Friday, September 24, 2010

Homeschooling

To homeschool or not to homeschool, that is the question. I've been worrying about this topic a lot lately and my oldest isn't even two and a half! Being a teacher, though, I know how important it is to figure out an educational plan of attack early on. Here's where we stand now:

Public school- the elementary school in town isn't that bad but the middle school and high school are lacking. Things could change drastically in the next ten years but as it stands now, I would rather not send my kids to secondary school in our town.

Private school- Um...$$$$$$. A little out of our reach right now and I don't foresee it being within reach anytime soon.

Catholic school- Again, we're talking quite a bit of money here but not as much as the local private schools. Our church does not have an adjoining school so we'd have to send our kids to St. Greg's or St. Paul's (both 20 min away).

Montessori school- $$$$$$ (Seeing a trend here?)

Homeschool- Can be expensive but there are many ways to decrease the cost. From people I've talked to who've homeschooled, it is as expensive as you make it. Because I am a visual learner and must have everything written out, I decided to make a Pro-Con list about homeschooling. I'm sure I'll be adding to it over time and hopefully it'll help us to make a decision about how to go about educating our children.

HOMESCHOOLING PROS:

1) I'm already a teacher certified K-8 and have connections to resources (curriculum, teachers, other parents who have homeschooled, etc)
2) I'm organized and thrive on routine. Lesson planning and sticking to a schedule are second nature to me
3) My son has a genuine love of learning that could blossom with a 1:1 or 1:2 teacher/student ratio
4) Lessons could be enhanced with field trips that he might not otherwise attend
5) Family traveling would not have to be limited by a traditional school schedule
6) My son would be able to learn about his faith in depth because it would be built into the curriculum
7) He would set the pace (i.e.- if he needs to be challenged or if he's struggling, I could accomodate)
8) More family bonding and closeness from extra time spent together
9) He'd be allowed to participate in the public school's extra-curricular activities so he'd still have the opportunity to socialize

HOMESCHOOLING CONS:

1) The label that sometimes follows homeschooled kids- "weird" or "strange"
2) My son may feel awkward playing sports with kids when he doesn't attend their school (i.e.- may feel "lost" when they start talking about what happened in school that day)
3) He would not be exposed to a variety of teaching styles
4) Would not have the opportunity to ride a bus, have a locker, eat in the cafeteria, etc. Students enjoy these activities.
5) May have difficulty transitioning to a school later on
6) Returning to work (and making money) would be delayed for me

I still have a lot of research to do about homeschooling. It is so different now than it was when I was going through school. Have any of you homeschooled or know someone who has? Any tips/suggestions/nuggets of wisdom you may have would be greatly appreciated. :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"No" Means "No" -- For Adults, Too

We got home from a new-to-us park this afternoon and Chanel and I went into our typical roles: she fed Tiny, I occupied Big. Dinner was still to be made, so after I started it, Chanel relieved me and I strapped Tiny to me via our Snugli and took a walk with him, thus giving Chanel a nice little break.

Tiny and I walked out the back door to avoid direct sun, out to the community playground, and around to a small lake between townhouse units. Even at his young age, Tiny seems to enjoy looking at the ducks and geese that frequent this body of water and I enjoy showing him them.

Unfortunately, for my enjoyment of the experience, there were two guys, either older teens or just legal adults, that were walking around the ledge surrounding the lake...inside the fence with signs that include "No Trespassing." They were on the other side and appeared to be poking around in the water with sticks of some kind.

Hmm.

Further ahead, there was a small family atop the arched bridge spanning this lake. A young boy among them, perhaps 8-12 years old, wanted to cross the fence and walk around by the lake himself. And why not? After all, other people are clearly doing it with no consequence. I was happy to hear, even at my distance, the mother being firm with her son that he was not allowed to cross the fence. Every once in a while you run into one of these parents that don't monitor and control their kids and you just wonder what kind of difficulties just having your own kids around them would cause.

The young boy reluctantly climbed down and returned to what occupied the family. Then I approached close enough to see what it was that everyone seemed so intent on.

Carrying a baby in a Snugli is a pretty cute sight and I, as the father doing it, always get comments and looks at how adorable he/we are. On queue, the coos and sighs came at me as I passed one of those "No Trespassing" signs on the fence connected to the handrail at the base of the bridge. Those signs are actually multi-message, where the "No" applies to trespassing, littering, swimming, fishing, or feeding the water foul.

So there I am, climbing the arch when the (I think) grandmother said, "He's so cute." Sometimes, it's difficult to hold my tongue, and I responded, "Yeah, and the picture of you guys casting out off the bridge right next to that sign there that says not to is pretty good to." I wanted to embellish and say how I was tempted to snap a picture with my phone to capture the moment and upload it to Facebook so all my friends could comment, or upload it to one of those stupid-people photo sharing sites, but seeing their bright, smiling faces turn into scorn told me my message was received well enough.

The mother was most distressed at my comment to them as I passed and started talking at me, thanking me for my concern, etc. The grandfather, chewing on a fat cigar, turns around and says, "We saw it. We saw the sign."

"I knew you did."

Then he asks, "You have a problem with it?"

I turned around. "Yes...I do. Your disrespect for rules makes it more difficult for every other parent of kids that see you to teach their kids to follow the rules. But I'm sure you guys are special somehow, so you go ahead with your fun." I turned back around and went on my way as they mumbled amongst themselves, I'm sure about how exactly they are special and that I had some nerve to talk to them like that.

Through this point, I didn't really know why I didn't like this situation. It wasn't until I returned home to Chanel and relayed the story to her. Her first question: "Why do you always look to start things with people?"

Then it hit me: that right there is a large part of the problem. It's never the rule breakers that are "starting" things; it's the people who call the miscreants out on their deeds. That mentality is wrong. If we as parents are going to help change this world in a positive way, we need to start looking at it from a different perspective. Those who point out bad behavior do not create the behavior and therefore do not "start" it. Anyone concerned about the society and world their kids are going to grow into should immediately begin to embrace this mentality of asking people to do the right thing.

If a sign says not to do something, don't do it. If you say you will do something, do it. Hold yourself and those around you to a higher standard. Some would say that this is idealistic and perhaps it is, that we cannot expect everyone to simply start obeying laws and rules. I don't know who said it, but ideals are not what we hope to achieve; they are the stars in the sky by which we plot our course through life.

It's clear, though, that letting someone slide on something small means that someone who's offense is just slightly more severe has a case for lessened consequences, whatever they may be. Over time, we shift what we would consider acceptable behavior to slowly include ignoring the various parts of the signs. First, people feed the ducks. If were not going to enforce that part of sign, why can't someone fish? Trespass? Litter? Swim? Slippery slope? Hogwash. A slope doesn't need to be slippery for something to roll down and a certain expression about something rolling downhill comes to mind.

I challenge you, having read this rather long post to completion, to commit yourself to the higher moral ground. Make every attempt to be a good citizen you can and alert people when they slip. At the same time, do not be defensive if someone points out that you have room to improve; we all do. I ask you to spread the word of this notion to others you think will feel the same way, that this may empower them and inspire them to action. Share this post on Facebook, post it on Twitter, email it out to friends. Do what you can and let's show how we are not the one starting trouble, we're the ones stopping it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Time Management and Family Life

I currently work in an office environment and am therefore familiar with the topic of time management. The management team is always attempting to increase the productivity of all the employees. Doing so make sense, after all, since any increase in productivity should equate to increased revenues while reducing the expense of hiring additional people. I do my part and make my contributions where I can and consider myself fairly effective at managing my time at work.

When I get home, however, time management often takes a back seat. It seems employees are so structured and conditioned throughout the day by their jobs to meet deadlines and have little to no downtime, that when we walk through our home's front door, we leave the skills of managing our time outside like a pair of muddy shoes. What I want to do when I get home is relax and unwind. Dinner would be on the agenda...if there were one.

No doubt, time management in a household is as difficult as for an entire office in many cases. Young children require attention via diaper changes and baths, slightly older ones need a different kind of engaging interaction with adults, still older kids start to have extra-curricular activities which call for transportation to and from events--all of which deprive parents of the time that they need to do basic things like pay bills, clean the house, do the laundry, etc. Where then is time found for recreational activity like watching a video rental, or connecting with people on Facebook?

Enter: my wife.

Left to my own devices, the kids would have at least a rough schedule (I'm pretty sure), but Chanel has household time management down to a science. While there are the evenings and days (which I only hear about through text) where the kids don't conform to the schedule, she has about a 50% chance of having time in the middle of the day for herself while kids nap and we just about always have our evenings after 7:30 pm. Did I mention our youngest at this time is only 7 weeks?

How was this accomplished? I'm sure she'll cover more details in future posts of her own, but for now, I'll just marvel with you at this short list of how we got here:
  1. We didn't use the Ferber Method. There is actually evidence available that ferberization is detrimental the baby's health. Don't let your baby "cry it out." What's he supposed to be crying out, anyway? He wants love and doesn't understand why it should be withheld. The No-Cry Sleep Solution was the bible around our house for a few weeks for each child. 
  2. We co-slept for a time with our oldest and still do with our youngest. Babies generally like being close to their parents as it provides them with some measure of security. When the baby gets too big to share the bed, move him to a cosleeper attached to the bed. When they outgrow that, transfer them to the crib. Our oldest now is in his crib still, but we're about to move him into his big-boy bed and our youngest is about to be moved to the co-sleeper.
  3. Chanel got to know the kids' sleep schedules and worked within the framework they provided. Chanel was able to predict exactly, almost to the minute, when we would start to see signs of a meltdown in the evening based on what time a nap ended. Not doing this is a cardinal sin for managing your time. What ends up happening when this is overlooked is that when you're out at a restaurant or a store and the kids are tired, their options are to tantrum and make a scene or nap in a chair which probably will drive you crazy as they stay awake too late into the night as a result. 
  4. A big part of our success at achieving and maintaining a schedule has been that we strive not to deviate from it. We made the decision long ago that keeping them on a schedule was more important to us than a too-late dinner with friends that would cause disruptions in the schedule for several days afterward. 
Granted, not everyone can make the decisions necessary to duplicate what we've done and there may be other personal factors to consider when employing any of these methods. What I can tell you is that these methods have worked wonders for us and while I would have done it a totally different way, I'm glad Chanel was there instead. Good luck with your own efforts and if you ever have questions, feel free to ask...her. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toddlers and Church

It may sound silly but I consider the fact that our toddler is well-behaved in church to be one of our greatest accomplishments as parents. While I'm aware this may not always be the case, I vow to enjoy it now and pray that our son will always view attending mass in a positive light.

Great behavior did NOT happen overnight and it certainly wasn't the case when he was an infant. He was born on a Monday and we were in church that following Sunday. It was important to us to continue to attend regularly, even with a newborn. Like most babies, our son slept through mass the first few weeks. I remember glancing at my husband and mouthing, "Wow, this is perfect. It's so easy!" I ended up eating my words the following week after his ear -piercing screams shook the rafters and we bolted to the cry room. The problem with the cry room is that it's synonymous to detention. There's a reason certain kids are in the cry room just like there's a reason they're in detention. And you don't want your kids picking up the habits from kids in either location. So...what to do? We couldn't have our son crying and disturbing everyone who had come to mass to peacefully worship. It was our hope to instill in him a love of God and a desire to participate in mass with our parish community. We didn't want to leave him home with a babysitter while we attended church because how would he grow to WANT to be there if he was never there? And what is the "right" age for children to start attending mass anyway?

I brought all of these questions and more to several of my friends (both in person and online) who had been in a similar predicament. I discovered that there seemed to be two schools of thought:

A) Don't bring your children to mass until they are old enough to listen, obey, and respect. (Hmmm...so 25?) ;)

B) Tough it out through the tears and the tantrums and eventually things will settle down. (Ok...that could be a long road)

Not feeling satisfied with either of those options, we decided to experiment with different strategies each week until we found something that worked for us. We were in it for the long haul but secretly hoped it wouldn't be very long.

The good news is that we found a few tricks that worked then and continue to work now. Hopefully you can benefit from a few of these with your children or pass them along to other couples struggling with toddlers in church.

Yes, I love lists.

1) Pack a few different snacks in a spill-proof snack cup. Our son enjoys dry cereal, graham crackers, goldfish, pretzels, and Gerber Graduate puffs. While not the healthiest, these snacks are easy to eat and do not make a mess should he figure out how to spill a few through the flaps.

2) Pack a small, blank, inexpensive photo album and a few pages of stickers. Our son gets a kick out of peeling the stickers off and sticking them on different pages. If he changes his mind about a particular sticker's location, he can remove it from the album and place it somewhere else. This is why I recommend a photo album and not a piece of paper. It's a huge deal for our son to go to the dollar store and pick out his own stickers. :)

3) Pack a few "just for church" books that your child doesn't read any other time. This way they stay new and exciting.

4) Pack a few foam or soft rubber cars or trucks that won't make noise when your child inevitably drops them during the most quiet parts of the mass.

5) Plan to attend the mass that fits best with your child's schedule, even if it's not the one you would choose first. When we attended the 10:30 mass, our son would have a meltdown about a half an hour into it. When we switched to the 9:00 mass, his behavior sky-rocketed and a more peaceful experience was had by all.

6) Take advantage of the children's liturgy if your church offers one. Go with your child and encourage him/her to participate in the lesson. Our church offers what they call "King's Kids" once a month for children ages 4-8. Even though our son is 2, they let us bring him as long as one of us accompanies him. He may not understand the ins and outs of each lesson but it give him a break in routine and allows him to witness children raising their hands, answering questions, etc.

7) Sit in the first pew. No, really, I mean it. The first pew. Even if you arrive late, it'll be empty. Our son loves to watch what goes on and we've found that if he's forced to sit in the back for whatever reason (front pews are reserved for a baptism, for example), his behavior is much worse. Nothing like having to stare at the backs of peoples' heads (or butts, for him).

8) Talk about what will happen in church on the car ride there and what happened on the car ride home. Ask your toddler questions. See how much he/she understands. Our son has a children's picture Bible and we point out various aspect of the mass in the Bible as it is happening in front of him. He really likes to follow along.

9) Pack your child's comfort item and don't be embarassed by it. Our son still uses a pacifier at bedtime but we allow him to have it in church if needed. He also takes his special blanket. Nothing calms him down like the paci-blanket combo. It'll be shame when we have to wean him... ;)

10) Try to involve your child in the mass as much as possible. We let our son put the money in the collection basket and hand it to the person next to us. Let your church know you're available to bring up the gifts as a family. If you're a lector, cantor, or eucharistic minister, all the better. Your child will learn from your example and want to be involved like you. :)

Best of luck with your toddler on Sunday!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bath Time Bloopers

Our oldest enjoys bath time. He just about always has. Occasionally (meaning pretty much always), there's something about the experience to tell.

Getting him to want to go upstairs and leave his toys behind is the first challenge, but easily achieved with a threat that "Daddy's going to win!" He'll drop whatever he's doing at that moment to barrel past me and scramble up the stairs just ahead of me. A competitive spirit he will not lack.

I sit on the edge of the tub and start to draw the bath while he occupies himself, usually with climbing on the toilet or dropping bath toys into the tub as the suds level climbs. "Arms up! Pants down!" The diaper comes off and he's plopped onto the Lightning McQueen toilet training seat for a pre-bath pee.

After lifting him into the tub, there are a few ground rules:

  1. No pouring water onto the edge of the tub (where I keep a towel, just in case) or outside the tub.
  2. No splashing Daddy's clothes wet.
  3. No drinking bath water.
Other than that, it's free play! What ends up happening is the towel gets just a little wet as he pushes his limit, Daddy's arm gets water poured on it as he gleefully tells me that he's getting my arm wet ("Not Daddy's clothes wet"), and he slurps water off any surface of the bath toys that he can.

Ah, to be 2 again.

What was memorable about tonight came after all the bubbles had popped and he was on the potty for the post-bath pee. I had the towel (a different one from the small one that sits on the edge of the tub for the duration of the bath) wrapped around him to dry him off. We always remind him to "poke it down" past the splash guard, but when his vision is blocked by the towel, it's difficult to fault him when a stream shoots through the parting of the towel and leaves a streak on my shirt.

Then we had our conversation while getting dressed:
"Doggy pants!"
"Yes, you have dogs on your pajama pants."
"I could be a dog for Halloween."
"That's a great idea; you could be a dog for Halloween! You can have ears and a tail..." He loves pointing out tails on other animals and we've been trying to figure out what he should be...this could be perfect!
"But I already have ears."
"Yes, you already have ears, but I meant you could have floppy ears like a dog. And you'd have a tail! Doesn't that sound good?"
"No."

He's definitely my son.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1-800-TOO BUSY

Several people have complained that I've been pretty unreachable by phone for quite some time now. B.C. (before children) I had the phone practically glued to my ear so the complaints are certainly valid. Although I miss spending hours upon hours catching up with friends and family, life just doesn't allow it anymore. Specifically, my kids don't allow it. Things are very different now and my two year old and seven week old won't just quietly hang out while I chat on the phone. I know, I can't believe it either. ;) So, I have one word of advice for anyone looking to get in touch with me: TEXT. Here's why:

-I can text you while cooking dinner and you won't have to listen to me scream because I tripped over a cat/toy/book/kid for the tenth time in three minutes.

-I can text you while watching TV and you won't know that you don't have my full attention. Wait a minute...when do I get to watch TV?? Hmmm....

-I can text you while putting on makeup or brushing my teeth and you won't have to deal with the lovely sounds of speakerphone in a small, cramped bathroom.

-I can text you while in the car (as a passenger, of course) ;) and you won't have to deal with trying to hear me over my son's carseat toy that plays music in increments of 20, 40, or 60 minutes with no accessible off switch.

-I can text you while nursing the baby because although I love the sound of him happily consuming his meal, I realize you may not feel the same way.

-I can text you while pushing my boys in the stroller and you won't have to deal with not being able to hear me as the wind blasts through the phone.

-I can text you when I have a sleeping baby on my lap and you won't have to hear me whine about how our conversation (i.e.- my loud voice) woke him up and now I have to cut you short.

-I can text you while in line at the grocery store and you won't have to listen to my explanation to my son about why he can't have the Snickers/Kit Kat/gum/mints that he so sneakily grabbed off the shelf and threw onto the belt.

-I can text you when I'm in the bathroom and ...wait...don't try to tell me you've never done it!!

-I can text you when I'm half asleep and you'll never know the difference.

So please, pick up that phone and text me. I promise I won't fill you in on what else I'm doing at the time... ;)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Do You Tell Kids About September 11?

On this, the 9th anniversary of the terror attacks on 9/11/01, my 2 year 5 month old son was rather captivated by the review of the events on television. While I am aware that he doesn't really understand anything beyond the pictures he saw, it was difficult for me to see him watch.

This boy is, as I think most his age are, fascinated by airplanes, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. On top of that, a favorite video to watch at Grammy's house is one of demolition crews destroying tall buildings.  The images chosen for this morning's broadcast were right up his alley.

So there we were: I was watching the news while he played with his Cars movie cars. Suddenly our attention was glued to the television. He even pulled his step-stool over in front of the screen to sit on and watch, which he doesn't even do to watch Cars! I offered my commentary but he was more vocal: "Airplane crashed." "Fire truck!" "Building fall down!"

In such a manner can only a child summarize those hours.

No, he didn't show happiness at the destruction of the Twin Towers; his were simply statements of fact to show me he knew what he was seeing.

All I could do was choke back my own emotions as I watched him see this tragedy for the first time. Some parents might have turned the channel, but I decided he wouldn't remember this next year as he's still a little young (and with Mommy upstairs, my decision actually stood!). Next year, however, will be the 10 year anniversary with, I'm sure, special commemoration events throughout the weekend. He will also have reached an age at which he might not understand much more, but at the very least he will remember seeing it if we allow him to watch.

Will watching the attack play out be any more traumatizing to young children than being told to "duck and cover" for decades on end through the Cold War? At what point can a child be expected to be able to understand what happened when scores of thousands of adults cannot grasp why it happened? The American Academy of Childhood & Adolescent Psychiatry advises that "parents, teachers, and caring adults can help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner."

If left to my own devices, I would not prevent my children from seeing the events of that day. When he starts asking questions about it all, for better or worse, I intend to answer his questions honestly without hiding any of the controversies that rage about the causes and motivations behind the terrorists that attacked us. Children are far more resilient than we credit them to be.

But I'm not left to my own devices but rarely, so it will be interesting to see when we expose our kids to this and other world issues. Leave a comment with how old your kids are and when you plan/did tell them. What did you tell them?