing up the solution and storing them wet. I decided to also store ours dry. I mixed up a solution and put it in a spray bottle. Looking for a cloth wipe solution? Check out this link: "Cloth Wipe Solution Recipes" at Zany Zebra Designs. I went with the Castille soap solution but with more tea tree oil and more water since we have such a large spray bottle; we've been happy with it.
To protect baby #4's modesty (and because I doubt he would have liked participating in this photo session), our "baby" is Peter Puppy, our oldest son's favorite stuffed animal. Peter Puppy has been through a lot since he is usually quite busy playing with our five-year old.
Before I open up the diaper, I like to set out the supplies I will need. You do not need to change the Thirsties diaper cover every time you change a diaper. I like to lay out the prefold and have it folded, ready to go in the diaper cover.
I made most of our wipes by cutting up old receiving blankets. This is the size of the wipe I have currently cut. I fold it into fourths and then saturate one side with the wipe solution.
I spray the wipe before I start changing the diaper.
I then lay everything out nice so that I can start on the diaper and won't have to rummage in the diaper caddy for anything. I then pull back the Thirsties diaper cover...
...and cover the groin area with a cloth wipe. If you have ever changed a newborn boy's diaper before, you know why I do this.
The newborn diapers aren't usually very messy to clean up and I've generally only needed one wipe, sometimes folding that wipe in half if I need to.
Since the wipe usually isn't all the way wet, I use it to pick up the prefold and put it in the bin.

When I first went into my local baby store to talk to the gal about cloth diapering, she told me that for a lot of the newborn/breastfeeding "stinky" diapers she didn't even need to rinse them because they weren't that messy. I was very skeptical and didn't really believe her... but it really is true. Some of the diapers do require to be rinsed. Now that baby #4 is 2 weeks old and growing a lot, he doesn't have a stinky diaper every time we change him. Most of the diapers are wet or only a little messy. For the really messy diapers, it is usually about the time to change the Thirsties cover anyways, so I'll pull the whole thing off baby #4 and set to the side while I re-diaper...
...and since our changing station is conveniently in the large hall bathroom near the toilet, I use our nifty diaper sprayer to rinse it off.
Since I only have two hands, I couldn't quite get a picture of holding the sprayer. I just angle the diaper down into the toilet and spray it off-- no touching or scraping or whatever required. Just spray it off. I know that cloth diapering is often frowned upon by people, "Ew, I could never do that." I have to say, with this being our fourth child, I have cleaned up far worse with the other three (and they all wore disposables). Taking complete care of another human being-- even a small, newborn one-- is a very hands on experience.
I like to fold the diaper up after spraying it so it doesn't drip when I go to throw it in the pail.
When I get the diaper back over the pail, I like to let it fall in piece by piece so it doesn't go through the laundry all folded up.
After changing the diaper, stinky or wet, it is time to re-diaper. I lay the clean prefold in the Thirsties cover...
...and fold back the top so that it is most absorbent in areas that it needs to be.
Then I cover the prefold with the Thirsties cover and snap it closed.
It is really important to check the leg holes to make sure that the prefold is completely covered by the Thirsties cover. Since the prefold is what is absorbing everything, if it sticks out of the cover, you will have leakage. This is the prefold sticking out of the Thirsties cover...
...and this is what it should look like.
Now we have a happy Peter Puppy in a clean diaper! :)
Obviously cloth diapering at home with a changing station is convenient. How easy is it out of the house? When we leave the house, I use disposable wipes and diaper sacks. I keep the diaper sacks in the outside pocket of my diaper bag next to the diaper pad. I like the changing pad to be handy and the diaper sacks accessible since I use them so often.
Inside my diaper bag, I keep 4 prefolds, 1 Thirsties diaper cover, my disposable wipes, and my wet bag.
To change a diaper while out, I really like to have everything laid out and accessible. I do not want to be digging in my diaper bag while my baby is on a changing table in a public restroom, cloth diapers or not. The baby would be on my changing pad, but these are the things I need when changing a cloth diaper out of the house: wet bag, diaper sacks, disposable wipes, and a clean prefold.
I open up all the bags so I don't have to when I am changing the diaper and lay out the prefold, just like I do at home. (The prefold is under the wet bag in this picture.)
I then take off the dirty prefold and put it in the wet bag and set the wet bag aside.
I use disposable wipes while out of the house because it is the most convenient for me for now. I like having disposable wipes on me also because wet wipes are very handy when you are out with toddlers (sticky hands!). I drop the used wipes into the open diaper sack.
From there, it is pretty much the same to change a diaper while out of the house or at home.
When the diaper is changed, I throw the diaper sack with the used wipes away and zip up the wet bag with the dirty prefold inside. I fold up the wet bag as much as I can and put it on top in my diaper bag. When I get home, I empty the wet bag into my diaper pail. Since I am just changing newborn diapers, which aren't very stinky, I have not needed to wash my wet bag after each use. Eventually I think I will need two on-the-go wetbags. For now, one is working and the times I have needed to wash it, I have been able to do it in the evening after we are home for the night.
The laundry question comes up often when cloth diapering. Here are the answers to the two most frequently asked questions:
Don't you have to do a lot of laundry?
This is our first time cloth diapering any of our children, but this is our fourth child. As a family of six, we do a lot of laundry. Since we already do 1 or 2 loads a day, this really hasn't changed our laundry pattern. I make sure to do a load of whatever is in our diaper pail each day and that has worked out great-- haven't run out of diapers yet! :)
Isn't that...gross?
No. As I said before, taking complete care of a human being-- even a small, newborn human being-- is a hands on job. You can see from the pictures that I am not elbow deep in, um, waste while changing a cloth diaper. Honestly, what bothers me more is burping our little guy and him spitting up in my hair... yuck! :P I don't know if it is because this is our fourth child and so diapers just really don't bother me, but sometimes when I do a load of diapers from our pail, I just throw the diapers into the wash and don't pull out the wet bag liner. Sometimes, if it is exceptionally full or we've changed many stinky diapers, I pull out the whole liner and empty it directly into the washer, pulling the wet bag liner inside out before tossing it in too. Since the diapers aren't messy and I rinse the ones that are, I've had no issues with a messy washing machine. Our washing machine is, however, full of evidence from his older siblings: K'Nex, Legos, Matchbox cars...
I'll be sure to keep you all updated on our adventures in cloth diapering! So far, so good. :)