:: convalescence ::

Friday, February 27, 2015

I think we are all in the clear now. After most of us caught the nasty winter stomach bug to varying degrees this week, (including my poor mom who came to help us!), we are emerging from underneath the piles of laundry to once again nourish and restore.

This week's illness got me to thinking about the important role of convalescence: of allowing for slow and deep recovery from sickness. In our hurried world, tending to our bodies and those of our children following sickness is often overlooked. We strive to quickly get things back to normal, to quickly resume typical daily rhythms and routines, often without allowing for our bodies and spirits to be fully restored. This is particularly true for children, who, I find, can be extra clingy, extra sleepy, and need extra nurturing in the days following the acute part of any illness.

Why are we in such a rush? In our modern, fast-paced existence, we seem to rush everything--especially our children. In his classic book, The Hurried Child, Tufts University psychologist, David Elkind, writes:
What are the ways parents hurry children? And what powerful motivations and distractions cause us to disregard the mountain of knowledge we have about childhood and child development, about the special needs and identity of young people? The beginning of an answer lies in the theme that was touched upon earlier: rapid change. The bewildering rapidity and profound extent of ongoing social change are the unique hallmarks of our era, setting us apart from every previous society. For us, in the foreseeable future, nothing is permanent. Stress is an organism's reaction to this change, this impermanence. We live, therefore, in a time of wide-spread, deep-seated stress; it is a companion that is so constant, we may easily forget how completely stress pervades our lives." (pp. 24-25).
Did I mention that Dr. Elkind first wrote this book in 1981, when many of us were still in diapers? And most of us would probably say that our childhood was much less hurried than today's childhood, before technology fully invaded our lives, before we somehow decided that children and adults should always be going, going, going.

Illness and convalescence remind us to stop--to stay--to avoid our cultural tendency to hurry our children, ourselves, and instead seek ways to live more slowly, more simply. Illness and convalescence can also remind us that a parent's important job is to stop the hurrying--to allow for slowness and restoration. It's a parent's essential job to nurture, to nourish, to tend. It's a parent's job to protect: to find ways to slow down the increasingly accelerated pace of childhood and family life that can often lead to prolonged or recurring maladies of body or spirit.

It's a parent's job to cultivate family health: to recognize our homes as powerful places of family well-being from the food we source, to the meals we prepare, to the remedies we use, to the choices we make regarding how slowly, how simply, we move through our days together.

It's a parent's job to nurture, to nourish, to tend.

Such a very important job it is.

On gratitude and the stomach bug

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sick Child, Ricard Canals (1903), wikimedia commons

It's hard to imagine using gratitude and the stomach bug in the same sentence, but in the middle of what has come to be my family's annual February illness, I am filled with gratitude. Mostly, I am grateful for...
  • A breastfeeding one-year-old who may not feel like eating or drinking anything, but contentedly nurses back to health.
  • Homeopathy.
  • A supportive and sweet family doctor.
  • A grandmother who jumps right into the germs to be with us while Daddy travels for work.
  • A corner store just steps away for emergency Saltines.
  • A nearby friend's frequent check-ins and generous helpful offers.
  • Homeschooling rhythms that enable all of us to stay warm and cozy at home while we convalesce together.
  • Arctic temperatures that make a few mandatory indoor days seem appealing.
  • A mountain of library books.
  • The power of home to heal and nurture.

Friday Learn Along

Friday, February 20, 2015

Several weeks ago on the blog's Facebook page, I started a Friday Learn Along thread in which readers are encouraged to post a photo, or blog link, or reflection from their week that highlights their children's natural learning.

It has been so fun to see these photos and links each week, to see real images of natural, self-directed childhood learning. The idea of natural learning--of acknowledging that when given time and space and resources children simply learn without needing to be taught--is so antithetical to how we have come to view education that it can be tricky to show how true it really is.

No one seems to deny that children learn how to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, feed themselves, and so on without being taught; yet, when these same children hit a certain age, our cultural expectations seem to shift. We assume that these innate, self-educative instincts somehow shut down at a certain age and that for children to continue to learn they must be taught. Where did this assumption come from?

I find it rather baffling that we can acknowledge a child's ability in a very short span of time to, for instance, learn his entire native language without direct instruction; yet we cannot also acknowledge that given the same time and space and exposure to other cultural tools he will also learn other remarkable skills just as quickly and simply and playfully.

I think the real issue, though, is that most of us are not around to see it. At a certain age, that becomes younger and younger all the time, most children are sent to school to "learn." The natural learning that we parents observe daily in a child's infant and early toddler days is replaced with structured teaching or pre-determined classroom pedagogy as a child gets older. The directed learning that children experience in most schools steadily erases a child's natural, self-educative instincts, dulling his curiosity, until he waits to be taught, to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it right.

It is this systematic process of dimming a child's natural curiosity and passion for discovering his world that can make times like this February school vacation week particularly challenging for parents and children alike, as children can appear unmotivated and bored and parents can get frustrated by this behavior. When children are conditioned to be told what to do, what to think, when and what to learn--when they have lost the connection with their innate childhood curiosity--it can be difficult to find their way back. They will. They can. The many families who have left school and gone through the "de-schooling" process can attest to this. But it takes a lot of time, a lot of freedom and patience, to undo the cultural conditioning of assuming that learning is something that happens to you instead of something you simply do. It certainly takes longer than a February vacation week.

All this is to say that if we allow natural learning to continue from early childhood onward, or allow it to find its way back into our child's life through de-schooling, we see how very real and powerful natural learning can be. In fact, we can be constantly amazed at what our children learn, all on their own, without direct instruction, without coercion or cajoling, when given the time and space and resources to do so. Sometimes the power of self-directed learning is so astounding it takes my breath away, as it did this week when my six-year-old opened a woodworking project, given to him by his uncle a few weeks back, and proceeded to put the entire thing together without so much as a glance for grown-up help. Powerful.

The more we see images, hear stories, share experiences of our children's natural learning, the more normalized it becomes, the more obvious it is. That is why I enjoy our Friday Facebook Learn Alongs so much. I hope you will join us there, or here below in the comments, and celebrate how extraordinary natural learning can be.

Winter in Vermont

Homeschooling Organization 101

Friday, February 13, 2015

image from Evernote.com
I am delighted to share today's post by local homeschooling mom and guest blogger, Vila McHenry.

As an unschooling mom of three young children (6, 4 and baby), I started using Evernote last September, and I’m so happy with it that I asked Kerry if I could borrow some space on her blog to sing its praises. (Neither she nor I receive any kick-backs at all from Evernote, so this is truly a post about its helpfulness in homeschooling organization.)

It may seem contradictory: why would an unschooler be so enthusiastic about software which can document children’s education? Especially in a state like Massachusetts, where reporting requirements are minimal. If I am so confident about the path of child-led learning – if I truly do believe that all I have to do is facilitate, while the kids teach themselves what they need to learn – then why bother to notate all the details along the way?

Well, let me tell you a little about how Evernote works, and then explain why I love it. Basically, Evernote is free (and ad-free) software that you use to take notes. But there are three key features which make it very helpful for homeschoolers: picture-notes, tags, and cross-platform integration (in other words, you can access it via your phone, your laptop, your computer, or indeed any computer).

For example, here’s how I used it on one recent morning. After breakfast, we read a picture book which my elder daughter really enjoyed (Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio). I snapped a quick picture-note of the book to remind myself. Then the girls moved on to writing little computer programs using Scratch Jr, which they’re just beginning to explore. I snapped another quick picture-note, noticing that this is pretty easy for my six-year old. Hmmm, I thought; she might be ready for a new challenge soon. She, meanwhile, while waiting for her turn with the iPad, alternated between helping her sister (much less bossily than usual!) and building a little house with popsicle-sticks and the glue gun. I took another picture-note.

That afternoon, we went out sledding with friends. Click. All four of those notes were sent automatically to my “for processing” folder. No pauses, no interruption of their play or work, no need to put down the baby. I’m not aiming for holiday-card-worthy images; all I need is just enough to jog my memory of what was happening.

Later that evening, as the girls fell asleep, I got out my laptop, opened Evernote, and went to the “for processing” folder, where I found the four notes waiting for me. (Your account is automatically synched between all your devices, so any changes you make on your mobile, for example, are immediately updated on your laptop, and vice versa). Time to add some tags to my notes! I only do this once every few days, and it’s something I enjoy. The days whirl by so quickly; I like getting to look back, in the quiet of bedtime, to see what we’ve been up to.

First, the note about the picture book: I tag it with both of my daughters’ names, “elections” (a topic that my eldest has been interested in for a while now), “social-studies,” and “follow-up”. The note about programming, I tag with both of the girls’ names, “programming,” “follow-up,” and “cooperation” (an area that I’ve been hoping the girls will improve in, and my eldest’s gentle teaching of her sister was a good example of progress). The popsicle-stick-house note just gets my elder daughter’s name, and “popsicle-sticks” (she’s built so many popsicle-stick creations lately that it gets its own tag), and for sledding, I add both girls’ names, “outdoor-time,” and “phys-ed”. Done.

Now, anything else I should be doing? I click to pull up all recent notes that were tagged with “follow-up.” Up comes the elections note, among others. Oh, right, she loved that book. I quickly order a few more from the library, some by the same author, others on the same topic. What else? There’s the note on Scratch Jr. Oh yes, that was getting easy for my eldest. Better order a book or two on how to use the full version of Scratch, so I can leave them lying around and see if she’s interested. And so on, through the list of “follow-up” notes from the last few days.

How are we doing on outdoor play? That’s one area where I often worry that our real homeschooling life doesn’t quite measure up to the idealized one I have in my head, so I use Evernote to keep track of it. I pull up all the notes from the past few months that are tagged with “outdoor-time.” So how is it really going? Hmm, not so bad. Several times a week, and it’s winter, so I guess we’re doing ok. I look across the bedroom, and see three sleeping children. Another day comes to a close.

In this post, I wanted to share a few tips about how best to use Evernote, and describe how it could be helpful in different homeschooling approaches and situations. I could see it being particularly helpful if you live in a state or district with heavy homeschooling reporting requirements. Let me know if you try it and what you think!

Vila McHenry is a happily-unschooling mama to two girls, aged 6 and 4, and a baby boy. (Well, full disclosure - not 100% unschooling. More like, 99% unschooling. I'll admit to very occasional prods here and there :). Vila graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Computer Science, and offers math exploration circles in the Greater Boston area for kids in grades K-2. You can visit her website at: https://mathexplorers.wordpress.com/

DIY: Homeschooling {At Natural Parents Network}

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Welcome to the February 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Do It Yourself
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants are teaching us how to make something useful or try something new.

I am delighted to have a post today at Natural Parents Network about DIY: Homeschooling!

Often when I meet parents at the park or around the city and they learn that we are homeschoolers, a common response is: "Oh, I could never do that!" To which I respond, "Of course you could! Why not?" What follows is usually a litany of reasons including, "I don't have the patience," or "I need my breaks," or "I want my kids to learn from others," or "I wouldn't know what to teach," or "I can't give them everything they need to learn," or "We both have to work."

Homeschooling may not be the right path for every family for a panoply of reasons, but just as parents spend a lot of time contemplating and researching the public and private school options available to them, homeschooling should be another reasonable education choice for families to consider.

There are two hurdles, I think, that parents need to get past to truly understand and fully consider the homeschooling option: the personal and the practical. Continue reading the rest at Natural Parents Network ››

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon February 10 with all the carnival links.)
  • DIY: Homeschooling — Have you considered homeschooling but aren't sure how you could make it work? Kerry of City Kids Homeschooling offers some do-it-yourself encouragement in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Super Easy Berry Freezie — Tracy at Raised Good shows how to make healthy, delicious, dairy-free ice-cream for toddlers and their families in under 10 minutes.
  • How to Get Kids to Behave in Church — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she's been able to participate in religious activities that mean a lot to her, without being separated from her kids.
  • Valentine's Slippers — A sneak peek at Life Breath Present's crochet process with some slippers for Hun for Valentine's Day this year!
  • DIY Nursing Bra Conversion — Holly at Leaves of Lavender provides a quick tutorial for how to convert your favorite regular bra to a nursing bra.
  • Make your own soothing postpartum pads — Lauren at Hobo Mama shows you how to freeze padsicles for perineal comfort after birth, plus bonus healing options.
  • Beginning Knitting Project for Kids: Knit a Pikachu — What do you do with all of those practice squares you knit when you are a beginner? Turn them into Pokemon! Kieran, 7-year-old son of Dionna at Code Name: Mama, brings us a video tutorial for this awesome knitting project for kids and adults.
  • Name Creations: An Inspiring Project that Builds Self-Esteem — Children love their names. Learn easy instructions for children, tweens and teens to put a dramatic name on their door or room wall from Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., at Parental Intelligence.
  • Water-Bead Sensory Bottles for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares a tutorial for making a rainbow of water-bead sensory bottles along with ideas for using them with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

A New England Winter

Monday, February 9, 2015

I'll admit that when I woke up yesterday morning to a forecast calling for two more feet of snow in the days ahead, followed by arctic cold, I was grouchy.

These are the days that test the mettle of even the heartiest New England moms and dads. These are the days that can find us feeling like the walls are closing in, losing ideas and inspiration, longing for those spring snowdrops to poke through the cold earth. In short, these days can be "wicked hahd."

A neighbor and I were outside yesterday complaining about the weather when she asked: "How are the kids holding up?"

And that's when it struck me.

The kids are holding up just fine. They are doing what they always do: playing, building, crafting, creating. It's we grown-ups who seem a bit less resilient.

Soon after that conversation, I suggested that my eight-year-old and I take a walk to gather some pre-storm essentials. Nevermind bread and milk. We needed to stock up on fabric and yarn from our local knitting and sewing shop, and collect more tape and paper--and chocolate chips. Snow days call for cookies, you know. I ordered more Legos for my six-year-old who will sit for hours working on his Lego projects with more focus than I knew a six-year-old could possibly possess. My older daughter is working on a new computer program through MIT's Scratch software (which I highly recommend for your budding programmers). My two littlest ones are perfectly happy to play with their toys and their older siblings. Everyone else seems to be weathering the storm quite contentedly.

So armed with fresh yarn, an easy pattern from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, and those chocolate chips, I am taking my children's lead to settle in and find joy in these winter days.

It is New England after all.