Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Is My Tween Ready for the Front Seat?

 Madison turned ten this summer. We're definitely reaching milestones this year. She had a massive growth spurt and is definitely losing some of that little girl look. 

She's angling to stay up later. She's developing more of a "teen" skin care routine with micellar water and moisturizer. She carries a purse with actual useful items. She loves a good Starbucks run. Now she's angling for the front seat.

I'm torn. She's tall enough. She sits properly and the seatbelt fits her. As she moves toward puberty, I know her bones are maturing. 

But...she's only ten.

I know. I was sitting in the front seat at ten. I was probably sitting in the front seat before ten. But I feel like she just got out of a booster seat.

In my online mom groups, I'm not even bothering to ask. I know exactly what the answer will be, because it's been asked a million times before. The SUPER judgy car seat moms come flying out that THEIR ten year old was in a booster until at LEAST twelve after being harnessed until ten and rear facing until six and in the backseat until they were driving themselves. It's so unsafe! A mom or two might pop in to say that they've allowed their ten year old "rarely and only because...", and they're judged quickly, so more don't jump in.

But with my real life friends, most have allowed it. Not every ride, but if they have a similarly sized and aged child, chances are they've experimented.

Here are the reason that I'm NOT ready.

1. The front seat is where my purse goes. Along with the mail, maybe a shopping bag, and my car candy. I'm usually annoyed when I lose that seat to Adam when the four of us are together. I'm definitely not looking to give it up permanently.

2. My YOUNGER child, who is super tiny and nowhere near ready to be out of a booster, let alone the front seat, would be jealous and it would make for some very annoying rides.

3. She still brings plenty of stuff into the car, which collects on the floor, in her cupholder, in her door, etc. And if my front seat is going to be filled with junk, it better be MY junk.

So for a permanent change? We're holding off. However, when I didn't feel like putting up the third row after soccer and my niece chose to ride with us, it was nice to move Madison to the front. When the two of us went to Sonic together during Reagan's practice, it was convenient and much more social to allow her the front seat. And because it's a novelty, I can use it as a carrot for unappealing errands.

I'm not sure when I'll be ready to let her make a real shift. But for now, we straddling the line, just like my ten year old is straddling the line between kid and teen.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Holiday Breaks for Homeschool

 Ever since we began homeschooling, I'm found it works best for our family to follow a traditional school schedule...sort of. I've written before about following the school schedule and why it works for us. We make adjustments of course, because one of my favorite parts of homeschooling is the freedom to figure out what works best, but right now, this schedule works. 

When it comes to holiday breaks, we do things just a little bit differently, and that starts for Thanksgiving. Generally speaking, if we can, we try to get through our first third of school before Thanksgiving with no "big" breaks. Because we plan for a four day week with the fifth day as a "swing" day, this is usually doable. We have plenty of time for park days and field trips and co-op classes and can still do 12-13 full weeks of curriculum.

Our holiday schedule starts the week of Thanksgiving. We take the full week off from school. We finish up the the week before, put everything away and spend the week of Thanksgiving recharging. We'll spend a day in our pajamas watching movies. We'll do a few Thanksgiving themed art projects if we're feeling motivated. We'll work on Christmas lists so we'll have them ready for everyone who is planning to ask for them. We might even make lists of what we want to do leading up to Christmas. But we do absolutely no curriculum work. They need the break, and I need the break. 

After Thanksgiving, we come back for three weeks (usually) and try to get through. If our December schedule fills up, and there are years that it does, I may take two weeks worth of curriculum and give us three weeks to finish it. Some families like to take off the entire month of December and focus only on holiday themed activities. There are definitely years I'm tempted to do this, but I've actually found that for our family, it's better to come back to routine, at least for a couple of weeks. 

In December, we take the full week leading up to Christmas and the full week after Christmas. I like our weeks to begin on Monday and end on Friday (this goes back to my days as a public school specials teacher, when short weeks, although lovely in theory, wrecked absolute havoc with my schedule). Some years that means we finish up earlier in the month, and some years we go "back" later. I love it most when things line up, and despite all the mess of this year, 2020 happens to be a year that works. So this year, we'll have almost a full week leading to Christmas and the full week afterward before going back to the grind after New Year's. 

Right now, we're only two days away from the start of our first holiday break, and I'm not shy to admit that I need the break just as much as the girls do. I can't wait to put the books away on Friday and leave them on the shelf for a wonderful ten days to kick off the holiday season.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

When the To-Do List Feels Unmanageable

 As Madison grows, I'm finding that she's ready to absorb more "life lessons". Plenty of our time in car, or early in the morning as we drink tea together, or at night as she's getting ready for bed is spent talking about how to behave and how to act now that she's leaving her "kid" years behind. I really love it. We talk about how to take care of yourself, how to treat people, how to deal with different situations, and how to juggle a busy schedule. 

She's not really leaving the kid years yet. I'm not saying that she's ready to be a teenager at 10. In many ways, I'm thrilled that she still enjoys her American Girl dolls and other toys. I don't want her to grow up too fast. But as she encounters situations in her life, I like knowing that she can come to me. This is actually the perfect sweet spot. She has these "grown up" situations and yet she still wants to come to me.

Recently, our conversation was semi-school, semi-home life centered. She had gotten behind on her schoolwork because she'd had an appointment in the middle of the day. Normally I have enough advance notice to adjust schoolwork accordingly, but this appointment was last minute. She was overwhelmed with what she needed to get done, according to her agenda. She was also trying to balance that with her daily chores, including a room that was beginning to get out of control. Plus, she was trying to figure out how to fit in her dance practice. She was looking at a list that felt unmanageable.

Oh honey. You have the right mom for this.

I think most moms, and really, most adults, have dealt with a to-do list that feels so unmanageable that you can't fathom even beginning it. A long list of tasks can feel completely overwhelming. And when it doesn't get done, you feel even more overwhelmed. And sometimes, that causes you (ok, ME) to just shut down.

So I told her to take a break, and we made tea, and sat down together to strategize. And I shared with her a few tips that I use when the lists feel overwhelming.

Chunk it Up

I'm a big fan of breaking a list into little manageable chunks. I reminded her that I'd done this with their schoolwork. Look at that long list and pick three things. We debated the merits of getting a big task crossed off against several small things. But the takeaway from this is to take that list and break it down. I might not be able to handle twenty things. But I can handle three. Then, when those three are done and I'm feeling accomplished, I'll choose a few more.

Set the Timer

This is a trick of mine that works for a long list. It sounds like it's a recipe for disaster, but I swear, it works. Let's say I have an hour before I have to go somewhere. I'll choose four things from my list and give myself fifteen minutes for each (of course, I change things up depending on what's on the list). When my timer goes off, I move on, no matter what. If I "beat the timer", I give myself a little reward. Knowing that I'm only doing something for a set amount of time stops me from getting bogged down. 

This is PERFECT when the girls work on their rooms. You have ten minutes on laundry. When the timer goes off, you have ten minutes to pick up books. Then ten minutes to get the doll clothes put away. If you beat the clock, you earn a reward. If you don't finish, move on to the next job anyway. It keeps them focused, it provides an actual goal, and it stops them from getting overwhelmed by a "clean up your room" task. 

Decide What's Important

In our homeschool, if you get behind in math, you're sunk. I have no idea why, since each day's work is very manageable, but playing catch up with math leads to more tears that anything else and can completely throw us off for DAYS. So when we look at the to-do list, we focus on what's important and needs to have priority. Do you have your private lesson for your dance solo? Then practice makes the priority list. Do you have a lot of schoolwork? Math gets top billing. This stops you from focusing too much on the things that aren't important. We broke Madison's list into three categories: must do, should do, can do. 


Did Madison get everything done that day? Nope. But she didn't cry, didn't get overwhelmed, and she got enough done where she was able to catch up before long. 

Sometimes, the best part of teaching Madison how to navigate life is that it reminds ME how to navigate life. I'm not perfect, and she certainly won't be. But we have each other, and we can manage it together.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Organizing Sports Uniforms

 Reagan added another element to our lives this year. After a couple of years of in-town, very basic soccer, she decided she wanted to try out for the premier team that our town offers. Reagan has loved soccer from the start, but she'd lost an entire season due to COVID-19, and we weren't sure if going from nothing to hardcore would be too much. 

It turned out to be great. She tried out over the summer and immediately loved the new practice routines and serious coaches. She found herself on a great team of girls she likes, and it really came at the perfect time when she felt she'd lost a lot of her friends due to fallout from the pandemic and how it impacted her activities. Playing on this team was a great choice.

But the new league is much more regimented. We had to buy a complete uniform kit, which not only included a uniform for games, but a full uniform for practice. Everything from their warm up gear to their socks to their bag is dictated by the club. They can be benched for showing up in the wrong uniform, wrong socks, wrong warm up. As the girls stay in the league, they get used to it, but for a first year mom who is NOT a sports mom, it was overwhelming.

Fortunately, I am SUPER MOM when it comes to organizing for dance, so I set out to see if those skills would transfer. Labels, special bags, and routine had served us well for dance competitions, and I was certain they could be adapted for soccer.

The potential flaw is that Reagan is not the most organized when it comes to her laundry, and I worried that we would spend multiple days a week fighting over where the practice uniform was, or why a shirt didn't make it into the laundry, or which socks go with which uniform, or any other issues. After the first week, we figured out a plan.

1. I started with lingerie bags. I have a practice uniform bag, a home uniform bag, and an away uniform bag. The bag has the correct shirt, shorts, and socks, along with the corresponding headband that a mom made the girls. I also added a bag for practice warm ups and game warm ups. Each bag has a tag that says what is inside.

2. Those bags do NOT go in her dresser drawers with her other clothes. We bought a separate canvas basket just for soccer gear. Anything related to soccer attire goes in that bin, and nothing else. We store the bin in her closet.

3. As soon as she gets home from soccer, she changes and puts her full uniform into the washing machine. It doesn't sit in her backpack, and it doesn't go in her hamper. Everything goes right into the washing machine so it's done with the next load and will be guaranteed to be ready. Once it comes out, it's put right back into the correct bag.

This plan made everyone's life easier. Everything was always washed and ready to go, and Reagan knew exactly where everything was. On the days I couldn't take her, Adam could easily step in and grab the right bag without worrying. 

I still don't consider myself a soccer mom - yet - but I'm glad to know my dance mom skills are transferrable!

Recognizing and Remedying Homeschool Burnout

For those of us who follow a "traditional" schedule, the first week back to full time homeschooling, whether it's your first year or your tenth, can overwhelming, but fun. Everything is brand new, everything is fresh. New books. New units. New schedules. Maybe you've changed curriculum, and you get to see a subject through fresh eyes. As you move through the next few weeks, you'll have ups and downs, but for most of us, we'll settle into routine and things will proceed just as we hoped they would.

Then, just when you're on a roll, you may hit a wall. 

Burnout.

For me, burnout usually happens between week 10 and 12. The weather has changed, the days are shorter, and I'm just tired. I'm tired of filling out the agendas each week. I'm tired of prepping for spelling tests and writing units. I'm also tired of meal planning, laundry, and bugging kids to clean up after themselves. Overall, I'm just tired.

For some reason, it always takes me by surprise. I'm sure some homeschool moms or dads know when they're slowing down, but often, I'll be motivated at the end of one week and a lump by the start of the next. And when my motivation drops, the girls' drops too. If I'm sitting around in my bathrobe at 10:00 while playing on my phone, why should they push me to get started? 

Yet even though I'm completely susceptible to burnout, there are ways to get through it. No matter how tired I am, I always manage to come out the other side. Here are a few tips to manage homeschool burnout.

1. Acknowledge the Burnout

Whenever you have a long term project, whether it's homeschooling or budgeting or organizing or work, burnout happens. I was a public school teacher for ten years, and I can tell you that I would go through a few low points each year. I'd been pushing to get through a season, and I'd hit a wall. If I didn't acknowledge it and simply tried to push through, I often made things worse. Recognize that you've hit a wall.

Signs of burnout? Lack of patience, feeling like you're failing, falling behind on routine tasks, and even feeling envious of non-homeschooling parents. 

2. Consider the Cause

Did you try to do too much? Are you expecting too much of yourself? Are there other stresses in your life? Or is it just that you need a break?

Maybe there's a reason for your burnout. You need to adjust your expectations or routine. But maybe it's just that you need a moment to step back. 

Whatever the reason, remember that nearly every homeschooling parent has periods where they hit a low point. Most homeschoolers hit at least one of these moments every year. Don't blame yourself or shame yourself. 

3. Take a Day Off

Ok, this one was harder to do when I was teaching in public school, but it wasn't impossible. It doesn't necessarily mean taking a literal day off. Sometimes it just means that you decide to pause for the day - or even a week. Break the routine that burned you out. When I was teaching, I'd pull out a unit that was high interest for the kids but low effort for me. 

As a homeschooling mom, I can really take a day off from teaching if I need it. We might take a day and go somewhere - maybe somewhere "educational", but maybe the mall for some window shopping. We might take a day off and just read and relax. Maybe we take a week and do a few Outschool classes. Maybe we head to the playground. When I'm heading toward burnout, I may even suggest a day of "alone time". We all retreat to our own spaces and take a mental health day. 

This past week, I was incredibly frustrated with the fact that I was writing or teaching or cleaning or driving ALL the time and I wasn't reading the stack of books calling to me. I took a day off from all but the most necessary tasks and just read. Before long, the girls were curled up on the couch, reading their own books. 

Another time I realized that I was frustrated that things weren't tidy and organized and I just couldn't catch up. I had been struggling for weeks and never felt like I had my feet firmly under me. I was barely keeping up. I needed to get back to a baseline that I could maintain. So I gave the girls the day off from school, sent them to organize their rooms, and caught up on everything. When I started the next day with a clean table, a complete plan book, and supplies that I could find, I was in a much better headspace.

4. Consider Changes You Can Make

I am definitely not advocating to try to come out of a burnout by changing everything. That can cause more stress. However, I like to think of hitting a "reset" button. 

Is a curriculum not working? Scrap it. It is OK to dump something that isn't working for your family, no matter how much everyone else seems to love it. 

Is your schedule not working? Change it. You homeschool. There are no official "hours". You've had time to see when your kids do their best work. If it's early, see if you can get the bulk of your work done in the morning. If your kids are slow to get started each day, adjust your start time. 

For me, simply taking a step back for a day - or more if I need it - is usually all I need. I can reset my brain, remember why we homeschool, and find our balance again. 

Burnout happens. Sometimes a step back is all you need to find your way again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

"Build Your Own" Dinners that Kids Love!

 Over the past few months, we have eaten at home as a family more than we have in years. In the past, we've juggled Adam's travel schedule, the girls' activity schedule, and we've enjoyed treating ourselves. Now Adam isn't traveling, we aren't getting take out or eating out as often in an attempt to save money, and we've found that the evening activities that we always thought were big obstacles actually aren't as big as we thought. 

This is great news, but it's actually added a lot of pressure to my meal planning. Seven dinners a week that we all like, that I have time to make, and that don't fall into a rut is a challenge. A great solution has been what we call "build your own" dinners.

To us, a "build your own" dinner is one where I prepare the basics and everyone gets to customize the meal to their own liking. We started with taco night, and then we just went from there to find whatever we could! Some of our favorites are:

  • Salad Bar - probably the most basic idea. I make one main protein, usually grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp. I start each plate with a bed of lettuce, and then let everyone build from there. Besides the lettuce and protein, I put out bowls of:
    • Veggies - cucumbers, tomato, carrot, celery, corn, and whatever else we have or I found on sale. I've been lucky to introduce the girls to a few new things. Roasted beets ended up being a surprise favorite!
    • Cheeses - shredded cheese is what my girls always default to, but I try to mix it up. I'm a huge fan of goat cheese, and although the girls won't always choose it, I like to set it out as an option.
    • Toppers - croutons, wonton strips, cranberries, fruit, seeds, and anything else that strikes us. Neither one of my kids like dressing, but we do keep offering.
  • Burrito Bowls - Start with a bowl of rice and a protein, and go from there! Beans, veggies, cheeses, and sauces are all options to build your perfect burrito bowl. We've also done traditional burritos, but we actually like the bowls better, and it's easier on me than taking custom orders before baking.
  • Grilled Cheese - pick your cheeses (we usually have at least a few to choose from), pick your extras (tomato, bacon, turkey, avocado, or whatever else sounds good). I usually make a big pot of tomato soup and we have a night of comfort food.
  • Nacho Plates - Very similar to the burrito bowls. Everyone starts with a plate of chips (on aluminum foil) and they build from there. We slide the foil onto a baking sheet, broil until the cheese melts, and slide the nacho creation back onto the plate. This is probably everyone's favorite.
  • Hot Dog Bar - We figured this one out when I actually forgot to defrost the meat for our planned dinner! Rather than stick with basic condiments, we made it fun with chili, bacon, cheese, grilled veggies, and more. 
  • Baked Potato - Start with a potato and add whatever you think of! We used a lot of the toppings we used on our hot dogs. Reagan asked if we could do this with french fries, so we may try that next!
"Build Your Own" dinners give the girls control. They know they are building a plate that they like and they can choose exactly what they want without worrying that Daddy doesn't like olives or Mommy doesn't like sour cream. They always clean their plates when we have these dinners, and we try to do one at least every other week!

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