Monday Mindset: What's Your Word?

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Monday Mindset

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

Happy 2016!

With the opening of a new year and the closing of the old, we can’t help but hope. We long for new beginnings like a feast after a famine. We look over our shoulders at where we’ve been and gaze ahead longing for a path to be made clear that will lead us to the goals we set.

What if we can light our way, calling upon lessons learned and striving ideals? Not through resolutions as we are accustomed, but through thoughtful intentions? And what if the light we seek is within us? I believe that it is, and for this reason, I have taken to choosing a word or short phrase to be my beacon throughout the year. Something I can use to evaluate whether or not my actions and decisions are in line with my priorities.  In years past, my intentions have been things like Stubborn Joy, Love, and Trust.

This year I choose diligence.

There are so many areas of my life that need me to be just that, diligent. And diligence encourages me to be present and faithful in all that I do. It is a audacious word, full of courage. My prayer is that I meet this challenge with all the grace and strength it requires.

What will be your word, your phrase, for 2016?
  Leave me a note in the comments so I can cheer you on!

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Monday Mindset: Parenting with Einstein

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Monday Mindset

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

Parenting with Einstein

During our morning read aloud time this week, we enjoyed
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.
And as with  all great picture books, it contained a nugget of truth.  In this case 5 sentences.  That's it.  Just one short page, but it got me thinking.  My mind went off in one direction while my lips continued to read the remaining pages.  I was re-evaluating my perspectives on parenting and how they are made visible in my daily life of raising children. 

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Do I treat my children like that?  Do I squash their questions and minimize their ponderings?  Do I welcome their wonder or am I guilty of casting it aside as childish thought? 

And if I go deeper...am I open to their individualism or do I try to fit them into a mold?  Am I brave enough to let my children be who they really are?  And what does that mean? 

It's rather easy for us to read this story about Albert Einstein and see that his teachers were the ones whose behavior needed changing, not Albert.  We have hindsight and history on our side. 

Our perspective is rooted in the outcome. 

Can we hold the vision of our children's futures in the same esteem without yet living them?  Can we be brave enough to allow our children to be who they are even when their quirks are opposite of ours or go against the grain? 

 What if Einstein's parents had not supported his idiosyncrasies, and therefore his brilliance?  What would have happened? 

Perhaps then, we are asking the wrong questions.  Instead, we should be asking, who are we to stand in the way of our children being their true selves?

So this week, think of Einstein when you look at your children, and let them be who they really are.

 

 

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Monday Mindset: A Balanced Life Is NOT What We Think It Is

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Monday Mindset

Because sometimes all you need is a shift in perspective.

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For so many years, I believed that the secret to a happy life was balance.  But I think I misunderstood.  I thought that meant that each day would be a perfect blend work and play, time together as a family and time alone with my own thoughts, a bouquet perfectly arranged.  And in striving for this perfection, I was missing the point; the joy of a messy life.

You see, I didn't realize that spending an entire day guiding a seven year old through his angry feelings toward his brother was part of the balance.  I mistook the sleepless nights and days of laundry mountains as days of being off-balance.  And because I felt that spending more than a "balanced" amount of time on nature walks or visiting the zoo or travelling would set us off kilter, I kept these enriching activities to a minimum.

I don't think there is anything wrong with this, as it worked for us at that phase of our life, but now I see things differently.

I see that all of these moments strung together, like pearls on a necklace, create a life of balance.

It's not just the snapshot of the day that I need to look at, but the whole week, month, year, or longer.  It is only over time that we can see the true balance of our time.

Recognizing this relieves me.  I don't have to feel guilty about spending an entire spring in the woods or hurried on the days when everyone just needs to lay around and listen to me read aloud or watch another documentary about the lions in Africa.

I don't have to do it all, all the time. I can so some things, some of the time, because that is a balanced life.

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Homeschooling Translated

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Homeschooling Translated

Ever feel like you aren't doing enough in your homeschooling?  Maybe it's outside pressure or your own internal dialogue, but often we doubt that what we are doing with and for our children is enough.  I know I do, until I slow down and examine just how naturally full of learning our days really are.

Julie Bogart of Brave Writer was talking about this very idea the other day is this scope.  She was talking about how we already do so much learning our children, even though it may not look like what schools would consider education. She expanded on this saying that we can give ourselves credit and calm the “ghost of public school past” by putting what we already do into what I like to call “teacher-speak,” that language that educators use to compartmentalize and quantify the learning being done.

Though I know many are intimidated by this task, I have always found it kind of fun, maybe because I love writing and am always trying to think of new ways to say the same thing. But also because I used to teach in public school and know that the teaching and learning done in a classroom has nothing on the authentic learning that can be done in the home and the world around.

So I decided to take one day from our week and put it into teacher-speak to illustrate this idea and hopefully give you some encouragement that you really are doing a lot already!

Below I’ve listed some of the activities we engaged in. And below that is a list of the subject areas and topics covered in “teacher-speak.”

Our Day

Poetry teatime:

  • Making treats and peanut butter cocoa
  • Reading poems-learned about e.e. cummings and the use or dis-use of capitalization in poetry
  • haiku-which lead to discussion of syllables and counting them and spontaneous, improvised lines of poetry,
  • Poetry art project-this would be completed later in the day, but in preparation, we discussed verbs, nouns, and adjectives, listing some to be used in a poem about autumn leaves

Nature hike:

  • Read the map and followed trail markers.
  • experienced the crispness in the air juxtaposed with the warmth of fall day, collected various leaves and later looked up a few that we did not recognize
  • physical exercise, fresh air
  • time with friends

After our hike:

  • Looked at each individual leaf and described it recalling adjectives, nouns and verbs. Wrote words on leaves, arranged them in various ways to make a poem, typed the poem, dipped leaves in beeswax and hung them up to dry.

Translation

Language arts: poetry appreciation, reading, grammar, capitalization, syllables, penmanship, keyboarding skills

Math: fractions, measurement, comparing

Social Studies: Map reading, compass rose

Science: botany, leaf identification

Physical education: hiking

Recess: socializing with friends

Art: 3-D sculpture, photography

 If you add in the music we listened to on the way and the time my older kids practiced their violins, we covered every subject area. The best part is, I was there, present and engaged with my children. We weren’t bogged down by workbooks on this beautiful day in November. We were living a full life. And what I realized along the way is that the best learning is the learning that you’re never too tired to pursue. The learning that even though it may not be during your “school” hours, you are still excited to experience. Because that’s just it! Learning is an experience. A never-ending, journey of discovery.

Give it a try.

Can you take just one experience that you have shared with your children lately and put it in “teacher-speak”?

Thank You, Sarah Mackenzie!

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     Thank you,Sarah Mackenzie!

The other day I was reorganizing my files and came across a piece I wrote about 8 months ago and NEVER shared!  Rereading it, I saw the truth it contained and decided it needed to make its way here.  I hope reading it blesses you as much as it has me.

Next week my baby turns two. The approach of her birthday doesn’t feel as difficult as it did last year. But boy, the past two years have been tough! This little girl is full of spunk, and toddler, through and through! When the natural curiosity of this little lady is combined with her preschool brother’s natural mischievousness, we have a recipe for mayhem. All. The. Time. J I’ll save you the gory details and just say that the antics (some adorable, some not so much) on any given day have made homeschooling our 4 school-age kiddos much more challenging, and many days just frustrating!

We’re pretty relaxed homeschoolers at heart, but I was feeling like we weren’t getting to even a sliver of what we wanted to. And when we did get to something, I felt rushed, my mind not able to stay focused on the task at hand. I was always thinking about all the things I wasn’t getting to, all the things left undone. It’s awful feeling as though my efforts aren’t enough. It was well into the little one’s second year that I came across that quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge your day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

It was also around this time that I discovered The Read Aloud Revival Podcasts, hosted by Sarah Mackenzie. I distinctly remember listening to the first episode. I remember standing there after it finished playing, just standing still, a rarity for me. I remember wondering how I had forgotten how much I love reading to my kids.

We had always read aloud. Day after day, we would spend an hour or two reading together. I had looked forward to snuggling in with a cup of tea and my favorite book lists every Sunday afternoon. I’d read over the lists, get a preview online if I’d never read it before, and reserve a boat load at my local library. I had been intentional and generous with our read aloud time. But with the birth of baby #6, I had lost my balance and finding it seemed out of reach.

So, standing there in the glow of inspiration of the conversation I had just heard on the podcast, I felt that spark again, that feeling of excitement about witnessing the education of my children by sharing great books together. As I write this, I realize that reclaiming our read aloud time wasn’t just about educating my children. It was about reclaiming our family culture. It took Sarah spelling that out for me to remember what I had set out to do in the first place. I am forever grateful because sometimes a weary, sleep-deprived mama just needs a reminder (and a swift kick in the pants :-). So if you haven’t had the privilege of listening to Sarah’s podcasts over at the Read Aloud Revival, go! Just pick one and start listening. You’ll be glad you did. No matter what the topic is you’ll find yourself energized and inspired!

Monday Mindset: Start a Fire

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Monday Mindset

Because sometimes all you need is a shift in perspective.

It’s November and the honeymoon of the “new” school year is over. Many of us are questioning, “Why did I want to homeschool again?” Whatever your reasons were at the beginning of your journey, they may have been overshadowed by the day-to-day nitty-gritty. And we often find ourselves uninspired, at best, or worse, just plain burnt out. If you find yourself here, take heart! You are not alone! After 8 years of homeschooling, I have started to see the patterns of the year and how enthusiasm wanes to boredom. The good news is, with a shift in perspective, (and some practical tools to help), you can regain your inspiration and rediscover your joy in homeschooling.

This is one of my favorite quotes and my “instant mindset mender”. Whenever I get bogged down in the myriad of details that it takes to craft a quality home education, I read this and remember that there is more to learning than memorizing math facts and understanding grammar. Don’t get me wrong, these are fine endeavors and often necessary, but if we lose sight of the bigger picture, nothing else matters. So I ask you, are you lighting a fire or filling a bucket?

One of the biggest concerns I hear among homeschooling families is that their children aren’t interested in a particular book/project/curriculum. So the parent asks, “What can I do?” Over the years, I have been faced with this same situation on countless occasions. This makes sense given that each member of my family is constantly growing and changing, including me. That each one has his or her own preferences and dislikes. That each one has his or her own learning style, which changes too.

Over the years, I have taken note of the questions I ask in self-reflection, when I am faced with a discrepancy between a learner and a learning activity. I have learned not to take it personally and that a lack of enthusiasm in my kids is not a sign of disrespect but a signal to me that their fire is flickering.

So, I ask myself these questions…

  1. Am I inspired by the book, project, etc? If not, my kids are probably picking up on it. If I am, how may my view of it differ from theirs?
  2. What are my goals/hopes/desires with using a particular book/learning project?
  3. Is there another way/book/resource to meet the same goals that may be more engaging?
  4. Are they really ready for what I am asking them to do?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but if you respond honestly, I think you will reconnect with your own inner wisdom about what is best for your family. Making the necessary changes to regain a love of learning may be challenging but they are worth every ounce of effort.

Ironically, or rather serendipitously, I came across another perfect quote as I was reading the first chapter of Julie Bogart’s A Gracious Space, Fall Edition. (If you have not had the good fortune of “meeting” Julie yet, you must! Catch any of her Scopes or replays or check out her website! Your day life will be blessed by her wisdom and non-judgmental support on your homeschooling journey!)

Julie says, “What makes your children’s education unique isn’t how well you systematize all the subjects. It’s how well you share your enthusiasm for life, learning, art, literature, the power of math equations to create quilts or build forts or sell cookies, the excitement of politics, volunteering in your free time so that your kids learn how to share themselves with others, and most important, your enthusiasm for each of them.”

So, in one word…Enthusiasm.

Be the joy of learning.

How will you light the fire of learning in your family this week?

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The Simple Guide to Enjoying Shakespeare with Kids

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Enjoy Shakespeare.

For many this statement seems like an oxymoron. Their feelings about Shakespeare are on par with having a tooth pulled without the anesthesia. Why is that? Why is Shakespeare so well-known and yet so feared? I am willing to bet that the biggest reason is unfamiliarity with the language of Shakespeare. I think one could argue that it is a foreign language all its own! With that said, I am going to share with you ways to enjoy Shakespeare with children of all ages!

Start with re-tellings!

The stories of Shakespeare really are inviting once you break the barrier of the poetic language. The best way our family has been able to do this is to listen to and read re-tellings! Our favorites have been from Jim Weiss and Bruce Coville. Both of these authors and storytellers have a way of capturing the beauty of the story, seamlessly merging original lines from Shakespeare into their re-tellings. So not only do we better understand the story but the poetry of the language is gracefully maintained.Another path to enjoying Shakespeare, and simulatenously expanding our view of his works, is to read a book like Shakespeare’s storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard. This book shares 6 folk tales and a little history and insight about how each one relates to the works of Shakespeare. The best part is that it comes with 2 CDs so that you can listen to them on the go. I can’t say enough about this book! And I can’t help but smile when my kids say, “Can we listen to Shakespeare? Plleeeaaase?”

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Find your guides!

Gather some resources about Shakespeare that work for your family.  These will end up being as much for you as your kids. They’ll be your go-to when you want to dig a little deeper or get some fresh ideas! My favorites are linked below. Having them on hand has helped me to be consistent with making Shakespeare more a part of our family culture, rather than just a story we read once.

Listen, read and watch!

Shakespeare is poetry and play. It is meant to be heard and seen, both on the written page and on the stage. But I have to confess that I am terrified of reading Shakespeare aloud to my kids. Not so much that I will mispronounce words but that I will lose the beauty of the language and kill any chance of my kids enjoying the experience. So, I got creative! I bought several copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story with which my children are already familiar. And I purchased the audio version. So we have options. We can listen. We can read. And most preferred, we can listen and read along at the same time! I am still on the look-out for a well performed screen or stage production of Shakespeare plays, but that is on my to-do list before the year is through. So if you have any favorites to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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So that’s it! 

Simple strategies. 

Gather some resources. 

Start small and jump in.

You will gain confidence as you go.

You may even find that you and your kids enjoy Shakespeare!

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Monday Mindset: Don't Forget the Figs!

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Monday Mindset:

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

Don't Forget the Figs!

It’s Monday morning and you’re tired from a busy weekend that came after a busy week of raising kids, running errands, and relentless laundry. You may have been less than patient with your kids, your spouse or even yourself. You may have even thrown in the towel on Tuesday and decided that the task of the week was to make it through, not really knowing what that really meant. So now, you’re faced with a new week. Seven brand new days ahead of you. You want to make the most of it, but you’re still tired and not altogether convinced that this week won’t turn out like last week. Sometimes what we need is a shift in perspective. A reminder of what we value and a plan to make those values visible.

Enter…the FIGS! Don’t worry. If you don’t like figs, you don’t have to eat them to be the parent you want to be. These figs are more for the heart than the body.   F. I. G. S.  Here's how it works...

Forgive

You can’t move forward with the weight of last week’s shortcomings on your back. When you look back on your week, there may be things you wish you had done differently. Maybe you wish you had spent more time reading with your kids. Or getting outside for a walk to enjoy the fall weather. Or listening to your child more intently rather than checking your email. Whatever you wish you had done differently, forgive yourself! It’s done. Does carrying the guilt serve you well? Let go. You did the best you could. Period.

Intention

Now that you’ve done the hardest step of forgiving yourself, it is time for a small step on the path of intention. This path is yours, and yours alone. Stating your intention isn’t just wistfully wishing it into being. It is a mindful statement about what you value. For example, my intention for this week is to be present in a meaningful way with each of my children everyday. Just by putting this into words, it becomes a beacon for my week. A way in which I will bring consciousness to the decisions I make based on my values. In this example, I value individual relationship and connection with each of my children.

Goals

Stating an intention gives us focus and helps us to regulate our mindset, even when challenging situations arise. And creating simple, action-based goals helps us to make our intention tangible. Using my example of being present with my children, my goals may look like this.

  1. Limit my own screen time, and close any screen if a child comes to talk to me.
  2. Make a plan (and implement it) for spending time with each child. Snuggling at bedtime, playing a game together, reading a book, inviting a child to help make dinner or a snack. Knowing what is important to each of my children will help me to make the most of my time with them. Being open to spontaneous moments of connection is key but making “appointments” with each child will help to ensure that each child gets what he/she needs. It sounds somewhat contrived, but it is the same as planning a date with my husband. By setting aside time, I am sending the message that each child is important. 

Stamina

Stamina may be the second hardest part of “eating figs.” As the week goes on and the day-to-day threatens to swallow up your intention, hold on. Make time for what you value. Take an honest look at what is getting in the way of you living out your goals.   Are the obstacles within your control? If they are, be creative. Find a way to work it out. If they’re outside your control, be creative. Your goals may need to be tweaked but your intention, your values, don’t. You value what is important to you. Stick with it. And don’t forget to forgive yourself when you don’t. You’re an amazing person and you’ve got this!

 

Why Your Baby is NOT Lost

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Why Your Baby is Not Lost

On May 20, 2015, I gave birth to my seventh child. In my bathroom. My husband stood outside the door asking if I was ok, and I kept saying, “Yep, I’m fine.” I was……and I wasn’t. I needed to be alone. To birth this tiny baby on my own. I needed the space to allow my body and my heart to open up and release. That baby was just 11 weeks old.

And just like I had done with all my full-term babies, I held her body and cried. There were no words, no coherent thoughts, no logic to describe what had just happened. All I knew was that this tiny one was my child, my angel baby, and my love for her was (and is) immense.

At first, I didn’t want to talk to about it with anyone. And then I wanted to talk to everyone.

I wanted to tell them what had happened. Wanted them to know that there were more members of our family than you can see piling out of our suburban. Most of all, I wanted to validate the life of our baby and her place in our hearts.

There were close family members and friends who acknowledged our little one’s life and the impact she had on ours, but there were others who simply said nothing. I don’t blame them. Grief and loss are hard, and often there are no words, but the silence can be misunderstood.

No matter where your personal belief lies as to when life begins, this child that I held was my child. She was life formed from the love my husband and I share. She was life ended too soon. She is a part of our family.

The lessons I learned from this child, whom I only held for a brief moment in time, are as countless as the stars that now surround her in the heavens. She reminded me of who I am, of who I want to be. Of who we are as a family and just how important family is to us. She reminded us why we choose this crazy life with a passel of kids and why we hold that life so dear. She reminded me of my faith, and resting in that gets me through the times when I go to retrieve baby clothes for a friend from the bin packed up in the basement, and the dam breaks and I sob for the child I will never watch grow.

I question why. I plead for an answer, and then realize I have answer enough.

This tiny child taught me so much in her short life and even more in her death. More than I could ever capture in words. It is as if her pure soul spoke to mine and pushed me forward out of the self that I once was and into the self I always was. She reminded me to love and to be love.

I am sometimes asked the question, “Do you think you’ll try again?” And to that, I do not have an answer. Only a tangle of emotion and thought emerge. None particularly logical nor illogical. In not welcoming another child, does that mean I did not want the one gone too soon? And does inviting another child into our life mean we are replacing our angel baby? Neither of these are the reality, but grief seldom makes for logical sense.

The true reality is, even when you have six children and one is in heaven, no child is just another child. Each child is a gift. Unique and precious. In life and in death.

So I encourage you. Talk about your babies in heaven. They are a part of you forever. A part of your family. Celebrate them even in the midst of the heartache. The sadness will not go away, for someone whom you love has left this earth.

But your baby is not lost. Because your love for one another remains.

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