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Friday Fav: Stringing My Kids Along

We have exhausted all options for exploring our neighborhood recently in an attempt to get outside and get some fresh air during our shelter-in-place order here. The plus side is that the kids have gotten a lot of time to ride bikes. Mr. 7 year old joined the ranks of children who learned to ride without training wheels. My social media feed has been exploding with kids with this new found confidence on two wheels — a benefit to this situation. I love seeing people share such good news!

Mr. 4 year old has been loving his trike because he can power slide. (That’s his dad coming through.) The downside is that hills are difficult, causing him to jump off and push. When I walk with the kids, I want to walk….not run…not stroll…walk. So, my solution was to get a long ribbon and tie it around the front of Mr. 4 year old’s trike when we go up hills or when he gets too tired. I still get to walk, Mr. 4 year old gets to ride, and we can keep up with Mr. 7 year old. Win, win, win!

Posted in Blog

An Update on Rewarding Kids with Marbles

Back in February, my husband and I introduced the kids to a new way to reinforce good behavior. In short, it works like this. Good behavior is rewarded with a marble, which is equivalent to five minutes of screen time. Poor choices cost the kids marbles.

It’s really worked out so far! We were struggling for months to get Mr. 4 year old to stay in his room after bedtime, and that problem has resolved itself. (It may be in part because he’s home 24/7 now and typically doesn’t nap in the afternoons anymore either.) It has helped them adjust to new routines as we’ve shifted to homeschooling and pick up more chores around the house. If they want TV time and don’t have enough marbles, they will ask for things to do to earn them. I’ve had my windows cleaned, dishes done, laundry folded and put away, and many books read to me.

Although we started out rewarding pretty much every good behavior we were shaping in the kids, we have started incrementally awarding marbles now. For instance, the kids started out getting a marble every time they cleared their own spot at the table. Now that the habit’s formed, they don’t get a marble for that anymore. But, my boys are clever, and they have started clearing the entire table. If they do that without asking for a marble, we’ll award one.

There were a few unintended consequences that have amused me though.

  1. The kids are exceptionally good at counting by fives now.
  2. My husband is as generous as Oprah. “You get a marble! And you get a marble! And you get a marble!”
  3. Both kids have learned about negative numbers when they lose marbles they haven’t yet earned. Mr. 7 year old has started saying, “Ah man, I’m in the pit!”
  4. The kids were willing to, as they say, “waste their marbles” as soon as they earned them. We had to start enforcing that they had at least three marbles before they could “cash them in” and have 15 minutes of screen time.

I’m excited that we’ve found a currency that matters to the kids. (I was all about raking in the money as a kid, but I can adapt to screen time instead.) We’ll be sticking with this system for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Video Chats and Parties

Apps like Zoom, Facebook messenger, Skype, and Facetime have been a lifesaver for me the past few weeks. They have kept me and my family sane by connecting us with families and friends. The kids can have play dates, I can have virtual happy hours, school sessions occur, and my work gets done.

I think many of us were familiar with these tools and used them in various ways, but perhaps not as frequently or with the same groups of people. Now they are often the best way to share and communicate with others.

If you haven’t already connected your young kids to their friends and young family, I recommend giving it a try. I can’t follow Mr. 7-year-old’s conversation about Pokemon or whatever video game, but his friends and cousins can and seem to love catching up. I’ve seen kids playing video games together online, somehow playing hide and seek, connecting via Facebook Messenger for kids, and separately but somehow together having Bakugan battles.

Relatives can read stories, play board games (with the kids taking their turn for them), and sing songs. Sometimes just giving the kids a new audience is all they need to lift their moods (and give mom and dad a few minute reprieve).

My husband even uses such tech for online DnD sessions. We are all finding our way online to stay connected to each other. I hope you are too.

Photo Credit to Sergey Zolkin from Unsplased

Posted in Blog

“You Do You” – My Motto for the Latest (and Every) Parenting War

I see it starting now: another great debate for parents to fall into camps regarding how to “best” raise their children. When schools starting closing a couple of weeks ago, it started. There have been articles all over my newsfeeds claiming how parents should approach homeschooling their kids during the coronavirus shutdown.

One side of the divide is to just focus on play and not worry about educational activities. Teachers are professionals, and they will catch students up when they return to school. Focus on making family memories and having kids feel safe and emotionally secure during this turbulent time. Academics will come later.

The other side of the spectrum includes a focus on academics. There are articles advocating color-coded schedules, sharing lesson plans, and talking about the benefits of creating academic structure. These parents have scoured the Internet for educational activities to keep their children on track academically. They may come across as too rigid and inflexible during this unprecedented time.

I just want to put this out there now, before the flames of this debate ignite, that parents need to do what works for them. Find what your normal looks like right now. We’re all battling different needs, ranging from the needs of others (kids/parents/employees/employers/etc.) to our needs (don’t forget about yourself).

Ultimately, come up with something that works for you and your family. Give yourself some grace. Recognize that what may work for you this week isn’t necessary going to work for you in a month. Try to roll with it.

I think many of these articles touting how to handle this situation are trying to offer support. If you’re overwhelming yourself searching for ways to educate your kids or up late at night thinking of ways to teach Timmy how to grasp common core math, then cut yourself some slack. On the other hand, if you’re unsure of what you can do to support your kids so they’re not watching TV or playing video games all day every day, there are articles offering ideas and schedules for your consideration.

Although my personality certainly leads toward structure in an effort to save my sanity, I’m trying to be flexible and follow my children’s needs. I typically work in some activity or lesson (requiring very little prep and low stress) with my kids sometime between 8am and 10am every Monday through Friday. (Support from my kids’ schools is now rolling in and supplementing whatever I plan for the day.) One day this week Mr. 4-year-old wouldn’t have it. He took off to build a train track instead. I let him go, called it a STEM activity, and focused on supporting Mr. 7-year-old one-on-one instead. Last Friday, I wanted my house cleaned. It’s irrational and not REALLY necessary, but I wanted it done. So, we spent 30 minutes working on schoolwork and then worked as a team to tackle the cleaning to-dos.

Ultimately, each day I’m trying to focus on being present with the kids sneaking educational activities into play. I’m trying to take Mr. 7-year-old’s advice that he wrote on our driveway earlier this week: HAVE FUN! I think, from the kids’ perspectives anyway, that it’s working. Mr. 7-year-old notes in his homeschool journal almost every day that he’s happy. That’s success enough for me right now.

Posted in Blog

The New Normal: Our Coronavirus Isolation Schedule With Young Kids and Working From Home

I’m always interested in the details of others’ daily routines because there’s always something new I can tweak in my schedule by learning from others. Assuming others might be like me or just be curious, here’s our newest normal.

My husband and I are both authorized and encouraged to work from home for at least the next severals weeks (thank goodness!), so we get to tag team Mr. 4-year-old and Mr. 7-year-old. We tradeoff two-hour shifts and aim to maintain some flexibility as work calls and issues come up. Here’s the nitty gritty.

6am – 8am – I’m still getting up to an alarm just to get a few hours of work in before others start to stir. As much as I hate waking up to the beep of an alarm, I love having the quiet time for deep work, without IMs, emails, and other distractions. The kids wake up at some point during this time and play ABC Mouse.

8am – 10am – My husband logs into work while the kids and I eat, get dressed, and sit down to tackle whatever my one big learning activity is for the day. This is when reading and writing occur because I’ve already learned Mr. 7-year-old is exhausted after lunch and less forgiving of his errors. We’ve researched animals and started a book documenting where they live and what they eat, read books about how the human body works and then drawn diagrams, charted the colors of a basket of Easter eggs, and played with STEM toys to learn about electricity.

10am – 12pm – I return to work to respond to emails and take meetings. My husband is with the kids, typically having them complete worksheets, running around outside, or whatever. He has his work laptop with him since he’s always on call for spontaneous needs, so he’s focused on keeping the kids occupied with self-directed activities. If he has to take a call, the kids get educational screen time with PBS Kids or ABC Mouse.

12pm – 2pm – Sometimes I rejoin the family with lunch on the table, thanks to my husband, or sometimes I’m starting this shift making food. (I’ve been having the boys take turns making sandwiches for lunch too. They love the responsibility….for now.) When the weather is nice, post-lunch is outdoor time. We play games in the backyard, take walks throughout the neighborhood, or ride bikes. If we can’t go outside, then we find indoor activities like reading, playing with Play Doh, drawing or painting, hiding Easter eggs, doing household chores, whatever.

2pm – 4pm – This time slot is essentially a repeat of 10am – 12pm.

4pm – 6pm – My husband returns to work until everything he needs to do for the day is wrapped up. I’m back with the kids keeping it low key at this point. The kids will read me stories to earn marbles. If they haven’t gotten any screen time at this point in the day, they’ll likely get some now. I also have Mr. 7-year-old write a few sentences as a journal entry about his day. I’ll aim to have dinner ready by about 6pm.

6pm – 8pm – We eat dinner and clean up as a family. The kids then get ready for bed, and we wrap up the day watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off or reading a chapter from one of the Harry Potter books.

8pm and onward – This is my time to catch up with my husband (unless he’s retired to his man cave to play video games), read the news, review emails from the kids’ schools, and read books until I pass out only to wake up and do the whole thing all over again the next day.

I have to say, being thrown this curveball of having the rest of the kids’ academic year cancelled threw me off. I might have driven my husband a bit crazy obsessing about how to create a new normal for us because I’m the kind of person who always needs a plan. I’m open to changing it as we go, but I need an idea of how things are supposed to function. For instance, we started out working half-day shifts instead of these two-hour shifts. We found that too hard to balance work and kid needs, so we switched it up to something else.

We’ll see if or how this plan will play out when Mr. 7-year-old starts official distance learning with his class in mid-April. Right now, though, I’m happy enough with this schedule. Boy do I miss my alone time though.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Nights Off

Earlier this week I shared on social media the sad new reality of our family’s monthly calendar update for April — blank and boring while sheltering in place to combat this coronavirus.

Since about the only “event” left on the calendar are mom and dad’s nights off, it sparked some interest. Let me share these with you and how much I love them! I look forward to my night off coming around ever week.

We started these nights off when Mr. 7-year-old was a baby and it’s been a tradition ever since. The person with the night free is off the hook from making dinner, cleaning it up, and putting the kids to bed. Typically, we are free to leave the house and do whatever we please or lock ourselves in the basement and binge watch Netflix or play whatever video game.

Why once a week? It works for us. Typically we share evening duties at home, and it’s a weekly chance to take a break. I know myself. If it’s not scheduled, I’m not going to take time for myself. It’s a way I hold myself accountable.

Of course, we’re flexible. Typically there’s one Friday night a month that I get to hang out and drink wine with my neighborhood friends for ladies night, so we switch off. My husband recently took a weekend off to binge play Dungeons and Dragons, which was completely fine.

These nights off have been particularly important for my mental health now being trapped here homeschooling and working what feels like 24/7. I think I’ll use my next night off to go to bed early!

Photo by Mutzii on Unsplash

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Friday Fav: Egg Hunts

It’s really Friday? All of my days are blending together, one a repeat of the other as we continue this social distancing effort. Our kids are officially not returning to the classroom for the rest of the academic year, which takes us to mid-June. That’s three months of a new normal of attempting to balance homeschooling or just generally keeping the kids alive with working. So far, it’s working out with my husband’s support. I don’t know what we’ll do when he has to go back to the office.

But, for now, it’s Friday. My family is all together and healthy. The weather is beautiful. And there’s two days on the horizon that I can just focus on the family instead of work too.

With every event under the sun cancelled for the foreseeable future, all neighborhood and family egg hunts have been called off as well. We’ve had our own egg hunts throughout the house, but then decided to start spreading the love to our neighbors. We took all of the supplies we had of little Easter toys and stuffed them in the couple of dozen eggs we had around the house.

We then spent the afternoon hiding them in a couple of neighbors’ front yards. We even got to watch (from a safe distance) some of the kids go on their hunts because my kids were caught hiding the eggs. Apparently, my kids are impossibly loud, making it difficult to sneakily hide eggs.

Anyway, it was fun and hopefully brought some joy to the neighborhood. I know my kids enjoyed it!

Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash