Online Discussion Group – Parents of Spirited Children

Do you have a spirited child? One who is “more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and slow to change” than other “average” children you know?

I do. I have two of these little marvels, in fact. And I am facilitating an online discussion group for parents who would like to read the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and do the workbook as well.

This book is amazing. The author vividly describes spirited children and the experience of trying to parent one, and gives practical, effective tips for parenting them on a day-to-day basis. Suggestions for selective eating, temper tantrums, bedtime hassles, play date meltdowns and more are included – as well as handy tips for managing the spirited adults in your home. (Spiritedness is, apparently, hereditary…)

Over the next few months, we will work our way through the book and workbook. The forum will be a safe place to vent, share stories and build a community of others who are rearing these hooligans terrors demon spawn special snowflakes. Please note that people of faith are welcome, but there will very likely be colorful language, mention of copious consumption of adult beverages and some dark humor from at least one person. (Ahem. It’s me.)

I’m starting this group because I am fairly isolated here in the Piney Woods. I don’t see very many people other than clerks and servers at our single grocery store and at the occasional drive-thru window when we’ve made the 35-minute trek to the nearest city of size to run errands. And I can’t be the only parent of spirited children who could use more support than the occasional cheerful word from Ron at Piggly Wiggly, right?

So, if you’d like to join, send me a message with your email. The group starts this week and we have space for a few more. We will be doing one chapter (or group of chapters) every two weeks, so there is plenty of time to get your books – especially if you have Prime. If you are parenting a spirited child (and need some help, some community and some colorful language/adult beverages/dark humor), please join us.

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Mom Gets a New Badge

So, I know someone who peed her pants in a pet store this week. It was NOT me, just someone I KNOW. Because I would never, ever pee my pants in a pet store or anywhere else. Nope. Not me.

But, I’m not going to judge because…I totally get it. (Even though it was NOT ME, remember?)

See, this friend of mine was running errands with her kids. After doing the morning dash of breakfast and dressing, she packed all of their stuff – snacks, drinks, diapers, wipes, changing table blanket, toys, more snacks – then wrestled them into safety seats before they could manage to UNdress themselves. She really needed to use the restroom, BUT the kids were already cranky, so she decided she could hold it. She could. She is super awesome like that.

Then she drove a loooong way to get to the shopping center, like 35 minutes because this friend lives in the middle of nowhere and it’s a long drive to get to Target. Which I completely get because I also live in the middle of nowhere and it really IS worth the drive just to get to Target.

But by the time they got there, the kids were even MORE cranky. The family restroom was RIGHT THERE, BUT…the kids. The kids were so freaking cranky. And they really wanted to get to the pet store to buy stuff for their new pet turtle. Which I completely understand because MY kids also got a new pet turtle this week and they also were excited to go to the pet store.

So, she still had to pee, but raced through Target, paid, then loaded up the Target stuff and the kids, drove to the pet store, and hauled the kids inside. Because they were cranky, remember? They were excited, remember? So, she made it to the pet store’s restroom, got the cart and the kids inside, then parked the cart the perfect distance from EVERYTHING so her youngest kid couldn’t touch ANYTHING. Of course! She was very careful and even though she REALLY NEEDED TO PEE, she took her time about it because GERMS. That’s what moms do, right?

She even made it into the stall, but then, in the act of dropping trou…the flood-gates opened and…she peed. Right there. On the trou.

And she was so embarrassed, and so laughing and so…done. Done with those underpants – but even more done with this badge called “the indignities of motherhood.”

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about this badge. It’s everywhere. In every post on the Interwebz about not peeing alone or pooping alone. Or not having time to shower, or shave ones legs or wear makeup. About not getting a hot cup of coffee. Or a warm meal or regular haircuts or new underpants when the old pairs are tatty and have no elastic (or they are peed in a pet store).

And it’s in every post where some mother is judged because she DOES have a real hair style or coordinated clothes or invisible cuticles. And in every post where we assume that woman with the great, seasonally appropriate handbag that is NOT overflowing with snacks and diapers must be selfish and/or have a sugar daddy.

I don’t want to be the woman who pees her pants for THE CHILDREN. (Good thing that was someone else!) I don’t want to be the mom who is so attentive, I leave the door open to the bathroom while attending to my personal business. And I don’t want to be the mom who looks like yesterday’s coffee on it’s third reheat, creamer congealing on the rim. (At least not EVERY DAY.)

My friend doesn’t, either. She’s taken off the badge – the badge she thought said, “Mother” that really says, “Sucker.” And she has a new one. It says, “Human.” And the next time she has to pee – she’s GOING. (Unless it’s a nasty gas station. Because GERMS.)

PS Here is our turtle. It looks JUST LIKE my friend’s turtle. But it’s not. Because ours is way cuter. image

3 Things I Took With Me from Public School

Before I became an accidental homeschooler, I was an on-purpose middle school and high school teacher. I loved it and I hated it, but mostly, I loved it. It was hard, it was fun and sometimes I cried and I (thought) bad words. But, I was actually pretty good at it and I’d like to share three things that worked then that I find are still working now.

1. When I first began teaching, my amazing mentor told me, “You bring the fun – or they will. And you’ll never like the fun they come up with.” If content is uninteresting, delivery is boring and activities are humdrum ho-hum, you can guarantee that your classroom will swiftly devolve into a zoo. When working with beginning teachers who were struggling to manage their classrooms, this was one of the FIRST things I considered. And it is still true in my homeschool, enrollment two. If I don’t tie the content to my children’s interest, or I dish up the same-old same-old every day, or I fail to frequently incorporate the kinds of activities they enjoy, we are going to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad school day.

Which brings me to…
2. Learning styles matter. Learning styles refer to the preferred way a person learns. Think about yourself and how you like to learn new things. Do you like to read a book? Would you prefer to watch a movie or video or listen to a recording presenting the material or skill? Or, would you learn best if you actually got up and did the thing alongside a master teacher? Most people have one dominant learning style, with a secondary style as well. Most adults can manage to learn in a number of different ways because we have been conditioned to do so – and it makes it rather convenient since many of us have to listen to presentations, read books or trade journals or watch videos for our jobs. However, forcing children to “learn” in a way that is not their preferred style much of the time is torturous both for the teacher and the child. Teaching in their preferred style helps make sure that at least some of the planned activities are those they enjoy.

But what about the necessary activities they don’t enjoy? (And I realize there is an entire school of thought that says children should only do activities they enjoy. But, I’m just not running that kind of joint.)

For those times when an activity is not interesting or fun, I suggest…

3. “Probably so, but nevertheless…” This was a phrase I learned at a conference my first year teaching and it has served me well. For example, Scooter loathes math fact flashcards. I have chosen this practice method for two reasons. First of all, not everything can be cute and fun – I simply am not going to make up a puppet show or game for everything we do. (I may never make up a puppet show in fact.) Secondly, in the case of math facts, a recent study suggests that cutesy little games and activities aren’t nearly as good as old-fashioned “drill and kill.” In fact, worksheets and flashcards may be the absolute best way to teach math facts. Do we do some games? Sure. Do we do some hands-on activities? Absolutely. But sometimes, we do flashcards. And Scooter hates them. More than he hates broccoli, which is saying something.

But this is where, “Probably so, but nevertheless” really comes in handy.,


Scooter: I HATE flashcards!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, we are going to do them.

Scooter: They are BORING and STUPID!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, it is time for flashcards.

Scooter: I can’t wait for them to be OVER!!!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, here we go!

Notice the following things about this handy phrase. “Probably so….” acknowledges the child’s feelings. “Probably so….” allows the child to save face because no disagreement is stated. “Probably so” presents no counter-argument. (Why not? Because in the throes of battle, it is not fruitful for me to argue the benefits of flashcards. Scooter does not give two fat farts about how flash cards affect his brain synapses, or about how they are the building blocks for math and science (his favorite subjects) or about the virtues of obedience or how hard I worked to make them. He just HATES them and he is mad!)

“Probably so” acknowledges all of that, skips the argument and moves right on to, “Nevertheless….” which is firm and assertive – and I keep repeating it until Scooter figures out it’s do the damn cards or hear, “Probably so, but nevertheless” on repeat ad infinitum.

Try this phrase. Really. Everyone who has tried it has grown to love it as much as I do. (My cohort wanted to get tee shirts made, but we never did. Nevertheless, it’s a great phrase.) Then, let me know how it went.

So, in summary, bring the fun, teach to your child’s learning style and remember, “Probably so, but nevertheless…” covers a multitude of wrongs.

And finally, I want to say that public school – and especially public school teachers – have many strengths. I know there are bad apples and bad schools, but most I have ever encountered are well-educated, highly skilled professionals committed to learning more, doing better and giving all they have to their students. This post was inspired by yet another thing I read today slamming public schools and public school teachers – and it made me mad and it hurt my heart. We homeschool because it’s best for our family – but not because public schools or public school teachers are bad. I owe much of my success at home (and in school) to public schools and public school teachers. I am a better human being for the experiences and relationships I had there. So, godspeed, public educators – and thank you.



Daily Schedule

Every homeschooling methodology book I’ve read (except for Unschooling books) seems to include a section on schedules.

Which I skip. Because, hey – it’s my home and my family and I am going to do what works for us, right?

But, I understand some families considering homeschooling or new to homeschooling would like to know our schedule, so in this post I’ll share ours.

However, you need to know a few things about our family to fully appreciate a) why I felt confident jumping into homeschooling without following someone else’s schedule and b) why we use this particular type of scheduling method.

First, our family needs routine. One of us has Attention Deficit Disorder. Two, possibly three of us, also cope with anxiety. Routines are comforting to us, keep us on track, help us develop a sense of predictability and accomplishment and generally, keep the wheels from falling off. We’ve been refining our home and family routines for quite a while – adding a homeschooling routine/schedule into the mix wasn’t really that big of a deal.

Second, we use this particular type of schedule because it is visual, touchable and flexible. Scooter does not read independently yet, both boys enjoy turning little cards, and it is easily changed each day.

Your family may not need as much detail or need a touchable system. Your family may just roll along happily and without question with one caregiver acting as ringmaster. (If this is your family, lucky, lucky you.)

But, in any case, here is what works for us.

Daily ScheduleI found daily schedule cards at this site. I love them! They are small, have a picture on each one, have lots of variety (boardwalk, anyone?) including two blank cards, and best of all – they are free! I printed them on heavy card stock (grey was what I had on hand) and just cut them out. They fit five-across in my table-top pocket chart by Learning Resources.

Next, I created my own cards for  our actual school work. They are larger, but also have a picture on each one and include blank cards. As soon as I figure out how (which will be after I make dinner, bathe the spawn, and wrestle them to bed), I will link to my file so you can download a copy if you’d like. Update: You can now download my School ScheduleSchool Activity Cards.

Please know that we do not do every subject every day except for Language Arts and Math. Scooter is barely six and I have other things to do – like manage a household, maintain my super-model figure and write blog posts to be read for the masses.

Instead, I often allow him to choose between science and history – though lately we have done both since both of the unit studies we are doing really interest him right now. (The solar system and ancient Egypt, for the curious.)

We do art and music when we make time. The kids usually do some kind of art every day. Just this week, in fact, they did a Jackson Pollock recreation with popcorn, mini marshmallows and Nerds candy on the new family room rug while I was on the phone. But, I digress. As for music, we do that whenever I can stomach the thought of fighting over the instruments or singing another round of “We Are the Dinosaurs.” Most days, we turn on NPR in the car, hope it’s a musical program and call it done. The shoemaker’s children…

Life Skills includes sewing, cleaning, cooking, helping with the chickens and helping with the yard and garden. Basically, anything that needs doing around the homestead that I can do with some “help” from the children with reasonable hope of success. Scooter’s chores include making his bed, sorting laundry, putting clean laundry away, putting his own belongings away, helping me put many of his brother’s belongings away, clearing the table after meals, walking the dog at lunch time (just down the driveway and around the culdesac – don’t freak out!), and setting the table for dinner. He also dusts, uses the hand vacuum around the edges and corners of rooms, cleans glass-topped tables and the front of the china cabinet and sorts clean socks. He feeds his own fish and helps feed the mammals. He tells me this is exhausting.

And, last but not least, German – new this week.

I know, Classical educator friends – no Latin. What about the children? Well, I know this may be quite a shock, but Latin doesn’t give me any warm fuzzies. None. And at this point in my life, I cannot muster up the strength to teach something about which I have no warm fuzzies. Ad infernum cum eo.

So, there it is. Ta da. Now, go do what works for you and ignore this post entirely.

Scooter’s Science Party

So, about that party. It. Was. GREAT!!!

Here is what was great:

1. My kid had a great time mixing stuff and blowing stuff up. He made the world’s biggest gumdrop-toothpick molecule, blew up balloons with gas from vinegar and baking soda, made a chemical lava lamp, created an artistic volcano-scape and made gummi worms dance. He also got to explode diet soda in the front yard which was awesome. We skipped the bouncy ball because we were running out of time. I did, however, send home the ingredients and instructions with all attendees. I know…their parents hate me now, but I couldn’t resist!

2015-03-28 11.27.562. My kids had a great time with ME. I spend a lot of time being the “heavy” around here. I am usually the one who makes them brush their teeth, make beds, turn off the t.v., get off of Minecraft, and apologize to each other for various infractions. I’m the one who sends them to timeout, makes them clean up their many messes and won’t let them subsist on cheese and marshmallows. In short, I am a terrible mother. So, I loved getting to don a lab coat, goofy glasses and a crazy wig to play Dr. Weisenheimer for an hour leading the experiments. Scooter begged me to do it, still begs me to do it and laughs every time the subject comes up. He is an intense child – I don’t get to experience the delight that can be Scooter very often. It was AWESOME.

3. We got to visit with some people we didn’t know well, which was the unstated secondary reason for even having a party in the first place. We’re new here. It’s a small town and it’s pretty hard to get your foot in the social door. Who doesn’t love a party, right? Our guests and their kids were great – they made themselves right at home in the best of ways and made friends not just with us, but even with our pack of pets. They were helpful and great sports about all the (stinky) messy things we did as part of the entertainment. (And the messy stuff I sent home in their goodie bags!)

But, the party was also not so great. Here’s a short list.

1. It was a lot of prep. Don’t have a science party if you don’t want to spend a couple of days getting all the supplies and then measuring small quantities of powder and liquid and putting it in little containers. And definitely, don’t decide to do dancing gummi worms unless you have the dedication to cut up 50+ gummi worms lengthwise into quarters with a pizza cutter. Since I am the mom who  quit halving blueberries and grapes long before my child was officially a toddler, those gummi worms were a labor of love.

2. It smelled. There were gallons of vinegar involved. Our house smelled like an egg-dying party gone horribly wrong. I still smell vinegar and I’m sure I cleaned it all up. It burnt my nose hairs and seared my nasal passages.

3. Only two kids of the 25+ we invited came. There were other events, people had emergencies, I get it. But it felt very much like that social door was slammed on my toes for the gajillionth time. I’ve  absolutely recovered, but I’m in search of other doors. And I’m going to wear steel-toed boots.

But, on balance, it was totally worth it. Scooter is resilient. I am resilient. He had a blast with the kids who came. He’s excited that he got to keep all the extra experiment set-ups and we will do them over the next few weeks whenever the mood strikes. He’s also excited he got to keep all the extra goodie bags, lab goggles and lab coats – and he was super excited about all the leftover hot dogs and chips and sodas and juice boxes that we have been eating and drinking. (I know…gross. But, what are you gonna do?)

But, next year? We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese. It will be just us and a few friends, but it will still be all the great things – and none of the not-so-great things. I won’t need to wear those steel-toed boots, but I might wear a wig, just for fun. Because who doesn’t want to be friends with a woman who wears a crazy wig in public, right?

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Dr. Scooter and his Assistant, Cheech