Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reading time... with boys

I am working toward reading aloud more and more to my children — not just picture books — but classic stories. After reading The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, I am seeing the benefits of limiting our TV time and increasing our reading time. There was a recent article in The New York Times that reiterates the importance of reading to your children. In my opinion, this study just reinforces what many parents already know: reading to your kids expands their vocabulary and imagination.
However, getting boys to sit still long enough for me to read to them took some initial creativity. It's no mystery that boys have tons of energy. They are constantly on the move. For me, I'm finding that making them sit still is harder and more difficult than catching a fruit fly. Thankfully, it seems that there are some ways to combat this unending motion.

Physical activity
To me, this is the most important factor. Give them plenty of opportunities to burn energy — both free play and mom-directed games. How? Get outside and play. Too cold or rainy? Set up an indoor obstacle course or foam puzzle squares. Put on silly music and lead them in dancing or jumping.

Regus2 and Regus1 showing their love of playing outside.
Continually reminding them (as they run past me) that there are times and places for running around. They are learning (some days slower than others) that it's not always a good time and place to run.

Running on low?
Fill up their "tanks" with love. I don't know if my Mom read this someplace or if it's her own terminology. But she's wisely taught me that each child has a tank that needs to be filled with love and attention. When they are being unruly, it means they are "running on fumes." I try not to let it get that low, but I can get distracted. Use a timer if you need it (works for me) to give them your undivided attention for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. They get into SO much less trouble, when they've had their "mommy time." They feel confident in my love that they don't need to seek out hazardous ways of getting me to pay attention to them. Oh, and Dads, don't forget that they have need "daddy time," too. Mommy can fill of up their tank, but that doesn't mean that Daddy can't fill it up, too. I've found that the same goes for grandparents.

Model Good Reading Habits
To me, reading a book is a luxury. I can get so wrapped up in the story that it becomes an guilty pleasure, and I feel as though I'm ignoring my household duties. As a result, I've kidded myself to think I shouldn't read my own books in front of my kids. However, I'm realizing now that my kids do need to see my love of reading. Now, we are dedicating several "quiet reading times" during the day. We set the timer for 15 minutes. (Yes, I think I have a timer addiction.) After the 15 minutes is over, the boys each can pick out one of the books they read (looked at the pictures), and we'll read them together.

During reading time
Before reading time starts, I offer them a toy (that doesn't make noises) to hold. I've found that the quiet toy gives them something to keep their minds and hands busy, so their legs don't have to keep moving. For hands-on learners this is very important. Despite what we've been often taught, hands-on learners can learn while holding and fidgeting with something. It helps them diffuse the extra energy in their bodies. And their minds are still very aware of what is going on around them. (I learned this from my younger brother's psychology professor and have tried it on my oldest. It's a miracle!!) A veteran homeschool mom suggested that I have toys that are just for reading time. This makes reading time special.

This year, moving on to books without many pictures has been interesting. I was reminded of my tricks to teach them to sit still for appropriate times. Before starting, I am careful to make sure they have had plenty of "mommy time." That way, they won't spend reading time trying to get my attention. The "quiet toy" is a big help, too. Our family rule is that they can play with the toy, but they can't make any sound effect. Remember, they ARE boys.

It took us at least a month of daily reading time (one chapter each time) before I started to see some interest in the story. At first, it almost felt futile. Finally, when we were finishing up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, I noticed that the boys were really focusing on the story. They made me read two chapters in a row because they didn't want to miss what happened to Aslan after the stone table broke.


When we were almost finished with the book, Regus2 (4 years old) saw how many pages we had read and how few were left. The sense of accomplishment in those precious eyes made every frustrating day worth it.

The day before we finished reading the last chapter, I found the other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. The boys were SO excited, they wanted to start the next book then and there. I reminded them that they had just a little more left in the book before they could go on to the next. After we did finish the book, they immediately brought me the next one. So exciting!

I want to encourage moms of young children that you can find a balance to play and reading time... just go heavy on the play for now. Surround them with lots of books and opportunities to read, and they will grow to love it, too. I am also learning to enjoy each and every stage of my boys.

How do you encourage your kids in reading and listening to stories?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Desires of the Heart: Is It All About Me?

After taking some time off around the Holidays, I'm ready to find time to grow my blog this year. This blog is a journey, as I find how it fits in the amazing, powerful world of mommy bloggers and in my own life. Today, I'm sharing how I'm continuing to find my purpose in life. As Christians, we often struggle what our "purpose" is. I hope to share how I am finding my purpose in Him and through Him.

Over the past 7 years, I am continuing to be amazed with Psalm 37:4:
"Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart." (NKJV)
As a child and teenager, this Scripture made me think that God was teaching me to have a "give and take relationship." Meaning, if you serve God, then He'll give you what you want. It was a very self-centered approach.

Shortly after getting married, I realized God meant something much bigger in this Scripture. The Strong's Concordance explains that delight means: "to be happy about, take exquisite delight; to be of dainty habit, be pampered." Wow... that's a new perspective. Pamper yourself in the Lord? Now, that sounds awesome to me. That sounds like we should enjoy serving Him, or at least that He wants to have a good time with us. Plus, the last part has given especially new meaning, in that He is the one to put the desires in my heart. Double wow!

I'll let that sink in for a moment. Or maybe that's just for me?

These ideas seem so contrary to our modern lives (mostly talking about myself). In my perspective of our society, one can be very self-serving. We go to school to get a diploma, strive in college for a degree, and embark into the wide-open world for our little corner or "slice" of The American Dream. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with striving for excellence. By all means, we should do everything heartily as unto the Lord. However, we aren't living our lives without any interaction with other people or circumstances. Life isn't just about ME. Our decisions and paths lead us into others' lives.

Who will I meet today that will help me see more of God? 

Will I be ready to share a smile with a stranger and, as a result, share God's love?

It's exciting to realize that as I bask in His strength (not my own) and His love, He is giving me the desires and ideas to do new things. 

As you know, I am a self-proclaimed nerd. As a little girl, I dreamt that I would be a ballerina or a teacher. As a teenager, I saw how tough teaching (as a profession) can be and decided that this passion for learning meant that I should be a life-long student. I almost went to grad school, but I nixed that when the dot-com bubble popped. Hubby and I both lost jobs and weren't about to go into more debt for school. I have been a ballet teacher off-and-on since that time. In addition, I used my degree in English to write training manuals and act as a trainer for the distribution-end of a publishing company. Up to this point, my love for learning was fulfilling but not finished. I don't think learning should ever stop, but that's another post entirely.

Becoming a Mom has helped solidify and clarify those desires. I am a teacher and guide to my children. I get to fuel my passion for learning, as I teach them and rediscover all the things I loved in school. As I'm studying more and more curriculum and homeschool methodologies, I find myself overly giddy at each new idea to share. While I know that I will hold the title of Mother for many more years, these early years of intense training will not always be. Today, I choose to cherish the short-lived days and am thankful for His desires. I am excited and nervous about each new day. 

I suppose it is only fitting, then, to end with the my boys' memory verse for the next few weeks. Philippians 4: 6: 
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."

What desires have you seen change or progress in your own life?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our Jesse Tree / Adevent Calendar: An Update

As I mentioned at the end of November, I am really trying to find some age-appropriate Advent and Jesse Tree ideas for my boys: ages 4 and 6. I am not afraid to admit that I was a bit nervous to start this, as we've not been very successful in the past... I have the tendency to create lofty goals and not follow through. Ouch!

I can say that this year, so far, has been a HUGE success. From the first day, the boys have been genuinely excited to be detectives and follow my clues. Plus, it's been exciting to see how things worked out a little different than I initially anticipated.

Day 1: Regus 2 showing off his work.
He loves using the hole puncher.
I will admit that we haven't been able to complete the ornaments on Sundays. I guess we're just a bit rushed in the morning. Instead, we've just done two days on Mondays to get back on track.

Our Advent/Jesse Tree Process 
  1. We find out what the day of the week and date is, then pick the "clue" card (background paper made out of scrapbooking paper) out of the advent calendar.
  2. I lay out all the available picture cards.
  3. I read* the Scripture written on the clue card. I may offer some inflection in my voice to help with the clue. If it's especially difficult, I'll give them other clues or words to describe the picture they need to find. 
  4. The boys find the picture that matches the story and talk about why it matches the clue (helping their comprehension).
  5. Color the picture, glue the picture onto the clue card, punch a hole, and add string. This might be their favorite part of all.
  6. Finally, hang the ornament on the tree.
  7. When Daddy gets home, either they bring him over to the "branch" (as they call it), or he asks them about it. I love tag-teaming my with Hubby!!

    * It can be tough to make little boys sit still during reading time.
    They are boys — they need to move. Our family rule for any story time is that they can play with a quiet toy but can't make any sound effects (all while sitting near me). This continues to be a work in progress, but I am definitely seeing the benefits. They are able to answer some of my questions, which shows me they are listening.
Here's what our Jesse Tree looks like on Day 19. It's fun to see the boys look over the past days' ornaments and talk about what they've learned.

Day 19: We're almost there! In this picture, you can see
the back "c
lues" of the ornaments and the front "pictures."

What I didn't expect
I didn't realize that the boys would start anticipating the Scripture, based upon the pictures. Before I even read the scripture for the day, they were talking about which Bible story went with which picture. That really blessed me beyond words!

Have you created an Advent Calendar or Jesse Tree with your kids this year? What has surprised you the most?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie: A Super Easy Recipe

This pie recipe is one of my Hubby's favorite. It's usually his request for his birthday dessert. In addition, I've made it for several church events and am always asked for the recipe. I'm finally sharing it today.

I can not take any credit for this recipe. The original Oatmeal Pecan Pie recipe was made my grandmother-in-law's aunt in Tennessee, who is an amazing cook. She is famous for her desserts. This recipe was then adapted by my mother-in-law to include the "chocolate chip" part. The original version is still a big family favorite.

The other awesome part about this recipe is that it always makes two pies because one is never enough. It's fun to take a pie to a friend and enjoy one, too! Well, maybe that's just me. Plus, unlike most pecan pies, you don't have to have perfect pecans. Just use what you have (chopped, pieces, or whole).

I also love that this pie is best when cooled completely and even better when made the day before — giving me the chance to make it when it's convenient for me. When it's served hot, the pie is much more crumbly.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup + 2 Tbsp Maple syrup (the real thing, NOT pancake syrup)
1¼ cups flaked coconut
1½ sticks (¾ c) butter, melted
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups pecans (for top of pie), chopped or halfed
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 unbaked pie crusts (store bought or your favorite recipe)
  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ F.
  2. In medium mixing bowl, beat eggs and add remaining ingredients (except pie crusts). 
  3. Divide the mixture between the two pie crusts, then top with pecans.
  4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until pie is set and golden brown. Cool completely before serving. 
Do you have a favorite pie? What do you like most about it?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thrifty Thursday: Repurposing T-shirts Project #4. Scarf

It's been a couple weeks since I've posted a new Thrifty Thursday project. I'm continuing my series on repurposing old t-shirts. Today, we're on to project #4: the scarf.

Here's a quick look back at my past projects in this series:
  1. The necklace. An easy, no-sew project.
  2. The petal tee. I loved the way this one turned out. If you already have a t-shirt, this should be super easy. In this project, I made the feminine t-shirt out of an old, men's t-shirt... so that made it a bit more complex.
  3. The re-usable bag. This is a super-easy sewing project. If you are comfortable sewing straight stitches on a sewing machine, this is a good starter project.

There are lots of cool scarf ideas online. However, this one just peaked my creative juices.

Source: Joy Beadworks via Trudy Tarasof from Pinterest

I like that it has a pattern on it. Rather than just copying her idea all together, I decided to make scarves for my boys (they've been begging all season for one). Plus, I promised myself I wouldn't buy any new notions to complete one of these projects, so no embroidery threads for me.

Initially, figuring out a boy-themed pattern proved difficult, as I did not want to give them a leaf-patterned scarf. Instead, I decided to use stars.

First, I cut the parts I needed from the t-shirt. Each scarf included:
  • Main color: 8-in strip, cut from bottom of t-shirt. Cut one end open, so it's one long piece.
  • Reverse color: 8-in strip, cut from bottom of t-shirt. Just like the main color, cut one end open to make one long piece.
  • Background of stars: 1 sleeve cut off from "reverse color" and cut in half to make two pieces.

I found a star pattern and traced it onto the "main color" fabric, using a fabric pencil. To be honest, I ended up using a ballpoint pen and trimmed outside the line. I did this on BOTH ends of the main fabric, just like my inspiration piece.

I pinned the "background" fabric (part of the sleeve from the other t-shirt) to the main fabric. Next, I used the sewing machine to stitch around each star. When you are ready to pivot around the star, just follow these simple steps: (1) leave the needle IN the fabric, (2) lift the presser foot, turn the fabric, (3) lower the presser foot, and (4) continue sewing to the next stopping point. I attempted to take a picture of part of the process. 

After the stars were stitched, I placed the "reverse color" fabric and the main fabric (now has stars stitched to it) with right sides together. Sew them together, but left a large enough slot to turn the scarf right-side out. Finish off the scarf with a top-stitch, and we have a NEW scarf from OLD t-shirts. Doesn't the star scarf look cool with the Star Wars t-shirt?

Regus #1 was eager to try it. As you can see, the length of the scarf is just right for a little guy. If you want a longer scarf, you will need to follow the instructions from the inspiration piece. With that project, you will only be able to get one scarf out of two t-shirts, but it's still really cool!

What other things do you like to re-purpose?